28 September 2017


A "cleaner fish" on the eye of a green sea turtle off the coast of Ecuador.

Credit per the watermark, via Scuba Diving Magazine's annual photo competition (gallery at the link).

Whistling caterpillars

North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars (Amorpha juglandis) look like easy meals for birds, but they have a trick up their sleeves—they produce whistles that sound like bird alarm calls, scaring potential predators away.

When pecked by a bird, the caterpillars whistle by compressing their bodies like an accordion and forcing air out through specialized holes in their sides. The whistles are impressively loud, considering they are made by a two-inch long insect. They have been measured at over 80 dB from 5 cm away from the caterpillar, similar to the loudness of a garbage disposal.
Further details at The Scientist, with a hat tip to Kevin Thies.


Via the Crappy Design subreddit.

"Muck farm" explained

During a picnic lunch at a friend's farm, mention was made of a neighbor of theirs who operated a "muck farm."  I had previously only heard the term used with regard to cleaning out a stable, so I had to learn more about muck:
In the terminology of North American agriculture, muck is a soil made up primarily of humus from drained swampland. It is known as black soil in The Fens of eastern England, where it was originally mainly fen and bog. It is used there, as in the United States, for growing specialty crops such as onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes...

Muck farming on drained bogs is an important part of agriculture in New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, where mostly vegetables are grown. American "muckers" often have roots from the Netherlands or Eastern Europe, where their ancestors practiced a similar type of farming. The soils are deep, dark colored, and friable, often underlain by marl, or marly clay...

Muck farming is controversial, because the drainage of wetlands destroys wildlife habitats and results in a variety of environmental problems. It is unlikely that any more will be created in the United States, because of environmental regulations. It is prone to problems, such as being very light and usually windbreaks must be provided to keep it from blowing away when dry. It also can catch fire and burn underground for months. Oxidation also removes a portion of the soil each year, so it becomes progressively shallower. Some muck land has been reclaimed for wildlife preserves.
And here's the etymology:
From Middle English mok, muk, from Old Norse myki, mykr (“dung”) (compare Icelandic mykja), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)meug (“slick, slippery”), *meuk (compare Welsh mign (“swamp”), Latin mūcus (“snot”), mucere (“to be moldy or musty”), Latvian mukls (“swampy”), Albanian myk (“mould”), Ancient Greek mýxa 'mucus, lamp wick', mýkes 'fungus'), from *(s)meug, meuk 'to slip'. More at meek.
Apparently the distinction from peat is based on the level of decomposition: peat = slightly decomposed organic material, vs. muck = highly decomposed.

Reposted from 2015 to insert the photo from this year's National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition (via a gallery in The Atlantic).  Credit: Joost Boerman.  

The power of hurricane-force winds

Although, to be honest, that's probably a palm tree and palms have wood that has evolved to be soft and flexible rather than sturdy.  Still it's a reminder of why weathermen shouldn't stand outdoors for their photo-op reports.

via imgur

26 September 2017

"The Tillman Story" - official trailer

"They lied to the wrong family."
In spite of the best efforts of the White House and the Pentagon, the world would come to know he had been killed in an act of fratricide that was then covered up in favor of a horrible series of official lies.

But that we know the truth at all is owed to the extraordinary determination of Tillman's family, a foulmouthed and eclectic bunch of square-jawed hippies from San Jose, California, and in particular his mother, Mary. A more compliant family, more easily bamboozled by the institutions of American power at the highest levels, might have meekly, or readily, accepted the government's vigorous effort to turn Pat Tillman into a Sergeant York fantasy that it could then exploit relentlessly for propaganda purposes. 
Comments excerpted from a review at Esquire.  Those not familiar with the Pat Tillman saga can review the basics of it at Wikipedia.  My understanding is that the outrage by the family and by knowledgeable members of the public is not directed at the friendly-fire death per se, but on the extensive coverup that ensued.

Addendum:  Those interested in this subject should read Andred O-Hehir's analysis at Salon:
The film is also meant, to some extent, as an antidote to journalist Jon Krakauer's 2009 book "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," which the family strongly disliked...

He was a football star and avid outdoorsman who read Emerson; an agnostic or atheist who read the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon out of intellectual curiosity; a man who relished the high-testosterone simulated combat of sports, and excelled at it, while also maintaining an introspective personal journal he allowed no one to read. As a friend of mine recently observed, many of Tillman's characteristics would seem completely normal among the metropolitan educated classes: He never went anywhere without a book, and typically rode his bike rather than driving a car. But Tillman wasn't a bearded, chai-drinking grad student riding that bike to yoga class in Brooklyn or Silverlake or Ann Arbor. He was the starting strong safety for the Arizona Cardinals, and parked his bike next to his teammates' Porsches and tricked-out Escalades...

I'm only guessing here, but one of the things the Tillman family hated about Jon Krakauer's book was probably the author's tendency to view Pat Tillman's death as a case study in the evils of war and the limits of idealism. I might incline toward that view myself, but the Tillmans don't. Right-wing propagandists quickly learned that the Tillman family wasn't going to stick to the pious, patriotic script. (Pat's drunken younger brother, Rich, at the nationally televised funeral: "Pat isn't with God. He's fucking dead.") But the Tillmans aren't interested in starring in an antiwar morality play either. As they see it, Pat Tillman died as he lived, as an American who thought for himself, hewed to his own course and kept his word. It's the rest of us who have betrayed him.
More at the link.

Reposted in 2011 because I just this week finally got an opportunity to view the film. It is excellent (confirmed by a 93% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes).

Reposted in 2017 because Donald Trump, for whatever reason, chose to retweet Pat Tillman in support of his criticism of professional football playersPat Tillman's widow is justifiably pushing back:
"The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one's heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for," Marie Tillman said. "Even if they didn't always agree with those views."


"Among the grains of sand in the surf zone you will in time find... entoprocts, gastrotrichs, gnathostomulids, kinorhynchs, nematodes, nemerteans, priapulids, sipunculans, and tardigrades."

Encountered in Chapter 13 of E.O. Wilson's newest book, Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life.  It's a plea for habitat conservation and the preservation of our planet's biodiversity.  Most of the information is familiar, but for the TL;DR crowd I can highly recommend Chapter 15 ("The Best Places in the Biosphere"), for which Wilson polled "eighteen of the world's senior naturalists, each with international experience and expertise in biodiversity and ecology, and asked their opinion on the best reserves, those sheltering assemblages of notably unique and valuable species of plants, animals, and microorganisms."  The resulting compilation of about 35 locations is a joy to read.

Including this about the scrubland of southwestern Australia:
"Possessing a mild, Mediterranean-type climate and molybdenum-deficient soil that excludes species other than those adapted to the deficiency, the scrublands have evolved much like the flora of an oceanic island."
You learn something every day.

25 September 2017

CCC spillway at Pope Farm Conservancy (Wisconsin)

The first seventeen entries in my ongoing series of posts about the stonework of the Civilian Conservation Corps featured structures situated in state and national parks - bridges, ramparts, towers, stairways and other substantial achievements.  Stonework of that type has been well preserved because of the locations and ongoing usefulness of the structures.

But the boys in the CCC also did an immense amount of work in fire prevention (fire breaks, lookout towers), reforestation, water control (dams, reservoirs) and soil conservation.   The structure in the photo above is one of probably thousands of such water/soil conservation measures that have been generally forgotten (and in most cases left to fall into disrepair).

I encountered this stonework while hiking at the Pope Farm Conservancy, a working farm with restored natural areas located in the western suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin.  I had visited there last year to photograph and blog the remarkable display of sunflowers.

On my recent visit I explored a different part of the property, where hiking trails had been carved out of restored short-grass prairie:

Without a panorama image it's hard to depict the rolling contour in this area created by deposition of sand during the terminal phase of the last glaciation.  The hill in front of me (above) is a recessional moraine.  To the right of the photo the land slopes downward, then back up again to a broad "bowl" currently covered by cropland and native prairie.

Prior to the arrival of European immigrants, a basin like this would have been covered with either long grasses or short grasses -

Prairie grasses evolved immense root systems that enabled them to regrow after intensive grazing by massive herds of bison, or after wildfires or drought.  What they couldn't survive was the introduction of intensive farming, and especially the cutting power of steam- or gasoline-powered tractors.  I don't need to repeat here the familiar sequence of stripping vegetation to plant crops, followed by topsoil erosion by wind and water.

By the 1930s a basin such as the one above would have been deeply gullied by rainwater and snowmelt and the runoff would have been choking local streams with sediment.  Teams of CCC boys were mobilized to correct these problems on a farm-by-farm basis.

All you see now at the base of the "bowl" is this concrete structure:

This is a simple, but perfectly adequate spillway.
"This dam design, called a head flume, was suggested by UW-Madison soils and agriculture professor Otto Zeasman.  It was simple because the intent was merely to slow the flow of water during times of heavy rain and runoff."
To the left and right of the downsloping segment are short concrete walls and then earthen berns, which direct water to the center:

The chute prevents ground erosion as it conducts the water down the steepest part of the slope.  At the base of the chute (hard to see with summer vegetation overgrowth) is a triangular concrete "velocity check" structure, and behind that a pile of large boulders in the "stilling basin":

These components of the spillway absorb the kinetic energy of the falling water, which then proceeds down the ravine in the background with much less erosive force (cutting the velocity in half reduces erosion by a factor of 64 according to the information on a local informational placard).  Another placard notes:
"Construction of the dam began in late summer 1938.  A CCC crew of about a dozen young men needed about 2-3 weeks to finish the project.  Other "soil saving" dams of the Great Depression era are quietly deteriorating in farm fields all over Wisconsin.  Still others have been removed.  This structure on the Pope Farm Conservancy site is the only one in south-central Wisconsin (and perhaps the entire state) that is being protected as an historic landmark."
Kudos to the Pope Farm Conservancy for their stewardship of the land and the preservation of this example of a simple structure that helped rural farms recover from the devastating effects of the Great Depression and the Dustbowl.

24 September 2017

Sixty years ago

It was September 1957, the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, and nine black pupils little guessed they were about to plant a milestone in the struggle for civil rights...

On the first day of term, the national guard were there to stop the nine entering Central High, where all 1,900 attendees were white. Three weeks later, on 25 September, the group braved a hostile white crowd, climbed the school steps and were escorted to class by US army troops. They became known and revered as the Little Rock Nine... 

On 23 September 1957, the group did get into the building with police protection. But an angry mob of more than a thousand white people had gathered in front of the school, chanting racist abuse such as “Go back to Africa”. “I really think that we were afraid to look at the mob; at least I was,” says Trickey. “So we just heard it and it was like a sports event, that sound, the roar, but it was a roar of hatred, and just thinking about it makes me shake.”...

The mob started a riot and police decided to remove the students for their own safety. “At about 10am they said: ‘You’ve got to come down to the office,’ and we went down into the basement. They put us in these cars and the cops driving the cars were shaking. They had the guns and sticks and they were scared. ‘Oh wow, this is scary.’ Some of us were told to keep our heads down...

The crisis was cause for Washington to intervene. President Dwight Eisenhower sent in 1,200 paratroopers from the 101st airborne division. The soldiers escorted the students single file into the school for their first full day of classes and dispersed the demonstrators. The US’s racial shame had been exposed, shown on TV and reported in newspapers around the world. 
More at The Guardian


Another blog entry inspired by a crossword puzzle clue.  If I had spent all day pondering 8-letter words describing a praying mantis, I would never have some up with this one.  So I had to Ask An Entomologist:
Why do Mantids Only Have One Ear?

Mantids only have one ear, located in the middle of their [chest between the] middle and hind legs. It’s split in half, but both halves function as a single unit. There’s a single neuron which connects them, and it fires if either half ‘hears’ anything. In essence, they only have one ear. 
This is followed by speculation about why the structure evolved this way.  And one anecdote:
"Taylor Swift’s first job was picking mantis egg cases off Christmas trees to keep them from hatching in the houses of customers."
You learn something every day.


From a photoessay at Vantage:
The premise of Half Drag is simple. Photographer Leland Bobbé’s striking, gender-bending photo series captures New York City drag queens with half of their faces done up in full regalia, the other half au naturel. The result, achieved without any digital effects, is a collection of portraits that put the visual iconography of gender into striking juxtaposition...

... Bobbé suggests holding up a card (or just your hand) to cover one side of each image at a time. The contrast is startling. “People have told me that the male sides in these photos seem vulnerable, the female side with the makeup and jewelry are so powerful,” he says...

The models he photographed came into the studio wearing regular clothes, with several days of facial growth. They then shaved half their faces, and prepared their own hair and makeup. The hair proved to be the hardest part of the process.

“One came in and cut the wig down the middle,” Bobbé says. “Stray hairs would get over to the male side, that’s why the images are all cropped into the forehead, on top of the head are a lot of pins holding everything in place.”
More discussion and portraits at the link.



I was reminded of this song when "Hoople" appeared as a crossword entry this past week.  And since I'd never been able to quite decipher all the words, I sought out this lyrics-annotated version.
"All the Young Dudes" is a song written by David Bowie, originally recorded and released as a single by Mott the Hoople in 1972. In 2004, Rolling Stone rated "All the Young Dudes" No. 253 in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time... It is also one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Bowie himself once claimed that the song was not intended to be an anthem for glam, that it actually carried a darker message of apocalypse. According to an interview Bowie gave to Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, the boys are carrying the same news that the newscaster was carrying in the song "Five Years" from Ziggy Stardust; the news being the fact that the Earth had only five years left to live. Bowie explains: "All the Young Dudes is a song about this news. It's no hymn to the youth, as people thought. It is completely the opposite."

The original Mott the Hoople release had to be changed lyrically in order that it might be played on UK radio and TV. The line in the second verse: "Wendy's stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks" was a reference to UK retailer Marks & Spencer, also known by that colloquialism. As such, air play of the song in its original form would have breached broadcasting regulations relating to advertising in force at the time. The line was replaced with: "Wendy's stealing clothes from unlocked cars". Today, both versions are freely aired.

23 September 2017

Divertimento #135

Horse plays with a woman's zipper.

Toddler scared of her shadow.

Labrador dog comforts a child.

Baseball trick.

Grebe courtship dance.

Geometry of bubbles.

"Horse fences tick so it isn't a constant stream of electricity, so that is why they didn't immediately get zapped and had to wait for the next tick to get shocked."

It's a trap!

Leopard frogs view worm video.

Car soccer.

Feeding frenzy on a chicken farm.

"Beast mode on" (soccer)

"When the food fights back"

How an eel's double jaw works.

Cats are capable of performing amazing jumps.

Traffic shockwave.

Ants spraying formic acid.

Application of piping.   And cake decorating.

Magnetic building blocks.

A tortoise races a hare.

I didn't know guinea pigs can jump.  You learn something every day.

Anna's hummingbird, up close and personal.

Described as the "headis world championship."

Machine separates red and green tomatoes.

Dog climbs vertical wall.

Watch a tire cross the road.  No - actually, don't watch...

Clever design for a corner cabinet.

Another clever design: a "tambour door" (I remember these from the 1950s)

A softshell turtle is fast in the waterAnd on land.

Do NOT spray "silly slime" around open flames.  (trigger warning: child's hair in flames)

An "own goal" in ice hockey.

Bird has learned how to trigger a door's motion sensor.

Whale shark pup rescued and released.

How to get a balloon down from the ceiling.  First, find a little girl...

Eleven flips on an exercise ball (not a "fail video")

Juggling tables with your feet.

Why some spacecraft orbits look like sine waves.

Close call for a dog swimming in a Florida lagoon.

Can this man jump across a swimming pool from a standing start?

Girl standing and spinning on bicycle handlebars.

Squirrel escapes with a clever plan rather than blind panic.


Distract the dog with peanut butter.

A father built a "ninja warrior" course for his young daughter.  Impressive...

Baby spiny flower mantids.

Table becomes shelves.  Clever - but useful??

Wakeboarding with a beer.

Pickpocket caught red-handed.

You've heard of "instant karma."  THIS is instant karma.  Or perhaps "carma."

Lightning debarking a tree.  Wow.  Just wow.

btw, there is an entire subreddit devoted to Mechanical GIFs, if you want to waste the rest of your day...

Today's embedded photos are of barn quilts, from a gallery at Madison.com depicting some of the over 300 barn quilts in Shawano County, Wisconsin. (photo credits Jim Leuenberger; originals at Houzz).

21 September 2017

Octopus candleholder

Found at the Crafts subreddit.

Ectopia cordis

Colloquially "heart outside the chest."  This young girl has the Pentalogy of Cantrell:
Link to the BBC program.  More on ectopia cordis.

Your tax money at work

President Donald Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is facing intense criticism due to the revelation that he used private jets on at least five occasions for official business, adding tens of thousands of dollars in expenses for American taxpayers in the process.

Price took five flights between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15 to Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania for various health care-related events, according to Politico. His predecessors under President Barack Obama, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, used commercial jets when flying within the continental United States.

On one occasion, Price took a charter flight from the Washington-area Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, costing taxpayers roughly $25,000. A flight on United Airlines was leaving at roughly the same time and would have cost only $447 to $725 per person, Politico noted. There were also four Amtrak trains that Price could have taken, which would have gotten him to Philadelphia on time; the cheapest train could cost $72 in advance. And, of course, he could have driven the 125-mile trip, taking about 2 1/2 hours, according to Politico.
Additional details at Salon.

If you want a real rant on this topic, read How the one percent put the fix in at 30,000 feet.
"Time is money, and the wealthy and their political lackeys have been able to use the one to buy the other with their Gulfstreams and Falcons and Bombardiers. They don’t wait in line. Nobody tells them to turn off their cell phones and other electronic devices. A big black car drops them off at the steps to a gleaming jet and moments later, they’re aloft, above the fray, flying over the heads of the rest of us plebes down here dragging our crummy carry-ons and sweating out whether we remembered to take that damn bottle of mouthwash and transfer three ounces of it into a little travel bottle and stick that goddamned thing in a fucking plastic bag, or somebody in dark trousers and a blue shirt is going to tell us to open our bag and go jamming their hands in our underwear and socks until they come up with the offending bottle of dangerous mouthwash so we can be given the choice of going back to the counter and checking it, or throwing the damn stuff in the nearby trash bin supplied for just that purpose."
Way more at the link.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Photographed yesterday nectaring on the last blossoms of our rue.  Not as sharp as I'd like the photo to be, but not bad for a cellphone image.

The main website for butterfly sightings in Wisconsin is getting numerous reports of large numbers of Painted Ladies.  Earlier this week I received an email from a friend up in Walker, Minnesota who photographed a group of at least 70 of these butterflies nectaring in her front garden. 

Happy Afghan child

Posted because Americans seldom see those words written together.

Via Reddit, where the photo location is noted as being set up for raisin-processing.

"Isle of Dogs" trailer


Has overtones of Wall-E.   Interesting that there are eleven actors from his Grand Budapest Hotel who provide voices for this animation. 

18 September 2017

The world has an abundance of "Devil's Bridges"

The one in the photo above (that doesn't look real...) is the Rakotzbrücke at the Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau (Germany).  (summer photo)
Devil's Bridge is a term applied to dozens of ancient bridges, found primarily in Europe. Most of these bridges are stone or masonry arch bridges and represent a significant technological achievement. Each of the Devil's Bridges has a corresponding Devil-related myth or folktale. Local lore often wrongly attributes these bridges to the Roman era, but in fact many of them are medieval, having been built between 1000 and 1600 AD. In medieval times some Roman roads were themselves considered beyond human capabilities and needs, and therefore had to have been built by the devil.
List of such bridges and some legends at the link.

Is this the "worst ever" legend for a bar graph?


Ásatrú - the religion of the Vikings

Excerpts from an article at Iceland Magazine:
The religion of the original Viking settlers of Iceland, the old Norse paganism Ásatrú, is not just still alive and well in Iceland, it is undergoing something of a renaissance...

According to figures from Statistics Iceland 3,583 people belonged to Ásatrúarfélagið on January 1 2017, up from 1,040 members 10 years ago. The membership has grown by 244% since 2007, making paganism the fastest growing religion in Iceland over the past decade...

This growth has come in spite of the fact that unlike other religious organizations Ásatrúarfélagið has never engaged in any form of missionary work or proselytizing...

The weekly meetings of Ásatrúarfélagið are open to the public, as are all its official ceremonies, the blót...

Ásatrú has no prescribed dogma or scripture. However, you are however encouraged to read the Poetic and Prose Eddas written by the 13th-century chieftain and scholar, Snorri Sturluson. No one actually prays to the gods and how you might ask their intercession is entirely up to you. The gods are imperfect and not divine. They are seen more as friends and don´t judge us humans...

Ásatrú, as it has been practiced in Iceland, is a religion of nature and life, stressing the harmony of the natural world...

Many neo-pagan groups in Europe and the US who consider themselves observers of the religion of the Vikings, practice a religion which glorifies battles, militarism, masculine heroism and in some cases chauvinism, violence, intolerance and racism. Some white-power groups and members of Aryan Nation gangs practice these forms of paganism. Ásatrúarfélagið rejects this as a misreading of Ásatrú.

Long-distance macro lens

Due to hit the shops next year, the Laowa 24mm f/14 Relay 2x Macro lens has a rather long lens barrel that Laowa says can be used to shoot shy subjects at difficult spots without scaring them.
Explanatory video here.

Even more on the Equifax horror story

You know about the security breach affecting 143 million Americans.  You probably didn't know (perhaps don't want to know?) what Krebs on Security reported yesterday:
But the official list of victim countries may not yet be complete: According to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, Equifax can safely add Argentina — if not also other Latin American nations where it does business — to the list as well...

It took almost no time for them to discover that an online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: “admin/admin.”...

Once inside the portal, the researchers found they could view the names of more than 100 Equifax employees in Argentina, as well as their employee ID and email address. The “list of users” page also featured a clickable button that anyone authenticated with the “admin/admin” username and password could use to add, modify or delete user accounts on the system.

A review of those accounts shows all employee passwords were the same as each user’s username. Worse still, each employee’s username appears to be nothing more than their last name, or a combination of their first initial and last name. In other words, if you knew an Equifax Argentina employee’s last name, you also could work out their password for this credit dispute portal quite easily.

But wait, it gets worse... 
More details at Krebs on Security

This at a company whose business is credit monitoring and financial security, for fox ache.


Via the Hmmm subreddit.

Bespoke porn

Bespoke: In sense “custom-made”, 1755, from earlier bespoken (c. 1600), form of bespeak, in sense “arrange beforehand” (1580s).  Primarily used for tailoring, now also used more generally, as fancier term for custom-made, notably for software, as in a “bespoke solution”.
Most people are familiar at least with the concept of bespoke clothing custom-tailored to the individual.  Most probably are not aware that the pornography industry offers bespoke products.
It is very unusual to find second cameramen on porn sets these days: the internet is killing porn-makers who take pride in production values. It’s because the money is now in the pockets of the tech giants in faraway cities such as Montreal, owners of sites such as PornHub that are crammed with pirated content illegally uploaded by fans; PornHub is currently the world’s 38th most popular site.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been tracing the consequences of all that free porn. It’s laying waste to the Valley, compelling some actors to take up escorting, and putting crews and production companies out of business.  But... he explains that customs – bespoke porn – is a new growth industry in the Valley. In houses all around us, teams of professional porn-makers are staying afloat by conjuring into life entire films for just one viewer...

Dan plays me the flyswatter video. In it, a fully clothed woman becomes exasperated because there’s a fly and, to make matters worse, she’s misplaced her flyswatter. Eventually she finds it and spends the rest of the video swatting flies...

Next, Dan shows me a film commissioned by a client they call Condiments Man. A woman in a swimsuit sits in a paddling pool. Rhiannon stands above her, out of shot on a ladder, holding industrial-sized tubs of condiments. And she starts to pour them over her head: ketchup, relish...

Stamps Man, Dan says, is from Norway. He spent 40 years assiduously amassing a stamp collection, which he mailed to them for the purposes of the video.

Dan presses play. It fades in on a book of stamps lying on a living room floor. Three young women enter. They complain about it being hot outside and wonder if they should take a shower. But then they notice the stamp collection. They pick up the book and leaf through it.

“He would rather look at this stamp collection than have sex with me,” one of the women says.
“All the more reason to get rid of it,” her friend replies.

So the girls stomp on the stamps, twisting their heels into the pages. Stamps rip and tear. Then they throw the remaining stamps into the fire.

“Burn! Burn! Burn!” they chant. “This is so fucking awesome.”

“In real life, the girls felt bad about it,” Rhiannon says. “We kept trying to assure them, ‘No, this is really what he wants.’” She pauses. “He’s such a sweet guy. I’m very curious to know what he’s like in real life.”
Much more at The Guardian (safe for work).  This was also the subject of a recent podcast on This American Life.

13 September 2017

Divertimento #134

An interesting jigsaw puzzle.

"An 11-year-old Minnesota girl is recovering from bone-deep lacerations to her foot after being bitten, apparently by a large fish, on Island Lake north of Duluth.  Island Lake is home to large muskies and northern pike."

Annoying floor tile.

"The coastal areas of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, are home to tens of millions of pounds of dumped munitions, said Niall Slowey, a professor at Texas A&M University who has more than a decade researching the topic. That number includes 30,000 tons of chemical agents like mustard, that were dumped following the World Wars."

Unlike wine, whisky does not mature in the bottle.

Romanian waterfall.

"The Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes says that her drinking routine never deviates, remaining the same day after day.... prior to lunch she has a gin and Dubonnet, served with a slice of lemon and ice. During lunch she enjoys a glass of wine and, once evening arrives, the Queen sips on a dry martini, followed by a glass of Champagne."

Odd tattoo.

"Non Je Ne Regrette Rien" translated to English (video).  Marginally safe for work.

"For gulls in Chilean Patagonia, seal pup poop laced with parasitic hookworms is a tasty treat. But the eager birds are snapping up their meals just a little too near to the pups, to the detriment of the seals' tender rear ends..."

ELI5: If we are running out of helium, why are we still selling canisters for balloons?

"Nearly every day for the past 25 years, Arakawa has been diving into the waters of Hasama Underwater Park in Tateyama, Japan, to visit Yoriko—an Asian sheepshead wrasse.  (video)

The unexpected horrors of space medicine (especially space surgery).

Longread on a life well lived.

There seems to be no end to the problem of credit card skimmers at gas pumps: "... the first known example of a skimmer that used SMS messages to exfiltrate its stolen data. More usually, skimmers store their data, and then dump it over Bluetooth when a crook returns to the scene of the crime -- using SMS obviates this step and significantly reduces the criminal's risk."

"You don't need a parachute to skydive.  You only need a parachute if you're going to skydive twice."

"Between 500 and 1,000 shipwrecks were recorded around Quebec’s isolated Magdalen Islands."
(15-page photoessay at the link).  Interesting.

A scary article for anyone planning to vacation in Mexico.

How to fill multiple watering cans.

Clever husband.

"You will be exactly half as old as your mother only once in your life, and that is when you are the same age she was when she gave birth to you."

A man meets a mother grizzly bear and her cubs walking toward him on a narrow trail.  He films and narrates while he walks backwards...

Your facial blackheads may not be blackheads.

"No matter how much we love green energy, we have to admit that wind turbines completely destroy the picturesque landscape."

"How the CIA Came to Doubt the Official Story of JFK’s Murder."

"Harris Hawks are attacking walkers and runners after escaping from falconries across the country, with experts warning that the predators are now breeding in Britain."

Runners World explains "What you need to know about plantar fasciitis."

"Usually bodies emerged from the ice at the top of the glacier, rather than its “tongue” at the bottom of the valley, Jackowski said. The extent to which bodies have been preserved by the ice depends on the circumstances of the person’s demise, with some human remains having been mummified by sunshine and dry winds before being engulfed in ice, while others have been reduced to skeletons."

Annual Redhead Day in the Netherlands.

Young woman applies 100 coats of nail polish to her fingernails (video with 20 million views).

An example of how DNA testing can yield surprisingly unexpected results (longread, but interesting).

Webpage for the Democratic Socialists of America.

"Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a hoodie, the county mayor spent three days and two nights walking and sleeping among the homeless and drug-addicted in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood. One night on the street. One night in the shelter. His experience was "shocking" on multiple levels, he said."

"Out of public view, corporations are cutting deals that give consumers little choice but to buy brand-name drugs — and sometimes pay more at the pharmacy counter than they would for generics."

"Telling patients to stop taking antibiotics when they feel better may be preferable to instructing them to finish the course, according to a group of experts who argue that the rule long embedded in the minds of doctors and the public is wrong and should be overturned."

"... copper should not come in in direct contact with food or drinks that have a pH below 6. The pH of a traditional Moscow mule, made with lime juice, ginger beer and vodka, is well below 6.

Power washed.

Some men consider it necessary to prove their manliness by punching a bear trap with their fist.

Excellent license plate for a Chevy Impala.

Embedded images from Le Livre des Miracles (The book of Miracles)(1552), via Elisandre - L'Oeuvre au Noir.

12 September 2017


Via the Pics subreddit.

Worker shortage in Wisconsin

I first became aware of worker shortages in the Midwest earlier this summer when I was visiting the Minnesota north woods - an area whose economy is heavily dependent on tourist trade to fishing resorts.  Owners of those resorts rely heavily on immigrant labor for what amounts to seasonal employment.  The positions do not require skilled labor - waiting tables in restaurants, cleaning cabins, servicing the docks.  Few Americans want such jobs for a six-month period, but lots of students in Scandinavia for example are (were) glad to come to northern Minnesota for a modestly-paying job in a pleasant and familiar environment.  When immigration controls were tightened, many employers found such applicants less available.

The Wisconsin State Journal is now running a feature series entitled Workers Wanted: Wisconsin's Looming Crisis.  Herewith some excerpts...
Employers from a broad range of industries are reporting difficulty finding workers — and not only for skilled professionals such as nurses, welders and computer programmers, who require a strong education and training system, but also for workers with a high school diploma and some additional training at restaurants, farms, construction sites, factories, senior care facilities, retailers and other businesses...

There are already many state and regional efforts afoot to address the problem, though much of the focus has been on a "skills gap" — the shortage of workers for the advanced-skill jobs of the future that often require years of technical training — even as employers and economic development officials grapple with a much broader people shortage...

Wisconsin's 3.2 percent unemployment rate in July is near a record low and down from a peak of 9.2 percent in January 2010. That's well below what economists consider to be "full employment" — the level at which everyone who is willing and able to work is employed, or about 4 or 5 percent...

Wisconsin also has an aging workforce. Between 2010 and 2025, the 65-and-older population is expected to have increased by two-thirds, while the working-age population is expected to remain flat... The baby boomer retirement has been on the horizon for more than a decade, but the recession delayed some of its impact as older workers stayed in the workforce...

When employers say they can't find workers, what they often mean is they can't find workers willing to work at the wages and benefits offered... More than half (51 percent) of the jobs that listed a low-end wage listed hourly pay levels below the United Way's survival wage for a single person. Even among the jobs that listed a top pay range, 16 percent were below the survival wage...

Many employers around the state express frustration about the quality of the available workforce. They complain about new hires lacking minimal "employability" traits such as showing up for work on time, dressing appropriately and basic communication. Some describe applicants who won't return phone calls yet continue to apply for jobs elsewhere, possibly to fulfill the state's new requirements for receiving unemployment benefits...

Other factors contributing to the worker shortage in Wisconsin may include national immigration policy — though the national immigrant workforce has continued to grow steadily — rising incarceration rates, the growing opiate drug epidemic and a geographic mismatch in where workers and jobs are located, particularly between Milwaukee and its suburbs.

Low-income workers might lack access to transportation and child care, making it harder to work or receive training. In some cases the potential loss of public benefits or garnished child support payments make working for $10 to $12 an hour less appealing...

To milk his 70 cows he’s employed a few part- and full-time workers over the years. But hiring has become more challenging — there has been some decline in available immigrant labor and young workers too often spend time fixated on their phones, De Buhr said... In the past few years he raised hourly wages from $8 to $10 an hour, but workers are asking for as much as $14 an hour now, a sign of the tight labor market and the economic reality of how difficult it is to live on less... So in April, De Buhr cut out the need for two workers entirely by paying $200,000 for a robotic milker.. “It’s milking 24/7 and I don’t have to worry about somebody not showing up,” De Buhr said. “You can mess a herd of cows up in a big hurry if they’re not milked in a timely manner.”..

He worries if nursing homes can’t find quality workers “more and more seniors are going to be turned away from assisted living.” “I hate to say it, but you’re hiring the best of the worst,” Ammons said. “The cream of the crop are genuinely taken. No matter who walks through your door there’s one eye open about: ‘Why are you not working?’”
Much more at the links.

Related:  "An Ohio factory owner said Saturday that though she has blue-collar jobs available at her company, she struggles to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests.
Regina Mitchell, a co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test... "We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we're moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air."  [according to the NYT, she solved the problem by taking unqualified people and training them]

Photo credit: John Hart, State Journal.

Failing the "robot test"

Abstract expressionism vs. Minimalism


You can place me in the category of people who think a lot of "art" is bunk, but having said that, I have to admit that in this video Elisabeth Sherman from the Whitney explains the opposite viewpoint quite lucidly and persuasively.

p.s. to other bloggers - in recent weeks, YouTube seems to have altered their "sharing" options.  In particular, I seem to be unable to download videos at the greater (?650) width that was previously an option.  The "embed" link now always defaults to 560x315. 

Visitation stones

Photographed while walking past the historic Forest Hill Cemetery* in Madison, Wisconsin.  I had to look up some background on the custom.
One of the most common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the gravesite of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting...

The origin of this custom began long ago, when... the body would be placed in the ground, covered with dirt and then large stones would be placed atop the gravesite, preventing wild animals from destroying the remains.

Over time, individuals would go back to the gravesite and continue to place stones, ensuring the security of the site and as a way to build up the “memory” of the loved one...

Another explanation of this custom is derived from the phrase often inscribed on a headstone that reads: t’hey nishmato tsurura b’tsor hachayim (may the soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life). Interestingly, the word tsurura (bound) is related to the word tsur, a pebble kept by shepherds in their slings to keep track of the number of sheep in the herd. 
More information at the Jewish Cemetery Association website.

Related: This morning while running errands I was listening to podcast #180 of No Such Thing As A Fish.  They mentioned a headstone inscribed "You will always be remembered, never forgotten."  It had been left behind at a Dublin airport...

* see also Confederate graveyard - in Wisconsin!

10 September 2017

Best summary of Hurricane Irma status


I don't know who this guy is, but he's good.  This is not an official NWS presentation; he appears to be a well-informed enthusiast on tropical weather.  His presentation is fast and concise.

That's in contrast to the national news media reporters who have to stand out in the wind and "fill airtime" with repetitive and worthless drivel.  I was pleased to see a Hurricane Harvey victim talk back to a CNN reporter:
“Yeah, that’s a lot of shit. But y’all sitting here, y’all trying to interview people during their worst times. Like, that’s not the smartest thing to do.” (“Sorry,” began Flores.) “Like, people are really breaking down, and y’all sitting here with cameras and microphones trying to ask us, ‘What the fuck is wrong with us?’ (“I’m so sorry. . . . ”) And you’re really trying to understand with the microphone still in my face. When she’s shivering cold and my kid’s wet and you still putting a microphone in my face!”
Then a day or two ago a CBS reporter on the nationally-broadcast evening news covering Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys asked a fisherman - and I quote -
"What would it do to your bottom line if you lost your boats?"
What would it do to "your bottom line" if you didn't have boats??? She asked this question of a commercial fisherman, for fox ache.

I've given up on television coverage.  I found the above video in this tropical weather live thread.

And here is the Tropical Tidbits blog by Levi, who produced the video summary I embedded above. 

Addendum:  If you have family or friends on the Florida coast (or other coastline anywhere in the world apparently), you can look up their height above sea level by plugging their address into ElevationMap.

09 September 2017

Plastic-wrapped smoke detector

Photographed in a hotel room in Turkey.  "I let the guy know and he was really apologetic and hadn't realised."

This explanatory observation from the discussion thread: "That’s a dust cover. It’s installed during construction to keep it clean and to not allow false alarms. Typically they are red or orange so it obvious it needs to be removed."

08 September 2017

Getting out of Dodge


"Airplane!" vs. "Zero Hour"


Celebrity geophagia

Many years ago I used to give lectures about geophagia (the consumption of clay).  I saw the phenomenon mostly among urban impoverished women in the Dallas area. Now I'm a bit bemused to discover that it has become a celebrity activity:

"Shailene Woodley, star of “Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” eats clay.  Zoë Kravitz once lost 20 pounds eating clay. Juice Generation, the popular purveyor of liquid lunches that’s partially owned by Salma Hayek, is introducing a one-ounce bentonite clay shot in September.

This Shilene Woodley is cited in a Guardian article as saying
"Clay binds to other materials in your body and helps your body excrete those materials that aren't necessarily the best for you."
What she doesn't cite are the reports I found in the medical literature of zinc deficiency causing serious medical problems in clay eaters.

There's more in the New York Times.  All of this ultimately linked to the current passion for "detoxifying" the body of some imagined evils.

Ingestion of clay was in fact historically a useful (and biologically valid) deterrant to poisoning by heavy metals in Greek and Roman antiquity. Terra sigillata, if ingested before the ingestion of a poison, could bind the toxin (basically acting as an ion-exchange resin) to facilitate excretion from the bowels.  That is the basis used by the modern charlatans to promote their quack concoctions.

For more, see Cup made of terra sigillata.

Reposted from 2015 to add a report about pagophagia in parrots, where the process serves as an essential source of sodium:

The parrots of Southeastern Peru crave an earthy delicacy: dirt. At the Colorado clay lick, a cliff face rising above the Tambopata River in the western Amazon Basin, parrots — often hundreds at a time from up to 18 species — gather each day to feast on sun-hardened clay...

Brightsmith previously showed, for example, that parrot geophagy is concentrated in moist tropical forests where sodium — critical for nerve function and muscle contraction — is quickly washed from the ecosystem, except where it's stored in hard clay. Amazonian clay lick soils typically contain levels of sodium 40 times greater than the parrots' plant foods.
More details at NPR.  The equivalent behavior in butterflies is called "puddling."

Photo credit: Frans Lemmens/Getty Images
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