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Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Links





What Accident Most Changed the Course of History?


ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include superhero physics, spider fighting, revolving restaurant history, and really bad book covers. 

Happy Birthday Ambrose Bierce, author of "The Devil's Dictionary"


Alliance, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hand so deeply inserted in each other's pocket that they cannot successfully plunder a third. 

Destiny, n. A tyrant's authority for crime and a fool's excuse for failure. 

Diplomacy, n. The patriotic act of lying for one's country. 

Evangelist, n. A bearer of glad tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.

History, n. An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.

Imagination, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership. 

Infancy, n. The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, "Heaven lies about us." The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward. 

Occident, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful subtribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.

Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills. 

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. 

Rational, adj., Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience, and reflection. 

Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. 

Today is the anniversary of the birth on June 24, 1842 of American journalist and short-story writer Ambrose Gwinett Bierce (wiki) (1842-1914?), remembered primarily as the author of The Devil's Dictionary. Born in Meigs County, Ohio, Bierce served the Union Army in the Civil War as a "topographical engineer," i.e., a map-maker, but he became a journalist after the conflict and settled in San Francisco. 

Cover of the graphic novel version
 of The Devil's Dictionary
As the literary arbiter of the West Coast at the turn of the 20th century, he found early success as a writer of such short stories as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,"* many of them based on his experiences in the army.* The Devil's Dictionary, a compilation of irreverent definitions of common words and phrases, derives from a series of newspaper columns that Bierce wrote between 1881 and 1886 and then from 1904 to 1906. In 1913, he left San Francisco - at age 71 - to cover the uprising of Pancho Villa in Mexico and was never heard from again. Various theories - including suicide - and unsubstantiated reports of his death have been evinced to explain his disappearance, but the mystery remains.**  George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)  had characters like Bierce in mind when he noted, 
"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
* N.B. Below is a well-received French film short of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," circa 1962, from a showing of the original on the Twilight Zone many years ago. BTW, no French skills required - there's no dialogue. 



** The excellent site Today I Found Out (I highly recommend their book The Wise Book of Whys, copies of which I've given to several people as gifts) has a good roundup of the theories regarding his death: Whatever Happened to Ambrose Bierce?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Q&A from the New York Mirror, circa 1950s: If a woman needs it, should she be spanked?

It's unanimous:


via @Flashbak

Video: making 18th century fried chicken

From Jas. Townsend and Son's 18th century cooking collection on youtube - they also have a website with a section devoted to 18th century recipes.
This fried chicken recipe comes from Nathan Bailey's 1736 cookbook, "Dictionarium Domesticum." This recipe calls for a marinade that is sure to surprise you. The tartness of the marinade contrasted to the sweetness of the batter really sets this dish off. We highly recommend you try this!


From the same youtube channel, if you're going to be replicating the colonial cooking process, you'll need one of these:


h/t Neatorama

Wednesday links

Physics of superheroes: Batman's powers questioned by scientists.

The History of Revolving Restaurants.



Joel Slater, the Stateless Man.

Operation Acoustic Kitty: Cold War attempt to eavesdrop via transmitters implanted into cats. 

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the summer solstice, the economics of peeing in the shower, healthy summer advice from 1656, state liquor law history, and what will happen if GPS fails.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on a Government Pension

Via youtube:
If you are a government employee in California you don't have to work to get rich -- sometimes you just have to retire. Over 50,000 retired government employees collect paychecks that exceed $100,000 each year for the rest of their lives. But government golden parachutes aren't limited to a single monthly retirement check. One of the more outrageous pension abuses comes in the form of double dipping, or collecting a government retirement check while also receiving a paycheck for a government job.

Physics of superheroes: Batman's powers questioned by scientists

Research from the University of Leicester has deemed Batman to be the “most ill-equipped” of the superheroes, claiming that the velocities Gotham City’s finest reaches when gliding through the air would be likely to kill him on landing.

In a series of papers published over the last seven years in the Journal of Physics Special Topics and Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics, students at Leicester have examined the viability of a range of superhero characters. Superman, they have determined, would be “best equipped” to prevail among the contenders they have studied, which include the Flash, Thor and Iron Man.

Looking at everything from the Man of Steel’s muscle tissue – his skin density “would have to be 296 g/cm3 to stop 50% of standard handgun bullets” – to how he reverses the polarity of the Earth’s spin (he increases his relativistic mass by 13.7m times by travelling close to the speed of light, they write), Superman is the “the number one candidate for ‘most powerful superhero’”.

He is followed by Wolverine, whose lunge at an enemy while on top of a train was calculated by the students at at least 1300N, “based on his adamantium-reinforced skeleton’s mass and density (acknowledging that osmium is the closest thing to adamantium in terms of density)”.

James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and author of The Physics of Superheroes, praised the students’ “excellent research”, but said they had forgotten to consider a major aspect of Batman’s strength.

“Batman may indeed be at the bottom of the list, when one considers raw firepower, but they have not properly weighted Batman’s greatest asset – his mind. Batman always has a plan, and with enough time and resources, he has demonstrated an ability to singlehandedly take down every member of the Justice League,” said Kakalios, pointing to the Tower of Babel storyline from 2000, which he said sees the villain Ra’s al Ghul use the contingency plans developed by Batman to incapacitate superheroes including Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman.

Related posts:

This Comic Reveals Why Female Superheroes Wear Skimpy Armor.

The 1960s Superhero Who Powered Up By Smoking (and other weird superheroes).

9 Reasons Green Lanterns Are the Universe's Worst Protectors.

More at The Guardian, h/t Geekpress.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Monday links

The summer solstice occurs this evening at 6:34 PM EDT: some science, history, poetry and music.

The Numbers Add Up: Peeing in the Shower Makes Sense.

The Ad Campaign that Convinced Americans to Pay for Water.

How to Have a Healthy Summer: Advice from 1656.

What Happens If GPS Fails?

The Weird and Very Long History of State Liquor Laws.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include parenting advice from Homer Simpson, a photo gallery of awkwardly sitting dogs, the anniversary of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, and a 1942 guide to spaghetti-eating etiquette.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer solstice science, quotes, poetry and music

Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass...

Walking around the grocery store on a hot day always reminds me of this Shakespeare quote:
For men, like butterflies, show not their mealy wings but to the summer.
~ Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida Act III, Scene 3

Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound;
And through this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose.

ShakespeareA Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Sc. 2

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.

~ John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.

~ Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

~ Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Thou orb aloft full dazzling,
    Flooding with sheeny light the gray beach sand;
Thou sibilant near sea, with vistas far, and foam,
    And tawny streaks and shades, and spreading blue;
Before I sing the rest, O sun refulgent,
    My special word to thee.

~ Walt Whitman, A Summer Invocation

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.

Carl Sandburg, Back Yard

This year's summer solstice (wiki) will occur on June 20, 2016 at 6:34 PM EDT. At the summer solstice (from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop)), the Earth reaches the  point in its orbit where the northern hemisphere is most tilted toward the sun, which puts the latter higher in the sky at noon than at any other time of the  year.*  This is also the day of the year with the longest daylight period and the shortest night.  In prehistoric times, the summer solstice was of great importance to aboriginal peoples.  The snow had disappeared, food was easier to find, and crops already planted would soon be harvested in months to come. From then on, however, the days would begin to shorten, indicating the inevitable return of the cold season. 

This year, in addition to the solstice there's a full moon hitting its peak on the same day. This hasn’t happened in 70 years. You can watch a live broadcast of the summer solstice/full moon broadcast from the observatory at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands:


Here's a brief explanation on the mechanics of solstices and equinoxes:



The two revolutions, I mean the annual revolutions of the declination and of the centre of the Earth, are not completely equal; that is the return of the declination to its original value is slightly ahead of the period of the centre. Hence it necessarily follows that the equinoxes and solstices seem to anticipate their timing, not because the sphere of the fixed stars moves to the east, but rather the equatorial circle moves to the west, being at an angle to the plane of the ecliptic in proportion to the declination of the axis of the terrestrial globe.


Here's Nigel Kennedy playing the last movement of Vivaldi's "Summer" concerto from The Four Seasons:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How to Have a Healthy Summer: Advice from 1656

"The regiment for the time of Summer, June, July, and August. The shepheards in summer been clothed with light gowns and single, their shirts and sheets that they ly in be linnen, for of all cloath it is the coldest... and they eat light meats, as Chickens with veriuyce, young Hares, Rabbets, Lettise, Purselain, Melons, Gowrds, Cucumbers, Peares, Plumbs... They drink oft fresh water when they be thirsty, save only at dinner and supper time, and then they do drink feebl green Wine, single Beer, or small Ale. Also they keep them from over great travell, or over forcing themselves, for in this time is nothing grievouser than chafing. In this season they eschue the company of women, and they bathe them oft in cold water to asswage the heat of their bodies enforced by labours. Alway they have with them sugarcandy or other Sugar whereof they take little and often." 

via Ask the Past

Related posts:

Advice from c. 1200: How to Survive the Winter.

Advice from 1489: To stay young, suck blood from a youth.

Advice from 1658: How to Give Up Wine.

How to Prevent Pregnancy, c. 1260 (the weasel/scorpion method), plus other dubious medical advice.

Advice from 1380: How to Tell if Someone Is or Is Not Dead, with bonus Monty Python.