On the Wealth of Notions


News and Site Updates Archive 2009/09/30

Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen,
its counsellors are always the masters.
So when the regulation favours the workmen, it is always just and equitable;
but it is sometimes otherwise when it favours the masters.

– Adam Smith, from On the Wealth of Nations

30 Sep '09 -


This fruit's striking colouring is thought to be caused by a random genetic mutation at odds of more than a million to one.  In such cases, the red side usually tastes sweeter than the green side – because it has absorbed more sunshine during its growth.  It is unlikely to be a stable mutation but the tree will be checked next year to see if this recurs.  I read that there are instances of some striped apples and pears where the mutation remains stable so I did a search on Flickr for "striped apple" and found the following:

And "striped pear" produced this:

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for crippling sanctions against Iran - but the kind of blockade he wants qualifies as an act of war.  Israel has long threatened to attack Iran on its own but prefers to draw in the US and NATO.  Why?  Is Iran attacking other countries, bombing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure?  No, these are crimes committed by both Israel and the US.  Is Iran evicting peoples from lands they've occupied for centuries and herding them into ghettoes?  No, that’s what Israel has done to the Palestinians for 60 years.  What is Iran doing?  Developing nuclear energy, its right as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Iran’s nuclear energy program is subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which consistently reports no diversion of enriched uranium to weapons.  Israel and its puppet in Washington feel Iran mustn't be allowed the rights as a signatory that every other signatory has because Iran might divert enriched uranium to bombs.  In other words, Israel and the US claim the right to abrogate Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy.  Their position has no basis in international law or in anything other than arrogance.  The hypocrisy is that Israel ISN'T a signatory to the NPT and developed its nuclear weapons illegally on the sly with US help.  On the basis of lies and intentional deception of Congress, the public, the UN and NATO, the US government invaded Afghanistan and Iraq using the Washington-orchestrated "war on terror" to overturn civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution.  One million Iraqis have paid with their lives; 4 million are displaced and Iraq and its infrastructure are in ruins.  Iraq’s professional elites (necessary to a modern organised society) are dead or dispersed.  The US government has committed war crimes on a grand scale; if Iran qualifies for sanctions, the US qualifies 1,000 times over.  No one knows how many women, children, and village elders have been murdered by the US in Afghanistan; this war of American aggression is now in its 9th year yet, according to the US military, victory is still a long way off.  Americans can expect the continuation of this war for years while Social Security and Medicare rights reduce to free up funds for the US armaments industry.  Bush/Cheney and Obama/Biden have made munitions the only safe stock investment in the US.  And the purpose of this war?  Soon after his inauguration, President Obama promised to provide an answer but didn't - instead, he escalated the war and launched a new one in Pakistan.  This doesn't make sense.  What justifications are Americans and the world not being told?  Afghans want peace, but the kharaji (foreign) troops (100,000 including US allies in NATO) bring death and destruction.  Think instead what might've been - and still could be - were those military billions spent on food, agriculture, health care, or a civilian job corps.  Is it too late to change course?

China has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium.  Other metals like neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a yearly export quota far below global needs.  China mines over 95% of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia.  Hoarding reserves is a clear sign that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase.  Countries may find it hard to get key materials at any price.  Terbium, used in low-energy light bulbs, now sells for US$800,000 a tonne; China needs all it produces to switch from tungsten bulbs to the latest low-wattage (cutting power needs by 40%).  No replacement is known for neodymium (enhances magnets' power at high heat, crucial for hard drives, wind turbines and hybrid car electric motors); each Toyota Prius made needs 25 pounds of rare earth elements.  Cerium and lanthanum are used in diesel engine catalytic converters; Europium is needed for lasers.  New technologies increase the value and strategic importance of these metals but it'll take years for a fresh supply to come on-stream from deposits in Australia, North America and South Africa.  Rare earth metals are hard to find and even harder to extract...  The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore - bigger than the US and British navies combined but with no crew, no cargo and no destination.  (This is why your Christmas stocking may be on the light side this year.)  The armada of freighters, container ships, bulk carriers and oil tankers should all be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of end-of-year retail pandemonium.  Due to the global economic crisis, they sit anchored and unused.  Skeleton crews fend off ever-present pirates and collisions in congested waters; hulls gather rust and seaweed.  The cost of sending a 40-foot steel container of merchandise from China to the UK fell from £850 plus fuel last year to £180 this year.  Chartering an entire bulk freighter plunged even further, from £185,000 (US$300,000) last summer to an incredible £6,100 (US$10,000) earlier this year.

This is one of my favourite bat photos
It shows the structure of the bat's "hand and finger" bones really well and also the texture of its fine, soft wing skin.
This long-eared brown bat weighs no more than a tablespoon of water himself, so my thought is he doesn't drink very much - or very long.
The photographer rigged his camera to snap when a motion sensor registered.

In her book The Secret, Rhonda Byrne has discovered a heretofore unknown "Law of Attraction."  This Law, which according to Byrne underlies the entire functioning of the universe, states that thoughts themselves have an "energy" that is capable of controlling the universe by "attracting" reality.  This is not easy, but it can happen with just a few steps:

  1. Know what you want and ask the universe for it.
  2. Feel and behave as if the object of your desire is on its way.
  3. Be open to receiving it.

For the Birthers, what they want is unequivocal proof that Barack Obama was not born in the US and is therefore not a citizen.  Now, if the Birthers follow these 3 steps, the universe will make it happen.  Indeed, since the Law of Attraction underlies the universe (no matter what science and reason dictate), it's very clear that when Birthers follow these 3 steps, the very structure of spacetime will alter.  We'll find Obama’s certified certificate of birth fades, Back-to-the-Future-style, to be replaced by documents showing he was really born in Kenya.  Impeachment will soon follow.

Back in the Middle Ages, maps showed terrifying images of sea dragons at the boundaries of the known world.  Today, scientists have observed strange new motion at the very limits of the known universe - right where you'd expect to find unknown new things.  A huge swath of galactic clusters seem headed for some cosmic hotspot and no one knows why.  The entire makeup of the universe as we understand it can't be right if this is really happening.  One possible explanation I rather liked: everything we think of as the vast and infinite universe is actually just a tiny corner under the sofa of the real expanse of reality.  The pull might in fact be coming from another universe altogether.  (H-m-m-m - it wouldn't be a uni-verse, then, would it?)...  The vastest structure ever is a collection of superclusters a billion light years away extending for 5% of the length of the entire observable universe.  If it took a God a week to make the earth, going by mass it would have taken Him two quintillion years to build something this big...  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to "celebrate" its 50th anniversary, filmed a 1959 Chevrolet Bel-Air (think heavy steel) crashing into a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu (think light weight).  What do you think happened?  Apparently, "the driver of the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air would have been killed instantly while the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu’s driver would have walked away with a minor knee injury."  So henceforth avoid speeding to your local car show in your 1959 Bel Air.  Actually, I was surprised at just HOW MUCH better the Malibu fared.  The video is short and shows the same crash from several angles - quite interesting.

Spectacles of colour called light graffiti are made with various light sources, including flashlights, bike lights, visual markers for motion capture, and blinking LED lights.  These light paintings are created with long-exposures (sometimes longer than an hour) in the dark.  A tripod is also a necessity.

Researchers studied about fifty 1-, 2-, and 3-year-olds, each of whom was with one parent, at a university child study centre.  For half of the one-hour session, parents and children were in a playroom without a tv; in the other half-hour, parents chose an adult-directed program to watch (such as Jeopardy!).  Researchers observed how often parents and children talked with each other, how actively involved the parents were in their children's play, and whether parents and children responded to each other's questions and suggestions.  When the tv was on, both the quantity and the quality of interactions between parents and children dropped.  Specifically, parents spent about 20% less time talking to their children and the quality of the interactions declined - with parents less active, less attentive, and less responsive to their youngsters.  More than 1/3 of American infants and toddlers live in homes where the tv is on most or all of the time, even if no one's watching.  This explains a lot.

Touring the Fremantle Jail, the prison that convicts built: Behind the sanctuary a prisoner had painted the Ten Commandments, the Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer.  James (the tour guide and himself a former Fremantle prison guard) pointed out that the 6th commandment had been changed slightly from: "Thou shalt not kill" to "Thou shalt not murder".  And no wonder!  Fremantle jail comes complete with a death row and gallows - where 44 prisoners were hanged (killed, not murdered, please - and not a one was innocent)...  Russians say "I'm not hanging noodles on your ears" when they're not pulling your leg.  Since all idioms sound nonsensical when read literally, why do we even use them?
Some idiomatic examples:

bulletKick the bucket: die (US). (In Thailand, if an old man "kicks the bucket" it means he still "has lead in his pencil".)
bulletEat your head: find out what you know about a topic (Indian) (in western countries, it's "pick your brain").
bulletI ate the ground, my father came out: I fell and hurt myself (Iran).
bulletWhen the crayfish sings in the mountain: never (Russian).
bulletCleaner than a frog's armpit: to be poor, broke (Spanish).
bulletTo think you're the last suck of the mango: to be conceited (South American Spanish).
bulletBrew tea from dirt under another's fingernails: to learn a bitter lesson (Japanese).  (And is the person with supposed dirty fingernails the one teaching the lesson?  I can't determine that.)
The words idiom and idiot come from the same root: "idios" in ancient Greek meant "of one's own" or "private".  The original meaning of an idiot was someone not interested in public affairs (considered a key duty in ancient Athens).  Similarly, idioms are a form of private expression.  They are cryptic language puzzles, solvable only if you already know the answer in advance (in other words, not all sayings are idioms - if you can figure out the meaning from the words, it isn't a proper idiom).

Historical Diagrams Showing the Subdivision of Australia

Australian subdivisions from 1787 to 1908: For a long time, Australia was known as New Holland after the country that first explored the island/continent.  The British who eventually colonised the place at first adopted that name, but settled on a variation of the term Terra Australis for their new colony, which refers to this giant continent in the South that was thought by pre-exploration geographers in the Old World to counterbalance the land mass of the then-known world.  The name of the country might very well have been New South Wales.  At present, NSW is just one of 6 states (and 2 territories) that compose the Commonwealth of Australia – a relatively small state now, though at one time it covered almost ½ the country.  Adapted from Statement Showing the Subdivision of Australia into Separate Colonies between 1787 and 1863 published by the Department of Lands, Sydney, 1904.

Bow Of Orion: The auroras or Northern and Southern Lights are caused by the interaction between the earth's atmosphere and a stream of particles from the Sun known as the solar wind.  The earth's magnetic field funnels these particles down over the planet's poles, giving rise to glowing curtains of coloured light.  Photographer Karl Johnston has more...  After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks searched for another big idea to make money.  They think they may have found one - the bankers plan to buy life settlements - life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash: $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person.  Then they plan to securitise these policies (in Wall Street jargon) by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds.  They'll then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.  The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money.  But what's good for Wall Street could be bad for the insurance industry because if a policy is purchased and packaged into a security, investors will keep paying the premiums that might have been abandoned and as a result, more policies will stay in force, ensuring more payouts over time and less money for the insurance companies.  And with $26 trillion in life insurance policies in force in the US, the impact could be huge.  A bond made up of life settlements would ideally have policies from people with a range of diseases — leukæmia, lung cancer, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s - because if too many people with leukæmia are in the securitisation portfolio, and a cure is developed, the value of the bond would then plummet.  (But if insurance companies buy the bonds, wouldn't that be a win-win for them?)...  While it can't be definitively stated that no one with schizophrenia is blind (in fact, there are numerous tragic cases of self-blinding), it is still the case that no one has yet produced an example of someone who has been blind from birth who later has become psychotic...  "It's likely that taboo words are stored in the right hemisphere of the brain.  Massive left hemisphere strokes or the entire surgical removal of the left hemisphere can leave people with no articulate speech other than the ability to swear, spout clichés and sing song lyrics." - Stephen Pinker, experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author.

What causes such long, strange clouds?  No one is sure.  This rare type, known as a Morning Glory, stretches up to
1,000 kilometres and occurs at altitudes up to 2 kilometres high.  Horizontal, circulating tubes of air might form when
flowing moist cool air encounters an inversion layer (atmospheric layer where air temperature atypically increases
with height).  These tubes and surrounding air can cause dangerous turbulence for airplanes, reportedly achieving a
speed of up to 60 kilometres/ hour over the earth's surface though there may be little discernible wind on the ground.

Behaviourism - A psychological movement, now extinct, that is built on the premise that you are what you do, and you do because of what you have done.  Replaced by humanistic psychology (you are what you feel), cognitive science (you are what you think), Dr Atkins (you are what you eat) and modern advertising (you are what we say). - Dr Mezmer's Dictionary of Bad Psychology
Extropy - the extent of a living or organisational system's intelligence, functional order, vitality, energy, life, experience, capacity and drive for improvement and growth. - Wikipedia
Philomath - a seeker of knowledge and facts. - Wikipedia
Psychological Projection (or Projection Bias) - the unconscious act of denial of a person’s own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are ascribed to the outside world, like the weather, the government, a tool or another person or people. - Wikipedia
Supratentorial - A word used by doctors and nurses to imply that a patient's problems are all in their mind.  The tentorium is a membrane just under the brain, so supratentorial refers to what is above that, namely the brain.  This term can be used in front of the patient or patient's family because it sounds like technical jargon. - Urban Dictionary
Teleology - An ascription of purpose or design to natural or behavioural acts that extends beyond their primary or immediate function.  For example, a heart functions to circulate blood, but its teleological purpose is to keep us in circulation so that we can go to work, pay taxes, watch tv, propagate our genes, et cetera.  Teleology is a defining characteristic of intellectual disciplines that are recognised as unscientific or should be, like religion, astrology, evolutionary psychology, and retirement planning. - Dr Mezmer's Dictionary of Bad Psychology

The sun’s corona, pictured from Siberia during a 2008 eclipse...  The two LED backlit screens slide out from this laptop one behind the other (using a uniquely designed mechanism) and slide back into place when only one is needed.  It weighs 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms) and has 2 equal-sized screens (which measure a total of 34 inches wide), 4 gigabytes of memory and a DVD player.  It goes on sale in the US in December.  Called Spacebook, it's made by a small company based in Alaska called gScreen, after owner and head designer Gordon Stewart...  Astronomers have found that the coldest spot in our solar system may be a little close for comfort - it's our moon's south pole, which at -397˚F (-238˚C) is colder even than faraway Pluto...  In 1990, researchers found lower levels of suicide, homicide, rape, and other crimes in Texas counties where the municipal water supply had higher than average levels of naturally-occurring lithium salts.  A recent, finer-grained study looked at a prefecture in Japan and again, communities with more lithium in the drinking water had lower levels of suicide.  By clinical standards, the lithium doses that groundwater provides, even in "high-lithium" areas, are modest — orders of magnitude below what someone with bipolar disorder might need to prevent mania.  So how might this trace element in the water supply work?  One suggestion is that low-dose lithium might raise levels of neurotrophic factors in the brain.  These factors, made by the brain for the brain, encourage new cell growth, allow for new connections among existing cells, and prevent deterioration in the face of stress.  These neurotrophic factors seem to protect against psychiatric and neurological disease.  But adding lithium to the water supply for mental health may be going too far.  No gains are made without some cost and right now, any costs (in terms of health or potential negative personality changes) are complete unknowns (via The New Shelton Wet/Dry)...  What's the difference between a psychologist and a magician?  A psychologist pulls habits out of rats...  An amazing optical illusion (JavaScript required).

The Golden Gate Bridge has been photographed so much, it's hard to get a really unique shot.  This, however, seems to be one.  The photographer, Frank Fennem, was awakened at 4:30am by thunder and driving rain.  So what did he do?  Rather than return to slumber, he decided to go for a drive.
This photo is from a site that lacks attribution.  This photographer has a good sense of perspective and the clouds add a nice texture. From the same non-attributed site: If most fog comes in on little cat feet, this fog hitched a ride in on a sabre-toothed tiger. How High: I should look up more often - how many lovely things I must miss seeing!  And two more interesting Golden Gate photos.

Linda Allen of Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, was heartbroken when her family’s chocolate-coloured border collie, Bournville, had to be put down because he developed cancer in his head.  The family paid £120 to have him cremated alone, rather than with other dogs, and were given a container, supposedly with his ashes inside, and a death certificate with the letters RIP on the bottom.  But 3 days later they were contacted by police and told that Bournville’s body had been found in a field alongside at least 3 others (identified by their microchips). (Via Tywkiwdbi).  My thoughts?  I once paid to have our dog cremated - because he was quite large and because you are vulnerable at a time like that.  Looking back, I feel that that expense wasn't really necessary as the dog was well past caring.  Nevertheless, I later paid to have our cat cremated - but he had died of feline leukæmia and destroying the microbes seemed justified.  Would I cremate a pet today?  No (though I still have pets I love).  Municipalities should have (and perhaps many do) a pick-up service for dead pets (and dead humans as well, in my opinion. if no one in the family objects) where they are velcroed into flannel body bags and "disappeared" - to be disposed of (or recycled) out of sight in some environmentally-friendly way.  I think all concerned would be willing to pay the cost of such a service (probably user pays rather than a tax on everyone because some won't like it).

Easter eggs: The Google search engine's "did you mean" feature helps even the worst spellers locate useful results.  But type "recursion" into the search box and it suggests "recursion" as an alternative, sending you on a loop of clicks that all generate identical results (word play, Google-style).  Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the geek bible; Google's engineers must be big fans.  Type "answer to life, the universe and everything" into the query box and "42" comes out as the top result.  Other phrases that generate tongue-in-cheek answers from Google Calculator include "number of horns on a unicorn" and "once in a blue moon".  Google Earth also allows users to fly an F-16 fighter jet anywhere in the world.  (Press Ctrl + Alt + A on the site to activate the rudimentary flight simulator; you can learn the controls here.)  The simulator was originally an easter egg but has become one of the programme's official features...  Table of Comparative Heights of the Principal Mountains of the World...  The commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" the Krishevsky family follows closely.  Great grandmother Rachel Krishevsky died at 99 leaving behind no fewer than 1,400 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren.  Krishevsky married her cousin, Yitzhak, at 18 and the couple bore 7 sons and 4 daughters.  In accordance with haredi custom, Krishevsky taught her children to see offspring as a joy; her children subsequently produced 150 children of their own.  In an analysis of European data from 10 west European countries from 1981 - 2004, next to age and marital status, a woman’s religiosity was the strongest predictor of number of offspring.  Other studies have found a similar relationship and a school of thought in demography — Second Demographic Transition Theory — suggests that fertility differences in developed countries are underpinned by value differences: secular men and women are unwilling to sacrifice career and lifestyle aspirations to have children and to have them early.

A rare textile made from the silk of more than a million wild (large!) spiders is on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  To produce this unique naturally-gold-coloured cloth, 70 people spent 4 years collecting golden orb spiders from telephone poles in Madagascar.  Another 12 workers carefully mechanically extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids.  (Flipping the spiders on their backs seems to calm them - then they bite less - and also makes extraction of the filament easier.  A spider spins silk by applying force to a liquid protein, transforming it into a solid state.)  14,000 spiders were needed to yield each ounce of silk and each thread used in the weaving is composed of 96 silk filaments.  The finished textile weighs 2.6 pounds and measures 11 feet by 4 feet - the only large piece of cloth made from natural spider silk known to exist.  It stretches up to 40% of its length; it is stronger than sheet steel or Kevlar. 

In December 1871, a young couple left England for India, leaving their two kids behind in the care of a family they'd found in a newspaper ad.  The son was almost 6; his sister was 3.  It would be more than 5 years before the children saw either of their parents again.  While life with their parents had been easygoing and rambunctious, things were different in "the House of Desolation," as the boy called the foster family home.  The lady of the house was a religious fanatic who hated the boy, beat him mercilessly, and talked mostly about hellfire.  Her own son proved to be a sadistic bully.  School was just another gauntlet of beatings and ridicule.  When his mother finally returned and leaned over to kiss him, the boy instinctively held up his arm to ward off a punch.  The House of Desolation is well known because the boy was Rudyard Kipling.  Reflecting back on his years of misery, he said he found a kind of freedom because that experience "drained me of any capacity for real personal hatred for the rest of my days."

This is what the base of your skull looks like.  (The large hole is called the foramen magnum.)  I wonder: Is this skull real or plastic? If real, what amazingly nice teeth this person had! If plastic, I'm impressed with its incredible detail...  I met my first Cornish rex cat the other day.  Such soft fur!  Most breeds of cat have 3 different types of hair in their coats: the outer fur or "guard hair", which is about 5 centimetre long in shorthairs and 10 centimetres or more in longhairs; a middle layer called the "awn hair"; and the down hair or undercoat, which is very fine with hair about 1 centimetre long.  Cornish Rexes only have undercoats.  (The curl in their fur is caused by a different mutation.)  Does this mean that people with a cat allergy are less affected by them?  Sadly, no.  Despite belief to the contrary, its short hair doesn't make it non- or hypo-allergenic as allergic reactions from cats aren't a result of hair length (or even total lack of hair).  The culprit is a glyco-protein known as Fel d1, produced in the sebaceous glands of the skin, saliva, and urine.  Most people who have cat allergies react to this protein in saliva and dander.  When a cat cleans its fur, its saliva dries and is transformed into inhalable dust.  Since Cornish Rex cats groom as much as (or more than) ordinary cats, a reaction in people who are allergic to cats still happens.  (I wonder: Do hairless sphynx cats  still groom themselves?  I expect they do since most have a downy fuzz, which means they aren't likely to prevent allergies either.)  In all cats, it does appear that female cats shed substantially lower amounts of allergen than males and neutered males shed significantly less than un-neutered toms...  "Unicef said that when they set up public computer kiosks with educational material, a cached Wikipedia, basic health information, et cetera, in villages that the people using them are aged 6 to 60, but when they add internet connectivity the age range reduces to 14 - 18.  They consume porn and this creates an environment unfriendly to others." - Clay Shirky, This Much I Know...  Ryannair allows passengers to get their nicotine fix from smokeless cigarettes; the nicotine-loaded cigarettes that are odourless and smokeless will be available from duty-free on board most planes as part of a month-long trial.  The packets cost £5.40 for 10 cigarettes and have reportedly seen a big uptake in countries where smoking is common, such as France, Italy and Spain.

When it comes to simply expressing his/her opinion, an anonymous commenter should be allowed to say whatever he wants as long as he isn't threatening anyone or making up falsehoods about anyone.  And if he's found to be doing either, his comment should be removed by the webmaster - but his anonymity should remain intact.  The internet is a place where words are the instrument through which we define ourselves, allowing the timid to be verbose, the bullied to find courage, and the downtrodden to discover hope.  Through the web, we can connect with others who feel our pain, who share our concerns, and even who dream our dreams.  And we can say things that we dare not say in the presence of authority.  There's a reason why ballots are cast without names attached, why notes in the suggestion box are unsigned, and why "anonymous" is often the name attached to blog comments.  Anonymity empowers people to be honest, to say, vote, or suggest what's in their hearts without fear of retribution or embarrassment.  Yes, there are some who abuse the privilege of anonymity by lying, attacking, and insulting at will without fear of discovery.  But they constitute an infinitesimal portion of those people who take the time to write or post anonymously.  Isn't that a fairly small price to pay to allow others to speak openly and honestly?

From the late 1960s through the mid-80s, André the Giant was the highest paid professional wrestler - but giants don't live a long life; injuries and health problems caused by his acromegaly later made it difficult just to walk.  André retired to his North Carolina ranch, declining many requests for a comeback despite promises of lavish payoffs.  But Vince McMahon Jr, taking his World Wrestling Federation promotion national, needed André who was in France visiting his ailing father. André thanked Vince but said no way could he get back in a ring.  Unwilling to give up, Vince flew to France and took André to see specialists in back and knee maladies.  Radical back surgery could lessen his pain and maybe make it possible to fight for Wrestlemania, so Vince offered to pay the entire cost of surgery and André agreed to try.  The anæsthesiologist was unsure how much gas to use and various "experts" disagreed until one asked André if he was a drinker.  André said yes, he’d been known to tip a glass from time to time.  How much did it take to get drunk?  "Well," rumbled the Giant, "It usually takes 2 litres of vodka just to make me feel warm inside."  Thus was a solution found - the anæsthesiologist extrapolated a correct mixture by analysing alcohol intake - a breakthrough still in use today; 5 months later, André the Giant wrestled a "body-slam" match against Hulk Hogan and brought down the house.  When André was in a bar one night, 4 drunks harassed him about his size.  At first, André avoided confrontation but eventually chased the hecklers until they locked themselves in their car.  André overturned the car with them inside but he was never arrested for it - presumably local police had a hard time believing the inebriated men's story about an angry giant flipping their car...  A fundamental challenge in face recognition lies in determining which facial characteristics are important in identification.  Studies indicate the significance of eyes and mouth but, surprisingly, one prominent feature receives little attention: eyebrows - important in emotional expression, nonverbal communication, facial æsthetics and sexual dimorphism.  For face recognition, eyebrows seem at least as influential as eyes.  Specifically, absence of eyebrows in familiar faces leads to significant disruption in recognition - more so, even, than absence of eyes.  Eyebrows pop out against the backdrop of the face, identifying who the person is and how he is feeling.  A single raised eyebrow is a universal sign of scepticism; dual raised eyebrows show surprise.  Eyebrow shape carries information: bushy, gnarly, salt-and-pepper brows denote old, powerful men; thin, graceful arcs show young, stylish women; sparse, light brows imply child or child-like person... (via Perception Web by way of Andrew Sullivan).

Originally this project (by artist Gregory Beauchamping) was entitled Heartland.  Then States United.  Then Heartland.
States United.  Heartland.  States United.  Heartland.  And finally - States United.  (Personally, I liked Heartland
better.  My son said this project demonstrates that Americans could love everyone - but they need more space first).

20 Most Bizarre Craigslist Advertisements of All Time: My favourite is #6: Wanted: Pony / Date: 2009-07-15, 9:52PM AKDT / My kid is having a birthday coming up soon, and there'll be a lot of children around, so I figured I'd better get a pony.  I suspect there'll be what - about 20 or 30 kids, and I thought a pony would fit the bill nicely.  Please let me know what you feed your pony - hay, grain, whatever, so I know what to expect.  Also, let me know if the pony gets a lot of exercise, or if it just kinda hangs out all day, so I know what kind of shape it is in.  If you do have a pony you could sell, please contact me, and then immediately start putting barbeque sauce in its bedding or add some Lawry's to its salt lick - I like to marinade it early and long, so that the flavour is at its peak by the time I take possession.  If things work out well, I may contact you for other parties I'll be involved in; the kids can't tell the difference between ponies and burger and usually they're a lot cheaper.  Location: Anchorage...  "It rarely takes more than a page to recognise that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.  Not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer.  If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer.  If I can talk you out of being one, I've done you a favour, because now you'll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be." - Josh Olson, screenwriter, A History of Violence

here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
– very carefully scripted but at least
           it’s not encrypted –
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?
                             - Matt Harvey

I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world.
It helps
keep my mind off things.
      - Roger McGough

Local police were summoned to church-going Oklahoma factory worker James Brewer's hospital bedside where he lay after suffering a stroke.  Brewer told them he shot dead a man he believed was trying to seduce his wife more than 30 years ago.  Brewer, 58, said he wanted to "cleanse his soul" and go to meet his maker with a clear conscience.  But in a bizarre twist of fate, Brewer survived the illness and now faces a new murder trial over the 32-year-old death of Jimmy Carroll in Tennessee - where the death penalty may await him.  (The joke's on Brewer - there IS no Maker to meet)...  Also 32 years ago, film-maker Roman Polanski had unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in the US.  Polanski admitted this to a judge when the judge offered him a plea bargain - but then the judge reneged.  Polanski fled the US and never returned.  He never went to Britain, either, as they have an extradition agreement with the US.  But he DID go to Switzerland to accept a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival in September and there he was taken into custody because they ALSO have an extradition agreement with the US.  The victim, now in her 40s, has requested charges be dropped - but that seems unlikely to happen.  Polanski could be sent to prison for life (he's now age 76)...  A normal brain is governed by chaos; neurons fire unpredictably following laws no computer, let alone neurologist, could hope to understand, even if they can recognise it on an EEG.  It's what we call consciousness, perhaps the most mathematically complex phenomenon in the universe.  The definition of a seizure is the absence of chaos, supplanted by a simple rhythmic pattern that carries almost no information.  It may arise locally (a "partial" seizure), perhaps at the site of an old injury, a tumour or a structural malformation.  A network of neurons begin firing in unison, enlisting their fellows in a synchronous wave that ripples across the brain.  Or it may begin everywhere at once ("generalised" epilepsy), with an imbalance of ions across the cell membrane, usually the result of an inherited mutation.  At a chemical signal, whose origin is still a mystery, billions of neurons drop the mundane business of running the body and join in a primitive drumbeat, drowning out the murmur of consciousness.  And so in contrast to the cardiologist, the epilepsy doctor must attempt to restore not order, but chaos.  Seizures can be fatal, especially the rare status epilepticus, a continuous convulsion lasting longer than 10 minutes.  Occasionally people with epilepsy will go to bed at night, apparently healthy, and die in their sleep; the autopsy may be inconclusive and the death is chalked up to SUDEP — Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy...  The Laryngospasms are a group of practicing Certified Registered Nurse Anæsthetists that create and perform medical parodies.  My favourite is the YouTube video "Waking Up Is Hard to Do" - but be warned!  If you visit their website directly, turn your speakers down as you may be blasted with overly-loud music before you get a chance to adjust.  I much prefer sites that let me turn on sound rather than making me have to turn it off (or down).

Johnny: Mommy, I want to be a drummer when I grow up!
Mommy: Sorry, dear - you can't do both.

Most people return small favours, acknowledge medium ones, and repay greater ones with ingratitude.

- Benjamin Franklin

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