31 October 2012

Another blogcation

This morning my wife and I took delivery of 12 cubic yards (!) of hardwood mulch.  That's probably about 6000-8000 pounds of mulch, and we need to get it spread in the woods before it becomes even heavier from rain and snow.  This will take a while...

Was an actor "snuffed" on stage in 1549?


Exemplaria published a fascinating article in 1998.  Here's part of the abstract:
Shadowy as its source is now, there exists a medieval tale of theatrical representation that seems almost impossible to believe. It prompted a series of engaged electronic queries and communications on the PERFORM discussion group 1 and also (independently) a dose of skepticism from theorist Richard Schechner, who hastened to emphasize the vast ideological difference between imitation and reality.Did an on-stage execution really take place in 1549 in the city of Tournai or not?

According to somewhat questionable evidence about a biblical drama performed in Tournai, the “actor” playing Judith actually beheaded a convicted murderer who had briefly assumed the “role” of Holofernes long enough to be killed during the “play” to thunderous ap- plause. In his work on the history of French theater in Belgium, Frederic Faber scrupulously reconstructs the festive circumstances of this incident associated with the royal entry of Philip II. [see text image at top]


The source article is long (34 pages), and I can't even begin to do it justice with excerpts,  It addresses the (unsolved) question of whether this reported execution in a public theater was real, or legendary, or whether it was "staged."  Surprisingly (to me) medieval artists had the capacity to perform impressive "special effects" -


An excellent read - especially for Halloween.  Here's the link again: Medieval Snuff Drama, via Medievalists.net.

Happy Halloween

The extraordinary specimen is the larvae of the pink underwing moth, an endangered species only found in the Australian rainforest. Ecologist Lui Weber photographed the rare caterpillar, which is characterised by a set of teeth-like markings set between spots that look like eyes with large pupils.
One of the Pictures of the Day at The Telegraph. At the right is a photo of a related Catocala adult moth, from the Moth Photographers Group.

The etymology of "hearse"


One of a planned series of animated shorts to be posted at Mysteries of the Vernacular.
There are to be 26 in total, one for each letter of the alphabet, So far, assassin, clue, hearse and pants have been completed. The animation is inventive, inviting, and understated, drawing viewers through an old book whose pages inform and amuse as they turn.
Via Sentence First.

The Ladies of Téviec

Téviec or Théviec is an island situated to the west of the isthmus of the peninsula of Quiberon, near Saint-Pierre-Quiberon in Brittany, France. The island is an important archaeological site due to its occupation during the Mesolithic period. Many archaeological finds have been made dating back to over 6,700 years before the present day, including the remains of over 20 people. One of the most remarkable finds was that of the grave of two young women who had apparently died violently but had received an elaborate burial under a "roof" of antlers, their bodies decorated with jewelry made from shells...

In another grave, the skeletons of two women aged 25–35, dubbed the "ladies of Téviec", were found with signs of violence on both. One had sustained five blows to the head, two of which would have been fatal, and had received at least one arrow shot between the eyes. The other had also traces of injuries. However, this diagnosis is disputed by some archaeologists, who have suggested that the weight of earth above the grave may have been responsible for damaging the skeletons.


The bodies had been buried with great care in a pit that was partly dug into the ground and covered over with debris from the midden. They had been protected by a roof made of antlers and provided with a number of grave goods including pieces of flint and boar bones, and jewellery made of sea shells drilled and assembled into necklaces, bracelets and ringlets for the legs. The grave assemblage was excavated from the site in one piece and is now on display at the museum of prehistory in Toulouse, where its restoration in 2010 earned a national award.

Cloth seals


Cloth seals, although small and not much to look at, can give us fascinating insights into the Medieval and Post Medieval cloth trade, which was so important to economies of the period. This lead seal, SOM-B424B7, is of a form typical in England and some adjacent areas of the continent. It is formed of a row of four disks with tabs between. The row was bent in half over the edge of the cloth and a projecting point on one of the small outer disks went through the cloth then through a hole on the other outer disk before being stamped flat to rivet the ends together and to the cloth. The small disks appear plain apart from the raised circle from flattening the rivet...

Seals were attached to cloth at several stages of production. Personal seals might be added by the weaver and dyer, guild seals might also be added to show the quality of the work had been checked and it was of a required length and seals were added to show various taxes has been paid...
Text and image from the Somerset Portable Antiquities Scheme blog.  Here are some later-era cloth seals, recovered from the wreck of an East Indiaman in 1805:

Speech synthesizer, 1845

When Joseph Faber invented his “amazing talking machine” he had envisioned somehow connecting it to a telegraph to, converting the dots and dashes into a real human voice...

In December 1845, Joseph Faber exhibited his “Wonderful Talking Machine” at the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia... Just prior to this public exhibition, Joseph Henry visited Faber’s workshop to witness a private demonstration... Instead of a hoax, which he had suspected, Henry found a “wonderful invention” with a variety of potential applications...

Henry observed that sixteen levers or keys “like those of a piano” projected sixteen elementary sounds by which “every word in all European languages can be distinctly produced.” A seventeenth key opened and closed the equivalent of the glottis, an aperture between the vocal cords. “The plan of the machine is the same as that of the human organs of speech, the several parts being worked by strings and levers instead of tendons and muscles.”..

A devout Presbyterian, Henry immediately seized upon the possibility of having a sermon delivered over the wires to several churches simultaneously.
By a curious twist of fate, one person who happened to see the Euphonia in London in 1846 and come away deeply impressed was Melville Bell, the father of Alexander Graham Bell
Text and second image from Impact Lab.  Top image from Foxes in Breeches, via Sutured Infection.

This is a "beard tax token"


Russian tsar Peter the Great levied a tax on beards - on a sliding scale, no less, based on social status.  These tokens were minted to confirm payment of the tax.

Further details at Neatorama, and at Oddment Emporium, where it is noted that Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth also imposed beard taxes.

Distinguishing -able words from -ible words

Oxford Dictionaries is starting a series of posts about homophone prefixes and suffixes:
Let’s start with a pair of endings that many people find confusing: -able and -ible... They sound very similar when you say them and they share a main meaning, which is ‘able to be’:

readable able to be read; easy to read
eatable able to be eaten; fit to be consumed as food
audible able to be heard
collapsible able to be folded into a small space

Why are there two different endings that mean the same? It’s because of the route by which these endings found their way into English. The suffix -able comes from French -able or Latin -abilis, while the ending -ible comes from French -ible or Latin -ibilis.
If you don't know the etymology, the following tips may help:
...as a very general rule of thumb, if you choose -able, you’re more likely to be correct. This is because there are hundreds more words spelled with the suffix -able: our online dictionary of current English has around 180 adjectives ending in -ible, compared with over 1,000 that end in -able...

If the stem (the main part of the word that comes before -able or -ible) is a complete word in itself, then the ending is nearly always -able. A simple test is to take away the suffix – does the word still exist as an English word?
Also note:
There’s a very small set of words which you can spell with either -able or -ible, such as extendable and extendible: both mean ‘able to be extended’ and both endings are acceptable. Any good dictionary will provide both spellings if they are equally correct.
But...
Sometimes, the different spelling relates to a different meaning...
The example given is contractable vs. contractible.  Those few readers to whom this information is important should read the details and exceptions noted at the Oxford Dictionaries source.

Those little bumps on the wings of airplanes


I found the explanation for them at Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics:
Ever look out an airplane’s window and wondered why a row of little fins runs along the upper side of the wing? These vortex generators help prevent a wing from stalling at high angle of attack by keeping flow attached to the surface. Airflow over the vanes creates a tip vortex that transports the higher-momentum fluid from the freestream closer to the wing’s surface, increasing the momentum in the boundary layer. As a result of this momentum exchange, the boundary layer remains attached over a greater chordwise distance. This also increases the effectiveness of trailing-edge control surfaces, like ailerons, on the wing.
Photo credit: Mark Jones Jr. Addendum: More info, offered by reader Danny M -
...these vortex generators serve another, arguably more economical purpose: They can be very good at reducing drag, which is why you can see them on the roofs of some cars and trucks. One of my aerodynamics teachers even glued them to skaters' legs to make them go faster.

That may sound like a joke but as a result the dutch speed skating team in the Nagano Olympics had special 'go-faster stripes' on their calves. Incidentally, that year the dutch Gianni Romme won the two events he entered (the 5,000 and 10,000m) and broke the world record in both cases. So maybe there was something to this weird hobby.

Anyway, they do this basically in the same way the dimples on golf balls do, by delaying the transition to turbulent flow. Turbulent flow behind a wing/car/ball/leg creates a low pressure region which 'sucks' it back. In the case of airplane wings, the mini-vortices also create a sort of barrier to the spanwise flow of air on top of the wing, which reduces the size of the big vortices at the wingtip, which are responsible for induced drag.

How to shave a corpse without a razor


Advertisement in The Sunnyside magazine, January 1912, via Sutured Infection.

30 October 2012

Inside the beak of a baby bird

A rare crested coua chick, which is being hand-reared at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Central Park Zoo, displays the markings on the inside of its mouth as it prepares to receive food from its caretaker. These markings are unique for each individual chick and fade as the bird matures. The markings on the inside of a coua chick's beak are believed to be used by the parents for identification or as a target to aid in feeding. Crested couas are a species of cuckoo native to Madagascar.
One of the Pictures of the Day at The Telegraph.  Fascinating.  You learn something every day.

Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Sipa USA / Rex Features

Addendum: A big tip of the hat this morning to Pamela Cohen for locating and submitting an excellent link on Mouth Markings of Estrildid Finch Chicks, replete with several dozen photos clearly showing the interspecies differences in the mouth markings.  Here are six examples from Australian finches:


More at the link.

Obama administration will expand its "kill lists"

Excerpts from the first of three planned Washington Post articles on "The Permanent War" (counterterrorism and targeted killing):
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones...

Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.

We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us,” a senior administration official said. “It’s a necessary part of what we do. . . . We’re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‘We love America.’ ”...

Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus... Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war...

Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States recoiled at the idea of targeted killing... Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it...

Obama approves the criteria for lists and signs off on drone strikes outside Pakistan, where decisions on when to fire are made by the director of the CIA. But aside from Obama’s presence at “Terror Tuesday” meetings — which generally are devoted to discussing terrorism threats and trends rather than approving targets — the president’s involvement is more indirect...

During Monday’s presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made it clear that he would continue the drone campaign. “We can’t kill our way out of this,” he said, but added later that Obama was “right to up the usage” of drone strikes and that he would do the same.
I'll defer any commentary.  I found this comment at The Guardian:
What has been created here - permanently institutionalized - is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a "matrix" that determines the "disposition" of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be "disposed" of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency

A real-life "pushmi-pullyu" - updated


Photographed at  the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford, Oxon.   (Pushmi-pullyu)

Credit: Dean McCarthy/BNPS, via The Telegraph.

Addendum: I found a real one at self-pollution:


Apparently Hollywood is one giant green screen


Explained at Wikipedia.

Inaccurate fuel pumps at gas stations

[Madison, Wisconsin]  Inspectors found a few dozen local gas stations shortchanging their customers at the pump... About 50 stations throughout southern and southwestern Wisconsin didn't deliver enough fuel...

About 97.9 percent of pumps in 2011 were within the error rate that's allowed, state data indicate. Only 0.4 percent shortchange customers...

Of those that failed tests and had pumps "red-tagged," or shut down until they're fixed, a station in Monona was off by 5 cents a gallon. Another pump in Sun Prairie was off by 29 cents a gallon...

State and local inspectors check for errors by pumping five gallons into their proving devices, which have a level to indicate the actual amount pumped. Errors are within the allowed range if they're only a few tablespoons under- or over-delivering...
It's impossible to check the mechanics of a pump without the expensive devices the inspectors have, but consumers can still look out for two kinds of errors -- meter creep and meter jump.

Meter creep happens when cents continue to add up even after the consumer stops the pump, while meter jump takes place when the price calculates before the consumer begins pumping.

Note this probably reflects poor equipment maintenance rather than felonious intent, because...

Just as many, if not more, stations give customers more fuel that what they paid for. One pump in Beloit was giving drivers an extra 52 cents a gallon...

29 October 2012

Amazon Milk Frog

The "milk" in the name comes from the milky-coloured fluid these frogs excrete when stressed.
Via imgur and Reddit, with the original credit not provided (and not retrievable with a TinEye search).

Bimbo bread is "bambino bread"


A chance encounter with "Bimbo Bread" prompted Laura Payne to explore the history of the word (and the bread):
It wasn't until I turned the loaf over that I realized the brand's first vowel is meant to be pronounced as /i:/ and not /I/.
A paragraph on the back of the bread packaging explains that "Bimbo Bread (pronounced 'Beembo') has been bringing families together for four generations..."

The parent company is Bimbo Bakeries USA, part of Grupo Bimbo, based in Mexico.  But they have chosen for their brand name a word with Italian heritage and connotations...
"Bimbo" is a common nice word, used as a diminutive of (male) child. 
Child = Bambino = Bimbo.
It's interesting that the word evolved in this country to mean a foolish person/woman - presumably implying a child-like mental status.

Photo (cropped from the original) and text from A Walk in the Words.

Fake gold bars (and coins) made of tungsten


I've seen several stories about counterfeit gold bars recently:
Chemical engineer Ibrahim Fadl, who owns a business in Manhattan's Diamond District, strips away the outer layer of a 10-ounce bar of what he thought was pure gold, sold to him by a customer at his gold refinery business. The shell peels off like foil on a chocolate bar.

"It's got to be somebody really, really professional," said Fadl. "When I analyzed them, it showed they are tungsten." Tungsten is a metal used to make military weaponry, drilling equipment and even jewelry. Gold and tungsten have almost the exact same density, so a substitution of metals would be difficult to detect
Additional details from Business Insider:
Ten ounce bars are thicker, making them harder to detect if counterfeited — the standard X-rays used by dealers don't penetrate deep enough. Plus, the bars had been sealed and numbered. So whoever did this must be running an extremely sophisticated operation, Fadl said.
This scam won't affect me, but you should check all of your gold bars right away.

Photo from MyFoxNY.

Addendum: The comment thread at BoingBoing today has some suggestions for testing gold bars (scroll down to bardfinn).  Valid (nondestructive) testing methods sound complicated and presumably expensive.

I think the take-home lesson would extend to gold coins or other small gold pieces that the public is more likely to encounter.  Be suspicious of any "good deal" on pricing.  This excerpt from ZeroHedge:
In the aftermath of the recent stories about Tungsten-filled 10 ounce gold bars discovered in midtown Manhattan, there have been two broad sentiments expressed by the precious metals community: i) that this is as many have expected, and that of the physical inventory in circulation, much is fake (particularly that held in official hands, either via ETFs or in sovereign repositories which for various reasons still can not be publicly assayed) and ii) is the comfort that while it is relatively easy and cost-effective to use tungsten to falsify larger gold bars and bricks, those who own primarily gold coins are safe as for some reason, it is less economic, feasible or widespread to counterfeit smaller precious metal denominations. Sadly, while i) may be true, ii) is patently false. The proof comes courtesy of a firm called ChinaTungsten Online which proudly markets its broad "tungsten-alloy services" including, you guessed it, the gold plating of various tungsten formulations among them "gold" bricks, bars and, yes, coins. Oh did we mention a Chinese company openly advertizes its tungsten gold-plating and precious metals replication services, something which the tabloid media's CTRL-C/V majors openly mock as improbable conspiracy theory. Well, as they say, it is only conspiracy theory until it becomes conspiracy fact.
More at the link.

Jesus in the Quran

The Christian does not know that the true spirit of charity which the Muslim displays, always, towards Jesus and his mother Mary spring from the fountainhead of his faith- the Holy Quran. He does not know that the Muslim does not take the holy name of Jesus, in his own language, without saying Hazrat Eesa (meaning revered Jesus) or Eesa alai-hiss-salaam i.e. (Jesus peace be upon him).   

Every time the Muslim mentions the name Jesus (pbuh) without these words of respect, he would be considered disrespectful, uncouth or barbaric. The Christian does not know that in the Holy Quran Jesus (pbuh) is mentioned by name five times (5x) more than the number of times the prophet of Islam is mentioned in the Book of God. To be exact - twenty five time as against five.
More details at Islam 101.

Word of the day - "monger"

A dealer or trader in a commodity. The Random House Dictionary states the ultimate origin is from the Latin "mango", meaning .... salesman! ["Death of a mango?"]

"Monger" was once used as a verb, but it now is typically only employed as the second element of compound words. My OED says examples of such formations are "unlimited", with examples beginning in the 13th century: hay-mongers, holy-water mongers, insect-mongers (?) etc. The most familiar would likely be cheesemonger, costermonger (fruit/veggies), fishmonger, ironmonger, and whoremonger.

As the last-named example suggests, the OED notes that from the 16th century onward, the term nearly always carries the implication of a petty, disreputable, or comtemptible trade in the material - as in the modern "rumor-monger" "gossip-monger" and "scandal-monger."

Here is a costermonger:



...and there is a fearmonger at the end of this brief [2008] video:


Reposted from 2008 to add this even-more-extreme political video -


- created by Winning Our Future (a SuperPAC).  The video mixes homophobia and a generous dose of xenophobia into their apocalyptic vision.  It has excellent production values and nicely defines "fearmongering."

Tropical trees

The skyscraping kapok’s yards-wide trunk, covered in wrinkled gray bark, rises and bends like a colossal elephant leg frozen midstep... Dutchman Dirk Groeneboer asks how old the kapok is. “We can’t determine the age,” says our guide, park ranger Hannah Madden... “There are no growth rings on tropical trees,” she adds, “because there are no seasons.”
I had never thought of that.  It would also affect the appearance of furniture, walls, artwork, and anything else made of such wood.

Addendum:  AM found a report published in Nature in 2006 indicating that xrays of tropical wood can reveal annular variations in calcium density that may be useful for estimating age of some types of wood.

The "head drop" trick - and how to do it


Here's how to perform the illusion.  Hat tip to BoingBoing for the video and the link.

No time for me to prepare this for the kids coming Wednesday, but it will definitely be part of our preparations for next year.

A modern Confederacy?


A somewhat inflammatory and controversial comparison made by Andrew Sullivan, based on the electoral map above (swing states with yellow letters), and the 1861 map below -


- colored for their position on slavery.   Details at The Dish, where this comment is appended:
I think America is currently in a Cold Civil War. The parties, of course, have switched sides since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The party of the Union and Lincoln is now the Democratic party. The party of the Confederacy is now the GOP. And racial polarization is at record levels, with whites entirely responsible for reversing Obama's 2008 inroads into the old Confederacy in three Southern states...

I find it troubling - and interesting.

27 October 2012

Mott the Hoople's "All The Young Dudes" explained


I was not into "glam rock" in the 1970s, so if I were asked to name some songs by Mott the Hoople, this would be the only one I know (it's the one that as far as I am concerned defines the group).

The lyrics - written by David Bowie - are less than unlifting:
Well Billy rapped all night about his suicide
How he'd kick it in the head when he was twenty-five
Speed jive, don't want to stay alive when you're twenty-five.

And Wendy's stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks*
And Freddy's got spots from ripping off the stars from his face
Funky little boat race.

Television man is crazy saying we're juvenile deliquent wrecks
Oh man I need TV when I got T Rex
Oh brother you guessed I'm a dude dad...
It's the refrain ("All the young dudes carry the news...") that makes the song memorable.  And about that "news"-
"According to an interview Bowie gave to Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, the boys are carrying the same news that the newscaster was carrying in the song "Five Years" from Ziggy Stardust; the news being the fact that the Earth had only five years left to live.
And finally, here's the "thing you wouldn't know" - what's a "hoople?"  The word (presumably a neologism) comes from a novel of the same name:
According to the 1966 review of the novel in Kirkus Reviews, "Hooples, to clear this up right at the beginning, 'make the whole game possible, Christmas Clubs especially, politics, advertising agencies, pay toilets, even popes and mystery novels.' Obviously they're squares and Mott, Norman Mott, is certainly not...."
Which doesn't make sense, because then the book and the group should have been called "Mott Not the Hoople."  Oh, well...

*The version embedded above uses the original "Wendy's stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks [Spencer]" rather than the Bowdlerized "Wendy's stealing clothes from unlocked cars."

Further confirmation of "security theater" at airports

The Airline then encodes that information in a barcode that is on the boarding pass it issues. The problem is, the passenger and flight information encoded in barcode is not encrypted in any way. Using a web site I decoded my boarding pass for my upcoming trip...

What  terrorists or really anyone can do is use a website to decode the barcode and get the flight information, put it into a text file, change the 1 to a 3, then use another website to re-encode it into a barcode. Finally, using a commercial photo-editing program or any program that can edit graphics replace the barcode in their boarding pass with the new one they created. Even more scary is that people can do this to change names. So if they have a fake ID they can use this method to make a valid boarding pass that matches their fake ID. The really scary part is this will get past both the TSA document checker, because the scanners the TSA use are just barcode decoders, they don’t check against the real time information. So the TSA document checker will not pick up on the alterations. This means, as long as they sub in 3 they can always use the Pre-Check line.
Additional details at the Puckinflight aviation blog

Here's what to do with your toenail clippings

A South African man armed with a nail cutter is trying to help stamp out rhino poaching by sending toenail clippings to the Chinese embassy in Pretoria... Mark Wilby said he wants to make the point that rhino horn, which sells for prices higher than gold as a traditional Chinese medicine, is made up of keratin - a protein which is a component in human nails and hair.
Via Arbroath.

26 October 2012

How (not) to save the rainforest

"Chicken poop bingo"


I'd call it a modern version of "alectryomancy" (an ancient form of divination in which the diviner observes a bird pecking at grain).  The Wall Street Journal explains:
It was a typical Sunday evening at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon and Bob Gelernter was enjoying the bar's weekly game of bingo...

This sport is known in polite company as chicken-poop bingo. Along with its cousin, cow-chip bingo, this twist on the church-hall pastime has proved that an age-old game of chance can cause quite a stir when it is centered on an animal. At least a few decades old, the chicken antics have become a popular staple at fairs, festivals and fundraisers in small-town America, and beyond.

It requires no particular genius to play. Here at Ginny's, an Austin institution that has been holding the game for a remarkable 11 years, players put up $2 to place a bet on a 54-number grid. Then Ginny Kalmbach, the saloon's 77-year-old proprietor, fetches a chicken from an outside pen, places it on a plywood-covered pool table and waits for nature to happen...

In Austin, Ginny's says it doesn't take any proceeds from its game. The Texas Lottery Commission doesn't bother to supervise it anyway; a spokeswoman there said it "doesn't meet our definition of bingo."..
The article includes the expected protest from a PETA representative:
"A crowded bar or stadium filled with a screaming audience is no more a proper place for a chicken than a factory farm," says Jane Dollinger, a spokeswoman for the Virginia-based PETA. "Human beings can come up with a method of entertainment less thoughtlessly exploitative."
More at the WSJ.  And one other tidbit about alectryomancy:
In another version, the observer tethers the bird in the center of a circle, around the perimeter of which is marked the alphabet, with a piece of grain at each letter. For each grain the bird pecks, the observer writes down the letter which that grain represents. The observer also replaces each grain as the bird eats it, so that letters may be repeated. The sequence of letters recorded will presumably contain a message. This form of divination is related to Ouija...

Photo credit: Stu Woo/The Wall Street Journal.

-2 -2 = X

That's a "musical equation."  To decipher it, just scratch it on your desk with your fingertip.

(If you can't figure it out).  Via Reddit.

Snowman


I'd like to make one of these for the front yard this winter.

Found at imgur.

Why a husband and wife chose euthanasia

Excerpts from a poignant essay at the Washington Post:
I was living in comfortable retirement with my wife, Mathilde, when, at the age of 71, she received a diagnosis of Waldenstrom’s disease... Then, after seven years, the cancer suddenly turned aggressive and the treatment no longer worked...

But we live in the Netherlands, and here is where our story becomes a little different. When people become as ill as my wife, with no prospect of cure and only pain and exhaustion in the offing, it is quite legal to end one’s life by voluntary euthanasia... We made sure all the doctors who joined our village medical practice knew our wishes, and we always asked whether they would administer euthanasia. As an added precaution, Mathilde continued to carry a thick wad of forms and declarations in her handbag wherever she went, in case of an accident...

All the doctors agreed to our request. They were from a younger generation; it is older doctors, mainly, who are reluctant to administer euthanasia. A few refuse on grounds of principle, others because they just do not wish to become involved. But more than 80 percent of all Dutch family doctors, according to a recent large study, report that they have performed euthanasia at least once, and among the willing doctors the average rate is once every two or three years...

Euthanasia is by now widely accepted here. It is supported by the vast majority of the population, of the medical profession and of the political parties. The costs for it are borne by our compulsory health insurance, and suicide clauses voiding life insurance policies have been set aside. Still, it is an onerous task for the attending physician, and it also demands paperwork and careful planning. Demands for euthanasia are not made lightly and are more often denied than granted, largely because of insufficient forethought...

The law lists four major conditions for euthanasia. It must be administered by a doctor; the patient must earnestly desire it, a resolve taken after due deliberation, and freely; there must be no prospect of recovery and, in the words of the law, the patient must be suffering unbearably. The attending physician must confirm that these conditions are met and write a report to this effect...

To the nurse she said, “I am ready” and to me, “I am not afraid.” I sat on one side of the bed and took her hand, and the doctor, at the other side, gave her the first injection. She immediately fell asleep, snoring loudly. The doctor gave her a second injection, and the snoring stopped. She had died. It was all over in a couple of minutes...
If you wish to comment, please first view the blog post below this one...

When you're on your deathbed...


From The Chalkboard Manifesto, via Neatorama.

This is "contact juggling"


Some details from the comment thread at Reddit:
Professional contact juggler here. Just coming in to say that we are all immensely proud of Yanazo... we've all been passing around this video for weeks. This performance apparently won him 1st place at the Japanese Juggling Festival, an event populated almost entirely by Asian jugglers (so you know the kind of caliber he was up against).

It's not very often that contact jugglers win these sorts of things - for instance, the last time it happened in the States it was Tony Duncan winning a gold medal in solo competition with one ball in 1994.

Also, to make this thread more efficient: yes, we have heard of the Fushigi ball; yes, it is a scam (brought to you by a former Wal-Mart PR exec); no, those are not Fushigi balls in the video; yes, it is still a huge sore point with contact jugglers; no, we don't talk to the guy who did their marketing any more.

EDIT: If you're really really interested in this, especially how to do it, go join the www.contactjuggling.org forums!..
For stage performance I use a 100m "stage ball," just like Yanazo uses in this video. They're a soft plastic ball weighing about 200g, usually a little grippy and yes, perfectly round and balanced. They run about $15 and they're also the "industry standard" practice ball since you can abuse them pretty mercilessly (I have one that was thrown into, and rescued from, a campfire - it's ugly now, but rolls fine).

For close-up performance (street shows and walkaround performance) I use a 90mm acrylic (the see-through ball) because they have to be totally seamless if your audience members come within about 2 meters. I downsize my acrylics a little because they're really heavy, and with some of the really delicate manipulations a 100mm acrylic is just a little unwieldy. Acrylics are dangerous (because they're heavy - I've nearly killed a laptop with one) and fragile (you're out $40 if you drop it on the street).

You can get them from any shop that sells juggling gear - domestically I like jugglingstore.com, neonhusky.com, and renegadejuggling.com. If you're in the UK, oddballs.co.uk and if you're elsewhere, homeofpoi.com is good too.
This video will probably be taken down soon.

24 October 2012

Black tupelo

Nyssa sylvatica is cultivated as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, where it is often used as a specimen or shade tree. The tree is best when grown in sheltered but not crowded positions, developing a pyramidal shape in youth, and spreading with age. The stem rises to the summit of the tree in one tapering unbroken shaft, the branches come out at right angles to the trunk and either extend horizontally or droop a little, making a long-narrow, cone-like head. The leaves are short-petioled and so have little individual motion, but the branches sway as a whole... Its often spectacular autumnal coloring, with intense reds to purples, is highly valued in landscape settings. It is the most fiery and brilliant of the 'brilliant group' that includes maple, dogwood, sassafras, and sweet gum, as well as various species of tupelo.
Photographed yesterday at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.  I was late getting there this autumn and missed most of the great foliage, but this gum tree was still absolutely magnificent.

Make it stop !!!


For those (like me) absolutely tired of endless campaigning and politics, there is a discouraging article in Salon today suggesting that there's no way it will stop on November 6.
No matter the results of the election, I can guarantee one thing: The winner will be widely considered to be completely illegitimate by the losing side.

The Republicans have now convinced themselves of Romney’s inevitable victory...  If Barack Obama wins reelection, it will almost certainly be by a slim margin, and I imagine conservatives have already convinced themselves that that margin will consist entirely of fraudulent votes...

On the other hand, liberals see, basically, a race in which Obama has never really trailed, and in which he has a decided Electoral College advantage. If Romney wins, the massive and growing crusade against “voter fraud” will certainly receive some of the blame...
Meanwhile, we’re having another of our regular cycle of stories about how horrible electronic voting is. The machines are easily hacked, many still provide no paper trail, and all the companies that make them always seem to be invested in and owned by Republicans for some reason. If, in other words, Romney manages to make his difficult electoral math work out, and he wins in Ohio, I guarantee we’ll be hearing horror stories about suppression and “lost” votes for the next year.
There will be one winner.  The comedy gods are smiling on Jon Stewart...

Tennis-ball-sized hail


Filmed at Dowerglen Edenvale in South Africa.  "Incoming" starts at about 0:40...

My horoscope today

CANCER (June 22 - July 22):  They say animals can often sense an earthquake moments before it strikes, which explains why so many of them are smiling at you right now.

- and this bit of tragic news:
"Leukemia sufferer Taylor Harris passed away Sunday afternoon, mere seconds after the Minnesota Vikings and the Make-A-Wish Foundation fulfilled the 9-year-old's dream of fielding an NFL kickoff."
Both gleaned from a copy of the Onion read at my local neighborhool coffee shop this morning.

Aircraft carrier balance of power


The graphic is entitled "All the world's aircraft carriers" (although technically, as noted in the Reddit thread, the left column are "amphibious assault ships" for helicopters and vertical-takeoff aircraft.

Further details at the Wikipedia entry.

Minimum-security Federal prisons

"...the most interesting part to me was hearing Conte talk about his four-month prison sentence at the Taft Correctional Institution (near Bakersfield, CA). It's a privately-run minimum security federal prison with 1,700 inmates, and Conte's account of the goings on there is astounding:

Sports complex "The first morning, when I woke up it was a kind of university-campus like setting. I walked out and in the middle of the courtyard was a huge sign that said 'Sports Complex.' Basketball, football, baseball, soccer, bocce ball, volleyball, handball...

Rec center ... there were six pool tables, six foosball tables, six ping-pong tables."

Music department "... this huge music department... We have a routine on Friday nights and the bands play concerts outside.'"

Drugs This is my first 10 minutes -- I was on the compound I started walking with some guys around the walking track and I went [sniff] -- 'Are they smoking weed around here?' And they said, 'Yeah! You want some weed?'... But yeah, anything that you wanted -- alcohol -- any and every type was $25 for 8 ounces. They had meth, they had steroids, they had cocaine."

No fences "...That Christmas, about 25 guys just walked out on the freeway and they had their families pick them up and they left. So it's kind of an honor system."

Female prison guards as hookers "... they had several really nice-looking female correctional officers there... And they said 'Listen, you want some action?' I'm telling you the straight scoop. My understanding is on average they were making about $30,000 a month."
Further details (and a video of the interview), and a comment thread at BoingBoing.  This is the type of for-profit prison facility where white-collar criminals (bankers, lawyers, politicians) would be imprisoned.

23 October 2012

Blue Highways. A Journey Into America.


When William Least Heat Moon wrote about his travels across 38 states of the United States on secondary roads in 1981, he was documenting aspects of American life that were already disappearing.  Now, thirty years later, even more is gone.  This book was a pleasant read that took me months to finish because of competing interests, but its episodic structure made it easy to put down and pick up again weeks later.

I previously wrote a post about "playing the bones" inspired by a chapter in this book.  Today I won't present a thorough review - just these excerpts of interesting tidbits.
"The saguaro is ninety percent water, and a big, two-hundred-year-old cactus may hold a ton of it—a two-year supply. With this weight, a plant that begins to lean is soon on the ground; one theory now says that the arms, which begin sprouting only after forty or fifty years when the cactus has some height, are counterweights to keep the plant erect."

"It's a peculiarity of history that the milder tasting grades [of maple syrup] are the most expensive: in the early days when the primay purpose for maple syrup was to furnish sugar, women didn't want all their baked good tasting like maple."

"telescope house" - (eastern shore of Maryland) - "the name derived from the linking of three houses, each successively larger... for economic reasons..." (as a family grows).  [Pic here].

re Battle of the Wilderness :  "On that single day of May 12, nearly thirtteen thousand men died fighting over one square mile of ground abandoned by both sides several days later."
The author is adept at clever turns of phrase ("A road so crooked it could run for the legislature" "The Ponce de Leon Believe Anything Award") and employs a surprisingly broad vocabulary that added quite a few entries to my personal "interesting words" list:

bosky             woody; shady; covered with bushes
cardoon         a perennial plant, blanched and eaten like celery (< Ital. cardon = thistle) 
cockahoop     in a state of unrestrained joy or excitation
cubby             (? related to cubbyhole) (something for a napkin)
culch             the stones, shells, etc. forming an oyster bed; the spawn; Dial: rubbish, refuse
dingle             a deep dell or hollow, esp closely wooded; to ring as a bell
drupe             a fruit, as a peach, with skin, pulp, and hard inner shell (<Gk “olive”)
haut-boy         an oboe (<MF haut+bois = high wood)
kilderkin          a unit of capacity usually equal to half a barrel or two firkins
mochila          a flap of leather on a saddle for attachments (<Sp mochil = errand boy)
muntin             a bar for holding the edges of windowpanes within the sash (MF “mount”)
numen          divine power or spirit; a deity presiding locally (<L “to nod, command”)
pocosin         a swamp or marsh in an upland coastal region (<Algonquin “break open”)
pother             commotion, uproar; choking or suffocating cloud
scabble         to shape or dress (stone) roughly
scumble         to modify color by overlaying parts with opaque color (cf “scum”)
telson              the last segment of certain arthropods (lobster, crab) (<Gk “boundary”)
windflaw         a sudden, usually brief windstorm; a burst of feeling (<Scand flaga = “gust”)
wold(s)         upland plain

Beauty is in the eye of the "beer-holder"


Posted at UrlyBits, via 22 Words and Titam et le Sirop d'Érable.  Post title credit to William D. Richards.

17 nude people

Body-painting artist Emma Hack piled 17 naked models up on the floor before arranging their arms, heads and legs into the shape of a small hatchback. She covered them in shades of blue, white, black and silver paint to highlight every detail, including the alloy wheels and number plate...and she even made it look like the car had been involved in a small shunt [?] by exposing the "engine" and leaving the front "bumper" hanging off. 
One of the photos at The Week in Pictures at The Telegraph.

Photo credit: MAC/Emma Hack/Jacqui Way/Solent

"An unforgettable bike ride"


The Hiawatha Trail opened up in 2001 as part of the Rails to Trails initiative, which seeks to restore life to decommissioned train tracks across the country. The Milwaukee Road Railway Company had constructed these tracks between 1906 and 1909, recruiting laborers from around the world to work on an unprecedented line through the rough and largely unexplored Bitterroot Mountains...

The conversion of the train tracks to a bike route was an inspired idea. The Hiawatha is gorgeous, soaring atop pristine forests of white and lodgepole pine trees, with never-ending views of the Bitterroots. The path took us through nine tunnels, including the 1.66-mile St. Paul Tunnel...
And here's the best part.  The 15-mile trail can be ridden entirely downhill, with a shuttle bus returning you to your starting point.  Sign me up.

More pix and details at Idaho for 91 Days, via Neatorama.

Incarceration in America

22 October 2012

Civilian Conservation Corps stonework at Gooseberry Falls State Park - Part II


The last time I blogged about CCC stonework at Gooseberry Falls was in midsummer, when the falls themselves were spectacular and I only had time to document the massive stonework known as the "Castle."  During my October "blogcation" visit, the falls had dried to a trickle, so I was able to spend my time hiking to other locations.

Gooseberry Falls State Park is located on the North Shore of Lake Superior and because of the rugged scenery and spectacular falls became a major tourist attraction as early as the 1920s when automobile travel became increasingly available to the public. 


When the public works projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps were created, one major focus was creation and improvement of infrastructure at state and national parks.


The image above, from a page in the Gooseberry Falls CCC Legacy self-guided tour guide, documents how many CCC projects are incorporated within the state park.  Today's post features the "Falls View Shelter" located on the north side of the bridge crossing the river.

When the park was first created, visitors pulled off to the side of Highway 61 at the "Castle" retaining wall/lookout site that I blogged last time, and here at the Visitor Center.


It was constructed in 1938-39 as the last stone construction in the park, requiring 5,300 man-days of labor and over $4,000 in cost of materials; it served as the "Bridgehead Refectory" where visitors could purchase a chocolate malt, sandwiches and refreshments, shop in a "Nature Store," and view exhibits in the Interpretive Center.  It served as the primary visitor center until the mid-1990s, when a large new center was built capable of handing the increasing throngs of tourists.  When I visited this building, I was the only human being in sight.  It's well-preserved as a historical landmark (there may be some administrative or storage function inside).

My interest, of course, was in the stonework -


- which is magnificent in scale and craftsmanship, and to my eye beautiful in design.
Two Italian stone masons, John Berini and Joe Cattaneo, supervised the intricate stone work executed throughout the park using combinations of red, blue, brown and black granite. The red granite was quarried in Duluth near the College of St. Scholastica, while the darker variety was taken from an outcrop near East Beaver Bay, just north of the park. The sand for the mortar was brought from Flood Bay, south of the park, and logs were obtained at Cascade River State Park.
The professional stonemasons supervised a crew of about 20 boys and men brought from the soup kitchens of the Depression-era cities.  Some of them did the drilling and blasting of the rock at the quarries, others transported and hand-winched the rocks at the working sites, and the mason trainees cut the rocks to fit the needed spaces.

As with other CCC projects, local material was used, but the stones were transported a significant distance in order to take advantage of the varying colors and textures of the material.  A perfectly adequate building could have been constructed using just the black or blue stones, but the pride of a stonemason lies in creating beauty as well as functionality.

The masons liked to brag that the building would still stand even if all the mortar were gone.  I have no reason to doubt that - look at the thinness of the mortar separating the stones, which is even more evident in the next building.


The "Water Tower" is located about halfway between the park entrance and the shore of Lake Superior, near the campgrounds.  It's a considerable hike from the upper falls, and I couldn't spend any time there because black storm clouds were rolling in and I was on foot.

But look at this stonework:


Again, the mix of colors - the yellow added as a whimsical accent - and the tightness of fit.  These blocks were hand-hewn on six or eight or ten faces to fit into a particular site, and on the outside face you can see the the chipping and hacking marks.  This is seriously impressive skilled work.

I hope to get back next summer to document the remaining buildings at the park.

21 October 2012

Wild links

Environmental Graffiti has assembled a nice gallery of twenty photos of migrating Monarch butterflies.

How to make "hard-boiled" (baked) eggs in the oven (its only practical when you need to make lots of them at one time).

Further evidence that dinosaurs were not ectothermic (cold-blooded).

A story at The Telegraph questions Mitt Romney's claims of personal experience with "austerity" during his missionary experience.

The apotheosis of internet culture: an assemblage of seventy-six cat videos (the ones used at the Walker Art Center's First Annual Cat Video Film Festival.)

The world's best (?only) museum devoted to amber - the Palanga Amber Museum - is located in Lithuania.  More re Palanga (and amber) here.

Wikipedia is losing administrators; there are fewer than a thousand of them left.

There is one country where 100% of first-grade students learn to write computer code.  It's obviously not the United States. 

One of the very first David Attenborough film clips (from the 1956 BBC program "Zoo Quest").

"Bad Lip Reading" presents Joe Biden.

Deadspin published the full text of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's response to the politician who suggested that NFL players should not speak out about gay marriage.

An op-ed at The Guardian discusses Alzheimer's disease as a metabolic disease possibly caused or aggravated by dietary indiscretions (junk food).

Hollywood's Islamophobia dates back to well before the recent brouhaha regarding "The Innocence of Muslims."

A column at Salon offers seven general rules for how to smoke marijuana without getting arrested.

"Rats once paralyzed from complete surgical cuts through their spinal cords can walk again after stem cells were transplanted into the site of the injury, report researchers today in the journal Cell. The results suggest that stem cells might work as a treatment for patients even if they have completely severed cords..."

A Redditor in Belgium offers observations about why Islam is different from other religions and the problems that result from cultural differences.

An extensive survey and discussion of voter ID laws at ProPublica.

"Fail" videos are a dime a dozen, but for those who enjoy schadenfreude, here's a failed cannonball dive into a (frozen) swimming pool.

I totally enjoyed the Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch, and was looking forward to the next season series to find out how Sherlock faked his death in the final episode.  This video offers what I think is a perfectly valid explanation.

Clever ways to decorate pumpkins for Halloween.

Roger Ebert interviews director Michael Apted about the "Up" films (this is a half-hour video, but worthwhile for enthusiasts about the series).

In September The Presurfer celebrated its 12th blogiversary.

"Reading scores on the SAT for the high school class of 2012 reached a four-decade low, putting a punctuation mark on a gradual decline in the ability of college-bound teens to read passages and answer questions about sentence structure, vocabulary and meaning on the college entrance exam."

A Stone Age chalk geoform in the Southern Urals is two kilometers long and depicts a moose.

A set of 16 photos shows what goes on behind the back wall of a bowling alley.

A planet has been discovered that has four suns associated with it: "The distant world orbits one pair of stars which have a second stellar pair revolving around them."

The American Society of Magazine Editors presents what they consider to be "The Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Past 40 Years."

I have another 30 to add, but it's almost time for football games to start.  The images all come from the relevant Wikipedia page.  ("The name "lynx" originated in Middle English via Latin from Greek word "λύγξ", derived from the Indo-European root "*leuk-", meaning "light, brightness", in reference to the luminescence of its reflective eyes.")
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