Thursday, December 31, 2009

Catch That Ostrich! The Video

"Dirty Jobs-Ostrich Farm"

kelbrit, YouTube (October 3, 2007)
video, 7:19

"Mike trys [!] to round up some ostrichs [!] for travel"

Watching Mike Rowe, it's pretty clear why you don't see ostriches as pets all that often.

The video quality is adequate - but from the 'good old days' of YouTube. The audio only came through one of my earphones - but you won't need stereo to enjoy this clip from Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."

Asteroid 99942 Apophis: Radical Waves in 2036?

"Russia May Send Spacecraft to Asteroid"
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (December 30, 2009)

"Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth, the head of the country's space agency said Wednesday.

"Anatoly Perminov said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, telling Golos Rossii radio that it would invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

"When the 885-foot asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37, but have since lowered their estimate...."

Right now, it's very, very likely that Apophis will miss Earth in 2029. That's the good news. The bad news is that there's a chance that Apophis will pass through a sort of "keyhole" in space near Earth, where Earth's gravity will change it's orbit. The new orbit - if Apophis goes through that very small "keyhole" - would send the asteroid around the sun exactly once every 7/6ths of our years.

If that happens, and it isn't all that likely: Sunday, April 13, 2036, will be a very bad day.

"...If the dice do land the wrong way in 2029, Apophis would have to be deflected by some 5000 miles to miss the Earth in 2036. Hollywood notwithstanding, that's a feat far beyond any current human technology. The fanciful mission in the 1998 movie Armageddon—to drill a hole more than 800 ft. into an asteroid and detonate a nuclear bomb inside it—is about as technically feasible as time travel. In reality, after April 13, 2029, there would be little we could do but plot the precise impact point and start evacuating people...."
(Popular Mechanics)

Mining an Asteroid as Technically Feasible as Time Travel?

I'm inclined to agree that we're not all that close to starting a fairly large mining operation on an asteroid. Not in the next couple decades, anyway.

I wouldn't have compared it to time travel, though: since we've got equipment that can move large quantities of rock, mud, ice, or most other solid or liquid materials right now. Google 'mining equipment manufacturers,' and you'll find quite a list. The trick would be getting the machines to work in a vacuum, and moving them to Apophis.

I think the point Popular Mechanics was trying to make was that if Apophis is going to be moved, the sooner it's done, the more possible it will be.

Dude! 50-Foot Waves?!

If - and it's fairly long odds - Apophis does hit Earth in 2036, it's likely to make quite a splash.

"...According to projections, an Apophis impact would occur somewhere along a curving 30-mile-wide swath stretching across Russia, the Pacific Ocean, Central America and on into the Atlantic. Managua, Nicaragua; San José, Costa Rica; and Caracas, Venezuela, all would be in line for near-direct hits and complete destruction. The most likely target, though, is several thousand miles off the West Coast, where Apophis would create a 5-mile-wide, 9000-ft.-deep 'crater' in the water. The collapse of that transient water crater would trigger tsunamis that would hammer California with an hour-long fusillade of 50-ft. waves...."
(Popular Mechanics)

Again, it's good news / bad news.

The good news would be that surfers on the Pacific coasts would have an hour of really, really big waves.

The bad news is that, in all likelihood, their favorite surf shops wouldn't be around afterward. And neither would the cities they live in.

99942 Apophis: Move It or Break It?

Assuming that it wouldn't be good if Apophis hit Earth, and I think that's a safe assumption: Is nudging it into another orbit the only solution?

That Popular Mechanics article gives the mass of Apophis as 25,000,000 tons. If it came down more-or-less in one piece, that would be very bad. On the other hand, thousands of tons of dust fall on Earth, or are swept up by our planet, every day. Exactly how much seems to be unknown. A rather old article in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada gave estimates on 1,800 or 2,700 tons a day, depending on how fast the dust was moving, on average, relative to Earth. That's dust, mind you: not meteors. But that seems to be at least one of the sources for the "thousands of tons" estimate that other resources say falls on us daily.

Long, short or metric ton? Good question. The estimated dustfall numbers are fairly approximate, anyway, so I'm not going to try to track down which of many "tons" that article referred to.

Let's say it's 2,000 tons of dust/day - year in and year out.

Apophis weighs around 25,000,000 tons. 25,000,000 divided by 2,000 is 12,500. So, if Apophis was blown to bits, but the expanding pile or rubble stayed on a collision course for Earth - we'd have a day where over 10,000 times the usual amount of debris would fall out of the sky.

Depending on how big the pieces were, that could mean trouble for anyone near the impact point: or an incredible light show in the sky. And probably lawsuits from people who were scared or annoyed and figured they ought to sue someone.

Nudging the asteroid out of the way is probably the best idea: but it seems to me that there are alternatives.

And, I'm glad to see that someone on the planet is at least talking about getting ready. Yes: the odds are that Apophis will miss Earth entirely, both times around. But if it turns out to be on a collision course: it would be nice to have something in the planning stages, at least.

Related posts: More:
Update (January 1, 2010)

"Russia May Attack Asteroid That's Virtually No Threat " (December 30, 2009)

"Russia is considering a plan to launch a spacecraft capable of moving a huge asteroid in a bid to protect Earth from an impact, but the target space rock poses virtually no threat to our planet and moving it could actually make matters worse, experts say.

"American astronomer Paul Chodas, part of NASA's Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program Office, said Wednesday that claims by a top Russian space official that the asteroid Apophis would definitely crash into Earth around 2036 are inaccurate.

" 'That's not right,' Chodas told 'The probability of an impact is going down.'

"Anatoly Perminov, chief of Russia's Federal Space Agency, said today that his agency will soon hold a special meeting to discuss a potential mission to Apophis, according to Russian wire reports. Perminov spoke on the Voice of Russia radio and said experts from the United States and other nations and space agencies would be able to join the project once the details are set.

"Perminov said he had heard of Apophis' threat to Earth from a scientist who had calculated that the asteroid was getting closer and would 'surely collide with Earth in the 2030s,' according to Russia's RIA Novosti news service...."

I should probably have included the odds, as stated in the AP article:

"...NASA had put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 as 1-in-45,000. In October, after researchers recalculated the asteroid's path, the agency changed its estimate to 1-in-250,000.

"NASA said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact...."

odds of 1-in-250,000 - or even 1-in-45,000 - are hardly what I'd use as the basis for saying that something will "surely collide." But then, I'm not with the Russian space program, or RIA Novosti. Maybe the idea of a "sure thing" is different over there?

Or, more reasonably, we're looking at a really effective publicity campaign. Look at if this way: if some hypothetical nation got people believing that they, and only they, were prepared to Save the World from a raging asteroid; and then the predicted time of impact came and went; they'ed be heroes!

Whatever the thought process over there, I'm glad that someone's at least making a sort of test run for asteroid deflection. Sooner or later we'll be looking at something better than 1-in-45,000 odds. Or, rather, in this case: worse.

Asteroid Impact? Yes; Dinosaur-Killing Firestorm? Maybe Not

"Dinosaur-Killing Firestorm Theory Questioned" (December 28, 2009)

"New research challenges the idea that the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs also sparked a global firestorm.

"Scientists modeled the effect that sand-sized droplets of liquefied rock from the impact had on atmospheric temperature. The asteroid is thought to have gouged out the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

"It was previously thought that the falling spherules, as the tiny rocks are called, heated up the atmosphere by several degrees for up to 20 minutes — hot enough and long enough to cause whole forests to spontaneously burst into flames.

"As evidence for this, scientists pointed to what appears to be carbon-rich soot from burned trees discovered in the thin band of debris dating back to the impact some 65 million years ago, a shift in geologic time called the K-T boundary...."

If the new mathematical model is a closer approximation to what actually happened, the first bits of molten sand slowed down as they fell through the atmosphere, forming an opaque cloud which insulated the surface from (some) of the heat.

It still was a really bad day, followed by quite a number of really bad years.

That soot came from somewhere, though: looks like something caught fire about the same time that the impact happened. One possibility mentioned in the article is petroleum. The area around the Chicxulub impact site is oil-rich today - so the K-T boundary may be evidence of a gargantuan oil field fire.

Related posts:
More in this blog:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worst Women's Fashions for 2009

"Manure couture: Top 10 worst women's fashions"
Oddly Enough Blog, Reuters (December 29, 2009)

"Readers say to me, 'Bob, I know you cover crap fashion better than anybody. Are all dumb fashion creations equally bad, or is there an actual bottom of the barrel?'

"My answer is, while we probably haven't seen the bottom of the barrel yet, some stupid creations are certainly worse than others.

"For one thing, you have to give designers credit if they are able to convey that they have absolutely no respect for women and are willing to degrade them in public. Surely that's worth something!

"So here is my 10 worst list for women in 2009...."

I've already posted micro-reviews about some of these, like "The pipes, the pipes are calling…." Here, though, you have the top ten worst women's fashions for 2009, in the opinion of the Oddly Enough blogger. He could be right - although, as he concedes, he hasn't reached the bottom of the barrel.

I see his point. Just when you think it can't get any worse - like the collection that looked like a "skankfest of zombies" (October 13, 2009), out come models with plastic piping coming out of their heads. (November 3, 2009)

It's Robert Besler's blog, so I won't contest his choice of the worst this year. But the choice must have been difficult. Particularly since one of the designers had apparently gone dumpster-diving in search of materials. His models looked like they were wearing garbage. Maybe they were. (March 17, 2009)

Related posts:

Black Hole, Water on Mars - and the Moon, Rocky Exoplanet, More: One Take on 2009's Astronomical Big Deals

"9 Astronomy Milestones in 2009" (December 28, 2009)

"This year provided plenty of cosmic eye-openers for astronomers and casual stargazers alike. Neighborhood planets such as Mercury and Jupiter received makeovers in both a scientific and literal sense. The discovery of water on the moon and Mars provided clues to the past, not to mention hints for the future of space exploration. A class of newly-detected 'Super-Earth' planets around alien stars may ultimately prove more habitable than Earth. And a growing fleet of existing, new and revived space telescopes promises another stellar year ahead.

"Here are the stories that stood out:

"9. Oddball Objects

"Earth had a front row seat to a multitude of space objects in 2009, with stunning meteor showers, wayward space rocks buzzing the planet and weird lights in the sky – both natural and man-made.

"Annual light shows such as the Leonid meteor shower continued to dazzle, but some space rocks came a bit too close for comfort. An asteroid exploded over Indonesia with the force of several Hiroshima bombs on Oct. 8, 2009, and became the biggest space rock to take aim at Earth in more than a decade...."

The list goes on, with links to related articles like the one I included in that quote. The items are in the familiar 'countdown' order, like "8. Mercury, Unmasked" and "4. First Rocky Planet Around Alien Star."

The article does a pretty good job of summarizing each of the nine big deals the folks chose as the top items relating to astronomy in 2009.

Rocky Planet Horror Show

That heading almost makes sense. Keep reading.

One of this year's big deals, "4. First Rocky Planet Around Alien Star," is about COROT-7b: a planet that's 400 or 500 light years away, depending on which account you read. The planet orbits a G9 star in the constellation Monoceros: Our star is spectral class G2. At that range, working out exact distances for a star is tricky. Then, there's the matter of editorial decisions when it comes to rounding off numbers.

Anyway, COROT-7b made it into the December issue of Sky and Telescope, too. (Vol. 118, No. 6, p. 14 - if you don't have it, your local library might)

What made it possible to figure out that COROT-7b was a rocky world, like the one we're standing on, is that astronomers were able to measure its diameter. COROT-7b passes in front of its star on each orbit, as seen from Earth. By carefully measuring the 1-part-in-3,000 dimming of the star, astronomers got a diameter of 4.8 times the diameter of Earth - give or take 0.8 Earth-diameters.

With the mass of COROT-7b known by how much its star wobbles, the average density of the planet can be determined: 5.6 grams per cubic centimeter. Give or take 1.3. Earth's average density is 5.51 grams per cubic centimeter.

With an average density that close to our home planet's, odds are that COROT-7b is made of a mix of metal and rock, like Earth.

Don't make vacation plans, though. Even if we could get there, the weather is awful. When it rains on COROT-7b, it rains rock. (October 1, 2009)

Somewhat-related posts:
Other posts, about Related posts, at

"Best Job in the World" - But Beware the Jellyfish

"Ben Southall stung by an irukandji jellyfish"
The Courier Mail (Australia) (December 30, 2009)

"Best Job in the World winner Ben Southall has been stung by an irukandji jellyfish after ignoring Tourism Queensland advice to wear a stinger suit.

"Mr Southall was stung on his elbow while jet-skiing off Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays on Sunday, less than a week before his $150,000 Best Job in the World gig ends.

"The former British charity worker yesterday tweeted and blogged about his 'crazy 24 hours' following the potentially deadly jellyfish sting.

" 'Feeling 100% again after an irukandji sting while jet skiing,' he tweeted. 'Horrible incident. Lesson learnt – always wear a stinger suit.'..."

I can see why Ben Southall didn't wear a stinger suit: he was jet skiing, and jellyfish aren't known as high-speed swimmers. In 20-20 hindsight, of course, it's obvious that going suitless wasn't an entirely prudent decision.

Getting stung by this sort of jellyfish is no joke: given the right, or wrong, conditions, an irukandji sting can be - and has been - lethal.

Mr. Southall's "best job in the world" is part of a Queensland tourism promotion, intended to show the world what a great place Queensland is. I hope this little run-in with a jellyfish doesn't affect Mr. Southall's pay - or get him into trouble with the promoters.

I live Minnesota: where water is a mineral this time of year. It warms up in the summer, of course: then, you've got mosquitoes, leeches, and other invertebrate bloodsuckers to deal with, along with the occasional patch of scorching heat and the odd tornado. Apart from that, though: this is a great place to live!

And, as long as you learn to live with deadly little jellyfish, I'm sure Queensland is, too.

More, about the irukandji jellyfish (rather redundant titles, aren't they?):

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Sun and The Fluff

"Fluffy Mystery at Edge of Solar System Solved" (December 23, 2009)

"Our solar system is passing through a cloud of interstellar material that shouldn't be there, astronomers say. And now the decades-old Voyager spacecraft have helped solved the mystery.

"The cloud is called the 'Local Fluff.' It's about 30 light-years wide and holds a wispy mix of hydrogen and helium atoms, according to a NASA statement released today. Stars that exploded nearby, about 10 million years ago, should have crushed the Fluff or blown it away.

"So what's holding the Fluff in place?

" 'Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system,' explained Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. 'This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together ["The Fluff"] and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all.'..."

The Voyager spacecraft aren't in The Fluff yet, but they're close enough to pick up its magnetic field.

So now astronomers have a really good idea what's holding The Fluff together. Next, I figure they'll be trying to discover what's generating the magnetic field.

More, about The Fluff:

Zebras and the Quagga: Horses With Stripes

"Horse Tigers"
Nature, PBS (Online content originally posted August, 2001)

"When it comes to zebras, it's not all black and white. These spirited, striped African horses have rich, complex lives, as NATURE's Horse Tigers shows.

"There are actually three kinds of zebras that wander Africa's grasslands and forests. By far the best known and most common is the Plains zebra, the stocky little grazer often seen milling amidst the herds of wildebeest and giraffes in many a wildlife film. Less known and rarer are the Grevy's and Mountain zebras, which despite similar striping live very different lives.

"Plains zebras, for instance, live in highly organized social groups, with a stallion overseeing a small group of mares and their foals...."

There's more, about Hartmann's zebra (there's about 15,000 of them now), and the Quagga, among other things.

The Quagga may - or may not - have existed back in the 1800s. Whatever the case, some people are trying to "restore" the Quagga - my guess is by reverse-engineering existing equids. We human beings are pretty good at taking plants or animals and changing them into something else. If some folks want the Quagga to exist - I think it will.

Related posts:

Pandora? Yeah: It Could Exist, Based on What We Know

"Moons Like Avatar's Pandora Could Be Found" (December 27, 2009)

"The new science fiction blockbuster 'Avatar' is set on habitable and inhabited moon Pandora, which orbits the fictional gas giant Polyphemus in the real Alpha Centauri system.

"Although life-bearing moons like Pandora or the Star Wars forest moon of Endor are staples of science fiction, astronomers have yet to discover any moons beyond our solar system. However, they could be science fact, and researchers might soon not only be able to spot them, but also scan their atmospheres for key signs of life as we know it, such as oxygen and water.

" 'If Pandora existed, we potentially could detect it and study its atmosphere in the next decade,' said astrophysicist Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass...."

That word, "potentially," covers a lot of ground. According to the article, the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope's system could analyze a moon's atmosphere - if the moon and its planet passed between their star and Earth at intervals. My guess is that the odds aren't particularly good for the host planet's orbit to line up like that.

On the other hand, with hundreds of known planets orbiting other tars - and more being found on a fairly regular basis - it's not at all impossible that we'd find a transiting planet-moon system orbiting another star.

The article does a pretty good job of discussing what it would take for the moon of a gas giant to be habitable, based on what we know about radiation belts and tidal forces in the neighborhood of worlds like Jupiter Saturn.

More about the setting of Avatar: Sort-of-related posts: Related posts, at

A Sort-of-New Wii Fit Review

"Wii Fit Plus review"

DJReidak, YouTube (December 21, 2009)
video, 9:19

"This is me reviewing the Wii Fit Plus. Overall, I give it a 9/10. there are still a couple things I don't like about it, but overall it is good."

This is a sort of followup to DJReidak's video review of Wii Fit.

I'll admit to a bias in evaluating "Wii Fit Plus review." DJReidak is my son. He's also in his early teens: so this review isn't the sort of thing you'd see on CNN.

On the other hand, DJReidak does a pretty good job of walking you through several of Wii Fit Plus's features and games. With occasional commentary: "As you can see, this is not your normal snowball fight. ... they were throwing snow man heads at you. A little disturbing, but fun at the same time...."

There's a fairly favorable content-to-fluff ratio in the video, and enough facts - as well as opinions - to show what Wii Fit Plus is like, and whether it would be worthwhile, upgrading from Wii Fit. In my opinion.

DJReidak's got over two dozen other videos on YouTube, discussing topics from Windows 1.01 and taking apart an old computer to Microsoft Office 2010 and Plants vs Zombies.

Monday, December 28, 2009

If You Think Fine Art Should be Dull and Stodgy, DO NOT VIEW THIS

"Thrilling mad Fine Art seascape painting"

artbytv, YouTube (March 29, 2007)
video, 1:38

"Like oil painting? Let's have some fun. You can do this too. Throw the paint around and get these results. Art is nothing if not wild and magical. Let's do it all together.

"Here's an invite into the inner sanctum of a professional artist's studio. It's not all pretty. We don't apologize for that - it's part of the thrill. Working with Fine Art Techniques and thrilling-mad creative energy, a masterpiece seascape painting is developed from start to finish. You see three month's work in 1.5 minutes...."

The video starts with the artist saying "This is an exercise in atmosphere...."

No doubt it is - but if you're hoping to learn how to create a painting like that - the clip is no more than a gargle at the fountain of knowledge.

And, so there's no mistake: this isn't some "art for art's sake" thing. The folks who put that clip together wouldn't mind a bit if you bought their DVD.

Still, it's one minute and 38 seconds of a lively fellow with an engaging British accent - and some pretty good background music. The painting's not hard to look at, either.

I Told You I'd Post About Gerbils, or Something

"Gershwin the Squeaking Gerbil"

LaHonte, YouTube (March 02, 2009)
video, 0:38

"Our gerbil enjoying a good petting."

And, squeaking.

I thought this was cute, but decided to get a second opinion. My oldest daughter thinks Gershwin is cute, too.

Well, he is a gerbil, after all.

Lost? Nothing Like a Fire to Attract Attention: A Controllable Fire

"Top 5 Survival Signals"
Adventure > Survival > Gear,

"It's cold and dark. Your car is upside down in a snow-covered ditch and you're miles away from the nearest house. Things aren't looking good. In this kind of scenario, you're going to need to depend on your own strength and good sense to survive through the night and until you can get rescued. Knowing some basic survival skills is a good start, as is having a well-stocked emergency kit in your car's trunk. These things will help you live, but getting rescued means you'll need to get the attention of someone else. And when you're 'miles from nowhere,' it's not as easy as getting a cell phone signal or sending an e-mail that says 'HELP.' You'll need to be acquainted with some survival signaling techniques. Lucky for you, the following pages are chock full of them, so click forward if you want to survive...."

The rest is pretty good advice. Like 'make a fire.' The article, which extends over several very short pages, does what it can to impress on you that the idea is to make an easily visible, but controlled, fire. In other words, don't set fire to the forest. Or grass.

Smoke signals is in the list. Three puffs is an international standard distress signal, it seems.

You may already know all this - but I figure a review now and again wouldn't hurt.

Santa's Workshop, Pip, and a Disturbing - or Disturbed - Image

Santa's Warehouse, 2009 by ~Norski on deviantART

" 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the shop
Nothing was stirring, you could hear a pin drop.'

"When I created this scene, I wasn't sure how to use it. The poem, "Pip" - that's the first two lines - tells the picture's story. Normally, I wouldn't do a cheap parody of a beloved poem like Clement Clarke Moore's: but I was facing a deadline, had no better ideas, and was getting desperate.

"The poem, and a (much) smaller version of this picture is on one of my blogs: 'Not Your Usual Fluffy Christmas Rhyme', Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette."

On Deviant Art's website, and a few other places online, I'm Norski. Yep: I'm plugging one of my prints.

Yes! You, too, can have "Santa's Workshop, 2009" as a handsome 8 x 10 to hang on your wall! Or, as a fine 4 x 5 print. Just follow the links.

You'll never forget that image. No matter how hard you try, I suspect.

The Lemming will be back, a little later, with a post about fine art, or gerbils, or magnetohydrodynamics, or something.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feline Ping Pong: A New Sport?

"ping pong cat"

mutleey, YouTube (December 13, 2008)
video, 2:00

"cat wants to play ping pong"

Lively music and two minutes of a black cat playing ping pong with two kids. The video has clearly been edited from raw footage - I'm pretty sure that a number of the sections are repeated. But it's fun to watch. Well, I enjoyed it: an you might, too.

It's probably too late for the 2012 London Olympics, but I think we may be looking on a fresh new variation on ping pong here: Ping pong with two players, a table, and a cat. Maybe it could be called feline ping pong. Or cat pong. That sounds weird. Maybe cing cong. No, that reminds me of Fay Wray.

All the Olympic committee needs to do is come up with an Olympic-standard cat, and we're good to go.

I've heard that the Olympics is about meeting and overcoming challenges: and what would be more challenging than a ping pong match, with the reputation of your country at stake, the whole world watching - and a cat trying to catch the ball?

A Serious Diet Meets the Holidays

"Ed Levine's Serious Diet, Week 99: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Serious Eaters"
Serious Eats (December 25, 2009)

"All right, all right, serious eaters. I am going to dispense with the usual blow-by-blow, bite-by-bite, food-by-food description of all the temptations I've been confronted by this holiday season, because let's face it, you've already heard most of it. And frankly, I'm sure all of you are tempted by the same kinds of things this holiday season.

"Everyone is confronted by too many cookies, too much chocolate, too many baked goods of every stripe imaginable...."

If I'm reading Mr. Levine's profile right, he lives in New York City. America is one of those places where food is quite inexpensive, quite a few people work sitting down, and they have quite a bit of disposable income.

Over-eating and under-exercising are a fairly common problem.

Kudos to Ed Levine, for sharing his experiences on the way down: weigh-wise, that is.

Particularly if you life in the 50 states, you'll probably find reminders of your holiday experiences.

He makes a request, which I'll pass along: "...I'd like you to tell me what you have had the hardest time resisting this holiday season (for me, it's been sugar and spiced nuts)...."
A tip of the hat to williamcooks, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Your Dog Won't Whiz in the Snow? Here are Some Reasons

"Why Won't My Dog Go to the Bathroom in the Snow?"
PetLvr (March 27, 2009)

"Many dogs, particularly small dogs and those with short coats, refuse to do their business in deep snow. When Spring blizzards like the one blanketing my city with over a foot of the white stuff hit, that can make life very difficult for dog owners. Pooch scratches at the door, you go out, Pooch sniffs the snow and scratches to go back in...."

This is a new one to me. But then, I'm not all that familiar with dogs. And the ones I've known tend to be like my son-in-law's: around 65 pounds of sheepdog, fur included.

Turns out, it's not just the cold. Odor and texture make a difference to dogs, as cues that it's time to take care of their business.

The post is fairly short, but there's a fair amount of information and advice there.

Like "...Remember to put a waterproof jacket on thin-coated dogs for walks in the cold, and consider using booties if your dog will keep them on...."

Waterproof jacket? Booties?? Well, not everybody has dogs the size of my son-in-law's. Actually, in town, I think it's a good idea to have a dog that can get an afternoon's exercise by taking a brisk skitter up and down the hall.

Which is another topic.
A tip of the hat to PetLvr, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Good architecture really isn't so complicated"

"At Home: Good architecture really isn't so complicated"
Contra Costa Times (December 25, 2009)

"Six of us sat around a conference table, eyes locked on a projection screen. We'd been summoned by the Denver chapter of the American Institute of Architects to look through contest entries to select homes worthy of this year's Architects' Choice Award.

"As far as I was concerned, the AIA might as well have called and asked, 'Would you like to spend a day eating chocolate truffles and sipping champagne?'..."

That gives you a good idea of the tone of this article. A bit further on, the author describes how the judges discussed the houses:

"...The two architects spoke with academic authority on the merits or non-merits of a project's lines, proportions, site appropriateness and choice of materials.

"The editors keenly observed the project's photogenic appeal and how well the interiors and exteriors integrated.

"The housing director made inquiries about costs and sustainability.

"Me, I looked at every home and asked how would I like to live there...."

I like that approach.

Don't get me wrong: I also like to read dreadfully earnest articles about the inscrutable suchness of sustainability, or why making a bunch of cabins look like ready-for-razing metal storage sheds is a good idea. (July 20, 2009)

But it's nice to see someone who is
  1. Interested in architecture
  2. Remembers that buildings are mostly supposed to provide shelter for
    • People and their
      • Activities
      • Interests
The article isn't so much about the entries in the contest, or who the winners were: it's about architecture and how it should be approached.

Another excerpt, from near the end:

"...I realized that although architecture is often cloaked in esoteric mystery, good architecture is clear and accessible: The better architecture is, the more regular people - like me - get it....

"...For any residential architects out there, or those of you working with one, here are design qualities that get rewarded, and some that don't:
  • "Humble is good. This year, ostentation universally got a thumbs down.
  • "Ego check. The more a project was about the client and not about the architect, the better it fared.
  • "True to its roots. Location matters in architecture, too. How well a project fit the site counted. A lot. Homes should not look as if they came from a faraway land...."
That last point is one of the reasons I am still interested in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright - there's good sense in designing homes that fit into the landscape.

If there were only one point I could highlight from the article, it would be this:

"...although architecture is often cloaked in esoteric mystery, good architecture is clear and accessible: The better architecture is, the more regular people - like me - get it...."

The idea that creative work must be incomprehensible to "the masses" - and, preferably, unpopular, is nothing new. Here's a quote from about a century ago:

"By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece." -
"On Detective Novels," Generally Speaking, G. K. Chesterton, from "Quotations of G. K. Chesterton",

Sort-of-related posts:

The Poinsettia Pages: from the University of Illinois

"The Poinsettia Pages"
University of Illinois Extension

The U. of I. has a pretty good website on this traditional Christmas-season plant, with pages on the history of the poinsettia, facts and FAQ (they're nothing if not thorough, it seems), how to select a plant, how to care for it, and a link page.

It looks like a pretty good one-stop place to get acquainted with the poinsettia.

I think I've found out why you don't see all that many poinsettias grown outside, here in Minnesota: the plant is native to Mexico, where it's a perennial that can grow ten feet tall.

We have plenty of bushes and trees that get that tall in Minnesota: but they're able to last out our winters.

Boeing Dreamliner: An Enthusiastic Review, With Photos

"Boeing's 787 Is as Innovative Inside as Outside"
Autopia Wired (December 24, 2009)

"Oh sure, Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner is made of composite materials and it's super fuel efficient, but unless you own an airline, the only thing you care about is how comfortable it is. Boeing knows this, and has striven to give passengers an experience unlike any other airplane.

"The aerospace company decided an all-new airplane needs an all-new interior and went all-out to make the 787's interior as innovative as its airframe, aerodynamics and engines. From the air you breath to the turbulence you (won't) feel to the windows you look through, the passenger experience promises to provide something new at every stage of your flight...."

"...Boeing wastes no time giving passengers a new experience. As soon as you board the Dreamliner, you're greeted by an open area just inside the door. The ceiling resembles a skylight, complete with blue LED lighting that mimics the sky.

" 'They've designed this kind of lounge area instead of coming in next to a galley,' Hamilton says. 'It really gives you a welcoming area instead of entering into somebody's kitchen.'..."

The Wired article has a half-dozen more photos, and a pretty good description of the Boeing Dreamliner. Looks like they've got a fine-looking airliner on their hands. And, that Boeing had the end user in mind in the design.

Developing the Dreamliner hasn't been an entirely smooth road. Almost two years ago, someone noticed that the sophisticated control system of Boeing's airliner could be hacked. Not good news, particularly these days. Well, that was then - and from the lack of fuss since January of 2008, my guess is that Boeing's engineers reviewed and reworked the system.

Although I think it's more in the bells and whistles line, than more central concerns about the airframe and control systems, the Dreamliner's interior lighting is - cool. It's got at least three modes. Or moods. One for boarding, that clear bluish-white look in the photo; another, warmer, illumination; and cool, dim, blue-white for sleep.

I'm not likely to ever be on one of those Dreamliners, but that won't keep me from enjoying the photos. and descriptions.

Related post, in another blog:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Angels, Shepherds, and All That

"Christmas? Yeah, it's a Pretty Big Deal"
A Catholic Citizen in America (December 24, 2009)

"Tomorrow this family will be celebrating a very special occasion: Christmas, the Mass at which we celebrate the birth of our lord, Jesus.

"You've probably heard and read this before:..."

What follows is that bit out of Luke, about the angels and shepherds.

That's a post in another one of my blogs. Once in a while, I do a bit of shameless self-promotion - like now. Besides, I'm planning on taking most of the day off. It's Christmas, you know.

Christmas 2009 Midwest Storm

"Massive Christmas winter storm arrives in US Midwest"
BBC (December 24, 2009)

"A 'humongous' winter storm is spreading across the US Midwest, forecasters say, already affecting holiday travel and cutting power to hundreds of homes.

"The worst of the storm is expected to hit late on Thursday and dump up to 2ft (61 cm) of snow by Christmas Day.

"Icy roads were blamed for the deaths of 12 motorists, mostly in Nebraska, Kansas and Arizona. Some 100 flights leaving Minneapolis were cancelled.

"The US East Coast is still recovering from a record snowfall last weekend...."

The Christmas, 2009, storm is in the news here in Minnesota, and other parts of the Midwest - but we're in the middle of it.

This is BBC!

Apparently, the storm is international news.

I've noticed that weather in the upper Midwest, Minnesota in particular, has impressed people. As one fellow wrote:

"If the Moon was a bit exotic, consider living in Antarctica. Yes, you too can take up residence in a barren desert of ice and snow where it's dark six months of the year and blizzards howl as they blast flesh-cutting shards of ice through the subzero air.
"A bit like living in Minnesota, actually."
("Futurama '64 (4)" Urban Utopias, Tales of Future Past)

In my case, though, I grew up in the Red River Valley of the North: so for me, living in central Minnesota is being "down south."


Christmas Pudding? Certainly: Just Sign This Indemnity Form

"Diners sign Christmas pud waiver"
BBC (December 24, 2009)

"A central London restaurant has insisted that diners sign an indemnity form before eating Christmas puddings, some of which contained silver pieces.

"Some 350 diners at High Timber signed the waiver before eating the desserts, which contained silver charms.

"It read: 'I absolve High Timber from blame should I come to harm including a chipped tooth, or any injury as a result of swallowing it.'

"Restaurant owner Neleen Strauss said it had 'created a bit of a stir'.

"She said: 'I thought it was going to be a pain but decided to do it to cover my backside....'..."
A tip of the hat to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this holiday legal oddity.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Lights: On a Truck

"Truck With Christmas Lights "

(from, used w/o permission)

This photo is described thusly:

"Alaska. Seward Highway. A Christmas truck."

I think that says it all.

But I'll ad a bit, anyway.

I like it. That's an imaginative holiday display. And, a good photo. My opinion.


The Weasel of Christmas: An Idea Whose Time has Come

"Christmas Weasel. by ~Leechman"

At last! The much-maligned weasel is receiving the attention usually frittered away on the likes of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and that red-nosed Rudolph.

Leechman's tribute to the Yuletide Weasel is on the Deviant Art website. What can I say? That lot even lets some of my stuff get online. (Norski)

Okay: unabashed self-promotion done; now back to the weasel.

Minnesota, my home, proudly supports three species of weasels. Okay: maybe not "proudly," but you'll find short-tailed weasel, long-tailed weasels, and the least weasel. And, no: short-tailed weasels are not long-tailed weasels that lost an argument with a snow blower.

Short-tailed weasels are a different species - and, if you like, you can call them "ermine."

Which raises an interesting question: Why does "ermine" remind some folks of European royalty, and "weasel" of unsavory characters? Which, now that I think of it, have occasionally been the same individuals. Never mind.

Something I learned about weasels, researching this post: They glow in the dark. Or, rather, their coat fluoresces when you shine ultraviolet light ("black light" we called it, back when) on them.

Which should have made them popular party animals, back in the sixties.


A Thought for the Day: Which People Talk About What Things

"Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine."
"Fran Lebowitz, US writer and humorist (1950 - ), The Quotations Page

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Better Ideas From Unscrupulous Manufacturers: Christmas, Incendiary LED Lights

"LED Christmas lights don't cut it: holdouts"
CBC (December 22, 2009)

"Holdouts to the LED Christmas light revolution are finding it harder to get replacement bulbs for well-loved incandescent strings that have been passed on within families.

"Steve Walls of Oklahoma has been using the same old-style, torpedo-shaped Christmas lights for years. But to replace the half-dozen or so bulbs that burned out last year, Walls had to visit eight stores before he found any.

" 'They're not the same. They're weird looking. They're sized different and have these unusual ripples. If you have those interspersed with your traditional lights, they're going to look dumb,' he said.

"Many people aren't willing to trade the brighter, colourful halo effect on the incandescent light for the softer glow of a light-emitting diode, or LED. As retailers increasingly stock the more energy-efficient lights, lovers of the classic lights scramble to find them, fearing they will soon be gone from shelves for good...."

Aside from the personal, cultural and aesthetic impact the new LED lights are having, this CBC article points out a safety concern.

Seems that some strings of LED lights sold in America were recalled. They had an unpleasant habit of melting down and setting fire to things. According to the article, last month Consumer Reports said the 13,000 or so recalled strings had probably-ersatz Underwriters Laboratory labels.

So - check for the UL label, and make sure it looks like the real thing.

Related post: More ideas - good, dubious, and strange - at

Mars Rover Breakdown Leads to New Data

"Mars Rover Makes Discovery While Spinning Its Wheels" (December 22, 2009)

"Even though NASA's Mars rover Spirit has been trapped in the sand for months, the robot has still managed to report new facts about the red planet — all by just spinning its wheels.

"These findings shed light on the history of water on Mars, which might once have supported life.

"For nearly six years, Spirit roamed Mars, experiencing a number of close calls. In fact, the solar-powered robot has driven backwards since its right front wheel jammed in 2006...."

And, spun its wheels. Quite a lot. That's when things got a bit more interesting:

"...Spirit broke through a dark reddish-brown crusty surface that was an inch or so thick, exposing loose, sandy material. As the rover tried to break free, its wheels began to churn the soil, uncovering even more sandy material, bearing 'a higher concentration of sulfate that seen anywhere else on Mars,' [Washington University in St. Louis geologist Ray] Arvidson said.

" 'Sulfates are minerals just beneath the surface that shout to us that they were formed in steam vents or hydrothermal pools, since hot water associated with these systems has sulfur in it,' he explained. 'These deposits are evidence of water-charged explosive volcanism. Such areas could have once supported life.'..."

Or, not. Or maybe there still is life on Mars - adapted to its environment, not the soupy heat and humidity we're used to here on Earth.

What's exciting about the new data is the possibility that Mars may have had liquid water during two epochs: a very ancient time of volcanic activity; and during cycles that are still happening, millions of years long.
Other posts, about Related posts, at

Best Pizzerias in America - the Proper Sort, That Is

" 'Travel and Leisure' Picks the Top Pizza in the U.S."
Slice Pizza Blog, Serious Eats (December 22, 2009)

"In no particular order, Travel and Leisure's top picks for pizza in the U.S. are:..."

Aside from Stowe, Vermont, and Chicago, Illinois, all 11 are in largish cities on the east or west coast. Living north of the flyover states, I wonder if Travel and Leisure had objective criteria which excluded a thousand-mile-wide swath of America - or if they simply didn't realize that we eat pizza out here?

The Slice Pizza Blog links to the Travel and Leisure article: "America's Best Pizza" (December 2009). The geographical myopia I've noted notwithstanding, it should be a pretty good read.

I did a little checking, and sure enough: central Minnesota isn't the only place in the American Midwest where pizza's sold: A glance at that page gives a pretty good idea why Travel and Leisure hopped over the Midwest:

"The Midwestern United States is the home of the Pizza Franchise: Pizza Hut started in Kansas, Domino's in Michigan -- the whole idea of standardized American pizza comes from the heartland. You'll be able to read about chains and franchises in an upcoming section of the site...."

Pizza Hut?


Gracious me! That's so commercial and declassé. You'll even find people like me in a Pizza Hut!

Seriously, though? That Slice Pizza Blog post is a pretty good snapshot of the 'better' pizzerias in America - and the blog itself should be interesting for pizza lovers.

Not-really-related post:
A tip of the hat to williamcooks, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the pizza post.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Carol of the Bells" and a Slide Show


OnTheWing2007, YouTube (December 16, 2007)
video, 3:55

"A FRESH AIRE Christmas (1988)
"Carol of the Bells 16th Century Ukrainian. Arranged,Conducted and Produced by Chip Davis.
"Images from Google Images.
"Alot of great pictures of Christmas lights and decorations from around the United States and the World. Seasons Greetings to All."

I liked this video - but I'm a bit of a Mannheim Steamroller fan. And in general, I have not problem with traditional Christmas music arranged and performed with contemporary instruments. I also like old-fashioned music. (Uptempo where appropriate, please! I've heard "Joy to the World" sung like a dirge too many times.)

And, the slide show was - in my opinion - well-chosen.



"Joy to the World" and Flashing Lights

"Christmas Light Show Murfreesboro TN Joy To the World"

Kenintn, YouTube (January 11, 2007)
video, 4:28

"Here is Joy to the World Christmas light show sequenced to the Enjoyed designing this sequence but I must say "Reflections of Earth", is my favorite. Sequenced with the Light O Rama Controller System"

That's a direct quote.

The music sounds like Mannheim Steamroller - and the choreographer deserves credit for building the light show to a climax.

I can think of much worse ways to spend four minutes and 28 seconds.



Wired: Vaporware 2009 Announced

"Vaporware 2009: Inhale the Fail"
Epicenter, Wired (December 21, 2009)

"Take a deep breath and savor the sweet stench of disappointment. It's time for another installment of's Vaporware Awards.

"This is the 12th year we've offered our annual roundup of the tech industry's biggest, brashest and most baffling unfulfilled promises. As in years past, we turned to you, our readers, to offer suggestions on what we should include. A few weeks ago, we posted the rules: No rumors, it had to have been promised for this year, and anything that ended up delayed, derailed or otherwise absent was fair game. You e-mailed, you commented, you tweeted.

"There's one particular gaping hole this year. We decided to give a pass to our long-reigning champ, Duke Nukem Forever. We know, it just isn't the same without Sir Duke, but it wouldn't have been fair to include him, either. Game company 3-D Realms imploded this summer, and...."

You may not agree with the items on the list - or the order of their ranking. However, all 10 are promised-in-2009: and, unless something happens in the next ten days (counting today), they're no-shows.

I tend to think of vaporware as software that a company extols - and doesn't deliver. Apparently, hardware can be vaporware, too. Like Pixel Qi's display; and the D-Link Xtreme N450 with it's incredible - and, to date, unavailable, 450 Mbps throughput.

I'm not sure what to think of this sort of article. They're fun to read, in a way. But I think of the developers: the clueless managers or supervisors who demand a report on how many pixels there are in an inch; programmers who take a weekend off, and return a month later; and all the other SNAFUs that can derail the best-planned development schedule.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lemming Tracks: Dark Matter, Dark Stars, and Keeping Up

"Mystery Swirls Around 'Dark Stars' " (December 21, 2009)

"When the very first stars lit up, they may have been fueled by the dark matter that has long eluded scientists.

"These 'dark stars,' first born nearly 13 billion years ago, might still exist today. Although they would not shed any visible light, astronomers might detect these invisible giants — some 400 to 200,000 times wider than our sun and 500 to 1,000 times more massive — because they should spew gamma rays, neutrinos and antimatter and be linked with clouds of cold, molecular hydrogen gas that normally would not harbor such energetic particles.

"If scientists find these stars, they could aid the search to discover and identify dark matter. They could also help solve the mystery of why black holes formed much faster than expected.

"Scientists think unseen, as-yet unidentified dark matter makes up about 95 percent of all matter in the universe. They know it exists because galaxies rotate faster than can be explained by the visible matter within them...."

This is a quibble, but that last paragraph isn't, quite, accurate - as far as I can tell. It's a fact: The visible parts of galaxies spin too fast, assuming that the stuff we see is all that's in the galaxies - and that gravity is all that's pulling the visible matter toward the center of the galaxy.

Dark matter is a pretty good working model to explain the odd behavior of stars and gas clouds in galaxies. And, it may actually exist.

Or, although this is getting more and more unlikely, dark matter may join phlogiston as a reasonable explanation for otherwise-unexplained phenomena - which turned out to be wrong.

The article discusses the possibility that the first stars were powered by the conversion of dark matter into energy. At this point, it looks like these "dark stars" wouldn't have radiated visible light - but would have emitted gamma rays, as the 2nd paragraph said.

Articles of this sort often use the phrase "dark matter" without trying to explain what it is. Can't say that I blame the writers and editors for that. It's easier to say what it isn't, than what it is.

Dark matter isn't ordinary stuff that's not illuminated. In other words, a rubber ball doesn't become "dark matter" when you put it in a drawer.

Princton's WordNet defines dark matter this way: Dark matter is "a hypothetical form of matter that is believed to make up 90 percent of the universe; it is invisible (does not absorb or emit light) and does not collide with atomic particles but exerts gravitational force".

Then there's dark energy - but that's another topic.

Dark Matter, Dark Stars, Stuff That's Billions of Years Old: So What?

I'll admit that it's hard to see how pushing the envelope of knowledge about dark matter will make a difference in whether or not the New Orleans Saints make it to the Super Bowl this year.

Or keep the sidewalks shoveled this winter.

On the other hand, right now I'm using practical applications of wave and particle physics to write this blog.

Whether or not there turns out to be a practical application to research in physics and cosmology - and, eventually, I'm pretty sure there will be - I think there's value in the knowledge itself. It helps that I'm one of those people who is interested in the universe and how it works.

And, I'm glad there are resources like, where I can try to keep up with what's known, what scientists are discovering about how much they don't know, and observations that conform (or refute) established models to explain why things happen.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Tune and Lyrics Traditional; Performance, Not So Much

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (traditional Christmas song) - Mike Masse and Wendy Jernigan"

mikemassedotcom, YouTube (December 6, 2009)

"Merry Christmas! This song was performed and arranged by Mike Massé and Wendy Jernigan in December, 2001. Scott Slusher provided additional percussion arranging. Video assembled/edited by Mike Massé on 12/05/09."

Traditional this song is - in terms of lyrics and tune.

However, I could not recommend this video to anyone who believes that no proper Christmas music uses technology invented after 1955, or is even remotely uptempo.

As for the rest of us, I think this is a fine bit of seasonal music. The video part of this recording is series of zoomed stills, including some of the top-rate art involving Christian themes of the last several centuries - in my opinion.


Christmas Trees, Queen Victoria, And Coleridge

"Antiques: 2 museums trace tree trimming of years past"
Home & Design, Philadelphia Inquirer (December 18, 2009)

"Beautiful evergreen trees are at the heart of Christmas decor. They display cherished antique ornaments and scent the air around them. On this side of the Atlantic, the history of decorated and candlelit Christmas trees begins in Pennsylvania.

"Two current museum exhibitions celebrate the splendid custom with multiple trees sporting historical and fanciful trimmings. 'Yuletide at Winterthur' decks the halls at du Pont's estate in Delaware, while 'The National Christmas Center Presents a Lancaster Christmas' traces the evolution of tree decoration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"The tree tradition was strong in Germany and came to these shores with early German settlers. Old World descriptions survive from the 16th century of trees decorated with fruit, nuts, pretzels, and paper flowers, and the practice was firmly established by the 18th century...."

If you don't live near Philadelphia, the museum exhibits aren't going to do you much good. Happily, the rest of the article traces the Christmas tree tradition from its German roots, through what Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Queen Victoria had to do with bringing the custom to the English-speaking world, to what happened when Christmas trees jumped the Atlantic and landed in America - metaphorically speaking, of course.

There's a pretty heavy emphasis on the Philadelphia angle to all this - but after all, the article's in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Homo Erectus, Kitchens, and Human (Pre)History

"Human Ancestors Were Homemakers"
Culture, LiveScience (December 17, 2009)

"In a stone-age version of 'Iron Chef,' early humans were dividing their living spaces into kitchens and work areas much earlier than previously thought, a new study found.

"So rather than cooking and eating in the same area where they snoozed, early humans demarcated such living quarters.

"Archaeologists discovered evidence of this coordinated living at a hominid site at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel from about 800,000 years ago. Scientists aren't sure exactly who lived there, but it predates the appearance of modern humans, so it was likely a human ancestor such as Homo erectus.

"Yet this advanced organizational skill was thought to be a marker of modern human intelligence. Before now, the only concrete proof for divided living spaces dated back to only 100,000 years ago.

" 'Seeing this at such an early site was surprising,' said archaeozoologist Rivka Rabinovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 'This means there was some ability or some need or requirement of organization.'..."

Based on the Nariokotome Boy, a homo erectus who died about 1,600,000 years ago around the age of 11. Early teens were around five feet three inches (168 cm) tall. And might have been around six feet tall (83 cm) as adults. And, again for adults, with space in their heads for a 909 cc. brain. We work with a brain that's about 1350 cc, on average. ( In terms of height, Homo erectus isn't all far from what's normal now, in some parts of the world, for contemporary humans. That's an artist's rendering of someone from that period, on the right. I'll grant that even with a haircut and new clothes, he'd stick out in most crowds these days.

But - human? Pretty much like me, basically? I don't see why I shouldn't think so. Their brains were between half and two thirds as massive as ours, on average, but that archeological dig shows that they may have thought more-or-less the same way we do.

That artist's impression doesn't look 'human?' I'm not so sure. You're not likely to see that expression in people's photos today, outside supermarket tabloids, but think of him saying something like, "you want three rocks? You carry one!"

Or, "whaddaya mean, they only come in green or gray?!"

Things Happened Earlier

I've noticed how the earliest - anything - for humanity has been getting pushed back every decade or so.

Then, there's this quote:

"...If the transition from H. erectus to our own species was gradual and occurred over a wide area geographically, these intermediate forms are what we would expect to find. However, many scientists point to the statistical unlikelihood of such an evolutionary development occurring 'in parallel' over wide areas."
("Homo sapiens: Earliest forms of our own species" Washington State University)

I'm inclined to think that 'in parallel' evolution isn't all that likely, either. But I'm also inclined to think that people move around.

About forty years ago, Thor Heyerdahl was demonstrating that you didn't need ocean liners or airliners to travel around. It's more convenient, of course, and rather faster than sail-driven rafts: particularly in the case of airliners.

But, using technology available to Phoenicians, Polynesians, and others, Thor Heyerdahl traveled across oceans. The Kon-Tiki is probably his most famous project.

The point is: people were able to get around before the Industrial Age. And, I think there's reason to believe they did, even when it took longer than it did in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ever hear of the Silk Road?

Is it really that wild a stretch of the imagination to think that, over a million years or so, people in Africa and Eurasia walked back and forth, as circumstances demanded, changing a little in appearance over the generations?

Related posts: More:
More in this blog:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Frail, Delicate Little Mother Nature?!

I heard that the theme for this year's Christmas program at the elementary school was "Santa goes green." These days, I'm grateful that we're allowed to use the word "Christmas" for something like that.

But: "goes green"?!

Taking the now-traditional version of Santa's operation, we've got:
  • No factory - Santa uses
    • A labor-intensive workshop
    • Run by elves
      • Who live what can most charitably be described as an early-19th century lifestyle
      • Elf rights violations, anyone?
  • A transportation system powered by magical reindeer
    • Zero pollution - aside from flatulence and droppings from eight reindeer
      • Nine, after Rudolph made the team
Although the way Santa treats his elves may be leaving him open to serious trouble from a labor rights standpoint - his workshop and sleigh as it stands seems to be the very model of an ecologically clean, Earth-friendly operation. I suppose the big guy could assign elves to keep an eye on kids and collect wrapping paper for recycling. Or start using biodegradable brown paper to wrap the presents.

Mother Nature: Clara Bow or Queen Boudicca?

In some circles, 'everybody knows' about Earth's delicate ecosystem and the awful, terrible things that will happen if the rest of us aren't careful. I get the idea that Mother Nature is seen as a frail little 1920s movie actress: all big eyes and toothpick limbs. Sort of like Clara Bow after a long fast.

If I were to personify life on Earth, she'd be more like the growing things that have been around for the last 2,500,000,000 years or so.

One adjective I wouldn't use for life on Earth is "frail." Sure, individual species, like the panda and the koala, could die out if their environment changed a little - and we didn't take an interest in keeping them alive.

Others, not so much. Think pigeons, rats, cockroaches: and, probably, us. Again, think about it: we're opportunistic omnivores that are living on every continent except Antarctica - and we're starting to move in there.

It's true, though: some kinds of creatures aren't around anymore. Like trilobites and the dinosaurs - unless you count birds as flight-adapted dinosaurs. Just about the only unchanging thing on Earth is that things change. Which, I think, troubles some people.

Back to the personification of life on Earth, Mother Nature.

So far, Earth has seen about seven major ice ages. Every few million years a really big hunk of ice, rock, or metal hits Earth, blasting large areas immediately - and sometimes causing global damage. That may (or may not) be what killed off the dinosaurs.

But not other creatures - including our (very) remote ancestors.

Let's face it: Earth's a tough old mother; she's been through a lot; and it looks like it'll take more than manure and coal fires (the 19th century's dreadful pollution problem) or carelessly-discarded six-pack rings to do her in.

Don't get me wrong: I think fur seals are cute; I like spotted owls; my household recycles; and I don't think it makes sense to pour industrial waste into water we'll be drinking later. But getting worked up about poor, frail little Mother Nature?

I think she needs about as much protection as Queen Boudicca did, roughly 19½ centuries back.1

Related posts: Background:
  • Earth Impact Database
  • "Prehistoric Time Line"
    Science and Space, National Geographic
  • "Ice Age Explanation"
    Scott "Welcome to the world of Ice Age Paleoecology!" Elias, Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research Site
    • It's only fair to warn you: some of the ice age information is heretical
  • "Ice Ages"
    Canadian Museum of Nature
    • Mentions four of the seven major ice ages:
      • about 2 million years ago to the present—the Quaternary Ice Age
      • 350 to 250 million years ago—the Karoo Ice Age
      • 800 to 600 million years ago—the Cryogenian (or Sturtian-Varangian) Ice Age
      • 2400 to 2100 million years ago—the Huronian Ice Age

1 You may not have heard of Boudicca of the Iceni, but she made quite an impression on the Romans: metaphorically and literally. I think it didn't help that Romans were, compared to the inhabitants of northwestern Europe - well, not all that big. Boudicca might not have given the Romans much trouble, except that when her husband, king of the Iceni, died, the Roman occupiers of Britain were - imprudent.

"...As a beginning, his widow Boudicca was flogged and their daughters raped...." (Tacitus, "Annals")

I suppose they thought that, being a woman, she'd be cowed into subservience. Didn't work out that way. She was displeased about her personal treatment: and about how the Roman overlords were treating her people. By the time she was through: "...Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome...."
(Cassius Dio, "Roman History (LXII.1-2)")

Aside from her sincerely non-helpless nature, I think Boudicca's appearance makes a pretty good model for Mother Nature:

"...In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips...."
(Cassius Dio, "Roman History (LXII.1-2)")

About that "harsh voice" - Cassius Dio was a Roman, writing from a Roman point of view. After what she'd been through, I daresay Queen Boudicca's voice might have been a trifle harsh when she spoke to Romans.

Buying Christmas Gifts? What Not to Do

"15 worst holiday gift ideas"
Women in Red, MSN Money (December 7, 2009)

"You're sweating, panicked. You're about to recycle an old gift, buy a weight-loss book for Aunt Josephine or grab the Victoria's Secret catalog. Stop! Break the cycle of Holiday Gift-Shopping Syndrome!"

"Pressure, stress and confusion, inexplicable choices, a complete lapse of taste.

"Alzheimer's? No, it's Holiday Gift-Shopping Syndrome! If you suffer panic attacks at the mall or you have recurring nightmares about the colossal gift gaffes you've made over the years -- you may be an HGSS sufferer.

"Take two Advil and keep reading, because the only cure is to spot the pitfalls early. The following primer will help you save yourself some angst -- and quite a bit of money -- by avoiding these classic gift-giving faux pas. (And your nearest and dearest will be ever so grateful when you give them stuff they like this year.)

"The not-so-subtle suggestion: There's nothing quite like watching the expression on people's faces when they open one of these: a set of meditation tapes for Mr. Type A, a low-carb cookbook for your sister or...."

You get the idea.

This was - for me - a fun read. And, I think, pretty good advice.

A few of my favorites:
  • "The lingerie trap:"
    • Guys? A word about buying lingerie for that special woman: Don't
  • "Things that can't be exchanged on this planet:"
  • "Last year's gift, again:"
    • Yes, it can happen - and has
About "The lingerie trap:" The author wrote - "Never buy lingerie for a woman unless she has ripped out the page from the Victoria's Secret catalog and circled the exact item herself...." Even then, as a man who's been happily married for over a quarter-century, I'm inclined to think that the author's "can of worms" description of probable responses is understating it.

Colby Curtin, 10, Sees UP on Her Last Day Alive

"Pixar grants girl's dying wish to see 'Up' "
The Orange County Register (September 6, 2009)

"Colby Curtin, a 10-year-old with a rare form of cancer, was staying alive for one thing - a movie.

"From the minute Colby saw the previews to the Disney-Pixar movie Up, she was desperate to see it. Colby had been diagnosed with vascular cancer about three years ago, said her mother, Lisa Curtin, and at the beginning of this month it became apparent that she would die soon and was too ill to be moved to a theater to see the film.

"After a family friend made frantic calls to Pixar to help grant Colby her dying wish, Pixar came to the rescue...."

On the off chance that someone will read this and try to call Pixar for a free movie, because their pet canary wants to see UP, read on:

"...At that point, Orum-Moore, who desperately wanted Colby to get her last wish, began to cold-call Pixarand Disney to see if someone could help.

"Pixar has an automated telephone answering system, Orum-Moore said, and unless she had a name of a specific person she wanted to speak to, she could not get through. Orum-Moore guessed a name and the computer system transferred her to someone who could help, she said...."

That was June 9, 2009, a Tuesday.

Understandably, "Pixar officials declined to comment on the story or name the employees involved." I'm sure they care about kids and all that: but also don't want anyone working for them to get flooded by calls from people wanting a free movie.

Someone from Pixar arrived at Colby's house the next day day: which was just as well, as things turned out. The Pixar employee had a DVD of UP, a bag of stuffed animals - characters in the movie - and a movie poster. Also "quirky background details of the movie".

Then, they watched UP.

Or, rather, everybody but Colby did. The pain from her cancer was too much for her, and she was keeping her eyes closed through the movie. Her mom gave her a play-by-play of the movie as it ran.

Finally, the employee left, taking the DVD with him.

Colby died at 9:20 that evening.

There's more detail about Colby Curtin and her dying wish to see UP in the Register article.

Bottom line about the article? It's a very nice writeup of part of Colby's last day. Not too gushy, in my opinion.

Why Didn't Her Mom Just Buy the DVD?

Colby was in no shape to go to the movie theater: and anyway, her mom hadn't been able to make arrangements for a wheelchair to carry her.

They could still have just bought the DVD, right?

Colby died during the second week of June, 2009.

"Pixar’s Up DVD Release Date Announced (+Blu-ray)" (August 10, 2009)

"Coming to DVD and Blu-ray this Fall and right in time for Black Friday is Pixar's latest cinematic achievement, Up. On November 10, 2009, you can own either a four-disc Blu-ray Combo Pack or a two-disc DVD, which both include a digital copy of the film...."

By November 10, 2009, when the DVD was in stores, Colby had been dead for five months.

What About a Wheelchair?

Why not just go out, buy a wheelchair for the kid, and wheel her to the theater?

In the Orange County area, there's almost certainly a medical supply house that carries that sort of thing. And, you can get a pretty good pediatric wheelchair for just under $500. Rental should be quite a bit less than that - around $65 a week in Orange County. Which, for some households, is chump change. Others, not so much. ("Lemming Tracks: Lower Middle Class and Loving It" (December 14, 2009))

A Vigil, a Funeral Mass, and Hawaiian Attire

A (very) dated announcement was on the same page as the online article about Colby Curtin:

"A vigil will be held for Colby Curtin at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, 1441 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach. Hawaiian attire that is appropriate for church is strongly encouraged as a way to celebrate Colby's life. A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the church."

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