15 December 2017


A Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) cross section showing curved stigma with pollen, magnified 25x.

Honorable Mention in the 2017 Nikon Small World photography competition. 
Credit: Dr. Robert Markus, Nottingham, United Kingdom

Music by Morricone

A couple days ago I wanted to read for an hour, so I asked Alexa to shuffle music by Ennio Morricone, who has become my favorite composer.  The first offering Alexa presented was the one embedded above.  I had to interrupt her to ask her to identify the song.  It sounded familiar, and I wondered if Morricone had written for Broadway or a movie I hadn't seen.

Identifying the piece took a while.  Searching the lyrics kept yielding links to an Australian group called Savage Garden.  Adding Celine Dion to the search finally led me to a tribute album.  And then I discovered that the lyrics had been added on to Morricone's well-known Deborah's Theme from Once Upon a Time in America.

Facadism explained

Facadism, façadism (or façadomy) refers to an architectural and construction practice where the facade of a building was designed or constructed separately from the rest of a building. More often it refers to the practice where only the facade of a building is preserved with new buildings erected behind or around it.

There are aesthetic and historical reasons for preserving building facades. Facadism can be the response to the interiors of a building becoming unusable, such as being damaged by fire. In developing areas, however, the practice is sometimes used by property developers seeking to redevelop a site as a compromise to preservationists who wish to preserve buildings of historical or aesthetic interest.
Photo via the Pics subreddit, where it is noted that the same procedure was undertaken with the White House in 1949-1952.

"In June 1948 a leg of Margaret Truman's piano crashed through the floor in her second floor sitting room and through the ceiling of the Family Dining Room below. Investigators found the floor boards to have rotted, the main floor beam was split completely through, and the ceiling below had dropped 18 inches. The investigators determined that the west end of the Second Floor was sinking...

In October the ceiling of the East Room began to collapse and required wood supports. The structure under the Main Stair was found to be crumbling. The president's bathtub had begun sinking into the floor. The investigators discovered that the foundations of the interior walls supporting the upper floors and roof were all but non-existent. As they sank into the ground, the interior walls and floors were pulling away from the exterior walls leaving large gaps. They determined that the interior of the house was sinking and in danger of collapsing inwards; the entire mansion was unsafe..."
No. 10 Downing Street also had to be extensively rebuilt.

White House image credit Abbie Rowe - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

Lutefisk - "It's a acquired taste"

Lutefisk was created as a way to preserve fish, prior to refrigeration. The cod was dried on outdoor racks. Then, to make it expand, it was soaked in water and then in lye, which was made out of wood ash. Lye expands the fish to an even bigger size than when it was dried, and gives lutefisk its characteristic jelly-like quality...

"Lutefisk sales, ever since I started [in 1995] has dropped down, I would say, anywhere from 5 to 8 percent a year," said Chris Dorff, president of the Olsen Fish Company in Minneapolis, the only high-volume producer of lutefisk left in the country.

Still, the dinners persist, and Dorff said the churches he sells to report that attendance has held firm — there's just a lot less lutefisk stomached. Dorff said he used to plan a pound of fish per person. Now he cuts that in half.
More information in an article at the Minnesota Public Radio website.  And if you think lutefisk sounds disgusting, remember at least it's not kiviaq.

Kiviaq - auks fermented in sealskins

Here are excerpts from a report in the BBC's Food Blog in 2010:
The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.

As winter arrives and hunting for other game becomes difficult due to the darkness and unsafe ice, Ikuo and his family look forward to digging out the kiviaq and sharing it with their family and friends. They always eat it outside as the smell is so overpowering that it would linger inside the house for weeks. The seal fat helps to both preserve and tenderise the bird meat so it can be eaten raw and whole, bones and all. It was quite a sight to see the family holding bird’s legs in their teeth and stripping off the feathers before chowing down on large parts of the bird.
And here's a video of the auks being cleaned for consumption -

The knee-jerk reaction is that the Inuit are comsuming "rotten" meat, but that is certainly an oversimplification.

When kiviaq is prepared, the meat of the seal was removed, leaving only a fatty bag; then the BBC description describes the sealskin as "airtight," and the Wikipedia entry says "as much air as possible is removed from the seal skin, which is then sewn up and sealed with grease, with a large rock placed on top to keep the air content low."

So what the Inuit are doing is storing the bird carcasses in what effectively becomes an anaerobic environment, and the birds would then undergo fermentation.  The other variable must be the subarctic climate of Greenland.  At Food Lorists I found a comment that the kiviaq is buried in permafrost before being compressed by the rock, so perhaps the low ambient temperatures modify or inhibit the bacterial flora in some way to minimize the risk of the production of botulinum toxin.

This is most interesting way to prepare food.  It's probably the end result of several millennia of trial and error (the latter leaving behind a smattering of dead Inuit).  If someone reading this blog can explicate more on the food chemistry (or find relevant links in this regard, I - and other readers - would be most appreciative).

Top photo and video via Oddity Central and Neatorama

Reposted from 2012 to accompany the adjacent post about lutefisk.

Creative vandalism

Apparently there is a cologne called "Sauvage."  Via the Funny subreddit.

Jólabókaflóð - the Icelandic Christmas book flood

With around 330.000 inhabitants, Iceland is certainly one of the smallest book markets in the world. Nevertheless, it boosts one of the highest rates of books per capita (3.5 books every 1,000 inhabitants!) and Icelanders are famous to be a nation of bookworms. According to a study conducted by Bifröst University in 2013, 50% of them read at least 8 books per year, while an impressive 93% of them read at least one. What is more, according to BBC Magazine, one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their life!..

Jólabókaflóð refers to the Icelandic tradition of publishing the majority of new books during the weeks before Christmas. I guess this tradition can be traced back to when the variety of goods available in Iceland was very limited and therefore opting for a book as a Christmas present was a good bet...

In 2014, each Icelander bought on average 2.1 books as Christmas presents, and received 1.2 books as a gift!..

555 monthly salaries are paid every year to authors of fiction/children’s literature from the government through the Icelandic Artists’ Salaries.
Image cropped for size from the original at Jolabokaflod, where it is noted that "During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland."


This infographic compares the market cap of the Dutch East India Company at the height of tulipmania to modern corporations.

Image cropped for size from a larger one at Market Capitalist.

12 December 2017


"An image of a newborn rat cochlea with sensory hair cells (green) and spiral ganglion neurons (red), magnified 100x."

Eighth-place winner in the 2017 Nikon Small World photography competition.

Photo credit: Dr. Michael Perny, Bern, Switzerland.

Audubon describes a profusion of passenger pigeons in early America - updated

In the autumn of 1813, I left my house at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio River, on my way to Louisville... The air was literally filled with pigeons; the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.

Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardinsburgh fifty-five miles. The pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession. The people were all in arms. The banks of the Ohio were crowded with men and boys incessantly shooting at the pilgrims, which there flew lower as they passed the river. Multitudes were thus destroyed...

It may not, perhaps, be out of place to attempt an estimate of the number of pigeons contained in one of those mighty flocks, and of the quantity of food daily consumed by its members. The inquiry will tend to show the astonishing bounty of the great Author of Nature in providing for the wants of His creatures. Let us take a column of one mile in breadth, which is far below the average size, and suppose it passing over us without interruption for three hours, at the rate mentioned above of one mile in the minute. This will give us a parallelogram of 180 miles by one, covering 180 square miles. Allowing two pigeons to the square yard, we have 1,115,136,000 pigeons in one flock. As every pigeon daily consumes fully half a pint of food, the quantity necessary for supplying this vast multitude must be 8,712,000 bushels per day...

Let us now, kind reader, inspect their place of nightly rendezvous... The dung lay several inches deep, covering the whole extent of the roosting place, like a bed of snow... As the period of their arrival approached, their foes anxiously prepared to receive them. Some were furnished with iron pots containing sulphur, others with torches of pine knots, many with poles, and the rest with guns.. Suddenly there burst forth a general cry of “Here they come!” The noise which they made, though yet distant, reminded me of a hard gale at sea passing through the rigging of a close-reefed vessel. As the birds arrived and passed over me, I felt a current of air that surprised me. Thousands were soon knocked down by the pole men. The birds continued to pour in. The fires were lighted, and a magnificent as well as wonderful and almost terrifying sight presented itself. The pigeons, arriving by thousands, alighted everywhere, one above another, until solid masses as large as hogsheads were formed on the branches all round. Here and there the perches gave way under the weight with a crash and, falling to the ground, destroyed hundreds of the birds beneath, forcing down the dense groups with which every stick was loaded. It was a scene of uproar and confusion. I found it quite useless to speak, or even to shout to those persons who were nearest to me. Even the reports of the guns were seldom heard, and I was made aware of the firing only by seeing the shooters reloading.

No one dared venture within the line of devastation. The hogs had been penned up in due time, the picking up of the dead and wounded being left for the next morning’s employment. The pigeons were constantly coming, and it was past midnight before I perceived a decrease in the number of those that arrived... Toward the approach of day, the noise in some measure subsided, long before objects were distinguishable, the pigeons began to move off in a direction quite different from that in which they had arrived the evening before, and at sunrise all that were able to fly had disappeared. The howlings of the wolves now reached our ears, and the foxes, lynxes, cougars, bears, raccoons, opossums, and polecats were seen sneaking off, while eagles and hawks of different species, accompanied by a crowd of vultures, came to supplant them and enjoy their share of the spoil.

It was then that the authors of all this devastation began their entry among the dead, the dying, and the mangled. The pigeons were picked up and piled in heaps, until each had as many as he could possibly dispose of, when the hogs were let loose to feed on the remainder.

Persons unacquainted with these birds might naturally conclude that such dreadful havoc would soon put an end to the species. But I have satisfied myself by long observation that nothing but the gradual diminution of our forests can accomplish their decrease.
The latter proved to be a prescient comment.  The last known passenger pigeon died in 1914, as a result of combined predation and habitat loss.

Text excerpted from Audobon's Ornithological Biography, via Lapham's Quarterly.  Image source uncertain, via The Scientist.

Addendum: Reposted from 2013 to add some salient paragraphs from an essay in Harper's Magazine (November 2015) entitled "Rethinking Extinction: Toward a less gloomy environmentalism" -
The birds that most of us eat today are chickens — lots of them — and turkeys, with the occasional duck, quail, or pheasant thrown in. So it is something of a shock to remember that, not so long ago, Americans were happy to eat just about anything with wings. An 1867 inventory of fowl available in the game markets of New York City and Boston featured not only wild turkeys, partridges, and grouse but also robins, great blue herons, sandpipers, meadowlarks, blue jays, and snow buntings.
In season, passenger pigeons were especially plentiful. Alexander Wilson reported they were sometimes eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The pigeon potpie — sometimes garnished with pigeon feet stuck in the middle — was common fare in colonial America. Passenger pigeons were preserved for out-of-season consumption by being salted, pickled in apple cider, smoked to make jerky, or sealed in casks with molten fat.

According to Schorger, the birds were “a boon to the poor”: in 1754, a half dozen sold in New York for a penny, a sum equivalent to thirty cents today. In times of surplus, they were fed to hogs.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, railroads had connected the cities of the eastern seaboard to the great nesting colonies of the Midwest. Word of the flocks’ locations spread rapidly thanks to another new technology, the telegraph, which allowed professional market hunters, as well as local amateurs, to converge on a site.

The most common way to kill passenger pigeons was to shoot them. Because the birds clustered so densely, no great skill was required to blast them from trees or out of the sky with a shotgun. Nets were widely used as well. Trappers broadcast grain and deployed captive “stool pigeons” to attract the birds, enabling them to snare hundreds at once. Captured pigeons could be killed by crushing their skulls between the thumb and forefinger, though, as Schorger notes, “It was difficult to continue this method without fatigue when many birds were handled.” Some hunters used specially designed pliers to break the birds’ necks. Others used their teeth...
Continued at the link.

Psychopathic children

Excerpts from an interesting read in The Atlantic:
Starting at age 6, Samantha began drawing pictures of murder weapons: a knife, a bow and arrow, chemicals for poisoning, a plastic bag for suffocating. She tells me that she pretended to kill her stuffed animals.
“You were practicing on your stuffed animals?,” I ask her.
She nods.
“How did you feel when you were doing that to your stuffed animals?”
“Why did it make you feel happy?”
“Because I thought that someday I was going to end up doing it on somebody.”
“Did you ever try?”
“I choked my little brother.”..

When Samantha got a little older, she would pinch, trip, or push her siblings and smile if
they cried. She would break into her sister’s piggy bank and rip up all the bills. Once, when Samantha was 5, Jen scolded her for being mean to one of her siblings. Samantha walked upstairs to her parents’ bathroom and washed her mother’s contact lenses down the drain. “Her behavior wasn’t impulsive,” Jen says. “It was very thoughtful, premeditated.”...

One bitter December day in 2011, Jen was driving the children along a winding road near their home. Samantha had just turned 6. Suddenly Jen heard screaming from the back seat, and when she looked in the mirror, she saw Samantha with her hands around the throat of her 2-year-old sister, who was trapped in her car seat. Jen separated them, and once they were home, she pulled Samantha aside.
“What were you doing?,” Jen asked.
“I was trying to choke her,” Samantha said.
“You realize that would have killed her? She would not have been able to breathe. She would have died.”
“I know.”
“What about the rest of us?”
“I want to kill all of you.”
The article continues with extended discussion of the role of the amygdala and the possible biology of the disorder.  I thought this was interesting:
The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania. Longitudinal studies that followed thousands of men in Sweden, the U.K., and Brazil all point to this biological anomaly. “We think that low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts,” Raine says. Or perhaps there is an “optimal level of physiological arousal,” and psychopathic people seek out stimulation to increase their heart rate to normal. “For some kids, one way of getting this arousal jag in life is by shoplifting, or joining a gang, or robbing a store, or getting into a fight.” Indeed, when Daniel Waschbusch, a clinical psychologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, gave the most severely callous and unemotional children he worked with a stimulative medication, their behavior improved.
Continue reading at The Atlantic.

"Good wine needs no bush."

That aphorism was cited in the movie "Iris" (excellent, btw...) and was unfamiliar to me.  It was not unfamiliar to Edward deVere:
“If it be true that good wine needs no bush,
'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue;
yet to good wine they do use good bushes,
and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues.”
                                 ― William Shakespeare, As You Like It
The Oxford University Press Blog expands upon the subject:
As early as 1873, Walter W. Skeat wrote authoritatively (as was his wont) that bush in the saying good wine needs no bush “is well known to be that which was tied to the end of an ale-stake.” Perhaps so (though we will see that what is well-known may not be indubitable), but there was a Latin proverb sounding suspiciously like its English analog: “Vino vendibilis suspensa hedera [“ivy”] non (or nihil) opus est.” As Shakespeare’s Taverner explains at the close of As You Like It: “Wine that is saleable and good needeth no bushe or garland of yvie to be hanged before.” This aphorism, in the Latin form cited above, has been attributed to Erasmus. In any case, it is “modern” and apparently had no currency in England before Shakespeare’s or at least Camden’s time...

I would like to refer to a note by R. R. Sharpe in Athenæum/2 for 1888, p. 260. In a document going back to 1350, he found evidence that it had been customary to place a bunch or bush of rosemary or other herb in a drinking vessel, either to give a particular flavor to the beverage or, as he remarked, to disguise the inferior quality of the wine. “Of bush in this sense it is clear that good wine stands in no need.” Sharpe’s conjecture sounds convincing (and, if so, the traditional reference to the pole is the product of folk etymology).
I favor the sense that "bush" refers to "enhancement" rather than "advertisement," but it's a matter of little import.  More at the link.

Pic: rosemary in white sangria with blackberries.  See also in champagne.

All the horizontal lines are identical

They just look different from one another.  Some look to be continuous sine-wave curves, while others resemble staggered split-rail fences.  But they all have the same shape.  The optical illusion arises from the way they are colored.

The illusion was developed by psychology professor Kohske Takahashi of Chukyo University.  Via Neatorama.

Pleaching, plashing, and pruning

Pleaching or plashing is a technique of interweaving living and dead branches through a hedge for stock control. Trees are planted in lines, the branches are woven together to strengthen and fill any weak spots until the hedge thickens. Branches in close contact may grow together, due to a natural phenomenon called inosculation, a natural graft. Pleach also means weaving of thin, whippy stems of trees to form a basketry effect.
The photo, via the WoahDude subreddit, was taken at the Schönbrunn Palace gardens.

For me the image immediately conjured up memories of the scene in The Third Man where Anna walks out of Holly's life, but that one was taken at a Viennese cemetery.

This photo, and the watermarked one here, show the equipment used at the palace to accomplish the effect:

Although the top photo was described in the discussion thread as an example of pleaching, a review of Google Images retrieved by keyword pleaching suggests that the process at the palace is just elaborate pruning, without the interweaving indicated by the term "pleaching."

Still an interesting effect, though.

Haircuts as political statements

Haircuts/hairdos, along with clothing and makeup, have always served as tools by which anyone can declare (or disguise) their social status and worldview.  In an article at Buzzfeed, a hair stylist explains how she helps men look less fascist.
We love our race, the alt-right began to loudly proclaim. They also love their undercuts — the “fashy” look, as fascists like to call it. But many others have loved the undercut before them.

When the undercut grew popular in the German empire ruled by Prussian kings in the late 1800s, it was known as der Inselhaarschnitt — the island cut, in reference to the patch of hair sitting atop a shaved head. English street gangs, like the Peaky Blinders in Birmingham, were soon wearing the same style, and it made it to the United States on the heads of working-class European immigrants.

As Hitler’s Third Reich rose to power, its members embraced the undercut as a way to connect with the military success of the Prussian armies that came before them. Later, it became popular in the US Armed Forces, but in the wake of World War II it became associated with wartime violence, and European men chose looser, short hairstyles to counter the military connection.

It resurfaced in black barbershops, where fades and military cuts transformed into edgy sharp styles. The hi-top fade emerged in part out of the undercut in those barbershops during the 1980s and early '90s, wrote Quincy Mills in Cutting along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America, and was most popularized by the coolest of the cool, Grace Jones.

What’s fascinating is how one haircut has signified so many different things, across different historical moments and different constituencies. As a queer stylist, it’s a cut I saw in militaristic homoerotic photography in the 1990s and fashion magazines in the 2000s.
More at the link.  Comments closed here; if you wish, you can contribute to the snarky miscommunications at the Buzzfeed thread.

"...we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric..."

"I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. You are being programmed"
I pretty much agree with this guy (he was one of the original Facebook executives).  Worth listening from the 21:20 mark to about the 25:30 mark or so.

Ummm... no.

Bath and Body Works markets their "Fresh Balsam" scented candles with a birchbark-patterned jar.

Photo via the Minnesota subreddit.

"Implacable. Inexorable. It WILL win."

"Iris" was released in 2001, but I saw it for the first time last evening.  It's really not so much a biography of Iris Murdoch as it is a lamentation on the ravages of Alzheimer's.  Anyone who has a family member with this affliction will appreciate the forthright but sensitive treatment of the subject in this film.

10 December 2017

Marcescence is the secret to squirrels' nests

I've blogged on several occasions about squirrels' nests ("dreys").  At our latitude they are a prominent feature of the suburban landscape, especially when one lives next to a woods.

I've always been intrigued at how squirrels are able to tolerate arctic cold in such a porous structure, but I've been even more fascinated by the apparent sturdiness of what would appear to be a fragile construction (dead leaves and twigs).

I wrote about marcescence about seven years ago.
"Retention of dead plant organs that normally are shed."  Etymology from Latin "marcere" = "to wither." ( I can't think of any related words).
"This phenomenon, when leaves fail to fall, is called marcescence. Most evident on all the oaks around the metro, it's an explainable but puzzling occurrence. At the petioles, the point of attachment to the tree, hormones flow back and forth. As the days shorten and temps fall, the amount of one in particular, auxin, is reduced. The area becomes sealed and a digestive enzyme helps to release the leaf. In fancy science talk, this all happens in the abscission zone."
This year I had the opportunity to test and illustrate the process.  In late summer I needed to prune some branches of a large oak tree that were shading our vegetable garden.  After I clipped off a small branch, instead of tossing it on the brush pile I brought it indoors.  In time the leaves duly shriveled, turning a dark green rather than brown.  But they didn't fall off.  Today I took it out in the back yard and held it up in front of its parent tree (photo), which dropped its leaves after a couple freezes and windy days.

After I took the photo I shook that branch vigorously.  The leaves stayed attached.  When I grabbed the leaves with my hand and squeezed, they were friable and crumbled to fragments.  So I suppose the squirrels must use fur or other padding not only for warmth but also to prevent traumatizing the leafy branches that make up the next (as suggested by the illustration here).

Related: Word for the day: dreyAnd again here.

Tropical butterfly

Gotta go get ready for football games, but I wanted to end the blogging day with a colorful image - in this case a tropical butterfly from Ecuador related to the clearwings, photo via Treehugger.

Library sign

Image cropped for size and tweaked from the original at the Mildly Interesting subreddit.

A man "comes out" regarding his cleft hand

Google Images offers a quick overview of the amazing diversity of the anomaly.


Neatorama has a small gallery of horse mustaches.

One has to assume that at one time there was an evolutionary advantage to having a mustache*.  Question for those of you who have horses - do you clip/shave these? or are they best left alone?

* I was trying to work out an etymology from "mus" = mouse + "tache" = pocket.  Didn't work.
1580s, from French moustache (15c.), from Italian mostaccio, from Medieval Greek moustakion, diminutive of Doric mystax (genitive mystakos) "upper lip, mustache," related to mastax "jaws, mouth," literally "that with which one chews," from PIE root *mendh- "to chew" (see mandible).  Borrowed earlier (1550s) as mostacchi, from the Italian word or its Spanish derivative mostacho. The plural form of this, mustachios, lingers in English. Slang shortening stache attested from 1985.

Movie trailers analysed

Via Neatorama.

America's crushing debt

Not the "national debt," but the debts of individual Americans, as depicted on this map (my embed is a screencap - the interactive version here lets you zoom in on your state and your county for data).
2016 data derived from a random sample of deidentified, consumer-level records from a major credit bureau, as well as estimates from summary tables of the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2015 or 2011–15)... Debt in collections includes past-due credit lines that have been closed and charged-off on their books as well as unpaid bills reported to the credit bureaus that the creditor is attempting to collect.
Links to various commentaries at Digg.  My attention was drawn to Minnesota...
A previous analysis by the Urban Institute focused on medical debt, and found one reason it was so concentrated in the South was because the uninsured rates tended to be higher. While that changed to some extent with the Affordable Care Act, many Southern states chose not to expand Medicaid. On the other hand, Minnesota — which has the lowest rates of debt — has one of the most generous Medicaid programs in the country, and a more inclusive and higher-quality health care system.
...only 3% of Minnesotans have medical debt in collections, and only one county (rural Clearwater County) has medical debt rates over 11%.

Compare that picture to the state of medical debt in the rest of the country. Nationwide, 18% of people have medical debt in collections, and, as CityLab noted, much of that debt is concentrated in states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the ACA.
Most Washington politicians are tone-deaf to the financial crises experienced by so many Americans.  They are busy waging their internecine battles, meeting with lobbyists, and pandering to their donors.

"Egypt uncovers ancient tombs at Luxor"

I encountered the story and the photo on the same day - couldn't resist juxtaposing them.

07 December 2017

Envisioning a "jellyfish apocalypse"

Jellyfish have been referred to as the "cockroaches of the sea," with reference to both species' ability to survive under the harshest conditions.  An article in the newest edition of The Atlantic reviews a new book about jellyfish:
Their delicacy notwithstanding, in recent decades jellyfish species have come to be thought of as the durable and opportunistic inheritors of our imperiled seas. Jellyfish blooms—the intermittent, and now widely reported, flourishing of vast swarms—are held by many to augur the depletion of marine biomes; they are seen as a signal that the oceans have been overwarmed, overfished, acidified, and befouled... The vision—hat tipped to science fiction—is of the planet’s oceans transformed into something like an aspic terrine. In waters thickened by the gummy mucus of living and dead jellyfish, other sea life will be smothered. Because jellyfish recall the capsules of single-celled protozoa, this eventuality invites portrayal as a devolution of the marine world—a reversion to the “primordial soup.”..

Perhaps the most complex issue Berwald takes on is jellyfish blackouts. Sweden, Scotland, the Philippines, Tokyo, California, and Israel have all suffered intermittent electrical outages caused by jellyfish sucked into the intake pipes and cooling systems of coal-fired and nuclear power stations... In Spineless, Berwald travels to Spain’s Murcia region and takes us to the Mar Menor lagoon, which had become so jellified in 2002 that “you couldn’t drive a boat through the water.” Here barrel and fried-egg jellyfish are pernicious—so much so that they’re removed from the sea by the bargeload and dumped into ditches near the airport.
More at that link. Then today I found a report of jellyfish menacing Chinese aircraft carriers:
In 2006, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was incapacitated while visiting Brisbane, Australia due to blubber jellyfish swarms. Reportedly, cooling pipes for the ship’s nuclear reactor were clogged with the foot-wide jellies, necessitating an evacuation of the carrier...

Ironically, the jellyfish problem is partially of China’s own doing. As many as one hundred million sharks are killed each year, much of it in the form of bycatch in an attempt to catch other forms of seafood but also for shark’s fin soup, a delicacy in China. Although demand for the soup has declined in recent years, the shark population is still way down. Sharks are a major predator of jellyfish and scientists believe their absence is a major reason why jellyfish populations have exploded.
Related: Your children will eat jellyfish for dinner.

Photo credit: GettyLucia /Terui

This is how complicated modern farming can be - updated

From an excellent longread in the September issue of Harper's:
The combine continued along, following the contours of the planting lines automatically recorded months earlier by G.P.S. As we moved, our progress was charted on the touchscreen in varying colors to show where each row or part of a row was above or below the target for bushels-per-acre for this field. All of that data is recorded and stored to plan for next year, helping farmers decide how to adjust the density of their seed populations, where to apply fertilizer, how much to water, where to add inputs, and where to save money...

So to make your best profit on soybeans, you need a sunny day (but not too sunny) with a dry breeze (but not too dry), and you need that day to fall exactly when the plant has received the precise number of hours — yes, hours — of sunlight from the moment you planted it months earlier. To make hitting such a tight window even remotely possible, seed companies, like Rick’s supplier, DuPont Pioneer, have hybridized soybeans for nearly a century — and genetically modified them in recent decades — according to bands of latitude called maturity groups. They number these photoregions from 0 in the northern growing zones of Canada to 7 in the light-drenched flatlands of Florida. But Nebraska is almost exactly divided between groups 2 and 3, the line bisecting the state into north and south. Most farmers here, especially in central regions like York County, plant both varieties to spread out their risk, but some daring farmers like Rick will formulate a guess as to what the weather holds for the growing season and plant more of one group, hoping for higher yields and higher returns.

In 2014, after several years of drought, Rick bet on another dry year — and planted incredibly short-season beans. While most of his neighbors were planting 3.5s, Rick planted 2.4s. And he was dead-on, right up until the rains started...
In my mother's childhood, her dad planted seeds, harvested a crop and saved some of the seeds for the following year.  (No longer.  Most people know that seed-saving now can be punishable in a court of law.)  But what grandpa planted in Minnesota was probably the same seed that someone in Wisconsin or Illinois would plant.  What I learned from this article is how hyperspecialized the hybrids are now according to latitude of the field.  I found this map at a University of Missouri ag school website:

Although temperature affects soybean growth and development, soybean plants are also quite sensitive to photoperiod. The lengths of the light (photoperiod) and dark periods within a 24 hour day change each day. These changing photoperiods regulate the timing of flowering and other stages of soybean plant development. Soybean is classified as a short day plant because flower initiation is stimulated when photoperiod is shorter than a critical value. Critical values differ among varieties and are determined by a variety’s genes.

Photoperiod lengths differ among latitudes on any specific day. After the first day of spring and until the first day of fall, photoperiods are larger as latitude increases (further north). Because of soybean’s sensitivity to photoperiod, soybean varieties are assigned to one of 13 maturity groups. These maturity groups are adapted to relatively narrow bands of latitude. In North America, MG OOO is adapted to southern Canada; whereas, MG 10 (X) is adapted to Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.
(More at their link).   Now note - those are not microclimate zones like most people are familiar with for household gardens.  Those bands don't vary according to rainfall and max hot/cold - those are just daylight duration bands.  Other adjustments need to be made for local weather and climate.

It didn't surprise me to see an article in The Guardian this week entitled "Why are America's farmers killing themselves in record numbers?"
Last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

After the study was released, Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995...

Since 2013, net farm income for US farmers has declined 50%. Median farm income for 2017 is projected to be negative $1,325. And without parity in place (essentially a minimum price floor for farm products), most commodity prices remain below the cost of production.

In an email, Rosmann wrote, “The rate of self-imposed [farmer] death rises and falls in accordance with their economic well-being … Suicide is currently rising because of our current farm recession.”
More at the link.  Neither political party has effectively addressed the farm recession in this country.  National politicians tend to equate American economic prosperity with a rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

I've often wondered what modern GPS-equipped tractors and combines cost to purchase or lease.  Perhaps some reader will know.

Enough for now.  Got to move on.

Addendum:  A report today about how high winds combined with hybrid crops can result in "ear drop" -
But the corn had snapped from its stalks and fallen to the dirt days earlier, the result of what agriculture experts called a perfect storm: A series of weather conditions over the growing season that had been good, and then bad, for certain hybrid seed varieties, producing big-kerneled ears but weakening their grip to the stalks...

In Makovicka's most damaged field, he counted 70 bushels of corn per acre — grain he couldn't salvage, couldn't sell at the elevator. Rees has heard of northeast Nebraska farms that lost 100 bushels per acre, or nearly $50,000 of missed income on each quarter-section...

The problems will extend beyond harvest. Many growers will be forced to pay for more herbicide, when the corn they couldn't harvest this year sprouts among their soybeans next year. Some farmers who graze their cows in harvested fields are realizing, after it's too late, that their animals are gorging on more corn than their bodies can handle.

“I'd never had a problem and I've been doing it for 30 years,” said Steve Wenz, who farms near Firth. “I put them out on a Tuesday morning and, Thursday morning, I had three dead ones.”..

During pollination, high heat weakened the shanks — the tie between the corn and the stalks — and cool August temperatures resulted in bigger ears. “They produced really heavy kernels, really deep kernels. There was quite a bit of weight.”

October rains contributed to stalk rot, followed by the damaging winds... Certain seed varieties proved more vulnerable than others, and the loss varied from farm to farm, even from field to field.
In some cases, attempts were made to harvest the fallen ears by hand:

Photoediting before Photoshop

Intricate squiggles and numbers are scrawled all over the prints, showing Inirio’s complex formulas for printing them. A few seconds of dodging here, some burning-in there. Will six seconds be enough to bring out some definition in the building behind Dean? Perhaps, depending on the temperature of the chemicals.
As a youngster I developed some of my own film and studied (but never implemented) advanced darkroom techniques.  I began to wonder if I would ever see the phrase "dodge and burn" used again.

More information at The Literate Lens.  Image cropped for size from the one at Gizmodo, via Neatorama.

Pantone's "color of the year" is "ultra-violet"

The color wasn't chosen because it's regal, though it resembles a majestic shade. It was chosen to evoke a counterculture flair, a grab for originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking...

The purple choice, a la Prince and the glam rock of David Bowie — both of whom died in 2016 — speaks to rebellion, finding new ways to interpret our lives and surroundings...
That's just fine with me.

06 December 2017

Heirloom apples

Mountain Rose apples are a red-fleshed apple variety and a member of the Rosacea family, species Malus domestica. This apple gets its name from the fact that it is grown near Mount Hood in Oregon, and because it has brilliant rosy red flesh... The Mountain Rose apple is yellow to green, covered extensively with a red to pink blush, and speckled with faint white lenticels. The skin is quite delicate and can bruise easily. Their real claim to fame is the bright pink to red flesh that remains vivid even when cooked. The flesh is crisp and has a balanced acidic yet mildly sweet flavor with nuances of strawberry, citrus, and cotton candy. 
Here's what the applesauce look like.

Photo via the Pics subreddit.

Who thought this was a good idea?

As reported by Arizona Family:
[Walmart] has pulled a t-shirt bearing the message “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” from its website after the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) sent a message to Walmart alerting them to the shirt’s controversial content.

The shirt was also sold in the online store of a company called Teespring, who was acting as the third-party seller for Walmart’s online listing of the product. Teespring has since removed the shirt from its website...

A shirt with the words “Black women are trash” prompted outrage in May of 2017 when links to buy the shirts on Teespring’s site appeared on social media and went viral...

...a shirt emblazoned with “Eat Sleep Rape Repeat” was not just being sold on Teespring’s site, it was marked as a “best selling tank/shirt.”

A journalist who reported on the "Panama Papers" tax evasion scheme has been assassinated.

Clever Christmas decoration

Via the Funny subredditContext.

The source of the Cetina river

That would be Croatia, for those a bit rusty on world geography.  The pool (or underworld portal) is said to be 150 meters deep.   It's not surprising that ancient peoples would position churchs near such sites.

Via the Europe subreddit, where there is a wandering discussion.  And here's a photo of the church taken from the pool shoreline.  And another photo of the poolLots more.

Related: Geography quiz

Captain Hook was a graduate of Eton

In J. M. Barrie's original play, Captain Hook's final words are "Floreat Etona", Eton's motto.

I heard this on a recent podcast of No Such Thing As A Fish.   You learn something every day.

Things you wouldn't know...

All the mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan are named after peaks in The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien and Adolf Hitler both fought at the battle of the Somme.

Splenda was an insecticide that became a sweetener when an assistant misheard an order to “test” it as “taste” it.

 The symbol of the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada is the forget-me-not.

A decapitated planarian flatworm grows a new brain complete with all its old memories.

95% of all avocados on sale today are descended from one tree grown by a Milwaukee postman in 1926.

There are whales alive today that were born before Moby-Dick was written in 1851.

The 1784 “Kettle War” between the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire involved only a single shot. It hit a kettle.

North Americans account for less than a sixteenth of the world’s people, but more than a third of their weight. (error - see reader Kyle's comment)

After just four moves in a game of chess, there are 318,979,564,000 possibilities for the layout of the board.

10,000 horses were killed at the battle of Waterloo. 
Selections from the first book written by the elves at QI/NSTAAF.  They have now authored The Book of the Year.

02 December 2017

Pied Tamarin

Photograph by Tim Flach from his monograph Endangered, which was published in October by Abrams.  Via Harper's December 2017 issue.

The movies of 2017

A mashup created from the trailers of 231 movies, sorted by genre (citations for the video and the audio clips here).  Now I want to go back to see SleepySkunk's mashup of trailers for previous years.

Via Neatorama.

The most recent (December 2017) issue of The Atlantic features a cover story about Andrew Anglin, founder of The Daily Stormer.  It's a long read and a frankly disturbing one.  It's a real eye-opener for anyone who doubts the intensity of hatred in modern America.  I'll place an excerpt below the fold...

01 December 2017

An "alternating tread" stairway - updated

When I first saw this photo, my reaction was that a designer or architect was being unnecessary clever.  But after studying it, I realized it is an eminently practical solution to a problem.

The problem being an extremely steep rise/run ratio for the location of the stairs.  The distance from the front step to the hallway behind is short, the vertical distance to be traversed high.  The choices would be extremely tall steps, extremely narrow steps, or perhaps a ladder/spiral staircase/other design.

I found more information at Fine Homebuilding, which discusses the practical aspects of stairway dimensions and also includes this interesting one:

Related: newel post.

Addendum:  An interesting and authoritative comment from reader Lars -
"I built one of these as the replacement staircase to my basement. my 1829 house was moved to a new foundation in 1915. the basement stair location under the main level staircase approaches the foundation wall. the previous case used a landing and a 90 deg turn. this could only be negotiated without ducking ones head if you were under 5 foot tall. the alt tread case with comfortable wide treads uses half the normal needed run. this allows me to walk upright for the entire flight and get feet on basement floor with a 3+ foot distance from the foundation wall.
3 caveats. one must be able to lead with both feet. NEVER attempt to turn around mid flight. use of these stairs is much easier with handrails on both sides. I made mine as a utility purposed design with a center a center stringer that you must straddle. this rail has allowed me to move/slide large heavy objects up and down the staircase- both a refrigerator and a freezer - with use of a rope block & tackle. once you are familiar with the stair, it is actually easier to hand carry large boxes down that obstruct your vision. you never need to step past the tread you are standing on to get your other foot onto the next tread. leg motion is a straight drop. never stumble over the nosing."

Divertimento #140

Another "gifdump."  Everyone will find something they like.

And then she eats the truck...

How to bag a 9-foot anaconda.

Awesome magic by Teller.

Volleyball flying save.

Volleyball kill good for three points.

Removing old rope from a sea turtle.

Life stages of the Hercules beetle.

How to replace a manhole cover.

Bus driver mugging for a selfie.

Marriage proposal.

Black-light flashlight helps you find scorpions.

Goalkeeper celebrates too soon.

How to peel a tangerine.

On-demand water for a dog.

Supporting a screwdriver on a column of air.

The sign says "Touch at your own risk."

Stepping on an invisible box.

Poledancer routine.

"the magnetic tipped top attaches to the perimeter of the paperclip- but since the top has much more mass, the paperclip is put into curious motion due to Newton's 3rd law and the top's rotational inertia."

Halloween "stick figure" costume.

Halloween candy thief.

A Lamborghini is not very high.

Dog tries to stop children from fighting.

Dogs play with a balloon.

They are called Malayan Leaf Frogs for a reason.

Girl plays "Crocodile Dentist."  Doesn't enjoy it...

Earthquake filmed from a boat.

Opening a beer using her new bionic arm.

Koi want to be fed.

Snake traverses a wire with surprising ease.

How to scare your friends.

Baby's first glasses.

The images (cropped for size) embedded in today's gifdump are from a gallery of "Humble Heather" posted at BibliOdyssey.

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.
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