31 March 2020

Squirrel feeding perch

Cropped for size from the original at the Aww subreddit.

Clever response

Background, for those who don't immediately get the subtlety of the reply.

Corinthian helmet that had the warrior's skull inside

From the battle of Marathon. Via Reddit.

Comfort food in a pandemic

Cookies and doughnuts honoring Dr. Fauci are now available.  The image is from a Wisconsin bake shop, but the products are being sold nationwide by various bakeries.
Owner Mike Vande Walle told WLUK he saw a New York bakery having success by putting Fauci’s face on doughnuts and thought it would be a huge hit in Northeast Wisconsin — a way of saying thank you for keeping Americans informed during this unprecedented time.

“I thought whoa, that’s a good idea because everyone can really connect with the guy, you know?” said Vande Walle. “He’s honest, straightforward — and so we started doing the cookies this morning, and we sold several hundred already today, and people are just swarming in, but I think everyone can connect with the guy, is why the cookies are popular,” Vande Walle said.

State-by-state coronavirus predictions

Projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.  You can use the pulldown menu here to check your state.  The curves are updated recurrently as new data becomes available.
That analysis found Wisconsin's peak resource use will come in 53 days, on May 22, as of Sunday. On Monday, the data changed, indicating the state would peak in 26 days, on April 26. There could be a shortage of 360 ICU beds, but not overall hospital bed space, according to the prediction.

That indicates social distancing measures could work as intended to flatten the curve, if they stay in place and people continue to stay at home, as the governor ordered.

"The models are only as good as the data that goes into it. And the best models learn from the previous day's data," said UW Health Chief Quality Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof. "They're immensely helpful if they're accurate, because it kind of helps us know what we're up against. But at the same time, there always has to be a bit of suspicion on whether or not it's accounted for all the variables, or if there's something that it's missing, that maybe we're doing."
 The curves become scarier when you realize where March 31 is on the x-axis.

Humor scrapbook, part VII

This is the seventh of what will eventually be ten weekly posts with material from my old "humor" scrapbook.  The content varies from priceless to junky (especially the case with 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.

30 March 2020

Social distancing during the polio epidemics

Lots of comparisons being drawn recently between the coronavirus pandemic and the influenza pandemic of 1918.  In the weeks ahead I'll plan to present some information about the more recent polio epidemics, starting with an article by a professor of history at NYU published in The Atlantic today:
Within days [in the spring of 1949] the hospital’s ICU was overflowing with children, most in critical condition, and mild concern turned to panic. “Polio Takes Seventh Life,” screamed the banner headline. “San Angelo Pastors Appeal for Divine Help in Plague.”

Prayer proved insufficient. For the first time in anyone’s memory, social distancing took hold. The city council voted to close theaters, bars, bowling alleys, and the municipal swimming pool. Tanker trucks sprayed DDT, singling out the open pit toilets on the “Negro” and “Mexican” side of town. Tourist traffic disappeared. The locals stopped handling money, and some refused to speak on the telephone, believing that germs traveled through the transmission lines. Known for its neighborliness, San Angelo quickly ditched the niceties that it once took for granted. “We got to the point that nobody could comprehend,” a pediatrician recalled, “when people would not even shake hands.”...

Both the poliovirus and the coronavirus rely on “silent carriers”—those showing no immediate symptoms—to spread the disease, inciting a fearful sense of uncertainty. Both target specific, if dramatically different, age groups: COVID-19 seems especially lethal for the elderly, polio for the young...

Why did most of its victims appear to come from middle-class surroundings? And why was epidemic polio primarily a disease of the 20th century that struck the world’s more developed nations, especially the United States?...

Others see polio’s dramatic spread in the 1940s and ’50s in terms of cleanliness. As Americans grew more germ-conscious and sanitary-minded, there was less chance that they would encounter poliovirus very early in life, when the disease is milder and maternal antibodies provide temporary protection...

The great polio epidemic struck at a time when the federal government wasn’t much involved in the medical problems of the citizenry... Virtually all of the research, publicity, and patient support surrounding polio was accomplished by a single private charity, the March of Dimes, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars.
More at The Atlantic.

Photo credit Corbis, via NPR.

An experiment in tree planting

Can you figure out the hypothesis being tested?  And see the result?  Answer below the fold.

Have you heard about the war between Russia and Saudi Arabia ? Updated

It's an oil war, not a shooting war, but it has worldwide implications.  It was explained at Vox on March 9:
A long-standing deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia — two of the world’s oil-producing powerhouses — fell through over the weekend, sending global markets into a spiral and dashing future economic prospects in the US...

At last week’s meeting, Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s leader, suggested the participants collectively cut their oil production by about 1 million barrels per day, with Russia making the most dramatic cut of around 500,000 barrels a day. Doing so would keep oil prices higher, which would bring in more revenue for nations in the bloc whose economies are heavily dependent on crude exports...

The Russians, wary of such a move for weeks, opted against the plan. It’s still unclear exactly why that’s the case. Some say Russia wants prices to stay low to hurt the American shale oil industry or is gearing up to seize a bigger sliver of Asian and global oil demand for itself...

Saudi Arabia didn’t take too kindly to the Kremlin’s decision and responded by slashing its export prices over the weekend to start a price war with Russia. That brought the price per barrel down by about $11 to $35 a barrel — the biggest one-day drop since 1991...
That was last week.   The war is continuing, and the consequences are global and dramatic.  The world is experiencing an unprecedented drop in oil demand (car travel, airline travel, factory usage) at the same time that Saudi production is ramping upward.  This morning on the Bloomberg channel they announced that WTI has been trading as low as $21 per barrel - a price not seen for about twenty years.

I was amazed to hear one knowledgeable commentator opine that the price of oil could drop to negative levels - i.e. that instead of buying oil, someone would pay someone to take the oil.  This presumably would occur at the producer/refiner level, not at the consumer level - but still...

With prices this low, the U.S. is adding to the strategic petroleum reserve, in part in case of (theoretical) future oil shortages but also to provide a market that U.S. companies can sell their oil to.

Why is this bad?  Lower oil prices = lower gas prices, lower heating oil prices, cheaper travel when it resumes.  Few people will feel sorry for "big oil."  But what happens is that the price shock ripples through and beyond the industry.  There is an old saying that if you can't pay your $10,000 loan from the bank, you're in trouble - but if you can't pay your $10,000,000 loan from the bank it's the bank that's in trouble.  Most U.S. businesses run on credit in expectation of good times ahead.  When oil companies fail, and drilling companies, and equipment manufacturers etc etc, the prospect arises of insolvency not just of the manufacturers, but of the banks they owe money to.

Addendum:  Found an more current report (dated yesterday) in The Financial Times.
Caught in the maelstrom is Donald Trump, who ignored critics to stand by Prince Mohammed after the Khashoggi murder and has confounded many with his repeated praise of Mr Putin’s leadership. Just as the US president is gearing up for an election battle under the cloud of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Russian-Saudi crude war threatens America’s growing shale industry, hurts debt-burdened US oil majors and exacerbates the pressure on collapsing stock markets.

 “We’re in a three-way Mexican stand-off with three big players in the room all saying, ‘if you screw that guy over there, you are screwing me over, so I’m going to screw you over,’” said Michael Stephens, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “It’s a strange triangular discussion from which no side wants to back down and all are going to feel the pain.” 
More at the link, which I encourage everyone to read.


Addendum:  Just found this two-day-old article at CNBC citing the CFO of BP stating that oil demand could be negative in 2020.

And this article discussing negative oil prices (depends on the type of oil).

Update:  Ten days later, the carnage in the oil industry continues, as noted in this Bloomberg Opinion piece:
At the point we’re now at, postponing the oil-price war won’t make a lot of difference for an industry that’s already breaking down under the weight of demand destruction. With prices hitting a 17-year low on Monday, it’s too late to use diplomacy and artful negotiations to share the burden of output cuts that are now inevitable.

The pumping free-for-all unleashed by Saudi Arabia and Russia is important for the long-term shape of the oil industry, but, as my colleague Javier Blas  pointed out here, it’s a sideshow to the havoc being wrought by the lockdowns crippling economies worldwide in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Forecasts of a catastrophic drop in oil demand abound, with estimates of a whopping 20% year-on-year reduction in global consumption in April becoming more common. That’s 20 million barrels a day, equivalent to the entire consumption of the United States. And even those gloomy views may be too optimistic, according to Goldman Sachs.

It would be impossible for any small group of producers to mitigate that kind of impact by reducing output, unless Saudi Arabia and Russia were both to slash their production to almost zero. And that’s not going to happen...

The U.S. is now the world’s biggest crude producer, pumping 13 million barrels a day — more even than Saudi Arabia can supply if it opens its taps fully...

As it stands at the moment, OPEC is not due to meet until early June, and whether the cartel’s external allies including Russia join them in an enlarged OPEC+ shindig remains to be seen. No matter, any action agreed then wouldn’t have an impact until July, at the earliest. Even an agreement reached tomorrow would have little impact until May, with April crude sales now largely completed.

By then storage tanks around the globe will be close to capacity; ships full of unwanted oil will be floating in safe anchorages; and producers will be forced to shut wells because they have simply run out places to put any crude they pump out of the ground.
The economic pain is going to be felt in the oilfields from North Dakota to Texas and in the offshore facilities.  But consumers may see gasoline prices below $1.00 per gallon. 

Addendum #3: (April 2)
Even if the quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Russia gets resolved, at this point, demand for oil has collapsed and will not soon recover. An industry insider told me his firm is forecasting that oil will likely drop to $10 per barrel and stay there. Consider what this means for countries such as Libya, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq or Venezuela, where oil revenue makes up the vast majority of government revenue (often of the entire economy) — but they make a profit on oil sales only at prices of more than $60 a barrel. Expect political turmoil, refugees, even revolutions, on a scale we have not seen for decades — not since the last phase of $10 oil, when the Soviet Union collapsed...

This is the worst time to suddenly lose your healthcare benefits

A different type of puzzle

I couldn't solve any of these until I saw the 20th one.  With that enlightenment I immediately figured out #19 - but I couldn't solve the others.

The answer is in a link at Miss Cellania.

Reliable medical science information on coronavirus

The New England Journal of Medicine has dropped its paywall for articles related to the pandemic:
A collection of articles and other resources on the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, 
including clinical reports, management guidelines, and commentary.


Drone video of Chicago.

Addendum:  Similar videos of Amsterdam, San Francisco, and New York City.

28 March 2020

A man who is "blessed by the red admiral"

Excerpts from a story in The Washington Post this week:
It all started on July 7, 2007, when a red admiral landed on my shirt collar as I walked along 19th Street NW near the office where I worked. This was a busy area of office buildings and automobiles, with little vegetation. It seemed an unlikely setting for a butterfly.

When my little friend didn’t take off after a half-hour or so, I had my picture snapped with it at a photography shop and then took it across the street into a restaurant. I called my wife from the steakhouse to tell her that I was coming home early and that I was bringing a butterfly. On M Street NW, I managed to get into a cab without dislodging my passenger. The butterfly shifted from my collar to my necktie, and we headed out Canal Road to my home in Maryland.

To my amazement, day after day after that, if I returned home before dark, the butterfly, which I recognized by one tattered wing, would come out from the garden to greet me...

Most remarkable perhaps is that red admirals have also visited me in Minnesota and New York. On July 4, 2010, two showed up at my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday celebration in St. Paul. They landed on no one but me. The same thing happened on the eve of my daughter’s wedding in Upstate New York...

But the problem with the chemical [attraction to sweat] explanation is that the butterflies seem to wait for me, on my car or a bush, while I’m more than 20 feet away looking at them through a window. At that point, I’m clearly not projecting anything chemical very far. As soon as I go outside, they tend to alight on me...
Continued at the link.  Hat tip to friend Tod.

Top photo:  Vanessa atalanta collecting solar energy on our deck railing.
Below: Partially camouflaged underside displayed while enjoying a rotten banana.

BTW, butterfly posts should resume in the near future.  There have been four sightings already in Wisconsin - two Compton Tortoiseshells, and two Mourning Cloaks.  If I work in the back garden near the woods on Monday, I wouldn't be surprised to encounter a Mourning Cloak.

Look at this amazing chart of Zoom Technologies

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, of course.  But... the company is not involved in videoconferencing.

According to Yahoo finance "Zoom Technologies, Inc. does not have significant operations. Previously, it distributed wireless communication products in the United States. The company is headquartered in Beijing, China."

The chart shows the price action YTD, with shares trading at about $1 in January.  That March 20 peak is a close at about $21 after reaching an intraday high of $60.  The company is clearly being confused with Zoom Video Communications (ticker symbol ZM), which makes the networking app.

The FCC has suspended trading in ZOOM, citing "concerns about the adequacy and accuracy of publicly available information concerning ZOOM, including its financial condition and its operations, if any, in light of the absence of any public disclosure by the company since 2015" and because of confusion with ZM.


Lots of things are being done under the cover of coronavirus.  Here's one example:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.  

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”..

In a 10-page letter to the EPA earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) asked for a suspension of rules that require repairing leaky equipment as well as monitoring to make sure pollution doesn’t seep into nearby water...

"Coronavirus burger"

Created by a Vietnamese chef.
“We have this joke that if you are scared of something, you should eat it,” said Tung, at the Pizza Home takeaway shop in downtown Hanoi. “That’s why the coronavirus isn’t scary any more after you eat a burger in the shape of the virus itself. That way of thinking spreads joy to others during this pandemic... The shop has sold about 50 burgers a day... “This coronavirus is very dangerous. But if we eat a burger in its shape, in our minds its like we are already victorious,” Quy said. “If you want to beat it, you’ve got to eat it first”.
Photo credit Reuters, via the South China Morning Post.

Intermittent fasting

The Johns Hopkins Medicine website has a concise article about the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting diets, he says, fall generally into two categories: daily time-restricted feeding, which narrows eating times to 6–8 hours per day, and so-called 5:2 intermittent fasting, in which people limit themselves to one moderate-sized meal two days each week.

An array of animal and some human studies have shown that alternating between times of fasting and eating supports cellular health, probably by triggering an age-old adaptation to periods of food scarcity called metabolic switching. Such a switch occurs when cells use up their stores of rapidly accessible, sugar-based fuel, and begin converting fat into energy in a slower metabolic process.

Mattson says studies have shown that this switch improves blood sugar regulation, increases resistance to stress and suppresses inflammation for various periods of time. Because most Americans eat three meals plus snacks each day, they do not experience the switch, or the suggested benefits.

In the article, Mattson notes that four studies in both animals and people found intermittent fasting also decreased blood pressure, blood lipid levels and resting heart rates.
I have had substantial success using 18-hour daily fasts to lose weight; I followed that regimen for two months starting at New Years', until finally switching to a standard diet incorporating nighttime comfort food for the coronavirus armageddon.  It was amazing to me to realize how much my "hunger" manifested itself psychologically ("time to go eat") rather than with physical symptoms.

Read up on it, and consult your physician (but don't bother her right now - she's probably exhausted trying to make order out of chaos).

Words spoken today

I've tried to keep you-know-who off the blog as much as possible, but I just had to post these sentences:
"This whatever they want to call it.  You call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus.  You know, you can call it many different names.  I'm not sure anybody even knows what it is, but the children do very well."
This is real, spoken at a televised press briefing in reply when asked what he would say to students home from school that might be watching.

No.  You can't just call things whatever you want to call them.  For fox ache.

Extended text and video.

27 March 2020

The science of "rogue waves"

"Researchers have since determined that rogue waves probably claimed 22 supercarriers and more than 500 lives in the second half of the 20th century alone...

... two schools of thought surfaced regarding how monstrous waves could develop. The first is the simplest. It starts with the observation that swells travel at different speeds. When one overtakes another, the two are combined...  Others, however, hold that the most extreme waves form from less straightforward behavior. In wave tanks, for instance, when one wave travels right next to another of similar length, energy leaks from one to the other. The individual swells affect one another in complicated nonlinear ways...

Standard arithmetic suffices for simple casino games, but this thinking captures the spirit of a branch of probability known as large deviation theory (LDT). It specializes in identifying instances of rare events that are much more common than the next most likely way they might play out. In the exceptional cases when LDT can be used, it allows calculations that are impossible with standard statistics, Vanden-Eijnden said, just as calculus can solve problems that are intractable in algebra.
The chaotic ocean, the group reasoned, should be the perfect arena to witness LDT in action..."
More information at Quanta Magazine.

Interesting coronavirus graphs, including ?triage effect

Comparison of countries embedded above.  State-by-state and other graphs at 91-DIVOC,

I'm also intrigued by this graph -

- and in particular by the steepness of the rise with advanced age.  Obviously elderly patients have an increased prevalence of COPD and coronary artery disease and renal insufficiency etc, which render them more susceptible to the stresses of an acute respiratory distress syndrome.  But I'd be surprised if the co-morbidities differences are that great.  I suspect (though I've not seen it discussed anywhere) that what this graph is depicting is a "triage effect."  You have two admissions to the hospital, one 84 years old, the other 54 years old.   There is one ventilator available; the other patient will receive supplemental oxygen and supportive care.  Your call.   An enormous number of heart-wrenching decisions are being made every day, all across the world.

Only one of these is a pine cone

The other is a Striped Cuckoo.

The final grievance in the Declaration of Independence

This is the 27th grievance against King George III:
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
The backstory for this grievance is discussed at length by a professor of history at the University of Oregon:
The 27th grievance raises two issues. The first, the king’s incitement of “domestic insurrections,” refers to slave revolts and reveals a hard truth recently brought to the public’s attention by The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project: Some of those who sought independence aimed to protect the institution of slavery. This was particularly true for Virginia slave owners, who were deeply disturbed by a proclamation issued in November 1775 by Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore, which promised enslaved people held by revolutionaries freedom in exchange for joining the British army. Virginians and other southerners feared that it would provoke widespread slave revolts...
Although the reference to the “merciless Indian savages” appealed to the “inhabitants of our frontiers,” Jefferson and others who signed the Declaration had their own reasons for detesting British policies relating to Native Americans and their lands... More than a decade earlier, in order to end a costly war to suppress an indigenous resistance movement led by the Ottawa war leader Pontiac, the king issued the Proclamation of 1763, which recognized indigenous ownership of lands west of the Appalachian mountains’ crest and prevented colonists from settling there... Jefferson’s denigration of “merciless Indian savages” signaled that the war for independence from Great Britain would also be a brutal war to seize indigenous lands.
More at the interesting article in The Atlantic.

26 March 2020

Divertimento #176

"How a storm revealed a Welsh kingdom" (nice photoessay)

If you're videoconferencing from home with Zoom, remember to cover up the camera if you carry your laptop into the bathroom.

What's the best way to poach an egg? (various techniques compared).

"Lost world revealed by human, Neanderthal relics washed up on North Sea beaches" - with a large map of Doggerland.

Commentary on Deborah Birx' sartorial style and professional behavior (more at the link):
Birx doesn’t dress like a lady politician in jewel-tone suits and statement jewelry. She doesn’t wear power dresses, those sleek sheaths that are a critical part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s professional wardrobe. She doesn’t turn up in a white coat as if she’s there to take the nation’s collective temperature. Birx’s style can be called classically feminine when she wears her shirtwaist dresses and knots silk scarves around her shoulders. She exudes academic wonkiness with her earth tones and tunics and mufflers double-wrapped around her neck. She never looks bland or nondescript. She doesn’t look like an automaton or someone who has lost herself in the data and computer models. And in doing so, she offers a subtle but important reminder to people that while this crisis is serious and meeting it is hard, we are still human.
How the coronavirus is killing local news.

Rational logic indicates that the coronavirus did not escape from a bioweapons laboratory.

The best way to reheat pizza (nine methods compared).

Blighted bar slated for demolition discovered to be an antique log cabin from 1700sHere is a 2018 Google Streetview.

Snowflake is a 2010s derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions. (example)

The movies with the most F-bombs.  "Funnily enough, not one but two Martin Scorsese's movies show up on the chart: "The Wolf of Wall Street" leads the pack with an astounding 569 uses of the word, while "Casino" is in fourth place with 422."

"Doctors warn parents not to sleep with their babies because of the risk of death by accidental suffocation. Still, mothers who've carried those infants inside them want to be nearby, which is only natural. Surely, modern technology can find a way to do that safely. One idea is the device... by BellyBelly. Years later, it is not widely used outside of the Netherlands."

How smart lightbulbs can be hacked ("... too many internet-of-things gadgets don’t come with automatic software updates").

"The results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws. According to a New York Times analysis, more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses."

Data regarding the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal.

Did you know horses can have mustaches?  Males and females.  Gallery of photos at the link, via Neatorama.

"Intuit [maker of TurboTax] and other tax software companies have spent millions lobbying to make sure that the IRS doesn’t offer its own tax preparation and filing service. In exchange, the companies have entered into an agreement with the IRS to offer a “Free File” product to most Americans — but good luck finding it."

In January, 37 mph winds blew over a portion of the border wall in California.

Three cake-baking tips from a state champion baker.

The do's and don'ts of eating and drinking on an airplane, from back in the days when people used to fly.

A simple three-card magic trick.

Some people make a reasonable income by owning vending machines.  "Yeah, it’s a lot more simple than people think. You can buy a vending machine used from Craigslist, and you get your business license. You go to door-to-door talking to business owners and offering the service."

A new type of plastic brick allows ice skating rinks to be built anywhere.

A Nashville art school is going to purge all non-Christian faculty.  “We do not hire people who are not Christian,” Thomas Burns, Belmont’s provost, clarified in a response to questions at a town hall on Wednesday. “So the ones who are not Christian will not be eligible to work at Belmont. That’s just part of who we are.”

Very simple illustration explains how a bill in Congress becomes law.

Trikafta is the latest breakthrough drug to treat cystic fibrosis.  “My life is officially starting at 29 years old. I don’t really have a lot to show for it. I spent my whole life preparing to die young…I have all this open future, all this unknown. I just don’t know how to process it.”

"Wild swimming" is what used to be called "swimming."

A mother's children tell her "there's water coming from the laundry room.  Looks like it starts at the washing machine."  She runs downstairs to find this.

Erosion on the shores of the Great Lakes is a serious problem for landowners.  Water levels are reaching historic high levels, probably because of climate change.

The Australian bushfires damaged aboriginal rock art.  "Moore said an intense bushfire burned right up to the edge of the boulder, shearing off enormous slabs of granite. The shearing – known as spalling – was probably caused by a rapid temperature change rather than prolonged heat exposure, he said."

Pearls in North Macedonia are made from ground shells and an emulsion made from fish scales.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 turned the brains of one Herculaneum victim to glass.  "Now Petrone and colleagues have revealed a number of substances within the glassy material, including proteins typically found in brain tissue. Crucially, these were not found in adjacent ash or elsewhere in the site.  “The detection of glassy material from the victim’s head, of proteins expressed in human brain, and of fatty acids found in human hair indicates the thermally induced preservation of vitrified human brain tissue,” the team write."

A razor-wielding rooster in a cockfight killed a bystanding spectator.

"Despite being a couple of years old, José Manuel Ballester’s artworks feel eerily familiar in the time of COVID-19. The Spanish artist recreates classic paintings like Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” Vermeer’s “The Allegory of Painting,” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” except he leaves out one central aspect: humans."  Via Colossal.

25 March 2020


From an article at Colossal:
"Washington-based artist and researcher Heidi Gustafson forages, processes, and catalogs natural mineral samples for the Early Futures Ocher Archive. Ranging in color based on its elemental structure, ochre is crushed into a powder and used in various applications from art to medicine. With over 550 samples, Gustafson’s ever-growing archive has become a collaborative project with contributions from archaeologists, scientists, and creatives from around the world."
"As each sample enters the collection, it is labeled with a corresponding number. In a notebook, Gustafson records where the ochre is from, who sourced or collected it, any historic or contemporary uses, and other relevant information. Gustafson grinds the iron-rich ochre into pigments, which she sells to artists and also uses for her own work. Processed samples are added to glass vials and organized by region or dominate mineral type."

It's easy to see why such minerals were so valuable to early humans.  There are additional interesting photos at the artist's Instagram site.

Addendum:  This is a photo of the shoreline at Hormuz Island -

- where there are immense deposits of ochre.  Look at this gif of the shoreline.

Humor scrapbook, part VI

This is the sixth of what will eventually be ten weekly posts with material from my old "humor" scrapbook.  The content varies from priceless to junky (especially the case with 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.

Movie theater in Minneapolis



Recognize this crystal?  (answer in the comments). 

Image cropped for size from the original at the mildlyinteresting subreddit.

Her name is Campanula

In the movie Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the character voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter is Campanula, which raised the question of how many other names are derived from flowers.

Apparently there are hundreds of them.  It's a broadly cross-cultural phenomenon.  Mostly for girls (Heather, Iris, Olive, Violet, Rose, Lily, Daisy ...), apparently few for boys.  I found a list for dogs (presumably female dogs), some unusual ones (Anemone - really??), and even baby names inspired by food (Kobe, Barack, Katniss, Colby, Brie, Ginger and various herbs and spices).

Image via.

The city of Manila, before and after quarantine

The comment thread at the mildlyinteresting subreddit indicates similar observations coming from California, India, Jakarta...

Reminds me of when I drove from Wisconsin to Ohio after 9/11 and saw no contrails in the sky.

If you have anosmia, isolate yourself immediately

A mother who was infected with the coronavirus couldn’t smell her baby’s full diaper. Cooks who can usually name every spice in a restaurant dish can’t smell curry or garlic, and food tastes bland. Others say they can’t pick up the sweet scent of shampoo or the foul odor of kitty litter.

Anosmia, the loss of sense of smell, and ageusia, an accompanying diminished sense of taste, have emerged as peculiar telltale signs of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and possible markers of infection.

On Friday, British ear, nose and throat doctors, citing reports from colleagues around the world, called on adults who lose their senses of smell to isolate themselves for seven days, even if they have no other symptoms, to slow the disease’s spread. The published data is limited, but doctors are concerned enough to raise warnings.

“We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Prof. Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, wrote in an email. “It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”
Full article at The New York Times.

24 March 2020

A history of disinfected mail

As soon as humans became aware that infectious diseases could be transmitted by fomites (inanimate objects), attention was directed to developing methods of disinfection. Postal and public health authorities had to deal with a wide variety of extremely dangerous infections (cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, leprosy, anthrax), and applied a surprising variety of techniques to letters and packages sent through the mails, beginning as early as the 15th century in Venice.

A very informative philatelic exhibit presents examples of how the U.S. has dealth with potentially dangerous items.  Shown at the top, for example, are two letters from locations where yellow fever was present; they have been punctured to allow fumigating agents to reach the inside of the envelope.  The bottom envelope in this image -

- had its corners clipped off so that formaldehyde gas could be introduced to kill smallpox.  Other letters and postcards were autoclaved or steam sterilized, which could be deleterious to the letters inside.

These precautions were not limited to the preantibiotic era.  In 2001 threats of anthrax attacks were made in the United States, and a variety of special precautions, including x-irradiation, had to be undertaken, beginning at this page of the exhibit and continuing for a dozen pages thereafter.  And these letters from Hawaii in 1900 show how holes were punched in the envelopes -

- so that sulfur fumes could be insufflated before they were sent from areas quarantined for bubonic plague.  Other examples are shown of disinfection of mail from the Hawaiian leper colony.

Philatelic exhibitions are conventionally mounted on a series of glass-fronted frames, with up to 16 letter-size pages in one frame, and in this case spread onto six frames.   This award-winning exhibit was created by William A. Sandrik of Arlington, Virginia.  The entire exhibit may be viewed at Exponet (frame 1, frame 2, frame 3, frame 4, frame 5, frame 6).

And those interested in philately (stamp and postal history collecting) should browse the Exponet site beginning at this index page.  Over 600 exhibits are accessible, on a huge variety of topics, in a wide variety of languages.

Reposted from 2011 because of its timely subject matter.   Today a New York Times article addresses the question of transmission of coronavirus by mail:
A representative for the U.S. Postal Service was unwilling to discuss current sanitization protocols. But the agency’s website reports that the only mail items receiving treatment are letters and parcels sent to ZIP codes beginning in 202, 203, 204 and 205, which serve federal government agencies in Washington, D.C. In a process that began shortly after the 2001 anthrax attacks, the Postal Service sends mail destined for those ZIP codes to New Jersey, where they are put on a conveyor belt and passed under a high-energy beam of ionizing radiation that kills bacteria and viruses. The letters and packages are then “aired out” for a while, before being forwarded to their destinations. The paper is left slightly faded and somewhat crispy, but sterile.

Should mail irradiation be extended beyond these exclusive ZIP codes, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus? On CBS News’s Face the Nation on Sunday morning, Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warned that SARS-CoV-2 could potentially be transmitted by contaminated objects. “This is a sticky virus,” he said. The structure of the coronavirus’s protective envelope helps it bond tightly to certain surfaces: skin in particular, as well as fabric and wood, but also plastic and steel...

David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service, noted that the surgeon general, Dr. Jerome M. Adams, along with the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, has “indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.”..

Then again, contact transmission is notoriously difficult to study and document...

23 March 2020

The Idol stone

One of the amazing rock formations at Brimham Rocks.  Good thing it's not in the United States, because some Yahoo would have tipped it over by now.

Coronavirus in blue states and in red states

It has been interesting to me to note how the epicenters of the coronavirus epidemic have centered on what have traditionally been "blue states" (Washington, New York, California), for epidemiologic rather than political reasons.  Some have argued that the response (or non-response) of American politicians has been in part governed by that distribution.

Today an article at Bloomberg discusses Las Vegas and Orlando as targets for the economic devastation that the virus will bring - for obvious economic reasons.
The Great Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020 is hammering lots of industries, but leisure and hospitality is probably the hardest hit. This is a big deal because (until a week or so ago, at least), restaurants, bars, hotels, casinos, theaters, museums, gyms, sports teams and the rest employed 16.9 million people, or 11% of the U.S. nonfarm payroll workforce, up from 9% in 2000 and 7.4% in 1980. That’s more than manufacturing, construction and even health care (albeit just barely on that last one, and probably not for long).
They then present a national map showing the dependence of each state on leisure and travel industry:

Red states dominate the distribution.  Here's a county-by-county breakdown:

It will be interesting to see how the economic and political response to this pandemic plays out.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...