23 November 2014

Return of the Weekend Linkdump

Gotta do this.  Otherwise the links accumulate and multiply like coathangers in the closet.

Video of massive numbers of mullets (fish, not hairdos) becoming prey during their annual migration.

An introduction to the Paraguayan "Archives of Terror," which "listed 50,000 people murdered, 30,000 people disappeared and 400,000 people imprisoned."

In the United States, this year was "a record year for costume-buying, with more Americans than ever shelling out for children’s costumes ($1.1 billion), adult costumes ($1.4 billion) and costumes for pets ($350 million)."

Video of people annoying a giant anaconda.  The participants have been fined by local authorities, but the video does show the impressive size of the snake.

Halloween pranks by television weathermen.  See what happens when you stand in front of a green screen wearing a green-background skeleton costume, or if you just wrap a green cloth around your head.

Time-lapse video of the night sky captures the explosion of a bolide.

Apparently it's a thing now to create tattoos on horses by gluing glitter on the haunches.

Bergli Books (Switzerland) will publish a book exposing the "Asian Timber Mafia" that is devastating the rainforests of Borneo.

How to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Scary dashcam video - this one in the United States, not Russia.  A man driving at night encounters traffic cones set up as a roadblock.  Not done by the police...

Why you can't outrun a grizzly bear.  This video taken from a vehicle on level ground, but I've seen other videos documenting their incredible speed while running up a steep mountainside.

A massive resource for anyone interested in clothing of the Elizabethan era.  Links for everything from underwear to hats.  Worth bookmarking.
An interesting commentary on Vladimir Putin's recent speech at the Russian equivalent of the west's Davos summit.  "A Russian commentator named Dmitry Orlov... said of Putin’s contribution, “This is probably the most important political speech since Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of March 5, 1946.”" "This is the speech not of some kind of nostalgic empire builder — Putin dismisses the charge persuasively — but of a man genuinely afraid that the planet is close to tipping into some version of primitive disorder. Absent less adversarial international relations, we reach a moment of immense peril."

Scientists offer a biologic/physiologic basis for people's perceptions of the existence of "ghosts."

"A dying grandmother was granted a final wish of seeing her favourite horse one last time - after the animal was brought to visit her in her hospital bed."

Ethnic plastic surgery - "procedures outsiders generally view as deracinating processes, sharpening the stereotypically flat noses of Asians, blacks, and Latinos while flattening the stereotypically sharp noses of Arabs and Jews."

Hacks for air travelers.

An informed Reddit thread discussing whether (or to what extent) the recent Rosetta mission has changed our understanding of comets.

An incredibly massive and detailed reading list of history books.

"After becoming frustrated with the superficial standards his female co-workers were held to in regards to the way they dress, Karl embarked on an experiment to test these standards on himself. He wore the same blue suit every day. First for a week, then for a month, then for a year... no one has noticed; no one gives a shit.”
Obamacare premiums will rise next year.  This graph puts that in perspective.

A website offers links to 73,000 private webcams whose owners have not secured them with passwords.  You can peek at the warehouse floor.  Or the baby's crib.

A mother decries the names of some modern cosmetics: "More than once I’ve been in the gruesome position of having to discuss with my daughter the benefits of 'Orgasm' over 'Super Orgasm', or deliberating over palettes labelled F Bomb, Bang and Spunk. Having to ask the shop assistant for one of them takes the conversation to another level altogether."

The lady in this photo -

- does not know what the internet is, but she does understand what a "get well" wish is, and would like to thank everyone ("Who ARE all these people???") for their kind comments.

Top photo found at Reddit/imgur; sadly, today the cheese will stand alone, because the Vikings as a team are in no shape to compete with them.  

Thumbnail embeds via an entertaining collection of business signs at 22 Words.

16 November 2014

I'm shutting down TYWKIWDBI

Not permanently, but for an indefinite time period, probably extending through the holiday season.

On Tuesday, shortly after I wrote that last post, I received a phone call informing me that my 95-year-old mother had fallen and injured herself.  Evaluation at the University Hospital here confirmed that she fractured her humerus when she landed on her elbow, driving the shaft into the head at an angle.  She is now stable in an assisted living facility, but this combined with her dementia results in a variety of medical and social needs that require my attention.

I may pop back here every now and then to do a linkdump as a mental health break for myself, but I just can't justify spending hours per day blogging as I have in recent years.

Bye for now...

11 November 2014

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."

Archaeologists in Bulgaria have uncovered another "vampire grave" dating to the first half of the 13th century:
"The skeleton, thought to be of a man aged between 40 and 50, had a heavy piece of ploughshare – an iron rod, used in a plough – hammered through its chest. The left leg below the knee had also been removed and left beside the skeleton."
"A Raleigh County [West Virginia] man pleaded guilty Thursday to repeatedly faking compliant water quality standards for coal companies, in a case that raises questions about the self-reporting system state and federal regulators use as a central tool to judge if the mining industry is following pollution limits."  Apparently self-reporting of compliance with environmental standards is unreliable???  I am shocked, shocked...

Casebook: Jack the Ripper claims to be "the world's largest public repository of Ripper-related information."

This Reddit thread will link you to a complete scan of the first issue of Action Comics (the first Superman comic).

The BBC has a lengthy and well-written article on the history of lead intoxication in humans.

A video from 1947 explains why you should consider a career as a librarian.

One reader of TYWKIWDBI emailed me to report that the right sidebar was "vibrating" while he was viewing the blog.  I had not heard of such a problem before, but I located a webpage discussing this as an occasional problem related to the presence of the "followers" (I've retitled it "like-minded people") gadget in the sidebar.  This defect is experienced by users of Chrome browsers at certain zoom levels.

Is Crossfit a cult?

Ars Technica has a review of OSX 10.10 Yosemite.

A man who developed a deep venous thrombosis and a variety of complications from it explains why you should consider working at a standing desk or at least stop sitting at your desk for hours at a time.

Deformutilation offers three galleries of photos of a Tibetan sky burial.   Part I focuses on the "body breakers" who chop up corpses: "Hatchets and cleavers are used to make precise cuts in the flesh, which is then carved into chunks of 'meat'. The internal organs are then cut into pieces, the bones are smashed  and then mixed with tsampa, roasted barley flour. This pulverized bone mixture is then scattered on the ground the birds descending to eat their meal..." Part II is hereAnd Part III.  This donation of human flesh to the vultures is considered virtuous because it saves the lives of small animals that the vultures might otherwise capture for food."  I shouldn't need to warn you that the images are graphic.

You can use an apple corer to create "polka-dot pumpkins." Clever. We may try this next year. This and other ideas at Homes and Hues.

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a sphinyx from underneath sand dunes in California.

Because the UK does not offer assisted suicide, an elderly woman successfully starved herself to death.  "The former maths teacher, 86, did not have a terminal illness, but suffered a range of conditions that made her life uncomfortable including chronic back pain and fainting episodes."

Archaeologists have found evidence of a human campgrounds at an elevation of 14,700 feet (4,480 meters) in the Peruvian Andes, dating to about 12,400 years B.P.

The "Giant Rock" in the Mojave Desert is quite interesting.

In 1876 it "rained flesh" in Kentucky:
For several minutes, Crouch and her husband Allen watched as pieces of fresh, raw meat, some “delicate shreds as light as a snowflake” and others “a solid lump three inches square” fell from the sky. Mrs. Crouch said she was “impressed with the conviction that it was either a miracle or a warning.” The Crouchs’ cat, less concerned about meaning of the meat than his masters, "immediately gorged himself with the public breakfast so unexpectedly tendered to him." When it was over, the “Kentucky meat shower,” as it came to be known, left an area of the farmyard 100 yards long and 50 wide strewn with flesh. “Particles of meat” were found “sticking to the fences and scattered over the ground.” 
It was real, and not a prank.  A logical explanation is provided at Mental Floss.

The Telegraph offers a gallery of terrible real-estate-for-sale photographs, including this toilet-in-the-kitchen:

Top photo via Picdit.

The title quote comes from H. G. Wells' Outline of History (1920).

10 November 2014

The "drinkable book"

From the outside, "The Drinkable Book" looks like a normal book. It's about an inch or two thick, with 20 pages. But these pages do a lot more than convey information. Each page also serves as a water filter, a valuable tool for preventing waterborne illness in the developing world...

The pages are about a millimeter thick and contain silver nanoparticles. The silver can rid the water of harmful microbes, but has very little effect on humans... To use the book, you rip one of the pages in half, slide it into the filter box (which doubles as a cover for the book) and pour contaminated water through. After a few minutes, the [bacterial count] is reduced by 99.9 percent and is comparable to U.S. tap water...

The books cost just a few dollars to make; each piece of filter paper costs about 10 cents. The filters can last a couple of weeks, even up to a month. So the entire books could provide the tools to filter clean water for about a year.

Card manipulation

Not card tricks - just (literally) manipulation of the cards by people you wouldn't want to play poker with.

Via Neatorama.

Black members of Congress

Found at The Washington Post.

The "salmon cannon"

This week John Oliver presented a rather funny send-up of the "salmon cannon."  I think the original deserves to be appreciated in its own right.

The downnside of terraforming

Consider this scenario:
A large number of humans have been prenatally genetically modified to live and work in a nonterrestrial location (they require subzero temperatures for comfort, need a different atmospheric gaseous composition, etc).  Then the planet they were destined to live on is vaporized by a supernova; there is no equivalent alternate planet in the known universe.

Now they need another location, so all of them are transported to a partially-suitable planet which will then be terraformed to their requirements.  This will require thousands of years, during which they will enter cryo-sleep, waking in groups at intervals for habitat maintenance until the external world is suitably modified.

So far, so good.  But now suppose that after the terraforming machines have been going for a few centuries a cohort of colonists awakens to discover that their new planet, thought on preliminary survey to contain only primitive plants and beasts, is actually host to what appears to be a sentient creature.  And that sentient race is obviously being forced to adapt to climate change at a rate exponentially faster than normal planetary evolution. 

Are the humans ethically justified in continuing to terraform the new planet to their own needs if the process entails the genocide of the aboriginal inhabitants?
The story is The Keys to December, an 8,700-word (you can read it in an hour) novelette by Roger Zelazny, an acclaimed science-fiction author (Hugo Award x6, Nebula x3).  I first encountered this story a decade ago in the compilation The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth (Simon and Schuster, 2001). 

A brief review is here, along with the names of several other books that include it that might be available from your library if Doors of his Face is not.  If you insist on reading it online, the fulltext is here (in a somewhat awkward font).

What constitutes proper subject matter for postage stamps?

A couple weeks ago the Washington Post made note of some turmoil in the stamp collecting community regarding the selection of images to be used on forthcoming commemorative stamps in the United States:
As the U.S. Postal Service prepares to issue a stamp featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer next week, a postal expert whose 12-year term on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee ended earlier this year pleads with his former colleagues to resist the temptation to choose new stamp images “with the same profit motives as Big Macs, Slurpees, jeans or neighborhood tattoo parlors.”..

This airing of dirty laundry in the small but passionate stamp community... draws another fault line in an ongoing debate over whether the cash-poor Postal Service should pursue commercial stamp subjects to lure new collectors and revenue at the expense of more enduring cultural images...

The friction came to a head last fall, when the stamp panel grew concerned about how the Postal Service’s marketing staff was pushing pop culture that culminated with the release of stamps honoring Harry Potter...

“That said, while continuing to commemorate historic events and individuals, it is critically important that we offer subjects to interest younger generations and topical collectors into stamp collecting, such as Harry Potter, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and, most recently, Batman,” Saunder said.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuts at the National Postal Museum on Nov. 6.
I remember the Harry Potter stamp points of argument, which included not only the commercialization of philately, but also the "promotion" and "glorification" of witchcraft.  Then there was the controversy six years ago when a politically-correct stamp design took the cigarette away from Bette Davis.

I find it interesting that the current controversy over U.S. stamp designs follows by several months the apparently not-very-controversial issuance in Finland of postage stamps commemorating the artwork of "Tom of Finland," whose subject matter [see top image] is of a genre that would set off a firestorm of complaint in this country.  The Finnish stamps are available for purchase in the U.S., but of course not valid for postage here.

Last year the postal service in Finland issued a set of four stamps picturing the "prettiest outhouses in Finland."

Luxembourg tax shelters exposed

From The Guardian:
A cache of almost 28,000 pages of leaked tax agreements, returns and other sensitive papers relating to over 1,000 businesses paints a damning picture of an EU state which is quietly rubber-stamping tax avoidance on an industrial scale.

The documents show that major companies — including drugs group Shire, City trading firm Icap and vacuum cleaner firm Dyson, who are headquartered in the UK or Ireland — have used complex webs of internal loans and interest payments which have slashed the companies’ tax bills. These arrangements, signed off by the Grand Duchy, are perfectly legal.

The documents also show how some 340 companies from around the world arranged specially-designed corporate structures with the Luxembourg authorities. The businesses include corporations such as Pepsi, Ikea, Accenture, Burberry, Procter & Gamble, Heinz, JP Morgan and FedEx. Leaked papers relating to the Coach handbag firm, drugs group Abbott Laboratories, Amazon, Deutsche Bank and Australian financial group Macquarie are also included.
Lots of details at the link.

American plutocracy

A new paper by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics suggests that, in America at least, inequality in wealth is approaching record levels...
The top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and almost the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.
From The Economist, where the chart is interactive.  The phenomenon is discussed in greater detail in another article there:
Because the bottom half of all families almost always has no net wealth, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% is an effective measure of “middle class” wealth, or that held by those from the 50th to the 90th percentile...

The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record...

How the 0.1% spend their money

Sotheby's expects the bidding for this "supercomplication" watch to reach $17,000,000.

A video at the Wall Street Journal, which I can't embed, attempts to explain why this watch is worth that much money.  It doesn't address the question of why a person should spend this amount of money on a watch rather than, for example, improving the world in some meaningful way.

07 November 2014

Photos by Gordon Parks

Parks' resulting work appeared in a 26-photo spread in [Life] magazine. "The Restraints: Open and Hidden" stood out among photography of the era because it used color photos to document the day-to-day impact of Jim Crow segregation on an otherwise anonymous extended family, the Thorntons, rather than focusing on the heroes and flash points of the Civil Rights Movement. When part of the family was kicked out of its Shady Grove, Ala., home and run out of town as a repercussion, Life magazine donated $25,000 to help the family relocate. By capturing the quiet dignity and humanity of Southern blacks, the series highlighted the inadequacies of the separate but equal doctrine at a time when the country was consciously grappling with race.
Both photos credit Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta and Arnika Dawkins Gallery. © The Gordon Parks Foundation, via Creative Loafing where there are more photos and comments

17th century witchmarks

As reported in the International Business Times:
Witch markings dating to the 17th Century have been uncovered by archaeologists at a stately home in Kent and are believed to have been created to protect King James following the gunpowder plot of 1605.

Experts working at Knole house discovered the witchmarks in a room built to accommodate royalty. They had been hidden for centuries in beams and joists below the floorboards and on a fireplace in the Upper King's Room...

The witchmarks, or apotropaic marks, are carved intersecting lines and symbols believed to form a "demon trap" to ward off evil and prevent demonic possession. The marks include chequerboard and mesh designs, as well as interlocking V-shapes on the beams and joists – a symbol that stands for Virgo Virginum that invokes the protection of Mary the Mother of God.

Interesting things about chickens

Excerpts from an article in the November issues of Harper's:
Before World War I, the majority of eggs came from people keeping a few chickens in their backyards in the suburbs. Today, barns of 150,000 hens are run by 1.5 men on average (one full-time worker in a single barn, another split between two barns...

In nature chickens live in smallish groups in overlapping territories. They have complicated cliques and can recognize more than a hundred other chicken faces, even after months of separation. They recognize human faces too...

Their eyes are especially ingenious. Human eyes work together and focus on one location, but chickens’ eyes work separately and have multiple objects of focus. A hen can look at a morsel on the ground with one eye and scan the area for predators with the other...

There are in fact no federal regulations regarding the treatment of animals on farms. We’ve heard of the Animal Welfare Act, but it turns out to exempt all animals on farms. There are only two federal protections that do apply to farm animals — one for slaughter and one for transportation. The USDA exempts chickens from both.
Much more information at the article, including informed commentary on the ethics and practical necessities of egg production.
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