This week’s dating tip

There’s nothing quite so useful as a corroborating source:

A few weeks ago, Jonathon Allen, a biochemistry major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was listening to the Nature podcast when he heard about a team of researchers in Japan who had found an odd spike in carbon-14 levels in tree rings. The spike probably came from a burst of high-energy radiation striking the upper atmosphere, increasing the rate at which carbon-14 is formed (see ‘Mysterious radiation burst recorded in tree rings‘).

But there was a problem: the only known causes of such radiation are supernova explosions or gigantic solar flares, and the researchers knew of no such events in AD 774 or 775, the dates indicated by the tree rings.

Which gave Allen an idea. He pored over the pertinent entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and in 774 found this:

Allen found a reference to a “red crucifix” that appeared in the heavens “after sunset”.

“It made me think it’s some sort of stellar event,” Allen says. Furthermore, he notes, the redness might indicate that the source was hidden behind a dust cloud dense enough to scatter all but a small amount of red light. Such a cloud might also prevent any remnants of the proposed supernova being seen by modern astronomers.

While Allen apparently wasn’t the first to spot this reference, give him credit for knowing what to do with the information once he got it.

(Via Finestkind Clinic and fish market.)

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In ten seconds, flat

I suspect this beer stein is not Hasbro-approved merch:

Rainbow Dash beer stein from Bronycon

Will Greenwald from Aggrogate has more pix from the winding down of BronyCon, held this past weekend in the Ghastly Gorge Meadowlands.

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Strange search-engine queries (335)

Another Monday morning, another trip through the logs in search of cheap laffs. We’ve been doing this for more than five years now; the Chief Justice said we could.

why is “ever” overused?:  Because it adds emphasis to your hyperbole if you can assert that it’s the worst thing that ever happened.

man knocked on door in mcalester ok trying to sell magazines and said something inappropriate:  OMG, it’s the worst thing that ever happened!

June 11 2006 braum’s truck wreck gainesville tex:  And there was frozen yogurt, steaming in the sun; you don’t want to know what happens to yogurt when it gets warm.

marie antoinette transvestite:  “Let them wear corsets!”

black male model with huge penis in locker room:  Bet he wasn’t wearing a corset, either.

where is simolea:  On Lake Ontario. It’s expensive, so bring plenty of simoleons.

where to buy a large sheet of cardboar:  I’m guessing he means “cardboard,” which is easy to find, and not a 2D reproduction of a wild pig, which is perhaps less so.

radio smut:  Use your imagination for once.

how reliable is cd4e transmission after repair:  A hell of a lot more reliable than it was the week before it was repaired.

how to denote a blog title:  If it isn’t obvious, perhaps you should avoid the whole concept of blogging.

nylon stockings on sarah palin legs more:  More than what?

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Not an insubstantial threat

The LPGA had an event in Rogers, Arkansas this weekend — specifically, the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G — and apparently this sign was spotted at the Pinnacle Country Club, where the competition is taking place:

Any persons (except players) caught collecting golf balls on this course will be prosecuted and have their balls removed.

(Twitpic via @mdrache.)

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Meanwhile in Hong Kong

Fifteen years ago today, Hong Kong ceased to be a British territory, the 99-year lease having expired, and was handed over to the People’s Republic of China, which tagged it as a Special Administrative Region. Under the agreement between Beijing and London:

Not just the current social and economic system in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, also the life-style and rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of demonstration of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief, inviolability of the home, the freedom to marry, the right to raise a family freely. Those will be ensured by law as well as the private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment.

Geez. Where can we get some of that?

The agreement expires in 2047, and what happens after that is anyone’s guess, though it might look like the tumult in the streets of Hong Kong today. Juliana Liu reports for the BBC:

Elaine Mok, a demonstrator who took part with her extended family, told me she marches nearly every year in order to fight for justice and the rule of law, and to oppose mainland interference in Hong Kong affairs. They were there, she said, to remind their Chinese overlords that Hong Kong people want the right to vote, as promised when this city returned to mainland rule.

Most of the protesters were professionals like Ms Mok. Some families brought their young children. A broad cross-section of Hong Kong society gathered to agitate against one-party rule in China and to demand the right to universal suffrage, which people here increasingly believe is their natural birthright.

Hong Kong currently goes through a charade of selecting its Chief Executive by polling 1200 local businessmen and institutional officials. (By absolutely no coincidence, the new Chief Executive, CY Leung, took office today.) But it seems to me that the people of Hong Kong are taking the longer view by opposing the current one-party structure on the mainland: a different regime in Beijing might be more amenable to extending the freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong beyond the 50-year term of the handover agreement — or, perhaps less likely, to extend them beyond Hong Kong to the rest of China. Certainly something is going to happen in China soon, as the population levels off and the economy continues to weaken.

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Up to 50 percent of customers are dumb

A recent FTC study says so, in fact:

The Federal Trade Commission recently commissioned a study that looked out how consumers perceive and comprehend the “up to” conditional in advertisements.

The researchers used different versions of an ad for windows — one that stated that the windows were “proven to save up to 47% on heating and cooling bills,” and one that simply stated, “proven to save 47%.”

Of those who looked at the “up to” version, 45.6% mistakenly said the ad promised to save 47%. Meanwhile, only 58.3% of consumers who saw the unconditional version said the ad promised to deliver 47% savings. According to the FTC, the small difference between the two results indicates that the use of “up to” did little-to-nothing to change consumers’ perception that the ad was promising the maximum level of performance.

“Good afternoon, [name and hair color redacted]. We’ve come to take back those windows we installed.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because we still haven’t received your check, and it’s been thirteen months now.”

“But you told me these windows would pay for themselves in a year or less!”

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Read any good records lately?

The ever-alert Gerard Van der Leun turned up this stirring account of something that seems impossible: the recreation of the sound from a recording from a picture of the recording.

Actually, it doesn’t seem impossible to me. While a record (or cylinder) groove is clearly a three-dimensional object, and a photo contains only two, vertical modulation in the early days was mostly unintentional: the cutting head wiggles from side to side, and if you can duplicate that wiggle, you can duplicate the sound. It’s more difficult today, what with stereo and all: the Westrex 45/45 system to cut a two-channel groove requires that the stylus track both horizontally and vertically. (This is, incidentally, why you weren’t supposed to play stereo records on your old mono clunker phonograph: the stylus didn’t have enough vertical compliance and could damage the groove.) For a brief period in the 1970s, there were even four-channel grooves, either with complicated phase-encoding schemes (SQ, mostly) or multiplexing patterned after FM stereo (CD-4). God forbid you should try to read one of those from a photo.

Although Arthur Lintgen, now 70, might be able to give it the old college try. From The New York Times, 11/19/81:

Before an audience in the auditorium of Abington Hospital, near Philadelphia, two weeks ago, Stimson Carrow, professor of music theory at Temple University, handed Dr. Lintgen a succession of 20 long-playing records chosen by Mr. Carrow and 10 of his graduate students. All identifying labels and matrix numbers were covered over, but Dr. Lintgen, simply by taking the records in his hands and examining their groove patterns in a normal light, identified the piece and the composer in 20 cases out of 20.

The event was arranged and filmed by the ABC-TV program That’s Incredible, which plans to air the segment early next month. Mr. Carrow had “never heard of Dr. Lintgen” before ABC called and asked him to administer the test. “We chose mainstream music — the Beethoven Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ by Strauss, the Tchaikovsky ‘Nutcracker’ — things the audience could relate to. Not only could he do it, he could recognize some of them 15 feet across the room.”

This was astonishing enough that Time sent James “The Amazing” Randi to check it out. Randi constructed an experiment, and was apparently satisfied with Lintgen’s explanation. He wasn’t actually reading the groove so much as he was engaging in a complex form of pattern-matching:

The trick, Lintgen explained, is to examine the physical construction of the recording and look at the relative playing time of each one of the movements or separations on the recording.

According to Lintgen, a Beethoven symphony will have a slightly longer first movement relative to its second movement, while Mozart and Schubert would compose in such a fashion that each movement in many cases would have the same number of bars. Beethoven, however, had set out in a new direction and that changed the dynamics of the recording. In addition, if there was a sonorous slow beginning, one could look at the recording at that point and see a long undulating groove that would not contain the sharp spikes that would identify sharp percussion.

On an impulse, I went to the record shelf and pulled out Also Sprach Zarathustra. The opening “Sunrise” movement is pretty distinctive-looking, what with that long contrabass/organ/bassoon drone, followed by brass and then tympani. I couldn’t see anything in the later movements, though Lintgen probably could:

All phonograph grooves vary minutely in their spacing and contour, depending on the dynamics and frequency of the music on them. Lintgen says that grooves containing soft passages look black or dark gray. As the music gets louder or more complicated, the grooves turn silvery. Percussive accents are marked by tiny “jagged tooth marks.” The doctor correlates what he sees with what he knows about music, matching the patterns of the grooves with compositional forms. In a way, it is like reading a graph of a given work’s structure.

He probably wouldn’t have been able to read that 1890 gramophone record you saw in the video, but he might have been able to determine whether it was music or speech. Which is still pretty darn remarkable.

(Title from the original 1982 Time article. All the Lintgen links go to Snopes, just because.)

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Know thyself

I figure, if Andrea can do it, Lynn can do it, and Fillyjonk can do it, there’s no excuse for me not to do it, and so I did it.

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And the tiniest fix is in

LIBOR is the London Interbank Offered Rate, the benchmark interest rate for the banking industry at all levels. (I have had credit cards in which the interest rate was determined by adding X, where X is some absurd quantity, to LIBOR on a specific date.) It is inconceivable that LIBOR should be screwed with, so inevitably it was:

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission says Barclays tried to influence the interest rates as early as 2005, before the world financial crisis broke. Barclays employees urged other banks to participate in the attempted manipulation. And the CFTC says senior Barclays managers made false reports to protect the image of the bank during the financial crisis.

British and American regulators came down hard, or as hard as regulators are allowed to come down, fining Barclays $452 million. Since the bank has assets somewhere in the vicinity of $2 trillion and earns revenues well into the tens of billions every year, this is the economic equivalent of having to toss a dollar into the cuss jar.

Barclays boss Bob Diamond says he will not resign, though he did decline his annual £6.5 million bonus.

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No hint of Temperance

Given the dozens of megabytes I’ve devoted to, um, whatshername over the past couple of years, it’s about time I showed some appreciation for her older sister. Accordingly, here’s a shot of Emily Deschanel at Bringing Farm Sanctuary to All: A Celebration of Expanding Compassion, in a slightly-quirky (maybe it runs in the family) dress by BCBGMaxAzria:

Emily Deschanel

Emily’s current gig, you may recall, is playing Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan in the Fox series Bones.

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Even then, math was hard

From the Things I Did Not Know files, courtesy of Nvmeri Innvmeri:

The Romans had no negative numbers, and could express only a limited range of fractions with numeric symbols, principally the twelfths from 1/12 to 11/12. (The American pound has 16 ounces, but the Roman libra was divided into 12 unciae.) That means that while any properly-formed Roman number can be expressed in Arabic numbers, the converse is not true.

Since Wilson Pickett has been on my mind of late, I asked for a Roman equivalent of 99½, which comes back XCIX S; apparently one through five twelfths are represented by horizontal lines ordered in pairs, and seven through eleven by S plus those same lines, so 999/12 would be XCIX S= – or something like that.

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Quote of the week

Well, a week in 1880, anyway. The Grand Inquisitor, in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:

[N]othing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.” But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, “Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!” Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!” that’s what they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, “Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven’t given it!” And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man?

(Translation by Constance Garnett. Suggested by neo-neocon.)

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And the moon was yellow

The thing that always struck me about Lloyd Price’s version of “Stagger Lee” — if you haven’t heard it lately, see Nicole’s almost frighteningly detailed history of the song — is that it’s downright jubilant: not only does Mr. Lee shoot Billy without discernible consequences, but the background singers are egging him on (“Go Stagger Lee!”) all the while. Furthermore, not only did Dick Clark refuse to allow it on the sanitary stage of American Bandstand, but for the next couple of decades, urban BMFs of this sort were expected to come to a Bad End. (See, for instance, the case of Leroy Brown.) Then again, the cleaned-up, Clark-approved version has been utterly ignored ever since; covers by everyone from Wilson Pickett to Tommy Roe have stuck to Price’s first telling of the story.

From Nicole’s notes:

The versions in which he takes over Hell from the devil also likely come from the perception that Lee was black and a black man strong enough to do all of that would have quickly become a folk hero to an oppressed minority population, who, although having been freed from slavery 30 years prior [to the original incident, which dated to 1895], were still laboring under Jim Crow laws. A trickster type of character would appeal to people in less than optimum conditions who saw no path to change.

Exactly so. In fact, Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers actually named his son after Stagger Lee, and cited Lee as a civil-rights hero on par with, for instance, his Panther co-founder Huey Newton. But there’s this:

Standin’ on the gallows,
Stack O’Lee did cuss,
The judge said let’s kill him
Before he kills some of us.

So sang Mississippi John Hurt in 1928. It would be thirty years before Mr. Lee was allowed to get away with it, and, well, a lot can happen in thirty years.

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Candid cams

If you’re old enough, you may remember the old flathead engines with the valves positioned on the side of the block; modern overhead-valve engines with pushrods were a bit more complicated, but they allowed for higher compression ratios, something that mattered a great deal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I’ve never owned a car with a flathead mill, and I retain a certain fondness for pushrods, inasmuch as the first car I could call my own was a Chevrolet, a make which had actually started building OHV engines in 1929, a mere 37 years before my little Nova with the 230. But my last three rides have had double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, something I tend to think of as a relatively recent innovation.

And of course I’m wrong. In fact, the DOHC configuration was first used in a car a hundred years ago this week: a racer driven by Georges Boillot of the Peugeot team, equipped with a 7.6-liter DOHC four, won the French Grand Prix (Grand Prix de l’ACF) on 26 June 1912, easily beating a 14-liter Fiat S74s and suggesting that there might indeed be a replacement for displacement. The next year, Jules Goux, driving a modified version of the Peugeot — down to 7.3 liters — won the Indy 500, leading for 138 of the 200 laps.

Not that this layout is ideal or anything: of the three DOHC cars I’ve owned, only one had a torque peak anywhere in the lower half of the tach, if you can call 130 lb-ft a peak. Or, for that matter, torque.

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Performing the traditional Friday rite

Rebecca Black in concert? Is this even possible? Short answer: yes. It’s going to happen in August, on the Jersey shore. (No, not on a Friday, though.)

On this Friday, which is to say today, RB put in an appearance at VidCon: she wasn’t on the original guest list, but she evidently drew a crowd at some sort of booth.

Rebecca Black at the Part of Me premiere 26 June 2012Earlier in the week, interviewed on the red carpet at the premiere of old pal Katy Perry’s Part of Me, RB allowed that she was “recording an album right now,” and that “it’s a little bit different than what I have put out so far.” Not that she’s going to let any secrets slip at this point in her career.

(Parenthetically: I must grumble here that by the time I turned fifteen, I’d pretty much had the construction “different than” beaten out of me [figuratively, anyway] by a succession of teachers of English, all of whom thought it was a barbarism. Then again, when I turned fifteen, Orange County’s previous superstar, Richard Nixon, had just been elected President. To contemporary kids, this might as well have been in the days of the dinosaur.)

I will, of course, put on my fanboy hat and haunt iTunes until this album actually shows up.

(Here’s the full-sized photo, by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.)

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Mandatory contact cleaner

There has been butthurt on a galactic scale in response to the Zuckerborg’s most recent Neat Idea: the replacement of your email address, as listed in your Facebook profile, with I wish to state for the record that I don’t really give a flying fish, for the following reasons:

  • The vast majority of my FB friends already know at least one address at which they can reach me — four of the five I maintain have been active for over a decade — and presumably don’t need to hunt down the profile page;
  • I can always use it as a spam trap if I have to.

I can’t really feel personally affronted by this action: I learned a long time ago that I was the product, not the customer. And once in a while I do look at my Facebook messages, though I admit I don’t always peer into the mysterious “Other” folder.

(Provoked, sort of, by Teresa.)

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