30 July 2014

Chinese physicians honor a dead patient

The only 11-year-old primary school student Liang Yaoyi from Shenzhen suffered from a brain tumour and shortly before his death, he decided to donate his kidneys and liver. On June 6th, his wish was fulfilled and within eight hours, the organs that he had donated were able to save several lives...

Regrettably, he would not be able to become a doctor, and thus he decided to donate his organs as well as his own body to a medical school, therefore fulfilling his dream of entering a medical university in this way. Photo is of after the operation was completed, when doctors pushed his body out of the operating room, and bowed to Yaoyi and his mother three times. At this moment, his mother covered her face, and cried bitterly.

The inside track is important in China

Sports officials in northeast China have claimed the gold medal for incompetence after authorising the construction of a running track with right-angled corners.

The track was completed recently as part of a major refurbishment of a 100,000 sq ft stadium in Heilongjiang province’s Tonghe County...

But the running track’s designers got their angles badly wrong – painting 90-degree corners onto the track rather than the usual curves...

When senior Communist Party leaders recently announced plans for a last-minute visit to the stadium, a quick makeover suddenly became necessary. Painting right angles was faster than painting curves, one official admitted.

“In order to get it ready for the leaders, we painted it like that,” he confessed. “We think it is ugly too but if the leaders don’t ask us to change it, what are we supposed to do?

Deaths in Gaza

15.47 Inna Lazareva has verified the video shown earlier of individuals celebrating the death of children. Here is an extract of her report.
"There is no school tomorrow; there are no children left in Gaza,” chanted the right-wing extremists gathered opposite Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night, waving Israeli flags and shaking their fingers in the air.

As the the cries of “I hate all the Arabs” and “Gaza is a cemetery” intensified, some of the protestors tried to accost the participants in one of the country’s biggest anti-war demonstrations this year.

“Go protest in Gaza!” they shouted at the thousands spread all over Tel Aviv’s main protest square, in a demonstration that dwarfed the extremists’ riot.
Infographic from the Washington Post.

How to do well on standardized school tests

An article at The Atlantic opines that knowledge per se is not the key factor:
This is a story about what happened when I tried to use big data to help repair my local public schools. I failed. And the reasons why I failed have everything to do with why the American system of standardized testing will never succeed. A few years ago, I started having trouble helping my son with his first-grade homework. I’m a data-journalism professor at Temple University, and when my son asked me for help on a worksheet one day, I ran into an epistemological dilemma. My own general knowledge (and the Internet) told me there were many possible “correct” answers. However, only one of these answers would get him full credit on the assignment...

In essence, I tried to game the third-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the standardized test for my state. Along with a team of professional developers, I designed artificial-intelligence software to crunch the available data. I talked to teachers. I talked to students. I visited schools and sat through School Reform Commission meetings. After six months of this, I discovered that the test can be gamed. Not by using a beat-the-test strategy, but by a shockingly low-tech strategy: reading the textbook that contains the answers...

This is because standardized tests are not based on general knowledge. As I learned in the course of my investigation, they are based on specific knowledge contained in specific sets of books: the textbooks created by the test makers.
More at the link.

29 July 2014

Tahitian drumming

The drums musicians play have a hierarchy system. Drummers start on a large bass drum called tariparau (sometimes called pahu). This is the only drum that the very few female drummers in Tahiti play. It has two membranes traditionally made out of sharkskin and is struck with a single mallet making the timbre low but only slightly resonate. It provides the basic pulse for the rhythm. The second drum in the rank is the fa’atete drum. It is a single membrane which can be struck with hands or drum sticks. It is usually made out of coconut tree wood with sharkskin stretched across with intricate carving of flowers, sea turtles, leaves and designs on the bottom. It plays a slightly more complex texture than the tariparau. It has a high tom sound with less resonation. The last main drum is the most challenging to play. It is called the to’ere and is one of the main sounds associated with Tahiti. It’s a hollowed out log, usually from milo, kamani or kou wood (all trees native to Tahiti). The instrument is anywhere from two to six feet long (usually around three to four), with a slit down the side. It is played with a cone-shaped stick also made out of wood, and depending on where the instrument is struck, the sound will change. Like the tariparau, it also has carvings. The timbre is a hollow sound with higher pitches and moderate resonation.

The style of dance is widely known for the specific hip movements that later led to the hula dance in Hawai'i. They are abrupt hip movements that are enhanced by long grass skirts. The upper body remains more fluid and the head rarely moves.
More at Wikipedia.

Sects-related deaths

There is an old joke that goes like this...
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"Well, there's so much to live for!"

"Like what?"

"Are you religious?"

He said, "Yes."

I said, "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"

"Christian."

"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

"Protestant."

"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"

"Baptist."

"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"

He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."

I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off. 
It's not really a funny joke, but rather one created to emphasize the tragedy of intolerance not between religions, but between sects of the same religion.  And it happens in real life:
Taliban terrorists stopped a convoy of minibuses traveling through western Afghanistan, questioned the passengers, then pulled all the Shiites into the road and shot them dead...

The Islamic militants then demanded to know which riders were Shiite. Fourteen were identified — including three women. The terrorists then bound their hands and led them off the bus and down the road.

The 14 were shot and killed.

The other passengers were allowed to continue their journey.

The unusual etymology of Des Moines, Iowa

The literal translation may be "shit-faced," as explained in the Des Moines Register:
Michael McCafferty, a visiting lecturer at Indiana University who has spent decades researching Algonquian languages, agrees with the commonly held notion that the "Moines" in Des Moines is a French derivation of Moingoana, an Indian tribe that once lived along the banks of the Des Moines River.

But he insists that rather than denoting the tribe's true identity, the name was a ribald joke offered up to French explorers Marquette and Jolliet in 1673 as a bit of razzing between competing Indian communities...

McCafferty based his conclusion on the work of another linguist, David Costa, who wrote an article on the etymology of a number of Miami-Illinois tribal names, Moingoana among them. Moingoana, McCafferty cites Costa, originates from the word "mooyiinkweena" -which translates, politely, to "the excrement-faces."
I learned this from a recent podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish (whose website seems to have no such thing as a search box...)

Barbara Stanwyck

She was born Ruby Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the daughter of a bricklayer. When she was 4, Ruby's mother Catherine, pregnant with her sixth child, was pushed from a streetcar by a drunken passenger, which killed her almost immediately. A few months later her father Byron Stevens ran away to Panama digging the Canal, leaving her sister Mildred to support the children as a chorus girl. She took Ruby on the road, whetting her appetite to be a dancer. She went to work at the local telephone company for $14 a week, but she had the urge to somehow enter show business. When not working, she pounded the pavement in search of dancing jobs...
She went on to garner four Academy Award nominations for best actress in a leading role, won several Emmys and a Golden Globe, and had an immense filmography.

Image and text from Rob's Webstek.

22 July 2014

Milkweed in midsummer


The timing varies with latitude and microclimate, but in general, common milkweed reaches its floral maximum in midsummer.    It would be a bit of an exaggeration to call the plants "magnificent" or "stately," but they are certainly impressive, rising 4-5 feet high with a thick stem to help support a half-dozen blossoms as big as softballs.


Through the summer months those compound blossoms provide an abundance of nectar and pollen not just for the Monarchs, but for other butterflies and innumerable solitary bees and other insects. 

I posted earlier this summer about the complex morphology of the blossoms and how their strategy for pollination makes the blossom occasionally lethal to unwary small insects.  That is an uncommon occurrence, and for the most part when one wanders through a patch of mature milkweed, there is an abundance of small insects hovering nearby (and often a resident crab spider lurking in the flower). 

The fragrance is strong and reasonably pleasant, but not a prominent feature of the plant.  Midsummer will also find the plant hosting a variety of other insects - aphids tended by ants, milkweed beetles and milkweed bugs, lacewings and their eggs, and the milkweed tussock moth.  The ecology is complex and worthy of a separate post (next summer).

Next step:  the spectacle of seed production.

The first 1000 digits of pi


Posted for 22/7.  Discussed at Reddit.

21 July 2014

The skin of some animals contains light-sensitive opsins


By far the most interesting item I've read this week is at Not Exactly Rocket Science:
When Domenico Fulgione placed Moorish geckos on dark surfaces, he saw what he had seen for years. These spiny, hand-sized lizards changed colour. Within an hour, their typical creamy white complexions transformed into blacker hues that better matched their environment.

And then Fulgione blindfolded the geckos.

They still changed colour. How does an animal adjust its colour to match its environment, when it can’t see that environment at all?...

These bizarre results started to make more sense when the team analysed the gecko’s skin. They found that the skin is rife with opsins—light-sensitive proteins that are the basis of animal vision. When light enters your eyes, opsins in your retinas respond by triggering chemical reactions that send signals to your brain. That’s how you see. The Moorish gecko has plenty of opsins in its eyes too, but the team also found these proteins all over the skin of its torso. It’s especially common in the lizard’s flanks, and in cells called melanophores that are filled with dark pigments.

The researchers think that the flank opsins can respond to surrounding light levels and automatically adjust the gecko’s colour. If they’re right, the lizard has a kind of distributed vision that is independent of its eyes, and perhaps its brain. In other words, it can “see” with its skin.
Fascinating.  More details at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

I found the video of an octopus several months ago at 22 Words.

"Daylighting" explained

Trout Brook long had been buried in a pipe by the railroads, which laid tracks atop the streambed to ensure a smooth descent into the downtown yards.

Now a new and winding streambed for the brook, which runs through a stormwater tunnel near Interstate 35, has been carved down the middle of the 42-acre Trout Brook Nature
Sanctuary and Regional Trail, which is slated for official opening next spring.

It’s called “daylighting,” the process of unearthing a stream typically filled in by urban development, and it’s an increasingly popular strategy to improve water quality and aid neighborhoods in need of natural amenities...

Daylighting streams is occurring across the country and overseas, in places such as Hutchinson, Kan.; Yonkers, N.Y.; and Seoul, South Korea. National Geographic reported last year that more than 70 percent of streams are paved over in some cities...
Further details at the StarTribune.  Photo credit Kevin Duchschere

Don't be embarassed by a colostomy bag


Backstory and additional photos at Huffington Post, via Neatorama.

Tax cuts do not necessarily "pay for themselves"


The situation in Kansas is detailed at Vox:
In 2012, Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed a massive tax cut into law, arguing that it would boost the state's economy. Eventually, he hoped to eliminate individual income taxes entirely...

Yet though Brownback is running for reelection this fall in a deep red state, he's trailed his Democratic challenger in 3 of the 4 most recent polls — and his marquee tax cut appears to be the main reason. Kansas is now hundreds of millions of dollars short in revenue collection, its job growth has lagged the rest of the nation, and Moody's has cut the state's bond rating...

After the cuts became law, it was undisputed that Kansas's revenue collections would fall. But some supply-side analysts, like economist Arthur Laffer, argued that increased economic growth would deliver more revenue that would help cushion this impact. Yet it's now clear that the revenue shortfalls are much worse than expected. "State general fund revenue is down over $700 million from last year," Duane Goossen, a former state budget director, told me. "That's a bigger drop than the state had in the whole three years of the recession"...

The declining revenues have necessitated extensive cuts in state education funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Moody's cut of the state's bond rating this May was another embarrassment...

Brownback, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has blamed President Obama for his state's growing red ink. "This is an undeniable result of President Obama's failed economic policies of increasing taxes and overregulation," Brownback's revenue secretary Nick Jordan said.

Honeycomb as art


"Ren Ri creates sculptures using plastic, wooden dowelling and a swarm of bees…"

Via The QI Elves @qikipedia.
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