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.

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 from Minneapolis to Florida via Chicago 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

The leadership of the world is changing

Offered without commentary except for the title of the post.

This video was emailed to me by a family member on International Women's Day earlier this week.  Unfortunately this copy appears to be pirated from the original because the credits have been removed.  If anyone can find a YouTube link to the original, I'd like to switch to that.

Wherein I learn what a "collarmaker's palm" is...

The book I'm currently reading is "The Brendan Voyage" by Tim Severin, which details a man's quest to test the possibility that ancient Irish monks could have sailed to the North America in a leather boat.  More about the book later, when I finish it, but for now this paragraph from page 52:
...we had only to make and fit the bow and stern sections of the leather.  We anticipated extra wear and tear in these areas, and so we doubled the thickness of the leather, and on the bow where it might run on a rock or onto sharp flotsam, we made it four layers thick, more than an inch of solid leather.  Only John O'Connell had the strength for this work.  From his Gladstone bag he produced a pair of great heavy half-moon needles and an antiquated collarmaker's palm that was almost a museum piece.  As I watched him drive the needles through the leather with his prodigious strength, I thanked our luck that we had found such a man.
A boat is being built as it would have been constructed in Medieval times, with the frame pieces hand-lashed together with flax bindings, then covered with tanned oxhides.  I had never heard of a "collarmaker's palm," though from the context I thought I could discern the purpose (the "collarmakers" in the book are horse-collar makers (leather workers), not shirt-collar makers).  

Embedded at the top is a photo I found on eBay (US $23 or best offer) of a "leather workers sail makers leather palm" with no further details of its use.  But when I amended my search to include sail-making, I found a bunch of images, including this one -

- from the Maine Memory Network (Maine Historical Society), via Pauline's Pirates & Privateers.
This tool is worn on the hand and used to push a sailmaker's needle through heavy material, often through multiple layers. The end of the needle fits into one of the indentations on the "eye," the round metal part of the palm.

This roping palm is used for heavier work such as sewing bolt rope around the edge of the sails, working with leather, or hand sewing grommets. With this work, twine is wrapped around the "horn" to pull and tighten each stitch. A smaller, lighter seaming palm would be used for hand-stitching panels of canvas together.
The "seaming palm" is shown here.  As Pauline explains:
The benefit of a palm over a simple thimble is that the pressure of the entire hand, not just one finger, can be applied against the resistance of the canvas.
And finally, from the Flickr photostream of the Voyager NZ Maritime Museum, this photo of a sailmaker using his "palm tool":

Reposted from 2011 to add this photo of the corner of a hand-stitched sail from the 1800s (via):

For that kind of needlework, it's understandable that a collarmaker's palm or seaming palm would be appropriate.

10 March 2021

Heterochromia in mother and daughter

Pretzels as a bakery food for Lent

Within the Christian Church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products such as milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are hidden today, and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter.
Lots more info at the Wikipedia link.  Image: Jan Steen, Baker Arent Oostwaard and his wife Catherina Keizerswaar (1658) features pretzels, Rijksmuseum.

The most impressive drone video I've ever seen

Certainly not the most beautiful drone video, but in terms of technical accomplishment it is absolutely awesome.  It must have been very small to go where it did, and the video definition is excellent.  The audio ?dubbed in or ?copter blade whirr deleted?  And the speed - at times it looks "speeded up," but the motions of the humans are appropriate.  So kudos to the operator for dexterity.

Addendum:  An article in the Minneapolis paper about the making of this video.  No CGI.  One take.

During Lent, beware of Greeks bearing... bags of flour

Clean Monday marks the first day of Orthodox Lent in Greece. Although there’s still an atmosphere of carnival on the streets, only “pure” food is eaten. Galaxidi, a city located 200 km/124 miles from Athens, is home to an annual flour war. The “war” is a long kept tradition which happens every year on the first day of Lent. Given the messiness of the war, Clean Monday is not exactly a good word for it though. Every year, for the past 200 years, residents and visitors spend their day bombarding everyone with bags of colored flour. Because the dye in the flour leaves nasty stains, the old buildings in the town are covered in plastic sheets. No one seems to be spared so if you plan to visit Galaxidi this time of the year, just remember that getting colored flour all over yourself is not as idyllic as it might seem.
Der Spiegel reports that the festival is also cleverly known as "alevromoutzouromata" or "people throw flour at each other."
The flour fight dates back to the very beginning of the 19th century, according to the Greek tourism bureau. Villagers began celebrating Carnival in defiance of the Ottoman occupiers, painting their faces with ash and dancing in decorous circles, one for women, one for men.
It's not quite as spectacular as the "Rouketopolemos" (Greek Рουκετοπόλεμος, literally Rocket-War) held annually at Easter in the town of Vrontados.  And not quite as colorful as India's Holi

Reposted from 2008.

09 March 2021

If you find this in your driveway...

... or this in your lawn...

... don't throw it away.  Those are the remnants of a meteorite.
Several rocky fragments have been recovered from the fireball that lit up the sky above southern England just over a week ago.  They came down in the Winchcombe area of Gloucestershire.

A householder first alerted experts after noticing a pile of charred stone on his driveway. Other members of the public have since come forward with their own finds.

Researchers are particularly thrilled because of the rarity of the rock type.  It's carbonaceous chondrite - a stony material that retains unaltered chemistry from the formation of our Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.  "Many contain simple organics and amino acids; some of them contain minerals formed by water - so, all the ingredients are there for understanding how you make a habitable planet such as the Earth," he told BBC News...

Because this fireball was tracked via camera on entry to Earth's atmosphere, its orbit has been worked out. The object came from the outer asteroid belt, out towards Jupiter.  This means its composition almost certainly will be very primitive.

"Basically, that's part of the Solar System we regard as like a deep freeze of material that's 4.5 billion years old," explained the NHM's Prof Sara Russell. "It hasn't had a chance to change at all from pre-planetary time. It will give us an insight into what our Solar System was like before the planets were there."

Mr Arthur Pettifor was tending his onions in his garden when a 10cm rock dropped into his hedge.
And this is my take-home lesson:
The object should then be placed in foil without direct handling. And the absolute no-no: do not put a magnet near the material. This could destroy important information needed to study the rock.
Perhaps a reader can explain why the polarity of the minerals in the material is important.  You learn something every day.

"Filibuster" means "mercenary pirate"

"Filibuster" is frequently used in the political news nowadays, but not one person in a million can tell you the etymology - and that one person would probably be Dutch.
Borrowed from Spanish filibustero (“pirate”), from French flibustier, from Dutch vrijbuiter (“freebooter”), from vrij (“free”) + buit (“booty”) + -er (“agent”). The word has the same construction as, and is cognate to, English freebooter.
1) A mercenary soldier; a freebooter; specifically, a mercenary who travelled illegally in an organized group from the United States to a country in Central America or the Spanish West Indies in the mid-19th century seeking economic and political benefits through armed force. 

2) (US politics) A tactic (such as giving long, often irrelevant speeches) employed to delay the proceedings of, or the making of a decision by, a legislative body, particularly the United States Senate. 

3) (US politics) A member of a legislative body causing such an obstruction; a filibusterer.
The embedded image is a posed movie still (not really a scene) from the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

08 March 2021

Hardest anagram ever?


As explained by NASA:
In the spring of 1655, the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens announced his discovery that Saturn had a moon orbiting it. 

Huygens used an interesting method for this announcement — he sent a coded message, an anagram, to his fellow astronomers...  In Huygens’ time, astronomers and other scientists would use anagrams to pass around the news of their discoveries. No one else could claim to be the discoverer in the meantime, because no one else even knew what it was that had been discovered. After everyone had received the anagram, the scientist told them how to unscramble it, revealing the message.

When the anagram is unscrambled, it reads, in Latin, “Saturno luna sua circunducitur diebus sexdecim horis quatuor,” which means “Saturn’s moon revolves in sixteen days and four hours.” 

Only one of these is a flower

The one on the left.  The other two are fungal growths.
The orange oddities were not really flowers at all. And the yellow-eyed grasses—which belong to a genus called Xyris—had not made them.

Instead they were mimics—the product of a fungus that Wurdack, who works at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and his colleagues recently described. The fungus, Fusarium xyrophilum, infects an Xyris plant and sterilizes it to block the plant’s own blooms. Then F. xyrophilum hijacks an as yet unknown aspect of the plant’s operations to host pseudoflowers made entirely of fungal tissue—potentially tricking pollinators to disperse its spores rather than pollen from the plant’s flowers. The finding is thought to be a first of its kind on record.

A handful of other fungal imposters only go partway, typically modifying a host’s leaves rather than building their own mock flower. For instance, some rust fungi belonging to the order Pucciniales induce hosts to produce rosettes of leaves (in place of their own flowers) on which the fungus erupts, resembling nearby yellow-colored flowers. Another fungal species called Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi, which infects the leaves of blueberry bushes, does not form flowerlike structures. But the blighted leaves reflect UV light, emit a fermented tea odor similar to that of blueberry flowers and provide nectar, all of which could attract insects.
Fascinating.  Read more at Scientific American.

Aogashima looks like an interesting island

I'm always fascinated by islands and atolls.  Aogashima is a volcanic island 200 miles away from Japan, but technically a part of Toyko.  Via.

See also this Croatian island, this Icelandic one, this one in the Sea of Japan, and of course Lincoln Island.

Edgar Allan Poe and the Big Bang Theory

Yesterday evening I was reading some editorial commentary in The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (Peithman, 1981) and came across this remarkable passage:
"Briefly, Poe believed that originally all matter coincided with the Godhead but that an explosion or diffusion took place, in which all matter was hurled outward from its starting point, the Primordial Particle.  Since that time, matter has been moving away from its source, but it still shares an identity with its Creator, still longs to be reunified with the Godhead...

[Colin] Wilson points out that Poe's concept of the origin of the universe predates Willem de Sitter's theory of the expanding universe (1917) by seventy years, and that his collapsing universe that ends in annihilation is almost identical to the black-hole theory, which we owe to modern radio astronomy.  "Poe also throws off the casual suggestion that space and time are the same things," Wilson says, "an insight that seemed obvious nonsense at the time, and that did not begin to make sense until Einstein's appearance"  Poe also recognized that the Milky Way is a galaxy and not just a cluster of stars - something that would, again, be proved in this century.  "And when Poe states that the universe ends in annihilation, and then begins all over again, he anticipates one of the most recent theories of cosmology: that a black hole does not continue to collapse indefinitely, but that it finally reaches a limit, and then explodes again.""
Poe had a modest formal education - a grammar school in Scotland, a tutor in Virginia, and one year at the University of Virginia.  He was an autodidact, reading extensively in the world's literature (partly in order to crib material for his own writing).  One presumes he based these theories on some pre-existing cosmology from the Far East, India, or the Arab world - perhaps from Hinduism.  But the parallels between his thoughts and modern science are really quite striking.

Addendum:  fulltext of Poe's Eureka: a prose poem, where he extensively discussed these ideas.  And see also Gizmodo's How Did Edgar Allan Poe Manage to Describe the Big Bang in 1848? and Edgar Allan Poe - Cosmologist? in Scientific American.

07 March 2021

Woodland garden photos for the Trinity "Seeds and Weeds" Zoom group

[All of these photos will supersize if you click on the picture]

Our lot in the suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin has a small (perhaps half-acre) woods that had been neglected by previous owners.  It was so densely overgrown with invasive species (buckthorn and honeysuckle) that you couldn’t see across it, never mind walk in it.  I spent the better part of three summers pulling those invasives out by the roots.  I then used dead tree segments as borders for a walking path, adding hardwood wood chips on top of a semipermeable lawn fabric.  The first plants to go in were hosta, which I later subdivided.

Near the entrance the ground cover is confluent vinca, admixed with some phlox, violets, and not-yet-blooming bluebells.  A cluster of Lenten roses (Hellebore) is behind that.  Hidden in the ground cover is a “water feature” (sunken rainwater catcher for the local critters).  

Where the walking path curves around the back there is one of many clusters of wild ginger (easy to grow in rich soil; that 4-foot wide patch spread from a couple plugs).  Next to that is one of the hostas, then some violets and some yellow trillium on the left.  Further back are a couple other types of hosta, then woodland phlox, and a dense stand of ferns (they are ancient plants adapted to spread aggressively, so it takes some monitoring and digging to prevent them from conquering the entire woods).  Not shown in these photos are dozens of Jacks-in-the-Pulpit (Arum) that emerged after the invasive plants were removed.

Our woods is deeply shaded by oaks, so flowers other than the spring ephemerals don’t thrive.  We opt instead for foliage plants.  The spotted leaves of the pulmonaria are dramatic (and the plant displays lovely pink tiny flowers in early spring before the trees leaf out).  The creeper starting to climb the tree is a lamium (dead-nettle).  Lots of choices of foliage on those.

This composite shows some of the late-spring flowers: trillium would naturalize and cover the woods in a blanket of white, but it’s a delicacy to our local rabbits, so we have to put chicken-wire fence around it.  The drooping bellworts (uvularia) look wilted, but that is their normal conformation.  Bottom right are the strikingly pretty bleeding hearts (Dicentra).

The final photo shows a bag of birch juice.  Some years ago I was tidying up a flower bed under a birch cluster, and in an effort to get more sun down to the hyacinths, I clipped off a birch branch with my pruner.  Several minutes later I noticed liquid dripping down onto my work area - and it didn’t stop.  Normally I would leave it as a resource for the early spring butterflies (Mourning Cloaks, Commas) who have few flowers to visit and rely on tree sap for their sugar source.  But I decided to try strapping a Ziplock bag on to collect the sap.  Birch juice has been consumed since time immemorial by residents in northern climates (Alaska and especially Russia).  I did try boiling down my birch water to make syrup – but that turns out to be a laborious process (120 ounces of sap yield 1 ounce of syrup).  So I stopped the process early and just drank the birch juice that evening with my carryout Chinese food (it pairs well with General Tso’s Chicken).  

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