30 November 2008

Ninja cat


God help me, I don't want TYWKIWDBI to become a repository for cute cat videos - OfWhichThereSeemsToBeNoEnd. And "Ninja Cat" is not even new; it's been around for several months. On the other hand I do want to store things here that will be fun to revisit when I'm senile and have forgotten about them, perhaps in a couple years. So here it is. Anyone who has seen a ninja movie will recognize this stalking behavior. As will anyone who owns a cat.

Addendum: a sequel, filmed by someone else and entitled "Not-so-stealth Cat" is here.

Hillary as Secretary of State - forbidden by the Constituion?

Article One, Section Six of the Constitution prohibits congresspersons from taking a civil office if the legislator has voted to increase the pay for that job.

"No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time..."

Obama as a constitutional law professor must know this, and he probably knows how it has been evaded in the past (by Nixon, Carter, and Clinton) - by having the appointee receive the lower, unraised, salary.

But Andrew Malcomb, writing for the L.A.Times has a point when he notes that the Constitution doesn't say you can evade the rule in this fashion:
It flat-out prohibits taking the civil office if the pay has been increased during the would-be appointee's elected term. Period.
I'm sure Obama and the Congress will wiggle their way around this. Congress and presidents always try to ignore the Constitution when it is to their advantage to do so.

The twisted spire of St. Mary and All Saints


The scientific explanation is that the spire [Chesterfield, Derbyshire] was built in the 14th century, in the era of the Black Plague, when the available workforce of unskilled craftsmen used unseasoned wood to support the 50 tons of lead sheeting. When the lead expanded with a summer heat, the wood twisted into its current semi-helical appearance.

The public tends to favor a less prosaic and more picturesque explanation: that the tower bent itself trying to get a view of the incredible sight of a virgin getting married in the church below. If that should happen again, locals say the tower will straighten itself back up in astonishment.

(Image credit from here - cropped)

No acorns this year?

This fall as I was raking leaves I noticed very few acorns on the ground, and didn't think much about it until encountering this in the Washington Post today:
The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing...

A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.

"Once I started paying attention, I couldn't find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre."
Much more discussion at the link, including speculation as to whether this is a result of variations in the weather, or just a random anomaly.

I seem to remember reading somewhere, years ago, that oaks can cycle their acorn production as a survival tactic. If a group of oak trees puts out the same number of acorns each year, the acorn-eater (birds, squirrels, rodents, deer) population will increase to match the food supply. The way for the trees to reproduce successfully is to have a year with a superabundant crop that can't be consumed, or to have a year or two of diminished or absent production to decrease the acorn-eater population.

That's what I assumed was happening this year. But the WaPo article doesn't mention it, and I can't find that theory on a brief Google search.

Addendum: after seeing the reference to "masting" in the comment, I found this excellent link that discusses the phenomenon.

How to whistle an acorn


Brief but adequate instructions here or here. As a child I learned how to whistle using a blade of grass, but never knew it could be done with an acorn (cap).

The first real snowfall


In this part of the country, winter typically "teases" you a couple times with dustings of snow or evanescent flurries. Then a snowfall like this, with wet snow that sticks to the branches and makes the aspen trunks almost disappear. Since you know it will melt in a couple days, the snow becomes a thing of beauty. I'm sure I'll be less sanguine in a month or so when the depth is measured in feet and the temperatures are below zero.

The ethical standards of high school students

The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. All students in the selected schools were given the survey in class; their anonymity was assured.

Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls — 30 percent overall — acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative…

Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey...

Despite such responses, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."

(much more at the link, including theories about why this happens and whether it is significant)

Shopping bag fail


Image credit here.

Pink katydid


Not a hoax. And not a breast cancer awareness item.

Found at Metafilter.

Theatrical trailer for "A Christmas Story"


You can find (almost) all of the movie in segments on YouTube, but there's no need to go to that trouble? It will be on TV a dozen times between now and Christmas, and even though you've seen it three times, you will watch it again...

29 November 2008

A bleak Black Friday


I'm not sure whether the one with the red face is supposed to be a shopper or a business owner.

According to the Financial Times, Black Friday sales do NOT appear to be going well:
Hassan, whose pretzel cart has sat outside the Disney store on New York’s Fifth Avenue for almost 10 years, had never seen a Black Friday like it.

“Last year, I sold almost 1,000 breads. This year it’s only 100 or 150,” he said.

Up the road by FAO Schwarz, the queue stretched half way along the toy store. “Usually it’s all the way around the block,” said Ariel, manning a stand selling fluorescent paintings of nearby landmarks, who estimated his own sales were down 70 per cent…

The thin crowds allowed tourists to take photographs of each other posing in front of Tiffany & Co’s fir-lined windows and Bergdorf Goodman’s display of boxing polar bears without the inconvenience of having to wait for other shoppers to pass. Tiffany’s main floor was unusually calm.

Confronting the captains of industry


Barack Obama on Wednesday accused business leaders of being “tone deaf” about the economic challenges facing ordinary Americans and called on bank executives to forgo their Christmas bonuses.

Urging a new “ethic of responsibility” in US society, the president-elect said it was wrong for bankers who had gambled away other people’s money to be rewarded with huge bonuses.

In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC, he said: “If you are already worth tens of millions of dollars, and you are having to lay off workers, the least you can do is say ‘I’m willing to make some sacrifice’.”

Mr Obama also singled out leaders of the big three US carmakers for flying by private jets to a recent congressional hearing and questioned why they were receiving bigger salaries than their better-performing Japanese counterparts.

“I thought maybe they’re a little tone deaf to what’s happening in America right now,” he said, referring to the heads of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. “This has been a chronic problem ... for the captains of industry, generally.”

This is what the President of the United States should be saying publicly. If he's going to remain silent, it's reassuring to hear the President-elect stepping up to the plate.

On a related matter, see this post re responsible corporate leadership, and this one re the salary of a Japanese CEO.

Scanning electron micrographs





Top to bottom: snow crystal (!), pollen grains, moth's eye, moth's head.
Image credit here. Click to enlarge photos.

For those worried about their "carbon footprint"

Scientists say that a type of rock found at or near the surface in the Mideast nation of Oman and other areas around the world could be harnessed to soak up huge quantities of globe-warming carbon dioxide.

Their studies show that the rock, known as peridotite, reacts naturally at surprisingly high rates with CO2 to form solid minerals—and that the process could be speeded a million times or more with simple drilling and injection methods. The study appears in this week's early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Peridotite comprises most or all of the rock in the mantle, which undergirds earth's crust. It starts some 20 kilometers or more down, but occasionally pieces are exhumed when tectonic plates collide and push the mantle rock to the surface, as in Oman. Geologists already knew that once exposed to air, the rock can react quickly with CO2, forming a solid carbonate like limestone or marble...

Similarly large exposures of peridotite are known on the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Caledonia, and along the coasts of Greece and the former Yugoslavia; smaller deposits occur in the western United States and many other places...

How to run a business

CHICAGO - Dave Tiderman wondered if the decimal point was in the wrong place when he opened his $35,000 company bonus. Jose Rojas saw his $10,000 check and thought, "That can't be right."

Valentin Dima watched co-workers breaking down in tears over their bonus checks and didn't trust his emotions. He drove home first, then opened his envelope: $33,000.

Year-end bonuses are rare these days. Rarer still is what the Spungen family, owners of a ball bearings company in Waukegan, Ill., about 40 miles north of Chicago, did as they sold the business.

They gave out whopping thank-you bonuses.

A total of $6.6 million is being shared by just 230 employees of Waukegan-based Peer Bearing Co., with facilities in England and the United States. Amounts varied and were based on years of service.

With $100 million in sales last year, Peer recently was acquired by a Swedish company for an undisclosed amount. Danny Spungen, whose grandfather founded the company in 1941, said it was a unanimous family decision to thank employees with the bonuses.

He and other family members signed, by hand, two thank-you cards to each employee, one in Spanish and one in English. Each card was printed with all the workers' names and the years they were hired. The text expressed gratitude for "the loyalty and hard work of our employees over the years."

28 November 2008

Ice volcanos on a moon of Saturn



"Scientists continue to search for the cause of the geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The geysers are visible as a large plume of water vapor and ice particles escaping the moon...

What generates Enceladus' jets is a burning question in planetary science, because if liquid water is involved, Enceladus would be shown to have everything it needs, in theory, to provide a habitable environment.

…the new Cassini observations, however, do support a mathematical model developed in 2007, which treats the vents as nozzles that channel water vapor from a warm, probably liquid source, to the surface at supersonic speeds... only high temperatures close to the melting point of water ice could account for the large number of ice particles present in steady state in Enceladus' jets.

A liquid water source inside Enceladus, they said, could be similar to Earth's Lake Vostok, beneath Antarctica, where liquid water exists beneath the ice. In Enceladus' case, the ice grains would then condense from the vapor escaping from the water source and stream through cracks in the ice crust to the surface and out into space.

... Enceladus is a prime target for Cassini to study in its extended Equinox Mission. The presence of liquid water inside Enceladus would have major implications for future astrobiological studies on the possibility of life within icy bodies of the outer solar system..."

(image credit to APOD)

Chinese vs. British maths test questions




The Royal Society of Chemistry [offered in 2007] a £500 prize to the first person to solve the sort of Mathematics test set in Chinese university entrance examinations.

The society has also released a typical UK test to show how far advanced the Chinese are in preparing the next generation of scientists - or, rather, how far our standards have fallen behind other countries.

The approach adopted by the RSC appears to be based on a desire to provide convincing evidence for those that have continually claimed that our schools are no longer meeting the required standards in preparing students for the challenges of higher education. It adds weight to that familiar recent complaint that GCSE and A-Levels are getting easier - which is why average grades these days are so much higher.

The argument continues that as GCSE and A-Level gets easier, so universities have to lower their expectations and standards just to ensure they can actually fill places. In effect, the first 12 months at universities these days is spent getting UK students up to the standards that were required 10, 15, 20 and more years ago for first year undergraduates.

A reminder for those enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers



(upper) A well nourished Sudanese man steals maize from a starving child during a food distribution at Medecins Sans Frontieres feeding centre at Ajiep, southern Sudan, in 1998.

(lower) A Congolese child eats flour fallen from a broken sack of maize distributed by the World Food Program in Kiwanja on Nov. 15, 2008. This food relief is the first one to arrive in this town after clashes left scores dead and forced tens of thousands to flee.

Not lecturing... just reminding...

Car vs. bicyclists


Bicyclists lose. Image credit here.

Cat plays "Whack-a-mouse"


Found at Nothing to do with Arbroath.

Heavy glasses


...typing...must...use tongue....to adjust glasses

Image credit here, via I have seen the whole of the Internet (to whom text credit).

Jeep advertisement

Caucasian mummy in China - had 28 oz. of marijuana

The Caucasian mummies of central China are a fascinating story in their own right, and probably worth some additional blog posts in the future.
Cherchen Man, for example is obviously caucasoid, 6'6" tall (and Cherchen woman also over 6' in height), wearing brightly colored and expertly woven woolens; they were living in this area north of Tibet in about 1000 B.C. Many Chinese living in this area today have blonde or red hair and blue eyes.
This is the first I've heard about psychoactive agents being found with mummies in that region, although it's not at all surprising that the material would have travelled along the Silk Road.
The cache of cannabis is about 2,700 years old and was clearly ``cultivated for psychoactive purposes," rather than as fibre for clothing or as food, says a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China...

Remnants of cannabis have been found in ancient Egypt and other sites, and the substance has been referred to by authors such as the Greek historian Herodotus. But the tomb stash is the oldest so far that could be thoroughly tested for its properties...

The marijuana was found to have a relatively high content of THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, but the sample was too old to determine a precise percentage.

Researchers also could not determine whether the cannabis was smoked or ingested, as there were no pipes or other clues in the tomb of the shaman, who was about 45 years old...

The region of China where the tomb is located, Xinjiang, is considered an original source of many cannabis strains worldwide.

Hair in space


(image credit here)

Followup on the Saskatchewan meteor


The dashcam video of the falling meteor was very impressive. Now, thanks to triangulation from hundreds of observers/cameras, the location of the impact of fragments from the 20-ton meteor has been reasonably narrowed down to an area in western Saskatchewan inside the Edmonton/Saskatoon/Calgary triangle.

TYWKIWDBI gets visitors every week from that area. If you live in that area, get out your metal detectors and note the following:
... many rocks the size of a football or bigger are expected in addition to the more numerous small ones. Larger meteorites will have plunged into the ground if at all soft, making small pits with the meteorites at the bottom. Meteorites of common asteroids will have a dark gray or black coating covering their dimpled surface, be denser than the average rock, and will weakly attract a magnet, but other types of meteorites are possible.

The meteorites are expected to be scattered across a strewnfield approximately eight km long and three km wide with the larger stones to the southeast. Noting that they have a substantial commercial value, Hildebrand also advises that meteorites are the property of the landowner where they fall. [Google map here]

Wedding dance


Found at Arbroath.

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving


The characters from Sesame Street are also enjoying this holiday.
All except one of them...

26 November 2008

A magnificent book of butterfly photographs






The top image is a macro closeup of the scale pattern on a butterfly wing; it exemplifies the attention to minute detail in Thomas Marent's book Butterfly. This is a large, heavy, classic "coffee-table" book dominated by photographs - full page and even two-page images, many of which are breathtaking.

The text of the book is interesting and reasonably comprehensive, but is clearly secondary to the visual spectacle - 500 photos of tropical and nontropical butterflies, moths, caterpillars, chrysalids, cocoons, and even eggs. Top to bottom above: the book cover, the cleverly-named "89" butterfly (that's it's real name), defensive spines on a caterpillar, "eyespots" on wings, and a macro image of an eyespot. You can explore more photos and find out more about the author and his other books at his website.

Overall the book is very much like its "oceanic" counterpart The Deep, which I reviewed 6 months ago. It is available from Amazon (where it is mistakenly called a "reference" book; it's not - it's a picture book); for $30 it would probably make a nice Xmas gift if you know someone interested in the natural world. Otherwise just get it from your library for a few evenings of pleasant browsing.

Get your prostate checked


This week I celebrated my sixth anniversary since successful radical surgery for locally invasive prostate cancer. If you're of the appropriate gender and over age 50 (or younger with a positive family history), have your physician check your PSA. There's no excuse not to. It can save your life. It saved mine.

A tip for those using the LIFE photo archives

Many bloggers have been taking advantage of the fact that Google has placed online 10 million photos from the files of LIFE magazine.

I was surprised and a bit disappointed when I first used the archive, because the search engine would only retrieve a maximum of 200 images for any request. I have subsequently discovered a way to circumvent that restriction.

A search for "Minnesota" retrieves the max 200 images. Many of those are of sports teams. So I redo the search and subtract "vikings" - it still retrieves 200 images. Subtract "Twins" - still 200. Subtract "university" - still 200.

It's the same for any broad search. "President" retrieves only 200, but "president source:life -eisenhower -kennedy -nixon -ford -truman" also retrieves 200 photos.

It's a way to dig deeper into their archives.

CF deleted from campus charity drive for "diversity" reasons

The Carleton University [Ottawa] Students' Association has voted to drop a cystic fibrosis charity as the beneficiary of its annual Shinearama fundraiser, supporting a motion that argued the disease is not "inclusive" enough.

Cystic fibrosis "has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men" said the motion read Monday night to student councillors, who voted almost unanimously in favour of it.

Riding a cow through the snow


Photo taken in Minnesota's Northwest Angle in 1950.

Since we'll never have another occasion to mention this topic, the Northwest Angle is that little pointy part of Minnesota that sticks into Canada and is the northernmost part of the contiguous lower 48 states. You can only reach it by going through Canada, because it is separated from the rest of Minnesota by Lake of the Woods. The population at the last census was 152 in a 600 square mile area (including the water).

I have no idea why someone was riding a cow there in 1950.

US Air pilot refuses to fly with sikhs on board

"Three eminent Sikh religious musicians were thrown out of a US Airways flight after the pilot refused to fly with them onboard in California... The three had boarded the plane in Sacramento on November 15 after being cleared by security...

The three... were sitting together in the rear of the aircraft, in their assigned seats. After having been on the plane for approximately ten minutes, they were approached by one of the ticket-reception desk workers and asked to exit the plane.

While none of the three could adequately comprehend or speak English, the group complied and exited the aircraft... The interpreter informed Iqbal Singh, on behalf of the US Airways representatives, that the pilot was refusing to fly if they were onboard the aircraft, it added."

(If I were president of that airline, that pilot would be unemployed effective tomorrow.)

Dial "M" for murder...


Seized by Italian police during a raid on a Mafia gang, the "cell phone" is a gun which holds four .22 bullets.

The gun is triggered by pressing the keypad, and the bullets exit through the "antenna."

Title credit (and additional pix) at Mail Online, via Tell Me Something I Don't Know.

Kazoo


Amy Gordon, from Melbourne, deploys a kazoo to her nether regions, then proceeds to perform "America the Beautiful." Sort of a modern female counterpart to Le Pétomane.

Somewhat naughty, but visually SFW.

25 November 2008

African tigerfish


From the Congo River.

Man with "revolving head"


"Revolving-head man Martin Laurello, turning his in complete opposite direction as he takes a glass of beer fr. a bartender which he is able to drink while maintaining this freakish position at party held for Robert Ripley's oddities."

Postmen on scooters


Image from Shorpy, where the discussion thread indicates that the contraptions were Autoped Ever-Ready scooters, with a two-and-a-half horsepower motor built into that wheel, and reportedly capable of 20mph and 100 mpg. Gasoline stored in the handle(!) - clever.

Almost a century later, and we now have the electric 15 mph "Razor." That's a distressing lack of improvement for such a long time in an innovative country. Of course, there are other modern scooters that might provide a more advantageous comparison.

More interesting words from the OED

(A continuation of yesterday's post reviewing Ammon Shea's book "Reading the OED")

Lipoxeny – “The deserting of a host by the parasites that have been living on it.” The author (and the OED) suggest that the host-parasite relationship is a botanical one, but when I encountered the word, the first image that came to my mind was that of Thomas Beckett's corpse cooling on the floor of the cathedral, and his clothing rippling with the departure of his body lice. More on that some other time. Maybe.

Natiform – “buttock-shaped”

Noceur – “A dissolute and licentious person; a person who stays up late at night.”

Paracme – “The point at which one’s prime is past.”

Petricore – “The pleasant loamy smell of rain on the ground, especially after a long dry spell.” It's curioius that such a complex image should be synthesized into one word, but it's a wonderful word to have. Curiously, the word was created as recently as 1964, so it's not in my compact OED.

Postvide – “To make plans for an event only after it has occurred.” Note that the original meaning of "provide" is “to make provision for beforehand.” To "postvide" is therefore basically to close the barn door after the cows have escaped.

Redeless – “Not knowing what to do in an emergency.” Thus the antonym of “savoir faire,” which originally meant “knowing what to do in an emergency.”

Ruffing – “The stomping of feet as a form of applause.” "Ruff" is one of those short coarse Anglo-Saxon type words that can have lots of meanings as a noun or a verb; in this case the sense derives from the verb describing the beating of a drum.

Sarcast- “A write or speaker who is sarcastic.” Self-evident; the cool part is that the Greek root "sarkazein" means “to tear flesh like dogs.”

Sequacious – “Prone to following the thoughts and opinions of others in a fashion that is slavish and unreasoning.” In modern parlance that would be... a “dittohead.”

Ultracrepidarian – “One who offers advice or criticism in maters beyond his scope; an ignorant or presumptuous critic.” In other words... a blogger!!

Electricity generated from falling water


But not in the way you would think. In the setup shown in the video, ordinary water drips from a common reservoir through two bottomless paintcans into two metal wastebaskets. As the process continues, a potential difference of 10-20,000 volts is generated and finally discharged via a spark.

The arrangement is known as a "Kelvin Electrostatic Generator" and would have been the sensation of any reputable alchemist in medieval times. It's still impressive today.

I found the video at the curiously-named and interesting ChocolateChipCookiesRock blog.

The joys of exploring the OED


My acquaintance with the Oxford English Dictionary began in college when my part-time job was as a librarian, manning the checkout desk. Near my desk was the multivolume, red-bound 1960s version. When students weren’t using the library (which was quite frequently), I had the satisfaction of being paid $1.50/hour while browsing through the OED.

It was probably 5 years or so later that the compact edition was released – 16,000 pages compressed using such an unimaginably small font that I needed the magnifying glass even when I was younger. It was one of my first book purchases when I was in graduate school, and I have kept that compact OED in my office ever since.

So it was with some interest that this year I encountered a flurry of online reviews of a book entitled Reading the OED. One Man, One Year, 21,730 pages, by Ammon Shea (Penguin Books, NY, 2008). Our library had 4 copies and only 6 requests, so it was available rather quickly.

I'm probably one of the few reviewers to offer an unenthusiastic assessment of the book. As a scholarly work, it's frankly underwhelming. It's a quick read - only 223 pages in a relatively large font, with a dozen pages left totally blank (when I see that I always suspect publishers of padding, but perhaps there’s a typographical reason for needing to start each chapter on the recto rather than the verso.)

The book is formatted into 26 chapters (you can guess the chapter titles), each with 3-4 pages of seemingly random thoughts about books, dictionaries, lexicographers, or the author’s often curmudgeonly approach to his personal life. If you want to learn about the OED itself, there are better sources, including Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, or perhaps his The Meaning of Everything.

The principal value in Shea's book is his selection of interesting words – again 3-4 pages per chapter with a couple dozen words accompanied by abbreviated definitions. Even here the author inserts a rather misanthropic view of interpersonal relationships, especially with regard to children. But the words themselves are a joy to encounter. As Shea acknowledges, these are not words to “know” in the sense that one would want to use them in conversation or even in writing; there’s satisfaction enough in just knowing the words exist.

Herewith some of my favorites...

Agathokakological – “made up of both good and evil.” Which prompted me to look up the “agatha” part, because obviously the “kako” part was the evil (think “caca”). And sure enough, there it was in Greek: alpha/gamma/alpha/theta/omicron/sigma = good. From which an “agathodemon” is a good deity, and “agathism” is the idea that everything tends toward a good outcome [interestingly, not the same as “optimism” which implies that all things are CURRENTLY for the best – I never knew that]. And of course this new knowledge gives me an appreciation for Agatha Christie’s parents’ naming skills.

Ambisinistrous – “having two left hands; clumsy.” The literal (but unappreciated) opposite of “ambidextrous” which is used as “skilled with both hands” but etymologically means both hands are right hands.

Apricity – “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Because “apricate” is Latin for “to bask in the sun.”

Atrate – “one dressed in black.” One dressed in scarlet is “coccinate” and in purple is “porpate.”

Balaamite – “one who is religious for the sake of monetary gain.”

Bayard – “a person armed with the self-confidence of ignorance.” I certainly would like to work this into a blog post. Wish I had known about it during the pre-election season.

Consenescence – “growing old together.” A wonderful term applicable to marital bliss if one ignores the second meaning of “general decay.”

-ee suffixes – a "beatee" is someone who has been beaten, boree is one who is bored, a "flingee" is a person at whom something is flung, a "gazee" one who is stared at, and a "laughee" someone who is laughed at. With Thanksgiving coming later this week, remember that a “sornee” is “one who has been sponged upon by others for free food or lodging.”

Gobemouche – “one who believes anything, no matter how absurd.” Definitely blogworthy.

(more later. It's getting late)

24 November 2008

Meet Orthoceras



I purchased a sample at our local rock/gem/mineral show this weekend. Orthoceras was an extinct cephalopod genus - the forerunner of today's nautilus - from the Ordovidian and Devonian periods 400 million years ago, after which time it died off in a worldwide cataclysm that can probably be blamed on global warming or George W. Bush, although I've not seen any proof.

My specimen (top photo) is a fist-sized, polished slab from Morocco with a jet black matrix which has two Orthoceras shells embedded in it. The difference from the modern Nautilus is that the latter has the classic intricately spiral shell, while that of Orthoceras is straight ("ortho" - "straight").

As I Googled the critters, I kept running into websites offering specimens with extraordinary claims such as the following:
Metaphysically, they are used to enhance telepathy, to both heighten and supplement ones accomplishments on business and to instill quality and excellence within ones environment. This stone can stimulate the thymus, for the treatment of atrophy and disorders of the skeletal system, hands and feet.
My thymus involuted decades ago, but enhancing my telepathy wouldn't be bad, and I'd particularly appreciate treating atrophy of the feet since I'm a post-polio survivor, but of course it's all utter hogwash. Crystals and minor gemstones were of course co-opted by the "New Age" movement decades ago, but now it appears some alternative medicine practitioners have expanded their claims to the world of fossils.

I truly don't understand what kind of person it is who actually believes that a fossil will "enhance" their "telepathy" and "supplement" their business accomplishments while stimulating their thymus. Are these religious people? Unreligious? Educated? I suppose its harmless, but it's a bit sad in this modern era to see such primeval concepts still persisting.

Find out where your username is registered

Interesting, though perhaps not fully accurate. At this link you can enter a username that you employ on the web. The engine there then searches 70 websites (Blogger, Digg, eBay, Flickr, MySpace, Tumblr, Twitter, etc etc) to see at which sites that username has been employed - either by you or by someone else.

Several of the sites that gave positive "hits" for one of my usernames turned out to be negative for that name when I went there directly. I don't know if this was a random glitch or a systematic fault.

Your tax money at work... naming the NY Mets stadium

d
Citigroup/Citibank was just granted a bailout using our tax money. They will now be able to follow through on their commitment to spend $20,000,000 per year for the next 20 years ($400 million) to have their name on the baseball stadium for the NY Mets.

That's our money. To put their name on a stadium. I can't be the only person outraged by this. So why does the Bush administration allow this to happen? Can't they just say NO!??

Egregiously bad writing

I found these sentences posted somewhere long ago, supposedly as examples of poor writing by "high school students." It's not that. Most or all of them are a bit too clever to be simple mistakes. They could be entries in the annual Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest. Whatever. They're still fun to read...

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a ThighMaster.

The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.

Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.

She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe.

The sunset displayed rich, spectacular hues like a JPEG file at 10 percent cyan, 10 percent magenta, 60 percent yellow and 10 percent black.

CEO of Japan Air Lines


Earns 90K/year (less than his pilots). During the economic downturn he cut his perks, then his salary. Comments at Reddit thread will probably anticipate your own reaction.

Cat pursuing its leash


I've tried not to blog any LOLcats or funny cat videos. Really tried. But sometimes the cosmos lobs something your way and you have to swing at it. Almost a feline ouroboros.

If you have any doubts re the state of the economy...

PLATTEVILLE, Colo. -- A farm couple got a huge surprise when they opened their fields to anyone who wanted to pick up free vegetables left over after the harvest -- 40,000 people showed up.

Joe and Chris Miller's fields were picked so clean Saturday that a second day of gleaning -- the ancient practice of picking up leftover food in farm fields -- was canceled Sunday. " 'Overwhelmed' is putting it mildly," Chris Miller said. "People obviously need food."

She said she expected 5,000 to 10,000 people to show up Saturday to collect free potatoes, carrots and leeks. Instead, an estimated 11,000 vehicles snaked around cornfields and backed up more than two miles. About 30 acres of the 600-acre farm 37 miles north of Denver became a parking lot.

Miller said they opened the farm to the free public harvest after hearing reports of food being stolen from churches. It was meant as a thank-you for customers.

Iron Age torc discovered


A metal detector enthusiast discovered a 2,000-year-old golden neckband worth £350,000 while out looking for bits of Second World War aircraft.

Archaeologists believe the torc... was made by the Iceni tribe, once headed by Boudica, which had its power base in present-day East Anglia.... described the Newark torc as "probably the most significant find of Iron Age Celtic gold jewellery made in the last 50 years".

It was buried in a pit in a similar fashion to its East Anglian counterparts, "possibly as an offering to the gods. It shows an incredibly high level of technological skill in working the metal and a really high level of artistry. It is an extraordinary object."
My posts mocking bureaucratic ineptitude often arise from stories in the U.K., but I have to give that country credit for an enlightened approach to the handling of ancient treasure finds. In most countries such discoveries find their way into a black market and into private hands away from public view or academic study. Not so in the U.K.:
He made £175,000 when he sold it to Newark and Sherwood District Council, under a provision of the Treasure Act 1996 that ensures the finder receives half its estimated value. The land owner got the other half... "Since the implementation of the Treasure Act in 1996 - which ruled that finders and landowners will be eligible for rewards for finds - museums have reported a ten-fold increase in the treasure items offered to them."

23 November 2008

Kunstformen der Natur



The "Artforms of Nature" were drawn by Ernst Haeckel in the 19th century. He was a "German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology, including phylum, phylogeny, ecology and the kingdom Protista."

The images above are from his book of lithographs, the 100 detailed plates of which are stored at this Wiki page. Click them to enlarge and enjoy at fullscreen detail.

Dairy case from the 1950s


This was one of the featured photos at Shorpy today (you can always click Shorpy images to enlarge and examine).

What struck me was not how cheap the eggs were then, but how little they have changed. This image is from "the 1950s" so we'll say 55 years. At that time eggs were about 3c each. Today we buy our eggs in packs of 18 for 10c each. From those data I would guesstimate a compound rate of increase of 3%.

If you plug that 1950s egg price into the Consumer Price Index calculator to see what it would be in current dollars, it should be 23c per egg now. I presume today's relatively lower price reflects automation and corporate farming.

Beware of Greeks bearing... bags of flour


This video is posted on many websites, almost always without explanation. A Google search finally yielded the following:
Clean Monday (March 10th) marks the first day of Orthodox Lent in Greece. Although there’s still an atmosphere of carnival on the streets, only “pure” food is eaten.

Galaxidi, a city located 200 km/124 miles from Athens, is home to an annual flour war. The “war” is a long kept tradition which happens every year on the first day of Lent.

Given the messiness of the war, Clean Monday is not exactly a good word for it though. Every year, for the past 200 years, residents and visitors spend their day bombarding everyone with bags of colored flour. Because the dye in the flour leaves nasty stains, the old buildings in the town are covered in plastic sheets. No one seems to be spared so if you plan to visit Galaxidi this time of the year, just remember that getting colored flour all over yourself is not as idyllic as it might seem.
Der Spiegel reports that the festival is also cleverly known as "alevromoutzouromata" or "people throw flour at each other."
The flour fight dates back to the very beginning of the 19th century, according to the Greek tourism bureau. Villagers began celebrating Carnival in defiance of the Ottoman occupiers, painting their faces with ash and dancing in decorous circles, one for women, one for men.
It's not quite as spectacular as the "Rouketopolemos" (Greek Рουκετοπόλεμος, literally Rocket-War) held annually at Easter in the town of Vrontados.

Miracle-Gro should NOT be used as shampoo


"Marie Doro (May 25, 1882 - October 9, 1956) was an American stage actress and film actress of the early silent film era of the 1910 through the early 1920s. Today she is remembered with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame." (Public domain Library of Congress image found here)

The U.S. nuclear "secret unlock code" was... 00000000


Those of you who are embarrassed to admit that your passwords for most sites are not robust enough may be able to take some comfort from this admission about events during the height of the Cold War. In the 1960s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, concerned about nuclear security, had "technical locks" placed on the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles to prevent unauthorized deployment.
The Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha quietly decided to set the “locks” to all zeros in order to circumvent this safeguard. During the early to mid-1970s, during my stint as a Minuteman launch officer, they still had not been changed. Our launch checklist in fact instructed us, the firing crew, to double-check the locking panel in our underground launch bunker to ensure that no digits other than zero had been inadvertently dialed into the panel. SAC remained far less concerned about unauthorized launches than about the potential of these safeguards to interfere with the implementation of wartime launch orders. And so the “secret unlock code” during the height of the nuclear crises of the Cold War remained constant at 00000000.
Found at Reddit, where the discussion thread also revealed that in that same era, the British RAF's nuclear bombs were armed by using a bicycle lock key...
To arm the weapons you just open a panel held by two captive screws - like a battery cover on a radio - using a thumbnail or a coin.

Inside are the arming switch and a series of dials which you can turn with an Allen key to select high yield or low yield, air burst or groundburst and other parameters.

The Bomb is actually armed by inserting a bicycle lock key into the arming switch and turning it through 90 degrees. There is no code which needs to be entered or dual key system to prevent a rogue individual from arming the Bomb.
The bomb in the header is not a Minuteman missile or an RAF bomb. It is the nuclear fission device AN602 - Kuzkina Mat - being washed by some cleaning women.

Cautionary video from Afghanistan


Rock blocks road. Removed by explosive.

The local wasps then present a vivid allegory of how natives react when you mess around with their territory.

A reminder of why we celebrate Thanksgiving




The photos show homes being destroyed during the California wildfires.

Image credit to the Boston.com Big Picture. Click images to enlarge.

I remember where I was on 11/22/63



Not hunkered down on the grassy knoll, like this couple who are shielding their kids. I was at a debate tournament in suburban Minneapolis and couldn't locate my debate coach until I walked out to the parking lot and found him sitting in his car listening to the radio with tears in his eyes.
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