21 June 2017

The Lobster Coast

I have visited Maine several times and always enjoyed my stay there, but had never read a proper history of the state until a friend recently recommended this book.  Particularly interesting to me was the geologic explanation for the remarkable profusion of marine life in the Gulf of Maine, and the descriptions of the staggering abundance of lobsters and fish harvested from this region in prehistory and the early post-settlement era.
"... Indians depended on the living bounty of the Gulf of Maine...they left staggering shellheaps behind; a single heap of shucked oyster shells in Damariscotta covered an area of more than sixty acres to a depth of nearly thirty feet." (p. 63)

"Lobsters were everywhere.  On their way to the Kennebec, Raleigh Gilbert's men [early 1600s] caught fifty lobsters "of great bignesse" by simply rowing a boat over shallow water and gaffing the unsuspecting lobsters with a boat hook..." (p. 81)

"The cod bit quickly in those days and a good fisherman would catch 350 to 400 in a day... they weighed over one hundred pounds apiece..." (p. 85)

"In colonial days, a small boy could bring home enough [lobsters] to feed several families by siimply wading along the shore at low tide and gaffing the huge five- and ten-pound beasts hiding among the rocks... One group of indentured servants in Massachusetts became so upset with this diet that they took their owners to court winning a judgment that they would not be served lobster more than three times a week.  Lobsters were sometimes taken in great numbers and strewn on the fields as fertilizer..." (p. 170)

"The catch in those days would astound today's lobsterman.  Portland lobstermen in 1855 averaged seven four- to six-pound lobsters in every pot, every day throughout the four-month season.  (By comparison, today's lobstermen often find only one legal-sized lobster per trap, and it typically weighs between a pound and a pound and a half).  (p. 177)

"At the height of summer, hotel owners would pay as much as five cents for a good, two-pound dinner table lobster...  Smaller lobsters were no longer discarded, as the canneries would buy them for $1 per hundredweight..." (p. 186)

"Halibut, a great flatfish that could weigh nine hundred pounds and measure nine feet in length, had once been so numerous they were "looked upon as a nuisance" by cod-seeking fishermen.. On at least one occasion, a vessel using the old hook-over-the-side method caught more than 250 in three hours..." (p. 203)
In this regard the book reminded me of the spectacularly unbelievable accounts of pre-settlement North America described in Paradise Found.

Less pleasant are the accounts in the book of the pillage of these resources (only recently modulated by regulatory restrictions) and the human-human interactions, beginning with the arrival of Europeans and continuing to the modern era as the Boston/New York population "invades" rural coastal Maine.

An interesting summer read.

20 June 2017

Old Harry Rocks

"Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations, including a stack and a stump, located at Handfast Point, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, southern England. They mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 There are various stories about the naming of the rocks. One legend says that the Devil (traditionally known euphemistically as "Old Harry") had a sleep on the rocks. Another local legend says that the rocks were named after Harry Paye, the infamous Poole pirate, whose ship hid behind the rocks awaiting passing merchantmen.[3] Yet another tale has it that a ninth-century Viking raid was thwarted by a storm, and that one of the drowned, Earl Harold, was turned into a pillar of chalk."
But why is the Devil called "Old Harry"?

Photo credit in the watermark.

A treasure trove of Nazi artifacts

As reported by ABC News:
In a hidden room in a house near Argentina's capital, police believe they have found the biggest collection of Nazi artifacts in the country's history, including a bust relief of Adolf Hitler, magnifying glasses inside elegant boxes with swastikas and even a macabre medical device used to measure head size.

Some 75 objects were found in a collector's home in Beccar, a suburb north of Buenos Aires, and authorities say they suspect they are originals that belonged to high-ranking Nazis in Germany during World War II...

The investigation that culminated in the discovery of the collection began when authorities found artworks of illicit origin in a gallery in north Buenos Aires.

Agents with the international police force Interpol began following the collector and with a judicial order raided the house on June 8. A large bookshelf caught their attention and behind it agents found a hidden passageway to a room filled with Nazi imagery...

The main hypothesis among investigators and member of Argentina's Jewish community is that they were brought to Argentina by a high-ranking Nazi or Nazis after World War II, when the South American country became a refuge for fleeing war criminals, including some of the best known.
Via the WorldNews subreddit.

Iran has attacked ISIS. This is important.

Reported yesterday by U.S. News:
Iran says its ballistic missile strike targeting the Islamic State group in Syria was not only a response to deadly attacks in Tehran, but a powerful message to archrival Saudi Arabia and the United States, one that could add to already soaring regional tensions...

It also raises questions about how U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which had previously put Iran "on notice" for its ballistic missile tests, will respond.
Context via Jobsanger:
Understandably, the Iranians were upset with Trump. His statement infers that Iran supports the group that attacked Tehran (ISIS). It's just a continuation of his claims that Iran supports the terrorists that are attacking Western nations. None of that is true.

Iran does offer support to a couple of groups defined as terrorists -- the Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon (and Palestine). Those are shiite muslim groups, and Iran is a shiite muslim state. But those are not the groups that attacked Iran, and they are not the groups responsible for attacks in Europe and the United States.

The groups mainly responsible for attacking Europe and the United States are sunni muslim groups -- ISIS and al-Queda. They get no support from Iran. Their support comes mainly from a country that Trump calls a "friend" -- Saudi Arabia...

Trump seems to want to lump all islamic fundamentalists into a single group of terrorists that hate the West. That is far too simple. It shows he is either lying and misleading Americans, or he doesn't understand the truth -- that the trouble in the Middle East is basically a religious civil war being fought between shiite and sunni muslims. He seems to have sided with the sunnis without understanding that they are where ISIS and al-Queda have originated. He also seems not to understand that ISIS was created when an American president (Bush) overthrew the secular government in Iraq and installed a shiite muslim government in its place (which caused sunnis to rebel against that government and the shiite government in Syria by creating ISIS).

Blaming Iran for terrorism in the West is ignoring the reality of what is happening. It would make more sense to blame Saudi Arabia. But Trump doesn't want to do that, because they have too much oil that we want and have plenty of money to spend on U.S. weapons. In effect, Trump has taken the side of the sunnis in the religious civil war -- the same side that is attacking the Western nations.
I'm going to close comments for this post; I just don't have time to moderate/curate them.  Move on.

You can walk around Machu Piccu using Google Streetview

It's no substitute for reality, of course, but it's not bad.

For newbies, start here (or the satellite view), zoom in with the +/- buttons (drag to recenter), then drop the little yellow Streetview man where you want to walk.  Drag your cursor left/right for panorama views, and (especially at Machu Piccu) up and down to look up and down.

Related news today:
This summer, under pressure from Unesco, which has repeatedly threatened to add Machu Picchu to its list of world heritage sites in danger, the Peruvian government has brought in measures to control the flow of tourists.

From 1 July, visitors will only be able to enter the site with an official tour guide, and tickets will grant entry for a specific time period, either a morning (6am-noon) or afternoon (noon-5.30pm). Guides must be licenced and group size will be limited to16 people. Visitors must also follow the defined routes around the site, a change from the present setup where it is possible to explore relatively independently and stay the entire day. 
More at the link.

19 June 2017

Welcome aboard

I'm impressed by the fact that in those days boarding a dirigible may have required considerable aerobic exercise...

Maybe there's an elevator in that mooring tower; otherwise it would be like climbing three ranger towers.

For the word freaks among us, the etymology of "blimp" is controversial.

Images via imgur.

Glymphatic system discovered

That's not a typo.  It's a new anatomical system.
Kari Alitalo had studied lymphatic vessels for more than two decades. So he knew that this network, which carries immune cells throughout the body and removes waste and toxins, didn’t extend into the brain: This had been accepted wisdom for more than 300 years. “Nobody questioned that it stopped at the brain,” says Alitalo, a scientist at the University of Helsinki in Finland...

But when Alitalo and Aspelund repeated the experiment, they got the same result. It seemed that the lymphatic vessels extended to the brain after all. This was surprising, to say the least: In the 21st century, major findings involving basic human anatomy are rare...

Researchers have identified two networks: the vessels that lead into and surround the brain, and those within the brain itself. The first is known as the lymphatic system for the brain, while the latter is called the glymphatic system. The “g” added to “lymphatic” refers to glia, the kind of neuron that makes up the lymphatic vessels in the brain. The glymphatic vessels carry cerebrospinal fluid and immune cells into the brain and remove cellular trash from it. Alitalo, Nedergaard, Kipnis and others have found evidence that when the systems malfunction, the brain can become clogged with toxins and suffused with inflammatory immune cells.

Over decades, this process may play a key role in Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses, research suggests. “This is a revolutionary finding,” Nedergaard says. “This system plays a huge role in the health of the brain.”..

One key to glymphatic performance seems to be sleep. Nedergaard has shown that at least in mice, the system processes twice as much fluid during sleep as it does during wakefulness. She and her colleagues focused on amyloid beta; they found that the lymphatic system removed much more of the protein when the animals were asleep than when they were awake. She suggests that over time, sleep dysfunction may contribute to Alzheimer’s and perhaps other brain illnesses. “You only clean your brain when you’re sleeping,” she says. “This is probably an important reason that we sleep. You need time off from consciousness to do the housekeeping.” 
Further details at The Washington Post.  Absolutely fascinating.

This is a "toddler bike race"

Outside provides the necessary details:
A long row of pre-school-aged kids, aboard low-slung bikes with no brakes or pedals, takes off from a start ramp like a pack of greyhounds. The kids kick their bikes up to speeds that would make most adults uncomfortable, and carve through the course’s maze of sharp corners with tenacity and grace.

A few kids don’t make it. They splay out across the track in a pile of elbow and kneepads and full-face helmets. And then, there’s one kid, coming from behind, who executes a perfect pass on his recently potty-trained competitors and crosses the line first, his chest forward in an elated victory celebration...

Today, anyone who's serious about teaching a kid to ride at an early age will likely eschew training wheels in favor of a balance bike. Dozens of different companies now sell them, including every major bike brand. This transformation in kids' bike technology has led to an entire generation of toddlers who rip on two wheels.
Among my group of dad friends in Austin—roadies and mountain bikers who might pull up their Strava feed over a pint of beer—the kids who start out on balance bikes often master cycling at a mind-bogglingly early age. One buddy’s kid switched to a pedal bike at just two years old, and was churning out 20-mile rides by three.

If this isn't classic Trump, I don't know what is

As reported by the New York Times:
The regal emblem, used at President Trump’s golf courses across the United States, sports three lions and two chevrons on a shield, below a gloved hand gripping an arrow...

The British are known to take matters of heraldry seriously, and Mr. Trump’s American coat of arms belongs to another family. It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort that is now Mr. Trump’s cherished getaway...

In the United States, the Trump Organization took Mr. Davies’s coat of arms for its own, making one small adjustment — replacing the word “Integritas,” Latin for integrity, with “Trump.”...

“It couldn’t be a clearer-cut case, actually,” said Clive Cheesman, one of the college’s heralds, who oversee coats of arms, their design and their use.

“A coat of arms that was originally granted to Joseph Edward Davies in 1939 by the English heraldic authority ended up being used 10 or 15 years ago by the Trump Organization as part of its branding for its golf clubs,” said Mr. Cheesman, a lawyer by training.
More on the kerfuffle at the link.

With a tip of the blogging hat to the elves at QI for alerting me to this interesting item.

Challenging math puzzles

The Guardian today posted three very difficult math problems selected from the archives of Pythagoras magazine.

One puzzle asks you to divide the shape above into two identical shapes.  I suppose a trivial answer would be to divide it in the plane on which it exists, but there must be a more elegant solution.

Then there is the Dollar Bill problem:
In a bag are 26 bills. If you take out 20 bills from the bag at random, you have at least one 1-dollar bill, two 2-dollar bills, and five 5-dollar bills. How much money was in the bag?
And a Huge Pie problem:
A huge pie is divided among 100 guests. The first guest gets 1% of the pie. The second guest gets 2% of the remaining part. The third guest gets 3% of the rest, etc. The last guest gets 100% of the last part. Who gets the biggest piece?
The last one could be solved by brute force, but a proper answer requires a mathematical explanation.

I don't have answers for you; unless readers post solutions in the Comments, you'll need to go to The Guardian.

17 June 2017


A Baron caterpillar on a leaf.

An article at the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society explains the difference between masquerade, Batesian mimicry, and crypsis.
Masquerade is also thought to differ from crypsis because cryptic individuals are mistaken for the background on which they rest, whereas masquerading individuals are mistaken for specific objects. As a result, crypsis relies on the relationship between the individual and the background, but the benefit of masquerade is thought to be independent of the background against which the masquerading individual is viewed...
Image via.

American aristocracy

“Wherever the appearance of a conventional aristocracy exists in America, it must arise from wealth, as it cannot from birth. An aristocracy of mere wealth is vulgar everywhere. In a republic, it is vulgar in the extreme.”
---  Harriet Martineau
I believe I heard that quote on No Such Thing as a Fish.  I had to look Martineau up:
Harriet Martineau was a British social theorist and Whig writer, often cited as the first female sociologist. Martineau wrote many books and a multitude of essays from a sociological, holistic, religious, domestic, and perhaps most controversially, feminine perspective...  She earned enough to be supported entirely by her writing, a rare feat for a woman in the Victorian era.

 In 1834, after completing the economic series, Harriet Martineau paid a long visit to the United States. During this time, she visited with James Madison, the former US president, at his home at Montpelier. She also met numerous abolitionists in Boston and studied the emerging girls' schools established for their education. Her support of abolitionism, then widely unpopular across the U.S., caused controversy, which her publication, soon after her return, of Society in America (1837) and How to Observe Morals and Manners (1838), only added to. The two books are considered significant contributions to the then-emerging field of sociology.

Animals dug this burrow

Big ones, obviously.  Probably (extinct) giant sloths.
Across northern South America, there are hundreds of colossal tunnels large enough for humans to walk through... Geologists call these tunnels “paleoburrow,” and they are believed to have been dug by an extinct species of giant ground sloth... The largest [paleoburrow] measured 2,000 feet long, six feet tall and three to five feet wide. An estimated 4,000 metric tons of dirt and rock were dug out of the hillside to create the burrow. It was evidently the work of not one or two individuals but several generations.

“There’s no geological process in the world that produces long tunnels with a circular or elliptical cross-section, which branch and rise and fall, with claw marks on the walls,” says Frank. “I’ve [also] seen dozens of caves that have inorganic origins, and in these cases, it’s very clear that digging animals had no role in their creation.”

Frank believes the biggest burrows – measuring up to five feet in diameter – were dug by ground sloths. He and his colleagues consider as possibilities several genera that once lived in South America and whose fossil remains suggest adaptation for serious digging: Catonyx, Glossotherium and the massive, several-ton Lestodon. Others believe that extinct armadillos such as Pampatherium, Holmesina or Propraopus, though smaller than the sloths, were responsible for even the largest burrows.
More at Discover Magazine, via Amusing Planet.  Photo: Heinrich Frank.

Possible email bug on Firefox 54 - updated

Yesterday I suddenly became unable to send email (using Earthlink Webmail on Firefox) from my destop iMac.  I had sent one at 0645, but by that afternoon it was no longer possible.  I could receive emails, and could read them, and I could write a message, but when I clicked the "send" button (or the reply button), the button greyed out without sending the message.  Other times the message was delivered to my "sent spam" (!) box.  I was also unable to save emails as a draft.

Interestingly, when I switched to my laptop (still using Earthlink webmail on Firefox), I could send emails normally.

This morning I found a possible explanation (though not yet a solution.)  This message was on Bugzilla@Mozilla:
Steps to reproduce: 1. Have an EarthLink email account. 2. Log in to (Earthlink Webmail). 3. Start writing a simple e-mail. 4. Either send or save a draft of it.
Actual results: Nothing happens. Webmail's "Send", "Save Draft", and "Cancel" buttons become gr(a/e)yed out.

I tried multiple accounts' addresses from two MacBook Pros (El Capitan v10.11.6 and Sierra v10.12.5) and a 64-bit W7 HPE SP1 machine. No problems in other updated web browsers (Chrome, Safari, and IE11) on the same machines. I downgraded back to Firefox v53.0.3 and retested. No problems!
And then this, also on Bugzilla@Mozilla:
We got a couple of user reports on sumo that sending emails from the earthlink webmail interface stopped working after the firefox 54 update & their support is apparently recommending a firefox downgrade as solution at the moment... They said there's an issue with the script on the submit button and that other buttons are still functioning normally. They suggested something has changed with the release of 54, I'll try to find out what exactly broke their script here. The web developer, who works on this is off but will give me a call back.
The same problem was logged in yesterday on the Firefox subreddit.

In my case, my desktop has been upgraded to Firefox54 (I'm set to upgrade automatically), but my laptop was still on Firefox53.  When I logged on to the laptop this morning, it started to automatically download Firefox 54, so I quickly went to Preferences and changed from "automatic" to "notify me and let me decide."

The solution may be for me uninstall 54 and reinstall 53.

Just FYI in case anyone else out there is using the same combo of Firefox and Earthlink.

Addendum just an hour later:
I tried switching from Firefox to Chrome, and was able to receive and send emails on Earthlink Webmail.  So the problem appears to have been with Firefox, not my computer.

And now the Firefox/Earthlink Webmail system is working again.  Without downloading any patches to anything.  I don't understand.  Maybe something was changed at some central location.  It's like the tide coming in and going out - you can't explain that.  Maybe the internet is no place for an English major...

Stone stairway in the New Hampshire woods

Explanation here.  Photo from a post at the Abandonedporn subreddit.

I agree with Donald Trump

I agree with Donald Trump (sometimes).  There... I've said it.

A couple readers of this blog have castigated me for relentlessly criticizing/mocking Donald Trump, but I don't blindly hate him.  Sometimes I even agree with him, as for example this Tweet he issued in August of 2014. 

Found at the TrumpcriticizesTrump subreddit.

Income distributions in American's pastimes

Via the Data Is Beautiful subreddit. (click image to embiggen)

"Kick (something) into the long grass"

I heard that phrase for the first time this week, spoken by Melvyn Bragg during a discussion of Justinian Law on a podcast of In Our Time (superb podcasts, btw, for the intellectually curious).

I was able to deduce the meaning from the context, but looked it up for confirmation:
"to react to a difficult problem by doing something to make sure that people will forget about it rather than trying to solve it."  The decision to kick the proposals into the long grass could come back to haunt all three party leaders.
Embedded photo:  the (infamous) fescue at Erin Hills, site of this week's U.S. Open.

Photo credit Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

13 June 2017


A chignon is a popular type of hairstyle. The word "chignon" comes from the French phrase "chignon du cou", which means nape of the neck.

The chignon can be traced back to ancient Greece, where Athenian women commonly wore the style with gold or ivory handcrafted hairpins. Athenian men wore the style as well, but they fastened their chignons with a clasp of "golden grasshoppers", according to The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides. The chignon was specific to Athens, as other city states, such as Sparta and Cyprus, had their own style of hairdressing. The chignon was also popular in ancient China, where married women wore the low, knotted hairstyle.
Image cropped for size from the original; credit Jenna Drudi, via the link.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explained

A hat tip to the elves at No Such Thing as a Fish for bringing this to my attention:
In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias, wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence...

Although the Dunning–Kruger effect was formulated in 1999, the cognitive bias of illusory superiority has been known throughout history and identified by intellectuals, such as the philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC), who said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”; by the playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616), who said, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (As You Like It, V. i.); by the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882), who said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”; and by the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), who said, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision...
More at the link, and this example cited by David Dunning as the trigger for his initial publication:
Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight.  What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise.  The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest.  There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money.  Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving.  “But I wore the juice,” he said.  Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras...

If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.

Gleanings from "The Handmaid's Tale"

When I reviewed Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin nine years (!) ago, I assigned the post to the "recommended books" category.  I can't quite do that for The Handmaid's Tale, so I'll file this post in the English language category, because she does know how to turn a phrase.  Some examples:
"We lived, as usual, by ignoring.  Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it."

"I went to sleep after all, and dreamed I was wearing earrings, and one of them was broken; nothing beyond that, just the brain going through its back files..."

"But there must be something he wants, from me.  To want is to have a weakness.  It's this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me."

"Better never means better for everyone, he says.  It always means worse, for some."
Two new (to me) words:
glister - "to gleam, glisten, or coruscate."  And to show that I misremember my Shakespeare, the correct phrase in The Merchant of Venice is "All that glisters is not gold" - not "glistens."

ancestress - I thought this perhaps a neologism for the context of the story, but it is an accepted term for a female ancestor.
And one etymology:
"It was Lulke who told me about mayday, though.  Mayday, mayday, for pilots whose planes had been hit...  Do you know what it came from? said Luke.  Mayday?... It's Frenchy, he said.  From m'aidez.  Help me."

12 June 2017


A composite of eleven images taken over a period of 27 minutes. (click to supersize)

Credit to Dan Marker-Moore (in the "Time Slice" section), via Reddit.  Explanatory video here.

School's out for summer

Via imgur.

Trump's proposed discretionary budget

This is his proposed distribution for the spending of non-mandated (non-Social Security, non-Medicare etc.) funds.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Commentary at Jobsanger (and many other places).

Subcutaneous emphysema

An impressive xray of an affected hedgehog.
An RSPCA spokesperson said balloon syndrome can be caused by a traumatic event, like an injury, or underlying infection, which releases gas into the cavity under the hedgehog's skin. Treatment requires the skin to be punctured and a course of medication.

The large 1kg (2.2lb) hedgehog has been transferred to the RSPCA's Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in Nantwich, Cheshire, where he will be thoroughly examined under general anaesthetic and more air released.
In humans a severe case of SQE can lead to ventilatory impairment and even thermal instability because of an inability to dissipate body heat.

Murdered again on the Orient Express

When I heard that this classic novel was being remade into a movie, I thought ?why remake a near-perfect movie (the 1974 version rates 95% on Rotten Tomatoes), especially one with such an unforgettable surprise ending.  But I have to admit the trailer does look tempting...

04 June 2017


Summer activities are way more fun and interesting than blogging, so I'm going to take 8-10 days off.

Cartoon from the archives of The New Yorker.

01 June 2017

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid...

Joining Syria and Nicaragua* in order to keep a campaign promise to his delusional and ignorant base.

*And the reason Nicaragua didn't sign was because the agreement wasn't tough enough.

30 May 2017

Divertimento #128

Vice offers an update on modern sex toys.  Compared to sex toys for women, "The male sex toy market is quite unsophisticated."

"Every four days, a kid crashes a stolen car in Pinellas County....Nissans and Fords become dangerous toys in the hands of kids who don’t know how to turn on a car’s lights or put it in reverse. The thieves are as young as 10 and as light as 50 pounds, cranking the seat all the way up, just to see over the steering wheel. Some are not tall enough to ride all the rollercoasters at Busch Gardens, but they floor the gas pedal to max out the speedometer on the dashboard, all while holding up phones to record videos as proof for friends..."

An interesting hood ornament.

"The safe and familiar on-air meteorologist, with little notice by viewers, has become a public diplomat for global warming."

Reindeer can see ultraviolet light.  "In areas where reindeer live, the sun remains very low in the sky for long periods. This means the light is scattered such that the majority of light that reaches objects is blue or UV. Some parts of the environment absorb UV light and therefore to UV-sensitive reindeer, appear to be black, strongly contrasting with the snow."

Frontotemporal dementia results in behavioral changes without memory loss.

An excellent longread about the physics of (American) football and its relevance to injuries.

North Korea is a major international supplier to methamphetamine.

Very impressive detachable thumb tricks.  Just a 16-second video, but you'll probably watch it more than once.

Trump Clump: (I'm grouping all these together so those who wish to avoid them can scroll past them quickly)
"He made the puzzling claim that Jackson “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.” But Jackson died in 1845, and the Civil War didn't begin until 16 years later, in 1861."
A comparison of the language skills of Macron and Trump.
Best candidate to lead an investigation of Russian meddling in the election.
The media are starting to feel sorry for Sean Spicer.  "Spicer’s utility to Trump has diminished. And, as many a Trump loyalist has discovered, you are useful to Trump until you are not — and then you are cast aside."
Giving away secrets.
Joke about someone climbing over the fence at the White House.
There are seven deadly sins.
Trump's tweeted denials of climate change.
This is not a baseball game or a motorsports rally.  Memorial Day solemn ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.  Trump sings along with the National Anthem.
Unusual ways to prepare eggs (video).

Carly Simon reveals a "lost verse" from "You're So Vain."

The public can buy inexpensive "military grade" flashlights (500 lumens) on eBay.

"Republicans officially delete their promise to protect pre-existing conditions, purging the promise from their website."

The website of the Guggenheim allows you to download 200 art books for free.

Conventional banks are unhappy because "credit unions have expanded far beyond their initial charters — to serve a specific group of people with a common bond, such as employees of a company — and can offer most of the same services as banks now, yet they are exempt from paying income tax."

Interesting painted wall segment in a parking garage.

"On January 5, 2015, the camera caught a glimpse of a young white-tailed deer standing near the skeleton with a human rib bone in its mouth..."  This was on a forensic science "body farm," but still... a deer?

A batter strikes out on one pitch.

"Elvis has fallen to the status of “novelty act”, according to David Hesmondhalgh, an author and professor of music at the University of Leeds, who says that any musician whose image transcends their music will ultimately fade away: “If you ask a small child about Elvis, the fact he died on a toilet through overeating or wore a silly suit is all that registers. The music has become far less important than the caricature. His image has been cheapened.”"


Six Bible verses mention shoelaces.   From THE definitive shoelace reference site on the web.  Hat tip to NSTAAF.

Seeing with your tongue, using sensory substitution devices.

The Republican health-care plan gives American's choices.

If you know who the Isdal woman is, please contact Norwegian police.

Children are being killed for insurance money.   States and companies could prevent this by asking themselves "“Why would you put a $750,000 policy on a newborn infant? It seems to make no sense, just on its face.”

This is the Little Girl in the Car Seat video.

This is an excellent online medical advice column for polio survivors. (note you have to "Click on the Volume/Number to read the answers.")

Only serious candidates will respond to this notice.

The Doors were named after Aldous Huxley's The Doors Of Perception, which is a line taken from William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”  The Neatorama link notes several other bands named after classic literature references.

Time and Temperature displays on downtown buildings are things of the past.

This is one reason not to hike downslope on a scree field (notice how far the debris tumbles).

A professional big game hunter died when an elephant cow was shot and fell on him.

The last major primeval forest in Europe - the Białowieża forest in north-eastern Poland - is on the “brink of collapse.”

Swiss cycling team banned for dumping their septic tank beside a California highway.

Scaphism is a form of torture involving insects.

Here's a list of mountain bothies ("remote, rural cottages that have outlived their original purposes but now are kept unlocked for people to take shelter or stay overnight without charge").

There is an entire subreddit for Whatthefuckgetitoffme.

"No thank you"

And finally, in the category of things you can't make up... in the wake of the Manchester attack, a UK politician calls for the death penalty for suicide bombers.  "“But there is one simple step which we can take now: we must bring back the death penalty... I’m not wringing my hands trying to find answers, I’m a politician, it’s my job to come up with answers.””

The embedded images today come from a gallery of Peking opera figures at BibliOdyssey.

26 May 2017

Here's what Nature thinks of your puny roads

Highway 1 meanders more than 650 miles along California’s rugged coastline. The views from this ribbon of asphalt are so spectacular, and the terrain so gorgeous, that the feds declared it an “All-American Road” in 2002. People come from far and wide just to marvel at it. But much of the road was built on fragile ground in one of the most seismically tumultuous places in the world. Last weekend, the Earth reclaimed a sizable chunk of the highway. More than 1 million tons of rock, dirt, and debris tumbled onto the highway on Saturday, burying one-third of a mile of road just south of Big Sur...

Caltrans, the state agency charged with building and maintaining roads, has no idea when the road might open but said it will take months. 
Wired has paired before- and after- photos with a slider.

Photo credit: Google Earth/John Madonna

"Ablaut reduplication" explained

I can't find the original, so* I'll embed this screencap of a ?newspaper article for a quick summary.  More details are available in the Wikipedia article on apophony.  Via the discussion thread at the Interestingasfuck subreddit.
"It's a terrible thing to teach language learners, they'll try to agonizingly remember and apply a rule that is complete and totally instinctive even for natives. Same goes for most grammar "rules", which imho are not rules handed down by grammarians so much as patterns they have noticed."
*A tip of the blogging cap to an anonymous reader and to Paul Parkinson, whose comments led me to the source in a BBC Culture column.  And the book from which the cited text was excerpted is "The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase," which I've requested from our library.

Snickers commercial

This commercial aired during this week's Fargo episode.  It's been a long time since I literally laughed out loud at a commercial.

Kudos to Olson Vacuum in Madison

"They don't make 'em like they used to."

That dictum is often applied to products like small appliances, and it was the mindset we had when our 35-year-old Hoover vacuum cleaner gave up the ghost.  We researched replacements, but this one had worked so well for so long that we agreed that if it could be repaired for less than $100 it would be worth it.

We took it in yesterday to a local company on Odana Road here in Madison.  The young fellow at the desk greeted us, asked a few questions, then put it on his counter and proceeded to take it apart.   That surprised me, since I was expecting to get an approximate cost and an estimated time for how long it would take to order replacement parts for a 35-year-old model.

He found the drive belt that had been totally worn out, had a replacement on hand which he inserted, cleaned a couple dirty parts, put it back together, and we were "good to go."

Elapsed time:  probably 15 minutes
Total cost (parts and labor):  less than $4.00

Awesome.  What a totally pleasant experience.  I'm delighted to use the power of this blog to give public "props" to a first-class business.  If you live within driving distance of Madison and need repairs (or a new vacuum), they are worth a visit.  Here is their website.

Addendum:  See also my comment and one by reader The Weaving One regarding Park Street Shoe Repair -

- at 609 S. Park St.  This is the go-to place for shoe and other leather repair.  They don't have a website.

And... while I'm at it.  On the same street (420 S. Park St.), Wayne's Barber Shop:

Also no cyberpresence - just excellent, inexpensive haircuts while you wait.  :-)

Scott Sterling videos - updated

Trigger warning: slapstick comedy dialed up to 11. (If you're going to watch, you might as well click the fullscreen button).

If you liked that one, you will enjoy this one of him getting facials in a volleyball match:

Don't watch these at work if laughing out loud will get you in trouble...

Reposted to add this Scott Sterling-type goal from real life.

24 May 2017

Ancient mummy wearing "Adidas boots"

From The Siberian Times:
'Judging by what was found inside the burial we guess that she was from an ordinary social strata,' said Galbadrakh Enkhbat.This is despite the classy appearance of some of the possessions with which she is buried, which might suggest to the uninformed a higher status.

'Various sewing utensils were found with her. This is only our guess, but we think she could have been a seamstress.'..

With her in the grave - found at an altitude of 2,803 metres above sea level - archeologists unearthed 51 items including a 'stunningly beautiful embroidered bag', four costumes, vases, a saddle, her sewing kit and the skull head of a ram.

'The bag was made of felt,' he said. 'Inside was the sewing kit and since the embroidery was on both the bag and the shoes, we can be certain that the embroidery was done by locals.

The women is believed to be of Turkik origin, and the burial is one of the most complete ever found. Experts now believe on the basis of 18 samples taken from the mummy that it does not date from the 6th century AD, as first surmised, but rather from the 10th century, but DNA and radiocarbon testing is still awaited. 
Many more photos at the link.  Here's the bag:

Problems with Olympic medals

From the Washington Post:
Now nearly nine months after the Games ended, it looks like organizers in Rio de Janeiro are still experiencing some hiccups. The latest issue has to do with medals handed out to more than 130 winners —  they’re rusting, chipping or as Agence France-Presse put it, “falling to pieces.”...

Andrada didn’t go into exact details about what exactly he thought was happening, but he called it “completely normal.”.. Olympic gold medals, for example, are actually just 1.34 percent gold. The rest is made of sterling silver, ABC News reports. And about 30 percent of the silver in those thousands of medals awarded in Rio came from recycled silver...

“The most common issue is that they were dropped or mishandled and the varnish has come off and they’ve rusted or gone black in the spot where they were damaged,” Andrada told Reuters, adding that silver medalists have seen the most problems.
And this:
The medals for the 2020 Games will be even more unique, with the promise of being the most environmentally friendly of all time. Per The Post’s Cindy Boren, the medals are slated to be composed of recycled cellphones and small appliances donated by Japanese citizens.


Excerpts from a public speech presented in Sun City, South Carolina last year:
Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart —you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.
I won't name the speaker.  You'll have to guess.

Diagramming sentences
Diagramming Obama's sentences
Diagramming Sara (Palin's) sentences
Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Stan B for providing in his comment a link to this discussion:
It was the kind of utterance that makes professional transcribers question their career choice:
“ … there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians, zero.”
When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the latest example of his tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and apparent trouble formulating complete sentences, let alone a coherent paragraph, in unscripted speech.

STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable...

In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print. This was so even when reporters asked tough questions about, for instance, his divorce, his brush with bankruptcy, and why he doesn’t build housing for working-class Americans...

Now, Trump’s vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one, as in this answer during an interview with the Associated Press last month:
“People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. Big, big, big advantage. … The Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall.”
For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.
The experts noted clear changes from Trump’s unscripted answers 30 years ago to those in 2017, in some cases stark enough to raise questions about his brain health. They noted, however, that the same sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration, anger, or just plain fatigue.
More at the link.

The Selk’nam of Patagonia

As reported in Vintage Everyday:

The Selk’nam had no chiefs, but were instead led by wise men (‘fathers of the world’) who were believed to possess spiritual power over people, weather and events. The tribe’s most sacred ceremony was the coming-of-age, or the ‘hain’. Adult male members of the tribe would be painted with red, black and white paint and don fur, down and bark costumes, impersonating much feared spirits. Over a period of days or weeks they would conduct a complex initiation to transition boys into manhood.
One of the last such ceremonies was performed in 1920 and recorded by the missionary, Martin Gusinde... Gusinde’s haunting photographs of the Selk’nam, Yamana, and Kawésqar peoples present a way of life that was already on the brink of extinction when he visited the region in 1918–1924 and that has since ceased to exist.
About a dozen more photos at the link.  Warning: lots of penises.

And I've just this morning found - but haven't explored - what looks like an interesting blog: Patagonian Monsters.

Via Curiosités de Titam.

"Can I get a refill on these placebos?"

Physicians and nurses have known for decades that placebos can generate an observable beneficial therapeutic response.  A recent report offers confirmation:
Placebos have a reputation problem. It is widely believed they are only effective when those taking them are deceived into thinking they are taking real drugs. As such, prescribing dummy or fake treatments is unethical... A review of five studies, involving 260 patients, published last month found that “open-label” placebos – those that patients know contain no active medication – can improve symptoms in a range of conditions...

Last month, his group published a review of previous research that has compared the effects of giving patients open-label placebos with no treatment.
Note the term "open label," indicating that the placebos are described as such when given to the patient.  More at The Guardian.

19 May 2017

Divertimento #127

Blue whale vs. krill.  Whale wins.

"Free-fall lifeboat training."  Not sure, but I think these are used on open-sea oil rigs.

Traffic at a road intersection in Ethiopia.

Jaguar stalks and catches his (surprising) prey.

Very angry bird (language NSFW).  Discussed here.

Dog pulling a kid on a snow saucer.

"Combustibubbles"- but safety goggles in pocket :-( 

American patriot argues with a judge.

Just one question: is the background black or white?

NFL players' heights and weights, 1920s-1990s.

Public fountains are for looking at, not for playing on.

Jeans are "faded" with lasers.

A dog sits in a chair.

HMB while I ride in this golf cart.

Pineapple-picking teamwork.

People who have cats will understand this one.

Jaguar eating underwater.

Look!  Helicopters!  How exciting...

Mouse lemur "rocket"

Baby meets mother's identical twin for the first time.

Fun at the water park.

Fox finds a dog toy.

Why the backs of trucks have underguards.

How to use a fork to help hang a picture on a wall.

Schnauzer prevents little girl from going too deep in ocean.

Dog trained to protect his human.

"Son, I'll get your ball out of the tree..."

Chinese policeman at work.

"Power handshake" toy.

What you can do when you have claws like needles.

Exhibition table tennis rally.

"Mom, help me make a cool video!"  WCGW?

An "atomic trampoline" is impressive.

Apparently this toddler is a future ninja.

Hamster really likes his sand bath.

I would not get in this line.

Optical illusions.

Very vigorous baptism.

Windy day.

Timelapse of a bird building a nest.

Big SUVs don't mind flooded roads.

That one goth friend.

In science class, pay attention to the pendulum.

Baby's first pile of leaves.

In recognition of Syttende Mai, today's embedded pix are lantern slides of Norway: "A selection from a collection of early-20th-century lantern slides held at the Fylkesarkivet of Sogn og Fjordane, a county in the west of Norway. The slides are produced by at least two British photographers – professional photographer Samuel J. Beckett and amateur photographer P. Heywood Hadfield..."

16 May 2017

Sleep paralysis in an Ernest Hemingway story

In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Ernest Hemingway describes the impending death of a hunter suffering from a gangrenous leg (boldface emphasis mine):
Because, just then, death had come and rested its head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath.

"Never believe any of that about a scythe and a skull," he told her. "It can be two bicycle policemen as easily, or be a bird. Or it can have a wide snout like a hyena."

It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space.

"Tell it to go away."

It did not go away but moved a little closer.

"You've got a hell of a breath," he told it. "You stinking bastard."

It moved up closer to him still and now he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tried to send it away without speaking, but it moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest, and while it crouched there and he could not move or speak, he heard the woman say, "Bwana is asleep now. Take the cot up very gently and carry it into the tent."

He could not speak to tell her to make it go away and it crouched now, heavier, so he could not breathe. And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest.
This is a superb description of the phenomenon of sleep paralysis (the paralysis, the muteness, the chest pressure, the dyspnea, and the cessation when the victim is touched or moved), so vivid and precise that I have no doubt that Hemingway must have experienced it himself (his lifestyle would have been compatible with a high risk for the syndrome).

Back when I was active in academia, I developed a special interest and expertise in sleep paralysis, and had visions of someday publishing a book on its portrayal in literature and folklore.  That seems unlikely now, but since I have file boxes full of information, perhaps I can incorporate some of that material into posts for this blog.

Fulltext of Hemingway's story.

Reposted from 2013 (has it really been that long?) to add some new information about Hemingway.  In a recently-published book, a psychiatrist argues that Hemingway may have suffered from chronic traumatic enchephalopathy - the disorder that has been in the news because of its association with professional football and other contact sports.
The psychiatrist from High Point University in North Carolina wrote of nine serious blows to Hemingway's head — from explosions to a plane crash — that were a prelude to his decline into abusive rages, "paranoia with specific and elaborate delusions" and his suicide in 1961.

Hemingway's bizarre behavior in his latter years (he rehearsed his death by gunshot in front of dinner guests, for example) has been blamed on iron deficiency, bipolar disorder, attention-seeking and any number of other problems.

After researching the writer's letters, books and hospital visits, Farah said he is convinced that Hemingway had dementia — made worse by alcoholism and other maladies, but dominated by CTE, the improper treatment of which likely hastened his death. "He truly is a textbook case," Farah said.
Farah dates Hemingway's first known concussion to World War I, several years before he wrote his short story, "The Battler." A bomb exploded about three feet from his teenage frame.

Another likely concussion came in 1928, when Hemingway yanked what he thought was a toilet chain and brought a skylight crashing down on him.

Then came a car accident in London — then more injuries as a reporter during World War II, when an antitank gun blew Hemingway into a ditch.
The rest of the story is at the StarTribune.

Image harvested from the 1936 Esquire publication of the story.
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