31 January 2022

One-dimensional lines at center of Milky Way

An interesting article at Phys.Org describes a new discovery near the center of the Milky Way.
An unprecedented new telescope image of the Milky Way galaxy's turbulent center has revealed nearly 1,000 mysterious strands, inexplicably dangling in space.

Stretching up to 150 light years long, the one-dimensional strands (or filaments) are found in pairs and clusters, often stacked equally spaced, side by side like strings on a harp. Using observations at radio wavelengths, Northwestern University's Farhad Yusef-Zadeh discovered the highly organized, magnetic filaments in the early 1980s. The mystifying filaments, he found, comprise cosmic ray electrons gyrating the magnetic field at close to the speed of light. But their origin has remained an unsolved mystery ever since.
Asking for help here (it's faster to ask my readership than to try to look some things up).  I don't understand how a line can be one-dimensional.  I thought a dot was one-dimensional and a line by definition has two dimensions.  Help received.  Tx.

National Butterfly Center closed by QAnon threats

I've not featured any posts about the National Butterfly Center, but it really is quite a remarkable place.  Located in Mission, Texas near the Mexican border, it is far enough south to be visited by subtropical species, but that location also puts it in the crosshairs of those demanding a wall be erected along the length of the U.S./Mexican border.
The National Butterfly Center, located less than a half-mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, is a battlefield in the conflict over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, which is still being built through federally protected land just south of the Center. But this week, the conflict took a distinctly more conspiratorial—and disturbing—tone when, according to an email blast put out by the Center, it was forced to close for three days “due to credible threats we have received from a former state official.”

Center director Marianna Wright “was advised by [a] former state official (whose daughter is the Hidalgo County GOP chairperson) that she should be armed at all times or out of town this weekend,” due to a caravan of attendees at a MAGA-themed border security conference taking place in McAllen, Texas, eight miles away, that same weekend. The “We Stand America” event is scheduled to feature speeches from a host of luminaries in the stolen election/QAnon/anti-vaccine/MAGA universe/build-the-wall universe, including disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, “Stop the Steal” advocate Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Ariz.), stolen election figurehead Patrick Byrne, and QAnon promoter Mel K.

The email from the Center makes it clear that the grounds themselves are in direct danger from conference attendees who intend to form a “rolling car protest,” described as a ’Trump Train’-style “caravan to the border” that will likely make a stop at the National Butterfly Center. The Center’s location just minutes away from the Rio Grande has made it a hotbed of conspiracy theories and rumors, which claim it’s a hub of drug smuggling and human trafficking. Many of these rumors are pushed by Brian Kolfage, the leader of an eight-figure fundraising effort to privately build Trump’s border wall

Kolfage, who has called the Center’s employees “butterfly freaks” running a “sham” sanctuary devoted to profiting off human misery, has pushed the theories hard, including sharing doctored photos of rafts at a dock outside the Butterfly Center. He’s also spammed Wright with violent threats over Twitter, eventually resulting in his account being suspended. Kolfage himself is not speaking at the event, presumably because he’s currently under indictment for wire fraud and tax evasion due to allegedly stealing from the We Build The Wall nonprofit he founded.

Despite there being no evidence of trafficking or smuggling being run through the Center, the MAGA faithful have already started to make it a target. The email blast described an incident that went from troubling to potentially deadly when on Friday, Jan. 21, an unnamed “congressional candidate from Virginia” showed up with someone claiming to be a Secret Service agent, and “demanded access to the river so they could ‘see the rafts with the illegal crossing’ our property.”
Photo via My SanAntonio, where there is additional information.

Addendum:  The NBC has extended its closure beyond the time frame of the original protest in response to ongoing threats.
“Why are you more concerned about butterflies, than you are [about] little children who are being trafficked?” she added, claiming that human traffickers “use the butterfly land.”

Another clip was posted over the weekend by Ben Bergquam, a correspondent for Real America Voice, a far-right news site that also hosts Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast.

In it, he is holding a child’s shoe with the butterfly center’s sign in the background, claiming the shoe is from “one of the children that was trafficked.”

Why do we need an emoji of a pregnant man?

Unfortunately I've lost the source for this depiction of some recent additions to the world of emojis.  I do remember the discussion noted that among the new emojis was one of a pregnant man.

At the risk of being insensitive, I have to ask what purpose that emoji serves?  To whom would one send that, and what would be the intended message?  Note that I'm new enough to the world of emojis that I'm still satisfied by writing :-)

Addendum:  my question answered within 10 minutes by several readers.  Tx.

How to respond to the banning of books

The American Library Association tells me that there were 330 “challenges” in the three months between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1, 2021, with December still to be tallied. That compares with just 156 in all of 2020, and 377 in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. This means book bannings are happening at roughly quadruple the previous pace.

And that’s just the beginning of the thought-police problem. PEN America, a free-speech organization, reports that in the first three weeks of January 2022, 71 “gag-order” bills banning the teaching of certain concepts were introduced or pre-filed in state legislatures across the country. Since January of last year, 12 such bills have become law in 10 GOP-run states, and 88 bills are still working their way through the legislative process. Virtually all of them have been sponsored by Republicans.

Not long ago, those on the right howled about ultrasensitive “snowflakes” and “cancel culture” when woke activists sought to replace racially insensitive texts. And it’s true progressives have gone overboard at times; the Mukilteo, Wash., school board is the latest to remove the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” from its reading list because of racially offensive terms. 

"The most renowned music teacher in the world"

Her students included "Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones and many many more."  Via Kottke.

Neutrinos don't care about your stupid planet

Some relevant comments at the via.

A map of nuclear weapons targets

Map generated in 2017 to depict 500-weapon and 2000-weapon delivery scenarios.  Some relevant comments in the Reddit thread, including the thought that immediate incineration might be preferable to living in a postapocalyptic world.

Why we should ban lifejackets

Found this while weeding out some very old image files.  Apparently based on current events it still has some relevance.

26 January 2022

Sachatamia ilex

Photo credit Minor Torres, via.

Yews thousands of years old in Britain

The embedded image is a screencap from a brief video at the BBC.
Trees believed to pre-date the pyramids are in danger of being lost forever unless they are given special legal protections, campaigners have said.

The UK is home to the world's largest collection of ancient yew trees, with some estimated by researchers to be as old as 5,000 years old, such as Powys' Defynnog Yew.
I had no idea yews could reach ages similar to that of giant sequoias.  You learn something every day.

It's amazing how popular birding is

"Excited birders have crammed into a Maryland park, braving rain and dismally low temperatures, to witness the painted bunting, a brightly coloured bird that usually reserves its elan for the warmer climes of Florida... On Saturday, more than 80 cars were still in line to get into the park shortly before its sundown closure..."

"The bitter fury of a disillusioned believer"

I have pretty much stopped adding posts to the Trump category of this blog, but I'll make an exception today to offer some excerpts from a fascinating New York Times op-ed detailing a total about-face by Ann Coulter.
No one wants Trump,” she asserted in a column last week. “He’s fading faster than Sarah Palin did — and she was second place on a losing presidential ticket.”..

Ms. Coulter’s anti-Trump bile is not entirely new and carries the bitter fury of a disillusioned believer. While an early and enthusiastic MAGA convert — during the 2016 campaign Ms. Coulter cheekily proclaimed herself ready to die for her candidate and penned a cringey hagiography titled “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!” — she began souring on his presidency pretty quickly over his failure to make good on his more draconian immigration promises...

Her critiques of Mr. Trump have included calling him “a shallow, lazy ignoramus,” “a complete moron,” “a blithering idiot” and “a lout.” She now considers his entire presidency a flop. “Trump accomplished everything he was ever going to accomplish at 2 a.m.” on election night in 2016, she emailed me last week. “The best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party (and the country) would have been for him to be vaporized at the moment he was announcing his victory..."
The column continues by detailing Coulter's shift to supporting Florida governor Ron DeSantis.  Quite an interesting read.

We're living in the "information age"

Today I learned that Nepal has rhinos

If someone had shown me the photo above out of context and asked me to guess the location, I would have spent hours guessing without correctly identifying it as Nepal - a country I associate with sherpas and yetis, forgetting that the lowlands are at a subtropical latitude.
Before the 1950s, as many as 1,000 rhinos roamed the grasslands and forests of Nepal. But by 1965, rampant hunting, poaching and changes in land use had brought the species close to extinction in the country. Then, the national park was established in 1973 and thanks to concerted conservation efforts, the rhino population began to bounce back [752 in 2021].

Today, Chitwan national park has the second-largest concentration of one-horned rhinos after India’s Kaziranga national park, with the two parks accounting for 70% of the species’ global population.
More at The Guardian.

A new David Attenborough series on BBC

The five-part series is airing on BBC now and will be broadcast in the U.S. by PBS later this summer.  Seven videos with excerpts are posted at Kottke.

Word for the day: wishcycling

Explained at the Washington Post
Wishcycling is putting something in the recycling bin and hoping it will be recycled, even if there is little evidence to confirm this assumption...

Pro-recycling messaging from governments, corporations and environmentalists promoted and reinforced recycling behavior. This was especially true for plastics that had resin identification codes inside a triangle of “chasing arrows,” indicating that the item was recyclable — even though that was usually far from the truth. Only resins #1 (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) and #2 (high-density polyethylene, or HDPE) are relatively easy to recycle and have viable markets. The others are hard to recycle, so some jurisdictions don’t even collect them...

Contaminating the waste stream with material that is not actually recyclable makes the sorting process more costly because it requires extra labor. Wishcycling also damages sorting systems and equipment and depresses an already fragile trading market.

Huge waste management companies and small cities and towns have launched educational campaigns on this issue. Their mantra is “When in doubt, throw it out.” In other words, place only material that truly can be recycled in your bin. This message is hard for many environmentalists to hear, but it cuts costs for recyclers and local governments.

22 January 2022

Before the lightning strike

Both of the brothers survived.

"[the top photo] was taken by his 15-year-old sister, Mary, using an old Kodak Instamatic camera, McQuilken said. He and his siblings were hiking the granite dome. When they reached the top to enjoy the view, someone noticed that their hair was standing on end.

“At the time, we thought this was humorous,” McQuilken recalled. “I took a photo of Mary and Mary took a photo of Sean and me. I raised my right hand into the air and the ring I had on began to buzz so loudly that everyone could hear it.”

The rest of the story is at NBC News.   The original report by the persons involved is in Social Positive via the Wayback Machine.

Wi-Fi extender

I don't typically do product endorsements (and never for money), but I want to share my experience with the item above.

Our house has a relatively "dead zone" for Wi-Fi.  The router is placed optimally for servicing the computers, but the television's location results in intermittent loss of signal ("Wi-Fi not connected" message interruptions repeatedly while watching a movie).  

This extender was relatively cheap ($25).  It came with instructions that included downloading a program and keying in various codes, but blessedly there was an "alternate" method:  plug this in near your router, wait for the light to stop blinking, then plug it in closer to the dead spot.  Problem solved in ten minutes.

"The button"

I'm sure this is a repost, but I couldn't find my original, so I'm entering it again with a more searchable title.

This news gives me the shivers

The Federal Reserve took a key step in weighing the creation of its own digital currency, a move it said could help ensure the U.S. dollar’s dominance as the central bank grapples with fast-growing private cryptocurrencies and coins issued by other nations.

The central bank made no firm conclusions on whether issuing such a currency was prudent and in any case said it doesn’t intend to proceed without support from the White House and Congress -- so it’s not likely a U.S. digital dollar will be issued anytime soon. But the 35-page discussion paper issued Thursday on a government-backed coin, known as a central bank digital currency or CBDC, marks the Fed’s most significant action yet as it seeks to dive deeper into digital assets. 

“The introduction of a CBDC would represent a highly significant innovation in American money,” the Fed said in the paper.
More at Bloomberg.

Morse code schematic

I remember learning these letters as a Cub Scout in the 1950s.  One of my grandfathers had been a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and  I believe at the time I viewed Morse Code as a useful skill to have as an adult. 

I can still spell my name.

Image via

Robot vacuum cleaner escapes from captivity

As reported by the BBC:
"A robot vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom after giving staff the slip at a Travelodge hotel.

The automated cleaner failed to stop at the front door of the hotel in Orchard Park in Cambridge on Thursday, and was still on the loose the following day.

Staff said it just kept going and "could be anywhere" while well-wishers on social media hoped the vacuum enjoyed its travels, as "it has no natural predators" in the wild...

While some readers joked about the robot's adventures, one feared for its safety in the great outdoors, pointing out that "nature abhors a vacuum".

However, much to everyone's relief, the device was found nestled under a hedge on Friday afternoon by a (human) hotel cleaner sprucing up the front drive."

19 January 2022

Sterling silver tin can

Available from the Everyday Objects collection at Tiffany & Co. for $1,135 (engraving extra).   It's more expensive than the sterling silver golf tee ($205), but less than sterling silver dog bowl ($3,000).

No editorial comment from me.  This is part of the world we live in.  Via Harper's.

"There is no word for the parent of a dead child"

 Excerpts from "When Children Die," an essay in the June 2021 Harper's.
"There is no word in the English language for the parent of a dead child. No equivalent of widow, widower, or orphan, even of fatherless or motherless—words denoting losses so grave that they assign people to new human categories. Do we lack such a word because that grief is the most tragic of all family losses, the hardest to contemplate? Or is it possible that the opposite is true—that throughout history, the likelihood that a parent would lose a child was so high that such a term would have been a useless distinction?

If such a term existed, it would have applied to every eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century president who had children*...

*George Washington (his stepdaughter, Patsy, died at the age of seventeen from epilepsy); John Adams (two daughters, one who was stillborn and another who died in infancy); Thomas Jefferson (of the six children born to his wife, Martha, only two survived early childhood; of the six born to Sally Hemings, two died very young); James Monroe (a son died at sixteen months); John Quincy Adams (a daughter died in infancy; two of three sons died as young adults); Andrew Jackson (his adopted son, Lyncoya, died at sixteen); Martin Van Buren (a son died in infancy); William Henry Harrison (a son died at age three); John Tyler (a daughter died in infancy); Zachary Taylor (two daughters died in early childhood; a third, who was married to Jefferson Davis, died of malaria at twenty-one); Millard Fillmore (a daughter died of cholera at twenty-two); Franklin Pierce (two sons died very young; a third died at age eleven in a train crash not long before his father’s inauguration); Abraham Lincoln (two sons died, at three and eleven).
That is an incredible statistic, and a stark reminder of life just a few generations ago.
Until the middle of the twentieth century, that lifelong loss and special sorrow were neither unnatural nor unexpected. Children used to die, and parents knew that losing children was a relatively common and even predictable risk. In 1800, nearly half the children born in the United States died before the age of five. By 1900, between a fifth and a quarter of them did; in 1915, as my grandparents were growing up, one out of every ten infants died before turning one...

Losing a child has become a comparatively rare experience, and one that everyone, including experts in pediatric palliative care, now regards as unnatural and traumatic. Does that make the grief harder to bear?.. The authors of the 2018 article consider the possibility that the very rareness of childhood death in developed countries may mean that family and friends don’t know how to respond to or help bereaved parents. The Roosevelts certainly grieved their dead son, but they matter-of-factly reused his name, unworried that calling another baby Franklin Jr. might bring up unthinkably sad memories...

Today, parents feel that if they make all the right decisions, from the right sleep position to the right car seat to the right foods, they can keep their children safe. But these good and valuable steps to ensure children’s safety can leave some parents terrified that somewhere along the way they will make a mistake, a wrong turn. My guess would be that for all their anxieties, the parents of my grandparents’ generation did not live with the same fear that one bad decision could compromise their children’s safety, because they didn’t believe their children could be kept absolutely safe—no child could be...

In our overanxious age, worrying is sometimes now associated with the problem of overparenting...  Anxiety not only gnaws at parents, he writes, but it can get in the way of children’s development... Paradoxically, there are parents who have come to take that safety so for granted that they have grown cavalier about the great gift of childhood vaccines, or perhaps have decided to be more frightened of vaccines than of diseases, and let their children ride on the back of herd immunity.

RelatedFree-range parenting punished 

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.

Addendum:  The BBC has an extended article with pix about current attempts to locate the wreck of the Endurance.

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.

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