Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to Think Like an Interior Designer - It Can be Done

"How to Think Like an Interior Designer"
Jaime Derringer, via Shelpterpop (July 29, 2010)

"It takes a unique mind to perfectly design and decorate a room. We get inside a few interior designer's heads and find out just how they do it.

"Whether economic times are lean or high-flying, not everyone can afford the services of an interior designer. Most of us browse the internet, flip through home magazines, collect paint chips and watch design shows on TV only to feel like we're ready to tackle a room and then realize we're totally not. Decorating can be pretty overwhelming: You have to choose a style, shop for items, create (and stick to) a budget.

"You need to learn to think like an interior designer, which very few of us do.

"To make decorating easier on you, we asked three designers to share some inside info about the decorating process; when they walk into a space, what goes through their minds and where do they begin? How do they come up with a design concept, and most importantly, how do they execute it? Here's what they said:..."

The headings are:
  • First, focus.
  • Become a student of the space.
  • Make an inspiration board.
  • Know your budget.
  • And now, the fun part.
Then, the post has "tried-and-true tricks of the trade." I get the impression that the author like alliteration. So do I, for that matter.

I suspect that the 'inspiration board' may be more for explaining ideas to the client than as a tool for the designer - but I can see where it could be useful in the planning process, too.

This post was a refreshing change from some of the gushy, vague, and hideously high-end articles I've run across. The advice seems practical, detailed enough to be useful - but not so detailed that you'd need to live in the same neighborhood as the writer to make use of it.

And, as I've usually found in 'interior design' posts and articles, there are quite a few nice-looking photos.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

BP Well: Capped on Tuesday, Maybe

"BP to try well kill Tuesday"
Reuters (July 30, 2010)

"BP Plc said on Friday it could seal its ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well by next week as U.S. lawmakers prepared to vote on reforms that would put tougher restrictions on offshore drilling.

"Incoming BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said the company would attempt a "static kill" operation on Tuesday to try to plug the broken undersea Macondo well that caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

" 'We want to absolutely kill this well. The static kill will be attempted on Tuesday. The relief well by the end of the month (August),' said Dudley, BP's top executive on the Gulf oil spill who will replace Tony Hayward as CEO on October 1...."

Reuters says that the "static kill" involves mud and cement poured into the well. Later, a relief well should - BP and the rest of us hope - relieve pressure and turn the broken well from a source of trouble to (probably) a source of petroleum.

The article links to an interactive display that shows the static kill works. Or is supposed to, at any rate.

Reuters also reports on what the American Congress is doing to get credit for BP's efforts in capping the well and restoring the Gulf coast. Sorry - that's not quite the way it's phrased in the article. America's midterm elections are coming in November, and the politicos are, in the Lemming's opinion, often sillier than usual in this season.

Don't get me wrong: British Petroleum, or at any rate the nitwit(s) who decided to use that "walruses of the Gulf" report, made some monumentally stupid decisions. Now eleven people are dead, the company's got liabilities and an image problem it'll be dealing with for years - make that decades, and folks living around the Gulf are dealing with oil on the water and - thanks to the American government - few to no oil-drilling-related jobs.

The Lemming will step off his soapbox in a moment, but - finally - a word for America's leaders: if people have a problem, shutting down the industry that employs them may not help.


Chevy Volt Electric Car: Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, According to Chevrolet


"The Extended-Range Electric Vehicle that is redefining the automotive world is no longer just a rumor. In fact, its propulsion system is so revolutionary, it's unlike any other vehicle or electric car that's ever been introduced. And we're making this remarkable vision a reality, so that one day you'll have the freedom to drive gas-free...."

As marketing hype goes, this is fairly mild. Chevrolet used "electrifying" and (twice) "revolutionary," but didn't tell us that their Volt is "amazing," "outstanding," "unparalleled", or "empowering." I suspect that, considering the lithium-ion batteries that energize (another one you don't find in their text) the Volt, someone suggested "empowering" - but decided on the more specific "electrifying."

The Volt page describes how wonderfully efficient it is, how it's great for commuters, and carefully avoids saying how fast the thing goes.

The range between recharges is impressive: 40 miles. It's more impressive if you live in a place like San Francisco or Manhattan, where everything's within a few miles. I grew up near the edge of North Dakota, so that number isn't quite so impressive to me.

But I probably won't be buying a Volt, anyway. It's not that I don't think electric cars are a good idea - for some applications - or that I don't like Chevy products. For what a new Volt will cost, I could buy a small fleet of the sort of vehicles my household uses.

Still, for someone who's got a few tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a short-range electric car - the Volt looks pretty good. My guess, although Chevy is a little shy about performance numbers for acceleration as well as speed, is that the Volt would be comparatively safe and practical to drive in a metropolitan area.

I've seen electric cars change from accessories for little old ladies in cartoons, to laboratory curiosities, to - now - what looks like a practical commercial vehicle.

I'm all for being "green," by the way: but I also have a limited budget, and don't like to waste material. Which is why I didn't buy those expensive high-efficiency light bulbs. Remember them? the ones that didn't last as long as an incandescent bulb and wouldn't fit in a standard light fixture? Fluorescent and LED lighting technology has improved, of course, since then. So have those 'efficient' toilets. I was underwhelmed by the one that used half the water of a standard unit for each flush - and had to be flushed three times to get the job done.

Enough of the rant.

Bottom line? Chevy may not lose money on the Volt.

And we've got some impressive high-efficiency technologies these days. Like the systems running a beach house in the not-all-that-rugged climate of Oregon's coast. (August 4, 2009)

Almost-related posts:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Asteroid 1999 RQ36 Won't Hit Earth in 2182: Probably

"Asteroid Could Threaten the Earth in 2182 " (July 27, 2010)

"A large asteroid in space that has a remote chance of slamming into the Earth would be most likely hit in 2182, if it crashed into our planet at all, a new study suggests.

"The asteroid, called 1999 RQ36, has about a 1-in-1,000 chance of actually hitting the Earth, but half of that risk corresponds to potential impacts in the year 2182, said study co-author María Eugenia Sansaturio of the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain.

"Sansaturio and her colleagues used mathematical models to determine the risk of asteroid 1999 RQ36 impacting the Earth through the year 2200. They found two potential opportunities for the asteroid to hit Earth in 2182...."

The key phrase here is "remote chance." The odds are that 1999 RQ36 will go past Earth in 2182, be observed and discussed by astronomers - and anybody else who shows an interest in the quarter-mile-wide chunk of rock.

Or, maybe, it will hit Earth. I'll be long gone by then: but just the same I'd rather that folks living then not experience an asteroid impact.

We're not entirely helpless. We've had at least some of the technology needed to deflect asteroids for years. What's missing is a clear process for using what we've got. We're close, though.

A key, as outlined in the article, is to make plans and act early. Before tons of cosmic leftovers are a few years away from running into our planet.

Which makes the sort of research that's described rather important.

Related posts:
Related posts, at

Penguins? Quite British, Actually: The Books, That is

"Picking up Penguins for 75 years"
BBC (July 29, 2010)

"Tales about the man who founded Penguin 75 years ago, conjure up the image of an eccentric character from one of the publisher's books.

"Sir Allen Lane was the man who used a fairground slide to drop deliveries to his company (then based in a crypt) and came up with the Penguincubator - a vending machine for the firm's books to be installed on train platforms.

"Stories differ as to whether this machine was ever made, with some reports suggesting at least one machine was installed at Charing Cross Station in London...."

"...'When Allen Lane founded Penguin in 1935 he had a pretty simple, but pretty radical idea: make great literature available to everyone at an affordable price and for it to appeal not just to the wallet, but to literary taste and the eye, with beautifully designed jackets and style,' says Mr Makinson...."

75 years later, Penguin books are still selling: so that radical idea seems to have been a rather good one, after all.

Interestingly, Penguin books haven't been selling in Brazil: yet. Apparently that's going to change soon, too.

The BBC quotes Penguin's chief executive and chairman, John Makinson, on paperbacks and e-books: "There's also nothing cool about owning enormous quantities of e-books," which I'm taking a bit out of context.

Keep reading: "...'For the children's market, the iPad is fantastic. On the iPad in the US, there was only one book pre-loaded and that was our edition of Winnie The Pooh,' Mr Makinson adds...."

I rather suspect that Penguin books - virtual and otherwise - will be around for quite a while.

I'm even pretty sure that the codex will be around for quite a while, too: although we're almost certainly seeing a major shift toward data storage and retrieval technology that doesn't involve marks on physical pages. ("The Web Rewires Your Brain: Ain't That Great?" (July 2, 2010), "Data-Driven Art: For an 'Overwhelmed' 'Hive Mind???' " (January 27, 2010))

Mississippi River, Glaciers, and a Whacking Great Earthquake

"How the Mississippi River Triggers Earthquakes"
Discovery News (July 29, 2010)

"The Mississippi River may be mightier than anyone ever imagined. It may have been behind the baffling 1811-1812 earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, a region of Earthly unrest where by rights no earthquakes should be found.

"Yet in December of 1811, a pair of massive magnitude 7.2+ temblors ripped through the Mississippi River Valley near the corners of Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Illinois.

"January and February of 1812 brought two more strong quakes that caused severe damage to buildings in St. Louis and sparked reports of shaking felt as far away as Maine. Middle America was, inexplicably, in tumult...."

Those early-1900s quakes were big ones. Back then, folks hadn't built all that many large, tall structures along the Mississippi watershed. These days, quite a few cities have popped up - without the sort of wake-up calls that encouraged places like San Francisco to figure earthquake effects into their building codes.

A 7.2+ temblor today would put the American Midwest on the front page: probably around the world.

Oddly enough, it looks like global warming is to blame for the 1812 quakes:

"...A new paper in the journal Nature suggests the river's erosive action may be to blame. Between 16,000 and 10,000 years ago, as North America emerged from the last ice age, the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers conspired to remove 12 meters (39.4 feet) of sediment from a large swath of the New Madrid region...."

I think folks tend to forget that Earth was in an ice age until very recently. Whoever wrote the Discovery article apparently is in the camp that thinks that the current ice age is over: but there's some debate about that. The last I heard, we could be at the end of Earth's most recent period of continental glaciation - or in another interglacial period. (September 9, 2009)

The point is that, around 16,000 to 10,000 years ago, North America's glaciars were melting and the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers started eroding away a serious amount of material. Bedrock that had been pushed down by the weight of glaciers and soil - wasn't under as much pressure.

The idea is that, as the North American continent's interior eased back into a non-glaciated position, something gave: the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

The good news is that events like these seem to be one-off adjustments. It doesn't look like pressure is building up in the New Madrid Seismic Zone for another big quake.

The bad news is that another, as-yet-uncharted, place deep under the Midwest may be under stress - and hasn't cracked yet.

Well, that keeps life interesting.

Related posts:
Related posts, at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fair Food Safety isn't an Accident

"Health Inspectors Keep Fair Food Safe"
WBNS-10TV (July 29, 2010)

"Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to enjoy a taste of summer at the Ohio State Fair, but very few people know what goes into keeping the food vendors and booths clean and safe.

"With more than 200 food vendors, it takes an army of inspectors to ensure they are using proper food handling techniques,10TV's Glenn McEntyre reported on Thursday.

"Lin Haman and her granddaughter Julia took a break to sample one of the fair's main attractions, the food...."

"Safe" and "healthy" are relative terms, of course. I don't necessarily recommend deep fried cookies and candy bars (I'm not making that up) to anyone whose youth and way of life doesn't let them burn off the fats and sugars in a few hours.

(Sauk Centre Journal, (August 2, 2008)
That's right: the Funnel Cakes concession also offered Deep Fried
Cookies & Candy Bars. Deep fried - candy bars?! August 1, 2008.

On the other hand, I'm not going to rant about how everybody should limit themselves to organic corn husks and dessicated tofu, either.

The Lemming saw the WBNS article as a refreshing change from the 'and we're all gonna die' sort of reporting. And, a pretty good look at how America keeps the food distribution system safe. With spectacular exceptions, of course. ("Peanut Peril: Remembering" (February 26, 2009))

Standards for "fair food" are the same as for restaurants: keep hot food hot, cold food cold, and wash your hands.

Wouldn't hurt to do the same at home - but that's (almost) another topic.

County Fair Season

Now, a bit of shameless self-promotion: I'll be posting about the Stearns County Fair (Minnesota), among other things, in the Sauk Centre Journal Blog.

Farms: On the Moon? Quite Likely

"Space Farms Could Mine Minerals From Moon Dirt" (July 29, 2010)

"Future manned missions to the moon or Mars could use plants as bio-harvesters to extract valuable elements from the alien soils, researchers say.

"Now they hope to launch new experiments to follow up on tests done with plants and lunar regolith during NASA's Apollo program that landed men on the moon.

"Lunar regolith is a loose mixture of dust, soil, broken rock and other related materials that lie on top of solid bedrock. The Apollo-era research showed that returned lunar samples of the regolith did not have toxins or contain alien life-form contaminants that could threaten plants, animals or humans on Earth...."

Apollo-era research suggested that plants would grow fine in moon soil, and that it was safe for food crops. But there just wasn't enough to do thorough field testing (literally and figuratively) with what we found on Earth's satellite.

One of many things we don't know is what happens to bacteria that plants need to grow, when the microorganisms get together with lunar soil. That may change soon:

"...New experiments don't need to wait for a return trip to the Moon, according to the researchers. They already have plans that would require just a few grams of the hundreds of kilograms of lunar regolith collected by NASA.

"Just one gram of lunar regolith could support the growth of several Arabidopsis plants related to cabbage and radish, Paul pointed out. That model organism represented the first plant to have its genome sequenced, and so would provide a great baseline for lunar biology experiments...."

My guess is that critters from Earth will get along pretty well in the sort of material we find on the Moon: the place isn't that different. Assuming that we can grow crops on the Moon, I think the article's idea of growing crops to supply interplanetary expeditions isn't very far-fetched.

We probably won't be seeing "Moon farmers" soon, though: on-site crop maintenance and harvesting could, in principle, be handled by robots.

As I've written before, this is an exciting time to live in.

Circular Breathing, Human Qualities, and Not Bugging Your Listeners

Martin Schuring, Associate Professor of Music, Arizona State University (2007)

"Circular breathing is an essential part of oboe technique. Everyone who has learned the technique will never give it up. However, circular breathing is regarded with suspicion by some, who regard it as a virtuoso party trick that distorts the natural human qualities of music. So, it is important not to use it in that way. Circular breathing is not really intended to increase the distance between breathing points. Rather, it is a wonderful technique that can enhance playing and increase comfort. Increased comfort gives increased endurance, more stability, better tone quality, and less tension.

"There are two elements to the technique. You must be able to "spit" air through the reed rather than blowing. And, you must be able to breathe in and out through your nose while spitting the air in your mouth...."

I see circular breathing - sustaining a note with air stored in the cheeks rather than direct from the lungs - as a difficult-to-master technique which enhances a performance.

I'll admit to a bias. I've sat through a fair number of recitals with a whole lot of "natural human qualities." Like the pianist who grunted on roughly every third note: loudly enough to be heard ten rows back. The fellow with a woodwind who vocalized each time he inhaled. Not so loudly - but imagine Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" punctuated by an inhaled "AAAAH!" every few measures.

I'll take my music without quite so many "human" elements, thank you.

Still, Schuring has a point: any technique can be misused. Including keeping time and playing on-key, I suppose.

Here's another page on circular breathing, from the same institution, but by a different person:

Lemming Tracks: Erin Andrews, Policing the Internet, and Power to the People

"ESPN's Erin Andrews: 'No One Is Policing' Internet, Which 'Needs to be Regulated' "
CNS News (July 29, 2010)

"ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, a victim of stalking, appeared with members of Congress on Tuesday to announce the proposed 'STALKERS Act.' Andrews -- whose stalker posted a video online that he had secretly recorded of her nude in a hotel room – told that 'no one is policing' the Internet and it 'needs to be regulated.'

" 'It needs to be regulated. It's not. I mean, that's the bottom line. It needs to be regulated. There's no policing of it,” Andrews told after the press conference on Capitol Hill.

" also asked Andrews if the government should monitor content on certain Web sites.

"She said, 'If somebody could think of something, I mean, they'd be a hero because, you know, there's just a lot of stuff that needs to be policed; that needs to be looked at. No one's held accountable for what they put on the Internet.'..."

First of all, I think that what was done to Erin Andrews was wrong. It wasn't right. The fellow shouldn't have done what he did.

Stalking isn't nice. People shouldn't do it.

Erin Andrews is quite understandably upset.

Rescuing a Spunky Girl Reporter, Controlling What We Say Online

There's a distinction between stalking, what was done to Erin Andrews: and posting something on your blog that the establishment doesn't like.
The Sixties, the Establishment, and - Finally - Power to the People
If "the establishment" sounds terribly sixties, I'm not surprised. It's closely associated with peace protests, flower power, and kids who didn't like gray flannel suits.

I was there, and there was a - shall we say certain coolness? - between the folks who were perfectly content with being in charge and having things pretty much their way, and the rest of us.

After a half-century, a fair number of the screaming kids now wear three-piece suits and are solidly "establishment" themselves. And that's almost another topic.

Not quite, though, because the folks in charge today still get annoyed when everybody doesn't agree with them. They're particularly ticked off when somebody has the effrontery (from their point of view) to criticize their policies in public.

It's easy to see disagreement as a threat. I remember the trailing edge of America's McCarthyism, I endured the years when political correctness was in bloom - and I'm very concerned about efforts to "protect" people from those bad guys on the Internet.

You know, the ones who don't agree with the establishment.

I've discussed this in other blogs:Bottom line?

I think freedom of expression is important.

I also think freedom of expression is important for people who don't fully support the views of whoever is in charge at the moment.

Ready access to the Internet has given people who aren't part of the established order the power to speak their minds, be heard - and maybe make a difference.

That, finally, is real "power to the people."

'Something's Gotta Be Done' - But 'Be Careful What You Wish For'

I agree that enforcement of 'stalking laws' and the emerging sanctions against producers of malware is somewhere between inadequate - and a sick joke.

But I am very concerned about emotional pleas to regulate what people do online.

Remember, I think that stalking isn't nice and that people shouldn't do it.

This isn't about stalking.

I think that "freedom of expression" is useless, if the only people you're allowed to communicate with are the ones within a few yards of you.

Today, you can get your message published, even if you're not a member of Congress. You don't need to have a personal relationship with the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper, or be best-buds with a network executive.

You don't even need to have the wealth it takes to buy advertising space on a national network, or buy a publishing house.

Most importantly, you can get your message out: even if you don't support today's establishment, and their policies.

All it takes is time at a keyboard, and access to the Internet.


I agree that attractive young women in high-profile careers should be allowed to express their opinions.

I also think that the rest of us should be allowed to express our opinions.

'First They Came for the Jews/Socialists/Communists...'

Martin Niemöller's poem has been re-written enough times. You've probably heard or read at least one version of it. (December 11, 2009))

Yes, online behavior "needs to be regulated." To the extent that we need to have sanctions against people who take inappropriate pictures of Erin Andrews and others in her position.

I hope, sincerely, that Erin's emotional plea doesn't lead to the rest of us losing our freedom to say things that the powers-that-be don't like.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ingersoll Mansion: After 200 Years, Moving 400 Feet

"Ingersoll Mansion to be moved"
FOX23 News (July 27, 2010)

"The Ingersoll Mansion located between State Street and Balltown Road in Niskayuna will be moving -- but not too far.

"The Niskayuna Planning Board voted in favor of shuffling the historic mansion 350 feet so that the front would face Balltown Road...."

Folks in Niskayuna probably know quite a lot about the Ingersoll place, and why it's important. Here in central Minnesota, it's not quite so well known. I think it's the place discussed on a page about Project Identifier USN A09303.000240. Looks like the Ingersoll Mansion is also known as Ingersoll Residence, Stanford Farm, Locust Grove, and Stanford Mansion.

Or maybe USN A09303.000240 is another place.

More, about the Ingersoll place:

"200 year old building on the move"
CBS 6 (July 27, 2010)

"A 200 year old building will soon be lifted from its foundation and moved nearly 400 feet. It's all part of a Schenectady developer's plan to build a new shopping center, Stanford Crossings, in Niskayuna...."

So far, it seems that the Ingersoll Mansion is notable for being about 200 years old, big, and having been owned by a succession of folks who had the resources it took to purchase the place. Also, judging from the photos, it seems to be a nice-looking big house.

Making a Work Space that Works For a Writer

"A Room of My Own: Re-creating Work Space"
Peace Garden Writer (January 27, 2010)

"Last week, I introduced my new venture, Beauclair Communications, to Peace Garden Writer. Though it may seem as though it's happened very quickly, most know that in reality, dreams can take a while to build. Now that I'm further along, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the more concrete steps I've taken to turn thoughts into reality.

"Step 1: Reaching Out. Over the course of the last six months or so, I began networking, building on existing relationships that had the potential to turn into something more. I knew this would take time, but it was an exciting part of the process. Since I love discussing ideas with people, this did not feel like a chore at all, and it's something I look forward to doing even more often in the coming months. Over time, those efforts have led to a firming-up of some ..."

She gets to the matter of reclaiming and reorganizing a work space in Step 3. Besides text, there are eight photos.

The post covers quite a range of topics, from marketing to office design and writing habits. The one thing I missed was a diagram or floor plan, showing spatial relationships and flow patterns - but the gist of that information is in the text, and can be guessed at from the photos.

This anecdote from the post stuck in my head:

"...Stephen King once used a closet for his writing space. When he became rich and famous, he moved into a comfortable office with a beautiful wooden desk. He quickly found, however, that the work he produced in that beautiful office was lacking, so he returned to a more modest corner once again. What a great lesson for all of us. Our working space need not be extravagent [sic} to be productive...."

That's an important point, I think. I'm working at a desk that belonged to my father, tucked between a china hutch and a window air conditioner. It's not the ideal arrangement - but it works for me, for now.
A tip of the hat to Peacegardenmama, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

The Language of Flowers, in 1856

"The Illustrated Language of Flowers"
Anna Christian Burke, via Google Books (1856)


"In bespeaking for the 'Illustrated Language of Flowers' the favourable notice of her fair readers, the Editor cannot pretend to offer them anything decidedly novel either in material or arrangement. The meaning attached to flowers, to have any utility, should be as firmly fixed as possible; no licence whatever has therefore been taken in creating or changing meanings...."

The publisher, G. Routledge & Co., has London as a primary address, then New York - which helps explain some of the spelling. And remember, this book was written over a century and a half ago.

Despite the distinctly 19th-century style of the preface, the book itself is a set of lists: a "Dial of Flowers" for use by someone planing a flower clock; an alphabetic list of flower names with their associated meanings - from "Abecedary - Volubility" and "Abatina - Fickleness," to "Zephyr Flower - Expectation" and "Zinnia - Thoughts of absent friends;' and another list, sorted by meanings, from "Absence - Wormwood" and "Abuse not - Crocus" to "Zealousness - Elder" and "Zest - Lemon."

I'm not sure how practical the book is today, since few folks understand the language of flowers - but I enjoyed looking through it to see how people had assigned meanings to flowers - to a point where short messages could be sent without the use of words.

Despite that "illustrated" in the title, though, there are very few pictures in the book. That's not so much of a problem for me, since I'm mostly interested in the symbolism it records.

Related post:
A tip of the hat to jackiehodson, on BlogCatalog, who left a comment on the "The Language of Flowers: Who Knows Good Online Resources?" discussion thread that led me to "The Illustrated Language of Flowers."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Evil Masterminds! Colossal Thefts! Minions and a Photocopier!

"Despicable Me" (Universal Pictures, 2010)

"...When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds himself profoundly changed by the growing love between them...."

" 'Despicable Me' turns Universal into a digital animation film player" (July 23, 2010)

"For Universal Pictures, all it took was some puny yellow minions to tackle the giants of animation.

"The studio's movie 'Despicable Me,' about a villain who enlists an army of yapping subordinates to assist in his nefarious deeds, racked up $118.4 million in its first 10 days at the box office, granting Universal something that has long eluded it: a family-friendly animated blockbuster.

"Such a windfall represents a turning point for the General Electric Co.-owned studio, which has lagged behind rivals Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Studios in establishing a foothold in the increasingly popular genre of digitally animated movies...."

I saw "Despicable Me" over the weekend. shows the film's rating as "Rated PG for rude humor and mild action." Fair enough. The humor is rather rude, and the action is mild - although that roller-coaster ride, wearing 3D glasses, was just short of gastrologically unsettling. Moving along.

I agree with the Miami Herald's assessment, that it's "family-friendly" - but that's me, and my family. With well upwards of 6,000,000,000 people around, there's probably someone, somewhere, who's offended, appalled, affronted, or insulted by the movie. What off-duty Minions were doing with the photocopier, for example, will almost certainly set somebody off.

The rest of us, I think, can sit back and enjoy the show. I'd call it "heartwarming:" but first, the term's been overused; and second, with all those flammable chemicals in Gru's lab, somebody might get the wrong idea.

Sort-of-related posts:

European Space Agency Inheriting Huge Satellite, and Trouble to Match

"Huge Satellite Poses 150-Year Threat of Space Debris" (July 26, 2010)

"In three years, the European Space Agency will become the owner of what is possibly the most dangerous piece of space debris circling the Earth for the next 150 years: the 17,636-pound Envisat Earth observation satellite.

"The space agency will take control of the Envisat satellite, which has been extended to 2013 and appears to set records wherever it goes.

"Launched in 2002, Envisat was the biggest non-military Earth observation satellite ever built. At $2.9 billion in today's dollars, it is one of the most expensive. Its mission is viewed as a success by its users, all the more so insofar as the original five-year mission has been stretched to 11 years...."

Envisat is a huge satellite, by today's standards: 26 by 10 by five meters. It's in a polar orbit that should keep it in orbit for another 150 years - most of it, anyway.

The problem is that near-Earth space is fairly crowded. Part of a Chinese vehicle nearly collided with Envisat once - but didn't, since Envisat was maneuvered away from the projected point of impact. When the satellite's retired, it won't be maneuverable: and it's hard to imagine 150 years going by without a collision.

Worse, Envisat includes an antenna farm that's delicate - it wouldn't take a very big piece of debris to knock something loose, creating even more debris in that area.

Apparently the ESA doesn't want to do what America did with Skylab: slow the thing down so that it reenters Earth's atmosphere and falls pretty much where controllers want it to.

Been There, Done That: Skylab, 1979

I think it may be that "pretty much where" that's got ESA worried. On July 11, 1979, Skylab was supposed to reenter Earth's atmosphere, burn up for the most part, with the larger pieces falling into a rather empty part of the Indian Ocean.

Pieces of Skylab overshot the target area, giving folks on the west side of Australia a sort of fireworks show. Happily, nobody seems to have been hurt. ("On This Date in 1979 - Skylab Reenters Earth's Atmosphere,"

"Skylab Re-entry BBC News July 11, 1979 NASA"

dvdguy2011, YouTube (November 29, 2009)

"Skylab Re-entry BBC News July 11, 1979 NASA"

150 Years Ago, 150 Years from Now

150 years ago, in 1860:
  • The internal combustion engine was cutting-edge technology
  • Rockets were a semi-obsolete sort of weapon
  • Edison's commercially-practical incandescent lamp was 19 years in the future
  • An English translation of Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York) wouldn't be published for another three decades
  • Many generations would pass before there would be a European Space Agency discussing what to do with an outsize artificial satellite
One and a half centuries from now, in 2160, my guess is that Envisat will be of interest to historians: and maybe tourists. At the rate we're going, someone will have salvaged the thing by then, turned it into a tourist attraction, or maybe declared it a historical landmark. Spacemark?

Whatever happens - I'm pretty sure that it'll either be out of orbit, or controlled so that it will stay in orbit.

The idea of Envisat as a tourist trap or historic site isn't all that far-fetched. I've posted about the folks of the Lunar Legacy Project. They're pushing for making the Apollo 11 landing site, Tranquility Base, a recognized anthropological site - so that it will be preserved. (July 16, 2009)

I think the LLP has their work cut out for them. One of the better spots for a horizontal launch catapult on the moon isn't all that far from Tranquility Base - and port facilities are notorious for overrunning archeologically-interesting sites. (July 17, 2010)


Rabbit Terrorism: You Can't Make This Up, Folks

"Court rejects teacher's suit against student for 'rabbit terrorism' "
The Local, Germany's News in English (July 10, 2010)

"A German court on Tuesday threw out the case of a schoolteacher against a pupil who allegedly tormented her by scrawling pictures of rabbits on the blackboard to aggravate her rabbit phobia.

"The court in Vechta, northern Germany declined to hear the complaint by the 60-year-old geography teacher, who was seeking an injunction against the 16-year-old girl to stop her from making the drawings or spreading rumours that the plaintiff had a paralysing fear of rabbits....

So, naturally, the teacher takes the teen to court. Because rabbits don't bother her at all. And nobody is supposed to say that they do.

Back to the article:

"...Chief Judge Hermann Pieper did not give a reason for the ruling, but said the case was business as usual. The teacher, who did not appear in court, has the option to appeal...."

"...Two years ago at another school, the teacher took a pupil to court in a similar case and reached a settlement in which the teenager agreed never again to claim that the plaintiff 'freaked out' when she saw a rabbit or heard the word...."

The alleged rabbit terrorist had been at the school where this teacher was absolutely not bothered by rabbits at all, when the previous rabbit incident occurred. So maybe the teen plotted to make witnesses see the teacher break down, sobbing, when she wasn't at all bothered by a picture of a rabbit.

If this sounds crazy, you probably don't live in Germany. Apparently this sort of thing isn't all that unusual in that country:

"...Judge Pieper said that while the case may seem curious to outsiders, 'mobbing and strife in the schools' were frequently brought before the court."

I don't know what to think of that teacher. If she's really terrified of rabbits, the word rabbit, or a picture of a bunny rabbit on a blackboard: a school full of teenagers is among the last places she should be. For her sake, and that of the teens.

If she's not, and just likes to yank someone's chain: she missed a great opportunity. By watching a copy of Night of the Lepus (1972, MGM), she could have gone to court and sued MGM for everything they've got.

On consideration, though: that would probably mean traveling to America - and I'm not sure that the courts here are quite as eager to jump on those 'emotional pain and trauma' cases any more.
A tip of the hat to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Flying Cucumber? Psychedelic Skyrocket? Dress?!

"The worst dress in the history of Earth?"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (July 26, 2010)

"Blog Guy, I'm a very strict father with a parenting question. My daughter's prom is next weekend, and…..."

"...Anyway, you know how kids behave at those things, and I'm afraid the boys will be trying to get her to do you-know-what. So I'm looking to find a prom dress that will keep her absolutely safe...."

Robert Basler found some - thing?

"...Picture a large, festive zucchini with wings and a peephole...."

That's a real - dress?? - created by Ivory Coast designer Anderson D. It was, according to Reuters, shown during Dakar Fashion Week (July 18, 2010).

Photographer Finbarr O'Reilly took these pictures. The Oddly Enough post doesn't say whether they were taken covertly, or if the DFW was aware that their actions were being recorded.

What's impressive, to me, is that Oddly Enough's humor notwithstanding - this is supposed to be an example of serious fashion design.

The thing reminds me of some sort of fireworks rocket. Here's another look: those wings move.

(Finbarr O'Reilly, via Oddly Enough/Reuters, used w/o permission)

In fairness, there must be clothing designers somewhere who are sane. What impresses me is the number of those who come up with "creations" like this. And apparently get paid to do so.

Related posts:

Four Legs, a Tail, and Tracks a Third of a Billion Years Old

"Four-legged Creature's Footprints Force Evolution Rethink"
LiveScience (January 6, 2010)

"Four-legged creatures were mucking around a muddy basin in what is now Poland about 397 million years ago. And they left behind distinctive footprints, which have turned back the clock on the evolution of these landlubbers.

"Scientists discovered the fossilized prints, which included various trackways and isolated prints, in the Holy Cross Mountains in southeastern Poland. Analyses suggest most if not all of them came from different tetrapod species — which are four-legged animals that had backbones, such as amphibians — with some possibly belonging to juveniles and adults of the same species.

"The land creatures likely had bodies shaped somewhat like crocodiles, with fin-like tails and stumpy legs. And some of them were pretty big, reaching up to about 10 feet (3 meters) in length, the researchers said...."

I suspect that, once details of how these critters were put together are filled in, they'll be amphibians. At least, not quite. Those tracks are old, and the amphibians we know about come from a (relatively) more recent time.

So, how can the scientists know what they probably looked like? The tracks. Critters with four legs make tracks that are different from critters with two - and a lizard's long, narrow tail makes a different mark from a beaver's broad, relatively short one.

Adapt or Perish: Now There's an Incentive!

There's an interesting detail, about midway through the article:

"Since scientists have used modern amphibians and such as models for the earliest tetrapods, some have assumed the earliest four-limbed creatures emerged from a freshwater environment, Ahlberg said.

"Not so, according to the new prints.

" 'It seems like it was a very extensive muddy basin, marine basin, that was very shallow and very wide, hundreds of kilometers wide,' said study scientist Marek Narkiewicz of the Polish Geological Institute, adding that the basin likely dried out every few years or so...."

That would give critters that could operate in water or on land a big advantage over ones that had the option of staying in water or dying. Which, from what we've pieced together about how the universe works, means that the optional-land-dwellers left more descendants each generation.

Then, again assuming that the folks who study such things haven't been completely addled for the last century or so, eventually some of those tetrapods' really, really distant descendants came back and found some of the tracks they left.1

"Tetrapod," by the way, isn't a species of animal. It's a critter with four feet: "a vertebrate animal having four feet or legs or leglike appendages" (Princeton's WordNet)

Things Happened Earlier and were Different

I've been following what paleontologists have been piecing together, about the story of life on Earth, for maybe a half-century now. One of the constants I've noticed is that, as we uncover new evidence - or somebody takes a fresh look at something that's been lying on a shelf for decades - the scientists have discovered that whatever they're studying happened earlier than they though it had. And that some of their earlier assumptions simply won't fit with the new data.

For me, it's as much fun as reading a well-crafted detective story.

Vaguely-related posts:More, about new evidence for really early muscles:
Related posts, at
1 I'm a devout Catholic, so the idea that the universe is somewhat orderly and follows consistent rules isn't all that hard for me to accept. I've written about the West's odd notions about faith and reason before, in another blog.

East Coast Storm: Millions With Water Problems; Hundreds of Thousands of Households Without Power

"Violent storms rip through region" (July 26, 2010)

"Powerful, fast-moving storms swept through the region Sunday, leaving hundreds of thousands of families without electricity and leaving millions under mandatory water restrictions.

" 'This is going to be an event that we will be combating for the next couple of days,' Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley tells WTOP.

" 'We have no good estimate right now as to when all of this power will be back on.'

"O'Malley says four large power substations and 69 smaller ones were knocked offline.

" 'This is a multi-day effort,' said Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson.

"Anderson says the following areas may not have power until Tuesday: ..."
  • Northwest D.C.
  • Shepherd Park
  • Silver Spring
  • Bethesda
  • Rockville
  • Potomac
  • Landover
The rest of the article has more, that's probably of greater interest to folks living in the south end of the megalopolis.1

Sometimes the Lemming feels that news from America's high-profile cities gets hyped a bit much: like the annual brush fires on the north side of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

This, time, though, I don't have a problem with the level of coverage. The east coast has had seriously rough weather, a few folks are dead as a result, and a whole lot of survivors are learning what it's like to have a vulnerable infrastructure. Which is another topic.

In the news:
1 A megalopolis is "a very large urban complex (usually involving several cities and towns)." (Princeton's WordNet) There's one on the east coast of North America, running from around Boston to Washington, D.C.

I'm quite interested in places like that: partly because they seem to be the inspiration for thoughtful (?) motion pictures like Judge Dredd and Blade Runner.

I also enjoy looking at history, 20th-century agricultural technology, and the statistics of places like that: and doing a little serious analysis. What I come up with doesn't look much like the Judge Dredd sets. I've written about my views of what cities could be like, in another blog, particularly these posts:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Haitians Need Help, Yesterday

News from Haiti, this week:

"IMF Cancels $268 Million in Haiti's Debt, Approves New Loan"
BusinessWeek (July 21, 2010)

"The International Monetary Fund agreed to cancel Haiti's $268 million outstanding debt to the institution and approved a loan to boost central bank reserves as the country rebuilds its economy after a January earthquake.

"The decisions came four months after donors pledged $5.26 billion to Haiti's reconstruction. The $60 million, three-year loan, which bears no interest until the end of 2011, will help the central bank manage potential currency volatility as donor funds flow in, the Washington-based IMF said in an e-mailed release.

" 'Donors must start delivering on their promises to Haiti quickly so reconstruction can be accelerated, living standards quickly improved, and social tensions soothed, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in the statement...."

"Where's the money for Haiti gone?" (July 25, 2010)

"The world pledged £3.4billion for victims, but six months on just 2% of the cash has been given out

"When the heartbreaking images of the devastation caused by the massive earthquake in Haiti ­appeared on TV screens across the globe, the world pledged £3.41billion in aid.

"But six months on from the January 12 quake a Sunday Mirror investigation can reveal how the victims are being ­forgotten...because just TWO per cent of the money has arrived....

"...And because businesses aren't up and running again yet, looting is common – ­making the make-shift camps a breeding ground for criminals.

"Today UK charities warn that the rescue mission is descending into chaos, leaving thousands facing death.

"Donors are refusing to hand over their cash until the Haiti government comes up with a plan detailing exactly how the aid will be spent.

"But Haiti can't do that until the money arrives, condemning people there to a hellish future...."

I'm not sure why Haitian authorities can't figure out what they'll do with money until they have it in hand: but the bottom line is that Haitians who aren't government officials need help.

Want to blame America for the earthquake? Or at least for Haitian authorities not knowing how they'll spend pledged money? This may help:

"Haitian immigrants need expedited entry"
San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board (July 22, 2010)

"Pledges from individuals and governments to help the people of Haiti are a distant memory. Aid to rebuild the impoverished nation is trickling in.

"Six months after a devastating earthquake took as many as 300,000 lives, the world has moved on. Donor nations committed to send $5.3 billion at a March aid conference. CNN reports less than 2 percent of that aid has actually been delivered. Of the $1.15 billion American pledge, nothing has yet been paid.

"The humanitarian catastrophe in Haiti, however, continues.

"The U.S. funds are tied up in the congressional appropriations process. Even if they were released today, it would take weeks, perhaps months, before the funds would make it through the international bureaucracy to the people who actually need it.

"That needs to be done. But there's an immediate way the United States can provide direct humanitarian relief — by expediting the entry of 55,000 Haitian visa candidates who already have relatives in the United States...."

More immigrants? I don't see a problem with that - but then, I'm half-Irish, and know my family history. I wouldn't be here today: if America hadn't let some socially-dubious folks in.

The Lemming Opines: Not Waiting for the Government

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere - and the folks who weren't among the roughly 300,000 killed in January's quake need help - now.

The American Congress may get through its appropriation process, Haitian authorities may decide to say how they plan to spend other people's money before they have it in hand: but Haitians who aren't with the government need help yesterday.

There's a link to a smorgasbord of charitable institutions, at the end of this post. I'd like to single out one that's affiliated with an outfit that's bigger and older than the United States of America.
  • "Haiti"
    Catholic Relief Services

60 Years Plus One Day at the Cape

"60 Years of Rocket Launches: The Rise of America's Florida Spaceport" (July 23, 2010)

"Sixty years ago Saturday morning, a rocket stood ready to launch from the east coast of Florida, destined to make history – not so much for where it was going, but for where it was departing.

"Bumper 8, a two-stage vehicle built from a U.S.-modified, World War II-captured German V-2 missile and a sounding rocket upper-stage, became the first to liftoff from what is now known as Cape Canaveral.

"A ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of Bumper 8's historic flight will take place today at the Florida launching pad...."

Back on July 24, 1950, what was at Cape Canaveral was a test facility for rockets.

Today, there are still test launches conducted near the Cape, but much of the complex is not, quite, on Cape Canaveral: and it's more of a spaceport. The end of the shuttle program will change the sort of the activity there, a little, but it's by no means the end of the Cape's usefulness.

Related posts:More:

Gillian McKeith, Online Communities, Common Sense and Maybe a Libel Suit

"Be careful what you tweet"
BBC (July 23, 2010)

"Online tools and services such as Twitter and Facebook create a social space that encourages informality, rapid responses and the sort of conversation that typically takes place between friends in contexts that are either private or public-private, like the street, pub or cafe....

"...Message trail

"Unfortunately, online interaction has other characteristics which are very different from those of a casual conversation in a cafe.

"Not least the fact that many services make comments visible to large numbers of people and search engines ensure that a permanent record is kept of every inane observation, spiteful aside or potentially libellous comment on a respected public figure.

"This is something that TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith has just discovered the hard way, and her experience offers a salutary lesson for anyone who wants to use social media tools to enhance their reputation rather than expose themselves to public ridicule...."

Some details of the regrettable - and highly avoidable - exchange follow in the BBC article.

The bottom line is that Gillian McKeith seems to be on a voyage of discovery in which she will learn that open Twitter accounts can be read by just about anybody who logs on, and that commenting out a link on your website's HTML code doesn't remove it.

Or, that she needs to find out who has been running her website and Twitter account, and find out what's been going on.

Making an active link into an HTML comment makes the link disappear to a casual viewer. But anyone who bothers to view the page's source code will see the original link. Worse - now it looks like someone's trying to cover their tracks, and doing an amateurish job of it.

The BBC article points out what should be terribly obvious: People you meet online are just as real as people you meet in a pub. They may not be who they say they are - but how many of us has run into a poser in the real world? That's another topic.

Or, maybe not so much.

I'm not sure what British English means by the phrase, "private or public-private, like the street, pub or cafe." The American analogs of those settings are familiar to me, though: and I learned long ago to be mildly guarded in what I say - when there's a really, really good chance that someone other than the person I'm talking to can overhear parts of the conversation.

That's simple good sense. There's the matter of being truthful and charitable - but that's another topic in another blog.

Reality 101: Words Matter

I think what gets many folks in trouble with their online shenanigans is a failure to recognize that (1) they're dealing with real people, (2) in a setting where people who do not belong to their little circle of like-minded acquaintances are likely to 'overhear' what's said.

And, as the BBC article points out, what's posted online tends to leave a highly-visible trail for those who bother to look.
A tip of the hat to TweetSmarter, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dead Stoat Beer: You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Folks

" 'Perverse' animal beer bottles sell out in hours"
BBC (July 23, 2010)

"A controversial beer served in bottles made from stuffed animals and costing £500 each sold out in a few hours.

"The End of History, made by Fraserburgh firm BrewDog, is 55% alcohol, and came in 12 bottles made using dead stoats, squirrels and a hare.

"Advocates for Animals had branded the bottles 'perverse' and a 'stupid marketing gimmick' and Alcohol Focus Scotland also criticised the move.

"One of the buyers told the BBC Scotland news website it was a piece of history...."

Apparently a dozen bottles were made - and sold out within four hours.

"Perverse?" Maybe.

Stupid? Considering how fast the things sold, I don't think so: unless the company lost money in the deal.

In good taste? With due respect to the ideal of being non-judgmental: that top-hatted squirrel makes most Elvis collectibles look elegantly sophisticated.

Still: somebody bought the things. I can't see drinking beer that's gushing from either end of a squirrel in evening attire: but, de gustibus non est disputandum. Which brings up an interesting point: did one of the dozen weirdly-encased bottles involve a toga? The BBC is silent on that topic.

The Advocates for Animals angle is, I suppose, inevitable: although I can't see an ethical problem with this packaging. Unless the squirrel was alive when that bottle - no, I don't want to think about that.

Too late. I did.

That "piece of history" thing is probably true. In the Lemming's opinion, BrewDog has set a new benchmark when it comes to dubious taste in marketing.

I wonder, though: "Dead Stoat Beer" - There's a certain ring to that. It could work as the name of a low-end beer-like imitation beverage substitute.

Last Roll of Kodachrome Manufactured Last Year, Processed Now

"Death of Film: Last Roll of Kodachrome Processed"
Gadget Lab, Wired (July 23, 2010)

"What do you know about Dwayne's Photo Service of Parsons, Kansas? It is the place where the very last roll of the Kodachrome was processed...

"...The last roll was shot by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry..."

"...McCurry's film may have been the official last roll off the production line, but Dwayne's will still process any Kodachrome that you might have until December 10th this year. And then it will shut down, forever. People may still shoot analog, but with the death of Kodachrome comes the spiritual death of film."

Kodak discontinued its Kodachrome slide film last year. The transparency film didn't require E6 chemistry, which is more usual for transparencies - and apparently not enough folks were using Kodachrome to support the costs of its special processing.

Besides, taking photos by exposing a thin layer of chemicals on a flexible strip is rather old-school these days. Quite a few folks use digital cameras.

Steve McCurry shot 30 exposures of the last manufactured roll in New York, and took six more photos in Parsons, Kansas. The pictures, we're told, will be in an upcoming National Geographic magazine. I'm guessing that "New York" is "New York City," but I could be wrong about that.

That last bit of the article: "...with the death of Kodachrome comes the spiritual death of film." That's a bit over-the-top, I suppose. But this certainly is a sort of milestone in photography's history.

'More Than 100 Earth-Like Planets' Found? Well, No: Not Really

"Claims of 100 Earth-Like Planets Not True" (July 22, 2010)

"Despite overzealous news headlines this week, NASA's Kepler spacecraft has not indentified [!] more than 100 Earth-like planets in the galaxy.

"The planet-hunting telescope, launched in April 2009, has so far confirmed only five alien planets beyond the solar system, mission scientists told

"The erroneous reports of new planets were generated in response to a recent videotaped speech Kepler co-investigator Dimitar Sasselov gave at a TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conference in July.

" 'More than 100 "Earth-like" planets discovered in past few weeks,' read the headline of a Wednesday article in the U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper. The Observer, another U.K. paper, also reported the finding.

"However, Sasselov was referencing only possible planets among the Kepler data, scientists said...."

- - - Which is why I didn't write a post about this REMARKABLE! STUNNING! EPICALLY AMAZING! discovery, when those headlines popped up.

Sure, it'd be cool if a whole bunch of 'class M' planets dropped out of the Kepler data - and then the U.S.S. Enterprise arrived to beam up some scientists for a ride to the new worlds.

Not likely, though.

The article briefly describes the sort of information we are getting. I think it's impressive: but I've been following astronomy, planetary sciences, and space exploration for - probably longer than most of those journalists have been alive.

And, I pay attention to what people say and write: the actual words they use, and what they mean. That made me a pretty good researcher/writer: but kept me from reporting ASTOUNDING! COLOSSAL! events, when none had happened.

This "More than 100 'Earth-like' planets discovered" SNAFU is a case in point, for why it's a good idea to read well past the headlines - and then start researching, to see what real events inspired the journalist.

Today's Information Age technologies make that a whole lot easier than it was, back in my 'good old days.' At that's another topic or two. Maybe three.

Related posts, at

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lemming Tracks: The Only Maxim of a Free Government

"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."
Notes for an Oration in Braintree Massachusetts (Spring 1772), via John Adams Web

A maxim is "a saying that is widely accepted on its own merits." (Princeton's WordNet) I'm inclined to think that John Adams was right, when it came to trusting any one person "with power to endanger the public liberty."

I'd extend it to include smallish groups of like-minded people. Even if they mean well.

It's Not Always the Other Guy

What John Adams said could be applied to 'those people over there' easily enough.

For folks who are convinced that America can do no wrong and the United Nations can do no right, freedom "obviously" must be protected from those people over on the left.

For folks who are equally convinced that America can do no right and the United Nations can do no wrong, freedom "obviously" must be protected from those people over on the right.

An over-simplification of contemporary America's two major political philosophies? Certainly. The point is that threats to freedom are easier to see, when someone else is doing the threatening.

When it's someone you agree with, or who wants to "save the children," not so much.

A Mercifully Brief Retrospective: Five Decades of Freedom in America

While I was growing up, some folks passionately declared that 'those traitors' should be locked up. The 'traitors' in question didn't agree with America's policies of the day, and said so. In public.

That didn't sit well with some of the more intensely red-white-and-blue-blooded all-American folks of the day. They were convinced that people who didn't agree with them should be locked up, or at least 'go back where they came from.'

That was then.

Today, folks with another set of assumptions hold a significant number of positions in American government, media, and educational institutions. Just as their right-wing counterparts did, they're very concerned about freedom of expression.

As long as they agree with the ideas expressed.

Different words, same tune.

The Lemming will now step down off his soapbox, and get back to looking online for something of interest.

Related posts:Yet more related posts, in other blogs:

Stonehenge II: Woodhenge Found Near Stonehenge

"Archaeologists unearth Neolithic henge at Stonehenge"
BBC (July 22, 2010)

"The new "henge" is about 900m (2,950ft) from the giant stones

"Archaeologists have discovered a second henge at Stonehenge, described as the most exciting find there in 50 years.

"The circular ditch surrounding a smaller circle of deep pits about a metre (3ft) wide has been unearthed at the world-famous site in Wiltshire.

"Archaeologists conducting a multi-million pound study believe timber posts were in the pits.

"Project leader Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was 'exceptional'.

"The new 'henge' - which means a circular monument dating to Neolithic and Bronze Ages - is situated about 900m (2,950ft) from the giant stones on Salisbury Plain...."

There's a short video embedded in the BBC article, which includes a very quick look at the wheeled scanners that researchers ran over the landscape around Stonehenge. The things look a little like lawnmowers.

This new henge seems to have a burial mound in its center.

Archaeologists don't always use shovels these days: which is good for the next set of researchers visiting a site, since whatever's buried stayed buried; and which often speeds up the process of finding out what's under the landscape.

Somewhat-related posts:More:

Soldier Zero, Starborn and The Traveler at Comic-Con

"Stan Lee Unveils 3 New Superheroes at Comic-Con"
Underwire, Wired (July 22, 2010)

"A time traveler, an unwitting heir to an intergalactic empire, and a wheelchair-bound professor who winds up bonded to an alien weapon: These are the latest superheroes cooked up by comics legend Stan Lee and his creative co-conspirators at Boom Studios.

"Lee, whose Pow Entertainment is partnering with Boom on the three series, introduced new characters The Traveler, Starborn and Soldier Zero during a Wednesday press conference at Comic-Con International here.

"Boom Studios' Chief Creative Officer Mark Waid, writer of time-bending series The Traveler, said the new comics would be inspirational and non-cynical, without resorting to a retro feel. He also said the characters would breathe with the kind of human foibles for which Lee's creations are known...."

There's a brief telling of each new comic's premise, a few more pictures - of Soldier Zero - and a bit of what Stan Lee and Boom Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Mark Waid had to say.

From the sounds of it, they could have a winner or three here.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

Build Your Own Orbital Observatory: No Kidding

"Extreme Hobbyists Put Satellites Into Orbit With $8,000 Kits"
Gadget Lab, Wired (July 20, 2010)

"Attention wannabe supervillains: Putting your own, personal satellite into orbit is not such a far-fetched idea after all. Interorbital Systems, which makes rockets and spacecraft, created a kit last year that lets almost anyone with a passion for electronics and space build a satellite. The $8,000 kit includes the price of the launch.

"The company is now ready to launch its first sub-orbital test flights in California next month.

" '$8,000? That's just the price of a cool midlife crisis,' says Alex 'Sandy' Antunes, who bought one of the kits for a project that will launch on one of earliest flights. 'You could buy a motorcycle or you could launch a satellite. What would you rather do?'..."

Well, the motorcycle may last longer. Each "TubeSat" weighs about 1.65 pounds, is a bit bigger than a Kleenex box, and is launched into an orbit that guarantees that it'll fall back to Earth after a few months.

On the up side, while its in orbit, the onboard transmitter sends a signal strong enough for you to receive on the ground. Provided that you've got a handheld amateur receiver - and that the satellite's in the sky overhead.

I can see it as a just-for-fun DIY project for someone with more disposable income than I've ever had - just for the thrill of picking up 'Hi! I'm Joe's satellite' when it appears in your slice of sky.

My guess is that the $8,000 price tag will attract private-sector researchers and the occasional school, too.

Or, you could transmit back some really expensive home movies.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Around the World, Solo - 77 Years Ago Today

"July 22, 1933: Wiley Post Flies Around the World Alone"
This Day in Tech, Wired (July 21, 2010)

"1933: Pilot Wiley Post returns to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes after leaving. Aided by new technology, his flight is the first solo circumnavigation by air, and it's also the fastest-ever around-the-world-trip.

"Born in Texas, Post wanted to be a pilot after seeing his first airplane at a county fair at the age of 15. He got his break at age 24, when a barnstormer let him fill in for his injured skydiver. Post performed several jumps, but always wanted to be the pilot, not the skydiver.

"His dream was almost ruined while working in the oil fields to earn money for an airplane: He lost his left eye in an accident. Despite the lack of depth perception, Post was able to earn his pilot's license and, with his workers' compensation checks, bought his first airplane...."

Some of the new technology was 'high tech,' like his autopilot and radio direction finder.

Then there was the sleep-prevention technology that Post invented while on this around-the-world flight. He tied a wrench to one finger with a piece of string, and then held on to the wrench. If he started falling asleep, his hand relaxed - releasing the wrench, which tugged at his finger, waking him up.

Your PC Crashed: Now What?

"How to Rescue a Crashed PC"
PCWorld (June 18, 2010)

"There's crashed... and then there's crashed. Here's the gamut of solutions for recovering your data and, perhaps, your whole system before it's too late.

"Not all crashed PCs are the same. Typically, there's no one pat reason or cause. In other words, it can be many things. Sometimes it's a string of error messages. Of course, there are the dreaded blue screens of death (BSoD). And then, there's the eternally maddening "nothing happens" crash when you try to turn the computer on.

"We understand your frustration. That's why we've put together a rundown of the solutions for these issues, from basic fixes to tackling the dire straits of a totally dead hard drive. No matter what your PC's crashed condition, be it a soft or hard crash, we hope to get you back to a working state, or, at the very least, recover some important data...."

I was impressed that this how-2 started with the obvious - but necessary - "is the unit plugged in?" Actually, their section starts with "Check Your Connections." Same principle, though.

They go on through "Safe Mode," "Last Known Good Configuration," "System Restore," "Recovery Console/System Recovery Options," and more.

The article seems to assume that you've got Windows Vista or Windows 7. I'm using Windows XP, and will stick with it while I can. Nothing against the newer versions: but I prefer to use my time productively: not tweaking a new operating system.

There's more, about "Boot Disks," "Antivirus Rescue CDs," and moving the hard drive to another computer - on the assumption that the drive may be okay.

The last sections are "Data Recovery Software," "Freeze the Drive" and "Recovery Service."

"Freeze the Drive" starts almost poetically: "Sometimes you just know your hard drive is hosed. You can usually tell by the noise it makes. Instead of spinning up smoothly, it either does nothing (check the power cable), or it makes more clicks than angry squirrels snapping twigs...." Then the article says that some folks put defunct drives in the freezer. Who knows? It might work.

The last section, "Recovery Service" involves paying technicians to digitally dissect your drive. You may get your data back - all the files - but without the file structure. The article ends with: "...Imagine 30,000 picture files without their names or folder structure. Yes, this translates into extra work for you, but you kinda deserve it for not backing up that data in the first place. (Sorry, someone had to say it.)"

Particularly if you've got a more contemporary Windows operating system, this looks like a good resource.

Ray Guns are Science Fiction: Energy Weapons? Not So Much

"Laser weapon system shoots down UAV"
R&D Magazine (July 20, 2010)

"Raytheon has just publicly revealed its next-gen directed energy weapon at the Farnborough Air Show in Australia, and has released a video showing its Laser Weapons System (LaWS) -- a six-laser weapon that focuses on a single target -- engaging and then destroying an unmanned aerial vehicle from the deck of a Navy vessel at sea.

" 'These engagements validate the operational viability of the Phalanx-LaWS combination at sea,' said Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems. 'The Raytheon- Navy team demonstrated the systems' capability to detect, track, engage and defeat dynamic targets at tactically significant ranges in a maritime environment.'

"The tests, conducted in May and June, show the LaWS illuminating and then heating the underside of a drone aircraft shortly before it goes up in flames and loses trajectory, plummeting into the ocean below. Guided by Raytheon's Laser Close-in Weapon System (CIWS), a sensor suite that locks onto and guides the energy weapon, LaWS shot down three similar drones during the tests, which mark the first time a solid-state laser has shot down an aircraft on the wing over open seas...."

Solid-state lasers are a sort of good news/bad news matter. Good news, they're smaller and don't require toxic chemicals and are smaller than their chemical cousins; bad news, they don't generally produce as much power.

Still, it looks like Raytheon worked the bugs out of surface-to-air energy weapons. No small feat, considering the knack our atmosphere has for absorbing energy: particularly if there's a lot of water vapor present.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How to Set Up Your Speakers

"Set Up Your Speakers"
Wired How-to Wiki

"Whether you've got the same cheap system you rocked in college or 10 grand's worth of high-fidelity frivolity, one of the most important factors in how good your audio system sounds is where you put the speakers.

"Sound can trip over objects, bounce off walls, get lost in a big fluffy couch, or fall to any number of other physical impediments. Poor locations will spoil the sound, while careful placement will bring out the best in your gear.

"Be prepared to consider and experiment with even the oddest position —- it could be your perfect solution. And make sure to read any documentation that came with your rig. Some speakers are designed to sit up against the wall, for instance, and knowing as much could cut out hours of pointless tweaking...."

There's quite a bit of text, describing a four-step process:
  1. Pick a test track
  2. Pick the right spot
  3. Dial it in
  4. Configure the whole room
If you think you've got a better idea, you're free to share it. Wired points out that their page is "a wiki anyone can edit."

It seems to be pretty much common-sense advice. Like "Pick a test track:" making sure it's music that you like, and don't mind hearing over and over (and over) again. It's not particularly technical, so you don't need to be an audio engineer to understand what's being said.

And, best of all from my point of view, the wiki doesn't assume that you've got all the latest state-of-the-art audio gear.
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