31 October 2020

Divertimento #184 (gifs)

A millionaire's yacht vs. billionaire's yacht
A young man creates a vlog entry about being a father.
Harvesting salt
How tequila is made
Decorating a gourd with electricity (note the comments)
Carpet-cleaning videos are satisfying to watch
Hair preparation and makeup for Beijing opera
Manufacturing boats using a blow mould
Minesweeper finds a mine
This plastic thingy is a cellphone jail

Nature and Science
Thunderstorm generates a red sprite

Child loses food to bird.  Amazingly fast.
Inversion of a video of hanging bats
A moose walks by
Kids playing on a Volvo
Otters have pockets

Impressive or clever
Splitting a large boulder
Caterpillar creates a rolled leaf as a refuge from predators
The immense power of the Beirut explosion.  More here, with aftermath
Awesomely complicated antique lockbox
Pulling a post out of the ground
Expert-level sleight of hand explained (gif)
Surprisingly smart cow

Sports and athleticism
Dancer from the 1940s doing flips
Four-year-old hits a hole-in-one in golf
Superb bowl
Long disc golf hole-in-one

Fails and wtf
Police mistake a family's SUV for a stolen motorcycle
White student tells black student "go pick my cotton"
Three-year-old child tangled in a kite string [no injury] [another view] [third]
Unattended candle starts house fire
Man cuts down a tree.  House breaks its fall.
Texas trump supporters in trucks harass Biden/Harris campaign bus on highway.

Humorous or cheerful
Crab doesn't want to be someone's dinner
Little girl sees father without his beard
Swan tells lady to put her damn mask on

The embedded images are not actual book covers.  They are artist Matt Stevens' conception of modern movies as vintage books.  Dozens more examples at the link.  Impressive graphic art skills.

Not a Halloween mask

But on the upside, he did find out what was in the hollow tree, via.

29 October 2020

"If ye love me" (Philip Wilby)

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may abide with you forever;
E'en the sp'rit of truth.
— John 14:15–17
Performed here by the absolutely superb choir at Trinity Church Boston.  The video is a coronavirus-necessitated Zoom presentation of the choir members in their homes, from one of Trinity's online services earlier this year.   Trinity's live worship presentations are available here.

What is the plural of "gin and tonic" ?

 "Mark Twain, famously defensive of his right to punctuate exactly how he wanted to, purportedly grew weary of criticism of his sometimes unconventional choices and published a piece of writing that was wholly without punctuation marks, but with a string of commas, semicolons, and other marks at the bottom of the text, along with a note telling the reader to put them where he or she pleased since Twain clearly couldn't be trusted with them. (The sources that mention this piece report it variously as a letter or as a short story; I have yet to find the Twain composition that matches this description.)"

"... Twain was excoriating a proofreader, a professional figure who frequently met with his wrath.  Ninety percent of the "labor & vexation" of writing, Twain insisted, "consists in annihilating their ignorant & purposeless punctuation & restoring my own."

[Twain]: "Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer's proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me... & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray."

"Samuel Taylor Coleridge lavished praise on the literary mastery displayed by Daniel Defoe for his use of a semicolon in Robinson Crusoe - a semicolon which, it turns out, doesn't appear in the majority of editions of the book.  "In effect," one critic summed up, "Coleridge has chosen to praise the work of a typesetter contemporary to himself, not Defoe."  So in terms of exegesis of a book, there are a lot of unknowns that render it hard to make claims about what an author's intentions really were."

"One night, after an especially exhausting conference in the city, I walked up and ordered "two gins and tonic."  The person manning the kiosk was briefly speechless at being confronted with such an idiot as myself who couldn't even order properly.  Finally, perhaps after considering the possibility I might be too drunk already to serve, she asked me if I meant "two gin and tonics."  I opted not to go into the pluralization rule..."

Gleanings from Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark.  This will be an interesting read for copyeditors; for others, it's probably TMI.  A quick internet search didn't yield a plural of "gin and tonic" written in stone.  I found "gins and tonic" "gin and tonics" "gins and tonics" and even "gin and tonic" as the plural of "gin and tonic" as in "I'll have two gin and tonic."

Addendum from reader Craig E.:
"It is a curious fact, and one to which no-one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand variations on this phonetic theme. 
The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian ‘chinanto/mnigs’ which is ordinary water served just above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan 'tzjin-anthony-ks’ which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the only one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that their names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

---Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

26 October 2020

Baby crab

Fingerprint for scale, via.

Medieval pilgrim badges

Pilgrim badges are decorations worn by some of those who undertake a Christian pilgrimage to a place considered holy by the Church. They became very popular among Catholics in the later medieval period. Typically made of lead alloy, they were sold as souvenirs at sites of Christian pilgrimage and bear imagery relating to the saint venerated there. The production of pilgrim badges flourished in the Middle Ages in Europe, particularly in the 14th and 15th centuries, but declined after the Protestant Reformation of the mid-16th century. Tens of thousands have been found since the mid-19th century, predominantly in rivers. Together they form the largest corpus of medieval art objects to survive to us today... 
Pilgrim badges were cheaply mass-produced in bronze, cuttle-bone or limestone moulds or, less frequently, by die-stamping. Their easy reproducibility and modest media meant that everyone could afford them. British pilgrim badges often have an integral pin and clasp on the reverse whereas continental European badges more usually have sewing loops, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Pilgrims wore badges on their outer clothing and hats or around the neck to show where they had been on pilgrimage...

Badges were made in the Middle Ages for purposes beyond pilgrim souvenirs; livery badges were presented to employees and allies by great figures, and became highly controversial in the decades leading to the Wars of the Roses. Some political badges have survived, including a fine one for the Black Prince. Other badges, with motifs such as lovers' tokens and mini brooches, were perhaps a form of cheap jewelry. Erotic badges showing winged phalluses or vulvas dressed as pilgrims are prolific, although their cultural significance is still debated.
The embedded image shows a pilgrim badge comprised of three phalluses carrying a crowned vulva in a procession [1375-1450].  Found in Brugge.

25 October 2020

Harper's Index #8

Some of these date back to the magazine issues of the 1990s.

Rank of Father’s Day among days on which the largest number of collect calls are made:  1

Rank of flowers, perfume, and fire extinguishers among Mother’s Day gifts Americans consider “v. appropriate”:  1-3

Percentage of Americans who say that women “sometimes deserve to be hit by their husbands or boyfriends: 12

Percentage who say that men “sometimes deserve to be hit by their wives or girlfriends”: 29

Number of students enrolled in “The Films of Keanu Reeves,” a course offered at a Pasadena arts college:  15

Percentage of all magazines on US newsstands last year that went unsold:  57

Ratio of the average speed of growth of human hair to the average speed of growth of Kentucky bluegrass:  1:7

Maximum flying speed of a dragonfly, in miles per hour:  30

Number of federal workers employed full-time to manage national-security documents: 32,397

Estimated number of standard-sized helium balloons required to lift a ten-year old off the ground:  2,450

Number of the world’s 20 most populous cities that meet WHO clean-air standards:  0

Number of IUDs on display at Toronto’s new Museum on the History of Contraception:  319

Number of phrases spoken by Mattel’s new Super Talk Barbie:  100,000

Pounds of tomatoes used in the “battle” at the Festival de la Tomatina, in Spain:  880,000

Amount for which a woman is suing the Pennsylvania lottery commission because she has never won:  $1,500,000

Number of major league baseball players since 1876 who hit a home run the first time at bat:  69

Number of the 55 no longer playing who never hit another:  11

Price of a 4 1/2 - pound steak dinner at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch, if consumed within an hour:  $0

Number of the 22,000 customers attempting this since 1960 who were successful:  4,200

Number of paramedics on duty last fall for the speed-eating contest at the Artichoke Festival in California:  2

Number of contestants who have ever required the Heimlich maneuver:  1

Number of months of government-paid leave allowed Swedish parents:  12

Pounds of feed forced down a duck’s throat each day in the last month of its life to produce foie gras:  6

Tons of carbon dioxide produced by one US automobile in its lifetime:  42

Age, in years, of two sweet potatoes on display at the Potato Museum in Albuquerque, NM:  3,794

Gallons of hamburger grease sold by McDonald’s since 1955:  281,250,000

Height, in feet, of a West Virginia prison wall scaled by an escaping inmate using a cord made of dental floss:  18

Number of “offensive” words to be dropped from the 1995 Official Scrabble Dictionary:  100

Number of stories a New York City cat fell last June without sustaining serious injury:  46

Number of stories a cat must fall before reaching its maximum falling velocity of 60 mph:  5

Sheets of uncut dollar bills bought from the Treasury Dept for use as wrapping paper by a Japanese florist:  500
Rank of the local, state, and federal governments among the top three employers in Indianapolis:  1,2,3
Chances that a Santa Claus appearing in a mall this month has a college degree:  2 in 3
Price paid at auction this year for Elvis Presley’s American Express card:  $41,500
Estimated percentage of the $6.7 billion spent on Superfund cleanups since 1980 that has gone to lawyers:  85
Rank of Missouri among states with the greatest number of deaths [per capita]each year caused by hot weather:  1
Membership of the British Sausage Appreciation Society:  10,000
Number of women asked to leave an exhibit of Rubens nudes on Ohio because they were breast-feeding:  1
Pentagon spending 1992 on unnecessary items due to inventory errors, according to GAO:  $40,000,000,000
Percentage of female congressional staffers who say they have been sexually harassed by a congressman:  11
Chances that an American over the age of 45 is taking a prescription drug:  2 in 3
Membership of Philadelphia’s Silent Meeting Club, at whose gatherings talking is forbidden:  80
Number of Donahue shows broadcast since 1967 devoted to transsexualism and cross-dressing:  16
Estimated number of Egyptians who are living in Cairo’s mausoleums:  500,000

Amount the federal government spent each day last year on “intelligence”:  $79,000,000
Percentage of US spies in E. Germany since 1948 who proved to be double agents, according to the CIA:  100

Hip measurement, in inches, of a size-eight dress sold in the United States last year:  38
Hip measurement of a size-eight dress sold sixty years ago:  33.5

Percentage of American colleges that do not require an American history course for graduation:  80
Number of US universities that have a Taco Bell Distinguished Professorship of Fast Service:  1
Number of abandoned nuclear reactors in the world’s oceans:  9
Pounds of toxic chemicals released during each space-shuttle launch:  77,000

p.s. - I'm working with a new platform for the blog and have no idea why it sometimes chooses to double-space after a carriage return.  It's maddening...

24 October 2020

The original "The Ladykillers" is coming back

"The much-loved British caper starring Alec Guinness is being reissued, 65 years on, fully restored from the original negative. It was shot at Ealing Studios and around King’s Cross in London, where photographers captured the stars relaxing on set." [more pix at the link]
The 1955 version was IMHO way better than the 2004 remake (it carries a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).  I didn't realize that Katie Johnson (pictured above) won the BAFTA that year for Best Actress in a Leading Role,


"Senate Majority Mitch McConnell told his Republican colleagues Tuesday that he has privately been urging the Trump White House not to strike a coronavirus relief deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the November 3 election, warning that an agreement could interfere with his chamber's plan to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court early next week...

While McConnell's stated excuse for standing in the way of relief is his commitment to confirming Barrett as quickly as possible, that justification may be intended to obscure the fact that many Senate Republicans are simply opposed to additional coronavirus aid, whether or not the package would disrupt the right-wing judge's path to the Supreme Court. Others have warned in recent days that in preparation for a potential Trump loss next month, McConnell is laying the groundwork to force crippling austerity under a Biden administration..."

For fox ache.

Sawfish sword (Papua New Guinea)

An awesome weapon that could be used in peacetime to harvest wheat.  This photo from an auction site, where it was described as 
"A decorated sawfish rostrum weapon probably Papua New Guinea, forty toothed blade polychrome painted around repeated dark crescents, raised crocodile head red-clay moulding over proximal end, inlaid with nassa shell scales and cowry shell eyes, mounted on carved wooden zoomorphic grip with human face pommel, 33in. (84cm.) long."
Presumably a nineteenth-century item.  The hammer price was not published.  Via the always interesting Artefact Porn subreddit.

Minnesota Golden Gopher football

The virus-delayed season starts a couple hours from now.  At the start of last year (highlights of the season embedded above) I offered the bold prediction that the unranked Gophers would finish the season ranked in the top-25 nationally.  In fact they finished at #10.

This year no season prediction is reliable because of the coronavirus.  The Big Ten conference has very rigid standards, testing each player multiple times per week and if a player tests positive, he has to isolate from all team activities for three weeks.  Since most of the Big Ten campuses are in the midwest and in the center of the coronavirus resurgence, it is almost impossible that the football teams will get through the season without major disruptions of their available personnel.

23 October 2020

Unhappiness resulting from too many choices

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

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

Reposted from last year to add these interesting thoughts from a column in Harper's:
Even modest restaurants in Japan often present you with a prix fixe menu. Freedom doesn’t mean an abundance of choice so much as liberation from the burden of too much choice.

It took me a long time, after meeting my wife, to see that the kindest and most thoughtful thing to do in many situations was not to ask her where she wanted to eat or go. To take the decision myself was to free her from both the burden of choice and the responsibility that follows (knowing that, when it came to what to wear or what to eat at home, she’d extend the same kindness by making the decisions for me).

In Japan a son traditionally follows his father into his profession, even if that’s the profession of monk or musician. Rather than choosing what he’ll be good at, he aims to be good at what’s chosen for him.

20 October 2020

New location for salivary glands discovered

"Any modern anatomy book will show just three major types of salivary glands: one set near the ears, another below the jaw and another under the tongue. “Now, we think there is a fourth,” said Dr. Matthijs Valstar, a surgeon and researcher at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and an author on the study, published last month in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology...

The new find, Dr. Vogel said, might help explain why people who undergo radiation therapy for cancer of the head or neck so often end up with chronic dry mouth and swallowing problems. Because these obscure glands weren’t known to doctors, “nobody ever tried to spare them” from such treatments, Dr. Vogel said."

The full study is here:
"To our knowledge, this is the first description of paired macroscopic (sero)mucous gland locations in the human posterolateral nasopharyngeal wall, and an indication of their clinical relevance in RT for HNC. Based on its predominant location over the torus tubarius, we propose the name “tubarial glands”. These gland locations were present as macroscopic structures in the PSMA PET/CT scans of all 100 studied individuals, and in two investigated cadavers (one of each gender). Microscopically, they indeed showed salivary gland tissue, highly concentrated bilaterally near the torus tubarius, with macroscopically visible draining duct openings towards the nasopharyngeal wall. High-dose RT to this area lead to significant clinical toxicity. These findings support the identification of the tubarial glands as a new anatomical and functional entity, representing a part of the salivary gland system."

Sobriety test


The Hunter Biden scandal summarized

I have literally not been following the story, but I found this summary of it today.

"Good night, Billy. Sweet dreams..."

(via) I was immediately reminded of this old New Yorker cartoon:

"Liberal mob chaos" predicted if Biden wins

"... if Biden should somehow manage to win, "liberal mob chaos" will take over the streets of U.S. cities... a Trump loss—improbable as she believes that may be—would create a "crazy transition of power" that will shake the country... I do think America will be in big trouble if Joe Biden wins the presidency because of the type of chaos and madness that we saw in Seattle and Portland and other places is the type of liberal mob chaos that will take place in communities across this country. Joe Biden has shown he is unwilling and unable to stand up to the liberal mob... What America will look like under a Joe Biden presidency, we can either continue under the path of prosperity, safety and security under this president or we can go down the path of socialism under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris..."

 Who is that speaking?  Oh...

.. never mind.  She's confusing a potential immense street party with liberal mob violence.

18 October 2020

15 October 2020

Blankets made from dog wool

A study published last month in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology adds to the evidence for the industry that produced this dog wool, as well as its ancient roots. The analysis by Iain McKechnie, a zooarchaeologist with the Hakai Institute, and two co-authors examined data collected over 55 years from over 16,000 specimens of the dog family across the Pacific Northwest. It suggests the vast majority of canid bones from 210 Pacific Coast archaeological sites, from Oregon to Alaska, were not from wild wolves, coyotes or foxes. Instead, they were domestic dogs, including small woolly ones that were kept for their fur...

By going back over numerous earlier studies, the team discovered that British Columbia was a pre-contact hot spot for domestic dogs. And on the south coast of British Columbia, smaller dogs that would have had woolly fur outnumbered larger hunting dogs, and “seemed to be a long-term, persistent part of Indigenous community life for the last 5,000 years,” Dr. McKechnie said.

These knee-high wool dogs weren’t combed like modern pooches but sheared like sheep.

Indeed, journal accounts from a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post at Fort Langley, British Columbia, in the early 19th century described canoes from people of the Cowichan tribe that were filled with “dogs more resembling Cheviot Lambs shorn of their wool.”

More at the New York Times (with pix of dog and pelt), and lots of data and discussion at the primary source link.  Here's the study area:

You learn something every day.

I didn't know there was a BLEXIT group

 As reported by ABC News:

Some guests for Saturday's White House event on the South Lawn, which will be President Donald Trump's first since testing positive for the coronavirus, had their travel and lodging paid for by controversial conservative activist Candace Owens' group BLEXIT, according to emails obtained by ABC News.\

Supporters, who are also scheduled to attend a separate BLEXIT event earlier in the day, were invited to attend a "HUGE outdoor rally" by the group and asked to fill out a form that notified them that BLEXIT, a campaign urging Black Americans to leave the Democratic Party, will be covering travel costs...

Following Trump's remarks, the BLEXIT group is also planning a demonstration at Black Lives Matter Plaza showing "support for law enforcement," according to the schedule...

Owens, who founded BLEXIT in 2018, told ABC News it is an organization "with the purpose of educating minorities about conservative principles (free markets, entrepreneurship, capitalism, etc) -- concepts and theories that can truly transform and uplift our communities." "We stand in unapologetic, stark contrast to leftist ideologies that have destroyed our communities for decades," Owens said.

You learn something every day.

A nature-friendly mowing technique

Back in mid-September I noticed that a large field across the street from our local library had been mowed in a piebald pattern, with substantial remaining patches of tall grasses and weeds.  As I turned the corner, I was delighted to see the field from another angle:

The patch I have highlighted with the yellow arrow is a large stand of milkweed.  Whoever mowed this field did so with the express purpose of allow any remaining Monarch butterflies there to complete their pupation and head toward Mexico.

This week the patch is still intact and the milkweed is releasing its seed.  I'm wondering now whether these remaining patches of grasses and weeds will remain up throughout the winter to serve as refuges for small mammals and other critters.

14 October 2020

Building a bridge in the 14th century (Prague)

"Charles Bridge is a historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158–1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. This new bridge was originally called Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge but has been "Charles Bridge" since 1870. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava (Moldau) until 1841, Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city's Old Town and adjacent areas. This "solid-land" connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe."

Very cool graphic.  Piledriver, cofferdam, waterwheel, and lots of stonework.

Neighbors being bros


A story to help you feel better about the world.

13 October 2020

Thoughts regarding the survival of coronavirus

Broadcast, print, and electronic media have carried quite a few reports recently regarding how long coronavirus will survive on various surfaces (paper mail, food packaging, doorknobs etc).  I have no special expertise in virology or viral biology, but my gut impression is that coronavirus primarily spreads like other respiratory viruses, via droplet nuclei and aerosolized particles, and that transmission by contact with fomites (physical objects) is a relatively unimportant factor in its epidemiology.

I no longer have access to the primary data on most medical articles, relying like everyone else on second- or third-hand interpretations of what a study discovered.  But yesterday I decided to chase one article down.  A report in LiveScience was titled "Coronavirus can survive on skin for 9 hours."  The study was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, which I understand to be a reputable journal, and the original data is available in pdf form.

The image embedded at the top is Figure 1 from the article - a composite illustration of the methodology and the results.  I don't question the findings per se, but I have some concerns re the extrapolation to real life.  Note that the bar graph shows a decline in detectable virus (FFU=focus forming units, equivalent to colony forming units in bacterial studies) from about 10^5 at time zero to 10^2 one hour later.  Clearly the virus did survive that interval, but it incurred a 3-log-power decline in that time.

So how does this translate to real-life risk?  I don't know what constitutes a normal viral inoculum.  How many FFU are there in an aerosolized droplet?  On an infected person's hand when they touch a doorknob or someone else's hand?  The authors seems to acknowledge this in their discussion: "... since not only the virus stability but also the infectious dose and transmission route may greatly affect the risk of contact-transmission, future research needs to focus on factors other than virus stability."

After three decades spent writing and reviewing research grants and manuscripts for publication, I know that the main conclusion of most research is always that more research needs to be done.  Some of it may have been done already; if any readers know of relevant results, I'd be delighted to see the info in the comments section of his post.

The ginkgo tree produces sperm. Motile sperm.

YouTube link. (another, briefer, video here).

You learn something every day.  I knew that the ginko is a most unusual tree - often described as a "living fossil" little unchanged from the Permian era.  I certainly didn't know that it produces motile sperm.  Here are some excerpts from an interesting article in Harvard Magazine:
[In 1896] in Tokyo, Japanese botanist Sakugoro Hirase peered through his microscope at the inside of a female ginkgo tree’s ovule. The previous spring, a male ginkgo’s pollen had wafted on the wind toward a female ginkgo with many dangling pairs of round ovules. On the tip of an ovule, a secreted drop of gooey fluid captured and absorbed the pollen into an interior pollen chamber. The pollen had grown all through the summer and, as Hirase was astounded to observe, it had become a multiflagellated ginkgo sperm (three times larger than human sperm) that was swimming to fertilize a waiting egg cell.

“This was really momentous,” according to Del Tredici. “The discovery of motile sperm captured people’s attention. From the scientific point of view, motile sperm was considered to be a trait associated with evolutionarily primitive, non-seed plants such as mosses and ferns. And yet here was the ginkgo tree—clearly a seed-producing plant—with its motile sperm that linked non-seed plants to the more evolutionarily advanced conifers and angiosperms with pollen tubes and non-motile sperm..."

It takes about 133 days for the ginkgo pollen to develop into sperm that then flails its way to the egg and creates a growing embryo. Soon thereafter, in the fall, the fleshy seeds, containing a hard-shelled nut with a tiny embryo, drop to the ground... And then there was the mystery of the stinky fruits. On that trip to China, he learned that local nocturnal scavengers and carnivores like Chinese leopard cats and the masked palm civet ate the ginkgo’s fruit. He hypothesized that the stinky flesh mimicked the smell of rotting meat, a successful strategy to attract these creatures. The ginkgo nuts, in turn, were eventually excreted...
Oh, and BTW...
The 2008 and 2009 studies, Del Tredici said, "showed no significant effect by ginkgo-leaf extract in patients suffering from dementia or memory problems.
(Reposted from 2011 for Arbor Day 2015)  Reposted again to add this photo of an impressive ginko tree:


We offered the neighborhood children gourds one Halloween, and they were more popular than the candy.  I've never seen one like this, though.

New Zealand today

No masks or social distancing required - because they already did that, with a hard 6-week lockdown of the entire country.  And a lot of intelligent common-sense people.

Image cropped from the one at the via.

And BTW, this is Brazil today, filmed at a store opening with the pandemic still raging:

Rethinking the cerebellum

It used to be so simple.  The cerebral cortex handled cognition, while the cerebelllum coordinated motor skills.  Recent work indicates that simplistic view presents a false dichotomy.
An ancient part of the brain long ignored by the scientific world appears to play a critical role in everything from language and emotions to daily planning...

Schmahmann, who wasn't involved in the new study, has been arguing for decades that the cerebellum plays a key role in many aspects of human behavior, as well as mental disorders such as schizophrenia...

And what they found was that just 20 percent of the cerebellum was dedicated to areas involved in physical motion, while 80 percent was dedicated to areas involved in functions such as abstract thinking, planning, emotion, memory and language...

The cerebellum doesn't directly carry out tasks like thinking, just as it doesn't directly control movement, Marek says. Instead, he says, it appears to monitor the brain areas that are doing the work and make them perform better.

In essence, this structure appears to act as a kind of editor, constantly reviewing and improving a person's thoughts and decisions, Dosenbach says. If that's true, he says, it's no surprise that alcohol affects more than our physical movements.
This is fascinating.   Read more at NPR, where there is a link to the source article.

Reposted from 2018 to add excerpts from an interesting recent Atlantic article:
Investigations of the cerebellum have exploded over the last few years, says Catherine Stoodley, a neuroscientist at American University and a coauthor of a 2019 paper in the Annual Review of Neuroscience on the cerebellum’s role in cognition. “It’s very exciting.”..

Leiner also questioned why the cerebellum evolved to be so much larger in humans than in other animals. (According to one estimate, the human cerebellum is, on average, 2.8 times bigger than expected in primates our size.) Why would that be so, if all it did was coordinate movement?...

In the late 1990s, Schmahmann reported the first description of cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome after observing that people with cerebellar damage—due to degeneration or after tumor removal, strokes, and infection—exhibited a wide array of impairments in cognition and behavior. These included difficulties with abstract reasoning and planning, changes in personality...

Given the cerebellum’s myriad roles, some scientists suspect the structure may be involved in several brain-related disorders. The two conditions for which there is currently the most evidence are autism and schizophrenia...
Note: cerebellum is the Latin diminutive of cerebrum, and thus translates as "little brain."

10 October 2020

Word for the day: phasmids

The photo shows a variety of plant-mimic insects, apparently both mantids and at least one phasmid.  I had to look up the latter term:
The Phasmatodea (also known as Phasmida, Phasmatoptera or Spectra) are an order of insects whose members are variously known as stick insects, stick-bugs, walking sticks, or bug sticks. They are generally referred to as phasmatodeans, phasmids, or ghost insects. Phasmids in the family Phylliidae are called leaf insects, leaf-bugs, walking leaves, or bug leaves. The group's name is derived from the Ancient Greek φάσμα phasma, meaning an apparition or phantom, referring to their resemblance to vegetation while in fact being animals.
I have always been delighted to encounter stick insects, and a few years ago managed to get a nice photo of one who climbed onto my jeans while I was hiking in the Minnesota north woods:

So I was surprised to learn that they can be pests:
Phasmatodea are recognized as injurious to forest and shade trees by defoliation... Indeed, in the American South, as well as in Michigan and Wisconsin, the walking stick is a significant problem in parks and recreation sites, where it consumes the foliage of oaks and other hardwoods... The insects eat the entire leaf blade. In the event of heavy outbreaks, entire stands of trees can be completely denuded. Continuous defoliation over several years often results in the death of the tree. Because these species cannot fly, infestations are typically contained to a radius of a few hundred yards. Nevertheless, the damage incurred to parks in the region is often costly. Control efforts in the case of infestations have typically involved chemical pesticides; ground fires are effective at killing eggs but have obvious disadvantages. In New South Wales, research has investigated the feasibility of controlling stick insects using natural enemies such as parasitic wasps (Myrmecomimesis spp.).
You learn something every day.

"I don't like where this is headed..."

Evolution of the Republican party, as described by Garry Trudeau in his recent book Lewser.

"Knights of the Invisible Jungle of the Tiger's Eye"

A 1920s group self-described as anti-KKK.  This morning I couldn't find a proper online article about them, but they are discussed in a Google Books excerpt of Hooded Knights on the Niagara: The Ku Klux Klan in Buffalo, New York.  

Addendum:  an anonymous reader found this link with more information.

08 October 2020

"Mr. Robot"

I've just now started watching the 2015 Mr. Robot series.  I know it has a high Rotten Tomatoes score (98%) and won Emmy and Golden Globe awards, but when I started this I didn't realize it was a four-year-long series with 45 episodes.  I remember being disappointed when other multi-year series (Mad Men, Westworld) seemed to deteriorate or become incomprehensibly complicated as the years wore on, so I'd appreciate feedback from readers as to whether I should pursue this beyond the first year's ten episodes (I've enjoyed the first three - after adapting to the visual of Freddie Mercury as a computer hacker).


This road in Hungary offers a great example of "patchwork" repair (although I'm puzzled as to why the patches tend to be rectangular, since potholes tend to be round-ish). Via.

What characteristic do Greta Thunberg and Margaret Thatcher share?

Attitude.  Here's a relevant quote from Thatcher:
"In my work, you get used to criticisms. Of course you do, because there are a lot of people trying to get you down, but I always cheer up immensely if one is particularly wounding because I think well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. That is why my father always taught me: never worry about anyone who attacks you personally; it means their arguments carry no weight and they know it."

The man in charge of the U.S. Coronavirus Response Team

Via the Political Humor subreddit.

"Superhabitable" planets

"Earth is not necessarily the best planet in the universe. Researchers have identified two dozen planets outside our solar system that may have conditions more suitable for life than our own. Some of these orbit stars that may be better than even our sun.

A study led by Washington State University scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch recently published in the journal Astrobiology details characteristics of potential "superhabitable" planets, that include those that are older, a little larger, slightly warmer and possibly wetter than Earth. Life could also more easily thrive on planets that circle more slowly changing stars with longer lifespans than our sun...

Water is key to life and the authors argue that a little more of it would help, especially in the form of moisture, clouds and humidity. A slightly overall warmer temperature, a mean surface temperature of about 5 degrees Celsius (or about 8 degrees Fahrenheit) greater than Earth, together with the additional moisture, would be also better for life. This warmth and moisture preference is seen on Earth with the greater biodiversity in tropical rain forests than in colder, drier areas...

Among the 24 top planet candidates none of them meet all the criteria for superhabitable planets, but one has four of the critical characteristics, making it possibly much more comfortable for life than our home planet.

"It's sometimes difficult to convey this principle of superhabitable planets because we think we have the best planet," said Schulze-Makuch. "We have a great number of complex and diverse lifeforms, and many that can survive in extreme environments. It is good to have adaptable life, but that doesn't mean that we have the best of everything.""


"A 53-year-old woman with metastatic signet-ring appendiceal cancer receiving treatment with panitumumab presents with a 2-month history of trichomegaly."  

A case from the New England Journal of Medicine, apparently a result of treatment with an epidermal growth factor receptor antagonist. 

Antipoaching rangers in Zambezia

Underappreciated world-class heroes IMHO, having to deal on a daily basis with armed poachers, the wildlife, and the man-sized traps set by the poachers.  Via.

"The Speed Cubers"

I watched this documentary on Netflix earlier this week.  It is a pleasant respite from the internet, politics, pandemics etc.  I think you will enjoy it if you've ever solved a Rubik's cube (or tried to), or have a friend or family member on the autistic spectrum.  And it only requires about 40 minutes of your time.

03 October 2020

Happy little girl

Let's end the day with a cheerful photo, via MadeMeSmile, where the top comment is "It's a trap.  Don't grow up."

Saddest photo I've seen in a long time

Oluvil, Sri Lanka.  "Elephants forage for food at a rubbish dump encroaching on their jungle habitat. Examination of dead elephants has revealed undigested polythene and other plastic waste."  Photograph: Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images, via The Guardian.

Privileged person

Republican senator from Mississiippi.  Via facepalm.

Viking maxims

Gleanings from the ninth-century Hávamál:
"There is no better load a man can carry than much common sense; no worse a load than too much drink."

"Never part with your weapons when out in the fields; you never know when you will need your spear."

"Praise no day until evening, no wife until buried, no sword until tested, no maid until bedded, no ice until crossed, no ale until drunk."

"No need to give too much to a man, a little can buy much thanks; with half a loaf and a tilted jug I often won me a friend."

"Confide in one, never in two; confide in three, and the whole world knows."
Other items of interest:
"The Scandinavians were pioneers in the use of skis and skates.  Bone skates fashioned from the metapodials of horses, cattle and deer have been found in vast numbers at may archaeological sites in Scandinavia, and also in the Viking city of York in England; the Old Norse word for skate, isleggr, means literally "ice leg-bone."  They were simply smoothed down on one side, and cut to fit a foot.  The skate would be attached by thongs at heel and sometimes toe, and the skater would propel himself with a spiked stick, not lifting his feet from the ice."

"... was built in the traditional Icelandic fashion with thick walls of turves laid on two foundation-courses of rough stones, and with a turf roof."  TIL that "turves" is a plural of "turf."

"... when he reached Iceland the following summer, it was to be met with the news that his father had upped sticks and started a new life in Greenland..."  Etymology apparently from the use of "stick" to refer to a ship's mast, which would be elevated when preparing to sail.  In Britain the phrase is colloquially used to refer to packing up and moving one's habitation.  A more familiar version would be to "pull up stakes," which I always assumed referred to corner markers on a parcel of land.

"In Main Street" [Alexandria, Minnesota] itself the eye is gladdened by the sight of a huge concrete sculpture of a Viking warrior with a targe bearing the words 'Alexandria - Birthplace of America.'"  Etymology ultimately from the Old Norse targa ("round shield') and related to the Old French targe ("buckler'), a targe was a small shield.  And from it we get the word target.  New word for me; you learn something every day.
This was an interesting book and a worthwhile read.  Magnus Magnusson is a proper scholar, so this isn't just a pretty coffee-table book.  Profusely illustrated, with extensive detail about Viking history in continental Europe, Scandinavia, Britain, Iceland, Greenland, and North America.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...