The cavernous space was once above ground, the grand home of Emperor Nero, and considered one of the most magnificent palaces ever built. Its name, “Domus Aurea,” means “golden house.” It’s hard to believe it was once colorful and flooded with light. But now, modern technology is letting tourists peek into the past.
Two thousand years ago, this labyrinth, now underneath the city of Rome, was the sprawling home of Emperor Nero, stretching the size of three football fields. Today, tourists can explore it, but the colors, light and opulence of this ancient Roman villa were unimaginable until this month, when visitors could start using virtual reality headsets.
“You always try to imagine in your mind what it must’ve been like, and this helps tremendously,” said Tom Papa, a tourist from New York.
Virtual reality brings to life this important piece of history. Alessandro D’Alessio, the chief archaeologist here, explained how this place was buried following Emperor Nero’s death. [continue]
Facial recognition is a biometric system that identifies or verifies a person from a digital image. It’s used to find criminals, identify passport and driver’s license fraud, and catch shoplifters.
Yes, and to invade the privacy of an entire populace, tracking innocent people who should be left in peace.
But can it be used to identify endangered lemurs in the jungles of Madagascar?
Yes, said Anil Jain, biometrics expert and university distinguished professor at Michigan State University.
Jain and his team modified their human facial recognition system to create LemurFaceID, the first computer facial recognition system that correctly identifies more than 100 individual lemurs with 98.7 percent accuracy. [continue]
We pull up to the farmhouse to find a courtly white-haired man trimming the hedge with a set of clippers. “It’s him!” Dad whispers. He rolls down his window and leans out. “Hello, good sir!” The man seems a little nonplused. “I have a car full of young readers here who’d give anything to meet their favorite author. A word from you, and they’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives.” What choice does the poor man have? Within a few minutes, the famously reclusive E.B. White is demonstrating to a cluster of little girls in bathing suits that when you crush pine needles between your fingers and hold it to your nose, the smell is as strong as patchouli. And Dad is right — we never will forget it.
My childhood was rife with moments like this. Dad was always going out on a limb, befriending people who didn’t necessarily seem to want new friends, trespassing on private property, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior in quest of adventure. His philosophy was that you don’t need money or plans, only a willingness to be present in the moment and to go where inspiration takes you. If you don’t, you’ll miss the entire point of being alive. [continue].
I am inordinately fond of red, so I did take notice when I found that somebody has written a history of the colour. The somebody is Michel Pastoureau, and the book is Red: The History of a Color.
The Paris Review has given us an excerpt: The Red of Painters. And here is an excerpt of the excerpt!
The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.
Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline. [continue]
What if the creatures in the lake near you aren’t really supposed to be there? From Hakai Magazine, this is Amorina Kingdon’s article on invasive crayfish in Washington state: Pinch Me.
In Pine Lake, as in many waterways across the Pacific Northwest, native signal crayfish and invasive red swamp crayfish are duking it out, and the red swamps seem to be winning. (To be called “invasive” and not just non-native, a species has to cause ecological damage.) Kuehne and Chunlong are working with University of Washington freshwater ecologist Julian Olden, who has been holding the line at Pine Lake for six years. Along with the study I’m observing today, he’s distributed crayfish traps to the lake’s residents, asking them to release native signal crayfish and “dispose” of any red swamps they catch, trying to see if citizen science can beat back an invasive species and help the signals recover. That’s why Kuehne, Chunlong, and I are disappointed to see the red swamp.
But should we be? Around the world, humans have introduced different species of crayfish into each other’s territories, where they sometimes thrive, sometimes barely survive, and sometimes wipe out the native populations. A species such as the signal crayfish might be the underdog here, but a hostile invader in European waterways. When it comes to crayfish, choosing sides is never simple. Should humans try to correct the damage—or should we leave well enough alone? [continue]
A series of Stone Age palisade enclosures have been discovered in Denmark in recent years and archaeologists are still wondering what they were used for.
One of the latest additions is a huge construction, discovered by archaeologists from the Museum Southeast Denmark. The fence dates from the Neolithic period and seems to frame an oval area of nearly 18,000 square meters.
“It was actually somewhat overwhelming to experience that it is possible to reveal the traces of such a huge building from the Neolithic period. There are many suggestions for what they could’ve been used for, but to put it simply, we just don’t know,” says archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth who leads the excavation.
One of the most remarkable things about the fencing at Stevns is the way the entrances have been constructed. The fence is in fact built in five rows that extend outwards, and the opening in each row appears to be offset from the others. [continue]
The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.
Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the “de-extinction” effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Prof George Church. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.” (…)
I am particulartly interested in this part of the article:
Church, a guest speaker at the meeting, said the mammoth project had two goals: securing an alternative future for the endangered Asian elephant and helping to combat global warming. Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” said Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.” [continue]
In September 1885, a bunch of librarians spent four days holed up in scenic Lake George, just over 200 miles north of New York City. In the presence of such library-world luminaries as Melvil Dewey—the well-organized chap whose Dewey Decimal System keeps shelves orderly to this day—they discussed a range of issues, from the significance of the term “bookworm” to the question of whether libraries ought to have a separate reference-room for ladies.
They then turned their attention to another crucial issue: handwriting. As libraries acquired more books, card catalogs needed to expand fast in order to keep track of them. Though the newly invented typewriter was beginning to take hold, it took time and effort to teach the art of “machine writing.” Librarians still had to handwrite their catalog cards. And this was causing problems.
“The trouble in handwriting,” said Mr. James Whitney, of the Boston Public Library, “is that there is apt to be too much flourishing.” [continue]
Of course you’ll want to read the rest of the article to learn about the solution they came up with, and see the photos of the results.
I want to tell you that I don’t really believe in the magical properties of turmeric, that I was radicalized when I was only a child. Turmeric was prescribed to me weekly at my grandmother’s house in Nairobi — dumped into a pot of sweetened, simmering milk, or smushed with ginger powder and bronze, crystallized gur, the delicious raw sugar paste she bought in bulk and kept in old ice cream tubs with flimsy, warped plastic lids.
There was turmeric for a standard runny nose, the dizzy rush of a fever, the ache of moving away from my best friend. Turmeric for a breakout, a particularly tender, slow-to-heal bruise, the anxieties that kept me awake. Among family, where there was always pressure to talk lightly, and about cheerful things, a cup of hot, sweet turmeric milk pushed across the table seemed like a quiet acknowledgment of my grievances, however tiny, rather than a promise to obliterate them. [continue]
Yum, turmeric milk. I often make some for breakfast!
The Tlingit and Haida, indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast (NWC), have used carved wooden hooks to catch halibut for centuries. As modern fishing technology crept into use, however, the old hooks practically disappeared from the sea. But they thrived on land—as decorative art.
The hook’s evolution from utilitarian tool to expression of cultural heritage is the subject of a paper by Jonathan Malindine, a doctoral student in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Anthropology. In “Northwest Coast Halibut Hooks: an Evolving Tradition of Form, Function, and Fishing,” published in the journal Human Ecology, he traces the arc of the hook’s design and how its dimensions have changed over time.
“I used to be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and also lived in a Tlingit and Haida community,” Malindine said. “So, the intersection of fisheries and Alaska Native art has always fascinated me. These NWC hooks are really effective at catching halibut, and also are intricately carved with rich, figural designs. Between the technology and the mythological imagery, there’s a lot going on.” [continue]
When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions. [continue, see photo of dig]
The rise of deadly superbugs which are resistant to antibiotics could be thwarted by a humble and widely available red berry, scientists have said.
Researchers seeking to understand why traditional healers in the Amazon rainforest use Brazilian peppertree berries to treat skin complaints found the plant had the power to fight off potentially lethal infections such as MRSA.
Traditional classes of antibiotics, which seek to attack and kill harmful bacteria, are becoming increasingly ineffective as the pathogens learn how to survive the onslaught.
Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia found the peppertree compounds worked in a more intelligent way than existing antibiotics, by “disarming, not destroying” the bugs.
Rather than physically attacking the harmful bacteria, the refined flavone compounds within the berry repressed the gene that allows the dangerous cells to communicate with each other, thereby stopping the infection in its tracks. [continue]
I wonder if anything that grows in my neck of the woods has similar properties.
Bloomberg.com tells us of Thomas Hargrove, who is “building software to identify trends in unsolved murders using data nobody’s bothered with before.” Sounds interesting, hmmm? Here’s a bit from the article: Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm.
He spent months trying to develop an algorithm that would identify unsolved cases with enough commonalities to suggest the same murderer. Eventually, he decided to reverse-engineer the algorithm by testing his ideas against one well-known case, that of Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, who confessed to killing 48 women over two decades in the Seattle area. Hargrove thought that if he could devise an algorithm that turned up the Green River Killer’s victims, he’d know he was on the right track.
“We found a hundred things that didn’t work,” he recalls. Finally, he settled on four characteristics for what’s called a cluster analysis: geography, sex, age group, and method of killing. For gender, he stuck with women, since they make up the vast majority of multiple-murder victims who aren’t connected to gang-related activity. When he used women between the ages of 20 and 50—the cohort most commonly targeted by serial killers—the algorithm lit up like a slot machine. “It became clear that this thing was working,” he says. “In fact, it was working too well.”
The Green River Killer came up right away in this algorithm. That was good news. Hargrove’s algorithm also pulled up 77 unsolved murders in Los Angeles, which he learned were attributed to several different killers the police were pursuing (including the so-called Southside Slayer and, most recently, the Grim Sleeper), and 64 unsolved murders of women in Phoenix.
Then there was a second group of possible serial killers, those unrecognized by local police. “The whole point of the algorithm was to find the low-hanging fruit, the obvious clusters,” Hargrove says. “But there were dozens and dozens of them all over the country.” [continue]
Up in the arctic, life struggles to thrive. A rocky and frigid landscape supporting little more than meager shrubs, grasses, and some berries in the summer, it’s proven too hostile for more than a few animal species that have specially evolved to polar environs. Yet despite the harsh conditions, thousands of years ago human beings managed to etch out a life for themselves in the snows. These peoples’ ability to live in these regions is mostly due to a diet that to most of us seems narrow and anemic, but in truth has proven itself one of the most robust and healthy in the world.
Arctic diets vary vastly from region to region, according to the local environment’s flora and fauna. But at their most extreme, they consist of almost nothing but meat and fish, often from animals rich in fat (think polar bears, seabirds, and whales). For those of us who grew up learning the American Food Pyramid, or even the unholy devilcraft that is the new “My Plate” system, such a meat-heavy diet sounds borderline suicidal. But when eaten raw, these animals’ organs provide ample nutrients, including the vitamins we temperate-zoners draw mostly from plants. Blubber is also surprisingly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats and natural fermentation provides arctic diets with the benefits of probiotic foods. The result is a food regimen that provides everything a human needs, as well as one of the greatest natural defenses against diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and perhaps even seasonal effective disorder, illustrating that in any diet, there are no essential food groups, just essential nutrients. [continue].
How fascinating is that? I love reading about traditional diets, and have, over the years, changed my own diet quite a bit in order to cut out all processed food. These days I try to eat the sort of foods that humans ate before industrialization and nutritional stupidity. Are any of you doing that, too?
I ate reindeer meat in Norway, though I haven’t tried reindeer blood. Perhaps on another visit I will see if there are any Sami communities that welcome visitors like me.
BTW, I found the good.is article through a link in Weekend Link Love – Edition 439 at Mark’s Daily Apple. That Weekend Link Love post is the one thing I read every single week at Mark’s Daily Apple, as there is always at least one really interesting thing there.
In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. A few have even claimed to have seen the ship, its wooden remains poking through the sand like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast.
Among those who say they’ve come close to the ship is small-town librarian Myrtle Botts. In 1933, she was hiking with her husband in the Anza-Borrego Desert, not far from the border with Mexico. It was early March, so the desert would have been in bloom, its washed-out yellows and grays beaten back by the riotous invasion of wildflowers. Those wildflowers were what brought the Bottses to the desert, and they ended up near a tiny settlement called Agua Caliente. Surrounding place names reflected the strangeness and severity of the land: Moonlight Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Indian Gorge.
To enter the desert is to succumb to the unknowable. One morning, a prospector appeared in the couple’s camp with news far more astonishing than a new species of desert flora: He’d found a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. The vessel was made of wood, and there was a serpentine figure carved into its prow. There were also impressions on its flanks where shields had been attached—all the hallmarks of a Viking craft. Recounting the episode later, Botts said she and her husband saw the ship but couldn’t reach it, so they vowed to return the following day, better prepared for a rugged hike. [continue]
In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood.
Remarkably, the gloria is alive and kicking. Several villages, especially in the wider region around Burgos, still have houses with subterranean fireplaces of which some are in working order.
In January, my friend Pedro took me to his uncle’s house in Hontangas, a tiny village at some 100 km from Burgos. The uncle, now in his late sixties, fires the gloria once every morning during the “nine months of winter”. [continue]
Nearly every language and every culture has what are called “filled pauses,” a notoriously difficult-to-define concept that generally refers to sounds or words that a speaker uses when, well, not exactly speaking. In American English, the most common are “uh” and “um.”
Until about 20 years ago, few linguists paid filled pauses much attention. They were seen as not very interesting, a mere expulsion of sound to take up space while the speaker figures out what to say next. (In Russian, filled pauses are called “parasite sounds,” which is kind of rude.) But since then, interest in filled pauses has exploded. There are conferences about them. Researchers around the globe, in dozens of different languages, dedicate themselves to studying them. And yet they still remain poorly understood, especially as new forms of discourse begin popping up. (…)
But researchers digging into the weird world of filled pauses have turned up some crazy, fascinating stuff. Some have taken sentences full of “ums” and “uhs” and edited them out to find out if people react more positively to someone who doesn’t use them. (They do.) Some are putting people in MRI machines to find out what weird neural stuff is going on when people use filled pauses. (Definitely some stuff.) And in Japan, researchers are trying to puzzle out how and why Japanese filled pauses are so unusual. [continue]
A Russian millionaire is in advanced talks with the Kiribati government to lease three uninhabited islands and establish an alternative Russia and revive the monarchy.
Russian Anton Bakov and his wife Maria are planning to re-establish the Romanov Empire on three remote islands in the south Pacific nation of Kiribati, and invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the impoverished island’s economy.
The Russian monarchy was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and Bakov, a businessman and former Russian MP, has devoted himself to reviving it – which over the years has included exploring options for a base in Montenegro and the Cook Islands. [continue]
We generally assume moderate drinking (two standard drinks per day) is good for our health.
This idea comes from studies over the past three decades showing moderate drinkers are healthier and less likely to die prematurely than those who drink more, less, or don’t drink at all.
I would be glad if this were true.
But our latest research challenges this view. We found while moderate drinkers are healthier than relatively heavy drinkers or non-drinkers, they are also wealthier. When we control for the influence of wealth, then alcohol’s apparent health benefit is much reduced in women aged 50 years or older, and disappears completely in men of similar age. [continue]
Ignoring the idea of willpower will sound absurd to most patients and therapists, but, as a practicing addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the very concept of willpower, and concerned by the self-help obsession that surrounds it. Countless books and blogs offer ways to “boost self-control,” or even to “meditate your way to more willpower,” but what’s not widely recognized is that new research has shown some of the ideas underlying these messages to be inaccurate.
More fundamentally, the common, monolithic definition of willpower distracts us from finer-grained dimensions of self-control and runs the danger of magnifying harmful myths—like the idea that willpower is finite and exhaustible. To borrow a phrase from the philosopher Ned Block, willpower is a mongrel concept, one that connotes a wide and often inconsistent range of cognitive functions. The closer we look, the more it appears to unravel. It’s time to get rid of it altogether. [continue]
David Fajgenbaum was the fittest of his friends at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, a 6-foot-3 gym addict and former quarterback at Georgetown. His mammoth hands seemed more suited to spiraling footballs than the fine fingerwork a doctor-in-training might need. He had endurance to match, taking multiple hits and returning to the field to play on.
“This guy was a physical specimen,” said his former roommate, Grant Mitchell, who used to walk to work with him. When they would arrive at the hospital for his obstetrics rotation, his friend recalled, “he would basically coerce me into doing pull-ups on the tree outside.”
In July 2010, that all changed. The 25-year-old woke up at night drenched in sweat. His lymph nodes were swollen. He felt stabs of abdominal pain, and odd red bumps began sprouting across his chest. Most bizarre of all, he felt very tired — so tired that he began slipping into empty exam rooms between patients, stealing five-minute naps to get through the day.
“Guys, I think I’m dying,” he recalled telling his friends.
A visit to the emergency room confirmed his fears. A doctor told him that his liver, kidneys and bone marrow were not working properly. Even more troubling, the doctor had no idea why his body was failing. “What do you think is going on?” he remembers the doctor asking him. [continue]