I ran across this on the BBC News’s Technology page:
So I figured I had to go outside and roll down a hill all afternoon.
Oh yeah, did some more comic strip talk on my mathematics blog so thanks for listening to all that.
I ran across this on the BBC News’s Technology page:
So I figured I had to go outside and roll down a hill all afternoon.
Oh yeah, did some more comic strip talk on my mathematics blog so thanks for listening to all that.
The local alt-weekly had a piece about competitive yoga, which is neat since the national championship was just this past weekend at the State Games of America, held in Grand Rapids. My love and I were there, competing for pinball. My love went home with a bronze medal for the Pro Division. I went home with an extra T-shirt the organizers had that isn’t actually in my size.
Anyway. Competitive yoga. I haven’t been to a yoga class in years, and I admit what I got was the sort of suburban yoga where the instructor mentions yeah, there’s some stuff about philosophy and a set of beliefs you should be considering about the nature of humanity and its relationship to the universe, but mostly if you need a towel to do a leg lift please do. I need many towels to do a leg lift, because I have the flexible hamstrings of a parking garage. Still, I have trouble imagining just what this is, and apparently yoga competitors have it to. From a particularly defensive quote:
“India has had a national yoga federation since the ‘70s,” said [ National Yoga Asanda Champion ] Ann Chrapkiewicz, “They’re going on their 42nd national championship, so it’s not an American thing that we made up.”
I appreciate that Americans will take anything and then form a championship out of it. If there were a way to do so much blinking that it might make somebody weep then we’d have National Blinking Championships. So I guess it’s nice that some other countries will championize what might otherwise just be things you enjoyed doing. But I guess I knew that already. Like, over in England there’s competitive pipe-smoking. I’m not sure the exact way it works. I think it’s a thing where you get two chances to light the pipe and one long draw, and then organizers watch to see which of the contestants have been dead since Rhodesia was expelled from the Commonwealth. (“Who amongst you is dead? Show of hands, please … yes, yes, I see you, Montgomery. No, you’re not dead then. Better luck next time.”) So I suppose we all have our traditions of doing things until we can give people medals for it.
I’m not among those outraged by reports that a New Zealand music festival has spent NZ$90,000 importing five tons of mud from South Korea. What do I know from what New Zealand music festivals need? And besides, Juicero. I got to tell a friend who’d missed that all about the Juicero nonsense yesterday and it was great fun. But the people of a planet that produced Juicero investors have no place faulting music festival organizers for being part of the international mud trade.
No, what’s got me is that festival organizers said this purchase would meet their needs for the next five of their concerts. If this is an annual event, that’s five years’ worth of mud they’re buying. Again, I don’t fault them buying in quantity. If you know you need something and it’s nonperishable and you have the storage space, sure, buying in bulk makes sense. What’s got me is having a projection of your mud needs for the next five years. I have no idea what my mud needs are like. I know it’s killing my budget to keep running to the corner convenience-store-that-wants-to-be-a-neighborhood-grocery-but-isn’t-trying-very-hard to get a box every time I run short. I should write the festival and ask for their advice on mud need estimation. But now that they’re being made fun of in public I bet they wouldn’t think I was sincere. Too bad.
Before I get to it, here’s my mathematics blog with last week’s comic strips. Thanks.
Now, amusing me is this Reuters article about a kind of fish I never heard of before, the “tubelip wrasse”. It lives in the Indian Ocean and the central-western Pacific, which seems to narrow its existence down to one-eighth of the globe. I suppose that’s enough detail for a news report anyway. It’s not like I was going to go visit them anyway, not without more research. What’s interesting is that it eats corals, which are hard to eat, what with how they’re all coral-y. The secret is in their mouths: they have mouths that let them eat coral, and once you have that, eating coral is easy. Anyway, they have this quote in:
“To our knowledge, this type of lip has never been recorded before,” James Cook University marine biologist David Bellwood said.
It’s a beautiful sentence and I want everyone to take a moment just to admire that. But it’s also a beautiful sentence with this beautiful implication: there’s some record of all the adequately studied lips out there. There are people whose jobs include the task of overseeing and keeping up-to-date some portion of the world’s record of lips. Maybe even someone who oversees all the lip records known to humanity. Suppose there is. Then that is a person who either grew up wanting to be the master of humanity’s record of lips, or else it’s someone whose life went through twists and turns to bring them there. Either way, is anything about this not delightful? No, it is not.
If that were not enough for you, somehow, Víctor Huertas of the James Cook University in Australia offered this detail about the coral-eating process:
“It looks exactly like a quick kiss with a distinctive ‘tuk’ sound,” Huertas said, “often leaving a coral ‘hickie,’ which is actually a patch of flesh sucked off the skeleton.”
Never mind the stuff about flesh ripped off skeletons since that isn’t so jolly as I’d hoped. Think of fish giving hickies to coral and making a little ‘tuk’ sound doing it. You’re welcome.
Sorry, I’m still thinking about that beach that went missing from an Ireland shore thirty years ago and popped back in last month. Like, where do you imagine it went all that time? I understand if it took a vacation, especially if it had been there since the glaciers retreated and knew it might be forever until a glacier comes back. But where does a beach go on vacation? Another beach? Sure, I understand hanging out with a friend. But that’s going to be a terrible holiday. It would keep having people trod out onto it in flip-flops and lugging baskets of things and have to explain, “No no, mate, I’m here for the same thing you are,” and point to its friend that it’s standing on.
Maybe it could go the mountains? That would be fine, nobody would go out for a beach expedition to the Swiss Alps, say. It couldn’t go skiing, what with people getting all tense around avalanches and rockslides and that. But sitting around a chalet, sipping cocoa? That’s great, until the rescuers dig the chalet out from itself. I don’t know about you; I don’t think having heavy machinery clawing at my backside until a path is dug from me to the emergency exit would be fun. Different strokes, though, I must admit.
Maybe it did a museum tour. That would make sense to me. The beach was gone for thirty years, after all, and I’ve spent that much time in some museums. I’ve had — and I am not exaggerating this in the slightest — museum docents come up and sheepishly ask me if I thought I might be near the end of my examinations of things, as the museum had technically speaking closed forty-five minutes earlier.
I bet that’s it. We should ask the museums of the world if any of them had a beach come by and just stay poking around a painting or a diorama for up to 358 months past closing time.
Reuters had this article:
A beach that was swept away more than 30 years ago from a remote island off the west coast of Ireland has reappeared after thousands of tons of sand were deposited on top of the rocky coastline.
The 300 meter beach near the tiny village of Dooagh on Achill Island vanished in 1984 when storms stripped it of its sand, leaving nothing more than a series of rock pools.
But after high spring tides last month, locals found that the Atlantic Ocean had returned the sand.
I did not realize the world was so very much the waiting cycle for a Popeye-at-the-beach cartoon from the early 50s.
Also, wow, I’m thinking first of the person who thirty years ago went down to the beach after the storm and saw it was gone. How would you go telling people about that? And then this year the person who went down to the sea side just in case and found it was back.
If it came back this year, I mean. I mean, wouldn’t it be a kicker if it turned out the beach had popped back in like two months after it was first washed away, but by then nobody was checking because everyone knew the beach was gone? Or if someone did, like, ten years ago walk along it and see the beach there but figured that must not be the beach that had gone that everyone was talking about since there it was. Or worse, the person did tell folks about it, but everyone figured that was just crazy talk and didn’t even go looking and now the whole town has to admit, “Yeah, you told us so”. There’s just so many ways this could be awkward. I’m fascinated, right up until I think about something else.
According to Reuters, Abraham Poincheval, a French artist, has successfully hatched nine out of ten chicken eggs which he had been incubating by sitting on for three weeks. He had been sitting in a glass vivarium at the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum in Paris. He sat on a chair, in an insulating blanket, over the egg container, leaving for no more than thirty minutes a day for meals. Meanwhile I’m in the early stages of an e-mail dispute with coworkers about whether the password for a server was, in fact, changed. I’m not saying he necessarily has used his past month at work better than I have, but he did spend two weeks living inside a hollowed-out bear sculpture in 2014. So he’s got something figured out which I don’t.
I imagine my love and I aren’t alone in following the news about that giant Canadian coin stolen from that museum in Berlin. If you missed the news, a giant Canadian coin was stolen from this museum in Berlin. Here “giant” refers to the coin. It was a solid gold piece with a denomination of one million Canadian dollars. It’s worth, at current gold prices, of over four million Canadian dollars. (This suggests a great money-making scheme, wherein if we get enough money together it’ll be four times as much money. Joke’s on you. We’ve all bought into the scheme and called it “the economy”.) The Canada was the normal-size Canada as far as I know. What’s a little enchanting about this is that the coin denomination is bilingual. On one half it reads “1 Million Dollars”. On the other it’s “1 Million de Dollars”. I love the old-fashioned sound of “a million of dollars”. It redoles of gilded-age finance. I know “redole” is not a word. I mean “it’s redolent of” but I’m trying to avoid passive constructions.
The theory of how this 21-inch-across, 220-pound coin got stolen is that the thieves dragged it through the museum, out a window, and down along the railway track. My love pondered what a hobo walking that line would make of seeing a giant gold coin being rolled down the way. I know what I would do in that circumstance. I would bug out my eyes, reach into my hobo jacket, pull out the whiskey flask, dramatically pour out the contents, and toss the empty canister over my shoulder. I have seen too many stupid movies. It’s affecting my behavior in hypothetical situations.
The Royal Canadian Mint made five of these million-Canadian-dollar gold coins “because we can”, according to its web site according to The New York Times. That’s a fair reason. It beats “because we can’t” or “because the alternative is to be licked by an opossum” or “because otherwise we have to paint the basement”. At least it’s a fair reason to make the first one. You can’t really prove you can do a thing unless you do the thing, or do something close to the thing. Like if they minted a 975,000-Canadian-dollars gold coin. If they ever did that I’d entertain no doubts about their ability to make a million-Canadian-dollar gold coin. But it looks like they skipped right to the million one. Maybe they were confident after the success of their 925,000-Canadian-dollars gold coin. Or maybe out back they have a bunch of test misfires. Coins that came out as spheres, say, or that swapped the locations of the English and the French denomination inscriptions. Or that time they put gold into the machinery and a bunch of cheeseburgers came out and they can’t explain that.
I don’t know who the other four million-Canadian-dollar were made for, or why. At least one was put on display in some Berlin museum. I guess that’s better than leaving it in the Stray Stuff drawer in the front desk, along with the rubber bands that break when you try to band things together and that couple of pound coins you swore you were going to spend the last time you went to Britain and then didn’t. But what purpose do the others serve besides proving your annoying lefty friends correct about the moral imperative to grind up the rich for bone meal?
The Royal Canadian Mint will make more, in case you want one and are willing to risk the Revolution not coming anytime too soon. That’s got me wondering how much it costs to get a million-dollar coin minted. At least a million dollars seems likely. But how much more on top of that? And can you get it FOB? This is a very funny joke to people who remember that mention of railroad tracks earlier and who also get lots of stuff delivered by the Railway Express Agency, which folded in 1975, which is why I’m a humor blogger and not a successful humor blogger. I wonder if you get a discount if you bring your own gold. I’m imagining now showing up at the front door of the Royal Canadian Mint, at I’m guessing 1867 Mint Street, Canadopolis, Canada K1A 0G8, with a wheelbarrow full of ore and asking where the service counter is. (Alternatively, “où est le counter de service?” which is pretty good French considering how long it’s been since I took a class.) I bet they have a pamphlet showing the way. Mints like that always have more and more specific pamphlets than you could imagine.
Also the million-Canadian-dollar gold coin is merely one of the world’s largest gold coins. A correction to the New York Times article reads:
While it was the world’s largest gold coin when it was issued, in 2007, that distinction is now held by the Australian Kangaroo One Tonne Gold Coin, minted in 2011.
I shall be very disappointed if the Australian Kangaroo One Tonne Gold Coin is not the most dangerous gold coin in existence. I know what a dangerous ecosystem finance is, and Australia’s got to have the most dangerous. I bet it’s highly venomous and prone to exploding when threatened.
And now I’m wondering, what if it was just someone from Giant Canada that picked it up? Thought it was loose giant change in the giant drawer? I’d go ask Giant Canada but my voice isn’t loud enough for them to hear me at that height. I suppose it isn’t something I have to resolve, anyway.
Crustacean revelation: coconut crab’s claw is stunningly strong
By Will Dunham | WASHINGTON
It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. Its claw is a mighty weapon.
Scientists on Wednesday said they measured the pinch strength of this large land crab that inhabits islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, calculating that its claw can exert up to an amazing 742 pounds (336.5 kg) of force.
The coconut crab’s pinch strength even matches or beats the bite strength of most land predators.
“The pinching force of the largest coconut crab is almost equal to the bite force of adult lions,” said marine biologist Shin-ichiro Oka of Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Foundation, who led the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.
OK, so, I admit I was looking for an excuse not to wrestle any coconut crabs this weekend. Call me a coward if you will. I’ll be over here calling a Patagonian Cavy names until it starts whining.
But three things caught me by the end of that third paragraph. The first: next time I make a mind-bogglingly stupid science fiction move set in the dystopian future I’m going to name something in it PLOS ONE. Maybe the megacity everyone’s trying to escape. Maybe the computer-god-supercorporation ruling everyone. Maybe the spunky talking motorcycle the hero rides to save the day. But something.
Second: the dateline. Reuters wants us to know that Will Dunham reviewed PLOS ONE while writing for the Washington office, I suppose. It would have totally different connotations if the story were filed from New York, or Lisbon, or New Delhi, or Buenos Aires.
Third: “It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab”. May not. May not. Dunham is willing to concede there are circumstances in which it is wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. He can’t think of any himself, but he’s aware of his fallibility. He grants there are people whose lives bring them to the point of scrapping with coconut crabs, which are ten-legged monstrosities as much as three feet long. And he’ll allow there are people for whom that is a wise and even good path for their lives to take. I appreciate the open-mindedness. Someone might look back on their life and say, “It all turned around for me when I wrestled that giant crab”, and wouldn’t you like to know how that came about? I mean, you don’t want to know that so much as you feel you feel you ought to find out how Norman Borlaug had the idea of ending world hunger. (“Well, what if people had something to eat? I thought that might help.”) But still you’d like to know. I’m still using the excuse to avoid Saturday’s scrap myself.
While we were all busy with whatever it was keeps us busy BBC News had this article: ‘Bionic’ plants can detect explosives. And while all we children of the 70s are thinking of a field of grain waving in extremely slow motion while that na-na-na-na-nanananana sound effect somehow suggests … speed or strength or something the lede tops us:
Scientists have transformed the humble spinach plant into a bomb detector.
I bet they’ve also made it not so humble either. I can picture spinach plants now calling out to other plants in the area. “Yo, eggplant over there, you ever save lives and protect property? Huh, how about that. Hey, broccoli! You ever detect a bomb? I thought not! Ooh, you sprig of lemon balm! You — oh, wait, never mind,” it says, falling back, as it remembers lemon balm’s courageous service for spinach’s father in the Clome Oven Wars. So it’s not completely full of itself. But it’s lost a certain natural humility too.
Researchers said they meant this as a proof of concept, that concept being that they can now get lunch to message their iPhones. This could see a future in which the whole process is fully automated and none of us have to interact with the salad courses ever again. Should be a great future we’re making somehow.
Several weeks into the first term, the university holds its annual “Raisin Weekend”, during which the academic parents hold parties for the new students. The weekend culminates in “Raisin Monday”, when they dress the new students in costumes and send them into the university main’s lawn for a shaving foam fight.
And so I’m left here pondering whether I’m more curious about why raisins or why they count Monday as part of the weekend. I’m pretty sure it’s not a long holiday weekend, like, October Bank Holiday or one of the estimated 44 days listed as the Queen’s Birthday. (You know although Elizabeth II is recorded as ninety years old she was actually only born 26 years ago; all those Birthday holidays add up.) Well, I guess we all pad out the weekend when we figure we can get away with it. Probably the students do. How would someone find who was skipping class underneath all that foam? Fair enough, I suppose.
Also, my mathematics blog had that comic strip thing again. Please read, won’t you?
Turns out they’re not investigating whether the great apes have feelings about movies, which is a shame. I bet they’d have some interesting thoughts about how the Dino De Laurentiis version slapped the original premise with a Seventies Movies stick by making sure we knew everyone in the movie, including the natives on Skull Island, ended up depressingly worse off. Instead:
As individual apes were shown videos featuring a human actor and a costumed ape-like King Kong character, researchers tracked their eye movements. In the video, the human watches King Kong hide an object in one of two boxes. When the person leaves, King Kong moves the object to a new location.
When the person returns to find the object, the apes looked intently at the original spot in anticipation of the person searching there. Even though the apes knew the object had been moved, they understood that the human thought it was still there, said study co-leader Fumihiro Kano, a comparative psychologist at Kyoto University in Japan.
This is an important result for studying the theory of mind, because now we can know that our fellow primates can tell when someone’s being fooled. I bet it won’t be long before we have great apes who can watch three-camera sitcoms or beer advertisements for us. Then we just have to find the ones who want to.
Still, I worry that over on Ape Twitter there’s a bunch of Ape Tweetstorms where they’re all about how hilariously fake the King Kong costume are. I bet the researchers didn’t include that in their report. It would look bad to the funding committee that for all they spent on the outfit the apes still weren’t buying it. Or worse if they spent so much on the ape costumes that the actual apes were buying it.
The easy thing to do is be thrown by the lede of this Reuters “Oddly Enough” feature. Let me prove it:
Chilli-powder condoms, firecrackers boost Tanzania elephant protection
Conservationists in Tanzania are using an unorthodox way of keeping elephants from wandering into human settlements — by throwing condoms filled with chilli powder at them.
The method has proved effective and Honeyguide Foundation, which hit upon the idea several years ago, with U.S.-based Nature Conservancy has stepped up its promotion, training volunteers in villages in north Tanzania to use a non-violent four-step way of protecting their homes and crops without hurting the animals. Previously many used spears to defend themselves.
[ Skipping ahead a bit. ]
Chilli powder mixed with soil is packed with a firecracker into a condom, its end is twisted shut with just the fuse exposed. When lit, the condom bursts open with a bang, spraying a fine dust of chilli powder into the air. One whiff is usually enough to send an elephant the other way.
OK, so that’s all good merry fun that helps us feel a tiny bit less guilty about how everybody likes elephants and we still treat them like humans treat elephants regardless. But here’s what I wonder. Given that apparently condoms filled with chilli powder and firecrackers are an effective means of elephant direction, how long is it going to take before this is the orthodox way to do it? At some point somebody will propose a way to shoo elephants out of the village and people will say, “That’s daft talk, Chad!” (He’s only nicknamed Chad, but nobody remembers his original name anymore.) “Now be sensible and stuff chilli powder and fireworks into these condoms! We’re counting on you!”
And yet a future generation will acknowledge that Chad was right, just … right too soon.
Based on the Reuters article The Man Who Paints Cows.
Headline: Well done. If there’s anything more immediately obviously amusing than painting a cow, it’s painting multiple cows. Oh, a jerboa has novelty value, but nobody knows what a jerboa is, and in any case they don’t have nearly as much material to paint, what with being small? I think? I’m pretty sure they’re one of those mutant little mouse critters in southeast Asia or Peru or something like that. Cows might be used a lot but they hit the sweet spot of promisingly funny to start with and not being strained. Rating: 6/8.
Story: Disappointing. The story reveals that John Marshall paints pictures of cows, not on cows directly. Well, where’s the fun in that? Anyone who wants to paint a picture of a cow can do so. We’re even encouraged to, with popular books in the arts and crafts stores with names like How To Draw Cows and 40 More Cows To Draw and Here’s Some Cows You Missed Before, Do You Maybe Want To Draw Them Too? and Why Are You Hurting The Feelings Of These Undrawn Cows.
If he were painting cows, that is, using cows as canvas, that would be remarkable. It takes something special to go up to a cow and dab paint on it. Mostly it involves being able to paint before the cow loses patience with the whole business. Also it takes some reliable paint, paint that can stand up to being licked by a cow (painted or neighboring). So the article content is most disappointing. Rating: 2/12.
Picture: This story of a man in East Sussex, England, United We Guess Kingdom is illustrated by a stock Reuters photograph of “Dairy cows [eating] gras in a paddock on the New South Wales south coast near the town of Nowra, Australia, September 5, 2014”. While they still remain cows, they are two-year-old photographs of cows on a continent that hasn’t got anything to do with the painting at hand. Rating: 7/4.
Overall: 15/24. May be re-submitted at the end of term.
You might have seen this on Reuters in which case I’m sorry but you probably already thought of my jokes about it. I hope we can still be friends. Anyway at England’s Manchester Airport they’re reviewing their team of drug-sniffer dogs just because in seven months of work they never found any smuggled drugs. To be fair this compares well with my track record of finding illicit drugs.
And it isn’t like they found nothing. According to a review the dogs did manage “multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health”. And they’re reviewing how it is the project spent £1.25 million on dogs who recovered somewhere around 181 kilograms of meats. I’m a bit unsure about it myself. I would think you could train dogs to sniff out smoked meats and cheese without much more advanced training than saying, “Who’s a good doggy?” while waving a slice of pepperoni. You could do this in an empty room and a good doggy would appear, and then follow you around, pleading for more. I suppose they did get six dogs, and that’s got to be more pricey than one. Still, it seems like there’s something missing here.
I guess the surprising thing is that in seven months British holidaymakers only bring something like 181 kilograms of illegal meat back home through Manchester. I mean, that’s not nothing. The Apollo 17 mission only brought 110 kilograms of moon rocks back. But there were just the two astronauts on the moon, and the whole trip took less than two weeks, and there was just the one of it. Also they probably declared their rocks and didn’t land in northern England. And for another comparison, the early “Schreibkugel” model typewriter which Friedrich Nietzche owned weighed only 75 kilograms. But if the British holidaymakers are sneaking a lot of other meats in, then how are the dogs missing them? Definitely a scandal here.
I appreciate a good bit of oddball news as much as anyone. Sometimes I even appreciate it up to twelve percent more. But this one from the BBC, “Swiss city bans `noisy’ silent discos”? I’m sorry, that’s just trying too hard. As is the photo caption that notes “City authorities say that silent discos are not necessarily silent”.
Silent discos, by the way, are a thing that exists in both the real world and in Jonathan Lethem novels. Instead of having music anyone can listen to, they give out headphones and everybody listens to a broadcast of the music they’d play. Fine enough. I’ve seen one, without headphones. This didn’t hurt my ability to find the beat at all, because I could not find the beat with my love patiently explaining, “NOW! No, not now, wait for it … NOW! No! Just … do what I do. No, when I do it. NOW! No, stop.” I’m not good with rhythm.
The problem in the underlying news was some applications for outdoor silent discos. So the neighbors would hear all the noise of a disco except the music. I’ve never lived next to a disco, but I have been places where things happen. I can imagine how it’s worse to get just the ambient noise without the music. For one, you’d hear all the coughing, and never know whether it was on the beat. Also, the article says, “participants can’t help singing along to the music”.
So let’s get this sucker rated. The underlying news item, tolerably amusing but not odd at all once you think about it. This is where so much oddball news fails us. I give that a two out of five. The reporting has that nice quote about singing along to the music being the issue. That’s a four out of five. The headline blows it, though. It should’ve been “Silent Disco Banned On Noise Concerns”. Two out of five. This averages out to a 2.67. Needs work.