28 March 2015

And now for something completely different...


"The Lost Thing" won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

A Monsanto lobbyist defends herbicides - LOL


When asked about the toxicity of Roundup (glyphosate), he argues that it's "safe enough to drink."  Then...

Syrian child


Thinking the photographer's camera was a gun, the four-year-old child "surrendered."

Details here, discussed at Reddit.

Dementia and identity

Excerpts from an essay at Aeon:
Memory becomes like a flickering signal from a faraway shortwave radio station: people can do and say things, then promptly forget them, and then do and say them again. They can no longer read obvious social cues. They become easily distressed as a thickening fog descends upon them, causing them to lose track of everything. As the disease progresses, only fleeting glimpses of the once capable person can be seen; for the rest of the time, everyone is stuck with an uninvited guest. Eventually, the sufferer fails to recognise even loved ones.

Dementia raises deeply troubling issues about our obligations to care for people whose identity might have changed in the most disturbing ways...

It’s no wonder that carers feel everything from mild annoyance to profound grief as they take on ever more onerous responsibilities of shoring up someone’s fading sense of self. ... ‘The person I’m dealing with, the person I’m yelling at, the person who’s making me weep with frustration, is like a stranger. He looks like my husband, but Howard’s gone.’

...highlights the significance of physical routines, which, like recalling the steps in a dance, become more important as the ability to follow written instructions dwindles. Even the simple act of walking can restore a dementia sufferer to feeling fit, healthy and capable...

If the environment is cognitively overloaded, with bewildering signs, forms and instructions, not to mention smart devices, then it will make someone with dementia feel less capable and more distressed...

People with dementia need environments that are constant and reliable, and so require little new learning. Living with such people entails embracing the pleasures of patient repetition rather than constant novelty.

The difference between red oak and white oak


Explained (in a little too much detail) by a shipwright in terms relevant to boat building, but the principles illustrated would be of interest to anyone who works with wood.

"Let's meet on the corner at 60th and 60th"


If you are in Queens, NY, you have a multitude of choices - 9 intersections and 28 corners by my count.

Image cropped for size from the original at The Land of Maps.

26 March 2015

Paramilitary defender of African wildlife


The photo is of Kinessa Johnson, an "anti-poaching" advisor.  Here are the links to her Instagram posts and her Facebook page.

Kinessa works for VETPAW - "Veterans Employed To Protect African Wildlife."
VETPAW provides meaningful employment to post-9/11 veterans, utilizing their expertise to train and support Africa’s anti-poaching rangers to prevent the extermination of keystone African wildlife, and the disastrous economic and environmental impact it would have.
In a Reddit thread Ryan Tate, the co-founder of VETPAW responds to the somewhat misleading term "Poacher hunter" to explain that the goal is not simply manhunting:
I think you're slightly missing the point of paramilitary operations to save wildlife. Paramilitary operators do not go out with the intent to kill anyone that breaks laws, they go out with the intent of securing a location by use of a military structure and strategy, which means they cover more ground and are more effective in covering large areas of operation.

I run into this issue all the time because many think my organization (VETPAW) is just a bunch of American war mongering gunslingers coming to throw lead down range and shoot poachers in the face. In fact that's the complete opposite of what we provide- my team has spent so much time in war zones that they are the last to crack under pressure and pull the trigger. ..

What you'll find is that when poachers hear that any type of ex military or paramilitary operators are in the region, the poaching will cease in that area...
Kinessa has done an AMA on Reddit.  The weapon in the photo, btw is a SI Defense 300WM PETRA Rifle.

Factors influencing the size and shape of f-holes


The f-holes in the body of a violin have evolved to their current shape as the result of generations of trial and error by violin-makers, as reported in a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society:
Owing to its long-standing prominence in world culture, we find enough archaeological data exist for the violin and its ancestors to quantitatively trace design traits affecting radiated acoustic power at air cavity resonance across many centuries of previously unexplained change. By combining archaeological data with physical analysis, it is found that as sound hole geometry of the violin's ancestors slowly evolved over a period of centuries from simple circular openings of tenth century medieval fitheles to complex f-holes that characterize classical seventeenth–eighteenth century Cremonese violins of the Baroque period, the ratio of inefficient, acoustically inactive to total sound hole area was decimated, making air resonance power efficiency roughly double.

The corresponding evolution rates are found to be consistent with (a) instrument-to-instrument mutations arising within the range of accidental replication fluctuations from craftsmanship limitations and subsequent selection favouring instruments with higher air-resonance power, rather than (b) drastic preconceived design changes from instrument-to-instrument that went beyond errors expected from craftsmanship limitations.
Or, to put it another way...

P(r,f)jρair(2πf)2(kh02)[vair(f)vstructure(f)]cosθejkr4πr,


Lots more at the primary link, and in an article in The Economist, via BoingBoing.

Fennec fox plays with two girls


Those who found the image of the captive fennec fox disturbing should enjoy this video of a fennec fox interacting with two little girls on his home turf, so to speak.  A hat tip to reader Ellen S. for locating the video.
Its name comes from the Arabic word فنك (fanak), which means fox, and the species name zerda comes from the Greek word xeros which means dry, referring to the fox's habitat.

Rich people complain that they are losing influence in national politics

To be more precise, the merely rich are losing influence to the super-rich.

The Washington Post focuses on the lost influence of the "bundlers":
Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking...

But there is a palpable angst among mid-level fundraisers and donors that their rank has been permanently downgraded. One longtime bundler recently fielded a call from a dispirited executive on his yacht, who complained, “We just don’t count anymore.
We should clarify that the "bundlers" are not necessarily millionaires, but that millionaires are encountering the same problem.

Their response - to focus more on buying Congressmen rather than a president:
Other bundlers, on the left and the right, are turning their attention to congressional races, where they can get more personal attention.

“Senate candidates will call asking for $2,700, and they are eager to talk,” said David Rosen, a longtime Democratic fundraiser. “When they come to town, they’ll meet with you one-on-one. But $2,700 won’t even get you a parking spot at a super PAC event.”

"Smooshing" cards is an efficient way to shuffle


A Stanford University mathematician explains some of the nuances of shuffling playing cards.  Most of it is standard math (7 shuffles adequate, more superfluous), but the comment that "smushing" (1:00 in the video) works quickly and effectively was new to me.

Embrace your birthmarks


As a person born with a prominent birthmark, I've always been interested in how other people handle theirs.  This man accepted his ?vitiligo, and with the addition of some judiciously-placed pen ink, converted it into a map.

Via Neatorama.

Shopped at Radio Shack? Your data is for sale.

As reported by PC World:
For years, RadioShack made a habit of collecting customers’ contact information at checkout. Now, the bankrupt retailer is putting that data on the auction block. A list of RadioShack assets for sale includes more than 65 million customer names and physical addresses, and 13 million email addresses. Bloomberg reports that the asset sale may include phone numbers and information on shopping habits as well...

As Bloomberg points out, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that selling the data would be illegal under state law. Texas doesn’t allow companies to sell personal information in a way the violates their own privacy policies, and signage in RadioShack stores claims that “We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.” Paxton believes that a data sale would affect 117 million people.

24 March 2015

Illustrations from "The Red Tree"


I found this visually interesting book by Shaun Tan (Simply Read Books, 2002, ISBN 0968876838) in our library.  You can also view the contents at the equally-interesting Poemas del Rio Wang.

Update on credit card skimmers


Over the past five years I've written three posts about credit card skimmers.  In 2009 an alert to the existence of skimmers that steal your credit card data at ATMs.  In 2010, photos of some virtually undetectable skimmers.   Then in 2011 reports of skimmers found inside hacked gasoline pumps.

This year's report comes from Krebs On Security, which reminds us that security tape on a card-accepting device (gas pump for example) is meaningless.
Tyler wanted to know what would prevent a scammer from simply removing the tape from one reader and placing it back on top of a compromised reader? Or, since most people probably wouldn’t know to look for the presence of tape around the card reader, how about just placing the skimming device right on top? I wondered that as well...

Of course, security tape wrapped around a card reader at a gas pump isn’t going to stop most pump skimming attacks, which start when someone with a master key for the pump opens it up and fiddles with the guts of the machine. The crooks figured out a long time ago that only a handful of master keys are needed to open the majority of the gas pumps in use today.
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