31 July 2011

Sunday smörgåsbord

I haven't done one of these linkdumps for months, so there's a boatload of accumulated material.  And much of it is old, so may not be "tywk," but at least this post will help me clean out some bookmarks.

After Dirk Nowitski's superb performance in the NBA playoffs (48 points with only 3 missed shots), a writer has suggested "points per miss" as a new statistic reflecting offensive efficiency.

Wikipedia has a list of dinosaurs with almost a thousand entries.

Posted for reference because the term so often comes up during arguments about politics: a list of fourteen defining characteristics of fascism.  I can't vouch as to whether this list is accurate or not.

Here's a technique to find out which vendors etc. are selling/sharing your email address to spammers.

One of the windows at Grossmunster Cathedral created by embedding slices of agate into the glass.

English is the only major language to capitalize the first-person singular pronoun "I."

Move your mouse over this and see what happens.

A manhole cover "dances" on a windy day.

The last video footage of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, taken in 1956 at the home of Stan's daughter.

Via Google Images, a photospread of albino animals and two-headed animals.

Administrators in Portland, Oregon drained a reservoir because a man peed in it.

A spreadsheet with over a thousand TED talks.  Also here.

A pastry undergoes mitosis.

Twin babies exhibit synchronized sneezing.

Ontario's Highway 401 is one of the most complicated and busiest highways in the world.

A website has been created to dump Michele Bachmann.

If for some reason you want to see/hear an immense donkey fart interrupting an interview, then you should view this video.  Otherwise skip it.

The butterfly in the photos at the top is one of the "skipper" butterflies.  I can't identify or distinguish most of them, but this one is not too hard.   It's a Least Skipper, one of the "grass skippers" and one of the smallest such butterflies.  This one and dozens more were "skipping" over the grass along the trails in the UW Arboretum during a field trip last month.

Fourteen posts at Neatorama

I've had to delete the adjective "recent" because my productivity has slowed down so much that all of these are several months old.  But they are still interesting...

There are a variety of ways to define what constitutes "Europe."  Eight different ways of doing so are organized into one Euler diagram.

If you travel with a zippered suitcase, you need to view this video.  Everyone knows they can be easily cut open, but this video shows they can be unzippered and rezippered closed, with the lock still in place.

A two-minute video shows the streets of Belfast in 1901.

Reindeer racing is a winter pastime in Finland.  The humans don't sit atop the animal, but rather get pulled along on skis.

Yet another video.  In this one two babies talk to one another.  Cute, but also interesting re the development of human language.  (not a commercial for E-Trade, btw).

Despite rumors to the contrary, Samsung's laptops do NOT harbor keyloggers.

What can a library do with its old, no-longer-necessary, card catalogue.  Here is one answer.

I can't explain "spiderboarding" in one sentence.  Details at the link.

A fly-catcher and a frog purse.  That is all.

There is a good reason why golf balls are sometimes made using lobster shells.

What scientists do to Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Plushies shaped like statistical distributions

Grossmünster Cathedral has "stained glass" windows that are actually thin slices of agates.

Bo-taoshi is a Japanese capture-the-flag game.

Photo - I photographed this Eyed Brown (Satyrodes eurydice eurydice) in its classic habitat - the margins of a wet meadow - on the Fourth of July during a field trip to Swamp Lovers' Preserve near Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

Centiheit vs. Fahrengrade confusion


Res ipsa loquitur.

Schoolchildren don't know their own name?

A report at the Telegraph this week suggests that some British children begin school so ill-prepared in terms of basic language skills that they are not even able to recognize their own name.
Parents are failing to teach their children how to speak because they spend too much time on the internet and watching television, experts claim... In the worst cases, many children are unaware they even have a name at the age of four. Toddlers should be familiar with their own name by the age of two, teachers say...

She added that in around 10 per cent of cases, parents were not to blame because their children had language and communication difficulties caused by disabilities. However, the remainder could be avoided if families spent more time teaching their children to speak from an early age...

“It’s a communication issue at home. I think the advent of the media, particularly television has had a pretty poor impact on communication. “Once upon a time, families would spend a lot of time talking. Nowadays, of course, they’ve got DVDs, the internet, TV, and so this formal communication process of talk and listening has got worse..
I was able to read stories in the newspaper before I started first grade, so I have a hard time crediting this report's assertions, and wonder if those conducting the study are simply promoting their own interests.  Perhaps some of the children are from non-English speaking families and are having difficulty comprehending the questions being asked by the examiners.

30 July 2011

Bark

"Not only do we come in contact with it constantly in our daily lives, from cinnamon to cork to chewing gum to rubber, but it’s also a hauntingly beautiful, textured piece of living matter that looks like the skin of some magnificent mythical dragon. French photographer Cedric Pollet travels the world to capture this beauty and has documented it in his gorgeous new book, Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees.
This book is not in our library system; I'll bet it is well worth a read.  The embedded photos show the bark of the ocotillo tree, a Mindonoan gum, and a type of manzanita. My favorite bark is that of the river birch.

Text and photos from Brain Pickings, via Dark Roasted Blend.

North Dakota is a magnet for college students

Excerpts from a surprising article in the Wall Street Journal:
College students are flocking here in ever greater numbers. Out-of-state students account for about 55% of the 14,500 enrolled at North Dakota State University, as well as at similarly sized University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Nonresident students at North Dakota's 11 public colleges constitute a higher ratio than in almost every other state...

High school juniors and seniors scouring online college guides find North Dakota universities are inexpensive and well-regarded, with modest-sized classes typically taught by faculty members rather than adjuncts or graduate students...

This isn't happening by accident... The state poured money into improving academics... While improving its schools, North Dakota kept tuition low. In recent years, state revenues gushing from an oil boom in western North Dakota have given the state more resources to lure nonresidents...

Out-of-state students fill both classrooms and budget holes. Traditionally, states charge nonresidents tuition and fees as much as triple that charged to residents. The premium is especially tempting now as state legislatures nationwide slash outlays for higher education...

The battle could be fiercest for a type of enrollee who until now has gone largely unnoticed: the out-of-state bargain hunter. Although many public colleges have long offered out-of-state tuition below $20,000, few have advertised it, largely to avoid antagonizing state lawmakers who believe state schools should serve state residents. But political opposition is generally waning amid the depleted budgets and declining high school grads. Caps on nonresident enrollment are loosening in many states...

The state has a long tradition of spending generously on higher education. Some in the heavily Republican state have complained that it is academically "socialist." To make sure no North Dakotans had to travel far to attend college, the state has 11 public colleges...

1933 menu

From the tumblr of the Hennepin County (MN) Public Library.  Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale was a premier supper club in Minneapolis from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Bugs Bunny was originally spelled with an apostrophe ("Bugs' Bunny")

In 1938, Warner Brothers writer Ben Hardaway directed a short film featuring a very sneaky rabbit. The cartoon was called Porky’s Hare Hunt, but the bunny that starred in it didn’t have a name. So, the best creative minds in the business got together and dubbed the up-and-coming star “Happy Rabbit.”

Ben Hardaway, whose nickname was Bugs, also directed he next short starring Happy Rabbit. As the animators drew up early image for the film, one of them labeled a sketch of the rabbit “Bugs’ Bunny,” to make it clear that the drawing was part of Hardaway’s project. The label was mistaken for the name of the character, and soon enough, all the animators were calling Happy Rabbit “Bugs Bunny."
From a post at Neatorama about interesting moments in the history of editing, where you will also discover that Catch-22 was originally entitled Catch-18.

A railroad train does a "burnout" of the tracks

The photo shows what happens when a train with multiple engines has the brakes applied, but an engine does not get a signal to shut down.
Actually, the whole train brakes. Every wagon has brakes, not just the locomotives. What is interesting is that somehow the signal bypassed the dummy locomotives (only the first one usually has people operating it, the rest are controlled by remote from that first engine) and got to the wagons, or the dummies were at the rear of the train and the signal broke somewhere in the middle. Also consider that static friction is stronger than kinetic, so as the first engine slowed and stopped, the following engines could have started slipping and never regained traction.
There's more discussion at two Reddit posts, and more pix here.

Kudos to Norway's response to terrorism

Excerpts from Glenn Greenwald's column at Salon:
Over the last decade, virtually every Terrorist plot aimed at the U.S. -- whether successful or failed -- has provoked greater security and surveillance measures...

The reaction to the heinous Oslo attack by Norway's political class has been exactly the opposite: a steadfast refusal to succumb to hysteria and a security-über-alles mentality. The day after the attack -- one which, per capita, was as significant for Norway as 9/11 was for the U.S. -- Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, when asked whether greater security measures were needed, sternly rejected that notion: "I don't think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect." It is simply inconceivable that any significant U.S. politician -- the day after an attack of that magnitude -- would publicly reject calls for greater security measures...
“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg insisted...

Stoltenberg strongly defended the right to speak freely -- even if it includes extremist views such as Breivik’s.

“We have to be very clear to distinguish between extreme views, opinions — that’s completely legal, legitimate to have. What is not legitimate is to try to implement those extreme views by using violence,” he said in English...

Maybe people should be more like baby capybaras

I thought I'd share an anecdote I heard on the radio yesterday.  I was listening to WORT when one of the hosts on the "Mel and Floyd" program mentioned that his daughter Melvina's favorite animals at the zoo were the baby capybaras.

She said the cutest thing about baby capybaras was that they have giant eyes and they can look right into your soul.

The adult replied "I don't think I want it looking into MY soul."

She thinks for a moment and says, "They look into your soul, but they don't JUDGE."

LOL...

Photo credit Melanie Typaldos

29 July 2011

Eric Clapton's version of "How Deep is the Ocean?"

I listened today to the 1973 "Clapton" album; mixed in with all the blues pieces was his version of an old song with refreshingly upbeat lyrics:
How much do I love you? I'll tell you no lie -
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel to be where you are?
How far is the journey from here to a star?

And if I ever lose you how much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1932.  I found videos of covers by Peggy Lee/Benny Goodman, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Etta James, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles.  I'll embed here a brief cinema version by Bing Crosby because it was recorded in 1946 - a year that has a certain resonance for me.

26 July 2011

Monarch wing

Photo from an old Olympus Bioscapes Photo Contest, via BioFinity.

Stan Laurel

Always gracious to fans, he spent much time answering fan mail. His phone number was listed in the telephone directory, and fans were amazed that they could dial the number and speak to Stan Laurel... When [Dick] Van Dyke was just starting his career, he looked up Laurel's phone number, called him, and then visited him at his home.
Let's make a list of all current Hollywood film stars whose phone numbers are listed.  You start.

Found at Today's Tie, via Lushlight.

This kid could start for the Minnesota Twins



The Twins lost to the Texas Rangers last night, 20-6.

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Bridge proposed to cross the Red Sea

Excerpts from a brief article at Spiegel Online:
Egypt and Saudi Arabia hope to construct a giant bridge spanning the Gulf of Aqaba for road and rail traffic. Officials at Egypt's Ministry of Transportation have confirmed to SPIEGEL that the project, under discussion since 1988, has finally been approved...

The Gulf of Aqaba runs along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula. Plans call for the 32-kilometer (20-mile) bridge to cross the narrow Strait of Tiran from Ras Nasrani, near the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to Ras Hamid in northwestern Saudi Arabia...

For the Arabs, the massive construction project would be a triumph. For the first time since 1948, when the modern state of Israel was founded, Arab states in North Africa would have a direct road link with fellow Arab states in the Middle East without having to cross Israeli territory.

Western diplomats view the announcement as being strategically timed to bolster Egypt's weak government. 
Image credit Central Intelligence Agency.

Noah's ark illustrated in 12th century Persian book

Noah’s Ark, from Hafiz-i Abru’s ‘Majma al-tawarikh’, ca. 1425

Just another reminder of the historical cross-cultural overlap of the Abrahamic religions.

Found at Miss Folly.

"A man with a hole in his chest"

ca. 1890-1900, “Reverend Eavens, a man with a hole in his chest”, W.C. Bell

Post-traumatic?  Healed tuberculous fistula?  No details re etiology at the Wellcome Images source.

Via Historical Indulgences.

"Mother trees" in a forest ecosystem


Fascinating. More on mycorrhizal networks here.

Via The Dish.

It's a haboob - get over it!

When the massive dust storm hit Phoenix several weeks, the photos and videos were quite impressive.
The massive dust storm, also called a "haboob" in Arabic and around Arizona, is all locals could talk about Wednesday. It moved through the state around sundown Tuesday, halting airline flights, knocking out power to nearly 10,000 people, turning swimming pools into mud pits and caking cars with dirt.
It looked like a scene from the American "dust bowl" of the 1930s, or from modern-day middle-eastern desert regions.  Since it was Arizona, I bookmarked the links, planning a future post about a subsequent epidemic of coccidiomycosis.

Instead, what I encountered this week is an article in the Times reporting that some Arizona residents were offended that the storm was referred to as a haboob.
“I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob,” Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic...  “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

Diane Robinson of Wickenburg, Ariz., agreed, saying the state’s dust storms are unique and ought to be labeled as such. “Excuse me, Mr. Weatherman!” she said in a letter to the editor. “Who gave you the right to use the word ‘haboob’ in describing our recent dust storm? While you may think there are similarities, don’t forget that in these parts our dust is mixed with the whoop of the Indian’s dance, the progression of the cattle herd and warning of the rattlesnake as it lifts its head to strike.”
Fortunately, some rebuttals have been offered -
Meteorologists in the Southwest have used the term for decades,” said Randy Cerveny, a climatologist at Arizona State University. “The media usually avoid it because they don’t think anyone will understand it.”

Not everyone was put out by the use of the term. David Wilson of Goodyear, Ariz., said those who wanted to avoid Arabic terms should steer clear of algebra, zero, pajamas and khaki, as well. “Let’s not become so ‘xenophobic’ that we forget to remember that we are citizens of the world, nor fail to recognize the contributions of all cultures to the richness of our language,” he wrote.

Split-screen love story

Via Reddit.

"Christianism" vs. Christianity

Excerpts from an essay by Andrew Sullivan at The Dish:
I coined the term "Christianism" many moons ago to defend Christianity and the gospels from their political co-opters... One of the core messages of Christianity is a rejection of worldly power. The core message of Christianism is, in stark contrast, the desperate need to control all the levers of political power to control or guide the lives of others. And so the notion that Breivik is a "Christian fundamentalist" seems unfair to those genuine Christian fundamentalists who seek no power over others (except proselytizing), but merely seek to live their own lives in accord with a literal belief in the words of the Bible.

But Christianist? Breivik's picture should accompany the term in any dictionary. Christianism is all about power over others, and it has been fueled in the last decade by its mirror image, Islamism, and motivated to fury by hatred of what it sees as is true enemy, liberalism. Both Islamism and Christianism, to my mind, do not spring from real religious faith; they spring from neurosis caused by lack of faith. They are the choices of those who are panicked by the complexity and choices of modernity into a fanatical embrace of a simplistic parody of religion in order to attack what they see as their cultural and social enemies. They are not about genuine faith; they are about the instrumentality of faith as a political bludgeon...

Notice the absence of real faith, which would recoil even at the very thought of killing innocents, but the pragmatic, cold-blooded use of faith as a psychological mechanism to enable mass murder... He did what he did, knowing it was evil, because of a passionate commitment to a political cause, which has become fused with a politicized parody of one religion, and with a passionate paranoid hatred of another one.

If you think that contains no lessons for the United States, you might want to open your eyes a little more widely.
More at the link.

Mail - then and now

Credit to Poofytoo.

A geometry problem with a surprising answer

A boy at the edge of a pond pulls a toy boat toward the shore below him. For each one yard of string that he pulls in, will the boat advance by...

a) one yard?
b) less than one yard?
c) more than one yard?

The answer is in the Futility Closet.

A century of changes in U.S. farms


The maternal line of my family were corn/dairy farmers at the turn of the last century (the paternal side were working the Pennsylvania railroad).   The graphic above, from the Center for Research on Globalization, shows the changes that have occurred on farms during these last several generations.

Not defined at the link, but I think implicit from the curves (depending on how "average" is calculated) is that the total acreage farmed in this country has not changed substantially in a century.  And total output must be markedly higher, reflecting a wide variety of changes in crops, equipment, techniques, and in efficiency from the scale of operation.

The other interesting data (USDA, 2010), discussed at Sociological Images, relate to farm subsidy programs.
Small-scale family farms (defined as operator-owned farms with less than $250,000 in sales — which does not mean $250,000 in profit, of course) make up 88.3% of all farms in the U.S., while large-scale family farms (operator-owned farms with sales over $250,000) are 9.3%.

While small-scale family farmers receive the majority of land-retirement payments — that is, subsidies in return for taking land out of agricultural production — large-scale family farms are the major beneficiaries of commodity payments such as price supports that subsidize the cost of production...
Whether farm subsidies are essential to preserving small family farms or actually hurt them by artificially supporting capital-intensive large-scale production is a topic of much debate within agricultural circles.

Manhattan's first legally married same-sex couple

Phyllis Siegal, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85.  

Photo ipsa loquitur.  Video here.

From the Ketchup Advisory Board

TR: These are the good years for Barb and me. A dry summer and not too hot, so we saved money on air conditioning and gas for the lawn mower. Which is good because my employer, NorCom, is going through a strategic realignment. What it means is that we're all laid off and then they offer us our jobs back at half-pay. So when we went to the State Fair, we didn't have the big $7 corn dog, we had a $3 corn dog, and when we had all the milk we could drink for $1, we stayed for almost an hour. And then we went through the Grandstand building and Barb saw a model lake cabin and decided she had to have one—

SS: Oh, Jim. Look at that. A cabin, with a fireplace and a screened porch and bunkbeds — I wish we had one.

TR: Barb, cabins are like boats. It's good to know somebody who has one but you wouldn't want to have one yourself.

SS: Just a simple cabin in the woods with a dock and an outhouse and a nice breeze blowing in off the lake.

TR: Or a nice breeze blowing in off the outhouse. Snakes live in outhouses, Barb. Poisonous snakes. Think about it. You go out there to have a private moment and next thing you know, you're dead with your shorts down around your ankles...

SS: Why are you always so negative, Jim---

TR: There'd be raccoons in the crawl space and they'd carry some unique virus and we'd eat it in our scrambled eggs and die and they'd find our bodies half eaten by raccoons.

SS: Oh Jim, please. The Murchisons love their lake cabin, they get all happy and relaxed.....

TR: The Murchisons are on a prescription medication to keep them happy and relaxed. And it makes them forget. Listen, all we need is ketchup, Barb

SS: Ketchup?

TR: Ketchup contains natural mellowing agents that help you realize you don't need a cabin to feel good. You just need a cool place and an electric fan and an imagination, that's all...

RD (SINGS):
These are the good times
For the summer birds
Heading south for winter
In their great bird herds.
Life is flowing
Like ketchup on cheese curds.

GK: Ketchup, for the good times

RD: Ketchup, ketchup.


Fulltext of the Prairie Home Companion script is here, MP3 is here.

[After a dinner discussion last night re the therapeutic value of ketchup, I decided to repost this item from 2009].

24 July 2011

Ancient pulltoys


Top: Little horse on wheels (Ancient Greek child’s Toy). From tomb dating 950-900 BC. Kerameikos Archaeological Museum in Athens.  Bottom:Toy buffalo on wheels. Terracotta, Magna Graecia, Archaic Age.

Both photos via The Ancient World tumblr.

Milkweed leaves "trenched" and "skeletonized"


If you're walking past milkweed plants, sometimes you can see a tiny hole in the leaf.  Turn the leaf over, and you may see droplets of the sticky latex sap oozing from the cut area.


In this case, the perpetrator is not present.  This is the feeding pattern of the first generation (first instar) larva of the Monarch butterfly.  The female Monarch lays her egg (typically one to a plant) by grasping the leaf edge with her feet and stretching her abdomen underneath.  When the larva hatches, it begins eating the leaf by cutting that circle, which breaks the flow of latex to the tissue in the center.  The little instar can then continue eating that part of the leaf without being physically overwhelmed by the flow.


Here's one at work.  First they eat the little hairs inside the circle, then they finish the contents of the circle, then (usually as a larger second instar) head out to work on the leaf edge itself.

When we see leaves like the one at the top, it typically means the caterpillar has fallen victim to a bird or to the ants who patrol the plant tending their aphids.

There's one other caterpillar that has evolved to favor the highly toxic milkweed leaves as a food source - the "milkweed tussock moth."


Unlike the monarch cats, these are gregarious creatures, emerging from large clusters of eggs laid by the moth.  They can tolerate the cardiac glycosides in the latex, but also don't want to be overwhelmed by the flow, so while they are little, instead of cutting the vein as the Monarch does, they eat between the veins.  The result looks like this leaf I photographed yesterday -


Totally "skeletonized" but with the arborized veins still intact.  In this case they had moved on to a different leaf; as they get larger they are capable of consuming the entire leaf and defoliating the plant.  Milkweeds have large taproots and tolerate the process quite well, especially because these are late-summer caterpillars and the plant is already in blossom or seed.

Addendum July 30:  Here's what leaves look like that have been consumed by the next generation of tussock moth instars.  It's not as delicate.  The generation after this one is capable of stripping a milkweed right down to the stem.

A proposal to tell consumers what's in meat

Yesterday I was purchasing some luncheon meats from the deli counter at our local Target store, and requested some "all-natural" chicken.  While she was slicing it, I asked if "all-natural" meant that no water was added.  She replied that it meant no artificial flavors were added.  She paused.  Then laughed... "They're all pumped up with water."  I knew that, but was hoping...

Here's some excerpts from an AP report this week:
A proposed rule aimed at food companies would require that poultry and other raw meats be labeled appropriately when they're plumped up by added solutions such as chicken broth, teriyaki sauce, salt or water. The practice of adding those ingredients is common, but many consumers don't know about it.

According to USDA, about one-third of poultry, 15 percent of beef and 90 percent of pork may have added ingredients - about 40 percent of all raw, whole cuts of meat...

An example of the new labels would be "chicken breast - 40% added solution of water and teriyaki sauce," according to USDA.

Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council says the poultry industry is split on the issue, as some companies add ingredients to their poultry and some don't. He said that for those who do add ingredients to poultry, the level of additives is generally 15 to 18 percent of the piece of meat...

Consumer groups have been pressuring the department to crack down on the practice for several years, saying the added ingredients are unhealthy.

"Who wants to pay $4.99 a pound for the added water and salt?" said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
And a hat tip to the crazy cat lady for the AP link.

Robotic bird with flapping flight

Plenty of robots can fly -- but none can fly like a real bird. That is, until Markus Fischer and his team at Festo built SmartBird, a large, lightweight robot, modeled on a seagull, that flies by flapping its wings.
Via A London Salmagundi.

How to help your child become a writer

M. Molly Backes was asked by a parent for advice on how to support a child's interest in becoming a writer.  After offering what she decided were inadequate suggestions in the conversation, she returned home to compile some more useful tips:
First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure she has a library card and a comfy corner where she can curl up with a book. Give her a notebook and five bucks so she can pick out a great pen. Insist she spend time with the family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another state, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from her friends and people her own age. Give her some tedious chores to do. Make her mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garage. Make her go on long walks with you and tell her you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood.

Let her be lonely. Let her believe that no one in the world truly understands her. Give her the freedom to fall in love with the wrong person, to lose her heart, to have it smashed and abused and broken. Occasionally be too busy to listen, be distracted by other things, have your nose in a great book, be gone with your own friends...

Let her get a job. Let her work long hours for crappy pay with a mean employer and rude customers... 
The rest of the advice is at this link.

This is not a chupacabra

It's a malnourished primate with partial alopecia, discovered in Henan Province, China and given food.  Had it been seen in Texas, it probably would have been shot as a "chupacabra."

Photo via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

200 foreskins

In one of the more striking passages in the Old Testament we are told that David bought his wife with a dowry of 200 Philistine foreskins. His prospective father-in-law Saul gave him the challenge, fully expecting David would be killed by the owners of the said foreskins.

The King James version of the story says: “And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.”

David and his men went out and killed 200 Philistines. He presented their foreskins to the king, who duly gave him his daughter Michal in marriage (1 Samuel 18:26).
I don't believe that passage was ever cited as the Lesson for the day in our Lutheran church.

Found in the QI blog at the Telegraph.

The evolution of paint tubes

"...the squeezable tube with a screw-on lid is the one thing invented for art materials that found its way into everyday life. Think about how many things come in this container, toothpaste, ointments and creams, even food pastes. Originally artists made up their own paint (or, rather, the studio apprentice did) using the pigments they bought. The first ready-made paint was sold by colormen in pig's bladders, which you punched a hole in to get the paint out and then sealed with a tack. The next invention was a glass syringe, with the plunger squeezing the paint out..."
Via Victorian/Edwardian Paintings.

Which is more probable?

"Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations."

Which of the following two alternatives is more probable?
1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.

The answer is in the Futility Closet.

Giant pouched rat

On a sadder note -
These rats are also becoming useful in some areas for detecting land mines, as their acute sense of smell is very effective in detecting explosives, and they are small enough to not detonate any of the mines. The rats are being trained by APOPO, a non-profit social venture based in Tanzania.

APOPO is also training the rats to detect tuberculosis by sniffing sputum samples; the rats can test many more samples than a scientist using more traditional methods.[3] Land mine and tuberculosis sniffing rats are called HeroRATs.
Video via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

"Put a sock in it!" explained

From World Wide Words:
The story about putting a sock in the horn of a gramophone has been so widely reproduced that it’s unsurprising people believe it. It’s a delightfully unexpected and plausible tale. The image comes to mind instantly of some grumpy parent stuffing hosiery into the horn to muffle the noise of the kids’ records. Pre-electric gramophones did lack a volume control and I’m told they could be loud enough that finding some way to minimise the sound was desirable. But the evidence suggests that the story, pleasant as it is, came into being as a well-meaning but misconceived attempt to explain the origin of an existing saying.
More at the link, which suggests that the phrase is a World War I slang phrase.

22 July 2011

Lillian Russell

Inspired by this awesome photo at Vintage Photography, I decided to look up some details re her life:
Russell was born Helen Louise Leonard in Clinton, Iowa. Her father was newspaper publisher Charles E. Leonard, and her mother was the feminist Cynthia Leonard, the first woman to run for mayor of New York City... She gave birth to a son... but the baby died after being stuck with a diaper pin by his nanny; the pin penetrated his stomach...

For many years, Russell was the foremost singer of operettas in America. Her voice, stage presence and beauty were the subject of a great deal of fanfare in the news media, and she was extremely popular with audiences... When Alexander Graham Bell introduced long distance telephone service on May 8, 1890, Russell's voice was the first carried over the line...

For forty years, Russell was also the companion of businessman "Diamond Jim" Brady, who showered her with extravagant gifts of diamonds and gemstones and supported her extravagant lifestyle... After 1904, Russell began to have vocal difficulties, but she did not retire from the stage. Instead, she switched to non-musical comedies... In later years, Russell wrote a newspaper column, advocated women's suffrage (as her mother had), and was a popular lecturer, advocating an optimistic philosophy of self-help and drawing large crowds. During World War I, she recruited for the U.S. Marine Corps and raised money for the war effort. Russell became a wealthy woman...

Russell died at her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 6, 1922, shortly after a completing a fact-finding mission to Europe on behalf of President Warren Harding. The mission was to investigate the increase in immigration. She recommended a five-year moratorium on immigration, and her findings were instrumental in a 1924 immigration reform law... She was buried with full military honors.
Text from Wikipedia, which has links to the primary sources.

Addendum:  Here's a comment from reader KenGilberg: "I have a bunch of Lilian Russell photographs. About 25 years ago I used to haunt an antique shop in NYC that offered the belongings of those who died without heirs. Lillian's daughter, Dorothy (who changed her name from Lillian) married a guy twenty years younger. When he died, it went to the shop. I have pictures of Lillian Russell's lavish apartment, scrapbooks, pictures of her with Warren G. Harding (Lillian married a guy who was an ambassador), and even a photo of Cynthia Leonard and her husband, Lillian's father. Any idea what I might do with the pictures?"   Anyone have suggestions for Ken?

"We Who Are Your Closest Friends"

I don't normally feature poetry on this blog, but I heard this poem by Phillip Lopate recited by Garrison Keillor on "The Writer's Almanac" today while I was driving to the library, and thought it was worth sharing.
we who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift

your analyst is
in on it
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us

in announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves
but since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make
unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your
disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective
(from At the End of the Day. © Marsh Hawk Press, 2010 (buy now)

How to fold a t-shirt


This video is about five years old, but I've never posted it and can never remember the technique, so I'll store it here.

Parmesan cheese "pencils"

The cheese is pared by rolling the "pencil" in a pencil sharpener.  The scale on the "pencil" shows the calories shaved off.

Found at jazarah!, via Neatorama.

Department of Defense spending during my lifetime

This graph is better than most because the data used are expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars
Lacking in requisite political direction and without the internal tools (or will) to prioritize, DoD lumbers along, occasionally forced to defend its total spending against other discretionary outlays, but never really having to defend how it allocates what it spends internally.  Adding to the dysfunction is the sorry state of our political system, in which one party's adult leadership (the Democrats) is terrified to take on DoD for fear of looking weak, and the other party's adult leadership (the Republicans) is unable to apply its flinty aversion to government growth to national security apparatus of the country.
More at Information Dissemination, via The Dish.

What kids do when you're not watching

Via Reddit.

Married, no kids. The most common California family. And a new poll for TYWKIWDBI readers.

Excerpts from an article in the Los Angeles Times:
New census figures show that the percentage of Californians who live in "nuclear family" households — a married man and a woman raising their children — has dropped again over the last decade, to 23.4% of all households. That represents a 10% decline in 10 years, measured as a percentage of the state's households...

Those households, the Times analysis shows, are being supplanted by a striking spectrum of postmodern living arrangements: same-sex households, unmarried opposite-sex partners, married couples who have no children...

Indeed, interviews with numerous families in Southern California reveal a generation of parents and children who still view the family as the building block of society but no longer view the nuclear family as the ideal. By and large, those interviewed insisted that their non-nuclear lives do not reflect a weakening of society but a fluidity and complexity that echoes a modern world...
I'm not positive why the numbers in the figure above don't add to 100%.  Perhaps the other 32% of households are single persons living alone?

This seems like a good time for another TYWKIWDBI reader poll.  At the top of the right sidebar is a poll asking you to identify your living arrangements.  This will obviously sample people worldwide, rather than the U.S., and will have no scientific validity whatsoever.  It's just a way to satisfy one's curiosity about who else is reading this blog.

Addendum:  Oops.  I knew I would overlook some possible categories, some of which have already been pointed out within the first few minutes.  Unfortunately I can't add choices to the poll without losing the early votes, so I guess the nonlisted options will have to be grouped under "other."

Addendum:  The final data, based on 766 responses by TYWKIWDBI readers:
  • 222 - Married with kids
  • 220 - Single without kids
  • 134 - Married without kids
  • 103 - Unmarried, living with partner
  • 28   - Single parent
  • 26   - Same-sex partner
  • 9     - Same-sex marriage
  • 24   - other

Is this the world's first question mark:

Cambridge University manuscript specialist, Dr. Chip Coakley has identified what may be the world’s earliest example of a question mark. The symbol in question is two dots, one above the other, similar in appearance to a colon, rather than the familiar squiggle of the modern question mark. The double dot symbol appears in Syriac manuscripts of the Bible dating back to the fifth century...

The double dot mark, known to later grammarians as zawga elaya, is written above a word near the start of a sentence to tell the reader that it is a question. It doesn’t appear on all questions: ones with a wh- word don’t need it, just as in English ‘Who is it’ can only be a question (although we use a question mark anyway). But a question like ‘You’re going away?’ needs the question mark to be understood; and in Syriac, zawga elaya marks just these otherwise ambiguous expressions...

Question marks in Greek and Latin script emerged later than in Syriac, with the earliest examples dating from the eighth century. It is likely that these symbols developed independently from each other and from Syriac. Hebrew and Arabic, close neighbours of Syriac, have nothing comparable. Armenian, another neighbour, has a similar mark, but it seems to be later.
Via PhysOrg, where there are additional details.

20 July 2011

Elizabethan era noblewomen had a ruff life

A portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).  For more on Elizabethan ruffs, see my previous post on the subject.

Via Large Size Paintings.

Ignore the environment


From the weekly cartoon collection at The New Yorker.

A graphic depiction of "grade inflation"

From an article in the New York Times based on data compiled by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy.
The researchers collected historical data on letter grades awarded by more than 200 four-year colleges and universities. Their analysis (published in the Teachers College Record) confirm that the share of A grades awarded has skyrocketed over the years...

Most recently, about 43 percent of all letter grades given were A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. The distribution of B’s has stayed relatively constant; the growing share of A’s instead comes at the expense of a shrinking share of C’s, D’s and F’s. In fact, only about 10 percent of grades awarded are D’s and F’s...
More at the link. Via The Dish.

Two-year-old carrots

Last year I planted a bed of vegetables specifically for butterflies - cabbages for Cabbage Whites, carrots and bronze fennel for Black Swallowtails, and hollyhocks for several other species (had to fence it in because we are the only house in the neighborhood without a dog, so the rabbits seek refuge here, to the detriment of various plants).

The Black Swallowtails never found the carrots (or at least never oviposited on them).  When autumn came I just cut the tops without harvesting the carrots, mulched them, and left the roots in place over the winter.  This year they used the energy stored in those roots to generate marvelous inflorescences -
- which totally resemble those of Queen Anne's Lace (the "wild carrot").  Compound flowers like these are magnets for bees, flies, and butterflies, who greatly prefer these as food sources rather than large showy single flowers.  Here is a Hairstreak nectaring on the carrot blossom -
The tiny little "tail" at the back identifies this as a member of the "hairstreak" family; I think this is a Banded Hairstreak rather than a Hickory Hairstreak or Edwards' Hairstreak, but it's not important.  What's most interesting is that he/she has a through-and-through hole in the hindwing (a bit of green shows through) probably as a residuum of escaping from a bird attack.

A most interesting image of Rupert Murdoch

All the more so because it was broadcast on Faux News.  Via Reddit.

How Istanbul got its name

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the late 15th century, the name "Constantinople" fell into disuse, with no obvious replacement.  But over the centuries in which Constantinople was the urban hub of the area (and, as you'll see, even after its fall), people referred to it as "the city."  The Greek phrase for "in the city" is "εις την πόλη" which is pronounced "is tin Poli."  Over time, this became  "Istanbul."  
Found at Now I Know, via Reddit.  Reminds me of the story of the naming of Torpenhow Hill, which I was sad to recently learn is probably not quite accurate.

Clever sign

Via Reddit.

James Cagney's Bottom

From 1935.

Photo via tout ceci est magnifique.

Starfish headband

Available from ShepherdoftheSea at Etsy.  via A Polar Bear's Tale.

"The Exorcist" parody commercial

Via Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.

The economic crisis in Greece

It may have fallen off the front pages in favor of Casey Anthony garbage, but it hasn't gone away.  Excerpts from an article in Spiegel Online:
Last week, Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou once again succeeded in getting a majority of Greek lawmakers to push through an austerity and privatization package worth €78 billion ($111 billion). In doing so, he was responding to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission. Indeed, many economic experts see the package's measures as the only way to fend off an imminent national bankruptcy at the last minute -- and the only way to save the euro from an even worse fate...

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