Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Archeologists find 35,000 year old flute

This isn't the first evidence of ancient music making, not by a long way, but it's further corroboration that it wasn't just a phenomenon restricted to one or two small communities. It makes you wonder, what is it that causes people to make music? I mean, I've been surrounded by music my whole life -- when you consider my social and family background the only thing that's remarkable about the fact that I play instruments is that I didn't start until I was 16 -- but these people didn't have radios or written music to inspire them. What makes someone start playing a little ditty, or singing a tune, if they've never heard music before? I suppose music could have been an everyday part of human life even then, but it must have started at some point.

Did someone get a tune stuck in their head one day and have to invent music to play it? Did someone start jamming to the rhythm of flint knapping? Or were animal skin-clothed early humans singing along with the birds, like some kind of surreal disney movie?

And what the hell is music, when you get down to it?


In other news, I've learned today that if you're half asleep a cat sneezing sounds rather a lot like a silenced pistol. I woke up terrified that I was being assassinated, then I remembed that suppressed weapons are actually only marginally quieter than normal guns, not the muffled sneezing noise you hear in films.

Monday, June 22, 2009


A while ago I was editing an article about the history of the city of Cleveland--Yes, exciting, I know--when I came across the following statement.

"As an industrial city, Cleveland had always experienced problems related to pollution. The city hit a low point, however, in the summer of 1969 when the Cuyahoga River, which flows through the city, caught fire."

The state of the river is evocatively described in this TIME article from 1969.

Today I came across two articles in the New York Times which made me happy. The first is from the twentieth anniversary of the fire in 1989, and is titled "River Not Yet Clean, but It's Fireproof".

The second was published today, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the fire, with the less funny but more optimistic title "From the Ashes of ’69, a River Reborn".

I've not really got anything to add to this, I just thought I'd link some interesting articles.


Thursday, June 11, 2009


I few days ago I was browsing the internets for things of interest when I came across someone in a string of blog comments on some animal welfare topic saying "well of course, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals kill 95% of the animals they take in". Now I'm not usually one to pay much attention to what people write in news/youtube/popular blog comments -- that way madness lies -- but this poster supplied a link to back this potentially slanderous statement up. The link was to a website called - a name which, I have to say, didn't exactly make me think "well, they sound like they'll have a fair and balanced view on the subject".

The stats seemed to be superfically sound but I didn't have anything to compare them to (what do I know about what an acceptable level of euthanasia is?) and the source they gave to back it up was A. a pdf file, and B. too long and complicated for me to bother sifting through. Not wanting to leave this unquestioned, however, I typed various permutations of "PETA 95 percent really" until I found this blog post. Like me, the writer was rather suspicious of any website with such an obviously heavy-duty agenda, but unlike me, the writer had rather more time to investigate. The result, interestingly (and I checked his figures against the VDACS reports) seems to be that yes, PeTA do indeed euthanize the vast majority of the animals they take in, far more than the state average. Additionally it would seem that they do some distinctly shaky reporting in order to make this statistic look lower than it is.

I'd be interested to know whether this is the result of policy or just a small-scale aberration, none of the PeTA shelters seem to be very big operations -- dwarfed by the ASPCA and Humane Society ones -- so it could be that they've just got a few injection-happy staff members. Either way, it's pretty alarming for an organization that claims to support animal rights, even one as morally dubious as PeTA.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Racing Ladas

If there's one thing more prone to wild tangents than a wikisurf, it's a two-man wikisurf. This occurs when two people, both sitting at computers, start sending each other links of things they've found, sometimes an interesting seam of pages is found and both individuals go exploring.

Today, for some reason, my dad linked me the wiki page which lists to the drag coefficient of various cars. From there, I found this strange car, which led, via various other things, to my dad discovering this equally strange car. The last discovery left us baffled, a soviet racing car? Does this mean they had auto racing in the soviet union?

The answer, we learned, was yes. Some races were done with little sports cars like the ZIL, some were done with reverse-engineered versions of the formula 1 cars of the time, but most were touring-car style races done with ordinary saloons. This means that while the decadent west witnessed 200mph showdowns between ford GT40s and Porche 917s, on the other side of the iron curtain people were racing trabants, ladas, yugos, and Zaporozhets (which had mighty 26hp air-cooled engines*). There are a whole load of pictures of these races here.

When you consider that people race snails, beltsanders, and lawnmowers, it makes you wonder if there's some sub-set of the human (generally male) population that are born with an overpowering urge to race things. I suppose we won't know until we find the first fossil evidence of a neolithic tire-wall.

We then discovered the Soviet Jet Train, and it got even stranger from there.

*In the Soviet Union there was a widespread (but sadly not true) urban legend that the engines of Zaporozhets were starter motors from old tanks.