22 September 2021

"Otherworld journeys"

This interesting book by Carol Zaleski, professor of world religions at Smith College, examines modern reports of "near-death experiences" experienced in hospitalized patients, trauma victims, suicide survivors etc, and compares them to historical accounts of traveling outside the body (ecstatic states, travel to the underworld or heaven), as portrayed in religious epics, dramas, and myths.

This is a scholarly work with many hundreds of citations.   I'll excerpt just a brief sample:
"[In medieval times] bridges had a supernatural import.  G. A. Frank Knight attributes the mystique of bridges to a widespread primitive belief that bridge-building encroaches on the domain of the river spirit who, deprived of drowning victims, must be appeased through sacrifice.  There is evidence that ancient Roman bridge-builders placated the divinity of the Tiber by casting humans or effigies into the river.  In European folklore, as Knight points out, the tutelary river deities are Christianized into demons, every bit as hungry for human victims as were their pagan counterparts.  Hints of bridge-sacrifice are preserved in popular folktales in which the devil claims the fist soul to cross a new bridge, and also in the children's game called "London Bridge."

In Christian Europe as in ancient Rome, bridge-building was seen as a sacred as well as dangerous undertaking, and the upkeep of bridges was entrusted to clergy.  Symbolically, the supreme clerical bridge builder of Western Christendom was the pope, who became "Pontifex Maximus" in place of the Roman and Christian emperors who had inherited this title from the official charged with conserving the Pons Sublicius...

The literary history of Western eschatological bridge symbolism takes us back again to ancient Persia, to the pre-Zoroastrian tradition that souls must cross a perilous bridge in the other world..."
I had to look up the reference to the pope and bridges, which was new to me.  I studied Latin, but not being Catholic didn't appreciate the etymology of "pontiff."  Pontifex is a doublet of pontiff ("high priest") -
Often interpreted as a compound originally meaning “bridge-maker”, from Proto-Italic *pontifaks, equivalent to pōns (“bridge”) +‎ -fex (“suffix representing a maker or producer”), either metaphorically “one who negotiates between gods and men” or literally if at some point the social class which supplied the priests was more or less identical with engineers that were responsible for building bridges.
You learn something every day.

Classic Far Side

21 September 2021

Appalachian Trail thru-hike

The world probably already has enough hiking videos, but I thought this one was nicely done in that it doesn't overlay unnecessary commentary, and even better it is formatted as a series of vignettes rather than a compressed timelapse.

Frog launched during spacecraft takeoff

Lava vs. swimming pool. Lava wins.

Even more striking is the encounter between the lava and some type of water reservoir a bit later in the film.  

19 September 2021

Vintage bridal jewelry

Via Reddit (I couldn't find a primary source).

Breast implants and firearm injuries

"This ballistics study examines whether saline breast implants can decrease tissue penetration in firearm injuries. We hypothesize that the fluid column within a saline breast implant can alter bullet velocity and/or bullet pattern of mushrooming. The two experimental groups included saline implants with 7.4 cm projection and a no implant group. The experimental design allowed the bullet to pass-through an implant and into ballistics gel (n = 10) or into ballistics gel without passage through an implant (n = 11). Shots that passed through an implant had 20.6% decreased penetration distance when compared to shots that did not pass-through an implant; this difference was statistically significant (31.9 cm vs. 40.2 cm, p < 0.001). Implant group bullets mushroomed prior to gel entry, but the no implant group mushroomed within the gel. Bullet passage through a saline breast implant results in direct bullet velocity reduction and earlier bullet mushrooming; this causes significantly decreased ballistics gel penetration."
Abstract from an article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

"Waiter, I'd like some octopus-shaped pasta"

"Every year, Barilla, the world’s biggest pasta company, hosts a competition to create innovative new pastas for their 3D pasta printer. This year they received 1,300 design proposals, and are still in the midst of testing them out. But consider this past winner, Lune, a hollow moon-like sphere with crater-shaped holes for sauce to peek through...

Here’s how it works: First you download your 3D model into the printer (it’s the size of a small fridge), then load printer cartridges with semolina dough. And then you press print. The printer builds the pasta layer by layer, with a nozzle that moves along the X, Y and Z axes, spitting out the dough in a steady stream. It takes two to three minutes for the printer to make nine pieces of pasta...

Pasta is just one application for 3D printers and food. The first 3D restaurant in the world, Food Ink, is serving printed fine dining dishes like lobster-shaped pastries filled with lobster."

Have consideration for the crematorium staff

"A coconut that was placed inside a coffin "sent fear" through staff at a crematorium when it exploded.  Bolton Council has urged mourners to abide by crematorium rules and not "slip" items into coffins.  Donna Ball, Assistant Director of Community Services, said a "hell of an explosion can sometimes occur".

Other items of concern include mobile phones, TV remotes, e-cigarettes and bottles of alcohol... electrical items with batteries also push crematorium emissions up to "unacceptable levels".

The funeral director said on one occasion she was even asked if an extra set of underwear could be placed with the deceased.

Ms Walch-Grognet said it was her procedure to "look under the lining of the coffin" after the service due to mourners trying to sneak items in."

"Bamboo wife" explained

A bamboo wife is a long, hollow and handwoven bolster that is often comparable to the human body in size. True to its name, it’s almost always made out of thinly cut bamboo strands. If not, it’s usually another material that’s easy to weave, like rattan.

There are several bamboo wife variants, ranging in length and circumference. Why? Sleepers come in all sizes! It is supposed to be roughly the same size as the person using it, so children and adults will have different needs...

Typically it is embraced in a side sleeping position. The open wooden structure helps regulate body temperature and eases usual aches and pains from side sleeping without a bolster.

Because bedrooms are now cooler due to modern technology, it follows that modern alternatives to the bamboo wife would be more popular. Body pillows in particular accomplish the same goal.
More information at Good Night's Rest.

17 September 2021

The definitive rules regarding airplane armrests

"The reasons are not arbitrary, but rather based on sound, unyielding logic and every human’s own innate sense of basic decency."  Explained at Jalopnik.

Cheese 101

An excellent video in terms on content and presentation.  Via Kottke, who cites this passage from a French marketing consultant:
"For example, if I know that in America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don’t want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that’s where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America."

16 September 2021

Divertimento #189

"The Antikythera Mechanism was a computational instrument for mathematical astronomy, incorporating cycles from Babylonian astronomy and the Greek flair for geometry. It calculated the ecliptic longitudes of the Moon, Sun and planets; the phase of the Moon; the Age of the Moon; the synodic phases of the planets; the excluded days of the Metonic Calendar; eclipses—possibilities, times, characteristics, years and seasons; the heliacal risings and settings of prominent stars and constellations; and the Olympiad cycle—an ancient Greek astronomical compendium of staggering ambition."  A high-quality longread, extensively illustrated.

"Will Shortz, who recently passed the milestone of having edited more than 10,000 Times crosswords, says he has no intention of retiring – ever..."  A separate article at The Atlantic explains "How Will Shortz Edits a New York Times Crossword Puzzle."

"We’ve spent more than 150 hours researching and testing surge protectors..."

"Tina Dupuy was a teenage alcoholic. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 12, got sober by 13. And she learned to tell the hell out of her story at speaking events. She even became "AA Famous." But at the age of 33, she had a sudden realization that made her question the very story she was famous for."  A very interesting podcast from This American Life.

"When Francisco Javier de Balmis set off from Spain in 1803 to vaccinate the people in Spain’s colonies against smallpox he had no means of keeping the vaccine fresh, so he used children as his “refrigerators."  

"Sri Lankan authorities say the world's largest star sapphire cluster has been found in a backyard - by accident.  A gem trader said the stone was found by workmen digging a well in his home in the gem-rich Ratnapura area.  Experts say the stone, which is pale blue in colour, has an estimated value of up to $100 million in the international market.  The cluster weighs around 510 kilograms or 2.5 million carats and has been named the "Serendipity Sapphire"."

"A woman was handcuffed on the ground when a police sergeant kicked her in the head: ‘Nothing justifies that’"

"Michigan Catholic school argues in lawsuit mask mandates violate religious liberty by hiding 'God's image'"

"Minneapolis' Wedge neighborhood hosts the world's only window cat tour... in 2019, more than 300 cat tourists viewed 50-some felines."

The beer "Surrender Dorothy" was forced to change its name.  "“Basically, Turner owns the rights to ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ... and they didn’t want any confusion with their branding.”

"Villagers in north-east Croatia feared their homes might be swallowed when almost 100 enormous sinkholes appeared in a month. Now scientists are trying to understand if the land that is left is safe."

"Children are always going to find cunning ways to bunk off school, and the latest trick is to fake a positive Covid-19 lateral flow test (LFT) using soft drinks. [Videos of the trick have been circulating on TikTok since December and a school in Liverpool, UK, recently wrote to parents to warn them about it.] So how are fruit juices, cola and devious kids fooling the tests, and is there a way to tell a fake positive result from a real one? I’ve tried to find out."

"Italian farmers have grown the world’s largest cherry, shattering the record with a mammoth 33g fruit."

"The cast of Friends each made $1M per episode in the final two seasons and now make $20M per year per cast member for reruns."

Every year New York City recycling facilities receive 1,200 bowling balls.

"An 11-year-old boy nicknamed “Little Einstein” has become the youngest graduate in quantum physics.  Laurent Simons, who is half-Belgian and half-Dutch, obtained a bachelor’s degree with distinction from the University of Antwerp in just 18 months."

Pundits and politicians have created their own definition for critical race theory, and then set about attacking it.

"Tree poaching is a growing issue in the Pacific Northwest. Thieves have consistently targeted public lands and national forests in Washington, California and Oregon... In a first for a federal criminal trial, prosecutors used tree DNA to prove the remains matched that of the timber the men sold to local mills."

There are several temperatures that the Apple Weather app cannot show.  People have snickered about 69, but the phone also cannot show 67, 65, 62, 60, 68, 56, 53...

Some parents time their pregnancies in order to favor a "good" zodiac sign for the newborn.  Not discussed in the article is the perhaps more practical goal of birthing a child who will be the oldest is his/her class rather than the youngest.

"Newly published satellite imagery shows the ground temperature in at least one location in Siberia topped 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius)."

BugsofJapan is a tumblr to which people submit photos for identification.  Some interesting items.

Why baseball players wear stirrups as part of their uniforms.

"The theft of catalytic converters from cars has jumped more than 100% in the UK in the last two years and is supported by international networks of criminals... Security videos posted online, show thieves using electric saws to cut off a catalyser and get away in 60 seconds."

"Among the most commonly encountered Janus words are cleave, hew, and sanction... to scan, meaning either to look carefully... or to glance quickly at... ; to peruse, with similar senses, meaning both to read or examine carefully and to look at or read casually without much attention to detail; inflammable, ... and to trip, to catch one’s foot and stumble or, conversely, to step along nimbly....  For connoisseurs of language, an especially delicious J-word is the use of oversight ...".  I've always called them contranyms.  Futility Closet has two lists of them, here and here.

"Empty when full" makes sense in this setting.

A comprehensive comparison of handheld vacuums.

Stick insects may benefit by being eaten by birds, which then serve as carriers to disperse the insects' eggs miles away.  "One thing that makes stick insect eggs different from most other insects is that they resemble seeds — same shape, size, color and texture. And they’re coated in a chemical layer of calcium oxalate, [which] doesn’t dissolve easily. 

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning doctors about a strange cluster of illness in three states caused by a rarely seen bacteria in the U.S., one that’s killed at least one person and hospitalized two others so far. The illness, called melioidosis, can be highly fatal but isn’t normally considered contagious between people. Officials don’t know how these victims contracted the bacteria, though the cases do seem to be connected.... the bacteria has never been found in the natural environments of North America... none of the patients’ families had reported any travel out of the country or far from their homes... all three were infected with genetically similar strains of the bacteria.  Testing suggests a common source of infection, but that source has not yet been identified..."

"Māori may have been the first to discover Antarctica, with connections to the icy continent and its surrounding oceans stretching back to the seventh century."

"Massive spider-webs stretching across trees and paddocks have formed near towns in Australia."  Impressive pix.

"Florida GOP candidate William Braddock, running for a primary Tampa Bay-area congressional seat, threatened to send assassins to make one of his opponents, Anna Paulina Luna, "disappear," in a secret recording obtained by Politico.  "I really don't want to have to end anybody's life for the good of the people of the United States of America," he told conservative activist Erin Olszewski over the phone. "That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a fucking speed bump in the road. She's a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood."  "I have access to a hit squad, too, Ukrainians and Russians … don't get caught out in public supporting Luna … Luna's gonna go down and I hope it's by herself," Braddock said in the recording, referring to Luna at one point as a "stupid cunt.""

"[Bats] are simply looking for a safe place to roost, but they also become furry philistines that erase ancient paintings and other cave wall markings within a few decades because of the corrosive property of their feces, or guano... large quantities of bat guano and urine can ferment and saturate the air with aerosolized particles of phosphoric acid. This potent combination eats away at the limestone walls and ceiling, a process called biocorrosion..."

"In the letter, [Senator Tom] Cotton (R-AR) warns Biden that Beijing plans on using the 2022 Winter Olympics as a giant funnel for precious American DNA, harvesting the nation’s fittest and finest for their genomic information as part of a plan to achieve military dominance.

"You used to know where you were with zombies. Normally it was 10ft ahead of them, watching them lurch pathetically towards you. This afforded plenty of time to find a baseball bat, something sharp, maybe even a chainsaw... Then zombies started to run, and everything got much more complicated.  The debate over whether they should sprint or lurch has raged ever since. "

The embedded images are selections from a larger gallery at Bored Panda.  (with a tip of the blogging cap to Kolo Jezdec)

15 September 2021

"Veteranization" of trees explained

Ancient trees provide different microenvironments from young or typical mature trees.
Oak polypore fungi and stag beetle larvae feast on the dead heartwood, adult stag beetles sup the sugary liquid from the "sap runs", the living layers of wood which transport water and minerals throughout the tree. Hover flies lay eggs in water-filled rot holes, rat-tailed maggots devour leaf litter and violet click beetles eat up wood mould that is rich with faeces and other remains, accumulating over a century. Knothole moss and pox lichen cling to the bark in rainwater channels. Barbastelle bats hibernate in crevices and under loose bark. Woodpeckers and nuthatch enlarge holes for nesting, while owls, kestrels, marsh tit and tree-creeper move in to ready-made cavities...

The ancients of our forests provide essential food and shelter for more than 2,000 of the UK's invertebrates species. In Savernake Forest alone, these trees are home to nearly 120 species of lichen, more than 500 species of fungi, and other important wildlife such as the elusive white-letter hairstreak butterflies.

We face losing these micro-worlds as, one by one, the ancient trees of today are dying and there are not enough ready to replace them.
It takes many human lifetimes to "replace" an ancient tree, but it may be possible to replicate the microenvironments artificially.
It can take up to 300 years before heart-rot, the decay at the centre of an ageing tree, is established enough that insects can start moving in and laying their larvae, says Rutter. "It becomes a complex ecosystem. The ancient trees that we have today, ones that are 300-900 years old – perhaps older – support an incredibly wide range of species."..

Veteranisation is the practice of damaging younger trees in order to initiate decay sooner than it would occur naturally. The hope is that habitats usually seen in older trees will begin to develop much earlier. Veteranisation is not new, explains Rutter, but it is not well documented. Only recently has research been initiated to monitor the success of veteranisation techniques.

An international trial, started in 2012 and set over 20 sites in Sweden, England and Norway, is in the process of evaluating the veteranisation of almost 1,000 oak trees. The methods applied include creating woodpecker-like holes, breaking or ringbarking lower branches or the trunk to mimic damage from animals such as deer or horses, and creating nest boxes for birds and bats. The project is planned to take 25 years, until 2037, so the results have yet to be fully analysed...

"Heart-rot species are key," says Rutter. "These fungi are able to break down the lignin, the very hard part of the wood which is normally incredibly indigestible. Many heart-rot fungi happily eat the central dead wood without harming the living tissue on the outside – and can co-exist with a tree for 600 or 700 years. We want a tree to live a long time so the habitats can continue for as long as possible."

To try and mimic this process in younger trees, Ancients of the Future is growing heart-rot fungi on blocks of wood in the lab, inserting the blocks into holes cut in young trees and recovering them with bark. They are left that way for a few years, then the blocks are removed to see if the fungi have taken hold inside the tree...

She explains that the hollowing of ancient trees by fungal decay, previously seen as detrimental, is a natural part of the ageing process and can even prolong the lives of trees, feeding them nutrients from the inside...

"We need to think beyond our own lifetimes and look after the trees we’ve got now, to give them a chance to grow into ancients," says Rutter. "Trees are fragile, complex chemical factories and major hubs for biodiversity. Without them, many species won’t survive."
Fascinating.  More details at the BBC source article.  You learn something every day.

14 September 2021

Divertimento #188

Editorial note:  For the past year and a half, the last dozen of my linkfests have been populated only with gifs, because they are so easy to do.  Meanwhile the links for a proper compilation of "meatier" articles has continued to accumulate; I now have over 2000 links that have interesting (to me) material, many of which are now undergoing linkrot because they are getting old.  So this is the first in a series of linkfests that will feature material that I don't have time/energy to work into a proper longform post, but that I want to share or store for future reference.

How to choose, store and serve blue cheese. "...if you think all blue cheese smells bad, you haven’t given it a fair shake. “People tend to think of blue cheese as something that exists unilaterally, when it has many expressions...”

The odor of ladybugs may be an effective aphid repellant.

In Lincolnshire, a crew doing work on a golf course pond retrieved a "log coffin, which measures about 3 metres long by 1 metre, thought to be 4,000 years old. Inside are the remains of a man, who was buried with an axe."

"This study is the first report revealing... the bacterial composition of wasted chewing gum... The relative stability of the oral microbiome in a sun-irradiated outdoor space even after several weeks of outdoor and solar exposition raises concerns on the possible role of wasted chewing gums as long-term carriers of pathogenic microorganisms.

"...ran a Twitter poll asking how LATINX is pronounced, and it turns out that I was among the 6 percent who believed the correct pronunciation was “Lah-TINKS.” The vast majority of people answered either “Latin-x” or “La-TEEN-x.”

A two-year-old girl with autism drowned in a neighborhood retention pond.  "Authorities said she was drawn to water, which can often lead to elopement — a term used to describe autistic children and youth wandering or running away."

When you travel by air, you should never touch the flush button with your bare hands.

"... a new, nationwide study of [Covid] hospitalization records, released as a preprint today (and not yet formally peer reviewed), suggests that the meaning of this gauge can easily be misinterpreted—and that it has been shifting over time."

"Back in October 2020, [Dolly Parton] pledged to pose for Playboy again when she turned 75. And now that she’s met the milestone, the magazine no longer has a print edition. So she improvised."

Taco Bell is "rolling out a nationwide pilot program for customers to send used sauce packets back through the mail."  Sounds like virtue-signalling with eco-theater.

"Federal safety regulators are investigating at least 11 accidents involving Tesla cars using Autopilot or other self-driving features that crashed into emergency vehicles when coming upon the scene of an earlier crash."

Drought is devastating farmers in North Dakota.  "North Dakotans can’t grow enough feed for their cattle, so they’re selling off the animals before they starve."

"According to the most recent data from the AARP, an estimated 41.8 million people, or 16.8 percent of the population, currently provides care for an adult over 50... A lot of these caregivers are really, really struggling. What’s required of them is more complex and time-consuming than just 10 years ago, as caregivers deal with overlapping diagnoses related to physical health, mental health, and memory loss as the elderly live longer. The work is much more than just clearing out the guest room or setting another place at the dinner table. Depending on the health of the care recipient, it’s monitoring medication, preparing special meals, changing diapers, and bathing, plus figuring out finances, providing transportation to and from medical appointments, and more."

"If you’re using iOS 11 or later, you may have noticed that photos taken with your iPhone camera are saved as HEIC files instead of the previous format, JPG. This new file format was introduced to offer better compression while still preserving image quality. The problem with HEIC is that it’s not widely compatible with other apps or devices, and you may not be able to open a HEIC photo after moving it to your computer. This article will explain how you can convert an HEIC to a JPG or even how to stop taking pictures in HEIC format altogether."

"Previously a niche, expensive product, period knickers are now readily available on the UK high street. Women explain why they are turning their backs on single-use pads and tampons."

"Here’s the story of a cybercrime group that compromises up to 100,000 email inboxes per day, and apparently does little else with this access except siphon gift card and customer loyalty program data that can be resold online."

"Underboob" swimwear explained (and extensively illustrated).

The anatomy of a horse's hoof: "This horse is dead, and extremely likely purposefully dissected as an anatomy specimen. What you're seeing (the red hairbrush like stuff) is called the sensitive lamellae, and it's packed with blood vessels and innervation. It is connected to the first bone of the foot (the first phalanx, P1 aka coffin bone). What's missing here is the hoof wall. The hoof wall has little interdigitating structures like this called the insensitive lamellae that fit into these ones, and hold the hoof wall to the rest of the foot. The hoof wall is homologous (evolutionarily the same as) to our fingernail..."

"This is ambergris, one of the world’s unlikeliest commodities. The waxy substance formed in the gut of around one in 100 sperm whales is frequently described as vomit, but is almost certainly expelled from the other end of the animal. Fresh ambergris has a strong fecal odor and is much less valuable than aged specimens. Despite its origins, ambergris, with its unique scent, fixative properties, and perceived ability to elevate other olfactory notes, has been prized by the perfume industry for hundreds of years. It has also been consumed as a delicacy and administered as medicine. At times, it has fetched prices more than twice that of gold. Today, it still changes hands for up to US $25 per gram, a price approaching that of platinum and many times that of silver and can mean a payday of thousands of dollars for a tennis ball–sized chunk."

"A mom and her eight-year-old son came into the restaurant I waited tables at for lunch. The mom asked her son what he wanted to eat, and he replied 'ranch.' I politely asked if he meant a salad with ranch? Or French fries with a side of ranch? The woman looked at me and clarified he wanted a soup bowl full of ranch dressing.  I walked into the kitchen and discussed with my manager because I had no idea how to charge them for a bowl of ranch dressing. We came to the conclusion that we should charge them for an entire bottle of ranch, so she paid $10.99 for a soup bowl full of ranch dressing. Yuck."

"Rather than a centuries-long building project inspiring the transition to farming, Clare and others now think Gobekli Tepe was an attempt by hunter-gatherers clinging to their vanishing lifestyle as the world changed around them."

"A “memory palace” sounds as enticing as it does intimidating, but building your own is easier than you might think. Also known as the Method of Loci, this memorization technique taps into your brain’s ability to store lots of location-based information and applies it to new data you hope to file away for later."

"I Love Throwing My Kids’ Artwork in the Garbage While They’re Sleeping.  Like a particularly aggressive strain of kudzu, your children's artistic output will invade every room of your home if you don’t battle it back."

"But there's a cost to dieting while training for a sport. Nutritionist Christel Dunshea-Mooij became concerned about New Zealand women's rowing team after the 2016 Olympics. They were in danger of RED-S, or Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport... RED-S can cause issues with bone density, fertility, immunity, and metabolic and cardiovascular function. (Most of the rowers had "excellent bone density", also measured by the DEXA scan.)... As a lightweight athlete, the change in fuelling was a big shift, she says. “It used to be you ate less to stay a lightweight. But to be able to see I could eat a lot more and then train harder - and stay at the same weight - was eye-opening. It made a huge difference to the way I trained, because I could work harder.”"

"The most poignant sign of the failure of the cannabis business, however, might be sitting in warehouses across [Canada]. At its peak, last October, following the 2020 growing season, there was about 1.1 billion grams of harvested or processed cannabis held in storage: 95 percent of inventory has not been purchased by retailers or wholesalers, and much of it is “assumed to be largely unsaleable,” writes MJBizDaily’s Matt Lamers, whether because of degradation or excess supply. We have more pot in this country than we can possibly sell. Producers today are sitting on a massive, and predictable, oversupply that is slowly becoming worthless—and that’s going to cost a lot of companies a lot of money."

Slavery is still legal in the United States.  Until this phrase is amended in the Constitution: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

"While radon is commonly known as a hazardous gas removed from basements, people in pain travel to Montana and pay to breathe, drink and bathe in its radio­active particles. The travelers view the radon exposure as low-dose radiation therapy for a long list of health problems."

"Two men were mourning the loss of their brother, who had been struck by a light-rail train, when they were also struck and killed by a train in North Carolina."

"In warning that Iran could turn the Middle East nuclear, American politicians imply that the region is nuclear-free now. But it’s not. Israel already has nuclear weapons. You’d just never know it from America’s leaders, who have spent the last half-century feigning ignorance. This deceit undercuts America’s supposed commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, and it distorts the American debate over Iran. It’s time for the Biden administration to tell the truth."

A buyer's guide to metal detectors.

"There is an Easter egg in Christopher Nolan's "Memento" that gives away the entire plot twist way before the actual plot twist occurs. However, it is to brief for most people to notice it."

"The 9.9 percent [the top 10%, less the 0.1% billionaires] is the new American aristocracy...  I belonged to a new generation that believed in getting ahead through merit, and we defined merit in a straightforward way: test scores, grades, competitive résumé-stuffing, supremacy in board games and pickup basketball, and, of course, working for our keep. For me that meant taking on chores for the neighbors, punching the clock at a local fast-food restaurant, and collecting scholarships to get through college and graduate school. I came into many advantages by birth, but money was not among them.  I’ve joined a new aristocracy now, even if we still call ourselves meritocratic winners... The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy..."

The embedded photos come from a gallery posted in The Guardian. "For his photo series The Hidden Beauty of Seeds and Fruits, Biss immersed himself in the collections housed at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden , sifting through its 3,500 historical specimens. “I was stunned by the variety of designs that exist to disperse seeds."

"Kleptopharmacology" and"pupal rape" explained

Excerpts from a fascinating article in The New York Times:
Naturalists recently witnessed several species of milkweed butterfly harassing, subduing and subsequently feeding on milkweed caterpillars, presumably to get their fill of toxic alkaloids inside the larvae.

This behavior was described in an article published Wednesday in the journal Ecology. The authors of the paper say they are unaware of similar behavior being documented among other butterflies, or any insects for that matter, that are so closely related. Although butterflies had previously been observed feeding on grasshoppers that harbor toxic alkaloids, no one had ever documented adult butterflies stealing such compounds from their own kin.

Scientists did not have a word to describe this toxic behavior, so the study’s authors came up with one: kleptopharmacophagy... [steal-drug-eat]

Mr. Soong and Mr. Tea spent hours watching seven different species of milkweed butterfly, including Blanchard’s ghost and the ismare tiger butterfly, scratching caterpillars, both dead and alive, so violently with mighty claws on their feet that the caterpillars’ internal juices oozed out... They also observed butterflies doing the same thing to the leaves of plants known to contain toxic alkaloids...

Having a steady supply of pyrrolizidine alkaloids is also important for male milkweed butterflies. These alkaloids are an ingredient in mating pheromones and also in nuptial gifts...

 “Butterflies have a whole repertoire of really gross and nasty behaviors,” Mr. Tea said. One example is pupal rape, a phenomenon in which male butterflies force their way into the chrysalises of female butterflies that haven’t finished metamorphosing and force them to mate, he said.
All of this is new to me.  You learn something every day.

Retirement living for my grandmother

After my grandmother Selma Finseth was widowed in 1960, she moved off the farm in southern Minnesota to a facility in Minneapolis that provided facilities equivalent to a modern senior living center.  

The Francis Drake Hotel was not designed specifically for seniors; it was a more broadly-purposed "apartment hotel" that also catered to posh travelers and bachelors who didn't know how to cook, as described in this promotional text from the 1920s:
A magnificent new apartment hotel, one of the outstanding buildings in Minneapolis. Conveniently located at Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue South. The Francis Drake was designed to meet the particular needs of discriminating residents and transients. It represents the utmost in careful planning. good construction, complete equipment and elaborate furnishing...

Accommodations of this ultra modern apartment hotel include 108 apartments and 50 transient chambers. Sixty of the apartments have Pullman kitchenettes, 18 are augmented by an additional dinette, and 30 are bachelor apartments. Every room has a private bath. Furnishings include the most magnificent of over-stuffed furniture, made in Minneapolis and purchased through leading Minneapolis retail establishments, and all furnishings chairs, wall beds, draperies, rugs and carpets have been tastefully selected to serve the needs of the rooms for which they were chosen. All furnishings—bedroom furniture, odd decorations are of the richest and finest; the best products of establishments renowned for high grade furnishings. Frigidaire electrical refrigeration is used throughout the Francis Drake, apartments being equipped with the Frigidaire models specially designed for use, thus relieving all guests of the annoyance of an outside ice supply.
A free vacuum cleaning service is available to all tenants. The private laundry is completely equipped, including automatic dryers, and drying space furnished to guests. A water softening system provides soft water at ell times. The building has a vacuum heating system. General features of the Francis Drake include the Lobby and Lounge, with magnificent appointments: the ballroom of Moorish architectural design; a tastefully appointed dining room, the commissary, beauty parlors and barber shop. There is a billiard and amusement room for guests. Twenty-four hour desk and telephone service is maintained...
The hotel was built in the 1920s as a luxury facility to accommodate upscale residents and visitors, and was listed in the Green Book travel guide, but as the decades passed the "poshness" factor faded:
As historic hotels go, its design wasn’t particularly notable, even in its day. And the modest Renaissance Revival building was dwarfed by the massive Nicollet Hotel, a grand hotel that opened in 1924 on Washington Avenue.

The Drake, at 10th Street and 5th Avenue S., wasn’t in a fashionable neighborhood, like the Radisson, the Dyckman and the Andrews — all of which were bigger, fancier and located in the heart of the city...
During my grandmother's years there (1960-64) it was a comfortable apartment building within walking distance of downtown amenities, but it continued to fade thereafter:
Whatever vogue it had upon opening, it slipped into second-tier status after a decade or two. A desultory renovation in the 1960s refreshed the cafe and added an anomalously modern, multicolored plastic archway over one entrance.
In the 1980s it was repurposed for "emergency and transitional housing" for homeless people and locals displaced by tornadoes etc.  In 2019 it was gutted by a Christmas Day fire.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

10 September 2021

"I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit"

That's the title of an assemblage of 23 works of art by Banksy that is currently being offered by Christies.  Starting bids range from GBP 20,000 to 100,000.

Readers with an interest in literature will be more interested in The Exceptional Literature Collection of Theodore B. Baum, Part One.  


A "momentous shift" in the labor market

That's the phrase used by John Authers to describe the above chart, which depicts about 25 years of changes is wages for low-skilled and high-skilled workers.
"For the third month in a row, wages for the low-skilled have risen faster than for the high-skilled. In the previous history of the survey, which now goes back almost 25 years, this had only ever happened in two months, in early 2010. Wage growth for the low-skilled is also exceeding that for the high-skilled by the most on record. 

In terms of the momentous macroeconomic issues of the moment, this is good for growth, as poorer people are more likely to spend their pay rises than richer people. It’s also potentially bad for inflation. Wage growth for the lowest skilled is the fastest since August 2008 (not coincidentally, the month before the Lehman bankruptcy), and that could easily lead to higher prices. 

More interestingly still, it does suggest a shift in the balance of power between labor and capital. This isn’t as yet a deep-seated or well-established trend, of course. But if it continues it could rattle a lot of assumptions, and alleviate a lot of social tension.

And that leads to one final readthrough. Low-skilled workers endured a truly terrible deal from 2011 to 2013, when their wages didn’t even gain 1% per year. Higher-skilled workers did far better. Barack Obama was president at the time. If any one chart helps to explain how Donald Trump was able to disrupt the coalition that elected Obama, this might be it. And if this continues, it could be fantastic political news for Joe Biden, who could do with some at present. It’s worth watching this, very closely. "

Gleanings from Heimskringla

Heimskringla is a compilation of sagas about the early Norse kings in Iceland by poet and historian Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. "The name Heimskringla was first used in the 17th century, derived from the first two words of one of the manuscripts (kringla heimsins, "the circle of the world")."  Herewith some excerpts from the book.
"During the night [Fjolnir] went out on the balcony to find a place to relieve himself.  He was drowsy with sleep and dead drunk, and on his way back to his lodgings he went along the balcony and to the wrong loft door and through it  He missed his footing and fell into the mead vat and drowned." 

"It was spring, and the sun shone with great warmth; and when they drove over Rykins Inlet - people had watered their cattle there during the winter, and their dung had fallen on the ice, and the sun's warmth had melted the ice there.  Now when the king [Halfdan] drove over that stretch, the ice broke under him, and he perished with many of his followers.  He had reached his fortieth year then.  There had been excellent seasons during his rule... men of influence came and prayed, all of them, to take the body with them to be buried in their lands; for it was thought that he who got possession of it could expect good seasons... the head was laid in a mound at Stein in Hringariki, but each of the others carried away their share and interred them in burial mounds in the homelands, and all are called the mounds of Halfdan." 

"Sigurth slew Melbrigthi Tooth, a Scottish earl, and fastened his head to his saddle straps.  The calf of his leg struck the tusk protruding from the skull, mortification set in, and he died from it."

"Afterwards, Earl Einar went up to Halfdan and cut the "blood eagle" on his back, in this fashion that he thrust his sword into his chest by the backbone and severed all the ribs down to the loins, and then pulled out the lungs; and that was Halfdan's death."

"He recognized Klerkon there, the man who had killed his foster father, Thorolf Lousebeard."

"Thorir said it was the custom of Bjarmaland that when a wealthy man died, [half of his movable property] was to be carried into the woods, sometimes put into grave mounds, an covered with earth... "In this enclosure is a mound, and in it is gold and silver all mixed up with earth.  Let us go at it.  But inside the yard there stands the god of the Permians [Finns] who is called Jomali.  Let no one be so bold as to plunder him."  Thereupon they went at the mound and took out of it as much gold and silver as they could and carried it away in their garments.  Much earth stuck to it, as might be expected... Karli saw that Thorir had the silver bowl with him.  The Karli ran up to Jomali.  He saw that he had a thick necklace around his neck.  Karli swung his axe and cut in two the thong with which the necklace was fastened in the back of Jomali's neck.  That blow was so violent that Jomali's head came off..."

"He proceeded to the court of King Knut who received him well.  It was then seen that Thorir had with him an abundance of valuables and all the money he and Karli had taken in Bjarmaland.  In the large barrels there was a false bottom, and the drink in between, and both the barrels were mainly filled with squirrel skins and beaver and sable furs."

"Now when they played chess, King Knut and Earl Ulf, the king made a false move, and the earl took a knight from him.  The king put his figure back and said he was going to make a different move.  The earl became angry, tossed the chess board down, rose, and went away... Next morning, when the king put on his clothes he said to his page, "Go to Earl Ulf and kill him..."

"It so happened one Sunday that King Olaf sat in his high-seat at table and was so busy with his thoughts that he was not aware of the lapse of time.  He had a knife in his hand and cut chips of a piece of wood.  A page stood before him, holding a drinking vessel.  He saw what the king was doing, and gathered that he was thinking of other matters.  He said, "It will be Monday tomorrow, sire."  The king looked at him when he heard these words and became aware then of what he had done.  Then the king asked that a candle be brought to him.  He swept all the savings which he had cut into his hand, then set them on fire and let them burn his palm; from which one could gather that from that time on he would strictly observe the laws and commandments, not do anything but what he knew was right."

"... they rowed out into the Golden Horn [the harbor of Byzantium], and when they came to where iron chains were stretched across the entrance of the harbor Harald ordered the men on both vessels to take to their oars; and those who did not row were to run back to the stern, each with his sleeping bag in hand.  So they ran the galleys up on the iron chains.  And as soon as they were fast and the momentum was spent, Harald ordered them all to run forward.  Then the galley on which Harald was, plunged forward and through this teetering slid down from the iron chain; but the other galley hung fast on the chain and broke in two, and many drowned there... In this fashion Harald escaped from Miklagarth and sailed into the Black Sea..."

"They broke his leg bones and arm bones with the hammers of their axes.  Then they stripped him of his clothes and wanted to flay him alive, and did scalp him.  But they could not carry out their intention on account of the flow of blood.  Then they took whips of walrus-hide and flogged him until his skin was completely off as if he had been flayed.  Then they took a pole and broke his backbone.  Then they dragged him to a tree and hanged him.  They cut off his head and then they dragged his carcass away and buried it in a heap of stones... it took a man of rare strength of mind to stand being tortured in such fashion as not to say a word or to budge; nor did he raise his voice anymore than if he sat drinking..."

[an English priest is accused of indecency] "Then Einar took a peg and set it on the eye of the priest.  The servant stood over him and struck down with his axe, knocking out the eye so that it dropped into his beard.  Then they set the peg on the other eye and said to the servant, "Don't strike quite so hard."  He did so.  Then the peg glanced off the eyeball and tore loose the eyelid.  Then Einar took hold of the eyelid with his hand and held it up and saw that the eyeball still was in place.  Then he set the peg outside on the cheek bone, the servant struck, and the eyeball fell down on the cheek bone where it was most prominent.  Next they opened his mouth pulled his tongue out, and cut it off.  Then they undid his hands and his head.  As soon as he regained his senses it occurred to him to lay the eyeballs under the brows in their proper places and to hold them there with both hands the best he could..."

"Then the healer woman said, "Let me see your wounds and bandage them.".. And when she inspected his wounds she looked closely at the wound he had in his side.  She noticed that there was an iron it it, but did not know which path it had taken.  She had made a concoction in a stone kettle in which she had mashed leeks and other herbs and boiled them together, and that she gave the wounded men to eat.  In that manner she tried to find out if they had wounds in vital parts, because she could smell the leek through a wound which went into the body cavity..."

"He came to the town, and both then had speech with the king and Alfifa, requesting them to give permission to disinter the body of King Olaf... Now when twelve months and five days had passed after the death of King Olaf, his holy remains were again disinterred.  By that time the coffin had again emerged considerably out of the round, and looked span-new as though it were but recently planed... A delicious odor met them.  Then the bishop bared the countenance of the king, and its aspect had changed in  nowise, and there was a ruddiness on his cheeks as though he had only recently fallen asleep.  Those who had seen King Olaf when he fell now saw a great change in that his hair and nails had grown almost as much as they would have if he had been alive all the time since he fell... Then Alfifa said, "Mighty little do bodies decompose when buried in sand.  It would not be the case if he had lain in earth..."
The word "tome" was invented to describe works such as this.  850 pages with a seemingly endless litany of pillaging and manslaughter.  But mandatory reading for those of us trying to understand our ancient Norse heritage.

For other excerpts from Heimskringla, see these two prior posts: Enforcement of early Christianity and A "cattle dog" in the eleventh century.

My copy of the book is now listed on eBay.

Faux rocks

This is way out halfway to the middle of nowhere.  Found it years ago while hiking for butterfly photography.  I believe the water is an output from some type of suburban water treatment actitivy (an explanatory sign at the back faces an intercity bike trail).  The way you can tell they are not natural boulders is to look from the back...

... and see that one of the "boulders" has a door.  All of this behind a chain-link fence presumably to keep out meddlers and terrorists.

Next to the door are some real-life boulders.  The fake ones are probably some type of cast concrete similar to what modern zoos use to replicate wild environments.

What impresses me is that this community went to all the trouble (and expense) of creating a visually attractive front for this ultimately prosaic process, at a location that is not readily seen by the public (it's not even on a regular hiking trail - I had to walk down a dirt access road from the park).  It is mowed on a regular basis and maintained for the benefit of whatever critters happen to fly, crawl, or swim in.  Kudos to someone.

It's located here, for any locals who want to visit.

08 September 2021

Interesting name for a cosmetics company

Makes me sleepy just looking at the display... (because...)

A question about recharging batteries

I use rechargeable batteries for my keyboard, mouse, alarm clocks etc and have noticed a puzzling phenomenon.  My recharger is probably a standard model, with an indicator light that turns off when the process is "complete."

But... if I then test the recharged batteries in a battery tester, sometimes the "recharged" ones are only perhaps 70% max.   It is not the battery's fault, apparently, because when I pair up a couple 70-80% ones and reinsert them, they recharge to the 100% level.

I'm guessing that when two weak batteries are inserted, the recharging process proceeds until one of the batteries is at max, then shuts off, without continuing for the second battery.  If I insert a 75% and a 25%, the 75% reaches 100% but the 25% might be only 60-80%.  They would seem to be charging in series, not in parallel.

It's easy to workaround the problem by using a battery tester, but it's a nuisance.  I don't know whether the design is necessary to avoid overcharging the better one of the pair, or whether my (old) recharger was suboptimally designed.

Someone out there will know the answer.  Thanks in advance.

(Just to clarify, my tester does not give exact percentages; I am extrapolating from a red/yellow/green non-numerical readout.)

Addendum.  Wow.  Lots of useful information in the Comments section, including this link to a comprehensive relevant website.

When it's o.k. to be a Karen

The Madison [Wisconsin] School District is considering whether to remove the word “Karen” from a section of its online student enrollment form where parents can identify their children’s ethnicity, apparently after some expressed concerns about its modern-day connotations.

“Karen” in the parlance of current American race relations has come to mean a demanding white woman blind to her own privilege and racism.

Think the woman who called police on a Black birdwatcher in New York City’s Central Park last year after he asked her to put her dog on a leash.

“Karen,” though, also refers to “a number of ethnic groups with Tibetan-Central Asian origins” who speak 12 related but distinct languages, according to the London-based human rights group Minority Rights Group International. The group estimates there are some 4 million Karen (pronounced “kuh-REN”), mostly in Myanmar. An estimated 215,000 live in the U.S.
Detailed explanation at the Wisconsin State Journal.  You learn something every day.

07 September 2021

"Don't you be my neighbor"

I have brazenly appropriated the title of this post (and the embedded image) from the July 30 episode of This American Life.  Rather than embed an audio here and potentially steal a little of their traffic, I'll instead provide two links so you can listen at their site.

Home, Home Near the Range is a 23-minute longlisten.  The content is unsettling.
Fear Thy Neighbor is a 21-minute followup to the above.  Equally disturbing.

I'll close the comments here because I don't have time to curate comments on this subject.

Enforcement of early Christianity

"Then [Eyvind Kinnrifa] was brought to King Olaf.  The king bade him to let himself be baptized like others.  But Eyvind refused.  The king with kind words urged him to accept Christianity, both he and the bishop giving him many reasons for so doing.  But Eyvind would not budge.  Then the king offered him gifts and great revenues, but Eyvind refused all.  Then the king threatened him with torture or death.  Still Eyvind would not budge.  Thereupon the king had a basin full of live coals brought in and put on Eyvind's belly, and soon his belly burst.

Then Eyvind said: "Take the basin away.  I want to say a few words before I die."  And that was done. 

Then the king asked, "Will you now believe in Christ, Eyvind?"

"No," he said, "I cannot accept any baptism.  I am a spirit brought to life in human shape by the sorcery of Finns, my father and my mother could have no child before."  Then Eyvind died.  He had been a great sorcerer..
-- from the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, in Snorri Sturleson's Heimskringla (c. 1230)

[King Olaf] investigated how Christianity was being kept, and when he considered that there was need of improvement, he taught them the right faith.  And he laid such stress on it that if he found anyone who did not want to abandon heathendom, he drove him out of the land.  Some he had maimed, having their hands or feet lopped off or their eyes gouged out, others he had hanged or beheaded, but left no one unchastised who refused to serve God... Always he punished both the mighty and the humble."
    -- from the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, in Snorri Sturleson's Heimskringla (c. 1230)

A "cattle dog" in the eleventh century

"Once Olaf was in Ireland on some warlike expedition with his fleet.  And when they required to make a raid on the shore for food, some men went on land and drove a great number of cattle down to the shore.  Then a farmer ran after them and prayed Olaf to let him have the cows he owned, and Olaf told him he could have his cows if he recognized them, "but don't delay us."  The farmer had with him a large cattle dog.  He pointed him into the flock, where many hundred cattle were being driven.  The dog circled the whole herd and drove away as many cows as the farmer said he owned, and they all bore the same mark, so they believed that the dog had recognized them properly, and they thought the dog marvelously clever.  Then Olaf asked the farmer if he would give him the dog.

"Gladly," said the farmer.  Olaf right away gave him a gold ring in return and promised him his friendship.  That dog was called Vigi and was a most outstanding dog.  Olaf kept him for a long time afterwards."
-- from the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, in Snorri Sturleson's Heimskringla (c. 1230)

The maze at Hampton Court Palace

"Gardener Gemma Hearn undertakes a final trim of the palace’s maze in Surrey, before it reopens to visitors for the first time since March 2020."  

From the writings of Edgar Allan Poe...

From The Murders in the Rue Morgue:
"A murder so mysterious, and so perplexing in all its particulars, was never before committed in Paris - if indeed a murder has been committed at all.  The police are entirely at fault - an unusual occurrence in affairs of this nature  There is not, however, the shadow of a clew apparent."  
"At fault" seems like a reference to the perpetrator of the crime.  In this case it means at a loss or puzzled, from hunting jargon referring to a break in the trail or a lost scent.

"Let me now advert - not to the whole testimony respecting these voices - but to what was peculiar in that testimony..."  (Heed, pay attention)

(An editor's comment re a laundered oath): 
"Darn", according to H.L. Mencken, is "derived from tarnal, an American contraction of eternal that arose during the eighteenth century and was in wide use as an intensive by the time of the Revolution.  Tarnal... quickly gave rise to tarnation as a euphemism for damnation, and... by 1798 it had assimilated the initial d of damnation, and in the course of time tarnal and its derivatives in t dropped out of use, and only darn remained." (The American Language, Knopf, 1863 ed: p. 296) 
"I will not describe the city of Edinburgh - the classic Edina."  [posted because 70 years ago I lived in a city called Edina.  This was new to me]

An editor's note:  
"The  word "belfry," by the way, does not come from the word bell.  The Middle English word was berfrey, but by association with bell tower the word changed its spelling and pronunciation in the fifteenth century.  Berfrey originally meant a penthouse, then a movable tower used by besiegers, then a tower to protect watchmen, a watchtower, a beacon tower, an alarm-bell tower, and finally a place where a bell is hung.  The modern French word is beffroi."
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