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February 1, 2020

Tulip Stairs


From Atlas Obscura:

In 1635, the acclaimed English architect Inigo Jones completed work on Queen's House in Greenwich.

It was the first building in England designed in the pure classical style, with Jones boldly bringing the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to England.

Inside the building was another first: the Tulip Stairs, an elegant staircase unlike anything previously built in Britain.

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Technically speaking, the Tulip Stairs were the first self-supporting spiral stairs in Britain.

The absence of a central support structure allows for an unobstructed view up through the center of the staircase.

The design of the Tulip Stairs was inspired by a Venetian model.

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Cantilevers in the walls support the stairs, with each tread resting on the one below.

The sweeping elegance of the wrought iron structure is enhanced by the particular shade of blue paint on the bannister, which was made using crushed glass.

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The blue hue creates a striking contrast with the pristine white of the steps and walls, and stylized flowers in the balustrade give the staircase its name.

The Tulip Stairs are located on the ground floor of Queen's House, near the impressive Great Hall. Queen's House is located on Romney Road, Greenwich. It's about 8 minutes from central London by rail, 20 minutes by DLR (Docklands Light Railway, for those who — like me — haven't a clue what that acronym stands for), or you can get there by boat using the Thames Clipper service. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; entrance is free.

February 1, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over "missing" Oxford comma

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Hear, hear!

From the Guardian:

It is a debate that has torn the nation in two, ripped friends and family apart, and entrenched deep and uncrossable lines throughout the land.

Should the Royal Mint have used an Oxford comma on its Brexit 50p piece?

Three million coins bearing the slogan "Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations" are due to enter circulation Friday, January 31, with Sajid Javid, chancellor of the exchequer, expressing his hope that the commemorative coin will mark "the beginning of this new chapter" as the UK leaves the European Union.

However, early responses include "His Dark Materials" novelist Philip Pullman's criticism of its punctuation.

"The 'Brexit' 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people," wrote the novelist on Twitter, while Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was "not perhaps the only objection" to the Brexit-celebrating coin, "the lack of a comma after 'prosperity' is killing me."

The quote echoes Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address as US president in 1801, when he laid out the "essential principles" of his government — including (and note the comma usage) "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none."

The criticism of the new coins follows the Bank of England's decision to use a quote on its Jane Austen bank note about the joys of reading — apparently unaware that the character who utters the words has no interest in reading.

Ireland's Central Bank, meanwhile, misquoted Ulysses on a commemorative coin intended to honor James Joyce.

The Oxford, or serial, comma is included before the final "and" in lists.

It has fierce defenders and equally fierce detractors — in 2011, when it was erroneously reported that the Oxford comma was being dropped by the University of Oxford style guide, one punctuation lover asked: “Are you people insane? The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals."

According to the Guardian style guide, straightforward lists do not need an Oxford comma, but it can sometimes help the reader — and it is sometimes essential.

Compare: "I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and J.K. Rowling" with "I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling."

The Associated Press is similarly cautious about coming down on one side of the debate.

"We say: If omitting a comma could lead to confusion or misinterpretation, then use the comma. But: If a comma doesn't help make clear what is being said, don't use it. 'The flag is red, white and blue' is clear. Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction. For example: 'I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.'"

In 2017, however, the lack of an Oxford comma helped a group of Maine dairy drivers in a dispute about overtime pay.

The state's law had said that the following activities did not count for overtime pay: "The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods."

The drivers had said that because there was no comma between "packing for shipment" and "or distribution," the law was referring to the single activity of "packing," not to "packing" and "distribution" as two separate activities.

And as the drivers distributed, but did not pack, the goods, this would make them eligible for overtime pay.

The judge sided with the drivers.

“For want of a comma, we have this case," he wrote.

February 1, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Did Willa Cather invent virtual reality?

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Not the term, but the concept.

Consider the following, which she wrote long ago and far away: "Novelists, opera singers, even doctors, have in common the unique and marvelous experience of entering into the very skin of another human being. What can compare with it?"

Stephen Budiansky, author of "If A Lion Could Talk" among other books, wrote something to the effect that given the choice of entering into the mind of another human being or that of an animal, there wouldn't be a moment's hesitation on his part: to perceive the world through the senses of a dog or a cat would be an experience far more marvelous than another person's consciousness could possibly offer.

I agree.

The 1918 first edition of "My Antonia" pictured up top is $600.

[via Dr T's Notes of an Anesthesioboist]

February 1, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pocket Shark


From LiveScience

Tiny, blunt-headed sharks called pocket sharks (above) are so rare that until just a few years ago, only one individual had ever been collected from the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Now, that lonely shark finally has company.

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) caught a second pocket shark in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists declared it to be a pocket shark in 2015, and after further analysis it was recently described as a new species.

Measuring only 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) in length, the wee male shark was identified as an American pocket shark and given the scientific name Mollisquama mississippiensis, according to a new study.

You might think that adorable pocket sharks are so named because they're small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket.

However, the name comes not from their petite size but from a physical feature: a pocket-like orifice found near their pectoral fins.

Pocket sharks also have tapered bodies and endearingly wide, blunt heads "with a broadly rounded bulbous snout," the researchers reported.

From certain angles, this makes the sharks look like very, very tiny sperm whales.

The only other pocket shark specimen in the world — a female — was caught in 1979 and is part of the collection at the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

But this new specimen has features that distinguish it from the female pocket shark.

It has different teeth, 10 fewer vertebrae, a pit organ on its jaw, and light-producing organs distributed on its stomach and back, the scientists wrote.

The unexpected discovery of this exceptionally rare animal hints that there is much to be learned, not only about these mysterious fish, but about the deep waters of the pocket sharks' habitat, said study co-author Henry Bart, director of the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute in Louisiana.

"The fact that only one pocket shark has ever been reported from the Gulf of Mexico, and that it is a new species, underscores how little we know about the Gulf — especially its deeper waters — and how many additional new species from these waters await discovery," Bart said in a statement.

The findings were published online on June 18, 2019 in the journal Zootaxa.

February 1, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stamp Bugs

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From the website:

Build your own bumblebee...(or ladybird, or spider, or beetle) with this gorgeous set of wood-backed rubber stamps.

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Depict your favorite creepy crawlies, or invent a brand new species — the possibilities are endless.

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Features and Details:

• 25 wood-handled stamps

• Two inkpad colors

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February 1, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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