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Friday, February 14, 2014

Video: The Science of Chocolate (aka the real meaning of Valentine's Day)

From SciShow (warning - autoplay video at link):
While you unwrap that luscious truffle, let Hank explain the science of chocolate -- where it comes from, what its active ingredient is, and how it works. Also learn the difference between chocolate, cocoa, cacao and coca, so you really know what you're talking about the next time you pass the candy dish.

Must read of the day (week) is Jonah Goldberg: In Olympic coverage, Soviet horrors are being swept under the rug

Watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you’d have no idea that from the Moscow metro system to, literally, the roads to Sochi, the Soviet Union — the supposed epitome of modernity and “scientific socialism” — was built on a mountain of broken lives and unremembered corpses.

Consider the stunted and ritualistic conversation (“controversy” is too vibrant a word for the mundane Internet chatter) about the Soviet Union sparked by the Winter Olympics. The humdrum shrugging at the overwhelming evil of Soviet Communism leaves me nostalgic for the Eichmann controversy. At least Arendt and her critics agreed that evil itself was in the dock; they merely haggled over the best words to put in the indictment.

What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union? In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.

“To eat your own children is a barbarian act.” So read posters distributed by Soviet authorities in the Ukraine, where 6 to 8 million people were forcibly starved to death so that the socialist Stalin could sell every speck of grain to the West, including seed stock for the next year’s harvest and food for the farmers themselves. The posters were the Soviet response to the cannibalism they orchestrated.

If it is conventional wisdom that the Nazi Holocaust was worse than the Soviet Terror, you would at least think earning the silver in the Devil’s Olympics would earn something more than feckless wordsmithery and smug eye-rolling from journalists and intellectuals. Imagine if instead of Sochi these games were in Germany, and suppose the organizers floated out the swastika while NBC talked of the “pivotal experiment” of Nazism. Imagine the controversy.

But when the hammer and sickle float by, there’s no outrage. There is only the evil of banality.

Friday links

Crocodiles, Alligators Able to Climb Trees.

This compilation of the Oscar winners for Best Visual Effects, 1977-2012 is a real trip down memory lane.  Related, Behind the scenes of the 1956 Japanese Godzilla Movie and the 1966 Batman TV show.  Also, 17 Facts You Might Not Know About Gilligan's Island.

The first car that Porsche ever built was found in a shed, untouched for over a century.

New Zealand Prime Minister adamant he's not a shapeshifting reptilian alien.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, including animals using each other as pillows and a trailer for Zombeaver. Speaking of Zombeaver, Sharknado 2: The Second One is coming!

‘Sharknado 2: The Second One′ Cast Unveiled; Production Starts Next Week

Sharknado was set in LA, but apparently Sharknado 2: The Second One will be set in Manhattan.

Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath, Kelly Osbourne, Andy Dick, Judah Friedlander, and Judd Hirsch have been cast in Anthony Ferrante is again directing the screenplay by Thunder Levin – this time about a freak weather system that turns its deadly fury on New York City, unleashing a “sharknado” on the city’s population and its most iconic sites, with sharknado experts Fin (Ziering) and April (Reid) the only ones able to save the city.

Judd Hirsch plays a taxi driver.  ;-)

More here.

Compilation of the Oscar winners for Best Visual Effects, 1977-2012 is a real trip down memory lane

Watch full screen! This compilation makes me want to re-watch many (albeit not all) of these.

Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects Oscar Winners from Nelson Carvajal on Vimeo.

This includes the nominees for 2013.  From the first Star Wars in 1977 to the Life of Pi in 2012 through Alien, The Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Matrix, Terminator 2, and lots more.  A full list is at the end of the video, and at Wikipedia.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Brits are having a spot of weather, but it's happened before: Daniel Defoe Reports The Great Storm of 1703

We have reckoned, including the City of London, about 123 People kill’d; besides such as we have had no account of; the Number of People drowned are not easily Guest; but by all the Calculations I have made and seen made, we are within compass, if we reckon 8000 Men lost, including what were lost on the Coast of Holland, what in Ships blown away, and never heard of, and what were drowned in the Flood of the Severn, and in the River of Thames.
What the Loss, how many poor Families ruin’d, is not to be Estimated, the Fire of London was an exceeding Loss, and was by some reckon’d at four Millions sterling; which, tho’ it was a great Loss, and happened upon the spot, where vast Quantities of Goods being expos’d to the fury of the Flames, were destroy’d in a hurry, and 14000 dwelling Houses entirely consum’d. Yet on the other Hand, that Desolation was confin’d to a small Space, the loss fell on the wealthiest part of the People; but this loss is Universal, and its extent general, not a House, not a Family that had any thing to lose, but have lost something by this Storm, the Sea, the Land, the Houses, the Churches, the Corn, the Trees, the Rivers, all have felt the fury of the Winds.
I cannot therefore think I speak too large, if I say, I am of the Opinion, that the Damage done by this Tempest far exceeded the Fire of London. They tell us the Damages done by the Tide, on the Banks of the Severn, amounts to above 200000 pounds, 15000 Sheep drown’d in one Level, Multitudes of Cattle on all the sides, and the covering the Lands with Salt Water is a Damage cannot well be Estimated: The High Tide at Bristol spoil’d or damnify’d 1500 Hogsheds of Sugars and Tobaccoes, besides great quantities of other Goods. ‘Tis impossible to describe the general Calamity, and the most we can do is, to lead our Reader to supply by his Immagination what we omit; and to believe, that as the Head of the particulars is thus collected, an infinite Variety at the same time happened in every place, which cannot be expected to be found in this Relation.
via Anorak.

Kevin Williamson has an outstanding article on the negative effects of pervasive corruption/incompetence in government: A Deeper Naginism

Go to NRO and read the whole thing.  I had trouble excerpting this article because there's so much of substance, but a few excerpts are below (emphasis mine):

The damages of Ray Nagin’s crimes may not amount to very much, but the damages inflicted by Naginism are staggering.

Combined federal, state, and local spending in the United States is about the same as it is in Canada, so it is not as if we were starving our public sector to death. The problem is that our institutions are not full of Canadian budgeters, Finnish school administrators, and Swiss train conductors. They are full of Ray Nagins. 

Many of the most important factors driving economic growth are beyond direct political control.

But there is a critical variable that is at least partly within the direct control of government: the quality of government. The quality of government — its honesty, competence, reliability, and predictability — has an effect on most of the important economic variables. And not just government itself, but other institutions with the power to shape public life, such as unions and large firms. Quality is something outside of and different from policy specifics, which is why similar policies often produce wildly different outcomes in different polities: Single-payer health care in Bahrain turns out to be very different from single-payer health care in Canada. A high level of government-enforced union involvement has been catastrophic for the U.S. automotive industry but not for the German automotive industry, which is a lot less of a mystery than it seems when you account for the fact that the UAW is not IG Metall, GM is not Audi, and the U.S. government is not the German government.

There is no way to put a happy face on this fact: Critical American institutions are of shockingly low quality. Corruption is a part of that: At No. 19 on the Transparency International rankings, the United States is tied with Uruguay. Its transparency score of 73 is far behind where you want to be, among such category leaders as Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and Finland (91, 91, 89, and 89, respectively). We lag well behind our Canadian neighbors and such important international competitors as Germany. Our overall standing is not terrible, but it does not place us among global leaders, either. Moderation in the pursuit of honesty is no virtue.

Being snowed in reminded me of this: In Retrospect, I Guess We Might Have Resorted To Cannibalism A Bit Early

Being snowed in (I'm in the DC area) reminds me of this old article from The Onion - as my son pointed out yesterday re the reported lines at the supermarkets, we may have to go 17 hours before we can shop again. Anyway, here it is - a classic:

In Retrospect, I Guess We Might Have Resorted To Cannibalism A Bit Early

By Milton Boyd

Well, I suppose everyone's heard about last week's incident by now, and you probably have a pretty low opinion of us survivors. And, all things considered, perhaps we deserve it. Perhaps we panicked and resorted to cannibalism a bit early. But you weren't there. You don't know what it was like. I just want you to hear our side of the story before you go judging us. 

When the six of us got into the elevator on that fateful day, we had no idea what was going to happen. We thought we were just going to take a little ride from the 12th floor to the lobby, just like every other day. Do you think we knew that elevator was going to get stuck between floors? Do you think we got into the elevator saying, "Hey, you know, we should eat our good old pal Jerry Weinhoff from Accounts Payable"? Of course not. 

During those first few minutes after the elevator car lurched to a stop somewhere between the seventh and eighth floors, we were still civilized human beings. Everyone kept his cool. We tried pushing the emergency button. We called out for help. We even banged on the door a little bit. Nothing worked. Still, we figured, "No big deal, someone will notice that the elevator's stuck, and this thing will start back up any second." Morale was generally high. John and Peter actually cracked some jokes, if you can believe that. 

Maybe it started there, the hysteria. Maybe we should have known. But, at some point, when the voices went away, and pushing the buttons continued to have no effect, it started to look a lot less like we were going to have a funny story to tell our kids and a lot more like they'd never hear from us again. 

It does something to a person to think that. You confront your own mortality for the first time. You become savage, brutal. One word enters your mind: survive. Survive!

I have no idea how long we'd been marooned when we started edging toward Jerry. Twenty, thirty minutes, time has little meaning when you're in a situation like that. It wasn't a spoken decision, either. We just all looked at each other and knew something had to be done. 

It might have been an animal act, but it had a certain logic. Jerry lived alone and had nobody special in his life--no kids, no wife or girlfriend, and his parents had died a long time ago. And, most important, he was the biggest. We figured there was enough meat on him to keep the rest of us alive for days, maybe weeks. 

Peter held him down while I tore at his forearm with my teeth. Not surprisingly, Jerry resisted. He struggled ferociously and shouted, "Hey, what the hell are you doing?" But he knew exactly what we were doing: We were doing whatever it took to survive. 

Eventually, we were able to knock Jerry out. And, as for what we did next, I'm sure you've read about it in the papers. Maybe it was savage. Maybe it was an animal act. But human teeth are pointed and sharp in front for a reason. Besides, we had no way of knowing that, at that very moment, an Otis Elevator repairman was working to free us. We only knew that we were between floors, and that it had been more than five hours since we'd had lunch. 

The veneer of civilization is thin. Civilization depends upon people acting in a reasonable manner and obeying certain universal laws. But civilization also depends upon that cruise ship staying afloat. It depends upon that airliner passing safely over the Arctic Circle. And it depends upon that elevator continuing smoothly down to the lobby of the Hadley Insurance Building. 

Am I sorry about what I did? Of course. Taking a life is never easy. But sometimes we have little choice. 

When I finally got home from work that day, some 50 minutes late, my youngest daughter Kellie ran up to me and gave me a big hug. She said, "Daddy, I'm glad you're home." Daddy, I'm glad you're home. It was at that moment I knew I'd done the right thing.

And, of course, there's this re the rugby players: "I had to eat piece of my friend to survive" and the Donner party.

And let's not forget Alferd Packer (wiki):

According to tradition, the presiding judge, M.B. Gerry, allegedly told him:

“Stand up yah voracious man-eatin' sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of 'em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t' be hanged by th' neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin' ag'in reducin' th' Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The first car that Porsche ever built was found in a shed, untouched for over a century

A bit of Porsche history:

The first Porsche ever built has been untouched since 1902. Officially called the Egger-Lohner C.2 Phaeton, this electric car from 1898 has 'P1' engraved onto all of the key components standing for Porsche 1, done by the then 23-years old Ferdinand Porsche himself.

The P1 took to the streets of Vienna on June 26, 1898, making it one of the first vehicles registered in Austria. Porsche's first design included a compact electric drive weighing 286 pounds and offering an output of 3 hp, or up to 5 hp in overloading mode, allowing it to reach up to 22 mph. When driven in this manner, speed was regulated via a 12-speed controller. P

The overall range could span up to 50 miles. Under the electric system was coachbuilder Lohner's alternating vehicle body, which allowed the vehicle to be used all year.

More at Jalopnik.

Wednesday links

31 Animals That Use Each Other As Pillows.

This trailer for Zombeavers makes Sharknado look realistic and well acted.

Private Snafu: The World War II Propaganda Cartoons Created by Dr. Seuss, Frank Capra, and Mel Blanc.

Think you've had a snowy winter?  Look at the first of these 20 Fascinating Historical Photos You Probably (Maybe) Haven't Seen Before. Related: Black and White Photos of the Early Days of Winter Olympics.

How to make an intercom out of obsolete corded phones.

ICYMI, last Friday's links, including 1849 advice on how to start a fight with your wife & beer and wine pairings for Girl Scout cookies are here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

This trailer for Zombeavers makes Sharknado look realistic and well acted

Like vagina puns and scary movies? Well, you just hit the jackpot! Zombeavers - yes that's right, a film about zombie beavers - looks set to be the best worst film you see all year.

The horror comedy is from the people behind Cabin Fever, The Ring and American Pie and will certainly appeal to fans of "classics" like Piranha 3D and Sharknado.

The plot involves a group of good looking college kids who head to a riverside cabin for a quiet vacation - before things go very wrong.

For unknown reasons the beavers have mutated and turned violent... very violent.

Oddly enough, this isn't a SyFy Channel film - it's supposed to actually be in theaters.

A Scientific Explanation of How Marijuana Causes the Munchies

You know you've always wondered, strictly as an academic exercise, why marijuana causes munchies:

For years, scientists have struggled to understand how marijuana's active ingredient—tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—stimulates appetite.

A new study published today in Nature Neuroscience brings us a bit closer to solving the mystery. A team of European neuroscientists led by Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux has found that, in mice, THC fits into receptors in the brain's olfactory bulb, significantly increasing the animals' ability to smell food and leading them to eat more of it. A big part of the reason why you might eat more food after using marijuana, the research indicates, is simply that you can smell and taste it more acutely.

This effect of THC has to do with the underlying reason why the chemical affects the human brain so potently in the first place. Likely produced by the marijuana plant as a self-defense against herbivores who might feel disorientated after eating the plant and avoid it in the future, THC fits into receptors that are part of the brain's natural endocannabinoid system, which helps to control emotions, memory, pain sensitivity and appetite. Our brains typically produce their own chemicals (called cannabinoids) that fit into these same receptors, so by mimicking their activity, THC can artificially alter the same factors in dramatic ways.

Read the whole thing at Smithsonian mag.

Video compilation of toddlers discovering their shadows

This made me laugh out loud a couple of times:

via Geekpress.

Spectroscopic Discrimination of Sh*t from Shinola.

We conducted an experiment to determine whether people can tell shit from Shinola. 

Shinola is a brand of shoe polish once manufactured in the United States. Today we care about Shinola only because it is part of the slang expression “doesn’t know shit from Shinola,” meaning “is completely ignorant.” Shinola is posited for comparison with shit because the two substances have a similar dark brown color and smeary consistency.

Read the whole thing - Neatorama has posted an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Scientists at work: Here's a chicken wearing a plunger on its butt so that it will walk like a dinosaur

In a paper entitled "Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion" published on PLOS ONE, researchers led by Bruno Grossi of the Universidad de Chile expound on the problem of studying dinosaur gaits. A close cognate, they say, could be the chicken. Except for one problem: The lack of a dinosaur tail.

Not having a tail creates considerable differences in the way chickens move and the way the researchers theorize that bidpedal dinosaurs moved, especially in the the position of the knee, the center of mass, and the role of the femur in limb movement. The answer? Raise chickens with a prosthetic dinosaur tail, which they say gives chickens a gait that more closely resembles that of the dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs and chickens...

More at io9

Video: The Science of Kissing

OK for work, by the way.

The art and science of kissing:

I highly recommend this site: I've been following Joe Hanson's site It's Okay To Be Smart for years - a few months ago he began a partnership with PBS called Digital Studio, which adds even more interesting stuff.

Re My friend's sister who died because of O'Care: her brother has a guest post at Ann Coulter's site

There was a brief flurry of attention paid to Julie's death last week, at least on some conservative sites. This was in the Washington Times: Ann Coulter claims friend’s sister died due to Obamacare. NRO had a post here which contained Ann Coulter's Fox News appearance discussing it. I posted about it here.

One of her other sisters (not the one who spoke with Ann) is a close friend of mine.  Julie's brother, Doug, has a guest post on Ann's site today - I've reposted it below.

Julie's father, by the way, was General Daniel Graham, who was quite well known in military circles as the architect, under President Reagan, of Missile Defense, generally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or "Star Wars") and later as the Ballistic Missile Defense Project.  This is the program that Obama scrapped in Europe in order to push the "reset" button with Putin.

by Doug Graham

This Wednesday, my little sister, Julie, will be buried. She died because she delayed seeking health care for what turned out to be a catastrophic condition after her private health insurance policy was cancelled because of Obamacare. As she waited for a new Obamacare-approved policy to kick in, her condition deteriorated to the point that it was too late.

Julie, her husband, and four children were covered by a medical plan they liked, and had been promised they could keep by President Obama. But like so many others in this country, her family’s private health care policy was cancelled because of the Affordable Care Act. So my sister and her family struggled through the expensive and incompetently designed Obamacare website to find a new policy. Unfortunately, while they waited for their new Obama-approved healthcare plan to finally kick in, my little sister fell ill. She couldn’t keep down solid food. She should have gone to a doctor. But she toughed it out, as many people do, until her new coverage would kick in on February 2. She and her husband didn’t have a lot of money, so she didn’t want to incur what she thought were avoidable medical expenses. 

But she didn’t make it. It turns out that, unbeknownst to her, she wasn’t suffering from an upset stomach or food poisoning, but a badly blocked gall bladder that had become highly infected. Her body went into septic shock just two days before her Obamacare policy would have kicked in. Her kidneys shut down. She went to the emergency room where, after heroic efforts, a marvelous medical team managed to stabilize her condition. I saw Julie that day for several hours. She could not move, or speak, but a tear trickled down her check when she saw the eldest daughter of her four children. After I left, hoping for the best, I learned the next day that her gentle heart stopped beating around 4:00 a.m.

So, while the White House sends out talking points to the talking heads who proclaim Americans will be better off because Obamacare forced them off of inadequate health care plans, my family knows better.

There are plenty of arguments against Obamacare. Sure, it was drafted behind back doors and passed in a crude, and utterly partisan, fashion. Yes, Nancy Pelosi famously said we had to pass it to see what was in it. And the bill was applied in a crony capitalist fashion, with corporate allies of the President receiving waivers. Then we had the series of backtracking and outright falsehoods—like the infamous “you can keep your plan if you like it” claim uttered by President Obama and repeated by his political and media allies. 

Obamacare has also inflicted job losses, higher cost plans, and a shift from full-time to part time employment. Even when factoring in all this the economic damage and the harm it has done to working Americans, the most disturbing aspect of Obamacare is that this real world hardship is inflicted because it treats living breathing people as actuarial statistics in the service of giant insurance pools, rather than as the individuals they are. It is highly ironic that this Administration that talks so much about protecting “choice” in so many areas of American life, yet is harshly shutting down individual choice and initiative in such a personal matter of personal healthcare.

The public debate about Obamacare will continue for a long time. But for my family, the debate ended with the death of my sister. For us, it’s not about “policy,” anymore. It’s about the tragic consequences that can happen when the government decides to cancel the private economic decisions of individuals in favor of a huge policy experiment created in the back rooms of Washington by out-of-touch bureaucrats, statisticians and lobbyists. As far as we are concerned, Obamacare killed my little sister and left a good man a widower, and four children without their mother.

-- Doug Graham, lives in Maryland and works in equipment development for the U.S. Military

A last meal of rye bread, execution by gunshot to the head, public dissection, and a feeding of the flesh to lions...

Guardian: In the chilly dawn of Sunday morning a healthy young giraffe in a Danish zoo was given its favourite meal of rye bread by a keeper – and then shot in the head by a vet.
The death of Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe considered useless for breeding because his genes were too common, was followed by his dissection in front of a large crowd, including fascinated-looking children, prompting outrage and protests around the world.
The zoo's decision to conduct the public dissection, and the disclosure that the animal was shot rather than being killed by lethal injection so that it could be fed to the carnivores, fanned the protests and provoked some calls for the zoo to be boycotted or closed. The controversy was fed further by startling images and (caution - autoplay) video of the process, including a picture of a large chunk of meat with an unmistakably spotty hide being fed to the lions.
I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because the animal was young and healthy.  It seems to me that if you've (as, presumably, the zoo has) participated in the breeding of this animal, you have an obligation to care for it, whether or not you want to breed it further.  Don't want to feed it birth control?  Then sterilize it.

The method of execution so that it could be fed to the lions sounds like sound management to me.  If you're going to feed something to the lions, why get worked up over this one food source?  Some animal was going to die for the lions' next meal - why waste this source and kill a different animal?

The public dissection sounds extremely educational.

At any rate, discuss amongst yourselves.

More, including links to additional stories, at the Guardian, via Althouse.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

20 Fascinating Historical Photos You Probably (Maybe) Haven't Seen Before

I've always been fascinated by old photos, and there are a few here I haven't seen before.  Check out the depth of the snow in the first one.
via TechBlog.

Not The Onion: Ballet Skiing

I have zero interest in skiing, but for those of you who like it, here's a sub-genre that somehow never made it to the Olympics: