26 November 2020

Reindeer eyes change color in the winter

I found this explanation at Smithsonian:
National Geographic‘s Ed Yong reports on the finding:
The bit that actually changes colour is the tapetum lucidum or “cat’s eye”—a mirrored layer that sits behind the retina. It helps animals to see in dim conditions by reflecting any light that passes through the retina back onto it, allowing its light-detecting cells a second chance to intercept the stray photons. The tapetum is the reason why mammal eyes often glow yellow if you photograph them at night—you’re seeing the camera’s flash reflecting back at you.
Reindeer eyes, by default, are gold. But during the long winter, their pupils dilate for months on end, Yong explains. All of this effort takes a toll on the reindeers’ eyes, which begin to swell and in turn exert pressure on tapetum.
This layer is mostly made up a collagen, a protein whose long fibres are arranged in orderly rows. As the pressure inside the eye builds up, the fluid between the collagen fibres gets squeezed out, and they become more tightly packed. The spacing of these fibres affects the type of light they reflect. With the usual gaps between them, they reflect yellow wavelengths. When squeezed together, they reflect… blue wavelengths.
The wintery blue, Yong writes, is about 1,000 times more sensitive to light than the summery gold. The latter color, on the other hand, helps in the summer by bouncing the majority of light off of the animals’ eyes, effectively acting like a pair of natural sunglasses.

You learn something every day. 

Frost formation triggered by a leaf on a car's roof

Not a black hole...

... but it does absorb almost all visible light.  This is dark molecular cloud Barnard 18.   Info at the APOD link.  You learn something every day.

Ad for Amazon Echo Silver


c/o Saturday Night Live.

Lincoln Memorial, 1916

I find this photo particularly fascinating because of the absence of the reflecting pool (completed in 1923).  This image better reflects the fetid, malaria-infested swamp that Washington D.C. was in its early history*.  This is how it looked when my parents were born, so this is not ancient history.

I was born in Washington D.C., and some of my earliest memories were of visits to the reflecting pool and especially to the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin.  Here I am at the reflecting pool in 1949 -

- I think facing toward the Lincoln Memorial, with the Washington Monument faintly visible in the distant haze.  Dad was in the Navy, stationed in D.C., so we lived across the river in Arlington.  An interesting place to begin life.

*Addendum: Reader Lones Smith found an article debunking the myth that Washington was originally swampy land.  I will gracefully defer to The Smithsonian.  But there was malaria and yellow fever in the region (and there still are 50-100 cases reported per year).

Core biopsy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway surface

25 November 2020

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)

[from 2014] I just heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today.  In his memory I would like to cite (part of) the most remarkable sentence I've ever read.   It was 25 years ago that I first read Love in the Time of Cholera, and a year or two later One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of the Patriarch.  The first two are in my view the better books, but Autumn of the Patriarch [fulltext at the link] has one truly awesome sentence.  It begins like this, at the start of the final chapter of the book...
THERE he was, then, as if it had been he even though it might not be, lying on the banquet table in the ballroom with the feminine splendor of a dead pope amidst the flowers in which he would not have recognized himself in the display ceremony of his first death, more fearsome dead than alive, the velvet glove stuffed with cotton on a chest armored with false medals of imaginary victories in chocolate wars invented by his persistent adulators, the thunderous full-dress uniform and the patent leather boots and the single gold spur that we found in the building and the ten sad pips of general of the universe to which he was promoted at the final moment to give him a rank higher than that of death, so immediate and visible in his new posthumous identity that for the first time it was possible to believe in his real existence without any doubt whatsoever, although in reality no one looked less like him, no one was so much the opposite of him as that showcase corpse which was still cooking in the middle of the night on the slow fire of the tiny space of the little room where he was laid out with candles while in the cabinet room next door we were discussing the final bulletin with the news that no one dared believe word by word when we were awakened by the noise of the trucks loaded with troops in battle gear whose stealthy patrols had been occupying public buildings since before dawn, they took up prone positions under the arcades of the main commercial street, they hid in doorways, I saw them setting up tripod machine guns on the roofs of the viceregal district when I opened the balcony of my house at dawn looking for a place to put the bouquet of wet carnations I had just cut in the courtyard, beneath the balcony I saw a patrol of soldiers under the command of a lieutenant going from door to door ordering people to close the doors of the few shops that were beginning to open on the commercial street, today is a national holiday they shouted, orders from higher up, I threw them a carnation from the balcony and I asked what was going on with so many soldiers and so much noise of weapons everywhere and the officer caught the carnation in midair and replied to me just imagine girl we don't know ourselves either, the dead man must have come back to life, he said, dying with laughter, because nobody dared think such an earthshaking event could have happened, rather, on the contrary, we thought that after so many years of negligence he had picked up the reins of his authority again and was more alive than ever, once more dragging his great feet of an illusory monarch through the house of power where the globes of light had gone on again...  [and ends thus]... he had arrived without surprise at the ignominious fiction of commanding without power, of being exalted without glory and of being obeyed without authority when he became convinced in the trail of yellow leaves of his autumn that he had never been master of all his power, that he was condemned not to know life except in reverse, condemned to decipher the seams and straighten the threads of the woof and the warp of the tapestry of illusions of reality without suspecting even too late that the only livable life was one of show, the one we saw from this side which wasn't his general sir, this poor people's side with the trail of yellow leaves of our uncountable years of misfortune and our ungraspable instants of happiness, where love was contaminated by the seeds of death but was all love general sir, where you yourself were only an uncertain vision of pitiful eyes through the dusty peepholes of the window of a train, only the tremor of some taciturn lips, the fugitive wave of a velvet glove on the no man's hand of an old man with no destiny with our never knowing who he was, or what he was like, or even if he was only a figment of the imagination, a comic tyrant who never knew where the reverse side was and where the right of this life which we loved with an insatiable passion that you never dared even to imagine out of the fear of knowing what we knew only too well that it was arduous and ephemeral but there wasn't any other, general, because we knew who we were while he was left never knowing it forever with the soft whistle of his rupture of a dead old man cut off at the roots by the slash of death, flying through the dark sound of the last frozen leaves of his autumn toward the homeland of shadows of the truth of oblivion, clinging to his fear of the rotting cloth of death's hooded cassock and alien to the clamor of the frantic crowds who took to the streets singing hymns of joy at the jubilant news of his death and alien forevermore to the music of liberation and the rockets of jubilation and the bells of glory that announced to the world the good news that the uncountable time of eternity had come to an end.
What is remarkable is not the content per se, but the fact that I used the ellilpsis in the center of the citation to pass over 53 pages of text - all of it one single sentence.  I once estimated that the sentence comprises about 17,500 words.  One might consider this creation to be a whimsy or a conceit by someone just playing with words, but in my view it is a sort of prose poem by a superbly skilled writer who loves the craft of language.  If you'd like to give it a try, go to this link.

Addendum (2020):

It would be presumptuous of me to offer a review/critique of a novel that is a modern classic, written by a Nobel Laureate in literature, but after giving it a final good-bye reread, I wanted to jot down some notes about it.

Although I'm filing this post in my recommended books category, I have to admit that this is not a book that everyone will enjoy.   To be honest, not much happens in the novel.  A young man falls in love with a young woman who tentatively agrees to marry him ("Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant"), but they are separated by circumstances including her marriage, and he waits for her ("... convinced in the solitude of his soul that he had loved in silence for a much longer time than anyone else in this world ever had...") until her husband's death.  "Florentino Ariza never had another opportunity to see or talk to Fermina Daza alone in the many chance encounters of their very long lives until fifty-one years and nine months and four days later, when he repeated his vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love on her first night as a widow." In the devotion of her mourning she rejects him, so he continues to wait, as their lives go from the late nineteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth.

As he follows the two protagonists separately, Marquez uses their lives as a platform for discussing the passage of time ("... contemplating with regret the banana plants in the mire of the patio, the stripped mango, the flying ants that came after the rain, the ephemeral splendor of another afternoon that would never return") and the process of aging:
    "... only then did he realize that his life was passing.  He was shaken by a visceral shudder that left his mind blank, and he had to drop the garden tools and lean against the cemetery wall so that the first blow of old age would not knock him down." 
    "She had barely turned the corner into maturity, free at last of illusions, when she began to detect the disillusionment of never having been what she had dreamed of being when she was young..." 
    "... they marked the passage of his life, for he experienced the cruelty of time not so much in his own flesh as in the imperceptible changes he discerned in Fermina Daza each time he saw her."
And finally a reunion:
"By the time she had emptied the teapot and he the coffeepot, they had both attempted and then broken off several topics of conversation, not so much because they were really interested in them but in order to avoid others that neither dared to broach."

"It was the first time in half a century that they had been so close and had enough time to look at each other with some serenity, and they had seen each other for what they were: two old people, ambushed by death, who had nothing in common except the memory of an ephemeral past that was no longer theirs but belonged to two young people who had vanished and who could have been their grandchildren."

"Then he reached out with two icy fingers in the darkness, felt for the other hand in the darkness, and found it waiting for him.  Both were lucid enough to realize, at the same fleeting instant, that the hands made of old bones were not the hands they had imagined before touching.  In the next moment, however, they were."
Herewith various excerpts, curiosities, and interesting words:

"On Friday, June 8, 1708, at four o'clock in the afternoon, the galleon San Jose set sail for Cadiz with a cargo of precious stones and metals valued at five hundred billion pesos in the currency of the day; it was sunk by an English squadron at the entrance to the port, and two long centuries later it had not yet been salvaged."  I love treasure stories, and the wealth carried by the Spanish galleons was fabulous; I was in awe watching reports of the recoveries from the Atocha.  Apparently the San Jose was located by staff from Woods Hole in 2015, and recovery and conservation efforts are currently underway.

"He was a fine parrot, lighter than he seemed, with a yellow head and a black tongue, the only way to distinguish him from mangrove parrots who did not learn to speak even with turpentine suppositories."  ???

"They brought in live chickens from Cienaga de Oro, famous all along the coast not only for their size and flavor but because in colonial times they had scratched for food in alluvial deposits and little nuggets of pure gold were found in their gizzards."  ??true - or an old wives' tale?

The death of Dr. Urbino: "But he released [the parrot] immediately because the ladder slipped from under his feet and for an instant he was suspended in air and then he realized that he had died without Communion, without time to repent of anything or to say goodbye to anyone, at seven minutes after four on Pentecost Sunday."

"The use of the mullein plant to put the fish to sleep had been prohibited by law since colonial times, but it continued to be a common practice among the fishermen of the Caribbean until it was replaced by dynamite."  No time to look this up - anybody know?

"... the black doll that was sent to her without any letter... it had been bought in Martinique, according to the original tag, and it was dressed in an exquisite gown... it seemed so charming to Fermina Daza that she overcame her scruples and laid it on her pillow during the day and grew accustomed to sleeping with it at night.  After a time, however, she discovered when she awoke from an exhausting dream that the doll was growing: the original exquisite dress she had arrived in was up above her thighs, and her shoes had burst from the pressure of her feet.  Fermina Daza had heard of African spells, but none as frightening as this.."  ??? constructed with dehydrated material that swells with time/humidity, or ?? new larger dolls being surreptitiously switched in place??

"She learned to smoke backward, with the lit end in her mouth, the way men smoked at night during the wars so that the glow of their cigarettes would not betray them."  I've heard of this before, during wartime.  I wonder if this technique also enhances nicotine absorption by preventing external loss.

"... he allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves."

"She had written versions of the deportment and civics texts in hendecasyllabic couplets, like those used for spelling..."  From the Latin, having eleven syllables.

"... the sibylline fragrance of gardenias on hot nights..."  Literally 'having the characteristics of an oracle' but perhaps metaphorically 'mysterious.'

"... Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them."

Re her husband's death: "Once he had told her something that she could not imagine: that amputees suffer pains, cramps, itches, in the leg that is no longer there.  That is how she felt without him, feeling his presence where he no longer was."

"... at last he put on his chamois mustache cover and lay down without removing his trousers and shirt..."  ??why useful?

Next year perhaps I can add some notes about One Hundred Years of Solitude.

24 November 2020

You may have heard of the "Diet of Worms"

This isn't the one from 1495. This is chả rươi, a popular street food in Vietnam - discussed/disgust with a video at Neatorama.

Biden's descriptions of his first appointees

Many readers will have already seen the names and perhaps some biographical information at various internet sites, but I think it's interesting and refreshing to see Biden's own assessment of his appointees:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Joe Biden <info@joebiden.com>
Subject: My first Cabinet nominations
Date: November 23, 2020 at 14:27:33 EST


It’s been a couple of weeks since I last reached out. In the time since, we have been hard at work, building a government that reflects the values we campaigned on: healing our nation’s great divides at home and restoring our leadership role abroad. You were an integral part of our team, so I wanted to share some exciting news: I’ve selected my first Cabinet nominees.

The men and women I am announcing today will be core members of my national security, foreign policy, and law enforcement team. They are experienced and crisis-tested. They will keep us safe and secure. And, they are leaders who look like America and reflect my core belief that America is back and that we lead not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

I’m honored to introduce these six extraordinary individuals:

Tony Blinken as Secretary of State
Tony is one of my most trusted advisors, and no one is better prepared for the job. He served as my staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when I was a Senator. He went on to serve as my National Security Advisor when I was Vice President and as Deputy Secretary of State under President Obama, continuing a life-long dedication to public service. Tony is universally respected by those who know him, and with good reason. He’s a principled, compassionate leader, and as America’s top diplomat, he’ll help strengthen our State Department and represent how America is strongest when we lead with our values.

Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security
The son of refugees, Ali will be the first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security. As Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama, he led the implementation of DACA, enhanced our cybersecurity, and responded to natural disasters and public health threats like Ebola and Zika. He will play a critical role in fixing our broken immigration system and understands that living up to our values and protecting our nation’s security aren’t mutually exclusive—and under his leadership, they’ll go hand-in-hand.

Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence
A consummate national security professional, Avril was the first female Deputy Director of the CIA, and now, she will be the first woman to hold the office of Director of National Intelligence. I’ve worked with her for over a decade. She’s brilliant and humble and will always tell it straight while engaging in this work in a way that reflects our shared values. Under her leadership, our intelligence community will be supported, trusted, and empowered to protect our national security, without being undermined or politicized. We will be safer because of her.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
As a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is a distinguished, respected diplomat who has served on four continents. Raised in segregated Louisiana, she follows in a tradition of barrier-breaking African-American diplomats who have dedicated their lives to public service, and brings critical perspective to a role that is more important—and more necessary—than ever before. As UN Ambassador, Linda will renew our relationships with our friends and allies, help revitalize our diplomatic corps and restore America’s reputation on the world stage.

Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor
Jake was my National Security Advisor during my Vice Presidency, and a top advisor on domestic and foreign policy throughout my campaign, including on our strategy for controlling the pandemic. No one has a deeper understanding of the overlapping challenges we face, and how to protect our national security and advance a foreign policy that delivers for the middle class. He will be one of the youngest National Security Advisors in history, and his once-in-a-generation intellect and poise under pressure makes him the ideal choice for one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Secretary John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
Secretary Kerry needs no introduction. From signing the Paris Agreement on behalf of the United States as Secretary of State, to forming a bipartisan climate action coalition alongside the next generation of climate activists, his efforts to rally the world to combat climate change have been expansive and relentless. Now, I’ve asked him to return to government to get America back on track to address one of the most urgent national security threats we face—the climate crisis. This role is the first of its kind: the first cabinet-level climate position, and the first time climate change has had a seat at the table on the National Security Council. There could be no one better suited to meet this moment.

This team will be ready to take on our nation’s greatest challenges on day one, which is important because there is no time to waste when it comes to our national security. In adding these great Americans to my team, I hope my message is loud and clear: America is back. And America is ready to lead.

Thanks for all you do,

Joe Biden

22 November 2020

Lotus silk explained

I didn't even know there was such a thing as "lotus silk."  You learn something every day.  Via Neatorama.

It's called a Pigg-O-Stat

A pediatric immobilizer for radiologic and perhaps radiotherapy procedures.  The name is not a slang term - it's the official product name.  "Stat" of course means "stationary," and I'm guessing the "pigg" comes from a development period in veterinary medicine.  Perhaps some radiology-minded reader will know more of the backstory.

Addendum:  Hat tip to "Unknown" reader for finding the answer to the above question at The Radiologic Technologist.

Please forgive me if my mind keeps seeing this as a blender...

A loaf of bread costs $100,000,000,000

Today [Nov 11, 2008] BBC radio reported on rampant hyperinflation in Zimbabwe. One man said his daily expenses were about 600 BILLION dollars, including 100 billion for a loaf of bread. The official inflation rate is 2 million percent per year, but most observers feel that is an underestimate. 

This is reminiscent of the hyperinflation that hit Hungary in 1945-46.  Here's a chart of the number of pengos per one gold franc - 

 7/9/46 100,000,000 
 7/10/46 300,000,000 
 7/11/46 2,000,000,000 
 7/12/46 10,000,000,000 
 7/13/46 30,000,000,000 
 7/15/46 120,000,000,000 
 7/16/46 500,000,000,000 
 7/17/46 2,500,000,000,000 
 7/18/46 6,000,000,000,000 
 7/19/46 60,000,000,000,000 

That's for just a ten-day period

Yugoslavia experienced hyperinflation in 1993; from October 1993 to January 1995 prices increased 5 QUADRILLION percent (5,000,000,000,000,000%). 

Wiki has a compilation of these episodes. 

Update 01/16/09: Zimbabwe has introduced a Z$100 trillion note.

Reposted from 2008 to add this photo of a 5-pound chicken that today (2020) costs 14,600,000 Venezuelan bolivars:

19 November 2020

It's a film canister..... oh, never mind

I recently went into an actual physical store, and decided to pay for my purchase with exact change.  When I took the above item out of my pocket, the clerk asked me what it was.  I said it was a "repurposed film canister," which elicited only a blank stare.  I instantly realized that this young teen had absolutely no idea what a film canister (or film) is, so I explained that it was a little "doodad" that keeps change from rattling in my pocket.  She smiled and said "That's cool."

I have a bunch of them around the house, storing spare buttons in the clothes closet and screws etc on the workbench and seeds in the garage.  They will outlast me; I need to decide which of my young relatives will be lucky enough to inherit them.

Addendum:  scroll down through the comments to find a link about how to build a film canister rocket.  And this link offers a comprehensive look at film cannons (hat tip to reader chemsolver).

A history of the phone booth in cinema

An impressive and enjoyable compilation.  I wonder how long it will be before we have a generation of moviegoers who don't know what a phone booth is (probably the children of those who don't recognize a film canister).  Via Neatorama.

Evidence that lockdowns work

Mask-wearing makes a big difference. So does limiting indoor gatherings. In particular, closing indoor restaurants, bars and gyms has reduced the virus’s spread in many places.

Arizona is an excellent example. Its governor, Doug Ducey, a Republican, resisted taking aggressive action for weeks. But in late June, he closed bars, movie theaters and gyms and banned gatherings of 50 people or more. The rules began to lift in August.

Since Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened Florida in late September, the number of reported Covid-19 cases per week in the state has tripled.

On September 25, DeSantis signed an executive order reopening the state, freeing restaurants and bars to operate at 100% capacity. In the week leading up to the order, Florida reported more than 17,000 new cases.

In the past 7 days, the state has reported more than 53,000 -- meaning three times more Floridians have tested positive in the past week than in the week before the reopening.

17 November 2020

Peter Wonson's "Swan Song"

The CD arrived earlier this month.  I knew of course that a "swan song" refers to an artist's final performance, but I wondered where the term arose.  Or - to paraphrase Chico Marx - why a swan?

First the basics:
The swan song (ancient Greek: κύκνειον ᾆσμα; Latin: carmen cygni) is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before their death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 5th to the 3rd century BC and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art.  [details at the link]

Peterson et al. [of the field guide] note that Cygnus olor is "not mute but lacks bugling call, merely honking, grunting, and hissing on occasion." However, the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), a winter visitor to parts of the eastern Mediterranean, does possess a 'bugling' call, and has been noted for issuing a drawn-out series of notes as its lungs collapse upon expiry, both being a consequence of an additional tracheal loop within its sternum. This was proposed by naturalist Peter Pallas as the basis for the legend... The whooper swan's nearest relatives, the trumpeter and tundra swans, share its musical tracheal loop
Wait... what???  Loops of the trachea?  Never heard of such a thing, despite 30+ years of academic research on (human) lungs.  So - time to dive into some research publications.
This research examines the evolution and phylogenetic distribution of a peculiar and often overlooked character seen in birds, herein called tracheal and esophageal displacement. Tracheal and esophageal displacement refers to an asymmetrically situated trachea and/or esophagus along the length of the neck. This contrasts with what would be perceived as the “normal” (midsagittal) placement of these organs, wherein the two organs are situated along the ventral midline of the neck with no deviation... essentially all birds have a laterally displaced trachea and/or esophagus

It is hypothesized here that lateral displacement of the cervical viscera evolved in birds to function as an ever increasingly efficient bypass system to allow the trachea to remain a short, straight, and patent tube able to keep up with the demands of a more mobile and flexible neck. A more loosely attached trachea and esophagus would be beneficial for those birds with highly dynamic neck movements.

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) has a trachea and esophagus that travels 12 cm along the ventral midline of the neck until the fifth cervical vertebra where they pass right laterally across it to become situated well dorsal to the vertebral column (Fig 8). By the twelfth cervical vertebra they cut back across the cervical column to become positioned at the ventral midline once more to enter the thorax. As the trachea passes across the fifth cervical it also rotates onto its side.

Dorsolateral placement of the organs is, essentially, nothing more than the result of the organs cutting past a highly S-shaped neck. In particular, it is because the organs cut across the “caudal loop” ... of the S of the cervical column.
At this point I was relieved to note that "loops" is a term used to describe sinuosity.  

But then I found in an article on avian paleontology that Panraogallus (extinct birds) had tracheas that actually did loop:

The trachea of Panraogallus appears to have coiled twice outside its chest, and may have coiled back towards the chest, before going up to the chest cavity again where it attached to the lungs... The coiled trachea of Panraogallus was possibly longer than its body, and it probably produced sounds with a lower frequency and with reduced harmonics, compared to pheasants of a similar size.
And note in the illustration that the line drawing "c" at upper right shows the course of the trachea in a Helmeted curassow - a currently-living bird.

You learn something every day, even at the end of a career of learning.  But this has become TMI, so I'll drop the topic and get back to the CD, starting with this review:
In 1968, the Night Watchmen (originally called The Embryos) combined with the Dartmouth band Ham Sandwich. After Logan and Calvert left the group, Pinkston and Wilkes recruited Peter Wonson (class of'68) and Ned Berndt ('72), along with Hanover residents Ken Aldrich and Skip Truman. They formed Tracks, which went on to record original material and become a "super popular" headliner in the New England music scene, says Logan.Review (of 1991 CD compilation): 

Not to be confused with Bowie guitarist Earl Slick's 1972 group on Capitol Records or a late-'70s Boston punk band fronted by Lori Doll, this Tracks reigned between 1969 and 1974 and had the distinction of being produced by Wayne Wadhams, lead singer of the Fifth Estate (which hit with "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" in 1967). Along with a unique version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," this ensemble comes up with a real sleeper in the tune "Pawnbroker" -- a strong, methodical ballad featuring great vocals and interplay from the guitar and keyboard that put it in a league with the legendary Modern Lovers...

Russell Pinkston: "In the spring of 1969, my junior year at Dartmouth College, I dropped out of school to play full time with a rock band called “Tracks.” For the next five years, through various incarnations of the group, Tracks played all over New England in night clubs, fraternities, high school proms, and the occasional “big time” rock concert. We opened for acts such as the James Gang, Canned Heat, The Chambers Brothers, and Tom Rush, and by the time we broke up in 1974, we had recorded three full albums of original music. Although we had a couple of offers from producers, we never got signed by a record label, so soon after we called it quits, we made a triple album of our demo tapes as a “going away present” for our fans.
More about the history of Tracks and the New England rock scene of the 1960s is available in "Old Times, Good Times: A Rock and Roll Story," at Stowe Today, and in The Caledonian Record.

"All Along the Watchtower" recording from The Very Best of Tracks.

The ceremonial axe of Ahmose I

"It is admired for the gilded cedar wood handle and its copper blade. One of the sides of the blade is adorned with some scenes for Heh, Nekhbet, and other deities who are supposed to protect the pharaoh. The other side of the blade depicts the pharaoh tormenting one of his enemies as a symbol for sovereign power, topped with some cartouches with the names and titles of Ahmes."

Coronavirus deaths in Texas jails

"A harrowing new report from the UT Austin has examined the impact of COVID-19 on prisons and jails. Texas correctional facilities lead the country in COVID infections, with more than 23,000 cases and at least 230 deaths, including 27 staff members, 14 people held in jails, and 190 held in prisons.

Of the 190 incarcerated people who died, 21 of them had served 90% of their sentences. 110 of them were eligible for parole. And 9 of them were approved for parole, but had not yet been released. Of the 14 people held in jails, 11 of them were still awaiting trial, and had not yet been convicted of any crimes."
Via BoingBoing, where there is lots of information about coronavirus in other states' penal facilities.

The role of capitalism and profits in the American Civil War

"Williams also told Waddell he thought the Confederacy had erred in not sending a cruiser to the Arctic earlier in the war, “for the destruction of that northern whaling fleet, from which New England gathered her wealth, would have more seriously affected the Northern mind than a dozen battles in Virginia.”

Williams’ comment, said Waddell, indicated a just idea of the Yankee character and its policy in the war; they made money by it, and for this reason they waged it.  Politicians fed on fat contracts and immense government expenditures, enriching the agents through whose hands the money passed.  A high tariff taxed the people without their seeing it, while the manufacturers realized fortunes.  The newspapers of the large cities, filled with the details of battles, greatly increased their circulation, and their proprietors grew correspondingly wealthy.  The government simulated business by issuing paper and creating a debt that it intended the South is eventually to pay.  It is thus that the war is waged and continued, and it is only to be stopped on the mercenary principle of showing that it would no longer pay to keep it up!”
-- from The Last Shot: The incredible story of the CSS Shenandoah and the true conclusion of the American Civil War, by Lynn Schooler (Harper Collins, 2005), p. 209 (Ch. 14).

Baffle balls

Inserted inside tanks of liquid being transported to damp down motion of the liquid.  You learn something every day.  No useful discussion at the via.

Wine cellars in Hungary

The Custer Wolf

Some notes I jotted down years ago while reading Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery (Steve Nicholls, University of Chicago Press, 2009).  A marvelous book, BTW - read my previous excerpts.

During the settlement of the American west, wolves were systematically eradicated.  One of the last survivors was dubbed the Custer Wolf.  He was reputedly responsible for killing five hundred horses, cows, and calves worth $25,000 and seemed unstoppable.  A $500 bounty on his head drew many eager hunters, including professional hunter Harry Percival Williams.
“Williams went to enormous lengths to fool the Custer Wolf.  He boiled his traps for half a day then buried them in cow manure for several days to mask any human scent.  Once prepared they were stored in cowhide bags, and when he was setting them he was careful to first throw down a cowhide before dismounting, so he didn’t leave any scent on the round.  He also sprinkled the area with female wolf scent.

The Custer Wolf ignored all these traps… Nothing Williams tried seemed to work, though he often caught glimpses of the wolf trailing him along a parallel ridge, stopping when he stopped.  If Williams reached for his tobacco pouch, the wolf watched with interest, but if he reached for his rifle, the Custer Wolf simply vanished.  

The wolf was sometimes warned of Williams’s presence by a pair of coyotes, so to even up the sides a little, Williams shot the coyotes.  Since he didn’t want to let old Custer know that his early warning system was no longer operating, he tossed the bodies of the coyotes into a deep ravine, only to return the next day to find their bodies dragged back to the top and left in plain view for Williams to find.”

Later, Williams found the Custer Wolf feeding at a carcass so he set his elaborately prepared traps around it.  But more often than not, the wolf just pulled the carcass across the traps to spring them.”  
I'll defer adding the end of the story, which isn't pleasant for the wolf.  You can read the outcome at Wikipedia.

15 November 2020

How many holes does a straw have?

After you ponder that one, decide whether a coffee cup has a hole.  If you think not, is a coffee-cup-shaped depression in the earth a hole?  For answers (and more questions), start at Neatorama.

The distribution of humans on Earth

 Each colored band represents 10% of the world population.  Source, with citations.


"In 1990, a panel of the windscreen on British Airways Flight 5390 fell out at 17k feet, causing the cockpit to decompress & its captain to be sucked halfway out of the aircraft. The crew held onto him for more than 20 minutes as the copilot made an emergency landing. The pilot made a full recovery."

"If I remember correctly, the accident happened because someone eyeballed the screws when they replaced the window, and they were like a millimeter off."

Pretty close. The screws used to secure the windshield were different lengths for different areas. Instead of using a template to know where each screw came out of or referring to the IPC (illustrated parts catalog) they just put the screws in a pile and slammed them back in without ever knowing if the screws were actually grabbing enough threads on the nutplates."
Comments from the discussion thread at the nevertellmetheodds subreddit.  I don't have a link to a primary source.

The embedded photos are not from the incident, but rather from a National Geographic reconstruction of the incident.  Hat tip to reader Charlie for doing the detective work.

Watch this if you like raccoons

Protestor sneezes at the MAGA march

Captured by photojournalist Caroline Brehman.


A prosthetic cornea, via (no useful info there).

12 November 2020

Sperm whales have no upper teeth

You learn something every day.  Lifelike sculpture by Dirk Claesen, via.

Iconic image from the the Blitz (London, 1940)

"A woman sips a cup of tea after her street is struck by a German bombing raid, 1940"

And with some relevance to the current world situation.  Found at The Paris Review.

Meanwhile, here in Wisconsin...

Wisconsin:  The state that has unraveled the fastest.

The pandemic has worsened across the country over the last two months, but perhaps nowhere as quickly as in Wisconsin.

At the beginning of September, Wisconsin was averaging about 700 cases a day. By this week, it was averaging more than 6,000. Hospitals are packed and more than 300 deaths were reported in the state over the last week, a record. Last week, Wisconsin’s chief health officer quit, noting the enormous pressure on public health officials during the pandemic.

“It took us seven and a half months to get to 100,000 cases,” Gov. Tony Evers said at a news conference on Tuesday evening, after issuing an executive order advising residents to stay home. “But it only took 36 days to add another 100,000. The way things are going, it will take us only 20 days to reach another 100,000.”

Testing centers are overwhelmed, raising the risk of further spread as people who might otherwise learn they are infected delay isolating themselves.

“They told us, ‘Yeah, you should get tested, but we’re out of tests,’” said Tim Cigelske, 39, of Whitefish Bay, of a local testing site he called when his family grew sick. It required multiple phone calls, virtual doctor visits and four trips to testing sites over three days to get himself, his wife and their two children tested, Mr. Cigelske said.

All were positive for the virus. 
It's frankly getting a little scary here.  The situation now is that when you see two people walking down the street, the odds are that one of them is coronavirus positive.  Even something as inoffensive and unobtrusive as the governor's mask mandate has been vigorously opposed by the ignorant self-serving Republican state legislators.  At least here in the blue dot city of Madison, most people are aware of the problem; when I walked at the arboretum this week, every time I saw other walkers coming toward me on a trail, they stopped to put on masks, and so did I.  And I suppose we both held our breaths for a while after passing one another...

The other "worst places in the U.S." are discussed in the New York Times source article.

Addendum: here's the map from the site linked by Pearse O'Leary in his comment:

"So many counties are so far past the Dept. of Health Services' highest classification for case activity, that it needed to create a brand new category...
To be considered for the previous top category, “Very High,” a region’s case rate would have to surpass 350 cases per 100,000 residents over the previous two weeks. Every single one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has at least doubled that number, with Washburn Co. reporting the lowest rate in the state at 769.6 cases per 100,000 people.

The new “Critically High” level sets the bar at 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents. [only seven counties are below that].

The roots of social violence

The problem, he says, is that there are too many people like me. “You are ruling class,” he said, with no more rancor than if he had informed me that I had brown hair, or a slightly newer iPhone than his. Of the three factors driving social violence, Turchin stresses most heavily “elite overproduction”—­the tendency of a society’s ruling classes to grow faster than the number of positions for their members to fill. One way for a ruling class to grow is biologically—think of Saudi Arabia, where princes and princesses are born faster than royal roles can be created for them. In the United States, elites over­produce themselves through economic and educational upward mobility: More and more people get rich, and more and more get educated. Neither of these sounds bad on its own. Don’t we want everyone to be rich and educated? The problems begin when money and Harvard degrees become like royal titles in Saudi Arabia. If lots of people have them, but only some have real power, the ones who don’t have power eventually turn on the ones who do.

In the United States, Turchin told me, you can see more and more aspirants fighting for a single job... Elite jobs do not multiply as fast as elites do. There are still only 100 Senate seats, but more people than ever have enough money or degrees to think they should be running the country. “You have a situation now where there are many more elites fighting for the same position, and some portion of them will convert to counter-elites,” Turchin said.

Donald Trump, for example, may appear elite (rich father, Wharton degree, gilded commodes), but Trumpism is a counter-elite movement. His government is packed with credentialed nobodies who were shut out of previous administrations, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes because the Groton-­Yale establishment simply didn’t have any vacancies. Trump’s former adviser and chief strategist Steve Bannon, Turchin said, is a “paradigmatic example” of a counter-elite. He grew up working-class, went to Harvard Business School, and got rich as an investment banker and by owning a small stake in the syndication rights to Seinfeld. None of that translated to political power until he allied himself with the common people. “He was a counter-elite who used Trump to break through, to put the white working males back in charge,” Turchin said.

Elite overproduction creates counter-elites, and counter-elites look for allies among the commoners. If commoners’ living standards slip—not relative to the elites, but relative to what they had before—they accept the overtures of the counter-elites and start oiling the axles of their tumbrels. Commoners’ lives grow worse, and the few who try to pull themselves onto the elite lifeboat are pushed back into the water by those already aboard. The final trigger of impending collapse, Turchin says, tends to be state insolvency. At some point rising in­security becomes expensive. The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebies—and when these run out, they have to police dissent and oppress people. Eventually the state exhausts all short-term solutions, and what was heretofore a coherent civilization disintegrates.
Excerpts from an article in this month's The Atlantic.  I have no idea whether these speculations are valid, but they are thought-provoking.

Classic "dark money" dirty politics in Florida

You want to defeat Jose Rodriguez, so you find a person named Alex Rodriguez and register him as a candidate.  That person does no campaigning, no fundraising, no public speaking, and has no platform.
"Local 10 News has found evidence to suggest three such candidates in three Florida Senate district races, two of them in Miami Dade County, were shill candidates whose presence in the races were meant to syphon votes from Democratic candidates.

Comparisons of the no-party candidates' public campaign records show similarities and connections that suggest they are all linked by funding from the same dark money donors, and part of an elaborate scheme to upset voting patterns.

In one of those races, District 37, a recount is underway because the spread between the Democratic and Republican candidates is only 31 votes. The third party candidate received more than 6300 votes."
Details at the Florida news station link.

Science and government policy re coronavirus

"A survey by Frontiers, a Swiss publisher of scientific journals, asked some 25,000 researchers in May and June whether lawmakers in their country had used scientific advice to inform their covid-19 strategy."
Res ipsa loquitur, via The Economist.

11 November 2020

Icelandic television commercial includes (and emphasizes) nudity

The nudity isn't for salacious reasons.  My understanding is that the product being advertised is a watch, which is particularly useful for those times in your life when you don't have a pocket for your phone...

Posted to emphasize the incredible gulf between European and American attitudes about nudity.  This ad ran on commercial television in Iceland.  Via.

Considerations re ancient warfare


I remember decades ago playing D&D, we used to argue whether someone in armor could outrun an orc.  The video above seems to have been created to dispel the notion that armored warriors were poorly mobile.  

I found the video at Medievalists.net in an article that asked Could a Peasant defeat a Knight?  Short answer: not really.  

That argument applies to the 14th century, but the opposite occurred in the 1st century in the Teutoberg Forest, when German peasant forces used the unique topography of their homeland to entrap and slaughter Roman legions (see the next post).

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest

When I was growing up I thought I was receiving an excellent education; it wasn't until adulthood that I realized I had been taught almost nothing about world history outside the United States.  My first inkling that something had happened in Teutoberg Forest came in the 1970s, when PBS ran the I, Claudius series.  I should get out that DVD set and rewatch, but I seem to remember Augustus sending Germanicus off to "Get me back my eagles!" (or "legions", whichever).

The battle occurred in 9 A.D. in central Germany/Germania and resulted in the slaughter of three full legions (15,000 footsoldiers and cavalry) by a coalition of "barbarians."  The battle can be viewed as a pivotal point in the history of the world, because it effectively halted Roman expansion into Europe.  As decisive as it was at the time, the battle was effectively forgotten for a milennium (in part because the victors' transmission of history was oral rather than written) and the battle was not rediscovered until the writings of Tacitus and other Romans were translated and published widely; at that point the battle served to help Germany establish an identity and a pride in their cultural history.

The book is an easy read that can be finished in perhaps 4-5 hours.  There are chapters about Augustus, the field commander Varus, the German leader Arminius (later mistranslated by Martin Luther as "Herman"), the tactics of both sides and the presumed sequence of events.   The book repeats itself with regard to various details, suggesting to me that it is perhaps an amalgamation of various essays and reports the author had previously published, and it is a bit light on the archaeological documentation of the battle, but overall I'm pleased to recommend it.

For a quick but detailed preview, the Wikipedia entry is outstanding.

Cartoons for 2020

 The second two from The New Yorker.

Miscellaneous aphorisms and witticisms

 I received these in an email this morning:
"You come from dust and you will return to dust.  That's why I don't dust.  It could be someone I know."

"The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades." - Demetri Martin

"I'd like to live like a poor man - only with lots of money." - Pablo Picasso
- which reminded me that I had these stored on my computer:
The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.

Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody is looking.'

Never, ever make absolute, unconditional statements.

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

Do not hit at all if it can be avoided, but never hit softly." Theodore Roosevelt

Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors and miss.

Cooking lesson #1: don't fry bacon in the nude.

Don't spend two dollars to dry clean a shirt. Donate it to the Salvation Army instead. They'll clean it and put it on a hanger. Next morning buy it back for seventy-five cents. - William Coronel

Don't use a big word where a diminutive one will suffice.

If you lend someone $20, and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

If you see a snake, just kill it. Don't appoint a committee on snakes. -Ross Perot

If you think jewelry is an investment, try selling a few pieces.

If you want your spouse to listen and pay strict attention to every word you say, talk in your sleep.

It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

A day without sunshine is like, night. 

On the other hand, you have different fingers. 

99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name. 

Remember, half the people you know are below average. 

He who laughs last thinks slowest. 

The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. 

How many of you believe in telekinesis? Raise my hand... 

How do you tell when you're out of invisible ink? 

Why do psychics have to ask you for your name? 

Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now. 

If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends? 

Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines. 

What happens if you get scared half to death twice? 

I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.

"I have enough money to last the rest of my life, unless I buy something." - Jackie Mason

10 November 2020

Prima ballerina with Alzheimer's remembers her Swan Lake performances

Marta C. Gonzalez Valencia, via.  I recommend viewing full-screen.

The ability of music to unlock the memories of Alzheimer's patients is well documented, but still impressive to watch.  

For relevant discussion, see the page on "music therapy" at the Parkinson's Foundation website.

Some will also recall scenes from the movie "Awakenings," about Oliver Sachs' experiences with post-encephalitic catatonic patients

And help yourself to a tissue.  You'll probably need one.

Addendum:  This extended commentary from a reader Fletcher is relevant -

I'd recommend viewing the original video rather than the various shortened versions going around social media, because the conversation in the third minute is just as important as the activity in the first two. (Not to mention that most of the shorter videos don’t give any real detail.)

A Spanish organization called Música para Despertar (Music to Wake) produced this video featuring Marta C. González Saldaña. She founded and directed Rosamunda, a New York ballet ensemble in which she was principal dancer and choreographer. When this video was made in 2019, she was in the Residencia Muro de Alcoy with late stage Alzheimer’s. She passed away later that year.

Here’s my translation of the conversation after the music:

Marta: I get excited…it’s…
Pepe: Normal! My dear, how could it not be exciting? And you thrilled us, dancing so well.
Marta: You have to be up on the points (toes).  

Marta: [hearing the music again]  This is the chorus…this is the chorus...this is more legs...
Pepe: That’s more legs, no? 
Marta: That was fifty [years ago]. The chorus...
Pepe: Madre mia!
Marta: That’s the floor. [continues to dance]

What really did me in was the difference between the beginning of the video and the end. In the beginning, she is locked away inside herself, but afterward, she’s so talkative! She’s animated! I hope the staff caring for her played this music (and other ballets she danced to) for her every day from this point until she died. 

09 November 2020

I think we can call this manhole cover "metal"

Located in Wiesbaden, Germany.  Via the Manhole Porn subreddit (I kid you not - and despite the name totally SFW).

Reposted from last year to add this manhole cover -

- found by John Farrier and posted at Neatorama.  The artist has a gallery of similar "street art," so I'm not sure if the manhole cover was painted in situ or digitally altered.  I suspect the latter - but still clever.

Reposted from 2018 to add this manhole cover that provides a map of Oklahoma City, with a rivet to show where you are.  At the discussion thread it was mentioned that this style of manhole cover was used on sidewalks, not in the street where you would have to dodge traffic to view it.
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