Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming is Stuck

The Lemming would have today's three posts done by now, except for one little problem.

Except for Google and Blogger, which is now a Google service, The Lemming hasn't been able to view any websites. Since I do micro-reviews of pages I find, that rather severely limits what this Apathetic Lemming can do.

I think the problem isn't at my end, but I can't be sure. I lost connection with Twitter - and just about everything else - within the hour.

Just now (8:59 p.m. Central) I got a sluggish connection to the St. Cloud Times: a newspaper in St. Cloud, about 45 miles away. This could be a regional problem.

And, a minute later, lost that connection. I'm posting this while (I hope) I've still got Blogger online.

Monday, June 29, 2009

'Great Truths' from Kids: Funny, and a Little More

"Great Truths That Children Have Learned"
ArcaMax

"1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats...."

There's nine more, two about pets. At this moment, my favorite is #4: "Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato."

This won't replace the works of Dr. Benjamin Spock and Saint Thomas Aquinas, when it comes to helping us understand children and the human condition, but I think the collection is funny. And, there's more than a little truth mixed in with the laughs.

Bringing Back the Dinosaurs: Not a Crazy Idea Any More

"Jurassic Park comes true: How scientists are bringing dinosaurs back to life with the help of the humble chicken"
MailOnline (June 13, 2009)

"Deep inside the dusty university store room, three scientists struggle to lift a huge fossilised bone.

"It is from the leg of a dinosaur.

"For many years, this chunky specimen has languished cryptically on a shelf.

Interesting but useless — a forgotten relic of a lost age.


"Now, with hammer and chisel poised, the academics from Montana State University in America gather round.

"They are about to shatter this rare vestige of the past.

"Why would they do such a thing?

"The answer is that they believe that this single fragment of a beast which stalked the earth untold millions of years ago could hold the key which will unlock the secrets of the dinosaurs...."

The first part of the article is long on drama and short on facts, and may have been intended to draw attention to a television documentary, "Dinosaurs: Return To Life." Something with the same title and subject aired on Discovery Channel - yesterday, I see.

Too bad. It might have been an entertaining - and possibly informative - way to spend an hour. I may catch a re-run, eventually.

Farther down the 'page,' the MailOnline article gets into what makes "Dinosaurs: Return to Life" more than one more docuflick about dinosaurs.

While airlifting a remarkably well-preserved and complete 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in Montana, a thigh bone was cracked open.

Still, two halves of a thighbone are better than none, so Montana State University professor of palaeontology Jack Horner, palaeontologist Mary Schweitzer and research assistant Jennifer Wittmeyer studied the thing. Schweitzer noticed an odd structure in a piece she'd been given to scrutinize.

Cutting a long story short, there was 68,000,000-year-old T-rex tissue in the bone.

It wasn't exactly fresh, but it was still gooey. The scientists think they may have spotted osteocytes in the mess: bone-growing cells.

The article discusses a number of other points, including mutant chickens at the University of Wisconsin.

My guess is that, between parts of dinosaur DNA that may be recovered from finds like the one in Montana, and what we're learning about the genetic code, it may not be all that long before someone grows a reasonable facsimile of a dinosaur.

Aside from being a subject for media sensationalism, and despite its being raised in what is profoundly not its natural habitat, there would be a great deal to be learned from a living, breathing dinosaur.

And, Jurassic Park notwithstanding, my guess is that the trick would be keeping the creature alive.

More, about studying dinosaurs, at "Trotting With Emus To Walk With Dinosaurs," Science Daily, (October 30, 2006).

Pabst's Blue Ribbon: That's One Ugly Dog

"NorCal Boxer Mix Wins World's Ugliest Dog Contest"
cbs5.com (June 27, 2009)

"A boxer mix with a wicked underbite won Friday's annual Ugliest Dog Contest. The world-famous staple of the Sonoma-Marin Fair for 21 years was held at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, as part of the Sonoma-Marin Fair.

"The winner, Pabst, was a first time entry and was the first mutt in seven years to win the contest. The Chinese Crested breed has dominated recent contests and represented more than half of this year's field, according to contest organizers...."

This year's ugly dog contest was more of a regional affair than some year's: probably thanks to economic conditions. Still, Pabst seems to have had some tough competition.

This news article does a pretty good job of discussing the contest, Pabst's background as a rescuee from a pound, and the Sonoma-Marin fair. The Fair's news release/article pointed out that the dogs in the contest are healthy - they're cleared by a vet. It's just that they don't fit our idea of canine beauty.

A parting thought: As my oldest daughter said, "I've seen uglier dogs than that." Still: congratulations to Pabst and his owner.

More:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Not-Quite-Dry Cleaning with Plastic Beads

" 'Waterless' washing machine cleans using nylon beads"
gizmag (June 25, 2009)

"A washing machine that cuts water usage by 90% is due to hit American shores next year. The Xeros washing machine, which takes its name from the Greek word for 'dry', cleans clothes using reusable nylon polymer beads with an inherent polarity that attracts stains.

"The beads are added to the wash along with as little as a cup of water and a drop of detergent...."

I've learned to be very alert when phrases like "as little as" appear, but this just might work. The beads are very absorbent when damp, and are supposed to soak up the water and the dirt.

Sounds like quite a trick.

One thing: you'd better not dawdle while reading the article. Each time I opened it, a screen-filling pop-up ad appeared after a relatively short time, asking for a subscription. Not, in my opinion, smart marketing.

I see I've done two micro-reviews in a row about pages on sites with somewhat user-unfriendly technology. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better.

Backyard Roller Coaster: Lots of Fun

"Kid Builds Roller Coaster in Backyard, Calls it Exscream"
TechEBlog (June 25, 2009)

"While some kids are out playing, 'coasterdude' decided to design and build a roller coaster in his very own backyard. Sure, it may not look like much, but enjoying the fruits of your labor...."

This brief post includes a photo and a video (2:23).

The coaster "may not look like much" in comparison to what we see at a Six Flags, but it's an impressive bit of backyard engineering.

The two comments to this post say quite a bit, I think, about human nature and the silly side of American law:

"Mom in me says, 'that looks dangerous!' kid in me says, 'WOO HOO ! I'm next! I want one!!!' "

"Here in America I'm pretty sure this kid would get fined by the police and sued by someone."

As far as being dangerous goes, the thing isn't more that around six feet or two meters, tall. Yes, the kid could fall off it, or get his fingers caught under the wheels: but I've gotten rather weary of living in a bubble-wrapped culture.

Since I am an American, I'd better point out thatBubble Wrap® is a registered trademark of Sealed Air.

While I'm on the subject, be warned that jars of peanuts, labeled "PEANUTS," contain peanuts. You can't make up that sort of thing. (February 27, 2008)

A more serious warning: Either my browser got stuck, or the TechEBlog is one of those clever websites that disable the 'back' button. I generally don't return to that sort: but you do as you see fit.

'Funny' Animal Pictures: 36 of Them

"These funny animals (36 pics)"
Izismile (June 10, 2009)

I generally put the first bit of text from a page here: but that headline is just about all there is. Make that all there is, apart from from the odd ad and copyright mark. The sources of the photos aren't identified.

The photos aren't all what I'd call "funny," but they're generally some combination of amusing, cute, and interesting.

I included one of my favorites in this micro-review.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

ViRob: Tiny 'Robot' Travels Through Body

"The Tiny Robot that Can Crawl Through Your Veins—And Treat Your Tumors"
discovermagazine.com (May 26, 2009)

"The next big step in cancer treatment might be small enough to balance on a grain of salt.

"Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have developed a miniature crawling robot, called ViRob, that can crawl through your lungs, find a tumor, and zap it with drugs. The bot, which is one millimeter long and four millimeters from end to end, can snake its way through the body, slipping into blood vessels and navigating through the respiratory and digestive systems..."

Judging from the photo, that would have to be a whacking great grain of salt. Just the same, ViRob is a remarkably compact device. And, at "up to nine millimeters per second," it's one fast little robot.

Today's ViRob doesn't do more than travel - and tunnel - inside a body, but eventually devices like this are, according to the article, carry cameras and tools to look around and get things done inside the body. I'll admit that I'm not entirely comfortable, thinking about a gizmo that size burrowing its way through me: but devices derived from ViRob could be lifesavers.

The article describes, sketchily, how ViRob is powered and controlled, and how next-generation devices like it may be used.

I'm quite interested in this. It's not exactly 'nanotechnology,' but ViRob looks like a step toward microscopic devices that could get medical procedures done without the sort of surgery we're used to.

Six Ways to Help You Sleep

"6 New Insights on Sleep"
gfanks.com (April 24, 2009)

"I took these 6 excepts from a larger article which I encourage you to read here. These 6 were the insights I hadn't heard about.

1. Tuck a hot-water bottle between your feet or wear a pair of ski socks to bed. The science is a little complicated, but warm feet help your body's internal temperature get to the optimal level for sleep. Essentially, you sleep best when your core temperature drops. By warming your feet, you make sure blood flows well through your legs, allowing your trunk to cool....
"

First, kudos to Graeme Franks, for telling where he got the information. I replicated his link, in the quote. (It's from Reader's Digest: "Achieve a Deep, Uninterrupted Sleep / 24 ways to get the rest you need.)

The other five points, like the first, include an explanation for why they're supposed to work. Mr. Franks' sixth point, journaling just before going to bed, is something I haven't run into before: and makes good sense.

Color Perception: An Impressive Illusion

"Awesome Illusion"
Mr. Science Show (June 25 2009)

"This illusion has been doing the rounds this week (see Bad Astronomy and Richard Wiseman for a couple of science blogs I like that picked it up), but it's so good I thought it needed to be posted here also.

"Look carefully at the image below. Do you see a couple of spirals, one blue and one green? Well, take a closer look - in actual fact, the blue and green are actually the same colour!..."

The post shows a larger version of that thumbnail, and two enlarged segments from the graphic. It also briefly tells why the 'blue' and 'green' appear to be different colors. And, yes: they are the same color.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sand in an Hourglass: New Frontier in Science

"Grains of Sand Reveal Possible Fifth State of Matter"
Wired Science (June 24, 2009)

"In the formation of droplets in a stream of falling sand, scientists have witnessed a dynamic that points beyond the boundaries of traditional physics, and may represent one aspect of a fifth state of matter.

" 'Here we have a material right underneath our noses, that everybody grows up playing with in a sandbox, yet it's full of surprises for scientists,' physicist said Heinrich Jaeger of the University of Chicago.

"The droplets formed because of instabilities in the subtle atomic forces that attract sand grains to each other. Something similar happens to water falling from a faucet, but the forces acting on those molecules are 100,000 times stronger...."

The article includes two YouTube videos, illustrating the action of falling particles (grains of sand and iron balls). It also introduces what could be a very interesting aspect of matter.

We've been looking at sand running through hourglasses for centuries. Now, someone took a really close look: and found a new facet of the universe.

Here's one of the videos:

"Falling Sand"

wired, YouTube (June 24, 2009)
video, 0:22

High-Speed Stealth Bomber: Built in 1940s

" 'Hitler's Stealth Fighter' Re-created"
National Geographic News (June 25, 2009)

"ON TV Hitler's Stealth Fighter airs Sunday, June 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

"Top stealth-plane experts have re-created a radical, nearly forgotten Nazi aircraft: the Horten 2-29, a retro-futuristic fighter that arrived too late in World War II to make it into mass production...."

The article gives a pretty good overview of a working military jet, made mostly of wood, that was designed to be virtually invisible on radar.

I could be wrong, but I detect some NIH (Not Invented Here) in one statement: "...Some experts, like the Garber facility's Lee, question the Hortens' postwar claims that their plane had been intended as a stealth plane...."

The National Geographic News article is, of course, intended to encourage people to watch the company's program this Sunday, June 28. It also is a pretty good look at one facet of recent history.

If contemporary tests show that the Horten design was 'stealthy, Germany came very close to having a fleet of stealth bombers in WWII. This could have changed the course of the war - at least for a short time, until countermeasures were developed.

"...But by early 1945, aviation historian George Cully said, 'The Germans had run out of pilots, petroleum, and time.' "

Tokyo Motor Show, 2007: Cars of the Future

Tokyo Motor show, October, 2007:

"Futuristic Japanese Cars"

diagonaluk, YouTube (December 18, 2008)
video, 1:27

The track record for predictions about The Future isn't all that good. On the other hand, many of these vehicles seem to be practical for handling high-volume, low-speed city traffic.

The vehicle that's two micro cars in one mini-car strikes me as just plain strange, though. But, who knows: that may be the Volkswagon bug of 2085.

Related post:

Clothing of the Future: 2000 as seen in the 1930s

A PATHETONE WEEKLY newsreel from the 1930s:

"1930s Futuristic Fashion Predictions"

lamaladietropicale, YouTube (March 11, 2009)
video, 1:37

Don't laugh. Somebody will probably be reading and viewing our predictions, somewhere around 2085.

Actually, this bit of futurism wasn't entirely off the mark. Skirts haven't disappeared entirely, but women in western countries often wear pants: which is simple common sense in Minnesota winters. We also have portable radios and telephones these days: quite often worn on the belt.

Related post:

Twelve Helmets: You Don't See These Every Day

"12 Unusual and Creative Helmets"
TOXEL.com (June 2, 2009)

"Collection of creative motorcycle helmets and unusual helmet designs from all over the world...."

Starting from the Skull Helmet, all the way to the Valentino Rossi Face Helmet (in the picture), this is fun: I think even for people who aren't 'into' motorcycles.

There's a Star Wars Storm Trooper helmet, and a Darth Vader helmet, of course.

My favorite, in terms of combining 'cute' and 'bizarre,' is the watermelon helmet:


(from TOXEL.com, used w/o permission)

People's Right Ears are More Obliging

"Requests to the Right Ear Are More Successful Than to the Left"
Wired Science (June 23, 2009)

"You're in a loud and sweaty Italian dance club when a woman approaches you. To be heard over the techno, she leans in close and yells into your ear, 'Hai una sigaretta?'

"If she spoke into your right ear, you would be twice as likely to give her a cigarette than if she asked by your left ear, according to a new study that employed this methodology in the clubs of Pescara, Italy. Of 88 clubbers who were approached on the right, 34 let the researcher bum a smoke, compared with 17 of 88 whom she approached on the left.

" 'The present work is one of the few studies demonstrating the natural expression of hemispheric asymmetries, showing their effect in everyday human behavior,' write psychologists Daniele Marzoli and Luca Tommasi of the University G. d'Annunzio in Italy in the journal Naturwissenschaften...."

This article appears to be on the level: and there was a pretty good reason for using a 'natural' setting for the experiment, rather than the usual lab. "Requests to the Right Ear..." is a pretty good overview of some very interesting research.

And, a reminder that we're still learning how our brains work.

Toddler's Stature, Mind, and Teeth, 10-Year-Old's Bones

"16-Year-Old Has the Body
of a Baby
"
myFOX Chicago (June 24, 2009)

"She's 16 years old, but has the body and mind of a toddler.

Years have passed and doctors still can't solve a baffling mystery -- why hasn't Brooke Greenberg aged?

ABC News reports that Brooke is 16 pounds and 30 inches tall. She doesn't speak, but knows how to vocalize sounds to ask for things or express what she likes and doesn't like, just like an infant. Doctors have observed that Brooke's body is growing out of sync. For instance she still has baby teeth, but her bone age is estimated to be 10 years old....
"

I hope that Brooke's family is holding up under the pressure of having a daughter who is that far off the 50th percentile.

Dr. Richard Walker(University of South Florida) and geneticist Maxine Sutcliffe think that there's a genetic reason for Brooke's condition, and they want to find it. If they do, they think we'll know much more about how and why people age.

I wish the doctor well, and don't want to seem like I'm standing in the way of scientific progress, but I hope that Brooke is treated with more respect than I was (Medical Ethics and Human Experimentation: Why I Take it Personally" (February 3, 2009))

This article is a pretty good overview of Brooke's condition, and what may - or may not - be causing it.

More, at "Doctors Baffled, Intrigued by Girl Who Doesn't Age," ABC News (June 23, 2009).

Strip Searching a Teenage Girl: The Wild and Wacky World of School Discipline

"Supreme Court Rules Strip Search of Child Illegal"
FOXNews (June 25, 2009)

"The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a school's strip search of an Arizona teenage girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen was illegal.

The court ruled on Thursday that school officials violated the law with their search of Savana Redding, who lives in Safford, in rural eastern Arizona.

Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student....


"...The school's vice principal, Kerry Wilson, took Redding to his office to search her backpack. When nothing was found, Redding was taken to a nurse's office where she says she was ordered to take off her shirt and pants. Redding said they then told her to move her bra to the side and to stretch her underwear waistband, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. No pills were found...."

Granted, it's a he said/she said situation, and apparently Mr. Wilson didn't take any pictures: but this situation reeks. I understand how stressful being a vice-principal can be, and how vital it is to probe deeply into any claim that a student is carrying ibuprofen - but honestly now: the court doesn't seem to have said that Mr Wilson didn't get an eyeful of a nubile young student.

What they did find was that the search was illegal, but that Mr. Wilson and company couldn't be sued.

The New York Times has an op-ed piece on this little matter, too: "An Unreasonable Search " (June 25, 2009)

Buying a Six-Pack and Gas - Banned in Lithuania

"A place to get gas and gassed…"
Oddly Enough (June 25, 2009)

"Quick quiz: Where would be a really stupid place to sell booze?

"a) churches

"b) kindergartens

"c) hospitals

"d) gas stations

"Okay, they’re all pretty stupid, but I guess I’m going to say gas stations, because you really can buy liquor there in Lithuania. I’m not making this up.

"But in a clear example of jack-booted repression, on January 1 it became illegal for gas stations to sell liquor at night.

"I mean, what could go wrong with a carload of yokels pulling off the highway, filling their tank, buying a couple of handles of vodka and roaring off into the darkness?

"To answer an obvious question, police data show that alcohol-related accidents have dropped by 45 percent since the ban was imposed...."

I don't know what to think about this one. I live in America, where we sell beer at convenience stores: which may also sell gasoline. And, I live in an area where the Prohibition era helped monasteries raise funds: They built and sold stills. This part of Minnesota was mostly German and Irish at the time, and a law banning beer was taken about as seriously as you might expect.

There's a lively discussion going on in America today, about whether to stop selling beer at gas stations. Getting serious for a moment, Mothers Against Drunk Driving to have a point. (More about that at "MADD Mixture: Beer, Gasoline and Money FOXBusiness.com (August 21, 2008).)

This Oddly Enough post caught my eye, partly for the content and partly for the tone. It's a trifle more serious than most. Still, you might want to check it out, if only for the photos.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Three American Celebrities Dead: It's Been a Big Week

This has been a big week for celebrity obituaries. Ed McMahon died on Tuesday, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died today, Thursday, June 25, 2009.

What all three of these people had in common was the position they had in American culture. Ed McMahon was one of the best known 'second bananas' of the 20th century, Farrah Fawcett's 1976 poster is still a cultural marker for the mid-seventies, and Michael Jackson's music and dancing may last longer than his nickname of "Wacko Jacko." For the sake of Mr. Jackson's fans, I hope so.

Each of them was highly recognizable, and very much a part of their era's popular culture. Finally: Let's remember that each of these people is more than their recorded images and voices. They were people with their own lives, family, and friends. A few more words about that in another blog: "A Prayer for the Dead," A Catholic Citizen in America (June 25, 2009)

Michael Jackson, Entertainer and Eccentric Celebrity, is Dead

"Michael Jackson dead at 50"
CNN (June 25, 2009)

"Entertainer Michael Jackson has died after being taken to a hospital on Thursday after suffering cardiac arrest, CNN has confirmed.

"Jackson, 50, had been in a coma at the hospital, sources told CNN.

"Brian Oxman, a Jackson family attorney, said he was told by brother Randy Jackson that Michael Jackson collapsed at his home in west Los Angeles, California, Thursday morning.

"Family members were told of the situation and were either at the hospital or en route, Oxman said...."

A few years ago, someone rather unkindly described Michael Jackson as 'a black man trying to look like a white woman.' For whatever reason, Michael Jackson's appearance had changed drastically since he was part of The Jackson Five.

He's been entertaining people from the Soul Train days to the recent "Banda sonora" - there's a pretty good filmography of Michael Jackson on IMDB.com.

I don't know whether Michael Jackson will be most remembered for his music and dancing, or as a celebrity whose eccentricities were remarkable even by American entertainment industry standards.

A lifestyle that included demonstrating his ability to hold an infant over a balcony railing and befriending Bubbles earned Mr. Jackson the nickname "Wacko Jacko."

Celebrities having friends called Bubbles isn't all that odd. But Bubbles was a chimpanzee.

There's an obituary of sorts of Mr. Jackson at news.co.nz: "Michael Jackson's life as 'Wacko Jacko'."

Then there was the unpleasantness about Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.

That's Michael Jackson the man. Michael Jackson the entertainer is another matter. I've seen video of his performances, and agree that he was a capable singer and dancer. Happily for Mr. Jackson's fans, those videos and sound recordings will be around for the foreseeable future.

Farrah Fawcett: Poster Girl; Actress; Dead

"Friends, loved ones remember Farrah Fawcett"
CNN (June 25, 2009)

"The following is roundup of reactions to the death of actress Farrah Fawcett, as compiled by The CNN Wire. Fawcett died Thursday, after battling cancer.

"She was 62.

"Ryan O'Neal, Fawcett's longtime companion: 'After a long and brave battle with cancer, our beloved Farrah has passed away. Although this is an extremely difficult time for her family and friends, we take comfort in the beautiful times that we shared with Farrah over the years and the knowledge that her life brought joy to so many people around the world.'

"Alana Stewart, her longtime friend: 'There are no words to express the deep sense of loss that I feel. For 30 years Farrah was much more than a friend, she was my sister, and although I will miss her terribly I know in my heart that she will always be there as that angel on the shoulder of everyone who loved her.'..."

"Farrah Fawcett, sex symbol and actress, dies"
CNN (June 25, 2009)

"Farrah Fawcett, the blonde-maned actress whose best-selling poster and 'Charlie's Angels' stardom made her one of the most famous faces in the world, died Thursday. She was 62.

"Fawcett's death was confirmed by Paul Bloch, one of her representatives at Rogers and Cowan, an entertainment public relations firm.

Fawcett, who checked into a hospital in early April, had been battling anal cancer on and off for three years....
"

Farrah Fawcett is one of those folks whose appearance is remarkable enough to get them into the entertainment business.

Or, in Farrah Fawcett's case, into hair product commercials. A Newsday.com article tells that she was the face under Noxzema and Wella Balsam shampoo in 1976, when she did a photo shoot for Pro Arts Inc., of Ohio.

The 1976 Farrah Fawcett poster is a sort of cultural marker for the mid-seventies. It's been on dorm walls, appeared in the background of a Garfield comic strip, and on a four-hundred-dollar T-Shirt (pricey, but my guess is that Amazon.com will sell quite a few).

She got more national attention in Charlie's Angels, which is still running as reruns on cable.

Farrah Fawcett's screen career started earlier, with appearances in everything from "Un homme qui me plaît" to " 'Mayberry R.F.D.' " and Myra Breckinridge. IMDB has her filmography.

I've read that her career 'stagnated' until she played the lead in the frightfully relevant The Burning Bed (1984).

I'm not sure that playing a Jill Munroe in 29 Charlie's Angles episodes from 1976 to 1980, and making films like Logan's Run (1976), Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), Saturn 3 (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Red-Light Sting (1984) (admittedly a 'TV film'), is exactly 'stagnating' - but I don't have the lofty standards of a film critic.

My hat's off to Farrah Fawcett for having a long and successful career: despite looking good enough to sell shampoo.
Update (June 28, 2009)

Farrah Fawcett received last rites before she died. More at

These Houses aren't Invisible: They're Underground

"Michael Hill's 'invisible' houses get go-ahead"
stuff.co.nz (June 18, 2009)

"Jewellery magnate Michael Hill is to get his underground houses.

"In a decision released yesterday, independent commissioners granted Hill resource consent to build 17 subterranean dwellings on and around his Arrowtown golf course.

"The approval flies in the face of a recommendation by Queenstown Lakes District Council planners that the application be declined..."

"...He said the design shied away from the resort-style courses that were popular in the United States.

" 'The Americans put a big colonial clubhouse at the back of the 18th and fill the fairways with homes.

" 'For me, that spoils everything. We want it to be like a Scottish course, where you see nothing. These homes will be invisible.'..."

The article gives a pretty good overview of what Mr. Hill plans to do with his housing development. The plan is to have 14 houses, built from seven available plans. They're rather posh, from the sound of it, with amenities like lap pools, wine cellars, libraries, and "outdoor fireplaces and/or courtyards."

The usual lawn furnishings, like trampolines, are strictly prohibited, though.

From the 2007 artist's impression shown, the houses should be intriguing and attractive. Those limitations on what you can do with your home make be glad that I live well outside the high-end neighborhoods, though.

That's One Pink House!

"Houses with Character"
Offbeat Earth (June 11, 2009)

"Ever get to know someone and then you go over to their house and realized something isn’t quite right? Here are a few houses that needless to say, have a lot of character...."

Besides this, ah, unforgettable architectural study in pink, there are photos of two more houses: one reminded the author of the Simpsons, the other of the Flintstones.

The post has nine photos in all, which include photos of the houses' interiors. And yes, the insides are as - unique - as the outsides.

House With a Sunshade

"Operation Desert Shed"
Dwell (undated, probably June, 2009)

"Architect Lloyd Russell’s design for this desert getaway passively mitigates the elements with a utilitarian solution, turning a modest modern retreat into a hardy, region-appropriate home.

"The desert is a study in ecological extremes—–a place where the elements of nature and climate are inextricably intertwined with every form of life. In the iconic Southern California desert city of Palm Springs, these environmental factors have long been regarded as forces to be reckoned with and conquered in order to maintain a climate-controlled lifestyle. Beyond the golf courses and swimming pools, though, the desert still exists...."

The exterior of this house might not appeal to everyone: "...Its rusting, corrugated-steel-clad walls alternate with large sliding glass that give the home a rustic feeling,..."

What makes this house more than an exercise in eccentric taste is its sunshade.

The house itself is a flat-topped rectangle. It sits at one side of what is essentially a metal pole barn with no walls. This second roof shades the living portion of the house.

The article gives a pretty good overview of how the house works, a short history of the area, and a glimpse at the aesthetic taste of the owner.

I think that owner Jim Austin and architect Lloyd Russell are on to something here.

They didn't invent the idea of a house-sized sunshade. As a reader commented, people in trailer parks have been erecting shades for their homes for years.

What struck me about this design is that an architect designed a house for the American southwest that had a shade from the get-go.

Traditional architecture for that sort of climate often used thermal mass - very thick stone, brick, or dried mud walls - to stay warm in the cold nights and relatively cool during the day.

Using pole barn technology to put at least part of the house in the shade is smart design. And, since the patched-trailer look is essentially cosmetic, the design could, I think, be made appealing to the general public.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bottom of the South Pacific: 1,000 Times Less Lively

"The Most Lifeless Place in the Ocean Found"
LiveScience (June 22, 2009)

"Scientists have discovered what may be the least inhabited place in the ocean.

"The seafloor sediments in the middle of the South Pacific have fewer living cells than anywhere else measured, a new study found.

"Oceanographer Steven D'Hondt of the University of Rhode Island and colleagues took a boat out to the middle of the ocean and collected cores, or cylindrical samples of sediment, from the bottom of the sea about 2.5 to 3.7 miles (4 to 6 km) deep.

"They found about 1,000 living cells in each cubic centimeter of sediment — a tally that is roughly 1,000 times less than in other seafloor sediments...."

Before this, seafloor sediment samples had been taken fairly close to shore, where the water moved round, and there was a reasonable supply of nutrients. These samples were taken in a gyre in the South Pacific, where the water is relatively calm and the nutrients thinly spread.

"...The sparse microbes the scientists discovered appeared to be partially subsisting on hydrogen atoms released when radioactive elements at the bottom of the ocean decayed and broke apart water molecules.

"This somewhat rare process produces only small amounts of food. The other half of the microbes' diet comes from organic matter that drifts from the surface down to the depths of the ocean...."

If organisms can live on nothing but radioactive decay and the odd bit of organic debris, the damp sands of Mars might hold life: and we might find little critters in Europa and elsewhere.
Related posts, at

Haumea: A Weird World and Ice Cubes in the Kuiper Belt

"The Weirdest Object in the Solar System?"
Space.com (June 22, 2009)

"The dwarf planets and other objects that litter the Kuiper belt in the far reaches of our solar system are a strange bunch, but astronomers have found what they think might be the weirdest one.

"Discovered on Dec. 28, 2004 (catalogued as 2003 EL61 and nicknamed 'Santa' for a time), the minor planet now known as the dwarf planet Haumea, to honor its Hawaiian discovery, is as big across as Pluto and one-third of its mass, but shaped something 'like a big squashed cigar,' said one of the astronomers who studies the object, Mike Brown of Caltech...."

That pair of images shows the two extremes of Haumea's appearance as it spins. It apparently rotates once every four hours, which makes it "...the fastest spinning object in the solar system...." I'm taking that statement with a grain of salt: but that's very fast rotation, indeed.

Haumea also has two satellites: the only Kuiper Belt object known to have more than one. And, the satellites are made of water ice.

Besides the two satellites, astronomers have found about 10 pieces of Haumea - all made of water ice.

"...These 'big cubes of ice,' ... also dispelled one notion about the nature of the Kuiper belt. Astronomers had thought that dust in the region would coat any objects and obscure their true surface...

"...Asked if there were any ideas as to why the dust wasn't coating the ice shards, [Mike] Brown replied, 'No. None. Zero.'..."

So far, Haumea is a quite satisfactorily puzzling dwarf planet. And, this article gives a pretty good overview of what we know - and don't know - about it.

Ed McMahon: "Tonight Show" Sidekick; Budweiser Pitchman; and Cultural Icon

Ed McMahon March 6, 1923 - June 22, 2009

"Ed McMahon dies at 86"
CNN (June 22, 2009)

"Ed McMahon, the longtime pitchman and Johnny Carson sidekick whose 'Heeeeeeerre's Johnny!' became a part of the vernacular, has died.

"McMahon passed away peacefully shortly after midnight at the Ronald Reagan/UCLA Medical Center, his publicist, Howard Bragman, said Tuesday

"McMahon, 86, was hospitalized in February with pneumonia and other medical problems...."

Ed McMahon has been a feature on America's cultural landscape for decades, and not just because of his 1962 to 1992 gig on "The Tonight Show." He's hosted "Star Search" and "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes," and done commercials for Alpo dog food Budweiser, and American Family Insurance.

Ed McMahon: A Few Notes and Links

Nosing around for this post, I picked up a little more information about EdMcMahon, some of which didn't get into the CNN article.

Ed McMahon's full name is Edward Peter Leo McMahon Jr., his father was Irish and Catholic, his mother Pennsylvania Dutch. The senior McMahon was "a promoter, an entrepreneur, a traveling salesman, and a fundraiser for charities and hospitals and clubs by selling punch boards and running bingo games...." (The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia) Ed McMahon's mother was an actress and had grown up in her grandmother's theatrical boardinghouse.

Ed McMahon started practicing to be an announcer in his grandmother's parlor. He was ten at the time.

I also ran into this clarification on Mr. McMahon's first gig:
"...While many sources report that McMahon's first appearance before a microphone was as a 15-year old caller at a New England bingo game, Ed tells a slightly different story. He says he landed his first broadcasting (or microphone) job at 15 for a small circus located on the Lowell Common. He was a soundtruck driver. Later, he pitched passersby, items on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Some area residents may remember the tall guy hawking a vegetable chopper or free fountain pens (where you had to buy the pen point). That was Ed McMahon...." (The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia)
Ed McMahon's been married three times:
  • Alyce Ferrill
    1949-1976, ended in divorce
    Claudia
    Linda
    Jeffrey
    Michael (died of cancer in 1995)
  • Victoria Valentine
    1977-1989, ended in divorce
    Katherine Mary (adopted)
  • Pamela Hurn
    1992-
    (stepson) Lex
While getting Mr. McMahon's family background, I learned that his son, Michael McMahon, was a counselor for abused children before he died of cancer in 1995.

And, Pamela seems to be alive and well.

Muffin, the McMahon's dog, died of a mold-caused disease: but aside from a clumsily-worded phrase in an online biography, it seems that Pamela survived. At least, she was being interviewed well after Muffin died.

Ed McMahon: Salesman, and Proud of It

My generation may know him best as Johnny Carson's sidekick on "The Tonight Show," but Ed McMahon saw himself a little differently:
"...Mr. McMahon had few if any peers as a pitchman. By his estimate, he did more than 60,000 commercials on radio and television. 'Of all the things I am, most of all I'm a salesman,' he declared in his 1998 memoir, 'For Laughing Out Loud.' 'I've always said with great pride, if I can hold it up or point to it, I can sell it.'..." (The Boston Globe)

That's Funny, You Don't Look Catholic

Ed McMahon graduated from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. - apparently because he could major in speech and drama there. (The Boston Globe) In common with many articles on celebrities, very few mention Mr. McMahon's faith. It looks like he went Catholic churches, though.

More:
A tip of the hat to bryanfischer, on Twitter for the heads-up on EdMcahon's Catholic faith.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Unbuilt Skyscrapers

"Tall Tales"
By Charles Linn, FAIA; Stories by James Murdock, Architectural Record

"The stories of a few classic skyscrapers that were never built tell us much about what motivates architects, and their clients too.

"Architecture critics nearly always cite a handful of unbuilt skyscrapers as the best of the type, neglecting the vast majority of completed ones entirely. That begs the question, what is it about working in the tall building genre that propels architects to produce such interesting work? It could be any number of things, from the most fantastic wish to be free of gravity’s limitations and to soar, to the more down-to-earth wish to build cities that make a rational use of the land. In the following pages, we've recounted the stories of nine of these iconic but unbuilt structures. Some were theoretical and never meant to be built. Others ran headlong into conflict, everything from community opposition to world war. Still others...."

The illustration is of Frank Lloyd Wright's Mile High Illinois skyscraper (1956). It was part of his theoretical Broadacre City project. The building used, for the most part, construction materials available at the time: including Plexiglas windows. We still don't have his atomic elevators, though.

The other structures pictured and discussed are:
  • Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper Competition
    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
    Berlin, 1921
  • Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
    Chicago, 1922
    • Adolf Loos
    • Eliel Saarinen
  • Office Tower at Grand Central
    I.M Pei
    New York, 1956
  • Sino Tower
    Paul Rudolph
    Hong Kong, 1989
  • Hyper Building
    Paolo Soleri
    Mojave Desert, 1996
  • 7 South Dearborn
    Adrian D. Smith and William F. Baker Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
    Chicago, 1998
  • New York Times Tower Competition
    Frank O. Gehry, Frank O. Gehry & Associates and David Childs, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
    New York, 2000
  • EcoTower
    Ken Yeang, TR Hamzah & Yeang
    London, 2000
The EcoTower is an odd bit of architecture. The model (shown to the right) gives the impression of having been left out in the sun too long, but apparently reflects Ken Yeang's vision. Designed with "bio-climatic design principles" that sound plausible, the project hasn't been built yet.

"...The project stalled when the developer, Southwark Land Regeneration, failed to win financial support from the local city government...."

I can't help but speculate that the local city government might have been a bit more willing to brass up, if the design hadn't given the regrettable impression that the architect was a trifle too fond of Guinness.

Cities of the Will be that Was

"Future City"
Tales of Future Past

"This painting by Frank R. Paul's of a city of the future and is pretty typical of such predictions. The city is a massive pile of steel, plastic and glass put together in a way that not only has no past, but actively rejects it. It is a place of heroic technology with skyscrapers the size of whole districts, roof-top aerodromes, wide pedestrian boulevards, and metal roadways strangely devoid of traffic. There are even urban space launch pads where giant rockets are winched upright before blasting off to the heavens. Noise regulations, Shmoise regulations.

"The iconic image of the future is the city. Think about it. In how many films have directors established the fact that we're in the future by conjuring up some landscape of incredible buildings with air cars whizzing about like semi-regulated gnats. Metropolis, Bladerunner, Just Imagine, Things to Come...."

This is the introduction to David S. Zondy's Tales of Future Past segment on the city of the future, as imagined by people in (for the most part) the first half of the 20th century.

Some of the predictions were serious, some were silly, and some quite plausible.

Each page is illustrated with a picture of The Future: as imagined in our past.

It took me a while to get used to Zondy's navigation conventions: but it was worth the effort.

Shimizu Corporation's Tokyo Bay Mega-City Pyramid on Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering

"City in a Pyramid"
Extreme Engineering, Discovery.com

"Imagine a three-dimensional city 12 times higher than the Great Pyramid at Giza "floating" over Tokyo Bay, built largely by robots, and housing 750,000 people in skyscrapers dangling from it like fruit on a tree."

It's a visually stunning architectural concept with only one or two serious drawbacks:
  • It requires materials that aren't readily available - yet
  • It's possible that if one of the struts failed, the entire city would go down
The failure scenario is from an unsourced Wikipedia article, so I don't know how seriously to take it.

Discovery.com offers a limited, interactive sample of information from their Extreme Engineering episode: a tour; rotatable view; step-by-step look at how the structure would be built; and "The Big Picture" - a sort of overview, showing how big the thing would be.

What sets this apart from some 'visionary' architectural projects is that Shimizu Corporation is actually in the business of designing buildings. From my point of view, that means that they probably know what they're doing.

Discovery Channel DVD

Although you can view a distinctly low-quality copy of Discovery Channel's "Extreme Engineering: City in a Pyramid" on YouTube, complete with annoying breaks between segments, I suggest getting the DVD at Discovery Channel's Online Store. They've got the "City in a Pyramid" episode, and fifteen more from the Extreme Engineering series.

This copy, on YouTube, gives a grainy idea of what the Discovery Channel product is like:

"Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid 1/5"

tonskiy, YouTube
video 10:00

Shimizu Corporation's Tokyo Bay Pyramid Impossible? Today, Yes: Soon, Probably Not

What impressed me about the Shimizu Corporation's Tokyo Bay pyramid city was its modular construction. Although the Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering episode showed the pyramid's frame built first, with buildings added later, I don't see that this is necessarily how a structure like that would need to be built.

In principle, one layer - or even one pyramid segment - at a time could be constructed, with another added as the first was filling up. This would spread construction costs over years - possibly decades - and allow the project to be started without trying to finance the entire structure.

The Shimizu Corporation's pyramid, as envisioned by Shimizu Corporation designers, requires on what is today an exotic material for its framework: carbon nanotubes. To my knowledge, carbon nanotubes are not available for commercial use: not in structures the size of the pyramid's components.

But, that's today.

I've seen exotic materials technologies like liquid crystal displays and fiber optics change from laboratory curiosities to components in consumer products. I can see no reason to assume that, as the U.S. Patent Office commissioner is supposed to have said (but most likely didn't), "Everything that can be invented has been invented." (The Quotations Page)

I may not live long enough to see a structure like the Shimizu pyramid completed, but my guess is that my children probably will.

More:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Facts, Fun and Otherwise, From the Government

"Father's Day"
USA.gov

"Fun facts and tips for Father's Day from the U.S. government"

For all of you who aren't hesitant to view one of 'their' websites, this is (partly) that: links to fun facts and tips. Starting with "Facts About Father's Day / Census Bureau facts and figures about Father's Day." This may be where that 1909 origin year came from. On a more serious note, the census page discusses child-support payments, too.

The page this micro-review is about also has "Prescription Drug Help for Your Dad / Social Security and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are working together to get Medicare beneficiaries extra help with their prescription drug costs."

I think that's about enough seriousness for now.

"Recreation and Tourism" is another of the links. ("National parks, National Atlas, outdoor maps, the National Zoo, museums, hobbies, leisure activities..."

Now, I'm going to enjoy a bit of my own Father's Day.

Making a Father's Day Gift: Ideas and Instructions

"Father's Day Crafts"
Kaboose

"Father's Day is June 21, 2009. Be sure to check out our main Father's Day ideas page for even more great ideas including Father's Day cards, coloring pages and tasty Father's Day recipes just for Dad!..."

It's a bit late for this year, but another 360 days or so and Father's Day will be here again.

The projects look doable. "Family Marble Magnets," for example, starts with photographs of family members, flat backed clear marbles, round magnets, white craft glue and scissors. Five steps, a certain amount of dexterity and patience: and you've got personalized refrigerator magnets. There's an option (obvious when you think about it) for using something other than photos.

This looks like a good 'go to' resource for family gift making.

Lemming Tracks: Father's Day, 2009

The Lemming's relaxing a bit more than usual today. It's Father's Day in America, and the Lemming is taking advantage of the holiday.

A few decades ago, Mothers' Day was when mothers went to church to hear what fine people mothers were, and what a good job they did. Father's Day was, not infrequently, when fathers went to church to get bawled out for not being good fathers. That seems to have changed a bit. Can't say that the Lemming is disappointed.

The Lemming's Father's Day has been quite pleasant: I wrote a status report, "Sunday: Father's Day 2009," in another blog.

Father's Day Started in 1909, or 1908, or Some Other Time

Father's Day quite definitely started in
  • 1909, when "Mrs. John B. Dodd, of Washington, first proposed the idea of a "father's day" in 1909. Mrs. Dodd wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart. William Smart ... was left to raise the newborn and his other five children by himself on a rural farm in eastern Washington state. It was after Mrs. Dodd became an adult that she realized the strength and selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent.
    "The first Father's Day was observed on June 19, 1910 in Spokane Washington...." (Father's Day on the Net)
  • 1908, when "DR. R. Thomas Webb, Minister, Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, authorized the first Father's Day Service in America, at Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5, 1908...." (Reverend D. D. Meighen, June 15, 2005: With assistance from Tom Koon, Former president of the Marion County Historical Society)
  • About 4,000 years ago, when Elmusu wished his father good health and long life. (The Holiday Spot)
Whoever wrote that article for The Holiday Spot knew about Catholic celebrations of fatherhood on St. Joseph's Day: March 19. I wrote a little about the Catholic Church in America and Father's Day in another blog. ("Father's Day, 2009 " A Catholic Citizen in America (June 21, 2009))

Today's going to be 'all Father's Day, All the Time' on Apathetic Lemming of the North. Two more posts, and the Lemming will be on other topics.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Online Software for Interior Design and Decorating

seemydesign.com: "Interior Design and Decorating Online"

"Our goal is to help you explore design and decorating ideas online. Featuring interactive design tools such as SeeMyDesign™ Preview, SeeMyDesign™ Layout, and Planner as well as information about design styles, principles and elements, painting and color theory, room elements and design examples. We hope you enjoy your stay...."

Again, this is obviously a commercial website. They wouldn't mind one bit if you bought their product. I don't have a problem with that, though.

And, the service looks very cool.

For the 3D design demo software, you'd need to dedicate 20MB of your hard drive. Which I'm not about to do. I know: it's not all that much by today's standards, but I've got enough software to keep track of as it is.

The 2D layout software is something else: try that, and you'll find a pop up window with a familiar sort of click-and-drag floor plan creator. It works, and the controls are fairly intuitive. Also, fun to play with.

Bottom line? What's on this website is not going to put professional interior designers and architects out of business. But, for a do-it-yourselfer who wants to use cybernetic shortcuts in the planning stage: I think this might be a good resource.

The History of Interior Design? Of Some Interior Designers, From around the Victorian Age to 2000

"The History of Interior Design"
John Pile, Architecture Week (2000)

"In the modern world, human life experience is largely played out in interior spaces. We may love the out-of-doors for the sense of open air and sky, for the escape it offers from life inside enclosure, but the very joy of being outside reflects the reality that so much of life is spent inside.

"Buildings and their interiors are planned to serve the purposes and styles of the times of their origins, but they exert their influence on the activities and lives that they house as long as they continue in use...."

This article is, I think, more for someone interested in the history of interior design, than for a casual reader. Actually, it's for someone who's interested in particular interior designers, like
  • Charles Rennie Mackintosh
  • Antoni Gaudi
  • Gerrit Rietveld
  • Alvar Aalto
  • Pierre Chareau
  • Philip Johnson
  • Walter Gropius
  • Herman Hertzberger
  • Charles Eames
The article is illustrated by a number of thumbnail photos like the ones in this post. If you want to see the full-size picture, Architecture Week expects you to subscribe. I can see their point.

By focusing on specific individuals, the author does a pretty good job of showing the development of interior design in the west, from the late 19th century, past the glass-walled mid-20th century, to the late 1900s.

Interior Design 101: Being a Designer, Learning to Clean, and - - - Shelving Kids?!

"Interior Design 101"
Rental Decorating Digest

"Get started with your home or apartment interior decorating project by learning the basics of interior design. Whether you want to transform a space yourself or hire an interior designer, try these tips for home design!..."

Okay, so it's a very commercial website, with lots of ads (mostly on-topic), and the editors clearly wouldn't mind it if you purchased or rented certain products.

It's a pretty good collection of how-to (and what-to) mini-articles. Or, rather, links to the mini-articles. That photo is from "10 Ideas For Using Your Space Effectively" - in the "Getting Organized & Arranging Accessories" section.

Article titles include
  • Get Started Decorating
  • 3 Elements of Successful Room Design
    • (they're function, mood and harmony)
  • So You Want To Be A Home Interior Designer
  • Making One Corner Beautiful at a Time
  • How to Clean
    • (no, really: some good ideas here)
Bottom line: a pretty good resource. Not bad, actually.

San Francisco's Richmond District: Social and Architectural History

"Social and Architectural History of the Richmond District"
Christopher VerPlanck, first published in "San Francisco Apartment Magazine" (December 2000)

"The Richmond District (or Park Presidio as it is officially designated) is located in the northwest quadrant of San Francisco. The district is bounded on three sides by natural features or green space: the Presidio and Lincoln Park to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Golden Gate Park to the south and Arguello Boulevard to the east. This article will concern itself with the core of the historic Richmond, whose boundaries are the same as the Richmond except that the western boundary is Park Presidio Boulevard.

"The Richmond District is one of San Francisco's largest and most varied neighborhoods...."

This online article follows the development of San Francisco's Richmond District from dairy farms and open land to a densely populated residential area. With photos.

You'll want to set aside a bit of time to read this: it's not the terse verbal snapshot that's common on the Web. I think it's worthwhile, though. Although the article is, by online standards, long, the writing isn't fluffy. There's a good idea-to-sentence ratio.

One paragraph stood out for me, partly because it described an important milestone in the Richmond District's history.
"...The earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed most of downtown San Francisco, the South of Market, and parts of the Western Addition and the Mission, driving waves of refugees to open parcels of land at the edge of the city. At first the refugees were housed in small wood-frame 'refugee shacks' hastily erected by the City in public parklands. However, as in other districts that experienced an influx of 'temporary' earthquake refugees (including the Potrero and Mission districts), many people decided to start afresh and settle in the Richmond. Parcels were subdivided within a few months of the disaster and houses began to pop up all over the district...."
I think events following the 1906 disaster are a sort of microcosm of America's history: people arrive as refugees, and stay as residents.

Bottom line: this seems to be a pretty good place to learn about the Richmond District's social and architectural history.

Learn about Residential Architecture, from Neocolonial to McMansion

"House Styles: A Guide To Residential Architecture"
About.com

"What style is your house? These articles and resources will help you identify architectural styles and recognize important trends in housing design. Compiled by Jackie Craven...."

If you lie awake nights, afraid that you won't be able to explain the difference between a Colonial Revival House and one designed in the Neocolonial style, this link page is for you.

At last, people who have struggled with the embarrassment of not knowing why architects developed the Rustic shingle style can learn how Victorian fussiness inspired a new style: in the privacy of their own homes.

After studying the resources here, you too can intelligently discuss the merits of modern, postmodern and McMansion houses.

Seriously? This is a pretty good resource.

Hidden Passageways of Five Eccentric Homes

"5 Eccentric Homes with Hidden Passageways"
howstuffworks

"If you ever find yourself in San Francisco with an extra $10,000 to spend, you might consider checking into the Penthouse Suite at the Fairmont Hotel. For that ­$10,000, you have your run of the entire eighth floor of the hotel, which includes three bedrooms, a dining room that seats 50 people, a billiards room, a bathroom with 24-karat-gold fixtures and a two-story library [source: Valhouli]. And on the second floor of the library, if you know just where to press, you can access a hidden passageway and live out your favorite Batman fantasy...."

Follow the 'read more' link, and you'll find a countdown of the five "eccentric homes," starting with Singer Castle (a little five-story getaway on the St. Lawrence River), to Sessions House. Despite the names, all the houses listed are in America.

After the Sessions House entry, there's a link tantalizingly labeled "Lots More Information."

Each house entry has a photo (not always of the house), and a fairly detailed description of the house and its history.

Enjoy.

Ancient Lake on Mars - Maybe

"New images show evidence of ancient Martian lake"
The Associated Press (June 19, 2009)

"New images suggest Mars had a sizable lake on its surface billions of years ago, further evidence that the planet had a watery past. Images snapped by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal a 30-mile-long canyon where water once flowed and beach remnants surrounding a basin.

Dubbed the Shalbatana lake for the valley it's located in, scientists believe it is about the size of Lake Champlain that borders the United States and Canada....
"

That picture shows how the Shalbotana lake might have looked, around 3,400,000,000 years ago.

Not everybody's entirely convinced that it's a lake. One scientists said that he'd like to see something besides images, before being sure that it was a body of water. Makes sense to me: although it will probably be a while before any explorer from Earth - robotic or otherwise - gets to that particular spot.
Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Related posts, at

Groundbreaking at Spaceport America: World's First Purpose-Built Commercial Spaceport

"Sky High Groundbreaking: New Mexico's Spaceport America"
Space.com (June 18, 2009)

"Dignitaries are sharpening their speeches, Shovels are at the ready. Hard hats are being polished. A dirt-shoving grader is undergoing a tune-up...and organizers are cooking up a hush-hush list of surprises.

"Hundreds of onlookers are gathering here for the formal groundbreaking ceremony of Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

"The June 19 event is being billed as a major step in the history and future of spaceflight – with Spaceport America serving as a launch pad for a new era of commercial space, including the boosting of public space travel to the suborbital heights...."

That picture is a look at how Spaceport America's passenger terminal will look. That's a few years off. On the other hand, the spaceport itself has been in operation for some time.

"...Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver, Colorado has already been testing new launch and recovery technologies within the grounds of Spaceport America.

" 'I see a paradigm shift...when we create this low-cost access to space. These are brand new tools that the U.S. government did not have to fund,' [New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Steve] Landeene emphasized...."

This article outlines what was planed for the groundbreaking ceremony. It's also a pretty good overview of what Spaceport America is, and what its developers plan to make it into.

More about Spaceport America at http://www.spaceportamerica.com/.

Related posts:

Curiosity Heat Shield: NASA's Biggest to Date

"Next Mars Rover Gets Huge Heat Shield"
Space.com (June 19, 2009)

"The largest heat shield ever built for a probe bound for Mars is ready for the new rover Curiosity, a massive Martian robot the size of a car.

"The immense heat shield will shroud the Mars Science Laboratory rover, now named Curiosity, to protect it during its deep space cruise to Mars and the searing heat of entry into the Martian atmosphere. Lockheed Martin unveiled the heat shield this week and delivered its conical backshell to NASA last year...."

The heat shield is larger than the one used in the Apollo command modules.

More to the point, if all goes well - hardly a sure thing for Mars missions - the Curiosity rover will collect information on Mars' climate and geology. This should help us understand more about what's been going on there for the last few billion years: and help prepare for people landing there.

The article also gives a brief overview of conditions the heat shield is designed to handle. It's made of Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator: the same substance used on the Stardust probe that brought back material from a comet.

Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lemming Tracks: One Day, 21 Hours, and About Five Minutes Offline

The Lemming was away from cyberspace for quite a bit of this week: and rather hopes that won't happen again, any time soon.

What turned out to be a simple equipment failure kept me from updating anything, including this blog, for almost two days. It wasn't until yesterday afternoon that my oldest daughter and I put me back online.

I've got some serious catching up to do. But not today. Tomorrow, yes.

An account of what the Lemming experienced is in another blog:

"Thursday: Back Online, Finally"
Through One Dad's Eye (June 18, 2009)

"I had a one day, 21 hour, and about five minute, 'vacation' from the Internet.

"Not by choice.

"Tuesday afternoon, about ten minutes after four, I was writing a post for another blog...."

Monday, June 15, 2009

12 Beautiful Upscale Hotel Pools

"12 Most Amazing Pools in the World"
BootsnAll Travel (February 23, 2009)

"It used to be that all you had to attract people to your hotel was build a pool. As tourists evolved, the pool was considered a must. Thus the indoor pool became a standard of luxury. Today, both of those types of pools are anything but impressive. It is this reason that many hotels are spending thousands, if not millions, on their pools in hopes of attracting customers. Check out some of these luxury hotel pools to see what we are talking about...."


(from BootsnAll Travel, used w/o permission)

That's the first of twelve pools mentioned. Each entry has a photo and a brief description. This one is called an "infinity pool." The last entry explains what "infinity pool" means: that the pool seems to "...drop into the sky."

What I appreciated most in this short article, besides the beautiful photos and short-but-adequate descriptions, was the brief look at the history and business aspect of hotel pools in the introduction.

The 12 featured pools are:
  1. Crown Towers Hotel in Taipa Island Macau
  2. Burj Al Arab in Dubai
  3. Golden Nugget Las Vegas
  4. Blue Lagoon Geothermal Resort in Grindavík, Iceland
  5. Begawan Giri Hotel in Ubud, Bali
  6. Mandarin Oriental in New York
  7. San Alfonso del Mar in Chile
  8. Four Seasons in Costa Rica
  9. Six Senses Hideaway in Zighy Bay, Oman
  10. Perivolas Luxury Hotel in Santorini
  11. Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas
  12. Hotel Villa Mahal in Turkey

Robocall Lawsuit: These are the People Who Have Been Annoying You

"Behind a Massive Robocall Scam, Four Human Faces"
FOXNews (June 15, 2009)

" You answer the phone, and it's a recorded message:

" 'By now you should have received your written note regarding your vehicle warranty expiring. This call is to give you a final opportunity to extend coverage before it is too late. Press '1' now to speak to a warranty specialist regarding your options on your vehicle.'

"Upon pressing '1,' you are transferred to a 'warranty specialist' who lies to you, telling you he is affiliated with an automobile dealer or manufacturer and that your warranty is up. And before long, you may have agreed to put $450 down on an extended service contract that costs up to $3,000, the balance to be paid in monthly payments.

"Or maybe you hang up — only to be called again. And again. Because more than a billion of these automatically dialed 'robocalls' have been sent to cell phones, government offices and even 911 operators...."

They're not just annoying: they're illegal.

And, it looks like only four people are behind them. Sure, there are the flunkies picking up the phones and technicians maintaining the equipment: but just a few people running the show:
  • Christopher D. Cowart
    • 47
    • Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    • Owns Transcontinental Warranty, a Delaware company based in Fort Lauderdale
  • James A. Dunne
    • 36
    • Daytona Beach, Florida
    • Owns Florida-based Voice Touch with his wife, Maureen
  • Maureen E. Dunne, nee Maureen Geisen
    • James Dunne's wife
    • "Little information can be found pertaining to her."
  • Damian P. Kohlfeld
    • 35
    • Valparaiso, Indiana
    • Owns Network Foundations, which is based in Chicago, Illinois
      (FOXNews)
Once more, those three companies are:
  • Transcontinental Warranty
  • Voice Touch
  • Network Foundations
There's a civil lawsuit going on, involving the Federal Trade Commission.

I don't mean to sound vindictive, but I hope those companies go under, their employees find an honest way to make a buck, and the four people running the show sanctioned so that they can't do any more damage.

There's more than annoyance here.

911 lines and the people who operate them are there to saving lives and deal with emergencies. When robocallers tie up the lines, they can't. I hope nobody's died as a result of the wunderkinds' greed: but we may never know.

And, there's the productivity lost while people answer the phone and discover that it's another robocall. For example, I'm running a tiny business in my home. I hang up at the word "warranty," but that takes a few seconds. I can't simply ignore the phone, and all those seconds wasted add up. Multiply that by whatever power of ten is involved, and you've got a huge amount of wasted time.

A Federal Trade Commission press release (link below) tells a bit about how the operation works.

More:

New Wonder Anti-Bacterial Element: Copper

"Copper Alloys Surfaces Touted As Pathogen Killers"
Bio-Medicine (February 11, 2007)

"Three types of alloy surfaces containing at least 90 per cent copper completely eliminate E. coli O157:H7, according to an ongoing UK study of the pathogen-killing// properties of the metal.

"The study gives machine makers a range of options when deciding on the mix of metals they use to coat the insides of their cooking surfaces, thus providing processors with a better means of eliminating E coli contamination in their products. E. Coli O157:H7 is a harmful bacterium primarily found in raw and undercooked ground beef or foods that come into contact with raw meat...."

"...The study was originally published in the June 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"The Copper Development Association Inc. and the International Copper Association Ltd funded the study...."

I'm going to skip the part where I discuss how this could be a conspiracy by Big Copper, but probably isn't.

Seriously, quite a range of microbes don't do at all well when they're in contact with copper.

There are a number of ways of looking at it.

There's this article's approach: suggesting that copper-lined cooking and food preparation tools could cut down on bacterial contamination. Not eliminate it entirely, of course: selfish or negligent fools can bollix up the best system. Remember the strange case of the poisoned peanuts, earlier this year?

Copper might be useful, further back on the food supply chain. "How Good Are Our Options With Copper, Bio-controls and Alliette for Fire Blight Control?" (Paul W. Steiner, Extension Fruit Pathologist, University of Maryland, College Park (January 13, 1998)) discussed one facet of that possibility.

And, maybe copper or copper alloy in doorknobs and railings in places like hospitals could help cut down on the transmission of bacterial infections.

More about copper:

Woman in Scotland Gets Swine Flu, Dies

"Scotland reports first 'swine flu' death outside Americas"
CNN (June 12, 2009)

"A person with swine flu died in Scotland on Sunday, the government announced, marking the first known death of a swine flu patient outside of the Americas, according to the latest World Health Organization information.

" Jacqueline Fleming, 38, had been "ill in hospital for a number of weeks," her family said in a statement Monday.

" 'Our whole family is absolutely devastated and we are doing everything we can to support Jacqueline's sons and her partner,' the statement said.

"She had 'underlying health conditions,' the Scottish government said, without elaborating.

" 'We are now waiting for the results of the death certificate to determine the cause of death,' the statement said.

"A total of 145 people had died from the H1N1 virus, as swine flu is officially known, as of Friday, according to the WHO...."

The article is a pretty good overview of what happened in the U.K. After the inconsistencies in reports on assistant principle Mitchell Weiner's "pre-existing medical conditions," I'm taking the Scottish Government's "underlying health conditions" statement with a grain of salt.

It's not that I think there's some vast conspiracy: but I do think that some officials are convinced that what they regard as the ignorant masses will panic if they aren't lied to. I don't think that's a good idea, but then I'm part of the ignorant masses.

Seriously: This is one death. Tragic as it is, influenza 2009 H1N1 still has a kill ratio that's about the same as any other strain of influenza. There really isn't any reason to panic. Take rational, common-sense precautions like washing your hands before eating: yes. Panic: no.

Think about it: Is it ever a good idea to panic?

More, at "SWINE FLU: NOVARTIS, VACCINE AVAILABLE BY FALL," AGI News On (June 12, 2009). List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Youngest Discoverer of Oddest Supernova

"Peculiar, Junior-sized Supernova Discovered By New York Teen"
Science News, Science Daily (June 11, 2009)

"In November 2008, Caroline Moore, a 14-year-old student from upstate New York, discovered a supernova in a nearby galaxy, making her the youngest person ever to do so. Additional observations determined that the object, called SN 2008ha, is a new type of stellar explosion, 1000 times more powerful than a nova but 1000 times less powerful than a supernova. Astronomers say that it may be the weakest supernova ever seen.

"Even though this explosion was a weakling compared to most supernovae, for a short time SN 2008ha was 25 million times brighter than the sun. However, since it is 70 million light years away, it appeared very faint viewed from Earth.

"The peculiar object effectively bridged the gap between a nova (a nuclear explosion on the surface of an old, compact star called a white dwarf) and a type Ia supernova (the destructive death of a white dwarf caused by a runaway nuclear reaction starting deep in the star). SN 2008ha likely was a failed supernova where the explosion was unable to destroy the entire star...."

Caroline Moore discovered SN 2008ha with a relatively small telescope, and now much more powerful and specialized instruments are studying it.

This article does a pretty good job of discussing what makes this supernova so odd - and interesting - in fairly non-technical language.

"...'Coincidentally, the youngest person to ever discover a supernova found one of the most peculiar and interesting supernovae ever,' remarked [University of California, Berkeley supernova group leader Alex] Filippenko. 'This shows that no matter what your age, anyone can make a significant contribution to our understanding of the Universe.'..."

Previously-Unknown Bacteria Species 120,000 Years Under Ice - and Alive

"Microbe Wakes Up After 120,000 Years"
LiveScience (June 15, 2009)

"After more than 120,000 years trapped beneath a block of ice in Greenland, a tiny microbe has awoken. The long-lasting bacteria may hold clues to what life forms might exist on other planets.

"The new bacteria species was found nearly 2 miles (3 km) beneath a Greenland glacier, where temperatures can dip well below freezing, pressure soars, and food and oxygen are scarce.

" 'We don't know what state they were in,' said study team member Jean Brenchley of Pennsylvania State University. 'They could've been dormant, or they could've been slowly metabolizing, but we don't know for sure.'..."

As my oldest daughter said, when I told her about this article, 'that reminds me of some Stargate Atlantis episodes.' There is a sort of science-fictionish air to this bit of news: but it's all quite real.

It took a bit of doing to coax the bacteria back to what we regard as a normally lively condition. And the effort should be worthwhile: there's a lot to learn from the new species.

These bacteria are quite small - for bacteria - which could give them a number of advantages. One of the pluses to being tiny is that they could live "...among ice crystals and in the thin liquid film on those surfaces...."

The article mentions another new species of bacteria found nearby.

For me, one of the more interesting possibilities is that studying these tiny creatures could help us speculate on how life could live on worlds that aren't quite like Earth. And, once we (or, more likely, our robot explorers) get there, what to look for.

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