Friday, July 31, 2009

Hot Sand in Cancun: Beach Sand Stolen?

"Mexico shuts Cancun beach, alleges sand was stolen"
The Associated Press (July 30, 2009)

"Surprised tourists found their little piece of Cancun beach paradise ringed by crime-scene tape and gun-toting sailors on Thursday.

"Environmental enforcement officers backed by Mexican navy personnel closed off hundreds of feet (dozens of meters) of powder-white coastline in front of a hotel accused of illegally accumulating sand on its beach.

"Mexico spent $19 million to replace Cancun beaches washed away by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. But much of the sand pumped from the sea floor has since washed away, leading some property owners to build breakwaters in a bid to retain sand. The practice often merely shifts sand loss to beaches below the breakwaters.

" 'Today we made the decision to close this stretch of ill-gotten, illegally accumulated sand,' said Patricio Patron, Mexico's attorney general for environmental protection. 'This hotel was telling its tourists: "Come here, I have sand ... the other hotels don't, because I stole it." '..."

I've heard of beaches with hot sand: but not 'hot' this way.

The AP article gives a pretty good look at the reaction of tourists, but doesn't - in my opinion - explain why, by implication, a hotel building a breakwater to retain sand on its beach is 'stealing' sand. Maybe it's the sort of principle that applied in classrooms, where if a student brought something special in his or her lunch it was a case of "I hope you have enough for everybody."

'Artificial' beaches are pretty common a little north of here, in Minnesota's lake country. We've got sand-bottom lakes, where you can get a sandy beach by peeling back the sod. But, we've also got mud-bottom lakes where resort owners haul sand in - and can get a bit peeved if people carry it off the property.

So, there may very well be a legitimate complaint, down in Cancun. I just wish The Associated Press had given enough detail for us to understand it a bit more adequately.

Oh, well: On the 'up' side, there's a map and two photos.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

'About Us' - Why It's Important, How to Design Yours

"The Essence Of About Us Page With 12 Captivating Showcases"
Oneextrapixel (July 31, 2009) (I know, but that's what the date stamp says.)

"The previous post about Establishing a Brand for your site is one of the many methods to build trust and establish a relationship with customers. This post covers another way of building trust, and that through the About Us page.

"Have you wanted to find out more about a particular website but there is just not enough information for you? About Us page might just be an ordinary page however its significance should not be overlook.

"It is a page that provides information about the company or the people behind the web site, including basic real-world information, such as mailing address, phone number, and fax number, as well as background information on the company and the people in the company. This pattern describes how to organize this information in the About Us pages of your website...."

I'm pretty sure, judging from syntax in the second paragraph, that whoever wrote this post did not speak English while growing up. Don't let that bother you! The post is clearly written, with a very sufficient number of illustrations.

This is a pretty good introduction into the whats, hows, and whys of 'About Us' pages, with examples from Google, Us, MailChimp, and other more-or-less well known outfits.

The post is divided into sections: "What Information Should Your About Us Page Contain?" and "12 Captivating About Us Showcases". The latter is worth a visit, just for its eye-candy value, I think: but I did 10 years in graphic design, and may find this sort of thing more interesting than you will.

Overall, this post won't tell you absolutely everything you need to know for designing you own 'About Us' page - but I think it's a pretty good place to start.
A tip of the hat to yellownerd, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Reform School for Monkeys in Punjab, India

"A school for monkeys"
FOXNews (July 28, 2009)

"The Punjab government has sought clearance from the Central Zoo Authority to set up an ultra-modern facility to tame, rehabilitate and teach manners to rogue monkeys.

"The first-of-its-kind monkey school will provide inmates with medical care and good-behaviour training. 'In addition to veterinary doctors, the centre will have experts and it would be a sort of good manners school for the monkeys,' said a senior official of the Punjab Wildlife Department, on Friday.

" 'There have been several cases of monkey bites and the problem has reached such an alarming situation that every week there are one or two cases of monkey biting from across the district. This is why we have decided to build a rehabilitation centre adjacent to a mini zoo in Patiala. This will be the first such centre in the State,' Chief Wildlife Warden of Punjab R.K. Luna said...."

Being an American, one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind, reading the article was the question - had anyone read the macaques their rights?

Seriously, the Indian state of Punjab has around 50,000 monkeys sharing 50,362 square kilometers with about 24,359,000 people.1 ("243.59 Lakh for the year 2001" - which seems to be 243.59 x 100,000) About 10,000 monkeys live in Patiala - district or city, the article doesn't appear to make it clear which. Although I may have missed something.

Bottom line: you've got the equivalent of a square about 225 kilometers (roughly 140 miles) on a side that's home to upwards of 24,000,000 people and 50,000 monkeys.

That's upwards of 1,200 people per square mile, or a bit over 470 per square kilometer: if I got my numbers right. I live in central Minnesota, where the state averages about 65 people per square mile (or roughly 25 per square kilometer), and grew up in the Red River Valley of the North - so Punjab sounds crowded. Sort of like San Francisco, where I lived for a while (around 17,000 per square mile, or 6,600 per square kilometer)

Back to the Monkeys

The training program sounds like a humane solution to a the monkey issue in Punjab. Besides biting people, monkeys have done significant property damage, like wrecking television antennas, tearing down clothes lines, damaging scooters and motorcycles. And, they're accused of terrorizing children.

I suppose it would be possible to eradicate the macaques, but it would be nice to teach them how to get along with humans.

This news article is a pretty good look at how one state in India is dealing with the sort of problem we run into fairly often when people and, say, pigeons gather in large numbers.
A tip of the hat to FOXNews, for linking to this article in The Hindu.

1The contemporary Indian state of Punjab is on the Indian-Pakistan border. I'm aware that these two countries are far from being on the same page on many topics. ("India, Mumbai, and the Pakistan Connection: Following Facts" (December 31, 2008)) People in that part of the world have ancestors who saw Alexander III of Macedon come come through. (Most English-speaking people know him as Alexander the Great) I'm not going to try to sort out over 23 centuries of wrangling between people who have been living on land before the contemporary nation-states existed.

This post is about a sort of reform school for monkeys - a noteworthy effort.

Boy Monkeys aren't Like Girl Monkeys: Who'd Have Thunk?

"Male monkeys prefer toy cars, females like dolls"
NewSciTech (April 26, 2006)

"Just like human boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars while female monkeys prefer dolls, a research project has shown.

"This intriguing discovery is one of many signs of deep-rooted behavioral differences between the sexes that scientists are exploring with the latest tools of genetics and neuroscience...."

This reminds me of the headlines, before the time this article was written, reading "RESEARCHERS DISCOVER MEN, WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT". As Gomer Pyle might have said, "shazam!"

The article gives a pretty good overview of the experiments which led to this (startling?) conclusion, and what we knew about primate brain functions about two years ago. The NewSciTech article acknowledges this with "...People used to think that boys and girls played differently because of the way they were brought up...."

Granted, academics are "people" in several generally-accepted senses of the term: but they're the ones who, in my experience, were insisting that men and women were equivalent, apart from the ability to bear children. Some were willing to acknowledge a few physical distinctions which emerge when a statistically significant sampling is taken of humanity. (Men tend, on average, generally speaking, to be a little taller, for one thing.)

"People" who weren't quite so well-educated, again in my experience, didn't have as much trouble telling the difference between men and women: and had noticed sex-linked average behavior patterns at least fifty years ago. Phrases like "boys will be boys" reflect this.

It seems that academics, at least in the field of psychology, have now independently made the same discovery.

"...'Vervet monkeys, like human beings, show sex differences in toy preferences,' [experiment leader and psychologist at Texas A&M University in College StationGerianne] Alexander wrote in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. 'Sex-related object preference appeared early in human evolution,' she said...."

Of course, this sort of research is important, since it provides verifiable data - and is published in a properly academic journal.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Betelgeuse Shedding Mass Like There's No Tomorrow

"Big Fat Star Sheds Pounds Like Crazy" (July 29, 2009)

"As a large star nears the end of its life it begins to shed mass at a tremendous rate.

"New observations of the supergiant star Betelgeuse may help scientists finally understand how this feat of weight loss is achieved.

"Views from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile reveal a vast plume of gas spewing off of Betelgeuse, the shoulder star in the Orion constellation. This behemoth star has about 20 times the mass of our sun, but is losing about one sun's worth of mass every 10,000 to 100,000 years...."

Which is about a million times faster than our sun sheds mass.

Astronomers are learning more about how much and where Betelgeuse is shedding mass, but the don't know how. The article describes, very briefly, two ideas on what mechanism(s) may be at work.

Overall, this is a pretty good overview of what's known about Betelgeuse, and what's being studied.

If you think you've read about Betelgeuse in this blog before, you're quite right. All three posts on June 10 this year were about the red supergiant, with a fourth post explaining why I went Betelgeuse-happy.

I'm rather interested in astronomy, and Betelgeuse will probably become a supernova sometime between now, and about ten thousands years from now. We're at a nice, safe distance: but still close enough to give astronomers a really good look at the event.

Posts about Betelgeuse:

Transparent Aluminum - in Extreme Ultraviolet - For a Few Femtoseconds

Scientists Claim New State of Matter Created" (July 28, 2009)

"Scientists claim to have created a form of aluminum that's nearly transparent to extreme ultraviolet radiation and which is a new state of matter.

"It's an idea straight out of science fiction, featured in the movie 'Star Trek IV.'

"The work is detailed in the journal Nature Physics.

"The normal states of matter are solid, liquid and gas, and a fourth state, called plasma, is a superheated gas considered more exotic. Other experiments have created strange states of matter for brief periods. This one, too, existed only briefly...."

The exotic aluminum is created by zapping aluminum with a very powerful X-ray laser, knocking electrons out of the atoms. The odd aluminum goes back to normal in somewhere around 40 femtoseconds, but that seems to be long enough to for it to be studied.

Researchers say they hope to get a better idea of what goes on inside very large planets with tools like this: and, maybe, work out a way to make a practical fusion reactor.

That last is something that's been "about fifty years ahead" for the last three decades or so, so I'm not holding my breath.

On the other hand, physicists keep coming up with new ways to affect matter and energy: and it would be a bit odd if they didn't discover a new principle now and again.

Surviving an Amusement Park With Kids

"Tips on How to Survive an Amusement Park with Kids"
Damien at the Speed of Life – DATSOL

"Yesterday I went to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California and these pictures are the stories of our exciting day. I've thrown in few valuable survival items that may help you out on your next trip to an amusement park. It was my wife (32), myself (40), our son (11), and his three friends (11,11,14). Taking three pre-adolescents to Magic Mountain was a blast. Having said that, we got a workout!

"The drink cup my son is holding cost $12.99. He was able to refill it anywhere in the park all day for one price. At first when my wife suggested getting on, I scoffed at the high initial price. However, after the day was over, when he had refilled it about 10 times at no extra charge, it wasn't hard to do the math on how much we saved...."

Five photos give a 'flavor' of the day at Six Flags, and the text is a pretty good mix of advice and just plain chat about taking kids to an amusement park, where you're outnumbered 2 to 1.

There's a county fair going on, about a hundred yards south of me, and I think families there - and at similar venues around the country - might benefit from reading this. Or get a smile or two, anyway.
A tip of the hat to damien_riley, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eminent Interior Design of Minneapolis: Cool Website, if Your Computer Can Handle It

Eminent Interior Design

"Eminent Interior Design is one of the most committed and hardest working interior design firms in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We understand and appreciate the value of your time and are driven to make the design of your home simple, efficient and fun. Let us bring your vision to life and design the home you always dreamed of...."

What first struck me about EID of Minneapolis was that the firm's home page didn't display the relentlessly modern look that so many aficionados of interior design seem to delight in.

They're not stuck on one 'look,' either, as their Portfolio shows. You'll have to be patient, though: in common with other companies with a high-end clientele, EID's website assumes an uber-fast connection and computer to match.

Still: the photos are nice.

Angst Got You Down? Try Being an Elephant!

"I'm off to run with the elephants, Mom…"
Oddly Enough (July 26, 2009)

"Blog Guy, I don’t like where my life is headed lately and I need to make some changes. Where can I get insight into other lifestyles?

"The best place is the lifestyle section of our online video clips.

"For instance, the top item there now shows elephants rampaging through a tea estate in India...."

I'm pretty sure that this is humor, or a spoof of 'lifestyle' articles, or something like that.

But, I'm a fellow who was born during the Truman administration, survived both the sixties and disco, and has seen hippies, Yippies, and yuppies come and go. This elephant lifestyle isn't the craziest alternative I've seen come down the pike.

Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah's Umbrella: What's the Big Idea?

Coming soon from Big Idea: "Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah's Umbrella Veggietales DVD."

"Larry the Cucumber is Minnesota Cuke, a children's museum curator and part-time detective hired to find the famous Noah's Ark. But his search gets complicated when he learns of Noah's mysterious and powerful umbrella ... and a clever villain who wants it for his own selfish gain! Will Minnesota find the confidence to continue the search, face the villain and protect the umbrella -- or will all hope of finding the Ark be washed away for good?..."

Veggietales aren't, I suppose for everybody: I mean to say, talking vegetables? That said, I like these stories, acted out by Larry the Cucumber, Bob The Tomato, and the rest of the Veggietales cast.

This one should be special - if for no other reason than my state being mentioned in the title.

If Minnesota Cuke is like the tale of Rack, Shack & Benny, and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything and Jonah, I'm in for a treat when I get the DVD - most likely on loan from the public library.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Learn Japanese Online - Looks Promising

Learn Japanese Online

"Learn Japanese Online
"for free with easy flash quizes

"Dear Visitor,

"Welcome to

"This site intends to provide useful tools for people who wish to learn Japanese online for free. First, there is the interesting Fujisan Kana Quiz testing tool. Learn how to write the hiragana here. If you masterd it, take a shot at the Kanji glyphs, using our flashcards. You can also play the fun memory game with a variety of difficulties.

"It is quite easy to start to learn Japanese. Select one of the links on the left that best suites your interest. For example, it's much fun to discover the different writing modes. You can use the script tables to learn the glyphs, then test your knowledge with the Fujisan flash quiz. While testing, you will memorize the so far unknown characters. So visit one of our sections:..."

Okay: the word "masterd" is misspelled in the first paragraph. I didn't notice until I went through the text a second time. The syntax is correct, standard, English. I think it's likely that whoever wrote the English text spoke another language before learning a foreign tongue, but what I've read so far is quite easy to understand.

My hat's off to whoever did the writing, by the way: English is my cradle-language, and I recognize how maddeningly difficult it can be to use correctly.

More, from the website's home page:

"...Japanese is unlike most of the western languages. It is mostly concise and straight forward. For example, there is no conjugation of the verbs depending on the person and number, and no suffixes for plural for nouns. Though, the writing is a bit more challenging. There are three scripts: hiragana, katakana and kanji. The knowledge of the first two can be tested using the Fujisan Quiz...."

They've got a "Word of the Day" - today's "ohayoo" ("おはよう" "お早う") "good morning" - I very greatly appreciate seeing a Latin-alphabet version of the Japanese term, approximating its pronunciation.

I'm hoping that this website will be a useful resource, when I need to understand words, phrases, or passages in Japanese. Online translators are convenient: but I've learned that even the best 'mechanical' translations can result in, well, odd results.

Everyday Life in Japan - Snapshots

"Everyday Life In Japan - 4"
Jérôme Sadou : Fixed Gear and Life from Japan (July 19, 2009)

"A little bit more than one month since my last article of the 'Everyday Life in Japan" serie. So prepare for a big mix of photos!

"Let's start with some shots taken at Daikanyama...."

Okay, lets.

I'll show the first and last photos displayed, with their captions:

"Let's start with some shots taken at Daikanyama."

I know: you've already seen the caption. Some of the captions are above the photos they describe. I think.

"This is raw chicken, a first for me! I was not very tempted at first, but actually with the soya...."

Other photos show drummers, a hair salon, a high-tech palm tree (I think), bicycles, and other assorted scenes.

This isn't the most highly-organized look at Japan you'll ever see, but I enjoyed the impression of looking at someone's vacation photos.

Ten - or Eleven - Seriously Fancy and Odd Hotels

"Ten of the Wildest Hotels from Around the World"
POINTclickHOME (July 8, 2009)

"From an underwater retreat to a leaning tower that surpasses Pisa, take a look at some of the wildest and most design-driven hotels across the globe"

"Written by Leah Konen

"High thread count sheets are nice, but for a luxury hotel to really impress us we want outrageous architecture, decadent decor, and edge-of-the-earth locations. It's a tall order, but with a search across the globe we've found the top hotels that shatter all expectation. So whether you're planning an escape for a few days or just want to take a virtual trip around the world, check out 11 hotels that bring the best in art, design, and adventure under one roof...."

This is the first one covered in this post: The Barcelo Raval Hotel, Barcelona, Spain. That's a lavish lobby they've got.

Next stop is the Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski, Beijing.

Each featured hotel is allotted a photo, and a pretty good text description. The writing is a trifle breathless, but that's par for the course for this sort of travel review.

You've got (partly) underwater hotels, a hotel made out of ice, oddly-shaped hotels - - - Overall, this is a pretty good look at the flashy end of the luxury hotel spectrum.

The last hotel featured isn't open yet: the Hyatt Capital Gate Tower:

It's supposed to open this fall. This architectural oddity is in - where else? - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Reichert's Kneeling Buses

Reichert Bus Service

"Reichert Bus Service has been proud to supply safe and reliable transportation services to and from the Central Minnesota area for over 50 years. Reichert Bus Service currently provides School Bus service, Chartered Motorcoach service, Transit service and quality Fleet Repair service, and Day Tours and Limousine Service. Just click on the links to the left to learn more about us!..."

Reichert Bus Service's Motorchoach service is what caught my eye today. More specifically, something on one of their motorcoaches attracted my attention this afternoon.

There's the front of one of Reichert Bus Service's motorcoaches. Take a closer look at that diagram, just above the amber light -

It's a kneeling bus: very handy for people getting on and off. And, as the diagram shows, not something you want to get your foot caught under.

And Now, for Something Completely Different: a Strange Poem

"Mountain Beast – Random Twitter Poem for July 27th"
Wanderer Thoughts (July 27, 2009)

"Today's poem is about a creature that in mountains and feeds from the beasts of the land, it is inspired by an astounding 20 random words (in blue) provided by the following twitter followers:..."

"...Mountain Beast

"Sasquatch fellwalker sitting on a cave stairway
chasing a monkey through a thunderstorm
superfluous breloque chain hanging
like an advocate of death from your side...

There's more, but you get the idea.
A tip of the hat to dragonblogger, on Twitter:

Dragonblogger, the author - architect? - of this and similar random poems.

Have You Seen Luke Dillier? - Probable Abduction

Posts on this blog are generally 'lighter' than this, but there's a remote chance that you can help with a missing-person case in the general area of Dallas, Texas.
"Luke Dillier Update: Our Friend's Son has been Abducted!"
Colleen Hammond (last update July 27, 2009)

"UPDATE (Monday, 7AM): Nothing new to report. If you would like to help, please contact every Religious order that you know of and ask them to pray for Luke's safe return!..."

"...UPDATE 5 (Sunday 11:30am CDT): No new news and no new leads.

"The local news media is reticent to cover the story unless the police are involved and 'won't touch it'. Right now, the authorities are considering Luke a 'runaway', which means they will do nothing more.

"The local news media is considering running it from the 'community support and social networking' angle...."

"...Luke went (with his mother and brother) to his (his brother's) violin lesson on Friday July 24, 2009 around 9 AM in Richardson, Texas (a suburb of Dallas, in the area of Coit and 635). He had forgotten something in his van and left (his mother and brother in) the instructor's house to go out and retrieve it. He never returned. When he was questioned, a neighbor of the violin instructor recalled hearing a scream at about the same time Luke was outside the house.

"The suspected foul play is under investigation by local police. (Foul play is NOT suspected and the police are no longer investigating.) His father Steve is trying to get home from out of state and his older brother is out at sea with the Coast Guard. (Both are no home.)

"Luke is 15 years old, about 6′2″ and 190 pounds. His picture is at the right. [below, in this post]

"Please share this and pray for his return to his family….safe, healthy, and unharmed physically, mentally, or spiritually...."

It's possible that the police have a reasonable motive for considering Luke Dillier a runaway - apart from his being a six-foot-two-inch teenager: and therefore 'big enough to look after himself.' Perhaps I'm being unkind or unfair.

The point remains, though, that Luke Dillier is missing. His parents don't know where he is. And they, reasonably enough, want to find him.

There is a chance that Luke Dillier is still alive. If so, you may have seen him.

If you have, I hope you will call one of the two telephone numbers given:

972 213 8720
214 695 6502

As I wrote elsewhere, "Child abduction is a lively topic for me - Jacob Wetterling was taken not all that far down the road from here."
A tip of the hat to ColleenMHammond, on Twitter, for bringing this matter to my attention.

Is There Gravity in Space? (Short Answer: Yes)

"Is There Gravity in Space?" (July 27, 2009)

"Astronauts and space tourists may rhapsodize about feeling weightless during spaceflight, but don't be fooled by the somewhat misleading term 'zero-gravity.' Every object in space still feels the gravitational pull from other objects, including space travelers who imagine themselves free of Earth's gravitational shackles.

"Earth's gravity affects everything at or near the planet's surface. We feel the force of gravity on Earth through our mass, and that force also translates into a downward pull of 9.8 meters per second squared (32 ft/s^2)...."

Actually, any "space travelers who imagine themselves free of Earth's gravitational shackles" weren't paying attention during their high school physics classes.

This article is a pretty good overview of the physics of gravity, and gives some interesting factoids along the way: like Earth's gravity in the ISS's orbit being about 90% of what we experience here on the surface.

The term 'free fall' is more accurate than 'weightlessness' - the article explains that something in Earth orbit is falling towards Earth, but that Earth's surface curves away as the object falls. (The trick to staying in orbit is to be moving forward fast enough to keep from hitting the atmosphere.)

A pretty good basic-science article.

Jupiter Imact: Hubble Took a Look

"Hubble Telescope Photographs Jupiter Impact Site" (July 24, 2009)

"The unexpected impact of some space object with Jupiter, creating a dark bruise in the gas giant's atmosphere, proved a tempting enough target for scientists to put a hold on testing out the revamped Hubble Space Telescope and use its new camera to capture an image of the rare event.

"The plan, first reported by Spaceflight Now, was carried out yesterday so that astronomers could use the 19-year-old Hubble's unique capabilities to get an image of the spot, probably caused by a comet, before too many days had passed since the impact and Jupiter's atmosphere distorted the shape.

"The new Hubble image, released today, [Friday] shows a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter's atmosphere. The image is a natural color image of Jupiter in visible light...."

The dark patch is roughly the size of the Pacific Ocean, it seems. Which is pretty close to the headline I mentioned in an earlier post, saying that the hole in Jupiter's clouds was the size of Earth. Seen from space, the Pacific Ocean covers most of one side of this planet.

Why use Hubble? It gives the best, sharpest, look at Jupiter in visible wavelengths of any available telescope. "...Hubble managers decided that the impact event was rare enough and important enough to pause testing to get a look...."

This article gives a pretty good overview of what Hubble's observed, and what we know about the event on Jupiter. For one thing, the energy released in the impact was thousands of times more than what we experienced in the Tunguska event, back in 1908.

I've written before, about the prudence of setting up defenses before something leaves an ocean-size splat-mark on Earth.

Meanwhile, there's a lot to learn from that impact on Jupiter.

Related posts:

Ustream's Watershed Online Broadcasting Beta Available

Powered by USTREAM

"Watershed is the private label version of Ustream™s proven and chosen Flash-based live, interactive broadcasting platform. Ustream™s technology has powered live broadcasting for Barack Obama's campaign website as well as for numerous other high-profile partners. With Watershed, customers will be able to broadcast live on the Internet using a fully customizable player with a variety of different features and options including chat, privacy, and analytics. The product is an all-in-one, easily deployed self-serve solution for both large and small organizations. By using Watershed, customers will be able to build genuine communities and relationships around a shared online experience...."

Watershed sounds like the best thing since sliced bread - and probably is an impressive service. I use Ustream's older system, by the way.

When you get into the Terms of Service, you'll discover that Watershed is a beta version: "...Watershed Services and Watershed Content may not operate properly, be in final form or fully functional; ... may contain errors, design flaws or other problems; ... may result in unexpected results ...."

That sort of thing is why I read TOS before signing up for something - particularly if I'm going to pay for it.

That said, I've used Ustream's non-Watershed service since July 1, 2009: and am very satisfied with it's performance. Demands on my browser put a bit of a strain on my five-year-old comptuer's resources, but it's a huge step up from what was making my webcam go before that. (Small Town America: Minnesota: "... there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be")

From a quick look at Watershed Elements, it looks like using Watershed doesn't require programming experience - although you have the option of designing your own broadcaster, using the Watershed logic for framework operations. All that takes is Flash/ActionScript3 programming experience.

The pricing looks reasonable: starting at $49.00 a month. That's out of my range, this year, but not every business has the sort of budget I do.

Overall, Watershed looks like something worth looking into for online interactive broadcasting.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lemming Tracks: A New Feature - Reactions

It's probably not a new feature at all, but I hadn't been aware of the "reactions" option for blog posts: "How do I add Reactions to my blog?"

Now that I know about it, I added the option to this blog. We'll see how "interesting" it is.
I'd be a trifle more impressed if I could actually see the "reactions" on my browser. There's a reasonable explanation, no doubt.

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Will Return

The Lemming will be back tomorrow, catching up from a weekend without Apathetic Lemming of the North posts. This weekend seemed like a good time to give one of my blogs a rest - that, or nosing around the Web for interesting tidbit slipped the Lemming's mind. You decide which story to go with.

Meanwhile, I thought it would be polite to stop by with a 'thank you' for checking in with the Lemming: and assurances that I'll be back tomorrow: God willing, of course.

Friday, July 24, 2009

NutritionData: Looks Like a Common-Sense Food Information Resource

"know what you eat"

"Since its launch in 2003, Nutrition Data has grown into one of the most authoritative and useful sources of nutritional analysis on the Web. In July 2006, Nutrition Data was acquired by CondéNet, a digital publisher under the Condé Nast Publications umbrella dedicated to editorial excellence. Nutrition Data's continuing goal is to provide the most accurate and comprehensive nutrition analysis available, and to make it accessible and understandable to all...."

Someone showed me this website this morning, and so far I'm rather impressed. It's an online information resource, with a glossary of common nutrition terms, what they say is "sensible diet advice" (they're probably right), and - astonishingly - advice on how to gain weight in a healthy way. And yes, a person can be too thin.

So far, this website seems to be a far cry from the 'meat-is-poison' and freak diet fads: you know, low-carb diets where you're told that an orange and an chocolate eclair are equivalent, nutritionally? Or those ads, back when cholesterol was the big bad bogeyman, touting things like Twinkies as having "zero cholesterol?" The ads were probably accurate, by the way: quite a few junk foods have no cholesterol. That doesn't make them particularly good for you, though.

Back to NutritionData - this seems to be a pretty good online resource for people who want to know more about what they eat. There's a registration process that gives you access to more information, including the option to
  • "Log and analyze your foods and recipes in My ND
  • "Store your ideal daily nutrient values to track against your actual consumption
  • "Customize our nutrient search to your personal preferences"
They'll want to know an email address, and what state or province you live in, as well as a bit more fairly non-critical information: looks like a reasonable idea, although I'm not sure I'll register myself.

A Swim-Up Bar With the Ultimate Rude Waiters

"The worst swim-up bar EVER!"
Oddly Enough, Reuters, (July 24, 2009)

"Blog Guy, I normally love tropical swim-up bars. There’s nothing like paddling over for a refreshing cocktail.

"But this week I'm staying at an Italian seaside resort, and I can't figure out their system. The drinks were already made, but they pulled them away when I tried to grab one. Not only that, they used these long poles to beat me senseless...."

I'm always a bit dubious about 'the best' claims. You know, like "the world's best fried pork rinds" or "the best lutefisk anywhere" or "the best scrod recipes."

In this case, however, the author may have a point. The photo is for real, as far as I can tell - and the place is a sort of swim-up bar; sort of. You'll have to read the rest of today's Oddly Enough to lean the details.

Writing, Recession, Lemons, and Life Lessons

A pair of sort-of-news articles:

"The Doors that Opened Because of Associated Content After Loss of Job"
Amanda M. Rose, Associated Content (July 23, 2009)

" 'At least people will always need daycare providers'

"These are words that echo in my ears to this day. I first heard this statement when a young couple was coming to tour my house with their 11-month old son back in March, in hopes to find a fit for their son for a home daycare. In December I had had a full house of children - 5 little ones running around, along with my own 18-month old son, who I had decided to run a home daycare for, so that I could stay home with him. In January, four of the children that I had cared for had at least one parent that was laid off, working at GM or at one of the local factories that supplied parts for the bigger companies...."

"Finding a Job You Love-Writing for AC"
Linda Col, Associated Content (July 23, 2009)

"Following a Passion and a Dream

"Like so many others, I was hit in early 2008 by the growing recession. I was causally informed that because business was down and it didn't look like it would be recovering anytime soon, my job was being eliminated. A year and five months later, I'm still searching for a job where none seem to be. Millions of people are walking in my shoes. Trying to find any job will do, but it sure would be nice to find a job you love to do...."

Both articles are a sort of text equivalent of infomercials for Associated Content: engaging pieces intended to show what a good idea it is to start working for Associated Content. They're also pretty good looks at how people can deal with change.

Amanda M. Rose's opening quote struck a chord with me, since I've seen a few fail-safe occupations and businesses go the way of flint knapping.1

Odds are, you don't remember when there was a gas station on just about every corner. I don't remember the meltdown in middle-management careers, as an early wave of info tech replaced people with a knack for doing arithmetic in their heads with machines that did the same job: faster and more reliably. But I do remember the cultural echoes bouncing around after the implosion.

Where was I? Amanda M. Rose and 'there'll always be a daycare.' Right.

She discovered, first-hand, that the demand for daycare providers was linked, rather tightly, to a particular combination of social and economic factors. Change those factors, and the demand for daycare services changes.

And, she discovered that writing for Associated Content was a pretty good way of satisfying her desire to write, sharing what she knew about Walt Disney World, and paying off a trip she took their with her son.

Her article is well-written, and worth reading both from a human-interest angle, and as an example of how economic bad times can be made into an opportunity.

Linda Cole's article is pretty much the same thing: how to make lemonade, when life hands you lemons.

The details are different: no trip to Walt Disney World to pay for, and a more conventional job-loss situation. Linda Cole's account reminded me of my own experiences again, though:

"...A year and five months later, I'm still searching for a job where none seem to be. Millions of people are walking in my shoes...."

Back in the early seventies, I'd become a bit weary of hearing people say 'anybody who really wants to work, can get a job.' The person saying that was generally a WWII vet who'd gotten a GI loan for his house, found a job during the post-war boom, and been working in a nice, stable, industry ever since.

I've no problem with someone being born in the right place, at the right time, and enjoying the benefits that go along with it. My issue is with people in that position, who assume that everyone enjoys the same situation. And no, I don't have anything against WWII vets: they experienced very real hardships; but they also returned to a grateful nation which rewarded them with praise, economic help, and many job opportunities.

But that's another topic.

Back to Linda Cole's article.

This article is the one which seems more practical, since Linda Cole's situation and approach is more nearly similar to mine.

"...Writing career is exactly how I view AC. Sure, it'll take some time to develop as any job does, but AC has also opened up doors for me that would never have been there had I not felt desperate enough to consider options online....

"...I do consider writing for AC as a career change and I am perfectly willing to downsize my lifestyle in order to pursue my dream of working at a job I love which is writing. ... Not to be afraid to take a chance and do something you've always dreamed of doing to make money."

One of Linda Cole's specialties seems to be pet-related articles: That's not 'me' so much. My oldest daughter's pet rabbit is nice to have around - but 'rabbits don't do much.'

The point, though, is that apparently writing can be a viable career choice. You're not likely to get rich doing it: but it sure beats chopping beets - which I've done.

Bottom line: these articles are pretty good examples of how people can make money by writing online. I'm not convinced that writing for Associated Content is for me, since my approach at this time is to develop my own blogs: but after reading these articles I'll probably give A.C. a once-over.
A tip of the hat to acnews, on Twitter, for the heads-up on these two articles.

1 Flint knapping, the craft of making stone tools like arrowheads, projectile points, or hand axes out of flint or similar stone, hasn't been a prudent career option for several thousand years: ever since metalworking knocked the bottom out of the flint market.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interior Design: Yes, it Can be Taught

"Interior Design Fact Sheet"
College of Human Development and Education, NDSU (North Dakota State University)

"A professional interior designer is one who is qualified by education and experience to identify, research and creatively solve problems relative to the function and quality of people's interior environments. The course of study in interior design leads to a first professional degree.

"Background Information

"Students pursue courses in aesthetic awareness, visual communication and technical skills that enable them to successfully complete studio projects in residential and commercial interiors including: institutional, entertainment, educational, hospitality, health care, retail and office space. Students learn how to approach design problems through a methodology that includes data gathering, product specification, identification of details, contractual documents and design business procedures...."

I don't think that training will make everyone into good interior designers, any more than I think you can train anyone to be a good auto mechanic or brain surgeon.

On the other hand, a program like what NDSU describes might help someone who wants to become an interior designer pick up skills and knowledge more quickly and efficiently than trying to learn on-the-job.

This fact sheet is a pretty good resource, intended for someone who is considering an interior design career. And, by some of the entries, apparently for someone who is still in high school.

This isn't one of the more exciting pages I've linked to. Actually, the content's a tad on the dry side. I picked this because I'm rather interested in design - interior and otherwise - and this NDSU fact sheet has a very good fact-to-sentence ratio.

Fluffy, it isn't.

New Google Themes: Comics, This Time

"Introducing comics themes for iGoogle"
Google (July 23, 2009)

"Love comics? Personalize your homepage with themes ranging from superhero and alternative comics to manga and more. Get themes from your favorites like Superman, The Hulk, Mutts, and over 50 other celebrated comics...."

Google's come out with a new set of themes for their iGoogle homepage service. What the new themes have in common is that they all come from 'the comics.' Like
  • Popeye by E.C. Segar
  • Dilbert
  • Jaime Hernandez
  • RIN-NE by Rumiko Takahashi
  • Minty Lewis
  • Ziggy by Tom Wilson
  • TOKYOPOP Kawaii
  • Blackest Night
  • Krazy & Ignatz by George Herriman
  • Zuda Comics
  • Nancy
  • The Hulk
Apart from being selected from those comics which people have, at one time or another, been produced commercially for an English-reading market, I don't see a great deal of uniformity in the selection.

I started using the iGoogle homepage some time ago, and quickly settled on the Tea House theme: but I'm giving Blackest Night a try. I haven't read that many of the Green Lantern stories, but the Green Lantern Corps background/premise intrigued me - and struck me as one of the less-improbable superhero scenarios.

More about the Green Lantern and vaguely-related matters, in "Green Lantern Oath: Something to Think About," Drifting at the Edge of Space and Time (July 23, 2009).

'In Space, No One Can Hear You - - - TWEET?!'

"In Space No One Can Hear You Tweet"
Twitter Tees by Threadless

It's a black T-shirt with a slogan, ah, inspired by the first Alien movie's tagline.
A tip of the hat to dragonblogger, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this URL.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ushuaia - Not Your Everyday Tourist Destination


"Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world, is the capital of the province of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida and South Atlantic Islands.

"Situated on the border of the Beagle Canal and surrounded by the Mounts Martial, this city offers a unique landscape in Argentina made up of mountains, sea, glaciers and woods.

"Its capricious topography has generated an extremely picturesque city that combines colours and unevenness with the silhouette of the Andes Mountain Range as background....

"...The city comprises a very good lodging and gastronomic infrastructure, where you can try the traditional fueguina spider crab surrounded by the frame of a prodigious nature."

The website describes itself as "the most complete guide for the tourist and traveller who wish to discover Argentina and plan his next holidays." I haven't confirmed that, but the website does have quite a bit of information: maps, photos, and text descriptions.

There's more than the Beagle Canal and fueguina spider crab to Ushiaia, this page and its links inform us. Thanks to the mountains and climate, there's alpine (downhill, in Minnesotan) and cross-country skiing; and the Tierra del Fuego National Park, for example.

I doubt I'll ever go there: my income and lifestyle being what they are, I'll be doing well to take a scenic tour of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, sometime in the next few years - or maybe even Pelican Rapids.

For someone who's looking for an alternative to the same dreary routine of Cannes, Bangkok, and Vail, though, Ushiaia sounds like a good place to consider. With a population of around 29,500, some might consider it to have a 'small town' feel, with metropolitan services.

Or, maybe not. The city sounds interesting, though.

More, about Ushiaia:

Hot New Technologies of Yesteryear

"100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About"
Nathan Barry, GeekDad, Wired (July 22, 2009)

"There are some things in this world that will never be forgotten, this week’s 40th anniversary of the Moon landing for one, but Moore's Law and our ever-increasing quest for simpler, smaller, faster, and better Widgets and Thingamabobs will always ensure that some of the technology we grew up with will not be passed down the line to the next generation of geeks...."

The list starts with "Inserting a VHS tape into a VCR to watch a movie or to record something" - which probably still happens, some places. My household has a VCR machine, along with some other 'legacy' hardware and software.

The last item is "When a 'Geek' and a 'Nerd' were one and the same" - If this change is happening, it's an interesting cultural shift toward an appreciation of intellectual abilities.

The second-to-the-last item, "A physical dictionary (either or spelling or definitions)", is one of a number of items on the list that I think are only partly true - or a matter of (over) simplification.

I make extensive use of online dictionaries like Princeton's WordNet. I've also got a number of paper-and-ink dictionaries, which have the sort of detailed information about the definitions, origins, alternate spellings, and pronunciation that online dictionaries tend to lack.

I suspect that, like the 'paperless office,' this prediction of the demise of print-format references is a bit optimistic.

Overall, this is an entertaining, and apparently well-researched, list of technologies that are no longer new.

Finally, a personal observation: I remember when many items on this list involved cutting-edge, revolutionary technologies. Like #24, "Terminals accessing the mainframe". I remember when computers - mainframe or otherwise - were more likely to be mentioned in science fiction stories than in business journals; and when the transistor started revolutionizing electronics.

Quite a lot has happened, since the Truman administration.

Very Long Solar Eclipse In Progress

An unusually long eclipse of the sun is in progress, sweeping across Asia. Scientists are hoping to learn more about the sun's corona, as the extremely bright surface of the sun is hidden by the moon.

"Scientists track eclipse from aircraft, conduct tests"
Press Trust of India (July 22, 2009)

"Solar eclipse trackers on the ground were not be the only ones studying the spectacle as the Indian Air Force (IAF) and astrophysicists conducted experiments and filmed the celestial event from a fighter jet and a transport aircraft...."

Quite a few people who aren't scientists are interested, too, for a variety of reasons.

"Darkness falls in Asia during total eclipse, luring masses"
CNN (July 22, 2009)

"The longest solar eclipse of the century cast a wide shadow for several minutes over Asia and the Pacific Ocean Wednesday, luring throngs of people outside to watch the spectacle....

"...In India, where an eclipse pits science against superstition, thousands took a dip in the Ganges River in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi to cleanse their souls, said Ajay Kumar Upadhyay, the district's most senior official. Send us your photos of the eclipse

"The ritual turned into tragedy when an 80-year-old woman died and eight others were injured in what was called a stampede in some media reports. Upadhyay called the incident a "commotion" during sacred rituals in Varanasi...."

I was struck by the mildly archaic language of the CNN article: "masses" being lured; "pits science against superstition" - but the article is still a pretty good overview of how people who live in Asia, and those who traveled there for the eclipse, are reacting to the event.

"Cautiously, Chinese try creative ways to watch rare solar eclipse"
Xinhua (July 22, 2009)

"As a rare six-minute total solar eclipse fell across Asia Wednesday morning, ordinary Chinese tried creative ways to watch the phenomenon without damaging their eyes.

"Though many ideal observation spots were under rain or clouds, days of heavy media coverage had fanned public curiosity....

"...Liu Guifang, 52, who works for a cosmetics company in the southern suburbs of Shanghai, held two pieces of paper parallel about a meter apart, and poked a tiny hole with a diameter of around 2 millimeters in one."

"She could then look at the reflection of the eclipse on the other piece, which made the solar rays much weaker...."

That's the only place I've seen a 'pinhole projector' described in news media discussing this eclipse - and the technique works. I've found that the hole can be much smaller than the two millimeters described here, and still work. The projection of the sun's image is a little less bright, but distinctly clearer. The trick is to make the hole as smooth and circular as possible.

"Solar eclipse over Pacific today will take small bite of Hawaii sun"
Hawai'i Magazine (July 21, 2009)

"...What does any of this have to do with Hawaii?

"We'll get to experience a tiny part of the huge celestial event when the northernmost edge of the eclipse's shadow moves over the Hawaiian Islands this afternoon creating a partial eclipse.

"Look toward the sun in Hawaii today at about 5:20 p.m. and—if skies are cloud-free—you'll see the moon take a small bite of about 10 percent of the sun...."

The article points out that, it you don't know that eclipse is happening, odds are that you won't notice it. The eclipse will be distinctly 'partial' by the time it gets to Hawaii.

Time Conversion Tables, Eclipse Animation, More

The Hawai'i Magazine article includes this animated graphic, from the NASA Eclipse Web Site, "Solar Eclipses: 2001 - 2010." That animation does a pretty good job of showing where the total eclipse has been - and will be, and the much larger swath where part of the sun will be blocked by the moon.

The page also has tables and links for eclipses through the year 3000, and a link to the World Atlas of Solar Eclipse Paths. Looks like a pretty good resource.

The NASA Eclipse Web Site home page links to data about solar and lunar eclipses, planetary transits, and other Solar system data.

You might find these useful: Related post:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Very Long Solar Eclipse Coming to Asia

Update, 10:30 p.m. Central (Where it's still July 21, 2009)
"Taregna disappoints eclipse watchers"
Press Trust of India (July 22, 2009)

"Cloud cover left thousands of people gathered in Taregna, touted the best place to watch the century's longest total solar eclipse, disappointed today but the momentary darkness that enveloped the town was enough to cheer the onlookers who burst into a collective applause...."
"Longest Solar Eclipse of the Twenty-First Century is Tomorrow (Wednesday)"
Wired Geek Dad (July 21, 2009)

"At dawn on Wednesday, July 22nd, in the Gulf of Khambhat just of the coast of India, the sun will rise in an eclipse. The eclipse will last as long as 6 minutes and 39 seconds in some places in the South Pacific. That will make it the longest solar eclipse of the 21st Century. The theoretical maximum length of an eclipse is 7 and a half minutes.

"The Earth is close to its farthest point from the sun. A small sun means the Moon can cover it longer. By lucky coincidence, the Moon will be near its closest point to Earth. A large Moon covers the sun longer, lengthening the duration of the eclipse...."

The relatively brief Wired article has some useful links, including one for SEMS-Sun Earth Moon Systems. That one's particularly interesting to me, since it's the work of scientists from the University of North Dakota, a little north of my home town, who are in China - in hopes of catching the eclipse.

Right now, the page says, "The Next SEMS Webcast Starts: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 00:14:54 UTC" - about 9:54 a.m. here in the Central time zone.

(There's a decent time zone converter at The World Clock – Time Zone Converter, and an automatically updated conversion table showing UTC and U.S.A time in the American time zones at US Naval Observatory Master Clock Time.)

This eclipse is more than just a 'gee whiz' event for astronomers. Eclipses as long as tomorrow's don't happen very often, and for many astronomers this is the only opportunity they'll have for a long time to get data about the area around the sun.

One researcher is looking for waves in the sun's corona, hoping to learn why the area above the more obvious surface of the sun is so hot. (BBC)

BBC and CNN articles gave us a look at the rather complicated culture of India:
"...'We are hoping to make some valuable observations on the formation of asteroids around the sun,' scientist Pankaj Bhama told the Associated Press news agency.

"But pregnant women in India were advised to stay inside, following beliefs that the eclipse could harm a foetus.

" 'My mother and aunts have called and told me stay in a darkened room with the curtains closed, lie in bed and chant prayers,' said Krati Jain, a software worker in New Delhi who is expecting her first child...." (BBC)
I'm not sure whether or not Krati Jain will take the advice of her older relatives.

A CNN article points out that, besides a certain apprehension about the effect of an eclipse on early human development, eclipses are an occasion for alms-giving and prayers. A "remedial astrologer" was quoted, explaining that "...A solar eclipse ... weakens the sun god temporarily because of an encounter with dragon Rahu and leaves some cascading results everywhere...." (CNN)

As I said, we're getting a look at a complicated culture. Very complicated.

In the news:
A tip of the hat to markstoneman, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this event.

Big Impact on Jupiter: Astronomers' Field Day

"Jupiter Apparently Smacked by Rogue Object, New Images Reveal " (July 20, 2009)

"Jupiter has apparently been smacked again by a rogue object hurtling through space, new images from amateur astronomers and NASA reveal.

"A giant scar-like blemish has appeared in the clouds near Jupiter's south polar region, which NASA observed in infrared after receiving a tip from an amateur skywatcher in Australia. The likely impact appears to have occurred exactly 15 years after the remnants of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 bombarded the planet in 1994 in an event that was widely predicted and scrutinized as it happened.

"The latest impact was not predicted, and it was caught by chance...."

The impact was discovered by an Australian amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley, 44, who makes a living as a computer programmer. Situations like this, where an amateur astronomer is the first to notice a new phenomenon, aren't all that rare. Professional astronomers are paid to use their very expensive installations to watch places that are known to have valuable data. It's the amateurs who are everywhere else, ready to notice when something unexpected shows up.

Anthony Wesley almost missed this impact.
"...In an observation report posted to his Web site, Wesley said he almost missed spotting Jupiter's new blemish entirely because he was tired after a late-night skywatching session.

" 'It was a very near thing,' he wrote, adding that by 1 a.m. Local Time, he decided at the last minute to keep observing for another half hour.

" 'I'd noticed a dark spot rotating into view in Jupiter's south polar region and was starting to get curious,' Wesley went on. 'When first seen close to the limb (and in poor conditions) it was only a vaguely dark spot, I thought likely to be just a normal dark polar storm. However as it rotated further into view, and the conditions also improved, I suddenly realized that it wasn't just dark, it was black in all channels, meaning it was truly a black spot.'..." (
The article is one of the first to take note of the July 19, 2009, impact on Jupiter. I've put links to several of the more recent articles toward the end of this post. The article is more detailed than many - although Today's CNN article does a pretty good job of passing details along.

A Bunch of Astronomers Looking at Jupiter: So What?

It's been 15 years since Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter. That was a scientific bonanza: since the comet had been tracked before impact, and the time and place of the impact was predicted, astronomers had a chance to set up an impressive array of sensors to record the event.

And, since it happened on Jupiter, the effect on Earth was somewhere between negligible and non-existent - as far as we know.

This impact was on Jupiter, again, but it wasn't predicted. Mr. Wesley didn't know he'd be giving the heads-up to professional astronomers a couple days ago.
Big Impact of Jupiter: Fascinating, but Not Earth-Shattering
Having the second big impact in 15 years happen on Jupiter isn't such a surprise. Jupiter is the biggest planet, in terms of diameter - and is vastly heavier than anything else in the Solar System except for the sun. Decades ago, someone referred to the planetary system we're in as being 'the sun, Jupiter, and debris.'

So, between being a big target and having a whacking great gravitational field to pull assorted rocks and ice balls in, being fairly close to the asteroid belt, and having an orbit that comets sometimes cross on their way to the sun, Jupiter is going to have big, heavy things falling on it fairly often.

What's a little disturbing about this latest impact is it wasn't predicted. Nobody noticed something approaching Jupiter before an Earth-size hole was blasted in the upper cloud decks.
Asteroid Impact Here? Still Not Earth-Shattering - But We Wouldn't Like it
I don't know enough physics to say what sort of energy is needed to punch a hole thousands of miles wide in Jupiter's upper cloud layers: but my guess is that I wouldn't want to be anywhere nearby when energy on that scale is released.

And, since Earth is only about 8,000 miles across, if something like what hit Jupiter last Sunday came down in, say, Antarctica, anywhere on Earth would be "nearby."

An event like that would push news about floods in Mongolia off the front page. It would probably even eclipse coverage of Michael Jackson's death. And, humanity would have a great deal more to worry about than getting ready for the Olympic Games next year.

I'd rather not find out whether or not there would be people around, ten thousand years after such an impact. Cockroaches, though, almost certainly would be. They've been through quote a few hard times on Earth.
We Have the Technology to Protect Ourselves
I was mildly surprised to discover that The Spaceguard Foundation was organized in 1996. I'd expected to find an earlier founding date. Serious discussions among and loose associations of astronomers concerned with tracking objects that might hit Earth go back decades.

We've got the technology to detect (most) largish objects that might hit Earth, track their orbits, and make pretty-good estimates of when and where they might hit. As they got closer, we'd be able to make increasingly accurate predictions.

We've also got the technology to do something about a big rock, or gravel pile, or slushball, headed our way. The relative merits of moving the incoming object so that it misses Earth, or breaking it up so that it hits, but in small pieces over a large area, have been discussed.

The 'breaking it up' scenario isn't, necessarily, as crazy as it may sound. Earth gets hit by around 2,000 tons of meteor every day. (Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, via Harvard) Except for a few astronomers, we don't notice all those tons of stuff falling on our heads, because most of it burns up in the upper atmosphere.

My guess is that adding more tonnage would make a measurable difference, somehow. And, that it would result in a spectacular one-time-only meteor shower. And, in America, several thousand lawsuits for everything from emotional suffering to a disappointing vacation.

Earth and Asteroids: We've Been Lucky, So Far

I'd like to think that outfits like The Spaceguard Foundation will distract national leaders from whatever it is that they usually do long enough to get an effective detection and interdiction force in place. Before something like the Tunguska Event happens over someplace like Singapore or Dallas.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

St. Jude Research Hospital and a Fundraiser

Here's someone with an interesting idea for a fundraiser:

"Goal: Reach 1,000,000 followers and auction account off to raise money for St. Jude Research Hospital. Please Follow!"

That's the description of FundraiseStJude. Not the worst idea I've run into.

New and Innovative Ways to Hurt Yourself With a Wii

"10 Gaming Gadgets That Will Make Us Hurt Ourselves"
Wired Game | Life (July 17, 2009)

"Maybe videogames are hazardous to our health — just not in the way people usually think. Since the success of the Wii and its motion controllers, companies looking to cash in on the videogame fitness craze have concocted loads of accessories and controllers designed to get players jumping and flailing around the room.

"It's all fun and games until somebody gets a Wiimote in the eye. Here are the game accessories we think have the greatest potential for damage...."

The list starts with the Wi-Bowl. It has a wrist strap - but I'm with the author: given humanity's track record for doing the daft, it won't get used when it should.

Of course, we don't hear about all those people who didn't lob a bowling ball through their television screen. I like to think that common sense, if not obviously present, is lurking just below the surface in many people.

The last item, #1 in Wired's opinion, is the Wii Car-Lighter Adapter.

I am not making that up.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Churchill and the British Bomb Shelter That Wasn't

"Churchill bunker 'not bomb-proof' "
BBC (July 20, 2009)

"Winston Churchill complained he had been 'sold a pup' when he discovered his underground wartime headquarters in Whitehall were not bomb-proof.

"A letter showing Churchill's annoyance when he discovered this security flaw is on display at the Cabinet War Rooms.

"Despite his protests, the prime minister continued to work from this bunker during the Blitz.

"The letter, written in September 1940, says the war rooms 'cannot be made bomb-proof in any sense'.

"The Cabinet War Rooms, now open to the public, were used as an underground command centre throughout World War II...."

This BBC article gives a pretty good look at an example of why I don't get nostalgic about 'the good old days,' when things were so much better. It appears that the British government, in an effort to deal with the unpleasantness of bombs falling on London, devised a shelter for key leaders which combined the discomfort of a real bomb shelter with the vulnerability of a surface structure.

Perhaps I'm being unkind.

I suggest reading this article. It's a good glimpse at the way it was, about a half-century back.

Kudos to Churchill and company, for staying at their post: knowing that it wasn't 'as described.'

New Kind of Anti-Virus Vaccine

"New Flu Treatment Outsmarts Mutations" (July 20, 2009)

"Before swine flu swept through the U.S., the virus had bounced around South America undetected for years. The H1N1 strain caught scientists by surprise, and without a vaccine. But a few weeks before the first North American case popped up, researchers successfully tested a therapy that could knock out almost any flu, and possibly any virus.

"Conventional vaccines packed with inert versions of a flu strain give your immune system the chance to develop antibodies. These identify that strain's particular version of hemagglutinin, a lollipop-shaped protein on its surface, so your body knows what to kill if infected...."

This short article gives a pretty good overview of what looks like a promising anti-viral vaccine. Essentially, instead of going after the 'head' of the lollipop-shaped proteins, which change from generation to generation, this vaccine gets the immune system to target the lollipop's stick - which doesn't change so much.

Early tests seem to have been quite successful.

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Now You, Too, Can Live in a Rusty Equipment Shed

"Not Your Fathers Mobile Home"
HDF/ (July 15, 2009)

(from HDF/, used w/o permission)

"And not your fathers mobile home park either:

"The owner purchased the site, formerly a RV campground, with the aim of allowing the landscape return to its natural state. It had been a flood plain meadow in an alpine river valley.

"Then, the concept was to have simple mobile structures able to roll into and set up on the site, yet to provide clearance for nature below each hut...."

This post describes an imaginative, relatively low-impact, approach to putting an equivalent of (small) mobile homes on land, uses words like "sustainable," and has five photos which give a pretty good idea of what the place looks like. There's even a close-up of the wheels that these things rest on.

It's by far not the goofiest 'green' idea I've seen to date.

The author has the good sense to call the structures 'huts' - I'm not clear on whether they're imagined as permanent residences or vacation dwellings. The exterior materials are fairly common: steel, plywood and car-decking. And, just to show how 'green' the project is, the metal is allowed to rust.


Well, grass does grow under the huts - and they don't look any worse than the back buildings on some of the less-well-kept-up farms around here.

I suppose I don't come from the right culture to really appreciate these enviro-huts. I'm a town boy, but I grew up in an area where agribusiness is important: and I don't see the thrill of living in something that looks like a semi-abandoned equipment shed on wheels.

Still: this is a pretty good overview of a clever idea.

Really Cool, Overly-Expensive, Roller Blinds

"These Window Blinds Are Better than Most Views"
gizmondo (July 17, 2009)

"I like this idea very much: Instead of normal blinds to hide horrible views—and make horrible interiors—use one of these Better Views roller blinds. You can get night cityscapes showing Paris, Tokyo, Helsinki, and Stockholm...."

That's about half the text: which is an expression of the writer's reaction to these decorative blinds. Kudos, by the way, for some limited citations and links at the end of this post.

From what's written here, these blinds are a limited-edition production that go for about $475 each.

At that price, I'd suggest making your own. The things are described as black perforated polyester. If I were making them, I'd try sandwiching two layers of plastic: one black, the other colored and translucent.

Neat idea, but pricey.

Chukchi Blob: It's Algae (No Space Aliens, Alas!)

"Black goop afloat off Arctic coast identified as algae"
Alaska Daily News (July 16, 2009)
"ALGAE: Still, experts don't know why there's so much of it.

"A sample of the giant black mystery blob that Wainwright hunters discovered this month floating in the Chukchi Sea has been identified.

"It looks to be a stringy batch of algae. Not bunker oil seeping from an aging, sunken ship. Not a sea monster.

" 'We got the results back from the lab today,' said Ed Meggert of the Department of Environmental Conservation in Fairbanks. 'It was marine algae.'..."

This article in the Anchorage Daily news includes a dialog with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks's Institute of Marine Science's director, Terry Whitledge. He hasn't seen the blob in person, but he's seen photos of it: and concluded that it's stringy algae.

Somewhat more to the point, the Department of Environmental Conservation lab in Anchorage says it's algae, too: and they had a sample of the blob to examine.

Algae? Stringy Algae?! No Mutant Monsters? No Secret Government Labs? No Space Aliens?

The Chukchi Blob had so much promise: a miles-long, hairy thing that was entangling - and possibly eating - jellyfish and birds; biding its time, perhaps, before making a light lunch of Nome and moving on to devastate Anchorage. Maybe it was the first wave of a space-alien invasion. Or a mutant monster that escaped from the secret lab that [name of your favorite conspirator here] has hidden up in the frozen north.

(That's really why 'They' have all that north shore drilling: it's a cover for the [name of your favorite conspirator here] operation.)

And, no: I don't really think so.

The Chukchi Blob is still satisfactorily mysterious, even if it has been identified as the result (probably) of an algae bloom. We don't know where it came from, why it's so big, and why people who live in that part of the world (yes, northern Alaska is inhabited) haven't seen anything like it in recent years.

More-or-less related posts: About Eyewitness testimony:

Invasion of the Giant Jellyfish! No, Really

"Japanese fishermen brace for giant jellyfish"
CNN (January 19, 2009)

"Giant jellyfish descend on the Sea of Japan, causing untold devastation to coastal villages and leaving a trail of destruction and human misery behind.

"Sounds like a great sci-fi flick. But it's not.

"It's real and it's a nightmare for Japanese fishermen.

"The massive sea creatures, called Nomura's jellyfish, can grow 6 feet in diameter and weigh more than 450 pounds. Scientists think they originate in the Yellow Sea and in Chinese waters. For the third year since 2005, ocean currents are transporting them into the Sea of Japan...."

These outsized jellyfish are a major problem for Japanese fishermen because the creatures blunder into and damage their kilometers-long fishing nets.

This article gives a pretty good overview of what's known - and what's not - about Nomura's jellyfish and their recent appearances in waters near Japan.

What I found most remarkable was what marine biologist Monty Williams had to say about the giant jellyfish and their behavior:

"...It's not clear why waves of Nomura's jellyfish have made it to the Sea of Japan in recent years. Some have speculated that overfishing, pollution or rising ocean temperatures may have depleted the kinds of fish that prey on Nomura's jellyfish in the polyp stage. However, no one is certain, Williams said."

Hats off to Williams, for not jumping on a bandwagon with the sort of unswerving certainty that may have been more common in the 'science' of my youth, than what we experience today.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Alan Stern and Space Tourism

"Alan Stern: Space Tourism Can Open Space for All" (July 18, 2009)

"Forty years after the first moon landing on July 20, 1969, asked Apollo astronauts and leaders of the space community to ponder the past, present and future. Planetary scientist Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, forecasts that humans will make it back to the moon in the coming decades and that space travel will be something that everyone (even himself) will do...."

The rest of this article is an interview, in Q & A format, with Alan Stern. I gives on man's (informed) opinion on where we are in the development of commercial spaceflight, including tourism, and where we seem to be headed.

For me, this is an exciting topic. I was born in the Truman administration, remember news coverage of the first Sputnik, and followed the Apollo 11 mission in my first summer after high school. I'm still interested in America's shuttle fleet - although those aging freighters are due for retirement.

If interest in the International Space Station continues - and half of what Mr. Stern discusses happens - I don't think it will be long before cost-effective cargo haulers and passenger craft are available for suborbital and Earth-orbit missions. After that, there are opportunities for using the moon as a source for materials to build orbiting power station, observatories far removed from urban light pollution: today, quite literally, "the sky's the limit."

Related posts: Background:

Photos of Tranquility Base: What? No Flying Saucers? And Where's Elvis?!

"New Photos Reveal Apollo 11 at First Moon Landing Site" (July 17, 2009)

"For stubborn folks who still believe the Apollo astronauts never landed on the moon, NASA has new images - definitive proof - that clearly show the Apollo 11 lander that carried the first astronauts to the lunar surface 40 years ago.

"The images, taken by NASA's first lunar scout in more than a decade, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), show the Eagle lunar lander at Tranquility Base, where Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969. They were snapped between July 11 and 15 of this month and released by NASA today.

" 'The LROC team anxiously awaited each image,' said LROC principal investigator Mark Robinson of Arizona State University. 'We were very interested in getting our first peek at the lunar module descent stages just for the thrill -- and to see how well the cameras had come into focus. Indeed, the images are fantastic and so is the focus.'..."

They also released photos of the Apollo 14 landing site, including this one:

(from NASA, via, used w/o permission)

Somewhat triumphant tome of that "definitive proof" notwithstanding, I doubt that die-hard conspiracy theorists will be convinced that 'They' haven't faked these photos to hide the 'true facts' about Earth being flat, or Tranquility Base really being an alien listening post, the whole space program being a cover-up involved with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, or whatever.

Humanity's silly side aside, this article is a pretty good overview of our new look at the moon.

Related post:
Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory