Wednesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Wednesday, November 21: the day before Thanksgiving. Many Americans are already taking off work today for a long holiday weekend (our department’s employees will go home at noon). Appropriately, it’s National Cranberry Day. It’s also World Television Day, which I’ll celebrate by watching one of the only two shows I ever watch: the NBC Evening News with Lester Holt. (The other show is 60 Minutes.)

On this day in 1620 (Gregorian calendar), the settlers in Plymouth Massachusetts signed the Mayflower Compact, which could be considered the first written law for self-governance of a colony in America. The last bit reads:

Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of EnglandFrance, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

On this day in 1676, according to Wikipedia, “The Danish astronomer Ole Rømer presents the first quantitative measurements of the speed of light.”  Well, actually, he just gave the ratio of the speed of light to the speed at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and didn’t give any figures. However, Rømer wasn’t off badly—the ratio he got was about 75% of the true ratio (10,100). On November 21, 1877, Thomas Edison announced that he’d invented the phonograph. And on this day in 1905, Einstein’s paper with its famous formula equating mass and energy, E = mc², was published in the journal Annalen der Physik.

This day in 1920 marked “Bloody Sunday” in Ireland’s war of independence.  32 people were killed in what began as an IRA operation, headed by Michael Collins, against the British. On November 21, 1953, the Natural History Museum of London announced that the “Piltdown Man” skull was a hoax, a mixture of bones from an orangutan, a chimp, and a human. Note who exposed it: scientists, not creationists, who continue to claim it’s an example of how science can be wrong and ancient hominins a hoax.

Here’s the Piltdown skull:

On this day in 1977, the Minister of Internal Affairs of New Zealand, Allan Highet, announced that the national anthems of New Zealand would be the traditional anthem “God Save the Queen” and “God Defend New Zealand“. Note the obeisance to the Queen in an independent democratic country! I always tease Heather Hastie about New Zealand still being run in part by England (Queen Elizabeth is still New Zealand’s head of state, and her minister has power to break deadlocks in the Kiwi’s government).

Finally, and this was only three years ago, on this day in 2015 the Belgian government imposed a complete security lockdown in Brussels (schools and shops closed, no public transportation), due to the threat of terrorist attacks.

Notables born on this day include Voltaire (1694), René Magritte (1898), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902), Coleman Hawkins (1904), Stan Musial (1920), Marlo Thomas (1937), Dr. John (1940; real name Malcolm John Rebennack), Goldie Hawn (1945) and Björk (1965).  In honor of Bean’s birthday, here’s one of his most famous songs, “Body and Soul,” recorded on October 11, 1939. Its free-form improvisation on the chords of the popular standard marked a new era in jazz.

Those who died on November 21 include Henry Purcell (1695), Robert Benchley (1945), and David Cassidy (last year).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has noted a correlation and wants to investigate it. She’s doing science!

Tweets from Grania. This first beast is new to me:

To verify that this sharks really walks on the reefs, I checked some videos, and found this Attenborough clip:

Grania likes the machine below; in fact, she said, “I need this in my life; it is now my only goal.”

Forbidden love:

Meet Van Gogh, the tame chipmunk with a mutilated ear. Be sure to watch the whole 3-minute video.

A good analysis of Greek mythology:

Tweets from Heather Hastie. First, we all know that wombat’s have cubic poop. But now we know why!

Is this due to inbreeding? You wouldn’t see a cat this clueless!

I hope this bird made it. It flew away, but did it fully recover?

This woman, trying to swim in winter, nearly nabbed a Darwin Award:




  1. David Duncan
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    “I always tease Heather Hastie about New Zealand still being run in part by England…”

    I assume Heather is too diplomatic to tease you about your president.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Just beat me to it.



  2. Richard benton
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I would with the permission of ceilings cat to offer an item to be tabled for discussion Subject area cosmology the alleged future heat death of the universe I feel that the Big Bang theory is incomplete due to our obvious human limitations and well just because it’s too damn depressing lol

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Insofar as I can untangle your syntax, do I gather that the heat death of the Universe can’t happen because we find it too depressing to contemplate?

      Good luck with that.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Sorry if that sounded a bit snarky. But I think the Universe will do what it does (I almost said ‘do what it wants to’), and our preferences don’t come into it.


        • Richard benton
          Posted November 21, 2018 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          I just have a sense that it’s not what the universe is going to do Remember new evidence can and probably will falsify the heat death HYPOTHESIS it isn’t proven and won’t be until I’m gone that’s why I did the lol

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted November 21, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            It’s never going to be _proven._ But given the laws of thermodynamics it’s about as inevitable as any prediction we have, certainly if the expansion of the universe continues forever.
            And if it doesn’t, and the universe contracts, we’re faced with oblivion there too, only a hot one instead of a cold one.

            It’s all meaningless either way.

            • richard Benton
              Posted November 21, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

              you are wrong. This is speculative dogma. Read the Wikipedia entry on heat death. Its all speculative, and involves the unknown entropy of universe sized system and gravitational effects. It originated with Lord Kelvin, and his early calculation of the age of the earth was way off using the same uninformed physics that he use for heat death calcs.Its meaningless? Well then I guess everything is meaningless?Saulhow do you know that its going to contract and leave us in a state of oblivion. In my opinion that violates the tentative nature of science pending new data. Have you considered that there might be other options besides the ones you proposed. I hope heat death is wrong, and if the universe agrees woppee. any case we should as physicists so often do-make shit up and then test it.Its not a settled issue-that’s a solid

            • Taz
              Posted November 21, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

              Some say the world will end in fire,
              Some say in ice.
              From what I’ve tasted of desire
              I hold with those who favor fire.
              But if it had to perish twice,
              I think I know enough of hate
              To say that for destruction ice
              Is also great
              And would suffice.

              – Robert Frost

  3. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Re. the wombat’s abilities: can’t we all do that? I’ve never tried to emit particular shapes from that area(it never occurred to me before today actually), but I know I can blow smoke rings(from my mouth), and I can whistle(again from my mouth), and that just involves practice. Surely if one practiced enough at it one could emit any shape one wanted from one’s bottom?

    I’m not asking for anecdotes here obviously, but in principle it seems possible. Further research needed perhaps?

    It’s an uncomfortable topic, and perhaps one that in retrospect I shouldn’t have raised, but science has no boundaries.

    • W.Benson
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      The Piltdown Hoax: I think it was the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. He faked the skull because of a desire to take revenge against scientists at the Natural History Museum who sought to debunk his preferred brand of nonsense, spiritism, and to generate interest in his new work of science fiction, “The Lost World”. Doyle, as a medical doctor (Master of Surgery, Univ. Edinburgh), had the technical knowledge necessary to fake the skull, he himself collected fossils, he lived near and visited the Piltdown excavation site, was an audacious practical joker, and had motives galore.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Though Conan Doyle did have several medical practices on the south coast, none were particularly close to the sites of (ehem) recovery of the Piltdown fossils, whereas the generally fingered perpetrator had a long (and in hindsight, suspect) relationship with the local archaeological “field clubs” and several other of his “finds” have been found to be faked, modified, or “out of context” (genuine artefacts, but planted from somewhere else). I think they got the right guy – though some questions still remain over where he got his raw materials.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      I’m so disappointed. I thought from your comment the wombat could blow smoke rings from you-know-where. Now that would have been a sight worth seeing!


      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Maybe they can. Again, further research is required.

        There was a guy(he used to appear on a very odd late-night programme on UK TV called Eurotrash) called Mr Methane who wore a kind of green, fart-themed superhero costume and was ‘famous’ for his ability to fart at will. He could do all kinds of dinner-party-non-compliant tricks with his bottom. He was like a poor man’s Le Petomane. I don’t know what happened to him but he could definitely blow smoke rings – he did it on TV all the time.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I can’t imagine trying for a dodecahedron, but it might not be difficult for a true virtuoso.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Excreting a stellated dodecahedron would … well, the Goatse guy would probably take the idea as a challenge.

        (I could never get the long edges of the “spikes” to close properly.)

        • rickflick
          Posted November 21, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          The pain would be memorable.

    • James
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I doubt it. Whistling and smoke rings both involve the tongue, and there is no analogous organ at the other end of the digestive tract. I would be curious to see the structure of the anus of a wombat, as compared to that of a human; humans tend toward round shapes, which I always assumed (perhaps naively) to be due to the structure of the anal sphincter. What I mean is, it opens and closes as a ring, so that’s what you get: round shapes. You need some other structure for other shapes.

      Fireworks work on the opposite principle (expanding rather than constricting), but may offer some insight. To make a square after the bang, you have to set it up to be non-square in specific ways BEFORE the bang. In contrast, you could make square waste by having some structure in the center that collapses in predictable ways (dehydrates, maybe?), then leave it exposed for a while. Not sure how to pull that off with a digestive system, though.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        I posted this link above and re-post it here. This explains what’s going on. Patricia Yang, the researcher, a mechanical engineer and scatologist) who studied the wombat digestive system and its excretory products, worked out the process, like you, thought at first it was the anus, but it’s not the anus, it’s the intestines.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted November 21, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          I love the last couple of sentences from the article: ” But even the initial findings imply broader implications for sectors such as manufacturing.

          Cubes, Yang says, are very rare in nature. “We currently have only two methods to manufacture cubes,” she said, explaining that humans either mold cubes from soft materials, or cut them from harder objects.” We await machines that use wombat intestinal technology to produce cubes.

  4. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Re that last video, I would certainly find it infinitely less traumatic and shocking, bouncing off the ice, than I would plunging into freezing-temperature water.

    Also far less lethal.


    • Michael Sternberg
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      I shudder to think about where she’d have surfaced, or rather quite possibly not.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      She could have broken her coccyx; that wouldn’t be fun.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      In the fuller version of the video, it is apparently learned that she got a fracture.

  5. pierluigi Ballabeni
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    “… in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth …”

    King of France? I am not sure Louis XIII would agree.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Well this traced back to the kings of England being descended from the Norman-French invaders of 1066, of course. ‘James styled himself “King of France”, in line with other monarchs of England between 1340 and 1800, although he did not actually rule France.’ (Wikipedia)

      This claim had led earlier to the Hundred Years War between England and France (and assorted allies on both sides).

      What puzzles me slightly is the ‘eighteenth’ and ‘fifty-fourth’. Counting from when?


      • pierluigi Ballabeni
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Thank you.

        Maybe the Scots counted their kings since the arrival of the Celts in the island. But then a king would not be called James before christianisation. Perhaps a king’s life’s expectancy was very short, resulting in a high number of royal generations, enough for 54 James plus, I guess, a number of non-James.

      • Graham Head
        Posted November 21, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        It’s the years of his reign. He ascended the Scottish throne in 1567 (1620- 1567 = 53 years) and the English throne in 1603 (17 years).

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    “IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November…”

    Good, another reason to fuse Thanksgiving with Veterans/Armistice day, call it Thanksgiving, and have it on the Thurs closest to the 11th, putting more distance between it and the Solstice, for the mental well-being of everyone.

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted November 21, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink


  7. Posted November 21, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I think it is misleading and incorrect to suggest that New Zealand is still run in part by England. The Queen is the head of state in New Zealand but she is not ‘England’ (or indeed the UK). England, the UK and the British government have no power to control New Zealand in any way and the Queen’s authority as head of state in New Zealand stems from the New Zealand populace. Should New Zealand take a democratic decision to become a republic it would be at liberty to do so and the UK could not stand in its way (many Commonwealth countries – former parts of the British Empire – are republics). The Queen’s ‘Minister’ in New Zealand is the Governor General, a New Zealander who is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the NZ Prime Minister (the head of the democratically elected government of NZ)for a term of five years. The constitutional roles of the Governor General include “receiving the writ that dissolves Parliament before a general election is held; formally requesting the leader of the political party which gains the support of a majority in Parliament to form a government; and assenting to the enactment of legislation” (but assenting is a formality and he/she would not be able to withhold assent from legislation that has been legally passed by the NZ Parliament).

    Thus the Queen’s role as head of state in New Zealand is homologous to her role as head of state in the UK but independent of it.

    Whether or not New Zealand would be better off becoming a republic is for it to decide but whoever it chooses as its head of state it is genuinely and completely independent of the UK.

  8. Posted November 21, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Does not Galileo’s determination that the speed of light was too fast for him to measure count as something before Rømer?

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    The stories of Isaac Beshevis Singer somewhat mollified my grandmother’s anti-Semitism. I had always known that all my grandparents were far more conservative than my parents, but I was 25 when I discovered how anti-Semitic my mother’s parents were.
    I recommended the stories of Singer, and they were partially effective.

  10. prinzler
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    If I may offer a few substantive corrections about “Body & Soul:”

    Free-form improvisation normally refers to improvisation without any chord progression underneath it, but “Body & Soul” definitely has a chord progression.

    Perhaps what is trying to be said is that Hawkins did not play the head – the composed melody – as would normally be the practice, but he started improvising immediately. Not playing the head is very rare in jazz, and this is the only aspect of Body and Soul that is distinctive enough to usher in a new era of jazz, but it didn’t. The practice of not playing the head was not picked up by many (any?) jazz musicians of that era. “Body & Soul” is basically a one-off in this regard.

  11. Posted November 21, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I liked the Greek mythology cake diagram! The dog’s silly behavior could be due to young age.

  12. Hempenstein
    Posted November 22, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Ref. Dr. John and since they just played “Iko Iko” I finally looked that one up. Not surprisingly, it has its own W’pedia page.

    Here’s the original 1953 version.

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