Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lemming Tracks: It's Been Quite a Week - and it Ain't Over Yet

The Lemming has had quite a week. Make that quite a month.

My second-oldest daughter got married.

My father's condition took a turn for the worse.

My new son-in-law got really, really, sick; couldn't eat; a scary several days.

My son-in-law got better, my father got worse. Lots worse.

My father died.

I buried my father and mother's remains yesterday.

And it isn't over yet: I've got the other half of their remains left to bury in Illinois. They were cremated, you see, and the ashes comingled. It isn't as gross or weird as it sounds.

I need to get a bulletin ready for the local Knights of Columbus council. Before Sunday, if humanly possible.

But, hey: no pressure.

The point of going into this detail of my everyday life is in case you've noticed a slight change in tone in these posts. There's more about what's happening with me and the family, at Through One Dad's Eye, whose URL is, because I changed the name of the blog after starting it.

Oh, well. Life goes on.

Cosmic Rays: Strongest in 50 Years

"Cosmic Rays Hit 50-Year High" (September 29, 2009)

"Galactic cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high, new data from a NASA spacecraft indicates.

" 'In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19 percent beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years,' said Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. 'The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions.'..."

What?! Record high cosmic ray counts and it's nobody's fault? What kind of reporting is this?!

Sure, it's not likely that putting Bozo the Clown on television resulted in lasting damage to the delicate cosmic environment. But on March 3, 1959, Pioneer 4, a space probe recklessly launched by greedy Americans was launched: and went into solar orbit!

It's obvious, isn't it?! Pioneer 4 disturbed the delicate balance of the solar wind, and only the complete cessation of all American activity in space will restore the fragile environment of space!!

No, I Don't Believe That

I really don't believe that putting space probes in orbit around the sun caused high cosmic ray levels a half-century later.

On the other hand: doesn't that nonsense I printed sound a bit like dire warnings that we're supposed to take seriously? I'm all for protecting the environment and preserving virgin forests and K-Mart signs for the spotted owl to nest in. But I could be a lot more enthusiastic about real problems, if we didn't have so many 'everything causes cancer' and 'environmental disaster of the month' articles.

Which this article isn't.

It's a pretty good overview of what we know about cosmic rays, and why they're stronger / more common now. The odds are good that it's a 'perfect storm' of the sun's magnetic field being weak; the solar wind weakening; and the heliosphere's 'current sheet' flattening.

It's not a problem for anybody living at the bottom of Earth's atmosphere: but our robot explorers may have trouble - or anybody who goes out there in person.

Which is why people are re-thinking what sort of shielding will be necessary.
More about change and getting a grip, at:

Samoan Tsunami - Not Good News, But it Could Have Been Worse

"Scores dead, villages flattened in devastating Samoan tsunami"
CNN (September 30, 2009)

"Survivors of a deadly earthquake-triggered tsunami which hit the Samoan islands Tuesday have described how they watched the inrushing sea swallow up coastal towns and villages leaving devastation in its wake.

"At least 111 people are confirmed killed in Samoa, neighboring American Samoa and Tonga. But officials in the Polynesia region have expressed fears the toll will rise as rescue workers struggle to reach outlying villages submerged and flattened by the wave...."

(from Alden Tagarino, via iReport, via CNN, used w/o permission)
Pago Pago: They're not having a good day there.

The Lemming is generally more upbeat than this post: but folks in part of the south Pacific aren't having a good day. At all.

From the looks of it, a magnitude 8.0 or thereabouts earthquake set off a series of tsunamis, which in turn did most of the damage. The good news is that the highest tsunami was just over five feet tall - under the initial estimates.

There's going to be a lot more about this in the news - and I don't, at present, plan to follow this event.

However, I do have a suggestion for anyone who's not in a position to pitch in and help survivors directly.

(Anybody who gets creepy-crawlies up and down their back whenever religion is mentioned: you'd better stop reading here.)

Praying in behalf of people who went through this catastrophe couldn't hurt: and it might even help. Just a thought.

I'll admit that I've got a slight bias, when it comes to places like Pago Pago. I discussed that last year, in another blog.

Internet No Longer Under U. S. Control; or Internet Freed From Oppressor Boot of Yankee Warmongers; or - - -

"US relaxes grip on the internet "
BBC (September 30, 2009)

"...The US government has relaxed its control over how the internet is run.

"It has signed a four-page "affirmation of commitments" with the net regulator Icann, giving the body autonomy for the first time.

"Previous agreements gave the US close oversight of Icann - drawing criticism from other countries and groups.

"The new agreement comes into effect on 1 October, exactly 40 years since the first two computers were connected on the prototype of the net...."

It's a milestone in the history of the Internet.

And I hope this goes more smoothly than the breakup of Bell Telephone/AT&T.

A Digression: The Breakup of Big, Bad, Bell

The official story of that breakup is that the American government forced big, bad Bell to split up in 1984. I've heard it speculated that AT&T had wanted, very much, to get out from under the income cap and other restrictions: and start making use of the century of R&D that they'd been pouring 'excess' profits into.

I remember the years after big, bad Bell was broken up.

Instead of dealing with one telephone system when you tried to make a call out of your town, you were dealing with - if you were lucky - a branch or partner of the one that ran your phone, that had figured out how to make connections between the two systems.

Directory assistance? Not so helpful afterward.

Making an emergency call? Generally speaking, that worked - although once I had to negotiate with someone in another state, who had an extremely vague idea of where things were in the wilds of darkest Minnesota.1

But that's another topic.

Back to the Freeing of the Internet from those Americans

As a rule, I think that economic systems work better when there isn't one 800-pound gorilla, or even a triumvirate of 800-pound gorillas, controlling nearly all the bananas. Call me a radical; but I think competition is, in general, a good idea.

On the other hand, I think it's a good idea that most of the North American power grid is tightly controlled by essentially one entity - I've gotten used to 24/7/365 power. And, I'm a Catholic: which, again, is a whole different topic.

The point is, I don't mind dealing with huge, globe-spanning organizations. When it's appropriate.

The way the Internet has become a global entity, I can see the sense in today's change: which will take effect tomorrow.

On the other hand, I've been around long enough to be just a tiny bit concerned about some of what I read. Like this:

"...'Under the JPA, Icann staff would conduct reviews and hand them over to the US government,' explained [Icann head] Mr [Rod] Beckstrom.

" 'Now we submit those reviews to the world and post them publically for all to comment.'

"In addition, independent review panels - including representatives of foreign governments - would specifically oversee Icann's work in three specific areas: security, transparency and competition...."

Right. A few years from now, let's say someone thinks something ICANN2 is doing isn't quite what the press releases say it is.

It looks like someone could ask ICANN to have someone working for ICANN review ICANN's procedures and policies, and then have somebody on the ICANN payroll write a report, get it approved by someone else in the ICANN organization chart, and finally have the report of, by and about ICANN issued: showing what ICANN found out about ICANN - and was interested in putting in the report.

I have no reason to believe that ICANN is run by anything other than well-intentioned, comparatively honest people.

But, hypothetically, let's say that a few of them aren't. Or won't be. I sincerely hope that the documents setting up the new arrangement define sufficient checks and balances to help everybody in ICANN on the ball.

I'm glad to see that there's a set of international panels to keep an eye on some areas of critical concern, like:
  • Security
  • Transparency
  • Competition
On the other hand, so much depends on how those terms are interpreted.

This blog has some pretty suspicious content in it. Those singing vegetables I've micro-reviewed have what some people see as a downright dangerous message - according to soul-mates of a University of Minnesota, Morris, associate professor. 'Everybody' knows what those religious people are like: in some American subcultures.

Other blogs of mine are even more suspicious, divisive, and generally not true to the ideals of political correctness, Islam as interpreted by Al Qaeda, or preferred realities of the various committees in People's Republic of China. Or, for that matter, the Daughters of the American Revolution or Ron Paul supporters.

I hope that the loose standards for content and comparative freedom of expression I've enjoyed to date will continue. And, I hope that you remain free to express yourself, too.

Just as I think it would be good for the American auto industry to have a lot of small automakers, rather than three huge dinosaurs, I think it's a good idea to let people express themselves in the marketplace of ideas.

Sure, there will be your occasional crackpots. But I think the best way to expose a crackpot is to let the person put the damaged crockery on a pedestal.

Which is yet another topic.
1 We worked out a plan for me getting in touch with someone nearby - less than a hundred miles away - and my hat's off to the person I negotiated with. I don't expect someone living in the more civilized parts of the United States to recognize that places like Bemidji, Rochester, and Duluth aren't a short drive away from each other - or that Minnesota covers a trifle more ground than, say, Massachusetts.

2 ICANN: "Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers" I speak American English, and write the same way. BBC, naturally, uses British English. I left the ICANN acronym, and some words, as-is in the quotations, instead of rendering them according to American conventions.

When I'm using my own words, I use American spelling conventions, for the most part.

Relevance, Thy Name is Produce! "Endangered Love" from "King George and the Ducky"

"Endangered Love Silly Song"

BigIdeaInc, YouTube (May 1, 2009)
video, 3:20

"It's a classic Silly Song about Larry and his ... Manatee? From the VeggieTales DVD, 'King George and the Ducky,' it's 'Endangered Love!' "

How germane, important, and socially-conscious! The trenchant import! The symbolism! The significance!

Silly Songs With Larry - an anodyne for the stresses of today's earnest world.

No, really: The Lemming will lay off the singing vegetables. For a while.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Minnesota Cuke and "The Yodeling Veterinarian" - Now That Would be a Title!

"Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah's Umbrella DVD Clip"

BigIdeaInc, YouTube (May 1, 2009)
video, 0:41

"'s 'Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah's Umbrella' from VeggieTales! Check out for more information!"

What can I say? I grew up in Minnesota, and have raised a family here in central Minnesota. I tend to notice anything with "Minnesota" in the title - particularly if it doesn't have to do with mosquitoes, unpredictably violent weather, or record snowfalls.

And, since that was a very short video, here's something a bit longer. And, a big plus, since it's about a place in Europe, it must be 'cultural,' too.

"The Yodeling Veterinarian of the Alps Silly Song"

BigIdeaInc, YouTube (May 1, 2009)
video, 4:22

"From 'Silly Songs with Larry' it's a classic! Enjoy 'The Yodeling Veterinarian of the Alps'...."

Yeah: I seem rather VegieTales-oriented this week. Don't worry: It'll pass.

The Brain: Things We Know That Just Aren't So

"Top 10 Myths about the Brain"

"The brain is one of the most amazing organs in the human body. It controls our central nervous system, keeping us walking, talking, breathing and thinking. The brain is also incredibly complex, comprising around 100 billion neurons. There's so much going on with the brain that there are several different fields of medicine and science devoted to treating and studying it, including neurology, which treats physical disorders of the brain; psychology, which includes the study of behavior and mental processes; and psychiatry, which treats mental illnesses and disorders. Some aspects of each tend to overlap, and other fields cross into study of the brain as well.

"These disciplines have been around in some form since ancient times, so you'd think that by now we'd know all there is to know about the brain. Nothing could be further from the truth...."

That last sentence is a refreshing change from the triumphantly certain tone I remember from articles written fifty years ago about matters scientific. Knowing that one does not know is a step toward wisdom.

The article takes the familiar 'countdown' approach, from "10: Your Brain Is Gray" (parts of it are) to "1: You Only Use 10 Percent of Your Brain".

On the way, "2: Alcohol Kills Brain Cells" is a sort of good news/bad news situation. The good news is that, in the concentrations you get from drinking alcohol, brain cells won't die. The bad news is that the dendrites, structures on the neurons that connect them to other neurons, do get damaged.

They'll grow back, but until they do those living brain cells aren't connected the way they should be. Which means that the brain isn't going to be working very well.

I'm not sure how much of the extremely cautious tone of "3: You Can Get Holes in Your Brain Through Drug Use" is sensible prudence in reporting on a comparatively new field's conclusions - or a result of not wanting to appear ungroovy, or defy the wisdom of Timothy "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out" Leary. (January 30, 2008, August 8, 2007)

And, yes: I know about "Reefer Madness."

"5: Your Brain Stays Active After You Get Decapitated" gives a pretty good example of how what's 'known' can change over the centuries. Interestingly, though, although "your brain stays active after you get decapitated" is supposed to be a "myth" - something not true, for the purposes of this article1 - "According to Dr. Harold Hillman, consciousness is "probably lost within 2-3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of intracranial perfusion of blood" [source: New Scientist]."

Two or three seconds isn't all that long - or can be a very, very long time: depending on the circumstances. But it is a perceptible slice of time.

Still - this is a pretty good article, and seems well-informed.
1 "Myth" doesn't mean "not so" - a reasonable definition is "a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people". (Princeton's WordNet)

Life's Sinister Origins: Comets?

"Did Comet Crashes Help Spark Earth Life?" (September 24, 2009)

Billions of years ago, comets may have ferried life-sustaining water to our planet's surface, but that may not be all that we should thank these dirty snowballs for. Researchers are simulating comet impacts to see if they might help proliferate the left-handedness in molecules that life on Earth depends upon.

"There is evidence from meteorite studies that amino acids may have been delivered to Earth from space.

" 'There is interest in how these building blocks came to be on primordial Earth,' says Jennifer Blank of the SETI Institute.

"She and her colleagues study comets as a second avenue for depositing these biological compounds on Earth. Their current work, which is supported by NASA's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program, is looking at how the fire and brimstone of a comet impact may benefit the formation of complex molecules of a particular handedness...."

The proteins we're made of are built of 20 amino acids - which are 'left-handed' molecules. 'Right-handed' equivalents can exist - but they're not involved in our amino acids.


Good question.

We've gotten more accurate (or less-inaccurate) models of what Earth's atmosphere was like as the years go by: and this article discusses one of the more recent models.

The 'it came from outer space' explanation for how things are now is useful, and allows for more research to see how closely it matches verifiable realities - but then the question is 'why were the space chemicals left-handed?'

I ran into the possibility that circularly polarized ultraviolet light might be involved several decades back. That idea's still being discussed, it seems. But, although circularly polarized infrared light has been observed in the Orion molecular cloud, we haven't detected circularly polarized ultraviolet light in nature.


There are some other possible explanations, too. ("Space Hand-Me-Downs," Google HTML version of, a Word document)

The article discusses why these researchers focused on comets, rather than meteors. Comets aren't as common, but they presumably don't do quite as much damage - or generate as much heat - when they hit, and they carry water with them.

All in all, a pretty good update on the state of knowledge - and informed speculation - about what happened in Earth's first billion years.

Related posts:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere - Even on the Moon - Again

"Out There: Water, Water Everywhere" (September 28, 2009)

"It's now official that water has been found on the moon, and scientists have long seen it on Mars as well. In fact, water is all over the solar system and the rest of the galaxy – and since water is key to life as we know it, these discoveries raise the hope that we are not in fact alone.

"The inner planets

"Although the moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, new observations from three different spacecraft have uncovered what has been called 'unambiguous evidence' of water across the surface of the moon.

"On Mars, giant cracks were recently found etched across crater basins that hinted at ancient lakes, and liquid water is thought to have been common across a vast region of ancient Mars billions of years ago. Craters recently even revealed that more water ice is buried closer to the red planet's equator than would be expected, 'which implies there was more water in the atmosphere of Mars in the not too distant past,' explained Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

"But liquid and frozen water are not limited to Earth's closest neighbors in space.

"Even hellish Venus may once have been lush with oceans...."

The good news is that water seems to be quite common in the cosmos. The bad news is that it's not often in liquid form.

Still, it looks like the moon and Mars may not be quite so inhospitable as they sometimes seemed. Sure, there's no air to speak of on the moon, and the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars is too thin to breathe, even if there were free oxygen: but both places have more of the raw materials we need to live than we thought.

The article also makes a brief mention of a life-not-quite-as we-know it possibility.
Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Related posts, at

A Marriage Proposal in a Video Game: No Kidding

"The Fallout 3 Marriage Proposal Mod"
the escapist (September 3, 2009)
(Includes embedded YouTube video, 8:17)

"A woman looking for a unique way to propose marriage to a hardcore Fallout 3 fan came up with an unusual but rather cool idea: She talked the community into making a mod for her.

"The plan started all the way back in June, when Bethesda forum user PuffyPuppy asked if there was any possible way she could propose to her boyfriend from within Fallout 3. After a few twists and turns it was suggested that a mod for the PC version of the game would be the way to go and, modding types being what they are, the game was soon afoot...."

A cool idea, indeed! The embedded video runs the viewer though a (probably-optimized) traverse of the Fallout 3 scenario. I haven't played any of the Fallout series, but have a passing familiarity with Doom. And, to date myself even more, I've played a 3D fist-person shooter called Castle Wolfenstein - which predated the 2001 "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" featured in Wikipedia.

The video had the violence which, in this context, doesn't bother me - and the drearily familiar crude language I've learned to expect. Again in context, the language actually is appropriate: not the 'I'm using naught words, so I'm real grown-up' relevance of an earlier and more dreamily idealistic age.

The idea of putting a marriage proposal in a video game is ingenious, the execution both technically and aesthetically showed good craftsmanship - at a minimum.

Now, if putting a marriage proposal in Fallout 3 was the only way of getting this chap's attention; and offering to be his "love slave:" Forgive me if I question the young lady's prudence. On the other hand, she did seem to specify a married relationship - and I certainly don't have enough information to form a reasoned opinion.

Again, technically: This is pretty good.
A tip of the hat to #1 daughter, for the heads-up on this article.

The BellyButton Video: Sheer Artistry!

"BellyButton Silly Song"

BigIdeaInc, YouTube (May 1, 2009)
video, 4:10

"A VeggieTales Hit! It's the Boyz in the Sink singing their classic, 'BellyButton' from the VeggieTales DVD 'The Ballad of Little Joe' "

The artistry! The special effects! The videography! The singing vegetables!

Words fail me.

A tip of the hat to #3 daughter, for drawing my attention to this video, and BigIdeas' YouTube account.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fast Breakfast - a Recipe

"Breakfest Sandwiches"
Notecook (September 27, 2009)

"Fast breakfest.
  • 2 pieces of loaf
  • 50g of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • a little salt and pepper
  • cookie forms
  • bakind paper
I think this is simple enough for me to do - which is saying something.

The how-2 part of the post is brief, to the point, and ends with "take it and eat it"

Now that's covering every step.
A tip of the hat to williamcooks, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Twitter Tips, or How to Not Annoy and Alienate People Online

"The Twidiot's Guide to Twitter Etiquette: Twelve Essential Do's and Dont's for Twitter Beginners"
Shrinking the Camel (September 26, 2009)

"I have been using Twitter for five months now, which, as you probably know already, makes me a seasoned expert. It doesn't take much these days in the social media circles to be considered a specialist. Really, you just have to actually use those social media gadgets and then take a know-it-all attitude in advising others on how they should use them, too. I can definitely do that.

"Now let's talk about you, dear Twitterer novice. So. You are quite adept at Google searches, and you have even mastered Facebook, but you are looking at this Twitter thing, this over-hyped, apparently useless communication technology, thinking, 'Why the hell would anyone want to do that?' And then you read about it every freakin' week in the New York Times and People magazine, and you hear all your favorite celebrities dropping sound bytes about their Tweets like loose change falling into a beggar's tin cup, and then you think, 'Who do all these people think they are? I am certainly an Important Person, too. Now, get out of my way. How does this thing work?' You sign up your very own account and cautiously begin typing your first 140 characters. 'Hey everyone in Twitterland! I am th..' "

That gives you a pretty good idea of the tone and style of the post. Expect long paragraphs, a colloquial style, and pretty good advice.

I'm making note of this post, on my Facebook account, partly to share with others - and to make sure I can find it quickly a week or month or whatever from now.

The advice is, I think, pretty much common sense - which doesn't seem to be all that common, just like in days gone by. Sure, most of the points are the sort that you'd say 'well, duh!' about after you've read them: but review doesn't hurt - and I've learned that some 'well duh!' points weren't on my mind's front desk before I read them.

Enjoy, learn.
A tip of the hat to Twitter_Tips, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Big Digital Game Show in - Where Else? - Tokyo

"Hands-On With Tokyo Game Show’s Hottest New Games"
Game | Life, Wired (September 25, 2009)

"Each year, the Tokyo Game Show lets rabid gamers get their hands on new titles months before the videogames hit store shelves.

"The allure of the sneak peek proves to be a powerful draw: Gamers stream in through the doors early in the morning and wait in line, sometimes for hours, for a chance to play what might be the next big thing...."

The Wired article starts out with Final Fantasy XIII ("Final"? "XIII"?!!); and ends with Professor Layton 4 and Ni no Kuni Shine: which probably means a great more to dedicated gamers than it does to me. I do recognize the Ghibli name, though: I'm not that out of touch with contemporary culture.

Gamers, and people trying to make sense of what they're talking about, might find this article helpful.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Cup of Butter, A Cup of Sugar, 3/4 Cup of Another Kind of Sugar - Yeah, This is a Real Treat!

"The Mother Lode Layered Cookie Bars"
Picky Palate (September 24, 2009)

"Good Thursday folks!

"I know this cookie should absolutely be illegal, but let me tell you it is so much fun! Just imagine all of your favorite cookies layered into one bar of fabulousness! Now, don’t go and eat this on a regular basis, but do bring it to your next party or gathering and watch them disappear!

"At first glance it may look like a lot to prepare, but each cookie dough can be made in under 10 minutes, so don’t be turned off by the steps below. I like to make the cookie dough in advance and have it in the refrigerator ready to go...."

(from Picky Plalate, used w/o permission)

If this sort of post looks familiar, it should: I micro-reviewed another Picky Palate recipe post on Monday. ("" (Caramal Apple Cream Cheese Cookie Bars: Hear Your Arteries Harden With Every Bite (September 21, 2009))

This is another recipe that combines relatively ease of preparation, elaborate & delicious-looking results, and an ingredients list that's not recommended for fifty-something guys like me.

But, don't let that stop you: I think that a few treats like this and an active life go together just fine.

Change, American Culture, Trilobites, Humanity's History, and the Big Picture

A tick or two of the cosmic clock, posts about humanity's development, and what's happened on Earth for the last 4,500,000,000 or so years: Earlier this week, I posted one of my favorite quotes:
About the 'laws of Nature' -

" 'Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws....' "

Grace Ironwood, Chapter 17.4, "That Hideous Strength" C. S. Lewis (1946)
(September 23, 2009)
The same day, I posted a micro-review & mini-rant about one of those standard-issue global warming articles. (September 23, 2009)

I like trees and flowers and spotted owls as much as anyone: but I know a little too much about Earth to get on the 'Earth now' bandwagon. Particularly considering the lack of unanimity among scientists who actually make their living studying climate - and the way heretics are shouted down - I suspect that global warming is as serious a threat as the runaway defoliation we're experiencing here in Minnesota.

Which I do not think was caused by my putting out extra hummingbird nectar a few weeks ago. ("The Ice is Falling! Runaway Melt Mode! And You Should See What's Happening to Minnesota Trees!" (September 23, 2009))

I don't doubt that Earth's warmed up a trifle in the last few decades. Other planets orbiting our sun have, too.1

News Cycles, Seasonal Cycles, Change, and the Big Picture

As I wrote before, there's a reason you don't see recipes calling for fresh trilobite. Change happens.
"Americans are known to have a tough time with the concept of 'long term.' I once lived in Europe. Before leaving the United States, I was listening to an American newscast that talked about a company's future 'long term.' The news story then went on to say that, by long term, it meant the company's performance over the next five quarters - barely more than a year! Several months later, while in Europe, I was introduced to some people by my Dutch colleagues. While doing the introduction, they explained that I was in the country 'tijdelijk' - meaning temporarily. I was scheduled to stay for three years. I thought back to the American newscast and wondered how they would take that comment from my Dutch acquaintances."
("What's Your Definition of Long Term?" p. 28, "Start Your Own Home Business ... In No Time" Carol Anne Carroll, Que Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana (2005))
I can see how people who grew up in a culture where 15 months was "long term" might have trouble thinking about changes - and cycles - that take more than a year.

American news, at least, is a 24/7/365 affair in which a story might be at the top of the news in the morning, people's reactions would highlight the afternoon news, and - if the event were enormously important - it might be mentioned the next day.

A Wikipedia article called this the 24-Hour News Cycle. Americans don't seem to have much of a problem noticing events that recur on a daily, weekly, or even annual basis.

Cycles that take more than a year - maybe not so much.

Paradoxically, in a culture where technological and social change is almost proverbially fast-paced, some American subcultures seem disturbed at the idea that life on Earth - and Earth itself - changes.

An overview of the last 4,500,000,000 or so years on Earth: (from "The Ice is Falling! Runaway Melt Mode! And You Should See What's Happening to Minnesota Trees!" (September 23, 2009)
1 Climate Change, from (from "Masdar City Video - Looks Cool " (September 9, 2009))

Laacher See Supervolcano Eruption: You Think You Had a Bad Day?!

"Supervolcano Eruption Was Tough on Teeth"
Discovery News (September 25, 2009)

"If you've ever eaten a sandy batch of shellfish, you know the feeling: the terrible crunching and grinding that cracks through your jaw, making you question the wisdom of your choice of food. Now imagine that feeling with every bite you take, every meal of every day.

"If a new study is right, that's what early humans and animals felt after the Laacher See supervolcano exploded in central Europe 13,000 years ago, and it drove them out of the region.

"Laacher See was a tremendous blast. It devastated 540 square miles of forested land right around the crater and conservative estimates suggest an area the size of Minnesota was covered in a blanket of ash and rock bits...."

That's where the sandy shellfish comparison comes in.

All that grit on the plants, animals, and everything else, would have not only have reduced the pleasure of eating - it would wear down teeth. Fast.

Bad news for grazing animals, and anything that ate them - including people who lived in what we've been calling Germany, the Netherlands and southern Sweden recently.

The human population dropped like a rock: and survivors apparently stopped using bows and arrows.

About 300 years later, the grit had probably been washed away - but who can wait that long?

More, at: List of vaguely related posts:

Lemming Tracks: My Father Died About 24 Hours and 12 Minutes Ago

The Lemming intends to keep up the usual three-posts-a-day routine, but sincere there's a lot going on in my household right now, I'm a bit distracted and they may look a bit odd. Please bear with me. There's quite a lot on my mind right now.

My father's death was hardly unexpected: but there's still something of an emotional impact, I'm learning.

I'm posting to my personal blog, Through One Dad's Eye, as events unfold.

And, like I said, I plan to keep up the usual pace here at Apathetic Lemming of the North.

Related posts:

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Coconut Crab: No, It's Not From a Science Fiction Movie

"Coconut crab"

"The coconut crab, Birgus latro, is the largest land-living arthropod in the world and is probably at the limit of how big terrestrial animals with exoskeletons can get under the prevailing conditions. Their body is divided into four regions; the cephalic lobe, forepart, trunk, and opisthosoma. It is a highly apomorphic hermit crab and is known for its ability to crack coconuts with its strong pincers in order to eat the contents. It is the only species of the genus Birgus.

"It is also called the robber crab or palm thief, because some coconut crabs are rumored to steal shiny items such as pots and silverware from houses and tents...."

(From A Comprehensive Account Of The Biology And Conservation Issues, used w/o permission)

The AbsoluteAstronomy article doesn't say how big the coconut crab is - but another source says the body can be 16 inches long. The things climb trees, and those big claws can lift up to 64 pounds.

That's one impressive crab.

The creatures have a branchiostegal lung - which seems to be distinct from the book lung that other arthropods have.

One of my daughters introduced me to coconut crabs today, by way of this photo:

(eBaum's Word, used w/o permission)

I did a little checking around, and although there are some posts and articles online which struck me as being of the 'I can't believe something like this exists, so it doesn't' variety, coconut crabs really do exist; they're big; they've got really strong pincers; and did I mention: they're really big?

And, 'take me to your leader' appearance notwithstanding, I found no reason to assume that they're not from Earth. I won't find them in Minnesota, though: as the "coconut" part of their name implies, they're tropical creatures.

I also found quite an interesting writeup about avian lungs in AbsoluteAstronomy's Lung article - but I'm running short on time, and besides: it's off-topic.

1922: Frances Gumm Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota

I know: There's a Grand Rapids, Michigan, too. But Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is where Frank and Ethel Gumm raised their youngest daughter, Frances, for almost five years.

The Gumms were vaudevillians, and Mr. Gumm owned the town's movie theater, so it's no surprise that Frances joined her older sisters sisters Mary Jane and Virginia in a dance act when she was two years old.

All of this would be the sort of thing that shows up in a hometown newspaper on a slow week, except that the Gumms moved to California in 1926, and Frances Gumm became Judy Garland.

Although there are some imaginative biographies out there, "Judy: Just the Facts" at the Judy Garland Museum®, a bulletized list of the major events in Frances Gumm's life seems to be among the more reality-based and easy-to-read.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Viking Lander Stopped Digging Inches Short of Ice?

"Craters Show 1970s Viking Lander Missed Martian Ice by Inches"
Wired Science (September 24, 2009)

"Meteorites that crashed into the Martian surface last year exposed buried ice to the digital eyes of NASA spacecraft.

"Scientists have used those images to deduce that there is a lot more ice on Mars — and that it’s closer to the equator — than previously thought. In fact, subterranean Martian ice should extend all the way down beyond 48 degrees of latitude, according to the model, which was published in Science Thursday.

"That happens to be where the Viking Lander 2 was in operation from 1976 to 1980. As part of its science program, the Lander dug a trench about 6 inches deep. The new model predicts that if it had gone an extra 3.5 inches — a bit longer than a credit card — it would have hit ice...."

The Viking lander's arm wasn't strong enough to dig into hard ice, if that was present: but it could easily have scraped and revealed water ice. What would have happened, if we'd known about low-latitude subterranean ice on Mars back in the seventies, is guesswork. But it would have made a difference.

And, for all that we know about Mars, it's obvious that there's a great deal more that we don't know.

(NASA, via Wired Science, used w/o permission)
I think we'll be back.

Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Related post:

Interior Design: A Pretty Good Learning Resource

"" -
"providing free interior design and decorating education to the world"

"Interior Design and Interior Decorating Ideas..."

"The interior design industry revolves around creativity and the use of multiple ideas. At you will find a web site full of useful information that will inspire you to generate your own interior design ideas for free and at one website. It is so easy because this site covers bathrooms, color, bedrooms, soft furnishings, furniture history, makeovers, lighting, construction, interior design and decoration tips and much more.

"Free downloads help with design processes and color schemes and develop your skills as an interior designer or decorator...."

Okay, the website's got advertisements by the acre, pop-ups, the works: but, as far as I can tell, nothing that'll do more than annoy you a bit.

And the content, in my opinion, is worth the distractions.

The navigation, what I used of it, is fairly intuitive - you can start out by clicking on various rooms of a house cross-section, and get to brief discussions of what to do with lofts or attics, how to handle color (broken out by color), a bit about bedrooms, bathrooms, and other rooms.

The only jarring thing I noticed that clicking on what I thought was a home office got me to a page that starts out with:

"DIY Home Building and Construction Information for Decorating"
"As interior designers we would like to not have to learn about construction but unfortunately it is vitally important to interior planning and decoration...."

Well, good for them. The page does get around to saying how wonderful their article for interior designers, about construction, is: But I probably wouldn't have gotten that far, if I didn't have this micro-review to write.

Those 'free downloads' include a nine-page "Color Scheme Form" which breaks out the details involved in planning a color scheme for an interior space - and provides a sort of fill-in framework for a designer. I think it'd be helpful.

Another, "Design Process Scope," starts out with "Define the parameters of the project and map it recording what is existing.
"Initially develop a form for the brief taking. It should follow within the parameters listed below. (Down load this form from the site The brief system form)"

Okay - this probably doesn't give you the warm fuzzies, like putting together an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of color and form can: but again it's a tool to help you organize a project. And yes, I think it's possible that whoever wrote the form grew up speaking a language other than English.

Speaking from a decade's experience in a related field - graphic design - I can tell you that, boring as this sort of thing is: Not getting organized from the get-go is a big mistake.

The "scope" form (four pages) probably won't include everything you'll need to define: but it's a really good start.

And yes, there are pretty pictures, like this:

Saxon Gold Hoard! Worth Lots of Money! Also, a Wonderful Look into 7th Century England

"Huge Anglo-Saxon gold hoard found"
BBC (September 24, 2009)

"The UK's largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure has been discovered buried beneath a field in Staffordshire.

"Experts say the collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date to the 7th Century, is unparalleled in size and worth 'a seven figure sum'.

"It has been declared treasure by South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh, meaning it belongs to the Crown. ..."

The monetary value of this archaeological find is distinctly non-trivial, but I see it as I think the archaeologists do: as a mass of information about the 7th century, waiting to be teased out of the metal, inscriptions, and sculpting.

I'm not immune to the allure of gold: but one of the really exciting items was a helmet: one of about four of it's type now known to exist.

The photo's caption reads:

"Anglo-Saxon helmets are very rare - only four helmets like the one from which the above cheek plate is taken have survived. Despite the intricate artwork, this helmet would have been used in battle, the decoration marking out the wearer's status."

The BBC did a pretty good job of writing up this find. I was a little disappointed, though, to find that their link to an 'analysis' article used the popular term, "Dark Ages" to denote the period following the Roman Empire's collapse.

I'll grant that it wasn't the most comfortable period in Europe's history, but the term comes from the idea that it's an unrecorded era, not at all like the brightness of the Roman Empire or the Renaissance. There are plenty of records covering events in the period - but they're most records kept by the Catholic Church: which don't count, in some circles. (A rather counter-cultural discussion of the matter is in "Notes on Culture: What Was the Renaissance?," William Doino, Jr., via EWTN.)

Water, Water Everywhere - Even on the Moon

"It's Official: Water Found on the Moon" (September 23, 2009)

"Since man first touched the moon and brought pieces of it back to Earth, scientists have thought that the lunar surface was bone dry. But new observations from three different spacecraft have put this notion to rest with what has been called 'unambiguous evidence' of water across the surface of the moon.

"The new findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, come in the wake of further evidence of lunar polar water ice by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and just weeks before the planned lunar impact of NASA's LCROSS satellite, which will hit one of the permanently shadowed craters at the moon's south pole in hope of churning up evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.

"The moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, but the water is said to exist on the moon in very small quantities. One ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water, researchers said...."

"...Combined, the findings show that not only is the moon hydrated, the process that makes it so is a dynamic one that is driven by the daily changes in solar radiation hitting any given spot on the surface...."

"...The various study researchers also suggest that the daily dehydration and rehydration of the trace water across the surface could lead to the migration of hydroxyl and hydrogen towards the poles where it can accumulate in the cold traps of the permanently shadowed regions."

At a one ton surface material / 32 ounces water ratio, I don't see 'mining' water from the moon's surface as a practical idea. However, this article discusses how water molecules probably travel - making the existence of 'cold traps' near the poles a real possibility. There might be tons of relatively concentrated water ice there. Or, not.

There's more to the article: a brief discussion of how water could form from hydrogen atoms hitting the surface, and an overview of recent robotic explorations of the moon.

Aside from the joy of discovery, I'm very interested in this development. It's looking more and more like the raw materials for a long-term settlement on the moon may be there - which would make construction a whole lot cheaper than if everything had to be shipped in.

And then there's Mars.

I don't think we'll have people living permanently on the moon - not any time soon - but a permanent base or three with a rotating staff is a very real possibility.

Besides 'pure' research, there's the matter of mining - but that's enough for one post.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

College Campuses and H1N1: It's a Bughouse

"Get your own beer! Swine flu spreading on campus"
The Associated Press (September 23, 2009)

"It's lurking in that awesome party just off the quad, hiding in the shot glasses passed from person to person and in the make-out sessions in the hallway.

"Swine flu is swirling through the nation's campuses, but despite all the warnings, flu kits and prominently displayed jugs of hand sanitizer, many students, like Georgia Tech freshman Elise Woodall, just aren't that worried.

" 'I drink my orange juice,' she said. 'I figure I'll be OK.'..."

Five words: The boy who cried wolf.

I could be wrong, but a seemingly-endless stream of dire warnings - from acid rain to getting cancer from power lines; to the impending demise of the spotted owl; and that perennial favorite, global warming - I wonder if college students haven't learned to filter out warnings.

The article seems to be a pretty good look at what college administrators are trying to do: and the sort of 'what, me worry?' attitude I remember being a fairly common mind(?) set regarding matters of practical, personal importance to the college crowd.

I rather hope that common sense breaks out on campuses - but I won't hold my breath.

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

"Little Regularities" - A Thought for the Day

About the 'laws of Nature' -

" 'Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws....' "

Grace Ironwood, Chapter 17.4, "That Hideous Strength" C. S. Lewis (1946)

Related post:

The Ice is Falling! Runaway Melt Mode! And You Should See What's Happening to Minnesota Trees!

"Greenland, Antarctic Ice 'in Runaway Melt Mode' "
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (Wednesday, September 23, 2009)

"New satellite information shows that ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica continue to shrink faster than scientists thought and in some places are already in runaway melt mode.

"British scientists for the first time calculated changes in the height of the vulnerable but massive ice sheets and found them especially worse at their edges. That is where warmer water eats away from below. In some parts of Antarctica, ice sheets have been losing 30 feet a year in thickness since 2003, according to a paper published online Thursday in the journal Nature...."

Well, that's interesting.

I'm not sure whether the Nature journal article will be published tomorrow, and this is a pre-publication piece; or if it was published six days ago.

Either way, like I said, it's interesting.

I'm not going to start crying out, 'the ice is falling, the ice is falling,' though.

It's not that I doubt the data. It's consistent with a post from April 18, 2009 about conditions in Antarctica. Ice is breaking off the 'western' part of Antarctica, like it does every 10 to 50 years - and getting thicker elsewhere.

This AP article is a pretty good read, though - and shows what sort of data we can collect these days. As for the conclusions: there's a old adage in academic circles, "publish or perish."

Academics, Show Biz, Shakespeare, and The Matrix

A professor's career depends, in large part, on how many papers he or she can publish, and how well they're received. In that respect, it's sort of like show business: you're only as good as your last review.

In one of my fields, English, I think that 'publish or perish' pressure was part of the force behind papers and articles showing how Shakespeare didn't really write Shakespeare. The underlying truth is that William Shakespeare's plays were commercial productions.

William had a financial interest in the Globe theater, and didn't mind writing material for the actors. This was before international copyright laws, so the Bard of Avon did his research, found plays written in other countries, took their characters and general outlines, and came up with commercial hack-work like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.

Some of Shakespeare's plays are, demonstrably, re-writes of earlier works: which would have remained in richly-deserved anonymity if Shakespeare hadn't applied his considerable linguistic and dramatic talents to reviving them.

Some of those 'Shakespeare Didn't Write Shakespeare' pieces used the sort of logic that would let you say that "The Matrix" is just a remake of Kronos. (Well? They're both about robots, aren't they?! Sort of?)

Change Happens - Deal With It

There's a reason that you won't find too many recipes calling for fresh trilobite.

That's because none of the 20,000 or species of trilobites are around - and haven't been for around 248,000,000 years. I'm no expert - but I don't think that SUVs had anything to do with the Permian extinction.

The point is that change happens.

Runaway Defoliation and the Hummingbird Feeder

Right now, runaway defoliation is devastating central Minnesota's ecosystem even as I write. Although some trees are still green, even they show signs of wilting; many trees are no longer green, and leaves are falling uncontrollably from their branches; and some trees are completely bare!

If this alarming trend continues, soon there will not be a single leaf on any tree!

Sound silly? I hope so. Here in the northern tier of states, we go through this sort of thing every 365 days or so, starting sometime around the autumnal equinox. Some areas have a tourist trade centered around folks coming to see the fall colors.

The annual change of seasons happens so fast, and is so (comparatively) regular, that people can hardly help but be aware of it. We've become aware of an 11-year cycle in our sun's energy output; and there are tantalizing indications of long climate cycles, taking thousands to millions of years to run their course.

About the runaway defoliation that's denuding Minnesota's trees - and halting their contribution of oxygen to Earth's atmosphere - I'm not all that worried. I've been through this cycle dozens of times.

And, I'm quite certain that I didn't set off this cataclysmic ecological change by putting extra nectar in the hummingbird feeder, at the beginning of this month.

Related posts: Background:
More about change and getting a grip, at:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Yes! At Last! An OFFICIAL Photo of the American President and His Cabinet!

"Boy, we sure need one of these!"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (September 22, 2009)

"Blog Guy, as someone who is interested in government, I'm wondering if you can find me a photo of President Barack Obama and his whole cabinet together.

"Heck, I can find you an OFFICIAL one! Here is an OFFICIAL photo of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the whole cabinet, taken just a few days ago...."

The author figures this photo shoot cost around $240. Using minimum wage as the salary estimate sounds reasonable, but I'm not sure if it applies here - and I'll let you read his take on why it's OFFICIAL.


Inbound Link Dead! Twitter Did It! (maybe so, maybe not)

"Has Twitter killed the inbound link?"
SEO Scoop (September 21, 2009)

"If you believe the hype, Twitter is the biggest serial killer since Jack the Ripper. Mitch Joel thinks it killed RSS. And there is certainly an element of truth in that. How often do you really check your reader these days…? Be honest. For others, Twitter is the death of Facebook. And there’s no question Mark Zuckerberg is quaking a little. Centralising the platform around status updates and the recent introduction of the @ reply were both aimed at nullifying Twitter's strengths. Some are even brave enough that Twitter could kill Google via real-time search, although surely Google would acquire them before that became a reality. And while I'm not often one to sound the death knell, I'd like to throw one more into the mix. Because I think Twitter may just be killing the inbound link...."

It's an interesting look one facet of the Web's changing face.

As for "killing the inbound link" - Well, I'm a survivor of the food riots and starvation of humanity that didn't happen as predicted by a butterfly expert; I've seen the coming ice age (which would doom civilization) supplanted by global warming (which would doom civilization - and probably kill off the spotted owl); I've seen the 'dying' town I moved to a quarter-century back sprout suburban developments and new businesses - so I don't take pronouncements of doom all that seriously these days.

I do, however, think that things will change. That's remained a constant through my lifetime. Like Heraclitus said, "Nothing endures but change."
A tip of the hat to Twitter_Tips, on (what else?) Twitter, for the heads-up on this op-ed / blog post.

The French Revolution's Calendar: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

"Sept. 22, 1792: Day 1 of Revolutionary Calendar"
This Day in Tech, Wired (September 21, 2009)

"1792: It's 1 Vendémiaire of An I in the French Revolutionary Calendar, the first day of the first month of the first year of the First Republic of France. It’s the day the National Convention proclaimed France a republic, but no one would know about the new system of marking time for another year, when the calendar was imposed retroactively.

"When people who study the French Revolution read about the Uprising of Vendémiaire or the Insurrection of 12 Germinal An III, most simply scratch their heads and wonder, Vendémiaire? Germinal? An III? What's that all about?

"Few ever bother to learn what these dates mean. In fact, they are part of the French Republican Calendar, aka Revolutionary Calendar, which replaced the Gregorian Calendar in France from 1793 to 1805...."

We got quite a bit out of the French Revolution: the metric system of measurement; demonstrations that the guillotine was useful for whacking off heads in wholesale lots; and a career-changing opportunity for a Corsican whose name provided psychologists with the catchy name, "Napoleon complex."

Ah, those were heady years.

It must have seemed such a good idea at the time. All the revolutionaries did was:
  • Overthrow the king
    • Happened all the time in Europe's feudal period
  • Break into churches
    • Hardly a new idea - this was the late 1700s
  • Smash religious statues
    • It'd worked so well for the Lord Protector, about a century before
  • Put a nattily-dressed serious thinker who said terror was a virtue necessary to maintaining the state in charge of the whole blowout
Hey, what could possibly go wrong?

Anyway, the Wired article gives chapter and verse of a new-and-improved calendar (now without those horrid religious holidays!). That lasted a lot longer than many enemies of the state did.

Eventually, France pulled itself back together - with help from that Corsican I mentioned - and went back to using that boring old Gregorian calendar.

One of the features that appealed to me in the 'revolutionary' calendar was putting the start of the year at a logical point in the annual cycle: at the autumnal equinox.

That's a nifty feature. Although if it had caught on, the new calendar wouldn't have stayed in line with Earth's equinoxes. Precession and all that, you know.

The calendar had 12 months of 30 days each. I know: That left them five days short. The slack was taken up by five festivals: one each for Virtue, Genius, Labor, Opinion and Rewards. Groovy.

You Think Daylight Saving Time is Bad? Try Metric Days


"...Revolutionaries even attempted a metric day of 10 hours of 100 minutes each of 100 seconds each. With 100,000 seconds per day, this metric second was about 14 percent shorter than the one we know, of which 86,400 make a complete day...."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Caramal Apple Cream Cheese Cookie Bars: Hear Your Arteries Harden With Every Bite

"Caramal Apple Cream Cheese Cookie Bars!"
Picky Palate (September 10, 2009)

"Good Thursday!

"Phew what a week, school started Tuesday for the boys and we are all still trying to get used to the new schedules. The earlier bedtime has been the trickiest. I have to admit, it’s been 7 years since I’ve had 4 hours to myself in the mornings. I hardly know what to do with myself, ok that was a joke. It’s great and I’m finding plenty to do. Crazy how fast 4 hours fly by!

"Once September hits, I seem to go into 'Fall' mode. I LOVE Fall decorating, the rich colors and all the wonderful comfort foods it brings. These simple little Fall cookie bars are ooey gooey and 'appley' delicious with warm soft caramel oozing off the sides. Hope you all enjoy!..."

Good heavens.

That's a thumbnail of one of the photos that goes with this post. I'm diabetic, so I won't be sampling them - just seeing the pictures made me feel like my blood sugar levels were rising.

There's a recipe - I'm no expert, but these things should be delicious. Not all that hard or finicky to prepare, either.

Man, those cookie bars look good.
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