Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bloggers Pick of Blogs

I'm running behind schedule today, so here's a BlogCatalog discussion thread that should lead you to some interesting posts:
  • "Three Things About Your Blog."
    BlogCatalog discussion thread (started November 22, 2008)
    • "In the interest of creating a link drop thread that might actually be somewhat interesting how about this.
    • "Tell me three things about your blog that I can't find out by going to your blog's listing here at BC. Then add a link to a post that really captures the flavor of your blog."

Pinball: WALL-E Style

WALL-E Pinball

It's fun, it's free, and if you play you'll be encouraged to buy the DVD or BlueRay Hi-Def version. But you won't have to.

The background music is likely to drive you nuts, if you sit and do nothing: but who'd play a pinball game that way? There are enough clicks, pings, whooshes, and other sounds set off by things on the table to keep the game acoustically interesting.

I thought there were enough chutes and targets to keep the play interesting: but I'm no pinball wizard.

And, WALL-E is in the sidebar, folded into a box. He unfolds himself when you play, and packs up again when the game is over. Cute, as is just about everything WALL-E does.

The "Visit the Official Site" button didn't work on my computer, but maybe this widget will get you there. I'm told there's another game, involving scrap, I think, that's fun, too.

I've posted about WALL-E's Web page before:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Huge Model of Bangkok, Around 2020

"Shanghai in 2020: Shanghai Urban Planning Museum" (August, 2005)

"Those stymied by the paucity of info available on Bangkok development will be astonished at these bold plans for Shanghai. In the heart of Shanghai stands the multistory Urban Planning Museum, the highlight of which is an extensive model promoting future Shanghai. Part propaganda and part history museum...."

The page has a great many photos of the Urban Planning Museum's display, but not a great deal of text. It's worth seeing, though: and is an example of how a picture can be worth a thousand words.

(from, used without permission)
Scaled-down photo of a scaled-down model of Shanghai, about 2020.

You may have seen some of the photos on that page before: They've been, ah, borrowed by bloggers. Including myself. My excuse is that I'm providing a link back to, and that displaying a reduced-size photo was the best way of showing what the page was about.

"2Bankgkok is daily Thai news you won't find anywhere else. Since 1999, 2Bangkok has featured background and perspective on local news with summaries of the Thai-language press....

Ten Astounding Astrophotos: I'd Have Said 'Spectacular'

"10 Astounding Astrophotos by Phil Hart"

The title pretty much says it all.

A sample:

(Pleiades Star Cluster © Phil Hart, used without permission)
Nine more: including some 'artistic' photos: long-exposure and multiple images.

Another How-2: This One's About Drawing Buildings

"How to Draw Buildings"

"You don’t need to be an architect to be able to draw buildings. All sorts of buildings -- world-famous landmarks, majestic castles and cathedrals, even buildings you might find in your own neighborhood -- are here in this article, ready for you to learn how to draw...."

Starting with a lighthouse and the Eiffel Tower, the article's got variety: from the Taj Mahal to a diner and two-story brick house.

The instructions are sketchy, but step-by-step and illustrated.

Pretty good resource.

Very Cool: Edmonton Meteor Bits Found on Frozen Pond

  • "Scientists find fragments of 10-tonne space rock"
    CTV (November 28, 2008)
    • "University of Calgary researchers say they have found fragments from the 10-tonne space rock that caused a late-night light show near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border last week.
    • "In a written statement, planetary scientist Alan Hildebrand and graduate student Ellen Milley said they found meteorite fragments in a rural area near the border town of Lloydminster, Alta., late Thursday...."
  • "Calgary researchers find meteorite bits near Lloydminster"
    The Windsor Star (November 28, 2008)
    • "LLOYDMINSTER, Sask - A University of Calgary student got the thrill of a lifetime when she found bits of meteorite from a fireball that lit up the sky over Alberta and Saskatchewan last week.
    • "Master's student Ellen Milley was travelling with meteorite expert Alan Hildebrand south of Lloydminster on Thursday afternoon when she noticed some dark bits on a small frozen pond.
    • "The first dark bit they investigated brought disappointment, as it turned out to be a leaf. But...."
Granted, it's not glowing green, or saying 'take me to your leader,' but that bit of gravel came from space - probably the the asteroid belt. Which makes it pretty special for scientists who study such things.

Particularly since we don't have regular cargo or passenger runs to that part of the solar system yet.

(from Grady Semmens, University of Calgary, via CTV, used without permission)
One chip of a ten-ton space rock. It's a lot cooler than it looks.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yet Another Art Blog: This One Actually Looks Good

This is your source for street art, iconic art, underground art, investment art, and more

or maybe it's

Indoor Street Art Paul Baines

Whatever, this is another art blog. WAIT! This one is a bit special.

It's not the traditional semi-19th-century fine art gallery: and it looks good.

Okay, the first thing I thought when I saw it was "Andy Warhol!" But that's just one of the graphics.

I liked the "BUY ART" "READ RANT" navigation graphics on the home page.

I'm still not sure what the title of the blog is, but it's by someone in the United Kingdom who wrote, "I take a logical and atavistic approach to art. I filter the popular media and public opinion, raising notions of false hindsight and the collective consciousness. The power of the media, the intellectual endowment of the ruling elite, and the deconstruction of language have led us to a unique point in history...."

So, if you like atavistic popular media intellectually endowed by false hindsight of the intellectual elite's intellectual endowments - or what ever it is he meant - You'll probably like this blog.

The posts aren't quite what I expected: The first I glanced over was titled, "Talking with the Dead."

Huge Bridge/Building Proposed for Copenhagen Harbor

"Town Gate Bridge in Copenhagen Harbor"
design addict (November 25, 2008)

"3XN’s proposal for a construction on Marmormolen in Copenhagen is both: a town gate and a bridge that links Marmormolen with Langeliniekaj, creating a new coherent area in Copenhagen Harbor...."

A very cool-looking idea, and one that just might work.

(from design addict, used without permission)
Scaled down - three more in the post.

The Page at the End of the Internet

The last page of the Internet

It's a gag that's been done many times, but one that I still enjoy. And, this one has very good advice.

Human Trafficking, Natalee Holloway, and a Reminder

Whether you call it trafficking in persons, human trafficking, or slavery, buying and selling people isn't nice. And, in quite a few countries, it's illegal.

Natalee Holloway: High-Profile Case in Point

I'm focusing on what may have happened to one young woman a few years ago, on Aruba. Natalee Holloway isn't the 'typical' victim of human trafficking, and Aruba isn't a particularly dangerous place for attractive and unattached young women. But, I think it's helpful to put a face on a problem, and Natalee Holloway's disappearance has generated quite a bit of interest around the world.

There's a list of resources toward the end of this post, with more information than I care to discuss.

Joran Van Der Sloot (Back) in the News: 'I sold Natalee Holloway'

Another kink in the Natalee Holloway story reminded me of slavery in the Information Age. She's the young woman who disappeared in Aruba, during spring break a few years back. After fingering a couple of black guys, who (happily) had airtight alibis, Aruban police got interested in the last people seen with the young American. And, eventually, in the son of a local bigwig.

With excruciating deliberation, Aruban and Dutch authorities have investigated some of the facts of the case, and so far have decided that the official's son can't be charged.

Joran van der Sloot, the young man who attracted so much attention, has had several versions of what happened the night Natalee Holloway disappeared. The latest is that he sold her to a Venezuelan. Here's an excerpt from the interview:
  • Interviewer:
    "What did Natalee say?"
    "She said nothing, nothing until she was on the boat. And then she was, like, Hey, you know, what's going on? You're not coming with me, or -- I don't know. She wasn't -- wasn't panicking or anything. And then (INAUDIBLE) on the boat and the boat went away, I still heard, like, you know, What's going on? I think she was pretty drunk. That's what the main thing was."
  • Interviewer:
    "But she didn't struggle with this guy to go to the boat?"
  • Interviewer:
    "Didn't you think that was odd?"
    "No because I said we were going to go on a boat."
  • Interviewer:
    "You told her that."
    "VAN DER SLOOT: Uh-huh. That's my story to go to the beach, that we were going to go on a boat."
  • Interviewer:
    "What did the guy give you?"
    "They gave me a bag of money."
  • Interviewer:
    "Ten thousand dollars?"
    "Wasn't even $10,000. It was less (INAUDIBLE)"
  • Interviewer:
    "How much short?"
    "Oh, a couple hundred short. Probably took it for himself. I don't know."
I found the interview almost painful on several levels.

First, there was the very real possibility that this young man had sold a young woman. Tolerance of the values of other cultures is fine, but I draw the line at tolerance of slavery.

Then, there's the matter of familial loyalty. According to the younger Mr. Van Der Sloot, his father paid two Aruban police officials a handsome sum to forget what they'd learned:
    "They [the police officers] -- I think they got onto - they found out that she was taken to Venezuela.
  • Interviewer:
    "Who paid them?"
    "My father.
  • Interviewer:
    "Do you know how much he paid them?"
    "Not exactly, no."
  • Interviewer:
    "What do you understand was the range that he paid them?
Joran Van Der Sloot told an international audience that his father had forked over more money than I've ever made in a year to silence a couple of cops. If it's true, Joran chose a peculiar way to show his gratitude.

Don't misunderstand me: I don't approve of bribing law enforcement. But, if what Van Der Sloot the younger said was true, the cops on the take were comparatively honest. Like the 'honest politician' in the old gag, when they were bought, they stayed bought.

Finally, this young fellow, after claiming to have sold someone, says that he was shorted by a few hundred dollars - and doesn't even know the exact amount. I don't know what the going rate is for attractive-but-drunk young blonds, but even if the price was right: admitting to getting short-changed is not what I'd expect a savvy young man to do.

It makes him look like something less than a winner.

One Dutch news service seemed impressed that the outfit that did the interview has been known to pay interviewees. Without researching whether or not (1) that's true, and (2) it's an unusual practice among news networks, one thing does strike me as significant about that bit of innuendo.

Even assuming that Joran Van Der Sloot was paid for that interview: Joran Van Der Sloot chose to tell the world that his father had bribed cops, and that he had sold a young woman.

If he was lying, why didn't he make up something that made him look a bit less like the sort of criminal low-life you see skulking around the edges of sensational detective stories?
Joran Van Der Sloot's Latest Version of the True Story
I don't know whether this latest story of Joran Van Der Sloot's is true or not.

I'm a little more inclined to believe it has some truth to it, because he makes himself look like a pathetic and rather inept criminal. I know that there are exceptions, but I find think many people don't want to be seen as pathetic and incompetent.

Again, an excerpt from that interview:
  • Interviewer:
    "What we agreed on is that I would license the chip. The problem is the chip came with issues with it. And so now I am in the position where I've got to try to tell my company that this is a possibility that this happened. And they're going to say, well, if he won't even corroborate, then this is all just basically (expletive deleted).
    "And I don't know, what do I tell them?"
    "I guess you can tell them whatever you want, but I'm not going to go say all that."
  • Interviewer:
    "I want the truth only."
    "I understand."
  • Interviewer:
    "Why won't you tell us the truth?"
    "Because the truth hurts."

If Natalee Holloway Has Been Sold, She's Got Company

About 800,000 people get sold across national borders each year. Roughly eight of every ten are women or children. The customers buy them for use as prostitutes, by and large.

Disgusting? No question about it.

Real? I don't see any reason to assume that human trafficking isn't happening.

Is there something to be done? I doubt that anyone reading this can say 'bibbidi bobbidi boo,' and change the world.

On the other hand, if you live in a country that holds elections: you can stay informed, and add human trafficking to the list of things you consider when choosing candidates or voting on issues.

About Human Trafficking / Trafficking in Persons / Slavery: Natalee Holloway disappearance in the news:
1 That sounded crazy, didn't it? Interesting, how a strictly factual disclaimer can be turned into a criticism.

For the record, I don't fault ABC news for giving good coverage of that earthquake in the San Francisco area. Quite the contrary. That's what news networks are supposed to do.

Lemming Tracks: Another Serious Post Coming

Now and again, I do serious posts: But I try not to make a habit of it. I am, after all, the Apathetic Lemming of the North, and have a reputation to maintain. After last week's close brush with relevance, I had looked forward to a long stretch of light looks at weird, wondrous, and vaguely interesting pages on the Web.

Three days later, the Lemming is back with another serious post. Not this one. It's the next one. If I keep this up, I may have to consider being the Relevant Lemming of the North.

I hope it doesn't come to that. RLN doesn't have nearly the panache as ALN.

Astronaut Lets Tool Bag Drift: In Space Everybody Can See Your Mistakes

"Backyard Skywatchers Find Tool Bag Lost in Space" (November 25, 2008)

"Amateur astronomers have been monitoring a shiny tool bag that has been orbiting Earth ever since it was dropped last week by an astronaut during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

"Veteran spacewalker and Endeavor astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper lost her grip on the backpack-sized bag on Nov. 18 while cleaning up a mess from a leaking grease gun she was carrying to help mop up metal grit from inside a massive gear that turns the space station's starboard solar wings.

"The tool bag cost $100,000 and its loss...."

This is the latest installment of what I'll call "The Slick Grease Gun of STS-126."

It started Thursday, when a grease gun leaked, getting everything in a 30-pound tool bag well-lubricated. The lead spacewalker tried to clean up the mess, and set the tool bag adrift in orbit.

"Astronaut loses tool bag during spacewalk"
CNN (November 19, 2008)

"(CNN) -- Things didn't go quite according to plan for astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper during her spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Tuesday.

"First, a grease gun inside her tool bag leaked, coating everything inside with a film of lubricant...."

Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper is from Minnesota, my state. I've never worn a space suit, but the clothing I wear during winter gives me some idea of what it's like. When you're wearing heavy gloves, even tools that are designed for Minnesota winters - or low Earth orbit - can be hard to handle.

Add a layer of lubricant, and life gets more interesting. And she was working in free fall.

(from NASA TV, via, used without permission)
In space, everybody can see your mistakes.
A $100,000 tool bag drifts away.

More, in the news:

Monday, November 24, 2008

For People With an Eye for Art in Their Lavatory - and an Unlimited Budget

"16 Sweet Modern Sink and Wash Basin Designs"
WebUrbanist (November 17, 2008)

"What could be more basic and functionally unchanging as a sink? To demonstrate the danger in this assumption, here is a look at how sink designers are abandoning the generic, water-intensive styles of old in favor of new designs heavily influenced by the natural world, technological innovation and the desire to conserve water. Here are 16 designs that certainly create a splash (sorry, had to be done)...."

With photos.

They range from the beautifully pricey but impractical to the usable: and one fits on top of a toilet tank.

Very Odd Stairs

"Unusual and Creative Staircase Designs" (November 22, 2008)

They show photos of each item, including Floating Stairs, Skateboard Stairs, Hanging Box Stairs, Disappearing Stairs that fold out of the way, Stairway Drawers, Glass Staircase (what a smashing idea!), and my favorite: Longchamp Store Stairs. deserves a resounding kudos! for acknowledging the Longchamp Store Stairs.

(originally from, used without permission)

More about the Longchamp store stairs at "Stairs at the Longchamp Store in New York City" ( (March 4, 2008)).

How to Decompose a Plastic Bag

"Teen Decomposes Plastic Bag in Three Months"
Wired (May 23, 2008)

"Plastic takes thousands of years to decompose -- but 16-year-old science fair contestant Daniel Burd made it happen in just three months.

"The Waterloo, Ontario high school junior figured that something must make plastic degrade, even if it does take millennia, and that something was probably bacteria.

"(Hey, at between one-half and 90 percent of Earth's biomass, bacteria's a pretty safe bet for any biological mystery.)..."

Actually, it's a bit more than a guess. Mr. Burd isolated the bacteria involved: One's from the genus Pseudomonas, the other's from the genus Sphingomonas.


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

The article says that the teenager ground the plastic bags into powder, then used "household chemicals, yeast and tap water to create a solution that would encourage microbe growth. To that, he added the plastic powder and dirt...."

Wow. Sounds like a relatively cheap, and quite simple, process - Kudos.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wrist-top Navigation Device from 1920

"Old watch-like navigation gadget from 1920"
CrunchGear (August 18th, 2008)

"Way, way, way, way, way before the days of the Global Positioning System, people had to navigate using devices like the Plus Fours Routefinder, shown above...."

It looks like a Dick Tracy wrist radio, and displays one of a set of small scrolling maps. Smart, efficient, and never really took off. Possibly because there weren't all that many cars in 1920.

There's a good photo of the device.

Big, Beautiful, Expensive Villa in Bali

"Alila Villas Uluwatu by WOHA"
Contemporist (November 12, 2008)

"Opening in early 2009 are the Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia. The 14.4 hectare development offers three-bedroom contemporary Balinese villas for sale, as well as a hotel for those on holiday in Bali. Alila Villas Uluwatu has been designed by the Singapore based WOHA...."

"...the architects wanted to create more than the usual stereotypical ideas of Bali, creating a design that worked with the dry Balinese Savannah vegetation and gently sloping site, not against it. The fact that the aim was to build a resort to Green Globe certification and with Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) standards...."

The post has over a dozen photos, and describes an impressive house. Also seriously upscale. The photos are beautiful, and the first thing that struck me about one was that someone could fall off the reflecting pool.

Another showed what I think is some of the "sustainable" wood that the owners had shipped to Bali. I'm from an agricultural area: and to me, that artistic pattern looks like a corn crib after a really bad storm.

Edmonton Meteor on Video and in Scientists' Thoughts

"Police dash cam of Meteor over Edmonton, Canada"
YouTube (November 20, 2008)
video (0:16)

"Police dash cam of Meteor over Edmonton, Canada. Filmed about 5:30pm Thursday November 20th 2008."

This bit of video shows an eight-second clip twice. Even with the way-below-studio-quality imagery, and no sound, it's spectacular.

There's more to the Edmonton meteor than a Canadian light show.

"Martin Beech, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Regina, said meteorites are valuable to learning about the history of the solar system.

" 'Picking up a meteorite is almost equivalent to doing a space exploration mission between Mars and Jupiter,' he said."

Which is why scientists are looking for pieces of this thing. And, they're in a hurry; since after it snows, nobody's going to find the pieces until spring.

In the news:
Updated (November 29, 2008)

Pieces have been found:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Scientists Promote Dangerous New Technology

"The Early Years of Seeing the Unseen"
Wired (November 21, 2008)

"What are the social consequences when science allows us to see things that had previously been invisible?

"Scientists have revealed microscopic life, nanoscale molecules and galaxies billions of light-years away. These images have revolutionized the disciplines in which they were made, but they also transformed the public's imagination, giving common people new things to think and dream about...."

(from Wired, used without permission)
This photograph was used by scientists to popularize a dangerous new technology.

They succeeded - and you may be surprised to read what the new technology was, and why people were reasonably afraid of it: or at least dubious.

Florida Teen College Student Online Suicide - No Joke, No Fake

Posts on "Apathetic Lemming of the North" are generally more up-beat than this.

"Teen Commits Suicide Live on Web; the Aftermath"
Associated Content (November 22, 2008)

"Controversy continues today over the death of Abraham Biggs, 19, the Florida teen who committed suicide live on the web. According to news reports, Biggs suffered from bipolar disorder and was taking medication..."

"...Before bloggers called police, one had tried to alert a site moderator and received a dismissive reply referring to Biggs as 'an attention whore.'

"Abraham Biggs' unfortunate public suicide raises questions that the public will undoubtedly be grappling with in the months to come:

"Limits on Internet Streaming of Live Videos?

"According to Associated Press, Abraham Biggs' death prompted his father Abraham Biggs, Sr. to question the propriety of streaming the suicide live.

"Should there be limits on what internet providers are allowed to show live?..."

Son, Brother, College Student Kills Himself: the Personal Side

Abraham Biggs' death - and the way he died - obviously hurts his family. They'll be grieving the loss for years. It's possible that a few individuals in the crowd that watched him die may feel slight discomfort now and again. Quite a number of people who never knew Abraham Biggs are upset, myself included.

The Blame Game

It's too early to tell which way this will go, but I'm pretty sure that the usual suspects will be blamed for Abraham Biggs' death, including:
  • His parents, who didn't see this coming
  • His online audience, who watched it happen
  • The site moderator, who called him "an attention whore"
  • The doctor who prescribed at least one of the drugs he used
  • His neighbors in the building
  • His landlord
  • The college he attended
  • The pharmaceutical industry, that manufactured the drugs he used
  • Owners of the companies that run the online services he used
  • Congress, that should have passed a law
  • The FCC, that should have had a regulation
  • And, that old favorite, Society
Some might even suggest that Mr. Biggs bore some responsibility for his own death: given that he declared his intention to kill himself, and then took the pills that ended his life.

I realize how harsh and judgmental that sounds.

But although a nineteen-year-old is a teenager, Mr. Biggs was, in many respects, also a man. And, a college student. I think the possibility that he had something to say about his own actions may be considered. I also realize that he was being treated with benzodiazepine, to deal with a bipolar disorder. That may, or may not, have had something to do with his decision.

Another Online Suicide! There Oughta be a Law!

A BBC article on Abraham Biggs' death end with "...his father is now calling for more regulation of chatrooms." I believe I understand a little about what Abraham's father is feeling. 'Children aren't supposed to die before their parents.'

But I'm not sure that another layer of regulations is a good response: at least, not in America, where I live. Granted, quite a few European nations have a duty to rescue law. But then, Americans are more likely to rescue someone than not, by about 740-to-1. (I'm a little surprised, too: but that's the ratio.)

American legislators eventually passed "good Samaritan" laws 1, that made it possible for people to help someone in need, without getting sued for everything they had. There's even a push now, to allow corporations to help people without getting sued. (My opinion: a radical idea, but one worth considering.)

Unhelpful Responses to Suicide Attempts: Nothing New Here

When I was young, decades ago, we didn't have the Internet, but once in a while someone exit a building from well above street level. People around my age will remember how one song put it: "High upon a lonely ledge, a figure teeters near the edge, And jeering crowds collect below, To egg him on with, 'Go, man, go!'..." ("Who Will Answer?")

People haven't changed all that much.
  • Some people kill themselves
  • Others still egg them on with "Go, man, go!"
  • Many, I think, will help if they've got the chance

There Oughta be a Law - or Maybe Common Sense

I think the most fixable element in what happened between the time that Abraham Biggs posted his intent to kill himself, and the time he died, is how the site moderator reacted to an alert.

I've done customer service, and tech support. I know how some individuals earn a reputation: good or bad. And, I think I understand how tempting it is to write off one more suicide threat.

That said, the moderator's response, calling the deceased "an attention whore", was over the top. Unacceptable.

We may wind up with the chatroom regulations that Mr. Biggs' father wants.

Or, the site maintenance industry may go the route that the comics industry did, back in the 1950s. Faced with an American Congress eager to 'do something' about comics, the American comics industry parried federal regulation with the 'comics code.' Whatever you think of that bit of self-censorship, I'd argue that the results were better than what would have happened if Congress and some federal agency had started 'protecting' Americans from comic book characters.
Maybe its Time for Common Sense on the Internet
I hope that whoever refused to react to a suicide threat heads-up is encouraged to reconsider his or her habits and assumptions.

Suicide threats can be tiresome. Particularly when a person makes them several times. But, in my opinion, they should be taken seriously.

As for regulations on chat rooms and live video feeds: I think this is one of those ideas that look good, and don't work out quite as planned.

I'll admit that I'm biased: I've got a webcam that shows a street corner, with a new image every minute. I'd hate to have to fill out forms and deal with bureaucrats the next time I set one up - or be required to defend what I've got. That may sound silly, but my guess is that most people reading this remembers how, ah, concerned some non-web-proficient person got after hearing the word "blog" or "webcam."

Enough! Time to Stop Writing!

This post has been growing by fits and starts for about 24 hours now. Time to wrap it up.

Bottom line:
  • Abraham Bigg's suicide was
    • Tragic
    • Preventable
  • More regulations aren't, in my opinion, a good idea
    • "Censorship" is such a harsh word - but right now there's freedom of speech on the Internet - and I'd like to keep it that way
  • Encouraging grown-up behavior by site moderators is, in my opinion, a good idea
    • That encouragement might be most effective, if it came from their employers

Webcam Suicide in the News: Excerpts

I've put some phrases in bold.
  • "Cyber suicide" (November 22, 2008)
    • "...Sadly, Mr. Biggs is not the first person to broadcast his suicidal intentions online, or the only person to carry through with the threat.
    • "Investigator Wendy Crane told reporters she knows of at least one other case in which a South Florida man shot himself in the head in front of an online audience...."
  • "Family shock at Florida web death"
    BBC (November 22, 2008)
    • "The family of a US teenager who killed himself live online via a webcam have spoken of their regret at how no-one stopped the unfolding suicide.
    • "Abraham Biggs, 19, from Pembroke Pines, near Miami, killed himself hours after announcing his plan on his blog.
    • "His father said it was "unimaginable" that neither the website's operators nor any viewers alerted the police.
    • "Biggs took an overdose of anti-depressive drugs, but remained comatose online for hours before he died...."
  • "Family Outraged, Distraught Over Florida Teen's Webcam Suicide"
    FOXNews (November 22, 2008)
    • "MIAMI — The family of a college student who killed himself in front of an Internet audience say they're horrified his life ended before virtual spectators and infuriated that viewers and Web site operators didn't act sooner to save him...."
    • "...A computer user who claimed to have watched said that after swallowing some pills, Biggs went to sleep and appeared to be breathing for a few hours while others cracked jokes...."
    • "...As police entered the room, the audience's reaction was filled with Internet shorthand: 'OMFG,' one wrote, meaning 'Oh, my God.' [a bowdlerized translation] Others, either not knowing what they were seeing, or not caring, wrote 'lol,' which means 'laughing out loud,' and 'hahahah.'..."
  • "Florida teen commits suicide in front of webcam"
    Associated Press (November 21, 2008)
    • "MIAMI, Fla. (AP) — A South Florida teen died of a lethal drug overdose in front of a live online webcam audience 12 hours after he started blogging about his plan to commit suicide, an investigator said Friday.
    • "Abraham Biggs, 19, died Wednesday from a toxic combination of opiates and benzodiazepine, a drug used to treat insomnia and depression,....
    • "Some of those watching encouraged Biggs, others tried to talk him out of it, and a few were debating whether the dose he took was lethal, [Broward County medical investigator Wendy] Crane said. It's unclear how many people were watching.
    • "Biggs stated his intentions on a forum at, where some users said they did not take him seriously because he had made previous statements about killing himself, Crane said. Biggs posted a link from there to, a site that allows users to broadcast live videos from their webcams.
    • "Someone finally notified the moderator of the body building site's forum, who traced the teen's location to Pembroke Pines and called police, Crane said. Biggs was dead by the time they got to his house around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Crane said. He had started blogging at 3 a.m...."
  • "Officials: Teen commits suicide on webcam as others watch"
    CNN (November 21, 2008)
    • "MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- With his webcam trained on him, a Florida teenager died in his bed of a drug overdose while others watched over the Internet, officials said Friday.
    • "Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper said it was clear that the teen committed suicide.
    • "Some of those watching urged him to take more drugs while others debated whether he had taken enough to kill himself. Hours passed before someone finally notified authorities that he appeared lifeless, officials said...."

1Back in the sixties, there was hand-wringing - and legitimate concern - about a growing number of cases where people refused to help others, or pretended not to notice. The word "apathetic" was sometimes applied.

Maybe so, but that was also a period where some concerned citizen could pull a driver from a burning car, and get sued for inflicting a (real or imagined) injury. A few people apparently learned that the system encouraged apathy, and acted accordingly.

Whatever the cause, a particularly disgusting case in 1964 put "apathy" and "we didn't want to get involved" on the map. I remember the story of how 38 people listened for a half hour, while a young woman screamed for help - and was finally killed.

A well-researched account of Catherine "Kitty" Genovese's death tells a rather different story about this cultural landmark. ("Kitty Genovese A critical review of the March 27, 1964 New York Times article that first broke the story," A Picture History of Kew Gardens (Revised August 17, 2008))

A detail that didn't get into the legend was that Kitty was attacked during a New York City winter. Sane people have their windows closed, and stay inside if they can. There's more, but the facts of the case aren't the point here.

Catherine Genovese's death got people talking about apathy, and encouraged some to find out why others didn't get involved. I think this helped get "good Samaritan" laws on the books.

Her murder - The New York Times version that swept the country - inspired the song, "All's Quiet on West 23rd." The recording done by Julie Budd seems to be the best-known, but the song was released several times, by
  • The Jades
    (May 1967) (45, with "Crazy Me," Smash records)
  • Julie Budd
    (1968) (45, with "Whistle A Tune," M-G-M records)
  • The Jades
    (1970) (45, with "Love of a Woman," Liberty records)
And, quite possibly, by people and groups I wasn't able to dig up. (FYI, some of those links are to commercial sites, and may not be valid for very long.)

Treezilla Spotted in Chiba Prefecture! Nephew of Godzilla??

"Godzilla tree terrorises city"
Weird (November 18, 2008)

"Run for your life! It's Godzilla! Oh no, wait, it's a tree
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Just when you thought it was safe to go into the garden...

"If you have ever been scared of trees or a giant lizard monster, then this is not the story for you...."

The tree is in Japan's Chiba Prefecture, and yes: it does look like Godzilla. From one angle.

One of my daughters dubbed it "Treezilla."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nigerian Scams, Internet Safety, Fraud, and Human Nature: The Lemming Gets Wordy

"Woman out $400K to 'Nigerian scam' con artists"
KATU (November 11, 2008)

"SWEET HOME, Ore. – Janella Spears doesn't think she's a sucker or an easy mark.

"Besides her work as a registered nurse, Spears – no relation to the well-known pop star – also teaches CPR and is a reverend who has married many couples. She also communicates with lightning-fast sign language with her hearing-impaired husband.

"So how did this otherwise lucid, intelligent woman end up sending nearly half a million dollars to a bunch of con artists running what has to be one of the best-known Internet scams in the world?..."

It's a fairly detailed account of how and why "this otherwise lucid, intelligent woman" sent almost a half-million dollars into oblivion in about two years.

My hat's off to Janella Spears, who "has gone public with her story as a warning to others not to fall victim." I think quite a few people in her position would just as soon not spread the story around.

How to Lose $400,000 in Just Two Years

Here's how it goes:
  1. Respond to an email that promises big bucks for a little money up front
  2. When they ask for more money, give it to them
  3. If you have more money, go to step 2
  4. If you do not have more money, borrow some and go to step 2
What got Janella Spears hooked was the scammers using her grandfather's name. What kept her hooked, apparently, was the idea that each step was the last step. Besides, she got letters from
  • The president of Nigeria
  • President Bush
  • FBI Director Robert Muller
    • (I know: it's Robert S. Mueller, III, but that's how the scammers spelled it)
She got documents from the
  • Bank of Nigeria
  • United Nations
President Bush and the FBI Director needed her help. The letter from Bush said that terrorists could get the money if she didn't help.

No, President George W. Bush isn't in on the scam: the letters were fakes. So were the documents.

Meanwhile, the amount of money she thought she'd get was going up.

I'd Never Fall for This, Right?

Actually, I can't imagine a situation where I'd believe a line like this, but I know it's a theoretical possibility.

My email service has pretty good filters, but I still get scam emails from time to time. The ones that just might be legitimate messages get opened, the rest don't. (I've also got pretty good internal security on my system, don't open attachments, and have rather cautious settings on the email reader.)

I actually enjoy those wonderfully polite messages, telling me that the grand high poobah of Lower Slobovia, or whoever, needs my help to move money around; or that my Uncle Louie in Australia has died, and left me money that runs into seven or eight figures.

But believe it? No.

Using a real relation's name was something special, of course, in this lady's case.

And, over the years, some scams have come close to hooking me.

There was the one from a very good imitation of my credit card company: I wound up having a nice chat with someone in that company's security division, which confirmed some assumptions I'd made about the company having an ounce of sense.

I've gotten emails, written in bad imitations of lawyerese, telling me that I'll inherit a fortune if I respond. As I recall, one actually did refer to a dead relative in Australia. I like to think that, even if the scammers used the name of a real person, I wouldn't respond. Not to them, anyway.

Appeals to Authority - Misspelled and Otherwise

I would be very dubious, if the president of the United States wrote a personal letter, saying that my help was needed.

It wouldn't matter if it was George W. Bush, or Barack Obama. The odds that someone would say, "help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope" are slim. At best. I'd be particularly dubious, starting next year, if the president spelled his name "Barak Obama."

Does that make me really smart? Or immune? No. Just wary and better-trained in evaluating data than most people.

At that, some of those messages have really tugged at my heartstrings. And purse strings.

The Nigerian Scam and Other Ways to Lose Big in the Privacy of Your Own Home

Online scams are old hat. Some news services aren't even covering this Oregon incident. Nosing around for this post, I found a few useful and/or interesting resources:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Digital Art Galleries by Stardust Crossing

Stardust Crossing

 サイト名「Stardust Crossing」は、「星屑十字路」の英訳であり、星屑が交差して集まる場所という意味である。この名称は、starを名乗るほどの実力もない我が身に似合っているのではないかと考えて付けたものである。

" なお、当サイトはリンクフリーであり、リンクに当たって事前及び事後の連絡は不要です。バナーが必要な方は、下記のものを右クリックして「名前を付けて画像を保存」でお持ち帰りのうえ、ご使用頂ければ幸いです。"

If you can read that, you're doing better than me.

Happily, the artist who runs Stardust Crossing provides text in English as well as Japanese:

"I am Japanese and live in Tokyo.

My handle name is 'Stardust' or 'Stardust Crossing' ordinarily. I sometimes use 'Hoshikuzu Jujiro' as handle. It is a Japanese word which means 'Stardust Crossing'.

"I started 3D CG in May 2005. It is my hobby not job to create 3D CG. My real job has no relation with CG. So I enjoy a CG life at weekends. Vue 5 Esprit & Vue6 Infinite, Poser 5-7 and Shade 8.5 Basic are my main softwares."

I ran into this artist's work on an online community, Renderosity, which led me to this website (Thanks, "Stardust Crossing").

Stardust Crossing's galleries on Stardust Crossing go back a few years. I think you'll see some evolution in the work.

So, You Think the Pyramids and Stonehenge are Old?

Oldest known civilization: so far
  • "Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?"
    Smithsonian Magazine (November 2008)
    • "Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, Turkey's stunning Gobekli Tepe upends the conventional view of the rise of civilization
    • "Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple...."
  • "Digging for history in Turkey "
    The First Post (OCTOBER 17, 2006)
    • "I am standing above an archaeological dig, on a hillside in southern Turkey. Beneath me, workmen are unearthing a sculpture of some sort of reptile (right). It is delicate and breathtaking. It is also part of the world's oldest temple.
    • "If this sounds remarkable, it gets better. The archaeologist in charge of the dig believes that this artwork has connections with the Eden story. The archaeologist is Klaus Schmidt; the site is called Gobekli Tepe...."
  • "Göbekli Tepe"
    (Göbekli Tepe (türkçe))
    German Archaeological Institute
    • "An early Neolithic mountain sanctuary in the foothills of the Taurus in southeast Turkey
    • "The early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, a mound some 300 m in diameter with an accumulation of 15 m, is situated on the highest point of a mountain ridge. It stands out from afar, a feature dominating the landscape. From the site one can see the great Taurus range and Karadağ to the north and the east, and to the south the Harran Plain stretching away to Syria. Only in the west is the horizon blocked by high spines that rise nearer by, cutting Şanlıurfa off from the Euphrates Valley further westward...."
Several takes on what is (for me) a very exciting new chapter in humanity's story. One of the big questions is: Just who were these people?

Another is: Why did they bury their temple? We may never know, but odds are that some very interesting details will come out as people try to find out.

Indian Spaceship Crashes Into Moon: Right on Schedule

"India Slams Probe into the Moon" (November 14, 2008)

"Chandrayaan 1, India's first deep space mission, released its Moon Impact Probe for a suicide nosedive to the lunar surface, it was announced on Friday.

"The probe hit the moon at exactly 8:31 p.m. Indian Standard Time (10:01 a.m. EST), 25 minutes after being released from its carrier spacecraft, run by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Indian news organizations reported."

Sounds like they got data and pictures from the probe before it hit. The rest of the Indian spacecraft is in orbit around the Moon, collecting more data. None of the data or pictures has been released yet, though.

I'm glad to see that the mission has gone well, so far. India's put quite a bit into the Asian Moon race.

Previous post:

Yotsuba: Shamrock-Headed, Caffeinated, Bundle of 'Cute'

"Read Yotsuba Online: Chapter 01 Moving with Yotsuba"
Read On English version

  • Maybe four or five years old
  • Congenitally caffeinated
  • Terminally cute
  • Boisterous
  • Appealing
  • Charming
  • Energetic
  • Adorable
  • Curious
  • Loud
  • Distractible
  • Did I mention, she's cute?
This Japanese cartoon is about Yotsuba, a little girl of unknown origin and green hair, whose four pigtails make her head look like a yotsuba. Hence the name.

Her adoptive father is a nice guy: responsible, generous, attentive, and utterly clueless about what little girls are like.

Never mind Yotsuba.

This comic is, if you don't die of sugar poisoning, funny. There are a few technical problems: A chapter seems to be missing; and some of the links don't work the way you'd expect them to. Maybe Yotsuba was helping the designers.

One more thing: This is a fan translation. Although the manga is licensed for commercial translation, the company is focusing on anime, so Yotsuba the manga, in English, is on hold. And likely to remain that way.

Space Shuttle Endeavour: Another Freighter's Mission in the News

After 'Remarkable' Night Launch, Complex Shuttle Flight Ahead" (November 15, 2008)

"CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The brilliant blaze of NASA's space shuttle Endeavour as it rocketed into orbit under the light of a nearly full moon late Friday is just the beginning of a challenging, but vital, flight to the International Space Station (ISS), mission managers said. ...

"...'Very few things that we do beat a night launch,' said LeRoy Cain, head Endeavour's STS-126 mission management team. 'It was just remarkable right up and down the line.'

"But Endeavour's blast off is just the start of what promises to be a long, hard flight to outfit the space station and make repairs that will pave the way for larger, six-person crews to the outpost next year."

STS-126 Mission Update""
NASA Space Shuttle home page

It wasn't exactly a perfect launch: someone forgot to latch a door in the White Room. That's not as serious as it sounds. The White Room is part of the launch pad that astronauts walk through on their way into the shuttle. It's backed off from the shuttle during launch, and the launch controllers decided that letting that door bang around a bit wouldn't affect the shuttle.

The person on the launch crew who didn't secure the door said, 'I did it,' and won't be reprimanded, by the way.

Sounds reasonable.

Now, if only I could get a job there.

I spent my youth in the sixties and went to college in the seventies. It was a colorful period, and one that I'd rather not go through again.

Back then, I was a great fan of Star Trek, joined a march protesting American policy, and created a peace poster (okay, it was a peace symbol with four engine nacelles and the slogan "drop it," but it was a peace poster).

Not much has changed, actually. Having memorized most of the original series takes some of the fun out of watching Star Trek re-runs, but I still do it now and again. ("...where they'll be no tribble at all" - classic!) And I'm about as counter-counter-cultural as ever. (You'll see what I mean, if you read A Catholic Citizen in America.)

One thing I did learn in my college years was the importance of being earnest. Not to be confused with the Wilde play by that title. Even now, decades later, I feel a twinge of sorts as I watch another freighter roar into space.

Recalling the values of my peers, back in those hallowed halls of ivy and other plant products, I recall that - by some standards - I could be spending all my time, agonizing over the plight of gray bats and emigrating Albanians.

But this is interesting, too, and I've learned that there's more to the universe than 'relevance.'

Related post:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Night Launch

"Endeavour on its way to space station"
CNN (November 14, 2008)

"KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- Riding a brilliant tower of flame into the night sky, the space shuttle Endeavour left Earth on Friday, carrying seven astronauts on a 15-day mission to the international space station.

"Space shuttle Endeavour lifted off at 7:55 p.m. ET on Friday, en route to the international space station.

"The space shuttle Endeavour launched on time at 7:55 p.m. ET on Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in eastern Florida, mission managers announced."

It's been a long time since I fell asleep on the couch, watching a video feed from Tranquility Base. But it's still exciting to see a spaceship take off. Even if it's an old freighter.

More: Related post:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Electricity and Paving Material From Garbage: What a Great Idea!

"Plasma Turns Garbage into Gas"
Scientific American (November, 2008)

"Every year 130 million tons of America’s trash ends up in landfills. Together the dumps emit more of the greenhouse gas methane than any other human-related source. But thanks to plasma technology, one city’s rotting rubbish will soon release far less methane—and provide power for 50,000 homes—because of an innovation in plasma technology backed by Atlanta-based Geoplasma.

"Engineers have developed an efficient torch for blasting garbage with a stream of
superheated gas, known as plasma. When trash is dropped into a chamber and heated
to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, its organic components—food, fluids, paper—vaporize into a hot, pressurized gas, which turns a turbine to generate electricity. Steam, a by-product, can generate more. Inorganic refuse such as metals condense at the bottom and can be used in roadbeds and heavy construction....

This looks like a very good idea: Using high tech to turn garbage into electricity, and apparently the byproducts can be used for paving.

Of course, the Mutoscope Voice-O-Graph" looked like a good idea, too.

The Mutoscope Voice-O-Graph: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

"1957 Mutoscope Voice-O-Graph", from

"Description: Voice-O-Graph, International Mutoscope, 1957, a record recording booth (similar to a photo booth) that lets the patron make an actual 6" record which could be played on any record player. Customer selectable output record for 45 or 78 RPM...."

The fellow's looking for one.

The page shows photos of a Voice-O-Graph (I think) that's rather the worse for wear, and pieces of another. Or maybe of the same one. Either way, the device is in bad shape.

Also, copies of advertising for the latest way to make lots of money with new technology - 1957 style.

Before we start making fun of the International Mutoscope and the Voice-O-Graph, let's consider what some of today's technological marvels may look, fifty years from now: like making electricity and paving from garbage.

Photos of Very Odd-Looking Churches

"20 Unusual Churches (Part I)"
Village of Joy (October 25, 2008)

From the Church of Hallgrímur, Reykjavík, Iceland, to Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Including Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France and Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain.

There's at least one photo of each.

Impressive architecture, but I'll admit that some are very odd-looking.

Mixed Messages: Contradictory Signs

"7 Moments in Mixed Messages"
Banned in Hollywood (October 16, 2008)

"I started compiling a folder full of images that offer mixed messages and this is what I came up with...."

My favorite of the lot is the photo that shows two signs on a wall, over a hook.

The top one says,


The other one, right over the hook, says,


On the other hand, the "Not an Exit Exit" photo is funny, too. Sad, but funny.

Overused Words: a List

"10 Overused Words in Writing"
Precise Edit

"All words are good words. Some, however, are overused without adding value to what you write. As a result, they reduce the readers’ interest, make text seem redundant, and cause the writer to appear amateurish...."

From "There" to "Because" - I don't suggest never using words on this list, but it's very easy to over-use them.

A pretty good resource.

Planets Circling Other Stars Photographed

"Astronomers capture first images of new planets"
CNN (November 13, 2008)
  • "(CNN) -- The first-ever pictures of planets outside our solar system were released today in two studies.
    Artist's conception of the multiple planet system as captured by the Gemini Observatory on Hawaii.
  • "Using the latest techniques in space technology, astronomers at NASA and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used direct-imaging techniques to capture pictures of four newly discovered planets orbiting stars outside our solar system...."
"Major Breakthrough: First Photos of Planets Around Other Stars" (November 13, 2008)
  • "Astronomers have taken what they say are the first-ever direct images of planets outside of our solar system, including a visible-light snapshot of a single-planet system and an infrared picture of a multiple-planet system.
  • "Earth-like worlds might also exist in the three-planet system, but if so they are too dim to photograph. The other newfound planet orbits a star called Fomalhaut, which is visible without the aid of a telescope. It is the 18th brightest star in the sky...."
Photos have been taken of objects orbiting other stars before, but they might have been really small, cool, stars: not really big planets.

Odds are, these things actually are planets.

These are exciting times that we live in.
Related posts, at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That's One Big Chandelier: New York City's New Waterford Ball

"Latest Times Square ball to mark more than New Year's eve"
CNN (November 11, 2008)

" YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) -- Next month, it'll be the famous New Year's Eve ball. Next year, it could be the Great Pumpkin.

"A bigger, brighter Waterford crystal ball will usher in 2009 above Times Square, then remain in place all year to celebrate other holidays including Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July and Halloween, organizers said Monday...."

Sounds like a good idea: using that whacking great piece of crystal and lights more than once a year. This year's ball will be about 12 feet across - double the size of last year's. Which means they need a stronger pole to hold it up, and extra bracing in the building that holds up the pole.

Bigger may not always be better, but it sure is fun to do. My opinion, anyway.

Armistice Day, 2008, or Veterans Day, or National Day...

It's Armistice Day, or Veterans Day, or National Day, or Remembrance Day - or, it's just November 11, 2008. It depends on where you live.

I got a little serious about 11/11, last year ("Armistice Day / Veterans Day " (November 11, 2007)), and in "Armistice Day, 2008: Or, if You Prefer, Veteran's Day (Another War-on-Terror Blog (November 11, 2008)).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Snowflakes, Close Up

"Snow Crystal Photo Gallery I"
"... Capturing the fleeting beauty of snowflakes ..." / Caltech (February 1, 1999)

"These pictures show real snow crystals that fell to earth in Northern Ontario, Alaska, Vermont, the Michigan Upper Peninsula, and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. They were captured by Kenneth G. Libbrecht using a specially designed snowflake photomicroscope...."

And, they're beautiful.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fancy Treehouses

"Baumhauser from Baumraum"
Architecture and Design (September 4, 2008)

"Nature shouldn't be a spectator sport. There's nothing like living, sleeping, breathing and playing amongst Mother Nature’s finest to feel a real connection to the earth. Treehouses epitomize this. They’re the perfect place for children to let their imaginations run wild, a place adults can...."

In short, very fancy treehouses for people with a lot of money, and influence with the zoning commission.

I'll admit that these do look attractive.

About wanting to "feel a real connection to the earth"? Take a wrong turn after waking up, and you'll "fell a real connection" - no question.

Maps: Lots of Little, Tiny, Maps

"Map Collection"
Mapmaker Plus

Maps. Old maps. Not-so-old maps. Accurate maps. Inaccurate maps. Maps of Anglia, Asia, and places you never heard of.

Did I mention, this page has maps? Lots of maps. Thumbnails of little maps. Tiny maps.

Fun, attractive, but probably not very practical. Still, it could be fun to take a look.

Map of Our Stellar Neighbors

"32 Nearby Stars
Krystian Majewski, designer

"A spatial representation of every star within 14 light-years of the Solar System in orthographic projection. There are 32 stars in this region, including the Sun. The stars are colored according to the spectral type,..."

It's interactive, the relatively slow rotation gives a very definite 3D sense, and rolling over a star brings up a little data display. (Adobe Flash Player, version 9 or better needed)

Attractive, fun (for astro-geeks like me), and - well - educational.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Adam Smith AKA Steve Zacharanda Resigns: Proper British Jounalist in Man On the Sidewalk Interview

First, Mr. Smith, best wishes for success: whether it's back with "the Birmingham Mail, the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Sunday Mercury;" or setting up your own magazine; or whatever you'll be doing now.
(Caution: There's one bit of rather rude language on the first video.)

"Birmingham mail, afterparty Obama (part 1)"

YouTube (November 5, 2008)
video (3:47)

The video opens with "Here I am, Obama is elected, and I see this guy working. What are you doing?"

That's the start of three minutes and forty seven seconds of questions and sozzled but quite articulate responses from a "proper news journalist," on holiday in the States. "Steve Zacharanda, also known as Adam Smith" had been helping Barack Obama get elected.

Mr. Smith was eager to share his views on Barack Obama, Miami, the Dutch, and his career plans. For starters, it seems he wanted to start his own magazine.

Here's one Q & A:

"So, tomorrow you will be online?"
"Online?! It's not going to be online!! It's going to be printed in papers: I'm a proper news journalist."

Mr. Smith, or Zacharanda, concluded this portion of the interview with:

"My name is Adam Smith, also known as Steve Zacharanda, who has just resigned from the Birmingham Mail, the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Sunday Mercury, to set up my own magazine, the [Bargarlai? Barcarli?]. F**k you, I'm doing what I want to."

By the time I got to it, 125,489 people had visited the YouTube video. Including, it seems, his boss.

There's more, where Mr Smith / Mr. Zacharanda makes some very interesting observations about America:

"Birmingham mail crying (part 2)"

YouTube (November 5, 2008)
video (2:10)

Adam Smith, the Morning After

Where was I?

Oh, yes. His boss saw the video.

The next morning, "Adam Smith, also known as Steve Zacharanda," woke up and discovered that he was a sensation on the Web. Also, that his boss wanted him to call the office.

Here's the comment the now-sober journalist left on the first YouTube video:


"Right, the thing is, right I've just woke up.
And seen this video, which I don't really remember. I've been told to phone the Birmingham Mail because I am in trouble.

"I was off duty, I am on official holiday working at the South Beach Miami Barack Obama campaign where I had just done a 18 hour shift trying to make the world a better place."

"Please check every BBC News Outlet and see if I have cut and pasted anything. I have not, it was a joke and should be taken in the spirit it was said."

The first reply to Mr. Smith's comment was:


"Hey, they've taken your story off the Birmingham Mail website..." [ellipsis is in original text]

With friends like this: you know the rest.
In the news:

The Most Beautiful Words in English

"Most beautiful words in the English language"
Listology (September 20, 2006)

The 223 most beautiful words in the English language. In the opinion of diaskeaus, anyway.

It's in alphabetical order, from adroit to zyzzyva, with a short definition for each word.

Diaskeaus is on to something: they are nice-sounding words.

Force Field for Mars Mission: This Isn't Science Fiction

(warning: geeky content)
  • "Diamagnetic Cavity Shields For Spacecraft?" (November 7, 2008)
    • "A spacecraft could be protected from radiation with a dipolelike magnetic field and plasma; it could surround a spacecraft like a 'mini magnetosphere.' Reseachers in the UK, Portugal and Sweden announced the work in this month's Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion...."
  • "Force Field Might Shield Astronauts on Way to Mars"
    FOXNews (November 5, 2008)
    • "...British and Portuguese researchers may have solved one of the biggest problems facing interplanetary travel — how to get astronauts there and back without deadly solar radiation frying their DNA and setting off a cascade of cancers and related diseases...."
  • "Mission to Mars: Key health hurdle can be overcome, say scientists"
    Yahoo! News (November 4, 2008)
    • "PARIS (AFP) – Scientists believe they have found a way of protecting astronauts from a dangerous source of space radiation, thus lifting a major doubt clouding the dream to send humans to Mars...."
  • "To boldly go where no man has gone before - new 'force field' technology will protect astronauts on their journey to the planets"
    Science & Technology Facilities Council (November 4, 2008)
    • "Force field technology used to protect spaceships in science fiction programmes could soon become science fact, thanks to experiments by researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Universities of York and Strathclyde, and the IST Lisbon...."
Traveling to Mars is one thing. Being alive when you get there is something else.

One reason the Apollo missions succeeded was that they happened during a quiet period of solar weather. Radiation in deep space is generally a lot heavier than it was in the early seventies.

We're safe, under a planet-size magnetic shield and several miles of atmosphere. And people in low Earth orbit still have Earth's naturally-occurring force shield protecting them. Even so, sometimes they have to get behind heavy equipment, just to be on the safe side.

Keeping a crew safe on the way to Mars and back would be simple, if we had an easy way to move tons of shielding with them. We don't.

We've had the technology to make a huge magnetic shield for years. Just a few problems. For one thing, the force shield would be enormous: over a hundred kilometers across.

More to the point, it would take so much power that the batteries or generators would be too heavy: and the magnetic fields might hurt or kill the crew.

Good news: Research aimed at containing fusion reactions should make a small, non-lethal, magnetic shield a practical possibility. At least, some scientists in Britain and elsewhere think so.

Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Really Odd-Looking Sand Sculptures

"Bizarre Sand Sculptures"
Masala Time (Probably November 6, 2008)

A set of photos, each of a big, very detailed, sand sculpture.

The title is a little misleading. I'd call them odd, very detailed, maybe quirky.

There's a very strong Disney theme here. See how many Disney movie imitations you can spot. Enjoy.

What Was Happening on the Day of Your Birth?

"Find fun and interesting facts about the day and year you were born. Just enter your date of birth below and click Go to begin."

Something fun to do. I was reminded that I was born in the Truman administration, and just how old I am in dog years. And, it seems I was born in the year of the Rabbit.

Do-it-Yourself Kusudama Flower

"How to Make a Kusudama Flower"
wikiHow (undated)

(from wikiHow, used without permission)

"A pretty kusudama flower can be made by folding five or six square pieces of paper. If you make twelve flowers, they can be assembled into a beautiful kusudama ball...."

The page is a step-by-step how-2, with photos. Looks like a straightforward project, with quite attractive results.

And, no: I haven't tried it myself.

Landscape With Galaxy

Untitled photograph (reduced scale)
Astronomy Picture of the Day / NASA

I ran into this while rummaging around online. I don't know where it was taken, or when, but it's a remarkable combination of landscape and astrophotography.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Water, Chemistry, and Early Earth

(Caution: geeky content)

"How Water Made Earth Livable for Us - The Peroxy Way" (November 6, 2008)

Looks like non-biological process may have provided the first bits of oxygen for Earth's atmosphere. The article is a bit technical, but worth reading for people interested in current best-guesses of what happened in the first few billion years.

I ran into a new term: ROS, or Reactive Oxygen Species. That's a sort of chemical, not something that's alive. Actually, ROS are rather bad news for living things. More, at "Reactive Oxygen Species" (MIT OpenCourseWare | Biology | The Radical Consequences of Respiration: Reactive Oxygen Species in Aging and Disease - Syllabus / Overview

Spaceport America: Still Open for Business

"New Mexico Voters Defeat Spaceport America Measure " (November 5, 2008)

"Residents of Otero County in New Mexico have defeated a Spaceport America tax increase to help build an inland spaceport that will serve as the launching ground for commercial spacecraft.

"Reports from the field there say Tuesday's election tally show that 52.3 percent voted against the tax; 47.7 percent voted for the tax...."

Wait a minute! Spaceports are science fiction, right?

Well, yes. They're also very much a part of the 21st century.

Spaceport America is a commercial spaceport: 45 miles, or 72.4 kilometers, north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. That one eighth of one percent sales tax that Otero County voted down would have gone to operational expenses.

I think I can see why Otero County voters turned the new tax down. In the short run, this isn't the most comfortable time to add an expense to everyone's budget. On the other hand, in the long run I think turning part of Otero County into a port city might be good for the local economy.

Construction of the rest of Spaceport America will go ahead, just a bit more slowly .

What a View! Space Bubbles Would Thrill Tourists" (October 24, 2008)

"The Rocket Racing League is teaming up with a private aerospace company and the state of New Mexico to build a new fleet of suborbital spacecraft designed to give space tourists a view of the Earth unlike any other...."

The ride looks like it would be a bit like hang gliding.

Without the hang glider, and above most of the atmosphere.

It sounds like a great experience. For people who aren't troubled by motion sickness or vertigo.

The Rocket Racing League and Armadillo Aerospace have teamed up for this commercial venture.

(From Rocket Racing League, via, used without permission)
'Passengers are now free to move about the cabin.'

Related posts:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You'll Find Angry People Online - No Surprise, but Good Overview

"#@*!!! Anonymous anger rampant on Internet"
CNN (November 3, 2008)

"(CNN) -- There's a whole world of people out there, and boy, are they pissed off.

"On political blogs, the invective flies. Posters respond to the latest celebrity gossip with mockery or worse. Sports fans set up Web sites with names that begin with "fire," hoping coaches, athletic directors and sportscasters lose their jobs....

A lot of angry people are online? This, we didn't know?!

What makes this article worth reading is the discussion of why people act the way they do online, and what's changed in the Information Age. "In the [pre-Internet era], you had to take ownership [of your remarks]. Now there's a perception of anonymity," as a communications professor said.

Spaceport Development Tax on Otero County Ballot

"New Mexico Spaceport Seeks Voter Support" (November 3, 2008)

"LAS CRUCES, New Mexico – New Mexico's bid to build Spaceport America gets voter scrutiny this week, with Otero County residents being asked to approve a one-eighth of one percent increase in sales tax to help support development of the commercial inland spaceport...."

I've posted about this before: most recently, "Spaceport America: It's Real, and Open for Business" (October 25, 2008).

The realities of 21st-century life take a bit of getting used to. I did a micro-review last month, of a sort of photo collage of Dubai's architecture (Dubai Architecture: A Photo Gallery " (October 25, 2008)). Whoever put that together wrote this caption for the last rendering on the page: "The UAE Spaceport would be the first spaceport in the world if construction ever gets under way. I'm not joking... " [emphasis mine]

That one-eighth of one percent increase in sales tax is no joke, and neither is Spaceport America.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Taking Pictures and Making Recordings Around Polling Places

"Documenting Your Vote"
Citizen Law Project.

A pretty good guide for how to not get in trouble around polling places. In a way, it's just common sense:

"Guidelines for Avoiding Legal Trouble
1. Follow the Rules

This page seems like a pretty good place to start checking what is, and isn't acceptable in your state. It includes a chart that outlines which states have what rules.

Japanese Art Motife - Online Examples

"Japanese motif art references," a Renderosity blog post by infinity10, listed two pretty good online resources for Japanese art: Examples:

(That blog post is accessible only to Renderosity members.)
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