18 September 2017

The world has an abundance of "Devil's Bridges"

The one in the photo above (that doesn't look real...) is the Rakotzbrücke at the Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau (Germany).  (summer photo)
Devil's Bridge is a term applied to dozens of ancient bridges, found primarily in Europe. Most of these bridges are stone or masonry arch bridges and represent a significant technological achievement. Each of the Devil's Bridges has a corresponding Devil-related myth or folktale. Local lore often wrongly attributes these bridges to the Roman era, but in fact many of them are medieval, having been built between 1000 and 1600 AD. In medieval times some Roman roads were themselves considered beyond human capabilities and needs, and therefore had to have been built by the devil.
List of such bridges and some legends at the link.

Is this the "worst ever" legend for a bar graph?


Ásatrú - the religion of the Vikings

Excerpts from an article at Iceland Magazine:
The religion of the original Viking settlers of Iceland, the old Norse paganism Ásatrú, is not just still alive and well in Iceland, it is undergoing something of a renaissance...

According to figures from Statistics Iceland 3,583 people belonged to Ásatrúarfélagið on January 1 2017, up from 1,040 members 10 years ago. The membership has grown by 244% since 2007, making paganism the fastest growing religion in Iceland over the past decade...

This growth has come in spite of the fact that unlike other religious organizations Ásatrúarfélagið has never engaged in any form of missionary work or proselytizing...

The weekly meetings of Ásatrúarfélagið are open to the public, as are all its official ceremonies, the blót...

Ásatrú has no prescribed dogma or scripture. However, you are however encouraged to read the Poetic and Prose Eddas written by the 13th-century chieftain and scholar, Snorri Sturluson. No one actually prays to the gods and how you might ask their intercession is entirely up to you. The gods are imperfect and not divine. They are seen more as friends and don´t judge us humans...

Ásatrú, as it has been practiced in Iceland, is a religion of nature and life, stressing the harmony of the natural world...

Many neo-pagan groups in Europe and the US who consider themselves observers of the religion of the Vikings, practice a religion which glorifies battles, militarism, masculine heroism and in some cases chauvinism, violence, intolerance and racism. Some white-power groups and members of Aryan Nation gangs practice these forms of paganism. Ásatrúarfélagið rejects this as a misreading of Ásatrú.

Long-distance macro lens

Due to hit the shops next year, the Laowa 24mm f/14 Relay 2x Macro lens has a rather long lens barrel that Laowa says can be used to shoot shy subjects at difficult spots without scaring them.
Explanatory video here.

Even more on the Equifax horror story

You know about the security breach affecting 143 million Americans.  You probably didn't know (perhaps don't want to know?) what Krebs on Security reported yesterday:
But the official list of victim countries may not yet be complete: According to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, Equifax can safely add Argentina — if not also other Latin American nations where it does business — to the list as well...

It took almost no time for them to discover that an online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: “admin/admin.”...

Once inside the portal, the researchers found they could view the names of more than 100 Equifax employees in Argentina, as well as their employee ID and email address. The “list of users” page also featured a clickable button that anyone authenticated with the “admin/admin” username and password could use to add, modify or delete user accounts on the system.

A review of those accounts shows all employee passwords were the same as each user’s username. Worse still, each employee’s username appears to be nothing more than their last name, or a combination of their first initial and last name. In other words, if you knew an Equifax Argentina employee’s last name, you also could work out their password for this credit dispute portal quite easily.

But wait, it gets worse... 
More details at Krebs on Security

This at a company whose business is credit monitoring and financial security, for fox ache.


Via the Hmmm subreddit.

Bespoke porn

Bespoke: In sense “custom-made”, 1755, from earlier bespoken (c. 1600), form of bespeak, in sense “arrange beforehand” (1580s).  Primarily used for tailoring, now also used more generally, as fancier term for custom-made, notably for software, as in a “bespoke solution”.
Most people are familiar at least with the concept of bespoke clothing custom-tailored to the individual.  Most probably are not aware that the pornography industry offers bespoke products.
It is very unusual to find second cameramen on porn sets these days: the internet is killing porn-makers who take pride in production values. It’s because the money is now in the pockets of the tech giants in faraway cities such as Montreal, owners of sites such as PornHub that are crammed with pirated content illegally uploaded by fans; PornHub is currently the world’s 38th most popular site.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been tracing the consequences of all that free porn. It’s laying waste to the Valley, compelling some actors to take up escorting, and putting crews and production companies out of business.  But... he explains that customs – bespoke porn – is a new growth industry in the Valley. In houses all around us, teams of professional porn-makers are staying afloat by conjuring into life entire films for just one viewer...

Dan plays me the flyswatter video. In it, a fully clothed woman becomes exasperated because there’s a fly and, to make matters worse, she’s misplaced her flyswatter. Eventually she finds it and spends the rest of the video swatting flies...

Next, Dan shows me a film commissioned by a client they call Condiments Man. A woman in a swimsuit sits in a paddling pool. Rhiannon stands above her, out of shot on a ladder, holding industrial-sized tubs of condiments. And she starts to pour them over her head: ketchup, relish...

Stamps Man, Dan says, is from Norway. He spent 40 years assiduously amassing a stamp collection, which he mailed to them for the purposes of the video.

Dan presses play. It fades in on a book of stamps lying on a living room floor. Three young women enter. They complain about it being hot outside and wonder if they should take a shower. But then they notice the stamp collection. They pick up the book and leaf through it.

“He would rather look at this stamp collection than have sex with me,” one of the women says.
“All the more reason to get rid of it,” her friend replies.

So the girls stomp on the stamps, twisting their heels into the pages. Stamps rip and tear. Then they throw the remaining stamps into the fire.

“Burn! Burn! Burn!” they chant. “This is so fucking awesome.”

“In real life, the girls felt bad about it,” Rhiannon says. “We kept trying to assure them, ‘No, this is really what he wants.’” She pauses. “He’s such a sweet guy. I’m very curious to know what he’s like in real life.”
Much more at The Guardian (safe for work).  This was also the subject of a recent podcast on This American Life.

13 September 2017

Divertimento #134

An interesting jigsaw puzzle.

"An 11-year-old Minnesota girl is recovering from bone-deep lacerations to her foot after being bitten, apparently by a large fish, on Island Lake north of Duluth.  Island Lake is home to large muskies and northern pike."

Annoying floor tile.

"The coastal areas of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, are home to tens of millions of pounds of dumped munitions, said Niall Slowey, a professor at Texas A&M University who has more than a decade researching the topic. That number includes 30,000 tons of chemical agents like mustard, that were dumped following the World Wars."

Unlike wine, whisky does not mature in the bottle.

Romanian waterfall.

"The Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes says that her drinking routine never deviates, remaining the same day after day.... prior to lunch she has a gin and Dubonnet, served with a slice of lemon and ice. During lunch she enjoys a glass of wine and, once evening arrives, the Queen sips on a dry martini, followed by a glass of Champagne."

Odd tattoo.

"Non Je Ne Regrette Rien" translated to English (video).  Marginally safe for work.

"For gulls in Chilean Patagonia, seal pup poop laced with parasitic hookworms is a tasty treat. But the eager birds are snapping up their meals just a little too near to the pups, to the detriment of the seals' tender rear ends..."

ELI5: If we are running out of helium, why are we still selling canisters for balloons?

"Nearly every day for the past 25 years, Arakawa has been diving into the waters of Hasama Underwater Park in Tateyama, Japan, to visit Yoriko—an Asian sheepshead wrasse.  (video)

The unexpected horrors of space medicine (especially space surgery).

Longread on a life well lived.

There seems to be no end to the problem of credit card skimmers at gas pumps: "... the first known example of a skimmer that used SMS messages to exfiltrate its stolen data. More usually, skimmers store their data, and then dump it over Bluetooth when a crook returns to the scene of the crime -- using SMS obviates this step and significantly reduces the criminal's risk."

"You don't need a parachute to skydive.  You only need a parachute if you're going to skydive twice."

"Between 500 and 1,000 shipwrecks were recorded around Quebec’s isolated Magdalen Islands."
(15-page photoessay at the link).  Interesting.

A scary article for anyone planning to vacation in Mexico.

How to fill multiple watering cans.

Clever husband.

"You will be exactly half as old as your mother only once in your life, and that is when you are the same age she was when she gave birth to you."

A man meets a mother grizzly bear and her cubs walking toward him on a narrow trail.  He films and narrates while he walks backwards...

Your facial blackheads may not be blackheads.

"No matter how much we love green energy, we have to admit that wind turbines completely destroy the picturesque landscape."

"How the CIA Came to Doubt the Official Story of JFK’s Murder."

"Harris Hawks are attacking walkers and runners after escaping from falconries across the country, with experts warning that the predators are now breeding in Britain."

Runners World explains "What you need to know about plantar fasciitis."

"Usually bodies emerged from the ice at the top of the glacier, rather than its “tongue” at the bottom of the valley, Jackowski said. The extent to which bodies have been preserved by the ice depends on the circumstances of the person’s demise, with some human remains having been mummified by sunshine and dry winds before being engulfed in ice, while others have been reduced to skeletons."

Annual Redhead Day in the Netherlands.

Young woman applies 100 coats of nail polish to her fingernails (video with 20 million views).

An example of how DNA testing can yield surprisingly unexpected results (longread, but interesting).

Webpage for the Democratic Socialists of America.

"Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a hoodie, the county mayor spent three days and two nights walking and sleeping among the homeless and drug-addicted in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood. One night on the street. One night in the shelter. His experience was "shocking" on multiple levels, he said."

"Out of public view, corporations are cutting deals that give consumers little choice but to buy brand-name drugs — and sometimes pay more at the pharmacy counter than they would for generics."

"Telling patients to stop taking antibiotics when they feel better may be preferable to instructing them to finish the course, according to a group of experts who argue that the rule long embedded in the minds of doctors and the public is wrong and should be overturned."

"... copper should not come in in direct contact with food or drinks that have a pH below 6. The pH of a traditional Moscow mule, made with lime juice, ginger beer and vodka, is well below 6.

Power washed.

Some men consider it necessary to prove their manliness by punching a bear trap with their fist.

Excellent license plate for a Chevy Impala.

Embedded images from Le Livre des Miracles (The book of Miracles)(1552), via Elisandre - L'Oeuvre au Noir.

12 September 2017


Via the Pics subreddit.

Worker shortage in Wisconsin

I first became aware of worker shortages in the Midwest earlier this summer when I was visiting the Minnesota north woods - an area whose economy is heavily dependent on tourist trade to fishing resorts.  Owners of those resorts rely heavily on immigrant labor for what amounts to seasonal employment.  The positions do not require skilled labor - waiting tables in restaurants, cleaning cabins, servicing the docks.  Few Americans want such jobs for a six-month period, but lots of students in Scandinavia for example are (were) glad to come to northern Minnesota for a modestly-paying job in a pleasant and familiar environment.  When immigration controls were tightened, many employers found such applicants less available.

The Wisconsin State Journal is now running a feature series entitled Workers Wanted: Wisconsin's Looming Crisis.  Herewith some excerpts...
Employers from a broad range of industries are reporting difficulty finding workers — and not only for skilled professionals such as nurses, welders and computer programmers, who require a strong education and training system, but also for workers with a high school diploma and some additional training at restaurants, farms, construction sites, factories, senior care facilities, retailers and other businesses...

There are already many state and regional efforts afoot to address the problem, though much of the focus has been on a "skills gap" — the shortage of workers for the advanced-skill jobs of the future that often require years of technical training — even as employers and economic development officials grapple with a much broader people shortage...

Wisconsin's 3.2 percent unemployment rate in July is near a record low and down from a peak of 9.2 percent in January 2010. That's well below what economists consider to be "full employment" — the level at which everyone who is willing and able to work is employed, or about 4 or 5 percent...

Wisconsin also has an aging workforce. Between 2010 and 2025, the 65-and-older population is expected to have increased by two-thirds, while the working-age population is expected to remain flat... The baby boomer retirement has been on the horizon for more than a decade, but the recession delayed some of its impact as older workers stayed in the workforce...

When employers say they can't find workers, what they often mean is they can't find workers willing to work at the wages and benefits offered... More than half (51 percent) of the jobs that listed a low-end wage listed hourly pay levels below the United Way's survival wage for a single person. Even among the jobs that listed a top pay range, 16 percent were below the survival wage...

Many employers around the state express frustration about the quality of the available workforce. They complain about new hires lacking minimal "employability" traits such as showing up for work on time, dressing appropriately and basic communication. Some describe applicants who won't return phone calls yet continue to apply for jobs elsewhere, possibly to fulfill the state's new requirements for receiving unemployment benefits...

Other factors contributing to the worker shortage in Wisconsin may include national immigration policy — though the national immigrant workforce has continued to grow steadily — rising incarceration rates, the growing opiate drug epidemic and a geographic mismatch in where workers and jobs are located, particularly between Milwaukee and its suburbs.

Low-income workers might lack access to transportation and child care, making it harder to work or receive training. In some cases the potential loss of public benefits or garnished child support payments make working for $10 to $12 an hour less appealing...

To milk his 70 cows he’s employed a few part- and full-time workers over the years. But hiring has become more challenging — there has been some decline in available immigrant labor and young workers too often spend time fixated on their phones, De Buhr said... In the past few years he raised hourly wages from $8 to $10 an hour, but workers are asking for as much as $14 an hour now, a sign of the tight labor market and the economic reality of how difficult it is to live on less... So in April, De Buhr cut out the need for two workers entirely by paying $200,000 for a robotic milker.. “It’s milking 24/7 and I don’t have to worry about somebody not showing up,” De Buhr said. “You can mess a herd of cows up in a big hurry if they’re not milked in a timely manner.”..

He worries if nursing homes can’t find quality workers “more and more seniors are going to be turned away from assisted living.” “I hate to say it, but you’re hiring the best of the worst,” Ammons said. “The cream of the crop are genuinely taken. No matter who walks through your door there’s one eye open about: ‘Why are you not working?’”
Much more at the links.

Related:  "An Ohio factory owner said Saturday that though she has blue-collar jobs available at her company, she struggles to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests.
Regina Mitchell, a co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test... "We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we're moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air."  [according to the NYT, she solved the problem by taking unqualified people and training them]

Photo credit: John Hart, State Journal.

Failing the "robot test"

Abstract expressionism vs. Minimalism


You can place me in the category of people who think a lot of "art" is bunk, but having said that, I have to admit that in this video Elisabeth Sherman from the Whitney explains the opposite viewpoint quite lucidly and persuasively.

p.s. to other bloggers - in recent weeks, YouTube seems to have altered their "sharing" options.  In particular, I seem to be unable to download videos at the greater (?650) width that was previously an option.  The "embed" link now always defaults to 560x315. 

Visitation stones

Photographed while walking past the historic Forest Hill Cemetery* in Madison, Wisconsin.  I had to look up some background on the custom.
One of the most common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the gravesite of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting...

The origin of this custom began long ago, when... the body would be placed in the ground, covered with dirt and then large stones would be placed atop the gravesite, preventing wild animals from destroying the remains.

Over time, individuals would go back to the gravesite and continue to place stones, ensuring the security of the site and as a way to build up the “memory” of the loved one...

Another explanation of this custom is derived from the phrase often inscribed on a headstone that reads: t’hey nishmato tsurura b’tsor hachayim (may the soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life). Interestingly, the word tsurura (bound) is related to the word tsur, a pebble kept by shepherds in their slings to keep track of the number of sheep in the herd. 
More information at the Jewish Cemetery Association website.

Related: This morning while running errands I was listening to podcast #180 of No Such Thing As A Fish.  They mentioned a headstone inscribed "You will always be remembered, never forgotten."  It had been left behind at a Dublin airport...

* see also Confederate graveyard - in Wisconsin!

10 September 2017

Best summary of Hurricane Irma status


I don't know who this guy is, but he's good.  This is not an official NWS presentation; he appears to be a well-informed enthusiast on tropical weather.  His presentation is fast and concise.

That's in contrast to the national news media reporters who have to stand out in the wind and "fill airtime" with repetitive and worthless drivel.  I was pleased to see a Hurricane Harvey victim talk back to a CNN reporter:
“Yeah, that’s a lot of shit. But y’all sitting here, y’all trying to interview people during their worst times. Like, that’s not the smartest thing to do.” (“Sorry,” began Flores.) “Like, people are really breaking down, and y’all sitting here with cameras and microphones trying to ask us, ‘What the fuck is wrong with us?’ (“I’m so sorry. . . . ”) And you’re really trying to understand with the microphone still in my face. When she’s shivering cold and my kid’s wet and you still putting a microphone in my face!”
Then a day or two ago a CBS reporter on the nationally-broadcast evening news covering Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys asked a fisherman - and I quote -
"What would it do to your bottom line if you lost your boats?"
What would it do to "your bottom line" if you didn't have boats??? She asked this question of a commercial fisherman, for fox ache.

I've given up on television coverage.  I found the above video in this tropical weather live thread.

And here is the Tropical Tidbits blog by Levi, who produced the video summary I embedded above. 

Addendum:  If you have family or friends on the Florida coast (or other coastline anywhere in the world apparently), you can look up their height above sea level by plugging their address into ElevationMap.
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