12 April 2021

Dye reveals presence of a rip current

Beach umbrella and people (dots) for scale.  More at The Washington Post.

The boulder that trapped Aron Ralston's wrist

I remember being very impressed by Tom Brokaw's two-hour television documentary about Aron Ralston back in 2005, and somewhat disappointed by the subsequent 127 Hours movie.  It is certainly a remarkable cautionary tale, worth sharing with any of your friends/family who don't share with others their plans for hiking or travel.

A dead robin as a good-luck symbol

As reported by Collector's Weekly:
“The Victorians... liked to send out cards with dead birds on them, robins in particular, which related to ancient customs and legends. There’s a famous quotation from the Venerable Bede about a sparrow flying through the hall of a castle while the nobility is celebrating Christmas: The moment from when it enters until it flies out is very brief, a metaphor for how quickly our lives pass.” Apparently, killing a wren or robin was once a good-luck ritual performed in late December, and during the late 19th century, cards featuring the bodies of these birds were sent to offer good luck in the New Year."
Via Madame Jujujive's always-something-interesting Everlasting Blort.

See also: Piebald robin

Unutterably sad

"A Bolivian lake that was once an oasis of natural beauty full of thriving wildlife has become a waterless basin full of plastic waste. Lake Uru Uru in western Bolivia is covered in mountains of rubbish including plastic bottles and other man-made garbage for as far as the eye can see. The piles of rubbish are believed to have come from the nearby city of Oruro via the Roso Canal, where residents dump their waste. The lake's water is tinged black and brown because heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc, and arsenic have leached from nearby mines into the reservoir. Limber Sanchez, an ecologist with the regional Ecological Centre and Andean People (CEPA), said materials leached from the San Jose Mine had destroyed the purity of the water. He said: 'Alongside the plastic is also the impact the acidic water from mining that has come from the San Jose Mine that almost 365 days of the year empties directly into our Lake Uru Uru.' Sanchez said Uru Uru was hit with a deadly combination of urban contamination, mining contamination, and climate change, which as caused the lake to shrink."

10 April 2021

The St. Vincent volcanic eruption

The white band in the middle is water vapor, explained in the discussion thread at the via.

The physics of a cantilever bridge, illustrated

A historical demonstration in 1887 showing the weight of the central span of a bridge being transmitted to the banks through diamond shaped supports. The central "weight" is Kaichi Watanabe, one of the first Japanese engineers who came to study in the UK. Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker of Imperial College, who designed the Firth of Forth bridge, provide the supports.

The weight is carried through compression in the wood poles and tension in the arms. The heavy supports on each end prevent the people from tipping inward, and the symmetry of the design cancels out all horizontal components of the loads. The wikipedia page for this bridge and general cantilever bridges have some explanations as well.
Quote from the discussion thread at the via.

How long would it be before someone found your dead body?

In Norway it took nine years - for a man who died in his apartment.
The man, who was in his 60s, had been married more than once and also had children, according to the state broadcaster NRK.

But according to neighbours he kept himself to himself and when they didn’t see him they thought he had moved or been taken to an institution. He was found only when the caretaker requested police open the apartment so he could carry out maintenance work.

Police believe the man died in April 2011, based on a carton of milk and a letter that were found in his apartment. An autopsy showed he died of natural causes. His pension was stopped in 2018 when the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) could not get in touch with him but his bills continued to be paid automatically from his bank account.

God destroys a tree

Screencap from an impressive gif posted by the US National Weather Service in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  

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 
NichuptĂ© Lagoon, a body of water off the east coast of CancĂșn, 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."
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