25 June 2016

Snark-hunting map

"He had bought a large map representing the sea,
    Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
    A map they could all understand.

"What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    "They are merely conventional signs!

Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we've got our brave Captain to thank"
(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best --
    A perfect and absolute blank!"
An excerpt from Fit the Second of The Hunting of the Snark.

23 June 2016

Brexit returns surprising so far...

This evening many sources, including the American BBC broadcast, admitted that the outcome of the voting was too close to call, but that insiders, pundits, and bookmakers were cautiously predicting a "remain" victory.

But at present (10pm CDT), with 57.6% of the vote tallied, "leave" is leading "remain" by 51.5% to 48.5%.

The pound is undergoing a severe fall, as are futures for the S&P 500 - currently implying a Dow average down 500 points at the open.

Live coverage at The Telegraph, The Guardian, and the BBC.

Fascinating.  I'm going to be up late tonight.

Addendum:  Live coverage on C-SPAN and on CNN International, and of course on BBC.  And MSNBC.  And CNBC.  Birmingham results expected in 15 minutes, and probability of "leave" winning overall is now at 80%.

Pound/dollar has plunged 10%, to lowest level in 30 years ($1.35).  And this is with London still asleep at 0430 there.

Scotland has voted - countrywide - to stay in the EU.  So if the overall vote result is to "leave," the prospect arises that another referendum will be called to vote on Scotland leaving the UK.

72% voting turnout among the electorate puts the U.S. to shame by comparison.

Addendum:  BBC and ITV have now "called" the election for "leave."  Historic.

Addendum on the morning after:   I was up until the wee hours last night listening to analysts on four different broadcasts.  There is an immense amount to read this morning.  As usual I start with the discussion threads at Reddit.  Here are several of the top-rated ones:

Cameron to resign as PM

A thread for those from other countries

Miscellaneous viewpoints and comments

And one with some humor '"if other countries leave the EU." (credit for embedded image)

No blogging today - I'll be busy surfing the web and trying to peek at the future.

22 June 2016

"To the manner born"

I spent the evening of the summer solstice sitting outdoors with a recreational beverage, reading the only first edition I own - a copy of John Dickson Carr's Speak of the Devil.

One of the secondary characters in the story, set in Regency England (1816), is H.R.H. The Prince Regent, who speaks as follows to a lady:
"A charming curtsy, b'gad! Charming!  Miss Adair, your knee -- if I may mention such a delicate subject -- is to the manner born."
(She replies "Your Royal Highness is too kind.")

It's not a phrase encountered very often on this side of the pond, and I needed to sort out in my head the distinction from the old BBC comedy "To the Manor Born."

First I generated an Ngram chart (above) with the two phrases ("manner" in blue, "manor" in red).  Then a quick visit to The Phrase Finder gave the definitive answer:
Any examination of 'to the manner born' has to include a mention of its often-quoted incarnation, 'to the manor born'. That has a similar meaning but stresses manorial birth, that is, it refers to someone born into the nobility. 

The 'manner' version is earlier and there's some debate amongst etymologists as to whether the second of these phrases was coined deliberately as a play on words, or whether it is just a misspelling of 'manner' as 'manor'. The third possibility, that they arose independently, is highly unlikely. 

'To the manner born' was used by, and probably coined by, Shakespeare, in Hamlet, 1602:
HORATIO:     Is it a custom?
HAMLET:      Ay, marry, is't:
      But to my mind, though I am native here
      And to the manner born, it is a custom
      More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
The meaning there is clear. Hamlet knows the custom being spoken of because he is native, that is, born locally. 

Hamlet was written in or around 1600 and published in 1603. The 'manor' version comes much later. The earliest reference I've found so far is in The Times, July 1859...
The article there goes on to discuss the television program and also concludes that the pre-existing concurrent existence of manner/manor is an eggcorn.

"Enhance the reflection"

Adobe Flash Player critical update recommended

As reported by Krebs On Security:
Adobe on Thursday issued a critical update for its ubiquitous Flash Player software that fixes three dozen security holes in the widely-used browser plugin, including at least one vulnerability that is already being exploited for use in targeted attacks.

The latest update brings Flash to v. for Windows and Mac users alike. If you have Flash installed, you should update, hobble or remove Flash as soon as possible.

The smartest option is probably to ditch the program once and for all and significantly increase the security of your system in the process...

If you choose to update, please do it today.
Details and resource links here.

Amazing marble machine

Ca'n't, wo'n't, and sha'n't

This week I was doing one final reread of Alice in Wonderland (a 1962 paperback version) and was struck by some archaic spelling:
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone; "so I ca'n't take more."
"You mean you ca'n't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
Elsewhere the same style was applied to wo'n't and sha'n't.

Just out of curiosity I ran ca'n't through Google's Ngram viewer (result above), which shows that double-apostrophe'd contractions have not disappeared (though I can't tell whether the modern usages are simply new editions of older books).

A quick web search yielded these comments by Lewis Carroll in his Preface to Sylvie and Bruno Concluded:
Other critics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as “ca’n’t”, “wo’n’t”, “traveler”. In reply, I can only plead my firm conviction that the popular usage is wrong. As to “ca’n’t”, it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in “n’t”, these letters are an abbreviation of “not”; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, “not” is represented by " ‘t”! In fact “can’t” is the proper abbreviation for “can it”, just as “is’t” is for “is it”. Again, in “wo’n’t”, the first apostrophe is needed, because the word “would” is here abridged into “wo”: but I hold it proper to spell “don’t” with only one apostrophe, because the word “do” is here complete.
Wordsmiths, grammar Nazis, copyeditors - any thoughts?

21 June 2016

Donald Trump postulated as a "Manchurian candidate"

An excerpt from the Washington Post this morning:
THE BIG IDEA: Salman Rushdie floated last fall that Donald Trump is a Democratic plant whose ultimate goal is to get Hillary Clinton elected president. [video excerpt at the link] To many conservatives, this feels less and less facetious.

The presumptive GOP nominee has spent the past few weeks doing almost everything you would do if you were trying to throw an election, from attacking a federal judge over his Mexican heritage to not building a serious ground game or actively raising the money necessary to wage a credible campaign for the presidency.

At the end of a day that started with Trump firing his campaign manager... he filed an embarrassing May fundraising report late last night with the FEC. Despite raising $3.1 million and loaning himself another $2 million, Trump began this month with less than $1.3 million cash on hand.

Clinton, by comparison, raised $28 million and started off June with $42 million in cash. Bernie Sanders, with his campaign winding down, still brought in $15.6 million last month and had $9.2 million cash on hand...

-- To be sure, Trump is not running anything close to a conventional campaign. And we might be making a mistake judging him by those standards. A big part of his appeal is that he is unorthodox. He beat better-funded Republicans in the primary, and he can afford to raise less than Clinton because of the free media attention he commands and the sheer force of his personality. But being outraised so dramatically (nine-to-one!) undeniably puts him at a palpable disadvantage in the nuts-and-bolts side of 2016. And a general election is a far different beast than a Republican nominating contest...

So where did all the money go? Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy report that the campaign paid out more than $1 million to Trump-owned companies and to reimburse his own family for travel expenses... the biggest sum [for events] went to Trump's own Mar-A-Lago Club, which was paid $423,317. Meanwhile, the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, got $35,845, while the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fl., was paid $29,715. And Trump’s son Eric’s wine company received nearly $4,000.
There are a lot more details at the Washington Post.  Photo credit Ralph Freso/Getty Images.

Bill Maher's response to the Manchurian Candidate theory (here) was that it is on a par with the World Trade Center attack being an inside job... ridiculous.  The very idea that the Clintons could be involved in "dirty politics" or that Donald Trump would do something like this is of course, laughable.  Perhaps that's what they were laughing about at one of his weddings...

20 June 2016

"Gaudeamus Igitur"

Time to say goodbye to graduation season.
"De Brevitate Vitae" (Latin: "On the Shortness of Life"), more commonly known as "Gaudeamus Igitur" ("So Let Us Rejoice") or just "Gaudeamus", is a popular academic commercium song in many Western countries, mainly sung or performed at university graduation ceremonies. Despite its use as a formal graduation hymn, it is a jocular, light-hearted composition that pokes fun at university life. The song is thought to originate in a Latin manuscript from 1287. It is in the tradition of carpe diem ("seize the day") with its exhortations to enjoy life. It was known as a beer-drinking song in many early universities and is the official song of many schools, colleges, universities, institutions, student societies and is the official anthem of the International University Sports Federation...

The lyrics reflect an endorsement of the bacchanalian mayhem of student life while simultaneously retaining the grim knowledge that one day we will all die. The song contains humorous and ironic references to sex and death, and many versions have appeared following efforts to bowdlerise this song for performance in public ceremonies. In private, students will typically sing ribald words. 
A video with the Latin lyrics and English translation is here.  Both texts can also be read at the Wikipedia link.

"Hamboning" demonstrated

"This amazing Hambone performance by Samuel Hicks starts out at a normal pace and then increases in tempo to a blazing finish. Shot in North Carolina back in early 1990s while visiting my brother."
The Juba dance or hambone, originally known as Pattin' Juba (Giouba, Haiti: Djouba), is an American style of dance that involves stomping as well as slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks.

The Juba dance was originally from West Africa. It became an African-American plantation dance that was performed by slaves during their gatherings when no rhythm instruments were allowed due to fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming.

Later in the mid-19th century, music and lyrics were added, and there were public performances of the dance. Its popularization may have indirectly influenced the development of modern tap dance... It was often danced in minstrel shows...

Cordyceps on a tarantula

I've previously posted a David Attenborogh-narrated video of cordyceps in ant brains and emerging from a leaf-roller.  Now here it is affecting a tarantula, via BoingBoing.

Reposted from 2012 to note that the "gold rush" for cordyceps in Tibet is fading.  The Economist reported on the phenomenon last year:
Children are at the front line of the armies of Tibetans (almost every able-bodied rural resident in Yushu) who will spend a frenzied month scouring the hills for what they call yartsa gunbu. In Chinese its name is dongchong xiacao, literally “winter-insect-summer-grass”, for that is what it resembles...

This is Tibet’s annual gold rush. Yartsa gunbu is so highly valued as a medicine that it often sells for more than its  weight in the metal. It has many purported benefits, ranging from preventing cancer to curing back pain. But what makes it so prized is its supposed ability to improve sex lives. It is often described as a “Himalayan Viagra”, good for treating erectile dysfunction and (in women as well) low libido...

The children’s good eyesight and short stature make them the best spotters of the fungus among blades of grass and stalks of ground-hugging cinquefoil shrubs that soon, as the weather warms, will dot the slopes with bright yellow flowers. It is not a job for those unused to the plateau’s thin air. Caterpillar fungus, as yartsa gunbu is usually called in English, is generally found at altitudes above 4,000 metres (13,100 feet). That is higher than Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which borders on Yushu and occupies about half of the plateau...

Digging them up requires painstaking effort. A small pick is used, with great care taken not to break the sprout from the caterpillar’s body. There is little demand for separated pieces; yartsa gunbu is dried and consumed whole. Aficionados gauge the quality of a caterpillar fungus based partly on the relative lengths of body and sprout—impossible if there is no way of being sure whether they were once attached...

[d]espite much effort, no one has yet succeeded in producing commercially viable quantities of good-quality yartsa gunbu in artificial conditions. This means colossal dividends for Tibetans. In the TAR the retail value of the more than 50 tonnes of yartsa gunbu harvested there in 2013 was around 7.5 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), equivalent to nearly half its earnings from tourism..

To boost demand for the fungus, some merchants adulterate products made of it with Viagra...
Much more information at the long read at The Economist, including discussion of the social and environmental impacts.

This year there is evidence that the mania is subsiding:
The trouble is, it’s getting harder and harder to hunt down the caterpillar fungus, which can’t grow fast enough to keep up with Chinese appetites. Tibetan nomads told Frayer that the yield from this year’s harvest was the lowest they’d ever seen...

Meanwhile, prices for the fungus are falling, and harvesters fear China’s crackdown on corruption could hurt demand for the product as a high-value gift for officials. A recent health warning about arsenic levels in caterpillar fungus products is a further headache for cordyceps hunters.

“The locals know it’s a false economy, or at least temporary in many ways — one Tibetan man referred to the fungus as “fool’s gold” and he worried that one day they will be worthless,” Frayer said.
Photo credit Kevin Frayer (more images at the link)

Shallow roots

A striking visual reminder that the roots of trees do not extend deeply into the earth.  Cartoons and illustrations of trees often portray the root system as a mirror image of the above-ground branches.  Some species in arid climates can send down deep tap roots, but for the most part tree roots spread horizontally to harvest precious rainfall and inhibit competitiors. 

Photo from the Photoshopbattles subreddit, where one entry depicts the hardwood under the carpet.

17 June 2016

"Kiss me, you fool"

After I laughed at the cartoon, the classic line in the title for the post popped into my head and I wondered where it came from.  I found the answer at SFGate:
After all, catchphrases have been a major part of people's enjoyment and contemplation of cinema for almost 100 years. The phenomenon even predates sound. In 1915, millions of Americans went to see Theda Bara as a deadly vamp in the silent film "A Fool There Was." In an intertitle she told her hapless slave, "Kiss me, my fool!," which was immediately adapted as "Kiss me, you fool!" and said by millions of women to their husbands and boyfriends.
Here's the relevant moment from the film -

Helping the osprey

For as long as I can remember, when I've driven past a certain intersection in north-central Minnesota, I've looked up to view an osprey's nest located on top of a barren scrag (residuum of a storm-damaged red pine, I think).  This year I did a double-take because it looked so different.  I had to stop the car to study it, and realized that the crag was still there (on the left), but a new structure had arisen, with a huge nest atop it:

A quick search of the 'net after I got back home led me to a news story about the response of some volunteers in the Walker, Minnesota area:

A 30-year-old osprey nest destroyed by high winds last year was successfully replaced March 11 on Onigum Road.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Lake Country Power, Leech Lake Reservation Division of Resource Management, Leech Lake Association and Agency Bay Association, the new nest will soon be home to osprey.

Steve Mortensen of the Leech Lake Reservation Division of Resource Management donated the materials for the nest, while the procurement of the pole through Lake Country Power was done with the help of supervisors Jim Hill and Jim Wimmer.

Lake Country Power linemen Paul, Joel and Shannon used a cherrypicker to repair and put up the nest, which is almost 60 feet above the ground.
Photo of the crew at the link.  Here's the location on Google Streetview (turn to the right to see the old nest on the crag).

Cockfight chair

As eighteenth-century English printers produced increasing numbers of books and members of the upper classes read more, the private study or library and its furnishings became an important part of the domestic interior. This chair is one of the earliest examples of specialized furniture with functions specific to reading. Designed so a male reader could sit astride facing the adjustable book ledge, the chair features a candle holder in one arm and a tray for writing implements in the other. Curiously, this form also became known as a “cockfight” chair, and was depicted in illustrations of cockfights. One possible reason is that the chair allowed managers to safely sit, bird in hand, with the padded back protecting the user’s chest.
That explanation for the colloquial term for the chair is met with skepticism at the Encyclopedia Britannica:
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