Saturday, October 31, 2009

Three Kittens and a Tissue Box

"Kitten and his box."

auroral, YouTube (August 16, 2006)
video 1:37

That should give you your daily adult requirement of 'cute.'

There's a conservation plea that goes with this video, with a twist: "...The project is creating jobs at the same time as helping to restore the hunting ground of the endangered cheetah...."

Bats in Space! Cassini Team Sends 'Bats Wishes'

"Happy Halloween"
NASA (October 31, 2009)

"The Cassini team sends 'bats wishes' for a happy, healthy and fun Halloween.

"The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C."

That image is 400 x 300 pixels, half the dimensions of the smallest copy on the NASA website. They've got the picture at Full Size (3600 x 2400), 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, and 800 x 600. It'd make pretty good wallpaper - and the NASA website gives instructions for using the image that way, for most sizes of the image.


Halloween Costumes, Elementary School, Common Sense and (Daft?) New Rules

"Drop the Halloween Mask! It Might Scare Someone"
U.S., The New York Times (October 29, 2009)

"Little Bo Peep would make the cut at the Halloween parade at Riverside Drive Elementary School here on Friday, but the staff she used to menace her sheep would probably have to go...."

"...In a school district in Illinois, students are being encouraged to dress up as historical characters or delicious food items rather than vampires or zombies...."

"... A memo about costume appropriateness sent home recently by Riverside Drive's principal made the following points:

"¶They should not depict gangs or horror characters, or be scary.

"¶Masks are allowed only during the parade.

"¶Costumes may not demean any race, religion, nationality, handicapped condition or gender.

"¶No fake fingernails.

"¶No weapons, even fake ones.

"¶Shoes must be worn.

"Joel Bishoff's children will make the cut at Riverside Drive. His second grader will be Dorothy (not the witch!) from 'The Wizard of Oz,' while his fifth-grade son will wear a costume depicting a box of Wheaties.

" 'I'm not sure what is driving this memo,' Mr. Bishoff said. 'But perhaps it is reaction to years past. Sometimes kids will have those "Scream" masks, but usually not too blood and gutsy. I mean, can't parents have discretion? The fact is, if parents are too stupid to not send kids to school with hockey masks as Jason, they are probably too stupid to read this memo.' ..."

I'm with Mr. Bishoff on this.

I'm also (slightly) sympathetic with the folks who write up those occasionally-daft rules. Some Halloween costumes are downright scary, and I don't think that the producers of 'slasher' films did American culture any favors.

Besides, in today's lawsuit-crazed climate: who could reasonably blame a principal for banning, for example, forks in the cafeteria: on the off chance that Johnny or Janie's parents would sue because their kids were (allegedly) scared of the sharp points?

Actually, the current bans may not go far enough. Coming to a party as a box of Wheaties might be seen as advocating cannibalism. Scary!

A tip of the hat to johnpmack, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Swine Flu Parties"?! Sounds Crazy, But At Least You'll Have Company

"Questions & Answers / 2009 H1N1 Flu ("Swine Flu") and You"
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (October 20, 2009)

"In The News
"What percentage of hospitalizations for 2009 H1N1 flu occur in different age groups in the United States?

"The percentage of hospitalizations for 2009 H1N1 flu in the United States varies by age group. From August 30, 2009 through October 10, 2009, states reported 4,958 laboratory-confirmed 2009 H1N1 hospitalizations to CDC. The percentage of 2009 H1N1 related hospitalizations that occurred among those 0 to 4 years old was 19%; among those 5 years to 18 years was 25%; among people 19 years to 24 years was 9%; among those 25 years to 49 years was 24%; among people 50 to 64 years was 15%; and among people 65 years and older was 7%. For a graphical representation of this data, please see the chart below...."

Most of the page is like that paragraph: informative, useful, but about as exciting as watching paint dry.

I might have posted about it anyway, since it does contain a useful set of Q and A, but what really got my attention was this:

"...What is CDC’s recommendation regarding 'swine flu parties'?
'Swine flu parties' are gatherings during which people have close contact with a person who has 2009 H1N1 flu in order to become infected with the virus. The intent of these parties is for a person to become infected with what for many people has been a mild disease, in the hope of having natural immunity 2009 H1N1 flu virus that might circulate later and cause more severe disease.

"CDC does not recommend 'swine flu parties' as a way to protect against 2009 H1N1 flu in the future. While the disease seen in the current 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak has been mild for many people, it has been severe and even fatal for others. There is no way to predict with certainty what the outcome will be for an individual or, equally important, for others to whom the intentionally infected person may spread the virus.

"CDC recommends that people with 2009 H1N1 flu avoid contact with others as much as possible. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick...."

I think I get it:
  • Catch 2009 H1N1 influenza to work up an immunity to 2009 H1N1 influenza
  • Hope that
    • Yours is one of the non-fatal cases
    • You don't pass it along to your
      • Friends
      • Family
Of course, a person who goes to a "swine flu party" could hope that people he or she infects get a mild case, too. "Hope springs eternal," and all that. I think I'll stick with trying not to catch 2009 H1N1 influenza in the first place.

On the other hand, I may already have it: I had a fever of just over a hundred today, so that cold I've had might be this new flu. Or, something else.


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

Ares I-X Booster Dented: This is Why They have Test Flights

"NASA: Test Rocket Damage Caused by Parachute Failure" (October 30, 2009)

"NASA engineers still aren't sure what went wrong with a pair of parachutes that failed during Wednesday's Ares I-X rocket test flight, causing damage to the spent booster when it splashed into the Atlantic Ocean harder than planned.

" 'There was an indication that we had a parachute problem,' said Ares I-X mission manager Bob Ess on Friday. 'Afterward, when we saw the parachutes we assumed, properly, that [the rocket] must have hit harder than it should have.'

"Ares I-X's first stage solid rocket booster was equipped with three giant 150-foot (46-meter) parachutes. One completely failed to deploy, while one appeared to open about half way, Ess said. The result: The booster was falling faster than expected when it hit the sea, so it buckled under the pressure and dented...."

The bad news is that not everything in the Ares I-X worked exactly the way it was expected to.

The good news is that NASA engineers have a huge volume of data - and the malfunctioning equipment - to work with as they try to figure out why only one and a half of booster's parachutes worked.

I remember the 'good old days' of the space program, when a substantial portion of the rockets blew up - either on the pad, or shortly after liftoff. The matter of a dented booster and uncooperative parachutes needs to be looked into and the problem debugged: but right now it looks like the vehicle as a whole flies the way that the mathematical models said it would.

Which is good news.


"Ares I-X damaged in splashdown, but test was a success; no oscillation"
Orlando Sentinel (October 30, 2009)

"The prototype of NASA's next rocket design sustained serious damage when its parachute recovery system failed and its first stage slammed into the Atlantic Ocean at the end of a test flight Wednesday.

"Ares I-X mission manager Bob Ess said that after the solid-fuel first stage separated from its mock upper stage, one of the rocket's three main parachutes failed completely and another failed to open fully...."

"...He [Bob Ess] said initial information showed that Ares I-X flew according to plan. He described the controllability of the rocket as “rock solid”, and said initial analysis show that the shaking of the rocket on ascent – a potential problem known as thrust oscillation – was minimal.

" 'It's only a preliminary look, but so far the oscillations look very small,' Ess said. 'There was very little there. At this point there is nothing that indicates that thrust oscillation was even a factor.'

"He said it also cleared its launch tower with minimal expected damage from the flame shooting out of the rocket...."

Festive Breakfast? "Breakfest Sandwiches" - a Recipe

"Breakfest Sandwiches"
Notecook (September 27, 2009)

It's a recipe for a "Fast breakfest." The spelling's the same in the title and the text, so I assume that this is a "festive" "breakfast" - "break" "fest" - Pretty good way to make the post stand out, actually.

For people who aren't metricized yet, 200 C is 392° Fahrenheit.

Here's a handy online converter: Good Cooking's Temperature Conversions ("Convert temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius (Centigrade) or from Celsius to Fahrenheit.")

The recipe looks tasty - and fairly simple. They don't give prep time, but the cooking time is 8 minutes, which probably means that the whole process is manageable in the pre-work time slot most of us have.
A tip of the hat to williamcooks, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Throw it Against the Wall, See if It Sticks

"Welcome to 'The WALL'. Here is a place where you can share the lessons you have learned in life. There is no specific format of the content you can submit, so be creative. The purpose of this is for you to share the lessons you have learned in life so far...." ("The WALL," this website's 'about' page)

From the global culture's many multi-millennial-long roots, "wall" could call quite a few allusions to mind. The one that dropped on my mind's front desk was the Western phrase, "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks." It's derived, I'm pretty sure, from practical cookery. "Throw it against the wall" is also a good way of saying that an idea should be tested, to see if it works. is a place where people can share what they've learned in life - and have their experiences and observations compared with others. "Share" sounds nicer than "test" - but it's by sharing experiences that we test our own against those of others.

Enough with the philosophy. looks like a good place to dip into the pool of human experience, and maybe pour a few buckets in.

Recent posts on include:
  • "Dream and Believe"
    • "Here is a great quote from Anatole France about achieving your goals:..."
  • "A Dying Man's Last Words"
    • "Here is a very upsetting but inspirational video for you to watch:..."
  • "Don't Be Ignorant to Someone's Health"
    • "Well, we live in a dog-eat-dog world, and it seems as if we are all competing against each other for what we want and what we need in order to provide for our family. However, there is no excuse for offering a helping-hand when someone’s life is in danger. Check out the following video:..."
  • "Happiness Sunset"
    • "Check out this picture of a beautiful sunset with a happiness quote:..."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NASA Studying Recipe for a Planet

"Simulations Show How Earth-Like Planets Can Form" (October 29, 2009)

"NASA has long followed the water and chemical building blocks of life in the course of space exploration. But most computer simulations that help scientists understand how planetary systems form usually overlooked the chemistry of planets, at least until now.

"A new study has looked for the first time at the dynamics and chemistry of how Earth-like planets form. The approach shows how rocky planets form from the manic swirl of gas and dust in the early planetary systems, and also what chemical building blocks existed in the planets that emerged from the chaos.

'If we're looking for Earth-like planets, it'd be nice to know the chemistry we're after,' said Jade Bond, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a lead author on the study.

"Such a first step has only assessed the chemistry of Earth's solar system, and still needs testing across more dynamical models...."

Well, it's a start. A few philosophy 101 students notwithstanding, we know that Earth exists and that there's life here. It makes sense to start making a model, by starting with the one place we know supports life.

"...Scientists have found that certain temperature profiles reliably match certain chemical profiles, after studying material from meteorites that fell to Earth. Some meteorites still hold the chemical profiles of the early solar system, and can serve as useful real life comparisons for simulations.

"Model results showed that Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed 'wet,' with perhaps enough water to sustain life. But important elements such as nitrogen and carbon did not accumulate during simulated planet formation, which suggests that they needed to arrive by other means to kick start the development of life on Earth...."

Which means there's still quite a bit to learn. Which, in turn, means that this should be an exciting field, at least until what's unknown now becomes known. By which time we'll have discovered more facets of reality that we didn't know existed - and know very little about.


The article does a pretty good job of explaining what the researchers are trying to do - and how it ties in with the fast-growing list of exoplanets that have been spotted.

Related posts, at

Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits: Tiny Packages of Concentrated Cuteness

"Meet the World's Smallest Rabbit"
ZooBorns (October 14, 2009)

(from ZooBorns, used w/o permission)

"Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are the world's smallest and among the rarest. Native only to a single area of Washington State, this once isolated population of Pygmy rabbits usually weighs less than a pound in adulthood and was declared extinct in the wild in the '90s, after the remaining 14 bunnies were scooped up and taken into the equivalent of bunny protective custody.

"This year the Oregon Zoo welcomed 26 of the little guys, bringing this year's total to 73 baby bunnies (kits) among participating breeding facilities. Color is added to the ears in the pictures below so zoo staff can tell the kits apart. ..."

There's more to the article, including a YouTube video (below) and a bit of background on the burrowing bunnies of the Columbia Basin.

It seems that these rabbits aren't quite Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits. Pygmy, yes; rabbit, yes; but part Idaho Pygmy Rabbit. The Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits didn't breed well in captivity. Maybe it was inbreeding, due to a small population - that's the article's explanation - or maybe they went extinct in the wild because they stopped having big families. But what do I know?

What's quite certain is that these undersized rabbits are almost ridiculously cute.

"Baby Pygmy Rabbits, At The Oregon Zoo!"

oregonzoo, YouTube (November 27, 2006)
video, 1:46

Almost-related post:
A tip of the hat to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

You Mean Germans, Japanese and Kenyans aren't All Alike?!

"Culture (Not Just Genes) Drives Evolution" (October 28, 2009)

"Culture, not just genes, can drive evolutionary outcomes, according to a study released Wednesday that compares individualist and group-oriented societies across the globe.

"Bridging a rarely-crossed border between natural and social sciences, the study looks at the interplay across 29 countries of two sets of data, one genetic and the other cultural...."

Well, shazam!

I think some of the silly science I had to learn, back in the seventies, was a reaction to the equally silly science of the 19th century. It's good to see that researchers are starting to look at the data, not just what they'd like as results.

This research is exciting, I think, because it's a start at learning more about differences between groups of people around the world. Not 'proving' that one group is better than another - but how and why we're different.

My guess is that this isn't (by far) the last word on how culture and genetics interact.

"...In China and other east Asian nations, for example, up to 80 percent of the population carry this so-called 'short' allele, or variant, of a stretch of DNA known as 5-HTTLPR...

" is also associated with the impulse to stay out of harm's way.

"By contrast, in countries of European origin that prize self-expression and the pursuit of individual over group goals, the long or "L" allele dominates, with only 40 percent of people carrying the "S" variant...."

As the late Steve Irwin said, "crikey!"

Vaguely-related posts:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ISS Space Station Walkthrough, Looking Ahead

"International Space Station Tour (Part I)"

NASAtelevision, YouTube (January 21, 2009)
video, 9:44

"Astronaut Mike Fincke takes you on a tour of the International Space Station."

This isn't the most intrinsically exciting video you'll ever see. The camera work and narration is about what you'd expect from a better-than-average video walkthrough of somebody's worksite.

What makes it special is that this particular worksite is about 220 miles above Earth. I've been following the space program for over 50 years, and was fascinated by this look inside the International Space Station. Your experience may vary.

There are three more videos in this 'tour' series.

The next video, illustrating the Constellation vehicles and how they could be used, is a bit heavier on production values:

"Constellation Animation November 2008"

NASAtelevision, YouTube (November 26, 2008)
video, 4:55


Ares I-X Booster Test Flight: It's Kind of a Big Deal

"Liftoff! NASA Launches Moon Rocket Prototype on Test Flight" (October 28, 2009)

"A one-of-a-kind NASA rocket soared into the Florida sky Wednesday in a brief but critical test flight of a new booster slated to launch astronauts into space and, eventually, toward the moon.

"NASA's Ares I-X booster, an unmanned prototype of the planned Ares I rocket intended to carry astronauts after the space shuttle fleet retires, blasted off on an experimental mission from the seaside Launch Pad 39B here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

" 'I can't tell you how proud I am of all of ya,' KSC director Bob Cabana told the launch team after liftoff. 'That was just unbelievable, it was spectacular. I got tears in my eyes.'

"After several false starts due to bad weather, the rocket took advantage of a brief break in the clouds to loft at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT)...."

The Ares I-X is long and skinny, and the tallest rocket currently in use. NASA engineers were concerned about that.

It wasn't the aesthetics of the launch vehicle they were thinking of. Although mathematical models of the Ares I-X checked out for stability and being able to handle the stresses of a launch, nobody's tried to actually fly something this tall and this narrow.

This flight demonstrates that the thing will fly - and NASA collected masses of data that'll help fine-tune this launch vehicle.

The article does a pretty good job of discussing the launch and its significance. The only glitch I saw was the spelling of triboelectrification - building a static charge with friction - not "trioboelectrification," as in the article. (Details, details.)

Related posts: More:

1793: Whitney Applies for Cotton Gin Patent

"Oct. 28, 1793: Whitney’s Cotton Gin Patent Not Worth Much"
This Day in Tech (October 27, 2009)

"1793: Eli Whitney applies to patent his new invention: a machine that quickly separates cotton seeds from cotton fibers. The cotton gin was the little engine that could — and did — transform the economy of the South and change the course of American history.

"Young Whitney wanted to become a lawyer but first needed to pay off some debts after graduating from Yale College in 1792. He obtained work as a private tutor at a plantation in Georgia.

"Southern planters were having trouble with their tobacco crops: They were growing too much of it (driving prices down), and tobacco farming was exhausting the soil. Cotton looked like a good alternative. Right along the coast, planters could grow long-staple cotton, which has seeds that separate easily from the valuable fiber.

"Everywhere else, the only cotton they could grow was short-staple...."

Eli Whitney might have gotten rich as a result of his cotton gin, if he and his partner hadn't used the wrong business model.

The Wired article takes you through the invention of the cotton gin, Mr. Whitney's career, why it's called a cotton gin, and how Whitney finally cleaned up, financially.

Bottom line: a pretty good look at on of the 'milestone' inventions in American history. And, a look at the inventor and the culture he lived in.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dutch Merry Go Round Inside Out House Doesn't Spin

"ira koers: merry go round studio, the netherlands"
designboom (October 14, 2009)

"dutch firm ira koers have sent in images of their latest project 'merry go round'. the holiday cottage uses a traditional floor plan, with its rooms opening onto a central hallway and turning it inside out...."

as you can see by the lack of capitalization, this is a very sophisticated and artistic website.

nextthingyouknowtheyllomitpunctuationandspacestoo But e e cummings didn't do that, so I suppose the artistic set won't, either. They're almost stodgy in their adherence to tradition, in a way.

The stylistic oddities of the text shouldn't get in the way: There's not all that much text - but quite a number of impressive photos. And, even more impressive, a floor plan, elevations, and a diagram of the cottage's interior in isometric perspective.

A large portion of the cottage's floor space is devoted to the hallway which runs along all four exterior walls: not exactly an efficient design, in terms of materials or traffic, but it's definitely different. And could be seen as increasing the internal privacy of the residence.

I'm not sure what I think of the slit-like windows. When I'm inside, I like to be able to look out and see more than one tree trunk at a time. But, tastes differ.

Still, as a novelty cottage, this project is quite impressive. And, as a piece of sculpture, attractive in its own way.

Interstingly, despite the "merry go round" name, the cottage does not appear to rotate. Perhaps the name lost something in translation.

Fun With Musical Stairs

"Piano stairs - -"

Rolighetsteorin, YouTube (October 7, 2009)
video, 1:48

"We believe that the easiest way to change people's behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do. We call it The fun theory...."

The idea of making desired behavior fun makes sense. And a musical staircase that makes sounds like a piano when you walk on it is pretty cool. I believe that 66% more people used the stairs after the musical steps were installed - but wonder how long that lasted.

Seems to me that the fun of hearing several rising scales at once might get a old after a few weeks. Or, maybe not.

Another 'Random' Poem

"Troubled Sleep"
Wanderer Thoughts (October 26, 2009)

"Troubled Sleep is about someone having chronic nightmares or visions that weigh on the soul. It is my largest contributed twitter poem with 22 random words (in blue) provided by the following twitter followers:..."

I'll admit to a bit of bias here: One of the words Dragon Blogger used is my contribution: schlemiel.

The poem itself starts with:

"Vestigial dreams like drunken pulp...."

It's remarkable, what a person can do with a list of words which, if not quite "random," were selected by an arbitrary process which did not involve pre-selection by any criteria - other than that they be something that appears in the massive vocabulary of English.

My favorite line is "...insipid despondency worn like a chain...."
A tip of the hat to dragonblogger, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Caves of Mars

"Mars Caves Might Protect Microbes (or Astronauts)" (October 26, 2009)

"A series of newly discovered depressions on the Martian surface could be the entrances to a cave system on the red planet.

"Hints of subsurface tunnels have been found in images of Mars before, but the new evidence is more suggestive, said Glen Cushing, a physicist with the U.S. Geological Survey who discovered the possible caves.

"Such a subsurface system could provide shelter to future Mars-visiting astronauts, as well as a protective habitat to any potential past or present Martian microbes, Cushing said...."

These depressions could be collapsed sections of lava tubes, a fairly common feature on Earth - and which could give shelter from radiation on Mars.

The red planet's intriguing in many ways - but between an effectively non-existent magnetic field and really thin atmosphere, a person could get a really bad sunburn without protection. Assuming something to provide oxygen, of course - we won't be walking outside on Mars in our shirtsleeves for quite a while, if ever. (see "Mars: Water? Probably; Life? Eventually" (July 17, 2008)) (I don't remember posting about terraforming - that's an oversight on my part).

Besides being shelters for astronauts - and eventually settlers - lava tubes on Mars, if they exist, could have preserved Martian organisms. Probably microbes - you'd think we'd have spotted anything the size of, say, a buffalo herd, by now.

Or, maybe there are Martian microbes now. One researcher argued, plausibly I think, that the Viking life experiment may have killed Martian microbes, by flooding them with water in concentrations and amounts they weren't able to handle. (See Exploding Martians and the Viking Life Experiment in "Life on Ceres? Could Be" (March 5, 2009))

Of course, those depressions may not be collapsed lava tubes at all. Mars is like Earth in many ways: but it's not Earth. One way or another, though: I think it's worth exploring.

Or, some people may decide they want to build Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom. Think of the possibilities for tourism!
Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Related posts, at

Northwest Flight 188: Distracted by a Laptop?!

"Pilots Say They Were Distracted "
The Wall Street Journal (October 26, 2009)

"The pilots of Northwest Flight 188 on Sunday told federal investigators that they lost track of time and location -- but never went to sleep -- when they failed last week to respond to air-traffic controllers for more than an hour, according to people familiar with the crew's statements.

"During a session with a team from the National Transportation Safety Board, these people said, the cockpit crew recounted the same sequence of events it previously sketched out for airline superiors: They became distracted in conversation while cruising at 37,000 feet Wednesday night, didn't realize how long the plane had lost radio contact and flew more than 100 miles past their destination. Such a scenario is consistent with the brief statements first officer Richard Cole of Salem, Ore., made to reporters earlier in the weekend...."

Good News, The Flight Crew Wasn't Asleep; Bad News, They Weren't Flying the Plane

So far, the flight crew of Flight 188's behavior comes under the heading of 'yagottabekiddin!'

By the way: If you've been running into some articles talking about "Northwest" and others about "Delta" - they're both right, sort of. The pilots were on a Northwest airliner. Northwest is owned by Delta.

In a way, it's nice to know that members of the flight crew were probably awake. But - doing something on a laptop that was so engrossing that they overshot the airport by 150 miles? And didn't respond to air traffic control?!

This is post-9/11, folks.

There were interceptors ready to go up and deal with the nitwits: to get their attention, in this case, since Flight 188 had a worse-than-useless flight crew. If terrorists had taken over flight 188, I'm not sure what action would be taken. Probably something along the lines of what the passengers and crew of Flight 93 were involved in.

I know: it wouldn't be nice to shoot down an airliner with people in it. But it wouldn't be nice to fly an airliner with people in it into a skyscraper with people in it: and that's been done, folks. The real world tends to have big, hard facts in it, some with sharp edges. We can ignore them - but we get hurt when we do.

As for the dudes on the flight deck of Flight 188, I have some sympathy: I work and play on a computer, and sometimes lose track of time. But I don't play Donkey Kong while driving the family's van.

Related post:

A Thought for the Day: Fences

"Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up."
G. K. Chesterton, The Quotations Page

This idea came up in the dialog of "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), a fictionalized account of St. Thomas More's life - and how he handled being caught between the King's will and God's. Not the most tranquil spot to inhabit.

As I recall, a eager young man had expressed a desire to chase down the devil, no matter how many laws he had to break in the process. Sir Thomas More commended the young man on his zeal to pursue evil, but pointed out that laws were like fences. They work in both directions.

Then Thomas said something like this: 'So you knock down the last fence between you and the devil, and he turns on you: what then?'

I played with the idea of fences and why they're there a few years ago. Don't worry, the story isn't 'religious.'

"The Village, the Fence and the Sign"
Brian H. Gill (1996)
Sir Thomas More was beheaded by King Henry VII of England's government in 1535, recognized as a saint in 1935, and recently declared the patron saint of politicians and statesmen.

Adventure, Inconvenience, and Uninteresting Subjects: Thoughts for the Day

"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered."
G. K. Chesterton, The Quotations Page

He's got a point.

Here's a Chesterton quote I've used as a slogan once or twice:

"There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person."
G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905), The Quotations Page

Want More Halloween Candy? Here's How

"Video: How To Get the Most Halloween Candy"
Serious Eats (October 26, 2009)

"Halloween is serious business for kids. They want candy. Lots of candy. And with a few sleazy and not-so-sleazy tactics, they can get enough candy to last until next Halloween. Some simple tips include wearing a great costume and being an enthusiastic trick-or-treater; mildly more complicated is emptying your pail into a larger sack, changing costumes, and going back for seconds to the houses giving out the best candy."

The Howcast video is two minutes, two seconds long, a quite professional production with (very simple) cartoonish animation. Pretty good advice. And, in the case of Step 3, somewhat unscrupulous.

Plus, there's an explanation of the origins of collecting treats on All Hallows' Eve.
A tip of the hat to williamcooks, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Delayed Gratification? What a Counter-Cultural Concept!

"Alt Text: New Cult Spares Members From Early Adopters' Pain"
Underwire, Wired (October 23, 2009)

"There are many strange religions in this mixed-up, modern world — Discordianism, Pastafarianism, the Church of the Subgenius — but one of strangest and most popular is the Cult of the New.

"People will pay more than twice as much to see a first-run movie compared to seeing it in a second-run theater or renting it and watching it at home. They'll pay $50 for a videogame that will clearly be a $20 'greatest hits' game before too long.

"They buy novels in hardback, comic books in their original run rather than waiting for the anthology. And then there are all those people paying $600 for video cards that, six months from now, will cost less than the shiny, full-bleed folding pamphlets currently being used to advertise the hardware.

"It seems to me that the best way to instantly raise your standard of living is to live in the past...."

"Live in the past"? Sort of: The author suggests picking up entertainment content two years after its release, and running it on the older equipment it was designed for. That's pretty counter-intuitive for many Americans, but I see Lore Sjoberg's point.

The article is light reading, with a good, common-sense message. And funny examples. Like " gets tiring listening to people rave about people playing Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad on the Xbox 360 when you haven't finished The History Channel: Battle for the Pacific yet...."

I thought Sjoberg might have made up that title. But now, Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad actually exists. And, judging by the review, is as tacky as the name suggests.

Exercising patience and restraint? I know: it's radically counter-cultural. But in this case, going against the flow seems to make sense.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Future: Just Like Today, Only Different

Links to sections of this post's lists:

The Future: Hope, Fear, and Common Sense

There are technophiles and technophobes: people who are either attracted to, or frightened by, technology. I'm a bit of a technophile. It runs in the family. Arba Zeri Campbell was the first person with a telephone in his part of the world: and had to wait a long time before it rang.

But I don't buy into the old 19th-20th century idea that science and technology will solve all our problems: or the more recent one that science and technology are bad and will kill us all.

My take on humanity and technology is reflected in a really old joke:

"Hundreds of thousands of years ago, man learned how to make fire.

"Generations later, man learned how to put out fires."

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The Sentient Cities are Coming: But First, Park Benches With Attitude

"Sentient cities may answer back"
BBC (October 16, 2009)

"It may look like an ordinary rubbish bin, but don't let that fool you. Throw an aluminium can in here and you'd be none the wiser, but try chucking a plastic bottle away, and with an angry buzz it will throw it back out at you, fans whirring to rid itself of the wrong kind of rubbish.

"This is the 'smart trash can', part of the 'Toward the Sentient City' exhibition in New York, which explores how our lives might change when we can embed computers in anything and everything. ..."

Then there's the bench, that lets people know if they've sat on it too long. (I'm not making this up.)

(from BBC, used w/o permission)
"Among 'smart' technologies on show at the Sentient Cities exhibition was a bench that tips people off if they sit too long"

The BBC article's about "five projects commissioned for the exhibition by the Architectural League of New York." The others include Trash Track (MIT), Amphibious Architecture (New York and Columbia universities) and Natural Fuse (Usman Haque).

Judging from previous predictions of "The Future," I'd be moderately surprised if any of these projects foreshadowed exactly what cities will be like fifty to a hundred years from now.

The idea of trash cans that can tell who's trashing recyclables, and park benches with attitude, though, seem to be part of a trend that's driving 'privacy' advocates bonkers.

I live in a small town, and have lived in both rural and metropolitan areas. There's something to the joke about small towns: 'If you've forgotten what you've done today, ask someone: they'll know.'

It's not so much that small towns lack privacy - we've got lots of that. It's why we have shades on our windows. (But they've got to be down: FOXNews October 22, 2009.)

What smart trash cans and benches may do is remove another layer of the anonymity city folks have enjoyed for so long. Security cameras made it possible to tell who took extra newspapers from the vending machine, blew through the toll booth, or couldn't be bothered with a stop light.

Such oppression!

And now, They are likely to be watching to see who recycles and who doesn't.

Me? I'm hopelessly stodgy: so I'm not quite so worried about these new threats to 'privacy.'

And, I think the technology's pretty cool.

Curry to the Left of Us, Curry to the Right of Us!

"All About Curry"
Serious Eats (October 18, 2009)

"What Is Curry?

"Curry is an umbrella term for many dishes throughout the world, particularly Asia, that are simmered in or covered with a sauce full of spices and herbs. There is no one specific "curry." It's just a combination of flavors and textures, usually served with meat, chicken, fish, vegetables or even fruit.

"How Curries Vary By Region


"These curries are made with a number of toasted and ground spices (called masala)...."

Okay, despite the title, the Serious Eats post probably doesn't convey all there is to know about curry.

On the other hand, it's got more about Indian, Thai, British, Chinese and Japanese curry than you may already know. Although somehow I wasn't surprised to learn that Chinese curry involved soy sauce.

The post includes links to seven recipes involving curry, and a photo of Vindaloo, a curry dish best served while wearing a hazmat suit. It's a tad spicy.
A tip of the hat to williamcooks, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lemming Tracks: How Can the Lemming Call Himself "Apathetic"?!

All three posts today show that the Lemming cares - quite a lot - about some things. So how can the Lemming call himself "apathetic"?

This blog's first post discussed its name, and I revisited that topic a few months later. ("Why 'Apathetic Lemming of the North?' " (September 9, 2007)), "Rise of Apathetic Lemming of the North" (July 22, 2007))

A sentence from that first post gives an idea of why the Lemming is, by America's dominant culture's standards, "apathetic:"

"...I am not particularly interested in the great causes some of this continent's coastal cultures: the oppression of the spotted owl, for example...."

Briefly, I care - quite a lot - about people, and about (some) issues. But I don't care intensely, passionately and cluelessly about the 'right' issues. Which makes me a lemming (someone following something other than the dominant culture's approved ideas) and apathetic in the culturally-normative sense (someone who doesn't share the dominant culture's obsessions).

The Lemming Must One of Those Conservative Bloggers We've Been Warned About

I've been labeled as "conservative" - and one of my blogs got placed on a 'best conservative blogs' list. That's okay. Labels are useful things, and America's dominant culture seems to have decided that anybody who's not "liberal," and not "moderate" or "undecided," must be "conservative."

And some of my positions show that I'm obviously conservative.

Others show that I'm obviously liberal.

It's not that I'm inconsistent - or schizophrenic - I'm Catholic. (A Catholic Citizen in America (November 3, 2008))

Yeah, one of those people.

The Lemming, Relevance, and Tomorrow's Posts

Maybe you've read about the late sixties and early seventies, when "relevance" was king. Or queen, Or something. Kings - or anything obviously male - weren't all that "relevant" back then.

I lived through it, got out with most of my neurons intact, and don't ever want to go back.

I like the music, though. Like Alice Cooper's "School's Out," Jefferson Airplane and the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Too bad about Jimmi Hendrix.

As a rule, the Lemming writes posts about fairly neutral things: like interior design, cute animals, humor and - recently - the weird(er) side of high fashion.

But sometimes a topic or three comes up that the Lemming cares about - like today. What can I say? The Lemming is "apathetic" - but some things I do care about.

Tomorrow, though, is another day: and I expect that the Lemming will be back with a more general-interest run on posts.

We'll see.

Today's Un-Groovy, Un-Relevant Posts: Related posts:

Bong Water and an Un-Groovy Minnesota Court

"Minn. court: Bong water can count as illegal drug"
The Associated Press (October 22, 2009)

"In Minnesota, bong water can count as an illegal drug...."

Like, how un-groovy! This isn't the, like, sixties, any more, is it?

There was a dissenting opinion in the court, and I haven't made up my own mind about the decision. This has made national news, though, one way or another: FOXNews's AP article ends with "...'They're treating Ms. Peck, who had two tablespoons of bong water, as if she were a major drug wholesaler,' he said.

"Delapena said Peck's case now goes back to the trial court, where he said prosecutors could use the ruling to try to extract a guilty plea to a more serious offense with a stiffer sentence than a $300 fine on a petty misdemeanor. He laughed at the suggestion that it means dope smokers should empty their bongs promptly.

" 'I wouldn't presume to draw that lesson,' he said. 'I would just stick with the legal lessons.'..."

Like I said, I haven't made up my mind about this decision - not that my opinion would make a whit of difference.

On the one hand, although bong water can be used to get a secondary high - water is a marvelous solvent - considering the water-to-dope ratio, counting bong water as a controlled substance - and using the weight of the water to determine amount - seems a trifle extreme.

On the other hand, I don't - in general - approve of people using chemicals to mess with their brains. That includes alcohol. I'm not a teetotaler, but I don't think that drinking to get drunk is a good idea.

Which makes me hopelessly un-hip, grossly un-groovy, and definitely not on Professor Leary's cheering squad.

The Lemming Needs Drugs - But It's Not What You May Think

I recently ran into some folks who announced that they would never have a problem with alcoholism, because they were happy, sensible, self-controlled people with no need for something to buffer them from the world.

I'm happy for them.

Me? Like I say, I'm not a teetotaler, but I did have a very real problem with alcohol abuse a few decades back. Not diagnosable alcoholism, but close enough to get my attention.

About those magic mushrooms and other magic carpet rides? I never felt a need to "turn on, tune in, drop out" - no great virtue on my part. The way my brain is wired, all I have to do is take my foot off the brake: and I get all the trips I need.

Northwest Flight 188 Overshoots MSP - Time to Reconsider Humans on Flight Crews?

"Northwest Flight Misses MSP Airport" (October 22, 2009)

"Were you on flight 188? Call us @ 952-946-5767"

"The NTSB is investigating a case of distracted pilots at the controls after a Northwest Airlines flight overshot the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by about 150 miles.

"According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Northwest Flight 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis lost radio contact with air-traffic controllers around 6:56 p.m. CDT on Wednesday. The Airbus A320, cruising at 37,000 feet, was carrying 144 passengers and five crew, said Delta.

"At 7:58 p.m. CDT, the plane flew over MSP Airport and continued northeast for approximately 150 miles. The MSP air traffic controller reestablished communications with the crew at 8:14 p.m. and said that the crew had become distracted and had overflown MSP, and requested to return to Minneapolis..."

The pilots apparently were discussing airline policy while the autopilot kept the airliner safe - 37,000 feet over the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.

I'm heartily grateful that one of the crew stayed focused.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about banning humans from critical decision-making positions: although AI research and development hasn't produced robots capable of matching the best human decision-making. (I'm only half-joking about this: September 8, 2009, April 25, 2009, April 7, 2008, March 3, 2008, October 11, 2007)

123-Foot Cruise Missile Targets American City

This isn't, putting it mildly, the point in history when it's a good idea for an American airliner's crew to aim at a metropolitan area, go on autopilot, and stop responding to traffic control.

The Airbus A320 wasn't designed as a cruise missile, but neither were the airliners that took down New York City's World Trade Center and put a hole in the Pentagon, back in 2001. Even after a flight from Denver, I'd guess that Flight 188 had enough fuel on board to turn the IDS Tower into a torch.

Which helps explain the American military's response:

"...Military fighter jets in two locations were on alert after communication was lost with the NWA plane. Pilots were in the jets on the tarmacs, fueled up and waiting for orders...."

I'm pretty sure the pilots would have tried communicating with those nincompoops in the cockpit, before getting orders to shoot the Airbus down. We've been through something like this before. ("Six Years Ago, Tomorrow: Remembering 9/11," Another War-on-Terror Blog (September 10, 2007), excerpt about Flight 85)

The FOX9 article includes a link to the Flight Track Log at

If Flight 188's flight crew decides to defend their right to put the lives of their cabin crew and passengers in danger, things could get interesting. That particular Airbus had an older cockpit voice recorder: one that only retains the last 30 minutes of cockpit chatter. (FOXNews) So the pilots could play dumb.

"Apathetic"? I've discussed this earlier today.

NASA's X-37 Project, New Technologies, and - EEEK! the Military!!

"Air Force's Secretive Space Plane Nears Maiden Voyage " (October 22, 2009)

"You would think that an unpiloted space plane built to rocket spaceward from Florida atop an Atlas booster, circle the planet for an extended time, then land on autopilot on a California runway would be big news. But for the U.S. Air Force X-37B project — seemingly, mum's the word.

"There is an air of vagueness regarding next year's Atlas Evolved Expendable launch of the unpiloted, reusable military space plane. The X-37B will be cocooned within the Atlas rocket's launch shroud — a ride that's far from cheap.

"While the launch range approval is still forthcoming, has learned that the U.S. Air Force has the X-37B manifested for an April 2010 liftoff...."

The practical side of this article tells that the X-37 project is moving along. Slowly, but it's moving. That part is, for me, rather exciting. It's good to see that NASA is doing research and development for next-generation reusable vehicles like the Space Shuttle.

The rest is a discussion of the serious concerns of globally-minded persons, diligent in their efforts to constrain efforts by the military-industrial complex (the phrase isn't used, BTW) to sully the purity of space with their engines of oppression. Or, this culture's usual background noise of peackniks: it depends on your point of view.

Here's a sample:

"...'The problem with it [X37-B] is whether you see it as a weapons platform,' said Theresa Hitchens, former head of the Center for Defense Information's Space Security Program, now Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva, Switzerland...."

Me? I think it would be very nice if everybody would be nice, and agree to stop being nasty. I also think that there's little in the five millennia or so of human history to suggest that the world's Caligulas and Pol Pots will be willing to go along with such a nice idea. (I'm pretty sure Pol Pot still has his fans - after all, there's the 79% of Cambodia's population that he didn't kill.)

Isn't the Lemming Supposed to be Apathetic?

I've posted an explanation of this blog's name. Briefly, the Lemming is "apathetic" in the sense that I don't care deeply, passionately, irrationally, about the 'right' things.

X-37 and NASA

For a super-secret, hush-hush project, NASA has quite a bit about the X-37 online:


"NASA's X-37 is an advanced technology flight demonstrator, which will help define the future of space transportation - pushing technology into a new era of space development and exploration at the dawn of the new century. The X-37 will test and validate...."

There are quite a few pictures, too: Artists' renderings of the X-37, for the most part.

On the other hand, the most recent press release I saw was from April, 2004. So, if I wanted to, I could weave a tale of suspense and intrigue about what the X-37 project is really about. It wouldn't be true (at least I seriously doubt that space aliens, the Girl Scouts, and Elvis are involved), but it might be fun.

Sadly, for that I don't have time.

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