31 May 2010

Cucullia asteroides - the Goldenrod Hooded Owlet moth

This very striking caterpillar appeared on an aster plant in our front yard late last August.  I wanted to see what he would become, so I placed him in a jar with aster clippings, some mulch on the bottom, and a couple sticks in case he needed them for pupation.

He was a very messy eater, clipping leaves off and letting them fall to the ground; I've read or heard that some caterpillars employ this strategy so that partially-eaten leaves on the plant do not give away their presence.  I do have to say this guy was well camouflaged, because there were times when I had difficulty locating him in the jar.

In mid-September he disappeared.  Totally.  I knew he had burrowed into the mulch at the bottom to pupate, so I placed the jar in our unheated garage for the winter.  A couple weeks ago he reappeared, as the rather inconspicuous moth shown here.

As best I can tell, he's one of the hundreds of species of Cucullia moths - Cucullia asteroides, as best I can tell.  Not a colorful creature by human standards (or by lepidopteran standards), but I suspect that drab coloration serves the defenseless adult well for camo, just as the striking green stripes served the caterpillar.

Can anyone identify these "sand tunnels?"

One of my favorite nature blogs - A Prairie Haven - has offered a puzzle to be solved.  The structures in the photo above were found on a farm in Wisconsin.
They're built up along the branches of small shrubs - mostly Sand Cherry.  They're close to the ground - none more than about 8 inches high.
The first thought was that they were termite tunnels, and they do resemble the connections that termites use to travel from their nests into above-ground structures.  These structures, however, are made of sand, and when they were examined by a termitologist, she noted that the sand grains were fused by webbing - not a feature of termite structures.  She postulates that these could be made by ants, but the puzzle is still under investigation.

Any myrmecologists out there who could confirm or clarify this?   You can post your comments at her blog, or here and I'll forward the information.

Update:
The answer is in the Comment thread - this is a construction made by the larva of a moth (Prionapteryx nebulifera).  The process was originally described in 1905 in the pine barrens of New Jersey.

Orangutan and hound - best buddies


Of all the categories in the right sidebar of this blog, the "cheerful" one is the one that needs more content.  This fits right in.

Found at Neatorama.

Connections


Click to enlarge and read this graphic of "Friends, Lovers, and Family," which comes from the Spring 2010 edition of Lewis Lapham's Quarterly.   The name in the lower right corner is perhaps a bit whimsically added, but it serves to remind us of how few degrees of separation there are among people.

Floor-to-ceiling bookcases

This image is one of several dozen compiled at Desire to Inspire in response to a reader request for ideas/images of floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

Our house has a few thousand books stored in a variety of bookcases in virtually every room.  But as I get older, the desire to keep every book that I enjoy has started to fade.  I want to have access to books (through libraries or online) and I want to keep certain reference books or hard-to-find books or books that I have extensively underlined.  But do I still need to keep my collection of 66 Agatha Christie mysteries scrounged from used book stores during a decade of searching?  All those John Dickson Carrs/Carter Dicksons that I want to reread "when I get old" - do I need to keep the books themselves?  I don't know.  But I do love seeing people's libraries/bookshelves when I visit homes of neighbors and friends.  They tell me a lot about what the people are like.

Via The Centered Librarian.

Addendum: Seabass suggests that those who like libraries and books should visit the Bookshelf Porn tumblr (SFW).

The making of the Ford Model T


This is a straightforward 5-minute documentary about how the cars were made, but it's quite interesting.

Via Within the Crainium.

Reclining seats


Larger photo here.  Source uncredited, and none found with a reverse image search.

Via Consciousness is a Congenital Hallucination.

You'll never guess what this is

I had absolutely no clue. For those familiar with electron microscopy of biological systems, it might suggest coiled pulmonary surfactant.  Click to enlarge (but it won't help you...).

In order not to give the answer away too quickly while you ponder the image, I've printed the answer in the paragraph below this one in a color as close as possible to the background. Mouse over it to see the answer.
"We're looking at a photograph of what is supposed to be an airfield which has been beautifully plowed under by German sappers, done so to prevent the airfields being used by British forces subsequent to its abandonment by retreating German forces."
Found at Ptak Science Books, via Consciousness is a Congenital Hallucination.

Anti-intellectualism

Here's a wonderful quote from Isaac Asimov:
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
That was quoted in Newsweek magazine in January of 1980.   The situation doesn't appear to have improved in the past 30 years.

Quote found at Reddit, where someone recommended a book from 1966 by Richard Hofstadter: "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," the Amazon review of which offers this excerpt:
Unfortunately, America's practical culture has never embraced intellectuals. The intellectuals' education and expertise are viewed as a form of power or privilege. Intellectuals are seen as a small arrogant elite who are pretentious, conceited, snobbish. Geniuses' are described as eccentric, and their talents dismissed as mere cleverness. Their cultured view is seen as impractical, and their sophistication as ineffectual. Their emphasis on knowledge and education is viewed as subversive, and it threatens to produce social decadence.

Instead, the anti-intellectuals believe that the plain sense of the common man is altogether adequate and superior to formal knowledge and expertise from schools. The truths of the heart, experience, and old-fashioned principles of religion, character, instinct, and morality are more reliable guides to life than education. After all, we idolize the self-made man in America.

Hofstadter goes on to cite examples of anti-intellectualism from the nations founding to today. For example, the founding fathers were sages, scientists, and men of cultivation, yet the Federalists attacked the brilliant Thomas Jefferson by portraying the curiosity of his active mind as too trivial and ridiculous for important affairs...

Turning to education, Hofstadter points out that broad public education in the US was started not for developing the mind or the pride of learning for its own sake, but for its supposed political and economic benefits. Children were viewed not minds to be developed, but as citizens to be trained for a stable democracy.
Might be an interesting book.  Anyone read it?

TYWKIWDBI intends to remain a refuge for intellectuals.

Game counting board

Found at The Nile flood, where the Japanese characters are rendered by Google translate as "Jakkarubajon the top of the world's first board game Seneto." Googling Seneto yields only one relevant hit (and I can't find a translator for the Esperanto there).

This appears to be carved out of ivory.  I wonder if it is Pharaonic in origin.

Via Muton.

Addendum: A hat tip to Kabbu, who knew about Senet, a pre-dynastic Egyptian game

30 May 2010

"Adieu"


Painting by Alfred Guillou (~1892).

Source: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper.  Via The Transcendental Modernist.

Yet another Guantanamo detainee is released

What's most significant about this is that Hassen is now the 36th detainee who has won his habeas hearing since the Supreme Court in 2008 ruled they have the right to such hearings -- out of 50 whose petitions have been heard.  In other words, 72% of Guantanamo detainees who finally were able to obtain just minimal due process (which is what a habeas hearing is) -- after years of being in a cage without charges -- have been found by federal judges to be wrongfully detained...

And despite knowing how many people we are innocently imprisoning, the Obama administration continues to demand the power to imprison people with no judicial review: by indefinitely detaining them without charges, by insisting that Bagram detainees captured outside Afghanistan have no habeas rights, by refusing to release any Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, including those whom the administration itself knows are being wrongfully detained...

It's commonplace to label something a travesty of justice, but who can deny that knowingly imprisoning innocent people for years and years while scheming to deny them all judicial review is a disgrace of historic proportions?

Here's an "oil leak widget"


From PBS, which offers these other data estimates if you want to adjust the widget:
Here's a look at some of the other numbers that form the basis of our oil leak range, including our update on May 21 about reports of a new estimate on the way:

* NOAA | 210,000 gal/day
* USGS (Added May 27) | 504,000 to 798,000 dal/day
* Outside Estimates | 1,050,000 gal/day
* BP (Worst Case as of May 5) | 2,520,000 gal/day
* Experts' Worst Case | 4,200,000 gal/day
(note you can click "get this widget" to get one for your own blog...)

"100 billion dollars per person..."

" It has been estimated that the mineral wealth resident in the belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter would be equivalent to about 100 billion dollars for every person on Earth today..."
Data from the book "Mining the Sky," cited by NASA's Near Earth Object Program.

How to carve half a calf's head for dinner

And you thought it was hard to carve a turkey.  These directions, from "The Housekeeper's Book" of 1837 detail how to cut the various parts off from the head:  "handsome slices" from the cheek, "sweetbread" (??thymus) from the throat, the eye..., the palate...

I found this most interesting:  "There is a tooth in the upper jaw, called by some the sweeet tooth, very full of jelly..."  I wonder if this has any connection to the term "having a sweet tooth" meaning to desire sugary foods?  And I don't understand how a calf's tooth could be sweet with jelly unless there's a high fat content in the roots of the tooth???
"It is highly necessary that all who preside at the head of a table should be acquainted with all these particular delicacies..."
How times have changed.

Found at Centuries of Advice and Advertisements.

"Frazil ice" at Yosemite


In Minnesota we would call this "slush."  The rangers at Yosemite refer to it as "frazil ice," which seems a little different from the definitions I've read, which require supercooled water.  Whatever... we'll concede the word, because the behavior of the ice is so ... can we say "cool?"

Via Boing Boing and the Upcoming Queue.

Did Botticelli depict Venus and Mars high on drugs?

David Bellingham, a director at Sotheby's, showed this painting to horticulturalists at Kew, who identified the plant in the lower right corner as Datura stramonium; one side effect of its ingestion is the urge to remove one's clothes.
"The fruit is being offered to the viewer, so it is meant to be significant. Botticelli does use plants symbolically."
Personally, I'm not convinced, but it does make the painting more interesting.  The standard interpretation of the painting is here, including this:
The wasps may be a reference to the clients who commissioned the painting. They are part of the coat of arms of the Vespucci family, whose name derives from vespa, Italian for wasp.
Image credit, and a higher rez picture (where it's still hard to see the plant in question).

For more on Vespa/wasp, see the next post...

"Vespa" is Italian for "wasp"

"A swarm of bees protect their new home: the back of a Vespa scooter near Milan's Duomo Square. The queen bee's choice of home is perhaps not surprising, as 'vespa' is the Italian word for 'wasp'."

From The Week in Pictures at The Telegraph.  

Credit: Caters/Milestone.

Rachel Maddow crucifies British Petroleum


She compares the response to the current crisis with the response 30 years ago to similar events.

Russia has truly adopted American-style "democracy"


The release of this video shocked many people...
The footage, shot last week in Russia's Duma, the 450-member lower house of parliament, showed three MPs frantically running from empty seat to seat in order to vote for fellow deputies who were playing truant after lunch...

"Usually, voting in parliament takes place at the end of a session when the cameras have left and the journalists are not in the chamber." This time was different though and a cameraman from Russian TV channel Ren TV caught the farce on camera in a video which went viral on the internet.

One unidentified MP was caught voting nine times. Critics said the abysmal turnout technically made the vote illegal since the rules of parliament itself stipulated that a majority of MPs needed to be present for its activities to be legitimate.
I wasn't surprised, because I remembered a similar video I posted last April...

That's the Texas legislature doing the same thing.

Starry sky


This is what everyone could see if it weren't for man-made light pollution.

Description from APOD:
What's happening above the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador? Quite a bit, from the looks of the above one-night, time-lapse movie, taken earlier this month. The majestic volcano is first seen through breaks in fast moving clouds as the movie begins. Soon the clouds have dissipated and a sky filled with stars seems to rotate about the snow-peaked volcano's peak. The band of our Milky Way Galaxy, the dark Coal Sack nebula, and the Southern Cross can all be seen overhead. Satellites streak by from several directions. Soon thin clouds roll by and seem to make the brightest stars sparkle. On the volcano (starting at about 1:13 of the movie), the lights of climbers flash. Near the end of the movie, a bright airplane passes over the peak with a residual trail seen drifting away.

Britain's "Mountain of Debt"

While listening to the BBC this week, I heard a recitation of the spending cuts proposed by the new goverment.  I was quite impressed, and pleased to hear that an administration was undertaking such an unpleasant and unpopular task.

Then... I saw this cover of The Independent.  The red boxes show how much the debt is being cut...

Via The Daily Dish.

Purging evangelical Christianity from the Pentagon

"Good morning Mikey, you f*** Jew. Let me be the first to call you a f*** Jew today."

Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein shares his hate mail with both friends and strangers the way elderly people show off photos of their grandkids. He has plenty of it to share. For the past four years, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been doing battle with a Christian subculture that, he believes, is trying to Christianize the U.S. armed forces with the help of a complicit Pentagon brass. He calls it the "fundamentalist Christian parachurch-military-corporate-proselytizing complex," a mouthful by which he means holy warriors in contempt of the constitutional barrier between church and state...

Weinstein filed a complaint, in response to which the Air Force launched an investigation that revealed a top-down, invasive evangelicalism in the academy. Among other things, it revealed that the commandant of cadets taught the entire incoming class a "J for Jesus" hand signal, that the football coach had draped a "Team Jesus" banner across the academy locker room, and that more than 250 faculty members and senior officers signed a campus newspaper advertisement that proclaimed: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world." Weinstein has been a First Amendment vigilante ever since...
You can read more about this at Foreign Policy.

The Martian landscape

"Pictured above, Opportunity's tire tracks cross a nearly featureless Martian desert, emanating from a distant horizon..."

Raven maps

While reading the Oregon Expat this week, I was reminded about Raven maps.  I shouldn't have needed the reminder, since the MN one is on the wall of my office.  This company creates gorgeous, large, shaded relief maps which are laminated and ready to hang.  Mine measures about 4' high by 3' wide.

The company's website is here, but unfortunately it appears they only offer small thumbnails for viewing.   You can see much better images at Geology.com.

A reminder that ancient statuary was often painted

This painting is by Jean-Léon Gérôme - Painting Breathes Life into Sculpture, 1893.  (click for bigger)
Although it was initially thought that Greek statues were mostly unadorned white marble, by the early 19th century the systematic excavation of ancient Greek sites brought forth a plethora of sculptures with traces of multicolored surfaces. Some of these traces are still visible to the naked eye even today, though in most examples the remaining color has faded or disappeared entirely once the statues were exposed to light and air. In spite of this overwhelming evidence for painted statues, influential art historians such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann so strongly opposed the idea of painted Greek sculpture that proponents of painted statues were dismissed as eccentrics and their views largely dismissed for several centuries. It wasn't until published findings by German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann in the late 20th century and early 21st century that painted Greek sculptures became an established undeniable fact. Using high intensity lamps, ultraviolet light, special cameras, plaster casts and certain powdered minerals, Brinkmann was able to scientifically prove that the entire Parthenon, including the actual structure as well as the statues, was in fact painted. He furthermore was able to reveal the pigments of the original paint and has created several painted replicas of Greek statues that are currently on tour throughout the world. Also in the collection, are replicas of works from other Greek and Roman sculptures showing that the practice of painting sculpture was wide spread and in fact the normative practice rather than the exception in Greek and Roman culture.
Image found at Miss Folly, via.

False memories and "recovered" memories

It was a vivid story, told with sincerity and emotion. But the events Chris described had never happened. Chris's elder brother, Jim, had made it up as an assignment for Loftus' cognitive psychology class. Jim, pretending the story was real, had fed Chris the basics—the name of the mall, the old man, the flannel shirt, the crying—and Chris, believing his brother's fabrication, had filled in the rest. He had proved what Loftus suspected: If you were carefully coached to remember something, and if you tried hard enough, you could do it.

And this was just the beginning. In the years to come, Loftus and her colleagues would plant false memories of all kinds—chokings, near-drownings, animal attacks, demonic possessions—in thousands of people...

Loftus set out to prove that such memories could have been planted. To do so, she had to replicate the process. She had to make people remember, as sincerely and convincingly as any sworn witness, things that had never happened. And she succeeded. Her experiments shattered the legal system's credulity. Thanks to her ingenuity and persistence, the witch hunts of the recovered-memory era subsided.
The full story is at Slate.

Exhibit at the New Orleans Aquarium

Via.

"The Bourne Identity"

I suspect everyone reading TYWKIWDBI has seen this movie.  The book came out 30 years ago (!), and I remember reading it late into a night because it was - literally - one you couldn't put down.  So I decided to give it another try, thinking I could just whip through it since I've seen the movie recently.

To my surprise, I discovered that the book is quite different from the movie.  In the novel, Jason Bourne is trying to dodge Carlos the assassin and his minions, as well as the authorities; Carlos isn't even involved in the cinema version as best I can remember.  And there's surprisingly little high technology.  Witness this sentence:
"Jason kept his eyes on his watch, the infinitesimal jumps of the thin, delicate sweep hand too agonizingly slow."
I picture a whole new generation of readers asking "Daddy, what's a 'sweep hand'?"  Except the "new generation" won't read the book; they'll only see the movie. 

It's still an excellent book.  Even if you've seen the movie.

Skateboarding... in 1922!

From Shorpy.

Brown is the new Green


A parody of BP commercials that apparently have been on television.

Found at Swimming Freestyle.

Wasp with parasites

They are tucked under three of his abdominal segments.
Strepsiptera, or “twisted wing parasites” are an order of insects that are obligate parasites of insects.
Via Uncertain Times.

Bust of a Veiled Woman (Corradini, ~1720)


From the collections of the Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice.  This represents superb technical skill on the part of the artist, but I'm embarrassed to admit that my first impression on viewing it is that it looks not like a "veiled" woman, but like a "slimed" woman.

Via Couleurs.

"This is your lucky day!"


A compilation of near misses, via Within the Crainium.

Here's a new one that should be added to the group. Very impressive!

George Bernard Shaw at work

This photo was taken in 1933.  I'll bet his "Smith Premier" typewriter was top-of-the-line technology equivalent at the time to today's finest computers.

Photo credit Alfred Eisenstadt, via (OVO)

R.I.P. Phoenix Mars Lander

NASA has pronounced it "officially dead."
In late 2008, NASA's Phoenix lander dropped into deep hibernation at the onset of Martian winter, concluding a successful and long-running mission. But there was some hope that, despite not being built for such hostile temperatures, the craft would emerge from the thaw with a pulse. A final checkup from the Mars Odyseey orbiter circling overhead last week, however, has erased all hope--Phoenix's solar panels have been frozen off. It's dead.

This photo, taken by Odyssey's orbiting companion, the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter, clearly shows a dark shadow where Phoenix's reflect-y solar panels used to be. Hundreds of pounds of ice were projected to build up on the craft over the winter, which proved too much for its solar panels to maintain structural integrity.
Way to go, little guy. Job well done.

Brazil - trailer and end credits



I suddenly realized that I've never posted any videos of one of my favorite movies.  Herewith remedied.

Anti-gravitation underclothiing

Click for bigger.  Source: Punch's Almanack for 1879, via.

People as "sheeple"


This 13-minute video has such a bleak worldview that I've sandwiched it between some lighter fare in a "unicorn maneuver" (if I'm using the right term there).   But I do think it's worth offering for your consideration.

The tone and content present a sort of Orwellian view of the mass of humankind being subject to the controls and whims of powerful rulers.  It was apparently created by Stefan Molyneux at Freedomain Radio, who writes in his YouTube blurb: "We can only be kept in the cages we do not see. A brief history of human enslavement - up to and including your own."

Found at Operator Speaking.

Notice to burglars

Source: The Atchison Globe, December 15, 1882 via Ye Olde News.

The mystery of portolan charts

... one of the world's greatest and most enduring mysteries: Where and how did medieval mapmakers, apparently armed with no more than a compass, an hourglass and sets of sailing directions, develop stunningly accurate maps of southern Europe, the Black Sea and North African coastlines, as if they were looking down from a satellite, when no one had been higher than a treetop?

The earliest known portolan (PORT-oh-lawn) chart, the Carta Pisana, just appears in about 1275 -- with no known predecessors. It is perhaps the first modern scientific map and contrasted sharply to the "mappamundi" of the era, the colorful maps with unrecognizable geography and fantastic creatures and legends. It bears no resemblance to the methods of the mathematician Ptolemy and does not use measurements of longitude and latitude.

And yet, despite it's stunning accuracy, the map "seems to have emerged full-blown from the seas it describes," one reference journal notes. No one today knows who made the first maps, or how they calculated distance so accurately, or even how all the information came to be compiled.

"The real mystery is that if you took all the notebooks from the sailors used in making these charts, along with the coordinates and descriptions," Hessler says, tapping the glass that covers the ancient vellum, "you still couldn't make this map."

"The ancient Greeks and Romans had traditions of map-making, there's Ptolemy, and there's a line of progression," Hessler says. "But here, it just explodes out of nowhere. It appears to be a true invention of the Middle Ages."

The maps usage began to come to an end during trans-Atlantic exploration. For all their regional accuracy, the mapmakers did not know how to calculate for the curvature of the earth on a flat map. Across the Mediterranean, they could take you from port to port because the distances were comparably small. Over the distance of the Atlantic, if you set out for modern-day Miami, you'd wind up on Long Island.

Still, they were reliable guides to the known world for 400 years, and they have concealed the secrets of their origins and methods for another four centuries, leaving the answers to the realm of novelists and storytellers.
Text from an article at the Washington Post re a Library of Congress conference on the origins of portolan charts.

Image: 1544 Map of the Black Sea from the Portolan Atlas Dedicated to Hieronymus Ruffault, Abbot of St. Vaast.

"Airplane!" is a spoof of one movie - "Zero Hour"


I had always assumed it was a spoof of generic disaster movies, but as the video clearly shows, it was based on the plot of the 1957 movie "Zero Hour," often utilizing the same dialogue.  The creators of this movie accidentally videotaped the 1957 movie when they set up their VCR to tape late-night commercials they could spoof.

Credit to GromBlog, via Bifurcated Rivets and Ravings of a Semi-sane Madwoman, all of whom posted this several days before the big blogs picked it up.

How to reach "tech support" quickly

"To get through tech support quickly with an ISP, choose the option for becoming a new customer. Then when you get there ask to transfer to tech support. Usually they won't put you on hold because they see the number coming from the new customer line."
Found at a Reddit thread of "Real Life Cheat Codes."

Psychedelic

Found at snuh, but I can't locate a primary source - or even whether this is a real lizard, or a CG-enhanced one.

A hat-tip to Julie for (quickly!) identifying this as a Tokay gecko.  With that lead I found several pix at Flickr, but  haven't located the photographer to credit this particular one.

What a remarkable creature!

Mark Twain's autobiography to be published

Twain had specified that his autobiography remain unpublished for a century after his death, to ensure that he felt free to speak his "whole frank mind", knowing that when his "Final (and Right) Plan" for relating the story of his life was eventually published, he would be "dead, and unaware, and indifferent". The author passed away on 21 April 1910, and this November, the University of California Press will publish the first volume...

Running to half a million words, the trilogy of books will cover Twain's relationship with his secretary Isabel van Kleek Lyon, his religious doubts and his criticisms of Theodore Roosevelt, according to the Independent.
I'm looking forward to reading this set of books.  Those who are familiar only with his jumping frogs and boys on river rafts should read The War Prayer (also published after his death) or Letters From The Earth (published despite protests from his family) to get ready for this autobiography.

Photograph: Classic Image/Alamy

A Gulf damselfly

I'm not going to rant about the environmental disaster in the Gulf, because others are covering the topic better than I can.  But I can't pass up this one iconic image.  At the Boston.com photoessay, this little critter was labeled a "dragonfly," but with those laid-back wings it's clearly a damselfly.  A common mistake. 

Kudos to the photographer for taking his lens off the big picture to show one of the little tragedies.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert.

Recent posts at Neatorama

"Rush Hour in Utrecht" is a two-minute video showing rush hour in a city where people commute by bicycle.   The intersection shown has 18,000 bicycles crossing it each day.

The next video shows an unusual effect - a ball rolls down a ramp more slowly than you would expect.  The reason is explained in the video, and this is something you can make at home.

An unusual book from the 18th century opens up to become a seat fitting over a chamber pot.

Given the choice, bees prefer flowers whose nectar contains caffeine or nicotine.  The former occurs naturally in some plants.

The Lewis Chessmen are "the most precious archaeological treasures ever discovered in Scotland. It is believed they were made in Trondheim, Norway, in the late 12th century and dug from the sands of Lewis’s Atlantic coast in 1831."

The oak trees of Britain are threatened by a blight.  Simon Schama writes an interesting essay on the role of the oak in the history of England (linked at the link).

America's National Monuments get many fewer visitors and less vehicular traffic than the more-well-known National Parks.  Here's a list of the 20 least-visited National Monuments.

Of the dozen or so pieces listed here, I thought this one was rather ordinary, but curiously it got more comments than all the others put together.  It's a two-minute video about the Bechdel Test, which is one (of many) ways to evaluate the roles of men and women in movies.  Some people get very worked up over topics like this.

A young man is walking across the United States (passing through Minnesota this week, which is why I found out about him).  Not a big deal, not sponsored by anyone.  But he is maintaining a blog while walking, and it's quite interesting, with photos of interesting scenery (he sees a lot of mailboxes walking on rural roads for a thousand miles...), and of nice people who have been kind to him in his adventure.

Here's a tumblr blog entirely about Stephen Fry.

If you've ever had a Micro course or worked with bacteria, you will experience a moment of recognition when you see Petri Dish Soap.

Stem cell technology is being applied to dental restoration work, with the creation of "scaffolds" which are inserted into your mouth; stem cells are drawn to the scaffold, and a new tooth grows where you lost the old one.  Work in progress.

Probably every army in recorded history has left some graffiti behind.  This set of photos shows some of the graffiti in Berlin after the allies defeated Hitler.

An essay at The Telegraph has photos of the palettes used by famous artists (Renoir, Seurat, Degas, Delacroix (above), Moreau, Gauguin, and Van Gogh).  Each a little different, reflecting I suppose the idiosyncracies of the users.

The photos are unrelated - butterflies photographed in our back yard this morning.  On top, a Red-spotted Purple resting on an oak leaf; its larva feed on all sorts of trees (cherry, willow, aspen, poplar, birch, juneberry, basswood, hawthorn), so I don't expect to find eggs or caterpillars.  Below that, one of the numerous types of "grass skippers" - Peck's Skipper - sitting on recently-sprouted carrots in the butterfly garden.

Sunday smörgåsbord

The Pentagon has a "26-page document laying out all the rules and regulations you need to follow to bake appropriate treats for our men and women in uniform."

Germany is experiencing a wave of bee thefts.  "According to the Hamburg-based insurance firm Gaede & Glauerdt, which underwrites apiarists, the number of thefts reported nationwide rose from 164 in 2007 to 306 in 2008."

Do you know what "demonyms" are?  (also called "gentilics").  One click will give you the answer, and a list of them.

I ran across The Food Timeline this week (can't remember where for the via).   It's a rather substantial compilation of info on foods, meals, dining styles, ingredients, and other food-related tidbits, much of it sorted by decades.  You don't need to be a foodie to find something interesting there.

There's always something of interest at Nothing To Do With Arbroath.  This week one curious item was the story of a man who died of uterine cancer (post renal transplant).

To items of note from Neatorama's Upcoming Queue.  First, a heartwarming story about courtesy and sportsmanship in high school sports (details at ESPN).

And a video from the Clio Awards (best advertising etc) that I can't quite describe.  Sort of humorous, sort of poignant, sort of sassy: "What It Feels Like" [to be a younger sibling].

---as always, more to come as I sort through the week's links --

Image: Krönungsmahl Ferdinand I. (Holy Roman Emperor) im Frankfurter Römer 1558, aquarellierte Federzeichnung, today Nuremberg Staatsarchiv Handschrift Nr. 182, fol 233

23 May 2010

Hiking a glacial drumlin

Here in the Midwest, you can see lots of glacial landforms as you drive rural roads (or Interstates).  I've always been fascinated by tall drumlins and moraines.  Some on public land can be climbed; others are inaccessible private property.  This past week I had an opportunity to explore one just north of the Madison area.

Empire Prairies State Natural Area is a set of three Wisconsin DNR-managed remnant prairies, one of which is called the Westport Drumlin.  The topography of the drumlin is such that it has NEVER been farmed, and thus is home to a variety of native plants that are difficult to find elsewhere.
Oriented on a northeast to southwest-oriented glacially sculpted ridge is Westport Drumlin Prairie -- a small but diverse prairie containing more than 100 native plant species. A small area of oak opening, with open-grown bur oaks, occupies the western point of the ridge. Although the drumlin wears a thin mantle of glacial till, as evidenced by rounded boulders scattered about, limestone bedrock fragments and small outcrops at the drumlin’s summit attest to the limited terra-forming action of glacial ice on this ridge. Several showy plant species are present including pasque flower, cream wild indigo, rough blazing-star, yellow coneflower, shooting-star, bird’s-foot violet, compass plant, rosinweed, goldenrods, and asters....
The opportunity to visit was afforded by the Madison Chapter of The Wild Ones, in conjunction with the Good Oak Ecological Services restoration consultants, who provided a knowledgeable leader for the venture.

Access to the drumlin was not as easy as the top photo might suggest, because it is surrounded by private farmland which is actively managed, and there are no cleared or marked trails to access the landform.  We were extremely fortunate that our visit coincided with a) the corn having already been planted and sprouted, so we could traverse a field without stepping on or being impeded by the crop, and b) the hayfield (top photo) having just been cut, because the alternative would have been to follow the treeline between fields, where you know the farmers for the last century have been dumping the large rocks from the fields; it would have been a difficult trek.

As we reached the ridgetop, we were surrounded, even at this relatively early point in the season, by a wide variety of wildflowers.  The presence of large clumps of hoary puccoon (left) was testimony to the virgin nature of the landscape, because the plant is difficult to propagate artificially.   A lot of the unique flora was just emerging, but one notable one was already past its peak.  Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla) is an uncommon perennial that is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring (typically around Easter - hence the "passion" flower designation).  I have walked the UW Arboretum each spring trying to spot the elusive blooms.  Here atop the drumlin we were surrounded by a sea of pasqueflowers going to seed:
At the very crest of the drumlin we followed a footpath that has been shared by wildlife and humans certainly for centuries.  Because the drumlin affords a vantage point for spotting wildlife in the surrounding area, it must have been a favored location for the earliest humans to settle here after glacial retreat, and would have been a strategic location for Native American hunters; I have no doubt that lots of points and shards and flakes could be found in the soil.  There were several holes in the drumlin large enough to accommodate a coyote, though no evidence of recent digging.
The skull was picked clean and sunbleached; I don't know the species.  An elderly lady who joined us for the field trip suggested it was probably from a deer.

The drumlin will be revisited by this group on August 12, when the autumn wildflowers should be maxing out.  Those in the  Madison/south-central Wisconsin area interested in that trip or in other future walks might want to bookmark this link.

How thresher sharks use their tails

Thresher sharks... possess the classic shark body plan, but there is one feature that immediately stands out when you look at them - their ludicrously elongated tails. What could such an appendage be used for? Does it help them in propulsion, or do they use their tails as a whip to stun fish before consuming them?

The second method, by contrast, involved the shark swimming up alongside its prey and whipping its tail sideways to strike with the distal end of the tail, and this technique was successful about 92% of the time. What had been presumed for so long turned out to be true - these thresher sharks attempted to shock or immobilize their prey with their tails before consuming it.
More at the link, including still photos; for a video, see the embed at the BBC.

Scorpion bombs and other unconventional weapons

I've just finished reading Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs. Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor (Overlook Press, 2003).  It has a lot of interesting information; here are some of my notes, with page references.

“Poison and arrows were deeply intertwined in the ancient Greek language itself. The word for poison in ancient Greek, toxicon, derived from toxon, arrow. And in Latin the word for poison, toxica, was said to derive from taxus, yew, because the first poison arrows had been daubed with deadly yew-berry juice. In antiquity, then, a “toxic” substance meant “something for the bow and arrow.” (41)

“… despite the thick leathern cuirasses [the Spanish conquistadors] wore to deflect the arrows, many early explorers died from weapons coated with deadly frog slime, or the plant toxins strychnine or curare… In the Amazon rainforest, natives carried as many as six hundred tiny curare darts in a quiver, and there were horrifying reports that curare was not only used on projectiles, but in hand-to-hand combat too: it was rumored that the natives painted their fingernails with the toxin.” (71)

“Solon, the great sage of Athens, diverted the channel from the River Pleistos so that it no longer ran through Kirrha… Solon then threw “a great quantity of hellebore roots into the Pleistos.”   When he determined that “the water was drugged enough, he sent it back through the city.” “The parched Kirrhans glutted themselves on the contaminated water, and of course because extremely ill… The men defending the walls had to abandon their positions out of never-ending diarrhea.” (101)

“… when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant … and took the sacred wooden chest to their capital, an epidemic marked by swollen buboes in the groin… decimated the population. The survivors sent the Ark away to a series of Philistine towns, and each was struck with the same epidemic… Does the story of the Ark suggest that the chest might have contained some object, such as cloth, that harbored aerosolized plague germs, or an insect vector that infected the rodents in Philistine territory?” (128-9)

“Heaving scorpions by the basketful at attackers was specifically recommended by Leo VI (AD 862-912) in his famous military Tactics handbook.” Romans may also have hurled pots of assassin bugs at their enemies. (182)

Phoenecians “filled enormous shallow bowls of iron and bronze with fine sand and tiny bits of metal. These pans they roasted over a great fire until the sand glowed red-hot.” Then they catapulted the burning sand over the Macedonians… “The molten grains and red-hot shrapnel “sifted down under the soldiers’ breastplates and seared their skinwith the intense heat, inflicting unavoidable pain.”

Greek Fire burned in water and may have been ignited by water, and it adhered to victims. Besides distilled naphtha, the ingredients may have included thickeners such as resin or wax, quicklime, sulphur, turpentine, and saltpeter. The exact formula matters less than the amazing delivery system, which was capble of shooting liquid fire from swiveling nozzles mounted on small boats…” (242) “Perhaps inspired by the celebrated statue of Hercules… public executions by the tunica molesta, a naphtha-soaked “shirt of torture,” became a popular diversion....  Executions “a la Hercules” continued to be staged for the amusement of Roman audiences through the third century AD.” (250)

A sharecropper and his family

A photo from the 1930s taken by Walker Evans.  I think this photographer would be an interesting man to read about.  I've requested a book from the library; will post about it in a few weeks.

Photo via Still Looking for the Edge of the Internet.

The Virgin Mary spanking The Baby Jesus


The proper title is The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter, painted by Max Ernst in 1926.  According to a Time magazine story in 1976 -
His father was a fiercely authoritarian Roman Catholic, an amateur painter who taught in a school for deaf-mutes in the Rhineland town of Brühl. Little Max briefly persuaded this eccentric sire that he was the child Jesus. Memories of this sort underlie Ernst's most notorious thrust of anticlerical wit, a spanking Madonna...
The painting is (not surprisingly) said to have been controversial at the time.  Now it hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art   Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

Two unrelated items offered without comment

The top photo (via Nothing to do With Arbroath), comes from a story at the Sidney Morning Herald.
Unfamiliar faces...Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff arrive at Cannes, and inset, as they appeared on TV in the 1980s. Photo: Getty
I found the Facebook (?) item in a Reddit thread.

The net worth of U.S. presidents

A fascinating compilation of data has been assembled in this article at The Atlantic.
Having examined the finances of all 43 presidents (yes, 43; remember, Cleveland was president twice), we calculated the net worth figures for each in 2010 dollars. Because a number of presidents, particularly in the early 19th Century, made and lost huge fortunes in a matter of a few years, the number for each man is based on his net worth at its peak.

We have taken into account hard assets like land, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, inheritance, homes, and money paid for services, which include things as diverse as their salary as Collector of Customs at the Port of New York to membership on Fortune 500 boards. Royalties on books have also been taken into account, along with ownership of companies and yields from family estates.

The net worth of the presidents varies widely. George Washington was worth more than half a billion in today's dollars. Several presidents went bankrupt...

One of the most important conclusions of this analysis is that the presidency has little to do with wealth. Several brought huge net worths to the job. Many lost most of their fortunes after leaving office. Some never had any money at all.
For the data on each president, see pages 2-5 at the link.

The fascinating biology of the Argonaut octopus


The video is silent, so you will need to read the text at Not Exactly Rocket Science for the complete story.  Here are the introductory paragraphs:
The argonauts are a group of octopuses unlike any other. The females secrete a thin, white, brittle shell called the paper nautilus. Nestled with their arms tucked inside this beautiful, translucent home, they drift through the open ocean while other octopus species crawl along the sea floor. The shell is often described as an egg-case, but octopus specialists Julian Finn and Mark Norman have discovered that it has another function – it’s an organic ballast tank...

An argonaut uses its shell to trap air from the surface and dives to a depth where the encased gas perfectly counteracts its own weight, allowing it to bob effortlessly without rising or sinking. Finn and Norman filmed and photographed live animals in the act of trapping their air bubbles, solving a mystery that has been debated for millennia...
Much more at the link, via Neatorama.

Television programs of 1978


This 9-minute segment of CBS' 50th anniversary television special introduces the celebrities associated with that network.  Back in 1978 I had just moved to Kentucky and started a new job; there was no internet and there were no personal computers, and cable TV was in its infancy, so we had time to watch television.

I kept track during this video and discovered I could remember over half of the 100+ personalities showcased.  If an equivalent video were shown with 2010 programs, I'd probably recognize less than 10% (unless it was the Weather Channel).

Found at the ever-interesting Miss C Recommends, where those of you younger than me may find more familiarity in the equivalent program for NBC from 1986.

"Scaly Robigo, god of rust, spare Ceres' grain..."

A mutant fungus is threatening world wheat crops.  Here are some excerpts from a StarTribune article:
The enemy, Puccinia graminis, is a new mutant strain of fungus... Nicknamed Ug99 after it was discovered in Uganda in 1999, this new race of stem rust is the rabbit of cereal grain pathogens -- creating new generations of spores in a matter of weeks. It has crippled wheat farms in East Africa and jumped across the Red Sea to Yemen and Iran...

"By way of the prevailing winds, we're now afraid that if Ug99 gets a beachhead in the Middle East, it can spread to the breadbaskets of south Asia, Pakistan and India.  "That," he said, "would be absolutely devastating for the world's wheat and economy."

Eighty percent of the world's wheat and 95 percent of the Upper Midwest region's top bread-baking grain is vulnerable to the new pathogen..

"With some other rusts, you might see yield losses of 10 percent or 40 percent in a worst-case scenario," Anderson said. "This new stem rust can virtually wipe out a crop."

Their battle is nothing new. Centuries ago, Romans held an annual festival around this time of year just as rust would have taken hold on grain stems in Italy. They would sacrifice a dog and sheep and pray to the rust god to leave their crops alone.

"Scaly Robigo, god of rust, spare Ceres' grain," the ancient Roman poet Ovid wrote. "Let silky blades quiver on the soil's skin ... and keep scabrous hands from the harvest."

The Monarchs have arrived in Wisconsin

Yesterday I captured this image of a female ovipositing on a newly-sprouted milkweed.  When you see a butterfly visiting a non-flowering plant, it's obviously not nectaring.  It may be basking in the sun to recharge its solar batteries, or, as in this case, depositing eggs.  Monarchs curl the abdomen down briefly to just touch the plant and place a single egg.

The white egg itself (click photo to enlarge) is actually sort of camouflaged because it looks like a droplet of milkweed sap exuding
from the plant.  And since the sap is relatively toxic to most insects, it probably looks less attractive.

These photos were taken at the edge of a field which a farmer is in the process of enlarging to accommodate a larger corn harvest.  Unfortunately, he has extended it into a patch of milkweed that has been growing there for a long time (it takes several years for a milkweed to build up a root system sufficient to support a flowering several-foot-tall plant).
He tilled the field a couple weeks ago.  The milkweed are sprouting right on schedule, but they are doomed because he will be back to plant the corn quite soon.  The milkweed will get disced under at that time and likely not resprout.  This is sadly representative of what is going on around North America, as traditional Monarch (and other butterfly) habitat is lost to agriculture (and homebuilding).  I would encourage those of you who are interested (and blessed with a yard/garden) to consider growing plants that support butterflies either as food for their caterpillars or as flowers for their nectar. 

"The Euro as we know it" is dead

Excerpts from an interesting (and rather vehement) article in the Telegraph:
The euro has many flaws, but its weakest link is Greece, whose fundamental problem is that for years it spent too much, earned too little and plugged the gap by borrowing in order to enjoy a rich man's lifestyle. It flouted EU rules on the limits to budget deficits; its national accounts were a moussaka of minced statistics, topped with a cheesy sauce of jiggery-pokery...

What was once deemed unthinkable is now, I believe, inevitable: withdrawal from the eurozone of one or more of its member countries. At the bottom end, Greece and Portugal are favourites to be forced out through weakness. At the top end, proposals are already being floated in the Frankfurt press for a new "hard currency" zone, led by Germany, Austria and the Benelux countries. Either way, rich and poor are heading in opposite directions...

Greece's severe difficulties were home-made. The euro has come under pressure not from dark forces of speculation but respectable investors, many of them traditional pension funds, which, quite correctly, worked out that when the crunch came, the Brussels elite would sanction an abandonment of its no bail-out rule and cough up for a messy fudge...

Protecting the euro has become a project via which profligate states dip their fingers in Berlin's till. Germany is taking on nasty obligations without gaining ownership of the assets. Germany's version of The Sun, Bild Zeitung, feeds its readers a regular diet of stories about the way ordinary Germans are being taken for mugs. Trust has turned to suspicion. Next stop is divorce...

Palestinian woman

A Palestinian woman whose house has been occupied by Jewish settlers argues with Israelis who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day on May 12, 2010 in front of her disputed house in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
This was the "Faces of the Day" photo at The Daily Dish.  Credit Ahmad Gharabli/Getty.

Breton woman

Via Couleurs.

Demographics of the U.S. Supreme Court

As noted by a BBC columnist:
The nomination of Elena Kagan to replace the retiring John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court means, if she is confirmed, all of the justices will have been at either Harvard or Yale law schools...

If Ms Kagan is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, there will be five from Harvard law school, three from Yale law school and one from Columbia law school. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg started out at Harvard law school before transferring to Columbia.,,

For much of its history, a geographical spread of justices was the top priority, notes Peter Hoffer, distinguished research professor at the University of Georgia, and co-author of The Supreme Court: An Essential History.

"Theoretically, the court is supposed to be divided among different parts of the country. Now we have gone past that - we are one nation, connected by the web and the media - that kind of geographical distinction is not so important any more."

After the need for geographical diversity of the court ebbed, other priorities emerged.

"As late as the 1960s you had a Catholic seat and a Jewish seat to ensure some kind of representation. It's rather ironic that now you have six Catholics and three Jews," says Prof Joel B Grossman, co-editor of The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Of course, with a small group of people, it's hard not to have some imbalances.  "There is only a limited number of ways you can divide up nine," says Prof Grossman.

Talking Points Memo emphasizes the New-York-City-centeredness of some of Obama's appointments:
Barack Obama's vision of American justice seems a bit parochial, with Attorney General Eric Holder hailing from the New York City borough of Queens; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg coming from a once-proud, upwardly mobile Jewish section of Brooklyn that contains her alma mater Abraham Lincoln High School and is near Coney Island; Justice Sonya Sotomayor coming from a public housing project in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the South Bronx; and, now Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan coming from a part of Manhattan's Upper West Side....

Impressive backhoe


This video is of a publicity stunt for a German backhoe.  You'll want to skip through to save time, but it is an impressive performance.

The fashion world's most commonly used cosmetic


Via Joanne Casey's I Have Seen the Whole of the Internet.
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