28 June 2023

Audubon Photography Awards

Baltimore Oriole. Female Bird Prize Winner. A bright-yellow female Baltimore oriole gathers a clump of horsehair and natural hemp and sisal fibers caught on a branch, to be used to build its nest. Photographed in Warren, Pennsylvania.
Image cropped for size from the original posted in a gallery of 9 photos at The Atlantic.  Winning photos from the competition are viewable at Audubon.


In their new book “The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?” Jim Davis and Michael Graham with Ryan Burge argue that the most dramatic change may be in regular attendance at houses of worship. “We are currently in the middle of the largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country,” they postulate, because “about 15 percent of American adults living today (around 40 million people) have effectively stopped going to church, and most of this dechurching has happened in the past 25 years.”..

No theological tradition, age group, ethnicity, political affiliation, education level, geographic location or income bracket escaped the dechurching in America.”

The data they shared with me suggests that “dechurching” is particularly prevalent among Buddhists and Jews, with nearly half not attending worship services regularly, and around 30 percent of most Christian denominations and around 20 percent of Mormons and Orthodox Christians. (There weren’t enough Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the sample for statistical certainty.)..

But many said they did miss aspects of traditional attendance, and often these people still believed in God or certain aspects of their previous faith traditions. They’d sought replacements for traditional worship, and the most common were spending time in nature, meditation and physical activity — basically anything that got them out of their own heads and the anxieties of the material world...
-- excerpts from an op-ed in the New York Times.

Food for thought

Screencap from Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, an interesting documentary film by Werner Herzog about the impact meteorites have had on human cultures throughout history.

The image above comes from a segment about walking the high ice plateau of Antarctica to retrieve meteorites and micrometeorites.  Of particular interest to me was the segment about retrieving micrometeorites from urban rooftops.

Two unusual views of Mt. Rushmore

Embedded above is the view in the 1920s, before it was fully carved.
"The Six Grandfathers (Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe) was named by Lakota medicine man Nicolas Black Elk after a vision. “The vision was of the six sacred directions: west, east, north, south, above, and below. The directions were said to represent kindness and love, full of years and wisdom, like human grandfathers.” The granite bluff that towered above the Hills remained carved only by the wind and the rain until 1927 when Gutzon Borglum began his assault on the mountain.
Reposted from 2014 to add a distinctly different viewpoint, as expressed recently by a member of South Dakota’s House of Representatives (District 1):
What the Lord has revealed to me is that Mount Rushmore has a direct ley line to Washington, DC.,” Donnell said in the podcast clip that was tweeted. “In order to understand the spiritual realm of what we’re facing, we have to realize that in order for the enemy [Satan] to do anything, it needs the agreement of human beings. In order to be empowered to do more damage he needs the agreement of human beings and oftentimes that comes in the form of an altar that acts as a portal for other demonic things. What we’re really dealing with in that portal is communism.That witchcraft, altar, those things that are happening in the Black Hills, what we’re dealing with is communism. It’s the ideology and all the demonic entities and spirits behind that.”

Questions, questions...

"I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the ship’s Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the trapshooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is."
An excerpt from David Foster Wallace's essay "Voluntarily and for Pay," about his experiences on a luxury cruise ship "so clean and white it looked boiled."   

26 June 2023

It's not the large-print edition - updated

It's a facsimile version of the original (Diet Mt. Dew for size...)

I last read this book back in 1996 and had it on my mental list of books to reread "someday."  As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, as one gets older the possible choices of "someday" start to narrow, so I've decided it's time.  When I looked at our library listings, I was delighted to find that this reproduction of the 1937 edition was available...

... with all of the original illustrations.

There is a waiting list, so I have just this month to consume the 871 pages.  So I'd better get started...
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

In consideration of the day and hour of my birth, it was declared by the nurse, and by some sage women in the neighbourhood who had taken a lively interest in me several months before there was any possibility of our becoming personally acquainted, first, that I was destined to be unlucky in life; and secondly, that I was privileged to see ghosts and spirits; both these gifts inevitably attaching, as they believed, to all unlucky infants of either gender, born towards the small hours on a Friday night..."
Addendum:   It took me two months of very intermittent reading, but I've finished the book (and thoroughly enjoyed it).  Herewith some excerpts, memorable passages, curious turns of phrase, and interesting words:
"We accordingly went up a wonderful old staircase; with a balustrade so broad that we might have gone up that, almost as easily; and into a shady old drawing-room, lighted by some three or four of the quaint windows I had looked up at from the street: which had old oak seats in them, that seemed to have come of the same trees as the shining oak floor, and the great beams in the ceiling. It was a prettily furnished room, with a piano and some lively furniture in red and green, and some flowers. It seemed to be all old nooks and corners; and in every nook and corner there was some queer little table, or cupboard, or bookcase, or seat, or something or other, that made me think there was not such another good corner in the room; until I looked at the next one, and found it equal to it, if not better. On everything there was the same air of retirement and cleanliness that marked the house outside." (Chapter 15 at the Wickfield residence, describing a room I would love to live in).

The word "picnic" is recurrently hyphenated as "pic-nic."  Wiktionary indicates that the etymology is from a hypenated French word: pique-nique, from piquer (to pick) and nique (small thing) to refer to a meal eaten outdoors.  The seque there is a bit obscure to me.

"... made some hasty but determined arrangements to throw her out of a two pair of stairs' window."  (Chapter 1).  "Pair of stairs" was a term for a flight of stairs, so the reference appears to be to a second-floor window, not a pair of windows.

"I sat looking at Peggotty for some time, in a reverie on this suppositious case: whether, if she were employed to lose me like the boy in the fairy tale, I should be able to track my way hone again by the buttons she would shed."  Based on supposision; imaginary.

"Our old neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Grayper, were gone to South America, and the rain had made its way through the roof of their empty house, and stained the outer walls. Mr. Chillip was married again to a tall, raw–boned, high–nosed wife; and they had a weazen little baby, with a heavy head that it couldn't hold up, and two weak staring eyes, with which it seemed to be always wondering why it had ever been born."

'There now!' said Uriah, looking flabby and lead-coloured in the moonlight. 'Didn't I know it! But how little you think of the rightful umbleness of a person in my station, Master Copperfield! Father and me was both brought up at a foundation school for boys; and mother, she was likewise brought up at a public, sort of charitable, establishment. They taught us all a deal of umbleness - not much else that I know of, from morning to night. We was to be umble to this person, and umble to that; and to pull off our caps here, and to make bows there; and always to know our place, and abase ourselves before our betters. And we had such a lot of betters! Father got the monitor-medal by being umble. So did I. Father got made a sexton by being umble. He had the character, among the gentlefolks, of being such a well-behaved man, that they were determined to bring him in. "Be umble, Uriah," says father to me, "and you'll get on. It was what was always being dinned into you and me at school; it's what goes down best. Be umble," says father," and you'll do!" And really it ain't done bad!' [classic Heep]

"Under the temporary pressure of pecuniary liabilities, contracted with a view to their immediate liquidation, but remaining unliquidated through a combination of circumstances, I have been under the necessity of assuming a garb from which my natural instincts recoil—I allude to spectacles—and possessing myself of a cognomen, to which I can establish no legitimate pretensions." [classic Micawber]

"Often and often, now, had I seen him in the dead of night passing along the streets, searching, among the  few who loitered out of doors at those untimely hours, for what he dreaded to find."

"I sit down by the fire thinking with a blind remorse of all those secret feelings I have nourished since my marriage.  I think of every little trifle between me and Dora, and feel the truth, that trifles make the sum of life."

"I now approach an event in my life, so indelible, so awful, so bound by an infinite variety of ties to all that has preceded it, in these pages, that, from the beginning of my narrative, I have seen it growing larger and larger as I advanced, like a great tower in a plain, and throwing its fore-cast shadow even on the incidents of my childish days."  A literal usage of "forecast" as throwing something forward.


"An image of a newborn rat cochlea with sensory hair cells (green) 
and spiral ganglion neurons (red), magnified 100x."

Eighth-place winner in the 2017 Nikon Small World photography competition.

Photo credit: Dr. Michael Perny, Bern, Switzerland.

Tuchman's Law

Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening, on a lucky day, without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman's Law, as follows: "The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold" (or any figure the reader would care to supply).
--- Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (1912 – 1989), author of The Guns of August, A Distant Mirror, and The First Salute, among others.

Reposted from 2012 after finishing a reread of A Distant Mirror.  Note to self:  best chapters for future rereads are Chapter 3 (summary of 14th century), 5 (Black Death), 20 (Second Norman Conquest) and 27 final paragraphs.

Was an actor "snuffed" on stage in 1549?

Exemplaria published a fascinating article in 1998.  Here's part of the abstract:
Shadowy as its source is now, there exists a medieval tale of theatrical representation that seems almost impossible to believe. It prompted a series of engaged electronic queries and communications on the PERFORM discussion group 1 and also (independently) a dose of skepticism from theorist Richard Schechner, who hastened to emphasize the vast ideological difference between imitation and reality.Did an on-stage execution really take place in 1549 in the city of Tournai or not?

According to somewhat questionable evidence about a biblical drama performed in Tournai, the “actor” playing Judith actually beheaded a convicted murderer who had briefly assumed the “role” of Holofernes long enough to be killed during the “play” to thunderous ap- plause. In his work on the history of French theater in Belgium, Frederic Faber scrupulously reconstructs the festive circumstances of this incident associated with the royal entry of Philip II. [see text image at top]

The source article is long (34 pages), and I can't even begin to do it justice with excerpts,  It addresses the (unsolved) question of whether this reported execution in a public theater was real, or legendary, or whether it was "staged."  Surprisingly (to me) medieval artists had the capacity to perform impressive "special effects" -

An excellent read - especially for Halloween.  Here's the link again: Medieval Snuff Drama, via Medievalists.net

Reposted from 2017.

Synapta skin

Photo credit Christian Gautier, from the Nikon Small World photomicrography competitionSynapta are sea-cucumbers, and these anchors and wheels are normal components of their epidermis.

Plastic wrapped in plastic

Dinnerware at a motel.

What should you say to someone who purchases these?

Here are some comments from the Plumbing subreddit:
Tell her the people that sell them say they're flushable. The people that repair plumbing say they're not. Who would you believe?

I mean, they are literally flushable so they aren’t lying. So are 18 golf balls and flip phones.

Had hammers, hockey pucks, hot wheels.. This is all in a retirement trailer park. Unsure how the hammer got to the pumping station...

There was a prison I used to inspect that had a major drug problem. Turned out visitors were flushing them down the visitors bathroom toilet, which was outside the secured visitors area. Drugs would wash up on the screens at the WWTP out back and the inmates that worked there would retrieve them. That was the end of inmates working in the plant.

I lived in a condo complex with 2 buildings and a central sewer line down the middle. The sewer line backed up and flooded the lane to our porches. The city came to rotor the line. One neighbor had flushed a dead 18” spider plant. It made it through the neighbors line but blocked up the central 6” line.

With apologies to Jane Austen

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that an American billionaire, in possession of sufficient fortune, must be in want of a Supreme Court justice. Nothing seems to bring billionaires so much simple joy as having a personal justice to accompany them on yacht and fishing trips, flights on their private planes and jaunts to rustic lodges where the wine was certainly not $1,000 a bottle (in Justice Samuel A. Alito’s opinion). Instead of getting upset (which is unproductive and irritates the people who decide whether we can vote and control our bodies), we need to acknowledge that people who want their own Supreme Court justices are going to get them — if they are wealthy enough. Instead of pretending that a code of ethics can prevent this, let’s find a better system so we can end all this sneaking around."
The essay continues at the Washington Post, proposing that Supreme Court justices could be sponsored, using all that blank space on their robes.  Even the hoi polloi could pool their lesser resources using Go Fund Me to sponsor one of the judges.

"Ditch ducks" explained - and updated

I first discovered and blogged about a drainage ditch with duck decoys  back in 2018, then wrote a followup post in 2019.  After a pandemic year interval, I headed north again, and found a huge increase in the number of painted decoys (photo above).

There was no town nearby in which to make inquiries, so I had to wait until getting back from my vacation - but then I was rewarded with the discovery of a Minnesota television station's report on this phenomenon.  The video is done in the style of Steve Hartman's "On the Road" segments for CBS News.  This turns out not to be an "art installation" - let's just call it a "whimsy."

I invite you to take 3 minutes to watch this video report.  I guarantee it will be the most cheerful item you encounter on the internet today.

Addendum 2021:  I stopped to visit the ditch ducks on my way north last week.  Looks like there are a couple more than last year -

It's one of the high points on my trip, and a cheerful sight - especially when you know the backstory in the video.

Addendum 2023:  The ducks are still there -

- although the stress of migration appears to have been too much for one of them:

And I see the site is now well-documented on Google Maps:

Lots of photos [better than mine] at the Google Maps site.  Visitors should note that there is crude, off-road, parking several hundred yards north of the ditch - much safer than parking on the shoulder of the highway.

Good dog

Daisy with some of the 155 discs she has retrieved from the woods next to a disc golf course.  Story at the Washington Post.

This is a "living seawall"

When humans build vertical seawalls to fend off rising sea levels, the process eliminates the conventional gradually-sloping "intertidal zone" and the habitat associated with those environments.

This vertical seawall incorporates manmade structural elements that provide at least a semblance of suitable habitat for some marine creatures.

The Guardian has the full story and additional photos.

Prigozhin speaks out

Commentary from John Authers at Bloomberg:
"The way that Yevgeny Prigozhin declared a mutiny, advanced a long way toward Moscow, and then agreed to stop and go home makes no sense. Neither does the way Putin accused him of treason, and then appeared to agree to forget about all of it. We still have a lot to learn about what just happened, as well as what will happen next. It’s just faintly possible that the whole thing was staged, for some reason nobody can yet grasp. But I don’t think this can possibly be the end of the story. Even if it was all some weird charade, what Prigozhin did took Russia into new territory.

These words came from Prigozhin on Telegram. They’ve been widely disseminated. They cannot be unsaid. And at present, he isn’t going to be punished for saying them. It’s hard to see how this doesn’t profoundly change the balance of forces in Russia, and indeed Putin’s grip on power. The translation was provided by Marko Papic of Clocktower Group:
"As far as I know, Zelenskiy was open to anything when he became president. All we had to do was get down from our high horse and go make a deal. The entire western Ukraine is populated by genetically Russian people. What is happening now is that we are just killing Russians...

Why was the war needed? It was needed so that a bunch of _____ [bad word] at the top could show their might and get some good PR. Second, the war was needed for the oligarchs. It was needed for the clan that today pretty much rules Russia. This oligarch clan receives everything it possibly can."
These things have been unsayable until now. The possibility that the whole invasion was a bad idea from the get-go, motivated by internal machinations, is now in the Russian political bloodstream. Even if this was some brilliantly staged deception from a John le Carre novel to give Putin the excuse to clamp down, it makes no sense that Prigozhin was allowed to say this. However it ends, and whether or not Prigozhin is still alive in a few weeks, this episode must weaken Putin and the current regime. And it cannot be over."

23 June 2023

Meet Mr. Doodle

BoingBoing has two other relevant videos, one of which is a stop-motion documentation of the doodling of his entire house (you will find this hard to believe). The other is a ten-minute detailed tour of the house (equally unbelievable).

I'll offer a quote from Miranda: "O brave new world, that has such people in 't!”

Concertina book binding and tunnel books

You learn something every day.  Today I visited Neatorama and encountered this seventeenth-century Old Testament bound in "concertina" fashion.  I can't imagine a practical utility to this; perhaps it was a whimsical creation of the bookbinder to please a wealthy patron.  

Readers who did not encounter concertinas in their youth can brush up on the subject at the Wikipedia page.  Interestingly, there is a subtype of pop-up book called a "tunnel book" that is structured in a concertina fashion -

Tunnel books (also called peepshow books) consist of a set of pages bound with two folded concertina strips on each side and viewed through a hole in the cover. Openings in each page allow the viewer to see through the entire book to the back, and images on each page work together to create a dimensional scene inside. This type of book dates from the mid-18th century and was inspired by theatrical stage sets. Traditionally, these books were often created to commemorate special events or sold as souvenirs of tourist attractions. The term "tunnel book" derives from the fact that many of these books were made to commemorate the building of the tunnel under the Thames River in London in the mid-19th century. In the United States, tunnel books were made for such attractions as World's Fairs and the New York Botanical Gardens.
You learn something every day.

"Thou" vs. "Thou"

A recent online crossword puzzle offered "Thou" as the clue, asking for a four-letter answer beginning with "ON_ _".  I was totally stumped until I filled in the crossing words to find the answer to be "ONEG."  Cruciverbalists will recognize ONEG as ONE "G", equivalent to a thousand dollars, so the clue was "thou" as in "I lost three thou gambling in Vegas," not the archaic pronoun.

As I thought about it later I realized that I would have had no trouble had the clue been pronounced out loud because "thou" pronoun has a tiny difference in pronunciation from "thou" thousand.  Try it for yourself.  The pronoun starts with one's tongue against the teeth, but it quickly drops away.  The "thousand" version starts the same, but adds a breath of exhaled air over the tongue to accentuate the first two letters. 

On to Wiktionary, where the pronunciation of pronoun "thou" is described as /ðaʊ/, while the pronunciation of the "thousand" thou is /θaʊ/.

I have no idea what those symbols mean (except the theta) or how to use them, but I'm pleased to discover that someone else has taken the time to sort this out.  Presumably it has something to do with variations in fricatives [a delightful word that you never get to use in everyday conversation].  This sort of trivia is going to be of interest only to obsessive-compulsive English majors; perhaps among the readers there is another one out there that can explain this better than I have.

19 June 2023

Blanket octopus

Reposted from 2020 to embed a new photo at the top (credit Heng Cai).  The photo is a finalist in the Aquatic Life category in the 10th BigPicture Natural World photography competition.  Now enjoy the videos:

Via Laughing Squid.  Here's another video, also via Laughing Squid:

20-speed transmission shift pattern

Some relevant comments in the discussion thread.

Ominous spike in Atlantic Ocean heat

Thirty years of data for the Nor;th Atlantic depicted in the graph embedded above.
"Global oceans are so hot right now, scientists all around the world are struggling to explain the phenomenon. Sea surface temperatures in June are so far above record territory it is being deemed almost statistically impossible in a climate without global heating.  In the North Atlantic Ocean — which was already way above record levels — temperatures have strikingly shot directly upwards over the past two weeks...

To the south across the Tropical Atlantic, this odd and persistent configuration of atmospheric steering and pressure systems has resulted in record-shattering heat. Sea surface temperatures are so hot across the “main development region” (seen in deep red between Africa and the Caribbean) they have already reached levels expected during peak hurricane season in September.

And for what's happening on land, see this graphic posted last week by Minnesota Public Radio:

Addendum August 2023:
As a counterpart to the graph at the top of this post, here is one depicting the extent of Antarctic sea ice for the past 40 years:

The overall median is in gray, last year in black, this year in green.  Source.

"No one will be above the law"

This has been circulating widely in recent weeks and has probably been seen by everybody, but I'm going to store it here for archival purposes.
The indictment also related an account of a meeting in July 2021 when Mr. Trump brandished a “plan of attack” against Iran to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

To the apparent discomfort of his aides — one of whom declared, “Now we have a problem” amid laughter — Mr. Trump admitted that he could have declassified the “highly confidential” document when he was president, but now it was too late because he was out of office.

And yet, as the indictment described in painful detail, he almost seemed unable to control himself.

Still funny after all these years

Familiarity has rendered most of the Far Side cartoons non-chuckleworthy, but some retain their freshness.

17 June 2023

A book for the bibliophile, and other essays by Anne Fadiman

In 1998 Anne Fadiman published Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.  The book is a compilation of essays she authored for Civilization, the magazine of the Library of Congress, and each of the eighteen chapters is an unabashed paean to the written word. There are chapters on marrying libraries, the joy of unusual words (see below), the composition of personal libraries, annotating and writing in books, dedicatory inscriptions in books, reading in unusual or famous places, reflexive proofreading of the everyday world, and plagiarism.

I won't undertake a proper review - just a couple excerpts:
“My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don't read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children's rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent's rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says 'PRIVATE--GROWNUPS KEEP OUT': a child sprawled on the bed, reading.”

Words from the chapter "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" - monophysite, mephitic, calineries, diapason, grimoire, adapertile, retromingent, perllan, cupellation, adytum, sepoy, subadar, paludal, apozeical, camorra, ithyphallic, alcalde, aspergill, agathodemon, kakodemon, goetic, opopanax.
Other new words for me: interlarding, soidisant, bibliolatrous, nonesuch, postulant slomped, villanelle, bibliopegic, bibliobibacity, and enchiridion.

Reposted from 2016 to give a shout-out and recommendation for Anne Fadiman's newest book:

At Large and At Small is Anne Fadiman's collection of a dozen essays (Wunderkammers and other collections of natural objects, why Charles Lamb's sister murdered their mother, home-made ice cream, circadian rhythms, Procrustes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, coffee, etc etc).  I have previously blogged King Philip come out, for God's Sake, and Lewis Carroll's math puzzle from this book.  I'll also excerpt here this thoughtful observation by Swann in Remembrance of Things Past:
"... even when one is no longer attached to things, it's still something to have been attached to them."
Also a new word for me:  fluffer.  In her thoroughly enjoyable essay "Moving" she explains that when you put a house up for sale, the realtor may hire a "fluffer" to tidy things up ("One fluffer ordered his client to remove a Georgia O'Keeffee painting from the ewall and hide it under the bed.  The colors were wrong.")  More interesting than that incident was the origin of the term: ("Fluffer is a term borrowed from pornographic filmmaking; he or she gets the male star ready for the camera.")  You learn something every day.

Fadiman is a gifted essayist.  Here is an excerpt from her preface to the book, about the art of the essay:
 “The familiar essayist didn't speak to the millions; he spoke to one reader, as if the two of them were sitting side by side in front of a crackling fire with their cravats loosened, their favorite stimulants at hand, and a long evening of conversation stretching before them. His viewpoint was subjective, his frame of reference concrete, his style digressive, his eccentricities conspicuous, and his laughter usually at his own expense.” 
At Large and At Small is now entered in my "Books Read 2023" list with a 4+ rating (only the second one so far this year, after A.B. Guthrie's The Way West).

07 June 2023

Two Milky Ways

The photo is an entry in the 2023 Milky Way Photographer of the Year competition.  Photographer Mihail Minkov explains:
I’ve always wondered what the night sky would look like if we could see the two Milky Way arches from the winter and summer side by side. This is practically impossible, since they are part of a whole and are visible at different times of the day.

However, this 360-degree time-blended panorama shows us what they would look like. The two arches of the Milky Way represent one object in the starry sky, with part of it visible in winter and part of it in summer. Therefore, they are called the winter and summer arches. The winter arch includes objects that we can observe from October to March, primarily associated with the constellation Orion.

On the other hand, the summer arch features the Milky Way core, visible from March to September, which is the most characteristic and luminous part of the night sky, representing the center of our galaxy.
Several other awesome images at the link, via Kottke.

I'm on vacation for the next week

Family activities, graduations and reunions take precedence every June, so after the final photo-at-the-top-of-the-page post, I'm going to stop for about a week.  

I'll use this opportunity to remind everyone that while I'm gone you can browse the archive of 18,348 old posts linked in the right sidebar, sorted by topic.  Or you can get a life, as I'm trying to do...

06 June 2023

Platform 9 3/4 optical illusion

Other examples of the Best Illusions of 2023 are embedded at Kottke, along with a link to all the competition winners. 

An absolutely amazing crossword construction

There are various ways in which crossword puzzles can be interesting - sometimes from the content, sometimes from the construction.  I remember one NYT crossword in which the constructor was able to incorporate the letter "Z" 40 times in the grid.  The most wickedly fiendish clue I've seen was "Line just before a comma" (7) [answer in the Comments].

The puzzle partially embedded above is from the New York Times on June 6, 2023.  The unique construction aspect will not be apparent from the blank grid, and was not evident to me after completing the puzzle - until I read the commentary at this link.  Awesome.  My cruciverbalist hat is off to Daniel Jaret, the constructor.

05 June 2023

A film made using artificial intelligence

A reedy voice-over—from an A.I.-generated vocal model, trained on Harry Dean Stanton’s monologue from the film “Paris, Texas”—reads a script written by Trillo, a voice mail on an answering machine, mourning the loss of possibilities and memories, perhaps of the ruins of a relationship...

To make the clips, Trillo first generated still images that suggested the scenes he had in mind using the A.I. tool Stable Diffusion... in seconds, it was possible to render, for example, a tracking shot of a woman crying alone in a softly lit restaurant. His prompt included a hash of S.E.O.-esque terms meant to goad the machine into creating a particularly cinematic aesthetic: “Moody lighting, iconic, visually stunning, immersive, impactful.” ..

It doesn’t matter that the scenes don’t look perfectly real; their oneiric [pertaining to dreams] quality makes them all the more haunting, doubling the plaintiveness of the voice-over. Photorealism wouldn’t match the material, though the film comes close enough to be briefly mistaken for real...

The phrase “A.I.-generated film” is something of a misnomer. In Trillo’s case, the director wrote a script, assembled a visual aesthetic, determined which scenes to create, selected from Runway’s results, and then edited the clips into a threaded, thematically coherent finished product. Generative tools supplied the media—voice, faces, scenery, and animation—but the human creative element is still present in every step of the process
Text from The New Yorker, via Kottke.

American life expectancy is falling

And not just because of the coronavirus:
Plotting life expectancy in the United States against that of other wealthy countries reveals three dark insights: Our life spans lag behind those of our peers; our life expectancy was already more or less flat, not growing; and most other countries bounced back from covid-19 in the second year of the pandemic, while we went into further decline...

Unless the country changes course, and soon, the structural conditions responsible for the shorter lives and poorer health of Americans will continue to claim lives and weaken the country. It is not just the old who pay the price. Young and middle-aged Americans are now more likely to die in the prime of their lives, devastating families and communities and taking a hard toll on our economic productivity. Even more disturbing, in a change never recorded in the past century, the probability that children and adolescents will live to age 20 is now decreasing.
The reasons for the decline are discussed at The Washington Post.

An interesting medical case

Excerpts from a longread at The Washington Post:
Before she became a patient, April had been an outgoing, straight-A student majoring in accounting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. But after a traumatic event when she was 21, April suddenly developed psychosis and became lost in a constant state of visual and auditory hallucinations. The former high school valedictorian could no longer communicate, bathe or take care of herself...

Markx and his colleagues discovered that although April’s illness was clinically indistinguishable from schizophrenia, she also had lupus, an underlying and treatable autoimmune condition that was attacking her brain.  After months of targeted treatments — and more than two decades trapped in her mind — April woke up.

April had undergone many courses of treatment — antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and electroconvulsive therapy — all to no avail... Even though April had all the clinical signs of schizophrenia, the team believed that the underlying cause was lupus, a complex autoimmune disorder in which the immune system turns on its own body, producing many antibodies that attack the skin, joints, kidneys or other organs. But April’s symptoms weren’t typical, and there were no obvious external signs of the disease; the lupus appeared to be affecting only her brain...

As part of a standard cognitive test known as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), she was asked to draw a clock — a common way to assess cognitive impairment. Before the treatment, she tested at the level of a dementia patient, drawing indecipherable scribbles.  But within the first two rounds of treatment, she was able to draw half a clock — as if one half of her brain was coming back online, Markx said.  Following the third round of treatment a month later, the clock looked almost perfect...

While it is likely that only a subset of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychotic disorders have an underlying autoimmune condition, Markx and other doctors believe there are probably many more patients whose psychiatric conditions are caused or exacerbated by autoimmune issues.
I find this to be absolutely fascinating.  I also wonder how many other "schizophrenics" could be treated with immunosuppressive regimens.

Grape jelly can kill hummingbirds

As reported by the Raptor Education group, via Bring Me The News:
During the past few years providing grape jelly to orioles has become a popular alternative to the traditional orange slices/halves. Grape Jelly was a convenient energy food as it is a “semi solid” substance even in colder temperatures and easy to keep contained in a bowl. It provides a quick source of energy during migration. But then…for whatever reason, the use of jelly, the stuff we’ve always understood to be sticky, even as it covers the faces and clothing of our own children, bypassed logical use, and morphed into a multi-species, year-round jelly feeding frenzied fad. A problem in hot weather is jelly “melts i.e. liquifies” somewhat and therefore more available to adhere to the birds body, feet and feathers. Some people added water to the jelly and began serving it in larger bowls. This fad occurred even within the birding community. Businesses became involved, developing new types of jelly feeders and bird specific jelly.  A photo that became my own personal nightmare was on a birding site recently. It was of an adult Baltimore Oriole perched on “jelly feeders” and feeding the jelly to their own babies. That behavior is outside the natural history of this species and causes more questions about changes that may be happening due to a high sugar diet. Orange halves are a healthier and more safe way to provide a high energy food. 

02 June 2023

Math puzzle for you

A group of "space Marines" are returning from defending our planet against carnivorous alien invaders.  79 per cent of the Marines have lost an arm, 84 per cent have lost a leg, 76 per cent have lost an ear, and 71 per cent have lost an eye.  It clearly was one heck of a battle.

What percentage of these combatants, at the very least, must have lost all four body parts?

I have changed the circumstances and the numbers, because this math puzzle was first formulated in the 1800s by Carolus Lodovicus, a famous Oxfordian mathematician, and I didn't want you guys to Google the keywords.  If your answer is anything other than zero, you must explain why.  This is the final exam; the result counts for 100% of your grade for the semester.  Summer vacation begins tomorrow.

Credit for finding this goes to Anne Fadiman.

"King Philip, come out, for God's sake"

The title is a delightful mnemonic for remembering the order of "kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species."  I found it in Anne Fadiman's most recent book "At Large and At Small," which I am currently thoroughly enjoying.

Introducing "No Mow May" - and a year 2 update

The "No Mow May" movement began in the U.K. in 2019.  I first encountered the concept in a New York Times article in 2022, reporting on a No Mow May program in Appleton Wisconsin.
Appleton, some 200 miles north of Chicago, is a small college city nestled on the shores of the meandering Fox River. Two assistant professors at a local liberal arts college, Dr. Israel Del Toro and Dr. Relena Ribbons of Lawrence University, knew that No Mow May was popular in Britain. They wondered if the initiative might take root here, too.

They began working with the Appleton Common Council, and, in 2020, Appleton became the first city in the United States to adopt No Mow May, with 435 homes registering to take part...

Dr. Del Toro and Dr. Ribbons studied the impacts of No Mow May on Appleton’s bees. They found that No Mow May lawns had five times the number of bees and three times the bee species than did mown parks. Armed with this information, they asked other communities to participate.

By 2021, a dozen communities across Wisconsin had adopted No Mow May. It also spread to communities in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Montana.

I learned about No Mow May in the fall of 2020 when I was looking to make my own yard more friendly to bees. The following spring, I helped organize No Mow May in Shorewood Hills, Wis., where I live. When I realized how quickly the movement was spreading, I started photographing it across Wisconsin...

Not everyone appreciated the unmown lawns. Allison Roberts, a resident of Prairie du Chien, Wis., participated in No Mow May even though her city hadn’t adopted it. After a few weeks, she awoke from a nap to find police officers pounding on her door.

“Apparently, they were here to ensure I was not dead,” she said.

Nor were her neighbors happy with her shaggy lawn. One of them, unable to stand the sight of it, eventually mowed it without her permission.
The concept was embraced by the Madison suburb of Verona last year.
"Such rules don’t mandate that you let your weeds and grass go shaggy in May, but municipalities simply won’t punish residents who choose to let their lawns go. By June 1, enforcement of lawn length generally resumes, and residents will be required to keep those lawns nice and tidy once again."
In England, a variety of rare plants popped up in some residents' yards:
People who chose not to mow were rewarded with rare plants. More than 250 wild plant species were recorded by gardeners last year, including wild strawberry, wild garlic and very rare plants including adder’s-tongue fern, meadow saxifrage, snakeshead fritillary and eyebright. Many orchids were also seen, including the declining ​man orchid, green-winged orchid, southern and northern marsh orchid and bee orchid.
The StarTribune reports the concept is widespread in Minnesota:
In addition to Edina, Monticello, Vadnais Heights and New Brighton are among the Minnesota cities participating in No Mow May for the first time. Those municipalities will not enforce city codes that restrict lawns from exceeding a maximum turf length (10 inches in Edina and Vadnais Heights, 8 inches in Monticello and New Brighton) during the month of May... ""The best part about it is it doesn't cost anything to do it and it makes such a big difference."
The Arboretum here at the University of Wisconsin in Madison notes that dandelions play a beneficial role in the health of lawn turf:
Dandelion (Taxaracum officinale) is native to Eurasia and naturalized throughout most of North America. The flowers are visited by many pollinators and are an important nectar source early in the season when few other flowers are blooming. Their deep taproots help to loosen and aerate soil as well as pull nutrients like calcium from deep in the soil, which makes the nutrients available to other plants once dandelion leaves decompose. Several bird species also eat dandelion flowers, buds, and seeds.
I found the two embedded lawn sign images online, and since they don't appear to be copyrighted, I took the liberty of printing them out.  Tomorrow I'll attach them to a lawn sign in our front yard to let our neighbors know why the grass is getting long.  And I'll try to update this post from time to time to show what the lawn looks like and how the local bee population is doing.

Addendum May 17:
We are now halfway through the no-mow month, so I thought I'd append a few pix to show how things are going.  Our south-facing front yard has clearly grown past the normal mow height, but doesn't look particularly shabby -

The sign is out by the road to inform passers-by, but to the casual viewer, it looks like a lazy person's home.  There is one clump of post-blossom daffodil leaves (intentionally planted there years ago) and a smattering of dandelions, plus some smaller weeds that I'll inventory toward the end of the month.  One no-mow neighbor has a greater abundance of dandelions -

- and on another unmown lawn the dandelions are almost confluent:

One difference may be that in previous years I have routinely added a commercial "weed and feed" application once or twice a year to eliminate broad-leaf plants like creeping charlie.  The flora is a bit different in the north-facing semishaded back lawn, where violets are appearing -

- along with ajuga and creeping charlie.   More info in a week or two.

Addendum and closure:

More violets.  Wisconsin has fourteen species of native violets, and while they are certainly lovely and beneficial to pollinators, some varieties are extremely aggressive; we have to extirpate them from some flower beds, where they crowd out other plantings.

Milkweeds always have shown up in our lawn because we have them in the flower beds, and the rhizomes extend outward in every direction.  Normally these spikes succumb to mowing; this year they get a reprieve of a few weeks.

This is the front lawn on May 23, after three weeks of not being mowed.  Shaggy, but not overtly offensive to the more conventional neighbors.

In contrast, this lawn that I drove past elsewhere in town is dominated by dandelions going to seed.  We have dandelions too, but when the yellow blossoms close, we walk around and "deadhead" the plants, pulling off what would become the seedhead,  because our goal is to feed the pollinators, not the fructivores eating seeds.

So as May came to a close we had lots of the usual clover -

- plus a variety of smaller "weeds" whose names I haven't taken time to look up:

The "escaped" milkweeds have not been of benefit to pollinators because they blossom in late June.  But they have been there for the arriving Monarchs, so the day before the neighbor teen came over to mow, we harvested all these milkweed to look for Monarch eggs and early instars. 

One of our next-door neighbors also had opted to pursue a no-mow policy in May.
For those worried about how to mow grass that is over a foot tall, I'll point out that the blades of grass are still only maybe 3-5" tall.  What towers above them is the seedhead on a tall thin spike.  At this point the seeds were not mature enough to actually fall and overseed the lawn, and those seedheads are no impediment to a standard home power mower.

The main front yard.  I don't consider it unattractive, though it is obviously unconventional.  I enjoyed being outside working on a windy day and watching the "amber fields of grain" waving in the wind.  

After mowing, June 6.  Back to a standard suburban cookie-cutter boring monoculture of grass.  No worse for the experiment, and if anything the grass seems to me to be a bit more lush

We'll be doing this again next year.   I encourage others to do the same.

Update 2023
One significant change since last year is that our city has passed an ordinance encouraging the "No Mow May" concept.  Participants can obtain a yard sign -

- which explains to passers-by why the lawn looks unkempt, adding the option of "low-mow" (infrequent mowing) for those squeamish about the untidiness.

In deference to my own neighbors, I was vigorous this year in deadheading dandelions when the yellow blooms changed to white; that means a lot of stooping over while walking the yard, plucking those seedheads before they open, and putting them in a waste container -

- where they pop open wondering where the wind is.  The contrast between our lawn and the one next door is most evident in the height of the grass in the last week of May -

- but the important feature is the scattering of "weeds", which this year I decided to document.  

I'll take a moment here to offer the highest praise possible for a phone app called "Seek," from iNaturalist.  It is an absolutely superb image-recognition program that allows you to point your phone at plants, insects, mammals, fish, fungi, arachnids, birds etc etc and get an instant identification.  I needed it for all the little ground-hugging "weeds"  that I've never learned to properly identify.

This is the Ajuga reptans ("Carpet Bugle") that is "invading" our lawn:

We had it in a part of our garden and it moved out on its own and we love to see it spread.  For most of the year it is a low-lying ground cover with green/russet leaves, but in the spring it pops up this inflorescence that the bumblebees love.  We mow around it in the spring, then mow over it for the rest of the year.

I mentioned the White clover (Trifolium repens) last year:

What's not to like about clover in a lawn?  Most homeowners obliterate it with the application of broad-spectrum broad-leaf herbicides, but it requires less water (via a deep root system that helps aerate the lawn), needs no fertilizer, and as a legume it adds nitrogen to the soil.  I'm seriously considering seeding additional clover into some portions of our yard.  

I do understand that some homeowners hate Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea):

In previous years I have poisoned it and pulled it by hand, but up close it's really an attractive little plant that thrives in the wet shady parts of the lawn that the grass doesn't like anyway.   Same withe the Mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum) -

- and the Black Medick (Medicago lupulina) -

- which is a variety of clover.  AFAIK, it's main "offense" is that it isn't grass.

The other "weeds" I documented in the grassy part of the yard this year included Wormseed Wallflower, Lesser periwinkle, Corn speedwell, Bird's-foot Violet, and Bitter Wintercress.  

I'll close with a relevant quotation from A. A. Milne:  "Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them."

The lawn has now been mowed.  It looks a bit ragged, but will "normalize" to the view of passers-by as the summer proceeds.  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...