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The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Daily Drift

The Daily Drift
Today's horoscope says:
Birthdays do seem to crop up all at the same time, don't they?
Makes sense, though.
We know what we like, and whether or not we do it consciously, we recognize it when it walks up to us.
This time out, just to make life a little bit easier, if you're invited to a party for a friend of a friend, check out that left hand for a ring before you start sending out those unmistakably 'I'm So Interested' vibes.
Age does bring wisdom.

Some of our readers today have been in:
Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
London, England, United Kingdom
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan, Malaysia
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands
Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Bilbao, Pais Vasco, Spain
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Harrow, England, United Kingdom
Paris, Ile-De-France, France

as well as Malta, Bulgaria, Israel, Finland, Austria, Norway, Georgia, Mexico, Peru, Kuwait, Serbia, Bangladesh, Latvia, Greece, Scotland, Hong Kong, Denmark, Wales, Iran, Singapore, Poland, Taiwan, Sweden, Afghanistan, Belgium, Tibet, Croatia, Pakistan, Romania, Paraguay, Sudan, Vietnam, Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt, France, Estonia, Puerto Rico, Maldives, Qatar, Brazil, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Slovenia, China, Iraq, Ecuador, Nigeria, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Paupa New Guinea, Moldova, Venezuela, Germany, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Czech Republic, Vietnam, Norway, Finland and in cities across the United States such as Silverdale, Greensboro, Red Plains, Copperpolis and more.

Today is:
Today is Thursday, January 20, the 20th day of 2011.
There are 345 days left in the year.

Today's unusual holiday or celebration is: 
Camcorder Day.

Don't forget to visit our sister blog!

American gala for China leader

The dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao draws A-list celebs and political heavy hitters.  

Poe grave visitor a no-show again

For 60 years, a mysterious man (or perhaps his sons) visited Edgar Allen Poe's grave on the writer's January 19 birthday and left him a bouquet of roses and a bottle of cognac. Last year, he didn't show up. And although several imposters visited last night, none gave the secret signal known only to Poe House and Museum curator Jeff Jerome. From The Globe and Mail:
 Eap--Pt In 1993, the visitor began leaving notes, starting with one that read: "The torch will be passed." A note in 1998 indicated the originator of the tradition had died and passed it on to his two sons. The sons didn't seem to take the duty as seriously as the father. One left a note in 2001 referencing the Super Bowl and another in 2004 implying criticism of France over its objections to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, upsetting many of the traditionalists. When the Poe toaster didn't show last year, Mr. Jerome theorized that the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth in 2009 might have been considered the appropriate stopping point.
Or, it was thought at the time, perhaps the toaster just had a flat tire on the way to the cemetery.
But that's the sort of happenstance unlikely to happen two years in a row. Mr. Jerome says he'll return one more year. If the visitor fails to show in 2012, he'll considered the tradition over and done.
"It's sort of like a marriage that ends," Mr. Jerome said. "Part of you still wants the warmth that was part of it, and you go looking for the same woman. No, it's over with. And if it's over with, it's over with. If people want to continue the tradition, it's going to be without me."

Culinary DeLites

In correct proportion, olive oil is an ideal low-fat substitute for butter in cooking or baking.  
Rather than give up sweets completely, choose treats that are a little healthier.  
Even staples like plain Rice Krispies don't meet basic health guidelines, a study finds. 
Recipes for erstwhile Trefoils, Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs include tricks to make them tastier.  

Wal-Mart to sell healthier foods

The company says changes will take place gradually, so people can adjust to the new tastes.  

New variety of jalapeno bred for sports bars, bowling alleys

Scientists in New Mexico have successfully bred a bell pepper to a jalapeno to create a new, larger, medium-hot version of the jalapeno
What's the point?
Poppers, my friends. Poppers.

The breeding program was specifically aimed at meeting America's growing demand for ever-more-massive, cheese-stuffed, deep-fried peppers.

Called the NuMex Jalmundo, seeds will be available for sale next year commercially, but it looks like you can buy seeds through the Chile Pepper Institute already.

And, before you laugh, this really isn't the weirdest thing we've ever done to domesticated plants. After all, the same basic science of selective breeding and hybridization turned weedy, little teosinte into corn.

To get a better idea of just how much bigger the NuMex Jalmundo are, check out the photos on this gardening blog

They look both shorter and significantly fatter than the average jalapeno you'd buy at the grocery store. 
Photo by Paul Bosland.


An article (and video) at Russia Today details some of the problems faced by saffron farmers in Kashmir, including damage to traditional fields from pollution.
Costing US$4,000 per kilogram, this pricey ingredient is used in medicine and South Asian cuisine... The biggest long-term challenge is the adulteration of saffron. Cheap, fake brands of saffron sell briskly on the streets of Srinagar. And it is virtually impossible for a non-professional to distinguish between a fake and the real one. This fact has dented saffron's image, and resulted in a drop in prices.
The word "saffron" (and Italian zafferano and Spanish azafrán) come from the Latin word safranum, probably ultimately from Persian and Arabic precursors.  The spice itself is extracted from the saffron crocus (C. sativus).  [The photo above is of non-saffron Wisconsin crocuses]. 

The following are excerpted from Wikipedia:
Saffron-based pigments have been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran. Later, the Sumerians used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture's 2nd millennium BC peak... During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece...

During the 14th century Black Death, demand for saffron-based medicine skyrocketed, and much saffron had to be imported via Venetian and Genoan ships from southern and Mediterranean lands... Cultivation and trade then spread to Nuremberg... Soon after, saffron cultivation spread throughout England, especially Norfolk and Suffolk... By 1730, the Pennsylvania Dutch were cultivating saffron throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Spanish colonies in the Caribbean bought large amounts of this new American saffron, and high demand ensured that saffron's list price on the Philadelphia commodities exchange was set equal to that of gold...

Saffron is widely used in Iranian (Persian), Arab, Central Asian, European, Pakistani, Indian, Turkish, and Cornish cuisines. Confectionaries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower, annatto, and turmeric...

A pound (454 grams) of dry saffron requires 50,000–75,000 flowers, the equivalent of a football field's area of cultivation... Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers... The price in Canada recently rose to CAN$18,000 per kilogram. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/£500/€700 per pound (US$2,200/£1,100/€1,550 per kilogram)...

Saffron is graded via laboratory measurement of crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance) content. Determination of non-stigma content ("floral waste content") and other extraneous matter such as inorganic material ("ash") are also key... Adulteration was first documented in Europe's Middle Ages, when those found selling adulterated saffron were executed under the Safranschou code. Typical methods include mixing in extraneous substances like beets, pomegranate fibers, red-dyed silk fibers, or the saffron crocus's tasteless and odorless yellow stamens. Other methods included dousing saffron fibers with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil. However, powdered saffron is more prone to adulteration, with turmeric, paprika, and other powders used as diluting fillers. Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabeled mixes of different saffron grades. Thus, in India, high-grade Kashmiri saffron is often sold and mixed with cheaper Iranian imports; these mixes are then marketed as pure Kashmiri saffron, a development that has cost Kashmiri growers much of their income...
Here's a photo a real saffron crocus (note the red "thread").

Arizona restaurant to offer lion tacos

A Tucson taco restaurant already has served up python, alligator, elk, kangaroo, rattlesnake and turtle.

Awesome Pictures

Solar Eclipse at the End of the World

What would the total eclipse of the sun look like from the end of the world? It would look exactly like the photo above:
In 2003, the Sun, the Moon, Antarctica, and two photographers all lined up in Antarctica during an unusual total solar eclipse. Even given the extreme location, a group of enthusiastic eclipse chasers ventured near the bottom of the world to experience the surreal momentary disappearance of the Sun behind the Moon.
One of the treasures collected was the above picture — a composite of four separate images digitally combined to realistically simulate how the adaptive human eye saw the eclipse.
As the image was taken, both the Moon and the Sun peaked together over an Antarctic ridge. In the sudden darkness, the magnificent corona of the Sun became visible around the Moon.
Quite by accident, another photographer was caught in one of the images checking his video camera. Visible to his left are an equipment bag and a collapsible chair.
From: Astronomy Picture of the Day.

The Oblique Wing Aircraft

The Ames-Dryden (AD)-1 was an experimental aircraft developed by NASA during the 1970s. Its wing could pivot up to 60° to present the most efficient angle for a given flight objective:
The oblique wing was the brainchild of NASA aeronautical engineer Robert T. Jones, whose analytical and wind tunnel studies at the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California, indicated that an oblique wing, supersonic transport might achieve twice the fuel economy of an aircraft sporting more conventional wings.[...]
The oblique wing on the AD-1 pivoted about the fuselage, remaining perpendicular to it during slow flight and swinging to angles of up to 60 degrees as aircraft speed increased.
The swing wing concept was first evaluated by a small, propeller-driven, remotely-piloted research vehicle (RPRV) flown at Dryden in 1976. These early techniques for gathering data about the oblique wing aircraft were applied to the twin turbojet, piloted AD-1, which was flown from 1979 to 1982.

One Hundred Years Of Naval Aviation

Naval aviation was invented one hundred years ago, on January 18, 1911, when a 24 year-old barnstormer pilot named Eugene B. Ely completed the world's first successful landing on a ship.

It happened in San Francisco Bay, aboard the cruiser USS Pennsylvania, which had a temporary, 133-foot wooden landing strip built above her afterdeck and gun turret as part of the experiment.

Mansion Untouched for 100 Years

Louis Mantin inherited a fortune and became a patron of the arts and of high living. He constructed a fine mansion in his home of Moulins, France and filled it with custom woodwork, relics from antiquity, and art. Mantin died in 1905, and had stipulated in his will that his home should become a museum in 100 years.
Mantin only had a few years to indulge his aesthetic fantasies. Knowing that his death was approaching, he made a will in which he made sure his treasured house would be saved.
“In the will, he says that he wants the people of Moulins in 100 years time to be able to see what was the life of a cultured gentleman of his day,” said assistant curator Maud Leyoudec.
“A bachelor with no children, he was obsessed with death and the passage of time. It was his way of becoming eternal.”
When the 100-year mark passed, the house remained abandoned and in no shape to open to the public. Isabelle de Chavagnac, a descendant of Mantin’s, threatened to exercise her right to inherit the mansion if it didn’t open as a museum. She didn’t really want the estate, but her actions forced the local government to allocate funds for renovation. The house then opened as a museum, as Mantin wished, in 2010. BBC News has a video tour of the home.

The Battle of Towton

Excerpts from an article in The Economist:
[The soldier now known as] Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day... The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.

The next one almost certainly was... The blow opened a huge horizontal gash into the back of his head... Fractures raced down to the base of his skull and around the sides of his head...

His enemies were not done yet. Another small blow to the right and back of the head may have been enough to turn him over onto his back. Finally another blade arced towards him. This one bisected his face, opening a crevice that ran from his left eye to his right jaw (see picture). It cut deep: the edge of the blade reached to the back of his throat...

In a letter sent nine days after the battle George Neville, the then chancellor of England, wrote that 28,000 men died that day, a figure in accord with a letter sent by Edward to his mother. England’s total population at the time is thought not to have exceeded 3m people. George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle’s 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country’s fighting-age population, took the field that day...

...as a group the Towton men are a reminder that images of the medieval male as a homunculus with rotten teeth are well wide of the mark. The average medieval man stood 1.71 metres tall—just four centimetres shorter than a modern Englishman. “It is only in the Victorian era that people started to get very stunted,” says Mr Knüsel. Their health was generally good. Dietary isotopes from their knee-bones show that they ate pretty healthily. Sugar was not widely available at that time, so their teeth were strong, too...

Arrows were not the only things flying through the air that day. Some of the first bullets were, too. The Towton battlefield has yielded up the earliest lead-composite shot found in England ...

Much more here.

Antique Civil War gun comes back home

A Civil War revolver that was stolen more than 30 years ago from the Museum of the Confederacy has turned up again.



Justice, by George

George Phillips was going up to bed when his wife told him that he'd left the light on in the garden shed, which she could see from the bedroom window.

George opened the back door to go turn off the light but saw that there were people in the shed stealing things. He phoned the police, who asked, "Is someone in your house?" and he said "no". Then they said that all patrols were busy, and that he should simply lock his door and an officer would be along when available.

George said, "Okay," hung up, counted to 30, and phoned the police again.

"Hello, I just called you a few seconds ago because there were people in my shed. Well, you don't have to worry about them now cause I've just shot them all." Then he hung up.

Within five minutes three police cars, an armed response unit, and an ambulance showed up at the Phillips residence and caught the burglars red-handed.

One of the policemen said to George: "I thought you said that you'd shot them!"

George said, "I thought you said there was nobody available!"



Top companies to work for

The firms on Fortune's list offer great pay and generous perks like car washes and free food.  

First woman gets top auto job

GM’s Mary Barra will take on a crucial role in a business dominated by men.  

Legally mandated holidays and vacation leave

That's right, folks - Zero - Zip - Nada!
You always knew you were getting hosed, didn't you?!

Social Security changes in 2011

Several options for retirees will be eliminated, while less money will be put into the fund. 
Certain taxpayers can use the products of for-profit companies to prepare their returns at no cost.

The Budget, as haiku

From HuffPost Hill's 'Brad the Internet':

huge deficit was
preexisting condition
no press coverage

Stores that may close in 2011

Borders has closed about 200 stores, while Blockbuster has shuttered 955.  

Richest U.S. neighborhood

This wealthy suburb is home to the Jonas Brothers and the owner of a MLB team.  

Worst housing markets

These real estate markets have largely been abandoned by buyers — and they may never return.  

Busting myths of credit scores

It's not necessarily bad to have as many as five credit cards, one expert says.  

The Undead Debt Collector

If you’ve ever had to deal with debt collectors, you know that they’re relentless. How relentless? Let’s just say that they don’t let a little pesky thing like death deter them from getting back every penny they’re owed!
Here’s a fascinating story of how a woman who died in 1995 has been "signing" affidavits for the debt-collection industry:
Martha Kunkle has come back to life.
She died in 1995. Yet her signature later appeared on thousands of affidavits submitted by one of the nation’s largest debt collectors, Portfolio Recovery Associates Inc., in lawsuits filed against borrowers.
Some regulators complain that the use of Ms. Kunkle’s name reflects an epidemic of mass-produced, sloppy and inaccurate documentation in the debt-collection industry. Lawsuits have surged as more borrowers fall behind on payments and collection firms turn to courts to get what they are owed.
After being sued for fraud, Portfolio Recovery Associates decided in early 2008 that any documents bearing Ms. Kunkle’s name had "defects" and shouldn’t be used when trying to collect debts, a company spokeswoman said.
Jessica Silver-Greenberg of The Wall Street Journal has more.

Safety in former crime hotbed

A community once synonymous with gangs and violence enjoys a 67 percent drop in murders.  

Massive Mafia crackdown

Tips from informants fuel one of the largest organized crime roundups in FBI history.

Keyless cars attract thieves

Auto thieves have found an easy way to hack into remote entry systems.  

Kidnapped baby finds her family

A young woman's hunch about her past unravels a decades-old crime and leads to magical reunion.  

Scary Internet diet drug facts

One product claims to be "100 percent herbal" and safe even for young children.  

Ill fan follows team out of town

When a passionate young fan's favorite team leaves town, his family makes a bold decision. 

The Perfect Excuse to Avoid Chores

Housework is Dangerous to Your Health
Don’t like to do chores? Well, now you’ve got valid *medical* excuse not to do so. Turns out that doing housework may be dangerous to your health:
Researchers in the US have discovered that in busy people housework such as cleaning, cooking, home maintenance, and even budgeting, can raise blood pressure. Those at greatest risk are the people who believe they are doing most of the work.
Why, you’re welcome.

Perplexing optical illusions

There's clearly a bird in this image, but can you see the hidden man as well?  

Experts' memory boosters

The first time you meet someone, use the person's name right away to help retain it.

Yes, Music Does Get You High

What music listeners have known for centuries has been vindicated by science: music gets you high. Specifically, when we listen to music we like, our brains release dopamine. Dopamine is released even when anticipating listening to a song.
Led Zeppelin's Moby Dick is one.

You can find the study here.



Plants You Can't Kill

Wanna Bet?
They say that cacti are for people who can’t keep plants alive, but what do you do if your black thumbs kill even the hardiest cactus? Artist Shannon Gerard has the answer: crocheted cacti called Plants You Can’t Kill.
Like my other crochet projects, Plants You Can’t Kill are attractive on the surface while also speaking to our human insecurities. These pretty little cacti, aloe plants, flowering pots, ferns and other botanicals look darling on the windowsill but are particularly resonant with those of us who can’t keep the real thing alive.
After dozens of failed attempts at indoor gardening, I just decided to crochet plants my own damn self.
How do you like them avocados?

Plucky Daisy Outgrows the Endangered Species List

maguire daisy photo
Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Just before the tiny Maguire daisy, native to the desert Southwest of the United States, was placed on the endangered species list in 1985, a survey estimated that the population had dropped to just seven plants. Extinction, it seemed, was inevitable.
Thanks to continued conservation efforts, the situation today is looking much better—making the daisy one of the greatest conservation successes of the last 25 years.

Slime Mold Packs Own Bacteria Lunch to Colonize New Areas

The amoeba species Dictyostelium discoideum slime mold (or dicty, as scientists lovingly call it) is one fascinating organism. For instance, its life cycle involves unicellular amoeba, then a multicellular slug that scoots around to find food, then a "fruiting body" to disperse spores to new growing areas.
Scientists have just discovered that the slime mold is even cannier than previously thought: it can also "farm."
Research described in Nature shows that a third of these spores contain some of the bacteria to grow at the new site.
Food management has been seen in animals including ants and snails, but never in creatures as simple as these.
The behaviour falls short of the kind of "farming" that more advanced animals do; ants, for example, nurture a single fungus species that no longer exists in the wild.
But the idea that an amoeba that spends much of its life as a single-celled organism could hold short of consuming a food supply before decamping is an astonishing one.
More than just a snack for the journey of dispersal, the idea is that the bacteria that travel with the spores can "seed" a new bacterial colony, and thus a food source in case the new locale should be lacking in bacteria.



Study IDs 9,400-year-old mutt

Nearly 10,000 years ago, man's best friend provided protection and companionship - and an occasional meal.

Blacklights help spot preserved dinosaur feathers

Helmut Tischlinger is the man shaping what your children will think dinosaurs looked like. Most of you probably know that the illustrations of dinosaurs we grew up with were created through a process that includes as much speculation as science. Fossils, obviously, couldn't tell us what color T. Rex was, or whether the skin of a velociraptor felt like a lizard's—as is popularly portrayed. Tischlinger is at the forefront of efforts to improve our understanding of what dinosaurs looked like on the outside—and inside—using UV light to pick out the ephemeral remains of soft tissues. His photos—created using hand-made lens filters—are regarded as some of the best work out there.

This technique is a big part of why scientists now draw creatures like the microraptor with feathers, instead of leathery skin or scales. That's one of Tischlinger's photos of a microraptor fossil at the top of this page. The gray arrows point to feathers that show up under a blacklight.

The Discovery Channel has a new, short video that really shows off the massive difference between what the human eye can see by looking at fossil under natural light, compared to what is visible when you turn on the UV. It's a little mind-blowing.

There's lots being written about this technique, and Helmut Tischlinger, especially early in 2010, when he published a paper on that microraptor. A couple of things you might want to check out:
Helmut Tischlinger: The King of UV—on the blog Archosaur Musings, written by palaeontologist Dave Hone.
• The 2010 peer-reviewed article in PLoS One, written by Hone and Tischlinger, that details the microraptor fossil. The photo came from this paper. You can read the whole thing for free.
Smithsonian story about that peer-reviewed paper, and why it's important.
• A 2009 peer-reviewed paper (also free to read) on the UV analysis of soft tissue in a pterosaur species
Hell Bent for Feathers—Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs post that includes several more great links.

Butterflies with some unusual monikers

Foolish Swift, Lost-Egg Skipper, Morose Sailor, Dive-bomber, Blue Heart Playboy, Drop with Glasses, Sad Green Hairstreak, Garden Inspector, Question Mark, Poodle-face Sulphur, Zigzag Sleepy-head, Mediocre Skipper, Snow-flake, Shower of Gold, Noble Night-fighter, Noseburn Wanderer, One Pip Policeman, Queen of the Night, Wandering Donkey.

Selections from a list found at Learn About Butterflies, where you can view photographs and read about life cycles for many hundreds of species worldwide.

Pictured above is the "Snowflake" from the Amazon rainforest -
Snowflakes are invariably encountered singly, usually when seen in flight at light gaps in the forest, where trees have fallen and sunlight penetrates to ground level. These tiny butterflies have a very slow and very persistent fluttering flight, flying for long periods but apparently going nowhere ! It is in fact possible to watch one of these delightful butterflies drifting and wafting about, but without travelling more than a few metres, for several minutes before it eventually settles.