28 February 2011

The face of Ötzi the Iceman

As reported by Discovery News:
Brown-eyed, bearded, furrow faced, and tired: this is how Ötzi the Iceman might have looked, according to the latest reconstruction based on 20 years of research and investigations.

Realized by two Dutch experts, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, the model was produced with the latest in forensic mapping technology that uses three-dimensional images of the mummy's skull as well as infrared and tomographic images.

The new reconstruction shows a prematurely old man, with deep-set eyes, sunken cheeks, a furrowed face and ungroomed beard and hair.

Although he looks tired, Ötzi has vivid brown eyes. Indeed, recent research on the 5,300-year-old mummy has shown that the Stone Age man did not have blue eyes as previously thought.

Believed to have died around the age of 45, Ötzi was about 1.60 meters (5 foot, 3 inches) tall and weighed 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

Candle carving

After I posted the video about art created by pouring paint, Mel V. and Paulo countered with links to this video of candle carving.  I found additional (similar) ones here and here.

Good news re the Bamiyan buddhas

Some German scientists have indicated that it might be possible reconstruct at least one of them.  Excerpts from the article at PhysOrg:
Scientists from the University of Munich, in southern Germany, have examined fragments of the statues -- the world's largest Buddhas -- and concluded that the smaller one could be pieced together.

The two sculptures, 53 metres (173 feet) and 35 metres tall, had stood sentinel for 1,500 years in Bamiyan province before they were blown up by Islamists who believed them to be idolatrous.

Erwin Emmerling, the leader of the team sifting through hundreds of fragments, "considers a reconstruction of the smaller Buddha to be fundamentally possible," the university said in a statement...

Either a small factory would have to be built in the Bamiyan valley or some 1,400 rocks weighing up to two tonnes each would have to be transported to Germany. Japanese funding could reportedly be used to rebuild the sculptures.

They were once painted a variety of colours, the scientists said, including dark blue, pink, orange, red and white.
I didn't know these Buddhas had originally been painted (although I knew the Greeks painted some of their statuary).

"Zenga Zenga"

Noy Alooshe, an Israeli journalist/musician has remixed one of Muammar Qaddafi's ranting speeches to a hip-hop beat.  It has now gone viral on the internet in the Arabian world.  Further details at PRI's The World, the New York Times, and the Washington Times, which note that Alooshe has also redone the video without the dancing girl embeds so that it can be enjoyed by the more devout citizens of Libya.

"The Cove"

The trailer is self-explanatory. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature last year, and the Audience Award at Sundance the same year.  The Guardian reports today that the director has sent DVDs of the film to all of the residents of the town.

Congratulations to dooce

Yesterday was the tenth birthday of dooce.com. Heather Armstrong is one of the groundbreakers in the field, and her blog has been the recipient of numerous awards (including a Lifetime Achievement award from the Bloggies).  It says something about her blog when she can write a post and get 6000 comments.

Update:  The New York Times has an article about Heather, whom they refer to as the "queen of the mommybloggers."

What the frak is a shibboleth ?

From the Oxford University Press blog:
Naturally the topic of conversation came to words, and I brought up one I had been using a lot lately: frak (the fictional version of “fuck” on Battlestar Galactica)... Matt said, oh that’s a “shibboleth.”

A whateth? According to the OED:
The Hebrew word used by Jephthah as a test-word by which to distinguish the fleeing Ephraimites (who could not pronounce the sh) from his own men the Gileadites (Judges xii. 4–6).
Matt told me that he had first heard the word on The West Wing. Martin Sheen sums it up nicely: a password. A more recent sense in the OED defines shibboleth as:
A catchword or formula adopted by a party or sect, by which their adherents or followers may be discerned, or those not their followers may be excluded. The sect, in my case, is Battlestar enthusiasts.
I've not seen the show either, but at least now I know where "frak" comes from.  You learn something every day.

Update - a big hat tip to Z. Constantine, who found this awesome list of shibboleths - hundreds and hundreds of them!

How to cheat at soccer

Analysis from Deadspin:
Technically, Chilean U20 defender Bryan Carrasco didn't dive, as he was definitely struck by the Ecuadorian player. Problem is, Carrasco literally smacked himself in the face with the other player's arm. He received a free kick.
See also this incident from 2009 -

- for which the player was suspended indefinitely.

Use this post to offer comments re the format of this blog

A couple months ago I changed the design of TYWKIWDBI.  My principal goal was to have a format that presented photos and images in a larger size in the central column - to avoid the need to always "click for bigger." 

The first revision used a template that caused some problems for readers scrolling down the page.  After that I switched to the current one.  I then wanted to give readers (and myself) a while to adjust to a new color scheme for the background, for the highlights, for the hyperlinks.  I'm not sure whether it's optimal or not, but personally I've gotten used to it.  I know there are readers here with skills and experience in the realm of design, including website design, so if anyone wants to offer ideas or suggestions for further amendments or revisions, please feel free to do so.

The second item I'd appreciate feedback on is the embedded YouTube videos, which for some readers were not remaining anchored in the post, and migrated out of position, even covering adjacent text.  This was a problem of hair-pulling intensity which I discussed in a blog post in January.  I'm not the only one to have encountered this; a Blogger forum and several other discussion boards suggest that there is an inherent incompatibility between the Blogger template and the Safari browser.  Later in January YouTube changed its embed code, and the problem seemed to resolve.

This week I got an email from an "avid follower" of the blog who still encounters YouTube embeds covering the nearby text (using MacBook Pro and Safari).  After hearing that, I logged on with Safari (instead of my usual Firefox) and confirmed that some of the embeds were "loose" (and actually moved as I grabbed the corner and resized the window). As far as I know, there's nothing I can do to correct that problem.  My Google Analytics tell me that 16% of TYWKIWDBI readers arrive on Safari, so it is potentially not an inconsequential problem.  I don't know if everyone is experiencing the same problem, or whether some of you found a workaround.  Please feel free to offer me your experience and any relevant advice in the Comments.

Thanks in advance,


Opening title sequence from "The Shining"

The IFC website has an article this week hyperbolically entitled "The 50 Greatest Opening Title Sequences of All Time."  Any listing like that obviously has to be totally subjective, and I disagree with many of the inclusions, but browsing it did give me a chance to see again some of my favorites, including the one embedded above, which I've never blogged, but always loved because of the scenery, the ominous soundtrack, and the car (I used to have a yellow VW Beetle identical to that one).

For a more in-depth discussion of opening title sequences, go to The Art of the Title Sequence, which I reviewed about two years ago.

Balancing Afghanistan and the Punjab

The National Interest is a conservative magazine founded by Irving Kristol and published by the Nixon Center.   I was therefore somewhat startled when an article in the magazine was emailed to me by a Pakistani friend who described the article as "spot on" in assessing the situation in the Punjab.  This friend is highly knowledgeable about affairs in that part of the world, so when he assessed the article as having a "clear assessment" of the situation, I paid attention.  Here are some excerpts from "A Mutiny Grows in Punjab":
U.S. STRATEGY toward Pakistan is focused on trying to get Islamabad to give serious help to Washington’s campaign against the Afghan Taliban. There are two rather large problems with this approach. The first is that it is never going to happen. As U.S. diplomats in Pakistan themselves recognize (and as was made ever so clear by the WikiLeaks dispatches), both Pakistani strategic calculations and the feelings of the country’s population make it impossible for Islamabad to take such a step, except in return for U.S. help against India—which Washington also cannot deliver.

The second problem is that it gets America’s real priorities in the region back to front. The war in Afghanistan is a temporary U.S. interest, in which the chief concern is not the reality of victory or defeat as such (if only because neither can be clearly defined) but preserving some appearance of success in order to avoid the damage to American military prestige that would result from obvious failure. By contrast, preserving the Pakistani state and containing the terrorist threat to the West from Pakistan is a permanent vital interest not only of the U.S. military and political establishments but of every American citizen...

If Pakistan is to be broken as a state, it will be on the streets of Lahore and other great Punjabi cities, not in the Pashtun mountains. By the same token, the greatest potential terrorist threat to the United States and its Western allies from the region stems not from the illiterate and isolated Pashtuns but from Islamist groups based in urban Punjab, with their far-higher levels of sophistication and their international links, above all to the Pakistani diaspora in the West...

But there comes a time in many wars when victory itself becomes so elusive, and the costs of pursuing it so great, that a broader and more detached view of national interests sees that these are best served by some form of compromise. This seems to me to be becoming the case in Afghanistan; not because of the costs of the Afghan war itself, which are bearable, but because of the way in which that conflict is destabilizing and radicalizing Pakistan, risking a geopolitical catastrophe for the United States—and the world—which would dwarf anything that could possibly occur in Afghanistan...

A central fact tends to be missed, in part because it is a deeply uncomfortable one for Americans, with their instinctive faith in democracy and their inborn desire to be liked and respected by other nations: that (and with deep regret I can attest to this from my own numerous interviews in Pakistan) the Afghan Taliban enjoy the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis at every level of society. And so the U.S. war there—and America’s demands of Pakistani assistance—are weakening the state. The support for the Taliban is not based in their religious ideology, which is alien to most Pakistanis. It is so prevalent because, as with the anti-Soviet mujahideen of the 1980s (who were also not admired for their extremist ideals), the Taliban are seen as a legitimate force of resistance against an alien occupation of the country...

The greatest potential catalyst for a collapse of the Pakistani state is not the Islamist militants themselves, who are in my view far too weak and divided to achieve this (a capacity for murderous terrorism should not be confused with a capacity for successful revolution); it is that actions by the United States will provoke a mutiny of parts of the military. Should that happen, the Pakistani state would collapse very quickly indeed, with all the disasters that this would entail...

THE OVERTHROW of the regime can never happen in peripheral areas like Waziristan, Baluchistan or even Karachi. It would have to happen in Punjab... It is the possible collapse of Pakistan, not the outcome of the present war in Afghanistan, which is the really terrible threat to America and its allies from this part of the Muslim world.
Much more at the link.

Google Recipe

The process is explained at The Centered Librarian:
The new search option will be a choice in the left rail that appears after entering a Google search. You can search for recipes by entering the name of a dish or food type, an ingredient, or just an occasion, such as Cinco de Mayo. The results can be further filtered by preparation time, ingredients, or calories. Result recipes also sport star ratings and user reviews, so you can see which ones have been hits.
The photo shows the results when I entered "Minnesota wild rice."  More about Google Recipe at the Official Google Blog.

Solving the Teraminx

Some background from Wikipedia:
The Megaminx is made in the shape of a dodecahedron, and has 12 face center pieces, 20 corner pieces, and 30 edge pieces. The face centers each have a single color, which identifies the color of that face in the solved state. The edge pieces have two colors, and the corner pieces have three colors. Each face contains a center piece, 5 corner pieces and 5 edge pieces. The corner and edge pieces are shared with adjacent faces. The face centers can only rotate in place, but the other pieces can be permuted by twisting the face layer around the face center...

Despite its daunting appearance and greater number of possible positions, the Megaminx is not much more difficult than the standard 3x3x3 Rubik's cube. This is because it is not a deep-cut puzzle; it only has pentagonal face layers which are similar in structure to the square face layers of the cube...

More complex variations of the Megaminx have been made, including the Gigaminx, Teraminx and Petaminx.
The person who posted the video claims a 90-minute solving time, and insists the video is not reversed.

How can you tell if an orange is ripe?

According to the staff at QI, you can't go by its color:
You can’t tell the ripeness of an orange by its colour, no matter where it’s from. If an orange is unpicked, it can stay on the tree until the next season, during which time fluctuations in temperature can make it turn from green to orange and back to green again without the quality or flavour being affected
Another interesting fact is that Alexander the Great artificially colored his hair:
Alexander the Great washed his hair in saffron to keep it a lovely shiny orange colour. During his time saffron was as rare as diamonds and more expensive than gold. 

English bull terrier

Harf Zimmermann. Hufelandstrasse, Berlin-Est. 1987

I have no idea what breed of dog this is.  Any ideas?

Update:  A hat tip to all the readers who identified this dog as an English bull terrier.  Herewith some interesting items from Wikipedia:
They are known for their large, egg-shaped head, small triangular eyes and their "jaunty gait."... The Bull Terrier's most recognizable feature is its head, described as 'egg shaped' when viewed from the front, almost flat at the top, with a Roman muzzle sloping evenly down to the end of the nose with no stop.

Bull terriers have appeared as characters in many cartoons, books, movies, and advertisements, perhaps most famously as party loving Spuds MacKenzie in Budweiser beer commercials in the late 1980s, and more recently as Bullseye the Target dog...

All puppies should be checked for deafness, which occurs in 20% of pure white dogs and 1.3% of colored dogs and is difficult to notice, especially in a relatively young puppy... Early in the mid-19th century the "Bull and Terrier" breeds were developed to satisfy the needs for vermin control and animal-based blood sports...

Bull Terriers have appeared in many movies, including: A Dog's Life (1918), It's a Dog's Life (1955), Oliver!, Baxter, Patton, Toy Story, Babe: Pig in the City, Next Friday, Friday After Next, Frankenweenie, Trainspotting, Bulletproof, Derailed, "Scotland, PA", The Incredible Journey and Space Buddies.
Photo found at Fotografia, via First Time User.

26 February 2011

Traveller's palm

What a magnificent plant (Philippine Islands, 1926).  Details from Wikipedia:
Ravenala madagascariensis, commonly known as Traveller's Tree or Traveller's Palm, is a species of plant from Madagascar. It is not a true palm (family Arecaceae) but a member of the bird-of-paradise family, Strelitziaceae... It has been given the name "traveller's palm" because the sheaths of the stems hold rainwater, which can be used as an emergency drinking supply. The enormous paddle-shaped leaves are borne on long petioles, in a distinctive fan shape aligned in a single plane.
Photo from the NOAA Library, via the New Shelton wet/dry.

Advertisement for the new Wii game "We Dare"

This video includes commentary by the editors at IGN Rewind Theater. If you want to view the advertisement alone, go to this YouTube link.

This was brought to my attention by an article at The Telegraph, which noted -
We Dare, which is advertised with images of handcuffs, spanking and partner-swapping, has been awarded a 12+ certificate even though its makers say it is intended for an "adult audience"...

The body responsible for classifying computer games in Britain yesterday defended the 12+ certificate. Laurie Hall, director general of the Video Standards Council, said: "The average 16-year-old would think everything in We Dare was beneath them – although the game contains innuendo and suggestion, if it showed anything sexual it would be have received a 16 rating".
Update March 10:  The Telegraph reports that the game will not be released in the U.K.
Games publisher Ubisoft says that We Dare, the "sexy" computer game in which players are encouraged to act out a "flirty striptease", will not be released in the UK. We Dare caused controversy with its advertising campaign, which showed images of couples spanking and stripping in front of the game, and when it was awarded a 12+ certificate.

Impractical, but clever

Superette, an Auckland boutique chain, wanted to promote a short shorts sale. From ad agency DDB Auckland's press note:
"We put indented plates on bus stop, mall, and park benches, so that when people sat down, the message was imprinted on their thighs. This meant that as well as having branded seats, a veritable army of free media was created, with thousands of imprints being created and lasting up to an hour."
Via The Daily Dish.

Where does the federal government get its money ?

Found at Mother Jones.

TSA screening

With a twist...
The only bad thing on our trip was TSA was at the Savannah train station. There were about 14 agents pulling people inside the building and coralling everyone in a roped area AFTER you got OFF THE TRAIN! This made no sense!!! Poor family in front of us! 9 year old getting patted down and wanded. They groped our people too and were very unprofessional. I am all about security, but when have you ever been harassed and felt up getting OFF a plane? Shouldn't they be doing that getting ON???

Top lawyer fees exceed $1,000 per hour

Excerpts from an article in the Wall Street Journal:
Leading attorneys in the U.S. are asking as much as $1,250 an hour, significantly more than in previous years, taking advantage of big clients' willingness to pay top dollar for certain types of services.

A few pioneers had raised their fees to more than $1,000 an hour about five years ago, at the peak of the economic boom. But after the recession hit, many of the rest of the industry's elite were hesitant, until recently, to charge more than $990 an hour...

Harvey Miller, a bankruptcy partner at New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges, said his firm had an "artificial constraint" limiting top partners' hourly fee because "$1,000 an hour is a lot of money." It got rid of the cap after studying filings that showed other lawyers surpassing that barrier by about $50.

Today Mr. Miller and some other lawyers at Weil Gotshal ask as much as $1,045 an hour. "The underlying principle is if you can get it, get it," he said...

Such rates are contributing to inflation across the $100 billion-a-year global corporate-law industry as the slow economic recovery has left many law firms struggling to finance the hefty pay packages they award their stars. Since most law partners bill roughly 2,000 hours, those asking $1,100 hourly will bring in $2.2 million, a few million short of the $3 million or $4 million in annual compensation star attorneys get at many big firms.

To help fill the gap, the firms rely on the profit they often reap on the work of junior attorneys, or associates. Dozens of associates at a time can work on a single case, and some firms bill as much as $700 an hour for their time, according to Valeo Partners, a Washington consulting firm that maintains a database of hourly legal rates in fields such as litigation, corporate law and intellectual property.
More at the link.
"The underlying principle is if you can get it, get it."

Beachcombing results

Seashells, snails and other beach treasures found on remote islands of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. (arranged by hand). 
Verena Popp-Hackner and Georg Popp.
Source, via First Time User.

Protest and free speech

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at George Washington University; her speech condemned governments that arrest protesters and don’t allow free speech.  During her presentation, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern stood in the aisle and turned his back on her in silent protest; he was dragged from the room by her security staff.

(There may be a more detailed backstory with some justification; I haven't found it yet.)

Found at Metafilter, where there is a long discussion thread.

"Nature, red in tooth and claw with ravine..."

Tennyson's full quote goes as follows:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law --
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed.
- from a group of cantos entitled, "In Memorium A.H.H." (1850). (source)

Photo: Nathan Myhrvold, from The Third Culture.

"I am not young enough to know everything"

A wonderful quotation from JM Barrie's 1902 play "The Admirable Crichton", spoken by the character Ernest Woolley, who is a satire on the typical Wilde epigram-loving hero.

The quote is based on Wilde's "The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything," from Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1894).

A hat tip to an anonymous reader for providing the information above.  The original (mis)information attributing the quote to Wilde came from Born to be Wilde, where the byline is a great quote from Wilde: "I don't want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there."

Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers

From the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather."  The dancing begins at 1:30.

The union for union-bashers

A comment from The People's Republic of Moronia:
...And in the ulti­mate irony, Rush Lim­baugh, who called union work­ers “bottom-​​feeding free­load­ers,” Glenn Beck, who mirac­u­lously linked trade union­ism with Com­mu­nists, social­ists, the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, and the United Nations, and numer­ous other con­ser­v­a­tive com­men­ta­tors are all mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Tele­vi­sion and Radio Artists (AFTRA), an AFL-​​CIO union.

Health care spending adjusted for GDP

It should be intuitively apparent that in "richer" countries, health care will tend to be more expensive, but this graph from The Incidental Economist shows the huge degree to which the United States is an outlier:
The 30 non-US OECD countries line up in a pretty good line, with increasing spending per person as their GDP gets higher. In fact, as I show in the chart, you can make a pretty good line that fits the relationship between GDP and health care spending...

It’s not that we shouldn’t spend more than other countries. We should. We are richer than almost anyone, and we should spend more on health care. The problem is that we’re spending so much more than everyone else, even after taking into account our GDP. We’re literally off the chart. And we’re not getting better outcomes for that money.
Via The Daily Dish.

25 February 2011

The use of metal in bookbinding

Excerpts from an essay by S. T. Prideaux published in The Gems Of Art (1895), and posted at Bookbinding.com.:
The high price of manuscripts throughout the Middle Ages, due to the scarcity of parchment, and the time and labour necessary for transcription, explains the luxury of ornament that decorated their outsides. The thick wooden boards -the weight of which was necessary to keep the parchment flat- were enriched with ivories, precious stones, engraved gems, plaques of gold and silver both engraved and filigreed, and the finest enamels. As the books were not often transported from place to place, indeed but little moved, the weight of their covers was not a matter of importance, and these were sometimes made to contain relics of the saints. To all such work the name Byzantine has been applied, probably from the fact that Byzantine art flourished and predominated over that of other countries from the fifth to the twelfth centuries. It has no meaning thus employed as a geographical expression, but is a general term applied to bindings composed of these arts of the gold and silversmith, of the enameller and ivory-carver, executed in the first thirteen centuries of the Christian era, and influenced in spirit by the art of the lower empire...

Of the three classes into which these very early bindings most naturally fall, ivories, goldsmith's work proper, and enamels, the gold and silver work -pierced, chased, or engraved, and often ornamented besides with precious stones.occupies the middle place, enamelled covers apparently originating when gems became rare...

This form of costly protection to the not less costly MSS. had itself in turn to be protected, and thus these books were often enclosed in boxes which were themselves sometimes the work of the goldsmith, or else in the outer covers of chevrotin, a thin leather or sendal, a rough silk, These coverings were termed in later times chemises, and sometimes chemises a queue, when there was a margin of stuff which, when reading, folded up on to the page and so allowed a hold on the parchment without the risk of soiling it with the fingers...

With the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries workmanship superseded the weight of the precious metals. The goldsmith of that time had to be sculptor, modeller, smelter, enameller, jewel-mounter, and metal-worker combined, and hence there is more unity about the metal-wrought bindings of that time than there is about the earlier ones. Indeed, an important point to be observed in connection with the Byzantine covers is, that they have not the unity that belongs to a single work of art. Portions of them made by different artists at different periods, and even in different countries, were incorporated in one cover, or smaller ones were subsequently adapted to larger volumes by resetting them in borders and so enlarging their capabilities. It is, perhaps, partly due to this feature that the term Byzantine has been applied to this mixed work, not wholly so much to express its connection with , a particular country or period, but rather to indicate a certain type, the characteristic of which is this admixture of materials often somewhat incongruous and rarely the work of a single hand, and which followed therein the example set by much of the art of Byzantium itself...
Those interested in this general subject matter might also enjoy the companion article, Embroidered Book Covers.  Image:  Sion Gospels book cover (~1140-50), from the collections of the Victoria and Albert.

Via Couleurs.

The dynamic art of Holton Rower

The process is shown in the video above; the end result, when viewed from above, looks like this:
Other examples here.  I think it looks like fun. 

Via everlasting blort.

Why the U.S. should raise taxes on gasoline

This very informative graph was posted at The Economist.  Most Americans grudgingly admit that higher gasoline taxes could be used to improve transportation infrastructure in the U.S., but there are even broader implications:
Petrol prices in America are substantially below levels elsewhere in the rich world, and this is almost entirely due to the rock bottom level of petrol tax rates. The low cost of petrol encourages greater dependence; the average American uses much more oil per day than other rich world citizens. This dependence also impacts infrastructure investment choices, leading to substantially more spending on highways than transit alternatives. And this, in turn, reduces the ability of American households to substitute away from driving when oil prices rise.

There are any number of good reasons to raise the petrol tax rate. The current rate no longer brings in enough money to cover current highway spending... But a higher tax rate would also diminish the possibility that a sudden rise in oil prices would throw the economy into recession. That would be a nice risk to minimise! And yes, higher tax rates would hit consumers just like rising oil prices. But those prices are rising anyway; better to capture the revenue and use it, all while improving behaviour.

It's hard to take any fiscal hawk seriously so long as this measure isn't on the table. It's as close to a win-win solution as one is likely to find.
Via The Daily Dish.

A warning for anyone using public Wi-Fi hot spots

Excerpts from an eye-opening article in the New York Times:
Until recently, only determined and knowledgeable hackers with fancy tools and lots of time on their hands could spy while you used your laptop or smartphone at Wi-Fi hot spots. But a free program called Firesheep, released in October, has made it simple to see what other users of an unsecured Wi-Fi network are doing and then log on as them at the sites they visited...

...while the password you initially enter on Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Amazon, eBay and The New York Times is encrypted, the Web browser’s cookie, a bit of code that that identifies your computer, your settings on the site or other private information, is often not encrypted. Firesheep grabs that cookie, allowing nosy or malicious users to, in essence, be you on the site and have full access to your account.

More than a million people have downloaded the program in the last three months (including this reporter, who is not exactly a computer genius). And it is easy to use.

The only sites that are safe from snoopers are those that employ the cryptographic protocol Transport Layer Security or its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer, throughout your session. PayPal and many banks do this, but a startling number of sites that people trust to safeguard their privacy do not. You know you are shielded from prying eyes if a little lock appears in the corner of your browser or the Web address starts with “https” rather than “http.”..

Since not all Web sites have “https” capability, Bill Pennington, chief strategy officer with the Web site risk management firm WhiteHat Security in Santa Clara, Calif., said: “I tell people that if you’re doing things with sensitive data, don’t do it at a Wi-Fi hot spot. Do it at home.” ..

A WEP-encrypted password (for wired equivalent privacy) is not as strong as a WPA (or Wi-Fi protected access) password, so it’s best to use a WPA password instead. Even so, hackers can use the same free software programs to get on WPA password-protected networks as well. It just takes much longer (think weeks) and more computer expertise.

Using such programs along with high-powered Wi-Fi antennas that cost less than $90, hackers can pull in signals from home networks two to three miles away...
More at the link.

How to make a "skull cup" dining utensil

The process is explained in this BBC video in conjunction with a new report that ancient Britons drank from carefully crafted human skulls.

Found at Gadling, which added this photo (credit) of an elaborately carved Chinese skull cup:
Via BoingBoing.

Where are Obama's comfortable shoes ??

Video excerpt from a 2007 speech, which included these words:
And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.
One wag at the Firedoglake source suggested that the shoes have waffle soles.

Highest-resolution photo - ever - of the moon

This is actually a mosaic of about 1300 separate images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Wide-Angle Camera — the total size is a whopping 24,000 x 24,000 pixels, producing a resolution of about 145 meters/pixel...

Over time, as the Moon rotates underneath it, LRO can see the entire surface of the Moon. As it does this, the angle of sunlight changes, so care had to be taken when creating this mosaic to make it appear seamless; otherwise shadows would appear to jump suddenly from point to point. If you look carefully you’ll see where shadows point in different directions, but it still looks pretty natural.

But it’s not: when you see the full Moon from Earth, that means the Sun is shining straight down on the Moon — the Earth is essentially directly between the Moon and Sun. That means you don’t see any shadows on the surface when the Moon is full. Pictures of it taken from Earth look flat in that case, because our eyes and brains look to shadows to sense the topographical relief — the ups and downs in the surface. But this image shows those shadows, making it a unique view of the full Moon...

But it’s also one of the highest resolution image ever made too! You can appreciate that if you look at the full-res 145 meters/pixel zoom-and-pannable version, which is simply extraordinary... So my advice: take a little time and peruse the zoomable version online, and pretend you’re floating over the lunar surface.
Note - the embed here is a JPEG; for full-res and zoomable images, visit the link at Discover.

Gallium spoon

Watson solves the debt crisis

Credit to Nate Beeler, The Washington Examiner, with a big hat tip to The Pajama Pundit.

Americans with(out) passports

This map was posted at Political Language, with these comments:
As with every social statistic applicable to the US there are geographic disparities. I couldn’t find exact figures for states, so I extrapolated zip code-based passport issuance data from the State Department to create a choropleth map of globetrotting & stay-at-home America.

These are very rough calculations, better for comparison than exact figures. There aren’t many surprises. Alaska & Hawaii... weighed in at 44% and 33% respectively, New Jersey was the only state approaching 50%, and West Virginia and Mississippi tied for last place at 13%.
Additional explanation at the link.  Since this was described as a "chloropleth" map, I had to look that up:
A choropleth map (Greek χώρος + πλήθω ("area/region" + "multiply") is a thematic map in which areas are shaded or patterned in proportion to the measurement of the statistical variable being displayed on the map... Choropleth maps are based on statistical data aggregated over previously defined regions (such as counties), in contrast to area-class and isarithmic maps, in which region boundaries are defined by data patterns. Thus, where defined regions are important to a discussion (as in an election map divided by electoral regions), choropleths are preferred...
Technical aspects of the color schemes at Wikipedia.

24 February 2011

"You may have beaten us, but can you solve this integral?"

No time to blog today - very busy with family activities.  But after hearing about Caltech's basketball victory, I did want to quickly repost this item from a year and a half ago:
A couple weeks ago [September 2009], when I posted an article about a victory for "Britain's worst football team" (90 consecutive losses), Mark suggested that I should see the movie "Quantum Hoops." This week I got the DVD from the library.

The movie tells the story of the basketball team at Caltech, one of the top five academic institutions in the world, noted for such nonathlete-students as Richard Feynman, Linus Pauling, and ?Frank Capra. The numbers are incredible - 21 consecutive YEARS without a victory at the time the movie was made - 243 losses in a row. The year before the movie they lost by an average of 60 points per game.

Over the years the teams have been composed of unarguably the brightest (non)athletes in the world. The team in the movie has more valedictorians (8) than students who played varsity basketball in high school (6).

The movie presents the history of the school and its athletic programs and follows the team as they approach a game which they have a chance to win. I won't give the result. You can obviously Google an answer, but that would spoil the dramatic tension. It's a delightful movie, well-suited even for those who don't give a hoot about college sport. Enjoy.
After the movie was released, the basketball team won some nonconference games, but yesterday they ended a 319-game conference losing streak, beating Occidental College 46 to 45.

23 February 2011

You'd never guess what this is

"Sperm tails tangled up in a seminiferous tubule"

Credit Clifford Barnes, posted in the Flickr photostream of the FEI Company (which, BTW, has lots of neat SEM images), via Dr. Sci-Phy.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 1

It was nine months ago that I wrote a post about the impending publication of Mark Twain's autobiography:
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.
It took a long time to get to me through a long waiting list at the library, and now that I've read it, I have to say that I've been rather disappointed.

There is nothing "wrong" with the book.  On the contrary, it is an immensely detailed, scholarly compilation of Twain's written and dictated autobiography.  The editors clearly intended this to be the definitive academic publication on Twain's life.  To that end in Volume 1 they supplemented the several hundred pages of text with another several hundred pages of notes and prefaces to create a weighty and frankly cumbersome tome.  A good biographer selects material from the subject's life; this autobiography compiles everything, discarding nothing, and weighting everything equally.  The result is that the enjoyable bits are smothered under a profusion of trivia.

I did find one new word - "supposititious," as in this sentence about Joan of Arc: "They set several traps for her in a tentative form; that is to say, they placed supposititious propositions before her and cunningly tried to commit her to one end of the propositions...."  I guessed the meaning, but had to look up the word to confirm that it was real, and I didn't even have to dig into the OED.  It's in Merriam Webster, meaning "fraudently substituted, spurious, hypothetical", from the Latin suppositicius.  You'd think a 64-year-old former English major would have run into this word before - but I don't recall ever having seen it.

And this anecdote intrigued me:  "...the vast fireplace, piled high, on winter nights, with flaming hickory logs from whose ends a sugary sap bubbled out but did not go to waste, for we scraped it off and ate it..." (p. 212).  I've seen logs in the fireplace "bubble" like that when the wood was green; I had never thought about scraping the sap off to eat.  Perhaps I wouldn't have been as surprised had the wood been identified as maple - but hickory?

One other anecdote really struck me; I've written it up as a separate post below this one.  Other than that, I didn't find much from the book to share on this blog.  I have no doubt that this will be a milestone book and will be widely praised in academia for its comprehensive attention to detail, but for the reasons I've mentioned, I'm not adding it to this blog's list of recommended books, and I have doubts whether I will even bother tackling volumes 2 and 3.

Mark Twain relates an anecdote about the remarkable Helen Keller

Mark Twain met the fourteen-year-old Helen Keller at a friend's home where 12-15 people had been invited...
"The guests were brought one after another and introduced to her.  As she shook hands with each she took her hand away and laid her fingers lightly against Miss Sullivan's lips, who spoke against them the person's name.   When a name was difficult, Miss Sullivan not only spoke it against Helen's fingers but spelled it upon Helen's hand with her own fingers - stenographically, apparently for the swiftness of the operation was suggestive of that...

After a couple of hours spent very pleasantly, some one asked if Helen would remember the feel of the hands of the company after this considerable interval of time, and be able to discriminate the hands and name the possessors of them.  Miss Sullivan said "Oh she will have no difficulty about that."  So the company filed past, shook hands in turn, and with each handshake Helen greeted the owner of the hand pleasantly and spoke the name that belonged to it without hesitation..."
Text found at pg. 425 of Volume 1 of the newly-released Autobiography of Mark Twain.  Photo: Helen Keller Foundation, via Awesome Stories.

"Romania's Got Talent" singer

Watch it soon - it won't last long.

The video shows Narcis Iustin Ianau-O, a 16-year-old who sings Puccini’s aria “O mio Babbino caro.“  The original video that was posted yesterday has been pulled; it included the usual pre- and post-performance commentary and interviews, in Romanian, translated in a Reddit thread:
Narcis: I never took singing lessons. My mom, living in Italy since I was 9 years old, hasn't really heard me sing. My dad heard me many times and already knows how I sing. However, when my mom heard me sing, she thought that I could not accomplish anything with this voice. My dream is for my mother to hear me singing on an open stage.

Tall Stageguy: go ahead/impress us.
I was impressed.   I've seen commentary that quibbled about the accuracy of the high notes and the stridency of his voice, but it's still a startling performance to hear.

Via Remote Patrolled.

Ice balls in Lake Michigan

I don't know if these form by the same process as that which produced the "snowballs at the beach" that I posted yesterday.  It could be, as someone has suggested, that the ones in the video (and perhaps the ones yesterday as well) are simply ice fragments from the lake ground into spherical shape by wave action.

Washington - the "blackest name" in the United States

From an AP story in the StarTribune:
The 2000 U.S. Census counted 163,036 people with the surname Washington. Ninety percent of them were African-American, a far higher black percentage than for any other common name...

"There was a lot more consciousness and pride in American history among African-Americans and enslaved African-Americans than a lot of people give them credit for ... they were thinking about how they could be Americans," says Adam Goodheart, a Washington College professor and author of "1861: Civil War Awakening."

But for black people who chose the name Washington, it's uncertain precisely why. "It's an assumption that the surname is tied to George," says Tony Burroughs, a black genealogist, who says 82 to 94 percent of Washingtons listed in the 1880 to 1930 censuses were black. "As far as I'm concerned it's a coincidence."..

Washington was listed 138th when the Census Bureau published the 1,000 most common American surnames from the 2000 survey... Ninety percent of those Washingtons, numbering 146,520, were black. Five percent, or 8,813, were white. Three percent were two or more races, 1 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent Asian or Pacific Islander.

Jefferson was the second-blackest name, at 75 percent. Lincoln was only 14 percent black.  Many present-day Washingtons are surprised to learn their name is not 100 percent black.

Post-earthquake iceberg

A group of people travel with Glacier Explorers to see one of the many icebergs that caved into Tasman Lake as a result of the 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, February 22, 2011. (AP Photo/NZPA, Denis Callesen) 

A beautiful image from a set of 50+ photos of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, posted at The Atlantic's new In Focus photoessay feature.  (The caption of the photo must have a typo; I'm sure they meant to say that "many icebergs calved" into Tasman Lake.)

Did an ancient Roman invent "flexible glass" ?

From an interesting post this week at Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog:
The story appears first in Petronius’ Satyricon (51 – early first century AD): ‘However, there was an artificer once who made a glass goblet that would not break. So he was admitted to the Emperor’s presence to offer him his invention; then, on receiving the cup back from the Emperor’s hands, he dashed it down on the floor. Who so startled as the Emperor? But the man quietly picked up the goblet again, which was dented as a vessel of bronze might be. Then taking a little hammer from his pocket, he easily and neatly knocked the goblet into shape again. This done, the fellow thought he was as good as in heaven already, especially when Emperor said to him, ‘Does anybody else besides yourself understand the manufacture of this glass?’ But, on his replying in the negative, Emperor ordered him to be beheaded, because if once the secret became known, we should think no more of gold than of so much dirt.’
Beachcombing notes that the story was retold two centuries later, and a different incident was reported in 79 AD:
Pliny the Elder (obit 79 AD), a near contemporary, reports that in the time of Tiberius, forty years before he brought out his Natural History, a new kind of flexible glass was produced that the Emperor did everything possible to outlaw, even destroying the workshop of the inventor (‘totam officinam artificis eius abolitam’).
Fable/myth?  Or true?  There's a discussion at the link, with a addendum suggesting that the Romans might have invented tempered glass.  A different possibility that occurred to me is that a craftsman could have acquired a large lump of relatively clear amber (does amber come in clear form?) and worked into the shape of a glass (? is that possible).

If you have any ideas, please insert them in the comments here, or at the original link.

Caddis fly larvae jewelry

This isn't new material (it was first posted in Cabinet in 2007, via Neatorama), but it was new to me when I encountered it this week.
The images above illustrate the results of an unusual artistic collaboration between the French artist Hubert Duprat and a group of caddis fly larvae. A small winged insect belonging to the order Trichoptera and closely related to the butterfly, caddis flies live near streams and ponds and produce aquatic larvae that protect their developing bodies by manufacturing shea­ths, or cases, spun from silk and incorporating substances—grains of sand, particles of mineral or plant material, bits of fish bone or crustacean shell—readily available in their benthic ecosystem...

After collecting the larvae from their normal environments, he relocates them to his studio where he gently removes their own natural cases and then places them in aquaria that he fills with alternative materials from which they can begin to recreate their protective sheaths. He began with only gold spangles but has since also added the kinds of semi-precious and precious stones (including turquoise, opals, lapis lazuli and coral, as well as pearls, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds) seen here...
Nature of Neptune posted this video of the process in 2008:

I'll echo an old question:  Who is the artist?  Hubert Duprat, or the caddis fly larva?

Related:  a similar structure built by a one-celled animal.

Photos Jean-Luc Fournier.

Addendum: Also (sort of) related, this bejeweled beetle -
- explained, with many links, at Quigley's Cabinet.

Jeopardy! trivia

I watched the Jeopardy! match featuring Watson vs humans, and was decidedly "underwhelmed."  The programs seemed to be structured mostly as an advertisement for IBM's prowess.  But the event has triggered some interesting articles on the web, including an assortment of interesting trivia posted at Slate. Here, for example, are the most commonly used Jeopardy! categories:

TYWKIWDBI doesn't have a category in the sidebar for "before and after," but we've got most of the other ones covered.  Here are some other interesting tidbits:
What's the most common answer on Jeopardy? That would be "What is Australia?" That response appears 208 times. In fact, thanks to the prominence of geography-related categories, the Top 23 answers are all places. (Click here for a list.) At No. 24: George Washington.

...where's the best place on the board to find a Daily Double? Far from being randomly distributed, Daily Doubles are heavily concentrated at the bottom of the board. Of the roughly 10,000 such clues logged on J-Archive, 92 percent were in the bottom three (of five) rows. In fact, only two Daily Doubles in the archive ever appeared in the top-left corner, once in 1999 and then in 2003. The cell densest with Daily Doubles? Fourth from the top, far left—home to 834 of them, or 8 percent of the total.

As players descend the gameboard's rows, the clues get harder: 96 percent of clues in the top row are solved, 91 percent in the second row, 86 percent in the third row, 80 percent in the fourth row, and just 71 percent in the bottom row.
There's more at the link.

22 February 2011

Snowballs spending a day at the beach

"It happens when there's a heavy snowfall and some wind at a time when the water is cold enough to freeze but due to motion it is prevented from doing so.

Conditions must be: Water temperature at zero deg. C., snow falling into the waves and combining together as the waves roll it along; think of it rolling a snowball on a liquid surface rather than a field, I'm sure you get the idea.

In Cape Breton this phenomenon is known by local fishermen as "a Lolly".
From foamymilkyway, where there are additional photos of this phenomenon.

Snowbound cars are catching fire

From the Mpls/St. Paul StarTribune:
About a dozen cars caught fire in St. Paul during Sunday's storm, according to St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard.

He said most of the fires probably started when drivers got stuck in the snow and began rocking their vehicles back and forth in an attempt to get free, overheating the transmission and causing engine fires...
 I've "rocked" a car before to get it unstuck; I never realized such maneuvers endangered the transmission.  You learn something every day.

New insights into how neurons work

I suppose one should never assume that one fully understands biological processes.  Here are some new developments in what used to be basic neurophysiology:
Neurons are complicated, but the basic functional concept is that synapses transmit electrical signals to the dendrites and cell body (input), and axons carry signals away (output). In one of many surprise findings, Northwestern University scientists have discovered that axons can operate in reverse: they can send signals to the cell body, too.

It also turns out axons can talk to each other. Before sending signals in reverse, axons can perform their own neural computations without any involvement from the cell body or dendrites. This is contrary to typical neuronal communication where an axon of one neuron is in contact with another neuron's dendrite or cell body, not its axon. And, unlike the computations performed in dendrites, the computations occurring in axons are thousands of times slower, potentially creating a means for neurons to compute fast things in dendrites and slow things in axons...

"We have discovered a number of things fundamental to how neurons work that are contrary to the information you find in neuroscience textbooks," said Nelson Spruston, senior author of the paper and professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "Signals can travel from the end of the axon toward the cell body, when it typically is the other way around. We were amazed to see this."..

Similar to our working memory when we memorize a telephone number for later use, the nerve cell can store and integrate stimuli over a long period of time, from tens of seconds to minutes. (That's a very long time for neurons.) Then, when the neuron reaches a threshold, it fires off a long series of signals, or action potentials, even in the absence of stimuli. The researchers call this persistent firing, and it all seems to be happening in the axon...

"This cellular memory is a novelty," Spruston said. "The neuron is responding to the history of what happened to it in the minute or so before."

...led to experiments with multiple neurons, which resulted in perhaps the biggest surprise of all. The researchers found that one axon can talk to another. They stimulated one neuron, and detected the persistent firing in the other unstimulated neuron. No dendrites or cell bodies were involved in this communication.

"The axons are talking to each other, but it's a complete mystery as to how it works..."
For additional information see Science Daily. The data are published in the February issue of Nature Neuroscience.

SWEDOW explained

From Huffington Post:
On a recent family trip to Africa, spotting locals wearing T-shirts and baseball caps bearing obvious American brands or slogans became something of a parlor game... Were they gifts sent by a U.S. charity? Was this the ultimate destination for old T-shirts and hats donated to Midwestern clothing drives? Or did the Africans wearing them choose them from the small mountains of clothing -- some of it new, most of it used -- piled on tables and tarps at every market we visited along our journey?

In the parlance of foreign assistance, such donated clothing and other items is known as SWEDOW, which roughly translates to Stuff We Don't Want. The latest SWEDOW dump came in the form of a massive donation from the NFL to the behemoth Christian relief group World Vision...

After the Pittsburgh Steelers lost the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, the NFL was stuck with thousands of pre-printed T-shirts heralding the Steelers as Super Bowl champs. The league donated them to World Vision, which in turn plans to ship them to poor folks in Armenia, Nicaragua, Romania and the African nation of Zambia. ..

Some critics called a foul on the NFL/World Vision play, saying that while 100,000 brand new T-shirts to needy people abroad sounds like a lovely idea, it actually does more harm than good.

The NFL has valued the shirts at $20 apiece, despite claims from critics that the shirts are basically unsellable and therefore essentially worthless... "  This partnership is a win-win for both World Vision and the merchandisers. The merchandisers get to print 100,000 unneeded T-shirts every year without having to shoulder the full cost, and World Vision gets $2,000,000 worth of 'program costs' to improve their expense ratios. And they both get free PR with photos and news stories of happy people receiving the unsellable T-shirts."..

The NFL donation will flood local marketplaces with unneeded... goods, driving down the prices at which local merchants can viably sell their wares.
And it's not discussed in the article, but I'll bet the manufacturers of the worthless t-shirts claim a hefty income tax deduction for their "charitable gift."

An update for those who have forgotten the Gulf oil blowout

As reported in Salon:
Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist's video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn't degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012...

"There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading," Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.

"Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don't know," Joye said, later adding: "there's a lot of it out there."

The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that "most of the oil is gone." And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a "fairly fast" job of eating the oil...

In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles... She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars... She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated...

Mardi Gras dress

Family and friends of all ages have also participated in this entirely hand-sewn train. The 18-foot train is fashioned in Queen Worth's favorite shade of green cut silk velvet in a damask pattern with a regal gold and is bordered with gold brocade raffia. The champagne fox fur border is embellished with multi-loop duchess silk satin and rhinestone bows. The brocade is encrusted with large rhinestones and medallions of Swarovski crystals. At the base of the train is a shell which is the symbol of Saint James. The shell along with crosses interspersed throughout the train was chosen by Queen Worth to reflect her strong spirituality. The shell is created in a deep gold silk shantung and is adorned with a crest that combines the Wentworth and Morrissette family crests. The top of the shell has angel wings in memory of her godmother and grandmother, the two angels in her life that she has recently lost. Above the shell are her intertwined initials, designed by another cousin who used a 19th-century duogram for inspiration. The duogram is Queen Worth's official symbol and will be featured throughout the season. As the focal point of the center of the train, the letters are created in deep gold and ivory silk overlaid with Austrian crystal entredeaux accented throughout with floral clusters of brilliants and baguettes and large emerald cut stones.
Via J-Walk.

How do you pronounce "Protestors in Tahrir Square" ?

The pronunciation of "protestor" was discussed this week at both Language Log and The Economist:
Some noun-verb pairs have different stress patterns: you recórd a récord, and a pérmit permíts you to do something. So it is with protest: the verb, the original word, is protést, "to object to something". The origin in the OED is given as "orig. and chiefly Scottish law", by the way, with the earliest citation in 1429. The noun, meaning "objection", appears about half a century later.

The OED gives only one stress pattern for the British pronunciation of the verb: protést. But the American pronunciations are given as protést and prótest both.
More at the links (and their comment threads). "Tahrir Square" presents additional problems:
"... one rule of English phonology—virtually every English speaker knows this, but very few know they know it—is that an [h] can't come at the end of a syllable. We have words like ah and oh, of course, but they're pronounced [a:] and [o:]...

But Arabs can end a syllable in one of two different h-like sounds, one pronounced far back in the throat (a pharyngeal, in the lingo), sounding raspy to an English-speaker... This is distinct from another h-sound much like English's, and also distinct from a third, more truly fricative sound, usually translated kh, like the last sound in Bach. Got it?

That first h-sound is the one in names like Ahmed. Since we don't have that sound, English-speakers often approximate it with the Bach sound, and people who can't do that will then fill in a k-sound, which is a neighbor to [kh]. This is why you can hear some English-speakers refer to an Ahmed as "Akhmed" or even "Akmed".

The other option is to leave the h-sound out entirely, and that's what some people do with "Aamed". It's also what Mr Kirkpatrick did by saying "Tarir" for "Tahrir"—it's just too weird for most English-speakers to say the [h] at the end of a syllable. If you're unafraid of looking a bit like those journalists who try too hard to sound authentic, try it, and free yourself from your phonetic constraints in the name of Tahrir—"liberation".

"Oh, You Pretty Woman"

One of the things I miss since leaving Texas is the wonderful music.  Here are Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel performing on Austin City Limits in 2009.

$40 billion "missing" in Iraq

This appears to be different from the billions of USD that "went missing" earlier during the war.  According to Al Arabiya...
Around $40 billion are "missing" from a post-Gulf War fund that Iraq maintains to protect the money from foreign claims, its parliamentary speaker said on Monday as authorities scrambled to head off further protests on cutting politicians' pay and ramping up support for the needy

"There is missing money, we do not know where it has gone," Osama al-Nujaifi said at a news conference in Baghdad. "The money is around $40 billion in total."

"It may have been spent somewhere, but it does not appear in our accounts, so parliament will investigate where this money has gone."

50 billion planets in the Milky Way

Billion, not million.  And planets, not stars.
Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical: at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way. At least 500 million of those planets are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold zone where life could exist. The numbers were extrapolated from the early results of NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope.
Photo ["Milky Way over Switzerland"] from NASA's APOD website.

The relevance of Bahrain

From NPR:
The tiny island nation of Bahrain plays a big role in America's Middle East strategy. In fact, more than 6,000 U.S. military personnel and contractors are located just five miles from where government security forces violently put down demonstrations this week.

Bahrain is also home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a major logistics hub for the U.S. Navy ships... "It has facilities that can provide support to our ships, including, you know, fuel, water provisions, resupply," retired Rear Adm. Steve Pietropaoli says.

Those facilities have been resupplying warships for nearly a half-century, ever since Great Britain's fleet left the island. Bahrain provided major basing facilities and support for the armada of U.S. Navy ships sent for the first Persian Gulf War in 1990 and the Iraq War in 2003...

So what does Bahrain get out of this relationship besides rent? It receives security guarantees from the United States.

That's just the start. The Bahraini Defense Force sends its personnel to the U.S. for training and it buys high-quality American weapons as well. American military sales to Bahrain have totaled nearly $1.5 billion in the past decade alone.

Those sales include everything from Apache and Cobra attack helicopters to F-16 warplanes, missile launchers and howitzers, plus more than 50 Abrams tanks — some of which now patrol Bahrain's capital of Manama.
Map credit.

21 February 2011

Sea coal

[Chalk drawing, 'Sea Coal Gatherers' by Frederic Shields, undated]

This past week I encountered the drawing above at Victorian/Edwardian Paintings.  My personal experiences with coal began when I lived for a time in a semi-rural location in Kentucky and heated my house with a coal-burning stove.   I was surprised at the time to note how relatively light in weight coal was, but I had never thought much about it floating in water until I saw this drawing.

A quick search led me to Within the Walled Garden, which had a story about harvesting the material along a beach:
We followed the high tide line because I love to search for treasures. Coloured or shiny bits glinting in their recent wetness. A woman in front had a dog and a bag of stuff she kept gleaning from the berm ahead of us. I asked her what she was scavenging. "Sea coal" she said, and showed us how to identify the lumps and distinguish them from the black pebbles by their lighter weight and glimmer even when dry... It wasn't a great harvest because we only had DJ's hat to carry it in. But we shall return.
The post included this photo of freshly acquired sea coal -
- showing the rounded edges consistent with wave action, quite different from the material available in Kentucky roadcuts.

The next useful item I found was "A Manxman's Tale", about sea coal scavenging, in The British Journal of Photography:
Killip first visited the beaches around Lynemouth in 1975 but, he says, it took him years to win the sea coalers' trust. 'I went there when I was first in Newcastle, and I couldn't believe it,' he remembers. 'It was so odd, these guys getting coal from the sea, and so visually amazing with all these horses and carts. But when I went on the beach with my camera, they just turned around and tried to run me down. I pulled off the beach and didn't go back for two years. When I did, the same thing happened. This continued until 1981, when I had a very bad afternoon and decided to go to the sea coalers' local to reason with them. They said "Listen, we get photographed by the dole. They sit in the van and they spy on us, and then when we go to get welfare they produce these photographs and we won't get any money. For us photographs are bad news, and we don't want any."
The final question I had was whether sea coal was a purely natural phenomenon, from exposed veins on seashores, or whether it was somehow a byproduct of the transportation of coal in barges or other vessels.  The answer came from this Wikipedia entry about Cresswell, Northumberland:
Snab Point, 500 metres south of The Carrs, is a sheltered bay with the Alcan aluminium smelting plant on its south side. Embedded in the small cliffs of Snab Point are the remnants of fossilised trees. The beach area is littered with the remnants of fossilised wood and small seams of coal can be seen in the cliffs. Depending on the tides and wind, vast swathes of sea coal is washed up within the bay.
A photo at the link shows a beach strewn with sea coal.   There's more on the history of sea coal at The Public "I":
“In the last four decades of the thirteenth century, the cost of wood increased about 70 percent, while sea coal increased only 23 percent… Londoners had no choice but to resort to sea coal, which was rapidly becoming known simply as "coal." By 1300, London's total annual wood fuel demand was 70,000 acres. By 1400, it was only 44,000, despite prodigious industrial, commercial and population growth.” The street in London where merchants sold their cargos still bears the name “Seacoal Lane”...
The Durham County Council has this probably Victorian-era photo of the gathering of sea coal:
and the BBC shows the modern equivalent:
Sadly, this photo from the Science Photo Library is also relevant:
"...coal waste being dumped into the North Sea from Easington Colliery, County Durham (background). In the foreground is a discharge pipe emptying effluent from the mines into the sea. The sea is discoloured for several miles around the dump and the beaches are black with coal waste."
You learn something every day.
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