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Friday, October 24, 2014

Diversity poster of the day

Normal? Really?

It's possible that this description of a Venus Flytrap is inaccurate


via @YouHadOneJob

Friday links

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

Why blackmail is called "blackmail", plus the origin of the lesser known "buttockmail".

Feast Your Eyes on This Beautiful Linguistic Family Tree.



No-Rules NASCAR: If you stripped away all the rules of car racing and had a contest which was simply to get a human being around a track 200 times as fast as possible, what strategy would win?

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, including Asimov's just-published 1959 paper for DARPA, a zombie-proof log cabin kit, the world's oldest genitals, and Stage 6 Alzheimer's patient Glen Campbell's final song to his wife: I'm Not Gonna Miss You.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

From 1803, The Ottoman Empire's First Map of the Newly Minted United States

Via Slate:

What did the United States look like to observers from the Ottoman Empire (wiki) in 1803? In this map, the newly independent U.S. is labeled “The Country of the English People” (“İngliz Cumhurunun Ülkesi”). The Iroquois Confederacy shows up as well, labeled the “Government of the Six Indian Nations.” Other tribes shown on the map include the Algonquin, Chippewa, Western Sioux (Siyu-yu Garbî), Eastern Sioux (Siyu-yu Şarkî), Black Pawnees (Kara Panis), and White Pawnees (Ak Panis).

Click here for a zoomable version, and/or visit the map's page in the digital collections of the Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine. 



via Geekpress.

Dance battle between a priest from Hyde Park, NY (my home town) and one from Milwaukee, WI

Rome: A video of a pair of dueling, dancing American priests studying in Rome has gone viral. The Rev. David Rider, 29, of Hyde Park, New York, and the Rev. John Gibson, 28, of Milwaukee, first shot to Internet fame when they were filmed in April during a fundraiser at the North American College, the elite American seminary up the hill from the Vatican.



Via Ed Morrisey at Hot Air:
Fr. David told us a little bit about his dancing at the dinner party. He began life as an entertainer on stage but got the call to the priesthood. He wondered whether it would be appropriate to continue dancing, but was inspired by St. John Paul II to the priesthood and to make his dancing show the joy of Jesus Christ. Catholic News Service linked to this 2012 video of Fr. David (as a seminarian) explaining both his call and how he sees his dancing as part of his evangelization:

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

So, are the old ways always the best? I tend to think so, being a grandma, but I have my doubts about this one:
 
"A weasel placed on a scorpion bite helps greatly... if its heel is taken from it while it still lives and is placed on a woman, she will not get pregnant as long as it is there." 
~Albertus Magnus, De animalibus

via the excellent blog Ask the Past, which adds: 
As if you needed another reason to keep a live weasel in your bedroom.
Not sure if it worked? Here's advice from 1684 on How To Know If You're Pregnant:
"The women are troubled with nauseating and loathing of their meat, and oftentimes covet and greedily long for things contrary to Nutriment, as Coals, Rubish, Chalk, Lime, Starch, Oat-meal, raw Flesh and Fish or the like, which desire proceeds from a former contraction of evil humours... some Women as it has been noted by divers Authors of Credit, have been so extravegant in their longings, that they have coveted Hob-Nails, Leather, Horse Flesh, Mans Flesh, and the Flesh of divers ravenous Beasts..."
~Aristoteles Master-piece (1684)
Then there's advice for caring for your newborn:
“After the woman has delivered the child, you should know how to take care of the child. Know that as soon as the child is born, it should be wrapped in crushed roses mixed with fine salt… And when one wishes to swaddle [the baby], the members should be gently couched and arranged so as to give them a good shape, and this is easy for a wise nurse; for just as wax when it is soft takes whatever form one wishes to give to it, so also the child takes the form which its nurses give to it. And for this reason, you should know that beauty and ugliness are due in large measure to nurses. And when its arms are swaddled, and the hands over the knees, and the head lightly swaddled and covered, let it sleep in the cradle.”
~Aldobrandino of Siena, Regimen for the Body (1254), tr. Faith Wallis
And this: Anoint the gums with the brains of a hare: advice from c. 1450 on soothing a teething baby:
Andrea Mantegna, The Circumcision of Jesus 
(detail, c. 1461)
"Sometimes babies have trouble with teething. In that case you should squeeze the gums with your fingers, and gently massage them, and the palate as well. And you should anoint the gums with the brains of a hare (which are very suitable for this purpose), or with fat or butter or good-quality olive oil; and you should do this twice a day. The milk of a dog is suitable, too. It is also very helpful to use hen's fat for both anointing and massaging the gums."

~Michele Savonarola, Ad mulieres ferrarienses (c. 1450)
If you like this sort of thing, I recommend the book How to Cure the Plague, and Other Curious Remedies.

Previous, semi-related posts:

Advice from c. 530: How To Use Bacon, including for medicinal purposes such as "thick bacon, placed for a long time on all wounds, be they external or internal or caused by a blow, both cleanses any putrefaction and aids healing".

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

How to Stop Bleeding, 1664:
“To Stench a Bleeding Wound: Lay hogs Dung, hot from the Hog, to the Bleeding Wound.”
~Samuel Strangehopes, A Book of Knowledge in Three Parts (166[4])
Dubious medical device du jour - the prostate warmer.

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

Is Eating Your Boogers Good For You?

Urine-drinking Hindu cult believes a warm cup before sunrise straight from virgin cow cures cancer, baldness.

Workplace safety cartoon of the day



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guy missing both legs arranges chainsaw massacre prank

He scared the crap out of a bunch of people. I'd give this a PG-13 rating, unless you want your kids to have nightmares:



Links to various aspects of the filming at youtube. Behind-the-scenes video:



via @rdbrewer at Ace.

Tuesday links


Take Your Paranoia To The Next Level With This Zombie-Proof Log Cabin Kit.

President of Belarus declares country's sausage is free of toilet paper


World's oldest genitals found (yes, I know - the Hugh Hefner jokes just write themselves).

In 1976, Operation Paul Bunyan was conducted into North Korea to take down a tree.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include (without limitation) an illustrated guide for girding up your loins (and additional manly links), a compilation of Rita Hayward's dancing set to Stayin' Alive, and Quentin Tarantino's 1995 episode of ER.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In 1959 Issac Asimov wrote a paper for DARPA on creativity. It was just published today

In 1959 Asimov (wiki) was approached by DARPA (at the time it was ARPA) to think about how ideas are formed. His brief work for the organization has never been published.

Via Arthur Obermayer:
(Asimov) expressed his willingness and came to a few meetings. He eventually decided not to continue, because he did not want to have access to any secret classified information; it would limit his freedom of expression. Before he left, however, he wrote this essay on creativity as his single formal input. This essay was never published or used beyond our small group. When I recently rediscovered it while cleaning out some old files, I recognized that its contents are as broadly relevant today as when he wrote it. It describes not only the creative process and the nature of creative people but also the kind of environment that promotes creativity.
Excerpt below from ON CREATIVITY - Isaac Asimov Mulls “How Do People Get New Ideas?”:

How do people get new ideas?

Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors. We are most interested in the “creation” of a new scientific principle or a new application of an old one, but we can be general here.

One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated. Unfortunately, the method of generation is never clear even to the “generators” themselves.

But what if the same earth-shaking idea occurred to two men, simultaneously and independently? Perhaps, the common factors involved would be illuminating. Consider the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

There is a great deal in common there. Both traveled to far places, observing strange species of plants and animals and the manner in which they varied from place to place. Both were keenly interested in finding an explanation for this, and both failed until each happened to read Malthus’s “Essay on Population.”

Both then saw how the notion of overpopulation and weeding out (which Malthus had applied to human beings) would fit into the doctrine of evolution by natural selection (if applied to species generally).

Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection.

That is the crucial point that is the rare characteristic that must be found. Once the cross-connection is made, it becomes obvious. Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of this.”

But why didn’t he think of it? The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

Once you have the people you want, the next question is: Do you want to bring them together so that they may discuss the problem mutually, or should you inform each of the problem and allow them to work in isolation?

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Nevertheless, a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.

No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items. One person may know A and not B, another may know B and not A, and either knowing A and B, both may get the idea—though not necessarily at once or even soon.

Furthermore, the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant. However, if one person mentions the unusual combination of A-B and another unusual combination A-C, it may well be that the combination A-B-C, which neither has thought of separately, may yield an answer.

It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.

If a single individual present is unsympathetic to the foolishness that would be bound to go on at such a session, the others would freeze. The unsympathetic individual may be a gold mine of information, but the harm he does will more than compensate for that. It seems necessary to me, then, that all people at a session be willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.

If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest. 

Read the whole thing at Technology Review.

Related: 


Dog lovers, start your day with a smile: Compilation Video of Puppies Chasing Laser Pointers