27 May 2018

About the "close door" button in elevators

The one in the photograph here fell off, revealing that there was no connection to an electrical circuit behind it.  Hmmmm....

Image trimmed for size from the original here.

Smelling disease

In the world of medicine, smell is an underutilized sense.   Experienced clinicians can learn to detect the odor of ketones on the breath of a diabetic in ketoacidosis (and presumably this is the basis for using sentinel dogs to alert their diabetic owners to check their status).  Dogs have been reported also to identify impending hypoglycemia by detecting isoprene.

From a BBC science podcast this week I learned that researchers have found that malaria can be detected by smell.  It has been known that mosquitoes can locate malaria carriers and will bite them more often than unaffected people - an ability presumed to be mediated by their sense of smell.  A team of researchers tested this by giving children in a malaria-endemic area socks to wear, to absorb their sweat and body odor.  They found that socks from children carrying the malaria parasite smelled different from those worn by normal children, that mosquitoes favored those socks, and most importantly that when they treated the children for malaria, their sock smell reverted back to normal.  One implication of this is that it might be possible to detect subclinical malaria noninvasively, without requiring phlebotomy and a microscope.  I found some discussion of the research at NPR.

Less intuitive is the reported ability of some humans to detect Parkinson's disease by smell.
... Joy Milne from Perth, whose husband Les was told he had Parkinson's at the age of 45. About a decade before her consultant anaesthetist husband was diagnosed, Joy noticed she could detect an unusual musky smell... Joy said: "We had a very tumultuous period, when he was about 34 or 35, where I kept saying to him, 'you've not showered. You've not brushed your teeth properly'.

"It was a new smell - I didn't know what it was. I kept on saying to him, and he became quite upset about it. So I just had to be quiet." The retired nurse only linked the odour to the disease after meeting people with the same distinctive smell at a Parkinson's UK support group.

She told scientists at a conference, and subsequent tests carried out by Edinburgh University's Dr Tilo Kunath confirmed her ability...

Joy was given 12 unmarked T-shirts to smell - six worn by Parkinson's patients and six worn by volunteers without the disease. She correctly identified the six worn by Parkinson's patients, but could also smell the odour on a T-shirt worn by someone in the control group without Parkinson's. Joy was told three months later that this person had in fact been diagnosed with Parkinson's after the T-shirt tests.
No time to search today.  I bet there are a lot more things that could be added to this post.

Wonder Woman


The aging of the United States

"As baby boomers age, the nation has substantially aged as well. In 1970, the median age in the US was 28.1. In 2016, it was 37.9."

The second map doesn't show "movement" of individuals, but the changing age distributions are equivalent to movement of populations.

Lots of implications, which I don't need to elaborate on.

Note the maps at the source are interactive (zoomable, and if you hover over your county the raw data pop up).

Good guy barber

This country needs more people like this and places like this.

If M.C. Escher had a horse...

The horse's name is DaVinci ("Vinny").  Re the title.

Trump clump #4

This is the fourth "Trump Clump," designed to cluster Trump-related links into a single post so that Trump supporters can easily skip over one post rather than encounter them on a daily basis, and even more importantly to free up the blog from this often-depressing subject matter.  Three weeks ago I went on a two-day road trip up to Minnesota to watch my cousin's daughter compete in her final collegiate golf match.  As I fell asleep the night after the competition, I realized that I had gone an entire 24 hours without ever encountering the word "Trump" in print, on television, radio, online, or in conversation - probably for the first time in several years.  It felt great.  I will continue to do my best to keep TYWKIWDBI Trump-free except for these every-three-month clusters.

(as of Jan 2018): Global confidence in US leadership has fallen to a new low, and the country now ranks below China in worldwide approval ratings, according to a new Gallup poll.
The survey of opinion in 134 countries showed a record collapse in approval for the US role in the world, from 48% under Obama to 30% after one year of Donald Trump – the lowest level Gallup has recorded since beginning its global leadership poll over a decade ago.

"Before moving into the White House, first lady Melania Trump took 21 flights on Air Force jets over a three-month span that totaled more than $675,000, according to newly revealed military records.
Trump was flown to and from New York City, Florida and Washington, D.C. in the early months of her husband's presidency, while she held off on moving to the nation's capital in order for the couple's son, Barron Trump, to finish the school year. The records, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, cover the inauguration through April of last year, in which "Air Force jets made at least 19 trips to LaGuardia Airport in New York and nine trips to Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport to drop off or pick up Mrs. Trump." A spokesperson for the first lady defended Trump's travels and said that it exemplifies her ability to juggle "dual roles.""

He really said this.
“Right now in a number of states the laws allow a baby to be born from his or her mother's womb in the 9th month. It is wrong. It has to change.”

Mark Hamill offers a response to Trump's tweet about one of this critics:

And speaking of diplomacy and statemanship, this is an exact quote from his letter to Kim Jong Un:
"You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."

"The President of the United States, whose Bill of Rights bans the government from making a law "respecting...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," has told the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, birthplace of the Magna Carta and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom of assembly, that he will only visit the United Kingdom if the residents of that country are legally barred from protesting his visit."

Sign in London Underground re American energy policy:

"The Trump administration has signed a $24,000,000 contract with Boeing to replace two food chilling systems aboard Air Force One, the president’s plane, according to reports. The systems are two of five such “chillers” aboard Air Force One, which must be equipped with a refrigeration capacity to handle 3,000 meals, according to military specifications. That’s enough to feed the president and 50 of his closest friends three meals a day for three weeks.

The U.S. unemployment rate:

"Supporters of President Donald Trump used racist language against dark-skinned public servants while rallying against immigration, the Arizona Capitol Times reported Saturday... One dark-skinned Arizonian who was asked if he was in the country “illegally” was Rep. Eric Descheenie (D-Chinle).
Rep. Descheenie is a Navajo lawmaker."

In response to a mass shooting at a school:

"On Twitter this fine February morning, the President of the United States claimed that his State of the Union speech, watched by 46 million people, was seen by "the highest number in history.".. Two of Obama's earlier SoTU addresses won more viewers (48m in 2010 and 53m in 2009), too. Bush Jr. got 63m for his one after the Iraq War. Clinton got 53m in 1998 and 67m in 1993. But it's likely that an earlier president holds the record, from the era when nothing else was on..."

"For the whole nation [for 2017], Trump had an average job approval in 2017 of 38% and disapproval of 56%. There were 12 states that showed significant job approval for Trump, while 32 states showed significant disapproval. The other states had approval/disapproval within the margins of error."

This graph compares presidential job approval ratings after 14 months on the job.

However, Trump's approval rating among white evangelicals reached an all-time high in April (graph at the link).

February article discusses Trump's request for a military parade.  “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

"The revelation that the US housing secretary, Ben Carson, and his wife selected a $31,000 dining set for his office at taxpayer expense has caused outrage. But Carson is far from alone among Donald Trump’s cabinet in causing controversy over use of public money... treasury secretary [Steve Mnuchin], a former Wall Street executive and Hollywood producer who is worth as much as $35m, managed to run up bills in excess of $800,000 in his first six months in office for travel on military jets... The health and human services secretary [Tom Price] was forced to resign last September following revelations that he used at least $400,000 and probably more than $1m in taxpayer funds on private and military flights for himself and his staff..."

"More than at any time in history, the president of the United States is actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets: landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos, securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal. For Trump, whose business revolves around the marketability of his name, there has proved to be no public policy too big, and no private opportunity too crass, to exploit for personal profit... In fact, although Trump refuses to disclose the details of his myriad business operations, he continues to enjoy access to every dime he makes as president. Instead of setting up a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, as other presidents have done, Trump put his two grown sons in charge of his more than 500 business entities. His sons regularly brief Trump about how the enterprises are doing, enabling him to personally monitor how his decisions in office affect his bottom line. What’s more, only 15 days after this “eyes wide open” trust was set up, Trump amended the fine print to allow him to take money out of the operation any time he pleases."  Lots of details at the link.

Trump explains what his attorney Michael Cohen does: “Michael is a good person. Let me just tell you that Michael is in business. He’s really a businessman. Fairly big businesses, as I understand it. I don’t know his business. But this doesn’t have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He has got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business. And they are looking into something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business..."

"Donald Trump’s former personal physician, Harold Bornstein... said that it was “black humor” that “takes the truth” in “a different direction” when he issued a medical report calling Trump a man of “extraordinary” strength who would be “the healthiest individual ever elected,” and that Trump had dictated the report to him..."

"President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was true... “So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart."

Two photos highlight the difference between Obama and Trump based on their public responses to mass shootings.

"President Donald Trump attacked The New York Times in a tweet Saturday, claiming the paper made up a “senior White House official” for its story about the canceled North Korea summit. The official, a member of Trump’s National Security Council, actually does exist and led a briefing at the White House on Thursday for reporters. The White House even provided its own transcript of the briefing that Trump essentially dismissed as fake news."

It never ends.  But my tolerance for writing this does.  Done for another 3-4 months.  I expect this post will bring out the trolls who take pleasure in vilifying me and those who disagree with Teddy Roosevelt.  But I've got my "delete" button ready to go...

21 May 2018


The (unquestioned) beauty is deceptive.  Multiple comments at the Pics subreddit post attest to the destructive capabilities of Wisteria vines.

Panspermia and the Cambrian Explosion

"Panspermia" ("seeds everywhere") is the term used for the concept that life in various forms is widespread throughout the cosmos, and that extremophiles can survive transit through space to colonize new worlds.

The "Cambrian Explosion" occurred about 500 million years ago, when multicellular life skyrocketed on earth.  Prior to that time, life on this planet consisted almost entirely of single-celled or colonial organisms.  During this 20-million year period most of the lines of animals appeared, with major diversifications and accelerated complexity.

Those two concepts are discussed in the most interesting scientific review article I've read all month.  Herewith some excerpts from the longread:
"... we discuss the recent phylogenetic data which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ∼500 Ma (the widely agreed epochal event in the evolutionary history of multicellular life on Earth). These types of reverse transcribing and genome integrating viruses are speculated to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence with the Cambrian Explosion may not be fortuitous...

... life was seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (at or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells and organisms (e.g. Tardigrades), perhaps even fertilised ova and plant seeds, may have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth helping to drive further the progress of terrestrial biological evolution...

Even if we concede that the dominant neo-Darwinian paradigm of natural selection can explain aspects of the evolutionary history of life once life gets started, independent abiogenesis on the cosmologically diminutive scale of oceans, lakes or hydrothermal vents remains a hypothesis with no empirical support and is moreover unnecessary and redundant...

... direct evidence of liquid water in comets as well as other icy solar system bodies came to be firmly established through space exploration. The Jovian moon Europa, the Saturnian moon Enceladus and the dwarf planet Ceres all have evidence of liquid water, maintained either through tidal energy dissipation or radioactive heating. ..

It is now becoming amply clear that Earth-like planets and other life-friendly planetary bodies exist in their hundreds of billions...

Since 1980 the existence in interstellar clouds of complex organic molecules such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, is beyond dispute...

Data from cometary studies continue to be backed up by recoveries of microbial material in the stratosphere (under conditions where upwelling terrestrial contamination can be plausibly ruled out)...

We should then plausibly view viruses as among the most information-rich natural systems in the known Universe. Their size dictates they are very small targets minimizing the probability of destruction by flash heating or ionizing radiation... Their nanometer dimensions plausibly allow easy transport and dispersal by micrometer sized dust grains and other protective physical matrices of similar size. They are then nanoparticle-sized genetic vectors which contain all the essential information to take over and drive the physiology of any given target cell within which they mesh. Their replicative growth means they are produced, and exist, in huge numbers on cosmic scales; so that they (and to a lesser quantitative extent their cellular reservoirs) can suffer huge losses by inactivation while still leaving a residue of millions of surviving particles potentially still infective. A virus then is a type of compressed module in touch with the whole of the cell's very ability to grow and divide to produce progeny cells and thus to evolve...

Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods. The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens ...

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted (below) as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus' sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. Indeed this principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms, covered in the prescient concept of “punctuated equilibrium”...

This now leads us to the crux and an important take home lesson of this review. While all viruses, when looked at closely, are exceedingly clever, the Retroviruses (family Retroviridiae) are up there with the most sophisticated and compact of all known viruses. These viruses and their elements (reverse transcriptase enzymes, associated with induced mobile retro-elements) now appear to be important viral-drivers of major evolutionary genetic change on Earth over the past few hundred million years ...

It is well known that a mass extinction event, or events, occurred at the end of the Ediacaran period about 542 million years ago. This was the immediate forerunner of the Cambrian explosion and the mass extinction scale suggests the passage of our Solar System through a Giant Molecular Cloud dislodging multiple long period Oort Cloud comets into the inner Solar System setting up impacts with the Earth... It takes little imagination to consider that the pre-Cambrian mass extinction event(s) was correlated with the impact of a giant life-bearing comet (or comets), and the subsequent seeding of Earth with new cosmic-derived cellular organisms and viral genes...

It goes without saying that Tardigrades, micro-segmented tiny eukaryotic animals, which emerged in the Cambrian period pose a serious challenge to traditional neo-Darwinian thinking...
Note: Appendix A to the paper discusses the theory of panspermia as it relates to the existence of a deity as ultimate progenitor for the creation of life.

Top image via The Carbon Pilgrim.   Bottom image via Yale Scientific.

You're right! He does look like Sir Patrick Stewart.

Found at the Pareidolia subreddit.

Baby's hand mummified by copper coin

The remains are currently on display at Hungary’s Móra Ferenc Museum.

From inspecting the tiny skeleton, Dr. Balázs determined the deceased was either a stillbirth or premature baby that died shortly after birth. The researchers concluded the child was 11 to 13 inches and weighed only one or two pounds...

The team concluded that before the child was placed in the pot and buried, someone put the copper coin into its hand. Many cultures in antiquity have buried their dead with coins as a way to pay a mythical ferryman to take their souls into the afterlife.

In this case, the copper’s antimicrobial properties protected the child’s hand from decay. Along with the conditions inside the vessel, it helped mummify the baby’s grasp. The team thinks this child’s burial may be one of the first reported cases in the scientific literature of copper-driven mummification. 
The rest of the story is at The New York Times.

Suburban lawns as ecological wastelands

Excerpts from a rant at Earther:
Americans devote 70 hours, annually, to pushing petrol-powered spinning death blades over aggressively pointless green carpets to meet an embarrassingly destructive beauty standard based on specious homogeneity. We marvel at how verdant we manage to make our overwatered, chemical-soaked, ecologically-sterile backyards...

“Continual amputation is a critical part of lawn care. Cutting grass regularly—preventing it from reaching up and flowering — forces it to sprout still more blades, more rhizomes, more roots, to become an ever more impenetrable mat until it is what its owner has worked so hard or paid so much to have: the perfect lawn, the perfect sealant through which nothing else can grow—and the perfect antithesis of an ecological system.”..

Up until the 1940s, we at least left odd flowers like clovers—which actually add nitrogen back to soil—alone. Then we figured out how to turn petrochemicals into fertilizer, Windhager said. “The new goal became to have a full monoculture.”..

According to the EPA, we use 580 million gallons of gas each year, in lawnmowers that emit as much pollution in one hour as 40 automobiles driving— accounting for roughly 10 to 18 percent of non-road gasoline emissions...

All America’s farmland consumes 88.5 million acre feet of water a year. Lawns, with a fraction of the land, drink an estimated two-thirds as much. Most municipalities use 30-60 percent of drinkable water on lawns.
Suggestions at the link regarding how to cope with neighborhood associations.

Clever analogy

19 May 2018

(no headline)

Polyurea flooring

If any readers have resurfaced a garage or interior floor with polyurea, I'd appreciate your thoughts (positive/negative) in the Comments.  Thanks in advance.
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