22 February 2017

Goodbye to "Arbroath"

I started TYWKIWDBI in 2007, and within a couple months I had found my way to Nothing To Do With Arbroath, one of the best-known and best-loved blogs on the internet.  Kevin Norman Gray harvested the news sites of the world to collect oddities and ephemera.  In the last ten years I've used Kevin's blog as a "via" for over 200 posts, because his material was very much "things you wouldn't know."

Readers of "Arbroath" were startled this past November to see a personal post from a blogger who was always very private; he reported having an illness which would hamper his blogging.  Sadly, he wrote a final post in January detailing a terminal illness, and shortly thereafter a blog reader found and posted a link to a death notice, which was later confirmed by the family.

Bloggers and blog-readers everywhere will miss Kevin's eclectic approach.  Nothing To Do With Arbroath is still up, and since the blogspot host is free, it will probably remain available for the near future; I invite you to visit and browse.  I note that I still have a couple dozen of his posts in my bookmarks folders, so I may do a compilation post in the future.

Rest in peace, Kevin.

Locate structurally deficient bridges near you

The Washington Post offers an interactive map which lets you click on your county and then zoom in to identify bridges that have been deemed structurally deficient (and others that are "functionally obsolete.")

"Megachiropteran cinematographer"

Wordsmiths interested in anagrams will find an interesting study at the Universe of Discourse.  Examples of some of the more interesting long ones include -
7 admirer married
7 admires sidearm
8 negativism timesaving
8 peripatetic precipitate
8 scepters respects
8 shortened threnodes
8 soapstone teaspoons
9 earringed grenadier
9 excitation intoxicate
9 integrals triangles
9 ivoriness revisions
9 masculine calumnies
10 coprophagist topographics
10 chuprassie haruspices
10 citronella interlocal
11 clitoridean directional
11 dispensable piebaldness
11 endometritria intermediator
That source also provices a link to an apparently comprehensive list of 38,333 anagrams.

Related, and well known to cryptic puzzle enthusiasts, is this anagram maker.

There are lots of multi-word interesting anagrams, such as

INCONSISTENT is an anagram of N IS, N IS NOT, ETC.

These are clever:
Dormitory = Dirty room
Evangelist = Evil's agent
Desperation = A rope ends it
The Morse Code = Here come dots
Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler
Snooze alarms = Alas! No more Z's.
Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one
Clint Eastwood = Old West action
Slot machines = Cash lost in 'em
Conversation = Voices rant on
Norwegians = Swen or Inga?
The piano bench = Beneath Chopin
Southern California = Hot sun or life in a car

And this one is arguably the most impressive because of its logical consistency:
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
      is an anagram of
A novel by a Scottish writer
And finally there is a chemical anagram, in which 30 chemicals anagram to 30 other ones the sum of whose atomic numbers is the same.

"Biotwang" emanating from the Mariana Trench

YouTube link

After months of speculation, scientists have finally identified the most likely source of a creepy audio recording from the deepest part of the ocean... [it] features five different sounds ranging from metallic to biological, and has been nicknamed the Western Pacific Biotwang...

While these sounds are entirely unique in the scientific record, the best clue Nieukirk's team had for identifying them was an equally bizarre recoding from 2001, made in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef... Known as the minke whale 'Star Wars' call, it sounds just as alien as this more recent recording, and the researchers say that based on similarities of frequency and structure, the Western Pacific Biotwang likely comes from the same type of animal.
It's easy to understand how ancient mariners would get creeped out by sounds echoing through the wooden hulls of their vessels in mid-ocean at night.

Credit only where credit is due

In his chapter on word choice, Harold Evans rightly takes issue with the misuse of the term “credit” in news media. In 2014, Boko Haram was “credited” with the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. A year later, on the night of the terror attacks in Paris, a TV commentator reported that no one had yet “claimed credit.” This is to ventriloquize the terrorists: to claim credit for an act is to imply its righteousness. Evans proposes a clearer-sighted alternative: “Nobody has yet admitted . . . responsibility.”
From an essay about the proper use of the English language in this month's Harper's.  I quite agree with the sentiment expressed.

20 February 2017

Donald Trump may have dyslexia

This video presents a very interesting proposition: that Donald Trump has difficulty reading.   He has admitted - publicly and unabashedly - that he "doesn't" read (books, reports, briefings) and prefers to get his information from television.  Examples are presented of him appearing to have problems reading when presented with documents during court testimony and public signings.

I think it's unfortunate that the video title questions whether Trump "knows how" to read.  The problem, presuming it exists, would be a reading disability rather than a lack of knowledge of how to read.  It would also explain his famously low-reading-level speech as being easier to memorize or to read off a teleprompter. 

Dyslexia does not preclude advancement or competence in professions.  Wikipedia's List of people diagnosed with dyslexia is long and impressive, including Alexander Graham Bell, Richard Branson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Edison, David Rockefeller and many others. 

If he is dyslexic, he really ought to come out and say so, and tell his staff that that is why he has avoided the morning briefings, and make arrangements for information to be presented to him in other ways.  A public announcement would probably garner a measure of sympathy and perhaps some improved tolerance for his shenanigans.

19 February 2017


Snopes confirms that Mencken did make such a pronouncement in 1920 (using the term "downright moron").
In this case the attribution to Henry Louis Mencken, a prominent newspaperman and political commentator during the first half of the 20th century, is accurate. Writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun on 26 July 1920, in an article entitled “Bayard vs. Lionheart” (and reprinted in the book On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe), Mencken cynically opined on the difficulties of good men reaching national office when the scale of their campaigns precluded them from directly reaching out to large segments of the voting public:
The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
Mencken biography.

Introducing Zealandia

Some geologists argue that this area should be acknowledged as our world's eighth continent.  It has not previously been recognized because most of it is under water.
Geophysical data suggest that a region spanning 5 million square kilometres, which includes New Zealand and New Caledonia, is a single, intact piece of continental crust and is geologically separate from Australia...

However, there is no international body in charge of designating official continents, and so the researchers must hope that enough of their colleagues agree to recognize the landmass. Otherwise, their proposal could remain more of a theoretical wish than a radical reshaping of what every child has to learn in geography class...

...Zealandia began to peel away from the supercontinent of Gondwana starting about 100 million years ago. The rift gave Zealandia its independence, but it also pulled and thinned the crust, causing the area to sink, and dooming most of it to a watery existence. Today, only about 6% of it remains above water, as New Zealand and New Caledonia...
There is no widely accepted definition of a continent, and geographers and geologists differ on the question. (Geographically, Europe and Asia are considered separate continents, whereas geologists consider them the single landmass of Eurasia.)

"Swanga" illustrated

Many more pix here.  This is part of SLAB culture in Houston:
Like most automotive hobbies, the Houston SLAB scene starts with the belief that the factory’s work needs improvement... Depreciated American luxury cars are the norm: Cadillacs, Buicks and certain Oldsmobiles are preferred.  Lincolns/Panthers and Chryslers are cool too, even Jaguars and Quattroportes pull it off vis-√†-vis distinctly luxurious proportions.  But don’t break your budget on the ride, GM’s W-body is one of the most common platforms for good reason, as costly modifications are necessary to pay homage to the Pimp Riders while advancing the game...
  • Massive stereos....
  • Kitted out power popping trunks, slathered in custom vinyl and personalized phrases in neon/mirrors.
  • Wire wheels much like the Cragar units supplied as OEM for Cadillac in 1983 and 1984, except replacing the fragile tin content with 100% steel. Texan Wire Wheels sells them as “83s” and “84s”, seemingly cornering this niche market...
Discussion at the WTF subreddit, including whether such hubcaps are "street-legal."

Image via.

Save the frogs !

Amphibian survival can be a natural biomarker for subtle environmental changes.  A poster promoting a frog exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium reminds everyone why frogs are important.

Early humans didn't just "walk across Beringia"

Most well-informed people understand that the Americas were populated by early humans who crossed from Asia via the glacial-age land-bridge at Beringia.  But too many people have the misconception that once the land bridge formed (when sea levels dropped because oceanic water was tied up in glaciers), humans just marched across to the new world.  The process of crossing probably extended over thousands of years - and a new paper reports that this may have been long enough for the human genome to have evolved during the process.
In fact, the word ‘bridge’ definitely conjures up the wrong image. It was a geographic region, often called Beringia, and people lived there for so long that it probably would have been ludicrous to them that we could think of their home as transient. Current estimates suggest that people lived there for between 5,000 and 8,000 years, starting about 23,000 years ago.

That is a long enough time for natural selection to have had an effect on the genome of people who lived there, according to a paper in PNAS this week. The Beringians would have faced distinct diseases, food constraints, and climate conditions, and natural selection would have helped those with the right genetic adaptations to thrive in that environment. According to the new paper, we can see evidence of that natural selection in modern Native American populations...

Specifically, there’s evidence to suggest that three genes involved in metabolizing fatty acids (called the fatty acid desaturases, or FADS, genes) show changes that might be the result of adaptation to a diet high in protein and fats. That sort of diet tends to be one of the side-effects of living in the Arctic.
I don't mean to oversimplify the process.  The crossing may also have involved watercraft, and some subpopulations may have traversed the region more quickly.  And the Beringia crossing may have been supplemented by trans-Pacific voyages and/or by trans-Atlantic migrants from Solutrean regions.  But the PNAS paper does suggest that the time spent in the subarctic crossing may have influenced the Native American genome.

Every picture tells a story...

Image cropped slightly for size from the original at the WTF subreddit, where the location is reported to be Renaissance Festival near Charlotte, North Carolina.  (although I prefer the comment "Which Walmart is this?")

What the melting snow reveals

A backyard that was covered with snow during the winter appeared frozen and lifeless on the surface.  Underneath that snowpack, protected from frigid airtemps, local rodents were busy scavenging.  An early mid-February warm spell has revealed their foraging paths, from the woods and the neighbor's yard to the area under the birdfeeder on our deck, and out toward occasional tossed bread crusts.  Raptors and foxes are able to ambush these rodents.

Related old post: A fox dives into DEEP snow - update #2.  Worth revisiting, if only for the second video showing a domestic dog pouncing a baby's shadow.

15 February 2017

Evidence of agroforestry in the ancient Amazon

Football field sized patterns of deep ditches dot the landscape of northwestern Brazil. The discovery of these huge earthworks, which date back almost 2,000 years, has triggered intense debate regarding their origins among archaeologists and ecologists...

It wasn't until the late 1970's that deforestation first revealed the geoglyphs hiding under upland rainforest. Covering more than 5,000 sq. miles in the Brazilian state of Acre, more than 450 large-scale earthworks...

A relatively heavy charcoal layer suggests that the new residents cleared the bamboo forest with fire, letting the fast-growing palm trees spring up to fill the space left behind. Over the long term, one would expect the palms to be overtaken by slower-growing plants, but that’s not what the team found.

Instead palms flourished for three thousand years, likely encouraged by the human newcomers, who could use them for food and building material. Dr. Watling suspects they engaged in practices including planting seeds, transplanting saplings, and weeding out undesirable plant species, as well as light burning and farming. She calls these techniques agroforestry: “[maintaining] the forest but [changing] its species composition to make it a more livable place.”
Much more discussion at the Christian Science Monitor.   See also the Wikipedia page on terra preta and my 2012 post 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

Photo credit: Jenny Watling/Caption.
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