Researchers narrow search for remains of Don Quixote author

miguel de cervantes statue

Researchers believe they may have found the remains of the man said to be the author of the first modern European novel, beneath the chapel of a cloistered convent in Spain.

Experts searching for the remains of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes said earlier this month that they found wooden fragments of a casket bearing the initials “M.C.” containing bones beneath the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid’s historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, according to the Associated Press.

Archaeologists are seeking to solve the centuries-old mystery of where the famed Spanish writer was laid to rest. The initials on a plank of the coffin were formed with metal tacks embedded into the wood.

While the bones of at least 10 people were found inside the niche containing the broken wooden planks of the coffin, some of the remains belonged to children.

Cervantes’ remains went missing in 1673 when work was undertaken at the convent. They were thought to have initially been taken to another convent before being returned, according to the Daily Mail.

Researchers are examining the bones to try to determine whether Cervantes’ are among them. Cervantes, who was 69 when he died in 1616, left several clues that should aid investigators with their probe, including:

  • He had just six teeth when he died; and
  • He suffered three wounds during the famed Battle of Lepanto, including one that left one of his arms withered.

Cervantes’ influence on the Spanish language is such that it is often called the “the language of Cervantes.”

His magnum opus, fully titled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, and published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, follows the adventures of Don Quixote, a landless nobleman who has imbibed too many chivalric novels and lost touch with reality. In a bid to bring justice to the world, he turns knight errant, recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his faithful squire, and roams the world in search of adventure.

Cervantes himself led a fascinating life. Born in 1547, he had by 1569 moved to Rome, where he worked as chamber assistant to a cardinal.

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Mysterious stone carving shows up at British yard sale

stone-garden-ornament

A British archaeologist and television producer, perusing a yard sale in Leicester, England, came across an item being sold as garden ornament that was unlike other objects being proffered.

Instead of a garden-variety garden ornament, the stone carving had a complex pattern that “may be some form of writing,” according to James Balme, who purchased the article.

Weighing approximately 60 pounds, the stone is about 18 inches long and 5-1/2 inches wide at its base.

The stone appears to have been used as “a keystone from an archway or indeed a vaulted ceiling,” according to Balme.

While its exact date is uncertain, Balme believes it’s from the Anglo-Saxon period, which began when the Romans abandoned Britain around 410 AD and ended with William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, according to the online publication RedOrbit.

The sandstone carving has been used as a garden ornament for several years, Balme told the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten.

In an effort to identify the use and exact date of the stone carving, Balme is turning to social media such as Twitter to try to learn more about the stone.

(Top: Stone found by James Balme on sale as a garden ornament in Leicester, England.)

Evidence that the technologically lame will be forever among us

dogbert

For a society that prides itself on technological savvy, a segment of the Western world seems utterly unable to comprehend one of the simplest concepts concerning Internet security.

SplashData, a California-based provider of password management applications, reports that the most common Internet password held by users in North America and Western Europe in 2014 – once again – was “123456”. Next up was the even less imaginative “password”.

Since SplashData started its study in 2011, “123456” and “password” have been the top two passwords each and every year. This, despite the fact that millions of accounts are hacked annually, technology employed by hackers is constantly improving and countless warnings not to use insipid passwords are issued regularly.

At this point, anyone who goes with “123456” or “password” is all but asking for their information to be stolen. Especially if one goes with “password”. Talk about the height of laziness. You might as well just give your boss your resignation slip, put on a pair of old sweats and call it a career because you aren’t even trying anymore.

Other common passwords included “12345” – for those unable to type in a full six digits – and the ever-so slightly longer “1234567”, “12345678” and “1234567890”. Given that hackers employ computer programs that can run through common passwords in a matter of seconds, using sequential numbers such as the above is barely a step above packaging up your data and mailing it to the bad guys.

Other number-based passwords include “111111” (no need to even move your finger while you type!), “123123”, “696969” and the crafty “abc123” (unimaginative and lazy).

For the technologically indolent who are number-adverse there’s “qwerty”, “letmein” and “access”. Yes, nothing screams “computer whiz” like the password “letmein”. I believe both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs used that for years, although Jobs preferred “letmein1”.

Finally, a couple of other notably bad passwords: “superman” and “batman”.

The above passwords might be understandable if they were taken from a group of 5th graders, but SplashData based its list on more than 3.3 million passwords that were leaked last year. That means a significant number of adults actually thought the “batman” and “abc123” were credible passwords.

No one deserves to be hacked, but some folks sure seem determined to extend an attractive invitation.

A lesson in how not to win friends and influence people

cops

One could speculate on how the above made it into a newspaper – mischief, a prank gone awry, subliminal loathing of law enforcement – but of all the mistakes I’ve seen printed in newspapers over the years, and there have been many, this has to take the cake.

The comment was attributed to Hardin County Sheriff John Ward by the Elizabethtown (KY) News-Enterprise in a story that appeared on the front page of paper on Jan. 8. Ward denied making any such comment and stated that what he said was officers go into law enforcement “because they have a desire to serve the community.”

The paper, which retracted the statement, initially called the misquote a typographical error, but later blamed it on a production mistake.

The media blog jimromensko.com investigated and was told that two copy desk staffers – 23 and 32 years old – had been fired.

“One wrote the ‘shoot minorities’ line on the page proof as a joke and the second – in charge of the front page – put it in the story,” according to the blog.

It’s telling that reporter Anna Taylor was not fired. Editor Ben Sheroan explicitly stated in an editorial posted Thursday afternoon that Taylor was not responsible for the mistake.

“A function and process designed to rid the news pages of error instead added a terrible one that altered the reporter’s original sentence,” Sheroan stated. “No reasonable excuse can exist.”

Ward said the interview was conducted with another member of the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office present and there was no part of the interview that mentioned any related comments.

“I have served in law enforcement for 30 years and have never known any officers that had these motives,” he said in post on the department’s Facebook page.

One imagines folks at a certain central Kentucky newspaper have been pouring over their media liability insurance policy quite closely the past day or two.

Cabbies throw weight around in bid to protect monopoly

taxi cab

If there’s one thing the taxi cartel doesn’t like it’s unregulated competition. Of course, when it can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million per taxi to get a piece of the pie, one can understand why cab drivers are willing to take extreme measures to protect their turf.

Earlier this week, cabbies created chaos at San Francisco International Airport as hundreds of taxis honked their horns and flashed their headlights and tail lights while circling the airport between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., with most refusing to pick up passengers.

For about a half hour, between approximate 9:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., the slowly circling cabs created gridlock, backing up traffic on to nearby highways.

The protest was in response to technology-driven ride-service startups like Uber and Lyft that use untrained drivers in personal cars, summoned by smartphone apps. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A coalition of San Francisco taxi drivers, pleased with the impact of the protest, have vowed to bring more disruption to San Francisco International unless the airport director agrees to discuss their concerns that the ride services are being given an unfair advantage in serving the airport.

“That’s just a sample that we showed them,” said Harbir Singh, a taxi driver and board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, which organized the protest. “We will do it again and again, every now and then. They have to listen to us.”

The protest was the latest skirmish in the ongoing fight between San Francisco’s taxi industry and the technology-driven ride-service startups. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated while the ride-service operations argue that the cab industry is a monopoly in need of a shakeup.

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11-year-old me on why ancient man steered clear of Office Depot

Lunar_eclipse_April_15_2014_California_Alfredo_Garcia_Jr1

Word is we had a lunar eclipse down our way early this morning. The event offered me an opportunity to recall how utterly obtuse I was 40 years or so ago.

Last night, as I dropped my girls off at their mother’s house, we discussed the eclipse. They explained how they were considering getting up around 5 a.m. to view the unusual celestial occurrence. They had a basic understanding of what caused the event and were excited to see it.

As I drove home, I recalled that when I was the age of my youngest daughter, 11, I not only didn’t understand what an eclipse was, I was utterly unfamiliar with the word. As evidence, I can recall the first time I heard about the concept of an eclipse.

My mother was attempting to explain that people can be afraid of that which they do not understand and was describing how ancient societies were often very superstitious and fearful of rare phenomena. Among things that confused and frightened prehistoric people, she explained, were eclipses.

As I was unacquainted with the word, and not a particularly bright 11-year old, my ears only caught the second part of the word, “clips,” and my mind immediately wandered to “paper clips.”

With an ignorant arrogance not unknown among 11-year-old boys, I immediately thought, “Wow, what a bunch of morons – afraid of paper clips! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Mind you, I wasn’t confident enough in this anthropological assessment to voice this view to my mother; I simply sat there in smug, silent awe that a group of people could be afraid of office supplies.

Sure, paper clips could be exasperating when they got all looped together, and they could cause some really agony if the end of one got under a fingernail, but any society that was afraid of paper clips must have been a pretty pathetic one, I reasoned.

Looking back, I don’t know at what point I finally learned what an eclipse actually was, or at what point I realized what it was my mother had been talking about, but some years later I made the connection that I’d been off base – way off base.

Needless to say, my girls – who are a bit wiser and certainly more intuitive than their father was at their age – always get a chuckle out of that story. And there’s certainly no shortage of similar tales for me to regale them with. I guess that’s one of the few benefits of having been a dense kid.

(Top: Lunar eclipse seen earlier this year. Not pictured: Paper clip.)

Independence movements around globe watching Scotland

With a week until the people of Scotland vote on independence from Great Britain, separatist movements around the world are watching closely.

“From Catalonia to Kurdistan to Quebec, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely – sometimes more so than Britons themselves, who seem to have only just woken up to the possibility that Scotland might vote next Thursday to bring to an end a 307-year union,” writes the New York Times.

“A curious collection of left and right, rich and poor, marginal and mainstream, these movements are united in the hope that their shared ambition for more self-determination will get a lift from an independent Scotland,” it added.

The Telegraph reports that a record-breaking 4.3 million have registered to vote in Scottish referendum, the highest number in Scottish electoral history, and recent polls show the pro-independence movement gaining steam as the vote nears.

As of yesterday, the No campaign had a slim lead over the Yes campaign, 47.6 percent to 42.4 percent. But when the 10 percent who said they were still undecided were removed from the equation, the survey suggests that the Yes campaign would win, 53-47, according to The Telegraph.

The referendum is gathering attention around the globe.

“Busloads of Catalans, South Tiroleans, Corsicans, Bretons, Frisians and ‘Finland-Swedes’ are headed for Scotland to witness the vote,” according to the Times. “Even Bavaria (which calls itself ‘Europe’s seventh-largest economy’) is sending a delegation.”

“It would create a very important precedent,” said Naif Bezwan of Mardin Artuklu University in the Kurdish part of Turkey. Across the Iraqi border (or “the Kurdish-Kurdish border,” as Mr. Bezwan puts it), where a confluence of war, oil disputes and political turmoil has renewed the debate about secession, Kurds pine for the opportunity of a Scottish-style breakup, the publication added.

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