Reconstructing the fearsome Haast’s eagle.

A comparison of the huge claws of Haast's eagle with those of its close relative the Hieraaetus morphnoides, the "little" eagle. Image / Bunce M, Szulkin M, Lerner HRL, Barnes I, Shapiro B, et al.

A comparison of the huge claws of Haast’s eagle with those of its close relative the Hieraaetus morphnoides, the “little” eagle. Image / Bunce M, Szulkin M, Lerner HRL, Barnes I, Shapiro B, et al.

With a wingspan reaching as wide as 3m and huge claws that could crush bone, the Haast’s eagle was one of the most fearsome creatures ever to stalk New Zealand’s prehistoric wilderness.

The largest eagle known to have existed anywhere, its demise quickly followed that of its much-larger prey, the moa, which was hunted to extinction by early Maori settlers around 1400 CE.

Now a top international scientist and Kiwi collaborators hope to shed more light on the lost giant, in an innovative study that could help conserve those endangered predatory birds that remain today.

An artist's depiction of a Haast's eagle attacking two moa. Image / John Megahan.

An artist’s depiction of a Haast’s eagle attacking two moa. Image / John Megahan.

You can read more here, thanks to David for letting me know about this.

Flowers of the Sky.

Depictions spanning almost a whole millennium – in chronological order – of comets, meteors, meteorites and shooting stars. (My choices here aren’t in order!)

Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of November 12-13, 1833, from E. Weiß’s Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt (1888) – Source.

Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of November 12-13, 1833, from E. Weiß’s Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt (1888) – Source.

Astronomy: a meteor shower in the night sky. Mezzotint, after 1783 – Source.

Astronomy: a meteor shower in the night sky. Mezzotint, after 1783 – Source.

Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, Folio 52 (erschrocklicher Comet, 1300) – Source

Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, Folio 52 (erschrocklicher Comet, 1300) – Source.

You can see many more wonderful depictions at The Public Domain Review.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Interlude 2 – Measuring the Hardness

I am not done with the “Behind the Iron Curtain” series, but right now my mind is way too focused on other things.

One such thing was the conundrum of measuring hardness of steel. There is no way I can spend thousands of € on measuring equipment. And the cheapest “sort of” evaluation of hardness is a set of five needle files that costs over 200,-€. I would rather spend that money on materials, but I do not mind spending a few hours of work.

So yesterday I had my first shot at this issue.

First thing I have done was to find in my scrap pile old and damaged hack saw blade. I have heated it piecemeal with handheld propane torch to orange heat and quenched it in a bucket of water. Since it is uniform thickness, the water does cause no cracking this way and quenches the steel very nicely and without flames or stink.

After quenching each segment I broke it off (it breaks really easy) and proceeded further, untill there was no unhardened steel left. After that I broke all the pieces into much smaller pieces until I had a nice little pile of extra hard steel shards.

These I have dunked straightaway in a pot with about 1 cm of sunflower seed oil and proceeded to my kitchen. There I was heating the oil very slowly to temper the steel whilst measuring the temperature with my IR thermometer. The higher the temperature, the lower the steel hardness, so I had  temperature steps predefined at which I took a few pieces of steel out of the oil bath.

For that I have found this site on the Interwebs that was kind enough to post a table of  hardness versus tempering temperature with not only the silly units the USA uses but also the sensible units the civilised world uses¹, so I could actually understand what temperature ranges we are talking about. I wrote the temperatures from the table on pieces of paper and put them into small receptacles in which I have placed the tempered shards. I did try to hold the temperatures for about 15 minutes, but for a steel this thin that is not completely necessary.

At 260°C I stopped, because after that the oil could ignite, and I made the remaining temperatures on a fireclay brick with handheld torch. For these soft rangers I do not need much precision anyways.

With all the shards tempered and hardened I have cut ten pieces of hardwood from old spokes from my crib.  They are a bit too thick, but I had no wooden dowels of the right thickness in my pile and I did not want to use wood set aside for arrows. I cut a groove in each piece and marked the pieces 1 to 10 with roman numerals (because those are easy to carve with a knife).

After that I glued one shard in each groove with fast healing epoxy. The softest one in the I and the hardest one in X. Once the epoxy has healed, all that was left was to sharpen the shards on my belt grinder and I was done.

I have tried whether the hardness progresses from I to X and it does. 10 is able to scratch everything, I scratches nothing, and each higher number seems to scratch the one below but not the one above. Here they are (one is missing in the picture, I do not know why, how typical of me to miss-lay things in a matter of seconds).

I measured the dagger on the tang where it is hardened but will not be visible later on. VIII scratched, VII almost scratched, VI did not scratch at all. The hardness should be therefore somewhere around 58 HRC. That is hard enough to keep an edge, but not so hard as to shatter or break easily or eat sharpening stones.

As a proof of concept I would call it a definitive success. I have a set of tools that allows me to estimate the hardness of steel from about 40 to 65 HRC. Not with great precision, but well enough to be useful. After I get my hands on some suitable high carbon steel (about 1% is needed) of thickness about 2-3 mm, I will make better ones, chisel-like, with not only a tip to scratch, but also an area to be scratched.

A little backyard scientist project.


1 – I hate that USA insists on using the silly units and infests half the internet with that nonsense. Finding well written articles on the internet that are not in English is difficult and when something is written in English, it is often US-centric. As if USA did not spread enough misery as it is, it has to keep poisoning sciences and engineering with this utter garbage.

Amsterdam: Below The Surface.

Peter N. sent this amazing project to me, and it’s absolutely fascinating!

In Amsterdam there’s a public works project going on which has involved draining a river. Archaeologists have been able to search through many feet of sediment for artifacts – which date back 800 years. There’s a wonderful website which describes the project in detail here: https://belowthesurface.amsterdam/en/pagina/de-opgravingen-index

… and one of the pages is a catalog of over 11,000 finds, with beautiful photos and descriptions, arranged in chronological order: https://belowthesurface.amsterdam/en/vondsten

It just thrills me to think that every single one of those objects comes with a story, which, unfortunately, is lost forever – a lovers’ quarrel, a picnic, a flood, a missed arrow shot…

I feel the same way  as Peter. Seeing small pieces of history always makes me wonder about all the people and their lives. Peter chose one particular piece for me, and was spot on, I love it!

I’m going to be spending some time gawking at all the amazing things found in this streambed archaeology!

Song Ci: The Washing Away of All Wrongs.

Nomenclature of human bones in Sòng Cí: Xǐ-yuān lù jí-zhèng, edited by Ruǎn Qíxīn (1843).

Nomenclature of human bones in Sòng Cí: Xǐ-yuān lù jí-zhèng, edited by Ruǎn Qíxīn (1843).

Song Ci (Sung Tz’u) is considered to be the founder of forensic science. In 1247, Song Ci wrote Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified or The Washing Away of Wrongs.

Different versions of the book exist, but the earliest existing version was published during the Yuan Dynasty, containing fifty-three chapters in five volumes. The first volume describes the imperial decree issued by Song Dynasty on the inspection of bodies and injuries. The second volume contains notes and methods on post-mortem examinations. The third, fourth, and fifth volumes detail the appearances of corpses from various causes of death and methods of treatments to certain injuries of a wounded person.

Song Ci ruled regulation about autopsy report for court, how to protect the evidence in the examining process, the reason why workers must show examination to public impartiality;how to wash dead body for examining the different reasons of death. At that time, the book had given methods to distinguish suicide or pretending suicide.

The particulars of each case must be recorded in the doctor’s own handwriting. No one else is allowed to write his autopsy report. A coroner must not avoid performing an autopsy just because he detests the stench of corpses. A coroner must refrain from sitting comfortably behind a curtain of incense that masks the stench, letting his subordinates do the autopsy unsupervised, or allowing a petty official to write his autopsy report, otherwise any potential inaccuracy is unchecked and uncorrected.”

He also said:

“Should there be any inaccuracy in an autopsy report, injustice would remain with the deceased as well as the living. A wrongful death sentence without justice may claim one or more additional lives, which would in turn result in feuds and revenges, prolonging the tragedy. In order to avoid any miscarriage of justice, the coroner must immediately examine the case personally.” [Source]

Medievalists has a list of ten observations Song Ci made when it came to discerning murder, and different types of murder.

Last year, photographer Robert Shults did a photographic series called The Washing Away of Wrongs, all taken at a forensic research facility in Texas.

Robert Shults, photograph from The Washing Away of Wrongs, with flowers from a nearby tree fallen across a donor’s body (courtesy the artist).

Robert Shults, photograph from The Washing Away of Wrongs, with flowers from a nearby tree fallen across a donor’s body (courtesy the artist).

You can read all about that, and see more too, at Hyperallergic. There are some graphic photos, so have a care.

No. That’s Just Wrong.

I was happily lost in The Public Domain Review the other day, and came across High Frequency Electric Currents in Medicine and Dentistry from 1910. I know there was great excitement over electricity, and there were phases of “miracle cures” where it was concerned, but in this case, it was the photos which got my attention, including one which just about had me screaming, and I’m not even a parent:

The text reads:

Plate XXII. – This beautiful picture (as exquisite as Manet’s “Boy with the Sword” which is one of the classics of the Painting Art), sets forth this boy bringing his pocket “Tesla” for the enjoyment of his beloved tonic. His sturdy strength at the age of three is a tribute to the efficacy of high frequency currents, for at the age of three days, when his treatment with them was begun, he was an illy-thriving and frail infant with but the feeblest hold on life. Look at him well, and think how many myriads of pallid children – of all ages – need the same remedy.

There is So. Much. Wrong. there, it just leaves me sputtering. Applying electrical currents to a three day old infant? All I can think is how very easily that could kill said infant. As for the photo being as exquisite as Boy with a Sword, let’s see:

L'Enfant à l'épée'' par Edouard Manet, 1861.

L’Enfant à l’épée’ par Edouard Manet, 1861.

Yeah, I don’t think there’s any honest comparison there at all. There are other questionable and frightening photos to be seen with the magical Tesla wand, but have a care, there’s some nudity, so NSFW.

“Going to the Dogs?”, Workshop.

“Going to the Dogs” Workshop #2 brought together scholars from England, Scotland, and Poland to discuss the various and complex intersections of disability- and animal-studies research. Discussions centred on talks delivered by Rachael Gillibrand (Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds), Dr Ryan Sweet (School of English, University of Leeds), Dr Andy Flack (Department of History, University of Bristol), Dr Neil Pemberton (Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester), and Dr Justyna Włodarczyk (Department of American Literature, University of Warsaw). The talks covered topics including the animal assistants of disabled people in the late-medieval West; nineteenth-century representations of animals with prostheses; connections between historical understandings of animals that live in darkness and vision-impaired people; the role of the caress in 1930s America human-guide-dog partnerships; and current controversies surrounding emotional-support animals in the US.

-Via Medievalists.

The full set of workshop videos.

The Smithsonian Presents Interactive Androids.

Pepper saying hello to staff at the Smithsonian Castle. (all photos courtesy Smithsonian).

Pepper saying hello to staff at the Smithsonian Castle. (all photos courtesy Smithsonian).

The next time you visit a Smithsonian museum, the first greeting you get may come from a gleaming, four-foot-tall android extending their hand. This would be Pepper, one of 25 humanoid robots that were introduced two days ago to six Smithsonian spaces, from the Hirshhorn Museum to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Donated by their engineers at Softbank Robotics, the platoon of Peppers is intended to enhance the visitor experience and ensure that daily operations run smoothly.

Pepper, which was designed to interact with humans, is the first bot capable of recognizing our emotions. These models already work in an array of industries around the world, serving as receptionists in Belgian hospitals and even as priests in Japan that lead funerary rituals. While the robot has been on display in museums, the Smithsonian now represents the first museum complex to actually use these wide-eyed automata for their services.

“We see them as a new tool for the docents to use, especially since they are always paired with a person,” a spokesperson for Smithsonian told Hyperallergic, noting that the Peppers are “absolutely not replacing docents.”

Softbank Robotics donated the Peppers for an experimental, pilot program intended to help the Smithsonian solve problems, from boosting visitorship to “under-attended galleries” and encouraging greater engagement with artworks. While the robots can provide helpful information by answering commonly asked questions, they can also indulge in more lighthearted activities for which human docents do not always have the time (or patience); visitors can ask Pepper to dance, play games, and even pose for a selfie. While the robots currently do not have captioned speech, the Smithsonian said that it is working to caption images that appear on their screens and “will continue with our software partners to make Pepper as accessible as possible.”

Very cool! I’d like to meet Pepper. You can read and see much more at Hyperallergic.

Saving A Tree, One Drip At A Time.

IV treatment helps Pillalamarri live another day. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

IV treatment helps Pillalamarri live another day. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

An amazing story, this.

If the roughly 800-year-old banyan tree in Mahabubnagar, India, could talk, it would probably tell you the IV inserted in its branches is saving its life. Termites infested the tree, reportedly one of the oldest in India, and gradually chipped away at its wood until the poor banyan was near the brink of death. Last December, some of the tree’s branches fell down because of the infestation, resulting in officials closing the attraction to the public.

Known as Pillalamarri because of its many interweaving branches, the banyan tree measures 405 feet from east to west and 408 feet from north to south, according to Mahabubnagar District Forest Officer Chukka Ganga Reddy. The crown of Pillalamarri extends to 1,263 feet and the tree is spread across nearly four acres. Underneath the tree stands a small shrine that supposedly dates back to the year 1200, but the tree’s exact age is unclear. Nevertheless, calling the Ficus benghalensis a great banyan tree would be an understatement.

Pillalamarri’s branches bend close to the soil. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

Pillalamarri’s branches bend close to the soil. Courtesy of District Administration, Mahabubnagar.

Such greatness attracts 12,000 tourists per year from every corner of the country to awe at its sheer vastness, but this tourism has also caused some troubles for the tree. According to Telangana Today, when Pillalamarri turned into a tourist attraction nearly a decade ago, the state government cut down branches and built concrete sitting areas around the tree for tourists. Tourists picked at the leaves, climbed on the branches, and carved names into the bark. Furthermore, to keep the area clean, the grounds team burned fallen leaves, which was bad for the soil. A recently installed dam on a neighboring stream restricted water flow to the tree.

I will never understand the pointless destructiveness humans indulge in. A 700 year old living being should, at the very least, garner some respect.

…Officials initially injected the trunk with the pesticide chlorpyrifos, but saw no improvement. So they tried another method to prevent decay: hundreds of saline bottles filled with chlorpyrifos, inserted into Pillalamarri’s branches.

“This process has been effective,” Reddy told the Times of India. “Secondly, we are watering the roots with the diluted solution to kill the termites. And in a physical method, we are building concrete structures to support the collapsing heavy branches.”

…Despite the tree’s stable prospects, the public won’t be seeing Pillalamarri any time soon. When they do visit in the future, “this time people have to see it from a distance away from the barricades,” said Reddy. For now, drip-by-drip, the banyan tree’s health is returning to its former glory.

What a shame that all those who would show proper respect won’t be able to do so anymore. I’m impressed and happy that a way to treat Pillalamarri has been found, and profoundly sad and disappointed by the people who were so damn destructive. It doesn’t speak well of humans at all.

Atlas Obscura has the full story, and lots of links.

Anatomy Atlas Part 2 – Lower Limb Skeleton

Colloquial Czech does not distinguish between a foot and a leg. The word “noha” normally refers to the whole limb from the hips down. Medical terminology differs from this and the word “noha” means only the foot, and “dolní končetina” is used for the whole limb. Professor Kos has hammered this point home throughout multiple lectures and we were suspecting that if someone were to use the term “noha” in its colloquial sense during an exam, it would be an insta-fail.

Lower Limb Skeleton

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Legs and feet are our means of movement, so they are very important. It is therefore important to look after them. Which, regarding the bones, means adequate exercise and not more than the body can handle.

What ordinary people do not usually know is that bones are not fixed structures. They are consumed from within and regrown throughout our lives. That way they can heal, but also change shape. That way they can also get injured in a rather peculiar fashion.

One of the stories Professor Kos was telling was a story of “march fractures”. Fresh army recruits, especially those from cities who were not accustomed to walking a lot, were often complaining about pains in their legs and feet bones after long marches. Initially they were deemed as pretenders becaue the x-rays looked normal, but some of them broke their legs when forced to go on. Then someone took a magnifying glass to an x-ray of the alleged pretenders legs and feet and noticed microscopic fractures developing before a clearly visible fracture occurred.

These are so-called fatigue fractures and they happen when a bone is deprived of nutrients. The bone continues to be consumed at a normal rate, but it does not manage to regrow back fast enough. Over time these tiny deficits accumulate and the bone starts to hurt and can even break.

A colleague of mine has developed just that in her foot during nordic walking strolls that were just a bit too much, too sudden and too long for her. It took a few weeks to develop and over a year to heal, with a surgery and a very long rehab being necessary.

Too much exercise is just as bad as none.

I Cannot Tell a Lie – I Chopped Down The Cherry Tree

But I really did not enjoy the task.

Cherry_Tree_2012

©Charly, all rights reserved.

My father has planted this tree for me when I was about 10 years old. I liked cherries back then. Now I cannot eat cherries any more, because for some reason they cause me hypoglycemia which is really unpleasant. But I enjoyed the blossoms in the spring nevertheless, I always looked forward to them and I did not mind the birds eating all the fruit at all.

I did not take any pictures with my new camera last year, so I can only share pictures that I made with the old one in 2012.

Cherry Blossoms

©Charly, all rights reserved, click for full size.

Last fall mushrooms sprouted on the trunk and that is a really bad sign. There are two kinds of wood in a tree – sapwood, which delivers nutrients from roots to the crown, and heartwood, which is usually more dry and dark and is essentially blocked off and completely dead. Accordingly, there are two types of fungi that can attack wood on a living tree – ones that attack the sapwood, and ones that attack the heartwood. Have a guess at which of these two is more dangerous.

If you like me during my studies guessed those that attack sapwood, you guessed wrong. Fungi that attack sapwood will cause the tree to wither and eventually die, but the tree remains standing relatively intact afterwards for long enough to be felled safely. However fungi that attack heartwood are more insidious – the tree can grow for many more years at absolutely normal rate without anything really visible on the outside. And then, when enough heartwood has rotten away, a branch will suddenly snap, or a the trunk will spit or break. And this of course is dangerous, because to an untrained eye the apparently healthy tree is essentially a ticking bomb that can kill someone at any time – which is something that has happened in CZ a few years ago and it has made the headlines. Heartwood is dead and dry, but it still has a function – it is the scaffolding that holds the tree upright and together.

This tree has developed a split in the trunk at about 10 years  age. We were doing our best to keep fungal infections away, but the split never closed off and we were evidently unsuccessful in the end. I was not able to take a good picture of the mushroom, because it lasted only a few days, none of which was on a weekend. I was unable to determine the exact species too. But I was confident enough in assessing that it is a heartwood eating fungus. So I decided to fell the tree before it becomes dangerous to do so. The tree was huge, so all winter I have cut branches when I could. They were all still healthy and I started to have doubts. But this friday I have finally cut the trunk right above the ground and my assessment of the situation was confirmed. The fungus has already invaded the inner 10 years growth and was spreading. The tree would probably live a few more years, maybe even a decade, but I do not think it was worth the risk, since I do not know how fast the fungus spreads.

Cherry trunk - cut

©Charly, all rights reserved, click for full size.

I have felt real connection with that tree. I was hoping for it to live longer and age with me. If I ever feel something that could be described as a spiritual experience, it is in the presence of a tree in the spring.

I will plant a new cherry tree on the spot as soon as possible.

Anatomy Atlas Part 1 – Spine

This first in a series of human anatomy sheets that I have drawn during my studies.  As future biology teacher I had to acquire some basic knowledge about most of biology – sort of  jack of all trades, master of none. However our class was one of the last where human anatomy was taught by a prominent Czech physician and scientist Profesor MuDr. Jaroslav Kos. He was eighty years old at that time and it was showing, however he still was formidable and very strict. I failed my first exam miserably, I do not even remember what the theme of the examination was. I think brain stem? Nevermind, it took me two attempts to pass and for the second attempt I really sat and learned latin like my life depended on it. He did not even let me finish on my second attempt  and waved me away with top grade after I described how  nervus olfactorius consists of multiple separated fila going straight through lamina cribosa directly into the bulbus olfactorius of the brain. I forgot most of my medical latin over time, but I still remember this.

Spine Drawing

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

A fun fact about spine – the “S” shape of our spine and all accompanying problems it brings stem from the fact that it originally evolved for movement in water and later on land with lateral undulations, which was later yet modified for movement on land on all four with vertical undulations, which was even later modified for upright movement on hind limbs only. The spine was definitively not intelligently designed for vertical posture and load bearing. Evolution has done its best, but that is always “just enough”.

Stephen Hawking, Demon Puppet.

Naberius, most valiant Marquess of Hell, and has nineteen legions of demons under his command. He makes men cunning in all arts (and sciences, according to most authors), but especially in rhetoric, speaking with a hoarse voice. He also restores lost dignities and honors.

Naberius, most valiant Marquess of Hell, and has nineteen legions of demons under his command. He makes men cunning in all arts (and sciences, according to most authors), but especially in rhetoric, speaking with a hoarse voice. He also restores lost dignities and honors.

Mike Shoesmith, of chemical assault fame, has taken a break from whinging on about the evils of women. Apparently, Mr. Shoesmith sees the late Stephen Hawking as being a demon puppet, nothing more, because Billy Graham.

…“[Graham] is a hundred percent devoted,” Shoesmith said. “The Lord sees his heart, gives him a tremendous ministry, and who do you think is sitting in the background going, ‘I have to do something about this, this guy is sold out, I have to do something’? Who do you think is sitting in the background doing that? The devil, right?”

No.

“So, in 1942, that is when Billy Graham’s ministry really takes off, and who do you think was born in 1942?” he continued. “Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking comes from a long line of atheists—his father and all these people—so I believe the devil said, ‘OK, this guy was just born and I’m going to use this guy. This guy is already primed to accept my message that there is no God. He is already primed for it, he is going to be awash, immersed in atheism all his years as a child, I’m going to take over this guy’s life.’”

A great many people were born in 1942. I’m sure a fair number of them were not christian, and Graham was just another con artist, nothing more.

“I believe Stephen Hawking was kept alive by demonic forces,” Shoesmith said. “I believe that it was the demonic realm that kept this man alive as a virtual vegetable his entire life just so he could spread this message that there is no God.”

Oh FFS. Do you know what the word virtual means, Mr. Shoesmith? I don’t think you do. Mr. Hawking was not a vegetable, in any sense. To the contrary, he was a very active person, and he spent most of his life spreading the wonders of physics. He really didn’t spend much time on atheism, and he certainly was not the equivalent huckster to Graham. Mr. Hawking was very lucky indeed to have been born in a country with healthcare. If he had been born in Ustates, his life would have most likely been brutal and short, with his grieving parents left under a crushing mountain of debt. So, if this was Lucifer’s doing, rather looks like he’s the good guy, doesn’t it?

Shoesmith went on to assert that if Hawking had simply reached out to God, Jesus would have cast the demons out of him and he would have been completely and miraculously healed.

Thanks to medicine and tech, Mr. Hawking was able to live into his seventies, which is pretty good for someone with such a serious disease, whereas that weak ass god of yours once again displayed a compleat inability to do jack shit. If Jehovah wanted to impress the fuck out of Mr. Hawking, could he not have shown up momentarily and cured him? That seems to be more the way to get a dedicated convert, no?

Anyroad, it’s well beyond shitty of you to run down a brilliant scientist and all around good man, after he’s dead of course, because you would never have the spine to do it when he was alive. Thanks ever for confirming yet again that you asshole christians are truly awful people.

The whole mess is at RWW.