Murderous feather dusters

Three birds of prey hunker down in the light drizzle falling on Bouchaine Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley. Rocky, a beefy Harris hawk with long white-tipped tail feathers gently preens his marbled wings while E.B., a hybrid barbary and saker falcon with a dappled white-and-brown chest, keeps his gaze trained on a row of neatly plaited grapevines. Hootbert’s eyelids flutter sleepily over his big yellow spectacled owl eyes.

~ Shoshi Parks from,

That’s worth the click just for a few close–up shots of some raptors. But also, “Hootbert”.

I once had the distinct pleasure of a too-brief visit to a Falconry school where I was repeatedly astounded. The Harris Hawk I handled was a rescue; It had a damaged toe making it unable to survive on its own. Perched on your arm they are impressive—like, “there is a dinosaur standing on my arm” impressive. It weighs nothing. When it flies in your face it’s like being beat with a feather–duster. It’s gaze and movements are so fast and focused, it seems time must run at a different speed for them. In flight it’s nearly silent, but perched, it makes little sounds rather like a chicken, rather than what you might imagine of a murderous bird of prey. They’re supremely efficient at killing, but basically dumb as a stump otherwise. It was not the least bit interested in harming me, with its razor–sharp beak and talons mere inches from my face and my [I assume] tasty eyes. However, it was 105% interested in murdering the *expletive* out of what we offered it as food. We humans come hard-wired to be afraid of snakes and falling. (I’m only afraid of three kinds of snakes: Little snakes, big snakes, and most sticks.) Harris Hawks are fairly low on the shock-and-awe scale of avian predators. Having met one, I now completely understand why other birds flee in terror.



With a core group of 12 researchers and 100 volunteers undertaking thousands of hours of work, the Ireichō was born: it is a massive book listing the names of the 125,284 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. The book is currently on display at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo.

~ Line Sidonie Talla Mafotsing from,

It happened, regardless where you stand on the United States’ treatment of persons of Japanese heritage. I honestly cannot recall if it was presented as part of my U.S. history in primary education. If it was, then I forgot. I would prefer that—as a nation—we understand our history and, as much as possible, learn from it.


Great lakes

The Great Lakes of North America’s midsection—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—together span nearly 100,000 square miles, with a combined coastline just shy of 10,000 miles. They hold more than a fifth of Earth’s unfrozen fresh water, straddle an international border, and help move more than $15 billion dollars worth of cargo each year.

~ Gemma Tarlach from,

This article didn’t strike me as particularly interesting. But after I was about half–way through reading it, it became clear it was in fact interesting. It’s worth the read. It’s worth read just to find out was a “meteotsunami” is. It’s worth read to learn about that time the water in Lake Michigan sloshed to one side and then sloshed back creating a tsunami that swept into Chic– wait, wat?!



So in a nutshell, Gömböc is cool, Hungarians are proud of it greatly. So naturally, they made a 4.5-ton statue replica of the shape.

~ Atlas Obscura from,

I could probably write a blog post about other interesting math-related puzzles and shapes that come from Hungary… or about the number of Hungarian mathematicians… but instead, I’ll just point you towards this particularly interesting thing.


Get off my star map

The plaza’s terrazzo floor is actually a celestial map that marks the time of the dam’s creation based on the 25,772-year axial precession of the earth.

~ Alexander Rose from,

These weren’t on my mind when we planned our visit, but it was a rare moment of delightful recognition when I spotted them. So often I find interesting places, and then never get there.

And sometimes I go places specifically after finding them on the Internet.


Buzz buzz buzz

Anicet Desrochers slips the small, crowbar-like tool underneath the lid of the beehive and cracks the propolis seal, a glue that bees make from resin. He puffs a smoker over the box as he pulls and examines the honeycomb frames with bare hands. The smoke, he says, disrupts the bees’ alarm pheromones, making them groggy, while also causing them to gorge on honey and nectar, a possible response to believing there is a fire. When they’re full, they’re less likely to sting.

~ Shaun Pett from,

Let me think about that… NO. But it’s a great article that explains the bee keepers’ extreme efforts to breed the Queens. Fascinating stuff.

…but I’m not putting my bare hands in no bee hives.


The ice age persists

The algific talus slopes where relic species persist are steep, built atop limestone—itself a relic from a time, half a billion years ago, when a shallow tropical sea covered what’s now the Driftless. The porous limestone is easily eroded by even slightly acidic water, including rain. As a result it holds numerous caves, sinkholes, cracks, and fissures. These networks of open spaces deep in the hillside were never compromised by glacial steamrollers, and are crucial for the “breathing”—slopes’ respiration.

~ Gemma Tarlach from,

There seems to be something special about Iowa. Pockets of Ice Age biodiversity, and Vonnegut, must somehow mean something. Atlas Obscura started as an ecclectic collection of interesting points scattered about the Earth. It’s grown to—in my opinion—rival Wikipedia in the context of places. And then it started producing these place-specific, in-depth articles.

In the endless sea of click-baity, bullet-listed, double-spaced individual sentence fragments posing as a “post” on some social network… because, honestly, a paragraph block of text just scares the shit out of too many people, so we’ll just

space out the phrases

so our feeble minds understand

what the bite-sized thoughts are supposed to be.

I digress. Over decades, I’ve found sources on the Internet that are continual fonts of wonder and joy. I follow them using RSS, and I’m better off for it.


Franklin, the state that sort of was

In 1784, before Tennessee’s slender shape had ever been imagined and drawn on a map, there were rumblings of discontent in three counties in western North Carolina : Washington, Sullivan, and Greene. These small counties were isolated from the rest of North Carolina and their governing representatives, separated by the formidable Southern Appalachian mountain range. Residents were all too aware of how the mountains they lived in and around disenfranchised their lives.

~ Madelyn Brown from,

Today, from the wait-wat?! department: There was almost-sort-of a fourteenth original state—except the Continental Congress never recognized it. Oh, geo-politics are complicated. *wry smile*

More seriously, Atlas Obscura is a terrific web site ticking off an endless list of amazing, surprising or simply interesting places on this magnificent marble we call home.


Violins are meant to sing. Literally sing.

Another finding suggests that Geminiani was onto something. All of the violins included in the study displayed some sonic overlap with the sung vowels. But in the 1570 Amati and the 1560 da Salo, “every violin note appears to carry some degree of human vowel character,” Tai et. al. write in the paper. “This may have been one of the … goals implemented by Amati” when he was inventing and perfecting his design: to make the violin literally sing.

~ Cara Giaimo from,

I don’t know why this struck me as amazing. I mean, sure, violins sound amazing, and playing them is subtly difficult. But the idea that someone sat down — in the 1500 — and said, “How do I make an instrument that sounds like a human voice singing.” Mind blown.