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Member since: Fri Sep 9, 2005, 06:39 PM
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What's the Real Origin of "OK"? (Mental Floss) {not exactly LBN}

BY Arika Okrent
April 11, 2013

"OK" is the all-purpose American expression that became an all-purpose English expression that became an all-purpose expression in dozens of other languages. It can be an enthusiastic cheer (A parking spot! OK!), an unenthusiastic "meh" (How was the movie? It was…OK.), a way to draw attention to a topic shift (OK. Here's the next thing we need to do), or a number of other really useful things. It's amazing that we ever got along without it at all. But we did. Until 1839.

There may be more stories about the origin of "OK" than there are uses for it: it comes from the Haitian port "Aux Cayes," from Louisiana French au quai, from a Puerto Rican rum labeled "Aux Quais," from German alles korrekt or Ober-Kommando, from Chocktaw okeh, from Scots och aye, from Wolof waw kay, from Greek olla kalla, from Latin omnes korrecta. Other stories attribute it to bakers stamping their initials on biscuits, or shipbuilders marking wood for "outer keel," or Civil War soldiers carrying signs for "zero killed."

The truth about OK, as Allan Metcalf, the author of OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, puts it, is that it was "born as a lame joke perpetrated by a newspaper editor in 1839." This is not just Metcalf's opinion or a half remembered story he once heard, as most OK stories are. His book is based in the thorough scholarship of Allen Walker Read, a Columbia professor who for years scoured historical sources for evidence about OK, and published his findings in a series of journal articles in 1963 to 1964.

It started with a joke

OK, here's the story. On Saturday, March 23, 1839, the editor of the Boston Morning Post published a humorous article about a satirical organization called the "Anti-Bell Ringing Society " in which he wrote:

The "Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells," is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have his "contribution box," et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.

It wasn't as strange as it might seem for the author to coin OK as an abbreviation for "all correct." There was a fashion then for playful abbreviations like i.s.b.d (it shall be done), r.t.b.s (remains to be seen), and s.p. (small potatoes). They were the early ancestors of OMG, LOL, and tl;dr. A twist on the trend was to base the abbreviations on alternate spellings or misspellings, so "no go" was k.g. (know go) and "all right" was o.w. (oll write). So it wasn't so surprising for someone come up with o.k. for oll korrect. What is surprising is that it ended up sticking around for so long while the other abbreviations faded away.
more: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/50042/whats-real-origin-ok
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Mon Nov 2, 2020, 11:03 AM (7 replies)

Grapefruit Is One of the Weirdest Fruits on the Planet {Drug interactions ! } (Atlas Obscura)

by Dan Nosowitz October 6, 2020

In 1989, David Bailey, a researcher in the field of clinical pharmacology (the study of how drugs affect humans), accidentally stumbled on perhaps the biggest discovery of his career, in his lab in London, Ontario. Follow-up testing confirmed his findings, and today there is not really any doubt that he was correct. “The hard part about it was that most people didn’t believe our data, because it was so unexpected,” he says. “A food had never been shown to produce a drug interaction like this, as large as this, ever.”
Eventually, with Bailey leading the effort, the mechanism became clear. The human body has mechanisms to break down stuff that ends up in the stomach. The one involved here is cytochrome P450, a group of enzymes that are tremendously important for converting various substances to inactive forms. Drugmakers factor this into their dosage formulation as they try to figure out what’s called the bioavailability of a drug, which is how much of a medication gets to your bloodstream after running the gauntlet of enzymes in your stomach. For most drugs, it is surprisingly little—sometimes as little as 10 percent.

Grapefruit has a high volume of compounds called furanocoumarins, which are designed to protect the fruit from fungal infections. When you ingest grapefruit, those furanocoumarins permanently take your cytochrome P450 enzymes offline. There’s no coming back. Grapefruit is powerful, and those cytochromes are donezo. So the body, when it encounters grapefruit, basically sighs, throws up its hands, and starts producing entirely new sets of cytochrome P450s. This can take over 12 hours.

This rather suddenly takes away one of the body’s main defense mechanisms. If you have a drug with 10 percent bioavailability, for example, the drugmakers, assuming you have intact cytochrome P450s, will prescribe you 10 times the amount of the drug you actually need, because so little will actually make it to your bloodstream. But in the presence of grapefruit, without those cytochrome P450s, you’re not getting 10 percent of that drug. You’re getting 100 percent. You’re overdosing.
Despite this, the Food and Drug Administration does not place warnings on many of the drugs known to have adverse interactions with grapefruit. Lipitor and Xanax have warnings about this in the official FDA recommendations, which you can find online and are generally provided with every prescription. But Zoloft, Viagra, Adderall, and others do not. “Currently, there is not enough clinical evidence to require Zoloft, Viagra, or Adderall to have a grapefruit juice interaction listed on the drug label,” wrote an FDA representative in an email.
more: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/grapefruit-history-and-drug-interactions
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Mon Oct 12, 2020, 01:16 AM (20 replies)

When Math Gets Impossibly Hard {article w/surprising connection to Gerrymandering ! } (Quanta)

David S. Richeson
Contributing Columnist
September 14, 2020

People use the term “impossible” in a variety of ways. It can describe things that are merely improbable, like finding identical decks of shuffled cards. It can describe tasks that are practically impossible due to a lack of time, space or resources, such as copying all the books in the Library of Congress in longhand. Devices like perpetual-motion machines are physically impossible because their existence would contradict our understanding of physics.

Mathematical impossibility is different. We begin with unambiguous assumptions and use mathematical reasoning and logic to conclude that some outcome is impossible. No amount of luck, persistence, time or skill will make the task possible. The history of mathematics is rich in proofs of impossibility. Many are among the most celebrated results in mathematics. But it was not always so.
Many states require that districts be “compact,” a term with no fixed mathematical definition. In 1991, Daniel Polsby and Robert Popper proposed 4πA/P² as a way to measure the compactness of a district with area A and perimeter P. Values range from 1, for a circular district, to close to zero, for misshapen districts with long perimeters.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee introduced the “efficiency gap” in 2014 as a measure of the political fairness of a redistricting plan. Two gerrymandering strategies are to ensure that the opposition party stays below the 50% threshold in districts (called cracking), or near the 100% level (stacking). Either tactic forces the other party to waste votes on losing candidates or on winning candidates who don’t need the votes. The efficiency gap captures the relative numbers of wasted votes.
more: https://www.quantamagazine.org/when-math-gets-impossibly-hard-20200914/

Not much more on Gerrymandering, but lots of interesting background.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sun Oct 11, 2020, 09:01 PM (2 replies)

Colleges Are Fueling the Pandemic in a Classic Market Failure (NYT)

Financial pressures explain why many campuses have brought students back. But there is a textbook solution, two economists say: government intervention.

By Sarah Cohodes and Susan Dynarski

Oct. 8, 2020

A perfectly functioning market is a beautiful thing. It’s also vanishingly rare. The main work of economists is figuring out how to make markets function well when the messy, real world intrudes on our textbooks’ elegant models.

The pandemic, unfortunately, provides instructive examples of markets that are failing in predictable and harmful ways. The failures are particularly glaring in dozens of college towns across the United States that are coronavirus hot spots.

Introductory economics focuses on the “invisible hand of the market”: Independent actors, by pursuing their own interests, maximize the common good. In this idealized world, the best thing a government can do is get out of the way so the free market can work its magic.

But 95 percent of economics is about the imperfections of markets, and how the government can correct them. In fact, some market failures require government intervention for the invisible hand to do its work. Economic theory predicts when markets are likely to work with minimal intervention, and when they will fail without government involvement.

Pollution is the textbook example of a market failure. A manufacturer sending fumes into the air creates what economists call a “negative externality.” Simply by doing what it does — making its product — the firm harms others. Pollution reduces air quality for those living and breathing nearby, but since neighbors’ health doesn’t affect the bottom line that drives daily decisions at the factory, the pollution keeps flowing.

A pandemic is powered by the ultimate negative externality: The very act of breathing can spread a deadly disease.
more: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/business/colleges-pandemic-market-failure.html?action=click&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&block=trending_recirc&fellback=false&imp_id=694843697&impression_id=1f316835-0c0a-11eb-9dfa-1bd73345ce2e&index=8&pgtype=Article

The first few paras nicely sum up everything that's wrong with blind obeisance to the Invisible Bloody Hand of the Free Market.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sun Oct 11, 2020, 04:48 PM (0 replies)

The Corn of the Future Is Hundreds of Years Old and Makes Its Own Mucus (Smithsonian)

By Jason Daley
August 10, 2018

In the 1980s, Howard-Yana Shapiro, now chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated, was looking for new kinds of corn. He was in the Mixes District of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, the area where the precursors to maize (aka corn) first evolved, when he located some of the strangest corn ever seen. Not only was it 16 to 20 feet tall, dwarfing the 12-foot stuff in American fields, it took six to eight months to mature, far longer than the 3 months needed for conventional corn. Yet it grew to those impressive heights in what can charitably be called poor soil, without the use of fertilizer.. But the strangest part of the corn was its aerial roots--green and rose-colored, finger-like protrusions sticking out of the corn’s stalk, dripping with a clear, syrupy gel.

Shapiro suspected that those mucousy fingers might be the Holy Grail of agriculture. He believed that the roots allowed this unique variety of corn, dubbed Sierra Mixe and locally bred over hundreds or even thousands of years, to produce its own nitrogen, an essential nutrient for crops that is usually applied as fertilizer in epic amounts.

The idea seemed promising, but without DNA tools to look into the specifics of how the corn was making nitrogen, the discovery was shelved. Nearly two decades later, in 2005, Alan B. Bennett of the University of California, Davis—along with Shapiro and other researchers—began using cutting-edge technology to look into the nitrogen-fixing properties of the phlegmy corn, finding that indeed, bacteria living in the mucus were pulling nitrogen from the air, transmuting it into a form the corn could absorb.

Now, after over a decade of field research and genetic analysis, the team has published their work in the journal PLOS Biology. If the nitrogen-fixing trait could be bred into conventional corn, allowing it to produce even a portion of its own nitrogen, it could reduce the cost of farming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt one of the major pollutants in lakes, rivers and the ocean. In other words, it could lead to a second nitrogen revolution.
Co-author Jean Michel-Ane from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, agrees that this discovery opens up all types of new possibilities. “Engineering corn to fix nitrogen and form root nodules like legumes has been a dream and struggle of scientists for decades. It turns out that this corn developed a totally different way to solve this nitrogen fixation problem. The scientific community probably underestimated nitrogen fixation in other crops because of its obsession with root nodules,” he says in a statement. “This corn showed us that nature can find solutions to some problems far beyond what scientists could ever imagine.”
more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/corn-future-hundreds-years-old-and-makes-its-own-mucus-180969972/

Not exactly LBN, but I had never heard of this before. There's lots more in the article, and some of the developments should be in the field soon.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sat Oct 10, 2020, 06:45 PM (5 replies)

Not sure where to post this -- maybe Cooking and Baking, maybe here ? (Apples) {fixed a link}

Around the World in Rare and Beautiful Apples

From the sweet to the offbeat.
by Anne Ewbank January 6, 2020

Inside a bright Brooklyn gallery that is plastered in photographs of apples, William Mullan is being besieged with questions.

A writer is researching apples for his novel set in post-World War II New York. An employee of a fruit-delivery company, who covetously eyes the round table on which Mullan has artfully arranged apples, asks where to buy his artwork.

But these aren’t your Granny Smith’s apples. A handful of Knobbed Russets slumping on the table resemble rotting masses. Despite their brown, wrinkly folds, they’re ripe, with clean white interiors. Another, the small Roberts Crab, when sliced by Mullan through the middle to show its vermillion flesh, looks less like an apple than a Bing cherry. The entire lineup consists of apples assembled by Mullan, who, by publishing his fruit photographs in a book and on Instagram, is putting the glorious diversity of apples in the limelight.

Mullan, whose day job is as a brand manager for Raaka Chocolate, can rhapsodize about apples at length. He notes that the api etoile, an apple of Swiss or French origin that grows into a rounded star shape, is hard to find, with the trees he’s seen bearing fruit little and lately. He likens them to Pokémon. “You’re really lucky if you catch it,” he says with a laugh.

But he quickly sobers. “It’s a shame because they’re really cute, they’re really delicious.” Due to the demands of industrial farming, only a handful of apple varieties make it to stores, and even of those, only the most uniform specimens sit on the shelves. Growers have abandoned many delicious or beautiful varieties that have delicate skin, lower-yield trees, or greater susceptibility to disease.

more: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/unusual-apples
https://www.instagram.com/pomme_queen/ (photo gallery)

I'm especially fascinated by the Black Oxford, since it might be cross-bred with the Arkansas Black. The Arkansas Black faded from production after a wave of parasites killed much of the crop. Perhaps a hybrid could prove more resistant, and still a late fruiter like the AB. With advancing climate change, a strain that ripens in November might grow pretty far north !

ETA: cut-&-paste errors in links
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Wed Sep 30, 2020, 01:41 PM (6 replies)

Mary Katharine Goddard, the Woman who Signed the Declaration of Independence (Smithsonian)

By Erick Trickey
November 14, 2018

As British forces chased George Washington’s Continental Army out of New Jersey in December 1776, a fearful Continental Congress packed the Declaration of Independence into a wagon and slipped out of Philadelphia to Baltimore. Weeks later, they learned that the Revolution had turned their way: Washington had crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day and beaten the redcoats at Trenton and Princeton. Emboldened, the members of Congress ordered a second printing of the Declaration – and, for the first time, printed their names on it.

For the job, Congress turned to one of the most important journalists of America’s Revolutionary era. Also Baltimore’s postmaster, she was likely the United States government’s first female employee. At the bottom of the broadside, issued in January 1777, she too signed the Declaration: “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”

For three years after taking over Baltimore’s six-month-old Maryland Journal from her vagabond, indebted brother, Goddard had advocated for the patriot cause. She’d editorialized against British brutality, reprinted Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and published extra editions about Congress’ call to arms and the Battle of Bunker Hill. In her 23-year publishing career, Goddard earned a place in history as one of the most prominent publishers during the nation’s revolutionary era.
Born June 16, 1738, into a Connecticut family of printers and postmasters, Goddard was taught reading and math by her mother, Sarah, a well-tutored daughter of a wealthy landowner. She also studied Latin, French, and science in New London’s public school, where girls could receive hour-long lessons after the boys’ schooling was done for the day.

In 1755, the family’s fortunes changed when Goddard’s father, postmaster Giles Goddard, became too ill to work. Sarah sent Goddard’s younger brother, 15-year-old William, to New Haven to work as a printer’s apprentice. Seven years later, after Giles’s death, the Goddards moved to Providence, and Sarah financed Rhode Island’s first newspaper, the Providence Gazette. William, then 21, was listed as publisher. “[It] carried his imprint,” wrote Sharon M. Murphy in the 1983 book Great Women of the Press, “but displayed from the start his mother’s business sense and his sister’s steadiness.”
more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/mary-katharine-goddard-woman-who-signed-declaration-independence-180970816/
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Sep 29, 2020, 05:13 PM (2 replies)

'... the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire's unworthy life.'

What Hundreds of American Public Libraries Owe to Carnegie’s Disdain for Inherited Wealth

One reason why the steel magnate spent much of his fortune building libraries is that he saw handing large fortunes to the next generation as a waste of money.

The Conversation | Arlene Weismantel

The same ethos that turned Andrew Carnegie into one of the biggest philanthropists of all time made him a fervent proponent of taxing big inheritances. As the steel magnate wrote in his seminal 1899 essay, The Gospel of Wealth:

“Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”

Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.

He practiced what he preached and was still actively giving in 1911 after he had already given away 90 percent of his wealth to causes he cared passionately about, especially libraries. As a pioneer of the kind of large-scale American philanthropy now practiced by the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros, he espoused a philosophy that many of today’s billionaires who want to leave their mark through good works are still following.
more: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/what-hundreds-of-american-public-libraries-owe-to-carnegie-s-disdain-for-inherited-wealth?utm_source=pocket-newtab

(Carnegie was far from perfect. But he knew what hard work and self-education meant, unlike today's pompous, self-righteous conservatives who want to cut any form of public assistance and hide their wealth in offshore tax havens.)
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:27 PM (2 replies)

The Baloney Detection Kit (Carl Sagan was too well-mannered to call it bullshit) (brainpickings)

Carl Sagan’s rules for critical thinking offer cognitive fortification against propaganda, pseudoscience, and general falsehood.

Brain Pickings | Maria Popova

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996) was many things — a cosmic sage, voracious reader, hopeless romantic, and brilliant philosopher. But above all, he endures as our era’s greatest patron saint of reason and critical thinking, a master of the vital balance between skepticism and openness. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the same indispensable volume that gave us Sagan’s timeless meditation on science and spirituality, published mere months before his death in 1996 — Sagan shares his secret to upholding the rites of reason, even in the face of society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda.

In a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

Through their training, scientists are equipped with what Sagan calls a “baloney detection kit” — a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods:
The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn’t merely a tool of science — rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools:

1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”

lots more: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan-s-rules-for-bullshit-busting-and-critical-thinking?utm_source=pocket-newtab

Please bookmark the link and come back to read it when you have time to read it slowly and full digest it.

I read this book many years ago, at a time when science and factual thinking were under attack, but nowhere near as viciously and mendaciously as today. It may be time to go back and re-read it, comparing what has happened to the GOP with Sagan's warnings about going down that path.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sat Sep 19, 2020, 05:40 PM (1 replies)

So ... the nurse at the check-in desk handed me an electronic passcard labeled 'EATME' ...

I thought it was a peculiar thing to see on a security card. Did they just assign some sort of randomly chosen phrase to each card ? Was there some inscrutable logic behind these labels, like the names of Ships in The Culture ? At first I thought I saw some strange 3D effect as the card was tilted, but that was just some other writing, so completely faded it was only visible from just the right angle. (Only later did I recall that a small cake marked 'EAT ME' had cause a lot of trouble for Alice in Wonderland ...) As I puzzled over this, I noted that the card had lots of wear, from handling by many hands, so that the other markings on the card were worn away almost completely, with the wear being very heavy near the edges, where it was easily grasped, and much less near the center, where the phrase 'EATME' appeared ... and that was when I finally realized that the card had originally been labelled 'TREATMENT'.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Sep 15, 2020, 11:52 PM (10 replies)
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