18 September 2017

The world has an abundance of "Devil's Bridges"

The one in the photo above (that doesn't look real...) is the Rakotzbrücke at the Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau (Germany).  (summer photo)
Devil's Bridge is a term applied to dozens of ancient bridges, found primarily in Europe. Most of these bridges are stone or masonry arch bridges and represent a significant technological achievement. Each of the Devil's Bridges has a corresponding Devil-related myth or folktale. Local lore often wrongly attributes these bridges to the Roman era, but in fact many of them are medieval, having been built between 1000 and 1600 AD. In medieval times some Roman roads were themselves considered beyond human capabilities and needs, and therefore had to have been built by the devil.
List of such bridges and some legends at the link.

Is this the "worst ever" legend for a bar graph?


Ásatrú - the religion of the Vikings

Excerpts from an article at Iceland Magazine:
The religion of the original Viking settlers of Iceland, the old Norse paganism Ásatrú, is not just still alive and well in Iceland, it is undergoing something of a renaissance...

According to figures from Statistics Iceland 3,583 people belonged to Ásatrúarfélagið on January 1 2017, up from 1,040 members 10 years ago. The membership has grown by 244% since 2007, making paganism the fastest growing religion in Iceland over the past decade...

This growth has come in spite of the fact that unlike other religious organizations Ásatrúarfélagið has never engaged in any form of missionary work or proselytizing...

The weekly meetings of Ásatrúarfélagið are open to the public, as are all its official ceremonies, the blót...

Ásatrú has no prescribed dogma or scripture. However, you are however encouraged to read the Poetic and Prose Eddas written by the 13th-century chieftain and scholar, Snorri Sturluson. No one actually prays to the gods and how you might ask their intercession is entirely up to you. The gods are imperfect and not divine. They are seen more as friends and don´t judge us humans...

Ásatrú, as it has been practiced in Iceland, is a religion of nature and life, stressing the harmony of the natural world...

Many neo-pagan groups in Europe and the US who consider themselves observers of the religion of the Vikings, practice a religion which glorifies battles, militarism, masculine heroism and in some cases chauvinism, violence, intolerance and racism. Some white-power groups and members of Aryan Nation gangs practice these forms of paganism. Ásatrúarfélagið rejects this as a misreading of Ásatrú.

Long-distance macro lens

Due to hit the shops next year, the Laowa 24mm f/14 Relay 2x Macro lens has a rather long lens barrel that Laowa says can be used to shoot shy subjects at difficult spots without scaring them.
Explanatory video here.

Even more on the Equifax horror story

You know about the security breach affecting 143 million Americans.  You probably didn't know (perhaps don't want to know?) what Krebs on Security reported yesterday:
But the official list of victim countries may not yet be complete: According to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, Equifax can safely add Argentina — if not also other Latin American nations where it does business — to the list as well...

It took almost no time for them to discover that an online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: “admin/admin.”...

Once inside the portal, the researchers found they could view the names of more than 100 Equifax employees in Argentina, as well as their employee ID and email address. The “list of users” page also featured a clickable button that anyone authenticated with the “admin/admin” username and password could use to add, modify or delete user accounts on the system.

A review of those accounts shows all employee passwords were the same as each user’s username. Worse still, each employee’s username appears to be nothing more than their last name, or a combination of their first initial and last name. In other words, if you knew an Equifax Argentina employee’s last name, you also could work out their password for this credit dispute portal quite easily.

But wait, it gets worse... 
More details at Krebs on Security

This at a company whose business is credit monitoring and financial security, for fox ache.


Via the Hmmm subreddit.

Bespoke porn

Bespoke: In sense “custom-made”, 1755, from earlier bespoken (c. 1600), form of bespeak, in sense “arrange beforehand” (1580s).  Primarily used for tailoring, now also used more generally, as fancier term for custom-made, notably for software, as in a “bespoke solution”.
Most people are familiar at least with the concept of bespoke clothing custom-tailored to the individual.  Most probably are not aware that the pornography industry offers bespoke products.
It is very unusual to find second cameramen on porn sets these days: the internet is killing porn-makers who take pride in production values. It’s because the money is now in the pockets of the tech giants in faraway cities such as Montreal, owners of sites such as PornHub that are crammed with pirated content illegally uploaded by fans; PornHub is currently the world’s 38th most popular site.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been tracing the consequences of all that free porn. It’s laying waste to the Valley, compelling some actors to take up escorting, and putting crews and production companies out of business.  But... he explains that customs – bespoke porn – is a new growth industry in the Valley. In houses all around us, teams of professional porn-makers are staying afloat by conjuring into life entire films for just one viewer...

Dan plays me the flyswatter video. In it, a fully clothed woman becomes exasperated because there’s a fly and, to make matters worse, she’s misplaced her flyswatter. Eventually she finds it and spends the rest of the video swatting flies...

Next, Dan shows me a film commissioned by a client they call Condiments Man. A woman in a swimsuit sits in a paddling pool. Rhiannon stands above her, out of shot on a ladder, holding industrial-sized tubs of condiments. And she starts to pour them over her head: ketchup, relish...

Stamps Man, Dan says, is from Norway. He spent 40 years assiduously amassing a stamp collection, which he mailed to them for the purposes of the video.

Dan presses play. It fades in on a book of stamps lying on a living room floor. Three young women enter. They complain about it being hot outside and wonder if they should take a shower. But then they notice the stamp collection. They pick up the book and leaf through it.

“He would rather look at this stamp collection than have sex with me,” one of the women says.
“All the more reason to get rid of it,” her friend replies.

So the girls stomp on the stamps, twisting their heels into the pages. Stamps rip and tear. Then they throw the remaining stamps into the fire.

“Burn! Burn! Burn!” they chant. “This is so fucking awesome.”

“In real life, the girls felt bad about it,” Rhiannon says. “We kept trying to assure them, ‘No, this is really what he wants.’” She pauses. “He’s such a sweet guy. I’m very curious to know what he’s like in real life.”
Much more at The Guardian (safe for work).  This was also the subject of a recent podcast on This American Life.

13 September 2017

Divertimento #134

An interesting jigsaw puzzle.

"An 11-year-old Minnesota girl is recovering from bone-deep lacerations to her foot after being bitten, apparently by a large fish, on Island Lake north of Duluth.  Island Lake is home to large muskies and northern pike."

Annoying floor tile.

"The coastal areas of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, are home to tens of millions of pounds of dumped munitions, said Niall Slowey, a professor at Texas A&M University who has more than a decade researching the topic. That number includes 30,000 tons of chemical agents like mustard, that were dumped following the World Wars."

Unlike wine, whisky does not mature in the bottle.

Romanian waterfall.

"The Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes says that her drinking routine never deviates, remaining the same day after day.... prior to lunch she has a gin and Dubonnet, served with a slice of lemon and ice. During lunch she enjoys a glass of wine and, once evening arrives, the Queen sips on a dry martini, followed by a glass of Champagne."

Odd tattoo.

"Non Je Ne Regrette Rien" translated to English (video).  Marginally safe for work.

"For gulls in Chilean Patagonia, seal pup poop laced with parasitic hookworms is a tasty treat. But the eager birds are snapping up their meals just a little too near to the pups, to the detriment of the seals' tender rear ends..."

ELI5: If we are running out of helium, why are we still selling canisters for balloons?

"Nearly every day for the past 25 years, Arakawa has been diving into the waters of Hasama Underwater Park in Tateyama, Japan, to visit Yoriko—an Asian sheepshead wrasse.  (video)

The unexpected horrors of space medicine (especially space surgery).

Longread on a life well lived.

There seems to be no end to the problem of credit card skimmers at gas pumps: "... the first known example of a skimmer that used SMS messages to exfiltrate its stolen data. More usually, skimmers store their data, and then dump it over Bluetooth when a crook returns to the scene of the crime -- using SMS obviates this step and significantly reduces the criminal's risk."

"You don't need a parachute to skydive.  You only need a parachute if you're going to skydive twice."

"Between 500 and 1,000 shipwrecks were recorded around Quebec’s isolated Magdalen Islands."
(15-page photoessay at the link).  Interesting.

A scary article for anyone planning to vacation in Mexico.

How to fill multiple watering cans.

Clever husband.

"You will be exactly half as old as your mother only once in your life, and that is when you are the same age she was when she gave birth to you."

A man meets a mother grizzly bear and her cubs walking toward him on a narrow trail.  He films and narrates while he walks backwards...

Your facial blackheads may not be blackheads.

"No matter how much we love green energy, we have to admit that wind turbines completely destroy the picturesque landscape."

"How the CIA Came to Doubt the Official Story of JFK’s Murder."

"Harris Hawks are attacking walkers and runners after escaping from falconries across the country, with experts warning that the predators are now breeding in Britain."

Runners World explains "What you need to know about plantar fasciitis."

"Usually bodies emerged from the ice at the top of the glacier, rather than its “tongue” at the bottom of the valley, Jackowski said. The extent to which bodies have been preserved by the ice depends on the circumstances of the person’s demise, with some human remains having been mummified by sunshine and dry winds before being engulfed in ice, while others have been reduced to skeletons."

Annual Redhead Day in the Netherlands.

Young woman applies 100 coats of nail polish to her fingernails (video with 20 million views).

An example of how DNA testing can yield surprisingly unexpected results (longread, but interesting).

Webpage for the Democratic Socialists of America.

"Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a hoodie, the county mayor spent three days and two nights walking and sleeping among the homeless and drug-addicted in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood. One night on the street. One night in the shelter. His experience was "shocking" on multiple levels, he said."

"Out of public view, corporations are cutting deals that give consumers little choice but to buy brand-name drugs — and sometimes pay more at the pharmacy counter than they would for generics."

"Telling patients to stop taking antibiotics when they feel better may be preferable to instructing them to finish the course, according to a group of experts who argue that the rule long embedded in the minds of doctors and the public is wrong and should be overturned."

"... copper should not come in in direct contact with food or drinks that have a pH below 6. The pH of a traditional Moscow mule, made with lime juice, ginger beer and vodka, is well below 6.

Power washed.

Some men consider it necessary to prove their manliness by punching a bear trap with their fist.

Excellent license plate for a Chevy Impala.

Embedded images from Le Livre des Miracles (The book of Miracles)(1552), via Elisandre - L'Oeuvre au Noir.

12 September 2017


Via the Pics subreddit.

Worker shortage in Wisconsin

I first became aware of worker shortages in the Midwest earlier this summer when I was visiting the Minnesota north woods - an area whose economy is heavily dependent on tourist trade to fishing resorts.  Owners of those resorts rely heavily on immigrant labor for what amounts to seasonal employment.  The positions do not require skilled labor - waiting tables in restaurants, cleaning cabins, servicing the docks.  Few Americans want such jobs for a six-month period, but lots of students in Scandinavia for example are (were) glad to come to northern Minnesota for a modestly-paying job in a pleasant and familiar environment.  When immigration controls were tightened, many employers found such applicants less available.

The Wisconsin State Journal is now running a feature series entitled Workers Wanted: Wisconsin's Looming Crisis.  Herewith some excerpts...
Employers from a broad range of industries are reporting difficulty finding workers — and not only for skilled professionals such as nurses, welders and computer programmers, who require a strong education and training system, but also for workers with a high school diploma and some additional training at restaurants, farms, construction sites, factories, senior care facilities, retailers and other businesses...

There are already many state and regional efforts afoot to address the problem, though much of the focus has been on a "skills gap" — the shortage of workers for the advanced-skill jobs of the future that often require years of technical training — even as employers and economic development officials grapple with a much broader people shortage...

Wisconsin's 3.2 percent unemployment rate in July is near a record low and down from a peak of 9.2 percent in January 2010. That's well below what economists consider to be "full employment" — the level at which everyone who is willing and able to work is employed, or about 4 or 5 percent...

Wisconsin also has an aging workforce. Between 2010 and 2025, the 65-and-older population is expected to have increased by two-thirds, while the working-age population is expected to remain flat... The baby boomer retirement has been on the horizon for more than a decade, but the recession delayed some of its impact as older workers stayed in the workforce...

When employers say they can't find workers, what they often mean is they can't find workers willing to work at the wages and benefits offered... More than half (51 percent) of the jobs that listed a low-end wage listed hourly pay levels below the United Way's survival wage for a single person. Even among the jobs that listed a top pay range, 16 percent were below the survival wage...

Many employers around the state express frustration about the quality of the available workforce. They complain about new hires lacking minimal "employability" traits such as showing up for work on time, dressing appropriately and basic communication. Some describe applicants who won't return phone calls yet continue to apply for jobs elsewhere, possibly to fulfill the state's new requirements for receiving unemployment benefits...

Other factors contributing to the worker shortage in Wisconsin may include national immigration policy — though the national immigrant workforce has continued to grow steadily — rising incarceration rates, the growing opiate drug epidemic and a geographic mismatch in where workers and jobs are located, particularly between Milwaukee and its suburbs.

Low-income workers might lack access to transportation and child care, making it harder to work or receive training. In some cases the potential loss of public benefits or garnished child support payments make working for $10 to $12 an hour less appealing...

To milk his 70 cows he’s employed a few part- and full-time workers over the years. But hiring has become more challenging — there has been some decline in available immigrant labor and young workers too often spend time fixated on their phones, De Buhr said... In the past few years he raised hourly wages from $8 to $10 an hour, but workers are asking for as much as $14 an hour now, a sign of the tight labor market and the economic reality of how difficult it is to live on less... So in April, De Buhr cut out the need for two workers entirely by paying $200,000 for a robotic milker.. “It’s milking 24/7 and I don’t have to worry about somebody not showing up,” De Buhr said. “You can mess a herd of cows up in a big hurry if they’re not milked in a timely manner.”..

He worries if nursing homes can’t find quality workers “more and more seniors are going to be turned away from assisted living.” “I hate to say it, but you’re hiring the best of the worst,” Ammons said. “The cream of the crop are genuinely taken. No matter who walks through your door there’s one eye open about: ‘Why are you not working?’”
Much more at the links.

Related:  "An Ohio factory owner said Saturday that though she has blue-collar jobs available at her company, she struggles to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests.
Regina Mitchell, a co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test... "We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we're moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air."  [according to the NYT, she solved the problem by taking unqualified people and training them]

Photo credit: John Hart, State Journal.

Failing the "robot test"

Abstract expressionism vs. Minimalism


You can place me in the category of people who think a lot of "art" is bunk, but having said that, I have to admit that in this video Elisabeth Sherman from the Whitney explains the opposite viewpoint quite lucidly and persuasively.

p.s. to other bloggers - in recent weeks, YouTube seems to have altered their "sharing" options.  In particular, I seem to be unable to download videos at the greater (?650) width that was previously an option.  The "embed" link now always defaults to 560x315. 

Visitation stones

Photographed while walking past the historic Forest Hill Cemetery* in Madison, Wisconsin.  I had to look up some background on the custom.
One of the most common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the gravesite of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting...

The origin of this custom began long ago, when... the body would be placed in the ground, covered with dirt and then large stones would be placed atop the gravesite, preventing wild animals from destroying the remains.

Over time, individuals would go back to the gravesite and continue to place stones, ensuring the security of the site and as a way to build up the “memory” of the loved one...

Another explanation of this custom is derived from the phrase often inscribed on a headstone that reads: t’hey nishmato tsurura b’tsor hachayim (may the soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life). Interestingly, the word tsurura (bound) is related to the word tsur, a pebble kept by shepherds in their slings to keep track of the number of sheep in the herd. 
More information at the Jewish Cemetery Association website.

Related: This morning while running errands I was listening to podcast #180 of No Such Thing As A Fish.  They mentioned a headstone inscribed "You will always be remembered, never forgotten."  It had been left behind at a Dublin airport...

* see also Confederate graveyard - in Wisconsin!

10 September 2017

Best summary of Hurricane Irma status


I don't know who this guy is, but he's good.  This is not an official NWS presentation; he appears to be a well-informed enthusiast on tropical weather.  His presentation is fast and concise.

That's in contrast to the national news media reporters who have to stand out in the wind and "fill airtime" with repetitive and worthless drivel.  I was pleased to see a Hurricane Harvey victim talk back to a CNN reporter:
“Yeah, that’s a lot of shit. But y’all sitting here, y’all trying to interview people during their worst times. Like, that’s not the smartest thing to do.” (“Sorry,” began Flores.) “Like, people are really breaking down, and y’all sitting here with cameras and microphones trying to ask us, ‘What the fuck is wrong with us?’ (“I’m so sorry. . . . ”) And you’re really trying to understand with the microphone still in my face. When she’s shivering cold and my kid’s wet and you still putting a microphone in my face!”
Then a day or two ago a CBS reporter on the nationally-broadcast evening news covering Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys asked a fisherman - and I quote -
"What would it do to your bottom line if you lost your boats?"
What would it do to "your bottom line" if you didn't have boats??? She asked this question of a commercial fisherman, for fox ache.

I've given up on television coverage.  I found the above video in this tropical weather live thread.

And here is the Tropical Tidbits blog by Levi, who produced the video summary I embedded above. 

Addendum:  If you have family or friends on the Florida coast (or other coastline anywhere in the world apparently), you can look up their height above sea level by plugging their address into ElevationMap.

09 September 2017

Freezer corn

"Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered."            --Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
For Ray Bradbury, summer was preserved in dandelion wine.  Here in Wisconsin and Minnesota, we preserve summer in freezer corn.

The first step is an early morning visit to a local farm.  They harvest at sunrise and bring it into a barn for processing.  Modern sweet corn is incredibly sweet - much more so than the strains of corn I grew up with 50-60 years ago.  And modern corn holds that sweetness longer, before the intrinsic sugars start turning into starch.  Even so, it's best to obtain, prepare, and eat the corn as soon as possible after it's harvested.  Throughout the summer we go to this farm every 3 days.

After the shank is chopped and the ear is inspected (top photo), the corn is moved to a self-serve table, and then it's first-come first-served until they run out.  The entire process is done on the honor system.  You take what you want, figure the cost from a chart on the wall (it's about 50c/ear), put your money in the open cashbox and take change if you need it.  Grocery bags are provided, but most people bring their own reusable ones.

Here's the recipe for freezer corn, which is of course a bit different from the heat-and-eat process for regular corn-on-the-cob:

The Stonemans grow a supersweet bicolor corn.  The ears were a little smaller this summer because of unusually cool temperatures during the growing season.

We process about two dozen ears for the freezer, first cutting it off the cobs out in the garage (it can be messy, with kernels and juice flying around).  Note at this point the kernels are ready to eat - and very sweet.

Then to the kitchen to be processed according to the directions in the third photo above.

And finally packed in Ziplock bags and stored in the freezer next to the other essential food groups...

Plastic-wrapped smoke detector

Photographed in a hotel room in Turkey.  "I let the guy know and he was really apologetic and hadn't realised."

This explanatory observation from the discussion thread: "That’s a dust cover. It’s installed during construction to keep it clean and to not allow false alarms. Typically they are red or orange so it obvious it needs to be removed."

08 September 2017

Getting out of Dodge


"Airplane!" vs. "Zero Hour"


Celebrity geophagia

Many years ago I used to give lectures about geophagia (the consumption of clay).  I saw the phenomenon mostly among urban impoverished women in the Dallas area. Now I'm a bit bemused to discover that it has become a celebrity activity:

"Shailene Woodley, star of “Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” eats clay.  Zoë Kravitz once lost 20 pounds eating clay. Juice Generation, the popular purveyor of liquid lunches that’s partially owned by Salma Hayek, is introducing a one-ounce bentonite clay shot in September.

This Shilene Woodley is cited in a Guardian article as saying
"Clay binds to other materials in your body and helps your body excrete those materials that aren't necessarily the best for you."
What she doesn't cite are the reports I found in the medical literature of zinc deficiency causing serious medical problems in clay eaters.

There's more in the New York Times.  All of this ultimately linked to the current passion for "detoxifying" the body of some imagined evils.

Ingestion of clay was in fact historically a useful (and biologically valid) deterrant to poisoning by heavy metals in Greek and Roman antiquity. Terra sigillata, if ingested before the ingestion of a poison, could bind the toxin (basically acting as an ion-exchange resin) to facilitate excretion from the bowels.  That is the basis used by the modern charlatans to promote their quack concoctions.

For more, see Cup made of terra sigillata.

Reposted from 2015 to add a report about pagophagia in parrots, where the process serves as an essential source of sodium:

The parrots of Southeastern Peru crave an earthy delicacy: dirt. At the Colorado clay lick, a cliff face rising above the Tambopata River in the western Amazon Basin, parrots — often hundreds at a time from up to 18 species — gather each day to feast on sun-hardened clay...

Brightsmith previously showed, for example, that parrot geophagy is concentrated in moist tropical forests where sodium — critical for nerve function and muscle contraction — is quickly washed from the ecosystem, except where it's stored in hard clay. Amazonian clay lick soils typically contain levels of sodium 40 times greater than the parrots' plant foods.
More details at NPR.  The equivalent behavior in butterflies is called "puddling."

Photo credit: Frans Lemmens/Getty Images

Word lengths in crossword puzzles

I found this interesting because I keep an ongoing record of how long it takes me to solve the daily crossword puzzle (I use the free one in the Los Angeles Times).

Although the graph is entitled "Average word length for NYTimes Crossword answers, 1994-2017," it should more properly be described as "entry length," since quite a few of the answers on the late-in-the-week puzzles are multiple-word entries.

I found this graph at the Data Is Beautiful subreddit, where the discussion thread has some interesting observations about the software puzzlemakers use in their craft.

FWIW, my worst time on a Thursday puzzle this past year occurred in one this past December which required entering the following "words" -
- which came from the following clues:
Terragona title, in detail?
Arles animal, in detail?
Toulouse trace, in detail?
Augsburg above, in detail?

Halophilic bacteria on ancient parchments

The purple spots on the manuscript above can be blamed on halophilic marine organisms, even though the scroll had not been near the sea.
...the spots are similar to ones that mar parchments made of animal skins all over the world, said Luciana Migliore, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata...

The goatskin scroll, which dates to A.D. 1244, has purple dots all along its margins, and the first and last pages are entirely obscured by the mystery pigment. Migliore's team sampled a few millimeter-size bits of the scroll that had already flaked off...

The genetics told a two-stage story of damage: First, salt-loving, or halophilic, bacteria colonized the parchment. Next, salt-tolerant microbes, particularly the Gammaproteobacteria, took over. What shocked Migliore is that so many of these microbes were marine or aquatic.
But when they took into account how skin scrolls were made, the discovery made sense, Migliore said. The first step after removing the hide from an animal was to bathe the skin in a sea-salt bath to help preserve it, she said. This bath would have killed off most microbes that eat away at flesh — but it also introduced salt-loving and salt-tolerant marine bacteria...

Eventually, though, those salt eaters would have seen their supply run out and died off. Their corpses, Migliore said, provided a whole new source of food for the next phase of bacterial colonization. The Gammaproteobacteria moved in and ate not only the dead halophilic bacteria but also the fine collagen matrix of the goatskin parchment. This caused parts of the parchment to flake off, lost forever.

Salt curing is one thing that skin parchments around the world have in common...
You learn something every day.  More details about this at Live Science.

Photo credit: G. Vendittozzi.


From a discussion thread at the Political Humor subreddit.

How to place a security freeze on your credit

From Krebs on Security:
If you’ve been paying attention in recent years, you might have noticed that just about everyone is losing your personal data. Even if you haven’t noticed (or maybe you just haven’t actually received a breach notice), I’m here to tell you that if you’re an American, your basic personal data is already for sale. What follows is a primer on what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft as a result of all this data (s)pillage...

If your response to this breachapalooza is to do what each of the breached organizations suggest — to take them up on one or two years’ worth of free credit monitoring services — you might sleep better at night but you will probably not be any more protected against crooks stealing your identity. As I discussed at length in this primer, credit monitoring services aren’t really built to prevent ID theft. The most you can hope for from a credit monitoring service is that they give you a heads up when ID theft does happen, and then help you through the often labyrinthine process of getting the credit bureaus and/or creditors to remove the fraudulent activity and to fix your credit score. 

In short, if you have already been victimized by identity theft (fraud involving existing credit or debit cards is not identity theft), it might be worth paying for these credit monitoring and repair services (although more than likely, you are already eligible for free coverage thanks to a recent breach at any one of dozens of companies that have lost your information over the past year). Otherwise, I’d strongly advise you to consider freezing your credit file at the major credit bureaus...

Q: What is a security freeze?
A: A security freeze essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand. With a freeze in place on your credit file, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name all they want, but they will not succeed in getting new lines of credit in your name because few if any creditors will extend that credit without first being able to gauge how risky it is to loan to you (i.e., view your credit file).
Continued at the link, which I strongly recommend reading.   Those recommendations were posted several months ago, but it wasn't until yesterday that I got around to implementing them.  I used the links in the article to contact Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion.  After a couple hours of clicking and the expenditure of $10 per site, I was able to freeze my credit files.

Reposted from 2016 because of the recent cyberattack and massive security breach at Equifax.


Residents of the west coast might want to download and/or browse a publication by the U.S. Geological Survey detailing the possible complications of a catastrophic weather event designated as ARkStorm.
This document summarizes the next major public project for MHDP, a winter storm scenario called ARkStorm (for Atmospheric River 1,000). Experts have designed a large, scientifically realistic meteorological event followed by an examination of the secondary hazards (for example, landslides and flooding), physical damages to the built environment, and social and economic consequences. The hypothetical storm depicted here would strike the U.S. West Coast and be similar to the intense California winter storms of 1861 and 1862 that left the central valley of California impassible. The storm is estimated to produce precipitation that in many places exceeds levels only experienced on average once every 500 to 1,000 years.

Extensive flooding results. In many cases flooding overwhelms the state’s flood-protection system, which is typically designed to resist 100- to 200-year runoffs. The Central Valley experiences hypothetical flooding 300 miles long and 20 or more miles wide. Serious flooding also occurs in Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, and other coastal communities. Windspeeds in some places reach 125 miles per hour, hurricane-force winds. Across wider areas of the state, winds reach 60 miles per hour. Hundreds of landslides damage roads, highways, and homes. Property damage exceeds $300 billion, most from flooding. Demand surge (an increase in labor rates and other repair costs after major natural disasters) could increase property losses by 20 percent. Agricultural losses and other costs to repair lifelines, dewater (drain) flooded islands, and repair damage from landslides, brings the total direct property loss to nearly $400 billion, of which $20 to $30 billion would be recoverable through public and commercial insurance. Power, water, sewer, and other lifelines experience damage that takes weeks or months to restore. Flooding evacuation could involve 1.5 million residents in the inland region and delta counties. Business interruption costs reach $325 billion in addition to the $400 billion property repair costs, meaning that an ARkStorm could cost on the order of $725 billion, which is nearly 3 times the loss deemed to be realistic by the ShakeOut authors for a severe southern California earthquake, an event with roughly the same annual occurrence probability.  
Summary here; full pdf at the previous link.

Caption contest

Flamingos being sheltered in the men's room at the Miami Metrozoo.

From an interesting article at NPR detailing how zoos cope with hurricanes.


"Rookie Kareem Hunt, after fumbling on his first NFL carry, scored three times and set an NFL mark: Hunt’s 239 yards in his pro debut were a record since the 1970 merger."
There are several copyeditors who read TYWKIWDBI.   I wonder if the above passage resulted from an autocorrect in a word-processing program or whether some style manuals would insist on this usage of "were." 

If I were writing the sentence, my mind would place an unspoken (total of) before the 239 and change the verb to "was a record..."

06 September 2017


DINK is an acronym that stands for "Dual Income, No Kids." It describes a couple who both work and do not have children.

DINKER means "Dual (or Double) Income & No Kids Early Retirement."

DINKY means "Double Income, No Kids Yet."

GINK means "Green Inclinations, No Kids" - referring those who choose not to have children for environmental reasons.
Image cropped for size from the original at imgur.

Saluting a dying colleague

MIDDLETOWN, CT — The Middletown Police Department is mourning the loss of beloved K-9 Hunter, who was euthanized on Friday. Hunter was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer.
Some additional details at the Middletown Patch.

Translucent squid

 As shared on Laughing Squid, the Ocean Exploration Trust’s Nautilus science vessel recently recorded a gorgeous cockatoo squid in the wild. Also known, for obvious reasons, as a “glass squid,” the animal is almost totally translucent, but gets the former, colorful name from the crown of dark, stubby tentacles atop its mantle, which resembles the crest of a cockatoo.
Via Atlas Obscura.

How to sign expletives

This five-minute video features a dozen people demonstrating "bad words" in ASL.

04 September 2017

Birdstrike survivor

This newly-eclosed male Monarch was nectaring in our garden yesterday when a presumably naive bird clipped off his wingtips in an attack.  We brought him back in to our screenporch overnight and let him solarize on a screen for the morning hours, but this afternoon he was unable to sustain flight.

I have seen elderly butterflies with greater % wing loss from wear and tear be able to fly reasonably well, but there may be some crucial mechanical disadvantage to losing the wingtips.

Divertimento #133

The fifth gifdump.
Orange juice will break a balloon.  You learn something every day.

You otter be in a band.

Breaking up hard candy.

Skyscraper observation deck tilts for a better view.

Cleaning a bus seat.

Meet the hammerhead slug (the world's largest flatworm).

A naturally-occurring waterslide

Use a rolling pin to press pastry into a cup.

This is the game of "tag" on a professional level.

Beached octopus thanks its rescuer.

Ksenia Parkhatskaya, an amazing solo jazz dancer.

Ten-hour timelapse of an Amish barn-raising.

Sand art in a bottle.

Steel mill SCARY malfunction.

Interesting skateboard trick.

Not happy with what's in the box...

Mini-tornado caught on security cam.

Realistic model of Titanic sinking.

Amazing jump by a dog.

Unusual ice hockey goal.

Weissenberg Effect occurs with non-Newtonian fluids.

Impressive hostage-taking costume.

Rescuing baby bears from a dumpster.

Pets at the pool.  And more pets at the pool.

5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  Each piece a different color.

Don't use your nachos and beer to catch a foul ball.  Just don't.


I can lift you, but you can't lift me.

You don't want to know how your luggage is handled (or not handled).

Situational awareness in this father at a road rally.

Drugs?  Or just extreme stupidity?

There is a tumblr devoted to GIFs of processes.

Suicide prevention (unconventional).

How to mow around a post.

Pranking a young fisherman.

One reason I don't watch soccer.

Bicycle lights.

Bioluminescent plankton in a globe (commercially available).

Musical chairs as a training aid.

Fun with magnets.

Fire ants.

It's been nice, but I really must be going...

Beetle battle.

Kids having fun at a riverbank (and no, there aren't any crocodiles).

Puppy meets stairs.

Little girl gets a surprise gift.

"Dramatic re-enactment of my first options trade."

The pix are from a gallery of 30 photographs showing how Rob Arnold collected 35 bags of microplastics at Tregantle Beach (Cornwall) in one day.

02 September 2017

Grass in bloom

It's easy to forget that grasses have flowers, because the blooms are so tiny.  I believe this is Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) but there are hundreds of grasses in Wisconsin, and I can't guarantee the identity.  It's an attractive plant and one component of the traditional tall-grass prairie.

Photographed by my wife a couple days ago during a hike on the grounds of the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisconsin.

"Holy Wisdom Monastery is home to a diverse ecosystem spread across more than 130 acres of restored prairie, woodlands, wetlands, gardens, orchards and more. Nurturing partnerships with Dane County, Madison Community Foundation and others who value caring for the earth has always been important to us.

In September 2012, we acquired a 53-acre cornfield which we are committed to integrating and restoring to native prairie and oak savanna to help improve the water quality in Lake Mendota. In March 2015, we successfully met our goal of raising $1.9 million to cover the acquisition and initial management costs..."
Here's one more photo from that hike:  (Tiger Swallowtail on Bull Thistle)

Baby's body stolen before burial

A mother who campaigned for more than 40 years to find out what happened to her dead baby’s remains has found out his coffin was buried without a body inside.

Lydia Reid, 68, was given a court order for the exhumation of the grave of her son Gary, who died at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh in July 1975 aged seven days old. But no human remains were found.

The exhumation was performed by forensic anthropologist Prof Dame Sue Black, who found only a hat, a shawl, a cross and a name tag that had spelled Gary’s name incorrectly.

Reid, who played a leading role in the Scottish campaign to uncover the unlawful retention of dead children’s body parts for research, said the news was “devastating”.
Full story at The Guardian.

Small craft warning on the Interstate

A highway east of Houston last week.  Via.


Looks interesting.   Note in the small print: written by the Coen brothers.  Scheduled for release in October.  Here's the first official trailer:

Review of the movie.

"The Lost Gallows" and "Castle Skull"

These two books are the second and third John Dickson Carr novels featuring Henri Bencolin.  Written in 1931, they are also among his earliest writings.

With that timeline in mind, I shouldn't have been surprised to find The Lost Gallows a bit sub-par compared to Carr's later works.  There is no locked room; several items appearing "mysteriously" in a closed room may foreshadow his later works, but the presence of a secret passage in the walls is an explanation he would not stoop to in his premier novels.  The plot is convoluted, and while arguably "fair" is ultimately unsatisfying.  There were numerous awkward turns of phrase, such as "I leaned against one of the curio cabinets, and the tides of death and silence bore me into murky realms," and "An enormous roaring silence was in the room."  This is the kind of mystery that one reads for completeness when consuming the corpus of an author's works, but not one that I would recommend to a new reader of JDC.

Gleanings from The Lost Gallows:
"True and spontaneous emotion is always incoherent.  A man really in love can only gurgle foolishly to his lady; it is your unmoved Don Juan who writes her the fine, elaborate, theatrical love-verses."

"... at the card tables, under gimcrack canopies of lights, they could toss away their wives' fortunes with the utmost nonchalance."  An uncommon word, used sparingly nowadays to describe something "showy but unsubstantial," "a useless ornament."  Used thus by Isaak Walton in his Compleat Angler: "Ribbins and Looking-glasses, and Nutcrackers and Fiddles, and Hobby-horses, and many other gim-cracks and all the other finnimbruns that make a compleat Country Fair."

"Sir John stood very straight and rigid.  Color was in his cheek, and his cold eye said, "Swank!" What he replied was: "Please be serious."  "Swank" used here not in the sense of "fashionably elegant," but rather the more deprecatory sense of "swagger, show off.""

"Inside, spread on a red bandana handkerchief, lay a long-barrelled revolver with an ivory handle, some large glass buttons, a couple of gilded tassels, and a trumpery watch." ("worthless finery, bric-a-brac, junk).  Interestingly, from the French tromperie = "deception" (and thus "tromp-l'oiel").

Castle Skull has the better story of the two.  This is also not a "locked room" mystery - it's more of a conventional "whodunit."  The murder takes place in a German castle situated across the Rhine from the detective and the likely suspects.  There is a bit of a deux ex machina solution, but it's not unfair.   The most satisfying aspect for me was that as the plot was resolved in the final chapters, I had my mental list of the most likely murderer, and the true malefactor was not even on my list of suspects.

Gleanings and unfamiliar words from Castle Skull:
"Tell the truth and shame the devil."  The preacher Hugh Latimer recorded this as a 'common saying' as early as 1555, in his Twenty Seven Sermons: "There is a common saying amongst vs, Say the truthe and shame the diuel." (It was also used by Edward DeVere in Henry IV, Part I.)

"A kerosene lamp stood on a deal table... Von Arnheim lifted the shade and kindled the wick."  A word I associate more with fireplaces and bonfires rather than lamps (and in the book also used in reference to lighting a match).  Perfectly valid usage of course; also can be used to describe giving birth or as the collective noun for a group of kittens.  From the Old Norse kynda "to inflame."

"Our lights gave us only a glimpse of the Savonnerie carpets, of the silver fire-screen, and of those haut-lisse Gobelins which were woven, one yard a year, to glorify Louis Quatorze."  The Metropolitan Museum webpage on tapestries says that a more likely rate was one (square) yard per month.

"This room, the hall... everything is swept and garnished.  Look!... Not even any dust..." I don't understand this usage of the word.

"Watching fat raindrops splatter on the windows and go crawling in blind staggers down the pane, I gave in to gloom."  When I lived in Texas, I heard the term "blind staggers" used to refer to a specific medical condition (an intoxication or late CNS syphilis - can't remember the details).  Mr. Google gives me references to an equine disorder from selenium toxicity or ergot poisoning.  Can't find the human counterpart at the moment...

"The homely, attractive face, with hair a little tousled..."  Odd juxtaposition; usually means "unattractive."  Perhaps used here to mean "plain."

"Cressets flamed along the battlements..."  A metal cup suspended from a pole, filled with burning pitch, used for portable illumination.

"Bencolin stood with von Arnheim near the tabouret of the cocktail-shaker..."  Per Wikipedia: "The popular sense refers to a small portable stand or cabinet, with drawers and shelves for storage. It is used as a method to bring organization to a work area. This name for a portable cabinet is common to artists. However, in the context of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a taboret is a stand for a plant or a beverage."
On my 0-4+ scale, I'd rate both of these novels 2+.  Decent mysteries, but not a tour-de-force like the ones he crafted in his later years.

01 September 2017

Hand of a young orangutan

Interesting comment from the discussion thread at the Like Us subreddit:
"Orangutans have incredible hand strength. They can untorque a bolt with just their fingers. Source - I worked construction at a zoo for 2 years."
Photo credit Jessie Willliams, via.

The sheep look up

Cartoon from The New YorkerPost title stolen from John Brunner and John Milton.

Reposted from three years ago because sadly it's still relevant.
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