31 December 2009

"It Could Have Been Worse"


I'm going to close this year's blogging by highlighting the phrase above. It is a wonderful anodyne for any hurt (real or imagined) that you experience.

Repeat the phrase to yourself whenever you are injured, your sports team is defeated, your finances are compromised, your marriage goes through a rough patch, or news stories on the internet are depressing.

Best wishes to all for a better 2010.

Sumerians "shocked" as world is created

"Members of the earth's earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.

According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

"I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

... According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God's most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings. "These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant," one Sumerian philosopher wrote. "They must be the creation of a complete idiot."

Trapping leeches


I used to spend my summers at Leech Lake in northern Minnesota. These creatures are neither scary nor disgusting nor much of a hazard. The ones in this video are presumably being harvested to sell for bait. Medical leeches are raised in sterile laboratory environments.

Paris, 1900



Taken during the Exposition Universelle. Note the "moving walkway." I love early documentary films like this. Somehow the streets of the time seemed more vibrant and "user-friendly." I think it's because of the absence of motorized vehicles. It would have been wonderful to stroll those streets.

Links here to still photos of the same time and event.

Via Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.

An unusual log cabin


Found at Language Log.

A terrible toy


"Well into the nineteenth century it was the custom in Italy to tie a string to the leg of living birds or big cockchafers and give them to children to play with. The custom was so universal that we even see such living playthings represented in the hands of the Christ Child, especially in pictures of the Italian Renaissance. A curious example of a similar kind was to be found among the usually so simple and harmless German toys, as a Nuremberg catalog of the eighteenth century proves [above]. These were comic figures with space inside to hold a bird which in its struggles gives to the figures all kind of motions. As the catalog says: 'No ones would imagine that a living bird was inside, but would suppose that it was clock-work which made the head, eyes, and beak of the bird move.'"

From an interesting collection of vintage toys at A Journey Round My Skull.

What's the hand sign for "lizard"?


Via Palahniuk and Chocolate.

Update: It's a little hand-puppet shape like that used for making shadows on walls. Illustrated on t-shirt at ThinkGeek. Hat tip to Marshall.

Bangkok marketplace



I won't add anything. Res ipsa loquitur.

Comparing generations


There's some truth in this. (wish they hadn't misspelled buses).

Source.

Dumbo octopus


I know this has been dubbed a "Dumbo" octopus because of it's "ears," but I just can't get over the idea that it's wearing tennis shoes...

Credit Smithsonian.

Celebrity deaths in 2009


Buzzfeed has a collection of what are dubbed "Second Tier Celebrity Deaths" in the past year. One can argue endlessly (and fruitlessly) about which celebrities are first- or second-tier. Of those in the list I've selected the photo of Les Paul because of his immense contribution to the world of music, and because he was a native Wisconsinite.

I wish I had time to blog some of the others. Take a peek...

Wildlife photos






This week the internet is chock full of "best of" compilations. Photography enthusiasts must be drowning in material. Above are some of my favorites from the Guardian's collection of their favorites from their weekly feature of wildlife photos.

The hippo emerging amidst the flowers looks like an illustration from a children's book. The joey is peeking from its pouch. The tree frog has remarkable limbs. The stingray is going airborne to avoid a killer whale.

Credits at this link, where there are 45 more photos.

An interesting way to feather one's nest


When I saw this photo in the Guardian's gallery of the best wildlife photos of 2009, I assumed the bird was performing an "oxpecker" service of removing/eating ticks, but the caption indicates that "Magpies pluck fur from the back of a deer at Ashton Court estate in Bristol."

I had never considered the possibility that birds might harvest nest material from living animals. Perhaps others do so as well. You learn something every day.

Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Something you don't see every day


The emerald green disc on the tail feather of the king bird of paradise which are used in a courtship ritual. The bird was seen in the extinct Mount Bosavi volcano in Papua New Guinea, where scientists, cavers and wildlife film makers ventured in search of rare animals and birds

Photograph: Ulla Lohmann/BBC

30 December 2009

BIG northern pike


“This pike was caught on the 6th of March 2006 by Dutch fisherman Ewout Blom in a pretty big lake in the south of Holland, I know the name of the lake from where quite a number of 40 plus pikes were caught and released but promised not to mention the name to avoid too heavy fishing pressure.

"This pike had a length of 127 cm and a weight of 19,5 kilo and was caught trolling with a Rapala Super Shad Rap in perch colour and I have about 10 original digital pictures of this fish.

"For the metric-impaired (such as yours truly), 127cm and 19.4 kilos works out to right around 50 inches, and just barely shy of 43 pounds.”
I didn't know until I just read the Wiki entry that the fish is called a "pike" from its resemblance to the pole-weapon pike. You learn something every day.

Credit Pike Anglers' Club

Florida steamboat, 1902


"On the Ocklawaha." Steamboat Metamora of Palatka. Photo by William Henry Jackson.

No visitor can afford to visit Florida without having enjoyed a sail on this tortuous stream which flows through a dense semi-tropical forest. The night scenes, when this tangled mass of shrubbery is lighted by torches, are marvelous. A steamer of the LUCAS NEW LINE OCKLAWAHA RIVER STEAMERS will leave Palatka for Silver Spring on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 12.30 p.m., after arrival of trains from Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

Found at Shorpy, where you can view the photo in wallpaper size.

Victoria's Secret fashion show


Widelec has a gallery of 150 photos from the 2009 show. This was the last one.

Landscape photography




Selections from an incredible portfolio by Marian Matta. Some of them have been collected at Widelec. Click to enlarge.

"Frozen" trailer


I couldn't tell if it was real, or a spoof.

Apparently (sadly), it's real...

Via I Have Seen the Whole of the Internet.

Motion-activated holy water dispenser

Rural schoolgirls of Eastern Anatolia




Three slightly-cropped selections from the book "Sweet Nothings," by photographer Vanessa Winship. Additional photos available at the photographer's website.
Photographer Vanessa Winship lived and worked in the area of Eastern Turkey for almost a decade an explosive region containing the borderlands of Iraq, Iran and Armenia. Struck by enduring images of rural schoolgirls wearing little blue dresses and their delicate status within politically loaded discussions over borders and identity, Winship systematically documented her encounter with them.
Via Reciprocity Failure.

Debunking "terrorist = Islamist"

I had the TV on for something this week; I can't remember the program (probably flipping channels during football game commercials), and heard the comment "not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim" - and I thought WTF how can someone be so egregiously ignorant?

Today at Salon, Glenn Greenwald provides some factual counterpoints, while responding to this similarly erroneous statement:
"...Even though 99.999 percent of Muslims abhor attacks on innocent civilians on moral and theological grounds, 100 percent of attempted terrorist attacks on the U.S. (and, with the exception of the Basques in Spain, terrorists attacks on all Western nations) since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing have been committed by people claiming to act in the name of Islam."
Here are some of his rebutting examples:
A rocket attack on MI6 headquarters in London is believed to be the work of dissident Irish republicans...

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says the evidence, including hundreds of pages of unsealed documents, proves that Dr. Ivins was the sole person responsible for the 2001 anthrax mailings...

Olympic bombing suspect Eric Robert Rudolph...

1997 bombings at a gay nightclub and a clinic that performed abortions in the Atlanta area...

U.S.-born Jewish terrorist suspected of series of attacks over past 12 years...

While Arab-Jewish violence is common, the attack on the 73-year-old historian has shocked public opinion in Israel because all the evidence points to it being intra-Jewish. 'I consider it an act of Jewish terrorism...

A white supremacist suspected of targeting blacks, Jews and Asians in a deadly Independence Day weekend drive-by shooting rampage...

Mountaineer Militia leader Floyd Looker, convicted in an alleged plot to blow up an FBI fingerprint complex
More examples and cogent discussion at the link.

Defining "security theater"

Security theater consists of security countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security. The term was coined by Bruce Schneier for his book Beyond Fear, but has gained currency in security circles, particularly for describing airport security measures. It is also used by some experts such as Edward Felten to describe the airport security repercussions due to the September 11 attacks. Security theater gains importance both by satisfying and exploiting the gap between perceived risk and actual risk...

In many cases, intrusive security theater measures also create secondary negative effects whose real cost is hard to quantify and likely to dwarf the direct expenses. Such ripple effects are often connected to fear; visible measures such as armed guards and highly intrusive security measures may lead people to believe that there must be a real risk associated with their activity...
Via The Seminal.

Maureen Dowd on the anti-terror response

"We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year-olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.

Instead of modernity, we have airports where security is so retro that taking away pillows and blankies and bathroom breaks counts as a great leap forward.

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back..."

Source.

Maher and Sullivan address terrorism


I think I posted a longer version of this when it was originally issued, but a reprise seems appropriate now before security rules are revised to make us take off our underpants.

Via The Daily Dish.

Overcoming dysmelia (limb deficiency)




The young lady above, Jessica Cox, was in the news this past week after becoming the first limb-deficient pilot to be certified to fly a non-modified plane without using prosthetic limbs. Here is a brief bio:
The psychology graduate can write, type, drive a car, brush her hair and talk on her phone simply using her feet. Ms Cox, from Tuscon, Arizona, USA, is also a former dancer and double black belt in Tai Kwon-Do. She has a no-restrictions driving license, she flies planes and she can type 25 words a minute.
Photo gallery. I have endless admiration for people who overcome such handicaps, and have previously posted similar stories here, here, here, and here.

Centipede-on-a-stick


You can get almost anything "on a stick" at the Minnesota State Fair, but to sample skewered centipedes, you will need to go to China.

From a gallery of 18 food-related photos at the Guardian.

29 December 2009

Harper's Index #6

Selections from ~1992-1994:

Number of the world's 810 vampires who live in the United States, according to the Vampire Research Center: 550
Number who live in Romania: 3

Estimated number of cows it takes to supply the 22,000 footballs the NFL uses each season: 3,000
Number of pigs: 0

Amount the CIA will spend in 1992 to buy back each Stinger missile it gave to Afghan rebels: $100,000
Amount each missile cost the United States government: $25,000

Number of finance ministers of the Group of Seven countries who have a degree in economics: 1

Number of poems included in The Best American Poetry 1993 that rhyme: 1

Ratio of the number of wild turkeys in the United States to the number of wild-turkey hunters: 2:1

Number of hunters who have had their cremated remains loaded into a shotgun shell and shot at an animal: 40

Percentage of the world's cranberries that are grown in Massachusetts: 42

Rank of cola, breakfast cereal, and ground beef, among the groceries Americans spent the most on in 1993: 1,2,3

Ratio of the number of Americans who prefer toilet paper to unroll off the top to those who prefer the bottom: 3:1

Average number of members of Congress charged with a crime each decade between 1789 and 1970: 2
Average number charged with a crime each decade since then: 24

Number of tourists murdered in Florida 1994: 7
Number murdered in Egypt: 1

Average number of Robert Ludlum novels sold worldwide, per minute: 18

Average number of Americans who die each year as a result of insect bites: 40

Ratio of the emissions produced by a car driven 50 miles to those produced by a lawn mower in one hour: 1:1

Amount by which the price of a pair of J. Crew broken-in jeans exceeds the price of a pair of regular J. Crew jeans: $8

Number of American cats fitted with pacemakers last year: 800

Chances that a funeral procession in Taiwan includes a stripper: 1 in 3

Chances that an indicted American will be defended with public funds: 3 in 4

Portion of all war fatalities in the last 500 years that took place in the twentieth century: 3/4

Gallons of Kool-Aid consumed by Americans each summer: 204,000,000

Number of Americans who must become Rhodes scholars for Clinton's Cabinet to "look like America" : 17,000,000

Rank of Bill Clinton's shoes, among the largest of any president since Woodrow Wilson: 1

Number of government employees VP Gore invited to accompany him on his trip to Russia: 600

Number of American states in which a notary public is required to be literate in English: 12

Percentage change, since 1850, in the number of wooded acres in New Hampshire: +118

Age, in years, of a piece of wedding fruitcake on display at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace in NJ: 106

Number of American amateur soccer players killed by falling goalposts since 1979: 18

Cordyceps emerges from the brains of insects. And may cure cancer.


As Sir David Attenborough explains in this Planet Earth video, the cordyceps fungus is lethal to insects. Now a study to be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry reports that cordycepin, a substance derived from the fungus, has potential as an antineoplastic medication:
...at a low dose cordycepin inhibits the uncontrolled growth and division of the cells, and at high doses it stops cells from sticking together, which also inhibits growth.

28 December 2009

The transvestites of 16th century America


I just finished reading Charles Hudson's The Juan Pardo Expeditions: Exploration of the Carolinas and Tennessee, 1566-1568 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990). The book recounts some of the journeys of Spanish explorers in North America in the mid-16th century.

It was almost two years ago that I blogged a piece about the epic journey of Cabeza de Vaca. That book made me want to read more about deSoto and the other Spaniards in North America. Juan Pardo travelled from South Carolina up to North Carolina and then west as far as what is nowadays Johnson City and Knoxville, Tennessee.

One of the more curious incidents recorded in the book is an ethnographic observation of the local Indians:
"...in Cauchi they saw an Indian man who was dressed as a woman and walking in the company of women. When Pardo asked Cauchi Orata for an explanation he said that the man was his "brother," but because he was not a man for war or for doing the things that men do, he went about as a woman and did a woman's tasks..."
The illustration in the book, reproduced above, is Plate XXIII from the famous set of engravings by Jacques Le Moyne: "Timucuan male transvestites carrying packbaskets of food. Females are shown loading the packbaskets... Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution."

I've not added this book to TYWKIWDBI's list of now 30 recommended books, because the content will probably not be of interest to most readers of this blog, but it would certainly appeal to those with an interest in North American prehistory.

Image credit.

Numbers = Angles


Contrived - but clever.

Credit Bits and Pieces, via Ravings of a Semi-sane Madwoman.

27 December 2009

Solemates


I'm a male, so I can't speak from any experience re these things, but they do appear to be clever inventions. Small, removable (and reusable) flanges that slip on over high heels to increase the surface contact area and prevent the heel from entering cracks, grates, and soft earth.

Source, via Cindy Leyland.

K-Street does Christmas


Via Truthdig.

Vines


Via. (Click for bigger)

QI discusses the Christmas-Mithras connection


The linkage isn't quite as tight as Stephen Fry suggests, but is still very interesting, and likely not a "massive coincidence."

For more re Mithras, see the post below this.

26 December 2009

"... a scorpion attacks the bull's testicles."


"Tauroctony" is your two-dollar word for the day. It refers to the artistic depiction of the mythic hero Mithras ritually slaying a bull (the sacrifice is called a taurobolium).
In the depiction, Mithras, wearing a Phrygian cap and pants, slays the bull, kneeling on its back with his left knee while looking away. His cape billows behind him showing its inner side. A serpent and dog seem to drink from the bull's open wound (which often spills blood but occasionally grain), and a scorpion attacks the bull's testicles. Typically, a raven or crow is also present, and sometimes also a goblet and small lion.
There is general agreement that the symbolism is astrological. More details at Wikipedia.

Hubble's "Ultra Deep Field" photo


This is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Starting in late 2003, astronomers pointed Hubble at a tiny, relatively empty part of our sky (only a few stars from the Milky Way visible), and created an exposure nearly 12 days long over a four-month period. The result is this amazing image, looking back through time at thousands of galaxies that range from 1 to 13 billion light-years away from Earth. Some 10,000 galaxies were observed in this tiny patch of sky (a tenth the size of the full moon) - each galaxy a home to billions of stars.
Credit NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith - STScI, and The HUDF Team, via The Big Picture.

Selected from a gallery of 50 photos chosen by The Big Picture as the most significant images of the past decade. I wish I could post all 50. Absolutely worth a click and scroll.

Sign language may be more efficient than spoken language


Almost 40 years ago, researchers discovered that although it takes longer to make signs than to say the equivalent words, on average sentences can be completed in about the same time. How can that be possible?

Today, Andrew Chong and buddies at Princeton University in New Jersey give us the answer. They say that the information content of the 45 handshapes that make up sign language is higher than the information content of phonemes, the building blocks of the spoken word. In other words, there is greater redundancy in spoken English than signed English.

Further details at MIT's Technology Review, via The New Shelton wet/dry.

How to make a billion dollars

STEP 1: Form a bank.

STEP 2: Round up a bunch of unemployed friends to be "bankers."

STEP 3: Raise $1 billion of equity. (This is the only tricky step. And it's not that tricky. See below.*)

STEP 4: Borrow $9 billion from the Fed at an annual cost of 0.25%.

STEP 5: Buy $10 billion of 30-year Treasuries paying 4.45%

STEP 6: Sit back and watch the cash flow in.

Further details at Business Insider, via The New Shelton wet/dry.

The Afghan War: $57,000 per MINUTE

And how much of that goes to the troops themselves?
...add up the yearly salary of a Marine from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you'll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute's sum...
So who gets all the money? Think about it...

Dilbert and Dogbert exchange Christmas gifts

A proposal to make hospitals disclose "facility fees"

"Most hospital-owned clinics in south-central Wisconsin charge the fees at least some of the time, at an average of $117... Patients who are aware of the fees can sometimes avoid them by going to other clinics... But most patients don't know about the fees, and some learn about them only after receiving their bills....

Pam Charles, of Beloit, said she went to the Park Street clinic complex next to Meriter Hospital to get second and third opinions on whether she needed surgery.

For both visits, she said, she parked in the same lot and used the same elevator. On one visit, she turned right. On the other, she turned left.

Her bill for the first visit, at a clinic owned by UW Health's doctor group: $216. The bill for the other visit, at a clinic owned by Meriter: $423, including a $157 facility fee from Meriter...

Hospitals have been allowed to charge facility fees under Medicare rules for years... the fees enable hospitals to recover some of the costs of their equipment and of meeting requirements that doctors' offices don't face, such as patient safety standards...

UW and Meriter have signs, brochures and letters explaining the fees, but none of the Madison hospitals tell patients about the fees when appointments are made, the hospital officials said..."

Above text from an article at the Wisconsin State Journal. The proposed legislation will also require insurance plans to disclose to patients whether they cover facility fees.

Is your house clean?


Credit.

Vintage mug shots






Selections from the book City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948, posted at A Time To Get, via biancasunshine.

I find it fascinating just to look at those faces and wonder what the backstories are. More pix at the source links.

Re the death of Brittany Murphy

TYWKIWDBI tries not to cover "celebrity news," but the following paragraph from Salon is worth noting:
The coroner's notes allegedly claim a pharmacopia in Murphy's bathroom cabinet: Topamax (for seizures or migraines), methylprednisolone (a steroid), fluoxetine (an antidepressant), Klonopin (for anxiety), carbamazepine (for seizures or bipolar disorder), Ativan (for anxiety), Vicoprofen (pain reliever), propranolol (for hypertension, migraines or anxiety), Biaxin (an antibiotic), and hydrocodone (a narcotic pain reliever). Gone are the days of shameful crack pipes and empty gin bottles. "No alcohol containers, paraphernalia or illegal drugs were discovered," the report stated...
More at the link re "doctor shopping" and the risks of prescription drugs.

"Take a deep breath... Hold it..."


"WW1, France: radiographer captured on film in protective clothing and headpiece. Photograph by H. J. Hickman, ca. 1918.

That would be lead clothing, and it would feel like it weighed a ton. Send this photo to any of your medical friends who complain about having to wear a short lead apron when portable films are taken.

Via Uncertain Times, where there is something interesting every day.

TYWKIWDBI survives computer attack

I suppose one could call it an attempt at "denial of service," but it wasn't one of those coordinated multi-user assaults. Rather this was the work of one person. Someone who knew that last year I must have expended a thousand hours working my way through hundreds of worlds in Civilization III. That person gave me Civilization IV Gold Edition with the Warlords expansion pack for Christmas.

I was fortunate yesterday in being able to get away from the computer after only about 6 hours, after battling China, Greece, Rome, and Mali for the control of Africa. I'm ahead at the Renaissance.

Posted as a reminder that there are multiple factors that can interfere with blogging. We've just gone through a major winter storm; now come the football games. It's a tough world out there.

24 December 2009

Are Alzheimer's disease and cancer inversely related?

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology reports that elderly persons with Alzheimer's have a reduced incidence of cancer, and those with cancer are less likely to have Alzheimer's symptoms.

Those who had Alzheimer's at the start of the study were 69% less likely to be admitted to hospital with cancer than those free of the disease at the start.

And those with cancer at the study's start were 43% less likely to develop Alzheimer's than the cancer free.

There are biological reasons why this relationship could be causal:

"Alzheimer's disease and cancer are both characterised by abnormal, but opposing, cellular behaviour.

"In Alzheimer's disease, excessive cell death occurs, whereas cancer is characterised by excessive cell growth..."

However, it is also possible that the symptoms of one disease may mask or prevent the diagnosis of the other disease, so more studies are necessary.

"O LIttle Walled Town of Bethlehem"


On Christmas Eve, a traditional site faces harsh new realities.

23 December 2009

Cover art from the Golden Age of science fiction




Pix above selected from a gallery of 43 images at Life.com.

How to behave in Afghanistan

"Forbidden! It is forbidden to enter any yards and houses of locals, look into the windows of their houses, into the eyes of women and talk with them."

"One shouldn’t take off their clothes, take a tan and swim in the public eye or nearby any residential buildings. Such a behavior is incompatible with national and religious habits of the Afghans and will be considered as an offensive activity."

Since it appears our military commanders are determined to repeat the Russian experience in Afghanistan, they might as well distribute to them the booklets that were given to the Soviet troops in the 1980s. The full booklet is reproduced at English Russia.
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