Because, you see, if you’re going from one Marshall to another Marshall and you miss, there’s nothing to stop you for thousands of miles. Except death.
So how did they go past the horizon … tens of miles outside of sight of land … under sail power … and not miss?
(Now, the islanders had stick charts — a form of map of the islands — but where the heck did they get those???).
The human interest story is that older wave-pilots trained younger wave-pilots. Then modern technology came along, and that training became scarce. The the Cold War intervened and disrupted training. In 2003 the last wave-pilot died. All that was left was a 55 year old who had apprenticed as a boy. He renewed his skills alone, and had trained his cousin.
The science story is that scientists went out on the boats with these guys and dismissed all the easy answers as to how they get from island to island.
They’re not sure, but they’ve settled on an unusual answer. The wave-pilots swear they are following invisible “roads” they call backbones that lead from island to island. Legend had it they were put there by the gods.
Many cultures have legends that humans get unsettling symptoms in the presence of the divine. In the Marshalls, they say:
The di lep feels like pidodo …
That translates to:
The backbone feels like diarrhea …
The scientists couldn’t feel the backbone. They just got seasick, and watched their GPS data as the wave-pilots felt the backbones and followed them safely from island to island.
Then they compared their GPS data to data on swells. What they found was that the swells were influenced by the underwater seamounts the atolls sit on. When the swells hit an island they reflect back off of it. The creates outgoing counterswells to the ingoing swells.
The wave pilots are not dead reckoning at all. Instead, they have recognized that the backbones that run from island to island can be followed by steering in the direction that maximizes your rocking (and chances of seasickness) as the counterswells interfere with the swells. This is true even when the backbones are comprised of segments — each coming from the swell hait a different island — that appear to curve or arc from one island to another.
There’s a story here for economics. Economists presume humans are optimizers. The islanders had figured out that maximizing seasickness is the key to navigating their domain.
That’s an interesting point, given that humans started setting out over the horizon perhaps 60,000 years ago.
Contemporary obesity rates have never made much sense to me: there are too many just-so stories to explain it. And all of them seem to feature bad guys wearing black hats: gluten, agribusiness, high fructose corn syrup, weak morals, and so on.
A somewhat different one that’s always gotten me is that obese people aren’t getting enough exercise. Every spent some time around an obese person? The heavy breathing, sweating, and weariness look to me a whole lot like they’re getting more exercise doing normal things than the rest of us are.
All of this raises a provocative question. “It is so accepted that obesity is bad for you, but why is it bad for you?” Dr. Virtue says. “If I put a 50-pound weight on your back and asked you to walk around all day, you would be a superhealthy person.”
Continuing research on leptin (you know, the hormone they made the hugely fat mice with years ago) is pointing in new directions. But it isn’t leptin that’s the direct issue. Instead, it’s the amount of fatty tissue people have.
Fat people develop metabolic disorders because their brain is driving them to eat more food than their bodies can store as fat. Their fat tissue has reached its limit. …
This is also why some people find that their metabolic disorders improve with just a small weight loss — they are eating less and their fat tissue can respond properly.
It also explains why 10 percent to 20 percent of obese people never develop metabolic disorders, Dr. Scherer said. These so-called healthy obese are like his fat mice, with an unusual ability to expand their fat tissue to store calories.
A good hallmark of something that isn’t a just-so story is that it provides a symmetrical explanation. In this case, obese people without metabolic disorders are those with more fatty tissue to begin with, while thin people with metabolic disorders are those with less fatty tissue to begin with.
Do note that I keep writing “fatty tissue” rather than fat. Fatty tissue stores fat properly so that it doesn’t make the body sick. So if your fat storage works properly, and there’s enough of it … you don’t get metabolic syndrome.
And here’s some totally weird supporting evidence:
… The mice … had almost no fat tissue. And like her, they developed all of the conditions associated with obesity.
What would happen, the researchers asked, if the mice had a bit more fat tissue?
They transplanted fat tissue into the rodents, and two weeks later, the mice had normal levels of glucose, insulin and triglycerides. Their livers and muscles went back to normal, too.
If that worked, the scientists wondered, could a limitless amount of fat tissue prevent the syndrome, even if copious amounts of fat were stored in that tissue?
… They engineered mice that could make an almost limitless amount of fat tissue. As a result, there was no end to the amount of fat the animals could store. They were, Dr. Scherer said, “the fattest mice under the sun, the mouse equivalent of an 800-pound human being.”
If you’re in satellite view in Google Earth, and you’re far enough north, moving your cursor from left to right causes the image to partially rotate.
This is actually accurate. The closer you are to the equator, the closer a latitude is to linear within the distance displayed within the width of your browser. But, the further north you get, the more it matters that latitude is not actually a line, but rather a ring going around a globe.
Here’s an example: go check out something like Brock Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Click through the latitude and longitude at the top right, and choose Google’s satellite view. Now zoom out, and try moving your mouse left and right.
This is actually even cooler than I thought.
If you zoom out enough you can actually use this to chart great circle routes.
And, because you can adjust the position of the planet, you can adjust positioning so great circle routes appear as straight lines or arcs.
For example, I tilted it enough to see why the Titanic took the route that it did: a great circle from Queenstown almost all the way to Newfoundland.
Check out the bottom panel. This year’s line is the pink one, while black is the average. It was an average year up through the first week of February, and then below average after that. That corresponds to our last major snowstorm — a real doozy in the first week of February that produced the first snow day for the kids since the 1950’s.
I conclude from this that our perception of drought in southern Utah matches that in the southern Sierras. I’ll have to bookmark this link to Sierra snowpack for future reference.
This is from a children’s book published in North Korea. It clearly shows a child running with an assault rifle, another child with a pistol who appears to be in charge, and another with an assault rifle with a bayonet fixed.
One might make excuses that this is page shows toys. And maybe the assault rifle in the foreground and the pistol are toys … but I have never, ever, anywhere, seen a toy bayonet.
This is drawn from the personal archives of a cultural anthropologist from Japan. He collects refuse from North Korea to learn about its culture. The photo is from a children’s book that was thrown away.
I think the other people in my family are unusually interested in daylight saving time. This site will help me with some inevitable questions.
But the graphics are tough. Here’s one. It shows the hours of daylight in light blue. The year goes horizontally, so summer is in the middle of each panel. The hour of the day goes vertically — with evening at the top. So thickness in the middle is long summer days.
The panel on the left shows no daylight saving time. The panel on the rights shows what daylight saving time does: shifts a little bit of evening into the morning.
Then there’s this one. It shows day of the year across the horizontal axis — so northern summer is in the middle. Vertically, it shows latitude from south pole to north pole — so the horizontal blue line approximates the continental U.S. The shading shows daylight: white is the most, yellow quite a bit, blue is less than half, and gray is none at all.
Days getting longer and shorter is then the transition of colors going left to right. In the U.S., our short days of winter transit into long days of summer and back again.
This emphasizes something I became acutely aware of when I moved to the almost always sunny high desert of Utah: the transition from short days of winter to long days of summer happens really rapidly. This is the steep slope at the border between the blues and greens and yellows.
All this leads to this chart. The left panel is sunrise, and the right panel is sunset. Browner means less sun, and yellower means more sun.
So in Utah, where I live now, daylight saving time makes for darker mornings (our mountains just to the east make that worse — the sun comes over them about 8:35 in midwinter), and sunnier evenings.
For my part, daylight saving time always reminds me of moving from Buffalo, New York — along the far western border of the eastern time zone, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama — along the eastern border of central time. I was shocked at how early the sun set in the winter in Alabama — you’d start to notice it dimming about 3:45 in the afternoon.
And you can clearly see that in the last panel on the right: Alabama is one of the brownest places at sunset, indicating early darkness. I guess at that age (I was around 25) that I never got up early enough to notice the bright, early, mornings in Alabama.
This video debunks some of the claims made in anti-fracking videos that flaming water supplies in the northeast are a new thing that was caused by fracking. This video notes that people have been able to do that for ages.
I find this interesting because I can take you to a spot in a public park in upstate New York where you can light a creek on fire. Heck, I did it about a hundred times as a boy. There was even an old tire rim there with which you could corral the flames; put a pot on that and you could boil water. I’ve even put live crawfish in there, boiled them, and eaten them.
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