09 August 2017

Blogcation


Back in about a week.

Look at these HORIZONTAL blue bars


Perfectly horizontal.  Really.

Based on the classic "cafe wall" optical illusion.

If you like this, note that the TYWKIWDBI category of optical illusions currently has 60 posts.

Via Boing Boing.

Unrepentant

From a letter written to a newspaper by a death-row inmate:
I wonder if the public is aware that the cost of my first trial was half a million dollars. Are they aware that the state has in place a system that automatically delays my lawful murder for years, so that pieces of the money pie can continue to be passed around? Is the public aware that the chances of my lawful murder taking place in the next twenty years, if ever, are very slim? Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the AC, reading, taking naps at will, eating three well-balanced, hot meals a day? I’m housed in a building that connects to the new $155 million hospital, with round-the-clock free medical care.

There are a lot of good citizens who blogged on various websites, stating their opinions about me and the punishment I deserve. I laugh at you self-righteous clowns, and I spit in the face of your so-called justice system. Kill me if you can, suckers! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Further details at Harper's, which had a better title for this item: "Fulsome Prison."

Definition of fulsome, and basis for the pun.

Tropea, Calabria, Italy


Photo via the Europe subreddit.

Crewless electric cargo ships

Everyone is familiar with driverless cars and driverless long-distance trucks.  Next come crewless ships:
Two Norwegian companies are teaming together to construct a short-range, all-electric coastal container ship that will eventually operate autonomously—eliminating up to 40,000 diesel truck trips per year. The ship, the Yara Birkeland, will begin operations in 2018 with a crew, but it's expected to operate largely autonomously (and crewless) by 2020...

Birkeland will be a relatively small "feeder" cargo ship; its journeys will be short jaunts down a fjord on Norway's Baltic Sea coast from Yara's factory to a larger port. There, containers of fertilizer will be loaded onto larger seagoing ships for international transport. Currently, Yara ships these containers over land.

"Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara's Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik," Yara's president and CEO, Svein Tore Holsether, said in a statement issued by the two companies. "With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce nitrous oxide and CO2 emissions."
Naysayers will note that this development also eliminates jobs. 

I read recently (??where???) an interesting commentary on our new robotic world.  The writer noted that we are now reaching the future that was predicted (and lavishly praised) in our childhood - a world where drones and robots do the drudge-jobs, freeing humans from mindless labor and allowing us to redirect our time and energy to more rewarding tasks.  But now, as this future arrives, it seems to be hurting the common man rather than being a benefit. 

I believe the author postulated that the reason for the lack of improvement for ordinary people is that because of the structure of current economic systems, the benefits of automation only accrue to owners and management, not to employees. 

I would like to find that essay, but I may have read it in a paper magazine (Atlantic, Harpers etc) rather than online.

08 August 2017

An excerpt from The Epic of Gilgamesh

"What I had loaded thereon, the whole harvest of life
I caused to embark upon the vessel; all my family and all my relations,
The beasts of the field, the cattle of the field,
   the craftsmen, I made them all embark.
I entered the vessel and closed the door...

When the young dawn gleamed forth,
From the foundations of heaven a black cloud arose...
All that is bright is turned into darkness, The brother seeth his brother no more,
The folk of the skies can no longer recognise each other
The gods feared the flood, They fled, they climbed into the heaven of Anu,
The gods crouched like a dog on the wall, they lay down...

For six days and nights
Wind and flood marched on, the hurricane subdued the land.
When the seventh day dawned, the hurricane was abated, the flood
Which had waged war like an army;
the sea was stilled, the ill wind was calmed, the flood ceased.
I beheld the sea, its voice was silent, And all mankind was turned into mud!
As high as the roofs reached the swamp;...

I beheld the world, the horizon of sea; Twelve measures away an island emerged;
Unto Mount Nitsir came the vessal, Mount Nitsir held the vessal and let it not budge...
When the seventh day came, I sent forth a dove, I released it;
It went the dove, it came back,
As there was no place, it came back.
I sent forth a swallow, I released it;
It went the swallow, it came back,
As there was no place, it came back.
I sent forth a crow, I released it;
It went the crow, and beheld the subsidence of the waters;
It eats, it splashes about, it caws, it comes not back."
Translated by George Smith in 1872.  Via.

Cited in The Aztec Treasure House, where it is noted that the tablets (found in Ninevah) were "from the library of King Ashurbanipal, circa 650 B.C.

The embedded image is the Deluge tablet, via Wikipedia.

Cut paper


Art by Kiri Ken, via Colossal (more examples at the link).

"Total Eclipse" (Annie Dillard, 1982)


Brief excerpts from Annie Dillard's essay "Total Eclipse" -
"You may read that the moon has something to do with eclipses. I have never seen the moon yet. You do not see the moon. So near the sun, it is as completely invisible as the stars are by day. What you see before your eyes is the sun going through phases...

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air... The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on Earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte...

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world.

It did not look like a dragon, although it looked more like a dragon than the moon. It looked like a lens cover, or the lid of a pot. It materialized out of thin air—black, and flat, and sliding, outlined in flame... You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience... But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky... It is one-360th part of the visible sky. The sun we see is less than half the diameter of a dime held at arm’s length...

I have said that I heard screams. (I have since read that screaming, with hysteria, is a common reaction even to expected total eclipses.) People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream.

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed—1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight—you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have time to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit."
Annie Dillard's essay was originally published in 1982.  It will be available online at The Atlantic from now until August 21.  I encourage you to read it there in toto.  The essay makes me want to drive 5-6 hours to experience the totality in person.

Image credit

Recreating a 70-year-old photo


Very nicely done.  Not just the same pose, but the same brooch (Prince Albert's sapphire), same necklace...

Nice work if you can get it

I found this in a 2012 Atlantic article about our "price-tag society":
Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up.
The cynic in me thinks that the lobbyists pay the line-standing companies $15-20 an hour, but the line-standing companies hire the homeless at $2 an hour plus a free meal.

04 August 2017

"Accidental impressionism"


A photograph of oranges inside a greenhouse.

Nocturnal light pollution hinders pollination

"Eva Knop’s team from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bern, shows for the first time, that nocturnal pollinators can be affected by artificial light leading to a disruption of the pollination service they provide. “So far, nocturnal pollinators have been largely neglected in the discussion of the worldwide known pollinator crisis”... The study has now been published in the magazine “Nature”...

The team investigated a total of 100 cabbage thistles, which were growing on five meadows experimentally illuminated with LED street lamps, and five meadows without artificial light. The illuminated plants were visited much more rarely by pollinating insects at night, than the unlit plants. The decline in pollinators had a significant influence on the reproduction of the cabbage thistles: at the end of the test phase, the average number of fruits per plants was around 13% lower. “The pollination during the day obviously cannot compensate for the losses in the night”, says Knop."
Additional information here.  The Nature abstract is here.

"Structural color" in butterfly wings


Scientists study the process in vitro in order to document the development of nanostructures that give the appearance of color without having pigment themselves.  Interesting.

Addendum:  A tip of the butterfly-chasing hat to reader Drabkikker, who offered a link to an article at Atmospheric Optics in his comment.  Everyone who enjoys the video should also read that link.

Reposted from a couple months ago because the information in the link mentioned above has now been incorporated into a video:

Problems from breeding "fashionable" German Shepherds


From The Telegraph:
A survey of data collected from 430 clinics across the UK reveals arthritis, cancer, aggression and sloping backs are afflicting the breed at higher rates than others due to aggressive selection. Nearly one in two German Shepherds is being put down because they are unable to walk, experts said...

The report follows an outcry at Crufts last year after a German Shepherd with an abnormally sloped back and painful looking gait won a “best in breed” prize...

Dr Dan O’Neill, who led the research, which is published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, said a sloped back with shorter rear legs had become a fashionable look for show dogs, and that this was influencing breeding more widely.

A detailed discussion of p values

An article in Vox will be of interest primarily to readers who have had a manuscript rejected (or have reviewed and rejected one) because a crucial p value was >0.05
Most casual readers of scientific research know that for results to be declared “statistically significant,” they need to pass a simple test. The answer to this test is called a p-value. And if your p-value is less than .05 — bingo, you got yourself a statistically significant result. 

Now a group of 72 prominent statisticians, psychologists, economists, sociologists, political scientists, biomedical researchers, and others want to disrupt the status quo. A forthcoming paper in the journal Nature Human Behavior argues that results should only be deemed “statistically significant” if they pass a higher threshold. 

We propose a change to P< 0.005,” the authors write. “This simple step would immediately improve the reproducibility of scientific research in many fields.”...

The proposal has critics. One of them is Daniel Lakens, a psychologist at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who is currently organizing a rebuttal paper with dozens of authors.  Mainly, he says the significance proposal might work to stifle scientific progress.
Addendum: see also this article in FiveThirtyEight: "Statisticians Found One Thing They Can Agree On: It’s Time To Stop Misusing P-Values."
How many statisticians does it take to ensure at least a 50 percent chance of a disagreement about p-values? According to a tongue-in-cheek assessment by statistician George Cobb of Mount Holyoke College, the answer is two … or one. So it’s no surprise that when the American Statistical Association gathered 26 experts to develop a consensus statement on statistical significance and p-values, the discussion quickly became heated.

It may sound crazy to get indignant over a scientific term that few lay people have even heard of, but the consequences matter. The misuse of the p-value can drive bad science (there was no disagreement over that), and the consensus project was spurred by a growing worry that in some scientific fields, p-values have become a litmus test for deciding which studies are worthy of publication. As a result, research that produces p-values that surpass an arbitrary threshold are more likely to be published, while studies with greater or equal scientific importance may remain in the file drawer, unseen by the scientific community.

The results can be devastating...
Continued at the link.

There is more than one way to map an eclipse


Instead of using conventional astronomical data, this map depicts Google search interest.

A remarkable 9th-century swan

This is a special book from the early Middle Ages (France, 9th century). Not only does it contain a high volume of very attractive images, but these images are also not what you would expect: they are drawn, as it were, with words. They illustrate Cicero’s Aratea, a work of astronomy. Each animal represents a constellation and the written words in them are taken from an explanatory text by Hyginus (his Astronomica). His words are crucial for these images because the drawings would not exist without them. It is not often in medieval books that image and text have such a symbiotic relationship, each depending on the other for its very existence.
Image and text from Erik Kwakkel's excellent blog.  At the link you will find five additional images of similarly-illustrated animals, and links to the digitized primary source and related materials.

Reposted from 2013 to note that the Public Domain Review has posted a gallery of sixteen of these "calligrams."

Basic color categories


Quite interesting.

Via Sentence First.

03 August 2017

"It Walks By Night"


With this post I'm inaugurating a new category in TYWKIWDBI - the locked-room mysteries of John Dickson Carr.   I've been an avid reader of detective stories ever since my childhood discovery of Sherlock Holmes.  College and graduate training consumed my time for a decade, but once I achieved gainful employment and a modicum of free time I resumed reading mysteries and science fiction.  I believe it was in the 1980s when I lived in Kentucky that I read my first John Dickson Carr novel with an "impossible" murder.  Over the next ten years I scoured the used bookstores of Lexington and Indianapolis to locate some of the more elusive titles.   Finally, with the assistance of my wife and the internet I was able to acquire (and read) the corpus of about 70 titles.

Then I put them away.  I had enjoyed them so much that I wanted to read them again, and I hoped that if enough time passed I would forget the clever plot devices that characterize this remarkable series.  I carried the books with me to St. Louis and finally to Madison.  Last week I decided that I'd better not wait too long to get started with the re-reading.

I decided to start with one of Carr's first works - It Walks By Night (1930).  It features Inspector Bencolin - not as well known as Carr's more famous detectives Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale.  It also features an element familiar to readers of detective fiction of this era - a floor plan (embedded above).  That diagram is essential to understanding and explaining the central mystery: a man was seen walking from the salon into the card room and moments later when Bencolin enters the room he finds a beheaded corpse.  Nobody saw the murderer enter or leave that room.  (In retrospect as I look at that floor plan the murderer's elusiveness is readily explicable...)

A pencilled note inside the cover of my well-worn copy indicates that I read it for the second time in 1983 and solved the "masquerade" - but not the identity of the murderer. 

I've just finished re-rereading the book - and for the third time I was not able to predict the identity of the murderer.  I consider this a good prognostic sign to indicate that I can now proceed to re-read the entire series with as much surprise and enjoyment as I garnered on previous occasions.

I originally rated the book 2+ (on my arbitrary scale of 0-4+), and I'll reaffirm that rating, while acknowledging that this was Carr's first novel.

For this series of posts I don't plan to offer any textual criticism, and certainly no spoilers.  My intent is not to review the books so much as to write notes to myself regarding which ones to re-re-reread after another 30 years have passed...

As I usually do when I blog books, I'll excerpt a few interesting items:
"I expect the man at about eleven thirty o'clock."   An uncommon usage (?antiquated, ?regional) which is probably not grammatically incorrect.  It makes me wonder why we say "o'clock" at all if a statement clearly relates to time.  "I'll be home at eleven (o'clock)."

It's not necessary for a mystery writer to be an accomplished wordsmith if they can spin a good story, but I do enjoy encountering a good turn of phrase, such as these-
"He pronounced the word "tourists" with all the fervid sadness and loathing with which Job must have said "boils."

"His face had the terrible triumph of Satan beholding at last the weakness in the armour of Michael..."

"I had a crazy impulse to laugh; he bore such a weird resemblance to William Jennings Bryan reading Darwin."
I was disappointed that Carr had Bencolin offering an unscientific appraisal of the evils of cannabinoids: "You note those brown dried leaves inside the tobacco?  Marihuana or hashish, I think; I can't tell until our chemists analyse it.  They eat green hashish leaves in Egypt; this is a deadlier variety from Mexico... It kills, you know, within five years.  Somebody is most earnestly trying to do away with her."

Carr uses the word "tensity" (rather than "intensity") on several occasions ("a sense of rushing force and tensity, as though a car were hurtling to crash against a tree...)

"When we were returning along the road, he threw the light on his watch and whistled softly.  'Name of a name! it's half past one.  I had no idea the hour was so late...'"   That appears to be a mild curse, or an expletive.  I don't know that I've seen it elsewhere, and a Google search yields nothing.  Perhaps some reader can offer insight on the phrase. [addendum: answered in a reader comment]

02 August 2017

Confronting one's fears

"In this documentary short titled Ten Meter Tower, Swedish filmmakers Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson paid 67 people $30 to climb to the top of a ten meter (33 foot) high dive for the very first time all while being filmed. Would they decide to jump? Would they be too scared? The resulting footage is surprisingly riveting as people slowly come to terms with their fears and make a decision. It’s one thing to admit defeat in private, but adding the cameras must add a near insurmountable amount of pressure."
With a very nice conclusion.

Via Drabkikker.

Apparently there is "bird-friendly coffee"

As described at Smithsonian Insider:
Rice: As with a lot of things in science, we stumbled upon this notion of Bird Friendly coffee. In the early 1990s, the then-director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center was conducting ornithological research in Mexico when he saw a distant “forest” across a valley that ended up actually being coffee grown beneath a diverse canopy cover of native trees. This “agroforest” was serving as viable habitat for birds, while still successfully growing coffee.

 Marra: Coffee can be grown in sun or shade. It used to be grown in forests, where people would grow food and maintain a healthy habitat for wildlife at the same time. Coffee is a huge crop in terms of the amount of habitat it requires—not to mention it’s easier to harvest without trees around—so growers cut down the forests that many animals depend on. But it is possible to grow coffee in forests, with many benefits to animals, birds, and growers.
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