Saturday: Duck report

These are the last photos I took before I left for Boston; they’re from last Tuesday afternoon. I’m told by the members of Team Mallard that all ten ducklings are thriving and eating huge quantities of food. Enjoy a few pictures of my grandchildren:

Mom and the Brood of Ten on the beach behind the metal barrier:

They’re growing quite quickly but are still in the cute fuzzy stage:

I’ll never be able to tell them apart, just like Honey’s brood last year. But you can see how they’ve grown in just two weeks.

With all my ducks in a row, I have high hopes that every one will fledge come fall:

The original anti-vax poster

James Gillray (1756 or 1757-1815) was an English artist, caricaturist and satirist who has been called “the father of the political cartoon”. (Hogarth is another candidate.) Gillray also seemed to be anti-science, as judging from the cartoon below, which expressed the public fear of Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccination.

The proud owner of the original cartoon below is my old friend Andrew Berry, a lecturer and advisor at Harvard and spouse of Naomi Pierce, Harvard’s Curator of Lepidoptera. They are kindly putting me up in Cambridge for two days.

As I may have reported earlier, Jenner performed the first smallpox vaccination in the late 18th century, but the practice of inoculation, or variolation, in which matter from a smallpox pustule was injected into people, was practiced much earlier in India, China, and the Ottoman Empire.  (People observed that people who survived smallpox were henceforth immune to further bouts of the disease.)

Jenner had heard that milkmaids, who sometimes got a related virus, causing a milder disease called cowpox, were henceforth immune to smallpox as well. He took matter from the cowpox pustules of an infected dairymaid and injected it into an 8-year-old boy. About two months later he injected fresh smallpox matter into the same boy, who didn’t develop disease. (This sounds like a deeply unethical experiment.)

After several more such trials, Jenner convinced many people that vaccination, which primes the immune system against the virus (he didn’t know that, of course), protects against smallpox. Vaccination became widespread and Jenner became famous.

A short but good description of the history of inoculation and vaccination against smallpox is in the paper below (click on the screenshot):

Despite the success of vaccination, many were still opposed to it right up until the end of the nineteenth century. Among the opponents was evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace, who argued that the practice created more medical problems than it solved and was being unduly promoted by a medical practice that profited from vaccination.

Now, have a look at the print below, taken from the Art Institute of Chicago website. It’s the first anti-vaxer cartoon.

Wikipedia also shows the print and notes this about it:

The Cow-Pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! (1802). Produced after Edward Jenner administered the first vaccine, Gillray’s work caricatured the fear patients had being vaccinated from smallpox via cowpox that it would make them sprout cowlike appendages.

The satire below shows the fear that people injected with cowpox matter would produce cows from various orifices in their body, including the nether ones.

Although smallpox has been eradicated on this planet, we still see vociferous anti-vaxers, most recently for measles. The cartoon shows that this kind of unsubstantiated opposition has been around for two centuries.

Machine learning creates realistic videos from just a few photographs

From, via reader Rick, we learn that AI programs have become so sophisticated that they can create motion, and videos, from as little as one photograph of a human face, though of course more photographs gives a better result. From the report:

The model is documented in a paper published by Samsung AI Center, which you can read here on Arxiv. It’s a new method of applying facial landmarks on a source face — any talking head will do — to the facial data of a target face, making the target face do what the source face does.

. . .The new paper by Samsung’s Moscow-based researchers, however, shows that using only a single image of a person’s face, a video can be generated of that face turning, speaking and making ordinary expressions — with convincing, though far from flawless, fidelity.

It does this by frontloading the facial landmark identification process with a huge amount of data, making the model highly efficient at finding the parts of the target face that correspond to the source. The more data it has, the better, but it can do it with one image — called single-shot learning — and get away with it. That’s what makes it possible to take a picture of Einstein or Marilyn Monroe, or even the Mona Lisa, and make it move and speak like a real person.

Here’s an example of what they can do with one shot of the Mona Lisa:

But that’s about it for La Giocanda:

That said, it’s remarkable that it works as well as it does. Note, however, that this only works on the face and upper torso — you couldn’t make the Mona Lisa snap her fingers or dance. Not yet, anyway.

Here is an explanation of how it’s done, as well as some examples of what the programs can do when trained on multiple photographs. Imagine the fake videos that will ensue!


Caturday felid trifecta: Miniature furniture for cats; why cats meow; a hyper-realistic felt cat (plus two items of lagniappe!)

Welcome to Caturday!  We have a treat today: two bits of lagnaippe besides the usual three items:

First up is an article from My Modern Met (click on screenshot), whose title is self explanatory, though there appear to be only two items of furr-niture for sale:

Some information:

The newest pet-friendly designs to catch our eye is this super-chic collection by Japan’s Okawa Kagu.

The new campaign entitled “craftsman MADE” is intended to reinvigorate the once-prosperous craft industry of Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture region. Home to 150 furniture-manufacturing factories, Okawa Kagu came up with the idea to merge the internet’s love for cats with the skills of local artisans. The new production took existing full-scale designs and down-sized them to produce high-quality miniature versions that satisfy even the fussiest of felines.

The collection comprises of a pine wood sofa designed and produced by Hiromatsu Furniture, and a dark wood cat bed designed and produced by Tateno Mokuzai.

Here’s one example, but the video below that shows lots of items you’ll want for your cat’s luxury digs:

The article notes that “You can view the pieces at Okawa Terrazza—an information center with a focus on highlighting local design. Each product is available through the respective manufacturers.”


And from the reliable BBC Earth, we learn why cats makes noises, which includes chittering (I call it “machine-gunning”), kitten squeaking, and the classic meow addressed to humans, which appears to be a spandrel. You’ll want to watch this not just for its cuteness, but for its educational value.


The figure below is not a real cat but a giant, handmade felt cat. It’s from Japan, of course, and the translation is below, which is of course wonky given the Twitter translate function.
The first real-life work ‼️ made by the third woolly felts Cat (оf ́∀’ оf) 💕 height is about 35 centimeters

They are made to order, as described on this page (I don’t know the price, but they’re surely expensive), and I suppose you could have one modeled on your deceased moggie as a bizarre remembrance. If you read Japanese, perhaps you could give us more information.

Lagniappe: The Daily Fail has a “scoop”, which I’m sure is of dubious authenticity. Click on the screenshot to see their story. Inquiring minds want to know!

Here’s Meghan with the family cat Archie, himself named after the comic-book character:


And lagniappe: Reader Laurie, former owner of Theo, the espresso-drinking cat, has now procured two new black rescue cats, but memorialized the late Theo in a new tattoo. She also sent a few words of description from two weeks ago:

I have always had an unmistakable partiality for black cats; nay, I love them. I brought a friend to have her first tattoo done today by my Artist, and whilst there, had this done. I had disseminated photographs of Theo to him, to which he referred to render the face, eyes and ears.  My Theo.

Laurie also sent me the photo of Theo that was the model for the tattoo:

h/t: Ginger K, revelator 60, Laurie

Reader’s wildlife video

Tara Tanaka (Vimeo page here, Flickr page here) sent a lovely video of an endangered bird: the red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis). Her notes are below, and be sure to enlarge the video when you watch it and put the sound on.

In 2011 I videoed the installation of an artificial cavity in a tree at Tall Timbers Research Station in northern Florida, where a reintroduction program of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker has been in place since 2006. After the hole had been artfully cut and the box installed, Michael Keys climbed another tree about 75’ away and drilled an “assisted start” hole to give the woodpeckers a head-start on a “natural” cavity. Last week I visited the tree in which the starter hole had been drilled and videoed parents and a male helper feed chattering young in the cavity.

Most people have never seen this endangered bird, even one so high in a pine that it’s hard to identify, and it’s very unusual to get to see the red feathers that are usually hidden on the male’s head. During these feedings there was something that caused one of the males to call numerous times while lifting the feathers on the top of his head, revealing that tiny group of red feathers, distinguishing him as a male. In filming these birds I set up my camera away from the cavity, positioned my tripod, focused and adjusted the exposure, pushed the record button and walked about 200’ away to keep from disturbing their feeding. This is a compilation of the highlights of approximately three-hours of feeding.

Note that the bird is banded. Be sure to watch for the red cockade about 53 seconds in.

Tara will be around to answer any questions you have in the comments.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, May 25, 2019, and June is nearly upon us. It’s also National Wine Day, but that’s nearly every day for me. It’s also National Tap Dance Day in the U.S., and Douglas Adams fans will know that it’s Towel Day. But will anyone really carry a towel today?

I have been busy having recreation, so posting has been (and will be) light, but I’ll try to post some vacation snaps tomorrow, including a trip to Salem, notorious for its witch trials.

On May 25, 1787, with a quorum of seven states, the United States Constitutional Convention formally opened in Philadelphia. On this day in 1878, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore opened in London. In 1895, author and raconteur Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years at hard labor for homosexual acts. He served the full two years, and, health broken, went into exile in France, where he died three years later.

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Dayton, Tennessee for violating Tennessee’s Butler Act that prohibited the teaching of human evolution. (Most people think the law forbade the teaching of any evolution, but that is not the case.) After a weeklong trial, Scopes was convicted on July 21 after the jury deliberated for nine minutes, but the conviction was set aside on appeal because of a technicality: the fine, $100, was levied by the judge, and fines over $50 were supposed to be decided by the jury. Here’s Scopes one month before the trial:

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to a joint session of Congress that his goal was to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Amazingly, the U.S, succeeded. Here’s what Kennedy said:

Speaking of space, it was on this day in 1977 that Star Wars was released. I still have not seen that movie. Exactly a year later, the first bomb set by the Unabomber (Ted John Kaczynski) went off at Northwestern University, resulting in minor injuries to a University police officer. Kaczynski eventually killed three people and injured 23 before he was caught in 1995. He remains in prison in Colorado, where he will die.

On this day in 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became, with the help of Sherman Bull, the first blind person to reach the top of Mount Everest. The next year he completed the Seven Summits. Exactly a decade later, Oprah Winfrey broadcast her last show after 25 years on the air.

Finally, it was on this day a year ago that Ireland repealed the Eighth Amendment to its Constitution, prohibiting abortion in nearly all cases. The law now allows abortion during the first trimester, and even later in cases where the woman’s life or health is at risk or the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Notables born on this day include Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803), Bill “Bojangles” Robinson *1877), Igor Sikorsky (1889), Beverly Sills (1929), Raymond Carver (1938), Mike Myers (1963), and Anne Heche (1969, 50 today).

Reader Laurie put her own drawing of Emerson, whom she greatly admires, on her Facebook page. I reproduce it with permission:

Those who died on May 25 include William Paley (1805), Gustav Holst (1934), Robert Capa (1954), and Ismael Merchant (2005). And reader Jon wrote me this: “Murray Gell-Mann, who transformed physics with his preternatural ability to find hidden patterns among the tiny particles that make up the universe, earning a Nobel Prize, died on Friday at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 89.”

Capa died when he stepped on a land mine in Vietnam, but before that had made many memorable photographs. Here’s one showing Picasso shading Françoise Gilot; the painter’s nephew, Javier Vilato, is in the background. This was taken in France in 1948.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili was hiding in the bedroom windowsill behind the curtains before Andrzej found her:

Hili: I couldn’t wait.
A: What for?
Hili: For you to start looking for me.

In Polish:
Hili: Nie mogłam się doczekać!
Ja: Na co?
Hili: Żebyś mnie zaczął szukać.

Sound advice from reader Barry:

A tweet from Nilou. Io, of course, is one of Jupiter’s moons:

Two scaredy-cats, also from reader Barry. The first one is especially awesome:

From reader Paul, who notes that the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office may become the next Prime Minister.

Tweets from Grania. I was sad to hear that Charlie Gross, a neuroscientist married to Joyce Carol Oates, died in April. I had dinner with both of them in New York a few years back. Joyce is of course devastated, and sent out this tweet:

This plant looks like marijuana but I’m sure it isn’t. ID, please?

An amazing video: in one end and out the other.

Tweets from Matthew. Now the Chief Mouser appears to be in trouble:


If you find this animal ugly, you’re on the wrong site.



Alligator in viral photograph is stuffed

by Greg Mayer

A photograph of an alligator on the back of an inflatable alligator is making the rounds of a variety of news media.

An alligator supposedly sunning itself on an inflatable alligator in Miami-Dade Co., Florida.

This is a stuffed alligator. The splayed legs, open mouth, and curled tail are typical of the poses used for souvenir stuffed alligators, and atypical of the way a live alligator would pose, especially atop a floating object. The body and tail are overstuffed, and do not look at all like a live alligator. The posterior half of the tail hovers above the float, and the coup de grace is that both visible limbs are sticking out stiffly, perpendicular to the body, and casting shadows on the float. As Monty Python would have put it, this is an ex-alligator.

Note in the enlargement below the shadow, and how you can see a spot of sunlight reaching the float behind the crook of the knee.

Enlargement of hind leg.

A surprising number of news outlets have fallen for this. I first saw it on the Amazon Alexa Home Spying Device, and a quick search found the story on UPI, ClickOrlando, Miami New Times, WTSP Tampa-St. Pete, and WPLG Miami.

Baby photos

I have no heavy intellectual content today as I’m on vacation. But here are some pictures of Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) with a human infant (Homo sapiens in statu nascendi).

This may be the only photograph in existence of me holding a baby   . (I get scared to for fear I might hurt them.) Meet Selma Louise Ludovico, the 7 month-old granddaughter of my hosts in Cambridge. Her father is Brazilian, mom is American, and she’s an adorable hybrid. And she seemed fascinated by “Uncle Jerry,” as I’m known around here.

We have a discourse on free will:


Reader’s wildlife photo

Well, it’s not really wildlife, but on this site astronomy photos fall under that rubric. Reader Tim Anderson from Australia sent us a nice galaxy pic. His notes (click photo to enlarge):

The Southern Pinwheel Galaxy lies approximately 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. It will be about 14.999 million years before I Love Lucy comes to the attention of any intelligent life in that neighbourhood.

The image is a combination of forty 240-second frames captured with a 100mm refracting telescope and a colour astronomical camera.


Friday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Professor Ceiling Cat here, with thanks to Grania for taking over Hili yesterday. It’s Friday, May 24, 2019: the end of another work week. It’s National Escargot Day, (I’ve had snails once and didn’t like them), and National Brothers Day, so fête your brother (I’m one!).

Today’s big news is that British Prime Minister Theresa May has resigned, never able to overcome the Brexit debacle nor offer an acceptable plan for leaving. Who will succeed her? Will it be Boris Johnson, the UK’s answer to Donald Trump? Stay tuned.

I’m visiting Salem today with my hosts, so posting will be thin. On the other hand, I’ll get some good pictures, as well as fried clams at Woodman’s of Essex, the greatest clam shack in New England, founded in 1914. Their fried clams come with chips and onion rings:

There’s a lot of news from this day in history. On May 24, 1607, 100 English settlers landed at Jamestown, Virginia, which became the first permanent English colony in America. 19 years later to the day, Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the local Native Americans. It was a great bargain at the reported $23 in trade goods. As Wikipedia reports:

Minuit is credited with purchasing the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans in exchange for traded goods valued at 60 guilders. According to the writer Nathaniel Benchley, Minuit conducted the transaction with Seyseys, chief of the Canarsees, who were only too happy to accept valuable merchandise in exchange for an island that was mostly controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks.

The figure of 60 guilders comes from a letter by a representative of the Dutch States-General and member of the board of the Dutch West India Company, Pieter Janszoon Schagen, to the States-General in November 1626. In 1846, New York historian John Romeyn Brodhead converted the figure of Fl 60 (or 60 guilders) to US$23.The popular account rounds this off to $24. By 2006 sixty guilders in 1626 was worth approximately $1,000 in current dollars, according to the Institute for Social History of Amsterdam.

On this day in 1683, the world’s first university museum opened: the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In 1738, John Wesley was converted to “Methodism” from the Church of England. And in 1830, the poem  “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was published; the author was Sarah Josepha Hale.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse sent the telegraph message “What hath God Wrought” (Numbers 23;23): the first words sent over the first commercial single-wire telegraph line, which transmitted between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  But of course God wrought nothing: Morse did.

On this day in 1883, the world’s most beautiful bridge, New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge, opened after 14 years of construction.  Here it is:

On this day in 1935, the first night game in major league baseball was played, with the Cincinnati Reds, playing at home, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1. On May 24, 1940, two things happened: Igor Sikorsky piloted the first successful flight of a single rotor helicopter, and the first (and unsuccessful) assassination attempt of Trotsky took place in Mexico City. The assassin, acting on orders of Stalin, escaped. But the second attempt succeeded: on August 20, Trotsky was whacked in the head with an ice axe and died the next day.

Here’s Sikorsky in his helicopter (although it was called “single rotor”, that was the main rotor; there was also a tail rotor):

Source: Connecticut Historical Society

On May 24, 1956, the first Eurovision Song Contest was held in Lugano, Switzerland. Does anybody remember who won? And exactly two decades later, the famous blind wine-tasting, the “the Judgment of Paris, took place in France, with California wines beating the best of France.

Finally, it was on this day 20 years ago the the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague indicted Slobodan Milošević and four others for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

Notables born on this day include William Whewell (1794), Queen Victoria (1819), Jan Smuts (1870), Jane Byrne (1933),Tommy Chong (1938), Bob Dylan (1941), and Kristen Scott Thomas (1960).

I have to mention that yesterday, as his owner says, “Maru has become 12.” (The video is called “I am Maru 12.”)

In honor of the birthday of Maru, the world’s most famous Internet cat, here’s his owner’s celebratory video, showing highlights of the chubby Scottish fold’s last dozen years. And remember Maru’s motto, “When I see a box, I must enter.” (His second motto is “I do my best.”) Thanks to Grania for finding this:

Deaths on this day were thin on the ground; they include William Lloyd Garrison (1879), John Foster Dulles (1959), and Duke Ellington (1974).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili got a real treat (Cyrus got one too):

A: I bought a nice piece of beef. I can share it with you.
Hili: An excellent idea.
In Polish:
Ja: Kupiłem ładny kawałek wołowiny. Mogę się z tobą podzielić.
Hili: Znakomity pomysł.

In Leon’s future home nearby, he wait for the sun (like My Cat Jeoffry, he loves the sun and the sun loves him):

Leon: The sun should be there by now.

Leon: Teraz tam powinno być słońce.

From reader Barry; look at this video of a playful squirrel!

Nilou sends a pair of affectionate ducklings:

Tweets from Grania. Well, if they say this is a first, I’ll take their word for it:

And look at the ears on these serval kittens:

More adventures of a badger family that hangs around its staff:

Someone actually embroidered all the frames of a cartoon, and it’s a cat cartoon!

Tweets from Matthew. Look at this hybridization between ducks. But I’m not sure that the hybrids are fertile. If they are, and that’s what this figure what it implies, then they aren’t complete biological species, but they are close. If this reflects past hybridization and they no longer exchange genes, they are now full biological species.

I think this counts as real tool use:

What is this monotreme eating?

I may post this series of botfly videos, but I’m jealous because I don’t even have a photo of the one that was in my head.