05 March 2015

"A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a ton of explanation" - H. H. Munro (Saki)

If you bookmark links and don't blog them, they multiply like coathangers in a closet.  Time to clean out a month's worth...

If the legendary romance of hopping railroad trains appeals to you (or to your child), browse the photo gallery at the top of this Reddit thread.

An article in Detroit News emphasizes that computers in cars can be wirelessly hacked.  "Markey cited studies showing hackers can get into the controls of some popular vehicles, 'causing them to suddenly accelerate, turn, kill the brakes, activate the horn, control the headlights, and modify the speedometer and gas gauge readings...'"  Jalopnik provides an example of a 14-year-old doing so using equipment he bought for $15 at Radio Shack.

"...16-year-old Maxwell Marion Morton of Jeannette, Pa., fatally shot 16-year-old Ryan Mangan in the face before taking a photo with Mangan’s body and uploading it to Snapchat..."

An op-ed piece at Jezebel asserts that "Adults should not be drinking milk."  

Nissan has demonstrated a glow-in-the-dark body paint for cars.   Video at the link.

An elephant with an elastic ribbon illustrates Samuel Butler's adage that "All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it."

Technology is significantly changing the experience of consuming marijuana.  "While refining marijuana requires skill, caution, and an elaborate setup, concentrates will likely prevail. They’re simply a more economic THC-delivery system."

The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore really REALLY loves thundersnow.

Diane Rehm, host of a nationally-broadcast NPR program, adds her remarkable voice to the right-to-die debate after her husband, unable to get medical assistance to die, starved himself to death.  “I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable,” Rehm said in a long interview in her office. “It was not right.”

The image at right is a graphic portrayal of an analysis of 1.3 trillion hands of Texas hold-em poker.  Details at the link, where the process is interactive.

Divers are retrieving a historic typeface from the bottom of the Thames, where it was dumped a century ago.

A carnivorous plant has been identified in 40-million-year-old amber.  It had not developed digestive enzymes, relying instead on a symbiotic relationship with an insect.

A hoard of thousands of gold coins in in different denominations has been found in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel.

Video of a man sliding down a mountain on his butt while being chased by his snowmobile.

From the Boston Globe, a gallery of 35 photos of the record snowfall in New England.

Oliver Sacks has written an article about his discovery that his ocular melanoma is metastatic and therefore terminal:
"I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.  This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future."
Rebuttal of the claim that climate-change data was falsified.

While in jail, a man punches himself in the face to get black eyes in attempt to claim that he was beaten by police; his self attack is captured on video.

A lucid explanation of the Roswell incident.

An article about a planned upgrade of the Panama Canal.  And a reminder that when you sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the canal, you are traveling east, not west (a good pub-quiz question).

A "lost Sherlock Holmes story" has been found.  It's not all that great, but enthusiasts will want to read it (fulltext at the link).

A man looking at watches in a Goodwill store in Arizona paid $6 for one that he was able to sell for $35,000.

Full sunlight provides about 10,000 lux of illumination.  Human eyes can see in light as dim as 1 lux.  Cats = 0.125 lux.  Tarsiers = .001 lux (and shame on people who photograph them with flash illumination).  A BBC article lists three creatures with even more sensitive eyes (able to see at illumination levels of .000063 lux).

Some people object to their neighbors putting up Little Free Libraries.  "Americans with Little Free Libraries are acting in that venerable tradition. Those exploiting overly broad laws to urge that they be torn down are a national disgrace."

Here's a good website:  Old and Interesting.  Go look for yourself.

I find John Oliver's sense of humor to be sometimes annoying, but one can't deny the power of some of his arguments, especially this discussion of how American judges are elected.

The graph at right depicts penis size based on 15,000 measurements of men around the world.  It's an awkward depiction; I think if the data were regraphed, it would be more understandable as a bell-shaped curve.  And when the article states that "In reality, only 2.28% of the male population have an abnormally small penis... and the same percentage an unusually large one," that's because "normality" is defined in that way - to include 95% of the population.  More discussion here.

Deep injection of wastewater causes earthquakes.

A useful webpage from the University of Minnesota discusses how to prevent and how to treat a frozen septic system.

In an embarrassing attempt to get better positioning for postseason play, two high-school girls basketball teams tried to lose a game, missing free throws on purpose, failed to cross the half-court line in time, even pointed out to the officials that they were violating the 3-second rule in the lane.  Both schools were banned from the playoffs.

Here is the full-text lyrics of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.  I didn't know there was a 100th verse: "No more bottles of beer on the wall, no more bottles of beer.
Go to the store and buy some more, 99 bottles of beer on the wall."  (p.s. there is some movie where a character (Chevy Chase?) gets revenge on a bus or van driver by teaching the children about this song.  Does anyone remember the name of that movie?)

Hakim Emmanuel, an amateur bowler in Brockton, Massachusetts, rolled a perfect 900 series.  Video of his final frame at the link.

How conservative was Ronald Reagan?  Compared to 10 of today's Republican presidential hopefuls - not very.  He would only be in 5th place.

Some parents try to treat their children's autism by "giving the children enemas, using a dangerous industrial solution used for bleaching wood pulp... Miracle Mineral Solution is the brainchild of Jim Humble, who quit the Church of Scientology to form the Genesis II Church of Health & Healing in order to promote his “miracle” cure..."

"Strawpedoing" (image left) is how students guzzle beer without creating a vacuum in the bottle.  It looks  like the straw is coming out his nose, but it's just bent at his lips,

A record drought is drying up the water reservoir for São Paulo.

"Kalaripayattu is considered to be the oldest fighting system, and the urumi — a flexible whip-like sword — is its most difficult weapon to master. An urumi wielder requires great agility and knowledge of the weapon simply to avoid self-injury." (video at the link)

A freshman basketball player for Florida State scored 30 points in the final 4:38 of a game.  "Rathan-Mayes scored 26 consecutive Florida State points without missing a shot."  His team still lost.

A police officer does not always have to show you his identification.   Exceptions include if it would jeopardize an investigation, hinder a police function, or if safety is involved.

In 2004 the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection initiated a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for $8.9 billion in damages for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters.  The suit has been quietly settled by the state for around $250 million. Also "If the settlement is completed, it is possible that some or even none of the money would go toward environmental costs in the Exxon case: An appropriations law in New Jersey allows money beyond the first $50 million collected in such cases in the current fiscal year to go toward balancing the state budget."

LARP is "live action role playing."

The United States may have an oversupply of people with PhDs.  "...only one in five PhDs in science, engineering and health end up with faculty teaching or research positions within five years of completing their degrees." One reason: postdocs are cheap labor for research labs.

A discussion thread asks truck drivers "what town or city do you refuse to stop in?"

If you are ordering airline tickets online for international travel, read this link about how to secure lower fares.

Video of 80-year-old Natalie Trayling giving a remarkable 30-minute impromptu performance on a library piano of a piece of music she made up on the spot.

A photo gallery of regrettable tattoos.

"St. Pauli pinkelt zurück."  Video explains how the application of superhydophobic materials to walls causes streams of urine to rebound onto the malefactor.

How women have used cannabis in years past to ease childbirth, to treat swollen breasts, for migraine, and for menstrual pain (Queen Victoria in the latter category).

The United States' policy of birthright citizenship encourages "maternity tourism" by Chinese women.

Use this site to "play with gravity."  Each click generates a center of gravity that affects the moving points.  Gravity sites close together will coalesce.  If all the moving points coalesce in the gravity site, it "explodes."

The top image is a modern reworking of a classic Normal Rockwell painting.

04 March 2015

A concrete block filled with human teeth

The Elkhart Truth provides the background:
The concrete block stands in a yard at the northwest corner of Riverside Drive and Lexington Avenue. It’s hard to make out the teeth from the sidewalk. But take a closer look into the cracks that run along its face, and you’ll find dozens of them — from the roots to the crowns — piercing through the stone...

After posting a picture of the concrete block on social media, Elkhart residents shared their childhood memories of it. Some remember playing on top of the block, picking teeth out of the concrete and scaring other children with them...

It was a memorial to Stamp’s childhood dog — a German Shepherd named Prince — according to his granddaughter, Susan Howard...

Neither Howard nor her three older brothers could say why Stamp filled the monument with teeth, but she said it probably saved him on concrete... He pulled thousands of teeth as a dentist and kept all of them, Howard said. Stamp collected the teeth in a barrel in his office’s basement...
More details and additional photos at the link.

The Monty Hall Problem explained

Imagine that you’re on a television game show and the host presents you with three closed doors. Behind one of them, sits a sparkling, brand-new Lincoln Continental; behind the other two, are smelly old goats. The host implores you to pick a door, and you select door #1. Then, the host, who is well-aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, opens door #3, revealing one of the goats.

“Now,” he says, turning toward you, “do you want to keep door #1, or do you want to switch to door #2?”

Statistically, which choice gets you the car: keeping your original door, or switching? If you, like most people, posit that your odds are 50-50, you’re wrong...
This counterintuitive and often-debated problem is discussed in detail at Priceonomics.

Burning 15 tons of elephant tusks

"A ranger from the Kenya Wildlife Service walks past 15 tons of elephant tusks which were set on fire, during an anti-poaching ceremony at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to the elephant ivory during World Wildlife Day to discourage poaching, saying that 25 years after the historic banning of the ivory trade, new demand from emerging markets is threatening Africa's elephants and rhinos."
Photo credit Khalil Senosi, Associated Press, via the StarTribune.

Canine agility champion

Filmed at the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show.  Wikipedia has a wonderfully comprehensive article on dog agility competitions.
Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. Consequently the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler....

Because each course is different, handlers are allowed a short walk-through before the competition starts. During this time, all handlers competing in a particular class can walk or run around the course without their dogs...

Each dog and handler team gets one opportunity together to attempt to complete the course successfully...

Dogs are measured in height at the peak of their withers (shoulders). They are then divided into height groups... Dogs are further divided into their experience levels...Dogs are not separated by breed in agility competitions... 
Lots more details re the individual obstacles and the training techniques.

A woman sues herself...

... in order to get medical and funeral coverage for the accident which claimed the life of her husband.
As a widow, Ms Bagley is seeking damages to cover medical and funeral expenses along with compensation for the pain suffered by her husband, Bradley Vom Baur, who died 10 days after the December 2011 crash.
The decision by the Utah appeal court means that Ms Bagley the widow will have to give evidence against herself as a negligent driver...

Reid Tateoka, who is acting on behalf of Ms Bagley in her capacity as a widow, said she has been forced to sue herself to receive money from her insurers.

“The insurance company refused to pay out and said she was at fault. “It said it was prepared to pay for the car, but it would not take responsibility for her husband.  “She is facing funeral expenses, medical expenses and creditors.”

She can only expect compensation if the court upholds her claim that she was a negligent driver, with the financial responsibility resting with her insurers.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Ms Bagley the negligent driver have sought to have the case dismissed.

03 March 2015


Herewith three selections from a gallery of iceberg photos at The TelegraphTop photo credit to Steppes Travel. The beautifully-laminated one is by Hurtigruten/Dominic Barrington.  The bottom one, by Lizzie Williams, I include just for scale: those black dots are penguins.

Emma Thompson - tax protester

She and her husband are protesting not about paying taxes per se, but to the selective enforcement of the rules and the coddling of corporate entities such as HSBC:
Greg Wise, the actor married to Oscar winner Emma Thompson, has said he and his wife will refuse to pay tax until those involved in the HSBC scandal go to prison.

Wise spoke of his disgust with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the bank after the Guardian and other news organisations published leaked details of 100,000 accounts held by HSBC’s Swiss arm which showed how the bank had helped clients to move cash out of the country.

I want to stop paying tax, until everyone pays tax,” Wise told the Evening Standard. “I have actively loved paying tax, because I am a profound fucking socialist and I believe we are all in it together. But I am disgusted with HMRC. I am disgusted with HSBC. And I’m not paying a penny more until those evil bastards go to prison.”..

“Em’s on board. She agrees. We’re going to get a load of us together. A movement. They can’t send everyone to prison. But we’ll go to prison if necessary. I mean it.
Good for them.  More details at Business Insider, with a discussion at Reddit.

"Southern Cross" (Crosby, Stills, Nash)

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day

So I'm sailing for tomorrow my dreams are a dyin'
And my love is an anchor tied to you tied with a silver chain
I have my ship and all her flags are a' flyin'
She is all that I have left and music is her name...

Texas sportscaster speaks out about race relations

"Kids have to be taught to hate." 

The speaker is Dale Hansen -
In 1987, Hansen was honored with the George Foster Peabody Award for Distinguished Journalism. That same year, he won the duPont-Columbia Award for his contribution to the investigation of SMU's football program.

Sportscaster of the Year on two occasions by the Associated Press

Texas Sportscaster of the Year on three occasions by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association


If you have never seen a weasel riding on the back of a woodpecker before, you can read the explanation at The Telegraph, where there is a video interview with the photographer.

A shiny spot on the dwarf planet Ceres

Even more impressive on the gif of planetary rotation.
The latest images from Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft reveal a pair of bright spots on Ceres, a 590-mile-wide dwarf planet, with the brightest of the two reflecting at least 40% of the sunlight that falls on it.

Scientists are unsure what the bright patches are, but given that frozen water makes up at least a quarter of the bulk of Ceres, the odds are high that they are patches of primordial ice.

There are other possibilities though. The bright spots might be the work of volcanic eruptions on Ceres that blast ice out from the body’s interior. Yet another explanation could be the materials that make up the object. Some asteroids shine brightly because of their mineral constituents. Known as enstatite asteroids, they are rich in magnesium silicates, which can reflect nearly half of the light they receive.
The Reddit thread discusses this phenomenon and the concept and calculation of albedo.  Also interesting that a 590-mile wide planet "holds enough frozen water to fill all the lakes on Earth."

St. Bernards prefer spaghetti to salad

The pseudo-stop-action technique reminds me of some Naked Gun closing credits.  This one is well done and must have required remarkable restraint on the part of the four actors.

The location of Jeopardy! daily doubles

The distribution should be intuitive to anyone who regularly watches the show.  This table offers a little more precision.

As a reminder to enthusiasts, here is the link to the JArchive and its 277,000 questions with answers.
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