17 October 2017

Divertimento #137

Another gifdump, because readers like them, it's quick, and I have yard chores to do.

Girl opens can of beer; frat boys approve.

A hideaway bunk bed.

A shrew leads her babies.


Fore-edge painting on book pages.

Football fans at University of Iowa wave at the children in the hospital.

I normally don't post "fail gifs," but I'll make an exception for this one.

A man and his hummingbird.  And a frustrated hummingbird.

Temporary tattoo printer (with discussion thread re possible problems).

"Halo" for a blind dog.

Apparently normal behavior for an ostrich.

Oiling a hardwood floor.

At a concert in the Netherlands.

Blowing a compact disc bubble.

Heimlich maneuver Halloween costume.

How rainfall generates aerosols (i.e. why you can smell a dusty road when it starts to sprinkle).

How firemen wind up hoses.

Smart bird.

Gas station manager explains that you shouldn't smoke while filling your gas tank.

Japanese soap dispenser.

Using acid to remove rust from a bolt.

Making a wooden bowl on a lathe.

Watch that first step...

How a cheetah runs.  Impressive.

Train crossing barrier apparently not calibrated for high-speed train.

Bar trick with a cloth napkin.

Sphalerite cut as a gemstone.

Frosting a cake.

Peacock display.

"Dad marking out on a small football pitch with his blind son's hands what's going on down on the actual pitch."

Beware of the dog.

"Look at me!  I'm a goat!"

And the best dog gif of the day: "When I say 'go' you can have the treat."

Photos from a gallery of images from the 2017 Westminster Dog Show.  More images (and photo credits) at the link.

The President is a great office, not a great man

"Calvin Coolidge never made any pretensions to greatness. "It is a great advantage to a President and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man," he recorded in his Autobiography."
More about Coolidge at the United States Senate webpage.

Flying robots


When I take an airline flight, I never tire of looking at meanders and oxbow lakes.
The term derives from the Meander River located in present-day Turkey and known to the Ancient Greeks as Μαίανδρος Maiandros (Latin: Maeander), characterised by a very convoluted path along the lower reach. As such, even in Classical Greece (and in later Greek thought) the name of the river had become a common noun meaning anything convoluted and winding, such as decorative patterns or speech and ideas, as well as the geomorphological feature. Strabo said: ‘…its course is so exceedingly winding that everything winding is called meandering.’

The Meander River is located south of Izmir, east of the ancient Greek town of Miletus, now Milet, Turkey. It flows through a graben in the Menderes Massif, but has a flood plain much wider than the meander zone in its lower reach. Its modern Turkish name is the Büyük Menderes River.
Photo via Viewfind, where purchase information for the image is available.

"I Stand For The National Anthem"

"There is a huge tv screen by the food carts right inside the stadium where people gather to watch. We went over there to check it out and we saw him spread the flag out and sit down."
Some additional details at Deadspin.

16 October 2017

High school pep rally


When I was in high school, a pep rally consisted of two or three girls waving pom-poms and trying unsuccessfully to get a small crowd to yell "Win team win."  Times have changed.

Some serious planning, choreography and hundreds of hours of practice must have gone into this routine at Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita Arizona.  Worth a few minutes of your time unless you are a complete grouch.  And probably worth clicking the full-screen icon.

Via Boing Boing.

15 October 2017

Why is this image distorted?

This is the greenside area of the third hole at Tianna Country Club in Walker, Minnesota.  The ripples from my failed approach shot have faded away.  What interests me is the birch trees and their reflection in the pond.  In real life they were perfectly upright.

I photographed the scene with my iPhone SE, which has a fairly wide-angle built-in lens (29mm I think), but I don't remember encountering this much distortion using wide-angle lenses on my old film and digital cameras.

I've encountered obvious distortion with this phone taking panorama images, but this was a conventional one.  I need some education on the "why" and any coping techniques, and I figure asking the readership here will be faster than searching the 'net.  Thanks in advance.


Found crawling on my jeans in the woods of northern Minnesota.  I should have placed him on my walking stick for the photo.

Fascinating creatures; I'm recurrently amazed that they are capable of flying.

"Please excuse Gene"

Photographed at the museum of the Pine County (MN) Historical Society.  Highly recommended for a day trip with lunch in their cafe.

Vintage horsefly blanket

To anyone who has been around horses (or horseflies), the image speaks for itself.

Modern versions seem to be made of plastic or fabric.  I found a vintage one for sale on eBay made of leather.  This one appeared to be made of coarse string or yarn.  In the pre-plastic era this would probably be cooler than a fabric blanket.

Photographed at the museum of the Pine County (MN) Historical Society.  Highly recommended for a day trip with lunch in their cafe.

This is a "fire grenade"

"We found several of these old fire grenades in the attic of a large, old house in Edina [a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota]. It's a glass bulb filled with carbon tetrachloride, and was supposed to be thrown at the base of a fire to help put it out.

They were withdrawn in the 1950s because the chemical is toxic, and heat from fires can apparently turn the chemical into phosgene gas.
Found among the Fun home inspection photos from 2016.

Addendum:  Similar (but safer) products are still being manufactured and used.

Video of fire grenades being used.  The explanations I've seen about these tend to explain their efficacy as being a result of the gases produced, but I think not enough emphasis is given to the effects of the concussive explosion along as a fire-suppressant.

Reposted to add this photo I took at the Pine County Historical Society museum in Askov, Minnesota:

 Excellent museum, BTW...

07 October 2017


'Tis the season to start putting the gardens to bed for the winter, watch football games, play some last golf, and do some leafpeeping. 

Back in about a week.

06 October 2017

"Steve" is a new type of Northern Lights

You might wonder what Steve means. At first it didn't mean anything. It was just a name. Steve comes from the animated movie Over The Hedge. In the movie, the main characters were watching bushes rustle. Out came an animal that they didn't know. So they named it Steve.

That's how Steve, the new type of northern lights, got its name. Citizen scientists took a few photos of Steve and showed the photos to NASA scientists. NASA scientists initially couldn't explain the newly discovered aurora type, so they all decided on naming it Steve for now.
NASA scientists have now created a "backronym" - Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.
NASA has set up a project called Aurorasaurus. At Aurorasaurus, you can see where the northern lights are predicted to be located in the near future, and actual reports of the northern lights from people around the world.

"Crazy Hair Day" at school

Found in the Funny subreddit.

See also Not a Dress Code Violation (2015)

Also this one.

Peacock spiders dance

From Live Science:
They're peacock spiders, a group of tiny arachnids that are small in stature but giants in the charisma department, best known for their brilliant colors and energetic courtship "dances" — much like the showy, fan-tailed peacocks that inspired the spiders' name.

And scientists recently described seven new peacock spider species — so let the spider dance party commence! [In Photos: 7 New Species of Peacock Spider]

Researchers found the newly described species — all of which were in the genus Maratus — in Western Australia and South Australia, bringing the total number of known Maratus species to 48. The spiders in this genus measure on average about 0.16 to 0.20 inches (4 to 5 millimeters) in length, with females a bit larger than the males.

Females that belong to this genus tend to be dappled in different shades of brown. But it's the males' dramatic coloration that catches the eye and prompts biologists to assign them whimsical nicknames like "Sparklemuffin," which was bestowed upon a peacock spider species described in 2015. Colors and patterns are displayed on the males' abdomens, frequently on a "fan" — a flat structure that is lifted up toward the female during the male's courtship performance.
More information at the Live Science link and in the video at the next post.

Mating rituals of the Peacock Spider

Remarkable (if somewhat redundant) footage of a tiny (4 mm.) Australian spider.  The coloration and the dance of the male spider are quite extraordinary.

Credit Catalyst via Neatorama.

 Reposted from 2011 to accompany the adjacent post.

Same old, same old

Excerpts from Harper's Weekly Review:
It was reported that the “police profile” of a mass shooter in the United States, of whom at least 56 percent have been white and 97 percent have been male, was not “fit” by the Las Vegas gunman, a white, male, reclusive, itinerant, high-stakes gambler who had purchased 33 guns in the previous year....

The White House press secretary said “it would be premature” to talk about gun control; US president Donald Trump said that he was “not going to talk about” gun control; and a 60-year-old man in New York shot and killed his 27-year-old disabled daughter with a shotgun in his back yard and then shot and killed himself, a 46-year-old woman was shot and killed in her mobile home in Florida, a 40-year-old man was shot and killed in a house in Maryland, a 52-year-old man in Louisiana was shot and killed in his back yard, four people attending a vigil for a 30-year-old woman who was shot and killed in Florida were then shot by an unknown assailant, a twentysomething man in Tennessee was shot and killed outside the group home for disabled adults where he worked, a 25-year-old man in Georgia was shot and killed during a bar fight, a 27-year-old man in Michigan was shot and killed while walking his dogs, a 22-year-old man was shot and killed in his kitchen in Michigan while showing a visitor his gun, a two-year-old in Illinois was shot by an unknown assailant while the car the child was riding in was stopped at a red light, a construction worker in New York was shot and killed on the 37th floor of an unfinished building by a co-worker who then shot and killed himself on the fifth floor, an 18-year-old boy in New York was shot and killed three blocks from his home, a 14-year-old boy in Washington was shot and killed by a 13-year-old boy with a handgun he had borrowed from a 12-year-old, and, in Utah, a video was released of a police officer fatally shooting a black man who was running away after being pulled over for erratically riding his bicycle without a rear reflector. “Deadly force,” said the district attorney on the case, “was justified.”
More at the link.   Comments blocked because there's nothing more to be said that hasn't been said before.

Today (10/6) is Mad Hatter Day

Explained here:
Mad Hatter Day is 10/6. The date was chosen from the illustrations by John Tenniel in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, wherein the Mad Hatter is always seen wearing a hat bearing a slip of paper with the notation "In this style 10/6". We take this as inspiration to behave in the style of the Mad Hatter on 10/6 (which is October 6 here, although in Britain MadHatterDay occurs on June 10...but I digress...)

Mad Hatter Day began in Boulder, CO, in 1986, among some computer folk who had nothing better to do. It was immediately recognized as valuable because they caused less damage than if they'd been doing their jobs.
As I searched this topic on the 'net today, it was interesting to see how many observers misinterpret the 10/6 on his hat as being either a style number ("The Mad Hatter’s top hat, according to Lewis Carroll, was of the 10/6 style") or worse ("my birthdate (10/6) is on his hat although I think that is his hat size!"). The correct interpretation, of course, is that "the paper in the Mad Hatter's Hat was really an order to make a hat in the style shown, to cost ten shillings sixpence."


05 October 2017

Divertimento #136

This is not a gifdump.  The links are full-length articles and longreads.  Get ready for a long session...

The BBC's "Top 100 Books You Need To Read Before You Die."

A San Francisco woman received a lifetime bus pass - on her 103rd birthday.

"At the US border, the searching of electronic devices, including smartphones, is allowed as part of inspection. Warrantless searches on phones are also allowed at the Canadian border."

How to remove tourists from your travel photos: (example)
  1. Set your camera on a tripod.
  2. Take a picture about every 10 seconds until you have about 15 shots.
  3. Open all the images in Photoshop by going to File> Scripts> Statistics. Choose "median" and select the files you took.
  4. Photoshop finds what is different in the photos and simply removes it.
"When anyone tells you that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, ask them about this." (the text of the Articles of Secession)

NASA has a plan to counteract a supervolcano like the one at Yellowstone: "They believe the most viable solution could be to drill up to 10km down into the supervolcano, and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F), thus slowly day by day extracting heat from the volcano." (and the extracted heat can be used to generate electric power).

Baseball fans (only) will want to read about the "Skunk in the outfield" play.  A play that lasted two and a half minutes, with a baserunner out in right field (legally).  Remarkable.

Also for baseball fans only:  "The saddest plate appearance of all time."  ("You're a pitcher. You're pitching against someone who has never batted before, and isn't even trying to swing. All you have to do is throw three strikes over the plate. Don't screw this up.")

"Talia Rappa and Skyler Ashworth spotted a nondescript box at a Florida thrift store's going-out-of-business sale. They found five NASA flight suits, worth tens of thousands of dollars, and paid just $1.20 for the lot."

"If you buy yourself a luxury watch, make sure to hold onto the box, receipt and certification of authenticity. It could REALLY pay off in the long run."

Read this if you eat cereal for breakfast. "Cereal was not always the morning staple that it is today. It only became so at about the same time that our health problems began to be documented, in the 1960s. A coincidence?"

A man and his dog on a rainy day.

Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines.  "Start edible doses very small—not more than half of what’s recommended on any label. Then allow roughly double the time you might expect for it to clear your system before you need to do anything where you need to use your brain."

"For many years, rumors have gone around that Fred McFeely Rogers (Mr. Rogers) flipped kids off on his tv show. The truth is, he did…inadvertently. He was singing “Where is Thumbkin” with children and, when he got to Tall-Man, he proudly displayed his middle fingers…because that’s how the song played out." (gif at the link)

A New York Times article about downsizing.

How to make maple syrup snow candy.

A "frost strip" on a bar keeps drinks cold.

Robert Bobroczky is a high-school basketball player who is 7 feet 7 inches tall.  As a freshman.  Apparently it's genetic, not hormonal (his father was over 7 feet tall, his mom about 6 feet).

Sand timers used for magic tricks.

An engrossing and disturbing longread about Memorial Hospital (New Orleans) during Hurricane Katrina addresses the question as to whether patients there were euthanized.  This topic has also the subject matter for an outstanding episode of This American Life.

Remarkable side-by-side footage of Houston before and during Hurricane Harvey.  And a quote from a related story: "“Not sure how they can call it a 500-year flood, when we haven’t even been a country for 500 years,” said Harper, who nonetheless credited county officials for an efficient and orderly evacuation process."

Cards Against Humanity offers to sell people nothing for $5.  "In the end, we made a windfall profit of $71,145."

"Business Insider went out onto the streets of NYC and tried to buy people’s just-purchased Powerball tickets ahead of the $700 million drawing. They did not get many takers, even when offering twice the price they paid." Note that anyone who accepted the offer could have just turned around and bought twice as many tickets and improved their odds of winning.  But people didn't.

Here's a dossier on Joe Arpaio.

"Today, Symantec published research showing that a group they've dubbed Dragonfly 2.0 has gained access to more than 20 power companies' networks in the US and Europe; a "handful" of the US companies are so compromised that the hackers can just turn off the power at will."

Those who are interested in doomsday scenarios probably already know the potential consequences of an electromagnetic pulse.  "After the surge, telecom switches and internet routers are dead. Air-traffic control is down. Within a day, some shoppers in supermarkets turn to looting (many, unable to use credit and debit cards, cannot pay even if they wanted to). After two days, market shelves are bare. On the third day, backup diesel generators begin to sputter out. Though fuel cannot be pumped, siphoning from vehicles, authorised by martial law, keeps most prisons, police stations and hospitals running for another week...With many troops overseas or tasked with deterring land grabs from opportunist foreign powers, there is only one American “peacekeeper” soldier for every 360 or so civilians. Pillaging accelerates..."

"At the Minnesota State Fair, the Sweet Martha's operation can now produce up to 3 million cookies on its busiest day. "  They are served in buckets that are overflowing with chocolate chip cookies.

Vintage vending machines.

Mathematicians have a sense of humor.

A young, handsome Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I thought I knew a lot of medicine, but I never knew (or imagined) that there had been a successfull full-term hepatic pregnancy (an extrauterine pregnancy where the fetus develops in the liver).  Holy cow.  You learn something every day.

Surf this comment thread about "the best advice you've ever received on how to make a sandwich better."

Deaf people explain how to sign curse words.  I need to remember the "bullshit" one.

A list of world championships in mind sports.

During the hurricanes there were several interesting articles about floating masses of fire antsHere and here and here.

A dossier on Rush Limbaugh.

For football fans only:  Louisiana Tech loses 87 yards on one play. (video here)

China plans to ban petrol and diesel cars.  Other countries have similar plans.

More than you need to know about finding a bathroom at a football game.

If you are a traveler, you should acquaint yourself with the takeout menu scam.  Don't order delivery food from a menu left at your hotel or motel room.


The embedded images today are of lichens (credit Jana Kocourková), via Boing Boing, where there is a large gallery.

Worldwide slaughter of pangolins

From a report at The Guardian:
The true scale of the slaughter of pangolins in Africa has been revealed by new research showing that millions of the scaly mammals are being hunted and killed.

Pangolins were already known to be the world’s most trafficked wild mammal, with at least a million being traded in the last decade to supply the demand for its meat and scales in Asian markets. Populations of Asian pangolins have been decimated, leaving the creatures highly endangered and sharply shifting the focus of exploitation to Africa’s four species...

A total ban on the international trade in any pangolin species was passed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species in September. But Ingram said the enforcement of both international and national laws had to be increased to prevent African pangolins following their Asian cousins on the path to extinction.

The demand in Asia for pangolin meat and scales as delicacies and supposed medicinal uses is a major factor in cross-border trade but a significant proportion of African pangolins are eaten locally. Ingram said that measures are also needed to develop alternative livelihoods for African hunters of pangolin...
More from Wikipedia:
The pangolin trade is centuries old. An early known example is in 1820, when Francis Rawdon, 1st Marquis of Hastinges and East India Company Governor General in Bengal, presented King George III with a coat and helmet made with the scales of Manis crassicaudata [low-res photo at the link]. The gifts are now stored in the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

The pangolins are boiled to remove the scales, which are then dried and roasted, then sold based on claims that they can stimulate lactation, help to drain pus, and relieve skin diseases or palsy. As of 2015, pangolin scales were covered under some health insurance plans in Vietnam.

The scales can cost more than $3,000/kg on the black market.
GIF of a pandolin.

04 October 2017

Too sexually explicit?

?The Louvre has withdrawn a large installation by a Dutch art and design collective for being sexually explicit... The piece — “Domestikator” by the collective Atelier Van Lieshout, whose outline depicts copulation — was to go on view on Oct. 19 in the Louvre’s Tuileries Gardens..."
More at The New York Times.

Protest. Response. Response to the response.

Source lost - a thread somewhere on Reddit.

Amid all this debate about kneeling during the national anthem, I have seen very little discussion of why the national anthem is played at American sporting events.  It was not always so.  I believe someone reported that historically the anthem was played when the U.S. played against another country, as for example in the Olympics.  It first came into collegiate or professional sports during the first or second world wars.

And I believe that most persons watching sports on television at home do not rise from a seated position when the national anthem is played and the flag depicted on TV. 

Offered without comment

"So, off to the fashion runway! But let’s agree not to take any of it personally. Don’t consider the cost. No asking, “Who would wear that?” Not today. Because have you seen Instagram? Someone, somewhere will wear anything."
More at the Washington Post.

The problem with the Nobel prizes

Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work. Instead of honoring science, they distort its nature, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its important contributors...

The wider problem, beyond who should have received the prize and who should not, is that the Nobels reward individuals—three at most, for each of the scientific prizes, in any given year... The paper in which the LIGO team announced their discovery has an author list that runs to three pages. Another recent paper, which precisely estimated the mass of the elusive Higgs boson, has 5,154 authors.
More at The Atlantic.  If I am awarded a Nobel prize, I'll share the money with my coauthors and fellows and lab techs...

03 October 2017

Why is Adam depicted with a belly button?

There was a very interesting article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings several years ago which presented a "medical interpretation" of Michaelangelo's The Creation of Adam.
A man of many talents, Michelangelo’s proficiency in anatomical dissection is reflected in his artwork... we see a postpartum uterus and adjacent anatomy, justifying our interpretation that Michelangelo was depicting something far more fundamental: the birth of mankind.
Details of the interpretation at the link, including a comparison of God's "oval" to 16th century depictions of the uterus.  Michaelangelo had extensive experience in dissecting and depicting the human body organs.

There are, of course, numerous other depictions of Adam in paintings and sculpture that depict him with a navel that theoretically should not exist.

Autumn gardening

I'm using these warm October days to start getting our gardens put to bed for the winter.

Don't watch QVC to learn about science

"QVC host Shawn Killinger and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi debate whether the Moon is a planet or a star."

Via Boing Boing.

Introducing Zealandia - updated

Some geologists argue that this area should be acknowledged as our world's eighth continent.  It has not previously been recognized because most of it is under water.
Geophysical data suggest that a region spanning 5 million square kilometres, which includes New Zealand and New Caledonia, is a single, intact piece of continental crust and is geologically separate from Australia...

However, there is no international body in charge of designating official continents, and so the researchers must hope that enough of their colleagues agree to recognize the landmass. Otherwise, their proposal could remain more of a theoretical wish than a radical reshaping of what every child has to learn in geography class...

...Zealandia began to peel away from the supercontinent of Gondwana starting about 100 million years ago. The rift gave Zealandia its independence, but it also pulled and thinned the crust, causing the area to sink, and dooming most of it to a watery existence. Today, only about 6% of it remains above water, as New Zealand and New Caledonia...
There is no widely accepted definition of a continent, and geographers and geologists differ on the question. (Geographically, Europe and Asia are considered separate continents, whereas geologists consider them the single landmass of Eurasia.)
Reposted to add more info and another map:

On Wednesday researchers shared findings from their two-month-long expedition, one of the first extensive surveys of the region, announcing fossil discoveries and evidence of large-scale tectonic movements.

“The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia was dramatically different in the past,” said Prof Gerald Dickens of Rice University...

“[The research] has big implications for understanding big scientific questions, such as how did plants and animals disperse and evolve in the South Pacific? The discovery of past land and shallow seas now provides an explanation: there were pathways for animals and plants to move along.”
More at the link.

Duneless tree in Florida

Photo taken after Hurricane Irma washed away the dune under this pine tree.

My first thought was that there must be a lot of elderly men with metal detectors who are having the time of their lives finding Barber dimes and gold doubloons on Florida's beaches this month.  Wish I could join them.


28 September 2017


A "cleaner fish" on the eye of a green sea turtle off the coast of Ecuador.

Credit per the watermark, via Scuba Diving Magazine's annual photo competition (gallery at the link).

Whistling caterpillars

North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars (Amorpha juglandis) look like easy meals for birds, but they have a trick up their sleeves—they produce whistles that sound like bird alarm calls, scaring potential predators away.

When pecked by a bird, the caterpillars whistle by compressing their bodies like an accordion and forcing air out through specialized holes in their sides. The whistles are impressively loud, considering they are made by a two-inch long insect. They have been measured at over 80 dB from 5 cm away from the caterpillar, similar to the loudness of a garbage disposal.
Further details at The Scientist, with a hat tip to Kevin Thies.


Via the Crappy Design subreddit.

"Muck farm" explained

During a picnic lunch at a friend's farm, mention was made of a neighbor of theirs who operated a "muck farm."  I had previously only heard the term used with regard to cleaning out a stable, so I had to learn more about muck:
In the terminology of North American agriculture, muck is a soil made up primarily of humus from drained swampland. It is known as black soil in The Fens of eastern England, where it was originally mainly fen and bog. It is used there, as in the United States, for growing specialty crops such as onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes...

Muck farming on drained bogs is an important part of agriculture in New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, where mostly vegetables are grown. American "muckers" often have roots from the Netherlands or Eastern Europe, where their ancestors practiced a similar type of farming. The soils are deep, dark colored, and friable, often underlain by marl, or marly clay...

Muck farming is controversial, because the drainage of wetlands destroys wildlife habitats and results in a variety of environmental problems. It is unlikely that any more will be created in the United States, because of environmental regulations. It is prone to problems, such as being very light and usually windbreaks must be provided to keep it from blowing away when dry. It also can catch fire and burn underground for months. Oxidation also removes a portion of the soil each year, so it becomes progressively shallower. Some muck land has been reclaimed for wildlife preserves.
And here's the etymology:
From Middle English mok, muk, from Old Norse myki, mykr (“dung”) (compare Icelandic mykja), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)meug (“slick, slippery”), *meuk (compare Welsh mign (“swamp”), Latin mūcus (“snot”), mucere (“to be moldy or musty”), Latvian mukls (“swampy”), Albanian myk (“mould”), Ancient Greek mýxa 'mucus, lamp wick', mýkes 'fungus'), from *(s)meug, meuk 'to slip'. More at meek.
Apparently the distinction from peat is based on the level of decomposition: peat = slightly decomposed organic material, vs. muck = highly decomposed.

Reposted from 2015 to insert the photo from this year's National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition (via a gallery in The Atlantic).  Credit: Joost Boerman.  

The power of hurricane-force winds

Although, to be honest, that's probably a palm tree and palms have wood that has evolved to be soft and flexible rather than sturdy.  Still it's a reminder of why weathermen shouldn't stand outdoors for their photo-op reports.

via imgur

26 September 2017

"The Tillman Story" - official trailer

"They lied to the wrong family."
In spite of the best efforts of the White House and the Pentagon, the world would come to know he had been killed in an act of fratricide that was then covered up in favor of a horrible series of official lies.

But that we know the truth at all is owed to the extraordinary determination of Tillman's family, a foulmouthed and eclectic bunch of square-jawed hippies from San Jose, California, and in particular his mother, Mary. A more compliant family, more easily bamboozled by the institutions of American power at the highest levels, might have meekly, or readily, accepted the government's vigorous effort to turn Pat Tillman into a Sergeant York fantasy that it could then exploit relentlessly for propaganda purposes. 
Comments excerpted from a review at Esquire.  Those not familiar with the Pat Tillman saga can review the basics of it at Wikipedia.  My understanding is that the outrage by the family and by knowledgeable members of the public is not directed at the friendly-fire death per se, but on the extensive coverup that ensued.

Addendum:  Those interested in this subject should read Andred O-Hehir's analysis at Salon:
The film is also meant, to some extent, as an antidote to journalist Jon Krakauer's 2009 book "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," which the family strongly disliked...

He was a football star and avid outdoorsman who read Emerson; an agnostic or atheist who read the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon out of intellectual curiosity; a man who relished the high-testosterone simulated combat of sports, and excelled at it, while also maintaining an introspective personal journal he allowed no one to read. As a friend of mine recently observed, many of Tillman's characteristics would seem completely normal among the metropolitan educated classes: He never went anywhere without a book, and typically rode his bike rather than driving a car. But Tillman wasn't a bearded, chai-drinking grad student riding that bike to yoga class in Brooklyn or Silverlake or Ann Arbor. He was the starting strong safety for the Arizona Cardinals, and parked his bike next to his teammates' Porsches and tricked-out Escalades...

I'm only guessing here, but one of the things the Tillman family hated about Jon Krakauer's book was probably the author's tendency to view Pat Tillman's death as a case study in the evils of war and the limits of idealism. I might incline toward that view myself, but the Tillmans don't. Right-wing propagandists quickly learned that the Tillman family wasn't going to stick to the pious, patriotic script. (Pat's drunken younger brother, Rich, at the nationally televised funeral: "Pat isn't with God. He's fucking dead.") But the Tillmans aren't interested in starring in an antiwar morality play either. As they see it, Pat Tillman died as he lived, as an American who thought for himself, hewed to his own course and kept his word. It's the rest of us who have betrayed him.
More at the link.

Reposted in 2011 because I just this week finally got an opportunity to view the film. It is excellent (confirmed by a 93% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes).

Reposted in 2017 because Donald Trump, for whatever reason, chose to retweet Pat Tillman in support of his criticism of professional football playersPat Tillman's widow is justifiably pushing back:
"The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one's heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for," Marie Tillman said. "Even if they didn't always agree with those views."


"Among the grains of sand in the surf zone you will in time find... entoprocts, gastrotrichs, gnathostomulids, kinorhynchs, nematodes, nemerteans, priapulids, sipunculans, and tardigrades."

Encountered in Chapter 13 of E.O. Wilson's newest book, Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life.  It's a plea for habitat conservation and the preservation of our planet's biodiversity.  Most of the information is familiar, but for the TL;DR crowd I can highly recommend Chapter 15 ("The Best Places in the Biosphere"), for which Wilson polled "eighteen of the world's senior naturalists, each with international experience and expertise in biodiversity and ecology, and asked their opinion on the best reserves, those sheltering assemblages of notably unique and valuable species of plants, animals, and microorganisms."  The resulting compilation of about 35 locations is a joy to read.

Including this about the scrubland of southwestern Australia:
"Possessing a mild, Mediterranean-type climate and molybdenum-deficient soil that excludes species other than those adapted to the deficiency, the scrublands have evolved much like the flora of an oceanic island."
You learn something every day.

25 September 2017

CCC spillway at Pope Farm Conservancy (Wisconsin)

The first seventeen entries in my ongoing series of posts about the stonework of the Civilian Conservation Corps featured structures situated in state and national parks - bridges, ramparts, towers, stairways and other substantial achievements.  Stonework of that type has been well preserved because of the locations and ongoing usefulness of the structures.

But the boys in the CCC also did an immense amount of work in fire prevention (fire breaks, lookout towers), reforestation, water control (dams, reservoirs) and soil conservation.   The structure in the photo above is one of probably thousands of such water/soil conservation measures that have been generally forgotten (and in most cases left to fall into disrepair).

I encountered this stonework while hiking at the Pope Farm Conservancy, a working farm with restored natural areas located in the western suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin.  I had visited there last year to photograph and blog the remarkable display of sunflowers.

On my recent visit I explored a different part of the property, where hiking trails had been carved out of restored short-grass prairie:

Without a panorama image it's hard to depict the rolling contour in this area created by deposition of sand during the terminal phase of the last glaciation.  The hill in front of me (above) is a terminal moraine.  To the right of the photo the land slopes downward, then back up again to a broad "bowl" currently covered by cropland and native prairie.

Prior to the arrival of European immigrants, a basin like this would have been covered with either long grasses or short grasses -

Prairie grasses evolved immense root systems that enabled them to regrow after intensive grazing by massive herds of bison, or after wildfires or drought.  What they couldn't survive was the introduction of intensive farming, and especially the cutting power of steam- or gasoline-powered tractors.  I don't need to repeat here the familiar sequence of stripping vegetation to plant crops, followed by topsoil erosion by wind and water.

By the 1930s a basin such as the one above would have been deeply gullied by rainwater and snowmelt and the runoff would have been choking local streams with sediment.  Teams of CCC boys were mobilized to correct these problems on a farm-by-farm basis.

All you see now at the base of the "bowl" is this concrete structure:

This is a simple, but perfectly adequate spillway.
"This dam design, called a head flume, was suggested by UW-Madison soils and agriculture professor Otto Zeasman.  It was simple because the intent was merely to slow the flow of water during times of heavy rain and runoff."
To the left and right of the downsloping segment are short concrete walls and then earthen berns, which direct water to the center:

The chute prevents ground erosion as it conducts the water down the steepest part of the slope.  At the base of the chute (hard to see with summer vegetation overgrowth) is a triangular concrete "velocity check" structure, and behind that a pile of large boulders in the "stilling basin":

These components of the spillway absorb the kinetic energy of the falling water, which then proceeds down the ravine in the background with much less erosive force (cutting the velocity in half reduces erosion by a factor of 64 according to the information on a local informational placard).  Another placard notes:
"Construction of the dam began in late summer 1938.  A CCC crew of about a dozen young men needed about 2-3 weeks to finish the project.  Other "soil saving" dams of the Great Depression era are quietly deteriorating in farm fields all over Wisconsin.  Still others have been removed.  This structure on the Pope Farm Conservancy site is the only one in south-central Wisconsin (and perhaps the entire state) that is being protected as an historic landmark."
Kudos to the Pope Farm Conservancy for their stewardship of the land and the preservation of this example of a simple structure that helped rural farms recover from the devastating effects of the Great Depression and the Dustbowl.

24 September 2017

Sixty years ago

It was September 1957, the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, and nine black pupils little guessed they were about to plant a milestone in the struggle for civil rights...

On the first day of term, the national guard were there to stop the nine entering Central High, where all 1,900 attendees were white. Three weeks later, on 25 September, the group braved a hostile white crowd, climbed the school steps and were escorted to class by US army troops. They became known and revered as the Little Rock Nine... 

On 23 September 1957, the group did get into the building with police protection. But an angry mob of more than a thousand white people had gathered in front of the school, chanting racist abuse such as “Go back to Africa”. “I really think that we were afraid to look at the mob; at least I was,” says Trickey. “So we just heard it and it was like a sports event, that sound, the roar, but it was a roar of hatred, and just thinking about it makes me shake.”...

The mob started a riot and police decided to remove the students for their own safety. “At about 10am they said: ‘You’ve got to come down to the office,’ and we went down into the basement. They put us in these cars and the cops driving the cars were shaking. They had the guns and sticks and they were scared. ‘Oh wow, this is scary.’ Some of us were told to keep our heads down...

The crisis was cause for Washington to intervene. President Dwight Eisenhower sent in 1,200 paratroopers from the 101st airborne division. The soldiers escorted the students single file into the school for their first full day of classes and dispersed the demonstrators. The US’s racial shame had been exposed, shown on TV and reported in newspapers around the world. 
More at The Guardian


Another blog entry inspired by a crossword puzzle clue.  If I had spent all day pondering 8-letter words describing a praying mantis, I would never have some up with this one.  So I had to Ask An Entomologist:
Why do Mantids Only Have One Ear?

Mantids only have one ear, located in the middle of their [chest between the] middle and hind legs. It’s split in half, but both halves function as a single unit. There’s a single neuron which connects them, and it fires if either half ‘hears’ anything. In essence, they only have one ear. 
This is followed by speculation about why the structure evolved this way.  And one anecdote:
"Taylor Swift’s first job was picking mantis egg cases off Christmas trees to keep them from hatching in the houses of customers."
You learn something every day.
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