31 July 2009

Simians





More pix from the impressive set at Widelec.

Light converted into matter - and back into light!

Lene Hau has already shaken scientists' beliefs about the nature of things... in 1998, Hau, for the first time in history, slowed light to 38 miles an hour, about the speed of rush-hour traffic...

Two years later, she brought light to a complete halt in a cloud of ultracold atoms... In the experiment, a light pulse was slowed to bicycle speed by beaming it into a cold cloud of atoms. The light made a "fingerprint" of itself in the atoms before the experimenters turned it off. Then Hau and her assistants guided that fingerprint into a second clump of cold atoms. And get this - the clumps were not touching and no light passed between them.

"The two atom clouds were separated and had never seen each other before," Hau notes. They were eight-thousandths of an inch apart, a relatively huge distance on the scale of atoms.

The experimenters then nudged the second cloud of atoms with a laser beam, and the atomic imprint was revived as a light pulse. The revived light had all the characteristics present when it entered the first cloud of atomic matter, the same shape and wavelength. The restored light exited the cloud slowly then quickly sped up to its normal 186,000 miles a second...

She is coolly confident that light-to-matter communication networks, codes, clocks, and guidance systems can be made part of daily life. If you doubt her, remember she is the person who stopped light, converted it to matter, carried it around, and transformed it back to light.

Nature is foreclosing on homes in Detroit




Photos by James D. Griffioen. Via BoingBoing.

"High-frequency" stock trading

The term doesn't refer to the (now old-fashioned) "day trading," where traders would establish and liquidate positions several times per day. "High-frequency" now refers to computerized programs that buy and then sell within seconds... or milliseconds...
The collection of computer-automated, high-speed trading technologies and techniques that are typically lumped under the heading of "high-frequency trading" (HFT) have been around for a while, but HFT has recently become heavily identified with the banking giant Goldman Sachs, which dominates some aspects of it on the New York Stock Exchange...

Only about three percent of the trading volume on the NYSE is actually carried out by means of traditional "open outcry" trading, where flesh-and-blood humans gather to buy and sell securities. The other 97 percent of NYSE trades are executed via electronic communication networks (ECNs), which, over the past ten years, have rapidly replaced trading floors as the main global venue for buying and selling every asset, derivative, and contract...

The real issue is that when the average retail investor gets an E*Trade account and tries to play the stock market, she typically has no idea that she's going up against the market equivalent of IBM's chess grandmaster-thumping supercomputer, Deep Blue...

What the vast majority of these algos have in common is that they are not long-term, buy-and-hold "investors" in the classic sense. Rather, they focus on executing as many trades per second as possible and on turning a small profit (often pennies or fractions of a penny) on each trade...

At least two different groups, the TABB Group and FIXProtocol, estimate that high-frequency trading generated around $20 billion in profits for the financial sector last year. Goldman Sachs accounts for some 20 percent of global high-frequency trading activity, and the bank recently had a blow-out quarter in which its HFT-heavy trading operation racked up a record number of days where profits topped $100 million...

At the back of everyone's mind is the 1987 program trading crash, described by Richard Bookstaber in A Demon of our Own Design. In the run-up to October of 1987, all of the major market participants had been using essentially the same computer-automated algorithm to hedge their portfolio risk. On Black Monday (10/19/1987), all of the portfolio insurance programs started dumping assets in lock-step, in response to a particular set of inputs. This synchronized selling begat more synchronized selling, and by the time this giant, market-sized feedback loop was shut down by the closing bell, the Dow had lost almost 23 percent of its value in a single day.
I remember Black Monday. I was an active investor in 1987 and lost 10 months worth of profits over the course of three days. And through it all I slept like a baby*. The thought of what could happen nowadays, either triggered by normal human panic, a sudden catastrophe, or a deliberate hacking, scares the bejeezus out of me.

More details on how HFT works at the ars technica link. Via BoingBoing.

*(woke up every hour and cried)

Post-mortem photographs



Taking photographs of dead family members became popular in the 19th century, and appealed to those who wanted a memento of their relative (typically a child). It was not considered macabre, but faded from popularity probably after widespread use of affordable cameras allowed people to have photographs taken during life to serve the same purpose.
"As the common practice of post-mortem photography in North America and Western Europe has largely ceased, the portrayal of such images has become increasing seen as vulgar, sensationalistic and taboo. This is in marked contrast to the rather beautiful and sensitive presentation of its origins and may represent a cultural shift and wider social discomfort with death..."
Pix above found at Mr. Fox, via ofellabuta.

New kite-flying world record




Thousands of children gathered yesterday at a Mediterranean beach in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip in an effort to break the Guiness world record for most kites flying simultaneously.

6,000 children flew kites, clearly breaking the previous record of 967 set in Germany less than a year ago.

30 July 2009

TYWKIWDBI helps you cheat on your test



Your Rorschach test. The ten standard inkblots of the famous Rorschach have been posted at Wikipedia, along with the "answers" (the most common responses, made by presumably normal people."

Psychiatrists have their proverbial knickers in a twist:

"The more test materials are promulgated widely, the more possibility there is to game it..." He quickly added that he did not mean that a coached subject could fool the person giving the test into making the wrong diagnosis, but rather "render the results meaningless."

To psychologists, to render the Rorschach test meaningless would be a particularly painful development because there has been so much research conducted - tens of thousands of papers, by Dr. Smith's estimate - to try to link a patient's responses to certain psychological conditions.
Hat tip to Kottke.

Nature's equivalent of Star Wars' fighter jets


Remember in I think the first movie when the jets turned sideways to fly through narrow cracks? That's what I was reminded of when I saw a report in the Daily Mail of barn swallows navigating a 2-inch crack in a door at 35 mph. I've often looked out our back window and watched songbirds navigating through the branches of trees at high speed, but this example is even more impressive. Details and more pix at the link.

Beck: "Obama has a deep-seated hatred for white people"

I have friends who hold Glenn Beck in high regard, but it's gotten to the point where I can't view him as anything other than a prototypical wingnut. Consider this statement:
This president I think he has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep seated hatred for white people or the white culture, I don't know what it is, but you can't sit in a pew with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years and not hear some of that stuff and not have it wash over.
I won't sully this column by embedding the video, but you can view it at Intershame, which offers this commentary:
The cherry on top of this sundae of ignorance has to be the fact that Obama's mother is white. If we apply the transitive property to simpleton Beck's inane rambling we can deduce the following: Obama has a problem with white people and Obama's mother is white. Therefore Obama has a problem with his mother. Good luck trying to make that case.

Mattress dominoes


In terms of sheer silliness, this would probably come in a close second to the Knackebrod dance below.

Posted at P.O.V., via The Daily Dish.

The hands of Valentina Lisitsa...


...playing Rachmaninoff's Etude Op. 39 No. 6 "Little Red Riding Hood." The video and audio seem to be a few milliseconds out of synch, but there's no CG involved here; she is a well-known professional pianist from the Ukraine who has been playing piano since age three. You can view other performances on her YouTube channel.

Here she is playing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. I think it's impossible to listen to this piece without thinking of the movie "Brief Encounter."

The Knäckebröd dance (from Sweden)


"Talang 2009 - Knäckebrödsdansen, Några killar som dansar nakna med bara knäckebröd som skydd på Talang 2009 , jätterolig."
Four naked dancing Swedish boys who preserve their decency (if not their dignity) using Knäckebröd ("crisp bread").

Via Reddit.

How to check the financial health of your bank or credit union


This may be the most useful post I've offered in the "economics" category this year. The Minneapolis Star and Tribune has been running a series of articles about the consumer lending industry.

The first article discussed the small banks of Minnesota and how they got caught up in the hot real estate market of the state in recent years. Interestingly, as noted in the graphic above, Minnesota has more banks than California, Florida, or New York (because there are more small community banks and fewer large ones).
"Real estate is the cocaine of the banking business."

In Minnesota, regulators have seized and closed two banks since 2008 and have ordered 16 others to clean up their balance sheets. Another 65 of the state's 430 banks and thrifts are on a secret watch list, and state banking officials expect more to fail as they are pulled down by bad real estate loans.

Minnesota ranks fifth nationally, with 50, or 12 percent, of its banks carrying particularly high levels of dead real estate loans...
The second article in the series details credit unions, which nationwide have departed from their traditional role of conservative community lenders and embraced high-risk loans.
Like their banking rivals, however, some of this state's largest credit unions abandoned the conservative lending principles that long made them bastions of safety. They pursued bigger, riskier and more elaborate loan deals in markets far removed from their everyday customers. And they embraced the booming housing market with gusto, making some of the same exotic home loans that sank such giant institutions as Washington Mutual and Wachovia.
Those articles obviously focus on Minnesota, and according to Google analytics only 2% of TYWKIWDBI visits come from Minnesota, so the links that will be more useful to most readers are the ones below, which provided the source data for the Star Tribune articles:

This is the BankTracker home page, with links detailing the methodology used for analyzing the financial health of banks and credit unions.

Use this link to search for data on a bank in your state.

Use this link to search for data on a credit union in your state.

I discovered that one credit union I've been using has an inordinately high ratio of troubled assets, which probably explains why they are currently offering above-average rates on CDs, to attract new assets to help cover potential losses. Credit union members are covered by insurance from NCUA equivalent to bank insurance by FDIC. What most intrigues me is the prospect of more banks and credit unions failing during the upcoming year, and what influence such events will have on consumer confidence, and thus on the equity markets. As unemployment persists, even if it does not increase further, more and more loans are going to be falling into the "nonperforming" category, even if foreclosures are somehow avoided. I just can't see a V-shaped recovery from this recession, or even a "U." I think it's going to be a long-tailed "L."

Approximately 1/3 of TYWKIWDBI visits come from outside the United States. I have no sources to offer you, but please feel free to use the comment thread to share any useful links you may have with others from your country.

Image credit

29 July 2009

"The Death of Night"


Der Spiegel has a report on the struggle to prevent "light pollution" of the night sky.
People living in Germany no longer react with awe when they happen to look up at the sky on a clear night. Nothing twinkles in the heavens anymore, and most Germans are only familiar with the majestic appearance of the Milky Way from trips abroad...

In Germany, a truly dark sky is nowhere to be found. Andreas Hänel, an astronomer in the northwestern city of Osnabrück and head of a German dark-sky association, recently went looking for a place to view the stars in the eastern Alps. He was unable to find even a single spot that has remained completely protected from light smog.

Billions of insects die on streetlights each year or in the webs of the spiders that live on these lights in unnaturally large quantities. Many birds flying at night become confused by the light smog and collide with brightly lit high-rise buildings. Light-sensitive frogs stop their mating activity, thereby producing fewer or no offspring. Freshly hatched sea turtles crawl toward the light on streets instead of into the ocean. Salamanders remain hidden longer than usual, because of insufficient darkness, which deprives them of the time they need to search for food.
I occasionally camp out in northern Minnesota, far from the lights of any large city. I am recurrently amazed at the spectacle of the night sky. At my suburban home in southern Wisconsin I can see hundreds of stars, but when I'm on the shore of a northern lake and look up, the star count is multiplied by perhaps 50, the Milky Way is awesome, planets are visible, and meteors cross the sky.

I strongly encourage anyone who lives in an urban setting and vacations in a rural one to set an alarm clock for 0230 on a clear night, and to then step outside to see what you've been missing.

The photo is today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, depicting Devil's Tower (in Wyoming) against a background of a starry night. (lots of interesting pix to browse through at that site)

Is there anyone who doesn't like treasure stories?


Housewife finds £250,000 treasure with metal detector
Mrs Hannaby, 57, from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, made the discovery while out on one of her regular six-hour Sunday detecting walks... The treasure had been buried four inches below the ground for around 500 years... Roger Bland, head of treasure at the British Museum, describes the item - which at 2.8cm by 2.3cm, is barely larger than a postage stamp - as an "important find", and said he regrets that the museum does not currently have the funds to buy it. As one of only three of its kind to have survived, the find could be worth even more than £250,000, and its engraving is being compared to that of the Middleham Jewel, which sold at auction for £1.3million in 1986 and was later resold to the Yorkshire Museum for £2.5million. [photo credit]

Treasure hunters find Bronze Age axes

An amateur treasure hunter has unearthed a hoard of bronze age axe heads thought to be worth about £80,000... Mr Peirce found dozens more and, over the following two days, he and a colleague, Les Keith, uncovered nearly 500 bronze artefacts dating back 3,000 years.

Treasurer hunters battle over £500,000 hoard

Metal detecting enthusiast Michael Darke, 60, realised he might be on the trail of a major treasure find when he found 10 Iron age coins buried in a meadow... Within an hour of arriving in the field on March 30 last year, the pair had unearthed the remains of an Iron Age pottery cooking pot containing another 773 gold coins.

I am recurrently dismayed that the ancient Romans and Celts didn't lose stuff in Wisconsin. And I wonder how many European and British family fortunes have been started when a farmer plowed up pots full of gold. You just know that this burying and unearthing have been going on for centuries...

Attack drones will be given "decision-making power"


In its recently released "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047" report, the US Air Force details a drone that could fly over a target and then make the decision whether or not to launch an attack, all without human intervention. The Air Force says that increasingly, humans will monitor situations, rather than be deciders or participants, and that "advances in AI will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input." Programming of the drone will be based on "human intent," with real actual humans monitoring the execution, while retaining the authority and ability to override the system... the Air Force plans to have these dudes operational by 2047...
I think I've heard of this before. War machines that function on their own, based on computer intelligence. Humans would be able to override, unless something went wrong. And the report does say we can trust the machines just as we trust people...
Such unmanned aircraft must achieve a level of trust approaching that of humans charged with executing missions, the Air Force stated.
I guess that would be o.k. We obviously need things like this to kill people who don't agree with us. Government scientists and politicians are in charge. What could possibly go wrong?

Photo credit Engadget. More reassuring details at PC World.

The top "party schools" in the United States...

... according to Princeton Review's 2009 survey of 122,000 students.

1. Penn State University, State College, Pa.

2. University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.

3. University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.

4. University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

5. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio

6. West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.

7. University of Texas, Austin, Texas

8. University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.

9. Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla.

10. University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Numbers 11-20 are also listed at the link. I'm sure my late father would be chagrined to see his old alma mater topping the list. When he went there to study electrical engineering in the 1930s, it was a small "cow college."

On behalf of the sane people in America...


... I'd like to apologize to the people of Amsterdam for the assertion by FOX news that their city is a "cesspool of corruption" where people "teach their children how to have safe sex and smoke grass" and to which "all the criminals and drug addicts in Europe" have flocked so that now "crime is out of control" and "anarchy" reigns.

via Buzzfeed.

The flat-earth religious fanatic Luddites of Nigeria

The group's other name, Boko Haram, means "Western education is a sin" and is another title used by local people to refer to the group...

If their name is uncertain, however, their mission appears clear enough: to overthrow the Nigerian state, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and abolish what they term "Western-style education".

In an interview with the BBC, the group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, said such education "spoils the belief in one God".

"There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam," he said.

"Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.

"Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism."
I would disagree with the assertion that a spherical earth is "contrary to the teachings of Allah" since some of the greatest astronomers of medieval times were Muslim, and they needed spherical geometry to determine the correct direction to Mecca - but I wouldn't bother trying to explain that to these guys...

The feet of a ballerina


I have no idea whether these are in any way typical, but it is food for thought...

Photo credit Mene Tekel Peres, via Uncertain Times.

Here's the O'Reilly clip...


...in which he explains that life expectancy is higher in Canada than the United States because the U.S. has ten times as many people and therefore ten times as many deaths from accidents, crime, "and down the line."

It just lasts 15 seconds, but serves to show what passes for insight and analysis on network news. I don't even know why I bother posting stuff like this. I've managed to ignore Ben Stein and other such idiots. Maybe I should just consign O'Reilly to the "celebrity" category with Paris Hilton and others whom I don't consider worth a mouse click...

28 July 2009

Florida hotel, 1889


Full-size image at Shorpy, where there is also an interesting discussion thread.

Knitted brain


Object from the Textile Museum of Canada. Photographer for this image unknown.

"Forced to swim in a boiling stream of blood"


Dante's circles of Hell, clarified for your edification in Lapham's Quarterly. You never know when this information will come in handy.

Via Suddenly.

How will Iranian protests alter Americans' view of Iran?



The Iranian demonstrators have obtained a very important result, however things go. Now the Western public opinion, especially in Israel, the United States and Great Britain, historical enemies of the Iranian regime, is compelled to see Iran in a different way. Not as a country of religious fanatics willing to follow their leaders to the folly of atomic war, but also as the country of boys and girls who use computers, listen and play music, and are willing to take to the streets and also to die for freedom. Now the West knows that the Iranians are not enemies, because we saw that many of them are men and women like us. (Francesco Defferrari)
The sentiment expressed in that paragraph (and the linked article) is being debated in a Reddit thread. I can't speak re the European perspective, but I'm sure there are many thousands of Amerians whose perception of Iran could be summarized as "What? You mean there are pretty girls in Iran? I thought it was all old men with beards..." These are people who would not conceive of Iranians having ski resorts, cloverleaf highway interchanges, and jetskis on lakes.

The protests and their coverage in American media certainly won't result in a sea change of public opinion, but to the more perspicacious observer the events may emphasize that in Iran (as in the United States and elsewhere) the policies expressed and implemented by governments are often quite different from the ones favored by many of the people they "represent."

The stress of war

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Soldiers from an Army unit that had 10 infantrymen accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter after returning to civilian life described a breakdown in discipline during their Iraq deployment in which troops murdered civilians, a newspaper reported Sunday...

The Gazette based its report on months of interviews with soldiers and their families, medical and military records, court documents and photographs...

"Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated," said Daniel Freeman. "You came too close, we lit you up. You didn't stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley," an armored fighting vehicle.

With each roadside bombing, soldiers would fire in all directions "and just light the whole area up," said Anthony Marquez, a friend of Freeman in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. "If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked 'em."

Taxi drivers got shot for no reason, and others were dropped off bridges after interrogations, said Marcus Mifflin, who was eventually discharged with post traumatic stress syndrome...

Marquez was the first in his brigade to kill someone after an Iraq tour. In 2006, he used a stun gun to shock a drug dealer in Widefield, Colo., in a dispute over a marijuana sale, then shot and killed him...

"If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot," Marquez told The Gazette in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving a 30-year prison term. "But after Iraq, it was just natural."

The Army trains soldiers to be that way, said Kenneth Eastridge, an infantry specialist serving 10 years for accessory to murder.

"The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody," he said. "And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off."

Germans are hoarding incandescent light bulbs


As the Sept. 1 deadline for the implementation of the first phase of the EU's ban on incandescent light bulbs approaches, shoppers, retailers and even museums are hoarding the precious wares -- and helping the manufacturers make a bundle...

"It's unbelievable what is happening," says Werner Wiesner, the head of Megaman, a manufacturer of energy-saving bulbs. Wiesner recounts a story of how one of his field representatives recently saw a man in a hardware store with a shopping cart full of light bulbs of all types worth more than €200 ($285). "That's enough for the next 20 years."

And what's ironic -- in the short term, at least -- is that the companies that manufacture the climate-killing bulbs are seeing a big boost in sales. According to the GfK market research company, sales in Germany of incandescent light bulbs between January and April 20, 2009, saw a 20 percent jump over the same period a year earlier, while CFL sales shrank by 2 percent.
The phrase "climate-killing bulb" seems to bespeak a bit of bias on the part of the Der Spiegel writer or copyeditor, but I'm blogging this re the phenomenon, not re the sentiment.

"On tenterhooks"


Hindu men hung from hooks as part of celebrations for the annual Chariot Festival at Mayurapathi Temple in Wellawattha, Sri Lanka, Sunday. (Reuters)
Tenterhooks were used as far back as the fourteenth century in the process of making woollen cloth. After the cloth was woven it still contained oil from the fleece and some dirt. A fuller... cleaned the woolen cloth in a fulling mill, and then had to dry it carefully or the wool would shrink. To prevent this shrinkage, the fuller would place the wet cloth on a large wooden frame, a "tenter", and leave it to dry outside. The lengths of wet cloth were stretched on the tenter (from the Latin "tendere", to stretch) using hooks (nails driven through the wood) all around the perimeter of the frame to which the cloth's edges (selvages) were fixed so that as it dried the cloth would retain its shape and size...

By the mid-eighteenth century the phrase "on tenterhooks" came into use to mean being in a state of uneasiness, anxiety, or suspense, stretched like the cloth on the tenter.

27 July 2009

The Gaza zebra - so sad...


GAZA—Something didn't quite look right about the zebra, but it was hard to say exactly what. Of the several ramshackle zoos in Gaza, Marah, located not far from the Bureij refugee camp, is by far the cheeriest: The animals are lively, the enclosures clean...

"It's really a painted donkey," admitted Mahmud Berghat, the director of Marah, when asked about the creature. Making a fake zebra isn't easy—henna didn't work and wood paint was deemed inhumane, so they finally settled on human hair dye. "We cut its hair short and then painted the stripes," Berghat explained... It did the trick—if not for zoologists, then at least for legions of Gaza schoolchildren who have never seen a real zebra...

During Israel's Operation Cast Lead... Marah's zookeepers couldn't reach the animals. Some were hit by shrapnel; several, including a prized peacock, escaped; and many more died of starvation... But what differentiates Gaza's zoo is how the animals got there. Prior to the Hamas takeover, many of the animals were brought in legally from Egypt and Israel. But since 2007, the most common route animals take to their cages in Gaza is through the underground labyrinth of tunnels that snake from the southern tip of Gaza into Egypt's Sinai.

But the zoos, whatever their shortcomings, provide a rare form of entertainment in a congested strip of land that affords few other diversions. "This is the only public place in the area where people can relax outside and the children can play..."
Before we leave this subject - are zebras black with white stripes? Or white with black stripes? Answer at Wiki - and I'll bet you guessed wrong.

FOX has the top ten television news programs


The photo above is a screencap from an unembeddable table at The Huffington Post, documenting that Fox News had the top ten cable news programs for the second quarter of 2009.

The HuffPo article is brief and doesn't delve into the reasons for these results. It would seem to me that one could divide the American public into A) Those Who Watch Lots Of Television, and B) those who don't. According to the data, Those Who Watch Lots Of Television favor "Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, USA, and TNT" as the top four channels for "total day." They then rely on Fox as their source of news.

Those of us who don't watch lots of television get our news from the internet.

The Four Tops - Baby I Need Your Lovin'


When I was a senior in college in 1968, a Four Tops album provided our signature party music. "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)", "It's the Same Old Song", "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)", "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Standing in the Shadows of Love", "7-Rooms of Gloom", and "Bernadette" were all on the album, along with the one embedded above. They bring back many pleasant memories.

Via Suddenly.

Fiendish chess puzzle


If you're not a skilled chess player, don't even try this one.

White to move, and mate on the move. (Note you can't mate with the rook, because it would be taken by the knight).

For the answer, you will need to visit Futility Closet.

Yoga positions assumed by drunks


A collection of ten, assembled at Fun Tuna, via Tri-ops.

Palin for President, 2012 - 2013 1/2


Photo credit, via Reddit.

From the comment thread: "
I hope the signwriter understands that her term would not START until 2013 in the first place... not 2012." "Obviously, he didn't. But, to be fair, neither would Palin." "Or half of America, I would bet."

Highway sign emblematic of American education


Exit sign for the "business" route to "Rothschild" and "Schofield" in central Wisconsin.

Photo credit, via Neatorama.

Pac-Man chart


This chart has been viral for some time; I don't know where original credit goes.

The Constitution


Selling out?

Via Izismile; looking for source credit.

Earrings


Credit to LiciaBeads on Etsy.

Simon's cat catches a fly


Predictable initial mayhem, but the part after he catches the fly is impressively realistic.

26 July 2009

Sunday smörgåsbord


Lots and lots of stuff has accumulated, so we're serving heaping portions today. There just has to be something in this list that you haven't already seen.

Cricket ball kills a pigeon.

Giant (220kg) pig was eating a cow.

NYT food writer explains how wine should be chilled. "...with summer nearly upon us and the consumption of white wine rising, I think it’s worth making the point clearly and explicitly: To enhance the pleasure of drinking a good white wine, please do not serve it too cold."

Woman performs C-section on roadkill rabbit to save its unborn fetus.

60% of U.S. bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. Of particular note: "More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance..."

NPR discusses the earliest known sound recording (from 1860). You can listen to it at the link.

In a column at the Guardian, an atheist contrasts "believing in God" with "believing in belief."

Neil Armstrong's famous comment upon stepping onto the moon has apparently been mistranscribed. "The researchers show for the first time that he intended to say "a man" and that the "a" may have been lost because he was under pressure."

A man's hand was pulled off in a tug-of-war.

The Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal is not new, but some people have not heard of it. "...an enormous cache of nude photographs, thousands and thousands of photographs of young men in front, side and rear poses..."

Four girls traveling between parties decide not to pay the $13 fee to their Edmonton cabbie because he wouldn't let them smoke in the cab. He said he would call the police. The girls then told bystanders and the police that the cabbie had attempted to rape them. He has a videotape of the entire episode.

Man atop train gets electrocuted. Corpse starts burning. Warning - graphic video.

Man files documents with the IRS requesting payment of $14 trillion. IRS doesn't believe him. Another man secured a 2-foot-long sword to his car's steering wheel and crashed his car into a wall trying to commit suicide. However the car's airbag bent the sword, the car went into a swimming pool, and he's doing fine. Both stories via Fark, which has more of these types of stories than you can shake a stick at.

Betelgeuse is getting smaller. Not the Michael Keaton one - the celestial one. It has shrunk by about 15% (!) in about 15 years. It could go supernova.

The global production of oil is declining. "Whatever the timing of the arrival of peak oil's actual peak, there is growing agreement that we have, at last, made it into peak-oil territory, if not yet to the moment of irreversible decline." The global recession is preventing prices from rising... for now...

Three items from Neatorama: Tapeworms are spreading because of the consumption of sushi. The world may run out of bluefin tuna. A fungus is spreading that could wipe out 80% of the world's wheat.

Powerful women like Sonia Sotomayor like to watch Law and Order.

Got Ophidophobia? Then don't read about Brazil's Snake Island. "The island is home to the world's most poisonous snake [the fer-de-lance], and there are five to every square meter. You have to hop, skip and jump over their snapping heads to avoid being bitten... What we usually say is that if you're looking, along the trail, you'll see a snake about every 10 minutes."

Can you name the best-selling car in the United States? 10 million sold in the last 30 years.

Good discussion thread at The Oil Drum on how to build a root cellar.

Why the price of Maine lobsters has plunged.

Death by cows. "..."I have had letters flooding in - from people telling me about personal experiences, family experiences, who have been in hospital for three weeks after an incident, who have had family members killed, and a couple of letters from people whose dogs were crushed..."

Stoned wallabies created crop circles.

The 4-year graduation rate for high school kids in New York City is... 56%.

An important warning at Consumerist for those who shop at Radio Shack. "RadioShack stores sell returned merchandise all the time. Sometimes it's cordless phones that have sold and come back to the store 4 times, or it's an antenna that's missing a remote (not that the staff will tell you), or it's a cell phone that a manager wants sold."

"Global warming" notwithstanding, the Sahara Desert appears to be getting smaller, not larger.

People who are grossly obese can be burned by an MRI machine.

The state with the lowest rate of overweight children in the nation is... Minnesota. That's the good news. The bad news is that MN wins despite having 23% of its children obese or overweight. Mississippi was #1 with 44%. "The number is based on a child's body-mass index, a calculation using height and weight, and included those who are moderately overweight to obese."

Installing red-light cameras to catch drivers who run stoplights may paradoxically INCREASE the number of accidents at intersections. "This 43 percent increase can be attributed primarily to rear-end collisions that happened as drivers, faced with short yellow lights, slammed on the brakes to avoid receiving a ticket in the mail."

In order to reduce fuel, airlines have reduced the size of spoons.

Police in Tennessee raid a house at 3 a.m., then... "The officers charged the Chiltons with resisting arrest and aggravated assault for the incident. Police did not drop the charges even after learning they responded to the wrong house."

In Las Vegas, a two-year-old girl was in a critical condition after being shot by her four-year-old brother at their home... In South Carolina, a four-year-old boy was shot in the stomach by his three-year-old brother after the little boy found a gun...

A woman in Switzerland called firefighters to report her television was on fire. "They found instead that the TV was tuned into a German station that in the early morning hours aired the constant image of a fireplace..."

Photo credit.

Capucine tells you a story


"Starring baby monkeys lost in frightening trees, a witch, crocodiles, a tiger, a "popotamus" and a lion, and even a "tremendously very bad mammoth." There are also magic powers and an orange ring, but sometimes "something goes amiss."
This is delightful. Capucine's mother is using the video to raise awareness of Edurelief, a Mongolian children's charity.

Via Audrey Hepburn Complex.

Vinland map declared genuine


COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - The 15th century Vinland Map, the first known map to show part of America before explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the continent, is almost certainly genuine, a Danish expert said Friday...

"All the tests that we have done over the past five years -- on the materials and other aspects -- do not show any signs of forgery," Rene Larsen, rector of the School of Conservation under the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, told Reuters...

The map shows both Greenland and a western Atlantic island "Vinilanda Insula," the Vinland of the Icelandic sagas, now linked by scholars to Newfoundland where Norsemen under Leif Eriksson settled around AD 1000...

He said claims the ink was too recent because it contained a substance called anatase titanium dioxide could be rejected because medieval maps have been found with the same substance, which probably came from sand used to dry wet ink.

American scholars have carbon dated the map to about 1440, about 50 years before Columbus "discovered" the New World in 1492. Scholars believe it was produced for a 1440 church council at Basel, Switzerland.

The Vinland Map is not a "Viking map" and does not alter the historical understanding of who first sailed to North America. But if it is genuine, it shows that the New World was known not only to Norsemen but also to other Europeans at least half a century before Columbus's voyage.

The lack of a provenance has caused much of the controversy. Where the map came from and how it came into the hands of the Swiss dealer after World War Two remain a mystery.

Photo credit.

Flying a jet with the canopy open


“The maximum speed I achieved on the jet plane without a canopy glass was around two times greater than speed of sound. While on this speed I even managed to pull out my fingers in glove for an inch or two outside - it became heated very fast because of immense friction force plane undergoes with the air,“ writes the pilot…

“Usually such tests were conducted in winter time, so it was deadly cold without a canopy and I was pretty glad when this heating began, counting minutes before the plane would reach enough speed/velocity so that the air around becomes hot enough..."
More details and pix at English Russia.

"Mud, mud, glorious mud...




...Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me follow, down to the hollow
And there let us wallow in glorious mud..."

Lyrics from The Hippopotamus Song, by Flanders and Swann.

Photos from a collection of dirty pictures at Boston.com.

25 July 2009

Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit


With the impending release of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, we probably will be hearing this classic Jeffeerson Airplane piece more frequently. I've embedded a video from 1967; I suspect it was a lip-synched performance, since the audio is exactly like the famous recording, but it's still good to see a young Grace Slick again.

For an immense collection of non-Tenniel Alice illustrations (including many that are NSFW), see the ofellabuta blog's Alice category. There's amazing art stored there, and lots of Alice links.

Addendum: ritwik found the Woodstock performance two years later, in which Grace displays the power of her voice.

Cat ladders




Hundreds of them, assembled at the Catladder blog. If you are not a "cat person" (and not married to one), then this may be your "TYWK" for the day. These should not be confused with goat towers and goat ladders.

Via Neatorama.

Classic Calvin and Hobbes



Source - for ten years' worth of Calvin and Hobbes!!

Is the economic crisis over?

One would think so if one were to judge by the financial press, mainstream economic pundits, spokesmen for the current administration, or the reports on television. Major stock indices are hitting highs not seen since last year. The DJIA is up about 40% in four months. Companies are reporting "better than expected earnings."

TYWKIWDBI continues to be afflicted with "skepticemia." I've maintained a pretty consistent bearish and skeptical position in my postings in this blog's economics category since January of 2008; I continue to use ETFs (DOG, RWM) to maintain a short position on the Dow and Russell equal to my long positions, effectively leaving me out of the market, and I continue to be long gold (GLD) and short GLD puts.

My doubts were well expressed this week by a commentator (whose name I didn't catch) on the Bloomberg channel on satellite radio this week. He noted that the companies who are reporting better-than-expected earnings are doing so NOT based on increased sales, but on decreased expenses, and that the major component of those decreased expenses are lower salary costs from widespread layoffs.

And those corporate earnings are NOT IMPROVED, they are just "better than expected." Instead of falling 45% perhaps they fell just 35%. That's not good news; it just means the analysts were as incorrect on the downside as they typically are on the upside.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is desperately seeking foreign investors willing to purchase immense quantities of treasuries.
Geithner, who traveled last week to the Middle East and Europe, has to convince foreign investors to keep buying Treasury bills, notes and bonds; they hold nearly half of the government's roughly US$7 trillion in publicly traded debt...

If foreign demand for U.S. debt sags, that could drive up interest rates and spell big trouble for an economy hobbled by 9.5 percent unemployment...

In the worst case scenario, a rush by foreigners to sell their U.S. debt could send the dollar crashing and inflation soaring. Because that would also hurt the value of their remaining holdings and the U.S. economy — a key market for their exports — private analysts believe such a scenario is not likely to occur...

In March, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said his country was concerned about the “safety” of the large amounts of money it had lent to the United States...
On the upside, I should note that Nouriel Roubini, whose comments I heard on the radio about two years ago got me out of the market, now is offering some encouraging words, but those comments are expressed with many conditional phrases.

No one who reads this blog should make any personal economic decisions based on my opinions. You have to do your own "due diligence." But do keep in mind that most of those who offer financial advice in this country have a vested interest in keeping people invested in financial instruments.

The rain in Spain better stay off THIS plane...


The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show.

The aircraft's radar-absorbing metallic skin is the principal cause of its maintenance troubles, with unexpected shortcomings -- such as vulnerability to rain and other abrasion -- challenging Air Force and contractor technicians since the mid-1990s...

"It is a disgrace that you can fly a plane [an average of] only 1.7 hours before it gets a critical failure" that jeopardizes success of the aircraft's mission, said a Defense Department critic of the plane who is not authorized to speak on the record. Other skeptics inside the Pentagon note that the planes, designed 30 years ago to combat a Cold War adversary, have cost an average of $350 million apiece and say they are not a priority in the age of small wars and terrorist threats. ..

...Pierre Sprey, a key designer in the 1970s and 1980s of the F-16 and A-10 warplanes, said that from the beginning, the Air Force designed it to be "too big to fail, that is, to be cancellation-proof."
The world's most sophisticated jet fighter is vulnerable to rain... Vulnerable to RAIN. You can't make up stuff like this...

Photo credit.
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