Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's a Couch! It's a Table! It's - on Shag??!

"Transformable Couch Table turns into a dining table - Height Adjustable table"
House Automator (February 27, 2009)

"Italy’s Ozzio has put together a fabulous little collection of transformable couch tables, which go from casual coffee table to elegant dining table in a blink. Ideal for small urban lofts and cozy quarters where space is at a premium, these modern adjustable-height tables make multi-function fashionable. These innovative space-saving designs feature gas-lifted...."

Bottom line? It's elegant, it's multi-purpose, and you don't have to have the strength of a weight-lifter to operate it. Apparently.

(from House Automator, used w/o permission)

There's a rectangular version:

(from House Automator, used w/o permission)

I didn't realize that shag was back in style.

Looking for Heather, Two Decades Later

First, a disclaimer: I have no reason do doubt any of what the blogger says, but I haven't verified any of the information in the Rick's World blog, either.

Second, don't worry: Apathetic Lemming of the North isn't going to become a sort of 'Personals' blog. This is a one-time effort to help a fellow-writer.
"Rick's World - My Life Story Told For The First Time"

"Over the years I've traveled extensively across the United States, living life as a wanderer. I have experienced things that most people can only imagine. I'm here to offer to you my unique perspective. Every story is true, and the articles are backed up with supporting facts. Some names have been changed to protect identities. Truth can be stranger than fiction."

"Are You My Long Lost Daughter?"
Ricks's World (February 27, 2009)

"If anyone can help spread this post for me and get this out there in cyberspace, I would be forever grateful. This would be a personal favor to me.

"Your birth name was Heather. You were born in the month of December,in Galveston, Texas. You turned 20 years old recently...."

There's enough information in the rest of that post for Heather to recognize herself. The post itself tells quite a story, and this relatively new blog promises to have a high level of human interest.
Update (March 5, 2009)

I've learned that Heather has been found. Happy ending, it seems:

"Who's In The House? I'm Still Holdin' On"
Rick's World (March 1, 2009)

A Little Art, a Little Text: Gump and Gandhi Holding Hands Delivers Daily

Gump and Gandhi Holding Hands
"Daily Art and random thoughts. See more colorful goodies at"

Recent posts:
  • "Daily Art 2/27/09 - Your inner weasel."
    (February 27, 2009)

    • Your inner weasel.
    • "I am certain there are souls born into this world with only positive instincts. Creative, loving beings that seek only to heal the world and lift us all up. I am...."
  • "Daily Art 2/26/09 - Accepting love."
    (February 26, 2009)

    • Practice accepting love.
    • "We are, each of us, all living things - we are nothing more and nothing less than teeny tiny shining bits of God."
There you have it: art, delivered daily, with a little text. It reminds me of some of those thought-for-the-day services - but that "Your inner weasel" promises something a bit off the 50th percentile.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The Night the Cylons Landed - Halloween, Yet!

"The Night the Cylons Landed"
NBC Video Rewind
video (two episodes: 47:25, 47:24)

Decades ago, I saw several minutes of a Battlestar Galactica episode, involving Cylons, Halloween, and a crashed spaceship. And, despite my tepid efforts to monitor re-runs, I didn't see it again. Until tonight.

Although I'm a fan of the seventies series (Lorne Greene, brilliantly inexpensive models, and all), I'll admit that for most episodes, the willing suspension of disbelief gets stretched pretty thin.

In this one it's almost transparent.

But, it was worth the hour-and-a-half-plus I spent watching. For me, half the fun is in those 'Batttlestar Galactica' moments. Including definitely-not-Shakespeare lines like these:
  • In something like the Strategic Air Command, tracking an incoming Cylon ship
    " could be Israeli: or French...."
  • Two pilots from Battlestar Galactica, getting airline tickets
    "Would you prefer smoking or non-smoking?"
    "Which way does the plane run best?"
    "Heh. That's cute."
  • After (finally) getting on the airliner, a hijacking
    "We're taking this airplane to Cuba!"
    "We don't have time to go there."
  • Still on the airliner, facing another delay
    "Forget that. Look up "FBI."
    "Uh-oh. Law enforcement...."
  • Still being delayed on their mission
    "How do we get into these messes?"
    "How do we get out of them?"
  • Two police officers, questioning the Battlestar Galactica pilots
    "What in the world is this?"
    "Some kind of cigarette lighter?"
    Happily, the 'cigarette lighter' was pointed at a tree when the officer pushed the trigger
  • Hoodlum, having encountered two Battlestar Galactica pilots, nearly runs into a Cylon - eight feet of metal and attitude
    "This is a bad night for muggers."
There are still Battlestar Galactical episodes that I want to see again: including one which if memory serves, has an 'advanced' Cylon bragging about dodging a Battlestar Galactica fighter. A standard-issue Cylon replies, "brilliant - maneuver - unfortunately - we are about - to crash."

And, what I believe is the ultimate Starbuck moment: Dirk Benedict's character has been:
  • Captured by Cylons
  • Imprisoned in a Cylon base ship
  • Brought before the throne of the Cylon leader
    • On its four-yard-high dais
  • Face to tentacles with the Cylon leader (think Cthulhu on a bad day)
  • Flanked by eight-foot-tall chrome-plated Cylons
The Cylon leader informs Starbuck that refusal to cooperate may be unpleasant.

Starbuck strikes a match on the front of a Cylon, lights his cigar, cocks his head, and asks, "you mean, it could get worse?"

More: " 'Galactica 1980' The Night the Cylons Landed: Part 1 (1980)"

Unusual Churches: Ancient, Contemporary, and Strange

"20 Unusual Churches (Part II)"
Village Of Joy (January 6, 2009)

"Long time no see, my brothers and sisters! A lot of you guys were asking for a part II of Unusual Churches , so here it is. Most extraordinary, strange, odd, you name it, churches of our planet. Look at those spectacular churches built on the tip of the mountain, carved out of stone or built deep inside underground and tell me that there is no god!"

"P.S.: this list wouldn't have come out without...."

There's a short description with each photo. Some, like the xxxxxx, are traditional designs. Others, like Device to Root Out Evil (Calgary, AB, Canada), aren't. Actually, DtROE isn't a church: it's a bit of contemporary sculpture shaped like a church.

Others, like Trendsetters Church (Phoenix, AZ, USA), are functional churches with - odd - designs.

The post includes an example of the old dug-in churches of Ethiopia: Church of St. George(Lalibela, Ethiopia).

My favorite for today is Church in a Hill(Luxembourg).
That church in the photo is Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe chapel (Le Puy-en-Velay, France). I know: it looks like one of those miniature sculptures, but it's real ("Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe" Sacred Destinations).

Monopodal Monsterpod Tripod - Cool Gadget

"Monsterpod Tripod"
Geeky Gadgets (February 27, 2009)

"Here's a useful accessory for all the photography geeks out there, the Monsterpod Tripod, which is designed to stick to virtually any surface...."

(from Geeky Gadgets, used w/o permission)

If Monsterpod Tripod really works the way it's claimed to, that's a fine gadget for photographers. And, at $30, comparatively affordable. Since it seems to rely on a sticky bottom, I wonder how long it lasts - or what replacement sticky stuff costs.

I'm not getting one, myself. I prop my cane on a stable surface to steady my hand for low-light-level shots - which, for my purposes, works fine. It sure would be nice to have, though.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Peanut Peril: Remembering

"Some, Not All, Peanut Butter Recalled: Other Products, Too"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 15, 2009)

" 'Survey: peanut recall known but misunderstood'
The Associated Press (February 13, 2009)

"I'll get back to that article. Quite a few people know that salmonella-laced peanut products got sold. If you're reading this post, you probably already know this, but...."

That post has links that will, with a little effort, lead to updated information of the peanut debacle in America's food supply. It's dropped out of the news, a bit, but keeping track of recalled products wouldn't be the worst idea.

About whose fault it is: My take on it is that the boss of a peanut provider, who decided to cut costs by sending out tainted peanuts, is around, or at, the top of the list. Ideally, the FDA would have noticed what's going on, as would have companies closer to consumers. Congress might have realized that food inspectors need to be paid, and allocated funds. But, having enough food inspectors to go around isn't something that gets attention - until something goes wrong.


Related posts:

Handwriting's Dying! So are Our Personalities! (According to the BBC)

"The slow death of handwriting"
BBC News Magazine (February 26, 2009)

"Christmas cards, shopping lists and what else? The occasions in which we write by hand are fewer and fewer, says Neil Hallows. So is the ancient art form of handwriting dying out?

"A century from now, our handwriting may only be legible to experts...."

What follows is a generally coherent article on the virtues of handwriting, with brief forays into the history of written communication. I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and can understand a nostalgic regret for changes in a culture.

Just the same, I think the author is focused a bit too much on the techniques we use to communicate, and not enough on how we assemble our ideas:

"Perhaps the best argument for keeping our pens is that otherwise, in a society that is recorded in more detail than any which came before it, we will leave plenty of data but very little of our personalities behind...."

I know that each person's handwriting is distinctive, but it's not the only way we leave our fingerprints on what we write. I contend that facets of my personality that create the Narcissus-X and Through One Dad's Eye blogs are not particularly dimmed by the almost-total lack of handwriting in either. (Through One Dad's Eye's photos occasionally show handwriting - so there is some "personality" there, by BBC standards.)

The author explains, in the final paragraph: "Our descendants may struggle to read our letters, but they'll never even see most of our texts and e-mails."

This is a significant point: although digital data will, potentially, endure as long as there are people to maintain the machinery, it's also very ephemeral. One power surge could wipe out the collected works of Proust.

Hardcopy, on the other hand, is fairly permanent. I've held a receipt for livestock in my hand, that was probably written when some of my ancestral homelands were still under glaciers. Cuneiform on clay tablets is about as easy-to-create and permanent a data storage technology as humanity has developed to date.

But, although having faded ink on yellowing paper has a certain charm, digital records have their place, too. I've seen to it that a number of personally-important accounts of my family are in digital form - where my children and (God willing) descendants can access them, make copies, and distribute the words and pictures to whoever wants them.

Back to the Death of Handwriting and Personality

Then, there's this comment of the teaching of handwriting: "...Many found the experience tedious, but for left-handers it could be torture. Often they were forced to write with their right, while their 'bad' hand was tied down...." I agree, the old practice of forcing people with 'sinister' tendencies to write with their right hands was unwise, occasionally harmful, and downright silly. But, aside from adding about two dozen words to the manuscript, I don't see how that observation relates to the article's topic.

Yes, that sort of daft educational technique involved handwriting, but did it lead either to the downfall of handwriting, or have some other effect on the evolution of handwriting? Maybe so, but the author didn't explain.

Still, if you have some extra time, it's a good read.

Ulitmate Character Profile Sheet! - Your Experience May Vary

"Ultimate Character Profile Sheet" "Character sheet"

"This character profile sheet is designed to profide [!] many things to think about when creating a character, and a few extras designed to help make a character unique.

"For explanations of some of these fields, you can visit...."

That misspelling, eight words in, didn't impress me: but the "Ultimate Character Profile Sheet" might be useful. It's in Wikipedia's "Writing" category, but it reminded me strongly of my FRPG (Fantasy Role Playing Game, for those with better things to do with their time) days.

One part suggests that this resource was developed for, or by, people interested in manga, or other Japanese-influenced fiction -

Internal Biology
  • Blood Type:
I think it's extremely debatable, whether this is the "Ultimate Character Profile Sheet" - but I've seen worse, and it could be a good starting point for someone working on stories with large casts and/or complicated characters.

Fargo, North Dakota: Yes, They Walk Erect

"Fargo, North Dakota"

"Fargo - Not Just a Movie"

"Thanks to the Coen brothers, most people imagine Fargo, North Dakota as a hick town in the middle of nowhere, covered in snow and filled with crazy people. That's only partly accurate.

"In reality, Fargo has been enjoying a booming rebirth over the past ten years. Even in the midst of the housing crisis and threatening recession, construction and business growth continue at a record pace. The downtown Renaissance Zone has revitalized and revamped an area all but abandoned, with new restaurants, coffee shops, condominiums, radio stations, and boutiques opening regularly.

"This lens will be a part of a series of lenses focusing on various Fargo topics...."

If you don't believe that inhabitants of central North America walk erect, be warned: this Squidoo lens may cause temporary disorientation and/or confusion.

The Fargo, North Dakota described here is the real one: not what Hollywood thought would be funny (a comment on imdb, dated 24 November 2006, might be enlightening).

I was born in Fargo, raised across the river in Moorhead (a smaller, and less funny, place): "Fargo, North Dakota," what I read of it, describes the Fargo, North Dakota (Fargo-Moorhead, really - it's essentially one metropolitan area, with a state boundary going down the middle) I knew. Bigger, a little wealthier, with goofy art of the 21st century instead of goofy art of the fifties, sixties, and seventies - but not all that much different.

I plan to be back to FND.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Language of Flowers: Does He Know What He's Saying?!

"Symbolism of Flowers or, the Language of Flowers"
Ready Reference Files, Santa Cruz Public Libraries

"While there is no uniformity of agreement concerning the symbolism of flowers, the following is a list of flowers and plants to which poetry, tradition, or usage has attached particular meanings...."

From Amaranth (Immortality) to Water Lily (Purity of heart), people have assigned meanings to flowers. The Santa Cruz public library system put together what looks like a pretty good resource for figuring out what that bouquet 'really means.'

But, ladies, a word of caution from someone in the other half of the human race: If he gives you a bouquet of marigolds and sage, it may just mean that he's a trifle eccentric, and lacks a good sense of smell. (According to this list, those flowers mean Happiness and Domestic bliss.)

Volcanoes, a Governor, Science, and the Next Yellowstone Caldera Blowout

"Gov. Jindal Follow-up: What Is 'Volcano Monitoring'?"
LiveScience (February 25, 2009)

"After President Obama's speech on the economy last night, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal criticized government spending in the stimulus bill, citing examples including '$140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." '

"The $140 million to which Jindal referred is actually for a number of projects conducted by the United States Geological Survey, including volcano monitoring. This monitoring is aimed at helping geologists understand the inner workings of volcanoes as well as providing warnings of impending eruptions, in the United States and in active areas around the world where U.S. military bases are located...."

Perhaps I shouldn't criticize Louisiana's governor. To the best of my knowledge, that state has no active volcanoes, ashfall from the last Yellowstone eruption only covered part of the northwest corner of Louisiana: and that was about 630,000 years ago. Governor Jindal is likely to be out of office before the caldera in Colorado erupts again.

Even so, volcano monitoring does benefit Louisiana - indirectly. Sooner or later, America will experience something like the Mt. St. Helens eruption. Remember having to put up with this sort of thing?
  • Disrupted air travel
  • Resources diverted to deal with rescue and recovery
  • 'Volcano movies'

Mt. St. Helens: It Could Have Been Worse

Over in the Mediterranean, there was that Vesuvius eruption that buried Herculaneum and Pompeii, about two thousand years ago. If you think there was a fuss about Katrina, imagine what Congress would be saying about that, if it happened in today's America.

Mt. St. Helens and Pompeii: It Could Have Been a Lot Worse

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 630,000 years ago, in what's now the northwest corner of the American state of Wyoming, a volcano erupted. These days, the caldera has Earth's largest concentration of geysers. We call it Yellowstone Park.

That 630,000 BP eruption put about 1,000 cubic kilometers of ash in the air. That's about 240 cubic miles. Ash settled over quite a lot of what's now the United States of America.

(from Smith and Siegel, via "The Yellowstone Hotspot by Kim Smurlo (Spring 2004), used w/o permission)

That map shows what happened after the last few major eruptions over the Yellowstone hotspot, with Mt. St. Helens' recent hiccup included for comparison.

Even if we had learned enough, at this point, to know exactly when Yellowstone is going to erupt again, I rather doubt that we could evacuate the western two thirds of the North American continent in time. On the bright side, the odds are that we have several tens of thousands of years to get ready.

The last three big Yellowstone eruptions happened at roughly even intervals. Assuming that the next one goes off 'on schedule,' it's coming any time now: geologically speaking. I made that little timeline to plot the intervals between eruptions. Making quite a few assumptions, we may have around 60,000 years to prepare for the next big one. (Assumptions aren't all that reliable - see "Dr. Li's Cupola Formula, the Bond Market, and Wall Street's Meltdown" (February 24, 2009))

By that time, our descendants may be able to dissipate the caldera's energy harmlessly - or may already have tapped out that particular geothermal energy source. If not, well, there's not much I can do about right now.

For that matter, if I feel the floor shake in the next few minutes, and notice that internet connectivity is gone for points west, and lousy for everything else - there's not much I can do about that, either.

(from Smith, used w/o permission)
(see "Windows into the Earth: The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks" Robert B. Smith, Lee J. Siegel (2000) (available at and elsewhere))

The hotspot that's under Yellowstone at this moment has been traveling northeast for the last several million years. Or, more accurately, the plate that North America is on has been traveling southwest, while the hotspot stayed still.

A Whole Lot Worse

About 75,000 years ago, or maybe 71,000 years back, Mt. Toba in Sumatra blew its top. Roughly 800 cubic kilometres (or, a bit shy of 200 cubic miles) of volcanic ash drifted northwest. Quite a lot fell on the Indian subcontinent: six inches to twenty feet deep. That's from about 15 centimeters, to just over six meters, of ash. There were people living there, before the eruption: but not after.

Related posts: Background:
Update (February 27, 2009)

On the light side, a one-panel cartoon:
"Volcano Preparedness Tips"
One Panel Comix (February 27, 2009)

Actually, it's "Bobby Jindal's Volcano Preparedness Tips" - my favorite, right now, is #3: "Pick a good pose! In 2000 years when archeologists...."

Thanks to BlogCataloger diabolicomix, who linked to the cartoon in a discussion thread:
"Bobby Jindal's Volcano Preparedness Tips"
diabolicomix, BlogCatalog discussion thread (started February 26, 2009)

Fish With Transparent Head, Swiveling Barrel-Eyes: The Video

"FIRST PHOTOS: Weird Fish With Transparent Head"
National Geographic (February 23, 2009)
with video (1:56) (© 2009 National Geographic; Video courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute)

"February 23, 2009--With a head like a fighter-plane cockpit, a Pacific barreleye fish shows off its highly sensitive, barrel-like eyes--topped by green, orblike lenses--in a picture released today but taken in 2004...."

(from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, via National Geographic, used w/o permission)

That's one odd fish. The video's narration explains that the green shapes in its head are pupils of its eyes. This is the first barreleye, or Macropinna microstoma, that's been seen alive, and all in one piece.

More at:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Watch a Pencil Draw an Eye

"Portraits - sparks by Lucy90"
Lucy90, (March 19, 2009)

"well i guess this is my favourite so far :) as usual i rele appreciate all ur ratings and comments guys, thank u :)"

It takes a minute or two, for an animated pencil to finish this picture. I enjoyed watching the process, and the result: if you draw in colors, you might pick up some ideas.

This eye post is on, an online drawing community.

Atlantis? Space Aliens? Nope: Ship Tracks

"Atlantis? No, it Atlant-isn't."
Google Blog (February 23, 2009)

"[Note: Last week we saw some interesting speculation that Atlantis had been found in Google Earth. As much as we'd love for that to be the case, there is a scientific explanation for the odd markings found on the seafloor. We've invited two of the scientists who gathered the data that appears in Google Earth to answer some questions that came up. - Ed.]

"Since the launch of Ocean in Google Earth, millions of people have started to explore the ocean, and many have been surprised by their discoveries...."

This is the image that got in the news last week:

(from the Official Google Blog, used w/o permission)

The idea that it's Atlantis is what was in the articles I saw. Google reports that farms run by space aliens was another explanation.

Turns out, those odd marks are artificial after all. They're called "ship tracks." What we're looking at are marks left in the mapping data, showing where the mapping ships went.

Google goes into more detail about it.

Of course, space aliens still might be involved: or Elvis. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Dr. Li's Cupola Formula, the Bond Market, and Wall Street's Meltdown

"Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street"
Wired (February 23, 2009)

"A year ago, it was hardly unthinkable that a math wizard like David X. Li might someday earn a Nobel Prize. After all, financial economists—even Wall Street quants—have received the Nobel in economics before, and Li's work on measuring risk has had more impact, more quickly, than previous Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the field...."

According to Wired magazine, quants are "brainy financial engineers" - and one of them, David X. Li, might have gotten a Nobel Prize - if the committee had acted a lot faster.

As it is, Dr. Li seems to be getting credit for bringing Wall Street to its knees.

I don't think that's entirely fair, but a brilliant piece of theoretical mathematics he created did help. Here it is:

(from Wired, used w/o permission)

David X. Li's Gaussian Copula Function: 'It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time'

"...It was a brilliant simplification of an intractable problem...."

Just one small problem: it was wrong.

But, investors and bankers loved it. Li's equation could be used to tell how risky a particular sort of investment was. Without spending a lot of time and effort, looking into underlying data.

And, best of all, it was accurate.

Usually. At first.

"...The damage was foreseeable and, in fact, foreseen. In 1998, before Li had even invented his copula function, Paul Wilmott wrote that 'the correlations between financial quantities are notoriously unstable.' Wilmott, a quantitative-finance consultant and lecturer, argued that no theory should be built on such unpredictable parameters. And he wasn't alone...."

"...As Li himself said of his own model: 'The most dangerous part is when people believe everything coming out of it.' "

Wired did what seems to be a good job of discussing what happened. If you're interested in the nuts-and-bolts end of economics, I suggest reading the whole article.

I Don't Blame Dr. Li

I think that it's unfair to blame Dr. Li for the meltdown we're watching on Wall Street. Wired is, I think, partly right in their article's title: "The Formula That Killed Wall Street."

I think Wired's third paragraph is spot-on, as far as it goes:

"...His [Dr. Li's] method was adopted by everybody from bond investors and Wall Street banks to ratings agencies and regulators. And it became so deeply entrenched—and was making people so much money—that warnings about its limitations were largely ignored...."

There's an old saying, "don't put all your eggs in one basket." Assuming that the Wired article is an accurate, and complete, look at the mess on Wall Street, it looks to me like over-reliance on one method, and letting greed overrule good sense, is what's creating so much exciting economic news.

I'm Taking This Personally

I live on Earth, and use money. That means that what happens in any of the major financial markets will affect me, sooner or later. And, what happened last year went 'way beyond New York City's Wall Street.

On the up side, I've got some wonderful motivation to make my online publishing business work.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Another How-2: This One's About Writing Fantasy Stories

"How to Write a Credible Fantasy Story"

"Do you want to write a fantasy novel, but want to make it credible, original and distinct? Do you want to create you world and your characters and make them believable like some epic tales like Lord of the Rings? Well, start reading. A writer is someone who has the inspiration, not someone who wants the inspiration to come by. Don't wait for inspiration to come to you. A writer is someone who writes. Start having ideas!

"1. After having one or two good ideas, sit and start to write topics on a paper...."

There are ten points in all, plus seven tips.

Two of the most useful ones, I think, are "be creative" and "be patient."

Like most other 'how to write' postings, this one is quite structured. That suits me fine, since I like to (over) plan.

On the other hand, my third-oldest daughter, who has actually written fantasy stories - that others want to read - doesn't work this way.

It can't hurt to read the post, though: you might even learn something.

Protesting Against New Technology - the Early Days

(from INKCINCT Cartoons, used w/o permission)

I very seldom copy an entire post in this blog, but trying to describe this cartoon would have robbed you of its impact, I think.

This cartoon appears on the INKCINCT Cartoons, Australia, website.

I think it's funny: and a reminder that every technology we have is new: from smallpox vaccine to agriculture. And, most new technologies have had their protesters, including smallpox vaccine, and, probably, agriculture. Which, oddly enough, was developed about the same time that smallpox appeared.

I think that learning how to grow crops was worth the risk, though. But then, I'm one of those people who think that using fire and string is a good idea.

tweetfeed: Cannabis/Marijuana, la Catastrophe du Jour, and Maybe More

"Want more traffic?"
TonyB, BlogCatalog discussion thread (started February 22, 2009)

"Set up a personal profile using

"BlogCatalog just bought Tweetfeed and we have modified the personal profiles so that you can list your blog, your rss feed, your twitter feed and customize content...."

I've looked up, and started checking it out:

"What's a TweetFeed?
  • A customizable page that displays related Twitter activity live.
  • A way to keep track of what is happening on Twitter that interests you (and share it with friends)...."
Tweetfeed is, by far, not the worst idea I've run across in the last week.

On the other hand:

"Top 10 TweetFeeds
1. Cannabis/Marijuana
2. Lifeboat Foundation....

TweetFeed's may be too groovy and relevant to be interested in the sort of content I generate.

I haven't written it off, as another sanctuary for Timothy Leary and Paul Ehrlich's loyal followers, though: The people running BlogCatalog have elevators that go all the way to the top, and tweetfeed may have its uses.

Another Stranded-on-a-Desert-Island Joke: An Equal-Opportunity Offender

"Two Men & A Woman!"
Tiggy's Rib-Ticklers! (undated)

Two disclaimers:
  • I haven't checked, but this joke is so familiar, I suspect that it was lifted from elsewhere
  • I think it's funny, and relatively harmless, but this gag
    • Is not politically correct
    • Describes situations which are not consistent with some systems of belief
      • Including my own
So, why am I doing a micro-review on this offensive joke?

Because it's funny!

I suppose it could be taken as a trenchant satire on aspects of multiculturalism in a global context: but why bother?


Here's how the joke starts:

"On a group of beautiful deserted islands in the middle of nowhere, the following people are stranded:
  • two Italian men and one Italian woman
  • two French men and one French woman
  • two German men and one German woman
  • two Greek men and one Greek woman
  • two English men and one English woman
  • two Bulgarian men and one Bulgarian woman
  • two Japanese men and one Japanese woman
  • two Chinese men and one Chinese woman
  • two American men and one American woman
  • two Irish men and one Irish woman"
Let the stereotyping begin!

Related post:

Strange and Fantastic Buildings: 80-plus Architectural Photos

"80+ Strange and Fantastic Buildings Architecture"
Dkumar M, InstantShift (undated, probably February, 2009)

"The term Architecture can refer to a process, a profession or documentation. As a process, architecture is the activity of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures by a person or a computer, primarily to provide shelter. As a profession, architecture is the role of those persons or machines providing architectural services. As documentation, usually based on drawings, architecture defines the structure and/or behavior of a building or any other kind of system that is to be or has been constructed.

"In the late 20th century many new concept was included in the compass of both structure...."

You may have seen some of these before, in posts I've micro-reviewed: like Forest Spiral Building (Darmstadt, Germany) and The Basket Building (Ohio, USA). Others are new to me.

Some, like the ING Headquarters (Amsterdam, Netherlands), seem have either just landed, or be about to take off. Others, like Stone House (Guimar√£es, Portugal), look like they might have grown on the spot. The Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, USA) plays with scale - it looks like a row of books. Solar Furnace (Odeillo, France) merges function and aesthetics - and looks like something out of one of the better science fiction comics.

The point is that, from the venerable Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada) to Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles, California, USA) and Experience Music Project (Seattle, Washington, USA) (Think Mickey Mouse on a bender, and Salvidore Dali meets Le Corbusier, respectively), this is an eclectic collection of remarkable architecture, from around the world.

I'm impressed at how many styles are represented, and how the samples are selected from around the world.

Personal favorites (today) are:
  • Ferdinand Cheval Palace (France)

    (from InstantShift, used w/o permission)
  • Chapel in the Rock (Arizona, USA)

    (from InstantShift, used w/o permission)
Related posts:

Daylight Saving Time, Again: Get Ready for Mandatory Jet Lag

I suppose that Daylight Saving Time fights global warming, saves the fur seal, protects the spotted owl, or something like that: but it feels like jet lag. And, twice a year, people around the world have to put up with it.

Daylight Saving Time: Since We Must

You can't fight city hall, much less a national government, so, here's a handy guide for citizens of Earth. It may make your biannual headache a little more bearable.

"Upcoming clock changes"

"The following list displays locations that will change their clocks during the next 4 weeks. Click on the location link in order to see more information about the change...."

This looks like a handy one-stop resource for discovering the specific pointless annoyance your government is forcing on you, whether you live in Uruguay (setting your clocks back an hour) , Canada (setting your clocks forward an hour), or Chile (back an hour). It seems to be a hemispheric thing. At least there's some consistency: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."

I'm an American, so in the wee hours of March 9, 2009, I'm supposed to set my clocks ahead by one hour. Daring rebel that I am, though, I'm actually going to set them forward late in the evening on March 8, 2009.

My computer, however, which is not a scofflaw, will be a good citizen and make the change at the proper, legal, and mandatory, hour.

Daylight Saving Time: It Could be Worse

Around the time of the last exercise in governmental chain-yanking, I posted more informational links, as well as a little suggestion about how Daylight Saving Time could be, ah, improved:

"Daylight Saving Time: A Modest Proposal "
(October 26, 2008)

(With a tip of the hat to Jonathan Swift, and his politico/religious satire, "A Modest Proposal."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

That's the Size of It: Local Galaxies to Quarks

"Secret Worlds: The Universe Within"
Molecular Expressions

"View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf...."

A pretty good way to get a feel for the size of things, probably inspired by the Charles and Ray Eames 1977 short film, "Powers of Ten." "Secret Worlds: The Universe Within" is interactive - you can go from frame to frame after the whole thing has loaded.

There's a bit of artistic license here and there: orbits of the planets in the Solar system are shown as colored ellipses, and colors are assigned to parts of the 'foam' down at quark scales. But I think that helps get the points across. Besides, considering the physics involved, we can't see anything that small: units of the part of the electromagnetic spectrum we sense are too big.

The "Powers of Ten" film may be available alone, or as part of a collection, on

And, there's an 'Eames online' website:

Just Like Designer Lights, Only Really Small and Two-Dimensional

"DIY Mini Lamps" (May 27,2007)

"Looking for some design ideas, I found something really extraordinary. It's Mark McKenna's DIY (do-it-yourself) package to design battery lights. The kit contains a series of flat pieces, which you need to assemble. Then, you hook them up to a 9-volt battery, which should be the light source...."

A pretty good write-up on, with several photos, of a clever, and attractive, do-it-yourself, tiny interior light. The nine-volt battery shows how big - or small - the things are.

And, kudos to and Mihnea Boiangiu for acknowledging and linking to a source for the photos:

Inhabitat (May 24, 2007)

"One of our favorite finds from this year's ICFF is Mark McKenna's collection of pocket-size do-It-yourself designer battery lights. We've seen 9-volt batteries acting as light sources before, as in Richard Lawson’s DIY LED light, but these 'DEK' (Designer Emulation Kits) bring iconic design to another (albeit small-scale) level. The kits consist...."

You're not going to light a large classroom with one of these things, or even a dozen or so. But I think they'd be fun as a desktop accessory - and might be useful for shedding light on a dark corner or two.

"How Much is This Bag" - Think There's a Simple Answer?

"The Road To Yell(ing) Is Paved With Good Intentions"
(the customer is) Not Always Right (undated)

"Customer: 'How much is this bag?'

"Me: 'That bag is actually part of a deal, if you purchase twenty dollars worth of product you can get the bag for an additional ten dollars.'

"Customer: '…That's not what I asked. How much is the bag?'

"Me: 'Oh, I'm sorry. The price of the bag itself is forty dollars.'

"Customer: 'So why’d you tell me...."

I think you can see where this is going, but the fun is in the details.

Friday, February 20, 2009

15 Cool Product Ideas

"15 Incredible Conceptual Designs You Wish Existed"
Creative Closeup (February 17, 2009)

"Imagine the first person that ate a shrimp. That ugly little creature from the sea ended up to taste so damn good. On the other side, consider the poor guy who first tried some stunningly good looking, bright red, little fruits hanging from bushes only to find out that they were deadly poisonous.

"It clear that both shrimps and poisonous red berries didn´t have a product test before being exposed to the humans, just like we have today with consumer products.

"This article gathers a group of 15 useful and enticing conceptual designs that for several reasons may never reach the production stage, but may set a trend and definitely make us whish they really existed...."

It starts out with "Nike Hindsight by Billy May" - sunglasses with Fresnel lenses that let you see (a little) behind you. I wouldn't recommend them for someone suffering from vertigo, but it's a pretty good idea.

Each design has a photo or rendering, and a description.

There's the folding bicycle, a Juke Brick (you'll have to read about that one), and the very weird "Paint or die but love me by John Nouanesing." Wouldn't you know it: The bright red table doesn't really exist, and it's French.

Some of these concepts may not go anywhere, but I wouldn't be surprised to see something like the "Sand+Time watch by Pavel Balykin" or "Flying Stick Camera by Tsunho Wang" on the shelves in a year or so.

Eco-Bridge or Not, This Looks Like a Good Idea

"Chicago Eco-Bridge to 2016"
Jetson Green (February 20, 2009)

"This conceptual proposal for Chicago's Monroe Harbor was designed in honor of the great American architect Daniel Burnham, but perhaps more importantly, to secure Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympic games. The proposal is a modern interpretation of Burnam's 1909 master plan for Chicago. In a land locked city, the Chicago Eco-Bridge offers an extension of the landscape that would dramatically change the face of the city, and perhaps the United States...."

The post does a good job of describing this impressive - and ambitious - project, with maps, renderings, and a diagram or two. In one of the renderings, the "central observation tower" looks a lot like Brancusi's "Bird in Space:" on a gargantuan scale. "Chicago Eco-Bridge to 2016" compares it to "a next-generation Statue of Liberty of sorts, welcoming the world once again to America."

That reference to "the great American architect Daniel Burnham" may be a little obscure. From Chicago Park District:

"...Chicago's famous architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham imagined Northerly Island as one of the northernmost points in a series of manmade islands stretching between Grant and Jackson Parks. His vision for this park included lagoons, harbors, beaches, recreation areas, a scenic drive and grand stretches of green space that would provide breathtaking views of the lake and City skyline...."

Northerly Island was the only part of the island chain build, and for a half-century or so it was mostly a small airfield: Meigs Field. Since 1996, Meigs Field has been gone, and Northerly Island is growing into something closer to Burnham's idea.

More about Northerly Island, at:
View Larger Map

Nanotechnolgy and Electronics: Atom-Sized Transistors ('Nanotronics'??)

"Scientists Make Advances On 'Nano' Electronics"
Reuters, via Wired (February 20, 2009)

"CHICAGO (Reuters) - Two U.S. teams have developed new materials that may pave the way for ever smaller, faster and more powerful electronics as current semiconductor technology begins to reach the limits of miniaturization.

"One team has made tiny transistors -- the building block of computer processors -- a fraction of the size of those used on advanced silicon chips.

"Another has made a film material capable of storing data from 250 DVDs onto a surface the size of a coin...."

I'll admit that this article is more appealing to people who like to read about "axial quadrupole nanostructures" than to those with less arcane interests.

However, if you've been following the science and technology behind the information technology we'll be using in the foreseeable future, I think you'll want to read about a team at the University of Pittsburgh and another from the Universities of Massachusetts Amherst and California Berkeley have been up to.

From the sounds of it, we're close to having computers, sensors, and memory devices with atom-sized transistors.

Thunderstorm Sprites' Light Source Sought

"Scientists Seek Sprite Light Source" (June 7, 2005)

"Giant red blobs, picket fences, upward branching carrots, and tentacled octopi --- these are just a few of the phrases used to describe sprites --- spectacular, eerie flashes of colored light high above the tops of powerful thunderstorms that can travel up to 50 miles high in the atmosphere...."

"...Most researchers have long supported the theory that sprites are linked to major lightning charges. Still, some scientists believe that conditions high in the atmosphere, like meteoritic dust particles or gravity waves might also induce sprite formation.

"Now, a study led by Steven Cummer of Duke University, Durham, N.C. and Walter Lyons of FMA Research, Inc., Fort Collins, Colo. has found more evidence that sprites are generated by major lightning strikes. They also found...."

Posted in 2005, this isn't the latest research, but it gives a pretty good look at where lightning research and other high-energy physics studies are going - now that scientists have decided that sprites are real.

(I remember the 'good old days,' when pilots, soldiers, and other 'credulous' people who saw sprites were assumed to be crazy: if they didn't 'admit' that they were hallucinating. And, I remember when scientists had to decide whether to claim that video cameras hallucinate, too: or acknowledge that sprites exist.)

Set PHASERs on Stun: Koloc's Kugelblitz Research is For Real

"Scientist Looks to Weaponize Ball Lightning"
Wired (February 20, 2009)

"Two hundred years ago this week, the warship HMS Warren Hastings was struck by a weird phenomenon: "Three distinct balls of fire" fell from the heavens, striking the ship and killing two crewmen, leaving behind 'a nauseous, sulfurous smell,' according to the Times of London.

"Ball lightning has been the subject of much scientific scrutiny over the years...."

An Aside About Sprites, Hallucinations, and Video Cameras

David Hambling, who wrote this article, is almost certainly younger than I am. Ball lightning may have received "much scientific scrutiny over the years" - but I can remember when quite a number of scientific experts poo-poohed laymen who thought that ball lightning existed.

Or, that thunderstorm sprites weren't hallucinations. I remember when people like Stuart L. Becher were vindicated. Before the 1989 STS-34 Shuttle mission, pilots, soldiers, and other 'credulous' non-scientists saw lights shooting up from thunderstorms. The usual 'scientific' explanation was that they were crazy. A video camera on the shuttle recorded sprites.

Given a choice between saying that a video camera was hallucinating, and acknowledging that laymen had noticed something that scientists hadn't, scientists started studying sprites.

Smart move, I'd say.

Back to Ball Lightning

From the looks of it, scientists have decided that ball lightning exists, too. Also a smart move. I think video cameras and funding for high-energy physics helped.

Anyway, physicists haven't decided what ball lightning is, exactly. Actually, quite a few have: but they've come up with a whole lot of different explanations. A few more years - or decades - of this, and they'll probably work out a description of ball lightning that fits all the facts. Maybe several descriptions: I suspect there could be more than one sort of 'ball lightning.'

Although the natural phenomenon hasn't been quite nailed down, a scientist named Paul Koloc, has developed a technology that makes plasmoids (chunks of really hot stuff) about a foot in diameter. Problem is, they're not stable: yet.

Dr. Koloc's goal is to make stable magnetoplasmoids that would last about one to five seconds. Compressed and accelerated to around two hundred kilometers a second, the things would make an ideal anti-missile weapon.

Koloc called the weapon system "Phased Hyper-Acceleration for Shock, EMP, and Radiation." That's right: PHASER.

If he ever works out the kinks, the PHASER could - in theory - be a real-world equivalent of Star Trek's phaser - possibly the most well-known science fiction stun gun. At relatively low power, it could - again, in theory - scramble a car's electrical system: giving law enforcement another tool for ending high-speed chases.

And, a similar technology could - in theory - maybe - be used to contain fusion reactions.

Exciting times, these that we live in.

The Wired article includes this YouTube video:

"Ball Lightning compilation"

NaturalPhenomena, YouTube (October 20, 2008)
video (5:44)

Analog to Digital Television: A Wired Look at the Transition

"How We Bungled the Digital Television Transition"
Wired (February 20, 2009)

"America's transition to over-the-air digital television signals, which netted the government $19 billion in a wireless spectrum auction, was doomed from the start, thanks to a flawed voucher program and a time frame that left the country stranded between administrations...."

I think this is a pretty good analysis of what happened, and what went wrong: and surprisingly free of finger-pointing.

There's also something that we didn't hear from Washington: " 'These findings from local stations, coupled with the FCC data, paint the picture that by and large TV households affected in those markets were ready," stated NAB digital television transition vice president Jonathan Collegio. "A relatively small percentage of viewers so far have needed assistance.' "

Oh, well, when June 12, 2009, rolls around, and someone in Blackduck, Pangultch, or Oxnard, still doesn't have a converter box: I suppose we'll go through the whole thing again.

Related posts:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Took the Day Off

The Lemming slept in this morning, and decided to take the rest of the day off. He plans to be back tomorrow, with a double dose of micro-reviews.

Or whatever else crosses his mind.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Facebook: Indignation, Righteous or Not, Gets Results

"Facebook Does About-Face on Privacy Change"
The Wall Street Journal (February 18, 2009)

"Yielding to pressure from its users and privacy advocates, Facebook Inc. Tuesday night backed away from controversial changes to its terms of use that some had decried as giving the social network too much leeway with users' personal information.

"Just a day after standing by the revisions, the company said it would scrap the new policy and return to its previous terms of service in a notice to its 175 million users on its Web site.

" 'Over the past couple of days, we have received a lot of questions and comments about these updated terms and what they mean for people and their information,' read the statement, which Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg expanded upon in a blog post. 'Because of the feedback we received, we have decided to return to our previous Terms of Use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.'..."

Mark Zuckerberg's blog post:
"Update on Terms"
The Facebook Blog (February 17, 2009)

"A couple of weeks ago, we revised our terms of use hoping to clarify some parts for our users. Over the past couple of days, we received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information. Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

"Many of us at Facebook spent most of today discussing how best to move forward...."

US News and World Report's Katy Marquardt's blog post:
"The Consumerist Gives the Scoop on Facebook Privacy Snafu"
New Money blog, US News and World Report (February 18, 2009)

"If you've logged into Facebook recently, you may have noticed a peculiar "Terms of Use" update at the top of your home page. It essentially says that due to user feedback over the past couple of weeks, the social networking site will return to its previous terms of use.

"Like me, you may wonder what the previous terms of use contained.

"Here's the scoop, courtesy of the Consumerist blog, which initially broke the story thanks to a reader tip:..."

The blog post has several more links, including "10 Facebook Privacy Settings to Know".

And the Moral of the Story is: Think Before You Leap

It looks like Facebook is going to change its TOS anyway: but next time, they'll take their clients into account - and remember that this is the Information Age.

Facts have a way of getting published, now, even if The New York Times doesn't print them.

A favorite online community of mine ( made a set of policy changes a while ago. But BlogCatalog put the changes up for discussion, before enacting them.

Smart move, I think: Took some of the decision-making load off BlogCatalog's staff, and let people in the online community have a hand in crafting the new rules. Pretty close to a win-win situation.

Anyway: Facebook got a dunking in the real world; they'll probably be more careful next time around; and we have another example of how a lot of indignant people can make a difference.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quasars: 'A's for your 'Q's

"Frequently Asked Questions About Quasars"
Virginia Tech Physics

The first two are "What is your definition of a quasar?" and "What do quasars have to do with black holes?"

The answers are in fairly non-technical language, considering the subject.

Like the earlier post about the Lewis and Clark expedition's inventory, this quasar Q and A isn't the most immediately practical bit of information you'll find.

But, if you're curious about how the universe works: it might be worth reading.

Lewis and Clark: What They Brought Along

"To Equip an Expedition"
Lewis and Clark

"Once he was named by President Thomas Jefferson to head the Corps of Discovery, Meriwether Lewis began preparations for the long trip ahead. Much of that preparation involved education; in the months prior to his departure, Lewis would learn astronomy, botany, navigation, medicine and biology, among other scientific disciplines...."

"...The following list is only a sampling of the supplies taken west by the Corps of Discovery, but it should give a sense of what an undertaking the expedition was."

I suppose I might have thought that handsaws, hatchets, and whetstones would be in the inventory. On the other hand, I didn't even know about "Dr. Rush's patented 'Rush's pills' " - 50 dozen were carried along.

And, I didn't know that Lewis and Clark had what may have been high-tech weaponry at the time: "1 long-barreled rifle that fired its bullet with compressed air, rather than by flint, spark and powder".

The expedition also had a small library, including "Barton’s Elements of Botany," "A Practical Introduction to Spherics and Nautical Astronomy" and a two-volume edition of Linnaeus - the researcher who started the Latin classification of plants.

I can't think of many practical uses for all this information: but it's fun to know.

Analog to Digital Television: Technology, Congress, and A Little Common Sense

"Some TV stations get ready to cut analog signals"
The Associated Press (February 17, 2009)

"NEW YORK (AP) — Some TV stations will cut their analog signals today and move to digital-only broadcasting. Others will take advantage of a grace period passed by Congress and wait until June 12...."

On a practical note, AP published this article:

"List of TV stations to end analog on Tuesday"
The Associated Press (February 16, 2009)

"More than 400 TV stations have said they intend to shut down analog TV broadcasts on or around Tuesday, rather than...."

The Delay Sort of Makes Sense

" 'This is not just about whether people can watch their favorite reality show,' said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. 'It's about whether consumers have access to vital emergency alerts, weather, news and public affairs.' " (FCC press release (February 16, 2009))

Okay: That sounds sensible. Although I wonder if people who, for three years have done nothing to get ready for today, will act in the next four months.

And, when June 12, 2009, comes along, and someone in Blackduck, Minnesota hasn't gotten a converter box; a couple of people who do their shopping in Pangultch, Utah, are in the same situation; and a neighborhood association on Chicago's south side holds out for new television sets to go with the converters: Does Congress set a third deadline? 'We really mean it' this time?

Besides, how does Congress know that, once everybody has the converter boxes, they'll actually pay attention to "vital emergency alerts, weather, news and public affairs"?

Maybe Congress should consider making the states build big residence halls, where people will watch the right programming from big, wide-screen community television sets, and be told when to pay particularly close attention. It could be called "The Cabrini Plan."

No: That's silly.

Meanwhile, for the Rest of Us ---

The Digital TV Transition says that "Digital Television (DTV) is an advanced broadcasting technology that will transform your television viewing experience..." I've no doubt that the technology will be impressive - once the bugs are worked out. As far as content, though, my guess is that it'll be more 90210-style drama, sports, and reality shows. Or, whatever the fashion is next year.

Related posts:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ten Not-So-Trivial Facts About Earth

"Ten things you don't know about the Earth"
Discover, Blogs / Bad Astronomy (September 8, 2008)

"Look up, look down, look out, look around.

"— Yes, 'It Can Happen'

"Good advice from the 70s progressive band. Look around you. Unless you’re one of the Apollo astronauts, you've lived your entire life within a few hundred kilometers of the surface of the Earth. There's a whole planet beneath your feet, 6.6 sextillion tons of it, one trillion cubic kilometers of it. But how well do you know it?..."

The title should have read "Ten things you may not know about the Earth" - but that may be quibbling. Despite the arrogant, or presumptive, or poorly-thought-out title, this is a pretty good post.

It starts with "1) The Earth is smoother than a billiard ball." After seeing how Earth shapes up next to a billiard ball, and some weighty observations (pun - you'll have to read the post to see what I mean), the author winds up with "10) Destroying the Earth is hard."

Here, he makes another debatable assertion: " turns out the phrase 'destroying the Earth' is a bit misleading. I actually write about wiping out life, which is easy...." Maybe because he wants you to buy his book, the author doesn't define what he means by "life," and "easy."

If by "life," he means creatures like koala bears, and his notion of "easy" is something like dropping a city-size meteor on Earth: he's right.

If by "life," he means those organisms that live about 1.6 kilometers below the floor of the ocean, his idea of "easy" has to be a bit more heavy-duty. There are ways that the first few kilometers of Earth could get irradiated - although frying the entire surface that way would be tricky. The same goes for an event that would raise Earth's temperature significantly at that depth.

I'll cut the author some slack, though. He's just written a book, and 'the end of life on Earth' is an idea that grabs the imagination. Besides, right now quite a few people tend to think of Mother Nature as a delicate thing: not the old lady who's been through asteroid and comet impacts, subcontinent-size volcanic eruptions, and probably a nearby supernova or two.

People might have trouble living through some of those disasters - and the next Olympics would almost certainly have to be postponed indefinitely. But life seems to be as hard to eradicate as rats and cockroaches.

Finally, as I wrote earlier, this is a pretty good post: and you may discover something you didn't know before.

Life 1.6 kilometers down? Yes!

"Deep Under the Ocean: Life" (June 2, 2008).

It's a fascinating, exciting, world that we live in.

'Scanners Live in Vain' - UK National Identity Cards, Yes: Card Readers, No

"UK spends billions on high-tech IDs, forgets to buy card readers"
CrunchGear (February 5, 2009)

"This has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a long time. The UK has spent £4.4 billion ($6.6bn US) on a controversial high-tech National Identity Card scheme for the whole country. The card, intended to be issued to government workers first and the general population soon after, would include biometric information such as facial scanning data and fingerprints, encoded onto the card. Sounds great if you’re into the whole Big Brother thing — but they forgot one thing. No police or border station, to say nothing of licensing and job centers, has a machine capable of reading the damn things.

"Incredibly, they neglected to include in the budget the absolutely necessary counterpart to the card: the card reader...."

After reading about what Congress has been doing, here in America, It's sort of nice to know that we're not alone.

My take on the "Big Brother thing" is that putting biometric data on a card is about as big a threat to me, as having my photo on a driver's license. But, the Lemming's more laid-back than some 'privacy' advocates.

Funny Phweeters: You Mean, Darth Vader Doesn't Tweet?

"15 Fake and Funny Twitter Accounts"
"Faux accounts are all the rage -- here are the best, most current Phweeters (phony tweeters) we're following."
PC World (February 15, 2009)

"The Phweet Heard 'Round the World

"Fake Twitter accounts have been in the news a lot lately. Last week, the Dalai Lama started tweeting, and then we found out "His Holiness" was actually a fake.

"Kanye West dissed Stephen Colbert last year on Twitter. Then we found out it wasn’t Kanye after all. A White House Twitter account, which had been updated during the Bush years and then switched to Obama right after the inauguration, also turned out to be bogus...."

I'll admit it: I thought some of these were funny.

On the serious side, I'm not at all sure that impersonating a real person online is a particularly good idea - unless you've made very sure that visitors know what's going on.

My favorites of the lot: "Erica's Fish" and "Darth Vader."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And Now, for Something Completely Different: How Creep Out Your Roommate

"10 Ways To Creep Out Your Roommate" (July 19, 2007)

"10) Collect potatoes. Paint faces on them and give them names. Name one after your roommate. Separate your roommate's potato from the others. Wait a few days, and then bake your roommate's potato and eat it. Explain to your roommate, He just didn't belong.

"9) Move everything to one side of the room. Ask your roommate if he knows how much an elephant weighs, and look at the floor on the empty side of the room with concern.

"8) Draw a tiny black line on your nose...."

If this looks familiar, it should: I posted about a longer list in 2007: Eight of the ten items in 'CrazyPiglet' are exact copies of the 100 list. #8, that "line on your nose" item was changed a little from the 100 list. In the longer list it was: "13. Draw a tiny, black spot on your arm. Make it bigger every day. Look at it and say, 'It's spreading, it's spreading.' "

And, #1 from the list of ten is identical, except that the list of 100 has the phrase Rice Krispies in quotes.

Two of five favorites I mentioned from the 100 list in 2007 made it into Crazy Piglet's list: and CP included one that I liked from the 100 list, but didn't mention back then: "6) Collect hundreds of pens and pile them on one side of the room. Keep one pencil on the other side of the room. Laugh at the pencil." (23 in the longer list.)

Can You Say, "Intellectual Property Rights?"

The '100 list' is undated, but the page has a very clear "© Matt Simerson 1999-2004" at the bottom.

Crazy Piglet's post is dated July 19, 2007. It's funny, and I don't have a problem with someone doing a 'best of' review.

But, I'd be more impressed with Crazy Piglet, if whoever made that post had at least acknowledged the source.

I've got some pretty well-defined opinions about intellectual property rights, and have posted about them from time to time:

Some, Not All, Peanut Butter Recalled: Other Products, Too

"Survey: peanut recall known but misunderstood"
The Associated Press (February 13, 2009)

I'll get back to that article. Quite a few people know that salmonella-laced peanut products got sold. If you're reading this post, you probably already know this, but:
  • Not all peanut butter is tainted
    • No major peanut butter brands were recalled
  • Not all tainted peanut products are peanut butter
As a rule, I don't repeat a topic this often: but salmonella can be very bad for people. And, learning what's been recalled and what hasn't is pretty easy.

FDA: Latest Updated List of Recalled Peanut Products

The FDA updated its recall list earlier today:
"Peanut Butter and other Peanut Containing Products Recall List"
"Information current as of 12 PM February 15, 2009
2226 entries in list"

That's up 22 from yesterday's list of recalled products.

Using Your Browser to Search for Your Brands

Again, about the recalled products: "They're listed by category. What I do is use my browser's 'search' function to look for brands and products my family uses. Haven't found one yet. Good thing: since peanut butter is an affordable food for us."

Peanut Corporation of America's Tainted Food: Not Just Peanut Butter

Most of the news focused on bad batches of peanut paste and peanut butter from Peanut Corporation of America (supplier of maybe 1% of America's peanuts). That's what apparently killed three people here in Minnesota, and six others, but the recall is not just about peanut butter.

Peanut Corporation of America's dubious peanuts got sold to quite a few companies, which make quite a variety of products with peanuts in them, including:
  • Brownies
  • Cakes and Pies
  • Candy
  • Cereal
    • Naughty but Nice Granola Cereal
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Donuts
  • Dressing and Seasoning
  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Ice Cream Products
The FDA's product categories go alphabetically, all the way up to "Topping Product Recalls."

Most Food is Safe to Eat: But Read the Label and Search the List

I've gone through the listings, and haven't found a product we use yet. I did find a couple of entries for Food Club brand foods - we use several of their products, including peanut butter. The Food Club peanut butter is okay, but their Peanut Clusters (Lot Numbers 61009, Product Code 36800-07770) made the list - and so did their Vanilla Round Top Cone. I think there are going to be some disappointed kids - and grown-ups - out there.

Seriously: reading product labels from your pantry, and searching the FDA's list with your browser isn't exactly rocket science. It didn't take me all that long (about five minutes), and I think it was worth it.

Back to the 'Misunderstood' Peanut Product Recall

"Survey: peanut recall known but misunderstood"
The Associated Press (February 13, 2009)

"ATLANTA (AP) — Most Americans know about a peanut-driven national salmonella outbreak but many are wrong about what products are involved and few have confidence in food safeguards, according to a Harvard survey released Friday.

"About 1 in 4 of those polled mistakenly think that national peanut butter brands are involved in the outbreak-spurred product recalls, but less than half are worrying about recalled snack bars, baked goods, ice cream and dry-roasted peanuts...."

I can see how people get focused on peanut butter: but if they'd read the articles, they'd know that it wasn't just about mashed peanuts.

Later in the article:

"...Fewer than 1 in 5 people have gone to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's online list of foods involved or sought other information about recalled products.

"The survey also indicated extremes of concern and apathy: About 31 percent contacted friends or relatives to make sure they know about the recall, and about 15 percent stopped eating any foods containing peanuts. But 69 percent didn't contact loved ones, and 45 percent continued to eat all peanut-containing foods...."

I'm trying to boost that 1 in 5 people using the FDA list a little. (Links are near the top of this post.)

About that "extremes of concern and apathy" - I suppose it depends a little on what's meant by "apathy." I haven't contacted loved ones (apart from the immediate family). But it's not apathy. The extended family is pretty savvy, and I'd be astonished if they didn't already know. I'd feel like I was saying something like 'you'd better be careful: gasoline isn't good to drink!'

And, this family still eats peanut butter, just like before. But I don't think we're apathetic: I checked the list, and re-check it every time there's an update.

We just seem to have our 'acceptable risk' threshold set a little higher than some folks.

Earlier posts on this topic:

Google's Green - And There's a Video to Prove it

"Green living at Google's D.C. office"
(February 13, 2009)

"Google offices around the world are known for their great food, colorful lava lamps, and foosball tables -- but how do these buildings fit in with our commitment to "go green"?..."

"Google Tour (Washington, D.C.)"

ericjkuhn, YouTube (February 11, 2009)
video (5:20)

Despite the current buzzwords, there's some fairly smart design shown here. And, once or twice, the point is made that some of the "green" technologies also cost less to maintain. (It doesn't always work that way: I have to be careful to do a benefit/cost analysis about 'energy saving' light bulbs and other new gadgets.)

One thing that impressed me was the absence of a suspended ceiling. It's less expensive, uses fewer resources, and - what impressed me - acknowledges the basic structure of the building. Air system and all.

How I See Industrial- and Post-Industrial Age architecture

It's changing, but many people - including architects - have apparently lost the idea that it's okay to show how a building works.

Familiar architectural features - like the old post-and-lintel trim around doors - reflects a time when a door actually was a hole in the wall, with a post on either side, and a lintel across the posts to hold the wall up.

When iron and steel construction, and other new building technologies, came, the old forms were often retained as decoration: like shaping iron pillars to resemble stone columns.

Or, covering the prestressed concrete bones of a building with acoustic tile. True, it's a good idea to control echoes in rooms and hallways: but disguising the structure of the building isn't necessary.

Europeans, at least, didn't always hid architectural and engineering details. Half-timbering didn't start out as a sort of fashion statement. That wonderful web of wooden beams was what held the structure up: the walls between were made of a different material, for protection from the elements, security, and perhaps privacy.

It looks like architects and interior designers - and their clients - are starting to realize that structural elements can be exposed, even in commercial (and residential) buildings.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hof House:for Something Built From Scrap, Not Bad at All

"Iceland’s Gorgeous Passive Solar Hof House"
inhabitat (February 12, 2009)

"Deep in the northern chill of Iceland, just outside the arctic circle, the Hof House sits snugly within its landscape. Built on an existing estate, Studio Granada Architects salvaged whatever materials possible from the site to be incorporated into the new residence, converting telegraph poles into a sun screen...."

With eight photos, and elevations.

(from inhabitat, used without permission)

The building has nice lines, and some of the interior spaces, shown in other photos, look interesting: but if this is "gorgeous," then the civic arena in this central Minnesota town is "gorgeous," too.

Technically, though, the house seems rather impressive. And, an indication that 'solar' features can work in cold climates.

Finally, from an aesthetic point of view, people living inside the house seem to have a very nice set of views of the Icelandic landscape.

Tainted Peanuts in America: Recalled Products List Updated; Dead Rats

First, and important: Some, but not all, peanut products are tainted. Just (probably) the ones from Peanut Corporation of America.

The FDA updated its recall list earlier today:

"Peanut Butter and other Peanut Containing Products Recall List"
"Information current as of 12 PM February 14, 2009
2204 entries in list"

Repeating what I wrote the other day, "They're listed by category. What I do is use my browser's 'search' function to look for brands and products my family uses. Haven't found one yet. Good thing: since peanut butter is an affordable food for us."

'If You Liked Our Salmonella, You'll Love Our Rat Poop'

It looks like Mr. Parnell, the Peanut Corporation of America boss, forgot one of the cardinal rules of business: Don't poison the end user. I'd say "customers," but the Peanut Corporation sold to manufacturers of food, not directly to people who ate what came out of their factories.
Dead Rats, Rodent Poop, and Bird Feathers: All-Natural, But Not Appetizing
As much as I like organic food and all-natural products, I can't work up any enthusiasm for natural ingredients like rat excrement, bird feathers, and dead rats. Apparently, I'm not alone. A Peanut Corporation of America plant in Texas was closed, after inspectors found found that the ventilation system was recycling rats, poop, and bird feathers into PCA's food products.

All products from that plant are being recalled. Texas authorities aren't waiting to see if the stuff tests positive for salmonella. They've sent PCA's stuff to the labs, anyway: Results will probably be needed as evidence in the trials.

I know: Aside from a few lawsuits, there's no solid indication yet of legal action against Mr. Parnell, or his Peanut Corporation of America. But I'd say the odds are that there will be criminal charges. As I said before, Americans get cranky when their loved ones are killed with poison peanuts.

One more thing: It looks like Peanut Corporation of America is going out of business. No great surprise there.
More news:

"Peanut Corp. of America files for bankruptcy"
The Associated Press (February 13, 2009)

"ATLANTA (AP) — The peanut processing company at the heart of a national salmonella outbreak is going out of business. The Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corp. of America filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Virginia Friday, the latest bad news for the company that has been accused of producing tainted peanut products that may have reached everyone from poor school children to disaster victims...."

I'm not all that surprised. It's sad, for the people who worked for Peanut Corporation of America. But, knowing Mr. Parnell's approach to quality control, and the typical American citizen's notorious touchiness about being poisoned, who in their right mind would buy anything from PCA?

"Dead rodents, excrement in peanut processor lead to recall"
U.S. News and World Report (February 12, 2009)

"(CNN) -- The Texas Department of State Health Services on Thursday ordered the recall of all products ever shipped from the Peanut Corporation of America's plant in Plainview, Texas, after discovering dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in the plant.

"The order, which applies to products shipped since the plant opened nearly four years ago, came a day after the discovery of filth in a crawl space above a production area during a health services inspection, Texas Health Department Press Officer Doug McBride told CNN in a telephone interview.

"The plant's ventilation system pulled debris 'from the infested crawl space into production areas of the plant resulting in the adulteration of exposed food products,' a health department news release said...."

Amazing. I suspect that there's going to be a trifle more interest in food and plant inspections after this. I just hope that America's leaders realize that it takes people on a payroll to get inspections done. And, that the idea is to get factories and food inspected: not just add another layer paper-pushers.

Earlier posts on this topic:
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