08 December 2016

A brief story about Parkinson's disease

"When Emma Lawton was 29 she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. As a graphic designer, drawing is a huge part of her life but over the past three years the tremor in her hands has grown more pronounced stopping her from writing and drawing straight lines. Enter Haiyan Zhang and her invention that is changing Emma's life."
Here you go:
Discussion at the Gadgets subreddit.

07 December 2016

Jupiter's aurorae

"Jupiter has aurorae. Like Earth, the magnetic field of the gas giant funnels charged particles released from the Sun onto the poles. As these particles strike the atmosphere, electrons are temporarily knocked away from existing gas molecules. Electric force attracts these electrons back. As the electrons recombine to remake neutral molecules, auroral light is emitted. In the featured recently released composite image by the Hubble Space Telescope taken in ultraviolet light, the aurorae appear as annular sheets around the pole. Unlike Earth's aurorae, Jupiter's aurorae include several bright streaks and dots..."
We are entering the season when polar aurorae sometimes become visible at our latitude, so this seems an appropriate time to note that Jupiter also exhibits similar phenomena.  Text and image via NASA'a Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Gleanings from "The Road to Little Dribbling"

George Everest (for whom the mountain is named) didn't pronounce his name EV-erest, but as EVE-rest - just two syllables.

A listing of hikers and walkers killed by cows in Britain.

The first electric light put to use anywhere in the world was in a lighthouse in South Foreland, England.  This was in 1858, well before Edison developed the modern lightbulb.  It was an arc lamp too bright for domestic use, and for a decade that lighthouse was the only place in the world to see an electric light in operation.

London is one of the least crowded cities on earth, at about half the population density of NYC or Paris.

The Air Forces Memorial, at the top of Cooper's Hill in Runnymede, England, has inscribed in stone the names of 20,456 airmen who died in the Second World War but have no grave.

"One of the great pleasures of dotage is the realization that you have pretty much everything you will ever need. Apart from a few perishable essentials like light bulbs, batteries, and food, I require almost nothing. I don’t need any more furniture, decorative bowls, lap rugs, cushions with messages expressing my feelings about animals or housework, hot water bottle covers, paperclips, rubber bands, spare cans of paint, dried out paint brushes, miscellaneous lengths of electrical wire or any kind of metal objects that might one day theoretically come in handy for some as yet unimagined purpose...  I’m especially set for clothes. I have reached the time of life where all I want is to wear out the clothes I have and never get another thing.  I think many men of a certain age will nod in agreement when I say there is a real satisfaction when you wear something out and can finally discard it - a feeling of a job well done..."

The legendary King Arthur was a bastard, sired by Uther Pendragon on his enemy's wife.

In the early 20th century, the largest fishing port in the world was... Grimsby, England.  Not the largest in Britain or northern Europe, but the largest in the world.   In Grimsby, people used to bring their own fish and have the fish-and-chips shop fry it for a penny.
This was an enjoyable book.  It's perhaps the third or fourth of Bill Bryson's books that I've reviewed or excerpted for TYWKIWDBI.  Although styled as notes about a prolonged exploration of Great Britain, the book is not detailed enough to be a true travel guidebook, and Bryson's curmudgeonly complaints sometimes morph into surprisingly caustic criticism, but overall the tone is light and humorous, and it makes for a pleasant, easy read.

"There you have cricket"

Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it out to center field; and that there, after a minute's pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt toward the pitcher's mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioactive isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg. Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle forty feet with mattresses strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compunction to run; he may stand there all day, and, as a rule, does. If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that leads to his being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called and everyone retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege. Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket.
An excerpt from Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country, via Tom Hull.

Reposted from 2012 because I've been reading a more recent Bill Bryson book.

Friendly fire deaths at Pearl Harbor

"Most of the civilians who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were killed by American antiaircraft shells. “There was so much excitement and confusion,” harbor worker John Garcia told Studs Turkel for The Good War, his oral history of World War II. “Some of our sailors were shooting five-inch guns at the Japanese planes. You just cannot down a plane with a five-inch shell. They were landing in Honolulu, the unexploded naval shells. They have a ten-mile range. They hurt and killed a lot of people in the city.”"

06 December 2016

Exercise Tiger at Slapton Sands

"To the north from here stretches a duney expanse called Slapton Sands, so similar to the beaches of Normandy that they used it for a dress rehearsal for D-Day in the spring of 1944. Amid great secrecy, thirty thousand American troops were loaded onto landing craft and taken out in the bay to practice coming ashore, but by chance nine German torpedo boats spotted the activity and cruised at will among then, blowing the landing craft out of the water with ease and causing all kinds of mayhem. No one from the Allied side, it appears, had thought to line up suitable protection for the exercise, so the U-boats [sic: E-boats] were able to move about unimpeded.

One of those watching the carnage was Eisenhower himself. Nobody seems to know how many people died. Numbers range from 650 to 950 or so. An information board at Torcross says 749 American soldiers and sailors died. Whatever the exact figure, far more Americans were killed that night than died in the actual landing at Utah beach just over a month later. (Casualties were much higher at Omaha beach.) It was the most lopsided rout America suffered during the war, yet nobody has ever heard of it because news of the disaster was withheld, partly for purposes of morale, partly because of the general secrecy surrounding the invasion preparations.  What is most extraordinary is that the Germans, having chanced upon a massive collection of boats and men engaged in training exercises just across the sea from the Cherbourg peninsula, failed to recognize that an invasion of northern France was imminent."
Text excerpted from Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling.  More information at Wikipedia.

One of Dogbert's better ideas

So sad

"Richard T. Ramsey and Sue Ramsey hold hands while looking at the skyline from the remains of their house of 41 years, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They safely evacuated from their home as wildfire approached Monday evening."
What a view they must have enjoyed for 41 years, only to lose that and everything they own.  This is one of 155 photos in a gallery at Weather.com.   Photo credit Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP.

Kleptocracy and kakistocracy explained

Kleptocracy (from Greek: κλεπτοκρατία, klépto- thieves + -kratos rule, literally "rule by thieves") is a government with corrupt rulers (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political power. Typically this system involves the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service...

The effects of a kleptocratic regime or government on a nation are typically adverse in regards to the welfare of the state's economy, political affairs and civil rights. Kleptocratic governance typically ruins prospects of foreign investment and drastically weakens the domestic market and cross-border trade...

Kakistocracy (Greek: κακιστοκρατία; kækɪsˈtɑkɹəsi) is a term meaning a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens... The word comes from the Greek words kakistos (κάκιστος; worst) and kratos (κράτος; rule), with a literal meaning of government by the worst people.
Posted for future reference, not because of anything that, you know, is actually going on.  Yet.

Did a Hugh Williams survive a wreck in Wales yesterday?

"On December 5, 1664, a ship sunk in the Menai Strait, a stretch of water with tremendous tidal swings off the coast of Wales. All 81 passengers died, except one. His name was Hugh Williams.

 On December 5, 1785, another ship sunk in the Menai Strait, with again everyone aboard dying except for one man…named Hugh Williams.

And then again, on December 5, 1820, yet another ship sunk in the Menai Strait. Only one man survived, and he was named Hugh Williams. This is an awesome legend, and the scope of the coincidence is staggering.

Another source actually references two other British shipwrecks with the lone survivors bearing the name Hugh Williams, except they weren’t on December 5. In one of those wrecks, there were actually two survivors, an uncle and nephew, and both were named Hugh Williams. And so despite having two survivors, you could still technically say of the wreck “the only man to survive was named Hugh Williams.”"
Via The Cuttlefish, which suggests that the explanation lies in... mathematics.

04 December 2016

Rose light bulb

This is a vintage Aerolux neon lightbulb, probably from the 1940s.  A video shows it to flicker at a frequency of 60 hz.  More information at Neatorama.

"We can't have 18-year-olds reading about masturbation..."

Resident Rick Ligthart read from a prepared statement the changes he wanted in the school district’s policy.

“Regardless of the books, I’m recommending to the board that no literature whatsoever be inclusive of literal metaphorical, figurative or allegorical words for male or female genitals,” said Ligthart, who described himself as a former tenured high school teacher. “English classes should not be involved in sexuality in literature for our kids. It shouldn’t be in any books — no books.”

We can’t have 18-year-olds reading about masturbation or sexual issues, regardless of the literature,” he added. “I don’t care if it’s from Dickens or who else.”
*sigh*  I'll defer commentary, although I will note that his recommendation would also ban the Bible.


A kronkåsa (Swedish: crown cup, plural kronkåsor) is a drinking vessel where the handles are exaggeratedly long and elaborate, thus forming a kind of crown above the cup, hence the name. The crown cups made during the Renaissance were carved from a single root of spruce trees. Later copies from the 19th century were made using other types of wood. The decoration of the crown is likely derived from forms found in the woodwork details of imported late Gothic altarpieces. Many of the cups were painted brightly red.

Why you can't swim in molasses - updated

Most readers here are probably at least vaguely aware of Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919.  This week I found an article at Scientific American discussing the relevant physics:
A wave of molasses does not behave like a wave of water. Molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that its viscosity depends on the forces applied to it, as measured by shear rate. Consider non-Newtonian fluids such as toothpaste, ketchup and whipped cream. In a stationary bottle, these fluids are thick and goopy and do not shift much if you tilt the container this way and that. When you squeeze or smack the bottle, however, applying stress and increasing the shear rate, the fluids suddenly flow. Because of this physical property, a wave of molasses is even more devastating than a typical tsunami. In 1919 the dense wall of syrup surging from its collapsed tank initially moved fast enough to sweep people up and demolish buildings, only to settle into a more gelatinous state that kept people trapped...

At least two researchers have directly investigated how people swim in a low Reynolds number environment. Their 2004 study is candidly titled "Will Humans Swim Faster or Slower in Syrup?" Brian Gettelfinger and Edward Cussler, both engineers at the University of Minnesota, asked 16 volunteers—including a few people training for the Olympics—to swim 25 yards (22.5 meters) in a swimming pool filled with plain water and in one filled with water and guar gum...

Depending on the way it is made, molasses is between 5,000 to 10,000 times more viscous than water. The Reynolds number for an adult man in water is around one million; the Reynolds number for the same man in molasses is about 130. To make matters worse, a man immersed in molasses will not get anywhere with the kinds of symmetric swimming strokes that would propel him in water. Each repetitive stroke would only undo what was done before. Pulling his arm towards himself would move molasses away from his head, but reaching up to repeat the stroke would push the molasses back where it was before. He would stay in place, like a gnat trapped in tree sap. Even burly men struggled to tread molasses in the wake of the Boston Molasses Disaster... 
The article goes on to address the physics of bacterial propulsion in a variety of fluids.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2013 to add the photo and some excerpts from a nice article in the New York Times.
The students performed experiments in a walk-in refrigerator to model how corn syrup, standing in for the molasses, would behave in cold temperatures. With that data in hand, they applied the results to a full-scale flood, projecting it over a map of the North End. Their results, Ms. Sharp said, generally matched the accounts from the time. “The historical record says that the initial wave of molasses moved at 35 miles per hour,” Ms. Sharp said, “which sounds outrageously fast.”...

In the winter, however, after the initial burst — which lasted between 30 seconds and a few minutes, Ms. Sharp said — the cooler temperature of the outside air raised the viscosity of the molasses, essentially trapping people who had not been able to escape the wave...

A firefighter who survived the initial wave managed to stay alive for nearly two hours while he waited to be rescued, they said, but he drowned.

Do you know someone with Parkinsons?

Or any other intention tremor or arm weakness?  Consider gifting them a "self-leveling spoon" for Christmas.

This product and similar items are made by Liftware.
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