29 September 2014

Milkweed's spectacular autumn podcast

The final stage in milkweed's life cycle is a magnificent aerial dispersal of its seeds.  The dried pods, remants of those huge blossoms, crack open and several hundred aerodynamic seeds are exposed to the wind; this happens gradually, over a period of days rather than all at once, presumably to maximize the range of distribution of their landing sites.

I hope that every child (and the inner child of every adult) has had or will have the opportunity to hold a dried stem aloft and shake it gently on an autumn day.  One can't help but marvel at how this immensely effective dispersal mechanism has evolved over the millennia.

Those who raise milkweed in butterfly gardens need to be aware that neighbors may not share their enthusiasm for the plant.  We cut down the stems of all our plants just before the pods open. The seeds are then available for "stealth gardening" along roadsides or in wastelands.

For those who want to distribute the seeds by hand in a more controlled fashion, the seeds can be separated from the fluff (the coma), or even more simply just digitally removed from a mature but unopened pod (instructive video here).

(and yes, I know it's actually a "seedcast," not a podcast, but I couldn't resist using the word)

"Shellshock" - a scary new computer bug

From the BBC:
The flaw has been found in a software component known as Bash, which is a part of many Linux systems as well as Apple's Mac operating system. The bug, dubbed Shellshock, can be used to remotely take control of almost any system using Bash, researchers said...

"Whereas something like Heartbleed was all about sniffing what was going on, this was about giving you direct access to the system," Prof Alan Woodward, a security researcher from the University of Surrey, told the BBC.

"The door's wide open."

Some 500,000 machines worldwide were thought to have been vulnerable to Heartbleed. But early estimates, which experts said were conservative, suggest that Shellshock could hit at least 500 million machines...

"Using this vulnerability, attackers can potentially take over the operating system, access confidential information, make changes, et cetera," said Tod Beardsley, a Rapid7 engineer...

For general home users worried about security, Prof Woodward suggested simply keeping an eye on manufacturer websites for updates - particularly for hardware such as broadband routers.
More at the link. I would welcome comments from some of the informed readers of this blog.

Wasp nest on a window

Censorship of books in U.S. prisons

From a story in The Guardian:
There is “widespread censorship” of books in US prisons, according to a report submitted to a UN human rights review, which details the banning of works about artists from Botticelli to Van Gogh from Texan state prisons for containing “sexually explicit images”.
The report from two free-speech organisations, the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship and the Copenhagen-based Freemuse, to the United Nation’s (UN) Universal Periodic Review states that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) lists 11,851 titles banned from its facilities. These range from the “ostensibly reasonable”, such as How to Create a New Identity, Essential Throwing and Grappling Techniques, and Art & Design of Custom Fixed Blades, to what it describes as “the telling”, including Write it in Arabic, and the “bizarre” (Arrival of the Gods: Revealing the Alien Landing Sites at Nazca was banned for reasons of “homosexuality”)...

“Of the 11,851 total blocked titles, 7,061 were blocked for ‘deviant sexual behaviour’ and 543 for sexually explicit images,” says the report, naming artists including Caravaggio, Cézanne, Dallí, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt and Renoir among those whose works have been kept out of Texas state prisons.

Anthologies on Greco-Roman art, the pre-Raphaelites, impressionism, Mexican muralists, pop surrealism, graffiti art, art deco, art nouveau and the National Museum of Women in the Arts are banned for the same reason, as are numerous textbooks on pencil drawing, watercolour, oil painting, photography, graphic design, architecture and anatomy for artists,” states the submission, with prohibited literary works by Gustav Flaubert, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, George Orwell, Ovid, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Shakespeare and Alice Walker also on the banned list.
More at the link.  The eagerness to ban pornography puzzles me.  These prisoners are capable of hiding razor blades in their mouths and knives in their rectums, and the  authorities are worried that the images might corrupt their minds or they might waste their time masturbating??

Green potato chips explained

Just a curious sign of inattention on the production line, as a Reddit commenter notes:
"Actually, these chips were dyed with green food coloring so they'd be easy to find coming out of the fryer. Several times a day the amount of time the chips spend in the fryer is tested, and this makes them easy to find. Someone missed them obviously."
Source: I work there.

27 September 2014

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

The world's fastest camera is capable of taking 4,000,000,000,000 pictures per second.

African vultures are being killed by poachers and are now as endangered as the rhinos.

The Guiness World Record for clapping hands belongs to Vanna White, hostess of Wheel of Fortune, who has accumulated approximately 3.5 million on-screen claps.

"Despite Legalization, Colorado Teenagers Stubbornly Refuse to Smoke More Pot."
...they are part of a general downward trend in Colorado that has continued despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001, the commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009 (when the industry took off after its legal status became more secure), and the legalization of recreational use (along with home cultivation and sharing among adults) at the end of 2012.
A supercut of careless or criminally negligent package deliveries by FedEx employees (I should note that the ones for our neighborhood are great).

A new online tracking device can monitor and record what websites you've visited.

The sad legacy of New Age fascination with the iconic Serpent Mound in Ohio (photo at right).

Video of immense smuggling tunnels between Mexico and the U.S.

"...tear gas is a chemical agent banned in warfare per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which set forth agreements signed by nearly every nation in the world — including the United States. The catch, however, is that while it’s illegal in war, it’s legal in domestic riot control."

"Amazon’s profits for its entire existence [20 years] are still less than what ExxonMobil takes home every 2.5 weeks."

DNA used to track Michelle Obama's white ancestors - "The results showed that the two families were related. The DNA testing indicated that Melvinia’s owner’s son was the likely father of Melvinia’s biracial child, Dolphus Shields. (Dolphus Shields is the first lady’s great-great grandfather.)

Impressive stop-motion animation using carved foam.

A new major Mayan city has been discovered in the jungle of the Yucatan.

It’s illegal for drug companies to advertise their prescription drugs to consumers almost everywhere in the world. The only exceptions are the US and New Zealand.

"A Summerville High School student who says he was arrested and suspended after writing about killing a dinosaur using a gun in a class assignment has hired a lawyer... Investigators say the teacher contacted school officials after seeing the message containing the words "gun" and "take care of business," and police were then notified on Tuesday. Summerville police officials say Stone's book bag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found."

"At least 100,000 elephants have died in just the last three years. If this rate continues, African elephants could go extinct in a few decades."

Oceanic plankton have been found on the outside surface of the internatinal space station.

Jane Austen used straight pins to edit a manuscript (photo at left).
"With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies – the three patches, small pieces of paper, each of which was filled closely and neatly with the new material, attached with straight pins to the precise spot where erased material was to be covered or where an insertion was required to expand the text."

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader explains the difference between ice cream,  frozen custard, gelato, sherbet, sorbet, and frozen yogurt.

An update on the unrest in Pakistan and the role of opposition leader Imran Kahn.

"A chef preparing a dish made from cobra flesh died when the snake's head he had severed 20 minutes earlier bit him on the hand."

The outfits for a Colombian women's cycling team have generated a storm of protest because of the use of flesh-colored fabric:

Video of the cyclists is available at The Telegraph.

Jon Stewart's tirade re "boobs on the ground"

Jon Stewart's wit is often acerbic, but for this piece he seems truly angry ("F*ck you and your false patriotism").

The Washington Post has a backstory about the woman combat pilot. The original "boobs on the ground" comment is here (and here is the related Reddit comment thread).

Via Mikeb30200.

26 September 2014

Norwegian landscape

Image credit Yury Pustovoy, whose remarkable photographs are assembled here.

"The Imitation Game" trailer

More information about the movie at the Wikipedia entry.

The Romanian Treasure

During World War I, since Bucharest was occupied by Germany, the Romanian administration moved to Iaşi, and with them, the most valuable objects which belonged to the Romanian state. Fearing an eventual German victory, the Romanian government decided to send the Treasure abroad...

The Romanian government signed a deal with the Russian government which stated that Russia would safe keep the Romanian Treasure in the Kremlin until the end of the war. At 3:00 AM during the night of December 14–15, 1916, a train with 21 carriages, full of gold bars and gold coins (around 120 tonnes), departed the Iaşi train station eastward. In four other carriages, two hundred gendarmes guarded the train. The gold load of this train has as of 2005 a value of $1.25 billion. Seven months later, in the summer of 1917, as the war situation was getting worse for Romania, another transport was sent to Moscow, containing the most precious objects of the Romanian state, including the archives of the Romanian Academy, many antique valuables, such as 3,500-year-old golden jewels found in Romania, ancient Dacian jewels, the jewels of the voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia, as well as the jewels of the Romanian royalty, thousands of paintings, as well as precious cult objects owned by Romanian monasteries, such as 14th century icons and old Romanian manuscripts. It also contained various deposits of the Romanian people at the national banks. The value of this train is hard to estimate, especially because most of its contents are art objects, but most likely nowadays it could even surpass the value of the other train...

After the Romanian Army entered Bessarabia, at the time nominally part of Russia, in the early 1918, the new Soviet government severed all diplomatic relations and confiscated the Romanian treasure. The Romanian government tried to recover the treasure in 1922, but with little success. In 1935, the USSR did return a part of the archives, and in 1956 paintings and ancient objects, most notably, the Pietroasele treasure. All the governments of Romania since World War I, regardless of their political colour, have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a return of the gold and of the culturally valuable objects, but all Soviet and Russian governments have refused
Posted as a reminder that during wartime, powerful and unscrupulous people amass immense fortunes.

"Dances with quadcopters"

"Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios have partnered to develop a short film featuring 10 quadcopters in a flying dance performance. The collaboration resulted in a unique, interactive choreography where humans and drones move in sync. Precise computer control allows for a large performance and movement vocabulary of the quadcopters and opens the door to many more applications in the future."

Your children will eat jellyfish for dinner

From an article in Modern Farmer:
About five miles offshore a crewmate spots, floating near the surface, a mat of gyrating grapefruit-sized globs that stretch the length of five city blocks, a slick so thick it appears as if you could walk on it.

These are cannonball jellyfish. Locals call them “jellyballs.” And they will be dinner. “Jellyballs have been very, very good to me,” says King, who has worked as a state trooper for the last 20 years, and might be the only jelly-balling cop in the country. This past season was particularly robust: King and his men caught 
an estimated 5 million-plus pounds of cannonball jellyfish. At what King says is this year’s price (seven cents a pound), this equates to $350,000...

These brownish Cnidarians (from the Greek knide, or nettle, for their ability
to sting) are now the state of Georgia’s third biggest fishery by volume, behind crabs and shrimp. The first cannonball jellies were commercially harvested off the Gulf Coast of Florida in the early ’90s, and since then Darien, Georgia, has become the epicenter of the industry...

At the Golden Island plant, the jellies are dried and shipped to China and Japan, where they are cut into long, thin strips and served in salads with cabbage and teriyaki sauce. If prepared right, the jellyfish are crunchy, like a carrot. Jellyfish are popular in China, along with other sea creatures like geoducks (those gigantic phallic clams from the Pacific Northwest) for similar textural reasons.

But these sorts of foods are being embraced well beyond Asia. And as climate change and the global industrial agriculture system continue on what many view as a doomed course, we may have no choice but to eat foods that make sense ecologically — or can at least thrive in a changed environment.
More at the link.  Photo credit Mary Wong.

This 5-year old boy can do 20 pushups

90-degree pushups.

Palmer's amaranth - a "superweed"

Excerpts from an Associated Press article published in the somewhat-agriculture-oriented StarTribune:
A weed strong enough to stop combines and resist many herbicides has been confirmed in South Dakota for the first time, raising concerns it could spread and cut deeply into crop production in the Upper Midwest — one of the few areas it hadn't yet invaded.

The threat from palmer amaranth is so great that officials in North Dakota have named it the weed of the year, even though it has yet to be found in the state.

"If you think you find plants — kill it!" North Dakota State University Extension Weed Specialist Rich Zollinger said. "Don't even think. Just kill it."..

The weed some officials refer to as "Satan" has moved into the Midwest from cotton country, and was discovered in western Iowa soybean fields last year. It's native to desert regions of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico... The plants can grow as tall as 7 feet, each one producing as much as a million seeds. Its stems can grow as thick as baseball bats...

"The big concern is, in Southern states, it has developed — quickly — resistance to a considerable amount of herbicides," Johnson said.
And a more measured viewpoint from the Wikipedia entry:
Amaranthus palmeri is a species of edible flowering plant in the amaranth genus. It has several common names, including Palmer's amaranth, Palmer amaranth, Palmer's pigweed, and carelessweed. It is native to most of the southern half of North America...

The leaves, stems and seeds of Palmer amaranth, like those of other amaranths, are edible and highly nutritious. Palmer amaranth was once widely cultivated and eaten by Native Americans across North America, both for its abundant seeds and as a cooked or dried green vegetable. Other related Amaranthus species have been grown as crops for their greens and seeds for thousands of years in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, India, and China. The plant can be toxic to livestock animals...

Palmer amaranth is considered a threat most specifically to the production of genetically modified cotton and soybean crops in the southern United States because in many places, the plant has developed resistance to glyphosate.
Photo by FireFlyForest, via Eat The Weeds.

25 September 2014

Wildfire in Yosemite

This remarkable photo by Darvin Atkeson enlarges to wallpaper size with a click.  Source.
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