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More virus blather

Anyone who’s following the coronavirus (and I assume it’s most of you) has seen this map. It’s updated once or twice a day with the most orthodox numbers. I’m putting it here so I have a handy bookmark. Most people probably don’t go upstream to find it’s put out by Johns Hopkins. They write more about the details of what they’re tracking here.

So far, I’m heartened by the fact that cases outside mainland China haven’t exploded yet. My chances of surviving a lung bug this year are not awesome.

That’s an odd thing, too. This chest bug I caught; we’ve talked to people all over Britain who clearly have the same lurgie. It’s starts like a normal cold, but a nasty, productive cough lingers for months. Mined turned very ugly; more like a mild pneumonia, really. It’s not hard to imagine this thing carrying off someone otherwise weakened.

Clearly it’s not a normal cold. I wonder what the public health threshold is, that makes the authorities take notice, take samples and identify this particular bug as a thing with a name and a history?

When I was a teenager in rural Tennessee, a bunch of us came down with a bad one. By ‘us’ I mean teenagers — I don’t think any other age group was affected. So the medical establishment decided it was mononucleosis. Because teenagers.

Not a single one of us tested positive for mono — and I suspect most of us were tested, because it was a long one. In my case, it started with painful sores inside my mouth. To this day, I sometimes have a flare-up of mouth sores when my immune system is low.

Why didn’t they try to identify it for real? I guess because there was only one death (if I recall correctly, a fifteen year old girl who fell asleep on the couch and never woke up).

Sometimes I think an illness has to be some scientist’s pet bug to get any attention.

January 28, 2020 — 8:22 pm
Comments: 4

Expensive creepy machines

The Met has got a show on at the moment called Making Marvels. It’s about two hundred years worth of eye-wateringly expensive things European royalty commissioned between 1550 and 1750. If you click either the catalogue or the picture album links on the page I linked above, you get a 404 error.

Boo, the Met.

Fortunately, I found their YouTube playlist. Don’t miss the famous draughtsman — with his clothes off, no less.

Lots of cool things to see on their Twitter hashtag, as well.

Yes, I’m still haunting Twitter for news of the coronavirus. Today in town, a family of Chinese tourists stopped me to ask directions and I ’bout came out of my skin. If one of the buggers had coughed…

January 27, 2020 — 9:15 pm
Comments: 7

Landshark, for reals

Scientists have discovered nine species of walking sharks. They mostly ‘walk’ along the sea floor, but they’re capable of walking over the tops of coral reefs, out of the water, to reach new feeding grounds. Only a matter of time.

I was going to use the picture from the NatGeo article, but when I right-clicked to copy I got a pop-up warning me to be respectful of copyright. I don’t think that’s right — once you’ve put an image in a tweet, I believe you lose exclusivity per the TOS. Otherwise, you could sue people for retweeting stuff.

Eh. I’ll be honest. I’m just sitting on Twitter following the #coronavirus hashtag again.

Have a good weekend, y’all!

January 24, 2020 — 9:29 pm
Comments: 9

Wash your hands, kids

I paid my taxes this evening. No, strike that — I filed my taxes. I am too poor to owe anything. Still, it’s a stressy little exercise to go through every year.

Now I’m just sitting here following the #CoronavirusOutbreak hashtag on Twitter.

There some weird footage coming out of Wuhan. Who knows if it’s real. That thing where people are walking down the street and suddenly collapse? That happened in the 1918 pandemic.

And there the resemblance does not end.

Discuss.

January 23, 2020 — 9:15 pm
Comments: 15

Eye see ewe

They’re cleaning the Ghent Altarpiece, a spectacularly beautiful and important early oil painting. If it doesn’t ring a bell, you’d definitely recognize bits of it if you saw them.

When they gave the panels a good high-tech examination, they were shocked to find about 70% of it had been overpainted a hundred years later, nobody knows why or by whom. It went unnoticed for so long because the techniques and materials were so close to the original. So they decided to peel off the later additions.

And they discovered THE LAMB OF GOD IS SCARY AS HELL. This is such a weird departure for the Van Eyck brothers, who were famous as the first painters who carefully observed and faithfully reproduced the natural world. Their original lamb is just acll kind of wrong. Though it does explain why the lamb had four ears in the overpainted version. (Comparison of the before and after).

It’s apparently going viral on the Internet now. Because of course it is.

Articles about it here, here and here.

January 22, 2020 — 8:53 pm
Comments: 3

Scooby doo made flesh

Neat article about super realistic silicone masks. It isn’t that they’ve gotten better, it’s that they’ve gotten cheaper. Used to be, only a big movie studio could afford them. Now you can get one for under $1,000.

Still a lot of money, but worth it if you were something like a bank robber. Which might be the back story to this guy, who robbed sixteen banks. He was either old or wearing an old man mask.

Nice selection to be seen from these people, who seem to be charging $799 for they typical mask. Hair included.

Turns out, changing the subject, that it’s Squirrel Appreciation Day. My Twitter feed has been fluffy and useless all day.

January 21, 2020 — 8:29 pm
Comments: 5

Any pilots in the house?

What is this weather pattern? Picture doesn’t show it very well (I nicked from someone else’s social media).

The sky was relatively clear on one side, rumply clouds on the other. But the line between them was…well, a line. A sharp line of demarcation from horizon horizon. Slightly curved.

The weather had been mostly sunny today. It dipped below freezing last night for the first time this season, and it will again tonight.

Never seen this before.

Oh, and happy MLK Day, which falls on Blue Monday this year.

January 20, 2020 — 7:36 pm
Comments: 4

Guess how we’re going to celebrate?

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act, the law that put the teeth in the 18th Amendment. I speak, of course, of Prohibition. Interesting article about it here.

I know it was a disaster, but to be honest, I kind of admire us for trying. No way human beings would give up the joy of alcohol after who-knows-how-many millennia, but it’s neat that we did something so weird and radical and stupid with such grand American enthusiasm. Yay us.

Nobody quit drinking for long, of course. There were several loopholes.

Sacramental wine. Demand went up by 800,000 gallons a year.

Prescription whisky for them as could afford regular Doctor visits.

You were allowed to drink any alcohol you already owned when the law went into effect, so one wealthy judge reportedly bought a lifetime supply up front.

Poor people began to drink patent medicines and hair dyes and industrial alcohols and all kinds of dangerous and potentially fatal things.

And that’s before we get to smuggling, bootlegging and bathtub gin.

Oh, we drank. And we shall drink again. Good weekend, everyone!

January 17, 2020 — 9:39 pm
Comments: 9

That is a hecking big pencil

World’s biggest color pencil, y’all. It’s 26 feet long and weighs 984.1 pounds. It is yellow. (It’s not the world’s biggest graphite pencil, though. That’s in St Louis).

The big yellow pencil is part of the Derwent Pencil Museum, a popular visitor attraction in the Northwest of England.

“It is particularly popular with visitors from the county of Yorkshire, due to the importance of pencil production for the local economy during the 1930s.”

Y’all think I make this shit up.

January 16, 2020 — 9:34 pm
Comments: 7

Science is wild

We recorded 333 high-frequency vocalisations from 13 Holstein-Friesian heifers during oestrus and anticipation of feed (putatively positive), as well as denied feed access and upon both physical and physical & visual isolation from conspecifics (putatively negative). We measured 21 source-related and nonlinear vocal parameters and stepwise discriminant function analyses (DFA) were performed. Calls were divided into positive (n = 170) and negative valence (n = 163) with each valence acting as a ‘training set’ to classify calls in the oppositely valenced ‘test set’.

Did you get that? Researchers recorded cows mooing. Horny cows, hungry cows about to be fed, hungry cows not about to be fed and lonely cows. They analyzed them by cow and state of mind (‘valence’ in this context meaning mood). They wanted to know if cows have individual voices, and if those voices remain individually recognizable no matter how the cow is feeling.

Spoiler: they do.

Oddly enough, science is only beginning to explore domestic animals and livestock in this sort of way. I have thunk long and hard about chicken toys, and keeping chickens amused. Not so much for my own flock, which gets regular free range time and a view of the garden when they’re penned up, but I’d like commercial flocks to have happier lives. I like eating chicken and I’d like to feel less shit about that.

Pro tip: ‘animal welfare’ people are the ones trying to make livestock happier. ‘Animal rights’ people are the nutters who think monkeys have human rights and domestic animals are traitors for working with people.

p.s. the cow study was in Australia.

January 15, 2020 — 9:14 pm
Comments: 7