26 October 2016

Real Life Adventures


How to circum-incise your weiner


Totally safe for work.

How to make a "squirrel burger"


As explained at the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:
The meat grinder tenderizes even tough squirrel meat that might otherwise require at least 45 minutes of braising before becoming tender.

A ground patty (or meatball) isn’t off-putting for dinner guests often weirded out by a squirrel’s hind quarter (even though it looks a lot like a chicken drummy to me).

Lastly, it’s delicious. Squirrel has a distinct, nutty flavor. I don’t find it strong, but for those who do, a bun, cheese and condiment — and possibly even a mixture of another ground meat — can easily “dilute” the flavor...

You can get more meals than you might think. Two grays gave me five 1/4 pound patties with enough meat left on the carcass and bones to obtain one shredded squirrel sandwich, or salad, after simmering said remaining scraps until tender and pulling with fingers.
Preparation details at the link.

"Crony capitalism" defined

It is as Bernie Sanders has foreseen it, you might say.
With its publication of thousands of less-than-flattering emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta over the past two weeks, Wikileaks has done much to undermine Hillary Clinton in her ongoing effort to appeal to millennials who see Washington as a corrupt town where big business and big government are deeply intertwined.

Excerpts from various six-figure speeches that Clinton made in 2013 and 2014 reveal a politician who is not only quite friendly with Wall Street in private, but somewhat resentful of the American public for constantly attacking and scapegoating big banks for the financial crisis...

Although these leaks don’t reveal anything new about Clinton, they do vindicate many of her critics on the left who have long criticized her ties to Wall Street and maintained that she is too comfortable with the neoliberal status quo. On both the progressive left and libertarian right, Clinton is largely seen as a symbol of “crony capitalism.”

Of course, crony capitalism — a term used to describe an economic and political system in which government officials and big business are closely connected, and thus promote each others’ interests over the public good — was the main target of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
Excerpted from a Salon op-ed.  Lots more at the Wikipedia entry.
The term "crony capitalism" made a significant impact in the public arena as an explanation of the Asian financial crisis. It is also used to describe governmental decisions favoring "cronies" of governmental officials. In this context, the term is often used interchangeably with corporate welfare; to the extent that there is a difference, it may be the extent to which a government action can be said to benefit individuals rather than entire industries...

Crony capitalism exists along a continuum. In its lightest form, crony capitalism consists of collusion among market players which is officially tolerated or encouraged by the government... The term crony capitalism is generally used when these practices come to dominate the economy as a whole or to dominate the most valuable industries in an economy...

Pumpkins with faces, and panties for peaches


Grown inside a plastic mold.  (Photo cropped for emphasis from the original at the Mildly Interesting subreddit.)

And since they are orange, I know what question you're going to ask... yes, there are molds with his face.  From the same company that can sell you sexy panties for your peaches:


The tragedy at Aberfan

"It is exactly 50 years since tragedy swooped down on Aberfan killing 116 children and 28 adults. Revisiting the "obscenity" of 21 October 1966, and its aftermath is a stark reminder of the incongruities of the past. Health and safety, counselling, accountability, litigation, compensation – at times met with derision – are the tenets of our modern day. Aberfan is an upsetting reminder of perhaps why and how much our society changed so much in little over a generation."
The story is told in extensively-illustrated detail (and in an awesome format) at the BBC.  Try scrolling through it for a minute.

Swords into plowshares


German helmets repurposed after WWII.

River basins of the United States


Click to embiggen.  Found at imgur.  Interesting that the person who created this chose to depict the Great Lakes as tributaries to the St. Lawrence River.

"Lügenpresse" explained

When a video of two Donald Trump supporters shouting “Lügenpresse” (lying press) started to circulate Sunday, viewers from Germany soon noted its explosive nature. The defamatory word was most frequently used in Nazi Germany... Both the Nazi regime and the East German government made use of it, turning it into an anti-democracy slogan...

“Lügenpresse” was branded a taboo word in Germany in 2015 by an academic panel after anti-Islam movements, such as Pegida, started using it more frequently in the presence of journalists.

The term emerged way before the Nazis took over in Germany. For instance, the German Defense Ministry released a book titled “The Lügenpresse of Our Enemies” in 1918 during World War I... At that time, the word was used more descriptively. A decade later, it had turned into an explosive and stigmatizing propaganda slogan...
Text above from the Washington Post.  For a more complete history of the word, see the Wikipedia entry.

Cheerful video of the week

Don't waste your money on a "butterfly box"

Some butterflies do overwinter in cold climates as adults; at our latitude, Mourning Cloaks and anglewings (Commas, Question Marks) are prime examples.  To do so they seek the shelter of a brushpile, the eaves of a building, or loose bark on a tree.  Some enterprising craftsmen have built shelters specifically for butterflies, but evidence to support their utility is lacking.

Terry Johnson, a wildlife specialist with Georgia's DNR, has reported his findings while researching this topic:
The Entomology Department of Penn State University conducted a study to determine butterfly use of boxes from 1995-97. They monitored 40 boxes built by an Eagle Scout. The boxes were erected along a woodland trail known to be used by wintering butterflies.

At the end of the first winter after the boxes were up inspections revealed that spider silk was discovered in eight boxes. When the boxes were checked after they had been in place for two years the biologists found nothing in eight structures; however, 32 were used by an assortment of other critters. The abandoned nests of umbrella wasps were found in seven boxes; two contained dead stinkbugs; pupating gypsy moths were discovered in two boxes; a colony of ants had staked a claim to one box and three boxes harbored overwintering cluster flies; spider webs were found in 26 boxes, and a white-footed mouse's nest in another.  None of the boxes had been used by a single butterfly.

The results of the study prompted Robert Snetsinger, one of the entomologists conducting the research, to write, "I have yet to see evidence to support the notion that butterflies actually need or use butterfly houses. My suggestion is, if you want to do something useful for butterflies, build them a mud puddle."

20 October 2016

Divertimento


At farm supply stores you can purchase "artificial insemination gloves."  The non-veterinary uses are limited only  by your imagination.

Moose vs. lawnmower.  Moose wins.

Einstein is a famous talking parrot (5-minute video).

A woman cleverly stole mail from mailboxes by attaching a mousetrap to a segment from a vertical window blind.

Canities subita is the medical term for hair turning white overnight.

"In the hospital, Carter lost control of his right arm, then over his legs and other muscles within a few days. He now can only wiggle a toe and move the left side of his face. He has been diagnosed with a mysterious, polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis, a condition that seems to be surging this year."

Karma is well known to be a bitch (gif).

In episode 595 of This American Life ("Deep End of the Pool"), Act One ("If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, Some Random Dude Will Be Appointed to You") is a long listen (29 minutes) but provides amazing insight into the practice of public defenders.  If you're in a hurry, just try the first five minutes...

The benefits of going bald.  "While the bald and balding men were not considered as physically attractive as the other men, one category of scores was far higher. The men were consistently rated as more intelligent, influential, knowledgeable, well-educated, high social status, honest and helpful – traits collectively known as social maturity."  (and there's more...)

A robot wins a game of tic-tac-toe (8-second gif).  You have time for this...


Via Everlasting Blort, the worst of McMansions (scroll down the page).

A movie poster for "Forrest Trump."

There is a new world record for largest pumpkin: 2,261 pounds.  "By focusing on thickness as well as weight, gardeners hope to create structurally sound behemoths. As the younger Dill told Inverse in September 2015, he is cultivating a squash that is “pretty well solid right through to the cavity.”

In September, skeletons of Asian ancestry were discovered in a Roman Britain burial site.

"In early 2009, the seven largest publicly traded college operators were worth a combined $51 billion. Today, they’ve been all but wiped out."  Thanks, Obama.

Disappearing trick.  LOL.  (15-second gif)

NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day offers a zoom into a star cluster.

I heard some numbers on a podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish that I found hard to believe, but I tracked down confirmation at NASA -
When a star dies, its core collapses under the pull of gravity to form an exotic type of star. Average-sized stars like our sun leave behind white dwarfs. These stars contain about as much material as the sun, but gravity squeezes them down to the size of Earth. A teaspoon of white dwarf material would weigh about 15 tons!

If that doesn’t impress you, stars much bigger than our sun leave behind neutron stars. These objects contain even more material than the sun, but they are only about 10 miles across -- the size of a city. A teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh 4 billion tons!
Also via NSTAAF, there IS such a thing as -1 on the Richter Scale.

A deer enjoys a leaf blower.


Is a "juncture" the same as a "junction?"  Grammarist explains.

How hard can it be to get into a tub?

"If I drop food on the floor, I still eat it. I do that because the harm I might get from the floor is not worth my concern compared with many, many other things. You may feel differently. Either way, make an informed judgment based on relative risks, not on any arbitrary span of time that one thing has been touching another."

An interesting read about tsunamis in confined spaces.

"Ladybug, you are cleared for takeoff."

A half-court basketball shot (taken by a proxy) wins a student $10,000.

"When blind writer Trish Vickers failed to notice her pen had run out of ink, Dorset Police made a real impression on her.  The boys in blue came to her rescue and recovered 26 pages of her book."

Juggling flaming torches.  Ta-DAAAA !!  (I really hate to LOL at "fails," but sometimes it's hard not to.)

There is a new drug for severe eczema (a monoclonal antibody interleukin inhibitor).  It's currently in Phase 3 trials.

A map (and discussion thread) of the 14 drill holes in Mars made by Curiosity.

"Lyndel Rhodes listening to Willie Nelson sing a song she wrote."

Footprint of a titanosaur.


"Almost half of a 50-strong herd of cows in western France ate themselves to death after chomping on the equivalent of a whole winter’s rations in just one night."

Forbes Magazine released its annual list of the 400 richest Americans, a record 42 of whom are immigrants.

Opposition to Galileo was not just religious - it was also scientific.

Clever Oktoberfest outfits (gif).

"Bachelor hacks" - several of which are surprisingly clever.

Police have issued an appeal for information about why a chicken was seen crossing the road in Dundee.

"The U.S.’s largest pneumonic plague outbreak in nearly a century has been identified, and it all started with a sick dog... The CDC also found that one of the cases may have resulted from human-to-human transmission, something that hasn’t happened in the States since 1924."

Clever: "Police arrested Logan Pack, 24, for Felony Burglary. They say he collected receipts from the parking lot at Home Depot, then used the receipts like a shopping list to obtain the items from the shelves and return the goods for cash."  I have often wondered why more people don't do this (or perhaps they do).

Where to go when your cruise ship hits rough seas.

Here's the Saturday Night Live spoof of the second presidential debate.

If there is such a thing as a humorous Halloween costume of a suicide vest, this may be it.

Credit for the photos embedded in this week's Divertimento goes to Ásta Henriksen, who teaches English at the Icelandic School of Commerce, and whose hobby is photographing "hearts" in Icelandic nature (via Iceland Monitor).

17 October 2016

The Palouse (Washington state)

"Often referred to as the Tuscany of America, the Palouse region of Washington State offers one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the United States. The seemingly endless rolling fields of wheat, lentils and canola offer year-round beauty."
The origin of the name "Palouse" is unclear. One theory is that the name of the Palus tribe (spelled in early accounts variously as Palus, Palloatpallah, Pelusha, etc.) was converted by French-Canadian fur traders to the more familiar French word pelouse, meaning "land with short and thick grass" or "lawn." Over time, the spelling changed to Palouse. Another theory is that the region's name came from the French word and was later applied to its indigenous inhabitants.
Photo © Hamish Mitchell, via Smithsonian.

3D transformation of the Hubble Deep Field


Reposted from 2010 to add this new information:
There are a dizzying 2 trillion galaxies in the universe, up to 20 times more than previously thought, astronomers reported on Thursday. The surprising finding, based on 3D modeling of images collected over 20 years by the Hubble Space Telescope, was published in the Astronomical Journal...

Using deep space images from Hubble, Conselice and his team painstakingly converted them into 3D to measure the number of galaxies at different times in the history of the universe.
And each of those galaxies can have a hundred billions stars...  But, according the Sky and Telescope, "we do not "also have to update the number of stars in the observable universe, which now numbers around 700 sextillion."

Lots of relevant links in this Reddit thread.

16 October 2016

"PodRide" bicycle/car hybrid


More information here.

Julius Caesar pencil holder


Impractical (note the hand required to keep it upright), but clever.  Via Reddit.
Within moments, the entire group, including Brutus, was striking out at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenceless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around 60 men participated in the assassination. He was stabbed 23 times.

So there's no such thing as bad publicity?

From a complaint filed in Texas in December by Mark Oberholtzer, the owner of Mark-1 Plumbing, against Charlie Thomas Ford, a car dealer.

In October 2013, Plaintiff traded in a 2005 Ford F-250 pickup truck. Plaintiff began peeling off the Mark-1 Plumbing decal located on the truck’s doors when Defendant’s salesman told Plaintiff that peeling off the decal would blemish the vehicle paint. The vehicle was sold at a Texas auto auction and exported to Mersin, Turkey. In December 2014, a member of a jihadist group operating near Aleppo tweeted a propaganda photograph of Plaintiff’s Ford F-250 with an antiaircraft gun mounted on it fighting on the front lines in Syria. Plaintiff’s logo and phone number were still on the vehicle door. Forty-eight hours later, Mark-1’s phones had received more than 1,000 calls. These calls included individuals who were: (a) irate and yelling expletives; (b) degrading to whomever answered the phone regarding their stupidity; (c) singing in Arabic for the duration of the call or voice-message recording; (d) making threats of injury or death against Mark-1’s employees, family, children, and grandchildren in violent, lurid, and grossly specific terms; and (e) directing expletive-laced death threats to whoever answered the phone. Nearly one year has passed since the news story broke. When the Islamic State commits an atrocity that is reported nationally, which occurs with distressing frequency, Plaintiff receives phone calls all over again.
Reproduced in its entirety from the June issue of Harper's Magazine.

Dabba ("The Lunchbox")


This was the best movie I've watched in a long time.  Decidedly not a Hollywood-style movie (no killing, no sex, no explosions), The Lunchbox reminded me very much of You've Got Mail.   Some of you will recognize Irrfan Khan from his role in Life of Pi.  The acting is superb, and the movie is filmed with a sensitivity that allows moments of quiet to be extended and savored.
Tiffin carriers or dabbas are a kind of lunch box used widely in South Asia for tiffin meals. From South Asia, they spread to and now are widely used in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore as well.  They are known as rantang in Indonesian and mangkuk tingkat (leveled bowls) in Malay. In Arab countries they are called Safartas Arabic سفرطاس meaning travel bowls. They are also used extensively in Hungary, primarily to transport restaurant cheap workday midday meals for consumption at home. The Hungarian word for a tiffin box is éthordó (food carrier). A very similar device is called Henkelmann in Germany. It usually is round or in an oval shape similar to military campaign dishes. The Henkelmann was very popular until the 1960s, but is very rarely used by Germans today.

Normally they come in two or three tiers, although more elaborate versions can have four. The bottom-most tier, being the largest, is the one usually used for rice. Tiffin carriers are opened by unlocking a small catch on either side of the handle. The Hungarian version will typically contain a soup, main course and piece of cake.

In the Indian city of Mumbai, there is a complex and efficient delivery system that regularly delivers hot lunches packed in dabbas to city office workers from their suburban homes or from a caterer. It uses delivery workers known as dabbawalas.
The movie was released three years ago, so I was able to get it from our library with almost no waiting time.  It's also available from Netflix.  I highly recommend it to you.

Addendum January 2017:   An extensive article at the BBC praises the system -
Despite relying on an unskilled workforce, a two-tier management system and nothing more high-tech than Mumbai’s train network, this 5,000-strong cooperative is recognised as one of the world’s most efficient logistics systems. They make a tidy side-line hosting executives from delivery giants like FedEx and Amazon. Even Richard Branson has spent a day learning their secrets...

Most dabbawalas are quick to dismiss their new digital rivals. “There's no competition. They won’t be able to keep up with the service we provide,” says Gavande. “There's only one Mumbai dabbawala.”..

It’s hard to argue. The organisation runs its low-cost service at a very high level of performance. A 2010 study by the Harvard Business School graded it “Six Sigma”, which means the dabbawalas make fewer than 3.4 mistakes per million transactions. With deliveries to and from roughly 200,000 customers each day that translates to little more than 400 delayed or missing dabbas in a year.
More at the link

13 October 2016

Marble veil

"Veiled Lady by Rafaello Monti, c.1860, held by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts"
Via Stuff about Minneapolis.

Stone Age artifacts emerging from glaciers


In 2010 I wrote Retreating glaciers and melting ice yield treasures, about discoveries in the Alaksan Yukon, and in 2012 Artifacts from retreating glaciers showed a 4th century A.D. wool garment found in Norway.  The video embedded above, via Science Nordic, shows an additional example from Norway’s Jotunheimen range.

Messerschmitt KR175

The Messerschmitt KR175 microcar (1953–1955) was the first vehicle built by Messerschmitt under its 1952 agreement with Fritz Fend... Approximately 15,000 were built before it was replaced by the Messerschmitt KR200 in 1956.
Related: List of motorized trikes.

Via Lushlight.

Green's Dictionary of Slang online

"Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the culmination of a life’s work for Green. First published in print as a three-volume behemoth in 2010, to awards and rave reviews, it now emerges in digital form with about 30% ‘revised, augmented and generally improved’...

Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online can be searched for definitions, first uses, etymologies, parts of speech, authors, titles, usage labels, etc. As the press release puts it: ‘Those who wish to know how many words James Joyce used for sexual intercourse or Charles Dickens for drunk will find their answers. And whether any came from Yiddish.’..

There are two levels of access. The basics (headword, definition, etymology) are freely available to the public. The rest (citations, timeline, full search) are for subscribers: initially £49 ($60) a year for single users, £10 ($12.50) for students.
Additional discussion at Sentence First.

A prediction from 1943


Via The Elegant Criminal Society.

2.2 MB

"Univac 9000 Series disk cartridge prototype with a 2.2 MB capacity  1966"
Via Sloth Unleashed.

Physics fun with a vortex cannon


Via Fuckyeahfluiddynamics, where there are links to other posts on vortex rings and air cannons.

Bob Dylan - Forever Young


I'm a "boomer," and Bob Dylan is one of the musicians who define my generation. "Forever Young" was written as a lullaby for his eldest son and released in the mid-70s; it appeals to an older crowd than those who were attracted to him earlier for his "protest"-themed songs.

There are lots of choices of venues for hearing the song. I've embedded the one from The Band's performance in The Last Waltz.

And if you don't care for the music, at least accept these lyrics as my wishes to you.

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Originally posted in February of '08.  Reposted now in response to today's announcement that Bob Dylan will receive the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature - in recognition of his skills as a lyricist rather than as a singer or musician.

Reddit Books discussion thread re the appropriateness (or not) of this award.

Addendum:

Dylan has sculpted iron pieces for family and friends for the past 30 years, but it wasn’t until 2013 – at London’s Halcyon Gallery in an exhibition called Mood Swings – that his metal artwork was first viewed publicly. His works feature found objects, vintage scrap metal and industrial artifacts collected from junkyards. Dylan collects everything from farm equipment, children’s toys, kitchen utensils and antique fire arms to chains, cogs, axes and wheels. He then welds these curiosities into thoughtfully juxtaposed masterpieces. Commissioned by MGM National Harbor to envision an open entrance, Dylan hand-selected unique objects and will weld a stunning composition into a soaring archway.
Text and image from MGM National Harbor, via Minnesota Brown, the definitive blog about northern Minnesota's legendary Mesabi Iron Range.

12 October 2016

"Euthanasia coaster"

The Euthanasia Coaster is an art concept for a steel roller coaster designed to kill its passengers.  In 2010, it was designed and made into a scale model by Julijonas Urbonas, a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art in London. Urbonas, who has worked at an amusement park, stated that the goal of his concept roller coaster is to take lives "with elegance and euphoria"...

The concept design of the layout begins with a steep-angled lift to the 510-metre (1,670 ft) (0.317 mile) top, which would take two minutes for the 24-passenger train to reach. From there, a 500-metre (1,600 ft) drop would take the train to 360 kilometres per hour (220 mph), close to its terminal velocity, before flattening out and speeding into the first of its seven slightly clothoid inversions. Each inversion would have a smaller diameter than the one before in order to maintain the lethal 10 g to passengers while the train loses speed. After a sharp right-hand turn the train would enter a straight, where unloading of corpses and loading of new passengers could take place...
Image credit: By Svg: RicHard-59 - svg Based on design by London Royal College of Art student Julijonas Urbonas 2010., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia.

World population growth is declining

"...world history can be divided into three periods marked by distinct trends in population growth. The first period (pre-modernity) was a very long age of very slow population growth. The second period, beginning with the onset of modernity (with rising standards of living and improving health) and lasting until 1962, had an increasing rate of growth. Now that period is over, and the third part of the story has begun; the population growth rate is falling and will likely continue to fall, leading to an end of growth towards the end of this century."
Most people don't understand this.   I have presented this concept several times using the outstanding lectures of Hans Rosling.

LOTS more relevant charts at the OurWorldInData website.

One health care chart to rule them all


Life expectancy on the vertical axis vs. inflation-adjusted health expenditures on the horizontal axis, over a forty-year time period, in 24 countries.

There are of course a huge number of factors that influence longevity other than health-care expenditures (genetics, lifestyle, diet), and longevity is not a priori the best measure of quality of life.  And one can probably quibble over methodology.  But anyone who has personally experienced the U.S. health-care system will have a gut feeling that the data shown are what one would expect.

Note: "Over the period shown in the chart above violence and homicides have fallen in the US more than in other rich countries and this should have led to a narrowing of the difference to other countries and not to the increase that we see."

Lots more charts at the OurWorldinData website.

Via BoingBoing.

Pigeons in a grain elevator


Described at the source as being filmed "on one of the [grain] elevators Kazan bakeries."

The fate of the pigeons can also be viewed allegorically in a number of contexts.

10 October 2016

Why Columbus sailed SOUTH to the Americas




He sailed WEST, you say. Well... yes, but not exactly.

His goal (and his achievement) was to sail west and SOUTH. This is all explained in The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies, by Nicolas Wey Gomez (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge Mass, 2008). [the page notations below are from this book]

Had Columbus actually sailed west, he would first have reached the Azores, and then a continuation on the same latitude would have brought him ashore near my cousin's home in New Jersey!

Instead, he headed southwest to the Canaries. Why the Canary Islands? They were Spain’s westernmost (and also southernmost) territory in the Atlantic and a suitable location for repairs and restocking. He then navigated west and southwest, “always following the sun, though slightly to the left.” On succeeding voyages his path followed “ever-steeper routes to the south." For the second voyage, he steered “far more to the left than on the first voyage.” And on his third voyage, “he pursued a journey toward the southern region, seeking the equatorial line.”(4)

After leaving the Canaries, Columbus reprimanded his pilots for allowing the ships to drift to the north. Carried by prevailing currents and winds “the sailors steered badly, declining toward the west by northwest and even toward the northwest; for which reason the Admiral scolded them many a time.”(396) He tried to travel directly west from the Canaries, and began veering south "the minute he felt reasonably confident that he was about to strike land."

The primary reason Columbus favored a southern route was that he believed precious resources were more likely to be found in hot regions. In his writings: “gold is generated in sterile lands and wherever the sun is strong.”(40)

He shared the belief held by Ptolemy and other geographers that places with equal latitude shared attributes.(49) Spices, medicines, and jewels were most often associated with the tropics. His proposal before departing was: “that by way of the West, toward the south, he would discover great lands, islands, and terra firma, the happiest of all, the richest in gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones and infinite peoples; and that in that direction he expected to reach land belonging to India…”(141)

It was also known that Cathay (China) had a temperate climate like Europe (per reports of Marco Polo and others) at that it was “in the line [latitude] of Spain.” India (and the islands of "the Indies") were known to be tropical.(46)

One can also note the advice given to Columbus that “all good things come from very hot regions whose inhabitants are black or dark brown...”(185)

All well-educated people of the time knew that the earth was spherical; this had been common knowledge since the time of Archimedes (250 BCE), or perhaps before that by anyone who had seen the shadow of the earth cross the moon during an eclipse. Columbus' sailors did not fear the edge of the earth; what they did fear was shallows, which they considered to be more likely in tropical waters where the heat evaporated the water.

Before he sailed to the Americas, Columbus had travelled to Ireland, where he had seen aboriginal people who had been discovered drifting on logs in the ocean – we know now that they were probably Inuit, but because of their facial physiognomy they were thought to be from Cathay (China).(355)

So sailing west to China was not an illogical plan. Where Columbus differed from others was that he thought it was also practical. Everyone else thought it was impossibly distant. In fact, Columbus grossly underestimated the distance west to China/India, and it was that false confidence of its proximity that led him to venture out and to believe that he had found the Indies when he reached the Caribbean.

I've added the "recommended books" tag to this post, although it certainly is not a book for everyone. At 600+ pages and with copious notes, it is a scholarly work, obviously the product of decades of work by this author. It also has excellent reproductions of early pre-Columbian maps.

(map credit here)

(originally posted March 2009; reposted for Columbus Day 2016)

Brickwork at Hampton Court Palace


Via Reddit, where the thread includes some informed commentary and links to other examples of skilled brickwork, including this one:

Fluke

"Edward Grant, 45, of the Leonardo section of Middletown caught the strangely shaped fish in Raritan Bay... Grant tossed the 18.5 inch fluke back into the bay, deciding it had been through enough already and deserved to live.

"I felt bad for it," he said. He surmised a large bluefish or small shark had previously attacked the fluke, which was completely healed from whatever injuries it had suffered."
Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

"Bump-and-run carjacking"

"...The woman told police she was driving west on the Beltline when a SUV began tailgating her. The driver of the SUV eventually rear-ended her car, prompting her to pull over near the South Park Street exit, with the SUV pulling in behind her.

She said three men got out and one yelled at the woman and told her to take a look at the damage to the front bumper of the SUV. The woman said she was going back to her car to call police for help when one of the men pushed past her, got in the driver’s seat and drove away. At the same time, the other two men got back into their SUV and sped away, police said.

Milwaukee police later reported that the car was used in an armed robbery at a Walgreens in Milwaukee...

[A police spokesman] said any motorists who doesn't feel right about a situation should sit tight.
"We would recommend that if things don't feel right, don't get out of the car.  Lock the doors and call 9-1-1.  Get police there right away."

Interesting obituary

"William Ziegler escaped this mortal realm on Friday, July 29, 2016 at the age of 69. We think he did it on purpose to avoid having to make a decision in the pending presidential election. He leaves behind four children, five grandchildren, and the potted meat industry, for which he was an unofficial spokesman until dietary restrictions forced him to eat real food.

William volunteered for service in the United States Navy at the ripe old age of 17 and immediately realized he didn't much enjoy being bossed around. He only stuck it out for one war. Before his discharge, however, the government exchanged numerous ribbons and medals for various honorable acts.

Upon his return to the City of New Orleans in 1971, thinking it best to keep an eye on him, government officials hired William as a fireman. After twenty-five years, he suddenly realized that running away from burning buildings made more sense than running toward them. He promptly retired. Looking back, William stated that there was no better group of morons and mental patients than those he had the privilege of serving with (except Bob, he never liked you, Bob).

Following his wishes, there will not be a service, but well-wishers are encouraged to write a note of farewell on a Schaefer Light beer can and drink it in his honor. He was never one for sentiment or religiosity, but he wanted you to know that if he owes you a beer, and if you can find him in Heaven, he will gladly allow you to buy him another. He can likely be found forwarding tasteless internet jokes (check your spam folder, but don't open these at work). Expect to find an alcoholic dog named Judge passed out at his feet.

Unlike previous times, this is not a ploy to avoid creditors or old girlfriends. He assures us that he is gone. He will be greatly missed."

Published in The Times-Picayune on Aug. 12, 2016.  Condolences at the source.

TIL: old cannonballs can explode


I don't envy the people who lived through the most recent hurricane, but I do envy those who were able to access those beaches afterwards with their metal detectors.  They probably scooped up handfuls of gold doubloons.

But "today I learned" that cannonballs of the Civil War era are supposedly dangerous (?)
A bomb squad was at a South Carolina beach on Sunday after Hurricane Matthew apparently unearthed old Civil War cannonballs from the sand.

Charleston County Sheriff's spokesman Maj. Eric Watson said in a news release that the cannon balls were found on Folly Beach Sunday afternoon, but bomb squad members couldn't get to it immediately because of the rising tide.

Once the ocean level goes down, Watson said technicians would render the cannonballs safe. He warned residents might hear a small boom.
I didn't realize a) that cannonballs of that era were packed with explosives, or b) that the material could still be reactive.  Frankly, I probably would have picked those up from the beach.

Coulrophobia


Coulrophobia explained.

And the etymology:
A neologism, coined in the late 1980s or 1990s. Supposedly based on Ancient Greek κωλοβαθριστής ‎(kōlobathristḗs, one who goes on stilts) (from κωλόβαθρον ‎(kōlóbathron, stilt), from κῶλον ‎(kôlon, limb) + βαίνω ‎(baínō, I go), chosen for lack of an obvious Ancient Greek equivalent of "clown", combined with the -phobia ‎(fear of) suffix.
Cartoon via Jobsanger.

06 October 2016

Maple trees on a Japanese mountain range crest


Image via imgur.  Discussed in this Reddit thread.

"American Imperium"

Excerpts from an essay in Harper's:
Republicans and Democrats disagree today on many issues, but they are united in their resolve that the United States must remain the world’s greatest military power. This bipartisan commitment to maintaining American supremacy has become a political signature of our times. In its most benign form, the consensus finds expression in extravagant and unremitting displays of affection for those who wear the uniform. Considerably less benign is a pronounced enthusiasm for putting our soldiers to work “keeping America safe.” This tendency finds the United States more or less permanently engaged in hostilities abroad, even as presidents from both parties take turns reiterating the nation’s enduring commitment to peace.

To be sure, this penchant for military activism attracts its share of critics. Yet dissent does not imply influence. The trivializing din of what passes for news drowns out the antiwar critique. One consequence of remaining perpetually at war is that the political landscape in America does not include a peace party. Nor, during presidential-election cycles, does that landscape accommodate a peace candidate of voter consequence. The campaign now in progress has proved no exception. Candidates calculate that tough talk wins votes. They are no more likely to question the fundamentals of U.S. military policy than to express skepticism about the existence of a deity. Principled opposition to war ranks as a disqualifying condition, akin to having once belonged to the Communist Party or the KKK. The American political scene allows no room for the intellectual progeny of Jane Addams, Eugene V. Debs, Dorothy Day, or Martin Luther King Jr.

So, this November, voters will choose between rival species of hawks. Each of the finalists will insist that freedom’s survival hinges on having in the Oval Office a president ready and willing to employ force, even as each will dodge any substantive assessment of what acting on that impulse has produced of late. In this sense, the outcome of the general election has already been decided. As regards so-called national security, victory is ensured. The status quo will prevail, largely unexamined and almost entirely intact.

Citizens convinced that U.S. national-security policies are generally working well can therefore rest easy. Those not sharing that view, meanwhile, might wonder how it is that military policies that are manifestly defective — the ongoing accumulation of unwon wars providing but one measure — avoid serious scrutiny, with critics of those policies consigned to the political margins...
The essay concludes with this rather thought-provoking comment:
Nearly a century after Americans hailed the kaiser’s abdication, more than seventy years after they celebrated Hitler’s suicide, and almost thirty years after they cheered the fall of the Berlin Wall, a thoroughly pacified Europe cannot muster the wherewithal to deal even with modest threats such as post-Soviet Russia. For the United States to indulge this European inclination to outsource its own security might make sense if Europe itself still mattered as much as it did when the War for the West began. But it does not. Indeed, having on three occasions over the course of eight decades helped prevent Europe from being dominated by a single hostile power, the United States has more than fulfilled its obligation to defend Western civilization. Europe’s problems need no longer be America’s.
I welcome comments from European readers.

"Two-handed snake"


Here's the original, from the Jungle Book movie:


With a few clicks, you can "sync" the two videos by playing the Jungle Book one until the song starts, then starting the hand puppet video.

Nicely done.  Via Neatorama.

Better SPF than zinc oxide


Sea lion pups allegedly roll in the sand for sun protection.

Very tough geography quiz

Do you have a friend/relative/spouse who thinks he/she is the bee's knees of geography knowledge?  I offer you a quiz question that will bring them to their knees.

Just one question: What independent country has the "highest lowest point" ?
Not the highest point, mind you.  We're not talking Nepal or Tibet.  We want the country whose lowest point is higher than any other country's lowest point.   Nepal, for example, has "southern lowland plains."

The correct answer is a country which exists "entirely above 1,000m."  To be more precise: "Its lowest point of 1,400 metres (4,593 ft) is thus the highest in the world. Over 80% of the country lies above 1,800 metres (5,906 ft)."

Where is this country?  I wouldn't have guessed it in a hundred years.

Answer here.

05 October 2016

Res ipsa loquitur

"The theme for her show was “Invisible Clothes.” And in seeming contradiction to that idea, she offered some of the most outsize, extreme and extraordinary notions: kilts that were as enormous as a tent, trousers that could hold a veritable crowd within a single leg and a giant hood that took on the proportions of a sarcophagus. This wasn’t so much a line of clothes destined for your closet as it was a statement for the season — for the times."
Someone else can figure out what that "statement" is.  I'll defer commentary.  (Other pix from the show at the link.)

Photo credit: Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

The "head drop" trick - and how to do it


Here's how to perform the illusion.  Hat tip to BoingBoing for the video and the link.

Reposted now to allow you time to get the trick ready for Halloween.

The word "nothing" is a palindrome

Because "nothing" spelled backwards is "gnihton" - which means nothing.

Via Reddit, where the thread includes some real palindromes.

Every picture tells a story


Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

How (not) to tow an unevenly distributed load


I presume this video was originally created to illustrate for U-Haul renters why their heaviest items should be loaded in the front of the trailer.  Here in the upper Midwest, it's a good object lesson for the legions of people hauling boats to and from the lake on weekends.

This modern world


Even just five years ago, the image above would have made little sense.

Selections from "Gashlycrumb Tinies" - updated


I won't give you a link for the source of this abecedary, but rather encourage you to patronize your local bookstore or your local library.  Published as part of the "Amphigorey" collection, by Edward Gorey.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2011 to add the following:

The bizarre humor of Edward Gorey

During my blogcation, I had the opportunity to reread several books by Edward Gorey.  I've amended and updated my post on The Gashlycrumb Tinies, but as I read elsewhere in his books, some of the humor was frankly a bit unsettling -


Especially when the subject matter involves children:


I'll defer commentary.  Res ipsae loquuntur.  (hat tip to reader loookas)
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