29 June 2012

How Dracula resembles a monkey


The "Dracula" in question is a species of orchid.  These two photos are of the Ecuadorian Dracula simia.  For additional pix, including one of the European "monkey orchid," see the link at Why Evolution is True.

"Europe officials say al-Qaida-trained Norwegian is ready for an attack on West"

From the Associated Press, as cited by the StarTribune:
A Norwegian man has received terrorist training from al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen and is awaiting orders to carry out an attack on the West, officials from three European security agencies told The Associated Press on Monday.

Western intelligence officials have long feared such a scenario — a convert to Islam who is trained in terrorist methods and can blend in easily in Europe and the United States, traveling without visa restrictions.

Officials from three European security agencies confirmed Monday the man is "operational," meaning he has completed his training and is about to receive a target...
Next step: curtailment of the civil liberties of persons with white skin; this will complement the profiling currently underway on persons of color, and pretty much complete the dermatologic spectrum.

And the reason they release this broadly vague information to the public at large?  So that all of us will not only now become suspicioius of all white people, but we will also understand why we are being asked to submit quietly to authority.

It never ends...

Striptease


I honestly don't know if this is "safe for work" or not - it probably depends on where you work.  You'll have to take a peek and decide for yourself.

28 June 2012

Everyday life at Oak Ridge


Two images from a photoessay at The Atlantic's In Focus column, depicting life at the Oak Ridge (Tennessee) facility of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

BTW, I'll bet the kid in the top photo wishes he had kept those comic books.  That Captain Marvel, Jr. #31 from 1945 is listed at $150 on eBay right now.

Photo credit James E. Westcott/DOE (upper) and Ed Westcott/DOE.

How killer whales coordinate their attack


This is truly impressive.  To dislodge a seal from an ice floe, they don't bump into the floe (at the risk of even a minor injury to themselves), but rather create a wave that accomplishes the end result.  And they do so in perfect synchronicity. How do they learn when to dive in order to maximize the wave crest?  Wow.

"Will run for food"


As reported by the BBC:
A stray dog has completed a 1700km journey across China after joining a cycle race from Sichuan province to Tibet.

The dog, nicknamed "Xiaosa", joined the cyclists after one of them gave him food. He ran with them for 24 days, covering up to 60km a day, and climbing 12 mountains.
And he has those short little legs!

Addendum/amendment/clarification:  A tip of the hat to Nolandda, who found a report here indicating that while the dog "accompanied" the cyclists on their journey, it did not run the entire distance; they built a cage to carry her on portions of the trip  (and in fact some of the cyclists took the bus when the road was too steep).

John F. Kennedy demonstrates his exotropia


These two "photobooth" photos of JFK and Jackie seem to show the president with a laterally-deviated left eye.  A quick search this morning reveals a number of casual references to JFK having had a "lazy eye" (exotropia).

Photos from Retronaut, via Neatorama.

A "grannypod" in the back yard

A story in the New York Times details an alternative solution to caring for an infirm elderly parent. 
They ordered a MEDCottage — a prefabricated 12-by-24-foot bedroom-bathroom-kitchenette unit that can be set up as a free-standing structure in their backyard. It’s more than a miniature house — it’s decked out with high-tech monitoring and safety features that rival those of many nursing homes...

The cottage is laid out as an open-plan apartment with a kitchen area (equipped with a microwave, small refrigerator and washer-dryer combo), a bed area and a bathroom large enough in which to maneuver a wheelchair. The utilities and plumbing connect to the primary residence.
It's very expensive, but so is nursing home care:
The cottage costs about $85,000 new; Mr. Dupin’s distributors will buy it back for about $38,000 after 24 months of use. “If you compare it to nursing home costs, which can run $6,000 to $8,000 per month in Virginia, even higher in New York, that’s cheap,” said Mr. Dupin.

Of course, unlike nursing homes, granny pods don’t come equipped with 24-hour professional care and three meals a day. Hiring a health care aide (around $19 an hour) just during weekdays can easily add another $39,000 per year. But a growing number of elderly people — 88 percent of those over 65 — say they want to live in their own homes, in their own communities, as they age.
More details at the link, and at the company's home page.

How to circum-incise your weiner


Totally safe for work.

"Unreconstructed white supremacists - inbred, half mad, speaking zombie German"

Last week I was looking in my "Things To Do" folder and encountered a book review from the Atlantic that I had tucked away 18 years ago:
Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche, by Ben Macintyre (1992).
The intrepid Macintyre took a boat trip into the Paraguayan jungle in 1991 in search of the surviving inhabitants of Nueva Germania—an abortive "Aryan" colony founded in the late nineteenth century by the ghastly Elisabeth Nietzsche, racist sister of the philosopher. He found a weird village of unreconstructed white supremacists—inbred, half mad, many of them still speaking a kind of zombie German—and heard some curious and frightening stories about Josef Mengele. A true-life Heart of Darkness
It sounded fascinating at the time, and still does, so yesterday I obtained the book from the library.  If you've read it, please feel free to comment.

And yes, my TTD folder does have items 18 years old.  Sigh...

Addendum:  Hat tips to Hero for Hire and to Bub for leading me to this related video from Vice: Vice link.

Addendum #2:  See also this link found by Mark.

27 June 2012

Russian roulette for your next family reunion


Highlights from the championship of the World Egg Throwing Federation (it's real).

Discplines here (throwing, relay, Russian roulette, trebuchet).
Rules here.

Remarkable


You're looking at a photo of Queen Elizabeth shaking hands with a former commander of the Irish Republican Army ("Mr McGuinness was a senior member of the IRA when it killed the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten in a bomb blast in 1979.)  Via.

1,143,839,622,748,050,000,000,000,000 sonnets

Here are two of them:
When first the gods lie mounted on a tray
Life's word among the humanist reply.
This order ends the fruitless Roman way
See towns through peace, man's chosen alibi.

On frail death comes the lurid pageant-shows:
Some trail cut and a rustic honeybee,
The pleasing county dwarf, a brittle hose;
The one that learned should miss eternity.

That then was hailed The Perilous Frontier
While modest strangers name the newborn four
Will hopes on that regard today pass near?
Felled converts want the humorist Al Gore.

Transport the blood and educate this chum
The motions granted to the faceless bum.
And:
Dream on while students go into the fray
The shallow pen our immigrants defy.
The new-found milder terrorists sashay
To now abuse one charming, speechless Thai.

Afraid, these contemplate our highs and lows:
This balance-tried secure autonomy,
Truth-leaning ways, the fabled porticoes;
So time and tune shield art there honestly.

With haunted hope, if lethal traitors sneer
Where rows of streamlined tungsten men abhor
Do roadway portals splash that engineer?
The term's wrong value told the final score.

I touch clasped hands to batter on the drum
Tied fast on those the celebrants go mum.
Apart from the fact that there are an OCTILLION (10^27)of these, the even more remarkable fact is that all of them are anagrams of one another.

The process for creating them is explained at Octosonnets.

Clever (federal crime)


This mailbox was spotted in Maryland.

Mars now thought to have LOTS of water

Excerpts from an article at Smithsonian:
Despite claims in the 1890s that Mars was filled with canals teeming with water*, research over the past several decades has suggested that in fact, Mars has only a tiny amount of water, mostly near its surface. Then, during the 1970s, as part of NASA’s Mariner space orbiter program, dry river beds and canyons on Mars were discovered—the first indications that surface water may have once existed there. The Viking program subsequently found enormous river valleys on the planet, and in 2003 it was announced that the Mars Odyssey spacecraft had actually detected minute quantities of liquid water on and just below the surface, which was later confirmed by the Phoenix lander.

Now, according to an article published [June 21] in the journal Geology, there is evidence that Mars is home to vast reservoirs of water in its interior as well. The finding has weighty implications for our understanding of the geology of Mars, for hopes that the planet may have at some point in the past been home to extraterrestrial life and for the long-term prospects of human colonization there.
Surprisingly, the evidence used to reach this conclusion comes from analysis of "the amount of water molecules locked inside crystals of the mineral apatite" in meteorites that originated from Mars.  Discussion at the link.

* Can something "teem" with water?  (And "amount of water molecules" is also awkward.  Better copyediting needed).

How to conserve a box of cereal


Staff at the Smithsonian describe the steps they followed in preparing a box of Wheaties featuring Jim Thorpe for conservation and display.

A companion article briefly discusses Jim Thorpe's career and the reasons his Olympic records are not officially recognized.

"Throw 'em back"


It's been many years since I fished in Minnesota, so on a recent visit to the North Shore and north central part of the state I was bemused to see this sign at Leech Lake (a huge lake (>100,000 acres) with lots of muskies; according to the DNR "Muskie anglers averaged 1 fish/31 angler-hours, during the 2011 fishing season.")

But note, if you catch a musky and it's less than four feet long, you have to release it.

26 June 2012

Wedding makeup

Fatme Kichukova has her make-up applied during her wedding ceremony in the village of Ribnovo, in the Rhodope Mountains on December 11, 2011. The remote mountain village of Ribnovo in southwest Bulgaria has kept its traditional winter marriage ceremony alive despite decades of Communist persecution, followed by poverty that forced many men to seek work abroad. The wedding ritual was resurrected with vigor among the Pomaks -- Slavs who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule. The highlight of the ceremony is the painting of the bride's face, where in a private rite open only to female in-laws, her face is covered in thick, chalky white paint and decorated with colorful sequins. Muslims currently make up 10 percent of Bulgaria's 7.4 million population. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters).
 From a group of 37 photos ("Scenes from Bulgaria") at The Big Picture.

Some tick bites can lead to red meat allergy

This unexpected and intuitively unexpected correlation has been reported in the May 2011 issue of J. Allerg. Clin. Immunol.  Here are some excerpts from the abstract:
In 2009, we reported a novel form of delayed anaphylaxis to red meat, which is related to serum IgE antibodies to the oligosaccharide galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Most of these patients had tolerated meat for many years previously. The implication is that some exposure in adult life had stimulated the production of these IgE antibodies.... Prospective studies on IgE antibodies in three subjects following tick bites showed an increase in IgE to alpha-gal of twenty-fold or greater...

The results presented here provide evidence that tick bites are a cause, or possibly the only cause, of IgE specific for alpha-gal in this area of the United States. Both the number of subjects becoming sensitized and the titer of IgE antibodies to alpha-gal are striking. Here we report the first example of a response to an ectoparasite giving rise to an important form of food allergy. 
And from the discussion:
This evidence includes following the response prospectively in three cases, a strong correlation with histories of tick bites, epidemiological evidence that these antibodies are not found in regions where tick bites are rare, and the correlation with IgE antibodies...

Our original observation was that the distribution of anaphylactic reactions to cetuximab was similar to the maximum prevalence of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The major vectors of RMSF in this region are the ticks D. variabilis and A. americanum, and the geographic range of A. americanum has been expanding over the last 30 years, probably in parallel with the massive increase in the deer population...

Although many different patterns of tick bites have been reported, three forms stand out:
1. A few bites from adult ticks that persist for weeks or months, remaining pruritic. The most severe case of this kind reported having two tick bites removed surgically 6 months after the original contact.

2. Repeated bites often around the ankles in subjects who work outside or hunt regularly. In a few cases, the local reactions to the ticks have been so severe as to preclude further work outside.

 3. Multiple bites from larval ticks, generally 10 or more, but often hundreds, which are again severely pruritic, but generally do not last more than a few weeks...
Fascinating.  I would never have expected this.  For those interested, here is the distribution map of documented cases:


Via the discussion thread at Reddit, where some readers report their personal experiences with meat anaphylaxis and discuss methods of tick removal.

Lake Retba (Senegal)


Remember the photo of the potash mining ponds?  Here's a similar process occurring naturally in a lake in Senegal, where high levels of salt support the growth of a halophilic extremophile (Dunaliella salina) which produces a red pigment, turning the salty water pink.

The salt is harvested by local villagers.

Info from the Huffington Post, via Neatorama.

Why it's now o.k. to boldly split infinitives

We are no longer speaking Old English or Latin, with their single-word infinitives... Ænglisc-speakers could not have said "to boldly go", since the infinitive was a single word, "gān". They'd have had to say "gān bealde", or something like that. Similarly, Latin speakers wouldn't have had the option: they'd have had to say "ire audacter". (Forgive the probably awful Latin and Old English there.) But we're not speaking Latin or Ænglisc, so it's just silly to limit ourselves to the grammatical options available to them...

There are times when splitting is not just permissible but obligatory... If the quantity you are measuring more than doubles, where do you put your infinitive? ... [instead of] "to more than double", what would you suggest? "We expect it more than to double" or "We expect it to double more than"? The first is weird; the second is even weirder.
From an op-ed piece at The Telegraph.

Wolf-dog hybrids


A photoessay at English Russia makes note of the longstanding project at Perm to interbreed wolves and domestic dogs.
Attempts to cross dogs and wolves have been made since the time of the Ancient Rome. And only the project of the Perm wolf-dogs can be called successful... It started 13 years ago when Vyacheslav at his own risk and for his own money bought a two-years-old wolf Naida from the man who had been going to stuff her... The professor had been looking for a partner for Naida for 4 years. Eventually it became a male German shepherd... The hybrids were stronger, of greater endurance, they rarely fell ill and had an incredible scent. For example they can find a trace three days old while for ordinary dogs 6-8 hours is a limit.  They live 25-30 years, the wolf-dogs are easily trainable [the Wikipedia entry on wolves as working animals disputes the latter assertion]...Many of them already serve in the police, army: in Chechnya, Gelendzhik, Samara, Ural cities…

Woman buried with cow


As reported by the BBC:
Archaeologists excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Cambridgeshire say the discovery of a woman buried with a cow is a "genuinely bizarre" find...

At first it was thought the animal skeleton was a horse. Student Jake Nuttall said: "Male warriors might be buried with horses, but a woman and a cow is new to us." Co-director of the excavation, Dr Duncan Sayer, from the University of Central Lancashire, said: "Animal burials are extremely rare, anyway.

"There are only 31 horse burials in Britain and they are all with men. This is the first animal to be discovered with a woman from this period - the late 5th Century - and it's really interesting that it's a cow, a symbol of economic and domestic wealth and power...

"The cow burial is unique in Europe which makes this an incredibly exciting and important find.
Via Arbroath.

25 June 2012

"Here he is!"


Image cropped from source, via Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.

Venta waterfall (Kuldiga, Latvia)


The widest rapid (817 feet/249 meters) and waterfall in Europe, located on the Venta River in Kuldiga, Latvia.  I also found this video (narrated in Latvian), which documents some of the history of salmon fishing at the site:


With a hat tip to Aleksejs, one of the Latvian readers of this blog.

"Margin Call" (2011)


I was reminded of this Nonsequitur comic strip last night when I watched the excellent movie Margin Call -
The film received positive reviews from critics, garnering an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The New Yorker described the film as "easily the best Wall Street movie ever made." Although the film does not depict any real Wall Street firm, or similar corporate action during the 2008 financial crisis, Goldman Sachs similarly moved early to hedge and reduce its position in mortgage-backed securities, at the urging of two employees. Other firms like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns found themselves similarly and catastrophically over-leveraged in mortgage-backed securities. They scrambled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to manage the financial and public panic that ensued when their problems became apparent and the global financial markets plunged as a result. The character John Tuld (Irons) is loosely based upon Dick Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers.
- which probably wasn't noticed much by the general public because it doesn't have any explosions or special effects.  It does have consistently excellent acting (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci et al), and was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

How ammonites got their name

The name ammonite, from which the scientific term is derived, was inspired by the spiral shape of their fossilized shells, which somewhat resemble tightly coiled rams' horns. Pliny the Elder... called fossils of these animals ammonis cornua ("horns of Ammon") because the Egyptian god Ammon (Amun) was typically depicted wearing ram's horns.
Photo credit R. Weller/Cochise College.

Gasoline prices could drop to $2.50/gallon

One man's opinion, as expressed by an energy analyst speaking on Bloomberg TV.
The cause is two-fold, he said: the price of oil has fallen sharply recently due to over-production in Saudi Arabia and falling demand due to Europe’s economic slowdown is also a factor, said Verleger.

“Saudia Arabia really runs the oil market ... and the Saudis right now have several reasons for essentially overproducing, or producing more than the market needs, and pushing prices down,” said Verleger.
I filled up yesterday at $3.36, down about 15% from $3.90 back in March.  If it continues, it will boost the economy by freeing up money for discretionary spending.  And it would be good news for someone's re-election bid...

24 June 2012

Quvenzhané, star of "Beasts of the Southern Wild"


Excerpts from a review in Roger Ebert's Journal at the Chicago Sun-Times:
If there is one 2012 movie that seems to have a lock on a best picture nomination, it is "Beasts of the Southern Wild." And if there is a single reason its early viewers have loved it so much, it is an 8-year-old girl named Quvenzhané Wallis, who was six when she filmed it. Here is a case of a great role finding the perfect actress to play it.

"My computer has trouble pronouncing names," I told Quvenzhané not long ago in my living room.

"That's okay," she said. We worked together on a phonetic spelling: kwa van je nay. A beautiful name for this composed young woman, who deserves her own Oscar nomination, and whose nickname is Nazie.

The film is the feature debut of Benh Zeitlin, whose first short subject was made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It's set in The Bathtub, an isolated island area offshore from New Orleans, where the poorest of the poor scramble to survive. Shanties perch on stilts in the delta marshlands. A boat is made from the bed of a pickup truck. The world of prosperity could be on a distant planet. We focus on a girl named Hushpuppy, whose mother has disappeared, whose father is loving but sometimes harsh, and whose determination is indomitable. The feeling is post-apocalyptic, and there are rumors of another storm on the way, one that will flood the islands and their people.

"Beasts" opens on July 6, but is already famous in film circles. At Sundance 2012, it won the Grand Jury Prize. At Cannes, it won the Camera d'Or as best first film. At both, the small girl from Louisiana won hearts with her spunky, straightforward manner in the face of calamity.
Ebert's video interview with the young lady is at his column (8 minutes), where I also found the trailer for the movie -


- and this comment: "Anybody calls for Quvenzhané, I know they're calling me, cause that's one of a kind."

Things to release at a wedding

From Coolness Graphed.

Carnage in Syria

Mass media news outlets understandably filter out or suppress the worst aspects of war.  Most well-informed people are aware of the ongoing strife in Syria, but it's hard to appreciate the degree of atrocities without graphic images.

I found some photos today.  Most of you will probably be best advised not to view them.

Iconic Photos presents an image of the front page of the May 30 issue of The Times, which displayed one picture of a dead child with descriptive text; I have sequestered the text beneath the fold because it is very graphic:

Potash mining


Here it is (or at least a similar one) on Google Earth Hacks.

Photo credit Vision Aerie, via Uniformitarianism and A London Salmagundi.

23 June 2012

In case of emergency...


Created at The Keep Calm-O-Matic (where you can make one of your own).

With a tip of the hat to Librarianista.

"Vampire pumpkins and watermelons"


From Wikipedia:
Vampire pumpkins and watermelons are a folk legend from the Balkans, in southeastern Europe, described by ethnologist Tatomir Vukanović. The story is associated with the Roma people of the region, from whom much of traditional vampire folklore, among other unusual legends, originated.

The belief in vampire fruit is similar to the belief that any inanimate object left outside during the night of a full moon will become a vampire. According to tradition, watermelons or any kind of pumpkin kept more than ten days or after Christmas will become a vampire, rolling around on the ground and growling to pester the living. People have little fear of the vampire pumpkins and melons because of the creatures' lack of teeth. One of the main indications that a pumpkin or melon is about to undergo a vampiric transformation (or has just completed one) is said to be the appearance of a drop of blood on its skin.
The validity (or lack of same) of this legend is discussed at this Wikipedia talk archive page.

Photo credit ("I bought the melon at the Raleigh, North Carolina farmers' market and set it on the counter in an air-conditioned kitchen for four days, achieving the results photographed here. Upon observing the phenomenon, I wouldn't doubt that less scientific people supposed the watermelon had some relation to vampires.)

Via Biomedical Ephemera, or: A Frog for your Boils.

An unexpected danger of driving in a flooded area


Probably everyone is familiar with the risk of floodwaters lifting or pushing a vehicle when the vehicle enters deep water, but a different danger (and one new to me) was made evident during this past week's floods in Duluth.

As the city received a summer's worth of rain - nine inches - in one storm, the water cascaded down hillsides and roads, running beneath the pavement to undermine the support for the asphalt.  So even where there's not an visible washout or pothole, driving can be hazardous.

You learn something every day.

The flooding, btw, also wiped out a year or two's worth of steelhead trout from the area's rivers and streams because of habitat destruction and heavy sediment load in the water.

Native American genes found in Icelanders

This is significant because it would indicate not just transatlantic contact with North America, but migration or mating in the preColumbian era.
Although most mtDNA lineages observed in contemporary Icelanders can be traced to neighboring populations in the British Isles and Scandinavia, one may have a more distant origin. This lineage belongs to haplogroup C1, one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago. Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival, preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mtDNA pool at least 300 years ago. This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century...

If the Greenland and ancient European hypotheses are rejected, what we have is a woman who entered the Icelandic society from an extinct lineage of Native Americans, probably from the northeast (or perhaps her Greenland Norse mother was of this line). What the Norse would have termed Markland. It is tempting to point to the Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Perhaps the Europeans had enslaved a native woman, and taken her back to their homeland when they decamped? But more likely to me is the probability that the Norse brought back more than lumber from Markland, since their voyages spanned centuries.

Finally, does this explain Björk? I doubt it...
Original publication in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2010, via Discover Magazine.

Giving new meaning to the word "spearheaded"


As reported by the BBC:
Medics at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami said the 3ft (90cm) projectile entered his brain over his right eye and went out the back of his head... He was shot with the projectile as he swam in a lake near his Miami area home on 8 June when his friend set off the trigger of a spear gun he was loading.
Fortunately he was a teenager, and survived with little damage.

Heaven is hotter than hell

According to the Bible, as calculated in the August 1972 issue of Applied Optics:
The temperature of Heaven can be rather accurately computed from available data. Our authority is the Bible: Isaiah 30:26 reads, Moreover the light of the Moon shall be as the light of the Sun and the light of the Sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days. Thus Heaven receives from the Moon as much radiation as the Earth does from the Sun and in addition seven times seven (forty-nine) times as much as the Earth does from the Sun, or fifty times in all. The light we receive from the Moon is a ten-thousandth of the light we receive from the Sun, so we can ignore that.

With these data we can compute the temperature of Heaven: The radiation falling on Heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat received by radiation. In other words, Heaven loses fifty times as much heat as the Earth by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann fourth-power law for radiation
grate beyond power law
where E is the absolute temperature of the Earth: 300K. This gives H as 798K absolute (525°C).

The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed but it must be less than 444.6°C, the temperature at which brimstone or sulfur changes from a liquid to a gas. Revelations 21:8: But the fearful and unbelieving … shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. A lake of molten brimstone means that its temperature must be below the boiling point, which is 444.6°C. (Above that point it would be a vapor, not a lake.)
It's not clear to me whether Isaiah chapter 30 is describing Heaven or "Zion at Jerusalem" - fulltext of the chapter here.

Found in the Futility Closet.

Medici hairpin recovered from public latrine


As reported by The History Blog:
Conservators have discovered a four-inch gold hairpin that once belonged to Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II and Queen of France from 1547 until his death in 1559, in a communal latrine at Fontainebleau Palace. Archaeologists were excavating the Henry IV courtyard at the royal palace outside of Paris in preparation for an upcoming restoration project when they found the precious object.

The pin is identifiable as Catherine’s because it is decorated with a pair of interlocking C’s that look exactly like the Chanel logo but are actually her monogram from when she was Dauphine of France, i.e., married to the heir presumptive, between 1536 and 1547. When Fontainebleau Palace conservator Vincent Droguet cleaned the encrusted grime off the jewel, he noticed the remnants of a white and green finish in the monogram area. White and green were Catherine’s colors...

How it got there is and will doubtless remain a mystery. She had a royal commode of her own and it’s highly unlikely she would have used a communal latrine even under the direst of excretory pressure. Droguet surmises that the pin was either stolen by or given away to someone who then lost it or dropped it in the toilet.

How important is your work?


It's been over a month since I've visited sites I normally see every week, so today I found two Dilberts - the one above on the psychodynamics of the office, and the one below commenting on American foreign policy...


More here.

22 June 2012

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)


Two years ago and again early this year I posted photos of color polymorphism (an alba variant) in this butterfly.  Now I can finally present the full life cycle.

I found the eggs on common vetch growing in our back garden and brought them inside to keep in a small plastic container on my desk.  At first I wasn't sure what species they were, and even when the small green caterpillars hatched I couldn't quite tell.  As they approached full size (top photo), I was pretty sure it was the common Clouded Sulphur.  Most people are familiar with this butterfly, though perhaps not by name, because it is common and widespread (because it's able to utilize a variety of common legumes as hosts for the larvae).

Yesterday I posted images of the caterpillar forming a "J" (left) and then transforming into a chrysalis (right):


One particularly nice feature of raising butterflies at home is being able to watch the buttefly develop inside the chrysalis.  Here's the Monarch inside its now-transparent chrysalis:


It's truly beautiful, and watching it pop out and then inflate those wings is just magical.

So - here's the Clouded Sulphur inside its chrysalis several days before it hatched:


The head is at the top, with the wings folded over the thorax - exhibiting a beautiful pastel palette of colors.

And here (s)he is on the day of eclosion, holding onto a twig while the wings dry and become stiff enough for flight (double click for wallpaper size).  How can you not love those big green eyes?


Most butterflies prefer to keep their wings folded vertically when they are at rest; my guess is that this allows them to lift off more quickly if startled or attacked.  I couldn't get a photo of the dorsum of these wings, but you can see examples here.

Which countries have no mountains?

The World Geography has assembled a list of the nine largest (by area) countries that do not have a mountain.  That sent me scrambling to find a definition of a mountain:
There is no universally accepted definition of a mountain. Elevation, volume, relief, steepness, spacing and continuity have been used as criteria for defining a mountain. In the Oxford English Dictionary a mountain is defined as "a natural elevation of the earth surface rising more or less abruptly from the surrounding level and attaining an altitude which, relatively to the adjacent elevation, is impressive or notable."
So, which are the largest countries without a "mountain?"  Ponder your answer before peeking below the fold.  The one I guessed came out #5 on their list.

Known exoplanets


From xkcd, a graphic of the 786 known planets.  The eight in our solar system are just above the central text; the others are drawn to scale, sometimes with estimated sizes based on mass.

Via Neatorama.

Is it o.k. to put a gun to a child's head?

From a story reported by Reason (via BoingBoing):
At 7 a.m. on January 20, 2007, DEA agents battered down the door to Thomas and Rosalie Avina’s mobile home in Seeley, California, in search of suspected drug trafficker Louis Alvarez. Thomas Avina met the agents in his living room and told them they were making a mistake. Shouting “Don’t you fucking move,” the agents forced Thomas Avina to the floor at gunpoint, and handcuffed him and his wife, who had been lying on a couch in the living room. As the officers made their way to the back of the house, where the Avina’s 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were sleeping, Rosalie Avina screamed, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”

The agents entered the 14-year-old girl’s room first, shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl, who was lying on her bed, rolled onto the floor, where the agents handcuffed her. Next they went to the 11-year-old’s room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl’s eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, “frozen in fear.” So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.
The Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that putting a loaded gun to an 11-year-old girl's head was not proper:
While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals defended the agents' rough treatment of Thomas and Rosalie, it also declared that yanking the Avina children off their beds and putting guns to their heads did, in fact, constitute the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
This occurred during the Bush administration, and has been defended by the Obama administration.

And, disproving the old adage that "if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear," this closing note:
After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house—the product of a sloppy license plate transcription—and left.

Intrauterine laser resection of a teratoma


The ultrasound image shows the nasopharyngeal teratoma as a "bubble" protruding in front of the lip of the fetus.
The tumor was resected at the base using a 600 micrometer contact YAG laser fiber on continuous mode with 10 W of energy. A minimal amount of bleeding from the base of the tumor was controlled with a noncontact YAG laser fiber. The tumor fell inside the amniotic cavity, where it was left. The procedure lasted 68 minutes. There were no maternal or fetal complications.
Further details (fulltext) at the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, via the BBC.

I'm reinstituting captchas for comments

Six weeks ago I modified the settings of TYWKIWDBI to eliminate the annoying "word verification" step for comment submission.  Since then I have been deluged with spam - maybe 15/day just for "payday loans" alone.

I wish I could have Elisha unleash a she-bear on the spammers, but lacking that option, I've put captchas back on the comments.  Sorry, but cleaning the comments was wasting too much of my time.

21 June 2012

"Cat's cradle"


At our house, the term "cat" is used both for the four representatives of felis domesticus and as a verbal shorthand for "caterpillars," so I've misapplied the old phrase "cat's cradle" to title this post about the chrysalis of a Clouded Sulfur butterfly (Colias philodice).

One of the things that fascinate me regarding butterflies is the process of metamorphosis.  The transformation takes days, and during this time the caterpillar has to secure itself somewhere.  Some, like the Monarch, glue themselves to a surface and hang vertically:


- while others, like the Black Swallowtail shown here -


- and the Clouded Sulfur "proceed to anchor themselves with a silk attachement at the base and a remarkable silk strand enclosing the upper thoracic region, so that the pupa is suspended like a mountain climber hanging from a cliffside in a sleeping bag."

I have never been lucky enough to see this while it was happening, so I don't know how it manages to spin the silk around its body like that.

I also think it's very cool that the completed chrysalis (second photo from the top) has the shape and color of a leaf of the vetch on which it was created, helping to camouflage it during the time the larva is so utterly defenseless.

More about the sulfur tomorrow or this weekend.

Woman's oral mucosa penetrated by sperm from a squid

Here's the abstract from the Journal of Parasitology:
We report a case of oral stings by spermatophores of the squid Todarodes pacificus . A 63-yr-old Korean woman experienced severe pain in her oral cavity immediately after eating a portion of parboiled squid along with its internal organs. She did not swallow the portion, but spat it out immediately. She complained of a pricking and foreign-body sensation in the oral cavity. Twelve small, white spindle-shaped, bug-like organisms stuck in the mucous membrane of the tongue, cheek, and gingiva were completely removed, along with the affected mucosa. On the basis of their morphology and the presence of the sperm bag, the foreign bodies were identified as squid spermatophores.
Via Science 2.0, which offers this information:
Each spermatophore includes an ejaculatory apparatus, which can expel the sperm mass quite forcefully, and a cement body for attachment... In order not to leave calamari connoisseurs unduly freaked out, I should clarify two points. First, most Western squid preparations remove the internal organs and serve only the muscle, so there's no danger of accidentally ingesting spermatophores. Second, it's perfectly fine to handle spermatophores--just don't put them in your mouth.

Gary Oldman addresses athletes who want to act

Stem cells may survive beyond your clinical death

From a report published in Nature Communications and excerpted at Live Science:
Stem cells can remain alive in human corpses for at least 17 days after death... The researchers only had access to remains 17 days old, suggesting they have not yet seen the limits that stem cells can reach...

The cadavers in question had been kept at 39 degrees F (4 degrees C) to keep from rotting. The stem cells the researchers isolated give rise to skeletal muscle... Apparently the stem cells were able survive in the total absence of oxygen.

These stem cells in both dead mice and human corpses were dormant when discovered, with extraordinarily reduced metabolic activity, marking the first time scientists have found that stem cells were capable of such dormancy. The researchers suspect that chemicals given off after death, or the low levels of oxygen or nutrients in corpses, or a combination of all these factors, could have sent the stem cells into dormancy, helping them survive for weeks.
Via Neatorama.

Cordyceps on a tarantula


I've previously posted a David Attenborogh-narrated video of cordyceps in ant brains and emerging from a leaf-roller.  Now here it is affecting a tarantula, via BoingBoing.

Where is Elisha when you need him?


This is the now-famous video of students on a school bus verbally tormenting the older lady who was the bus monitor.  One of the students filmed the harassment and uploaded it to YouTube to show the world how cool they were.

The video was discovered by a Redditor and posted there with a "Call To Arms":
Her name is Karen, and she has been a widow for 17 years, has lived in the same town she grew up in and is about to have her 50th high school reunion in the same school district, and deserves so much better than the actions shown by those in this video. Let's figure out ways to show her that there are still good people out there...
Another Redditor set up an online Indiegogo fundraiser for her in hopes that enough donations could be collected to allow her to take a well-deserved vacation, which was picked up by 4chan and then HuffPo.  The response of the internet community has been overwhelming.

I couldn't watch more than two minutes of the ten-minute video.  Here's a summary, courtesy of Salon:
Over the course of 10 stomach-churning minutes, a group of students from Greece Athena Middle School verbally harass the 68-year-old Klein in a harrowing display of mob cruelty. It goes on and on and on, as the kids on Bus No. 784 call her a “troll,” an “elephant” and a “fucking fatass” with “ugly-ass ears.” When Klein tells them “Unless you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” a boy responds, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up?” When they goad her about the tears running down her face and she says, “I’m crying,” one of them replies, “Yeah, you’re probably missing your box of Twinkies.” They poke and prod her, and at one point a kid says, “If I stabbed you in the stomach, my knife would go through you like butter.” Appallingly, one of the boys told her that she’s so ugly, her kids should commit suicide. What he didn’t know was that Klein’s son really did kill himself 10 years ago. And throughout it all, her tormenters just laugh and laugh at their own cruelty, egging each other on.
Warning: it's even worse than the girl-scout-cookie-thieves video in making you want to wreak violence on the kids on the bus.

Addendum:  A hat tip to Aaron Scott for remembering a relevant Bible passage (2Kings 2:23-4):
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

"Ride 'em, cowboy!"


That's a bottlenose dolphin trying to shake loose an octopus that has latched on to the dolphin's genital slit.
The dolphin made two leaps before it shook off the cephalopod. "Whales have been reported on numerous occasions to breach," says Gonzalvo, "as a strategy to remove parasites and barnacles."
Found at New Scientist.

Tetrachromats

An average human... can 
perceive a million different colors... Our powers of color vision derive from cells in our eyes called cones, three types in all, each triggered by different wavelengths of light. Every moment our eyes are open, those three flavors of cone fire off messages to the brain. The brain then combines the signals to produce the sensation we call color...

Each cone confers the ability to distinguish around a hundred shades, so the total number of combinations is at least 1003, or a million. Take one cone away—go from being what scientists call a trichromat to a dichromat—and the number of possible combinations drops a factor of 100, to 10,000. Almost all other mammals, including dogs and New World monkeys, are dichromats. The richness of the world we see is rivaled only by that of birds and some insects, which also perceive the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

Researchers suspect, though, that some people see even more. Living among us are people with four cones, who might experience a range of colors invisible to the rest. It’s possible these so-called tetrachromats see a hundred million colors, with each familiar hue fracturing into a hundred more subtle shades for which there are no names, no paint swatches. And because perceiving color is a personal experience, they would have no way of knowing they see far beyond what we consider the limits of human vision.
The rest of this rather interesting story is at New Scientist.

19 June 2012

Image created with a single unbroken black thread


One of a series of portraits by Kumi Yamashita.
This body of work consists of three simple materials that, when combined, produce the portraits: a wooden panel painted a solid white, thousands of small galvanized nails, and a single, unbroken, common sewing thread.
To see a detailed close-up photo, click the link provided in AM's comment (below).

She also created a second set of images by taking "regular denim material" and "removing part of the weave."


Wow.

Via The Dish.

Russian road warriors


A compilation of clips from videos filmed by Russian dashboard cameras. The reason for the popularity of dash-cams is explained at Animal New York:
These fights happen all the time and you can’t really press charges. Point to your broken nose or smashed windows all you want. The Russian courts don’t like verbal claims. They do, however, like to send people to jail for battery and property destruction if there’s definite video proof...

Two-way insurance coverage is very expensive and almost completely unavailable for vehicles over ten years old–the drivers can only get basic liability. Get into a minor or major accident and expect the other party to lie to the police or better yet, flee after rear-ending you. Since your insurance won’t pay unless the offender is found and sued, you’ll see dash-cam videos of post hit and run pursuits for plate numbers...

And sometimes drivers back up or bump their pre-dented car into yours...

And then, sometimes, someone will jump under your car at a crossing, laying on the asphalt, simulating a badly hurt pedestrian waiting for that cop conveniently parked nearby. This dramatic extortion scheme was common, until the Age of the Dash-cam...
Watching this makes me think about the benefits of having a dash-cam.  I wonder how they work - do they "loop" the recording, and then you click to save the last couple minutes?

Warning:  violence.  Lots of it. 

Via BoingBoing.

Awkward costume


She is apparently supposed to be... (ponder for a moment; answer below the fold).  Safe for work, btw - just odd.

"Tactical urbanism" explained

From an interesting article at Salon:
Last week, a press release from Chicago’s Office of the Mayor proclaimed... a plan to get rid of the city’s “excess asphalt.”

It wasn’t a proposal for a big new park or recreational facility, but a plan to take little bits of public space here and there — streets, parking spots, alleyways — and turn them into places for people. It was the latest example of a municipal government taking an active role in tactical urbanism, that low-cost, low-commitment, incremental approach to city building — the “let’s not build a stadium” strategy.

For a long time, tactical urbanism was associated with guerrilla gardeners and fly-by-night pop-up parks, whereas large-scale “city planning” was seen as the job of bureaucrats with blueprints. But more and more often, City Hall is taking a more active (as opposed to purely reactive) role in these types of smaller, cheaper, localized efforts, and sometimes even leading them...

Today, cities have less money but more ways to communicate, two conditions perfectly suited to more focused, low-cost planning. Now you can home in on a specific neighborhood (or even just a few blocks), find out what the residents there want or need, cheaply implement it on a trial basis, and make it permanent if it works...

New York and San Francisco were early adopters, but Ethan Kent, vice president of the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces (PPS), says that until recently, such efforts existed as “a cool trend, but not the paradigm shift” that’s now transforming official policy...

“This isn’t just hanging flower baskets. It’s enabling communities to showcase their identity in the public realm.”

Bee sting evisceration

A photograph by Kathy Keatley Garvey captures a honeybee's sting, with its abdominal tissue trailing behind.
UC Davis communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey in the Department of Entomology said she has taken at least 1 million photos of honeybees in her lifetime, but this snapshot won the first-place gold feature photo award in an Association for Communication Excellence competition...

The images showed the progression of the sting, but the most interesting part was that the bee's abdominal tissue lingered behind, she said. "As far as I know, nobody's been able to record anything like this," Garvey said. She said the only time she's seen it illustrated was in a textbook.
Source (wait for it)... The Sacramento... Bee (link now dead). Relevant information and additional photos in the sequence at the photographer's post at Bug Squad.

Via BoingBoing, where I found this interesting observation in a comment:
Their stingers developed for defending their hives by stinging the rigid bodies of other bees and insects, not for stinging the stretchy skin of mammals. One bee can sting another bee/insect several times.
I didn't know that. You learn something every day.

A FedEx employee channels Lou Costello

Author Maureen Johnson needed to send a manuscript to Random House...
After filling in the forms and putting the object into a FedEx envelope, MAUREEN walks to counter and presents the object for processing.
FEDEX GUY spins package around, examines label, frowns.
FEDEX GUY: I can’t send this.
MAUREEN stares, waiting for further explanation. When none is forthcoming, she spins the package back around and looks at the label, because apparently she is going to have to figure out what it is that she didn’t put on it. Because it’s not just a delivery service-it’s a TEST OF WITS. Finding no blank spaces, she feels like a bit of a FedEx failure.
MAUREEN: Why?
FEDEX: (very disapproving look) I can’t send this to a random house.
MAUREEN: What?
FEDEX: I can’t send this to a random house. You need an address.
Now MAUREEN gets it. She can barely believe this wonderful thing is happening, but she gets it.
MAUREEN: Oh! No, no. It’s a publisher.
FEDEX: Yeah, but I can’t send it.
MAUREEN: Why?
FEDEX: I can’t send to a random house.
MAUREEN: No, I mean, it’s a business. It has an address.
MAUREEN points to the address on the label, under Random House, person to be delivered to, number, street, city, and zip code.
FEDEX: (in a “you need to listen to me now” tone) I can’t send to a random house.
MAUREEN: No, it’s called Random House. But it’s a publisher. A business. That’s its name.
FEDEX: I can’t …
MAUREEN taps furiously on address.
FEDEX GUY examines package for a minute.
FEDEX: You can’t send stuff like this.
MAUREEN: THAT’S ITS NAME. It is CALLED Random House, but it is not a random house. It is a business at that address.
FEDEX: But you can’t have random house in the “send to” line.
MAUREEN: I HAVE TO. THAT’S WHERE IT IS GOING.
FEDEX GUY knows that he has said “you can’t send to a random house” about six times now and knows repeating it will not help. Looks at Maureen like she is very, very stupid...
The rest of the story (which she swears is true) is at her tumblr

Via Neatorama.

18 June 2012

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)


I found several eggs on leaves of borage plants in our garden and didn't know what butterfly had laid them.  Borage is a common weed, and is used by a wide variety of butterflies as a food plant for their caterpillars.  I kept the leaves in a jar, and after a while some small black caterpillars emerged. began eating voraciously, and grew much larger.


They look ferocious, but were no problem to raise except for their copious, wet, messy frass that required frequent cleaning and changing of the container (other caterpillars, like the Polyphemus silkmoth ones, excrete dry little pellets that resemble pepper grains and are easy to clean up after).


When they were full size, the caterpillars climbed to the lid on the jar, hung in a "J" shape, and proceeded to undergo that remarkable metamorphosis that is endlessly fascinating to me - the formation of a chyrsalis.

I didn't know how long the conversion to a butterfly would take.  With Monarchs, it's easy to tell by looking at the outside of the chrysalis when the butterfly is ready inside; with these it was more difficult.  But all one has to do is wait...


... and voila!  One morning, there she is, wings hanging down.  By the time I found her she had pumped the fluid into the wings, which were fully inflated but not yet dried.  She was docile and not ready to fly, so she readily transferred to my finger for a portrait:


The pattern is quite beautiful and intricate close-up (much harder to appreciate in the field when she tends to be a blur of activity, but easier here where you can enlarge the image with a click).  She is closely related to the American Lady (whose life-cycle I documented two summers ago) and looks rather similar top-side, but on the underwings this Painted Lady has four eyespots on the hindwing, while the American Lady has two larger ones.

Painted Ladies are very common in the United States, and with Monarchs are probably the two butterflies most often raised in classrooms by small children.  Kits are available from Carolina Biological Supply and other sources; these contain food in the form of a sort of agar, which is all the caterpillars need for nutrition, so you don't have to scour the wilds of your neighborhood looking for food plants.  Raising them is a pleasant diversion for small children.  And for some adults.
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