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December 13, 2019

Like tears in the rain

The other day I asked my Crack Research Team©® to find a New York Times article that, as best I could recall, appeared in the first decade of this century.

No dice.

Then it occurred to me that I'd referred to it in a post back in the day.

Sure enough, a deep dive into my archive unearthed not only a link to the 2005 story but also the article itself, which I'd republished in boj with commentary and added links and photos.

It occurred to me, after clicking on the link to the Times article in my post and getting a 404 Page Not Found, followed by zilch from the Wayback Machine and no Google cache, that the only place in the virtual world you can find that Times story is in my old post.

So perhaps republishing in its entirety — with added commentary and links and photos — stuff of interest, rather than being a forme fruste of plagiarism, is, instead, the only way some things will remain accessible.

Just a thought.

What say you?




December 13, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

What animals see

Screen Shot 2019-12-11 at 8.08.04 AM

Above, a field of bluebells as seen by a human (left) and a bee (right).

From Phys.org:

Humans are now closer to seeing through the eyes of animals, thanks to an innovative software framework developed by researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Exeter.

"Most animals have completely different visual systems to humans, so — for many species — it is unclear how they see complex visual information or color patterns in nature, and how this drives their behaviour," he said.

"The Quantitative Colour Pattern Analysis (QCPA) framework is a collection of innovative digital image processing techniques and analytical tools designed to solve this problem."

"Collectively, these tools greatly improve our ability to analyse complex visual information through the eyes of animals."

Dr. Jolyon Troscianko, the study's co-leader from the University of Exeter, said color patterns have been key to understanding many fundamental evolutionary problems, such as how animals signal to each other or hide from predators.

"We have known for many years that understanding animal vision and signalling depends on combining color and pattern information, but the available techniques were near impossible to implement without some key advances we developed for this framework."

The framework's use of digital photos means it can be used in almost any habitat — even underwater — using anything from off-the-shelf cameras to sophisticated full-spectrum imaging systems.

"You can even access most of its capabilities by using a cheap ($80 USD) smartphone to capture photos," Dr. Troscianko said.

It took four years to develop and test the technology, which included the development of an extensive interactive online platform to provide researchers, teachers and students with user-guides, tutorials and worked examples of how to use the tools.

UQ's Dr. Karen Cheney said the framework can be applied to a wide range of environmental conditions and visual systems.

"The flexibility of the framework allows researchers to investigate the color patterns and natural surroundings of a wide range of organisms, such as insects, birds, fish and flowering plants," she said.

"For example, we can now truly understand the impacts of coral bleaching for camouflaged reef creatures in a new and informative way."

"We're helping people—wherever they are—to cross the boundaries between human and animal visual perception."

"It's really a platform that anyone can build on, so we're keen to see what future breakthroughs are ahead."


Your wish is my demand: read the original paper, published in the December 2, 2019 Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

December 13, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"This mosaic is trash" — Why elite Romans decorated their floors with garbage


[photo caption: a close-up of the Vatican Profane Museum's "Unswept Room" floor mosaic]

From Atlas Obscura:

In the Vatican's Profane Museum, there's one artifact that looks out of place among the ornate sarcophagi and marble statues: a mosaic floor that seems to be covered in the picked-over refuse of a meal.

When you first look down at the mosaic, it looks like the kitchen trash tipped over: Nutshells, olive pits, fruit rinds, and grape stems are strewn about.

But if you look closer, the food scraps dissolve into chunks of stone and chips of glass.

It's a trompe l'oeil in mosaic, and an extraordinarily fine one.

The shells gleam, the chestnut husks bristle with spines, and the grapes are fuzzed over with a soft, velvety bloom.

Mosaics like this one formed the floors of triclinia, dining rooms in ancient Rome where party guests lounged on couches, picking at delicacies.

This one was unearthed among the remains of a villa on Aventine Hill, and even now it emanates some of the atmosphere of one of those long, dim, boozy Roman banquets.

The scraps of food cast long, erratic shadows in different directions, as if lit by the dancing flicker of oil lamps, and even the little mouse, nibbling on a nut in the corner, carries a white glimmer of reflected lamplight in its eye.


[photo caption: the unswept room motif is accompanied by a design with theatrical masks and a central Nile scene]

This motif is a surprisingly common one, enough so that it has its own name: asarotos oikos, or "unswept room" in Greek.

Although Greek artists made the first "unswept room" mosaics, we have only later Roman copies, which were constructed during a craze for Greek culture.

But why would an elite Roman go to such effort and expense to make their dining room floor look like it was covered in trash?

For one, it was a kind of sly status symbol.

Consider the refuse represented in the collection of the Profane Museum (so named because it houses non-Christian art): It's trash, yes, but trash of the most luxurious kind.

There's fresh seafood, rushed in from the coast, including lobster, oysters, and even the spiny shell of a Murex Brandaris, which was the source of the famous Tyrian purple that only the elite of Roman society were permitted to wear.

Strewn among the shells are expensive imports, such as mulberries from Asia, ginger from India, and figs from the Middle East.

The spoils of a whole empire are scattered on the floor.

The mosaic implies a feast so lavish that, if it were actually served, it might have been illegal — a violation of Roman sumptuary laws, which capped how much a host could spend on any one banquet.

The Lex Orchia, passed in 182 BCE, limited the number of guests who could be invited to a single meal, and later laws outlawed the consumption of fattened fowl, shellfish, and sow's udders (a favorite Roman delicacy).

But based on the accounts of feasts we have from this time, these rules were frequently flouted.

After all, what better way to impress your guests than breaking the law to entertain them?

Art historians, however, have connected the motif to another Roman dining tradition: the memento mori, or "reminder of death." 

These little references to mortality were all part of the fun at a Roman banquet.

Little jointed bronze skeletons called larva convivalis, for instance, seem to have been used as party entertainment.

One appears in the Satyricon, doing a jiggly puppet-dance on the table while the host declaims, "Alas for us poor mortals.... So we shall all be, after the world below takes us away. Let us live then while it goes well with us."

Viewed from this perspective, the mosaic was a demonstration that even the finest feast is quickly transformed from sustenance into trash, just as the diner will be reduced in time to bones and dust.

In other words, enjoy your meal, because it might be your last.

Almost 2,000 years separate us from the diners who ate over this mosaic.

The deaths they imagined came to pass; all that's left is this image of their trash.

But this trompe l'oeil mosaic still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

In his book Courtesans and Fishcakes, James Davidson, professor of ancient history, points out this telling detail: Some of the food remnants don't quite meet their own shadows, as if they are still a split second from hitting the ground.

The diners may be long dead, but the feast rages on.

December 13, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Flat lithium batteries: Part II


Rocketboy, commenting on Monday's Part I, remarked,

I just always buy mine from Amazon.

Another fun fact, that the numbers are a measurement of their size.

Quite interesting stuff, for those with a taste for minutiae (count me among them).

Above and below,


what Wikipedia says.

December 13, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kinetic Sand

From the website: 

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 3.35.33 PM

Sure, it may look like just a pile of common beach sand, but dig in and you'll discover that in your hands is an addictive, three-dimensional building toy.

Pile it, shape it, squeeze it, or just let it drift in slow motion through your fingers.

This futuristic material possesses a delightfully mushy texture and just enough malleability so it can hold the shape of simple sculptures and sand structures.

A secret binding agent keeps the granules together, so you won't find sand dunes or drifts settling around your home after playtime.

Bring the fun of the beach inside, even when chilly weather strikes, or prop a dune on your desk to keep your hands entertained as you dream of your next vacation.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 3.35.40 PM

2 lb. bag: $9.45.

December 13, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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