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That Actually Happened – Johan de Witt

A picture of Johan de Witt.

This guy. You’re probably getting bored already. That would be a mistake, because this is about to get so intense, that this is one of the only pictures of him I have that are safe to post.

It should be some kind of crime to make history boring. Suppose I start off by saying “let’s take a serious in-depth look at 17th Century Dutch political history!” I bet you can almost feel your brain trying to shut off, to preemptively protect you from soul-crushing boredom. This is probably because you have been conditioned by your school career so far that history is about names, dates, and broad-strokes narratives that have no relevance or interest to you. Honestly, this is only because names and dates are easy to test in a multiple-choice kind of way. The truth, of course, is murkier, messier, and way more interesting. Once you look closer, though, you’ll find that a lot of the time, not only does history make a lot more sense in detail, but that more outrageously dramatic things have actually happened than anybody could make up. One of my favorite examples is Johan de Witt. In this post, the part of Johan de Witt will be played by swans, retroactive allegories, and other Dutch Golden Age paintings (sometimes all three at the same time).

This is your CONTENT WARNING: sometimes, history is seriously grisly, and one of the main factors in making history boring is sugar-coating everything for kids.

 

Let’s jump right in the deep end with the 17th Century Dutch political history. It turns out, this is a very good place to start. Things were not going well for the Netherlands in the mid 1600s. Or, rather, maybe they were going TOO well. Dutch merchants were making a butt-ton of money off international trade, and the other European powers wanted a sweet slice of that l33t l00t. As usual, this is where things go abruptly pear-shaped.

The Netherlands also had a very complicated system of government that I still don’t quite understand, but find fascinating. As far as I can tell, it’s that different states in the alliance that made up the Netherlands at the time chose (Elected? Hereditary? Appointed by a council? Who are elected? Who are hereditary?? Different rules in different states?!??) Stadtholders who sat on a national-level council for the whole Netherlands. Who then voted (or something) on what should be law. There was also a King, William III of Orange, who some of the states didn’t accept as King. But a King was sometimes electable as a Stadtholder, anyway. Like Princess Leia?? How on Earth did these guys do so well in the run-up to all this? How does this even function? (Spoiler alert: not well.) Still with me so far? Here’s where we get to Johan de Witt. In 1653, he was elected Grand Pensionary of the States of Holland, which was by far the most powerful bloc in the Netherlands anyway, so he was effectively the person running the country, which he did with quite some success for a good long time.

 

From Bad to Worse

Because of the political infighting in the council between Stadtholders, and the fact that a lot of the opponents had connections in the Army, Johan de Witt supported actions to defund the Army in favor of the Navy, the strategic reasoning being that since Netherlands are mostly a peninsula and islands, the best defense would be to put all of the funding eggs in the Navy nest. Like so:

Mute Swan eggs in a nest on water.

Richard Mayer [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It Gets Worse

The Dutch figured everything was fine, because although France, England, and Spain were all competitors with them, none of these countries have any sort of history of getting along well at all. In fact, they often go to war with each other for a century or so at a time, or have massive religious differences (super important since Europe had just ended a huge round of religious wars), and/or send armadas against each other. There’s no way that all three would gang up on the same side just to plunder the Netherlands, right? Until they did. So, Spain, England, and France all joined Team Let’s Loot the Netherlands, and invaded. The navy, although successful at sea, wasn’t so useful when the French army could just march straight North. Surrounded and rapidly overrun by being attacked by all the major powers in Europe at once, things were not looking good for the Netherlands. If this were a kaiju movie, this is the point where things can’t get any worse, so they summon Godzilla.

Mute Swan threat display.

They don’t do this to be pretty. This is a threat display. Get out of the swan’s Personal Space, or get Tyrannosaurus rek’d. Mute Swans also “dance” as pairs, to reaffirm their bonds, and to demonstrate that they’re a couple, holding down a territory for the breeding season, and therefore likely to attack.

 

It Gets Even Worse

Did I mention that much of the Netherlands is actually below sea level, and on reclaimed land, surrounded by a system of dikes and elaborate civil engineering to keep the sea from flooding it? Such as a whole bunch of really cool mini-windmill water pumps to gradually ladder the water out of fields to higher elevations, and eventually back into the sea. Yeah, there’s that. In desperation, they actually blew holes in their own flood defenses, flooding large swaths of the countryside to slow down the invaders’ advance. The year of the invasion, 1672, is called the Rampjaar or “Disaster Year” for obvious reasons. Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis were blamed for the invasion and mismanaging the government leading up to the war. Cornelis was arrested and jailed for treason, but never confessed, despite being tortured. (The way the judicial system worked at the time, they couldn’t convict without a confession, which means torture, usually.)

 

MUCH WORSE (Knock Knock… It’s An Angry Mob…)

So, eventually, they had to let Cornelis go, and Johan de Witt came to pick him up from the jail, since Cornelis wasn’t in good enough condition to leave on his own. While the brothers were inside, an angry mob gathered in the streets, dragged them out and killed them both, and then removed some of their internal organs (livers and hearts), cooking and eating them, and leaving their mutilated, butchered bodies to hang in the public square.

Dutch Golden Age painting of a slaughtered pig.

Like this, but with people. Yes, there’s a painting of the aftermath of the riot, if you’ve got a strong stomach and enough morbid curiosity to image search it, because this is the Netherlands, and they painted everything. This painting is The Slaughtered Pig by Barent Fabritius, 1656.

 

Epilogue

The destruction of the dikes did help stave off the invasion, and the Netherlands survived the Rampjaar of 1672. Rumors persisted that William III of Orange set up the brothers for the mob attack. He went on to become King of England later, in yet another weird historical twist ending. Popular perception eventually softened to the de Witt brothers, and a painting of a swan defending its nest was famously retroactively assigned as an allegory for Johan de Witt defending the country, and the whole messy episode of (possibly conspiratorial) politically-motivated rage-cannibalism became the sort of thing you might never know if you stick to names and dates. So don’t stick to names and dates. Deep-dive into history, and there will be plenty of surprises.

A painting of a swan defending its nest.

The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijin, CA 1650.

 

Life Skills: Budget

Jim Hawkins pouring pirate treasure coins into a bag.

This illustration by N. C. Wyeth of the Treasure Island edition of 1911 probably won’t be relevant to your life, but even if it was, Jim Hawkins here should make out a budget for all that sw33t l00t. Plenty of people have made lots of money and then lost it because they weren’t paying attention to spending.

You will probably, at some point, want more money than you have. Barring some miracle, like finding pirate treasure, the best way to make sure you have enough money is to take care of what you do have and keep track of it. The best way to keep track of your money is to make a budget. If you’ve ever wondered where your money goes by the end of the month, never fear, I’m here to walk you through exactly how to make a budget, step by step.

The point of making a budget is to find out what you do know about your money situation, what you need to know, what kind of money you have, your expenses, and – most importantly – to make a plan about how to manage that money in the future.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Scratch paper and pencil

And/or

Calculator app (probably already on your phone) or calculator, abacus, whatever

And/or

Spreadsheet program, like you can find on Open Office, Microsoft Office, Google Docs, etc.

 

That’s a lot of and/or because all you really need is to be organized and think about your money. The procedure for making a budget is as follows.

In a list with two columns, write how much money you have coming in every month:

Income
$100

 

Then, list everything you spend money on every month, and how much you really do spend (honestly, no cheating: the most important person never to lie to is yourself). This is where it might help to have some scratch paper, so you can make this list really orderly and clear. Be as specific as you can.

Income
$100
Food With Friends
$50
Game Night
$25
Streaming Service
$10
Transportation
$10

 

This is just an example, of course. Yours will look different. If you don’t know how much you spend on what, it might really help to keep receipts you get whenever you buy things, and actually sort and tally them up for a month, or (even better) a few months, so you can get a real idea of what you’re actually spending, and what you’re spending it on, and not just what you think you’re spending.

Next, subtract your total expenses from your income. This is how much money you can manage to put away every month.

Income
$100
Food With Friends
$50
Game Night
$25
Streaming Service
$10
Transportation
$10
Total Expenses
$95
Left Over
$5

 

After you look at your budget, think about what you want money for. Make financial goals. It can be as straightforward as buying a new game system, or saving for pottery classes, or new shoes. As you can see, it will be a long time in this example before I can afford a new game system. (If a new game system is $380, and I save only $5 a month, it will be an excruciating 6 years and four months before I can buy one, and by then, we’ll all be going to virtual reality arcades or something.) Here’s my work:

380 (dollars) / 5 (dollars/month) = (dollars cancel out, leaving months) 76 months.

76 (months) / 12 (months/year) = (months cancel out, leaving years) 6.333333… years, which is six years and a third of a year, which is four months. OUCH!

But, if you want to change that, you will have to pay attention to how you spend your money, and on what. With a budget, you can see how much you have coming in, and what it goes out for, and where you can cut expenses. From here, make a plan.

Change your goal. Can you get a game system used, and therefore less expensively? This puts your goal closer to your reach.

Change and eliminate expenses. Fifty bucks a month is pretty steep for food with friends. Go out less, or somewhere cheaper, maybe, to save a bit here.

Change your income. Is there some way you could make more money?

Revise your budget to make room for your goal, and trim down expenses. Now, you have a plan to follow. Monitor your own progress by checking whether you really did spend less where you want to, or earned more. If you do this long enough, and keep your receipts, you may find patterns in your spending. Your income might vary seasonally (Summer jobs, more time), or suppose you tend to spend more money when school is in session, because you can’t resist the vending machines and you have to buy school supplies. Every bit of data like this will help you make and meet financial goals, if you use your budget. Let’s see how it all comes together.

Suppose I do want a game system, on the budget shown above. New, it’s about $380. The exact same system (model, specs and everything) refurbished, however, is about $270. That’s $110 cheaper. If I choose to get a used one, then, I automatically jump $110 closer to my goal. Suppose I also start paying more attention to where and what I eat with friends, maybe going out less often, and more like for frozen yogurt or something once a week, rather than go to a movie, with all the popcorn, etc. or to a restaurant. Suppose I also get a bake-a-pizza instead of ordering out for game night, too. Now, my monthly expenses look like this:

Income
$100
Food With Friends
$25
Game Night
$15
Streaming Service
$10
Transportation
$10
Total Expenses
$60
Left Over
$40

 

Hey, just making some changes opened up a lot more spare $$$. Now, at $40 per month, assuming I save it all for my new (to me, because it’s used) game system, I can afford it in a little over six months flat. How much more money could you open up per month, if you sat down and made a budget, and a plan like this? I think making a budget is definitely worth the time.

BONUS ROUND! If you want to get even more crazy about saving money, though, let me share another tip: take everything a step further, and ask what you want a purchase for, in the first place. In other words, what is the goal your goal achieves?? I want a new game system, so purchasing a game system is my financial goal, but what do I want a game system for?

Do I want a new game system, because I play games with my friends, and they all have new game systems, and I need to keep up, technologically? Do I need to keep up and get a new game system because playing games is fun? Do I want a new game system because hanging out with my friends is fun? Maybe, the even more cost-effective solution is to get a hand-me-down system, or a free app, or stick with your old system, and get (new to you) used games for it (classic games are classic for a reason, after all). You can always find games to play with your friends. You could go on frozen yogurt and augmented-reality-mon-catching (free app!) parties with your friends, and get Ultra Bash Siblings ($10 used!) for your old game system, for game night. (Besides – to be brutally real here – if your friends ditch you just because you don’t have the newest game system that they all do, you don’t have a game system problem, you have a much bigger shallow-jerks-for-friends problem.)

Always think about what you are setting your goals for, anyway. What purpose do they serve? If you do decide to forgo that game system, that’s $40 richer per month anyway. If, however, you do the emotional calculus, and you find that you really do want a game system, then by all means budget and save for it, just be aware that money stuff is almost always tangled up in weird feelings-stuff too. Being aware of the deeper motives for spending money can also help you get control of your spending choices. Spending is a choice, after all. Stuff doesn’t just leap into your shopping basket on its own. So, take control by thinking consciously about money, and you can start by making a budget.

Teddy Bear Cholla

Sometimes, names are abject liars, and something that sounds harmless, or actually cute can be horrible. Probably the mascot of all things so much worse than they sound is the downright adorably-named Teddy Bear Cholla ( Cylindropuntia bigelovii ). Even the scientific name of this vegetable horror sounds cute: bigelovii. D’awwww.

Here’s a patch of them:

a patch of teddy bear cholla looking chubby and cute.

By Homer Edward Price (Teddy-Bear-Chollas-c Uploaded by Amada44) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I mean, they even look sort of cute. Nubby and chubby and maybe plush and fuzzy. But it’s not fuzz. It gets worse.

It’s wicked sharp needles.

Closeup of teddy bear cholla needles. Sharp.

Stan Shebs [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ouch. But wait, it gets even worse. The needles have tiny serrated edges, so that like a harpoon head, once they stick, they’re hard to pull out. By which I mean an entire chunk of cactus is now stuck to you by its spines. Cholla segments are very weakly attached to the rest of the cactus and they break off at the slightest touch.

Teddy Bear Chollas reproduce primarily through this process of harpooning and hitching rides on unfortunate animals, who transport the chunks to new locations until they can finally work the spines out. The cactus chunks can take root where they land, and a new Teddy Bear Cholla is born. They also flower and produce fruit with seeds in it though.

cup-shaped teddy bear cholla blooms.

Quite pretty flowers, actually.

Teddy Bear Chollas, like many plants, can reproduce either sexually (with flowers and pollination) or asexually (cloning via pieces of the plant taking root). Cloning is much faster and more effective, but all the plants that root from pieces of a mother plant are genetically the same, and so all of them share the same vulnerabilities. That’s why genetic diversity in a species is so important. The more different versions of genes are available, the more chances there are to resist any one disease or other threat.

Like So:

A drawing of a patch of cholla, where most are one type, but there's two that don't match the rest.

A Wild Cholla Patch Appears! Most are clones of the mother plant, but a few are from seeds, and have other genes mixed in.

the mother and clones are killed, leaving the different two cholla.

Although the parasite kills the mother plant and the clones, which were vulnerable to it, it doesn’t get the others.

Cholla patch with a mix of the two surviving cholla plants.

And the cholla keep on spreading mostly by cloning, but sometimes by seeds.

Teddy Bear Cholla are very good at spearing and spreading.

Cholla patch spreading out into the far distance.

By Jack Dykinga [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a (mostly) clone army, stretching out to the far horizon. They feel no remorse or compassion. They know no mercy. Their numberless children are bred on blood and agony… Dang.

Teddy Bear Cholla are METAL.

Fortunately, we live outside their natural range. But, anyway, if you go to the desert Southwest of North America, keep an eye on the Cholla.

Look at the Sky

Seriously, look up once in a while. The sky can tell you all about what the weather is doing, or even WILL do, later that day or tomorrow. Here’s some tips!

Clear Blue Sky (No Haze or Clouds)

Is really rare in Louisville, KY. We swelter in a humid continental climate, on a large river. Enjoy this nice picture of a cloudless desert landscape, instead.

A teddy bear cholla patch. And now you have a hint at an upcoming post!

By Ciar (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A totally clear sky like this means that there’s so little moisture in the atmosphere that clouds can’t form. It probably won’t rain for a while, since water vapor has to move in before that can happen.

 

Cirrus Clouds

Indicate that a mass of moist air is moving back in, and rain or snow might be possible soon.

Wispy thin cirrus clouds.

By Ron Clausen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61703893

Remember: “Mare’s tails and mackerel scales mean rain in three days.”

 

Haze

City haze on main street, Louisville, KY.

There we go. That’s weather we’re all familiar with.

When it’s hazy, it means that there’s a layer of warmer air trapping air pollution and humidity close to the ground. If this inversion is strong, it will prevent clouds from developing. If clouds manage to punch through it, storms could be strong. If you see haze, it probably won’t rain, but if it does, it will storm.

 

Fair Weather Cumulus

Fair weather cumulus clouds - fluffy and flattened, as if confined by invisible panes of glass on top and bottom.

By Nicholas A. Tonelli from Pennsylvania, USA (Prairie Walk (2)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

These clouds in an otherwise clear sky mean that there’s convection going on, and enough water vapor in the air to form clouds. However, the air pressure is too high, or the convection too weak to really build up. If you see these early in the morning, it might rain later, but if they’re about in the afternoon, it’s going to continue to be nice for a while.

 

Cumulus Congestus

And now the clouds are starting to pile up.

Big, intimidating cumulus congestus clouds, towering above the trees.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=101225

If you see these before noon, someone’s in for a soggy evening.

 

Thunderstorm (Cumulonimbus)

A big thunderstorm cloud with a characteristic flat anvil-like top.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=100357

A column of convection so strong that it piles up high enough to splash flat against into layer of hot stable air of the stratosphere is certainly a thunderstorm. Always be aware of clouds like this with flat “anvil” tops: they’re the towering monsters of the sky, multiple times bigger than other cumulus clouds, and capable of producing severe weather like hail, tornadoes, and flooding.

And now you know some of what the sky can tell you about the upcoming weather. Keep an eye out, and it might just come in handy!

 

Weird and Rare Clouds

Although the following clouds are unusual or rare where we live, they are really cool, and that’s worth something by itself.

 

Fallstreak Hole

Fallstreak hole in a cloud with ice crystals raining out.

By Pfranson – Taken by Paul Franson in Warr Acres, Oklahoma with a Casio EZ-Z1050 Previously published: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pfranson365/4238892215/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27741283

This can happen when clouds made of water vapor are just on the point of freezing into ice crystals. When some of the water vapor freezes and clumps together, it snows out of the cloud layer, leaving a hole in the cloud.

 

Lenticular Clouds

When air pressure drops abruptly (as when wind flows around mountains), layered, lens-shaped clouds like these can form.

Lenticular clouds looking like a stack of pancakes over a mountain range.

By Alpsdake – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16399555

 

Roll Clouds

Are clouds that occur when a wave propagates in otherwise still air on the verge of being able to make clouds. The low-pressure pocket travels through the air, made visible as a cloud that seems to slowly roll through the air. Gliders and birds can “surf” the atmospheric wave for long distances. There’s a very reliable roll cloud called the Morning Glory that propagates on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia. No pictures, because pictures really don’t do it justice.

Eclipse Viewing

Get ready for the eclipse on August 21 and don’t fry your eyes!

Sunlight is dangerous, even if you don’t look right at the Sun. Sunglasses exist to protect your eyes from ultraviolet radiation, which can cause permanent damage, and even blindness. People who live in places with a lot of sun bouncing off snow have come up with stylish and effective protective eyewear – and all just to protect the eyes from reflected ambient light off snow and ice. (Snow blindness is effectively a sunburn on your retinas. OUCH.)

man wearing traditional snow goggles made of bone. Stylish!

By Julian Idrobo from Winnipeg, Canada (Inuit Goggles) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

While these snow goggles are stylish, and won’t freeze to your skin in really cold weather, you’ll need different techniques than normal sunglasses to view the Sun.

The sun, producing a Coronal Mass Ejection.

The Sun, our local star, a gravity-driven nuclear fusion reactor. Don’t mess with it.

The reason they say never look at the Sun is that the light that can burn your retinas is invisible to the eye, and also emitted by the corona, which is not blocked during an eclipse. Also, your reflex to close your eyes to protect them from damage is tuned to visible light. So, if you look right at the sun during an eclipse, it would be too dark to trigger the protective reflex to blink, and yet those ultraviolet rays are busy frying your eyeballs. Nice. So: get appropriate viewing glasses.

OR

Make a pinhole projector, and project the image of the sun onto a piece of paper. It’s super easy.

Materials:

A Piece of Heavy Card Stock, or a Cereal Box

Scissors (for cutting the cereal box)

A Push Pin

White Paper

 

Procedure:

Cut the back off a cereal box, or get a piece of card stock. Stab a tiny hole in the middle of the box piece. Go outside in the sunlight with your card stock piece and the piece of white paper. Place the paper on something still and flat, and hold the thin cardboard over it, so that it projects an image of the Sun on the white paper. You can safely look at this image of the sun on the paper all you want. You can even use this to see sun spots, when the sun isn’t being eclipsed. (Yes, studying sun spots like this is a really easy and cool science fair project.)

(And if it’s overcast, you can still watch the eclipse by weather balloon from the edge of space at this link.)

More suggestions for homebrew eclipse viewing devices on NPR’s Skunk Bear YouTube channel.

Happy Eclipse Viewing!

3 of the Coolest Names on Earth

Beyoncé’s Horsefly

Beyonce's horsefly specimen.

By Erick (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name – Scaptia beyonceae – is an excellent example of how species can be discovered after lurking in archives or museum collections for decades or even centuries. Although it was collected in 1981, this Australian horsefly specimen was discovered in 2012 on closer inspection to be unique enough to warrant its own brand new species, and the researcher decided to honor pop icon Beyoncé with the name of this shiny gold diva among horseflies. After some media buzz, the rare fly is now famous enough to bear her name as a common name as well: Beyoncé’s Horsefly.

 

The Destroying Angel

Destroying Angel mushroom.

Destroying Angel mushroom.

Anything whose name has a “The” before it has got to be pretty boss, and this mushroom has just about the most intimidating name of any living thing – and with good reason. If you’ve ever been told (and you ARE being told right now) to NEVER eat wild mushrooms, the Destroying Angel and its relatives are the reason why. Insidiously, at some stages of growth, they are look-alikes for perfectly edible mushrooms. Even worse, if you eat them, symptoms don’t show up for hours afterwards, and then you might feel better the next day – only to die from liver failure. The only hope is prompt medical treatment, which can involve a liver transplant. Even so, most people poisoned by the Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa) and its relatives die of it. Read these case summaries of a poisoning outbreak in California in 2016. And that’s successful treatment. Yikes. (By the way, if you’re struggling with medical jargon, “cerebral edema and permanent neurological impairment” means “skull filled up with fluid squeezing the brain so hard it caused permanent damage.”) For safety’s sake, leave wild mushrooms alone.

Javan Chevrotain

Javan Chevrotain, or mouse deer, male with fangs.

By Sakurai Midori (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

On a much lighter note, this is one of my favorite creatures, purely because its name is so much fun to say. Chevrotain. Shev-ro-tayn. Shev-ro-tayn.  Javan Chevrotain. Sssheeeeevrotayn. It’s the best thing. Chevrotains are also known as mouse-deer, although they’re not mice at all, and are much closer to very small deer, like the size of your cat. None of them have horns or antlers. Oh, and some of them have fangs. Mouse-deer also have some of the best names in general. The Javan Chevrotain’s scientific name is Tragulus javanicus, which sounds like a spell in Harry Potter, but is actual latin. Chevrotains comprise the Family Tragulidae, and are artiodactyl (even-numbered-hooves on each foot) ungulates (mammals with hooves).

The Javan Chevrotain, Tragulus javanicus, an artiodactyl ungulate in the Family Tragulinae. Here’s one browsing in the forest, competing with quail, and at least one junglefowl: the ancestor of chickens. Tiny, fanged jungle deer.

Mathematical!

Romanesco Broccoli: the mascot of awesome mathematical stuff.

Romanesco Broccoli: the mascot of awesome mathematical stuff.

You deserve cool things. Mathematical things, in the Adventure Time sense. All too often math is treated like a chore, but it is, and should be, mind-blowingly awesome. It could be the coolest subject you ever study, but textbooks seem to have the special quality of sucking the joy out of everything.

Let’s start with an episode of Adventure Time as an example, specifically the one where Finn gets glasses that make him super smart, and invents a device for blowing bubbles that have any number of dimensions. It’s possibly the most concise explanation of higher-dimension geometry I’ve ever seen. A shadow falling on a flat surface is a projection of an object in two dimensions. A two dimensional bubble casts a one dimensional shadow. A three dimensional bubble casts a two dimensional shadow. A four dimensional bubble casts a three dimensional shadow into our three dimensional space. Another way to think about it is like this: every object of the next-highest order of dimensions has an object of the previous order as its “face.”

A square has a line for each of its four faces that define it in two dimensional space. A cube has a square for each of its six faces. A tesseract or 4D hypercube – a four dimensional object – has a cube for each of its eight three dimensional faces. Watch this video, which shows a tesseract rotating so you can get a good look at it and understand how it’s put together. It may help to realize that none of the cubes pass through each other during the rotation. When they squash and stretch, it’s not a small cube passing through a bigger one, but rather the bigger faces popping out towards you and the smaller ones passing in the distance behind. The lines are all the same size, and the angles are all 90 degrees. It’s perspective, not changing actual shape. Eventually you’ll get it.

Meditate on the tesseract.

You like what you see? Spend some time on Vi Hart’s youtube channel, or Numberphile.

Or, read a breezily-written book on mathematics. Here’s Looking at Euclid is one of the best introductions to math that I’ve encountered. Also, this won’t be the last about mathematical mathematics on this blog. Here’s a teaser, in case the broccoli wasn’t a tip-off.

Duck Duck Goose

The ducks and geese have paired up for the spring, and you know that this means! Goose attacks are going to be pretty likely. Don’t get Tyrannosaurus rek’d by a goose. They can be very aggressive, especially when nesting.

goslings

If you can see these, the parents aren’t far behind…

An adult goose can weigh 15 lbs, so be careful.

As for the ducks, here’s a fun experiment to try. Go look at some mallard ducks. You can find them in parks with ponds, or other places near water. Usually, the males have green heads. Compare the number of males (drakes) to the females (ducks). Notice anything unusual? I’ll hide what you’ll probably find out in this bracket, in white text. Click and drag between the brackets to reveal the spoilers. [ There will probably be more drakes than ducks, by a pretty large margin. ] Weird, huh. Why do you think that is? Click and drag for the answer.

[ Females sit on the nest and are more vulnerable to predators, which probably leads to to the sex imbalance. Birds have a similar sex determination system to us mammals, so you can assume that there’s an even number of male and female ducklings hatched. ]

And that’s not all the duck weirdness going on. If you saw the ducks at just the right time, in mid-summer, you might not have noticed any drakes at all. Ducks moult completely, losing all their feathers, and, while they grow back in, they’re flightless, and very shy. Right after this, and before growing in their breeding plumage for the fall, the drakes’ feathers come in looking just like a duck. This brief, non-breeding plumage is called eclipse plumage. The only way to tell while the males are in eclipse is that male mallard ducks’ bills are yellowy or olive, not orange-y black.

drake/duck pair

This is a drake/duck pair of ducks. The drake is the one with the green head.

drake in eclipse

This is actually a drake mallard, disguised as a ladytypes duck, which are supposed to be camouflaged against predators anyway.

If you want to take your bird-observing to the next level, check out the Bird Guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Or, check out a handy, portable, and comprehensive identification key from the library. Ducks are really odd, actually. If you want to do more than dabble in a different sort of dabblers, read this book for a deep dive into the wood ducks, the most fabulous of all ducks. Ducks and geese hatch ready to follow the parents around, and start life out with a leap from the nest. Watch hooded merganser ducklings take the plunge.

Happy duck-watching!

Homestuck and Other Forum “Games”

pesterchum interface

Pester your chums about good storytelling!

Homestuck will devour your life. If you’re not already reading it, it’s a mildly interactive (via the comments) webcomic about a computer game (and also… about computer programming). Much, MUCH better than it sounds, and I don’t want to spoil anything. Also, if you’re not already reading this rampaging juggernaut of popular culture, throw away your spare hours and read it already.

Okay, so the rest of you who are still reading this post have clearly already been following Homestuck, and need something else to help you flush your spare minutes down the Toilet of Really Good Interactive Fiction. Never fear, I have your fix right here. If you want your horror fiction to come with lots of heart, and actually lots of hearts (some critters such as earthworms have like ten hearts), then Bogleech has created the immersive storyline for you! Go introduce yourself to Awful Hospital right away.

Or, if you dare, take on the Ultimate Time Sink: TV Tropes, a wiki-style catalog of all of the tropes in fiction. If fiction were a building, then tropes are like bricks and basic building materials. If you want to explore a work of fiction, like Watership Down, it’s got a list of tropes that compose the work. If you want to explore a single trope, like when a character tells the truth but is never believed, you can do that too, and it will list examples of works in which this trope appears. It’ll ruin your life but improve your writing. Needless to say, be careful of spoilers!

By the way, several library branches are hosting fan fiction workshops this Summer, so polish up those drafts and get ready!

Kelly Creagh Presents: Fan Fiction Frenzy

6/22/2017 @ Southwest, 2 – 3 PM

6/24/2017 @ Highlands – Shelby Park, 2 – 3 PM

6/29/2017 @ Shawnee, 4 – 5 PM

7/13/2017 @ Fern Creek, 2 – 3 PM

 

rabbits

Absolutely relevant I swear. Read Watership Down if you haven’t already.

All Things Board Games!

Do you like to play board games? Are you looking for some new titles? I personally really love all things gaming. A few good games that I’ve played and/or learned about recently that are a lot of fun…

Zombie Dice:

zombie-diceIt’s quick, fun, and easy to play. Basically, you play as a zombie, and you have dice that have a brain, an explosion that’s supposed to represent a shotgun, and a set of footprints on each die. Depending on what you roll shows whether or not you a) ate the person’s brain, b) they shot you, or c) they got away. You pick three dice out of a cup, roll them, and then based on what you roll you can either keep going or tally up your score–you get points for how many brains you eat. The person with the most points at the end of the game wins!

If you’re looking for a game with a little more intrigue, perhaps you could try…

Coup:coup

Coup is also very fast paced, and a lot of fun to play. You are the head of an Italian family, and in an intense power struggle with, well, all of the other people you are playing with, who are also heads different Italian families. This game uses cards with different characters on them, and each of the characters have different moves that they can do, all of them pretty much involving whether or not they are going to steal your or another person’s money, which is given to you each round with cardboard coins that come with the game. Each player is given two cards, one face up, and one face down. The fun part is tricking other players into thinking that your face down character is different from the character you may actually have.

You can chose to fake out the other players by using moves that other characters have, even if they aren’t a character you actually possess. But, other players can call you out, and if they are correct, you will lose the character that they call out. If your accuser is incorrect, then they lose a character instead. The last person standing is, of course, the winner.

And, if you’re into really complex games…

Betrayal at the House on the Hill:

betrayal-at-the-house-on-the-hillThis game is pretty complex and involved… It’s almost RPG level as far as board games are concerned. You’re part of a group that is investigating a haunted house. (Think Scooby Doo or even Supernatural.) Each member of your party has different skills and you move around using cards with different scenarios. As you move through the house, you draw board pieces that actually determine the way that the house is put together. At some point there is a betrayal in your party… each time you play, the game goes a different way, and there are a number of scenarios that you can play through. When I played with my family around Christmas, my dad ended up turning evil, and invisible. He stalked through the house and ended up killing off our entire party! It is a really fun game, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. There are a lot of things you have to keep track of, and the game can run really long, depending on the scenario that gets picked.

Do you have any board games you played recently that you really liked? Any you would recommend playing? Let us know in the comments, we at the library would love to hear from you!

– Shannon, Highlands-Shelby Park