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.

29 November 2017

The problem with fake "service dogs"

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

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

Democrats as enablers of the tax revision debacle

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

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

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

"Fluidized bed" demonstrated

More at Wikipedia.

28 November 2017

A transcript of Jon Stewart's final soliloquy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firebird transition startles an audience member

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

27 November 2017


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

Drone footage of 800 Beluga whales

Filmed in Lancaster Sound.

Trump clump #2

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

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

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

Repositioning on "the wall."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the mass shooting in California, Trump tweeted this:

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

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

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

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

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

25 November 2017

Metrics of TYWKIWDBI readers

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

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

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

Here is what Quantcast considers to be your top interests:

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

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

And finally, here are your political leanings:

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

Bicycle graveyard

Wow. (person at far right edge for scale)

Explained at The Guardian.

24 November 2017

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


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

"Potentially" ? suggestive statue

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

Willie and the Wheel

Related: Willie in 1965In 1997.

The last survivors in iron lungs

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

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