30 November 2017

"Mother lode of pterosaur eggs"

As reported by the Washington Post:
... a site in China’s Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang has coughed up 215 beautiful, pliable and miraculously three-dimensional eggs — 16 of which contain embryonic remains. The researchers also suspect there could be as many as 300 more eggs within the same sandstone block...

What’s more, the egg treasure trove also boasts skeletons from what appear to be hatchlings, juveniles and adults...  Pterosaurs ran the gamut from the gigantic, aircraftlike Quetzalcoatlus all the way down to animals about the size of a sparrow, such as Nemicolopterus. Some had the long, pointy snouts we typically associate with the flying reptiles. Others boasted wild and crazy crests...
Illustration by Zhao Chuang.  More about pterosaurs at Wikipedia.  And by the way...

TYWKIWDBI continues to support Wikimedia/Wikipedia every year and encourages you to do so as well.


A comment from the discussion thread at the CrappyDesign subreddit:
"...someone at temple commented that it was done intentionally to prove a point, and to continually reiterate that point to every student who entered the building."

"The Corpse in the Waxworks" and "The Four False Weapons"

In two previous posts I reviewed the first three novels written by John Dickson Carr, each featuring the French detective Henri Bencolin. We now come to the final two of this rather small corpus of five Henri Bencolin mysteries.

"The Corpse in the Waxworks" is a conventional murder mystery set in Paris in the 1920s, with no locked rooms.  At several points in the story the author incorporates elements of a "action thriller," and he offers a somewhat melodramatic ending, so it is a bit unlike the iconic mysteries that Carr will craft in his more mature years.

It's a good story, and I have to admit the killer was (as usual) not on my mental list of likely suspects.
I won't be giving out any spoilers, and will just use this occasion to highlight some interesting tidbits encountered while reading the book:
"The legend, then, says that when [Bencolin] wears on these occasions an ordinary sacque suit, he is out for pleasure alone."
The sacque suit was the appropriate day dress for all men. The suits that had been worn before this time [1920s] were big, broad-shouldered suits and since men were striving for the more youthful look, they began wearing suits that were skinnier and did not have padded shoulders. The suit pants also went through a change too. Creases became a big thing, they were found on the front of pants. Another thing added to pants were cuffs and they drew more attention to their shoes. Both of these things were added to pants to give off a sharper look. Belts were also becoming popular to wear with pants, instead of wearing suspenders. The belts were said to be "waist-slimming."
"In the brief weird glare I saw the gleam of black brilliantined hair..."
Brilliantine is a hair-grooming product intended to soften men's hair, including beards and moustaches, and give it a glossy, well-groomed appearance. It was created at the turn of the 20th century by French perfumer Édouard Pinaud... it consisted of a perfumed and colored oily liquid. 
(Interestingly, when the movie Grease was shown in France, it did so under the title Brilliantine.)

"... a girl of nineteen or twenty, with vivacity in the dark eyes, soft full lips, and a weak chin... This was no midinette..." ("A female salesperson, a shopgirl, especially in Paris; a vacuous but fashionable young woman.")

"But Bencolin had seated himself facing the blaze, fallen into a study, with his gaunt figure slumped and his chin in his hand."  Lots of detectives seem to fall into studies - I think Sherlock Holmes must have done so on several occasions.  I understand they are thinking, but why they have to "fall" into this state is a bit puzzling.  Now that I think about it, one also "falls" asleep.  Odd.  No time to look this up.

"In this poetic way, Monsieur Bencolin would say that I am lord of the jackals - king of the cockleshells - high priest of demonology."  A phrase apparently borrowed from a popular turn-of-the-century play entitled "If I Were King."

"Streetwalkers, graven of face, with motionless black eyes..."  Don't know if this is to imply deathlike or immobile like a carved figure. ?

"I could see a glimmer of light through one window, whose leaves were open."  Makes sense, but I've never seen this usage.

"The Comte de Martel... wears an old-fashioned stock, eyeglasses on a black ribbon, a box-pleated cape..."  ??? - not sure what that means. [answer in Comments]
And finally - "The Four False Weapons."

Carr's first four novels were written in the early 1930s.  After he published The Corpse in the Waxworks, he tried out some other detectives - including seven Gideon Fell novels and five featuring Sir Henry Merrivale.  I'm going to break the chronological order here and skip forward to 1937, when Carr reintroduced Henri Bencolin for one final novel.

Before I had even finished the first chapter it was obvious how Carr had matured in his writing style in this five-year interval.  The narrative is much more readable, the characters better defined (crucial when trying to pick our a murderer from the bunch).  He reintroduces Bencolin as a "retired" detective who just happens to live in the vicinity of the crime.

Again, I won't address the plot, so as not to present spoilers for potential readers.  This sentence near the end summarizes the puzzle - "Pistol, razor, stiletto, and drug tablets; there were four weapons in the case, and all of them are false.  Rose Klonec died of..." (I would clarify that all the weapons were essential to the sequence of events, just not the actual cause of her death).

Now on to some selected curiosities:
"The most famous legend of the great Doctor Samuel Johnson is that Boswell once asked him, "Sir, what would you do if you were locked up in a tower with a baby?"  Johnson's reply is not noted in this narrative and it's been decades since I read Boswell's LifeDoes anyone know what his reply was?

"... slipping along the rue de Rivoli in one of those new, sleek, wine-colored taxis which have replaced the quacking cabs of old..."   Odd way to describe a cab.  ???

"In the wall to Curtis's left was the half-tester bed..."  A "tester" is a canopy over a bed (or over a pulpit).  I guess from the Latin testa = "shell."  "Half" presumably because it's only at the top of the bed (pix) (vs "full tester bed").

"Madame doses herself with sleeping-tables on the same night that she burns with impatience to meet her lover?  Whiskers to you!  You make me laugh."  The sense is obvious, but it's a curious phrase.  Anyone seen it before?
"Now that I've thrown my bonnet over the windmill, I want to see and do everything I can."  I found that as the name of a play from the 1930s.  Someone else may want to look up the implications.

"And yet the moment the goose falls out of the larder you apparently threaten me with criminal prosecution if I have any curiosity about a weapon found on the very scene of the murder."  ????? way too obscure for me.

""The old witch," Bencolin said at length, shaking his fist.  "The yellow-eyed Bubastes with the thirty-nine tails.  The swine-snouted polecat with the armor-plated hair," he amplified, defying the laws of zoology..."  Bubastes is a genus of beetles.  ????

"He was having his rolls and coffee by the window when the 'phone rang..."  With an apostrophe, to mark the absence of "tele."  Grammatically correct, of course, just odd.
"But, Although Doctor Freud is Distinctly Annoyed, I still haven't done anything yet."  Mr. Google found this for me:
The young things who frequent picture palaces
Have no use for this psycho-analysis.
      And although Doctor Freud
      Is distinctly annoyed
They cling to their old-fashioned fallacies.
Apparently limericks were fashionable in the 1920s, and this one was well-enough known to be highlighted with capital letters in the text of this novel. And I suppose "fallacies" is a pun on phalluses.
"But he knew that the bank [in a card game] must have lost heavily.  In any but a world of cloud-cuckoo-land De Lautrecs, the bank would have won..." Found this in Wikipedia: "Aristophanes... wrote and directed a drama The Birds, first performed in 414 BC, in which Pisthetaerus, a middle-aged Athenian persuades the world's birds to create a new city in the sky to be named Nubicuculia or Cloud Cuckoo Land..."
That's all (or at least that's enough.)  This was a complex mystery - perhaps a bit too much so.  The solution is explained in stages; several incorrect solutions are offered, each of which explains some details - unlike some Agatha Christie mysteries, for example, where everything is held back until the final reveal.

Thus endeth the John Dickson Carr mysteries featuring Henri Bencolin.  After he published this one he moved on to other detectives, which is what I'm going to do now.  These five books may or may not be available from your local library.  All five are available at Amazon for a combined $25 or so.

If anyone is interested, my five copies (used paperbacks) are now listed on eBay for an opening bid of $9 + Media Mail shipping.  eBay item # 253287113539.

29 November 2017

The problem with fake "service dogs" - updated

"Therapy dogs" are not the same as "service dogs" for the blind.
While it ensures their rights, the looseness of the law is a source of frustration for Freyseth and Johnson, who have been forced to contact police when untrained service or therapy animals have attacked their own dogs, which can be scarring to the animals and cause them to lose focus on the task at hand. A particularly traumatizing incident could render the dog unable to continue working, an especially harsh loss given the $40,000 and several months invested in training.
“The hardest part is when we run into fakes,” Freyseth said. “We don’t know where they are, and one attack can change our dog forever. I get scared.”

While unauthorized service capes and harnesses can be easily purchased online, Johnson says an animal’s manner is a clear indicator of its legitimacy. Growling, lunging, excessive barking and energetic playfulness are hallmarks of untrained animals, as is the language the owner uses for discipline.
More at Madison.com: Photo credit

When Marlin Jackson arrived at his row on a Delta flight from Atlanta to San Diego in June, the middle seat was already occupied by a man with a sizable dog on his lap. Jackson squeezed by them to his window seat, and the Labrador mix lunged at his face. The attack lasted about 30 seconds, according to Jackson’s attorney, and left him with facial wounds that required 28 stitches and scars that are still visible today.

The mauling, which Delta said was inflicted by a canine identified as an “emotional support” animal, was among the thousands of incidents that just pushed the nation’s largest airline to tighten rules for passengers flying with service or comfort animals.
Much more at the link and also at this article at PewTrusts.

Democrats as enablers of the tax revision debacle

From an op-ed piece in Salon:
So why are the Democrats not making more noise about a giant reverse-Robinhood scheme, that at least on the Senate side, also includes moves to gut Obamacare by ending the tax penalty for not carrying health insurance. If passed, that provision would allow millions to drop their coverage, which in turn, would raise premiums for everyone else. Remember how last summer Dems rose in the House and Senate to remind Republicans that tens of thousands of voters in their districts would lose their healthcare?
The answer — and it’s a theory, but one honed from covering national politics — is too many Democrats across Congress are still beholden to wealthier constituents, whether individuals who contribute to their campaigns, corporate employers who threaten to leave if they don’t get more corporate welfare, or people in their social circles who get invitations to Kennedy Center galas...

This time around, much more clearly than before, the goal seems to be to favor wealth, especially inherited wealth, over work. And buried in the legislation are multiple measures that would make it much harder for the children of the middle and working classes to work their way up,” Krugman said, citing examples...

Why aren’t Democratic leaders raising more hell about the worst GOP tax plan ever? Why aren’t they doing more to stop a juggernaut from getting closer to passing, one that panders to those who don’t need more money at the expense of future generations? Why are so many Democrats acting like the majority of Republicans?

"Fluidized bed" demonstrated

More at Wikipedia.

28 November 2017

A transcript of Jon Stewart's final soliloquy

Jon Stewart ended his remarkable sixteen years on television with one final series of incisive comments to his viewers.  I haven't found an "official" transcript of the program, so here is my best effort in that regard (boldface, formatting, and links added by me):
Bullshit is everywhere.

There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit - not all of it bad. General day-to-day organic free-range bullshit is often necessary, or at the very least innocuous. "Oh, what a beautiful baby. I'm sure he'll grow into that head."

That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social contract fertilizer that keeps people from making each other cry all day.

But then there's the more pernicious bullshit, your premeditated institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract.  Designed by whom? The bullshit talkers.

Comes in three basic flavors:  One - making bad things sound like good things.
"Organic all-natural cupcakes." Because "factory-made sugar oatmeal balls" doesn't sell.

"Patriot Act," because "Are You Scared Enough To Let Me Look At All Your Phone Records Act," doesn't sell.

Whenever something's been titled Freedom, Fairness, Family, Health, and America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it's been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.
Number Two, the second way - hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit.
Complexity - you know, "I would love to download Drizzy's latest Meek Mill diss." (Everyone promised me that that made sense.)  "But I'm not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy's ITunes agreement, so I'll just click "Agree" even if it grants Apple prima noctae with my spouse."

Here's another one - simply put, simply put - banks shouldn't be able to bet your pension money on red.

Bullshitly put, it's... hey, this. Dodd-Frank.

"Hey, a handful of billionaires can't buy our elections, right?"  "Of course not. They can only pour unlimited anonymous cash into a 501c4 if 50% is devoted to issue education; otherwise they'd have to 501c6 it or funnel it openly through a non-campaign-coordinating superpac with a quarter...  I think they're asleep now. We can sneak out."
And finally, finally, it's The Bullshit of Infinite Possibility.
These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry.

"We can't do anything because we don't yet know everything."

"We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won't cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns.  Until then, I say "teach the controversy."
Now, the good news is this: bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected.

And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time - like an "I Spy" of bullshit.

So I say to you tonight, friends - the best defense against bullshit is vigilance.

So if you smell something, say something.
TYWKIWDBI embeds this image in selected posts for that purpose -

Reposted from 2015 to celebrate Jon Stewart's birthday.  We miss you, man.

Firebird transition startles an audience member

Sounds like the rest of the audience (and the conductor) took it in good humor.

27 November 2017


Photo via the Pics subreddit, where the discussion thread notes the potential lethality of beach logs.

Drone footage of 800 Beluga whales

Filmed in Lancaster Sound.

Trump clump #2

(For a background on this type of linkdump, see my introductory paragraphs on Trump clump #1 back in August.  Here's some of what I've bookmarked since then...

I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done,” Trump, 69, tells ITK. "I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.” (quotation from June 2015)

Counterpoint (from back in August) to the statement that "I'll choose the best people for my administration."

Repositioning on "the wall."

An editorial from Der Spiegel about Trump after the Charlottesville incident: "Trump is a racist. He is a preacher of hate. Those who pretend he is not, those who portray him as merely being an unpolished, somewhat chaotic old man, as a person who explicitly sought to avoid becoming a slick politician, are merely enabling him... When the president of the United States says that the victim is just as responsible as the murderer, or that the counterdemonstrator is just as guilty as the Nazi waving the swastika flag and shouting, "Jews will not replace us," and when Trump's own party doesn't drop him even now, then Duke and Trump have already achieved a key goal. Tolerance, empathy, kindness and diversity of opinion are all disparaged as political correctness. It becomes OK to say anything else, and if you can say it, it becomes easier to justify violence. The wheel of civilization has made a turn in reverse."

Trump's command of the English language is not good: “We have a lot to discuss, including the fact that there is a new and seems to be record-breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places,” he told reporters. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll know in a very short period of time. But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good.” Here’s a list of other things Trump has said were “not good.” [list follows]

In a September interview, John le Carré drew parallels between Donald Trump and the rise of fascism in the 1930s.  “These stages that Trump is going through in the United States and the stirring of racial hatred … a kind of burning of the books as he attacks, as he declares real news as fake news, the law becomes fake news, everything becomes fake news. “I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about.” Even today, Le Carré said, Ang Sang Suu Kyi is speaking of “fake news” in Burma. “These are infectious forms of demagogic behaviour and they are toxic.”

A Harvard psychiatrist rejects the "Goldwater Rule" (that health professionals should not publicly discuss public figures) and labels Donald Trump a sociopath: "Everybody lies some of the time, but in this instance we mean people who lie as a way of being in the world, to manage relationships and also to manage your feelings about yourself. People who cheat and steal from others. People who lack empathy . . . the lack of empathy is a critical aspect of it. People who are narcissistic... It is not just bad behavior that people have to lie and cheat the way he does, it is an incapacity to treat other people as full human beings. That is why his focus is on humiliating others to aggrandize himself... Lying and cheating and humiliating others and grinding them into dust in order to triumph is not just bad behavior. It is a serious mental illness."

Donald Trump on Twitter June 2014: "Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?"

"On a weekend in early March, during one of seven trips by Trump and his White House entourage to the posh Palm Beach property since the inauguration, the government paid the Trump-owned club to reserve at least one bedroom for two nights. The charge, according to a newly disclosed receipt reviewed by The Washington Post, was $1,092... “The choice to stay there and have the government pay the $546-a-night rate seems imprudent,” said Kathleen Clark, a Washington University law professor who specializes in ethics issues. “If it were not owned by the president, it would still seem problematic. The fact that it’s owned by the president makes it doubly problematic.”

"President Trump delivered a brief speech to African leaders Wednesday at the United Nations, and in the span of about 800 words, he twice conjoined the names of two countries, Namibia and Zambia, creating the nonexistent nation of “Nambia,” and told the leaders that many of his friends go to Africa to “get rich.”"

George Clooney takes umbrage at Trump's disparaging of the "Hollywood elite": Here’s the thing: I grew up in Kentucky. I sold insurance door-to-door. I sold ladies’ shoes. I worked at an all-night liquor store. I would buy suits that were too big and too long and cut the bottom of the pants off to make ties so I’d have a tie to go on job interviews. I grew up understanding what it was like to not have health insurance for eight years. So this idea that I’m somehow the “Hollywood elite” and this guy who takes a shit in a gold toilet is somehow the man of the people is laughable... "I just look at it and I laugh when I see him say 'Hollywood elite,'" he said. "Hollywood elite? I don’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, Donald Trump has a star on Hollywood Boulevard! Fuck you!""

September: "President Donald Trump will kowtow to New York's elites at a private dinner Tuesday, with donors willing to shell out up to $250,000 for an opportunity to sit next to the commander in chief. Some of the most prominent names in finance and real estate are set to attend the event at Manhattan's Le Cirque restaurant to raise money for the Republican National Committee... Now the president seems eager to accept the money of coastal elites, even though he has masqueraded as a populist looking out for the common man..."

On the same topic: "The rich and clueless spent $35,000 per couple to eat some of the priciest food in the world with the most unhinged President of the century. This as hundreds of thousands of American children and babies were crying and begging their helpless parents for something — anything — to eat in the Apocalypse that is Puerto Rico. The rich and clueless paid an unimaginable $250,000 per couple last night to sip $10 bottles of water in a city with perfect tap water at that dinner's even more exclusive round table with the commander-in-chief as millions in Puerto Rico remained without safe drinking water for five days."

"Trump's Fascistic, un-American rantings about NFL players kneeling in protest during the playing of the National Anthem are offensive and repugnant. But they're also probably illegal, carrying a possible penalty to Trump of disqualification from public office, fines, and up to 15 years in prison. "(explanation of the legalities at Boing Boing: There's a specific statute at play, and it's 18 U.S.C. sec. 227....)

"Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) quietly voted along party lines to eliminate its “main studio rule,” which mandated that local news stations maintain offices within the communities they serve. Without the main studio rule, Sinclair is free to consolidate and centralize local news resources in its roughly 190 stations across the country, eliminating the “local” element of local news as much as possible. This move is just the latest in a thriving symbiotic relationship between the openly conservative Sinclair and the Trump FCC, a relationship that seems to benefit all parties but the American public. And there’s more to come.

"Carrier Corp., the HVAC manufacturer that had planned to move its operations to Mexico before President Trump staged a much-heralded intervention, is gearing up for a final round of layoffs.
Less than four months after it laid off nearly 340 employees at its Indianapolis factory, Carrier said Tuesday that 215 employees will be terminated on Jan. 11."

[Trump] put his ignorance on display for the Japanese people, when he made the following statement while visiting their country:
"Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. Is that possible to ask? That's not rude. Is that rude? I don't think so."
That statement had to be puzzling for the Japanese carmakers, because they have been making many of their cars in the United States for years now. Nissan makes 9 of their autos here, Toyota makes 9 of their autos here, and Honda makes 11 of their autos here. These Japanese auto makers have created thousands of jobs in the United States. If there were any Japanese who didn't realize we elected a moron with massive ignorance to be our president, then this has probably removed any doubt. 

"Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club has received permission to hire 70 foreign workers to fill out its staff during its upcoming busy season, after managers attested there aren't enough Americans qualified and willing to do the work."

There is now a plug-in you can use to display Trump's tweets in a font resembling a child's handwriting:
Note that is his actual text; only the font has been changed.

After Trump attacked Marshawn Lynch's behavior at an NFL game and then opined that he should have left the UCLA shoplifters in a Chinese jail, Snoop Dog didn't pull any punches.  Text at the link is abundantly Bowlderized with asterisks.

The man who tripled the price of insulin has been nominated by Trump to be in charge of regulating the price of insulin.

After the mass shooting in California, Trump tweeted this:

Trump's criticism of Obama for blocking the Keystone pipeline ("good for the environment, no downside!") paired with the CNN headline about the Keystone pipeline leaking 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota.

In a ceremony honoring Native American codetalkers from WWII, Trump disparaged Elizabeth Warren by calling her Pocohantas.

Via for mass shooting cartoon.  Via for golf photoshop.  Via for paper towel photo.  Via for the mass shooting tweet.  Via for cycling cartoon.

I'm glad to get this done.  I'll try to ignore Trump in the blog for the next three months or so, and then regurgitate the news equivalent of another hairball.

Oh, and the comments are closed for this post.  Lets all move on to other matters. 

25 November 2017

Metrics of TYWKIWDBI readers

For many years I've followed this blog's traffic and metrics using Blogger and Google, but this fall I also signed the blog up for monitoring by Quantcast.  They have now compiled a couple months of data, some of which I'll display here FYI.

Of particular interest to me is that 84% of visitors have education levels at college or above.  This summer Boing Boing reported that their readership was among the web's most educated -

- at 81.1%.  Our 84% would place us at #4... BUT the data above probably applies only to blogs with large audiences.  There must be an abundance of blogs about string theory or pancreatic enzymes or whatever that would be even higher.  

Here is what Quantcast considers to be your top interests:

And in pursuit of those interests, here are your favorite other websites:

The "linkwithin" association comes because those small pix at the bottom of each post that show "related" material elsewhere in the blog are generated by LinkWithin.  The others are probably generated by an analysis of who links to me and where my links send readers.

And finally, here are your political leanings:

These data are intended to be used to allow the blogger to make decisions re advertising and marketing his/her blog.  Since I don't do either one of those, for me it's just a mass of interesting numbers.  Thought you guys might want to see it to know what your fellow readers are like.

Bicycle graveyard

Wow. (person at far right edge for scale)

Explained at The Guardian.

24 November 2017

Fred Astaire's famous dance from Royal Wedding (1951)


And explained:
But the more you think about it, the more amazing an accomplishment this number seems. The cage must have had a diameter of something like 20 feet, and the light fixtures had to stay powered throughout. The whole thing must have weighed a ton or two. Building this set was an enormous feat of engineering. What would it look like to a bystander as this amazing scene was shot?
Movie buffs will want to continue reading the explanation here.

"Potentially" ? suggestive statue

You can't convince me that the artist who sculpted this depiction of St Martin de Porres "handing a loaf of bread to a young boy" did not have other ideas in mind.  The Guardian reports on the response at the priory school where the statue was installed.

Willie and the Wheel

Related: Willie in 1965In 1997.

The last survivors in iron lungs

A report at Gizmodo describes the current lives of the last three persons in the U.S. known to be living in iron lungs.
Her iron lung has portholes and windows on the side; a pressure gauge at the top. The machine is actually cobbled together from two iron lungs. One, the March of Dimes gave her when she was a child. The other, she bought from someone in Utah, after she haggled him down from $25,000 to $8,000. The body has also been modified over the years. Her grandfather invented a motorized pulley system that closes the bed tray into the tank after she climbs in. He also replaced the brushed aluminum mirror above the neck slot with a real mirror so that she could have a clear view to the rest of the room when she’s locked in the canister. A local engineer used a motor from an old voter registration device to build a mechanism that tightens the collar around her neck after she slips her head through the portal. The fan belts and half-horsepower motor have been replaced about ten times.

When Lillard was a child, polio was every parent’s worst nightmare. The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralyzed and 3,145 died. “They closed theaters, swimming pools, families would keep their kids away from other kids because of the fear of transmission,” Bruno said. 
I was a participant in that polio epidemic of 1952, as were my mother and sister.  I woke up one morning and fell to the floor because my legs wouldn't hold me up, then spent months in Sheltering Arms, the Minneapolis Sister Kenny Institute before eventually returning home.  What separates me from the three adults in the story above is that the virus only reached my thoracolumbar spine, not the C-spine.

The fate of presidentially-pardoned turkeys

I'm sure most readers know this, but just for the record...
[I]t's kind of a hoax. I went to the farm where birds pardoned by presidents go, and I learned that this is not a story with a happy ending...

I visited Kidwell Farm to see how the turkeys pardoned in previous years were doing. I looked for some of the birds pardoned by Clinton, but couldn't find them. I couldn't find the Bush Sr. birds, or the Reagan turkeys, or Carter's, or any of the pardoned birds. 

There is a sign saying Turkey Pen, and farmer Marlo Acock took me to it. But the pen was empty. Why? Well, the birds do come here, explained Acock, but they don't last

"We usually just find 'em and they're dead," he said. 

Most of the pardoned turkeys only last a few months, Acock said. One died within days. 
For more details on why they die so quickly, PETA offers a less nuanced view.

Yellowjacket horrorshow

21 November 2017

Etruscan statue

“Evening shadow”. Etruscan statue, 3rd c. BC, Volterra. The name is from Gabriele d’Annunzio

Via Poemas del rio Wang.

Alexa commands

Cnet has a (momentarily) complete list of Alexa commands.
The list of Alexa commands is expansive and grows with every new service or device it supports. Alexa isn't perfect, but it's pretty great at understanding natural language, so you don't always have to speak the commands exactly as you see them below. Many commands work when worded several different ways or even with words omitted.
I also discovered that there is a subreddit dedicated to Amazon Echo, wherein you can find a list of known Easter eggs, including...
  • Alexa, I am your father.
  • Alexa, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
  • Alexa, what is the loneliest number?
  • Alexa, how many roads must a man walk down?
  • Alexa, all your base are belong to us.
  • Alexa, how much is that doggie in the window?
  • Alexa, romeo, romeo wherefore art thou romeo?
  • Alexa, define rock paper scissors lizard spock
  • Alexa, beam me up.
  • Alexa, how much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  • Alexa, define supercalifragilisticexpialodocious.
  • Alexa, who’s your daddy?
  • Alexa, Earl Grey. Hot. (or Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.)
  • Alexa, what is the meaning of life?
  • Alexa, what does the Earth weigh?
  • Alexa, when is the end of the world?
  • Alexa, is there a Santa?
  • Alexa, make me a sandwich.
  • Alexa, what is the best tablet?
  • Alexa, what is your favorite color?
  • Alexa, what is your quest?
  • Alexa, who won best actor Oscar in 1973?
  • Alexa, what is your quest?
  • Alexa, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
  • Alexa, where do babies come from?
  • Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?
  • Alexa, which comes first: the chicken or the egg?
  • Alexa, may the force be with you.
  • Alexa, do aliens exist?
(more at the link)

Posted for Suzanne up at the lake, with thanks for recommending this device to me.

'Tis the season

In the past we have generally gone out to get our Christmas tree in early December, but after realizing that the trees are cut much earlier than that, we decided this year to go out much sooner.

Yesterday was Monday, November 20.  Our local garden center told us that they had just received their shipment of trees on the weekend (we were their third customer), and that the trees had been harvested here in central Wisconsin three days earlier (Nov 17).

This batch of trees will sit outside for weeks now desiccating in the wind.  We won't put ours up inside the house until early December, but in the meantime it sits in a bucket in the garage soaking up water. 

And as a bonus the garage smells like pine.

Japanese game show

Posted as a reminder to those of us living in the Upper Midwest that winter is just around the corner.

Does anyone recognize this "NL" logo ? (solved)

I found this Zippo lighter while cleaning out an old desk drawer; it presumably is a family heirloom but has no sentimental value for me.  But before disposing of it I thought I'd inquire about that logo on the side.

I presume it's the 15th anniversary of something.  The lighter would have been used by my father in the 1950s-60s, and it likely was given to him by a customer or friend, since he didn't spend money on fancy Zippos.

Does the logo look familiar to anyone?

Addendum: a tip of the hat to reader Gelvan Tullibole 3rd, who found the logo (in Wikipedia no less) associated with NL Industries.

About those towers on the Sears warehouses

I remember the massive Sears building in Minneapolis.  In my childhood it was an iconic structure.  The Atlantic has an article about how such buildings around the country are being repurposed.  One particular item caught my eye:
As a hybrid of store and warehouse, the plants were the physical embodiment of the company’s pivot from rural-focused mail-order catalogues to urban and suburban retail stores...

The plants’ locations also speak to this transitional moment. They were built at what was then the edge of town, adjacent to rail lines. Land was cheap and parking plentiful in these areas, but they were still closer to the urban core than many early car-oriented bedroom communities, says Jerry Hancock, an amateur Sears historian.

Plants were among the largest buildings by square footage in their cities, if not the largest outright. They usually clocked in at a million square feet or more. Their art deco flourishes and iconic “Sears towers”—not to be confused with the company’s eventual headquarters in Chicago—made them local landmarks. (The towers, Hancock explains, were built to hold the plant’s cistern, providing maximum water pressure during break times on the warehouse floor, when hundreds of workers would use the bathroom at the same time.)

More kitchen tips than you can ever remember

"Passing as white"

I'd never seen my mother so afraid.

“Promise me,” she pleaded, “you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?”

For two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995 while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records. In the records, my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black.
The rest of the story is at The Washington Post.


The best special effects are the ones you don't notice.

19 November 2017


If you heroically browse through the medical manuscripts and loose illustrations of the small shops in the Istanbul book bazaar, you will wander through more circles of hell than Dante...

Islamic dentistry leads back its origins to Mohammad, who instructs the believers in a special hadith to wash their teeth at least twice or thrice a day. He is also referred by the great 10th-century Arabic physician, Ibn Sina or Avicenna, whose famous Al kanun fi al-tibb (The canon of medicine) gives instructions for treating teeth, drilling, pain relief, and fixing dentures with gold wire to the jaw...

The first Ottoman medical manuscripts, Bereket’s Tuhfe-i Mubrizi, Ahmadi’s Tarvih al-ervah and Hacı Paşa’s Müntehab al-şifa, all come from the 14th century, and they also deal with the treatment and anatomy of teeth.
There are numerous illustrations at Poemas del Rio Wang.

iPhone in a 1937 painting - and in an 1860 painting. And 1918.

Image cropped for size from the original at Vice's Motherboard, where the painting is discussed.

Reposted to add this image (cropped for emphasis) from “The Expected One,” an 1860 work by Austrian painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller:

Discussed (and explained) at Vice's Motherboard.

Source image for the 1860 painting.

I found this man, texting his friends -

Ivan Vladimirov: On the streets of Petrograd, 1918

- in a post about the October Revolution in Poemas del Rio Wang.


I think the technology shown here is similar to how some golf ball pickers work at driving ranges.  What's really cool is how the collecting chambers are emptied at the end.

Plastics contaminating benthic sea creatures

The photo above shows a translucent arrow worm with a blue plastic fiber in its digestive tract.
The study, led by academics at Newcastle University, found animals from trenches across the Pacific Ocean were contaminated with fibres that probably originated from plastic bottles, packaging and synthetic clothes...

The study tested samples of crustaceans found in the ultra-deep trenches that span the entire Pacific Ocean – the Mariana, Japan, Izu-Bonin, Peru-Chile, New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches. These range from seven to more than 10 kilometres deep, including the deepest point in the ocean, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

The team examined 90 individual animals and found ingestion of plastic ranged from 50% in the New Hebrides Trench to 100% at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
More at The Guardian.  Photo credit: Richard Kirby

Moonlight tower

A moonlight tower or moontower is a lighting structure designed to illuminate areas of a town or city at night. The towers were popular in the late 19th century in cities across the United States and Europe; they were most common in the 1880s and 1890s. In some places they were used when standard street-lighting, using smaller, shorter, and more numerous lamps, was impractically expensive. In other places they were used in addition to gas street lighting. The towers were designed to illuminate areas often of several blocks at once, on the "high light" principle. Arc lamps, known for their exceptionally bright and harsh light, were the most common method of illumination. As incandescent electric street lighting became common, the prevalence of towers began to wane.
Photo of Los Angeles in 1882, via TheWayWeWere subreddit.

17 November 2017

Concierto de Aranjuez (Joaquin Rodrigo)

"Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre, 1st Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez... commonly known as Joaquín Rodrigo, was a Spanish composer and a virtuoso pianist.

Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Valencia, and completely lost his sight at the age of three after contracting diphtheria. He began to study solfège, piano and violin at the age of eight; harmony and composition from the age of 16. Although distinguished by having raised the Spanish guitar to dignity as a universal concert instrument and best known for his guitar music, he never mastered the instrument himself.  He wrote his compositions in Braille, which was transcribed for publication.

His most famous work, Concierto de Aranjuez, was composed in 1939 in Paris for the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza. In later life he and his wife declared that it was written as a response to the miscarriage of their first child. It is a concerto for guitar and orchestra. The central adagio movement is one of the most recognizable in 20th-century classical music, featuring the interplay of guitar with cor anglais. This movement was later adapted by the jazz arranger Gil Evans for Miles Davis' 1960 album "Sketches of Spain".
I first encountered this music in the 1960s on the Miles Davis album.  I'm pleased now to blog the entire concierto.

Posted for my cousin Karl in Barcelona.

"Hora staccato" (Grigoras Dinicu)

I've heard this piece many times, probably as background music, but can't cite any specific examples.

(and I'm always amazed that violinists don't poke each other in the eye...)

15 November 2017

Ummm....no. But good try.


"Midnight Train to Georgia" - Gladys Knight and the Pips

It started out as "The Midnight Plane to Houston," inspired by a chance comment by Farrah Fawcett, who was flying home to visit her parents. The song was first recorded by Cissy Houston, who changed the plane to a train and the destination to Georgia. It then went to Gladys Knight and the Pips, who took it to #1 on the charts in 1973. 

The video above is from a performance at Chicago's Regal Theater (I don't know the year). Personally I prefer this 1973 version, but it can't be embedded. Love those Pips. Lyrics here.

Addendum: A big hat tip to Piper, who knew of a version with the Pips singing their parts without Gladys Knight. This from a 1977 Richard Pryor television show. "Midnight Train to Georgia" is in the second half of the video.

(Originally posted in 2009)

Divertimento #139

This is how the 1% fly.

Why the names on movie posters don't match the pictures above them (video).

More treasures recovered from the antikythera shipwreck (bronze sculptures).  "The bronze recycling industry was huge in classical times and later in the medieval period, leading to the destruction of countless statues and other artefacts that would be priceless today. For this reason, many of the finest specimens of bronze statues that survive were once lost at sea."

Why Blade Runner is called "Blade Runner." (related to an old book about a health-care dystopia)

Here is the IMDb compilation of "movie mistakes" for Blade Runner.

"Twenty-four year old Catt Gallinger’s fun excursion into body art ended in horror when an eye tattoo left her partially blinded and oozing purple tears. The tattoo was meant to have tinted her sclera, the white part of her eye, but instead went terribly wrong, causing pain and possible permanent impairment." (photos at the link)

Laundry symbols explained.

Photo of a crocodile inside its amniotic sac.

Santa Claus's tomb discovered.

Brief video of the disposal of the carcass of an immense leatherback sea turtle.  (Football fans should scroll down to see the trick play for a touchdown in the Akron-Ohio game, for a reminder that defenses almost never assign anyone to cover the quarterback.)

"...the CEOs of the biggest US companies, whose average pension benefit is $253,088/month..."

A nomination for the most confusing person to sing "Happy Birthday" to.

Handy tip for the cold and flu season.

"The deadly tsunami that struck north-east Japan in 2011 has carried almost 300 species of sea life thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of the United States.  In what experts are calling the longest maritime migration ever recorded, an estimated one million creatures – including crustaceans, sea slugs and sea worms – made the 4,800-mile (7,725km) journey on a flotilla of tsunami debris."

A gift for the person who has everthing: a headless robotic cat.

An intersting NDR documentary film about the German tree-farming industry (auf Deutsch).

Showerthought: "If the media stopped saying "hacking" and instead said "figured out their password", people would probably take password security a lot more seriously."

The Swedes call it "deathcleaning."  (They actually call it "döstädning.") It's what I'm doing right now in my real life.  More on the topic in this longer article.

A proposed redesign for the Green Bay Packers logo.

"Republican Georgia state Sen. Michael Williams is holding a giveaway for a bump stock — the same type of device law enforcement officials say the Vegas shooter used to kill over 50 people during a concert in early October." (citing the claim that bump stocks save lives by introducing inaccuracy in the weapon)

Tantalizing tidbits from the Blue Planet II series.

A headline for our times: "Exclusive: Neo-Nazi and National Front organiser quits movement, opens up about Jewish heritage, comes out as gay." (true, apparently)

Do NOT try to vacuum up spilled printer ink.

"British Airways has apologised to a Canadian family after they were bitten by bed bugs on a transatlantic flight between Vancouver and London.  Heather Szilagyi, her seven-year-old daughter, Molly, and her fiance, Eric Neilson, were left covered with painful insect bites while travelling from Canada to Slovakia this month... Szilagyi said she had first noticed the bed bugs on the seat in front of her, then spotted another crawling out from behind a TV monitor. “I wanted to grab it but they’re quick and it crawled back inside, behind the screen,” she told the Canadian broadcaster CTV."

"Nearly every country on Earth is named after one of these four things."

Lake Baikal now getting trashed (with pollution, poaching).

The story of Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope.

"A University of Minnesota graduate student who accused a colleague of sexual harassment was awarded just one dollar in March, but her lawyers will get... $305,000 in fees..."

Icelanders are attempting to reestablish their country's aboriginal forests.  "When Iceland was first settled at the end of the ninth century, much of the land on or near the coast was covered in birch woodlands... By most accounts, the island was largely deforested within three centuries."

Travelers should beware of cons involving "voluntourism." "Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which travellers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity: think building houses in Haiti; working in an orphanage in Thailand; or teaching English in India."

Solar power is transforming Mongolia: "Far more ubiquitous than mobile phones are solar LEDs. Every ger has its panels and batteries. The panel (usually one) is simple, tied to a pole, which can be rotated by hand every now and then to follow the sun. It will power a single LED light bulb, perhaps charge a phone and a shortwave radio. Less commonly it will power a TV with a satellite dish. Having a cheap, steady light all night makes a huge difference: It extends evenings, makes cooking more convenient, and reduces toxic smoke in the home. I did not see a ger without solar."

Clever replacement for a lazy susan cabinet.

If you are posting photographs of anything that is rare or protected - something that others might want to poach - ""Turn off anything that transmits location before you visit it," he said. "Make sure the GPS-embedding is off on your camera. And be careful."

Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford (amazing name) was conceived in the town of Swastika and became BFF with Churchill and Hitler.

Here's something you can create to embarrass your child for the rest of their life.

Art made of only Q-tips.

"On October 27th, 2007, Trinity found themselves down 2 points with 2 seconds left on their own 40 yard line. And then they put together an miraculous set of laterals to score the winning touchdown against Millsaps." (15 laterals)

A wristband developed for blind and visually-impaired people can enhance echolocation abilities.

Raptors can perch safely on power polesm, but not if they are carrying a long snake.

"Stan" has become a verb.

Tongue in cheek: "the worst fire escape ever."

An extensive discussion of the theories about the unusual death of Edgar Allan Poe.  Also here.

Today's embedded images are selections from a large gallery of color photos of the 1939 World's Fair assembled at The Atlantic.  Credit: Peter Campbell / Corbis via Getty.

This is a terrible name for a product

Posted for the amusement of my cousin Kathy in SLC.


In the cheese shop...

Customer: Cheshire?

Wenslydale: No.

Customer: Dorset Bluveny?

Wenslydale: No.

Customer: Brie, Roquefort, Pol le Veq, Port Salut, Savoy Aire, Saint Paulin, Carrier de lest, Bres Bleu, Bruson?

Wenslydale: No.

Customer: Camenbert, perhaps?

Wenslydale: Ah! We have Camenbert, yessir.

Customer: (surprised) You do! Excellent.

Wenslydale: Yessir. It's..ah,.....it's a bit runny...

Customer: Oh, I like it runny.

Wenslydale: Well,.. It's very runny, actually, sir.

Customer: No matter. Fetch hither the fromage de la Belle France! Mmmwah!

Wenslydale: I...think it's a bit runnier than you'll like it, sir.

Customer: I don't care how fucking runny it is. Hand it over with all speed.

Wenslydale: Oooooooooohhh........!

Customer: What now?

Wenslydale: The cat's eaten it.

Recognizable to all Monty Python fans as an exchange from the Cheese Shop Sketch (first aired November 1972). You can access the text of Monty Python's Flying Circus sketches HERE and HERE. Never know when you might need to get an exact quote from the Spanish Inquisition, or the Argument Clinic, or Anne Elk's Theory of Brontosauruses...

Reposted from 2008 (! this blog is getting old) to add the complete video, which wasn't available to link to back in the old days:

12 November 2017


Fatwood, also known as "fat lighter,"... "pine knot," "lighter knot," "heart pine"... is derived from the heartwood of pine trees. This resin-impregnated heartwood becomes hard and rot-resistant. The stump (and tap root) left in the ground after a tree has fallen or has been cut is an excellent source of fatwood. Other locations, such as the joints where limbs intersect the trunk, can also be harvested...

Because of the flammability of terpene, fatwood is prized for use as kindling in starting fires. It lights quickly even when wet, is very wind resistant, and burns hot enough to light larger pieces of wood. A small piece of fatwood can be used many times to create tinder by shaving small curls and using them to light other larger tinder. The pitch-soaked wood produces an oily, sooty smoke, and it is recommended that one should not cook on a fire until all the fatwood has completely burned out.

Heartwood (or duramen) is wood that as a result of a naturally occurring chemical transformation has become more resistant to decay. Heartwood formation is a genetically programmed process that occurs spontaneously... Heartwood is often visually distinct from the living sapwood, and can be distinguished in a cross-section where the boundary will tend to follow the growth rings...

Sapwood (or alburnum) is the younger, outermost wood; in the growing tree it is living wood, and its principal functions are to conduct water from the roots to the leaves and to store up and give back according to the season the reserves prepared in the leaves. However, by the time they become competent to conduct water, all xylem tracheids and vessels have lost their cytoplasm and the cells are therefore functionally dead. All wood in a tree is first formed as sapwood. The more leaves a tree bears and the more vigorous its growth, the larger the volume of sapwood required.
One of the pleasant memories of my childhood in Minnesota is of searching through the woods with my mother looking for pine knots to put in the fireplace.  We used them to add a pleasant odor to the cabin, not for kindling per se.

Lots more things you wouldn't know at the heartwood link.

Photo (cropped for size) via the Mildly Interesting subreddit.

Trailer for "The Post"

"Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in The Post, a thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light."
One wonders what impact the current Paradise Papers revelation will have compared to the Pentagon Papers.

Equifax sells your salary history

As reported by NBC News:
The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans’ personal information ever created, containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults.

Some of the information in the little-known database, created through an Equifax-owned company called The Work Number, is sold to debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities...

But salary information is also for sale by Equifax through The Work Number. Its database is so detailed that it contains week-by-week paystub information dating back years for many individuals, as well as other kinds of human resources-related information, such as health care provider, whether someone has dental insurance and if they’ve ever filed an unemployment claim...

How does Equifax obtain this sensitive and secret information? With the willing aid of thousands of U.S. businesses, including many of the Fortune 500. Government agencies -- representing 85 percent of the federal civilian population, including workers at the Department of Defense, according to Equifax -- and schools also work with The Work Number..
That was from an article published in 2013.  I naively assumed that the situation might have changed by now.   Nope.  CNN writes "Why Equifax will continue to profit by selling your personal information":
"But it's not in the interest of lenders to stop sharing information with the credit rating agencies, Horn said. It could hurt the accuracy of the credit reports they buy back."

Impressive "dead spot" on a tennis court

The original video of the televised 2011 tennis match is here.  The science was discussed on All Things Considered.
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