24 September 2016

Divertimento


Gifs of children eating dark chocolate for the first time.

Last year a Washington Post columnist wrote an article describing Red Lake County, Minnesota as the "worst place to live" in the United States.  Now he lives there.  Happily.  He explains why in this post.

A bill being considered by Congress proposes to exempt Olympic athletes from paying taxes on the monetary value of their gold medals.   This op-ed column offers a logical dissent.

"'Arm doors, cross-check and all-call'? A former flight attendant helps decode cabin-crew jargon."

The BBC offers a list of the best 100 movies of the 21st century (i.e., the last 16 years).

"...there is a catch to the autonomous dream [of self-driving 18-wheel trucks] — these vehicles will not be impervious to hackers. In a paper they will present at the Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies in Austin next week, the researchers will show that even the long-haul vehicles currently on the road, with their comparatively modest autonomous systems, are vulnerable to attack.


Digg offers constantly updating threads of all news stories, tweets, etc. on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  By the time you get to the bottom of the thread, there are new ones at the top.

Yersinia pestis has now been confirmed (by DNA) as the cause of London's Great Plague of 1665.

Three Louisiana politicians who voted against disaster-relief funds for Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey and New York have requested disaster-relief funds for their own constituents.  You can read their excuses here.

Bad Lip Reading of the Democratic National Convention.

How to go faster on a bicycle.  


A 17-minute video details the construction of U.S. Bank stadium and offers a tour of the billion-dollar facility.  For Minnesotans and avid Vikings fans only.

In recent years, cholera has afflicted at least 770,000 Haitians and claimed over 9,200 lives. The Haitian epidemic alone resulted in an 85 percent increase in the number of cholera cases worldwide. The UN has not explicitly said it caused the cholera outbreak; however, the Secretary-General's office says peacekeepers who arrived in Haiti after the earthquake may have helped trigger the epidemic.

This is how to throw a hammer (gif and discussion thread).

A map of the locations of the 10,000 most powerful earthquakes.

"For the past several years, a group of researchers has been observing a seemingly impossible wood ant colony living in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker in Templewo, Poland, near the German border. Completely isolated from the outside world, these members of the species Formica polyctena have created an ant society unlike anything we've seen before." 

  Got a dead tree in your front yard?  This man will create an impressive sculpture from it.

Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome (published in PNAS).

"A woman had never completed the first stage of the "American Ninja Warrior" national finals. Enter stuntwoman Jessie Graff, who not only completed the course, but absolutely crushed it."

Transporting massive wind turbine blades (video).

"Japan's Ministry of Home Affairs squashed publication of the tragic story of First Lieutenant Hajime Fujii, an instructor at Kumagaya Army Aviation School. In December 1944, Fujii's wife Fukuko committed suicide along with their two children, Kazuko(age 3) and Chieko (age 1), so that her husband could freely go on a special attack(suicide) mission."

Totally awesome kiteSpectacular (if you like dragons).

"There’s an incredibly pervasive myth that the best way to keep your battery healthy is to let it drain all the way to zero before recharging. Alas, like littering and the all-bread food pyramid, this is no longer considered a best practice. In fact, it’ll actually shorten the lifespan of your phone. Instead, to keep your battery healthy and ensure it’s able to maintain as much of a charge as possible, you want to give your phone regular charges..."

An extended read about the life of sportscaster Verne Lundquist.


"The playground set from Hell."  (downed power line)

"...bats (and, to a lesser extent, dogs and humans) waggle their heads to enhance their perception of sounds as they survey their environments... All creatures with two ears do this — humans, cats, dogs. That's why Wohlgemuth recognized the movement from his dog."

Interesting mailbox.  I'm guessing it's in Tennessee.  But apparently it's not unique.

The highest paid public employee in each state.

Hard-core socialists don't consider Bernie Sanders to be one of them.

The largest conservative newspaper in Texas has endorsed Hillary Clinton.  As has the Cincinnati Enquirer (the first time in a hundred years they have endorsed a Democrat).

Paramount is now streaming 175 movies online for free.


Collin Powell has said (in leaked emails) that Israel has 200 nuclear weapons.

"Fast-Swimming Swordfish Automatically Lubricate Themselves."  Full details at Ed Yong's amazing blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science.

"Here’s What Happens When You Give $1,000 to Someone in Extreme Poverty."

The Articles of Federation, which served as the U.S. first constitution, included "provided for a blanket acceptance of the Province of Quebec (referred to as "Canada" in the Articles) into the United States."

"If you had $1 for every year the universe has existed (approximately 13.8 billion years). You wouldn't even make the top 50 on the Forbes list."

The most interesting name I've seen this year: Equanimeous St. Brown.  "His father, John Brown, had a college friend... who was writing a book featuring a character named Equanimeous... his friend said it was inspired by the word equanimity, which... means “calm emotions when dealing with problems or pressure.” Brown liked the name so much that he vowed to bestow it on his first son."


The images embedded in this week's divertimento are illustrations from Renaissance maps, 
selected from a gallery at Elisandre - L'Oeuvre au Noir.

Disclaimer - updated

"The information contained in this blog has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made by TYWKIWDBI, its affiliates or any other person as to its accuracy, completeness or correctness. All opinions and estimates contained in this blog constitute the blogger's judgment as of the date of the post, are subject to change without notice and are provided in good faith but without legal responsibility.

Nothing in this blog constitutes legal, accounting or tax advice or individually-tailored lifestyle management advice. These blog posts are prepared for general circulation to the broad public and have been prepared without regard to the individual financial, emotional, ethical, or political circumstances and objectives of persons who read it. The information or opinions contained in this blog may not be suitable for you, and it is recommended that you consult your priest, pastor, rabbi, or psychiatrist if you are in doubt about the suitability of such information or opinions. 


Past performance is not a guide to future performance, future success is not guaranteed, and reading this blog may result in a loss of your time or peace of mind. The information and services contained herein are intended only for individual humans with a modicum of common sense and a reasonable sense of humor. This report is not, and under no circumstances should be construed as, a solicitation to act as a financial, business, or marriage advisor in any way.

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(Today I received from a brokerage firm an email with news about Treasury yields, employment data, crude oil supplies, a Federal Reserve meeting etc.  The accompanying CYA boilerplate was so classic that I couldn't resist adapting it for the blog, changing only a very few words to disguise the company and to adapt the sense to the blogosphere.)

Addendum:  Reposted to add this excerpt from the disclaimer at The Presurfer -
5. Accuracy of links.
The author of The Presurfer expressly disclaims responsibility for the accuracy of information originating from the links on The Presurfer and any problems you may experience resulting from the use of such information. Due to the number of sources from which information on The Presurfer is derived and correlated, the information on The Presurfer is provided 'as is' without any warranties, express or implied. The author of The Presurfer cannot and does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, currentness, non-infringement, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose of the information available. In no event will the author of The Presurfer be liable to you or anyone else for any consequential damages, even if advised of the possibility of such damages, for the use of this web site, the use of any hyperlinked website, any decision made as a result of such usage, or any action taken by you in reliance on such information, including, without limitation, any lost profits, business interruption, loss of programs or other data or otherwise.
More at the link.  Today, btw, is the sixteenth blogiversary of The Presurfer, which I have been visiting essentially since I started surfing the web.   Those of you who maintain blogs of your own might stop by Gerard's site today to congratulate him on his remarkable longevity.

Today's other blogiversary - and also the sixteenth, belongs to..


... Madame Jujujive's Everlasting Blort, which today offers the discovery of three poison Skittles, and a gif of this totally appropriate video  to celebrate her sixteen years of blogging:


Everlasting Blort has its own, classically eclectic, disclaimer:

All Natural, Fast Acting MeepZorp.Com is intended for grown-up use.

Everything in, on, over, under, linked, winked or alluded to on the meepzorp.com is intended for grown-up use.

This DOES NOT mean there is naked giggle-giggle nasty stuff here. This just means we are sick of looking at you damn kids. And you're ruining the lawn, for fuck's sake. This means if you are not a grown up, you must

--> CLICK HERE TO EXIT THE SITE <--

That, or produce, prior to viewing the site, a certified, notarized letter of parental/guardian permission specifically indemnifying meepzorp.com, its hereditaments and appurtanances, successors and heirs, officers, executives, middle managers, engineers, secretaries, janitorial and cafeteria staff inclusive of the immediate families thereof against any liability arising in the event of any event whatsoever.

22 September 2016

Gleanings from The Pickwick Papers


I've recently returned from a four day trip, during which I had time finally to read the 900 pages of my paperback copy of Dickens' The Pickwick Papers.  I have kept that book on my shelf since the 1960s, primarily to be able to cite the many references to Joe ("the fat boy") as an example of obstructive sleep apnea.   It's quite a remarkable first novel, written at age only 24 (am I the only person who reflexly pictures Dickens as an old man, even though he didn't start out so?)  I'll defer the sleep apnea references for now in order to share some other observations from the book.

The etymology of "fall" as a season seems intuitive, but I've never seen the term fleshed out in full detail like this:
"My uncle's great journey was in the fall of the leaf, at which time he collected debts..." (from "the story of the bagman's uncle" in chapter 49).
The term reportedly came to denote the season in 16th century England, as a contraction of Middle English expressions such as "fall of the leaf."


This was the first time I've seen the word "fellow" used as an insult (chapter 15):
"And if any further ground of objection be wanting," continued Mr. PIckwick, "you are too fat, sir."
"Sir," said Mr. Tupman, his face suffused with a crimson glow, "this is an insult."
"Sir," replied Mr. Pickwick in the same tone, "it is not half the insult to you that your appearance in my presence in a green velvet jacket with a two-inch tail would be to me."
"Sir," said Mr. Tupman, "you're a fellow."
"Sir," said Mr. Pickwick, "you're another!"
Mr. Tupman advanced a step or two and glared at Mr. Pickwick.  Mr. Pickwick returned the glare...
One dictionary lists this as a secondary definition: "A man without good breeding or worth; an ignoble or mean man."


The phrase "... man is fire and woman tow" implies that "tow" is flammable material.  I found it listed as a secondary meaning: "An untwisted bundle of fibers such as cellulose acetate, flax, hemp or jute.

Other new words (for me):


Conversable    disposed to converse; sociable.
Wharfinger    the owner or manager of a wharf.
Chummage    payment made by prisoner to induce roommate to vacate a shared cell.
Jorum        large vessel for drinking usually alcoholic beverages (cf. jeroboam, jar).
Pipkin        three legged cooking pot of earthenware or metal.
Srub         alternative form of “shrub” = a drink of fruit juice and spirits (<shrub=liquor).
Somerset      somersault (<French somber (“over”) + salt (“jump”)).
Rampacious    rampageous (<rampage, orig Scottish); violent and boisterous.
Imperence     colloquial form of impertinence.
blucher       leather half-boot or high shoe (from Prussian Field-Marshal von Blucher).

Embedded image scanned by Philip V. Allingham and posted at The Victorian Web.

The first known use of indigo dye

This square of striped cotton, and a few others like it, represents the first known instance of people using indigo to dye a textile blue.

The ancient Peruvian fabric is more than 1,500 years older than the earliest known Egyptian fabrics with indigo-dyed borders and 3,000 years older than the first blue-dyed textiles in China, according to a study published this week in the journal Science Advances.

“It is possible it is the earliest known example of cloth dyeing in the world,” said Jeffrey Splitstoser, a textile expert in the department of anthropology at George Washington University. “I don’t know of anything older.”..

The blue-tinged pieces of cloth were unearthed at Huaca Prieta, an ancient ceremonial mound on the north coast of Peru that was occupied between 14,500 and 4,000 years ago. Thousands of squares of the prehistoric textiles have been found at the site. Splitstoser said he has personally examined 800 of them...

The cloth pieces were not used for clothing because they had no arm, leg or head holes, and the edges were not treated or hemmed the way you would expect for even a simple item of clothing like a poncho, he said. Instead, he suspects that they may have been used to carry items to the site.

“If you got to the Andes today people will take a square of fabric about the same size as what we saw, put whatever they want to carry in the center and then wrap it up,” he said. “I think they were carrying things in the bag to the temple and then ritually depositing or using them there and leaving the textiles there as well.” ..

He added that the find is a little surprising because indigo is not the most intuitive dye. Indigotin, the blue component in indigo, is not soluble in water, so it’s not like you can just throw some Indigofera flowers in a vat of boiling water and extract the dye. Instead, you have to ferment the leaves, which turns the indigotin into another chemical that is soluble in water, but is not blue.

“It’s actually kind of a yellowish color,” he said. “In order to get the blue, you dip the clothes in the water with the dissolved indigo molecule, then when you pull it out it oxidizes, and that’s when it turns blue.”
Further details at the Los Angeles Times.

Draft horse gear


Found at Modern Farmer.  Those interested should read Harness the Power of Draft Horses.
Cheaper than tractors, draft horses will toil for 30 to 40 hours a week on a simple diet of grass and hay, then export fertile manure—instead of guzzling fossil fuels and belching diesel exhaust...

In other words, horse-powered farming requires serious patience. Draft horses may be on the verge of a hipster renaissance, but dilettantes may find their romantic fantasies bumping up against the challenges of managing one-ton beasts. “Horses are not tractors with tails,” Volz cautions. “They need constant attention.” Instead of turning a key and pressing a gas pedal, Stephen Leslie of Cedar Mountain Farm in Hartland, Vermont, devotes about 45 minutes to readying his Fjords each morning: feeding and grooming; shoveling manure; plucking stones from hooves; getting the gang harnessed and hitched to a plow...

Expect to pay at least $2,000 for a trained horse, and count on a team of two animals for every two acres in intensive cultivation—up to 14 acres total (anything larger, and equine-fueled agriculture becomes impractical)...
Much more at the link.

Why planets go "retrograde"


Via Neatorama.

Anticipating the first debate

"These debates would be must-watch TV because they would be the most extreme contrast of personal, intellectual, and political styles in America’s democratic history. Right brain versus left brain; gut versus any portion of the brain at all; impulse versus calculation; id versus superego; and of course man versus woman. The two parties’ conventions this summer were stark contrasts in tone, stagecraft, and lineup of speakers. But they took place in different cities at different times. The first debate will be a matter-meets-antimatter conjunction at a single point..."
Excerpted from a well-written Atlantic article by the always knowledgeable James Fallows.

18 September 2016

The "Pillars of Creation"

"The pillars are composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that are being eroded by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar is about four light years in length. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds are larger than our solar system, and are made visible by the shadows of evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs), which shields the gas behind them from intense UV flux.  EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars. The stars then emerge from the EGGs, which then are evaporated.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), via Wikipedia.

The mystery of the "cotton" in the window frame


The arrival of September at our latitude marks the time when windows closed all summer can be opened to admit cool night air.  As I opened the window on our guest room, I was startled to see a wad of cotton-like material tumble from the upper window frame (above, placed on the concrete driveway for imaging).

My initial anxiety was that some sort of insulation was coming loose, but the original location of the material (photo below) ruled out that possibility.


My attention was now drawn to the contents of the mass, which to my initial dismay revealed an insect pupa and a number of living larvae:


After searching several combinations of key words in Google Images, I found one entry that matched my experience.  The brief explanation there was that the mass was the creation of a solitary bee.

Now I did feel bad, because my wife and I are great fans of solitary bees.  But armed with that clue, it didn't take long to track down the answer:
Anthidium manicatum, commonly called the European wool carder bee, is a species of bee in the family Megachilidae, the leaf-cutter bees or mason bees.

They get the name 'carder' from their behaviour of scraping hair from leaves such as lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina)... They scrape the hairs from the leaves and carry them back to their nests bundled beneath their bodies. There it is used as a lining for their nest cavities.  Females tend to build their nests at high locations.
I don't know whether the larvae in the photo are bee-related or parasites.

A history of playground equipment


Excerpts from a longread at Collectors Weekly:
[R]emoving and replacing playground equipment takes money, so a certain amount of vintage playground equipment survived into the next millennium—but it’s vanishing fast. Fortunately, Brenda Biondo, a freelance journalist turned photographer, felt inspired to document these playscapes before they’ve all been melted down. Her photographs capture the sculptural beauty and creativity of the vintage apparatuses, as well as that feeling of nostalgia you get when you see a piece of your childhood. After a decade of hunting down old playgrounds, Biondo published a coffee-table book, 2014’s Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975, which includes both her photographs of vintage equipment and pages of old playground catalogs that sold it.
More discussion and a gallery of photos at Collector's Weekly. Top photo via imgur.

The problem with cold-pressed juice

The real cost of the juicing fad? Food waste. Tons of it.

Linked with fasting, “cleanses,” and the raw-food movement, these fruit and vegetable drinks continue to skyrocket in popularity, whether made-to-order like mine or bottled, pressure treated, and refrigerated for purchase within a few weeks. Such a short shelf life contributes to sky-high prices, which a certain demographic is more than willing to pay. Projected 2015 sales of bottled cold-pressed juices exceed $400 million. That’s nearly 15 times 2010’s actuals...

Because cold-pressed juices are squished, rather than shredded by blades, they may contain more of certain vitamins (like A and C) and bioactive phytochemicals (like carotenoids) than their mass-produced, heat-pasteurized counterparts. Compare sipping a green juice to simply eating greens, though, and it’s a different story: “Juices lose fiber and the nutrients attached to that fiber,” explains Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. Moreover, one 16-ounce serving of cold-pressed fruit juice can contain twice as many calories as 2 cups of raw vegetables.

That same serving of juice generates up to 4.5 pounds of pulp, depending on the ingredients. So where does all the leftover cucumber, mint, kale, apple, and carrot go? In the worst nightmare of a zero-waste zealot, straight to a landfill. There, the pulp rots and generates methane.
Further details at Modern Farmer.



Photo credit Mike Mozart, via Wikipedia.

A solid gold toilet


And fully functional.
New York’s Guggenheim museum unveiled its latest installation on Friday – a solid gold toilet titled America.

The toilet, which the Guardian can confirm is fully functioning, is the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan...

Visitors to the museum are able to use the golden toilet in much the same way as they would use a normal toilet. It is located in a standard, pre-existing bathroom on the fourth floor of the museum, a small placard the only indication of its presence...

Nathan Otterson, senior conservator, objects at the Guggenheim, is responsible for maintaining the toilet. He said a cleaning crew will attend to the toilet every 15 minutes... “We would hope no one would try to remove part of the toilet,” Otterson said. 
Image cropped for size from the original (credit William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images).

Aquagenic urticaria

Before reading this, I would not have believed that it would be possible to be hypersensitive to water.
This is the world of Rachel Warwick, who is allergic to water... Any contact with water whatsoever – even her own sweat – leaves Rachel with a painful, swollen and intensely itchy rash which can last for several hours... Otherwise known as aquagenic urticaria, the condition is like being stung by a bush of particularly pernicious nettles, combined with the malaise of hay fever, every single day...

Technically, the condition isn’t actually an allergy at all, since it’s likely caused by an immune reaction to something within the body, rather than an over-reaction to something foreign, such as pollen or peanuts... In theory, anti-histamines should work every time. In practice, the drugs have decidedly mixed results... All they needed was a drug which could block IgE’s effects. And as luck would have it, there was already a drug on the market which could do just that.  Omalizumab was originally developed as a treatment for asthma... Since then scientists have discovered omalizumab is effective against even the most obscure forms of urticaria – from reactions to sunlight to changes in temperature, to friction.
Here is the relevant page from the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center at the NIH.
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