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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Execution by Cannon

Execution by Cannon in Shiraz, Iran, Mid-Late 19th Century

Execution by cannon was a method of execution in which the victim was typically tied to the mouth of a cannon which was then fired. The prisoner is generally tied to a gun with the upper part of the small of his back resting against the muzzle. When the gun is fired, his head is seen to go straight up into the air some forty or fifty feet; the arms fly off right and left, high up in the air, and fall at, perhaps, a hundred yards distance; the legs drop to the ground beneath the muzzle of the gun; and the body is literally blown away altogether, not a vestige being seen.

Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English,
 a painting by Vasily Vereshchagin c. 1884. 
Blowing from a gun (wiki) was a reported means of execution as long ago as the 16th century, by the Mughal Empire, and was used until the 20th century. The method was utilized by Portuguese colonialists in the 16th and 17th centuries, from as early as 1509 across their empire from Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) to Mozambique to Brazil. The Mughals used the method throughout the 17th century and into the 18th, particularly against rebels.

This method of execution is most closely associated with the colonial government of the British Raj. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (wiki), "blowing from a gun" was a method the British used to execute rebels as well as for those natives found guilty of desertion. Using the methods previously practiced by the Mughals, the British began implementing blowing from guns in the latter half of the 18th century.

The destroying of the body and scattering the remains over a wide area had a particular religious function as a means of execution in the Indian subcontinent as it effectively prevented the necessary funeral rites of Muslims and Hindus. Thus, for believers the punishment was extended beyond death. This was well understood by foreign occupiers and the practice was not generally employed by them as concurrent foreign-occupiers of Africa, Australasia or the Americas.

Here's a brief BBC re-enactment:

At ExecutedToday, an account from the February 15, 1862 Harper’s Weekly of a very messy spectacle orchestrated to maintain British control of Punjab (scans of the original pages are here and here):
"The commanding officer directed port-fires to be lit. “Ready!” “Fire!” and the drama was played out. An eye-witness says: “The scene and stench were overpowering. I felt myself terribly convulsed, and could observe that the numerous native spectators were awe-stricken — that they not only trembled like aspen-leaves, but also changed into unnatural hues. Precaution was not taken to remove the sponge-and-load men from the muzzles of the guns; the consequence was that they were greatly bespattered with blood, and one man in particular received a stunning blow from a shivered arm!“
More at Strange History and vintage everyday.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Why is the sky blue? How do bees and butterflies see? How does an igloo keep you warm?

From Dr. Joe Hanson of It's OK To Be Smart's Youtube Channel:

Roundup of Mother's Day links

Grandmothers gave humans longer lifespans.

Notes on the History of Mother's Day: 5 Things Worth Knowing.

For your wino mom or wife on Mother's Day: FlaskScarf, tampon flasks, or the Wine Rack

Anna Jarvis invented Mother’s Day, then spent the rest of her life fighting against it.

The 8 Best Mothers In The Animal Kingdom, and the 15 worst.

Top 10 Mothers in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

A Biologist's Mother's Day Song: Slightly more than half of everything I am is thanks to you.

6 Unforgettable Movie Mothers and the Real Moms They Depicted.

Don't get along with your mom? This might help:

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include what happens to birds during a hurricane, early attempts to produce the flying car we were supposed to have by now, Amazon reviews left by scientists ("Fits neatly inside a lizard's cloaca."), and, for J. M. Barrie's birthday, the dark side of Peter Pan.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday links

James M. Barrie was born on May 9, 1860: here's the dark side of Peter Pan.

A tornado's low-frequency sounds could reveal where it'll strike.

What happens to birds during a hurricane?

Early attempts to produce the flying car we were supposed to have by now

Amish Commerce: Costco in Lancaster, PA has stalls reserved for horse and buggy parking.

"Fits neatly inside a lizard's cloaca": Scientists are leaving Amazon reviews, and it's amazing.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include the physics of laundry, the poop-filled mites on your face, the Wild West's last stagecoach tavern, and the anniversary of V.E. Day, the day World War 2 ended in Europe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Grandmothers gave humans longer lifespans

I've seen things along these lines before; they always warm the cockles of my grandmotherly heart*. Aside from the (invaluable, really) babysitting services, and the love, there's all that wisdom.  

Grandmother's Story by Hugues Merle
Help with childcare from grandmothers at an early stage of human history could have resulted in an evolutionary change which caused women to live long past the menopause, researchers said.

Female chimpanzees rarely live beyond their 30s or early 40s, when their fertility typically ends, but a computer simulation showed that the influence of grandmothers could extend their lifespan to human levels within 24,000 to 60,000 years.

A popular theory known as the "Grandmother Hypothesis" (wiki) suggests that older women had an evolutionary benefit by caring for their grandchildren after their childbearing years were over.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, backs up the theory by demonstrating that grandmothers alone, and not other factors like the development of larger brains, could result in women having longer lifespans.

Researchers suggested grandmothers may even have been responsible for increasing humans' brain size by allowing mothers to have larger families, which increased the pressure of natural selection on their children.

Most primates and mammals collect their own food after they have been weaned, but when African forests began to be replaced by dry savannah two million years ago, children were no longer able to forage for themselves.

The Grandmother Theory suggests that older women began performing childcare tasks such as cracking hard nuts or digging up tubers from the dry ground, which allowed their daughters to keep producing and caring for new babies.

This meant long-lived and healthy grandmothers could pass on their genes to more descendants, increasing the number of women who would survive beyond childbearing age.

via The Atlantic
Mathematicians simulated the impact of childcare from grandmothers on a society of animals which only lived for 25 years after reaching adulthood, similar to chimpanzees in the wild.

They found that thanks to "grandmothering" female chimps would evolve to live for 49 years as adults – a level similar to human hunter-gatherers – within the space of 24,000 to 60,000 years.

Prof Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah, senior author of the study, said: "Grandmothering was the initial step towards making us who we are."

It resulted in "a whole array of social capacities that are the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for co-operation," she said.

For your wino mom or wife on Mother's Day: FlaskScarf, tampon flasks, or the Wine Rack

Check out the FlaskScarf for women; they come in a variety of colors and stripes and have a hidden bladder than can hold up to 8-ounces of booze (or whatever). When you're thirsty just suck on your scarf!

From the makers the FlaskTie for men:

If your mom isn't a scarf person, there's always the classic tampon flask (which comes in a set of five!) or the Wine Rack, which would, since it holds 25 ounces of liquid in it's bra-shaped bladder, probably have some make-mom-look-like-Dolly-Parton properties :

Slightly classier are these fake lotion containers, which are actually very highly rated:

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday links

It's V.E. Day: on May 8, 1945, World War 2 ended in Europe.

Just so you know, there are Poop-Filled Mites On Your Face Right Now.

The Last Stagecoach Tavern of the Wild Wild West.

Not a plot summary for a SyFy movie: Army researchers are developing a self-aware squid-like robot you can 3D print in the field.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include how donuts are made, daggers made from human thigh bones, Neanderthals sea voyages, and illustrated manliness lessons: how to undress in 20 seconds or less (in case you need to rescue someone who's drowning) and the Tactical Order of Dressing (as taught to military and emergency personnel).

Monday, May 7, 2018

Just so you know, there are Poop-Filled Mites On Your Face Right Now

Right now, there are tiny mites eating, laying eggs, dying, and leaking feces on your face. They're not actually pooping, per se, because of the fact that they the lack anuses:
"They store all of their poop in their abdomens until the day they die, at which point they decompose and leak feces all over your face."
More at the video below, made by Gross Science:


Everything you never wanted to know about the mites that eat, crawl, and have sex on your face.

NatGeo has a gallery of extreme close-ups of mites.

By the way, you can buy a container of 1,000 live predatory mites here - makes a great gift!

The Dark Side of Peter Pan

When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.

~ James Barrie, Peter Pan

Every time a child says, "I don't believe in fairies," there is a little fairy somewhere who falls down dead.

~ Id.

Fascinating story about James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, over at Neatorama - read the whole thing. Some excerpts:

"All of James Barrie's life led up to the creation of Peter Pan," wrote one of his biographers. 

A pivotal point came in 1866 when Barrie, the youngest in a Scottish family of ten children, was six: his brother David, the pride of the family, died in a skating accident. Barrie's mother was devastated. To comfort her, little James began imitating David's mannerisms and mimicking his speech. This bizarre charade went on for years… and only got weirder: when James reached 13, the age at which David had died, he literally stopped growing. He never stood taller than 5', and didn't shave until he was 24. He always had a thin, high-pitched voice... 

In 1899, while still unhappily married, Barrie befriended young George, John, and Peter Davies and their mother, Sylvia, in London's Kensington Park. The boys' father, Arthur Davies, was too busy tending to his struggling career as a lawyer to spend much time with the family. So childless Barrie was only too happy to play with the Davies boys. He became a frequent caller at their home, and even rented a cottage nearby when they went on vacations in Surrey. 

Barrie idolized the children's beautiful mother. But it was with the children that he could truly be himself. He met with them daily in the park or at their home. They played Indians together, or pretended to be pirates, forcing each other to "walk the plank." Barrie made up stories for the boys, featuring talking birds and fairies, and acted them out.

Barrie always acknowledged that the Davies boys' free-spirited youth was the inspiration for Peter Pan. "I made Peter by rubbing the five of you together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame," he wrote on the dedication page of the printed version of the play. More than that, however, the Davies family - loving mother, impatient father, and adorable sons - served as Barrie's model for the Darlings in the play. He even used their names:

* Mr. Darling was named after the eldest boy, George Davies.

* Jack Davies became John Darling.

* Michael and Nicholas became Michael Nicholas Darling.

* Peter Davies' name went to Peter pan.

As for the author, he appears as Captain James Hook, whose right hand is gone. Barrie suffered paralysis of his right hand from tendonitis.

But this story has no happy ending. Arthur Davies died of cancer, which left Barrie and Sylvia free to marry. Barrie went so far as to give her an engagement ring, but then she, too, died of cancer. Suddenly Barrie was the legal guardian of five boys, ages 7 to 17. George, the eldest Davies child and Barrie's favorite, died in World War I in 1915. Michael drowned in a pool at Oxford while being taught to swim by a close friend; there were rumors of a suicide pact. John married and distanced himself from Barrie. Peter Davies committed suicide as an adult in an attempt to escape, some say, from forever being called "Peter Pan."

Much more in the Neatorama post, and for further reading, try this: J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story Behind Peter Pan.

Monday links

Manliness lessons: how to undress in 20 seconds or less (in case you need to rescue someone who's drowning), plus, so you can always be battle-ready - the Tactical Order of Dressing: An Illustrated Guide (as taught to military and emergency personnel).

The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code - Bill Benter wrote an algorithm that couldn’t lose at the track. Close to a billion dollars later, he tells his story for the first time.

Treadmills Were Meant To Be Atonement Machines.

Human Thigh Bones Make The Best Bone Daggers, in Case You Were Wondering.

Neanderthals may have gone on sea voyages.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include Star Wars Day and International Respect for Chickens Day, the politics of the Louisiana Purchase, the Turkish roots of Swedish meatballs, strange cases of mass hysteria (including the mysterious dancing epidemic of 1518, and why we evolved to poop in the same place as our friends.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Check out the carving on this instrument - a medieval guitar later converted into a violin

From the British Museum's Twitter feed: