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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Map of power outages caused by squirrels, with bonus squirrel-related links

"I don't think paralysis [of the electrical grid] is more likely by cyberattack than by natural disaster. And frankly the number-one threat experienced to date by the US electrical grid is squirrels." 

~ John C. Inglis, Former Deputy Director, National Security Agency 2015.07.09

The war with the squirrels continues unabated - from Cyber Squirrel 1:
This map lists all unclassified Cyber Squirrel Operations that have been released to the public that we have been able to confirm. There are many more executed ops than displayed on this map however, those ops remain classified.
Screenshot from CyberSquirrel1

The data is gathered from Twitter and then listed on a filter-able Google map. You have the option to narrow the data by year and by month, and can even choose to only view the cases related to squirrels, non-squirrels, or all animals, including birds, raccoons, snakes and beavers. The interactive map is available here.

Related posts/links:

Video: The Narcoleptic Squirrel Song.

I'm pretty sure this flesh-eating-squirrels-because-fracking movie never got made, but if it ever happens, I'm in: Squirrels - Pre-production Sales Trailer.

A fire that heavily damaged an apartment complex was started by a resident using a propane torch to remove a squirrel's fur.

Scottish brewery releases $20,000 beer in taxidermy squirrel.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Best Kitchen Gadget of the 1600s Was a Small, Short-Legged Dog

In the hot, smoky kitchens of 17th-century Europe, you’d find a lot of things you’d never see in kitchens today; a large open fire, an iron roasting spit, and a giant hamster wheel-like contraption holding a small, live, constantly running dog referred to as a turnspit dog (wiki).

For hundreds of years the now-extinct turnspit dog, also called Canis Vertigus (“dizzy dog”), vernepator cur, kitchen dog and turn-tyke, was specially bred just to turn a roasting mechanism for meat. And weirdly, this animal was a high-tech fixture for the professional and home cook from the 16th century until the mid-1800s.

An illustration of a turnspit dog, described in the 19th century
 as “long-bodied, crooked-legged, and ugly dogs”.
Hunks of meat were either boiled or roasted over an open fire; the latter was not only considered most delicious, but in the UK, a hallmark of proper cooking.

Unfortunately, fire was tricky to control - you couldn’t leave, say, a goose on the flame without risking an unevenly cooked dinner. To cook meat thoroughly, kitchen staff stabbed each piece with the heavy iron spike of a roasting spit, which rotated via a looped chain and hand crank. Cooking meat thoroughly on a spit takes anywhere between 40 and 80 minutes per kilo depending on which meat it is you’re cooking. Needless to say, roasting an adult hog on the fire took an incredibly long time.

Whiskey, a stuffed turnspit dog at Abergavenny Museum
Before dogs were employed, the fireplace spit was turned by the lowliest person in the kitchen staff, usually a small boy who stood behind a bale of wet hay for protection from the heat, turning the iron spit for hours and hours. although in larger households the size of the spit necessitated delegating the job to an adult. 

The job was tough, cruel and often resulted in the poor soul tasked with doing it suffering from burns, blisters and exhaustion. What made the job more difficult  was that the spitjacks, as the adults were known, had to work in full uniform. During the 16th century they made the transition from small boys and adults to dogs.  

Turnspits were ultimately replaced by steam-powered machines and by the end of the 19th century the breed officially was declared extinct.

Despite the fact that,  for a few centuries, the turnspit could be found in almost every large home in England, including the homes of royalty, nobody anywhere bothered to note down exactly what breeding process went into creating the dog that had ensured so many people had evenly cooked dinners. All we have to go on are historical descriptions of the breed which described it as “long-bodied”, “crooked-legged” and “ugly”. There's also a stuffed specimen called Whiskey (picture above).

By the way, the horrific treatment turnspits were subjected to is reportedly what inspired Henry Bergh to start the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which in turn has resulted in countless animals being saved from abuse and cruelty.

More on turnspit dogs at Atlas Obscura, Today I Found Out, Modern Farmer and NPR.

A related post on more recent gadgets: Alton Brown's critique of Amazon's dumbest kitchen gadgets, with bonus Amazon reviews.

Friday links

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer's birthday, here's a list of her birthday catastrophes.

Picasso's Self-Portraits From 15 Years Old To 90 Years Old.

This weekend is Stonewall Jackson's birthday - here's the story of his left arm's separate grave (bonus: Lord Uxbridge's leg)

How A Dead Millionaire Convinced Dozens Of Women To Have As Many Babies As Possible.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include self-medicating animals, a photo of Lincoln's first inauguration, Al Capone's investments in miniature golf, and, for Ben Franklin's birthday, his 200 synonyms for drunk and the bodies found in his basement.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's Buffy the Vampire Slayer's birthday - here's a list of her birthday catastrophes

One for you fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (wiki) and Angel (wiki) (and all things Joss Whedon (wiki):

Since her birthdays always sucked pretty badly, she probably wouldn't be celebrating even if the show was still around. Here are Buffy's birthday catastrophes, chronologically:

The loss of Angel's soul and the return of Angelus during her 17th (in the “Surprise”/“Innocence” (Season 2) episodes).

Buffy being stripped of her Slayer powers in preparation for the Cruciamentum during her 18th (in “Helpless”  (Season 3)).

Giles being transmogrified into a Fyarl demon by Ethan Rayne during her 19th (in “A New Man” (Season 4)).

Dawn Summers' discovery that she is the Key and subsequent identity crisis during Buffy's 20th (in “Blood Ties” (Season 5)).

All of the participants of Buffy's birthday party, including anyone else who entered the house, being trapped inside the Summers residence by Dawn's unwitting wish to Halfrek during her 21st (“Older and Far Away” (Season 6)).

Related links:

The Buffy Thanksgiving episode: "Ritual sacrifice, with pie".

Definitely time to re-watch!

One for Bradley/Chelsea Manning: How to Deal with Female Traitors (1861)

Not that Manning is amusing (or female), but I liked this anyway:

A cartoon from Harper's Weekly (wiki) from October 26, 1861, during the Civil War. The suggestions on what to do with female traitors are pretty self-explanatory: there's a transcription below.

The captions:

"Let them See but not touch all the latest novelties in Hats, Dry Goods, etc."

"Send them to the Alms House to nurse refractory babies"

"Have the fashionable intelligence read in their hearing to their intense aggravation"

"Make them wear very unfashionable uniform as e.g. the above"

"Let them do Housework under the Superintendence of Biddy"

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday links

Today is Ben Franklin's birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200 synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

Semaphore: The World’s First Telegraph.

For Al Capone's birthday, here's the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the anniversary of the beginning of prohibition in the United States, all about sinus “fungus balls”, how to become a lawyer without law school, Boston's 2.3 million gallon molasses flood in 1919, and a 1950s French sobriety poster recommending that you limit yourself to a liter of wine per day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cartoon - your Legos are plotting against you

I've always suspected the Legos were doing this...

via YouHadOneJob

Monday links

Prohibition in the United States began on January 16, 1920: here's some history, contemporaneous newsreels, the women who tried to telepathically influence the vote, Abraham Lincoln and Milton Friedman.

No More than a Litre of Wine a Day, recommends a 1950s French Sobriety Poster.

Something new thing to worry about: sinus “fungus balls”.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include why Friday the 13th is considered unlucky, the history of pickles, 1960 Russian ideas on life in 2017, how birds survive winter, and the Feast of the Ass.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sex Ex Machina By James Thurber

One of my favorite authors is James Thurber. I frequently think of this particular piece (in which he discusses the psycho-sexual reasons why some squirrels, when they see a car approaching, will run away, some will stand in the middle of the road and dither about, and some will jump at the car. 

By the way, as far as I can tell, none of his drawings accompanied this essay, but I've included several unrelated ones here, just because I like them.

Sex Ex Machina By James Thurber (wiki) (1894-1961), The New Yorker, March 13, 1937

With the disappearance of the gas mantle and the advent of the short circuit, man's tranquility began to be threatened by everything he put his hand on. Many people believe that it was a sad day indeed when Benjamin Franklin tied that key to a kite string and flew the kite in a thunderstorm; other people believe that if it hadn't been Franklin, it would have been someone else. As, of course, it was in the case of the harnessing of steam and the invention of the gas engine. At any rate, it has come about that so-called civilized man finds himself today surrounded by the myriad mechanical devices of a technological world. 

Writers of books on how to control your nerves, how to conquer fear, how to cultivate calm, how to be happy in spite of everything, are of several minds as regards the relation of man and the machine. Some of them are prone to believe that the mind and body, if properly disciplined, can get the upper hand of this mechanized existence. Others merely ignore the situation and go on to the profitable writing of more facile chapters of inspiration. Still others attribute the whole menace of the machine to sex, and so confuse the average reader that he cannot always be certain whether he has been knocked down by an automobile or is merely in love. 

Dr. Bisch, the Be-Glad-You're-Neurotic man, has a remarkable chapter which deals, in part, with man, sex, and the machine. He examines the case of three hypothetical men who start across a street on a red light and get in the way of an oncoming automobile. A dodges successfully; B stands still, "accepting the situation with calm and resignation," thus becoming one of my favorite heroes in modern belles-lettres; and C hesitates, wavers, jumps backward and forward, and finally runs head on into the car. To lead you through Dr. Bisch's complete analysis of what was wrong with B and C would occupy your whole day. He mentions what the McDougal-lians would say ("Instinct!"), what the Freudians would retort ("Complexes!"), and what the behaviorists would shout ("Conditioned re- 
flexes!"). He also brings in what the physiologist would say deficient thyroid, hypoadrenal functioning, and so on. The average sedentary man of our time who is at all suggestible must emerge from this chapter believing that his chances of surviving a combination of instinct, complexes, 
reflexes, glands, sex, and present-day traffic conditions are about equal to those of a one-legged blind man trying to get out of a labyrinth. 

Let us single out what Dr. Bisch thinks the Freudians would say about poor Mr. C, who ran right into the car. He writes, " 'sex hunger,' the Freudians would declare. 'Always keyed up and irritable because of it. Undoubtedly suffers from insomnia and when he does sleep his dream life must be productive, distorted, and possibly frightening. Automobile unquestionably has sex significance for him ... to C the car is both enticing and menacing at one and the same time. ... A thorough analysis is indicated. ... It might take months. But then, the man needs an analysis as much as food. He is heading for a complete nervous collapse.' " It is my studied opinion, not to put too fine a point on it, that Mr. C is heading for a good mangling, and that if he gets away with only a nervous collapse, it will be a miracle. 

I have not always, I am sorry to say, been able to go the whole way with the Freudians, or even a very considerable distance. Even though, as Dr. Bisch says, "One must admit that the Freudians have had the best of it thus far. At least they have received the most publicity." It is in matters like their analysis of men and machines, of Mr. C and the automobile, that the Freudians and I part company. Of course, the analysis above is simply Dr. Bisch's idea of what the Freudians would say, but I think he has got it down pretty well. Dr. Bisch himself leans toward the Freudian analysis of Mr. C, for he says in this same chapter, "An automobile bearing down upon you may be a sex symbol at that, you know, especially if you dream it." It is my contention, of course, that even if you dream it, it is probably not a sex symbol, but merely an automobile bearing down upon you. And if it bears down upon you in real life, I am sure it is an automobile. I have seen the same behavior that characterized Mr. C displayed by a squirrel (Mr. S) that lives in the grounds of my house in the country. He is a fairly tame squirrel, happily mated and not sex-hungry, if I am any judge, but nevertheless he frequently runs out toward my automobile when I start down the driveway, and then hesitates, wavers, jumps forward and backward, and occasionally would run right into the car except that he is awfully fast on his feet and that I always hurriedly put on the brakes of the 1935 V-8 Sex Symbol that I drive. 

I have seen this same behavior in the case of rabbits (notoriously uninfluenced by any sex symbols save those of other rabbits), dogs, pigeons, a doe, a young hawk (which flew at my car), a blue heron that I encountered on a country road in Vermont, and once, near Paul Smith's in the Adirondacks, a fox. They all acted exactly like Mr. C. The hawk, unhappily, was killed. All the others escaped with nothing worse, I suppose, than a complete nervous collapse. Although I cannot claim to have been conversant with the private life and the secret compulsions, the psycho-neuroses and the glandular activities of all these animals, it is nevertheless my confident and unswervable belief that there was nothing at all the matter with any one of them. Like Mr. C, they suddenly saw a car swiftly bearing down upon them, got excited, and lost their heads. I do not believe, you see, there was anything the matter with Mr. C, either. 

But I do believe that, after a thorough analysis lasting months, with a lot of harping on the incident of the automobile, something might very well come to be the matter with him. He might even get to suffering from the delusion that he believes automobiles are sex symbols. 

It seems to me worthy of note that Dr. Bisch, in reciting the reactions of three persons in the face of an oncoming car, selected three men. What would have happened had they been Mrs. A, Mrs. B, and Mrs. C? You know as well as I do: all three of them would have hesitated, wavered, jumped forward and backward, and finally run head on into the car if some man hadn't grabbed them. (I used to know a motorist who, every time he approached a woman standing on a curb preparing to cross the street, shouted, "Hold it, stupid!") It is not too much to say that, with a car bearing down upon them, ninety-five women out of a hundred would act like Mr. C or Mr. S, the squirrel, or Mr. F, the fox. But it is certainly too much to say that ninety-five out of every hundred women look upon an automobile as a sex symbol. For one thing, Dr. Bisch points out that the automobile serves as a sex symbol because of the "mechanical principle involved." But only one woman in a thousand really knows anything about the mechanical principle involved in an automobile. And yet, as I have said, ninety-five out of a hundred would hesitate, waver, and jump, just as Mr. C did. I think we have the Freudians here. If we haven't proved our case with rabbits and a blue heron, we have certainly proved it with women. 

To my notion, the effect of the automobile and of other mechanical contrivances on the state of our nerves, minds, and spirits is a problem which the popular psychologists whom I have dealt with know very little about. The sexual explanation of the relationship of man and the machine is not good enough. To arrive at the real explanation, we have to begin very far back, as far back as Franklin and the kite, or at least as far back as a certain man and woman who appear in a book of stories written more than sixty years ago by Max Adeler. One story in this book tells about a housewife who bought a combination ironing board and card table, which some New England genius had thought up in his spare time. The husband, coming home to find the devilish contraption in the parlor, was appalled. "What is that thing?" he demanded. His wife explained that it was a card table, but that if you pressed a button underneath, it would become an ironing board. Whereupon she pushed the button and the table leaped a foot into the air, extended itself, and became an ironing board. The story goes on to tell how the thing finally became so finely sensitized that it would change back and forth if you merely touched it you didn't have to push the button. 

The husband stuck it in the attic (after it had leaped up and struck him a couple of times while he was playing euchre), and on windy nights it could be heard flopping and banging around, changing from a card table to an ironing board and back. The story serves as one example of our dread heritage of annoyance, shock, and terror arising out of the nature of mechanical contrivances per se. The mechanical principle involved in this damnable invention had, I believe, no relationship to sex whatsoever. There are certain analysts who see sex in anything, even a leaping ironing board, but I think we can ignore these scientists. 

No man (to go on) who has wrestled with a self-adjusting card table can ever be quite the man he once was. If he arrives at the state where he hesitates, wavers, and jumps at every mechanical device he encounters, it is not, I submit, because he recognizes the enticements of sex in the device, but only because he recognizes the menace of the machine as such. 

There might very well be, in every descendant of the man we have been discussing, an inherited desire to jump at, and conquer, mechanical devices before they have a chance to turn into something twice as big and twice as menacing. It is not reasonable to expect that his children and their children will have entirely escaped the stigma of such traumata. I myself will never be the man I once was-, nor will my descendants probably ever amount to much, because of a certain experience I had with an automobile. 

I had gone out to the barn of my country place, a barn which was used both as a garage and a kennel, to quiet some large black poodles. It was 1 A.M. of a pitch-dark night in winter and the poodles had apparently been terrified by some kind of a prowler, a tramp, a turtle, or perhaps a fiend of some sort. Both my poodles and myself believed, at the time, in fiends, and still do. Fiends who materialize out of nothing and nowhere, like winged pigweed or Russian thistle. I had quite a time quieting the dogs, because their panic spread to me and mine spread back to them again, in a kind of vicious circle. Finally, a hush as ominous as their uproar fell upon them, but they kept looking over their shoulders, in a kind of apprehensive way. "There's nothing to be afraid of," I told them as firmly as I could, and just at that moment the klaxon of my car, which was just behind me, began to shriek. Everybody has heard a klaxon on a car suddenly begin to sound; I understand it is a short circuit that causes it. But very few people have heard one scream behind them while they were quieting six or eight poodles in the middle of the night in an old barn. I jump now whenever I hear a klaxon, even the klaxon on my own car when I push the button intentionally. 

The experience has left its mark. Everybody, from the day of the jumping card table to the day of the screaming klaxon, has had similar shocks. You can see the result, entirely unsuperinduced by sex, in the strained faces and muttering lips of people who pass you on the streets of great highly mechanized cities. There goes a man who picked up one of those trick matchboxes that whir in your hands; there goes a woman who tried to change a fuse without turning off the current; and yonder toddles an ancient who cranked an old Reo with the spark advanced. Every person carries in his consciousness the old scar, or the fresh wound, of some harrowing misadventure with a contraption of some sort. I know people who would not deposit a nickel and a dime in a cigarette-vending machine and push the lever even if a diamond necklace came out. I know dozens who would not climb into an airplane even if it didn't move off the ground. In none of these people have I discerned what I would call a neurosis, an "exaggerated" fear; I have discerned only a natural caution in a world made up of gadgets that whir and whine and whiz and shriek and sometimes explode. 

I should like to end with the case history of a friend of mine in Ohio named Harvey Lake. When he was only nineteen, the steering bar of an old electric runabout broke off in his hand, causing the machine to carry him through a fence and into the grounds of the Columbus School for Girls. He developed a fear of automobiles, trains, and every other kind of vehicle that was not pulled by a horse. Now, the psychologists would call this a complex and represent the fear as abnormal, but I see it as a purely reasonable apprehension. If Harvey Lake had, because he was catapulted into the grounds of the Columbus School for Girls, developed a fear of girls, I would call that a complex; but 1 don't call his normal fear of machines a complex. Harvey Lake never in his life got into a plane {he died from a fall from a porch), but I do not regard that as neurotic, either, but only sensible. 

I have, to be sure, encountered men with complexes. There was, for example, Marvin Belt. He had a complex about airplanes that was quite interesting. He was not afraid of machinery, or of high places, or of crashes. He was simply afraid that the pilot of any plane he got into might lose his mind. "I imagine myself high over Montana," he once said to me, "in a huge, perfectly safe tri-motored plane. Several of the passengers are dozing, others are reading, but I am keeping my eyes glued on the door to the cockpit. Suddenly the pilot steps out of it, a wild light in his eyes, and in a falsetto like that of a little girl he says to me, 'Conductor, will you please let me off at One-Hundred-and-Twenty-fifth Street?' " "But," I said to Belt, "even if the pilot does go crazy, there is still the co-pilot." "No, there isn't," said Belt. "The pilot has hit the co-pilot over the head with something and killed him." Yes, the psychoanalysts can have Marvin Belt. But they can't have Harvey Lake, or Mr. C, or Mr. S, or Mr. F, or k while I have my strength, me. 

Related - This post: Animals who look as if they had a few too many,  includes Thurber's fable The Bear Who Let It Alone.