Open thread

We are currently struggling with technical difficulties — we’re up, we’re down, we’re taking forever to load, pages pop up instantly, you just don’t know what you’re going to get when you visit freethoughtblogs today. So for those who brave the hostile technology, say what you want, while we hammer on the infrastructure.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I told them to stick with quill pens but would they listen?

    And remember, a computer can sense frustration.

  2. Siobhan says

    My date expressed astonishment that I’m able to wake up easily in the morning and then I told her it was due to a state of near-permanent existential anxiety induced by the malevolent incompetence seen everywhere you look.

    I could try to deal with it with weed, but of course legalization is taking its sweet-ass time and Trudeau said “no amnesty for non-politicians caught during this transitional time period.” Well, that wasn’t what he “said” per se, but it’s what he meant.


  3. says

    The page opened quickly for me.

    Usually, I read this blog with the vivaldi browser. Pages take forever to load. Today, I was impatient. So I am reading on firefox with “noscript”.

    Browsing is far smoother when there aren’t a gazillion scripts trying to shove annoying ads in front of me.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    PZ, looks like you might need tech support.

    The site has been erratic for most of the last week. The question is whether the problem is internal or external.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Alien Covenant was a BIG disappointment. Derivative, logic flaws, you can see what will happen. Final plot twist felt like a betrayal, even though I saw it coming a mile away.

  6. says

    Yeah really. I thought it was horrible. It was a thin webwork of plot surrounding mostly hole. Lots of gratuitous fanservice too.

  7. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    BTW, wasn’t FTB supposed to only load one pop-under ad per day? Not only is my browser ad blocker not working right and thus I’m seeing them, I’m getting one every single time I load the page.

  8. robro says

    Well, it loaded this time but has been sporadic. I get “Bad Gateway” errors pointing at something in Seattle, but that could be meaningless. I bet it’s Russians.

  9. consciousness razor says

    Alien Covenant was a BIG disappointment. Derivative, logic flaws, you can see what will happen. Final plot twist felt like a betrayal, even though I saw it coming a mile away.

    It might be better than Prometheus, I guess. That’s not saying much, because it was really awful too. Not sure how to put it without spoilers, so there will be spoilers….

    The “final plot twist” was … very, very silly. The timing of it was probably the most unforgivable part, since I can at least accept that they wanted to do that one way or another (even though it was very predictable). But why then and there? I instantly lost respect for the character who didn’t see it coming a mile away and apparently didn’t want to confirm her suspicions, until the situation was completely hopeless for everybody. If she suspected anything like that, why not come up with some kind of a plan (even if it’s not a good one) and try to do something about it? Instead of, you know, guaranteeing that you’re unable to do anything. Too fucking stupid.

    My guess is that they probably made the movie “too long” (since supposedly nobody has an attention span), so the ending had to be cut or replaced with that bullshit. It’s just hard to imagine a writer putting that down on the page, reading it back to themselves, and thinking “yeah, that looks like a promising way to conclude this film; let’s do that.”

    Also, seriously…. The first moment they stepped onto the planet’s surface, I was stunned. What the fuck were they thinking? You’re on an alien planet with all sorts of lifeforms around you, but you don’t wear a helmet or even a face mask to protect yourself from pathogens or toxins or who knows what the fuck is out there? Yet they also bothered to keep someone behind to “guard” the lander, as if they expected some hooligans to pass by and steal their ride or something. I’d say their problem-solving skills are incredibly bad, but they don’t even seem to get what is and is not an actual problem.

    And this is a planet that they didn’t even know about and had no plans of colonizing ahead of time…. The captain’s an idiot, obviously, but what made them think they could just waltz around the place safely, over miles of terrain, like they were on fucking vacation? From what I remember, none of the characters even brought it up as a potential concern to be rejected somehow, nor did anybody say why they thought it’d be alright, nor did they even talk about it after they figured out what was going on. It’s like the whole problem just sailed over everyone’s heads, before and after shit hit the fan.

    I guess they had the extra fuel/magic-power to just “drop by” a system to get a closer look, on their way to wherever they had originally intended. Not believable, although it’s maybe the most believable part of the whole story. But if they have all of this time on their hands, since they stopped way short of their original destination, why not wait until the storm at least clears, investigate a bit while in low orbit, look for suitable landing sites, figure out a real plan, find your spacesuits to use on the surface, etc.? Did these people get no training whatsoever? Where the fuck did they come from?

    There was very little that made me care about most of the characters, at least…. I’d normally say that’s bad, but in this case, I guess that made it all easier to stomach.

  10. daemonios says

    I’ll take this opportunity to say that while I do visit FTB, and Pharyngula in particular, on a daily basis, doing it on my Android phone or tablet is often infuriating due to misbehaving ads taking over the page or hard-linking to the Play Store, making it pop up on top of the browser. Now there’s an “error” I wish were corrected :)

    By the way, Google is rolling out selective ad blocking in Chrome sometime in the near future and will be blocking advertising on websites that display ads that fall under a list of unacceptable types, as defined by the Coalition for Better Ads. I don’t know what the impact of advertising is for FTB, but it may be time to sit down for a chat with your ad provider.

  11. daemonios says

    #9 birgerjohansson, #13 consciousness razor:

    I actually enjoyed Alien: Covenant, despite all of its flaws, some of which you’ve already listed. A few other things that made me cringe: Oram’s whine about religious persecution, all the more ridiculous because it turns out to be completely irrelevant; and the change to the “canonical” alien life cycle of egg -> facehugger -> chest burster -> adult -> queen. Still, it certainly is a far better movie than Prometheus, which lost me in the first 5 minutes and hasn’t changed my opinion even after a second viewing.

    I’m a fan of the androids, I have to admit. Ash in the original Alien, Bishop in Aliens, and yes, David in Prometheus – the only good thing I have to say about that one – have always appealed to me. David’s relationship with daddy Wayland piqued my curiosity and I was disappointed that it wasn’t explored further in that movie. His actions in Alien: Covenant apparently come out of the blue, but I choose to put that down to the time lapsed between Prometheus and Covenant, which isn’t shown. I liked the confrontation between Walter and David, but again feel it could have been wrapped up more competently – something in the line of David winning in the end because his emotional awareness and true sentience make him cling that much harder to life. It felt to me like a so-so Asimov robot story.

    So, in short: not a great movie, a great deal of plot holes and failures to maintain suspension of disbelief, but still enough juice for me to be enjoyable.

  12. consciousness razor says


    I’m a fan of the androids, I have to admit. Ash in the original Alien, Bishop in Aliens, and yes, David in Prometheus – the only good thing I have to say about that one – have always appealed to me. David’s relationship with daddy Wayland piqued my curiosity and I was disappointed that it wasn’t explored further in that movie.

    Agreed. One nitpick is that Walter’s accent seemed a little funny. It didn’t feel like a good fit for Fassbender. Maybe that’s just me. It was enough to contrast David at least.

    There definitely should’ve been more time with Wayland, or more time exploring that at any rate. David is a bit insolent, gets on daddy’s nerves, then that’s it — off to space we go. That’s when I was sure how it would all end (way too early in the story), but there could’ve been something to make me doubt that and try to maintain some suspense along the way. (David appearing miraculously to “help” and guide them to safety didn’t do the job.)

    Maybe flashbacks of David learning a lesson of some kind, so it’ll seem like he’s gained a healthier perspective on things. (And not one like “I am your master, bring me tea.”) But Wayland isn’t the sort who could help him, so I’m not sure how that could work. I guess you don’t get a clear sense of David’s outlook/motivation in Prometheus — it’s nice that things stay ambiguous, but somehow you still need a believable character arc between the Wayland scene, then everything in Prometheus, then everything else in Covenant. If that’s possible. Maybe just moving that scene to a later part of the movie would’ve been better. I do agree that it felt way too rushed, since that’s really important for everything to come, but the movie spent just a couple of minutes developing it in a pretty unsatisfying way.

  13. says

    Where did the alien embryos come from at the end? Was that a whole new development cycle that just appeared magically? (Gestate inside artificial person option)

    It looks to me like Scott probably shot a 3 hour hot mess and someone edited it down and threw in slasher-flick-style “death while bathing” scenes – I bet in a couple years there will be a tedious “director’s cut” that’ll hammer the nails in the coffin of the series.

  14. blf says

    Anthony Burgess’s lost dictionary of slang discovered, “A Clockwork Orange author only managed entries for three words and his abortive labours were thought to have gone for ever”.

    (Tidbit I learned whilst typing up this comment: I thought Mr Burgess had done the brilliant English-language subtitles for the 1990 French-language version of Cyrano de Bergerac (the one with Gérard Depardieu). Not quite. The subtitles apparently are by him, but are taken from his earlier translation of the play, at least according to Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge.)

  15. says

    Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y #11:

    BTW, wasn’t FTB supposed to only load one pop-under ad per day? Not only is my browser ad blocker not working right and thus I’m seeing them, I’m getting one every single time I load the page.

    Extremely sorry to say but FTB is quite unusable without a proper adblocker. Way too many “third” (and fourth, fifth, etc.) parties are trying to get their nose into your traffic here and loading their scripts.

    If your adblocker is not working right, try uBlock Origin which probably is the gold standard nowadays. It is available for Firefox and Chromium/Chrome/Vivaldi.

    For even better control of what happens inside your broser there is also uMatrix. But it takes a bit of learning to use it effectively.

  16. says

    All of our ads are under the control of a third party company (Patheos, if you must know) that doesn’t seem to care much about the quality of what comes through, and also advertisers are in an escalating war to become more and more intrusive.

    We’re going to shake this up this summer. I’ve got a few recommendations for better ad hosts, more suggestions are welcome!

    We’re also considering a fund raiser to just pay for our yearly server/maintenance costs, and then cutting way back on the ads, which will then be just generating profit to be shared with the bloggers. We also welcome other suggestions for revenue generation. The ad model is slowly decaying into corruption for everyone.

  17. handsomemrtoad says

    RE: “…while we hammer on the infrastructure.”

    In the age of President Trump, we no longer say “infRastructure”. We say “infastructure”. Get with the program!

  18. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Just saw an old Nova show on dreams. After the Redhead’s stroke in early 2012, a typical dream could consist of having to complete a report for my (then) present industrial employer, and also I need to lecture/give a test for either sophomore organic or freshman general chemistry from my academic days, also,I was trapped in a mine from Tomb Raider scenarios, and I also needed to get some sleep.
    That dream disappeared after I retired. Dreams are funny.

  19. birgerjohansson says

    Breaking News
    Attack in London.
    Six dead including three perpetrators.

  20. blf says

    (Hum… just noticed me@19 is missing several edits; dunno how that happened, but do recall becoming frustrated with the FtB site(?) yesterday. Anyways, the last paragraph was intended to be something like the following.)

    This NPR interview gives more information on what happened & possible knock-on effects, albeit some details — like precisely how & why unqualified individuals were administrating unrefrigerated vaccine with, apparently, just one needle — are sparse.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    SpaceX continues its reuse of rockets/capsules. The Dragon Capsule for CRS-11 (just captured by the CanadaArm on the ISS), was previously used on the CRS-4 mission. The next launch (scheduled for 6/15), BulgariaSat-1, will use a “flight proven booster”.

  22. Owlmirror says


    I wasn’t sure what you meant, but I now see that the font (or typeface) list reads “cochin, georgia”. Of course, Georgia was the default for a long time, so I guessed the problem is Cochin. I didn’t have that installed on my system (looks like it’s a MacOS-only font), but it wasn’t hard to find and put it on.


    I think I see what you mean. The apparent size of the text is smaller and less legible than Georgia. It’s also too frilly for my tastes for regular reading purposes (I could see making it a headline font).

    Can you move or disable the Cochin font files on your computer?

  23. Owlmirror says

    Is anyone able to preview their comments?

    It looks like FTB has been changed to permanently use https, which is fine enough. But as I recall, the actual preview code is hardcoded to use http, which causes the preview to not work by default on modern browsers that care about mixed security.

  24. chigau (違う) says

    I use an iPad.
    I can do pretty much fuck-all about fonts.
    The italic in this one is hideous.
    I cannot preview.

  25. chigau (違う) says

    and my comments don’t appear until after a few refreshes and alot of cursing

  26. John Morales says

    Dunno about the etiology or diagnosis, but I concur with your observation, Owlmirror.

  27. says

    As long as there’s an open thread, I’ll test if I can post.

    It seems that you lost login cookies in the transition to a new server. I had to login again, earlier than expected.

    However, that CAPTCHA check seems to be gone.

  28. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I still logged in, and I haven’t tried to post yet today, or tried preview.
    *clicked on preview*
    Nope, preview not working for me.

  29. Owlmirror says

    @ chigau:

    The file that includes “cochin” as the first font in the list is this one:

    Which looks like it’s PZ’s CSS additions to the site. So maybe appeal to PZ directly?

    What browser are you using on the iPad? There might be a way to force it to use Georgia. Maybe. I recall doing something like that a while back on Firefox, but I am not sure it works any more, or if it would work on Firefox for the iPad.

    (My own workaround for now was to just remove the font file. )

  30. blf says

    Tooth and claw: protective mother bear cuts off Dracula’s castle:

    Brown bear protecting three cubs closes Poenari Castle used by Romania’s Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century

    While Dracula’s legend usually fails to scare tourists away from the blood-sucking vampire’s 15th century castle, a large, furry and protective mother bear has had more success.

    Romanian authorities have declared Poenari castle off limits after visitors climbing the 1,480 steps up to the ruins had close shaves with the animal and her three cubs.


    Police blamed tourists for leaving food which attracts the animals.

    It’s stakes, people, stakes. Not steaks.

    Romania is home to around 6,000 brown bears, up from around 1,000 bears 50 years ago. They represent 60% of the European bear population.

    Brown bears are amongst the largest living carnivores and can grow to an enormous size, males up to 350kg, and females to 200kg. The largest brown bear on record was caught in Romania and weighed 480kg.

    (And I confirm, “Preview” is working, for some definitions of “working”. THANKS!)

  31. consciousness razor says

    Preview works for me … finally. Seems like fixes around here only happen by accident, but I’ll take it.


    What browser are you using on the iPad? There might be a way to force it to use Georgia. Maybe. I recall doing something like that a while back on Firefox, but I am not sure it works any more, or if it would work on Firefox for the iPad.

    I know basically nothing about iPads, but if you create a CSS and put it in your iPad’s special magic place, you should be able to get any fonts you like for the FTB domain (or wherever you like), along with other settings if you want to get fancy. I’ve used some tweaks for FTB for a long time now, and they do still work on Firefox. (That is, after switching hosts, I suppose — was that the worry, Owlmirror?)

    I’d assume you can create/modify that stuff on an iPad with no problem, but I really have no idea. (Maybe just surf with a legit computer?)

    But that would only affect things for you of anyway, so annoying PZ sounds like a solid plan.

  32. consciousness razor says

    But that would only affect things for you of anyway,

    Okay, preview does work, but maybe it’ll take some more time to get back into the habit of proofreading carefully with it. Or I just need more coffee.

  33. says

    The preview fix was INTENTIONAL. We put our tech guru to work on it.

    I’ll fix the font later today. Somehow, in the recent migration, an old CSS file got stuck in there.

  34. blf says

    Comments have been closed on the relevant post (We’ll keep Trav Mamone around) — “the correct answer. Pizza should be served with pineapple” — so will note here, Sam Panopoulos, inventor of Hawaiian pizza, dies aged 83 (Grauniad edits in {curly braces}):

    Restaurateur is credited with being the first to put pineapple on pizza in the 1960s, setting off a global debate that still rages

    The man credited with inventing the Hawaiian pizza, triggering endless debate around the world about the legitimacy of pineapple on the Italian staple, has died aged 83.

    Sam Panopoulos emigrated from Greece to Canada in 1954 at the age of 20 and ran several restaurants in Ontario with his two brothers.

    One was in Chatham, about 180 miles (290km) from Toronto and 50 miles from Detroit. It served typical American fare such as burgers and fries as well as Chinese dishes, and in the early 1960s Panopoulos decided to start offering pizzas, which had become popular in the US.

    His most famous creation would result from an experiment: one day Panopoulos decided to put tinned pineapple on a pizza to find out how it would taste. “We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” he told the BBC earlier this year. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments.”

    He and his brothers liked the contrast between the sweetness of the pineapple and the savoury flavour of the ham. “We tried it first, {then} passed it to some customers. And a couple of months later, they’re going crazy about it, so we put it on the menu.”


    I would go out and have a pineapple (with jalapeño) pizza — as a mark of respect & thanks (and a damn fine dinner) — except as I noted in the now-closed thread, “In my experience, it’s incredibly hard to get decent fresh pineapple in Europe. Too frequently the fruit you do get isn’t ripe — and I suspect is served that way, underripe — but, for some reason, rarely ripens.” Indeed, I had a bad case of unripe pineapple about a month ago, when the fresh pineapple-based dessert I ordered wasn’t at all sweet, it was damn near tasteless (basically a desert). Which was massively disappointing, as the restaurant is not inexpensive, quite new, and the owner / maître d’hôtel is a friend of mine. (He took my complaint seriously, tasted it himself, and not only agreed but also pointed out an additional flaw I’d missed.)

    I do, however, have some fresh jalapeños bought this morning… hum, this needs a think…
    (The mildly deranged penguin is currently stuck inside her duck-proof suit, so I was planning on doing duck (not a pizza (too many feathers (and quacks))) for tonight, with lots of cheese; and now, perhaps, some jalapeños… needs a think!)

  35. Owlmirror says

    Interesting. I notice that it says “Preview error” under the “Post Comment” button (before I click on “Preview”). Yet clicking on “Preview” does work.

    Anyone else notice that?

    (It might be a side effect of my browser config, or it might be something still slightly broken.)

  36. Owlmirror says

    @consciousness razor:

    I know basically nothing about iPads, but if you create a CSS and put it in your iPad’s special magic place, you should be able to get any fonts you like for the FTB domain (or wherever you like)

    I don’t know a whole lot about iPads, but I do know that they are very tightly locked down with regards to modifications that the user can make to the system.

    It might be possible to make the appropriate modifications if they are jailbroken, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t even know if Firefox for iPad (let alone the default browser — Safari, i think?) allows custom CSS in the first place.

    Lots of unknown unknowns, for me, but I do have that one known known.

  37. blf says

    “This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!” Michael Palin donates 22 years’ worth of notebooks to British Library:

    Public will soon be able to peruse more than 50 of Palin’s notebooks in which many Monty Python sketches were written

    They are the pages where an unwilling messiah Brian, Mr Creosote, the Ministry of Silly Walks, a football team of philosophers and a dead parrot were all born. Now, more than 50 notebooks of original sketches and ideas for Monty Python have been donated to the British Library by Michael Palin.

    The public will now be able to freely peruse Palin’s archive of writings from 1965 to 1987, including the books where he and Jones would write the early sketches for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.


    “I was a bit shy about it really,” admitted Palin. “I thought I should go to a smaller library, maybe my local library, to see if they wanted it.”


  38. blf says

    Für Elise played on wine glasses.

    The mildly deranged penguin recommends filling the wine glasses with vins and drinking them in tune: glug gluGLUG gLLuuuug glug glug gluggluggulg GLAUG gluggg…

  39. blf says

    chigau@65, Belches, farts, and other improvisations typically happen later in the piece, as the tempo increases and the performer needs assistance refilling / drinking the instruments. Fanfares can be very exciting — how many wine glasses can one down simultaneously? Then there is the encore, typically, ah, “reverse drinking” (very colourful, but smelly and best done into a bucket).

  40. blf says

    A critter almost as terrifying as peas is finally being addressed, Chips are down for Belgian frites as EU acts on ‘unsafe compound’:

    Belgium says European commission’s proposal to change cooking process for safety reasons will spoil chips’ taste

    The European commission has been accused of a crime against the people of Belgium for what local politicians say amounts to an attempt to ban the national dish, the frite — or frieten, as they say in the Flemish-speaking north of the country.


    In a move that appears to demonstrate a dazzling lack of common touch on the part of EU officials in Brussels — which is both the capital of Belgium and the home of the union — the commission is proposing that the potatoes should be blanched first to prevent the formation of acrylamide, an allegedly hazardous compound that can form in the frying process when certain foods are heated to a temperature above 120C.


    To add insult to injury, the consultation paper refers to chips as French fries, a term to which some Belgians take great exception. […]

    While Belgian politicians are railing against the move, the commission’s proposal would only recommend the blanching of potatoes rather than enforce a ban.


    Whilst frite / frieten / fries / chips are not quite as disgusting as peas — frite have a taste, mostly of salt and grease — they are on the shortlist of abominations which are neither edible nor allowed under most arms control treaties.

  41. blf says

    There is some snarking in the New York Times — snarking in the NYT! — about men’s fashion vocabulary, How to Speak Fashion Week (edits for formatting reasons not marked):

    The tribe that attends the men’s wear shows twice a year in London, Milan and Paris has its own buzzwords and catchphrases. A few notable examples.

    Authentic: The go-to adjective for any garment designed to resemble the clothing of the working class, starving artists, various rural types or indigenous peoples. A publicist or stylist may go with “authentic” to describe a $3,000 denim jacket with a Navajo pattern or a $600 pair of preripped bluejeans with no sense that the word has been twisted to mean something like its opposite.


    Shirting: Why say “shirts” when you can say “shirting”? In defense of this term, it may be said that it serves as a catchall for the full array of shirt styles offered by a particular label. Its real purpose, though, is to signify that the speaker is part of the fashion crowd.

    Story: When most people use the word “story,” they mean a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. Fashion people have long used it as a stand-in for “theme”: A stylist or editor may refer to a four-page magazine fashion shoot with a rugged setting as “an outdoor story,” for instance.


    Suiting: Why say “suits” when you can “suiting”? (See “Shirting” entry.)

    Thus, “an authentic suiting shirting story”, other than being hard to say, means you dress with worse sense than many professors.

  42. blf says

    The other day, whilst looking for a barely-remembered song written by Shaun Davey & sung by Rita Connoll, I stumbled on this performance of Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill’s Mo Ghille Mear sung by the UCD (University College Dublin (Ireland)) Choral Scholars. I can’t seem to stop watching it…

    That same group has a number of other very nice pieces. Another one I particularity like is Davey’s Free and Easy. (That is not the Davey / Connoll song I was searching for.)

  43. blf says

    Genoa airport lifts liquids ban for pesto:

    The Italian port city of Genoa has taken pride in its famed pesto sauce to new heights by granting special airport waivers for those who can’t get enough of the basil and pine nut pasta sauce.

    Genoa’s airport is letting travellers take as much as 500g of pesto in their carry-on luggage, exempting them from the 100ml rule for liquids in carry-on baggage.

    The catch: passengers must make a donation of 50 cents or more to a charity that airlifts sick children to hospitals.

    The airport said this week that €500 had been raised in the first 20 days of the initiative, which was inspired by the anguish of so many foodies having their pesto confiscated when trying to get through security.

  44. blf says

    Happy Asteroid Day! […]: “Today is the 3rd annual Asteroid Day, and the first to be presented under the auspices of the United Nations, with live global broadcasts raising awareness about asteroids”.

  45. blf says

    Apparently, the “secret” of ancient Roman marine concrete has been cracked. The stuff is impressive, there still are partially- or fully-submerged installations which are still broadly intact, making it far more durable than most(? all?) modern marine concrete. Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern version decays (the Grauniad’s edits in {curly braces}):

    The Roman recipe — a mix of volcanic ash, lime (calcium oxide), seawater and lumps of volcanic rock — held together piers, breakwaters and harbours. Moreover, in contrast to modern materials, the ancient water-based structures became stronger over time.

    Scientists say this is the result of seawater reacting with the volcanic material in the cement and creating new minerals that reinforced the concrete.

    […] Writing in the journal American Mineralogist, [University of Utah geologist Marie] Jackson and colleagues describe how they analysed concrete cores from Roman piers, breakwaters and harbours.

    Previous work had revealed lime particles within the cores that surprisingly contained the mineral aluminous tobermorite — a rare substance that is hard to make.

    The mineral, said Jackson, formed early in the history of the concrete, as the lime, seawater and volcanic ash of the mortar reacted together in a way that generated heat.

    But now Jackson and the team have made another discovery. “I went back to the concrete and found abundant tobermorite growing through the fabric of the concrete, often in association with phillipsite {another mineral},” she said.

    She said this revealed another process that was also at play. Over time, seawater that seeped through the concrete dissolved the volcanic crystals and glasses, with aluminous tobermorite and phillipsite crystallising in their place.

    These minerals, say the authors, helped to reinforce the concrete, preventing cracks from growing, with structures becoming stronger over time as the minerals grew.

    By contrast, modern concrete, based on Portland cement, is not supposed to change after it hardens — meaning any reactions with the material cause damage.

    […] The findings offer clues for a concrete recipe that does not rely on the high temperatures and carbon dioxide production of modern cement, but also providing a blueprint for a durable construction material for use in marine environments. […]

    Ancient Roman concrete also did not contain rebar, which is often(?) blamed for modern concrete failure. As I understand it, rebar will rust, so if a crack (e.g.) exposes the rebar, moisture can seep in, rusting the rebar, and ultimately weakening the structure’s integrity.

    Perhaps the most important point is in the last excerpted paragraph above — modern concrete production is an AGW-disaster, with little obvious scope for improvement (continuing to produce Portland cement, that is). “Innovative” ideas are needed, but have the problem of convincing people they are as safe & effective as Portland cement (not to mention cost-effective and easy-to-use).

  46. blf says

    And in the all-important Making Shite Up Dept., Pope Francis creates fourth pathway to becoming a saint:

    Candidates for beatification, which was previously limited to those involved in miracles, can now include Christians who lay down their lives to save others


    To be beatified, the “free and voluntary offering of life” must be defined by “the heroic acceptance out of charity of certain death in a short term,” it noted.

    The letter also said that possible candidates must have practised Christian values in their life before their selfless act and have a holy reputation. They must also be credited with a miracle after their death.

    Christians who are sainted through martyrdom are the only ones exempt from being involved in a miracle.

    Since the cult speaks in code, this has been run through the cultspeak-to-English translator at a setting of “cult: raping children”. It translates as:

    To become another reason for tithing the “confiscation of monies and protecting of child molesters” “must have not resulted in anyone being punished except the children and those who failed to tithe.”

    The decree allows the greedy unlimited child raping as long as others in the cult are also protected. The rapist must be known to have prevented many others from being prosecuted.

    *** unintelligble gibberish -- out of cheese error -- redo from start ***

  47. blf says

    Trainy McTrainface: Boaty McBoatface legacy lives on in Swedish train:

    It’s happened again. A public vote to name four trains running between the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg has resulted in one of the four being called Trainy McTrainface in an echo of the name chosen by the British public for the new polar research vessel.

    Trainy McTrainface received 49% of the votes in a poll, jointly run by Swedish rail company MTR Express and Swedish newspaper Metro.

    That placed it well ahead the other three options […]


    The name Boaty McBoatface was eventually overruled […] and the ship was called the RRS Sir David Attenborough, with an onboard submersible receiving the Boatface appellation.

    MTR Express said the decision had led to disappointment worldwide and it hoped the name Trainy McTrainface would “be received with joy by many, not only in Sweden”.

  48. hotspurphd says

    I have some good new. The percentage of atheists may be much higher that we have been led to believe by pew and other polls, perhaps as high as 38%. I attended a function where Will Gervais, a psychologist at th U of Ky summarised his research on atheism. He just responded to my inquiry about where to find the article I was interested in. Here is the abstract and a link to the study.

    How many atheists are there?

    One crucible for theories of religion is their ability to predict and explain patterns of belief and disbelief. Yet, religious nonbelief is often heavily stigmatized, potentially leading many atheists to refrain from outing themselves even in anonymous polls. We used the unmatched count technique and Bayesian estimation to indirectly estimate atheist prevalence in two nationally representative samples of 2000 U.S. adults apiece. Widely-cited telephone polls (e.g., Gallup, Pew) suggest USA atheist prevalence of only 3-11%. In contrast, our most credible indirect estimate is 26% (albeit with considerable estimate and method uncertainty). Our data and model predict that atheist prevalence exceeds 11% with greater than .99 probability, and exceeds 20% with roughly .8 probability. Prevalence estimates of 11% were even less credible than estimates of 40%, and all intermediate estimates were more credible. Some popular theoretical approaches to religious cognition may require heavy revision to accommodate actual levels of religious disbelief.

    BYW, I have not been getting notifications of new posts for a couple of months. Anything I can do?

    Sent from my iPad

  49. blf says

    (This is a test, I’m having considerable trouble commenting on Nastik Deliberations’s thread UK to stop funding homeopathy medicines thread here at FtB — I keep getting invalid security token.)

    Is the Royal London “Homeopathetic Hospital” — now apparently called the Royal London “Hospital for Integrated Medicine” — still being funded by the NHS? From memory, ten-ish or so years ago, it was the biggest(?) single woo-woo drain on the NHS, several million pounds a year.

  50. Owlmirror says

    Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House

    … which is a big scary title for an article that might be better summarized as “What the Department of Energy actually does, and may stop doing because Trump and his appointed Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, have no interest in finding out what the Department of Energy actually does.”

    (Trying to cast it in Trumpspeak:)
    “You know the nuclear, Mr Trump? Very important stuff, the nuclear. Very big, very important. You need to send someone to the Dept of Energy who knows about the nuclear and can work with them for the best interests of the United States of America and the world.”

  51. Owlmirror says

    I found an old comment of mine where the emoji characters were showing up as question marks. The hell?

    Reposting to see if it works now.

    U+1F494 BROKEN HEART 💔
    U+1F495 TWO HEARTS 💕
    U+1F499 BLUE HEART 💙

  52. Owlmirror says

    Speaking of emoji, that same thread also referenced the then-yet-to-be implemented skin tone modifier to emoji, and the “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute.

    Which have by now been implemented. At least, it shows up in preview:


    Emoji now show up as svg files rather than png files. Whatever, it works.

  53. Owlmirror says

    @chigau: monsterid.


    Here’s a Greasemonkey script I use to change all gravatars to identicon (that is, the ones with symmetric geometrical shapes that used to be standard for Pharyngula):

    // ==UserScript==
    // @name           identiconify postload
    // @namespace
    // @description    Change Gravatar to identicon, after loading (eg, for Disqus comments)
    // @include        *
    // @grant          GM_registerMenuCommand
    // ==/UserScript==
    // Does nothing unless you click "Fix Gravatars" in the
    // Greasemonkey menu "User Script Commands".
    GM_registerMenuCommand("Fix Gravatars", FixGravatars, "f");
    function FixGravatars() {
          if (image.src.indexOf("gravatar")!=-1) {
            if (|default)=/)!=-1) {
             else {

  54. blf says

    Geneticists trace humble apple’s exotic lineage all the way to the Silk Road:

    The fruit’s evolutionary history has been unpicked for the first time by studying a range of wild and cultivated apples from China to North America
    Published in the journal Nature Communications by researchers from the US and China, the study focuses on genetic data from 117 different varieties of apple. These encompassed 24 species ranging from wild apples found in North America and China to domestic apples including ancient, cultivated varieties as well as those found in our supermarkets.
    The apples we know today, varieties of the species Malus domestica, have long been known to have descended from a species of wild apple from central Asia, known as Malus sieversii.

    The new study confirms this, but also goes further. While Malus sieversii grows in both Kazakhstan and Xinjiang in north-west China, the team found that apples from the two areas are distinct, with those in Xinjiang never cultivated.

    “Those apples are not getting involved in any of the domestic apples — they are a lost jewel hidden there in the Xinjiang area,” said [Yang Bai, co-author of the research from the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University].

    The team say the finding suggests that modern cultivated apples have their roots in the trees of Kazakhstan, growing to the west of the “Heavenly Mountains” — the Tian Shan.

    Previous research has also suggested that these apples were brought westward by traders along the Silk Road. But the trees which took root, either from deliberate planting or from discarded apple cores, did not grow in isolation: they cross-pollinated with wild species in the area. In particular, researchers have said, the European crabapple, whose small, sharp-tasting fruit is used to make cider.

    The new study, says Bai, suggests the resulting apples were large — a trait passed on from Malus sieversii — while the crabapple contribution appears to have made the apples firm and tasty.
    But the apple’s journey was far from one-way. The genetic study revealed that apples from Kazakhstan were also carried eastward — along the way they, too, picked up contributions from wild apples, resulting in the smaller, softer, sweeter fruits that are typical of Chinese dessert apples. “The traders go across the Eurasian continent both ways,” said Bai. “They spread those ancestral seeds along their way.”

  55. chigau (違う) says

    We thought to go out to a local meat-grilling place, tonight, for a bite.
    But we forgot: It.Is.Fringe.
    No parking and the food was prepared by a 3D printer.

  56. chigau (違う) says

    Fringe. Noisy.
    Helicopter traffic increases but I think it’s all Emergency stuff.
    Can pistons fly after dark or are they strictly VFR?