Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Closing tabs

I can scarcely believe I just wasted an entire day reading stuff. "It never rains but pours" I guess...

1. Read Wells Tower's brilliant article about traveling with his dad in Iceland and Greenland. There are no satisfactory options re pagination, but the print version is the least bad. I won't excerpt anything because I can't decide what to, and because you really have no excuse for not reading the whole thing. NB Tower's prose is good but too heavy on obvious special effects. "Under a sky the color of..." appears at least twice, and various natural formations are compared to various kinds of candy, only once to possibly good effect:
Spilling from between a pair of russet crags, the dirty tongue of ice had a roasted look about it, like a charred marshmallow, pallid innards oozing forth.

2. Applied broetry: the Facebook terms of service in bro-speak.

3. Marina Warner on Tracey Emin (LRB). A fine lead-in:
Quilts used to be made from baskets of scraps; old clothes were cut up, the worn and stained bits discarded, the best parts kept for reuse. Every household where a woman lived had such a container – a midden of memories – and when the scraps had become a patchwork quilt, spotting this old dress or that old pair of curtains or that old cushion was part of the pleasure of the bed, a domestic pleasure. The quilt became history, the equivalent of an itinerant storyteller’s painted roll.

4. A nice exhibit on Palladio and his influence in Britain. Architecture is a little outside my usual limits but I have always been fond of Pope's epistle to Burlington on architecture. Exhibit includes some useful information about Burlington and his houses.

5. Fascinating article in Nature News about the search for chimpanzee culture:
Some chimps dance slowly at the beginning of rain showers, others don't; some use long sticks to dig up army ants; others use short sticks. In West Africa, some chimp groups hammer nuts with a stone or a piece of wood to open them. But east of the river Nzo-Sassandra, which cuts across Côte d'Ivoire, only one group has been seen cracking nuts. [...] Deciphering culture in the wild is difficult because researchers must ensure that behavioural differences between groups do not have other causes, such as variation in genetics or environmental conditions. "Why is it all chimps don't do everything? One solution is that there are hidden ecological differences between populations," says primatologist Richard Wrangham at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A behaviour could be linked to any number of variables such as amount of rainfall, the types of tree available, or the kinds of predator in the area, he says.

These influences can be subtle, as researchers found while studying how chimps use sticks to harvest army ants. Chimpanzees in Guinea sometimes use short sticks and sometimes use sticks up to twice as long. No reason for this was obvious until Tatyana Humle, an anthropologist at the University of Kent, UK, found that some ants are more aggressive, with longer legs and larger mandibles; they run up sticks quicker and bite harder5. This might explain why chimps elsewhere in Africa also choose tools of varying lengths to get at ants.

But researchers have not been able to find obvious explanations for other variations related to ant harvesting. Chimpanzees in Cote d'Ivoire sweep the ants off their sticks and into their palms before eating; in Guinea, only about 320 kilometres away, the animals stick the ant-laden sticks directly into their mouths. The same type of ant is present in both places.

6. Also in this week's Nature, presumably gated, an article about how the coffee-stain effect (i.e., the ring-like shapes of coffee stains, prev. posts here and here) does not exist for ellipsoidal (M&M shaped) colloidal particles [Nature 476, 308 (2011)]. I don't fully follow the argument but the basic idea is that repulsive interactions among the particles keep the solute from moving outward with the fluid.

7. Seventeenth-century drinking habits revisited, at the Awl. (See here for prev.)
Nor need it seem incredible, that common drunkards should drink thus, for they can disgorge themselves at pleasure, by only putting their finger to their throat, and they will vomit, as if they were so many live whales spewing up the ocean; which done, they can drink afresh.
Re spewing whales see also: ambergris, Simon Armitage

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