01 April 2015

Medieval bicycle found

Archaeologists are reporting a spectacular discovery at excavations around the Château-Gaillard, the favorite castle of Richard the Lionheart (1188-1199) in Lower Normandy:
They have unearthed two graves side by side. In both of them they have found the rests of the body of an armored knight, and above it in one grave the well preserved skeleton of a horse, while in the other the fragments of iron objects which, seen from above, resembled… a bicycle -

At Poemas del Rio Wang, you can read additional details about other pre-modern bicycles, including some from the Renaissance.  Here is an illustration from a 15th-century French book of coats-of-arms:

Unbelievable.  Literally.

Daylight savings time at Avebury

As reported by the National Trust:
This morning National Trust Rangers are very carefully moving one of the famous standing stones at the ancient Avebury World Heritage Site.

“Obviously Stone Age man didn’t have daylight saving, so twice a year we have to move one of the stones.” said Hilary Makins, National Trust Head Ranger.

“Avebury is an astonishing monument to the Neolithic people’s ingenuity.  We want to make sure the stones are as accurate as they were back when they were put up.  Each one weighs several tonnes.  It’s a huge effort, but it’s worth it.”

Some people use fake service dogs

Sadly, not an April Fool's joke:
California-based Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organisation that provides highly trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities, says "service dog fraud" is making it more and more difficult for genuine owners to be taken seriously...

It is easy to buy a service dog vest on the internet. Numerous websites offer products such as official harnesses and tags. In some cases they are sold with a note stating that it is the owner's responsibility to ensure their animal is properly trained, but there is no system of enforcement.

Erin, who preferred not to give her full name, lives with her boyfriend and their dog, Bo, in Los Angeles.

She went online to buy a service vest for her pooch, because she wanted to avoid the fees charged by airlines for non-service animals - in the region of $90-$150 (£60-£100) to fly, one-way. Unlike working animals, they must be restrained in a container for the entire flight.

Erin, who is not disabled, travels everywhere with Bo because she says she can not bear to leave him home alone....

Many travellers are accompanied by their pets because they have special permission, based on a doctors' letter and an official certificate. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals (ESAs) are not required to have any formal training, but are allowed on board without an additional fee...

Still, she says, "I know more faux emotional support dogs than real ones."

Korean restroom icons

Via Reddit.

Long wave (Skeleton Bay, Namibia)

 This video of a 27-second tube ride won the $20,000 first prize in GoPro's annual competition.

Lack of privacy for online medical searches

From Vice's Motherboard:
That means when you search for “cold sores,” for instance, and click the highly ranked “Cold Sores Topic Overview WebMD” link, the website is passing your request for information about the disease along to one or more (and often many, many more) other corporations...

Thus, Libert has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.

From there, it becomes relatively easy for the companies receiving the requests, many of which are collecting other kinds of data (in cookies, say) about your browsing as well, to identify you and your illness...

WebMD, for instance, is the 106th most-visited site in the US, according to Alexa, and figures prominently in search results for most commonly searched diseases. It sends third party requests to a whopping 34 separate domains, including the data brokers Experian and Acxiom.“WebMD is basically calling up everybody in town and telling them that’s what you’re looking at..."

With nonprofit sites like the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, again, it’s not due to any insidious intent; it’s simply because developers are installing “free” tools like Google Analytics and social media “share” buttons on their sites, and most users have no idea that means information about their searches is being shared with third parties. “The problem is that using these 'free' third-party tools is really easy for web developers. What developers don’t consider is, why are these tools free?
More at the link.   Not an April Fool's joke.

30 March 2015

Succulent cupcakes

This is just one of an abundance of culinary creations from the website of Alana Jones-Mann.  Details about how to craft these cupcakes in this tutorial. (embedded image cropped for size).

Scroll down her website for info on this citrus cake -

And this Lucky Charms cake -

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a 2011 animated short film... Described as an "allegory about the curative powers of story," the film centers around bibliophile Lessmore and his custodianship of a magical library of flying books. It was created using computer animation, miniatures and traditional hand-drawn techniques. After winning over a dozen film festivals, the film was awarded the Best Animated Short Film at the 84th Academy Awards.

Morris Lessmore was visually modeled after the silent film actor Buster Keaton

The looting of Romania's Dacian gold

Sarmizegetusa, high in the central mountains, was once the capital and sacred center of the Dacians, a civilization crushed by the Roman Emperor Trajan in two bloody wars more than 1,900 years ago. The victory, Roman chroniclers boasted, yielded one of the largest treasures the ancient world had ever known: half a million pounds of gold and a million pounds of silver...

Sarmizegetusa was leveled and forgotten for centuries. But stories of Dacia's gold lived on, inspiring generations of peasants who lived nearby to dig in the steep valleys...

The full extent of the looting became clear years later, when some of the illegal excavators were arrested and confessed to police. The Lot 26 bracelet, they told police, was found in 1998, on top of a hoard of a thousand gold coins. To celebrate, the looters carved "Eureka" in the bark of a nearby tree—and kept digging. They showed no concern that they'd be caught: Another tree trunk bore an arrow and helpful directions: "Pits, 40 meters."

A small team of treasure hunters hit the mother lode in May 2000, according to Romanian police. Their metal detector pinged over a stone slab about two feet wide, embedded in a steep hillside. Underneath, in a small chamber made of flat stones propped against each other, they found ten spiraling, elaborately decorated Dacian bracelets—all solid gold. One weighed a hefty two and a half pounds (1.2 kilograms).
You can read more of this interesting story at National Geographic.

Child punished for being late to school

Photo taken by his mother, who was called to pick him up from school because he wouldn't stop crying.
Garloff and Cmelo spoke exclusively Wednesday night to NewsWatch 12’s Erin Maxson to explain why their son is tardy so often. According to the couple, riding the bus is not an option because the family lives within a mile of Lincoln Elementary. Hunter’s dad Mark says walking is not an option because the roads are too busy for someone his age. Hours after Mark leaves for work Nicole says she gets her son, three year old daughter and herself in the car. This, she says, can be delayed for a number of reasons. Sometimes Hunter isn’t ready, but most often the tardiness is not his fault. Nicole suffers from osteoporosis which makes it painful and difficult for her to function, especially in the morning. She said that is usually why they are late, but added that in January the tardiness increased because the family was also having trouble Nicole’s car starting regularly.
Via Reddit.  Several weeks ago New Republic posted an article about truancy laws:
More than 1,600 parents—most of them mothers—have been jailed in Berks County since 2000 for failure to pay truancy fines. In Pennsylvania, truancy is defined as more than three days of unexcused absence from school. After that, kids and parents can be referred to court and fined $300 per additional unexcused absence, in addition to court costs...

Absence from school is an undeniable problem. We know it is correlated with lower grades, with dropping out of high school, and with trouble with the law. What is less certain is if treating truancy as a crime addresses these underlying issues in an effective and reasonable way. Such interventions have not been proven to increase school attendance or decrease long-term criminal behavior. In fact, the criminalization of truancy often pushes students further away from school, and their families deeper into poverty. Lots more at the link.

Before the Golden Gate Bridge

A photo from 1935, found at Shorpy (click to embiggen).

An encounter with "birch water" (birch sap) - updated

One of my first garden chores this spring was to tidy up a flower bed near the front door.  Last year a birch tree cluster had begun to shadow the bed, so on Monday I pruned a few branches, then sat down to clear some of the detritus of dead material from the flowerbed.  Several minutes later, I noticed that a liquid was dripping down onto the area where I was working.  I looked up to see sap dripping from several of the pruned birch branches.

Several years ago I would have thought no more about it except to view the oozing as a fortuitous feast for any early-emerging Mourning Cloak butterflies.  But two years ago I wrote a post about the drinking of birch tree juice in Russia, and just last month posted a photo of a "sugar-sickle" (frozen dripping tree sap).

I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I used rubber bands to secure sandwich-sized Ziploc bags on the two clipped branches.  By the time I had finished gardening that afternoon, the bag (shown above) had accumulated quite a bit of liquid, and to my surprise it was beautifully clear:

I suppose I had expected some coloration or cloudiness.  When I came out Tuesday morning, I was startled to find both bags substantially distended with birch sap.  It was now impossible to unwind the rubber band, so I brought out a scissors, intending to snip it, then decided it would make more sense to snip a small hole in the Ziploc bag to drain the fluid.  Placing a hole at the top of the bag allowed me

to tip the bag's contents into a container and then leave the bag on the branch to accumulate more fluid.

The next step, of course, was to search the internet for more information.  At Naturespeak I found directions for concentrating maple sap into syrup and into maple candy (a nice article, worth a visit by those interested).  The best source of information I found was at BirchBoy.com, with articles written by people in Alaska, where apparently birch juice processing is an honored pasttime:
Birch syrup is one of the few taste treats unique to Alaska and the circumpolar region. Although many people have never heard of it, birch syrup is not new. Birch trees, like many northern hardwoods, have long been tapped for their sugary, invigorating sap; but because of maple's high sugar content, generous sap flow, mellow flavor, and compliant nature, maple became the premier sugar tree in North America - except for Alaska, where birch trees are plentiful and maples are small and scarce. Birch syrup would have been the only springtime sugar source for Alaska sourdoughs in remote areas. For every gallon of birch syrup he made, the sourdough would have tapped no fewer than a hundred trees, collected more than one hundred gallons of sap, and burned nearly a cord of wood. Folklore relates that the syrup boiled down in open pans was tart, robust, and very dark, but the sourdough must have guarded and savored every drop. Neither did he have to worry much about spoilage, since pure, thick birch syrup seems incorruptible...
There is an outstanding amount of information at that link on the science of birch sap and the techniques for its harvest and for protecting the trees, and the subtleties of rendering it down to a syrupy consistency.

I haven't decided yet whether to undertake that aspect of the adventure.  Everything I've read suggests the process is time-consuming and needs to be undertaken with some degree of care to avoid scorching the concentrate.  I have about a half-liter of fluid now, because the trees are still dripping into this third day (memo to self: in the future don't prune when the sap is running).  That half-liter would be worth about 25 Euros in the Japanese market, so rather than waste it I decided to have some last night with my dinner.

I had a small glass of birch sap with my takeout Chinese food dinner last night.  It tastes pretty much like very fresh water, with maybe just a subtle hint of earthy overtones.  It goes well with General Tso's Chicken.

Reposted from 2011 because Modern Farmer has a report on how entrepreneurs are trying to commercialize "tree water" rather than rendering it into syrup:
A new wave of maple entrepreneurs are skipping the laborious syrup boiling process—where sap is reduced to 1/40th of its original volume to create the beloved pancake dressing—and marketing the pure watery sap as a health drink instead. The first maple water companies emerged over the last few years in Canada, but the idea has now infiltrated the American market. The drink is primarily found in health food stores in New England, but distribution is ramping up and this year’s maple water harvest should hit stores across the country in the coming months...

It’s always been common knowledge among maple syrup producers that taking a sip of sap was a good way to quench their thirst while working in the sugarbush, but apparently the notion that it could be a marketable substance is a new one. The first impression after downing a glass of maple water is that it tastes like water, but with a slightly sweet aftertaste and a tiny hint of earthy, maple syrup-like flavor.

With coco water (and other flavored waters) selling for $4 a pop, it’s a wonder that no one thought of bottling maple water sooner. It’s all-natural, sustainably-produced, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, paleo and local...

Between the U.S. and Canada, at least 11 different companies are marketing the drink so far. All of them are recent startups, sporting catchy names like Vertical Water, Wahta, Happy Tree and Sap on Tap.

28 March 2015

And now for something completely different...

"The Lost Thing" won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

A Monsanto apologist defends herbicides - LOL

When asked about the toxicity of Roundup (glyphosate), Patrick Moore asserts that it's "safe enough to drink."  Then...

(The verbal exchange reminds me of a classic John Clarke / Bryan Dawe sketch.)

Syrian child

Thinking the photographer's camera was a gun, the four-year-old child "surrendered."

Details here, discussed at Reddit.
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