19 January 2017

A possible way to stop Donald Trump on Friday



It's worth a try...

From the archives of The New Yorker.

Record low water levels in Venice


As Venice works on the €5.4 billion 'Mose' floodgate to counteract the eventual effects of rising sea levels, they face an interim problem of record low water levels.
The exceptionally water levels have been caused by abnormal tides this year, combined with drastically reduced winter precipitation rates across northeastern Italy... The drop in water levels has prevented some of the city's gondolas and vaporetti, or water buses, from navigating in some of the smaller canals. On Christmas Eve, the low tide even grounded the mayor's speedboat.
The low water is exposing the city's less attractive underside: garbage and crumbling infrastructure.  And I'll bet it's fragrant:
Historically, all waste produced by humans have been dumped into the canals although larger buildings are required to carry some kind of sewage treatment before dumping the filthy stuff into the canals. Some palazzos have their own septic tanks but there is always a certain amount of leakage, lending Venice its characteristic and at times overpowering stench.
The scavenger in me, however, imagines the excellent opportunity for mudlarking.


Think of the generations of artifacts that have been lost into the canals, the wedding rings tossed away, the rings and brooches.  But it looks like mostly forks.

Related: Mudlarking and Love tokens retrieved from the mud of the Thames.

Very interesting construction - updated


This photograph was in "Death on the Hippie Trail," about events in rural parts of India and Nepal.  What most interested me was the structure the boys are leaning against (click photo for larger image).

What I initially thought was a wall appears instead to be some type of pillar supporting a larger structure above.  It appears to have been constructed using a combination of huge timber beams and large rocks.  My guess is that the wood component provides a flexibility and shock-absorption that a purely-stone structure could not offer.  The design has probably been empirically arrived at by multiple generations of stonemasons in an earthquake-prone area.

I think I have blogged something like this before, but at the moment I can't find the old post.

Addendum:  Still can't find my old post (if it exists), but I'll offer a tip of the blogging cap to reader RolandT for providing a link about murus gallicus ("Gallic wall"), as described by Julius Caesar:
Straight beams, connected lengthwise and two feet distant from each other at equal intervals, are placed together on the ground; these are morticed on the inside, and covered with plenty of earth. But the intervals which we have mentioned, are closed up in front by large stones... each row of beams is kept firmly in its place by a row of stones. In this manner the whole wall is consolidated, until the regular height of the wall be completed.
... it possesses great advantages as regards utility and the defence of cities; for the stone protects it from fire, and the wood from the battering ram, since it [the wood] being morticed in the inside with rows of beams, generally forty feet each in length, can neither be broken through nor torn asunder.
Here's a replica of a Gallic wall in Manching, Bavaria (photo credit Wolfgang Sauber):


I believe the image I embedded at the top is an example of Indian kath knuni architecture, best described in detail at this pdf and this slideshow.


Note the wood and stone are assembled without the use of any mortar.  Impressive.

17 January 2017

Nose in a book


From the archives of The New Yorker.

Kate McCormick (1854-1875)

Kate McCormick
Seduced and pregnant by her father's friend
Unwed, she died from abortion, her only choice.
Abandoned in life and death by family.
With but a single rose from her mother.
Buried only through the kindness of unknown benefactors.
 Died Feb.1875 [sic] age 21.
Victim of an unforgiving society
Have mercy on us. 
Res ipsa loquitur.  Details at Amusing (!) Planet.

Why books sometimes have blank pages at the front or back

Two explanations from the Explain Like I'm Five subreddit:
"Imagine I took a standard piece of paper. I could fold it into 4 pieces, then cut the top and bottom a bit, staple it, and have a small book. This is called a signature. They can be as small as 4 pages, or much larger. A book is typically made up of several signatures.

The result is, I can take two 4 page signatures and make an 8 page book, but I have no way to make a 9 page book. If I add one page, I have no way to attach it. You can imagine if I stick the page in and just glue the end, it will easily fall out. I might be forced to make it fit in a 7 page book, or maybe print a 12 page book with some blank pages (some print methods can use 2 page signatures).

The short answer is that when making books its usually easiest to make them a certain way, and blank pages may be the result. A children's book might be 30 pages, but the publisher finds that one 32 page signature is the cheapest method of production. So they might add something to the pages, or maybe they leave them blank."  (credit Travis83)

"Different reason depending upon if the book is machine or hand bound. I'll mention the handbound reason, which is the original reason for having these blank pages. The opening blank pages are called fly leaves. The pages with writing/art is called the textblock. These pages, if loaded with art (illuminated) sometimes took days to create. The "pages" were vellum (calf skin) and as you can imagine were expensive to make. You want to protect this investment. When books were bound in leather, the tanned leathers would leak and damage the textblock, so the fly leaves were to protect the writing/art from damage. You would use the minimum amount to protect the text block because vellum was expensive to produce. With the advent of fiber paper, you could increase the number of fly leaves. Depending upon on the binding technique used there would a different number of these fly papers. Also, fly leaves are constructed to add structural strength to the book. A book opens and closes and making the hinge strong and durable are important, especially when you consider a town would save up just to buy one book. So there are numerous different construction methods in hand binding that is reflected on the type and number of fly leaves." (credit rtfminc)
And here's the Wikipedia page on endpapers (inside covers + flyleaves), which I think will be the subject matter for the embedded images in the next divertimento. 

Ransomware taken to the next level

Krebs on Security reports that now paying ransom to cybercriminals does not ensure that the database will be restored:
Tens of thousands of personal and possibly proprietary databases that were left accessible to the public online have just been wiped from the Internet, replaced with ransom notes demanding payment for the return of the files. Adding insult to injury, it appears that virtually none of the victims who have paid the ransom have gotten their files back because multiple fraudsters are now wise to the extortion attempts and are competing to replace each other’s ransom notes.

At the eye of this developing data destruction maelstrom is an online database platform called MongoDB. Tens of thousands of organizations use MongoDB to store data, but it is easy to misconfigure and leave the database exposed online. If installed on a server with the default settings, for example, MongoDB allows anyone to browse the databases, download them, or even write over them and delete them...

Merrigan and Gevers are maintaining a public Google Drive document (read-only) that is tracking the various victims and ransom demands. Merrigan said it appears that at least 29,000 MongoDB databases that were previously published online are now erased. Worse, hardly anyone who’s paid the ransom demands has yet received their files back...

For now, Merrigan is advising victims not to pay the ransom. He encouraged those inclined to do so anyway to demand “proof of life” from the extortionists — i.e., request that they share one or two of the deleted files to prove that they can restore the entire cache.
What an unholy hell of a situation.

Modifying public streets to assist the visually impaired


Via Neatorama.

Scary photo of an Indian tea plantation


Don't know why it's scary?  More info here.

Photo via the Pics subreddit, cropped for emphasis.

Arab and Berber pirates abducted and enslaved Icelanders

Events from the 17th century that are generally not known, and do not enter discussions of the history of slavery:
In 1627 Barbary corsairs from Algiers and Salé descended on Iceland in two separate raids, taking around 400–900 prisoners (Iceland's population at the time has been estimated to have been about 60,000). This event is popularly known in Iceland as Tyrkjaránið – the 'Turkish Raid', as it was launched from areas under Ottoman sovereignty, although no North African Turks (Kouloughlis) are known to have been involved. Most pirates were Arabs and Berbers, a large part - the Dutch and other Europeans, who converted to Islam... Those captured were sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast
More on the Barbary pirates.  I remember reading a Landmark book about them when I was in the seventh grade (and blogged about it seven years ago) , but I had forgotten the details.

The Weather Channel calls out Breitbart

"Earth is not cooling, climate change Is real and please stop using our video to mislead Americans. "

Save the date: 2022


That's when a new star will rise in the east and dominate the sky.  This is the result of a collision of two stars that happened 1800 years ago.
Before their meeting the two stars were too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but in 2022, the newly formed Red Nova will burn so brightly in the constellation Cygnus that everyone will be able to to see it...

For around six months the Boom Star will be one of the brightest in the sky before gradually dimming, returning to its normal brightness after around two to three years...

The forecast was made officially at a press conference on Friday, all the more poignant because it coincided with the epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men, who followed the star to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus.
Some information on how the prediction was made is at The Telegraph.  Embedded image cropped for size.

Recycling wind turbine blades


It's not easy -
Unfortunately, one of the largest components of a wind turbine —the blades— are completely unrecyclable.

Turbine blades are made from glass or carbon-fiber composites. These materials are strong, lightweight and has a significant aerodynamic advantage, but they are nearly impossible to recycle. Hence, at the end of their lifecycle, most of these blades end up as waste on landfills. According to one estimate, there will be 50,000 tons of blade waste in 2020, which will rise to more than 200,000 tons by 2034.

The current scenario is grim. There is only one industrial enterprise that recycles end-of-life turbine blades, and that’s in Melbeck, in northern Germany...

In 2007, the Rotterdam municipality unveiled a playground for Kinderparadijs Meidoorn built out of rotor blades that were originally destined for landfills...
The city also has public seating at the Willemsplein square where nine intact rotor blades were placed at various angles to create ergonomic public seating with a diversity of seating options...
The rest of the story is at Amusing Planet.

Photo credit: Denis Guzzo/Flickr

15 January 2017

Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain), Peru


Located just 3 hours from Cusco, but comparatively unknown until recent years when climate change caused the overlying snow to melt and reveal the colorful formation.  More photos at Google Images.

Further discussion and relevant links at the EarthPorn subreddit. 

Tip: "there are locals with horses that charge $20-30 to take you to the top."  Useful to know because the hike begins at an altitude of 14,000 feet and rises to 17,000 feet where the above photo was taken.
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