Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday, February 17, 2019, and we have 1-3 inches of snow predicted for Chicago today. It’s National Café au Lait Day, another blatant instance of cultural appropriation. It’s also the Catholic Feast Day of Saint Fintan of Clonenagh.

On this day in 1600, philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive in Rome for denying Catholic doctrines, including the virginity of Mary. It’s a good thing the Church no longer has such power.  Exactly 201 years later, there was a tie in the U.S. Electoral College between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr for President of the U.S. A vote in the House of Representatives resolved it, and you know how.  On February 17, 1863, the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, later known as the International Committee of the Red Cross, was founded in Geneva.

On this day in 1867, the first ship passed through the Suez Canal. In 1904, Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” was premiered at La Scala in Milan.  On February 17, 1949, Chaim Weizmann took up his job as Israel’s first President.  In 1980, two Polish climbers, Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy, made the first winter ascent of Mount Everest.  Since then Polish climbers have specialized in winter climbs of “eight thousanders.”  Finally, on this day in 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov beat the Deep Blue supercomputer, and went on to win the match. The next year, however, the computer defeated Kasparov in a match.

Here’s a video of Kasparov’s defeat in 1997, showing how the computer did the playing:

Notables born on this day include Banjo Paterson (1864), geneticist Ronald Fisher (1890), Duane Gish (1921), Chaim Potok (1929), Alan Bates and Barry Humphries (both 1934), Christina Pickles (1935), Gene Pitney (1940), Huey P. Newton (1942), Larry the Cable Guy and Michael Jordan (both 1963), and Paris Hilton (1981).

Those who packed it in on February 17 include Giordano Bruno (1600, see above), Molière (1673), Jan Swammerdam (1680), Heinrich Heine (1856), Geronimo (1909), Thelonious Monk and Lee Strasberg (both 1982),  Randy Shilts (1994), and Billy Cowsill (2006, note that Wikipedia gives his date of death as February 18!).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sees the demise of paper:

Hili: Paper clips do not have any future.
A: But they have a rich past
In Polish:
Hili: Spinacze nie mają przyszłości.
Ja: Ale mają bogatą przeszłość.

Here’s a biologically informed and hilarious “meme” sent by reader Tom:

A tweet from reader Gethyn, who, with his partner Laurie, will become parents of two black kittens today. He asked me if this is real and all I could say is, “Well, it might be; we don’t know what the dolphins are experiencing.” Read the linked article:

Reader Nilou sent another tweet from the Tower of London’s Raven Master. I didn’t know that ravens had moustaches and beards.

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. Kakapos, New Zealand’s flightless parrots, are famous for “booming”, with males making loud noises to attract distant females. Sinbad was booming but didn’t want to be disturbed:

But then he got a treat: an almond. Oy, do I love these birds!

Tweets from Matthew. This finding is amazing, even more so than the recent discovery that falcons are more closely related to parrots than to hawks and eagles. Horseshoe crabs ARE arachnids: a sister group to one specific clade of spiders. As the paper below says:

In spite of uncertainty in the placement of some arachnid clades, all analyses show Xiphosura consistently nested within Arachnida as the sister group to Ricinulei (hooded tick spiders).

Is this normal in Ireland???

Another novel finding: sea snakes have light-sensing ability in their tails. Apparently this helps them hide their tails to avoid predators when lurking among the reefs. Read the linked blurb from

Tweets from Grania. This white cat can’t catch a break.

Is it any surprise that this cat lies atop a warm espresso machine?

I had no idea that rays did this. There are other hypotheses, of course, including parasite removal and communication.



  1. chrism
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I think you’ll find Madama Butterfly premiered in 1904, not 1804.

  2. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Jeez, those acrobatic rays are incredible. Specially those at the end of the clip doing somersaults.


    • JezGrove
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Agreed, absolutely amazing. Some real belly flops in there too – ouch!

      • merilee
        Posted February 17, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        You beat me to the belly flop ouches😬

      • DrBrydon
        Posted February 17, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        I was wondering, perhaps it’s the size of the splash from the belly-flop that is attractive?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

          It could well be. Some of them look as if they’re deliberately landing as flat as they can.


  3. mikeb
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    That parrot is clearly imitating a Marmota monax.

  4. Dr Hakim
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    On this day El Hajj Malk Shabazz America’s Independent Thinker was assassinated.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      Nope, Malcolm X was murdered on 21st February – anniversary is next Thursday.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    The problem of the tie for president in 1800 was fixed a few years later with the 12th amendment, which is useless today. The contest for most despicable vice president would be between Aaron Burr and Spiro Agnew.

    • John Dentinger
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      No argument on AB & SA, but Mike Pence deserves some consideration as well.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted February 17, 2019 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        Yes, he could certainly be entered but should probably wait until out of office. He may still become president for a short time which would put him in the contest for most despicable president.

        • Christopher
          Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          Ol Dick “shoot ya in the face” Cheney deserves at least an honorable mention, and Dan “ Mr. Potatoe Head” Quayle still gets the golden dunce cap.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:41 am | Permalink

            I know, there are many runner’s up. But Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton and while Burr was VP. Agnew carried on his corrupt New Jersey ways even in the White house with bag men bringing the money into his office. He gave up the job just in time before he would have been president, thanks to federal investigators.

            • Carl
              Posted February 17, 2019 at 9:50 am | Permalink

              Agnew may have had corrupt NJ ways, but he performed them in Maryland. IIRC, his 1967? election to MD governorship was somewhat lucky in that he ran against two Democrats who split what was usually a heavy Democrat majority. Despite all I’ve forgotten since then, I can still hear his election jingle that seemed to run incessantly on DC area TV news.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                Thanks for correcting that for me…Maryland, not New Jersey. I believe it was Feds in Baltimore that uncovered his doings under the attorney general.

              • Hempenstein
                Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:08 am | Permalink

                Ha! I was thinking about that jingle, too, before reading your comment.

              • Sarah
                Posted February 17, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

                There was a typical Bob Hope joke around that time, typical in that it had more than one punch line. Quoting from memory: “A terrible thing has happened. There’s been a fire in Spiro Agnew’s library–and both of his books were destroyed! And he hadn’t even finished coloring in one of them!”

              • merilee
                Posted February 17, 2019 at 11:41 am | Permalink

                With Trump it would be his only book…

              • Anonymous
                Posted February 17, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

                Even more interesting to me, as I google around now, was a then unknown aspect to the small scale (by current standards) kick-back scheme, an attempt to obstruct the investigation by the US Attorney’s office. Sounds vaguely similar to current events.

              • Carl
                Posted February 17, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

                (First attempt not loaded, even after erasing cookies?).
                Now that I’m googling around, an even more interesting aspect was the attempt to obstruct the US Attorney’s investigation, apparently unknown at that time or even long afterwards. Sounds vaguely familiar..

            • Posted February 17, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

              Someone should write “Juicy US History”. The amusing stuff is never taught at school!

            • Posted February 17, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

              Great animal photos and videos today!

              • Posted February 17, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, this should not have been a reply.

  6. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    It’s funny, I just watched Cosmos that had Bruno in it. They glossed over the specifics of what Bruno rejected, while still saying he objected to something about the faith.

    Also playing chess today and wondered who went first in the game of the century, now I wonder “who” went first – Deep Blue or Kasparov? I’ll look for it…

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Wikipedia has GotC :

      “1. Nf3

      A noncommittal move by Byrne. From here, the game can develop into a number of different openings.

      Source :

      Kasparov v Deep Blue
      1996 game:

      1. e4 c5 2. c3

      It is more common to play 2.Nf3, but Kasparov has deep experience with that line, so White’s opening book goes in a different direction. The IBM team determined the opening moves played by Deep Blue.

      1997 game :

      Looks like Kasparov, Nf3

      There’s more, of course. Interesting articles there…

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      I notice occasionally that my comment is awaiting moderation- does that mean my comments are getting me in trouble?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        > 2 links in one post: automatically goes to moderation – an anti-spam measure.

        1 or 2 links & it’ll post immediately.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted February 17, 2019 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          I see – thank you.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Is this normal in Ireland???

    If so, “clean-up needed on Isle 5” must be a dread announcement for Irish department-store clerks to hear.

  8. merilee
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 9:40 am | Permalink


  9. Hempenstein
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Weizmann was also a real scientist – a biochemist who developed a bacterial route to acetone that was of significance to the war effort.

  10. Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Notables born on this day include Banjo Paterson (1864)

    I’m guessing they named the musical instrument after him.

  11. Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Arcade Fire’s Song “Deep Blue” is about the 1996 match.

  12. rickflick
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “video of Kasparov’s defeat”
    The voice-over ends saying “…but the computer can’t think like humans do.” I wonder what he means by that. What IS thinking, anyway? Why aren’t computers capable of thinking? I suppose he’s just trying to be reassuring.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Having built the self-taught AlphaGo – the Go players nightmare – we are none the wiser re “thinking” & it can’t tell us why it plays a particular crazy, but brilliant [it turns out] move. We will be the thicko cousin ‘left behind’ monkey mechanics to such machines one day soon, but probably not for long after that unless they’re fond of pets.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 17, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        So thinking is the ability to explain your motives. Er…I do hope they are fond of pets.

    • Posted February 18, 2019 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      One of the McGill professors I knew about as an undergraduate was involved in the Deep Blue project. It works by a very psychologically implausible process (effectively deep searches with pruning rather than the whatever it is humans do). Is this a necessary approach? For the moment it seems to be. Will it be so forever? I would think not; in fact Alpha seems to show not.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 18, 2019 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        We know from Go & poker AI programs that exploring all possible branches in the decision tree is slow & gets slower into the middle of a game, very inefficient & decision space is vast. Too vast. Quantum computing will not solve this because they are useful only in very constrained problems.

        Machine learning neural network [with a bit of tree search thrown in] is the only way we know of to advance beyond brute force tree searching. I don’t think anybody has a clue where to go with AI h/ware s/ware beyond that. Perhaps an AI will bootstrap past that. 🙂

        • rickflick
          Posted February 18, 2019 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          I’m holding out for a simulated brain with simulated neurons. Maybe even largely meat grown in a bell jar. As soon as we find out how our brains work, we can provide them with the same algorithms – no extensive tree searches required. An android of some kind. They will be smarter than humans, of course, since that would be their purpose – to help solve the BIG problems. Would they have souls? Good question. Should they be allowed to vote and run for public office? Would you let your child marry one?

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted February 19, 2019 at 6:05 am | Permalink

            I’m thinking brains might need to grow & develop rather than being built in one lump & programmed. Maybe there’s a problem with connecting billions of neurones all in one go & growing is the only way.

            • Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:32 am | Permalink

              For what little it is worth Turing thought so, and there are a few other AI and AL people who have thought so.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

                Thank you Keith & I hope it’s some sort of universal fact of thermodynamics or information theory or whatevs. A universe where one brain could manufacture limitless ‘like minded’ functional copies is not where I’d want to be! Same goes for Star Trek style transporter technology which is a potential route to ‘beaming’ many copies from one original [though I gather the enormous energies needed to build one copy would generate enough heat to destroy the copy & then some by orders of magnitude so no worries]

            • rickflick
              Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              Most likely.

  13. Hempenstein
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    And very cool about horseshoe crabs falling in with Arachnids! The power of sequence comparisons / molecular-based phylogenetic analysis!

  14. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 3:29 pm | Permalink


    Horseshoe crabs ARE arachnids: a sister group to one specific clade of spiders.

    I can’t vouch for errors. But the work is a real tour de force – especially liked the quartet methods to resolve (putative incomplete lineage sorting caused) networks into branching – and they crossed most of the t’s I would like to see looked at.

    So my world shrunk. But also widened, because some of the close lineages likes water mites have also returned to the sea. And the sister clade of hooded tickspiders (Ricinulei) was new for me, apparently they are thick shelled too.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 18, 2019 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      If you have access to the paper (I don’t) was there any mention of whether they have genes for spider silk?

  15. Nobody Special
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    The kid with the horse reminded me of a scene from the movie, The Commitments.
    Jimmy Rabbitte, the group’s manager, is in a lift (elevator) on the ground floor of a high-rise in Dublin. Before the doors can close a boy starts to get in with his horse.
    Jimmy: You’re not bringing that thing in here, are you?
    Boy: I’ve got to, mister, the feckin’ stairs’ll kill him.

    • merilee
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      I can’t remember if my dad was perpetrator or victim in this story, but in college some guys led a horse up a flight or two of stairs and left it in some poor sucker’s dorm room. Apparently it’s much harder to get a horse down stairs than up stairs.

      Btw, loved everything about The Commitments!

      • Nobody Special
        Posted February 18, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        One of my favourite films. There are very few white singers able to sing soul authentically, but Andrew Strong’s vocals are so good he makes Michael Bolton sound even worse than he already is, and I’ve always thought that Bolton sounds like he’s suffering a strangulated hernia!
        My daughter once asked me why Bolton hated soul music so much. When I asked what she meant, she said that she’d been listening to the radio and heard him murder When A Man Loves A Woman.

  16. Kieran
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Normal for Ireland, no. That’s my local Tesco and I’ve never seen a horse in it before. Usually the horse is outside

    • Anonymous
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Forgot about how much swearing is in that video, watch at your own risk

    • kieran
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Apologies, I forgot how much swearing is involved in that video, viewer discretion is advised

    • merilee
      Posted February 17, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink


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