31 January 2010

The source of a Roman aqueduct

BBC videos can't be embedded into blogs until someone transfers them to YouTube.  The one I found this morning shows an amazing discovery.  The video is at this link.

Bait ball

Via Snuh.

Why some people can't get a job


Found at Miss Cellania.  Trimmed with Splicd.

Pink Floyd + Wizard of Oz

The Dark Side of the Rainbow/Oz (or the Wizard of Floyd) has been debated for a decade. Some of the best synchronicities are depicted in the collation above, and listed in the YouTube "more info" column:
1: The object hanging from the tree = The prism on the album cover of
Dark Side of The Moon.

2: Dorothy balances on a fence rail while the words "Balanced on the biggest wave you race towards an early grave" are sung. Dorothy falls as the words "early grave" are sung. The tempo of the music then changes to work with the movie.

3: When the helicopter noise is heard, Dorothy looks up and pans across the sky as if there really is something going across the sky. Not only does she follow something from right to left but the audio goes from right to left as well.

4: Dorothy opens her mouth in sync with the laughter.

5: The ringing of the alarm bells in "Time" coincides perfectly with the entrance of Elvira Gulch on her bike.

6: "kicking around on a peice of ground in your home town" as Toto escapes from the basket and runs back to the farm. "Waiting for someone or something to show you the way" as Dorothy is in her room wondering what she should do, Toto comes hopping through the window to show her the way.

7: The song fits with the window crashing into Dorothy. The intensity of the song subsides with her falling asleep. The song playing during the entire tornado scene is titled "The Great Gig In The Sky"

8: The ballerinas and munchkins dance in time to the music.

9: Dorothy and the scarecrow's motions are in sync with the music.

10: "The lunatic is on the grass" as the scarecrow does a crazy dance. The song playing is titled "Brain Damage". The scarecrow sings "If I only had a brain" during that part of the movie.

11: The last song on the album concludes with the sound of a heartbeat. You hear this sound as Dorothy and the scarecrow listens for the tinman's heartbeat. *you may need to use headphones for this part*

I was reminded of this today by a piece at Johnny Cat's "Litter Box, " where there are links to two additional non-embeddable videos and some salient discussion of the phenomenon.

Mud Volcanoes

From a gallery of the work of Geert Goiris, via Reciprocity Failure.

"I hate war..."

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

Text via Bob Herbert, NYT.  Photo: Hank Walker/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images Nov 01, 1951.

"Marijuana Superstore" opens in California

Supporters note the potential for over a billion dollars in tax revenue for the State of California if/when marijuana is legalized.  This store doesn't sell product - just the paraphernalia.

Via Vortex Puddle.

Transparency vs. concealment

Via The New Yorker.

The Guano Islands Act

An interesting item I recently encountered in the book Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery, by Steve Nicholls (University of Chicago Press, 2009):
“But several islands in the Caribbean had big enough and old enough seabird colonies to have built up thick layers of guano, well worth mining as agriculture in North America spread westward and spilled onto the Great Plains. Just how important guano was before the days of chemical fertilizers was illustrated in 1856, when the United States passed the Guano Islands Act. This allowed any U.S. citizen to claim as U.S. territory an uninhabited guano island anywhere in the world, and it empowered the president to use the U.S. military to defend those claims. In all, more than fifty islands were claimed, and some are still disputed...
Here's the citation from the federal legislation, which to my knowledge has never been remanded:
Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.
I coubt there is any land in the world not presently under "the lawful jurisdiction" of any government, so I suppose the Act is irrelevant, but it does demonstrate how empires were built in the old days.

More re the book later.  Photo found at Widelec (see watermark), but original source unknown.

Bill introduced to keep foreign countries out of U.S. elections

With the recent decision that "corporations are people" and can contribute $$$ to political campaigns, it seems appropriate that a bill has now been introduced (by Senator Al Franken, D-MN) to prevent that right from being extended to foreign coporations, or those significantly influenced by foreign interests:
"Since 1974, federal law has banned foreign companies from giving or spending in American elections. Nothing in our current laws, however, explicitly prohibits foreign companies from creating American subsidiaries or getting control of American companies and using them to flood the airwaves in support of their preferred candidates. Citizens United gives companies unlimited power to do that - and does not distinguish between American companies and companies that are owned or controlled by foreign interests..."
Sounds good to me, at least in principle.   What is the counterargument?

China will open military bases worldwide

It is common knowledge that China exerts substantial influence worldwide in economic terms.  Now the country has announced that it is considering setting up overseas military bases.
Setting up overseas military bases is not an idea we have to shun; on the contrary, it is our right. Bases established by other countries appear to be used to protect their overseas rights and interests. As long as the bases are set up in line with international laws and regulations, they are legal ones. But if the bases are established to harm other countries, their existence becomes illegal and they are likely to be opposed by other countries.

China develops its military force with a theme of peace in mind. Therefore, we can either develop military forces domestically to maintain peace, or place the forces abroad as long as we take world peace as the ultimate goal...
The first overseas location to be established will probably be in Pakistan:
"It is baseless to say that we will not set up any military bases in future because we have never sent troops abroad," an article published on Thursday at a Chinese government website said. "It is our right," the article said and went on to suggest that it would be done in the neighborhood, possibly Pakistan...

China has helped Pakistan in modernization of its armed forces by supplying latest fighter planes and frigates besides forging close partnership between the armies of the two countries.
In addition to enhancing their ability to monitor and influence Muslim Uigher separatists on the western margins of China, the Pakistani location would also be crucial in protecting China's interest in Middle East oil.

Via Reddit, where there is a good discussion thread on this subject.

Image credit via Lucky Bogey's Blog, which has several posts relevant to this subject.

Empires come and empires go

And speaking of empires, while reading recently about the settlement of the Americas, I kept bumping into the Portugese.  Their empire was the first to span the globe, and it lasted for over 500 years, longer than that of any other European nation.

The map above entitled "Portugal Is Not a Small Country," was created for internal Portugese reasons, after the loss of Brazil, to show that the remaining hegemony was still substantial. 

Found at Strange Maps.  Posted for the Oregon Expat.

30 January 2010

"...in honor of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals"

Here's the full caption, from Boston.com's The Big Picture:
A man rides a horse through embers and flames of a bonfire in San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010, in honor of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
My irony meter just went through the roof.

Via Reddit.  Click to enlarge the photo.

"Unique" is a very unique word

I have always used "unique" in a binary fashion, defining something that is the only one of its kind.  As such I have considered modifying adjectives to be inappropriate.  This morning I learn that I am apparently "behind the times."  Here's part of the entry at Merriam-Webster online:

1 : being the only one : sole
2 a : being without a like or equal : unequaled
2 b : distinctively characteristic : peculiar 
3 : unusual

usage Many commentators have objected to the comparison or modification (as by somewhat or very) of unique, often asserting that a thing is either unique or it is not. Objections are based chiefly on the assumption that unique has but a single absolute sense, an assumption contradicted by information readily available in a dictionary. Unique dates back to the 17th century but was little used until the end of the 18th when, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was reacquired from French. H. J. Todd entered it as a foreign word in his edition (1818) of Johnson's Dictionary, characterizing it as affected and useless. Around the middle of the 19th century it ceased to be considered foreign and came into considerable popular use. With popular use came a broadening of application beyond the original two meanings (here numbered 1 and 2a). In modern use both comparison and modification are widespread and standard but are confined to the extended senses 2b and 3. When sense 1 or sense 2a is intended, unique is used without qualifying modifiers.

And I can't resist adding: Q: How do you catch a unique rabbit?  A: Unique Up On It. And - Q: How Do You Catch A Tame Rabbit?  A: Tame Way, Unique Up On It.

29 January 2010

Jeopardy! test questions and answers

This week Jeopardy! held online tryouts for future contestants.  There were three different quizzes of 50 questions each, on three nights this week.

Those who took the test (and others) may be interested in seeing the answers, which were not provided at the time.  All of the questions and answers are accessible via forums at the Jeopardy! website, and perhaps more conveniently at the Penultimate Life blog.

Origin of the term "stool pigeon"

Passenger pigeons traveled in flocks of hundreds of millions, so thick that their passing eclipsed the sun. They descended en masse at the locations of nut and fruit trees. Audubon passed a roost site along the Green River in Kentucky: “I rode through it upwards of forty miles, and, crossing it in different parts, found its average breadth to be rather more than three miles… the dung lay several inches deep, covering the whole extent of the roosting place…The Pigeons, arriving by the thousands, alighted everywhere, one above another, until solid masses were formed on the branches all around.  Here and there perches gave way under the weight with a crash, and, falling to the ground, destroyed hundred of birds beneath, forcing down the dense groups with which every stick was loaded. It was a scene of uproar and confusion. I found it quite useless to speak, or even to shout to those persons who were nearest to me.”

“Audobon... came up with a figure of over 1 billion birds in a single flock that he watched near Louisville, Kentucky. A flock in Ontario thirty years later took several days to pass and was later estimated to contain nearly 4 billion individuals.”

The longest recorded nesting site was in central Wisconsin. In 1872 it formed an L shape, the long arm 75 miles long and the short one 50 miles long, with arm widths between six and eight miles.

The birds were destroyed with guns, clubs, and burning pots of sulphur.
“They were also trapped in the daytime in spring-loaded nets, drawn into range by a “stool pigeon,” a captured bird, often with its eyes sewn shut and tethered to a perch of “stool.” 
It was made to flap its wings to attract the attention of a passing flock, and it was quite usual for each trapper to catch upward of five hundred birds in each release of the net and maybe five thousand birds in a day’s work.

(Notes and quotes from the book Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery, by Steve Nicholls (University of Chicago Press, 2009).  More re the book in the days to come.

Illustration from a Squidoo page devoted to the passenger pigeon.

The thong is now passé

According to Cosmopolitan magazine, whale tails are now a thing of the past, replaced by "boy shorts."  Salon columnist Sarah Hepola is not disappointed:
"...for many of us, the thong was an epic fail -- neither flattering nor comfortable, a permanent wedgie at premium prices...instead of something worn occasionally, the thong became something to wear all the time, every day...
Photo via Jezebel.

Congressman used "scholarship money" for golf outings

Congressman Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) set up the Frontier Foundation seven years ago "with the intention of handing out scholarships once the fund reached $100,000."  The Foundation has now raised $880,000, including $200,000 from The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), big pharma’s main lobby.   The foundation has not yet given out a single dollar to a student for scholarships, but the funds have been used to hire friends and family members as employees, and to fund golfing trips.
CREW [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] filed a complaint with the IRS and the Office of Congressional Ethics. Relying on news reports, the complaint alleges that Buyer's Frontier Foundation is run by friends and family members, shares office space with Buyer's campaign, get money from businesses with interests before the congressional committees that Buyer sits on, and hasn't handed out a single scholarship.

"Reprehensibly, Rep. Buyer appears to have been using Frontier fundraisers to play golf at exclusive domestic and foreign resorts to avoid paying for his own travel, meals, lodging, and greens fees, all on the backs of Indiana's underprivileged students," said CREW's complaint.
Here's an excerpt from a CBS News report from two months ago:
In fact, six years after the Frontier Foundation started, it's collected more than $800,000. Yet it hasn't spent a penny on scholarships.

It can be difficult to know where Buyer's re-election campaign ends and his Frontier Foundation begins. His campaign and Foundation shared office space. Until August, his campaign manager also ran his Foundation - inviting select donors to golf outings with Buyer at posh resorts.

When nobody from the Frontier Foundation returned our calls, we went to the address listed on their tax forms in Monticello, Indiana and found an empty office.
There is now a report that the congressman will retire - not now, but at the end of his term.

What makes me mad is not just the congressman's alleged activity, but the apparent inaction of Congress to investigate and discipline him.  An inquiry as to whether these charges are true or not shouldn't require two months from when it became public news; it could be accomplished in two weeks - probably in two days.  Just have an accountant review the books of the foundation.  If he were my employee and guilty as charged, I would kick him out now and require repayment of every damn penny, with interest.

Charlie Brooker explains why I don't watch network news

His parody/commentary is directed at the BBC, but would equally apply to American television news.  I previously posted a delightful rant by him directed at "irritating American brats."

Via Neatorama.

CIA operative lied to media re efficacy of waterboarding

In December 2007, John Kiriakou told ABC News' Brian Ross in a televised and widely publicized interview that "senior al Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water." Now he admits he was lying.
The point was that it worked. And the pro-torture camp was quick to pick up on Kiriakou's claim.

"It works, is the bottom line," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the day after Kiriakou's ABC interview. "Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works."

A cascade of similar acclamations followed, muffling -- to this day -- the later revelation that Zubaydah had in fact been waterboarded at least 83 times...

Now comes John Kiriakou, again, with a wholly different story. On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up.

"What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple counts," he writes. "I suggested that Abu Zubaydah had lasted only thirty or thirty-five seconds during his waterboarding before he begged his interrogators to stop; after that, I said he opened up and gave the agency actionable intelligence."

"Now we know," Kiriakou goes on, "that Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times in a single month, raising questions about how much useful information he actually supplied."
It will be interesting to see the coverage this gets in the major media compared to the coverage they gave his original allegation.

More at the Foreign Policy link.  Via Reddit.

Ready-to-wear fashion

"A model displays a creation by South Korean designer Lie Sang Bong during the Paris Fashion Week Ready-to-Wear Spring/Summer 2010 collection. Picture: EPA"

Found at Liberalguy, via Titam.

28 January 2010

Body modification in Mindanao

I found the photo above while searching for something totally unrelated.  Unfortunately the accompanying text at the link is in ?Romanian.   All I can discern is the place names of Mindanao and the Philippines, and some words that look like "modify" and "rudimentary instruments."  A TinEye reverse-image-search doesn't help, and Babelfish doesn't offer a Romanian-to-English option.  And I can't find anything relevant with the googling.

The lady's lower teeth look to be intact, and black probably from betel juice.  But the upper ones are incredibly carved.  I've seen photos of modern dental modification in which the teeth are abraded into saw-like points, but this lady's dental work is the most elaborate I've ever seen.

TYWKIWDBI gets a couple thousand visitors a year from the Philippines, a couple hundred of whom log on from Mindanao, so perhaps some reader will recognize this process.  Or perhaps there's an academic dentist out there.  If anyone has information (or a link?) that would help explain this photo, please leave a comment.

p.s. - somewhat related is the Mesoamerican "King of Dental Bling."

Addendum:  It never takes long on this blog for someone to come up with answers to the most arcane questions.  Conor found a Google translation of the page in question, and Mlle Titam found this explanatory video:

"When my child wept, his tears were black."

A 6-minute clip from Werner Herzog's 50-minute film "Lessons of Darkness".  Soundtrack by Grieg, Mahler (2nd Symphony!), Pärt, Prokofiev, Shubert, Verdi, and (obviously) Wagner. I've requested it from our library; should be interesting.

Found at Videosift.

Update: I've just watched the movie.  The clip above is quite representative.  If you like the clip, you'll like the movie (and vice versa).   Mostly it's views of the burning oil fields, but there is one heart-rending segment of a mother being interviewed re the war and saying -
"Even the tears were black.  When my child wept his tears were black."  
After that the soldiers stomped on the child's head, and he hasn't spoken since then.  Her comments refer to the environmental Armageddon they lived through.

Moqo-Moqo: a Recommended Blog

Most of the blogs I have recommended have been "accumulators," typically without a single theme.  Moqo-Moqo is also an accumulator - of photographs.  I particularly like the fact that Moqo-Moqo is themed to the biological diversity of the natural world.   In recent years he/she seems to have added a bit of commentary or identification of the subject, but for the most part the emphasis is on the visual image.

Another reason I'm offering a recommendation is that unlike many (?most) other photoaccumulators, this one makes a reasonable effort to give credit to the source of the photo, either via text or via a link embedded in the photo.  Sometimes, as with the indigo bunting above, the link goes to the photo itself; other times (and less optimally) it goes to a Flickr photostream's front page or to another accumulator.  But at least the effort and courtesy is made.

Whenever TYWKIWDBI starts becoming dreary from a run of posts about business, politics, ethics, crime etc, I can always lighten the mood with some nature photos from Moqo-Moqo.  If you like that subject matter, give it a browse at the link.

"The men ate their own amputated fingers"

I think anyone with even a modicum of interest in history should read an account of Napoleon's disastrous 1812 campaign against the Russians. I recently finished The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon’s Greatest Army by Stephan Talty (Crown Publishers, New York, 2009).  It provides a detailed account of the military campaign, with a special emphasis on the role played by typhus in decimating Napoleon's forces.  Here are some notes and excerpts:

As he headed east, Napoleon’s army was the size of a city; between 550,000 and 600,000 soldiers crossed entered Russian territory, accompanied by 50,000 wives, whores and attendants, the horde was more than lived in the entire city of Paris.  It was in effect the fifth-largest city in the world at the time, guided by a masterful administration that could move messages at 120 mph (via semaphore).

But they weren't very tall.  Napoleon's Imperial Guard of 50,000 men were hand-picked "immortals" who met the criteria of being able to read and write and standing over 5'6" tall (most Frenchmen at the time were closer to 5' tall).

Napoleon had prior experience with typhus with his armies.  During his wars in Spain 300,000 of his men died of disease while only 100,000 died in battle.  As this army entered Poland 60,000 were sick and 30,000 had already died.  When they reached Vilna, Napoleon was losing 4000-6000 soldiers a day.

The Russians experienced similar problems: "Russian Colonel Ludwig von Wolzogen met a lieutenant resting with 30 to 40 men behind the front line and ordered him to rejoin his regiment. “This is my regiment!” the man cried. He had lost approximately 1,250 men."

After the army entered Moscow, Russian arsonists torched the wooden city while the French army pillaged it:
“Thousands of men prowled the streets brandishing Turkish scimitars inside their leather belts or sporting enormous fur hats or bits of Tartar costume. Great heaps of swag made their appearance: a jewel-encrusted spittoon from a prince’s palace, silver candlesticks and icons from the local churches, silk Persian shawls threaded with gold, bracelets thick with emeralds and diamonds, enormous rugs and even embroidered armchairs from the finest salons…”
During the retreat, the ditches along the road were filled with this booty:
Along the road one saw silver candelabra, gold crucifixes, the Complete Works of Voltaire bound in Moroccan leather, wall hangings laced with silver thread, “cases filled with diamonds or rolls of ducats.”
To keep warm, the soldiers wore their booty:
“Gaunt soldiers wore silk dresses over their uniforms; fur capes and throws; chartreuse, lilac, or white satin capes… Some wore remnants of carpets stolen from glossy Muscovite floors.
And they ate anything in their path - dogs, bears, leather, and corpses.
The men ate their own fingers that had been amputated because of frostbite, and drank their own blood…”
The final numbers for the campaign of 1812: Total dead conservatively 400K. Fewer than a quarter died of enemy action; the majority died of disease, cold, hunger, and thirst. The Imperial Guard returned with only 1500 of its original 47,000 members. The losses were magnified by the small populations of the time – a Polish loss of 75,000 then would be equivalent to 750,000 now. The Russian losses were also heavy – total dead during the war easily over 1 million.

And one final intriguing tidbit. During the march to Moscow,
“Some troops cut crude sunglasses out of bits of stained-glass window and wore them…”
Quite clever. I've never heard of that before.

The embedded image is Minard's famous graphic of the size of Napoleon's army during the approach to, and retreat from, Moscow; it also depicts the route and the temperatures encountered.  Click the image to examine in more detail.

27 January 2010

Mary Pickford

Born in Canada, rose to superstardom in the glory days of early cinema. Smart enough to demand not just a salary ($675K in 1918 = $10 million today), but a percentage (to 50%!) of the profits of her films.  Co-founded United Artists film studio. 

From this studio portrait, it's easy to see why she was called the "Girl with the curls." 

Paria Canyon, Arizona

Photo credit Natalia Plekhanova.

The megaflood of the Mediterranean

It was called the "Zanclean flood" because it occurred during that time interval about 5 million years ago.  The waters of the Atlantic ocean broke through the land barrier that joined Gibraltar to Africa, spilling into what at the time was the "Mediterranean desert" (see this link on the Messinian salinity crisis).

Last month the BBC reported some new research into the event. 
Using existing borehole and seismic data, his team showed how the flood would have begun with water spilling over a sill. The water would have gradually eroded a channel into the strait, eventually triggering a catastrophic flood, Dr Garcia-Castellanos explained.

He and his colleagues created a computer model to estimate the duration of the flood, and found that, when the "incision channel" reached a critical depth, the water flow sped up. In a period ranging from a few months to two years, the scientists say that 90% of the water was transferred into the basin.
That must have been something to see.  Wish I could have been there to watch.  It's very similar to the Ryan-Pitman deluge theory about the filling of the Black Sea from the Mediterranean.

And one related interesting item.  Someone has proposed reestablishing that land bridge between Gibraltar and Africa, letting the level of the Mediterranean fall, and then letting the water back in through an enormous dam that would create gazillions of megawatts of electricity.  It would create a lot of new land (but it would trash some famous beaches - and Venice).  Read about it here.

"If we don't act now..."

Found at (where else?) Superpoop.

Is the "entire world" a "battlefield"?

I really admire Glenn Greenwald's writings for Salon.  They are among the few op-ed columns that I review on a regular basis, because he isn't afraid to ask challenging questions.  He did it when the Bush administration was in power, and he continues to do so with Obama in charge.  The most recent column is headed by the in-your-face title "Presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens."
Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests."  They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations....

Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens.  That's just the essence of war.  That's why it's permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war zone but not, say, torture them once they're captured and helplessly detained.  But combat is not what we're talking about here.  The people on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities.  More critically still, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- defines the "battlefield" as the entire world So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks.  That's quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.

As we well know from the last eight years, the authoritarians among us in both parties will, by definition, reflexively justify this conduct by insisting that the assassination targets are Terrorists and therefore deserve death.  What they actually mean, however, is that the U.S. Government has accused them of being Terrorists, which (except in the mind of an authoritarian) is not the same thing as being a Terrorist.
Much more at the link.  There's a lot to think about here. 

Science Channel refuses to "dumb down" any further

My post of the graphic of programming on The History Channel received a vigorous response, so I thought it appropriate to follow up with this news about the Science Channel:
SILVER SPRING, MD—Frustrated by continued demands from viewers for more awesome and extreme programming, Science Channel president Clark Bunting told reporters Tuesday that his cable network was "completely incapable" of watering down science any further than it already had...

"Look, we've tried, we really have, but it's simply not possible to set the bar any lower," said a visibly exhausted Bunting, adding that he "could not in good conscience" make science any more mindless or insultingly juvenile...

Debbie Myers, general manager of the Science Channel, said the cable station has maintained a balance of 5 percent science content and 95 percent mind-numbing drivel over the past few years, and that this was as far as they were willing to go....

...on-air demonstrations of such basic scientific principles as "inertia" and "momentum" are mostly relegated to pushing a blindfolded participant strapped to an office chair down a steep hill...

While they won't be dumbing down their already crude lineup of shows, Science Channel officials assured viewers that the network will continue to cater to the lowest common denominator and will keep airing embarrassingly base content completely stripped of all intellectual integrity...

"I don't like it when the science people talk about things no one can even understand," said Rich Parker, an Ohio resident. "It's like, just quit your yapping and dip the chain saw into the liquid nitrogen already."
Before you offer a comment, please note the source at the link.

Could the Taliban be "bought off?"

The U.S., Britain, and Japan(?) are leading an effort to develop a cash incentive plan for the Taliban to stop their resistance in Afghanistan.
The scheme would offer cash, jobs and other incentives to the Taliban and fighters in other armed groups...

Parts of the funds would be spent on projects to develop the fighters' villages and  building roads to their communities...  "Many people are not actually fighting for the Taliban but alongside the Taliban because of poverty and other local concerns, because of tribal issues."
More at the link and at this link.

26 January 2010

Myrna Darby, Ziegfeld girl

Via Vintage Blog.

Bannerman Castle

Bannerman Castle is one of very few actual castles in the United States.  Located on Pollapel Island in the Hudson River north of New York, it was built a century ago and eventually used as a military suplus warehouse.  It is now abandoned and deteriorating.

Pix via Artificial Owl.

How to determine a company's physical location

Companies that do business on the web often do not publicize their brick-and-mortar location.  The Consumerist offers this tip:
By law, any website that collects data from its users is required to post a privacy policy, and all privacy policies are required to display a physical address to send mail to.  You can also then use that address in databases to track down other contact information associated with it, like a live phone number.
A good tip to tuck away for possible future use.

Loopholes in the Credit CARD Act

The credit card reform bill becomes effective in February.  Walletpop has these reminders:
There is no cap on the interest rate card companies are allowed to charge. While companies can't hike your rates on existing balances unless you're 60 days late with a payment, they can raise rates on future purchases any time and for any (or no) reason...

While the CARD Act has limits on the severity of penalty fees you can be charged, there's no rule against card companies making up as many new fees as they can conjure [annual fees, paper bill fees, inactivity fees] and charging whatever they like for them...

We told you card companies can't hike your rates on existing balances. That's true as long as you have a fixed-rate card instead of a variable rate card... This is the reason why card issuers have been switching people to variable-rate cards as fast as they can print out and mail the notices.

Your card company can lower your credit limit or close your card without giving you any warning at all... issuers tend to close cards that are inactive or aren't used very often...
More at the link.

Bagger 288 - the video

This is quite a strange video.  You will either love it or hate it, probably depending on your age (or maturity).  There is a more prosaic explanation of Bagger 288 at Neatorama.

How many temporary nurses are incompetent?

Every profession has incompetent personnel - doctors, lawyers, airplane pilots, accountants, etc.  Last month an article published at Propublica and at The Los Angeles, and reposted by Mother Jones, raised a question as to whether there are in inordinate numbe of incompetent temporary nurses:
Firms that supply temporary nurses to the nation's hospitals are taking perilous shortcuts in their screening and supervision... Emboldened by a chronic nursing shortage and scant regulation, the firms vie for their share of a free-wheeling, $4-billion industry. Some have become havens for nurses who hopscotch from place to place to avoid the consequences of their misconduct...

• Firms hired nurses who had criminal records or left states where their licenses had been restricted or revoked...

• Temp agencies shuffled errant nurses from one hospital to another, even as complaints mounted...

• Nurses who got in trouble at one agency had no problem landing a job at another...

When staff nurses err, hospitals typically retrain or monitor them afterward. Temp nurses often are just exchanged for replacements, never receiving further guidance...

Many agencies allow applicants to take competency tests online. Testifying in a malpractice lawsuit earlier this year, an official at Fastaff, a large traveling-nurse firm based in Colorado, said applicants have been hired without even a phone interview...
Much, much more at the link.  My mom was a nurse, so I would never diss the profession in general, but I would encourage people to be aware of the potential problems with temporary personnel.

Award-winning photos from the National Wildlife Federation

The NWF website has another dozen or so photos from their 2009 photography competition. 

Credits: John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk (top), Guillaume Mazille (middle), Marcia M. Olinger (bottom).

Get Out

A multi-award-winning French animation.  You can read more about the film and its awards at the film's website.  Via Neatorama.

Creature of the night

Several weeks ago I featured a Monarch butterfly dress.  The ?cape pictured in the drawing above appears to be more moth-like.  I presume it was designed to be worn while flitting about under the nighttime street lights of Paris.

Found at Vintage Blog, where there's lots of interesting photos and artwork.

Monarchs use Earth's magnetic field to navigate

The two newly-hatched monarchs on my fingers above nectared in our yard for a while after release last summer, then eventually headed toward Mexico.  It has always been taken for granted that butterflies use solar orientation for navigation.  Now some recent research indicates that they, like birds, may also incorporate a system of geomagnetic detection:
The research team used fruit flies engineered to lack their own Cryptochrome (Cry1) molecule, a UV/blue-light photoreceptor already known to be involved in the insects' light-dependent magnetic sense. By inserting into those deficient flies butterfly Cry1... the researchers found that either form can restore... magnetic sense in a light-dependent manner, illustrating a role for both Cry types in magnetoreception.
The research is described in their paper, "Animal cryptochromes mediate magnetoreception by an unconventional photochemical mechanism," posted on-line in the journal Nature on January 24.


The low-level radioactivity of tritium can be converted into fluorescent light energy ("litroenergy") by bringing it into contact with phosphorus.  By encapsulating both components inside microspheres, a Wisconsin company is developing glow-in-the-dark paints
The MPK packaging of tritium into microspheres that have a 5,000-pound crush resistance, makes this technology safe. In the case of release into the air, it essentially is released as hydrogen. The "soft" radioactive emissions from the tritium do not penetrate through the walls of the microsphere encapsulation... The cost to light up 8½ x 11 piece of plastic... with Litrospheres is about 35 cents.
Another company is using similar technology to produce luminescent lighting strips:

The Lunabright products activate after a few minutes' exposure to daylight or artificial light, then continue to glow for several hours.  The presumed use would be for safety- and security-related applications.

I'm not pimping either of the products or the companies - just thought the new technologies are kind of cool.

25 January 2010

No blogging tonight

Brett Favre and I are still recovering from that Vikings-Saints game yesterday...

See you tomorrow.

24 January 2010

Two films by the Lumière brothers (1895)

The top one depicts workers leaving the Lumière factory, and the second shows a train arriving at La Ciotat.

Found at The Clever Pup, which has "interesting articles for interesting people."

Paintings by a famous person

Not famous for being a painter, mind you.  Famous as an actor.  You can find his name (and a link to a gallery of additional paintings) at John Farrier's Zeray Gazette.

"No, I wasn't THAT Joker, you idiot!"

Via Americana Lodge.

Note:  This image was Photoshopped;  original here shows the appropriate photo being handed to him.  Hat tip to Seabass.

The Skálholt Map

The Skálholt Map... is less well known [than the controversial "Vinland" map], but has the advantage of being authentic. The first version was made in 1570 by Sigurd Stefánsson, a teacher in Skálholt, then an important religious and educational centre on Iceland. Stefánsson attempted to plot the American locations mentioned in the Vinland Saga on a map of the North Atlantic. Stefánsson’s original is lost; this copy dates from 1669, and was included in description of Iceland by Biørn Jonsen of Skarsaa...

Greenland is of course an island, but was considered by the Vikings to be a huge peninsula of a contiguous northern mainland, that continued to America, where are noted Helleland, Markland and Skraelingeland (after the Viking name for the natives). Marked vertically on the map’s southwestern edge is the name Promontorium Winlandiae (Promontory of Vinland)...

Text and image (click to enlarge) from the always-interesting Strange Maps.

David Kelly's autopsy results to be kept secret

Kelly, of course, was the biological weapons expert whose unexpected death was ruled a suicide.
Broucher had asked Kelly what would happen if Iraq were invaded, and Kelly had replied, "I will probably be found dead in the woods."
Doubts have been raised as to whether the cutting of the ulnar artery, outdoors on a cold night, could have lead to his death, especially since there was little blood at the scene, and the knife found by his body had no fingerprints on it.

Now the results of his postmortem examination are to be kept secret:
In a draconian – and highly unusual – order, Lord Hutton, the peer who chaired the controversial inquiry into the Dr Kelly scandal, has secretly barred the release of all medical records, including the results of the post mortem, and unpublished evidence...

The normal rules on post-mortems allow close relatives and ‘properly interested persons’ to apply to see a copy of the report and to ‘inspect’ other documents.  Lord Hutton’s measure has overridden these rules, so the files will not be opened until all such people are likely to be dead.

Last night, the Ministry of Justice was unable to explain the legal basis for Lord Hutton’s order.
Smells fishy.  Anyone who thinks it is the victim's family that is being "protected" is, I think, highly gullible.

(p.s. - did you know the word "gullible" is not in any standard or online dictionary?)

Zoomable paper map of London

When I lived in Chiswick for 6 months, I seldom went out without a map in my pocket.  This one is cleverly designed:
It unfolds from a little square into a bigger, four-sectioned overview of the city-center. Any of these four quarters can then be folded out... to reveal a larger, zoomed version of the plan.

Disguising a laptop inside a book

One presumes this was created more for hiding one's laptop on the shelf of an apartment rather than as a carrying case per se, because there are lots of cases available, probably with better padding.
Designed to look like a heavy, ancient leather-bound tome, the BookBook notebook sleeve is in fact a zip-open, padded leather-bound tome, a vintage hardback disguise for the MacBook.
Here's the part I think is clever:
...the zipper-pulls resemble, to the uninterested eye at least, bookmark tails...

Queen Eadgyth's tomb discovered

 When the tomb was opened in 2008 a lead coffin 70cm long was found inside, bearing an inscription that read: 'The rescued remains of Queen Eadgyth are in this sarcophagus, after the second renovation of this monument in 1510.' The lead box contained the bones of a woman aged in her thirties, wrapped in white silk.

In the 10th century, she was the equivalent of Princess Diana, but I had not heard of her until this morning.
The crumbling remains of Alfred the Great's granddaughter - a Saxon princess who married one of the most powerful men in Europe - have been unearthed more than 1,000 years after her death.  The almost intact bones of Queen Eadgyth - the early English form of Edith - were discovered wrapped in silk, inside a lead coffin in a German cathedral.

Queen Eadgyth lived at the dawn of the English nation.  Her grandfather Alfred the Great was the first monarch to style himself King of the Anglo Saxons, while her step-brother Athelstan was the first King of the English.
More details and pictures at the link.  Posted for my mom, for whom this queen is a namesake.  There have been very few famous Ediths (Roosevelt, Piaf, Wharton, Evans, Bunker, and Head are the best known)

23 January 2010

An 8-year-old blues guitarist

Not your ordinary second-grader.

Via Bits and Pieces/

Dirty Harry meets Rain Man

An xkcd creation, via Miss Cellania.

Getting ready to eat some gold leaf

A man holds a spoon full of gold leaf, ready to eat it with his sushi at the "Seven Sushi Samurai" Sushi of the Year awards 2009 at the Olympia exhibition center in west London, on November 14, 2009. The gold leaf was an ingredient in last year's winner Mitsunori Kusakabe's entry. (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images) 

From an interesting set of 37 photos at Boston.com's The Big Picture, presenting gold objects and aspects of gold mining and processing.

Watermill at Brantome, France

Looks like it's been converted into a ?restaurant.   Click to enlarge.

Found at Pixdaus, credited to Gaby31 without other identifying information.

Update:  Location identified by Corentin as Brantome, France.  Another photo here.

A simple math puzzle

A ball 13 inches in diameter has a 5-inch hole drilled through the center. How deep is the hole?

You can do this one in your head.  The answer is in the comment section.

Found at Futility Closet, where it was credited to Henry Dudeny.
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