Surprising info

Some new stuff on the origins of humanity and primates and the Earth’s long-term climate, and rock technology, and a recommendation for a British Museum podcast on 100 items from their collection, and an extinct pig the size of a small hippo. Check it.

Thorough Knowledge

I don’t know what I’m looking for. I suppose that I want to have a better grasp on how humans went from bands of apes to talking on the telephone.

Twas the Cenozoic Era…, (meaning the current geologic era which started 66 million years ago- when the dinosaurs died, so I should say, “Tis the Cenozoic Era” really). During the Eocene epoch, (55-35 mya), primates, similar to lemurs, emerge in the northern hemisphere during a period of global warming to secure daytime openings in the food-chain. * Then in the following epoch, the Oligocene (~35-22 mya), the presence of these prosimian primates fades in the less-forested areas throughout the world as the overall climate cooled, but they continue to exist in Africa.  During the next epoch, the Miocene (23-5 mya), the climate cooled further and forests declined. At this time, monkeys spread and branched out. About 20 mya…

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As for actual numbers,

narmermacehead“The Narmer macehead is an ancient Egyptian decorative stone mace head. It was found during a dig at Kom al Akhmar, the site of Hierakonpolis (ancient Egyptian Nekhen.) It is dated to the reign of king Narmer whose serekh is engraved on it. Today it is kept at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Narmer was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 32nd century BC). He is thought to be the successor to the Protodynastic pharaohs Scorpion (or Selk) and/or Ka, and he is considered by some to be the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and therefore the first pharaoh of unified Egypt.”




The numerals occupy the center of the lower register. Four tadpoles below the ox, each meaning 100,000, record 400,000 oxen. The sky- lifting Heh- god behind the goat was the hieroglyph for “one million”; together with the four tadpoles and the two “10,000” fingers below the goat, and the double “1,000” lotus- stalk below the god, this makes 1,422,000 goats. To the right of these animal quantities, one tadpole and two fingers below the captive with his arms tied behind his back count 120,000 prisoners. These quantities makes Narmer’s mace the earliest surviving document with numbers from Egypt, and the earliest surviving document with such large numbers from anywhere on the planet.


“The quantities on Narmer’s Heb-Sed mace happen to combine, with good accuracy and in three closely related ways, two major mathematical constants that have intrigued many number researchers, phi and pi.

Some people claim these same constants were also embedded in the proportions of the Great Pyramid and other ancient Egyptian monuments, but many mainstream scholars assert those ratios got there by accident, without the builders’ knowledge or intent.”

From Wikipedia and “Ancient Creation Stories told by the Numbers”, by H. Peter Aleff on Recovered

For an explanation of Egyptian numbers, see “Rhind Papyrus“.


Rhind_Mathematical_PapyrusThe Rhind Papyrus is the best example of Egyptian mathematics and dates to  around 1650 BCE, but its contents date even further back. In its own introduction, the scribe, A’h-mose writes that he is copying material from 1849-1800 BCE. So four thousand years ago, the Egyptians were coming up with all sorts of fascinating materials. An excellent description of this papyrus is available in Eli Maor’s book, Trigonometric Delights, which is actually available online!

Egyptians wrote from right to left and used symbols to indicate numbers as shown below.


egyptian numbers copy


Maor, Eli (1998). Trigonometric DelightsPrinceton University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-691-09541-8


There’s so much more nature to appreciate than I ever realized. Growing up in a city, I really believed that nature and people should be kept separate. Little did I know that that is not only impossible but super duper wrong. If anything, we city dwellers need to appreciate the nature that fills our lives and the easiest way to do that is learn about the plants growing in vacant lots, the birds tweeting in trees and where the nearest wild spaces are to our homes.

I’m not much of an environmentalist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just a nerd that loves learning and I’m thrilled to have discovered a whole new world I’ve been overlooking all my life.

Barn Owl. Photographed by Carol Freeman

Photographing Endangered Species 

Ash-har Quraishi | January 26, 2012 10:00 am on Chicago Tonight
“Wildlife photographer Carol Freeman is on a quest to capture the images of Illinois’ most endangered species.”
I love the thoroughness of this project. There’s a list and she’s going to go through it. The list’s contents are precious and rare. The exploration of them is inherently valuable and time sensitive. I love it!
You’ll have to check out the Endangered Species Photography Project Photos link above to see more of Carol Freeman’s gorgeous photography. I can’t include them in my blog because it’s a Flicker page. But using her photos as a reference, and the list above as well, here’s some info on these species, from Wikipedia mainly.
Piping Plover
How cute is this guy? Wait till you see the photo of the chick below! Adorable.
Piping Plovers live on sandy beaches, with two populations on the east coast and in the mid-west on the shores of the Great Lakes.
Both of these photos are from Ontario, Canada. “Piping Plovers migrate north in the summer and winters to the south on the Gulf of Mexico, the southern Atlantic coast of the United States and theCaribbean. They begin migrating north beginning in mid-March. Their breeding grounds extend from southern Newfoundland south to the northern parts ofSouth Carolina. They begin mating and nesting on the beach in mid-April.”
“Like many other species of plovers, adult Piping Plovers will often feign a “broken wing display“, drawing attention to themselves and away from the chicks when a predator may be threatening the chicks’ safety. … A major defense mechanism in the chicks is their ability to blend in with the sand. It takes about 30 days before a chick achieves flight capability.”
“The piping plover has been listed by the United States as “endangered” in the Great Lakes region and “threatened” in the remainder of its breeding range.”
By the middle of the 20th century, the Piping Plover population in the Great Lakes region was down to a few dozen. But current conservation efforts have increased populations to over 6000, over 3000 of each populations. “Current conservation strategies include identification and preservation of known nesting sites, public education, limiting or preventing pedestrian and/or off-road vehicle traffic near nests and hatched chicks, limiting predation of free-ranging cats, dogs and other pets on breeding pairs, eggs and chicks, and removal of foxes, raccoons, skunks, and other predators.”
Least Bittern

“These birds nest in large marshes with dense vegetation from southern Canada to northern Argentina. … They migrate from the northern parts of their range in winter for the southernmost coasts of the United States and areas further south, traveling at night. They mainly eat fish and insects, which they capture with quick jabs of their bill while climbing through marsh plants.”
Forster’s Tern
“It breeds inland in North America and winters south to the Caribbeanand northern South America. … This species breeds in colonies in marshes. It nests in a ground scrape and lays three or more eggs. …The Forster’s Tern feeds by plunge-diving for fish, but will also hawk for insects in its breeding marshes. …
The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.”
It is most similar to the Common Tern.
Common Tern

“All populations of the
Common Tern are strongly migratory, wintering south of their breeding ranges in the temperate and subarctic Northern Hemisphere.”
Although the world population numbers in the millions, the Great Lakes region holds a declining population of less than 10,000 pairs.
“In the nineteenth century, the use of tern feathers and wings in the millinery trade cause large decreases in Common Tern populations in both Europe and North America, especially on the Atlantic coasts and inland. Sometimes entire stuffed birds were used to make hats.” That’s some crazy crap. A whole bird on your head. How big was the hat beneath it? Could the women get through doors? Ridiculous.
Black-Billed Cuckoo
“Their breeding habitat is edges of wooded areas across North America east of the Rockies. They nest in a low tree or shrub, sometimes on the ground. They sometimes lay eggs in the nests of other birds. They migrate to South America. … These birds forage in shrubs or trees. They mainly eat insects, especially tent caterpillars, but also some snails, eggs of other birds and berries.”
It’s a bit difficult to judge by this photo, but adults are about 12″ long.
Marsh Valerian
Highbush Blueberry

This one especially is a species’ whose photos by Carol Freeman are excellent and should be checked out. This photo doesn’t do it justice.

“This plant is also the most common commercially-grown blueberry in North America. In the wild, it is enjoyed by birds, bears and small mammals.”
I had no idea that blueberries were native to Illinois! Sweeeet… I wonder if I can procure some seeds so that my back yard may contribute to restoring this species to the state. And make some jam.
Horned Bladderwort
What a terrible name for such a cute flower!
According to Wikipedia, this plant is “probably  carnivorous”.
What the heck does that mean? Either it eats bugs or it doesn’t. Is it so rare that no one has observed it digesting bugs? It just looks like it would?
“It grows as a terrestrial or subaquatic plant in marshes, swamps, and pools in shallow waters, mostly at lower altitudes. It was originally described and published by André Michaux in 1803.”
Come on Michaux! Did you see it with digesting bugs inside the flowers or not?
Ill-scented Trillium

Again, Freeman’s photos are waaaay better.
I wonder how bad this smells to be named ‘ill-scented’ and is there a ‘well-scented’ trillium?
It’s also known as the Stinking Benjamin, so … pretty bad, I guess.
“The flowers have the smell of rotting meat, as they are pollinated by flies. The leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals and crystal raphide, and should not be consumed by humans.”
Star Flower

So lovely.
Not much else to be said, but it’s super cute.
Lakeside Daisy

Federally Threatened! Oh no! It’s so sweet looking.
“This wildflower is rare because of its restrictive habitat requirements and the limited distribution of its seeds. … The largest population in the United States exists in Marblehead Peninsula along Lake Erie in Ohio. Habitats consist of dry dolomite prairies and gravel prairies, gravelly hill prairies, sand-gravel terraces along major rivers, ledges along cliffs, and limestone quarries. This wildflower is found in rocky areas with sparse vegetation and can tolerate minor amounts of disturbance.”
“Lakeside Daisy is a rare native wildflower in Illinois, having been found in only Tazewell and Will counties.”
Yellow-lipped Ladies Tresses Orchid
I didn’t know there were orchids native to the midwest! I thought they were more exotic. Neat-o!
(I think this is actually a photo of a Wide-leaved Ladies’ tresses Orchid, but you get the idea. From the Connecticut Botanical Society.)
OK. This is getting messy and waaaaay tooooo long a post. But really neat-o! I knew so little.

Indonesia consists of 17,508 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited. Where do I even begin?


Starting on the left, there’s Sumatra, the largest and, best known, as of late, as the epicenter of the earthquake which caused the enormous tsunami of 2004. This was most devastating in Aceh, the westernmost province on the island, which, interestingly enough, implemented a form of sharia law in 2003. 87% of Sumatrans are thought to be Muslim. Sumatra is the largest island entirely within Indonesia, and the sixth largest island in the world.

Sumatra has a huge range of plant and animal species but has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest in the last 35 years, and many species are Critically Endangered such as Sumatran TigerSumatran Rhino (similar to the Javan Rhino discussed in another posting) and Sumatran Orangutan.

Rafflesia arnoldii

To the east of the major mountain chain, big rivers carry silt from the mountains, forming the vast lowland interspersed by swamps. The region produces oil from both above and below the soil—palm oil and petroleum. Sumatra is also the largest producer of Indonesian coffee. Unique species to the island include Rafflesia arnoldiithe world’s largest individual flower, and the Titan Arum (the world’s largest unbranched inflorescence).

Titan Arum

Sumatra was known in ancient times by the Sanskrit names of Swarnadwīpa (“Island of Gold”) and Swarnabhūmi (“Land of Gold”), because of the gold deposits of the island’s highland. Sultan Alauddin Shah of Aceh, on letters written in 1602 addressed to Queen Elizabeth I of England, referred to himself as “king of Aceh and Samudra”. The word itself is from Sanskrit “Samudra“, (समुद्र), meaning “gathering together of waters, sea or ocean“.

Sumatra came under the control of the Dutch East Indies and became a major producer of pepper, rubber, and oil. In the early and mid-twentieth century, Sumatran academics and leaders were important figures in Indonesia’s independence movements, such as : Mohammad Hatta (the first vice-president) and Sutan Sjahrir (the first prime minister).

Minangkabau home. The society is generally matrilineal.

The people represent many different ethnic groups, speaking 52 different languages.  Ethnic Malay dominate most of the eastern coast, while people in the southern and central interior speak languages related to Malay, such as the Lampung and Minangkabau people. The highland of northern Sumatra is inhabited by the Bataks, while the northernmost coast is dominated byAcehsEthnic Chinese minorities are present in urban centres.

young Minangkabau women attending a high status wedding











Batak Warriors, 1870

The creation myth of the Batak peoples varies, so I will summarize what I learned from Wikipedia as the story of the daughter of a god of the skies. In the beginning the gods lived in the skies, below which lay a sea and the underworld dragon, Naga Padoha. The god Mula Jadi Na Bolon, whose name translates to the “beginning of becoming”, begets three daughters whom he gives as wives for his three sons, who resulted from the fertilizing of a hen by Mula Jadi. Mankind is the result of the union of the three couples. A granddaughter flees from her intended husband, a lizard-shaped god, and slides down a thread to the world of the seas. Out of compassion, Mula Jadi sends his granddaughter a handful of earth, which is spread out on the head of the dragon. Earthquakes are the result of his restlessness.

Aftermath of the disaster; photo by Globe Newspaper Co. (Boston Public Library)

For real. On January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston an enormous molasses storage tank burst, releasing its heavy, thick. sticky, sweet contents into the streets. The muck poured through the streets at an estimated 35 mph, crushing houses, bringing down elevated train tracks, killing 21, including two 10-year-old children, and injuring another 150 people.

This is the worst thing I have ever heard of. Drowning or being crushed by a wave of molasses must be in the top ten worst ways to go. The thought of the smell filling a neighborhood or having to scrape and mop the stuff up is horrendous.

Boston's 1919 molasses-tank explosion turned this elevated train structure into a twisted mass of metal. The "Great Molasses Flood" that followed the blast sent an avalanche of death into the streets. Photo: Corbis

The tank was 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. From the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, “Witnesses stated that as it collapsed, there was a loud rumbling sound, like a machine gun as the rivets shot out of the tank, and that the ground shook as if a train were passing by.” A wave of 8-15 feet high coursed through the neighborhood. Adjacent buildings were rocked off of their foundations and crushed. For blocks, the streets were flooded with three feet of the muck.

As described by author Stephen Puleo:

Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was… Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings — men and women — suffered likewise.

Puleo, Stephen, “Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919”, page 98. Beacon Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8070-5021-0

Hundreds assisted in the rescue and cleanup. The harbor was reportedly still brown well into the summer. A class action suit was filed against the owners of the tank and the United States Industrial Alcohol Company ultimately paid out $600,000 in out-of-court settlements (at least $6.6 million in 2005 dollars).

It’s thought that the 40 degree change in temperature that day increased pressure in the tank, which forced the poorly-constructed container to burst along a stress fracture. It reportedly leaked so badly that it was painted brown to conceal the oozing molasses and locals collected the drippings for their home larders.

If you’re interested in more on this, check out the Wired article by Randy Alfred.

An artist's concept of Kepler-22b, a roughly Earth-size world orbiting within the habitable zone of a sun-like star 600 light years from Earth.

Earth-like planet found in distant sun’s habitable zone

For the first time, astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope have confirmed a roughly Earth-size planet orbiting a sun-like star in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone where water can exist in liquid form on the surface and conditions may be favorable for life as it is known on Earth.

December 5, 2011