22 June 2017

It would be like a "sharknado." With knives.


The photo above shows an area of ground in Chile's Atacama desert "paved" with large gypsum crystals.  Geologists now believe these surface concentrations originate as depositions by "dust devils."
Whirlwinds, dry convective helical vortices, move large gypsum crystals in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. The crystals are entrained from a saline pan surface, where they grew in shallow surface brines. They are transported as much as 5 km and deposited in large dune-like mounds. The dune gravel is cemented relatively quickly by gypsum cement precipitating from near-surface saline groundwater, resulting in gypsum breccia. This marks the first occurrence of gravel-sized grains moved efficiently in air by suspension, provides a new possible interpretation for some ancient breccias and conglomerates, and improves understanding of limits of extremity of Earth surface environments. 
A hat tip to reader Ruth Beaty for alerting me to this report, which I found particularly fascinating because many years ago I used to dig in the salt plains of Oklahoma for gypsum (selenite) crystals similar to these.



Specimen images from the Online Mineral Museum (cluster) and Amusing Planet (see the latter for a brief photoessay about the digging experience, which is truly memorable).

The surfaces of the Atacama crystals show evidence of trauma such as that which a dust devil would generate:
The flats and dunes of the salar are covered by massive deposits of gypsum crystals of similar size and internal microtexture to those in the pools. However, the surfaces of these crystals are abraded, frosted, and pitted: textures characteristic of sand and silt grains that have experienced aeolian transport in suspension.
So while it would be tempting to walk into a dust devil...


... consider what might be whipping around in that vortex.

These observations also lend theoretical credence to the never-proven hypothesis that waterspouts are responsible for Fortean rains of frogs and fish.

Why are some spam emails "unblockable" ?


I use Earthlink Webmail, which is generally pretty good about filtering spam, and it allows me to block senders that I identify as sources of spam.

Most of the time...

Now I seem to have gotten on the radar of "cron-job.org" which sends me daily junk, and for which Earthlink indicates that "blocked sender" status is inapplicable.  I can understand why such limitations are applied to sources at "hotmail" for example, but why would some entity like this be protected?

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader BJ Nicholls for offering this link in his Comment.  It explains that the legitimate cron-job site has had their address highjacked by spammers.

Since Earthlink wouldn't let me click to add this "contact@cron-job" to my Blocked Sender List, I've now done so manually.  We'll see if that works.

Politicians on television


Via Jobsanger.

How companies harvest your web search info

In the summer of 2015, Alexandra Franco got a letter in the mail from a company she had never heard of called AcurianHealth. The letter, addressed to Franco personally, invited her to participate in a study of people with psoriasis, a condition that causes dry, itchy patches on the skin.

Franco did not have psoriasis. But the year before, she remembered, she had searched for information about it online, when a friend was dealing with the condition. And a few months prior to getting the letter, she had also turned to the internet with a question about a skin fungus. It was the sort of browsing anyone might do, on the assumption it was private and anonymous.

Now there was a letter, with her name and home address on it, targeting her as a potential skin-disease patient. Acurian is in the business of recruiting people to take part in clinical trials for drug companies. How had it identified her? She had done nothing that would publicly associate her with having a skin condition.
The explanation is at Gizmodo.

Modern war

A sniper with Canada’s elite special forces in Iraq has shattered the world record for the longest confirmed kill shot in military history at a staggering distance of 3,450 metres.
Sources say a member of Joint Task Force 2 killed an Islamic State insurgent with a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle while firing from a high-rise during an operation that took place within the last month in Iraq.

“Canada has a world-class sniper system. It is not just a sniper. They work in pairs. There is an observer,” a military source said. “This is a skill set that only a very few people have.”

“It is at the distance where you have to account not just for the ballistics of the round, which change over time and distance, you have to adjust for wind, and the wind would be swirling,” said a source with expertise in training Canadian special forces.

“You have to adjust for him firing from a higher location downward and as the round drops you have to account for that. And from that distance you actually have to account for the curvature of the Earth.”
I presume the sniper takes a series of preliminary shots at objects at the same distance, and the observer tells him how much he missed by so that he can compensate.

21 June 2017

The Lobster Coast


I have visited Maine several times and always enjoyed my stay there, but had never read a proper history of the state until a friend recently recommended this book.  Particularly interesting to me was the geologic explanation for the remarkable profusion of marine life in the Gulf of Maine, and the descriptions of the staggering abundance of lobsters and fish harvested from this region in prehistory and the early post-settlement era.
"... Indians depended on the living bounty of the Gulf of Maine...they left staggering shellheaps behind; a single heap of shucked oyster shells in Damariscotta covered an area of more than sixty acres to a depth of nearly thirty feet." (p. 63)

"Lobsters were everywhere.  On their way to the Kennebec, Raleigh Gilbert's men [early 1600s] caught fifty lobsters "of great bignesse" by simply rowing a boat over shallow water and gaffing the unsuspecting lobsters with a boat hook..." (p. 81)

"The cod bit quickly in those days and a good fisherman would catch 350 to 400 in a day... they weighed over one hundred pounds apiece..." (p. 85)

"In colonial days, a small boy could bring home enough [lobsters] to feed several families by siimply wading along the shore at low tide and gaffing the huge five- and ten-pound beasts hiding among the rocks... One group of indentured servants in Massachusetts became so upset with this diet that they took their owners to court winning a judgment that they would not be served lobster more than three times a week.  Lobsters were sometimes taken in great numbers and strewn on the fields as fertilizer..." (p. 170)

"The catch in those days would astound today's lobsterman.  Portland lobstermen in 1855 averaged seven four- to six-pound lobsters in every pot, every day throughout the four-month season.  (By comparison, today's lobstermen often find only one legal-sized lobster per trap, and it typically weighs between a pound and a pound and a half).  (p. 177)

"At the height of summer, hotel owners would pay as much as five cents for a good, two-pound dinner table lobster...  Smaller lobsters were no longer discarded, as the canneries would buy them for $1 per hundredweight..." (p. 186)

"Halibut, a great flatfish that could weigh nine hundred pounds and measure nine feet in length, had once been so numerous they were "looked upon as a nuisance" by cod-seeking fishermen.. On at least one occasion, a vessel using the old hook-over-the-side method caught more than 250 in three hours..." (p. 203)
In this regard the book reminded me of the spectacularly unbelievable accounts of pre-settlement North America described in Paradise Found.

Less pleasant are the accounts in the book of the pillage of these resources (only recently modulated by regulatory restrictions) and the human-human interactions, beginning with the arrival of Europeans and continuing to the modern era as the Boston/New York population "invades" rural coastal Maine.

An interesting summer read.

20 June 2017

Old Harry Rocks


"Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations, including a stack and a stump, located at Handfast Point, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, southern England. They mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 There are various stories about the naming of the rocks. One legend says that the Devil (traditionally known euphemistically as "Old Harry") had a sleep on the rocks. Another local legend says that the rocks were named after Harry Paye, the infamous Poole pirate, whose ship hid behind the rocks awaiting passing merchantmen.[3] Yet another tale has it that a ninth-century Viking raid was thwarted by a storm, and that one of the drowned, Earl Harold, was turned into a pillar of chalk."
But why is the Devil called "Old Harry"?

Photo credit in the watermark.

A treasure trove of Nazi artifacts


As reported by ABC News:
In a hidden room in a house near Argentina's capital, police believe they have found the biggest collection of Nazi artifacts in the country's history, including a bust relief of Adolf Hitler, magnifying glasses inside elegant boxes with swastikas and even a macabre medical device used to measure head size.

Some 75 objects were found in a collector's home in Beccar, a suburb north of Buenos Aires, and authorities say they suspect they are originals that belonged to high-ranking Nazis in Germany during World War II...

The investigation that culminated in the discovery of the collection began when authorities found artworks of illicit origin in a gallery in north Buenos Aires.

Agents with the international police force Interpol began following the collector and with a judicial order raided the house on June 8. A large bookshelf caught their attention and behind it agents found a hidden passageway to a room filled with Nazi imagery...

The main hypothesis among investigators and member of Argentina's Jewish community is that they were brought to Argentina by a high-ranking Nazi or Nazis after World War II, when the South American country became a refuge for fleeing war criminals, including some of the best known.
Via the WorldNews subreddit.

Iran has attacked ISIS. This is important.

Reported yesterday by U.S. News:
Iran says its ballistic missile strike targeting the Islamic State group in Syria was not only a response to deadly attacks in Tehran, but a powerful message to archrival Saudi Arabia and the United States, one that could add to already soaring regional tensions...

It also raises questions about how U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which had previously put Iran "on notice" for its ballistic missile tests, will respond.
Context via Jobsanger:
Understandably, the Iranians were upset with Trump. His statement infers that Iran supports the group that attacked Tehran (ISIS). It's just a continuation of his claims that Iran supports the terrorists that are attacking Western nations. None of that is true.

Iran does offer support to a couple of groups defined as terrorists -- the Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon (and Palestine). Those are shiite muslim groups, and Iran is a shiite muslim state. But those are not the groups that attacked Iran, and they are not the groups responsible for attacks in Europe and the United States.

The groups mainly responsible for attacking Europe and the United States are sunni muslim groups -- ISIS and al-Queda. They get no support from Iran. Their support comes mainly from a country that Trump calls a "friend" -- Saudi Arabia...

Trump seems to want to lump all islamic fundamentalists into a single group of terrorists that hate the West. That is far too simple. It shows he is either lying and misleading Americans, or he doesn't understand the truth -- that the trouble in the Middle East is basically a religious civil war being fought between shiite and sunni muslims. He seems to have sided with the sunnis without understanding that they are where ISIS and al-Queda have originated. He also seems not to understand that ISIS was created when an American president (Bush) overthrew the secular government in Iraq and installed a shiite muslim government in its place (which caused sunnis to rebel against that government and the shiite government in Syria by creating ISIS).

Blaming Iran for terrorism in the West is ignoring the reality of what is happening. It would make more sense to blame Saudi Arabia. But Trump doesn't want to do that, because they have too much oil that we want and have plenty of money to spend on U.S. weapons. In effect, Trump has taken the side of the sunnis in the religious civil war -- the same side that is attacking the Western nations.
I'm going to close comments for this post; I just don't have time to moderate/curate them.  Move on.

You can walk around Machu Piccu using Google Streetview


It's no substitute for reality, of course, but it's not bad.

For newbies, start here (or the satellite view), zoom in with the +/- buttons (drag to recenter), then drop the little yellow Streetview man where you want to walk.  Drag your cursor left/right for panorama views, and (especially at Machu Piccu) up and down to look up and down.

Related news today:
This summer, under pressure from Unesco, which has repeatedly threatened to add Machu Picchu to its list of world heritage sites in danger, the Peruvian government has brought in measures to control the flow of tourists.

From 1 July, visitors will only be able to enter the site with an official tour guide, and tickets will grant entry for a specific time period, either a morning (6am-noon) or afternoon (noon-5.30pm). Guides must be licenced and group size will be limited to16 people. Visitors must also follow the defined routes around the site, a change from the present setup where it is possible to explore relatively independently and stay the entire day. 
More at the link.

19 June 2017

Welcome aboard


I'm impressed by the fact that in those days boarding a dirigible may have required considerable aerobic exercise...


Maybe there's an elevator in that mooring tower; otherwise it would be like climbing three ranger towers.

For the word freaks among us, the etymology of "blimp" is controversial.

Images via imgur.

Glymphatic system discovered

That's not a typo.  It's a new anatomical system.
Kari Alitalo had studied lymphatic vessels for more than two decades. So he knew that this network, which carries immune cells throughout the body and removes waste and toxins, didn’t extend into the brain: This had been accepted wisdom for more than 300 years. “Nobody questioned that it stopped at the brain,” says Alitalo, a scientist at the University of Helsinki in Finland...

But when Alitalo and Aspelund repeated the experiment, they got the same result. It seemed that the lymphatic vessels extended to the brain after all. This was surprising, to say the least: In the 21st century, major findings involving basic human anatomy are rare...

Researchers have identified two networks: the vessels that lead into and surround the brain, and those within the brain itself. The first is known as the lymphatic system for the brain, while the latter is called the glymphatic system. The “g” added to “lymphatic” refers to glia, the kind of neuron that makes up the lymphatic vessels in the brain. The glymphatic vessels carry cerebrospinal fluid and immune cells into the brain and remove cellular trash from it. Alitalo, Nedergaard, Kipnis and others have found evidence that when the systems malfunction, the brain can become clogged with toxins and suffused with inflammatory immune cells.

Over decades, this process may play a key role in Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses, research suggests. “This is a revolutionary finding,” Nedergaard says. “This system plays a huge role in the health of the brain.”..

One key to glymphatic performance seems to be sleep. Nedergaard has shown that at least in mice, the system processes twice as much fluid during sleep as it does during wakefulness. She and her colleagues focused on amyloid beta; they found that the lymphatic system removed much more of the protein when the animals were asleep than when they were awake. She suggests that over time, sleep dysfunction may contribute to Alzheimer’s and perhaps other brain illnesses. “You only clean your brain when you’re sleeping,” she says. “This is probably an important reason that we sleep. You need time off from consciousness to do the housekeeping.” 
Further details at The Washington Post.  Absolutely fascinating.

This is a "toddler bike race"


Outside provides the necessary details:
A long row of pre-school-aged kids, aboard low-slung bikes with no brakes or pedals, takes off from a start ramp like a pack of greyhounds. The kids kick their bikes up to speeds that would make most adults uncomfortable, and carve through the course’s maze of sharp corners with tenacity and grace.

A few kids don’t make it. They splay out across the track in a pile of elbow and kneepads and full-face helmets. And then, there’s one kid, coming from behind, who executes a perfect pass on his recently potty-trained competitors and crosses the line first, his chest forward in an elated victory celebration...

Today, anyone who's serious about teaching a kid to ride at an early age will likely eschew training wheels in favor of a balance bike. Dozens of different companies now sell them, including every major bike brand. This transformation in kids' bike technology has led to an entire generation of toddlers who rip on two wheels.
Among my group of dad friends in Austin—roadies and mountain bikers who might pull up their Strava feed over a pint of beer—the kids who start out on balance bikes often master cycling at a mind-bogglingly early age. One buddy’s kid switched to a pedal bike at just two years old, and was churning out 20-mile rides by three.

If this isn't classic Trump, I don't know what is


As reported by the New York Times:
The regal emblem, used at President Trump’s golf courses across the United States, sports three lions and two chevrons on a shield, below a gloved hand gripping an arrow...

The British are known to take matters of heraldry seriously, and Mr. Trump’s American coat of arms belongs to another family. It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort that is now Mr. Trump’s cherished getaway...

In the United States, the Trump Organization took Mr. Davies’s coat of arms for its own, making one small adjustment — replacing the word “Integritas,” Latin for integrity, with “Trump.”...

“It couldn’t be a clearer-cut case, actually,” said Clive Cheesman, one of the college’s heralds, who oversee coats of arms, their design and their use.

“A coat of arms that was originally granted to Joseph Edward Davies in 1939 by the English heraldic authority ended up being used 10 or 15 years ago by the Trump Organization as part of its branding for its golf clubs,” said Mr. Cheesman, a lawyer by training.
More on the kerfuffle at the link.

With a tip of the blogging hat to the elves at QI for alerting me to this interesting item.

Challenging math puzzles


The Guardian today posted three very difficult math problems selected from the archives of Pythagoras magazine.

One puzzle asks you to divide the shape above into two identical shapes.  I suppose a trivial answer would be to divide it in the plane on which it exists, but there must be a more elegant solution.

Then there is the Dollar Bill problem:
In a bag are 26 bills. If you take out 20 bills from the bag at random, you have at least one 1-dollar bill, two 2-dollar bills, and five 5-dollar bills. How much money was in the bag?
And a Huge Pie problem:
A huge pie is divided among 100 guests. The first guest gets 1% of the pie. The second guest gets 2% of the remaining part. The third guest gets 3% of the rest, etc. The last guest gets 100% of the last part. Who gets the biggest piece?
The last one could be solved by brute force, but a proper answer requires a mathematical explanation.

I don't have answers for you; unless readers post solutions in the Comments, you'll need to go to The Guardian.
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