Combating book theft in medieval times

From medievalbooks.nl: Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times.

Considering these two practical theft-prevention techniques – chaining your books to something unmovable or putting them into a safe – the third seems kind of odd: to write a curse against book thieves inside the book. Your typical curse (or anathema) simply stated that the thief would be cursed, like this one in a book from an unidentified Church of St Caecilia: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act” (source and image). Some of these book curses really rub it in: “If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgement the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ” (source). [continue]

(Link found here on the Schneier on Security blog.)

Easy DNA editing will remake the world

From Wired: Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.

Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.

The technique is revolutionary, and like all revolutions, it’s perilous. Crispr goes well beyond anything the Asilomar conference discussed. It could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would—designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes. It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are—or who will be the first to break them. [continue]

Do the world’s ‘uncontacted’ tribes deserve to be left alone?

From the Washington Post: Do the world’s ‘uncontacted’ tribes deserve to be left alone?

For the first time, anthropologists working for the Peruvian government will attempt to make contact with members of a remote tribe living in the Amazon jungle. The move follows growing concerns about the behavior of the Mascho Piro people, which has included attacks and raids on neighboring communities.

South America, and in particular the vast Amazon region, is home to some of the world’s last remaining “uncontacted” tribes — indigenous communities that, for whatever reason, have managed to exist almost entirely outside the purview of the nation-states in which they technically live. Experts fear a whole slew of risks that may follow should these tribes come into full contact with the outside world, from exploitation by rapacious mining and logging companies to the devastating transfer of pathogens to which they have no immunity.

In recent decades, some governments have taken a protective stance, working to shield these communities from outside contact mostly because of the health risks involved. After all, some estimates suggest contact with outside diseases killed up to 100 million indigenous people following the European arrival in the Americas. [continue]

Did you follow the article’s link to uncontactedtribes.org? That’s a fascinating site.

Leif Haugen, Fire Lookout

From americanforests.org: Leif Haugen, Fire Lookout.

The old tent creaks and buckles under the force of the fierce wind blowing from the west as I sleep. The tall windows of the nearby fire lookout tower rattle and shake. The sun sets behind a distant peak, clouds roll in and the clear blue sky slowly turns to the burnt orange of dusk. It took the better part of a day’s travel to get to the top of this mountain.

The journey began at a small town on a gravel road. With only a general store, a handful of houses, a seasonal restaurant and a hostel, it is really more like an outpost than a town. Where the twisted gravel road stopped, a footpath began. The narrow path moved through a moss-encrusted forest riddled with downed trees and followed the drainage of a cold, clear alpine creek. Near the top, the trees separated on the ridge to reveal an expansive view of a long valley. Just beyond this spot was my destination, a tiny shack balanced on the brow of a mountain. This is the place where Leif Haugen has spent the past several summers. I’ve come to talk with Haugen and get a first-hand peek behind the often-romanticized veneer of what it means to be a fire lookout.

Haugen is a fire lookout with the U.S. Forest Service. During the summer months, his job is to maintain watch over the pristine wilderness that surrounds his remote post a few miles south of the Canadian border in northwest Montana. He’s from Minnesota and learned about the lookout life through literature, securing his first job as a lookout with the help of a friend in 1994. He’s been returning ever since. “It’s a great way to spend the summer,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of choices, but all of the choices are things I enjoy doing: walking, reading, writing, carpentry and taking a good long look around.” [continue]

Bathing machines

Whizzpast.com’s post,Victorian Beach Life: Photos of 19th Century Bathing Machines in Operation, is good fun.

The gist of the blessing bathing machines brought life in the budding modern industrial era is fairly simple. The passenger enters a horse or human drawn carriage, which is transported some distance out into the water. The van’s human cargo changes into whatever shapeless sack was deemed suitable at the time. [continue]

There are lots of photos.

What happens to the carbs?

Health. Diabetes. Pre-diabetes. Diabetes and the link to heart disease. How the body processes carbs. What causes people to get fat, anyway? If any of this interests you, you’ll want to read blogs like the one Dr Malcolm Kendrick writes. His latest post is What happens to the carbs – part II. It begins:

My interest in nutrition began many years ago as part of my over-riding interest in cardiovascular disease. This means that, unlike many other people, I backed into this area with no great interest in the effect of food on health. For most doctors nutrition takes up about an hour of the medical degree course. We are pretty much given to understand that it is of little medical significance. Eat a balanced diet…end of. I also paid nutrition about that much heed.

However, because of the power and influence of the diet/heart hypothesis I felt the need to understand more about this whole area, and how the system of digestion and metabolism actually worked. At first my interest was purely to find out if there was any clear and consistent association between diet and cardiovascular disease (which I shall call heart disease from now on, as it is simplest to do so).

Like many others, before and since, I could not find any such association. Nor could I find any biochemical or physiological reason why saturated fat, in particular, could cause heart disease. That issue, of course, represents a long and winding road that I am not going down here.

However it did not take long before I became side tracked by the very powerful and consistent association between heart disease and diabetes. People with diabetes have far higher rates of heart disease than people who do not. In the case of women with diabetes, the increase in risk hovers around five times the rate of non-diabetics. So it became clear that I would need to understand diabetes, if I was going to fully understand heart disease. [continue]

Who needs an official postal address?

From the Guardian: Postman turns detective to deliver letter with cryptic address in Ireland.

A sharp-eyed Irish postman demonstrated his detective skills after tracking down a Co Donegal house with only the vaguest of instructions on a letter to go by.

The letter was sent from Belfast across the border into the Irish Republic to the home of a PHD student.

In full, the envelope contained the message on the front: “Your man Henderson, that boy with the glasses who is doing a PhD up here at Queen’s in Belfast. Buncrana, County Donegal, Ireland.”

A friend sent the letter to Barry Henderson who is studying for a PhD in history at Queen’s University Belfast with the potentially confusing address at his home in Buncranca, which has a population of 7,000. [continue]

Would an address like that get the post to you? Let’s see. Your last name, one fact about your appearance, one fact about your occupation. Would that do it? It would certainly work in my community!

For more fun, proceed to the BBC for Mind blowing mail: the Irishman who took on the postal service. And then: he has a blog!

The mysterious German fad for posing with a polar bear imitator

The Guardian brings us today’s dose of strange: The mysterious German fad for posing with a polar bear imitator.

It could be a series of scenes from a novel dreamed up by Günter Grass. The author of The Tin Drum, The Flounder and other surreal stories of modern Germany would surely have seen the magic-realist poignancy of these bizarre images, found by Jean-Marie Donat, a French collector of photographs. Perhaps he could even help to explain why so many people in early and mid-20th-century Germany seem to have wanted to pose for their pictures with a polar bear.

In a Grass novel, we might follow the adventures of a polar-bear imitator as he puts on his hot, sweaty, furry white costume to appear beside a variety of Germans for their photographs. Here he is with a couple beside the Baltic sea. The man has taken off his top, but still wears long black trousers.

In another beach picture, the bear holds someone’s dog. Is it Hitler’s dog? I only ask because in another shot, inevitably, the two jolly fellows arm-in-arm with the polar bear are in Wehrmacht uniforms. One has a cigarette, another a sword – they are clearly officer class. Perhaps posing with the Arctic bear was a joke before they headed off to the Eastern Front. If so, the smiles would soon be frozen off their faces. Who knows what became of these soldiers. Who knows, too, what became of the aristocratic couple sitting on a rock in the forest with a bear. The bear cosies up to the woman, leaving the bespectacled man looking isolated and uneasy. [continue]

How do you speak American? Mostly, just make up words

From Atlas Obscura: How Do You Speak American? Mostly, Just Make Up Words.

Residents of the United States hung on to words that dropped out of British English: guess, gotten, cabin, junk, molasses. We also began using words lifted from native languages—maize, canoe. But, mostly, Americans would just make words up. Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as “a friend to neology,” created the word “belittle.” British writers despaired over it; he simply made up more.

And ever since, speaking American has meant enjoying the use of a whole vocabulary that originated here. We have stolen words from other languages, massaged them into new words, turned nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns, and smushed two words together to make new ones.

For starters, just think about some words we borrowed from Dutch and decided to keep: boss, cookie, stoop, scow, sleigh, snoop, waffle, poppycock, pit, when used to describe the seed of a stone fruit. Dumb might be Dutch, or it might be German, or it might be a bit of both, but it’s a uniquely American bit of English.[continue]

The root cause of violence?

I followed a poorly labelled link yesterday, which took me to a Guardian article by Jon Ronson about some woman I’ve never heard of. This was the interesting tidbit Ronson included:

I once interviewed a prison psychiatrist, James Gilligan, who told me that every murderer he treated was harbouring a central secret – which was that they felt humiliated. “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed,” he said. His conclusion: “All violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem.”

Huh!

Inuit’s risky mussel harvest under sea ice

Do you ever search for something and find that you get distracted by something else altogether? Here is the ‘something else altogether’ that caught my attention today. From the BBC: Inuit’s risky mussel harvest under sea ice.

The Inuit of Arctic Canada take huge risks to gather mussels in winter. During extreme low tides, they climb beneath the shifting sea ice, but have less than an hour before the water returns.

The 500 people of Kangiqsujuaq, near the Hudson Strait, go to great lengths to add variety to their diet of seal meat, seal meat and yet more seal meat.

This settlement and a neighbouring community on Wakeham Bay are thought to be the only places where people harvest mussels from under the thick blanket of ice that coats the Arctic sea throughout the winter.

The locals can only do this during extreme low tides, when sea ice drops by up to 12m (about 40 feet), opening fissures through which the exposed seabed – and its edible riches – can be glimpsed. The best time to go is when the moon is either full or brand new, as this is when the tide stays out the longest. [continue]

Wow.

The Norwegian town where the sun doesn’t rise

From The Atlantic: The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise.

In Tromsø, the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured. According to my friends, winter in Tromsø would be full of snow, skiing, the northern lights, and all things koselig, the Norwegian word for “cozy.” By November, open-flame candles would adorn every café, restaurant, home, and even workspace. Over the following months I learned firsthand that, far from a period of absolute darkness, the Polar Night in Tromsø is a time of beautiful colors and soft, indirect light. [continue]

India’s traditional ear de-waxing business is waning

From the LA Times: India’s traditional ear de-waxing business is waning.

Squatting on a low wooden stool, Sayed Mehboob adjusts his red turban, gently faded from countless hours in the afternoon sun. On this patch of sidewalk near the busy Grant Road train station in central Mumbai, modern India flies by in its customary hurry.

Young laborers with rough hands and precise haircuts set off on lunch break. Packs of students race to after-school tutoring sessions or home to play video games. Air-conditioned sedans pull over, their rear doors disgorging upper-class housewives from buttery leather seats.

Unfazed by the din, Mehboob, 45, slides a smaller stool toward a visitor and flashes an inviting smile.

“Would you like me to clean your ear?” he asks. [continue]

Inspired by 1970s Manitoba, Dutch city tests guaranteed income

From the CBC: Inspired by 1970s Manitoba, Dutch city tests guaranteed income.

As an experiment in the 1970s in Dauphin, Man., residents were provided a guaranteed minimum income, with no strings attached. Now Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is hoping a similar experiment will determine the best approach to help people struggling in that city.

The experiment will focus on people who are unemployed. One group will continue to collect benefits. A second group will receive benefits based on incentives and rewards. A third group will receive an unconditional basic income, meaning they’ll get paid even if they find new work — or if they make no effort to find a job. [continue]

I love this idea, and will be interested to hear if Utrecht goes ahead with it.

Seaweed that tastes like bacon

This could be yummy: seaweed that tastes like bacon. From Oregon State University:

Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent red marine algae called dulse that grows extraordinarily quickly, is packed full of protein and has an unusual trait when it is cooked.

This seaweed tastes like bacon. [continue]

That is an interesting novelty, and I’m sure that it will encourage some people to eat more seaweed. But for tastes like bacon… well. I’ll be eating real bacon for that, thanks.

The web we have to save

The Web We Have to Save is an important and thoughtful article by Hossein Derakhshan, who was jailed for blogging in 2008. He’s free now, and sad about what the web has become. I’m sad about this, too.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically. I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated. [continue]

I was on the web for years before blogs existed. Were you? In those days, you needed to know things about HTML in order to publish anything on the web. (The original version of mirabilis.ca was hand-coded, you know: HTML, typed by hand, with no blogging software in sight.)

When blogging platforms like Movable Type and then WordPress appeared, suddenly it was easy for all kinds of people to start blogs of their own and write what they pleased. And they did!

I loved the bloggy world of those days, and I miss it. Now so many people use Facebook and Twitter instead of blogging, and I think that’s sad. Why put your content on a commercial network that views you as the product? Why give your content to some entity that does not respect your privacy, and does not give you full control over your own stuff? The answer is usually “convenience” or “because everybody else does” or some such. I understand this, but I mourn for the days when everybody wanted to blog, instead of post to Facebook. I loved the decentralized, quirky, independent feel of the blogosphere.

And that is, in part, why I’m here, blogging. I will not give my content to some commercial entity, no matter who else does. You’ll not find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or what-have-you.

What about you? Do you value independent voices on the web? Independent sites, like blogs? Do you have a blog of your own? Or do you, too, let some commercial company host your social interactions?

And what do you think of Hossein’s article?

The Victorian anti-vaccination movement

From The Atlantic: The Victorian Anti-Vaccination Movement.

The dewy chill over Leicester, England, in March 1885 did not deter thousands of protesters from gathering outside nearby York Castle to protest the imprisonment of seven activists. Organizers claimed as many as 100,000 people attended, although historians estimate it was closer to 20,000.

The cause they rallied against? Vaccination.

This movement has faded from popular memory, obscured by the controversy of more recent anti-vaccination efforts, which gained momentum in the 1990s. However, the effects of the Victorian anti-vaccination movement still echo in the debate over the personal belief exemption, which was banned in California in June.

On the day the Leicester protesters gathered, vaccination was mandatory in England. Nearly a century before, Edward Jenner, a Scottish physician, had invented a method of protecting people against the raging threat of smallpox. The treatment was called variolation, and it involved [continue]

In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood

From The Guardian: In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood.

The brave and resourceful small girl in Arthur Ransome’s 1930 classic, Swallows and Amazons, is called Titty. But not, we learn, in the new film version being made by the BBC. There she will be renamed Tatty, to avoid “too many sniggers”.

It’s not the first time this indignity has befallen Titty, who was named after the traditional English fairytale, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse, in a more innocent age. (According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word “tits” only started being associated with breasts in about 1928.) She was rechristened Kitty when the story was televised by the BBC in 1963, though she re-emerged with her original name in the 1974 film adaptation, and in a later radio broadcast in 2012. [continue]

One wonders how many words have undergone a similar transformation. A few years ago The Beaver, a magazine about Canadian history, had to change its name. Remember? The NYT wrote about it: Web Filters Cause Name Change for a Magazine.

Britain’s most famous 1700s sailor spent 4 years disguised as a man

From Atlas Obscura: Britain’s Most Famous 1700s Sailor Spent 4 Years Disguised as a Man.

In 1747, when she was 22, Hannah Snell left home in search of her missing husband. Instead, she found fame. Over the next five years, she became a a sailor and a fighter, all while posing as a man. When Snell returned home and revealed her true gender, far from paying a price for deceit, she became an instant celebrity across Britain.

Snell grew up in landlocked Worcester, England, the daughter of a dyer who had nine children. By the time she was 17, her parents had died, and she had moved to London, to the house of an older sister. It was in the big city that she met James Summs, a Dutch sailor, and married him.

Summs, it seems, was a scoundrel. [continue]

Wow. Can you imagine?

How snobbery helped take the spice out of European cooking

From NPR: How Snobbery Helped Take The Spice Out Of European Cooking.

In medieval Europe, those who could afford to do so would generously season their stews with saffron, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Sugar was ubiquitous in savory dishes. And haute European cuisine, until the mid-1600s, was defined by its use of complex, contrasting flavors.

“The real question, then, is why the wealthy, powerful West — with unprecedented access to spices from its colonies — became so fixated on this singular understanding of flavor,” Srinivas says.

The answer, it turns out, has just as much to do with economics, politics and religion as it does taste. [continue]

This ancient liquor popular among Vikings may be the answer to antibiotic resistance

From Business Insider: This ancient liquor popular among Vikings may be the answer to antibiotic resistance.

Scientists in Sweden are launching their own mead — an alcoholic beverage made from a fermented mix of honey and water — based on old recipes they say could help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Together with a brewery, the scientists, who have long studied bees and their honey, have launched their own mead drink: Honey Hunter’s Elixir.

Lund University researcher Tobias Olofsson said mead had a long track record in bringing positive effects on health.

“Mead is an alcoholic drink made with just honey and water, and it was regarded as the drink of the gods and you could become immortal or sustain a better health if you drank it,” Olofsson said. “It was drunk by the Vikings for example and other cultures such as the Mayas, the Egyptians, and it was a drink that was regarded as a very beneficial drink.”

Honey production is key to the research. In previous research published in 2014, Olofsson and Alejandra Vasquez discovered that lactic-acid bacteria found in the honey stomach of bees, mixed with honey itself, could cure chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant to treatment.

They said their research had proved that these bacteria had the power to collaborate and kill off all the human pathogens they have been tested against, including resistant ones. They are doing so by producing hundreds of antibacterial antibiotic-like substances. [continue]

Well. Alcohol + Vikings + history + medicine. So much cool stuff in one article!

Rats dream about the places they wish to go

From New Scientist: Rats dream about the places they wish to go.

Do you dream of where you’d like to go tomorrow? It looks like rats do.

When the animals are shown a food treat at the end of a path they cannot access and then take a nap, the neurons representing that route in their brains fire as they sleep – as if they are dreaming about running down the corridor to grab the grub.

“It’s like looking at a holiday brochure for Greece the day before you go – that night you might dream about the pictures,” says Hugo Spiers of University College London.

Like people, rats store mental maps of the world in their hippocampi, two curved structures on either side of the brain. Putting electrodes into rats’ brains as they explore their environment has shown that different places are recorded and remembered by different combinations of hippocampal neurons firing together. [continue]

Is the fish kick the fastest stroke yet?

From Nautilus: Is the fish kick the fastest stroke yet?

I tug my black swim cap over my hair, strap on my pink goggles, and keep a focused calm, like Michael Phelps before a race. It’s lap swim on a Monday afternoon at my local YMCA, and I’m going to attempt the fish kick. Most fish move through the water with a horizontal wiggle. The fish kick challenges you to copy this movement: You completely submerge yourself underwater, position yourself on your side, keep your arms tight above your head in a streamline, and propel yourself forward with symmetrical undulations. After decades of swimming, some of it at the competitive level, I think I might have a shot. Pushing off the wall, and after what I can only describe as a struggle, the water resists my forward motion and I float to the surface, not unlike a dead fish.

Humans are land animals, and not natural swimmers. We have to learn how to swim, and it is up to us to find the fastest way to do so. The search may finally be coming to an end. In the last few decades, stroke mechanic experts have discovered that swimming under the surface is faster than swimming on the surface. “It’s hard to fathom that this could happen in track and field,” says Rick Madge, a swim coach and blogger. “Nobody is going to come up with a new way of running that is going to be faster than anything else. Yet we just did that in swimming.” And the fish kick may be the fastest subsurface form yet. [continue]

Are you off to the pool to try it out?