26 February 2015

YouTube anniversary video compilation

I'm not officially "back" at the blogging desk, but I wanted to post this brief compilation of excerpts from approximately 200 videos to keep you busy until I do come back.

The best feature is this playlist, which not only lists the videos, but supplements them with thumbnails.  And... if you play one of the videos in the playlist, it will automatically segue to the next video in the compilation - probably about 500 minutes of watching if you start at the first one and cycle all the way through.

It's almost scary how many of these are instantly recognizable from just a 1-second clip.

22 February 2015


Lots of conflicting demands for my time.   Need to get this stuff done now, while we're still gripped by the polar vortex, because as soon as spring arrives, outdoor activities will beckon. 

If you need something to read this week, try browing the "categories" in the right sidebar.


20 February 2015

Umbrella pines

A magnificent painting by Hendrik Voogd, from the Rijksmuseum, posted at Robs Webstek.

The trees are Pinus pinea, "also called Italian stone pine, umbrella pine and parasol pine."
Stone pines have been used and cultivated for their edible pine nuts since prehistoric times. They are widespread in horticultural cultivation as ornamental trees, planted in gardens and parks around the world.

In youth, it is a bushy globe, in mid-age an umbrella canopy on a thick trunk, and, in maturity, a broad and flat crown over 8 metres (26 ft) in width.

In Italy, the stone pine has been an aesthetic landscape element since the Italian Renaissance garden period.

It is also planted in western Europe up to southern Scotland, and on the East Coast of the United States up to New Jersey. Small specimens are used for Bonsai, and also grown in large pots and planters. The year-old seedlings are seasonally available as 20–30 centimetres (7.9–11.8 in) tall table-top Christmas trees.

Is a global currency war coming?

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) shocked markets on Thursday by announcing that it would no longer hold the value of the Swiss franc down at 1.2 per euro, although it would lower interest rates from -0.25 to -0.75 percent. Mayhem ensued. The Swiss franc immediately shot up as much as 39 percent against the euro, before settling at "only" up 17 percent on the day. This is basically the biggest single-day move for a rich country's currency, as economist David Zervos points out, in the last 40 years. And it's sent Switzerland's stock market down 10 percent, as its suddenly more expensive currency will cripple its exporters by making their goods more expensive abroad...

Now let's back up a minute. Why was Switzerland pushing its currency down, and why has it stopped now? Well, in four words, it's the euro crisis. Back in 2011, you see, what looked like the imminent end of the euro made people want to move their money to the safety of Swiss banks...

Switzerland is still stuck in deflation, with prices falling 0.3 percent, and a stronger currency is only going to make that worse. Now, they tried to offset this by charging people even more to hold their money in Switzerland—aka negative interest rates—but that wasn't nearly enough to stop the Swiss franc from going vertical... 
More at the link and more at this Bloomberg Business Week article.  This is a big deal for those outside of Switzerland who purchase Swiss products and for those who have their mortgages demoninated in Swiss francs.

It's also the first time I remember encountering negative interest rates.  How does that work?  You deposit your money and they take a little away each week?

Addendum:   I posted the above in January of 2015.  This past week I saw an article in the telegraph entitled Sweden cuts rates below zero as global currency wars spread:
Sweden has cut interest rates below zero and launched quantitative easing to fight deflation, becoming the latest Scandinavian state to join Europe’s escalating currency wars...

The move comes as neighbouring Denmark takes ever more drastic steps to stop a flood of money overwhelming its exchange rate peg to the euro and tightening the deflationary noose. The Danes have cut rates four times to minus 0.75pc in a month to combat fall-out from the European Central Bank’s forthcoming QE...

Exchange rate mayhem in Europe is matched by a parallel saga in Asia, where Japan’s vast monetary stimulus and barely disguised efforts to drive down the yen are causing heartburn in China...

The Riksbank insists that the only motive is to stave off deflation but there are widespread suspicions that Sweden is in fact protecting its industrial and export base. It is no stranger to controversy. The oldest central bank in the world, it took radical action early in the 1930s to liberate Sweden from the constraints of the Gold Standard. Its prescience shielded the country from the worst of the Great Depression.

Stephen Lewis from Monument Securities says the emergency actions are getting out of hand: “The chief threat from a global currency war is that it will lead central banks to take up monetary stances so extreme that they damage the smooth functioning of financial markets. It is remarkable that they should be closing their minds to the possibility that they are undermining the basic motive to save and invest as they blindly wage their currency wars.”
This isn't front-page news in mass media.  One hopes it doesn't become such...

Please feel free to offer advice in the Comments as to what an ordinary person should do in such circumstances.

There's a huge difference between "masticophilia" and "mastigophilia"

I learned from reading Collector's Weekly that there are people who collect chewing gum.
In the U.S., there are about half a dozen serious collectors of gum, and more than one serious enough to pay $350 for a stick of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum, dating from 1900 to 1910...

“A fellow collector and I got a lead on a National Colgan’s Taffy Tolu gum vendor from a Chicago dealer who had found it in an old barn. We decided rather than try to outbid each
other, we would make a fair bid and purchase the machine together. Pleased with our $2,000 purchase, I took it home and opened it up and cleaned it. I was pleasantly surprised to find seventeen sticks of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum inside... In the end, my partner and I sold thirteen sticks of the gum for $300 to $350 each, making a $4,000 profit without even selling the machine!”
I tried without success to find a word for "lover of gum."  The appropriate match for the Greek "-phile" would seem to be "mastic", which is also the word for a Mediterranean evergreen shrub which produces a resin ("mastic tears" at right) used to make varnish and chewing gum.  So it should be "masticophile."

But I wouldn't use the word to describe someone in public, because it would sound too much like "mastigophile" -
Mastigophilia: Paraphilic sexuoeroticism that hinges on punishment and humiliation.
A new word for me, but one that I suppose is going to pop up more frequently in the popular press and cyberspace now.

A new video series from The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History offers incomparable resources for anyone seriously interested in the natural world.  They are now producing a series of videos designed to highlight their mission and their astonishing array of source material.

I've embedded above the fourth video in the series - "Skull of the Olinguito" - which explains how new species can be discovered in archived specimens:
Considering the number of specimens collected during the trip, it’s little wonder that the olinguito—Mammal #66573, a raccoon relative originally identified as a kinkajou—spent nearly 90 years on the Museum’s shelves before being described as the new species Bassaricyon neblina in 2013.
The third video in the series was Six Ways to Prepare a Coelacanth.  The previous two, and subsequent ones to be released on a monthly basis, are available here.  These are concise, interesting, high-production-quality videos tailored for anyone with an interest in the natural world.

Limpet teeth - nature's strongest natural material

"Spider silk is famous for its amazing toughness, and until recently a tensile strength of 1.3 gigapascals (GPa) was enough to earn it the title of strongest natural material. However, researchers report online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that the record books need to be updated to properly recognize the incredible strength of the limpet teeth. Marine snails known as limpets (Patella vulgata) spend most of their lives scraping a set of small teeth along rocks in shallow ocean waters, looking for food. The constant grinding would be enough to quickly reduce most natural materials to nubs, but the limpets’ teeth boast a tensile strength of between 3 and 6.5 GPa..."
Microphotograph via the Washington Post, which offers these observations:
The teeth also bested several man-made materials, including Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used to make bulletproof vests and puncture-proof tires. The amount of weight it can withstand, Barber told the BBC, can be compared to a strand of spaghetti used to hold up more than 3,300 pounds, the weight of an adult female hippopotamus.

Their secret is in the size of their fibers, which are 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. The ultra-thin filaments avoid the holes and defects that plague larger strands — including man-made carbon fibers — meaning any structure they compose is also flawless, regardless of how big it gets.
The original publication is here.

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

Addendum: Reposted from 2012 to add this "making of" video:

19 February 2015

Fennec fox

This evocative photo by Bruno D'Amicis was one of the winning entries in the 2014 World Press Photo of the Year competition.  These are his notes:
An adult fennec fox crouches in a village sheep pen [in Tunisia]. The fox had been captured as a cub, and kept as a pet for over a year.

The fennec is the smallest of the Canidae (dog family) and is found in desert and semi-desert areas of North Africa. It is particularly well-adapted to desert conditions—its large ears help dissipate heat, furry under-paws provide insulation against hot sands, and it can live without water for long periods, deriving all it needs from its prey. Fennecs are not an endangered species, but—prized for their appearance—they are systematically being captured to be sold as pets, or used to make money from tourists wishing to pose for souvenir photographs.

The history of dunking in basketball

There have been a lot of repostings recently of the video above of Zach LaVine's between-the-legs dunk at the most recent NBA dunk contest.  More interesting to me, however, is the story at Vice Sports entitled "The Plot to Kill the Slam Dunk" -
The first thing you need to know is that the inventor of basketball never intended for the rim to be set at 10 feet...

From as early as 1930 until the late 1980s, not a year went by without talk of raising the rim—and with it, killing the dunk—in order to cure the game's ills...

When an all-time basketball greats list was assembled in 1940, the average height of the players was 5'10". Only gradually did people realize what an advantage size could be. ..

Sports Illustrated published a 1967 cover story, "The Case for the 12-Foot Basket." The magazine even staged an experimental game like Newell wanted, one of many during this era...

"No one was making a basket as the result of a hyperactive pituitary gland," Morrison said. "You had to develop skills.".. .A 1981 syndicated column complained, "Slam-dunking is how gorillas would play basketball if let out of the zoo." A 1981 LA Times column demonstrated that basketball players' heights have gotten out of hand by referring to old "suits of armor and the length of bunks in old slave ships." The racial politics of the dunk, and the sport, still had a ways to go...

The next most popular highlight is the three, which has the dunk to thank for its existence, and maybe vice versa. "The legalization of the dunk," Schultz suggested, "led to conversations about the three-point line."
Way more at the link.   Excellent fodder for March Madness party conversations.

My grandfather's encounter with M. bovis

While searching the 'net for something else, I ran across this blurb about my maternal grandfather.  I knew from oral family history that he had been a very active member of the local Holstein-Friesian Association (later the Holstein Association).  He would have been 31 years old at the time of this story - the archetypal "Norwegian bachelor farmer" joked about so often by Garrison Keillor.

Losing 30 of 40 cattle to tuberculosis would have been a major financial blow, and may be one reason why it was another 6 years before at age 37 he would be able to marry my grandmother. 

These early-generation immigrant Norwegians were a resilient lot, and I was not surprised to see a report further down in the same dairy newspaper that at a subsequent meeting of the Goodhue County Farmers' Progressive Association, grandpa Finseth had presented a paper entitled "My Experience with Tuberculosis."

Perhaps it's from him that I inherited my gene for teaching.

Wikipedia has a good entry on bovine tuberculosis.

There's a surprise inside

An interesting item posted in Rob's Webstek:
The mummified body of the Buddhist master Liuquan, a monk who lived around the year 1100 and who belonged to the Chinese Meditation School, is hidden in this precious reliquary dating from the eleventh or twelfth century.

In Amersfoort's main hospital, Meander Medical Centre, the nearly thousand year old mummy has been recently examined with a CT scan and an endoscope... A gastrointestinal and liver doctor took samples of yet unidentified material and examined the thoracic and abdominal cavities.
Results of the endoscopy at the link.  Photo credit M. Elsevier Stokmans.

"It depends on the size of the gun and the size of the guns"

As reported in The Telegraph:
Christina Bond, a 55-year-old mother of two, fatally shot herself in the eye while attempting to secure her handgun. 
"She was having trouble adjusting her bra holster, couldn't get it to fit the way she wanted it to," said St. Joseph Public Safety Director Mark Clapp. "She was looking down at it and accidentally discharged the weapon." ..

She was a local Republican official, and an obituary printed in the Herald-Palladium newspaper said she served two tours as a member of the United States Navy.  The obituary also describes Bond as having been "on fire for the lord", and an active member of the Christian Motorcycle Association...

Carrie Lightfoot, owner of the Well Armed Woman store, told the USA Today last year that bra holsters were growing in popularity.

"It's kind of a natural location depending on the size of the gun and the size of the 'guns,'" said Ms Lightfoot. "Women just need options because one day a woman is wearing a dress, the next day a suit and the next day exercise clothing." 
Photo via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.  Comments are closed for this post.

Your religious is ridiculous. Mine makes sense.

On June 9, 1603, Samuel de Champlain attended an Algonquin victory ceremony along the banks of the Ottawa River. He sat with the Grand Sagamore, Besouat, in front of a row of spikes topped with the heads of the defeated enemy, and watched as the Grand Sagamore’s wives and daughters danced before them entirely naked, wearing only necklaces of dyed porcupine quills.

After the dancing, the conversation turned to theology. The Grand Sagamore told Champlain that there was one sole God. After God had created all things, he stuck some arrows in the ground, and these turned into the men and women who populated the earth.
Champlain told the Grand Sagamore that this was pagan superstition, and false. There was indeed one sole God, but after he had created all things, he took a lump of clay and made a man, and then took one of the man’s ribs and made a woman. The Grand Sagamore looked doubtful, but, following the rules of hospitality, remained silent.
Originally encountered in the hard copy of Harper's (my favorite magazine).

18 February 2015

This skull was extensively trepanned. For scruples.

Explained at io9:
Researchers at the University of Pisa, Italy, have solved a longstanding mystery around the honeycombed skull of one of the Italian martyrs beheaded by 15th century Ottoman Turk invaders when they refused to give up their Christian faith...

The skull was later drilled, most likely to obtain bone powder to treat diseases such as paralysis, stroke, and epilepsy, which were believed to arise from magical or demonic influences...

"The perfectly cupped shape of the incomplete perforations leads(us) to hypothesize the use of a particular type of trepan, with semi-lunar shaped blade or rounded bit; a tool of this type could not produce bone discs, but only bone powder," Fornaciari said...

This would make the Otranto skull a unique piece of evidence supporting historical accounts on the use of skull bone powder as an ingredient in pharmacological preparations...

Indeed, in his Pharmacopée universelle, a comprehensive work on pharmaceutical composition, French chemist Nicolas Lémery (1645 –1715) detailed how powdered human skull drunk in water was effective to treat "paralysis, stroke, epilepsy and other illness of the brain."

"The dose is from half scruple up to two scruples," Lémery wrote.

"The skull of a person who died of violent and sudden death is better than that of a man who died of a long illness or who had been taken from a cemetery: the former has held almost all of his spirits, which in the latter they have been consumed, either by illness or by the earth," he added.
Yes, I had to look it up too:
Scruple: a unit of apothecary weight, with symbol ℈. It is a twenty-fourth part of an ounce, or 20 grains, or approximately 1.3 grams. More generally, any small quantity might be called a scruple.  
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