30 October 2010

27 October 2010

Time out

It's been a long time since I've had a proper vacation from blogging.  I'm going to use this next week to carve pumpkins, watch football, eat leftover Halloween treats, and reconnect with family.  I'll see you-all in early November.

Nikon Small World photomicrographs

There are so many fantastic photos that I would like to embed the entire lot.  I've selected just a few; the others can be viewed at Nikon's homepage, a gallery at The Guardian, or at Boston.com's The Big Picture.

Pictured above -
The eyes of a mayfly (Laurie Knight, Tonbridge, Kent, UK)
A butterfly egg on mimosa buds (David Millard, Austin, Texas)
Light refracted in a soap film (Gerd Guenther, Dusseldorf, Germany)
Crystals of cacoxenite (a phosphate mineral) (Honorio Cocera-La Parra, Valencia, Spain)

Video of anthropogenic ocean noise



From an article at Scientific American about the effects of manmade noise on the whale's environment -
Of greatest concern are low-frequency sounds that travel long distances in the ocean. Ship propellers and motors, for instance, produce sound at low frequencies, as does seismic activity. These profound, loud noises reverberate in the deep ocean and can effectively mask or block vital whale communication. In Cape Cod Bay, man-made noise has reduced right whales' acoustic habitat by as much as 80 percent, says Chris Clark, director of Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research Program.

To better understand these underwater acoustics, Clark and his colleagues have developed graphic animations that show the acoustic habitat as experienced by whales. Using data collected by seafloor sound monitors, the scientists can map the locations of whales and measure their sounds, along with anthropogenic sounds. The resulting animations vividly depict how the noise from human activities physically obstructs and reduces whales' habitat, interfering with what Clark calls the animals' "communication space."

Within the lifetime of the whales that Clark has been observing (some of the right whales he studies can live for 70 years), anthropogenic noise has increased dramatically. "When these long-lived species were kids and teens, the world was normal," says Clark. "Now their background noise has gone up by three orders of magnitude."
More at the link.

Bicyclist killed in a collision

But there's a twist to the story...
The bicyclist who was killed in a collision with a truck in downtown Minneapolis this week had stolen the bike a couple of hours earlier, police said Wednesday...

At the time he was hit, Berry had with him a backpack that contained bolt cutters, Garcia said.

Berry and a Quicksilver Express Courier delivery truck were southbound on 1st Avenue when the truck turned right, striking the cyclist while he was in a designated bike lane on the right side of the road, police said.

Berry's criminal history in Minnesota includes convictions stretching back to 1996 for burglary, domestic abuse, drunken driving, disorderly conduct and assault.
I was going to add a wry comment re karma, but have read that the term should not be used too lightly.

How windy was it?

Everyone in the Upper Midwest has been talking about the "land hurricane" that has swept the area for the past several days.  I won't repeat any of the stories, which you have either heard or don't care about.  But I thought the graphic of wave height on Lake Superior, from NOAA, is interesting.  The winds today are coming from the south and west, so with that long fetch over the lake, the red and purple colors near the Canadian side indicate waves 20-25' high!  (I presume these data reflect computer modelling rather than actual measurements since the timestamp is later today).

I read in one comment thread that every ore boat has been pulled off the lake into harbor to prevent another incident like the Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot song in an excellent video at the link).

Top baby names for 2009

It looks like Stanley is moving up in England and Wales, now in 98th place:

95 EWAN 636
96 FREDERICK    635 new entry +6
97 MORGAN 634
98 JUDE 627 new entry +5
98 STANLEY 627    new entry +14
100 AUSTIN 626 new entry +60

You can check your name (and the top 100 girls' names) at The Office for National Statistics, or (while it's up) at The Guardian.

Epigraphy on the Taikhar Chuluu in central Mongolia

The large rock pictured above (the Taikhar Chuluu) is covered with a variety of scripts which have been added by visitors over a series of millennia.  Here is an English translation from the Hungarian blog mongγol bičig & manju bithe:
Mongolia is full of interesting and beautiful places. In the central region, along the Tamir river stands the Taikhar chuluu.

This is a huge rock, there is nothing similar in the neighborhood. The stone itself is not as interesting as the inscriptions on it and the legends connected with it. Long time ago the rock was called dai gürü. Dai is a Chinese loan-word (大) meaning big, while gürü means rock in Mongolian. The modern name Taikhar is a compound of these two words (the changes d>t and g>k are absolutely normal in Mongolian, and a similar change of vowels is also acceptable). Therefore it is unnecessary to add to the name chuluu which means ‘stone’, because this would mean something like “Big rock rock” (as if one said “CD disk”). The rock has a large number of inscriptions. Unfortunately, our contemporaries also leave their scraps on it, and as a consequence several old inscriptions are disappearing. Among the graffitis there are many very old ones, some written in the Turkic age [A.D. 6th century].

The Turkic inscriptions are not just epigraphic relics, their importance goes far beyond this. In fact, they attest that the rock was revered already in the Turkic period, and this tradition was uninterruptedly transferred to the Mongols. Thus the Turkic, Mongolian and other inscriptions prove the cultural relations and continuity between the various people following each other.

There are several Mongolian inscriptions on the rock, unfortunately the majority are near to illegibility. I can not present you a large inscription, simply because I could not decypher any longer one. However, I can show two shorter one. They are not very exciting, but are worth a look.

Beginning of the inscription: oṃ sayin amuγulang boltuγai, that is: “Om, let there be peace!” I cannot completely understand the continuation of the text.

Another inscription: qamuγ amitan burqan-u qutuγ olqu boltuγai, that is: “May every living being reach the holiness of the Buddha!” These two short examples attst that the cult of the place continued after the arrival of Buddhism. This is also documented by a large number of Tibetan graffitis on the rock.

Of course, the rock itself did not come here by itself, the legend says. Long time ago there lived a hero here called Bökebilig (“Strong and wise”). Suddenly a large snake started to come out from under the earth. Bökebilig did not like this, and he pushed back the snake from where it came, and then he closed the mouth of its cave with this rock which has been standing here ever since. Not far from the rock there is a small mountain called Altan sandali (“Golden throne”), of which tradition says that Bökebilig took a rest on it, while washing his hands in the nearby Tamir river. 
Once you’re here, check the nearby graves with a number of so-called “deer stones”. They indicate that there was no cultural continuity between the original people erecting the “deer stones” and the later one digging the graves, because the “deer stones” were simply used for building material.

As their name shows, “deer stones” were mostly decorated with deers, but on a grave near Altan sandali we could also find a very special stone with horses instead of deers. Fortunately, it has survived the centuries in an excellent condition. Here you are.

There are only a handful of “horse stones” around, while you can still see hundreds of “deer stones”. It is still a question why these stones were carved and erected. Perhaps we will resolve this mystery on a day, but one thing is sure: it is worth looking around in Mongolia!
 I find this whole subject fascinating.  The rock itself doesn't look to me like a glacial erratic; perhaps some reader here can provide an opinion re its formation.  Regarding the history that it was used by a giant to crush a snake when the ground began to move in waves, I wonder if this part of the world is seismically active.

The petroglyphs are elaborate and beautiful; there are additional photos of them and of the ancient epigraphs at mongγol bičig & manju bithe.

A hat tip to "Studiolum" at  Poemas del rio Wang for locating this interesting item and providing the translation.

26 October 2010

Icelandic "Necropants" explained

If you want to make your own necropants (literally; nábrók) you have to get permission from a living man to use his skin after he's dead.

Nábrókarstafur
After he has been buried you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical sign, nábrókarstafur, written on a piece of paper. Consequently the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed. To ensure salvation the owner has to convince someone else to overtake the pants and step into each leg as soon as he gets out of it. The necropants will thus keep the money-gathering nature for generations.
I suppose it's reassuring to note that sorcerers in Icelandic folklore got informed consent before flaying a dead person's corpse.  But I think I see a trick in the guarantee: the scrotum will never be empty as long as the original coin is not removed.  Well, duh (perhaps some subtlety has been lost in translation). 

Text from the website of the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, via Got Medieval. Photo via Flickr user HelenPaisson of a latex reproduction housed in the aforementioned museum.

The giant waterwheels of Hama, Syria

Kuriositas posts lots of interesting articles, and I should link to them more often.  This week one of their posts features the immense waterwheels ("norias") in Hama:
Their name translates from the Arabic as wheel of pots and for centuries the norias of Hama lifted water in to small aqueducts to irrigate the fields surrounding the Syrian city.  Today there are still seventeen of these magnificently engineered wheels left but are mostly for display purposes only, as it were...

Although there is evidence that there were Norias around the city during the Byzantine era which ended in 1453, the Norias of Hama date from the a little later.  It is thought that they were started in the Ayyubid dynasty in around the twelfth century and enlarged in the Mamluk era of the fourteenth. 
Above photo from Wikimedia; there are numerous others at the Kuriositas link.

About those glasses in your hotel room

"Fox Atlanta set up secret cameras inside 5 different hotel chains from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz Carlton and caught every single one of them failing to properly wash the room's glasses. At every single hotel, regardless of price, the glasses were simply rinsed out and left for the next guest. Some hotels used dirty bath towels to wipe the glasses. One hotel employee rinsed the glasses after cleaning the toilet—using the same gloves."

The value of "dirty jobs"

Excerpts from an interview with Mike Rowe, who hosts the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."
MIKE ROWE: Attitudes toward hard work have changed, and not for the better. Many people view dirty jobbers with a mix of pity and derision. Some ignore them altogether. However, one thing is unchanged: People with dirty jobs make civilized life possible for the rest of us. For that reason, I see a willingness to get dirty as a mark of character.

G: Why don’t more people respect dirty jobs?
MR: Once upon a time, we were proud to be dirty. Dirt looked like work, and work was revered. Now, we’ve redefined our notion of what a “good job” looks like. We’ve taken the “dirt” out of the formula, and in the process, marginalized a long list of important professions. Big mistake...

G: So you’re anti-college?

We’ve been gradually training our kids to equate dirt with vocational dissatisfaction. The real enemies of job satisfaction are drudgery and boredom, and those can be found just as readily in cubicles as they can in ditches...

There is nothing wrong with getting a college degree. The flaw in our character is our insistence on separating blue-collar jobs from white-collar jobs, and encouraging one form of education over another. Why do we value one above the other, when our future depends upon both? That’s our blind spot. 
My own dirtiest jobs were greasing cooker machines in a Green Giant canning plant, and cleaning bedpans (and buttocks) as an orderly.  After that I spent many years teaching in the technical institute affiliated with the University of Kentucky, and I can guarantee you that the students there went on to careers just as satisfying and probably just as well-paying as most of their counterparts in the four-year degree program.

Via Reddit, where there is a long discussion thread about the value of college and of manual labor.


"Little Librarian" playset for children

Little Librarian is the first personal library kit made just for kids! It encourages reading and is powered by creativity and imagination, not batteries! Little Librarian provides book lovers with everything they need to transform their book collection into a library. Kids can practice the important skills of organizing, sharing, borrowing, and returning. Book pockets, check out cards, library cards, and bookmarks are just like the ones from the real library. Little Librarians will issue overdue notices and awards. Favorite books can be stored in the reading journal and shared with friends.
A real product, available through booksellers linked at the Little Librarian site, via The Centered Librarian.

Tricks of the used book trade

Excerpts from an essay at Slate entitled "Confessions of a used-book salesman":
I make a living buying and selling used books. I browse the racks of thrift stores and library book sales using an electronic bar-code scanner. I push the button, a red laser hops about, and an LCD screen lights up with the resale values. It feels like being God in his own tiny recreational casino; my judgments are sure and simple, and I always win because I have foreknowledge of all bad bets. The software I use tells me the going price, on Amazon Marketplace, of the title I just scanned, along with the all-important sales rank, so I know the book's prospects immediately. I turn a profit every time...

There is constant competition for the small minority of books that will not end up in the trash. Adults in cushiony white sneakers actually run into book-sale spaces at opening time, empty plastic bins raised over their heads. We all go as hard as we can until all the good books are gone...

With diligence, someone working alone can make $1,000 per week; with a more insane commitment, or with the help of a wife or child, the business might yield more, especially once a sizable inventory has been built up...
I see guys like this at our library's monthly used-book sales.  As fast as lightning, they pull books off the shelves, scan them and toss them into their huge baskets.  I find the entire process annoying, but it is of course quite legal and not really unethical.  Just annoying.  More details at the link.

The preparation of "pulled tea" (Teh tarik)


This man demonstrates a technique used in Malaysia.
The mixture is poured back and forth repeatedly between two vessels from a height, giving it a thick frothy top. This process cools the tea to drinking temperatures, and helps to thoroughly mix the tea with the condensed milk. It is also done to give the tea a better flavour...
Found at Anything and Everything, via Neatorama.

Beware of "stripped" gift cards

How it works Thieves look for gift cards that are displayed on grab-and-go racks, such as in grocery and department stores. They use a handheld scanner—which you can buy online for just a few hundred dollars—to read the code behind the magnetic or scratch-off strip on the back of the card. That, combined with the card number on the front, gives them everything they need to steal the value of the card. Then they put the card back on the rack. Later an unsuspecting buyer purchases the worthless gift card. Even if a card isn't preloaded, a thief can steal the card number and security code, then call the 800 number shown on the card every few days to check the balance. Once a shopper has purchased the card and loaded it with a dollar amount, the thief can spend it before the purchaser does.

Prevent it Buy cards that are behind a customer-service desk... Inspect the card; if the magnetic or peel-off strip on the back isn't pristine, the card might have been tampered with. When buying a preloaded card, ask the cashier to scan it to make sure the full value is on it. If you're buying from a third-party gift-card site, look at the refund policy. And always hang on to the receipts. If something goes wrong, it can help you—or the gift recipient—get a refund.

From Yahoo! Shopping, which has additional tips.

25 October 2010

Merle Haggard's ex-wives

In a series, the order of listing can be important...

Found at Criggo.

The myth of Ellis Island name changes

Ask any Ashkenazi American Jew about his family’s arrival in the United States, and you’re likely to hear a certain story. With minor variations, it goes something like this: “My great-grandfather was called Rogarshevsky, but when he arrived at Ellis Island, the immigration officer couldn’t understand his accent. So he just wrote down ‘Rogers,’ and that became my family’s name.”

Most American Jews accept such stories as fact. The truth, however, is that they’re fiction. Ellis Island, New York City’s historic immigrant-absorption center, processed up to 11,000 immigrants daily between 1892 and 1924. Yet despite this incessant flow of newcomers, the highest standards of professionalism were demanded of those who worked there. All inspectors—many of whom were themselves immigrants, or children of immigrants — were required to know at least two languages; many knew far more, and all at the native-speaker level. Add to that the hundreds of auxiliary interpreters, and together you’ve covered nearly every possible language one might hear at Ellis Island. Yiddish, Russian, and Polish, in this context, were a piece of cake.

Nor were inspections the brief interactions we associate with passport control in today’s airports. Generally they lasted twenty minutes or more, as inspectors sought to identify those at high risk of becoming wards of the state. But perhaps most significantly, Ellis Island officers never wrote down immigrants’ names. Instead, they worked from ships’ manifests, which were themselves compiled by local officials at the point of embarkation. Even overseas, passenger lists were likewise not generated simply by asking immigrants for their names. Rather, they were drawn from passports, exit visas, and other identification papers. The reason for this was simple: Errors cost the shipping company money. A mistake on a manifest, such as a name that was not corroborated by other documentation (whether legal or fraudulent), would result in the forced deportation of the person in question back to his point of departure—at the shipping company’s expense. Of course, many Jewish immigrants’ names were changed upon coming to America. Without exception, however, they changed their names themselves.
The rest of the (long) story is at Azure, which "presents the best in Jewish thought from Israel and around the world."

"Life is like a B-grade movie..."

‘Life is like a B-Grade movie. You don’t want to leave in the middle, but you don’t want to see it again.’ 
–Ted Turner
Quote found at The New Shelton wet/dry.

Tentacle pot pie

From the intriguingly named blog, Not Martha, comes this whimsical concoction.   Via Laughing Squid.

A Wikileak re the U.S. hikers kidnapped by Iran

An excerpt from a partially-redacted document published by the New York Times:
WHEN: 311600JUL09

HOW: MND-N G2 reported a kidnapping of 3 Americans who were being taken to the Iranian border. The Americans were hiking near the Iranian border when taken. A fourth tourist did not go hiking with them and reported that a kidnapped female called him saying that they were being surrounded by armed men...

UPDATE 311632JUL09: JPRC (Corps Personnel Recovery) is reporting that the victims were tourists who came to Iraq to go rock climbing...

S2 ASSESSMENT: The lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran. The leadership in Iran benefits as it focuses the Iranian population on a perceived external threat rather than internal dissension. Kurdish leaders remain concerned about international perceptions regarding security as they seek to increase investment in the KRG. Expect KRG leadership to intervene to return the 3 individuals and the Iranian government to accuse them of being spies. Additionally, KRG leadership may impose additional restrictions on private activities near the Iranian border.
So, the military appear to warned these hikers re the danger they would encounter, and concluded that they had an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran.

A rant by Dylan Ratigan


"Morning Joe" is vehement: "We are not at war with Islam.  We are not at war with Muslims.  We are not at war with Afghanistan.  We are not at war with Iraq, Iran - it's nonsense..."  He excoriates the political and media world for not clarifying that the only ones who have ever attacked us are a small group of radical militants in Saudi Arabia."

Via Current.

The Berners Street Hoax

The Berners Street Hoax was perpetrated by Theodore Hook in the City of Westminster, London, in 1810. Hook had made a bet with his friend, Samuel Beazley, that he could transform any house in London into the most talked-about address in a week, which he achieved by sending out 4,000 letters in the name of Mrs Tottenham, who lived at 54 Berners Street, requesting deliveries, visitors, and assistance.

On 27 November, at five o’clock in the morning, a sweep arrived to sweep the chimneys of Mrs Tottenham's house. The maid who answered the door informed him that no sweep had been requested, and that his services were not required. A few moments later another sweep presented himself, then another, and another, 12 in all. After the last of the sweeps had been sent away, a fleet of carts carrying large deliveries of coal began to arrive, followed by a series of cakemakers delivering large wedding cakes, then doctors, lawyers, vicars and priests summoned to minister to someone in the house they had been told was dying. Fishmongers, shoemakers, and over a dozen pianos were among the next to appear, along with "six stout men bearing an organ". Dignitaries, including the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of the City of London also arrived. The narrow streets soon became severely congested with tradesmen and onlookers. Deliveries and visits continued until the early evening, bringing a large part of London to a standstill.
According to the Museum of Hoaxes, Hook was never punished for this behavior.

Via Reddit, where the discussion thread focuses of "crew pies" (fake pizza orders).

Morphing video of CBS actresses


I am recurrently fascinated by morphing videos. The one above, by Philip Scott Johnson, features 60 years of television actresses on the CBS network, via Vimeo.  If this interests you, see my previous posts on morphing the presidents500 years of women in art, and Mona Lisa descending a staircase.

Found at J-Walk.

Reconsidering Jane Austen's writing

She is the great English novelist renowned for her polished prose, of whom it was once remarked: "Everything came finished from her pen."

Yet Jane Austen couldn't spell, had no grasp of punctuation and her writing betrayed an accent straight out of The Archers, according to an Oxford University academic.

Prof Kathryn Sutherland said analysis of Austen's handwritten letters and manuscripts reveal that her finished novels owed as much to the intervention of her editor as to the genius of the author...

Page after page was written without paragraphs, including the sparkling dialogue for which Austen is known. The manuscript for Persuasion, the only one of her novels to survive in its unedited form, looks very different from the finished product.

"The reputation of no other English novelist rests so firmly on the issue of style, on the poise and emphasis of sentence and phrase, captured in precisely weighed punctuation. But in reading the manuscripts it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing.

"This suggests somebody else was heavily involved in the editing process between manuscript and printed book," Prof Sutherland said.

The editor in question is believed to have been William Gifford, a poet and critic who worked for Austen's second publisher, John Murray.
The rest of the story is at The Telegraph.

"Tuck your shirt in!"

From a booklet published in the 1940s, via Centuries of Advice and Advertisements.

Whoonga

An excerpt from an article at Aljazeera:
Whoonga, as it's known, is a substance being smoked in poor township communities around Durban, and it's popping up in other parts of the country as well...

What makes whoonga different - a fine white powder, added to marijuana and smoked - is its composition.  It's a blend of detergent powder, rat poison and, crucially, crushed up ARVs, or antiretroviral drugs distributed free to HIV sufferers...

Whoonga is cheap, bought from a dealer for just 20 rand or $3 a hit. But 40 per cent of all South Africans survive on little more than $2 a day...  Worst of all, it means people in need of ARVs to save or prolong their lives are sometimes going without.  They're being mugged for their pills as they leave the clinic.

Some are willing to sell them - the free ARVs now have a value more pressing to the poorest than even their lifesaving properties...

And if that's not shocking enough, perhaps the very worst aspect of whoonga is that many addicts, I'm told, actually seek to become HIV positive, because then they'll get their supply for free. No need to bother committing a crime...

One group is making a difference, albeit a tiny one.  Vumani Gwala runs Project Whoonga, a community support group operating in one small corner of a giant township outside Durban called Kwadebeka, where whoonga thrives and grows every day.  There are no figures available yet for the scale of whoonga use, but Gwala estimates it's easily in the several thousands in Kwadebeka alone.  Project Whoonga needs all the help it can get. Contact them at www.whoonga.za.org.
Addendum: Video report here.

Children hunt butterflies in Cambodia



If it were not for collectors England would be full, so to speak, of rare birds and wonderful butterflies, strange flowers and a thousand interesting things. But happily the collector prevents all that, either killing with his own hands or, by buying extravagantly, procuring people of the lower classes to kill such eccentricities as appear.
- H.G. Wells, The Wonderful Visit (1895)
Modern sensibilities are, of course, that butterflies should be collected only as digital images. Economic realities are apparently a different matter in Cambodia.

Wells quote via The Project Gutenberg Project.

Defining a "pitched battle"

I had always assumed that a "pitched battle" was a heated or intense confrontation.  That indeed is the second definition, but the proper use of the term refers to more specific conditions:
A pitched battle is a battle where both sides choose to fight at a chosen location and time and where either side has the option to disengage either before the battle starts, or shortly after the first armed exchanges.

A pitched battle is not a chance encounter such as a skirmish, or where one side is forced to fight at a time not of their choosing such as happens in a siege. For example, the first pitched battle of the English Civil War was fought when the Royalists chose to move off an escarpment to a less advantageous position so that the Parliamentarians would be willing to fight the Battle of Edgehill. In contrast the Battle of Gettysburg, fought during the American Civil War, started by chance as a skirmish, but as both generals chose to reinforce their positions instead of disengaging, they turned what was initially a skirmish into a pitched battle.

When life imitates art

From the Bizarroblog.

The Finseth Band Stand at St. Olaf College


My family's ties to St. Olaf go back all the way to the school's founding, when my great-grandfather Ole Knut Finseth was one of three farmers who signed of the Articles of Incorporation of the college in 1875. As a youngster I visited with my uncles on many occasions for homecoming football games and marveled at the beautiful campus and the pretty girls who went to school there, but when my own college decision time came, I headed east.

As a result I don't remember ever encountering the Finseth Band Stand, pictured above with a note written by by grandfather Knut Olaus Finseth:
"Built in the summer of 1910 Marcus B. Finseth paid 1/3 toward this Band Stand.  I paid for Victor's part and mine.  Material and labor was reasonable then near 40 cent per hour.  It will be improved on this year or next 1961.  Total cost was $1250."
Music has always been an integral part of the life of students at St. Olaf.  The band stand played its part for several decades:
The Band would play there at appropriate times during the school year, such as the Seventeenth of May.  On May 7, 1939 a welcoming ceremony for Crown Prince Olav and his party from Norway took place in Finseth Band Stand.  It was used for various concerts in the spring and sumer.  Members of St John's Lutheran Church used finseth Band Stand as the place where the congregation held its annual outdoor service and picnic.*
When I Googled "Finseth Band Stand" I found only one hit, which linked to some memories of a student of that era:
How romantic the spring open-air band concerts in the Finseth bandstand were. Ida Marvick always sang two songs on such occasions, and we thrilled to her lovely voice. It seems to me that the moon always shone during those concerts. The air was full of springtime and the moonlight made soft patterns on the grass. We girls usually had a boy friend hovering near so that real romance filled our hearts. Lovely evenings they were.

This second photo shows more detail of the band stand, including the fine (Norwegian) woodcraft.
One recalls the Finseth Band Stand as a wooden structure of a dark brown color on the exterior, the interior of the shell painted a lighter color.  Its original location was to the west and slightly south of the west wing of the men's dormitory.  Its open side faced southeast toward the wooded area between the men's dormitory and the site of the new ladies' dormitory, soon to be built, Mohn Hall.  Late in its life, Finseth was moved over to a spot somewhat to the west of Mohn Hall but it disappeared in 1967 when the Mohn Hall area was cleared to provide space for the Science Center.*
My understanding from informal and secondhand sources is that in more recent decades the interest in and need for a band stand declined, while some concerts held there became more lively:
A less reverent employment of the stand, hardly in keeping with the piety of the donors, was the series of spring dances announced one year during the 1960s as "Sinfests at Finseth."
Late in its life, Finseth was moved over to a spot somewhat to the west of Mohn Hall but it disappeared in 1967 when the Mohn Hall area was cleared to provide space for the Science Center.*
And so it goes.

If there are any Oles out there who can provide additional details or memories, I'd be pleased to read your comments.

*Historical citations provided by Jeff M. Sauve, Assoc. College Archivist at St. Olaf.

24 October 2010

Recent posts at Neatorama



I continue to be only minimally productive while wearing my other hat, but some of these are quite good and worth your visit...

Bibliophiles will enjoy discovering that lighthouse-keepers and their families used to be provided with "travelling libraries" - prepackaged crates that would be replaced on a recurring basis.  The link includes additional photos and a sample list of books.

"Oops" is a compilation of segments filmed by (very) amateur videographers who dropped their camera while recording.  This won the 2010 Vimeo award for “Best Experimental Film.”

A 300-year-old pocket watch was recovered from a shipwreck, totally encrusted and corroded.  But the innards were remarkably preserved and nicely shown by CT scan (video flythrough at the link).

If you have ever played/enjoyed Sim City, you should see the video of "Magnasanti" - the largest city ever created and apparently the largest that can be created.  If you have no interest in SimCity, just give this one a pass.

Champagne has been studied scientifically, and a paper has been written documenting how best to pour champagne in order to preserve the bubbles in the liquid to optimize the pleasure of drinking it.

A never-published manuscript by Dr. Seuss (“All Sorts of Sports") was recently discovered.  It was very sketchily written and crudely illustrated, and it sold at auction this past week for $40,000.

The three photos at the top are, as usual, unrelated to the posts.   At the top is a Dainty Sulphur, and below it is a Little Yellow, two members of the Sulphur family that migrate into Wisconsin in the summer season to enjoy our weather; these were photographed during a field trip with the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association at the Avoca Prairie and Savannah, one of the State Natural Areas protected by the Wisconsin DNR.  State Natural Areas are wonderful places to hike and photograph, but they are truly "natural" without trails and facilities, so it takes a little extra effort to reap the rewards.

The bottom photo is a Monarch that was rescued from the streets of I think it was Ontario by one of the readers of this blog; the young lady who forwarded the photo to me said that "Jerry" (I think) was aerodynamically impaired, so she had been feeding it for several weeks.  If anyone in Eastern Canada is preparing to drive down to the mountains of Mexico for the winter and would like to offer assisted migration to a Monarch, please leave a message below.

22 October 2010

The eyes of St. Lucy

Saint Lucy, by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521, 
a High Renaissance recasting of a Gothic iconic image (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena)
Saint Lucy, also known as Saint Lucia (283 – 304), was a wealthy young Christian martyr who is venerated as a saint by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December, by the unreformed Julian calendar the longest night of the year; with a name derived from lux, lucis "light", she is the patron saint of those who are blind. Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church among the Scandinavian peoples, who take part in Saint Lucy's Day celebrations that retain many elements of Germanic paganism...  She consecrated her virginity to God,  refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily. Miraculously unable to move her or burn her, the guards took out her eyes with a fork...

Jacobus de Voragine did not include the episode of Lucy's passion that has been most vivid to her devotés ever since the Middle Ages: having her eyes torn out. It should be noted that another account dates this loss of eyes to before her martyrdom, claiming that in response to a suitor who admired her beautiful eyes, "she cut them out and sent them to him, asking to be left in peace thereafter." Lucy was represented in Gothic art holding a dish with two eyes on it. The legend concludes with God restoring Lucy's eyes...

In Mark Musa's translation of Dante's Purgatorio, it is noted that Lucy was admired by an undesirable suitor for her beautiful eyes. To stay chaste she plucked out her own eyes, a great sacrifice for which God gave her a pair of even more beautiful eyes.

Sacrificial dogs and cynophagy

Patroclus had owned nine dogs who ate beside his table. Slitting the throats of two of them, Achilles tossed them on the pyre.
—Homer, Iliad, Book 23
Sacrificing dogs to appease supernatural forces has been a part of religious traditions as different as those of ancient Greece, where the Spartans slaughtered dogs to ensure victory in battle, and Shang Dynasty China. Some inscribed oracle bones dating to this period (1766-1050 B.C.) mention the rite of ning, which involved dismembering a dog to honor the winds...
At the site of Sardis in Turkey, once the capital of the Lydian Empire (680-546 B.C.), excavators uncovered 26 small pits, each containing four pots—a cooking jug, deep cup, shallow bowl, and small pitcher, all used for common meals—along with an iron knife and the bones of a puppy... the burials are the remains of a ritual meal, perhaps dedicated to the Lydian version of the god Hermes. "I do not believe these deposits are evidence of cynophagy [eating dogs], which was not part of the normal ancient Mediterranean diet," he says...
In 1937, archaeologists excavating in the Agora, the main marketplace of ancient Athens, made a stunning discovery—a well containing bones from hundreds of people, including approximately 450 newborns, and from more than 100 dogs... the dogs were "most likely sacrificed as part of a purification ritual after a birth...

But dogs weren't just sacrificed in antiquity. In Hungary, a team excavating a site in the medieval town of Kaná just outside Budapest, discovered more than 1,000 dog bones, about 12 percent of all the mammal bones at the site... Daróczi-Szabó believes that the puppies and several other dog burials at the site were intended to ward off evil, a custom that survived in Hungary into the 20th century.
Further details and discussion at the Archaeology Magazine  link.  This issue of the magazine has a series of article on dogs in archaeology.

Compass timbers

"The maple or chestnut wood shows the distinctive curve of compass timbers -- trees grown with a bend in them for use in shipbuilding.  Later crafters shaped their wood with steam, or used what's called a compound frame to piece together a hull, a practice that started around 1654..."
I read that sentence in the September-October issue of Archaeology magazine, in an article about rescue archaeology of a 17th-century wreck on North Carolina's Outer Banks.  It indicated that in that era some trees were forced to grow in a curved shape.  But as I read more tonight, it appears that shipbuilders could also find trees with natural curves in branches or trunks, and then harvest those for the necessary ship parts.

Re restoring Old Ironsides: "While the long, straight-grained white-oak planks are used for hull planking, the live oak's large branch sections and odd shapes are required for knee supports, breasthooks in the prow, and curving "compass timbers."

From a naval history website: "Oaks from the areas of Northern Europe were fine for the development of long straight planking, but the gnarled English "Hedgerow" Oak was the best for the natural curved timbers used to strengthen the ship internally.  Trees were even deliberately bent in certain ways so as to " grow" a needed set of curved timbers.  These curved timbers were known as "compass" timbers.

And one more note - in a book about harvest Brazilian timber for the shipbuilding industry, it was noted that dense forests contain tall straight trees, while more open stands have trees with more curving branches.  But also of special value were the trees that have buttressed roots (banyan-like, I suppose), because those buttresses were curved in just the way that was required for some ship parts (but required extraordinary work to harvest because not only did the tree have to be felled, but the buttress root had to be dug out of the earth).  You learn something every day.

The embedded image is from page 96 of Ship Modeling from Stem to Stern by Milton Roth, via Google Books.

Light pollution

Click for bigger.  Found at Treehugger.

Ferrofluid following the magnetized conical screw of a meat grinder


It gets more interesting at the 1:40 mark.

Word for the day: "detritivore"

Everyone learns about carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores at an early age; later one hears about insectivores and piscivores.  I think it was when I was playing SimLife or some similar game that I first encountered "frugivore" and "granivore."  And it was not until this week while reading about some small creature that I first saw the word "detritivore." 

It's not a word that will be useful in everyday conversation.  I think I'll save it up to use sometime when I need a good insult.

Musing about corn


In the Upper Midwest, this is the season for corn mazes.  (This past weekend I also drove past a "corn maze for blondes" which I didn't photograph; you'll need to use your imagination).

When I was growing up in Minnesota, a cornfield was the very essence of rural America and a defining factor for the family farm (I understand things would be different in cotton country or wheat country).  Here's a great map of "land cover" in the Upper Midwest, from GIS and Science, showing the "corn belt" of the U.S. in yellow:


Some of my earliest memories are of the cornfields on my grandparents' farm (in one of those bright yellow southern Minnesota counties), and of walking with my dad down cornrows in southwestern Minnesota while hunting pheasants.  We had two golden retrievers, neither of whom were properly trained, who when taken on a hunt for pheasants would rush down the cornrows and flush the birds hundreds of yards away, much to my father's frustration.  Now in retrospect I'd like to think that Champ and Sport had a hidden agenda of warning the pheasants ("flee for your lives!").


During my years in urban Massachusetts, Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri I didn't realize how much I missed the cornfields.  Ten years ago our careers brought us back to Wisconsin, and we found a home on a dead-end street where the cul-de-sac terminates at forty acres of corn.  I also see corn when I'm hiking, since many of my favorite trails abut farmland.

In these past ten years, I've thought I detected a change; the cornfields seemed to be increasing.  At the micro level, I've noticed it where I hike; the farmers have been swinging their cultivators a bit wider each year, trying to get in a extra row or two of planting.  On the macro level, I seem to see corn where there wasn't corn before.  A search this morning yielded this graph:


Those data come from 2008, and confirmed all-time record acreage planted in corn.  I presume the trend is continuing.  Those increased plantings are not to supply the sweet corn that I love.  In Wisconsin, of the 3.9 million acres of corn planted in 2010, only 83,300 acres are sweet corn; that's about 1 acre in each 40.  So the way I think of that field at the end of my road is that it has one acre of "eating'" corn, and 39 acres of corn for ethanol, polymers, cattle and hog feed, gluten, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, and other products.  Now when I look at a cornfield, what I see is not a scene of pastoral tranquility; I see a factory.

I can't really say with any conviction that this is "wrong."  It's just the way things are, and it reflects a reality that has changed during my lifetime.  Others are not so sanguine about the changes; for an article by someone with practical experience in the corn business I would offer this letter from the Daily Yonder.


Credit for the corn maze photo to Greg Dixon at Madison.com.  The other two are mine.

Phocomelia


For related previous posts, enter "amelia" in the search box in the blog's right sidebar.  Other examples of the disorder are depicted in a thalidomide-related post at Lilliputrid.

Photo via Old Photos, Young Kids; original credit Time Inc. / Stan Wayman, 1962.

How to catch plaster dust while drilling

Place a folded Post-It note beneath the hole.  Via Boing Boing.

Life expectancy after age 65

For all the gazillions of dollars spent on health care in the U.S., overall life expectancy is considerably lower than in other Western countries.  This discrepancy is often blamed on firearm and automobile deaths among younger people distorting the average life expectancy.

The graph above shows the gradually improving life expectancy of men aged 65 around the world.  Note that the U.S. (in red) is at the bottom of the group, and actually has been losing ground in the past couple decades.  Found at Yglesias, where there is also an almost identical graph for women at age 65.

The reason assassin bugs carry ant carcasses

(Photo deleted because when I originally wrote the post I linked to the London Salmagundi "via," not to the photographer, Kurt (OrionMystery).

At the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, Ed Yong discusses a paper in the Journal of Zoology which found that assassin bugs covered with dead ants were less likely to be attacked by spiders.
Jackson and Pollard suggests that the ants break up the bug’s form so that instead of a characteristic shape that the spider can tag as ‘prey’, it sees a jumbled mess that doesn’t look like anything it has ever eaten before. It sees the bug, but doesn’t register it as a meal.
An alternative hypothesis would be that spiders can sense formic acid or other toxins in the ant carcasses.

This will only take a minute...



One of the bookmarks that's been sitting in my "things to blog" folder is a video of David Garrett entering the Guiness Book of World Records by playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" in 1 minute, 5.26 seconds.  That's the video at the top.

Later Ben Lee beat David Garrett's record, with a time of 64.21 seconds.

Today I read at Arbroath that that record has now fallen.  Oliver Lewis, playing before a BBC audience (and a Guiness rep) finished in 1 minute, 3.356 seconds (second video above).

If you have a reasonable skill timing your clicking on the "play" and "pause" buttons, you can get these guys to play the piece simultaneously.

Our moon has an abundance of water

It was only about a year ago that I blogged my surprise at the report of water being discovered on the moon.  Now it appears that water is there in considerable quantities:
"It's really wet," said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers... He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater's soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.

The presence of water doesn't make it more likely that there ever was life on the moon, as the location studied is among the coldest in the solar system. But the large quantity boosts the case for a manned lunar base from which to launch other interplanetary adventures. Water is crucial because its components, hydrogen and oxygen, are key ingredients for rocket fuel. Oxygen can also be extracted from water to make breathable air...

The scientists also found molecular hydrogen in the soil. "That's interesting because if you want to make rocket fuel you could heat up the soil and hydrogen would come pouring out," said Dr. Gladstone.
Further details at the Wall Street Journal.

Children view their dead classmate


I have featured "postmortem photographs" several times (here, here, here, and here).  The one above from 1910 is a bit different in that it features the deceased posed with classmates rather than family.
“Today, children are protected from viewing or actively participating in funerals with the deceased in plain view. In the first decades of the twentieth century, a popular style of postmortem photograph depicted dead school age children with their classmates or social peer groups, such as Boy Scouts. This photograph was made in the real photograph postcard format so that participants could have a copy and perhaps send one to friends.”

From Sleeping Beauty II - Grief, Bereavement and the Family in Memorial Photography by Stanley B. Burns, M.D.
Found at (OvO).

How do you cut this pie?

The pie chart comes from an op-ed piece at the Washington Examiner.
The blue parts of that chart are the parts Republicans have said they won't cut. The red slice, well that's fair game. Klein writes:
Even if you were to eliminate this entire slice of the budget (meaning you're willing to gut the Department of Homeland Security and defund all other federal agencies and departments) it wouldn't even eliminate half of last year's deficit.
The diagram emphasizes the point made earlier this week by John in the discussion of another pie chart.  At some point it's going to be necessary to rethink "mandatory" or "nondiscretionary" spending.  Andrew Sullivan contrasts the window-dressing cutbacks suggests by both Republicans and Democrats with the sea-change being suggested for Great Britain:
And now, courtesy of Britain's Tories, we have a real example of actual fiscal conservatives. Leave aside the legitimate debate about whether it's the right thing to do right now, the Tories bravely campaigned on major cuts - even in welfare which is beloved by their own core constituency, like child benefit - and delivered, risking their entire future on what they believe is the responsible thing to do...

They've raised the retirement age to 66; they plan to reduce the numbers of criminals in prison; they've cut police funding; they've cut defense by 8 percent; they've slashed subsidies to the regions. And remember the British debt is not that much higher than the US debt: Yes, the welfare cuts will hurt the poor, but the biggest hit will come from middle class entitlements. The wealthy, including the Queen, are reeling...
So, who's going to raise taxes and cut our spending on welfare, retirement benefits, education, and the war machine?  

Rethinking "going to college"

This week the Chronicle of Higher Education offered the chart above and asked "why did these people go to college?"
Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree...

Now it is true that college has a consumption as well as investment function. People often enjoy going to classes, just as they enjoy watching movies or taking trips. They love the socialization dimensions of schooling—particularly in this age of the country-clubization of American universities. They may improve their self-esteem by earning a college degree. Yet, at a time when resources are scarce, when American governments are running $1.3-trillion deficits, when we face huge unfunded liabilities associated with commitments made to our growing elderly population, should we be subsidizing increasingly problematic educational programs for students whose prior academic record would suggest little likelihood of academic, much less vocational, success?
The article offers one viewpoint on a complicated issue; personally I think it's a rather narrow-minded viewpoint at that.  There are some thoughtful and well-informed counterpoints presented in the responses to the article.

20 October 2010

Rosa Bonheur with Bull (1857)

A painting by Edouard-Louis Dubufe, which I thought had quite a bizarre composition until I read the biography of the lady, and discovered that she achieved her fame as a painter of animals. It's still a bizarre image, but at least now it makes more sense.

Found at Miss Folly.

Use onion bags to scrub dirty dishes

"I always dreaded the prospect of trying to get the gunk of sticky flour or melted cheese out of a sponge or brush until I recently discovered a solution in the form of the netting that onions and other vegetables come packaged in. By cutting up the stiff netting bags from packaging into about 6" squares you can make reusable super scrubbing tools. A few bags will produce more than you'll need. Now when you're finished scrubbing you can toss or recycle the used nettin..."

Found at Boing Boing.

How to measure the speed of light using your microwave

Just put a dish of marshmallows or chocolate chips in the microwave, and then follow the instructions at Orbiting Frog or Kitchen Science Experiments.

Via Metafilter.

Luke really wasn't in THAT much danger

"When Darth Vader (David Prowse) revealed his secret to Luke, Hamill was hanging onto a pinnacle above mattresses placed on cardboard boxes about 30 feet off the ground."

From a photo set at Vanity Fair.

Do you recognize this pretty little girl?


She grew up to be a very pretty lady... 

Answer below the fold.

19 October 2010

Tap dancing on a typewriter


From Ready, Willing, and Able (1937), via I Like Riddles.

Mummy meatloaf

Meatloaf + flat noodles + two olives.

Directions at Gather and Nest, via Boing Boing.

"Do these pants make me look fat?"

Offered without comment.

Found at Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.

Your tax money at work

Via The Armchair Reader... and Lulu of the Zulu Nation.

Ultralight in the Himalayas

The first thing I thought of when I saw this photo was Henry Thomas and E.T. on the bicycle...

Credit: Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images, via the WSJ Photo Journal.

Young girl holding fox that has been clubbed to death

A photo from the archives of LIFE.com, with their caption.

Photo: Wallace Kirkland./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images. Mar 01, 1944

Sitting Bull talks truth to power

In 1883, Sitting Bull was a guest of honor at the opening ceremonies for the Northern Pacific Railroad. When it was his turn to speak, he said in the Lakota language, ‘I hate all white people. You are thieves and liars. You have taken away our land and made us outcasts.’ A quick-thinking interpreter told the crowd the chief was happy to be there and that he looked forward to peace and prosperity with the white people. Sitting Bull received a standing ovation.
Via Miss Folly.

"Un Chien Andalou"


This brief surrealist film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí is famous for several scenes...
The idea for the film actually began when Buñuel was working as an assistant director for Jean Epstein in France. Buñuel told Dalí at a restaurant one day about a dream in which a cloud sliced the moon in half "like a razor blade slicing through an eye". Dalí responded that he'd dreamed about a hand crawling with ants. They were fascinated by what the psyche could create, and decided to write a script...

...in the notorious eyeball-slicing scene... Buñuel claimed that he had used a dead calf’s eye. Through intense lighting, Buñuel attempted to make the furred face of the animal appear as human skin.
As a long-time observer of "movie mistakes," I couldn't help noticing that the hand inserted through the door is a left hand with the palm toward the door, and the hand with the ants is a right hand with the palm toward the woman.

"The Battleship Potemkin"


Eisenstein's 1925 silent film is embedded in its entirety above.  If you don't have the requisite hour+ to view this classic, I posted the iconic Odessa Steps scene (and some related clips) last year.

Zheng He's treasure ship


Amateur video filmed in Nanjing in the Ming Dynasty shipyard.  I have seen Zheng He's ship compared to Columbus' flagship in diagrams; this is the first time I have seen the contrast portrayed with models.

Addendum:  I think reader BJN is correct in pointing out that the scales of the two models in the video are not in exact concordance; the idea is correct, but the math is wrong.  Here is a photo he/she located that provides a more precise comparison than the video does (and this photo is closer to the one I remember from Menzies' book):
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