Monday, May 31, 2010

Facebook, Privacy, Small Town America, and a Village of 6,830,000,000 people

"What if the Facebook (Un)Privacy Revolution Is a Good Thing?"
Epicenter, Wired (May 29, 2010)

" 'How could Mark Zuckerberg run such an important company like Facebook and be such a screw up?' That's effectively the question I've gotten almost non-stop for the past few weeks. 'Is this going to blow up the company?' 'Are Zuckerberg's apologies genuine?' And on and on.

"The questions are rooted in this: Facebook revised its privacy settings a few weeks ago and made them mind-numbingly complicated. With so much personal information on their pages, users freaked out. They worried that the default settings were wrong, but that changing them risked making things worse.

"Zuckerberg was forced to apologize; and earlier this week, in an effort to calm the furor, Zuckerberg said he was changing Facebook to make its privacy settings easier to use. That perennial question is starting to make the rounds again — Is Zuckerberg, at 26, too young to run such a big company?

"The truth is that the events of the past few weeks have been no accident. I've interviewed Zuckerberg and/or members of his team more than a dozen times in the last three years, and I believe they all completely understood the company's new privacy settings would be controversial. Indeed, I think they intended them to be controversial. Look back at the history of Facebook's privacy firestorms — they happen roughly every 18 months — and you'll see they all fit the same pattern. In order for Facebook to succeed, it needs to keep challenging existing conventions about online privacy. This isn't a secret. Zuckerberg has said it many times. What he hasn't said – but which he and anyone else with a brain knows – is that there is no way to do that without making some users angry...."

The rest of the article gives an interesting - and possibly accurate - view of why Facebook acts the way it does. I don't know enough about the workings of the company to have an opinion about the author's assertions.

I do, however, have a Facebook account - and a somewhat counter-cultural view of "privacy."

First, I think that when many people say "privacy," what they mean is closer to "anonymity:" being in contact with other people, without their ever knowing quite who - or what - they're communicating with. I think I can understand why someone would want to be an anonymous, faceless, semi-entity in a vast throng of other almost-people. Can't say that's a condition I'd want, though.

Then there's the sort of "privacy" I enjoy here in the small town in central Minnesota where I live. Maybe you've heard the gag about life in a small town: 'if you can't remember what you've done during the day, ask someone. They'll know.'

The downside of living like that is that you can't have a bizarrely unconventional lifestyle without the rest of the town knowing about it. The upside is that this isn't one of those places where a moving van can back up to your house, pack all your possessions inside, and leave - without someone starting to ask questions.

Then there's the time some hapless fool robbed a bank in a small North Dakota town. In winter. But I'm getting off-topic.

The point is that, even here in small town America, I've got "privacy." In the sense that I can go about my business without interference: providing that I keep the yard mowed, and wear seasonally-appropriate attire when outside, of course. But my identity and to some extent my actions are known to anybody in town who's interested.

It's not like living in a city - but I've gotten used to it.

Facebook? I've applied the same principle there, that I've applied in every other online community - never mind their TOS or privacy policy. I have never put something about myself online, that I wouldn't mind all 6,830,000,000 or so of the people I share this world with knowing about it.

Barring a few details like credit card numbers. Again with the small-town analogy: Everybody in town known me, but only my wife and some bank employees can get at our financial data. And only members of the family have keys to the house and vehicles.

'Lack of privacy' doesn't bother me - not in the town of about 4,000 where I live, or in the community of some fraction of 6,830,000,000 that I'm virtually a part of.

"Mary Quite Contrary" Returns: The Title Character Turns 15

"Chapter 11, Title Page Rite of Passage "
Mary Quite Contrary (May 27, 2010)

"New chapter! Finally! I would have gotten on this sooner, but I've had a really bad cold. I've been barely able to play video games let alone do anything productive. I'm starting to feel better, so hopefully I'll get MQC back on track.

"Anyway, Mary's 15 now, so there are certain things she'll have to experience this summer. Good luck!"

'Brigid,' the creator of Mary Quite Contrary, is my oldest daughter, so you'd expect me to say that I think her work's great. Or be horrified at the way she's publishing a none-too-fictionalized account of the last decade or so of life here in my family.

Well, I think her work's pretty good: and enjoy seeing her take on what's happened. I'll say this: She's a rather perceptive observer.

'Day on the Job' at Arlington

"For those who do Arlington's solemn work, 'Everyone's a VIP' "
CNN (May 29, 2010)

"The eyes of the nation turn to Arlington National Cemetery each Memorial Day weekend. Here, among the familiar iconic white granite markers, privates lie side-by-side with generals. For a nation at war, these lines grow longer every day.

"The cemetery's intention, of course, is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. But the business here is to bury the nation's war dead.

"Darrell Stafford's title is interment foreman. In the execution of their duties, his teams perform a choreographed ballet of precision and organization. Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest times of the year at Arlington...."

"...A day before each burial, a team of workers digs each grave and installs a concrete grave liner. On the day of each service, the team lays planks around the grave and puts in artificial grass and a lowering device. Chairs are arranged in a row for family members who will attend the burial service.

"When they get an all-clear and the family has said goodbye and paid their final respects, his team moves in again. Team members remove the setup items, lower the casket and cover the grave. These duties are done almost invisibly -- the team blends into the scenery, but its work is woven from grave site to grave site for family after family.

"Most of the time, they perform a thankless task. But sometimes, their work is recognized by people attending the services. 'We have folks coming, from time to time, showing their appreciation and thanking us and just walking up to you and shaking your hand. It's a good feeling.'..."

It's a pretty good look at another set of folks who make things work.

Related posts:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

And now, For Something Completely Different: A Cute, Ugly Little Bird

"Like a Cotton Ball on Toothpicks"
Mayaraschad, via Daily Squee (May 28, 2010)

"Um, you mean a “Q-tip”? More like a “cute tip”! Buhh, it’s so fluffy. That’s not a baby flamingo, is it?"

(from Mayaraschad, via Daily Squee, used w/o permission)

I'm not sure quite what to compare that little - thing - to. It puts me in mind of something that's been left in the dryer too long.

Cute, though.

Memorial Day: a Rather Official View

"Memorial Day"
United States Department of Veterans Affairs

"Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time."

The website includes links to:
I think a quote from the "Memorial Day Order," General Orders No. 11, Grand Army of the Republic Headquarters, is in order:

"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and com­rades will, in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

"We are organized, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, 'of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers sailors and marines, who united to suppress the late rebellion.' What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic...."

I have somewhat non-standard opinions about the War Between the States, and what was done to the South for the next century. Still, that business about "a free and undivided republic" isn't complete hooey. I think it's a good thing that some folks in America pay attention to the old traditions.

However, I also recognize that it hasn't been the Victorian Age for quite a while. I wrote about that yesterday.

Related post:

Another History of Memorial Day

"History of Memorial Day"

"Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the American military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, at least, it marks the beginning of summer."

Well, there you have it. The page also has links to photos and videos. And, as usual, the contributions of Polish-Americans are completely ignored. Lithuanians too. And not a single video about Norwegian-Americans.

It's a pretty good resource, anyway.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend, 2010: a Long Weekend - and Something Else

"About the Memorial Day Site"
A Catholic Cappuccino, Please! (May 28, 2010)

"This site was created to help promote the return of the original intent and meaning back to Memorial Day, to be a central point for finding information on the day, and to provide an online community for people to share their feelings, pride, respect and honor for those that gave their all. This site also promotes restoring the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day to the 30th of May.

"Why is this needed? Memorial Day started off as a somber day of remembrance, a day where we in America go to cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of our war dead. It is a day where we remember our ancestors, our family members, our loved ones who have given the ultimate sacrifice...."

Memorial Day seems to be a mostly-American holiday, although I suspect that quite a few countries have similar observances. There's a history of Memorial Day on the website: "Memorial Day History." I've done the same thing, on my Brendan's Island website: "Memorial Day," along with maybe thousands of other folks.

The blog I quoted, A Catholic Cappuccino, Please!, has a - vivid? - unconventional? - color scheme: and I don't think you'll quickly forget the background artwork. Unlike some 'artistic' blogs and websites, though - it's readable.

Where was I? Memorial Day, right.

I agree that there's more to Memorial Day than kicking back and relaxing - or contributing to gridlock on some freeway. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that changing the date of the observance will make people get back to the 'true meaning' of the holiday.

And, although my opinion is that many Americans don't use the three day weekend for somber observances - I'm not all that bothered by the R&R that's going on.

For one thing, change happens. This isn't 1867, or 1915, or 1951. Americans simply don't act like people living in the Victorian Age, or during the Great War, or in the era of Happy Days. I'm not at all convinced that even the United States of America's Federal government can turn back time and force people to feel like participating in suitably somber observances. Not even by taking away the start-of-summer three-day weekend.

Besides, I think the folks who relax and enjoy the beginning of summer when they 'should be' going to cemeteries or standing at attention are - consciously or not - taking advice from one of this country's earlier citizens. As I wrote last year:

"Carved on the tomb of explorer Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809):

"Immaturus obi: sed to felicior annos
"Vivemeos, Bona Republica! Vive tuos

"(I died young; but thou, O Good Republic, be more fortunate,
Live out my years! Live your own.)

I can think of few better ways to affirm and celebrate what so many of our citizens died to preserve, than living the life of freedom and comparative prosperity they defended.

Related posts and pages:

Your Daily Adult Requirement of Cute: A Little Hedgehog

"Pocketful of Prickles"
brenda, via Daily Squee (May 27, 2010)

"Ahhh, hedgehog jazzhands! It's like he's saying 'Ta-dah!' after curling into a ball."

(brenda, via Daily Squee, used w/o permission)


Thar's Oxygen in That There Moon! - Maybe

"Jupiter Moon's Ice-Covered Ocean Is Rich in Oxygen" (May 27, 2010)

"There may be enough oxygen in the waters of Jupiter's moon Europa to support millions of tons worth of fish, according to a new study. And while nobody is suggesting there might actually be fish on Europa, this finding suggests the Jovian satellite could be capable of supporting the kinds of life familiar to us here on Earth, if only in microbial form.

"Europa, which is roughly the size of Earth's moon, is enveloped by a global ocean about 100 miles deep (160 km), with an icy crust that may be only a few miles thick. From what we know of Earth, where there is water, there is a chance at life, so for many years scientists have speculated that this Jovian moon could support extraterrestrials.

"As we learned more about Jupiter's effect on its moons, the possibility for life on Europa grew even more likely. Studies showed the moon could have enough oxygen to support the kind of life we are most familiar with on Earth...."

The key word here is "could." One process that could oxygenate Europa is radiation from Jupiter splitting Europa's icy surface into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Scientists crunched the numbers - and came up with the possibility that Europa's ocean could have high an oxygen content as Earth's. The Jovian moon has more water than Earth to begin with - Europan fish are - barely - possible.

Not likely, though: at all. For starters, if Europa had this much oxygen to begin with - life probably couldn't have gotten started. We need oxygen to survive. But I've written about that before.

There's a pretty good discussion of Europa in that article. If you're interested in that sort of thing
Related posts, at

The History of Coffee - a DVD

"Modern Marvels: Coffee DVD"
History Channel Store

"Traces the origins of this tasty drink from Ethiopia over 1,000 years ago to the espresso-fueled explosion of specialty coffee stores like Starbucks today.

"Along the way, we'll see how American companies like Hills Brothers, Maxwell House, Folgers and MJB grew to be giants. Discover how billions of coffee beans make their journey from coffee farms and plantations, and are processed in gigantic roasting and packaging plants before showing up in coffee cups all over the world.

"Details the invention and production of instant coffee, decaffeinated coffee and freeze-dried coffee, and the espresso machine. Also, we explain how coffee made shift work in factories possible, while coffeehouses provided a creative cauldron that brewed political and artistic progress in the 18th and 19th centuries. And, we also provide tips on how to make a better cup at home!"

I've seen part of the documentary - and the assertion that coffee made the Industrial Revolution possible isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.

Think about it: before coffee got introduced to Europe, city-dwellers didn't want to risk disease by drinking water from rivers or wells (sewage treatment was of the 'throw it in the street' variety). To stay healthy, they drank - beer, mostly. As a result, by the end of the day folks were in a bit of a haze. Not in any condition to operate heavy machinery.

From the description, and what I saw on the History Channel, I'd get the DVD. But right now, there isn't room in the household budget for the $24.95 plus about $2.95 shipping and handling that it'd cost. Maybe next month. Or year.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A - Frustrated? - Rabbit

Rosemary, via Disapproving Rabbits (May 26, 2010)

(from Rosemary, via Disapproving Rabbits, used w/o permission)

"Please make sure everyone has seen the Lost finale before discussing it."

There. That should take care of your 'cute' needs for at least a few hours.

X-51 Scramjet Test: Over Three Minutes of Hypersonic Flight

"Air Force's X-51 Scramjet Sets Record for Longest Hypersonic Flight" (May 27, 2010)

"An experimental aircraft has set a new record for the longest hypersonic flight after streaking across the sky Wednesday for more than three minutes while flying at Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound — the United States Air Force has announced.

"The vehicle, called the X-51A Waverider, dropped from a B-52 Stratofortress mother ship while flying over the Pacific Ocean just off the southern California coast. It successfully ignited an air-breathing scramjet engine than accelerated up to Mach 5, Air Force officials said in the announcement.

"The entire test flight lasted just over 200 seconds, more than 10 times longer than the previous hypersonic record (just 12 seconds) set by NASA's X-43 vehicle in 2004...."

200 seconds is three and a third minutes: Which doesn't sound like much, until you start thinking about the forces at work. Remember the Wright Brothers' first flight? That lasted 59 seconds. These days, taking a little less than a minute to go 852 feet in an airplane would be anticlimactic. In 1903, it made history.

Back to that article. They defined some terms - which doesn't always happen in news coverage:

"...Hypersonic flight, typically defined as beginning at Mach 5, is more challenging than supersonic flight at lower speeds because of the higher temperatures and pressures involved with the faster flight speed. The speed of sound, Mach 1, is about 760 mph (1,223 kph) at sea level.

"Conventional turbine jet engines can't handle such speeds, Air Force officials said.

"But scramjets, air-breathing jet engines driven by supersonic combustion, like the one on X-51A have their own challenges too. Air Force project officials compared it to 'lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it burning.'..."

This time around, they kept that match burning for over three minutes. It won't get anybody from New York to Los Angeles - or low Earth orbit - but I think that's coming.

Related posts:More:

Blog Comments Categorized: Encouragers to Aliens

I'd better warn you: this post is just simply crawling with Catholic cooties. Don't worry: The Lemming has another post coming soon, that isn't.

You might (maybe) find something useful - or amusing - in this bestiary of blog commenter.
"10 Types of Blog Comments: Part 1 of 2"
Matthew Warner blog, The National Catholic Register (May 26, 2010)

"Blog comments are like the graffiti of the untamed digital continent.

Some are helpful, like the spray paint on the fence that says “beware of dog.” Others are very impressive, like a beautiful mural. Some obviously took a lot of time and thought. Others are done passionately and quickly. Some are for self-promotion, like a gang sign. Others are done simply to exercise our power to do harm and cause suffering. Many are angry. And still others leave us scratching our heads.

"As bloggers and blog readers, it's helpful to distinguish between the different types. Blog comment sections can be very powerful places to get unique perspectives on an issue, share helpful information, build people up, engage in thoughtful discussion and contribute to the 'soul of the internet.' But far too often they turn into annoying and useless diatribes of self-congratulatory tit-for-tats anonymously pounded out from behind an impersonal keyboard and obscured by thousands of miles of virtual space. That's a waste of an opportunity...."

Matthew Warner is a Catholic, and that "soul of the Internet" phrase is a reference to something the Pope said (see "Giving the Internet a 'Soul?!' No, Really: This Makes Sense," A Catholic Citizen in America (May 8, 2010))

This week's post describes the sort of people you find, leaving comments on your blog. Next week, he'll suggest how to deal with them.

Here's his list, with a paraphrase of how he describes the types:
  1. Encouragers
    • Leave simple, encouraging comments
  2. Non-contributors
    • Like the encourager, except without encouragement
  3. Contributors
    • They write something that makes sense - in the context of the post
  4. Destitutes
    • "They just want somebody to talk to."
  5. Slackers
    • They didn't read the post, but they've got an opinion
  6. Brawlers
    • They like to argue
      • Not learn
  7. Angries
    • They're angry
      • And it's somebody's fault
  8. Posers
    • They say they don't care - but took time to comment anyway
    • "Their comment basically says 'I don't care about this, but I still took the time to comment and tell you. That's how much I really don't care about this. And now I'm going to get really defensive about something you said-but I really couldn't care less about it.' "
  9. Self-promoters
    • Spammers
    • Link-baiters
    • Honest people who want to promote something
  10. Aliens
    • Don't make any sense at all
    • From another planet, maybe?
The first comment on that post added two more types:

"Posted by Barbara Garro on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 2:25 PM (EST):
"Here are two more:
"Diarists—those people who tell you they are tired, just got up, have a cold and other information no one needs to know.
"Political Activists—they come with their needle stuck in their cause and post and post and post, sometimes many times a day."

Bottom line? If you blog, odds are that you've gotten comments - and I think you'll find at least a few of these types familiar. I think Matthew Warner did a good job of describing the sorts of commenters bloggers get - with a bit of humor.

What I'm looking forward to is next week's post, when he says how to deal with them. I've read some of his work: so I'm pretty sure that he won't recommend boiling oil and pitchforks.
A tip of the hat to newadvent, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

And, thanks to MatthewWarner, also on Twitter, for writing the post in the first place.

Bembo's Zoo: Fun (And 'Educational?')

Bembo's Zoo

Letters of the alphabet and animal noises. As bgilormini on Twitter wrote: "Bembo's Zoo..this one is fun! electronic abc animated animal book! check it out!"

I suppose you could call it "educational." Whatever you decide about that - enjoy.
A tip of the hat to bgilormini, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this Flash website.

Google, YouTube News Clips, and Common-Sense Advice

"6 Tips From Google News For Optimizing YouTube Videos"
Social Times (May 25, 2010)

"Google has been working to make it easier to get video news content indexed in Google News. As part of this effort, they posted a few tips on their blog yesterday, to help publishers make their YouTube news clips more discoverable. While the post is focused on publishers who are uploading news content, Google's tips are useful for all kinds of content creators, from artists to musicians to documentarians and everything in between.

"There are all sorts of ways to optimize your YouTube videos, making them more discoverable, from tags to descriptions and more. The following are the six best practices for increasing the discoverability of your video content, according to Google...."

The rest is pretty much common-sense advice, as reflected in the headings (along with my imagined comments by the supervisor from Heck:
  • Upload Time Sensitive Material ASAP
    • Godzilla in downtown Tokyo? We'll run that tomorrow morning
  • Stick To One Story Per Video
    • Along with that flower show footage
  • Categorize Your Videos
    • Call them both as "hot beach fashions"
  • Provide Detailed Descriptions
    • Don't waste time with the description: they'll figure it out
  • Don’t Forget The Tags
    • Tags? What tags?
  • Make Your Video Embeddable
    • Whaddaya mean, embeddable?! Make them to go to our page!
It's a pretty good, short, article. If you're coming in to this sort of thing with zero experience, it could be a good introduction. If you've been posting videos for a while - a short review wouldn't hurt.
A tip of the hat to Steveology, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Memorial Day in Park Rapids, Minnesota

You'll see folks writing about Memorial Day events in Washington, D.C., or the San Francisco Bay area. But it takes The Lemming to write about Memorial Day events in Park Rapids, Minnesota:

"Festivals & Events"
Park Rapids Downtown Business Association

"Memorial Day weekend thru September
"Park Rapids Farmers Market
"The Park Rapids Farmers Market is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays at Pioneer Park on Main Avenue. Locally grown veggies, flowers and more...."

"Park Rapids Farmers' Market"

This entry gives more detail about what you can expect to find at the farmer's market:
  • beef
  • fruits
  • lettuce / greens
  • meats
  • tomatoes
  • vegetables
The meat surprised me: but it makes sense, considering how much livestock is raised in that part of Minnesota. is a pretty good resource for finding a farmer's market that's got what you are looking for - or might have. For example, on the "Park Rapids Farmers' Market" page, click on "beef." That links to the "Products & Services > beef" page, listing markets offering beef: from Arrowwood Family Farm in the Fergus Falls area; to Zenk Farm, near Danube.

Farmer's markets offer what's available that day. You're trading a degree of certainty for access to foods that are a great deal fresher - and less standardized - than what you often get at the supermarket.

There's more to Memorial Day weekend than picking up produce at the farmer's market, of course. The Lemming touched base at the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and found these events happening at the end of May:
  • May 28 - May 31: 15th Anniversary & (Instore) Warehouse Sale!
  • May 29: Park Rapids Garden Club Plant Sale
    • Summerset Flea Market 3 Miles East on Hwy 34 in Park Rapids
  • May 29: North Country Trail Through Hike, Sponsored by the Itasca Moraine Chapter
  • May 31: Memorial Day Services
    • Park Rapids Area High School, Red Bridge Park and All Veterans Memorial Park
It's good to see that the folks in Park Rapids remember what Memorial Day is about. The Lemming wishes you a good weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming's Taking the Day Off

The Lemming is pooped. There's a lot going on this week, and - well, maybe you read "Macbeth: Or, Don't Talk to Strangers?" (May 26, 2010).

Not to worry: a good night's sleep, a bit of rest and not reading any of Shakespeare's tragedies should put the Lemming right. I hope so, anyway.

You can expect to see the Lemming back, with photos of cute rabbits, opining about interior design, 18th century clocks, or whatever else comes to mind, Friday morning.

Of course by then, if you're in America at least, you'll probably be getting ready for Memorial Day weekend. Drive safely, and all that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Macbeth: Or, Don't Talk to Strangers?

The Lemming started this post, intending to do a nice little micro-review about Shakespeare's Macbeth, the text of which is on the MIT website (among other places). Perhaps what happened is partly the result of having a rather bad cold for the last couple weeks: and the scrambled sleeping habits that went with it.
"The Tragedy of Macbeth "
William Shakespeare, MIT

Here's how the play starts:


SCENE I. A desert place.

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches
First Witch
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
Third Witch
That will be ere the set of sun.
First Witch
Where the place?
Second Witch
Upon the heath.
Third Witch
There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch
I come, Graymalkin!
Second Witch
Paddock calls.
Third Witch
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

I suppose it's politically incorrect to say this, but I don't think those three people are particularly safe to be around. And, considering what happened to Macbeth after he used them as political consultants, I think I've got reason for saying this.

Offhand, I think Macbeth would have been better off if he'd thought about the implications of Banquo's observations:

"How far is't call'd to Forres? What are these
So wither'd and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth,
And yet are on't? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her chappy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.

Then, there's that whole strategy conference in Act IV, Scene I. I'll grant that Macbeth showed some good sense in going over the weird sisters' heads, and getting advice directly from their masters. Even so, you'd think he'd have noticed how vague they'd been - and downright evasive when it came to some questions. (Act I, Scene III, Act IV, Scene I)

I mean to say: asking "shall Banquo's issue ever | Reign in this kingdom?" was a perfectly reasonable question. Their unison answer might have tipped him off that they weren't telling him everything: "Seek to know no more."

I suppose a person could re-write Macbeth as one of those Public Service Announcements about the perils of talking to strangers. Or analyze it as a veiled commentary on the position of women and the arts in Elizabethan England.

Remember Lady Macbeth's habit of fingerpainting on the walls with other people's blood? There's your frustrated artist!

While we're at it, why don't we revive the 'Bacon wrote Shakespeare' thing, except say that Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare?

Oh, man! The Lemming has got to start getting more sleep!

Carson Mansion, Eureka California

"The Ingomar Club, Carson Mansion, Eureka, California"

The Ingomar Club has owned the Carson Mansion since about 1950, and maintains one of the better online collections of information about that magnificent pile.

Carson Mansion / Ingomar Club

"...William Carson was born in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. He joined the gold rush to California in 1849 to 1850. He purchased a pack of horses and proceeded to the gold fields in Trinity County, along the Trinity River. However, the endeavor proved unsuccessful and by 1854 Mr. Carson was operating a mill in Humboldt County...."

There's more:They've also got the best tour I've seen, of the Carson Mansion interior, including this photo:

(from Ingomar Club, used w/o permission)
"Arguably the most stunning space in the house, the second floor hall is a convergence of materials. Both redwood and primavera are used in harmony. Moorish arches create a dramatic layering pattern that is characteristic of 'Victorian' architecture and dominate the rectangular space. The cast plaster archways...."

Bottom line? This is one ornate, fancy old house.

A local historical/heritage society has a decent writeup on the Carson Mansion, too:

"The Carson Mansion"
The Eureka Heritage Society

"One of the most written about, and photographed Victorian houses in California, and perhaps in the United States, the William Carson Mansion epitomizes the range of possibilities for eclectic design expression that created a peculiarly American style of architecture. Derived from many sources, but unique enough to represent none predominately, this much discussed and debated property stands today in virtually the same condition as when first constructed. The designers, Samuel and Joseph Newsom, were well respected San Francisco architects who heartily embraced the concept of the "picturesque", a quality that continues to fascinate all who see the Carson Mansion's intricately composed interiors and exteriors...."

No question about it: this is one impressive house. There's even a sort of animated slide show displaying the Carson Mansion's exterior, on YouTube:

"Carson Mansion Eureka California - Home of a Lumber Baron"

ViewHome, YouTube (September 18, 2009)
video/slideshow, 10:00

"If there is only one photo of an American Victorian building in an architecture history book, it will usually be of this house. Carson owned a sawmill on brow of a hill next to the ocean bay in Eureka, California. There was a recession, so lumber sales were very low. To keep paying his millworkers, he had them build a new home 1884-1885. It kept his workers paid for until the economy returned to purchasing lumber. In the 1800s they did not use the terms 'Recession' or 'Depression'. Back then a term for similar conditions was called a 'Panic'...."

ViewHome's 'video' is more of a glorified slideshow, zooming in and panning across still photos. Technically excellent, but you might find it a bit slow-paced. Or, be frustrated when you wanted a longer look at one feature. Not the worst way to spend 10 minutes, though, by far.

Frantic Mother Duck, Ducklings, and a Duck Story to Start the Day

"Duckling Rescue "

YubiShines, YouTube (April 11, 2008)
video, 1:16

" 'In a rare rescue operation in Garden Grove on Wednesday, animal control officers came to the aid of about a dozen ducklings stuck in a storm drain.

"The drama unfolded at Lampson Avenue and West Street.

"Rescuers arrived to find the mother duck frantically pacing around the drain opening.

"Officers were able to scoop the 14 ducklings into a box, which was lowered through a manhole.

"The mother duck followed animal control officers to a pond where she was reunited with her babies.' "

The small central Minnesota town where I live has its share of ducks: being on a lake and a river guarantees that. The point is that I've seen ducks. They're not the most expressive creatures around. They're good at quacking, waddling, flying and swimming - but emoting? Not so much.

So, the word "frantically" in this video's description seemed a bit far-fetched to me.

After watching the video, though, I agree: that's one frantic mother duck.

And, once they're released in the water, that is a speedy bunch of ducklings.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Gulf Oil and Caesar's Wife

"Oil rig inspectors took company gifts, watchdog finds"
CNN (May 25, 2010)

"Federal inspectors overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accepted meals and tickets to sporting events from companies they monitored, according to a new report from the Interior Department's inspector general.

"In one case, an inspector in the Minerals Management Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, conducted inspections of four offshore platforms while negotiating a job with the company, the report states. Others in the same office accepted tickets to the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a college football bowl game. One inspector said, 'Everyone has gotten some sort of gift before at some point' from companies they regulated, according to the report.

" 'Through numerous interviews, we found a culture where the acceptance of gifts from oil and gas companies were widespread throughout that office,' the report states. But that culture waned after a supervisor in the agency's New Orleans, Louisiana, regional office was fired for taking a gift from a regulated company in 2007...."

The Lemming thought of posting something about this in Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind, but that didn't seem to make much sense. I'm a sole proprietorship with no budget for bribery - and no reason or inclination to corrupt public officials.

The Lemming's 'no-bribe' policy isn't entirely a matter of ethics. I've studied history - and the final outcome of that sort of thing is generally messy and terminal.

Back to federal inspectors, Gulf oil drilling, and really stupid business practices.

In the short term, giving gifts to federal inspectors must have seemed like a good idea. They liked it, the practice created a sort of social bond between the inspectors and the company officials they worked with, and when there was trouble those gifts may (or may not) have made the inspectors more willing to overlook problems.

In an ideal world, there would be no problem with tipping inspectors. The people involved would do their jobs, anyway: the inspectors finding problems, the company officials seeing to it that the problems were fixed. Before an oil rig blew up.

What, No Rant About BP, Big Oil, and All That?

This CNN article is almost certainly the result, directly or indirectly, of that British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf. There's an incredible mess to clean up (or, possibly, burn off), lives were lost - and the powers that be need someone to blame. Fast.

"Big Oil" is an obvious bad guy in this scenario: latter-day sons of Snidely Whiplash, callously corrupting federal officials. Judging from that CNN article, there was a problem with what looks a whole lot like bribery.

Don't get me wrong: I think that giving gifts to an official whose job it is to inspect your operation is really, really stupid. But I recognized that it's possible for someone to think of the practice as something in the neighborhood of 'good public relations' or 'establishing a smooth working relationship.'

I still think it's stupid.

But I'm not going to rant about "Big Oil." Or "Big Government," for that matter. That earthquake in Haiti showed what happens when you don't have rules about how buildings are built. I'm no big fan of regulations - but building codes, for example, make sense. When their standards aren't insanely impossible to match.

That's another topic.

We have companies that are large, and that build drilling platforms in the gulf. Some of them are run by people who are too stupid or foolish to realize that it costs more, in the long run, to cut corners on safety. That's where those federal inspectors come it.

In an ideal world, sixties style, we wouldn't worry about oil, or government, or energy - we'd just live on love and honey. That's not gonna happen. We've got this huge, technological civilization because 'living with nature' involved to much disease, hunger and discomfort to be much fun.

Yet another topic.

Federal Inspectors and the Principle of Caesar's Wife

A big lesson, I think, from this mess is that people in some positions, like the folks who inspect drilling rigs, have to be like Caesar's wife: impeccably free of suspicion, above reproach.

That doesn't mean that folks are supposed to look the other way, when a federal inspector gets a ticket to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. It means that the inspector should refuse the ticket - and make sure that all parties concerned realize that the inspector accepts no gifts. Period.

The proverbial "Caesar's wife must be above reproach" refers back to the livelier days of Rome, when Roman aristocracy made the British royal family's shenanigans, or the Clinton White House, look like a Sunday social. In that setting, the wife of Caesar had to behave in a way that allowed no rumored scandal to be believable: much less provable.

That sort of impeccably by-the-book behavior hasn't been popular for a while - but maybe it's time to edge back to a somewhat more buttoned-down approach.
A tip of the hat to CNN_Networks, for the heads-up on their article.

Sunflowers 1888: Van Gogh, Looking Past the Ear

"Sunflowers 1888 - Vincent van Gogh sunflower Painting"

"Painting Title: Sunflowers (Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers) 1888
"Oil on Canvas, 92.1 x 73cm - 36 x 28 Inches (approx)
"Vincent van Gogh
"Famous Dutch artist - Post Impressionist painter

"About the Sunflowers Painting
"This is one of several versions of sunflowers that Vincent van Gogh painted. This version with 15 sunflowers was painted in Arles, in 1888. The painting is in the collection of the National Gallery in London, England." has a (much) larger picture of Sunflowers 1888, and other Van Gogh paintings: including Starry Night over the Rhone 1888; A Pair of Shoes 1887; and Autumn Landscape 1885. I think they're worth the clicks and the few minutes it would take to look at them.

Vincent Van Gogh may be the most famous 'insane artist' in recent times. There's that thing about his ear - depending on who you listen to, he cut off a part of his left earlobe, or the whole thing. That's the lurid part of the story.

There's quite a lot about Van Gogh's life online:Epilepsy, depression, and alcohol show up more-or-less often in discussions of Van Gogh's life. There doesn't seem much doubt that something was troubling him - and that he killed himself in his late thirties.

That was a loss - for Vincent Van Gogh, and for everybody else. At a bare minimum, we lost a painter who had very real talent, and the sort of drive it takes to create art.

Off on a Tangent

Feel free to stop reading right here. the rest of this post is more about insanity, me, and how folks deal with others who are off the 50th percentile.

I've got a personal stake in how 'crazy people' are viewed. I was diagnosed with major depression a few years ago. And, thanks to a number of medications, am thinking more clearly and easily than I have in decades.

My own temperament, the nature of my problem, and my faith, all make it easy for me to continue taking my meds. Not everybody is in that position.

It's anyone's guess how Vincent Van Gogh would have been treated, and what he'd have done with his life, if he'd been born in 1953 - or later - instead of 1853. We've learned quite a bit in the last several decades: not just how the brain works, but that people with malfunctioning brains aren't necessarily 'being crazy' on purpose.

That was quite a step.

Related post:

Lemming Tracks: News from Jamaica

"Four killed as Jamaicans clash over drug lord"
Reuters (May 24, 2010)

"Soldiers and police stormed a Kingston slum on Monday and traded gunfire with supporters of an alleged Jamaican drug lord who faces extradition to the United States.

"At least four people have been killed, including two policemen, one soldier and a civilian, and several others were wounded in two days of violence.

The government declared a state of emergency on Sunday in volatile sections of the capital as Prime Minister Bruce Golding vowed "strong and decisive action" to restore order.

"The limited emergency in Jamaica, a popular Caribbean tourism destination, covered districts where gunmen shot up or set fire to five police stations and carried out carjackings and looting on Sunday.

"There were unconfirmed reports of additional civilian deaths and reports that military helicopters dropped explosives on the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of West Kingston where alleged drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke is believed to be hiding out.

"The government has called on Coke to surrender to face a U.S. judicial request seeking his extradition on cocaine trafficking and gun-running charges.

"U.S. prosecutors have described Coke as the leader of the 'Shower Posse,' which murdered hundreds of people by showering them with bullets during the cocaine wars of the 1980s...."

The BBC had a more conversational - or rambling - article on the situation in Jamaica:

"Kingston under siege"
BBC News (May 25, 2010)

"As I drive through the city, my taxi driver tells me that he is going to have to charge extra: 'Everywhere is blocked up, it's just turn, turn, turn.'

"I am just trying to get into the main commercial district of the capital, New Kingston, but the journey provides a snapshot of the situation the country finds itself in.

"As we head up one road we spot the few vehicles on the road doing sharp U-turns. Then I hear it, the sound of automatic weapon fire...."

The BBC article, by Nick Davis, has the virtue of giving more background on the Jamaican approach to government than you'll find most places.

"...'Nobody can steal round here without his say-so, nobody carries out rape round here, they'd be dead.'

"I was worried for my safety but was told that nobody would touch me and in the early hours of the morning I walked out of the community, something that would be unheard-of in other more volatile communities on the island.

"He was seen as the boss who cared for his community, providing what the state had not: safety...."

"...The tough inner city communities of Kingston are not called garrisons for nothing.

"Controlled by an 'area leader' - the island's euphamism for the criminal bosses who are better known as 'dons' - local strongmen can control a few blocks to whole swathes of the city.

"The power they have stretches from the gully to the Gordon House, the seat of government...."

The situation, as described in the BBC piece, reminds me of Chicago, several generations back. My father grew up in a town not far from there, and spoke a few times of the days when control of Chicago was, for practical purposes, in the hands of people other than the elected officials.

As colorful as that was, I don't approve. However, I think people put up with the occasional 'offer I couldn't refuse,' and the sanctioned criminal activity for as long as they did: because the system worked. Chicago's bosses were aware that their power depended on the acquiescence, if not support, of the people living in their territory. For that reason, I'm told, problems with sewers, street repairs, or other practical concerns were dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Now, if only legally elected officials would get a clue about that sort of boring detail.

And - quite seriously - you might consider praying for the folks in Jamaica. No matter how today's crisis turns out, they're going to need help. Just a suggestion, though.

Taming a Panicked Parakeet

"Caring for Parakeets : Taming a Parakeet"

expertvillage, YouTube (September 25, 2008)
video, 3:27

"If your parakeet is wild and excited, learn different ways to tame and calm parakeets in this free pet care video.

"Expert: Elizabeth Cantu
"Bio: Elizabeth Cantu has owned and been working with parrots since 1994. She has been active in captive parrot rescue and rehabilitation.
"Filmmaker: julio costilla"

This isn't a polished video with a professional narrator: you'll hear quite a few "um" and "you know" interjections. That said, Elizabeth Cantu does a good job of explaining how to convince a panicked parakeet that you're not a source of danger.

There's common-sense advice, like 'don't let the kids rattle the cage,' and a fairly clear step-by-step process for letting the bird know that you're not a threat - and that your hand is a place to find food.

Elizabeth Cantu also tells what to do, if the parakeet can't take the presence of your hand - at first.

Upsilon Andromedae, Tilted Orbits, and Habitable Worlds

"Weird Orbits of Alien Planets Could Affect Chances for Life" (May 24, 2010)

"The ability of life to thrive on alien worlds may be impacted by the wild and weird orbits of giant neighboring planets, new studies suggest.

"The heftier worlds in other planetary systems could exert large forces on smaller worlds, pushing and pulling them into changing orbits. In some cases, these weird orbits could cause some extrasolar planets to fluctuate between being habitable and being inhospitable to life.

"These changing conditions of habitability could impact the search for life on other worlds and astronomers' theories on the formation of planetary systems like our own.

" 'There is this crazy zoo of planets out there that probably are habitable,' research team member Rory Barnes of the University of Washington said, 'but their properties are very different from Earth and they're different from Earth because of their eccentric neighbors.'..."

(from NASA, ESA, and B. McArthur (The Univ. of Texas at Austin, McDonald Observ.), via, used w/o permission)
"An artist's illustration that compares the solar system with the Upsilon Andromedae system. Astronomers have recently discovered that not all planets orbit the bright yellow-white star Upsilon Andromedae in the same plane, as the major planets in our solar system orbit the Sun. The orbits of two of the planets, c and d, are inclined by 30 degrees with respect to each other. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI) Science: NASA, ESA, and B. McArthur (The Univ. of Texas at Austin, McDonald Observ.)"

Until very recently, the only planetary system we could observe - or knew existed - was our Solar system: the planets, asteroids, and assorted things orbiting our sun, Sol. The planets, from Mercury out to Neptune, and the asteroids, all orbit in almost exactly the same plane. Even Pluto isn't that far out of the ecliptic, the plane of Earth's orbit.

Then, a decade or so back, astronomers developed ways to detect planets circling other stars. The number of known exoplanets, planets circling other stars, is over 400 and is still growing.

Three of them orbit Upsilon Andromedae. Upsilon Andromedae is quite a bit like our sun: It's about the same temperature, but younger and somewhat more massive. When the three planets were detected, a reasonable assumption was that they all orbited in the same plane.

They don't.

"...But, new findings from computer modeling indicate that the habitability of some exoplanets could vary, based on the orbits of giant planetary neighbors.

"The discovery of these so-called weird orbits will have important implications for existing theories of how multi-planet systems evolve. The findings also show that some violent events can happen to disrupt planets' orbits after a planetary system forms.

" 'The findings mean that future studies of exoplanetary systems will be more complicated,' said Barbara McArthur of The University of Texas at Austin, who was the lead researcher for one of the studies. 'Astronomers can no longer assume all planets orbit their parent star in a single plane.'..."

The odds are that the Upsilon Andromedae planets formed in a single plane - but that something happened after that to tilt the orbits of the outer two. That "something" could have been a fourth massive planet that got thrown out of the system in the process, Upsilon Andromedae's binary companion (it's a double star), or - well, something else.

The tilted orbits of Upsilon Andromedae's outer planets - and the very eccentric orbits of massive planets in other systems - means that ideas like "habitable planet" and "habitable zone" are probably much more complicated than we thought.

"...'The bigger issue here is that the habitable zone is very complicated,' Barnes said. 'Earth's climate is affected slightly over tens of thousands of years by the orbits of other planets in the solar system, but it is possible that in many exoplanetary systems the layout of the planets is very important to habitability.'..."

As often happens in the sciences, the more we know, the more we discover that we don't know. That certainly keeps things from getting boring.
Related posts, at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Four Kittens, a Double-Tub Bowl, and (Im)Patience

"Noisy kittens waiting for dinner!"

smshdchrb, YouTube (October 04, 2008)
video, 2:18

"7 week old fostered kittens waiting on their dinner being prepared. They had been ill with cat flu and were just starting to get their appetite back. Because of their condition I had to chop their food finely and then add water and their medication to it. Once they were old enough and healthy enough the kittens were eventually re-homed in pairs to two loving families. They were never purposely starved for our entertainment - Cats can be very impatient and demanding!"

I wondered what was taking so long with the food prep. At that age, in their condition, it would have been a really good idea to make sure they didn't have to handle large chunks of food.

Notice, toward the end, where someone reaches down and re-positions one of the kittens.

Psychology of Web Design: Not At All Bad as an Introduction

"The Psychology of Web Design"
Webdesigner Depot (undated)

"Designers often don't take the time they should to learn about how basic psychological principles can effect the experience their visitors have on the sites they build.

"Psychological principles are either looked upon as unnecessary, or too complicated. But the truth is that they're neither.

"There aren't that many concepts associated with basic design psychology, and most are relatively straight-forward and easy to learn.

"They're also mainly easy to implement, though some take a bit more care and planning than others.

"Read on to learn more and please leave your feedback and comments at the end of this post...."

The post is fairly short, with a good content-to-fluff ratio. It's even got subheads, to help you skim through:

The Purpose of Psychology-Based Design Making visitors happy.

Building Trust I wish more executives would read this. Which is another topic.

Familiarity and Recognizable Patterns Remember the first-time visitor.

Branding Consistency This is more for business websites - but anybody can benefit by thinking about these sorts of self-identifying elements

Psychological Triggers It'd be nice if the writer said what some of them were: But there is that resource list at the end.

Images to Reinforce Concepts Resist the impulse to put that photo of your pet aardvark on the page about pliers and wrenches.

Color Psychology Here, the writer gives examples. Without explaining that the 'psychology of color' given works - for Euro-Americans and many other Western cultures. Other parts of the world, not so much.

Reading Patterns Same thing. There's a famous (infamous, actually) account of an advertising firm that designed a magazine ad for an Arabian-language magazine.

They used a proven, successful, ad for the product, had someone translate the text, and were surprised at the results. Their client sold fertilizer for plants. The ad was mostly three photos: 'before,' showing a wilted, nearly-dead, plant in a pot; 'product,' the fertilizer being applied to the soil; 'after,' showing a wonderfully vibrant, green, healthy plant.

Just one problem: the agency kept the photos in their original position, "before" to the left and "after" to the right. That's fine for European languages, which are read left-to-write. Arabic, among other languages, is read right-to-left. What that expensive ad showed was the product nearly killing a previously-healthy plant.

That said, the "Z" pattern really does hold - for English-speaking readers.

Focus of Each Page Graphic arts 101, introduction. There's enough there to tell you what you need to think about.

Breathing Room You can break this rule - but I wouldn't suggest it unless you really know what you're doing.

Steps for Incorporating Design Psychology More detail than usual for this post. Pretty good advice, actually.

Bottom line? This isn't a 'must-read' post. There aren't many of that sort, in my opinion. But this is a 'worth reading' post: There are more of this sort, but they're rare enough to be worth highlighting. The resource list at the bottom goes a long way to making this post worth the time it'll take to go through it.
A tip of the hat to LogotypeTV, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs and Military Research

"Pentagon to Troop-Killing Superbugs: Resistance is Futile"
Danger Room, Wired (May 24, 2010)

"A super-germ that's become a lethal threat to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may have met its match in a novel technique that kills entire bacterial colonies within hours.

"Today's troops have a 9 in 10 chance of surviving their battle injuries. But wounds and amputation sites leave them vulnerable to infection, especially by Acinetobacter — an opportunistic pathogen (somewhat-misleadingly) nicknamed 'Iraqibacter' for its prevalence in war-zone medical facilities. As Wired Magazine reported in 2007, the bacteria has infected at least 700 American troops since 2003, and killed at least 7 people exposed to it in military clinics.

"Iraqibacter was once treated with common, easy-to-access antibiotic drugs. But in the last few years, the bacteria have developed a powerful resistance to all but one medication, called Colistin, that's got a bit of a nasty side effect: potentially fatal kidney damage.

"And since the illness afflicts relatively few people, Big Pharma companies aren't exactly lining up to develop new drugs...."

So far, nothing remarkable: This article looked like it was going to be another one of those hand-wringing specials about heartless big corporations, and all that.

Here's the next paragraph. Get ready for a surprise:

"...But a Pentagon-funded research team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, along with small biotech firm PolyMedix, are making rapid strides toward a new line of Iraqibacter treatments — and the medications could spur the development of antibiotics that can fend off other drug-resistant ailments.

" 'We didn't set out to create a mechanism that could be applied to other illnesses,' Dr. Gregory Tew, the UMass scientist behind the project, told Danger Room. 'But it's an impressive and exciting bonus that's come of our work.'

"The scientists have already used the new type of antibiotics to effectively treat Staph infections, which kill thousands of Americans each year. Common antibiotics work by attaching to a specific molecule (like an enzyme) inside bacterial cells. With some minor adaptive changes, bacteria can alter their cell structure to prevent antibiotic binding, thereby becoming resistant to the drugs. Some infections even develop 'persister cells,' which stop growing when the antibiotics are administered, and then turn back on once a round of meds is completed.

"But Tew and co. have developed antibiotics that work from the outside to quickly destroy bacterial cells...."

Essentially, the new drugs don't make small-scale changes in the bacteria: they poke holes in the cell membranes, killing them instantly. And, short of growing the microbial equivalent of chain mail, there doesn't seem to be much the germs can do about it.

Given the resilient nature of disease organisms, I suspect that eventually there may be a super-duper-superbug that'll have that 'chain mail.' But that's another issue.

Right now, it looks like a whole lot of people will be living, who would have died otherwise. And, incredible as it may seem for someone immersed in America's dominant culture, we have the American military to thank.

Whaddaya know.

A slightly longer version of this post appeared in another of my blogs:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Secret X-37B Space Plane and Amateur Astronomers

"Secret X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Amateur Skywatchers" (May 22, 2010)

"While the U.S. Air Force is mum about the orbital whereabouts of its X-37B mini-space plane, a dedicated band of amateur skywatchers has got its cross-hairs on the spacecraft.

"The unpiloted X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1 was lofted on April 22 atop an Atlas launcher. It is being flown under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

"In U.S. military tracking parlance, when the space plane reached orbit it became identified as Catalog Number 36514, 2010-015A, OTV-1 (USA 212)...."

"...But thanks to a worldwide eyes-on-the-sky network of amateurs, the spacecraft is reportedly in a 39.99 degrees inclination, circling the Earth in an orbit 401 kilometers by 422 kilometers. This data may change slightly as the vehicle's orbit is better refined, said Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, a pioneer in using telescopic video cameras to track spacecraft, chalking up exceptional results over the years...."

Looks like the X-37B launch went off on schedule. The article gives a pretty good set of information on the test flight, and what the robotic spaceplane will probably be used for.

Some of the article's written, I think, more for the amateur astronomer - or for folks who are interested in amateur astronomy. The Lemming fits into that category. I've been out on observing sessions: but I'd much rather read about using telescopes than stand out in a Minnesota field, trying to use one.

It's a pretty good writeup of this test flight of a 'secret' Air Force vehicle. Although for a 'secret' project, there's been an awful lot of publicity. I've posted about this before. Fairly often, I see.

Related posts:More:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ear Wax Blockage * But Were Afraid to Ask

"Earwax blockage"
Mayo Clinic

"Earwax blockage occurs when earwax (cerumen) accumulates in your ear and becomes too hard to wash away naturally.

"Earwax is a helpful and natural part of your body's defenses. It protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. It's not known why some people experience earwax blockage or why earwax blockage often occurs in only one ear.

"If earwax blockage becomes a problem, you or your doctor can take simple steps to remove the wax safely...."

That's the first page, "Definition." There's more: "Symptoms," "Causes," "Preparing for your appointment," "Tests and diagnosis," and more.

Seriously? Ear wax buildup can be a real problem. But, somehow, it's not something that most folks talk about. Now, you have a reliable way to find answers to your questions about ear wax.

Previous posts, on quite unrelated topics:

The Varma Mansion: Revisited

"The Mansion"
Past Projects, Harrison Varma

The Lemming did a post on this magnificent house a little over a year ago. (March 8, 2009)

From the looks of it, someone decided they liked The Mansion, and had the £35,000,000 to pay for it - or a mutually acceptable amount. I haven't found indications that it's still on the market.

Here's one of the more complete descriptions of the Varma Mansion I found, that's still online:

"The Mansion by Harrison Varma"
LUXUO Luxury Blog (March 12th, 2009)

"Harrison Varma have created 'The Mansion', a luxurious home, located near the Kenwood House in the Hampstead area of London.

"This magnificent modern mansion located in Courtenay Avenue has been built to the highest specification with over 16,300 sq. feet of accommodation comprising of 8 bedroom suites, 6 reception rooms, cinema, indoor pool, gym and leisure facilities, staff apartment, 8 person lift as well as secure underground parking for 6 cars.

"The property is currently [March 12th, 2009] for sale with Savills for £35,000,000 ($49,000,000)."

Harrison Varma has maintained a couple of good-quality photos on the website, but for the most part The Mansion seems to have passed from the Web.

The three exterior views on this post are from and the Varma website. has a number of interior views which I presume show the mansion - but I wasn't able to verify that.

Why revisit an upscale house across the Atlantic - that's probably been off the market for a year? Good question.

I noticed that the 2009 post was being visited a bit more often than others from that period: and when I looked, the photo link was broken. Contemporist had taken down the page I'd linked to: which is a fairly common practice for online periodicals.

It makes sense, from a dollars-and-cents point of view: document storage costs money (not much, but it adds up); and quite a few outfits are - well, I suppose "budget conscious" is a good way to put it. It's a little rough on folks who come, looking for information that's not there any more: but that's the way it is.

That's also why The Lemming seldom removes posts - and why I keep 'old' pages on my websites. That's another topic.

Besides: I liked the look of the Varma Mansion, and wanted to come back for a look from time to time, myself.

Varma this, Varma that: who or what is this "Varma," anyway?

Harrison Varma is an architect, working in England, who has found a rather specialized niche for his talents. And, Harrison Varma is an architecture firm. From the about page of the Harrison Varma website:

"Harrison Varma is a boutique design-and-build company specialising in the creation of individually crafted, contemporary, luxury homes built to the highest standards.

"It has its own workforce of over 100 specialists and craftsmen and an independent joinery company...."

I'm near the other end of the income scale, from Varma's clients: but I'm glad that Harrison Varma is around, and that folks with the wealth it takes to build those houses are interested in having places built in the Hampstead, Highgate and Kenwood area of England.

This way, I get to look at photos of magnificent residences - without having to worry about maintaining them.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Faces in the Street - a Chesterton Quote

"Do not look at the faces in the illustrated papers. Look at the faces in the street." G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, 11/16/07 November 16, 1907, from "Quotations of G. K. Chesterton,"

("Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, 1908-1910" is available at - for about $30USD)

Haiti's Rebuilding: and Doing It Right

"Haiti trying to avoid past mistakes as rebuilding begins"
CNN (May 21, 2010)

"At the Iron Market, Haitians shopped for everything from vegetables to Voodoo flags. One side was destroyed in a 2008 fire. The January 12 earthquake leveled the rest.

"By year's end, workers hope to restore the Port-au-Prince landmark to its original splendor.

"Destined for Egypt in 1889, the market's French-built minarets became Haiti's when the sale to a Cairo train station fell through and President Florvil Hyppolite bought the massive cast iron structures as part of his plan to modernize the city...."

"...It's inspiring to see the historical structure rise again amid the rubble, Gay said. But even more, the Iron Market restoration provides hope to those who live and work in its shadow -- especially because everyone knows Haiti's rebuilding process is sure to be slow.

"By some estimates, it will take three to five years just to clear the rubble and debris still on the streets of Port-au-Prince. There is so much damage and destruction, so few trucks and places to dispose of the mangled steel and concrete and the piles of crushed furniture and personal possessions...."

One of the reasons that so many of Haiti's buildings collapsed is that they were built on the cheap - smooth rebar, not ridged the way we have it here in America, and not much of that. Calcium carbonate in the concrete - and concrete made with too much water (cutting costs again) - didn't help buildings stand up, either.

This time around, it looks like Haiti's government is going to inspect buildings as they're being built. I'm no fan of regulation: but there are enough bean-counting nitwits around to make me think that building codes make sense - in principle.

Bottom line? It looks like the survivors in Haiti realize that they really don't want to go on with 'business as usual' as they rebuild their country.

Aid agencies are putting up semi-permanent houses for folks who don't have a roof for the rainy season. These buildings aren't subject to building code - but that doesn't upset me all that much. Small, lightweight, structures seem to weather earthquakes fairly well. It's those concrete, glass and steel high rises with crumbly concrete and breakaway rebars that are a problem.


A list of charities you've probably heard about already, with links and some contact information: Also a list of posts in this, and two other blogs, about Haiti.

Caldwell Raw Sprouts: Now With Salmonella

Here we go again. Another batch of tainted food got into America's distribution system.

That headline is a little unfair, by the way. Quite a few Caldwell food products don't contain salmonella - and they're far from the only company to have sold potentially-lethal food products lately.

"Salmonella outbreak in 10 states prompts sprouts recall "
CNN (May 21, 2010)

"Federal public health officials are investigating a salmonella outbreak that has infected 22 people in 10 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday.

"The infections are linked to the consumption of raw alfalfa sprouts, the CDC said.

"California-based Caldwell Fresh Foods is recalling all alfalfa sprouts manufactured under three of its brands because they may be contaminated with salmonella, the company said Friday. Caldwell said its alfalfa sprouts have been associated with the outbreak.

"There have been no deaths reported from the outbreak....

"...One of those infected was an infant hospitalized in Oregon, an Oregon Department of Health official told CNN. The baby had been eating alfalfa sprouts, said Paul Cieslak, manager of the state health department's communicable disease section....

"...The initial investigation traced the implicated raw alfalfa sprouts to a single sprout processor in California, the CDC said, though it did not name Caldwell Fresh Foods directly. The CDC did not respond to requests for comment on Friday...."

Good news? Nobody's died, and it looks like the problem has been identified and traced to its source.

Bad news? This shouldn't have happened.

States where this set of salmonella cases have been reported:
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Wisconsin
It's possible that what we've got these days is a more connected, more efficient, system that reports when something is amiss, instead of assuming that 'the masses' couldn't handle knowing what's going on. I'm inclined to think that's one reason why we read about this sort of thing more often now, than back in the 'good old days' when I was young(er).

People started getting sick around March 1, 2010 - so this isn't exactly a new thing.

There isn't much in the CNN article about how salmonella got in the sprouts - maybe we'll hear more about that, another day.

More in the news:Related posts:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Taft-Hartley 14(b), or 'Who Needs a Secret Ballot?'

Offline, I ran into scuttlebutt that there's another attempt to repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act in the works. I'm not surprised. What with rampant literacy among the labor force, Internet connections and Wi-Fi hotspots even in small town America - the masses are getting downright uppity.

Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act isn't something you hear about every day: It's a disturbing bit of good sense that allows states to opt for 'open shops.' That's a workplace where you don't (brace yourself) have to belong to a union.

Labor Unions, Oppressor Classes, and the Information Age

I think labor unions made sense, sort of, more than a century ago. That was an age when corsets were tight, horses were everywhere, and ideas like "oppressed proletariat" and "oppressor classes" made a little more sense, when applied to the American economy.

I've belonged to a labor union, myself. Of necessity; since the rules were that I didn't get the job if I didn't join. I've also been "oppressed" something fierce for most of my working life, in non-union shops. Can't say that I've minded keeping what was left of my paycheck after the taxman got his cut.

Taft-Hartley: Minions Got Rights

Taft-Hartley Section 14(b) is something of a thorn in the paw for organized labor in America, and the union leaders have turned their not-inconsiderable resources to the task of getting rid of that pesky bit of legislation before:

"Potential Repeal of Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act"
The Ohio Labor Lawyers (December 17, 2008)

"A longstanding target of labor unions has been Section 14(b) of the Tart-Hartley Act (a 1947 amendment to the National Labor Relations Act), which is the so-called Right to Work laws and bars workers from being forced to join labor unions. Specifically, in the 22 states that have enacted this law, when a union contract is signed, employees decide whether they want to join the union and pay dues; those that do not pay dues work under the same conditions as those that pay dues. Understandably, Right to Work states have significantly lower unionization rates than do other states...."

Not being forced to pay union dues? Not having the big boys check to see if I voted the 'right' way? Sounds like anarchy. Or oppression. Or, maybe, freedom.

I pick: "freedom."

Like I said, I think organized labor made a little sense - in the 19th century, when quite a few folks in the 'laboring class' didn't have a very broad education: and many were immigrants with very little working knowledge of how American economics and law worked.

That was then. This is the 21st century. Gas lamps have given way to LEDs, and 'the workers' have almost as much access to information as anybody else. I'm pretty sure that some of the 'working class' would just as soon pay someone in a suit to do their thinking for them, and tell them how to vote. Life is a little easier when you put your frontal cortex in 'sleep' mode.

Let Members of the Working Class Think For Themselves?!

But, judging from how many folks stay away from unions when they're not forced to join - my guess is that more folks at my end of the economic spectrum are willing to think for themselves than our 'betters' believe. (more about me and 'the masses' at "Lemming Tracks: Lower Middle Class and Loving It" (December 14, 2009))
  • "Labor Unions"
    Social History, History Department at the University of San Diego

Homo Gautengensis: Big Teeth, Tiny Brain, Fire, Stone Tools; and a New Puzzle

"Toothy Tree-Swinger May Be Earliest Human"
Human News, Discovery News (May 21, 2010)

"Your family tree has a new and colorful member, Homo gautengensis, a toothy, plant-chomping, literal tree swinger that was just named the world's earliest recognized species of human.

"The new human, described in a paper accepted for publication in HOMO-Journal of Comparative Human Biology, emerged over 2 million years ago and died out approximately 600,000 years ago. The authors believe it arose earlier than Homo habilis, aka 'Handy Man.'

"Darren Curnoe, who led the project, told Discovery News that Homo gautengensis was 'small-brained' and 'large-toothed.'

"Curnoe, an anthropologist at the University of New South Wales School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said that it was 'probably an ecological specialist, consuming more vegetable matter than Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, and probably even Homo habilis. It seems to have produced and used stone tools and may even have made fire,' since there is evidence for burnt animal bones associated with this human's remains...."

Homo gautengensis, based on what's been found, was just over three feet tall, weighed around 110 pounds, and most likely walked on two feet: but spent quite a bit of time in trees. Unlike the more recent Neanderthals, no amount of haircuts and tailoring would help one of those folks blend in to the crowd today.

I used the term "folks," because Homo gautengensis remains were found with stone tools and burned animal bones. A sort of cottage industry grew in the scientific community during the 20th century, finding examples of animals that made tools: sort of. To date, though, we're the only creatures to make and control fire - apart from critters like the bombardier beetle, whose bodies use energetic chemical reactions.

So, I'm quite willing to assume that Homo gautengensis were people. Maybe my ancestors. Then again, maybe not.

As often happens with scientific inquiry, new data raises more questions than it answers - and shows that models that explained previously-known data are probably wrong.

"...De Ruiter of Texas A&M University and his colleagues proposed that A. sediba was the transitional species between Australopithecus africanus (a non-human not in our genus) and Homo erectus -- 'Upright Man.'

"The newly identified human, however, throws a wrench into that theory since A. sediba was 'much more primitive than H. gautengensis, and lived at the same time and in the same place,' according to Curnoe. As a result, 'Homo gautengensis makes Australopithecus sediba. look even less likely to be the ancestor of humans.'

"Curnoe instead proposes that Australopithecus garhi, found in Ethiopia and dating to about 2.5 million years ago, is a better possibility for the earliest non-Homo direct ancestor in the human evolutionary line.

"Curnoe still regards East Africa as being the cradle of humans, 'because it has the oldest fossil record, going back to about 7 million years, but we are clearly learning now that there was much greater diversity in our evolutionary tree than we realized for a long time.'

"'If we compress all of human evolution into a single year, we have been alone only since the last hour on December 31, so the situation we find ourselves in today -- we are alone -- is unusual,' Curnoe said. 'We need to explain why this is the case. Was it climate, or are we responsible for the demise of all of our close relatives, including recently the Neanderthals and the Hobbit (Homo floresiensis)?' "

That last sentence is the sort of thing you've just about got to write, these days, to be taken seriously by serious thinkers: "...Was it climate, or are we responsible for the demise of all of our close relatives, including recently the Neanderthals and the Hobbit (Homo floresiensis)?' "

It's 'obvious' that, since there aren't any Neanderthals walking around today (a debatable point), they must have all died - probably killed by those Cro-Magnon dudes. Who are also extinct. Or are us. (Archeology, Why Don't We Call Them Cro-Magnon Anymore?)

The 'we killed the Neanderthals' fits neatly into the 19th century assumptions about 'survival of the fittest,' and late-20th century preferences about feeling guilty. Turns out, though, that it's not a particularly good match with reality.

First, I've seen folks who look a bit like the less 'brutish' reconstructions of Neanderthals.

Second, now that the human genome and that of quite a number of other creatures has been mapped - and we finally got a decent sample of Neanderthal DNA - turns out, quite a few people living today have Neanderthal DNA in their genes. (May 7, 2010)

Okay: so we look different now. I don't look like my Campbell ancestors - but that doesn't mean that we're not related. Change happens.

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