19 July 2017

For librarians (and ex-librarians)

When I was in college I earned my spending money working as a librarian (and had a room quite
literally above the library).  So I was delighted to see a review in the Washington Post discussing a new book about... card catalogs.
This book about card catalogues, written and published in cooperation with the Library of Congress, is beautifully produced, intelligently written and lavishly illustrated. It also sent me into a week-long depression. If you are a book lover of a certain age, it might do the same to you.

“The Card Catalog” is many things: a lucid overview of the history of bibliographic practices, a paean to the Library of Congress, a memento of the cherished card catalogues of yore and an illustrated collection of bookish trivia. The text provides a concise history of literary compendiums from the Pinakes of the fabled Library of Alexandria to the advent of computerized book inventory databases, which began to appear as early as 1976. The illustrations are amazing: luscious reproductions of dozens of cards, lists, covers, title pages and other images guaranteed to bring a wistful gleam to the book nerd’s eye.

For someone who grew up in and around libraries, it is also a poignant reminder of a vanished world.

Now, waxing nostalgic about card catalogues or being an advocate for the importance of libraries is a mug’s game. You can practically feel people glancing up from their iPhones to smile tolerantly at your eccentricity. My response to this, after an initial burst of profanity, is to explain (again) why libraries are essential to narrowing the inequality gap, and why the Internet is not an adequate substitute for books or libraries.

“The Card Catalog” is a heady antidote to the technophilia threatening our culture. The book is especially illuminating on the powerful, if overlooked, properties of the humble catalogue card, some 79 million of which were printed annually at the system’s peak in 1969. Each one is a perfect melding of design and utility, a marvel of informational compression and precision.
After college, while I was in graduate school, I started my own "card catalogue," visiting a university library weekly to transcribe references in professional journals onto literally tens of thousands of 3"x5" lined cards, which I filed in cabinets in my office - a handy source for information in the preparation of lectures.  Then the internet arrived...

I'll close this post with a quote from Annie Proulx:
I mourn the loss of the old card catalogs, not because I’m a Luddite, but because the oaken trays of yesteryear offered the researcher an element of random utility and felicitous surprise through encounters with adjacent cards, information by chance that is different in kind from the computer’s ramified but rigid order.
I've requested this new book from our local library (only 4 people ahead of me on the wait list).

Photo (of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library card catalog) via Librarianista.

If you dig a hole through the earth...



...you'll end up in China. I remember hearing that as a child. Ignoring for a moment the problem of the magma and the gravitational conundrums one would encounter at the center, it's still untrue. I remember fiddling with a globe and discovering that I would end up somewhere in the middle of the south Indian Ocean.

As an adult I revisited this question and discovered that for most of the people on earth, the antipodes were in an ocean. It's a curious aspect of world geography - most of the large land masses are in the northern hemisphere, with more oceans in the south. And much of the land masses in the south are opposite northern oceans - Africa corresponds to the northern Pacific, and the Aussies would be in the middle of the Atlantic. It must be pure coincidence, though a nagging thought makes one wonder whether there could be a plate tectonic explanation for this.

Now you can explore this on your own. There's a website called Antipodes Map - draggable and zoomable in true Google Map fashion. Click on your location and it shows you what is on the opposite side of the earth.

The Wikipedia entry on the antipodes provides (as expected) an excellent discussion and some relevant composite maps.

Reposted from 2008 (!) to update the links and add this composite map, via Digg.


Surfing from a floating dock


I've seen docks like these lakeside, but hadn't conceived of them as an accessory for ocean sports.  Wow.

Comparing presidential administrations


I ultimately relied on Wikipedia’s list of federal political scandals in the U.S., but limited it to only the executive branch scandals that actually resulted in a criminal indictment. I also decided to only go back as far as Richard Nixon, whose participation in Watergate ultimately resulted in him being the only sitting president to ever resign. This lets many other scandal-ridden administrations off the hook—notably that of Warren Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal, and of Ulysses S. Grant and the Whiskey Ring and Black Friday scandals—but so be it.

The chart only includes people who served in the administration, and excludes others (like members of Congress and private individuals) who may have also been swept up and indicted for the same scandal. The “Convictions” list includes both those who went to trial and were found guilty as well as those who plea bargained and pleaded guilty. The “Prison Sentences” should be considered a minimum figure, as Wikipedia's list wasn’t always clear on penalties and I wasn’t able to look all of the unclear ones up. 
Full details at The Daily Kos (where you can leave your comments).

"Personal flamethrowers" marketed to the general public

A flame-thrower that can hurl a stream of fire half a metre long is being marketed in China to help women fend off unwanted advances.

The device is being billed on shopping websites as a must-have "anti-pervert weapon" that can be discreetly carried in a ladies’ handbag.

Some are shaped like a cigarette lighter and emit small flames, while others hurl fire for 50cm with temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius (3,300 Fahrenheit).
Further details at The Telegraph.  I should start a "WCGW" category on TYWKIWDBI (as examples for this device, see the comment thread at Boing Boing).

Cyclists' legs


This "You're so vein" photo is one of eight in an album at The Telegraph (trigger warning for gruesome injuries).

Jazz dance competition


Don't have 8 minutes to spare for a video?  Try this gif featuring Ksenia Parkhatskaya, then decide how to apportion your time.

I could dance like this.  I think I must just have the wrong kind of shoes...

16 July 2017

Divertimento #131


The fourth "gifdump."  Lets start with a funny one:

LoCH NeSs MoNSter drOWNS iNNocENt WoMan

Just a little girl watching TV.  With her 12-foot pet snake.

You do the interview while I get out of this lifejacket.

You can lead a horse to water, but...

Husband wakes wife from nap, instantly regrets it.

Bread slicer.

Flying fish successfully evades underwater predator.

Did she treat him to lunch?  Or not...?

Impressive domino spiral.


Desert camouflage (Eritrea).

How patellas ("kneecaps") work.

Dog startles puppies, instantly regrets it.

Basketball dunk, through the legs - twice.

Alleged to be the world's largest single firework.  And a synchronized firework.

Labeled "feeding time," but may have some other explanation.

Using a drone to replace a lightbulb - a technique recommended by lightbulb manufacturers.

Home-made falafel. (from the GIF recipe subreddit, btw)

Secret drawer.

Handfeeding a nautilus.


Good thing this bicyclist didn't back up.

Impressive scarecrow.

Monitor lizard attacks a "snake."

Remoras on a whale shark.

Milling a sprocket.

Portugal national team heading a soccer ball.

Snake easily climbs a smooth-barked tree.

Extreme scooter sport.  Why am I not surprised to see a spectator in a wheelchair?

Heckler of street performer gets what he deserves.

Bicycle accident.  And preparing for the beach cyclocross.  And awesome balance on a bicycle.


How not to cope with burning alcohol. x3.

Riding a motorbike on a railroad track.  (note there is now a WCGW subreddit)

Do Not STRADDLE the pullback-rope of a rope swing.

Unusual soccer trick.

Just too weird to explain.

Lighting methane on a frozen lake.

How a long dog gets off a narrow ledge.

Base jumping at Kjerag Cliff (Norway).

The start of a homing pigeon race.

HMB while I jump over this massive rolling hay bale.

Reversible sequins.

Surprise present.  Have a hankie or tissue ready...


The embedded images today come from A Selection of the Getty's Open Content Program, in The Public Domain Review.  Details and provenance of the images at the link.

14 July 2017

Sample case for a neon salesman (1935)


Found at the Pics subreddit, where there is some informed commentary, but the best comment was this one:
"Marsellus Wallace was a neon salesman?"

How to store tomatoes

A better way to boil eggs

Poison for the arrows of bushmen

Beetles of the genus Diamphidia lay their eggs on the stems of shrubs from the Commiphora genus – commonly known as frankincense and myrrh. The doting mothers then coat their precious eggs with their own feces (that’s faeces for my UK friends), which harden into a protective armor. As the eggs develop through the instar and grub phases, the larvae will shed their poo protection and burrow up to (down to?) three feet, where they make a cocoon from sand and take a needed break. They may lay dormant for several years before molting into pupae, and continue their life cycle. This long dormancy period means that the Bushmen can find the cocoons and larvae year-round and have a ready supply of poison, especially important since mature beetles are not poisonous.

The Bushmen, also known as the San people, dig beside Commiphora host plants, such as Commiphora angolensis, in search of Diamphidia nigroornata, or Commiphora africana for Diamphidia vittatipennis. Once collected, the Bushmen will squeeze the fluid from the larvae and pupae, otherwise known as hemolymph, onto the shaft of their arrows, but not the tip, to avoid “accidents.” Up to ten larvae could be applied to one arrow, which is then dried over hot coals to bond the poison, which maintains its lethal potential for up to a year.
More info at Nature's Poisons, a quite interesting website.  The toxicity was originally assumed to be neurotoxicity and some cardiotoxicity, but recent studies suggest hemolysis as a primary mechanism.

Trail mix

"In Germany, Poland, Hungary and several other European countries, trail mix is called "student food" or "student snack" in the local languages. In New Zealand, trail mix is known as "scroggin" or "schmogle". The term is also used in some places in Australia but usage has only been traced back to the 1970s. Some claim that the name stands for sultanas, carob, raisins, orange peel, grains, glucose, imagination, and nuts or alternatively sultanas, chocolate, raisins and other goody-goodies including nuts; but this may be a false etymology.

The word gorp, a term for trail mix often used by hikers, is typically said to be an acronym for "good old raisins and peanuts" or its common ingredients "granola, oats, raisins, peanuts." The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1913 reference to the verb gorp, meaning "to eat greedily.""

13 July 2017

Hexagon geometry puzzle


This one you can do in your head.  That's what I did.  Got it wrong, but I was really, really, close...

For the answer, go to Brilliant or to Data Genetics.

A new theory about fluorescent coral


It has been known for some time that some shallow-water corals use fluorescence as a protective mechanism:
...the pink and purple fluorescence in shallow waters act as a kind of sunscreen. The fluorescent pigments absorb damaging wavelengths of light and emit it as pink or purple light, protecting the single-celled organisms called zooxanthellae that live symbiotically inside coral. Zooxanthellae are photosynthetic and they provide the coral with food in exchange for shelter.
But now the phenomenon has been observed in coral at low-light depths:
Coral may be converting blue light into orange-red light that penetrates deeper into the coral tissue, where photosynthetic zooxanthellae live. Fluorescence, by definition, is the absorption of light in one color and the emission in another... Blue light may be good at penetrating water and for photosynthesis, but it doesn’t penetrate the coral’s tissues well. And zooxanthellae can live deep inside coral...

Mikhail Matz, a coral scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, says he’s not yet convinced this completely explains the function of the fluorescent pigment in deep water corals. As humans with eyes, we tend focus on the light coming from these coral. But maybe the glow isn’t the point. “The fluorescence may not be the important aspect. It could be a side effect,” he says. It could be that fluorescent proteins are actually there just to absorb light as the part of some metabolism, and the glow that we see is incidental to its true purpose.
Further discussion at The Atlantic.   The paper is at Proc Roy Soc B.
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