18 October 2018

René Descartes and the "Exploding Head Syndrome"

Excerpts from an article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine:
René Descartes (1596–1650), “the Father of Modern Philosophy” and advocate of mind-body dualism, had three successive dreams on November 10, 1619 that changed the trajectory of his life and the trajectory of human thought... I propose that Descartes' second dream was not a dream at all; rather, it was an episode of exploding head syndrome; a benign and relatively common parasomnia.

Baillet recounts that Descartes laid awake for 2 hours pondering “the blessings and evils of this world” after his first dream on the night of November 10, 1619. Just as Descartes fell asleep again:

“…immediately he had a new dream in which he believed he heard a sharp and shattering noise, which he took for a clap of thunder. The fright it gave him woke him directly, and after opening his eyes he perceived many sparkling lights scattered about the room. The same thing had often happened to him at other times…”
Descartes' experience following his first dream meets the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Third Edition (ICSD-3) diagnostic criteria for EHS: (1) a sudden loud noise in the head at the wake-sleep transition; (2) causing abrupt awakening and sense of fright; and (3) not associated with significant complaints of pain.

Recent case reports indicate that EHS is often concomitant with another sleep disorder, most notably sleep paralysis, and it may also be more common in undergraduate students... Because EHS is a benign and self-limiting condition, patient education and reassurance is usually all that is required...

The pathophysiology of EHS is unknown. One theory postulates that EHS is the result of a momentary disinhibition of the brainstem reticular formation, occurring during the transition from wakefulness to sleep. A resulting paroxysm of neuronal activity in auditory and visual regions would explain the sudden perception of a loud noise and flash of light. If so, EHS may represent a sensory variant of hypnic jerks.
Much more at the link.  You learn something every day.

Canadian grocery stores running out of Doritos

Via.

Sweet


From the HumansBeingBros subreddit.

17 October 2018

Here's some food for thought


The Murchison meteorite is about five billion years old - older than the Earth

It contains amino acids.
The meteorite belongs to the CM group of carbonaceous chondrites. Like most CM chondrites, Murchison is petrologic type 2, which means that it experienced extensive alteration by water-rich fluids on its parent body before falling to Earth. CM chondrites, together with the CI group, are rich in carbon and are among the most chemically primitive meteorites...

Several lines of evidence indicate that the interior portions of well-preserved fragments from Murchison are pristine. A 2010 study using high resolution analytical tools including spectroscopy, identified 14,000 molecular compounds including 70 amino acids in a sample of the meteorite.
Photo via.

Word for the day: pants

Last night I was listening to an episode of the Great British Baking Show (excellent entertainment, BTW).  One of the contestants said that he had done well in the morning signature bake but had been "pants in the afternoon."  The meaning was evident, but I had to look up the background.

World Wide Words had the answer:
It has been an all-purpose term of disapproval among young people in the UK during the middle to late nineties. It first turned up in print in 1994, in pieces that indicate it was popularised by DJs on the BBC’s radio pop channel, Radio 1... But there’s evidence that the word in this sense is somewhat older, and that it comes from student slang.

Pants in British usage are not trousers, of course, but underpants, principally male. These intimate nether garments have long been a source of innocent merriment among pubescent youth, and this was just another example, in the tradition of the earlier exclamation knickers!, indicating contempt or exasperation. It appears in phrases like “it’s a pile of pants!” (Simon Mayo’s catchphrase) and “it’s pants!” or “it’s absolute pants”, meaning that it’s a total load of rubbish. Later, we began to hear it from older people as in “My tomato crop was pants last year”. In phrases like “say pants to ...” it’s an injunction to wave goodbye to something considered outmoded, unwanted or unnecessary.
You learn something every day.

"Blade Runner Suite"



Via Neatorama.

The Federal budget deficit continues to grow. No end in sight.



As reported by the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago:
Federal revenues were essentially flat in the budget year that just ended, despite stepped up economic growth, strong hiring and rising wages for workers, according to new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that show the effects of last year’s tax law. Government spending rose 3% in fiscal year 2018, pushing the budget deficit to $782 billion, up from $666 billion the previous fiscal year, CBO estimated. As a share of gross domestic product, the deficit totaled 3.9% in fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30, the third consecutive increase. The deficit would have been even higher if not for shifts in the timing of certain payments...

On the spending side, federal outlays rose 3% in the fiscal year, due to rising costs for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as higher interest payments on the public debt and higher military spending.
The WSJ article was based on the Congressional Budget Office's "snapshot" report.  This week the Treasury Department released the final fiscal-year report...
... showing that the deficit for FY 2018 increased to $779 billion, a $113 billion (or 17 percent) increase from FY 2017. The deficit is 3.9 percent of GDP, also up from 3.5 percent in 2017...

The $113 billion increase in the deficit comes from largely flat revenue coupled with increasing spending. Revenue was up only $14 billion, or 0.4 percent. This revenue growth rate is the eighth lowest in the past 50 years, and the seven lower years either coincided with a recession or tax cuts/expiring tax increases enacted shortly after a recession...

Outlays were up $127 billion over FY 2017. Interest was the fastest growing portion of the budget, increasing nearly 24 percent since last year. Other areas of spending growing significantly were Social Security (4.5 percent) and defense (5.6 percent). Defense spending grew by a more rapid rate than recent years due to this year's budget agreement that increased the defense spending cap substantially...

Recent legislation is responsible for the deficit increase. CBO estimated that the tax law would cost $164 billion in FY 2018, which would account for more than the entire deficit increase. The spending deal (the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018) was estimated to cost $68 billion, which would account for about 60 percent of the increase. Other deficit increasing legislation in FY 2018 added $32 billion to the 2018 deficit. These estimates suggest that if none of these laws were enacted, the deficit would have declined to about $515 billion this year. The tax bill and the spending deal are expected to cost more next fiscal year ($228 billion and $185 billion, respectively) as the deficit is expected to reach nearly $1 trillion.
For Fox ache - is there no adult anywhere in Washington who is willing to address this problem.  It seem to me these numbers have hardly been mentioned in the news, because everyone is so busy reporting on Kavanaugh hearings and hurricane damage and the Khashoggi murder and the midterm forecasts.  And the baseball playoffs.  And... squirrel !!!

Embedded image from the second link.

Leaf chromatography


Photographed at an exhibit at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum yesterday.  I need to learn about this, but haven't yet found a concise source (written for adults) to read and cite.   Suggestions?

Scientific American has detailed instructions for undertaking the procedure and interpreting the results:
What are the different bands of color on the test strips? These are the different pigments in the leaves. The ones you may see on your paper towel strips are: green chlorophylls, yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red anthocyanins. Pigments with larger molecules generally stay near the bottom of the strip, where the solution was first "painted" onto the pencil line, because it is harder for them to travel up through the paper towel's woven fiber. Smaller pigments can more easily traverse the paper towel and, consequently, they usually travel farther up the strip.

15 October 2018

Best vacation trip ever. Maybe the best one possible.


The brochure above arrived in my mail this week, because I've been a National Geographic subscriber.  This is what they are offering:


Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the world, and the process became available to the wealthy in the 19th century.  Nowadays such trips are routinely offered by travel agencies.

But this one is different.  Note the destinations:


This is not a trip to New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London etc for shopping.  For those reading this on a phone and unable to decipher the small fonts of the embeds, here are the destinations:
Machu Piccu
Easter Island
Samoa, Polynesia
The Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling
Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom
Lhasa
the Taj Mahal
the Serengeti Plain
Petra and Wadi Rum
Marrakesh
Any ONE of those would for me be the trip of a lifetime.  In addition, you are accompanied on your trip by a National Geographic photographer and a marine biologist, art historian, or anthropologist and archaeologist etc, who will give in-flight lectures on relevant topics - when you are not eating a meal prepared by the expedition chef (using local dishes and served with fine wines):


Travel is in a small(ish) private jet.  Accommodations are in hand-picked small lodges, not big hotels, and entertainment (Rapa Nui dancers, Andean weavers, Bedouin dinners etc) is provided.  And there is an expedition physician traveling with the group.  Of course.

It does cost a lot -


- almost as much as having a medical procedure in an American hospital without insurance.

So it's out of my range by about two log powers, but it still fascinates me.  This is how the 1% live, expending this much for a three-week trip.  Or perhaps charging it to a corporate account to be blended in with other line items.

I guess what I'm jealous of most is the lack of hassles for these travelers.  I can certainly fly somewhere for a vacation, but on arrival I have to rent a car, drive myself through traffic, stay in a big hotel, find a place to eat and so on.  To be catered to like this is an entire different way of life.

But those destinations...

Piano arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody



Via Neatorama.

Evangelical support for Donald Trump

For the past year I've been trying to sequester Donald Trump-related links to a q3monthly "Trump clump," but an article in The Atlantic is so well written that I believe it deserves standalone status.

The author is not your everyday political pundit or internet hack.  Michael Gerson was President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter and senior policy advisor (he wrote Bush's second inaugural address that "called for neo-conservative intervention and nation building around the world.")

Gerson is a neo-conservative and was raised in an Evangelical Christian family.  In this article he asks why Evangelical Christians continue to support a president whose "background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership."
Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ... According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams...

So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons...

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory...

[concise history of evangelicalism from the Civil War to the present at the link]

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated...

Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice...

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues...

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall...

In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities...

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life...

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.
Apologies to the author for such extended excerpts, but there is way, way more at The Atlantic.  I encourage readers to read the original beginning to end.

When you feed on exploding seed pods...


Via BoingBoing.

Word for the day: Stook

A stook, also referred to as a shock or stack, is an arrangement of sheaves of cut grain-stalks placed so as to keep the grain-heads off the ground while still in the field and prior to collection for threshing. Stooked grain sheaves are typically wheat, barley and oats.

The purpose of a stook [or 'stooking'] is to dry the unthreshed grain while protecting it from vermin until it is brought into long-term storage. The unthreshed grain also cures while in a stook. In England, sheaves were commonly stacked in stooks of twelve and may therefor refer to twelve sheaves.

In North America, a stook may also refer to a field stack of six, ten or fifteen small (70–90 lb (30–40 kg)), rectangular bales of hay or straw. These bales may be stacked and deposited by a "stooking machine" or "stooker" that is dragged, sled-like, behind the baler.
The Oxford Dictionaries website lists the etymology as Middle English.  When I was growing up in Minnesota, we would refer to these as "shocks," reserving the word "stack" for the larger haystacks.

Related: Sculpting with straw and Making hay while the sun shines (video).

Credit for the photo of a field in Devon: Paul McLoughlin, via a gallery of landscape photos at The Guardian.

12 October 2018

Leaf shape as a marker of average annual temperature


Plants in temperate climates tend to have leaves with serrated margins, i.e. they have jagged edges; plants in warmer and more humid climates tend to have what are known in botanical jargon as entire margins, that is, smooth and unserrated. The difference is illustrated in the photographs.

Rather than there being a sharp cut-off between the temperate and tropical styles of leaves, there is a continuous relationship between the climate and the mix of leaf types found in it: that is, as the climate gets a little hotter and wetter, the proportion of entire margins increases a little. This means that looking at a single leaf doesn't tell us that we are looking at a temperate or tropical climate; but
looking at a whole lot of species will allow us to do something a whole lot better than simply dividing climates into tropical or temperate: we can actually estimate the average annual temperature.

We can establish by observation that the ratio of temperate to tropical leaf styles is a surprisingly good indicator of average annual temperature, as illustrated by the graph [right], showing the relationship between floras and temperature in the forests of East Asia.
More at the link (and source credit for the graph).  That article didn't address the question of "why."  I found some related discussion in a Smithsonian article about fossilized leaves:
Scientists are still trying to understand the exact basis for this relationship, but they think it’s because plants in colder climates need to get a jump-start on converting sunlight to energy (photosynthesis) in the spring. Having more teeth enables more water to move out of the leaves, increasing the flow of sap and ramping up photosynthesis. This is important if you need to start photosynthesizing lots of food quickly, say because you only have a brief growing season before the cold comes. If you’re in a warm climate though, jagged edges do more harm than good: losing water can be dangerous to the leaf and to the whole plant, especially when it’s hot. This set of tradeoffs makes one leaf shape more favorable (and thus more predominant) at certain temperatures.

Borderline behavior

 
Excerpts from an article in this month's Harper's:
Laura Sandoval threaded her way through idling taxis and men selling bottles of water toward the entrance of the Cordova International Bridge, which links Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. Earlier that day, a bright Saturday in December 2012, Sandoval had crossed over to Juárez to console a friend whose wife had recently died. She had brought him a few items he had requested—eye drops, the chimichangas from Allsup’s he liked—and now that her care package had been delivered, she was in a hurry to get back to the Texas side, where she’d left her car. She had a three-hour drive to reach home, in the mountains in New Mexico, and she hated driving in the dark.

Sandoval took her place in the long line of people waiting to have their passports checked by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When it was her turn, she handed her American passport to a customs officer and smiled amicably, waiting for him to wave her through. But the officer said she had been randomly selected for additional screening. Sandoval was led to a secondary inspection area nearby, where two more officers patted her down. Another walked toward her with a drug-sniffing dog, which grew agitated as it came closer, barking and then circling her legs. Because the dog had “alerted,” the officer said, Sandoval would now have to undergo another inspection.

She was taken to a fluorescent-lit, windowless room inside the port of entry office. Two female officers entered and announced that they were going to search her for drugs. They patted her down again, but found nothing. At that point, Sandoval assumed they would release her, but instead they told her they were going to conduct a strip search. The officers put on latex gloves, picked up flashlights, and asked Sandoval to remove her clothes and bend over so they could look for signs of drugs in her vagina and her rectum.

By the time they finished, Sandoval had been detained for more than two hours in the stifling room. Her passport and cell phone had been confiscated; her husband and children had no idea where she was. Sandoval begged to be released. “I was shaking and I was in tears,” she told me. Saying nothing, the officers put her in handcuffs and led her to a patrol car waiting outside. They left the international bridge and drove north into Texas. Frightened, Sandoval asked the officers if they had a warrant for her arrest. “We don’t need a warrant,” one of them replied...
Sandoval, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, told me that after the officers forced her into the squad car, they drove her to University Medical Center, a public hospital in El Paso. The officers found an empty room and shackled her to the examination table. A nurse entered and asked her to swallow a laxative so they could observe her bowel movement. Then a group of doctors came in. Sandoval pleaded with them to let her go. “A nurse told me to calm down,” she said. “That this was something they did anytime Border Patrol brought people in.” One of the doctors conducted a vaginal and rectal search using a speculum and his hands. “The agents kept saying that they knew I had drugs,” Sandoval told me. Still not satisfied, the doctor ordered an X-ray and a full-body scan. Again they found nothing...

Sandoval tried to forget about what had happened to her. She figured it would be too costly to fight the government. But then the bills from the hospital started to arrive. For the cavity searches, the X-ray, and the CT scan, the hospital was charging her $5,488. [she had refused to sign a consent form]
The article continues at Harper's.   I'm going to close comments for this post.  Posted because some people don't realize what's going on in this country.  Just to emphasize - this lady is a legal American citizen.  The only "probable cause" was someone's interpretation of a dog's behavior.
And these CBP agents operate not just at the border itself, but for a hundred miles inside (see the map at top), where two-thirds of all Americans live.  Some "roving patrols" extend twice that far.
In 2008, Patrick Leahy, a senator from Vermont, was stopped at a temporary immigration checkpoint in New York—125 miles from the border. Agents ordered Leahy to get out of his car and asked him to prove that he was a US citizen. When Leahy asked under what authority the Border Patrol agent was acting, the agent pointed to his gun and said, reportedly, “That’s all the authority I need.”...

[Beto] O’Rourke’s opposition to CBP’s sweeping powers stems in part from his own encounter with border agents. In 2009, he and his two-year-old son were detained at a checkpoint more than seventy miles from the border while agents pulled his truck apart. “They don’t have to explain why they’re holding you,” he said, “and you’re not given the right to an attorney.” O’Rourke told me that he and his son were held in a cell for close to thirty minutes before they were allowed to leave. “It was a strange feeling to be held against my will and to have my car searched,” he said. “I hadn’t committed any crime. I hadn’t even crossed the border.”..

Sandoval said she was glad to hear that the hospital had changed its policy, but she still worried that CBP would subject others to similar treatment. She has not been back to Juárez. “It’s not because I’m afraid to go to Mexico,” she told me. “I’m afraid of coming back to my own country.”
There's more at the link.  Sad.

What are the gizmos inside this sign ?


Inside the golden arches and the nameplate is a series of what appear to be aluminum plates with a regular array of holes.  I'm guessing these must be components of a lighting system (perhaps for LEDs ?), but can't figure out how they work.  Nothing important, but curious minds want to know, and I thought some reader here might have the answer.

Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Word for the day: Sortition

"Federal authorities have charged a New York man with building a 200-pound (90-kilogram) bomb they say he planned to detonate on Election Day on the National Mall in Washington. Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, was charged Wednesday with unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device and interstate transportation and receipt of an explosive. Prosecutors said he planned to use the bomb to kill himself and draw attention to a political system called sortition, in which public officials are chosen randomly rather than elected."
From Wikipedia:
In governance, sortition (also known as choice by lot, allotment, or demarchy) is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates. Sortition ensures all competent and interested parties have an equal chance of holding public office. It also minimizes factionalism, since there would be no point making promises to win over key constituencies if one was to be chosen by lot. Elections, by contrast, foster factionalism. For that reason, when the time came to choose individuals to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians resorted to choosing by lot. In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials, and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of true democracy.
More at the link on the theory, and on historical examples of its utilization.  One of the examples cited is "picking a school class monitor by drawing straws."  Here are some other excerpts:
Compared to a voting system – even one that is open to all citizens – a citizen-wide lottery scheme for public office lowers the threshold to office. This is because ordinary citizens do not have to compete against more powerful or influential adversaries in order to take office, and because the selection procedure does not favour those who have pre-existing advantages or connections – as invariably happens with election by preference.

These Greeks recognized that sortition broke up factions, diluted power, and gave positions to such a large number of disparate people that they would all keep an eye on each other making collusion fairly rare.

The most common argument against pure sortition (that is, with no prior selection of an eligible group) is that it does not discriminate among those selected and takes no account of particular skills or experience that might be needed to effectively discharge the particular offices to be filled.

Because it introduces randomness in determining outcomes, there is always the statistical possibility that sortition may put into power an individual or group that do not represent the views of the population from which they were drawn... This argument applies to juries, but less to larger groups where the probability of, for example, an oppressive majority, are statistically insignificant.
The chance of American elected officials approving the utilization of sortition is, of course, one in a hundred gazillion bazillion, plus or minus.

"Mooooooooo....." (updated)


Photo via.

Reposted to add this (via):

10 October 2018

Caterpillar of the Tailed Emperor butterfly


Via.

I wonder what writers think the breath is baited with ???


Saw this comment somewhere yesterday, and I agree with World Wide Words that this error is so common that there is a real danger "that it will soon become the usual form."
Bated and baited sound the same and we no longer use bated (let alone the verb to bate), outside this one set phrase, which has become an idiom. Confusion is almost inevitable. Bated here is a contraction of abated through loss of the unstressed first vowel (a process called aphesis); it means “reduced, lessened, lowered in force”. So bated breath refers to a state in which you almost stop breathing as a result of some strong emotion, such as terror or awe.
Shakespeare is the first writer known to use it, in The Merchant of Venice, in which Shylock says to Antonio: “Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key, / With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, / Say this ...”. Nearly three centuries later, Mark Twain employed it in Tom Sawyer: “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”.
For those who know the older spelling or who stop to consider the matter, baited breath evokes an incongruous image; Geoffrey Taylor humorously (and consciously) captured it in verse in his poem Cruel Clever Cat:
Sally, having swallowed cheese,
Directs down holes the scented breeze,
Enticing thus with baited breath
Nice mice to an untimely death.
p.s. yes I know the title should read "with what"...

Boomwhackers


"American Craig Ramsell reportedly came up for the idea for his boomwhackers in 1994 while at home recovering from radiation therapy. While cutting cardboard tubes into shorter lengths for recycling he happened to notice the different pitches resulting from the different lengths and decided to investigate their creative potential. He experimented with various plastics before settling on plastic mailing tubes.

Boomwhackers produce musical tones when struck together, on the floor, or against nearly any surface. They can also be grouped together and struck with mallets in different configurations, in specialized holders (homemade or available from the manufacturer), similar to a horizontally-aligned xylophone. When one end of a Boomwhackers tube is covered with what the manufacturer calls an Octavator Cap, the pitch it produces is lowered by an octave.

Boomwhackers are most commonly used in elementary music classrooms as an inexpensive alternative or supplement to traditional pitched instruments such as xylophones and metallophones. Boomwhackers are often used by performance artists and other musical performance groups to add an element of spectacle. They can also be used by people with intellectual and developmental impairment to develop sensorimotor skills, social skills, and creativity."

Which is which ?


You probably know the difference between these two elevator buttons, but which is which?  (not that it matters - they probably don't work anyway).

Answer: the one with the line is for the front.

"Bullshit asymmetry principle"

Publicly formulated the first time in January 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer, the bullshit asymmetry principle (also known as Brandolini's law) states that:
The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

09 October 2018

Reunion of twins separated at birth



An 8-minute video worth watching.  Backstory at The Atlantic.

Posted for my twin cousins, Audrey and Meridee.  

08 October 2018

Selling my mother at a barn auction


Since you "can't take it with you," everyone eventually has to decide what to do with memorabilia.  Photos and letters from grandparents, aunts and uncles will logically go to the next generation of my cousins and nieces and nephews.  But what to do with a baby photo of my late mother?  My grandparents had the photo enlarged to almost-lifesize, then placed it in a large (and heavy) wooden frame of "tiger-stripe" pattern apparently popular after the turn of the century; the glass is top-of-the-line convex "bubble glass."

The framed photo hung on the wall in my grandparents' farmhouse for probably 40 years, then was stored in my parents' home for another 50 years, then to me for 10 years.  Now it's at the end of the road.  Others in my family are happy to get old photos of my mother as an adult, and especially of her as a senior citizen, but a picture of her as a baby triggers no memories and has no sentimental value, and most modern mobile young families don't want to be burdened with a heavy wood-and-glass photo frame.

So this past week I loaded mom in my car, along with a couple Coca-Cola mirrors I bought at a Bill Wade auction in Dallas in the 1970s, and my sister's sleepy-eyed "walking" bridal doll, and my paternal grandfather's medical encyclopedias from his corner drug store, plus boxes of my old collectibles and knick-knacks, and hauled them to a local auctioneer.

My whole adult life I've enjoyed barn auctions, sitting in the bleachers on a Sunday afternoon, or walking through a crowd in a farmyard rummaging through stuff on carts and wagons.  There are amazing bargains to be found, and when you don't win you help the seller by boosting the price that winds up being paid by whoever outbid you.

When she was in her late 90s, my mother moved from Minnesota to our town here in Wisconsin, and she enjoyed going to barn auctions, where she would walk around looking at farm implements and old kitchen tools and pottery and dishware and say "I remember these" over and over again.  I think she would be delighted to have her old picture frame going to a new family to start a new life.

Weaving


I've always been fascinated by weaver birds and orioles and their suspended nests.

Photo: Mahesh Kumar A/AP, via The Guardian.

"Paper terrorism" explained

The term is briefly defined on a Wikipedia entry, but is better explained in a recent Harper's article:
In the spring of 2011, Cherron Marie Phillips, a real estate agent in Chicago, decided to take revenge on twelve government officials who had been involved in prosecuting her brother Devon for drug trafficking. Phillips went to the office of her local recorder of deeds, where she filed a series of liens against the judges, prosecutors, law enforcement agents, and court staff who had taken part in his case... Phillips claimed that Fitzgerald owed her brother $100 billion...

Such tactics have become known as paper terrorism, defined by Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League, as “the use of bogus legal documents and filings, or the misuse of legitimate ones, to intimidate, harass, threaten, or retaliate against public officials, law enforcement officers, or private citizens.” Liens are simple and inexpensive for paper terrorists to file but difficult for victims to scrub away. Even when the claims are obviously fake—alleging debts of outlandish magnitude—the supposed debtors can be forced to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to clear the titles to their homes or to restore their credit ratings...

Recently, current and former inmates, who were introduced to paper terrorism by incarcerated sovereign citizens, have been employing its tactics in nothing-to-lose gambits and harassment campaigns. Since the sovereign citizen movement tends to attract followers during economic downturns, the next one, which seems cyclically due, may bring with it a surge in phony filings. Similarly, Pitcavage warns that if the Democrats return to power—or if Trump is impeached—there will be a wave of anti-government anger on the right, and sovereign citizens will get swept up in it. “Anytime there is a surge in sovereign citizen activity,” he says, “you will see an increase in paper terrorism.”

06 October 2018

Encouraging animal adoption


Cat and rabbit images, and their source, are presented at Neatorama.

"... where no man has gone before"


This is the surface of a comet.
This image shows a portion of 67P/C-G as viewed by Rosetta on 22 September 2014, only one and a half months after the spacecraft had made its rendezvous with the comet. At the time, the spacecraft was 28.2 km from the comet centre (around 26.2 km from the surface). Amateur astronomer Jacint Roger Perez, from Spain, selected and processed this view by combining three images taken in different wavelengths by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on Rosetta.

Seen in the centre and left of the frame is Seth, one of the geological regions on the larger of the two comet lobes, which declines towards the smoother Hapi region on the comet’s ‘neck’ that connects the two lobes. The landscape in the background reveals hints of the Babi and Aker regions, both located on the large lobe of 67P/C-G. For a wider image of this region in the overall context of the comet see here.

The sharp profile in the lower part of the image shows the Aswan cliff, a 134 m-high scarp separating the Seth and Hapi regions. Observations performed by Rosetta not long before the comet’s perihelion, which took place on 13 August 2015, revealed that a chunk of this cliff had collapsed – a consequence of increased activity as the comet drew closer to the Sun along its orbit.
More at the ESA website.

Thought for the day


Via.

Interesting "how-to" video


Very interesting, but the petulant response to an error at the end seems discordant. This is one of a series of instructional videos by the artist, and it looks to me as though the error at the end was intentional, perhaps to emphasize that anything less than perfection is supposed to be discarded?

But the first 98% of the runtime is interesting for showing how things used to be done.

Via Neatorama.

Today (10/6) is Mad Hatter Day


Explained here:
Mad Hatter Day is 10/6. The date was chosen from the illustrations by John Tenniel in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, wherein the Mad Hatter is always seen wearing a hat bearing a slip of paper with the notation "In this style 10/6". We take this as inspiration to behave in the style of the Mad Hatter on 10/6 (which is October 6 here, although in Britain MadHatterDay occurs on June 10...but I digress...)

Mad Hatter Day began in Boulder, CO, in 1986, among some computer folk who had nothing better to do. It was immediately recognized as valuable because they caused less damage than if they'd been doing their jobs.
As I searched this topic on the 'net today, it was interesting to see how many observers misinterpret the 10/6 on his hat as being either a style number ("The Mad Hatter’s top hat, according to Lewis Carroll, was of the 10/6 style") or worse ("my birthdate (10/6) is on his hat although I think that is his hat size!"). The correct interpretation, of course, is that "the paper in the Mad Hatter's Hat was really an order to make a hat in the style shown, to cost ten shillings sixpence."

(Reposted)

05 October 2018

A heat map of initials from the U.S. year 2000 census


Found at the DataIsBeautiful subreddit.

Is the U.S. laying the groundwork for future biological warfare ?

Government-backed researchers in America are aiming to use virus-carrying insects to genetically engineer crops – raising fears the technology could be used for biological weapons.

A new article in the journal Science explores the shadowy program funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). The program aims to disperse infectious, genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to alter the
chromosomes of crops – using insects to spread the viruses to the plants.

Researchers have budgeted more than $45m to pursue the genetic engineering scheme, in a program dubbed Insect Allies.

The agency describes the research as a way to improve crop security: bugs like aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies will be used to spread a virus to plants including corn and tomatoes, which will then impart beneficial genes making the plants resistant to disease or drought.

But in the Science article, an international team of scientists and lawyers warn that the technology could be put to more nefarious purposes, including military applications.

“It is our opinion that the knowledge to be gained from this program appears very limited in its capacity to enhance US agriculture or respond to natural emergencies,” they write. “As a result, the program may be widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their means of delivery.”..

“We have viruses which can genetically modify a plant, or even a mouse,” Reeves said. “But no one’s ever proposed dispersing them into the environment. That’s the thing that makes Insect Allies unique.”..

At the same time, the spread of virus-carrying insects could be hard to control...

Darpa says there is nothing to fear from the program.
You be the judge.  More information at the Guardian link above, and at Vice's Motherboard.   Embedded image via DARPA.

Can you guess what this is ?


It's an elephant's tail (via).   For centuries it has been used in ritual ceremonies in Africa.  Nowadays it is sometimes displayed as a trophy by people who kill elephants.

"Loving Vincent"


This is an interesting movie. 
Loving Vincent is a 2017 experimental animated biographical drama film about the life of painter Vincent van Gogh, and in particular, the circumstances of his death. It is the first fully painted animated feature film.

Each of the film's 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh, created by a team of over 100 painters. The film premiered at the 2017 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It won Best Animated Feature Film Award at the 30th European Film Awards in Berlin and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards.  
The painting-on-glass technique employed for Loving Vincent reminded me of The Old Man and the Sea (1999) - embedded full-length here (plus a "making of" video):

Plastic in the environment - updated

Source.

In response to an anonymous comment ("ahhh....photoshop") this morning, I searched for and found a video of an equivalent turtle (p.s. Amy, you are hereby warned...) :


In 2009 I posted an item at Neatorama entitled "Death by Plastic" with photos of albatross and seabird carcasses engorged with plastic; among the 30+ comments were several claiming that the stories were fake and the images contrived.  I don't know whether there are some people who actually don't believe these things happen, or whether they just get personal satisfaction out of making troll comments.

That same year I also posted this indescribably horrifying video of plastic heading out to sea from a Romanian river.  I'll keep posting these items, because what humans are doing to our oceans is nothing short of criminal.

Reposted from 2011 to add this report that Carlsberg is now gluing beer cans together:

Carlsberg beer cans are to be stuck together with glue as it becomes one of the first brewers to abandon plastic rings.

The Danish firm said the move, which has been heralded as a world-first, to attach its multi-packs with adhesive will reduce the use of plastic to package products by 75 per cent.

After a three-year development process, Carlsberg insists the dots of glue bonding its new "Snap Packs" are strong enough to withstand journeys from shelves to homes, yet sufficiently brittle to break when twisted.

30 September 2018

Cytoplasmic streaming



Video credit and details, from the Nikon Small World in Motion video competition, via Neatorama.

Lots of fascinating brief science videos at that second link*.   This cytoplasmic streaming fascinates me.  Can some reader explain what directs this motion?  Are there cilia on the tubule walls?

*if/when you visit, check out the "soy sauce evaporating."

"Sipping seawater through clothing"

Most of you have probably heard the story of the Indonesia teenager who survived on a fishing raft adrift in the ocean for 49 days.   This is the part that interested me:
The teenager only had a few days worth of supplies and survived by catching fish, burning wood from his hut to cook them, and sipping seawater through his clothes to minimize his salt intake.
I've heard of drinking water through cloth to remove particulates, but I can't see how it could possibly lower the salt content of seawater.   Other reports indicate that he did capture some rainwater, and maybe the flesh of any fish he could catch would be less hypertonic than seawater (?).  But he did survive 49 days adrift.

Interesting clam-digging tool



Are these "clam gun" pipes new? It's been decades since I was involved in any clam-digging, but all I remember from that era were conventional shovels and frustrating chases after clams that were deep and disappeared quickly.

"Embroidered American flag on sleeve"


Apparently totally ignorant of the U.S. Flag code, which states in article 8j:
No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. 
This athletic jersey is offered for sale at the official Donald J. Trump store.

Stephen Hawking's memorial stone in Westminster Abbey


The formula represents the temperature of a black hole.  Image via.

"Tongue-tied" is not just a figure of speech

The New York Times reports on a boy who was thought to have a neurologic etiology for his speech problem, until a dentist noticed that the boy's tongue was fixed to the floor of his mouth by a tight frenulum.
“My husband and I were the only ones that could understand him.”  That all changed in April 2017, when Dr. Amy Luedemann-Lazar, a pediatric dentist, was performing unrelated procedures on Mason’s teeth. She noticed that his lingual frenulum, the band of tissue under his tongue, was shorter than is typical and was attached close to the tip of his tongue, keeping him from moving it freely.

Dr. Luedemann-Lazar ran out to the waiting room to ask the Motzes if she could untie Mason’s tongue using a laser.  After a quick Google search, the parents gave her permission to do so. Dr. Luedemann-Lazar completed the procedure in 10 seconds, she said.

After his surgery, Mason went home. He had not eaten all day. Ms. Motz heard him say: “I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. Can we watch a movie?”

28 September 2018

Trump clump #5

This "collusion map" is from a longread at NYMag.

Four months have passed since the last "Trump Clump," designed to cluster Trump-related links into a single post so that Trump supporters can easily skip over one post, and even more importantly to free up the rest of the blog from this often-depressing subject matter.  Time for one massive cleansing effort.

Video showing that Donald Trump doesn't know the words to "God Bless America."

Donald Trump does not know how to color a United States flag:
The photo was originally posted by Alex Alar, the health secretary, in his Twitter feed (scroll down to Aug 24). 

He cannot pronounce the word "anonymous" (video - two mistakes within 5 seconds)

In this tweet Donald Trump confessed to collusion.

A Russian asbestos-manufacturing company has put Donald Trump's face on their product: “He supported the head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who stated that his agency would no longer deal with negative effects potentially derived from products containing asbestos."  More hereAnd here.  And this: ​On Friday, the EPA will enter the final stage of approval for a new rule that would allow manufacturers to use asbestos in new products, pending an EPA review. If implemented, this significant new use rule (SNUR) would reintroduce the use of asbestos into new building materials, reversing regulations that restricted "new uses" of asbestos.


"President Donald Trump hired hundreds of undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish a New York City building in 1980 and paid them as little as $4 an hour without providing proper safety equipment to do the job, court documents show. The workers and their contractor, William Kaszycki of Kaszycki & Sons, sued Trump for unfair labor practices in 1983. After litigation dragged on for 15 years, Trump ultimately paid $1.375 million to settle the caseThe settlement was kept under seal for nearly two decades. But last week, in response to a motion filed by Time Inc. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta A. Preska ordered the documents be made public."... During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump frequently boasted that, while he had been sued many times, he had “never settled.” He also campaigned extensively on calls to hire American workers while cracking down on illegal immigration. "

Trump indicated he believes that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election because that’s what Putin told him.

At the G7 meeting he tossed two Starburst candies on the table and told Merkel, "Don’t Say I Never Gave You Anything."

Re "chain migration": Melania Trump’s parents were sworn in as US citizens on Thursday, completing a legal path to citizenship that their son-in-law has suggested eliminating. 



Trump criticized the external appearance of the restaurant which refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  But... "The president’s Mar-a-Lago resort has been faulted with 51 health-code violations since 2013. Health inspectors have also found an additional 30 at Mar-a-Lago’s beach club. Trump’s Doral golf club outside Miami has fared even worse: Between its main kitchen, banquet hall, café, patio grill, and bungalows, inspectors have found 524 health-code violations since 2013, including a number that resulted in fines. Among inspectors’ findings were multiple spottings of live and dead cockroaches (they noted 20-25 live ones visibly present in the main kitchen during one 2015 visit), “slimy/mold-like build-up” in coolers and freezers, and holes in kitchen walls.

When Trump visited England, the Queen intentionally trolled him by wearing a brooch that had been given to her by the Obamas.


Video of the "Trump Baby" blimp flown at various venues in England and Europe.

"...don't forget both my parents were born in EU sectors okay? I mean my mother was Scotland, my father was Germany. And -- you know I love those countries." Trump's mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump was indeed born in Scotland in 1912. But Frederick Trump Sr. was born in the Bronx in 1905. And this isn't the first time Trump has made such a claim. On July 1st in an interview with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo, he said: "My parents were born in the European Union."  What the hell is happening here? Why is Trump claiming his father was born in Germany? Shouldn't a man who spent years questioning the birthplace of Barack Obama know where his own damn father was born?"


Parallel quotes from George Orwell's 1984 and from Donald Trump.

An evangelical compares Bill Clinton to Donald Trump.


Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of the 11 members of the commission formed by President Trump to investigate supposed voter fraud, issued a scathing rebuke of the disbanded panel on Friday, accusing Vice Chair Kris Kobach and the White House of making false statements and saying that he had concluded that the panel had been set up to try to validate the president’s baseless claims about fraudulent votes in the 2016 election.

This is an actual quote (video here):  ??what is he saying??  (trying to say)

The spectacular dunes system picked by Donald Trump for his golf resort in Aberdeenshire has been “partially destroyed” as a result of the course’s construction, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed... Scottish Natural Heritage, which has been under pressure for years to speak out on the issue, now acknowledges that serious damage has been done to the site of special scientific interest (SSSI) at Foveran Links... “It appears that the desires of one high-profile overseas developer, who refused to compromise one inch, have been allowed to override the legal protection of this important site. And we fear this sets a precedent that will undermine the whole protected-sites network in Scotland..."

"More than two-thirds of every factual claim made by President Trump at two of his rallies turns out to be false, misleading or unsupported by evidence. In July, The Fact Checker examined every factual claim made by the president at a rally in Montana. He returned to Montana on Sept. 6, and we decided once again to put every statement of material fact to the truth test to see whether the July rally was an outlier.  In July, 76 percent of his 98 statements were false, misleading or unsupported by the evidence. Last week the tally, out of 88 statements, was 70 percent. The average percentage for the two rallies was 74 percent."


Donald Trump argued with Vietnam War vets over Agent Orange because he confused it with the napalm depicted in Apocalypse Now.

A "rap sheet" on the sheriffs who supported Trump.


"At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him. After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”"

However, "criticizing Trump in a book just isn't fair.  It's like criticizing the Amish on television."


FactCheck.org demolishes Trump's false claims about wind turbines as alternative energy sources.

Retaining support from his base:

On 9/11/2001 - the day the planes hit the Twin Towers - Donald Trump was interviewed live on a radio program:
A little more than a minute later, Marcus asked whether Trump’s 40 Wall Street building had suffered any damage. Before getting into his response about his Financial District property, the businessman had something he wanted on the record.

40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second tallest,” Trump said in the WWOR interview. “And now it’s the tallest.”
"Donald Trump is facing widespread social media backlash after he was pictured greeting supporters with a triumphant double fist pump as he arrived to a 9/11 memorial service on Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of the terror attacks." (photo at the link)



Here's another Randy Rainbow parody called "If You Ever Got Impeached" to the tune of the Wizard of Oz's "If I Only Had a Brain."

During a press conference Wednesday, President Donald Trump said China respects him because of his "very, very large brain." 


Comments are closed for this post; I prefer to spend my time cleaning out the garage rather than curating the blog.   But in all fairness I should let him speak on his own behalf (via):
"I have the best words."
"I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth."
"No one reads the Bible more than me."
"Nobody knows more about debt. I'm like the king. I love debt."
"I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world."
"Nobody knows banking better than I do"
"I understand money better than anybody."
"Nobody knows politicians better than Donald Trump."
"Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump."
"There's nobody bigger or better at the military than I am."
"I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me."
"Because nobody knows the system better than me."
“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”
"I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I tell you that.”
“I will be America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion.”
“I am the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
“I am the least racist person, the least racist person that you’ve ever seen, the least.”
" I have the best [golf] courses in the world"
“No one has more respect for women than me.”
“I have the best temperament or certainly one of the best temperaments of anybody that’s ever run for the office of president. Ever.”
“I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to the Secret Service.”
“No one has done more for people with disabilities than me.”
“Nobody has better toys than I do.”
“I know more about foreign policy than anybody running.”
“I’m the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody’s ever been more successful than me.”
“I am the least racist person, the least racist person that you’ve ever seen, the least.”
And I would totally agree with his 9 August 2014 tweet, in which he said "We need a President who isn't a laughing stock to the entire World." The United Nations general assembly would also agree.

Now to get on with my life for another 3-4 months.
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