Saturday, September 12, 2020

 A summary of the state of social science

Criticizing bad science from an abstract, 10000-foot view is pleasant: you hear about some stuff that doesn't replicate, some methodologies that seem a bit silly. "They should improve their methods", "p-hacking is bad", "we must change the incentives", you declare Zeuslike from your throne in the clouds, and then go on with your day.

But actually diving into the sea of trash that is social science gives you a more tangible perspective, a more visceral revulsion, and perhaps even a sense of Lovecraftian awe at the sheer magnitude of it all: a vast landfill—a great agglomeration of garbage extending as far as the eye can see, effluvious waves crashing and throwing up a foul foam of p=0.049 papers. As you walk up to the diving platform, the deformed attendant hands you a pair of flippers. Noticing your reticence, he gives a subtle nod as if to say: "come on then, jump in". isn’t surprising that this [necrophagous] habit in armadillos has led to various concerns and superstitions: the idea that armadillos might excavate graves and consume the recently deceased is present in several areas, most famously in the Paraguayan Chaco. There are also all kinds of rumours about armadillos being especially abundant, or especially plump and healthy, in or near cemeteries.

An odd tidbit lifted from this longer piece from Tetrapod Zoology on predatory armadillos.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

 Przewalski' horse cloned.

Now a portion of this lost genetic diversity may be recovered by cloning historic Przewalski’s horse from frozen cells. Successful breeding can increase genetic diversity by reintroducing lost variants to the surviving population. This is the hope for the new foal, Kurt, who was cloned from cells that had been cryopreserved at the SDZG Frozen Zoo in 1980. These were cells from a stallion that was born in 1975 in the UK, was transferred to the US in 1978, and lived until 1998. He was recorded as Stud Book number 615 (SB615) and known as “Kuporovic” by his zookeepers.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

IF the knowing well how to expose any Infirmity or Vice were a sufficient Security for the Virtue which is contrary, how excellent an Age might we be presum’d to live in! Never was there in our Nation a time known, when Folly and Extravagance of every kind were more sharply inspected, or more wittily ridicul’d. And one might hope at least from this good Symptom, that our Age was in no declining state; since whatever our Distempers are, we stand so well affected to our Remedys.

--Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times

Monday, June 08, 2020

Graphic novelization of the Nart Sagas: recommended! They decidedly do NOT shy away from adult themes, should such things be a concern.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Just got word from MN that Uncle Hugo's has been burned. Feeling rather like Hamlet discovering the skull is Yorick's.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Those who have not read Cordwainer Smith are doomed to make history repeat itself.

Scientists have created a mouse embryo that's part human -- 4% to be exact.
The hybrid is what scientists call a human-animal chimera, a single organism that's made up of two different sets of cells -- in this case, a mouse embryo that has both mouse cells and human cells.


Now we wait for D'Joan.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Bronze Age swordsmanship.

Buncha HEMA-types and some archaeologists looked at the dings in ancient swords then whacked each other trying to replicate.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

 One of the more wonderful things I have learned in some time:
[Exodus] says: “and the frog arose and covered the land of Egypt.” The word “frog” is written in the singular (“tzefardei’a” in the original Hebrew). What could the Torah be telling us? Rashi finds a Midrash that sees into the unusual wording of our verse: “There was one frog, and when they would hit it, it would spew out bands and bands of little frogs” (based on Midrash Tanchuma, Va’eira 14). Apparently, G-d caused one giant frog to emerge from the Nile. When the terrified Egyptians hit it, it spewed out smaller frogs. The more they struck it, the more frogs would come out. The more frogs came out, the more they would strike it. 
 There's a moral too. Happy Passover/Holy Week/Amphibian Appreciation!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A grim but interesting read on architectural theory and urban warfare.
Contemporary urban operations play themselves out within a constructed, real or imaginary, architecture, and through the destruction, construction, reorganization and subversion of space. As such the urban environment must be understood not simply as the backdrop to conflict, nor as its mere consequence, but as trapped in a complex and dynamic feedbackbased relation with the forces operating within it – be they a diverse local population, soldiers, guerrilla, media or humanitarian agents. Indicative of the emergent relationship between conflict and space are urban warfare tactics that redefine a relation to the physical/architectural element of the wall.
It's worth considering that warfare may not simply require the destruction of the social and legal boundaries made manifest in our public and private spaces, but consist as such.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

We should all compact that, if in the course of writing an article one personifies an abstract concept (e.g., "the science says"), one is obligated thereafter to continue in the style of a Renaissance extended allegory.

On the Discourse of SCIENTIA and POTENTIA; their ill Relations and darksome Querulousness, at last overcome by the welcome Light of REASON, holding high her Lantern and joining their Hands; the Conquest and Remotion of MENDACITY and all that sundry foul Brood that pour forth from her spumy Loins; with frivolous and witty Asides by the AUTHOR

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Want to build a legacy and found a business for the ages? Brewing and distilling appear to be solid choices: The oldest company still in business in every (well, almost every) country. My own home is currently supporting the entrepreneurial traditions of Finland (Fiskars axe), Barbados (Mount Gay rum) and Trinidad and Tobago (Angostura bitters).

Monday, February 17, 2020

Scythians were known to be great drinkers, and Ossetian ceremonies typically involve the generous consumption of alcohol through repeated toasts. Indeed, the Ossetian word kwyvd (куывд) means both “toast” and “prayer”
 A sample of the many interesting things to be found on A Canadian in Ossetia.

Via Languagehat (who offers some gentle linguistic correction).

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Let it never be said that appalling '70s culture was solely an American phenomenon: the Russians could hold their own. Dschinghis really starts gettin' down around 2:26.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

A household at war with a ratel
Installed iron bars on their cradle
But then left them unlatched
And the baby was snatched:
What was left they scooped up with a ladle.

--D. Capoda

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Cephalopod attack! Though the cephalopod's the victim here:
Examination under ultraviolet light reveals the pterosaur tooth is embedded in the now phosphatised cephalopod soft tissue, which makes a chance association highly improbable.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Music inspired by a Great Basin wildlife refuge: The Malheur Symphony by Chris Thomas, performed by the Central Oregon Symphony. I like the middle movements best, particularly "Thunder" and "Curlew Scherzo."

Friday, January 24, 2020

A possible solution to the Dark Forest Theory is that any species advanced enough to make contact with interstellar life is vastly more likely to have evolved a Cooperate baseline strategy rather than a Defect one. Klingons, maybe; Reapers? Ehn.

Not that anyone should take the Drake equation seriously in any case. Our "I Love Lucy" reruns are not going to summon the fungi from Yugoth.

If anything is listening though: hi! We're ballistic cursorial hunters! Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The largest geologic structures on the planet - do they drive volcanic hot spots and mass extinction-level flood basalts? We don't really know, but definitely maybe.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Pass the Garum - a blog exploring Roman cuisine. Sadly, it's not active, but it's still online with much of interest, some of which I would even consider eating.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Depth perception in cuttlefish:
“Not only did the [team] provide compelling evidence that cuttlefish employ stereopsis, but they demonstrated that cuttlefish can be trained to wear equipment and respond to virtual stimuli.”
Fun toy/timesink: Translate words into every major European language simultaneously.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Today I learned that Uganda under Idi Amin had a space program:

When President Idi Amin came to power in a 1971 coup (at the Space Race climax of the Apollo lunar landings), he shortly thereafter announced an impossibly optimistic human spaceflight program, that never progressed beyond an attempt at astronaut training on an obstacle course made up of used automobile tires.

Friday, December 20, 2019

More weird exo-planets, from NASA:

"Super-Puffs" may sound like a new breakfast cereal. But it's actually the nickname for a unique and rare class of young exoplanets that have the density of cotton candy. Nothing like them exists in our solar system.

I personally favor "Hot Neptunes" for extraterrestrial life, on the theory that they are the likeliest breeding ground for dragons.

Thursday, December 19, 2019


From the depths of the land I watch
Strange hands stick out
Legs stick out
A head intrudes
What in blazes
Is this goose before me?
From the depths of the land I watch
I make mouths
Hands stick out
Legs stick out
A head intrudes.


I don't get it either, but--for the record--this is not a Prawne family creation.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

An update on those Russian foxes:

The Russian Farm-Fox Experiment is the best known experimental study in animal domestication. By subjecting a population of foxes to selection for tameness alone, Dimitry Belyaev generated foxes that possessed a suite of characteristics that mimicked those found across domesticated species. This ‘domestication syndrome’ has been a central focus of research into the biological pathways modified during domestication. Here, we chart the origins of Belyaev’s foxes in eastern Canada and critically assess the appearance of domestication syndrome traits across animal domesticates. Our results suggest that both the conclusions of the Farm-Fox Experiment and the ubiquity of domestication syndrome have been overstated. To understand the process of domestication requires a more comprehensive approach focused on essential adaptations to human-modified environments.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Heaven preserve me from linking to Slate, but this article on the re-printing of John M. Ford's work is news too good not to share.
But I reconnected Ford’s family and editors at Tor, and after a year of delicate back-and-forth spearheaded by Beth Meacham, Tor and the family have reached an agreement that will gradually bring all of his books back into print, plus a new volume of stories, poems, Christmas cards, and other uncollected material. First up, in fall 2020, is the book that introduced me to Ford, The Dragon Waiting. Then, in 2021, Tor will publish—at long last—the unfinished Aspects, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman.
Now if we can see a full re-print of Cordwainer Smith, and if Pamela Dean ever gets that last Secret Country book out....

Thursday, November 14, 2019

While the story of how they extracted proteins from dental enamel, then reconstructed the DNA, to link this giant ape to orang-utans is cool, the main takeaway is: there were ten-foot tall giant apes and I have missed them by a mere 1.9 million years. O tempora!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The beehives are still today
Bubbles rise in the wine
Against the sky a skein of geese
Against the wind a traveller strides.

--Xiaoxia Wei

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

From this charming thread, Sumerian proverbs about dogs.

"The dog understands, 'Take it!' It does not understand 'Put it down!'"


Thursday, August 08, 2019

Teach yourself Sakha. Someone is doing the labor of translating a key Russian test into English. It's remarkable how cognate it is with Turkish for something way out in Siberia.