Some of these, though I don’t remember precisely which, are from the wikipedia list of unusual articles I recently linked to:
i. S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897 (featured).
“S. A. Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 was an ill-fated effort to reach the North Pole in which all three expedition members perished. S. A. Andrée (1854–97), the first Swedish balloonist, proposed a voyage by hydrogen balloon from Svalbard to either Russia or Canada, which was to pass, with luck, straight over the North Pole on the way. The scheme was received with patriotic enthusiasm in Sweden, a northern nation that had fallen behind in the race for the North Pole.
Andrée neglected many early signs of the dangers associated with his balloon plan. Being able to steer the balloon to some extent was essential for a safe journey, and there was plenty of evidence that the drag-rope steering technique he had invented was ineffective; yet he staked the fate of the expedition on drag ropes. Worse, the polar balloon Örnen (Eagle) was delivered directly to Svalbard from its manufacturer in Paris without being tested; when measurements showed it to be leaking more than expected, Andrée refused to acknowledge the alarming implications of this. Most modern students of the expedition see Andrée’s optimism, faith in the power of technology, and disregard for the forces of nature as the main factors in the series of events that led to his death and the deaths of his two companions Nils Strindberg (1872–97) and Knut Frænkel (1870–97).
After Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel lifted off from Svalbard in July 1897, the balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed on the pack ice after only two days. The explorers were unhurt but faced a grueling trek back south across the drifting icescape. Inadequately clothed, equipped, and prepared, and shocked by the difficulty of the terrain, they did not make it to safety. As the Arctic winter closed in on them in October, the group ended up exhausted on the deserted Kvitøya (White Island) in Svalbard and died there. For 33 years the fate of the Andrée expedition remained one of the unsolved riddles of the Arctic. The chance discovery in 1930 of the expedition’s last camp created a media sensation in Sweden, where the dead men were mourned and idolized.”
ii. Raven paradox.
“The Raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black—even though intuitively these observations are unrelated.”
iii. Voynich manuscript.
“The Voynich manuscript, described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”, is a work which dates to the early 15th century (1404–1438), possibly from northern Italy. It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912.
Some pages are missing, but there are now about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. Much of the manuscript resembles herbal manuscripts of the 1500s, seeming to present illustrations and information about plants and their possible uses for medical purposes. However, most of the plants do not match known species, and the manuscript’s script and language remain unknown. Possibly some form of encrypted ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. It has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a famous case of historical cryptology. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels. None of the many speculative solutions proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified.“
iv. Infinite monkey theorem. Most people have heard about this one, but the article may have some stuff you didn’t know. This part made me laugh:
“In 2003, lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth MediaLab Arts course used a £2,000 grant from the Arts Council to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six Celebes Crested Macaques in Paignton Zoo in Devon in England for a month, with a radio link to broadcast the results on a website.
Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, the lead male began by bashing the keyboard with a stone, and the monkeys continued by urinating and defecating on it. “
v. Boston Massacre.
“The Boston Massacre, known as the Incident on King Street by the British, was an incident on March 5, 1770, in which British Army soldiers killed five civilian men and injured six others. British troops had been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support crown-appointed colonial officials attempting to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation. Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob formed around a British sentry, who was subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He was eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who were subjected to verbal threats and thrown objects. They fired into the crowd, without orders, instantly killing three people and wounding others. Two more people died later of wounds sustained in the incident.
The crowd eventually dispersed after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promised an inquiry, but reformed the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder. Defended by the lawyer and future American President, John Adams, six of the soldiers were acquitted, while the other two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The sentence that the men guilty of manslaughter received was a branding on their hand.
Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event [...] heightened tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies. The event is widely viewed as foreshadowing the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War five years later. [...]
The Boston Massacre is considered one of the most important events that turned colonial sentiment against King George III and British Parliamentary authority. John Adams wrote that the “foundation of American independence was laid” on March 5, 1770, and Samuel Adams and other Patriots used annual commemorations (Massacre Day) of the event to fulminate against British rule. Christopher Monk, the boy who was wounded [and crippled - US] in the attack and died in 1780, was paraded before the crowds as a reminder of British hostility. Later events such as the Boston Tea Party further illustrated the crumbling relationship between Britain and its colonies. Although five years passed between the massacre and outright revolution, and direct connections between the massacre and the later war are (according to historian Neil Langley York) somewhat tenuous, it is widely perceived as a significant event leading to the violent rebellion that followed.“
vi. History of Chinese Americans. I thought this was a fascinating article – it has a lot of stuff.
“Chinese immigration to the U.S. consisted of three major waves, with the first beginning in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century worked as laborers, particularly on the transcontinental railroad, such as the Central Pacific Railroad. They also worked as laborers in the mining industry, and suffered racial discrimination. While industrial employers were eager to get this new and cheap labor, the ordinary white public was stirred to anger by the presence of this “yellow peril.” Despite the provisions for equal treatment of Chinese immigrants in the 1868 Burlingame Treaty, political and labor organizations rallied against the immigration of what they regarded as a degraded race and “cheap Chinese labor.” Newspapers condemned the policies of employers, and even church leaders denounced the entrance of these aliens into what was regarded as a land for whites only. So hostile was the opposition that in 1882 the United States Congress eventually passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited immigration from China for the next ten years. This law was then extended by the Geary Act in 1892. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the only U.S. law ever to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race. These laws not only prevented new immigration but also brought additional suffering as they prevented the reunion of the families of thousands of Chinese men already living in the U.S. (that is, men who had left China without their wives and children); anti-miscegenation laws in many states prohibited Chinese men from marrying white women.
In 1924 the law barred further entries of Chinese; those already in the United States had been ineligible for citizenship since the previous year. Also by 1924, all Asian immigrants (except people from the Philippines, which had been annexed by the United States in 1898) were utterly excluded by law, denied citizenship and naturalization, and prevented from marrying Caucasians or owning land.
Only since the 1940s when the US and China became allies during World War II, did the situation for Chinese Americans begin to improve, as restrictions on entry into the country, naturalization and mixed marriage were being lessened. In 1943, Chinese immigration to the U.S. was once again permitted — by way of the Magnuson Act — thereby repealing 61 years of official racial discrimination against the Chinese. Large-scale Chinese immigration did not occur until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lifted national origin quotas. [...] As of the 2010 United States Census, there are more than 3.3 million Chinese in the United States — about 1% of the total population. [...]
Of the first wave of Chinese who came to America, few were women. In 1850, the Chinese community of San Francisco consisted of 4018 men and only 7 women. In 1855, women made up only two percent of the Chinese population in the U.S., and even in 1890 it had increased to only 4.8 percent. The lack of visibility of Chinese women in the general public was due partially to factors such as the cost of making the voyage when there was a lack of work opportunities for Chinese women in America, harsh working conditions and having the traditional female responsibility of looking after the children and extended family back in China. The only women who did go to America were usually the wives of merchants. [...] With the heavily uneven gender ratio, prostitution grew rapidly and the Chinese sex trade and trafficking became a lucrative business. From the documents of the 1870 U.S. Census, 61 percent of 3536 Chinese women in California had been classified as prostitutes as an occupation. The existence of Chinese prostitution was detected early, after which the police, legislature and popular press singled out Chinese prostitutes for criticism and were seen as further evidence of the depravity of the Chinese and the repression of their women by their patriarchal cultural values. [...]
After the 1893 economic downturn, measures adopted in the severe depression included anti-Chinese riots that eventually spread throughout the West from which came racist violence and massacres. Most of the Chinese farm workers, which in 1890 made up a 75 percent share of all Californian agricultural workers, were expelled. The Chinese found refuge and shelter in the Chinatowns of large cities. The vacant agricultural jobs subsequently proved to be so unattractive to the unemployed white Europeans that they avoided to sign up; most of the vacancies were then filled by Japanese workers, after whom in the decades later came Filipinos, and finally Mexicans. [...]
Other laws included the Cubic Air Ordinance, which prohibited Chinese from occupying a sleeping room with less than 500 cubic feet (14 m3) of breathing space between each person, the Queue Ordinance, which forced Chinese with long hair worn in a queue to pay a tax or to cut it, and Anti-Miscegenation Act of 1889 that prohibited Chinese men from marrying white women, and the Cable Act of 1922, which terminated citizenship for white American women who married an Asian man. The majority of these laws were not fully overturned until the 1950s, at the dawn of the modern American civil rights movement. [...] Many Western states also enacted discriminatory laws that made it difficult for Chinese and Japanese immigrants to own land and find work. Some of these Anti-Chinese laws were the Foreign Miners’ License tax, which required a monthly payment of three dollars from every foreign miner who did not desire to become a citizen. Foreign-born Chinese could not become citizens because they had been rendered ineligible to citizenship by the Naturalization Act of 1790 [...]
Between 1850 and 1875, the most popular complaint against Chinese residents was their involvement in prostitution. During this time, Hip Yee Tong, a secret society, imported over six-thousand Chinese women to serve as prostitutes. Most of these women came from southeastern China and were either kidnapped, purchased from poor families or lured to ports like San Francisco with the promise of marriage. Prostitutes fell into three categories, namely, those sold to wealthy Chinese merchants as concubines, those purchased for high-class Chinese brothels catering exclusively to Chinese men or those purchased for prostitution in lower-class establishments frequented by a mixed clientele. In late-19th century San Francisco, most notably Jackson Street, prostitutes were often housed in rooms 10×10 or 12×12 feet and were often beaten or tortured for not attracting enough business or refusing to work for any reason. [...]
Another major concern of European-Americans in relation to Chinatowns was the smoking of opium, even though the importation and consumption of opium long predated Chinese immigration to the United States. Tariff acts of 1832 established opium regulation and in 1842 opium was taxed at seventy-five cents per pound. In New York, by 1870, opium dens had opened on Baxter and Mott Streets in Manhattan Chinatown, while in San Francisco, by 1876, Chinatown supported over 200 opium dents, each with a capacity of between five and fifteen people. After the Burlingame Commercial Treaty of 1880, only American citizens could legally import opium into the United States, thus Chinese businessmen had to rely on non-Chinese importers to maintain opium supply.”
vii. Eye (cyclone) (featured).
“The eye is a region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones. The eye of a storm is a roughly circular area, typically 30–65 km (20–40 miles) in diameter. It is surrounded by the eyewall, a ring of towering thunderstorms where the most severe weather occurs. The cyclone’s lowest barometric pressure occurs in the eye, and can be as much as 15 percent lower than the pressure outside the storm.
In strong tropical cyclones, the eye is characterized by light winds and clear skies, surrounded on all sides by a towering, symmetric eyewall. In weaker tropical cyclones, the eye is less well defined, and can be covered by the central dense overcast, an area of high, thick clouds that show up brightly on satellite imagery. Weaker or disorganized storms may also feature an eyewall that does not completely encircle the eye, or have an eye that features heavy rain. In all storms, however, the eye is the location of the storm’s minimum barometric pressure: the area where the atmospheric pressure at sea level is the lowest.“
i. Victorian era. This is a fascinating article, with lots of stuff:
“The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria‘s reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain. Some scholars date the beginning of the period in terms of sensibilities and political concerns to the passage of the Reform Act 1832.
The era was preceded by the Georgian period and followed by the Edwardian period. The latter half of the Victorian age roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and the Gilded Age of the United States.
Culturally there was a transition away from the rationalism of the Georgian period and toward romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values, and the arts. In international relations the era was a long period of peace, known as the Pax Britannica, and economic, colonial, and industrial consolidation, temporarily disrupted by the Crimean War in 1854. The end of the period saw the Boer War. Domestically, the agenda was increasingly liberal with a number of shifts in the direction of gradual political reform, industrial reform and the widening of the voting franchise. [...]
The population of England almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901. Scotland’s population also rose rapidly, from 2.8 million in 1851 to 4.4 million in 1901. Ireland’s population decreased rapidly, from 8.2 million in 1841 to less than 4.5 million in 1901, mostly due to the Great Famine. At the same time, around 15 million emigrants left the United Kingdom in the Victorian era and settled mostly in the United States, Canada, and Australia. [...]
The mortality rates in England changed greatly through the 19th century. There was no catastrophic epidemic or famine in England or Scotland in the 19th century – it was the first century in which a major epidemic did not occur throughout the whole country, with deaths per 1000 of population per year in England and Wales dropping from 21.9 from 1848–54 to 17 in 1901 (contrasting with, for instance, 5.4 in 1971). [...]
The Victorian era became notorious for the employment of young children in factories and mines and as chimney sweeps. Child labour, often brought about by economic hardship, played an important role in the Industrial Revolution from its outset: Charles Dickens, for example, worked at the age of 12 in a blacking factory, with his family in a debtors’ prison. In 1840 only about 20 percent of the children in London had any schooling. By 1860 about half of the children between 5 and 15 were in school (including Sunday school).
The children of the poor were expected to help towards the family budget, often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low wages. Agile boys were employed by the chimney sweeps; small children were employed to scramble under machinery to retrieve cotton bobbins; and children were also employed to work in coal mines, crawling through tunnels too narrow and low for adults. Children also worked as errand boys, crossing sweepers, shoe blacks, or sold matches, flowers, and other cheap goods. Some children undertook work as apprentices to respectable trades, such as building, or as domestic servants (there were over 120,000 domestic servants in London in the mid 18th century). Working hours were long: builders might work 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter, while domestic servants worked 80 hour weeks. Many young people worked as prostitutes (the majority of prostitutes in London were between 15 and 22 years of age). [...]
Children as young as four were put to work. In coal mines children began work at the age of 5 and generally died before the age of 25. Many children (and adults) worked 16 hour days. As early as 1802 and 1819, Factory Acts were passed to limit the working hours of workhouse children in factories and cotton mills to 12 hours per day. These acts were largely ineffective [...]
Beginning in the late 1840s, major news organisations, clergymen, and single women became increasingly concerned about prostitution, which came to be known as “The Great Social Evil”. Estimates of the number of prostitutes in London in the 1850s vary widely (in his landmark study, Prostitution, William Acton reported that the police estimated there were 8,600 in London alone in 1857). When the United Kingdom Census 1851 publicly revealed a 4% demographic imbalance in favour of women (i.e., 4% more women than men), the problem of prostitution began to shift from a moral/religious cause to a socio-economic one. The 1851 census showed that the population of Great Britain was roughly 18 million; this meant that roughly 750,000 women would remain unmarried simply because there were not enough men. These women came to be referred to as “superfluous women” or “redundant women”, and many essays were published discussing what, precisely, ought to be done with them. [...] Divorce legislation introduced in 1857 allowed for a man to divorce his wife for adultery, but a woman could only divorce if adultery were accompanied by cruelty. The anonymity of the city led to a large increase in prostitution and unsanctioned sexual relationships.”
An image from the article, displaying “working class life in Victorian Wetherby, West Yorkshire”:
ii. Landlocked country.
“A landlocked country is a country entirely enclosed by land, or whose only coastlines lie on closed seas. There are 48 landlocked countries in the world, including partially recognized states. No landlocked countries are found on North American, Australian, and inhospitable Antarctic continents. The general economic and other disadvantages experienced by landlocked countries makes the majority of these countries Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs). Nine of the twelve countries with the lowest HDI scores are landlocked. [...] Historically, being landlocked was regarded as a disadvantageous position. It cuts the country off from sea resources such as fishing, but more importantly cuts off direct access to seaborne trade which makes up a large percentage of international trade. Coastal regions tended to be wealthier and more heavily populated than inland ones. [...] Landlocked developing countries have significantly higher costs of international cargo transportation compared to coastal developing countries (in Asia the ratio is 3:1).“
Landlocked countries make out 11,4% of the total land area of Earth, and the countries make out an estimated 6,9% of the world population.
“A landlocked country surrounded only by other landlocked countries may be called a “doubly landlocked” country. A person in such a country has to cross at least two borders to reach a coastline.
There are currently two such countries in the world:
- Liechtenstein in Central Europe surrounded by Switzerland and Austria.
- Uzbekistan in Central Asia surrounded by Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
“The 1842 Kabul Retreat (or Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army) was the entire loss of a combined force of British and Indian troops from the British East India Company and the deaths of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan between 6-13 January 1842. The massacre, which happened during the First Anglo-Afghan War, occurred when Major General Sir William Elphinstone attempted to lead a military and civilian column of Europeans and Indians from Kabul back to the British garrison at Jalalabad more than 90 miles (140 km) away. They were forced to leave because of an uprising led by Akbar Khan, the son of the deposed Afghan leader, Dost Mohammad Khan.
Afghan tribes launched numerous attacks against the column as it made slow progress through the winter snows of the Hindu Kush. In total the India Company army lost 4,500 troops, along with 12,000 civilian workers, family members and other camp-followers. The final stand was made just outside a village called Gandamak on 13 January.
Out of more than 16,000 people from the column commanded by Elphinstone, only one European, an Assistant Surgeon named William Brydon, and a few sepoys would eventually reach Jalalabad. The Afghanis subsequently released a number of British prisoners and civilian hostages. However many Indians were not handed back and were instead sold into slavery or killed.
Sir Willoughby Cotton was replaced as commander of the remaining British troops by the ageing and infirm Sir William Elphinstone. The 59-year-old Major General, who was initially unwilling to accept the appointment, had entered the British army in 1804. He was made a Companion of the Bath for leading the 33rd Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Waterloo. By 1825 he had been promoted to colonel and made a major-general in 1837. Although Elphinstone was a man of high birth and perfect manners, his colleague and contemporary General William Nott regarded him as “the most incompetent soldier who ever became general”. [...]
Throughout the third day, the column laboured through the pass. Once the main body had moved through, the Afghans left their positions to massacre the stragglers and the wounded. By the evening of 9 January, the column had only moved 25 miles (40 km) but already 3,000 people had died. Most had been killed in the fighting, but some had frozen to death or even taken their own lives.
By the fourth day, a few hundred soldiers deserted and tried to return to Kabul but they were all killed. By now Elphinstone, who had ceased giving orders, sat silently on his horse. On the evening of 11 January, Lady Sale, along with the wives and children of both British and Indian officers, and their retinues, accepted Akbar Khan’s assurances of protection. Despite deep mistrust, the group was taken into the custody of Akbar’s men. However once they were hostages, all the Indian servants and sepoy wives were murdered. Akbar Khan’s envoys then returned and persuaded Elphinstone and his second in command, Brigadier Shelton, to become hostages, too. Both senior officers agreed to surrender, abandoning their men to their fate. Elphinstone died on 23 April as a captive. [...] On 13 January, a British officer from the 16,000 strong column rode into Jalalabad on a wounded horse (a few sepoys, who had hidden in the mountains, followed in the coming weeks). The sole survivor of the 12-man cavalry group, assistant Surgeon William Brydon, was asked upon arrival what happened to the army, to which he answered “I am the army”. Although part of his skull had been sheared off by a sword, he ultimately survived because he had insulated his hat with a magazine which deflected the blow. [...]
The annihilation of about 16,500 people left Britain and India in shock and the Governor General, Lord Auckland, suffered a stroke upon hearing the news. In the Autumn of 1842 an “Army of Retribution” led by Sir George Pollock, with William Nott and Robert Sale commanding divisions, levelled Kabul. Sale personally rescued his wife Lady Sale and some other hostages from the hands of Akbar Khan. However, the slaughter of an army by Afghan tribesmen was humiliating for the British authorities in India.
Of the British prisoners, 32 officers, over 50 soldiers, 21 children and 12 women survived to be released in September 1842. An unknown number of sepoys and other Indian prisoners were sold into slavery in Kabul or kept as captives in mountain villages. [...]
The leadership of Elphinstone is seen as a notorious example of how the ineptitude and indecisiveness of a senior officer could compromise the morale and effectiveness of a whole army (though already much depleted). Elphinstone completely failed to lead his soldiers, but fatally exerted enough authority to prevent any of his officers from exercising proper command in his place.”
iv. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. (‘good article’)
“The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary or United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island (often just referred to as Alcatraz) was a maximum high-security Federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) off the coast of San Francisco, California, USA, which operated from 1934 to 1963. [...]
Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons. One of the world’s most notorious, and best known prisons over the years, Alcatraz housed some 1576 of America’s most ruthless criminals [...] Faced with high running maintenance costs and a poor reputation, Alcatraz closed on March 21, 1963. [...]
The prison cells typically measured 9 feet (2.7 m) by 5 feet (1.5 m) and 7 feet (2.1 m) high. The cells were primitive and lacked privacy, with a bed, a desk and a washbasin and toilet on the back wall and few furnishings except a blanket. Black people were segregated from the rest in cell designation due to racial abuse being prevalent. [...]
By the 1950s, the prison conditions had improved and prisoners were gradually permitted more privileges such as the playing of musical instruments, watching movies at weekends, painting, and radio use; the strict code of silence became more relaxed and prisoners were permitted to talk quietly. However, the prison continued to be unpopular on the mainland into the 1950s; it was by far the most expensive prison institution in the United States and continued to be perceived by many as America’s most extreme jail. [...] A 1959 report indicated that Alcatraz was more than three times more expensive to run than the average US prison; $10 per prisoner per day compared to $3 in most others prisons. The problem of Alcatraz was exacerbated by the fact that the prison had seriously deteriorated structurally in exposure to the salt air and wind and would need $5 million to deal with it. Major repairs began in 1958 but by 1961 the prison was evaluated by engineers to be a lost cause and Robert F. Kennedy submitted plans for a new maximum-security institution at Marion, Illinois. After the escape from Alcatraz in June 1962, the prison was the subject of heated investigations, and with the major structural problems and ongoing expense, the prison finally closed on 21 March 1963. [...] Today the penitentiary is a museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually. [...]
Security in the prison was very tight, with the constant checking of bars, doors, locks, electrical fixtures etc., to ensure that security hadn’t been broken. During a standard day the prisoners would be counted 13 times, and the ratio of prisoners to guards was the lowest of any American prison of the time. [...]
The library, which utilized a closed-stack paging system, had a collection of 10,000 to 15,000 books [...] The average prisoner read 75 to 100 books a year.“
Pathological science is the process by which “people are tricked into false results … by subjective effects, wishful thinking or threshold interactions”. The term was first used by Irving Langmuir, Nobel Prize-winning chemist, during a 1953 colloquium at the Knolls Research Laboratory. Langmuir said a pathological science is an area of research that simply will not “go away”—long after it was given up on as ‘false’ by the majority of scientists in the field. He called pathological science “the science of things that aren’t so”.
Bart Simon lists it among practices pretending to be science: “categories [.. such as ..] pseudoscience, amateur science, deviant or fraudulent science, bad science, junk science, and popular science [..] pathological science, cargo-cult science, and voodoo science ..”. Examples of pathological science may include homeopathy, Martian canals, N-rays, polywater, water memory, perpetual motion, and cold fusion. The theories and conclusions behind all of these examples are currently rejected or disregarded by the majority of scientists. [...]
Pathological science, as defined by Langmuir, is a psychological process in which a scientist, originally conforming to the scientific method, unconsciously veers from that method, and begins a pathological process of wishful data interpretation (see the Observer-expectancy effect, and cognitive bias). Some characteristics of pathological science are:
- The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.
- The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results.
- There are claims of great accuracy.
- Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested.
- Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses.
- The ratio of supporters to critics rises and then falls gradually to oblivion.
Langmuir never intended the term to be rigorously defined; it was simply the title of his talk on some examples of “weird science”.”
“Upwelling is an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water. The nutrient-rich upwelled water stimulates the growth and reproduction of primary producers such as phytoplankton. Due to the biomass of phytoplankton and presence of cool water in these regions, upwelling zones can be identified by cool sea surface temperatures (SST) and high concentrations of chlorophyll-a.
The increased availability in upwelling regions results in high levels of primary productivity and thus fishery production. Approximately 25% of the total global marine fish catches come from five upwellings that occupy only 5% of the total ocean area.“
i. Aedes Albopictus.
“The Tiger mosquito or forest day mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Stegomyia albopicta), from the mosquito (Culicidae) family, is characterized by its black and white striped legs, and small black and white striped body. It is native to the tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia; however, in the past couple of decades this species has invaded many countries throughout the world through the transport of goods and increasing international travel. This mosquito has become a significant pest in many communities because it closely associates with humans (rather than living in wetlands), and typically flies and feeds in the daytime in addition to at dusk and dawn. The insect is called a tiger mosquito because its striped appearance is similar to a tiger. Aedes albopictus is an epidemiologically important vector for the transmission of many viral pathogens, including the West Nile virus, Yellow fever virus, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever, as well as several filarial nematodes such as Dirofilaria immitis. [...]
Aedes albopictus also bites other mammals besides humans and they also bite birds. They are always on the search for a host and are both persistent and cautious when it comes to their blood meal and host location. Their blood meal is often broken off short without enough blood ingested for the development of their eggs. This is why Asian tiger mosquitoes bite multiple hosts during their development cycle of the egg, making them particularly efficient at transmitting diseases. The mannerism of biting diverse host species enables the Asian tiger mosquito to be a potential bridge vector for certain pathogens, for example, the West Nile virus that can jump species boundaries. [...]
The Asian tiger mosquito originally came from Southeast Asia. In 1966, parts of Asia and the island worlds of India and the Pacific Ocean were denoted as the area of circulation for the Asian tiger mosquito. Since then, it has spread to Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. Aedes albopictus is one of the 100 world’s worst invasive species according to the Global Invasive Species Database. [...]
In Europe, the Asian tiger mosquito apparently covers an extensive new niche. This means that there are no native, long-established species that conflict with the dispersal of Aedes albopictus. [...]
The Asian tiger mosquito was responsible for the Chikungunya epidemic on the French Island La Réunion in 2005–2006. By September 2006, there were an estimated 266,000 people infected with the virus, and 248 fatalities on the island. The Asian tiger mosquito was also the transmitter of the virus in the first and only outbreak of Chikungunya fever on the European continent. [...]
Aedes albopictus has proven to be very difficult to suppress or to control due to their remarkable ability to adapt to various environments, their close contact with humans, and their reproductive biology.”
In case you were wondering, the word Aedes comes from the Greek word for “unpleasant”. So, yeah…
ii. Orbital resonance.
“In celestial mechanics, an orbital resonance occurs when two orbiting bodies exert a regular, periodic gravitational influence on each other, usually due to their orbital periods being related by a ratio of two small integers. The physics principle behind orbital resonance is similar in concept to pushing a child on a swing, where the orbit and the swing both have a natural frequency, and the other body doing the “pushing” will act in periodic repetition to have a cumulative effect on the motion. Orbital resonances greatly enhance the mutual gravitational influence of the bodies, i.e., their ability to alter or constrain each other’s orbits. In most cases, this results in an unstable interaction, in which the bodies exchange momentum and shift orbits until the resonance no longer exists. Under some circumstances, a resonant system can be stable and self-correcting, so that the bodies remain in resonance. Examples are the 1:2:4 resonance of Jupiter‘s moons Ganymede, Europa and Io, and the 2:3 resonance between Pluto and Neptune. Unstable resonances with Saturn‘s inner moons give rise to gaps in the rings of Saturn. The special case of 1:1 resonance (between bodies with similar orbital radii) causes large Solar System bodies to eject most other bodies sharing their orbits; this is part of the much more extensive process of clearing the neighbourhood, an effect that is used in the current definition of a planet.”
iii. Some ‘work-blog related links’: Local regression, Quasi-experiment, Nonparametric regression, Regression discontinuity design, Kaplan–Meier estimator, Law of total expectation, Slutsky’s theorem, Difference in differences, Panel analysis.
v. Hill sphere.
“An astronomical body‘s Hill sphere is the region in which it dominates the attraction of satellites. To be retained by a planet, a moon must have an orbit that lies within the planet’s Hill sphere. That moon would, in turn, have a Hill sphere of its own. Any object within that distance would tend to become a satellite of the moon, rather than of the planet itself.
In more precise terms, the Hill sphere approximates the gravitational sphere of influence of a smaller body in the face of perturbations from a more massive body. It was defined by the American astronomer George William Hill, based upon the work of the French astronomer Édouard Roche. For this reason, it is also known as the Roche sphere (not to be confused with the Roche limit). The Hill sphere extends between the Lagrangian points L1 and L2, which lie along the line of centers of the two bodies. The region of influence of the second body is shortest in that direction, and so it acts as the limiting factor for the size of the Hill sphere. Beyond that distance, a third object in orbit around the second (e.g. Jupiter) would spend at least part of its orbit outside the Hill sphere, and would be progressively perturbed by the tidal forces of the central body (e.g. the Sun), eventually ending up orbiting the latter. [...]
The Hill sphere is only an approximation, and other forces (such as radiation pressure or the Yarkovsky effect) can eventually perturb an object out of the sphere. This third object should also be of small enough mass that it introduces no additional complications through its own gravity. Detailed numerical calculations show that orbits at or just within the Hill sphere are not stable in the long term; it appears that stable satellite orbits exist only inside 1/2 to 1/3 of the Hill radius.”
I found myself looking up quite a few other astronomy-related articles when I was reading Formation and Evolution of Exoplanets (technically the link is to the 2010 version whereas I was reading the 2008 version, but it doesn’t look as if a whole lot of stuff’s been changed and I can’t find a link to the 2008 version). I haven’t mentioned the book here because I basically gave up reading it midway into the second chapter. The book didn’t try to hide that I probably wasn’t in the intended target group but I decided to give it a try anyway: “This book is intended to suit a readership with a wide range of previous knowledge of planetary science, astrophysics, and scientific programming. Expertise in these fields should not be required to grasp the key concepts presented in the forthcoming chapters, although a reasonable grasp of basic physics is probably essential.” I figured I could grasp the key concepts even though I’d lose out on a lot of details, but the math started getting ugly quite fast, and as I have plenty of ugly math to avoid as it is I decided to give the book a miss (though I did read the first 50 pages or so).
vi. Grover Cleveland (featured).
“Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897) and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents. He was the winner of the popular vote for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was the only Democrat elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination that lasted from 1861 to 1913.
Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism and subsidies to business, farmers or veterans. His battles for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, independence, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. Cleveland relentlessly fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. Indeed, as a reformer his prestige was so strong that the reform wing of the Republican Party, called “Mugwumps“, largely bolted the GOP ticket and swung to his support in 1884. [...]
Cleveland took strong positions and was heavily criticized. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions nationwide and angered the party in Illinois; his support of the gold standard and opposition to Free Silver alienated the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, critics complained that he had little imagination and seemed overwhelmed by the nation’s economic disasters—depressions and strikes—in his second term. Even so, his reputation for honesty and good character survived the troubles of his second term. [...]
Cleveland’s term as mayor was spent fighting the entrenched interests of the party machines. Among the acts that established his reputation was a veto of the street-cleaning bill passed by the Common Council. The street-cleaning contract was open for bids, and the Council selected the highest bidder, rather than the lowest, because of the political connections of the bidder. While this sort of bipartisan graft had previously been tolerated in Buffalo, Mayor Cleveland would have none of it, and replied with a stinging veto message: “I regard it as the culmination of a most bare-faced, impudent, and shameless scheme to betray the interests of the people, and to worse than squander the public money”. The Council reversed themselves and awarded the contract to the lowest bidder. For this, and several other acts to safeguard the public funds, Cleveland’s reputation as an honest politician began to spread beyond Erie County. [...] [As a president...] Cleveland used the veto far more often than any president up to that time. [...]
In a 1905 article in The Ladies Home Journal, Cleveland weighed in on the women’s suffrage movement, writing that “sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence.”“
Here’s how his second cabinet looked like – this was how a presidential cabinet looked like 120 years ago (as always you can click the image to see it in a higher resolution – and just in case you were in doubt: Cleveland is the old white man in the picture…):
vii. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress (‘good article’).
“The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s. The bomber carries up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons.
Beginning with the successful contract bid in June 1946, the B-52 design evolved from a straight-wing aircraft powered by six turboprop engines to the final prototype YB-52 with eight turbojet engines and swept wings. The B-52 took its maiden flight in April 1952. Built to carry nuclear weapons for Cold War-era deterrence missions, the B-52 Stratofortress replaced the Convair B-36. Although a veteran of several wars, the Stratofortress has dropped only conventional munitions in combat. Its Stratofortress name is rarely used outside of official contexts; it has been referred to by Air Force personnel as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat/Flying Fucker/Fellow). [...]
Superior performance at high subsonic speeds and relatively low operating costs have kept the B-52 in service despite the advent of later aircraft, including the cancelled Mach 3 North American XB-70 Valkyrie, the variable-geometry Rockwell B-1B Lancer, and the stealthy Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. The B-52 marked its 50th anniversary of continuous service with its original operator in 2005 and after being upgraded between 2013 and 2015 it will serve into the 2040s.[N 1] [...]
B-52 strikes were an important part of Operation Desert Storm. With about 1,620 sorties flown, B-52s delivered 40% of the weapons dropped by coalition forces while suffering only one non-combat aircraft loss, with several receiving minor damage from enemy action. [...]
The USAF continues to rely on the B-52 because it remains an effective and economical heavy bomber, particularly in the type of missions that have been conducted since the end of the Cold War against nations that have limited air defense capabilities. The B-52 has the capacity to “loiter” for extended periods over (or even well outside) the battlefield, and deliver precision standoff and direct fire munitions. It has been a valuable asset in supporting ground operations during conflicts such as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The B-52 had the highest mission capable rate of the three types of heavy bombers operated by the USAF in 2001. The B-1 averaged a 53.7% ready rate and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit achieved 30.3%, while the B-52 averaged 80.5% during the 2000–2001 period. The B-52′s $72,000 cost per hour of flight is more than the $63,000 for the B-1B but almost half of the $135,000 of the B-2.“
I’ll just repeat that: $72,000/hour of flight. And the B-2 is at $135,000/hour. War is expensive.
“Coelacanth (pron.: /ˈsiːləkænθ/) is a rare order of fish that includes two extant species: West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) and the Indonesian coelacanth (Latimeria menadoensis). They follow the oldest known living lineage of Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish and tetrapods), which means they are more closely related to lungfish, reptiles and mammals than to the common ray-finned fishes. They are found along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean and Indonesia. Since there are only two species of coelacanth and both are threatened, it is the most endangered order of animals in the world. The West Indian Ocean coelacanth is a critically endangered species.
Coelacanths belong to the subclass Actinistia, a group of lobed-finned fish that are related to lungfish and certain extinct Devonian fish such as osteolepiforms, porolepiforms, rhizodonts, and Panderichthys. Coelacanths were thought to have gone extinct in the Late Cretaceous, but were rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. The coelacanth is considered a “living fossil” due to its apparent lack of significant evolution over the past millions of years. The coelacanth is thought to have evolved into roughly its current form approximately 400 million years ago.“
ii. Continued fraction.
“Progeria (also known as “Hutchinson–Gilford (Progeria) Syndrome“, and “Progeria syndrome“) is an extremely rare genetic disease wherein symptoms resembling aspects of aging are manifested at an early age. The word progeria comes from the Greek words “pro” (πρό), meaning “before”, and “géras” (γῆρας), meaning “old age”. The disorder has very low incidences and occurs in an estimated 1 per 8 million live births. Those born with progeria typically live to their mid teens and early twenties. It is a genetic condition that occurs as a new mutation, and is rarely inherited. Although the term progeria applies strictly speaking to all diseases characterized by premature aging symptoms, and is often used as such, it is often applied specifically in reference to Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS).
Scientists are particularly interested in progeria because it might reveal clues about the normal process of aging. Progeria was first described in 1886 by Jonathan Hutchinson. It was also described independently in 1897 by Hastings Gilford. The condition was later named Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS).”
iv. Dieppe Raid.
“The Dieppe Raid, also known as the Battle of Dieppe, Operation Rutter and, later, Operation Jubilee, was a Second World War Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe. The raid took place on the northern coast of France on 19 August 1942. The assault began at 5:00 a.m. and by 10:50 a.m. the Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. Over 6,000 infantrymen, predominantly Canadian, were supported by limited Royal Navy and large Royal Air Force contingents. [...]
Objectives included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove it was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials, including naval intelligence in a hotel in town and a radar installation on the cliffs above it. Although neither were completely successful, some knowledge was gained while assessing the German responses. The Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. The raid could have given a morale boost to the troops, Resistance, and general public, while assuring the Soviet Union of the commitment of the United Kingdom and the United States.
No major objectives of the raid were accomplished. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force failed to lure the Luftwaffe into open battle, and lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents), compared to 48 lost by the Luftwaffe. The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.”
So yeah, it didn’t go that well.
v. Obesity in the Pacific. The main figure from the article, click to enlarge:
In Nauru you’re pretty much a statistical outlier if you’re not overweight. “In the Marshall Islands in 2008 there were 8,000 cases of diabetes in a population of only 53,000.” That’s close to 1 in 6. There’s more data in the related article on Epidemiology of obesity.
vi. Fixed action pattern. Part of the fun of reading this article is derived from the fact that it makes use of an abbreviation which is quite often used, but usually means something else… (An example from the article: “Replicating the releasing mechanism required to trigger a FAP is known as code-breaking.”)
I went to Copenhagen over the weekend and so I didn’t have a lot of time for blogging.
I completed Pamela Regan’s book yesterday, but aside from a few remarks here I won’t post any more about it. Some of the chapters I had not read when I last posted turned out to be disappointing. Not just because of the stuff covered but also because of the stuff not covered. The results of likely deeply flawed studies are reported and a few of the problems with the studies are mentioned – but some places the author basically acts as if you can’t really do any more stuff with the data once you’ve done an OLS regression and had a look at the p-values. This despite the fact that she’s previously talked about the results of psychometric studies using factor analysis and thus should at least be aware that there’s more potential stuff in the statistical toolbox than meets the eye (/her eyes). Despite my previous remarks about the book not being a self-help book, the last part of the book, especially the last chapters, unfortunately does read way too much like a self-help book. And let’s just say that after having read the last chapter I remain wholly unconvinced that a) relationship counseling ‘works’, and b) that I should trust Regan’s opinion on the matter. She spends a total of one sentence on the self-selection problem (i.e. the problem that couples that seek and go through counseling may be different from couples that do not).). All those critical remarks aside, there’s also some good stuff in some of the later chapters and overall I’m glad I’ve read the book as I think I learned some stuff from it.
In related matters, I spent some hours Friday reading David Abulafia’s The Great Sea, A Human History of the Mediterranean, and I also read a bit in it today. I first started reading it in October last year, but back then my studies got in the way and so I never got very far; I only ever finished the first 260 pages or so (out of 650 pages). I expect to finish it tomorrow.
Okay, on to the wikipedia articles:
i. Factor analysis. (Now I’ve already mentioned it in the post and I’m sure some readers don’t know about this stuff…)
ii. Finnish Civil War (featured). The very brief version:
“The Finnish Civil War (Finnish: Suomen sisällissota, kansalaissota; Swedish: Finska inbördeskriget) was a part of the national, political and social turmoil caused by World War I (1914–1918) in Europe. The Civil War concerned control and leadership of the Grand Duchy of Finland after it had become sovereign in 1917. The war was fought from 27 January to 15 May 1918 between the forces of the Social Democrats led by the People’s Deputation of Finland, commonly called the “Reds” (Finnish: punaiset, Swedish: röda), and the forces of the non-socialist, conservative-led Senate, commonly called the “Whites” (Finnish: valkoiset, Swedish: vita). The Reds—dominated by industrial and agrarian workers—were supported by the Russian Soviet Republic. The Whites—dominated by peasants and middle- and upper-class factions, in particular upper-class Swedish speakers—received marked military assistance from the German Empire. The Reds were based in the towns and industrial centres of southern Finland, while the Whites controlled more rural central and northern Finland. The Whites won the war, in which about 37,000 people died out of a population of 3 million.
Following the Diet of Porvoo in 1809, Finland had been ruled as a nominally autonomous part of the Russian Empire, known as the Grand Duchy of Finland. It was gradually developing into what would become the Finnish state, including a marked rise of the Fennoman movement standing for the Finnic majority of the population, with minority Swedish speakers representing the marked Swedish cultural background. By 1917 Finland had experienced rapid population growth, industrialization, improvements in the economy and standard of living, and the rise of a comprehensive labor movement; economic, social, and political divisions were deepening while the Finnish political system was in an unstable phase of democratization and modernization.
The collapse of the Russian Empire following the February and October Revolutions of 1917 spurred the collapse of the Grand Duchy of Finland, and the resultant power vacuum led to bitter conflict between the left-leaning labor movement, led by the Social Democrats, and more conservative non-socialists. A breakdown of power and authority penetrated all levels of society as both sides, aiming to gain supremacy for their own faction, refused to make political compromises. Finland’s declaration of independence on 6 December 1917 – though supported by most Finns and soon recognized by the Russian Bolshevist Council of People’s Commissars – occurred in the context of the worsening power struggle, and therefore failed to either unite or pacify the nation.
With the dissolution of regular police and military forces, both left and right began forming armed groups in the spring of 1917. Two rival paramilitary forces, the White Guards and Red Guards, emerged. An atmosphere of political violence, fear and mistrust reigned over the country. Fighting broke out between the Reds and the Whites in January 1918 and quickly escalated. The fate of the Finns during 1917–1918 was much like that of the peoples of minor nations separating from (disintegrating) large ones.“
If you think 37.000 dead people doesn’t sound like a very big deal, here’s a bit more about those deaths:
“Almost 37,000 people perished, 5,900 of whom (16 percent of the total) were between 14 and 20 years old, the youngest victims of the battles and the terror being between 8 and 10 years. Only about 10,000 of these casualties occurred on the battlefields; most of the deaths resulted from the terror campaigns and from the appalling conditions in the prison camps. In addition, the war left about 20,000 children orphaned.”
iii. Anglo–Zulu War.
“The Anglo–Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. It was thought that similar combined military and political campaigns might succeed with the other African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Sir Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner for the British Empire to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and the Kingdom of Zululand and its army. Frere, on his own initiative, without the approval of the British government and with the intent of instigating a war with the Zulu, had presented an ultimatum on 11 December 1878, to the Zulu king Cetshwayo with which the Zulu king could not comply. Cetshwayo did not comply and Bartle Frere sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand. The war is notable for several particularly bloody battles, including a stunning opening victory by the Zulu at Isandlwana, as well as for being a landmark in the timeline of imperialism in the region. The war eventually resulted in a British victory and the end of the Zulu nation’s independence. [...]
This part was pretty wild to think about:
“20,000 Zulu warriors attacked Wood’s 2,068 men in a well-fortified camp at Kambula, apparently without Cetshwayo’s permission. The British held them off in the Battle of Kambula and after five hours of heavy attacks the Zulus withdrew with heavy losses but were pursued by British mounted troops, who killed many more fleeing and wounded warriors. British losses amounted to 83 (28 killed and 55 wounded), while the Zulus lost up to 2,000 killed. The effect of the battle of Kambula on the Zulu army was severe. Their commander Mnyamana tried to get the regiments to return to Ulundi but many demoralised warriors simply went home.“
iv. Green sea turtle.
I thought this part was particularly awesome: “Sea turtles spend almost all their lives submerged, but must breathe air for the oxygen needed to meet the demands of vigorous activity. With a single explosive exhalation and rapid inhalation, sea turtles can quickly replace the air in their lungs. The lungs permit a rapid exchange of oxygen and prevent gases from being trapped during deep dives. Sea turtle blood can deliver oxygen efficiently to body tissues even at the pressures encountered during diving. During routine activity, green and loggerhead turtles dive for about four to five minutes, and surface to breathe for one to three seconds.
Turtles can rest or sleep underwater for several hours at a time…”
v. Tenerife airport disaster. This was a really horrible event, but maybe because it happened before I was ever born I’d never heard about it:
“The Tenerife airport disaster occurred on Sunday, March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft collided on the runway of Los Rodeos Airport (now known as Tenerife North Airport) on the Spanish island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. With a total of 583 fatalities, the crash is the deadliest accident in aviation history.
After a bomb exploded at Gran Canaria Airport, many aircraft were diverted to Tenerife. Among them were KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 – the two aircraft involved in the accident. The threat of a second bomb forced the authorities to close the airport while a search was conducted, resulting in many airplanes being diverted to the smaller Tenerife airport where air traffic controllers were forced to park many of the airplanes on the taxiway, thereby blocking it. Further complicating the situation, while authorities waited to reopen Gran Canaria, a dense fog developed at Tenerife, greatly reducing visibility. When Gran Canaria reopened, the parked aircraft blocking the taxiway at Tenerife required both of the 747s to taxi on the only runway in order to get in position for takeoff. Due to the fog, neither aircraft could see the other, nor could the controller in the tower see the runway or the two 747s on it. As the airport did not have ground radar, the only means for the controller to identify the location of each airplane was via voice reports over the radio. As a result of several misunderstandings in the ensuing communication, the KLM flight attempted to take off while the Pan Am flight was still on the runway. The resulting collision destroyed both aircraft, killing all 248 aboard the KLM flight and 335 of 396 aboard the Pan Am flight. Sixty-one people aboard the Pan Am flight, including the pilots and flight engineer, survived the disaster.“
“The World’s Columbian Exposition (the official shortened name for the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, also known as The Chicago World’s Fair) was a World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘s arrival in the New World in 1492. Chicago bested New York City; Washington, D.C.; and St. Louis for the honor of hosting the fair. The fair had a profound effect on architecture, the arts, Chicago’s self-image, and American industrial optimism. The Chicago Columbian Exposition was, in large part, designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. It was the prototype of what Burnham and his colleagues thought a city should be. It was designed to follow Beaux Arts principles of design, namely French neoclassical architecture principles based on symmetry, balance, and splendor.
The exposition covered more than 600 acres (2.4 km2), featuring nearly 200 new (but purposely temporary) buildings of predominantly neoclassical architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from around the world. More than 27 million people attended the exposition during its six-month run. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world fairs, and it became a symbol of the emerging American Exceptionalism, much in the same way that the Great Exhibition became a symbol of the Victorian era United Kingdom.”
i. Huia (featured).
What they looked like:
“Even though the Huia is frequently mentioned in biology and ornithology textbooks because of this striking dimorphism, not much is known about its biology; it was little studied before it was driven to extinction. The Huia is one of New Zealand’s best known extinct birds because of its bill shape, its sheer beauty and special place in Māori culture and oral tradition. [...]
The Huia was found throughout the North Island before humans arrived in New Zealand. The Māori arrived around 800 years ago, and by the arrival of European settlers in the 1840s, habitat destruction and hunting had reduced the bird’s range to the southern North Island. However, Māori hunting pressures on the Huia were limited to some extent by traditional protocols. The hunting season was from May to July when the bird’s plumage was in prime condition, while a rāhui (hunting ban) was enforced in spring and summer. It was not until European settlement that the Huia’s numbers began to decline severely, due mainly to two well-documented factors: widespread deforestation and overhunting. [...]
Habitat destruction and the predations of introduced species were problems faced by all New Zealand birds, but in addition the Huia faced massive pressure from hunting. Due to its pronounced sexual dimorphism and its beauty, Huia were sought after as mounted specimens by wealthy collectors in Europe and by museums all over the world. These individuals and institutions were willing to pay large sums of money for good specimens, and the overseas demand created a strong financial incentive for hunters in New Zealand.“
ii. British colonization of the Americas. Not very detailed, but this article is a good place to start if one wants to read about the various colonies; it has a lot of links.
iii. Iron Dome.
“Iron Dome (Hebrew: כִּפַּת בַּרְזֶל, kipat barzel) also known as “Iron Cap“ is a mobile all-weather air defense system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. It is a missile system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of 4 to 70 kilometers away and whose trajectory would take them to a populated area. [...] The system, created as a defensive countermeasure to the rocket threat against Israel‘s civilian population on its northern and southern borders, uses technology first employed in Rafael’s SPYDER system. Iron Dome was declared operational and initially deployed on 27 March 2011 near Beersheba. On 7 April 2011, the system successfully intercepted a Grad rocket launched from Gaza for the first time. On 10 March 2012, The Jerusalem Post reported that the system shot down 90% of rockets launched from Gaza that would have landed in populated areas. By November 2012, it had intercepted 400+ rockets. Based on this success, Defense reporter Mark Thompson estimates that Iron Dome is the most effective and most tested missile shield in existence.
The Iron Dome system is also effective against aircraft up to an altitude of 32,800 ft (10,000 m). [...]
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, approximately 4,000 Hezbollah-fired rockets (the great majority of which were short-range Katyusha rockets) landed in northern Israel, including on Haifa, the country’s third largest city. The massive rocket barrage killed 44 Israeli civilians and caused some 250,000 Israeli citizens to evacuate and relocate to other parts of Israel while an estimated 1,000,000 Israelis were confined in or near shelters during the conflict.
To the south, more than 4,000 rockets and 4,000 mortar bombs were fired into Israel from Gaza between 2000 and 2008, principally by Hamas. Almost all of the rockets fired were Qassams launched by 122 mm Grad launchers smuggled into the Gaza Strip, giving longer range than other launch methods. Nearly 1,000,000 Israelis living in the south are within rocket range, posing a serious security threat to the country and its citizens.
In November 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, the Iron Dome’s effectiveness was estimated by Israeli officials at between 75 and 95 percent. According to Israeli officials, of the approximately 1,000 missiles and rockets fired into Israel by Hamas from the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense up to November 17, 2012, Iron Dome identified two thirds as not posing a threat and intercepted 90 percent of the remaining 300. During this period the only Israeli casualties were three individuals killed in missile attacks after a malfunction of the Iron Dome system.
In comparison with other air defense systems, the effectiveness rate of Iron Dome is very high.“
iv. Evolution of cetaceans (whales and dolphins). They’re a lot ‘younger’ than I thought.
This is an actual (composite) picture of a robot on another planet. At this moment it is walking around doing scientific experiments. On another planet. I’ll say it again: Living in the 21st century is awesome.
vi. Halting Problem.
“In computability theory, the halting problem can be stated as follows: “Given a description of an arbitrary computer program, decide whether the program finishes running or continues to run forever“. This is equivalent to the problem of deciding, given a program and an input, whether the program will eventually halt when run with that input, or will run forever.
Alan Turing proved in 1936 that a general algorithm to solve the halting problem for all possible program-input pairs cannot exist. A key part of the proof was a mathematical definition of a computer and program, what became known as a Turing machine; the halting problem is undecidable over Turing machines. It is one of the first examples of a decision problem. [...]
The halting problem is a decision problem about properties of computer programs on a fixed Turing-complete model of computation, i.e. all programs that can be written in some given programming language that is general enough to be equivalent to a Turing machine. The problem is to determine, given a program and an input to the program, whether the program will eventually halt when run with that input. In this abstract framework, there are no resource limitations on the amount of memory or time required for the program’s execution; it can take arbitrarily long, and use arbitrarily much storage space, before halting. The question is simply whether the given program will ever halt on a particular input. [...]
One approach to the problem might be to run the program for some number of steps and check if it halts. But if the program does not halt, it is unknown whether the program will eventually halt or run forever.
Turing proved there cannot exist an algorithm which will always correctly decide whether, for a given arbitrary program and its input, determine the program halts when run with that input; the essence of Turing’s proof is that any such algorithm can be made to contradict itself, and therefore cannot be correct. [...]
The halting problem is historically important because it was one of the first problems to be proved undecidable.”
vii. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of mental and physical defects that can develop in a fetus in association with high levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. [...]
Alcohol crosses the placental barrier and can stunt fetal growth or weight, create distinctive facial stigmata, damage neurons and brain structures, which can result in psychological or behavioral problems, and cause other physical damage. Surveys found that in the United States, 10–15% of pregnant women report having recently drunk alcohol, and up to 30% drink alcohol at some point during pregnancy.
The main effect of FAS is permanent central nervous system damage, especially to the brain. Developing brain cells and structures can be malformed or have development interrupted by prenatal alcohol exposure; this can create an array of primary cognitive and functional disabilities (including poor memory, attention deficits, impulsive behavior, and poor cause-effect reasoning) as well as secondary disabilities (for example, predispositions to mental health problems and drug addiction). Alcohol exposure presents a risk of fetal brain damage at any point during a pregnancy, since brain development is ongoing throughout pregnancy.
Fetal alcohol exposure is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the Western world. In the United States and Europe, the FAS prevalence rate is estimated to be between 0.2-2 in every 1000 live births. FAS should not be confused with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a condition which describes a continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, which includes FAS, as well as other disorders, and which affects about 1% of live births in the US. The lifetime medical and social costs of FAS are estimated to be as high as US$800,000 per child born with the disorder.“
That’s a US estimate, but I think a Danish one would be within the same order of magnitude. Imagine how the incentives of expectant mothers would change if we fined females who gave birth to a child with FAS, letting the fine be some fraction of the total estimated social costs. And remind me again why we do not do this?
i. Globular cluster (featured). What a thing like that looks like:
“A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is derived from the Latin globulus—a small sphere. A globular cluster is sometimes known more simply as a globular.
Globular clusters, which are found in the halo of a galaxy, contain considerably more stars and are much older than the less dense galactic, or open clusters, which are found in the disk. Globular clusters are fairly common; there are about 150 to 158 currently known globular clusters in the Milky Way, with perhaps 10 to 20 more still undiscovered. Large galaxies can have more: Andromeda, for instance, may have as many as 500. Some giant elliptical galaxies, particularly those at the centers of galaxy clusters, such as M87, have as many as 13,000 globular clusters. These globular clusters orbit the galaxy out to large radii, 40 kiloparsecs (approximately 131,000 light-years) or more.
Every galaxy of sufficient mass in the Local Group has an associated group of globular clusters, and almost every large galaxy surveyed has been found to possess a system of globular clusters. The Sagittarius Dwarf and Canis Major Dwarf galaxies appear to be in the process of donating their associated globular clusters (such as Palomar 12) to the Milky Way. This demonstrates how many of this galaxy’s globular clusters might have been acquired in the past.
Although it appears that globular clusters contain some of the first stars to be produced in the galaxy, their origins and their role in galactic evolution are still unclear.”
ii. Srinivasa Ramanujan (‘good article’). If you’ve seen Good Will Hunting the name will probably ring a bell. An interesting life, but much too short.
“The Gastropoda or gastropods, more commonly known as snails and slugs, are a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca. The class Gastropoda includes snails and slugs of all kinds and all sizes from microscopic to large. There are many thousands of species of sea snails and sea slugs, as well as freshwater snails and freshwater limpets, as well as land snails and land slugs.
The class Gastropoda contains a vast total of named species, second only to the insects in overall number. The fossil history of this class goes back to the Late Cambrian. There are 611 families of gastropods, of which 202 families are extinct, being found only in the fossil record.
Gastropoda (previously known as univalves and sometimes spelled Gasteropoda) are a major part of the phylum Mollusca and are the most highly diversified class in the phylum, with 60,000 to 80,000 living snail and slug species. The anatomy, behavior, feeding and reproductive adaptations of gastropods vary significantly from one clade or group to another. Therefore, it is difficult to state many generalities for all gastropods. [...]
At all taxonomic levels, gastropods are second only to the insects in terms of their diversity. [...]
Although the name “snail” can be, and often is, applied to all the members of this class, commonly this word means only those species with an external shell large enough that the soft parts can withdraw completely into it. Those gastropods without a shell, and those with only a very reduced or internal shell, are usually known as slugs.”
iv. Borel-Cantelli lemma.
v. Vijayanagara Empire. (featured)
“The Vijayanagara Empire referred to as the Kingdom of Bisnagar by the Portuguese, was an empire based in South India, in the Deccan Plateau region. It was established in 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty. The empire rose to prominence as a culmination of attempts by the southern powers to ward off Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. It lasted until 1646 although its power declined after a major military defeat in 1565 by the Deccan sultanates. The empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround present day Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in Karnataka, India. “
vi. Donner Party (featured).
“The Donner Party was a group of 87 American pioneers who in 1846 set off from Missouri in a wagon train headed west for California, only to find themselves trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevada. The subsequent casualties resulting from starvation, exposure, disease, and trauma were extremely high, and many of the survivors resorted to cannibalism.
The wagons left in May 1846. Encouraged to try a new, faster route across Utah and Nevada, they opted to take the Hastings Cutoff proposed by Lansford Hastings, who had never taken the journey with wagons. The Cutoff required the wagons to traverse Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake Desert, and slowed the party considerably, leading to the loss of wagons, horses, and cattle. It also forced them to engage in heavy labor by clearing the path ahead of them, and created deep divisions between members of the party. They had planned to be in California by September, but found themselves trapped in the Sierra Nevada by early November.
Most of the party took shelter in three cabins that had been constructed two years earlier at Truckee Lake (now Donner Lake), while a smaller group camped several miles away. Food stores quickly ran out, and a group of 15 men and women attempted to reach California on snowshoes in December, but became disoriented in the mountains before succumbing to starvation and cold. Only seven members of the snowshoe party survived, by eating the flesh of their dead companions. Meanwhile, the Mexican American War delayed rescue attempts from California, although family members and authorities in California tried to reach the stranded pioneers but were turned back by harsh weather.
The first rescue group reached the remaining members, who were starving and feeble, in February 1847. Weather conditions were so bad that three rescue groups were required to lead the rest to California, the last arriving in March. Most of these survivors also had resorted to cannibalism. Forty-eight members of the Donner Party survived to live in California. Although a minor incident in the record of westward migration in North America, the Donner Party became notorious for the reported claims of cannibalism. Efforts to memorialize the Donner Party were underway within a few years; historians have described the episode as one of the most spectacular tragedies in California history and in the record of western migration. [...]
The group became lost and confused. After two more days without food, Patrick Dolan proposed that one of them should volunteer to die, to feed the others. Some suggested a duel, while another account describes an attempt to create a lottery to choose a member to sacrifice. Eddy suggested they keep moving until someone simply fell, but a blizzard forced the group to halt. Antonio, the animal handler, was the first to die; Franklin Graves was the next casualty.
As the blizzard progressed, Patrick Dolan began to rant deliriously, stripped off his clothes and ran into the woods. He returned shortly afterwards and died a few hours later. Not long after, possibly because 12-year-old Lemuel Murphy was near death, some of the group began to eat flesh from Dolan’s body. Lemuel’s sister tried to feed some to her brother, but he died shortly afterwards. Eddy, Salvador and Luis refused to eat. The next morning the group stripped the muscle and organs from the bodies of Antonio, Dolan, Graves, and Murphy and dried it to store for the days ahead, taking care to ensure that nobody would have to eat his or her relatives.
After three days rest they set off again, searching for the trail. Eddy eventually succumbed to his hunger and ate human flesh, but that was soon gone. They began to take apart their snowshoes to eat the oxhide webbing, and discussed killing Luis and Salvador for food; after Eddy warned the Indians they quietly left. During the night Jay Fosdick died, leaving only seven members of the party. Eddy and Mary Graves left to hunt, but when they returned with deer meat, Fosdick’s body had already been cut apart for food. After several more days—25 since they had left Truckee Lake—they came across Salvador and Luis, who had not eaten for about nine days and were close to death. William Foster, believing the flesh of the Indians was the group’s last hope of avoiding imminent death from starvation, shot the pair.
On January 12, the group stumbled into a Miwok camp looking so deteriorated that the Indians initially fled. The Miwoks gave them what they had to eat: acorns, grass, and pine nuts. After a few days, Eddy continued on with the help of a Miwok to a ranch in a small farming community at the edge of the Sacramento Valley. A hurriedly assembled rescue party found the other six survivors on January 17.”
“An endosymbiont is any organism that lives within the body or cells of another organism, i.e. forming an endosymbiosis (Greek: ἔνδον endon “within”, σύν syn “together” and βίωσις biosis “living”). Examples are nitrogen-fixing bacteria (called rhizobia) which live in root nodules on legume roots, single-celled algae inside reef-building corals, and bacterial endosymbionts that provide essential nutrients to about 10–15% of insects.
Many instances of endosymbiosis are obligate; that is, either the endosymbiont or the host cannot survive without the other, such as the gutless marine worms of the genus Riftia, which get nutrition from their endosymbiotic bacteria. The most common examples of obligate endosymbiosis are mitochondria and chloroplasts. Some human parasites, e.g. : Wucherichia bancrofti and Mansonella perstans thrive in their hosts because of an obligate endosymbiosis with Wolbachi spp.. They can both be eliminated from their host by treatments that target this bacterium. However, not all endosymbioses are obligate. Also, some endosymbioses can be harmful to either of the organisms involved.
It is generally agreed that certain organelles of the eukaryotic cell, especially mitochondria and plastids such as chloroplasts, originated as bacterial endosymbionts. This theory is called the endosymbiotic theory, and was first articulated by the Russian botanist Konstantin Mereschkowski in 1905.“
i. Proportional hazards models. (work-related)
“Proportional hazards models are a class of survival models in statistics. Survival models relate the time that passes before some event occurs to one or more covariates that may be associated with that quantity. In a proportional hazards model, the unique effect of a unit increase in a covariate is multiplicative with respect to the hazard rate. For example, taking a drug may halve one’s hazard rate for a stroke occurring, or, changing the material from which a manufactured component is constructed may double its hazard rate for failure. Other types of survival models such as accelerated failure time models do not exhibit proportional hazards. These models could describe a situation such as a drug that reduces a subject’s immediate risk of having a stroke, but where there is no reduction in the hazard rate after one year for subjects who do not have a stroke in the first year of analysis.”
“A radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG, RITEG) is an electrical generator that obtains its power from radioactive decay. In such a device, the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material is converted into electricity by the Seebeck effect using an array of thermocouples.
RTGs have been used as power sources in satellites, space probes and unmanned remote facilities, such as a series of lighthouses built by the former Soviet Union inside the Arctic Circle. RTGs are usually the most desirable power source for robotic or unmaintained situations needing a few hundred watts (or less) of power for durations too long for fuel cells, batteries, or generators to provide economically, and in places where solar cells are not practical. Safe use of RTGs requires containment of the radioisotopes long after the productive life of the unit. [...]
In addition to spacecraft, the Soviet Union constructed many unmanned lighthouses and navigation beacons powered by RTGs. Powered by strontium-90 (90Sr), they are very reliable and provide a steady source of power. Critics[who?] argue that they could cause environmental and security problems as leakage or theft of the radioactive material could pass unnoticed for years, particularly as the locations of some of these lighthouses are no longer known due to poor record keeping. In one instance, the radioactive compartments were opened by a thief. In another case, three woodsmen in Georgia came across two ceramic RTG heat sources that had been stripped of their shielding. Two of the three were later hospitalized with severe radiation burns after carrying the sources on their backs. The units were eventually recovered and isolated.
There are approximately 1,000 such RTGs in Russia. All of them have long exhausted their 10-year engineered life spans. They are likely no longer functional, and may be in need of dismantling. Some of them have become the prey of metal hunters, who strip the RTGs’ metal casings, regardless of the risk of radioactive contamination.“
iii. List of unusual deaths. A lot of awesome stuff here. A few examples from the article:
- 1814: London Beer Flood, seven people were killed (some drowned, some died from injuries, and one succumbed to alcohol poisoning) when 323,000 imperial gallons (388,000 US gal; 1,468,000 L) of beer in the Meux and Company Brewery burst out of its vats and gushed into the streets.
- 1912: Franz Reichelt, tailor, fell to his death off the first deck of the Eiffel Tower while testing his invention, the overcoat parachute. It was his first ever attempt with the parachute.
- 1940: Marcus Garvey died due to two strokes after reading a negative premature obituary of himself.
- 1974: Basil Brown, a 48-year-old health food advocate from Croydon, drank himself to death with carrot juice.
- 2007: Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old woman from Sacramento, California, died of water intoxication while trying to win a Nintendo Wii console in a KDND 107.9 “The End” radio station’s “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest, which involved drinking large quantities of water without urinating.
iv. Limnic eruption.
“A limnic eruption, also referred to as a lake overturn, is a rare type of natural disaster in which dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) suddenly erupts from deep lake water, suffocating wildlife, livestock and humans. Such an eruption may also cause tsunamis in the lake as the rising CO2 displaces water. Scientists believe landslides, volcanic activity, or explosions can trigger such an eruption. Lakes in which such activity occurs may be known as limnically active lakes or exploding lakes.”
v. HeLa. The woman died more than 60 years ago, but some of the descendants of the cancer cells that killed her survives to this day:
“A HeLa cell /ˈhiːlɑː/, also Hela or hela cell, is a cell type in an immortal cell line used in scientific research. It is the oldest and most commonly used human cell line. The line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken on February 8, 1951 from Henrietta Lacks, a patient who eventually died of her cancer on October 4, 1951. The cell line was found to be remarkably durable and prolific as illustrated by its contamination of many other cell lines used in research. [...]
HeLa cells, like other cell lines, are termed “immortal” in that they can divide an unlimited number of times in a laboratory cell culture plate as long as fundamental cell survival conditions are met (i.e. being maintained and sustained in a suitable environment). There are many strains of HeLa cells as they continue to evolve in cell cultures, but all HeLa cells are descended from the same tumor cells removed from Mrs. Lacks. It has been estimated that the total number of HeLa cells that have been propagated in cell culture far exceeds the total number of cells that were in Henrietta Lacks’s body. [...]
HeLa cells were used by Jonas Salk to test the first polio vaccine in the 1950s. Since that time, HeLa cells have been used for “research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and many other scientific pursuits”. According to author Rebecca Skloot, by 2009, “more than 60,000 scientific articles had been published about research done on HeLa, and that number was increasing steadily at a rate of more than 300 papers each month.”“
The result of over 50 years of experiments in the Soviet Union and Russia, the breeding project was set up in 1959 by Soviet scientist Dmitri Belyaev. It continues today at The Institute of Cytology and Genetics at Novosibirsk, under the supervision of Lyudmila Trut. [...]
Belyaev believed that the key factor selected for in the domestication of dogs was not size or reproduction, but behavior; specifically, amenability to domestication, or tameability. He selected for low flight distance, that is, the distance one can approach the animal before it runs away. Selecting this behavior mimics the natural selection that must have occurred in the ancestral past of dogs. More than any other quality, Belyaev believed, tameability must have determined how well an animal would adapt to life among humans. Since behavior is rooted in biology, selecting for tameness and against aggression means selecting for physiological changes in the systems that govern the body’s hormones and neurochemicals. Belyaev decided to test his theory by domesticating foxes; in particular, the silver fox, a dark color form of the red fox. He placed a population of them in the same process of domestication, and he decided to submit this population to strong selection pressure for inherent tameness.
The result is that Russian scientists now have a number of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebears. Some important changes in physiology and morphology are now visible, such as mottled or spotted colored fur. Many scientists believe that these changes related to selection for tameness are caused by lower adrenaline production in the new breed, causing physiological changes in very few generations and thus yielding genetic combinations not present in the original species. This indicates that selection for tameness (i.e. low flight distance) produces changes that are also influential on the emergence of other “dog-like” traits, such as raised tail and coming into heat every six months rather than annually.”
vi. Attalus I (featured).
“Attalus I (Greek: Ἄτταλος), surnamed Soter (Greek: Σωτὴρ, “Savior”; 269 BC – 197 BC) ruled Pergamon, an Ionian Greek polis (what is now Bergama, Turkey), first as dynast, later as king, from 241 BC to 197 BC. He was the second cousin and the adoptive son of Eumenes I, whom he succeeded, and was the first of the Attalid dynasty to assume the title of king in 238 BC. He was the son of Attalus and his wife Antiochis.
Attalus won an important victory over the Galatians, newly arrived Celtic tribes from Thrace, who had been, for more than a generation, plundering and exacting tribute throughout most of Asia Minor without any serious check. This victory, celebrated by the triumphal monument at Pergamon (famous for its Dying Gaul) and the liberation from the Gallic “terror” which it represented, earned for Attalus the name of “Soter”, and the title of “king“. A courageous and capable general and loyal ally of Rome, he played a significant role in the first and second Macedonian Wars, waged against Philip V of Macedon. He conducted numerous naval operations, harassing Macedonian interests throughout the Aegean, winning honors, collecting spoils, and gaining for Pergamon possession of the Greek islands of Aegina during the first war, and Andros during the second, twice narrowly escaping capture at the hands of Philip.
Attalus was a protector of the Greek cities of Anatolia and viewed himself as the champion of Greeks against barbarians. During his reign he established Pergamon as a considerable power in the Greek East. He died in 197 BC, shortly before the end of the second war, at the age of 72, having suffered an apparent stroke while addressing a Boeotian war council some months before.”
“The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions which started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917. However, the Germans entered Portuguese East Africa and continued the campaign living off Portuguese supplies.
The strategy of the German colonial forces, led by Lieutenant Colonel (later Generalmajor) Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, was to drain and divert forces from the Western Front to Africa. His strategy failed to achieve these results after 1916, as mainly Indian and South African forces, which were prevented by colonial policy from deploying to Europe, conducted the rest of the campaign. [...]
In this campaign, disease killed or incapacitated 30 men for every man killed in battle on the British side.“
viii. European bison (Wisent). I had never heard about those. Here’s what they look like:
“The European bison (Bison bonasus), also known as wisent ( /ˈviːzənt/ or /ˈwiːzənt/) or the European wood bison, is a Eurasian species of bison. It is the heaviest surviving wild land animal in Europe; a typical European bison is about 2.1 to 3.5 m (7 to 10 ft) long, not counting a tail of 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 in) long, and 1.6 to 2 m (5 to 7 ft) tall. Weight typically can range from 300 to 920 kg (660 to 2,000 lb), with an occasional big bull to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) or more. On average, it is slightly lighter in body mass and yet taller at the shoulder than the American bison (Bison bison). Compared to the American species, the Wisent has shorter hair on the neck, head and forequarters, but longer tail and horns.
European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild, with the last wild animals being shot in the Białowieża Forest in Eastern Poland in 1919 and in the Western Caucasus in 1927, but have since been reintroduced from captivity into several countries in Europe, all descendants of the Białowieża or lowland European bison. They are now forest-dwelling. They have few predators (besides humans), with only scattered reports from the 19th century of wolf and bear predation. [...]
Historically, the lowland European bison’s range encompassed all lowlands of Europe, extending from the Massif Central to the Volga River and the Caucasus. It may have once lived in the Asiatic part of what is now the Russian Federation. Its range decreased as human populations expanded cutting down forests. The first population to be extirpated was that of Gaul in the 8th century AD. The European bison became extinct in southern Sweden in the 11th century, and southern England in the 12th. The species survived in the Ardennes and the Vosges until the 15th century. In the early middle ages, the wisent apparently still occurred in the forest steppes east of the Ural, in the Altay Mountains and seems to have reached Lake Baikal in the east. The northern boundary in the Holocene was probably around 60°N in Finland.
European bison survived in a few natural forests in Europe but its numbers dwindled. The last European bison in Transylvania died in 1790. In Poland, European bison in the Białowieża Forest were legally the property of the Polish kings until the Third partition of Poland. Wild European bison herds also existed in the forest until the mid-17th century. Polish kings took measures to protect the bison. King Sigismund II Augustus instituted the death penalty for poaching a European bison in Białowieża in the mid-16th century. In the early 19th century, Russian czars retained old Polish laws protecting the European bison herd in Białowieża. Despite these measures and others, the European bison population continued to decline over the following century, with only Białowieża and Northern Caucasus populations surviving into the 20th century.
During World War I, occupying German troops killed 600 of the European bison in the Białowieża Forest for sport, meat, hides, and horns. A German scientist informed army officers that the European bison were facing imminent extinction, but at the very end of the war, retreating German soldiers shot all but 9 animals. The last wild European bison in Poland was killed in 1919, and the last wild European bison in the world was killed by poachers in 1927 in the western Caucasus. By that year fewer than 50 remained, all in zoos.”
i. Tasmanian Devil (featured).
“The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae, now found in the wild only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. The size of a small dog, it became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936. It is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding. The Tasmanian devil’s large head and neck allow it to generate amongst the strongest bite per unit body mass of any extant mammal land predator, and it hunts prey and scavenges carrion as well as eating household products if humans are living nearby. Although it usually is solitary, it sometimes eats with other devils and defecates in a communal location. Unlike most other dasyurids, the devil thermoregulates effectively and is active during the middle of the day without overheating. Despite its rotund appearance, the devil is capable of surprising speed and endurance, and can climb trees and swim across rivers. [...]
On average, devils eat about 15% of their body weight each day, although they can eat up to 40% of their body weight in 30 minutes if the opportunity arises. This means they can become very heavy and lethargic after a large meal; in this state they tend to waddle away slowly and lie down, becoming easy to approach. [...]
Since the late 1990s, devil facial tumour disease has drastically reduced the devil population and now threatens the survival of the species, which in 2008 was declared to be endangered. Programs are currently being undertaken by the Government of Tasmania to reduce the impact of the disease, including an initiative to build up a group of healthy devils in captivity, isolated from the disease. [...] First seen in 1996, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) has ravaged Tasmania’s wild devils, and estimates of the impact range from 20% to as much as a 50% decline in the devil population, with over 65% of the state affected. The state’s west coast area and far north-west are the only places where devils are tumour free. Individual devils die within months of infection.
The disease is an example of a transmissible cancer, which means that it is contagious and passed from one animal to another. Short of a cure, scientists are removing the sick animals and quarantining healthy devils in case the wild population dies out. Because Tasmanian devils have extremely low levels of genetic diversity and a chromosomal mutation unique among carnivorous mammals, they are more prone to the infectious cancer.“
ii. Mengistu Haile Mariam. A bad guy.
He “is an Ethiopian politician who was the most prominent officer of the Derg, the Communist military junta that governed Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987, and President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991. He oversaw the Ethiopian Red Terror of 1977–1978, a campaign of repression against the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party and other anti-Derg factions. Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe in 1991 at the conclusion of the Ethiopian Civil War, and remains there despite an Ethiopian court verdict finding him guilty in absentia of genocide. Some estimates, for the number of deaths his regime were responsible for, are as high as 1.285 million dead.“
iii. Waldseemüller map.
The full version is at the link, 29,700 × 16,500 pixels and almost 100 MB.
“The Waldseemüller map, Universalis Cosmographia, is a printed wall map of the world by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, originally published in April 1507. It is known as the first map to use the name “America“. The map is drafted on a modification of Ptolemy’s second projection, expanded to accommodate the Americas and the high latitudes. A single copy of the map survives, presently housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. [...]
While some maps after 1500 show, with ambiguity, an eastern coastline for Asia distinct from the Americas, the Waldseemüller map apparently indicates the existence of a new ocean between the trans-Atlantic regions of the Spanish discoveries and the Asia of Ptolemy and Marco Polo as exhibited on the 1492 Behaim globe. The first historical records of Europeans to set eyes on this ocean, the Pacific, are recorded as Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513 or, Ponce de León in 1512 or 1513. Those dates are five to six years after Waldseemüller made his map. [...] The historian Peter Whitfield has theorized that Waldseemüller incorporated the ocean into his map because Vespucci’s accounts of the Americas, with their so-called “savage” peoples, could not be reconciled with contemporary knowledge of India, China, and the islands of Indies. Thus, in the view of Whitfield, Waldseemüller reasoned that the newly discovered lands could not be part of Asia, but must be separate from it, a leap of intuition that was later proved uncannily precise.”
iv. Battle of Arnhem. The Wikipedia community thinks it’s a ‘good article’, I think it’s great.
“In game theory, the centipede game, first introduced by Rosenthal (1981), is an extensive form game in which two players take turns choosing either to take a slightly larger share of a slowly increasing pot, or to pass the pot to the other player. The payoffs are arranged so that if one passes the pot to one’s opponent and the opponent takes the pot on the next round, one receives slightly less than if one had taken the pot on this round. Although the traditional centipede game had a limit of 100 rounds (hence the name), any game with this structure but a different number of rounds is called a centipede game. Wherein thus discussed becomes particularly an objective of coverage rather than that of gain and the unique subgame perfect equilibrium (and every Nash equilibrium) of these games indicates that the first player take the pot on the very first round of the game; however in empirical tests relatively few players do so, and as a result achieve a higher payoff than the payoff predicted by the equilibria analysis. These results are taken to show that subgame perfect equilibria and Nash equilibria fail to predict human play in some circumstances. The Centipede game is commonly used in introductory game theory courses and texts to highlight the concept of backward induction and the iterated elimination of dominated strategies, which show a standard way of providing a solution to the game.”
vii. Compromise of 1850.
“The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas, avoided secession or civil war and reduced sectional conflict for four years.
The Compromise was greeted with relief, although each side disliked specific provisions.”
The article has much more, including plenty of relevant maps.
“2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), C6H4N2O5, is an inhibitor of efficient energy (ATP) production in cells with mitochondria. It uncouples oxidative phosphorylation by carrying protons across the mitochondrial membrane, leading to a rapid consumption of energy without generation of ATP. [...]
DNP was used extensively in diet pills from 1933 to 1938 after Cutting and Tainter at Stanford University made their first report on the drug’s ability to greatly increase metabolic rate. After only its first year on the market Tainter estimated that probably at least 100,000 persons had been treated with DNP in the United States, in addition to many others abroad. DNP acts as a protonophore, allowing protons to leak across the inner mitochondrial membrane and thus bypass ATP synthase. This makes ATP energy production less efficient. In effect, part of the energy that is normally produced from cellular respiration is wasted as heat. The inefficiency is proportional to the dose of DNP that is taken. As the dose increases and energy production is made more inefficient, metabolic rate increases (and more fat is burned) in order to compensate for the inefficiency and meet energy demands. DNP is probably the best known agent for uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation. The production or “phosphorylation” of ATP by ATP synthase gets disconnected or “uncoupled” from oxidation. Interestingly, the factor that limits ever-increasing doses of DNP is not a lack of ATP energy production, but rather an excessive rise in body temperature due to the heat produced during uncoupling. Accordingly, DNP overdose will cause fatal hyperthermia. In light of this, it’s advised that the dose be slowly titrated according to personal tolerance, which varies greatly. Case reports have shown that an acute administration of 20–50 mg/kg in humans can be lethal. Concerns about dangerous side-effects and rapidly developing cataracts resulted in DNP being discontinued in the United States by the end of 1938. DNP, however, continues to be used by some bodybuilders and athletes to rapidly lose body fat. Fatal overdoses are rare, but are still reported on occasion. These include cases of accidental exposure, suicide, and excessive intentional exposure. [...]
While DNP itself is considered by many to be too risky for human use, its mechanism of action remains under investigation as a potential approach for treating obesity.“
ii. Opium. Long article with lots of good stuff.
“The most important reason for the increase in opiate consumption in the United States during the 19th century was the prescribing and dispensing of legal opiates by physicians and pharmacists to women with ”female problems” (mostly to relieve menstrual pain). Between 150,000 and 200,000 opiate addicts lived in the United States in the late 19th century and between two-thirds and three-quarters of these addicts were women. [...]
After the 1757 Battle of Plassey and 1764 Battle of Buxar, the British East India Company gained the power to act as diwan of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa (See company rule in India). This allowed the company to exercise a monopoly over opium production and export in India, to encourage ryots to cultivate the cash crops of indigo and opium with cash advances, and to prohibit the “hoarding” of rice. This strategy led to the increase of the land tax to 50% of the value of crops and to the doubling of East India Company profits by 1777. It is also claimed to have contributed to the starvation of ten million people in the Bengal famine of 1770. Beginning in 1773, the British government began enacting oversight of the company’s operations, and in response to the Indian Rebellion of 1857 this policy culminated in the establishment of direct rule over the Presidencies and provinces of British India. Bengal opium was highly prized, commanding twice the price of the domestic Chinese product, which was regarded as inferior in quality.
Some competition came from the newly independent United States, which began to compete in Guangzhou (Canton) selling Turkish opium in the 1820s. Portuguese traders also brought opium from the independent Malwa states of western India, although by 1820, the British were able to restrict this trade by charging “pass duty” on the opium when it was forced to pass through Bombay to reach an entrepot. Despite drastic penalties and continued prohibition of opium until 1860, opium importation rose steadily from 200 chests per year under Yongzheng to 1,000 under Qianlong, 4,000 under Jiaqing, and 30,000 under Daoguang. The illegal sale of opium became one of the world’s most valuable single commodity trades and has been called “the most long continued and systematic international crime of modern times.”
In response to the ever-growing number of Chinese people becoming addicted to opium, Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty took strong action to halt the import of opium, including the seizure of cargo. In 1838, the Chinese Commissioner Lin Zexu destroyed 20,000 chests of opium in Guangzhou (Canton). Given that a chest of opium was worth nearly $1,000 in 1800, this was a substantial economic loss. The British, not willing to replace the cheap opium with costly silver, began the First Opium War in 1840, the British winning Hong Kong and trade concessions in the first of a series of Unequal Treaties.
Following China’s defeat in the Second Opium War in 1858, China was forced to legalize opium and began massive domestic production. Importation of opium peaked in 1879 at 6,700 tons, and by 1906, China was producing 85% of the world’s opium, some 35,000 tons, and 27% of its adult male population regularly used opium —13.5 million people consuming 39,000 tons of opium yearly. From 1880 to the beginning of the Communist era, Britain attempted to discourage the use of opium in China, but this effectively promoted the use of morphine, heroin, and cocaine, further exacerbating the problem of addiction. [...]
“In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity (also called Z) of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium. Since stars, which comprise most of the visible matter in the universe, are composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, astronomers use for convenience the blanket term “metal” to describe all other elements collectively. Thus, a nebula rich in carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and neon would be “metal-rich” in astrophysical terms even though those elements are non-metals in chemistry. This term should not be confused with the usual definition of “metal“; metallic bonds are impossible within stars, and the very strongest chemical bonds are only possible in the outer layers of cool K and M stars. Normal chemistry therefore has little or no relevance in stellar interiors.
The metallicity of an astronomical object may provide an indication of its age. When the universe first formed, according to the Big Bang theory, it consisted almost entirely of hydrogen which, through primordial nucleosynthesis, created a sizeable proportion of helium and only trace amounts of lithium and beryllium and no heavier elements. Therefore, older stars have lower metallicities than younger stars such as our Sun.”
iv. Batavian Republic.
“The Batavian Republic (Dutch: Bataafse Republiek) was the successor of the Republic of the United Netherlands. It was proclaimed on January 19, 1795, and ended on June 5, 1806, with the accession of Louis Bonaparte to the throne of the Kingdom of Holland.” (the article has much more)
v. Taiping Rebellion. Never heard of this? You should have:
“The Taiping Rebellion was a widespread civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, against the ruling Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. It was led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, who, having claimed to have received visions, maintained that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ . About 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.“
vi. Borobudur (featured).
“Borobudur, or Barabudur, is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside a perforated stupa.”
1. Star fort.
“A star fort, or trace italienne, is a fortification in the style that evolved during the age of gunpowder, when the cannon came to dominate the battlefield, and was first seen in the mid-15th century in Italy.
Passive ring-shaped (enceinte) fortifications of the Medieval era proved vulnerable to damage or destruction by cannon fire, when it could be directed from outside against a perpendicular masonry wall. In addition, an attacking force that could get close to the wall was able to conduct undermining operations in relative safety, as the defenders could not shoot at them from nearby walls. In contrast, the star fortress was a very flat structure composed of many triangular bastions, specifically designed to cover each other, and a ditch. In order to counteract the cannon balls, defensive walls were made lower and thicker. Although this made their climbing easier, the ditch was widened, so that attacking infantry was still exposed to fire from a higher elevation for a while, including enfilading fire from the bastions. The outer side of the ditch was usually provided with a glacis to deflect cannon balls aimed at the lower part of the main wall. Further structures, such as ravelins, tenailles, hornworks or crownworks, and even detached forts could be added to create complex outer works to further protect the main wall from artillery, and sometimes provide additional defensive positions. They were built of many materials, usually earth and brick, as brick does not shatter on impact from a cannonball as stone does.
Star fortifications were further developed in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries primarily in response to the French invasion of the Italian peninsula. The French army was equipped with new cannon and bombards that were easily able to destroy traditional fortifications built in the Middle Ages. Star forts were employed by Michelangelo in the defensive earthworks of Florence, and refined in the sixteenth century by Baldassare Peruzzi and Scamozzi. The design spread out of Italy in the 1530s and 1540s. It was employed heavily throughout Europe for the following three centuries. [...]
Fortifications of this type continued to be effective while the attackers were armed only with cannons, where the majority of the damage inflicted was caused by momentum from the impact of solid shot. While only low explosives such as black powder were available, explosive shells were largely ineffective against such fortifications.
The development of mortars, high explosives, and the consequent large increase in the destructive power of explosive shells and thus plunging fire rendered the intricate geometry of such fortifications irrelevant. Warfare was to become more mobile. It took, however, many years to abandon the old fortress thinking.”
2. Byzantine Empire (featured). This seems to be one of the topics that Wikipedia covers very well – there’s a lot of stuff here, and lots of links both to other articles and to external sources.
4. Tornado (featured).
From the article:
“The United States averages about 1,200 tornadoes per year. The Netherlands has the highest average number of recorded tornadoes per area of any country (more than 20, or 0.0013 per sq mi (0.00048 per km2), annually), followed by the UK (around 33, or 0.00035 per sq mi (0.00013 per km2), per year), but most are small and cause minor damage. In absolute number of events, ignoring area, the UK experiences more tornadoes than any other European country, excluding waterspouts.
Tornadoes kill an average of 179 people per year in Bangladesh, the most in the world. This is due to high population density, poor quality of construction and lack of tornado safety knowledge, as well as other factors. Other areas of the world that have frequent tornadoes include South Africa, parts of Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil, as well as portions of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and far eastern Asia.
“Ferdinand I (10 March 1503, Alcalá de Henares, Spain – 25 July 1564, Vienna, Habsburg domain [now in Austria]) was Holy Roman Emperor from 1558, king of Bohemia and Hungary from 1526, and king of Croatia from 1527 until his death. Before his accession, he ruled the Austrian hereditary lands of the Habsburgs in the name of his elder brother, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
The key events during his reign were the contest with the Ottoman Empire, whose great advance into Central Europe began in the 1520s, and the Protestant Reformation, which resulted in several wars of religion.
Ferdinand’s motto was Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus: “Let justice be done, though the world perish”.
“Wheat (Triticum spp.) is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East and Ethiopian Highlands, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2010 world production of wheat was 651 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize (844 million tons) and rice (672 million tons). In 2009, world production of wheat was 682 million tons, making it the second most-produced cereal after maize (817 million tons), and with rice as close third (679 million tons).
This grain is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and is the most important staple food for humans. World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined. Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having a higher protein content than either maize (corn) or rice, the other major cereals. [...]
“Unlike rice, wheat production is more widespread globally though China’s share is almost one-sixth of the world.” [roughly corresponding to the Chinese share of the global population. I was also surprised to learn that China in 2010 produced almost twice as much wheat (115 million metric tons) as the United States (60 -ll-) did.] [...]
“In the 20th century, global wheat output expanded by about 5-fold, but until about 1955 most of this reflected increases in wheat crop area, with lesser (about 20%) increases in crop yields per unit area. After 1955 however, there was a dramatic ten-fold increase in the rate of wheat yield improvement per year, and this became the major factor allowing global wheat production to increase. Thus technological innovation and scientific crop management with synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation and wheat breeding were the main drivers of wheat output growth in the second half of the century. There were some significant decreases in wheat crop area, for instance in North America.
Better seed storage and germination ability (and hence a smaller requirement to retain harvested crop for next year’s seed) is another 20th century technological innovation. In Medieval England, farmers saved one-quarter of their wheat harvest as seed for the next crop, leaving only three-quarters for food and feed consumption. By 1999, the global average seed use of wheat was about 6% of output.”
i. I started writing this post because I felt that I had to share this (click to view full size):
From abstrusegoose. But I decided that I might as well add a few other links as well.
ii. The Cochrane Foundation has just published a new review article on on ‘Pharmacotherapy for mild hypertension’ – it seems that the benefits of treatment are not as great as they have been made out to be. Via this slate article.
iii. (From Razib Khan’s pinboard feed:) How “god” evolved.
vi. In case you haven’t seen it:
v. Voyage of the James Caird. I may have linked to this before, but I don’t think so.
“The voyage of the James Caird was an open boat journey from Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands to South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 800 nautical miles (1,500 km; 920 mi). Undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions, its objective was to obtain rescue for the main body of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17, trapped on Elephant Island after the loss of its ship Endurance. History has come to consider the James Caird’s voyage as one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever accomplished.”
Here’s an image:
1500 kilometres and 16 days in a boat like that. And don’t think the trip was over when they reached the shore; those of them who could still travel had 36 hours of continuous travel across the mountainous and glacier-covered island in front of them before they were able to reach their goal, an inhabited whaling station in Stromness.
iv. I haven’t read this, but I assume that it may be of interest to some of you: Intelligence – A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences, by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen.
Because of computer problems I have not spent much time on wikipedia lately, so quite a few of these are related to the book I’m reading at the moment – but I lost a post to stupidity (what I had written was not publishable, nor could it be turned into something that was) and I thought I should at least post something, as I’m leaving town tomorrow (it’s my birthday in a few days’ time) and don’t know at this point if I’ll have time and opportunity to post anything for the next few days.
Some of the images in that article (‘examples of mandibles’) would probably have given me nightmares if I’d been shown them at an early age. It’s a pretty neat article.
“Uniformitarianism is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now, have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It has included the gradualistic concept that “the present is the key to the past” and is functioning at the same rates. Uniformitarianism has been a key principle of geology and virtually all fields of science, but naturalism’s modern geologists, while accepting that geology has occurred across deep time, no longer hold to a strict gradualism.”
iii. Oceanic trench.
“The oceanic trenches are hemispheric-scale long but narrow topographic depressions of the sea floor. They are also the deepest parts of the ocean floor.
Trenches are found at the boundary between two lithospheric plates. There are three types of lithospheric plate boundaries: divergent (where lithosphere and oceanic crust is created at mid-ocean ridges), convergent (where one lithospheric plate sinks beneath another and returns to the mantle), and transform (where two lithospheric plates slide past each other).”
iv. White stork (featured).
“The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) is a large bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. Its plumage is mainly white, with black on its wings. Adults have long red legs and long pointed red beaks, and measure on average 100–115 cm (39–45 in) from beak tip to end of tail, with a 155–215 cm (61–85 in) wingspan. The two subspecies, which differ slightly in size, breed in Europe (north to Finland), northwestern Africa, southwestern Asia (east to southern Kazakhstan), and southern Africa. The White Stork is a long-distance migrant, wintering in Africa from tropical Sub-Saharan Africa to as far south as South Africa, or on the Indian subcontinent. When migrating between Europe and Africa, it avoids crossing the Mediterranean Sea and detours via the Levant in the east or the Strait of Gibraltar in the west, because the air thermals on which it depends do not form over water.
A carnivore, the White Stork eats a wide range of animal prey, including insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and small birds. It takes most of its food from the ground, among low vegetation, and from shallow water. It is a monogamous breeder, but does not pair for life. Both members of the pair build a large stick nest, which may be used for several years. Each year the female can lay one clutch of usually four eggs, which hatch asynchronously 33–34 days after being laid. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and both feed the young. The young leave the nest 58–64 days after hatching, and continue to be fed by the parents for a further 7–20 days.”
“Weathering is the breaking down of rocks, soils and minerals as well as artificial materials through contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, biota and waters. Weathering occurs in situ, or “with no movement”, and thus should not be confused with erosion, which involves the movement of rocks and minerals by agents such as water, ice, snow, wind and gravity.
Two important classifications of weathering processes exist – physical and chemical weathering. Mechanical or physical weathering involves the breakdown of rocks and soils through direct contact with atmospheric conditions, such as heat, water, ice and pressure. The second classification, chemical weathering, involves the direct effect of atmospheric chemicals or biologically produced chemicals (also known as biological weathering) in the breakdown of rocks, soils and minerals.
The materials left over after the rock breaks down combined with organic material creates soil. The mineral content of the soil is determined by the parent material, thus a soil derived from a single rock type can often be deficient in one or more minerals for good fertility, while a soil weathered from a mix of rock types (as in glacial, aeolian or alluvial sediments) often makes more fertile soil. In addition many of Earth’s landforms and landscapes are the result of weathering processes combined with erosion and re-deposition.”
“Soil is a natural body that consists of layers (soil horizons), composed primarily of minerals that differ from their parent materials in their texture, structure, consistency, color, chemical, biological and other physical characteristics. The result, soil, is the end product of the influence of the climate (temperature, precipitation), relief (slope), organisms (flora and fauna), parent materials (original minerals), temperature, and time. In engineering, soil is referred to as regolith, or loose rock material. Strictly speaking, soil is the depth of regolith that influences and has been influenced by plant roots and may range in depth from centimeters to many meters.
Soil is composed of particles of broken rock (parent materials) that have been altered by chemical and mechanical processes that include weathering (disintegration) with associated erosion (movement). Soil is altered from its parent material by the interactions between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. It is a mixture of mineral and organic materials that are in the form of solids, gasses and liquids. Soil is commonly referred to as “earth” or “dirt“; technically, the term “dirt” should be restricted to displaced soil.
Soil forms a structure filled with pore spaces and can be thought of as a mixture of solids, water, and air (gas). Accordingly, soils are often treated as a three-state system. Most soils have a density between 1 and 2 g/cm³. Little of the soil of planet Earth is older than the Tertiary and none is older than the Pleistocene.” (the article has a lot more)
vii. Troxler’s fading
“Troxler’s fading or Troxler’s effect is a phenomenon of visual perception. When one fixates a particular point, after about 20 seconds or so, a stimulus away from the fixation point, in peripheral vision, will fade away and disappear. The effect is enhanced if the stimulus is small, is of low contrast or equiluminant, or is blurred. The effect is enhanced the further the stimulus is away from the fixation point.” (there’s a neat example in the article which you shouldn’t miss).
viii. Kuiper belt (featured).
i. Shannon–Hartley theorem. Muller talked a little bit about this one in one of the lectures, I don’t remember which, but it’s probably one of the wave-lectures. His coverage is less technical than wikipedia’s. I was considering not including this link because I previously linked to wikipedia’s closely-related article about the Noisy-channel coding theorem, but I decided to do it anyway. From the article:
“In information theory, the Shannon–Hartley theorem tells the maximum rate at which information can be transmitted over a communications channel of a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise. It is an application of the noisy channel coding theorem to the archetypal case of a continuous-time analog communications channel subject to Gaussian noise. The theorem establishes Shannon’s channel capacity for such a communication link, a bound on the maximum amount of error-free digital data (that is, information) that can be transmitted with a specified bandwidth in the presence of the noise interference, assuming that the signal power is bounded, and that the Gaussian noise process is characterized by a known power or power spectral density. [...]
Considering all possible multi-level and multi-phase encoding techniques, the Shannon–Hartley theorem states the channel capacity C, meaning the theoretical tightest upper bound on the information rate (excluding error correcting codes) of clean (or arbitrarily low bit error rate) data that can be sent with a given average signal power S through an analog communication channel subject to additive white Gaussian noise of power N, is:
- C is the channel capacity in bits per second;
- B is the bandwidth of the channel in hertz (passband bandwidth in case of a modulated signal);
- S is the average received signal power over the bandwidth (in case of a modulated signal, often denoted C, i.e. modulated carrier), measured in watts (or volts squared);
- N is the average noise or interference power over the bandwidth, measured in watts (or volts squared); and
- S/N is the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) or the carrier-to-noise ratio (CNR) of the communication signal to the Gaussian noise interference expressed as a linear power ratio (not as logarithmic decibels).”
ii. Expansion joint. Also covered by Muller, this is important stuff that people don’t think about:
“An expansion joint or movement joint is an assembly designed to safely absorb the heat-induced expansion and contraction of various construction materials, to absorb vibration, to hold certain parts together, or to allow movement due to ground settlement or earthquakes. They are commonly found between sections of sidewalks, bridges, railway tracks, piping systems, ships, and other structures.
Throughout the year, building faces, concrete slabs, and pipelines will expand and contract due to the warming and cooling through seasonal variation, or due to other heat sources. Before expansion joint gaps were built into these structures, they would crack under the stress induced.”
If you have any kind of construction of a significant size/length, thermal expansion will cause problems unless you try to deal with it somehow. To use expansion joints to deal with this problem is another one of those hidden ‘good ideas’ people don’t think about, because they probably weren’t even aware there was a problem to be solved.
iii. Beaufort scale.
iv. Belle Gunness. Not all serial killers are/were male:
“Personal – comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.” [...]
“The suitors kept coming, but none, except for Anderson, ever left the Gunness farm. By this time, she had begun ordering huge trunks to be delivered to her home. Hack driver Clyde Sturgis delivered many such trunks to her from La Porte and later remarked how the heavyset woman would lift these enormous trunks “like boxes of marshmallows”, tossing them onto her wide shoulders and carrying them into the house. She kept the shutters of her house closed day and night; farmers traveling past the dwelling at night saw her digging in the hog pen.” Guess what they found buried in the hog pen later?
v. English garden.
“The English garden, also called English landscape park (French: Jardin anglais, Italian: Giardino all’inglese, German: Englischer Landschaftsgarten, Portuguese: Jardim inglês), is a style of Landscape garden which emerged in England in the early 18th century, and spread across Europe, replacing the more formal, symmetrical Garden à la française of the 17th century as the principal gardening style of Europe. The English garden presented an idealized view of nature. They were often inspired by paintings of landscapes by Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin, and some were Influenced by the classic Chinese gardens of the East, which had recently been described by European travelers. The English garden usually included a lake, sweeps of gently rolling lawns set against groves of trees, and recreations of classical temples, Gothic ruins, bridges, and other picturesque architecture, designed to recreate an idyllic pastoral landscape. By the end of the 18th century the English garden was being imitated by the French landscape garden, and as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia, in Pavlovsk, the gardens of the future Emperor Paul. It also had a major influence on the form of the public parks and gardens which appeared around the world in the 19th century.“
A few images from the article (click to view full size):
“An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt) from which groundwater can be usefully extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology. Related terms include aquitard, which is a bed of low permeability along an aquifer, and aquiclude (or aquifuge), which is a solid, impermeable area underlying or overlying an aquifer. If the impermeable area overlies the aquifer pressure could cause it to become a confined aquifer.” The article has much more.
vii. Great Tit.
“The Great Tit (Parus major) is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is a widespread and common species throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia, and parts of North Africa in any sort of woodland. It is generally resident, and most Great Tits do not migrate except in extremely harsh winters. Until 2005 this species was lumped with numerous other subspecies. DNA studies have shown these other subspecies to be distinctive from the Great Tit and these have now been separated as two separate species, the Cinereous Tit of southern Asia, and the Japanese Tit of East Asia. The Great Tit remains the most widespread species in the genus Parus.
The Great Tit is a distinctive bird, with a black head and neck, prominent white cheeks, olive upperparts and yellow underparts, with some variation amongst the numerous subspecies. It is predominantly insectivorous in the summer, but will consume a wider range of food items in the winter months, including small hibernating bats. Like all tits it is a cavity nester, usually nesting in a hole in a tree. The female lays around 12 eggs and incubates them alone, although both parents raise the chicks. In most years the pair will raise two broods. The nests may be raided by woodpeckers, squirrels and weasels and infested with fleas, and adults may be hunted by Sparrowhawks. The Great Tit has adapted well to human changes in the environment and is a common and familiar bird in urban parks and gardens. The Great Tit is also an important study species in ornithology. [...]
Great Tits combine dietary versatility with a considerable amount of intelligence and the ability to solve problems with insight learning, that is to solve a problem through insight rather than trial and error. In England, Great Tits learned to break the foil caps of milk bottles delivered at the doorstep of homes to obtain the cream at the top. This behaviour, first noted in 1921, spread rapidly in the next two decades. In 2009, Great Tits were reported killing and eating pipistrelle bats. This is the first time a songbird has been seen to hunt bats. The tits only do this during winter when the bats are hibernating and other food is scarce. They have also been recorded using tools, using a conifer needle in the bill to extract larvae from a hole in a tree. [...]
The Great Tit has generally adjusted to human modifications of the environment. It is more common and has better breeding success in areas with undisturbed forest cover, but it has adapted to human modified habitats. It can be very common in urban areas. For example, the breeding population in the city of Sheffield (a city of half a million people) has been estimated at 17,164 individuals. In adapting to human environments its song has been observed to change in noise-polluted urban environments. In areas with low frequency background noise pollution, the song has a higher frequency than in quieter areas.“
i. Alternation of generations. It’s a bit technical, but I thought the article was interesting:
“Alternation of generations (also known as alternation of phases or metagenesis) is a term primarily used to describe the life cycle of plants (taken here to mean the Archaeplastida). A multicellular sporophyte, which is diploid with 2N paired chromosomes (i.e. N pairs), alternates with a multicellular gametophyte, which is haploid with N unpaired chromosomes. A mature sporophyte produces spores by meiosis, a process which results in a reduction of the number of chromosomes by a half. Spores germinate and grow into a gametophyte. At maturity, the gametophyte produces gametes by mitosis, which does not alter the number of chromosomes. Two gametes (originating from different organisms of the same species or from the same organism) fuse to produce a zygote, which develops into a diploid sporophyte. This cycle, from sporophyte to sporophyte (or equally from gametophyte to gametophyte), is the way in which all land plants and many algae undergo sexual reproduction.
The relationship between the sporophyte and gametophyte varies among different groups of plants. In those algae which have alternation of generations, the sporophyte and gametophyte are separate independent organisms, which may or may not have a similar appearance. In liverworts, mosses and hornworts, the sporophyte is less well developed than the gametophyte, being entirely dependent on it in the first two groups. By contrast, the fern gametophyte is less well developed than the sporophyte, forming a small flattened thallus. In flowering plants, the reduction of the gametophyte is even more extreme; it consists of just a few cells which grow entirely inside the sporophyte.
All animals develop differently. A mature animal is diploid and so is, in one sense, equivalent to a sporophyte. However, an animal directly produces haploid gametes by meiosis. No haploid spores capable of dividing are produced, so neither is a haploid gametophyte. There is no alternation between diploid and haploid forms. [...] Life cycles, such as those of plants, with alternating haploid and diploid phases can be referred to as diplohaplontic (the equivalent terms haplodiplontic, diplobiontic or dibiontic are also in use). Life cycles, such as those of animals, in which there is only a diploid phase are referred to as diplontic. (Life cycles in which there is only a haploid phase are referred to as haplontic.)
ii. Lightning. Long article, lots of stuff and links:
“Lightning is an atmospheric electrical discharge (spark) accompanied by thunder, usually associated with and produced by cumulonimbus clouds, but also occurring during volcanic eruptions or in dust storms. From this discharge of atmospheric electricity, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 220,000 km/h (140,000 mph), and can reach temperatures approaching 30,000 °C (54,000 °F), hot enough to fuse silica sand into glass channels known as fulgurites, which are normally hollow and can extend as much as several meters into the ground.
There are some 16 million lightning storms in the world every year. Lightning causes ionisation in the air through which it travels, leading to the formation of nitric oxide and ultimately, nitric acid, of benefit to plant life below.
How lightning initially forms is still a matter of debate. Scientists have studied root causes ranging from atmospheric perturbations (wind, humidity, friction, and atmospheric pressure) to the impact of solar wind and accumulation of charged solar particles. Ice inside a cloud is thought to be a key element in lightning development, and may cause a forcible separation of positive and negative charges within the cloud, thus assisting in the formation of lightning.
The irrational fear of lightning (and thunder) is astraphobia. The study or science of lightning is called fulminology, and someone who studies lightning is referred to as a fulminologist. [I had no idea there was a name for this!] [...]
An old estimate of the frequency of lightning on Earth was 100 times a second. Now that there are satellites that can detect lightning, including in places where there is nobody to observe it, it is known to occur on average 44 ± 5 times a second, for a total of nearly 1.4 billion flashes per year; 75% of these flashes are either cloud-to-cloud or intra-cloud and 25% are cloud-to-ground.
Approximately 70% of lightning occurs in the tropics where the majority of thunderstorms occur. The place where lightning occurs most often (according to the data from 2004–2005) is near the small village of Kifuka in the mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the elevation is around 975 metres (3,200 ft). On average this region receives 158 lightning strikes per 1 square kilometer (0.39 sq mi) a year.
Above the Catatumbo river, which feeds Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, Catatumbo lightning flashes several times per minute, 140 to 160 nights per year, accounting for 25% of the world’s production of upper-atmospheric ozone. Singapore has one of the highest rates of lightning activity in the world. The city of Teresina in northern Brazil has the third-highest rate of occurrences of lightning strikes in the world.”
iii. Dreadnought (featured).
“The dreadnought was the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th-century. The first of the kind, the Royal Navy‘s Dreadnought, had such an impact when launched in 1906 that similar battleships built after her were referred to as “dreadnoughts”, and earlier battleships became known as pre-dreadnoughts. Her design had two revolutionary features: an “all-big-gun” armament scheme and steam turbine propulsion. The arrival of the dreadnoughts renewed the naval arms race, principally between the United Kingdom and Germany but reflected worldwide, as the new class of warships became a crucial symbol of national power. [...]
While dreadnought-building consumed vast resources in the early 20th century, there was only one battle between large dreadnought fleets. At the Battle of Jutland, the British and German navies clashed with no decisive result. The term “dreadnought” gradually dropped from use after World War I, especially after the Washington Naval Treaty, as all remaining battleships shared dreadnought characteristics; it can also be used to describe battlecruisers, the other type of ship resulting from the dreadnought revolution. [...]
The building of Dreadnought coincided with increasing tension between the United Kingdom and Germany. Germany had begun to build a large battlefleet in the 1890s, as part of a deliberate policy to challenge British naval supremacy. With the conclusion of the Entente Cordiale between the United Kingdom and France in April 1904, it became increasingly clear that the United Kingdom’s principal naval enemy would be Germany, which was building up a large, modern fleet under the ‘Tirpitz’ laws. This rivalry gave rise to the two largest dreadnought fleets of the pre-war period.
The first German response to Dreadnought came with the Nassau class, laid down in 1907. This was followed by the Helgoland class in 1909. Together with two battlecruisers—a type for which the Germans had less admiration than Fisher, but which could be built under authorization for armored cruisers, rather than capital ships—these classes gave Germany a total of ten modern capital ships built or building in 1909. While the British ships were somewhat faster and more powerful than their German equivalents, a 12:10 ratio fell far short of the 2:1 ratio that the Royal Navy wanted to maintain.
In 1909, the British Parliament authorized an additional four capital ships, holding out hope Germany would be willing to negotiate a treaty about battleship numbers. If no such solution could be found, an additional four ships would be laid down in 1910. Even this compromise solution meant (when taken together with some social reforms) raising taxes enough to prompt a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom in 1909–10. In 1910, the British eight-ship construction plan went ahead, including four Orion (1910)-class super-dreadnoughts, and augmented by battlecruisers purchased by Australia and New Zealand. In the same period of time, Germany laid down only three ships, giving the United Kingdom a superiority of 22 ships to 13. [...]
The dreadnought race stepped up in 1910 and 1911, with Germany laying down four capital ships each year and the United Kingdom five. Tension came to a head following the German Naval Law of 1912. This proposed a fleet of 33 German battleships and battlecruisers, outnumbering the Royal Navy in home waters. To make matters worse for the United Kingdom, the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy was building four dreadnoughts, while the Italians had four and were building two more. Against such threats, the Royal Navy could no longer guarantee vital British interests. The United Kingdom was faced with a choice of building more battleships, withdrawing from the Mediterranean, or seeking an alliance with France. Further naval construction was unacceptably expensive at a time when social welfare provision was making calls on the budget. Withdrawing from the Mediterranean would mean a huge loss of influence, weakening British diplomacy in the Mediterranean and shaking the stability of the British Empire. The only acceptable option, and the one recommended by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, was to break with the policies of the past and make an arrangement with France. The French would assume responsibility for checking Italy and Austria-Hungary in the Mediterranean, while the British would protect the north coast of France. In spite of some opposition from British politicians, the Royal Navy organised itself on this basis in 1912.
In spite of these important strategic consequences, the 1912 Naval Law had little bearing on the battleship force ratios. The United Kingdom responded by laying down ten new super-dreadnoughts in her 1912 and 1913 budgets—ships of the Queen Elizabeth and Revenge classes, which introduced a further step change in armament, speed and protection—while Germany laid down only five, focusing resources on the Army.“
“The travelling salesman problem (TSP) is an NP-hard problem in combinatorial optimization studied in operations research and theoretical computer science. Given a list of cities and their pairwise distances, the task is to find the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city. It is a special case of the travelling purchaser problem.
The problem was first formulated as a mathematical problem in 1930 and is one of the most intensively studied problems in optimization. It is used as a benchmark for many optimization methods. Even though the problem is computationally difficult, a large number of heuristics and exact methods are known, so that some instances with tens of thousands of cities can be solved.
The TSP has several applications even in its purest formulation, such as planning, logistics, and the manufacture of microchips. Slightly modified, it appears as a sub-problem in many areas, such as DNA sequencing. In these applications, the concept city represents, for example, customers, soldering points, or DNA fragments, and the concept distance represents travelling times or cost, or a similarity measure between DNA fragments. In many applications, additional constraints such as limited resources or time windows make the problem considerably harder. [...]
The most direct solution would be to try all permutations (ordered combinations) and see which one is cheapest (using brute force search). The running time for this approach lies within a polynomial factor of O(n!), the factorial of the number of cities, so this solution becomes impractical even for only 20 cities. One of the earliest applications of dynamic programming is the Held–Karp algorithm that solves the problem in time O(n22n). [...]
An exact solution for 15,112 German towns from TSPLIB was found in 2001 using the cutting-plane method proposed by George Dantzig, Ray Fulkerson, and Selmer M. Johnson in 1954, based on linear programming. The computations were performed on a network of 110 processors located at Rice University and Princeton University (see the Princeton external link). The total computation time was equivalent to 22.6 years on a single 500 MHz Alpha processor. In May 2004, the travelling salesman problem of visiting all 24,978 towns in Sweden was solved: a tour of length approximately 72,500 kilometers was found and it was proven that no shorter tour exists.
In March 2005, the travelling salesman problem of visiting all 33,810 points in a circuit board was solved using Concorde TSP Solver: a tour of length 66,048,945 units was found and it was proven that no shorter tour exists. The computation took approximately 15.7 CPU-years (Cook et al. 2006). In April 2006 an instance with 85,900 points was solved using Concorde TSP Solver, taking over 136 CPU-years [...]
Various heuristics and approximation algorithms, which quickly yield good solutions have been devised. Modern methods can find solutions for extremely large problems (millions of cities) within a reasonable time which are with a high probability just 2–3% away from the optimal solution.”
v. Ediacara biota (featured).
“The Ediacara ( /ˌiːdiˈækərə/; formerly Vendian) biota consisted of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile organisms which lived during the Ediacaran Period (ca. 635–542 Ma). Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms.[note 1] The Ediacara biota radiated in an event called the Avalon Explosion, 575 million years ago, after the Earth had thawed from the Cryogenian period’s extensive glaciation, and largely disappeared contemporaneously with the rapid appearance of biodiversity known as the Cambrian explosion. Most of the currently existing body-plans of animals first appeared only in the fossil record of the Cambrian rather than the Ediacaran. For macroorganisms, the Cambrian biota completely replaced the organisms that populated the Ediacaran fossil record.
The organisms of the Ediacaran Period first appeared around 585 million years ago and flourished until the cusp of the Cambrian 542 million years ago when the characteristic communities of fossils vanished. The earliest reasonably diverse Ediacaran community was discovered in 1995 in Sonora, Mexico, and is approximately 585 million years in age, roughly synchronous with the Gaskiers glaciation. While rare fossils that may represent survivors have been found as late as the Middle Cambrian (510 to 500 million years ago) the earlier fossil communities disappear from the record at the end of the Ediacaran leaving only curious fragments of once-thriving ecosystems. Multiple hypotheses exist to explain the disappearance of this biota, including preservation bias, a changing environment, the advent of predators and competition from other life-forms.
Determining where Ediacaran organisms fit in the tree of life has proven challenging; it is not even established that they were animals, with suggestions that they were lichens (fungus-alga symbionts), algae, protists known as foraminifera, fungi or microbial colonies, to hypothetical intermediates between plants and animals. The morphology and habit of some taxa (e.g. Funisia dorothea) suggest relationships to Porifera or Cnidaria. Kimberella may show a similarity to molluscs, and other organisms have been thought to possess bilateral symmetry, although this is controversial. Most macroscopic fossils are morphologically distinct from later life-forms: they resemble discs, tubes, mud-filled bags or quilted mattresses. Due to the difficulty of deducing evolutionary relationships among these organisms some paleontologists have suggested that these represent completely extinct lineages that do not resemble any living organism. One paleontologist proposed a separate kingdom level category Vendozoa (now renamed Vendobionta) in the Linnaean hierarchy for the Ediacaran biota. If these enigmatic organisms left no descendants their strange forms might be seen as a “failed experiment” in multicellular life with later multicellular life independently evolving from unrelated single-celled organisms.“
Terms like ‘may have’ (9), ‘perhaps’ (3) and ‘probably’ (3) are abundant in the article, but think about how long time ago this was. I think it’s frankly just incredibly awesome that we even know anything at all.
vi. Three Emperors Dinner. Yes, there’s a Wikipedia article about a dinner that happened more than 100 years ago. Wikipedia is awesome!
It was prepared by chef Adolphe Dugléré at the request of King William I of Prussia who frequented the cafe during the Exposition Universelle. He requested a meal to be remembered and at which no expense was to be spared for himself and his guests, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, plus his son the tsarevitch (who later became Tsar Alexander III), and Prince Otto von Bismarck. The cellar master, Claudius Burdel, was instructed to accompany the dishes with the greatest wines in the world, including a Roederer champagne in a special lead glass bottle, so Tsar Alexander could admire the bubbles and golden colour.
i. Song Dynasty. [featured, great article with lots of links)
"The Song Dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng Cháo; Wade-Giles: Sung Ch'ao; IPA: [sʊ̂ŋ tʂʰɑ̌ʊ̯]) was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent standing navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder, as well as first discernment of true north using a compass. [...]
The population of China doubled in size during the 10th and 11th centuries. This growth came through expanded rice cultivation in central and southern China, the use of early-ripening rice from southeast and southern Asia, and the production of abundant food surpluses. [...]
The Song Dynasty was an era of administrative sophistication and complex social organization. Some of the largest cities in the world were found in China during this period (Kaifeng and Hangzhou had populations of over a million). People enjoyed various social clubs and entertainment in the cities, and there were many schools and temples to provide the people with education and religious services. The Song government supported multiple forms of social welfare programs, including the establishment of retirement homes, public clinics, and pauper‘s graveyards. The Song Dynasty supported a widespread postal service that was modeled on the earlier Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220) postal system to provide swift communication throughout the empire. The central government employed thousands of postal workers of various ranks and responsibilities to provide service for post offices and larger postal stations. [...]
The Song military was chiefly organized to ensure that the army could not threaten Imperial control, often at the expense of effectiveness in war. Northern Song’s Military Council operated under a Chancellor, who had no control over the imperial army. The imperial army was divided among three marshals, each independently responsible to the Emperor. Since the Emperor rarely led campaigns personally, Song forces lacked unity of command. The imperial court often believed that successful generals endangered royal authority, and relieved or even executed them (notably Li Gang, Yue Fei, and Han Shizhong.)
Although the scholar-officials viewed military soldiers as lower members in the hierarchic social order, a person could gain status and prestige in society by becoming a high ranking military officer with a record of victorious battles. At its height, the Song military had one million soldiers divided into platoons of 50 troops, companies made of two platoons, and one battalion composed of 500 soldiers. Crossbowmen were separated from the regular infantry and placed in their own units as they were prized combatants, providing effective missile fire against cavalry charges. The government was eager to sponsor new crossbow designs that could shoot at longer ranges, while crossbowmen were also valuable when employed as long-range snipers. Song cavalry employed a slew of different weapons, including halberds, swords, bows, spears, and ‘fire lances‘ that discharged a gunpowder blast of flame and shrapnel.
Military strategy and military training were treated as science that could be studied and perfected; soldiers were tested in their skills of using weaponry and in their athletic ability. The troops were trained to follow signal standards to advance at the waving of banners and to halt at the sound of bells and drums. [...]
The economy of the Song Dynasty was one of the most prosperous and advanced economies in the medieval world. [...] The Song economy was stable enough to produce over a hundred million kilograms (over two hundred million pounds) of iron product a year. [...] The annual output of minted copper currency in 1085 alone reached roughly six billion coins. The most notable advancement in the Song economy was the establishment of the world’s first government issued paper-printed money, known as Jiaozi [...] The size of the workforce employed in paper money factories was large; it was recorded in 1175 that the factory at Hangzhou employed more than a thousand workers a day. [...]
The innovation of movable type printing was made by the artisan Bi Sheng (990–1051), first described by the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo in his Dream Pool Essays of 1088. The collection of Bi Sheng’s original clay-fired typeface was passed on to one of Shen Kuo’s nephews, and was carefully preserved. Movable type enhanced the already widespread use of woodblock methods of printing thousands of documents and volumes of written literature, consumed eagerly by an increasingly literate public. The advancement of printing had a deep impact on education and the scholar-official class, since more books could be made faster while mass-produced, printed books were cheaper in comparison to laborious handwritten copies. The enhancement of widespread printing and print culture in the Song period was thus a direct catalyst in the rise of social mobility and expansion of the educated class of scholar elites, the latter which expanded dramatically in size from the 11th to 13th centuries.“
ii. Tidal flexing.
“Tidal acceleration is an effect of the tidal forces between an orbiting natural satellite (e.g. the Moon), and the primary planet that it orbits (e.g. the Earth). The acceleration is usually negative, as it causes a gradual slowing and recession of a satellite in a prograde orbit away from the primary, and a corresponding slowdown of the primary’s rotation. The process eventually leads to tidal locking of first the smaller, and later the larger body. The Earth-Moon system is the best studied case.
The similar process of tidal deceleration occurs for satellites that have an orbital period that is shorter than the primary’s rotational period, or that orbit in a retrograde direction. [...]
Because the Moon‘s mass is a considerable fraction of that of the Earth (about 1:81), the two bodies can be regarded as a double planet system, rather than as a planet with a satellite. The plane of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth lies close to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun (the ecliptic), rather than in the plane perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the Earth (the equator) as is usually the case with planetary satellites. The mass of the Moon is sufficiently large, and it is sufficiently close, to raise tides in the matter of the Earth. In particular, the water of the oceans bulges out along both ends of an axis passing through the centers of the Earth and Moon. The average tidal bulge closely follows the Moon in its orbit, and the Earth rotates under this tidal bulge in just over a day. However, the rotation drags the position of the tidal bulge ahead of the position directly under the Moon. As a consequence, there exists a substantial amount of mass in the bulge that is offset from the line through the centers of the Earth and Moon. Because of this offset, a portion of the gravitational pull between Earth’s tidal bulges and the Moon is perpendicular to the Earth-Moon line, i.e. there exists a torque between the Earth and the Moon. This boosts the Moon in its orbit, and decelerates the rotation of the Earth.
As a result of this process, the mean solar day, which is nominally 86400 seconds long, is actually getting longer when measured in SI seconds with stable atomic clocks. (The SI second, when adopted, was already a little shorter than the current value of the second of mean solar time.) The small difference accumulates every day, which leads to an increasing difference between our clock time (Universal Time) on the one hand, and Atomic Time and Ephemeris Time on the other hand: see ΔT. This makes it necessary to insert a leap second at irregular intervals. [...]
Tidal acceleration is one of the few examples in the dynamics of the Solar System of a so-called secular perturbation of an orbit, i.e. a perturbation that continuously increases with time and is not periodic. Up to a high order of approximation, mutual gravitational perturbations between major or minor planets only cause periodic variations in their orbits, that is, parameters oscillate between maximum and minimum values. The tidal effect gives rise to a quadratic term in the equations, which leads to unbounded growth. In the mathematical theories of the planetary orbits that form the basis of ephemerides, quadratic and higher order secular terms do occur, but these are mostly Taylor expansions of very long time periodic terms. The reason that tidal effects are different is that unlike distant gravitational perturbations, friction is an essential part of tidal acceleration, and leads to permanent loss of energy from the dynamical system in the form of heat.”
iii. Error function. Somewhat technical, but interesting (the article has a lot more):
“In mathematics, the error function (also called the Gauss error function) is a special function (non-elementary) of sigmoid shape which occurs in probability, statistics and partial differential equations. It is defined as:
(When x is negative, the integral is interpreted as the negative of the integral from x to zero.) [...]
The error function is used in measurement theory (using probability and statistics), and although its use in other branches of mathematics has nothing to do with the characterization of measurement errors, the name has stuck.
The error function, evaluated at for positive x values, gives the probability that a measurement, under the influence of normally distributed errors with standard deviation , has a distance less than x from the mean value. This function is used in statistics to predict behavior of any sample with respect to the population mean. This usage is similar to the Q-function, which in fact can be written in terms of the error function.”
iv. Lake Vostok
“Lake Vostok (Russian: озеро Восток, lit. “Lake East”) is the largest of more than 140 sub-glacial lakes and was recently drilled into by Russian scientists. The overlying ice provides a continuous paleoclimatic record of 400,000 years, although the lake water itself may have been isolated for 15 to 25 million years.
Lake Vostok is located at the southern Pole of Cold, beneath Russia‘s Vostok Station under the surface of the central East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is at 3,488 metres (11,444 ft) above mean sea level. The surface of this fresh water lake is approximately 4,000 m (13,100 ft) under the surface of the ice, which places it at approximately 500 m (1,600 ft) below sea level. Measuring 250 km (160 mi) long by 50 km (30 mi) wide at its widest point, and covering an area of 15,690 km2 (6,060 sq mi), it is similar in area to Lake Ontario, but with over three times the volume. The average depth is 344 m (1,129 ft). It has an estimated volume of 5,400 km3 (1,300 cu mi). The lake is divided into two deep basins by a ridge. The liquid water over the ridge is about 200 m (700 ft), compared to roughly 400 m (1,300 ft) deep in the northern basin and 800 m (2,600 ft) deep in the southern. [...]
The coldest temperature ever observed on Earth, −89 °C (−128 °F), was recorded at Vostok Station on 21 July 1983. The average water temperature is calculated to be around −3 °C (27 °F); it remains liquid below the normal freezing point because of high pressure from the weight of the ice above it. Geothermal heat from the Earth’s interior may warm the bottom of the lake. The ice sheet itself insulates the lake from cold temperatures on the surface. [...]
The lake is under complete darkness, under 350 atmospheres (5143 psi) of pressure and expected to be rich in oxygen, so there is speculation that any organisms inhabiting the lake could have evolved in a manner unique to this environment. These adaptations to an oxygen-rich environment might include high concentrations of protective oxidative enzymes.
Living Hydrogenophilus thermoluteolus micro-organisms have been found in Lake Vostok’s deep ice core drillings; they are an extant surface-dwelling species. This suggests the presence of a deep biosphere utilizing a geothermal system of the bedrock encircling the subglacial lake. There is optimism that microbial life in the lake may be possible despite high pressure, constant cold, low nutrient input, potentially high oxygen concentration and an absence of sunlight.
Jupiter‘s moon Europa and Saturn‘s moon Enceladus may also harbor lakes or oceans below a thick crust of ice. Any confirmation of life in Lake Vostok could strengthen the prospect for the presence of life on icy moons.“
“Nicosia (/ˌnɪkəˈsiːə/ NIK-ə-SEE-ə), known locally as Lefkosia (Greek: Λευκωσία, Turkish: Lefkoşa), is the capital and largest city in Cyprus, as well as its main business center. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Nicosia remained the only divided capital in the world, with the southern and the northern portions divided by a Green Line. It is located near the center of the island, on the banks of the Pedieos River.
Nicosia is the capital and seat of government of the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part of the city functions as the capital of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a disputed breakaway region whose independence is recognized only by Turkey, and which the rest of the international community considers as occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish Invasionin 1974. [...]
The Turkish invasion, the continuous occupation of Cyprus as well as the self-declaration of independence of the TRNC have been condemned by several United Nations Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council. The Security Council is reaffirming their condemnation every year.“
vi. Perennial plant
“A perennial plant or simply perennial (Latin per, “through”, annus, “year”) is a plant that lives for more than two years. The term is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter lived annuals and biennials. The term is sometimes misused by commercial gardeners or horticulturalists to describe only herbaceous perennials. More correctly, woody plants like shrubs and trees are also perennials.
Perennials, especially small flowering plants, grow and bloom over the spring and summer and then die back every autumn and winter, then return in the spring from their root-stock, in addition to seeding themselves as an annual plant does. These are known as herbaceous perennials. However, depending on the rigors of local climate, a plant that is a perennial in its native habitat, or in a milder garden, may be treated by a gardener as an annual and planted out every year, from seed, from cuttings or from divisions. [...]
Although most of humanity is fed by seeds from annual grain crops, perennial crops provide numerous benefits. Perennial plants often have deep, extensive root systems which can hold soil to prevent erosion, capture dissolved nitrogen before it can contaminate ground and surface water, and outcompete weeds (reducing the need for herbicides). These potential benefits of perennials have resulted in new attempts to increase the seed yield of perennial species, which could result in the creation of new perennial grain crops. Some examples of new perennial crops being developed are perennial rice and intermediate wheatgrass.”
vii. Anaconda Plan.
“The Anaconda Plan or Scott’s Great Snake is the name widely applied to an outline strategy for subduing the seceding states in the American Civil War. Proposed by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, the plan emphasized the blockade of the Southern ports, and called for an advance down the Mississippi River to cut the South in two. Because the blockade would be rather passive, it was widely derided by the vociferous faction who wanted a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and who likened it to the coils of an anaconda suffocating its victim. The snake image caught on, giving the proposal its popular name.”
viii. Caesar cipher (featured).
“In cryptography, a Caesar cipher, also known as Caesar’s cipher, the shift cipher, Caesar’s code or Caesar shift, is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. It is a type of substitution cipher in which each letter in the plaintext is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions down the alphabet. For example, with a shift of 3, A would be replaced by D, B would become E, and so on. The method is named after Julius Caesar, who used it in his private correspondence.
The encryption step performed by a Caesar cipher is often incorporated as part of more complex schemes, such as the Vigenère cipher, and still has modern application in the ROT13 system. As with all single alphabet substitution ciphers, the Caesar cipher is easily broken and in modern practice offers essentially no communication security.”
ix. Water purification. From the article:
“It is not possible to tell whether water is of an appropriate quality by visual examination. Simple procedures such as boiling or the use of a household activated carbon filter are not sufficient for treating all the possible contaminants that may be present in water from an unknown source. Even natural spring water – considered safe for all practical purposes in the 19th century – must now be tested before determining what kind of treatment, if any, is needed. Chemical and microbiological analysis, while expensive, are the only way to obtain the information necessary for deciding on the appropriate method of purification.
According to a 2007 World Health Organization (WHO) report, 1.1 billion people lack access to an improved drinking water supply, 88 percent of the 4 billion annual cases of diarrheal disease are attributed to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, and 1.8 million people die from diarrheal diseases each year. The WHO estimates that 94 percent of these diarrheal cases are preventable through modifications to the environment, including access to safe water. Simple techniques for treating water at home, such as chlorination, filters, and solar disinfection, and storing it in safe containers could save a huge number of lives each year. Reducing deaths from waterborne diseases is a major public health goal in developing countries.”
Here’s a related paper on ‘Global Distribution of Outbreaks of Water-Associated Infectious Diseases‘ which I’ve previously blogged here.
i. My birthday is in two months, so I’ll probably be sending out a wish list in a couple of weeks (the kinds of books I usually want have to be sent from other parts of the world and that takes a lot of time…). Which means that now is a good time for you to recommend books and other stuff to me.
After reading this article on ‘The Real War 1939-1945′, (it’s quite long, don’t start reading it if you have but 5 or 10 minutes at your disposal – and thanks for linking to it Gwern!) I decided to add this book to my list. The author died just 6 days ago.
iv. A paper on the effects of alcohol on behaviour which some readers might find interesting.
v. Another one of Steven Farmer’s pharmacology lectures – Antimicrobial Agents 1:
vi. I read two whole chapters in The Human Past today, as well as part of a third. It’s a textbook, so (2,3-2,4?) chapters corresponds to ~10 hours of reading or so (one of the chapters was quite short). I decided to just add some related links from wikipedia below, in no particular order. This is some of the stuff I’ve been reading about:
Domestication of the pig
Talheim Death Pit
Linearbandkeramik (LBK) / Linear Pottery Culture (LPC)
Lindow Man (featured article)
Ötzi the Iceman (people who read Razib Khan regularly will probably remember his posts on this one)
The climate-related stuff I found fascinating, but there’s only so much of that kind of stuff you can put into a book about ‘the human past’ so naturally the treatment of this subject was not as detailed as I’d perhaps have liked. Did you know that before the end of the last ice age, Japan wasn’t separated from the Asian mainland? Or that Tasmania was part of Australia? That you could walk from Britain to France? Do also read the articles on Sundaland and Doggerland and recall that not that long ago, you could walk from Asia to America… Also, “faunal evidence indicates the presence of domesticated cattle in the central Sahara by at least the 5th millenium BC. Only during the 3rd millenium BC did climate patterns change and the Sahara begin to take on the desert-like character it has today” (p.181) The world isn’t what it was, it’s very different, and you don’t actually need to go very far back in time to get very surprised at what has happened and how much things have changed.
Sorry for the infrequent updates.
i. British anti-invasion preparations of World War II. From the article:
“Any German invasion of Britain would have to involve the landing of troops and equipment somewhere on the coast, and the most vulnerable areas were the south and east coasts of England. Here, Emergency Coastal Batteries were constructed to protect ports and likely landing places. They were fitted with whatever guns were available, which mainly came from naval vessels scrapped since the end of the First World War. These included 6 inch (152 mm), 5.5 inch (140 mm), 4.7 inch (120 mm) and 4 inch (102 mm) guns. These had little ammunition, sometimes as few as ten rounds apiece. At Dover, two 14 inch (356 mm) guns known as Winnie and Pooh were employed. There were also a small number of land based torpedo launching sites.
Beaches were blocked with entanglements of barbed wire, usually in the form of three coils of concertina wire fixed by metal posts, or a simple fence of straight wires supported on waist-high posts. The wire would also demarcate extensive minefields, with both anti-tank and anti-personnel mines on and behind the beaches. On many of the more remote beaches this combination of wire and mines represented the full extent of the passive defences.
Piers, ideal for landing of troops, and situated in large numbers along the south coast of England, were disassembled, blocked or otherwise destroyed. Many piers were not repaired until the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Where a barrier to tanks was required, Admiralty scaffolding (also known as beach scaffolding or obstacle Z.1) was constructed. Essentially, this was a fence of scaffolding tubes 9 feet (2.7 m) high and was placed at low water so that tanks could not get a good run at it. Admiralty scaffolding was deployed along hundreds of miles of vulnerable beaches.
An even more robust barrier to tanks was provided by long lines of anti-tank cubes. The cubes were made of reinforced concrete 5 feet (1.5 m) to a side. Thousands were cast in situ in rows sometimes two or three deep.
The beaches themselves were overlooked by pillboxes of various types (see British hardened field defences of the Second World War). These were sometimes placed low down to get maximum advantage from enfilading fire whereas others were placed high up making them much harder to capture. Searchlights were installed at the coast to illuminate the sea surface and the beaches for artillery fire.“
I also thought this article, on British hardened field defences (pillboxes), was quite fascinating. It seems to me that at least a few of the models were not much more than poorly constructed deathtraps, whereas some others were remarkably well constructed.
ii. Bradford-Hill criteria. I was waiting a long time for these to be brought up (/mentioned?) during this lecture; they were never mentioned and along the way the lecturer made me start doubting whether he even knew the difference between a p-value and a correlation coefficient. Either way, the criteria are “a group of minimal conditions necessary to provide adequate evidence of a causal relationship between an incidence and a consequence” – here’s the list from the article:
- Strength of association (relative risk, odds ratio)
- Temporal relationship (temporality) – not heuristic; factually necessary for cause to precede consequence
- Biological gradient (dose-response relationship)
- Plausibility (biological plausibility)
- Experiment (reversibility)
- Analogy (consideration of alternate explanations)
Do have these in mind the next time you come across an article on reddit (or wherever) explaining how ‘drinking X two times a week will prevent cancer’ or how ‘doing Y will minimize your risk of getting disease Z’ (or whatever). Of course in 1965, when the criteria were formulated, people had never even heard about stuff like Granger causality tests, vector autoregressive models and instrumental variable models. Establishing any kind of reasonably strong argument for a causal relationship between two sets of variables is very hard.
iii. Minamata disease. Via mercury and mercury poisoning. It’s a horrible story and I think it’s pretty much certain that quite a few comparable disasters are unfolding right now elsewhere, e.g. in China. From the article:
“Minamata disease [...] is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect foetuses in the womb.
Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata city in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation‘s chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. This highly toxic chemical bioaccumulated in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea, which when eaten by the local populace resulted in mercury poisoning. While cat, dog, pig, and human deaths continued over more than 30 years, the government and company did little to prevent the pollution.
As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. On March 29, 2010, a settlement was reached to compensate as-yet uncertified victims.
A second outbreak of Minamata disease occurred in Niigata Prefecture in 1965. The original Minamata disease and Niigata Minamata disease are considered two of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan.”
See also Patio process, a historically quite significant technique which improved the yields of silver mines in South America.
iv. Recovery position.
“The recovery position refers to one of a series of variations on a lateral recumbent or three-quarters prone position of the body, in to which an unconscious but breathing casualty can be placed as part of first aid treatment.
An unconscious person (GCS <8) in a supine position (on their back) may not be able to maintain an open airway as a conscious person would. This can lead to an obstruction of the airway, restricting the flow of air and preventing gaseous exchange, which then causes hypoxia, which is life threatening. Thousands of fatalities occur every year in casualties where the cause of unconsciousness was not fatal, but where airway obstruction caused the patient to suffocate. The cause of unconsciousness can be any reason from trauma to intoxication from alcohol.”
You never know when you need to know stuff like this.
“Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also called yuca, mogo, manioc, mandioca and kamoting kaoy a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America, is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy, tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. It differs from the similarly-spelled yucca, an unrelated fruit-bearing shrub in the Asparagaceae family. Cassava, when dried to a starchy, powdery (or pearly) extract is called tapioca, while its fermented, flaky version is named garri.
Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics. Cassava is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for around 500 million people. Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava.
Cassava is classified as sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, Cassava contains anti-nutrition factors and toxins. It must be properly prepared before consumption. Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis. Nevertheless, farmers often prefer the bitter varieties because they deter pests, animals, and thieves. The more-toxic varieties of Cassava are a fall-back resource (a “food security crop”) in times of famine in some places.“
Using the toxic varieties as fall-back ressources is of course not exactly optimal. It can actually, and has, lead to really terrible outcomes (here’s the study Rosling talks about, I have not been able to find a non-gated version):
vi. Solon. I’m sure that for most readers the name rings a bell, but what do you actually know about the guy? If you click the link, you’ll know more…
“An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (un-blendable). Emulsions are part of a more general class of two-phase systems of matter called colloids. Although the terms colloid and emulsion are sometimes used interchangeably, emulsion is used when both the dispersed and the continuous phase are liquid. In an emulsion, one liquid (the dispersed phase) is dispersed in the other (the continuous phase). Examples of emulsions include vinaigrettes, milk, and some cutting fluids for metal working. The photo-sensitive side of photographic film is an example of a colloid.”
viii. Onomatopoeia. Included because that’s just a neat word for something I didn’t know had a name:
An onomatopoeia or onomatopœia [...] from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία; ὄνομα for “name” and ποιέω for “I make”, adjectival form: “onomatopoeic” or “onomatopoetic”) is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. Onomatopoeia (as an uncountable noun) refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeias include animal noises, such as “oink” or “meow” or “roar”. Onomatopoeias are not the same across all languages; they conform to some extent to the broader linguistic system they are part of; hence the sound of a clock may be tick tock in English, dī dā in Mandarin, or katchin katchin in Japanese.”
(And now you know…)
ix. Chemokine. It’s a technical article, but you can’t read it and not at least get the message that the human body is almost unbelievably complex.
Mostly just links and mostly just to at least post something (I know it’s been a while). I’ll try to post something a little more substantive later this week.
i. Thomas Blood. A “noted bravo and desperado” who tried to steal the Crown Jewels of England. Unsuccesfully. He didn’t get the death penalty for that, which is perhaps even more remarkable. During his life he also tried to kidnap and later on -murder one of his enemies, the Duke of Ormonde.
iii. Polish–Soviet War.
iv. Iguanodon (featured).
v. Linear momentum. (the first stuff isn’t too hard and it’s quite instructive. But if all you have is HS math you should probably skip some of it, for example the section with the ‘more general derivation using tensors’ where Gauss’s divergence theorem is applied…)
vi. Shoaling and schooling. “In biology, any group of fish that stay together for social reasons are said to be shoaling [...] and if, in addition, the group is swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner, they are said to be schooling.” (it’s not a ‘good article’ according to the wikipedia community, but I thought it was. Lots of good stuff, good links at the bottom.)
Incidentally, this is post number 1500 ever published on this blog.
i. (click images to view them in full size)
ii. Ed Yong has written a good piece about Kawaoka et al.’s study on bird flu mutations. I think you’ll learn more from Ed’s piece than from the actual study, but I wouldn’t know as I have only but very briefly skimmed the study.
iii. Ben Goldacre: Battling bad science. Ben Goldacre’s TED talk.
iv. A quote by Mencius Moldbug: “in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.” I seem to recall having said something very much along the same lines quite a few times in the past. But it’s worth repeating. Direct link here, via lesswrong.
v. So, lately I’ve been reading Heather. I know I should have long finished the book by now, but I don’t seem to have been able to put in more than a few hours here and there lately, and it’s a very long book so I’m not quite done yet. It doesn’t help that I’m actually studying the book, instead of ‘just reading’ it; I don’t seem to be able to achieve much more than 20-25 pages/hour. I really like it though, and I hope to finish it later this week. Here’s a good quote from the concluding remarks of chapter 6, on Franks and Anglo-Saxons:
“there are many ways in which Frankish and Anglo-Saxon migration illustrate and develop the main themes of this book. Transport logistics [...] and active fields of information decisively shaped both, but perhaps above all it is again the interaction of migration and patterns of development, and the huge role played by prevailing political structures, that jump out of the evidence. Frankish and Anglo-Saxon migration can be seen as mechanisms by which unequal patterns of development were renegotiated. Despite its own economic transformations during the Roman era, non-Roman western Europe lagged sufficiently far behind adjacent areas of the Empire for the latter’s wealth to exercise a strong pull. [...] The main way for most outsiders to access any of this wealth [...] was to raid it regularly for movables, apart from a relatively few who made it big in the Roman army. Throughout the Roman period, this greater wealth was protected by armies and fortifications. As lowland Britain and north-eastern Gaul fell out of central imperial control at different points in the fifth century, however, the restriction these imperial institutions had imposed upon the capacity of outside populations to seize control of capital assets was removed, and raiding, after a time lag, turned into predatory migration, aiming at the seizure of landed estates.
Unequal development was ultimately responsible, then, for both flows of migration. But both the Frankish and the Anglo-Saxon versions were effect, rather than cause, of central Roman collapse. They played a major role in dismantling such structures of local Roman provincial life as remained upon their arrival in northern Gaul and Britain, respectively, but in both cases it was the failure of the imperial centre’s capacity to maintain enough force on its fringes that exposed these provincial Roman societies to immigrant attention.”
vi. Via Big Think, a few graphs and a few stats:
“Did you know that almost 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere? And that half of all Earthlings  reside north of 27°N? Or that the average human lives at 24 degrees from the equator – either to its north or south?” (here’s a related post of mine)
vii. Romanization of Chinese.
viii. A Yale lecture – Demographic Transition in Europe; Fertility Decline:
x. The people at 23andMe (the name should be familiar to people reading gnxp) have made some videos on ‘human prehistory’ and on ‘genetics 101′ which are now available at Khan Academy. I’ve posted the ones on human prehistory below, you can watch the genetics videos here.
If you’re interested in reading about the ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis and related matters, Razib Khan has written about this subject a lot and so have a few others at Discovermagazine. Go here for a lot of links to reading material about this (the last half of the links or so are written by RK). You can also go the textbook route. But if you don’t have the time or you’re not curious enough to justify spending many hours reading about this stuff, do at least watch the videos – they’re really quite good. Here are the rest of them:
If nobody clicks the link to the biology section above where one can watch the Genetics 101 videos, I’ll probably blog those too at a later point in time. I know that there are a lot of links in this post, but you shouldn’t miss those either.
xi. Binary star.
xii. Transform fault.
- 180 grader
- alfred brendel
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Bent Jensen
- Bill Bryson
- Bill Watterson
- Claude Berri
- current affairs
- Dan Simmons
- David Copperfield
- david lynch
- den kolde krig
- Dinu Lipatti
- Douglas Adams
- economic history
- Edward Grieg
- Eliezer Yudkowsky
- Ezra Levant
- Filippo Pacini
- financial regulation
- Flemming Rose
- foreign aid
- Franz Kafka
- freedom of speech
- Friedrich von Flotow
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Game theory
- Garry Kasparov
- George Carlin
- george enescu
- global warming
- Grahame Clark
- harry potter
- health care
- isaac asimov
- Jane Austen
- John Stuart Mill
- Jon Stewart
- Joseph Heller
- karl popper
- Khan Academy
- knowledge sharing
- Leland Yeager
- Marcel Pagnol
- Maria João Pires
- Mark Twain
- Martin Amis
- Martin Paldam
- mikhail gorbatjov
- Mikkel Plum
- Morten Uhrskov Jensen
- Muzio Clementi
- Nikolai Medtner
- North Korea
- nuclear proliferation
- nuclear weapons
- Ole Vagn Christensen
- Oscar Wilde
- Pascal's Wager
- Paul Graham
- people are strange
- public choice
- rambling nonsense
- random stuff
- Richard Dawkins
- Rowan Atkinson
- Saudi Arabia
- science fiction
- Sun Tzu
- Terry Pratchett
- The Art of War
- Thomas Hobbes
- Thomas More
- walter gieseking
- William Easterly