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January 15, 2021

TV reviews that are less biased

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Almost all TV review sites get kickbacks in the form of a percentage of sales by linking to the Amazon pages of the TVs they review.

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Thus, objective reviews are pretty much impossible to find.

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RTINGS may be the least biased in terms of self-interest.

January 15, 2021 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

2,000-year-old Roman dagger discovered

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[Dagger, sheath, and belt]

From Livescience:

'Rusty lump' turns out to be a 2,000-year-old dagger used by a Roman soldier

Archaeologists in Germany were "lost for words" after the discovery of a 2,000-year-old silver dagger.

The weapon was found in its sheath in the grave of a Roman soldier who once fought against the Germanic tribes.

The dagger was so corroded (below),

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it took nine months of sandblasting and grinding before the sharp, 13-inch-long (35 centimeters) weapon was restored, at which point researchers were easily able to remove it from its richly decorated sheath (below).

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The find is unusual, given that "it was not the normal practice for Roman soldiers to be buried with their military equipment," said Bettina Tremmel, an archaeologist at the Westphalie Department for the Preservation and Care of Field Monuments in Germany, who specializes in the Roman Empire and took part in the excavation with the University of Trier.

An intern with the Westphalie department, 19-year-old Nico Calman, discovered the dagger and sheath, as well as the remains of the decorated leather belt, during an archaeological dig at Haltern am See (Haltern-at-the-Lake), a town in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in April 2019.

During the Augustan period, from 27 B.C.E. to C.E. 14, Haltern was home to a Roman military base, known as "Hauptlager," or "main camp."

Archaeologists have known about the site since 1900, making the newfound discovery of the dagger all the more surprising, Tremmel said.

The Roman soldiers stationed at the base weren't terribly successful.

Three Roman legions (large military units of about 5,000 men each) were wiped out during the defeat of the Roman general and politician Varus by the Germanic tribes in C.E. 9.

Not too far from the base is a cemetery, where Roman soldiers and their families were buried.

It was there, in this cemetery, that Calman discovered the corroded dagger.

"The discovery of the dagger was emotional. We were lost for words," Tremmel told Live Science. "Imagine: Though thousands of Roman soldiers were stationed in Haltern over almost 15 years or more, there are only a few finds of weapons, especially complete and intact ones."

Tremmel immediately got in touch with restorers in Münster, who came to Haltern and excavated the "rusty lump" of a dagger from an earthen block, she said.

After the dagger was X-rayed (below),

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CT scanned, and restored, archaeologists marveled at it; its handle is inlaid with silver and decorated with rivets, and the iron blade has "deep grooves on either side of the midrib, a pronounced waist, and a long tapering point," Tremmel said.

The iron sheath is lined with linden wood and decorated with red glass, silver, niello (a black mixture, often of sulphur, copper, silver, and lead) and shiny red enamel.

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Rings on the sheath were used to hang the dagger from a belt (below),

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which was also found in the grave.

The dagger was likely wielded by a legionary infantryman, an auxiliary infantryman, or an officer known as a centurion, Tremmel said.

However, daggers weren't the main weapons used by the military.

"The dagger was a formidable weapon to have as a backup should the sword be lost or damaged," she said. "The penalties for loss of equipment were so severe, there was every incentive for a soldier to keep a tight grip on his helmet, sword, and dagger."

It's a mystery why this individual was buried with a dagger.

Perhaps the owner was a Celtic or German native.

Unlike the Romans, members of those tribes were often buried with their weapons.

Or maybe the person was Roman, but wanted the dagger to be included in the burial, Tremmel said.

The only other known Roman military belt, dagger, and sheath discovery was in a small Roman military camp in Velsen, in the Netherlands.

In that case, a Roman soldier had been thrown into a pit during a military conflict with the Germans in 28 B.C.E.

January 15, 2021 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Cheetah running at top speed — 63 mph

January 15, 2021 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Where is this?

Try again

Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: it's in the Northern Hemisphere.

January 15, 2021 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Books by the Foot — Living the Zoom Life


From Politico:

Washington's Secret to the Perfect Zoom Bookshelf? Buy It Wholesale

Books by the Foot curates shelves full of books for Washington offices, hotels, TV sets — and, now, Zoom backdrops.

In a place like Washington — small, interconnected, erudite, gossipy — being well-read can create certain advantages.

So, too, can seeming well-read.

The "Washington bookshelf" is almost a phenomenon in itself, whether in a hotel library, at a think tank office, or on the walls behind the cocktail bar at a Georgetown house.

And, as with nearly any other demand of busy people and organizations, it can be conjured up wholesale, for a fee.

Books by the Foot, a service run by the Maryland-based bookseller Wonder Book, has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does.

As retro as a shelf of books might seem in an era of flat-panel screens, Books by the Foot has thrived through Democratic and Republican administrations, including that of the book-averse Donald Trump.


And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business—and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.

Only sometimes do Bowman and Wonder Book President Chuck Roberts (above and below, in his warehouse),


know the real identity of the person whose home or project they’ve outfitted: "When we work with certain designers, I pretty much already know it's going to be either an A-list movie or an A-list client. They always order under some code name," Bowman says.

'They're very secretive."

Roberts opened the first of Wonder Book's three locations in 1980, but Books by the Foot began with the dawn of the internet in the late 1990s.

A lover of books who professes to never want to see them destroyed, he described the service as a way to make lemonade out of lemons; in this case, the lemons are used books, overstock books from publishers or booksellers, and other books that have become either too common or too obscure to be appealing to readers or collectors.

"Pretty much every book you see on Books by the Foot [is a book] whose only other option would be oblivion," Roberts says.

Located in Frederick, Maryland, Wonder Book's 3-acre warehouse full of 4 million books is a short jaunt from the nation's capital.


While the company ships nationally, it gets a hefty portion of its business from major cities including Washington.

And, over the past two decades, Books by the Foot's books-as-decor designs have become a fixture in the world of American politics, filling local appetite for books as status symbols, objects with the power to silently confer taste, intellect, sophistication, or ideology upon the places they're displayed or the people who own them.

Wonder Book's designs have been featured in a number of locations in and around D.C.

According to Roberts, The Madison hotel once purchased 19th-century American history texts to use in its decor, and the Washington Hilton ordered books by color a while back ("Earth Tones," he recalled) to place in some of its suites. (General managers at both hotels said they were unfamiliar with the orders, which Roberts said were placed a number of years ago.)

Meanwhile, shows at the Kennedy Center have used Books by the Foot's curations onstage, and sometimes the company's handiwork even shows up in the homes of politicians.

"We see a lot of them," Bowman says. "You'll see in the news they'll have Books by the Foot [books] in their images in the newspapers, [alongside stories] going inside politicians' homes and things like that."

In 2010, NBC's "Meet the Press" came calling.

The show was switching to high definition and debuting a new set with well-stocked bookshelves to commemorate the occasion.

Clickspring Design, the firm that designed the set, ordered books on politics, law, and an assortment in the style of Books by the Foot's "Professional Glossy Look."


Bowman remembers the order was for somewhere around 200 feet, or roughly the length of three semi-trucks.

Erik Ulfers, founder and president of Clickspring, noted that a good TV set either transports viewers to someplace completely new and unfamiliar ("some are very abstract, really graphic-heavy") or invites them to someplace welcoming and relatable.

He recalls that he wanted the books on the "Meet the Press" set to project familiarity infused with a sort of intellectual gravitas.

He requested vintage books, he says — "It suggests a longer history, and somehow it seems more academic" — and replaced the pages in a number of the books with Styrofoam to avoid overloading the shelves. (When asked about this, Roberts wrote in an email, "As long as books are put in the public eye — and private eyes — they are still part of the culture." ("Meet the Press" didn't respond to a request for comment about the order.)

Books by the Foot's creations have also popped up in a variety of TV shows and movies, many of them politics-adjacent.

"Madam Secretary," "Veep," "The Blacklist," "House of Cards," as well as the 2017 movie Chappaquiddick, for example, have all outfitted their sets with Books by the Foot curations.

Some of the most high-profile projects the team works on, however, aren't revealed to them until after the fact: Bowman has had the distinctly surreal experience of watching a movie for the first time and recognizing her work onscreen. (That's how it works, she said, with "pretty much anything Marvel.")

Although TV shows set in Washington underwent a change in tone when Trump was elected (as did much of Washington itself), D.C. residents' appetites for well-stocked bookshelves, whether as functional libraries or as vanity props, seems to have survived.


Or at least, that's what the demand for Books by the Foot's services would indicate: The orders Roberts and his staff handled in the Trump years weren't all that different from the orders they fielded in prior administrations.

To Roberts, though, the unchanging demand is a good thing.

One of the positives for a business like his, he wrote in an email, is that familiar types of people, who work in similar fields and likely share similar aspirations, are constantly moving in and out of the area: "Military, [employees of the] State Department and embassies, political folks" are always either settling in or leaving.

The imminent changeover to the Biden administration will likely bring precisely the type of new business Books by the Foot has depended on for years.

In 2020, of course, everything changed for Books by the Foot around the same time everything changed for everyone else.

For most of the year, the coronavirus pandemic switched up the proportion of Books by the Foot's commercial to residential projects: In July, Roberts said residential orders, which had previously accounted for 20 percent of business, now accounted for 40 percent.

That was partly due to the closures of offices and hotels, Roberts noted — but a few other things were afoot, too.

For one, more people were ordering books with the apparent intent to read them.

"We're seeing an uptick in books by subject, which are usually for personal use," Roberts said over the summer.

Because many people suddenly had extra time at home but hardly anyone was able to shop in brick-and-mortar stores, orders for, say, 10 feet of mysteries, or 3 feet of art books, rose in popularity.

Another force at work, however, was the rise of the well-stocked shelf as a coveted home-office prop.

When workplaces went remote and suddenly Zoom allowed co-workers new glimpses into one another's homes, what New York Times writer Amanda Hess dubbed the "credibility bookcase" became the hot-ticket item. ("For a certain class of people, the home must function not only as a pandemic hunkering nest but also be optimized for presentation to the outside world," she wrote.)

And while Roberts makes an effort not to infer too much about his clients or ask too many questions about their intent, he did notice a very telling micro-trend in orders he was getting from all across the United States.

"We can sort of, you know, guess, or read between the lines, and we've had an uptick in smaller quantities," Roberts said over the summer. "If your typical bookcase is 3 feet wide, and you just want to have the background from your shoulders up, then you might order 9 feet of history, or 9 feet of literature. That way, you put them on your home set... [and] nobody can zoom in on these books and say, Oh my God, he's reading... you know, something offensive, or tacky. Nothing embarrassing."

In the fall, Roberts said, numbers evened out somewhat, thanks to some commercial spaces reopening.

But Books by the Foot might be taking on a higher percentage of home-library projects well into the future.

Jill Mastrostefano is the creative director and lead designer at PFour, an interior design firm that does, by her estimate, about 75 percent of its business in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Historically, Mastrostefano mostly has ordered books by color from Books by the Foot, usually to create pops of brightness or accent points in show houses (homes built to display the designs available in a particular subdivision).

But this year, she has spent a good chunk of her time outfitting model homes with specific rooms where people can envision themselves taking all their work Zoom meetings.

"We are probably going to be ordering more books because of what are now called 'Zoom rooms,' instead of studies," she says. "People need to, you know, look good when [they're] on video."

In Washington and in political circles all over the United States, the fact that people are still, after more than nine months, showing up to work meetings and doing live TV appearances from inside their own homes likely means there will be sustained demand for impressive-looking bookshelves.

And given that much of the politics-adjacent workforce won't go back to working in offices until next summer, Books by the Foot can likely count on consistent Zoom-room business until then.

Of course, there's evidence to suggest that people want to be or appear well-read but keep Books by the Foot's involvement hidden.

People probably don't want to talk about their credibility shelves, Roberts points out.

Which has always been, and remains, perfectly fine with him and perfectly fine with Bowman.

After assembly in the Wonder Book warehouse, that 12-foot order of left-leaning politics books from August (a somewhat large order for a residential project) was shipped to a private residence in New York for a client whose identity was unknown to Bowman — someone whose use for the books might be revealed one day, or might stay hidden from public view forever.


January 15, 2021 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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