27 February 2018

"The Funeral of Shelley" (Fournier, 1889)

An 1889 oil painting by Louis Édouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley, depicts a somber ceremony as the body of Percy Bysshe Shelley is cremated on a Tuscany beach, July 18, 1822.

The scene is wildly inaccurate in all its details.

Death shadowed Mary Shelley’s life. Her very birth came at a terrible cost as her mother died within ten days. As a young woman, Mary would lose three of her four children to childhood illness, and she was still recuperating from a miscarriage that almost killed her when her beloved Percy drowned at sea...

On July 12, Percy’s body washed ashore on a beach near Viareggio and was promptly buried there by locals. Italian health laws prescribed cremation and on July 18, Shelley’s friends and fellow authors carried out the grim ceremony.

Fournier’s 1889 painting depicts a bleak, windswept beach, the witnesses swaddled in heavy coats against the cold. At the back, Mary Shelley kneels in prayer. In the foreground, friends and fellow authors Edward John Trelawny, Hunt and Byron strike dramatic, grieving poses. A peaceful Shelley, as if asleep, is stretched out on his smoking pyre. But it’s all wrong.

July 18 was actually a hot, sunny day. Mary Shelley, as was the custom of the times, did not attend. Leigh Hunt sat out the event in a nearby carriage. Byron, upset at the proceedings and suffering from the heat, cooled off in the surf, eventually to swim out to his own boat, leaving Trelawny alone on the beach. Shelley’s body, badly decomposed, the face and hands gone, was burned in a metal furnace lugged out to the shore by hired help. ..

In the end, Trelawny plucked Shelley’s carbonized heart from the ashes as a gruesome souvenir for himself, but he was eventually persuaded to give it to Mary, who preserved the relic for the rest of her life. Contrary to various reports, the heart was not returned to Shelley’s grave or buried with Mary, in 1851. It was interred with their son, Percy Florence Shelley, in 1889, the very year that Fournier painted The Funeral of Shelley. 
Excerpts from Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog.  My understanding, FWIW, is that the organ plucked from the cremation ashes was likely not Shelley's heart, but more likely his liver.  Perhaps I can look that up sometime.

Things I didn't know about Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley began writing “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” when she was eighteen years old, two years after she’d become pregnant with her first child, a baby she did not name. “Nurse the baby, read,” she had written in her diary, day after day, until the eleventh day: “I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it,” and then, in the morning, “Find my baby dead.” With grief at that loss came a fear of “a fever from the milk.” Her breasts were swollen, inflamed, unsucked; her sleep, too, grew fevered. “Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived,” she wrote in her diary. “Awake and find no baby.”

Pregnant again only weeks later, she was likely still nursing her second baby when she started writing “Frankenstein,” and pregnant with her third by the time she finished. She didn’t put her name on her book—she published “Frankenstein” anonymously, in 1818, not least out of a concern that she might lose custody of her children—and she didn’t give her monster a name, either. “This anonymous androdaemon,” one reviewer called it. For the first theatrical production of “Frankenstein,” staged in London in 1823 (by which time the author had given birth to four children, buried three, and lost another unnamed baby to a miscarriage so severe that she nearly died of bleeding that stopped only when her husband had her sit on ice), the monster was listed on the playbill as “––––––.”..

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley took pains that readers’ sympathies would lie not only with Frankenstein, whose suffering is dreadful, but also with the creature, whose suffering is worse. The art of the book lies in the way Shelley nudges readers’ sympathy, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, even line by line, from Frankenstein to the creature, even when it comes to the creature’s vicious murders, first of Frankenstein’s little brother, then of his best friend, and, finally, of his bride. Much evidence suggests that she succeeded. “The justice is indisputably on his side,” one critic wrote in 1824, “and his sufferings are, to me, touching to the last degree.”..

Likewise, the creature comes of age when he finds Frankenstein’s notebook, recounting his experiment, and learns how he was created, and with what injustice he has been treated. It’s at this moment that the creature’s tale is transformed from the autobiography of an infant to the autobiography of a slave... Given Mary Shelley’s reading of books that stressed the physical distinctiveness of Africans, her depiction of the creature is explicitly racial, figuring him as African, as opposed to European.
Excerpts from a worthwhile longread at The New Yorker.  This year marks the bicentennial of the novel's 1818 publication, so expect many reprints, studies, and tributes.

Adaptive clothing line at Target

Target’s latest women’s fashion line was designed with all bodies in mind, including those with disabilities and sensory-sensitivities. On Monday, Target announced its clothing line, Universal Thread, will feature sensory-friendly and adaptive clothing items.

Universal Thread will be available starting February 4, in stores and online, with prices ranging from $5 to $39.99. The design team worked with almost 1,000 women to figure out the biggest qualms when shopping for jeans.

The fashion line is centered around denim since it is a staple in many women’s wardrobes, but denim can be uncomfortable for many people with disabilities or sensory issues. The line will include denim that has flattened seams to reduce pressure points and jeans with wider legs to help with dressing. The back of the jeans will be pocket-less and will have a higher rise. Sensory-friendly shirts will have flat seams, softer material and no tags.
Note also the absence of back pockets and rivets.  Persons with significant physical impairments know how difficult it can be to find suitable clothing that is affordable, rather than custom-made.  Even simple modifications, such as those in this Target line, can make a world of difference in terms of self-sufficiency and personal confidence.

Notice how the substitution of magnetic closures rather than tiny buttons makes this adaptive shirt much easier to put on.

Addendum:  Interesting 2019 article in Fortune explains how Target has been able to become hugely successful as a brick-and-mortar retailer.

Yellow cardinal

An extremely rare cardinal has birders and biologists flocking to Shelby County, Alabama this week, as images of a yellow cardinal have circulated around social media.

Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill said the cardinal in the photos is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow instead...

Hill said that cardinals and other songbirds need to consume substances called carotenoids (found in sweet potatoes and carrots) from the environment around them to achieve their bright colors.

"Songbirds like cardinals almost never consume red pigments; rather they consume abundant yellow pigments," Hill said. "So, to be red, cardinals have to biochemically convert yellow pigments to red."
More information at AL.com.

Expectation vs. reality

TIL that there is an entire subreddit devoted to "expectation vs. reality."

Image cropped for size from the original here.

Watch the Arctic sea ice disappear

Awesome animation by NASA.  Enjoy (or cringe).

Probably not worth showing to a dedicated climate-change denier, because it won't have any effect on them.  But if you do, and they say "that ice melted and the sea level hasn't risen," remember to point out that the physical state of floating sea-ice doesn't alter sea levels.

26 February 2018

Like a mustard seed in Fenway Park

"The pit at the center of each atom, the nucleus, is not only hard but minuscule: a hundred thousand times smaller than the atom as a whole. To use an analogy, if an atom were the size of Fenway Park, the home stadium of the Red Sox in Boston, its dense central nucleus would be the size of a mustard seed, with the electrons gracefully orbiting in the outer bleachers...

This ultra-tiny scale is called the Planck length, named after Max Planck, a pioneer in quantum physics. The Planck length is 10^-33 centimeters, a hundred billion billion times smaller than a quark, which is itself a few hundred thousand times smaller than an atom. Another way to visualize the size we are talking about: the Planck length is smaller than an atom by about the same ratio as an atom is smaller than the sun. It is staggering that we have anything at all to say about such impossibly tiny elements of existence...

Regardless of whether space is indeed grainy at very small scales, physicists are confident that time and space must be chaotic at Planck. Because of the indeterminate, probabilistic character of quantum physics, at the dimensions of the Planck length, space and time churn and seethe, with the distance between any two points wildly fluctuating from moment to moment. Indeed, at the Planck scale, time itself randomly speeds up and slows down, perhaps even going backward as well as forward. In such a situation, time and space no longer exist in a way that has meaning to us. The sensation of smoothness and substantiality that we experience in our large world of houses and trees results only from averaging out this extreme lumpiness and chaos at the Planck length, in the same way that the graininess of a beach disappears when seen from a thousand feet up."
Excerpts from an interesting essay in the March issue of Harper's.  The infinitely small, like the infinitely far (deep space) and infinitely old (deep time) are concepts that I cannot wrap my mind around, but love to ponder.

23 February 2018

Divertimento #147

Interesting packaging for Spiderman Kleenex.

A mass grave in England apparently contains 300 skeletons from the Viking Great Army.

The near-Ice-Age younger Dryas period (13,000 years ago) was probably caused by the impact of fragments of a 62-mile-wide comet. "“A number of different chemical signatures – carbon dioxide, nitrate, ammonia, and others – all seem to indicate that an astonishing 10 percent of the Earth’s land surface, or about 10 million square kilometers, was consumed by fires."

Hospital room in Romania, 2018, discussed here.

Thomas Morris is a website dedicated to "making you grateful for modern medicine."

During the Superbowl, an advertisement for Ram Trucks superimposed the voice of Martin Luther King over images of their product (this was done with the permission of his estate).  A modified version dubs in what MLK actually thought about advertising. "In fact, the quote used during Sunday's Super Bowl commercial was taken from the very same sermon in which King warned the audience about the way advertisers manipulate feelings of groupthink, loneliness and a need for conformity masquerading as individuality."

Autonomous (self-driving) cars have difficulty detecting and recognizing bicycles and their riders.

For golfers only:  a group of pros are challenged to get closest to the hole on a 200-yard putt.

From the NYT: FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

From Minnesota Public Radio:  "How a urine test after back surgery triggered a $17,800 bill."

Tesla spends nothing on advertising.

A harsh rejoinder to those who complain about immigration.

"The toad’s reaction to the explosion deep in its stomach is not instantaneous. But in time the body shakes, the mouth opens, and the culprit is expelled: a mucus-covered beetle that will live to fight another day."

Monaco has the highest concentration of millionaires of any place in the world (over 30% of the residents). House pricesare  between €53,000 ($67,000) and €100,000 ($142,000) per square metre.  So the country is adding 15 acres offshore in the Mediterranean.

A photo of $20,000,000 hidden under a mattress.

Some high schools in Oklahoma are closed on Mondays so teachers can work second jobs.  "Teacher pay is the third-lowest in the country and has triggered a statewide shortage, as teachers flee to neighbouring states like Arkansas and Texas or to private schools. “Most of our teachers work second jobs,” says Darlene Adair, Wagoner’s principal. “A lot of them work at Walmart on nights and weekends, or in local restaurants.”  Other state agencies are doing similarly badly.  Details at the Economist link.

There is a "Pile of Puppies" program for children with special needs.

For an interesting longread, try the multipart series at Reuters on "Body Brokers" (the buying and selling of body parts).  It explains who cashes in when you donate your body "to science."

"With 15 years of competitive jump rope experience, 2 world records, multiple World and European Jump Rope Championship wins and even a Cirque du Soleil membership, it's safe to say that no one is better at jumping rope than Adrienn Banhegyi." (3-minute video at the link)

One way to prevent the spread of the flu is to use Far-UVC light to kill the virus.  That spectrum of light is both carcinogenic and cataractogenic, but it could be employed freely in ventilation ducts.

Waiting for the Uber driver.

"Cardistry" is playing card artistry.  Demonstrated in the video.

Video on how Criterion Collection restores old movies.

"The Queen has declared war on plastic, banning straws and bottles from the Royal estates... It is thought that the Queen became personally interested in the problem of plastic after working with Sir David Attenborough on a conservation documentary dealing with wildlife in the Commonwealth."

Video of the newest robot from Boston Dynamics.

A group of runners completed 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents.

Ever wonder how many calories Olympic athletes consume?  A chart for the winter Olympics shows cross-country skies at the top (4,000 - 7,000 calories per day).  (Curlers are not listed)

The most enjoyable obituary I've read in as long as I can remember.

The photos embedded in today's divertimento come from Skeetmotis, a blog created by a TYWKIWDBI reader as a place to store photos of interesting things seen while walking.

22 February 2018

Salzburg, Austria, 1929

There's so much detail to savor in this photograph from National Geographic.  The hats draw one's initial attention, but look at the elaborately designed clothing and accessorizing.  Some reader may be able to offer more insight into whether this fashion was local tradition or more widespread in the era.

Technically correct

The manufacturer can always fall back on the argument that the plastic cover for the hose nozzle was "made in America" even though the nozzle wasn't.  Discussion thread of this shady practice here.

"Dog's breakfast" explained

Last weekend at a local auction the auctioneer started to enumerate the contents of a lot, then stopped and said it was a real "dog's breakfast."  It's a British phrase (he was Canadian), and the meaning was obvious, but I couldn't parse out the derivation.  I found this in a 25-year-old New York Times On Language column:
"A dog's breakfast is any kind of smorgasbord prepared, in haste or at random, from life's castoffs... The slang lexicographer Eric Partridge cited Glasgow circa 1934 as its place and time of origin, though he noted that Australians also used the phrase with the same meaning as "confusion, mess, turmoil."

About the same time, a dog's dinner appeared with a quite different sense. "Why have you got those roses in your hair?" asked a character in "Touch Wood," a 1934 novel by C. L. Anthony. "You look like the dog's dinner ." This expression was defined by the Oxford English Dictionary Supplement as "dressed or arranged in an ostentatiously smart or flashy manner," probably derived from the 1871 usage "to put on the dog ." 
The derivation summarized:  "Although the origin isn’t exactly known, it alludes to the fact that if what you don’t succeed at what you are cooking, then the results are only fit for a dog... It is suggested that this dates from a time before canned dog food when a pup’s breakfast would have consisted of dinner leftovers from the night before; hence, “a mess.”

And then there's "dog's bollocks," used to connote absolute excellence.

Cartoon credit here.

A better way to stripe a parking garage

Parking garages - especially underground ones - are famously ill-lit and the stripes on the pavement seldom repainted.  I applaud this simple vertical extension, posted at the Mildly Interesting subreddit,

"Trash Girl" owns the insult applied to her by haters

The term "owning" something is a common modern catchword.  Everyone is urged to "take ownership" of their lives, employees are urged to "take ownership" of their work, persons with illnesses are advised to "own" the symptoms.  What's often not clear is what that means, or how one achieves the desired result.

Here's a good example of taking ownership:
... 12-year-old Nadia Sparkes decided to take matters into her own hands. The high schooler has been picking up trash along the two-mile route from her school to her home for months now, using the basket of her bike to bring the trash home. In just the short amount of time that she has been picking up trash, Nadia has already accumulated more than two recycling bins worth of plastic.

Despite her green intentions, some of the kids at Nadia’s school have dubbed her “Trash Girl” and have bullied her for her noble efforts to help the planet. It would be easy to succumb to mean comments and stop picking up trash, but on the contrary, Nadia is more determined than ever to clean up her community...

“I told her she had two choices, she could either stop collecting rubbish, stop drawing their attention and hopefully they would leave her alone. Or she could own “trash girl,” Paula Sparkes, Nadia’s mom, said about the bullies.

As a result of the media attention Nadia has received, she now has created a Facebook group aptly named “Team Trash Girl” where she shares updates on her efforts. Positive comments have poured in, all in support of Nadia, advocating for her to ignore the negative.
It was reading that story yesterday that prompted me to respond as I did to the egregiously vituperative comment posted on TYWKIWDBI.  Disagreement and a variety of opinions are unavoidable and perhaps essential, but hatred and bullying have no place in civil society.  One way to cope with those tactics is to own the insult.

21 February 2018

A comment left on the blog

I had to look up the meaning of "ass clown."  Found a detailed discussion of it at Slate:
As a swear, assclown is a newer member of that noble ass- family, sibling to assbag, assbucket, asshat, asshole, asswipe and any number of other ass + NOUN compounds. These formations variously ridicule someone as laughably and contemptibly idiotic, dickish, or worthless. Assclown, however, is a pejorative pie thrown especially in the face of someone who, wrongly, thinks his actions are clever, funny, or worthwhile...

Assclown has also been at the center of political controversy. In 2015, Minnesota sports producer Kevin Cusick had to apologize after suggesting President Obama was an assclown. Cusick put together a slideshow for the St. Paul Pioneer Press online that featured President Obama wielding a selfie stick. He captioned the image, used for larger social commentary on taking selfies as such: “A fool-proof way to make yourself look like a self-absorbed assclown.” ..
And thanks to this presidential election, philosopher Aaron James released Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump, a timely update to his 2012 Assholes: A Theory...

Where does Trump fit in? His type is the Assclown Showman Asshole, with a bit of the Bullshitter and Winner mixed in. And for James, the assclown is specifically “someone who seeks an audience’s enjoyment while being slow to understand how it views him.” When it comes to Trump, that sounds pretty accurate, but I’m certain we can all conjure up some far stronger words.
The comment was left on the Divertimento because I had closed comments on the President's Day post.

Addendum: The troll responded two days later.  He didn't leave a comment on this post where it would run the risk of generating responsers from other readers; instead he posted it at the post about ladies fashion in Austria -

This is absolutely classic troll behavior.

18 February 2018

Divertimento #146

So, you pay a helicopter pilot to carry you to the top of a mountain.  Your ski hits a rock.  Then this happens...

Granny flats and zoning regulations.

Google can create panorama photos for you.  They don't always come out right.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy hides his hammer in the book of... Exodus.

Arctic musk oxen succumb to an ice tsunami.

When asked about its color, 52 percent said a tennis ball is green, 42 percent said it’s yellow, and 6 percent went with “other.”

If you encrypt personal photos before storing them in the Cloud, you should know that there are programs that allow them to be unencrypted by other people.

"A 15-year-old gained access to plans for intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iran by pretending to be the head of the CIA to gain access to his computers."

A gallery of photos along Norway's Highway 69.

A meme generator for "Pepperidge Farm Remembers."

The Doomsday rule can determine the day of the week for any date in history.  In case you want to know if the Battle of Hastings was fought on a weekend.

"Just days after the House passed its version of the federal tax law slashing corporate tax rates, House Speaker Paul Ryan collected nearly $500,000 in campaign contributions from billionaire energy mogul Charles Koch and his wife, according to a recent campaign donor report."  The Koch companies, in turn, will receive billions of dollars in tax relief.  They would like you to understand that all of this money will eventually trickle down to you.

Video of a farrier trimming the hooves of a draft horse.

"A US appeals court debated whether or not a monkey can own the copyright to a selfie..."

A compilation of bloopers from a televised fishing program.

IKEA furniture is built with cardboard (inside the particle board).  "They use the particle board for the parts that need to hold screws."

The best "icebreaker questions" for starting a new relationship: #1: What was your first job? #2: Have you ever met anyone famous? #3: Do you read TYWKIWDBI? #24: Do you collect anything?...

In a high-rise building, don't overfill a tub or pool on a windy day.

Copper isn't magnetic.  But it affects magnets.

"Parents are making their children drink industrial bleach to “cure” them of autism, with the potentially deadly practice traced back to a cult in the United States."

The National Security Agency has removed "honesty" from the core values listed on its website.

A "porch bandit" steals a package.  "On her way back to the car, she trips and falls. She can't get up. It looks like she broke her leg, because her foot is at a weird angle."

What ever happened to those kids who used to knock on people's doors and then run away before anyone could answer?  They got jobs.

"According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median four-year cost to attend public medical school exceeds $240,000."

"Over the past four years, some members of [Baltimore's] Gun Trace Task Force stole more than $300,000, at least three kilos of cocaine, 43 pounds of marijuana, 800 grams of heroin and hundreds of thousands of dollars in watches from suspected drug dealers and civilians, according to officers’ plea agreements and statements in federal court. They admit to putting illegal trackers on the cars of suspected dealers so they could rob their homes and sell off any drugs and guns they found."

Cellphone in a 1919 cartoon.

"Chickens raised in India for food have been dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics known to medicine, in practices that could have repercussions throughout the world. Hundreds of tonnes of an “antibiotic of last resort” – only used in the most extreme cases of sickness - are shipped to India each year to be used, without medical supervision, on animals that may not require the drugs but are being dosed with them nevertheless to promote the growth of healthy animals."  For fox ache.

A tree that weighs several tons will not be held in place by a rope when you cut it down.

The famed Nazca lines were damaged this month "when a trucker intentionally drove his tractor-trailer off a roadway that runs through the protected historic area..."

Scandinavians are no longer the world's best non-native English speakers.  That title has recently been gained by the Dutch.

A graph depicting a child's age vs. his/her willingness to help.

"Dye from the cochineal bug was ten times as potent as St John’s Blood and produced 30 times more dye per ounce than Armenian red, according to Butler. So when European dyers began to experiment with the pigment, they were delighted by its potential. Most importantly, it was the brightest and most saturated red they had ever seen. By the middle of the 16th Century it was being used across Europe, and by the 1570s it had become one of the most profitable trades in Europe..."

A discussion thread about bringing your own food into movie theaters.

Young boy watches little girl tumble, imitates her.

The photos embedded in today's linkdump come from a gallery posted at HistoryDaily, depicting rural librarians of the 1930s.  "In Kentucky, they had isolated mountain communities which could only get their books and reading material from one source… librarians on horseback." (via BoingBoing)

16 February 2018

The letter "D" (by Erte)

"He imagined that each letter was a character possessing the unique personality of a stage performer, a body made pliable by years of dance training and a style all their own. Some – such as “X”, with his black gimp mask, scarlet boots and thong, or “K”, bound to a Grecian column by a string of pearls and wearing only stockings – are explicitly erotic. Others, such as “T” and “C”, look like charmingly fanciful nymphs from “Fantasia”, a Disney film. “D” belongs to a third category. The bow and crescent moon evoke Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, but Erté, of course, added glamorous new ingredients: blue, star-spangled skin and sinuous curves reminiscent of the women in Persian miniatures he so admired."
More about Erte at Wikipedia.

Image and text from an article about Erte at The Economist.

Look how big the Titanic was

(It's the one in front in this composite with a modern cruise ship) (via)

Skating on Lake Baikal

 "I tell them, 'Pick up your litter.  Tidy up after yourselves.  Don't leave litter.  It all ends up in Baikal.'"

Skating on thin ice creates unusual sounds

Apart from the cracking sounds, there are also "boing-boing" sounds similar to the sound effects from Star Wars movies.  Those are created by a phenomenon called acoustic dispersion (more info via links at Neatorama).

Girls are now reaching puberty before age 10 - updated

And that's an average age of puberty - not an outlying limit for precocious individuals:
Scientists have found that the average age that breast development begins is now nine years and 10 months – almost a year earlier than a previous study in 1991.

They have yet to discover the reason behind the phenomenon but believe it could be linked to unhealthy lifestyles or exposure to chemicals in food.

The study was carried out in Denmark in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available, but experts believe the trend applies to Britain.

Data from America also points to the earlier onset of puberty.
In the nineteenth century the average age of onset of puberty in females was 15.  By the 1960s it was about 12.  Now it's under 10.

Lots of implications, some of them discussed a different article in The Telegraph:
These girls are towering over boys of their own age because, for girls, the growth spurt and development of breasts come first; periods come later. With boys, it is the other way round: their genitalia and sweaty armpits develop before their height shoots up. The last stage of the maturing process, when they are finally able to signal their manliness, comes when their voices break.

All these markers have been occurring steadily earlier for both boys and girls, but recent changes have been dramatic. In the 18th century, when Bach was directing the Leipzig choir, the average age at which a boy’s voice broke was 18. Choirmasters now have trouble finding trebles over the age of 13 or 14...

Parents, too, should be careful not to treat them as teenagers. “They need to look at their emotional, not their physical, development.
Photo credit PA.

Reposted from 2010 to add new data that suggests the trend is not pathological:
However, our archaeological research suggests that there's nothing to worry about. Children in medieval England entered puberty between ten and 12 years of age – the same as today...

In our study of 994 adolescents from medieval England, who died between 900-1550, we traced the stages of puberty by examining their canine teeth; the shape of their neck and wrist bones; and the fusion of their elbows, wrists, fingers and pelvises. Using these clues, we were able to work out the average age the children started puberty, reached their growth spurt, and reached full maturity. We were also able to work out when girls had their first period. The average age at which children entered puberty was the same as for most boys and girls today: between ten to 12 years. But medieval teenagers took longer to reach the later milestones, including menarche...

Our impression of what is the normal age for a child to reach each puberty milestone has been tainted by the use of data from children growing up in the challenging conditions of the last century, and an over reliance on the age of menarche, rather than the age at which children actually entered puberty, which appears to be unchanged.

Sign at an Australian church

The victims:

Trenchant commentary:

Onion commentary:

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens
PARKLAND, FL—In the hours following a violent rampage in Florida in which a lone attacker killed 17 individuals and seriously injured over a dozen others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Wednesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Indiana resident Harold Turner, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
I'm closing this post to comments.  Send your comments to your legislators.

Top photo via.
Victims photo via.
Cartoon via.

In Olympic news today...

"The Tongan cross-country skier perhaps best known for walking out into the last two Olympic opening ceremonies without a shirt is set to take to the snow in the Pyeongchang Games...

Pita Taufatofua has joked that his two immediate goals are to not crash into a tree and to finish before race organizers turn the lights off.

Taufatofua says the 15-kilometer race is probably a bit of a stretch for him since all his qualifying races were 10 kilometers. He just started skiing this year and has not skied much on snow.

He says he has a “love-hate, hate-hate relationship” with the 15-kiometer race. The last time he raced in a 15-kilometer event he lost a ski and finished in 1 hour, 40 minutes."
Update: He exceeded his goals.
"After spending only 12 weeks on snow in his life, having seen snow for the first time two years ago, Taufatofua finished third last, nearly 23 minutes behind the gold medallist. Three other athletes did not finish the race."
Photo: Instagram

15 February 2018

This is an Olympic 1% gold medal

The 2012 "gold medal" is 92.5% silver, 6.16% copper and 1.34% gold.

Details at BoingBoing.

Reposted from 2012 because it is presumably still true. 

Questions about Canada and the Olympics

Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow?(UK)
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch them die.

Q: Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street? (USA)
A: Depends on how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto. Can I follow the Railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only Four thousand miles, take lots of water.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada? (UK)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Can you tell me the regions in British Columbia where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Canada, but I forget its name. Its a kind of big horse with horns. (USA)
A: Its called a Moose. They are tall and very violent, eating the brains of anyone walking close to them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

As explained at Snopes, these are all "fake" questions.  More at the link.

Reposted from 2010.

Winter Olympics medals adjusted for size of countries

The chart above was originally published in The Atlantic in the middle of the games; I don't know whether it has been updated to reflect the final counts.

Reposted (but not updated) from four years ago, because it's still interesting.

14 February 2018

"Gilding the lily"

To "gild the lily" is a misquotation from Edward deVere's (a.k.a. "Shakespeare") 1595 play King John (Act IV, Scene 2):
"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess."
An article in the StarTribune notes how Valentine's Day roses are now being "improved" -
In a warehouse north of Ecuador's capital, a small, busy army of dexterous workers puts the final touches on a shipment of made-to-order roses with tones as diverse as the colors of a rainbow suffused in fragrance capable of seducing even the most demanding nose.

Each petal is custom made for foreign clients whose orders multiply every year in the run up to Valentine's Day. For example, a client in Qatar recently ordered a shipment in the maroon and white colors of that nation's flag...

The two-day process involves cutting a flower at full bloom, dipping it into a plant-based solution to extract the natural colors and then infusing it with a pigment of the customer's choice. Additional colors and designs are applied using an airbrush.

The result is a multicolored bouquet as vibrant as a painter's palette but whose petals keep their natural softness and require no sunlight or water to last a year or more.
Photo:  "Luxury Hat Box of Preserved Pink & Lilac Roses – Medium"

"Thanks for the Valentine, kid"

Color adjusted from the original posted here.

Where I fit in the political spectrum - updated

Update January 2009: When I started TYWKIWDBI in December of 2007, the circus carnival known as the "presidential primaries" was in full swing, so I thought it was important for me to "state for the record" what biases I might have. I explained that I was registered as an Independent and was supporting Ron Paul. Then I posted the following three graphs...

(2007 text) There are a number of online websites that allow one to assess one's position by answering a long list of questions. I completed one of these back in 2003, with the following result-

Another assessment site in October of 2005 showed me to be leaning ever so slightly libertarian -

The most recent one was last December, and I was squarely in the center -

So, that's "where I'm coming from." Not unbiased, certainly, but probably as much "in the center" as any person you're likely to meet. If you want to find out how you stand, try the quiz at this link... http://www.politicalcompass.org or at this one - http://www.okcupid.com/politics. It might be an interesting experience.

Update January 2009: I'm amused to note that I was such a "newbie" then that I didn't even post the links in clickable form. I'll correct that now. Here's the one for Political Compass, and here's the OKCupid one.

I'm posting this update today because the Weblog Awards are sending a flurry of new traffic here this week. There seem to be a couple hundred extra visitors per day, most of them wondering what this blog is about, and as a corollary, what this blogger is about. The charts above pretty well define me as a centrist on the political spectrum; I tend to have equal contempt for polticians of both major parties. Now that you know where I stand, I challenge you to go to the links and chart out your own political biases.

Update February 2018:  I decided to take the test again, and found my position on the chart has changed slightly but not fundamentally:

I don't know whether I have changed, or whether the test standard reference points have changed (the questions are the same as in 2003), or in fact whether the repositioning of my dot is statistically significant.

Political Compass now offers a cartoon-amended chart to show where various well-known persons would be (approximately) situated on the chart:

I'm pleased to see that I'm seated right next to Bernie Sanders.

You can take the test here.

The Gilded Age

Yesterday evening I watched the PBS documentary embedded above.  It is part of the "American Experience" series, and as such you can expect it to be superb documentary television programming, but this episode was particularly interesting because of the parallels between America's classic "Gilded Age" with our present circumstances.  I highly recommend this program. 
The Gilded Age in United States history is the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900. The term for this period came into use in the 1920s and 1930s and was derived from writer Mark Twain's 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which satirized an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding... The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the North and West. As American wages were much higher than those in Europe, especially for skilled workers, the period saw an influx of millions of European immigrants... The political landscape was notable in that despite some corruption, turnout was very high and national elections saw two evenly matched parties. The dominant issues were cultural (especially regarding prohibition, education, and ethnic or racial groups), and economic (tariffs and money supply). With the rapid growth of cities, political machines increasingly took control of urban politics. In business, massive, powerful, and wealthy trusts formed... The point noted as the end of the Gilded Age also varies. It is generally given as the beginning of the Progressive Era in the 1890s...
If you don't enjoy watching your computer monitor for two hours, the program will be available from your local library in DVD format.

Addendum:  The embedded video is now "blocked on copyright grounds."  This link is still working.

13 February 2018

Can someone identify vintage children's literature?

I had good success earlier today asking readers to identify an unknown houseplant.  Let's try a literature question.

A lady asked my wife for help identifying the titles/authors of some books she loved in her childhood.  She remembers reading them in the 1960s when she was about 6 years old, but the books were subsequently lost in a home fire.  As an adult she would like to reread the books.
"One book is about a little girl who goes to a nearby carnival and steals the little dancing ballerina on a music box and takes it home. She begins to feel guilty and returns it. The most memorable part of this book is the illustrations; it had beautiful colored pencil illustrations.

The second book was read to students in class and all the person recalls about the plot is that one of the characters could turn invisible and was up in a tree some of the time."

Third book: A giraffe misses its little girl so runs to find her school. On the way there, she stops to help a woman whose clothesline has fallen...by holding it up with her head.
I know the readership of this blog is replete with bibliophiles and especially with librarians.  Can anyone harvest their knowledge base to help this lady?

Triple axel explained

The axel is a figure skating jump with a forward take off. It is named after Norwegian figure skater Axel Paulsen who, in 1882, was the first skater to perform the jump [cruciverbalists will long ago have learned that this is why it's not spelled "axle."]

The axel jump is considered the most technically difficult jump among six types of jumps in single figure skating. According to ISU judging system, a triple axel jump has a base value of 8.5 points, while a double axel has that of 3.3 points. This makes a triple axel the highest base-valued triple jump, above other triple jumps such as the triple lutz (6 points), triple flip (5.3 points), triple loop (5.1 points), triple salchow (4.2 points), and triple toe loop (4.1 points).
More at Wikipedia (and daily during coverage of the Olympics) 

I can't even offer a comment

The story is at The Washington Post.

(comments are closed.  I'm moving on to other things)


A salp is a barrel-shaped, planktonic tunicate. It moves by contracting, thus pumping water through its gelatinous body. The most abundant concentrations of salps are in the Southern Ocean (near Antarctica), where they sometimes form enormous swarms, often in deep water, and are sometimes even more abundant than krill...

When food is plentiful, salps can quickly bud off clones, which graze the phytoplankton and can grow at a rate which is probably faster than that of any other multicellular animal, quickly stripping the phytoplankton from the sea. But if the phytoplankton is too dense, the salps can clog and sink to the bottom. During these blooms, beaches can become slimy with mats of salp bodies...

Although salps appear similar to jellyfish because of their simple body form and planktonic behavior, they are chordates: animals with dorsal nerve cords, related to vertebrates, animals with backbones.
You learn something every day. 

Image via Boredom Therapy, where there are more photos.

Can someone identify this plant for me?

One of our neighbors is moving and offered us this plant.  Before bringing it to our house we need to make sure it is not something that would be toxic if the cats eat the leaves.

Thanks in advance.

12 February 2018

Remembering the Lincoln Highway

Some years ago I did online research on the "Yellowstone Highway" because of a personal connection to it.  In that process I ran across numerous references to the "Lincoln Highway."  Today is February 12, and it's an appropriate occasion to blog the Lincoln info.  Wikipedia has a comprehensive page on the highway, but I'll start with excerpts from Atlas Obscura.
In 1919, [Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower] traveled with the military in a motor convoy across the country, from D.C. to San Francisco, in “the largest aggregation of motor vehicles ever started on a trip of such length,” the New York Times reported. This was one of the first major cross-country road trips, and it planted the idea in Eisenhower’s mind that the federal government could and should make improving U.S. highways a priority...

Once the convoy hit the West, the trucks started getting stuck in ditches, sand and mud, for hours at a time. By Utah, the conditions of the roads were so bad, it almost stopped the convoy altogether... In 1919, the military had just returned from the Great War in Europe, where War Department motor units had helped secure victory, and military leaders wanted to show their machines off. But any network of roads that these trucks might travel on was still, for the most part, imaginary...
The route the convoy would take was mostly along the Lincoln Highway, the first major transcontinental motor route. The more than 80 vehicles carried 24 officers and 258 enlisted men, and they left D.C. at 1 p.m., on July 7, 1919. It took the convoy the rest of the day to reach Frederick, Maryland, where Eisenhower joined the group. In seven and a half hours, they had traveled 46 miles... That pace—about 6 miles an hour—is what the convoy would average in its crawl across the country...

When it rained, the vehicles got stuck in soft spots on the roads, up to their hubs, and the men had to push them out... The day after that, it took seven hours to pull all the trucks through 200 yards of quicksand. This, though, was nothing compared to Utah...

But by the end of the trip, the official observer reported later, “the officers of the Convoy were thoroughly convinced that all transcontinental highways should be construed and maintained by the Federal Government.” As Eisenhower put it, “there was a great deal of sentiment for the improving of highways,” and on that point, “the trip was an undoubted success.”
Much more on the Lincoln Highway at its Wikipedia page.  Some readers of this blog will undoubtedly have segments of the Lincoln Highway in their hometowns and/or have seen relevant markers in their  travels.  I hope to get the Yellowstone Highway info assembled and blogged later this year.

The official map of the Lincoln Highway is at this page of the Lincoln Highway Association's website.

Addendum:  Readers interested in this topic will definitely want to read an excellent and well-illlustrated article recently posted at Neatorama.

Geography of Lincoln Island

Do you remember where this is? (image source long since lost)

An excerpt from the Lincoln-Douglas debates

This is Lincoln's opening statement from the fourth debate (Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858):

Mr. Lincoln took the stand at a quarter before three, and was greeted with vociferous and protracted applause; after which, he said:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: It will be very difficult for an audience so large as this to hear distinctly what a speaker says, and consequently it is important that as profound silence be preserved as possible.

While I was at the hotel to—day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great Laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness—and that is the case of Judge Douglas’s old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject), that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.] I will add one further word, which is this: that I do not understand that there is any place where an alteration of the social and political relations of the negro and the white man can be made except in the State Legislature—not in the Congress of the United States—and as I do not really apprehend the approach of any such thing myself, and as Judge Douglas seems to be in constant horror that some such danger is rapidly approaching, I propose as the best means to prevent it that the Judge be kept at home and placed in the State Legislature to fight the measure. [Uproarious laughter and applause.] I do not propose dwelling longer at this time on this subject.
The fulltext of the entire debate is at Teaching American History.

This is not a subject matter that I was taught in school or have any particular knowledge about, so I can't offer any informed commentary on the context and the question of whether or to what extent President Lincoln amended his opinions after he gained the presidency.  Those with a proper background in history, sociology etc are welcome to clarify matters in the Comments.
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