Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ice Spikes: Rare Freezer Formations

This is a new one to me: probably because this household doesn't use distilled water for ice cubes.

"Ice Spikes" (February 1, 1999)

"... Strange things you can find in your freezer ..."

"Ice spikes are odd ice structures that occasionally grow out of ice cube trays. Unlike some of the strange things you might find growing in your refrigerator, ice spikes are made of nothing but ice. Ice spikes are the result of physics, not biology.

"Here are some pictures I took of ice spikes that grew in my kitchen freezer. They look a lot like the limestone stalagmites found in caves, although there was no water dripping inside my freezer when these formed.

"To see your own ice spikes, make ice cubes in an ordinary ice cube tray, in an ordinary household freezer, but using distilled water, which you can buy in most supermarkets for about a dollar a gallon. We've tried several different freezers, and almost always got some ice spikes to grow...."

There's some interesting physics involved here. Also, a way to add a little spirit of adventure to making ice cubes: will they form ice spikes this time? Are the freezer conditions right?

Writing Advice: Show, Don't Tell - With an Example

"Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell"
Finish Writing (July 21, 2008)

"The human mind is a powerful tool, as long as you give it a little guidance. Many of you have heard the phrase “Show, don’ tell,” with regard to your writing. This is a critical concept for an effective writer to create feeling in the reader. You remember, that our principle task as writers is to write in such a way that we create a desired feeling in the reader. That being said, do you really know what this phrase means?

"In High School I had a teacher that was very hard on me. He seemed to call on me every chance he got, and he didn’t take the typical High School answer you could normally get away with. He was demanding, but I eventually appreciated him for that. Once, when we were discussing poetry, he pointed out one of the ways that a reader could determine the value of a written work was to measure whether or not the reader had arrived at the meaning of the work on his own. (Did the author show, not tell)

"He gave an example of a simple 'roses are red, violets are blue...' type poem, and then contrasted it with a poem by Robert Frost called Departmental (it seems as though it’s about ants, but is it?)..."

Two things made this more than just one more page of writing advice.
  1. The writer had something nice to say about a high school English teacher. As a recovering English teacher, that's nice to see.
  2. This 'show, don't tell' page showed what's meant: with an example.
It's a good, fairly short, read - and worth your time. As a review, if nothing else.

Times Change: as this Peace Blog Shows

Actually it's more a "Liberty" blog.

The Mad Celt's Liberty Blog

"Welcome to "The Mad Celt's Liberty Blog"...a collection of quotes, pictures, documents and items which honor liberty, freedom, American Military Veterans and peace. Please feel free to leave a comment. Enjoy. (NOTE: This blog is in no way, or by any means, "Politically Correct")."

I'll let you decide how "Politically Correct" the blog is.

I remember the sixties quite vividly, and so still find it remarkable to see one person having good things to say about all the items in this list:
  • Honor
  • Liberty
  • Freedom
  • American Military Veterans
  • Peace
This survivor of the sixties is glad (and relieved) to see that at least some people no longer see American military veterans and peace as mutually contradictory. Looks like some things have changed for the better, since the days of Hanoi Jane and 'baby killer' rhetoric.

The Mad Celt's Liberty Blog has, among other things, a pretty good collection of quotations about liberty. Also a short but select list of links - including a set of "Resources for Veterans." (One of the links is to another of my blogs - which is how I became aware of The Mad Celt's Liberty Blog.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Make Your Own Flowers

Create Your Own Flowers on"

This looks like fun-to-play-with online software. Enjoy.

American Art Archives: Commercial Art Gets a Showing

American Art Archives
"American Art Archives is dedicated to the memory of the great Illustration Artists."

American Art Archive's got the works of over 150 artists, from Samuel Nelson Abbott to N. C. Wyeth, and are looking for more.

The website includes a page of Pepsi advertising. That was a trip down memory lane for me. And evidence that Pepsi was recycling art before 'green' became the in thing.

Fun? Definitely.
They're careful to point out that everything there is copyrighted material. Not in the public domain. They spell this out on their "Legal" page. That's why I'm not showing any examples: "WEB GRAPHICS: All graphic elements found on this site, including those of magazine, book, advertising, etc., artwork (which have been scanned, restored, and saved at great time and expense by American Art Archives), are owned by American Art Archives and were designed or manipulated for use by American Art Archives and may not be used or copied for any purpose or medium without the express written consent of American Art Archives."

Montauk Monster: Publicity Stunt by Space Aliens, Implicating USDA's Plum Island?

New Montauk Monster Photo
"Montauk Monster is Back: Photo Revealed"
(May 13, 2009)
Or is this the last Elvis sighting?

One thing seems certain about the Montauk Monster: It's sincerely dead.

(From College OTR, used without permission)

It's also a fairly hot discussion topic:
  • "Montauk Monster: Property of the USDA?"
    Associated Content (July 30, 2008)
    • "An unknown creature that washed up on the beach in Montauk, New York, has been dubbed the "Montauk Monster" and captivated the American imagination.
    • "Speculation about the identity of the Montauk Monster is rampant. Many skeptical Americans believe that the Montauk Monster is a publicity stunt. The most conspiracy-minded are sure the Montauk monster is detritus from a sinister government operation. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-operated Plum Island animal testing facility is nearby, fueling the belief that the USDA is responsible; some would see the Montauk Monster as a hideous USDA experiment gone wrong while others might consider it a not -so-unexpected byproduct of animal experimentation. The simplest explanation might be that the Montauk Monster is a natural mutation of some sort of ordinary Earth animal, but which one? ..."
  • "What Is The Montauk Monster?"
    College OTR (July 30, 2008)
    • "Yesterday, a strange creature washed ashore on a beach in New York. Now, it's up to college students to cast the deciding vote and figure out what it is.
    • "Calling all biology majors.
    • "Yesterday, the strange beast depicted above washed up on a beach in Montauk, New York.
    • "Since then, the creature has earned the nickname "The Montauk Monster" and left half the Internet speculating what exactly it is."
College OTR came up with a pretty good set of ideas for what the Montauk Monster might be:
  • Deformed turtle
  • Failed government experiment
  • Viral marketing for an upcoming Hollywood film
  • Undecided ("Kill it with fire, though")
That photo, the best (and only) one I found, doesn't give many clues about how large it is. Assuming that it's on 'typical' beach sand, the Montauk Monster might be about the size of a large dog or small pig. It could be a lot bigger, of course, or smaller.

I noticed an indication of water action in the ground, below the carcass, which may or may not mean something.

My own opinion is that it's a dead mammal, and the teeth look a bit dog-like. But that's as far as I'll go, in terms of serious speculation.

As for not-so-serious speculation, how's this:

Elvis was a space alien whose mission ended several decades ago. To his intense annoyance, he wasn't able to get off-planet. Material for his transmorgatron remorphicalation was held up in customs at Rigel VI.

A few months ago, the supplies he'd been waiting for arrived, making it possible for him to shed his human form, assume his real appearance, and catch the next shuttle home.

To the dismay of his companions, the transformation went horribly wrong. Left with the grotesquely malformed body of one of their government's top agents, and few explanations as to what happened, the panicked space aliens towed the body to a point near the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, and cut it loose, hoping that currents would carry it far away. Or, if found, that the humans - and their superiors - would assume that Elvis had met his end at Plum Island.

Their reasoning was that a missing agent would be easier to explain than a hideously deformed one: and, failing that, framing humans was better than getting the space alien equivalent of a courts martial.

Do I believe that? Certainly not. But it makes a good story, I think.

(Plum Island Animal Disease Center has its own Web page. And, there's been discussion of moving the facility.)
Update (August 3, 2008)
"Montauk Monster: It's Alive! Three Live Sightings So Far"
Update (January 24, 2009)

Space Aliens Return for Obama Inaugural!

American President's Space Alien Past!


Read about it, at "Video Proof: Space Aliens Land at Obama Inauguration" (January 24, 2009)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA Founded Fifty Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration got started.
  • "Looking Back at 50 Years of NASA"
    Discovery Channel (July 29, 2008)
    • "Fifty years ago today, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into existence. This landmark act led to the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- aka NASA -- on October 1, 1958.
    • "From the first U.S. manned orbit around the Earth through the now-imminent retirement of its space shuttle fleet, the aging space program has seen its fair share of both triumphant and trying times.
    • "Here Discovery Space offers reflections in expert 'My Takes,' slideshows of classic images, and video to reflect on NASA's upcoming 50th anniversary of putting people into space.
    • "During the next 90 days we'll be adding more, so be sure to check back often!..."
  • "NASA Established 50 Years Ago"
    Associated Content (July 29, 2008)
    Whither the Space Agency?
    • "On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed National Air and Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a civilian agency in response to the challenge of the Soviet launch of Sputnik nearly a year before.
    • "Before the establishment of NASA, American space efforts, such as they were, were divided among the branches of the armed services. The establishment of NASA gathered into one civilian agency, along with the aeronautics research efforts of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) that had been founded in 1915.
    • "Even so, President Eisenhower was somewhat skeptical of funding a large space program and barely approved of the first American man in space program, Project Mercury. It would take another Soviet space feat, the successful orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin, and a new President for NASA to really come into its own...."
  • "NASA's 50th Anniversary Website"
    • Links to video, articles, photos, descriptions of upcoming events
Quite a lot has happened in that half-century.

(From NASA, used without permission)

Yet Another 'Secret to Writing' Article: This One's a List

"17 Writing Secrets"
Writer's Digest (February 11, 2008)

"One author shares his tried-and-true principles for making good writing better.

"1. Never save your best for last. Start with your best. Expend yourself immediately, then see what happens. The better you do at the beginning, the better you continue to do.

"2. The opening paragraph, sentence, line, phrase, word, title—the beginning is the most important part of the work. It sets the tone and lets the readers know you're a commanding writer. ..."

And so it goes. It's pretty good advice, actually. I almost stood up and cheered when I read the third point: "...3. The first duty of a writer is to entertain. Readers lose interest with exposition and abstract philosophy. They want to be entertained. But they feel cheated if, in the course of entertaining, you haven't taught them something...." The first part, anyway. Anyone who's watched "Captain Planet" probably knows what I'm talking about.

Awww: Kids and Animals,

Lotte Klaver seems to like drawing pictures of kids and kittens. And cats, and lizards, and a horse, and probably more.

Or, maybe she paints them.

(Lotte Klaver, used without permission)

Those are thumbnails, by the way: Klaver's site displays her work at about four times that size.

SieMatic S1 Kitchen - "The Kitchen for All the Senses"

Except maybe the financial sense.

Still, SieMatic's SieMatic S1 is an impressive bit of interior design. What struck me about this kitchen was that it looks as if someone might actually be able to prepare a meal in it.

And, want to.

Quite a few blogs have picked up on the SieMatic S1, like "SieMatic S1 Kitchen - the future of the kitchen design" (Trendir (July 23, 2008)). In fact, I'd suggest Trendir's post for a quick once-over of the SieMatic S1 Kitchen. SieMatic's own website requires Flash, takes time to load, and is more impressive than informative.

Which is too bad, since I think SieMatic has put together very good ideas here.

(From Trendir / SieMatic, used w/o permission)
Looks great: but is there storage space?

(From Trendir / SieMatic, used w/o permission)
Crowded? Sure: but who's going to have all the drawers out at once?

(From Trendir / SieMatic, used w/o permission)
More than a room to heat TV dinners in.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Diamonds: Ancient Crystals, New Speculation, and the Origin of Life

"Diamonds May Have Jump-started Life on Earth"
LiveScience (July 26, 2008)

"One of the greatest mysteries in science is how life began. Now one group of researchers says diamonds may have been life's best friend.

"Scientists have long theorized that life on Earth got going in a primordial soup of precursor chemicals. But nobody knows how these simple amino acids, known to be the building blocks of life, were assembled into complex polymers needed as a platform for genesis.

"Diamonds are crystallized forms of carbon that predate the oldest known life on the planet. In lab experiments aimed to confirm work done more than three decades ago, researchers found that when treated with hydrogen, natural diamonds formed crystalline layers of water on the surface. Water is essential for life as we know it...."

Fascinating speculation: but, as the article says, there's nothing certain yet.
Related posts, at

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit is very much a part of American culture today - and possibly British, too. Today is the birthday of Beatrix Potter, creator of that mischievous rabbit. I thought posting a few links would be appropriate:
  • "Beatrix Potter's Birthday is July 28; A Woman 'Ahead of Her Time' "
    Associated Content (July 28, 2008)
    Peter Rabbit Creator is 142
    • "Today is the birthday of iconic writer Beatrix Potter, InEntertainment reports. The author of the famous book, 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit,' was born on July 28, 1866, and died December 22, 1943.
    • "According to the article, Potter was born into a privileged family, but was very sad because she was kept isolated by her family. In seeing that she wrote 23 books and further, that she also was an illustrator, mycologist and conservationist, it seemed to me it made sense to find out a little more about her, especially since Peter Rabbit was such a big part of my life...."
  • "Happy Birthday Beatrix Potter"
    UVA - Univeristy of Virginia (July 28, 2008)
    • "Celebrating a posthumous birthday today, the author and illustrator of the famed Peter Rabbit series would have been 142-years-old.
    • "She cultivated a career in a time when the cultural climate and her family discouraged it...."
  • "Beatrix Potter in Cumbria"
    • "Beatrix Potter was born on 28 July 1866 in South Kensington, London. She lived a lonely life at home, being educated by a governess and having little contact with other people. She had many animals which she kept as pets, studying them and making drawings.
    • "Her parents took her on three month summer holidays to Scotland, but when the house they rented became unavailable, they rented Wray Castle near Ambleside in the Lake District. Beatrix was 16 when they first stayed here. Her parents entertained many eminent guests, including Hardwicke Rawnsley vicar of Wray Church, who in 1895 was to become one of the founders of the National Trust.
    • "His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding the holiday home...."
Funny: Everyone seems to see their own interests in Beatrix Potter. And here I thought was a gifted storyteller and artist, who published a story about a rabbit that became a cultural icon.

Come to think of it, I'm interested in art and literature.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wizard of Oz Hanging: Munchin Swings or Stagehand Hangs or Something Like That

I see the rumor is at it again: "wizard of oz hanging" (Amicable (July 27, 2008)).

There's an interesting assortment of links at the post "wizard of oz hanging :: 'Wizard of Oz' Munchkin Suicide" (RSS Alligator (July 28, 2008)). Since a rather annoying pop-up with a dubious URL appeared when I visited that page, as well as some that were stopped by my browser, I can't recommend going there.

However, here are two links that related to the suicidal stage hand or lovelorn munchkin: Both of those links agree with the evaluation of the hanging person of Oz: It's a story that's been around for a long time, but really isn't true: "Hanging Munchkin" ( (August 10, 2006)).

Snopes goes into the history of this rumor. The original version, that it's a hanging stagehand, is more plausible, since the scene with Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow among the talking apple trees was filmed before the scenes with the Munchkins.

The Snopes page includes a sound clip from "The Ultimate Oz" laserdisc set, by Oz expert John Fricke. The sound clip is in *.ra format, so you may not be able to play it. Pity. Snopes also provides a viewable video clip in resolution that's considerably better than what you find on YouTube is a bit enlightening.

Here's a Photobucket video of 'hanging munchkin.'

Photobucket video

I see the object in the background - and it does look a great deal like a bird's wing being stretched.

I suspect that one reason I'm able to identify the object is that I live in central Minnesota, within a mile of a lake and swampland. Birds, from hummingbirds to herons, stop by: giving me a bit more experience than people who live in more built-up areas.

I'm strongly inclined to go with Snopes on this one: That looks like a bird, not a hanging human being of any size. Although I'll admit that the YouTube version has low enough resolution to let someone thing they see a hanging man or woman or munchkin. Or something like that.

"Hanging Munchkin Scene Wizard of Oz

YouTube Video

However, I would like to suggest another explanation for that mysterious shape in the film. It's the edge of an alien spacecraft that MGM was hiding on the set. As is obvious from the spectacular special effects of "The Wizard of Oz," MGM must have been using alien technology.

The actors and stage crew were aware that something very strange was going on at the back of the set, but have no conscious memory because they were brain-buzzed by the aliens just after the take. Of course, that removed all recollection of the alien spacecraft, Splifbbugg's brief appearance after the cameras were shut down, and the regrettable death of Vnipzligg, Splifbbugg's assistant.

It was, of course, subconscious manifestations of memories of Vnipzligg's demise that started the 'hanging stagehand' rumor. Sadly, Vnipzligg tripped on his way out of the spacecraft, became entangled in the rigging that held the Cowardly Lion's tail, and wasn't cut down until it was too late.

I shouldn't have to say this, but it's best to be careful: That business about Splifbbugg and Vnipzligg is just make-believe.

But don't let that stop you from seeing "The Wizard of Oz" (

How Not to Ruin Your Computer: 20 Easy Points

"How Not To Screw Up Your Computer Or Laptop"
Gifts and Free (July 3, 2008)

"Here's some personal advice on how not to screw up your computer or laptop based on stupid things I’ve done over the years. This article should be of help to people who are brand new on the computer, people without much experience and possibly people with mid-level computer skills, who if nothing else can use this as a refresher. I've also included some other advice and pointers to help you avoid other potential computer pitfalls. I'm sure this is elementary advice to the more experienced computer user...."

Years of experience, working with computers? I'd suggest that your read it anyway. A refresher course doesn't hurt.

These 20 points are mostly common sense - and good advice.

Cool, Yes; Green, Yes; Practical, Not Really

"Transportation Of The Future - RCA Green Concept Cars"
DeviceDaily (July 23, 2008)

"The Royal College of Art turns 40 years of existence next year and their fame will be honored by the graduates of their vehicle design program who are one the best in the world. As everything in the future should be green, they decided to design green and sustainable concepts for the cars of the future...."

(from DeviceDaily, used without permission)

Very cool. Now, imagine someone who's not a contortionist trying to drive it.

I know: They're concept cars. There are several other photos, one of a vehicle that many human beings might be able to use.

A Cool Map of the Milky Way Galaxy

"Annotated Roadmap to the Milky Way" (Artist's Conception)
Sky and Telescope

Impressive piece of artwork: and represents our best estimates of what's where in our galaxy.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thumbnail-Size Projector

"3M develops mini projector"
Register Hardware (UK) (January 8, 2008)

"Manufacturer 3M is projecting big things with its latest innovation: a tiny projector for electronic gadgets.

"The company has developed an LED-illuminated projection engine that's designed to be incorporated into 'virtually any personal electronic device'. It claims the engine can project at least a 40in, 640 x 480 image when it's incorporated into, say, a mobile phone...."

Yet Another 'Secret to Writing' Article

"The 5-Step Secret To Great Fiction" by Suzanne Harrison
Archetype: The Fiction Writers' Guide to Psychology

"Stephen King says he starts his novels with a "What if?" question. What if a woman and child are trapped in a car by a rabid dog? What if a family pet buried in a Pet Semetary came back to life? What if a young girl could start fires with her mind?

"I have also heard many other bestselling novelist such as Jodi Picoult, Janet Evanovich and Nicolas Evans lay claim to the same thing.

"And I have heard others say they just saw an image in their mind, or had a persistent sentence knocking on the inside of their brains, and they just followed that to where it lead them...."

You've probably read about these important ingredients for a story before:
  • Desire
  • Conflict or Opposition
  • Moral Dilemma
  • The Battle or Climax
  • Resolution
This discussion of them makes efficient use of words: Each point has two to five paragraphs devoted to it. That's all.

These aren't really "secrets," but this article might shed light on a facet of them you haven't thought of before.

Names Celebrities Give Their Kids: What Were They Thinking?

"When the Spawn Hits: Ridiculously-Named Celeb Kids"
New Hot Stuff (undated)

"Stars seem to have it all: good looks, millions of fans, wealth and badly-named beautiful kids. Here are some unlucky children who’ll scorn their Hollywood parents for their names someday:..."

From Bluebell Madonna Halliwel to Pilot Inspektor Reisgraf Lee.

For the kids' sakes, I just hope that those names aren't as weird in Glitterland as they are out here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sibella Court is a Stylist: And, She's Been Interviewed

"What's Sibella Court?" was the first question I had. Then I found out that she's a who, not a what. Specifically, a rather well-known stylist: "Inspiration: Sibella Court's Silver Ceiling" (Apartment Therapy San Francisco (May 30, 2008)).

"Interview - Sibella Court" (The Design Files (July 25, 2008)) is a transcript of an interview with Court, plus some very impressive photos of her interiors. Some of the "images styled by Sibella Court" tell me that the still life is alive and well.

The interview is pretty well done, with this introduction:

"If, like me, you compulsively read every interiors magazine in the country, you might have noticed the name Sibella Court popping up here there and everywhere in recent months. In the short space of 6 months or so, Sibella's dreamy NY loft was featured in Inside Out magazine... she's been a featured contributer to both Inside Out and Vogue Living magazines, and there's been a flurry of media attention surrounding the recent opening of her new shop in Sydney - The Society inc. All this attention sparked my curiosity, so i thought I'd find out a little more about the mysterious Ms. Court.

"Sibella Court is an interiors stylist from Sydney...."

Creepy Crawlies in Antarctica: Tundra Tales

"Fossils Reveal Much Warmer Antarctic in Recent Past"
FOXNews (July 23, 2008)

"A college student's new discovery of fossils collected in the East Antarctic suggests that the frozen polar cap was once a much balmier place.

"The well-preserved fossils of ostracods, a type of small crustacean, came from the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica's Transantarctic Mountains and date from about 14 million years ago. The fossils were a rare find, showing all of the ostracods' soft anatomy in 3-D...."

Okay: 14 million years ago probably isn't your idea of "recent past," but we're looking at geological time scales here. It looks like Earth cooled off, a lot, about 14 million years back - with catastrophic effects on Antarctica's ecosystem.

Cloud Cities of Venus

"Colonizing Venus With Floating Cities"
Universe Today (July 16, 2008)

"Seemingly, people in the space community have a tendency to push the boundaries of thought about all the possibilities that await us in the universe. Case in point: Geoffrey Landis. Landis is a scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center who writes science fiction in his spare time. Last week Landis shared with us his ideas for using a solar powered airplane to study Venus. This week, Landis goes a step farther (actually, several steps farther) with his ideas about colonizing Venus. Yes, Venus, our hot, greenhouse-effect-gone-mad neighboring planet with a crushing surface pressure that has doomed the few spacecraft that have attempted to reach the planet's mysterious landscape...."

It's not all that crazy an idea.

It looks like we have the technology to build those cities now.

I think the limiting factor will be economic. Somehow, it would have to be worthwhile to go to Venus and build a city about 50 kilometers up in the clouds. The NASA scientist may have made a useful suggestion: "Just think of the great pictures you could get," said Landis. Tourism, anyone?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Benford's Law and Detecting Bogus Data Sets

"Fun (and Fraud Detection) with Benford's Law"
Kirix (July 22, 2008)

"Benford's law is one of those things your high school math teacher would break out on a slow, rainy day when the students’ attention span was even lower than usual.

"He'd start out by asking the class to look at the leading digits in a list of numbers and then predict how many times each leading digit would appear first in the list. The students would make some guesses and eventually come to the consensus that the probability would be pretty close — about 11% each..."

"...Boiling it down, this means that for almost any naturally-occurring data set, the number 1 will appear first about 30% of the time. And, by naturally occuring, this can mean check amounts or stock prices or website statistics. Non-naturally occurring data would be pre-assigned numbers like postal codes or UPC numbers...."

This post is an example of why I don't think that mathematics in intrinsically boring.

There's an instructional video, quite a few links - and enough text in that post to tell you what Benford's Law is, and how to use it.

A pretty good resource.

Postcards in Code: Unraveling the Past

"some secret messages"
lust for life (May 24th, 2006)

"My father has been going through some boxes from his parents, who died about 15 years ago. He found these post cards/telegrams, scanned 'em, and sent them along:..."

To date, there have been 13 comments on this post.

Here's a sample photo of the postcards:


An Open Letter to Mr. Anonymous

"A Letter To That Nasty Mister Anonymous"
What Does This Song Mean To Me? (July 24, 2008)

"Dear Mr. (or Ms.) Anonymous,

"Imagine my glee when I saw that you visited my blog. You can understand that my glee doubled when I realized that you also left a comment for me. I eagerly went to my comment section and started reading...."

You've probably read some of those Anonymous comments - sometimes positive, often not. I think that this letter will be more entertaining for people who've experienced the phenomenon, than effective in changing the minds of the Anonymous crowd: but I've been wrong before.

I found out about this letter in "A Letter To That Nasty Mister Anonymous (BlogCatalog discussion thread (started July 24, 2008)).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Subway Car Full of Identical Twins: the Video

"Human Mirror"
Improv Everywhere (we cause scenes) (July 6, 2008)

"For our latest mission, we filled a subway car with identical twins, creating a human mirror. Enjoy the video first and then see below for our report with tons of photos...."

YouTube video

Quite an idea: enjoy!

That's a Very Small House

"Jay Shafer's Tiny Tumbleweed Houses"
Dinosaurs and Robots (July 16, 2008)

"Jalopy-san has taken to calling small structures like this shackitecture, and I like his coinage. So I'll run with it.

"However, the idea of creating small structures with big ambitions isn't entirely new. Jay Shafer, founder of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, in Sebastopol, California, is arguably a pioneer in the field. He sells plans and blueprints for a variety of small homes, most of which are less than 150 square-feet...."

The post includes several photos.

(From Dinosaurs and Robots, used without permission)

Sure it's small - but you should see the interior.

And Now, for Something Completely Different: Proofreading Marks

"Proofreading Marks"
Technical Communication 6e Usage Handbook

"The list of proofreading marks on this page includes those illustrated on page 285 of the textbook and some additional editing marks that you may find on your papers...."

This is a pretty good resource. I've used these standard proofreading marks as a copywriter, when editing: and I still use them, now that I'm marking up my own work.

Exciting? Maybe not: but very, very useful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wacky Buildings: from Capsules to Mushrooms

"10 Wackiest Buildings in the World"
Home Insurance (UK)

From the Nakagin Capsule Tower, through the Robot Building (more seriously known as the United Overseas Bank’s Bangkok headquarters), to the Mushroom/Tree house: these may not be the absolutely wackiest buildings in the world. But, they're close. Each entry has a photo and a short description.

Today, my favorite is this oddity from Ohio:

(From Home Insurance, used without permission.)

Try to guess what one of this company's best-selling products is. Take your time.

Christian the Lion - Moving Video, Several Versions

First, the warm fuzzy stuff: Two young men raise a lion cub in their home. The lion's name is Christian. When Christian the Lion gets too big for them to handle, the youngsters release Christian in Africa.

A year later, they return to Africa, meet Christian - who is glad to see them. Touching hugs all around.

There are quite a few YouTube videos involving Christian the Lion, including: There's a rather nice writeup, "The story behind 'Christian the lion' hugging video unfolds" in L.A. Unleashed: All Things Animal in Southern California and Beyond (a Los Angeles Times blog (July 22, 2008)).

I did a little checking, found those three videos (and quite a few more, actually, but that's a sort of 'best of' what I saw), and something a bit more substantive than the copies of segments of copies that are multiplying on YouTube.

From "Lion Hug." The story of Christian the Lion is essentially true.

Briefly, Autstralian John Rendall and his friend Ace Bert bought a lion cub named Christian from Harrods in 1969. Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, actors in "Born Free" (1966), and conservationist George Adamson (husband of Joy "Born Free" Adamson) got involved. Eventually Christian was released in Kenya's Kora Reserve.
I'll let you read details at Snopes.

The July 2, 2007, YouTube video seems to be a bit closer to the source than the others.

On IMDB, I found:
  • "The Lion at World's End" (1971)
    (Released in America as "Christian the Lion" and "The Lion That Thought He Was People")
  • "Born Free" (1966)
    (George Adamson was chief technical adviser in the film. The onscreen George Adamson was played by Bill Travers.)
  • "To Walk With Lions" (1999)
    (Richard Harris played George Adamson in this movie.)
That was quite a trip: from a hearwarming YouTube video, to a sixties cultural landmark, by way of a lion.

New Social Security Calculator at

America's Social Securities Administration put new retirement estimator software online yesterday. It's called the Retirement Estimator, reasonably enough. It's on the "Benefit Calculators" page of the Social Securities Administration website (

If you're around my age and an American, estimating your Social Security benefits may be quite interesting. If you're one of those youngsters under forty, not so much. I'm in my mid-fifties, so it's a somewhat big deal.

The online Retirement Estimator is a sort of supplement to the annual benefits estimate we get in the mail. Aside from giving Americans something online to play with, the Retirement Estimator lets people who haven't started receiving Social Security benefits figure out about what they'd get if they made more, or less, money. Also, what sort of difference it would make, retiring at different ages.

The Retirement Estimator isn't for anyone. The Benefits Calculators page warns: "Caution: You cannot use the Retirement Estimator if you currently receive benefits based on your earnings or you block access to your personal information."

Why the SSA put a cybernetic landmine like that in the Retirement Estimator, I have no idea.

This fall, they're promising us an online application for benefits that's supposed to eliminate the need to visit a field office, and cut the time needed from 45 to 15 minutes. Sounds convenient, a nice way to save on fuel: but I wonder what dire warnings will appear on that page.

New and improved Retirement Estimator, in the news:

LiquidMetal: Metallic Glass, a Video Demo

"LiquidMetal Demo"

"Demonstration of increased energy return efficiency in exotic elastic metal alloys."

video 1:44

Despite the name, LiquidMetal is an exotic sort of metallic glass, a substance with very high elastic strength.

Impressive demonstration. And yes, the ball bouncing on LiquidMetal does eventually stop bouncing.

There's a bit more about metallic glass at "Metallic glass: A drop of the hard stuff" (NewScientistTech (April 2, 2005)).

Virtual Exhibition - Photos of People Who Read a Book

"Virtual Exhibition for 100 Million copies"
BlogCatalog discussion thread (started July 8, 2008)

Here's the idea: Readers of his book are asked to take a photo of themselves reading the book, and get it posted on a website. Not a bad idea at all. Sounds like fun, and a good way of getting readers involved in marketing a book.

The blog page: "Virtual Exhibition for 100 Million Copies Sold" (Paulo Coelho’s Blog(June 30, 2008)).

A very cool photo from an associated page:
(from Paulo Coelho’s Blog, used w/o permission)

Further, Farther, Lay, Lie: Correct English in a Changing World

"Style Manual"
University of Minnesota

Correct usage of words, from affect/effect to who/whom and -wise.

A pretty good resource.

Not everybody is on the same page, about what's correct, and what's not. Further and farther, for example, are changing in their accepted meanings right now. I think there's a consensus developing, but not everybody agrees:

"Commonly Confused Words"
Further vs. Farther & Lie vs. Lay
Terry Watt (May 1, 2000)
the Carnegie Mellon community

"Several words in English exist as confused pairs. This situation often arises because one word is generally used transitively while the other is generally intransitive. However, at least one special case of simple dualism also exists: the pair further/farther...."

Me, I think that English is changing - and that style manuals like the University of Minnesota's show the way it is - and will be for at least the next few years.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Cuts Back

I've done three 'micro-reviews' today, and that's going to be all. Unless something super-colossal jumps out of the screen, of course.

It's not that the Lemming is lazy. It's just that the Lemming gets 24 hours a day, and I've realized that I'm not a forty-year-old kid any more. So, until things change again, Apathetic Lemming of the North will have about three new posts a day, instead of the six I've been doing.

There's more, about why I'm doing this at "I'm Not a Forty-Year-Old Kid Any More: Time, Organization, Energy, and Priorities ," at Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind (July 20, 2008).

Photos of Funny Gadgets

"Funny Inventions"
35 millimeter (April 30, 2008)

No text, just photos like this


and this.

The downside of "Funny Inventions" is that the blogger doesn't say where the images come from, where the products are made, or who developed them.

So, Now We Want Starbucks Back?

"Cities, Customers Launch 'Save Our Starbucks' Efforts"
The Wall Street Journal (July 19, 2008)

"Now that Starbucks Corp. has disclosed the 600 locations it wants to shutter, a phenomenon is taking hold: the Save Our Starbucks campaign.

"In towns as small as Bloomfield, N.M., and metropolises as large as New York, customers and city officials are starting to write letters, place phone calls, circulate petitions and otherwise plead with the coffee giant to change its mind.

" 'Now that it's going away, we're devastated,' said Kate Walker, a facilities manager for SunGard Financial Systems, a software company, who recently learned of a store closing in New York City...."

As the song said, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got
Till its gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." I've never been to a Starbucks myself, but I can understand someone feeling bereft when a favorite coffee shop closes.

Flying Cars May Get Off the Ground This Time

Yesterday I posted about an amphibious car ("Amphibious Sports Car: Gibbs' Aquada Comes to America " (July 19, 2008)).

The Moller International M400 Skycar is "the first and only feasible, personally affordable, personal vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle the world has ever seen...." According to the people at Moller, at least.

It's an impressive vehicle, with a lot of potential. Moller does a good job of promoting the M400 Skycar on their website, with content that includes Flying cars date back about 90 years, to the Curtis Autoplane - which never quite got off the ground. Flying cars that actually flew took off in the 1940s and 50s, but didn't make it commercially.

Which is probably just as well.

There are two issues that have to be dealt with before we can get into our flying cars and hop into town.
  • Stability
    • Automobiles rotate around one axis
    • Flying cars rotate around three
  • Traffic control
    • Flying one aircar over a city: simple
      • Don't hit the buildings
      • Don't hit the ground
    • Flying a thousand aircars over a city: not so simple
      • Besides buildings and the ground, each pilot would need to keep track of
        • Where hundreds of other aircars are
        • Which direction each is going
Moller says that the first issue is taken care of: the M400 is a smart vehicle. The Skycar takes care of staying stable pretty much on its own.

Traffic control is something else. My guess is that we won't see many flying cars, until an automated and very reliable dispatch system gets designed. Punching in your destination and letting the car take you there won't have the romance and charm of swooping through the skies like George Jetson - but you won't have to worry about inattentive or crazy drivers, either.

More, about flying cars:

"But Everyone Uses..." Tale of a Clueless Librarian

"Stupid Client Quote #6149"
Clientcopia (April 7, 2008)

"I was once using the library computers to check my mail on Yahoo. The computer-inept librarian walked up behind me.

* Her: (shrieking) 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING???'
* Me: 'I'm checking my email--"
* Her: 'It looks like you're breaking into the computer!!'
* Me: 'No really -- I'm checking my mail.'
* Her: 'But that's not HOTMAIL!!'
* Me: 'I don't use hotmail. I use--'
* Her: 'But EVERYONE uses HOTMAIL!!'...

I believe this one: I've dealt with people like that. Odds are, you have too.

Play With (Part of a) Universe in Your Computer

Universe Sandbox
Created by Dan Dixon

"An Interactive Space Simulator
"Download Now!

"Smash planets together, introduce rogue stars, and build new worlds from spinning discs of debris. Fire a moon into a planet or destroy everything you've created with a super massive black hole.

"You can simulate and interact with:
  • Our solar system: the 8 planets,160+ moons, and hundereds[!] of asteroids
  • Nearest 1000 stars to our Sun
  • Our local group of galaxies
  • An unlimited number of fictional scenarios
"Tinker with your creation or sit back and watch the effects of gravity unfold. It's fun, accessible, and easy to use."

The first 60 minutes are free.

I have not tested this, or researched the software - but it sounds intriguing. I'd appreciate a comment from anyone who has used Universe Sandbox.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Earth: Filmed as an Alien World

"NASA's Deep Impact Films Earth as an Alien World"
NASA (July 17, 2008)

"COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has created a video of the moon transiting (passing in front of) Earth as seen from the spacecraft's point of view 31 million miles away. Scientists are using the video to develop techniques to study alien worlds.

" 'Making a video of Earth from so far away helps the search for other life-bearing planets in the Universe by giving insights into how a distant, Earth-like alien world would appear to us,' said University of Maryland astronomer Michael A'Hearn, principal investigator for the Deep Impact extended mission, called EPOXI.

"Deep Impact made history when the mission team directed an impactor from the spacecraft into comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. NASA recently extended the mission, redirecting the spacecraft for a flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, 2010...."

The NASA press release includes images and a video, and goes into a bit more detail than some of the news articles about the video.
Related posts, at

Amphibious Sports Car: Gibbs' Aquada Comes to America

Gibbs Technologies' Aquada amphibious car is coming across the Atlantic. Not as a sequel to its crossing of the English Channel, but in a more metaphorical sense.

In the news and on the web:
  • "Amphibious Assault! Gibbs Aquada Coming to America"
    FOXNews (July 19, 2008)
    • "You'll have to start looking both ways when crossing the beach, because the Aquada amphibious car is coming across the pond.
    • "It won't be making the trip under its own power, but the British company that developed it, Gibbs Technology, is setting up shop in North America with an eye on the recreational market, as well as military applications.
    • "The slick, open-top three-seater can make the switch from car to boat in under 12 seconds, and has a top speed of 30 mph on the water. It's fast and powerful enough to pull a water skier, and can do 110 mph on the road. In 2005, Billionaire Richard Branson used one to cross the English Channel in under two hours, setting a speed record for amphibious vehicles...."
  • Gibbs
    high speed amphibian technology
  • "Gibbs Technologies Chooses Michigan for U.S. Headquarters"
    Gibbs press release (July 17, 2008)
    • "ORCHARD LAKE, Mich.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Gibbs Technologies, the world’s leading developer of high-speed amphibious vehicles, will open a new North American headquarters and product development center in southeastern Michigan this fall.
    • "The company expects to invest more than $13 million in equipment and infrastructure improvements at the 37,500-square-foot facility located on a two-acre tract at 2046 Brown Road in Auburn Hills.
    • "Speaking at a press conference today in Orchard Lake, Neil Jenkins, the company’s president and CEO, said the new headquarters complex is expected to employ up to 250 people within the next five years and generate an additional 270 jobs at supplier firms and other area businesses...."
  • "Gibbs To Set Up Shop In Detroit, Finally Build Aquada Amphibious Car"
    Jalopnik (July 18, 2008)
    • "After the announcement earlier this month that Saleen is teaming with Gibbs for development and manufacturing work on their amphibious Gibbs Aquada, news comes down Gibbs is setting up their corporate offices in the Detroit Suburb of Auburn Hills. After a ten year development cycle, a million man hours of work, and $100 million invested in the project, the final steps are being taken to put the automotive platypus into production.
    • "When the boat-car debuts, it'll be the first major amphibious civilian vehicle since the Amphicar went to market in 1961...."
If the Aqada isn't for you, Gibbs has other amphibious vehicles in development:
  • Humdinga
    You may have to wait for this one. The Humdinga is a concept vehicle. Think of a Humvee that decided to be a boat while it was growing up.
  • "Quadski
    "...a prototype of the first commercially viable high-speed amphibian Quadbike/All Terrain Vehicle (ATV)...."
That's quite a lineup: today, a sports car that swims; tomorrow, an overgrown semiaquatic jeep you can use for water skiing and an ATV that morphs into a jet ski.

European Commission Extends Sound Recording Copyright

"Copyright gets 'Use It Or Lose It' clause"
The Register (July 16, 2008)

"The European Commission today approved an extension to the life of sound recording copyright, from 50 to 90 years - but with a twist.

"The EC has insisted on a "use it or lose it" clause, which allows the recordings to revert to the performer if the producer or record company has no desire to market the recording. It's designed to prevent recordings gathering cobwebs in record company vaults, and the new clause can be invoked a year after the 50-year term expires.

" 'The clause will empower performers to market their early songs themselves,' the Commission wrote in a statement.

"The EC argued that term extension was justified on the basis that poorly-paid performers, rather than large record companies, were morally justified. Because most CDs fail to recoup, performers who are paid by a percentage of sales rarely see a dime over their session rate. However, when a sound recording is broadcast, the performers get 50 per cent of the resulting royalty. (For their part, the songwriters and composers earn money from another copyright, which remains unchanged at life plus 70 years.)..."

The way it's presented here, this extension seems to make sense. I think it's reasonable for whoever created a work (sound recording, written article, photograph, whatever) should get compensated for use of that work.

Obviously, there's going to be quite a bit rewriting of intellectual property rights law, as the legal system adjusts to Information Age technologies.

What interested me the most in this decision was that it was intended to level the playing field: giving non-megastar performers a chance to profit from their work. That leveling seems to be a characteristic of these first years of the Information Age. These days, publishing and performance is much more in the hands of people who don't have power or position.

I like it.

Related posts, on Intellectual Property Rights

Is "Under Weigh" Correct? Or is "Under Way" the Right Weigh?

Yes. Spelling matters. (More about that at "Soh Whut ef i cant spel?"
(Only a Looser Chicks Four Spilling Mystics).)

Is it "under weigh," or "under way?"
  • British English:
    World Wide Words
    • "Under way" is now standard usage
    • There's more about weigh and way, starting with Dutch in the eighteenth century
  • American English: "under way, underway, under weigh"
    The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993
    • "...Under way and underway are both now Standard spellings of both adverbial and adjectival uses."
    • There's more about the phrase, of course
So: on both sides of the Atlantic, it's "under way."

Why bother with a post about this? I looked up current standard usage for another blog, and decided that I'd share what I found.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sneaky Tech: Hiding a USB Drive Inside the Cable

"Hide the USB Drive inside a USB Cable" (July 16, 2008)

Who hasn't wanted to hide a USB drive inside a USB cable?

Truthfully, the thought never entered my mind until I read this post. But it had occurred to someone:

"Are you looking for some place to hide your secret documents in safe place so that no one can find it. Than you have to try this trick. Windell Oskay post a tutorial how to Hide USB drive inside a USB cable, so that no one can judge that it was a USB Drive. Check Out the below Pics for how do that...."

Today's Youth - Warning! Philosophical Rambling Ahead

I didn't get much sleep earlier, so between sleep deprivation and lots of coffee I'm in a rare state of mind.

You may not feel like reading this whole post, so I'll boil it down to a headline:

Things Change: Deal With It

Someone brought up the state of today's youth in an online discussion Thursday ("Are the Youth Of Today Hopeless?" BlogCatalog discussion thread (started July 17, 2008)). (In case you're wondering how the discussion came out, I think the majority answered 'no.')

The question is one which people who aren't young ask from time to time. Here's my take on it: a comment from that discussion thread, after some chainsaw editing.

Today's Kids! I Tell You, it's The End!

One of the great philosophers of the Golden Age of Greece thought that the youth of his 'today' were hopeless:

"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."
Attributed to Socrates (469-399 bce, by Plato - and still disputed

My guess is that Socrates, or whoever said that, was quite correct. That's what children and youth often are like. And, that's why it takes so long to train us to be grownups. That's right - us. I haven't been a youth since around the time of the Apollo Program, but I went through that mangle, just like everyone else who survives to adulthood.

If Socrates (or whoever) was worried about civilization as he knew it coming to an end, he was completely correct.

His civilization is gone. Kaput. But not exactly finished. I'll get back to that.

A lot has changed in the roughly two dozen centuries since that Greek deplored the state of his society's youth.

Things haven't changed much.

I'm pretty sure that 'civilization as we know it' is coming to an end right now. The key phrase is as we know it. I've learned enough about history and humanity to know that, although human nature seems to be fairly constant. What makes different times and places so different is that each culture works out different ways of dealing with their humanity - and generally changes those ways over time.

The End of Civilization as We Know It

I don't think today's youth are "hopeless." Occasionally lazy, irresponsible, self-centered, shallow, uncontemplative, and impatient - but we're all like that, more or less, on our way to growing up. And after we've gotten there, truth be told.

And, civilization as we know it is coming to an end. But it's not because of those kids. The America I grew up in doesn't exist any more. There is an America, but it isn't the Hula-Hooping place I grew up in.

The Greece of Socrates has been gone for thousands of years. But the parts that worked, and the parts that added beauty and reason to life, have lasted - and are a part of today's world.

There's an interesting, and rather tongue-in-cheek, page about this general topic at "Anxiety Culture: 8000 years of (civilization-threatening) anti-social behavior". It gives a little perspective just what this 'youth crisis' really is.

Historical Maps - No, Really - This is Cool

Well, I think it's cool.

"The map as history"
"A site which offers a personalized multimedia atlas of world history"

"By downloading one or several series of animated maps from our current and future catalogue, you and your family will gradually create your personalized multimedia atlas of world history...."

"...On-line animated maps
"Nearly 120 animated maps are already available in 6 separate series..."

On the down side, the earliest period and area is "Europe and Nations 1815-1914." For me, that's not very long ago. Although I'll grant that the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw some pretty lively change.

Another thing: these maps are very Euro-centric. Just as they leave out everything before 1815, there's precious little about what going on outside Europe and the Middle East.

Still - a pretty cool resource.

For a history buff like me, anyway.

RuneScape: Higher Definition, More Buildings, More Features

I wrote a post about RuneScape last year ("Another Entertaining Time-Waster " (November 1, 2007)). The massive online adventure game is still around. It still lets players have their characters learn to fish, cook, chop wood, and several other skills: as well as the usual hack-and-slash.

RuneScape made a massive upgrade available to the public this week. The graphics are greatly improved: mostly a matter of higher definition, as they've pointed out, with a few added features. There's now something called an Achievement Diary, to help players keep track of what their characters have been up to.

Lumbridge, the town that each character starts out in, has a few new buildings, some old ones that have been moved, and a few new citizens.

RuneScape is fun. And, as I cautioned before, "I recommend that you set an alarm clock before you start playing."

Pedaling for Power - Exercise Equipment as Electrical Generators

Generating electricity while exercising is smart. And, like many good ideas, it's being invented in quite a few places:
  • "Elliptical machines help keep the lights on"
    That's Fit (June 23, 2008)
    • "The elliptical machines at my local Gainesville Health & Fitness Center are being used for more than health and fitness. They're being used to convert the energy spent exercising into something pretty darn useful: Electrical power.
    • "Credit for this energetic feat goes to Hudson Harr, the 22-year-old who came up with the ReCardio system -- a patent-pending technology currently wired to 15 elliptical machines and working to convert the kinetic energy from pushing pedals into electricity. The power produced by the machines is plugged straight into the utility grid, which helps produce power for the gym and offsets utility costs...."
  • "While You're at It, Why Not Generate A Little Electricity"
    Wall Street Journal (March 1, 2007)
    • "HONG KONG -- A health club here is hoping that a car battery, some StairMasters and dozens of gym rats can help ease the world's energy problems.
    • "Rita Wong is doing her part. One evening recently, the fit 27-year-old, dressed in black spandex, pedaled furiously on an elliptical machine at the California Fitness health club. As she worked up a sweat to a Madonna song blasting on the gym's sound system, the energy she created was transformed into electricity and stored in a battery that powers some of the gym's lights.
    • " 'It's very good motivation,' Ms. Wong said, pointing at the fluorescent bulb above her head. 'You can watch yourself burning fat to turn on that light.'
    • "This virtuous cycle is just one of a wave of projects on the fringes of the renewable-energy movement that are trying, in small ways, to tap the power of the human body...."
The idea of making use of small amounts of power generated by exercise machines makes good sense.

The elliptical walker makes around one kilowatt every 10 hours, according to the That's Fit post. Right now, in most places, that energy is converted to heat. That's fine during a Minnesota winter, but the extra heat can mean more energy going to the air conditioning.

Converting the mechanical energy into electricity and adding that to the local power grid is just plain good sense.

Possible Wasp Knife Misuse Troubles Some, Terrifies Others

Before anything else, a disclaimer: This is disgusting.

I usually put the title first, then a short excerpt, then what I think of a post or article. Not this time.

"Wasp Knife?" Never Heard of It

The Wasp Knife can be a lifesaver for a pilot who was obliged to land in water occupied by sharks, or a hiker with an aversion to becoming a bear's main course.

Wasp Injection Systems, Inc makes it clear on their website's homepage that the weapon is not to be misused -

"The WASP Injector Knife is ideally used as a:
- Diving Knife
- Hunting Knife
- Tactical Knife

WASP Injection Systems, Inc. does not condone the killing of innocent creatures.

That warning may be justified, since the "Wasp Knife" is a bit unusual. It injects compressed gas into its target, through channel in the blade. I couldn't recommend it as a hunting weapon.

On the other hand, given a choice between letting sharks convert someone to chum before having a quick snack, or providing a bear with an easy meal, and letting people who are likely to encounter large carnivores with a Wasp Knife, I'd say let them have the knife.

"Knife Crimes," British Police, and Scary Things in the News

No surprise - there are (reasonable) concerns that someone, sooner or later, is going to misuse this technology.

"Britain on alert for deadly new knife with exploding tip that freezes victims' organs"
Daily Mail (UK) (July 17, 2008)

To begin with, unless British English is a great deal more unlike American English than I think it is, the Wasp Knife doesn't have an exploding tip. It does, however, release compressed gas. Back to the article:

"Senior police officers have been warned to look out for a new knife which can inject a ball of compressed gas into its victim that instantly freezes internal organs.

"The 'wasp knife', which can deliver a ball of compressed gas capable of killing its victim at the press of a button, may be heading for Britain, the Metropolitan Police fear.

"A needle in the tip of the blade shoots out the frozen ball of gas which instantly balloons to the size of a basketball, freezing organs.

"The Metropolitan Police have told colleagues in the West Midlands to be on the lookout for the blade, which is designed to kill sharks and bears...."

That bit about "freezing organs" actually is on the company's website, in the "Hunting" page.

I'm inclined to agree with at least one statement in the article: "Labour MP for Perry Barr in Birmingham, Khalid Mahmood, said: 'Weapons like this are absolutely disgraceful and there is no reason at all why people should be walking around the streets with them.' "

True enough. There just aren't that many bears and sharks roaming the streets in Birmingham, England. And, it sounds like the British police are, quite sensibly, trying to prevent a problem, rather than react to one.

A little more background: England has had a bit more than the usual number of stabbings lately, including a high-profile crime earlier this month: "Students stabbed and set alight" (BBC (July 3, 2008)).

Facts and Fears

The Wasp Knife is a fine survival tool, and could save lives in some of the wilder parts of the world. On the streets of Birmingham, I'm almost inclined to go with the Labor MP's take on the topic. It doesn't belong there. My exception? I'll get back to that.

The British police and the Daily Mail are being calm about this new technology. Predictably, others aren't.

From comments on "
Britain on alert for deadly new knife with exploding tip that freezes victims' organs
" ( (July 17, 2008)):
  • "Who on earth was twisted and demented enough to create a weapon like this?"
  • "Just a second - 'Police are concerned that the knife could fall in to the wrong hands'.
    "Surely this thing is deadly whoever happens to be holding it! Why on earth is it even legal to build something like this?"
  • "This is just terrible, what is their problem? Why can they not just be normal!"
My guess is that most of the people writing comments like this live in a paved and patrolled area.

As to "why is it ... legal to build something like this," there are places on Earth where large things with sharp teeth try, and sometimes succeed, in converting a person to kibble. The Wasp Knife could save someone's life, and is small enough to fit into an emergency pack.

Why Bother Posting About the Wasp Knife and British "Knife Crimes?"

There seem to be at least two ways of looking at this bit of technology:
  1. Calmly - As a practical concern for law enforcement
  2. Anything but calmly -
    • By people who are terrified of the scary knives
    • By people who are disturbingly eager to use the things
I'm in the first camp, and want to get some facts together, in one place, that may help others make rational decisions.

I will admit to a bias. I come from an area that's mostly agricultural, and have been aware of potentially dangerous technologies all my life. I know that it's not a good idea to step in an operating grain auger, or grab an electric fence.

That may be why I'm cautious, but not terrified, of things like bang sticks, cattle prods, and mousetraps. Both are, used properly, useful - and might save a human life.

I still run into people who think that particular devices, like cattle prods, are evil by themselves. I don't agree - but I'm more inclined to look at who is using a technology, than the device itself.

Two more points, then I'll stop:
  • I posted about the funny side of dangerous technologies last year: "Tale of a Man and a Pocket Taser" (November 23, 2007)
  • Words of wisdom: The only dangerous component in any piece of equipment is a daft operator.

Update (July 18, 2008)

What a coincidence. I post this, then:

"Bear bites camper sleeping inside tent; authorities close 2 campgrounds near Yellowstone park"
Minneapolis Star-Tribune (July 18, 2008)

"...The camper suffered bite and claw marks on his arms while protecting himself. His name and age weren't disclosed. Authorities said he was taken to West Park Hospital in Cody, Wyo., which refused to release any information...."

Don't worry too much about that poor bear. "...The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will decide how to deal with the bear. In previous cases, problem bears have been relocated to more remote areas."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

5th Annual Ninja Convention - Get It?

"5th Annual Ninja Convention"
Kensington Victoria (July 5, 2008)

I don't think it is, really, but that's not the point.

"Get Off My Thread" - Discussion Threads, Ownership,and Netiquette

"Ownership of/Responsibility for Threads"
BlogCatalog discussion thread (started July 16, 2008)

"This morning I saw a comment from someone who said that he 'loved when someone started a thread and then left'. I've heard comments like that before and seen posters start threads and take care to note that they won't be back for a while. The flipside of this is the large number of people who seem to feel that they have some ownership rights in their threads, telling others how to respond and even 'get out of my thread' or 'start your own' or some such.

"I'll admit that I'm pretty old and not all that up on netiquette, but I can't quite get my mind around the idea that someone either has any rights in a thread on a public forum by virtue of having been the first one to comment on a topic or takes on any kind of management responsibilities by having done so. Am I missing something?"

I've got my own opinion - which I posted on the thread - and there are quite a few others.

I'd say that this was a good discussion about part of the evolving online culture.

Cold War City Under Corsham, England

"Burlington Cold War City"
Underground City of Ember (July 5, 2008)

"If you thought The Greenbrier bunker was impressive wait till you see what the UK kept hidden under a small town in the UK.

"A 35 acre subterranean Cold War City that lies 1000 feet beneath Corsham. Built in the late 50s this massive city complex was designed by Government personnel in the event of a nuclear strike. A former Bath stone quarry the city, code named Burlington, was to be the site of the main Emergency Government War Headquarters - the hub of the Country's alternative seat of power outside London.

"Over a kilometre in length, and boasting over 60 miles of roads. Blast proof and completely self-sufficient the secret underground site could accommodate up to 6,000 people, in complete isolation from the outside world, for up to three months...."

This post has an unusually rich collection of photos and descriptive text about this Cold War construction, plus and map and links to a 2005 BBC article, and an article from the Guardian.

I mentioned America's Greenbrier Bunker in another blog.

Mars: Water? Probably; Life? Eventually

Mars is in the news again: It's a little early to say that the soil scraped up has ice in it. The stuff looks like ice, and acts like ice. But it might be something else. We'll know more, when a sample gets processed by Phoenix's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer. That's a sort of high-tech oven that bakes samples and analyzes what evaporates, telling researchers what the sample was made of.

I think the odds are pretty good that there's frozen water on Mars. Another big question, is there life on Mars, hasn't been answered.

The little green men of science fiction aren't there, or we'd have been seeing "Earthling Go Home" signs by now. But small organisms living inside rocks or other sheltered spots are still a possibility.

Eventually, unless things change drastically, there will be life on Mars: people; human beings; us.

We're living in exciting times.

Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."
Related posts, at

Black Canary Barbies, Washable Tattoos, and Getting a Grip

This is one of those times I feel like telling someone, "stop, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and think."

I ran into two news pieces today (yesterday, by now): (Excerpts from these articles are at the end of this post.

Black Canary Barbie

Let's discuss the naughty Barbie first.

The "kinky fishnets" costume is pretty obviously from Black Canary Barbie's namesake, Black Canary: a DC Comics superhero character. Black Canary has the rather over-the-top clothing preferences we've become accustomed to over the years. (More about Black Canary at SCIFIPEDIA.)

I hate to think what Christian Voice's reaction will be when they learn about the Supergirl and Wonder Woman Barbies. Particularly since Wonder Woman openly carries (flaunts?) the Lasso of Truth: you know, that coil of rope on her hip.

With all that's going on in the world, a fashion-challenged Barbie, patterned on a somewhat underdressed comic book character, wouldn't be at the top of my list of things to be shocked about. But, that's just my opinion.

The Shock, the Outrage: The Washable Tattoo

I didn't know quite what to think of this one, so I surveyed a small sample (two women, actually) and found that 100% thought that the surgeon's artwork was inappropriate, but that suing was also inappropriate. As one of them said, "Suing is a bit extreme. More like slapping his face and forget about it."

Works for me. From that article, it sounds like what we have is a well-meaning surgeon with somewhat underdeveloped good sense.

Naughty Barbies, Washable Tattoos, and Picking Your Battles

Parenting how-2 books often tell us that choosing which issues are vital enough to defend, however much goodwill is lost, and which aren't, is important. I think that's good advice for everyone.

I wouldn't want a Black Canary Barbie in this household, but I'm not going to make rather wild claims about the doll, either. It's not that important.

Waking up with a washable tattoo in a delicate spot wouldn't shock me all that much: but I'm a man, and probably wouldn't understand. Slapping the doctor might or might not be the best approach, but I'm quite sure that a lawsuit is overkill.

This is wishful thinking: but wouldn't it be nice if common sense were more common?
Black Canary Barbie and a Washable Tattoo, in the news:
  • "Surgeon sued for giving anesthetized patient temporary tattoo"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (July 16, 2008)
    • "In a lawsuit filed yesterday, a Camden County woman accused her orthopedic surgeon of "rubbing a temporary tattoo of a red rose" on her belly while she was under anesthesia.
    • "The patient discovered the tattoo below the panty line the next morning, when her husband was helping her get dressed to go home after the operation for a herniated disc, her attorney, Gregg A. Shivers, said in a phone interview yesterday.
    • " 'She was extremely emotionally upset by it,' said Shivers. The suit, filed on behalf of Elizabeth Mateo in Camden County Superior Court, seeks punitive and compensatory damages from Steven Kirshner, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with offices in Marlton and Lumberton, both in Burlington County...."
    • The surgeon's lawyer, Robert Agre, said, " 'What's offensive about this complaint is that it suggests something he did was intended to be prurient, and nothing could be further from the truth,' said Agre. 'It was intended just to make the patient feel better.'... "
    • The 'tattoo' is a picture of a red rose, and washable. That's right: one of those 'temporary tattoos,' like the ones for kids that you see in the grocery checkout lines.
  • "S&M Barbie lashed by public"
    The Sun (July 16, 2008)
    • "BARBIE’S new S&M look has whipped up a storm – with protesters dubbing it 'filth'.
    • "The doll’s image is transformed with kinky fishnets, motorcycle jacket, black gloves and boots.
    • "Makers Mattel say Black Canary Barbie, out in September, is based on a DC comic superhero of the same name.
    • "But religious group Christian Voice said: 'Barbie has always been on the tarty side and this is taking it too far.'...

And then, there's Wonder Woman

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

George, John, Barack, Bill, a Hot Babe, a Cigar, Hillary? What's Not to Love?
New JibJab Election Video Funny, and Sure to Offend

"Jib Jab Debuts New Cartoon Featuring Barack Obama and John McCain"
Associated Content (July 16, 2008)

With Bill and Hillary Clinton, too. This video gave me a much-needed cluster of laughs this morning.

I don't recommend it for anybody with a thin skin and emotional ties to either of the Clintons, any of the current presidential candidates, or the current administration, though.

As I said, this video had me laughing. And will again, as soon as I finish this post. I'd say "try it, you'll like it," but after the eruption of outrage after that cover on The New Yorker, I'm a little more cautious.

Hey, try it anyway.

"Time for Some Campaignin' "
JibJab Sendables

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There's plenty to get offended about in JibJab's latest release (or escape, some might say). Here's what Associated Content said about "Time For Some Campaignin':"

"After the New Yorker Obama cover, satire for a presidential election has become a lot more controversial and delicate. But websites like Jib Jab, a cartoon video satire site, are still going on with mocking Barack Obama and John McCain nonetheless. In 2004, Jib Jab broke out with a cartoon song parody about George W. Bush and John Kerry, set to 'This Land Is My Land.' For the match up between Barack Obama and John McCain, Jib Jab is now inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan for their latest presidential song parody.

Jib Jab released their newest song parody cartoon today, which this time is a satire of the Bob Dylan song 'The Times They Are a Changing.' Jib Jab's choice of the song obviously capitalizes on Obama's message of change. For their version, Jib Jab calls the song 'Time For Some Campaignin.' ...

Henning Ludvigsen - Digital Artist

"digital art by henning ludvigsen"

What you'll read, after getting past the splash screen:

"Welcome to my personal online art gallery! Navigate from the menu above, or go directly to my fine art section.

"Please note that this web-site is mainly directed towards my hobby of doing 2D fantasy-related digital paintings, and not so much about my full time role working on..."

What I saw in the gallery was more of a fantasy-science fiction mix: with a definite bias toward fantasy.

Quite a few had what struck me as a 'retro' look.

Talented artist, interesting artwork - a pretty good place to look around.

Astronomical Data Center (ADC): With a Service for Amateur Astronomers

"ADC for Amateur Astronomers"

"Special Note: The World Wide Web contains many, many sites for Astronomy, many of which may be of interest to amateur astronomers. The ADC primarily serves the professional astronomy community. However, amateurs can find many of the ADC's catalogs useful for their hobby. This page includes information on using ADC resources for amateur astronomy and links to selected external resources that may be of interest...."

This is a pretty good set of link pages. I found one (external) link that was no longer in use, but the others worked.

Although it's mostly about data - numbers, tables, that sort of thing - there are links to some quite decent astronomical images.
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