24 April 2014

Vädersoltavlan (1535)


Excerpts from the Wikipedia summary:
Vädersolstavlan (Swedish for "The Sun Dog Painting") is an oil-on-panel painting depicting a halo display, an atmospheric optical phenomenon, observed over Stockholm on April 20, 1535. It is named after the sun dogs (Swedish: Vädersol, "Weather sun") appearing on the upper right part of the painting. While chiefly noted for being the oldest depiction of Stockholm in colour, it is arguably also the oldest Swedish landscape painting and the oldest depiction of sun dogs...

The medieval urban conglomeration, today part of the old town Gamla stan, is rendered using a bird's-eye view. The stone and brick buildings are densely packed below the church and castle, which are rendered in a descriptive perspective (i.e., their size relates to their social status, rather than their actual dimensions). Scattered wooden structures appear on the surrounding rural ridges, today part of central Stockholm...

According to the passage in the Vasa Chronicle, however, both Petri and the master of the mint Anders Hansson were sincerely troubled by the appearance of these sun dogs. Petri interpreted the signs over Stockholm as a warning from God and had the Vädersolstavlan painting produced and hung in front of his congregation. Notwithstanding this devotion, he was far from certain on how to interpret these signs and in a sermon delivered in late summer 1535, he explained there are two kinds of omens: one produced by the Devil to allure mankind away from God, and another produced by God to attract mankind away from the Devil — one being hopelessly difficult to tell from the other. He therefore saw it as his duty to warn both his congregation, mostly composed of German burghers united by their conspiracy against the king, and the king himself...

 In the painting, the actual sun is the yellow ball in the upper-right corner surrounded by the second circle. The large circle taking up most of the sky is a parhelic circle, parallel to the horizon and located at the same altitude as the sun, as the painting renders it...
There's way more at the extensive Wikipedia page on old Stockholm and the science of the parhelion.

Jeffrey Dahmer's home will not become a vegan restaurant

After discovering last week that the childhood home of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was back on the Akron, Ohio, housing market, the folks over at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals floated the idea of converting it into a trendy eatery...

Newkirk described how Dahmer would drug, bind, and slaughter his victims, refrigerating them to eat later, and noted that the horrifying violence he practiced did not end with his death (he was brutally murdered in prison) — billions of animals, she said, are similarly slaughtered for human consumption each year in the US.

“We are always looking for ways to draw attention to the violence inherent in the production of meat, eggs, and milk — which involve processes that would shock all but the most hard-hearted person,” the letter read. “Dahmer's old house gives us a way to evoke sympathy for these victims and to suggest that a life-affirming diet can change everything.”
There's more information at Vice.  Background on Jeffrey Dahmer here.

Photo credit Richard Lubinski.

"The United States is an oligarchy"

That's the conclusion of a recent study:
The US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country's citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful, a new study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities has concluded.
The report, entitled Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, used extensive policy data collected from between the years of 1981 and 2002 to empirically determine the state of the US political system. 
After sifting through nearly 1,800 US policies enacted in that period and comparing them to the expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), affluent Americans (90th percentile) and large special interests groups, researchers concluded that the United States is dominated by its economic elite.

The peer-reviewed study, which will be taught at these universities in September, says:
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
Researchers concluded that US government policies rarely align with the the preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying organisations:
"When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it." 
There's more at The Telegraph.  And see my previous post on this subject

For an extensive analysis, see the book "Pants on Fire: Cutting through the Biggest Lies of Twenty-first-Century American Plutocracy," by Paul Christopherson (one of my high school classmates) -
Pants on Fire explores the lies that govern America—why people go along with them and what it costs to do so. It reveals the plutocracy that benefits and examines what needs to be done to bring back a true democracy.
It's no secret: The wealthy demand—and get—what they want from the system at the expense of everyone else... These claims are driving the biggest economic crisis in modern history, and producing a society ready to explode with anger. Provocative and sometimes funny, Pants on Fire looks past the individual problems to the eventual, necessary solution.

"A good pool player is a sign of a misspent youth"


My father used to quote that phrase when we played 8-ball.

I don't know the origin of the aphorism (?Twain, ?W.C. Fields), but I did find this while searching:

"I spent half my money on booze, women, and gambling. The other half i wasted." 
--W C Fields


23 April 2014

"Big-hole golf" explained

The embedded image isn't an optical illusion.  That's Sergio Garcia retrieving his ball from a 15-inch-diameter cup on the putting green.
Mention 15-inch cups to a self-proclaimed golf purist, and their upper lip will quiver as their knickers bunch. “My forebears aimed at four-and-a-quarter-inch holes,” they’ll harrumph. “So it was, and so it shall ever be!”

Which, of course, is pretty much King’s point. With all due respect to golf’s timeworn traditions, the game remains so wedded to its established views that its guardians are blinded to the need for change. As a consequence, golf has become like the prostates of many of those who play it: it has a growing problem.

Participation is dwindling, down nearly 20 percent in this country over the last 10 years alone. While others have noted this troubling trend, King has taken outsize steps to reverse it...

...the enlarged hole isn’t meant for elite players. It’s aimed at juniors, newbies and assorted would-be golfers, those untold legions who steer clear of the game because they think that it’s too stuffy, too difficult, too boring, and the many more who have given up playing out of sheer frustration. Advocates of the 15-inch cup say that because it speeds up play and lowers scores (test-runs show that it shaves 10 strokes from the average golfer’s tally) it also has a place at easy-going tournaments and company outings. Behold the jumbo hole: a cure for the three-putt, an antidote to the five-hour round. 
There is big money behind this trend.  The "King" referred to above is Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade, a premium equipment manufacturer.

There is an explanatory video interview with King at Golf.com and more information at the Wall Street Journal and at Hack Golf.  The industry is suffering - there are fewer players, and golf courses around the country are being repurposed.  Changes are imminent and this appears to be one of the more interesting ones.  I'll report later on kickball golf and on the new "party hearty" driving ranges.

World's largest gold crystal

"The lump of gold, which weighs 217.78 grams (about 7.7 ounces), was brought to Los Alamos to confirm whether it was a single crystal of gold, or a more common multiple-crystal structure....

To determine the nugget's internal structure, Rakovan and his colleagues used two sophisticated machines: a neutron single-crystal diffraction (SCD) instrument, which determines the atomic arrangement of single crystals; and a high-pressure/preferred orientation (or HIPPO) instrument, which measures the crystal structure and the orientation of crystals in a polycrystalline material. These noninvasive techniques determined that the gold piece was, indeed, a very large and very rare single crystal of gold."

Refraction dramatically illustrated


The effect would also be dependent on the round shape of the glass. I don't believe the reversal would be seen if a rectangular aquarium were passed in front of the arrows.

Via Gerard Vlemmings' The Presurfer.

Cautionary notes re edible marijuana

From an AP article in the StarTribune:
Twenty-six people have reported poisonings from marijuana edibles this year, when the center started tracking such exposures. Six were children who swallowed innocent-looking edibles, most of which were in plain sight...

An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a significant contributing factor in the death of 19-year-old Levy Thamba Pongi. Authorities said Pongi, who traveled from Wyoming to Denver with friends to try marijuana, ate six times more than the amount recommended by a seller... Toxicologists later found that the cookie Pongi ate contained as much THC — marijuana's intoxicating chemical — as six high-quality joints...

For now, the industry is trying to educate consumers about the strength of pot-infused foods and warning them to wait up to an hour to feel any effects before eating more. Still, complaints from visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

"One of the problems is people become very impatient," Bronstein said. "They eat a brownie or a chocolate chip cookie and they get no effect, so then they stack the doses, and all the sudden, they get an extreme effect that they weren't expecting."
More at the link.

Factory roof vegetable garden

"Ailuo garment factory planted more than 40 varieties of vegetables on its 4,800 sqm workshop roofs. The harvest is enough to produce meals for all 200 workers in the factory canteen."
Text and image from Wired, via The Soul is Bone.

Photo credit Rex Features.

Methoprene vs. Aedes excrucians and Aedes vexans

Minnesota's mosquito season starts when the lakes are still covered with ice, because the mosquito larva can develop in snowmelt.  They have evolved adaptations that allow them to thrive up in the Canadian tundra, and thus are quite at home in Minnesota's climate.
The helicopters dropped pellets of methoprene, which prevents mosquito larvae from becoming flying, biting, breeding adults while leaving them available as a food source to other aquatic creatures, McLean said.

The targeted species — which carry the incriminating names Aedes excrucians, Aedes abserratus and Aedes stimulans — can grow into large, aggressive adults that can live one long generation, into late June or early July, McLean said. That’s when they’re usually succeeded by the daintier but more numerous and annoying Aedes vexans, a warmer-season floodwater-breeder.

MMCD workers actually attack mosquitoes through the winter, placing anti-mosquito materials by hand on top of ice in cattail areas. That stymies a species that lays its eggs on the water and develops while attached to the roots of cattails through the winter.
And, if that's not enough, "McLean said deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, are already out and “on the move” in thick underbrush and wooded areas."

22 April 2014

Bird prints on windows are caused by "powder down"


In the middle of April we experienced several days of truly bizarre behavior by a local robin.  Perched on the railing of the porch, or in the branches of a nearby juniper, he would launch himself against one of the windows.  Repeatedly.

These strikes were totally different from the rare high-speed bird strike that happens when the creature fails to detect the presence of window glass and breaks a neck.  These assaults were "belly up" flailing at the window, at low speed, and with true deliberation, repeated in series of dozens.

Had this occurred in midsummer, I would have surmised that the bird was chasing insects drawn to the window, but this was daylight with no house lights to draw insects (and essentially none present at this time of year).

Several windows of the house were "painted" with overlapping "bird prints" similar to the one shown above (via The Soul is Bone).
The imprints are caused by the bird’s powder down, a special type of down which helps feathers to grow. In some species, the tips of the barbules on powder down feathers disintegrate, forming fine particles of keratin, which appear as a powder, or ‘feather dust’. When a bird strikes a glass pane, the power is shaken lose and adheres to the glass.
We wondered whether the bird was mentally deranged, but finally found the answer after a brief internet search... (explanation below the fold to allow you to ponder the problem)

Reconsidering high school English classes

From an op-ed piece at Salon:
I’ve begun to wonder if this typical high school English class, dividing its curriculum between standardized test preparation and the reading of canonical texts, might occupy a central place in the creation of a generation of college students who, simply put, cannot write...

For years now, teaching composition at state universities and liberal arts colleges and community colleges as well, I’ve puzzled over these high-school graduates and their shocking deficits. I’ve sat at my desk, a stack of their two-to-three-page papers before me, and felt overwhelmed to the point of physical paralysis by all the things they don’t know how to do when it comes to written communication in the English language...

And so recently, I’ve started asking them: “What exactly did you do in high-school English class?” And whether I ask them as a group or individually, whether I ask my best students or my worst, the answers I get are less than reassuring...

Those who didn’t make it onto the honors or A.P. track hardly mention writing or reading at all. They talk about giving oral presentations and keeping reading journals evaluated with a big, meaningless check. They reveal putting on skits, reenacting some scene in a novel or play whose title they can’t recall. One student recounts a month of junior English class in which she and her classmates produced digital short film adaptations of the trial in “The Scarlet Letter.”

“Sounds fun,” I say to this student, a girl who would not know how to summarize a source or correct a sentence fragment if her life depended on it.
More at the link.

Some elevator doors have a "blue asterisk"


The Rod of Asclepius in the six-pointed star carries certain implications:
The symbol indicates that the elevator is big enough to hold a stretcher...
The blue symbol itself is modestly known as the Star of Life. Originally designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and trademarked in 1977, it’s since become the general symbol for emergency medical services...When it appears on an elevator, it typically means that that elevator is large enough to accommodate a 24” by 84” stretcher.
More information at Slate.  If such elevators are not available, the patient may need to be transported downstairs on a stair chair (basically a fancy furniture dolly.  See image embedded at right).


"Flower food" explained

What is cut flower food?

Q: What is actually in those packets of cut flower “food”? Is it just a preservative to make them last longer in the water? Is it possible to make it oneself?
--- Mrs Jeni Butler, via email

A: The contents of those little sachets is a mixture of sucrose (sugar), acidifier and something that inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Sucrose serves as a source of energy to make up for the loss of the functioning leaves and ensures continued development and longevity of the flower. Most water supplies are alkaline and can reduce the life of cut flowers, so the acidifier makes the pH of the water closer to the more acid pH of the plant’s sap. It also acts to stabilise the pigment and the colour of the flowers.

A microorganism growth inhibitor is perhaps the most important part of the “food”. Bacteria quickly starts to proliferate in the vase water (especially if damaged leaves are left clinging to flower stems prior to dunking).

Many gardeners/florists swear by various ways to keep flowers fresher for longer. But aspirin, wine or copper coins added to the water are apparently ineffective. Home-made concoctions are not as good as the packet stuff, either (according to the people who are in the business of selling flower food, anyway).

However, variations of the following recipe seem to be favoured by many. To make one litre of the solution...
Directions for DIY at the Telegraph source column.   I hope the "growth inhibitor" is a natural and not a pharmaceutical antibiotic.

Meskel Square (Ethiopia)


There are plenty of roundabouts elsewhere in Addis Ababa.  One wonders why not here.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.
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