Saturday, May 31, 2008

"City Lounge:" Good Urban Design in Switzerland

"City Lounge by Carlos Martinez"
Coolboom (May 22, 2008) (in "Landscape Design" section)

"City Lounge is an outdoor space in the center of St. Gallen, Switzerland, that has been designed by Carlos Martinez in collaboration with Pipilotti Rist, as a result of a design competition to create a public living room...."

Good idea, cool photos, looks like a comfortable urban public space.

Space Shuttle Discovery, Minnesotan, and Buzz Lightyear, in Orbit

Exciting times:
  • "Discovery in Orbit"
    NASA (May 31, 2008)
    • "Space shuttle Discovery rocketed into space safely this evening to begin a 14-day mission to attach a new scientific module to the International Space Station. Launch came at 5:02 p.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and set Discovery on a trajectory to intercept the space station in two days...."
  • "Minnesota native counting down to Discovery launch"
    KARE 11 (May 31, 2008)
    • "An astronaut who grew up in Minnesota is about to become one of only a half-dozen from the state who have gone to space.
    • "Karen Nyberg is from the tiny town of Vining, which is located about 27 miles east of Fergus Falls. She graduated from Henning High School in 1988. She'll join a mission to the International Space Station on Saturday, conditions permitting.
    • "All of Vining will be watching when the second of three flights brings components to the Japanese Kibo laboratory...."
    • "...Also being squeezed on board is a Disney action figure, Buzz Lightyear. It'll spend several months at the space station as part of an educational program for math and science teachers and their students."
  • " 'To Infinity - and Beyond!' Buzz Lightyear Goes Into Space"
    Apathetic Lemming of the North (May 29, 2008)
    • "...I'm a bit of a Buzz Lightyear fan, so this is good news for me. It's also part of a NASA "Toys in Space" educational program. Buzz Lightyear is scheduled to be in orbit for six months...."
  • "Shuttle Discovery Launches Space Station's Largest Lab" (May 31, 2008)
    • "CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA's shuttle Discovery rocketed into space Saturday with a massive Japanese laboratory bound for the International Space Station."
    • "Discovery shot up into the sky at 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT) from its seaside Launch Pad 39A here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center carrying what will soon be the largest single room aboard the space station - the tour bus-sized main cabin of the Japan's Kibo ("hope" in Japanese) laboratory."
There's more about the Kibo lab at "Space Shuttle Mission Loaded with 'Hope' " ( (May 27, 2008)). " 'This is a big milestone for the Japanese community,' said Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who will ride aboard Discovery as a mission specialist to help install his country's new lab. 'A lot of people worked on this for 20-plus years, so this is really a mission to make a dream come true. It's the same for me.' "

It's a big accomplishment, as well as a big lab. At this point, the experiments planned are for life science, materials science and fluid mechanics.

I think Japan has a great deal to be proud of with the Kobe lab and what it's expected to do - and I'm rather pleased with the American contribution, too.

Free Stats, Sort of: This Looks Interesting

"check of url popularity"

For Google, Alexa, Compete, Quantcast, Technorati. and others.

Looks like a pretty good one-stop check on a URLs rankings. The numbers I saw for mine were what I expected.

3D Modelers' Tool: Looks GoodI


"UVMapper Professional is a stand-alone texture mapping utility for the creation and modification of UV coordinates for n-sided polygonal 3D models. UVMapper Professional offers multiple, fully configurable viewports with completely interactive 2D and 3D views. It includes planar, box, cylindrical, spherical and polar mapping modes, all of which are available in a realtime, interactive mapping environment. Also included are many other tools such as Relax UVs and Subdivision Surfaces that will allow you to bring your texture mapping skills to the next level. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or professional 3D artist, UVMapper Professional will provide you with everything you need to texture map the most demanding models."

I do some 3D image work, and this was recommended to me. It's supposed to 'unwrap' the surface of an existing model, allowing someone to 'paint' new colors and patterns on the model.

Pretty neat, for modelers. Utterly irrelevant to everyone else.

Next step, for me, will be to see how (and if) it works.

Clueless Client, Curmudgeonly Customer Support Clash over Dead Computer

"Stupid Client Quote #2190"
Clientcopia: Coping with stupid clients (February 15, 2005)

"This is a true story from the WordPerfect Help line which was transcribed from a recording monitoring the customer care department. Needless to say, the Help Desk employee was fired however, he is currently suing the WordPerfect organization for termination without Cause. This is the actual dialogue of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee (now I know why they record these conversations)"
The dialog is funny, at least for everyone except the client and the Help Desk employee.

I suppose I can understand the ex-employee "suing the WordPerfect organization for termination without Cause." America (I'm guessing both parties are Americans) and ancient Rome both seem to have filing lawsuits as a sort of unofficial national sport.

Just the same, I'm with WordPerfect on this one. I've been the tech support guy, and the employee who took calls from panicked customers. You don't tell them that they're stupid.

Particularly when they are.

Big Billboard is Watching You?

Billboards with smart cameras are helping startup businesses figure out who is interested in the products and services they offer.

(The Lemming starts a rare rant.)

'Obviously,' This is an Invasion of Privacy

When many people say "privacy" these days, they apparently mean "anonymity." They're one more unit in a faceless mass, and they like it that way.

If they go into a store, they don't want anyone to recognize them, and certainly don't want the clerk to remember what they've ordered before, and which shelves piqued their interest.

If they're on the street, they don't want to be recognized, don't want to be noticed, and certainly don't want to be remembered.

If you think that sounds odd, I'll agree. But the response to security cameras and online stores that remember a customer's buying habits, suggest that this is what a great many people want.

I don't. But then, I'm not a typical urbanite. I was born and grew up in Fargo-Moorhead, mostly before the two towns' combined population hit 100,000. The closest I've come to living in a large city is San Francisco (beautiful city, boring climate - that's another story). With fewer than 800,000 people, San Francisco is practically a small town - compared to 'real' cities like Bangkok, Los Angeles, or Tokyo.

Today, I live in a town with about 4,000 other people. It's the sort of place where 'if you don't remember what you did today, ask someone. They'll know.' My father lives in an even smaller town. I got a phone call from one of his neighbors recently, who'd noticed something odd about my father's place, and was concerned.

"Privacy?" In what seems to be the urbanite sense of the word, it doesn't exist here. And, I love it.

About those 'intrusive' billboards: people, get a grip. In my world, billboards are like shop windows. They're there to bring in customers.

And, it would be a brain-dead shopkeeper who didn't pay attention to what sort of people stopped to look at the front window. It really does make a difference: particularly if you're trying to decide where to advertise, and how to present your services or products.

I've wondered if this craze for "privacy" will eventually lead to people walking around with bags over their heads, and capacious gowns to hide their identity.

(from The New York Times, used w/o permission)
Person having their privacy violated by intrusive billboard?

(from The New York Times, used w/o permission)
Military inspection of disturbing billboard.

(The Lemming's calmer now. )

Here's what got the Lemming started this morning:

"Billboards That Look Back"
The New York Times (May 31, 2008)

"In advertising these days, the brass ring goes to those who can measure everything — how many people see a particular advertisement, when they see it, who they are. All of that is easy on the Internet, and getting easier in television and print.

"Billboards are a different story. For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.

"Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by — their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

"Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon...."

" 'I didn’t see that at all, to be honest,' said Sam Cocks, a 26-year-old lawyer, when the camera was pointed out to him by a reporter. 'That’s disturbing. I would say it’s arguably an invasion of one’s privacy.'

"Organized privacy groups agree, though so far the practice of monitoring billboards is too new and minimal to have drawn much opposition. But the placement of surreptitious cameras in public places has been a flashpoint in London, where cameras are used to look for terrorists, as well as in Lower Manhattan, where there is a similar initiative...."

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Post About America's Memorial Day

"More Than Barbecues"
My Adventures in History (May 25, 2008)

""What's Memorial Day for?" asked my friend. After proceeding to explain why we celebrate the upcoming holiday, I wondered how many people have asked this same question. I know I have. In the past, it has been quickly dismissed as just another holiday, where we get an extra day off of work to have barbecues. So what is Memorial Day exactly?..."

I missed this one, when Memorial Day weekend was coming up. But, it's got some good thoughts - and a couple of links - so, 'better late than never.'

Phoenix Mars Lander: Sitting on Ice?

"NASA's Phoenix Lander Robotic Arm Camera Sees Possible Ice"
Phoenix Mars Mission (May 30, 2008) (Article posted May 30, 2008; referencing news conference of May 30, 2008; and elsewhere identified as being released May 30, 2008. Article's dateline of May 29 is not accurate.)

"Scientists have discovered what may be ice that was exposed when soil was blown away as NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars last Sunday, May 25. The possible ice appears in an image the robotic arm camera took underneath the lander, near a footpad...."

More: This isn't like the 'Martian invaders' movies that we had, back in the fifties: no ray guns; no handsome young scientist who takes off his glasses and saves the day in the last reel.

It may not be Hollywood-dramatic, but this unfolding tale of a robot in the arctic wastes of Mars, prospecting for ice, has its own appeal. And, it's real.

Phoenix Mars Lander: a Cultural First

"No One Toys With NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander " (May 30, 2008)

"In one scene during the 1995 feature film "Apollo 13," Tom Hanks, as astronaut James Lovell, demonstrates to his son how the Apollo lunar module flies to a landing on the Moon using a toy model of the lander....

"Unlike the Apollo module or earlier Mars landers however, there are no toy or model versions of Phoenix available to parents, teachers, children or collectors to recreate the spacecraft's dramatic entry, descent and landing that was described by the mission's officials as 'seven minutes of terror.'

"Phoenix, as only the sixth lander to safely touch down on the surface, is the only one that hasn't been packaged for sale as a toy or model kit...."

Perhaps this signals a massive shift in the America psychosocial subconscious gestalt away from expressions of expansionistic prevelances.

Or, maybe no toy manufacturers are making Phoenix toys because " 'Phoenix doesn't have wheels, and isn't coming out of the high drama of two Mars mission failures as [the rovers] did,' he [the lander's flight systems engineer] said."

I vote for the "doesn't have wheels" explanation.

Very Strange Pictures

"Great Art by La Mouton"
The Funny Web (March 10th, 2008)

I won't confirm or deny that the artworks here are "great," but they certainly are strange.

Kouzou Sakai Illustration: Beautiful Graphics

"Kouzou Sakai Illustration"

You need to know Japanese to read this website: but the graphics are beautiful.

Funny Alarm Clocks

"15 Funniest Alarm Clocks - Part 1"
Techpin (May 15, 2008)

"There are several gadgets indispensable for our these days life style and just to enumerate a few we have the cell phone, the watch, laptops, memory sticks, and for some, portable media players, but there is none of you that doesn’t use an alarm clock, right? ..."

Includes photos and description of:
  • The Pillow Alarm Clock
  • The Throw Alarm Clocks (shaped like a soccer ball)
  • The Running Alarm Clock (it runs away)
Not bad: and a cut or two above most novelty gifts.

Segway, Safety, Sense, and Jolly Old England

Segways in England got back in the news this month. They've been banned for some time, it seems, and not the House of Lords is considering letting them back on that sceptered Isle. The Brit ban on Segways isn't quite as daft and Luddite as it seems. A couple years ago, they had a bit of a fright over the smart scooters.

Of the 23,500 Segways made, back in 2006, six had malfunctioned and hurt their riders. That's serious. The manufacturer recalled all of the Segways, fixed the software problem, and moved on. England, with admirable caution, banned Segways.

(I got my calculator out: 6/23,500 is about 1/3,917. That's really cautious. Particularly considering that the problem had been fixed. Of course, it wasn't my head that was bumped.)

Reading about the Segway SNAFU, I realized that I'd run into a situation like this before: the 'red flag laws' that protected people from those dangerous automobiles, back in the 19th century.

Segways, British Lords, and a Florida businessman in the news; and a look into protective legislation from the Victorian Age:
  • "Segway hits reverse as scooters are recalled"
    Guardian (UK) (September 14, 2006)
    • "It was billed as a device that would change the world, with the cities of the future designed around its revolutionary capabilities.
    • "But the Segway electric scooter now seems to be heading the way of the Sinclair C5, after its manufacturers announced that all 23,500 models would be recalled today because of a software problem that causes it to throw off its riders.
    • "Segway said that a problem with the self-balancing scooter's internal programs could cause its wheels to unexpectedly switch into reverse.
    • "The company had received six reports of Segways failing to operate, causing injuries to the heads and wrists of several riders...."
  • "UK Segway ban could soon be lifted" (May 21, 2008)
    • "Segway, the two-wheeled mobility device, could soon be making their way to UK roads if a new legislation is passed in the House of Lords.
    • "According to the BBC, Conservative transport spokesman Robert Goodwill has asked for the ban on the vehicles to be overturned, saying the government is 'dismissive' of the mode of travel.
    • "If the ban is lifted, Segway users could soon be allowed to use cycle lanes up and down the country.
    • "In a trial that TechRadar would have loved to have witnessed, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Redesdale tried a Segway and commented: 'It took me a few minutes to learn how to use it and I was very impressed with it.
    • " 'The vehicle's safety mechanism was particularly good and was demonstrated by the fact that I drove straight at the noble Earl, Lord Attlee (with his consent) and failed to do him any damage at all - unfortunately!' ..."
  • "Billy’s Rentals secures new Segway permit"
    The Island Reporter (Sanibel, Florida) (May 30, 2008)
    • "Earlier this week, Planning Commissioners voted 4-3 to grant Billy Kirkland, the owner of Billy’s Rentals on Sanibel, a continuous conditional use permit allowing him to conduct Segway tours on the island.
    • "Since receiving his first conditional permit granted by the Planning Commission in 2005, Kirkland has been required to reapply for a new permit every 18 months.
    • "During Tuesday’s meeting, he requested that his permit would be approved without the need for renewal, and said that he has spent in excess of $7,000 in fees submitting applications to the Planning Department.
    • "The Segway tours have met strong opposition from some members of the Commission as well as the public, who deem the motorized devices unsafe and unfit for the shared use paths on the island.... "
I'm reminded of the good old days (before my time), when the automobile was new. Back in those days, public figures were just as cautious as they are today, of terrifying new technologies.

For example: "...England first brought regulation to bear on motorised transport in 1861, under the Imperial Locomotives on Highways Act 1861 - amended 1865 and designed to deal with steam-driven agricultural and industrial traction engines travelling on highways - in which the notorious 'Red Flag' clause stipulated that a person with a red flag must proceed the vehicle at a distance of sixty yards. ..." ("Keeping Order: Motor-Car Regulation and the Defeat of Victoria's 1905 Motor-Car Bill"
(Public Record Office Victoria (Australia)(

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander Ready to Dig, Sends Photos

The Phoenix Mars Lander unpacked and extended its robot arm today, and should be ready to dig trenches. At this point, it's waiting for scientists back on Earth to decide where they want the lander to take samples.

The lander also sent some photos home.

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, used w/o permission)
Panorama of Mars Arctic region, from Phoenix lander (May 29, 2008)

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, used w/o permission)
Fish-eye view of Mars Arctic region, from Phoenix Lander (May 29, 2008)
North is up in this image.

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, used w/o permission)
News briefing image of area around Phoenix Mars lander (May 29, 2008)
"Scientists ... are having a bit of fun, naming Mars rocks after fairy-tale characters to make them easier to identify. ... It's not just for fun, though. Identifying the various features helps them map out where they will dig. Instead of using numbers, they pick fairy-tale and folk-tale themes, said lead scientist Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona. " ( "Mars robotic arm unfolds successfully" (May 29, 2008))

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, used w/o permission)
Another news briefing image of area around Phoenix Mars lander (May 29, 2008)
"Phoenix transmitted a 360-degree panorama of its frigid Martian world, freed its nearly 8-foot robotic arm, tested a laser instrument for studying dust and clouds, and transmitted its second weather report on Wednesday evening."
More at "NASA Phoenix Mars Lander Puts Arm and Other Tools to Work" (NASA press release (May 29, 2008))

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, used w/o permission)
Mars weather report for Phoenix lander, Sol 2 (May 29, 2008). Information provided by Canadian LIDAR package on Phoenix.
" 'The Canadians are walking on moonbeams. It's a huge achievement for us,' said Jim Whiteway Canadian Science lead from York University, Toronto. The lidar is a critical component of Phoenix's weather station, provided by the Canadian Space Agency. The instrument is designed to detect dust, clouds and fog by emitting rapid pulses of green laser-like light into the atmosphere. The light bounces off particles and is reflected back to a telescope." More at "NASA Phoenix Mars Lander Puts Arm and Other Tools to Work" (NASA press release (May 29, 2008))
That's cold, even by Minnesota standards.

More at Phoenix Mars Lander

Links to more 'Mars' posts on this blog at "Mars, Mostly."

Mars, Mostly

Posts about Mars, for the most part:

Related posts, at

"To Infinity - and Beyond!" Buzz Lightyear Goes Into Space

"Buzz Lightyear Becomes Real Space Ranger" (May 29, 2008)

"If you listen closely on Saturday, when NASA launches the space shuttle Discovery on a 14-day mission to the International Space Station, you may just hear the voice of the STS-124 crew's special guest eighth astronaut.

"He'll be the one exclaiming, 'To infinity... and beyond!'

"Standing 12-inches tall, Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who thought he was a real space ranger in the 1995 film 'Toy Story', will achieve his dream of flying in space as part of a new educational partnership between NASA and the Walt Disney Company."

I'm a bit of a Buzz Lightyear fan, so this is good news for me. It's also part of a NASA "Toys in Space" educational program. Buzz Lightyear is scheduled to be in orbit for six months.

The Lightyear mission is part of a cooperative effort with Disney Studios. " 'The Space Ranger Education Series will give teachers an opportunity to incorporate a fun and engaging moment into the classroom with a character that children really love,' said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Disney's Parks and Resorts."

On another website, there's a video preview about the Space Ranger Education Series games.

Stories About Stupid Tech Support

"Computer Stupidities: Stupid Tech Support"

"By no means is tech support immune to exhibiting computer stupidity of their own. This page consists of stories of customers that just can't get the help they need."

The first example:
  • "Customer: 'Hi, I can't seem to connect you guys are you having a problem?'
  • Tech Support: 'Well sir, what dialup software are you using?'
  • Customer: 'The one you provided.'
  • Tech Support: 'And what version is it?"
  • Customer: (says the version number)
  • Tech Support: 'Oh, that's the problem you need the latest version.'
  • Customer: 'Ok, how do I get it?'
  • Tech Support: 'Well, just transfer the file via FTP."
  • Customer: 'Well that would be nice, but I can't connect to the Internet.'
  • Tech Support: (sounding exasperated) 'I told you just to FTP the file sir.'
"I hung up."

Sofa Morphs Into Bunk Bed

"Sleeping on a sofa is not a big problem again now"
The World According to Shearyadi (May 19, 2008)

"Have you ever had a time when your wife is getting so angry with you and she’s yelling at you to sleep on sofa for tonight? Or maybe you have an apartment with only one bedroom while your friend is coming to stay for one night or two in town...."

With photos to show how the sofa-to-bunk-bed works.

This convertible furniture looks like a good idea. Particularly in terms of conserving floor space.

Cobra-Head Solar Collectors Teach Students - Weird, but True

"Veil Solar Shade Harvests Energy And Teaches Pupils About Renewable Energy"
Device Daily (May 27, 2008)

"The Australian Government had a great initiative which has the purpose to teach kids and pupils how important and how much we need renewable energy. Thanks to a design by Buro North, the Australian primary schools will get their solar power installations which will generate electricity and provide shade from the sun."

"The Veil Solar Shades were inspired by cobra heads and they resemble with a canopy. The interactive solar power installations will harvest energy at full potential during daylight as they feature a pattern of LED lights that displays the intensity of the sun. When you notice that the intensity decreases, then you can rotate the Veils by 180 degrees in order to reach the best position to harvest solar energy."

Photos show this remarkable fusion of art and technology.

I don't know about that "renewable energy," though. The last I heard, the sun was expected to run out of fuel in another few billion years.

The Exact Center of the Internet

"Exact Center of the Internet"

At least, that's what it says it is.

Worth a smile, at least.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Solar-Powered Speedboat - No Kidding

"Solar-Powered Speedboat Goes on Sale in Netherlands"
FOXNews (May 28, 2008)

"It'd make Sonny Crockett from 'Miami Vice' proud — in a totally 'green' way.

"Dutch researchers at the Technical University of Delft have developed what they say is the world's first solar-powered speedboat, and it's got all the luxurious trimmings one would expect.

"According to maritime engineers Nils Beers and David Czap, the idea for the Czeers (a combination of their last names, and pronounced "Cheers") Mk I began as a sketch on the back of a beer coaster at a local pub."

The 33-foot speedboat's 150 square feet of solar cells push it along at 35 miles an hour.

Not bad at all. I'm glad to see that 'green' inventors are developing technologies that are clean and effective.

Another Young Man Found Dead in the Water: Smiley Face Killings?

There are at least two sides to the story of a young man's body, discovered below a waterfall.

Although identification doesn't seem to be official yet, the assumption is that the body is Nicholas Garza's: he's a college student from the American southwest, who went missing in February of this year.

Nicholas Garza's death is a terrible loss to his family and those who knew him.

Unhappily, they may have quite a bit of company.

A sample of "smiley face" graffiti was on a shed near where Nicholas Garza's body was found. Although smiley faces are a fairly common feature on the American scene, the presence of one near the body of another young, attractive, smart, male, college student does encourage thoughts of the "smiley face killers." (Homeland Security National Terror Alert - Homeland Security News (April 28, 2008)) (" is a private homeland security blog and not affiliated with any government agency. We archive and comment on homeland security related news items from a variety of news sources, as well as provide immediate updates on breaking stories, bulletins and any change in status to Homeland Security advisory.")

Despite what two retired New York detectives have found, Law Enforcement agencies prefer to see about 40 deaths as unrelated incidents, mostly accidents. Never mind that the victims
  • Match one profile
    • Young
    • Attractive
    • Male
    • Bright, successful
    • Men
  • Died in very similar ways
  • "Accidentally" died near smiley face graffiti
It's not hard to see law enforcement's approach to the "Smiley Face Killings" as a real-world equivalent of a standard old detective story scenario. You've probably run into it: stories where a police detective doesn't notice a pattern until the fifth member of the same British family is found dead, with a poisoned needle in his or her neck.

I have a great deal of respect for American police in general, but in this case I'm afraid that law enforcement may be dealing with a set of crimes that aren't neatly packaged enough to be recognized.

I'm reminded of "the I-70 Murders," where Herb Baumeister killed at least 10 men along the I-70 corridor. In that case, it was well after pieces of people started popping up on his property that local authorities decided that some sort of action should be taken. Mr. Baumeister eventually killed himself. (More at "Herb Baumeister" (an overview, with links to other resrources), "Loose Ends" ( and, in passing, in "Herb Baumeister" (True Crime Stories blog).)

Mr. Baumeister's relative immunity to investigation may have been due to his wealth and position in the community. There are people who are extremely unwilling to believe that someone in a particular group may be guilty of a serious crime.

I hope that, if "The Smiley Face Killings" are another case of interstate serial killings, law enforcement doesn't wait until a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot steps in to solve the case.

Sad News for the Garza Family

"Nicholas Garza Missing since February 5, 2008"
  • "On May 27, 2008 our beautiful Nicholas was recovered from Otter Creek. We are filled with unspeakable grief and sadness with the loss of our beloved boy. We thank everyone for their prayers and support."
  • "A fund has been set up to assist the Garza family in their search for Nick.
    • "Click here to donate online via PAYPAL
    • "Or, checks made out to to the Garza Family Fund can be sent to:
    • "Natalie Garza
      c/o Margaret Falcone
      8444 Vista Verde
      Albuquerque, NM 87120
(Generally, funds like this have a bank or similar institution as a receiver of funds. I don't know why the Garza family has this arrangement.)

"A $20,000 reward has been posted for anyone who can provide information leading to the safe return, or, if a homicide has occurred, to the arrest and conviction of those responsible."

"Body found in creek believed to be Nicholas Garza's" (May 27, 2008)

"MIDDLEBURY, Vt.—A body believed to be that of missing collegian Nicholas Garza was pulled from the Otter Creek on Tuesday, police said.

"The badly-decomposed body of an unidentified male was found among sunken timber in a floating debris pile below a waterfall as authorities prepared to mount another search this weekend. Searchers were taking temperature readings in the river and performing depth soundings when the remains were found, according to Police Chief Tom Hanley.

" 'They do appear to be the remains of Nicholas Garza, but identification will be made at an autopsy tomorrow,' said Hanley.

"A wallet found on the body belonged to Garza, police said.

" 'It was Nick,' said his mother, Natalie Garza, who was there when the body was removed."

Smiley Face Killings in the News

"Smiley face killers may be stalking college men""
CNN (May 21, 2008)

"ALBANY, New York (CNN) -- At the age of 21, Christopher Jenkins appeared to have everything going for him. The University of Minnesota senior was good-looking, had a near perfect grade-point average and had a future in business.

"Then, suddenly, he vanished.

"He was last seen celebrating Halloween at a bar in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2002. Jenkins' friends said he left about midnight. Four months later, his body was found in the Mississippi River, still wearing his Halloween costume.

"Minneapolis police classified the drowning as accidental.

"Jenkins' blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit, and police told his parents that he'd probably had too much to drink after bar -hopping with friends. They thought he'd fallen into the river.

"Despite a lack of evidence, his parents, Steve and Jan Jenkins, insisted that there had been foul play...."

"...In 2006, nearly four years after Jenkins died, there was a break in the case. A tip from a man in jail, described by Minneapolis police as a witness or suspect, caused police to change Jenkins' cause of death from "unexplained drowning" to homicide...."

"... [retired police detective] Gannon enlisted the help of another former NYPD officer, Anthony Duarte, when Christopher Jenkins' death became a homicide. In 2003, the two traveled to Minneapolis to investigate Jenkins' death.

"They learned about a string of student drowning deaths, many of them involving young men who attended colleges along the Interstate 94 corridor in the Midwest -- in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa...."

"...Why would the killer or killers put the bodies in the water? The effect of water on evidence makes for an almost perfect crime, Duarte said. Not only does it make it appear like an accidental drowning instead of a murder, but the water frequently washes away key pieces of evidence such as fingerprints and fibers, so the killer can't be identified...."

So far, the strategy seems to have worked - assuming that the Smiley Face Killings aren't some sort of bizarre statistical fluke.

Previous posts on the "Smiley Face Killers:"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Frenchman's Record-Breaking Parachute Jump Delayed, at Least

"Frenchman Plummeting 25 Miles From The Sky Will Break Sound Barrier"
Miijoo (May 25, 2008)

Well, it would have. This article gives details, with photos and graphics, of what was planned. The parachutist's balloon went up without him.

" French parachutist: 'I'm not about to give up'"
CNN (May 27, 2008)

"French parachutist Michel Fournier vowed Tuesday to try again to launch a record-breaking skydive in August, hours after a "freak" accident over Canada aborted his second attempt to do so.

" 'I'm not about to give up,' the 64-year-old adventurer said of his shot at setting a world record for the highest jump and fastest, longest free fall by a man riding a balloon...."

The CNN article includes photos, links to videos.

Learning to Draw from a Photograph

"Pen and Ink Drawing Demonstration by Mike Budden"
Drawing and Sketching: Art Instruction For Beginners (March 6, 2008)

"How to draw: Using a photograph.

HB Pencil.
Putty Rubber.
Layout paper.
Acid free cartridge paper.
Viewfinder grid.
Magnifying glass.
Rotring Isograph pens; .1mm, .25mm and .35mm.
Black India ink.
A piece of lint free cloth - to wipe your pens on.
Tissues, for resting your hand upon - fingers leave greasy marks on the paper and the ink won’t take kindly to it.

"Gillott Mapping pens can also be used (dip pens) for fine detail work."

Looks like a pretty good how-2, and one that's appropriate for beginners. Provided the beginner knows what Rotring Isograph pens and Gillott Mapping pens are.

Of course these days, a quick search, like Google's Rotring Isograph pens, lets people learn new terms pretty easily.

Photos, graphics.

Lifelock CEO Todd Davis Victim of Identity Theft, and There's a Lawsuit

"Does LifeLock really work?"
KPTM FOX 42 Omaha (May 25, 2008)

"There are a number of relatively new products on the market offering to protect us from identity theft. One of them features a marketing campaign that has people talking.

"The commercials definitely get your attention: LifeLock CEO Todd Davis parades his social security number around for everyone to see.

" 'I know I have made this information useless to the criminal,' says Davis. "We are the only company that actually stops this crime before it happens.

"For about $10 a month. But it's $10 you may not need to spend.

" 'The core services that they offer is actually available to consumers at no cost,' says Jaimee Napp of the Identity Theft Action Council of Nebraska...."

'Caveat Emptor' - 'buyer beware' - an old saying, and still a useful warning.

One more thing: "Fraud-prevention pitchman becomes ID theft victim" (CNN (May 22, 2008)). "SAN JOSE, California (AP) -- Todd Davis has dared criminals for two years to try stealing his identity: Ads for his fraud-prevention company, LifeLock, even offer his Social Security number next to his smiling mug."

And, predictably, there's a lawsuit.

Todd Davis's commercials, showing his social security number on a truck, have been described as hubris. Maybe so.

I see that as really good marketing. What disturbs me is that he apparently was selling a service that's free.

Attractive Modern House: Gatia House in Chili

"Gatica House by Felipe Assadi and Francisca Pulido"
Architecture Lab (May 21, 2008)

"This is a contemporary modern house in Chilean countryside called Gatica House designed by Felipe Assadi+Francisca Pulido. The house is raised from the coexistence of two domestic programs: a stable family made up of a marriage and a family visitor comprising 3 children and their families.

"The scheme is in two parts: first, which takes place in a line composed of the access, dining halls and common master bedroom is understood as the 'main house'. The second-which should not be divided from the past but whether to retain their individuality-is understood as the elastic programme, a portion that is inserted literally within the volume whose main use is preferably weekend."

On first reading (also second and third, for me) - "The house is raised from the coexistence of two domestic programs: a stable family made up of a marriage and a family visitor comprising 3 children and their families" makes it sound like the house was build to accommodate some guests.

If so, the owners must be extremely obliging hosts - and very rich.

Photos show another modern house.

News from Mars: Radio Relay Requires Repeat, Phoenix Photo Snapped from Space

Today's news is a mix of good and bad, plus photos.

"NASA Mars Lander Prepares to Move Arm"
NASA (May 27, 2008)

"NASA's Phoenix Lander is ready to begin moving its robotic arm, first unlatching its wrist and then flexing its elbow.

"Mission scientists are eager to move Phoenix's robotic arm, for that arm will deliver samples of icy terrain to their instruments made to study this unexplored Martian environment.

"The team sent commands for moving the arm on Tuesday morning, May 27, to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for relay to Phoenix. However, the orbiter did not relay those commands to the lander, so arm movement and other activities are now planned for Wednesday. The orbiter's communication-relay system is in a standby mode. NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter is available for relaying communications between Earth and Phoenix.... "

Short version: NASA tried sending a message through 'normal' channels, but has a backup.
  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter didn't pass along commands intended for the Phoenix lander
  • The Mars Odyssey orbiter is available as a relay station, and NASA will try sending through Odyssey tomorrow

And, photos from Mars:

(from NASA website, used w/o permission)
Phoenix on Mars, photo taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (May 27, 2008).

(from NASA website, used w/o permission)
Phoenix landing site, in the north polar region of Mars, with labels (May 27, 2008).

(A NASA gallery page explains that the photos from orbit are color-enhanced.

(from NASA website, used w/o permission)
Part of the Phoenix lander (May 27, 2008).

(from NASA website, used w/o permission)
Landscape in the arctic region of Mars (May 27, 2008).

(More at NASA's "Latest Images.")

Meanwhile, back in low Earth orbit, "Space station toilet on the fritz" (CNN (May 27, 2008)).

Big Changes on a Big Planet: Red Spot on Jupiter Has Company

"Jupiter's Spots Change Dramatically" (May 26, 2008)

"A potentially historic change is occurring on Jupiter. An upstart storm now rivals the gas giant's Big Red Spot as king of storms, astronomers announced last week.

"The Little Red Spot, as it was named upon discovery in 2006, shows both size and speed in threatening to knock the former champion off its perch, with Junior's maximum winds reaching 384 mph (172 meters per second)...."

"A third red spot on Jupiter was also announced last week by a different team, joining its larger super-storm cousins. The Great Red Spot has raged on for at least two centuries and perhaps as much as 350 years, ancient observations suggest...."

"Such changes in Jupiter's weather come as part of a global upheaval that began before the New Horizons spacecraft visited last year. The idea that Jupiter is undergoing global climate change was proposed in 2004 by Phil Marcus, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. He predicted large changes in the southern hemisphere starting around 2006 that would destabilize jet streams and spawn new storms."

Exciting times for astronomy: particularly since there are now space-based observing platforms that have clear views of the sky.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Social Networking Wars: A Funny Video

"Social Networking Wars"
YouTube video (5:27)

An animated video, spoofing MySpace, Facebook, and other online communities.

I'm half-afraid that the origins of MySpace is close to being accurate.

Getting back to the real world doesn't look like such a bad idea to me: but then, my real world is probably more interesting than the narrator's.

(Thanks to BlogCatalog thread "Social Networking Wars," started May 26, 2008, for pointing me to this video.)

Phoenix Mars Mission: This Time, They Brought a Microscope

"Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA)"
Phoenix Mars Mission

"MECA characterizes the soil of Mars much like a gardener would test the soil in his or her yard. By dissolving small amounts of soil in water, the wet chemistry lab (WCL) determines the pH, the abundance of minerals such as magnesium and sodium cations or chloride, bromide and sulfate anions, as well as the conductivity and redox potential. Looking through a microscope, MECA examines the soil grains to help determine their origin and mineralogy. Needles stuck into the soil determine the water and ice content, and the ability of both heat and water vapor to penetrate the soil."

There are two microscopes: "The optical microscope will have a resolution of 4 microns per pixel, allowing detection of particles ranging from about 10 micrometers up to the size of the field of view (about 1 millimeter by 2 millimeters). Red, green, blue, and ultraviolet LEDs will illuminate samples in differing color combinations to enhance the soil and water-ice structure and texture at these scales. The atomic force microscope will provide sample images down to 10 nanometers - the smallest scale ever examined on Mars. Using its sensors, the AFM creates a very small-scale "topographic" map showing the detailed structure of soil and ice grains."

I think this is really smart science: I don't expect that we'll see anything crawling our of the sample, but being able to look at something tells us a great deal about it.

And, I still wonder what we'd have seen, if a microscope had been trained on the soil sample that acted so oddly when a Viking lander dropped it into a nutrient solution. Scientists decided that it was weird chemistry in the Martian soil: not microorganisms. I'm being a bit unfair, but the impression I got was that they figured, since bugs on Earth wouldn't have acted that way, bugs on Mars wouldn't.

Exciting times.
Update May 26, 2008:

Another First: Phoenix Lander Descent Photographed

(from Phoenix Mars Mission, used w/o permission)

"Camera On Mars Orbiter Snaps Phoenix During Landing"
Phoenix Mars Mission (May 26, 2008)

"May 26, 2008 A telescopic camera in orbit around Mars caught a view of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander suspended from its parachute during the lander's successful arrival at Mars Sunday evening, May 25.

"The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter marks the first time ever one spacecraft has photographed another one in the act of landing on Mars."

Previous posts:

Memorial Day 2008: This isn't 1965

"Everybody knows" what the American Legion is like: a bunch of old coots with beer bellies, scarfing down pretzels and booze in a smoke-filled bar.

"Everybody" is wrong.

(from We DO For The Troops, used w/o permission)

We DO For The Troops

"Upon returning home from combat tours, we found a void existed in the world’s largest veteran’s service organization -The American Legion. There was not a single nationally chartered post dedicated to Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. OEF and OIF encompass Military Operations not only in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, but as well as sixty-three other countries to include, but not limited to, Africa and the Philippines."

American Legion Post 911
San Francisco, California

"Post 911 has been welcoming VETERANS from all branches of our Armed Forces. Today, we continue to welcome all military personnel serving our country. Joining our Post enables you to continue serving. Our mission is to implement the goals, aspirations, dreams, peace and blessings for our country, friends and families embodied in our preamble below...."

Phoenix Mars Mission and another Blog

"Mars Phoenix Lander: BE PROUD OF AMERICA!"
Jeff McCord's Blog (May 26, 2008)

"I can't think of a greater post to write on this Memorial Day than what just occurred, yesterday, when NASA/JPL realized their Mars Phoenix Lander successfully landed on Mars.

"As you know from my previous post, it was a 'nail biter' yesterday when I was watching NASA and the Mars Phoenix Lander control room with over one thousand other Ustream fans. And I will also say it made me feel very proud to be an American when we got the word that the Mars Phoenix Lander had successfully landed.

"This video below shows exactly what it took for this robot/probe to get on to the ground. Check it out: ..."

I know: quite a few countries have a stake in the Phoenix mission: follow NASA links in previous posts, for detail. Just the same, I think it's okay to be proud to be proud of the American contribution.

Previous posts:

Memorial Day Weekend Tornadoes: Minnesota and Iowa

The probable tornado that destroyed dozens of houses and killed a toddler in Hugo Minnesota had company.

Things were worse in Iowa, where six people were killed. Yesterday's count was seven, but after pieces of the town stopped falling out of the sky they were able to do a "better accounting." A broadcast recording of an interview with a town official had him saying, "we found the guy we were looking for."

Something not mentioned in online news, but which I've heard in broadcast interviews with Iowa officials, is that many of the people who survived don't have jobs any more. The businesses where they worked - or which they owned - aren't there any more.

I think the death toll in both states would have been higher, except we generally have basements in this part of the country, you'll see warning sirens on power poles in many towns, and we've got a system that includes volunteer spotters who deploy when weather conditions are right - or wrong.

My family hasn't heard anything from our kinfolk who live near Hugo: so I'm assuming that they're okay, apart from some cleanup.

The prayers of this family are with people who lost their lives, or loved ones, in these storms.

Assistance and volunteer contacts:
  • Hugo, Minnesota:
    • "Food donations for volunteers and rescue workers can be brought to the Hugo Fire Department.
    • "Hugo Fire Department
      5323 140th St N
      Hugo, MN 55038
    • "American Red Cross
      Financial Donation Hotline: 612-460-3700
    • "To help volunteer with the cleanup, call Hugo City Hall:
  • Parkersberg and New Hartford:
I may update this list if I get more information. At this time, I couldn't find any articles about the tornado in the Butler County papers, but it's early days. They will probably have detail when this week's issues come out. (Thanks to MadameX, on a BlogCatalog discussion thread, for the Iowa newspaper link.)

  • "Hugo awakes to tragedy" (May 26, 2008)
    • "HUGO, Minn. (AP) - As a storm roared over his head, shaking his house and scattering his family's belongings, all Jason Akins could do was put his arms over his wife, two sons and two neighbor kids and hope for the best.
    • " 'I was worried something was going to fall on us,' said Akins, a Hugo resident who went in a matter of seconds from enjoying a carefree Sunday barbecue to holding on for dear life in his basement.
    • "Akins' house was severely damaged when thunderstorms packing large hail and a possible tornado swept through this small St. Paul suburb, killing at least one person and destroying dozens of other homes during a devastating rampage through the north metro area.
    • "A 2-year-old girl1 was killed and the child's sibling was critically injured, Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said. The children's parents also were hospitalized. At least five other people were injured and taken to hospitals."
  • "Financial Food donations for storm victims and rescue volunteers" (May 26, 2008)
    • "Food donations for volunteers and rescue workers can be brought to the Hugo Fire Department.
    • "Hugo Fire Department
      5323 140th St N
      Hugo, MN 55038
    • "American Red Cross
      Financial Donation Hotline: 612-460-3700
    • "To help volunteer with the cleanup, call Hugo City Hall:
  • "Update: At least 67 treated at area hospitals"
    Des Moines Register (May 26, 2008)
    • "Parkersburg, Ia. – At least 67 people were injured Sunday when a mile-wide tornado tore through four communities, reducing large sections of the towns to rubble.
    • "Six people were killed in the tornado. At least four people are in critical condition in area hospitals and dozens others were treated...."
    • "Residents of Parkersburg are being allowed inside. Officers are checking driver’s licenses and are keeping a log of everyone coming in. Capt. Curt Henderson with Iowa State Patrol said the only route officials are allowing incoming traffic through is from Iowa Highway 14.
    • "Apparently there was some looting Sunday night, state troopers said.
    • "No volunteer help is being accepted, they said.
    • "Troopers this morning handed Parkersburg residents a note that says the town will close at about 8 p.m. tonight. No water, electricity or sanitary sewers are available in town today.
    • " 'We ask for your cooperation during these difficult times. Together we will rebuild!' the note says....
    • "The tornado ripped off the roof of the high school in Parkersburg and tore out sections of the building, said school Superintendent Jon Thompson.
    • "The high school will never be used again, he said."
  • "Lethal storms kill 8 in Iowa and Minnesota"
    • Associated Press (May 26, 2008)
    • "DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Powerful storms packing large hail, heavy rain and tornadoes made for a deadly Memorial Day weekend across the nation's midsection, killing at least seven people in Iowa and a 2-year-old child in Minnesota.
    • "Iowa Homeland Security administrator Dave Miller said seven people were killed Sunday by a tornado in northeast Iowa — five from Parkersburg, a town of about 1,000 some 80 miles northeast of Des Moines — and two from nearby New Hartford. At least 50 injuries were reported.
    • " 'Occasionally we have a death but we have warning system. Seven deaths. It's been a long time since we've had those kinds of injuries and deaths reported,' Miller said...."
  • "Parkersburg mayor: Deadly tornado leveled one-third of town"
    KGAN (May 26, 2008)
    • "DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Crews were beginning to search Monday morning through the rubble left by a tornado that tore through the small northeast Iowa town of Parkersburg, killing six people.
    • "Mayor Bob Haylock said the Sunday afternoon tornado destroyed about one-third of Parkersburg, a town of about 1,000 people. The number of dead and injured would have been higher if not for warning sirens that sounded early enough to give residents time to seek shelter.
    • " 'Without that, we would have a tremendous amount of injuries and loss of life,' Haylock said. 'People were down in their basements and waiting it out.' ..."
  • "New Hartford Woman Survives Tornado" (undated: ca. May 25, 2008)
    • "NEW HARTFORD, IA - Her house is demolished, but a New Hartford woman said she's just grateful to be alive.
    • "Dorothy Sherman was watching storm coverage on TV Sunday afternoon when a family member called to see if she'd taken cover. Sherman said she didn't realize the tornado was heading in her direction.
    • "She wasn't able to get to the basement on her own, so she took cover under a card table. Sherman sat on a chair in her hallway with the card table over her head as the tornado came her way. Strong winds blew the table out of her hands, and Sherman's sheets flew in her face. She ended up wrapping them over her head as the twister passed...."
I wasn't able to find a 'send help to' post for the Iowa towns. My guess is that they are small enough for that sort of information to be passed around without involving the Web.

Previous post: "Memorial Day Weekend Tornado: Hugo, Minnesota" (May 25, 2008)

1Or maybe a little boy. News services don't seem to have a handle on that detail yet.

Memorial Day Weekend Tornado: Hugo, Minnesota

"Tornado Wipes Out Homes in Hugo, 9 Injured, 1 Dead"
MyFox Twin Cities (May 25, 2008)

"HUGO -- Strong winds, hail and tornadoes struck the north metro Sunday. In Hugo, Minn., 50 homes have been destroyed, 100 are damaged, a 2-year-old boy is dead, his sibling is in critical condition, and their parents and six others are seriously injured.


"Around 5:10 p.m., Washington County received reports from residents that a tornado hit Hugo, Minn. According to dispatchers, 'five city blocks were wiped out' along Hwy. 61, and crews are working to rescue those trapped in the wreckage. Ripped-up roads in Hugo made the search and rescue effort difficult. Authorities confirm 50 homes are destroyed and 100 are damaged."

Hugo, Minnesota, is a suburb on the north side of the Twin Cities: Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

View Larger Map

Some of the family lives near there: we haven't heard from or about them, so I suppose no news is good news.

Phoenix Lander on Mars: Safe, and Sending Photos Home

"Probe lands on Mars, NASA says"
CNN (May 25, 2008)

"The first-ever landing of a probe near Mars' north pole took place successfully on Sunday, NASA confirmed.

"The Mars Phoenix Lander, completing a 296-day journey, closed in on the Red Planet with a 50-50 chance of a successful touchdown on its arctic plains, NASA officials said.

"The landing -- dubbed the "seven minutes of terror" -- was a nerve-wracking experience for mission managers, who have witnessed the failure of similar missions. "

Very good news.

If all goes well, the Phoenix lander will use its backhoe-like scoop to look for ice and other chemicals in the Martian soil near the north pole. The spacecraft will also deploy a weather station and take photos of the part of Mars where it landed.

I doubt that I'll live to see people walking on Mars, but it's exciting to watch the very early phases of exploration.

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, used w/o permission)
More images and video at Phoenix Mars Mission gallery.

"NASA's Phoenix Spacecraft Lands At Martian Arctic Site"
Phoenix Mars Mission home page

"May 25, 2008 NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars today to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm.

"Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.

"Mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from Phoenix later tonight."

Previous posts:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phoenix Receives Final Instructions, Prepares for Mars Landing

Phoenix, a robot spacecraft that's carrying out NASA's first Scout Program mission, has received its final instructions, and is on its own until it lands - or crashes.

The Phoenix mission is also the first mission to be lead by a public university: the University of Arizona.

Background, Updates and News:
  • "NASA animated video
    Recapping the Phoenix mission, and what's hoped will happen after this evening.
  • "Where is Phoenix?
    Phoenix Mars Mission website
    "Using the JPL Solar System Simulator this page shows the location of Phoenix.
    The JPL Solar System Simulator is currently experiencing technical difficulties. The images might not appear below. Thank you for your patience while this is being corrected.
  • "Mission Updates: Phoenix Mars Lander's Red Planet Arrival" (May 25, 2008)
    "Mission scientists communicated with Phoenix for the last time before landing this morning, said Gary Napier, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, which helped to build the lander.
    "After deciding to forgo this morning's trajectory correction opportunity, they updated a couple parameters in Phoenix files. So the spacecraft is set to go and now all mission controllers have to do is sit back and watch.
    " 'We could all go home and have a beer,' Napier told Though that's unlikely to happen, as all the head mission scientists have places set in mission control, complete with nametags, where they'll be able to watch as data on Phoenix's landing attempt comes in...."
Exciting times.

I posted about the Phoenix mission yesterday: "Phoenix Attempts Landing on Mars Tomorrow" (May 24, 2008).

Memorial Day Poppies

Memorial Day in America and poppies go together. As usual with such things, there's a story behind that.
  • "The Memorial Day Poppy"
    "The inspiration for this column began at the local shopping mall. Yeah, I know it is a pretty bizarre place to get any kind of inspiration let alone gardening inspiration but sometimes you just have to go with the flow. You see sitting out front of one of the mega stores was a WWII veteran and what looked like his grandson. On the shaky card table were a bunch of red silk poppies and a can for donations...."
  • "Why do we get Poppies when we give a donation on Veteran's Day?"
    Annie's "Memorial Day Symbols & Things
    "Flanders Field is a United States military cemetery near Waregem, Belgium. Buried in this cemetery are the bodies of 368 members of the armed forces who died in World War I (1914-1918). Canadian poet John McCrae wrote the famous poem, 'In Flanders Fields' .... "
  • "Red Poppies: A Memorial Day Tradition to Remember Veterans"
    Associated Content (April 11, 2008)
    "For most Americans, Memorial Day signifies the beginning of summer and opportunity for remembrance of those who have served our country during times of war and of peace. Officially, Memorial Day was first observed on May 30,1968 and was originally labeled Decoration Day. In the following years, by an act of Congress, the day of remembrance was moved to the last Monday of each May and renamed Memorial Day. The tradition of the red poppy has become a formality of Memorial Day which is often overlooked."

Views from Google Street View

"The best of Google Street View"
a Gallery

" ... discovering odd or unique images on Google Street View has become a hobby for many people, who post their findings to websites like streetviewr and Street View Gallery / Screenshot"

(photo from, used w/o permission)

The photos may not be the best, but they're certainly unusual.

Search for Titanic: the Cold War Connection

"Titanic search was cover for secret Cold War subs mission"
Times (UK) (May 24, 2008)

"The man who located the wreck of the Titanic has revealed that the discovery was a cover story to camouflage the real mission of inspecting the wrecks of two Cold War nuclear submarines.

"When Bob Ballard led a team that pinpointed the wreckage of the liner in 1985 he had already completed his main task of finding out what happened to USS Thresher and USS Scorpion...."

" 'I couldn't tell anybody,' he said. 'There was a lot of pressure on me. It was a secret mission. I felt it was a fair exchange for getting a chance to look for the Titanic.

"... 'We handed the data to the experts. They never told us what they concluded – our job was to collect the data. I can only talk about it now because it has been declassified.' ..."

Strikes me as a reasonable trade: the researcher had expertise but not enough money, the American military had enough money, but not the researcher's abilities.

(I suppose, though, it's only a matter of time before someone decides that America sank the Titanic so that there would be a cover story for an undersea search.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saving Earth from Plastic Bags: Be Careful What You Wish For

"WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags"
The Record (May 22, 2008)

"Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true.

"After all, we produce 500 billion a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the animals that eat them."

This youngster, using a well-thought-out procedure, has found a sort of microbe that eats the material used in plastic bags.

It's good work, and I agree that plastic bags in landfills is an issue. This previously-unknown and previously-rare sort of microbe could rid the world's landfills of those dangerous sandwich bags.

Before someone starts breeding legions of the bag-biting bacteria, I hope someone takes a deep breath and thinks about unintended consequences.

In America, at least, quite a of food is stored in plastic bags before use. I don't think it's too wild a thought that, once released to save the Earth, these dumb bacteria wouldn't stay in the landfills and the oceans, and would find their way into the supermarkets and convenience stores.

Not a pretty picture.

And, not my own. I ran into the notion of bag-eating bugs in a science fiction story, decades ago. I think it was by Larry Niven.

Serious Discussions of Warp Drive

"Warp Drive: A Cottage Industry Emerges"
Centauri Dreams (May 19, 2008)

"Mention the term 'warp drive' and the name Miguel Alcubierre immediately comes to mind. But it was only recently that the Mexican physicist's connection to the idea arose. His 1994 paper, written while he was at the University of Wales, took what had been a science fiction concept (most famously, I suppose, in Star Trek) and extended it into the realm of serious science. Not that Alcubierre put forth a realistic proposal for building a starship that could travel faster than light. What he was doing was the essential first step in such study, trying to demonstrate that FTL travel times could be achieved within the context of General Relativity...."

This is one of the more detailed and yet readable discussions of the theoretical work of Miguel Alcubierre, and its application to exotic propulsion systems.

Very interesting: but don't expect interstellar travel any time soon. Today's spaceships follow transfer orbits, based on math developed by Isaac Newton about three centuries ago. Working out the math is one thing: developing technologies that can make use of the principles is something else.
Related posts, at

"Dementia Test" for Laughs

"Dementia Test"

Strictly for fun, and laughs.

Here's how the test starts:

"1. What do you put in a toaster?

"Answer: "bread."

"If you said "toast," then give up now and go do something else. Try not to hurt yourself.

"If you said, "bread," go to Question 2."

Not the Most Practical Clock: but Quite a Drawing

Drawing of an imaginary clockwork timepiece. Best of all, it's animated.

By Tavmjong Bah (

Historical Novels: 3,000 of Them, Indexed

"Over 3000 Historical Novels
Listed by Time and Place

"People have been enjoying historical fiction since 800 BC when Homer wrote about the Trojan War in the Iliad. Historical novels carry us out of our own time and place into worlds that may seem utterly different from ours. And yet these worlds really existed. A deep understanding of them can help us understand our own time and our own motivations better...."

There's quite a range, from Jean Auel's "The Clan of the Cave Bear" to Alice Walker's "The Color Purple."

How to Make a Hidden Storage Disk - and Attract The Usual Assortment of Jerks

"HOWTO: Make a hidden storage disk!"
Spyro The Dragon Forums Forum Index -> General Chat (May 7, 2008)

"Okay, so I have some friends who really like to take a look at my files. Sure, I can hide them. But what if my parents will look at my PC? Oh, no. Not that I have "mature" content on my PC, but I have written all the crap that gets in my mind there.

"So I decided to build this today. To keep my data safe.

"Time taken (for me): 1 hour
Estimated Difficulty: Medium to Hard

This is a detailed, and - as far as I can tell - useful how-2 for someone who wants to keep some data secure from unwanted viewers. And, there are quite a few photos to illustrate the process.

Enter the Jerks

Somewhat predictably, this interesting bit of tech writing attracted the attention of the usual 'funny' and 'mature' types.

The post now has this header:


"Okay, I'm getting sick of this. Every now and then, someone brings this up and says reference to 18+ content. I even saw a website with photoshops of my computer displaying 18+ content. They even twist the story, saying I have 18+ content. In reality, I DO NOT hold thise things. This is extremely depressing and...


"Those people who run those website cracking mature jokes over this project is a total jerk. It's giving me a bad name and it ruins the innocence of this site. And it hurts me too! I even saw one website completely TWIST the story and make this a facility for hiding bad content. It's STUPID and extremely annoying.



"UPDATE: These "pr0n" people keep annoyng us. That's it. GUEST POSTING... CLOSED!

"I never anticipated the amount of BS this little project can do."

I sympathize with the author. This sort of thing, and the robotic b-girls, soured me on MySpace.

Triumph of the Typos: One Sign, Many Errors

"F (Images & Pictures)" (May 3, 2008)

The sign started out saying "ALL Pump IS PRE . Pay."

Then someone added corrections, and graded it.

As a recovering English teacher and professional copywriter, I sympathize with whoever marked up the sign. It's a real temptation, seeing things like "employee's only" and "watch you're step."

Cartoon About Classroom Seating Habits

"Where You Sit in Class/Seminar / And what it says about you:"

(from PHDCOMICS.COM, used w/o permission)

A funny cartoon, with some definite real-world connections.

Phoenix Attempts Landing on Mars Tomorrow

"Arctic Plains of Mars Await Robot's Sunday Landing" (May 23, 2008)

"When NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander sets down in the Martian arctic on Sunday, it will open a new, icy frontier for scientists back on Earth.

"Phoenix, a stationary lander set to make a planned May 25 descent to the Martian surface, is going to where no probe has gone before - the northern plains of Vastitas Borealis on Mars...."

"Phoenix Mars Lander: Risky Business on the Red Planet " (May 24, 2008)

"DENVER, Colorado — Getting the Phoenix Mars Lander down and dirty on the red planet is an engineering saga stretching out over a decade. Its mission "raises from the ashes" a spacecraft and instruments from two prior tries to reach the red planet: the Mars Polar Lander that failed to phone home in 1999 and a 2001 lander that was mothballed and shelved by NASA.

"The builders of those two earlier spacecraft here at Lockheed Martin Space Systems have taken lessons learned to send Phoenix on its way...."

"Phoenix Mars Lander"
NASA home page for the mission.

As I'm writing this post, Phoenix has about 1,460,000 miles to go. There's a news conference scheduled in a little over four hours (3:00 pm Eastern Time (USA)).

"Mars Exploration: Home"
NASA/JPL home page for Mars Exploration Follow Knowledge Like a Sinking Star...

I remember hearing, almost forty years ago, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." It's good to see that the will to explore still exists. At the rate things are going, I may live to see people walking on the moon again. (More at "Global Exploration Strategy:" "Dec. 4, 2006, Briefing Transcripts (76 Kb PDF)," "Dec. 4, 2006, Briefing Charts (3.5 MB PDF)"
"History will remember the inhabitants of this century as the people who went from Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years, only to languish for the next 30 in low Earth orbit. At the core of the risk-free society is a self-indulgent failure of nerve."
-- Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut ("Physics (and Most Everything Else) Quotes" (April 28, 2008)
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