25 April 2017

Owl legs


Via.

Subtleties of online shopping

Excerpts from an interesting article in this month's The Atlantic:
Our ability to know the price of anything, anytime, anywhere, has given us, the consumers, so much power that retailers—in a desperate effort to regain the upper hand, or at least avoid extinction—are now staring back through the screen. They are comparison shopping us...

The price of a can of soda in a vending machine can now vary with the temperature outside. The price of the headphones Google recommends may depend on how budget-conscious your web history shows you to be, one study found. For shoppers, that means price—not the one offered to you right now, but the one offered to you 20 minutes from now, or the one offered to me, or to your neighbor—may become an increasingly unknowable thing...

Four researchers in Catalonia tried to answer the question with dummy computers that mimicked the web-browsing patterns of either “affluent” or “budget conscious” customers for a week. When the personae went “shopping,” they weren’t shown different prices for the same goods. They were shown different goods. The average price of the headphones suggested for the affluent personae was four times the price of those suggested for the budget-conscious personae. Another experiment demonstrated a more direct form of price discrimination: Computers with addresses in greater Boston were shown lower prices than those in more-remote parts of Massachusetts on identical goods...
More at the link.

Me IRL


There's a reason this series of cartoons is entitled "Real Life Adventures."

Habitat restoration exemplified

"Almost 50 years ago, fried chicken tycoon David Bamberger used his fortune to purchase 5,500 acres of overgrazed land in the Texas Hill Country. Planting grasses to soak in rains and fill hillside aquifers, Bamberger devoted the rest of his life to restoring the degraded landscape. Today, the land has been restored to its original habitat and boasts enormous biodiversity. Bamberger's model of land stewardship is now being replicated across the region and he is considered to be a visionary in land management and water conservation."
This is worth several minutes of your time.   Don't just skip over it.

Wear a helmet.


Via.

"First water" explained

I was reading a Robert Frost poem in which he described something as being "of the first water."  The reference:
I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.
I have heard the term applied to gemstones and extrapolated as above, but wasn't sure how the gemstone application arose.  It turns out to be quite simple.
The clarity of diamonds is assessed by their translucence; the more like water, the higher the quality. The 1753 edition of Chambers' Encyclopedia states "The first water in Diamonds means the greatest purity and perfection of their complexion, which ought to be that of the clearest drop of water. When Diamonds fall short of this perfection, they are said to be of the second or third water, &c. till the stone may be properly called a coloured one."

The comparison of diamonds with water dates back to at least the early 17th century, and Shakespeare alludes to it in Pericles, 1607.
Heavenly jewels which Pericles hath lost,
Begin to part their fringes of bright gold.
The diamonds of a most prais├Ęd water
Doth appear, to make the world twice rich.

Man bowls a "300" in less than two minutes


Via Neatorama.

Guilty as charged

It has been pointed out to me, probably on several occasions, that I should not type two spaces after a period.  I've been doing this since my 10th-grade typing class, so I doubt I can change a 50+-year-old habit.  Today I encountered this rant on the subject (which I typed using two spaces after periods):
The two-spaces-after-a-period construction is outmoded and has no place in modern communication.  It’s not a coincidence that many of my friends who still use two spaces work in finance and law—two decidedly old-school industries populated by people who grew up in the two-space heyday.  The practice should be eradicated for good, especially in the digital communication age, when every device has proportional fonts.  Design experts agree that using two spaces creates an unsightly amount of white space, and increases the chance you’ll have a “river” snake its way through your paragraph.  Worse, it makes a person look old and out of touch.
Here is the same text typed using one space after the periods.
The two-spaces-after-a-period construction is outmoded and has no place in modern communication. It’s not a coincidence that many of my friends who still use two spaces work in finance and law—two decidedly old-school industries populated by people who grew up in the two-space heyday. The practice should be eradicated for good, especially in the digital communication age, when every device has proportional fonts. Design experts agree that using two spaces creates an unsightly amount of white space, and increases the chance you’ll have a “river” snake its way through your paragraph. Worse, it makes a person look old and out of touch.

Today is April 25


From Miss Congeniality, via.

23 April 2017

"Slime videos" explained


A tip of the blogging hat to the elves at No Such Thing As A Fish for explaining in a recent podcast how "slime" is now a "thing".  I found a detailed explanation in a column at nymag.  Herewith some excerpts:
Slime, if you haven’t encountered it on any of your social feeds — or at a child’s birthday party — is a strange, mushy semi-solid that can be made easily with Elmer’s glue, borax, and water, plus a mess of strange sequins, colored dye, and commentary. Slime is so popular as a craft project among teens and preteens that stores are struggling to keep Elmer’s glue on the shelves...

Slime videos are part science, part meditation, and part art form. They’re also a business. Slime creators have hundreds of thousands of followers, and sell their slime on Etsy for money. @Slime.Bun, one of my favorites, has more than 200,000 followers; @slimequeeens has almost 700,000. It’s an industry dominated by teens who started making their own slime just because they loved it — and starting selling it to enable their habit. Alyssa J., a 15-year-old slime creator whose mother preferred that she keep her last name secret for privacy reasons, just started her slime account in August 2016. She says she saw tutorials on Pinterest, and that it “just looked fun,” so she decided to start an account herself. Alyssa’s account, @craftyslimecreator, now has 431,000 followers...

 For Donna Boyd, a 17-year-old from Harrisburg, Virginia, slime is therapeutic. She’s never purchased slime, or made it herself. She just watches hundreds of videos from her five favorite accounts over and over again. “It honestly just makes me happy and de-stresses me,” Donna told me. “I suffer from anxiety, and slime videos help me a lot during panic attacks.” She says she gets lost in them after watching a few, going into a kind of meditative state. One teen I spoke to, Rachel M., told me she spends “at least 15 hours a week” just watching slime videos and playing with slime. She has only bought two slimes herself, but she loves them and says, “I need them.”..

“It doesn’t matter what it’s used for,” Alyssa told me near the end of our interview, dragging out “used” so that it sounded like the most absurd request in the world for a giggly, blue goo to have a purpose. “It’s just slime. Get it?”
Here is a sample video:


BTW, the company that makes Elmer's Glue is private.  You can't buy stock in it.  I checked.

"How Western civilization could collapse"

Excerpts from an interesting longread at the BBC:
The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse...

...there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification. The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom...

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour. Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour...

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in...

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national. Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid...
Whenever I read about the end of civilization, I am reminded of this classic passage from Hitchhiker:
P.A. VOICE: We are currently awaiting the loading of our compliment of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment, and hygiene during the flight, which will be of two hours duration. Meanwhile we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits… again.

AUTOPILOT: There has been a delay. The passengers are kept in temporary suspended animation for their comfort and convenience. Coffee and biscuits are served every ten years, after which passengers are returned to suspended animation for their comfort and convenience. Departure will take place when flight stores are complete. We apologise for the delay.

FORD: Delay? Have you seen the world outside this ship? It’s a wasteland. A desert. Civilisation’s been and gone. It’s over. There are no lemon-soaked paper napkins on the way from anywhere.

AUTOPILOT: The statistical likelihood is that other civilisations will arise. There will one day be lemon-soaked paper napkins. ‘Till then, there will be a short delay. Please return to your seats.

Therapy dogs waitiing to see their children


Photo taken at an Italian children's hospital.  Via Reddit.

The dangers of kohl eyeliner

Kohl served multiple roles in Egyptian antiquity. Egyptians of all social classes applied the eyeliner daily in veneration of the deities, satisfying both religious obligations and beautifying desires. Wearing the glossiest, highest quality kohl denoted one’s upper class status in society while the less wealthy adulterated their kohl with fire soot. Before the advent of Ray-Bans, it was applied liberally around the eyes to reduce the sun’s glare, to repel flies and to provide cooling relief from the heat. It also trapped errant dust and dirt, a simple remedy to curb the desert’s regular assaults on the body...

Kohl is predominantly composed of the mineral galena, a dark, metallic lead-based product that is also known by the chemical name lead sulfide (PbS). The mineral would be crushed and mixed  with several other ingredients such as ground pearls, rubies and emeralds, silver and gold leaves, frankincense, coral, and medicinal herbs such as saffron, fennel, and neem...

A 240-fold increase in NO production was sparked by the presence of lead ions, a bona fide tsunami of molecules flooding surrounding cells to respond to invading bacteria. This intense biochemical interaction suggests that kohl was more than just a beautifying cosmetic and the forefather of sunglasses, but also an important antibacterial ointment...

Kohl is still used today in North Africa and Central Asia, despite its considerable toxicity.
There is more information about the toxicity at NPR:
Two Afghan children now living in Albuquerque developed very high levels of lead in their blood because of eye makeup, health workers reported Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The family had just emigrated from Afghanistan as refugees. And they brought the traditional eyeliner, called kajal, with them...

When health workers tested the kajal in the family's home, the eyeliner turned out to be 54 percent lead. That's 540,000 parts per million, or 27,000 times the cap set by the Food and Drug Administration for color additives in makeup.

Lead is a neurotoxin. And it's especially harmful to babies and young children. Even small amounts can damage developing brains and cause permanent problems.

Tilly Lockey and her bionic arm


The above video shows her first attempts to use the new arm; In the longer video below she tells her story:


More details at the Meningitis Research Foundation.

"I've never been on a team before. Even if I don't play, I just want to be on the team..."


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