30 September 2020

Musicians react when Firebird wakes a concertgoer

I agree with this comment: "The scream should be written into the score so in the future this will be part of the music."

Weather report posted for my niece in Phoenix

A Canadian watches the first presidential debate

Here is James Fallows' commentary on the spectacle (which I didn't waste time watching).   

In my view there's not much point in having two more debates, which are unlikely to change many voters' minds.  Let's vote already.  As T.S. Eliot said in Murder in the Cathedral
"... We wait, and the time is short
But waiting is long."

29 September 2020

Blue skies

Autumn in the Upper Midwest.  I think all of us are a bit more appreciative of "normal" after seeing what's happening in the Pacific Coast states.

Object lesson

 Where not to build on the Gulf Coast (this home was in Creole, Louisiana). Via.

None of your damn business

"Georgia health officials have decided to withhold information about coronavirus infections at each school, saying the public has no legal right to information about outbreaks that the state is investigating. 

The Georgia Department of Public Health started requiring weekly reports from the schools last month and initially said it might share the information with the public. The decision not to reveal the number of COVID-19 case counts and related quarantines and “clusters” means the only recourse for parents and teachers trying to gauge the risk is the willingness of their local school system to publicize its own data. 

Some school districts in Georgia are not revealing what is going on in each of their schools, though. If they do disclose anything, it is often districtwide numbers that make it difficult to discern the risk within each school..."
Certainly revealing personal information would be a breach of medical privacy laws, but I see no reason to withhold aggregate data.  Perhaps I'm overlooking something.

Carl Sagan must be rolling in his grave these days


Found at MurderedByWords, where the discussion thread is about unions.

24 September 2020

The Hot Chocolate Effect

No time to blog today, but I wanted to share this video of the Hot Chocolate Effect.  Very cool, unexpected, and interesting.
The hot chocolate effect, also known as the allassonic effect, is a phenomenon of wave mechanics first documented in 1982 by Frank Crawford, where the pitch heard from tapping a cup of hot liquid rises after the addition of a soluble powder. It was first observed in the making of hot chocolate or instant coffee, but also occurs in other situations such as adding salt to supersaturated hot water or cold beer. Recent research has found many more substances which create the effect, even in initially non-supersaturated liquids.

It can be observed by pouring hot milk into a mug, stirring in chocolate powder, and tapping the bottom of the mug with a spoon while the milk is still in motion. The pitch of the taps will increase progressively with no relation to the speed or force of tapping. Subsequent stirring of the same solution (without adding more chocolate powder) will gradually decrease the pitch again, followed by another increase. This process can be repeated a number of times, until equilibrium has been reached. Upon initial stirring, entrained gas bubbles reduce the speed of sound in the liquid, lowering the frequency. As the bubbles clear, sound travels faster in the liquid and the frequency increases.
Try this in your own kitchen (impress your kids).  You learn something every day.

23 September 2020

Turquoise opal in a concretion (Queensland)

'Murican provincialism

I agree with the sentiment, but the numbers are a bit imprecise.  According to a 2019 article in The Hill, "... 11 percent of respondents have never left the state in which they were born, and 54 percent said they have visited fewer than 10 states.... (and) 40 percent said they have never left the country."

Via WhitePeopleTwitter, where the discussion is mostly about Americans dissing states other than the one they live in.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain

Suburban reflections

Stupid me

I was momentarily startled by this sentence in Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (intro to Chapter 11, with the protagonists adrift at sea in the doldrums), then realized that it is a perfectly proper use of "stupid":

"We spent the remainder of the day in a condition of stupid lethargy, gazing after the retreating vessel..."

Etymology from Wiktionary:

From Middle French stupide, from Latin stupidus (“struck senseless, amazed”), from stupeō (“be amazed or confounded, be struck senseless”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)tup-, *(s)tewp- (“to wonder”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)tew- (“to stand, stay”). Cognate with Old High German stubarōn (“to be astonished, be stunned, be blocked”). 

Definitions of the adjective:

Lacking in intelligence or exhibiting the quality of having been done by someone lacking in intelligence. 

To the point of stupor.

(archaic) Characterized by or in a state of stupor; paralysed. 

(archaic) Lacking sensation; inanimate; destitute of consciousness; insensate. 

Dulled in feeling or sensation; torpid 

(slang) Amazing.

(slang) Darn, annoying. 

Similar usages from a quick Google search:

"You, sir, who have at least some small opportunity of giving good advice, try and rouse us from this stupid lethargy, and, if you can, do something for literature, which has done so much for France." (Voltaire)

"Rouse, my Friends, rouse from your stupid lethargy. Mark the men who shall dare to impede the course of justice. Brand them as the infamous betrayers of the rights of their country." (Samuel Seabury, comment re the Continental Congress, 1774)


Just to quickly clarify - the man in the wheelchair is not pulling the baby carriage (it's being pushed by his wife, who took the photo).  She posted this on Facebook and got a ton of pushback:

Why don’t you just walk in the road like normal people?

Why do you need to shop for shoes at Payless if you are in a wheelchair?

Totally fake. Photoshopped. 100%.

You just did this for likes and attention. Staged.

Can’t you just move the carts out if the way like everyone else?

Go around through the grass.

Go through the parking lot made for things with wheels.

Store employees are slacking in their jobs and get paid to get the carts.

Why didn’t you park in handicapped parking?

Why are you so far away from the entrance if you get priority spots up front?

I’ve never seen a sidewalk in a complex like this so this can’t be real.

Why didn’t you drop him off in the loading zone?

You knew your condition so why did you choose to go down the sidewalk if you saw the carts?

She replies to these questions with details about their experience in an article at Medium.  Discussion thread at Reddit.

Related: The Shopping Cart Theory

22 September 2020

Europe's second wave of coronavirus

Excerpts from John Authers' most recent Bloomberg newsletter:

The question is much subtler than it was six months ago, when it was probably correct for a blindsided world to respond to a new and fast-spreading disease by shutting down. Now, there is greater knowledge, and much more complexity. So it is perhaps a little unnerving that the key test case on the “second wave” will be decided on by the U.K.’s prime minister, Boris Johnson.

To simplify a sprawling debate, the case for a lockdown is contained in these figures, shown here in a chart from Capital Economics. New Covid cases per capita are higher than they were at the worst of the spring in both Spain and France while they are rising menacingly in the U.K.

This is happening even though the U.K. ended up having one of the longest and most complete lockdowns the first time around. But are cases the best measure of the problem? In spring, cases were undercounted as officials struggled to organize testing. Now, more are being caught, despite serious problems with the U.K. testing system. Meanwhile deaths have barely risen yet, and remain far lower than they were in spring.

Hospitalizations show a just-discernible rise in the last few weeks, according to figures from Britain’s National Health Service. The number of people so seriously ill that they need to go to hospital is still tiny compared to the spring, and there is no imminent danger of the system overflowing.

While deaths are obviously the most important measure, followed a long way behind by hospitalizations, the situation is complicated by the growing evidence that some people can suffer long-term debilitating consequences. There is still very little data on how widespread the problem is, and how long the effects can persist, but there are enough anecdotes to suggest that people under the age of 50 shouldn’t be too cavalier about the risks of catching the virus — and that governments should go to some lengths to protect them.

Johnson has to decide what to do. A second full lockdown looks hard to justify. Allowing the disease to continue expanding at its current rate looks similarly hard to justify.

Will some more nuanced lockdown keep the disease sufficiently bottled up? Will Covid continue to grow less deadly over time? Or will greater understanding of longer-term effects force yet another change in direction? The answers to these imponderable questions matter to all of us. They will also determine the direction of asset markets.

More charts and discussion at the link.

21 September 2020

Bollards near a school

Via Just a Car Guy ("Cool things with wheels since 2006").

Sleep paralysis misinterpreted as encounters with ghosts

Excerpts from Between Two Worlds: True Ghost Stories of the British Isles (D.A. MacManus, Colin Smythe Ltd., 1977) -

"All this time the sense of something that was loathsome beyond words to express became more and more intense and she waited with bated breath for the next move.  She had not long to wait for in a few moments she clearly heard the soft slur of a heavy, shapeless body moving slowly but steadily across the carpet towards her bed.  She remained motionless, her mind so numbed that it had not the power to command action.  After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the awful 'thing' reached the side of her bed.  Then came the ultimate horror, for it began to climb upon the bed.  She felt its weight upon her, a heavy weight, and next it seemed to stretch itself out and it seized each of her hands in a grasp of iron.  Its hands or paws, were icy, hard and boney and the strength of their cold vice-like grip was such that she felt her own bones might break.  Relentlessly it climbed further and further on to the bed until her legs were being crushed by its weight.  In another moment the Thing would have been right on top of her but, at last, the sheer horror it it all broke the spell and her mind and will leapt into action." [Killeaden, 1926]

"Eventually, from sheer emotional exhaustion [the maid] dropped off to sleep, only to be awakened panting for breath as if in her sleep something heavy had been pressing upon her chest and neck, crushing the breath out of her.  She lit her candle and looked round the room.  All was just as it had been...

So the next night saw her again in bed in that eerie room... she awoke from a sound sleep to feel, very definitely this time, something heavy upon her, pressing on her chest and throat as if to choke her.  It was the same sensation as she had experienced the night before, but now it was more pronounced and frightening.  It was with considerable difficulty that she struggled clear of this unseen weight, but she managed to do so and at once lit her candle...

[the next night] But this doze was nearly fatal to her for she awoke to find again the awful unseen body upon her, pressing down on her and slowly, relentlessly strangling her as it squeezed upon her throat... She was unable to cry out because of the pressure on her throat and at first she was so numbed with horror that she was unable to move at all; then fortunately blind panic seized her and gave her the strength to fight fiercely for her life.  Eventually she managed to push the awful Thing away from her sufficiently to be able to turn on the side and feel for the matches...

[the next night the lady of the house sleeps in the same room]  Then she fell asleep also and slept soundly for some hours, but suddenly awoke to feel something upon her, trying to strangle her.  She fought hard to wriggle away from under this unseen body which was lying on her and pressing upon her throat...

[she tells her husband, who mocks her, so she returns to that room the next night]  But, sure enough, an hour or two later she awoke with a start to find the usual heavy uncanny body lying on top of her and pressing tightly against her face and neck, strangling her inexorably.  Then the awful fear of imminent death overcame all other fear and inspired her to fight for her life as she had never fought before, violently using every muscle in her body in a desperate struggle for survival.  For some time she could make ho headway, but at last she managed to struggle free and frantically strike a light.  The evil 'presence' then ceased to manifest itself and she sank back on her pillow quite exhausted.

[the next night her husband sleeps in the room, taking "his tough bulldog" with him]  This was about eleven o'clock and he was undisturbed for some time, but shortly after two o'clock he woke up struggling and panting for breath.  As he shook off his sleep and gained full consciousness he found that there was something heavy lying upon his body and a soft but very tangible 'Thing' was pressing so hard upon his neck that as he painfully gasped for breath he felt that he was getting black in the face from strangulation.  Just as with his wife, the awful fear of coming death spurred him to frantic physical effort and after a few desperate surges he forced away from himself the unseen 'Thing' for a few moments..."  [ten months later the family moved out] [south of Dublin, 1904]

"One night as Mrs. Shephard lay in bed she felt a heavy weight climb upon her.  It was soft though heavy and frantic with fear, she struggled to free herself but was unable to move, it pinned her down so firmly.  After some time, which seemed to her to be an age, it became progressively lighter and eventually disappeared altogether.  She was not alone in this for her maid, a trusted and intelligent servant, had the same experience shortly afterwards.  It happened to them both a number of times after that and later, when Mrs. Shephard's mother came to stay, she also suffered it.  It should be noticed that in this house no one was able to struggle clear of this weight, but had to wait till it left of its own accord."  [Ulster, 1944]

Excepts from The Ghostly Register: a Guide to Haunted America (Arthur Myers, Dorset Press, NY 1986), which contains 64 "true" stories of ghosts in American houses - eight of which are probably sleep paralysis:

"I've seen John Wayne's ghost twice and have felt his spirit nearby many times.  I was sleeping in The Duke's stateroom.  I remember waking up with a start in the middle of the night. . . As my eyes got used to the dark I suddenly became aware of someone standing by the door to the port gangway.  I froze because I was alone on the boat.  Then I leaped out of bed - and the figure vanished into thin air!" (an incident involving The Wild Goose, John Wayne's yacht in Newport, CA)

"At one time, Virginia says, she felt an invisible hand choking her in bed.  She prayed, and the hands released their grip." (rented house, Simsbury, Connecticut)

"Mrs. Hollingsworth began seeing a woman with long hair, wearing a long, white gown that seemed to date from the past century. . . "My husband saw her one night... standing by the side of my bed staring down at me.  He said it scared him so badly that he couldn't move.  He says she just stood there for a while, then turned and walked away toward the living room." (house in Statesboro, GA)

"Their daughter, Sarah, however, a college student, has had more explicit experiences.  At night in her bedroom she would hear rustling.  When she turned the light on, nobody would be there.  Once she heard a voice whisper her name.  "One night," she says, "I turned the light out and felt something some down on top of me.  I couldn't move my arms or legs, as though somebody was holding them down.  I tried to speak, but something came down over my mouth.  I just prayed that it would go away, and after about ten minutes it did." (Witch Hollow Farm, Boxford, MA)

"The incident sounds very melodramatic.  I was awakened in the middle of the night by a presence in the room -- a feeling that some unknown being was in the midst.  As I opened my eyes, I saw a grayish figure at the side of my bed, to the left, about four feet away.  It was not a distinct person, but a shadowy mass in the shape of a standing figure.  It remained still for a moment, then slowly floated to the foot of the bed, in front of the fireplace.  After pausing a few seconds, the apparition slowly "melted" away.  It was a terrifying experience.  I was so frightened I could not scream.  I was frozen to the spot." (The Colonial Inn, Concord, MA)

"So I went back to bed.  Sometime after, I was aware of a large figure standing next to the bed, a tall human being's figure, dressed in a kind of cloak with a hood on it, open in the front but closed down enough so that you couldn't see any face within it.  I felt at some level that it was antagonistic to me.  It took me what seemed like a full ten minutes of struggle to actually raise myself.  I felt it was trying to press me back down on the bed.  When I finally did overcome it and get myself to a seated position, it was gone.  It dissolved."  (The mansion of Edith Wharton, Lenox, MA)

"When I woke up I had what I can only describe as the most tremendous feeling of fear and panic, for no apparent reason that I was aware of.  I felt almost as though there were some evil presence that was there and was holding me down - almost, I guess, trying to possess me."  (house in Weymouth, MA)

" . . . he was sleeping in the house's addition.  "All of a sudden I felt something grab me on the shoulder.  I tried rolling over to see what it was, but the thing put more pressure on me, and I couldn't turn to see what it was.  I couldn't even say anything; I couldn't get words out of my mouth. . . I could see the moon outside the window, and I was certain I wasn't dreaming; I was awake.  After a while the pressure released, and I started to turn, and all I saw was just possibly a black image, for just a second."  (cabin in Hancock, WI)

2020 continues

Don't tell them...

What do you use to catch a dragon ?

For anyone wondering what humor was like in the 1950s, may I present... Mr. Stan Freberg.  If you like it, see also Little Blue Riding Hood.

Related: Flanders and Swann.

Do we really need daily mail delivery?

By now everyone is aware of the ongoing and increasing problems of the United States Postal Service.

There has been a longstanding interest by various members of Congress and business world to privatize the USPS - allegedly to modernize and improve its service, but in real life because the USPS is a monopoly with enormous profit potential.

“These changes are happening because there’s a White House agenda to privatize and sell off the public Postal Service,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “But there’s too much approval for the organization right now. They want to separate the service from the people and then degrade it to the point where people aren’t going to like it anymore.”

This started back in the Bush administration:

"But the agency has been rapidly losing money since a 2006 law, passed with the support of the George W. Bush administration, required USPS to pre-fund employee retiree health benefits for 75 years in the future. That means the Postal Service must pay for the future health care of employees who have not even been born yet. The burden accounted for an estimated 80% to 90% of the agency’s losses before the pandemic." 

Imagine any other business being told to pre-fund health benefits for the next 75 years.

Then this past year the prospect arose that disruption or slowing of the mail service might provide grounds for delegitimizing the results of mail-in ballots in the November election.  Some post offices were physically removing mail-sorting machines.  The justification (which may well be valid) was that the mix of mail has shifted massively away from letters to packages, and different machines are required for that purpose.

But for this post I'm going to set aside politics and just ask whether daily mail delivery is necessary in this modern era.  What prompted me to do this was some interesting items I noticed in the philatelic news:

"News from vanishing postal services are familiar everywhere in these days... In Finland the Post has already dropped Tuesday, and is now planning a three-times per week delivery system.  The iconic main Post office at the Helsinki city center was closed this summer, and there are not many post offices left in the city."

"Norway Post will provide every other day delivery of mail due to the decline in mail volume... Recipients will get their mail on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one week, and Tuesday and Thursday the following week.  Those who have a post office box will receive normal daily delivery each weekday... Packages will be delivered every day or every other day depending on where in Norway the household is... Newspapers will be delivered every other day, or daily if the addressee has a post office box."

Those reports were in the March 2020 issue of The Posthorn - Journal of Scandinavian Philately, a publication of the Scandinavian Collector's Club.

TYWKIWDBI has an international readership, so I'd like to hear some feedback from non-U.S. readers to help me sort out in my mind how much of the U.S. situation is political vs. pragmatic.

19 September 2020

This is not "Starry Night"

Whom do you believe ?

This in a week when it was revealed that CDC guidelines on coronavirus testing had been written by Trump officials and were contrary to the advice of CDC staff.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that a previous CDC guidance was published on the agency’s website over the strong objection of CDC scientists.

The scientists disagreed sharply with recommendations in the document including one advising that people who did not show symptoms of Covid-19 had no need to be tested for coronavirus, even if they had come into contact with a known carrier, the New York Times said in a report on Friday.

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the CDC, rewrote the document in question and “dropped” it onto the agency’s website, the New York Times quotes unnamed government officials as saying. HHS is run by the Donald Trump appointee Alex Azar.

“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the HHS and the [White House] task force,” the Times quoted an unnamed federal official as saying. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy.”

For fox ache.  This kind of politicizing of policy can be dangerous.  Screencap via BoingBoing.

"Nessun Dorma"

A four-minute video from a June 2007 segment of the ITV program Britain's Got Talent.  This video has been viewed 19 million times.

Update May 2008 - the video has now been viewed 25 million times.
Update 2016 - now it's 157 million views...

Reposted from 2008 to add Pavarotti's rendition of the same piece:

And to add the lyrics (in English):
Nobody shall sleep!...
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!
And an excerpt from the story:
"At the start of the opera, Calaf sees Princess Turandot for the first time and instantly falls in love with her. However, any man who wishes to marry her must correctly answer three riddles. Those who fail are killed. Despite protests from his father and his servant, Calaf accepts the challenge and is determined to marry the princess. 

Much to the delight of the princess's father as well as the entire kingdom, Calaf answers all three riddles correctly. Turandot realizes she must now marry a stranger and becomes upset. Calaf makes a deal with her that if she can correctly answer his own riddle before dawn, he will die. If she does not answer correctly, he will marry her. Turandot agrees and the countdown begins. 

Late that night, the princess declares that no one will sleep until she learns the name of her suitor. In fact, she cries out that everyone in the kingdom will be killed if no one steps forward to reveal Calaf's identity. Meanwhile, Calaf confidently sings "Nessun Dorma" (Nobody shall sleep). "

Reposted from 2017 to add this cover from this young Dutch singer who won the Holland's Got Talent competition at age 9:


Photo of a fasciated Black-Eyed Susan from the Flickr account of Tafnd, via Buzzfeed, Hermit's Holler, and The Soul is Bone.

For more on the biologic process involved, see my previous posts Giant cactus. And Stevie Nicks and Cactus. Fasciation. White-winged dove. And Stevie Nicks. (old videos have undergone linkrot)

Updated from 2014 to add this image showing other examples of the phenomenon:

And finally this excellent article about the biology of the process.

16 September 2020


From a collection of the finalists in the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Selections from "Words at Play"

Scholars have long puzzled over a line in Hamlet describing the Dane as "fat and short of breath."
The mystery was solved by a Shakespearean scholar who stopped for a drink of water in a remote area of southern England where something akin to Elizabethan English is still spoken.  A farm woman said: "You are fat," meaning: "You are perspiring."  "Aha!" said the scholar (who was far from fat): "that's what Shakespeare meant, and that's why the Queen said, 'Take my napkin, rub thy brows.'  Hamlet was sweating!"
New to me, so I got out my compact OED and the magnifying glass and searched through several pages to find "Of wood: resinous," [thus fatwood]  "Of clay: having a greasy feeling," "Of air: charged with moisture." I did not find fat = sweaty/perspiring.  This interpretation (and the general question of whether Hamlet could have been obese) is discussed at length in a Slate article.

The book lists twelve words that are pronounced with three syllables, but have only four letters.  Some are obscure, but I've listed nine of the familiar ones in the first "comment" on this post. Graduates of Miami University or Coe College will recognize a couple of them. 

Conversely, these are the longest one-syllable words: scratched, screeched, scrounged, squelched, strengths, and stretched.

What is the longest common word that can be made with the letters in the top row of a typewriter [qwertyuiop]?  Answer: typewriter.

Two words with six consecutive consonants: latchstrings and catchphrase.

For those interested in pursuing such matters, the book I found these in is An Almanac of Words at Play, by Willard R. Espy (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1975).

One addendum from my own memory: SEQUOIA is the shortest word to include all five vowels.

"Open-air" schools

Our grandparents were willing to make sacrifices and endure inconveniences when they were told by medical authorities what was needed to protect the public health.  These photos are from the turn of the last century, when the concern was to prevent transmission of pulmonary tuberculosis.
In the early 1900s, it was estimated that as many as 30 percent of school-age children in Providence carried tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that often attacked the lungs. Although many of the infected children showed no outward symptoms, the infection could lie dormant for years and ultimately contribute to death in adulthood. To combat this, medical experts urged the importance of plenty of sunshine and fresh air. 
The Providence open-air experiment was viewed as a success by parents and educators. 
“After two years the school committee concluded that the experiment had more than met the expectations of its proponents,” wrote historian Richard Meckel in a 1995 article in Rhode Island History. “Virtually all the children attending the school had gained weight and improved in general health, and even a few had been able to return to normal classrooms.”.. 
In the light of the amount of tuberculosis found at autopsy in children dying of other diseases and from accident, we must recognize the fact that many school children are carrying about hidden foci of this disease, and is it not probable that those are who are suffering with anemia, debility, etc., are likely to be the ones?”.. 
In 1913, Providence finally opened a second open-air school. That number reached 11 in 1926, and these special facilities would serve the city for another 31 years. By that time, the concept of an open-air classroom had spread to more than 150 American cities, aiding both the minds and bodies of thousands of students. 
But advancements in antibiotics in the 1940s allowed doctors to treat tuberculosis with drugs instead of fresh air. As children’s health improved, the need for open-air classrooms in Providence became less urgent. Spanning five decades, the city’s grand experiment with open-air learning came to an end in 1957, when the program’s few remaining classrooms were closed.

RelevantBring Back the Open Air School (with a hat tip to reader escapefromWisconsin)

In memoriam: Gary Strandemo (1946-2020)

St. Cloud - Gary Allen Strandemo of St. Cloud, Minnesota died peacefully on Thursday, September 3, 2020 due to complications of leukemia. Gary was born January 12, 1946 in Faribault, Minnesota to Raymond and Eileen "Sid" (Hanson) Strandemo. He graduated from Kenyon High School in 1964 and from Harvard University in 1968. Gary married Barbara Lund, his soul mate, on June 12, 1971.  He completed Medical School at the University of Minnesota in 1975 and spent his internship year in San Jose, California. After returning to Minnesota he worked for the Indian Health Service in Cass Lake and Minneapolis for five years. Gary and Barb moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1979 to start Central Minnesota Group Health Plan, the first member-owned HMO in the area. As Group Health transitioned into Health Partners, Gary continued to provide family-centered medical care, clinic leadership, and community service for 34 years. Gary's medical practice reflected his life values; he believed all people deserve quality health care and to be treated with respect and kindness. He retired from medical practice in 2013.  
Gary's greatest source of pride and joy was his family and he loved being dad to his daughters Rosa and Ana. He treasured and nurtured his relationships with family and friends. He travelled widely, driven by his interest in the world and its people. Gary and Barb had a special affection for Guatemala, the land of their daughters' birth. He excelled at and was shaped by his high school and college baseball and football team experiences. Biking and Nordic skiing became passions that reflected his lifelong athleticism. Music, reading, and a good conversation brought him much pleasure. He cared deeply for the earth, was awed by the natural world, and was an avid birdwatcher. His spirit was nourished by frequent visits to the wilderness at Holden Village in the Cascades. Gary was known for his humanitarianism and he generously volunteered his gifts both locally and in Latin America. He was an active Rotarian and played a leadership role in building wells in the Dominican Republic and establishing the International Student Exchange Program in St Cloud.  
Gary lived his life fully and with a generous open heart. He deeply believed "we all do better when we all do better" and his hope was for change to a more respectful, kind, and inclusive country. Gary is survived by his wife Barbara Strandemo; daughter Rosa Strandemo; mother Eileen "Sid" Strandemo; sisters Ann (Dale) Stensland and Mary (Rick) Ohland; brother Mark (Trudy) Strandemo; many nephews, nieces, and extended family members; and godchildren Eva and Eamon. Gary was preceded in death by his daughter Ana Strandemo, father Raymond Strandemo, and brother Davis Strandemo. Private memorial services for family members will be held at this time and a celebration of Gary's life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Common Hope, 1400 Energy Park Drive, Suite 23, St. Paul, Minnesota 5510.
Gary's family and mine have ties going back three generations to the pioneer settlers in Kenyon and Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota.  In my view his obituary above is an excellent example of a "life well lived."

"Mommy, what's a pealess whistle?"

"More than 140 years after it made its debut, in English soccer, the whistle is the most recognizable sound in sports... But in the age of coronavirus, the whistle may face an existential challenge, or, at the very least, a serious rethinking. To use almost any whistle requires a deep breath and then a forced burst of droplet-filled air — things that, during a pandemic, deeply concern medical experts...

About a decade ago, Fox 40 also began making and marketing an electronic whistle. It operates with the push of a button, and its tones can be adjusted by a switch on the side. The current versions on the market produce sounds that range from 96 to 120 decibels (or from the sound of a lawn mower to that of an ambulance siren)."

14 September 2020

"American Pathogen"

"American Pathogen is a 30-minute documentary film, narrated by Jeffrey Wright, that tells the full story of the administration’s historic mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak in the US – from the dismantling of our preparedness system starting in 2016 to the “missing months” of inaction in early 2020. 

 This election, we need to remember: it didn’t have to be this way."

13 September 2020

"I never saw a purple cow..." (updated)

First, about the squirrel in the photo.

It was trapped, photographed, and released in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.   The photo shows it inside what looks like a Hav-A-Heart trap.
The Emerts currently do not know why the squirrel is purple. "We have no idea whatsoever. It's really purple. People think we dyed it, but honestly, we just found it and it was purple."
Some initial suggestions were that the squirrel had gotten into purple ink or paint.  Here is a more ominous suggestion:
That color looks very much like Tyrian purple. It is a natural organobromide compound seen in molluscs and rarely found in land animals. The squirrel has too much bromide in its system possibly from all the bromide laced frack water its been drinking. I would raise the alarm. This could mean bladder cancer for humans down the road.
Some of the photos at the link suggest that the squirrel had some non-purple hairs, which I think would argue against a metabolic cause.

Further details and photos at Accuweather (where someone has suggested the squirrel robbed a bank and triggered the dye pack).

Now, about the title of the post.  The squirrel story reminded me of a poem my father recited to me about 60 years ago (almost certainly the only poem he ever learned):
I never saw a purple cow.
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one.
This nonsense rhyme was written in 1895 by Gelett Burgess, who invented the word "blurb."
The word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess's short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work and with, as Burgess' publisher B. W. Huebsch described it,
"the picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel"
In this case the jacket proclaimed "YES, this is a 'BLURB'!" and the picture was of a (fictitious) young woman "Miss Belinda Blurb" shown calling out, described as "in the act of blurbing." The name and term stuck for any publisher's contents on a book's back cover, even after the picture was dropped and only the complimentary text remained.
The poem was very popular in its day, and became something of a meme, parodied by other writers of the day -
I've never seen a purple cow.
My eyes with tears are full.
I've never seen a purple cow,
And I'm a purple bull.
And later by Ogden Nash -
I've never seen an abominable snowman,
I'm hoping not to see one,
I'm also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.
- and other writers -
I never was a vitamin;
I never hope to be one;
but I can tell you anyhow;
I'd rather C than B1!
Burgess became so exasperated that the nonsense rhyme overshadowed his other work that he eventually wrote this sequel:
Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!
That's enough.  And as I'm proofreading this post, I have to note that it is totally a coincidence that the title of the book and the postulated toxin in the squirrel both involve "bromide."

Reposted from 2012 to add this stunning photo of a purple toad [Atelopus barbotini], endemic to the uplands of French Guiana:

Western wildfires resulting in corrugated eggs

Hat tip to Dredgen Memor for providing a link to this superb webpage listing and illustrating abnormalities of eggshells, where heat stress is listed as one of the causes of corrugated eggs.

Lost treasures

Signs of the times


12 September 2020

Moving past Grihastha

A very brief excerpt from an article in The Atlantic ["Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think."]
I told him my conundrum: Many people of achievement suffer as they age, because they lose their abilities, gained over many years of hard work. Is this suffering inescapable, like a cosmic joke on the proud? Or is there a loophole somewhere—a way around the suffering?

Acharya answered elliptically, explaining an ancient Hindu teaching about the stages of life, or ashramas. The first is Brahmacharya, the period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. The second is Grihastha, when a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and creates a family. In this second stage, the philosophers find one of life’s most common traps: People become attached to earthly rewards—money, power, sex, prestige—and thus try to make this stage last a lifetime.

The antidote to these worldly temptations is Vanaprastha, the third ashrama, whose name comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “retiring” and “into the forest.” This is the stage, usually starting around age 50, in which we purposefully focus less on professional ambition, and become more and more devoted to spirituality, service, and wisdom. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop working when you turn 50—something few people can afford to do—only that your life goals should adjust.

Vanaprastha is a time for study and training for the last stage of life, Sannyasa, which should be totally dedicated to the fruits of enlightenment. In times past, some Hindu men would leave their family in old age, take holy vows, and spend the rest of their life at the feet of masters, praying and studying. Even if sitting in a cave at age 75 isn’t your ambition, the point should still be clear: As we age, we should resist the conventional lures of success in order to focus on more transcendentally important things.
More at the source, which is worth reading (and I think the embedded graphic is brilliant).

Addendum: a relevant comment from reader Chemsolver -
This reminds off Sir Bertrand Russell: How to grow old

"An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done."

09 September 2020

Divertimento #183 (gifs again)

(I'm still on a semi-blogcation, but I'll post some of the gifs that have accumulated, 
just to clear out bookmarks while I continue to focus on some non-blog home projects)

Comparison of presidents' rounds of golf
This is how heavily armed Mexican cartels are
Holding a BLM sign in Arkansas
Replay this over and over (unmuted, sound up)
Colin Kaepernick jersey used to demonstrate attack dog

Nature and science
Surface tension
Bird nest in a stitched leaf
How to feed a stingray
A nest of scorpions
Lungs inflating (ex vivo)
How ribbon worms capture prey
Praying mantis vs. bee
Releasing dew from a mist tent
Cuttlefish catches prey
Sea angel (info)

More animals
Siberian husky sheds for the summer
Alpha male gorilla blocks the road
Snowy owl is fluffy
Squirrel asking for water
Crocodile runs faster on mud than you can
Rescued bald eagle released

Impressive or clever
Hiding wood screws
Laser removes surface rust
Painting with a marionette
Interesting door
Recycling aluminum cans
Hyper-realistic cakes [related article about fondant hate]
Immense aquarium tank
Sorting pomegranates by size
Precision haircuts
Artist at work

Sports and athleticism
Great football run, or bad tackling? (Derrick Henry)

Fails and wtf (trigger warning for various consequences)
Woman's response to being asked to put on a mask
Trying to fill gas tank
Collapse of a jade mine
Attempt to stowaway inside a jet engine
People taking fuel from an overturned tanker truck
Intentional asphyxiation during the "suffocating game"
Woman gets flashback while vandalizing car
Deceptive food label
Faulty zip line breaks

Humorous or cheerful
Taking homeless dogs for a ride
Crow playing on children's teeter-totter
Dog helps during basketball practice
Man rescues tortoise from intersection
Dog with tetanus nursed back to health

The embedded images are digital microscope views of insects from the Spiky, Hairy, Shiny: Insects of LA exhibit, via The Guardian.

08 September 2020

Now what we need is some ham...

The discussion thread appropriately notes that getting this close to a cassowary's nest is a major health risk.

07 September 2020

Covidiot mesh mask

The discussion thread at Trashy has comments from people who have already encountered these in real life.  These do not follow the mask mandate rules in some states.   Business owners and employees can (and do) refuse to serve patrons wearing these travesties, as for example...
"I do security for a bar and we've already had several people trying to come in with those thinking they're being clever. If they keep arguing with me I just tell them unfortunately you are wearing what appears to be cut up stockings on your face which leads me to believe that you are under the influence of some sort of substance and I cannot safely let you in"

"We don't see enough normal skin"

Absolutely true.  Children especially form abnormal standards for "normal" skin and become unnecessarily distressed by their own imperfections.  Normal skin has probably not been shown in movies or television since the beginning of the technology.  Now a model is decrying the use of filters on phones.

A recent survey, carried out by Girlguiding, found a third of girls and young women will not post selfies online without using a filter to change their appearance. Thirty-nine percent of the 1,473 respondents, aged 11-21, said they felt upset that they could not look the same in real life as they did online. 
The survey results mirror the worries of make-up artist and curve model Sasha Pallari, who recently launched the hashtag #filterdrop in the hope of seeing "more real skin" on Instagram. "I just thought, 'does anybody realise how dangerous this is?'" she said, recounting the moment she spotted a global beauty brand had reposted filtered content from an influencer advertising its products. "I don't want children to grow up thinking they are not good enough because of what they see on social media.".. 
"Nearing the end of the lockdown period I received an email from a parent highlighting their worries of a change in their child's behaviours," Miss McGrath said. "The email went on to say that the child was having issues with their physical appearance. I was taken aback. This child is four, just four. "It then made me feel a deepening sense of sadness, that at such a young age our children are now becoming aware of their physical appearance." The four-year-old then asked Miss McGrath why she wore make-up every day - a question she couldn't answer... 
Responding to the comments, Miss Pallari said: "It's a shame there's still not enough acknowledgement of how dangerous face-changing and face-morphing filters are, regardless of being shown in the Effects Gallery or not. They can still be found really easily just by tying in simple words like 'beautiful'. "Filters are most commonly used via the creators and the influencers with the largest platforms, which reach far more impressionable people from their stories than by searching for a filter. "I hope it's not long until responsibility is taken for how much slimming down a nose in less than five seconds is causing prolific damage to our confidence."

Proper dress for a "Zoom wedding"

Pajama bottoms are better than "nothing" in case the minister asks the congregation to "please rise."  Via.

05 September 2020

Asbestos in a Kent cigarette filter (1950s)

And I agree with the comment at the via that it appears to be crocidolite ("blue asbestos"), which is the most carcinogenic of the asbestiform minerals.

Curiosities #4

In the 19th century, the famous horror writer, Egdar Allan Poe, wrote a book called ‘The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’. It was about four survivors of a shipwreck who were in an open boat for many days before they decided to kill and eat the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker. Some years later, in 1884, the yawl, Mignonette, foundered, with only four survivors, who were in an open boat for many days. Eventually the three senior members of the crew killed and ate the cabin boy. The name of the cabin boy was Richard Parker. 

In 1930s Detroit, a man named Joseph Figlock was to become an amazing figure in a young (and, apparently, incredibly careless) mother’s life. As Figlock was walking down the street, the mother’s baby fell from a high window onto Figlock. The baby’s fall was broken and Figlock and the baby were unharmed. A year later, the selfsame baby fell from the selfsame window, again falling onto Mr. Figlock as he was passing beneath. Once again, both of them survived the event. 

A German mother who photographed her infant son in 1914 left the film to be developed at a store in Strasbourg. In those days some film plates were sold individually. World War I broke out and unable to return to Strasbourg, the woman gave up the picture for lost. Two years later she bought a film plate in Frankfurt, over 100 miles away, to take a picture of her newborn daughter. When developed the film turned out to be a double exposure, with the picture of her daughter superimposed on the earlier picture of her son. Through some incredible twist of fate, her original film, never developed, had been mislabeled as unused, and had eventually been resold to her. 

In 1973, actor Anthony Hopkins agreed to appear in “The Girl From Petrovka”, based on a novel by George Feifer. Unable to find a copy of the book anywhere in London, Hopkins was surprised to discover one lying on a bench in a train station. It turned out to be George Feifer’s own annotated (personal) copy, which Feifer had lent to a friend, and which had been stolen from his friend’s car. 

In 1953, television reporter Irv Kupcinet was in London to cover the coronation of Ellizabeth II. In one of the drawers in his room at the Savoy he found some items that, by their identification, belonged to a man named Harry Hannin. Coincidentally, Harry Hannin - a basketball star with the famed Harlem Globetrotters - was a good friend of Kupcinet’s. But the story has yet another twist. Just two days later, and before he could tell Hannin of his lucky discovery, Kupcinet received a letter from Hannin. In the letter, Hannin told Kucinet that while staying at the Hotel Meurice in Paris, he found in a drawer a tie - with Kupcinet’s name on it. 

Reposted from 2009. More examples at Listverse

02 September 2020

Photos of our new local public high school

Selected images from a gallery depicting the new 592,000 square foot high school in Verona, Wisconsin, starting with the reception desk and atrium...

Then the "commercial kitchen" for culinary classes, the "competitive pool," and the performing arts center:

Some local taxpayers felt the $181 million cost was excessive.  I'll defer commentary since I have no grounds for comparison.  Perhaps this is the way schools are being built all around the country.

More photos and brief explanatory notes at Madison.com.

How to buy votes when you're president

"The U.S. government will implement an across-the-board payroll tax deferral for about 1.3 million federal employees starting in mid-September, forcing some workers to take a temporary financial boost now that they likely will have to repay next year.

The policy, confirmed Monday by a senior administration official, comes in response to a widely panned policy directive issued by President Trump earlier in August. Unions have sharply criticized the government’s decision, fearing federal workers may not have a choice in whether to take the deferral — resulting in them receiving smaller paychecks in 2021 until the past-due taxes are paid off.

Trump’s order specifically targets the 6.2 percent tax that employers deduct from their workers’ wages so the government can fund Social Security. His directive postpones payment of those taxes until January, at which point employers are required to start collecting back what is owed, perhaps by withholding double the amount they usually take until May. The deferral applies only to people who earn up to $4,000 on a biweekly basis, and less than $104,000 annually.

"See - your paycheck just got bigger.  You're welcome.  Vote for me. "

Oh, also, if you see reports of "wages going up" recently... that's bullshit too, as explained by Bloomberg:

Measures of U.S. wage growth which have surged despite staggering levels of unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic reflect disproportionate job losses among low-income workers, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Mary Daly argues in a new study that she co-authored.

Although the unemployment rate jumped to a multi-decade record 14.7% in April, median weekly earnings increased by more than 10% in the second quarter over the same period last year. This rise does not mean wages are increasing, but is occurring as more low-income workers than higher-wage earners lost their jobs during the pandemic. That left an overall pool of higher-earning workers from which to calculate the data, Erin Crust, Mary Daly and Bart Hobijn wrote in an economic letter published Monday on the San Francisco Fed’s website.

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