21 December 2014

How Christmas crackers were made in the 1930s

Referring to "the 50's" or "the 60's" is grammatically incorrect

Contractions for numbers follow the same rules as contractions for words. As a apostrophe goes where the letters are dropped in a contracted word (e.g. you are into you're) the same applies to numbers (e.g. 1950s into '50s)... By putting an apostrophe between the numbers and the "s" (e.g. 50's), you are making the "s" possessive
I see this type of mistake ("music of the 60's") frequently while browsing the web - and sometimes in the comments here.  I think I sometimes refer to groups of years as "the 90s" without an apostrophe at all - not sure if that's acceptable.

London's newest tourist attraction

Via Bad Newspaper.

The UN Convention Against Torture

Several weeks ago The Dish live-blogged the release of the torture report.  It makes for difficult reading.  An important, earlier, related post provides a detailed rebuttal to those who defend the use of torture (boldface added):
It’s worth recalling in that context the actual words of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and torn to shreds by Dick Cheney. It guts both lines of Tenet’s purported defense. First up, there can be no attempt to craft techniques that are close to torture but designed to slip through a legal loophole. The Treaty’s full title is, for example, “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment“. The definition of torture is this:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Intimidation and coercion are also expressly forbidden, when implemented and authorized by an officer of state. President Reagan included the broad definition in his signing statement:
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
In other words, the entire point of the Convention is to prevent any wriggle room around what torture is and to include inhumanity...

Just as important, the context is irrelevant. Tenet’s plea to understand the context he was working in has no place here:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
More at the links.

So you like to take quizzes?

I'm waiting (impatiently) for the annual King Williams College General Knowledge Quiz, which presumably will be released just after Christmas.  In the meantime I peeked at the Royal Statistical Society Christmas Quiz, which is equally near-impossible.

Here is the first of the ten questions:

1. Setting the scene (12 points)

In whole or in part, which works are set on, in or at:
  • (a) A ship at sea; The Palace of Theseus; An open place; The guard-platform of the castle
  • (b) Antwerp, c. 925; Thuringia, c. 1200; Rome, c. 1350; Gothic Spain, at an unspecified time
  • (c) A Leicestershire castle, c. 1194; A Warwickshire castle, c. 1575; ‘A large and antiquated edifice’ in Northumberland, c. 1715; Prestonpans, 1745
More at the link.  Alternatively, here is their 2011 quiz --- with the answers.

A tortoise rescues an overturned comrade

Discussed at Reddit.

Wealth inequality is not just an American problem

Via the always-interesting Nag on the Lake.

Democracy as a vehicle for tyranny

That democracy can be a vehicle for tyranny was well understood by earlier generations of liberal thinkers. From Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill through to Isaiah Berlin, it was recognized that democracy does not necessarily protect individual freedoms. The greatest danger for these liberals was not that the historical movement toward democracy would be reversed, but rather the potential ascendancy of an illiberal type of democracy — a development they saw prefigured in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory of the general will. Legal and constitutional protections have little force when majorities are indifferent or hostile to liberal values. Because democratic regimes can claim a source of legitimacy that other forms of government lack, liberty might be more threatened in the future than in the past. Most human beings, most of the time, care about other things more than they care about being free. Many will vote readily for an illiberal government if it promises security against violence or hardship, protects a way of life to which they are attached, and denies freedom to people they hate.

Today these ideas belong in the category of forbidden thoughts. When democracy proves to be oppressive, liberals insist it is because democracy is not working properly — if there were genuine popular participation, majorities would not oppress minorities. Arguing with this view is pointless, since it rests on an article of faith: the conviction that freedom is the natural human condition, which tyranny suppresses. But the mere absence of tyranny may allow no more than anarchy; freedom requires a functioning state, with a competent bureaucracy and a legal system that is not excessively corrupt, together with a political culture that allows these institutions to work independently of lawmakers.

In the absence of these conditions, human rights — which are, fundamentally, legal fictions that are created and enforced by well-organized states — are meaningless. Such conditions do not exist in most of the world today and will not exist in many countries for the foreseeable future, if ever. Where they do exist, they are easily compromised. Far from being the natural condition of humankind, freedom is inherently fragile and will always be exceptional.

Liberals in all countries find this prospect intolerable...
An excerpt from the thought-provoking essay Under Western Eyes, by John Gray.

Adrenaline rush videos of 2014

A compilation of over 200 snippets from this past year's YouTube videos.  No single common theme, but a heavy preponderance of adrenaline-junkie material, about which I have mixed feelings.  But there are several segments in here I plan to post as full videos, after I retrieve them from this list of the source material.

BTW, if you're going to watch this, it's the type of video that really benefits from clicking the fullscreen icon at the lower right.

Cranberry packaging

Cropped for size from original at imgur, via Reddit.

If a garlic head in the store smells like garlic... don't buy it.

This scientifically valid advice comes from the staff at Cook's Illustrated, who note that "garlic is one product where a strong fragrance is a sign of questionable quality rather than potency. "

Because this recommendation is so logically counterintuitive, try reasoning out the rationale for it before peeking at the explanation below the fold (and at the link).

15 December 2014

"History is a set of lies agreed upon" - Napoleon

"The typical spices used in winter include nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and anise. These spices contain two groups of chemicals, the allylbenzenes and their isomers, the propenylbenzenes. It was suggested 40 years ago by Alexander Shulgin that these substances act as metabolic precursors of amphetamines...Humans may be exposed to amphetamines derived from these precursors in forno, the formation during baking and cooking, for example in the preparation of Lebkuchen, or Christmas gingerbread. It is possible that this may be responsible, in part, for uplifting our mood in winter. "

A set of two articles in Der Spiegel details the outrageous profits made by the human scum who act as traffickers for persons seeking asylum in Europe. "Jafir had insisted that the total fee for the trip to Italy -- €7,000 ($8,735) per person -- be paid in advance. Ahmad doesn't comment on the amount, which corresponds to at least two average annual salaries in prewar Syria... Ahmad and 126 other refugees boarded the vessel..."

The Motherboard at Vice explains that "erection vendors" in Peru are driving some amphibians toward extinction.  "Frog Juice, or Jugo de Rana, as it's referred to in Spanish, has been dubbed the Peruvian Viagra. It's a concoction that's believed to have strong medicinal powers with purported benefits including increased blood flow, lung function, and more poignantly, sexual stimulation."

The top song played in U.K. funerals is the Pythons' Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  I posted the video six years ago; I suggest clicking that link and playing it while reading the rest of this linkdump. ("Always look on the bright side of death.  Just before you draw your terminal breath.")

An article (with video) at The Telegraph documents the changes that occur when a man adds ten non-diet Cokes a day to his diet.   In a month "the previously gym-toned Mr Prior put on two stone in weight, and saw his blood pressure rise to an unhealthy 145/96. He also reported strong cravings for more sugar, even though he was consuming 350g of sugar daily from his Coke intake alone."

So, you think you understand Putin's role in the situation in Ukraine?  What if someone said it was the West that was responsible for the escalation of hostilities?  "Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia."  That's Henry Kissinger speaking.  The op-ed piece at Salon suggests "this is a non-Western nation drawing a line of resistance against the advance of Anglo-American neoliberalism across the planet."

Terminal lucidity is the subject of an interesting article in Scientific American.  The term refers to "The (re-)emergence of normal or unusually enhanced mental abilities in dull, unconscious, or mentally ill patients shortly before death, including considerable elevation of mood and spiritual affectation, or the ability to speak in a previously unusual spiritualized and elated manner."  For example " A 92-year-old woman with advanced Alzheimer’s disease... hadn’t recognized her family for years, but the day before her death, she had a pleasantly bright conversation with them, recalling everyone’s name."  At one of the links in the article a reasonable postulate is that when the brain is dying, an inhibitory hemisphere or locus dies first, releasing normal function by memory cells that had previously been suppressed.

Big Agriculture doesn't want libraries to share seeds.

The largest known block of stone carved by humans weighed an incredible 1,650 tons.  It was created in about 27 B.C. but never used for construction. (via Neatorama).

In six years your IRA balance can go from $5,000 to $196,000,000.   But only if you know how to twist the intent of Congress to your personal advantage.

"A German man committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital after being accused of fabricating a story of money-laundering activities at a major bank is to have his case reviewed after evidence has emerged proving the validity of his claims."

As you watch the American collegiate football playoffs, take a moment to ponder this tweet by the quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes: "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS."

A gif of a German sport called headis.  Discussed at Reddit.

Vortices in swimming pools are way more complicated and interesting than you would expect (also via my old friends at Neatorama).  What you're really seeing is both ends of a "half-vortex ring."

YouTube link.

 Wikipedia is the number one "go-to" resource that saves me countless hours of searching. TYWKIWDBI supports Wikipedia; if you enjoy this blog, you should support them too.

Top image of Trapiche emeralds (Muzo, Colombia) via Minerals, Minerals, Minerals!  Time travel image via Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.  I am going to do a sign like that for our front yard next summer.

The way things are going, I may be able to return to regular daily blogging in about one more week.

06 December 2014

"I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it’s a complete mystery."

BoingBoing offers a comprehensive report entitled Everything you need to know about marijuana edibles.  "It’s important for individuals to develop an idea of how they personally metabolize any oral cannabis preparation, starting with a very small dose and remaining patient until it’s thoroughly metabolized over six hours, before taking more... individuals only having experience with the low-potency cannabis of the Seventies and Eighties can be unpleasantly overwhelmed when consuming today’s cannabis."

This autumn in a garden outside the House of Commons in Westminster a gardener was employed to pull the leaves off the trees one by onePhoto at right.

The Telegraph offers a comprehensive list of all the winners of the Man Booker Prize from 1969 to 2013.  Each one is accompanied by a thumbnail sketch, often with a link to a comprehensive review of the book.  I'm embarassed at how few of them I've read.

Naval war games in the Pacific Ocean threaten the lives of countless marine creatures.  "Through 2018, the Navy plans to use 260,000 explosives — some as heavy as 2,000 pounds — and emit high-frequency sonar for a total of 500,000 hours — including 60,000 hours of the most powerful sonar.

The population of Germany is falling; it is down by 2 million.  "Mr. Voigt has already supervised the demolition of 60 houses and 12 apartment blocs, strategically injecting grassy patches into once-dense complexes... In its most recent census, Germany discovered it had lost 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million.  Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe’s seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline."

A dinosaur newly discovered in Argentina - Dreadnoughtus schrani - is the largest animal ever found (so far).  It weighed 65 tons (a Boeing 737 weights 50 tons).  The photo at left shows a toe bone.

A desert plant plant, Helianthemum squamatum, can derive up to 90% of its fluid requirements from crystallization water (hydrates) trapped in gypsum rock.  Discussed at Reddit.

The Belgian chocolate maker ISIS has decided to change its name.

One appears to be gray and the other yellow, but these two Xs are the same color:

A vaccine has been developed to prevent tick-borne Lyme borreliosis.  Commentary at Reddit.

The first "Knock, knock.  Who's there..." was written by Shakespeare:  "Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' th' name of Belzebub? . . . [Knock] Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil's name?"  [Macbeth II:3, 1-8]

Those readers who have been following developments in the Antikyhthera mechanism will want to read about an update on the subject.  The date it was constructed to be used was 205 B.C. - earlier than previously thought.

Millennials are not interested in golf.  "Last year alone, some 400,000 people gave up the sport in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation. At least 160 golf courses closed down, which marked the eighth consecutive year of net closings around the country. Golfers played the lowest number of rounds since 1995."

Unusual horse for sale (image embedded right), via the always funny Bad Newspaper.

If you live in Europe and find an unusual object washed up on the beach, with the word "Tjipetir" written on it, you can read an explanation of it in the Washington Post.

The top (by Ali Akbari) and bottom (by Adam Williams) photos in this post are two of the 101 images presented in the 2014 International Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition.

Title quote (attributed to Charles M. Schulz), found at Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.

29 November 2014


An article at the BBC explores why so many Americans live in mobile homes.  "Not everyone who lives in a trailer park is poor."  My father lived in one in Texas for many years .

The WildCat is an impressive robot developed by the U.S. Defense Department. Video at the link.

The "choking game" is "an activity popular among 9- to 16-year-old kids in which they strangle themselves or each other — sometimes at parties or sleepovers — to get a high. The most common reported age of death is 13, Alex’s age. Many kids like Alex — smart kids who do well in school and have loving families — regard the Choking Game as a legal and safe alternative to drugs; one popular nickname for this is the Good Kids’ High."

The Atlantic explains how close New York City is to a food crisis, if supplies from outside the city are disrupted by natural or manmade events: "New Yorkers rely chiefly on food from across the country, or the other side of the world. And to complicate matters, in recent decades the big companies that run these systems... keep much smaller inventories than in years past, sized to meet immediate demand under stable conditions—a strategy known as "just-in-time."

 Some medical facilities in the U.S. are now permitting patients to be visited by their pets. "In the end, officials decided that the benefits — comfort and reduced stress for patients — were more substantial than the risks. 

The Ancient History Encyclopedia has TMI for right now, but it is a good link to bookmark for reference and future browsing.  Its content is exactly what the name suggests.

The World Memory Championships are a remarkable test of human abilities.  Components of the competition include:
1. Names and faces: recall as many as possible in 15 minutes
2. Binary numbers: remember as many binary figures, which are made up of 0 and 1, in half an hour
3. One hour numbers: to memorise as many random digits in complete rows of 40 in one hour
4. Abstract images: recall the sequence of abstract images in as many rows as possible in 15 minutes
5. Speed numbers: remember random digits, in rows of 40, as quickly as possible in five minutes
6. Historic/future dates: recall as many years as possible and link them correctly to given fictional events in five minutes
7. One hour cards: remember as many separate decks of 52 playing cards as possible in one hour
8. Random words: recount as many random words, such as dog, vase, spoon, in 15 minutes
9. Spoken numbers: memorise as many single digits spoken aloud in one second intervals as possible
10. Speed cards: recall as single pack of 52 playing cards in the shortest possible time.
Additional details are available in an article in The Telegraph.

The Sahara desert is experiencing a "catastrophic collapse of its wildlife." "Of 14 species historically found in the Sahara, four are now extinct, and the rest are heading that way.... the region has lost the Bubal hartebeest (which is entirely extinct), the scimitar horned ornyx (extinct in the wild), the African wild dog and the African lion, while the dama gazelle, addax, leopard and the Saharan cheetah have been eliminated from 90 percent or more of their range."

The earth has vast resources of fresh water - underneath the oceans. "The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we've extracted from the Earth's sub-surface in the past century since 1900."

Some people think the U.S. and Canada should merge into one country.  "Such a merger makes perfect sense. No two countries on Earth are as socially and economically integrated as the U.S. and Canada... Truth be told, the merger of the U.S. and Canada is already well under way. As many as one in 10 Canadians (more than 3 million people) live full- or part-time in the U.S., and an estimated 1 million Americans live in Canada."

An op-ed piece at Salon argues that referring to every soldier as a "hero" cheapens the term.

FlirOne infrared cameras attach to a cellphone and can be utilized in a variety of ways to do your own home inspection looking for heat and water leaks.

The "jetway Jesus phenomenon" is a term flight attendants use to refer to passengers who get rides through airports in wheelchairs, then miraculously get up and walk.

Was Vincent Van Gogh murdered?  "And, anyway, what kind of a person, no matter how unbalanced, tries to kill himself with a shot to the midsection? And then, rather than finish himself off with a second shot, staggers a mile back to his room in agonizing pain from a bullet in his belly?"

Photos of vinyl hoarders and their hoards.

The first house in the United States to have electric lights was in Appleton, Wisconsin.  The homeowner operated a mill and set up a hydroelectric plant for the house.

A previously-unknown Shakespearean First Folio has been discovered in a French Jesuit library.

During WWI, tanks were designated "male" or "female."  The latter had machine guns.

"The former leader of a Christian ministry that promised to cure people "trapped in homosexuality" has revealed that he has married his gay partner."

"The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They’re even made by the same company. But one holds a clear price advantage. Avastin costs about $50 per injection.Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection.  Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually... Doctors and drugmakers profit when more-costly treatments are adopted... “Lucentis is Avastin — it’s the same damn molecule with a few cosmetic changes..."

The National Library of Norway is in the process of digitizing its entire holdings. "If you happen to be in Norway, as measured by your IP address, you will be able to access all 20th-century works, even those still under copyright. Non-copyrighted works from all time periods will be available for download. "

ELI5 explanation of why oil (and gasoline) prices have been plummeting


The title of this linkdump is one of the penultimate lines from The Court of Tartary, a fantasy by T.P. Caravan first published in 1963. In the story, a professor of English literature "awakens" to find his mind is entrapped in the body of a cow, and the herd seems to be destined to the slaughterhouse.
"Edward Harrison Dunbar, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., L.L.D., member of the Modern Language Association and authority on eighteenth century literature, was not prepared for the situation in which he found himself: it had never been mentioned by any of the writers of the Age of Reason....

And even as he ran he wondered if he couldn't prove that Edward Young was the true author of the third book of Gulliver's Travels, because he knew that if he stopped thinking scholarly thoughts about the eighteenth century he would have to admit that he had turned into an animal. So as he ran he considered the evidence turned up by the publication of the Tickell papers and the discovery of Swift's old laundry lists and Night Thoughts and the graveyard poets and Gray's Elegy and the lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, and he had to admit that he was an animal....

There was no point in approaching his difficulty through the scientific method: he knew no science. There was no help for him in metaphysics: he had cleared his mind of Kant. Nor could the classics aid him: he had read Ovid, of course, and the Golden Ass, but he didn't see how they bore on his problem. And — he hated to admit it — nobody in the eighteenth century seemed to have wondered what would happen to a scholar who woke up and found himself a cow. All right. That left only his own experience to fall back on. But, being a professor, he had never had any experiences..."
He decides to use his hoof to draw a triangle in the dust.  Then... if I've piqued your curiosity, you can read the full story in ten minutes fulltext online at Scribd.


The photographs (found here, here, and here) embedded above in this weekend linkdump are of Prince's Island Park, located in the Bow River as it passes through Calgary.  The backside of the island abuts the community of Eau Claire, but its nicest feature is that the front of the island faces the delightful community of Sunnyside, a suburb of Calgary characterized by an uncommonly large number of intellectually sophisticated residents.

23 November 2014

Return of the Weekend Linkdump

Gotta do this.  Otherwise the links accumulate and multiply like coathangers in the closet.

Video of massive numbers of mullets (fish, not hairdos) becoming prey during their annual migration.

An introduction to the Paraguayan "Archives of Terror," which "listed 50,000 people murdered, 30,000 people disappeared and 400,000 people imprisoned."

In the United States, this year was "a record year for costume-buying, with more Americans than ever shelling out for children’s costumes ($1.1 billion), adult costumes ($1.4 billion) and costumes for pets ($350 million)."

Video of people annoying a giant anaconda.  The participants have been fined by local authorities, but the video does show the impressive size of the snake.

Halloween pranks by television weathermen.  See what happens when you stand in front of a green screen wearing a green-background skeleton costume, or if you just wrap a green cloth around your head.

Time-lapse video of the night sky captures the explosion of a bolide.

Apparently it's a thing now to create tattoos on horses by gluing glitter on the haunches.

Bergli Books (Switzerland) will publish a book exposing the "Asian Timber Mafia" that is devastating the rainforests of Borneo.

How to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Scary dashcam video - this one in the United States, not Russia.  A man driving at night encounters traffic cones set up as a roadblock.  Not done by the police...

Why you can't outrun a grizzly bear.  This video taken from a vehicle on level ground, but I've seen other videos documenting their incredible speed while running up a steep mountainside.

A massive resource for anyone interested in clothing of the Elizabethan era.  Links for everything from underwear to hats.  Worth bookmarking.
An interesting commentary on Vladimir Putin's recent speech at the Russian equivalent of the west's Davos summit.  "A Russian commentator named Dmitry Orlov... said of Putin’s contribution, “This is probably the most important political speech since Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of March 5, 1946.”" "This is the speech not of some kind of nostalgic empire builder — Putin dismisses the charge persuasively — but of a man genuinely afraid that the planet is close to tipping into some version of primitive disorder. Absent less adversarial international relations, we reach a moment of immense peril."

Scientists offer a biologic/physiologic basis for people's perceptions of the existence of "ghosts."

"A dying grandmother was granted a final wish of seeing her favourite horse one last time - after the animal was brought to visit her in her hospital bed."

Ethnic plastic surgery - "procedures outsiders generally view as deracinating processes, sharpening the stereotypically flat noses of Asians, blacks, and Latinos while flattening the stereotypically sharp noses of Arabs and Jews."

Hacks for air travelers.

An informed Reddit thread discussing whether (or to what extent) the recent Rosetta mission has changed our understanding of comets.

An incredibly massive and detailed reading list of history books.

"After becoming frustrated with the superficial standards his female co-workers were held to in regards to the way they dress, Karl embarked on an experiment to test these standards on himself. He wore the same blue suit every day. First for a week, then for a month, then for a year... no one has noticed; no one gives a shit.”
Obamacare premiums will rise next year.  This graph puts that in perspective.

A website offers links to 73,000 private webcams whose owners have not secured them with passwords.  You can peek at the warehouse floor.  Or the baby's crib.

A mother decries the names of some modern cosmetics: "More than once I’ve been in the gruesome position of having to discuss with my daughter the benefits of 'Orgasm' over 'Super Orgasm', or deliberating over palettes labelled F Bomb, Bang and Spunk. Having to ask the shop assistant for one of them takes the conversation to another level altogether."

The lady in this photo -

- does not know what the internet is, but she does understand what a "get well" wish is, and would like to thank everyone ("Who ARE all these people???") for their kind comments.

Top photo found at Reddit/imgur; sadly, today the cheese will stand alone, because the Vikings as a team are in no shape to compete with them.  

Thumbnail embeds via an entertaining collection of business signs at 22 Words.
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