26 September 2023


The longread itself doesn't have much new information, AFAIK.  I'm creating the post in order to embed the cropped image above, showing a reconstructed model of the face of a Neanderthal woman.

I love supercuts

A well-edited collage of film clips whets my appetite for films I might not otherwise be aware of.  The one embedded above was created by the same person who did the nice reviews of Kieslowski's Three Coulours trilogy.  But... it doesn't have an index of film sources that I could find.  That's very disappointing.

By contrast, the Welcome to a Supercut video below supplies a lengthy film list at the YouTube link.

Bricks as time capsules of DNA

I listen to all of the BBC Science in Action podcasts.  A recent one featured a report of how unfired clay bricks can be used to access ancient DNA.
"We extracted ancient DNA from a recently exposed fracture surface of a clay brick deriving from the palace of king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BCE) in Nimrud, Iraq. We detected 34 unique taxonomic groups of plants. With this research we have made the pioneering discovery that ancient DNA, effectively protected from contamination inside a mass of clay, can successfully be extracted from a 2900-year-old clay brick... in this study, it was possible to analyse the aDNA with a direct link to context and date, which allowed us to correlate with roughly contemporary textual evidence to present living plants."

Abby gets a prosthetic arm

This young woman has a number of videos on YouTube, sharing tips and tricks for coping with the absence of an arm.

Should children do homework?

From an article in the StarTribune:
"... a homework abolition movement has gained popularity in schools, particularly among lower grades. Several books have been written decrying the "myth" of homework, saying it often amounts to busywork, robs kids of sacred family time, overburdens overscheduled kids, and widens inequities already in the home.

Oh, yeah, and there's basically no evidence that homework in elementary school boosts academic achievement...

My fifth-grader typically brings home no work at all. For years, his main assignment has been to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day reading a book of his choice. While we occasionally have studied state capitals or spelling words for an upcoming test, he usually finishes all of his worksheets at school, so his nights are free from any ounce of academic pressure. He is advancing through his elementary school years without having the consistent drumbeat of homework that I remember from my childhood."
I don't remember any time after fifth grade when I didn't have homework on schoolnights and weekends - including summer vacation, during which a reading list was tackled.  I guess as a blogger I'm still doing homework...

This fish is older than I am

And her lineage is also interesting, because she is a lungfish.
"... Methuselah is the oldest living fish in captivity, aged somewhere upwards of 92 and potentially as high as 101 years. She arrived on a steamship from Australia along with 230 other fish to the Steinhart aquarium in San Francisco in 1938 as a young, small fish... she’s a lungfish – a species more closely related to humans or cows than to ray-finned fish like salmon or cod – which can breathe air using a single lung when streams become stagnant, or when water quality changes...

Lungfish like Methuselah have long-held secrets, but scientists have only recently attempted to understand their evolution and life history. For one thing, the fish’s genome is the largest of any animal, containing 43bn base pairs – roughly 14 times the number in the human genome. The previous record holder, the Mexican axolotl, has a genome made up of 32bn base pairs..."

Humans walking with dinosaurs

Stuff like this drive me crazy.  I found the illustration at an otherwise sensible SciTechDaily, accompanying an article entitled "Shocking Study: Humans’ Ancestors Lived Among Dinosaurs and Survived Asteroid Strike."

Which is trueHuman ancestors did coexist with dinosaurs - but the "ancestors" referred to are the first placental mammals, not bipedal simians.
Fossils of placental mammals are only found in rocks younger than 66 million years old, which is when the asteroid hit Earth, suggesting that the group evolved after the mass extinction. However, molecular data has long suggested an older age for placental mammals... In a new paper published in the journal Current Biology, a team of palaeobiologists from the University of Bristol and the University of Fribourg used statistical analysis of the fossil record to determine that placental mammals originated before the mass extinction, meaning they co-existed with dinosaurs for a short time. However, it was only after the asteroid impact that modern lineages of placental mammals began to evolve, suggesting that they were better able to diversify once the dinosaurs were gone.
I can understand that whoever curates content for SciTechDaily was faced with a Current Biology article containing illustrations like this -

- and opted instead to find some appropriate "eye candy" by searching for an illustration using the keywords "dinosaur" and "human ancestor."  That illustration is visually misleading and will offer support to those who believe humans walked with dinosaurs.

And while I'm ranting from my high horse, let me add this one I found today:

OMG - if things continue as they are going now, our planet will be "uninhabitable" in 250,000,000 years!  If you think your oceanfront lot is having problems now, just wait until the continents merge!!  C'mon Guardian.  You're better than this.

Polio was the "autumn ghost"

So named because of its seasonality, poliomyelitis was the cause of worldwide epidemics in the 1950s.  This new book presents a detailed look at the 1952 epidemic (in which I was an unwilling participant) with a focus on its effects in Denmark.
"... until quite recently in medical history, there was no intensive care.  Seventy years ago anyone who struggled to breathe, whose heart gave out, or whose kidneys shut down would be kept comfortable and left to die.  There were no ventilators, no monitors keeping track of vital signs minute to minute, no expertise of nurses and physicians to keep critically ill patients alive, and no dedicated units in hospitals for the care of such patients... This is the story of how we got from 1952 to now."
The story in Denmark begins at Blegdam ["Blei-dahm"] Hospital in Copenhagen, created in the 1860s as a "fever hospital" for quarantine purposes in a busy port city.  Cases of cholera and various febrile illnesses arriving by ship would be sequestered here for isolation until resolution or death.  Polio patients came here for "care," but not for "treatment" - which was nonexistent.  

By 1952, some iron lungs were in use, especially in the United States, but those devices were immense, expensive, and difficult to use.  In response to a massive epidemic which was killing their children, the Danes discovered the utility of "bagging" via an endotracheal tube.  But no automated ventilators existed, so medical students were recruited to bag patients continuously, 24/7.  Chapter 13 "Student Ventilators" details the development and implementation of this policy.

Nursing care in that era "was rooted in the tradition of a life given over to the work - long shifts, residence at the hospital for life, and no marriage."  That also had to change.  Analysis of blood gases and arterial pH - never before attempted (or considered) - was also invented, as was the concept of an "intensive care unit," (a term first used in 1958).

This book will not be of interest to everyone.  It will have special meaning to current polio survivors, and should be a must-read for respiratory therapy students who want to learn about the invention of their profession and its tools.

22 September 2023


An awesome view of the downtown area, looking toward the northwest, with the Mississippi River on the right and the Guthrie Theater in the center of the image.  Map.  Found in the Stuff about Minneapolis tumblr; photo credit Will Wright.

People should stop hassling librarians

Found at the Book Porn tumblr.

"The Song of Lunch"

I found this old (2010) DVD in our library.  It is one of the best things I've watched all year.  Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman at the top of their game in a brief (45-minute) sketch designed to fill a slot on BBC TV in recognition of National Poetry Month.  Visually, it's full of tight shots that make you feel like you are watching the two actors on a London stage from a front-row seat.  The ending is a bit "odd" IMHO, but the best aspect is the minimal dialogue with an extended voice-over reminiscent of the writing of T. S. Eliot.

Addendum: streaming now on Amazon Prime.


It has been way too long since I've visited Lushlight, a tumblr with a remarkable array of black and white photographs, including this one by Aleksandra Zaborowska.

Women want pockets

A growing movement decrying the lack of proper pockets in women’s clothing has begun to find disciples in the world of high fashion, as well as among mainstream chains...

It is even possible, she suggests, that the true “age of the pocket” has now arrived, because everything necessary for daily life has become so small. Cash is of limited use, and address books, diaries and maps are all dead. Phones, and perhaps a lipstick, a key or a comb, are really all a woman needs, and this might mean we are not lumbered with bags any more...

“Part of it is just laziness. It’s easier not to design pockets if they are not expected.” Although women’s outerwear has generally improved, fashion designers continue to argue that a pocket ruins the line of a dress... “There are no pockets in girls’ dresses, despite the fact they are not bothered about the line of their clothes. There are still areas where it’s all very retrograde.”..

A popular Instagram account GCS, or Girls Carrying Shit, displays images of women who are forced to carry their possessions ("after thousands of years without pockets, non-men have evolved a superior grip to carry their shit.)
Excerpted from an article at The Guardian.

The history of Serratia marcescens

Found at the Bizarro Bazar.

The "Carta Marina"

A visually interesting map from the 16th century.  Readers with a Scandinavian heritage may be interested in drilling down to some of the details.

Found at a New York Times article about how whale-hunting may have driven some species to extinction as early as the medieval era.

Interesting rock

Identified/explained at the whatsthisrock subreddit (image cropped for size).

When your odometer hits 122,667...

... you will need to reset your trip to 000.0 in order to have this satisfaction later. 

Image cropped for size from the original at Bored Panda, where I also found this mathematical curiosity:
And the observation that if you die in the same hospital where you were born, your lifetime average velocity will be zero.

A person was seen outdoors

Obviously from The Onion, which also offers an incisive dig at Lauren Boebert.

Extreme mountain biking captured by drone video

"Dive into the hardest mountain bike race through the eyes of an intense FPV drone shot. The @dutchdronegods followed Kade Edwards down the Red Bull Hardline downhill mountain bike race track, a tough trail that twists down the steep slopes of the Dyfi valley in Wales. It's known as the most difficult mountain bike race course in the world, and just getting down it on two wheels is hard, but to capture it in a single shot drone flight presents a different kind of challenge."

16 September 2023

World Central Kitchen is in Morocco

In early September, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook communities all across Morocco’s mountainous center. The earthquake is the hardest to hit Morocco in over a century, sending people all across the country’s central region running for safety. Striking late at night as many families were already asleep, the quake killed more than 2,900 people and injured countless more.

WCK’s Relief Team was on the ground within hours of the temblor, using any means necessary to reach the hardest hit areas to provide immediate support. First arriving in Marrakech, our Relief Team is using helicopters and 4x4 vehicles to identify hard-hit communities spread across the region. WCK teams have established a kitchen to prepare hot meals in addition to working with local organizations cooking.  This is a quickly evolving situation and we continue to traverse the impacted region to find pockets of need.

WCK is first to the frontlines, providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. When disaster strikes, WCK’s Relief Team mobilizes to the frontlines with the urgency of now to start cooking and provide meals to people in need. By partnering with organizations on the ground and activating a network of local restaurants, food trucks, or emergency kitchens, WCK serves comforting meals to survivors of disasters quickly and effectively. We know that good food provides not only nourishment, but also comfort and hope, especially in times of crisis.
I made another donation today.  You can do so at this link.  I know of no better way to provide assistance from afar to people whose lives are ruined through no fault of their own.  More information about World Central Kitchen here and here, including comments from readers of TYWKIWDBI.

Here are a couple photos from a gallery at The Atlantic:

E-mail harvesting in public schools

When I was a student in primary school, we did some fundraising for our yearbook by selling magazine subscriptions.  For homecoming football games there were button sales, car washes, concession stands, etc.  Apparently nowadays, students are conned into collecting email addresses...
It started Tuesday with an urgent email barrage... from the 5th and 6th grade principal who told parents they needed to send a “Please Donate” message to 10 email addresses so our child would ‘Win’ a prize that could be a piece of plastic, another piece of plastic or some other piece of plastic.

All we have to do is send out those 10 email addresses, via the fundraising site, which is run by some fundraising company subsidiary that has a mailing address that tracks to a mailbox at a UPS store in a suburban Colorado strip mall.

Seems legit. Or not.

10 emails, no obligation to donate, the principal’s email read. The funds raised go to the school! Parents do not learn how much of the cut the strip mall mailbox company earns off the donated money.

So sell out the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, etc. so this company with a mailbox at a UPS store will then have tens of thousands of emails at their disposal. What does the company do with the emails? I work on the Internet, I can make a guess.
There are some Facebook responses but no other details at Outkick.  Is this common?

Theater surveillance of the audience

The image embedded above is a screencap from a video in a Newsweek article documenting Lauren Boebert vaping in a performing arts theater.  

What is interesting to me is not the misbehavior, but the fact that the video is clearly from an infrared monitor aimed at the audience.   I suppose it is not surprising that this occurs, but I hadn't realized it is routinely done in some movie theaters.  Apparently the screening room, along with the lobby and corridors etc is considered public space where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.  You learn something every day.

Antarctic sea ice

Res ipsa loquitur.  If you need further discussion, see the BBC Science column.

13 September 2023


Every amateur gardener is familiar with "volunteers" that appear unbidden and unplanted in the yard or garden.  The stalk above sprouted in an unused garden pot (it probably arrived via a stray birdseed kernel).   I thought it was common midwestern sweet corn until it tasseled and I recognized it as "broomcorn."
Sorghum or broomcorn is a genus of about 25 species of flowering plants in the grass family (Poaceae). Some of these species are grown as cereals for human consumption, in pastures for animals, and as bristles for brooms. One species is grown for grain, while many others are used as fodder plants, either cultivated in warm climates worldwide or naturalized in pasture lands... Most varieties are drought- and heat-tolerant, nitrogen-efficient, and are especially important in arid and semi-arid regions, where the grain is one of the staples for poor and rural people. These varieties form important components of forage in many tropical regions. S. bicolor is an important food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia, and is the fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world.
This plant will stay in the garden through the autumn and winter as a seed source for the granivores.  The stalks were traditionally used for broommaking.

12 September 2023

Krzysztof Kieślowski's "Three Colours" trilogy

Last year I watched and thoroughly enjoyed all three movies in Krzysztof Kieślowski's "Three Colours" trilogy.  I recently encountered these commentaries, which are insightful and reasonably concise.

According to JustWatch, these films are currently streaming on Apple TV+ (free trial available). I found the DVDs at our local library.

George Washington's birthday

"George Washington was born on February 11, 1731 (Old Style)...

At the time, the entire British Empire, including its North American possessions, was on the Julian calendar; the Empire, not being bound to the Catholic Church, had not yet adopted the modern Gregorian calendar that Catholic countries had adopted in 1582. Consequently, by the 1730s, the Julian calendar used by Britain and the Colonies was eleven days behind the Gregorian, because of leap year differences. Furthermore, the British civil year began on March 25 rather than January 1, so that dates in February (such as this one) 'belonged' to the preceding year. (See Dual dating). In 1752, The British Empire switched to the Gregorian calendar... Since February 11, 1731, on the Julian calendar was February 22, 1732, on the Gregorian, and he was alive at the time the change was made, Washington changed his birth date to February 22, 1732, to match the new calendar."
The discussion continues at the Wikipedia entry for Presidents' Day.  You learn something every day.

08 September 2023

Chlorochrysa phoenicotis

Chosen because I like to end my blogging day (and week) with an impressive image.  Photograped in Ecuador by Nicolas Reusens.  From a gallery at The Guardian of winning photographs in the Bird Photographer of the Year competition.

An incredible quilt

Not the needlework or the design per se, but the material...
In 1856, a 17-year-old girl named Adeline Harris started making a unique quilt. Over the next two decades, she sent pieces of silk to famous people from around the world and they signed them and sent them back to her. She assembled them into a quilt with a tumbling blocks pattern (aka, the Q*bert pattern).

The signatures that Harris was able to acquire are astounding: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Samuel Morse, Alexandre Dumas, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alexander von Humboldt, Washington Irving, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Oh, and eight US Presidents: Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant.

Via Kottke.

"Flying over Iceland"

Simply awesome (and be sure to click that fullscreen icon at the lower right).   Kudos to the drone pilot for including trekkers in the field of view to create a sense of perspective.

Reposted from 2016 because the landscape imagery is absolutely fascinating.

Via Nag on the Lake.

She wanted a giant dick on her grave

Before her death, 99-year-old Catarina Orduña Pérez had one final wish: a giant statue of a dick on top of her grave.

Her family unveiled the completed monument — a 5-and-a-half-foot-tall cock and balls weighing nearly 600 pounds — mounted on her tomb at a cemetery in Mexico this past weekend as a “recognition of her love and joy for life.”..

“She always said, in the Mexican sense, that we were vergas,” said Mota Limón.

There are few words in Mexican slang as dynamic as “verga,” which is perhaps best translated in English as “cock” due to its general use as a profanity. Depending on how it’s phrased, “verga” can be a brutal insult, telling someone to go fuck themselves (vete a la verga) or that they’re not worth shit (vales verga). Or it can be a compliment, a badge of honor, that if something is “verga,” it’s cool or badass.

Doña Cata often used it with that sort of colloquial pride when referring to the members of her family as vergas, according to her grandson; that they were people of moral fortitude, with “integrity, courage, passion, and at the same time, love and joy,” said Mota Limón.
The story continues at Vice.

The earth as "one large living organism"

"Soon after he graduated in 1909, Aldo Leopold headed to the Southwest to take a job with the U.S. Forest Service—the new federal agency charged with the equally new task of “wildlife management.” For Leopold and his colleagues, managing wildlife meant, among other things, killing creatures deemed undesirable by ranchers, farmers, and hunters. Few were deemed more undesirable—or made for more exciting targets for young men with guns—than wolves. “In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf,” Leopold remembered some decades later in his book A Sand County Almanac.

So when Leopold and a companion spotted an old she-wolf and her half-dozen pups tangling playfully on a steep hillside, the men started “pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy. . . . When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.” As the men moved closer to size up what they had done, something unexpected and arresting happened. As Leopold recalled:
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
This gaze into the eyes of the other, this glimpse of an animal’s spirit, became a foundational moment in the history of ecological consciousness. Leopold’s account of the dying wolf went on to describe the calamitous consequences of exterminating the entire species: mountains denuded of every edible tree and bush by proliferating deer, rangeland turned into dust bowls by overgrazing cattle. The eradication of the wolf would upset the balance of nature...

From a biologist, he learns about holobionts—“collaborative compound organisms, ecological units ‘consisting of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that coordinate the task of living together and sharing a common life.’ ” None of this would be news, Macfarlane notes, to indigenous peoples, whose animistic traditions postulate a symbiotic relationship with their jungle or woodland environs.

Consider a common origin tale throughout the world: In the beginning, everything was mixed up with everything else. All living things inhabited a world without boundaries. Identities were fluid, species and sexes interchangeable. All was in constant flux, until a trail of cosmic accidents led to tension and eventual separation between women and men, humans and animals, gods and mortals. After this fragmentation, earthly creatures continued to inhabit an animated universe, where rocks, trees, plants, and animals were all ensouled with a mysterious force or spirit—what anthropologists would call manitou, or mana—a force that kept the fragments from flying apart...

One reason many scientists have disdained the animist view in the past was that it acknowledges that organisms help make their environments, as opposed to merely adapting to them. The idea that organisms can participate in their own evolution has come to be known as “niche construction”...

In recent decades, epigenetics have made more ambitious claims than niche construction theory, suggesting that changes in an organism’s environment may actually have effects on its DNA... Nearly all cells possess the biochemical tools for changing their DNA, and they use them “responsively, not purely randomly,” as the historian Jessica Riskin has put it. No gene, it has begun to appear, is an island...

And a clearer understanding of our relationship to nature demands a sensitivity to the ways that organisms engage with the contingent circumstances of their environment on historical scales. For humans, that environment includes religions and ideologies and economic systems as well as air and soil and water...
Excerpts from The Power of the Dog in Harper's, which is in turn an excerpt from Animal Spirits by Jackson Lears, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

06 September 2023

Autumn foliage in farm country

I snapped this photo from my car while running an errand today.  Those who live in the upper Midwest will recognize that this is a field of soybeans.  The scene reflects a pragmatic reality rather than a bliss-ful one.

In which arm should you get your COVID booster ?

When I saw that title on an article, I thought how silly... then I read the text in the journal eBioMedicine [part of The Lancet].
Both ipsilateral and contralateral vaccination induce a strong immune response, but secondary boosting is more pronounced when choosing vaccine administration-routes that allows for drainage by the same lymph nodes used for priming. Higher neutralizing antibody activity and higher levels of spike-specific CD8 T-cells may have implications for protection from infection and severe disease and support general preference for ipsilateral vaccination... The observed differences in immunogenicity may result from the fact that priming and secondary boosting of the immune response after ipsilateral vaccination occurs in the same draining axillary lymph nodes with limited involvement of the contralateral side. Conceptually, this is supported by 18F-FDG PET/CT studies among BNT162b2-vaccine recipients demonstrating that the ipsilateral lymph nodes on the side where the vaccine had been applied were significantly larger in size and showed higher metabolic activity compared to the contralateral lymph nodes...
Makes sense.  Now if I can only remember in which arm I got my primary vaccines.


This is the "state photograph" for the state of Minnesota.  I've seen it in so many places, including a home I visited a couple weeks ago, so I decided to look it up.  The photo has an interesting story in Wikipedia:
The original photograph was taken at [Eric] Enstrom's photography studio in Bovey, Minnesota. Most sources indicate 1918 as the year... The man depicted in the photograph is Charles Wilden, who earned a meager living as a peddler and lived in a sod house. While the photograph conveys a sense of piety to many viewers, according to the Enstrom family's story, the book seen in the photo is actually a dictionary. However Wilden wrote "Bible" on the waiver of rights to the photo which he signed in exchange for payment, giving credence to the idea that, even if the actual prop used was a dictionary, it was a proxy representing a bible in the photograph. Likewise, local stories about Wilden "centered more around drinking and not accomplishing very much", than religious observation.
The concept of saying a brief prayer before a meal spans many religions; the term "grace" comes from the Ecclesiastical Latin phrase gratiarum actio, "act of thanks."   Wikipedia offers examples of table grace prayers from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Bahai, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  Here is a depiction of grace in a seventeenth-century Dutch painting:

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging cap to reader Jeffo, who found this explanatory video about the photograph embedded above:

Addendum:  I'll add one anecdote about a grace-related event that occurred in my extended family.  One of my cousins adopted a Russian orphan, who arrived in this country as a toddler needing to learn both the language and the customs of her new home.  One evening the family turned to her at the dinner table and asked "Vika, would you please say grace before dinner tonight?"  The little girl thought a moment, folded her hands and said "Dear God, thank you for... soup.  Thank you for... grandfather... Bon appetit!"  The response around the dinner table was one of merriment, followed by a quick reassurance to Vika that there was nothing "wrong" with that grace - it was just one they hadn't heard before.  And to this day (30 years later) when you have dinner with the now widely dispersed members of that family, some table graces may be appended with "Bon appetit" and a retelling of that treasured tale.

04 September 2023

"Loon Lessons"

So much to learn.  So little time.  Herewith some gleanings from what I thought was a very interesting book.
"Their legs are so specialized for diving and positioned so far aft that standing, let along walking, is nearly impossible; hence, the adoption of the Scandinavian word for "clumsy," lom or lumme, which stuck as their common name."

"Loons differ from other similar diving birds... they are unique, or monophyletic, in that they have been on their own evolutionary trajectory for more than 50 million years..."

"Have you ever noticed that the great majority of white birds have black wing tips?... Now, have you pondered that essentially all diving birds are black?.. What is the connection between the two?  Melanin does more than color the feather; it makes the feather stronger and more resistant to wear..."

"The skull of a loon is unusually thick and heavy for a bird; this allows it to descend with less effort.  Also, many of a loon's bones are solid rather than mostly hollow, or pneumatic, as found in most birds... a Bald Eagle is 20-25% larger than a loon yet weighs about the same (8 to 11 pounds)."

Marine birds (puffins, albatrosses) have a salt-excreting gland above each eye that produces a solution 1.5x as salty as seawater (to aid the kidneys).  Loons share this adaptation (because they winter in the oceans).  These glands are deactivated by ocean oil spills, which thus devastate marine birds.  Here is a map of the summer (dark) and winter coastal (cross-hatched) ranges for loons:

It was a sobering realization for me, after seven decades summering with loons, to learn at my age for the first time that these birds overwinter swimming in the ocean.  
"Loons are very comfortable in the open ocean... researchers have reported them 50-60 miles from shore." (depends on how far out the continental shelf extends - typically a couple hundred feet below the surface)

"There have been reports of loons caught in commercial fish nets set at 180-230 feet, which would take just over two minutes of dive time... their upper limit is likely closer to 5-6 minutes, with a maximum dive depth of 300 feet or more."

"Some chicks are born naked and helpless, a condition known as altricial, while others are born fully feathered and capable of feeding themselves, precocial (or superprecocial).  Loon chicks fall somewhere near or just above the middle of this range (subprecocial)... Loon parents have to be attentive to their young, especially during the first two weeks of their life..."

Loons lay two eggs  "A one-egg clutch is rare in the bird world, observed in only one group of birds, the tubenosed seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels."

"Botulism type E has caused periodic outbreaks of fish-eating bird mortality in the Great Lakes since the 1960s, but since the turn of the century, outbreaks have occurred more frequently... In a span of ten years, from 2000 to 2009, more than 20,000 loons died from type E botulism."

During migration, loons fly between 2,700 and 6,200 feet above ground level. Rapidly beating wings generate lots of heat, so it is advantageous to fly where the air is several degrees cooler.  With their narrow wings and heavy bodies, they lose elevation on the recovery stroke if they fly too slowly.  "To prevent this, loons beat their wings rapidly (more than 200 beats/minute), which increases flight speed.  Consequently, the optimal flight speed for loons is a fast 70-75 miles per hour, compares to 40-45 for smaller, aerodynamic ducks."

"If loons, like pigeons, can detect air pressure changes, then they may be able to move before a major storm hits, but they cannot fly during winter.  Loons undergo a winter wing molt that renders them flightless.  In all my work, I have never seen an adult Common Loon in flight during the months of December through February."
The author spent his entire professional life researching loons, so this book reads a bit like a graduate-level textbook, with lots of data and detail.  In addition to the excerpted topics above, there are chapters on anatomy, diet, social behavior, migration techniques, and of course the wails/yodels/tremolos.  It is effectively a "bible" of all one would want to know about loons, and thus perhaps TMI for the casual reader.  Conversely, it will be a treasured resource for serious "birders," and also for people who spend their summer afternoons relaxing at a lake "up north."

So, thank you Noel and Gregg for inviting me to your lake home this summer, and for the dinners of freshly-caught bass, sunnies, and walleye...

Baby hadrosaur

This digital illustration is based on a pair of hadrosauroid dinosaur eggs and embryos from China’s Upper Cretaceous red beds, dating back approximately 72 to 66 million years ago. It depicts an example of a “primitive” hadrosaur developing within the safety of its small egg. Submitted by Jordan Mallon. Restoration by Wenyu Ren.

Matching t-shirts

Via the MadeMeSmile subreddit.

"Meddling in Latin America"

An aspect of American foreign policy that is seldom publicly discussed (or even acknowledged):
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent member of Congress and leading voice of the American left, has called on the US government to issue an apology to Latin American countries for decades of meddling in their affairs and causing instability in the region...

In the 1950s and 1960s, the US helped overthrow Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz and Brazilian president João Goulart and made various attempts to assassinate Soviet-backed Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In the 1970s, Argentina and Chile launched brutal crackdowns against perceived socialist threats, often with US support.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s administration supported anti-communist Contra forces against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, backed the Salvadoran government against leftist rebels, invaded Grenada after accusing the government of aligning with Cuba and invaded Panama to oust dictator Manuel Noriega.

And in what became known as Operation Condor, eight US-backed military dictatorships – Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador – jointly plotted the cross-border kidnap, torture and murder of hundreds of their political opponents...

“I believe that we owe Chile, and not just Chile but many aspects of that region, an apology,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Guardian in an interview at her campaign headquarters in the Bronx. “I don’t think that apology indicates weakness; I think it indicates a desire to meet our hemispheric partners with respect...
More at The Guardian.

Word for the day: pappus

1. (botany) The markedly reduced sepals of an Asteraceae floret that take the form of trichomes or scale attached to the ovary or seed. 
2. The first hair on the chin.

Via Latin pappus from Ancient Greek πάππος (páppos), an affectionate term for elderly men (referencing beards). 

In Asteraceae, the pappus is the modified calyx,[citation needed] the part of an individual floret, that surrounds the base of the corolla tube in flower. It functions as a wind-dispersal mechanism for the seeds... The pappus of the dandelion has been studied and reproduced for a variety of applications. It has the ability to retain about 100 times its weight in water and pappus-inspired mechanisms have been proposed and fabricated which would allow highly efficient and specialized liquid transport. Another application of the pappus is in the use of minute airflow detection around walls which is important for measuring small fluctuations in airflow in neonatal incubators or to measure low velocity airflow in heating and ventilation systems.
Which leads to an even-more-obscure "two-dollar-word": anemochory :
From anemo- (“wind”) +‎ -chory (“seed dispersal”). [cf anemometer]

Continuing down the rabbit hole, Wiktionary has fifteen different words ending in -chory. (anthropochory, chiropterochory, gastropodochory, hydrochory, ornithochory, myrmecochory, thalassochory...).  You learn something every day.

01 September 2023

World championship 4x400 relay

I enjoy watching world-class championships in all sports.  One difference that has occurred in my lifetime is the utilization of mobile tracking cameras that allow viewing the athletes close-up to show, in this case, the remarkable running machine that is the human body.

Stella's best leaf jumps

My most recent linkdump included one of happy dogs in the "cheerful" section.  A tip of my blogging cap to reader Marc B, who spotted one happy dog in that compilation who has his own videos, one of which I've embedded above.  I'm impressed that this is a "best of" and a "volume 1."  And the monarch wings are a cute touch.  Go fullscreen, and turn the volume up to enjoy that classic sound.

A very unusual postage stamp design

It depicts concrete.  Furthermore, "to give the concrete wall depicted in the design a tactile dimension, cement pigments were added to the ultra-matte finish."  This stamp is part of a series that began with a depiction of canvas:

More information at Swiss Post, via Kottke.

The decline of China

Excerpts from an op-ed piece.  I have no idea whether the assertions are true or the predictions logical, but the implications are broad and serious.
The main challenge we will face from the People's Republic in the coming decade stems not from its rise but from its decline — something that has been obvious for years and has become undeniable in the past year with the country's real estate market crash...

A China that can buy less from the world — whether in the form of handbags from Italy, copper from Zambia or grain from the United States — will inevitably constrain global growth. For U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm, 64% of its sales last year came from China; for German automaker Mercedes-Benz, 37% of its retail car sales were made there...

Last month, Donald Trump described the rule of China's president, Xi Jinping, as "smart, brilliant, everything perfect." The truth is closer to the opposite. As a young man, according to a peer from his youth, Xi was "considered of only average intelligence," earned a three-year degree in "applied Marxism" and rode out the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath by becoming "redder than red." His tenure as supreme leader has been marked by a shift to greater state control of the economy, the intensified harassment of foreign businesses and a campaign of terror against independent-minded business leaders. One result has been ever-increasing capital flight, despite heavy-handed capital controls. China's richest people have also left the country in increasing numbers during Xi's tenure — a good indication of where they think their opportunities do and do not lie...

Xi's government's recent decision to suppress data on youth unemployment — just north of 21% in June, double what it was four years ago — is part of a pattern of crude obfuscation that mainly diminishes investor confidence... the real China story may lie in a version of what's sometimes called Tocqueville's paradox: the idea that revolutions happen when rising expectations are frustrated by abruptly worsening social and economic conditions...
More at the link. 

Tonsillectomy without anesthesia in Belarus

I've been debating whether to post this, because it will distress many viewers, so as I did with the last potentially offensive video, I'll embed it at the bottom of the post after these cautionary statements.
The video shows the tonsils being removed from a child, apparently in Belarus.  No anesthesia is used.  The child is restrained and under considerable emotional stress.  The medical staff are not speaking harshly or being intentionally cruel.  The procedure itself takes about one minute.  It is bloody.

This will be disturbing to some viewers.  On the other hand, this is real life.  This is how things are done in some parts of the world.  This is how this (and similar or worse) procedures were done in antiquity.

Remember the old adage: "what has been seen cannot be unseen" - then make your decision.
Addendum: Ninabi notes "...from airing this sad, scary video in Ireland, funds were raised for an anesthetic machine for this hospital."

Originally posted in 2010.  Reposted now because the post is continues to acquire interesting comments.

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