31 August 2018

Sami Blood

This is a superb movie.
Sami Blood is set in Sweden in the 1930s and concerns a 14-year-old girl who experiences prejudice at a nomad school for Sami children, and decides to escape her town and disavow her Sami heritage.

The film premiered at the 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival in the Venice Days section, in which it was awarded the Europa Cinemas Label Award and the Fedeora Award for Best Debut Director.

Just get a new one

Posted because last night one of my bluetooth mice became inoperable, and I was reminded of this xkcd cartoon.

Wherein I rant about the financing of American healthcare

This morning I'll post yet another example of a healthcare financing debacle.

There are undoubtedly thousands upon thousands of these, the vast majority of which don't reach the public eye and are suffered quietly by the powerless victims.  This story about a myocardial infarction successfully treated with stents was posted by Kaiser Health News:
Patient: Drew Calver, 44, a high school history teacher and father of two in Austin, Texas.

... [as he was recovering from his MI and the stent placements], Calver asked whether his health insurance would cover all of this, a financial worry that accompanies nearly every American hospital stay. He was concerned because St. David’s is out-of-network on his school district health plan. The hospital told him not to worry and that they would accept his insurance, Calver said...

And then the bills came.

Total Bill: $164,941 for a four-day hospital stay, including $42,944 for four stents and $10,920 for room charges. Calver’s insurer paid $55,840. The hospital billed Calver for the unpaid balance of $108,951.31.

Medical Treatment: Emergency room treatment followed by four days in the hospital, most of it spent in the cardiac unit. During surgery, four stents were implanted to clear a blockage in his left anterior descending artery, the source of so-called widow-maker heart attacks, because they are so frequently deadly...

Surprise bills occur when a patient goes to a hospital in his insurance network but receives treatment from a doctor that does not participate in the network, resulting in a direct bill to the patient. They can also occur in cases like Calver’s, where insurers will pay for needed emergency care at the closest hospital — even if it is out-of-network — but the hospital and the insurer may not agree on a reasonable price. The hospital then demands that patients pay the difference, in a practice called balance billing...

This case “illustrates the dangers that even insured people face,” said Carol Lucas, an attorney in Los Angeles with experience in health care payment disputes. “The unfairness is especially acute when there is an emergency and the patient, who might ordinarily be completely compliant, has no say about the facility he winds up in.”..

St. David’s charged $19,708 apiece for two Synergy stents made by device giant Boston Scientific. Two other stents used were far cheaper.

The $20,000 price tag represents a significant markup of what U.S. hospitals typically pay themselves for stents. The median price paid by hospitals for the Synergy stent was $1,153 over the past year, according to the nonprofit research firm ECRI Institute.
Every now and then I allow myself to rant about matters that drive me to distraction, including health care financing in this county.  I spent over 30 years in academic medicine, and I have immense admiration for the people who actually provide the hands-on healthcare in this country, especially the nurses and therapists.  The problems arise from the vast army of administrators, coinsurers, financial analysts, billing clerks, chart analysts, insurance adjusters, collection agencies and others who feed off an ever-expanding and ever-more-complex web of regulations and policies.

There is no need for cases like the one detailed above to occur.  The system doesn't need to be this complex.  Even the people who administer the system realize it is fucked-up, but they don't have the power to make changes in a bureaucracy that is extraordinarily complex.

Look what happened in this case after the story was publicized:
UPDATE: Monday, shortly after publication and broadcast of this story by Kaiser Health News and NPR, St. David’s said it was now willing to accept $782.29 to resolve the $108,951 balance because Drew Calver qualifies for its “financial assistance discount.”  
Got that?  They graciously offer a "discount" from $109,000 to $800.  Because someone took the time to bring this story out of the darkness and expose it to daylight.

I don't care whom you vote for this November - Republican, Democrat, Independent - but please for the love of God and in the name of common sense, vote for someone who will totally gut this system of health care finance

And don't accept the lame alternative of a politician who assures you that under his/her proposal "everyone will have health insurance."  This case - and tens of thousands of untold ones - illustrates why that is an inadequate alternative. 


This egregiously ornate one is located at the Chateau de Chantilly.
A baluster—also called spindle or stair stick—is a moulded shaft, square or of lathe-turned form, cut from a rectangular or square plank, one of various forms of spindle in woodwork, made of stone or wood, and sometimes of metal or plastic. standing on a unifying footing, and supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase.

Multiplied in this way, they form a balustrade. Individually, a baluster shaft may describe the turned form taken by a brass or silver candlestick, an upright furniture support, or the stem of a brass chandelier, etc.

The word banister (also bannister) refers to the balusters of a stairway. It has been defined as either a handrail, especially on a staircase, or such a handrail together with its supporting structures.
Etymology: French balustre, from Italian balaustro (pillar), from balausta (wild pomegranate flower), so named because of resemblance to the swelling form of the half-open flower.

Photo credit Geoff Howell (detailsdiary on Instagram), via.

An example of the "Democratic Party machine" at work

This much is certain: Helen Gambichler is running for office. She is the Queens Democratic Party bosses’ nominee for a spot on a little-known body called the Democratic County Committee.

There is just one problem: Ms. Gambichler, a 72-year-old retired court clerk, did not know she was running for anything. Nor does she wish to run. “I have no idea what that’s about,” she said.

She had been nominated, without her knowledge, by the borough’s Democratic Party leadership, which is struggling to maintain control after the longtime Queens party chairman, Representative Joseph Crowley, was trounced by the left-leaning insurgent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a June Congressional primary that sent tremors through the Democratic establishment nationwide.
Ms. Gambichler is hardly alone.

The New York Times called dozens of the Queens party machine’s nominees for county committee. The candidates for 21 seats were running without their consent.

Most of these candidates did not know they were running at all until a reporter told them; two, including Ms. Gambichler, found out when they got letters from the city Board of Elections showing how their names would appear on the Sept. 13 primary ballot. Only four candidates The Times spoke to said they were running on purpose.
More about party machine politics at the New York Times.

Aerobic tic-tac-toe

28 August 2018

It doesn't have to be this way

Discussion thread at LateStageCapitalism.

See this post at BoingBoing for more discussion of the cost of universal health care.


Photo gallery here.  Skeleton photo via.

Some of the 63 objects taken from her son's mouth

2011 - 2012 / acorn, bolt, bubblegum, buttons, carbon paper, chalk, Christmas decoration, cigarette butt, coins (GBP, USD, EURO), cotton reel, holly leaf, little wooden man, sharp metal pieces, metro ticket, nuts, plastic “O”, polystyrene, rat poison (missing), seeds, slide, small rocks, specimen vial, sponge animal, sticks, teabag, wire caps, wooden block / size laid out as shown 40" x 40" x 1"
Lenka Clayton is a conceptual artist and recent mother.  She wanted to continue her artistic endeavors while staying at home with her one-year-old son.  The photo above is a portion of the mounted collection of objects she removed from her son's mouth between ages 8-15 months.

Slavery is still LEGAL in the United States

You didn't think so?  Neither did I.  I thought the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.  But I hadn't paid attention to the conditional clause:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. 
Here's some discussion of the penal exemption:
The Thirteenth Amendment exempts penal labor from its prohibition of forced labor. This allows prisoners who have been convicted of crimes (not those merely awaiting trial) to be required to perform labor or else face punishment while in custody.

It was apparently considered noncontroversial at the time, or at least legislators gave it little thought... slave labor as a just punishment for robbery, so that the thief's labor could be used to pay recompense to their victims and to society...

Various commentators have accused states of abusing this provision to re-establish systems similar to slavery, or of otherwise exploiting such labor in a manner unfair to local labor...prison labor continues in America under a variety of justifications. Prison labor programs vary widely; some are uncompensated prison maintenance tasks, some are for local government maintenance tasks, some are for local businesses, and others are closer to internships. Modern rationales for prison labor programs often include reduction of recidivism and re-acclimation to society.
Blogged because the principles involved here have been cited in discussions of an ongoing nationwide labor strike by U.S. prison inmates.
In addition to loss of life, the strikers, led by a network of incarcerated activists who call themselves Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, have put out a set of 10 demands to overhaul America’s creaking penal system. High up on the list is an end to forced or underpaid labor that the protesters call a form of modern slavery.
A followup article on the strike and some data:
More than 800,000 prisoners are put to work each day cleaning, cooking, farming and mowing, in some states compulsorily. In states like Louisiana compensation is as low as 4¢ an hour, even though prisons are entirely reliant on such labor.

You could say the hornets are in the driver's seat

Story (with video) at The Washington Post.  (It's really rather beautiful, to be honest).

A GoFundMe campaign goes awry

Money, like power, corrupts:
[Kate McClure] was a motorist on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia who found herself stuck on an off-ramp, scared and out of gas.

[Johnny Bobbitt] was a homeless veteran who told her to lock her doors, then spent his last $20 to bring her a canister of fuel.

Later she sought to repay the favor, first with cereal bars and warm socks and spare dollars, then with a GoFundMe campaign to raise money so the good Samaritan would not have to sleep under a bridge...

They hoped the GoFundMe would raise $10,000... In a few months, the campaign had raised more than $400,000 from nearly 14,000 donors...

Instead of a house, McClure and [her partner] D’Amico got Bobbitt a camper, which they kept in their names and parked on land owned by D’Amico’s family, according to news reports. They bought him a television, a laptop and two cellphones, food and clothing — and a used SUV that was soon broken-down and idle. What he didn’t get, though, was any type of ownership over the money raised on his behalf...

McClure is a receptionist for the New Jersey Department of Transportation and D’Amico is a carpenter, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. But suddenly she had a new BMW, and the couple was taking vacations to Florida and California and Las Vegas...

The money that came to Bobbitt couldn’t stop his addiction. He went through two unsuccessful stints in rehab that brought him no closer to being sober...

If Bobbitt’s claims are true, it would be the biggest case of GoFundMe fraud or mismanagement seen by GoFraudMe, a whistleblower organization, according to Adrienne Gonzalez, the site’s publisher.

Some of the hucksters are serial scammers who start dozens or hundreds of bogus campaigns in a day, said Gonzalez. Others fake diseases, figuring no one will demand evidence of, say, a recent cancer diagnosis.
More details at the Washington Post.

27 August 2018

Van Gogh torc

I think this is properly termed a torc rather than a necklace.  Clever.

The artist is not identified at the via, where the discussion is about taste (or lack of same).


The graph above, found at the Charles Schwab website, shows how dramatically inflation has been curbed over the past twenty years - not just in the U.S., but globally.

I was a young adult in the 1970s, and I can clearly remember getting a paycheck and going the next day to a local bank to purchase a bank certificate of deposit yielding about 12%.  I think anyone who has managed their own money just for the past 20 years has very little concept of the influence of inflation.

Conversely, my experience through the 1970s-1990s "taught me" (incorrectly) that I could safely rely on 4-5% interest yields during my retirement.  No way, Jose.  I had no concept that fixed income returns would ever be less than 1% - and for sustained periods of time.

There is an old saying that "the market can remain irrational for longer than you can remain solvent."  There's a certain truth to that.

But if I were going to bet now and plan for a future 20-30 years from now, I wouldn't count on inflation and interest rates staying at these historic lows.

Mirrors on the ground


A self-starting siphon

Exactly what the title says.  No suction required to start the siphoning process.

Addendum:  I just read something tonight that said Thomas Jefferson cited the siphon effect as an explanation for intermittent water flows at natural springs.   I'll have to research that later, but this would be a starting place.

and here with a diagram


And only $1,375 monthly rent for this 140 square-foot third-floor-walkup apartment.  And no windows.

That same monthly rental would get you a three-bedroom, two-bath home with 1,400 sq ft of living space in Wisconsin.  The difference is location.  And location.  And location.

Word for the day: "nutation"

I think everyone is familiar with the process documented here, but the title "nutation - vine - speeded up" triggered a lookup.  A search showed I have used the word only once (in a different context) in the life of this blog, in a quote from John Quincy Adams:
“… if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.
I had to look up the meaning then, and because ten years have passed, I had to look it up again.
Nutation is the bending movements executed by some plant organs, such as stems, leaves, roots, etc., by which the part is inclined successively in various directions. Nutations are due to the unequal rate of growth of different sides of the organ, an inequality which, so far as is known at present (c. 1915), is dependent upon internal (unknown) causes and is not called forth by the action of external stimuli. The word is often used in a broad sense in the phrase nutational movement, to include all the movements in plants caused by growth in contrast to variation movements or movements produced by reversible turgor changes.
It has a slightly different meaning in physics.  Etymology from the Lain for "nodding."

They walk among us

Somebody should respond with a "vaccines cause adults" shirt.  Via.

24 August 2018

Concentric circles

Top image hat tip to Alex Santoso, who found this excellent optical illusion on Twitter and posted it at Neatorama in 2012.  Reposted to add the bottom one, via.  The two illusions are based on the same principles; I believe the lower one was just modified to bring the inner circle closer to the outer one.

German traffic jam with open center of the road

"When traffic comes to a complete stop in Germany, the drivers, (by law) must move towards the... side to create an open lane for emergency vehicles."
The open lane is a "Rettungsgasse" (rescue lane), explained here (auf English).

"Big oil asks government to protect it from climate change"

You can't make this up.  And it's not The Onion.
As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile "spine" of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Like other oceanfront projects, this one would protect homes, delicate ecosystems and vital infrastructure, but it also has another priority — to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it.

The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world's largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas' 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation's refining capacity.

Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities...

Normally outspoken critics of federal spending, Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz both backed using taxpayer funds to fortify the oil facilities' protections and the Texas coast. Cruz called it "a tremendous step forward."..

The proposals approved for funding originally called for building more protections along larger swaths of the Texas coast, but they were scaled back and now deliberately focus on refineries...

Oil and chemical companies also pushed for more protection for surrounding communities to shield their workforces...

Texas has not tapped its own rainy day fund of around $11 billion. According to federal rules, 35 percent of funds spent by the Army Corps of Engineers must be matched by local jurisdictions, and the GOP-controlled state Legislature could help cover such costs. But such spending may be tough for many conservatives to swallow.

Texas "should be funding things like this itself," said Chris Edwards, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Texans are proud of their conservatism, but, unfortunately, when decisions get made in Washington, that frugality goes out the door."

22 August 2018

Food porn

These two lobster rolls on buttered toasted buns are discussed in this thread at the Food Porn subreddit.

The return of the fifth plague visited upon the Egyptians

For most of us, anthrax evokes fearful memories of white powder in envelopes. The disease, however, is an ancient one. God’s fifth plague upon the Egyptians — ‘‘Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain,” Moses told Pharaoh — may well have been an anthrax outbreak. The same goes for Apollo’s bane upon the Greeks at the beginning of the Iliad. (Homer dubbed the disease “the burning wind of plague.”) Perhaps the most striking description from antiquity of what we now know as Bacillus anthracis comes from Virgil’s Georgics:
Nor was the manner of dying a simple matter: 
After the thirsty slake-seeking fever had gone 
All through the veins and withered the pitiful limbs, 
Then a fluid welled up in the suffering body, and 
Piece by piece absorbed the melting bones. 
B. anthracis is a cruel organism. In their passive form, the bacteria live as hard, oval-shaped spores with thick, nearly indestructible walls that allow them to survive for decades. When the spores colonize a victim’s bloodstream, they enter a vegetative state, dissolving their walls and gathering into neat chains that Robert Koch, the nineteenth-century German scientist whose pioneering work helped identify the disease, described as “graceful, artificially ordered strings of pearls.” In order to survive, the bacteria must kill the host and reproduce inside it before escaping back into the world and returning to a resting state.

Anthrax bacteria produce two lethal toxins in tandem, akin to those that cause tetanus and cholera. The process tends to be swift, and the chances of fatality high. The early symptoms resemble those of the common flu: your head begins to ache; your temperature rises; a general sense of weakness envelops your body; your stomach starts rumbling; you begin to cough incessantly. Then things get serious: you may go into seizures; your organs begin failing; boils break out across your skin, swelling red pustules with a trademark black center. In the fifth century bc, Hippocrates dubbed the disease anthrakes, from the ancient Greek for “charcoal.” 

The disease has triumphed once the blood begins spilling from your orifices. When the medical examiners or the veterinarians cut you open, they will find that your blood has gone black, and that certain organs, particularly the spleen, have turned into masses of melting flesh.
Now the melting of the Siberian permafrost is unleashing anthrax bacilli that have been frozen there for centuries.  Vast herds of reindeer are being decimated and a way of life destroyed for native subarctic peoples.  Details in a longread at Harper's Magazine.

21 August 2018

Refreshing an iconic barn in central Wisconsin

I first reported on the remarkable barn of the Sonnenberg family back in 2013, updating with the above photo in 2015.  This year it was time to repaint the barn, so I returned to meet old friends and document the process.

The first step had already been undertaken by the family, who had contracted with a local Amish family to repaint the barn.  That required removal of the butterflies and the use of some heavy equipment to get them down and put them back up.

While one crew worked at the barn, others gathered in the front yard to get the butterfly appliques ready.

The butterflies had been repainted during this past winter.  Here are the larger ones (Red Admiral, Mourning Cloak, Painted Lady, Buckeye, swallowtails, fritillaries, etc.  All of the wooden appliques had been hand-drawn and cut at a scale of one foot to one inch of real life size.  The hand-repainting was done by family members, neighbors, and friends from the local church, who gathered this past weekend for the festivity of remounting them on the newly-painted barn.

In the shade of the front yard trees, screws were preset into the wings to speed up the work of the crew at the barn.

I was particularly impressed that some took the time to touch up the screw heads to match the underlying wing color - a detail that would be invisible to people driving by on the road.

The small butterflies (skippers, blues, coppers, hairstreaks) are depicted from the side, with the wings folded up over the torso, in part because they typically rest in that position, and because the undersides of the wings often have the definitive markings.

While that was going on in the front yard, another crew in the garage was repainting the barn quilt.  The Sonnenberg farm is registered as part of the Marquette County Barn Quilt Trail.  This particular barn quilt depicts a stylized butterfly (only half of the quilt in this photo; see top photo for the entire).

As the afternoon went by, the butterflies landed on the wall.  What passers-by on the road don't realize is that the ones on the barn wall are not just Wisconsin butterflies, but 50 different species that have been documented on this particular farm.

That impressive diversity is attributed in part to the owners' decisions to maintain large patches of the farm in native plants and undisturbed habitat.

As the work neared completion, participants gathered in the house and the front yard for an old-fashioned bring-a-dish-to-pass picnic.  Those magnificent trees reflect the age of the farm, which has been in the same family for over a hundred years.  This is the fourth generation to actively farm this land.

The state of Wisconsin recognizes "century farms" that not only have been active for a hundred years, but have been maintained by descendants of a single family during that time.  Wisconsin became a state in 1848, so the program was started in 1948 and currently includes about 9,000 farms located at some of the best sites that pioneering families could find in the early statehood years.

There are lots of ways to spend a summer afternoon, and lots of places to picnic, but not many better than the front yard of a historic farm; it refreshed some now-vague memories of my childhood years visiting grandparents on their old farm in southern Minnesota.  This gathering of friends and family for a communal project reminded me in many ways of a classic "barn-raising."  It was a delightful experience.

20 August 2018

Modern gold mining

Related video here, via BoingBoing.

The Saddle Ridge hoard

The Saddle Ridge Hoard is the name given to identify a treasure trove of 1,427 gold coins unearthed in the Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada, California in 2013. The face value of the coins totaled $27,980, but was assessed to be worth $10 million. In total, the hoard contains $27,460 in twenty-dollar coins, $500 in ten-dollar coins, and $20 in five-dollar coins, all dating from 1847 to 1894. The collection is the largest known discovery of buried gold coins that has ever been recovered in the US.

The owners of the property discovered the trove while they were walking their dog on their property. Although they had reportedly hiked the trail numerous times previously, it was not until they spotted a rust-covered metal can poking out of the ground that they chose to explore further... After Mary noticed the can, John bent down to pick it up, but found that it was stuck in the dirt. He began to use a piece of wood to pry it from the ground. It was so heavy that they believed that the can likely held lead paint. On their walk back to their house, struggling to carry the weight of the find, the lid of the can cracked open, revealing the edge of a single gold coin. They returned to the site with some hand tools to see if they could find anything else. They found another can about a foot away from where the first can was discovered. Although it was partially decomposed due to rust, it held several more coins. They continued to return to the site to look for more coins, primarily digging in the ground and eventually using a metal detector. Their work eventually resulted in the discovery of eight cans filled with 1,427 coins.
I am recurrently frustrated that nobody seems to have buried cans of gold in my woods or along the trails where I hike.

Endolith extremophiles in garnets ?

Interesting possibility:
[S]ometimes garnets are marred with intricate traceries of microscopic tunnels. When Magnus Ivarsson, a geobiologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, first saw these tunnels, he wondered what could be making them... In a paper in PLOS One, the researchers are floating a new hypothesis: Perhaps what’s making the tunnels is alive.
The origin of such tunneling has previously been attributed to abiotic processes. Here we present physical and chemical remains of endolithic microorganisms within the tunnels and discuss a probable biological origin of the tunnels. Extensive investigations with synchrotron-radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy (SRXTM) reveal morphological indications of biogenicity that further support a euendolithic interpretation. We suggest that the production of the tunnels was initiated by a combination of abiotic and biological processes, and that at later stages biological processes came to dominate. In environments such as river sediments and oxidized soils garnets are among the few remaining sources of bio-available Fe2+, thus it is likely that microbially mediated boring of the garnets has trophic reasons. Whatever the reason for garnet boring, the tunnel system represents a new endolithic habitat in a hard silicate mineral otherwise known to be resistant to abrasion and chemical attack.
That was from the Abstract; here are a couple excerpts from elsewhere in the manuscript -
Endoliths are microorganisms living inside substrates, mostly rocks and minerals, but also shells, corals or wood [1,2]. Endolithic lineages have been developed among bacteria, fungi, algae, and several animal phyla, and they can either be chemolithoautotrophs (which utilize inorganically stored energy and carbon from inorganic sources like minerals), heterotrophs, or even photoautotrophs (like cyanobacteria) [2,3]. The usual advantage of entertaining an endolithic lifestyle is to obtain residence space—a hard or soft substrate provides a stable and protected environment compared to the outside. However, heterotrophs and chemolithoautotrophs may bore a substrate for trophic reasons as well. Saprophytic fungi, for instance, frequently bore into wood and bone [3], and mycorrhizal fungi are known to bore into soil minerals to mobilize nutrients for symbiotic plants [4,5]. Prokaryotic microborers are believed to bore in volcanic glass to oxidize reduced iron and manganese species for their metabolism [6,7]...

A plethora of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and algae are known to chemically etch minerals by excreting organic acids or chelators, such as siderophores, that act corrosively to certain minerals or elements..

The organic content of the garnet interior detected by ToF-SIMS and the complex nature of these organic molecules indicate microbial presence within the tunnel system of the garnets... Complex tunnel structures, as in the current study, are not likely to be formed exclusively by chemical dissolution but need the involvement of an agent that controls the direction [6].

The complexity of the networks with anastomoses between branches further rules out AITs. Anastomosis is in fact exclusively a biological feature but anastomosing tunnels produced by endolithic microorganisms have not yet been reported. Thus, even though the tunnels, at least partly, might look non-biogenic at first glance there is no conceivable non-biological mechanism that can explain the formation of them...

The transition from polygonal entrance pits at the mineral surfaces to more circular and tapering tunnels further into the minerals suggests that the tunnels were initiated by abiotic processes or a combination of abiotic and biological processes, which further into the mineral shift to predominantly biological processes.
Many interesting images in the paper, q.v. -

 Explained at the link.

18 August 2018

"Photoshop battle"

The original (above) shows Queen Elizabeth stepping out of her vehicle on a windy day.  I thought these were the two best Photoshopped variants:

Reader WhiteBearStudios found this one -

Infinite loop

Via the Programmer Humor subreddit.   Reminded me of my old joke about Swedes.

CEO-to-worker pay ratios

The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year, according to a new report published Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute.

The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of $18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year...

The outsize pay packets have had a direct impact on people down the corporate ladder, Mishel claims. “The redistribution of wages to the top 5%, but particularly the top 1%, affected the wage growth of the bottom 90%.

“As a mathematical matter, had there not been the redistribution upward – to the top 5%, but which is mostly about to the top 1% – the wages of the bottom 90% could have grown twice as fast as it actually did.”

Famous poliomyelitis survivors

Wikipedia has an extensive list, from which I've extracted some of the names I recognize:

Alan Alda born 1936 An actor most famous for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H. Alda contracted polio at age seven, during an epidemic. His parents administered a painful treatment, developed by Sister Elizabeth Kenny, in which hot woolen blankets were applied to the limbs and the muscles were stretched by massage

Mia Farrow born 1945 An actress who was appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2000, and campaigns in the fight against polio. Farrow collapsed on her ninth birthday and was diagnosed with polio two days later. She was in the hospital for eight months, where an iron lung maintained her breathing.

Gwen Verdon 1925–2000 An actress and dancer on Broadway and in films. Verdon was encouraged to dance by her mother, a dance teacher, as therapy for her polio-afflicted legs.

Johnny Weissmuller 1904–1984 At age nine, Weissmüller contracted polio. At the suggestion of his doctor, he took up swimming to help battle the disease, and he went on to win five Olympic gold medals in the sport during the 1920s.

Arthur C. Clarke 1917–2008 A science-fiction author and inventor. He contracted polio in February 1962, which confined him to bed for months. In 1984, he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, and he spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair.

Judy Collins born 1939 As a child, singer-songwriter Judy Collins spent several months in the hospital recovering from bout with polio. Collins later became a representative for UNICEF and has worked to promote polio vaccination programmes.

Donovan born 1946 Folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Donovan contracted polio... This left him with a limp and feeling excluded. However, he says "I kind of look back on it and think it was positive for me because it made me withdraw from my pals and realise I was different."

Michael Flanders 1922–1975 An actor, broadcaster, and writer and performer of comic songs, often in partnership with Donald Swann. He contracted polio in 1943 while serving in the Royal Navy, and required a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Joni Mitchell born 1943 A musician, songwriter and painter. Mitchell started singing at age nine while in the hospital recovering from polio. Her distinctive sound featured dozens of non-standard guitar tunings, which she developed partly to compensate for a weakened arm.

Itzhak Perlman born 1945 A virtuoso violinist. He contracted polio at the age of four. Perlman requires braces and crutches to walk, and plays the violin seated.

Dinah Shore 1916–1994 A big band singer, actress and talk show host. Shore contracted polio, aged 18 months, which left her right leg crippled. She recovered strength through massage, swimming and tennis.

Neil Young born 1945 A singer-songwriter and guitarist. He caught polio at age five, during the epidemic of 1951.

Mitch McConnell born 1942 A Republican member of the United States Senate from Kentucky and current Senate Minority Leader. He contracted polio at age two resulting in a paralyzed left leg, but eventually recovered with physical therapy.

Robert McNamara 1916–2009 A business executive and former United States Secretary of Defense. Both McNamara and his wife contracted polio in August 1945. He was in the hospital for a couple of months but his wife was badly affected and remained there for nine months. His career change from Harvard professor to the Ford Motor Company was made to pay her hospital bills.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 1882–1945 U.S. President 1933-1945. FDR founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now called the March of Dimes. He spent as much time as he could recuperating from Poliomyelitis in the waters of Warm Springs, Georgia where he founded one of the first rehabilitation facilities for Polio survivors.

Bud Grant born 1927 The long-time former American football head coach of the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League for eighteen seasons. He caught polio as a child, leaving one leg shortened. He was advised to take up sport as therapy.

Jack Nicklaus born 1940 A professional golfer who has won many major golf championships. He caught polio, aged 13. Nicklaus was affected with stiffness, pain and weight loss over two weeks. He recovered without any paralysis but believes he may have post-polio syndrome, which makes his joints sore.

Wilma Rudolph 1940–1994 A track and field athlete, Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals at the Olympic Games. At age four, she contracted polio and lost the use of her left leg. After five years of massage and exercises, she managed to walk again without her leg braces. By the time she was a teenager, Rudolph was faster than the boys in her neighbourhood were. Rudolph won a bronze medal, aged 16, at the 1956 Summer Olympics and three gold medals in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Frida Kahlo 1907–1954 A painter who was the subject of a 2002 movie starring Salma Hayek. She caught polio, aged six, and spent several months in bed. Kahlo was left with a deformed and shortened right leg.

Dorothea Lange 1895–1965 A photographer and photojournalist most noted for her picture Migrant Mother. She caught polio, aged seven, and was left with a withered right lower leg and a limp. Lang said, "It was perhaps the most important thing that happened to me. It formed me, guided, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I've never gotten over it and am aware of the force and power of it."

Henriette Wyeth 1907–1997 A portrait artist. She caught polio as a child, which crippled her right hand. She compensated by holding the paint brush between her first and second fingers.

Reposted from 2016.

It'll never amount to anything

Richard and Maurice McDonald preparing to open their first "hamburger bar," California, 1948.  Via the HistoryPorn subreddit

Water worlds are not science fiction

We all know about the wealth of water on Enceladus, but a new study suggests that water-rich planets are not rare.
Scientists have shown that water is likely to be a major component of those exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) which are between two to four times the size of Earth. It will have implications for the search of life in our Galaxy. The work is presented at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston.

The 1992 discovery of exoplanets orbiting other stars has sparked interest in understanding the composition of these planets to determine, among other goals, whether they are suitable for the development of life. Now a new evaluation of data from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission indicates that many of the known planets may contain as much as 50% water. This is much more than the Earth's 0.02% (by weight) water content...

 Li Zeng continued, "Our data indicate that about 35% of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich. These water worlds likely formed in similar ways to the giant planet cores (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) which we find in our own solar system. The newly-launched TESS mission will find many more of them, with the help of ground-based spectroscopic follow-up. The next generation space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, will hopefully characterize the atmosphere of some of them. This is an exciting time for those interested in these remote worlds".
I remember growing up with the concept that the presence of water was what made Earth unique in the cosmos.

Kids in daycare saying goodbye before going to separate elementary schools

Best comment from the Aww subreddit thread: "Little do they know, they’ll reunite in 30 years to defeat a killer clown that dwells in the sewers."

Predicting a "flip" in November

The website FiveThirtyEight has issued their first comprehensive analysis of the mid-term elections coming this fall.  From the poll data available at this time, they estimate a 75% chance that the House of Representatives will flip to control by the Democrats.

The data are revised on a daily basis as new information comes in, so those interested in the elections might want to bookmark the site for future reference.

Update Sept 4:
I have been visiting FiveThirtyEight every couple days since this original post. The numbers truly do update daily (there's lots more data than what I've embedded in the screencap).  The % chance of a flip of the house drifted down from the 75.4 shown above to the low 70s, but this week it has been trending upward, and today it hit a new high -

Nothing is guaranteed, of course, and dramatic events could result in massive shifts, but the close we get to November, the more confident I feel about the projection.

Bad joke of the day

*Groan*  Posted for all the English majors and wordsmiths out there. 

15 August 2018

Translucent blue tang


A beach can be "groomed to death"

Removing trash is necessary, of course, but grooming a beach with industrial-level tools can remove the nutrients that support various lifeforms.  The sterile beach becomes a haven for human sunbathers, but is a literal desert, as explained by a longread at Hakai Magazine:
Santa Monica State Beach, considered by some as the birthplace of beach volleyball, ranks among the busiest in California. As many as 50,000 people flock to this stretch of coastline on a typical summer day, and, at its widest, the beach could potentially accommodate more than 30 volleyball courts. Visiting a freshly raked urban beach like this, few people realize that it can amass over 10,000 kilograms of trash during a busy summer week. After the Memorial Day holiday in May 2015, cleaning crews gathered 39,862 kilograms...

Just as humans may develop allergies from growing up germ-free, beaches are suffering from being too clean. Swept flat each day, the beach can become a biological desert, devoid of the rare plant and animal species that make the coastlines so special. Over two tonnes of decaying kelp get deposited on a kilometer of beach each day, a valuable resource for wildlife that is robbed by city cleanup crews on a daily basis.

Jenifer Dugan, a biologist with the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that beach hoppers, 14-legged “garbage” cleaners that thrive on wrack, have been disappearing from the coastline. “What habitat is disturbed as much as those beaches in Santa Monica?” she asks. “No agricultural practice disturbs the fields twice a day.”

On ungroomed beaches and other areas with little human impact, beach hoppers’ population can reach 100,000 individuals for every meter of beach. And on each meter of beach, they’ll devour 20 kilograms of wrack each month. “The kelp gets vaporized!” says Dugan, who has watched it happen. But when the beach hoppers, isopods, and other invertebrates that subsist on the wrack disappear, shorebirds also go hungry. That’s why barren beaches in California lose birds like killdeer and the endangered western snowy plover. Grooming can also destroy the eggs of the grunion, an unusual fish that lays its eggs in the sand at high tide.
 Wrack, related to wreck, archaic meaning "shipwreck", now used to refer to seaweek or pondweed.

The Law of Jante

I am unable to embed this very nice five-minute video -
- which I think is a better introduction to the subject matter than this rather dry text from Wikipedia:
Used generally in colloquial speech in the Nordic countries as a sociological term to describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that diminishes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while simultaneously denigrating those who try to stand out as individual achievers.

There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you're anyone special or that you're better than us.
The ten rules state:
  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Street map

At the entrance to a subdivision, apparently.

Image cropped for size from the original here.

The U.S. - Mexican border, 1848

"We often forget that the boundary between the United States and Mexico was not always where it is today. It used to be seven hundred miles farther north, following what is now the state line between Oregon and California and running east to Wyoming before zagging southeast to Louisiana. Originally home to the indigenous peoples of the region, much of this land was Spanish and then Mexican territory for centuries before becoming what we now think of as the American West.

Spanish colonists and missionaries settled here beginning in 1598. In 1821, Mexico won independence from Spain, and by the middle of the century, it was in some ways far more advanced than its neighbor to the northeast. It abolished slavery shortly after independence; black Mexicans soon gained prominent positions, and indigenous people were given the right to vote. All this came to an end in 1848, when the United States seized half of Mexico’s land and created the border that we know today."
More in the photoessay in the February 2018 issue of Harper's Magazine.

Five-minute history lesson for the day

Via Neatorama.

Human-induced global warning. 1912.

This article’s authenticity is supported by the fact it can be found in the digital archives of the National Library of New Zealand.

Further attesting to its authenticity (and perhaps its role as a bit of stock news used to fill space) is that an identical story had appeared in an Australian newspaper a month prior, in the 17 July 1912, issue of The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, as found in the digital archives of the National Library of Australia.

An even deeper dive reveals that the text of this news item has its origins in the March 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics, where it appeared as a caption in an article titled “Remarkable Weather of 1911: The Effect of the Combustion of Coal on the Climate — What Scientists Predict for the Future”:
More information at Snopes.

13 August 2018

Awesome lightning video

Photographer Dustin Farrell spent the summer of 2017 chasing storms while toting a 4K camera rig that takes 1000 frames per second of raw, uncompressed footage. (For comparison: most movies are shot at 24 frames per second.) After driving 20,000 miles over a 30-day period, he had recorded 10 terabytes of data, which he then whittled down to 3:18 of spectacular video.

What enabled his success was not just the ultrafast frame rate of modern cameras, but also the recording technology in which a camera constantly records, writes to RAM, then overwrites, and overwrites again…until a button is pressed to save the RAM contents.
With a tip of the cap to fellow blogger Fletcher DeLancey, who created Oregon Expat.  I will echo his advice: "Stop what you’re doing and watch this video. But watch it the right way: full screen, in a darkened room, and with a good sound system turned up."

Bodycams worn by police can be hacked

Josh Mitchell, a consultant at the security firm Nuix, analyzed five body camera models from five different companies: Vievu, Patrol Eyes, Fire Cam, Digital Ally, and CeeSc. The companies all market their devices to law enforcement groups around the US...

In all but the Digital Ally device, the vulnerabilities would allow an attacker to download footage off a camera, edit things out or potentially make more intricate modifications, and then re-upload it, leaving no indication of the change. Or an attacker could simply delete footage they don't want law enforcement to have...

Additionally, Mitchell says that some of the more sophisticated models, which contain radios for Bluetooth or cellular data connectivity, also have vulnerabilities that can be exploited to remotely stream live footage off the cameras, or to modify, add, and delete the footage stored on the devices...

Then, when the camera connects to a PC for syncing, it could deliver all sorts of malicious code: a Windows exploit that could ultimately allow an attacker to gain remote access to the police network, ransomware to spread across the network and lock everything down, a worm that infiltrates the department's evidence servers and deletes everything, or even cryptojacking software to mine cryptocurrency using police computing resources...

"These are full-feature computers walking around on your chest, and they have all of the issues that go along with that."
Via BoingBoing.
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