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.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

We'll never know for sure what it was like to hear the Homeric epics performed 2,800 years ago, but I can't help but think that this Kurdish singer of tales must come close:

Hat tip: Poemas del Río Wang

Sunday, August 04, 2019

An album of Irish music largely composed by artificial intelligence: good luck telling which tunes are AI by ear.

Now if only they'll turn the software onto Serbian brass bands!

Friday, July 12, 2019

This is a good article about Portland:
Were most people in Portland stunned when Trump was elected? Sure, but they did not malinger, they marched, they marched and marched and kept marching, women’s marches, “Not my President!” marches, marches for LBGTQ rights, for minority rights, an Earth Day march, a May Day march, marches against homelessness and ICE, for police accountability and immigrant rights, so many marches an alt-weekly ran a “Resistance & Rallies” listings category. Marching provided the warm spurt that doing something can bring, and if they did not seem to have much effect on the machinations of government, they at least brought people together. Including, it must be said, unwanted people. While marchers might have been moved to bring donuts and deodorant to the Occupy Wall Street squatters in 2011, these new kids, these anti-fascists with their dark hoodies, did not seem so much about protest as revolution, the news showed them setting cars on fire and smashing storefronts. Or maybe those were other people in hoodies? It was hard to tell, the marches had become confusing. Anyone was potentially frightening now but especially another new faction, these Nazi-lite looking guys carrying flags, throwing punches, maybe deflecting punches but did it matter? Portland was not going to become the next Charlottesville, not when the city’s historical record included the 1988 beating death of an Ethiopian immigrant by a group of thugs calling itself White Aryan Resistance. But why go back that far? There was the 2017 stabbing deaths aboard the light rail of two good Samaritans as they tried to protect two teenage girls—one a Muslim in a hijab, one who was black—from a ranting self-described “white nationalist.” And yes, the killer had a history of mental illness, but still, he’d expressed support for Trump, and anyone who supported Trump was by association a racist and a threat, and there was no room for that kind of hate in Portland, not at public assemblies meant to promote peace, and maybe the authorities needed to do something about these people.
ht: Samizdata 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Apropos of nothing at all: Minerva Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtues.

Minerve chassant les Vices du jardin des Vertus, Mantegna (Louvre INV 371) 02.jpg

Andrea Mantegna, 1502, housed in the Louvre.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The letter X is made to vex. What did children's alphabet literature do before x-rays and xylophones were going concerns? Xanthippe was apparently a popular choice:

alphabet book letter x

X is a letter that seldom is used,
But its shape will remind us how sinners abused
Their Saviour and God, when, with brute, cruel force,
They compelled Him to bleed and die on the cross!
And, an entire alphabet mocking the Cubists.

Via Languagehat.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

From a Clerk of Oxford:

this series of talks given recently in Oxford (in connection with the Bodleian Library's exhibition Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth) on the subject of the medieval languages which interested and influenced Tolkien. There were lectures on Old and Middle English, Medieval Welsh, Gothic and Old Norse (my contribution)
Late to the party but unabashed.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Our failure to accept the Aristotelian idea of substance is at the root of our modern failures of thought. If you deal with every unacceptable conclsion by denying the existence of any rational category, you will lose the ability to think.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Welsh Neanderthals

Excavations at the cave by Amgueddfa Cymru between 1978 and 1995 unearthed a total of 19 teeth, discovered found deep inside the cave. These have been identified by experts at the Natural History Museum, London as belonging to an early form of Neanderthal..

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Spring Thing 2019 is here.

I'll be reviewing such IF as catch my eye.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Yet another attempt to answer that eternal question: were the Gracchi worth the hassle?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Soviets filmed The Hobbit in 1985. They include some of the songs.

Needless to say, if you watch this you have nobody to blame but yourself. But it's still not as bad as at least two of the three Peter Jackson films.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Fantasy birding: sadly nothing to do with simorghs or war shrikes or the like. Valuable tool for education and public engagement, or yet another death knell for our relationship with the non-human world? I have my suspicions, but I'd be happy to be wrong.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lambing season!
As an aside, the piebald lambs like this flecket are noticeably friendlier. Another data-point for the domestication/neoteny theory.

Shetland markings. Warning: rabbit hole.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Nordic-related miscellany:
 *(Inspired by this collection of aerial images of the Eldgjá flows)

Monday, March 04, 2019

You know what limited this sort of thing in the past? Dueling.
The world of young-adult-fiction Twitter, or YA Twitter, is a very intense place, prone to constant callouts and opinion-policing, particularly on matters of identity and social justice. And things seem to have only gotten worse since Kat Rosenfield wrote the definitive article about this subculture for Vulture, "The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter" in 2017.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Death by wallpaper

SHADOWS FROM THE WALLS OF DEATH, printed in 1874 and measuring about 22 by 30 inches, is a noteworthy book for two reasons: its rarity, and the fact that, if you touch it, it might kill you. It contains just under a hundred wallpaper samples, each of which is saturated with potentially dangerous levels of arsenic.
Ars enecat, vita brevis, hmm?