Good Lord, I Hope So...

Oct. 17th, 2017 07:04 pm
lil_m_moses: (libra)
[personal profile] lil_m_moses
Libra Horoscope for week of October 19, 2017
A woman I know, Caeli La, was thinking about relocating from Denver to Brooklyn. She journeyed across country and visited a prime neighborhood in her potential new headquarters. Here's what she reported on her Facebook page: "In the last three days, I've seen three different men on separate occasions wearing sundresses. So this is definitely the right place for me." What sort of signs and omens would tell you what you need to do to be in the right place at the right time, Libra? I urge you to be on the lookout for them in the coming weeks. Life will be conspiring to provide you with clues about where you can feel at peace, at home, and in the groove.
...especially after getting yet another rejection letter yesterday, doing another troll through Indeed for any jobs in Traverse City (nothing for me), and getting depressed again.

Josh's is similarly hopeful:
Aquarius Horoscope for week of October 19, 2017
I predict your ambitions will burn more steadily in the coming months, and will produce more heat and light than ever before. You'll have a clearer conception of exactly what it is you want to accomplish, as well as a growing certainty of the resources and help you'll need to accomplish it. Hooray and hallelujah! But keep this in mind, Aquarius: As you acquire greater access to meaningful success -- not just the kind of success that merely impresses other people -- you'll be required to take on more responsibility. Can you handle that? I think you can.

a short break

Oct. 17th, 2017 08:08 pm
twistedchick: General Leia in The Force Awakens (Default)
[personal profile] twistedchick
I'm dealing with stomach flu that is keeping me up nights. Not fun. Today I slept like a rock -- until noon. I'm starting to feel better -- but I have no real concentration.

So I'm not doing links again until I feel competent. I used all my competence for today in posting my Stage of Fools story.

But I am reading whatever y'all write, and glad of it.

*hugs flist*
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Posted by languagehat

Another of those intriguing-if-true reports, this one by Natasha Frost for Atlas Obscura:

A limestone slab, 31 yards long, may have related the story of the end of the Bronze Age. An interdisciplinary team of Swiss and Dutch archaeologists have now deciphered the symbols thought to have adorned the frieze, almost 150 years after it was discovered and summarily destroyed. In 1878, villagers in Beyköy, a tiny hamlet in western Turkey, found the large, mysterious artifact in pieces in the ground, and saw that it was engraved with seemingly illegible pictograms and scribbles. It would be 70 years before that language, now known to be millennia-old Luwian, could be read by scholars.

According to Eberhard Zangger, the president of a nonprofit foundation called Luwian Studies, the symbols tell stories of wars, invasions, and battles waged by a great prince, Muksus. Muksus hailed from the kingdom of Mira, which controlled Troy 3,200 years ago. The inscription describes his military advance all the way through the Levant to the borders of Egypt, and how his armies invaded cities and built fortresses as they went. Such invasions from the east are thought to be among the causes of the collapse of the Late Bronze Age. […]

The work has sparked concerns from scholars not involved in the research, who suggest that the frieze and, in turn, stories it is thought to have contained, could be a forgery, reports Live Science. Until records of the inscription are found outside of Mellaart’s notes, some say, it will be hard to confirm the age and authenticity of its contents. That said, an inscription that length (31 yards!) would be near-impossible to forge, say Zangger and Woudhuizen, especially given that Mellaart could neither read nor write the ancient script. In the meantime, this poorly understood corner of ancient history is finally getting a moment in the sun.

Anybody know anything about this?

Weekly Otherkin Chat Starting Now!

Oct. 18th, 2017 12:00 am
jarandhel: (Kirin)
[personal profile] jarandhel
Reminder: Weekly #otherkin chat starting now, in irc://! Webclient here:

FMK #27: Judge A Book By Its Title

Oct. 17th, 2017 07:40 pm
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
[personal profile] melannen
Last week's winners were not what I expected! But F goes to The Red Tent and K goes to The Magicians (which is WAY more hated than I had realized! For good reason apparently.)

How FMK works, short version: I am trying to clear out my unreads. So there is a poll, in which you get to pick F, M, or K. F means I should spend a night of wild passion with the book ASAP, and then decide whether to keep it or not. M means I should continue to commit to a long-term relationship of sharing my bedroom with it. K means it should go away immediately. Anyone can vote, you don't have to actually know anything about the books.

I pick a winner on Friday night (although won't actually close the poll, people can still vote,) and report results/ post the new poll on the following Tuesday, and write a response to the F winner sometime in the next week.

Link to long version of explanation (on first poll)

This week's theme: I have no idea what this book is about, I'm pretty sure I only have it for the title.

Poll: Bail, Capote, Carey, Collins, Connors, Corliss, Ericson, Galloway, Gould, Morse, Shann, Shreve, Townsend, Wodehouse )
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Humans wouldn't be where we are today if not for our brains. Relative to our bodies, our noggins are exceptionally large. Scientists say we evolved our big heads to manage our complex social structures, an idea called the social brain hypothesis. Researchers have since looked at the social brain hypothesis to explain other large primate brains, along with social bird brains. And now a new study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, suggests that whale and dolphin brains evolved in much the same way.

A team of researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom compiled data from studies describing the body and brain sizes, social structures, and cultural behaviors of whales and dolphins. They included behaviors such as group hunting, social play, and complex vocalizations. Controlling for body size, the team found that brain size predicted how socially complex a species is, how rich their diet is, and the size of their social groups. Larger-brained species were also found across a wider range of latitudes, which probably means they're "more ecologically flexible," write the scientists in the report. They also note that a lot of the whale brain is devoted to auditory processing, which shows just how important social behavior and communication has been in their evolution.

Humans have managed to spread to just about every nook and cranny on Earth thanks to our brains, but don't expect whales or dolphins to take over any time soon. "The apparent co-evolution of brains, social structure, and behavioral richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates on land," said study coauthor Susanne Shultz in a statement. "Unfortunately, they won't ever mimic our great metropolises and technologies because they didn't evolve opposable thumbs."

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A couple of years ago, Carol Page was taking the elevator up to her apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts when a new, intriguing leaflet caught her eye. A couple of her neighbors, it seemed, had found themselves needing to rehome a cat. Page had recently lost a cat of her own, and this one—a sweet black furball named Molly—was just her type. She went back to her apartment and made a few calls.

Within a day, Molly was prowling happily around Page's apartment. Within a week, Page says, it was as though she'd never lived anywhere else. "Everyone told [the cat's former owners], 'You can't do better than to give a cat to Carol Page,'" Page reminisced recently, smiling, sitting in a deep armchair. Nearby, Molly yowled: a reporter had rudely displaced her from her own dedicated seat.

Page is clearly an ideal cat companion. She's got an almost feline mix of playfulness and calm, and at 68 years old, she's happy to provide a consistent lap. But whether or not Molly knows it, her human's cat credentials actually extend much further. Back in the early 1980s—before anyone had ever made a Lolcat image, binge-watched Maru videos, or hashtagged #catsofinstagram—Page created PURRRRR! The Newsletter for Cat Lovers, an eight-page, cat-themed booklet that she produced six times per year, all from her Boston-area apartment. In its near-decade-long heyday, PURRRRR! could be found in thousands of homes all over the world. Today, though, it's been mostly effaced by the cat-themed media that followed—hough PURRRRR! has left its footprints all over it.


Page is the kind of person who, if asked, can easily divide her life into cat-based eras. When she started PURRRRR!, at age 32, she was living with three of them: Benny the Bargain, O'Brienette, and a white behemoth named Amazing Grace, who she trotted out for press pictures. (At the time, her own name was Carol Frakes—she changed it to Page later on, after she had become something of a media mogul, and grown tired of people mishearing it.) "I appreciate dogs," she says, "but I am a cat person, and that will never change."

By the early 1980s, the rest of the United States was catching up: cats had successfully slunk onto Broadway and the cover of Time, and a cat merchandise craze was in full swing, spurred by the offbeat drawings of cartoonist B. Kliban. The accompanying backlash—one popular book was called 101 Uses for a Dead Cat—just added more fuel to the feline fire. Even compared to the present moment, Page says, "cats were huge."

Page found herself uniquely positioned to take advantage. Grace, Benny and O'Brienette were all great muses, and she had just completed a newsletter-making course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Plus, her freelance writing career was off to a rocky start, which provided her with crucial motivation. "I was getting a lot of rejections," she says. "So I said, 'Screw this! I'm going to be my own editor.'"


She solicited contributions via an ad in Writer's Digest, and brought in an artist friend, Richard Titus, to design the logo: a chubby cat with a cheerful smirk. Titus also spiced up each issue with a number of interstitial drawings and cartoons, and Page attributes some of the publication's charm to him. But everything else was hers, from the color scheme—brown and peach—to the title, with its distinctive tail of extra R's. "I thought, 'Purr—that's a great name,'" she remembers. "But I wanted to achieve some onomatopoeia."

By April of 1982, the debut issue was ready to ship. Like her subject matter, Page has an eye for empty niches, and in a first-page editorial, she claimed PURRRRR!'s. "While many cat lovers enjoy an occasional cat show, pages and pages of cat show listings aren't of interest to them," she wrote. "Neither are breeder advertisements or feature articles on the special breeding problems of the Rex or Himalayan." In other words, while other cat publications might lean, well, fancy, this one was proudly populist: as she wrote, "PURRRRR! is for cat lovers, not just breeders."

That first issue set the tone for the rest of the run. Useful articles, like "Catproofing Your Home," are snuggled alongside feline-human-interest pieces, like a profile of a pet-focused dating service. There's a humor column, a vet advice corner, and a recipe of the month (for "Tuna Treat": dry cat food, minced parsley, and the leftover juice from a tuna can). All fit into a neat eight pages, and are written with a kind of clubhouse knowingness: If you're a cat person, you'll keep reading and nodding. If you're not, feel free to trot along with a tennis ball in your mouth.


PURRRRR! took off quickly enough that it was immediately a full-time job for Page. "I did everything myself," she says, from soliciting contributions to putting stamps on the envelopes. Some of this work came from managing readers: one testy cancellation, typed directly onto a subscription renewal notice, explains that "reading time is precious … and caring about cats makes that reading time even more valuable."

Most of it, though, was straight hustling. The milk crate is full of back-and-forths with more storied publications and personages—NPR; Dear Abby; Playboy—in which she makes the case for PURRRRR! coverage. "I really believe that the appetite of the cat-loving public for cat-related news is insatiable," she once wrote to the Washington Post.

Although some bigwigs didn't take the bait—Cosmopolitan, she says, really gave her the runaround—plenty did, including the NPR radio program All Things Considered and NBC television's The Today Show, which each brought Page on for a segment. She also got coverage from many local publications, which clearly enjoyed the opportunity to write headlines like "Newsletter Kitty-Corners the Market" and "Catering to Cats Catnip for Carol."

Her biggest break, she says, came from the New York Times Book Review, which published an author's query in which she requested interesting cat names for a recurring feature. "I got 440 new subscribers," she says. Even better, she got a bunch of great names: Conway Kitty; Cat-A-Tonic; Wisteria, "because he's just hanging around." Remembering these still makes her grin. "I had a guy in Iceland who named his cat Tenzing Norgay," she says, after Edmund Hillary's guide during the first-ever summit of Everest.


Paging through the archives of PURRRRR! reveals a remarkably consistent sensibility. Features came and went—book reviews; historical roundups; a tongue-in-cheek column called "Ms. Meowser," for which Page impersonated a cat advice columnist—but the focus and tone remained. At its peak in the mid-1980s, the newsletter boasted about 3500 subscribers from all over the world. Still, the operation never budged from her apartment. "Once every other month, I'd go downstairs and dump all the PURRRRR!s in the mailbox," says Page, "I'm sure the mailman was like 'Oh, shit.'"

Even the best job in the world gets tough if you do it for too long. Around 1989, Page says, she burned out. She sold the newsletter at a small profit, and continued working as the editor; eventually, she quit that, too. In February of 1991, Page got a letter from the new owner. "PURRRR! is going to fold," it read. "Sorry to report the demise of your brainchild."


Page had already moved on to other things. Her next few decades were full of ventures and adventures: since the newsletter's demise, she has traveled to dozens of countries, taught journalism at Emerson College in Boston, covering the psychology beat for the National Enquirer, and run a PR firm. ("Everything I used there, I learned from PURRRRR!" she says.) Now that she's retired, she enjoys traveling, collects hats, and hanging out with her boyfriend, "Guatemalan John," with whom even Molly is happy to share a chair. Her remaining cat curation energy goes into a number of Pinterest boards, including "Interesting Markings," "Cats On Glass Tables," and "Bellies I'd Like To Smooch."

The enduring appeal of cats does not surprise her. "People have come to understand that although cats can be assholes, most are not," she says. "They're soft, they're warm, you can leave them for a while if they're fed and cleaned." Media trends may come and go, but cat fans will always find a way to read about cats.

If you would like to peruse PURRRRR! on your own, we have digitized the first issue here.

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You might think that when you are cooing and using baby talk that you are just making up uniquely random sounds. But according to a new study, in some ways, just about every mom speaks the same baby talk.

A recent report out of the Princeton University Baby Lab (a real institution) has found that women from a wide range of different languages all use a similar timbre when speaking to infants in a cutesy way. Researchers tested 12 English-speaking mothers, taking samples of them speaking both to children and then to adults, and were able to train a computer to differentiate distinct voices for each with little more than a second of sound data. Then they sampled the voices of 12 more moms who spoke nine different languages, and found that across all the subjects, the change in timbre was about the same.

According to the Baby Lab's Elise Piazza in a press release, the takeaway is that mothers (and probably fathers as well—the researchers just stuck with mothers for now to limit the test results) may have “a universal form of communication that mothers implicitly use to engage their babies,” which may help language learning.

There is still more research to be done, but the next time you find yourself spewing some cutesy nonsense at an infant, take heart in the fact that it’s not silly. It’s natural.

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In 1900, with space in the 46-square-mile peninsula of San Francisco quickly becoming a premium, the city's Board of Supervisors voted to reclaim some room from the dead. First, they ceased further burials within city limits. Then, in 1914, on the back of a developer publicly valuing cemetery land at $7 million, the city began the arduous and ramshackle process of evicting the deceased.

Over the next 40 years, nearly 150,000 bodies were exhumed and relocated a few miles south to the city of Colma; currently, dead residents outnumber the living there roughly 1300-to-1. But the relocation process wasn't as fastidious as you’d expect. Records were transferred incorrectly, family plots were split apart, body parts were transposed and mixed with others, often in mass graves.


On May 9, 2016, as construction crews were renovating a home in the city’s posh Richmond district, they struck something with their shovels. Under the garage floor was a tiny coffin made of lead and bronze, its most prominent feature a pair of glass windows that allowed workers to peer inside. They saw the preserved remains of a three-year-old girl. She was dressed in white, with ankle-high shoes, and grasped purple flowers that’d also been woven into her hair. A rosary and eucalyptus seeds had been carefully set atop her chest. There were no markers indicating who she was or when she died.

A city medical examiner cracked the coffin to find more information, but in doing so, broke the airtight seal that had long kept the body from decomposing. Time became an issue. A burial had to take place soon, but who would pay?


The city felt it was the burden of the homeowner, Ericka Karner, who was quoted prices between $7,000 and $22,000 for the burial, which she understandably balked at. “I understand if a tree is on your property, that’s your responsibility. But this is different,” Karner told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “The city decided to move all these bodies 100 years ago, and they should stand behind their decision.”

After nearly two weeks, Karner got in touch with Elissa Davey, founder of the nonprofit Garden of Innocence, which works to name unidentified dead children. Along with the Odd Fellows, they fronted the cost of the new cherry wood coffin lined with a violet interior, and for the girl’s second burial.


On June 4, 2016, more than 100 people took the trip down to Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Colma for a short service to the mystery girl. She was buried under a heart-shaped granite headstone that read:

Miranda Eve
The child loved around the world
“If no one grieves, no one will remember.”

That name was meant to be temporary, given to the dead girl by Karner's own two young daughters, to be replaced when Miranda’s identity was finally discovered. See, before her second burial, researchers extracted DNA from the corpse, first to make sure that there was no foul play, then for clues.

The samples suggested Miranda had been weaned from breast milk a year before her death, putting her age between two and three-and-a-half years old when she died. They also hinted at a diet change that took place a few months before death, which suggested she died from a longer illness, not trauma. An analysis of her hair concluded she died of marasmus, or severe malnutrition, likely due to an infection.

Researchers also used the physical properties of the coffin and burial location in an effort to determine her identity. They superimposed an old map of the Odd Fellows cemetery atop a contemporary map to pinpoint where Miranda’s plot would have been; they traced the unique, dual-windowed casket to the only undertaker in the city making them at the time. Volunteers searched through 29,982 burial records, and were left with only a pair of possibilities. One had a distant, 82-year-old relative living in nearby Napa, who agreed to have his DNA withdrawn for testing alongside Miranda’s.

After months of waiting, the results of the DNA test were announced in April of 2017. It was an official match.

“WE FOUND MIRANDA!!!” announced the Garden of Innocence website. “Miranda Eve is Edith Howard Cook. Born November 28, 1873 and died October 13, 1876.”


Armed with a name, archivists dug through Edith’s history and discovered a trove of information about the family. Edith was the first daughter, and second child, of Horatio Nelson Cook and Edith Scooffy Cook, a prominent San Francisco family who came west during the Gold Rush. Horatio had a hide-tanning business which lasted until 1980, when it merged with a similar business in nearby San Leandro; he was also the city’s Consul to Greece. Their next daughter, Ethel, was a city socialite talked about in the tabloid rags; a Russian nobleman once called her “the most beautiful woman in America.”

With the mystery of the little girl in the coffin finally solved, on a sunny Saturday in June 2017, another hundred or so people went to Colma for one last ceremony. This time, the headstone included Edith's real name, her birth and death dates, a computer-aided image of what she may have looked like, and a message to those random passersby who happen to find themselves at this odd grave.

“GOOGLE HER!” it reads.

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It’s not every day that a cookie takes a solo space flight. Certainly none of Tunnock’s teacakes—which are shortbread cookies under domes of chocolate covered marshmallow, and a favorite tea-time treat in Scotland—have done so. But what generations of Scots have overlooked is that these classic cookies come wrapped in a spacesuit-like silver-red foil. As the Glasgow Science Centre museum was to prove, Tunnock’s teacakes come pre-dressed for a trip to the stratosphere.

On October 13, 2017, GSC scientists attached a Tunnock’s teacake to a weather balloon and sent it hurtling far above the earth. Weather balloons typically gather meteorological data—they are the cheapest and easiest way for non-astronauts to reach the edge of space. But as weather balloon kits can cost less than a thousand dollars, the barrier to non-human space travel is surprisingly low. Past balloon-elevated oddities include a hamburger, a Hello Kitty doll, and an armchair.

Appropriately, the launch site was the village of Houston, 16 miles from Glasgow. Two cameras documented the journey of “Terry” the teacake, who spun at a vertigo-inducing rate as he ascended.

After an hour and 29 minutes of upward ascent, Terry reached an altitude of 21 miles. Terry had reached the stratosphere, but not space, which according to NASA begins at 62 miles above the earth. The cameras fixed on Terry showed spectacular vistas of the curving horizon below and the darkness of space beyond. Not a bad view for anyone, much less a marshmallow cookie.

Eventually Terry's balloon popped, and Terry began a 40-minute descent from the stratosphere, slowed by the balloon rig’s parachute. Though the weather balloon rig crash-landed into a tree in Galloway Forest Park, Terry survived intact.

While sending a cookie to space might seem frivolous, GSC's chief executive explained that Terry’s journey was meant to be inspirational. "We engage people with space science every day,” said Dr. Stephen Breslin to the BBC, “and we thought what better way to spark people's imaginations and interest in STEM than for us to launch something into space ourselves.”

While Terry’s space adventures came to an end, Breslin has promised that more Scottish treats will get “the science treatment.” But it’s hard to imagine what could beat sending a teacake into the stratosphere.

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Just down the road from North Carolina’s cosmopolitan state capital, there is a field. In that field, there is an enormous mound of dung. And buried under that dung, more than a hundred miles from the nearest beach, are the colossal bones of a whale.

For years, Raleigh has served as a burial ground for these massive mammals. From the behemoth 54-foot sperm whale inhumed in sand on the State Fairgrounds back in the 1920s to the right whale buried in manure five miles from downtown this summer, Raleigh has become the unlikely—if only temporary—resting place of dozens of marine mammals over the last century, although the exact number is unknown.

But apart from thoroughly confusing future archaeologists, what possible reason could there be for burying these whales? Ben Hess of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences explains that it mostly has to do with grease.


Hess is the museum’s Mammalogy Collections Manager. As such, he is charged with processing the mammals that get sent to the museum so they can be used for biological research. In come dead rats and rabbits, out go clean skins or bones that get added to the museum collection, where researchers from all over the world can study them. Hess has prepared all kinds of mammals—wolves, bats, bears. You name a furry, warm-blooded creature of the southeastern United States and Hess has probably held its heart in his hands or cleaned its body in his box of corpse-munching dermestid beetles, also known as “skin beetles.” It’s all part of the job.

But every now and then, Hess is tasked with preparing a specimen that won’t fit in his box of beetles, or even the double-wide doors of the museum. On those occasions, when a whale washes up on the North Carolina shore that the museum wants for the collection, it’s Hess and the rest of the Mammalogy team that must turn it from a fetid leviathan of fat and bone into a clean specimen. To do so, they just need a mountain of horse dung and a spot of land near the museum’s downtown Raleigh location.


Walking past the mound of manure, you’d never know what was hiding beneath it. The pile sits in a small field surrounded by a chain-link fence, which Hess says keeps the coyotes away. A few flies busy themselves in the excrement and you can hear cars whizzing by on the highway. Poking out here and there is a bit of white, betraying the location of a piece of skull the size of a pickup truck bed.

“[The skeleton] just had a little connective tissue, and unfortunately because of how porous the bone is, if you tried to pry it off you’re really going to break the bone apart,” Hess tells me, sitting in his laboratory, stuffing a black rat with cotton. Instead, the team uses the organisms naturally living in horse manure to scrub the bones clean of the remaining tissue and grease.


“People often say ‘oh, it’s the worms and stuff’ but nope, that’s not what happens,” explains the museum’s Mammalogy Research Curator Lisa Gatens. “It’s composted. It’s anaerobic decomposition, so it’s the bacteria in the manure that cleans it.” That bacteria eats off the skin, muscle, and, of particular importance, the grease percolated deep inside the porous bone.

“[Horse manure] does a fantastic job of de-greasing bones,” says Hess. “There’s really very little that can compare to how good that does.” That manure is sourced for free from a North Carolina State University horse farm just down the road. “They have an ample supply of poop and we have an ample supply of need,” quips Hess. After being buried in the feces, the bones emerge, sometimes years later, thoroughly clean. Then, all it takes is a quick soap scrub and the bones can be deposited in the collection or articulated into a giant skeleton to go on display in the museum.

This history of burying whales in Raleigh goes back to at least 1928 when then-Museum Director H. H. Brimley sent a team down to the coastal town of Topsail, North Carolina, to carve up a beached sperm whale. The monumental task, somehow accomplished in waist-deep water using only axes and spades, raised more than a few eyebrows among residents, as described in an article from the museum’s archive.

“An unsigned letter given to the press expressed strong resentment of ‘the parking of a uzed [sic] whale’. Residents, the letter further explained, ‘would suffer if the intent of beaching the Jonah at Topsail is carried out. It's poor policy to throw your trash in your neighbor’s backyard.’”

Eventually, the whale bones were hauled up to Raleigh’s State Fairgrounds, where “Trouble,” who was named for the hassle his decaying body caused, underwent a 10-month cleansing soak in wet sand before being brought to the museum. But the fairgrounds quickly proved to be a poor site for cleaning whale skeletons due to the annual gathering of thousands of people every fall. So after Trouble the operation moved to a different spot just outside the city beltline.


Right whales, pilot whales, and even a few rare True’s beaked whales were all processed at this second spot. Like Trouble, each whale was carved up on the beach (a task undertaken in recent times by North Carolina’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network) to separate as much flesh from the skeleton as possible. Then the whale bones were trucked up to the new location to be buried in purifying baths of sand, and later, horse manure.

Today that land is the site of the Wake Med Soccer Park, where the North Carolina FC professional soccer team plays its games. A spokesman for the soccer club was “surprised” to learn of the land’s prior use. And you can’t blame him. Sitting in the stadium above the perfectly manicured grass, it’s hard to imagine the land was once used to process the bones of beached marine mammals.


Around the year 2000, the operation moved a final time to the latest site. One of the first whales buried here was a critically endangered 50-foot northern right whale named Stumpy. She and her unborn calf were covered in manure for a year and a half after they washed up dead on the North Carolina shore. Her bones, broken from ship strikes, were later used to inform new policy on boat speeds in right whale habitat, clearly demonstrating the value of preparing these specimens for the collection.

Mary Kay Clark was the museum’s Curator of Mammals before Gatens. In an email she writes, “[I]t would never occur to Raleigh residents that the remains of some of our most interesting NC coastal residents are nearby.”


But that’s the thing about a place’s past. The earth has a long and dynamic history and even the most unassuming of locations can be hiding incredible secrets. Indeed, when ocean levels were higher at various times in North Carolina’s geologic history, the skeletons of marine animals likely washed up near Raleigh. So in a sense, these whales aren’t anything new—they’re the continuation of the long legacy of a landscape whose history is waiting just under the surface to be explored.

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Last year, some 124,000 people voted to name a new British research vessel Boaty McBoatface, but the decision was overturned. The ship was named instead for the popular British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Trainy McTrainface, however, will today officially receive its name in a naming ceremony in Gothenburg, Sweden, reports The Local.

Earlier this year, the Swedish transport company MTR Express held a public vote to name their new Stockholm-Gothenburg express trains. Trainy McTrainface was the runaway winner. At the time, amid fears that Trainy might meet a similar fate to Boaty, marketing chief Per Nasfi promised this would not be the case. "I can guarantee with my life that the train will be called Trainy McTrainface," Nasfi told The Local.

Ceremonies will be held in Gothenburg and Stockholm to name the new fleet of trains, all of which have crowdsourced names: Ingvar, after a local television host; Estelle, after Princess Estelle of Sweden; and Glenn, a reference to a popular joke that everyone in Gothenburg is called Glenn (in the 1980s, four of the players in local football team IFK Göteborg shared the name). Trainy McTrainface's ceremony will take place at Gothenburg's local station, after which the name will be emblazoned on its red exterior.

Nasfi speculated that some of Trainy McTrainface's popularity was revenge for the scuppering of Boaty McBoatface. In a statement, the train company MTR Express said they thought this new train, with its highly democratic new name, would "be received with joy by many, not only in Sweden."

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In an area southwest of Cairo, not far from Giza, a team of archaeologists from Egypt and the Czech Republic have uncovered a temple that they believe belonged to Ramses II.

The temple dates back 3,200 years. Evidence of its existence was first uncovered in 2012. Now, the archaeologists have unearthed its mud-brick foundations as well as relief fragments that depict Ramses II.


The structure was about 105 feet by 167 feet, and the evidence uncovered indicates that columns lined the main court. In the back, a staircase or ramp led to a sanctuary and three smaller rooms. Some of the bricks were painted blue.

It was dedicated to the worship of a sun god, a tradition that goes back more than 1,000 years before the construction of the temple. It also shows the extent of Ramses’ influence, the Associated Press reports.

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Michael Fry is an art teacher living in Mamaroneck, New York. He is also a trenchant observer of pop culture and, unequivocally, a dad.

Evidence of all these things can currently be found in his front yard, which he has filled with a "dead trend cemetery"—mock gravestones representing fads that have perished over the past year.

Fry started this Halloween tradition in 2015, inspired by a spin through Disney World's Haunted Mansion ride, which also features droll headstones. "I wanted mine to be funny, but current and relevant," he says. "I also wanted to change them every year so it would always be fresh."


His students help put together his topical hit list, as do his two daughters. A youthful influence shines through in this year's crop, which includes "dabbing," "homemade slime," and "the old Taylor Swift." These sit easily alongside the more crotchety picks, such as "Payless Shoes" and "accountability" (subtitle: "looking at you Millennials"). Death is the great equalizer, after all.

Over the past few days, Fry's graveyard has drawn national attention, appearing everywhere from Mashable to Good Morning America. It's also a local hit: "My neighbors look forward to it," Fry says. "Every October they start asking what died this year."

Although the paint is barely dry on these graves, Fry is already looking ahead. When asked what he hopes to be able to mourn in 2018, he has an immediate answer. "Fidget spinners," he says. "Of course, global warming would be nice too." Stay tuned.


Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to

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Today's pop-culture landscape is rotten with stories about melodramatic, brooding vampires and their supernatural love affairs. But back in the 1960s and '70s, those narratives belonged almost exclusively to the soap opera Dark Shadows. Near the end of its run, the series had become such an institution that it spawned a pair of Dark Shadows feature films (not to be confused with the 2012 Johnny Depp reboot), and to promote them, the producers staged what might have been the first ever nationwide spooky beauty pageants.

“The common perception is that it’s a campy soap opera from the '60s with a vampire, but if you stick with it long enough, the show is an everything bagel,” says Wallace McBride, editor of the Collinsport Historical Society, an in-depth fan blog devoted to all things Dark Shadows. “It’s got science fiction, it’s got horror, it’s got romance, time travel, parallel universes, werewolves, zombies, witches. Anything genre, you can find in 1,200 episodes of Dark Shadows.”


The first feature film spin-off, House of Dark Shadows, was released in September 1970, the year before the show finally went off the air after 1,225 episodes. The film focused on the series lead, vampire Barnabas Collins, and his search for a cure to his vampirism—so that he could marry a mortal, naturally. Though the property appeared to be expanding to the big screen, the TV show was actually on its last legs. “The show was just getting over the hill in terms of ratings,” says McBride.

To promote the film, the production company decided to try something a bit different. MGM and the film’s director and overall Dark Shadows mastermind, Dan Curtis, thought they would get the fans involved by putting on a nationwide beauty contest. They called it the Miss American Vampire Contest, and the winner would win a week’s guest spot on the Dark Shadows TV series, and a trip to New York, where the show was filmed.

Ads were placed in newspapers across the country, targeting girls, 18 to 25, who thought they had the right “vampire looks.” One newspaper story about the promotion, dredged up by the blog Dark Shadows in the Press, said that contestants would be judged by their interpretation of the vampire aesthetic, as well as “charm, poise, stage presence, and videogenic qualities for television.” One TV ad for the competition read, “It’s a contest you can sink your teeth into.”

Leading up to the release of House of Dark Shadows, regional beauty contests were held in a number of cities, from Dallas to Philadelphia to Miami. These prelims produced a handful of finalists, who traveled to Los Angeles to compete for the title on September 10, 1970. One of the judges for the New Jersey regional competition recalls her experience in the book The Dark Shadows Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection, saying, “It was fun for the first five minutes. After that it got terribly depressing. Some of the girls came in bikinis. Some of them came dressed as witches or vampires or dead bodies. One girl stood in front of me and just stared.”

The final competition winner was actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who gained greater fame a few years later when she represented Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards to decline his Oscar for The Godfather in an act of protest over the treatment and portrayal of Native Americans. Similarly, Littlefeather did not reap the benefits of her award. According to McBride, it’s unclear whether she declined the trip to New York to appear on the show, or whether the producers decided not to hold up their end of the deal. Either way, Littlefeather remained in Los Angeles. The prize passed to Christine Domaniecki, the winner of the New Jersey regional, where she had been crowned by none other than Barnabas Collins himself, actor Jonathan Frid.


Despite the confusion over the winner, the Miss American Vampire Contest, while bizarre for its time, must have been seen as a success, because it wasn’t the last supernatural beauty contest that the Dark Shadows franchise got up to. Following the release of House of Dark Shadows and the final episode of the show's original run, in April 1971, there would be one last hurrah for the residents of the show's fictional Collinsport. A second film, Night of Dark Shadows, came out in August that year, and focused on another member of the Collins clan, the franchise antagonist Angelique, a vengeful witch. This time, the producers wanted to crown Miss Ghost America.

The rules were much the same as before, with "ghost" in place of "vampire," through regional competitions leading to a final pageant event. However, since Dark Shadows was off the air, the prize was an opportunity to appear on The Dating Game (more on that later). Enthusiasm for the pageant declined accordingly. “The wind had kind of gone out of the sails at that point,” says McBride.


The pageant finals went ahead, and were shown on a local Los Angeles horror program called Fright Night, on September 25. The winner was 18-year-old Kate Sarchet, who, in addition to appearing on The Dating Game, also received a $250 savings bond. McBride was eventually able to unearth an account of Sarchet’s appearance on the game show, posted to Facebook by the winning date, comedian Will Durst. In his dispiriting post, he wrote, “Miss Ghost America totally ignored me on the date and hooked up with the golf pro at the hotel we got a free round of golf at. Which left the chaperone and me to drink in the hotel bar. Drank so much. Missed the ride back to LA the following morning. And had to get back on my own.” In modern parlance, she ghosted on him.

Today, Dark Shadows is still beloved by a healthy fanbase of devoted Collins family aficionados, and while the odd beauty pageants have not enjoyed the same level of immortality, they may have contributed to the show's enduring appeal. According to McBride, they may have helped the show, which was more beloved in its native New York than anywhere else, achieve such a widespread following. “What the pageants did is, they offered the cast a chance to sort of branch out and make it a national phenomenon.”

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When most people think of a recorder, it conjures up an image of those cheap plastic flutes that many people were forced to try to play in elementary school, as an introduction to the world of music. However, recorders were once something more—cherished instruments that helped define the sound of the Renaissance. Similarly, when people think of King Henry VIII, they (quite rightfully) tend to focus on his long and violent series of marriages. But he was also a musician and composer, and one of his favorite instruments was the recorder.

The recorder as an instrument dates back to the Middle Ages, when it evolved from earlier flute-like instruments, and it was distinguished mainly by the inclusion of a thumb hole. Traditional recorders were often carved from a single piece of wood or ivory, and were much more refined musical instruments than the more commonly known plastic cheapies we have today. They were widely popular in the Western musical tradition throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods, when a number of courtly symphonies were produced. Of course Henry VIII, who considered himself, well, a Renaissance man, composed a number of pieces involving the wind instrument.


Henry VIII indulged in a number of pursuits, including sports and gambling, as well as intellectual activities such as writing and supporting the theater. But as an artist, perhaps the Tudor monarch’s most fascinating output was as a musician. He is known not only to have played the lute, lyre, and harp, among other instruments, but also to sing. While his undoubtedly lovely voice (would you want to be the one to tell him otherwise?) is not recorded for posterity, he could read and write musical notation, and a number of his compositions have survived.

The British Library holds a manuscript dating back to 1518 known as Henry VIII’s Songbook, which contains more than a hundred musical compositions from the era, 33 of which are credited to the king himself. Many of them are multi-instrumental arrangements with lyrics, including what is arguably his most famous song, “Pastime With Good Company.” His musical career is so storied that there is a persistent myth that he was the original author of the famous English folk song “Greensleeves,” although this is almost certainly not true.

Among the surviving musical works of Henry VIII are at least two songs written specifically to be played on the recorder. “If Love Now Reigned” and the other, untitled work are typical of the instrumental recorder music of the age. They sound as though they would fit in perfectly at a Renaissance fair, or the nearest fantasy novel tavern.

To support his musical obsession, the king amassed an impressive collection of instruments, which were held at Westminster Abbey and kept by fellow composer Philip van Wilder, who had been named Keeper of the Instruments. In the massive 1547 inventory of Henry VIII’s possessions after his death, among the lavish palaces, ships, and riches, is a long list of musical instruments, including bagpipes, flutes, lutes, organs, and more. Notably, the collection lists some 49 recorders made of different types of ivory and a variety of woods, including boxwood, and walnut. Many of the recorders are grouped together by material, and probably produced a wide ranges of sounds and tones. There are also singular instruments listed, such as a great bass recorder, which was likely larger than the rest. He may have had even more than the ones listed in the inventory. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website claims that the musical monarch owned 76 recorders by the time he died.

We might not think much of the humble recorder in the modern age, but once, it was truly the instrument of kings. Listening to Henry VIII’s recorder compositions today, the instrument’s sweet, chirpy tones provide a glimpse at the famously harsh figure's often overlooked softer side.

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Ever since archaeologists started digging under Jerusalem more than 150 years ago, they searched for certain lost buildings mentioned in historical sources. Prominent among those have been some theater-like structures described in documents from the Second Temple period (530 B.C.–A.D. 70) and the time just after that, when the city was the capital of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. Theories about their locations abound, but no archeological evidence had been found.

So it was with surprise that a team of archeologists looking to date Wilson's Arch—the only visible remnants of the Second Temple period in the Temple Mount complex—stumbled onto what looks like the long-lost Roman theater. “The discovery was a real surprise," according to Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman, and Avi Solomon, the archaeologists in charge of the excavations, in a press release. "We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem’s lost theater."

Beneath portions of the Western Wall emerged remnants of a round structure containing approximately 200 seats. “This is a relatively small structure compared to known Roman theaters," such as those at Caesarea, Bet She’an, and Bet Guvrin, the archeologists said. They believe it could have been an odeon, a theater used for music or oratory, or a bouleuterion, a semicircular structure for council meetings—in this case the leadership of Aelia Capitolina.

"It's probably the most important archaeological site in the country, the first public structure from the Roman period of Jerusalem," Yuval Baruch, chief Jerusalem architect at the Israel Antiquites Authority, told AFP.

But another mystery about the theater lingers. There is evidence, such as an incomplete staircase, that it was never actually used. This is not be the first potentially unfinished building from the Roman era to be unearthed in the area, leading researchers to speculate that some event—perhaps anti-Roman revolts—interfered with public construction.

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Every Thursday and Friday morning, Rabbi Moshe Tauber leaves his home in Rockland County, New York, at about 3:30 a.m. He arrives in Manhattan an hour later and drives the 20-mile length of a nearly invisible series of wires that surrounds most of the borough. He starts at 126th Street in Harlem and drives down, hugging the Hudson River most of the way, to Battery Park and back up along the East River, marking in a small notebook where he notices breaks in the line. Known as an eruv, the wire is a symbolic boundary that allows observant Jews to carry out a range of ordinary activities otherwise forbidden on the Shabbat.

Any necessary repairs must be finished before sundown on Friday, when Shabbat begins. The day of rest then lasts until the following day when there’s no more red in the western sky. Throughout that time, observant Jews are prohibited from performing many basic activities, and the observance of this law has been updated over time to reflect current technologies, such as cars, electricity, and keys. "Carrying from one domain to another," or moving objects between public and private areas, for example, is forbidden. Eruvin (the plural of eruv) transcend this restrictive rule by serving as a symbolic border that links together many private spaces in the community, which in turn permits people to ferry around keys, children, and canes, or push wheelchairs and strollers.


But a single break in any part of the line voids that symbolic space. According to the 100 pages devoted to eruvin in the ancient Talmud, the boundary is only effective when the entire line is intact. And there are plenty of ways these breaks can happen. Sometimes it’s the elements, but more often construction is responsible. The wires, attached to telephone and light poles, can be severed or simply pushed down (the eruv must remain at the top of the pole) to make room for maintenance on other lines. And this is where Tauber comes in. “If they’re lousy they’ll just cut the lines and let it go,” he says. He’s been doing this carefully orchestrated monitoring since 2000. The repairs are “a secret operation,” chairman of the Manhattan Eruv Committee Rabbi Adam Mintz told the New York Post in 2015. That's by design.

Tauber checks the lines so early in the morning in the interests of efficiency—driving around the island at any other time would be virtually impossible due to traffic. It was Mintz who suggested I go out with Tauber at “the ungodly hour,” but I opted to meet with him at about 8:30 on a Friday morning instead, at 110th Street and Lexington Avenue, where someone had removed the cap from the top of a light pole, leaving the eruv a few inches from the top. I watched as two cable workers made the repairs by snipping the wire and passing it through a hole at the top of the pole.


In Manhattan, the required repairs are almost always a thoroughly low-tech endeavor. Aside from the cherry picker used to get to the top of the poles, the only other necessary tools are a spool of wire and wirecutters. After 110th, I rode with Tauber down the Henry Hudson Parkway. He parked on a service road and ran off to tie a broken length of the wire back together. We then met back up with cable workers, on 58th Street and 11th Avenue, where the eruv wire was down for two whole blocks. One worker spooled out the line from the raised cherry-picker basket, while the other drove slowly down to 56th Street.

The eruv has only been down for the Shabbat once during Tauber’s tenure, when a 2010 snowstorm shut down most of the city on a Friday. Maintenance crews were unable to get to areas that needed to be fixed in time. For a while, the status of the eruv was reported by a Twitter account (it's been inactive since last October) that essentially repeated itself on a weekly basis: "The Eruv is Up this Shabbat, October 13–14." The account also notes November 1, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy caused damage to the eruv in 22 places. But everything was repaired in time for the holy day.


Eruvin have been around for 2,000 years, though Manhattan’s line has been in place, in some form or another, for just over a century. The term "eruv" is derived from the Hebrew word for "mixture," and in Manhattan it’s a fitting title: The line encircling much of the island is a patchwork formed by 20 years of breaks and repairs. It's only since the late '90s that there has been a structured system for its maintenance. An early version surrounded the whole island, but no one seemed to know its precise boundaries, and everyone just sort of assumed someone else was in charge of maintaining it. When a group of rabbis in the '80s took a boat around Manhattan to create a map, they realized that most of the wire was gone. Now it’s more tightly regulated, and subsidized by the community it helps to create.


Zachary Levine, Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the National Building Museum, says an eruv “creates a visual language that defines space.” The series of practically invisible wires becomes a necessity that “benefits the most vulnerable people of the community.” He sees it not only as a way for communities to come together, but also as a way for the more affluent to give back. The eruv is funded entirely by the Jewish community, with a considerable portion of that support coming from wealthy philanthropists.

For six days of the week, or to passersby outside the community, the eruv is just a simple, more or less invisible, set of strands across physical space. But during Shabbat, the holy day, it takes on an important meaning for those who rely on the symbolic border to expand the domain of their homes while staying true to their belief system. As Levine puts it, the eruv “doesn’t matter, unless it matters to you.”

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Octopuses and cuttlefish can make themselves look like a lump of sand or swaying seaweed, and switch back and forth in the blink of eye, with their unique ability to alter both the color and texture of their skin. They're among nature’s very best hiders. And soon enough we might be able to make soft robots that can do the same thing thanks to a breakthrough in synthetic octopus skin.

According to Live Science, researchers are currently working on a robotic skin that would be able to mimic the octopus’ incredible 3-D camouflage ability. Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Army Research Office, are working on a design that would allow their high-tech material to change its texture in a flash. Kind of like this:

Changing colors is impressive enough, but what really sets these cephalopods apart as masters of disguise is their control over the bumpy papillae in their skin—from bumpy to smooth and back in a flash. To mimic these mimics, the scientists have created a silicone and fiber mesh skin that will have a series of air pockets that can be inflated to produce various shapes. Even better, they are designing it to be created with relatively simple parts so that it can be used in academia, in industrial applications, and even for personal use.

While they still have a ways to go before the technology is perfected, the hope is that one day it could be fine tuned enough to be programmed to automatically take the shape of any environment or texture it scans. The future may belong to invisible octopus people.


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BC Holmes

July 2017

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