19 May 2017

Divertimento #127

Blue whale vs. krill.  Whale wins.

"Free-fall lifeboat training."  Not sure, but I think these are used on open-sea oil rigs.

Traffic at a road intersection in Ethiopia.

Jaguar stalks and catches his (surprising) prey.

Very angry bird (language NSFW).  Discussed here.

Dog pulling a kid on a snow saucer.

"Combustibubbles"- but safety goggles in pocket :-( 

American patriot argues with a judge.

Just one question: is the background black or white?

NFL players' heights and weights, 1920s-1990s.

Public fountains are for looking at, not for playing on.

Jeans are "faded" with lasers.

A dog sits in a chair.

HMB while I ride in this golf cart.

Pineapple-picking teamwork.

People who have cats will understand this one.

Jaguar eating underwater.

Look!  Helicopters!  How exciting...

Mouse lemur "rocket"

Baby meets mother's identical twin for the first time.

Fun at the water park.

Fox finds a dog toy.

Why the backs of trucks have underguards.

How to use a fork to help hang a picture on a wall.

Schnauzer prevents little girl from going too deep in ocean.

Dog trained to protect his human.

"Son, I'll get your ball out of the tree..."

Chinese policeman at work.

"Power handshake" toy.

What you can do when you have claws like needles.

Exhibition table tennis rally.

"Mom, help me make a cool video!"  WCGW?

An "atomic trampoline" is impressive.

Apparently this toddler is a future ninja.

Hamster really likes his sand bath.

I would not get in this line.

Optical illusions.

Very vigorous baptism.

Windy day.

Timelapse of a bird building a nest.

Big SUVs don't mind flooded roads.

That one goth friend.

In science class, pay attention to the pendulum.

Baby's first pile of leaves.

In recognition of Syttende Mai, today's embedded pix are lantern slides of Norway: "A selection from a collection of early-20th-century lantern slides held at the Fylkesarkivet of Sogn og Fjordane, a county in the west of Norway. The slides are produced by at least two British photographers – professional photographer Samuel J. Beckett and amateur photographer P. Heywood Hadfield..."

16 May 2017

Sleep paralysis in an Ernest Hemingway story

In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Ernest Hemingway describes the impending death of a hunter suffering from a gangrenous leg (boldface emphasis mine):
Because, just then, death had come and rested its head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath.

"Never believe any of that about a scythe and a skull," he told her. "It can be two bicycle policemen as easily, or be a bird. Or it can have a wide snout like a hyena."

It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space.

"Tell it to go away."

It did not go away but moved a little closer.

"You've got a hell of a breath," he told it. "You stinking bastard."

It moved up closer to him still and now he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tried to send it away without speaking, but it moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest, and while it crouched there and he could not move or speak, he heard the woman say, "Bwana is asleep now. Take the cot up very gently and carry it into the tent."

He could not speak to tell her to make it go away and it crouched now, heavier, so he could not breathe. And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest.
This is a superb description of the phenomenon of sleep paralysis (the paralysis, the muteness, the chest pressure, the dyspnea, and the cessation when the victim is touched or moved), so vivid and precise that I have no doubt that Hemingway must have experienced it himself (his lifestyle would have been compatible with a high risk for the syndrome).

Back when I was active in academia, I developed a special interest and expertise in sleep paralysis, and had visions of someday publishing a book on its portrayal in literature and folklore.  That seems unlikely now, but since I have file boxes full of information, perhaps I can incorporate some of that material into posts for this blog.

Fulltext of Hemingway's story.

Reposted from 2013 (has it really been that long?) to add some new information about Hemingway.  In a recently-published book, a psychiatrist argues that Hemingway may have suffered from chronic traumatic enchephalopathy - the disorder that has been in the news because of its association with professional football and other contact sports.
The psychiatrist from High Point University in North Carolina wrote of nine serious blows to Hemingway's head — from explosions to a plane crash — that were a prelude to his decline into abusive rages, "paranoia with specific and elaborate delusions" and his suicide in 1961.

Hemingway's bizarre behavior in his latter years (he rehearsed his death by gunshot in front of dinner guests, for example) has been blamed on iron deficiency, bipolar disorder, attention-seeking and any number of other problems.

After researching the writer's letters, books and hospital visits, Farah said he is convinced that Hemingway had dementia — made worse by alcoholism and other maladies, but dominated by CTE, the improper treatment of which likely hastened his death. "He truly is a textbook case," Farah said.
Farah dates Hemingway's first known concussion to World War I, several years before he wrote his short story, "The Battler." A bomb exploded about three feet from his teenage frame.

Another likely concussion came in 1928, when Hemingway yanked what he thought was a toilet chain and brought a skylight crashing down on him.

Then came a car accident in London — then more injuries as a reporter during World War II, when an antitank gun blew Hemingway into a ditch.
The rest of the story is at the StarTribune.

Image harvested from the 1936 Esquire publication of the story.

What a week...

Extended excerpts from the "Weekly Review" column in Harper's Magazine:
May 16, 2017
By Joe Kloc

U.S. president Donald Trump, whose attention span NATO officials announced they will accommodate by limiting their speeches to four minutes, fired FBI director James Comey, who had been overseeing one of multiple federal investigations into whether Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government. The president stated that he made the decision based on the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein; Rosenstein threatened to resign because he had never made any such recommendation; and Trump said that "regardless of recommendation" he was going to fire Comey because "Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

Trump's principal deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who once tweeted [re Hillary Clinton] that "you're losing" when "you are attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation," said that "the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence" in Comey, and the acting director of the FBI told Congress that Huckabee's statement was "not accurate" and that Comey "enjoyed broad support within the FBI."...

Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, inviting one Russian photographer, but no U.S. journalists, to attend; a White house official said the Russians had "tricked" them into allowing the photographer in; and the photographer published a photo revealing that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was also at the meeting, despite not being on the White House schedule, not being shown in any official White House photographs, and not being mentioned in any subsequent White House accounts of the meeting. It was later reported that during the meeting Trump revealed "highly classified" information concerning the Islamic State to Kislyak, whom current and former U.S. intelligence officials have described as a top spy, and whom several Trump campaign surrogates and administration officials have falsely claimed not to have communicated with...

One senior Trump aide said, "We all know how this looks," while others hid from reporters in their offices, and a former KGB spy said he was "shaking" his head at "the incompetence" of the White House staff. A German lawmaker said that if Trump shared classified information with "other governments at will" he would become "a security risk for the entire Western world"; a European intelligence official said that his country may stop sharing intelligence with the United States; Trump's deputy national-security adviser, Dina Powell, said that reports about the president sharing classified information were "false"; a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry described the reports as "yet another fake"; and Trump, who once called for the execution of Edward Snowden because the former NSA contractor had "given serious information" to Russia, tweeted that he did in fact "share with Russia." A former U.S. intelligence official referred to the situation as a "nightmare," and Public Policy Polling found that more Americans now support than oppose impeaching Trump, who once told a reporter that, when he isn't having a nightmare, the content of his dreams is "always fucking."
Jon Stewart, please come back and put a humorous spin on this, because it's not really funny anymore.

World's oldest stone bracelet

As reported by Archaeology:
A stone bracelet unearthed in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008 is being called the oldest-known jewelry of its kind. Anatoly Derevyanko, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, and the research team believe that the cave’s Denisovan layers were uncontaminated by human activity from a later period. The soil around the two fragments of the jewelry piece was dated with oxygen isotopic analysis to 40,000 years ago.
Further details in The Siberian Times:
The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning.'.. Initially we thought that it was made by Neanderthals or modern humans, but it turned out that the master was Denisovan, at least in our opinion."
I can't resist adding a photo of Denisova Cave:

What a magnificent place to live in prehistoric times.  It's not surprising that it would have been occupied for tens of thousands of years.

Normal person vs. scientist

xkcd is here.

The "National Popular Vote" vs. the Electoral College

This was new to me:
And, yet, a way out of the electoral chaos is not that far off, thanks to the quiet, wonky National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Though the initiative gets sporadic media coverage, it is hardly general public knowledge. It should be.

The simple compact proposes that states pledge their electoral votes “to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” This rather brilliantly obviates the need for an amendment dumping the Electoral College from the Constitution.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would only take effect when a sufficient number of states sign on such that their combined electoral votes constitute the magic 270 we’ve always needed to elect a president.

So far 165 electoral votes from 11 states have been secured. Of the remaining 105 required, 82 are seriously in play, having passed at least one legislative chamber in 10 states. Optimistically, we’re 23 new electoral votes away from ridding ourselves of the Electoral College...
More at Salon.  And of course the relevant Wikipedia page on the Electoral College.

I've embedded a map that shows the enormous divide that occurs between "swing states" and "safe states" during presidential elections. "These maps show the amount of attention given to each state by the Bush and Kerry campaigns during the final five weeks of the 2004 election. At the top, each waving hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice presidential candidate during the final five weeks. At the bottom, each dollar sign represents one million dollars spent on TV advertising by the campaigns during the same time period."

Addendum:  For an extensive informed commentary on this subject, see the comments for this post written by reader "toto."

History repeats itself

(The original quote is from George Santayana).

Via Jobsanger

Awake during surgery. On purpose.

From a report in the Wisconsin State Journal:
More doctors are letting patients remain alert during certain surgeries, for logistical, financial and medical reasons. It's a national trend playing out in Madison...

Many patients getting hand or arm surgeries, knee or hip procedures and even some breast and urological operations have started receiving regional or local numbing shots instead of general anesthesia. That can mean a quicker recovery, less cost and fewer side effects...

A small, but growing, fraction of patients is choosing to stay completely awake, with no sedation. They're joining two groups that have long remained conscious during surgery: many women delivering babies through Cesarean sections; and certain brain patients, such as those receiving deep brain stimulation, who must be able to communicate with doctors during their procedures...

Another obstacle the study identified: Surgeons said it's more difficult to teach residents — doctors in training after medical school — if patients are awake. Plus, some patients don't like knowing that residents are participating in their procedures.

The tops of these two tables are the same shape

They are both parallelograms with identical lengths, widths, and angles.  I enhanced the illusion by referring to them as tables, but they really are identical.

You won't believe me.  You'll need to view the graphic at Digg, or read about the Shepard tabletop illusion.

15 May 2017

Happy Mother's Day

It was a happy day for the American robin who built her nest under our screen porch.  For several years we've had a robin nesting under the deck, but this year another one found an unused rain barrel under the screen porch and constructed her nest (conveniently for us) at waist-high level.

Each time I've gone to the back yard for garden chores, the mother robin has left her nest and flown to a nearby tree to chirp loudly (presumably to distract me from the nest).  This morning she flew away but landed on the grass about 10-12 feet away from me and was very loud, so I looked in and saw the first egg had hatched.  I returned later in the afternoon and found the second chick had emerged.  (I could see the nest from a downstairs window, so I didn't go out and disturb her for a final photo.)

I'll return for another photo after the chicks are fledged.

13 May 2017

"Includes hot lunch"

From the "Tuition and Financial Aid" page for Sidwell Friends school in Washington, D.C.:

Middle and Upper Schools $40,840 (includes hot lunch) 

Per year...

Addendum:   After I originally posted this (brief) item, several readers have commented with queries about why this matter caught my eye, so I thought I'd elaborate a little more with an addendum.  The topic came up because of a news story about the young Trump's school tuition (the data I pulled for the above was for the school that Obama's children attended).  And the "includes hot lunch" clarification struck me as a curious item to specify - sort of like "buy this Maserati and get a free tank of gas."

But the general topic of the enormous cost of private education has been on my mind intermittently for quite a while.  Several years ago I helped several classmates as we planned our 50th high school reunion (yes, I'm that old...).  Fiftieth reunions are memoryfests for returning students, but for the schools they are major foci for fundraising.  As we prepared our reunion program, I was gobsmacked to see the current tuition, and I took the opportunity to pull some historic data from the school, then graphed it against the Consumer Price Index.  The results were startling:

I attended this school in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the 1960s, when the tuition was a bit under $1,000 per year, which was a stress for my parents, but one they considered appropriate and necessary.  When I prepared the graph, the most recent data were from 2012: $22,850 for sixth form (senior year) - a 24-fold increase from my tuition.  A quick Google today shows the 2016 data (one more box to the right) to be $25K for kindergarten and $30,000 for senior year [and I note with some bemusement that the webpage specifies "includes lunch" !!]

The school is of course way different nowadays from the school I knew.  In those days it was a "college preparatory (day)school," with a focus on rigorous academic training.   I think my class of 54 students had probably 12-15 National Merit finalists, and 800 scores on college boards were not unusual. But the only student of color was the foreign exchange student, and there were no girls.

Now it's different - the student body reflects "Diversity of race, ethnicity, national origin, geography, religion, gender, affectional or sexual orientation, age, physical ability, and marital, parental or economic status..."  The mission: "Students are expected to participate in an integrated program of academic, artistic and athletic activities in preparation for college, lifelong learning, community service and lives as responsible world citizens."

The current crop of students are preparing to enter a world different from the one I grew up in in the 1970s., so I don't expect their curriculum to include three years of Latin.  But what still strikes me is that tuition graph.  Financial assistance is offered in order to attract the proper mix of students.

But I can't understand why the graph departs so exponentially from the consumer price index.

Talk radio host to become USDA's "top scientist"

You can't make this stuff up.  At least I couldn't.  Maybe Neil Gaiman can...
The USDA’s research section studies everything from climate change to nutrition. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, its leader is supposed to serve as the agency’s “chief scientist” and be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”

But Sam Clovis — who, according to sources with knowledge of the appointment and members of the agriculture trade press, is President Trump’s pick to oversee the section — appears to have no such credentials.

Clovis has never taken a graduate course in science and is openly skeptical of climate change. While he has a doctorate in public administration and was a tenured professor of business and public policy at Morningside College for 10 years, he has published almost no academic work.

Clovis is better known for hosting a conservative talk radio show in his native Iowa and, after mounting an unsuccessful run for Senate in 2014, becoming a fiery pro-Trump advocate on television...

Catherine Woteki, who served as undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration, compared the move to appointing someone without a medical background to lead the National Institutes of Health. The USDA post includes overseeing scientific integrity within the agency.

This position is the chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture. It should be a person who evaluates the scientific body of evidence and moves appropriately from there,” she said in an interview...
More at Pro Publica.  Image via Jobsanger.

I'll close the comments on this one; there is no possible counterargument.

09 May 2017

From the credits for Fargo (1996 movie)

I remember seeing this symbol in the rolling credits at the end of the movie, and like many others I wondered if Prince had been involved in a cameo or as a joke.
For years, it was a source of mystery, with Fargo's cult following not 100% sure if Prince was actually in the film, but The Huffington Post caught up with the film's main villain—Gaear Grimsrud, a.k.a. actor Peter Stormare—and he laid the full story out. As Stormare tells it, Prince and the Coen brothers are actually friends, primarily because they are all from Minnesota. Apparently Prince wanted to have a small role (what would seem to be a dead victim laying in a field) in the film, but was ultimately unable to do it. The symbol was thrown in, with a smile, seemingly to add mystique to the entire Prince/Warner Bros. situation, but the rumor of Prince actually being in the film grew into a wild piece of lore.
And note there is a tiny smiley face inside the symbol.

House of Cards faces competition from real life

From the archives of The New Yorker.

St. Catherine University - M.I.A.C. women's golf champions 2016 - UPDATED

Kudos to the women's golf team at St. Catherine University in Minnesota - newly crowned champions of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
COON RAPIDS, Minn. -- In just six years, the St. Catherine University women's golf program has gone from its infant stages, all the way to conference champions.

The Wildcats completed their incredible ascension up the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) standings by winning the 2016 championship – and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships – Monday at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, Minn. St. Kate's held off a furious charge from Carleton, as the Knights jumped from fifth to second on Sunday, and actually took the lead on Monday's back nine, but the Wildcats regained the lead and held on for their historic win. St. Catherine shot a 319 both Saturday and Monday sandwiched around a 311 on Sunday, with a  three-day, 54-hole total of 949 [average of 79/round] to claim the title.

The Wildcats first appeared in the MIAC Championships in 2011, and finished either ninth or 10th over their first three seasons, but the last three – culminating in the 2016 title – has shown rapid improvement. The team ascended to sixth in 2014, leapt to third in 2015 and hoisted their first-ever MIAC title in the sport Monday.
Finally - and arguably even more impressive - I would note that in July, these young ladies were recognized as a top-25 academic team nationally:
The Wildcats were named one of the top academic teams in the NCAA with a cumulative team grade point average (GPA) of 3.699 during the 2015-16 season, the WGCA announced Wednesday afternoon.

St. Kate's was tied for 18th in the WGCA's list of the top-25 team GPA's in women's golf. The list included teams from Divisions I, II, and III as well as programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).  St. Kate's was tied with Yale University at No. 18 and was the highest ranked team from Minnesota. More impressively, the Wildcats were one of only two Division III teams represented on the list, the other being Mount Holyoke College with the No. 22 team GPA in the country.
Left-to-right in the photo (which I think is way better than the staid official one at the team's website) (this one via Instagram): Sydney Busker, Taylor Krouse, Kaitlyn Alvarez, Madi Roe, and Abby Conzemius.  Not in the photo: Nicole Traxler, Maddie Weinman, and coach Mary Sweeney.

Updated from October because today the team begins its participation in the NCAA Division III Championships.   The tournament is taking place at Bay Oaks Country Club in Houston Texas (layout here); this will be a 72-hole tournament, with a cut after the third round.  Twenty-two college and university teams (and a number of individuals) have been invited (participating schools listed here).  St. Catherine has been seeded in the #10 position.

I'm reposting this to provide links for family members who want to follow Kaitlyn's progress over the next several days.  Golfstat is providing live internet coverage:

Use this link to view the TEAM leaderboard (click on team name to see individual players' scores).

Use this link to access the PLAYER leaderboard (click on the player's name to see her scorecard).

Divertimento #126

Some hash brown potatoes have been recalled because they may have been "contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes."

Did Greeks help sculpt the terra cotta warriors? "Chinese artists may have encountered examples of Greek art, which made its way into Asia after the reign of Alexander the Great..."

"In light of their most successful year ever, every single one of Porsche's 21,000 employees receives a bonus of 9111€ regardless of being an engineer, a cleaning lady or canteen staff."  "Better than working at Comcast, where all their employees got for Comcast making 5 billion last year was a candy bar."

"It took 12 hours and 2,750 shots for Tom Amberry, a 71-year-old retired California podiatrist, to set the world record for free throws consecutively shot and made... Amberry stopped at the 12-hour mark, but only because the gym janitors made him." (He has a cool device that returns the ball to him after each shot).  "He made 500 consecutive free throws on 473 separate occasions, according to notes he kept."

"From the literature, a consensus emerges that there are (only) two groups of mammalian non-swimmers..." (answer at the BBC)

Recycling plants use magnets to sort aluminum (even though aluminum isn't magnetic).   And it's not by process of elimination.  The magnets actually move the aluminum.  Explained at the link.

"Scientists have found a way to use spinach to build working human heart muscle..."

An explanation of why "lb" is used as an abbreviation for "pound."

Sexual subculture of the week: "feederism."

As a banana changes from green to yellow, which stage is the best time to eat it?

A longread at Golfworld gives details about the caddies on the LPGA circuit.

If airport runways were circular, "that would enable planes to take off in the direction most advantageous for them. Namely, the direction without any crosswinds."

Social Security cards (and numbers) explained.

"...the PSAT 8/9 answer sheet begins by asking many very personal questions of each student; though nowhere on the form or booklet does it say these questions are optional... The answer sheet had spaces for the student’s name, grade level, sex, date of birth, student ID number or Social Security number, race/ethnic group, military relation, home address, email address, mobile phone,  grade point average, courses taken, and parents’ highest level of education."

There have been 1500 attacks with acid in London since 2011.  Unlike the worldwide numbers, in the UK over 70% of the victims are men.

Alice Elizabeth Doherty was born in Minneapolis and is the only known person with hypertrichosis lanuginosa born in the United States of America.

The International Edible Book Festival is an annual event usually held on or around April 1, which is also known as Edible Book Day..  "edible books" are created, displayed, and small events are held. The creations are photographed and then consumed...

The original "Brexit" occurred 450,000 years ago.  "The scars of these events can be found on the seabed of the English Channel... huge, 100m-deep [holes] carved into the bedrock and hundreds of metres to several kilometres in diameter... we interpret these as giant plunge pools..."

How NOT to install slats in a door.

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is now powered by solar energy.  "We believe that this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone.."

"When people think about traveling to the past, they worry about accidentally changing the present, but no one in the present really thinks they can radically change the future."  (and 20 other profound "showerthoughts") (there's a subreddit for that)

"A small-town Iowa newspaper with a staff of 10 people - most of whom are related to each other – has won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on powerful agricultural companies over farm pollution."

A scientific study of energy expenditure while playing golf.


Details about the Fatty Arbuckle scandal.

The Weather Channel offers a stunning indictment of the sugar industry and how it has destroyed Lake Okeechobee.  "It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, hubris and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops."

Transillumination of a stick deodorant container.

Should the world "internet" be capitalized?  Not a simple answer (the proportion of usage is about 50:50).

A guide to medieval coins.

Information about Skrydstrup Woman (and Egtved Girl).

There is a new theory on the biologic cause of migraine. "Contrary to what has previously been believed, we found that the arteries on the outside of the skull did not expand during migraine attacks..."

Swiss chocolate companies are experiencing major problems.

"Discovered in the mud of a shallow lagoon in the Philippines, a living creature of [shipworm] has never been described before – even though its existence has been known for more than 200 years thanks to fossils of the baseball bat-sized tubes that encase the creature." (video at the link)

Dehydration may contribute to chronic renal disease, not just acute renal failure.

"Few people ever saw the images of China girls, although for decades they were ubiquitous in movie theaters. At the beginning of a reel of film, there would be a few frames of a woman’s head. She might be dressed up; she might be scowling at the camera. She might blink or move her head.
But if audiences saw her, it was only because there had been a mistake. These frames weren’t for public consumption. The China girl was there to assist the lab technicians processing the film..."

Googie architecture [not "google"] is a form of modern architecture, a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age.

Queen Elizabeth II spent more time in the armed forces than the entire Donald Trump family and their in-laws combined.

In April Britain experienced its first ever working day without coal power since the Industrial Revolution.  "A National Grid spokesman said the record low was a sign of things to come, with coal-free days becoming increasingly common as the polluting fuel is phased out."

A woman "missed a $10,000 dream cruise of the Galapagos Islands because she was bumped from an overbooked Air Canada flight."

Remembering Pat Tillman.

"The incidence of angiostrongyliasis, nicknamed “rat lungworm” illness because of its origins (it comes from a parasite in the lungs of rats via rat feces to snails and slugs and then through contaminated food or drink to humans) is on the rise in Hawaii."

A nightmare scenario for Florida:  "If property values start to fall, Cason said, banks could stop writing 30-year mortgages for coastal homes, shrinking the pool of able buyers and sending prices lower still. Those properties make up a quarter of the city’s tax base; if that revenue fell, the city would struggle to provide the services that make it such a desirable place to live, causing more sales and another drop in revenue. And all of that could happen before the rising sea consumes a single home."

The ultimate "steadicam."

Showerthought: "University is great because you're effectively an unemployed alcoholic, but your parents are really proud of you."

Indian "pundits" were spies who mapped huge swathes of South Asia.  "Singh took detailed records of his trips, taken on foot through forbidden lands, often under cover of darkness. At the end of each years-long adventure, he returned his hard-won intel to his employer, the British Crown."  They recorded their results on using a rosary and a prayer wheel.

Suggestions for overcoming "Ad-block walls."

How to open an apparently impossible puzzle box.  (very clever mechanism)

"According to legend, pirate treasure reportedly worth £100 million is buried on an Indian Ocean island. Although the region is thought to be littered with hidden treasure, this one is said to be the Holy Grail, the world’s biggest booty haul. The story, which reads like a Hollywood script, has been passed down through generations on the islands of the Seychelles and La Réunion."

"Belphegor's prime is the palindromic prime number 1000000000000066600000000000001, a number which reads the same both backwards and forwards and is only divisible by itself and one."
Easy to remember: 13 zeros followed by "666" followed by 13 zeros.

Updated information on Otzi.

"Melissophilia might just be the weirdest, most awkward and most cringeworthy sexual fetish ever..."

The images today are of stinging caterpillars, from a gallery at ThoughtCo (identification and photo credits at the link.)

08 May 2017

Bearded tit having a drink

Credit Edwin Kats.

The "love theme" from "Blade Runner" (Vangelis)

Posted for the music by Vangelis.  I had assumed the saxophone melody was synthesized, but apparently it was performed by Dick Morrissey.  Beautiful, haunting music.

Reposted from 2012 to append this trailer for the upcoming sequel:

An article at The Hollywood Reporter discusses the obvious questions of whether Ryan Gosling's character is Deckard's son, whether he is a replicant, and whether replicants can have children (answers not given).

"The domino defect"

"It didn't work out as some Leavers thought."

Cartoon credit Thomas Taylor via Twitter.

"Beach comes in, beach goes out. You can't explain that."

Here's the "before" shoreline:

As reported in The Telegraph:
Villagers are delighted after an entire beach that was washed away 33 years ago has reappeared virtually overnight thanks to a freak tide. The beach near the Irish village of Dooagh on Achill Island vanished in Spring storms of 1984 after waves washed away all the sand.  But hundreds of thousands of tons of sand were dumped on the beach over ten days in April, re-creating a stunning 300m long beach.
Re the title.

Photo credits: Seán Molloy / SWNS.com and Achill Tourism / SWNS.com

House for sale

I quote from the Zillow listing:
Please read carefully before scheduling showings. May not qualify for financing. Great "diamond in the rough" investment property or primary home needing separate apartments. Little is known about condition except that property has active roof leaks. Property is being sold "as-is" with no repairs, no clean-up, and no warranties expressed or implied. Upstairs apartment cannot be shown under any circumstances. Buyer assumes responsibility for the month-to-month tenancy in the upstairs apartment. Occupant has never paid, and no security deposit is being held, but there is a lease in place. (Yes, it does not make sense, please don't bother asking.)...
More at the link, if you can get past the concept of buying a house with a permanent upstairs tenant. 

Good for her

The photo above was featured in a report on acid attacks in the UK.  I decided to reblog the young woman's image because of her willingness to display her burn scars.  Many (?most) young women would probably choose to hide the scars with makeup, clothing, headbands, or hairpieces.

I am reminded of the photo of the girl who placed a decorative cover over her colostomy bag.

But in terms of accepting a disability or deformity, this week's prize goes to seven-year-old Birmingham schoolgirl Anu, who proudly displayed to her friends on the playground her new sports blade (artificial foot).  If you haven't seen the gif, it's well worth the 41 seconds.

Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images.

Catholics seek divorce... from Girl Scouts

As reported by the Washington Post:
For the better part of the past decade, however, the Catholic Church has eyed the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. suspiciously, claiming the organization is too close to groups such as Planned Parenthood that are in conflict with the faith’s views on abortion and the family. The Girl Scouts organization has denied the allegations, but the controversies — largely rooted in misinformation — have prompted dioceses to cut ties with the Scouts.
In the latest instance, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is ending its relationship with the Girl Scouts and transitioning its support to a Christian-based scouting group, saying the Girl Scouts’ programs and materials are “reflective of many of the troubling trends in our secular culture,” and that the organization is “no longer a compatible partner in helping us form young women with the virtues and values of the Gospel.”

Kansas City Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said in a statement Monday the archdiocese’s pastors have been asked to begin phasing out Girl Scouts troops, either quickly or over the next several years. As an alternative, the statement said, they should begin forming troops through American Heritage Girls, which describes itself as a “Christ-centered leadership and character development ministry” and promotes itself as a faith-based alternative to the secular Girl Scouts.
This second item is mostly unrelated, but it does involve a girl who is a Scout.

Lucie Myslíková, 16, has become an internet star after a photo of her squaring up to a neo-Nazi at a Czech rally went viral.. “It’s consistent with Scout ideology and history to fight against neo-Nazism,” she said... “We started arguing about migration and refugees. He ended up warning me the refugees will rape me. I told him, I’m not afraid of refugees, because a white or a Czech guy could do the same, it’s not a question of race or nation.”
More at the link, and at the Reddit discussion thread.

05 May 2017

Good question - updated

Via the LateStageCapitalism subreddit.

Addendum:  Here's the contrarian point of view, as expressed by one of the readers of this blog in his comment (some typos corrected):
"This is only slightly government related. It's actually representative of the lack of personal responsibility born by a society that feels government is their to bail them out. This was a century long effort from Marxists types, under the guise of progressives, to undermine America's individualistic pride and change personal determination to succeed from hard work to a lackluster lifestyle of pleasure funded off of others.

Go Funders, you'll find, did not buy insurance as the responsible person did as soon as he/she fell off their parents policy. These same people went on vacations that others could not afford, bought cars, and did other things with their money instead of the responsible thing.

The government forcing insurers to cover pre-existing conditions is more encouragement toward lacking of responsible behavior."
And now I'll close the comment thread because I don't have the time to curate the shitstorm of replies this comment will probably engender.

"Dishwasher air gap" explained

A dishwasher air gap is an egg-sized device that gets mounted above the sink to help prevent contaminated water from draining back into the dishwasher...

Because these air gaps are a fairly new requirement, we've come across a lot of air gap devices that aren't installed properly. To understand these defects, it's helpful to understand how these devices function... [diagram and discussion at the link]

Plumbers don't like them, inspectors don't like them, and homeowners hate them... Oh, and for the record, dishwasher air gaps are definitely not something that we recommend installing during our home inspections.
Excerpted from Reuben Saltzman's incomparable The Home Inspector blog.

Blackout panels

Personally I'd prefer a starry sky or galaxy to a cityscape, but the concept is cool.

Via Neatorama.

Autonomous weapons are not just science fiction

Autonomous weapons (aka "killer robots") were the basis for the Terminator movies and uncounted spinoffs and copycats.  But the concept is achievable, and the potential consequences are unthinkable:
A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.
There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted. They will be cowering underground in shelters and devising techniques so that they don’t get detected. This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.
They could be here in two to three years.
              — Stuart Russell, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California Berkeley
That's the intro to a frankly unsettling article.
...lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS): weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets... humans out of the loop — where the human releases the machine to perform a task and that’s it — no supervision, no recall, no stop function.

One of the very real problems with attempting to preemptively ban LAWS is that they kind of already exist. Many countries have defensive systems with autonomous modes that can select and attack targets without human intervention — they recognize incoming fire and act to neutralize it... Meanwhile, offensive systems already exist, too: Take Israel’s Harpy and second-generation Harop, which enter an area, hunt for enemy radar, and kamikaze into it, regardless of where they are set up. The Harpy is fully autonomous...

Among the lauded new technologies is swarms — weapons moving in large formations with one controller somewhere far away on the ground clicking computer keys. Think hundreds of small drones moving as one, like a lethal flock of birds...

I worry it will breed way more terrorist activities. You can call them insurgents, you can call them terrorists, I don’t care, when you realize that you can’t ever fight the state mano-a-mano anymore, if people are pissed off, they’ll find a way to vent that frustration, and they will probably take it out on people who are defenseless. 
Much more in the longread.

Mug shot

"The mug shot is of 24-year-old Morgan Joyce Varn, who faces charges of kidnapping, armed robbery and property damage in Lancaster County. She remained in the Lancaster County jail Friday without bond."
Offered without comment.

Via The Charlotte Observer.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article147415514.html#storylink=cpy

02 May 2017

"All the fun's in how you say a thing"

Fifty-plus years ago a then-young English- and American Literature major walked out of a college bookstore with this hardcover copy of Complete Poems of Robert Frost.  The $7.00 expense was substantial in those years, but he considered the book an appropriate addition to his personal library.

Since then the book has traveled with him from Boston to Dallas to Lexington to Indianapolis to St. Louis and finally to Madison.  The next destination will be as a donation to our local Friends of the Fitchburg Library book sale.  Before saying goodbye to an old friend, I thought it appropriate to give it one final cover-to-cover read.  Herewith some gleanings from that book.

Uncommon words:

"With a big jag to empty in a bay"  (a load, as of hay)

"Not old Grandsir's/Nor Granny's surely..." (grandsire is archaic for grandfather)

"But there's a dite too many of them for comfort"  (???)

"Choked with oil of cedar/And scurf of plants"   ("scaly matter or incrustation on a surface")

"...they smelled/A thing the least bit doubtfully perscented" (?neologism)

"The lines of a good helve were native to the grain" (handle of an ax, hatchet, hammer (ME,OE))

(re turtle eggs) "All packed in sand to wait the trump together."  (sound of a trumpet)

"...nothing Fate could do/With codlin moth or rusty parasite" (codling moth larvae feed on apple)

"The storm gets down his neck in an icy souse" (soaking)

"By grace of state-manipulated pelf" (disparaging term for money, from ME/OF=booty)

"On our cisatlantic shore" (attaching the prefix meaning "on this side")

"But spes alit agricolam 'tis said." ("hope sustains the farmer")

"As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins" (container of size one-quarter of a barrel)

"We would pour oil on the ingle" (fire burning in hearth; fireplace (Gael.)

"And dayify the darkest realm" (presumably a neologism and the prerogative of a poet)

"The wavy upflung pennons of the corn" (flag borne on lance of knight [from Latin pinna=feather])

"For all humanity a complete rest/From all this wagery." (?working for wages?)

"The other way of reading back and forth/Known as boustrophedon, was found too awkward."

"Behind her at the dashboard of his pung." (sleigh with boxlike body on runners [short for “tom-pung” = toboggan]

"The bulb lights sicken down." (presumably get weaker?)

Memorable lines or clever turns of phrase

(re a farmhand)
"Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different."

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in." (did Frost invent this phrase?)

(re a mountainside brook):
"Warm in December, cold in June, you say?
I don't suppose the water's changed at all.
You and I know enough to know it's warm
Compared with cold, and cold compared with warm
But all the fun's in how you say a thing."

"We love the things we love for what they are."

"Baptiste knew how to make a short job long
For love of it and yet not waste time either..."

"From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn't show."

"When I was young my teachers were the old...
I went to school to age to learn the past...
Now I am old my teachers are the young...
I go to school to youth to learn the future."

"But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough." (the same sentiment as in this Denise Levertov poem)

(re life):
"It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past.  The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing -
Too present to imagine."


"And the cagèd yellow bird/Hung over her in tune..."   In my edition, the word cagèd is printed with that accent (not true in many reprints of the poem).  I presume Frost did this to alter the meter of the line.  I didn't see him employ this device elsewhere in the book and wonder if it is a common technique used by poets.

"The new moon!/What shoulder did I see her over?"  (It is said to be unlucky to see the new moon over your left shoulder, but lucky to see it over your right shoulder.)

(re orchard on a northerly slope) (?true)
"No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
'How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard.  Good-by and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below."

(re barn doors):
"The advantage-disadvantage of these doors
Was that tramp taking sanctuary there
Must leave them unlocked to betray his presence.
They could be locked but from the outside only...
And it had almost given him troubled dreams
To think that though he could not lock himself in,
The cheapest tramp that came along that way
Could mischievously lock him in to stay."

"As a brief epidemic of microbes/ That in a good glass may be seen to crawl..." (I've heard the term "good glass" applied to telescopes.  Presumably the reference is similar here, to lens glass that is free of imperfections) ??

(re Santa Claus):
"We all know his address, Mount Hekla, Iceland./So anyone can write to him who has to" (???)

Links to my favorite poems

Mending Wall

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Birches (and audio)

The Road Not Taken

And now, goodbye old friend.

"Naked cake"

When I saw the photo above I assumed it was taken before the cake was finished.  Not so.  Leaving the sides of a cake unfrosted is intentional.
Bakers these days are holding back frosting from wedding cakes for an exposed look that is popular with couples looking for a traditional wedding cake alternative. But is this frosting-free look right for you? These naked cakes will surely convince you.

As these couples will show, there's a naked cake for every celebration. Choose between shaved, striped layers or creative bases (think: pavlova, crêpes, or even cheese), sparsely placed icing or no icing at all, and décor that makes up for whatever frosting is missing. Even better, try new flavors, without the threat of finding a frosting to match. These naked concoctions are chic, sophisticated, and beautiful—not too sweet, but just sweet enough.
A gallery of 44 "naked cakes" is included at this Martha Stewart Weddings link.

Photo via a post at the Food subreddit, where the discussion thread hashes over the pros and cons of frosting and fondant.

Soccer pitch, Lofoten Islands


"Chew the scenery" explained

Chew (up the) scenery means 'to act melodramatically; overact'. Usually, it's in the context of a play or movie, but it can refer to an aunt of yours who is a frustrated actress. The connotation, either positive or negative, depends on whether the overacting is appropriate to the role or occasion...

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and a couple of other sources attribute chew the scenery to Dorothy Parker, the writer and humorist. In a 1930 review she wrote: "...more glutton than artist...he commences to chew up the scenery." But Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang has a much earlier (1894) example from Coeur D'Alene, by Idahoan novelist Mary Hallock Foote... The relevant part is about a miner, Jack Darcie, described as being of Scottish family and English education, a young gentleman of prepossessing appearance. After Darcie's entanglements with Faith, daughter of the mining company manager, people gossip about him in a negative light: "Lads, did ye hear him chewin' the scenery, giving' himself away like a play-actor?.."
That information comes from what looks like an interesting website - a Glossary of Theater Terms, where you can look up break a leg, ghost light, the bastard prompt corner, and other familiar or obscure terms.

Every picture tells a story...

Photo credit, via.

30 April 2017

Remember to clean your clothes dryer vent

It's not sufficient to clean the lint trap screen on your appliance.  We did that for 15 years, but still found the efficiency of the dryer decreasing, so we called in the services of a professional.  The first thing he did was remove the contorted connector (above) that ran between the dryer and the wall conduit.  The previous owner of the house had done this because the dryer vent outlet and the wall site were not in line horizontally or vertically.   This segment was not occluded with lint, but it's inefficient and prone to collecting debris.

The replacement (not shown) is a short "transition vent" that runs diagonally; it will need to be detached in order to move the dryer out to clean the floor etc, but it's less likely to become plugged with lint.

The next step was to clean inside the dryer by removing the front panel. 

I've highlighted with a red oval the problem he usually finds - an accumulation of dust and (in our case) cat hair.   When home clothes dryers catch fire, THIS is the where the combustible material is typically located.  And most importantly, this material is NOT derived from the clothes in the dryer - it gets sucked into the cabinet from the floor of the room.

Think about it.  The dryer is going to heat and spin and blow air out its vent.  To do that, it has to pull air in from somewhere.  Not from outdoors, where the air might be subzero, but from behind itself and from the floor of the room.  Even if you're careful about cleaning, over the years dust and debris will accumulate.

The next step was cleaning the conduit between the utility room and the outdoors.  In our case, that conduit ran up the inside of the wall between the utility room and the garage, then horizontally between a crawlspace and the roof of the garage, then exited high on the outside wall.

Too high for me to access.  I don't have a ladder that long, and if I did, I wouldn't go up except at gunpoint.  He went up and removed the louvers that covered the vent.  The louvers were twisted and didn't move freely.  This happens because the exiting air is hot enough to warp the plastic slats of the louver (this risk is present on clothes-dryer vents, but not on ones for room-temp air such as bathroom vents).  He reached in and dropped down to me a handful of what he found inside:

That's typical clothes lint - the stuff that works its way through the trap in the dryer.

The next step was to clean the entire conduit - probably 30-40 feet in length.  On the internet I had read reports of homeowners claiming success in cleaning such vents by adapting the output of a leaf blower to the indoor end and blowing the ducts out.  He explained that it's seldom that simple.  The lint that exits sometimes carries some moisture and especially at bends or joins in the tubing it can accumulate in a consistency not unlike papier-mâché.

What professionals use (I didn't take a photo) is the air-duct equivalent of a Roto-Rooter for water drains.   It's a flexible "snake" with brushes that rotate as it traverses the ducts.  And as it goes through, vacuum is applied from the inside to suck out the material that is coating the duct.

Finally, he replaced the louver with an animal-exclusion cage (it lifts up for cleaning if lint accumulates).  Our exit site did not contain a bird's nest or any evidence of animal invasion.  Birds do sometimes nest in these sites if they are open (he had recently serviced the vents at an apartment complex where a dozen of the 30-40 vents had bird nests in them).  Chipmunks and other small rodents will nest in these locations if the outlet is low on the wall.  Bats are not a problem because they do not tolerate the heat.

We couldn't be happier with the result.  The first load we ran dried in probably half the time that similar loads required in the past, so there will be a saving in electricity plus much less wear and tear on tumbling clothes, plus eliminating one potential risk for a house fire.

Finally, a shout-out to the crew:

They were highly efficient and totally professional.  Their offices are on Odana Road in Madison, Wisconsin.

Addendum:  There is a relevant current article on "Dryer Duct Safety" in Reuben Saltzman's incomparable home inspection blog.
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