27 April 2017

Performance on a theremin

The music is Ennio Morricone's Ecstasy of Gold from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.


As discussed at NPR:
Some dogs are doggos, some are puppers, and others may even be pupperinos. There are corgos and clouds, fluffers and floofs, woofers and boofers. The chunky ones are thicc, and the thin ones are long bois. When they stick out their tongues, they're doing a mlem, a blep, a blop. They bork. They boof. Once in a while they do each other a frighten. And whether they're 10/10 or 12/10, they're all h*ckin' good boys and girls.

Are you picking up what I'm putting down? If not, you're probably not fluent in DoggoLingo, a language trend that's been gaining steam on the Internet in the past few years. The language most often accompanies a picture or a video of a dog and has spread to all major forms of social media...

Even Merriam-Webster is aware of terms like doggo and pupper. Though they have a long way to go before they're eligible for dictionary-entry — they need to be used in published, edited work over an extended period of time — they're definitely candidates.

New evidence supports/denies the "Solutrean hypothesis" - updated

The Solutrean hypothesis:
The Solutrean hypothesis is a controversial proposal that peoples from Europe may have been among the earliest settlers in the Americas, as evidenced by similarities in stone tool technology of the Solutrean culture from prehistoric Europe to that of the later Clovis tool-making culture found in the Americas. It was first proposed in 1998. Its key proponents include Dennis Stanford, of the Smithsonian Institution, and Bruce Bradley, of the University of Exeter.

In this hypothesis, people associated with the Solutrean culture migrated from Ice Age Europe to North America, bringing their methods of making stone tools with them and providing the basis for later Clovis technology found throughout North America. The hypothesis rests upon particular similarities in Solutrean and Clovis technology that have no known counterparts in Eastern Asia, Siberia or Beringia, areas from which or through which early Americans are known to have migrated.
TYWKIWDBI had three posts on pre-Clovis finds last year, discussing skulls found in a Yucatan underwater cave, paleo-era tools on California's Channel Islands, and a pre-Clovis point found in a mastodon bone.

Today the Washington Post and The Independent have articles about new findings on the Atlantic coast of North America that support the Solutrean hypothesis.
At the core of Stanford’s case are stone tools recovered from five mid-Atlantic sites. Two sites lie on Chesapeake Bay islands, suggesting that the Solutreans settled Delmarva early on. Smithsonian research associate Darrin Lowery found blades, anvils and other tools found stuck in soil at least 20,000 years old [note only the soil can be reliably dated, not the artifacts themselves]...

Further, the Eastern Shore blades strongly resemble those found at dozens of Solutrean sites from the Stone Age in Spain and France, Stanford says. “We can match each one of 18 styles up to the sites in Europe.”..

Stone tools recovered from two other mid-Atlantic sites — Cactus Hills, Va., 45 miles south of Richmond, and Meadowcroft Rockshelter, in southern Pennsylvania — date to at least 16,000 years ago. Those tools, too, strongly resemble blades found in Europe...

“The reason people don’t like the Solutrean idea is the ocean,” he said. No Solutrean boats have been found. But given that people arrived in Australia some 60,000 years ago — and they didn’t walk there — wood-frame and seal-skin boats were clearly possible, Stanford argues... 
One major problem facing investigators is that early peoples would have lived on the coast next to the ocean - but sea levels have risen so far since that time that the original coast is perhaps 50 miles off the current shoreline and deep underwater.  Caves and artifacts from those locations are difficult to find.

Addendum:   I've updated this post (originally published in 2012) to add some items I've recently encountered - first, from Germany's Der Spiegel, reporting on DNA studies of North Americans:
Now a team of scientists led by the Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev has analyzed the boy's [Clovis-era, found in Montana] origins and discovered that he descends from a Siberian tribe with roots tracing back to Europe. Some of the boy's ancestors are likely even to have lived in present-day Germany.

Their findings go even further: More than 80 percent of all native peoples in the Americas -- from the Alaska's Aleuts to the Maya of Yucatan to the Aymaras along the Andes -- are descended from Montana boy's lineage.

Last week, the scientists published the results of sequencing the child's DNA in the scientific journal Nature. Late last year, the same team published the decoded genome of another early human: A juvenile buried near Lake Baikal in Siberia some 24,000 years ago. Their genomes showed surprising ancestral similarities.
This earned Willerslev's team an astounding publishing achievement in just 100 days: The decoding of the genomes of the oldest analyzed members of homo sapiens in both the Old and the New Worlds. This has allowed them to reconstruct the settlement of the Americas via the Beringia land bridge during the ice ages -- when what is now the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska was frozen over -- in greater detail than ever before.
That report is discussed in a Reddit thread and summarized on the Wikipedia page, and at USA Today:
When researchers analyzed the Anzick child's DNA and compared it to the genomes of living Native Americans, they found that the boy's family members were the ancestors of multiple Central and South American groups, such as the Maya of Central America and the Karitiana people of Brazil. Willerslev estimates that roughly 80% of Native Americans are descended from the Anzick group, contradicting claims by other scholars that the Clovis people didn't leave much of a genetic legacy...

The results overturn the idea that migrants who colonized the Americas after the Clovis people are the true ancestors to Native Americans. And the discovery "puts the final nail in the coffin" for the idea that the ancestors of Native Americans may have crossed to the New World from Europe, says study author Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

With the genetic data, the researchers can construct a rough narrative of the peopling of the New World. From Siberia, ancient people gradually crossed a now-vanished land bridge to Alaska. Some drifted south, giving rise to the Clovis people and colonizing the United States and Central and South America. Others stayed in the north and founded the lineage leading to the modern-day Cree and Athabascan peoples of northern North America. The study is published in this week's Nature.
I have accordingly inserted "/denies" after "supports" in the post's title.

Addendum:  Reposted again, in part because this post has become one of the most-commented posts I've ever created for TYWKIWDBI, and I'd like to have the current generation of readers be aware of it.  Mostly I wanted to add this infomation from a recent comment:
Just returned from a visit with Dr. Al Goodyear and his folks at "The Topper Site" in South Carolina. Documented, dated by the best available science, Pre-Clovis artifacts found at a Chert quarry have been robustly tested and are found to be 50,000 years old +. In fact, charcoal remnants so old that Radio Carbon dating is impossible found in the same layer have proven the case for human occupation at the site . It is ,in fact, a tool manufacturing site of the first magnitude, It is located on the banks of the Savannah River in S.C.. It is interesting to note that more Clovis and Pre-Clovis artifacts have now been found of the East coast of the U.S.A.than all of the rest of the country. I know not what this means, but it definitely means something. Dr. Goodyear will publish a definitive paper very soon, but his find (The Topper Site) has been visited and observed by many national and international academe professionals and many of the artifacts examined in situ and in the lab.
We'll have to await that "definitive paper" for details; I suspect it will encounter substantial resistance during the peer-review process.  The Wikipedia entry offers the standard counterarguments:
Goodyear, who began excavating the Topper site in the 1980s, believes that lithic objects at that level are rudimentary stone tools (and thus "artifacts"). Other archaeologists dispute this conclusion, suggesting that the objects are natural and not human-made. Other archaeologists also have challenged the radiocarbon dating of the carbonized remains at Topper...
A recent article on the Topper site was posted in Charleston's Post and Courier.

"Unifacial flake tools found at the top of the soil layer holding artifacts said to be 50,000 years old." Provided by Keith McGraw/University of South Carolina

Addendum:  A 2017 BBC article updates information about trans-Beringia migration, but doesn't address the question of Solutreans.

Addendum:  Reposted yet once again to add a flurry of links regarding a new report describing evidence suggesting human habitation in North American an incredible 130,000 years ago.

The report was published in Nature (top-of-the-line in terms of peer review):
Here we describe the Cerutti Mastodon (CM) site, an archaeological site from the early late Pleistocene epoch, where in situ hammerstones and stone anvils occur in spatio-temporal association with fragmentary remains of a single mastodon (Mammut americanum). The CM site contains spiral-fractured bone and molar fragments, indicating that breakage occured while fresh. Several of these fragments also preserve evidence of percussion...

230Th/U radiometric analysis of multiple bone specimens using diffusion–adsorption–decay dating models indicates a burial date of 130.7 ± 9.4 thousand years ago.

These findings confirm the presence of an unidentified species of Homo at the CM site during the last interglacial period (MIS 5e; early late Pleistocene), indicating that humans with manual dexterity and the experiential knowledge to use hammerstones and anvils processed mastodon limb bones for marrow extraction and/or raw material for tool production.
The key contentioius points:  bones fractured fresh, bones fractured intentionally, tools found at the site, dating methodology.

Commentary at NBC News, BBC, The Guardian, The New Reddit Journal of Science.

If the findings are being correctly interpreted, this will require a massive, near-total revision of the history of human migration to the Americas.

I closed comments on this post long ago because of various contentious issues.  I'll leave them closed for the present.

25 April 2017

Owl legs


Subtleties of online shopping

Excerpts from an interesting article in this month's The Atlantic:
Our ability to know the price of anything, anytime, anywhere, has given us, the consumers, so much power that retailers—in a desperate effort to regain the upper hand, or at least avoid extinction—are now staring back through the screen. They are comparison shopping us...

The price of a can of soda in a vending machine can now vary with the temperature outside. The price of the headphones Google recommends may depend on how budget-conscious your web history shows you to be, one study found. For shoppers, that means price—not the one offered to you right now, but the one offered to you 20 minutes from now, or the one offered to me, or to your neighbor—may become an increasingly unknowable thing...

Four researchers in Catalonia tried to answer the question with dummy computers that mimicked the web-browsing patterns of either “affluent” or “budget conscious” customers for a week. When the personae went “shopping,” they weren’t shown different prices for the same goods. They were shown different goods. The average price of the headphones suggested for the affluent personae was four times the price of those suggested for the budget-conscious personae. Another experiment demonstrated a more direct form of price discrimination: Computers with addresses in greater Boston were shown lower prices than those in more-remote parts of Massachusetts on identical goods...
More at the link.


There's a reason this series of cartoons is entitled "Real Life Adventures."

Habitat restoration exemplified

"Almost 50 years ago, fried chicken tycoon David Bamberger used his fortune to purchase 5,500 acres of overgrazed land in the Texas Hill Country. Planting grasses to soak in rains and fill hillside aquifers, Bamberger devoted the rest of his life to restoring the degraded landscape. Today, the land has been restored to its original habitat and boasts enormous biodiversity. Bamberger's model of land stewardship is now being replicated across the region and he is considered to be a visionary in land management and water conservation."
This is worth several minutes of your time.   Don't just skip over it.

Wear a helmet.


"First water" explained

I was reading a Robert Frost poem in which he described something as being "of the first water."  The reference:
I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.
I have heard the term applied to gemstones and extrapolated as above, but wasn't sure how the gemstone application arose.  It turns out to be quite simple.
The clarity of diamonds is assessed by their translucence; the more like water, the higher the quality. The 1753 edition of Chambers' Encyclopedia states "The first water in Diamonds means the greatest purity and perfection of their complexion, which ought to be that of the clearest drop of water. When Diamonds fall short of this perfection, they are said to be of the second or third water, &c. till the stone may be properly called a coloured one."

The comparison of diamonds with water dates back to at least the early 17th century, and Shakespeare alludes to it in Pericles, 1607.
Heavenly jewels which Pericles hath lost,
Begin to part their fringes of bright gold.
The diamonds of a most prais├Ęd water
Doth appear, to make the world twice rich.

Man bowls a "300" in less than two minutes

Via Neatorama.

Guilty as charged

It has been pointed out to me, probably on several occasions, that I should not type two spaces after a period.  I've been doing this since my 10th-grade typing class, so I doubt I can change a 50+-year-old habit.  Today I encountered this rant on the subject (which I typed using two spaces after periods):
The two-spaces-after-a-period construction is outmoded and has no place in modern communication.  It’s not a coincidence that many of my friends who still use two spaces work in finance and law—two decidedly old-school industries populated by people who grew up in the two-space heyday.  The practice should be eradicated for good, especially in the digital communication age, when every device has proportional fonts.  Design experts agree that using two spaces creates an unsightly amount of white space, and increases the chance you’ll have a “river” snake its way through your paragraph.  Worse, it makes a person look old and out of touch.
Here is the same text typed using one space after the periods.
The two-spaces-after-a-period construction is outmoded and has no place in modern communication. It’s not a coincidence that many of my friends who still use two spaces work in finance and law—two decidedly old-school industries populated by people who grew up in the two-space heyday. The practice should be eradicated for good, especially in the digital communication age, when every device has proportional fonts. Design experts agree that using two spaces creates an unsightly amount of white space, and increases the chance you’ll have a “river” snake its way through your paragraph. Worse, it makes a person look old and out of touch.

Today is April 25

From Miss Congeniality, via.

23 April 2017

"Slime videos" explained

A tip of the blogging hat to the elves at No Such Thing As A Fish for explaining in a recent podcast how "slime" is now a "thing".  I found a detailed explanation in a column at nymag.  Herewith some excerpts:
Slime, if you haven’t encountered it on any of your social feeds — or at a child’s birthday party — is a strange, mushy semi-solid that can be made easily with Elmer’s glue, borax, and water, plus a mess of strange sequins, colored dye, and commentary. Slime is so popular as a craft project among teens and preteens that stores are struggling to keep Elmer’s glue on the shelves...

Slime videos are part science, part meditation, and part art form. They’re also a business. Slime creators have hundreds of thousands of followers, and sell their slime on Etsy for money. @Slime.Bun, one of my favorites, has more than 200,000 followers; @slimequeeens has almost 700,000. It’s an industry dominated by teens who started making their own slime just because they loved it — and starting selling it to enable their habit. Alyssa J., a 15-year-old slime creator whose mother preferred that she keep her last name secret for privacy reasons, just started her slime account in August 2016. She says she saw tutorials on Pinterest, and that it “just looked fun,” so she decided to start an account herself. Alyssa’s account, @craftyslimecreator, now has 431,000 followers...

 For Donna Boyd, a 17-year-old from Harrisburg, Virginia, slime is therapeutic. She’s never purchased slime, or made it herself. She just watches hundreds of videos from her five favorite accounts over and over again. “It honestly just makes me happy and de-stresses me,” Donna told me. “I suffer from anxiety, and slime videos help me a lot during panic attacks.” She says she gets lost in them after watching a few, going into a kind of meditative state. One teen I spoke to, Rachel M., told me she spends “at least 15 hours a week” just watching slime videos and playing with slime. She has only bought two slimes herself, but she loves them and says, “I need them.”..

“It doesn’t matter what it’s used for,” Alyssa told me near the end of our interview, dragging out “used” so that it sounded like the most absurd request in the world for a giggly, blue goo to have a purpose. “It’s just slime. Get it?”
Here is a sample video:

BTW, the company that makes Elmer's Glue is private.  You can't buy stock in it.  I checked.

"How Western civilization could collapse"

Excerpts from an interesting longread at the BBC:
The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse...

...there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification. The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom...

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour. Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour...

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in...

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national. Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid...
Whenever I read about the end of civilization, I am reminded of this classic passage from Hitchhiker:
P.A. VOICE: We are currently awaiting the loading of our compliment of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment, and hygiene during the flight, which will be of two hours duration. Meanwhile we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits… again.

AUTOPILOT: There has been a delay. The passengers are kept in temporary suspended animation for their comfort and convenience. Coffee and biscuits are served every ten years, after which passengers are returned to suspended animation for their comfort and convenience. Departure will take place when flight stores are complete. We apologise for the delay.

FORD: Delay? Have you seen the world outside this ship? It’s a wasteland. A desert. Civilisation’s been and gone. It’s over. There are no lemon-soaked paper napkins on the way from anywhere.

AUTOPILOT: The statistical likelihood is that other civilisations will arise. There will one day be lemon-soaked paper napkins. ‘Till then, there will be a short delay. Please return to your seats.

Therapy dogs waitiing to see their children

Photo taken at an Italian children's hospital.  Via Reddit.
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