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Math is hard, let’s go to the mall!

I suck at math. I’m not proud of this. I have a feeling some of the most interesting stuff of all requires math and I resent that I can’t share. (My grandmother was an algebra teacher, can you believe? Which goes to show there’s a lot we don’t understand about heredity).

So the Obama years (including, to be fair, a big chunk of the Bush years) have been tough for me. All them big numbers. I could swear there was a time when a billion dollars was a lot of money. Why, we even got exercised over hundreds of millions. A few nervous nellies thought we shouldn’t waste money by hundreds of thousands, but who’re they kidding?

So with the US debt inching up to $17 trillion, I’m completely at a loss. I need a nice simple visual aid to help me wrap my brain around that number. Luckily, I found one.

Ready? The value of the United Kingdom — the whole thing — the land, buildings, cars, currency, oil, ­patents, livestock, bank accounts, even little chikkens is £7.3 trillion. That’s about $11 trillion in dollars (by today’s exchange rate. Have to watch that. If my calculations are correct — and they’re probably not — a penny difference in the rate amounts to $73,000,000,000).

The good news is, the chunk of US national debt that is held by the public is around $12 trillion. That means if you paid off your credit cards, you guys could pool your money and buy Great Britain. With a trillion in walking around money left over. And the good news is, it comes with its own fully socialized medical system, already in place!

You have all weekend to make this happen.

August 16, 2013 — 10:35 pm
Comments: 29

Hello, I’m new!

This is an olinguito, Bassaricyon neblina. It’s the first new carnivore discovered in the Western hemisphere for 35 years. If that makes you think pith helmets and bark canoes and native guides and paddling up the Amazon, you are thinking a wrong thing. It was discovered in storage at a museum in Chicago. Hundred year old bones and skins.

The man who discovered it is curator of mammals at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, which surely makes his mama very proud. He was going through a box of stuff and realized this wasn’t anything he had seen before, so he had it DNA tested. Sure enough, it’s something new.

That’s not a tool zookeepers had available in 1967, when it’s now believed an olinguito was put on display. He was put in with the olingas, which is apparently a close relative. They always wondered why the sucker wouldn’t breed.

That’s right. They’ve discovered a little brown animal that is so close to another little brown animal, trained zookeepers couldn’t tell them apart. Hoo, boy! Exciting!

Still, I thought it was interesting to know that most discoveries of new animals are happening this way — DNA testing of fusty old taxidermies in hundred year old natural history collections. Oh, but afterwards, somebody did go to South America to look for the little bastards. And found them.

Sadly, not a mustelid. Nor yet a bear. It’s a member of the same family as raccoons (lookit the little hands!). It supplants the last new carnivore discovered in the Americas, the Colombian Weasel.

Colombian Weasel. It doesn’t bear thinking of, coked up weasels.

August 15, 2013 — 9:04 pm
Comments: 25

And then this lady

This is Cecilia Gimenez. You know her as the elderly Spanish cleaning lady who effed up that mural of Jesus last year. I know, she looks so normal. I pictured her as a tiny hunched up old thing, dressed in a big black sack and shuffling around with a besom. I guess my national mental stereotypes need a little touching up.

Well, she’s rich. Well, not rich rich, but her art has made about $66,000 for her little town, which has gone to a local charity. They charged admission to the church to peep at it. Behold, the power of the internet.

Now Cecilia’s going to get a little. She’s penning an agreement that gives her 49% of the profits of the merchandizing. T-shirts, coffee mugs, that sort of thing.

I suspect Cecilia’s about to learn something else remarkable about the internet: it has the attention span of a fruit fly. Monkey Jesus was, like, a whole year ago.

August 14, 2013 — 10:49 pm
Comments: 16

Dagnabbit, we missed Bloodstock again :(

Bloodstock is an annual four day festival of heavy metal music set in the picturesque village of Walton on Trent, Derbyshire. Because England.

About a hundred bands and fifteen thousand fans turn up for it. But we didn’t. Because it was last weekend. And we are not really fans. (Well, Uncle B had his moments. He’s more into early liturgical music now).

BBC took a few snaps here.

That guy on the right? His cleavage tattoo says “1921__2009.” I’m pretty sure dude got ink for his gran. Awwww.

August 13, 2013 — 10:56 pm
Comments: 24

This lady

Dora Saint wrote novels about English life under the pen name Miss Read. Most of her books are about one of two fictional villages, Fairacre or Thrush Green. There are a bunch of them, too — twenty about Fairacre, fourteen about Thrush Green and a smattering on other subjects. None was a bestseller, but she had a loyal readership and put out about a book a year well into her eighties. She died in April last year, ten days short of her 99th birthday.

I read her first book, Village School, over the weekend. It’s one of the Fairacre ones. It was slow, gentle, subtly funny and only a very tiny bit sharp. I liked it. I’m not sure whether to tackle the whole series — I’m at the point in life where I’m painfully aware I won’t live long enough to read all the good books, and twenty is a big ask — but then I catch myself wondering what happened next.

It was her publisher’s idea to release the books under the name of her main character and narrator, the head teacher Miss Read. The village school is what we would call a one-room schoolhouse, with all the local children between the ages of five and ten, taught in two groups by two teachers. Thirty or so at a time. The school has no running water and buckets for latrines. Coke stoves for heat.

Thing is, it was set in 1955. And I gather, little village schools like this persisted into…well, I guess in more remote places, into today. I would like to think they all have toilets now.

Oh, what the heck. I’ve just bought the second one. I would like her publisher to note (I’m looking at you, Orion Book Group) that if they’d offered the Kindle edition for a sensible price (say 99p) they’d have gotten my money like a shot. I prefer reading off my Kindle. As it is, the used trade got my pittance and the publisher can go jump. I’m not paying £5 for a download when I can get something nice in the mail for under £2.

August 12, 2013 — 10:12 pm
Comments: 17

Don’t forget…

Photo nicked from this EarthSky.org schedule of 2013 meteor showers. Photographer: Jason Gunders, Queensland, Australia.

This weekend, the Perseid meteor showers peak. The best days should be Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after midnight.

The Perseids are everyone’s favorite, because they’re a very good shower and they happen in August. So, no freezing your ass off to see the purty shootin’ stars.

Of course, even the very best meteor showers, you can stare at the sky a long time before you see one. It’s not like a roman candle, for goodness sakes, so take plenty of patience-enhancing alcohol along!

Good weekend, everybody!

August 9, 2013 — 10:28 pm
Comments: 30

Head chicken

So, this happens. Every night.

I had hoped to integrate the little girls into the flock not long from now, but Maggie’s still quite unwell. She’s got some leg movement back, but not much. Still, she’s eating. She takes an interest in her surroundings. I just can’t give up on her yet.

So, long story short, the little girls come inside for the night again. They sleep in one of those big plastic cat carriers. And Coco is a little restless, shut up in a box, and apt to steamroll over Maggie in an unhelpful way, so I let her out for a while until everybody settles down.

In case you can’t quite make it out, that’s the top of my head. With headphones. She loves the headphones.

August 8, 2013 — 10:08 pm
Comments: 29

Oh. That was, ummm…Huh.

So I finished playing Bioshock Infinite. A few remarks on style, which I think I can make without absolute spoilers.

It’s set in the year 1912, alternate universe version. This is an interesting choice. Not too many shoot-’em-up video games are played to the tune of a barbershop quartet singing ragtime (“God Only Knows” – Columbia’s Gayest Quartet!). Fun Fact: I once collected 78 records; I own at least two of the tunes they played for ambient music.

And then there’s…well, the picture. I was floored by the game’s casual use of this kind of racist imagery. Lots of it. I thought there were some ideas society couldn’t revisit even in jest.

And the thing is, while racism is a running theme and it’s certainly not portrayed as a good thing, it’s also not the shown as the worst thing ever in the whole history of the world. Which, I dunno…I thought we’d collectively decided racism is the worst thing ever in the whole history of the world. It wasn’t the most important aspect of the whole game, either, which I assumed it would have to be the moment I hit the first Racially Ugly Incident.

I was so sure of this, in fact, I paused the game, scooted off to a gaming forum and asked “is the whole damn game like this?” I got answers like, “oh, it was so over the top, I didn’t take it seriously.” Hm. I thought over the top racism was the worst kind.

The game developer clearly knew this story element wasn’t going to be a big deal, and it wasn’t. Tectonic plates must have shifted somewhere.

August 7, 2013 — 10:38 pm
Comments: 28


That there is a solid lump of lard and wet wipes the size of a city bus. It has been hindering the proper operation of the sewers of Kingston, Surrey. The things they fish out of London’s drains.

That’s a frame from the sewer cam. Now stop and realize there’s some poor bastard whose job is to sit and watch Sewer TV all day long.

August 6, 2013 — 10:29 pm
Comments: 27

Return of the Swan fambly

We’ve seen a lone swan in the field several times this year, so we assumed there wasn’t a swan family. But lookee here what I spotted in the back field this afternoon.

Those aren’t six headless swans, they’re six enthusiastically grooming swans. Though the bird at the far left is a little too enthusiastic, judging from the cloud of white feathers on the ground.

Short post, but Monday night is Garbage Night and Bath Night, so we’re pretty excited around here.

August 5, 2013 — 10:23 pm
Comments: 27