December 24, 2004
St. Bernards Rescued
In October, the monks of the St. Bernard Hospice in southern Switzerland, who have raised the dogs since the mid-17th century, said that they could no longer afford to care for them.
Fears for the future of what has become a Swiss national symbol ensued.
Yesterday, a group of Swiss bankers and animal lovers announced the establishment of the Barry Foundation to continue breeding the dogs.
Barry was the name of a famous rescue dog born in 1800 who saved 41 lives.
It is estimated that the dogs have saved over 2,000 travelers and avalanche victims over the centuries.
The foundation will also establish a St. Bernard museum, set to open in the town of Martigny in 2006.
Six St. Bernards will be at their posts outside the museum, ready for emergency search-and-rescue operations, every day of the year.
The song of the [52 hertz] whale
Since 1992, a solitary whale, species unknown, has been tracked in the North Pacific by a classified array of hydrophones used by the U.S. Navy to monitor enemy submarines.
It's called the 52 hertz whale because it makes a distinctive stream of sounds at around that frequency.
The spectrogram that heads this post illustrates the sonic profile of this mysterious creature.
First reported by Dr. William A. Watkins and his group in 2000, the tones last 5-7 seconds and occur in groups of 2-6.
The results were assembled and published in a paper in the current issue of Deep Sea Research.
Listen to the song of the whale here.
[via Andrew C. Revkin and the New York Times]
George Campbell, one of the world's greatest linguists, is dead at 92
Sometimes an unfortunate event turns out to be the best thing that could've happened, even though at the time it occurred, it was difficult to see how that could possibly be.
Consider George Campbell.
The son of a Scottish gardener on the estate of Lord and Lady Seaforth, in 1915 he was attacked at the age of three by the Seaforth family dogs.
He developed a stammer following this trauma.
In school, from elementary school right on up through high school, teachers thought Campbell was a dunce because of his stammer.
They made him sit in the back of the classroom and ignored him, which allowed him to read language books on his own.
His best friend was deaf, and because Campbell rarely spoke, his schoolmates labeled the two of them "the deaf and the dumb."
By the time he finished high school, he'd taught himself Spanish, Italian, French, and German.
He eventually spoke a total of 44 languages and had a working knowledge of perhaps 20 others.
He was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the world's greatest living linguists.
He told an Oxford University interviewer that "If it was today's world, someone would have cured me, and I would never have been a linguist."
In retirement, after a career at the BBC, he taught himself classical Chinese and tensor calculus, because "I wanted to know what the cosmologists were talking about."
Joe Holley wrote a masterly obituary of Campbell for Monday's Washington Post.
- George Campbell Dies; Spoke 44 Languages
George L. Campbell, a British linguist who could converse with cabbies and shopkeepers, write scholarly tomes and conduct learned discourse in more than 40 languages, died of pneumonia Dec. 15 in Brighton, England.
He was 92.
Mr. Campbell, who was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records during the 1980s as one of the world's greatest living linguists, could speak and write fluently in at least 44 languages and had a working knowledge of perhaps 20 others.
He was the author of the Compendium of the World's Languages (Routledge, 2000), a two-volume work that includes articles on more than 250 tongues, along with a summary of the language's geographic location, its relation to other languages and the number of people who speak it.
As the British author Anthony Burgess noted in a 1991 review of the Compendium, Mr. Campbell had a ways to go to master the world's thousand-odd languages but was a "genuine polyglot" nonetheless.
Burgess predicted that the book, "created out of a few mouthfuls of air," would be "a lifelong delight."
Mr. Campbell, a linguist at the BBC for many years, also wrote a companion book, Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets (Routledge, 1997).
George Law Campbell was born in Dingwall, Scotland, the son of the overseer of gardens and dells for Lord and Lady Seaforth, heirs to the Brahan Castle Estates.
The Campbell family lived on the main estate, near the castle.
Mr. Campbell's sister Aileen Campbell McCausey, who immigrated to the United States in 1947 and who lives in Woodstock, Va., noted that her older brother had a slight stammer from an early age.
Playing outside at age 2 1/2 or 3, he was attacked by the Seaforth family dogs; McCausey said their mother always claimed that his stammer originated in that traumatic event.
In school - from elementary through high school, as McCausey recalled - teachers thought Mr. Campbell was a dunce because of his stammer.
They relegated him to the back of the classroom and ignored him, which allowed him to devour language books on his own.
His best schoolboy friend was deaf, and because Mr. Campbell rarely talked, taunting schoolmates labeled them "the deaf and the dumb."
When he and his sister rode their bikes to school, the young Mr. Campbell had his sister take the lead so he could follow in her path while he concentrated on whatever language book he had propped on his handlebars.
His sister recalled that he told an Oxford University interviewer that "if it was today's world, someone would have cured me, and I would never have been a linguist."
Sitting in the back of the classroom, he taught himself Spanish and Italian before learning French and German in high school.
When he applied to the University of Edinburgh, he found out he needed to know a classic language, so he taught himself six years of Latin in a year and won the school's Latin prize.
He found his language books burrowing through secondhand bookstalls at a fish market.
He studied German at the University of Leipzig and mastered eight other languages from fellow students who had come to Leipzig from Central and Eastern Europe.
In 1937, he received a degree in librarianship from London University and became assistant librarian in the School of Slavonic Studies.
He picked up Hungarian, Persian and Albanian along the way.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Mr. Campbell was called to the military but was immediately transferred to the BBC World Service as a language supervisor.
His job, as former colleague Victor Price noted in a Scottish newspaper, the Ross-Shire Journal, was to make sure that speakers did not stray from their authorized scripts and to shut them off if they did.
He stayed with the BBC until 1974, when he retired as head of the Romanian Service.
Living in retirement in Brighton, he taught himself classical Chinese, Basque and several other languages and translated academic works, mainly from Russian and German.
He also played the piano and taught himself tensor calculus ("I wanted to know what the cosmologists were talking about," he told his former BBC colleague.)
Another BBC colleague, George Mikes, recalled in the Guardian newspaper a few years ago that he had made a point of asking native speakers at the BBC about Mr. Campbell's facility.
"All said that his knowledge was not only adequate but amazing," Mikes wrote.
Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Jen Campbell of Wiltshire, England; two sons, Colin Campbell of Bath, England, and Malcolm Campbell of Twickenham, England; two sisters; and seven grandchildren.
Douglas Dearie, Mr. Campbell's nephew and a Bowie software engineer, recalled his uncle as a gentle man with a wry sense of humor who, in his soft-spoken Scottish burr, loved telling stories.
Dearie recalled that Mr. Campbell and his wife traveled the world but didn't like to go where they already knew the language.
Mr. Campbell never visited the United States, although in the late 1980s, he worked closely with several Native American tribes in the Southwest on translating phonetic languages.
That work was especially meaningful to him.
As McCausey recalled, she and her brother had few playmates on the Brahan Estate, so they spent a great deal of time together acting out Zane Grey westerns.
He was "Wetzel," she "Jonathan," from Grey's "Spirit of the Border."
Once, she fell out of a tree and accidentally bashed him in the head with her homemade tomahawk when she landed on top of him.
The last time McCausey saw her brother, a couple of years ago, he recalled that long-ago adventure.
"I forgive you, Jonathan," he said.
Attention gamers: "Enter the name of the game you want to search for cheat codes."
That's the sole purpose of this site, which bills itself as "the most comprehensive cheat search engine on the net!"
Better hurry, though.
As I type these words, I am 100% certain that Google's cease-and-desist letter is on its way to Cheatoogle headquarters.
ATOM - Aluminum Tree and Aesthetically Challenged Seasonal Ornament Museum and Research Center
Located in the lobby of Brevard College's Porter Center for the Performing Arts, in Brevard, North Carolina, is a shrine for fake Christmas trees.
This year's collection includes 30 trees of all shapes and sizes.
Founder-curator Stephen Paul Jackson, 48, started his collection 13 years ago, and it's just grown like Topsy since then.
There's even a satellite museum in Nashville, Tennessee, consisting of 25 trees Jackson shipped to a friend who put them on display.
The "Elvis Tree" (above) has photos of the King hanging from its branches.
The highlight of his collection is his "Tammy Faye" tree, complete with the one-time televangelist's signature fake eyelashes, a pair of pink high heels, and ornaments from Heritage USA, the now-defunct Christian theme park near Charlotte Tammy Faye Bakker operated with her then-husband Jim in the late 1980s.
The tree's decorated with golden balls depicting Tammy Faye and Jim.
Jackson said, "Someone gave me a whole box of these a few years back. I gave them away as presents until I figured out they were valuable."
Hey, better late than never, I say.
Jackson says the museum averages about 100 visitors a day.
There's even a gift shop, where visitors can purchase packets of aluminum tree "seeds" and "seedlings."
Said Jackson, "There are some people who look at these, and they don't get it. That kind of worries me."
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday throughout the holiday season.
Hours are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. The suggested donation is $2 for adults, $1 for kids.
Pro Thumb Wrestling
Time to stop the mickey-mousing around and step up, don't you think?
For 2005, consider making thumb wrestling the main event at your crib.
For only $7.95, you get the one and only genuine pro thumb wrestling ring.
- Made of high-quality plastic and flexible ropes along with real elastic turnbuckles.
The ring's holes are designed for all sizes of thumb.
High-impact, shock-resistant handle.
An Official Rulebook is included.
Sections include "How To Win," "How To Lose," as well as chapters on the time-honored traditions of Cheating, Whining, and Betting.
Measuring at 5" x 5", the Thumb Wrestling Ring requires no assembly or batteries so you can right down to business.
Perfectly compact and easily mobile, ready to be transported to any arena necessary like your next party.
Oh, yeah, just one more thing: the website above, after all the build-up, at the very end says, in giant red letters, "SORRY SOLD OUT."
But for my crack research team, that doesn't mean "THE END."
Far from it.
"Get on it," I said.
And they did, only to return from the hinterlands of cyberspace with the genuine item, new, in its original factory-sealed package, for less than 75% of the original price.
Only $6 here (second item down), but you better move fast: once the joehead network gets wind of this, they'll be gone in a flash.
Edible Gold - 'Eat your bling'
From Fabbriche Riunite Metalli comes Oro Fino, genuine 23-karat edible gold.
Just in time to add that special touch to your holiday delights, the one that leaves your guests wondering, "What was she thinking?"
Choose from a pack of four gold leaves ($25), 150 mg of flakes ($35), or an 80 mg shaker of powder ($21).
According to the website, "Traditionally gold food décor was reserved for special guests."
I can't see that anything's changed - but then, aren't all your guests special?
If you're on the fence, just think to yourself, WWMAD?
That's the acronym for "What would Marie Antoinette Do?"
How running made us human
The cover story of the November 17 issue of Nature magazine (above) was devoted to exploring the thesis that the emergence of modern man was a result of an evolved gift for running.
Said University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble, one of the study's co-authors, "If you are out in the African savannah and see a column of vultures on the horizon, the chance of there being a fresh carcass underneath the vultures is about 100%. If you are going to hunt down something in the heat, that's a lot more work and the payoffs are less reliable because the animal you are hunting often is faster than you are."
Dead animals don't run.
I'm reminded of an old Cajun saying, to wit: "You never see a dead animal on the road in Cajun country."
Think about it.
The conventional wisdom holds that running simply was a byproduct of the ability to walk upright.
However, fossil evidence indicates bipedalism evolved at least 4.5 million years ago, yet 3 million years passed during which bipedal walking by the ape-like Australopithecus continued without any change in body habitus.
Then, out of nowhere came an early human species, homo erectus, with a skeletal frame far more suited for long-distance running.
Bramble and his co-author, Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, state that if natural selection had not favored running, "we would still look a lot like apes."
Here's the University of Utah press release about the article; it's got a lot more of the background and reasoning that led the scientists to posit that homo sapiens truly is "the running man."