October 12, 2017

Miscellany #86

The science behind Mona Lisa’s smile.  How Leonardo da Vinci engineered the world’s most famous painting

-Monalisa

His greatest triumph of combining art, science, optics, and illusion was the smile of the Mona Lisa, which he started working on in 1503 and continued laboring over nearly until his death 16 years later. He dissected human faces, delineating the muscles that move the lips, and combined that knowledge with the science of how the retina processes perceptions. The result was a masterpiece that invites and responds to human interactions, making Leonardo a pioneer of virtual reality.

The magic of the Mona Lisa’s smile is that it seems to react to our gaze...In no other painting are motion and emotion, the paired touchstones of Leonardo’s art, so intertwined. The Mona Lisa’s smile came not from some divine intervention. Instead, it was the product of years of painstaking and studied human effort involving applied science as well as artistic skill. Using his technical and anatomical knowledge, Leonardo generated the optical impressions that made possible this brilliant display of virtuosity.

One mom’s ingenious way of getting her kids off their phones and into books.

“This week’s wifi password is the color of Anna Karenina’s dress in the book. I said the book, not the movie!! Good luck!

Contenders in the annual Sony photography awards next year. 
Photographer Diego Faus Momparler from Spain submitted this photograph of Cap de Formentor in Mallorca, taken with a  long exposure just before sunset.

 Mallorca Photo Winner

Solzhenitsyn’s cathedrals  Gary Saul Morson on the literary works of Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

In Russia, history is too important to leave to the historians. Great novelists must show how people actually lived through events and reveal their moral significance. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained in his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, literature transmits “condensed and irrefutable human experience” in a form that “defies distortion and falsehood. Thus literature . . . preserves and protects a nation’s soul.”

How would you walk down this hallway?

-Illusion Hallway Tile

British tile company Casa Ceramica have designed a novel optical illusion flooring system that uses real tiles to create a vertigo-inducing warped floor. The skewed checkerboard floor functions as the entryway to their showroom in Manchester, lending an Alice in Wonderland atmosphere to a generally traditional medium.

Dr. Robert Liston is famous for performing the only operation with a 300 percent mortality rate.

In the days before anesthesia, surgeons had to get creative with their surgeries in an attempt to save lives while minimizing a patient’s pain. One of the most effective ways was to perform the surgery as quickly as possible, sometimes in under five minutes.  There was an upside to this method, of course, as the less time a surgery took, the less likely the patient was to bleed out and the less likely they were to feel pain. However, there was also a downside, as accuracy would usually be sacrificed in favor of speed....Liston was particularly skilled at quick amputations. Where most surgeons at that time lost one in four patients, due to his speed and skill, Liston only lost about one in ten.

Robert Liston was performing a leg amputation on a patient who was lying flat on his table. As he brought down his knife, he was so focused on his speed that he took his surgical assistant’s fingers off along with the patient’s leg. As he swung the knife back up, it clipped a spectator’s coattails, and he collapsed, dead.  The patient and Liston’s assistant both died after their wounds became infected, and the spectator who collapsed was later discovered to have died of fright. The three death’s made Liston’s surgery the only one on record with a 300 percent mortality rate.

Migrating Painted Ladies Over Denver
Large quantities of migrating painted lady butterflies show up on radar over Denver on October 4, 2017.  Call them a swarm, a flutter, a rabble or a kaleidoscope of  butterflies, there's no collective noun big enough.

 Migrating Butterflies Denver



Entries to the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition
Harry Collins captured this photo of an Atlantic Puffin on the remote nesting island of Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine.

 Atlantic Puffin By Harry Collins


Giant Straw Animals Invade Japanese Fields After Rice Harvest  Repurposing rice straw left over from the harvest.

 Straw Lion Japan-1

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:10 PM | Permalink

"Restraint in public life is not a foundation of civilization. It is civilization"

One would not expect an article about manners in Geopolitical Futures.  But George Friedman makes the very good case that manners are very much a geopolitical matter.

Manners and Political Life  Restraint in public life is not a foundation of civilization. It is civilization.

I married a woman born in Australia, of that class that emulated English culture...Meredith, my wife, grew up elegant and restrained. The enormous body of rules she called good manners rigidly shaped and controlled her passions, which were many. She followed the rules she learned as a child partly out of a desire for others to think well of her, partly because she regarded these manners as the laws of nature. Restraint and propriety were the outward sign of a decent life. ... Good manners allowed her to be both free and civilized, in the English manner. Her obsession with manners imposed a civility that shaped the way in which people disagreed....

I learned from her that there was a time and place for everything. I learned that without manners, however arbitrary they might be, life was chaos. I learned that combat, in speech and deed, might sometimes be necessary, but that it must be bound by the rituals of civility, or everything is destroyed....Manners make it possible to disagree within a framework of ritual that the disagreement does not lead to unhealable breaches.

I grew up in the 1960s, when manners were held to be a form of hypocrisy, the sign of a false and inauthentic time.  The argument was that honesty was the highest virtue. Manners restrained honest expression and therefore denied us our authenticity. What came of this was an assault on the distinction between what we are in private and what we are in public. The great icon of this was Woodstock, where the music was less important than the fact that things that had been ruthlessly private had become utterly public. The shame that is attached to bad manners was seen as dishonesty, and unrestrained actions as honesty. The restraint of manners became mortally wounded....

Today, we are surrounded by politicians who have decided that honesty requires that they show how deeply they detest each other, and a public that feels free to display its contempt for any with whom it disagrees. Our opponents have become our enemies, and our enemies have become monsters. This has become true for all political factions, and all political factions believe it is true only for their opponents. The idea that it is proper to hide and suppress our malice because not doing so is bad manners has been lost on all levels. With this has been lost the idea that it is possible to disagree on important matters, yet respect and even honor your opponent. Or, put another way, what has been lost is the obligation to appear to feel this way. Manners, after all, do not ask you to lie to yourself, but merely to the rest of the world.

The idea that manners create inauthentic lives, lives in which true feelings are suppressed, is absolutely true. But it forgets the point that many of the things we feel ought to be suppressed, and many of the truths we know ought not to even be whispered. Indeed, the whisperer, when revealed, should feel shame. Without the ability to feel shame, humans are barbarians. It is manners, however false, that create the matrix in which shame can be felt. When we consider public life today, the inflicting of shame has changed from the subtle force of manners, to the ability to intimidate those you disagree with. As Francois de La Rochefoucauld said, “Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue.” Today, vice feels little need to apologize.
....
What I have written here would seem to have little to do with geopolitics. It has everything to do with it. A nation has as its foundation the love of one’s own. That isn’t a saccharine concept. It is the idea that we are born in or come to a country and do not merely share core values with each other, but honor each other for being our fellow citizens, that our mutual bond is the fellowship of the nation. Underneath there may be much malice, but good manners require it be hidden. The collapse of manners undermines the love of one’s own and weakens the foundation of the nation. And since nations rise and fall, this is very much a geopolitical question.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:32 PM | Permalink

Growing Older - the beauty, the realizations and some horrifying stories

Usula K. Le Guin on Growing Old

One rule of the game, in most times and places, is that it’s the young who are beautiful. The beauty ideal is always a youthful one. This is partly simple realism. The young are beautiful. The whole lot of ’em. The older I get, the more clearly I see that and enjoy it....And yet I look at men and women my age and older, and their scalps and knuckles and spots and bulges, though various and interesting, don’t affect what I think of them. Some of these people I consider to be very beautiful, and others I don’t. For old people, beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young. It has to do with bones. It has to do with who the person is. More and more clearly it has to do with what shines through those gnarly faces and bodies.....

As her mother lay dying

I glimpse what no mirror can reflect, the spirit flashing out across the years, beautiful.  That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep.

What Does It Feel Like To Be 80 Years Old Knowing That Death Is Imminent?  by Stan Hayward.

I am in my 80s. To be this age is largely luck. To be this age and reasonably healthy with peace of mind is even luckier. To be this age, be healthy, and not lonely makes one feel so lucky that you want to gulp the moments down like a drowning man reaching air....I regret much but also realize that having regrets meant that I had opportunities to regret; I was lucky to have those opportunities....

When friends pass away, it is not just their presence that is lost, it is also the memories they have of you. The “Do you remember when…?” conversations that pepper the elderly reminiscences. Fear of death is actually rare and is commonly a joke. On the other hand, fear of losing one’s memories, faculties, or independence is real. We put a great value on having people who we can trust — especially to carry out wishes when we are gone. Making final decisions can be upsetting, particularly if they relate to young people who are distant in age and lifestyle yet close in relationship....

So, what is it like to be in your eighties? It is really not much different from being any age where your concerns are getting through the day. On the other hand, people have more importance than possessions; comfort more worth than ambition; trust more value than money; love more satisfying than immortality. Perhaps in some ways, one wants to leave the world as one entered it; without fear or pain; without anger or distrust; without possessions or debts; without demands or expectations; in innocence.

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker
Horrifying stories of how 'guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it'.

“The families were devastated that they couldn’t know if the residents were in surgery or hear anything about their health. They didn’t understand why they’d been taken out of the picture. They’d ask, ‘Can you just tell me if she’s alive?’ ” Liebo tried to comply with the rules, because she didn’t want to violate medical-privacy laws; as guardian, Parks was entitled to choose what was disclosed...

One senior  said that "strangers were making decisions about her fate. She felt as if she were frozen: she couldn’t influence what was happening. “I didn’t know what to do,” she told Scott. “I think I yelled for help. Help me.” The worst part, she said, was that she couldn’t find her family. “Honest to God, I thought you guys left me all alone.”
---
Approximately ten per cent of people older than sixty-five are thought to be victims of “elder abuse”—a construct that has yet to enter public consciousness, as child abuse has—but such cases are seldom prosecuted. People who are frail or dying don’t make good witnesses—a fact that Shafer once emphasized at a 1990 U.S. congressional hearing on crimes against the elderly, in which he appeared as an expert at preventing exploitation. “Seniors do not like to testify,” he said, adding that they were either incapable or “mesmerized by the person ripping them off.” He said, “The exploitation of seniors is becoming a real cottage industry right now. This is a good business. Seniors are unable to fend for themselves.”...

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:43 PM | Permalink

October 11, 2017

Health Roundup: Food Edition

Low-Carbohydrate Diet Superior to Antipsychotic Medications - Two remarkable personal stories, as told by their Harvard psychiatrist.

Ketogenic diets are special low-carbohydrate diets that have been used to treat epilepsy for almost 100 years and show great promise in the management of a wide variety of other brain disorders.

Want to make your salad healthier? Add FAT! Just a drizzle of oil could DOUBLE the absorption of 8 nutrients

Adding fat to your salad makes it healthier, new research reveals.Tucking into a plate of lettuce and cucumber with a drizzle of oil could increase the absorption of eight nutrients that are linked to human health, a study found. Such nutrients include vitamins A, E and K, which have previously been associated with cancer prevention and improved vision, the research adds.
Lead author Professor Wendy White from Iowa State University, said: 'The best way to explain it would be to say that adding twice the amount of salad dressing leads to twice the nutrient absorption.'  Maximum absorption occurs when around two tablespoons of oil is added.  Previous research reveals oil boosts the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients

It really IS the most important meal of the day!

Skipping breakfast 'leads to increased risk of heart attacks', study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology finds. Those skipping breakfast were 25.7 times more likely to have atherosclerosis, or stiff and narrow arteries and were more likely to be obese and to suffer high blood pressure and cholesterol.  Participants who skipped breakfast were also more likely to have an overall unhealthy lifestyle, including poor overall diet, frequent alcohol consumption and smoking.  The study by researchers from Tufts University was carried out on a group of 4000 people in Spain free from cardiovascular or chronic kidney disease.

Saving carbs for last at mealtime may help control blood sugar levels for diabetics  Don't eat the bread first.

Diabetics should save bread for last at mealtime to keep their blood sugar under control, new research suggests. Weill Cornell Medicine researchers said adopting this technique and saving carbs for last is comparable to the effects of insulin.  Carbohydrates trigger a surge in blood sugar levels in sufferers - hence many avoid such foods completely. But scientists have found that leaving bread, potatoes and pasta til the end helps to control these spikes after eating. The carbohydrate-last meal was also associated with lower insulin secretion and higher levels of a gut hormone that helps regulate glucose and satiety.

Just ONE extra banana or avocado a day could prevent heart attacks and stroke

It's all down to one key nutrient - potassium -  reveals study author Dr Paul Sanders from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Potassium-rich foods may stop fatal blockages from occurring by preventing arteries from hardening and maintains artery flexibility.  Previous research reveals stiff, inflexible arteries increase a person's risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.  The researchers studied mice and found the animals given high potassium had substantially less artery hardening and reduced stiffness in their aorta, the body's main artery.  This is thought to be due to low-potassium levels in the blood preventing the expression of genes that maintain artery flexibility.

English breakfast tea may aid weight loss by boosting metabolism - so long as it's drunk without milk.

Black tea molecules are larger and therefore less well absorbed by the intestine.  This encourages the growth of metabolism-boosting bacteria in mice studies. They reduce intestinal bacteria associated with obesity and boost lean mass. Black and green tea extracts cause weight loss similar to following a low-fat diet. Experts believe both teas are prebiotics that feed wellbeing-related organisms.

Boy, 11, is left blind after following a strict diet of potato, meat, apples, cucumber and Cheerios due to his allergies and eczema

The Canadian child, who remains anonymous, suffered irreversible damage to his vision from a lack of vitamin A. Alongside his progressive vision loss, the boy also suffered from dry eyes and night blindness - both hallmarks of a vitamin A deficiency.  By the time the boy was taken to hospital, eight months after his eye sight began to falter, he was only able to see 30cm from his face. Doctors gave the patient three super-strength doses of the vitamin over the course of two weeks, they wrote in the journal JAMA Pediatrics Clinical Challenge. The boy's vision improved to 20/800 within six weeks, but it means he is still legally blind.

Do YOU need more zinc? From brittle nails to dry skin - this body map shows the warning signs and how you can fix it.

 Bodymap Zinc Deficiency

‘Signs of low zinc status include a weakened immune system, more colds and poor wound healing, tiredness, and low sex drive’. Zinc deficiency could be the reason your hair isn’t as thick as it used to be.  Zinc is not called the beauty vitamin for nothing. It’s second only to iron as the most abundantly found mineral in the human body and among its key functions are keeping skin, hair, teeth and nails healthy, not to mention the functioning of our libidos and immune systems. ‘Zinc is required for the activity of over 300 body enzymes, and these enzymes help to bring about biochemical reactions in the body that are essential to protein synthesis, hormone production, as well overall radiance and wellbeing,’ says public health nutritionist Emma Derbyshire. Most at risk: ‘Strict vegetarians and vegans, Other people at risk could be those who drink lots of alcohol.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

October 6, 2017

Health Roundup: Alzheimer's edition

FIVE key smells? It could mean you have dementia

Scientists at the University of Chicago develop a new diagnosis test to spot symptoms before they develop.  Those who can't identify 4 out of 5 common odors are twice at risk of dementia. The worse someone's sense of smell, the greater their risk of being diagnosed. The aromas in order of increasing difficulty were: peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather.  .....'Loss of the sense of smell is a strong signal that something has gone wrong and significant damage has been done."

A good night's rest is your best defense against dementia

All this week, a pair of Alzheimer’s researchers have been sharing their expertise with Mail readers and revealing how simple lifestyle tweaks can help fend off the disease.  We have seen hundreds of patients use our simple plan of lifestyle changes to reverse what seemed to be an imminent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and our findings have formed the basis of our life-changing new book, The Alzheimer’s Solution. .. This is when the brain undergoes its routine repairs, and the regeneration of neurons and their supporting cells can occur. The cocktail of chemicals released during sleep calm inflammation and bolster immunity — better sleep leads to fewer colds and immune-related disorders, and even a lower risk of cancer.  The ‘brain fog’ you might get after a really bad night’s sleep is the same in early Alzheimer’s. Lack of sleep impairs your ability to function during the day, slowing your focus, your processing speed and your short-term memory.

Women in their 40s with high blood pressure face dementia danger

The risk of dementia increased 73 per cent among women who started having blood pressure problems in their 40s . There was no evidence that having high blood pressure in one’s 30s or 40s increased the risk of dementia for men. The findings, based on a study of more than 7,200 people in the US by Kaiser Permanente research institute in California, reinforces growing evidence that lifestyle in middle age has a marked impact on health in retirement.  The study involved 7,238 people, tracked from the mid-1960s...They found women who already had high blood pressure in their 30s were at 31 per cent increased risk of dementia, when compared to women with stable, normal blood pressure. But among those who developed it in their 40s, the increased risk soared to 73 per cent.  The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect risk of dementia, such as smoking, diabetes and body mass index.

Alzheimer's sufferer, 55, describes agony of becoming violent and losing his memories because of the disease

Greg O'Brien is a former newspaper editor who has early-onset Alzheimer's. He currently lives in Massachusetts with his wife and three children. O'Brien wrote an essay in Psychology Today that details what it is like to live with a disease that hijacks his emotions and induces fits of rage. He describes the heartbreak that comes with this, as, at times, this anger is unintentionally directed at his family members.

A List of The Most Hopeful Alzheimer's Treatments Currently in The Works  After many failures, there's still hope.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:21 AM | Permalink

October 4, 2017

Miscellany #85

All History in a Nutshell

Good Times

Scientists confirm the obvious: drinking beer makes you happy

Scientists in Germany looked at 13,000 different food components to find out which were the most effective at stimulating the reward center in the brain. And they were surprised to find beer topped the list. The feel-good effect is caused by the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Tempting foods and, it turns out, beer, stimulate the reward center in the brain where the dopamine D2 receptor is located.  Hordenine, which is found in malted barley and beer, does the job of cheering us up pretty well. The new findings were reported in the journal Scientific Reports....Professor Monika Pischetsrieder said “It came as a bit of surprise that a substance in beer activates the dopamine D2 receptor, especially as we were not specifically looking at stimulant foodstuffs.”

‘How do you thank someone for saving your life?’

Professor Jill Brown was giving a lecture when a member of the audience, Dr. Iris Jaffe, a cardiologist at Tufts Medical Center, realized that Brown was showing the classic signs of a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot in the lung. ‘What am I going to do?’ Who am I? I’m somebody in her class. Should I say something? Maybe it’s none of my business.”  Jaffe decided to risk embarrassment and tell Brown about her concerns, “I’m a physician, but I’m not your physician, and I know nothing about your medical history, but I’m concerned you have a blood clot in your lungs and you need to be seen right away.”  Brown shocked said, “What are you talking about?”  But she went to the hospital after the lecture and was diagnosed with multiple blood clots in her lungs and deep vein thrombosis — a blood clot — in her lower right leg. There the doctors kept telling me, ‘That woman probably saved your life,’ because I would have just ignored my symptoms because I thought they were normal after surgery.”  Brown emailed Jaffe, “How do you thank someone for saving your life?”

List of countries by firearm-related death rate per 100,000  in one year

 Edited Gun Deaths Per Capita

American gun ownership and American murder rate

 Gun Ownership+Gun Death Rate

The invisible world of WiFi signal bombardment

Have you ever wondered what the electromangetic fields (EMFs) that surround virtually every person carrying a mobile device with WiFi or data capability look like?  Visual artist Luis Hernan at Digital Ethereal uses a Kirlian Device, which transforms signal strength in light color (reds for high intensity, blues for low intensity) and couples it with long exposure photography to register the changing qualities of wireless networks.

 Wifi Bombardment

9-Year-Old Boy Asks For Dessert, School Calls Him Racist and Calls the Cops
All he asked for was 'brownies" at the end-of-the-year class party at an elementary school in New Jersey.Update at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Wolves changed the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park and the park's physical geography

Watch this remarkable video, a little over 2 minutes long, to see how.  A longer, narrated video, How Wolves Change Rivers explaining the trophic cascade, has amassed 38 million views.

 Wolves+Yellowstone

Man’s Tumor Turns Out To Be A Playmobil Traffic Cone

A 47-year-old man from Preston went to a respiratory clinic complaining of a cough. As the man admitted to having smoked for most of his life, the doctors feared the worst– lung cancer. The doctors then took x-rays, which revealed a spot on his right lung, something they feared was a tumor. They operated immediately, hoping to remove the tumor and begin treatments. However, when they removed the mass, they realized it was not a tumor but in fact a Playmobil traffic cone. The man recalled receiving the cone, along with the rest of the playset, on his seventh birthday over 40 years ago. Doctors concluded that because he was so young, his lung tissue simply grew around it.

Mobile Micro-Lending: 17th-Century Book-Shaped Library Hides 50 Tiny Books
This Jacobean traveling library, bound in leather over a wooden shell, housed dozens of small books. In theory the books could be swapped out for different journeys, much like loading up a Kindle with books to read before heading off to the airport.

Vintage-Book-Case 50 Tiny Books

Holloways: Roads Tunneled into the Earth by Time

They are centuries-old thoroughfares worn down by the traffic of time....The name “holloway” is derived from “hola weg,” meaning sunken road in Old English....No one ever engineered a holloway — erosion by human feet, and horses or cattle driven alongside, combined with water then flowing through the embankments like a gully, molded the land into a tunneled road. It’s hard to date them, but most are thought to go back to Roman times and the Iron Age.

 Holloway2

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:00 PM | Permalink

October 3, 2017

Jordan Peterson's rules for being a man

Quora: If you could write a rule book for being a man, what "man law" would you write?  Jordan Peterson replied

  1. Encourage children through play.
  2. Promote the best in people.
  3. Keep the sacred fire burning.
  4. Guard the women and children from harm.
  5. Confront the eternal adversary.
  6. Build the crystal palace.
  7. Confront death with courage and return.
  8. Dare to cut down a tree.
  9. Offer your sons up as a sacrifice to God.
  10. Protect your daughters from exploitation.
  11. Store up wealth for the future.
  12. Consult the ancestral spirits.
  13. Read great books.
  14. Speak the truth about unpleasant things.
  15. Pay close attention.
  16. Make a worthy temple for the Lord.
  17. Keep the howling winds of winter at bay.
  18. Stand up for the oppressed.
  19. Be a prince of peace.
  20. Don’t be too civilized.
  21. Organize yourself with other men
  22. Be faithful to your wife.
  23. Be hospitable to friends and strangers.
  24. Rout the wolves and chase the lions so the shepherds can eat.
  25. Establish a destination – and a path.
  26. Bring heaven to earth.
  27. Take on the sins of the world.
  28. Dig the wells and mine the gold and copper.
  29. Gather everyone to the banquet.
  30. Grow up and take responsibility.
  31. Resist pride in all things.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:24 AM | Permalink