25 May 2016


Beware of caramel apples at room temperature: "researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Food Research Institute conclude that the sticks used to dip caramel apples are the most likely culprit [for transmitting Listeria], and that apples stored at room temperature pose the highest risk."

How to get back into an inflatable rubber dinghy.

A man whose business is decorating bananas is projected to earn $100,000 this year.

"Populations of Pacific bluefin tuna, a favourite fish among sushi lovers, have dropped more than 97 per cent from historic levels due to persistent overfishing... warning that if current trends continue, the fish would be considered “commercially extinct.”"

Replies to the question "What application do you always install on your computer and recommend to everyone?"

The management of menstrual periods is more complicated in zero gravity.

"A new study suggests that Neanderthals across Europe may well have been infected with diseases carried out of Africa by waves of anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens. As both were species of hominin, it would have been easier for pathogens to jump populations, say researchers. This might have contributed to the demise of Neanderthals... "Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases," says Houldcroft. "For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic.""

A couple living in Embarrass, Minnesota, have created "a new app that camouflages personal bodily sounds to avoid awkward social discomfort in public restrooms."

A hat tip to the elves at NSTAAF for pointing out that there is an animal that eats its pajamas.

The Army Corps of Engineers is now working with Native American tribes to coordinate a burial for the remains of Kennewick Man.

The price of solar power is falling faster than many thought was possible. Harvard’s David Keith comes honest with us about solar power: “Facts have changed. I was wrong.” The unsubsidized electricity cost from industrial-scale solar PV in the most favorable locations is now well below $40 per megawatt-hour and could very easily be below $20 per megawatt-hour by 2020. Compared to other new sources of supply, this would be the cheapest electricity on the planet.

An update on cracking the Voynich Manuscript.

A walk-off, three-run fielder's choice.  "As Wylie began celebrating and jumping around on the infield, McKinney's baserunners kept circling the bases. By the time Wylie realized it hadn't won, it was too late."  Video at the link.

A half-hour video of President Obama's complete remarks at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.

“Nobody looks like what you see on TV and in the movies. Everybody is altered,” says Claus Hansen, a beauty-work pioneer who plies his trade at Method Studios, one of the handful of shops in Los Angeles that specialize in video retouching.

Above Professor Niels Bohr’s door hangs a horseshoe. The world-famous atomic expert was recently asked if he really believed that it brought him luck. “No,” said Bohr, “of course I don’t believe it—but I’ve sometimes noticed that it works even when you don’t believe in it!” -- cited in “Danmarksposten,” Denmark (1956).

A fluorescent light bulb can light up when you touch it to a certain spot on the back of a television set.

A man sexually harasses a woman in an elevator.  The CCTV monitor records his instant karma (she delivers a right cross, then a groin kick that puts him on the floor. She follows up with a knee to his face.)

Some changes in the labeling of Google Maps.

A dad uses rubber bands to do his daughter's hair.  Wait for it... wait for it... "

Ivy League economist ethnically profiled, interrogated for doing math on American Airlines flight."

Polar bear comes to the rescue of her cub.

If someone at work asks you to sign a card, read the card before writing a message on it.

Warnings about high-profile vehicles in crosswinds should be taken seriously.  Video of an RV being blown off a road and down a cliff in Iceland.

"Director Jonathan Jarvis wants to swing open the gates of the 411 national parks, monuments and conservation areas to an unprecedented level of corporate donations, broadening who can raise money, what that money will be raised for and what the government will give corporate America in return."

Here's the video of the girl trying to use a power drill to eat corn-on-the-cob.  Trigger warning: instant focal alopecia.  Aftermath.

Update on the legendary buried gold trains of Poland.

gif of a cat training for the Olympic gymnastic competition in uneven parallel bars.

Hat tip to reader Ellen S. for finding this video of a mason bee pulling a nail out of a hole in brickwork.  It may have been staged, but it does show the capabilities of the insect.

The precise route Hannibal took over the Alps on his way to Rome has long puzzled historians.  Now researchers are hoping that DNA analysis of horse manure may provide answers.

Today's images come from a photoessay on the public urinals of Paris.  "In all Marville produced 37 photographs of “kiosks established on public roads and in walks – omnibus Offices, car guards, columns posters, market sheds, chalets window dressers, Water Closets, fountains, Trink-Halls and urinals”."

A plausible rationale for the Ultimate Answer

From a column at The Guardian:
On a Sunday in the spring of 1981 Douglas Adams was typing a letter. "Dear Ken," he began. "Your book was really very useful to me . . ." The thank-you letter from Adams to Australian writer Ken Welsh, author of Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe, continues, "[One evening in 1971] I got frantically depressed in Innsbruck . . . When the stars came out I thought that someone ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...

For many followers the question of "Why 42?" has been an enjoyable part of the enigma. Adams kept his magic in the tin, never revealing (other than to his friend Stephen Fry, who claims he'll take the secret to his grave) the full story... Adams was ever meticulous in his choice of words and numbers, and it's safe to say it wasn't a random pick.

As the book's title suggests, Adams, like most authors, was not afraid to borrow, and there are revealing similarities between Welsh's Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. One of these provides perhaps the most intriguing explanation for "Why 42?". As you may remember Adams had Deep Thought perform a little expectation management and say: "You're really not going to like it" before revealing the Ultimate Answer.

Curiously, Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe had told of visitors to the UK searching for family roots finding "the answer a little disappointing" – after traveling around the world in search of "the solution to the most puzzling question of all". A coincidence, perhaps . . . but this coincidence is on page 42.
Reposted from 2011 in recognition of Towel Day.

22 May 2016

A tour of Badger Prairie Community Garden

Some readers of this blog may be unfamiliar with community gardening.  So I thought today I'd walk everyone around the Badger Prairie Community Garden where I'm working a plot.

The top image is the best I can do for now as an "overview" (there's no high ground from which to take a photograph).  The garden covers about 1.5 acres, carved out of what was apparently a fallow farm field, and divided into about ninety 20'x20' plots, arranged in groups of six surrounded by communal pathways, with water standpipes spaced at nine locations.

Anyone can apply for one of the plots, which are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis.  The fee is based on household income and runs from a nominal $20 up to $75 for higher-income families.  Users can plant whatever they like, but it must be for personal use, not for commercial resale.  Only organic methods can be used (no herbicides/pesticides).   Participants contribute volunteer hours towards the maintenance of the common areas.  Here's the mission statement:
The mission of the Badger Prairie Community Garden is to cultivate the spirit of community and enhance quality of life by creating and sustaining organic gardens of vegetables, flowers, plants, and herbs. The gardens will foster environmental sustainability and stewardship, advance horticultural and nutritional education, provide a beautiful and natural retreat, and produce a healthy supplemental food source for its gardeners and the hungry. Local groups, schools, families, and individuals will be able to reserve plots for a sliding scale fee at the garden allowing people of all ages and abilities a part in the farm to table movement. Whether involvement is educational, economical, or just for the enjoyment of getting your hands dirty and growing your own food, this offers a great venue for bringing the Verona area community together.
Now let's walk around. 

First, a fairly conventional plot - rows of presumably veggies, straw on the walking paths, and in this case a rather high plastic fence aiming to deter local deer.

This gardener must love tomatoes:

This lattice I presume will be covered with climbing beans or other legumes:

These wide wood-chip paths and rectangular plots remind me of colonial American herb gardening.  Not sure what he/she has is growing.

It wasn't until after I'd already drawn up my own garden plan that I saw this person's maximally-efficient use of space in terms of the growing/walking areas ratio:

There are quite a few garden plots set up with raised beds of varying size and complexity.  Some of them seem to require a substantial amount of time and effort to construct.

Straw-bale gardening is becoming increasingly popular.  

One of my neighbors has set up structures for climbing veggies...

Another neighbor is apparently channeling Oscar Madison:

And here I am.  This week's photo was taken a couple weeks after my previous report when I tilled in the six wheelbarrowloads of compost worked into the plot.  Since then I've added walking paths (woodchips rather than straw) and put up a rabbit-deterring fence.  The flagging tape is not to warn the rabbits but for the children who play around the gardens while their parents work; I wouldn't want the little angels to run into the fence and hurt... the fence. 

The far row follows the native American tradition of having corn interplanted with squash.  The next row is half dill and half Florence fennel.  Then a row of carrots.  Proximal to that is half parsley and half cosmos.  Along the back left are some potatoes, basil, and blue wild indigo.  The most proximal row is still unplanted - still haven't figured out what to put there.

One of advantages of having a community garden is the availability of community resources.  Here is the shed wherein one can find equipment for garden maintenance, including mowers for the grass but also rakes, spades, pitchforks and other useful tools.  Everyone who has a plot knows the combination to the lock - so just take stuff out, use it, clean it, put it back.  (The crime scene tape is just to protect a reseeding).

On the other side of the parking lot is one of several composting sites.  My volunteer hours involve helping to get this material layered and turned.  Last week it was already cooking.  Behind it you can see the finished compost...

Here.  The autoexposure washed out the sign reading "compost ready to use."  This is one of five truckloads of finished material generated not from our own garden's waste, but from the local government's leaf-recycling.  Any gardener can help himself/herself to up to eight wheelbarrowloads.  Behind the finished compost pile you can see a now-almost-depleted pile of woodchips for pathways and walkways.  And to the left of these is...

... the pile of composted manure (ready to use)

And finally, a nice touch.  Installed at the entrance to the garden is a wash-up station with non-potable water for washing veggies.  Also a rudimentary first aid kit.

Not shown in this photoessay is the other strength of a community garden: the participants.  You start with a baseline of nice Midwesterners, and then select the subset of People Who Like To Garden, and you have very nice companions.  All that's necessary to start a conversation is to walk past someone's plot and ask "Whatcha growin?"  Friendships are easy and uncomplicated and you don't even have to wear your good going-shopping-at-Target blue jeans; you can wear your dirty-but-not-washed-because-you're-going-to-sit-in-the-dirt-again-to-weed jeans.

I'll post some followup photos as the season progresses.

Real Life Adventure

Reaching out

Last year I planted pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) in our back yard.  My goal was to attract the fabulously beautiful but rarely-seen (at our latitude) Pipevine Swallowtail to the garden, hopefully to deposit eggs on the pipevine. 
In the Summer 2001 issue of American Butterflies, an article called “The Pipe-dream Project” suggests that planting pipevines could help in increasing the distribution and abundance of this species, in a similar manner in which Bluebird houses have aided that species. Since the host plants do not grow here naturally, plantings of acceptable cultivated varieties of pipevines might be useful. (via)
Our local garden supply company had only three plants in stock; I obtained two of them, placed them in a sheltered location on the west side of tall arborvitae, and put an inexpensive trellis behind them.   The plants thrived during the summer and covered the 6-foot trellis; for the winter I just covered the base with mulch and hoped for the best.  To my delight the vine survived our winter.  This morning as I walked by to work in the woods, I noticed the vines were reaching out, looking for new purchase on some structure.

Looks like I should name the plant Audrey.

19 May 2016

The surface of Europa

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, from NASA:
An enhanced-color view, this image covers a 350 by 750 kilometer swath across the surface of Jupiter's tantalizing moon Europa. The close-up combines high-resolution image data with lower resolution color data from observations made in 1998 by the Galileo spacecraft. Smooth ice plains, long fractures, and jumbled blocks of chaos terrain are thought to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath.

When a Peacock lands on your eyebrow

Should tourists have special license plates on their rental cars?

"Holidaymakers wishing to take a road trip in New Zealand should be required to take a driving test and display “T-plates” on their vehicle to warn other drivers of any potential danger.

T-Plates for Tourists claims that foreign drivers are to blame for a disproportionate number of road traffic accidents and wants to take action to make the country’s roads safer.
"If learner drivers are required to display L-plates, and restricted drivers are required to abide by curfews and accompaniment rules, then logically it would make sense to enforce equivalent rules upon overseas drivers. A simple requirement for tourists to display T-plates would alert surrounding drivers to be extra vigilant."
Last year, a group of vigilantes on the country’s South Island, where foreign drivers make up a quarter of all road crashes, began confiscating car keys from tourists they believed were not driving safely in a move prime minister Key called “not sensible”."
Proofreader needed:
"Last year there were 13.6 fatalities involving overseas drivers..."
"Over the last five years there have been 13.6 fatalities involving overseas drivers..."

"If anyone can save humanity, it is Donald Trump"

Hindu nationalists in India support Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton's policy positions

Immigration to the United States

I've seen many immigration charts; this is the first one I can remember that plots the data as a percentage of the population at the time.  It's interesting how each group was reviled at the time and how each then resented those in the subsequent wave.

From Metrocosm, via Neatorama.

Thoughts re refugees

A poignant excerpt from the transcript of "Streetwise" - the second act in episode 572 ("Transformers") at This American Life:
Ira Glass:  "Monday of this week, she rode a bus as the next of those many steps that she has to do to become an American. She's from Afghanistan, but she lives in Detroit now. There are currently a record number of people-- 60 million, according to the United Nations-- displaced by violence and persecution, and needed to start all over elsewhere, change their lives, transform themselves. M is one of them. She's right now living in a temporary home for asylum seekers called Freedom House. And at Freedom House, they've taught her how to put together an American-style resume, how to go to the doctor in America. Today's lesson is how to get around the city independently...

M-- maybe you can tell-- is this super-capable person who seems to have no problem in any situation I see her in finding out what she needs to know and making things happen. In other words, figuring out how to ride a bus is child's play to her. She's a college grad with a bachelor's in business administration. Back home in Kabul, did project management for an international organization, humanitarian projects.

M:  "I was responsible, for example, to make need assessments, and then to check every stage of that project with the implementing partner."

Ira Glass: "It's not unusual, of course, for this immigrant who's used to a job in her own country managing things and doing PowerPoint presentations and looking at Excel spreadsheets is hoping here in America that she'll get work as a seamstress, if she's lucky. She got her papers to work legally a month ago. And looking for work so far has landed nothing." 
Readers of this blog are sufficiently sophisticated and well-read that they will not reflexly equate "immigrant" with "fruit-picker" or "roofer," or assume that a refugee must be ignorant and unskilled.  But many Americans do exactly that.

Reality bites

Photo via Reddit.

America's "drunkest" cities

"The findings were compiled by online financial news outlet 24/7 Wall St.
The group analyzed self-reported data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a joint program with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Excessive drinking, concentration of bars and alcohol-related driving deaths all were contributing factors in determining America’s drunkest cities..."

 1. Appleton, Wis.
 2. Oshkosh, Wis.
 3. Green Bay, Wis.
 4. Madison, Wis.
 5. Fargo, N.D.
 6. La Crosse, Wis.
 7. Fond du Lac, Wis.
 8. Ames, Iowa
 9. Eau Claire, Wis.
10. Mankato, Minn.
11. Wausau, Wis.
12. Sheboygan, Wis.
13. Missoula, Mont.
14. Grand Forks, N.D.
15. Racine, Wis.
16. Janesville, Wis.
17. Milwaukee, Wis.
18. Lincoln, Neb.
19. Iowa City, Ia.
20. Corvallis, Ore

"Wisconsinites consistently imbibe on a grander scale, with more than one-quarter of adults reporting that they binge or drink heavily throughout the week.

Appleton, Wis., topped the national list just six months after winning the statewide honors. Data showed that 26.8 percent of Appleton residents drank excessively and nearly one-third of driving deaths involved alcohol. The city has 4.4 drinking establishments per 10,000 residents, compared to an average of 1.6 bars per 10,000 population across the 381 cities covered by the survey."
The study also reported that the driest cities were in the Bible Belt.

Mercury transit music video

Brought to you by NASA:
The Solar Dynamics Observatory obtained an uninterrupted vista recording not only in optical light but also in bands of ultraviolet light. Featured here is a composite movie of the crossing set to music.
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