23 August 2016

"Jet lightning"

While watching and photographing this year's Perseid Meteor Shower, something unexpected happened: a gigantic jet erupted from a nearby cloud. The whole thing was over in a flash -- it lasted less than a second -- but was fortunately captured by an already-recording digital camera. Gigantic jets are a rare form of lightning recognized formally only a few years ago. The featured high resolution color image, taken near the peak of Shikengkong mountain in China, may be the best image yet of this unusual phenomenon. The same event appears to have been captured simultaneously by another photographer, further away. The gigantic jet appears to start somewhere in a nearby thundercloud and extend upwards towards Earth's ionosphere. The nature of gigantic jets and their possible association with other types of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as blue jets and red sprites remains an active topic of research. 
I have never heard of this before.  You learn something every day.  With a hat tip to the Crazy Cat Lady.

World's oldest gold artifact

Archaeologists dug up the gold artifact, which is just an eight of an inch in diameter and dates from 4,500–4,600 B.C., at what was believed to be the first urban settlement in Europe. It’s just outside of the modern town of Pazardzhik [Bulgaria].

What’s particularly interesting about the item is that researchers believe it to be 200 years older than gold jewelry discovered back in 1976 in the coastal town of Varna, thought to be the oldest in existence. That would make this speck-like bead the oldest piece of gold in the world.


Stuart Dunbar removed the 1.5kg black truffle, which he described as a "beast", from the earth on his property in Yarra Valley, in the state of Victoria.

It is thought to be the largest black truffle ever grown in [Australia], a delicacy which could also be a world-beater and estimated to be worth $3,700AUD (£2,100)...

Mr Dunbar’s truffle find beats a ‘world’s biggest’ 1.3kg black PĂ©rigord truffle unearthed in the south of France in 2012, if officially confirmed.

Highly improbable events are commonplace

In June 2001, on a small farm in Staffordshire, England, a 10-year-old girl named Laura Buxton was celebrating her grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. At one point, urged by her grandfather, Buxton wrote a note -- “Please return to Laura Buxton,” along with her address -- on a small card, attached it to a gold mylar balloon, and released it into cloudless sky...

Two days later, 140 miles away in a Milton Lilbourne, a farmer was checking on his cattle in a field and came across the deflated balloon in his neighbors’ hedge. He was about to discard it as trash, when he noticed the note; his neighbors had a daughter named Laura, so he passed it along to them...

The girl the farmer gave the balloon to was also named Laura Buxton, and was also just shy of ten years old... A three hour drive apart, the two Laura Buxtons not only shared the same name, but were nearly the exact same age, were the same height (which was unusual, considering they were both well above average for their age at 4 feet, 7 inches), had brown pigtails and blue eyes, and were in Year 5 in primary school. In a Radiolab interview, the girls recalled the astonishing similarities that arose as they spoke for the first time: they both had three-year-old female black labrador dogs, grey rabbits, and guinea pigs with identical markings (orange spots on hind legs). Upon meeting, they unintentionally chose to wear identical outfits -- a pink sweater, and jeans...
You can read the rest of the story at Priceonomics (or listed to that Radiolab story).

Res ipsa loquitur

The waitress who was stiffed on this tab was born in the United States to a bicultural family.  Details at the Washington Post.

"Bagpipe lung"

A newly-recognized occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been reported in Thorax:
This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of HP. The clinical history of daily bagpipe-playing coupled with marked symptomatic improvement when this exposure was removed and the identification of multiple potential precipitating antigens isolated from the bagpipes make this the likely cause.

Many of the isolated fungi in this case have previously been implicated in the development of HP.  The moist environment of bagpipes promotes yeast and mould contamination, thereby making the chronic inhalation of offending antigens a likely trigger. This report highlights the importance of careful clinical history when assessing patients with respiratory symptoms. We often associate exposures to birds and pigeons, or living in environments contaminated with mould, as potential triggers for HP. In a significant proportion of patients, a trigger is not identified. In this case, playing the bagpipes, an important hobby in the history, was not initially realised as a potential trigger in the development of the disease, and subsequently, no serum-precipitating antibodies to moulds or fungi were performed. The temporal relationship with an improvement in symptoms while abroad and the subsequent identification that the patient was not playing the bagpipes highlighted this source as a potential trigger. 
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been reported in musicians playing other wind instruments:
There have been previous case reports of HP in saxophone and trombone players attributable to isolated fungi and Candida. In one case described by Metzger et al, Ulocladium botrytis and Phoma sp were isolated from the saxophone, and subsequent serum-specific antibodies to these fungi were tested and found to be positive. The patient began regular drying of the saxophone after use, and cleaning it with disinfectant. They were treated with 32 mg/day of methylprednisolone for 1 month. These measures led to marked improvement of symptoms and radiology after 2 months. Repeat samples from the saxophone were negative for moulds or fungi. In a further case described by Metersky et al, a trombone player developed suspected HP based on clinical and radiological findings. Symptoms showed the same temporal relationship as described in this case, as they significantly improved on cessation of playing the trombone for 2 weeks.
You learn something every day.

"Super fancy dorm rooms at Ole Miss are a thing"

As reported by the StarTribune:
Two first-year students [at the University of Mississippi] turned their drab dorm rooms into a lavish luxury suite complete with tufted upholstered head boards, gold-plated lamps and monogrammed satin pillows -- all coordinated better than a Pottery Barn Teen catalog...
Suddenly, other students started tweeting photos of their own luxuriously-decorated dorm rooms. The apparent trend of these interior design magazine-worthy dorm rooms has been reported on by BuzzFeed, USA Today, CBS News and TeenVogue.com.

I'll defer any commentary.  This is an alternate reality from my collegiate experience.

Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict

When I watched this video, I tried to think whether it was "flotsam" or "jetsam" that was being created.  Neither, actually:
  • Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo.
  • Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is purposely cast overboard or jettisoned to lighten the load in time of distress and is washed ashore.
  • Lagan (also called ligan) is goods or wreckage that is lying on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes marked by a buoy, which can be reclaimed.
  • Derelict is cargo that is also on the bottom of the ocean, but which no one has any hope of reclaiming (in other maritime contexts, derelict may also refer to a drifting abandoned ship).
Much as one hates to see the ocean get trashed, if there are no toxic components in those pipes, this accident may have created some interesting microenvironments for marine creatures.

The Democrats will NOT retake the House of Representatives

As explained at Moyers&company:
The reason why is simple, structural and too often absent from the conversation: It’s the radical GOP gerrymander imposed after the 2010 census on purplish states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina – all of which are likely to go for Clinton, while also electing a bright-red Republican delegation to Congress. Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House...

Democrats, however, prefer to raise false hopes — and raise money — by pretending the House is in play. The media, desperate for any suspenseful narrative, pretends that gerrymandering is politics as usual and that both sides do it — stubbornly refusing to understand how the brazen and technologically savvy 2011 remapping was different from any other in modern political history...

It takes no imagination at all to conjure suburban Republican voters in northern Virginia, Denver, Pennsylvania and elsewhere who believe Trump is a line too far — but who also cringe at the idea of giving Clinton a blank check in the House. Republican leaders and financiers are already planning on siphoning money away from Trump and using exactly this line to defend Congress.
TMI about gerrymandering.

"Reflections of My LIfe" - The Marmalade (1969)

"Reflections of My Life" was a 1969/1970 hit single for the Scottish band, The Marmalade... The song went on to chart worldwide, reaching number three in the UK in 1969, number 10 in the US in 1970 on the Billboard Hot 100...

The guitar solo in Reflections of My Life... was recorded thus: The first 4 bars were recorded as normal, with Campbell playing a long “G” note, tied over from the last beat of bar 3, through bar 4, with slight feedback sustaining the long note. The eight track tape was then turned over, and Campbell played against the reverse sound of the track, including his initial first four bars ensuring that he played another long “G” near the same point which could be cross-faded against the original – the tape was then turned over to normal setup, and he selected just 4 bars from the reverse recording which are bars 4-7 inclusive – this was cross-faded with the original at bar 4 – lhe then picked up from bar 8 through to bar 16 as normal, so in fact, only 4 bars are actually “reversed”.
I've chosen to embed the original 1969 performance.  Those wondering how the band changed over the years might want to glance at this 1992 rendition and one from 2009.

19 August 2016

How "honey-infused corpse medicine" is made

Corpse medicine was a type of remedy produced with the bones, organs, and blood from dead bodies. It is mentioned in ancient medical texts and histories from Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and India. One of the more peculiar accounts of corpse medicine comes from the 16th century Chinese materia medica, also known as the Bencao gangmu, written by Li-Shih-chen.

In the Bencao gangmu, Li-Shih-chen describes an ancient Arabic recipe to make a medicine called “mellified man.” To make “mellified man,” an elderly man volunteered to mummify himself from the inside out with honey until he died, then his corpse was placed in a coffin filled with honey. After 100 years, his coffin was opened so his remains were harvested for medicine...

Li-Shih-chen states that he does not know if the report of “mellified man” is true, and there is no archaeological proof (that I know of) of the practice. But there is plenty of evidence that corpses were harvested for medicine, honey was used for medicine and embalming, and self-mummification were each practiced separately.
Text from Strange Remains, where there are further details and discussion of the subject.  The "excreting honey" part is obviously fantasy.  See also Mellified man at Wikipedia.

Image: "Two apothecary vessels for axungia hominis (human fat), approx. 17th or 18th century," from the Wikipedia entry on Mellified man.

How Viennetta is made

The original Viennetta was a multi-layered product comprising layers of vanilla ice cream with sprayed-on layers of compound chocolate. The layers of ice cream were extruded, one after another, onto trays sitting on a moving belt. The rate of extrusion was greater than the speed of the belt which caused a deliberate "bunching" of the ice cream; each layer was extruded at a different speed from the previous layer. The final effect was akin to a series of waves rippling through the product. Allegedly, this effect was originally unintended by Kevin's team. However, it was swiftly recognised as a winner, and the product was launched with the "bunching".
I'd be happy to clean up that waste barrel near the end of the assembly line.

If you find a shoe in your wall...

... please notify the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery.
We keep a concealed shoe index here at the museum.  At the moment the index stands at approximately 1,900 entries from all over the U.K and also records concealed shoe finds in North America, Canada, and a number of countries in Europe including France, Spain and Poland.
They note:
  • The shoes are always worn out.
  • Very often there is only one shoe.
  • Many of the shoes are for children.
  • The shoes were often put in place when building work was being done to the house.
  • It may be that if the workmen found a shoe they replaced it with a new offering, or put the old shoe back together with a new one?
  • No one knows when and how this habit began.
  • The earliest shoes we know of were put in place about 1500.
Embedded image from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, via the Washington Post.

Addendum:  a tip of the blogging hat to reader "another phil" for providing the link to this comprehensive review of the subject.

Death by kite string

As reported by The Guardian:
Two children and a man have died in Delhi after their throats were slit by glass-coated strings used for flying kites on Indian independence day.

Sanchi Goyal, three, and a four-year-old identified only as Harry, both suffered fatal injuries while looking out of the sunroof of their cars in different parts of the Indian capital on Monday. Zafar Khan, 22, died after his neck became entangled in a string while he was on his motorbike... “The manja [kite string] had cut through her neck, including the windpipe. The cut was so deep she died instantly.”

In response to the spate of incidents, the Delhi government has banned metal or glass kite strings and offenders face up to five years in prison and/or a fine of 100,000 rupees (£1,146).
These injuries resulted from the use of fighter kites flown using abrasive string.  The phenomenon will be familiar to anyone who has read Khaled Hosseini's book The Kite Runner (which I rated 4+ when I read it in 2003 in the pre-blog era).

Manja injuries can be viewed on Google Images.

A vocabulary test for you

Ghent University offers an online vocabulary test designed to provide a valid estimate of your English vocabulary size.

The test does not require you to define or spell words.  Instead you are asked to determine whether an entry ("glyph," "moktam," "macrophage," "wookel" etc) is or is not a word in the English language.

There seemed to be about a hundred words in the test, which you can proceed through at your own pace, and you can retake it if you wish (with a different group of words on the retest).  At the end you can review your errors and see the definitions of the words you missed.

I don't know how to interpret my results (second trial shown).  I correctly recognized 94% of their offered words, but I almost certainly don't know 94% of all the words in the English language.  Or maybe I do.  Perhaps someone can drill down into their methodology.
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