23 April 2017

"Slime videos" explained

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

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

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

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

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

"How Western civilization could collapse"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therapy dogs waitiing to see their children

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

The dangers of kohl eyeliner

Kohl served multiple roles in Egyptian antiquity. Egyptians of all social classes applied the eyeliner daily in veneration of the deities, satisfying both religious obligations and beautifying desires. Wearing the glossiest, highest quality kohl denoted one’s upper class status in society while the less wealthy adulterated their kohl with fire soot. Before the advent of Ray-Bans, it was applied liberally around the eyes to reduce the sun’s glare, to repel flies and to provide cooling relief from the heat. It also trapped errant dust and dirt, a simple remedy to curb the desert’s regular assaults on the body...

Kohl is predominantly composed of the mineral galena, a dark, metallic lead-based product that is also known by the chemical name lead sulfide (PbS). The mineral would be crushed and mixed  with several other ingredients such as ground pearls, rubies and emeralds, silver and gold leaves, frankincense, coral, and medicinal herbs such as saffron, fennel, and neem...

A 240-fold increase in NO production was sparked by the presence of lead ions, a bona fide tsunami of molecules flooding surrounding cells to respond to invading bacteria. This intense biochemical interaction suggests that kohl was more than just a beautifying cosmetic and the forefather of sunglasses, but also an important antibacterial ointment...

Kohl is still used today in North Africa and Central Asia, despite its considerable toxicity.
There is more information about the toxicity at NPR:
Two Afghan children now living in Albuquerque developed very high levels of lead in their blood because of eye makeup, health workers reported Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The family had just emigrated from Afghanistan as refugees. And they brought the traditional eyeliner, called kajal, with them...

When health workers tested the kajal in the family's home, the eyeliner turned out to be 54 percent lead. That's 540,000 parts per million, or 27,000 times the cap set by the Food and Drug Administration for color additives in makeup.

Lead is a neurotoxin. And it's especially harmful to babies and young children. Even small amounts can damage developing brains and cause permanent problems.

Tilly Lockey and her bionic arm

The above video shows her first attempts to use the new arm; In the longer video below she tells her story:

More details at the Meningitis Research Foundation.

"I've never been on a team before. Even if I don't play, I just want to be on the team..."

"He's at home" was the term for a Nantucket dildo - updated

A long and quite interesting article at Literary Hub traces one writer's journey to document the use of dildos by the wives of Nantucket whalers.
On Nantucket, 80-year-old Connie Congdon and I sat in her dim living room looking at the 120-year-old plaster dildo that a mason had found in her chimney...

In the box were the other antiques the mason had found with the dildo: six charred envelopes from the 1890s addressed to Captain James B. Coffin; letters from the same James B. Coffin to Grover Cleveland and Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Dehl; a dirty and frayed shirt collar; a pipe that still smelled of tobacco when I fit my nose in the bowl; and a green glass laudanum bottle. These items must have been hidden in the chimney by James’s wife,­ Martha “Mattie” Coffin, sometime between when the letters were dated and when she died in 1928. The fireplace was later sealed up, and a closet was built in front of it...

She unwrapped the stony phallus from its pink tissue paper and handed it to me. It was heavier than it looked. The head had been painted wild-berry red. The shaft was off-white and touched with light brown stains. Through the center was a hole no thicker than a straw, as if it had been skewered for drying. Saw marks streaked the cross section of the flat base, and it had been circumcised with whittling scrapes. “No mistaking what it is,” Connie said, as I turned it in my hand...

She bent at the waist, snapped on the flashlight, and peered up the chimney. “Up there,” she said, motioning me to kneel down beside her. “It was on the flue shelf.” I craned my neck. Her light swept over the chimney’s charred innards. The damper ledge where the dildo had been hidden was an arm’s length away...

Nantucket wives were dubbed “Cape Horn widows,” because their husbands might be gone for eight years. In Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab tells his first mate, Starbuck, that of the past forty years of “making war on the horrors of the deep” he’d only been ashore three, leaving only “one dent in [his] marriage pillow.” “[W]ife?” Ahab rages, “wife?—rather a widow with her husband alive!” The dildos, called “he’s-at-homes” in some books on the history of the Yankee whale fishery, were meant to be some insurance of fidelity for a husband who was rarely present.
Much more at Literary Hub.  Well worth the read for those interested in the subject matter.

I can't close without including a link to the famous poem(s) "There Once Was a Man From Nantucket."

Reposted from 2015 to add this report of a similar item being auctioned in Ireland:

Lot 475 is a Victorian-era sex toy – an uncannily lifelike-looking phallus, intricately carved from ivory. Sandwiched in the brochure between a pair of antique miniature portraits and a set of decanter labels, the item is described in the brochure as an “antique carved ivory ladies companion in scarlet lined leather upholstered carry box with inset bevelled glass panel”.

“It is a beautiful piece, which comes from one of the well-known Anglo-Irish families,” says auctioneer Damien Matthews...

“This was a very enlightened family, and this would have been a very loving gift from a husband to wife. You can see that because the level of detail is incredible, down to the folds of the skin. There’s a heart carved at the base of it, where her finger would have been, and a receptacle in which she could keep a lock of his hair.”...

The man did return, and the box was subsequently custom-made in Ireland. “The leather box is Irish. She would have got the box carved for it – there’s a stamp on the lock with the name of an Irish locksmith,” Matthews says...

Matthews says there has been considerable interest in the piece, and that it could go to a museum of erotica, to a collector of antique ivory or Victorian art. The guide price is set at €500-€800.
Further details at Irish Times, via The Guardian.

Tongue-and-groove tree felling

Via.  Video here.

21 April 2017

Divertimento #125

The 125th linkdump becomes the first "gifdump". 

Deep-frying rice vermicelli noodles.

Avalanche rescue dog having fun.

Gorilla vs. Canadian goose.  You can guess who wins that one.

Local sports hero.

Vietnamese SWAT team tactical training.

A group of wild turkeys marching in a circle around a dead cat.

The "master of disguise" is not the one you expect.

Dog and rabbit are BFF.

The Pope getting a pizza delivered to his vehicle.

When a video camera's shutter speed synchronizes with a helicopter's rotors, the resulting video is unnerving.

Baby bottle robot prototype - unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful attempt at bank robbery.

Windy day.   This one went viral last week.  She holds on to her tablet like a champ.

"Living the dream."

Kinetic wood sculpture.

Tree stump removal.

Hot water and Skittles.

A dog swimming with a breaststroke, not a dogpaddle.

This woman not only counts money faster than you, but faster than you can even imagine.

Fluid dynamics of a drip-free wine-bottle lip.

An astronaut aboard the ISS demonstrates the Dzhanibekov Effect.

This was labeled "bubble gum" but it's probably slime (about which more later this week).

Lightning striking a car.

Rescuers offer a King Cobra water (note the size of this magnificent creature).

Donald Trump signs his "energy independence Executive Order."

A man tries to kick a dog.  Karma ensues.

Girl annoys dog at beach.  Karma ensues.

Every dot in this video moves in a straight line only.

A little bird is ecstatic about receiving pats.

Kingfisher breaching after a successful dive (the minnow can be seen wiggling in his gullet).

This is a "power broom."  Very cool.

A high-definition night vision camera looks like daylight until you realize the stars are visible.

I can't describe this remarkable baseball play.  Just watch.

Throw a lighted cigarette butt in a hole in the sidewalk.  WCGW ?

A "deceased spirit" is set free at a funeral.  WCGW?

HMB while I skimboard across a pool.  WCGW?

Red panda vs. rock.  We'll call it a tie.

Bow down before the awesome power of a crocodile's tail

Add water to compressed soil.

Polyox is a self-siphoning gel.

Donald Trump being reminded to be patriotic.

Hydrophobic sand.

A runaway tire.

What to do when a baby elephant has a stuffy nose.

The Daily Show interviews a man on the street re Obama's role in 9/11.

The smile of a Syrian girl who survived a suicide bombing.

This is an armadillo's defense.  And this is the feline version of the same thing.

I found the pix in the subreddit on Unstirred Paint.  (There seems to be subreddit for everything).

19 April 2017

Seraphine (2009)

I encountered this trailer for Seraphine while watching the DVD of A Man Called Ove and decided to give it a try.  Here's the blurb:
Based on a true story, SÉRAPHINE centers on Séraphine de Senlis (Moreau), a simple and profoundly devout housekeeper whose brilliantly colorful canvases adorn some of the most famous galleries in the world. German art critic and collector Wilhelm Uhde (The Lives of Others Ulrich Tukur) - the first Picasso buyer and champion of naïve primitive painter Le Douanier Rousseau - discovers her paintings while she is working for him as a maid in the beautiful countryside of Senlis near Paris. A moving and unexpected relationship develops between the avant-garde art dealer and the visionary outsider artist. Martin Provost's fictionalized and poignant portrait of Séraphine is a testament to creativity and the resilience of one womans spirit.
That's an accurate summary.  It's not a cheerful movie, but it is extremely well acted and filmed, scoring 89% on Rotten Tomatoes; it received these César Awards in 2009:
If you can't find the DVD at your library, the full movie is online here.

18 April 2017

17 April 2017

It's sad that this is basically true

Source (where you can click through all the Dilbert cartoons).

Canine freestyle

This is better than some of the ones I've seen presented at Crofts.   I can't begin to imagine the countless hours these two have spent together developing this routine.

Via Neatorama.


Normal child's skull (with some overlying bone dissected away) to show the relationship of the baby teeth to the unemerged adult teeth.

Image cropped for size from the original via.

The Zanclean flood

According to this model, water from the Atlantic Ocean refilled the cut-off inland seas through the modern-day Strait of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean Basin flooded mostly during a period estimated to have been between several months and two years. Sea level rise in the basin may have reached rates at times greater than ten metres per day (thirty feet per day).  Based on the erosion features preserved until modern times under the Pliocene sediment, these authors estimate that water rushed down a drop of more than 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) with a discharge of up to  2×108 m3/s (7.1×109 cu ft/s), about 1,000 times that of the present day Amazon River. Studies of the underground structures at the Gibraltar Strait show that the flooding channel descended in a rather gradual way toward the bottom of the basin rather than forming a steep waterfall.

Not all scientific studies have agreed with the catastrophistic interpretation of this event. Some researchers have estimated that the reinstallment of a "normal" Mediterranean Sea basin following the Messinian "Lago Mare" episode took place in a much more gradual way, taking as long as 10,000 years.
Related: flooding of the Black Sea basin.

I do hope someone invents time travel soon, because I'd like to go back and watch this.

Bowler, 1937

Via Sloth Unleashed.

Beware of buglers

At common law, “burglary” was the crime of breaking into a house at night with intent to commit a felony. These days the time and type of building usually don’t matter...  Say it. Burglar. The verb form is “burgle,” or “burglarize,”... the adverb used to be “burglarily” (e.g. “evill disposed person or persons, attempting to murder, rob, or burglarily to breake mansion houses” (1533)), which was bad enough, but the modern form seems to be “burglariously..."

A “bugler,” of course, is one who bugles. “Bugle” is also French, although that word apparently comes from back when the noise was made with the horn of a wild ox (bugle, in French)... But the OED just blew my mind by telling me that there’s no such word as “buglery.” Surely “buglery” is the art of playing the bugle? Nope, not there. One can certainly “bugle,” or engage in “bugling.”.. But at least as far as the OED is concerned, “buglery” is not a word.
Image cropped for size from the original at Crossing The Bar.

Questioning the Passover story

From the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, an op-ed piece questions whether Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt, and whether the Passover story is a myth.
"Even if we take the earliest possible date for Jewish slavery that the Bible suggests, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt a good three hundred years after the 1750 B.C. completion date of the pyramids. That is, of course, if they were ever slaves in Egypt at all...

...one of the biggest events of the Jewish calendar is predicated upon reminding the next generation every year of how the Egyptians were our cruel slave-masters, in a bondage that likely never happened... I'm talking about real proof; archeological evidence, state records and primary sources. Of these, nothing exists.

It is remarkable that Egyptian records make no mention of the sudden migration of what would have been nearly a quarter of their population... Furthermore, there is no evidence in Israel that shows a sudden influx of people from another culture at that time.

...let us enjoy our Seder and read the story by all means, but also remind those at the table who may forget that it is just a metaphor, and that there is no ancient animosity between Israelites and Egyptians. Because, if we want to re-establish that elusive peace with Egypt that so many worked so hard to build, we're all going to have to let go of our prejudices."
Addendum: A tip of the blogging cap to reader Drabkikker for finding this relevant Wikipedia page.

Basketball court adapted to available space


"This is the ancient site of Dubrovnik's metal forge, re-discovered by archeologists only about a decade ago. Before then this corner of the city had been a pile of construction rubble and ruins. The basketball court is actually the rooftop of a climate-controlled museum that has preserved the entire excavated site. See that sunken door on the right side of the court? That's the museum entrance. Walk in there and a Croatian archeology doctorate candidate will lead you on an hour-long guided tour through the catwalks suspended over the dig site.

I was there last summer with my girlfriend and two friends of ours and we decided to check out the museum out of curiosity, ended up being one of the most interesting parts of the whole trip. The ancient metalworks were extensive and the guide did a great job of explaining via his broken English exactly how each step of the process worked."
"We went on this tour too and it was excellent. The guide said he doesn't get many folks through the door because it is well hidden, so if you see this thread, go visit!... name of museum is The Foundry Museum (Gornji Ugao)."
A gallery of photos in the museum is here.   Photos and comments from the discussion thread at the MildlyInteresting subreddit.

The "mamas" and the "papas"

"Before I knew anything about language acquisition, I assumed that babies making these utterances were referring to their parents. But this interpretation is backwards: mama/papa words just happen to be the easiest word-like sounds for babies to make.  The sounds came first – as experiments in vocalization – and parents adopted them as pet names for themselves."
Presented at Sentence First in a post introducing a new crowdsourced language project (details at the links).

Movie scenes filmed in Iceland

A surprising number of well-known movies.

Field trip, 1947

Post-War Field Trips

Minneapolis school children from Hay and Willard Elementary schools, as well as a South St. Paul group, wait at the Great Northern railroad station to board a train for St. Paul. Schools around the city have started taking field trips again after ceasing during war-time. As many as 450 children a day are touring farms, trains, zoos, industries, and historic sites.
-- Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 25, 1947
From the Stuff About Minneapolis tumblr.

I have fond memories of field trips from my childhood, when a day spent touring a factory was deemed as important to education as a day in a classroom.  I think it's important for young children to see - in person, not on film - a working assembly line, an animal barn, a railroad train etc etc etc.

I don't know to what extent such trips are undertaken nowadays (readers...?).  I would concede that it must be a headache for a businessperson to host dozens of unrestrained fourth-graders, but I think if such ventures are not taken, a learning experience is omitted.

Are leggings trousers?

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, yes.
We define leggings as ‘tight-fitting stretch trousers, typically worn by women or girls’.

A key concept in a dictionary entry is the ‘genus term’ – the part of the definition which answers the question ‘what type of thing is it?’. The genus term is a broader category into which the word being defined fits, and can be used to place closely related words into groups, or semantic categories. Our entry for leggings, therefore, uses the genus term ‘trousers’, firmly placing them in that group alongside jeans, cords, and culottes. And they certainly seem to fit our definition of trousers: ‘an outer garment covering the body from the waist to the ankles, with a separate part for each leg’.

Some critics however, have an issue with leggings as an ‘outer garment’.... (more at the link)
Photo credit: American Eagle Outfitters.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

I'll meet you over at the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Image via No Brash Festivity.

"Dog-whistle editing" explained

For the English majors reading this blog...
English, in its superabundance, has many multiples of words and phrases that overlap contentiously in meaning. These confusables are the bread and butter of usage manuals: imply and infer, disinterested and uninterested, careen and career, defuse and diffuse, convince and persuade, militate and mitigate, refute and reject, and flaunt and flout.

Some of these pairs are worth distinguishing; others are not. Part of editing well – and writing well – is knowing which distinctions to preserve and which to disregard. Examining over versus more than, John E. McIntyre refers to dog-whistle editing: ‘the observance of nuances that only copy editors can hear, and thus a waste of time’.

Knowing the difference between flaunt and flout is not, for now, a waste of time. But the prospects are not promising. In a post at Language Log yesterday, Geoffrey Pullum says it ‘may be a lost cause’ – a gloomy diagnosis prompted by a BBC Radio 4 report that referred to politicians who were ‘supposed to impose party discipline, rather than flaunt it’. It should have been flout.

To recap: flaunt means to show off or display ostentatiously. One flaunts wealth or fancy clothes. Flout means to brazenly disobey or disregard. One flouts the law by openly ignoring it. The two are often confused: partly, we can assume, because they’re spelled similarly.
The discussion continues at Sentence First.

13 April 2017

A modern equivalent of death by crucifixion

This unfortunate lethal accident was reported in the Washington Post:
Judith Permar drove to a clothing drop-off box at about 2 a.m... According to police, she stood on the stepladder so she could reach the top of the box. She rummaged through the donated items, even taking some out... After allegedly removing several bags filled with clothes and shoes, she slipped as the stepladder collapsed, her arm catching in the door...

The fall broke her arms and wrists, which were trapped in the box. Her feet, meanwhile, didn’t quite touch the ground, leaving her hanging. There she dangled until 8:30 the next morning, when she was finally found. Bags were scattered around her, and the Hummer’s engine was still running.

The temperature had dropped to 21 degrees that night, according to Weather Underground. Permar was pronounced dead at the scene. The county coroner James F. Kelley listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma and hypothermia.
For practical purposes, the cause of death listed by the coroner is adequate, but the pathophysiology of this lady's death is considerably more interesting.  Neither minor fractures nor freezing temperatures would kill her in six hours.  For a deeper understanding we need to look at the cardiovascular and pulmonary implications of her situation.

EMTs are trained to recognize and treat suspension trauma, which typically happens to construction workers in harnesses.  The Journal of Emergency Medical Services and the United States Department of Labor webpages have detailed explanations of the cardiovascular aspects - intravascular fluid pooling in unsupported legs, leading to impaired cardiac output and cerebral hypoperfusion. Special harnesses that support one leg (as in the embedded image at right) may be lifesaving.

I'm going to focus instead on the pulmonary problems of unsupported suspension.  Notice the worker in the suspended harness has support at the pelvis; the abdominal viscera remain in approximately normal position, as does the diaphragm, and ventilatory gas exchange can proceed normally.

Now let's look at historic crucifixion.  This lady's death was not crucifixion, because there was no "crux" (cross), but her cause of death may well have been similar to that experienced by Christian martyrs.

Crucifixion was not principally designed as a method of execution; there are faster and simpler methods to achieve that end.  Rather it was intended to be slowly lethal, thus incorporating torture as punishment and shame as part of a prolonged public display.  The component of suffering is implicit in our modern use of the derived word "excruciating."

In a normal breathing cycle, inhalation requires active motion by the diaphragm, while exhalation is passive.  When a person is suspended, the dependence of the body moves the chest wall toward a full inspiratory position; exhalation then becomes an active rather than a passive process, requiring lifting the body by pushing with the feet and lifting with the arms, a process made more painful by
the nailing of the feet. 

To prolong the crucifixion for perhaps days until inanition and dehydration develop, support for the lower body needs to be supplied with a crude seat (a sedile or sedulum) affixed to the cross, and/or a small plaform to support the feet (nails through the feet would serve the same function).  This feature is evident in some artistic portrayals of crucifixion, where the knees are shown to be flexed (embed at the right: a crux simplex without crossbar).

If the authorities (or bystanders) wished to offer a modicum of mercy and effect a more rapid death to end the suffering, one means to do so was to deliver a blow that would break the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia).

There is a lot more to discuss regarding positional asphyxia.  It is relevant to deaths that occur during restraint by law enforcement officers, to deaths in nursing homes when elderly persons become entangled in bedclothes and bedrails, to "Santa Claus" deaths of burglars entrapped in chimneys, and to the deaths of beached whales and thousands of participants at the battle of Agincourt.   Later.

Grand mal seizure in a snake

The snake is a Black Racer, photographed in Naples, Florida by the sister of reader Ron Rizzo, who forwarded it to us to share. During the first half of this brief video the snake exhibits only some purposeless writhing on the side of a road.  Then it launches into full-blown grand mal seizure activity, which according to the photographer was a pre-terminal event.

Any animal with a brain is susceptible to motor seizures, which are a manifestation of uncontrolled electrical activity in the neurons.  If I had to guess at an etiology, the roadside occurrence would suggest to me that the snake had previously incurred head trauma from a passing vehicle, which eventually led to cerebral edema or intracranial bleeding.  Alternatively it may have encountered a poison or a neurotoxic venom.  In any case, it's a interesting activity to observe.

"Desert varnish" explained

Most readers are familiar with the existence of "desert varnish" - a hard encrustation that develops on rocks exposed to the elements in a dry desert.  I had always assumed that the process was a slow oxidation of surface minerals, so a hat tip to reader David Laidlaw for sending me a link that explains that the process is a microbiological one.
Desert varnish is a thin coating (patina) of manganese, iron and clays on the surface of sun-baked boulders. Its origin has intrigued naturalists since the time of Charles Darwin. According to the classic paper by Ronald I. Dorn and Theodore M. Oberlander (Science Volume 213, 1981), desert varnish is formed by colonies of... bacteria living on the rock surface for thousands of years. The bacteria absorb trace amounts of manganese and iron from the atmosphere and precipitate it as a black layer of manganese oxide or reddish iron oxide on the rock surfaces...

Several genera of bacteria are known to produce desert varnish, including [the extremophiles] Metallogenium and Pedomicrobium... the remarkable hardness of desert varnish, which is almost as hard as quartz (nearly 7 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness)... perhaps 10,000 years are required for a complete varnish coating to form in the deserts of the southwestern United States... For thousands of years Native Americans have used desert varnish for their rock carvings.
Image via Wikipedia.

12 April 2017

Phototropism - updated

This past week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Pope Farm Conservancy in Middleton, Wisconsin.
Pope Farm Conservancy is 105 acres that sits on top of three recessional moraines in the Town of Middleton, Wisconsin, where three different watersheds come together.

Six different Prairie Restoration projects and seven different crops including a field of sunflowers provide tremendous synergy that attracts wildlife to the conservancy. Forty interpretive signs follow the historical aspects of the land. They start with the Glaciers and land formation, followed by the Native Americans, settlers, the CCC project in the 1930’s, to today’s methods of erosion control.

All of this, combined with eight miles of walking trails and picnic areas provide the visitor with an unforgettable experience.
I chose to visit now because of the spectacular bloom a half a million sunflowers (and I wasn't the only one...).

I'll use this occasion to raise a question about phototropism.   These sunflowers were all facing east when I photographed them in mid-morning.  During the day they will track the sun as it moves across the sky.  But what happens during the night?  Are they programmed to turn back toward the east in anticipation of the next sunrise, or does it require the first beams of morning light to trigger them to swivel back toward the east again?

I could probably look this up, but I need to do something else now, and I suspect some reader with knowledge of plant biology will be able to supply the answer for us.

Addendum:  best answers so far are in the link offered by Kyle Michelli and in the video link provided by Zhoen in the comments.

Addendum #2:  Two tips of the blogging cap to readers Rob from Amersfoort and to Patty, both of whom back in August (I'm a bit behind in my blogging), provided links to the research of Stacy Harmer at UC Davis, who has studied phototropism in sunflowers.

As the plants grew from young seedlings into mature, yellow-headed adults, the researchers found that the sun-tracking movements of the plant became less and less noticeable, until they stopped altogether.

“A really common misconception is that mature sunflowers follow the sun. Actually, they do not,” Harmer said. “Mature sunflowers always face east.”...

Using a time-lapse camera, they were able to see that the east side of the stem grew longer during the day, turning the plant’s head to the west. At night, the reverse was true — the west side elongated, causing the plant to face the east...

The scientists report that even when the plants were grown under constant, fixed overhead lighting, they maintained the same head-turning rhythms they displayed in the field for several days... these results suggest that the sunflowers’ movements are regulated by something other than simple growth toward the sun. Some kind of circadian clock was also controlling the plants’ twists and turns...

The authors found that east-facing sunflowers attract up to five times the number of pollinators compared with those that were rotated in their pots so that they were facing west. Yet another experiment showed that this is almost certainly because east-facing sunflowers are more effectively warmed by the morning sun than sunflowers that are facing west.
More at the Los Angeles Times.  Fascinating research.

Tanks for the gold

As reported by Popular Mechanics:
A tank collector in the United Kingdom was in for a surprise when he and his mechanic opened one of his tank's diesel fuel tanks. Inside were gold bars totaling approximately $2.4 million dollars...

Mead found the tank, an ex-Iraqi Army Type 69, on sale on eBay and traded it for an Abbot self-propelled howitzer and a British Army truck...

The gold is thought to be Kuwaiti in origin—Iraqi forces engaged in widescale looting of the country after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Just another reminder (if one is needed) of the truth of General Smedley Butler's assertion that "War is a racket."

"The Nazi War on Cancer"

Those who are looking for something "different" to read might want to consider Robert Proctor's The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton University Press, 1999).

Acknowledging the well-publicized atrocities of Nazi medicine, the author focuses instead on the party's systematic efforts to decrease the prevalence of cancer, especially through a campaign to ban smoking ("masturbation of the lungs").  Hitler was a nonsmoker, as were Mussolini and Franco (cf. Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill as enthusiastic public smokers).  Nazi researchers were among the first to recognize the link between smoking and lung cancer.  Smoking was known to cause cancer, but the link had been established only for mouth, lip, and nasopharyngeal cancers (related to smoking pipe tobacco).  It was not until the introduction of cigarettes allowed smoke to be inhaled deeply that the causation of lung cancer became detectable).

The cover (embedded above) includes a Nazi-era poster depicting a leather boot stomping on a cigarette, a cigar, and a pipe.  There were many such posters in a broad-ranging public campaign against smoking (embed at right - "You don't smoke it.  It smokes you.")  
Throughout this period, magazines like Genussgifte (Poisons of taste or habit), Auf der Wacht (On guard), and Reine Luft (Pure air) published a regular drumbeat against this "insidious poison," along with articles charting the unhealthful effects of alcohol, teenage dancing, cocaine, and other vices. Dozens of books and pamphlets denounced the "smoking slavery" or "cultural degeneration" feared from the growth of tobacco use. Tobacco was branded "the enemy of world peace," and there was even talk of "tobacco terror" and "tobacco capitalism." Karl Astel of Jena labeled tobacco "an enemy of the people" (Volksfeind), and at least one medical thesis--on tobacco addiction--characterized cigarettes as "coffin nails."  Hitler himself in 1941 denounced tobacco as "one of man's most dangerous poisons."

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, antitobacco activists called for increased tobacco taxes, for advertising bans, and for bans on unsupervised vending machines and on tobacco sales to youth and to women in their childbearing years. Activists called for a ban on smoking while driving and for an end to smoking in the workplace. The Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls both published antismoking propaganda, and the Association for the Struggle Against the Tobacco Danger organized counseling centers where the "tobacco ill" (Tabakkranke) could seek help. 
If you are interested in learning more, but can't find the book in your local library, Robert Proctor incorporated much of the information in an article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.  There is also a relevant page in Wikipedia.

(I'm not a newbie blogger.  I don't want to spend dozens of hours curating comments about Nazis, so I'm going to close comments for this post).

10 April 2017

"Am I in the Twilight Zone?"

In Louisville, a defendant was brought before the court not wearing any pants, and not having received any feminine hygiene products during her three-day incarceration.  This Reddit comment is appropriate:
That judge was amazing.

A good judge would have done what she did in terms of sentencing her to time served and releasing her.

This judge apologized on behalf of the correction system, and reprimanded the superiors of the people responsible, in front of the defendant.

When I think of what a judge should be, this woman is exactly that. An autonomous, unbiased, upholder of justice. Someone who after seeing thousands and thousands of real criminals, can still be outraged by injustice coming from the other side.

Look for this in your attic

Or in your grandmother's attic.
Tamerlane and Other Poems is the first published work by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The short collection of poems was first published in 1827... The 40-page collection was called Tamerlane and Other Poems and did not include Poe's name...

It is believed only a dozen copies of the original printing of Tamerlane and Other Poems remain, making it one of the rarest of first editions in American literature. Ironically, the value of one copy today is more money than Poe ever made in his lifetime. Its rarity was recognized in 1925, when the Saturday Evening Post ran an article titled "Have You A Tamerlane in Your Attic"? After the article ran, a woman in Worcester, Massachusetts named Ada S. Dodd searched and found a copy, prompting others to search as well. Today, most of the surviving copies are owned by libraries and museums. Two copies, for example, were purchased by The Huntington Library in New York in 1915. One copy is on display as part of the collection at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. Though copies do not circulate often, they command high prices when they do. One sold at auction for $125,000 and, later, another sold for $198,000. In December 2009, a copy from the William E. Self collection sold at Christie's, New York for $662,500, a record price paid for a work of American literature.

"Super-silk" produced by graphene-fed caterpillars

From Scientific American:
To make carbon-reinforced silk, Yingying Zhang and her colleagues at Tsinghua University fed the worms mulberry leaves sprayed with aqueous solutions containing 0.2% by weight of either carbon nanotubes or graphene and then collected the silk after the worms spun their cocoons, as is done in standard silk production. Treating already spun silk would require dissolving the nanomaterials in toxic chemical solvents and applying those to the silk, so the feeding method is simpler and more environmentally friendly.

In contrast to regular silk, the carbon-enhanced silks are twice as tough and can withstand at least 50% higher stress before breaking. The team heated the silk fibers at 1,050 °C to carbonize the silk protein and then studied their conductivity and structure. The modified silks conduct electricity, unlike regular silk. Raman spectroscopy and electron microscopy imaging showed that the carbon-enhanced silk fibers had a more ordered crystal structure due to the incorporated nanomaterials.

Movie villain dermatology

As reported in JAMA Dermatology:
Dichotomous dermatologic depictions between heroes and villains date back to the silent film age and have been used to visually illustrate the contrasting morality between these character types. Classic dermatologic features of villainous characters include facial scars, alopecia, deep rhytides, periorbital hyperpigmentation, rhinophyma, verruca vulgaris, extensive tattoos, large facial nevi, poliosis, and albinism or gray-hued complexions. These visual cues evoke in the audience apprehension or fear of the unfamiliar and provide a perceptible parallel to the villainous character’s inward corruption...

These portrayals have ignited the formation of advocacy groups aimed at diminishing the perpetuation of existing discrimination by discouraging the use of degrading stereotypes in film. Notably, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) has protested the portrayal of people with albinism as villains, although with limited success...
The all-time top 10 American film villains and heroes were obtained from the American Film Institute 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains List.
Six of the all-time top 10 American film villains (60%) have dermatologic findings, all of which are located on the face and scalp and are persistent in presentation. Dermatologic findings include cosmetically significant (Norwood-Hamilton stage ≥3) alopecia (30%), periorbital hyperpigmentation (30%), deep rhytides on the face (20%), multiple scars on the face (20%), verruca vulgaris on the face (20%), and rhinophyma (10%). Three of the villains (30%) have gray-hued complexions or unnatural skin color. Excluding cosmetically insignificant androgenic alopecia (Norwood-Hamilton stage ≤2), single facial scars, and transient lacerations or ecchymoses, none of the all-time top 10 American film heroes have significant dermatologic findings. All heroes have natural, non–gray-hued complexions. The top 10 villains have a higher incidence of significant dermatologic findings than the top 10 heroes (60% vs 0%; P = .03). Two villains (20%) and 2 heroes (20%) have red hair.
Detailed discussion at the link.   And a related article at The Guardian ("Disfigured heroes like Deadpool help people like me fight prejudice."

Rhytides clarified.

07 April 2017

Who you gonna call ?

Image cropped for emphasis from the one found here.

Butterfly poacher apprehended

From The Guardian:
An insect enthusiast who illegally captured and killed specimens of Britain’s rarest butterfly, the Large Blue, has been given a six-month suspended prison sentence...

Police later raided his terraced home in Cadbury Heath, near Bristol, and found a large number of mounted butterflies, including two large blues...

Michael Hartnell, defending, said: “He accepts the enormity of what he has done. He only had one from each site, but he accepts that if everybody did that they would die out.  [N.B. I am so delighted to see someone using the word "enormity" in the proper context.]
Here's one reason it's endangered:
In Victorian times the large blue was highly prized by collectors because of its wonderful colour and its rarity, as its unusual life circle means it cannot be bred in captivity.
The remarkable life cycle of the large blue means it can only thrive in very particular habitats. Eggs are laid on the flower buds of wild thyme or marjoram. The larvae burrow into the flower heads and when they are about 4mm long drop to the ground and wait to be found by foraging red ants, attracting them with sweet secretions from a “honey” gland. The ants place them in their brood chamber and the larvae feed on ant grubs. They turn into butterflies, crawl above ground, and fly in midsummer. 
Pugh said there was a market still for butterfly specimens. “People buy up old labels and cases and add in newly killed specimens.” The magistrates who sat at Cullen’s trial were told large blues can fetch £300 each.
The morphology and the life cycle of the Large Blue are very similar to the Karner Blue, found in the United States.

06 April 2017

The butterfly effect

This small white butterfly was found pressed between the pages of an eighteenth-century book.

It could - in theory - be the reason Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

Bejeweled skeletons

As reported by Smithsonian:
On May 31, 1578, local vineyard workers discovered that a hollow along Rome’s Via Salaria, a road traversing the boot of Italy, led to a catacomb. The subterranean chamber proved to be full of countless skeletal remains, presumably dating back to the first three centuries following Christianity’s emergence, when thousands were persecuted for practicing the still-outlawed religion. An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 souls—mostly Christians but including some pagans and Jews—found a final resting place in the sprawling Roman catacombs...
The Catholic Church quickly learned of the discovery and believed it was a godsend, since many of the skeletons must have belonged to early Christian martyrs...

The holy bodies became wildly sought-after treasures. Every Catholic church, no matter how small, wanted to have at least one, if not ten...

Nuns were often renowned for their achievements in clothmaking. They spun fine mesh gauze, which they used to delicately wrap each bone. This prevented dust from settling on the fragile material and created a medium for attaching decorations. Local nobles often donated personal garments, which the nuns would lovingly slip onto the corpse and then cut out peepholes so people could see the bones beneath. Likewise, jewels and gold were often donated or paid for by a private enterprise. To add a personal touch, some sisters slipped their own rings onto a skeleton’s fingers. 
Much more at the link.

Desalination using a sieve

A sieve that will entrap molecules of salt, letting water through:
Reporting their results in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists from the University of Manchester, led by Dr Rahul Nair, show how they solved some of the challenges by using a chemical derivative called graphene oxide.

Isolated and characterised by a University of Manchester-led team in 2004, graphene comprises a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Its unusual properties, such as extraordinary tensile strength and electrical conductivity, have earmarked it as one of the most promising materials for future applications...

When common salts are dissolved in water, they always form a "shell" of water molecules around the salt molecules. This allows the tiny capillaries of the graphene-oxide membranes to block the salt from flowing through along with the water.

"Water molecules can go through individually, but sodium chloride cannot. It always needs the help of the water molecules. The size of the shell of water around the salt is larger than the channel size, so it cannot go through," said Dr Nair.

Urbanization on steroids

I'll save you the counting.  That's approximately 50 lanes of cars narrowing down to 25 tollbooths, and then funneling into a smaller highway thereafter. 

Photo via a Guardian article reporting that China plans to build a new city de novo that will be three times the size of New York City.

03 April 2017

It's April, and it's raining...

Conflation sources here and here for the culturally deprived.

From the archives of The New Yorker.

GE College Bowl epic battle (Princeton vs. Agnes Scott)

I've just spent an enjoyable half hour walking down memory lane, watching an episode of General Electric's College Bowl. This quiz bowl series ran on U.S. television from 1959 to 1970.
The most dominant team was the University of Minnesota, which had teams appear in 23 of the 68 broadcast matches. The 1953-55 series had a powerful appeal because it used remote broadcasts; each team was located at their own college where they were cheered on by their wildly enthusiastic classmates. The effect was akin to listening to a football game, but this type of excitement evaporated in later versions, in which both teams competed in the same room.
One of the most memorable upsets in the history of the show occurred in 1966, when an all-woman team from tiny Agnes Scott College [Atlanta], took on the defending champions from Princeton University.

Agnes Scott fell behind 185-130 with less than two minutes remaining. You can see the final segment of the show in the embedded video above. (Although if this subject matter interests you, it's more fun to watch the first ten minutes here, and the second ten minutes here. The videos also incorporate the original advertising that ran in 1966.)

One particularly poignant aspect of the contest was pointed out recently by Robert Earle, who was moderator of the program. The last bonus question was answered by Karen Gearreald with about one second left in the game. "That young lady, by the way, was the only person in the theater who could not see the clock," Mr. Earle wrote. "She is blind."

And here's the final question: "For twenty points, what were Balmung and Durandal?"

For the answer, watch the video. It's more fun than Googling the answer.

(via Metafilter)

Reposted from 2009 to accompany the next two posts.


When I was on sabbatical in London many, many years ago, Mastermind was my favorite program to watch on the telly in my rented room in Turnham Green.

Originally posted by some guy over at Neatorama.

University Challenge

I had no clue on some of these questions.

Balsam bough and birch tree thieves

One of the classic sensual pleasures of the holiday season is the scent of balsam permeating a home or place of business. Balsam trees, wreaths, and swags are used to decorate living rooms, doors, windows, and mantelpieces. In doing so, we probably never question where the balsam comes from; if we give it any thought, we assume it is harvested from commercial tree farms or represents a reuse of forestry waste products.

This fall I visited a lot (in a platted subdivision) where I’ve been clearing brush in preparation for building, and encountered two young men with a pickup truck. I thought they were hunters, but when I greeted them and saw no guns they told me they were searching for “balsam balls” (which I interpreted as “witches brooms”). I told them they were on private property, and cordially suggested that in the future they make use of a plat book to ascertain which properties were public and private. They indicated that they would continue searching, but wouldn’t disturb anything near the driveway, and they headed into the woods.

When I returned the next day I was shocked by the devastation they had wrought on the property. About a dozen balsam trees - all within a few yards of the driveway - had been stripped of branches. After a moment’s reflection I realized that they had been hunting “balsam boughs” for the holiday decoration trade.

Perhaps more disappointing than the theft itself was the technique they had used:

This wasn’t a matter of pruning a few branches from each tree; rather, the trunks had been stripped bare to the height reachable by a grown man wielding a lopper. Each of these trees is now essentially standing deadwood. And this from two young men whose heritage should reflect a deep respect for the natural environment.

The Minnesota DNR reported in 2004 that approximately 4000 tons of balsam boughs are harvested annually from our forests, each ton yielding roughly 400 wreaths; the state’s balsam bough industry had annual retail sales in 2004 topping $20 million. The vast majority of this trade is managed well, with bough-collecting permits obtained at state, tribal or county offices, depending on where the worker plans to gather material. As my experience shows, there are at least a few “rogue” workers who respect neither private property rights nor the environment.

(This is a repost of an item I originally wrote for this blog in December of 2007. With the holiday season approaching again and the economy even worse, property owners should be aware that trees are $$$ in some people's eyes. And not just evergreens - a mature walnut or other hardwood can yield a lucrative return for someone willing to work a few hours with a chainsaw...)

Reposted to alert readers that thieves are now stealing young birch trees:
Thieves are illegally cutting down thousands of birch trees in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin to make a quick buck off city dwellers who love the paper-white logs, limbs and twigs in their home decor...

Birch items are “kind of a hot item in home decor in both contemporary and traditional spaces,” said Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis. “Folks in urban areas appreciate the beauty of it and like to have a little of the North Woods showing up in their outdoor containers, as well as their indoor decor. Interior designers use it a lot.”
The trees being targeted are generally young — 10 to 15 years old, about 2 to 4 inches in diameter and about 10 to 18 feet high, often growing in secluded areas... “It doesn’t matter if it’s state-owned or county-owned or privately owned,” he said. “If there are birch trees there, they cut them.”

Richter figures “unsophisticated, small-time thieves” who have a daily drug habit to support are responsible for most of the clear-cutting. Many of them formerly relied on stealing scrap metal. “They’re grabbing and stealing anything they can convert into money,” he said...

Richter said once the sap starts running, the birch trees may be less marketable because the paper bark is more susceptible to peeling off. “But once it freezes again, it’s going to be back on,” Richter said. “And it could be a bigger problem next year.”
Birch vandalism credit Washburn County Sheriff's Office.

"Inverted aquarium"

This is a recent video, but the concept of a "fish tower" is not new.  I first bookmarked a German link for a "Fish Loft" many years ago, thinking it would be a nice thing to put in the pond if I ever have a shack in the north woods.

Most of the images and videos of similar devices suggest using a wet vacuum to exhaust the air from the tower, but all that would need to be done would be to hold the tower underwater until it is full, then invert it on a stand (it would need to be secured because it would be very tippy, especially after the local raccoons find it).
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