23 March 2017

Is there an error in this Constable painting?

The painting is "Wivenhoe Park" by John Constable, currently in the collections of the National Gallery of Art.

I first saw this painting about 30 years ago in a print that was on the wall of the office of a colleague of mine at the University of Kentucky.  After looking at the painting for a while, I initially concluded that the artist (world famous for his landscape portrayals) must have made an error in depicting the scene.  Nobody else seemed interested in the apparent anomaly, and I lost track of the painting (not knowing its title) until I encountered it again this past week.

I invite you to explore the image (it should enlarge to wallpaper size with a click) to see if you find anything that appears internally inconsistent in the content.

Wivenhoe Park is a real, not an imaginary, place - a country estate in Essex.  Two seemingly contradictory aspects of the painting have puzzled me.  Left center of the image there is a bridge spanning the watercourse:

The flow of the water is clearly from the left of the painting toward the right.  Now look downstream to where two fishermen are working their net:

This is presumably a gill net of some sort, spanning the watercourse from shore to shore, held up by cork floats.  They are presumably lifting it in segments to harvest any fish that have become entrapped.

But... the curvature of the net would be consistent with water flowing from the right of the picture toward the left, not left-to-right as the bridge at the left would indicate. 

It's a curious mistake for a landscape artist to make - especially an artist as skilled as Constable, and especially when drawing from life rather than from imagination.  I decided that for a painting as large and complex as this one, he must have made preparatory sketches and that his sketch of the fishermen must have been made from the opposite shore, then incorporated into the landscape "backwards."  I thought I found confirmation in this comment from an analysis at the V&A:
The artist rearranged the landscape to create a more harmonious image. For example, the lake and house would not have been visible in the same view in real life.
So perhaps a sort of "compositional error."  I considered other possibilities.  I found the location of Google Maps and zoomed in to confirm that the watercourse in the painting is remote from the sea, so the bowing of the fishing nets is not the result of tidal flow.

But now a different apparent anomaly bothered me.  The Google map confirmed that this isn't a rushing river.  It's not even a decent-sized creek.  In fact if you look at the pipe passing through the dam under the bridge, the flow is almost negligible.  So why is the net bowed?  It clearly goes from shore to shore, not in a huge circle.

The answer came when I tracked down one of Constable's sketches in the archives of the Victoria and Albert:

Now it's as clear as day.  The net is being dragged by 4-5 people on each shore (in retrospect they are visible on the far shore in the final painting).   I note also that the V&A entitles this sketch "Fishing with a net on the lake in Wivenhoe Park."  Not a river or stream - just a manmade lake (large pond, really) prettified by a wealthy landowner employing a landscape architect:
In order to evoke a sense of the picturesque the architect Woods introduced an arch and bridge specifically designed to look old...
End of story?  Sort of.  At least in terms of the faithfulness of the representation, Constable has been vindicated, and my original concerns are "much ado about nothing."

But now I'm interested in something else.  My (incorrect) impression from the painting was that it portrayed two fishermen as incidental elements in a landscape. Now the activity appears to be way more than a recreational pastime. This is a large crew - a dozen grown men dragging a lake for fish. On a private estate. These are hired hands - a crew assembled for this purpose.

This painting was commissioned by the Rebow family, so Constable incorporated aspects that would be important to the family - including their eleven-year-old daughter Mary driving a donkey cart on the hillside to the left (inset right).

The dragging of the lake must also be important, and I would therefore conclude that the harvest of the fish was significant (important enough to employ all the gardeners on the estate and maybe some hired hands as well.)

Which brings me to my final point (at last, and the reason for posting this long-winded entry in the first place) - aquaculture as a likely practice on English country estates.

After a lot of searching I found this book -

- not in my local library, but available fulltext online here.  Herewith some excerpts:
This book is being published in order to highlight a little-known aspect of animal husbandry in former times, namely the keeping, storing and cultivation of crucian carp (Carassius carassius ), carp (Cyprinus carpio), tench (Tinca tinca) and other cyprinids in man-made ponds... The construction of fishponds began across Europe, and increased rapidly during the twelfth and thirteenth century. At that time, fishponds were constructed on estates belonging to bishops, monasteries and royalty across England... The balance of evidence now indicates that fishponds were introduced into Britain after the Norman Conquest (1066) as a secular aristocratic initiative rather than a monastic innovation... The abundance of literary references to fishponds shows that their possession, along with mills, dovecotes and deer parks, was one of the privyleges of manorial landholders, a badge of rank as much as a practical utility... Many royal castles, palaces, manor-houses and hunting-lodges were equipped with fishponds... An account book for 1632–6 kept by the Duke of Suffolk’s estate steward records the cleaning-out of the Lulworth Castle fishponds at a cost of £9 4s 8d and the purchase of a ‘trammell nett’ (a long, narrow fishing-net held vertically in the water by floats and sinkers, consisting of two walls of large-meshed netting, between which a narrow-meshed net was loosely hung) for catching the fish... The fishing of Stonehead Lake in 1793 produced 2,000 carp ‘of large dimensions’, including one 8 kg specimen... By the 1740s the geometrically-shaped ponds associated with formal gardens were passing out of fashion. Some were abandoned, others altered, as revolutionary ideas of ‘landscape’ gardening encouraged the creation of larger lakes of more ‘natural’ appearance... Yet some advocates of agricultural improvement were still promoting fishponds as a contribution to the farming economy into the early nineteenth century... Frensham Great Pond was still emptied every five years for fishing-out as late as 1858...
Constable completed Wivenhoe Park in 1816, so apparently aquaculture was still a going concern at that estate.  I wonder if such efforts were revived during the relative scarcities of WWII.  I'd especially like to hear any input from British readers of this blog regarding this subject.

You learn something every day.

"Protruding iris collarette"

The iris collarette is a landmark that separates the central pupillary zone from the peripheral ciliary zone. It is typically flat but can be prominent, as seen in this patient. This finding is a normal variant. It is benign and asymptomatic and requires no treatment.
Via Neatorama.

"Climate security"

Memo to self: use the phrase "climate security" when discussing climate change with skeptics.
2016 saw a "dramatic" decline in the number of coal-fired power stations in pre-construction globally. The authors of a new study say there was a 48% fall in planned coal units, with a 62% drop in construction starts...

The main causes of the decline are the imposition of restrictive measures by China's central government - with the equivalent of 600 coal-fired units being put on hold until at least 2020... there have also been significant retirements of coal plants in Europe and the US over the past two years, with roughly 120 large units being taken out of commission.

"However abrupt, the shift from fossil fuels to clean sources in the power sector is a positive one for health, climate security, and jobs. And by all indications, the shift is unstoppable."
Maybe American politicians would respond more favorably to the concept of "climate security" than to "climate change."

Can't tolerate punches from cartoon kittens

A 17-year-old girl in California created a website "where users click on Donald Trump’s face to punch him with tiny kitten paws."
But what was meant as nothing more than a jokey website for coding practice has turned into a legal nightmare. Now Lucy is facing the wrath of the big man himself.

Three weeks after the site went live, Lucy was served a cease and desist letter from Trump’s general counsel stationed in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in NYC.

The letter, confirmed by the Observer, reads exactly as you’d expect a Trump C&D would. It begins touting him as a “well-known businessman” and television star and boasts, “As I’m sure you’re aware, the Trump name is internationally known and famous.”

Guided by a family lawyer, Lucy changed the name of the site to KittenFeed.com

When shall we meet?

From the archives of The New Yorker.

21 March 2017

Another type of chess "problem"

Broadcast media (movies, television) have persistent difficulties incorporating chess into their storylines without introducing errors:
There are a ton of chess mistakes in TV and in film,” says Mike Klein, a writer and videographer for Chess.com. While different experts cite different error ratios, from “20 percent” to “much more often than not,” all agree: Hollywood is terrible at chess, even though they really don’t have to be. “There are so many [errors], it’s hard to keep track,” says Grandmaster Ilja Zaragatski, of chess24. “And there are constantly [new ones] coming out.”

Chess errors come in a few different flavors, these experts say. The most common is what we’ll call the Bad Setup. When you set up a chessboard, you’re supposed to orient it so that the square nearest to each player’s right side is light-colored. (There’s even a mnemonic for this—“right is light.”) Next, when you array the pieces, the white queen goes on white, and the black queen goes on black. “When I teach six-year-old girls, I say ‘the queen’s shoes have to match her dress!’” says Klein.

Six-year-olds may get this, but filmmakers often do not. Along with The Seventh Seal, movies that suffer from Bad Setups include Blade Runner, Austin Powers, From Russia with Love, The Shawshank Redemption, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. Shaft and What’s New Pussycat may not have much in common, but they do both feature backwards chessboards.
Further discussion (re dramatic checkmates and tipped-over kings) at Atlas Obscura via Neatorama.

Compare and contrast

For your essay today, class, you will compare and contrast two of the leaders of major countries in terms of their knowledge about nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump's comments (on the left) can be viewed in this video.  Fortunately, at the time he was not speaking to Angela Merkel, whose doctoral dissertation (on the right) translates as:
"Study of the mechanism of decomposition with single bond breaking and calculation of their rate constant on the basis of quantum mechanical and statistical methods." ("Dissertation to obtain the academic degree doctor in a branch of science - diploma physicist Angela Merkel...")

Not untrue

From the archives of The New Yorker.

The ancient Greeks had no word for "blue"

Homer’s descriptions of color in The Iliad and The Odyssey, taken literally, paint an almost psychedelic landscape: in addition to the sea, sheep were also the color of wine; honey was green, as were the fear-filled faces of men; and the sky is often described as bronze.

It gets stranger. Not only was Homer’s palette limited to only five colors (metallics, black, white, yellow-green, and red), but a prominent philosopher even centuries later, Empedocles, believed that all color was limited to four categories: white/light, dark/black, red, and yellow. Xenophanes, another philosopher, described the rainbow as having but three bands of color: porphyra (dark purple), khloros, and erythros (red).

The conspicuous absence of blue is not limited to the Greeks. The color “blue” appears not once in the New Testament, and its appearance in the Torah is questioned (there are two words argued to be types of blue, sappir and tekeleth, but the latter appears to be arguably purple, and neither color is used, for instance, to describe the sky).
Further discussion in an interesting column at the Clarkesworld sci-fi e-magazine.

With a tip of the blogging cap to the elves at No Such Thing as a Fish for mentioning this in a recent podcast.

19 March 2017

"A Man Called Ove"

I watched this movie earlier this week and can unreservedly recommend it.
A Man Called Ove (Swedish: En man som heter Ove, pronounced [ˈuːvɛ]) is a Swedish comedy-drama film... The film was written and directed by Hannes Holm, and is based on author Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name. In the leading role as Ove is Rolf Lassgård. The film was nominated for six awards, winning two, at the 51st Guldbagge Awards in 2016. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling categories at the 89th Academy Awards.
It's clearly not a Hollywood-style movie, featuring a curmudgeonly older man rather than a superhero, in a story where nothing explodes.  It begins a bit slowly, until the viewer learns a bit of the backstory of the protagonist.  A pleasant diversion for an evening's entertainment.

Re universal health care

Via Reddit.

Word for the day: "Rotting Room"

Before the bodies of Spanish royalty are consigned to their gilded crypts, they are first consigned to a special chamber to allow the flesh to decay.
Rotting Room is the unglamorous translation of “El Pudridero.” When Felipe II designed the gargantuan El Escorial royal complex in the 16th century northwest of Madrid, he practically made it a shrine of death... Located behind the Pantheon walls, accessible only to monks at the Escorial monastery, this is a secretive room accessed by a private passage... It’s here where for at least 20 years mortal kings — and queens who birthed kings — decompose beneath lime until they are completely bone.

Centuries later, the Rotting Room is still in use.

Remembering the Metropolitan Blues All Stars

When I lived in Kentucky in the 1980s,  I had several opportunities to hear the Metropolitan Blues All Stars perform.  The group members came from in the hills of Eastern Kentucky; they came to Lexington for concert performances (or to Louisville for Lonesome Pine Specials as in the 1987 one embedded above).

I particularly remember Rodney Hatfield's prolonged harmonica riffs, and I have an old VCR tape with Caroline Dahl really rocking the keyboard; I understand she later moved on to San Francisco for a successful career there.

I wonder if any other readers here remember the group.  Miss C?

As reported by The Onion

For those unfamiliar with the publication:  "The Onion is an American digital media company and news satire organization... The Onion's articles cover current events, both real and fictional, satirizing the tone and format of traditional news organizations with stories, editorials, op-ed pieces, and man-in-the-street interviews using a traditional news website layout and an editorial voice modeled after that of the Associated Press. The publication's humor often depends on presenting mundane, everyday events as newsworthy, surreal or alarming.

And a backstory from Mother Jones.

Keeping foreigners out of the United States

As reported by Voice of America:
Each year, the University of Southern California brings delegations from Africa to meet with business leaders, government officials and others in the U.S. But this year, the African summit has no Africans. All were denied visas.

Visa issues are not uncommon for people traveling from African nations. During her prior three summits, Mary Flowers saw a high percentage of her attendees at the African Global Economic and Development Summit, unable to attain visas.

"Usually we get 40 percent that get rejected but the others come," said Flowers, chair of the African Global Economic and Development Summit. "This year it was 100 percent. Every delegation. And it was sad to see, because these people were so disheartened."

Flowers estimated that she lost about 100 attendees, including speakers and government officials. The countries affected included Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.
More details at the link.


16 March 2017

Chess problem

From The Telegraph:
The puzzle above may seem hopeless for white, with just a King and four pawns remaining, but it is possible to draw and even win.

Scientists have constructed it in a way to confound a chess computer, which would normally consider that it is a win for black.  However an average chess-playing human should be able to see that a draw is possible.  A chess computer struggles because it looks like an impossible position, even though it is perfectly legal...

The first person who can demonstrate the solution legally will receive a bonus prize.

Both humans, computers and even quantum computers are invited to play the game and solutions should be emailed to puzzles@penroseinstitute.com.

Hospital waste

I can verify from personal experience that the following account is basically true:
This, however, isn’t a story of about the crippling price of medical supplies. This is about the high cost of medical supplies that hospitals throw away.

On a recent snowy day the warehouse’s 65-year-old proprietor, Elizabeth McLellan, gave an indignant accounting: She yanked a urinary catheter out of one bin. It’s unopened and has an expiration date of July 2018. “There’s no reason to get rid of this.” A box of 30 new feeding bags has an August 2019 expiration date. The same type sells on Amazon.com for $129.

That surgical stapler? It’s unopened. The same model sells online for $189. And McLellan simply shook her head over a set of a dozen long thin laparoscopic surgery instruments that some hospital discarded. Similar used tools can go for hundreds of dollars.

“There’s nothing wrong with these, nothing wrong with any of these,” she said.

Ten years ago, McLellan, a registered nurse, shocked to see what hospitals were tossing out, began asking them to give her their castoffs instead. In 2009 she launched Partners for World Health, a nonprofit that now has four warehouses throughout Maine. Today, she and hundreds of volunteers collect medical equipment and supplies from a network of hospitals and medical clinics, sort them and eventually ship containers full of them to countries like Greece, Syria and Uganda...

MedShare, a Georgia-based nonprofit more than 10 times the size of Partners, sent 156 containers of discarded medical supplies to developing countries last year, each one worth as much as $175,000...

McLellan started her nonprofit after watching patient rooms being cleaned out at Maine Medical Center, where she was a nurse administrator. When patients were discharged, hospital staff threw out everything, including unopened supplies. McLellan got permission from the hospital’s CEO to put out bins to save the discarded items.

A year and a half later, she’d gathered more than 11,000 pounds of supplies and equipment in her house. Today, Partners has three paid employees — McLellan is a volunteer — and an annual budget of $357,000, most of it from individual donations. Hundreds of volunteers pitch in. Similar nonprofits have sprung up around the country...

And those pallets of adult diapers stacked high on a shelf? He sells the same type at his pharmacy for $11.99 per package or more. Farren recalled one time they picked up about 100 unopened packages of diapers from the home of a patient who had died. “It was ridiculous,” he said.
Further details at Salon.

"Heelwork" demonstrated

I remember teaching our dogs to "heel."  But heelwork at Cruft's annual show is a whole world different.

Here's the 2015 winner.

Via Neatorama, where there is also a video of the flyball competition.

14 March 2017

Future presidential candidate ?

He says no.  But lots of people are discussing openly the possibility of the Democratic party nominating a non-politician for the office of President.

The underlying logic would be that the president needs to represent the people, but he/she doesn't need to be an expert on law, or war or economics or education.  The president has (or at least should have) a staff and aides to provide analysis and expert opinions.  The president meets with other foreign leaders with a major role in diplomacy, and needs to communicate effectively with Congress and the people.

Michael Moore was the first person I heard who advocated this change, speaking just a week after Donald Trump was elected:
Moore, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union show, said the leadership vacuum that will result from the departures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would best be filled by a well-liked celebrity.

Democrats would be better off if they ran Oprah [Winfrey] or Tom Hanks,” said Moore. “Why don’t we run beloved people? We have so many of them. The Republicans do this – they run [Ronald] Reagan and the Terminator [Arnold Schwarzenegger] and other people.”

Moore continued: “Why don’t we run somebody that the American people love and are really drawn to, and that are smart and have good politics and all that?” 
A CNN article discusses the possibility of Oprah Winfrey campaigning for the presidency.  There is also a relevant article in New Republic.

Other celebrities who might consider running for political office (not necessarily for the presidency) include Will Smith, Roseanne Barr, Angelina Jolie, Kanye West, and Mark Zuckerberg.

"Traditionalists" who cringe at the thought of celebrities invading politics might do well to remember that (IIRC) one of the concepts of the Founding Fathers was that state and national legislators should be ordinary people who could put aside their hammers and plowshares and travel to the capitol to manage the country, then return to their work (although they themselves were elite aristocrats).

Photo credit Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, via.

"Deconstructing" a house

It's not the same as "demolishing" the house:
Deconstruction... entails taking a house apart, piece by piece, down to the foundation. The majority of what is removed from a house via deconstruction can be recycled or reused. Everything removed from the house and donated to a qualified 501(c)3 charity can be claimed by the property owners on their taxes as a donation at fair market value...

The deconstruction appraiser determines what materials can be salvaged and estimates the value of the donations. As the process unfolds, the appraiser prepares a report that lists every component to be donated and its fair market value; completes IRS Form 8283 for the donor valuing the material (the nonprofit recipients complete the form, too); ensures that the donor has the required documentation to claim full benefits from the donation, and stands behind all this if the IRS has any questions about the donation. The deconstruction company dismantles the house, sorts the materials and transports them to centers for recycling or resale...

Deconstruction costs more than conventional demolition because the materials need to be carefully removed and preserved in usable condition. Stahl says demolition might cost $8,000 to $11,000 for a typical house and take up to a week to complete. Deconstructing the same house might cost as much as $24,000, she says, and take two weeks...

Generally speaking, Smith says, “85 to 90 percent of a house can be recycled or repurposed. About the only things that cannot yet be salvaged or repurposed are drywall, rotted materials and broken pieces of ceramic tile or marble.”

What typically can be salvaged? The list is long: hardwood flooring, carpeting, interior lumber, beams, cabinets, appliances, molding and trim, doors, switch plates, light fixtures, ceiling fans, mantels, bathroom vanities, toilets, mirrors, tubs, shower surrounds, granite and laminate countertops, sinks, windows, vent covers, shelving, insulation, heat pumps, hot-water heaters, air-conditioning units, washers and dryers, screens, siding, slate roofing and sub-roofing, flagstone, bricks and decking.
Kudos to people who do this rather than bulldoze the old house.  More information, and a gallery of photos, at the Washington Post. (embedded photo cropped for size).

Remembering Gallagher

American readers of this blog who are of a certain age will very likely remember watching Gallagher on television in the 1980s.  He started his career as a conventional stand-up comedian, making use of his collegiate studies as an English major (!) to regale his audience with the oddities of the language...
"Con is the opposite of pro.  So Congress must be the opposite of progress."
And so on.  Then he found his shtick in physical comedy, and parlayed that into a series of television specials.

Tick bites can cause meat allergy

Not a connection one would logically derive a priori:
People living in tick-endemic areas around the world are being warned of an increasingly prevalent, potentially life-threatening side effect to being bitten: developing a severe allergy to meat.

The link between tick bites and meat allergies was first described in 2007, and has since been confirmed around the world.

Sufferers of “tick-induced mammalian meat allergy” will experience a delayed reaction of between two and 10 hours after eating red meat. Almost invariably, they are found to have been bitten by a tick – sometimes as much as six months before.

Although most cases of tick bites of humans are uneventful, some immune systems are sensitive to proteins in the parasite’s saliva and become intolerant of red meat and, in some cases, derivatives such as dairy and gelatine. Poultry and seafood can be tolerated, but many sufferers choose to avoid meat entirely.

Cases of the emergent allergy have been reported in Europe, Asia, Central America and Africa, but it is most prevalent – and on the rise – in parts of Australia and the United States where ticks are endemic and host populations are booming.
Further details at The Guardian.

Health care reform

From the archives of The New Yorker.

11 March 2017

Morelia viridis (green tree python)

Photo credit: Riau Images/Barcroft Images, via The Guardian.

Ahmadinejad's advice to Trump

I have previously posted a number of articles about former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who I think is a more complex character than the monomaniacal ogre portrayed by some Western media. When I last heard of him, he was a university professor.  Now he has established a Twitter account, and a Guardian article suggests that "it’s only a matter of days before we see him mention @realDonaldTrump, potentially sparking a clash of two of the world’s most famous rabble rousers."

He has already written an open letter to Donald Trump.  Herewith some excerpts:
To: His Excellency, Mr. Donald John Trump

The president of the United States of America

Hello there.
Your Excellency has been elected, in the recent US election, as the president of the country. It can be inferred from the political and media atmosphere in the US that the result of the election has been despite the status quo, and beyond the will and prediction of the governing body and the main system behind the scene of the US political stage...
Welcoming this and hoping it will have an effect, I hereby share some points with you, whereas I’d tried in the past to convey some important matters to the two preceding presidents, via letters...
This letter is by no means political, in the common sense of the world; nonetheless, today it is from a human to another human. The letter is from a humane standpoint, rooted in interest toward and compassion for the American nation and other nations, and I expect your Excellency to read it from the same perspective, adopting a humane approach...
Your Excellency and I are, like other human beings, servants and creatures of The Only God, and have been created for an eternal life. God has not created us for enmity, hegemony and aggressiveness. People are all equal and in terms of possessing land, wealth, God-given opportunities and human rights, they’re alike. The true essence of human blossoms through monotheism, loving others and making endeavors toward the well-being and prosperity of others...
Having been elected the US president is a historic opportunity primarily for the elected person and secondly for the electorates and other nations. Although four years is a long period, but it ends quickly. The opportunity needs to be valued, and all its moments need to be used in the best way.

Those elected by nations and the rulers should never consider themselves being superior to people, or being their masters and dominant over people’s affairs. The rulers’ capacity is but to be humble toward the people, to serve them, and to follow up their demands...

What outcome has meddling in other’s affairs and military deployments to other regions and imposing thousands of US military, security and intelligence bases across the globe had, except for insecurity, war, division, killing and displacement of nations? Have the measures brought about anything beyond hatred and animosity toward US leaders, notoriety for the US people and imposition of military expenditures?

If all governments want to show behavior similar to the US administration, which visible horizon of peace and security will lie ahead of the human society? Isn’t it better to stop warmongering and not to interfere militarily in other regions of the world, in order to create an atmosphere of international understanding and to end the arms race, war and killing of people?...
If Your Excellency takes the initiative to remove the deadly arms race and stop the military presence and intervention in other regions, the annual killing and displacement of millions of human beings will be prevented. If so, hundreds of billions of dollars of global military and security costs will be reduced, to be spent in the health, education and welfare of nations, as well as in reducing the social gap and other problems, and to uproot insecurity.

Hasn’t the time come for all of us to believe that the human society needs human thought, justice and brotherhood more than arms and military power? Arrogance is a devilish deed and the root cause of all problems in the human society. Hasn’t the time come to change arms to pens, and to replace arrogance, discrimination and hatred with love, equality and brotherhood?..
Women depict God’s beauty and are God’s most beautiful and valuable gift. Respecting women and dignifying them, is a sign of magnanimity.

The great men of history have paid the highest level of respect to women and recognized their God-given capabilities. Women’s role in the life and perfection of human society is special and in the best and highest form. Women’s management in domains of science, society, culture, etc. has been among the most precise and excellent...
I pray to God The Merciful for all nations and also for the people of US glory, prosperity, peace, freedom, justice and welfare and for Your Excellency, success in performing the heavy duty of reforming the structure of the US system and in responding to people’s demand.

And peace on the righteous servants of God

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In service of the Iranian nation

Fulltext (with English translation).  Photo credit Hamed Malekpour.

Related: Ahmadinejad's Christmas message.

"There IS graffiti on the wall" or "There ARE graffiti on the wall"

I encountered this sentence in a collegiate alumni magazine:
(1947) A Bulletin "agent" reports that graffiti have been scrawled on Claverly Hall: "Héloïse loves Abélard" on one corner, "Henry Tudor is insatiable" on another.
I know graffiti is a plural noun, but I use it as singular.  Am I in big trouble?  Apparently not...
In Italian the word graffiti is a plural noun and its singular form is graffito. Traditionally, the same distinction has been maintained in English, so that graffiti, being plural, would require a plural verb: the graffiti were all over the wall. By the same token, the singular would require a singular verb: there was a graffito on the wall. Today, these distinctions survive in some specialist fields such as archaeology but sound odd to most native speakers. The most common modern use is to treat graffiti as if it were a mass noun, similar to a word like writing, and not to use graffito at all. In this case, graffiti takes a singular verb, as in the graffiti was all over the wall. Such uses are now widely accepted as standard. A similar process is going on with other words such as agenda, data, and media.

The life of Apollonius

Apollonius of Tyana... was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Anatolia. He was an orator and philosopher around the time of Jesus, and was compared with Jesus of Nazareth by Christians in the 4th century and by other writers in modern times.
As summarized by Bart D. Ehrman:
Even before he was born, it was known that he would be someone special. A supernatural being informed his mother the child she was to conceive would not be a mere mortal but would be divine. He was born miraculously, and he became an unusually precocious young man. As an adult he left home and went on an itinerant preaching ministry, urging his listeners to live, not for the material things of this world, but for what is spiritual. He gathered a number of disciples around him, who became convinced that his teachings were divinely inspired, in no small part because he himself was divine. He proved it to them by doing many miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. But at the end of his life he roused opposition, and his enemies delivered him over to the Roman authorities for judgment. Still, after he left this world, he returned to meet his followers in order to convince them that he was not really dead but lived on in the heavenly realm. Later some of his followers wrote books about him.
More at Wikipedia.

Photo credit Christian Vandendorpe.


From the archives of The New Yorker.

07 March 2017

Divertimento #123

Video of a patient with severe Parkinson's Disease, before and after ingesting medical marijuana.  Impressive.

Fossilized trilobite eggs discovered.

"When [President] Roosevelt heard that a torpedo was zooming toward him, he asked to be moved with his wheelchair over to the railing so that he could see it. Fearing an assassination plot, the Iowa turned its guns toward the William D. Porter — however, the crisis ended when the torpedo finally detonated as it struck heavy waves created by the Iowa’s increased speed. Walter reportedly answered with a meek “We did it” when pressed. The entire crew was placed under arrest and sent to Bermuda to face trial — the first instance in U.S. Naval history that the entire crew of a ship had been arrested."

Intraoperative virtual reality may be useful in allowing lower doses of sedatives and hypnotics for surgery patients.

"Today saw the release of a new study from the Grantham Institute for Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative. It argues that solar photovoltaics and [electric vehicles] together will kick fossil fuel’s ass, quickly. “Falling costs of electric vehicle and solar technology,” they conclude, “could halt growth in global demand for oil and coal from 2020.” That would be a pretty big deal."

Explanation of the floating dry-erase stick man.  Impress your friends.

"The 588th was the most highly decorated female unit in [the Soviet air force in WWII], flying 30,000 missions over the course of four years -- and dropping, in total, 23,000 tons of bombs on invading German armies. Its members, who ranged in age from 17 to 26, flew primarily at night, making do with planes that were -- per their plywood-and-canvas construction -- generally reserved for training and crop-dusting. They often operated in stealth mode, idling their engines as they neared their targets and then gliding their way to their bomb release points.

Myths about what does and doesn't constitute treason.

"På väg mot vaken såg vi älgen göra flera misslyckade försök att ta sig upp själv. Den klarade heller inte att knäcka isen och ta sig in till land på egen hand, så min sambo, Sigrid Sjösteen, började ivrigt hugga upp en ränna in till grundare vatten. Vi turades om att hugga i omkring 30 minuter innan älgen var i säkerhet på land." (saving a moose frozen in a lake)

About those little dots on your car windows.  "Most importantly, it acts to prevents ultraviolet sun rays from deteriorating the urethane sealant."  And "there’s another group of dots on the windshield right behind the rearview mirror. As shown in the clip below, these dots, called the “third visor frit,” are there to help block the sun as it beams in from between the two front sun-visors."

Collector's Weekly has an extensive article on the history of model railroading.

Everything you need to know (or not) about the baton or truncheon (also called a cosh, billystick, billy club, nightstick, sap, blackjack). "The one for daytime was called a day-stick and was 11 inches in length. Another baton, that was used at night, was 26 inches long and called a night-stick, which is the origin of the word "nightstick"."

Someone did a detailed analysis of the most recent Super Bowl (LI) and determined that the ball was in play for a total of 16 minutes and 4 seconds.  "There were 178 plays (including kickoffs, point-afters, spikes, etc) with the average play being only 5.47 seconds long."

Dragonfly wings kill bacteria.  "...the bacteria are essentially caught in one of those sinister traps of which movie villains are quite fond. If they don't move, the bacteria might survive. However, when they do move, shear forces pull on the EPSs, ripping the membrane apart. This results in a fatal leakage of cellular contents, which causes the cell to deflate like a balloon..."

How to make ice cream from snow.

Why British roads are called "metalled" when they have no metal.  "Gravel is known to have been used extensively in the construction of roads by soldiers of the Roman Empire, but a limestone-surfaced road, thought to date back to the Bronze Age, has been found in Britain. Applying gravel, or "metalling," has had two distinct usages in road surfacing. The term road metal refers to the broken stone or cinders used in the construction or repair of roads or railways, and is derived from the Latin metallum, which means both "mine" and "quarry". The term originally referred to the process of creating a gravel roadway.

Pie chart explains pyramids.

"The paternoster is kind of elevator that consist of a chain of open compartments that move up and down continuously through the vertical shaft of a building in a loop and without stopping. Passengers step into the moving compartments in the direction they wish to go and then hop off when the elevator reaches the desired floor. There is no stopping in between the floors, and passengers must remain alert and get their timing right or else get severed."

China is now the world's biggest producer of solar energy.

Read about Mohamed Bzeek, a foster father who takes in children with terminal illnesses.
"Now, Bzeek spends long days and sleepless nights caring for a bedridden 6-year-old foster girl with a rare brain defect. She’s blind and deaf. She has daily seizures. Her arms and legs are paralyzed. Bzeek, a quiet, devout Libyan-born Muslim who lives in Azusa, just wants her to know she’s not alone in this life. “I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” he said. “I’m always holding her, playing with her, touching her. … She has feelings. She has a soul. She’s a human being.”

Apeirophobia is fear of everlasting life.

UNIT 731 (2015) "A research unit of the Imperial Japanese Army during the second Sino-Japanese War and WW2, who conducted human experiments and committed horrible war crimes. After the war, the U.S. government assisted in a coverup of their activities in exchange for the medical data they acquired."

"A Utah mother has received immense amounts of praise on social media for dressing up as a man to take her son to a "dads and doughnuts" event at his school... Kittrell said she became a single parent three years ago, and eventually asked her son if he wanted to take his grandfather to the event.  Her son told her no and that he wanted to take her because she was his mother and father."

An argument that the phrase "Dark Ages" is inappropriate.  "Far from being a stagnant dark age, as the first half of the Medieval Period (500-1000 AD) certainly was, the period from 1000 to 1500 AD actually saw the most impressive flowering of scientific inquiry and discovery since the time of the ancient Greeks, far eclipsing the Roman and Hellenic Eras in every respect."

The CIA has a Flickr account with a webpage with many albums of declassified maps.

The Bay of Bengal is dying.  "Many once-abundant species have all but disappeared.... Fish stocks have been decimated by methods that include cyanide poisoning. The region was once famous for its coral reefs; these have been ravaged by dynamite-fishing and climate-change induced bleaching. Yet the exploitation of these waters continues without check."

"Queen Elizabeth had her own “Watchers,” a network of agents who intercepted letters, cracked codes, and captured possible dissenters to protect the crown in secret. The queen’s network of spies formed the original surveillance state in the U.K., and she started it for good reason... When spying abroad, Dee signed each private letter to Elizabeth with the insignia “007”—a moniker that was later borrowed by Ian Fleming, writer of James Bond."

A mother saved her baby from a house fire by strapping him into a car seat and then dropping him from the second-story window.

"Soul-crushing facts about income inequality."

Why you shouldn't play dodgeball with a softball player.

"Technology can also allow people to access cars long after they’ve sold them, which is enough to leave any buyer uncomfortable."

"Hungry hungry humans."  A discussion thread suggested this was either a corporate team-building exercise, or a Mormon youth-group activity.

This Finnish resort bills itself as "the world's most enchanting Arctic resort."  I believe it.  Look at the photos and the videos.

"There have been rumblings regarding some sort of nuclear incident—or possibly incidents—in the Arctic over the last month. Multiple reports, some of them from official monitoring organizations, have reported iodine 131—a radioactive isotope often associated with nuclear fission—has been detected via air sampling stations throughout the region."

A waitress physically drags an unwanted guest from a restaurant. (this)

How to use a can of tuna to cook a dinner (clever, but I asked a friend who does long-distance hikes; he said he'd rather consume the oil than burn it)

This week's gifs:

This week's embedded images are winners of this year's Wellcome Image Awards, via Digg.  Info re subject matter and photographer/artist at the link.

The U.K. parliament debates a state visit by Trump

I communicate frequently with people in Scandinavia and Great Britain, and on occasion have offered my apologies for our country having placed Donald Trump in a position of authority.  One correspondent in England wrote back to note that he had signed the petition opposing a state visit by Trump.  He was kind enough to send me a link to the fulltext of the parliamentary debate, from which I excerpt the following:

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab)
I beg to move, That this House has considered e-petitions 171928 and 178844 relating to a state visit by President Donald Trump...

I thank the Petitions Committee for allowing me to introduce the petitions. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about their nature. One of them, which has been signed by more than 300,000 people, states:
“Donald Trump should be invited to make an official State Visit because he is the leader of a free world and U.K. is a country that supports free speech and does not believe that people that oppose our point of view should be gagged.”
The other petition, which has gained the remarkable total of 1,850,000 signatures in a few days and which has been much misunderstood, states:
“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”
That is a fascinating prospect. The first petition suggests that cancelling the state visit would in some way deprive President Trump of his ability to speak freely, when in recent days we have had a ceaseless incontinence of free speech from him—the man is everywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The other petition is saying not that he should not come here—he should come here, on business or other matters—but that he should not be accorded the rare privilege of a state visit. Only two Presidents of the United States have been granted a state visit since 1952, yet we are in the extraordinary and completely unprecedented position in which, seven days into his presidency, President Trump has been invited to have the full panoply of a state visit..
Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s response to Mr Trump’s perhaps ill considered phraseology, but what complaint did he make when Emperor Hirohito, who was responsible for the rape of Nanking, came here?
Paul Flynn
Many people have come here who have been less welcome than others; that is absolutely true. We have had people here who were very unsavoury characters—not from the United States, as it happens—but we certainly should not try to imitate the errors of the past. We should set an example by making sure that we do not make those mistakes again... It is extraordinary that Trump, from the cavernous depths of his scientific ignorance, is prepared to challenge the conclusions of 97% of the world experts on this matter. He makes a bad science conspiracy theory conclusion when, apart from the nuclear issue, climate change is the most important issue of our time. On the nuclear issue, Trump is almost unique in that he believes in nuclear proliferation. He is trying to persuade countries such as South Korea and Japan to acquire their own nuclear weapons. We know that the danger of nuclear war exists not because of the malice of nations but because of the likelihood that it will come by accident—by human error, or by a technical ​failure similar to the one that happened when one of our missiles headed in the wrong direction towards the United States in a recent test. The more nations that have nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that that problem will emerge and we could be plunged into a nuclear war.
Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the proposed ban is clearly completely absurd, there is something quite refreshing about a politician actually doing what they said they would do before they were elected? The [immigration] ban is ridiculous, but it is a reaction to the chaos caused in the middle east by previous generations of politicians, which in my view is far worse than anything that Trump has done, and for which many of the people in this Chamber voted. Where is the hon. Gentleman’s respect for the will of the American people?
Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP)
...the Prime Minister’s holding-hands-across-the-ocean visit would be difficult to match as an example of fawning subservience, but to do it in the name of shared values was stomach-churning. What exactly are the shared values that this House and this country would hope to have with President Trump? Exemplifying what shared values are is a process that is fraught with danger, but the Prime Minister tried it when she was Home Secretary. She said that they were: “Things like democracy…a belief in the rule of law, a belief in tolerance for other people, equality, an acceptance of other people’s faiths and religions.” Which of those values, as outlined by the Prime Minister, has President Trump exemplified in his first 30 days in office?
Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
Barack Obama waited two and a half years before he was invited on a state visit. George W. Bush waited three years. Nixon and George Bush Senior were never given a state visit. My question is what Donald Trump has done. In my opinion, all he has done since he has been President is insult the press, champion economic protectionism and try to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Are those reasons to grant him a state visit to our country?​ Secondly, a state visit is meant to be a celebratory event for people. However, millions of people have signed a petition to say they do not want Donald Trump to be given a state visit. Thousands have marched along Whitehall, in addition to the people across the country who say they would not welcome it. If we listen carefully we can hear the thousands of people outside the House right now, saying they do not want Donald Trump to come to this country on a royal state visit. We have a duty to listen to those people and give them a voice. If people from the Trump Administration are listening, I would say to them that that is not fake news. The people protesting outside are not alternative facts. The protests are real ones, by British people who do not want to give him a royal visit.
Paul Flynn
I will make just one more point. I believe that the debate went off the rails when some hon. Members suggested that the petitioners were asking for a ban on President Trump. Not one of the 2 million people is asking for a ban. In the largest petition, people are asking for the visit to be downgraded from a state visit. That is the whole point, namely that by giving this rare accolade of a state visit to President Trump the implication is that we approve of him and his policies. It is fine to have the President here and it is fine to have a visit on business—there is no objection to that—but this marvellous debate that we have had shows that we are reacting to the voice of the people, and to the anger and fear outside. It is a good day for Parliament.
Much more from the three-hour debate at this link

"We Are The World" (1985)

In the mid-1980s I took advantage of the new VHS technology to start building a library of video entertainment - especially classic movies and seemingly memorable sports events.  Those mostly-unwatched tapes traveled with me for thirty years from Kentucky to Indiana to Missouri to Wisconsin.  Now I'm at that point were I need to "declutter" my life, and the VHS tapes need to go.  Goodwill doesn't want them, so this winter I've been giving all my old tapes one "goodbye" watch just to sort of justify to myself the trouble and expense of having stored and transported them for so long.

Mostly it was a wasted effort. The movies are available now in better definition from the library and Netflix (except for some of the oldest Hitchcock ones that weren't that good anyway).  The Kentucky basketball and football games that were thrilling in 1988 mean nothing to me now (but I'll keep the Minnesota Twins World Series appearances, because they may never have another one).

Then there's the rock videos.  In that era I typically spent New Year's eve at home, and I used those occasions to copy MTV's "top 100 videos" of the year.  So for the last few evenings I've revisited 1985 and 1986.

Mostly it's a vast wasteland.  Video after video with enormously "big hair" and concert venue recordings.  There are some that break the mold and show some artistic innovation (a-ha's "Take on Me" comes to mind).  And then there was the embed above.  It was interesting to see how many of the soloists I could recognize (I think about 15 out of 20 or so, plus another half-dozen in the chorus).  But Dan Aykroyd? - maybe because of Blues Brothers?

Coincidentally I note that today is the anniversary of the release of "We Are the World," so here's some things-I-didn't-know (or forgot):
The first ever single to be certified multi-platinum, "We Are the World" received a Quadruple Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.

(Lionel)Richie had recorded two melodies for "We Are the World", which (Michael) Jackson took, adding music and words to the song in the same day. Jackson stated, "I love working quickly. I went ahead without even Lionel knowing, I couldn't wait. I went in and came out the same night with the song completed—drums, piano, strings, and words to the chorus."

The single most damaging piece of information is where we're doing this. If that shows up anywhere, we've got a chaotic situation that could totally destroy the project."

Quincy Jones' associate producer and vocal arranger, Tom Bahler, was given the task of matching each solo line with the right voice.

They were also greeted by Stevie Wonder, who proclaimed that if the recording was not completed in one take, he and Ray Charles, two blind men, would drive everybody home.

Despite the song's commercial success, "We Are the World" received mixed reviews from journalists, music critics and the public following its release. American journalist Greil Marcus felt that the song sounded like a Pepsi jingle. He wrote, "... the constant repetition of 'There's a choice we're making' conflates with Pepsi's trademarked 'The choice of a new generation'.

According to music critic and Bruce Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, "We Are the World" was not widely accepted within the rock music community. The author revealed that the song was "despised" for what it was not: "a rock record, a critique of the political policies that created the famine..."

Since its release, "We Are the World" has raised over $63 million (equivalent to $138 million today) for humanitarian causes.

04 March 2017

He helps his human with the hard words

Image cropped for space and emphasis from the original here.

"Rattleback" explained

Other videos here and here (QI).
A rattleback is a semi-ellipsoidal top which will rotate on its axis in a preferred direction. If spun in the opposite direction, it becomes unstable, "rattles" to a stop and reverses its spin to the preferred direction.

This spin-reversal appears to violate the law of the conservation of angular momentum. Moreover, for most rattlebacks the motion will happen when the rattleback is spun in one direction, but not when spun in the other. Some exceptional rattlebacks will reverse when spun in either direction. This makes the rattleback a physical curiosity that has excited human imagination since prehistorical times.

States without a river for any part of their border

I had never paid attention to the Montana-Idaho border, assuming that the squiggly line included a river or two - but it's just a line following the crests of mountains.
The separation between Idaho and Montana begins where the Continental Divide intersects the 111th meridian. It then follows the Continental Divide to the point where it intersects the Bitterroot Mountains. Here the crests of the Bitterroot Mountains becomes the boundary up to the Clark Fork River, where a straight line due north completes the border.
The history behind this border is discussed here (politics and maybe money involved).

Image via Vivid Maps.

Here's another Boston Dynamics robot


Big Dog (2009)

The Sand Flea (2012)

Atlas (2016)

Spot Mini (2016)

Deviant duck dicks

"As part of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, four of the world’s great thinkers were invited to give 24/7 Lectures. Each 24/7 Lecture was on an assigned topic. The lecturer was asked to explain that topic twice:
FIRST, a complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS; and THEN a clear summary that anyone could understand in SEVEN (7) WORDS."
Here's one example:
Lecturer: Patty Brennan (Evolutionary Biologist and Behavioral Ecologist, specializing in the morphological evolution of reproductive structures)

Complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS:
“In many species of ducks, males often fail to attract a mate, so they resort to forcing copulations on females. Males can sexually force females because their penis functions with an explosive eversion mechanism that quickly and forcefully inseminates females despite their resistance. Females, however, have co-evolved vaginas with dead ends and spirals that prevent full penis eversion when she is not receptive.” [Time called by the Referee]
Clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN (7) WORDS:
          “Deviant duck dicks foiled by fabulous vaginas.”
The other three (clock genes, time, fluid dynamics) are posted at Neatorama.

A profile of the Great Lakes

Via Vivid Maps.

Intimidation? Or free speech?

An anonymous blogger who uses the pseudonym “Doe Publius” knew he would stir controversy when, in July 2016, he published a “tyrant registry” listing the addresses and home phone numbers of 40 California lawmakers who supported a new gun control law in the state.

In California, courts have ruled that similar dossiers targeting abortion providers are tantamount to death threats. Publius published his list anyway. “These tyrants are no longer going to be insulated from us,” he wrote.

The post was quickly picked up on another gun rights blog, and within days, several of the named lawmakers reported receiving threatening phone calls and social media messages...

But on Monday, a federal court ruled that the “tyrant registry” was protected speech. In a lawsuit brought by Publius, Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California said the post and its republishing by another blogger were “a form of political protest.”
More at the Washington Post.

There are NO red pixels in this picture

Your brain sees the objects being bathed in blue light, so it compensates by adding a red that is not there.  The fact that the objects are strawberries accentuates the illusion, but is not a necessary feature.

Further discussion and explanation (and a photo with the "red" sampled to show that it is actually grey) at the source article in Vice's Motherboard.

Use cell phone while driving = lose your license

New drivers who are caught using a phone at the wheel will lose their licence under new legislation that comes into force today.

From Wednesday anyone found calling, texting or using an app while driving will face a £200 on-the-spot fine and six points on their licence.

It means that new drivers – who can lose a maximum of six points before being banned for the first two years after passing their test– will face an immediate ban for sending a single text message. 
Some additional details at The Telegraph.

Storm damage


The religion of Genghis Khan

"Eyewitnesses report that upon reaching the center of Bukhara, Genghis Khan rode up to the large mosque and asked if, since it was the largest building in the city, it was the home of the sultan. When informed that it was the house of God, not the sultan, he said nothing. For the Mongols, the one God was the Eternal Blue Sky that stretched from horizon to horizon in all directions. God presided over the whole earth; he could not be cooped up in a house of stone like a prisoner or a caged animal, nor as the city people claimed, could his words be captured and confined inside the covers of a book. In his own experience, Genghis Khan had often felt the presence and heard the voice of God speaking directly to him in the vast open air of the mountains in his homeland, and by following those words, he had become the conqueror of great cities and huge nations."

An excerpt from a book I've started reading - Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford. Quite interesting so far.

3-D printing of... a house

"Located in Russia, this 400-square-foot home (37 square meters) was built in just a day, at a cost of just over $10,000... The main components of the house, including the walls, partitions and building envelope were printed solely with a concrete mixture. Fixtures like windows and furnishings were later added on, and a shiny coat of paint added to the exterior of the house.  The house consists of a hallway, bathroom, living room and kitchen."
Note the equipment used in this process is portable.  Details and interior photos here.
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