09 April 2021

This is so accurate...

World's longest fingernails get trimmed

Martian skating rink

Photo from the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission, showing water ice inside Korolev, an impact crater on Mars.
Korolev crater is 82 kilometres across and found in the northern lowlands of Mars, just south of a large patch of dune-filled terrain that encircles part of the planet’s northern polar cap (known as Olympia Undae). It is an especially well-preserved example of a martian crater and is filled not by snow but ice, with its centre hosting a mound of water ice some 1.8 kilometres thick all year round.

The very deepest parts of Korolev crater, those containing ice, act as a natural cold trap: the air moving over the deposit of ice cools down and sinks, creating a layer of cold air that sits directly above the ice itself.
Mars' polar caps have a mixture of carbon dioxide ice and water ice, "which vary greatly in proportion to one another depending on the season."

Stuff like this continues to boggle my old man's mind, because when I was growing up, water was considered to be rare in the universe and one of the factors that made life on Earth possible and "unique."

This is a crinkle crankle wall - updated

"A crinkle crankle wall, also known as a crinkum crankum, serpentine, ribbon or wavy wall, is an unusual type of garden wall built in a serpentine pattern with alternating curves.

The crinkle crankle wall economizes on bricks, despite its sinuous configuration, because it can be made just one brick thin. If a wall this thin were to be made in a straight line, without buttresses, it would easily topple over. The alternate convex and concave curves in the wall provide stability and help it to resist lateral forces.
"Crinkle crankle" is an ablaut reduplication, defined as something with bends and turns, first attested in 1598 (though "crinkle" and "crankle" have somewhat longer histories). However, it was not until the 18th century that the term began to be applied to wavy walls. At that time these garden walls were usually aligned east-west, so that one side faced south to catch the warming sun and were historically used for growing fruit...
Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) incorporated so-called serpentine walls into the architecture of the University of Virginia, which he founded. Flanking both sides of its landmark rotunda and extending down the length of the lawn are ten pavilions, each with its own walled garden separated by crinkle crankle walls. Although some authorities claim Jefferson invented this design, he was merely adapting a well-established English style of construction. A university document in his own hand shows how he calculated the savings and combined aesthetics with utility." [below, via

RelatedWorm fence (snake fence)

Reposted from last year to add this photo of an ancient Egyptian wall:

And this is a Dutch Slingermuur:

05 April 2021

Remembering the streetcars of Minneapolis

The fascinating photo above shows a streetcar in the town where I grew up (Excelsior, Minnesota).  Close examination of this photo [click for superhuge size] from the early 1900s reveals horse-drawn vehicles and a gloriously muddy street, crossed by boardwalks (note the sidewalks are also built of boards*).
A hun­dred years ago, you could get from Minneapolis to Excelsior as quick­ly as that 18-mile trip takes today at rush hour — about 45 min­utes — but in­stead of fum­ing in grid­lock, you'd breeze along, gaz­ing at fields and trees from a street­car.

From the late 1800s to the 1930s, streetcars were the pri­mary mode of trav­el with­in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also east to Stillwater, Bayport and White Bear Lake and west to Lake Minnetonka.

In the late 19th cen­tu­ry, Thomas Low­ry, own­er of Twin City Rapid Transit, be­gan lay­ing tracks for e­lec­tric streetcars to re­place steam-pow­ered com­mut­er trains. At its peak, the com­pany had 524 miles of track and car­ried 200 mil­lion rid­ers each year — more than twice Metro Transit's total rid­er­ship in 2019.

Streetcars brought to­gether peo­ple of all socio­eco­no­mic class­es, said John Diers, co-au­thor with Aaron Isaacs of Twin Cities by Trol­ley: The Street­car Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "Ev­er­y­one rode the street­car — from mil­lion­aires to ho­bos," said Diers, a re­tired trans­it employee...

Street­car speeds could top 60 mph, about 20 mph fast­er than a Ford Mod­el T.

As auto­mo­bile mass pro­duc­tion grew in the 1920s and '30s, street­car rid­er­ship dwin­dled. The Lake Minnetonka line closed in 1932. Car sales boomed af­ter World War II, sub­urbs de­vel­oped, and the last street­car in the met­ro area ran in 1954.
Here is a lengthy video of these streetcars (I'm not sure why it autostarts in the middle - you'll need to back up using the video progress bar):

Readers living in or visiting Minnesota who are interested in this subject should consider visiting the Minnesota Streetcar Museum.

*Unrelated to the streetcar, but I'll mention that I used to subscribe to coinshooting and metal-detecting magazines and read that when boardwalk sidewalks were replaced with concrete ones in the 1950s-60s, those doing so found lots of old coins on the ground below the boards.  

The average length of an erect human penis

"Most men believe that the average length of an erect penis is greater than 6 inches (15.24 cm). This belief is due, in part, to several often-cited studies that relied on self-reported measurements, with means of about 6.2 inches (15.75 cm) for heterosexual men and even greater for gay men. These studies suffered from both volunteer bias and social desirability bias. In this review, the combined mean for 10 studies in which researchers took measurements of erect penises was 5.36 inches (13.61 cm; n = 1,629). For 21 studies in which researchers measured stretched penises, the mean was approximately 5.11 inches (12.98 cm; n = 13,719). Based on these studies, the average length of an erect penis is between 5.1 and 5.5 inches (12.95-13.97 cm), but after taking volunteer bias into account, it is probably toward the lower end of this range. Studies show that a majority of men wish they were larger, with some choosing penile lengthening surgery. These surgeries are considered by the American Urological Association to be risky. Most men seeking surgery have normal sized penises. Counseling with factual information about penis size might be effective in alleviating concerns for the majority of men who worry about having a small penis."
Abstract posted at the NIH's National Library of Medicine.

Strange landform on Mars

It's pretty obvious what it is.  The feature rises prominently above the Martian terrain.  Because it is located south of Ascraeus Mons - a large volcano within the Tharsis volcanic plateau on Mars - NASA scientists believe it was formed by volcanic processes.

But you know, and I know, that this is a geoglyph, proving that ancient Martians worshipped rubber duckies.

More information at NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

Introducing the Not Fucking Around Coalition

"Grandmaster Jay’s group, the NFAC, is a Black militia whose goals, other than to abjure Fucking Around, are obscure. It has a militarylike structure, fields an army of hundreds of heavily armed men and women, subscribes to esoteric racist doctrines, opposes Black Lives Matter, and follows a leader who thinks we live in a period of apocalyptic tribulation signaled by the movements of celestial bodies. Its modus operandi is to deploy a more fearsome Black militia wherever white militias dare to appear...

In Louisville, just two hours from where Jay and I sat, the NFAC first revealed the extent of its capabilities. On his YouTube channel, Jay posted a video of his troops in formation, and local news stations ran aerial shots. The men and women are ragtag and amateur, and their uniforms are not, well, uniform. One man has a Texas-flag patch Velcroed to his body armor; a woman taps the trigger guard of her AR-15 with a three-inch yellow fingernail. But my goodness, the weaponry—AR-15s galore, sniper rifles with scopes and bipods, high-capacity magazines, and enough “tactical” clothing to resupply an Army-surplus store. They look like World War II partisans meeting their clandestine commander for the first time. They stand in neat, spaced columns. I counted 28 rows of seven before I stopped counting. (By contrast, aerial photos suggest that the white militiamen present that day could have fit in a small school bus.) When Jay orders his people into motion, they go. 
So far, that is all they do. They do not bicker with other protesters, carry signs, or explain themselves. “We don’t come to sing,” Jay told a reporter from Newsweek. “We don’t come to chant.” Instead they stand, like a praetorian guard for some unseen emperor. In this laconic way, they distinguish themselves from two groups they loathe or deride: white militias (the camo-bedecked guys who show up at the same demonstrations and, sometimes, at the behest of the president, try to topple American democracy) and Black Lives Matter, whose activists tend toward nonviolence. “That movement accomplished nothing,” Jay told me, just “a lot of singing, a lot of hand-holding, a lot of sentiments and praise.”
Lots more information in a longread at The Atlantic.

The pain of a stonefish sting

"I interviewed a lady at St John's Ambulance about snakebites and her experience. She said that a surprising number of people are bitten in their house or while trying to kill the snake. She also said that many people don't even know they have been bitten - they've been on a camping trip and feel sick and think it's food poisoning, until the teeth marks are spotted days layer or it felt like a branch brushing against their leg. Even the guy in Hobart said that you'd think it would really hurt, but he barely felt it and it latched onto him and was pumping the venom in. My favourite quote was about stonefish, which are a tropical reef fish with spines on their back and are excruciatingly painful when trodden on and nothing, even opiates, will relieve the pain - if someone phones in and thinks it's a stonefish, if there isn't someone screaming in the background, it's not a stonefish."
A hat tip to reader Jim for the quote.  Photo via Ocean Conservancy.

04 April 2021


I don't have a photo of an Easter lily to share, but will offer this photo of crocus currently popping up through the leaf litter in the woods out back.  And this poem (hat tip to reader Marlys Hesch Sebasky):
"First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus
                            --Lilja Rogers

The Wife of Bath's Tale - animated

If Chaucer is certainly not one thing, then it’s innocent.  The Wife of Bath’s tale is full of political incorrectness – so much so that a lot of feminist literature has been written about it - both for and against. The Wife of Bath embodies antifeminist beliefs in some ways but in others she resists them – a contradiction which has made her character so interesting for so long.  So here is her story, one of a knight, but not the kind that you get in Hollywood movies.  Having committed a heinous crime he is sent out in to the world by Queen Guinevere to discover what it is that women truly desire.  See if you agree with what he discovers.

This animated version of the Wife of Bath’s Tale was made by Beryl Productions International in 1999 and was nominated for a huge amount of awards, including an Academy Award.  It won the Emmy and the British BAFTA for Best Animated Film.
Via Kuriositas.  Spark Notes version here.

Street scenes in Mumbai

Visually interesting.  You may need to turn subtitles on in order to appreciate the recitation of the poem.

Brooklyn Supreme

That was his name.  In 1930 he was "the biggest horse ever."
Brooklyn "Brookie" Supreme (April 12, 1928 – September 6, 1948) was a red roan Belgian stallion noted for his extreme size. Although disputed, the horse may be the world record holder for largest (but not tallest) horse and was designated the world's heaviest horse. He stood 19.2 hands (198 cm (6 ft 6 in)) tall and weighed 3,200 lb (1,451 kg) with a girth of 10 ft 2 in (3.10 m). His horseshoes required 30 in (76 cm) of iron. The horse was foaled on the Minneapolis, Minnesota farm of Earle Brown.
Reposted from 2018 to add some additional material, including this photo of a Percheron stallion -

This Percheron exhibiting color change over a 5-year time span:

This is not specific to Percherons. Horses with the grey gene are born with whatever their coat pattern/color would have been without the grey gene. The grey gene then causes depigmentation of that color over time. It's a short period of time and usually you can see that a horse is carrying the grey gene when they are foals (many foals will present grey "goggles").
And this photo of a horse exhibiting seasonal color change:

01 April 2021

In praise of oak trees

Oaks support more life-forms than any other North American tree genus, providing food, protection or both for birds to bears, as well as countless insects and spiders... With 90-plus North American species and about 435 worldwide, Quercus is the Northern Hemisphere’s largest tree genus, made up mostly of trees that are very large and very long-lived, two factors among several that help explain the oak’s power...

Oak trees support 897 caterpillar species in the United States. At Mr. Tallamy’s 10-acre property in southeastern Pennsylvania, he has recorded 511 — dwarfing the number supported by other native trees there... [but not many butterflies, AFAIK: Hairstreaks, Red-spotted Purples, and Duskywings.]

An oak can produce three million acorns in its lifetime — tons of protein, fat and carbohydrates — and a mature tree can drop as many as 700,000 leaves every year..  The resulting litter is habitat for beneficial organisms...

Oaks and jays evolved together about 60 million years ago, in what is now Southeast Asia. Jays grew so adapted to life alongside oaks that a small hook at the tip of their bill “is designed to rip open an acorn husk,” Mr. Tallamy writes.  The bird’s expanded esophagus (a gular pouch) can hold up to five acorns — each one buried in a different spot.
I didn't know about the mutualism of blue jays and oaks.  You learn something every day.

Gene transfer from plant to insect documented.

I would have scoffed at the idea, but the report is in Cell:
Plants protect themselves with a vast array of toxic secondary metabolites, yet most plants serve as food for insects. The evolutionary processes that allow herbivorous insects to resist plant defenses remain largely unknown. The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is a cosmopolitan, highly polyphagous agricultural pest that vectors several serious plant pathogenic viruses and is an excellent model to probe the molecular mechanisms involved in overcoming plant defenses. Here, we show that, through an exceptional horizontal gene transfer event, the whitefly has acquired the plant-derived phenolic glucoside malonyltransferase gene BtPMaT1. This gene enables whiteflies to neutralize phenolic glucosides. This was confirmed by genetically transforming tomato plants to produce small interfering RNAs that silence BtPMaT1, thus impairing the whiteflies’ detoxification ability. These findings reveal an evolutionary scenario whereby herbivores harness the genetic toolkit of their host plants to develop resistance to plant defenses and how this can be exploited for crop protection.
Good discussion at Nature.  I wonder if Monarchs similarly adopted enzymes from milkweeds to enable the caterpillars to detoxify the cardenolides in the plant.  This article in Science (discussed in NYT) suggests that Monarchs did this via mutation, rather than by horizontal gene transfer.

A book lover has a dream

Via the Book Porn tumblr.

Lucrative crop

Not the trees.  The needles.
The longleaf pine’s most obvious attribute is its strong, straight timber — perfect for utility poles.

But the reason that longleaf pines are prized around here: their needles.

The dropped needles are in such demand that a lucrative business has grown up around raking, baling and selling them to landscapers and homeowners as mulch. Three varieties of pine needles are farmed, but the discarded debris of a longleaf pine is the most sought-after — and fetches the best price — because of its unusual length and high resin content, making it an attractive, water-retaining ground cover for gardens....

He could get $4,000 an acre for clear-cutting his mature longleaf pines for timber. Or, he said, he could earn $1,200 an acre collecting pine needles from the same trees — every year... His workers are paid by the bale. It’s tough, seasonal work. But they can earn $900 a week, Wilson said. He recalled one notably efficient worker who pulled in $1,400 a week.

Here's something you don't see every day

"A 54-year-old woman presented with palpitations that were relieved when she passed gas or had a bowel movement. Computed tomography revealed the presence of the transverse colon within the pericardial cavity."
Details at the NEJM link, but basically this is a rare presentation of a diaphragmatic hernia.

Another fatal gender reveal

"The small plane arced over a blue lagoon near the Caribbean Sea, flying low above a family in a boat on Tuesday afternoon. As they clapped, it released a pink cloud into the sky.

“Girl! Girl!” a man aboard the boat yelled in Spanish, celebrating the dramatic results of the elaborate gender-reveal stunt for a new baby in the family. “It’s a girl!”

Seconds later, the family’s video shows, the small aircraft plummeted into the 
Nichupté Lagoon, a body of water off the east coast of Cancún, as the family and their guests watched in disbelief.

Both the pilot and the co-pilot were killed in the crash, authorities later confirmed to local media.

The crash is the latest incident of a gender-reveal celebration that turned fatal. In recent years, a practice that became popular following a 2008 parenting blog post has sparked multiple wildfires, led to several deaths in explosions and caused at least one other plane crash."

31 March 2021

Flaying as judicial punishment

"This, then, is what Darius said, and after appointing Artaphrenes, his father's son, to be viceroy of Sardis, he rode away to Susa, taking Histiaeus with him. First, however, he made Otanes governor of the people on the coast. Otanes' father Sisamnes had been one of the royal judges, and Cambyses had cut his throat and flayed off all his skin because he had been bribed to give an unjust judgment. Then he cut leather strips of the skin which had been torn away and with these he covered the seat upon which Sisamenes had sat to give judgment.  After doing this, Cambyses appointed the son of this slain and flayed Sisamnes to be judge in his place, admonishing him to keep in mind the nature of the throne on which he was sitting."                   --- Herodotus, The Histories, Book 5, Chapter 2.

There is some relevant discussion at the via.

Related post at Atlas Obscura: Saint Bartholomew Flayed.

Triptych of shadows

Not sure whether you want Venus de Milo, David, or Michaelangelo's Risen Christ on your wall?  With this creation you can have all three.  FWIW, the items agglomerated in the center are pieces of garbage.  Via.

Interesting wardrobe

Via the Secret Compartments subreddit.  Does any reader know if the ?constellations on the back of the door are part of the Narnia story (I haven't read the books).

28 March 2021

A girl and a tuba

"A little girl peeks inside a tuba during the National Festival of bands, Crystal Palace, London, October 1923 (Topical Press Agency / Getty Images) source: ilpost.it"  
Via the Haunted by Storytelling tumblr and the ever-interesting Lushlight.

This tool measures piano key "up-weight" and "down-weight"

Informed discussion in the thread at the Specialized Tools subreddit (and a clarification that speaker Christian Bolduc has a specifically Quebec accent).

"We all have the right to do what we want to do as Americans"

Thus tweeted the owners of a New Jersey gym that is offering free memberships to people who DON'T get the Covid-19 vaccine.  This action is being taken in response to Krispy Kreme's announcement that "anyone who could produce a valid COVID-19 vaccination card could get a free original glazed doughnut "anytime, any day, even every day — through the remainder of 2021."

Backlash against Krispy Kreme:
"I can’t believe people actually fall for this propaganda," another tweeted. "...amazing how many weak minded gullible ignorant people are walking around this planet right now... throw your life away...reprogram your DNA .. all for a card showing you cooperated.. and a donut."

Like a birthday every day

Interesting bookshelves

Minimizing color clashes in a color-neutral room, hiding reading preferences from curious visitors, or perhaps just a whim?  Via the like-fairy-tales tumblr. 

Immigrant groups in Minnesota, 1900 - 2019

The graphic above was compiled and published in 2001.  In 1900 new immigrants (born elsewhere) constituted a full quarter of the state's population.  In response to a request to update the data, the StarTribune posted this graphic today:

26 March 2021

Better than augmented reality...

I wasn't born in a state

I was born in the District of Columbia when my father was stationed at a naval base nearby in the post-war period.  Endless arguments still rage as to whether D.C. should be granted statehood.  The latest debate is noted at BoingBoing:  
Yesterday morning Rep. Jody Hice (R–GA) made the bizarre argument that D.C. could not become a state because it doesn't have a car dealership.**  Then later in the day Senator Mike Rounds (R–S.D.) tried to make the argument that "the founding fathers never intended for Washington D.C. to be a state." This, coming from a senator who represents South Dakota, a non-existent state during the days of the founding fathers that was later created to give republicans more votes.
The reason Republicans are opposed to D.C. statehood is based on demographics: voter registration there is 76% Democrat, 6% Republican according to Senator Rounds.

"DC has more residents than WY and pays more taxes than 20 states, including [South Dakota]. The founding fathers specifically said, "No taxation without representation!"

It's all politics - power politics and money.  That's all senators care about. 

** Addendum: "Except DC does have car dealerships, as a Google search or visit to the DC Department of Motor Vehicles website -- or perhaps a leisurely drive around town -- would have shown."

Our dysfunctional government

From an article at Axios:

Some tools at McConnell's disposal:

Demanding roll call votes on procedural points of order, forcing Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris — the tie-breaking 51st vote — to live on standby at the Capitol.

Unnecessary quorum calls, pausing Senate business while the secretary issues a roll call vote to ensure all 100 senators are present on the floor. It only takes one member to call for it.

Rotating Republicans onto the floor for hours-long debate about motions and bills — reminiscent of the technique illustrated in the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Asking Senate secretaries to read through lengthy bills and amendments, similar to what Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) did before a vote on President Biden's coronavirus relief package — which took more than 10 hours.

Senate GOP aides say they could introduce 2,000-page substitute amendments to make the process particularly tedious...

"The Senate convenes. Quorum call. The presiding officer asks for consent to forgo reading yesterday’s journal. Republicans object. Roll call vote. The officer asks for consent to speed through 'morning business.' Republicans object."

"Democrats move to get on an issue. Point of order. Roll-call vote. Quorum call. Republicans object to the motion. Roll-call vote. A speech. Quorum call. Etc., and so on, until adjournment."

The other side: Democrats insist they've heard it before, and their supporters are sick of McConnell's rhetoric — especially after he changed the filibuster rule to let President Trump fill three Supreme Court seats.

Zoom fatigue

I had four Zoom sessions last week, but I still enjoy the experience.

Check your windowsill for "rock balls" like these

If you find one, Scotland wants it back:
Elaborately carved with patterns of spirals, circles and wandering lines, smooth curves and distinctive ‘knobs’, it would look perfect as a garden decoration, a paperweight or on a windowsill.

And, indeed, a window ledge is where one of Scotland’s most enigmatic and intriguing objects was apparently found: a carved stone ball rooted in prehistoric times, unearthed by curious fingers, dusted down and admired enough to be given a fresh use as a household ornament.

It was one of more than 500 Neolithic carved stone balls, some with intricate patterns, others with expertly carved knobs and tiny pyramids... to have been found in Scotland, and which have sparked endless debate about what exactly they were used for.
More info at The Herald, via Neatorama.

Someone finds their birthday on a dollar bill

And is understandably ecstatic after searching for 20 years.

What's in your wallet?

Classic chase scene from "The Naked Gun"

24 March 2021

Still "no way to prevent this"

BOULDER, CO—In the hours following a violent rampage in Colorado in which a lone attacker killed 10 individuals and injured several others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Monday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Kansas resident Andrew Thompson, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
Cited in toto from The Onion.  Comments closed because obviously there's nothing to say because incidents like this are inevitable and can't be prevented and these things will continue happening forever because nobody can stop them.  Obviously.

22 March 2021

Wolpertingers and tatzelwurms

I recently read Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian vampire novel Carmilla, which introduced me to two new words.
In German folklore, a wolpertinger ... is an animal said to inhabit the alpine forests of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany... It has a body comprising various animal parts—generally wings, antlers, a tail, and fangs, all attached to the body of a small mammal. The most widespread description portrays the Wolpertinger as having the head of a hare, the body of a squirrel, the antlers of a deer, and the wings and occasionally the legs of a pheasant... It resembles other creatures from German folklore, such as the Rasselbock of the Thuringian Forest, the Dilldapp of the Alemannic region, and the Elwedritsche of the Palatinate region, which accounts describe as a chicken-like creature with antlers; additionally the American Jackalope as well as the Swedish Skvader somewhat resemble the wolpertinger. The Austrian counterpart of the wolpertinger is the raurakl.
In Alpine folklore, the Tatzelwurm or Stollenwurm, Stollwurm is a lizard-like creature, often described as having the face of a cat, with a serpent-like body which may be slender or stubby, with four short legs or two forelegs. The alleged creature is sometimes said to be venomous, or to attack with poisonous breath, and to make a high-pitched or hissing sound.

Anecdotes describing encounters with the creature or briefly described lore about them can be found in several areas of Europe, including the Austrian, Bavarian, French, Italian and Swiss Alps. It has several other regional names, including Bergstutz, Springwurm, Praatzelwurm, and in French, arassas

Revisiting "Brother To Dragons"

Several months ago when I wrote an extended post about All The King's Men, I was reminded of how much I had enjoyed reading Robert Penn Warren's Brother to Dragons back in college.  The entire narrative style of this "tale in verse and voices" was new to me, and the content was horrible and unforgettable:
On the night of December 15, 1811 the New Madrid earthquake first struck the Mississippi Valley.  That night Lilburn Lewis, son of the sister of President Thomas Jefferson, butchered a slave whose offense had been to break a pitcher prized by the dead mother, Lucy Lewis.
For this post I'll defer on my usual listing of unusual words, because Warren's vocabulary is so immense and arcane.  Instead I'll just cite several memorable passages.

Re the settlement of the West in the 1790s:

"Above Paducah, east some fifteen miles,
Upriver, there it is, they call it Smithland.
The town, I mean.  It never came to much,
Sure not the vision and vainglory the man
Named Smith - whoever he may have been - had
In mind that morning when they laid the log,
Squared sill, mixed clay for chink, and split the shakes,
For the first cabin, back in the seventeen-nineties.
He had a right to hope, that fellow Smith,
In that heyday of hope and heart's extravagance
When Grab was watchword and earth spread her legs
Wide as she could, like any jolly trollop
Or bouncing girl back in the bushes after
The preaching or the husking bee, and said, 
"Come git it, boy, hit's yourn, but git it deep."
Thomas Jefferson acknowledges the darkness inherent in men:
"I'm not a fool.
I saw the conduct of life.  I saw the things
Men do, broadcloth and buckskin, friend and foe,
And the stench of action is not always sweetened
By the civet of motive, nor motive by good action.
For late at night by the infirm flame I had sat
While wind walked over Albemarle and the oak groaned,
And sleet hissed on the pane, and blood winked
Low in the heart, and I kept my eyes only by
Effort of will on some disastrous page.
I read the books, and know that all night long
History drips in the dark, and if you should fumble
Your way into that farther room where no
Light is, the floor would be slick to your foot."
R.P.W. on the complexity of motives:
"She loved you so much, yes, that's one way to put it.
Or hated them, for that's another way.
To put the reason, and there's nothing strange
In that, for every act is but a door
Between two rooms, on equal hinges hung
To open either way, on either room,
And every act is Janus-faced and double,
And every act to become an act must resolve
The essential polarity fo possibility.
Thus though the act is life and without action
There is no life, yet action is a constant withering
Of possibility, and hence of life
So by the act we live, and in action die."
R.P.W. muses:
"Well, nothing did change.
Lilburn was Lilburn,  and the year drove on.
They buried Lucy Lewis in the yard,
And the year drove on.  Winter.  And from the Dakotas
The wind veers, gathers itself in ice-glitter
And star-gleam of dark, and finds the long sweep of the valley.
A thousand miles and the fabulous river is ice in the starlight.
The ice is a foot thick, and beneath, the water slides black like a dream,
And in the interior of that unpulsing blackness and thrilled zero
The big channel-cat sleeps with eye lidless, and the brute face
Is the face of the last torturer, and the white belly
Brushes the delicious and icy blackness of mud.
But there is no sensation.  How can there be
Sensation when there is perfect adjustment?  The blood
Of the creature is but the temperature of the sustaining flow:
The catfish is in the Mississippi and
The Mississippi is in the catfish and
Under the ice both are at one with God.
Would that we were!"
p.s. - I had to look up the source of the title phrase "brother to dragons," and found it here:
Many scholars quickly point out the derivation of the title of this book, found in the Book of Job: "I am a brother to dragons and a companion to owls"(30:29). Much like Job, Thomas Jefferson perceived himself to be an upright man, a man of virtue. Both of these men were similar in one respect – they believed that their virtue and determination to do what is right and good would be enough to sustain their lives, ignoring completely the possibility that within their nature they possessed some evil, or that they were remotely close to others whose nature contained even the slightest evil. Though deluded, both men saw themselves as "freed, by means of their virtue, from common human contamination"(Strandberg 171).
Here is the reading list for the 1966 college course on "Twentieth Century Southern Writers" which introduced me to this book:

What an outstanding reading list that was.  Even now, looking back over a span of 50+ years, I have pleasant memories of the many hours spent with those novels.  I even kept a copy of the final exam, which had excerpts from those books to compare and contrast in terms of the treatment of the theme of love.  I'll put the exam below the fold here for readers who were English majors.  

Mars viewed as a "water world"

An article at CNET reports that "four billion years ago, Mars had enough water to cover the entire planet with an ocean between 100 and 1,500 meters (328 and 4,920 feet) deep, and that between 30% and 99% of that water is now trapped in minerals in the crust."

A quick visit to Mr. Google led me to an EarthSky article suggesting the same history for Earth:  
"... most of Earth’s water was on the surface at that time, during the Archean Eon between 2.5 and 4 billion years ago, with much less in the mantle. The planet’s surface may have been virtually completely covered by water, with no land masses at all... These new results not only provide a glimpse of what Earth used to be like as a water world, but also have implications for other water worlds in our solar system such as Europa, Enceladus and other ocean moons. Those moons are different from Earth, however, in that their global oceans are covered by crusts of ice. In many ways they are similar to the ice-covered ocean environments at Earth’s poles.

There are several such ocean moons known in our solar system. Even some dwarf planets like Ceres and Pluto had subsurface oceans and may still today. With thousands of exoplanets being discovered, and estimated to be in the billions in our galaxy alone, how many moons are out there? Likely more than we can easily count right now, and if our solar system is any indication, many of those moons may also be ocean worlds.
Science extends the speculation re the origins of life:
The evidence for larger oceans challenges scenarios for how life began on Earth, says Thomas Carell, a biochemist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Some researchers believe it began at nutrient-rich hydrothermal vents in the ocean, whereas others favor shallow ponds on dry land, which would have frequently evaporated, creating a concentrated bath of chemicals.

A larger ocean exacerbates the biggest strike against the underwater scenario: that the ocean itself would have diluted any nascent biomolecules to insignificance. But by drowning most land, it also complicates the thin pond scenario. Carell, a pond advocate, says in light of the new paper, he is now considering a different birthplace for life: sheltered, watery pockets within oceanic rocks that broke the surface in volcanic seamounts.
What amazes me is that all this water would have had to come from bombardment by water-rich asteroids and comets.

Monarchs in the Oyamel fir forests of central Mexico

It's always amazing to see the spectacular clusters of Monarchs at their overwintering grounds.  This page at Journey North has lots of related information.  But iNaturalist reports that the severe late-winter storm in Texas did wreak havoc on the first part of the northward migration path:
The 11-day cold spell (10-20 February) in Texas was a disaster. Freezing temperatures covered the state and extended well into Northern Mexico. While many of the immediate effects of the freeze are clear, season long and multiple year effects may linger. The damage to the flora was extraordinary, and it is likely that nearly all above ground insects died over a wide area. Plants already in flower may have been so damaged as to not flower this year. We are seeking help to record that damage and the recovery of plants that flower in March along with the appearance of milkweed shoots and buds. Both are resources used by monarchs returning from Mexico in mid-March. We also need help recording the number of returning monarchs. ALL monarch observations are of value. How well the monarch population will develop in 2021 will be determined by the March conditions in Texas.
The link provides information on how citizen scientists can contribute data.

This updating map shows where Monarchs have been sighted so far this year. 

18 March 2021

A vampire can be considered "amphibious"

Sheridan LeFanu's classic work about a lesbian vampire, Carmilla, describes vampires thus:
"How they escape from their graves and return to them for certain hours very day, without displacing the clay or leaving any trace of disturbance in the state of the coffin or the cerements, has always been utterly inexplicable.  The amphibious existence of the vampire is sustained by daily renewed slumber in the grave.  Its horrible lust for living blood supplies the vigor of its waking existence."
In modern parlance, water is considered to be a bane for vampires, so when I saw that phrase in Carmilla, I wondered if it was a typo, but it is used again later in that chapter:
"[Vondenburg] has left a curious paper to prove that the vampire, on expulsion from its amphibious existence, is projected into a far more horrible life, and he resolved to save his once beloved Mircalla from this."
My standard dictionaries provide definitions only involving a dual existence on land and in the water, but I pulled out the OED to find some archaic usages.  The third definition is simply "having two lives," with citations from the 1640s to the 1840s, including Coleridge.

The justification for the usage is apparent from the etymology:
From Ancient Greek ἀμφίβιος (amphíbios). From ἀμφί (amphí, "two sides") + βίος (bíos, “life”).
You learn something every day.

This is the world's first "double bongcloud" opening in chess

Performed by two grandmasters at a world championship tournament, and discussed with video at The Guardian.  Even amateur recreational chess players will understand the ridiculous humor involved.

17 March 2021

The story of Bobsister

An episode of This American Life that I totally enjoyed this morning.

Click this link to listen.  ("Prologue," 13 minutes)

I can't quite explain what it's about.  Well... it's about third grade.  Anyone who has known a third grader (or been a third grader) will appreciate this.  Trust me.

"Sometimes you're joking around, and it's all light and fun and trying something you've never done before. And some bigger subterranean force gets unleashed."

61st anniversary of The Day I Didn't Die

It was 1960.  I was flying to Florida for a spring vacation with a school classmate (on the left).  That was the era when you got dressed in your best clothes, and you walked out on the tarmac to climb the steps into the plane.  And you loaded up on some comic books for in-flight entertainment:

You can imagine the excitement for a Minnesota boy to get to go to Florida to visit family.  My dad took these photos, and on the back of one of them I found a message that I wrote several years later when my parents told me a little more backstory...

I suppose technically every day is the anniversary of a day one didn't die, but some of those days are more memorable than others.

Rescue beaver must be a handful as a house pet

Fear of the unknown

 "For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things that children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true.  This terror, therefore, and darkness of the mind must be dispersed, not by the rays of the sun nor the bright shaft of daylight, but by the aspect and law of nature."
---Lucretius: De Rerum Natura, III

15 March 2021

Signs of spring in the Midwest

On my way to the library this morning, I heard bird calls coming from the sky.  In recent days we've heard the first honkings of Canada geese, but these were different - they came from a couple dozen Sandhill cranes.  The closest I can come to describing the raucous call is if you can imagine the grinding sound of wooden axles on Conestoga wagons.  Example here, although that call of warning from the ground may be different from the one in the air.  Another example, from the website of the International Crane Foundation, which is not far from our home here in Madison.

These calls are loud - probably audible for a half-mile or more (which is probably the point of uttering them), and while not melodious are still a welcome sign that the seasons are changing.  We have a front moving in from that storm that pummeled the Rockies this weekend, so I suppose these cranes are aloft seeking air currents that will carry them further north to their breeding sites.  They are not in aerodynamic vees here, but are perhaps in the process of descending or ascending or just getting organized for their migration.

First robin in our yard was earlier this week, as was our first butterfly, on a 60-degree day, when a Mourning Cloak fluttered by as I did yard chores.

(photo from a previous spring, to illustrate the dorsal colors and the underside camo that resembles tree bark)

These Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) incredibly overwinter with us, surviving temps to -20F hidden in some woodpile or under tree bark or in an unheated shed etc, ready to emerge as typically the first BFs of the year.  They emerge before flowers are abundant as nectar sources, so have to rely on leaking tree sap for their sugar sources for energy (these were feeding on peanut butter I had spread on the bark).

My chores were the annual cleanup of the flower beds -

- with the right side done in the photo above (on my second barrel of leaf litter and old vegetation), and it required another barrel or two to get the bed almost finished -

But today that weather front propelling the cranes northward is bringing us yet another round of snow, so the garden will have to do without my ministrations for several more days.

Later -  *sigh*

Music trivia to start your day

Last night Beyonce took over the #1 spot for most Grammys awarded to a female performer.   Few people know that the person she overtook to gain the #1 spot is Alison Krauss, a bluegrass singer with 27 Grammys to her credit.

In the video embedded above Alison Krauss performs a duet with the legendary Robert Plant (who sang it quite differently in his 1973 duet with Jimmy Page).

Hat tip to John Authers for the info and links.

13 March 2021

Tardigrade egg

Because I like to end my blogging day with an interesting image.   Colorized scanning EM.  Here's another one:

At the via I found this comment:  "Tardigrades are born with the exact same number of cells as they have in adulthood. Their cells don't multiply during growth, they each just ... get bigger, as cells."

And finally this scan of a 50-hour old tardigrade embryo:

"One of nearly 1,000 species of hardy tardigrades, the Hypsibius dijardini embryo pictured above may have been the product of a sexless act of reproduction, its mother squirting her genetic material directly into eggs without bothering with any of the handful of males of her species for fertilization, according to the Encyclopedia of Life. That reproductive ability (called parthenogenesis), a genetic heritage largely unchanged through the generations, was her birthright and one she would likely have passed down to her children."
And BTW, there are tardigrades on the moon now.

Dialing 10 digits to make a local phone call

A new requirement that apparently extends beyond Wisconsin:
All Wisconsin residents will have to dial 10 digits to make local calls starting in October as part of a move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Residents are encouraged to begin getting used to dialing 10 digits ahead of time, but local calls will still go through with seven digits up until the October cutoff.

More than 80 area codes in 30-plus states will be affected, including four of Wisconsin’s six area codes: 262, 414, 608 and 920.  The 715 and 534 codes already use 10-digit dialing for local calls.

The change is a result of an FCC order creating a three-digit dialing code to be used to reach the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. All telecommunications carriers, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers and one-way VoIP providers are required to make any necessary network changes by July 16, 2022 so that 988 can be dialed to reach the existing hotline (1-800-273-8255).

(figure out title later)

Via Neatorama.

How the world of "news" has changed

"The first American paper, Benjamin Harris's Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, committed to appearing only once a month - or 'oftener if any Glut of Occurrences happen.'" 
- cited in Vicious Cycles: Theses on a philosophy of news, Harper's, January 2020

12 March 2021

Absolutely awesome video of Iceland's glaciers

Historic file footage combined with modern aerial photography using a slider to show changes in one lifetime.  This video cries out for clicking the full-screen icon in the lower right corner.

Why fish is not considered meat during Lent

The rationale is explained at Mental Floss:
In Part II of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote:
"Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products."
Put differently, Aquinas thought fellow Catholics should abstain from eating land-locked animals because they were too darn tasty. Lent was a time for simplicity, and he suggested that everyone tone it down. It makes sense. In the 1200s, meat was a luxury. Eating something as decadent as beef was no way to celebrate a holiday centered on modesty. But Aquinas had another reason, too: He believed meat made you horny.
"For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods."
Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, for one, has been used to justify [excluding fish from the meat category]. Paul wrote, " … There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds" (1 Corinthians 15:39). That distinction was possibly taken from Judaism's own dietary restrictions, which separates fleishig (which includes land-locked mammals and fowl) from pareve (which includes fish). Neither the Torah, Talmud, or New Testament clearly explains the rationale behind the divide...

It's arbitrary, anyway. In the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec ruled that beavers were fish. In Latin America, it's OK to eat capybara, as the largest living rodent is apparently also a fish on Lenten Fridays. Churchgoers around Detroit can guiltlessly munch on muskrat every Friday. And in 2010, the Archbishop of New Orleans gave alligator the thumbs up when he declared, “Alligator is considered in the fish family."
There's more at the ever-fascintaing Mental Floss link.

Randy Rainbow takes on President Biden

Purchasing books by color

I've heard of this for years, but didn't realize it was so popular until I found this Etsy seller and scrolled down the page to see other offerings by other sellers.  Prices apparently vary by color:

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