Category Archives: News

They All Fall Down

I found this on You Tube yesterday – got to it from one of my favorite science blogs.

This is amazing to me for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s not just the work of laying out all the dominoes.  You don’t just come in one morning and start randomly setting up dominoes.  Something of this complexity needs to be mapped out ahead of time and I means seriously mapped out.  You have to know exactly how much space you need, you need to know how much time it takes for domino trails to fall, you need to know how many of each color, you need to know how to set them up so you know what they’ll look like when they fall down… a pretty long list.

But I think one of the most amazing things is that you don’t really get to test this. It took a team of 19 individuals from around the world a week to get it all set up.  There is no test-run.  You pull the first string and then you hold your breath for the 12 minutes it takes.  You really have to have confidence in your abilities to take part in something like this.  I’m not sure I have enough obsession or emotional strength for it!

What feat of engineering do you admire?


Making Predictions

I was happy to wake up on September 24 and find that the world hadn’t ended as David Meade, biblical numerologist, had predicted. I believe he recalculated after he found things were still the same on the 24th as they were on the 23rd, and predicted another date for our demise  on  October 15th.  The rogue planet Nibiru, violating all physics principles, is predicted to collide with earth and set in motion all sorts of rannygazoo.   We shall have to see what happens. I believe that is the date of  Blevin’s book club.  At least you will all be together.

It isn’t easy to make accurate predictions.  Our world is so random that people search for certainty and cling to the idea that we can make sense of the universe. Consider poor Harold Camping,  the evangelist and radio host who made multiple predictions of the Earth’s end in 2011,  and who finally admitted in 2012 that he was sinful for even trying to make such predictions, falling back on Matthew 24:36 “of that day and hour knoweth no man”.

I am often asked as part of my work to make predictions regarding human behavior.  Psychologists have a myriad of tests and ways of making such predictions, but it is never completely 100% accurate. I know that people who score certain ways on tests of cognition and memory probably have dementia.  I know that people who score in certain ways on tests of emotions and personality probably have certain  mental health diagnoses.  I feel pretty certain predicting that parents with drug and alcohol use disorders  who previously neglected and abused their children will probably do the same thing if they continue to abuse substances.   I can  predict, however, with almost 100%  certainty, that if people are allowed to purchase machine guns, those guns will fired off.  That is probably the easiest thing to predict, and you don’t need an advanced graduate degree to do so.

When have you been able to say “I told you so”?

Waiting For The Smoke To Clear

The header photo was taken September 12, mid afternoon,  in New Town, ND. The site is the Four Bears bridge over the Missouri River, and the haze is smoke from Montana and Canadian forest fires.  It has been a long, smokey summer.  I believe that the smoke made it all the way to the Twin Cities, too. Tonight the visibility here is predicted to be about 2 miles, which is quite reduced from normal. I can’t imagine how awful it must be for people living in western Montana. All we can do is wait,  and hope for precipitation.

A friend of mine from the Flathead Reservation in Montana says that the only thing that will put out the fires is snow. I am happy to report that snow is predicted in the higher elevations out there tonight. It rained here today and it didn’t dissipate the smoke at all. All we can do is wait it out.

This has been a summer of waiting on the weather-waiting for rain that never came, waiting for it to cool down (it was 98° here yesterday) and now waiting for the smoke to go away.  It is a lesson in human insignificance and the power of nature.

What are you waiting for?

Cause and Effect

I have been greatly interested recently by pronouncements by certain individuals in the press attributing our recent weather disasters to homosexuality, gay marriage, Mitt Romney, Obama, and/or loose morals in New Orleans.  The capacity of the human mind to find causal relationships between totally unrelated things or concepts is fascinating.

According to Wikipedia  “In statistics, a spurious correlation[1][2] is a mathematical relationship in which two or more events or variables are not causally related to each other, yet it may be wrongly inferred that they are, due to either coincidence or the presence of a certain third, unseen factor (referred to as a “common response variable”, “confounding factor”, or “lurking variable“).”

There is a web site devoted to such correlations ( where you can choose the variables to see how they may be statistically related.  I always knew that there was a strong, positive correlation between the price of Jamaican rum and the average salary of Methodist ministers. Did you know, however, that there is a strong positive correlation between:

The divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine

The age of Miss America and number of murders by steam, hot vapours, and hot objects.

Per capita cheese consumption and the number of people who died by being tangled in their bed sheets.

Total revenue generated by arcades and the number of computer science doctorates awarded in the US.

What alarms me is that some people will believe anything and will try to find relationships between things that can’t possibly be related, just to support their beliefs or prejudices.  I, personally, try to remain rational and sceptical. I think I will go now and eat some bread crusts. I am trying to make my hair curly.

Come up with your own spurious correlations.

Ostrich or Monkey?

today’s post comes to us from tim.

you know i am finally there.

i don’t want to listen to the news anymore…

houston had a flood. did you hear?

donald trump had a thought… did you hear?

not only did I hear it i can’t shut it off.

my tv station in the morning plays the same story every 15 minutes from 4 am until 7 when they hand it off to the new york team who tells the national story of the day 2 or 3 times before i can get away and listen to it on the radio.

then I see all the pop ups from internet news, yahoo, google, whoever I have on my email news blasts

from huffington post or email blasts from my senators or local political folks, or people I like to hear from.

i have begun to do podcasts and downloaded music to stay away from the antimotivational news

but the twins are doing good, the lynx are wonderful again cmon lindsey whalen… and the vikings don’t suck yet. the timberwolves should be really wonderful this year. the soccer stadium is going to be fun and

the joy through sports seems shallow but it is kind of like taking pride in the guthrie theater and the minnesota orchestra or the st paul chamber orchestra the voyageurs national park, minnehaha falls or the fact that we have winter.

lots to pay attention to out there in the world. the news knows what people say they want to know about but i wonder if there would be a place for the good news station on the dial. i know i’d tune in.

what do you love most about the trail?


A Mystery

Today’s post comes from billinmpls.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the sign you see in the header photo planted on a street corner near my house. A commonplace, innocuous sign, one I might have not noticed at all except for two things:

1. Except for the picture, which looks a little impersonal- like the sort of photo that comes when you buy a picture frame, there’s no information about the dog. Nothing about the breed or his name or the neighborhood he usually calls home.

2. That curious statement, “Do not approach or chase”. Did that mean that the dog was dangerous in some way to approach?

I would likely have forgotten about the sign except that, recently, I saw the same sign in a completely different part of Minneapolis, three or four miles from where I saw the first sign. Usually when a pet is missing, you see a few signs posted  on telephone poles around the neighborhood. They’re not generally as elaborate as the two signs I had seen and they don’t usually blanket the city.

And then, when I was driving in a fairly distant northern exurb—Blaine or Coon Rapids—and I saw almost the same sign. It had a different dog photo and a different phone number, but the same layout and the same exhortation: DO NOT CHASE!

The thought struck me, “What if the signs are not about lost dogs at all?  What if they are some sort of anonymous signal to someone or some group, hiding in plain sight? After all, nobody who doesn’t recognize the sign as a signal is going to call the number if there is, in fact, no lost dog.

I had decided to keep my eyes peeled for more of these “Do Not Chase” signs and to try to discern some sort of pattern in their placement and then tried searching online to see if anyone else had noticed these curious signs. And that’s when I came across an article in a minor paper that purports to explain the mystery. It turns out that there is an organization of volunteers who make it their mission to help people recover lost pets. They call themselves “The Retrievers” and they have established a protocol for how they proceed. One thing they do is to put up signs over a very wide area. Lost dogs sometimes travel surprisingly far from their home, apparently. Another distinctive feature of their protocol is that they always urge informants not to chase the dog if they spot it. Lost dogs are stressed as a rule and in survival mode. Chasing them exacerbates that and can make them harder to find and coax into confinement.

My mystery turned out not to be especially mysterious after all. That is, unless the article in the little local paper was just a red herring to throw us off the trail. But there are other unsolved mysteries around us, mysteries that beg an explanation. Like that business that never seems to have any customers and yet has been there for years. Is it a front for something? What about that house where you’ve never seen anyone come or go? That guy you’re always seeing. Doesn’t he have to be somewhere? What’s he up to?

I was walking the dog one morning and passed by an unremarkable house. A pickup truck was in the driveway of the garage and the hood was open. One of the truck’s doors was open and the radio was on and playing an Ernest Tubb song. The back door of the house opened and an older man came out and walked toward the truck. He had on a seed cap of some sort, baggy jeans, a heavy plaid wool shirt. And red high heels. I thought to myself, “I’ll bet there’s a story there…”

Noticed anything unusual lately?

August Garden Update

  • Oh my! the Baboons have been busy in the garden in July and August. Here are some recent submissions of garden activity.

Barbara in Rivertown sends these beauties:



Reneeinned sends these:

Here is what is growing for Anna:

Here is what is growing for Jacque:

LJB sends these lovely photos:

These are photos of August gardens.  What are your plans for next summer’s gardens? What gives you hope for the future?