Minding the monster

From The Walrus: Minding the Monster.

You can understand the mindset of a vigilante. Child molestation is the sort of crime held up as the purest distillation of human evil; vengeance feels like the only response. Pedophiles should pay for their crimes. They should be condemned, branded, driven out of our communities and away from our kids. But when someone takes the opposite approach, you pause. Although Haley had no way of knowing it, that morning, he set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the creation of one of the most successful reintegration programs in Canadian history: Circles of Support and Accountability. [continue]

Do you have a support group like Circles of Support and Accountability in your community? It seems like a brilliant, and caring, scheme – the kind of thing we need more of.

How to unlearn a disease

This is mind-boggling. From Nautilus: How to Unlearn a Disease.

My father, a neurologist, once had a patient who was tormented, in the most visceral sense, by a poem. Philip was 12 years old and a student at a prestigious boarding school in Princeton, New Jersey. One of his assignments was to recite Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. By the day of the presentation, he had rehearsed the poem dozens of times and could recall it with ease. But this time, as he stood before his classmates, something strange happened.

Each time he delivered the poem’s famous haunting refrain—“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore’ ”—the right side of his mouth quivered. The tremor intensified until, about halfway through the recitation, he fell to the floor in convulsions, having lost all control of his body, including bladder and bowels, in front of an audience of merciless adolescents. His first seizure. [continue]

Encryption key to free speech, says UN report

From the BBC: Encryption key to free speech, says UN report.

Encryption software that makes it hard to spy on what people do and say online is “essential” for free speech, says a United Nations report.

Without anonymising tools, many people will find it far harder to express opinions without censure, it says.

Any attempt to weaken encryption software will only curb this ability, it warns.

The report comes as many governments seek to put “backdoors” in encryption software to aid law enforcement.

“Encryption and anonymity, separately or together, create a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief,” says the report written by David Kaye, a special rapporteur in the UN’s office of the high commissioner for human rights. [continue]

This is awesome.

Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today?

From Modern Farmer: Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today?

The usual archaeological/anthropological view of First Nations peoples (that’s the Canadian version of the term American Indian) in British Columbia is that they were hunter-gatherers, getting what they needed from the land and sea without adopting agricultural practices. But a series of studies from Simon Fraser University is challenging that idea: the team, led by archaeologist Dana Lepofsky, has found and dated “clam gardens” from thousands of years ago, and these early shellfish farms turn out to be anything but simple.

“Of course, First Nations knew they were there all along,” said Lepofsky in an email. “In fact, my friend Clan Chief Adam Dick/Kwaksistalla told anthropologist Doug Deur about them ages ago, but Doug, not being an archaeologist, assumed all western scientists already knew about them. Nope.”

The clam gardens were constructed as a series of stone terraces on specific parts of the shore to protect them from the sea, basically making calmer pools where clams can grow more safely and easily. The key is to alter the slope of the soft-bottomed beach as it stretches out to sea—if you can make it a relatively flat surface, the clams will grow much more quickly. In a study last year, the team built clam gardens as similar as possible to the remnants of the ones they found. The researchers found that the output of littleneck clams nearly doubles and the volume of butter clams actually quadruples over the amount harvested from unmodified clam beaches. The new study found evidence that these indigenous people were replanting baby clams in pretty much the exact same way that modern farmers grow clams today. These weren’t accidental pools; these were farms. [continue]

The revival of mirabilis.ca

So, there were no new posts on mirabilis.ca for rather a while.

I’ve been thinking that I’d like to return to blogging regularly, and have been debating between starting a new blog or reviving this one. First I set up a new blog, but didn’t make it public; it was locked down and I was the only one who could see its content. I posted stuff there for a while, as a test. Would I find things I wanted to blog? Would I get into a blogging habit again? Yes and yes, as it turns out.

While thinking about a new blog vs this one, I posted The current mystery of mirabilis.ca – partly to ask a question about some hacker’s attempt to break in here, and also to see if any of you were still around.

Well, bless you. Some of you patient people have kept mirabilis.ca on your RSS feed list all this time. Thank you to Dennis, Marja-Leena, Todd, Bananabob, Mal, and Nancy for commenting on that post.

So I’ve decided to revive this blog. I’ve imported the test blog posts I wrote in that other place, which is why there is content here with dates in May – yet posts you haven’t seen before. If you’re interested, take a look at the May 2015 archives, or just scroll down the main page of the blog until you get to something you’ve read before.

I’ve restored the contact form, and will probably tweak a few things here and there.

If you’re only interested in one kind of content (history and archaeology, say), remember that you can browse by category (see sidebar links) or subscribe to the RSS feed for whatever category of posts you like.

And so! On we go.

The medieval ‘New England’: a forgotten Anglo-Saxon colony on the north-eastern Black Sea coast

Now this is a treasure of a thing. Settle down and read Caitlin Green’s article, The medieval ‘New England’: a forgotten Anglo-Saxon colony on the north-eastern Black Sea coast. It begins:

Although the name ‘New England’ is now firmly associated with the east coast of America, this is not the first place to be called that. In the medieval period there was another Nova Anglia, ‘New England’, and it lay far to the east of England, rather than to the west, in the area of the Crimean peninsula. The following post examines some of the evidence relating to this colony, which was said to have been established by Anglo-Saxon exiles after the Norman conquest of 1066 and seems to have survived at least as late as the thirteenth century. [continue]

Fake jobs

From the New York Times: In Europe, Fake Jobs Can Have Real Benefits.

At 9:30 a.m. on a sunny weekday, the phones at Candelia, a purveyor of sleek office furniture in Lille, France, rang steadily with orders from customers across the country and from Switzerland and Germany. A photocopier clacked rhythmically while more than a dozen workers processed sales, dealt with suppliers and arranged for desks and chairs to be shipped.

Sabine de Buyzer, working in the accounting department, leaned into her computer and scanned a row of numbers. Candelia was doing well. Its revenue that week was outpacing expenses, even counting taxes and salaries. “We have to be profitable,” Ms. de Buyzer said. “Everyone’s working all out to make sure we succeed.”

This was a sentiment any boss would like to hear, but in this case the entire business is fake. So are Candelia’s customers and suppliers, from the companies ordering the furniture to the trucking operators that make deliveries. Even the bank where Candelia gets its loans is not real. [continue]

Rather mind-boggling, isn’t it?

The ‘chocolate helps weight loss’ hoax

How hard is it to fool people with “news” about nutrition and weight loss? Not hard at all, as it happens. From io9.com I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it. [continue]

See also: Why a journalist scammed the media into spreading bad chocolate science at NPR.

More eggs, please. Cholesterol is OK now

From The Times: More eggs, please. Cholesterol is OK now.

If you are reading this before breakfast, please consider having an egg. Any day now, the US government will officially accept the advice to drop cholesterol from its list of “nutrients of concern” altogether. It wants also to “de-emphasise” saturated fat, given “the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease”.

This is a mighty U-turn, albeit hedged about in caveats, and long overdue. The evidence has been building for years that eating cholesterol does not cause high blood cholesterol. A 2013 review by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology found “no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum [blood] cholesterol”.

Cholesterol is not some vile poison but an essential ingredient of life, which makes animal cell membranes flexible and is the raw material for making hormones, like testosterone and oestrogen. Your liver manufactures most of the cholesterol found in your blood from scratch, and adjusts for what you ingest, which is why diet does not determine blood cholesterol levels. Lowering blood cholesterol by changing diet is all but impossible.

Nor is there any good evidence that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease or shorter life. It is not even a risk factor in people who have already had heart attacks. In elderly people — ie, those who have the most heart attacks — the lower your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of death. Likewise in children. [continue]

Starved for fire, Wisconsin’s pine barrens disappear

When humans rush to extinguish every wildfire, wildfires are not the only thing extinguished. From Science Daily: Starved for fire, Wisconsin’s pine barrens disappear.

A century spent treating wildfires as emergencies to be stamped out may have cost Central Wisconsin a natural setting that was common and thriving before the state was settled.

Pine barrens once stretched like a scarf around the state’s neck, from the northeast down across Central Wisconsin and up again northwest to Lake Superior. As recently as the 1950s, University of Wisconsin-Madison surveys conducted by botany Professor John Curtis and graduate student James Habeck described the sandy, open spaces dotted with pin oak and jack pine and dashed with the lavender of lupine and the purple of blazing star.

“We know that the pine barrens used to be common in Wisconsin before European settlement, but now only about 1 percent of the original area remains,” says Daijiang Li, a current UW-Madison botany graduate student. With botany Professor Donald Waller, Li authored a study in the journal Ecology outlining the factors driving a deep shift in the increasingly rare plant communities that once inhabited the Central Wisconsin pine barrens. [continue]

The current mystery of mirabilis.ca

A strange thing has been happening with this blog: somebody is trying really hard to break in. Every day there are far too many attempts from a wide range of IP addresses. I’ve taken a number of steps to reduce the number of login attempts that are even possible. But what I wonder is…. well, why?

I run other WordPress sites, but none are targeted the way this one is. My best guess is that some hacker is looking for a site that has been around for a long time, and seems not to be active. So, hacking such a site would mean the ability to put up a bunch of content that would seem legit to a search engine, and maybe the blog owner wouldn’t notice at all. Does that sound logical? Do you have any better theories?

At any rate, I thought I’d see if having a recent post – this one – would make the site less attractive to the hacker who has targeted it. Maybe if it’s clear that this site hasn’t been abandoned after all….?

It’s been years since I’ve posted much here. I’m thinking of changing that and blogging regularly at mirabilis.ca, but it’s still a matter of some debate for me. For one thing, would any of my old readers even notice? Does anybody check in here anymore? Is mirabilis.ca on anybody’s RSS feed?

It’s illegal to throw out good food in France

It’s not often that news of a new law cheers me, but this one’s great. From Mother Jones: This Is the Unprecedented New Law France Just Passed to Eliminate Supermarket Waste.

On Thursday, France’s parliament unanimously approved a new law prohibiting large supermarkets from throwing out unsold food, instead mandating stores donate any surplus groceries to charities or for animal feed use. (…)

The new regulations will also ban the common practice of intentionally destroying unsold food by bleaching it—a process meant to prevent people from searching for food in dumpsters, which has lead to lawsuits after people became sick from eating spoiled food. [continue]

So, let’s just do this everywhere.

New device stops jetlag

From good.is: New device stops jetlag.

From the land of ice and snow comes a new device that harnesses the sun’s positive rays to combat the infamous symptoms of transcontinental jet lag. Finnish startup Valkee, known for its products targeting seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects over 9.5% percent of Finland’s population, recently launched a new device called the Human Charger that just might revolutionize travel. A bright light-emitting headset run via app, the Human Charger is able to “coordinate” environmental and situational factors between pre-and-post-travel routines, and, according to the Aerospace Medical Association, significantly improve a traveler’s jet lag. [continue]

That sounds promising. But now I have the Immigrant Song stuck in my head.

DNA samples from fungi

From Science Daily: DNA samples from fungi collections provide key to mushroom ‘tree of life’.

Genetic material from fungi collections at Purdue University and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, helped a team of researchers resolve the mushroom “tree of life,” a map of the relationships between key mushroom species and their evolutionary history that scientists have struggled to piece together for more than 200 years. [continue].

I guess that means all of my mushroom identification books will be outdated in a few years. But that’s ok. Better to know a thing than not to know a thing, for the most part.

Factory re-set leaves your data on Android phones

How annoying is this? From ZDNet: Think factory reset wipes your data from Android phones? Think again.

Diligent Android users may have done the right thing and factory reset their devices before selling them, but researchers have shown personal information can still be recovered from dozens of devices, even after they’ve been wiped.

As many as 500 million smartphones running older versions of Android may still be carrying data including Google and Facebook account details, SMS and email content that users would likely assume would be deleted from their devices after a factory reset. [continue]

This is one reason that I won’t be selling my old phone.

New study captures stunning diversity of ocean microbes

From csmonitor.com: New study captures stunning diversity of ocean microbes.

The sunlit upper layer of the world’s oceans is teeming with tiny creatures that seem to have jumped off the pages of a Dr. Seuss tale, with exquisite see-through bodies, bulging eyes and an array of glowing colors. These mysterious sea characters may form the bulk of ocean life, new data from a three-year voyage suggests. [continue].

Well. Does that make you more or less likely to swim in the sea? Anyway, you’ll want to go see the photo.

NSA planned to hijack Google app store to hack smartphones

Will the NSA ever stop trying to invade our privacy? Probably not. This is from The Inercept: NSA Planned to Hijack Google App Store to Hack Smartphones.

The National Security Agency and its closest allies planned to hijack data links to Google and Samsung app stores to infect smartphones with spyware, a top-secret document reveals.

The surveillance project was launched by a joint electronic eavesdropping unit called the Network Tradecraft Advancement Team, which includes spies from each of the countries in the “Five Eyes” alliance — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.

The top-secret document, obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was published Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept. The document outlines a series of tactics that the NSA and its counterparts in the Five Eyes were working on during workshops held in Australia and Canada between November 2011 and February 2012. [continue]

This is why I’d like an open-source alternative to the app store. An open-source app source that is vetted by security professionals, and whose code can be in spected by anyone… well, that is probably our best protection against crap like this.

Fort Nelson First Nation uses fire to save bison, limit wildfires

Fighting fire with fire! And also saving bison. From the CBC: Fort Nelson First Nation uses fire to save bison, limit wildfires.

Using a helicopter and a machine that pumps out 100 flaming ping-pong balls every minute, a team from the Fort Nelson First Nation recently took to the air to set fire to almost 3,000 hectares of forest in the Liard River area in northeastern British Columbia.

It’s part of the First Nation’s ongoing efforts to help a threatened herd of wood bison.

“Prescribed fire is very important to keep range land open, as far as the ability to access forage and vegetation for bison,” said Sonja Leverkus, an ecologist working with the First Nation. [continue]

The job of setting large fires for the good of eveything wouldn’t suck.

Cameras for dogs

CNET reports of a camera that’s triggered by a dog’s heartbeat.

A black-and-white dog named Grizzler is capturing arty images using a new system from Nikon Asia. Heartography consists of a heartbeat monitor, a camera and a special housing that includes a shutter trigger activated when the dog’s heart rate rises. [continue]

I like Grizzler’s photos, and I’d love to see the photos my dog would take with such a system. Maybe I’d get a shot of the rat in the compost pile!