Monday: Hili dialogue

Today, July 3, 2017, remains part of the four-day U.S. holiday weekend, finishing tomorrow (with a literal bang) on Independence Day. It’s National Chocolate Wafer Day, though I’d prefer a dark chocolate McVitie’s Digestive Biscuit: my Desert Island Cookie. And I’ll just leave this here: according to Wikipedia, today is “the start of the Dog Days according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac but not according to established meaning in most European cultures.” If you’re European, tell us, then, when the Dog Days—the hot and sweatiest days of summer—officially begin.

If you’re a tennis fan, you’ll know that Wimbledon is on through July 15, and there’s an animated Google Doodle in its honor:

On July 3, 1608, Québec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain. In 1775, a year and a day before the Declaration of Independence was signed, George Washington took command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Massachusetts. On this day in 1844, the world’s last known pair of Great Auks (Pinguinus impennis) were killed in Iceland. Perhaps George Church will genetically engineer their revival (just kidding!). They were known as the “penguins of the north” because they were flightless, big (0.8 meter high, weight 5 kilos, or 11 pounds), black and white, and denizens of cold climes. Here’s “specimen number 8” (and a replica egg) in Glasgow. What a pity they’re gone.

On this day in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg ended with the disastrous Pickett’s Charge; the Confederates then retreated, licking their wounds. On July 3, 1996, the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland. Exactly four years ago, the Arab Spring came to Egypt as President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the military.

Here’s the Stone of Scone, used for centuries to help crown Scottish kings, then captured by the English, temporarily stolen and returned by students, and then finally returned to Scotland, where it now resides in Edinburgh Castle:

Rest easy, ye Scots!

Notables born on July 3 include George M. Cohan (1878), Franz Kafka (1883), Tom Stoppard (1937; he’s 80 today), and Tom Cruise (1962; he’s 55!). Here’s a photo of me with the Great Playwright at the Hay Literary Festival a few years back:

Those who died on this day include Theodor Herzl (1904), Brian Jones (1969), Jim Morrison (1971), Rudy Vallée, (1986), and Andy Griffith (2012). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has stopped to smell the roses, but only to criticize the bouquet:

Hili: Only the thorns have retained their freshness.
A: OK, I will change the flowers in the vase later.
In Poliah:
Hili: Tylko kolce zachowały pierwotną świeżość.
Ja: Dobrze, później zmienię kwiaty w wazonie.

And a tw**t sent by reader Barry:


  1. Randy schenck
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Yes, new flowers for Hili. The Stones had a gig in Hyde Park, which I attended. It was to honor their mate, Brian Jones, who died in 1969.

  2. Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Jim Morrison ??? Hmmmm …are you SURE!?! 🙂

  3. Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Nice photo of you and Tom Stoppard (typo in your piece, incidentally: not ‘Stoppart’; ‘Stop art’ is the opposite of his life’s work!).

    He’s written some great plays, but I recently saw his The Hard Problem, which was disappointingly anti-science for such a great intellect; see this review in New Scientist for example:

    • Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Any relation to Brian?!

      • Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        …Jones, not Stop Art! He was interviewed on the Radio 4 Today prog last week – he said there are almost too many things to write about. He is thinking at present, not writing…

      • Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        Sadly not, although the poor chap died not far from me, in Hartfield, Sussex.

    • Posted July 3, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Oy, a typo! Fixed, thanks.

  4. Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    For some reason, it annoys me that the tennis racquet serving is well inside the baseline when it hits the ball and therefore the serve should be called a fault.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      I hadn’t thought about it. Now it annoys me too. Grrr!

      • rickflick
        Posted July 3, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Relax. At least the players are wearing all white outfits. They got that right.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 3, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha! Good point! Only at Wimbledon! 🙂

  5. DrBeydon
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Only the thorns have retained their freshness.


    As an astronomical event, I always thought that the Dog Days were well-defined, and occurred at the beginning of August. I probably looked it up in Brewer’s Phrase and Fable.

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Also reported today – Tesla is suppose to start deliveries on the new model 3. A new quiz also starting – How many Republicans does it take to fix a problem? No one knows because it’s never been done.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Here in Sweden we have Rot Month (“Rötmånad”) in end of July-start of August. Historically the effects of heat and humidity played less well with food. I see the term Dog Days comes from the astrological identification [ ]?

    July on the other hand used to be, again for such historical reasons, traditional “Industrial Vacation” or “Vacation Month” here [ ].

  8. rickflick
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I see the Auk lays a pointy egg similar to the guillemot. Both lay on the surface of rocks at the cliff edge. The shape renders them less likely to roll off the ledge since they tend to roll in a circle.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      There was something that went past my eyes recently (probably on Twitter ; likely under @MatthewCobb ‘s account) suggesting that egg shape was more correlated with wing proportions (and hence flight behaviour) than with any other part of dinosaur anatomy and behaviour. I didn’t read beyond the abstract, but the thesis was something like : flight style determines both wing shape and body-frame shape ; body-frame shape constrains what shape eggs can be passed ; egg volume is optimised within these constraints.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Curious. In the cases I sight, the Auk was almost wingless and waddled whereas the guillemot is a hyper-soaring bird. Quite different frames. Also, note that the Auk, being terrestrial has fewer constraints on frame and presumably less constraint on egg shape. The one thing in common is laying eggs on rocks. Somebody needs to work this up.

      • nicky
        Posted July 3, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        I remember that that theory of wingshape was completely debunked (can’t remember where). The eggs of some swifts e.g. are nearly round or elliptical.
        There appears a reasonable correlation between pointedness of eggs and flimsiness of nests. It also makes sense, the more conical or pyriform the less it can roll away.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:34 am | Permalink

        Yes, this recent study was greeted with much ballyhoo:

        I dunno, I still like the not-rolling-off-cliffs explanation for the pointy eggs and am not convinced that this study necessarily refutes that hypothesis.

  9. busterggi
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “Penguins of the north”? Heck, they were the ORIGINAL penguins, the southern birds were named after them.

    • nicky
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, 100%: Pinguinus impennis

  10. E.A. Blair
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink


    If Barry means that spread-legged stance, I have. Many times.

    • Posted July 3, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      With the front legs thrust forward like that? I’ve never seen it!

      • nicky
        Posted July 3, 2017 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        Back legs?

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    If you’re European, tell us, then, when the Dog Days—the hot and sweatiest days of summer—officially begin.

    I’d heard the phrase “Dog Days” before, but never knew – or even considered it necessary – that they’d have an “official” definition, even for quite low levels of “official”.
    It’s July ; most likely the best days of summer are behind us already. Mid-May to mid-June are normally the most reliably good weather : a time obviously chosen for nailing students into revision-purdah to maximal inconvenience.

  12. Susan D.
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow! the Great Auk. convergent evolution!

    • nicky
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Its closest extant relative is the razorbill (a small, flying auk).
      Could we not dream -now that we have CRISPR- of resurrecting the Great Auk? It only got extinct a century and a half ago, there might be enough DNA left?

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