30 May 2018

An orthopedist's wet dream

I should think most web-surfers are by now familiar with the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-rolling and Wake.
In theory, competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, it has around a one-second head start, and can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour (110 kilometres per hour), enough to knock over and injure a spectator. In the 2013 competition, a foam replica replaced the cheese for reasons of safety. The winner was given the prize of an actual cheese after the competition.
There are lots of basically identical videos. I like this version because of the choice of slow motion and the music.  A tip of the blogging hat to gwdMaine at Neatorama, who identified the music as the aria "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen and offered this verse from the lyrics:

The bird you hoped to catch
Beat its wings and flew away
Love is far, you can wait for it;
You no longer await it, there it is.
All around you, swift, swift,
It comes, goes, then it returns.
You think to hold it fast, it flees you,
You think to flee it, it holds you!

One advantage of being rich

(caption contest) (winner: "Lawndry")

It's a "caption contest" because I can't think of a title for the post, but wanted to share the image.

Designed by Mehmet Ali Uysal, located in Chaudfobtaine, Belgium, via.


Two televangelists try to justify their need for private jets.  I couldn't listen all the way through this video.  Let me know if he came up with a valid reason.
Duplantis, saying he needs about $54 million to help him efficiently spread the gospel to as many people as possible, has asked the Lord — and hundreds of thousands of hopefully deep-pocketed followers across the world — for just such a plane...

But this is not the first time Duplantis has been enmeshed in the preacher private plane debate. The Falcon 7X would be his ministry’s fourth jet — all paid for with cash drummed up from followers...

“We believe in God for a brand new Falcon 7X so we can go anywhere in the world, one stop,” he told people on “This Week With Jesse,” a regular video broadcast on his website... “Now people say … can’t you go with this one?” he said, pointing to a picture of the plane he uses. “Yes, but I can’t go it one stop. And if I can do it one stop, I can fly it for a lot cheaper, because I have my own fuel farm. And that’s what’s been a blessing of the Lord...

He preaches the prosperity gospel, which says God shows favor by rewarding the faithful with earthly riches. Giving money to pastors and their ministries, leaders say, is a sort of investment...

“The world is in such a shape, we can’t get there without this,” Copeland said of private aircraft. “We’ve got to have this. The mess that the airlines are in today I would have to stop, I’m being very conservative, at least 75 to 80, more like 90 percent of what we’re doing because you can’t get there from here.”

“That’s why we’re on that airplane,” he said. “We can talk to God.”
More at The Washington Post.

Estimating the lifespan of a light bulb

When I started shifting from incandescent to LED bulbs, I was curious about the claims of long-term cost-savings.  So when I replaced some in my office, I made a note of the date.

Yesterday one of the above bulbs started to die (recurrent and annoying blinking).  My notes showed an installation date of February 2017, which meant it had lasted about 15 calendar months.  The claim on the package (UR corner) is for 9.1 years of life.  Was I being misled?

I tracked down some source data for the newer model of this bulb and found that it is rated for "11,000 hours of life," or "10 years."  That calculates to 1100 hours = 1 year, or an average usage of 3 hours per day as the standard.  Other sources online use the same standard "Estimated yearly energy costs assume 3 hours of daily use."  Apparently that is an industry standard.

My office bulbs are on about 15 hours/day, so the 9.1 years projected life at 3 hours/day would translate to 22 months at my usage, and the 15-month life of my bulb was a bit brief, but at a unit cost of $2 each in multipacks, it's hard to complain.

London in near-infrared


Everyone knows about the altered image of foliage, but the red wine is quite interesting.

The assassination of Bobby Kennedy

I've said before on this blog that I enjoy "conspiracy theories" because they can be quite interesting.  I had forgotten all about this one.  Perhaps it's time to revive it.
“I went [to meet Sirhan Sirhan] because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence,” said [Robert F. ] Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and the third oldest of his father’s 11 children. “I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father. My father was the chief law enforcement officer in this country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.”

Kennedy, 64, said he doesn’t know if his involvement in the case will change anything. But he now supports the call for a reinvestigation of the assassination — which is led by Paul Schrade, who also was shot in the head as he walked behind Kennedy in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles but survived...

Though Sirhan admitted at his trial in 1969 that he shot Kennedy, he claimed from the start that he had no memory of doing so. And midway through Sirhan’s trial, prosecutors provided his lawyers with an autopsy report that launched five decades of controversy: Kennedy was shot at point-blank range from behind, including a fatal shot behind his ear. But Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, was standing in front of him.

Was there a second gunman? The debate rages to this day...

Sirhan’s appeals have been rejected at every level, as recently as 2016, even with the courts considering new evidence that has emerged over the years that as many as 13 shots were fired — Sirhan’s gun held only eight bullets — and that Sirhan may have been subjected to coercive hypnosis, in a real-life version of “The Manchurian Candidate.”..

Karl Uecker, an Ambassador Hotel maitre d’ who was escorting Kennedy through the pantry, testified that he grabbed Sirhan’s wrist and pinned it down after two shots and that Sirhan continued to fire wildly while being held down, never getting close to Kennedy. An Ambassador waiter and a Kennedy aide also said they tackled Sirhan after two or three shots.

Several other witnesses also said he was not close enough to place the gun against Kennedy’s back, where famed Los Angeles coroner Thomas Noguchi found powder burns on the senator’s jacket and on his hair, indicating shots fired at close contact...

An internal police document concluded that “Kennedy and Weisel bullets not fired from same gun” — Weisel was the wounded ABC News producer — and “Kennedy bullet not fired from Sirhan’s revolver.”..

Van Praag said recently that different guns create different resonances and that he was able to establish that two guns were fired, that they fired in different directions, and that some of the shot “impulses” were so close together they couldn’t have been fired by the same gun. He said he could not say “precisely” 13 shots but certainly more than the eight contained by Sirhan’s gun.
The story continues at The Washington Post.

Orthodontist's sign

I wonder if the logo at the top is real, or similarly playful.

Image cropped for size/emphasis from the original at the DesignPorn subreddit.

27 May 2018


I like to end the blogging day with a nice image, such as this one via mineraliety.

Where to live in this alternate world?

I may have posted this before, but I'm too busy to look for it, and I love maps, so I'll risk the repost.

The map has been generated by reversing land and water and elevations.  The ocean trenches become mountain chains.  The verdant/desert attributions are presumably extrapolated from current terrestrial patterns.

So... where would I want to live in this reversed world?  That Mediterranean Peninsula would probably get hammered by wicked tropical weather.  I think maybe near the shores of Lake Madagascar, with the mountains on one side and the African Sea on the other.

Addendum:  Oops - this is a repost from six years ago.


Who was "the noblest Roman of them all" ?

A closing oration in the final scene of a Shakespeare play (that need not be identified here) includes these laudatory words:
This was the noblest Roman of them all...
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man.”
To whom was the speaker referring?
a) Marcus Brutus
b) Augustus Caesar
c) Marc Antony 
Answer here.  Posted because I chose the wrong one earlier this week (très embarrassing for an English major...)

How businesses deal with hackers

More Dilberts here.

Growth industry

Via.  More at the link in the watermark.

"Christian Nationalists" explained

First from Wikipedia:
Christian nationalism is Christianity-affiliated religious nationalism. Christian nationalists focus primarily on internal politics, such as passing laws that reflect their view of Christianity and its role in political and social life. They are actively promoting religious (Christian) and nationalistic discourses in various fields of social life, from politics and history, to culture and science. In Europe and the United States, Christian nationalism ranges from conservative to far right-wing.
And some excerpts from a NYT op-ed column:
America’s Christian nationalists have a new plan for advancing their legislative goals in state capitols across the country. Its stated aim is to promote “religious freedom.” Not shy, they call it “Project Blitz.”...

The idea behind Project Blitz is to overwhelm state legislatures with bills based on centrally manufactured legislation. “It’s kind of like whack-a-mole for the other side; it’ll drive ‘em crazy that they’ll have to divide their resources out in opposing this,” David Barton, the Christian nationalist historian and one of four members of Project Blitz’s “steering team,” said in a conference call with state legislators from around the country that was later made public...

In their guidebook for state legislators and other allies, the authors of the Project Blitz program have grouped their model legislation into three categories, according to anticipated difficulty of passage. The first category consists of symbolic gestures, like resolutions to emblazon the motto “In God We Trust” on as many moving objects as possible (like, say, police cars)...

The second, more difficult category for Project Blitz consists of bills intended to promote the teaching and celebration of Christianity in public schools and elsewhere...

The sponsors of Project Blitz have pinned their deepest hopes on the third and most contentious category of model legislation. The dream here is something that participants in the conference call referred to in awed tones as “the Mississippi missile.” The “missile” in question is Mississippi’s HB 1523, a 2016 law that allows private businesses and government employees to discriminate, against L.G.B.T. people for example, provided that they do so in accordance with “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
More at the link.  I'll defer commentary and close comments for this post.

Addendum: A report in The Guardian about Project Blitz.

About the "close door" button in elevators

The one in the photograph here fell off, revealing that there was no connection to an electrical circuit behind it.  Hmmmm....

Image trimmed for size from the original here.

Smelling disease

In the world of medicine, smell is an underutilized sense.   Experienced clinicians can learn to detect the odor of ketones on the breath of a diabetic in ketoacidosis (and presumably this is the basis for using sentinel dogs to alert their diabetic owners to check their status).  Dogs have been reported also to identify impending hypoglycemia by detecting isoprene.

From a BBC science podcast this week I learned that researchers have found that malaria can be detected by smell.  It has been known that mosquitoes can locate malaria carriers and will bite them more often than unaffected people - an ability presumed to be mediated by their sense of smell.  A team of researchers tested this by giving children in a malaria-endemic area socks to wear, to absorb their sweat and body odor.  They found that socks from children carrying the malaria parasite smelled different from those worn by normal children, that mosquitoes favored those socks, and most importantly that when they treated the children for malaria, their sock smell reverted back to normal.  One implication of this is that it might be possible to detect subclinical malaria noninvasively, without requiring phlebotomy and a microscope.  I found some discussion of the research at NPR.

Less intuitive is the reported ability of some humans to detect Parkinson's disease by smell.
... Joy Milne from Perth, whose husband Les was told he had Parkinson's at the age of 45. About a decade before her consultant anaesthetist husband was diagnosed, Joy noticed she could detect an unusual musky smell... Joy said: "We had a very tumultuous period, when he was about 34 or 35, where I kept saying to him, 'you've not showered. You've not brushed your teeth properly'.

"It was a new smell - I didn't know what it was. I kept on saying to him, and he became quite upset about it. So I just had to be quiet." The retired nurse only linked the odour to the disease after meeting people with the same distinctive smell at a Parkinson's UK support group.

She told scientists at a conference, and subsequent tests carried out by Edinburgh University's Dr Tilo Kunath confirmed her ability...

Joy was given 12 unmarked T-shirts to smell - six worn by Parkinson's patients and six worn by volunteers without the disease. She correctly identified the six worn by Parkinson's patients, but could also smell the odour on a T-shirt worn by someone in the control group without Parkinson's. Joy was told three months later that this person had in fact been diagnosed with Parkinson's after the T-shirt tests.
No time to search today.  I bet there are a lot more things that could be added to this post.

Wonder Woman


The aging of the United States

"As baby boomers age, the nation has substantially aged as well. In 1970, the median age in the US was 28.1. In 2016, it was 37.9."

The second map doesn't show "movement" of individuals, but the changing age distributions are equivalent to movement of populations.

Lots of implications, which I don't need to elaborate on.

Note the maps at the source are interactive (zoomable, and if you hover over your county the raw data pop up).

Good guy barber

This country needs more people like this and places like this.

If M.C. Escher had a horse...

The horse's name is DaVinci ("Vinny").  Re the title.

Trump clump #4

This is the fourth "Trump Clump," designed to cluster Trump-related links into a single post so that Trump supporters can easily skip over one post rather than encounter them on a daily basis, and even more importantly to free up the blog from this often-depressing subject matter.  Three weeks ago I went on a two-day road trip up to Minnesota to watch my cousin's daughter compete in her final collegiate golf match.  As I fell asleep the night after the competition, I realized that I had gone an entire 24 hours without ever encountering the word "Trump" in print, on television, radio, online, or in conversation - probably for the first time in several years.  It felt great.  I will continue to do my best to keep TYWKIWDBI Trump-free except for these every-three-month clusters.

(as of Jan 2018): Global confidence in US leadership has fallen to a new low, and the country now ranks below China in worldwide approval ratings, according to a new Gallup poll.
The survey of opinion in 134 countries showed a record collapse in approval for the US role in the world, from 48% under Obama to 30% after one year of Donald Trump – the lowest level Gallup has recorded since beginning its global leadership poll over a decade ago.

"Before moving into the White House, first lady Melania Trump took 21 flights on Air Force jets over a three-month span that totaled more than $675,000, according to newly revealed military records.
Trump was flown to and from New York City, Florida and Washington, D.C. in the early months of her husband's presidency, while she held off on moving to the nation's capital in order for the couple's son, Barron Trump, to finish the school year. The records, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, cover the inauguration through April of last year, in which "Air Force jets made at least 19 trips to LaGuardia Airport in New York and nine trips to Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport to drop off or pick up Mrs. Trump." A spokesperson for the first lady defended Trump's travels and said that it exemplifies her ability to juggle "dual roles.""

He really said this.
“Right now in a number of states the laws allow a baby to be born from his or her mother's womb in the 9th month. It is wrong. It has to change.”

Mark Hamill offers a response to Trump's tweet about one of this critics:

And speaking of diplomacy and statemanship, this is an exact quote from his letter to Kim Jong Un:
"You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."

"The President of the United States, whose Bill of Rights bans the government from making a law "respecting...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," has told the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, birthplace of the Magna Carta and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom of assembly, that he will only visit the United Kingdom if the residents of that country are legally barred from protesting his visit."

Sign in London Underground re American energy policy:

"The Trump administration has signed a $24,000,000 contract with Boeing to replace two food chilling systems aboard Air Force One, the president’s plane, according to reports. The systems are two of five such “chillers” aboard Air Force One, which must be equipped with a refrigeration capacity to handle 3,000 meals, according to military specifications. That’s enough to feed the president and 50 of his closest friends three meals a day for three weeks.

The U.S. unemployment rate:

"Supporters of President Donald Trump used racist language against dark-skinned public servants while rallying against immigration, the Arizona Capitol Times reported Saturday... One dark-skinned Arizonian who was asked if he was in the country “illegally” was Rep. Eric Descheenie (D-Chinle).
Rep. Descheenie is a Navajo lawmaker."

In response to a mass shooting at a school:

"On Twitter this fine February morning, the President of the United States claimed that his State of the Union speech, watched by 46 million people, was seen by "the highest number in history.".. Two of Obama's earlier SoTU addresses won more viewers (48m in 2010 and 53m in 2009), too. Bush Jr. got 63m for his one after the Iraq War. Clinton got 53m in 1998 and 67m in 1993. But it's likely that an earlier president holds the record, from the era when nothing else was on..."

"For the whole nation [for 2017], Trump had an average job approval in 2017 of 38% and disapproval of 56%. There were 12 states that showed significant job approval for Trump, while 32 states showed significant disapproval. The other states had approval/disapproval within the margins of error."

This graph compares presidential job approval ratings after 14 months on the job.

However, Trump's approval rating among white evangelicals reached an all-time high in April (graph at the link).

February article discusses Trump's request for a military parade.  “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

"The revelation that the US housing secretary, Ben Carson, and his wife selected a $31,000 dining set for his office at taxpayer expense has caused outrage. But Carson is far from alone among Donald Trump’s cabinet in causing controversy over use of public money... treasury secretary [Steve Mnuchin], a former Wall Street executive and Hollywood producer who is worth as much as $35m, managed to run up bills in excess of $800,000 in his first six months in office for travel on military jets... The health and human services secretary [Tom Price] was forced to resign last September following revelations that he used at least $400,000 and probably more than $1m in taxpayer funds on private and military flights for himself and his staff..."

"More than at any time in history, the president of the United States is actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets: landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos, securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal. For Trump, whose business revolves around the marketability of his name, there has proved to be no public policy too big, and no private opportunity too crass, to exploit for personal profit... In fact, although Trump refuses to disclose the details of his myriad business operations, he continues to enjoy access to every dime he makes as president. Instead of setting up a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, as other presidents have done, Trump put his two grown sons in charge of his more than 500 business entities. His sons regularly brief Trump about how the enterprises are doing, enabling him to personally monitor how his decisions in office affect his bottom line. What’s more, only 15 days after this “eyes wide open” trust was set up, Trump amended the fine print to allow him to take money out of the operation any time he pleases."  Lots of details at the link.

Trump explains what his attorney Michael Cohen does: “Michael is a good person. Let me just tell you that Michael is in business. He’s really a businessman. Fairly big businesses, as I understand it. I don’t know his business. But this doesn’t have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He has got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business. And they are looking into something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business..."

"Donald Trump’s former personal physician, Harold Bornstein... said that it was “black humor” that “takes the truth” in “a different direction” when he issued a medical report calling Trump a man of “extraordinary” strength who would be “the healthiest individual ever elected,” and that Trump had dictated the report to him..."

"President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was true... “So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart."

Two photos highlight the difference between Obama and Trump based on their public responses to mass shootings.

"President Donald Trump attacked The New York Times in a tweet Saturday, claiming the paper made up a “senior White House official” for its story about the canceled North Korea summit. The official, a member of Trump’s National Security Council, actually does exist and led a briefing at the White House on Thursday for reporters. The White House even provided its own transcript of the briefing that Trump essentially dismissed as fake news."

Trump's campaign site used Memorial Day to offer 25%-off discounts to shoppers.  The coupon code was "Remember."

It never ends.  But my tolerance for writing this does.  Done for another 3-4 months.  I expect this post will bring out the trolls who take pleasure in vilifying me and those who disagree with Teddy Roosevelt.  But I've got my "delete" button ready to go...

21 May 2018

Panspermia and the Cambrian Explosion

"Panspermia" ("seeds everywhere") is the term used for the concept that life in various forms is widespread throughout the cosmos, and that extremophiles can survive transit through space to colonize new worlds.

The "Cambrian Explosion" occurred about 500 million years ago, when multicellular life skyrocketed on earth.  Prior to that time, life on this planet consisted almost entirely of single-celled or colonial organisms.  During this 20-million year period most of the lines of animals appeared, with major diversifications and accelerated complexity.

Those two concepts are discussed in the most interesting scientific review article I've read all month.  Herewith some excerpts from the longread:
"... we discuss the recent phylogenetic data which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ∼500 Ma (the widely agreed epochal event in the evolutionary history of multicellular life on Earth). These types of reverse transcribing and genome integrating viruses are speculated to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence with the Cambrian Explosion may not be fortuitous...

... life was seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (at or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells and organisms (e.g. Tardigrades), perhaps even fertilised ova and plant seeds, may have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth helping to drive further the progress of terrestrial biological evolution...

Even if we concede that the dominant neo-Darwinian paradigm of natural selection can explain aspects of the evolutionary history of life once life gets started, independent abiogenesis on the cosmologically diminutive scale of oceans, lakes or hydrothermal vents remains a hypothesis with no empirical support and is moreover unnecessary and redundant...

... direct evidence of liquid water in comets as well as other icy solar system bodies came to be firmly established through space exploration. The Jovian moon Europa, the Saturnian moon Enceladus and the dwarf planet Ceres all have evidence of liquid water, maintained either through tidal energy dissipation or radioactive heating. ..

It is now becoming amply clear that Earth-like planets and other life-friendly planetary bodies exist in their hundreds of billions...

Since 1980 the existence in interstellar clouds of complex organic molecules such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, is beyond dispute...

Data from cometary studies continue to be backed up by recoveries of microbial material in the stratosphere (under conditions where upwelling terrestrial contamination can be plausibly ruled out)...

We should then plausibly view viruses as among the most information-rich natural systems in the known Universe. Their size dictates they are very small targets minimizing the probability of destruction by flash heating or ionizing radiation... Their nanometer dimensions plausibly allow easy transport and dispersal by micrometer sized dust grains and other protective physical matrices of similar size. They are then nanoparticle-sized genetic vectors which contain all the essential information to take over and drive the physiology of any given target cell within which they mesh. Their replicative growth means they are produced, and exist, in huge numbers on cosmic scales; so that they (and to a lesser quantitative extent their cellular reservoirs) can suffer huge losses by inactivation while still leaving a residue of millions of surviving particles potentially still infective. A virus then is a type of compressed module in touch with the whole of the cell's very ability to grow and divide to produce progeny cells and thus to evolve...

Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods. The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens ...

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted (below) as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus' sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. Indeed this principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms, covered in the prescient concept of “punctuated equilibrium”...

This now leads us to the crux and an important take home lesson of this review. While all viruses, when looked at closely, are exceedingly clever, the Retroviruses (family Retroviridiae) are up there with the most sophisticated and compact of all known viruses. These viruses and their elements (reverse transcriptase enzymes, associated with induced mobile retro-elements) now appear to be important viral-drivers of major evolutionary genetic change on Earth over the past few hundred million years ...

It is well known that a mass extinction event, or events, occurred at the end of the Ediacaran period about 542 million years ago. This was the immediate forerunner of the Cambrian explosion and the mass extinction scale suggests the passage of our Solar System through a Giant Molecular Cloud dislodging multiple long period Oort Cloud comets into the inner Solar System setting up impacts with the Earth... It takes little imagination to consider that the pre-Cambrian mass extinction event(s) was correlated with the impact of a giant life-bearing comet (or comets), and the subsequent seeding of Earth with new cosmic-derived cellular organisms and viral genes...

It goes without saying that Tardigrades, micro-segmented tiny eukaryotic animals, which emerged in the Cambrian period pose a serious challenge to traditional neo-Darwinian thinking...
Note: Appendix A to the paper discusses the theory of panspermia as it relates to the existence of a deity as ultimate progenitor for the creation of life.

Top image via The Carbon Pilgrim.   Bottom image via Yale Scientific.

You're right! He does look like Sir Patrick Stewart.

Found at the Pareidolia subreddit.

Baby's hand mummified by copper coin

The remains are currently on display at Hungary’s Móra Ferenc Museum.

From inspecting the tiny skeleton, Dr. Balázs determined the deceased was either a stillbirth or premature baby that died shortly after birth. The researchers concluded the child was 11 to 13 inches and weighed only one or two pounds...

The team concluded that before the child was placed in the pot and buried, someone put the copper coin into its hand. Many cultures in antiquity have buried their dead with coins as a way to pay a mythical ferryman to take their souls into the afterlife.

In this case, the copper’s antimicrobial properties protected the child’s hand from decay. Along with the conditions inside the vessel, it helped mummify the baby’s grasp. The team thinks this child’s burial may be one of the first reported cases in the scientific literature of copper-driven mummification. 
The rest of the story is at The New York Times.

Suburban lawns as ecological wastelands

Excerpts from a rant at Earther:
Americans devote 70 hours, annually, to pushing petrol-powered spinning death blades over aggressively pointless green carpets to meet an embarrassingly destructive beauty standard based on specious homogeneity. We marvel at how verdant we manage to make our overwatered, chemical-soaked, ecologically-sterile backyards...

“Continual amputation is a critical part of lawn care. Cutting grass regularly—preventing it from reaching up and flowering — forces it to sprout still more blades, more rhizomes, more roots, to become an ever more impenetrable mat until it is what its owner has worked so hard or paid so much to have: the perfect lawn, the perfect sealant through which nothing else can grow—and the perfect antithesis of an ecological system.”..

Up until the 1940s, we at least left odd flowers like clovers—which actually add nitrogen back to soil—alone. Then we figured out how to turn petrochemicals into fertilizer, Windhager said. “The new goal became to have a full monoculture.”..

According to the EPA, we use 580 million gallons of gas each year, in lawnmowers that emit as much pollution in one hour as 40 automobiles driving— accounting for roughly 10 to 18 percent of non-road gasoline emissions...

All America’s farmland consumes 88.5 million acre feet of water a year. Lawns, with a fraction of the land, drink an estimated two-thirds as much. Most municipalities use 30-60 percent of drinkable water on lawns.
Suggestions at the link regarding how to cope with neighborhood associations.

Clever analogy

19 May 2018

(no headline)

Polyurea flooring

If any readers have resurfaced a garage or interior floor with polyurea, I'd appreciate your thoughts (positive/negative) in the Comments.  Thanks in advance.

Addendum:  The garage floor was resurfaced.  It looks 10X better, sweeps clean easily (after the winter I hose it down to wash out sand/salt drippings), and it is not slippery when wet.  I'm writing this addendum 3 years later, and it's still just as great as when new.  It's easily the best fixup we've ever done for the house.

The surprising etymology of "miniature"

I was listening to a segment of the PBS series "Civilizations" and was startled to hear an art historian mention in passing that the word "miniature" is used by professionals to refer to the colors used in a work of art rather than to its size.

An Oxford University Press webpage explains:
It only makes sense that this word miniature would derive from the Latin word minimum, meaning “the smallest.”  It only makes sense, but it’s wrong.

Miniature is one of those strange words that has an etymology that defies logic. The actual truth is that before things that were tiny were called miniature, a certain kind of small portrait was called a miniature.

Before that, the art of illuminating those beautiful letters and figures in hand reproduced .
ancient books was called miniaire in Italian.

This miniaire art was in turn named for the red color that was especially popular for use in producing this art.

The red color was usually produced by use of a red kind of lead and it was the Latin name of this red lead that gave the color its name because the lead was called minium.

Thus etymologically, miniature and minimum actually don’t even have a small relationship with each other.
Lots more at Wikipedia.
The word miniature, derived from the Latin minium, red lead, is a small illustration used to decorate an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript; the simple illustrations of the early codices having been miniated or delineated with that pigment. The generally small scale of the medieval pictures has led secondly to an etymological confusion of the term with minuteness...

Sierra Leone is the roundest country

Sierra Leone maps.  Via the Map Porn subreddit.

This modern world

Via BoingBoing.

The role of baby-boomers in America's decline

Excerpts from a longread:
Lately, most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, have been asking themselves some version of the same question: How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?

.. the celebrated American economic-mobility engine is sputtering. For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier. The American middle class, once an aspirational model for the world, is no longer the world’s richest... too few basic services seem to work as they should. America’s airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air-traffic control system is more than 25 years behind its original schedule. The power grid, roads and rails are crumbling, pushing the U.S. far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. Despite spending more on health care and K-12 education per capita than most other developed countries, health care outcomes and student achievement also rank in the middle or worse globally. Among the 35 OECD countries, American children rank 30th in math proficiency and 19th in science...

...many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great–the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself–to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy...

The result is a new, divided America. On one side are the protected few – the winners – who don’t need government for much and even have a stake in sabotaging the government’s responsibility to all of its citizens. For them, the new, broken America works fine, at least in the short term. An understaffed IRS is a plus for people most likely to be the target of audits. Underfunded customer service at the Social Security Administration is irrelevant to those not living week to week, waiting for their checks... On the other side are the unprotected many. They may be independent and hardworking, but they look to their government to preserve their way of life and maybe even improve it. The unprotected need the government to provide good public schools so that their children have a chance to advance. They need a level competitive playing field for their small businesses, a fair shake in consumer disputes and a realistic shot at justice in the courts...

The protected need few of these common goods. They don’t have to worry about underperforming public schools, dilapidated mass-transit systems or jammed Social Security hotlines. They have accountants and lawyers who can negotiate their employment contracts or deal with consumer disputes, assuming they want to bother. They see labor or consumer-protection laws, and fair tax codes, as threats to their winnings–which they have spent the last 50 years consolidating by eroding these common goods and the government that would provide them.

That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It’s the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings...

 “American meritocracy has thus become precisely what it was invented to combat,” Markovits concluded, “a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy.” 
Much more at the Time magazine source.


This was a signature moment in public health awareness, when in 1987 Princess Diana was photographed shaking hands with an AIDS patient while not wearing gloves. 
In April 1987, Princess Diana opened the UK's first purpose built HIV/Aids unit that exclusively cared for patients infected with the virus, at London Middlesex Hospital.
In front of the world's media, Princess Diana shook the hand of a man suffering with the illness.
She did so without gloves, publicly challenging the notion that HIV/Aids was passed from person to person by touch
More at the BBC.  Photo via.

17 May 2018

The first-ever performance of "Purple Rain" - 35 years ago

Feel old yet?  Filmed at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis in 1983

Would you push the handle on the right?

Another morsel from the Crappy Design subreddit.  Ladies Room door on the left, fire exit on the right (the Mens Room is around the corner and down a hall).

Pushing that handle in the theater would set off the fire alarm.

Campaign bus for a Georgia politician

This man is running for Governor, as a candidate of presumably the Xenophobic Party.

400 months in a row

It doesn't matter whether one considers it "normal planetary fluctuation" or "human-induced," the trend can't be denied:
Last month marked the planet's 400th consecutive month with above-average temperatures, federal scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday...

NOAA's analysis found last month was the 3rd-warmest April on record globally. The unusual heat was most noteworthy in Europe, which had its warmest April on record, and Australia, which had its second-warmest...

Another milestone was reached in April, also related to the number "400": Carbon dioxide — the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming — reached its highest level in recorded history at 410 parts per million.

This amount is highest in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
The NOAA report.

"That which doesn't kill you"

In a thoughtful Vanity Fair essay, Christopher Hitchens, who has terminal esophageal carcinoma, debunks an old maxim.
[O]ne thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”..

In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound. It is usually attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche: Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker. In German it reads and sounds more like poetry, which is why it seems probable to me that Nietzsche borrowed it from Goethe, who was writing a century earlier...

In the remainder of his life, however, Nietzsche seems to have caught an early dose of syphilis, very probably during his first-ever sexual encounter, which gave him crushing migraine headaches and attacks of blindness and metastasized into dementia and paralysis. This, while it did not kill him right away, certainly contributed to his death and cannot possibly, in the meanwhile, be said to have made him stronger...

[re radiation therapy]: To say that the rash hurt would be pointless. The struggle is to convey the way that it hurt on the inside. I lay for days on end, trying in vain to postpone the moment when I would have to swallow. Every time I did swallow, a hellish tide of pain would flow up my throat, culminating in what felt like a mule kick in the small of my back. I wondered if things looked as red and inflamed within as they did without. And then I had an unprompted rogue thought: If I had been told about all this in advance, would I have opted for the treatment? There were several moments as I bucked and writhed and gasped and cursed when I seriously doubted it...

I have come to know that feeling all right: the sensation and conviction that the pain will never go away and that the wait for the next fix is unjustly long. Then a sudden fit of breathlessness, followed by some pointless coughing and then—if it’s a lousy day—by more expectoration than I can handle...

So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.
Addendum: Hitchens died on the day this post was published.  A brief memorial biography is available in this BBC column, or a more comprehensive bio at Wikipedia.

Reposted from 2011 in response to receiving a school alumni bulletin in which an interview offered the old maxim as a guideline for life:
Q: If you had a theme song what would it be?
A: "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson. Sums up my life in a nutshell.
Like Hitchens, I'm at an age where I can do quite well without "things that don't kill me."

What ever happened to usury laws ?

A recent mailing from Paypal made me wonder what the status is of state regulations on exorbitant interest rates.  In an era of almost zero inflation, the numbers cited in the enclosure above seem to be over-the-top.  Do usury laws still exist?  Are certain types of lenders exempt?

I could look this up, but I bet some readers will already know the answer.  I certainly don't plan to borrow from Paypal, but I'm curious.  Thanks in advance.

Quantifying what golfers already know

The USGA is conducting a major study involving pros and amateurs regarding the effect of increasing distance on the nature of the game.
Increases in distance can contribute to demands for longer, tougher and more resource - intensive golf courses at all levels of the game. These trends can impact the costs to operate golf courses and put additional pressures on golf courses in their local environmental landscape . The effect of increasing distance on the balance between skill and technology is also a key consideration. Maintaining this balance is paramount to preserving the integrity of golf...
Longread with more graphs.

15 May 2018

Jungle lavafall

Something you don't see every day.  Credit embedded as a watermark, via.

How to use "invisible thread" in magic tricks

I looked this up after seeing this impressive street magic gif.

"Can I offer you another slice of... um... aquarium?"

With a big glop of mayo on top.  Because everyone knows how tasty aquarium water is.

Other examples in a gallery entitled "Aspic, the Devil's Foodstuff."  Via.

What the Russian army does with soldiers' cellphones

They are properly viewed as security risks in sensitive areas.  From a gallery at English Russia.

It resembles a leaf, and it can photosynthesize

But it's a sea slug (Elysia chlorotica).  I wonder if the "vein" pattern is functional, or for camouflage.

The history of the universe expressed as a domino run

An attempt to offer the human mind some idea of the concept of "deep time."  The details are not important; as always the impact comes from the relative length of the existence of human life.

13 May 2018

Divertimento #152

Everybody loves a gif-fest, so here are about fifty of them.  Have a go...

Induction heating demonstrated: "By placing a conductive material into a strong alternating magnetic field, electric current is made to flow in the material, thereby causing Joule heating.

Hand-processing cashew nuts.

This can be done with any paper currency featuring a human face.

Why railroad train wheels are shaped the way they are.

A man at the park with his best friend.

How a bank teller can steal money from a sealed bundle.

Ice sliding down a light post.

Girl makes the most of her prosthetic eye (with a nerf missile).

Share this gif with any amputees you know.

MRI shows the complexity of human speech.

Getting out of a Lamborghini.

Older man dances with two little girls.

Scotsman harvesting peat.

Prom surprise (cheerful)

Using gasoline to start a fire.

Truck vs. bridge 

Alcohol was involved.

Fan at concert shows his support for the band.

Fan tries to invade the soccer field.

South African criminals choose wrong person to try to rob.

"Fresh squeezed lemonade" isn't.

Gas station misadventure

Sisyphus at the skate park.

Ice hockey player scores a shorthanded, unassisted, behind-the-legs goal to clinch the division on the last home game of the year against the only team that could catch them.

Basketball player passes to self, then alley-oops to self for dunk.

Bodyboarder meets wave.

Ballerina stretches during her warmup.

"Soccer in a nutshell"

Dog at a highway crosswalk.

Encounter with an urban fox.

Stick insects can fly.

Doorbell cam documents a snake on the door (click fullscreen icon).

An albino rhombic egg-eater eats an egg. (I had to look it up; that's what it's called)

Baby elephant is very friendly.

Cows are happy.

This is a trilobite beetle (unrelated except in shape).

Seal demonstrates extraordinary fishing skill.

Dog loves to play Frisbee.

“All animals except man know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.” (Samuel Butler)

Otters in Singapore.

Aquarium fish can be trained.

Awesome crocodile leap.

Scorpion sheds its exoskeleton.

Kennedy Space Center has an emergency fire extinguisher acoustic energy absorber (I think "dampener" would be the operative word here...

This is a Japanese "sunrise" dovetail joint.

Rolled up tatami mats are used to approximate the resistance provided by a human body.

Rather large swimming pool (China)

Boston Dynamics' new "running robot"

Maybe my cell phone will work as a neuralyzerNope.

Old Benny Hill skit

Baby likes balloons

"The difference between girls and boys"

Embedded photos from a gallery of animal camouflage at National Geographic; captions and credits at the link.
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