26 June 2016


Windblown ducklings (all eventually made it to safety).

Video shows complication of shooting Dragon's Breath incendiary rounds with a shotgun.

House arrest ankle bracelet placed on man's artificial leg.  He switches legs and goes out and kills someone.

Researchers find "the first example of any eukaryote that completely lacks mitochondria."

Barns on farms are becoming popular wedding venues.  "Counties and cities recognize that entertainment venues can economically boost a rural area. And for owners and operators, prices can run between $2,000 and $4,000 a night per rental."  But they present a nuisance for neighbors.

Why an E.R. charges $629 to put a bandaid on a finger.

Watch the helmet as he slides into second base.

"Iceland seems to be on its way to becoming an even more secular nation, according to a new poll. Less than half of Icelanders claim they are religious and more than 40% of young Icelanders identify as atheist. Remarkably the poll failed to find young Icelanders who accept the creation story of the Bible. 93.9% of Icelanders younger than 25 believed the world was created in the big bang, 6.1% either had no opinion or thought it had come into existence through some other means and 0.0% believed it had been created by God."

"... one progressive organization recently uncovered how Koch Industries uses every trick they can wring out of governments worldwide to avoid paying taxes."

Video of a giant octopus kite.

A tunnel has been found under a pyramid at Teotihuacán.

American Prairie Reserve is creating the largest nature reserve in the continental United States.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been criticised for taking a private jet from Cannes to New York to pick up an environmental award – before jetting back to Cannes.

Enthusiastic golden lab comes to a girl's rescue.

"Those in the movement call themselves patriots, demanding that the federal government adhere to the Constitution and stop what they see as systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties.  Law enforcement officials call them dangerous, delusional and sometimes violent, and say that their numbers are growing amid a wave of anger at the government that has been gaining strength since 2008, a surge that coincided with the election of the first black U.S. president and a crippling economic recession."

A showerthought: "We live in a world where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons."

Gawker has an in-depth study of Donald Trump's hair.  If you care.

"While folate is essential for healthy baby development, excessive amounts could be harmful. The study, released today by Johns Hopkins University, analyzed data from 1,391 mother-child pairs. The women who had both excessive folate and vitamin B12 levels were over 17 times more likely to have children that develop the autism spectrum disorder. Those with excessive folate levels – four times above what is considered adequate – faced double the risk."

Millions of snow fleas turn snow black.

The intrinsic problems of time capsules and intergalactic messages.

A man was stung to death by bees in an Arizona park.

"Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some [petro-states] are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels... In 2016, one thing is finally clear, however: the business model for these corporatized states is busted. The most basic assumption behind their operation — that global oil demand will continue to outpace world petroleum supplies and ensure high prices into the foreseeable future — no longer holds.  Instead, in what for any petro-state is a nightmarish, upside-down version of that model, supply, not demand, is forging ahead, leaving the market flooded with fossil fuels."
And a different article at CBC News discusses how this applies to Canada.

Chipmunk in a bird feeder shows the capacity of his cheek pouches.

A 6'2" basketball player takes off from behind the free-throw line to dunk the ball.

"Neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white nationalists have begun using three sets of parentheses encasing a Jewish surname — for instance, (((Fleishman))) — to identify and target Jews for harassment on blogs and major social media sites like Twitter. As one white supremacist tweeted, "It's closed captioning for the Jew-blind.""  [in part because it's unsearchable]

A video compilation of every 3-point shot made by Shaquille O'Neal.  (n=1)

Video reminder that the Milky Way doesn't move during the night - the earth does.

An ELI5 explanation of why one web browser gives you problems, but the same link in another browser loads quickly and successfully.

The United States Department of Defense relies on floppy disks "to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report." (hint: unhackable)

Detroit police accused of acting like "dog death squads."

The amazing Gothard Base Tunnel is now open. "With a route length of 57.09 km (35.5 mi) and a total of 151.84 km (94.3 mi) of tunnels, shafts and passages, it is the world's longest and deepest traffic tunnek and the first flat, low-level route through the Alps."

A "kosher" dill pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it has been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law. Rather, it is a pickle made in the traditional manner of Jewish New York City pickle makers, with generous addition of garlic and dill to a natural salt brine.

"How did bathrooms get to be separated by gender in the first place?"  A suggestion that" these laws were adopted as a way to further early-19th century moral ideology that dictated the appropriate role and place for women in society."

You probably don't need to take showers unless you are visibly dirty (or use all those shampoos and deodorants).

Kudos to this barber who gives free haircuts to the homeless.  Another similar barber here.

How to straighten a pig's tail.

Credits for embedded photos, top to bottom: Realgar and quartz, pyrite ammonite, malachite, native wire silver, opalized wood, fluorite with chalcopyrite, silver crystals on calcite matrix, pyrite concretion.  All via the Minerals and Crystals tumblr.

Real Life

A look at Bulgaria's "bride's market"

Every year young Roma women attend "bride markets" with the intention of getting married to the highest bidder.  "If you have gold jewelry and shoes that match your dress... the better family we come from, the higher price we get."  The average bride price is about USD$300-350.  "But it's more like massive speed-dating than the forced marriage market that the media reports."

Before going all judgemental, it's worth reflecting that brides have been "sold" by their families for centuries across many cultures.  This is a long watch (20 minutes) but I think worthwhile - very well done, and narrated with insight and empathy.

25 June 2016

Snark-hunting map

"He had bought a large map representing the sea,
    Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
    A map they could all understand.

"What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    "They are merely conventional signs!

Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we've got our brave Captain to thank"
(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best --
    A perfect and absolute blank!"
An excerpt from Fit the Second of The Hunting of the Snark.

23 June 2016

Brexit returns surprising so far...

This evening many sources, including the American BBC broadcast, admitted that the outcome of the voting was too close to call, but that insiders, pundits, and bookmakers were cautiously predicting a "remain" victory.

But at present (10pm CDT), with 57.6% of the vote tallied, "leave" is leading "remain" by 51.5% to 48.5%.

The pound is undergoing a severe fall, as are futures for the S&P 500 - currently implying a Dow average down 500 points at the open.

Live coverage at The Telegraph, The Guardian, and the BBC.

Fascinating.  I'm going to be up late tonight.

Addendum:  Live coverage on C-SPAN and on CNN International, and of course on BBC.  And MSNBC.  And CNBC.  Birmingham results expected in 15 minutes, and probability of "leave" winning overall is now at 80%.

Pound/dollar has plunged 10%, to lowest level in 30 years ($1.35).  And this is with London still asleep at 0430 there.

Scotland has voted - countrywide - to stay in the EU.  So if the overall vote result is to "leave," the prospect arises that another referendum will be called to vote on Scotland leaving the UK.

72% voting turnout among the electorate puts the U.S. to shame by comparison.

Addendum:  BBC and ITV have now "called" the election for "leave."  Historic.

Addendum on the morning after:   I was up until the wee hours last night listening to analysts on four different broadcasts.  There is an immense amount to read this morning.  As usual I start with the discussion threads at Reddit.  Here are several of the top-rated ones:

Cameron to resign as PM

A thread for those from other countries

Miscellaneous viewpoints and comments

And one with some humor '"if other countries leave the EU." (credit for embedded image)

No blogging today - I'll be busy surfing the web and trying to peek at the future.

22 June 2016

"To the manner born"

I spent the evening of the summer solstice sitting outdoors with a recreational beverage, reading the only first edition I own - a copy of John Dickson Carr's Speak of the Devil.

One of the secondary characters in the story, set in Regency England (1816), is H.R.H. The Prince Regent, who speaks as follows to a lady:
"A charming curtsy, b'gad! Charming!  Miss Adair, your knee -- if I may mention such a delicate subject -- is to the manner born."
(She replies "Your Royal Highness is too kind.")

It's not a phrase encountered very often on this side of the pond, and I needed to sort out in my head the distinction from the old BBC comedy "To the Manor Born."

First I generated an Ngram chart (above) with the two phrases ("manner" in blue, "manor" in red).  Then a quick visit to The Phrase Finder gave the definitive answer:
Any examination of 'to the manner born' has to include a mention of its often-quoted incarnation, 'to the manor born'. That has a similar meaning but stresses manorial birth, that is, it refers to someone born into the nobility. 

The 'manner' version is earlier and there's some debate amongst etymologists as to whether the second of these phrases was coined deliberately as a play on words, or whether it is just a misspelling of 'manner' as 'manor'. The third possibility, that they arose independently, is highly unlikely. 

'To the manner born' was used by, and probably coined by, Shakespeare, in Hamlet, 1602:
HORATIO:     Is it a custom?
HAMLET:      Ay, marry, is't:
      But to my mind, though I am native here
      And to the manner born, it is a custom
      More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
The meaning there is clear. Hamlet knows the custom being spoken of because he is native, that is, born locally. 

Hamlet was written in or around 1600 and published in 1603. The 'manor' version comes much later. The earliest reference I've found so far is in The Times, July 1859...
The article there goes on to discuss the television program and also concludes that the pre-existing concurrent existence of manner/manor is an eggcorn.

"Enhance the reflection"

Adobe Flash Player critical update recommended

As reported by Krebs On Security:
Adobe on Thursday issued a critical update for its ubiquitous Flash Player software that fixes three dozen security holes in the widely-used browser plugin, including at least one vulnerability that is already being exploited for use in targeted attacks.

The latest update brings Flash to v. for Windows and Mac users alike. If you have Flash installed, you should update, hobble or remove Flash as soon as possible.

The smartest option is probably to ditch the program once and for all and significantly increase the security of your system in the process...

If you choose to update, please do it today.
Details and resource links here.

Amazing marble machine

Ca'n't, wo'n't, and sha'n't

This week I was doing one final reread of Alice in Wonderland (a 1962 paperback version) and was struck by some archaic spelling:
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone; "so I ca'n't take more."
"You mean you ca'n't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
Elsewhere the same style was applied to wo'n't and sha'n't.

Just out of curiosity I ran ca'n't through Google's Ngram viewer (result above), which shows that double-apostrophe'd contractions have not disappeared (though I can't tell whether the modern usages are simply new editions of older books).

A quick web search yielded these comments by Lewis Carroll in his Preface to Sylvie and Bruno Concluded:
Other critics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as “ca’n’t”, “wo’n’t”, “traveler”. In reply, I can only plead my firm conviction that the popular usage is wrong. As to “ca’n’t”, it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in “n’t”, these letters are an abbreviation of “not”; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, “not” is represented by " ‘t”! In fact “can’t” is the proper abbreviation for “can it”, just as “is’t” is for “is it”. Again, in “wo’n’t”, the first apostrophe is needed, because the word “would” is here abridged into “wo”: but I hold it proper to spell “don’t” with only one apostrophe, because the word “do” is here complete.
Wordsmiths, grammar Nazis, copyeditors - any thoughts?

21 June 2016

Donald Trump postulated as a "Manchurian candidate"

An excerpt from the Washington Post this morning:
THE BIG IDEA: Salman Rushdie floated last fall that Donald Trump is a Democratic plant whose ultimate goal is to get Hillary Clinton elected president. [video excerpt at the link] To many conservatives, this feels less and less facetious.

The presumptive GOP nominee has spent the past few weeks doing almost everything you would do if you were trying to throw an election, from attacking a federal judge over his Mexican heritage to not building a serious ground game or actively raising the money necessary to wage a credible campaign for the presidency.

At the end of a day that started with Trump firing his campaign manager... he filed an embarrassing May fundraising report late last night with the FEC. Despite raising $3.1 million and loaning himself another $2 million, Trump began this month with less than $1.3 million cash on hand.

Clinton, by comparison, raised $28 million and started off June with $42 million in cash. Bernie Sanders, with his campaign winding down, still brought in $15.6 million last month and had $9.2 million cash on hand...

-- To be sure, Trump is not running anything close to a conventional campaign. And we might be making a mistake judging him by those standards. A big part of his appeal is that he is unorthodox. He beat better-funded Republicans in the primary, and he can afford to raise less than Clinton because of the free media attention he commands and the sheer force of his personality. But being outraised so dramatically (nine-to-one!) undeniably puts him at a palpable disadvantage in the nuts-and-bolts side of 2016. And a general election is a far different beast than a Republican nominating contest...

So where did all the money go? Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy report that the campaign paid out more than $1 million to Trump-owned companies and to reimburse his own family for travel expenses... the biggest sum [for events] went to Trump's own Mar-A-Lago Club, which was paid $423,317. Meanwhile, the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, got $35,845, while the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fl., was paid $29,715. And Trump’s son Eric’s wine company received nearly $4,000.
There are a lot more details at the Washington Post.  Photo credit Ralph Freso/Getty Images.

Bill Maher's response to the Manchurian Candidate theory (here) was that it is on a par with the World Trade Center attack being an inside job... ridiculous.  The very idea that the Clintons could be involved in "dirty politics" or that Donald Trump would do something like this is of course, laughable.  Perhaps that's what they were laughing about at one of his weddings...

20 June 2016

"Gaudeamus Igitur"

Time to say goodbye to graduation season.
"De Brevitate Vitae" (Latin: "On the Shortness of Life"), more commonly known as "Gaudeamus Igitur" ("So Let Us Rejoice") or just "Gaudeamus", is a popular academic commercium song in many Western countries, mainly sung or performed at university graduation ceremonies. Despite its use as a formal graduation hymn, it is a jocular, light-hearted composition that pokes fun at university life. The song is thought to originate in a Latin manuscript from 1287. It is in the tradition of carpe diem ("seize the day") with its exhortations to enjoy life. It was known as a beer-drinking song in many early universities and is the official song of many schools, colleges, universities, institutions, student societies and is the official anthem of the International University Sports Federation...

The lyrics reflect an endorsement of the bacchanalian mayhem of student life while simultaneously retaining the grim knowledge that one day we will all die. The song contains humorous and ironic references to sex and death, and many versions have appeared following efforts to bowdlerise this song for performance in public ceremonies. In private, students will typically sing ribald words. 
A video with the Latin lyrics and English translation is here.  Both texts can also be read at the Wikipedia link.

"Hamboning" demonstrated

"This amazing Hambone performance by Samuel Hicks starts out at a normal pace and then increases in tempo to a blazing finish. Shot in North Carolina back in early 1990s while visiting my brother."
The Juba dance or hambone, originally known as Pattin' Juba (Giouba, Haiti: Djouba), is an American style of dance that involves stomping as well as slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks.

The Juba dance was originally from West Africa. It became an African-American plantation dance that was performed by slaves during their gatherings when no rhythm instruments were allowed due to fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming.

Later in the mid-19th century, music and lyrics were added, and there were public performances of the dance. Its popularization may have indirectly influenced the development of modern tap dance... It was often danced in minstrel shows...

Cordyceps on a tarantula

I've previously posted a David Attenborogh-narrated video of cordyceps in ant brains and emerging from a leaf-roller.  Now here it is affecting a tarantula, via BoingBoing.

Reposted from 2012 to note that the "gold rush" for cordyceps in Tibet is fading.  The Economist reported on the phenomenon last year:
Children are at the front line of the armies of Tibetans (almost every able-bodied rural resident in Yushu) who will spend a frenzied month scouring the hills for what they call yartsa gunbu. In Chinese its name is dongchong xiacao, literally “winter-insect-summer-grass”, for that is what it resembles...

This is Tibet’s annual gold rush. Yartsa gunbu is so highly valued as a medicine that it often sells for more than its  weight in the metal. It has many purported benefits, ranging from preventing cancer to curing back pain. But what makes it so prized is its supposed ability to improve sex lives. It is often described as a “Himalayan Viagra”, good for treating erectile dysfunction and (in women as well) low libido...

The children’s good eyesight and short stature make them the best spotters of the fungus among blades of grass and stalks of ground-hugging cinquefoil shrubs that soon, as the weather warms, will dot the slopes with bright yellow flowers. It is not a job for those unused to the plateau’s thin air. Caterpillar fungus, as yartsa gunbu is usually called in English, is generally found at altitudes above 4,000 metres (13,100 feet). That is higher than Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which borders on Yushu and occupies about half of the plateau...

Digging them up requires painstaking effort. A small pick is used, with great care taken not to break the sprout from the caterpillar’s body. There is little demand for separated pieces; yartsa gunbu is dried and consumed whole. Aficionados gauge the quality of a caterpillar fungus based partly on the relative lengths of body and sprout—impossible if there is no way of being sure whether they were once attached...

[d]espite much effort, no one has yet succeeded in producing commercially viable quantities of good-quality yartsa gunbu in artificial conditions. This means colossal dividends for Tibetans. In the TAR the retail value of the more than 50 tonnes of yartsa gunbu harvested there in 2013 was around 7.5 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), equivalent to nearly half its earnings from tourism..

To boost demand for the fungus, some merchants adulterate products made of it with Viagra...
Much more information at the long read at The Economist, including discussion of the social and environmental impacts.

This year there is evidence that the mania is subsiding:
The trouble is, it’s getting harder and harder to hunt down the caterpillar fungus, which can’t grow fast enough to keep up with Chinese appetites. Tibetan nomads told Frayer that the yield from this year’s harvest was the lowest they’d ever seen...

Meanwhile, prices for the fungus are falling, and harvesters fear China’s crackdown on corruption could hurt demand for the product as a high-value gift for officials. A recent health warning about arsenic levels in caterpillar fungus products is a further headache for cordyceps hunters.

“The locals know it’s a false economy, or at least temporary in many ways — one Tibetan man referred to the fungus as “fool’s gold” and he worried that one day they will be worthless,” Frayer said.
Photo credit Kevin Frayer (more images at the link)

Shallow roots

A striking visual reminder that the roots of trees do not extend deeply into the earth.  Cartoons and illustrations of trees often portray the root system as a mirror image of the above-ground branches.  Some species in arid climates can send down deep tap roots, but for the most part tree roots spread horizontally to harvest precious rainfall and inhibit competitiors. 

Photo from the Photoshopbattles subreddit, where one entry depicts the hardwood under the carpet.
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