15 October 2019

"Goodbye, Crook"

"Even during the height of the American Civil War, presidential security was lax. Throngs of people entered the White House every day. "The entrance doors and all the doors on the Pennsylvania side of the mansion were open at all hours of the day and, often, very late into the evening." Lincoln finally gave in to concerns for his safety in November 1864, and was assigned four around-the-clock

On April 14, 1865, [William] Crook began his shift at 8 am. He was to have been relieved by John Frederick Parker at 4 pm, but Parker was several hours late. Lincoln had told Crook that he had been having dreams of himself being assassinated for three straight nights. Crook tried to persuade the president not to attend a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater that night, or at least allow him to go along as an extra bodyguard, but Lincoln said he had promised his wife they would go. As Lincoln left for the theater, he turned to Crook and said "Goodbye, Crook". Before, Lincoln had always said, "Good night, Crook". Crook later recalled: "It was the first time that he neglected to say 'Good Night' to me and it was the only time that he ever said 'Good-bye'. I thought of it at that moment and, a few hours later, when the news flashed over Washington that he had been shot, his last words were so burned into my being that they can never be forgotten." Crook blamed Parker, who had left his post at the theater without permission."

1959 comic book advertisements

I'm giving a goodbye read to old comic books before disposing of them.  Yesterday evening I encountered the above page of advertisements on the inside back page of an issue of Caspar the Friendly Ghost.

I presume the "Safety Deposit Bank Vault" was of a size that a thief could pick it up and put it in their pocket.  But I'm more intrigued by the "Record Your Voice At Home" advertisement.  I believe in that era my father owned an Edison Voicewriter, which I thought was rather sophisticated (and which generated a couple records which I don't expect ever to be able to listen to).  I'm surprised that an equivalent device was marketed in childrens' comic books.

"Ant bear" illustrated

Yesterday evening while I was playing Civilization V a "great person" was created and an illustration popped up on the screen portraying Landscape with an Ant Bear, by Frans Post.  Had to look it up.

Image brightened from the original, but it's still hard to see the ant bear (this one).

14 October 2019

Television host, 1963

The program is "Music Hop" on the CBC.  The host is a young Alex Trebek.  Via.

Russian cursive looks like scribbles

Image cropped for clarity from the original, where there is a little bit of relevant commentary about why this happens and how someone can use context to read it.  Readers here may be able to offer additional insights.

Addendum:   Several good comments from readers, and a hat tip to Aleksejs for providing this dissection of the cursive "chinchilla":

Green pigment in paintings turns brown with time

To anyone living in the 21st century, it might not be obvious that Renaissance paintings were once much colorful than they look now. “If you look at the paintings of, say, Leonardo da Vinci, they are very, very dark,” says Didier Gourier, a chemist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and an author of the study. “But they didn’t always look this way.”..

Presented with incredibly high-resolution images of the paint chips, they contrasted the color changes in verdigris sampled from the center of Bronzino’s painting against verdigris sampled right next to the frame, a shaded area that would have offered protection from light. Their suspicions were proven right when they found the frame-protected paint was far less deteriorated. When Gourier magnified a cracked paint sample from “Pietà,” he found that each crack had darkened, likely due to the diffusion of oxygen in the cracks. “The darkening is not systematic,” Gourier says. This inconsistency helps researchers pick out now-brown verdigris from originally brown paint, he says.
More at Atlas Obscura, via Neatorama.

Retrofitting highways for wildlife

It's not just a matter of protecting wildlife - projects like these are also important for driver safety.
U.S. Highway 285 was once a death zone for the dwindling herds of elk and mule deer on Colorado’s Western Slope. But today it offers a lifeline, helping them travel from their summer range high in the mountains to winter foraging grounds along the Arkansas River. 

For the past year, a tunnel dipping under three lanes of speeding traffic has beckoned. And as frost descended recently on subalpine meadows and glittering-gold aspen, a huge bull elk, measuring at least nine feet from antlers to hoofs, entered the structure ever so cautiously. Infrared cameras on both ends captured his meandering.

The $3.5 million project is one of several planned for Colorado’s ever more crowded roads, on which some 4,000 bears, bighorn sheep, coyotes and myriad other animals died last year. The cost of the carnage exceeded $80 million, according to state officials.

Across the country, as development continues to encroach on natural areas, wildlife-vehicle collisions are taking a massive toll. More than 1.9 million animal-collision insurance claims were filed in fiscal 2019, a State Farm report found, with some researchers estimating the annual price tag of the resulting human fatalities, wildlife mortality, injuries, vehicle damage and other costs at almost $10 billion.
More at the Washington Post.

Concise (6-minute) explainer video about the Ukraine phone call

(Comments closed for this post)

Snowshoe for a horse

Found at 2000m altitude in Norway during rescue archaeology in melting snowfields.  The snowshoe dates to the Viking or Medieval period.  Truly remarkable preservation, but needs conservation because if left untended it would dry out and crumble.

Credit Secrets of the Ice, via The Rescue Mission to Save Civilization From the Big Melt.

12 October 2019

I suppose we should place these spices on the left side of the kitchen cabinet...

The politics haven’t hurt Mr. Penzey’s business, he said, adding that he has lost some customers but gained some, too.  “If you are a company and you have values, now is the time to share them,” Mr. Penzey said. “Now is the time that it’s important to share them.”
Store locatorOnline orders (I recommend the gift boxes).

11 October 2019

Stuffed bear

The images above are before-and-after photos of Holly - the winner of Fat Bear Week in Alaska's Katmai National Park.
"It was very hard to get a good picture [of Holly] out of the water," she says, "because she was a submarine for the entire month. She did not stop fishing, except to dig a belly hole big enough for her to sleep in."
More at NPR.

"Modern monetary theory"

This concept is counterintuitive, and totally new to me.
Modern Monetary Theory is an economic philosophy based on the idea that all state spending is "deficit" spending, since money comes into existence when the government spends it, and when the government raises taxes, it does so in order to take that money out of existence, both in order to control inflation and to limit the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy.
The corollaries of this are many, but the two standout ones are:
1. The government can create money to buy any good or service that the private sector isn't using without driving inflation (that is, if there's someone unemployed and the government gives them a job, that won't drive up wages because the private sector had already passed on using their labor, so the supply/demand ratio of labor to private jobs remains constant), offering full employment to everyone who wants to work; and
2. The government can create money to buy goods and services that the private sector is currently using without creating inflation, provided it can convince people not to spend that money -- for example, by creating "war bonds" that sequester the vast sums that get pumped into the economy during wartime, to prevent the workers who receive those sums from bidding against the materials that are being used in munitions factories.
These two facts are central to the Green New Deal, which proposes using a combination of a federal jobs guarantee and federal procurements of the materials needed for a sustainable energy conversion and climate change remediation to avert the climate crisis. 
The BoingBoing source for the excerpt above includes a nine-minute video of an academic lecture on the subject which is well worth watching [edited and condensed from probably a one-hour lecture].  The key concept is that the federal budget cannot be compared to a household budget; deficit spending and borrowing work differently when the entity issues the currency.

A Thorough Defense of Modern Monetary Theory
Economists worry that MMT is winning the Argument in Washington
Addendum:  For an outstanding longread on this subject, see Explain Like I'm Five: Functional Finance, written by TYWKIWDBI reader escapefromWisconsin.

New England's "town pounds"

"Dozens of these stone enclosures—open at the top, usually square or circular, with a gap secured by a gate—remain scattered across New England. They were once a ubiquitous feature in the region. In fact, they were so necessary to the orderly functioning of a community that they were required by law. They were town pounds.

In 17th-century America, livestock were generally not fenced in as they are today. Back in England, grazing animals were guarded by herders. But in the New World, where labor was scarce, animals like sheep and cattle were turned loose to graze on common lands instead. (The town green, or common, was often used for this purpose.)

If an animal strayed and was found wreaking havoc on private property, it was brought to the pound, where it was corralled with other wayward creatures and watched over by a town-appointed “pound-keeper” (sometimes called a “pound-master,” or “pounder”) until its owner could retrieve it—for a fee...

Today perhaps a hundred town pounds remain across New England. (They exist in other areas too. In addition to having mapped two dozen of New England’s pounds, users of the site waymarking.com have located one in a Nevada ghost town, and several in the U.K.)" 
More at the  always-interesting Atlas Obscura.

Redesigning the speculum

"Improvements already made include a three-leafed design that eliminates the need to open the speculum as wide, an angled handle so patients don't have to hang off the exam table, and a silicone material that reduces the coldness felt upon insertion."
More at Freethink.

09 October 2019

Bagpipe bungee jump

Spiders detect electrical fields and use them for ballooning

Everyone knows that spiders fly through the air on strands of their silk.  But it's not just a matter of chance and favorable winds.  The relevance of a surprising factor (earth's electrical field) is explained in a recent issue of Cell:Current Biology:
... the involvement of electrostatic forces in ballooning has never been tested. Several issues have emerged when models using aerodynamic drag alone are employed to explain ballooning dispersal. For example, many spiders balloon using multiple strands of silk that splay out in a fan-like shape. Instead of tangling and meandering in light air currents, each silk strand is kept separate, pointing to the action of a repelling electrostatic force. Questions also arise as to how spiders are able to rapidly emit ballooning silk into the air with the low wind speeds observed in ballooning; the mechanics of silk production requires sufficient external forces to pull silk from spinnerets during spinning...

In the early 20th century, atmospheric electricity was intensively studied, establishing the ubiquity of the atmospheric potential gradient (APG); from fair to stormy weather, an APG is always present, varying in strength and polarity with local meteorological conditions. Over a flat field on a day with clear skies, the APG is approximately 120 Vm−1... Closer to the tree, around sharp leaf, needle, and branch tips, e-fields easily reach tens of kilovolts per meter... the spider’s unlearned response to e-fields is to engage in ballooning, and, on becoming airborne, switching the e-field on and off results in the spider moving upward (on) or downward (off) [video at the link].
Ed Yong discusses this research in his Atlantic column.
Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electric fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches—and the spiders ballooning from those tips.

Many of the spiders actually managed to take off, despite being in closed boxes with no airflow within them.


Next time I visit the North Shore I'm going to take my black-light flashlight.

Bottle-feeding babies in prehistory

As reported in Nature:
The earliest known clay vessels that were possibly used for feeding infants appear in Neolithic Europe, and become more common throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, these vessels— which include a spout through which liquid could be poured—have also been suggested to be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm. Here we report evidence for the foods that were contained in such vessels, based on analyses of the lipid ‘fingerprints’ and the compound-specific δ 13 C and ∆ 13 C values of the major fatty acids of residues from three small, spouted vessels that were found in Bronze and Iron Age graves of infants in Bavaria. The results suggest that the vessels were used to feed infants with milk products derived from ruminants.
It's not just a quaint curiosity.   Breast-feeding inhibits ovulation, rendering the mother temporarily infertile until the newborn is weaned.  Bottle-feeding with ruminant milk would shorten the interval between pregnancies and lead to significant population expansion.

08 October 2019

Nature preserve for children and disabled persons

My hiking today took me to a small gem of a nature spot: the Jenni and Kyle Preserve.
The vision for the Jenni and Kyle Preserve began in 1989 with a donation from Harvey and Patricia Wilmeth, given as a memorial to their two grandchildren, Jenni and Kyle, who both died at the age of 4 due to a degenerative neurological disorder. The Jenni and Kyle Preserve is unique in that the park is intended to serve children and persons with disabilities, and provides accessible fishing and picnic areas, trails, wheelchair swings, and a shelter building around two spring-fed ponds containing trout and panfish.
The paths are paved with asphalt to facilitate wheelchair transport, and the three wooden bridges/docks on the ponds project out so that those in wheelchairs can have direct access to the water for fishing (permitted in the preserve only for those under age 14).  But what really intrigued me were the two wheelchair-accessible swings:

The swings have fold-down ends to allow roll-on, roll-off entrance/exit and a number of security chains.

Very nicely done.  More cities and towns should have such facilities.

Reposted from 2012.

07 October 2019


Find the leopard before he finds you.

"Fall" has two meanings

"Minnesotans have a high tolerance for playoff pain. That comes from watching the Vikings lose four consecutive Super Bowls and six straight NFC championship games.

And from witnessing 29 seasons without a Timberwolves championship, as well as 46 years of North Stars and Wild hockey without a Stanley Cup.

The Twins added to this ignominious history on Friday night by breaking baseball’s record for most consecutive postseason losses. Their 10-4 loss to the New York Yankees extended their playoff losing streak to fourteen — eleven of them coming at the hands of their Bronx tormentors.

The Twins have not won a playoff game since taking the opener of the 2004 American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium. New York took the next three games to clinch that series."
That article was written before they lost game 2.  So now it's fifteen in a row - a record unlikely to ever be broken.

Addendum:  The Twins lost game 3.  So they now hold the all-time never-to-be-beaten world record of 16 playoff losses in a row.

Cartoon modified for the entertainment of my friends and family by altering the final speech bubble.  The original is at Real Life Adventures.




I think the original comment was badly phrased; presumably he meant that the court decision would subtract billions in costs from employers' bottom lines (but the counterargument still stands)/

"Parody inversion" explained


05 October 2019

Green vine snake


The culinary history of "Ants on a log"

I somehow survived childhood and adulthood without ever encountering stuffed celery, until last year when a neighbor gave her children "ants on a log" at a neighborhood Thanksgiving party.
While cookbooks confirm that the American practice of stuffing celery began in the early 20th century as an appetizer for parties and adult gatherings, it didn’t become a vital part of lunchboxes and playdates until decades later. The most famous (at least for the coloring-book crowd) is, of course, ants on a log...

A hypothesis tracing the recipe origins to a product cookbook proved null. Sun-Maid (which represents about 40 percent of the raisin industry), Dole, the California Raisin Marketing Board, and even the Girl Scouts had no knowledge of the ants on a log inventor. (Sun Valley and the Raisin Bargaining Association did not respond to requests for comment.)

As it turns out, its beginnings are a bit upside down, if not backwards. A recipe for "Stuffed Celery Stalks” appeared in the Good Housekeeping Cook Book (1944) with seven iterations, the second of which instructs log builders to “lay seedless raisins end to end in celery stalks” before filling them with a mixture of cream cheese, top milk (the upper layer of milk in a container enriched by whatever cream has risen), spec pepper, and paprika. (There’s no mention of any “ants” or “logs” of any kind.)

The first print sighting took place on February 15, 1959, when the Star Tribune published a story about encouraging children to help out in the kitchen: “Anne Marie is working on snacks. Popcorn, cheese dips, and the other night, ants on a log have been some of the foods the family has shared.” The piece references the snack as a graduation from the more elementary task of frosting baked cookies...

The most basic variations play on the name: “Ants on a Slip ‘n’ Slide” (an added layer of honey), “Fire Ants on a Log (cranberries), “Ghost Ants on a Log” (mini marshmallows), and “Ants on Vacation” (no raisins). While "gourmet", "grown-up", and "fancy" updates modernize the classic for home cooks, restaurants are now reinventing the dish for fine-dining audiences.

In 2017, New York City’s Empellón added a literal interpretation to its seasonal menu, featuring (chicatanas, or flying ants. (Most famous in the state of Oaxaca, these ants are a regional delicacy.) Twain, a Chicago restaurant that closed in May, served a version of ants on a log with celery, duck liver peanut butter mousse, and bourbon cherries.
Photo credit James Ransom [cropped for size from the original].

Food served in a three-star Michelin restaurant

Served as shown, directly onto the diner's hand.

Did you ask the chef what is the advantage of eating food from the palm of your hand? Does it make tastier, does it enhance the flavor over serving it in a normal (warmed) plate? I would really like to know the logic behind the idea.... or the chef just goes after the primal in us... just to eat with our hands, and messier the better?

They have a philosophy in the degustation menu that they can make you feel that you are inside chef's painting or colour palette, and the different dishes you eat during the dinner represent the colours in the palette. The most vivid colours are more "explosive" dishes in terms of tastiness and more weird, and they ask to experiment with a few ones like this to eat directly from your hand like you are the painter and the colours are made by the chef. Difficult to explain, hope it made more sense.

Posted as an entry on the We Want Plates subreddit (which has a variety of interesting items).

Predation of Monarch butterflies in Mexico

Readers of this blog will presumably be familiar with the fact that Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed plants and sequester the toxic cardenolides in their bodies.  Naive birds that eat a caterpillar or adult butterfly will vomit and learn to avoid the species in the future (the nontoxic Viceroy butterfly has evolved coloration and a pattern similar to the Monarch in order to take advantage of this bird-repellant feature.)

Most of the predation of Monarchs that we see in Wisconsin comes from ants, wasps, and other insects attacking the eggs and young caterpillars.  This week I attended the biannual meeting of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association and learned from a lecture presentation that major predation also occurs in the overwintering sites in the mountains of Mexico.

Overwintering butterflies that fall to the ground in the mountain roosts are eaten by mice:
An individual Peromyscus melanotis [black-eared mouse] consumes an average of 37 Monarchs each night. They feed preferentially on easily accessible butterflies (near the ground) and on "wet" butterflies (dead butterflies that have not dried out). During the winter season, P. melanotis migrate to Monarch roosts where they set up residence and breed intensively... Over the winter season, these mice may consume 4 to 5.7% of the total population of the Monarch colony. This translates into at least one million butterflies each winter in a 2.25 ha roost
Up in the trees, the Monarchs are eaten by two species of birds:
Black-headed grosbeaks and black-backed orioles have very different ways of avoiding poisoning when they eat Monarchs. Grosbeaks, which eat the entire Monarch abdomen, are relatively insensitive to cardenolides and can tolerate moderate levels of these chemicals in their digestive tract. Orioles, on the other hand, vomit after consuming much smaller amounts of cardenolides. They avoid poisoning by not eating the cuticle, which is where Monarchs store cardenolides. Orioles slit open the body and strip out the soft insides... Grosbeak and oriole predation causes more than 60% of Monarch mortality at many Mexican roosting sites, killing approximately 7 to 44% of the total population. At one 2.25 hectare colony, for example, birds ate an average of 15,000 butterflies daily and over 2 million for the season, which constituted 9% of the roost's population.
Interesting - especially the adaptive strategy employed by the orioles.

More information at Monarch Watch and Journey North.



A "minimum wage machine"

Minimum Wage Machine (2008-2010, updated 2012, and 2016)
Custom electronics, change sorter, wood, plexiglas, motor, misc. hardware, pennies.
(approx. 15 x 19 x 72 inches)

The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 3.24 seconds, for $11.10 an hour, or NY state minimum wage (2018). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money. The machine's mechanism and electronics are powered by the hand crank, and pennies are stored in a plexiglas box. The MWM can be reprogrammed as minimum wage changes, or for wages in different locations.
An interesting concept to teach about mindless work for minimal pay.

04 October 2019

Indian giant squirrel

That's really its name.  And those are its true colors.

Fashion trend


A pasta straw instead of a plastic straw

Now being marketed as an eco-friendly alternative:
Unlike paper straws, which get soggy quickly and can detract from the overall experience of your drink, this pasta straw will hold its strength and shape in cold drinks, as well as will not affect the taste of your drinks. Made with only 100% durum wheat semolina and pure water, its all-natural composition is suitable for vegans and does not require special composting equipment to dispose of. The pasta's thick walls will last for an hour in your cold beverages and its 1/4" diameter promotes easy sipping no matter the drink's consistency. For added benefit, their 9 1/2" length makes them long enough for your hi ball, collins, or milkshake glasses, but can be cut to any length to accommodate your rocks glasses. Get ahead of the trend and supply your restaurant, bar, or cafe with this eco-friendly straw and show your customers you're committed to protecting and preserving the environment.
Photo via the Europe subreddit.

Unhappiness resulting from too many choices

From an article published by the Stanford Center on Longevity:
Summary: We presume that more choices allows us to get exactly what we want, making us happier.  While there is no doubt that some choice is better than none, more may quickly become too much.  Drawbacks include:
  • Regret:  More options means constantly considering the option we didn’t choose –decreasing satisfaction overall.
    • Instead, learn to accept “good enough” and stop thinking about it.
  • Adaptation: By becoming accustomed to whatever we’ve chosen, the availability to more options decreases our satisfaction with our choice.
    • Instead, limit thinking about options foregone, and focus on the positive of the option chosen.
  • Unattainable expectations: With increased options, our expectation escalates until we constantly expect to get precisely what we want.  Thus anything less than perfect is disappointing, and we blame ourselves (as the decision makers) for our unhappiness.
    • Instead, control expectations to a certain standard of requirements, and keep them reasonable.
  • Paralysis: Too many options can decrease the likelihood of making any decision at all.
    • Instead, limit options when decisions aren’t crucial.
Largely an issue for modern, affluent Western societies, the paradox of too much choice strains consumers’ capacity for decision making.  Making financial security decisions simple, easy, and justifiable may facilitate increased and happier participation.
The source article has a detailed analysis of what I often refer to as "first-world problems."  Via Boing Boing.  Photo taken at my local Target.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader dragonmamma for providing the link to this relevant Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

"Period-syncing" is a myth

No matter how inaccurate the myth of period syncing may be, the idea that women’s bodies can fall into collective rhythms carries a certain mysterious, otherworldly appeal and, lending the myth more inertia, gives women a way to feel connection, empathy, and collective empowerment with other women.

Period syncing—or, more formally, “menstrual synchrony”—was introduced into the popular consciousness in 1971 by a researcher named Martha McClintock. Her study on the menstruation patterns of students at a women’s college, published in the journal Nature, tracked the period start dates of 135 women who lived together in a dormitory over a time frame of about six months. It claimed to find “a significant increase in synchronization (that is, a decrease in the difference between onset dates)” among roommates and among groups of women who independently identified one another as a “close friend.” At the beginning of the study, these friends averaged about six and a half days’ difference between period start dates. By the end, they averaged a little less than five. (McClintock conducted this research while she was still an undergraduate at Wellesley College.)..

In a 1999 paper in the journal Human Reproduction, Strassmann pointed out a fundamental flaw in the period-syncing logic:
Given a cycle length of 28 days (not the rule—but an example), the maximum that two women can be out of phase is 14 days. On average, the onsets will be 7 days apart. Fully half the time they should be even closer. Given that menstruation often lasts 5 days, it is not surprising that friends commonly experience overlapping menses, which is taken as personal confirmation of menstrual synchrony.
Strassmann considers the idea of period syncing to have been “debunked,” but of course much of the general population remains convinced that it’s a real thing, thanks to what she calls “an appealing narrative that overrides the science.”
Discussed at length in The Atlantic.

Auto-brewery syndrome

A medical condition of which I was previously totally unaware.
The man’s troubles began in 2004, when, having moved from China to attend college in Australia, he got really drunk. That would hardly have been a noteworthy event, except that the man hadn’t consumed any alcohol—only fruit juice.

The bizarre incident soon turned into a pattern. About once a month, and out of the blue, he’d become severely inebriated without drinking any alcohol... his mother cared for him while monitoring him with a Breathalyzer. His blood-alcohol levels, she found, would erratically and inexplicably soar to 10 times the legal limit for driving...

The man was diagnosed with a rare condition aptly known as auto-brewery syndrome, in which microbes in a person’s gut ferment carbohydrates into excessive amounts of alcohol... The microbial culprits are usually yeasts—the same fungi used to brew beer and wine—and the condition can often be treated with antifungal drugs... analyzed the man’s stool samples and found that the alcohol in his body was being produced not by yeast, but by bacteria [Klebsiella pneumoniae].
That is a rare disorder, but this corollary has more clinical relevance:
... people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) build up fatty deposits in their liver in the style of heavy drinkers, despite touching little or no alcohol. This condition is very common, affecting 30 to 40 percent of American adults; the causes are still unclear and likely varied. Yuan wondered if Klebsiella might be involved, and when she analyzed 43 Chinese people with NAFLD, she found that 61 percent had the same high-alcohol strains as the man with auto-brewery syndrome. By contrast, just 6 percent of people with a healthy liver carry those strains.
Continue reading at Ed Yong's excellent article in The Atlantic.

A chart of media bias

Data source and Reddit discussion thread.

Why Honeycrisp apples are more expensive than other varieties

This is the best time of year to enjoy apples - Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Red Delicious, and the local favorite Honeycrisp (which were developed at the University of Minnesota).  An article in the StarTribune explained why they are more expensive than other apples:
The simple answer to the apple’s high price lies in its prickly, finicky nature. “It’s one of the most difficult apples to grow,” said Mark Seetin, director of Regulatory and Industry Affairs at the U.S. Apple Association in Virginia. “It tends to like to bear fruit every other year and to achieve annual production requires significant additional labor.”

Its thin skin creates a delectable crunch that fans love but growers curse. Most apples produce a “pack out” rate of 80 to 90%, indicating that nearly 90% of the harvested crop can be sold as fresh. But Honeycrisp’s pack out rate is between 60 and 65%. “That means that 35% of your crop is going as juice,” Bedford said. “And juice only captures one-tenth the value of a fresh apple.”

Labor costs for Honeycrisp are higher than other apples because it’s one of the only apples that has to have its stem clipped so it doesn’t puncture the skin of neighboring apples when packed. “Apples pickers are used to picking with two hands, but with Honeycrisp you have to pick with one hand and clip with the other,” Bedford said. “With more labor costs and a 60% pack out, you have to charge more.”
So yesterday at Target I paid more attention to the details.  The close-cut stem of the Honeycrisp -

- versus the standard-length stem of a Granny Smith:

You learn something every day.

Today Target paid me $5 to get my flu shot

I went to Target for food and supplies, walked over to the in-store CVS.  Clerk greeted me, checked my insurance, and about 2 minutes later I walked away with the vaccine in my deltoid and a $5 gift certificate in my wallet.  I don't  know whether this is a standard policy nationwide, but it certainly has been in effect at our local Target for the past 2-3 years.  I think I'll go back tomorrow for another shot.

But seriously, this raises some questions for me.  Target has always been a civic-minded company, but they must be making $ on the transaction.  Which suggests to me that this is another example of our national insurance-based health-care system being more expensive than a single-provider one would be.  Does anyone know how much a provider (store, local M.D. etc) is reimbursed for an influenza vaccination?

24 September 2019

Excerpts from "Saints and Strangers"

An interesting, detailed, and heavily annotated read for those curious about the aspects of early American history that are not typically discussed in high school or collegiate classrooms.  Saints and Strangers focuses on the Pilgrims, distinguishing them from the Puritans and other early colonists.  It is well written with a captivating style; these excerpts may whet your interest in reading the entire book.

"Far from being Victorians, they were children of another and a greater age, the Elizabethan, and in their lives reflected many of the qualities of that amazing age – its restlessness and impatience with old ways, its passionate enthusiasms, its eager curiosity and daring speculation in all fields, its boldness in action, its abounding and apparently inexhaustible energies."

"Pilgrims were Elizabethan, too, in their acceptance of the simpler joys of life.  The practiced no macerations of the flesh, no tortures of self-denial.  They appreciated the pleasures of the table and of the bottle, liked both “strong waters” and beer, especially the latter, never complaining more loudly of their hardships than when necessity reduced them to drinking water, which they always regarded with suspicion as a prolific source of human ills.  They were not monks or nuns in their intimate relations as their usually numerous families and more than occasional irregularities attest. Fond of the comforts of connubial bed and board, they married early and often and late, sometimes within a few weeks of losing a mate.  Only on the Sabbath did they go about in funereal blacks and grays.  Ordinarily they wore the russet browns and Lincoln green common among the English lower classes from which they sprang."

"But the passengers [on the Mayflower] had one bond in common.  All were lower class from the cottages, and not the castles of England, a strong cohesive force at a time when society was still rigidly stratified, with rights and privileges concentrated at the top. There was not a drop of blue blood to be found anywhere among them on the Mayflower, as these Pilgrims were all too aware from the poverty and other disabilities that they suffered. They were of the common people and in conscious revolt against the autocratic principle - a fact which seems to have escaped some of their descendants with their pathetic interest in coats of arms and proofs of blood."

"There was a fourth and much larger group sharply set off from all the others - the indentured servants. These were not servants in our sense of the word. They were not housemaids, butlers, cooks, valets, or general flunkies to wait upon the personal needs of the Pilgrims. On the contrary, they were brought along to do the heaviest kind of labor. They were to fell trees, hew timbers, build houses, clear fields and plough them, tend crops, gather the harvest, and do whatever their masters ordered. During the period of their indenture, which usually ran for seven years, they were fed, clothed, and housed by their masters, but received no wages, being virtually slaves, and were frequently bought, sold, and hired out as such."  [later]: "In 1627, Wollaston gathered up some servants, sailed for Virginia, and there sold them to local tobacco planters for the period of their indenture."  "In New England servants were "sold upp and Downe like horses..." [later] "Early in the war Captain Church had persuaded the Indians around the town of Dartmouth not to join Philip but to follow him to Plymouth; here they were seized and shipped off to Tangiers to be sold as slaves."  "As Indian captives - men, women, and children - continued to pour into Plymouth, all were sold into slavery, some to local planters, the majority in the West Indies."

"As is evident from the merest glance at the history of Plymouth, the Pilgrim leaders did not believe in equalitarian democracy though they were moving in that direction.  They favored a change in the hierarchical structure above them, but not below."

[after taking stores of corn saved by the native Americans for the winter]:  "This was just plain larceny, of course, but the Pilgrims were inclined to regard it as another special providence of God.  And in a sense it was, for without this seed corn they would have had no crops the next year, "as ye sequell did manyfest," and all would have starved to death... The Indians needed it for the same purpose, but if this thought ever occurred to the Pilgrims, they brushed it aside, pleading their necessity."

[they also dug into mounds they knew to be graves]  "Still musing upon the mystery of the yellow-haired man, the Pilgrims closed the grave, having removed "sundrie of the prettiest things" to take away with them."

[lack of planning] "As yet they had "got but one cod," largely because these aspiring fishermen had failed to bring along proper gear, specifically wanting nets and small hooks."

"Neither now nor later did the Pilgrims build log cabins, for the good reason that they did not know how... the log cabin, apparently so  native to the American scene, is actually a foreign importation, Scandinavian in origin..."

"A combined Massachusetts and Connecticut force had wreaked a terrible vengeance upon the Pequot.  Trapping some severn hundred of them - men, women, and children -... the English... fell upon the encampment with fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk... Flames consumed almost all, and it was a fearful sight, said the Pilgrims in phrases quoted with delight and without acknowledgement by Cotton Mather, "to see them thus frying in ye fyer, and ye streams of blood quenching ye same, and horrible was ye stinck and sente thereof; but ye victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave prayse therof to God."  "Male prisoners were shipped to the West Indies and sold as slaves.  Young squaws and maidens were divided among the soldiers."

"The right to vote was restricted to freemen, and it was not easy to attain that status.  All had to pass a minute examination of their religious views and moral character... In 1643, when the colony contained some 3,000 people, there were just 232 freemen.  Nor were all of these entitled to vote.  The franchise was limited to those with a rateable estate of at least [$1,000]."

"... many pewter dishes pots, and flagons - but no forks, for the Pilgrim Fathers and their families, like everybody else at the time, ate with their fingers or their knives."

"A confession should never be forced by putting the accused on oath, but on occasion - and this was one - the magistrates "may proceede so farr to bodily torments as racks, hot-irons, &c."

"Abandoning this fundamental [voluntary fellowship of church] of their faith, they now made support of the church compulsory, a legal obligation upon all - one of the "tyrannies" they had found so intolerable in the Anglican church."

[children] " were guilty, too... of sitting down during two-hour prayers..."

"And to keep Anglicans in their place, it was now a crime... to celebrate Christmas by "forbearing of labour, feasting, or in any other way."... Nor did they follow the Puritans in slicing off the Quakers' ears, branding them with hot irons, flaying them with tarred ropes, beating them senseless with iron rods, burning their books, and confiscating everything they owned in guise of a fine."

"Though New England had no public school system worthy of the name for almost two centuries..."

"... Bradford had denied the 'libel' that women had acquired any new rights or privileges at Plymouth.  "Touching our governemente," he wrote indignantly, "you are quite mistaken if you think we admite weomen... to have to do in the same, for they are excluded, as both reason and nature teacheth they should be."  Education of girls was a vain and idle thing, the Pilgrim Fathers agreed.  At best, it was a silly affectation; at worst, a danger to the established order."

"Supper was much like breakfast, with the addition of gingerbread, cake, cheese, or pie - all washed down with beer, which was drunk at all meals, even by younger children."

[re getting land from the native Americans]:  "Captain Standish, Constant Southworth, and Samuel Nash obtained a tract fourteen miles square at Bridgewater for seven coats, eight hoes, nine hatchets, ten and a half yard of cotton cloth, twenty knives, and four "moose" skins.  One day, when exploring the Cape beyond Eastham, a party of pilgrims pointed to a particular section and asked the Indians who owned it.  "Nobody" was the Indians' reply, meaning everybody.  "In that case," said the Pilgrims, "it is ours."

But the English attitude toward the natives' rights was never more succinctly expressed than by a town meeting at Milford, Conecticut, in 1640:  "Voted, that the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; voted, that the earth is given to the Saints; voted, that we are the Saints."

23 September 2019

Canine frisbee

Via the oddlysatisfying subreddit.

The long and winding road...

... is 24Crankle-Stilwell Road in Guizhou, China (photographed during a hill climb rally.

Credit: China Foto Press/Barcroft Media, via The Telegraph.

Reposted from 2011 because I realized I've never blogged the song, which is one of my all-time favorites:

"The Long and Winding Road" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1970 album Let It Be... When issued as a single in May 1970, a month after the Beatles' break-up, it became the group's 20th and last number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. It was the final single released by the quartet.

The main recording of the song took place in January 1969 and featured a sparse musical arrangement. When preparing the tapes from these sessions for release in April 1970, producer Phil Spector added orchestral and choral overdubs. Spector's modifications angered McCartney to the point that when the latter made his case in the British High Court for the Beatles' disbandment, he cited the treatment of "The Long and Winding Road" as one of six reasons for doing so. New versions of the song with simpler instrumentation were subsequently released by McCartney and by the Beatles.

Paul McCartney said he came up with the title "The Long and Winding Road" during one of his first visits to his property High Park Farm, near Campbeltown in Scotland, which he purchased in June 1966. The phrase was inspired by the sight of a road "stretching up into the hills" in the remote Highlands surroundings of lochs and distant mountains. He wrote the song at his farm in 1968, inspired by the growing tension among the Beatles.

A headline we really, really didn't want to see

An excerpt from the report at Gizmodo:
An explosion at Russia’s State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (Vector) resulted in a fire, glass blown out throughout the building, and one worker suffering third degree burns on Monday, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Vector is one of the only two places in the world where live smallpox virus samples are officially stored, as well as retains stocks of other deadly pathogens including the Ebola virus and anthrax spores.

The Dies Irae in movies

Via Neatorama.

This skull was extensively trepanned. For scruples. Updated.

Explained at io9:
Researchers at the University of Pisa, Italy, have solved a longstanding mystery around the honeycombed skull of one of the Italian martyrs beheaded by 15th century Ottoman Turk invaders when they refused to give up their Christian faith...

The skull was later drilled, most likely to obtain bone powder to treat diseases such as paralysis, stroke, and epilepsy, which were believed to arise from magical or demonic influences...

"The perfectly cupped shape of the incomplete perforations leads(us) to hypothesize the use of a particular type of trepan, with semi-lunar shaped blade or rounded bit; a tool of this type could not produce bone discs, but only bone powder," Fornaciari said...

This would make the Otranto skull a unique piece of evidence supporting historical accounts on the use of skull bone powder as an ingredient in pharmacological preparations...

Indeed, in his Pharmacopée universelle, a comprehensive work on pharmaceutical composition, French chemist Nicolas Lémery (1645 –1715) detailed how powdered human skull drunk in water was effective to treat "paralysis, stroke, epilepsy and other illness of the brain."

"The dose is from half scruple up to two scruples," Lémery wrote.

"The skull of a person who died of violent and sudden death is better than that of a man who died of a long illness or who had been taken from a cemetery: the former has held almost all of his spirits, which in the latter they have been consumed, either by illness or by the earth," he added.
Yes, I had to look it up too:
Scruple: a unit of apothecary weight, with symbol ℈. It is a twenty-fourth part of an ounce, or 20 grains, or approximately 1.3 grams. More generally, any small quantity might be called a scruple.  
Note this harvesting of bone powder with a trepan tool is a bit different from trepanning to treat disease in the patient on whom it is done.

Reposted from 2015 to add this photo of a trepanned cow skull:

Here's the abstract:
The earliest cranial surgery (trepanation) has been attested since the Mesolithic period. The meaning of such a practice remains elusive but it is evident that, even in prehistoric times, humans from this period and from the Neolithic period had already achieved a high degree of mastery of surgical techniques practiced on bones. How such mastery was acquired in prehistoric societies remains an open question. The analysis of an almost complete cow cranium found in the Neolithic site of Champ-Durand (France) (3400-3000 BC) presenting a hole in the right frontal bone reveals that this cranium underwent cranial surgery using the same techniques as those used on human crania. If bone surgery on the cow cranium was performed in order to save the animal, Champ-Durant would provide the earliest evidence of veterinary surgical practice. Alternatively, the evidence of surgery on this cranium can also suggest that Neolithic people practiced on domestic animals in order to perfect the technique before applying it to humans.
The full study is published in Nature (via Gizmodo).

Editorial comment:  I do wish that people would stop referring to trepanation as "brain surgery."  It is - as the Nature article authors state - "cranial surgery."

Reposted (again) from 2018 to add new information about obelion trepanation:
Archaeologists were excavating a prehistoric burial site close to the city of Rostov-on-Don in the far south of Russia, near the northern reaches of the Black Sea...

Finding multiple skeletons in the same prehistoric grave is not particularly unusual. But what had been done to their skulls was: the two women, two of the men and the teenage girl had all been trepanned...

They had all been made in almost exactly the same location: a point on the skull called the "obelion". The obelion is on the top of the skull and towards the rear, roughly where a high ponytail might be gathered...

The obelion point is located directly above the superior sagittal sinus, where blood from the brain collects before flowing into the brain's main outgoing veins. Opening the skull in this location would have risked major haemorrhage and death.

This suggests the Copper Age inhabitants of Russia must have had good reason to perform such trepanation procedures. Yet none of the skulls showed any signs of having suffered any injury or illness, before or after the trepanation had been performed.

Now Gresky, Batieva and other archaeologists have teamed up to describe all 12 of the obelion trepanations from Southern Russia. Their study was published in April 2016 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
The story continues at the BBC.

22 September 2019

Language in John Cheever's "The Wapshot Chronicle"

Not an exciting plot.  The book is a narrative describing the lives of members of a New England family, so the events recorded are domestic, conventional, and frankly rather prosaic.  It's as though you were to go to a dinner party, sit next to a neighbor you've never met, and ask them to "tell me about your life."  But Cheever does tell a story well, and he received the National Book Award for this, his first novel.  I can understand why he was a best-selling novelist and a popular writer for The New Yorker and other magazines.

So, no reason to discuss the content, but I will share some words and phrases that were new to me.

"... as if he, bred on that shinbone coast and weaned on beans and codfish..."  Despite a lot of searching I couldn't find a clear explanation of this term.  Most links came back the quote from this book.  There are scattered references to Shinbone Alleys from Maine to Missouri (discussed - but not explained - here).

"Captn Webb's little boy was trod upon by a horse and died before candlelight."  Obvious meaning in context, but an interesting phrase I've not previously encountered.

"... proud of his prowess in negotiating the dilapidated and purblind vehicle over the curving roads..."  Partially blind, or obtuse.  Not sure how it applies to a vehicle unless the headlights are inadequate.

"It is one of those [bus] lines that seem to carry the scrim of the world - sweet-natured but browbeaten women shoppers, hunchbacks and drunks."   ??? couldn't find this in anything that matches the sense of the sentence.

"Put that [lobster] down, Miss Honora," he shouts.  "They ain't pegged, they ain't pegged yet."  The Penobscot Maritime Museum explains that prior to today's rubber bands, lobster claws were immobilized with whittled wooden plugs.

"...  and they had had a brace or more of those days when the earth smells like a farmer's britches - all timothy, manure and sweet grass."   Of course I know what "britches" are, but I had to look up the etymology.   It's a variation of "breeches," which goes back to Middle English and were typically "smallclothes" (knee-length).

"On the other half was the farm at St. Botolphs, the gentle valley and the impuissant river..."  Impotent (puissant related to Latin posse [be able]); presumably means a slowly-flowing river.

"... how they would have burned the furniture, buried the tin cans, holystoned the floors, cleaned the lamp chimneys..."  "As a scouring stone... from its association with Sunday cleaning, from its users' adoption of a kneeling position similar to prayer, and (least likely) from their original provision by raiding graveyards for tombstones.

"Leander looked into the bushes and found what he wanted - an old duck-shooting battery."  Not sure how it's defined; here's a floating one.

"The rector was a pursy man in clericals, and sure enough, while they stood there, he began to scratch his stomach."   Short-winded, especially from corpulence.  "Late Middle English reduction of Anglo-Norman French porsif, alteration of Old French polsif, from polser ‘breathe with difficulty’, from Latin pulsare ‘set in violent motion’."

"Writer's epistolary style (Leander wrote) formed in tradition of Lord Timothy Dexter, who put all punctuation marks, prepositions, adverbs, articles, etc., at end of communication and urged reader to distribute same as he saw fit."   A real person (see the link).

"One more Indian.  Joe Thrum.  Lived on hoopskirts of town."  We all know what the "outskirts" of town are.  Would "hoopskirts" be under (inside) the outskirts???

"It was a chance to see the countryside and the disappointing southern autumn with its fireflies and brumes..."  Mist, fog.  "from French brume "fog" (14c.), in Old French, "wintertime," from Latin bruma "winter, winter solstice," perhaps with an etymological sense "season of the shortest day," from *brevima, contracted from brevissima, superlative of brevis "short"."

"Never told her facts in case.  Laconism, like blindness, seems to develop other faculties.  Powers of divination."  Extreme brevity in speech.  Derivation from a place name (Lakonia) in Greece, which was near Sparta.  Interesting in that "spartan" also means sparing or limited.

"Listened all night to troubled speaking; also moiling of sea.  Seemed from sound of waves to be flat, stony beach."  Churning, swirling.  From French and Lain words connoting softness.

"It was after supper and the latrines were being fired and the smoke rose up through the coconut palms."  (U.S. armed forces in South Pacific).  Does anyone know if it was a military custom among U.S. (or other troops) to set fire to latrines??  [answered with an interesting link in the Comments]

"... for here all the random majesty of the place appeared spatchcocked, rectified and jumbled; here, hidden in the rain, were the architect's secrets and most of his failures."  A way of preparing eel or chicken meat by splitting it open - but the term also means "a rushed effort."

"... like West Farm, a human burrow or habitation that had yielded at every point to the crotchets and meanderings of a growing family."  Whim or fancy [archaic].

"At another turn in the path a man as old as Leander, in the extremities of eroticism, approached him, his body covered with brindle hair.  "This is the beginning of all wisdom," he said to Leander, exposing his inflamed parts."  Streaked or striped when referring to animal coats.

Quite a few interesting words in a rather brief novel.  By contrast, Stephen King's Doctor Sleep yielded only five new words in 500+ pages:
"Let's see if Danny's up and in the doins."  Probably awake, active, doing things.

"... Walnut, the True's jackleg doctor..."  Amateur, incompetent.

"Once away from I-80 and out in the toolies, they spread apart..."  A Canadian expression meaning out in the boondocks "It is a respelling of "tule," one of a couple species of bulrush, found especially in California. The word is from the Aztec "tullin." So "the tules" are swamps. "Tule fog" is fog over swamps or other low ground."

"... when the True Knot moved across Europe in wagons, selling peat turves and trinkets."  Plural of turf.

"The key to survival in the world of rubes was to look as if you belonged, as if you were always on the goodfoot..."  Meaning implicit in the usage, but I couldn't find any info elsewhere.

Happy birthday to great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma

(She was a "hundred-and-one" years old.)

Via Neatorama.

Related:  It takes guts to make a cake like this.
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