25 December 2020

The 2020 King William's College quiz

For over a century, students at King William's College on the Isle of Man have been given a quiz (formally the "General Knowledge Paper") just before the Christmas holidays:

"Up until 1999, pupils at King William's College would sit the paper unseen on the last day of term before the Christmas holidays. The questions are very hard and often cryptic, and pupils got hardly any questions right first time: five percent was considered a good score! During the Christmas holidays, pupils tried to find the answers to the harder questions by consulting reference books or asking clever relatives. When they returned to school in the New Year, they took the test again, under exam conditions and without the aid of notes."

The quiz is now voluntary for the students, but has spread worldwide via publication in The GuardianIt is, as noted above, inhumanly difficult, requiring impossible amounts of knowledge of trivia and/or extraordinary computer search skills.

A Latin phrase is always printed at the top of the quiz: “Scire ubi aliquid invenire possisea demum maxima pars eruditionis est”.  Freely translated, this means "the greatest part of knowledge is knowing where to find something."

The best way to approach the quiz is as part of a group, many of which will form on the internet in the weeks ahead (in previous years, Metafilter typically had such a group).

I joined such a group a couple days ago and spent the better part of a day tackling some of the questions.  I spent most of my time, and had my best success, with the relatively easy Section 15 questions:

1. what lends Julia her eyes?

2. what found out the bed of the sick rose?

3. what, despite its serpentine appearance, is in reality anguid?

4. who sent fake news from Cuba and was rewarded with an OBE?

5. what did the Elkoshite predict would spoil and fly away following the fall of Ninevah?

6. where, in a letter to Frederick, did the excommunicate consider that there were as many devils as tiles on the roof ?

7. seemingly worth slightly more than £1, what is hosted for a while by Cyclops?

8. what great burning star fell in response to the third trumpeter?

9. what is accessed from Strucklahnungshörn?

10. what is Gower’s detached appendage?

These questions are all related by a common theme, which will become apparent after you solve a couple of them.  Another set of questions that readers of TYWKIWBDI might enjoy tackling are in Section 3:

Section 3 - The name of which capital

1. sounds monastic?

2. started as a district in Calvados?

3. uniquely honours a foreign statesman?

4. appears to place yellow bellies in Lancaster?

5. is derived from a Fort built by a St Louis fur-trader?

6. features in a hymn translated by the Warden of Sackville College in Sussex?

7. commemorates one of two successful gold miners?

8. was reminiscent of a view of the Thames?

9. seems to be misplaced in Suffolk?

10. symbolises rebirth?

Interested readers can find the full set of questions at The Guardian or in this pdf from King William's College.  Readers are invited to display their knowledge (or their Googling expertise) by offering answers in the Comments section of this post.  The official answers will be published probably next week.  Questions and answers for the past five years are posted at King William's College.

24 December 2020

Greetings to the readers of TYWKIWDBI

"Happy xMas & Merry New Year to all! Remember "pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" and keep it all simple." -- Dutch

"May 2021 be a better year for you and yours!"  - Jerry and Kathy of Dallas, Texas

"The stars shine brightest on the darkest nights.  Happy Holidays." - Heather Madrone

"Even in a Plague Year, one black bean in April becomes a dinner's worth by October.  Happy New Year Everyone: April 2021 is just round the corner." - BobTheScientist.

"Congratulations to everyone for making it through 2020! Thank you to everyone who worked to keep the world going during the pandemic, and to those who did what they could to fight the virus. Best wishes to all, because 2021 will be brighter and better." - Miss Cellania

"For 2020 a wish from a familiar Christmas tune: 'Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow / Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow'" - nolandda

"Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday, a Happy New Year and an uneventful 2021!" - Heather Hutchinson

"I hope 2021 brings you the audience who'll appreciate you." - The Slide Guy

"Five windows Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and maskless New Year!" - Skeetmotis

"You can see our reflection, I learned that silence never helped anyone. I had this made for me.  May 2021 soften our hearts" - Revashane

And from the TYWKIWDBI household, Panda wishes you a Merry Christmas -

- while Shadow is celebrating the end of 2020 with some catnip:

22 December 2020

Tusk of a wooly mammoth (Siberia)

"But grandma, what big teeth you have..."

Via.  And we segue to Stan Freberg's Little Blue Riding Hood:

It keeps going, and going, and going..

Via Vector's World.

Traffic laws infringe on her "rights"

"In 2019, Diane Tomko of Beaver Dam was issued citations after being found operating a motor vehicle without insurance, not registering the vehicle, operating a vehicle without carrying a license and providing false information to mislead an officer after being pulled over for expired plates.

She took the citations to Dodge County Circuit Court following municipal court, and a judge upheld the citations in June. Judge Brian Pfitzinger ordered her to pay fines totaling $546.40. Tomko then took the case to the appeals court.

She argued in a brief to the appeals court that she has a right to drive on public highways “freely unencumbered” under the constitution and that state laws requiring insurance, licenses and vehicle registration infringe on her constitutional rights...

We do not want to live in a country, as in 1940s Germany, where citizens are in danger simply because they do not carry valid papers,” the filing said. “Ms. Tomko urges the Court to evaluate for her whether what happened to her here is a step on the road to such a country.”"

Bayberry wax candles

Bayberries grow in the south and on the Atlantic seaboard, so this craft is new to me.  I read elsewhere that it takes about 4 quarts of berries to make one cup of wax.  The presentation is an Advent calendar video from Trinity Church Boston.

Music from a tongue drum

A slit drum is a hollow percussion instrument. In spite of the name, it is not a true drum but an idiophone, usually carved or constructed from bamboo or wood into a box with one or more slits in the top. Most slit drums have one slit, though two and three slits (cut into the shape of an "H") occur. If the resultant tongues are different width or thicknesses, the drum will produce two different pitches. It is used throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. In Africa such drums, strategically situated for optimal acoustic transmission (e.g., along a river or valley), have been used for long-distance communication.

The ends of a slit drum are closed so that the shell becomes the resonating chamber for the sound vibrations created when the tongues are struck, usually with a mallet. The resonating chamber increases the volume of the sound produced by the tongue and presents the sound through an open port. If the resonating chamber is the correct size for the pitch being produced by the tongue, which means it has the correct volume of airspace to complete one full sound wave for that particular pitch, the instrument will be more efficient and louder.
Here is one purchased for $9 at an antique store.

Skeleton of a puffer fish - updated

There are no useful comments at the via.

Reposted to add this photo of a properly-articulated skeleton:

Credit to the watermark, via.

TYWKIWDBI is now a teenager (13 years old)

Note:  In an effort to conserve energy (my own), this year I'm recycling the post I wrote for the ninth blogiversary in 2016.  I'll update some numbers and add comments at the end.

Every year when this anniversary rolls around, I'm amazed I'm still doing this.  The blog began as a way to save time (!) by posting interesting things so I wouldn't have to email them to friends and family.  It quickly morphed into an every-day chore (note the "weekday reading" and "weekend reading" lists in the right sidebar, which I no longer find the time to browse with regularity).  Now I view the blog as a preparation for eventual senility - a repository for things that will entertain and interest me that I can read/forget/reread/forget again ad infinitum at some date hopefully still well into the future.

TYWKIWDBI will finish 2016 with over 14,000 posts which have generated about 48,000 comments from a couple thousand followers and a much larger number of occasional visitors who have generated about 21,000,000  pageviews.

And now what?  Back on my sixth blogiversary I cited Jason Kottke's observation that traditional blogs are a dying breed.
"Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids..."
I have not seen any recent data on the "state of the blogosphere."  Technorati used to publish an annual report on the numbers of blogs and relevant trends, but even that analysis seems to have faded away.  I don't intend to switch to a different platform.  Last year I expressed my own attitude this way:
I still struggle with motivation to keep blogging because of the seemingly unending distractions of real life.  But I do get a great deal of satisfaction from the depth and breadth of knowledge, the sophistication, and the almost always unfailing courtesy of readers who comment on the posts.  I learn things, I teach things, and every now and then I get help with my car or my computer for free.  Such a deal.
There are days when creating a series of quality blog posts is extremely satisfying...

...and other days when it seems to be an annoying chore (especially when the material involves politics or current events)...

To avoid the latter, I've already begun morphing the focus of the blog, pulling away from current events and starting to go a bit "retro," harvesting some of the many many thousands of links I've saved up over the past nine years (no sense saving them if they're not going to get used).  So I believe long-time readers here will start noticing some alteration in content, with more focus on older material (which also saves me surfing time).  I do fully intend to push on to reach that tenth blogiversary next December.  After that it will be time to seriously reassess my priorities.

Addendum:  New numbers: we now have 17,000 posts in TYWKIWDBI, and 59,000 comments.  We still have a worldwide audience -

but traffic continues to decline -

- certainly in part because of my decreasing productivity, but I think also a reflection of a broader trend in cyberspace use. (I'd be delighted to read comments from other bloggers who have been around for ten years as to whether they have seen a similar trend).

My long-term plans remain the same (assuming my health holds up) - to maintain this blog with similar content (but less politics), at a posting level that would make a once-weekly visit by readers appropriate.

For the near term I'm going to take an end-of-the-year blogcation, but hope to fill the void by reposting my favorite posts of all time - the photos and stories of readers' bookcases.  And there will be no blogging tomorrow because the King William's College "Christmas Quiz" is scheduled to be published by The Guardian, and I have an annual appointment to join a group of cyberfriends from Great Britain, Finland, and elsewhere for a joint effort to solve all the questions.  Should be great fun, but will take all day.  Here is last year's quiz.

21 December 2020

Can I donate to charity instead of the federal government??

"Even if they’re not worried about tax changes in 2021, rich Americans are still pursuing the usual end-of-year planning moves designed to lower their tax bills. The pandemic and Covid-19-related legislation like the CARES Act offer the chance to make these strategies more lucrative.

For example, the charitably inclined have the unprecedented ability to offset 100% of their taxable income with donations in 2020. To take full advantage, donors need to make much of their gifts in cash -- a sticking point for those who prefer the bigger tax breaks provided by gifts of appreciated stock."
Am I reading this right?  I can deduct charitable contributions dollar-for-dollar from my taxes rather than subtracting from my taxable income??  So a couple thousand $ donated to Doctors Without Borders or Post Polio Health International or PBS etc would be subtracted from the taxes due to Uncle Sam??  Or is it still just subtracted from income and I would then pay 20% less tax??

I don't use a tax man, and there apparently are some new rules, and this needs to be clarified in the next week, so any knowledgeable advice from a reader would be appreciated.

Update:  Definitive answer from Kyle in the Comments section below.  Sadly, it's not what I was hoping to hear.  

Slate tile roof (Saint Leonhard's Church, Frankfurt am Main)

Awesome work.  Reminds me of a pangolin.  Via.

I'm also impressed by the uniformity of the slate tiles, which I assume are cut to shape and have holes drilled in them by automated machinery nowadays.

Update:  I was wrong, as this video sent to me by a reader illustrates -

How much pork can you hide in 5,593 pages?

Plenty, I would think. 
The House released the text of a massive 5,593-page package of legislation that combines pandemic relief with a bill to fund government operations just hours before lawmakers were set to cast their votes...

“We’re going to stay here until we finish tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters earlier at the Capitol.

Lawmakers from both parties complained about the push to vote with such little time to digest the contents of the sprawling piece of legislation. 
It’s not good enough to hear about what’s in the bill. Members of Congress need to see & read the bills we are expected to vote on,” Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. 
Does anyone not agree with AOC in this regard?  You can bet there will be special tax exemptions that will apply to corporations located in X county in Y state conducting Z business.  This is the pig trough that has been filled with our tax dollars for generations.

Also: to emphasize how outrageously ridiculous this bill is, you have Republican Senator Ted Cruz agreeing with AOC:
“It’s ABSURD to have a $2.5 trillion spending bill negotiated in secret and then—hours later—demand an up-or-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read,” he tweeted on Monday.

20 December 2020

Word for the day: Teslanaires

"On Monday, Tesla will join the S&P 500 Index, a huge milestone for Elon Musk and the company he’s led as chief executive officer since 2008. It’s also a big day for the legions of retail investors who flocked to Tesla’s clean-energy mission and rode out numerous storms — production misses, Elon’s tweets and even the pandemic market crash. 

Those who held on have been handsomely rewarded: Tesla’s shares have soared this year after five consecutive quarters of profits and growing sentiment on Wall Street that the shift toward electric vehicles is accelerating. 

Where the stock heads from here is up for intense debate. To begin with, investors and analysts still wrangle over what Tesla is: A car company? A clean-energy behemoth? A technology company? There’s also disagreement over how it should be valued. Goldman Sachs has a price target of $780, while JPMorgan Chase’s is down at $90."
More details at Bloomberg.  Also here.  Full disclosure: I missed this boat.

Best rug-cleaning video ever

It's almost an hour long, but blessedly free of annoying commentary and musical accompaniment.  And when you think the rug is clean, yet another layer comes off.  Very satisfying.  Via BoingBoing. [note you can use the "settings" icon to boost the playback speed to 2X]

My father used to day "I enjoy work; I can watch people do it all day."

Best summary of the recent election

"It's like when you're driving your car and you make a wrong turn. 

Your spouse tells you that you turned right but should have gone straight. 

Then the lady in the dashboard comes on and tells you "at the next opportunity, make a legal U-turn." 

That's what we did." 
---Garrison Keillor

16 December 2020

This is a "milk door"

The dial (arrows missing) on the inside of the door allowed the apartment dweller to specify what he/she needed from the milkman. 

Via the MildlyInteresting subreddit, where someone added a photo of their home's "iron door":

Here's the iron door opened to show the place to rest a hot iron:

Reposted from 2017 to add this photo of a milk door posted by John Farrier at Neatorama.

15 December 2020

Musing about a tube of toothpaste

Yesterday evening while finishing a tube of toothpaste, I was reminded that my mother was not satisfied to just squeeze the tube empty.  When it reached the point shown above, she would get out a pair of scissors, cut off the bottom, and then reach into the tube with her toothbrush, retrieving enough material for another couple brushings.  (I've tried that on occasion, and it does work)

One of my cousins told me that her mom (my mom's sister) did the same thing.  Both those ladies grew up on a Norwegian family farm, coming of age during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  On the farm they had no problems with food security, and even offered meals to passing hobos, but my mom explained that they often lacked for "ready cash."  They would take a can of milk to town to the creamery to get spending money or swap eggs for goods at the local store.

What's interesting is that both my mom and her sister carried that ultrathrifty toothpaste habit well into a comfortable middle-class adulthood.  It makes me wonder what habits the coronavirus pandemic will instill into young adults, and how long those new financial and social patterns will persist.

Addendum:  Apparently in response to this blog post, The Atlantic published an article today with the lengthy title "How the Pandemic Has Changed Us Already. The Great Depression permanently altered many people’s behavior. Could COVID-19 do the same?"  The article mentions handwashing, caution re strangers, household chores for children, personal hygiene, clothing choices (bras, leggings, jammies), use of alcohol, hobbies, etc.  They note that the Great Depression had a greater effect on people's behavior than the 1918 flu pandemic because it lasted for several years.  The current pandemic is having an effect; the question is how long those behavioral changes will persist.

Concierto de Aranjuez (Joaquin Rodrigo)

"Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre, 1st Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez... commonly known as Joaquín Rodrigo, was a Spanish composer and a virtuoso pianist.

Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Valencia, and completely lost his sight at the age of three after contracting diphtheria. He began to study solfège, piano and violin at the age of eight; harmony and composition from the age of 16. Although distinguished by having raised the Spanish guitar to dignity as a universal concert instrument and best known for his guitar music, he never mastered the instrument himself.  He wrote his compositions in Braille, which was transcribed for publication.

His most famous work, Concierto de Aranjuez, was composed in 1939 in Paris for the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza. In later life he and his wife declared that it was written as a response to the miscarriage of their first child. It is a concerto for guitar and orchestra. The central adagio movement is one of the most recognizable in 20th-century classical music, featuring the interplay of guitar with cor anglais. This movement was later adapted by the jazz arranger Gil Evans for Miles Davis' 1960 album "Sketches of Spain". 
I first encountered this music in the 1960s on the Miles Davis album.
[Miles] Davis plays flugelhorn and later trumpet, attempting to connect the various settings musically. Davis commented at rehearsal, "The thing I have to do now is make things connect, make them mean something in what I play around it." Davis thought the concerto's adagio melody was "so strong" that "the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets", and [Gil] Evans concurred.
I'm pleased now to blog the entire concierto.  Posted for my cousin Karl in Barcelona.

Reposted from 2017 because I had the opportunity to see the Miles Davis biopic on American Experience this past week and wanted to hear this music again.

Also on YouTube: a classical guitar performance by Pablo Sáinz Villegas.

White peacock above a normal one

14 December 2020

This is how modern war will be conducted

As reported by Bloomberg this morning:
In one of the most audacious hacks in recent memory, U.S. government agencies were attacked as part of a global campaign that exploited a flaw in the software updates of a U.S. company. The hackers are suspected to be part of a notorious hacking group tied to the Russian government, according to the Washington Post...

FireEye described a highly sophisticated attack that exploited updates in widely used software from Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds Corp., which sells technology products to a Who’s Who list of of sensitive targets. These include the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, the FBI, all five branches of the U.S. military, and 425 corporations out of the Fortune 500, according to the company’s website and government data...

All federal civilian agencies were ordered by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to review their networks and disconnect or power down SolarWinds’s Orion software products immediately... According to FireEye, the hackers hit organizations across the globe -- in North America, Europe, Asia and in the Middle East -- and in multiple sectors including government, technology, consulting, telecommunications, as well as oil and gas...

All this suggests that as the U.S. government was focused over the last several months on detecting and countering possible Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election -- an effort that was largely viewed as successful -- suspected Russian hackers were quietly working their way into the computer networks of American government agencies and sensitive corporate victims undetected...

The Washington Post reported that the Russian hacking group known as Cozy Bear, or APT 29, was behind the campaign. That is the same hacking group that was behind the cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee going back to 2015. It was also accused by U.S. and U.K. authorities in July of infiltrating organizations involved in developing a Covid-19 vaccine.
Sounds like Mr. Robot in real life.

"There will be no war..."

"There will be no war, but in the struggle for peace not a stone will be left standing."

A Russian joke from the 1950s, cited by John le Carré in A Legacy of Spies, which I just finished reading.   For those who read and enjoyed The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and the other Smiley novels, this is a well-crafted prequel.  For someone unfamiliar with those works, this would be a more difficult read.

Reposted from 2017 to note the passing of John le Carré.

Efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine


Data from Deutsche Bank AG and the FDA, via John Authers' Bloomberg Opinion column.  I have heard that the vaccine was effective, but this is the first time I've seen the curve.  Amazing.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader Brucexo, who found a detailed breakdown of the Pfizer data:

Note that for the age group over 75, the efficacy is at best uncertain, with an indeterminate 95% confidence interval that the results would be repeatable.  This arises because so few persons were enrolled in this age group (about 800 randomized to BNT and to placebo).  No coronavirus cases arose in the BNT group while 5 did in the placebo controls, but with that small a database it's not possible to prove efficacy.  There is a good discussion at the link, including the comments there.

12 December 2020

"The Music of the Night"

"The Music of the Night" is sung after the Phantom lures Christine Daaé to his lair beneath the Opera House. He seduces Christine with "his music" of the night, his voice putting her into a type of trance. He sings of his unspoken love for her and urges her to forget the world and life she knew before. The Phantom leads Christine around his lair, eventually pulling back a curtain to reveal a mannequin dressed in a wedding gown resembling Christine. When she approaches it, it suddenly moves, causing her to faint. The Phantom then carries Christine to a bed, where he lays her down and goes on to write his music.
This video from the 2004 film version of Phantom of the Opera.  [the embedded video does play; not sure why the icon looks dead].

11 December 2020

Anosmia and ageusia

A hat tip to Kate Petrova (via Neatorama) for posting on Twitter a trend of customer reviews of scented candles.
"First, I downloaded a random subsample of US-based customer reviews of the 3 most popular scented candles on Amazon. Between January 2017 and January 2020, the average rating stayed around 4.3/5, but there was a sharp drop between January and November 2020."
Corresponding of course to the arrival and spread of coronavirus.  And related... This young lady tasted a Starbucks concoction with whipped cream and caramel and noted that it had "no taste."

The two senses are of course tightly linked, and each is recognized as a potential symptom of coronavirus infection.

Five minutes of fantasy worlds

Via Nag on the Lake and Neatorama.

Soooo tired of politics...

This cartoon from ?2008 is still relevant.

Reposted from 2016 because it seems more relevant than ever.

Absolute pitch ("perfect pitch") demonstrated

The video should be subtitled, since the audio doesn't pick up the boy's poorly-vocalized responses, but we'll trust them on the details.  It's an impressive talent.
Generally, absolute pitch implies some or all of the following abilities, achieved without a reference tone:
  • Identify by name individual pitches (e.g. A, B, C) played on various instruments.
  • Name the key of a given piece of tonal music.
  • Reproduce a piece of tonal music in the correct key days after hearing it.
  • Identify and name all the tones of a given chord or other tonal mass.
  • Accurately sing a named pitch.
  • Name the pitches of common everyday sounds such as car horns and alarms.

    (Reposted from 2015 because it's an awesome talent) 

Planning a collective greeting card for 2021

I first tried something like this in December of 2009 as a Christmas card, then revived the concept in 2017 and again in 2018 as a New Year's endeavor, which is what it will be this year.

Here are the instructions on how to participate:

1) In the comment section of THIS post, give me a LINK to a photo (or a bit of artwork or other image) that you have in your blog, or in your Flickr photostream or in some other online storage site. Don't email me the photo - just give the link and I'll go there and copy/repaste it.*

The picture can be of you, or your family, or your computer, or your cat, or whatever - it doesn't matter.  It should belong to you (not a commercial image with copyright issues).

2) In your comment with the photo link write a brief (25 words max) greeting, directed to the other readers and visitors.  This is to be a greeting to other readers, not a comment to me or about TYWKIWDBI.

3) Sign with the avatar name you use in commenting here, or in your blog, or your real name if you wish. This is not a venue to be used to say "Hi from anon."  I totally recognize that a number of regular readers here prefer to leave comments anonymously - which is fine - but this greeting card is for identifiable people.

Note - as various trolls have realized and bitched endlessly about, for this blog I am the "autocrat at the breakfast table" and reserve absolute right to control the content.  For this venture I may edit comments for length and trim pictures if they are too big.  I may limit the number of entries if there are too many, and I will absolutely vaporize anything that hints of spam or might be offensive to other readers.

*Addendum: I do realize that not everyone has online places to store photos, so I'll try this year to let you email me a photo/text/name if you have no other option.  You can send it to the blog's address: retag4726(at)mypacks.net.  But please send smallish pix (compress them with JPEG if needed).  I don't want to have ten people send 5 MB photos and thus have my emailbox overfull so that I can't conduct my regular life.  Thanks.  I'm looking forward to seeing what arrives...

Christmas greeetings from a KODA


A child of deaf adult, often known by the acronym "CODA", is a person who was raised by one or more deaf parents or guardians. Millie Brother coined the term and founded the organization CODA, which serves as a resource and a center of community for children of deaf adults. Many CODAs are bilingual, speaking both an oral and a sign language (in the United States this is commonly ASL), and bicultural, identifying with both deaf and hearing cultures. CODAs must navigate the border between the deaf and hearing worlds, serving as liaisons between their deaf parents and the hearing world in which they reside. Ninety percent of children born to deaf adults can hear normally, leading to the occurrence of a significant and widespread community of CODAs around the world. The acronym KODA (Kid of Deaf Adult) is sometimes used to refer to CODAs under the age of 18. Please don't skip over this one, especially if you're grumpy because of holiday chores the state of the world.

Reposted from 2015 because it's cheerful.  

10 December 2020


Coffee maker as an optional extra in 1959 Volkswagens.  Some relevant discussion here.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader Kolo Jezdec, who found an article in The Drive about a man who located and purchased one of these vintage items.
"... scant information survives about the Hertella Auto Kaffeemachine. There's at least one brochure online in German—in fact, that's one of the few images of the pot that floats around the web—and not much else... the unit was shipped to the U.S. all the way from Serbia...

"I always thought they were a percolator, or espresso machine like a Moka… but nope," he said. "I have no instructions, so can only tell you what I’ve determined on my own. You fill the vessel with water, put your coffee in the (double layer) screen, and heat up the unit. I presume you heat the unit up with the coffee in it, which means this basically brews coffee as though it’s tea."

But while the coffee quality may not be great, the machine does have a few clever features. The porcelain cups that came with it apparently had a metal disc on the bottom of them that allowed them to stick to the machine magnetically. It also mounts to the dash with a simple bracket, allowing for the pot to quickly be removed and cleaned when necessary.

The rarity of these things is really the cool factor here, though. Hord tells me he's only ever seen six of these machines for sale in the three years he's searched for them. And as far as we know, that's how many exist today."

Covidiots in Minnesota

Via the BBC.

The hexagon at Saturn's north pole

"Geometric whirlpools" are discussed in a Nature article:
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby have created similar geometric shapes (holes in the form of stars, squares, pentagons and hexagons) in whirlpools of water in a cylindrical bucket. The shapes appear easily enough once the bucket is spinning at a rate of one to seven revolutions per second, they say.
But the researchers admit their studies may not be relevant to planetary-sized systems.

Photo via the Space subreddit.

Reposted from 2015 to add these color gif images from NASA:

"These natural color views (and corresponding animated movie sequences) from NASA's Cassini spacecraft compare the appearance of Saturn's north-polar region in June 2013 and April 2017. In both views, Saturn's polar hexagon dominates the scene. The comparison shows how clearly the color of the region changed in the interval between the two views, which represents the latter half of Saturn's northern hemisphere spring. In 2013, the entire interior of the hexagon appeared blue. By 2017, most of the hexagon's interior was covered in yellowish haze, and only the center of the polar vortex retained the blue color. The seasonal arrival of the sun's ultraviolet light triggers the formation of photochemical aerosols, leading to haze formation. The general yellowing of the polar region is believed to be caused by smog particles produced by increasing solar radiation shining on the polar region as Saturn approached the northern summer solstice on May 24, 2017..." [continues at the link]

More here re the motion. 

08 December 2020


The Dawn Horse
By Nellie
The Dawn Horse is the ancestor of all horses. It was completely unlike the horse that we see today. Dawn Horse’s name isn’t really dawn horse, it’s Eohippus. If the meteor that had destroyed the dinosaurs had missed earth, then we would never have ridden a graceful horse, since they would not have been created.

Dawn horse lived with the dinosaurs, and chose the forest as it’s home. The forest was a good choice for dawn horse, since dawn horse was so small. Dawn horse was about the size of a small dog, allowing it to easily find places to hide from predators, in spots like under logs, in bushes, or it could use it’s brown fur to blend in with the forest background.

But, when the meteor hit the earth, dawn horse’s life got a whole lot harder, even though it was already hard enough. Not only did the meteor wipe out the dinosaurs, it wiped out the entire forest where dawn horse lived. Luckily, dawn horse was one of the few animals that survived the meteor. And now the cleared space made room for a new habitat: grassland. Grasslands were not dawn horse’s habitat of choice, but it had no choice. Grassland was dawn horse’s new home, so dawn horse had to adapt. 

First, it’s baby developed certain stuff in it’s stomach when it was born. This allowed it to eat grass, since there was not much leaves in grassland. When two of those mated, the baby would have larger eyes, as well as the stuff in the stomach. The larger eyes would give better eyesight, so they could spot predators from far distances. Next, the baby developed two things: would grow up to be larger than its parents. And longer legs. The larger size would scare off predators that would have eaten the dawn horse, while longer legs allowed it to run quickly away from enemies that they had not spotted. Next, the babies got would grow up even larger, and they got larger ears. Larger size would be helpful for scaring off even BIGGER predators, while larger ears would be able to turn almost all the way around in order to hear predators that they would not see. 

After all that, they just needed to get larger. No special better hearing, just to get bigger so they could scare predators that were too fast. After they got large enough, the tiny dawn horse that could not even scare a caterpillar had evolved into the strong horse who can carry a human that we see today. 
The essay above was written by my neighbor's daughter for her 3rd grade non-fiction assignment.  I was delighted to receive a copy, because it immediately solved the problem for me of what to do with one of the items in my rock and mineral collection.

In the 1970s I moved to Texas for graduate school and realized that the landscape there was ideally suited to reviving my childhood hobby of rockhounding.  I believe it was on a field trip near the Oklahoma border when I was exploring some dry gulches looking for agates and geodes that I found the concretion in the photo.  I carefully packed it in tissue and have stored it away for decades, never once altering any aspect of its shape.  Concretions are often interesting, but this one was remarkable.  But what to do with it???  Now I know.  On Christmas morning a little girl down the street will find a tiny box from Santa under the tree containing a "fossilized Eohippus."

Banana for scale.

"I did what little had to be done."

Lovers of classic murder mysteries will recognize the sentence in the title as a key element in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  For obvious reasons I'll defer any discussion of the plot, but there were several items of language and usage I thought might be worth mentioning.

"I don't know what Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd thought of the Ferrars affair when it came on the tapis."  Found the explanation on the Wikipedia disambiguation page:  "On the tapis, a Victorian phrase meaning 'on the table' or 'under consideration' (Tapis = tablecloth (Fr.)"

"I didn't think it would [do any good] either, but I protested in duty bound."  "Duty bound" is a familiar phrase, but the "in" seemed anomalous.  Found this: "Sources place this idiom's origin in the 1500s.  Digital records in the form in duty bound or by duty bound go back to at least the 1600s.  It appears as if the word in, however, started to disappear from use around the early 1900s."  

[describing Poirot]: "An egg-shaped head, partially covered with suspiciously black hair, two immense mustaches, and a pair of watchful eyes."  There is a lengthy discussion of this usage at Merriam Webster:

In other words: is mustache, linguistically speaking, properly singular or plural?... One thing that is notable about these early uses is that the plural is frequently used, even when the spelling is closer to the French moustache... Just as there was no consensus on spelling, there was no contemporaneous agreement about whether an individual possesses two mustaches or one. In another bilingual dictionary of the period, the Spanish word is presented as plural but the English word as singular... No less a writer than Shakespeare used the word in the singular (and note that excrement is here used in a now-obsolete sense meaning “outgrowth”):
"…for I must tell thee, it will please his grace, by the world, sometime to lean upon my poor shoulder, and with his royal finger thus dally with my excrement, with my mustachio..."
— William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1598
It may well be because of the example of whiskers that mustache was considered a plural for so long; they were, after all, synonymous terms.
More at the link, especially re the correct spelling of the term.  If I learn nothing else today, at least I know I can tell a mustachioed friend "Hey, I really like your excrement!"

"Flora joined me by the silver table, and expressed heretical doubts as to King Charles I ever having worn the baby shoe, "And anyway," continued MIss Flora, "all this making a fuss about things because some one wore or used them seems to me all nonsense.  They're not wearing or using them now.  The pen that George Eliot wrote The Mill on the Floss with - that sort of thing - well, it's only just a pen after all.  If you're really keen on George Eliot, why not get The Mill on the Floss in a cheap edition and read it?"  I'm storing this quote here for future use, because it is directly relevant to the most interesting thing I've read all year - but I don't have time to take a deep dive into that subject right now.

"Ralph's  nerves must have gone phut!  If he suddenly found out that his uncle had been murdered within a few minutes of his leaving him... well, he might get the wind up and clear right out."  I see this idiom all the time in mysteries - especially British ones.  The meaning is always clear - I know the person is alarmed or worried rather than having problems with flatus - but I never could parse the derivation of the phrase.  So today I looked it up and found a proper explanation at The Word Detective
“Put the wind up,” meaning “to alarm or make nervous,” as well as its close cousin “to get the wind up” (to become alarmed), both date to just after World War I, and are more often heard in the UK than in the US. The origin of the phrases apparently lies in the armed services slang of WWI (“Shells so close that they thoroughly put the wind up a Life Guardsman in the trench with me,” Wilfred Owen, 1918). But both phrases are still very popular, as can be seen in a recent headline from the UK-based technical website The Register, reporting on US alarm at the theft of a UK government computer containing various secrets: “MoD laptop thefts put the wind up the US.”

Evidently, the origin of “put the wind up” is considered a bit of a mystery. The Oxford English Dictionary is silent on the matter, and most of my reference works don’t even mention the phrase.

In his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Partridge related (and endorsed) the theory of one of his readers that the phrase comes from a sardonic parody of a standard British Army marching song of the WWI period called “The British Grenadiers.” The “improved” version, popular among enlisted men, contained the lines “Father was a soldier, at the Battle of Waterloo, the wind blew up his trousers, and he didn’t know what to do.” Soldiers sang this song as they marched off to war, and soon, according to this theory, anyone who was flustered or anxious was said to “have the wind up his trousers,” eventually shortened to “have (or get) the wind up.” As Partridge’s correspondent notes, the fact that the song definitely existed, and contained those words, makes this theory highly likely to be true.
That's enough for today.  I don't plan to discuss the other 65 Agatha Christie mysteries; I read them decades ago and had saved just this one for a final reread.

04 December 2020

An "honest trailer" for "A Christmas Story"


About a minute too long, but still enjoyable.

Meriwether Lewis carried an air rifle to the Pacific

In 2010 reader Mikeb302000 sent me a link to the very interesting video above.  The presentation comes from the National Firearms Museum, and provides details about the Girandoni air rifle, manufactured in the 1790s by Austrians and used in European wars.  A rifle similar to the one depicted was carried on the Voyage of Discovery by Lewis and Clark across the Louisiana Purchase to the mouth of the Columbia River.

I found more information at Guns.com:
The Livrustkammarne Museum in Stockholm is home to the earliest example of a mechanical air gun dating back to 1580... The Girandoni was the first pneumatic rifle and first repeating rifle ever used in warfare and it was special issue for the Austrian Army from 1780 to 1825...

And believe it or not it was a stone cold killer at up to 100 yards, able to punch a hole in a 1 inch pine board for the first 30 shots on a single air reservoir. The power dissipated and required a ‘pump up’ after that but the gun was miles ahead of anything seen thus far...

My initial scepticism of these weapons was fuelled by the misconception that they were similar to a Daisy BB gun. When I realized that the Girandoni propelled a .46 calibre ball through a rifled barrel at a muzzle velocity of 900 fps, I realized how wrong I had been. Providing a high rate of fire, there was no smoke from propellants nor muzzle flash to reveal ambush positions nor concern for inclement battle conditions as you needn’t worry about keeping powder dry.
This has permanently changed my concept of "air rifles."  I never owned an air rifle; my first weapon was a .22 caliber conventional rifle, and like most Americans, I conflated an "air rifle" with a BB gun, a mental image formed by repeated viewing of A Christmas Story -
The Red Ryder BB gun was prominently featured in A Christmas Story, in which Ralphie Parker requests one for Christmas, but is repeatedly rebuffed with the warning "You'll shoot your eye out". The movie's fictional BB gun, described as the "Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time", does not correspond to any model in existence nor even a prototype; the Red Ryder featured in the movie was specially made to match author Jean Shepherd's story (which may be artistic license, but was the configuration Shepherd claimed to remember). However, the "Buck Jones" Daisy air rifle, immediately above the Red Ryder in the Daisy line, did have a compass and sundial in the stock, but no other features of the "Red Ryder" model. The guns and a stand-up advertisement featuring the Red Ryder character appeared in a Higbee's store window in the film, along with dolls, a train, and Radio Flyer wagons.
The Girandoni air rifle was most impressive firearm for its era.  Fully recharging the pressure chamber required up to 1500 strokes, but European armies carried spare pressure chambers.  The next step for me was to read a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition.  I chose the classic Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jeffeerson, and the opening of the American West, by Stephen E. Ambrose, (excerpts here).

Reposted from 2012 because I found this while searching for info on A Christmas Story.

Word for the day: lithornithids

An abstract from the Proc. Roy. Soc. B:
Some probe-foraging birds locate their buried prey by detecting mechanical vibrations in the substrate using a specialized tactile bill-tip organ comprising mechanoreceptors embedded in densely clustered pits in the bone at the tip of their beak. This remarkable sensory modality is known as ‘remote touch’, and the associated bill-tip organ is found in probe-foraging taxa belonging to both the palaeognathous (in kiwi) and neognathous (in ibises and shorebirds) clades of modern birds. Intriguingly, a structurally similar bill-tip organ is also present in the beaks of extant, non-probing palaeognathous birds (e.g. emu and ostriches) that do not use remote touch. By comparison with our comprehensive sample representing all orders of extant modern birds (Neornithes), we provide evidence that the lithornithids (the most basal known palaeognathous birds which evolved in the Cretaceous period) had the ability to use remote touch. This finding suggests that the occurrence of the vestigial bony bill-tip organ in all modern non-probing palaeognathous birds represents a plesiomorphic condition. Furthermore, our results show that remote-touch probe foraging evolved very early among the Neornithes and it may even have predated the palaeognathous–neognathous divergence. We postulate that the tactile bony bill-tip organ in Neornithes may have originated from other snout tactile specializations of their non-avian theropod ancestors.
Photo via The New York Times, where the findings are discussed.  See also Wikipedia re lithornithids.

"Cytokine storm" explained

This year marks 10 years since the first description of a cytokine storm that developed after chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and 27 years since the term was first used in the literature to describe the engraftment syndrome of acute graft-versus-host disease after allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation. The term “cytokine release syndrome” was coined to describe a similar syndrome after infusion of muromonab-CD3 (OKT3). Cytokine storm and cytokine release syndrome are life-threatening systemic inflammatory syndromes involving elevated levels of circulating cytokines and immune-cell hyperactivation that can be triggered by various therapies, pathogens, cancers, autoimmune conditions, and monogenic disorders... 

In this review, we propose a unifying definition of cytokine storm; discuss the pathophysiological features, clinical presentation, and management of the syndrome; and provide an overview of iatrogenic, pathogen-induced, neoplasia-induced, and monogenic causes. Our goal is to provide physicians with a conceptual framework, a unifying definition, and essential staging, assessment, and therapeutic tools to manage cytokine storm.
For those who, like me, have fallen behind in reading, this New England Journal of Medicine review article is comprehensive (I believe all the coronavirus-related articles are available outside the firewall).

01 December 2020

The changing location of sunrise/sunset

As an adult I'm surprised how many people are unaware of this phenomenon, but TBH when I was a teenage driver I remember my disappointment that the Minnesota highway department had positioned a road so that I had to drive directly into the sunset on my way home from work...

The phenomenon is discussed briefly at APOD and at EarthSky.  Image via.

Seeking advice on salt licks and Flowbees

Every now and then I use this blog to get advice from readers about subjects that are a bit hard to find information about online.   My first queries are about salt licks.

We live on the outer fringe of Madison, Wisconsin and have a small woods behind the house.  Over the years we have been visited by a variety of mammals; in addition to the typical suburban chipmunks and raccoons and bats and moles and mice, we have seen deer, fox, coyote, woodchuck, and the occasional opossum - although fewer in recent years as new subdivisions have been replacing farm fields and pastures nearby.

I've been thinking of putting out a salt lick for the critters.  We have a Farm and Fleet store nearby that has product, so my questions are about any potential downside.  Does the leaching of salt from the block result in any problem for nearby plants?  This wouldn't be in a garden setting, but we do have spring ephemeral wildflowers in the woods, and I even wonder about the tolerance of trees.  Conventionally these blocks are out in a pasture far from trees.  I have been told that cattle not only lick the block away, but also nibble down into the soil underneath, carving out a pit to harvest all the available salt.  Similarly if the block is placed on a stump, the stump itself will eventually be eaten away by the animals.  Are the trace mineral supplements important?  How long they last will obviously depend on usage, but I'm wondering if I need to stock up in anticipation of rain and snow melting the block.  Will the bats make use of the salt lick??

The next question is about managing "covid hair."  I've patronized the same barbershop for the past 15 years.  I'm willing to listen to the constant FOX News programs because of the low ($16) price for a haircut.   I'm sure he is wearing a mask this year, but his shop is not much bigger than a modern walk-in closet, and his clientele may not be rigorous in mask use.  When I called this summer to inquire if he was by any chance offering outdoor haircuts he was incredulous.  So I have "covid hair" (which I suppose can be viewed as a political statement).

Because I almost never watch network television, I have been blissfully unaware of decades of infomercials about the "Flowbee" vacuum-assisted haircutting system.  While researching self-haircuts I came across an interview with George Clooney in which he reports cutting his own hair for the past 25 years using the Flowbee system (his comments start at the 2:15 mark of this video).  Apparently that's why he's wealthy; I always thought it was because of movies and celebrity fees, but it's also from the savings of doing one's own haircuts.  Readers - any experience or informed opinions on this?? (Amazon is sold out of the product, so the pandemic seems to have been good for the company).

Addendum:  I decided to get a salt+trace minerals brick, and have placed it at the junction of two walking paths, within binoculars view of our house.  I don't expect to see much activity because most visitors would likely be crepuscular, but the pattern of tracks in the winter snow might be interesting.

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