30 July 2022


I am overwhelmed with "things to do," and the blog has to go near the bottom of the list.  So probably no new posts for several weeks or more.  Bye for now.

27 July 2022

Divertimento #192

GIFs again.  I have literally thousands of regular text/article links, but these gifs are easier to post.  Note you may have to unmute some of the videos.

Oppenheimer's famous quote "... now I have become death, destroyer of worlds..."
How screw anchors work
Applying a new floor in a warehouse
The letters on a Rolls-Royce hubcap always remain upright
House on Cape Hatteras succumbs to coastal erosion
Some cars make fake engine sounds
A family having dinner
Extracting copper from cables

Frog escapes from snake
Magpie uses rocks to displace water
Dog vs. snake (dog wins in style)
This is a solifuge
Orangutans are powerful animals
Mountain goat approaching terminal velocity during descent
Hedgehogs taking a dust bath

Nature and Science
Sky event when rocket leaves atmosphere
Global shockwave of the Tonga volcano explosion
Walking on a natural bridge
Pollen released from a tree
A blowhole on the coast of India

Impressive or Clever
Kaleidoscope on a planter in a botanical garden
Woman shows how to alert chickens re a nearby hawk
Drone footage of a tornado
Extracting lithium from a battery and placing it in water
Adding pinstriping to a car
Quiet but effective student protest
If you like powerwashing videos, you will love this

Sports and Athleticism
Absolutely awesome volleyball rally
How to carry firewood back to your campsite

Fails and wtf
Skimmer found on a public ATM in Vienna

Humorous or cheerful
Supercut of scenes from Lord of the Rings involving two females interacting
Coyote and cat playing

Credit for all of the photos to Marcie O'Connor, who posted these as part of a larger gallery of natural events happening at Prairie Haven.  Identities and details about the plants and critters in the images are available at the source link.  And after you are done browsing the gallery there, take a few moments to explore the rest of the website...
"This blog tells the story of the old farm we bought in 2000, and the adventures we’ve had living here.

Our land is in the Driftless Area – the part of the midwest that was never covered by glaciers. Because of its rugged terrain, the land still has many remnants of the pre-settlement landscape – dry bluff prairies, overgrown savannas, sedge meadows and wet prairies. We’re working to protect and expand those remnants,  and to preserve their habitats for the native plants and animals that depend on them."


Had to look up the term for this.  Related to schadenfreude, but not the same:

Displeasure at another's good fortune is Gluckschmerz, a pseudo-German word coined in 1985 as a joke by the pseudonymous Wanda Tinasky; the correct German form would be Glücksschmerz. It has since been used in academic contexts.

Veggies going to market

Photographed in Cameroon (credit Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images), via The Guardian


The Pulpí Geode is eight metres wide, two metres high and two metres deep. "When it comes to a geode, by definition, this is the biggest ever discovery," she noted, adding that Pulpí is not to be confused with another crystal marvel, the Naica Mine in Mexico, which has larger spars (15m long compared to Pulpí's two metres), but which is a cave lined with crystals rather than a geode. 

The geode here in Spain was originally spotted by miners in the Mina Rica, a silver mine which operated from 1873 to 1969. But it wasn't until years later, in 1999, that geologists found it again and brought it to the world's attention.

"When [the original miners] blasted this rock and found a geode, they probably got upset because they didn't like finding these crystals," said Carretero. "It meant extra work to get rid of them. They weigh a lot and were not profitable."
The story continues at the BBC.

Why Russia has not yet conquered Ukraine

Nearly five months into its senseless war against Ukraine, Russia has concocted a wild new explanation for why the Kremlin’s plans for a quick takeover fell apart so spectacularly—because Ukrainian troops were turned into superhuman killing machines during “secret experiments” in American-run biolabs, of course.

Never mind the myriad reports of Russian troops refusing to fight by the thousands, sabotaging their own shoddy equipment and even deliberately wounding themselves to abandon the war, Russian lawmakers claim the real setback for Moscow was “drugged up” Ukrainian soldiers.

That claim was made Monday by two Russian lawmakers heading up a commission to investigate “biolaboratories” in Ukraine, Kommersant reported...

“And we see: the cruelty and barbarity with which the military personnel of Ukraine behave, the crimes that they commit against the civilian population, those monstrous crimes that they commit against prisoners of war, confirm that this system for the control and creation of a cruel murder machine was implemented under the management of the United States,” Yarovaya was quoted telling reporters.../

The claims appeared to be a new take on the biolabs conspiracy theory that Russia’s Defense Ministry has routinely rolled out to try and justify the war.

While the conspiracy theory dates all the way back to the Soviet Union, it has been amplified more frequently by Kremlin figures after the Feb. 24 invasion, as Moscow’s initial claim that it invaded Ukraine in order to “de-Nazify” a country led by a Jewish president failed to gain much traction beyond its own domestic propaganda.
One almost has to admire the brazenness and audacity of these outright lies.  It sort of reminds me of.... 

Magnet fishing

As reported by the StarTribune:
Long before next week's fishing opener, a few Minnesota anglers were avidly casting lines into the water and hauling in hefty catches.  But they weren't hooking walleye, bass or northern pike. They were hoping to reel in an antique metal sign, a safe full of money, maybe even a gun.

It's part of a new, and admittedly niche, sport of magnet fishing, where you "fish" with a super-powerful magnet tied to a strong line.  Most of the time, magnet fishers pull in mundane scrap metal: old nails and bolts, a length of rebar, fish hooks, beer bottle caps...

Even if it's just scrap metal, local magnet fishers don't catch and release, but rather dispose or recycle their finds and consider themselves to be helping the environment by hauling hundreds of pounds of metal out of local rivers and lakes...

The hobby is also growing in parts of Europe, where there's a lot of metal in canals and other bodies of water thanks to centuries of warfare.

"England is very, very big for magnet fishing," Shoemaker said.
More information at the link.  I've wanted to do something like this ever since I was a kid in a boat spotting lost lures at the bottom of a lake.

Reposted from last year to add this display of magnet fishing catches:

In the discussion thread, the OP reports that he submits all the retrieved firearms for local police to evaluate, and that he has helped solve four cold cases.  Lives in Georgia.

26 July 2022

Seeking assistance with the translation

In the photo above is a member of my extended family visiting the Museo Nacional de Antropología de México last week.

She is apparently trying to convey some message or emotion (?awe) with her hand gestures, but I have no clue.  Can some younger reader help out an old Boomer?

25 July 2022

Isabella and the pot of basil

Every month I have the joy of participating in a Zoom session with a group of Boston-area gardeners.  This past Sunday one person in the group mentioned that she had just returned from a visit to Greece where the basil had an unusually strong and pleasant flavor.  We have pots-full of basil on our deck, but it's all of one type, so I started looking up different strains of basil.  At the Wikipedia entry I encountered the image above of Isabella and the Pot of Basil - an 1868 painting by William Holman Hunt depicting a scene from John Keats' poem of the same name.
The painting portrays Isabella, unable to sleep, dressed in a semi-transparent nightgown, having just left her bed, which is visible with the cover turned over in the background. She drapes herself over an altar she has created to Lorenzo from an elaborately inlaid prie-dieu over which a richly embroidered cloth has been placed. On the cloth is the majolica pot, decorated with skulls... [with the basil]. Her abundant hair flows over the pot and around the flourishing plant, reflecting Keats's words that Isabella "hung over her sweet Basil evermore,/And moistened it with tears unto the core." Behind her, next to the doorway, are a pair of pattens, next to the edge of a cassone.
As an old English major, I was intrigued by the reference to a Keats poem with which I was unfamiliar, so I looked for more examples.  Here is a rendition by George Grenville Henry Manton (1855-1932), from the Wycombe museum:

And one by John William Waterhouse (1908):

And a fourth one, by Edward Reginald Frampton, in which the basil pot is actually placed on a religious altar:

The final step was to locate the Keats poem, which I found in an old Modern Library edition down in a basement bookcase.

Keats' Isabella: or the Pot of Basil (1818) is a 43-stanza narrative poem based on a story from Boccaccio's Decameron, about a young woman who falls in love with Lorenzo, who is of lower social class.  Isabella's brothers "resolved in some forest dim/To kill Lorenzo, and there bury him."

The spirit of Lorenzo appears at Isabella's bedside:

It was a vision. - In the drowsy gloom,
     The dull of midnight, at her couch's foot
Lorenzo stood, and wept: the forest tomb
     Had marr'd his glossy hair which once could shoot/ Lustre into the sun....

The spirit tells Isabella what really happened, and in the morning Isabella wakes up energized and ready to do battle:

"But there is crime - a brother's bloody knife!
     Sweet Spirit, thou hast school'd my infancy:
I'll visit thee for this, and kiss thine eyes,
And greet thee morn and evening in the skies"

The next morning with the assistance of a nurse, she sneaks out to the forest...

Then with her knife, all sudden, she began
   To dig more fervently than misers can...
At last they felt the kernel of the grave,
    And Isabella did not stamp and rave...
With duller steel than the Persian sword
They cut away no formless monster's head,
But one, whose gentleness did well accord
With death, as life...

In anxious secrecy they took it home,,
    And then the prize was all for Isabel.
She calm'd its wild hair with a golden comb...
She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose
A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
And covered it with moss, and o'er it set
Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet. 

The basil thrives...

And, furthermore, her brethren wonder'd much
    Why she sat drooping by the Basil green,
And why it flourish'd, as by magic touch;
Greatly they wonder'd what the thing might mean. 

So the brothers steal the pot, break it, see Lorenzo's face, and flee the country to avoid murder charges.  Unfortunately the pot and Lorenzo's head do not make their way back to Isabel, who then spends the rest of her life grieving. 

Piteous she look'd on dead and senseless things,
     Asking for her lost Basil amorously...
And so she pined, and so she died forlorn,
     Imploring for her Basil to the last...
Still is the burthen sung - "O cruelty,
To steal my Basil-pot away from me!"  

That's the story in a nutshell, and it explains why an image of a young woman hugging a pot with a plant in it was such a popular subject for Pre-Raphaelite painters.  To quote the immortal lines of Paul Harvey:  "And now you know... the rest of the story."

Addendum:  Here's the salient passage from Boccaccio's Decameron, courtesy of reader Bob the Scientist:
Not long after, the Nurse having brought her a large earthen potte, such as wee use to set Basile, Marjerom, Flowers, or other sweet hearbes in, and shrouding the head in a silken Scarfe, put it into the pot, covering it with earth, and planting divers rootes of excellent Basile therein, which she never watered, but either with her teares, Rose water, or water distilled from the Flowers of Oranges. This pot she used continually to sitte by, either in her chamber, or any where elsee: for she caried it alwaies with her, sighing and breathing foorth sad complaints thereto, even as if they had beene uttered to her Lorenzo, and day by day this was her continuall exercise, to the no meane admiration of her bretheren, and many other friends that beheld her.
Fulltext of the tale at Science Matters.

Worm grunting - updated

This technique was written up in The Atlantic about ten years ago. It's an extensive and interesting narrative that covers not just the science but the sociology of the process.

The science behind worm grunting is described at this Vanderbilt University website -
In his preliminary research, Catania found some other interesting clues. One was the observation by the famous Dutch ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen that one species of gull performs a “foot paddling behavior” that appears to bring up earthworms to the surface, a response he attributed to an innate reaction that enables the worms “to escape their arch enemy the mole.” More recently the American naturalist John Kaufmann who studied wood turtles reported that they engage in a stomping behavior that brings earthworms to the surface so they can eat them...

The next step was to determine how the native earthworms respond to the presence of moles. He built a small test box (20x25x19 cm) and filled it with 50 earthworms. The box had a tube in the side that allowed him to introduce a mole to the mix. As soon as a mole began tunneling into the test box, dozens of earthworms popped to the surface, wriggling at top speed with many even crawling over the top of the box.

“Eastern moles don’t come to the surface when they are foraging, so fleeing to the surface provides the worms both immediate safety and the most efficient means for getting away from them,” Catania says...

Finally, Catania compared the vibrations produced by worm grunting and those of a mole burrowing. “The moles are quite noisy. Often you can hear the sounds of a mole digging in the wild from a few feet away,” he said. Analyzing the geophone recordings of the two types of sound, he found that the worm grunting vibrations were more uniform and concentrated near 80 Hz whereas the moles produce a wider range of vibrations that peak at around 200 Hz. Nevertheless, there is a considerable overlap between the two.
Reposted from 2009 to add this video of competitive worm charming in England:

The video prompted me to look up The Eighteen Rules of Worm Charming:
  1. Each competitor to operate in a 3 x 3 metre plot.
  2. Lots to be drawn to allocate plots.
  3. Duration of competition to be 30 minutes, starting at about 2pm.
  4. Worms may not be dug from the ground. Vibrations only to be used.
  5. No drugs to be used! Water is considered to be a drug/stimulant.
  6. Any form of music may be used to charm the worms out of the earth.
Reposted from 2016 to add this photo of a participant in the Falmouth Worm Charming Championships (credit Hugh R Hastings / Getty).

23 July 2022

"This is the coldest summer of the rest of our lives"

That thought-provoking title is not literally true for each individual person, but is true in aggregate for the whole of humanity.  Something to think about.  Credit to Harper's Magazine.

Above: Brittany on fire, July 2022.  Credit Rachel Le Guillou / SDIS 29 / Reuters.
Below: Yosemite area fire, July 2022.  Credit AP Photo/Noah Berger.

20 July 2022

Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of...

Isidore of Seville (Latin: Isidorus Hispalensis; c. 560 – 4 April 636) was a Spanish scholar and cleric. He is widely regarded, in the words of 19th-century historian Montalembert, as "the last scholar of the ancient world".

Isidore was the first Christian writer to try to compile a summa of universal knowledge, in his most important work, the Etymologiae...  This encyclopedia—the first such Christian epitome—formed a huge compilation of 448 chapters in 20 volumes.  He also invented the period (full stop), comma, and colon.

In it, Isidore entered his own terse digest of Roman handbooks, miscellanies and compendia, he continued the trend towards abridgements and summaries that had characterised Roman learning in Late Antiquity. In the process, many fragments of classical learning are preserved that otherwise would have been hopelessly lost; "in fact, in the majority of his works, including the Origines, he contributes little more than the mortar which connects excerpts from other authors, as if he was aware of his deficiencies and had more confidence in the stilus maiorum than his own," his translator Katherine Nell MacFarlane remarks.

Some of these fragments were lost in the first place because Isidore's work was so highly regarded—Braulio called it quaecunque fere sciri debentur, "practically everything that it is necessary to know"—that it superseded the use of many individual works of the classics themselves, which were not recopied and have therefore been lost: "all secular knowledge that was of use to the Christian scholar had been winnowed out and contained in one handy volume; the scholar need search no further".

The fame of this work imparted a new impetus to encyclopedic writing, which bore abundant fruit in the subsequent centuries of the Middle Ages. It was the most popular compendium in medieval libraries. It was printed in at least ten editions between 1470 and 1530, showing Isidore's continued popularity in the Renaissance. Until the 12th century brought translations from Arabic sources, Isidore transmitted what western Europeans remembered of the works of Aristotle and other Greeks, although he understood only a limited amount of Greek. The Etymologiae was much copied, particularly into medieval bestiaries.. 
With that information in hand, we can now to finish the title.  Because he tried to compile all the world's knowledge, he is the patron saint of the internet, computer users, computer technicians, programmers, students.

Modern reality TV

Screencap from a video carried in prime time on most of the major news networks.  
Snarky caption credit to a Harper's Magazine email.

Cleaning out some old "Dilbert" saves

"My god, it's full of stars"

"The phrase is not from the movie itself, but from the novelization that screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke wrote at the same time as the screenplay. The book describes the scene in which Bowman is entering the star gate, and he says the following phrase just before losing contact with Mission Control: "The thing's hollow -- it goes on forever -- and -- oh my God! -- it's full of stars!""
With that phrase in mind, think back for a moment to Hubble's "Ultra-Deep-Field" photo and then view this video zoom of the Andromeda galaxy (a digital zoom of a billion-pixel image) (view full-screen please).  That's the galaxy that's nearest to earth.

Now let the James Webb Space Telescope show you what's in the Southern Ring Nebula:

"This video zooms through space to reveal Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image of the Southern Ring Nebula.

The bright star at the centre of NGC 3132, while prominent when viewed by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Telescope in near-infrared light, plays a supporting role in sculpting the surrounding nebula. A second star, barely visible at lower left along one of the bright star’s diffraction spikes, is the nebula’s source. It has ejected at least eight layers of gas and dust over thousands of years.

Data from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) were used to make this extremely detailed image. It is teeming with scientific information — and research will begin following its release."
I don't think the human mind can properly comprehend this scale of vastness.

19 July 2022

This is the hero America needs

A Colorado Springs man has successfully pushed a peanut all the way to the summit of Pikes Peak with his nose

Bob Salem, 53, reached the top of Pikes Peak Friday morning. He broke the previous verified record for the feat - completing the arduous task in seven days. The record was eight days. 
Details about this impressive feat at KRCC (an affiliate of Colorado Public Radio).

Addendum with an answer to the question you were going to ask: "It’s a long, hard, 13.5-mile climb uphill with a gain of about 7,400+ feet in elevation. Basically, it’s a half-marathon in hiking form."

Arizona would "collapse" without cheap prison labor

Sen. David Gowan asked Shinn about the nature of the work the prisoners do at the Florence West prison. In Arizona, all people in state prisons are forced to work 40 hours a week with exceptions for prisoners with health care conditions and other conflicting programming schedules. Some prisoners earn just 10 cents an hour for their work.

“These are low-level worker inmates that work in the communities around the county itself, I would imagine?" Gowan asked.

“Yes. The department does more than just incarcerate folks,” Shinn replied. “There are services that this department provides to city, county, local jurisdictions, that simply can't be quantified at a rate that most jurisdictions could ever afford. If you were to remove these folks from that equation, things would collapse in many of your counties, for your constituents.”..

The state currently contracts with The GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies, to run Florence West, a minimum security prison that can hold up to 750 people...

Rep. John Kavanagh said to get companies interested in bidding for the contract, it was necessary to provide a profit motive.

You have to guarantee that they're going to have people there, and they're going to have a profit that they make, they're going to have income,” Kavanagh said. “No one's going to enter into a contract when you can't guarantee the income that they expect. That's kind of based on basic business.”..

After more questioning from Butler, Shinn confirmed there were currently more than 5,000 empty beds in the Arizona prison system state-wide...

When Butler asked “Why aren’t we closing more prisons?” her line of questioning was halted by committee leadership for being outside the scope of discussion...

An Arizona Republic investigation found that Arizona lawmakers invested more in private prisons after record-high campaign contributions from the industry in recent years.
The embedded image is from the movie "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang," via Film Forum.

Growth industry [prison populations]

15 July 2022

Management of Covid outside the United States

Excerpts from an email I received this evening from one of my cousins:
"I recently returned from a month in Perú where I learned more about the proper response to Covid than I had learned over two years in the United States. 

The Peruvians seemed willing to follow the rules, almost universally. They wear masks as required and are vaccinated when vaccines are available. Shoppers cannot enter a supermarket or commercial shopping centers without wearing a mask and showing a vaccine card. Travelers on intercity buses, planes or colectivos must do the same, and the buses have curtains between the seats or the seat and the aisle. In Lima and smaller cities I usually saw more pedestrians walking on the sidewalks wearing masks than not wearing masks. 

People I knew were very interested in knowing how many shots I had received and were quick to tell me how many shots they had received. I heard nothing about people resisting either vaccines or masks. 

The hotels all had large posters with instructions about washing hands, wearing masks, being vaccinated and two or three other practices that people in the United States would not imagine are necessary. 

Over the five years in which I have spent time in Perú I have noticed the irony of the Peruvians living with successive absolutely incompetent and corrupt governments and the almost universal willingness to cooperate with the directions issued by the Peruvian Department of Health. 

In short, with regard to Covid I felt safer in Peru than I do in this country, and it was a joy to get away from the controversies and bickering."

A fire lookout station as an overnight campsite

This Wyoming fire lookout station is available to the public for overnight camping.  
Perched atop a forested mountain, the historic Sheep Mountain Fire Lookout offers a unique recreation experience -- one of few fire lookouts in the region available for overnight rental. Constructed in 1950 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) atop Sheep Mountain at an elevation of 9,600 feet, the lookout was historically occupied as a fire lookout until the early 1970s. The lookout is available for rental from June 15 through October 20; however, access to the facility may be limited depending on snow accumulation. Guests are advised to call ahead to confirm access to the facility. Limited amenities are provided; please be prepared to pack in supplies and gear for a comfortable stay. Visitors are advised that this facility has always been a popular destination for recreational visitors to come and enjoy the views and historical nature of the area, therefore, solitude from other forest users may not be an option at this facility.
The facilities are "rustic" -
This facility is primitive in nature. While a single vault toilet and one set of bunk beds are available, there is no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. Basically, what is available are four sturdy walls, sound roof, no neighbors and commanding views from the lower quadrant of the Bighorn Mountains all the way out to South Dakota's forests. It is recommended that guests bring all their water and accommodations needed for overnight camping. This is a "pack-it-in, pack-it-out" facility; guests will need to carry out all trash and clean the facility prior to leaving.
But the view is...

... spectacular.  And not mentioned in the official blurb is that this location in rural Wyoming should offer a relatively dark sky and the opportunity for outstanding stargazing.

These photos were sent to me by my neighbor Eric, who is aware of my interest in the stonework of the Civilian Constuction Corps.  To that end, he added this photo of the base of the fire tower:

Very characteristic of the CCC program, utilizing local material - not brick or concrete blocks.  The mortar is rather thick compared to the more snugly-nested stones seen at some other sites, perhaps reflecting the youth and inexperience of the participants, or the absence of a local expert.  I note this structure was completed in 1950, well after the bulk of CCC projects and near the end of the program.  

The James Webb Space Telescope in a nutshell

An 11-minute nutshell, courtesy of Scientific American.  There was also an excellent Nova program about the JWST this week.

U.S. electric car sales reach favorable tipping point

As reported by Bloomberg:
The US is the latest country to pass what’s become a critical EV tipping point: 5% of new car sales powered only by electricity. This threshold signals the start of mass EV adoption, the period when technological preferences rapidly flip, according to the analysis.

For the past six months, the US joined Europe and China — collectively the three largest car markets — in moving beyond the 5% tipping point. If the US follows the trend established by 18 countries that came before it, a quarter of new car sales could be electric by the end of 2025. That would be a year or two ahead of most major forecasts...

In the case of electric vehicles, 5% seems to be the point when early adopters are overtaken by mainstream demand. Before then, sales tend to be slow and unpredictable. Afterward, rapidly accelerating demand ensues.  It makes sense that countries around the world would follow similar patterns of EV adoption. Most impediments are universal: there aren’t enough public chargers, the cars are expensive and in limited supply, buyers don’t know much about them. Once the road has been paved for the first 5%, the masses soon follow.
More discussion and charts at the link re plug-in hybrids.  But here is a counterpoint from Ars Technica:
I'm increasingly convinced that EV adoption is going to run into real problems if we can't get a handle on charger reliability... A few weeks later, it was time to drive from DC to Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of New York, this time in a BMW iX. And despite plenty of planning, I still spent almost as much time stationary, arguing with charging machinery, as I did actually pulling electrons into the car's battery pack throughout the 600-mile journey.

At each charging stop, in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, I ran into problems. A five-minute wait to see if the car and charger would establish communications was invariably the case. Waiting 10 minutes was not uncommon. Even then, there was no time to relax; more than once, an error somewhere in the loop shut everything down after just a few kWh...

Then there was the problem of whether or not all of the chargers at a given location were even functional. At one EA station with a Plugshare rating of 9.8, two of four chargers were completely inoperable and a third was reduced to just 50 kW. Four days later, nothing had changed other than its Plugshare rating, which had increased by 0.2 points to the maximum score of 10, with a note in italics about the reduced-power machine...
I would welcome informed commentary from readers - especially owners of electric cars.  My current car is 12 years old, and I'll need to make a decision re replacement soon.

Peruvian "whistling jars"

The video is a study of the physics and fluid dynamics of a modern "whistling jar."  What amazes me is that the concepts involved here date back to pre-contact Mesoamerica.   Here is a whistling jar from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Whistling jar with seated man wearing a headdress [circa 1000-1476]

Although numerous pottery instruments survive from pre-Conquest South and Central America, little is known of how they were used before Spanish invaders ravaged the native cultures. Whistles, trumpets and rattles in animal or human form probably had ceremonial functions or served as playthings. The "whistling jar" is a 1- or 2-chambered vessel in which a whistle, often concealed by a bird's head, is sounded by blowing into the spout, or by pouring liquid from one chamber to the other to create a bird-like twittering sound. Smaller whistles in animal shapes, perhaps worn suspended from the neck, sometimes have fingerholes that allow variation of pitch.
With a tip of the blogging hat to Neatorama.

Jaundice corrected by liver transplantation


Galaxy clusters and gravitational lensing

The furthest-from-earth non-supernova star was discovered incidentally because its light emissions were lensed around a cluster of galaxies.
MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star-1, also known as Icarus, is a blue supergiant observed through a gravitational lens and the most distant individual star detected, at 9 billion light-years from Earth... Light from the star was emitted 4.4 billion years after the Big Bang.  According to co-discoverer Patrick Kelly, the star is at least a hundred times more distant than the next-farthest non-supernova star observed, and is the first magnified individual star seen.
More at the link.  I find it curiously difficult to think about this star using verbs in the present tense, since everything we know about it (position, size, wavelengths) describe it nine billion years ago.

Related (with some discussion of gravitational lensing): The first "multiple-image gravitationally-lensed supernova."

Also related: List of star extremes (nearest, oldest, brightest, hottest, least massive, fastest moving...)

Reposted from 2018 to add this instructional video about gravitational lensing, presented by Patrick Kelly.  The lecture was presented at the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics last year.

Patrick is scheduled to do some projects involving the JWST, presumably to image via lensing some stars even closer to the Big Bang than the current limits of the standard microwave images.

09 July 2022

Clever barrelman

I had to look up the term for the "lookout" in the crow's nest.
Barrelman is in reference to a person who would be stationed in the barrel of the foremast or crow's nest of an oceangoing vessel as a navigational aid. In early ships the crow's nest was simply a barrel or a basket lashed to the tallest mast. Later it became a specially designed platform with protective railing.

According to a popular naval legend, the term ["crow's nest"] derives from the practice of Viking sailors, who carried crows or ravens in a cage secured to the top of the mast. In cases of poor visibility, a crow was released, and the navigator plotted a course corresponding to the bird's flight path because the crow invariably headed towards the nearest land. Some naval scholars have found no evidence of the masthead crow cage and suggest the name was coined simply because the lookout platform resembled a crow's nest in a tree.  As ships grew in size and complexity, that station came to be mounted on the highest mast of the oceangoing vessel, and it came to be known as the crow's nest.  The simplest construction to providing a lookout and setting course direction for the ship was to lash a barrel to the mast. A member of the crew experienced in the matters of navigation was charged with manning this perch and came to be colloquially known as a barrelman.

Here is The Mast-Head chapter from Moby Dick (with a tip of the hat to reader Bulletholes). 

The very rich are different from you and me

 F. Scott Fitzgerald's original quote in The Rich Boy went as follows:
"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."
And that was before the invention of prostate artery embolization and botox for the bladder...
Crawling through increasingly insufferable summer traffic to and from their second homes, sometimes as far as 100 miles away, has left many of New York City's wealthiest — especially those on the older side — with increased bladder issues, as there are few places to stop during the multi-hour trip.

To combat "Hamptons bladder," New Yorkers who summer in the exclusive Long Island enclave are seeking a pair of specialized medical procedures: prostate artery embolization, which reduces the size of the prostate in men, and "bladder Botox," which decreases urinary frequency for women. 

"A lot of people have problems with this issue. They come out to the Hamptons and have to stop four or five times on the way, but can't find a restroom," said Dr. David Shusterman, a New York City urologist who's been advertising the procedures with the tagline "Race to the Hamptons, not to the bathroom."
More about the new procedures at Insider.

Moral police in action

A colorized photo shows "Women being arrested in Chicago, because their swimsuits were too short, in 1922."

Or is it perhaps a photo of America's future?  And if the Supreme Court can get rid of those pesky science advisory agencies, perhaps we can get back to the skies some of us remember in our youth.

(very) long-eared goat

A kid goat with extraordinarily long ears has become a media star in Pakistan, with its owner claiming a world record that may or may not exist... Simba’s ears are so long that Narejo has to fold them over his back to stop the goat from standing on them. He has also designed a harness so Simba can carry his ears around his neck...

Narejo is wary of the attention Simba has attracted – including from rival breeders – and has resorted to prayer and tradition to try to fend off any ill will.  “We recite Koranic verses and blow on him to cast away the evil eye,” Narejo said. “Following a long tradition we inherited from our elders, we have fastened a black thread around him that is fortified with Koranic verses.”
Presumably achieved through selective breeding.  And not for the goat's benefit, IMHO.
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