Friday: Hili dialogue

May 25, 2018 • 6:30 am

Good day, friends; it’s Friday, May 25, 2018, and the beginning of a three-day weekend in the U.S. (Memorial Day). But there’s no rest for Duck Tenders; the little ones need to be fed.

It’s a great culinary holiday for humans: National Wine Day, and I may crack a bottle of aged Rioja. Douglas Adams fans will also know it’s Towel Day, and if you know that you may want to celebrate another holiday today: Geek Pride Day.

On this day in 1521, the Diet of Worms ended (I bet the participants were greatly relieved when they could eat real food) when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, declared Martin Luther to be an outlaw. On May 25, 1878, the Gilbert and Sullivan opera H.M.S. Pinafore opened in London.  Exactly 17 years later, Oscar Wilde was convicted of homosexual behavior (“acts of gross indecency”) and was sentenced to two years in prison, which broke him.

A banner day in the history of teaching evolution; on this day in 1925, John Scopes was indicted in Dayton, Tennessee for teaching that humans evolved. This day in 1955 saw the first ascent of Kangchenjunga (8,586 m.), the third-highest mountain in the world (do you know the second?). A British expedition led by Charles Evans put Joe Brown, George Band on the summit on this day, followed by Norman Hardie and Tony Streather on May 26. On May 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy declared before Congress that the U.S. would put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. We did! Here’s what he said (the Moon part starts at 2:22):

On May 25, 1977, Star Wars was released in theaters. I still haven’t seen it. And on this day 7 years ago, Oprah Winfrey aired her last show after 25 years on television. No tears from me.

Today’s Google Doodle (below) celebrates the Chinese-American cinematographer James Wong Howe, nominated ten times for an Oscar (he won twice, for Hud and The Rose Tattoo). From C|Net:

Howe worked on more than 130 films during his career, including the 1934 comedy-mystery The Thin Man. The movie, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, was added to the US National Film Registry in 1997, having been deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Howe, who served as cinematographer on the movie, was honored Friday with a Google Doodle on the anniversary of the film’s release.

. . . This doodle was scheduled to run a year ago, but was withheld out of respect when Hurricane Harvey struck the South.

“Though we don’t usually run Doodles more than once, Howe left such a unique and indelible mark on American cinema that we decided to run the Doodle this year on the anniversary of the release of one of his most notable works,” Google said in a statement.

Notables born on this day include Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Ralph Waldo Emerson (both 1803), Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878), Igor Sikorsky (1889), Beverly Sills (1929), and Anne Heche (1969). Those who died on this day includes William Paley (1805), photographer Robert Capa (1954), and Sloan Wilson (2003; father of Group Selection Fanatic David Sloan Wilson).

Capa was a brave man, and one of the few photographers who went ashore with troops on D-Day, snapping pictures under fire. Here’s the US. landing on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944:



Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, for once Cyrus is smarter than Hili:
Hili: The more I think the more pessimistic I am.
Cyrus: Stop thinking.
In Polish:
Hili: Im dłużej myślę, tym bardziej jestem pesymistyczna.
Cyrus: Przestań myśleć.

Up in Winnipeg, Gus is enjoying the balmy weather:

Grania says that this is an important use of Twitter. When you vote you will see the results:

The Monty Hall problem, whose solution (switch doors if you see one that you didn’t choose opened without a prize behind), is counterintuitive. I’ve never seen the problem instantiated in real life beyond the game show, but here it is. Many people still don’t believe you should switch doors, but I will bet anyone $50 (one person) that it’s the best strategy. Switching burritos gave this guy a higher chance of getting the steak.

What should have been the Trump/Kim Jong-un summit coin. I tried to order one of the real ones yesterday, but the website was overloaded.


What is a group of wolverines called?

Drosophila costumes! One has a white-eye mutation.

Vestiges of evolution:

A sarcastic remark:

And a burning question:

From reader Barry:

And from reader Dennis:

46 thoughts on “Friday: Hili dialogue

  1. Great – down the mountain Wikipedia rabbit hole…

    … Stephen Fry reads HHTTG – you will not be disappointed. Get the audio book.

  2. The “sarcastic comment” on the Pacific reminds me of the line from “Atlantic City” that was so beautifully delivered by Burt Lancaster: “The Atlantic ocean was something then. You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”

  3. … the Chinese-American cinematographer James Wong Howe, nominated ten times for an Oscar (he won twice, for Hud and The Rose Tattoo) …

    Both those Oscar-winners shot in black & white. The Rose Tattoo, adapted from the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, was filmed here in Key West, on Duval Street, a block from where I now sit.

  4. The second highest, of course, is K2, known only by its surveyors designation (Karakoram 2). A pyramid of stone, much harder than Everest.

    (It is also reputedly known as ‘Keitu’ but that is just the local rendition of ‘K2’).

    There was an attempt made to name it Mt Godwin-Austen after ??the surveryor-general of India?? but the name didn’t stick.

    By the way, the average height of the Karakorams is considerably higher than the average height of the Himalayas.


    1. (Why no native name? I would conjecture because, unlike Everest and most notably Kanchenjunga, it is not visible from any inhabited area).


    2. I’ve just checked Wikipedia, I’d better correct an error, Godwin-Austen was an explorer and a surveyor in the Survey of India but never Surveyor-General.


    3. Yes, it is K2, above nearest sea level, that is.
      However, I’ve heard that due to the Earth being an oblong spheroid (slightly flattening towards the poles, a difference of 27 km pole to Equator, IIRC), the top of Mount Aconcagua in the Andes is furthest from the Earth’s centre, and is therefore -arguably- the highest mountain top.

      1. I’ve also heard people measure from “phase transitions” or the like, so the undersea mountains are bigger in that sense.

        You have to include the bit about the phase transitions or to be fair one has to measure Everest and the rest from the sea floor too.

        Related, my cousin Vance a few years ago was doing “sea-level to peak” climbing. Ouch, since of course he was doing the big ones too.

      2. Actually, it isn’t Aconcagua, it’s Chimborazo, but for the same reason. (As noted in Wikipedia
        and, by extraordinary coincidence, the latest xkcd What-if page
        – see reference 12 on that page)

        When I said K2 was much harder, though, I wasn’t referring to height but to difficulty of climbing it. First climbed in 1954, a year after Everest, but the second ascent was 23 years later.


  5. Dog nostrils have similar slits that alter circulation of air and odorant molecules in the nose, and thus maximize scent detection and spatial localization.

    1. Can you please tell me what you mean when you say that the slits maximize spatial localization?

      1. I am not sure how it works, but dogs can localize better than we can where in space an odor is coming from – like how we can hear or see it, where as often odors to us seem to be “everywhere”.

      2. The fluid dynamics and arrangement of olfactory epithelium within the canine nasal cavity are such that the odorants (type, concentration, etc.) received by each nostril can be processed separately and compared. Humans have some ability to localize odors (there have been experiments in which subjects follow a trail of chocolate scent across a field), but nothing like a dog’s ability to do so. Here’s a link to an article on the fluid dynamics in a dog nose:

  6. The solution to the Monty Hall problem sheds its counter-intuitive nature, I think, if one imagines a stage with 10 doors. After you’ve made your pick, Monty opens eight and offers you a swap. The problem is the same — only the odds have changed (from 2-1 to 9-1) — but most people intuitively grasp the advantage to switching.

    The key, of course, is that Monty knows which door has the goat behind it and purposefully avoids opening it.

    1. After analyzing it, I don’t find it counter-intuitive. Monty is actually improving your odds as much as he can. Your original pick only had a 1/3 chance of being correct, 2/3 chance it was one of the other 2 doors and Monty just told you, if so, which one of those it must be.


      1. I never found it counterintuitive. You know the one revealed is one of the three without the prize (steak or otherwise). It is obvious you change your chances from 1 in 3 to 2 in 3 when you change. (there is one chance in 3 you chose the right one, 2 chances in 3 you chose the wrong one. After revealing one which is not the prize, you still have 2 in 3 chances you chose the wrong one, so 2 chances in three the non revealed and non chosen one is the prize) What is counterintuitive about that?

        1. OK, I’ll try and explain one obvious fallacy. If Monty opened a ‘goat’ door *before* you choose then you’ve a 50-50 chance between the other two doors. Why is that different if he opens the door later?

          Answer – because which door he opens is contingently dependent on your choice. That procedure alters the odds. (Before you choose, there were two possible doors he could open – say B and C. Say he mentally earmarked B. After you choose, (and you had a 1/3 chance of choosing B), he may have to change which door he opens.)


    2. Jerry owes me $50!!!! The correct answer to the Monty Hall problem is – “It depends.” And this answer makes it easier to understand the problem.

      Let us use the burrito example. Suppose I am only offered the opportunity to switch burritos if I originally picked the steak burrito. Obviously, I would never switch burritos. Now if I am always offered the opportunity to switch burritos no matter which one I picked, I should. But what if I am offered the opportunity to switch burritos if I originally picked the steak burrito or with some probability less than one if I pick a bean burrito.

      If the person conducting the game only gives me the chance to switch if I already picked the steak burrito, they have gained nothing since I will not switch. So what probability would they have to include the chance to switch if I picked the bean burrito to get me to switch and reduce the chance of me keeping the steak burrito. It turns out that I am indifferent if offered the chance to switch when I have the bean burrito 50% of the time. Less than 50%, don’t switch. More than 50% switch.

      Also, a small point. In the Big Deal, there are no Zonks (i.e. worthless prizes). Back when Monty did the show in the 1970s, the three prizes usually had values of approximately $5,000, $1,800 and less than $1,000. And Monty did not always offer the opportunity to switch. In the current version of the show, hosted by Wayne Brady, the prize values are approximately $25,000, $7,500 and $3,000. And they never let you switch.

      1. Addendum – Imagine there are two cases.

        Case 1 – You are offered the opportunity to switch 100% of the time you pick the steak burrito and never if you choose the bean burrito. You would never switch.

        Case 2 – you are offered the opportunity to switch 100% of the time you pick the bean burrito but never if you picked the steak burrito. You would always switch.

        So there is a combination of the probabilities. If switching increases your probability of getting the steak burrito to more than the original one in three, you switch. If it does not, you do not switch.

      2. Yeah, that burrito example may not be an instantiation of the Monty Hall problem. It depends on what rules his wife was operating by in telling him that one was black bean. Maybe the only thing she knew about them was that the one on the right was black bean – in that case the chances are NOT 2/3 by switching.

        Critical to the Monty Hall problem is the (usually unstated) rule that Monty is forced to show you a non-prize door and give you the chance to switch. If that’s not the case (as it wasn’t in the real game show) then then 2/3 answer is not correct.

  7. Interesting that the wolverines are in the same place but are still maintaining a healthy and somewhat regular personal space. They really don’t like other members of their own species. I can relate.

    1. Wolverines are indeed reputed to be not just solitary, but actively aggressive to their own conspecifics.
      I wonder what drew such a large, but loose gathering?

    2. There must be information explaining the photo, but as yet I can’t find anything, except this: “For a long time, wolverines (especially the males) have been known to be solitary, which also gave them the reputation of being bad fathers. This, however, has been disproved. Studies show that male wolverines visit their young after they are born, sometimes taking care of them while their mother hunts. These visits continue until the kits are weaned at around 3 months. Also, once the kits can hunt (at around 6 to 7 months old), they sometimes travel with their father, though they stay with their mother until they become full-fledged adults.” But this doesn’t seem to describe the wolverines in the photo.

      There are some collective names for wolverines. I find that lists a group of wolverines as a pack, gang, mob. Another site classifies them group-wise as weasels, which can be collectively named a boogle, gang, pack and confusion. If I were to think of a name, I think I’d say a ravening of wolverines, because they are ravening creatures.

      Atlas Obscura has an article on wolverines being trained to rescue avalanche survivors. I don’t know about that.

      1. I have found [BELOW] a longer version of the wolverine video, running at the correct speed, by the original author, algis_2018 who works 6-weeks-on, 4-weeks-off at the Canadian-owned [Kinross Gold] Chukotka, gold mining company “Kupol” [means “Dome”] in very, very far eastern Siberia above the Arctic Circle. There’s a little enclosed, indoors town there of 1,200 workers & they get to the mine via tunnel. That’s a lot of waste & the wolverines are after the edibles in the huge [house-sized] red steel dumpsters.

        There is nothing for many miles around & I suppose the dumpsters are hauled away by road once a year – they rebuild the road access every year! Here’s the video:

        1. I see now the dumpsters are standard road, rail, sea haulage containers. I suppose waste gets hauled out by container. I found this about logistics:

          Although the site is connected to Bilibino via a network of roads, they are passable only between mid-December and mid-April. During the spring thaw and summer, the Kupol area is accessible only by helicopter – a 1.5-hour flight from Bilibino.

          Most supplies will be delivered to the port of Pevek during the summer. The port is on the East Siberian Sea and is typically accessible from July until mid-September.

          Supplies and fuel will then be transported to the site using all-wheel, all-terrain vehicles. A trip to and from the Kupol site in supply trucks takes about three days.

          Supplies will also be brought to Kupol on a regular basis by fixed-wing aircraft to an airstrip being built about 10km north of the mine.

  8. The poster doesn’t mention *why* you might wear it when faced by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

    It’s because it is so mind-bogglingly stupid, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you.

    Insert joke here comparing this to the quality of argument and logical thinking on the internet.

  9. That pink headed cockatoo appears to enjoy him-herself! Such clever birds.
    I note that one of the drosophila has the Nike-foot mutation, and all three of them appear to miss a pair of legs. Nevertheless: viva drosophila!

  10. Yes, the Diet of Worms lends itself to more puns in English than in the German original: Reichstag zu Worms

    For the curious, diet as in a bunch of food is from “Middle English diete, Anglo-French, Old French AND Latin diaeta and Greek díaita way of living,” from dia-aisa with aisa meaning share.
    Diet as in legislative body is Medieval Latin diēta- public assembly, from Latin diaeta.

    In German, worm can mean serpent or dragon as it does in Old English.


    I saw “Star Wars” on opening night with no advance publicity, and had mixed feelings about it- Lucas has a both a tin ear for dialogue, but a very good sense of story construction, and I was bothered by the mindless artifice of the final battle. But I knew right away it was the dawn of a new era of cinema.

    I recall its main elder-statesman actor, Alec Guinness, saying in an interview that it had “all the charm and merriment and none of the profundity of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings”- more or less my assessment.

    The current crop of Star Wars movies by Disney and J.J. Abrams are overall the best of the series, especially “Rogue One” which was positively Shakespearean.

  11. The Monty Hall problem is easier to understand if you presuppose TEN burritos, one with meat- I pick one, and someone else tells me that EIGHT specific ones are just black bean. In this scenario, it should be more obvious that you should switch.

    1. Yes, my thought too.

      The best Twitter comment was, “The universe DOES have a copy-paste function”


  12. Robert Capa was indeed a very brave man, but he may have had his limits. He described getting off his landing craft, not quite making it onto the beach because of withering fire, exposing three or four rolls of film, and then getting back onto a returning landing craft. All but eleven negatives on one film were said to have been destroyed in a darkroom error (easy enough to do – I make them often enough). However, his picture editor revealed just before his death in 2017 that both he and the darkroom technician responsible believed the blank films had not been exposed at all, and that Capa had exposed only eleven frames, leaving the beach very quickly. Who would blame him? He was there voluntarily and not under orders. My own father’s account of the first wave on Gold Beach – a healthier spot than Omaha – made it clear that no one would choose it without compulsion.

    1. @Chrism

      [1] You write: “He [Capa] described getting off his landing craft, not quite making it onto the beach because of withering fire, exposing three or four rolls of film, and then getting back onto a returning landing craft”, but Capa’s story is that he did reach the beach & I think his time in danger was maybe 90 minutes [Vanity Fair article link below]:

      “In front of him, on the beach, rose a half-burned amphibious tank. Capa dropped his Burberry raincoat into the water and made for the tank. All around him bodies floated in a sea of blood and vomit. It was not possible to retrieve the dead, and the living were unable to advance. Crawling on his stomach, he joined two friends, an Irish priest and a Jewish medic, and then began to shoot with his second Contax. “The foreground of my pictures was filled with wet boots and green faces”

      [2] You write: “both he [The photo editor John G. Morris] and the darkroom technician responsible believed the blank films had not been exposed at all, and that Capa had exposed only eleven frames, leaving the beach very quickly” – I can find no evidence that, at that time, Morris & the tech reached that conclusion, for years Morris believed that the dryer ruined the film emulsion. Or at least that is my understanding.

      The photo editor, John G. Morris, waited until a CNN TV interview on 11.11.2014** to reveal his theory [taken from unnamed photo experts – see quote below] about Capa only taking a handful of pictures.

      The interview was with CNN when Morris was a very fit 97 year old & he used some of the interview time to push his new book. All those many interviews over seventy years & this emulsion theory arises for the first time [taken from Wiki link below]:

      “It now seems that maybe there was nothing on the other three rolls to begin with. Experts recently have said you can’t melt the emulsion off films like that and he just never shot them. So I now believe that it’s quite possible that Bob [Capa] just bundled all his 35s together and just shipped it off back to London, knowing that on one of those rolls there would be the pictures he actually shot that morning”

      This is all very fishy – why didn’t Morris know back in June 1944 that a drying cabinet can’t do that to negative emulsion if that’s true? What are the names of the experts 70 years later who made this claim? [I looked around & can’t find their names]. I wonder if Morris wanted a sensational interview in 2014 to help his book sales.

      Now here’s an interesting bit from Vanity Fair in 2014 [link below]:

      Suddenly, from the boil of the red ocean, Capa caught the face of a young, helmeted soldier under fire, manning his position half submerged, with the eerie towers of German obstacles behind him. Capa raised his camera and caught what would emerge from Omaha Beach as arguably the iconic image of the war. “I didn’t dare to take my eyes off the finder of my Contax and frantically shot frame after frame.” Then his camera jammed. In front of Capa, hundreds of men were screaming and dying, body parts flying everywhere. Sam Fuller, on the landing boat behind Capa, temporarily lost his hearing from the noise. In his memoir he describes Capa taking out a telephoto lens to shoot a German officer on the hill with his hands on his hips, shouting orders.

      “I held my camera over my head. . . . I stepped into the sea between two bodies . . . and suddenly I knew I was running away,” Capa wrote. As he reached a medical transport boat, he felt an explosion and found himself covered with feathers from the down jackets of the men who had just been blown apart. As the boat pulled back from the beach, the skipper cried; his assistant had literally been exploded all over him.

      No picture negative of that German officer on a hill was printed out in New York – it’s not one of the “Magnificent Eleven” – did that shot get shot? I think so. Perhaps he forgot the lens cap on his contax – he landed on the beach with three cameras. I don’t know cameras BTW!

      ** Remembrance day in the UK, Veterans Day in the USA, 70th Anniversary year of D-Day 6th June 1944 & around the publication day of Quelque Part en France – L’Été 1944 de John G. Morris

      Wiki: The Magnificent Eleven
      Vanity Fair, 2014

      1. Capa’s own autobiography describes his attempts to get to shore and how “the bullets chased me back every time.” See this article:

        There was no end of discussion about this on many photographic forums last year, but for a summary you might look at:

        and for links to individual pieces of the puzzle:

        Possibly irrelevant, but as someone who still spends half his life in a darkroom, I will point out some technical matters. If all four films were developed at once and went through the same process, how did only 11 frames have an image? Over-drying a film is not possible: we like to dry them as much as possible. Excess heat making the emulsion slide of the film base?—a great excess of heat will damage a film, by melting and distorting the base, but it would not happen to just a part of a film, but the whole roll. It would not happen at all in a purpose-built film dryer in a professional darkroom that would be used for dozens of films each day. The story of excess drying was always fishy, and there was always gossip about it before Morris changed his story. I don’t wish to detract anything from Capa’s reputation by airing the possibility – if anything, the fact that even he decided it was time to go simply reflects the courage of a man who would voluntarily place himself in that situation. He was far braver than most of us whether he exposed 11 frames or four rolls.

    2. PS I just read that Capa began a romance in France with the actress Ingrid Bergman

      In 1945 after the fall of Nazi Germany, Capa was staying at the Hotel Ritz on Place Vendôme where he met her. Hitchcock would later use the Bergman-Capa romance as the spring for Rear Window, which starred James Stewart as a Life war photographer.

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