17 January 2022

Corner pianos

Said to be at the Australian Piano Warehouse in Melbourne.  Pic via.  And apparently it's not unique:

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Removing a burned cross from his yard (1960).    Trenchant commentary about Martin Luther King Jr. in an op-ed in today's Guardian.

Image via the now inactive Palahniuk & Chocolate tumblr.

15 January 2022

The Black Sea deluge

Another addition to my list of recommended books, this one explaining in detail the hypothesis that an immense and abrupt irruption of water into the Black Sea from the Aegean/Mediterranean seas was responsible for major cultural disruptions and may have been the basis for the "great flood" hypothesis seen in so many cultures.

In prehistoric times what is now the Black Sea was an immense freshwater lake, fed by glacial meltwaters.  When the outflow drainage at the Bosphorus closed and when the climate changed (disappearance of glaciers, aridity of the overall watershed), the lake evaporated to a smaller size.

The schematic at right shows the approximate relative sizes and shapes of the ancient freshwater lake and the current Black Sea.  That freshwater lake was a magnet for early human civilization because of the presence of water, game, and arable land.

When the Bosphorus "opened up," the inflow of seawater was on a scale not seen anywhere in the modern world.  The Mediterranean was open to the Atlantic, and the sea level was about 500 feet higher than the lake.  When water found a crack in the Bosphorus the flow would have started as a trickle, then as the passage eroded the flow would increase exponentially.  
"Ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls, enough to cover Manhattan Island each day to a depth of over half a mile."  
The lake then began to rise 6" per day, and depending on the gradient, the shore would expand by as much as a mile a day - every day, without pause.  The people living on the shores of the lake would be forced to flee.
"It is hard to imagine the terror of those farmers, forced from their fields by an event they could not understand, a force of such incredible violence that it was as if the collected fury of all the gods was being hurled at them.  They fled with family, the old and the young, carrying what they could, along with fragments of the other languages, new  ideas, and new technologies gathered from around the lake."

The diaspora is detailed in several chapters of the book.
"All these people appeared in Europe shortly after the flood.  All have been described [by archaeologists] as outsiders: people who migrated from some distance... all seem to have been more culturally advanced than those [original European residents] whom they displaced.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, at that time in the middle of the sixth millennium B.C., Europe began a rapid ascent into what has been called a "Golden Age"...

The diaspora also happened in the other direction, creating enormous population changes in Anatolia and the Middle East.
"In the [Mesopotamian] epic of Gilgamesh the seven sages are credited with building the walls of Uruk and bringing the arts of civilization to the Sumerians - irrigation, farming, and the use of copper, gold, and silver.  The question of where the Sumerians came from is still unanswered."

"The oldest known written versions of the flood were committed to clay tablets over two millennia after [this flood] event in Sumerian, the language of the first known writing, a language with no known roots and no known descendants..."
The final point to make is that the story of the flood would have been passed by oral history down through dozens of generations.  Archaeologists have noted that the peoples who fled to Europe tended to settle some distance away from freshwater lakes and streams.  But those who fled to the fertile crescent would have been reminded of the great flood because their new territory was also subjected to annual flooding from the Tigris and Euphrates, which may explain why the legend was maintained there until the invention of cuneiform writing.

If you don't have time for the book, you can browse the high points at the Wikipedia page for the Black Sea deluge hypothesis.

Other interesting bits from the book:
"[King Darius I the Great] governed skillfully and managed a vast empire long before that of Alexander the Great, a regime that encompassed all the prior realms of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Ionians, Persians, and Medes, extending to the east as far as the Indus Valley, to the west into Europe, and to the south into Africa, flourishing in economy and culture."

"Apparently what had so deeply moved Smith was the realization that the [cuneiform] fragments he had assembled contained an independent version of the biblical deluge.  The heathen words told almost exactly the same story as the Hebrew narrative, right down to the selection of a survivor of the deluge through the intervention of a god, the forewarning that gave time to build a wooden ark, the refuge in it of every kind of animal, bird, and reptile, the grounding of the boat on the side of a mountain, the details of dispatching a swallow, raven, and dove to find land, the offering of a sacrifice, and the pledge that the gods would never again return the world to its primeval watery chaos."  "... after the feast one of the goddesses flung her jeweled necklace into the sky to be the sign of a covenant never again to drown the world."  "There was no doubt that the deluge described so vividly in the Gilgamesh legend had been inscribed on stone tablets long before the writing of the first books of the Old Testament."

The fact that the Mediterranean basin had once been a desert is confirmed by the discovery that the Nile River has an immensely deep central gorge (now filled with sediment) as a result of erosion when the Nile used to empty into a much lower basin.  The separation of the Mediterranean from the Atlantic occurred during the Messinian time interval between 7.2 and 5.4 million years ago.  "The transition from sea to land and back to sea had taken less than half a million years."  "Although no humans lived five million years ago, had any been present, they would have witnessed the Mediterranean desert disappearing permanently beneath a mile of salt water in a matter of a single human lifetime."

"... the Sumerians and Akkadians, and even the Greeks, did not believe in a reward after death.  Death might be postponed through a petition to a god, but  no one could escape it.  The body returned to clay, and a duplicate "phantom" entered a new abode through an aperture in the grave, leading to an immense, dark, silent, and sad netherworld where one had a torpid and gloomy existence forever."

Noting some changes in a children's dictionary

"... in 2007, the words “acorn” and “buttercup” were taken out of the Oxford Children’s Dictionary, in favor of words like “broadband” and “cut and paste” to reflect changing usage of the language. “Hamster,” “heron,” “herring,” “kingfisher,” “lark,” “leopard,” “lobster,” “magpie,” “minnow,” “mussel,” “newt,” “otter,” “ox,” “oyster” and “panther” were also deemed archaic and removed."
An excerpt from Losing Eden, a recently-published book that argues that today's children are losing touch with the natural world, as cited in a Harper's book review.

The deletions and new entries in Oxford's Children's Dictionary (which has over 30,000 words) have been roundly criticized and defended.  TYWKIWDBI isn't taking a position on this matter - just noting it for the record.

14 January 2022

This is a truly remarkable adventure story

This is another book I've just given a "goodbye read" to, after having first read it decades ago.  Unlike my typical format with recommended books posts, I'm not going to insert any excerpts, because it would be hard to know what to select.  Notably, this is not a tale of discovery or the "conquest" of nature - on the contrary it's an extended narrative about human survival in the world's most inhospitable environment.

A Gerrymandered voting district

Discussed and explained at The New York Times.  Those tired of politics can read about the etymology of "gerrymander" instead.

Apparently the modern conventional pronunciation is incorrect (historically it was pronounced as Gary-mander).

Pope Francis exiting a music store with a CD

"The shop owners later told The Associated Press that Francis had arrived unannounced at around 7 p.m., after he had told them during a previous encounter at the Vatican that he would come to visit. “He walked in the shop and it was an amazing meeting. And as he promised, he blessed the shop,” said shop owner Tiziana Esposito.

Co-owner Danilo Genio said Francis was a longtime customer who had popped in whenever he was in Rome for meetings at the Vatican when he was a priest, archbishop and then cardinal in Buenos Aires.

Francis, who grew up listening to opera on the radio and loves tango, Mozart and Wagner, didn’t buy anything this time around. But the shop owners gave him a CD of classical music."
Associated Press via Bloomberg.

Flooding of a modern "farm"

A bitcoin-mining farm, to be precise.  Image cropped for size from the one at the via, which included these comments:
It's something like a data center which mines cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. For digital mining, you need powerful graphic cards, in this image you see a lot of those graphic cards. Probably worth over $100k in total.

People dislike these mining centres because they're mostly using graphic cards made for regular consumers like pc gamers. Because of the chip shortage and the miners buying these cards in huge quantities, all powerful graphic cards are currently being priced twice as much as their original price. This angers the gaming community because it has been 2 years since new gaming PC's were actually worth its price.

Bitcoin mining cannot economically be done with GPUs any more, instead they use ASICs. That means that this equipment has no other use other than mining Bitcoin.

Apart from that you are absolutely right - Bitcoin mining and maintaining the blockchain uses approximately 0.5% of the world’s power output. A typical Bitcoin transaction uses over 1544kWh - apparently equivalent to approximately 53 days of power for an average US household. As Bitcoin becomes more popular, the blockchain gets bigger, data has to be written to all computers maintaining the ledger and the power overhead will become larger…

The money actually gets spent whether you perform the transactions or not. If there were zero transactions performed for a day it would cost just as much.

It's a very odd idea to wrap your head around but the power needed to mine cryptocurrencies isn't proportional to the number of transactions, it's proportional to the cost of the tokens.

You have loads of cryptos out there which are essentially clones of bitcoin but they cost far less to mine simply because the tokens aren't worth as much.

It's even weirder than that because it's not specificlly the cost of the tokens but it would be more accurate to say that the cost is down to the block reward which at present is 6.25 bitcoins. That's about $275,000 dolllars. It's profitable to put a lot of power into mining something that is worth that much.

Other cryptos that are almost identical to bitcoin have far lower block rewards so there's not as much incentive to pump huge amounts of power and money into mining them.
Disclaimer:  I don't understand any of this...

Speculators rush to sell off their kit as Balkan state announces a crypto clampdown to ease electricity crisis."

Denied parole again

California's governor on Thursday rejected releasing Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan from prison more than a half-century after the 1968 slaying that the governor called one of America's "most notorious crimes."

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has cited RFK as his political hero, rejected a recommendation from a two-person panel of parole commissioners. Newsom said Sirhan even at age 77 poses an unreasonable threat to public safety...

He said Sirhan still lacks insight, refuses to accept responsibility and has failed to disclaim violence committed in his name.

"These gaps in Mr. Sirhan's insight have a close nexus to his current risk of inciting further political violence," Newsom wrote...

Parole commissioners found Sirhan suitable for release "because of his impressive extensive record of rehabilitation over the last half-century," Berry said. "Since the mid-1980's Mr. Sirhan has consistently been found by prison psychologists and psychiatrists to not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to the public."

During his parole hearing, the white-haired Sirhan called Kennedy "the hope of the world." But he stopped short of taking full responsibility for a shooting he said he doesn't recall because he was drunk.

"It pains me ... the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that," Sirhan said...

The decision had a personal element for Newsom, a fellow Democrat, who displays RFK photos in his official and home offices. One of them is of Kennedy with Newsom's late father.
More at NPR.

Addendum:  Relevant brief video re LAPD persuading a witness to change her testimony. (hat tip to reader Stan B).

No wonder people love Nutella

Sniper's nest at a football stadium

This one photographed for a previous Super Bowl.  Apparently they are standard features at modern stadiums.  More pix at the via.

13 January 2022

An interesting view of Faulkner's writing

"William Faulkner’s short story “Dry September” is about a lynching in Mississippi. But we never see the white woman make the accusation. We never see the black man dragged into the woods and hanged. What we see are the prelude and the aftermath...

That narrative structure—a cyclone swirling around an omission—is Faulkner’s signature device. A conventional story is a continuous chain of cause and effect. Take a close look at just about any classic—“The Lady with the Dog,” “The Gift of the Magi,” “Sonny’s Blues”—and you’ll find that the narrator shows you how one thing leads to another, which leads to another, all the way to the end. Faulkner’s narrators, by contrast, tend to leave out the most important events. His novel The Sound and the Fury revolves around the suicide of one of the central characters, but there is no account of the suicide; his novels Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! center on homicides, but there is no account of either act. The reader is left to surmise and imagine them...

In his critical biography of Faulkner, The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War, Michael Gorra suggests that this device, the device of the gaping void, is part and parcel of Faulkner’s depiction of the white South, the culture that produced him. That culture, during Faulkner’s lifetime, from 1897 to 1962, was so determined to look away from its own crimes that its narratives were fragmentary by necessity, avant-garde via denial. Faulkner created narrators who told redacted stories of the South because he sought to dramatize the way in which the white South redacted its own story...

[Gorra] argues that much of Faulkner’s work circles around one particular great void: the Civil War. The war is, in Gorra’s words, both “nowhere” and “everywhere” in Faulkner’s writing, “not dramatized so much as invoked.” ..

Faulkner was given to cruelty. When his daughter Jill, on the eve of her birthday, begged him to end the bender he was on, he told her, “No one remembers Shakespeare’s child.” He was physically abusive toward his wife, Estelle Oldham, a fellow drunk, fellow Oxonian, and fellow novelist; when there was only one copy of Light in August in the world, a stack of unbound manuscript pages, she threw it out the window of a moving car...

In middle age, he staked out what was then a centrist position on integration, proclaiming that he had the same goals as the leaders of the civil rights movement but believed a “go slow” approach was best. For this he was criticized by W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin, and threatened with death by local white supremacists. He condemned the murder of Emmett Till but lauded “the courage and endurance” of the Southerners who resisted Reconstruction, even though the Southern resistance to Reconstruction largely consisted of acts similar to the murder of Emmett Till. One of his numerous sources of torment was a “civil war within Faulkner himself,” Gorra writes: a conflict between his racism and his commitment to conveying painful truths in fiction...

... the truth teller in Faulkner compelled him to peer, fleetingly, into the forbidden chamber of Southern shame, over and over, describing other monstrosities. In Absalom, Absalom!, plantation owners’ teenage sons command overseers to bring them women from the fields whom they then rape in the bushes. In that same novel, Thomas Sutpen, a white, slaveholding patriarch, gouges men’s eyes in forced wrestling matches, as his son, made to watch, vomits. ..

The pall cast by slavery and Jim Crow is everywhere. The terror and oppression visited on black people in Mississippi obliged white families to deny black blood in their ancestry, often counterfactually, and this drives a number of Faulkner’s plots. In Absalom, Absalom!, Thomas Sutpen’s son Henry shoots Sutpen’s other, secret son, Charles Bon, who is mixed-raced but regards himself as white, to keep him from marrying their sister Judith. It’s not the incest that bothers Henry—as a general rule, Faulkner’s characters are open-minded about incest—it’s the prospect of the family line being tainted with blackness that drives Henry to fratricide...

The tireless spouting of self-justification and falsification epitomized by The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind was the culture Faulkner grew up in, and the culture he repudiated by leaving a great gap in his work where the Civil War should have been. In his serious novels, he abjured all those scenes of Confederate gallantry and dash, all those gleaming bayonets, and instead showed us the talkative and absurd white Southerners who came after, who told incoherent and untrue stories of their own history, stories full of holes..."
Lots more at the longread in Harper's Magazine.

10 January 2022

"Letterlocking" explained and illustrated

This is the most interesting item I've seen all week.  From the The New York Times:
To safeguard the most important royal correspondence against snoops and spies in the 16th century, writers employed a complicated means of security. They’d fold the letter, then cut a dangling strip, using that as an improvised thread to sew stitches that locked the letter and turned the flat writing paper into its own envelope. To get inside, a spy would have to snip the lock open, an act impossible to go undetected.

Catherine de’ Medici used the method in 1570 — a time she governed France while her ill son, King Charles IX, sat on its throne. Queen Elizabeth did so in 1573 as the sovereign ruler of England and Ireland. And Mary Queen of Scots used it in 1587 just hours before her long effort to unite Britain ended in her beheading.
The image embedded at the top is a modern reproduction; the linked NYT article includes photos of several historic locked letters.  And here is a video showing how the letterlocking was performed:

Sand sculptures created by nature, not by man

The result of wind erosion of frozen sand on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Via Reddit.

The movies of 2021


An impressive compilation, but in my view not as cohesive as the briefer mashups created by Sleepy Skunk.

Sleepy Skunk mashup of the movies of 2021

Component movies listed at the Sleepy Skunk tumblr.

Sleepy Skunk mashup of the movies of 2020

This person creates the best mashups I've ever seen.  I have previously blogged his compilation of the movies of 2017 and the movies of 2019.

A list of the component movies is available at the sleepskunk tumblr (scroll down).

Medieval warhorses were the size of modern ponies

Modern fantasy fiction portrays medieval warhorses the size of large Percheron work horses.  In reality...
...the vast majority of medieval horses, including ones believed to have been used in war, were less than 14.2 hands (4ft 10in) high, the maximum height of a modern pony.

The researchers examined the bones of about 2,000 horses dating from the fourth to 17th centuries found at castles, a medieval horse cemetery and other archaeological sites in England, as well as combing historical records and fictional stories of chivalry...

One of the biggest they found was a horse from the Norman period, the remains of which were discovered in the grounds of Trowbridge castle in Wiltshire, but it was only 15 hands – the size of a small modern light riding horse.

Why truck wheels have plastic strips on them

They allow the driver to ascertain whether the wheels are rotating.  Explained at Jalopnik. (They are not the same as the loose wheel nut indicators)

08 January 2022

30,000 books "will go in the trash"

In the mid-1980s, a band of booksellers moved into the empty barns and transformed [Redu, Belgium] into a literary lodestone. The village of about 400 became home to more than two dozen bookstores — more shops than cows, its boosters liked to say — and thousands of tourists thronged its charming streets.

Now, though, more than half the bookstores have closed. Some of the storekeepers died, others left when they could no longer make a living. Many who remain are in their 70s and aren’t sure what’ll happen after they’re gone.

It’s not just the businesses at risk. It’s Redu’s identity.  This is a place that celebrates itself as a “village du livre,” or a “book town.” Its public lampposts and trash cans are adorned with bibliophilic hieroglyphs.

But what happens when the main attractions become less attractive? This is the challenge the village du livre must now confront.  Those who are less hopeful say their trade has fallen out of fashion, and that people, especially young people, are reading fewer books.

“The clientele is aging and is even disappearing,” said Paul Brandeleer, owner of La Librairie Ardennaise. Now, at 73, he’s living off his retirement pension. A sign in front of his store used to advertise his services as “achat — vente,” or buying and selling, but the former has been crossed out. He doesn’t want any more books.

“I have 30,000 books, but when we disappear, they will go to the trash,” Brandeleer said. “We have no kids to take over — they are not interested.”
The story continues at The Washington Post.

A belated mathematical Christmas greeting

Harvested in toto from the December 1992 issue of Harper's Magazine.  Posted for those who enjoy math.

Beavers as architects of woodland meadows

Everyone knows how beavers dam waterways to create ponds.  What is often forgotten is that the natural succession of those ponds is often the creation of a meadow in the midst of a woodland.

As the pond forms behind a beaver dam, the wetness may be so intense and prolonged that some trees die.  In addition, beavers aggressively take down tasty trees in the vicinity of their pond to harvest the upper branches for their food stores.  Beaver dams have a finite life, and after they are abandoned or not maintained, the water drains, and the former wet meadow will transform into a fertile dry meadow until continuing succession sees the appearance of brush and eventually the trees again. 

Here is a photo of a lagoon that extended inland from the shoreline of Leech Lake in northern Minnesota:

The property was purchased by my father in the 1950s, and forty years later it became my responsibility to care for this land.  I cleared off invasive underbrush and created wallking paths.  And then beaver discovered it:

I didn't much mind when they took down some of the riparian aspen, although I was annoyed by their leaving of the stumps for me to stumble over/root out.  But my tolerance hit a limit when they started girdling the hardwood trees.  After several years of trial and error with various deterrents, I eventually wound up purchasing several dozen rolls of 3-foot high chicken wire, with which I wrapped the bases of the trees I wanted to preserve.  I had to staple the tree girdles in place so the beaver wouldn't pull them off, and needed the 3' height so they couldn't reach above them.

It was a lot of hot sweaty work on summer weekends besieged by mosquitoes and blackflies and dodging the occasional yellowjacket nest, but it worked.  Many years later the predation stopped, and the beaver family was replaced by an otter family which burrowed into the muddy banks.  I eventually learned that the beaver had migrated further down the lakeshore, reaching an area with full-time human residents who didn't have the time or interest to coexist with the beaver, which reportedly died of "lead poisoning."

The photo embedded at the top is a screencap from a video embedded in an article in the Sacramento Bee detailing how beneficial beaver water management can be for local ranchers and for fire prevention.

Related: Native Beeology documents the benefits of beaver meadows for insect life.  And The Guardian describes how beaver moving into new areas of northern Alaska are upsetting traditional ecosystems.

What's happening on your face

This is the type of information nobody needs to know, and many people don't want to know, but it's interesting nevertheless, so here goes...
Your skin is home to a thousand kinds of bacteria, and the ways they contribute to healthy skin are still largely mysterious. This mystery may be getting even more complex: In a paper published Thursday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, researchers studying the many varieties of Cutibacterium acnes bacteria on 16 human volunteers found that each pore was a world unto itself. Every pore contained just a single type of C. acnes...

The pores were different from their neighbors, too — there was no clear pattern uniting the pores of the left cheek or forehead across the volunteers, for instance... What the scientists think is happening is that each pore contains descendants of a single individual. Pores are deep, narrow crannies with oil-secreting glands at the bottom, Dr. Lieberman said. If a C. acnes cell manages to get down there, it may proliferate until it fills the pore with copies of itself...

And could it be that another inhabitant on our faces plays a role in how each pore’s bacteria comes and goes?

We have mites on our faces that live in pores and eat bacteria,” Dr. Lieberman said. What role they play in this ecosystem, as far as the maintenance of gardens of C. acnes, has yet to be determined.
Way more at the linked source publication; above summary from The New York Times.

"Powers of Ten" video updated

This is an update of the original "Powers of Ten" video from 1977.  The new version goes several powers of ten further out into the cosmos, but does not dive by powers of ten into the microscopic/molecular world, as the original did.

06 January 2022

Beatrix Potter offered apologies to "Mr. McGregor"

After Beatrix Potter moved to Hill Top farm to live, she took up gardening as a primary occupation (using her writing to support her gardening and land preservation activities).  From this new viewpoint, she became rather less tolerant of the animals she had described in her books.  Birds ate blossoms from her fruit trees (“They are very pretty, but they really want shooting, whether protected or not.”)  Deer and sheep damaged her vegetable garden.  And she sent this doggerel poem to a friend:
But now that I’m a bit too hoary
To lose myself in a bed-time story,
I’ve slightly altered my firm conviction
Regarding my furry friends from fiction;
And might not weep at a grim autopsy
Of Peter, Cotton-tail, Mopsy, Flopsy.
All of whom plus countless dozens
Of nameless ravenous rabbit cousins,
Pay frequent calls on my straggling garden –
Mr. McGregor, I beg your pardon.
Information from Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life - about which more later.

Ashurnasirpal II was not a nice person

"When Layard roamed through the twenty-eight royal halls and chambers of his unearthed Nimrud... he still did not know the identity of the Assyrian king whose capital this was... Had Layard only been able to read the accompanying inscriptions he would have learned firsthand the brutal sadism of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.):
“I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, . . . and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled. . . . 

Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire . . . 

Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace. . . . The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.”​
Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926.
Cited by Ryan and Pitman in Noah's Flood.

05 January 2022

Quiz question: Which way does water flow in the Bosphorus?

Answer:  it flows both waysSimultaneously, and all the time.

An excerpt from Noah's Flood: the New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History, by William Ryan and Walter Pittman (1998).
"... as far back as the Persian invasions of Byzantium in the early seventh century, there had been knowledge of another current flowing in the opposite direction to the surface current and lying below it... when the Byzantine emperor Heraclius crushed the invaders from Asia Minor, he flung the torso and head of his foe separately into the Bosphorus.  The bloated torso floated and drifted south in the surface current.  The head sank directly to the bottom.  Months later teeth washed ashore in gravel bars to the north."
Finding those teeth would be indirect evidence of course, but in modern times, local boatmen know that the surface current flows south into the Sea of Marmara and thence into the Aegean/Mediterranean.  If they want to take a boat north, they can lower a bucket of rocks on a long rope to the bottom, where the northward current of seawater is located; it will carry the bucket north and thus tow their boat on the surface.

More about this book later; just wanted to drop this tidbit into the blog now.  Satellite photo from NASA Earth Observatory.

Addendum: Just found this -
British scientists have discovered a 115-feet deep river, more than half a mile wide - at the bottom of Black Sea. The flow - carrying highly salty water and sediment - is 350 times greater than the Thames, according to a Leeds University team who used a robotic submarine to scan the seabed near Turkey.
The source at OneIndia says that the size of the flow would make it the sixth largest river in the world.

03 January 2022

The sports world needs more nice people

Excerpts from a cheerful story in the Des Moines Register:
As one of his final acts before leaving as the longtime chairman and principal owner of the Iowa Cubs, Michael Gartner gathered all the team’s employees in the Betfred Sports Lounge in left field at Principal Park for a surprise.

Gartner and his four associates had finalized their sale of the team and brought some of the employees to the suite and the others away on vacation on a zoom call to thank them last Tuesday. But before leaving, Gartner, who had a stack of envelops, told them all he was going to hand them out new business cards.

The envelopes weren’t business cards. They were payroll checks. Gartner and his partners were sharing profits of the club's sale to all 23 full-time staff members of the team. Everyone, including the club's custodian, was getting a check based off the number of years they worked for the team. Every employee got $2,000 for every year they had been there, even as interns.

As Gartner broke the news to them, people became overjoyed and emotional.  "It was pretty crazy," Cohen said. “People were crying and shaking,"

For many in the room and on the call, it was life-changing money. A total of $600,000 the five had made from the sale was given away to employees. The longest tenured employee received a check for $70,000.
Note this money didn't go to the players, many of whom may be headed toward the major leagues.  This money went to the employees...
"Those people really, really could use the money. They've got mortgages. They've got little kids. Some of them probably have college debt and car payments. It helps them over humps." 

The 83-year-old Gartner was popular among fans and employees ever since he and a group of associates purchased the Triple-A team and top affiliate of the Chicago Cubs back in 1999. Gartner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former president of NBC News and editor of the Des Moines Register, added bleachers in right field, LED lights around the park and a fountain for kids to play in. 

Gartner routinely walked around the park and carried a baseball to hand out to kids he strolled by. When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, Gartner, unlike owners across the sport, didn't lay off or furlough his staff. Instead, he kept them employed during the work stoppage so they could get by.

Word for the day: normcore

Not a new word; I first mentioned it in a linkfest in 2014 when I saw the word in The New York Times.
1. A fashion movement, c. 2014, in which scruffy young urbanites swear off the tired street-style clich├ęs of the last decade — skinny jeans, wallet chains, flannel shirts — in favor of a less-ironic (but still pretty ironic) embrace of bland, suburban anti-fashion attire. (See Jeans, mom. Sneakers, white.)

2. A sociocultural concept, c. 2013, having nothing to do with fashion, that concerns hipster types learning to get over themselves, sometimes even enough to enjoy mainstream pleasures like football along with the rest of the crowd.
That article is a longread, with conclusions that may or may not be relevant to a world 8 years later.  I mention the word today because it appeared in a Dec 30 Atlantic crossword puzzle clued as “Style characterized by extreme blandness.”  Seems to characterize my wardrobe, if not my life.

02 January 2022

The "Dog Sack" (Popular Mechanics, 1935)

Some salient commentary at the via.

Addendum:  Reader Kolo Jezdec found this more crashworthy variant -

- in an old post at Vintage News Daily (which is apparently the original source for the canvas dog sack as well).

Why Omicron is not Nu or Xi

We've all heard the witticism that coronavirus is teaching Americans the Greek alphabet, but if that's the case, we are misunderstanding the order of the letters,
“Most of us know certain critical letters — alpha, beta, gamma,” said Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “And then it starts to get hairy.”..

Well before the pandemic, there were alpha particles and gamma rays. Sigma, as any Microsoft Excel user knows, is the symbol for sum. And perhaps no letter is more famous than pi...

“Never did anything I learned as a drunken sorority girl prepare me more for the current world climate as learning the Greek alphabet,” one person wrote.

Before June, scientists were using their own established naming systems for variants — B.1.1.7, for instance. And in the public, new variants were being colloquially described by the countries in which they were first detected, a practice the World Health Organization called “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”

So the WHO convened a series of meetings. One idea involved basing variant names on species of birds... Almost every idea had a problem. There were concerns about trademarks and lawsuits...

But even the Greek system, it turns out, has some pitfalls.

When a new, highly mutated variant was discovered in late November, the next letter in line, alphabetically, was nu. But the WHO decided a homophone for “new” would be too confusing. Officials rejected “the new nu variant.”

The next letter in the Greek alphabet is Xi, which happens to be spelled identically to the surname of the Chinese leader — an unwelcome echo of when President Donald Trump insisted on referring to the “China virus.” The WHO skipped that one, too.

“Xi was not used, because it is a common surname,” the WHO said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Looking ahead, scientists see one other problem. There are countless variants — and probably more significant ones on the way — but the Greek alphabet has just 24 letters, and only nine remain on the list.
More at the Washington Post, including a table listing all 13 current coronavirus variants.

Harvesting the blood of horseshoe crabs

One may wonder why the horseshoe crab is sensitive to endotoxin and, furthermore, how does the crab benefit from this phenomenon? As we know, seawater is a virtual "bacterial soup". Typical near-shore areas that form the prime habitat of the horseshoe crab can easily contain over one billion Gram-negative bacteria per milliliter of seawater. Thus, the horseshoe crab is constantly threatened with infection. Unlike mammals, including humans, the horseshoe crab lacks an immune system; it cannot develop antibodies to fight infection. However, the horseshoe crab does contain a number of compounds that will bind to and inactivate bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The components of LAL are part of this primitive "immune" system. The components in LAL, for example, not only bind and inactivate bacterial endotoxin, but the clot formed as a result of activation by endotoxin provides wound control by preventing bleeding and forming a physical barrier against additional bacterial entry and infection. It is one of the marvels of evolution that the horseshoe crab uses endotoxin as a signal for wound occurrence and as an extremely effective defense against infection.
Photo via Fresh Photons, but to read about this, I recommend the Horseshoecrab.org website.

Addendum:  A related story in the Washington Post in May 2012 reports at least an apparent temporary recovery in crab numbers.

Reposted from 2011 to add this update:
Conservationists fear that horseshoe crabs, a 450-million-year-old living fossil, will be pushed to the brink of extinction because of the value of their blood to the pharmaceutical industry. Horseshoe crab blood provides a natural source of limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) which is used to test vaccines, drugs, and medical devices to ensure that they aren’t contaminated with dangerous bacterial toxins called endotoxins. With hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs captured and bled of their milky-blue blood each year, conservation groups are now stepping up their advocacy efforts and taking legal action to help save horseshoe crabs and the other species that rely on them.

Fortunately, there’s already an alternative to horseshoe crab blood: in the late 1990s, biologists at the University of Singapore created a synthetic version of the LAL called recombinant Factor C (rFC). Multiple studies show that rFC is just as effective as horseshoe crab-derived LAL, and it is currently commercially available...

In the Delaware Bay, home to the largest population in the US, horseshoe crab numbers have declined from 1.24 million in 1990 to less than 334,000 in 2002. Although the population appears to have stabilized, conservationists worry that increased demand for American horseshoe crab blood by the pharmaceutical industry could force it to go the way of the Asian horseshoe crab, Tachypleus tridentatus, which is rapidly disappearing in China and which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as endangered. Currently, the American horseshoe crab is listed as a vulnerable species.

The debate is particularly critical today; the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a huge surge of research into vaccines and potential COVID-19 treatments which rely on the use of LAL to ensure product safety. As demand for vaccines and other medical products increases, conservationists worry that without a rapid switch to rFC, strain on the American horseshoe crab and the other creatures that rely on them will only get worse.
And I'll close with a repost of this killer Halloween costume:

I honestly don't understand the value of NFTs

From descriptions of non-fungible tokens created and sold since December 2020. An NFT is a digital item with a unique tag that is stored using blockchain technology.

A tweet from the musician Soulja Boy asking, “How do I sell my tweets.” $1,288

A GIF of a kitten in the form of a Pop-Tart flying in a sky of exploding stars. $534,681

Nine plots of virtual land in the video game Axie Infinity. $1,500,000

Eight screenshots taken by a recently unemployed person depicting: a termination letter, an email stating that unemployment benefits were running out, a rent charge for a former apartment, a bill showing $65,000 in student-loan debt, a letter from a debt-collection agency regarding an uninsured visit to the doctor, a credit report showing a score in the low 500s, and a letter stating that this score must improve in order to find a job. $1,777.78

A tweet stating, “This is a $100 tweet.” $100 
Other examples at Harper's in an article appropriately titled "Crock Market."

Addendum:  Reader James offers one explanation -
The scam of NFTs is very similar to that of many of the recent record breaking, high value video game auctions that have occurred in recent years. Essentially, that the people buying these things are generally connected in some way to the seller and are colluding to set / inflate the price to give the appearance of value so that an unconnected third party will buy something that is essentially worthless for it's perceived worth as an investment. This video goes into a lot of detail on the nature of the scam but it's similar to the three card monte scam that Dave Chappelle talked about here.

TLDR: I have a picture that I sell to my friend for $1000, he then sells it to our other friend for $1001, who then sells it to another for $1002, at which point I buy it back for $1003 and around and around it goes until someone from outside of our group sees a picture which seems to be trading regularly and is seemingly increasing in value at a steady rate. They buy my worthless picture from someone in our group for the price of $2000 at which point we split that money between ourselves and start the whole process all over again.

Say goodbye to plastic-wrapped cucumbers

From New Year’s Day, France will ban supermarkets and other shops from selling cucumbers wrapped in plastic, and peppers, courgettes, aubergines and leeks in plastic packaging. A total of 30 types of fruit and vegetables will be banned from having any plastic wrapping, including bananas, pears, lemons, oranges and kiwis.

Packs over 1.5kg will be exempt, as will chopped or processed fruit. Some varieties, including cherry tomatoes or soft fruits such as raspberries and blueberries, will be given longer for producers to find alternatives to plastic, but plastic packaging will be gradually phased out for all whole fruits and vegetables by 2026.

With an estimated 37% of fruit and vegetables sold wrapped in plastic packaging in France in 2021, the government believes the ban will cut more than 1bn items of single-use plastic packaging a year. The environment ministry said there must be curbs on the “outrageous amount of single-use plastic in our daily lives”.
Details at The Guardian.  I hope other countries follow suit.

01 January 2022

Lets start the new year with an orangutan driving a golf cart

I'll offer this as some kind of metaphor for the coming year, but what it means is beyond me.  We'll see what the year brings...

This video is also available set to music (Radiohead's Everything in the Right Place).
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