29 February 2020

"Smartphone" from a 2,100 year old grave in Tuva

The object pictured above is a jet belt buckle, one of a trove of items recovered from a large cemetery in Tuva.  Another buckle, depicted below, was made of bronze, as evidenced by the color:

Other examples are depicted here:

The people buried are presumed to have been nomads who were part of the multiethnic Xiongnu confederation during the beginning of the Western Han period in the second century BCE.

For further reading and a boatload of interesting photos, see this report by authors from the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"Ahegao" is the newest trend in Japanese porn

In Japanese, ahegao translates as an onomatopoeia mashup of panting (as in, "ahe ahe") and "gao," or face. It's different from the more natural ikigao, which means "orgasm face."
The best known example of the latter comes from the delicatessen scene in When Harry Met Sally:

Top image cropped (for size only) from the original at Vice, where there is more information.

Minnesota priests advised to abstain from voting in Democratic primary

And there's a good reason for doing so:
St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda is asking priests in Minnesota to forgo voting in the presidential primary election on Tuesday over concerns about the privacy of voter party preferences.

Hebda wrote about his concerns in a letter to priests this week ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3, the first presidential primary in Minnesota in nearly 30 years. Under the new system, voters must request the party ballot they want — either Democratic or Republican — and that preference is recorded and sent to the chairs of all four majority political parties in the state.

There are no specifications in law about what the parties can — or cannot — do with that data. "It could be seen as 'partisan' political activity to align oneself with a party and to vote in its primary, which the Church generally discourages clergy from doing for evangelical reasons, more so than tax ones," read Hebda's letter to clergy.

It's not the first complaint from faith groups about the new system, which also requires voters to pledge "general agreement with the principles of the party" whose ballot they pick...

"Counseling the avoidance of partisan political activity helps ensure that the priest retains an identity as a credible witness of the Gospel," MCC Executive Director Jason Adkins said in a statement. "Especially in light of the political polarization and identity politics of today, the ability of a priest to form consciences for faithful citizenship depends, in part, on his ability to transcend the partisan divide and not have his catechesis tainted by the suspicion of partisanship."
An interesting conundrum.

Syntactical ambiguity

Via Bad Newspaper.

Crows' nests constructed from coat hangers

The one above was photographed near Kyushu University in Fukuoka City. The one below had fallen from a tree in a Toyko suburb near a dry-cleaning establishment. Both images via Amusing Planet, where there is a gallery with additional images.

I wonder what my hidden name meaning is

This is what a blogger's emailbox looks like (and this is after I've deleted dozens of other spam comments just to feature this sequence for the screenshot).  I'll use this as an opportunity to inform readers that when I madly click on all the trashcan icons in the morning,  I occasionally accidentally delete a valid comment by mistake, so if you have written something useful and inoffensive but it doesn't appear the next day, the reason may be error rather than censorship.

Choosing a lifestyle

Pearls Before Swine

28 February 2020

A "knocker-upper" at work

A knocker-up (sometimes known as a knocker-upper) was a profession in England and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial Revolution and at least as late as the 1920s, before alarm clocks were affordable or reliable. A knocker-up's job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.

The knocker-up used a truncheon or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients' doors or a long and light stick, often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. At least one of them used a pea-shooter. In return, the knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week. The knocker-up would not leave a client's window until they were sure that the client had been awoken.

A knocker upper would also use a 'snuffer outer' as a tool to rouse the sleeping. This implement was used to put out gas lamps which were lit at dusk and then needed to be extinguished at dawn.
Photo source unknown, via British Paintings.

Reposted from 2014 to add this image of a knocker-upper using a peashooter:

"Government control of the means of production"

I believe that's pretty much a textbook description of "socialism" (although there are other aspects to socialism, the control exerted by the state is a central feature) (addendum: "Government control of the means of production is not socialism, it's state capitalism, not that dissimilar to how much of the Chinese economy functions today.  Socialism is those doing the labour controlling the means of production. " - hat tip to an anonymous reader)

Let's see what's happening in the news today...  Here's a report by Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, two U.S. officials told Reuters. The use of the law, passed by Congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, would mark an escalation of the administration’s response to the outbreak...

The law grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security and other reasons. The biggest producers of face masks in the United States include 3M Corp and Honeywell International Inc...

A White House official confirmed that the administration was exploring the use of the law to spur manufacturing of protective gear. Both the DHS official and the White House requested anonymity to discuss the issue.

“Let’s say ‘Company A’ makes a multitude of respiratory masks but they spend 80% of their assembly lines on masks that painters wear and only 20% on the N95,” the White House official said. “We will have the ability to tell corporations, ‘No, you change your production line so it is now 80% of the N95 masks and 20% of the other.’” 

“It allows you to basically direct things happening that need to get done,” the official added. 
This is, of course, good socialism.   Not to be confused with bad socialism.  Via BoingBoing.

27 February 2020

Vintage "The Far Side" (1993)


When the English discovered cannabis

Excerpts from an interesting article in Public Domain Review:
The bustling port city on India’s Coromandel Coast felt fantastical to the young East India Company merchant. During the first days of his visit in 1673, Bowrey marveled at wonders like “Venomous Serpents [which] danced” to the tune of “a Musicianer, or rather Magician", and “all Sortes of fine Callicoes...curiously flowred”. Above all, Bowrey was most fascinated by the effects of an unfamiliar drug. The Muslim merchant community in the city was, as Bowrey put it, “averse [to]...any Stronge [alcoholic] drinke”. Yet, he noted, “they find means to besott themselves Enough with Bangha and Gangah", i.e. cannabis...

Bowrey initially compared the effects of the drug to alcohol. Yet it seemed that bhang's properties were more complex, “Operat[ing] accordinge to the thoughts or fancy” of those who consumed it. On the one hand, those who were “merry at that instant, shall Continue Soe with Exceedinge great laughter”, he wrote, “laughinge heartilie at Every thinge they discerne”. On the other hand, “if it is taken in a fearefull or Melancholy posture”, the consumer could “seem to be in great anguish of Spirit”. The drug seemed to be a kind of psychological mirror that reflected — or amplified — the inner states of consumers...
It Soon tooke its Operation Upon most of us, but merrily, Save upon two of our Number, who I suppose feared it might doe them harme not beinge accustomed thereto. One of them Sat himself downe Upon the floore, and wept bitterly all the Afternoone; the Other terrified with feare did runne his head into a great Mortavan Jarre, and continued in that posture 4 hours or more; 4 or 5 of the number lay upon the Carpets (that were Spread in the roome) highly Complementinge each Other in high terms, each man fancyinge himselfe noe lesse then an Emperour. One was quarralsome and fought with one of the wooden Pillars of the Porch, untill he had left himself little Skin upon the knuckles of his fingers.
After Knox reached London safely in September 1680, he retained a taste for this intoxicating “Counter-Poyson” and found a source able to procure it back home. We know this because, on November 7, 1689, Robert Hooke met with Knox at a London coffee house to obtain a sample of what Hooke called the “intoxicating leaf and seed, by the Moors called Ganges, in Portug[uese] Banga, in Chingales Consa”. Hooke added in his diary that the drug was reported to him as being “wholesome, though for a time it takes away the memory and understanding”.
the Patient understands not, nor remembereth any Thing that he seeth, heareth or doth, in that Extasie but becomes, as it were, a mere Natural, being unable to speak a Word of Sense; yet is he very merry and laughs and sings and speaks...yet he is not giddy or drunk, but walks and dances and sheweth many odd Tricks.
Hooke concluded by noting that he was currently attempting to grow the seeds in London, and that “if it can be here produced” the plant could “prove as considerable a Medicine in Drugs, as any that is brought from the Indies”.
More at the link, as always.

"Bats for sale"

Trigger warning:  images of pet-type animals for sale as food in "wet markets."

Addendum: a related video, in which a YouTuber reports on the current state of hygiene and food production in the PRC:

Thoughts about coronavirus

Excerpts from an op-ed piece in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, from specialists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda:
The 1918 influenza pandemic was the deadliest event in human history (50 million or more deaths, equivalent in proportion to 200 million in today’s global population). For more than a century, it has stood as a benchmark against which all other pandemics and disease emergences have been measured. We should remember the 1918 pandemic as we deal with yet another infectious-disease emergency: the growing epidemic of novel coronavirus infectious disease (Covid-19), which is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This virus has been spreading throughout China for at least 2 months, has been exported to at least 36 other countries, and has been seeding more than two secondary cases for every primary case. The World Health Organization has declared the epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. If public health efforts cannot control viral spread, we will soon be witnessing the birth of a fatal global pandemic.

[SARS-Co-V2] RNA sequences closely resemble those of viruses that silently circulate in bats, and epidemiologic information implicates a bat-origin virus infecting unidentified animal species sold in China’s live-animal markets. We have recently seen many such emerging zoonoses, including the 2003 bat-coronavirus–derived SARS (an earlier severe acute respiratory syndrome, caused by a closely related coronavirus), which came terrifyingly close to causing a deadly global pandemic that was prevented only by swift global public health actions and luck. Now, 17 years later, we stand at a similar precipice. How did we get to this point, and what happens next?

We must realize that in our crowded world of 7.8 billion people, a combination of altered human behaviors, environmental changes, and inadequate global public health mechanisms now easily turn obscure animal viruses into existential human threats.We have created a global, human-dominated ecosystem that serves as a playground for the emergence and host-switching of animal viruses, especially genetically error-prone RNA viruses, whose high mutation rates have, for millions of years, provided opportunities to switch to new hosts in new ecosystems. It took the genome of the human species 8 million years to evolve by 1%. Many animal RNA viruses can evolve by more than 1% in a matter of days. It is not difficult to understand why we increasingly see the emergence of zoonotic viruses...

With Covid-19, are we seeing a replay of 1918? Although we did not “witness” the beginning of the 1918 pandemic, evidence suggests that wherever it began, it silently spread around the world, causing mostly mild cases but also mortality of 0.5 to 1% or higher — a rate that was initially too low to be detected against a high background rate of death from unrelated respiratory illnesses. Then it suddenly exploded in urban centers almost everywhere at once, making a dramatic entrance after a long, stealthy approach. We are now recognizing early stages of Covid-19 emergence in the form of growing and geographically expanding case totals, and there are alarming similarities between the two respiratory disease emergences. Like pandemic influenza in 1918, Covid-19 is associated with respiratory spread, an undetermined percentage of infected people with presymptomatic or asymptomatic cases transmitting infection to others, and a high fatality rate.
More at the link.  Posted as a companion piece to the previous post with the "bats for sale" video.

A website for real-time monitoring of coronavirus cases

The above is a screen cap from the Worldometer page on coronavirus.  I have no idea how accurate it is; I just heard it mentioned by a Guggenheim strategist during a Bloomberg broadcast this afternoon.

25 February 2020

A poet's privy chamber (1939)

Via Shorpy.

Auto-brewery syndrome - updated

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.

Reposted from 2019 to add some data about a case originating from yeast in a woman's bladder:
Her urine was full of alcohol.  The 61-year-old woman, who was seeking a liver transplant, insisted she had not been drinking. Her doctors hesitated to believe her.
The liver transplant team at the first hospital she visited ushered her into an alcohol abuse treatment program, suspecting she had lied to obscure an addiction that may have contributed to her failing organ, according to a case study published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

When the doctors drew blood and tested her plasma, they did not find any trace of ethanol. They tested the woman’s urine for ethyl glucuronide and ethyl sulfate, two chemicals the body produces as it metabolizes alcohol and then expels it through the urinary tract. Neither showed up in the lab tests.
But her urine did contain sugar and yeast — the two key ingredients for fermentation.
Unlike the first case, where the man presented with symptoms of intoxication, this lady was not intoxicated because there is no back-diffusion of bladder contents through that organ's epithelium as there is from the upper GI tract, but it did present an unusual clinical conundrum.


Via Reddit.

Graduating class, Hayfield high school, 1908

Hayfield was (and is) a small rural community southwest of Rochester in south central Minnesota.  This part of Minnesota had been opened for settlement in the 1850s, and these young people were likely the first members of their respective families to have been born in the United States.

Seated at the far left is my maternal grandmother, Selma Aline Distad, daughter of Peter Torson Distad and Gertrude Dahle, who had emigrated from Norway to the U.S. in the 1860s.

Posted to share with my family.  Probably of minimal interest to other readers except perhaps to note the size of high school classes at the time, and to marvel at the elaborateness of Edwardian fashion for formal occasions.

See also: Roots of the Distad family name and Distad, Norway.

Re the clothing, see also the post below this one with a video of NYC in 1910.

Video from 1911 optimized and colorized

I love this type of archival video; I like to play them full-screen and imagine being there.  A little more information at Digg.

"Beer oysters" and beer-only fasting explained

This question was posed at Reddit:
At an engagement party last weekend, my husband enjoyed a Beck's. He decided he would like to enjoy another and so opened this bottle, took a sip and cringed. His beer tasted awful and he wiped off what looked like dirt from the bottle cap. He held the beer to the light and the liquid was murky through the green glass there was something floating in it. We go in to the kitchen, pour the beer down the sink and something slipped out. I turned it over and it kind of looked like a mushroom and smelled a whole lot like shit. This image is the bottle and the offending object.
Answer from the comment thread:
That's a Beer Oyster. It was caused by a pasteurization failure, the beer was not heated to the right temperature. Leftover yeast/bacteria were able to use the leftover air in the top of the bottle to survive and make a slimy, stinky mess. Source: My mother and brother work for major beer companies.
Close. At 2-3 minutes the pasteurization of 140F isn't going kill the yeast. Also through fermentation the environment is already inhospitable to the yeast. It has fermented out and can ferment no more. If it isn't fermenting it isn't reproducing. It isn't building yeast cake. Even so this would appear as a light film on the bottom as in a bottle conditioned beer.  What you are seeing is most likely a plate filter failure. It's going to be a mix of proteins, yeast and hop matter. Filter probably let loose a clogged bit at the end. It's unlikely to be an infection if the others were unaffected. Source: Homebrewer for 15 years, have brewed at a micro brewery.
Reposted from 2012 to add information about the essential role of beer in fasting in the 17th century:
Catholic monks once brewed beer specifically for a liquid-only Lenten fast. Back in the 1600s, Paulaner monks moved from Southern Italy to the Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Bavaria. “Being a strict order, they were not allowed to consume solid food during Lent,” the braumeister and beer sommelier of Paulaner Brewery Martin Zuber explained in a video on the company’s website.

They needed something other than water to sustain them, so the monks turned to a common staple of the time of their region – beer. They concocted an “unusually strong” brew, full of carbohydrates and nutrients, because “liquid bread wouldn’t break the fast,” Zuber noted.

This was an early doppelbock-style beer, which the monks eventually sold in the community and which was an original product of Paulaner brewery, founded in 1634. They gave it the name “Salvator,” named after “Sankt Vater,” which “roughly translates as ‘Holy Father beer,’” Zuber said.

Paulaner currently serves 70 countries and is one of the chief breweries featured at Munich’s Octoberfest. Although its doppelbock is enjoyed around the world today, it had a distinctly penitential origin with the monks.

Could a beer-only fast really be accomplished? One journalist had read of the monks’ story and, in 2011, attempted to re-create their fast...
Details about that beer fast at Catholic News Agency, where the article also offers this modern-day more lenient redefinition of Lenten fasting:
Fasting is interpreted to mean eating one full meal and two smaller meals that, taken together, do not equal that one full meal. There may be no eating in between meals, and there is no specific mention of liquids in the guidelines.

Humor scrapbook, part III

This is the third of what will eventually be ten weekly posts with material from my old "humor" scrapbook.  The content varies from priceless to junky (especially in the case of humor, which often doesn't age well), but there's no time to sort things out or curate the content (which may include material from the 1970s that would be "politically incorrect" nowadays).

The text on "scrapbook" pages can be very difficult to read. One possible workaround is to right-click on a page to open it in a new tab, then zoom the image on that tab.


24 February 2020

Westworld Season 3 trailer - updated

The intriguingly-titled website Birth, Movies, Death offers this comment:
Back in June, someone over on Reddit discovered that MarkMonitor Inc., the company which handles all of Westworld's interactive websites, had registered a new domain name: discoverwarworld.com (don't bother looking it up, there's nothing there yet). The prevailing theory amongst the Westworld fanbase was that the show would soon introduce a World War II World, perhaps one where visitors could hunt and kill Nazis.

Given the show's history, this didn't seem outside the realm of possibility, but it wasn't until today, at SDCC 2019, that the rumor was confirmed via a new trailer: Westworld S3 will, in fact, spend some time in War World
Reposted from last July to add the latest trailer:

I am so looking forward to this new season, but I have to remind myself about my 2018 post on Westworld Simplified (LOL).

Clever prank

Via "my 8 year old is a jerk and almost made me burn my house down."

Young people these days...

Top photo "students at Kennedy Catholic High School have left their classrooms and are staging a sit-in in their hallways to protest the forced resignation of two LGBT teachers."

Graph below based on data from the CDC:  "Youth behavior trends in the United States, 9th grade, 14-15 years old" -

Record low birth rates in Scandinavia

The age that women have their first child has gone up in Denmark (DK), Finland (FI), Iceland (IS), Norway (NO) and Sweden (SE). (Nordic Council of Ministers screenshot)

From an article at ScienceNorway:
The Nordic countries have previously had high fertility rates. This has been partly explained by the fact that the countries have favourable policies for parental leave and childcare.

Now these policies don’t seem to be having as much effect as one would expect, Karlsdóttir says. “We’re becoming more and more like the rest of the world.” Fertility rates have gone down in almost the entire Nordic region

Finland has seen the largest drop in fertility rates. The country’s average fertility rate is now 1.4 births per woman, compared to 1.9 in 2010. Norway is just behind at 1.56 children, compared with 1.96 in 2010. Finland’s and Norway’s fertility rates are now lower than the EU average, which is at 1.59.

Thanks to Sweden and Denmark, which still have relatively high fertility rates, the Nordic region as a whole is slightly above the EU average. Sweden’s fertility rate is 1.76 children born per woman and Denmark’s is 1.72.

The researchers' main explanation for this development is that women are having their first child later in life.  Today, the average age of first-time mothers in the Nordic countries is 30 years old compared to age 21 in 1971...

Norwegian women need to give birth to 2.1 children, knows as 'the replacement rate', each to maintain the population.
Discussion re population mobility and immigration effects at the link.

Watch this performance by a professional pianist

The subtitles are in Dutch, but the conductor explains in English what the problem was.  What is impressive to see is not her keyboard skills, but her mental skills.

It's not "radical"

If you have the time, you can also watch John Oliver explain the process.

23 February 2020

Language in The Complete Sherlock Holmes

This was one of the first books I received after joining a book club in the 1960s.  This winter I gave it a final goodbye-read and while doing so made a list of interesting words.  Most of the definitions below are from Wiktionary.

"kith not kin"  Friends and acquaintances, as opposed to relatives.  From a Middle English word meaning "kinsman."

"... young Stamford, who had been a dresser under me at Bart's."  A wardrobe assistant (at St. Bartholomew's Hospital) - but why would Watson have needed a dresser?

"... Lauriston Gardens wore an ill-omened and minatory look."  Threatening (from a Middle French word cognate to "menacing.")

"... foxhound, as it dashes backward and forward through the covert..."  Familar as an adjective; unusual to see it used as a noun (here "undergrowth" rather than "hiding place.")

"... if a man can stride four and a half feet without the smallest effort, he can't be quite in the sere and yellow."  A phrase used in Macbeth: "I have liv'd long enough: my way of life/Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;/And that which should accompany old age."  Sere meaning dried up, worn thin, aged or infirm.

"... the unemotional Indians, journeying in with their peltries..." Plural of "pelt" (skin with fur still attached)/

"The ordinary London growler is considerably less wide than a gentleman's brougham."  A horse-drawn cab with four wheels.  ?onomatopoeia?

"... Jefferson Hope was to be found among the jarveys of the Metropolis."  The driver of a hackney coach, probably named after a saint (Gervais) or a person.

"I am compelled to be a valetudinarian."  A sickly person or one overly worried about his health.

"... the great rubbish-heaps which cumbered the grounds."  Uncommon to see it without the "en-" prefix.

"Window is snibbed on the inner side."  Latched (Scottish or Australian term)

"Don't mind that, sir; it's only a slowworm.  It hain't got no fangs..."  A legless lizard often mistaken for a snake.

"... half spaniel and half lurcher..."  A crossbreed between a sighthound and some other breed.

"... drinking whiskey-pegs and smoking cheroots..."  [I need help with this one]

"...  with his pockets full of gold moidores."  Portuguese gold coins ("moeda de ouro")

"... a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner."  A Victorian seltzer bottle.

 "Was the photograph a cabinet?"  A photo measuring 3⅞" by 5½

"It was the bisulphate of baryta."  A barium compound.

"... playing backgammon and draughts with me..."  Checkers.

"... the rascally lascar who runs it..."  A sailor, army servant or artilleryman from India or Southeast Asia.

"A dull wrack was drifting slowly across the sky..."  Apparently high clouds.

"... to avoid the police regulations he pretends to a small trade in wax vestas."  A short match

"I should be compelled to stop the night." "Yes, we could easily give you a shake-down."  In this sense, a place to sleep ("An improvised bed would originally have been made by shaking down straw").

"Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau's example."

"... he tried to bluster and took down a life-preserver from the wall." A gun in context, but could also be a weighted club.

"... his stick, which was a penang-lawyer weighted with lead, was just such a weapon..."  A kind of walking stick made from the stem of an East Asiatic palm.  Etymology: perhaps a corruption of Penang liyar, the wild areca.

"... dark-haired, dark-eyed, black-bearded man, with a touch of the sheeny about his nose."  Jew (etymology unknown).

"... a barrel of water, two casks, one of junk and one of biscuits, and a compass."  In a nautical setting, junk would be salt beef.

"It's a mongoose," I cried." "Well, some call them that, and some call them ichneumon..."  The Latin term for mongoose, meaning "tracker." ?

"It ended in my moving into the house next Lady Day..."  March 25 is an English quarter day (day that starts a quarter year)

"She explained that she was the commissionaire's wife, who did the charing, and I gave her the order for the coffee."  Housework (related to chore).

"... taking off their boots at the commissionaire's office, and putting on list slippers."  "Slippers made from cloth whose edge has a border that keeps it the cloth from unraveling."

"At last the violet rim of the German Ocean appeared over the green edge of the Norfolk coast..."  North Sea.

"The first who entered was a little Ribston pippin of a man..."  "A triploid cultivar of winter apple with firm flesh and a yellow skin streaked with red."  Pippin from ME "seed."

"... he is a plethoric sleeper."  Ruddy, congested

"The top steps swilled down and the other ones dry." Washed by flooding with water.  Related to English swallow.

"Holmes was curiously distrait..."  Absent minded, but in this case distracted.  From the French.

"... I've skippered the 'Varsity all this year."  Has an apostrophe because it is a shortening of "University" !!  You learn something every day.

"This carpet was a small square drugget in the centre of the room..."  Inexpensive coarse woolen cloth, from French drogue ("cheap")

"I tell you, Watson, this time we have got a foeman who is worthy of our steel."  Another term for "foe," seems archaic (comes direct from Middle English).

"... a wagonette with a pair of cobs was waiting."  The context allows us to rule out swans, corncobs, a loaf of bread, Spanish coins, and spiders, so he apparently was referring to "horses having a stout body and short legs."

"... heavily raftered with huge baulks of age-blackened oak."  Beam, crossbeam; squared timber; a tie beam of a house, stretching from wall to wall, especially when laid so as to form a loft, "the balks".  Again, directly from Middle English.

"You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson..."  Shrewd, sly - apparently related to "Puck."

"... emerge with your year's pension as a solatium for his wounded character."  "A form of compensation for emotional rather than physical or financial harm."  Sounds like it should be related to "consolation."

"... Hugo de Capus built a fortalice in the centre of the estate..."  A small fortress (Latin fortalitia).

"You seem heeled and ready."  Prepared (archaic).  Etymology??

"It is late in March, so quarter-day is at hand." (see Lady Day, above).

"... leaning back in my chair, I fell into a brown study."  I always chuckle at this phrase.  A state of mental abstraction; purposeless reverie (from brown in sense of gloomy).

"... with large, gentle eyes, and grizzled hair curving down over her temples..."  Mixed with gray, from the French gris.

"... he held out his hands quietly enough for the darbies." Handcuffs, manacles (Br. slang)

"Mr. Warren is a timekeeper at Morton and Waylight's..."  The meaning is clear, but the reason for the occupation is obscure to me.

"Those hectic spots were more pronounced, the eyes shone more brightly out of darker hollows..."  Referring to a flushed (reddened) skin.

"Old Susan Dobney with the mob cap!  I remember her well."  A plain cap or headdress for women or girls, especially one tied under the chin by a very broad band.

"It was a large and bright dwelling, rather a villa than a cottage..."  A house often larger and more expensive than average, or a semi-detached family house in a middle-class street.

"According to his lights he has been a kind master."  A person's ideas, knowledge, or understanding.

"His lucent top-hat, his dark frock-coat..."  In this sense must be "shining" rather than "transparent."

"... gave a hurried order to the cockaded coachman..."  Wearing a rosette or knot of ribbon worn in a hat, especially as an office or party badge. (from the French)

"The ideas of my friend Watson, though limited, are exceedingly pertinacious."  Holding tenaciously to a position; persistent

"We had a bit of barney right away..."  Lots of meanings, typically in the sense of a lark, a hoax, a humbug, or an argument, or a minor physical fight.  Context needed.

"He is a great big silly bull-headed gudgeon.  But he is flopping about in my net all the same."  A freshwater fish (also used to denote an idiot, so perhaps a double entendre here).

"He's a leary cove that wants watching." Alternative spelling of "leery."  Cove = fellow, friend, mate.

"... has made some inquiry from us in a communication of even date concerning vampires."  Having the same date.

"... the execrations which so many business rivals have heaped upon his head."  Curses.

"... a boxer, an athlete, a plunger on the turf, a lover of fair ladies, and, by all accounts, so far down Queer Street that he may never find his way back again."  Hard times, especially financially (etymology unknown).

"In the morning I was up betimes..."  In good time (by-time).

"The old colourman had the strength of a lion in that great trunk of his..."  In context doesn't make sense as a person who sells paints, or a commentator in a sporting event.  Perhaps refers to wearing of colors of some military unit??

Addendum:  As always when I blog material like this, I offer a big tip of the blogging cap to readers here, who have filled the Comments section with new viewpoints and lots of clarifying and correcting information.

22 February 2020

Sidney Harris science cartoons

Two selections from his book "What's So Funny about Science?" (1970).  With a tip of the hat to reader Mike.

21 February 2020

Divertimento #174

This will be the first gif-fest of 2020.  (Note: some gifs are fuzzy when first viewed, but if allowed to buffer and be replayed, they become sharper). 

A man builds an indoor treehouse for his kids.
Origami pockets within pockets
Why you should wash your chili peppers
Drone clears leaves from a woodland path
Art created with a pendulum
Impressive password (but lacks numbers for security)
Next-level electric bike
Teleportation caught on security camera
Creating a stencil in concrete
Seashore sand art

Nature and Science
A desert "sandfall" (these are actually sand-laden waterfalls in wadis)
Bionic limb demonstrated
Time-lapse of snowfall in Newfoundland (more here)
Sea foam in a Spanish city street
Sympathetic resonance demonstrated in (silent) gif
Icelandic waterfall
Ground-to-cloud lightning

Pet coyote plays with cat
Mother stork discards one of her chicks
I've encountered stick insects in the Minnesota woods, but this one must be tropical
An Australian family saved koalas from the wildfires
Head stability of a kingfisher
Bear does vertical rock climb
Woodpecker feeds from a man's hand
Dog in Lima, Peru on a skateboard
Viper defensive motion

I've lost the backstory, but the result is obvious
Child walks on a ledge (no injury)
Terrible bicycle/railroad crossing 
Young boy learns basic physics 
There are ways to clear snow from patio furniture; this isn't one of them

Impressive or clever
Basement stairs
This man has obviously chopped firewood before
Frosting a cake
Awesome optical illusion
Cats-cradle in the form of a star
Cutting spinach noodles
How to make a cloud
Pianist practiced the wrong piece for a concert performance - still nailed it.  I would like to find the full video, because this deserves a separate post.  Found it!  Enjoy it here for now, but I'll post it as a standalone item in a couple days.
Australian wildfire footage.  Note the very brief time from danger to catastrophe.

Sports and athleticism
These are called "strap-on leg sleds."
Wheel-thingy in a gymnasium
Jump into the lake holding a rubber ball
Amazing lawn bowls shot
Three-point behind-the-back shot
Man makes "Zamboni" for neighborhood ice rink

Humor or cheerful
Dog helps girl during her workout
After getting treat, dog does "zoomies"
Stolen dog returned to its owner
Great Dane service dog
Father of alopecia girl has her shave his head for an awareness video

The embedded images are selections from extensive galleries of photos of trivets at Trivetology - an interesting blog compiled by a TYWKIWDBI reader.

20 February 2020


When I saw the photo above of a Westminster Dog Show breed that was unfamiliar to me, I decided that extraordinary neck must signal it as being in the category of "sighthounds."
These dogs specialize in pursuing prey, keeping it in sight, and overpowering it by their great speed and agility. They must be able to detect motion quickly, so they have keen vision. Sighthounds must be able to capture fast, agile prey such as deer and hare, so they have a very flexible back and long legs for a long stride, a deep chest to support an unusually (compared to other dogs) large heart, very efficient lungs for both anaerobic and aerobic sprints, and a lean, wiry body to keep their weight at a minimum. Sighthounds have unique anatomical and physiological features likely due to intentional selection for hunting by speed and sight...

Sighthounds such as the saluki/sloughi type (both named after the Seleucid Empire) may have existed for at least 5,000 years... Although today most sighthounds are kept primarily as pets, some of them may have been bred for as many as thousands of years to detect movement, to chase, capture, and kill prey primarily by speed. They thrive on physical activity. Some have mellow personalities, others are watchful or even hostile towards strangers, but the instinct to chase running animals remains strong. 
The one above is an Azawakh.
The Azawakh, named for the Azawagh Valley of its origin, is what is called a “landrace,” says Carol Beuchat, the Scientific Director of the Institute of Canine Biology. “Landrace” basically means that these populations of specific dogs evolved to function in a precise location. The breed has traveled with nomadic tribes like the Tuareg in modern-day Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso with ancestry for over a thousand years. Archaeologists reportedly were able to find rare 8,000 to 10,000-year-old petroglyph rock art featuring long, slim dogs running alongside their hunter owners.
Look at its remarkable body (image cropped for size):



Addendum: A tip of the blogging cap to reader Rocky, who provided a link to this photo to emphasize that crinoids are not extinct -

Small town, USA. 1943

Part of a newspaper page I found in our family memorabilia.  Dodge County, Minnesota encompasses the area around Rochester.  This type of reporting was standard fare around the country in this era - a tabulation of the seemingly mundane activities of everyone's neighbors.  (If you want to read the details, right-click on the image and then enlarge it).

"Free" tablets for prisoners aren't free

As reported by the Appalachian Prison Book Project:
As a result of a new contract between Global Tel Link (GTL) and the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (WVDCR), you might think people incarcerated in West Virginia prisons could use the “free” GTL tablets to download a “free” copy of 1984 and journey from “It was a bright cold day in April” to “He loved Big Brother.”

But people in WV prisons will be charged 5 cents/minute to access much of the tablet’s content. For now, a promotional discount brings the cost of reading e-books down to 3 cents/minute. Either way, it’s no way to read.

The books on the tablet come entirely from Project Gutenberg’s free online library. Most of the books we receive requests for at APBP—how-to guides (carpentry, starting a business, repairing small engines, etc.), contemporary fiction, popular mysteries and sci-fi, African American literature, Native studies, recent autobiographies—will not be available.

Since Project Gutenberg archives older texts that have entered the public domain, they do not allow institutions to charge people to download their e-books and audio books. The per-minute tablet usage fees provide a clever way for GTL to profit from people reading “free” books.

Although it looks like the use of their free archives may not violate their trademark, the Chief Executive and Director of Project Gutenberg, Dr. Gregory Newby, finds it “very sad.” In an email to APBP, he wrote that he would be “very pleased if [we] can convince GTL to change their practices.”..

The paperback version of 1984 is about 330 pages. It will take a person who is able to read 30 pages per hour about 11 hours to read the novel. At the discounted $0.03/minute usage fee, 11 hours of reading a free book will cost a person about $19.80—and this is if you don’t stop to think or re-read.
Photo via Book Patrol, which adds:
Oh, and the average wage for a WV prisoner is 30 cents an hour.

Of course, there are layers of censorship too! how-to guides (carpentry, starting a business, repairing small engines, etc.), contemporary fiction, popular mysteries and sci-fi, African American literature, Native studies, recent autobiographies—will not be available.

Cinema Pathe (Switzerland)


Now playing in Kansas City: Radio Sputnik

In January, Radio Sputnik, a propaganda arm of the Russian government, started broadcasting on three Kansas City-area radio stations during prime drive times, even sharing one frequency with a station rooted in the city’s historic jazz district...

In the United States, talk radio on Sputnik covers the political spectrum from right to left, but the constant backbeat is that America is damaged goods...

Sputnik’s American hosts follow a standard talk radio format, riffing on the day’s headlines and bantering with guests and callers. They find much to dislike in America, from the reporting on the coronavirus epidemic to the impeachment of President Trump, and they play on internal divisions as well. On a recent show, one host started by saying he was broadcasting “live from Washington, D.C., capital of the divided states of America.”

Critics in Kansas City called Radio Sputnik’s arrival an unabashed exploitation of American values and openness. Those behind the deal defended it as a matter of free speech, as well as a simple business transaction.

Peter Schartel, the owner of Alpine Broadcasting Corporation of Liberty, Mo., the company airing Sputnik in Kansas City, said that he started the broadcasts on Jan. 1 both because he liked what he heard during a trial run last fall and because he was getting paid...

An editorial in The Kansas City Star noted that the free press was a prime target of Mr. Putin’s attempts to weaken public trust in American institutions. “It’s sad, but not astonishing, that an American entrepreneur would put business above patriotism,” the paper wrote. “Listener, beware.”..

In a modern spin on propaganda, it focuses on sowing doubt about Western governments and institutions rather than the old Soviet model of selling Russia as paradise lost.
More at the New York Times.

18 February 2020

"Buffalo chest" and the American bison

This week while browsing the Oxford University Press blog, I encountered the image shown above - a painting (George Catlin, 1844) of a Native American hunter preparing to bring down a bison with a bow and arrow.  The scale of the painting is a bit off, but the activity depicted is well known; the immense and otherwise robust American bison was uniquely susceptible to death from a simple arrow, or even from a penetrating chest wound from a simple lance.

This unusual susceptibility also contributed to the wholesale slaughter of bison herds when Europeans arrived with firearms.  This old photo (via) from the 1870s shows an unbelievably immense pile of bison skulls:

These iconic and magnificent animals were killed in part to provide meat to workers on the transcontinental railroad, in part to prevent large bison herds from interfering with the progress of the trains, and also as part of a concerted effort by settlers to deprive the Native Americans of one of their principal food resources.  Discussion and additional photos at Rare Historical Photos.

But back to the biology.  The "susceptibility" I mentioned earlier arises from the fact that North American bison have a single pleural space in the chest.  Most mammals (humans included) have separate pleural spaces in the left and right chest.  A penetrating injury or rupture of lung tissue will lead to leakage of air (a pneumothorax) and impaired ventilatory function, but is typically not lethal.  When humans have a single pleural space either as a congenital defect or as a result of previous thoracic surgery, they are said to have a "buffalo chest" as shown in this example:

The PA radiograph shows bilateral pneumothoraces, both of which were relieved by the insertion of a chest tube into just one hemithorax (case report at the Journal of Thoracic Disease).
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