Journey To The Microcosmos
YouTube channel Journey To The Microcosmos is a calming, beautiful, and highly informative trip into the world of rotifers, tardigrades, nematodes, and paramecia. I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes they will even release several minutes of footage with music instead of the regular show. It almost makes me want to spend a thousand dollars on a good microscope.
Panera Bread Pizza
Are things getting worse or better? The numbers seem to indicate dramatic improvements worldwide in standard of living, life expectancy, economic freedom, environmental and resource management, crime rates, literacy, and much more. Things have been getting measurably better since the late 1700s. Much of this improvement only happened in the last twenty years.
Those at HumanProgress.org paint the picture better than I can. They provide graphs and link to optimistic news articles from all over. Poverty and disease are being eliminated. New discoveries and technologies are made all the time. They make you feel good. It’s a perspective that is often lacking, but necessary. For our mental health, we must temper our pessimism with optimism (and vice versa).
Sometimes things can seem to get worse because of our hardwired sensitivity to danger, because we tend to become acclimated to improvements, because good news tends to be incremental and slow, and most of all because of the media we consume, but numbers don’t lie.
I do wonder, though, about the details. The way things are interlinked, it often doesn’t matter how well everything else is going if one important piece of the puzzle breaks. Sometimes, this is the piece you never thought to measure. Also, good things can cause bad things and the relationships are complex. Also, I know that data crunchers have been caught lying before.
Rationally, I can see many ways that things could go wrong, and many reasons to think going wrong is likely (based on understanding of fundamental processes), but empirically, I see that my scariest predictions are almost always wrong and things tend to work out in the end. Somewhere in the complexity of many things happening at once, good happens.
I also know that bad things can be harnessed to create good, so that even when bad happens, it isn’t really bad. It’s complicated.
Trying Salsa In 2020
So, what’s new in the grocery store salsa aisle in 2020?
Mrs. Renfro’s Craft Beer Salsa:
This medium salsa tastes a lot like bit-too-salty tomatoes with no detectable beer. It contains tomatoe, onion, Rahr Texas Red American Amber Beer, brown sugar, jalapeno pepper, chipotle pepper, ancho pepper, guajillo pepper, cilantro, garlic, citric acid, and corn starch for some reason.
Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa:
This hot salsa is fantastic and goes with everything. I never get tired of it. The quirky habanero flavor comes through and compliments the sweet tomatoes. It contains tomatoe, jalapeno, green chile, onion, garlic, cilantro, habanero, vinegar, and corn starch.
Mrs. Renfro’s Green Salsa:
This salsa is slimy and contains only jalapeno, which is probably why it tastes that way, but who can be sure?
Mrs. Renfro’s Black Bean Salsa:
This salsa is good, but nothing special. It has black beans.
Mrs. Renfro’s Ghost Pepper Salsa:
It’s very hot and kind of smoky, reminding me of chipotle. Then again, it might have been my tongue that was smoking…
This salsa just tastes like tomatoes in vinegar. It contains tomatoes, jalapeno, vinegar, garlic, onion, green chile, cilantro, and salt.
Jardine’s Ghost Pepper Salsa:
This salsa I thought was a bit runny and very hot. The lime was detectable and it tasted otherwise like bit-too-salty tomatoes. It contains tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, ghost chile, onion, lime juice, and potatoe starch.
Field Day Garlic Cilantro Salsa:
The garlic and cumin were quite noticeable in this salsa. I certainly wasn’t complaining. It contains tomatoe, onion, cilantro, lime, cumin, black pepper, garlic, jalapeno, and cider vinegar.
Siesta Salsa Bacon Salsa:
This very mild, fine-chopped salsa tastes just like tomatoes and bacon! There are no bacon bits in it, but the essence permeates the vegetables. It goes well paired with meat.
Taste of Inspirations Three-Bean Salsa:
This salsa is mislabeled! It is actually chili! Let me start over…
This hot chili is wonderful and can be used in any application that calls for chili. It contains red beans, white beans, black beans, red bell pepper, tomatoe, onion, jalapeno, lime, garlic, and cilantro.
Musical Discoveries 2020
2020 was a strange year. I hardly wrote or travelled, but I did spend a lot of time on YouTube and stumbled across some relatively unknown musical talent (at least in the US). One artist led to others showing up in my recommendations until I had listened to them all. Below are the top thirteen in ascending order of rating.
Faun: While I would never say any of their songs are among my favorites, there is a certain fairy-elf atmosphere to the sounds that would make them great movie background music. The video for Walpurgisnacht makes this clear. The language is German.
Gealdyr: Borrowing from Nordic and Celtic culture, Gealdyr sings mostly repetitive simple songs about nature, life, and death. It makes good background music. I like Kauna and Deyr Fe. The language is old Norse.
Sabine Hossenfelder: Theoretical physicist and professional pessimist of the direction science by day, Sabine has put together some decent lyrics and simple beats. The videos are clearly homemade, but the sound to my untrained ear is as good as anything else. I especially like When They Ask Us, This Is How I Pray, Theories Of Everything, and Ivory Tower. The language is (usually) English.
Isla Vista: This group sings of God and his love in a style reminiscent of Sam Smith or Marvin Gaye. Captured is a good example of this. The language is English.
Beabadoobee: Soft, sweet, quiet, cute, and pensive, Beabadoobee sings of ordinary things and extraordinary love. I like Coffee the most. Also good are Dance With Me, 1999, Ceilings, Everest, Art Class, and The Way I Spoke. The language is English.
Erutan: Erutan sings songs inspired by fairy tales and stuff. Tarts and The Willow Maid are good. The language is English.
The Hu: No, they aren’t The Who, but they are at least as good. Blending Mongolian throat singing with modern rock, they sing of the glory days of the Mongolian Empire. Yuve Yuve Yu, Wolf Totem, and Shoog Shoog are good songs. The language is (usually) Mongolian (of course).
Ella Roberts: Ella sings traditional folk songs from Ireland and Scotland. Her version of The Bonnie Banks Of Loch Lomond is amazing. The language is Scottish English.
Kati Ran: Her other songs don’t touch me much, but Suurin is a full-blast power song that can make anybody feel capable of anything – and I thought that even before I saw the translated lyrics. The end sounds like someone running for their lives. The video is awesome too. I never get tired of it. The language is Finnish.
Blackbriar: An excellent example of female-led metal, I really like I’d Rather Burn and Beautiful Delirium. Arms of The Ocean, Until Eternity, and Ready To Kill are okay too. The band is Dutch, but the language is English.
Rachel Rose Mitchell: Singing along to what can only be described as symphonic rock, Rachel sings songs powerful, sad, or sometimes a bit creepy. I really like Alice, which somehow makes me think of a character who has defeated every enemy in every battle and yet still lost things most people will never understand. I also really like Thorns, Something You Don’t Know, Carnival, The Ticketman, Lantern In The Night, Wither, River Run Red, Farewell Song, Glow In The Dark, The Hollow, Everything You Want, and Collateral. Just listen to the entire playlist. The language is English.
Oonagh: German pop sensation Oonagh is best known for her catchy songs inspired by Lord of The Rings, such as Orome, Eldamar, Silmaril, Numenor, Tolo Nan, Arien, Ainulindale, Yalume, and Gaa. The verses are in German, but the choruses are often in Tolkien Elvish. Even the videos are works of art and Oonagh’s bubbly personality and natural good looks put the frosting on the cake. She also sings many other good songs, such as Eine Neue Zeit and Zauberwald, and has even collaborated with Celtic Woman to create the fairy magic that is Tir Na Nog. The woman is the best thing to come out of Germany since Albert Einstein and puts even The Beatles to shame – and yet she’s still second on this list…
Eivor Palsdottr: Sometimes creepy, sometimes lovely, sometimes nostalgic, her music sometimes reminding me of Paul Simon, Ringo Star, or a James Bond intro, Eivor’s voice is always beautiful. Common themes include the ocean and lost love. My favorite songs include Surrender, Into The Mist, Rain, Far Away, True Love, Undo Your Mind, Green Garden, Let It Come, and I know. Most of her work has English and Faeroese versions. One song in which I think I actually prefer the Faeroese is Mjorkaflokar – not that there is an English version. Why isn’t she more popular?
What a great year!
Nudge Coffee Butter
Nudge coffee butter is what it sounds like: a mixture of vegetable oil, sugar, and finely ground coffee beans that you can spread on toast like Nutella. It’s not bad, but I don’t think I’ll buy it again. I prefer sunflower butter or cashew butter. Almond butter and peanut butter are good too.
How To ADHD
In March, I stumbled across the YouTube channel How To ADHD and now I wonder whether I have ADHD. I have long thought I might have some tendencies in that direction since I was easily distracted by noises or movements when I was in school, but I was never evaluated, and I finally decided that if I did have it, I had a very mild case. I never really thought about it again. What I have learned from watching the videos has made me consider the issue deeper. So much of it sounds just like me.
I used to doodle all over my math sheets and notebooks. At the time, I just thought I liked to doodle, but now I realize my mind refused to stay on one subject for long. In the absence of external distraction, I am distracted by my own thoughts. This same story is told by others who did the exact same thing!
During class reading time when we took turns reading out loud, I was never able to synchronize my reading rate with those around me. There was no way I could pay attention to the words on paper and follow the voice of someone stumbling over unfamiliar words at the same time. My natural reading rate was faster than everyone else’s and when it was my turn to read, I had to turn back a page to find where they all were. At the time, I thought my speedy reading comprehension just meant I was smarter than average, so I didn’t worry about it. It seemed stupid to force everyone to read together and I believed the slow readers must be having as hard a time keeping up as I was keeping down. Why not let everyone read at their natural pace? A very similar story is told by the host of How To ADHD.
I also remember that while I got perfect or near perfect scores on my tests without ever studying (just reading the textbook through once was good enough), I could not always finish my homework on time. After sitting in school all day, I was in no condition to spend any additional time on such things. When four of my teachers would assign homework on the same night – all due the next day – I burned out. One semester I got a D in math and an F in English in spite of getting As on my tests because I couldn’t finish my homework! I just thought I had less stamina than average; I didn’t realize all these symptoms were related.
While I might burn out from working long hours, I was always better than average in the short-term. I was quick to understand new, complex concepts. I was good in emergencies. I thrived at McDonald’s because every order was an emergency that had to be finished in ninety seconds or less. I was the most efficient employee they ever had. Yet when at home, I somehow never got around to working on my novel for fourteen years. This is exactly the behavior of those with ADHD. When a subject is interesting or urgent, they are able to “hyperfocus,” exceeding even those of normal attention.
I have also noticed that not all distractions are created equal. Sometimes distractions are distracting, but other times I need them so that I don’t get distracted by my own thoughts. This is also a sign of ADHD. I imagine this effect makes it hard to diagnose and could even bring up the question whether it is a real condition – but I’ll save those thoughts for another time. Many report needing to fidget with something while they work so they don’t get lost in their own minds. I fidget a lot. I find I often have to pace while thinking or else I can’t focus. Of course, fidgeting can also be interpreted as a symptom of Tourette’s, tardive dyskinesia, autism (stimming), or it can be culturally learned, so one has to be careful not to read too much into it.
I have also always had a hard time getting to sleep and tend to sleep more than the average person. This tends to be an ADHD symptom. I also start more projects than I finish and my father is the same way. ADHD has a strong genetic component, so now I think he might have a mild case too. I have also never been great at estimating time. This applies not only to estimating how much time has already elapsed, but to my predictions of how much time projects will take me. A day can feel like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. This is also a symptom of ADHD. I had no idea that all these things were related!
At the core of the condition is something common to all mankind – the inability to focus on that which doesn’t interest us and doesn’t seem urgent – some just suffer from it more than others. ADHD is a spectrum. We all have a little bit of it. “Trying harder” does not work because one first has to have the mental focus on something to make a coherent choice to try anything. “Try harder” is something that can only apply to the body, not the mind.
One symptom that doesn’t fit me well is lack of emotional regulation. I’m generally pretty good at not getting emotional in the usual sense – although, one could of course explain my outward behavior as the sum of many emotions, such as the desire not to appear emotional, or the emotion of calmness canceling out my anger, fear, or excitement. Sometimes I feel like Spock from the original Star Trek. Vulcans actually have emotions far more intense than humans, but they ignore and suppress them through equally intense mental discipline, honoring only logic.
In any case, the channel gives much practical advice on how to manage tasks and schedules that should be useful to everyone – and everyone is at least a little bit ADHD sometimes.
Among other ideas, the host suggests keeping a “to-did” list alongside the to-do list, to remind you of what you have accomplished, keeping things interesting enough to keep going. She also suggests adding a scoring system and a set of rewards.
She suggests that if you can’t find a good way to start something, to simply start badly. Eventually, the stimulus should activate your brain enough to fix any problems you might have created in the beginning. I learned to do this years ago, but it still goes against my nature. I need more practice.
She suggests setting up routines of the same tasks in the same order so that finishing one provides the cue for the next. She also suggests taking regular rests. While many of my tasks are unique, one-time things that do not fit routines, and I am often interrupted, I can certainly take more, short rests instead of the few, long rests that I do now.
She suggests adding new tasks to the schedule incrementally only after we have mastered our current work load. This is something I know too well. I am terrible at estimating how much I can handle and tend to take on too much too soon.
Finally, she suggests breaking big tasks into smaller steps. I now realize that sometimes the reason I don’t start tasks I mean to do is because they seem overwhelming because I haven’t broken them into small enough steps. Granted, sometimes there is no way to do this, but usually there is.
With any luck, I will have twelve books ready to publish in 2024 – without resorting to medication.
YouTube channel NileRed is great for three things: First, it shows in detail how to extract various substances, such as getting gold from computer scrap or piperine from pepper. Second, it shows in detail how to synthesize various substances, such as making Tylenol from aspirin or turning paper into plastic. Third, it provides hours of entertainment as the host plays with aluminum and mercury, sodium and mercury, thiocyanate and mercury, color-changing liquids, grows lead crystals, and drops stuff in acid. He also includes the times that things go wrong, such as the time he attempted to make a ferrofluid. Who knew recreational chemistry was so much fun?
Red’s Burritos are awesome. They are expensive, but well worth the price. The tortillas are never wet and soggy. Nor are they ever dry and crumbly. They seem to be held together by some sort of delicious starchy glue.
The flavors in the fillings are so strong I think the company must make use of technology to isolate and amplify the specific compounds involved in taste, infusing them back in the product. Sugar, salt, or MSG can also enhance flavors, but everyone does that and yet somehow these burritos are special. I don’t understand how they do it.
Bean, Rice, &Cheddar is probably my third favorite. It comes in a whole wheat tortilla, which is usually a no-no for a burrito, but in this case it works. The combination of brown rice and soft pinto beans is perfect. Beef, Bean, &Cheddar is pretty good too.
Philly Steak &Cheese is probably my second favorite. In this one especially, the company has really captured the essence of steak. The pieces are juicy and packed with flavor. The bits of peppers and onions present are also juicy and packed with flavor. They are never burned or overcooked. They are never mushy from being frozen (ice crystals destroy cell walls). I have yet to find a chewy onion skin in any of them. I have no idea how they do it. Steak &Cheddar is pretty good too.
Chicken, Cilantro, &Lime is probably my first favorite. In addition to chicken, cilantro (<3), and lime, it contains brown rice, black beans, and cheddar. It’s great. Chicken &Cheddar is good too.
BTW, cilantro is my favorite vegetable. I like anything with cilantro on it or in it. I have recently learned that there are actually people out there that don’t like it. How? They claim it tastes like soap. Well, if anyone can find soap out there that tastes like cilantro I would love to sample it! I just might take up swearing like a sailor so I can get my mouth washed out with it. Bring it!
I am less impressed with the Egg &Cheddar burrito and the Canadian Bacon, Egg, &Three Cheese burrito. The egg is too wet, there isn’t enough cheese, and the Canadian Bacon (or what civilized people call ham) seemed to have a faint bitter taste. Overall, they were okay, but nothing special.
The oddball of Red’s line is Cheese Quesadilla. It contains a mix of cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack cheese with just the right amount of pepper bits. The cheese is a bit on the chewy side but very tasty. It might be my fourth favorite. Strangely, these are always smaller than the others. The tortilla is the same size, but wrapped around less product. Sometimes, I find one end broken off so that all the cheese oozes out when I microwave it. I don’t understand how they do it.
All of these burritos are the same size – too big for a snack and too small for a meal. To make a meal one has to combine them with something, such as an apple or a carrot. A Red’s Burrito and a banana make a good meal too. Better yet, TWO Red’s Burritos make an even better meal!
Of course, some burritos are larger. Taco Bell’s Grilled Stuffed Burrito is the size of two meals. When I am out on errands it makes a good simultaneous breakfast/lunch. It also has cilantro (<3). Delicious!
In contrast, Amy’s Burritos are nothing. They too are expensive, but not worth it. The only kind I like is the Indian Samosa Wrap. This consists of a whole wheat tortilla wrapped around curry potatoes. There are also trace amounts of peas and tomatoe paste. Overall, it’s pretty good if you like curry.
Of course, the cheap standby is always Tina’s Burritos. My favorite is the Beef &Bean. I never get tired of it. I like to microwave it on one side for one minute, followed by 35 seconds on the other, before I stuff pieces of cheddar inside to soften while I pour Herdez’s Guacamole Salsa over the whole thing and eat it with a fork.
Herdez’s Guacamole Salsa is a smooth, creamy, light green sauce with dark green flecks in it. Its dominant flavor is that of tomatillos, which compliment the mashed pinto beans in a burrito perfectly. Other ingredients include cilantro (<3), lime, avocado, onion, and green chiles. It has the perfect amount of heat.
Tina’s Red Hot Beef is pretty good too. Like the other, the filling is mostly beans. I will either eat it plain or stuff cheddar in it and pour on Buffalo sauce (also <3).
Edit: Since this post I have discovered even more burritos. Red’s turkey sausage, egg, &three cheese burrito and Red’s chicken chorizo egg &three cheese burrito are amazing – even better than the chicken lime – my new favorites. Red’s chicken &Mexican style street corn on the other hand is very meh. Tina’s beef &bean/green chili is also good.
Bee Haven Acres
BeeHavenAcres.blogspot.com is the blog of Bev, a farmer in Pennsylvania, who takes care of donkeys, ducks, dogs, sheep, chickens, and cats while photographing and commenting on some of their antics. There is rarely a dull day. In addition to supporting her family, the farm produces honey, eggs, and sometimes extra vegetables for sale. Bev has also dabbled in creating hand-made aprons and jewelry.
WeirdUniverse.net is a blog of news articles present and past about aliens, ghosts, cannibals, strange superstitions, freaks of nature, industrial accidents and mistakes, odd fashion choices, and a vast hodgepodge of other subjects. It’s a place to keep updated on what happens on the fringe of normal.
Sixty Symbols is a YouTube channel featuring interviews with scientists speaking about science history, the details of how science is done and what it is like being a scientist, and the latest developments in theoretical and experimental physics, astronomy, and cosmology. There are videos on the peer review process, measuring gravity in previous centuries, the case for string theory, and how to get the most out of our telescopes. It’s worth checking out.
I’ve been distracted by YouTube a lot over the past few months. When I’m too tired to write and don’t feel like reading, sometimes I like to waste time watching old SNL skits, though most of them are so dumb I end up feeling worse than before I started, and then I feel guilty for wasting time on top of it.
Fortunately, when I stay on YouTube long enough, following recommendation after recommendation based on what I’ve viewed, eventually I find some gems. In the past few months, I’ve been watching amateur scientists do backyard experiments. Most of the experiments are done knowing ahead of time exactly what will happen, but in many cases the specific details are new and they are adding to the general knowledge of the world.
The Backyard Scientist explodes melons with molten salt or casts delightfully artistic sculptures by pouring molten aluminum into them. He also works on a lot of mechanical projects. My favorite video is his explanation of how he made a Nerf dart break the sound barrier.
The Slow Mo Guys use a powerful slow-motion camera to capture extremely brief events, such as the shattering of a Pyrex cup, the spinning apart of a record, the overinflating of a football, the collision of fruit with other fruit, and the driving of a truck into a bridge. They have also created a fire tornado, played tennis with jelly, explained how a television works, and dropped ink into water to watch how it dispersed. Very pretty!
The King Of Random plays with dry ice, gallium, tastes gross stuff, boils kinetic sand, and makes art from milk and soap or by mixing superglue and baking soda.
The Action Lab is probably the best in this category. His videos are the most polished, he explains the science behind everything, and he carefully measures his results so that something is learned. He teaches chemistry, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, how to make very dark spots, how the brain perceives colors that don’t exist, checks whether spiders get dizzy, cooks with sound, tries to take the color out of Coke, and explains why you can’t melt wood. My favorite video – and definitely the coolest thing I have seen all year – is his attempt to make black fire.
In addition to these four channels, there are many others who do less precise experiments, with little foreplanning, research, or followup. Their experiments are less scientific but no less fun.
How Ridiculous drops objects from tall places onto other objects to see what it takes to break them and which object is toughest. They have dropped anvils, bowling balls, bicycles, and armchairs onto trampolines, bulletproof glass, and oobleck (a non-Newtonian fluid made from cornstarch and water). They also do dart tricks and play around with the magnus effect (the reason that spinning objects moving through a medium feel a sideways force).
Jogwheel asks, “Is it a good idea to microwave this?” Usually the answer is no. They have microwaved eggs, glowsticks, and compact disks. This is the only channel of this type I was aware of before this year and I went back for nostalgia reasons. They no longer upload on a regular basis.
Sometimes I just want to see something destroyed – and who doesn’t love a satisfying crunch? There are many channels to serve this function and I am sure I have not found them all. They are also very similar to each other to the point that one could probably claim trademark infringement. Most of the hosts do not show their faces or speak and they play the same music while objects are destroyed. They use the same shredding machine often. They often replay the same event from different angles, including from below, and have slow-motion capability. The videos will be labeled as featuring one thing, but then be compilations between ten and twenty minutes long featuring multiple things.
MrGear not only uses a shredding machine, but also sulfuric acid, liquid nitrogen, hot knives, and the infamous thousand-degree metal ball. Watermelons and Nutella jars are favorite objects of his wrath. He also posts many videos showing how to build various things in unconventional ways with limited supplies. He posts crafts, pranks, magic tricks, life hacks (some better than others), and creative ways to tie shoelaces.
Life Hacks & Experiments feeds his shredding machine with toys, food, batteries, bullets, and household items. He also uses a chainsaw, waffle iron, thousand-degree metal ball, hydraulic press (heated and unheated), and hydraulic guillotine. He posts life hacks too.
The Crusher uses many of the same tools to destroy many of the same types of things, plus he will also play the video in reverse to show things come back together. Gojzer does the same. Experiment At Home does the same. Collectively, they destroy pencils, pens, Rubik’s cubes, lighters, phones, a VHS tape, an (American) football, a bowling ball, breakfast cereal, crackers, and Orbeez. Will It Survive? has fewer videos than the others, my favorite of which is Jawbreaker Meets Blowtorch.
It was in watching these videos that I was first exposed to the term ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Apparently, just as most people feel an unpleasant tingly feeling when nails are dragged across a chalkboard, some people feel a pleasant tingly feeling when hearing whispering, crunching, or other sounds, or watch something very repetitive and methodical. It is believed to have therapeutic properties. Unfortunately, it seems to have no effect on me.
Interestingly, there are those who associate the feeling-inducing videos with sexual eroticism, though there are others who deny any connection. It just goes to show that pornography is very hard to define and what might be pornography to one person can be totally devoid of such associations to another. I have also heard for the first time this year the terms “food porn” and “inspiration porn,” which further dilute the definition into total meaninglessness.
Press Tube does a lot of metal casting and also uses a kinetic press to destroy things, meaning he drops a large weight from a tall height. He has also fed his shredding machine real lava!
The best in this category is Hydraulic Press Channel. It is run by a husband-wife team from Finland who place objects under a hydraulic press and crush them. They are the cutest couple ever and bring a huge amount of enthusiasm to everything they do. They have exploded wood and ball bearings. They have made a knife out of compressed toilet paper and a frying pan from compressed aluminum foil. Using a piston head with extrusion holes in it, they have turned hair into powder, gummy bears into gummy worms, found the fastest way to make salsa and coleslaw, unmixed oobleck, and made beautiful worms out of soap, crayons, ballistic gelatin, play dough, and candles.
They also have a second channel called Beyond The Press, on which they seem to like to blow things up. It is just as good. They have a third channel called Anni Vuohensilta, on which they vlog about their life. They are fun people.
Sometimes I’m happy that I wasted time.
It often happens on my adventures that I see an insect or arachnid I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I make a lot of internet searches using descriptive words, but sometimes I just can’t find what I’m looking for. This is why I recently bought the Insect Identification app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the dragonfly above are practically identical. Apparently, it is called the black saddlebags dragonfly.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying insects by taking a photograph of a single one so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The trio of beetles on the tree it identified as carrion beetles. The photograph it provided was the spitting image of mine.
While Insect Identification works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all insects are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The animal on the ground it recognized as some sort of cricket. I still don’t know what it is, but I think it might be some sort of dipluran. The picture the app provided was not even close.
The bottom line is that Insect Identifier cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is easier and faster than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
I stopped in a local deli on the way back from one of my forest adventures and bought a bottled soda. The brand was called Maine Root. Since I had never tasted it before, and my grandfather had recently spoken highly of the flavor, I bought a Sarsaparilla. I would describe it by calling it watered-down cream soda, only better. It has a light, sweet flavor. It was okay. The company makes several other flavors too, which I eventually bought on a return trip. The Blueberry is very good, as is the Mandarin Orange. They captured both flavors perfectly. You’d think you had bitten into ripe fruit. The Ginger Brew is quite strong, just the way I like it. Awesome! The Root Beer and Mexicane Cola were also good. Every one of these flavors were worth the three dollars a bottle I paid at the deli.
Perusing the company website, I see they also have Lemon Lime and Pumpkin Pie soda as well as a line of lemonades. Their product is made of from fair trade, organic, cane sugar and never with corn syrup, not that I’ve ever cared much about such things before, but I just might have to care given how good their sodas are.
It often happens on my adventures that I see a plant I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I take a photograph and text it to my mother. She knows a lot, but sometimes she doesn’t know the name either. This is why I recently bought the Plant Snap app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the white flower was a spitting image of the one I took. Apparently, it is called a pricklyburr.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying flowers by taking a photograph of a single flower straight on so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The yellow flowers it identified as common tansy. The photograph it matched mine to was virtually identical.
While plant snap works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all plants are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms (I believe there is a way to give feedback for registered users, but I have not registered yet), or whether some humans have simply been giving incorrect or inconsistent feedback, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The purple flower it recognized not as an orchid, but as a hibiscus. Except for color, the picture was not even close.
Note: In going back to the app to double-check the names in preparation to write this review, some things had changed. The white flower was identified as a leafy skyrocket, which is about as different as it can get and still be a plant, though other possibilities were listed below, including the pricklyburr. For the purple flower, among the below-listed possibilities were two types of orchids, which were very similar, though not identical, so there is still hope.
The bottom line is that Plant Snap cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is more accurate than my mother and easier to use than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
What could possibly be better than getting gifts? Unwrapping them of course! Imagine unraveling a ball of strip paper to find a prize at the center and you have just imagined a surprise ball. You might find a finger puppet, a marble, a ring, stickers, or even candy – it doesn’t matter; IT’S ALL WRAPPED UP IN PAPER! Once a fifties fad, the novelty gifts are making a comeback, the current incarnation sold by TopsMalibu.com.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find compromises between the extremes that give us the benefits of both and the costs of neither? That’s what Carl Milsted attempts to do at HolisticPolitics.org. A former Libertarian, he now develops policy solutions to maximize not only liberty, but nature, morality, and equality. Like professor Johnathan Haidt of the University Of Virginia, he uses a dimensional paradigm for morality that does not take into account trump cards, but can still be very useful as a means of engaging with people to find solutions that most can agree with. There is a huge amount of material on there, including proposals for a negative income tax, which could replace welfare for those who need it yet without destroying the incentive to work and creating parasites. It is definitely worth a read for anyone sometimes dissatisfied by the Republicans and Democrats (most people).
PBS Space Time
There are many YouTube channels that describe physics and cosmology, but by far the best that I’ve discovered is PBSspacetime. Things are actually explained, including the uncertainty principle, black holes, dark energy, and dark matter. It’s very interesting.
If you like biology, you may also be interested in PBSeons, and if you like random ramblings of history, language, science, and philosophy trivia, you might like Vsauce.
There are many YouTube channels featuring and explaining math, such as Mathologer and
MindYourDecisions, but by far the best that I’ve been able to find is Numberphile. They generally do a good job explaining the derivation of their theorems, but even when they don’t they are valuable for the wonder they induce and for the small tidbits of knowledge that can be combined with facts heard elsewhere to build up a more complete picture of things. It’s fascinating. Many times I have gone online just to watch one or two videos and ended up staying up all night.
Why are there infinite magic squares and only two magic hexagons? What is the longest possible game of tree? What are the spooky connections between the parts of the triangle? How can the same equation lead to such simple order and such complex chaos by only slightly changing one variable? What is a strange attractor? Can we find the digits of pi hiding in the Mandelbrot set? Can we find the Fibonacci sequence hiding in the Mandelbrot set? Why is 41 special?
I grew up in New Hampshire, but my mother grew up in Rhode Island. Every time my parents would take me to visit my mother’s parents still living in Rhode Island, we would make sure to stop at Allie’s Donuts for their glazed crullers. These are real treats. The exteriors are thick with sugar and oil with just a bit of crunch. We never really tried their other donuts, but after you’ve had their crullers there is really no reason to ever eat anything else…maybe with the exception of vitamin supplements…you don’t want to get scurvy. They are best warm. Visiting again is like an adventure in childhood memories.
Allie’s has been in business since 1968 and is famous throughout Rhode Island. As out-of-staters, they used to be our little secret, but we keep meeting people from all over the country with the same secret. They only take cash and have only one location. They make a variety of donuts, including giant donut “cakes” in all shapes and designs. More about them can be found on their Facebook page.
Internet Anagram Server
An anagram of a word or phrase is another word or phrase containing exactly the same letters, no more and no less. Given the enormous number of ways letters can be rearranged, it is usually possible to find an anagram appropriately descriptive of the original word. The letters in a phrase as short as “moldy shoes” can be rearranged as “Sol-shy demo,” which could be interpreted to mean a demonstration of what happens when your shoes are left in a dark place.
The Internet Anagram Server can take phrases of medium length and output thousands of possibilities within seconds, saving quite a lot of work. Then you just have to browse the list to find the ones that aren’t nonsense.
Names are especially great for plugging into the server to see what comes out. Clint Eastwood becomes Old West Action. Daniel Edward Noe becomes A Renowned Laddie. That sounds about right. Let me know what your name tells you.
Have you ever read a comic strip and been confused what was going on? Alex Norris makes comics where everything is labeled so you will never have that problem again, breaking life down into its simplest. Characters do actions with things that lead to results. It is a comic that anyone who does actions with things can relate to.
This company will take your child’s wacky creature drawings and create large stuffed toys based on them. They can do the same for photos of your pets or people you know. It’s expensive, but a small price to pay to make your imaginary friends real and ensure your dolls and stuffed animals will be unique. This idea is too cool. I have got to do this someday.
How does money work? What causes inflation? Why are things so expensive? Do we really need a central banking system? If currency enters the economic system only by being lent at interest, and society pays all of the money back it borrowed, where does the money come from to pay off the interest? If newly printed money is not earned, what justifies it being given only to a select few? Louis Even explains things in very simple terms so that anybody can understand and offers an alternative to the debt-money systems used by most countries. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking read.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.