16 March 2018

A vampire overslept on this bench this morning

Image cropped for size from the original here.

"Brumation" illustrated

"Brumation is a term used to refer to dormancy of reptiles, which is metabolically somewhat different from mammalian hibernation.

The video above shows alligators lying dormant, not in tunnes in mud, but right in a frozen-over pond, with just their nostrils protruding above the ice.

If anyone has even the faintest doubts about the survival capabilities of this superpredator, this video should change your mind.

Meet the Denisovans - updated

Bence Viola from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig discovered the tooth fragments together with Russian colleagues in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. Initially, he thought the inconspicuous-looking object was the molar of a cave bear. But when the remaining fragments of the tooth turned up, it became obvious that the researchers had found the tooth of a hominid. It was too large, however, to be from a modern man or Neanderthal. When the researchers finally succeeded in decoding the DNA of the tooth, their suspicion was confirmed: it hailed from a previously unknown early human species living in Asia at least 30,000 years ago.
More on the Denisovans:
Because of the cool climate in the location of the Denisova Cave, the discovery benefited from DNA's ability to survive for longer periods at lower temperatures.  The average annual temperature of the cave remains at 0°C, which has contributed to the preservation of archaic DNA among the remains discovered.  The analysis indicated that modern humans, Neanderthals, and the Denisova hominin last shared a common ancestor around 1 million years ago.  The mtDNA analysis further suggested this new hominin species was the result of an early migration out of Africa, distinct from the later out-of-Africa migrations associated with Neanderthals and modern humans, but also distinct from the earlier African exodus of Homo erectus.  Pääbo noted the existence of this distant branch creates a much more complex picture of humankind during the Late Pleistocene... David Reich of Harvard University, in collaboration with Mark Stoneking of the Planck Institute team, found genetic evidence that Denisovan ancestry is shared by Melanesians, Australian Aborigines, and smaller scattered groups of people in Southeast Asia, such as the Mamanwa, a Negrito people in the Philippines.
And what a superb cave; no wonder it maintained its real estate value for tens of thousands of years.  The narration accompanying the slideshow is concise and superb; this video will be of interest to anyone with even a smidgeon of curiosity about archaeology or human prehistory.

Addendum: To keep relevant material in one place, I'll insert here a post I wrote back in 2011 ("Denisovan genes as markers of migration") -

There's too much to cover here in a short post, but I'll sketch what I understand as the basics.  Denisovans were ?pre-humans/proto-humans of the genus Homo who died out as a species.  They were genetically distinct from us, but some of their genes are present in modern humans.  The distribution of those genes today is not random, as shown by the figure above.
“We haven’t been a very exclusive species, with a very narrow origin,” said Martin Jacobsson. Interbreeding with other members of the human family tree “is not a unique event. It’s a more complex story than we thought before.”

In a study published Oct. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jacobsson and co-author Pontus Skoglund searched through 1,500 human genome scans from around the world for genes found in Denisovans but not chimpanzees or Neanderthals.

While the previous finding of Denisovan inheritance involved analysis of ultra-high-resolution human genome scans, of which only a few exist, Jacobsson used low-resolution scans. These are more commonly available and allowed the researchers to detect Denisovan signals in genomes from mainland southeast Asia. A signal also appeared in South America, but Jacobsson said that’s probably a false positive.
I'm interested in the South American hits because of my belief in early colonization of the Americas from Oceania.  I believe there's good evidence that the chickens in Chile and Peru came from Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

Further information at Ars Technica, via Right-reading.

DNA from another human-like primate, the Denisovans, lurks in modern genomes, too. A molar and a chip of pinkie bone found in a Siberian cave provide what little information we have about this species. DNA extracted from the fragments previously revealed cross-species breeding. Yet a new study in the journal Cell shows the ancient hanky-panky did not stop in Siberia: Humans who traveled across South Asia mated with a separate group of Denisovans, as well.

“This is a breakthrough paper,” said David Reich, who studies ancient DNA at Harvard University and was not involved with the study. “It's a definite third interbreeding event,” one that adds to the previously known Denisovan and Neanderthal mixtures.

Humans and Neanderthals divided into separate groups as far back as 765,000 years ago. Denisovans and Neanderthals were closer cousins who split more recently and then vanished — perhaps because we absorbed their lineages...

All groups studied, from British and Bengali people to Peruvians and Puerto Ricans, had a dense cluster that closely matched the Altai Neanderthals. Some populations also had a cluster that matched the Altai Denisovans, which was particularly pronounced in East Asians.
The surprise was a third cluster — not like the Neanderthal DNA and only partially resembling the Altai Denisovans. This, the authors concluded, was a second and separate pulse of Denisovan genes into the DNA blender.
More at the link.

14 March 2018


 Photo taken by Tobias Messerli in the Canton of Bern.  Awesome composition.

The ecology of driftwood

Logs the size of telephone poles drift along the shore of the Salish Sea. Erik Hammond turns the wheel of his aluminum skiff and closes in. He grabs his ax and towlines, then leaps atop the floating wood, much as his father did, and his father did before him. With the butt of his ax he drives anchor pegs into the choicest three and ties them to the stern... Hammond and Moore are beachcombers, or log salvors, based in Gibsons, British Columbia.. They are practitioners of an occupation once common on the Pacific Northwest coast...

Driftwood makes an enormous if underappreciated contribution to the food web connecting the forests and the sea... Driftwood, it turns out, is also rapidly disappearing...

Immense logjams and floating rafts of naturally occurring wood were once common and well-documented features in rivers and estuaries before they were cleared for navigation. The Great Raft on Louisiana’s Red River, perhaps the most famous, existed for an estimated 375 years before its removal in 1830...

Kramer’s research shows that driftwood serves as building blocks for stable sand dunes and spits in estuaries, providing an important buffer from rising tides and waves. But shorelines around the world—especially in developed, temperate zones—are now severely wood impoverished compared to their condition before human settlement. As rivers lose driftwood, water travels through faster and there is less time for nutrient cycling...
Excerpts from an interesting longread at Hakai Magazine.  The magazine has an abundance of articles on coastal science and societies.

The fate of golf balls in the ocean

About 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured every year, according to a 2017 report in Chemical & Engineering News, and more than half may be lost in the environment. A New York Times story in 2010 reported that an estimated 300 million disappear each year in the United States alone. With many of the planet’s approximately 32,000 golf courses located beside the ocean, countless golf balls find their way into the water, where they sink and accumulate more rapidly than anyone is cleaning them up.

Weber, a grade 12 student, is doing her best, but is barely putting a dent in the collection of drowned balls. Just two weeks earlier, Weber and her father spent several hours snorkeling in the same cove and cleared the seafloor of about 2,000 balls.

Now, the ocean bottom is again awash with golf balls. “Big waves come through and uncover them,” says Weber, who started collecting golf balls here in 2016. “It can sometimes make what we’re doing feel futile.”..

They don’t just sit inertly on the seafloor, either. As Weber has documented, they corrode.

In fact, golf balls have been found in the stomachs of at least two gray whales found dead in Washington State—one in 2010, the other in 2012—though the balls were not identified as the cause of either death. Golf balls also appear in bird stomachs on occasion—something Steiner says he has seen scores of times while inspecting decayed albatross carcasses in the northwestern Hawai‘ian Islands. Golf balls may even find their way into birds’ reproductive tracts—in one documented case, a golf ball encased in shell was laid by a Canada goose.
More at Hakai Magazine.

Coming in November

13 March 2018

Potter wasp

Impressive not just for the "pot" but for the classical "wasp waist."  More info here.

Via the NatureIsFuckingLit subreddit.

TMI about wedges

This post will be of interest only to golfers.  I researched it after receiving this message in an email from a local public golf course advertising a preseason sale:
These $100 wedges are simply phenomenal and retailed in 2017 for $150. This is a great deal but stock is limited and includes:
50 degree F grind
52 degree F grind
54 degree S grind
56 degree S grind
56 degree F grind
56 degree M grind
58 degree M grind
60 degree K grind
60 degree S grind
60 degree M grind
I was gobsmacked by both the price and the degree of specialization.  I started playing golf 60 years ago using a set of clubs from Montgomery Ward comprised of a driver, 3-wood, putter, sand wedge, and 3- 5- 7- and 9-irons.  I later added and mastered an 8-iron for greenside play.   Wedges became a growth industry several decades later:
Since the mid-80s the number of wedges available to players has grown from 2 (pitching and sand) to 5 (adding gap, lob and ultra lob), most of which are now available in a wide array of lofts and bounces to allow a player to "fine-tune" their short game with the wedges that best meet their needs. In some cases, with the high degree of customization, companies have done away with the traditional names for each club, and instead simply label each club with its loft and bounce angles. A 52-8 wedge, for example, would have 52 degrees of loft and 8 degrees of bounce, generally placing it in the "gap wedge" class. Most players carry three or four wedges on the course, and sometimes more, usually sacrificing one or two of their long irons and/or higher-lofted fairway woods to meet the 14-club limit.
The degree of loft is relatively easy to understand, as per the graph embedded at the top showing relative trajectories for a Lob wedge (60-64 degrees), Sand wedge (54-58), Gap wedge (50-53), and Pitching wedge (40-48).

The "bounce" factor is more complex:

Bounce is the group name for the elements involved in sole design: the bounce angle, sole width, leading edge, rocker and camber of a wedge. Bounce, and specifically the bounce angle, is added to prevent a wedge from digging into sand or turf, stopping the momentum of the club through the ball. Wedges with minimal bounce will be better suited to players who sweep the ball, taking a shallower divot, firmer turf conditions (i.e. links courses)...
For "links courses" read "public golf courses where the turf bakes into concrete in the summer."

Only the most fanatic golfers will move onward to read about "grinds" in this article about Vokey wedges.  More at this interview with Bob Vokey at the Titleist website.

(The fonts got all mixed up in this post and I can't seem to fix the problem.  Moving on...)

Which U.S. household do you belong to ?

Golf Carts and Gourmets
Colleges and Cafés
Modest Metro Means
Status-Seeking Singles
Footloose and Family-Free
Settled and Sensible
Diapers and Debit Cards
Babies and Bliss
Kids and Cabernet
Digital Dependents
Full Pockets, Empty Nests
Town Elders
Generational Soup
Booming and Consuming
Birkenstocks and Beemers
Progressive Potpourri
Cul-de-Sac Diversity
True-Grit Americans
Countrified Pragmatics
Red, White, and Bluegrass
American Royalty
Tough Times
Tight Money
I guess our household is "Settled and Sensible."

Selections from a larger list of 71 categories developed by Experian, a credit data corporation, and published in Harper's under the much better title "Glass Menagerie."

Dwarf Kingfisher

Via the Pics subreddit.

Neonatal surgery without anaesthesia

In 1986, the world was shocked when reports of infants undergoing major surgery with out anesthesia arose in both the USA and UK. In the USA, mothers of two premature infants wrote letters to the medical journal, BIRTH, protesting the “barbarism of surgery without anesthesia.”..

Why did infants not receive anesthesia that was comparable to that received by an adult? In the following years, numerous books and articles were written on the subject . A survey of such literature reveals that the two repeatedly cited reasons were: 1. Infants do not have the capacity to perceive pain. 2. It is too risky to use potent anesthetics on infants, given the risk for cardiorespiratory compromise and death...

The 19th century surgeon was rough, having inherited an attitude of indifference to pain from the days predating anesthesia. It was said that the role of a surgeon was to preserve life and not to prevent the temporary pain of the experience. As such, the use of anesthesia was originally restricted to those considered sensitive, primarily the rich, white and educated women and children...

...one of the two consistently cited reasons for the withholding of anesthesia from neonates was the belief that infants are insensitive to pain. When the American Academy of Pediatrics released its statement on neonatal anesthesia in 1987, it cited the commonly taught rationale that “nerve pathways [in neonates] are not sufficiently myelinated to transmit painful stimuli or that neonates do not have sufficiently integrated cortical function to recall painful experiences... 
Continue reading at this submission to the Osler Student Essay Contest.

Cable cars as mass transit

Known as the Mexicable, the 3-mile, $90 million gondola system opened to great fanfare in late 2016, an ambitious effort to improve public transportation in this suburb of more than 1.6 million. Initially met with some doubts, it has since provided more than 5.5 million rides, with about 20,000 passenger trips on a typical weekday. It has also drawn praise for giving low-income workers better access to public transportation.

“They didn’t have enough roads to relieve the traffic,” said Victor Jasso, who directs the Mexicable. “There was no space for expanding the roadway. Making [bus-only lanes] was impossible. And building a subway? Also not a chance.”

That’s a marked departure from how gondolas have historically been used: climbing steep hills, as in Portland, Ore.; crossing bodies of water, like the Roosevelt Island Tram in New York City; or giving tourists a new perspective on a city, as they do in London.
More information at the Boston Globe, because Boston is considering a similar system.

09 March 2018

The mystery of the "cotton" in the window frame - updated

The arrival of September at our latitude marks the time when windows closed all summer can be opened to admit cool night air.  As I opened the window on our guest room, I was startled to see a wad of cotton-like material tumble from the upper window frame (above, placed on the concrete driveway for imaging).

My initial anxiety was that some sort of insulation was coming loose, but the original location of the material (photo below) ruled out that possibility.

My attention was now drawn to the contents of the mass, which to my initial dismay revealed an insect pupa and a number of living larvae:

After searching several combinations of key words in Google Images, I found one entry that matched my experience.  The brief explanation there was that the mass was the creation of a solitary bee.

Now I did feel bad, because my wife and I are great fans of solitary bees.  But armed with that clue, it didn't take long to track down the answer:
Anthidium manicatum, commonly called the European wool carder bee, is a species of bee in the family Megachilidae, the leaf-cutter bees or mason bees.

They get the name 'carder' from their behaviour of scraping hair from leaves such as lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina)... They scrape the hairs from the leaves and carry them back to their nests bundled beneath their bodies. There it is used as a lining for their nest cavities.  Females tend to build their nests at high locations.
I don't know whether the larvae in the photo are bee-related or parasites.

Reposted from 2016 because this week I was wandering through the "gardening" section of our local Target store and found this:

The shelf tag erroneously said "butterfly house."  The label on the product was slightly less inaccurate with "insect house."  It is in fact a structure designed for solitary bees.  There are online instructions for making these as a DIY project, but this one was nicely made and inexpensive.  I'll hang it from a shepherd's crook near ground level in our garden and hope to see some of the tubes getting filled as the summer progresses.

Here is a photo of an equivalent bee-condo viewed in cross-section:

This one was made by drilling holes in a wood block (presumably with a removable flap so the curious home scientist could inspect the process and the season progressed).

If I remember, I'll try to post followup photos in the summer and autumn.

Ruby and Rosie

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring is a 1943 painting by the British painter Laura Knight depicting a young woman, Ruby Loftus (1921–2004), working at an industrial lathe as part of the British war effort in World War II. The painting was commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC), and is now part of the Imperial War Museum's art collection. The painting brought instant fame to Loftus, and has been likened to the American figure of "Rosie the Riveter".

More about Rosie the Riveter.

U.S. Electricity demand has been flat for ten years

The chart above shows no increase in electricity sales (the blue line) in the U.S. since 2007 despite a growing economy (GDP upper line).  Discussed at Vox:
The US electricity sector is in a period of unprecedented change and turmoil. Renewable energy prices are falling like crazy. Natural gas production continues its extraordinary surge. Coal, the golden child of the current administration, is headed down the tubes. In all that bedlam, it’s easy to lose sight of an equally important (if less sexy) trend: Demand for electricity is stagnant. Thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiency, outsourcing of heavy industry, and customers generating their own power on site, demand for utility power has been flat for 10 years, and most forecasts expect it to stay that way...

“TVA now expects to sell 13 percent less power in 2027 than it did two decades earlier — the first sustained reversal in the growth of electricity usage in the 85-year history of TVA.”

... the US utility sector was built around the presumption of perpetual growth. Utilities were envisioned as entities that would build the electricity infrastructure to safely and affordably meet ever-rising demand, which was seen as a fixed, external factor, outside utility control. But demand is no longer rising... 
Worthwhile reading for anyone with funds invested in electric utilities.

Subtypes of Goth - updated

Traditional, Romantic, Cyber, Victorian, Medieval, Vampire, Geek, Gothabilly, Stempunk -- and a dozen more stereotypical variations explained at Blackwaterfall.

Reposted from 2009 because I ran across this video of a Goth rave at a funeral...

 ... which naturally got me wondering about the gas masks.  I found the best information at a Vice article entitled Why Cybergoth Refuses to Die:
Too creepy for the ravers, too neon for the goths, cybergoths occupied a new space entirely. With shaved eyebrows, colored contacts, and cyberlox—synthetic dreadlocks—they listened to industrial music or industrial-dance...

Cybergoth began its decline in the late noughties. Jilly's shut down, as did much of Manchester's thriving clubbing scene, and organized raves became an anomaly...

Their online presence is declining, too: the cybergoth subreddit has barely any updates and 'cybergoth confessions' Tumblr stopped posting two years ago. It's rare to see a flash of neon cyberlox or space goggles on the streets anymore... It's more likely that it's just operating in a different space.

The original cybergoths, meanwhile, have grown up. Sarah is now a mom to a small child and can't go clubbing anymore—"even if I could afford the time or money"—and can't keep up with expensive alternative brands...

"The gas mask thing, people generally laugh at nowadays too. It was very 2004, but not in right now." Goggles, on the other hand, are just about acceptable.  
And I don't mean to mock, but I did have to chuckle when I encountered this Onion-like item:

Best to close with Miranda's exclamation in The Tempest:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!


The story of the "Broccoli Tree"

Via Neatorama.

Nine familial exterminations

Last evening I finished watching the absolutely superb PBS series The Story of China.  In the final episode, Michael Wood makes reference to an ancient form of extreme punishment:
The nine familial exterminations or nine kinship exterminations... was the most serious punishment for a capital offense in Ancient China. A collective punishment typically associated with offenses such as treason, the punishment involved the execution of all relatives of an individual, which were categorized into nine groups. The occurrence of this punishment was somewhat rare, with relatively few sentences recorded throughout history.

The punishment involved the execution of close and extended family members. These included:
  • The criminal's living parents
  • The criminal's living grandparents
  • Any children the criminal may have, over a certain age (which is usually variable depending on the time period) and if married their spouses
  • Any grandchildren the criminal may have, over a certain age (which is usually variable depending on the time period) and if married their spouses
  • Siblings and siblings-in-law (the siblings of the criminal and that of his or her spouse, in the case where he or she is married)
  • Uncles and aunts of the criminal, as well as their spouses
  • The criminal's cousins (in case of Korea, this includes up to second and third cousins)
  • The criminal's spouse
  • The criminal's spouse's parents
  • The criminal himself

Seasonally-variable fuel efficiency

Data collected over a 2.5 year period and posted at the Data Is Beautiful subreddit, where some of the variables are discussed.

05 March 2018

Divertimento #148

All of the entries in this "linkfest" are gifs.

Ooooh , Aaaah, and Ohhhh category

Giving new meaning to the term "hat hair."

More fabulous hair.  I wonder what my grandmother would have thought.

When you put bubble bath in a Jacuzzi.

The buildings of Barcelona, color-coded by time, 1850s to present.

The "miracle" last-second touchdown pass that allowed Minnesota to beat New Orleans.

North Carolina windsurfer is a cool dude.

This cruise-ship surfer, not so cool.

U.S. soldiers get the word they're going home from Vietnam.

Girl shows cool way to open a beer.

High dive starts out majestic...

Clever way to thread a needle.

Don't be impatient at a traffic-control pylon.

Powerwashing a sidewalk.

Cyclist meets kangaroo.

Railroad barriers don't apply to me.

Special needs student drills her first basketball shot.

Finns enjoy a winter cruise.

Steam cleaning a rug.

The path of a projectile at different (and complementary) launch angles.  (relevant to time on target in warfare)

Not every fountain is designed as a child's water park.

Telling the drunk to go home.

Showoff on the golf tee.

Jugglers at Gustavus.

The punch from nowhere.

Snowplow modified to not dump on your driveway.

Got a dead tree in your front yard?

Lazy dad, or clever dad?

Swimming pool in Switzerland.

Animals category

Happy disabled pupper gets new wheels for Christmas.

Fawn bathes a kitten.

Dog almost completely hidden by a leaf pile.

Jump rope assistant.

Hen and her babies.

Shetland pony descends from a great height.

I found a stick for you to throw for me.

Humpback whale spouts a rainbow.

This dog loves to go to doggy school.

Smart ass clears the way.

Cat doesn't give a fuck.

Make sure the baby stays warm.

Baby octopus.

Dog gets ball out of pool without getting wet.

Lazy weekend at home.

I know how to crack an egg.

Alligator vs. truck.  Alligator wins.

It's good to see the bull sometimes wins.

For a quick laugh before you go

Rare footage of a baby starfish.

Twins separated at birth.

Hold my beer while I get dressed.

Alcohol probably involved.

03 March 2018

Therapy dogs waiting for Parkland students

Photo cropped for size from the original at the Aww subreddit

Warren Buffett prefers monopolies

When I was in my thirties, working 55-60 hours/week, I began to have disposable income.  At that time my role models for investing were Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett.  Both of them were stock-pickers rather than market timers, and both have achieved legendary status in the financial world.

Warren Buffett is often cited as a prime example of the wonders of free-market capitalism and the potential for "everyman" to roll modest investments into enormous wealth.  A recent article in The Nation offers quite a different perspective:
This Nation investigation documents how Buffett’s massive wealth has actually been built: on monopoly power and the unfair advantages it provides. Companies in Buffett’s portfolio have extorted windfall profits, evaded US taxes, and abused customers. In the two specific cases discussed below, in the banking and high-tech industries, Buffett’s investments have prompted federal investigations for anticompetitive or other illegal practices...

Buffett makes no secret of his fondness for monopoly. He repeatedly highlights the key to his personal fortune: finding businesses surrounded by a monopoly moat, keeping competitors at bay. “[W]e think in terms of that moat and the ability to keep its width and its impossibility of being crossed,” Buffett told the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting in 2000. “We tell our managers we want the moat widened every year.”

America isn’t supposed to allow moats, much less reward them. Our economic system, we claim, is founded on free and fair competition. We have laws over a century old designed to break up concentrated industries, encouraging innovation and risk-taking. In other words, Buffett’s investment strategy should not legally be available, to him or anyone else.

Over the past 40 years, however, the United States has not only failed to build bridges across monopoly moats; it has stocked those moats with alligators. Two-thirds of all US industries were more concentrated in 2012 than in 1997, The Economist has documented. Since the Reagan era, the federal government has abandoned antitrust enforcement, with markets for products like eyeglasses, toothpaste, beef, and beer whittled down to a few suppliers. This consolidation has vastly inflated corporate profits, damaged workers and consumers, stunted economic growth, and supercharged economic inequality.  
It's a well-researched indictment, and worth the read.  For relevant background, see Investopedia's What is an economic moat?

Vincent Van Gogh action figure

Image (and title) from Madam Jujujive's incomparable Everlasting Blort.

Cobra vs. python

One of the combatants, a king cobra, lay strangled. The second, a reticulated python, was also dead. Bitten behind its head by the cobra and suffering from the hooded snake’s deadly venom, the python attempted to defend its life by squeezing its attacker to death. It succeeded.
But neither survived.
Image cropped for size from the original at National Geographic, where the encounter is discussed.

Ocean tides as evolutionary triggers

New calculations suggest that, around 400 million years ago, many coastlines experienced two-week tidal cycles that varied in height by four metres or more. Such a huge range could have stranded fish in tidal pools for a couple of weeks. Only the ones with fins strong enough to muscle themselves out would have been able to journey back into the ocean and survive. Fossil evidence for the earliest known land vertebrates comes from places that had such wide tidal ranges...

Hundreds of millions of years ago, the Moon was much closer to Earth than it is now. Steven Balbus, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, UK, has explored how the Moon’s proximity to Earth might have affected its gravitational pull and influenced life on the planet. In 2014, he suggested that Earth’s tidal ranges would have been greater around the time the first four-limbed vertebrates, or tetrapods, appeared on land...
More information at Nature.

When you're too ignorant to draw a swastika

Probably drawn by the same type of people who claim to be "Natzis."

Image cropped for size from the original posted at the BBC, credit Reuters.

This one, however, I have mixed feelings about...

It's called a "filter sock"

For the last decade or so I've been seeing these boom-like structures deployed at construction sites and other locations where sediment runoff needs to be controlled.  They are particularly abundant at road construction sites in the vicinity of rivers and waterways, and seem to have replaced the older method of staking straw bales ("wattles") to the ground.

I never gave any thought to what might be inside them until I encountered one (in the subdivision being built next to our neighborhood) that had been installed last year and is now breaking down:

Wood mulch.  Heavy enough to restrain runoff, lighter than sand, biodegradable.  Very clever.  In our fairly-woodsy part of the country, wood mulch is abundant.  Arborists will virtually give it away, and our town has immense piles that are free to any gardener who wants to truck it away.  A quick Google of key words yielded the term "filter sock."

Now I know "the rest of the story."  You learn something every day.

01 March 2018

"Team Minnesota" did extremely well in this Olympics

From the Star Tribune:
As the Pyeongchang Olympics close out a 17-day run Sunday, Minnesota athletes have collected three gold medals and a bronze... The count included unprecedented golds by cross-country skier Jessie Diggins of Afton and curling skip John Shuster, a Chisholm native. The U.S. never had won a gold medal in either sport and had only one medal of any color in each.

The U.S. women’s hockey team, whose eight Minnesota-linked players include seven natives, beat Canada to win its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years. Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn — who still lists Buck Hill Ski Team as her home club, along with the slightly more glamorous Ski & Snowboard Club Vail — earned bronze in the downhill, in what is likely to be her final Olympics...

Minnesota, with 5.5 million people, put 22 natives or residents on the U.S. team and earned a third of the country’s golds... 
And the New York Times:
That Minnesotans are leading American success in these sports should not be surprising. Minnesota produces more girls and women hockey players than any other state by far, according to U.S.A. Hockey, and the second-most curlers after Wisconsin, per U.S.A. Curling. And Minnesota, with a thriving cross-country community, is one of the few states where Nordic skiing is a varsity sport...

The women’s hockey victory likewise thrilled folks in Warroad, a town of about 1,700 that has put eight hockey players on Olympic teams since 1960, including Gigi Marvin on the last three women’s teams. All but T.J. Oshie, in 2014, brought home medals. (Oshie can be forgiven; his four goals on six shots in an opening-round shootout against Russia still inspires awe.)
My old high school now offers Nordic skiing and Alpine skiing as winter sports options.  In my era you had to choose either basketball, ice hockey, or wrestling (I see the latter is not available nowadays, replaced by... yoga). 

It has been said that no state's residents brag more about the accomplishment of their fellow residents than Minnesotans do.  That's why I was required to write this post.

More about curling at The Bemidji Pioneer.  Photo of Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins via Washington Post.

Why microwaved food tastes different

To understand why, it helps to get to grips with the queen of chemical reactions, the Maillard reaction. First discovered by the French chemist, Louis-Camille Maillard, back in 1912, it’s the most widely practiced chemical reaction on the planet. It happens in millions of kitchens every day, though very few people have heard of it.

Essentially, something delicious happens when you mix amino acids with certain kinds of sugars, then heat them up. New compounds begin to form, which turn the food brown and contribute to its flavour...

These Maillard by-products are responsible for the earthy sweetness of coffee and the malty, caramel notes in beer, as well as the appetising aroma of baked bread, chips, fried onions, barbecued meat, biscuits, toasted marshmallows, and most other foods that we find irresistible. It’s one reason spices are fried or toasted before they’re used, and why there’s no comparison between roasted and boiled potatoes...

The problem is, the reaction can’t happen if the food is too wet. “If you’ve got a raw potato in the oven, it’s got around 80% moisture,” says Elmore. Once it gets to boiling point, water starts to evaporate and its surface begins to dry. “You need to get the water content down to about 5% before the Maillard reaction will take place and you get all the nice cooked flavours and brown colour.” This is why roast potatoes are usually brown on the outside and white on the inside...

This also means that ready meals tend to taste a bit bland. One early study found that beef cooked in the microwave had just a third of the scrumptious aromatic chemicals of meat that was cooked conventionally, while another found that microwave-baked bread was, frankly, disgusting.
Interesting science and culinary art at the BBC article, including new developments in packaging that partially overcome the limitations of microwaving.

Housekeeping/editorial note

At the suggestion of my longest and most-faithful reader, I've made an adjustment to the layout of TYWKIWDBI.

The list of "Categories" in the right sidebar (below the Archive access) is now arranged in alphabetical order.  I had originally set it up with the categories listed in descending order of number of entries, but I agree that this new arrangement makes more sense logistically and will help new readers find an appropriate section of the blog to explore.

Wonder Woman's invisible jet plane

Awesome baloon art, made of clear latex balloons (not condoms, as some might assume).

A strange sound in the night

For the past week, a most unusual sound has been emanating from the woods behind our house.  It was so monotonously repetitive, so mechanical-sounding, that I had doubts about it having a biological origin and initially suspected some equipment malfunction at a neighbor's house. 

Today a quick web search yielded the answer.  I've lived near woods for much of my life and have heard all sorts of owls, but didn't recognize this one.  Saw-whets are native to the boreal forests of Canada, but often winter further south in deciduous forests of the northern U.S.

The nocturnal call has been likened to the sound of a saw being whetted - thus the name.

(educational video here)

100,000,000 books donated

Founded by Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library sends free books to children from birth until their start of school, regardless of their parents' income.

Parton started the program in 1995. Less than 10 years later, Parton had donated a million books. After the singer launched operations in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, donations started running into the tens of millions.

Parton says her father's illiteracy initially inspired her to take action. 
More at Mashable.

Imagination Library homeDiscussion thread here.

See also: Dolly Parton - Coat of Many Colors  and "I Will Always Love You."

24-hour daycare centers are now a thing

They serve an ever-expanding number of children whose parents work non-standard and unpredictable hours. The parents might be working two service or retail jobs or they may be night nurses. According to the National Women’s Law Center, 9% of daycare center care is now provided during evenings or weekends...

Nearly 40% of Americans now work non-traditional employment hours. Almost two-thirds (64.2%) of women with children under age six are working, and one in five working moms of small children work at low-wage jobs that typically pay $10.50 an hour. They all need to earn more if they are to truly be able to afford daycare, and in a cruel twist, many must work more and stranger hours to do so...

Diana’s mother works two jobs because neither employer will give her more than 29 hours of work. By keeping her hours down, the companies can avoid offering benefits that come with full-time employment...
The rest of the story is at The Guardian.

Lachryphagous moths drink tears - updated

Tear-drinking moths have been known since at least 1928, when Time magazine reported the work of a scientist working in Argentina who observed nocturnal moths sucking the tears of horses. Similar reports have come from Southeast Asia (water buffalo tears) and from Madagascar (birds' tears).
"They prefer the tears of large hoofed mammals, elephants, and on occasion people, whose eyes will often be visited at night while asleep...

The highly specialized Lobocraspis griseifusa does not wait for an animal’s eyes to moisten. When it has landed, it sweeps its proboscis across the eye of its unfortunate host, irritating the eyeball, encouraging it to produce tears. It can even insert its proboscis between the eyelids, ensuring it can feed even while its host is sleeping. Whereas a moth of the genus Poncetia goes to the opposite extreme. It’s proboscis is so short it must cling to the eyeball itself to drink. But it must be careful. If its weeping host blinks, the moth is often crushed to death.”
Text from Matt Walker's Fish That Fake Orgasms and Other Zoological Curiosities, via Uncertain Times. Photo created by The Nonist.

BoingBoing has blogged an article from the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society about bees that drink human tears.

Reposted from 2009 to add this photo of a caiman:

Photo credit Mark Cowan (location: Los Amigos River, southeastern Peru).

27 February 2018

"The Funeral of Shelley" (Fournier, 1889)

An 1889 oil painting by Louis Édouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley, depicts a somber ceremony as the body of Percy Bysshe Shelley is cremated on a Tuscany beach, July 18, 1822.

The scene is wildly inaccurate in all its details.

Death shadowed Mary Shelley’s life. Her very birth came at a terrible cost as her mother died within ten days. As a young woman, Mary would lose three of her four children to childhood illness, and she was still recuperating from a miscarriage that almost killed her when her beloved Percy drowned at sea...

On July 12, Percy’s body washed ashore on a beach near Viareggio and was promptly buried there by locals. Italian health laws prescribed cremation and on July 18, Shelley’s friends and fellow authors carried out the grim ceremony.

Fournier’s 1889 painting depicts a bleak, windswept beach, the witnesses swaddled in heavy coats against the cold. At the back, Mary Shelley kneels in prayer. In the foreground, friends and fellow authors Edward John Trelawny, Hunt and Byron strike dramatic, grieving poses. A peaceful Shelley, as if asleep, is stretched out on his smoking pyre. But it’s all wrong.

July 18 was actually a hot, sunny day. Mary Shelley, as was the custom of the times, did not attend. Leigh Hunt sat out the event in a nearby carriage. Byron, upset at the proceedings and suffering from the heat, cooled off in the surf, eventually to swim out to his own boat, leaving Trelawny alone on the beach. Shelley’s body, badly decomposed, the face and hands gone, was burned in a metal furnace lugged out to the shore by hired help. ..

In the end, Trelawny plucked Shelley’s carbonized heart from the ashes as a gruesome souvenir for himself, but he was eventually persuaded to give it to Mary, who preserved the relic for the rest of her life. Contrary to various reports, the heart was not returned to Shelley’s grave or buried with Mary, in 1851. It was interred with their son, Percy Florence Shelley, in 1889, the very year that Fournier painted The Funeral of Shelley. 
Excerpts from Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog.  My understanding, FWIW, is that the organ plucked from the cremation ashes was likely not Shelley's heart, but more likely his liver.  Perhaps I can look that up sometime.

Things I didn't know about Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley began writing “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” when she was eighteen years old, two years after she’d become pregnant with her first child, a baby she did not name. “Nurse the baby, read,” she had written in her diary, day after day, until the eleventh day: “I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it,” and then, in the morning, “Find my baby dead.” With grief at that loss came a fear of “a fever from the milk.” Her breasts were swollen, inflamed, unsucked; her sleep, too, grew fevered. “Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived,” she wrote in her diary. “Awake and find no baby.”

Pregnant again only weeks later, she was likely still nursing her second baby when she started writing “Frankenstein,” and pregnant with her third by the time she finished. She didn’t put her name on her book—she published “Frankenstein” anonymously, in 1818, not least out of a concern that she might lose custody of her children—and she didn’t give her monster a name, either. “This anonymous androdaemon,” one reviewer called it. For the first theatrical production of “Frankenstein,” staged in London in 1823 (by which time the author had given birth to four children, buried three, and lost another unnamed baby to a miscarriage so severe that she nearly died of bleeding that stopped only when her husband had her sit on ice), the monster was listed on the playbill as “––––––.”..

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley took pains that readers’ sympathies would lie not only with Frankenstein, whose suffering is dreadful, but also with the creature, whose suffering is worse. The art of the book lies in the way Shelley nudges readers’ sympathy, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, even line by line, from Frankenstein to the creature, even when it comes to the creature’s vicious murders, first of Frankenstein’s little brother, then of his best friend, and, finally, of his bride. Much evidence suggests that she succeeded. “The justice is indisputably on his side,” one critic wrote in 1824, “and his sufferings are, to me, touching to the last degree.”..

Likewise, the creature comes of age when he finds Frankenstein’s notebook, recounting his experiment, and learns how he was created, and with what injustice he has been treated. It’s at this moment that the creature’s tale is transformed from the autobiography of an infant to the autobiography of a slave... Given Mary Shelley’s reading of books that stressed the physical distinctiveness of Africans, her depiction of the creature is explicitly racial, figuring him as African, as opposed to European.
Excerpts from a worthwhile longread at The New Yorker.  This year marks the bicentennial of the novel's 1818 publication, so expect many reprints, studies, and tributes.

Adaptive clothing line at Target

Target’s latest women’s fashion line was designed with all bodies in mind, including those with disabilities and sensory-sensitivities. On Monday, Target announced its clothing line, Universal Thread, will feature sensory-friendly and adaptive clothing items.

Universal Thread will be available starting February 4, in stores and online, with prices ranging from $5 to $39.99. The design team worked with almost 1,000 women to figure out the biggest qualms when shopping for jeans.

The fashion line is centered around denim since it is a staple in many women’s wardrobes, but denim can be uncomfortable for many people with disabilities or sensory issues. The line will include denim that has flattened seams to reduce pressure points and jeans with wider legs to help with dressing. The back of the jeans will be pocket-less and will have a higher rise. Sensory-friendly shirts will have flat seams, softer material and no tags.
Note also the absence of back pockets and rivets.  Persons with significant physical impairments know how difficult it can be to find suitable clothing that is affordable, rather than custom-made.  Even simple modifications, such as those in this Target line, can make a world of difference in terms of self-sufficiency and personal confidence. 

Notice how the substitution of magnetic closures rather than tiny buttons makes this adaptive shirt much easier to put on.

Yellow cardinal

An extremely rare cardinal has birders and biologists flocking to Shelby County, Alabama this week, as images of a yellow cardinal have circulated around social media.

Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill said the cardinal in the photos is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow instead...

Hill said that cardinals and other songbirds need to consume substances called carotenoids (found in sweet potatoes and carrots) from the environment around them to achieve their bright colors.

"Songbirds like cardinals almost never consume red pigments; rather they consume abundant yellow pigments," Hill said. "So, to be red, cardinals have to biochemically convert yellow pigments to red."
More information at AL.com.

Expectation vs. reality

TIL that there is an entire subreddit devoted to "expectation vs. reality."

Image cropped for size from the original here.

Watch the Arctic sea ice disappear

Awesome animation by NASA.  Enjoy (or cringe).

Probably not worth showing to a dedicated climate-change denier, because it won't have any effect on them.  But if you do, and they say "that ice melted and the sea level hasn't risen," remember to point out that the physical state of floating sea-ice doesn't alter sea levels.

26 February 2018

Like a mustard seed in Fenway Park

"The pit at the center of each atom, the nucleus, is not only hard but minuscule: a hundred thousand times smaller than the atom as a whole. To use an analogy, if an atom were the size of Fenway Park, the home stadium of the Red Sox in Boston, its dense central nucleus would be the size of a mustard seed, with the electrons gracefully orbiting in the outer bleachers...

This ultra-tiny scale is called the Planck length, named after Max Planck, a pioneer in quantum physics. The Planck length is 10^-33 centimeters, a hundred billion billion times smaller than a quark, which is itself a few hundred thousand times smaller than an atom. Another way to visualize the size we are talking about: the Planck length is smaller than an atom by about the same ratio as an atom is smaller than the sun. It is staggering that we have anything at all to say about such impossibly tiny elements of existence...

Regardless of whether space is indeed grainy at very small scales, physicists are confident that time and space must be chaotic at Planck. Because of the indeterminate, probabilistic character of quantum physics, at the dimensions of the Planck length, space and time churn and seethe, with the distance between any two points wildly fluctuating from moment to moment. Indeed, at the Planck scale, time itself randomly speeds up and slows down, perhaps even going backward as well as forward. In such a situation, time and space no longer exist in a way that has meaning to us. The sensation of smoothness and substantiality that we experience in our large world of houses and trees results only from averaging out this extreme lumpiness and chaos at the Planck length, in the same way that the graininess of a beach disappears when seen from a thousand feet up."
Excerpts from an interesting essay in the March issue of Harper's.  The infinitely small, like the infinitely far (deep space) and infinitely old (deep time) are concepts that I cannot wrap my mind around, but love to ponder.

23 February 2018

Divertimento #147

Interesting packaging for Spiderman Kleenex.

A mass grave in England apparently contains 300 skeletons from the Viking Great Army.

The near-Ice-Age younger Dryas period (13,000 years ago) was probably caused by the impact of fragments of a 62-mile-wide comet. "“A number of different chemical signatures – carbon dioxide, nitrate, ammonia, and others – all seem to indicate that an astonishing 10 percent of the Earth’s land surface, or about 10 million square kilometers, was consumed by fires."

Hospital room in Romania, 2018, discussed here.

Thomas Morris is a website dedicated to "making you grateful for modern medicine."

During the Superbowl, an advertisement for Ram Trucks superimposed the voice of Martin Luther King over images of their product (this was done with the permission of his estate).  A modified version dubs in what MLK actually thought about advertising. "In fact, the quote used during Sunday's Super Bowl commercial was taken from the very same sermon in which King warned the audience about the way advertisers manipulate feelings of groupthink, loneliness and a need for conformity masquerading as individuality."

Autonomous (self-driving) cars have difficulty detecting and recognizing bicycles and their riders.

For golfers only:  a group of pros are challenged to get closest to the hole on a 200-yard putt.

From the NYT: FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

From Minnesota Public Radio:  "How a urine test after back surgery triggered a $17,800 bill."

Tesla spends nothing on advertising.

A harsh rejoinder to those who complain about immigration.

"The toad’s reaction to the explosion deep in its stomach is not instantaneous. But in time the body shakes, the mouth opens, and the culprit is expelled: a mucus-covered beetle that will live to fight another day."

Monaco has the highest concentration of millionaires of any place in the world (over 30% of the residents). House pricesare  between €53,000 ($67,000) and €100,000 ($142,000) per square metre.  So the country is adding 15 acres offshore in the Mediterranean.

A photo of $20,000,000 hidden under a mattress.

Some high schools in Oklahoma are closed on Mondays so teachers can work second jobs.  "Teacher pay is the third-lowest in the country and has triggered a statewide shortage, as teachers flee to neighbouring states like Arkansas and Texas or to private schools. “Most of our teachers work second jobs,” says Darlene Adair, Wagoner’s principal. “A lot of them work at Walmart on nights and weekends, or in local restaurants.”  Other state agencies are doing similarly badly.  Details at the Economist link.

There is a "Pile of Puppies" program for children with special needs.

For an interesting longread, try the multipart series at Reuters on "Body Brokers" (the buying and selling of body parts).  It explains who cashes in when you donate your body "to science."

"With 15 years of competitive jump rope experience, 2 world records, multiple World and European Jump Rope Championship wins and even a Cirque du Soleil membership, it's safe to say that no one is better at jumping rope than Adrienn Banhegyi." (3-minute video at the link)

One way to prevent the spread of the flu is to use Far-UVC light to kill the virus.  That spectrum of light is both carcinogenic and cataractogenic, but it could be employed freely in ventilation ducts.

Waiting for the Uber driver.

"Cardistry" is playing card artistry.  Demonstrated in the video.

Video on how Criterion Collection restores old movies.

"The Queen has declared war on plastic, banning straws and bottles from the Royal estates... It is thought that the Queen became personally interested in the problem of plastic after working with Sir David Attenborough on a conservation documentary dealing with wildlife in the Commonwealth."

Video of the newest robot from Boston Dynamics.

A group of runners completed 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents.

Ever wonder how many calories Olympic athletes consume?  A chart for the winter Olympics shows cross-country skies at the top (4,000 - 7,000 calories per day).  (Curlers are not listed)

The most enjoyable obituary I've read in as long as I can remember.

The photos embedded in today's divertimento come from Skeetmotis, a blog created by a TYWKIWDBI reader as a place to store photos of interesting things seen while walking.
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