30 August 2021

Custer Peak Fire Lookout Tower (Black Hills, SD)

Because of self-imposed covid-related travel restrictions it has been several years since I've added new material to the Civilian Conservation Corps category of posts in TYWKIWDBI.  But friends, family, readers, and neighbors have kindly sent me photos, including this set from Custer State Park in South Dakota (from my next-door neighbor Eric - thank you!)

The stonework here is emblematic of the principles established for these projects across the country - stone rather than brick or concrete, and stone locally sourced rather than purchased from a commercial quarry.  The work would have been completed by teenagers and young men from around the country, under the supervision of a professional stonemason.

Hill City, South Dakota is the site of the CCC Museum of South Dakota, which is devoted to preserving the memory of the CCC.
The goal was two-fold: conservation of our natural resources and the salvage of our young men. The work of America's young men dramatically changed the future. More than 30,000 men contributed to the many significant projects in South Dakota and were able to help support their families back home.
The objective of the CCs in Camps Pine Creek, Doran, Lodge, and Narrows (Robber's Roost) was not to improve on nature but to make it more enjoyable and accessible to the nature-loving public and to aid wildlife (1937)...

CCs developed recreation areas at Horsethief Lake, Stockade Lake, Center Lake, and Grizzly Bear camp ground and along French Creek near Blue Bell. They built the state museum, 17 cabins at Sylvan Lake, most of the buildings at the resort area of Blue Bell, and the custodian's 5-room log cabin and barn; installed sewer and water systems at Sylvan Lake, Blue Bell, Game Lodge and the Custodian's house; built the lookout tower and developed the scenic viewing area on Mount Coolidge; constructed bridges at Sunday and Palmer Gulches, the double arch bridge across French creek, and a pigtail bridge on Iron Mountain Road.

In addition, the CCs cleaned and landscaped many miles of park road, built the park telephone system , developed other scenic points, foot trails, and bridle paths and did considerable work at the zoo and state farm. They erected over 50 informational signs, exterminated bark beetles on thousands of acres, built many fire trails, and extinguished numerous forest fires.
A visit to South Dakota is on my bucket list.

28 August 2021

Rhodochrosite stalactite

"Uppercase" and "lowercase" etymology illustrated

The photo shows the storage case for lead letters used in letterpress printing (capital letters in the upper case).  Also interesting is this observation in the comment thread: "Each letter was called a sort, so if the letter setter ran out of a letter while setting a page, they were “out of a sort” - aka where we get the phrase “out of sorts.”"

Another photo and discussion here, including the information that before the letterpress terms developed, the terms for "uppercase" and "lowercase" were "majuscule" and "miniscule."

This elite Viking warrior was female

This is the full-length video of the PBS program.  It's a longwatch, but quite interesting.

Thoughts about mortality

Excerpts from an essay by Ann Patchett:
The two hundred and fifty members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters are writers, composers, visual artists, and architects. It is a fixed number. When a member dies, potential new members are nominated and voted on...

The Portrait Gallery is a large room in the Academy building that displays a photograph of everyone who has ever been a member. Black-and-white portraits in identical narrow frames hang floor to ceiling, side by side, without an inch of space in-between. The photos are arranged not in order of birth or death but of induction, as if that were the moment life began...

W.E.B. Du Bois and John Dos Passos and Winslow Homer and Langston Hughes and Randall Jarrell and Georgia O’Keeffe and Eudora Welty, Steinbeck and Stravinsky, Thornton Wilder and E. B. White—with this defining connection: they were dead.

But then I found I. M. Pei, inducted in 1963, the year I was born. He was still alive. After more dead people I found W. S. Merwin, inducted in 1972. Alive! Then dead, dead, dead, dead—until I found George Crumb, inducted in 1975. Alive. After that, a mix: alive and alive and dead and dead and dead and alive. It went like that, broken up, almost equal for a few short minutes, until finally the balance tipped and more and more people were alive, fewer were dead...

But the math in this room was inescapable—two hundred and fifty seats at the table and no one gets to stay. Over time, what is considered to be the center of the exhibition will shift, and my photograph will eventually be in the middle, closer to the group of those who are mostly dead, and then finally enveloped into the entirely dead. Dying was the essential contract, after all. The Portrait Gallery laid it out clearly: this is where I am, and this is where I’m going.
Her experience reminds me of mine when I receive in the mail alumni news from schools.  In the first years you and your classmates are near the end of the list, among blurbs announcing new jobs and new offspring.  As the years pass, your class list moves closer to the front, and the bios include more necrology.  There are certain inescapable truths, and occasionally one must confront them.

Subtypes of Goth - updated

Traditional, Romantic, Cyber, Victorian, Medieval, Vampire, Geek, Gothabilly, Steampunk -- and a dozen more stereotypical variations explained at Blackwaterfall.

Reposted from 2009 because I ran across this video of a Goth rave at a funeral...

 ... which naturally got me wondering about the gas masks.  I found the best information at a Vice article entitled Why Cybergoth Refuses to Die:
Too creepy for the ravers, too neon for the goths, cybergoths occupied a new space entirely. With shaved eyebrows, colored contacts, and cyberlox—synthetic dreadlocks—they listened to industrial music or industrial-dance...

Cybergoth began its decline in the late noughties. Jilly's shut down, as did much of Manchester's thriving clubbing scene, and organized raves became an anomaly...

Their online presence is declining, too: the cybergoth subreddit has barely any updates and 'cybergoth confessions' Tumblr stopped posting two years ago. It's rare to see a flash of neon cyberlox or space goggles on the streets anymore... It's more likely that it's just operating in a different space.

The original cybergoths, meanwhile, have grown up. Sarah is now a mom to a small child and can't go clubbing anymore—"even if I could afford the time or money"—and can't keep up with expensive alternative brands...

"The gas mask thing, people generally laugh at nowadays too. It was very 2004, but not in right now." Goggles, on the other hand, are just about acceptable.  
And I don't mean to mock, but I did have to chuckle when I encountered this Onion-like item:

Best to close with Miranda's exclamation in The Tempest:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!
Reposted from 2018 to add a new subtype:  Visigoth.  😎

Walking that fine line...

Anyone who seriously collects anything understands the old quip that there can be a fine line between collecting and hoarding (or between enthusiasm and obsessiveness).  The man in the video above owns the Guinness-certified largest collection of video games in the world.

I will certainly give him props for the "infrastructure" of his collection - all that customized shelving and the sizing and spacing of the collections.

26 August 2021

Cactus. Fasciation. White-winged dove. And Stevie Nicks.

First I encountered this photo of an absolutely awesome cactus (at L'oeil ouvert, via).  The caption was in French, so I had to Google Translate it to find this info about the plant:
The French naturalist and historian Leon Diguet realized six scientific expeditions in Mexico between 1893 and 1913... With a few prints in the world, this picture offers a spectacular example of a species of cacti: the Giant Cardon, about 8 meters high and about 10 tons.
I still wondered if it could be a manipulated image, because these are famously-slow-growing plants - it's said to take up to 75 years to develop a single side arm.  Some take on unusual shapes; here is a cristate ("crested") crown -

- a phenomenon that occurs secondary to "fasciation":
... a condition of plant growth in which the apical meristem, normally concentrated around a single point, producing approximately cylindrical tissue, becomes elongated perpendicularly to the direction of growth, producing flattened, ribbon-like, crested, or elaborately contorted tissue. The phenomenon may occur in the stem, root, fruit, or flower head.
Wikipedia illustrated the phenomenon with a photo of a wildflower:

- and I suddenly realized that I had seen the same type of anomaly two summers ago while hiking, but had no idea what was going on -

(I had assumed it was some kind of mutation, and made plans to return to the site later in the fall to collect seeds, but didn't have a chance to go).

But back to the cactus.  I remembered from old nature films that the major pollinators are bats:
There are a number of floral characteristics geared toward bat pollination: nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above the ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. One additional evidence is that the amino acids in the pollen appear to help sustain lactation in bats...
- but one link also listed daytime pollinators as bees and... white-winged doves.  And, of course, I couldn't hear that without thinking of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen.  Until this moment I had always assumed that the "white-winged dove" in her lyrics was an imaginary creature (her lyrics sometimes tend to be rather mystical and obscure):
The clouds... never expect it... when it rains.
But the sea changes colours...
But the sea... does not change.

And so... with the slow... graceful flow... of age
I went forth... with an age old... desire... to please
On the edge of... seventeen

Just like the white-winged dove... sings a song...
Sounds like she's singing...
Ooo baby... ooo... said ooo
Re the genesis of this song, she was in Australia when she heard the news that John Lennon died.  She returned to Phoenix, where she was familiar with the white-winged dove.  While there she was present when her uncle John died at night, which prompted this part of the lyrics -
In a flood of tears
That no one really ever heard fall,
Oh I went searchin' for an answer...
Up the stairs... and down the hall
I did not find an answer... but I did hear the call
Of a nightbird... singing...
Come away... come now...
"The white-winged dove in the song is a spirit that is leaving a body, and I felt a great loss at how both Johns were taken..." She explains it all in this VH1 Storytellers segment, which is the best way to close this blog for the night.  The resolution isn't good for fullscreen, but you can still crank up the audio...  Enjoy.

You learn something every day.

Addendum:  For a contemporary photo of an immense cactus, see the link posted by HeavenlyJane in the comments.

Reposted from 2011 because I ran across those flowers at a new location and had to look up "fasciation" again.

Reposted from 2017 because the BBC has just posted a longread about the history and legacy of this song.
"... more than any other Stevie Nicks solo moment, Edge of Seventeen has entranced subsequent generations and helped to define the singer's standing as a rock icon: not just as member of Fleetwood Mac, but as an artist in her own right. It's a song that operates on several levels – at once an instant hit of rock drama and a heady meditation on death – and seems to yield something new every time you play it. Its distinctive 16th-note guitar riff – played by Waddy Wachtel, a legendary session musician who also worked with Cher and The Rolling Stones – remains electrifying every time you hear it...

When Tom Petty's wife Jane told Nicks that she and her husband met "at the age of 17", Nicks misheard her Southern accent and thought she'd said "at the edge of 17". In that instant, she realised that she had a brilliant song title."

Related: Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac - Landslide.

Paralympic story

Posted as a reminder that the Paralympics are currently being broadcast.  Personally I find them more interesting than the regular Olympics.

A tip of the blogging helmet to reader Mike, who found this comprehensive link for highlights of the games.

Addendum:  Details about the classification of participants in the events.

Age test

Looks interesting

A visually interesting trailer for one of the landmark works of science fiction.  This has prompted me to request the trilogy from the library for a reread.

Dishonest study of honesty

"A landmark study that endorsed a simple way to curb cheating is going to be retracted nearly a decade later after a group of scientists found that it relied on faked data.

According to the 2012 paper, when people signed an honesty declaration at the beginning of a form, rather than the end, they were less likely to lie. A seemingly cheap and effective method to fight fraud, it was adopted by at least one insurance company, tested by government agencies around the world, and taught to corporate executives. It made a splash among academics, who cited it in their own research more than 400 times.

Years later, he and his coauthors found that follow-up experiments did not show the same reduction in dishonest behavior. But more recently, a group of outside sleuths scrutinized the original paper’s underlying data and stumbled upon a bigger problem: One of its main experiments was faked “beyond any shadow of a doubt,” three academics wrote in a post on their blog, Data Colada, on Tuesday.

The researchers who published the study all agree that its data appear to be fraudulent and have requested that the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, retract it. But it’s still unclear who made up the data or why — and four of the five authors said they played no part in collecting the data for the test in question."
PNAS is a premier science research journal, but faking the primary data is a maneuver that is almost impossible to discover via peer review.  Further details at BuzzFeedNews.

I can't think of a title for this post...

As reported by KIMA news:
Emergency crews responded Tuesday to an SUV that drivers spotted submerged in the Yakima River, but the Yakima County Sheriff's Office says the driver claims he did it intentionally... the owner of the vehicle told them he had replaced the thermostat in the vehicle and needed to fill the radiator with water.  Deputies say the driver told them he intentionally drove the SUV into the water so that he could get water into the radiator.

Probably explained by fluid dynamics

The morning after a pounding thunderstorm last week, I stepped out on the deck to see a birdbath that looked like this.  It is located next to a railing where we scatter birdseed, and on a typical day it looks like this - 

- because birds knock seeds into it while visiting the railing.  I can only assume that the raindrops pounding on the birdbath set up reverberations that echoed off the walls of the bath, moving the seed toward the center.  Attempts to reproduce the phenomenon de novo by shaking the bath only resulted in my splashing water on my shoes.
Addendum:  Reader Andy offers this relevant video:


 "... Then, when I got to the [grocery] store, I heard the woman who waited on customers say to the man ahead of me, "Hi, honey.  God, you're beautiful today," and this struck me as untrue, because I had seen the man quite clearly.  After he left I said to her, "What made you say that to that man?  He was one of the ugliest men I have ever seen," and she replied, "That was my husband."
--- anecdote in Jamaica Kincaid's My Garden Book (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999)

21 August 2021

Emily Dickinson, gardener

It will surprise some readers to learn that during her lifetime Emily Dickinson was better known as a gardener than as a poet.  Many books have been written about the "poet of Amherst" and about her poetry; this one is laser-focused on her gardening skills.  Written by a past Gardener-in-Residence at the Emily Dickinson Museum, the book proceeds "in calendar fashion" to detail the enormous variety of plants with which she was familiar, interspersing botanical details with excerpts from her poems.
"She shared a love of plants with her parents and siblings.  To friends, she sent bouquets, and to some of her numerous correspondents - over one thousand of her letters have been found - pressed flowers.

"She collected wildflowers, walking with her dog, Carlo.  She studied botany at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke*.  She tended both a small glass conservatory attached to the front of the house and a long flower garden sloping down the spacious east side of the grounds.  In winter, she forced hyacinth bulbs and in summer she knelt on a red blanket in her flower borders, performing horticulture's familiar rituals.
Emily Dickinson's garden served as a place of worship for her spiritual self:
"When she was old enough to choose, she abstained from the services held in the pillared Congregational church across from Amherst College.  She was, as she put it, a dissenter.  She practiced her rites in the garden:
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church -
I keep it, staying at Home -
With a Bobolink for a Chorister -
And an Orchard, for a Dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice -
I, just wear my Wings -
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church -
Our little Sexton - sings.

"God" preaches a noted Clergyman -
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last -
I'm going, all along."  (#236, 1861)
As a companion book to this one, I would offer the herbarium she compiled (sixty-six pages, leather bound, containing over 400 pressed specimens labeled using the Linnaean system).  Our library system has a modern facsimile edition:

I'll use several of the pages in the coming weeks for a linkfest, but for now let me just share this page -

- which has this specimen in the lower right corner:

The facing page has Emily Dickinson's notation of "Climbing Bittersweet"...

... corrected by the editors of the facsimile edition to note that she had in fact pressed into her herbarium a specimen of poison ivy.

Posted for my friends in the Trinity "Weeds and Seeds" gardening forum group, with the hopes that they and my other old friends in the Boston area are spared the worst of the hurricane expected to arrive this weekend.

*I'll just footnote the remarkable attrition rate at Mt. Holyoke in that era: "She left school and returned home in August 1848, telling a friend that her father had decided not to send her back.  It wasn't unusual.  Of her class of 115, only 23 returned for a second year..."

20 August 2021

Wind turbines and wildlife

Barley and Niffler are just two of the many conservation-detection dogs now employed by the growing wind industry. As turbines proliferate across the country, understanding their effect on wildlife is more important than ever. In the early days of turbines, scientists had focused on the danger they posed to eagles and other raptors—but it turns out those big bird carcasses were simply the easiest for humans to spot.

“Truth was, people are terrible at finding bats and small birds,” says K. Shawn Smallwood, a biologist who has worked on wind farms in California. Smallwood told me he was initially skeptical of using dogs to monitor turbine fatalities, but the data simply blew him away. In one study he conducted, dogs found 96 percent of dead bats, whereas humans found just 6 percent...

Estimates suggest that turbines in North America kill 600,000 to 949,000 bats and 140,000 to 679,000 birds a year. Dogs are, by far, the quickest and most effective way to find them.

The best dogs for this work are misfits of the pet world. They have to be utterly obsessed with play—to a point that most humans would find exhausting. “All the dogs that we have in our program, they're either rescues … or they’re an owner surrender, where they just say they’re out of options and even a shelter won’t take them,” says Heath Smith, the director of Rogue Detection Teams, a conservation-detection-dog company. The dogs have too much energy and an “insatiable drive to play fetch,” which is not great for a family pet but very useful for motivating a dog to find birds or bats so they can get their favorite toy as a reward...

Most bat deaths occur during fall migrations, and they are concentrated among three species: eastern red bats, silver-haired bats, and hoary bats. These bats all roost in trees, and they seem attracted to wind turbines, possibly because the structures look like “the biggest, tallest trees in the landscape...

Scientists have since found that idling turbines under specific conditions—at night, during the bats’ fall migration, and when the wind speed is below 6.5 meters per second (about 14.5 mph)—can sharply curb bat deaths; a promising set of studies also suggests that ultrasonic white noise can keep bats away. 
More information at The Atlantic.

The Panther Cave (Texas) pictographs

Panther Cave is a rock shelter in Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas, named for a dramatic leaping cat that is the largest of its many pictographs. Copious overpainting indicates the site was used as a canvas by generations of rock painters. Cats, humans wearing headdresses, abstract figures from six inches to more than 10 feet high decorate the rock face. 

The images are predominantly in the Pecos River and Red Linear styles and date back about 4,000 years. Pecos River Style is the oldest, starting around 5000 years ago. Its iconography features monumental polychrome designs of zoomorphic figures and of anthropomorphic figures called shamans. Pecos River art is thought to have had ritual significance, perhaps having been painted for ceremonial religious purposes. Red Linear style is characterized by small red stick figures engaged in a variety of shared activities like hunting, fighting, sex and childbirth. Red Linear figures often incorporated the older large Pecos River animal figures in their scenes...

Acutely aware of the precarious situation Panther Cave and other rock art sites find themselves in, the SHUMLA Archeological Research and Education Center launched the Lower Pecos Rock Art Recording and Preservation Project in 2009... They used 3D modeling software to showcase the natural contours and shape of the cave, then used color enhancement to highlight the stunning complexity of figures that are not clear to the naked eye. The finished product is a riot of color, giving viewers whole new insight into the pictographs that layer the site.
Reposted from 2013 to add some information from the book in the embedded image:
"According to scholar Carolyn Boyd, the mystic artists of these canyons likely conceived many of their visions after consuming potent hallucinogenic plants.  "I do think that what they are painting are experiences they had under the influence of these plants..."

Often called "the peyote tribe," the Huichol had long resisted Christianity, holding true to their shamanic traditions... Each fall, Huichol shamans led a pilgrimage [to the Chihuahuan desert] to collect a small, carrot-shaped cactus: the powerful hallucinogen peyote... To honor this divinity, pilgrims fastened some of the cacti to deer antlers carried along on the quest... 

Certainly the artists painted antlered human forms repeatedly on their rock-shelter walls.  And archaeological evidence suggested they knew peyote well.  While excavating a series of high, painted caves overlooking the Rio Grande... they found scatterings of peyote, which grows only in isolated spots in the region, along the sandy floors.  When radiocarbon-dated recently, two of these specimens proved to be 7,000 years old - the oldest known peyote in the world...

Laced with mescaline, the plant triggers visions both nightmarish and beautiful, and fosters a strong sense of disembodiment.  "No part of my body was subject to the laws of gravitation," reported one experimental subject - a German physician - in the 1920s.  "Extremely fantastic figures appeared before my eyes..."

In Boyd's view, the peyote murals of the region now stand as the world's oldest known record of hallucinogen-inspired altered states.

"To maintain a supple mind..."

 "To maintain a supple mind, the gerontologist Marios Kyriazis, who is in his sixties and heads the British Longevity Society, reads the newspaper upside down, and whenever that becomes too easy, he reads the newspaper upside down and reflected in a mirror. Think of it as an alternative to Sudoku."

There are many kind of families...

Source unknown, via Ka-Ching!  Reposted from 2013 because it's still funny.

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest entries

The results of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are now posted. "De gustibus non disputandum est," so I've selected a few of the "dishonorable mentions" rather than the winners of the categories... 
"Their relationship hit a bump in the road, not the low, graceful kind of bump, reminiscent of a child's choo-choo-train-themed roller coaster, rather the kind of tall, narrow speed-bump that, if a school bus ran over it, would cause even a fat kid to fly up and bang his head on the ceiling." --Michael Reade, Durham, NC 

"On a lovely day during one of the finest Indian summers anyone could remember--a season the Germans call "old wives' summer," obviously never having had Native Americans to name things after, but plenty of old wives, and "Indian summer" in German would refer to the natives of India in any case, which would make even less sense than the current naming system--on such a day, however named, John Baxter fell in the creek and drowned." --Deanna Stewart, Heidelberg, Germany 
Previous Grand Prize winners include this classic from 1985: 
"The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably--the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career."   --Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, Connecticut 
My favorite submissions from the 2008 competition are here.

Reposted from 2009 to add two winning entries from the 2021 competition:
"Brigid O’Hanion was the fairest flower of Southern womanhood, and Lt. Lance Beauregard was almost blind with lust for her, but after he slipped off her hoop skirt, unbuttoned her lacy blouse, untied her incredibly tight corset, dove beneath the rustling crinoline petticoats, and laboriously inched off her pantalets, he realized his mood had shifted and he now wondered if there was still some cold ham on the sideboard downstairs." -- Randall Card, Bellingham, WA

"One time at the hoagie shop the actress Ms. O'Hara asked what the tiny pimiento-stuffed thing in my cheddar-bread sandwich was and I had to respond: "Wee olive in a yellow sub, Maureen." -- Fr. Jerry Kopacek, Elma, IA

With a tip of the blogging cap to Miss Cellania at Neatorama for her annual reminder about the competition. 

19 August 2021

Extreme drought in Minnesota

The national news this past week featured stories about how the drought in the western states is imperiling vital water supplies needed for agriculture and the generation of electricity.  Somewhat more quietly, a drought has also been affecting the Upper Midwest, here in Wisconsin and according to this StarTribune article even moreso in Minnesota:
Entire channels of the Mississippi River are caked dry. Rocks, riverbeds and islands of the St. Croix and Minnesota rivers are visible for the first time in decades. Dozens of streams are at their lowest recorded levels since at least 1988, or even the Dust Bowl.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) put much of the state in a "restricted phase" as the drought continues to get worse. That means water utilities and suppliers will need to cut down the total amount of water used to no more than 25% above what they used in January.

Parts of Minnesota have even slipped into the most severe level — "exceptional drought" — for the first time since the U.S. Drought Monitor began ranking droughts by four levels of intensity. The ranking system wasn't around during the Dust Bowl, but meteorologists believe that and the drought of 1988 might be the only time Minnesota has been this dry...

Mallards and gulls are taking over newly formed islands in some of the state's largest rivers. Great blue herons are stalking desperate fish corralled into smaller and smaller pools for some of the easiest meals the birds will likely find in the wild...

Wolves could fare well if the drought starts stressing or weakening deer to the point where they become more vulnerable. One thing that is almost certain is that bear hunters will probably be very successful this fall, Stark said.

As berries, acorns and hazelnuts becomes less available, bears become more bold in going after bait piles set by hunters...

About 60% of the state's streams and rivers are flowing at or near record lows, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The flow of the Vermillion River near Voyageurs National Park was down to a trickle Wednesday, crawling at just 10 cubic feet per second — the lowest level recorded since measurements began in the 1990s, said Eric Wakeman, supervisory hydrologic technician for the Geological Survey.

"Usually it's flowing at about 310 cubic feet per second," he said. "What we're seeing now in some of these areas, especially central Minnesota and in the northeast, are fairly unprecedented."

It's also hot up there.  I spoke today to an old friend who has lived in the Walker area for 25 years; he has never seen a summer this hot and dry.  In an average year air temperatures at Leech Lake reach 90 degrees about one day per summer;  so far this year the temp has reached 90 or above twenty times.

Can someone identify this book?

Reader Mama Bean left this comment on a post that wasn't read much:
This brought to mind a book I read in my early teens about a girl and her younger brother in some dystopian future where everything is dry, and they go searching for a waterfall on a postcard their parents left them, but when they get there, it's just a little trickle. I am hoping one of your readers knows what book I'm talking about and can refresh my memory on its title. 
I'm stumped (and I like dystopian future stories), but perhaps somewhere out there is an omnivorous reader or an astute librarian who will know...

Reposted from 2012 because the Comment thread contains lots of useful information re links and resources for readers.

Life on a game trail in northern Minnesota

I've walked lots of game trails in the woods of north-central Minnesota and always assumed they were created and "maintained" by deer, but this video from Voyageurs NP up at the Canadian border suggests that bear and wolves are more common than deer.

In this 15-minute synthesis of a year's activity, everything is pretty much ordinary and predictable, until the filmmaker smears ?peanut butter on a sapling (4:34).  Thereafter the change of activity illustrates how extensively wildlife depend on scent in their environment.

Of interest to me is that the cougar at the 15:14 mark appears to have a defective tapetum lucidum.  I wonder if it is obscured by a ?cataract in that eye.  Any ideas?  Via Neatorama.

Here come the "superweeds"

Excerpts from an interesting longread at The New York Times:
If there’s a plant perfectly suited to outcompete the farmers, researchers and chemical companies that collectively define industrial American agriculture, it’s Palmer amaranth. This pigweed (a catchall term that includes some plants in the amaranth family) can re-root itself after being yanked from the ground. It can grow three inches a day. And it has evolved resistance to many of the most common weed killers...

The plant in his hands was a Palmer amaranth descendant that had demonstrated resistance to 2,4-D, one of two active ingredients in compounds used to defoliate forests during the Vietnam War...

Superweeds — that is, weeds that have evolved characteristics that make them more difficult to control as a result of repeatedly using the same management tactic — are rapidly overtaking American commodity farms, and Palmer amaranth is their king. Scientists have identified a population of Palmer amaranth that can tolerate being sprayed with six different herbicides (though not all at once), and they continue to discover new resistances. By now, it’s clear that weeds are evolving faster than companies are developing new weed killers...

It’s hard to estimate exactly how much damage has already been wrought by herbicide resistance; the weeds are gaining ground faster than scientists can survey them...

Palmer amaranth benefits from incredible genetic diversity. It mates sexually (obligate outcrossing, in biology-speak), and female plants produce hundreds of thousands of seeds each year. The plants that sprouted with random mutations that inadvertently equipped them to survive showers of herbicide lived to reproduce with one another. Then, once applications of Roundup annihilated all the weeds in a field except the resistant Palmer amaranth, the pigweed could spread without competition...

Ultimately, Roundup was no match for the pigweed’s evolutionary vitality. Roundup-resistant Palmer amaranth populations quickly spread through the South, then moved north, hidden at times in cottonseed hulls used for animal feed. Once consumed, the tiny seeds passed intact through the digestive systems of the cows that ate them. Farmers who sprayed the contaminated cow manure on their fields — a common practice, as a cheap form of fertilizer — unwittingly assisted the weed’s spread. Palmer amaranth, the ultimate opportunist, now grows in at least 39 states.
More at the link.

Two-headed sulcata tortoise

To understand why [sulcatas are popular], you just have to look at a baby sulcata. It’s tough to overstate how cute they are. They fit right in the palm of your hand, their pinkie nail–sized heads swiveling around on a constant search for food. When you approach a tank full of babies, they bumble over on toothpick claws to crowd around your hand, eager for a bite of lettuce or a fruit treat.  
Wherever you live in the United States, and whatever the climate, you can buy your very own sulcata in a pet store for between $50 and $200. Stick it in a fish tank with a UV light and some lettuce, and you’re good to go. According to the 9,250-person-strong Facebook group Sulcata Tortoises, the animals are “no trouble at all.” 

But they don’t stay small for long. Properly cared for, males can grow to over 200 pounds, females around half that. Like “teacup” pig buyers, prospective sulcata owners are often burdened with significant misinformation. Pet stores sometimes tell customers that the animals stay small if kept in a small tank (they don’t), that they can eat anything vegetarian (they can’t), and that if they get too big, a zoo will take them (a myth that zookeepers are sick of debunking). Even kept with the best intentions, sulcatas might develop deformed shells, or tear up drywall and backyards. 

 “They’re just pretty destructive. Any place you see a wall, there’s some reason with a sulcata,” Susan Tellem, American Tortoise Rescue’s co-founder, explained as she showed me a deep hole Tank had dug recently. Even sliding doors can be a problem: Tellem had to put up a wall between Tank and the house when he figured out how to slide the glass and screen doors open with his legs to get inside.
Image cropped for size from the original at the via.

17 August 2021

The new variant of covid denialism

"It’s worth recalling that in the early days of the pandemic, Republican COVID denialism began as a largely reflexive partisan instinct. President Trump was too upset by the emergence of a pandemic, at a moment when he believed he had seized a decisive campaign advantage, to admit that he was facing a serious crisis that required action. And so he began insisting the virus would disappear quickly...

The Republicans’ original premise for these beliefs was that Democrats were hyping up the pandemic as a pretext to shut down the economy and thereby to harm his chances of reelection... That entire conspiracy theory has collapsed. And yet the beliefs it spawned — that masks and vaccines were unnecessary — have remained in place...

Until COVID came along, not even doctrinaire libertarians opposed government vaccine mandates. For decades, institutions like the military and schools have routinely required a long list of vaccines. HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn cites the works of libertarian writers such as Jessica Flanigan (“A Defense of Compulsory Vaccination,” 2013), Jason Brennan (“A Libertarian Case for Mandatory Vaccination,” 2018), and Ilya Somin, all of whom supported vaccine mandates before COVID existed.

But even if you were such a libertarian extremist that you opposed vaccine requirements, there’s no conceivable justification for banning private business from requiring vaccinations. When Cruz insists, “No one should force anyone to take the vaccine — including the federal government or an employer,” he is trampling on property rights and freedom of association, principles a small-government conservative like Cruz usually defends fanatically...

There is no clever plan here — just politicians so desperate to cater to the pathologies of their base that they chase one another to adopt the most politically toxic and socially hazardous position available. Donald Trump’s heirs have tested the political marketplace and arrived at a morbid conclusion: His supporters would rather die than admit they were wrong."

Addendum:  Salient comments from Paul Krugman ("The Quiet Rage of the Responsible"):
To say what should be obvious, getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public spaces aren’t “personal choices.” When you reject your shots or refuse to mask up, you’re increasing my risk of catching a potentially deadly or disabling disease, and also helping to perpetuate the social and economic costs of the pandemic. In a very real sense, the irresponsible minority is depriving the rest of us of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Furthermore, to say something that should also be obvious, those claiming that their opposition to public health measures is about protecting “freedom” aren’t being honest.

Most notably, ever since masks became a front in the culture war it has been clear that many opponents of mask mandates aren’t merely demanding the right to go unmasked themselves — they want to stop others from acting responsibly. Tucker Carlson has called on his viewers to confront people they encounter who are wearing masks, and there have been scattered reports of violent attacks on mask-wearers.

Also, it’s striking how quickly supposed conservative principles have been abandoned wherever honoring those principles would help rather than hurt attempts to contain the pandemic.

For decades, conservatives have insisted that business owners should have the right to do as they please — to hire and fire at will, to deny service to whomever they choose. Yet here we have Abbott threatening to pull the liquor licenses of restaurants that ask for proof of vaccination, even as Texas runs out of I.C.U. beds.

Conservatives have also championed local control of education — except, it turns out, when school districts want to protect children with mask rules, in which case MAGA governors want to seize control and cut off their funding...

So it’s time to stop being diffident and call out destructive behavior for what it is. Doing so may make some people feel that they’re being looked down on. But you know what? Your feelings don’t give you the right to ruin other people’s lives.

"I'm out of tact"

A young ICU nurse in Tennessee expresses her frustrations, disappointments, and restrained rage about working in a world of Covid denialism.  In her first year out of school she has already been thrust into charge nurse status in a medical ICU because of staffing shortages. 

Her reply to patients' families who ask "You're not going to give her that vaccine, though, are you?" is particularly poignant.

This nationally-telecast segment is excerpted from a longer (4-minute) interview broadcast on local television in Tennessee.  Kudos to her for speaking out and expressing so clearly what so many health care workers feel.

15 August 2021

"I want the world to be how it used to be"

 An Indonesia fisherman comments on plastic pollution in the ocean.  Via Kottke.

Mercury transiting the sun

Discussion of the photo (and the equipment he used) by the photographer at the Astronomy subreddit.

Demonizing childless people

 "Ohio Senate candidate J. D. Vance... held that the “childless left,” exemplified, in his view, by politicians like Pete Buttigieg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, is turning the country into a rump state of imperious cat ladies. “Let’s give votes to all children in this country,” Vance argued, by way of remedy, “but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of the children … We should worry that in America, family formation, our birth rates, a ton of indicators of family health have collapsed.”

Vance’s proposal was a hit on Fox and Friends, and The Federalist’s publisher, Ben Domenech, picked up the line of thinking in another segment that aired on the network earlier this week, arguing, inter alia, that “woke, socialist progressives” hate babies “more than anything else,” and that the left detests the fact that there are children, period. All the usual suspects—radical environmentalists agitating for depopulation, career-oriented girl bosses, critical race theorists—made their usual appearances, each offered as evidence of a leftward political bent that’s thoroughly anti-child."
Commentary continues at The Atlantic.

A useful video for iPhone users

A lucid and well-illustrated explanation of how to record not a movie with the camera but a video of whatever you're watching on the screen.

Found at a The Loop - a blog devoted to Apple and its products.

12 August 2021

A Tiffany epiphany


Old math puzzle

The solution is lucidly explained and illustrated in this video.

Gleanings from "The European Discovery of America"

When I was in high school in the 1960s, one of my textbooks was "The Growth of the American Republic" by Morison and Commager.  So when I spotted this reference book by the same author in our local library's book sale for a few bucks, I eagerly grabbed it.  It turned out to be well worth it.  A longread, to be sure (700+ pages) extensively annotated and illustrated with photos and maps.  Herewith some interesting excerpts of TYWKIWDBI-type items.
The Norse discoverers of Greenland and Vinland did not use a long Viking ship like the one unearthed at Gokstad and preserved at Oslo.  There is ample evidence that they used the knarr, a beamy type propelled principally by one big square sail... like the long Viking ships she was directed by a steerboard on the right side - hence the word "starboard."

The English [ship]builder, if he does not own an oak forest himself, arranges with another to take out the timber he wants  Oak is preferred, not only for its strength but because limbs growing from the trunk at different angles make natural crooks for the ribs or frames, the knees, and the curbed stem piece.  Builders would carry a wagon-load of templates into the oak grove, match them against standing trees, cut down those they wanted, and shape them with ax and adze.

In 1500 it was anyone's guess which European power would dominate North America.  Eliminating Spain and Portugal, both of whom had little energy left for these supposedly poor and chilly regions of the New World, we have France and England, and anyone estimating their relative power in 1550 would have bet on France.  She had sixfold the population of England... France had a greater extent of ocean-facing territory, as many or more seaports than England, an equally enterprising maritime population, far greater weatlth, and, until her civil wars broke out, a government as much interested in maritime affairs as that of the Tudors.  Why, then, did France not annex all America north of Florida?  The following chapters will provide part of the answer...

Domagaya [a Huron], who had suffered a bad case of scurvy.. appeared to be cured.  What had healed him?  The juice and concoction from a certain tree... "They brought back from the forest nine or ten branches and showed us how to grind the bark and boil it in water, then drink the potion every other day and apply the residue as a poultice to swollen and infected legs."  ... a few bold fellows tried it, felt better at once, and after two or three days were completely cured.  This miraculous tree, a specimen of the common arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) was pulled to pieces by the frenchmen, and every leaf and piece of park consumed in a week by sailors frantic for relief...

David Ingram, an English sailor set ashore with two others in October 1567 on the Gulf coast of Florida... managed to walk by Indian trail all the way to the Maine coast.  After a couple of years' tramping, he hailed a French ship a the mouth of the St. John River, New Brunswick, and returned to Europe.  Once home in England, David made a living telling in sundry taverns the tale of his incredible journey...

Royal officials... are ordered to let [Cartier] recruit fifty convicts from the prisons, provided they had not been condemned for heresy, lese majeste, or counterfeiting coins.  This permission to recruit convicts may mean... that the word had gone around the waterfront that Canada was a lonely, frigid place which gave you nothing but scurvy.  From a sailor's point of view there was far more fun and profit to be had in a fishing voyage to the Grand Bank... Similarly, after Columbus's first voyage, everybody wanted to go to the Indies, but after his second voyage nobody wanted to go, and Spain had to rake the jails to obtain settlers for Hispaniola.  It is difficult for Americans, north or south, to accept the fact that for a century after Columbus's discovery, the ordinary sort of European had to be bribed, drugged, or beaten to go out to this "land of promise, unless to fish."
I'll now donate the book back to the library; it deserves to have an extended life in many homes. 

How the Vikings captured a city in Sicily

"Now when Harald came to Sicily he harried there and with his army laid siege to a great and populous fortified city. He surrounded the place, because it had strong walls, so that it seemed unlikely that he could break them down. The townspeople had sufficient victuals and other things required to resist a siege. Then Harald hit upon this stratagem: he let his fowlers catch little birds which had their nests in the city and tie plane shavings of resinous pine soaked with molten wax and sulphur on their backs, to which he set fire. When liberated, all the birds at once flew into the city to seek their young and the nests they had under the thatches of reed or straw. And then the fire spread from the birds to the house-thatches; and though each single one carried but little fire, it soon grew to a conflagration, since many birds carried it all about the thatches of the city; and soon one house after the other began to burn till the whole city was aflame. Then all the people came out of the city and begged for mercy—the very same who many a day had spoken overbearingly and scornfully about the Greek army and its generals. Harald gave all those quarter who asked for it, and made himself master of that city." 
--- excerpt from Chapter 6 of the "Saga of Harald Sigurtharson," in Heimskingla, by Snorri Sturluson.
I have heard of other legendary warriors using animals carrying flames to set a city on fire - most notably Genghis Khan, who...
"...used hapless animals in the Mongol campaign against the Tangut kingdom of Hsia Hsi in 1207. In a feint he offered to end the siege of the well fortified city of Volohai if he was paid a “tribute of one thousand cats and one thousand swallows”. Genghis Khan then set them alight and released them in one great rush of living fire. The wretched animals set the city alight in hundreds of places simultaneously. While the defenders fought the flames, the Mongols breached the walls of Volohai."
The Sicily incident recorded in the Heimskringla was written by a 12th-century historian, reporting on the conquests of Harald Hardrada in the 11th century - so fully two centuries before Genghis Khan.

A quick search reveals a similar technique in the early Song Dynasty (960-1279):
According to Pr. Shi Bo, in "Trente-six Stratagèmes Chinois", monkeys were used in the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty, in a battle between rebels of the Yanzhou (Yasuo) province and the Chinese Imperial Army, led by Zhao Yu. The monkeys were used as live incendiary devices. The animals were clothed with straw, dipped in oil and set on fire. They were set loose into the enemy's camp, thereby setting the tents on fire, and driving the whole camp into chaos.

Addendum:  Reader Galileo Feynman reminds us that the United States attempted to use "incendiary bats" against Japan during WWII (discussed in this NPR podcast).

Enslaved by oysterpirates

"Ma soul an’ body ole Cap’n Gifford used ter be a frien’ o’ mahne many’s the time we been oysterin’ together on the Eastan Shoa an’ oysterpirates used to shanghai young fellers in those days an’ make ’em work all winter you couldn’ git away less you swam ashoa and the water was too damnation cole an’ the ole man used to take the fellers’ clothes away so’s they couldn’t git ashoa when they was anchored up in a crik or near a house or somethin’ boy they was mean customers the oysterpirates ma soul and body onct there was a young feller they worked till he dropped and then they’d just sling him overboard tongin’ for oysters or dredgin’ like them oysterpirates did’s the meanest kinda work in winter with the spray freezin’ on the lines an’ cuttin’ your hands to shreds an’ the dredge foulin’ every minute an’ us havin’ to haul it up an’ fix it with our hands in the icy water hauled up a stiff onct.  What’s a stiff? Ma soul an’ body a stiff’s a dead man ma boy a young feller it was too without a stitch on him an’ the body looked like it had been beat with a belayin’ pin somethin’ terrible or an’ oar mebbe reckon he wouldn’t work or was sick or somethin’ an’ the ole man jus’ beat him till he died sure couldn’t a been nothin’ but an oysterpirate."

--- John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel (Houghton Mifflin, NY, 1930)

11 August 2021

Pedestrian street (Malaga, Spain)

That's not the pavement you're viewing - it's the canopy.  Here is a view from underneath:

The fabric has been crocheted (producing, as one pundit put it, "cro-shade."
Kudos to this community.  Via.

Addendum:  More photos at My Modern Met.

Choreography for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

Via Pictojam - a new website developed by one of my oldest cyberfriends.  It is very TYWKIWDBI-esque in terms of content.  Please take a moment to view the site, and if you have comments or suggestions for changes, please feel free to leave them on this post.

And a tip of the blogging cap to eagle-eyed reader Rick, who noticed this:

Goose photographed "mid-whiffle"


The body of this goose is upside-down, but he has turned his head rightside-up. Photographed in turbulent weather and explained thus:
“It looks like this bird is in mid-whiffle,” he said. “When geese come in to land from a great height they partake in a bout of whiffling, this involves the bird twisting and turning to spill air from their wings and thus lowering their speed prior to landing. In 36 years of birdwatching I have seen this many times, particularly when watching pink-footed geese on the north Norfolk coast coming in to roost in the late afternoon and evening. I have, however, never seen a photograph of a bird in mid-whiffle like this. It is an amazing photograph.”

Reposted from 2009 to add another photo, from Pictojam -

And a video of the process:

This was the best video I could find on YouTube of whiffling [why does almost everyone take a perfectly good nature video and then superimpose an annoying unrelated music track?]

NotePictojam is a new website developed by one of my oldest cyberfriends.  It is very TYWKIWDBI-esque in terms of content.  Please take a moment to view the site, and if you have comments or suggestions for changes, please feel free to leave them on this post.

Beer snakes

It was the evening of July 1, and the St. Paul Saints had set out to break a record. The Saints -- known for eye-catching promotions such as hosting the world's largest food fight in 2018, the world's largest Twister game in 2017 and the world's largest pillow fight in 2015 -- wanted to set the North American record for the longest beer cup snake after noticing the trend pop up in baseball stadiums across the country as pandemic restrictions loosened and fans returned to their seats.

After the Saints cut off the beer taps in the seventh inning, the team brought its collected beer cups to the 10,000 Takes section and began assembling the beer cup snake, which slowly expanded toward the top of the section, over and above them, before expanding onto the concourse.

The team brought out a tape measure. It read 102 feet.
The history of the beer cup snake is hazy, at best, but The Drinks Business -- a publication covering the beer, wine and spirits industry -- stated in 2013 that the longest beer cup snake was constructed that year at the Sydney Cricket Ground, reaching 175 meters, a little over 574 feet. The Sydney Morning Herald cites the first beer cup snake ever occurring at the WACA cricket ground in Perth, Australia, in January 1997. While Mroz's family can stake an earlier claim, wherever the beer cup snake started, the popularity of the plastic animals has endured in the cricket world, also popping up at matches this summer...

"If you actually think about it, from a COVID standpoint, we were staying so far away from each other," Mroz said. "Now people are touching cups that other people's saliva is all over. We just went from 0 to 100 in a week, but it shows the resilience of human beings, and how sports really brings people together."
More information at ESPN.

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