Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The History of Padlocks

"The history of padlocks"
Historical Locks


"Because of their simple, practical function, padlocks developed their basic shape of lock body, shackle, and key early on. Padlocks reflect large variations in design and technology, making them an important part of our technological history. Through decoration and choice of materials, the lock body and shackle can be adapted for different aesthetic and social contexts.

"The advantage of padlocks as opposed to door locks is that they are usually small, hardy, and convenient to use, and usually cheaper than a door lock. The disadvantage is that they must be used with some kind of iron fittings...."

After the introduction, this article on the history of padlocks picks up with the Roman era - you'll find the link in the sidebar. The pages are illustrated, and fairly quick reading.

This isn't an in-depth study of the history of padlocks: but as a sort of overview, it's pretty good.

Asteroid Mission 'Plymouth Rock:' Catchy Name, Practical Technology

" 'Plymouth Rock' Deep Space Asteroid Mission Idea Gains Ground"
Space.com (August 30, 2010)

"Plans for sending humans to visit an asteroid are heating up, with at least one company already scoping out the technological essentials for a deep space expedition within a decade, given the go-ahead.

"The asteroid space trek is seen as both scientifically valuable and as a dress rehearsal for a Mars mission, NASA officials have said. It could also hone ideas for planetary defense to guard Earth from a messy head-on clash with a space rock.

"Launching a manned asteroid mission by 2025 is NASA's new goal set by President Barack Obama, who announced the plan in April. The deep space mission would serve as a stepping stone to a crewed mission to Mars in the mid-2030s, he said...."

(from Lockheed Martin, via Space.com, used w/o permission)
"This diagram shows the possible layout of a deep space Orion spacecraft for a manned mission to an asteroid envisioned by Lockheed Martin."

The Space.com article outlines the Orion spacecraft's off-again-on-again history. It was scrapped by the current administration, as part of shutting down the lunar exploration program; then Orion was put back in development, as an emergency escape system for the International Space Station (ISS).

Right now, the asteroid mission involves two Orion spacecraft, plus some extra equipment. That picture's half the width of the original at Space.com, by the way.

The modular design of the proposed asteroid mission's vehicle seems to make good sense: particularly since it should allow the thing to be scaled up for longer missions.
More, in this blog:

Salmonella, Eggs, and Manure: Good News, the Mice are Alive

"Egg Farms Violated Safety Rules"
Business Day, The New York Times (August 30, 2010)

"Barns infested with flies, maggots and scurrying rodents, and overflowing manure pits were among the widespread food safety problems that federal inspectors found at a group of Iowa egg farms at the heart of a nationwide recall and salmonella outbreak.

"Inspection reports released by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday described — often in nose-pinching detail — possible ways that salmonella could have been spread undetected through the vast complexes of two companies.

"The inspections, conducted over the last three weeks, were the first to check compliance by large egg-producing companies with new federal egg safety rules that were written well before the current outbreak, but went into effect only last month...."

So far, no real surprise: since salmonella isn't supposed to be in eggs that get into America's food distribution system, not finding violations of common-sense procedures would have been noteworthy.

The two companies involved are taking what is getting to be a familiar line in situations like this:

"...Both companies said that they had acted quickly to correct problems and were continuing to cooperate with regulators. The reports cited numerous instances in which both companies had failed to follow through on basic measures meant to keep chickens from becoming infected with salmonella, which can cause them to lay eggs containing the bacteria.

" 'That is not good management, bottom line,' said Kenneth E. Anderson, a professor of poultry science at North Carolina State University. 'I am surprised that an operation was being operated in that manner in this day and age.'..."

" 'That is not good management...'" is, in the Lemming's opinion, a marvelous understatement. Making the end user sick is most definitely not a good idea in any food production business.

Actually, things could have been worse: the rodents they found were alive. If conditions at the facilities had been killing the critters - well, that's not how it went down:

"...Inspection visits to Wright County Egg found barns with abundant rodent holes and gaps in doors, siding and foundations where rodents could enter. Inspectors spotted mice scampering about 11 laying houses....

"...The report on Wright County Egg also described pits beneath laying houses where chicken manure was piled four to eight feet high. It also described hens that had escaped from laying cages tracking through the manure.

"Officials last week said that they were taking a close look at a feed mill operated by Wright County Egg, after tests found salmonella in bone meal, a feed ingredient, and in feed given to young birds, known as pullets. The young birds were raised to become laying hens at both Wright County Egg and Hillandale...."

Some of the barns had been set up so that workers had to walk through one barn to get to another. That probably saved a few bucks, somewhere along the line - but it also violated regulations, since it makes it easier to track bacteria from one barn to another.

What were They Thinking?

Most poultry operations are not run by someone who's been in trouble for health violations and accused of gross mistreatment of employees. Farmers I've known are decent folks - and even if they weren't, would be sharp enough to know that it's simply not a good idea to get in trouble with the law and spread disease and pestilence.

Then, there's the joker who's running those egg mills.

Still, those are two farms. Big ones, but far from the only ones producing eggs in America.

It's sort of like the time, not too long ago, when the chief honcho at a peanut production company apparently decided to ship poisoned peanuts. (February 26, 2009) Sure, that's less expensive in the short run than dumping a product that'll make people sick. Or, in the case of the peanuts, dead.

Long-term, though? The Lemming don't think spreading disease is a good idea: not matter how many dollars it saves up front.
Related posts:

Monday, August 30, 2010


"Top 100 Marketing Buzzwords for 2009"
Marketing Jive (January 18, 2009)

"Buzzword - a phrase or word that entices people to discuss a topic in repetition

"This is our third year in providing a list of the top 100 marketing buzzwords used by online marketers and by folks in the Search Industry. For a recap of the previous year's list see:

"Top 100 Marketing Buzzwords for 2008
"Top 100 Marketing Buzzwords for 2007

"Love 'em or hate 'em, buzzwords are used by everyone in every industry. The online world is no different, there have been certain buzzwords that have gained attention over recent years. Think of 'Google', 'Facebook' or 'Twitter'. Some of these words may even be found on this year's list, but the fact is we cannot escape these buzzwords. Marketers use buzzwords more than anybosy, so to narrow the list to just 100 phrases was not an easy thing to do. With some deliberation, we were able to come up with the top 100 Marketing Buzzwords of 2009.

"Top 100 Marketing Buzzwords of 2009..."

Some of these aren't the sort of thing you'll run into, unless you're working in the marketing department of a company, or as a marketing consultant. Others are more familiar.

By the way, that one phrase - "Marketers use buzzwords more than anybosy" - is a direct copy. I suspect that the writer meant "anybody," but maybe "anybosy" is slang on its way to getting into the dictionaries. Or getting forgotten.

Here's another take on buzzwords:
"Overused Buzzwords and Marketing Speak in Press Releases"
Creative Streak (July 2, 2010)

"My good friend Suzanne Ross of The Aerie Company sent this link to me a few days ago. (Sorry, I've been off on holidays for five weeks, and just now getting back to a keyboard.)

"As background, Adam Sherk - a search and PR strategist for Define Search Strategies (owned by The New York Times Company) - analysed the number of words used in press releases archived on PRWeb over the past four years. 'Leader' and 'leading' were the two most used words. I've included the top 20 words below, or click on the link above to see the entire list...."

Let's see what the Lemming can do with the first seven buzzwords on that list: 'Great writer's resource! This unique solution reveals top leading buzzwords. Learn from one of the best creative leaders!'

Does what you write sounds like that? The Lemming suggests that you read that post, print out the lists, stick them up next to your monitor - and make sure that you use as few of those buzzwords as possible.

But, that's just the Lemming's opinion.

"World of Color" at Disney: Sounds Cool (and Count the Buzzwords)

"World of Color offers private event for group meetings"
Chip & Company (August 28, 2010)

"Groups can elevate their next event experience at the Disneyland Resort to magical proportions with 'World of Color,' a new nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventure theme park.

" 'World of Color' is a 25-minute visual symphony choreographed with revolutionary technology that takes attendees on a fascinating journey of Disney stories - charming and adventurous - in a whole new way. Created with groups in mind, the show offers a variety of private viewing locations that can accommodate everything from small executive groups to opening/closing galas of up to 6,000 attendees. Buy-outs are also available, which enables event organizers to customize the show with organization logos and other features...."

There's quite a bit more, written in the same press-release style, plus this photo:

See more images here..

Hats off to the Disney Company, by the way, for allowing folks to embed that image in posts like this. The "more images" in that required link are mostly icons for Disney Company promotionals, and a Pixie Hollow promo video. No problems with that: it's a commercial website, and that's how they make money.

About the "World of Color" article/press release: I haven't done this, but someone could play 'spot that buzzword' with it.

Still, that's a neat photo: and the Lemming's guess is that a show there would be fun.

Goodbye McMansion, Hello Common Sense?

"Say goodbye to the McMansion"
CNN Money (August 26, 2010)

"The American home is shrinking. Toll the bell for the McMansion.

"After years of growth, the Census Bureau recently reported that median new home size fell to 2,135 square feet in 2009 after peaking at more than 2,300 earlier in the decade.

" 'Home buyers are asking for less, cutting back on options and reducing square footage,' said Steven Pace of the North Carolina-based Pace Development Group, which builds both custom and tract houses ranging in price from below $250,000 to more than $2 million.

" 'They're saying, "Maybe we don't need that 5,000 square footage;" ' he said. ' "Maybe our bath doesn't need to be big enough for our whole family and all our neighbors to take a shower at the same time." '..."

Another change is going from having special-purpose rooms - like a media room for watching television and a game room for playing pool - folks in this country are opting for having rooms intended for more than one use.

The Lemming remembers when that sort of space in a house was called the "living room," and then "family room." I don't know what it's called now.

There's some interesting statistical information in the article, too. Like this:

"...Now, the typical U.S. owner-occupied home has six rooms, with three of them being bedrooms, according to the Census Bureau's annual American Housing Survey. The most common number of baths is two or more...."

For folks who are involved in building oversize houses with megabathrooms, this isn't particularly good news. For the most part, though, it sounds to me like a sensible adjustment of priorities.

Although the Lemming does like to read about those high-end homes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Twitter Safety Tips: You Probably Know This Already

"10 Twitter Safety Tips To Protect Your Account & Identity"
makeuseof.com (December 16, 2009)

"While Twitter is a fun place to hang out, it has associated risks just like any other social network. As examples of the risks involved with Twitter, there are phishing scams, government security lapses, and people getting fired because of tweeting.

"Here are 10 solid Twitter safety tips you can make use of to enjoy Twitter and protect yourself.

"#1: Never Share Personal Information...."

They're talking about "email, personal or business address, telephone numbers" and pieces of information that someone could misuse.

It's all common sense, right down to the tenth item: always use a firewall and anti-virus software. The latter had better be the newer 'anti-malware' package - although they're still referred to as "anti-virus" software.

Still, like the subject of my last post, it's a fast read and good review.
A tip of the hat to TweetSmarter, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

What Not to Do on Twitter

"Twitter faux pas (10 Twitter no-no's)"
Info Carnivore (July 4, 2010)

"I've now published two articles on twitter etiquette (twitterquette) and they've been well received. What about twitter no-no's. What NOT to do or tweet on twitter? Here are ten that I've come up with. What are your suggested twitter no-no's?

"1. One word tweets. At least put a few words together and have something make sense. Single word tweets mean nothing to pretty much everyone. This includes mentions that are nothing but a user name.

"2. Old, old, news. Re-tweeting your discovery of a video that went viral four years ago is top notch lame! Everyone else on the internet has already seen it. Be happy you finally did and move on, no need to remind everyone...."

And so it goes: it's a fast read, all the way to:

"...10. Personal tweets. That's what facebooks for, don't you think?"

Some of the points are simple common sense: Don't tell everybody on Twitter that you're going to be gone for a week. You may as well add that you left the key under the doormat and hang out a sign reading 'please rob me' while you're at it.

Others - particularly, in my opinion, #10 - are a bit more subjective. I'd have to know what the author means by "personal tweets." If it's the sort of 'I'm flossing my teeth now' thing: yes, that's too much information that online friends and acquaintances can probably live without.

In my case, though, I'm on Twitter to meet and communicate with people, not just plug my [Excellent! Stupendous! Brilliant!] blog posts. If I don't share personal information now and then, I'll come across like one of those spambots.

Bottom line, though: this is a short read. And a good review, even if you figure you already know about how not to lose friends and alienate people online.
A tip of the hat to danielsnyder1, on Twitter, for the heads-up on his post.

Dinosaurs, Three Major Asteroid Impacts, and Massive Volcanic Eruptions

"No, Seriously, What Killed the Dinosaurs?"
Earth News, Discovery News (August 28, 2010)

"Seems like an easy one to answer: an asteroid around six miles wide slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula. Continent-wide firestorms, planet-enshrouding dust cloud, massive plant death, toxic ozone, carbon monoxide poisoning ... and that's it: one resounding mass extinction all wrapped up in a pretty, hellish package and explained by a big hole in southeastern Mexico, right?

"Well, the more scientists look, the more complicated the answer becomes. For starters, there were a series of truly enormous volcanic eruptions in what is now western India around the same time. Collectively, the Deccan Traps spewed enough noxious gas that some say it was the cause of the extinction.

"Then there's a weird crater-looking structure right next door to the Deccan Traps. If that turns out to be from an asteroid impact, it would be the largest crater found on Earth. Ever. And just this week, a study in the journal Geology reported there may have been yet another impact, in the Ukraine....."

The Discovery News article does a pretty good job of summing up what we know - what we don't know, but can make educated guesses about - and what we quite simply don't know about what happened about 65,000,000 years back when the dinosaurs stopped living.

The two big hits - the one in what's now the Yucatan Peninsula and the other (probable) impact west of where Mumbai, India is today - apparently happened just a few thousand years apart, but not simultaneously. Which raises some questions:

"...The odds of the two rocks being part of a binary system is small -- if they were, they should have hit simultaneously. But they're still suspiciously close together, suggesting that perhaps some great collision in the solar system sent a scatter-shot of space rocks headed our way.

"Meanwhile, we still have to contend with the Shiva structure, a 500 km-wide gouge in the planet off India that could be the scar left by an asteroid several times bigger than the one that caused the Chicxulub crater...."

Add that smaller impact in what's now the Ukraine, and you've got three impacts around the same time: small; medium; and large. Maybe no one of them would have caused enough trouble to kill off the dinosaurs: but all three, only a few thousand years apart? Add the Deccan Traps eruptions, and you've got something like a Hollywood disaster flick: only spread out over a few millennia.

The Lemming was impressed with the last two paragraphs of the article:

"...It's even been suggested that the Chicxulub impact caused the Deccan Traps to erupt, by way of a huge earthquake that rippled through the planet.

"Such ideas may sound a little ludicrous, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. Life is, generally speaking, very resilient, and dinosaurs were no exception. It would have taken a huge cataclysm -- maybe even several in quick succession -- to end their over 150-million-year reign on Earth."

It's a bit of relief to see that someone's been paying attention. Over the third-of-a-billion or so years that things have been growing on Earth, we've had asteroid impacts, massive volcanic eruptions (real eruptions: not that little Mount St. Helens firecracker), and the occasional ice age. If life were the delicate thing that the more strident 'and we're all gonna die' folks seem to think, we wouldn't be here.

Related posts:More, in this blog:More, elsewhere:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hamsters: Cute; May or May Not be the Right Pet

Humane Society of the United States

"Hamsters make great pets, but their small size and widespread reputation as a “starter pet” may encourage impulse acquisitions. Find out if a hamster is the right match for you and learn how to provide top-notch care."

There's a 59-second video on the page, and links to:It's a pretty good resource for someone wondering if a hamster would make a good pet: or what sort of cage/box/enclosure would be a better choice for their hamster.

And there are some photos of the cute little fur balls.

One thing I didn't know: hamsters do not play well together. They're territorial, and the more common sort are strictly one-to-an-enclosure pets.

The 64-dollar question is: is the hamster a good pet? The Humane Society's answer is, it depends. They've got a pretty good discussion of it here:

New Art Museum: Just One Problem - - -

"Broad Collection building design is upside-down"
Christopher Knight, Culture Monster, Los Angeles Times blog (August 26, 2010)

"The dynamic 2006 building designed for Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art contains one serious flaw. Unfortunately, it appears that architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who designed the ICA, are about to repeat the error in the museum building they're now designing for the Broad Collection.

"The mistake: In Boston, it's a long schlep from the front door to the art galleries.

"As you can readily see in the ICA photograph shown here, the art is upstairs inside that illuminated, translucent box. The ground floor is an entry lobby with an information desk, ticketing booth, shop and cafe, with offices and work space above, plus a big elevator to haul you upstairs. The main event, the reason the building was constructed and a visitor has arrived -- the art -- is tucked away out of sight.

"Inside the ICA front door there is an 'art wall,' where a different artist is annually commissioned to install a piece. As with most lobby decor, it has the unfortunate feel of an afterthought...."

(Photos from Diller Scofidio + Renfro, ICA Boston, via Culture Monster, Los Angeles Times blog, used w/o permission.)

'High' Culture?

The Lemming's heard of a modern art piece that was hung upside-down for a long time before someone noticed. Putting a whole building wrong-side-up, now: that's impressive.

I thought maybe the art displays were put above street level to drum into museum visitors the idea that this was "high" art.

Turns out, there's another possible explanation:

"...As in Boston, the bad idea of putting the galleries upstairs is likely driven by a desire to take advantage of overhead natural light. That's an anachronism that has more to do with romantic fantasy than with actual works of contemporary art...."
(Culture Monster)

Could be: I've gotten the impression that quite a lot of avant-garde, forward-looking, frightfully cultured art patrons are just a tad old-fashioned under the veneer. Which is another topic.

Still: It's a cool-looking building, and I'm pretty sure that someone worked out the stress loads on that cantilevered upper floor. The arts crowd of Los Angeles should have a nifty-looking building to talk about for years to come. Or an awkward nuisance of an art museum to complain about - which might be almost as much fun.

Map the Titanic: Big Ship, Big Job

"Titanic Wreck Mapping Begins"
Tech News, Discovery News (August 27, 2010)

"A high-tech expedition that aims to create a detailed map of the wreckage of the Titanic has begun exploring the ocean floor where the ship sank nearly 100 years ago, the crew said Thursday.

"Sonar onboard an automated submersible vehicle combined with high-resolution video will be used to create three dimensional images of the fabled oceanliner.

"The expedition, organized by the American group RMS Titanic, which holds exploration rights for the wreck, arrived on Wednesday aboard the scientific vessel Jean Charcot and started by laying flowers on the water's surface to commemorate the 1,500 victims of the shipwreck...."

Discovery News has another page about the mapping mission: www.expeditiontitanic.com.

The Titanic's may be the best-known shipwreck in recent history. The huge ocean liner went down on April 15, 1912, taking about 1,500 people with it. The notion that the Titanic was assumed to be "unsinkable" seems to have been more common after the colossal ship sank, than before. And that's another topic:The current mapping expedition uses robot submersibles, sonar and a video camera: and is trying to make "the most detailed portrait of Titanic's wreck site to date."

Viewed strictly as an archeological site, there's going to be a great deal of valuable data gleaned from the wreckage: and, given the Titanic's position as a cultural landmark, a lot of popular interest, too.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Cockpit: Cool Architecture, New Technology, Rubbernecking at Freeway Speeds

"Cockpit and Acoustic Barrier, Leidsche Rijn Utrecht, Netherlands"
designbuild-network.com (undated, after November 2005)

"...The design of the Cockpit and barrier construction consists of a building integrated into an acoustic barrier. The barrier runs alongside the A2 highway in the centre of Holland. The aim is to separate industrial and residential districts by muffling sound, while also producing an architectural construction that people can enjoy.

"The acoustic barrier and the Cockpit are designed with drivers in mind, allowing for a car to pass at a speed of 120km/h and guaranteeing a smooth appearance of the structure.

"The Cockpit houses a showroom and garage for luxury cars for Hessing Holding BV. It is positioned 15m from the side of the A2 highway. Drivers can view the cars as they pass by.

"The highway side is composed of a triangular system of glass elements..."

(from designbuild-network.com, used w/o permission)
"The Cockpit houses a showroom and garage for luxury cars for Hessing Holding BV."

(from designbuild-network.com, used w/o permission)
"The acoustic barrier runs alongside the A2 highway in Holland."

(from designbuild-network.com, used w/o permission)
"Complex structures can be built and managed using simple engineering methods."

This is 'way beyond the sound-reflecting walls we see along urban Interstate in America. The Cockpit's design is, apparently, something really new: "...Non-Standard Architecture (NSA) realised on a large scale. The basic principle of NSA is that all compiled components are different...." The designbuild-network.com article mentions the new technology and programming that went into designing and building The Cockpit.

Manufacture of the structure involved something called a "point cloud system." If this catches on, it could be as faddish - and useful in some cases - as Fuller's geodesic domes. As the article said:

"...This shows that within a regular budget large complex structures can be built and managed using simple engineering methods."

The Cockpit was finished in November of 2005.

One thing that bothers me about the design is this sentence: "Drivers can view the cars as they pass by." They're going 120 kph. That's about 75 miles an hour - a sensible freeway speed in my part of the world. Provided that the drivers are watching the road and traffic.

I'm not entirely convinced that it's a good idea to encourage rubbernecking on a high-speed road.

Still, it's been almost five years since the thing was finished - and I haven't heard of any major accidents in central Holland.

Look, There in the Plant! It's Micro-Frog!

"Micro Frog Discovered Inside Bornean Pitcher Plants"
Wired Science (August 25, 2010)

"Scientists have discovered the Old World's smallest species of frog living inside pitcher plants in the jungles of Southeast Asia's Borneo.

"The micro frogs, named Microhyla nepenthicola, grow to only 0.4 to 0.5 inches long — about the size of a pea. It was discovered living along the edge of a road in Kubah National Park in Borneo by a team of scientists searching for the world's lost amphibians, species considered to be extinct that may still have remnant populations.

'I saw some specimens in museum collections that are over 100 years old,' biologist Indraneil Das, one of frog discovers, said in a press release. 'Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly-discovered micro species.'..."

These tiny little tree frogs are really, really cute: a property they share with most of the endangered animals we read about.

It's quite possible that they're really endangered: or maybe just too small to show up when researchers take a stroll through the forest. On the other hand, this could be another case like the spotted owl, which can only nest in virgin forests - and K-Mart signs.

Whatever, the critters are very cute: and yes, the one on the pencil apparently is full-grown. For that sort of frog, anyway.

Did I mention that they're cute?

Moon-Size Mars Tonight! Please: Don't Pass It On

"Moon-Size View of Mars? An Old Hoax Returns "
Space.com (August 26, 2010)

"The infamous Mars hoax that widely circulated on the Internet since its first appearance in the summer of 2004 is rearing its head again. It comes in the form of an e-mail message titled "Mars Spectacular," originating from an unknown source.

"The Mars hoax e-mail has been passed on to countless others who haven't been able to resist forwarding it to their entire address book. In some cases, the message has been turned into a full-blown PowerPoint presentation, accompanied by snazzy-looking graphics seemingly providing a sense of authenticity to the message.

"The e-mail declares that on the night of Aug. 27, the planet Mars will come closer to Earth than it has in 60,000 years, thereby offering spectacular views of the Red Planet. The commentary even proclaims, with liberal use of exclamation marks, that Mars will appear as bright as (or as large as) the full moon...."

I think this recurring hoax depends of most folks:
  • Not being terribly interested in
    • Astronomy
    • Orbital mechanics
    • Math, particularly
      • Algebra
      • Geometry
  • Having short memories for anything that's not on their 'top priority' list
  • The psychological quirks that make scams work
Back to the Space.com article:

"...The problem is that 'Aug. 27' is actually Aug. 27, 2003. Mars made a historically close pass by Earth that night (34.6 million miles, or 55.7 million km). The Hubble Space Telescope used the opportunity to make some great images of Mars. But even then, to the naked eye Mars appeared as nothing more than an extremely bright yellowish-orange star, not at all like the full moon...."

The article tells you where to look for Mars in the sky - and assumes that you're in the northern hemisphere of Earth. If you live near or south of the equator, you're probably used to that sort of hemispheric parochialism by now.

Mars is bigger than our moon: Almost twice Luna's diameter.

It's also a whole lot farther away. A whole lot farther:

"...The average distance of the moon from Earth is 238,000 miles (382,900 km). For Mars to appear to loom as large as the moon does, it would have to be about twice the Moon's distance, or roughly 476,000 miles (766,000 km).

"In fact, this week the Red Planet is 198 million miles (318 million km) from Earth...."

Okay, let's review that.
  • To look as big as our moon, Mars would have to be
    • 476,000 miles away from us
  • Today, Mars is about
    • 198,000,000 miles away from us
Nope, Mars will not seem to be as big as the moon. Not even close.

Sort-of-Related posts:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different: A Video in Somali, with English Captioning

"Ku Soo Dhawoow Maktabadaada – Welcome to Your Library!"
Lewiston Public Library, Lewiston, Maine

"This short video in the Somali language with English subtitles provides information for the Somali community on how to use the library. Special thanks to the Hennepin County/Minneapolis (MN) Public Library....

"Produced in 2005 by Cobblestone Films, with the cooperation of Rochester (MN) Public Library, Owatonna Public Library, and the State of Minnesota, with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)...."

They've got the video on YouTube:

"Waa filin Af Soomaali ah oo"

asepahsalar, YouTube (April 01, 2008)
video, 8:59

"Ku Soo Dhawoow Maktabadaada: Video"

I found the Lewiston Public Library's page, and that video, while discovering which language Ku Soo Dhawoow is in. I've read the phrase on a clinic's sign, and since the same message's repeated three times three languages, I figured the one I didn't understand meant the same as the first two. Sort of like the Rosetta Stone.

Anyway, I discovered that Ku Soo Dhawoow is Somali, meaning "welcome:" or something pretty close to that idea.

I also learned that outfits in Minnesota have been partly responsible for putting together a sort of educational video. It's got English subtitles - which is probably handy for folks learning to read English - and very useful for me, since I know only one phrase in Somali.

The Minnesota connection in a Somali-language video isn't all that odd. Many Somalis decided to risk going to a foreign country, instead of dealing with war and a barely-functioning economy where they were born. A considerable number of them came to America: and a large number of those came to Minnesota.

Trust me on this: They didn't come for the climate.

Basically, Minnesota is one of America's leading poultry states: and that industry includes jobs where you don't need to speak fluent English. I've discussed Minnesota's attractions in another blog. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (December 4, 2008)

Making Your Blog Into a Book: Pricy, But Interesting

"Got a Blog? Make a Book!"
Blog2Print, in partnership with Blogger

"Next time someone asks 'How can I print my blog?' send them to Blog2Print. With a couple of clicks, you choose a cover, the posts you'd like to include, and you're on your way to creating your own Blog Book!..."

I've discussed this service before, in another blog:The pricing isn't crazy, if you're looking at making a one-off copy for yourself:

"A 20-page softcover Blog Book is just $14.95
"Hardcover only $24.95. And extra pages are only 35 cents!"

On the other hand, that's a pretty slim book. If you're looking at using this service as something for business use? Well, you can buy a 200-page book for well under $14.95: so this looks like a nice service for folks who want to preserve an attractive hard copy of their blog.

The New Year's Eve Bullet, and Some Reminiscing

"How drunk do you have to BE, Lamar?"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (August 24, 2010)

".So Doc, tell me. How did the operation go to remove that cyst? I feel great!

"Well Lamar, surprisingly it wasn't a cyst at all. It was a bullet, lodged right there in your head, I'd say for five or six years. You've been carrying it around all this time.

"A bullet, huh? I'll be! I guess that would be from a New Year's Eve party.

"What? How do you know that, Lamar?..."

The rest of that Oddly Enough post is - well, pretty much what you'd expect. Whether or not you think it's funny depends on your sense of humor.

Although Oddly Enough's author went a bit past what was in the news: he didn't have to stray too far to make the situation sound, well, odd.

That photo, of an x-ray, is legit, and from a Bochum Police handout, via Reuters.

The constabulary in that German town is taking that bullet seriously. Finding out who pulled the trigger probably won't happen - and besides, they're assuming that it was an accident.

Just the same, according to The Local, they're going to try to convince folks in their area that it's not a good idea to load a gun, and then yourself, at a party.
In the news:

"Bullet found in man's head years after drunken New Year's Eve"
The Local (Germany's News in English) (August 24, 2010)

"A 35-year-old man in North Rhine-Westphalia has lived for the past several years unaware a bullet became lodged in his head one drunken New Year's Eve, police told The Local on Tuesday.

"The Polish construction worker in Herne doesn't quite remember whether it was in 2004 or 2005, but he does recall feeling a forceful blow to the back of his head around midnight as he celebrated in the city centre, said Bochum police spokesman Volker Schütte.

"He recently noticed a cyst on his head and went to the Herne hospital, where X-rays revealed the culprit – a 22-calibre bullet lodged in his scalp.

" 'He must really have a strong constitution,' said Schütte, who spoke with the patient while he recovered in the hospital following an operation on Friday. 'He was of course intoxicated at the time he felt the blow. It was New Year's Eve so naturally he'd had a bit more than usual to drink.'..."

Seriously? The Lemming is glad that the fellow got that bullet out of his scalp. Another news report had someone speculating that the bullet might have been fired in the air, and hit him on the way down: which would explain why it stopped where it did.

The Lemming's also not going to go into the conventional hand-wringing over the dangers of guns or Demon Rum, or New Year's Eve parties.

Come to think of it, I haven't heard about Demon Rum for a long time.

It's not that the Lemming is apathetic - I've explained that before - it's just that I think that guns and beer aren't problems: it's the folks who can't handle guns and beer, at least not at the same time.

Which reminds me of another story. This one's true:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Biometrics at ATMs: Iris Recognition Tech

"ATM Biometrics Coming to a Corner Store Near You!"
Info Carnivore (August 24, 2010)

"Looks like ATM machines around North America are due for a security upgrade. This year Barnaby Jack demonstrated both local and remote ATM attacks at Black Hat 2010, and showed how easy it could be to hack an ATM and make it spit cash. Barnaby Jack also revealed a multi-platform ATM rootkit and discussed protection mechanisms that ATM manufacturers can implement to safeguard against these attacks.

"Biometric Iris Scanners Coming to A Corner Store Near You!

"One protection mechanism that we are now seeing become reality is biometrics. Although it has been in the works for years, it looks like all the futuristic spy movies we watched as kids are coming true as biometric iris scanning ATM machines are looming on the horizon, and in some parts of the world already in action. Of course you're not likely to see one in your local corner store just yet, but they may well be coming soon! According to Jeff Carter of Global Rainmakers Inc. we're all going to be connected to the iris system within the next decade...."

Well, it's about time!

I've lived in a small town in central Minnesota for over 20 years, and all but the youngest folks in checkout lines recognize me. Sometimes their automated system says they're supposed to verify my credit card: but generally my ID is my face.

By the standards of some folks, there's an appalling lack of "privacy" here. I see it as being part of a community - and that's another topic.

This iris-recognition technology will, I'm quite confident, cause problems.

Or, rather, people will use it to cause problems. Any time you've got human beings involved in something, sooner or later there's going to be trouble.

The technology, though, is the sort of thing I've been looking forward to for years. In principle, someone could forge my credit card and use it.

Eventually, someone's going to find a way of finding out what my iris looks like and be able to forge it. But until that happens, I think this sort of biometric identification technology will make identity theft a whole lot harder.
A tip of the hat to danielsnyder1, on Twitter, for the heads-up on his article.

A Handful of Planets Found Around HD 10180

"Alien Solar System Looks Strikingly Like Ours "
Space.com (August 24, 2010)

"Astronomers have discovered a group of at least five planets – with hints of two more – circling around a star in an arrangement similar to our own solar system. Confirmation of the extra planets would make this the highest tally of alien worlds ever spotted around a single star.

"The planets and their own sun-like star are about 127 light-years from Earth, astronomers with the European Southern Observatory said. It is one of just 15 planetary systems known to have more than three worlds.

"The five planets circle their parent star, HD 10180, in a regular pattern like the planets of our solar system, only in a more compact arrangement, the researchers said.

"Of the two potential additional planets that may be present, one may have a mass that is the closest to the Earth's yet seen, if it is confirmed, they added. [The Strangest Alien Planets]..."

Five planets (at least) in about as much space as the first three of our star's planets orbit are a trifle crowded: by Solar system standards. But HD 10180 sounds like a remarkably close match to the planetary system that our Earth is in: right down to the nearly-circular orbits.

It doesn't sound like any of the five (or seven, if educated guesses about extra wobbles are correct) could support life-as-we-know-it. Still, HD 10180 should give astronomers and cosmologists a chance to fine-tune their theories on planet formation.

The Space.com article gives a little detail about the orbits of these new-to-us planets:

"...The closest planet is not quite 5.6 million miles (9 million km) from HD 10180, compared to the 93 million miles (150 million km) separating Earth from the sun, a distance also known as an astronomical unit. The distance of the farthest one from its star is about 1.4 AU.

"When compared to our solar system, all of these planets would fit inside the orbit of Mars and appear to have nearly circular orbits...."

Whatever the planets of HD 10180 are, they don't seem to be gas giants.

The Lemming is looking forward to learning more about those worlds.

Exciting times, these.

And You Think You Have a Rough Commute?

"China Traffic Jam Could Last Weeks"
The Wall Street Journal (August 24, 2010)

"A 60-mile traffic jam near the Chinese capital could last until mid-September, officials say.

"Traffic has been snarled along the outskirts of Beijing and is stretching toward the border of Inner Mongolia ever since roadwork on the Beijing-Tibet Highway started Aug. 13. The following week, parts of a major road circling Beijing were closed, further tightening overburdened roadways.

"As the jam on the highway, also known as National Highway 110, passed the 10-day mark Tuesday, local authorities dispatched hundreds of police to keep order and to reroute cars and trucks carrying essential supplies, such as food or flammables, around the main bottleneck. There, vehicles were inching along little more than a third of a mile a day. Zhang Minghai, director of Zhangjiakou city's Traffic Management Bureau general office, said in a telephone interview he didn't expect the situation to return to normal until around Sept. 17 when road construction is scheduled to be finished and traffic lanes will open up...."

Here in Minnesota, there's a joke that we have four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and road work. The Lemming can expect the usual route from one town to another to be blocked - maybe not every summer, but fairly often.

Our roads are okay: it's this state's crazy climate. We've got everything from jungle-level heat and humidity to subarctic storms. Sometimes in the same month.

One thing about living in Minnesota: It's not boring.

Back to China and that 60-mile, multi-week traffic jam.

It looks like their problem can be boiled down to one word: infrastructure.

"...Though triggered by construction, the root cause for the congestion is chronic overcrowding on key national arteries. Automobile sales in China whizzed past the U.S. for the first time last year, as Chinese bought 13.6 million vehicles, compared with 9.4 million vehicles in 2008. China is racing to build new roads to ease the congestion, but that very construction is making traffic problems worse—at least temporarily.

"China's roads suffer from extra wear and tear from illegally overloaded trucks, especially along key coal routes. Coal supplies move from Mongolia through the outskirts of the capital on their way to factories. There are few rail lines to handle the extra load. Though the current massive gridlock is unusual, thousands of trucks line up along the main thoroughfares into Beijing even on the best days...."

It's a temptation to say something witty about the state of China's road system, but I think that, under the circumstances, they're doing fairly well.

Part of the current traffic issue is that more folks living there can afford automobiles. Considering who's been running the country for the last several decades, that - and having roads that are in good enough shape to have a traffic jam - are remarkable accomplishments.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Silly Season

"Silly Season, LFTV, and Howard Leland"
Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette (August 20, 2010)

"Ever notice how, in August, you're more likely to see news about, say, off street parking or prize beagles on the front page? It's called the silly season. I read a post on Boston.com about this phenomenon: what Miriam Webster online says is 'a period (as late summer) when the mass media often focus on trivial or frivolous matters for lack of major news stories.'..."

This is another shameless plug for another blog. It's not the first time I've done a micro-review on one of my own posts. (August 8, 2010)

That "silly season" post in Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette is mostly about one of the fictional Minnesota town's more eccentric citizens, Howard Leland.

Now, about what another fellow wrote on Boston.com:

"August: The media's Silly Season"
Mark Leccese, Gatekeeper, Boston.com (August 19, 2010)

"Come August, the institutions to which the media devotes most if its time and toil are closed and gone fishin' — the government, the schools, the courts, big business. All that's left is the Red Sox and Tom Brady's unfortunate haircut.

"The British media, for 150 years, have been calling August the Silly Season, defined by Merriam Webster Online as 'a period (as late summer) when the mass media often focus on trivial or frivolous matters for lack of major news stories.'

"Two examples:

"* As of noon on Thursday, Google News listed 2,940 articles — that's right, from 2,940 different news outlets — on Brett Favre reporting to the training camp of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

"* A scant 833 articles from 833 different news outlets reported that Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler has been chosen (through what rigorous screening process I don't know) as a judge on 'American Idol.'

"Here in Boston, the fervor to report every last available detail and every response to the jail suicide of so-called Craigslist Killer Philip Markoff continues with Silly Season abandon...."

There's more. I think it helps if you live in the Boston area: but you'll probably enjoy reading what Mark Leccese has to say even if you've never been east of Kansas City.

The Lemming did, anyway.

And you'll learn a bit more of the phenomenon that's partly responsible for an outsize rat-thing being international news, earlier this month. (August 20, 2010)

Mutant Bananas: A Pretty Good Idea, Actually

"Bananas Get Pepper Power"
Emily Sohn, Earth News, Discovery News (August 23, 2010)

"Bananas might have gained a new weapon against a devastating disease: The green pepper.

"By genetically modifying bananas with two green pepper genes, scientists have managed to give bananas resistance to Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), a bacteria that is sweeping through plantations in East and Central Africa. BXW causes about half a billion dollars in damage each year.

"There is currently no good way to stop BXW. There are no varieties of banana that are resistant to it. And there are many other diseases like it spreading worldwide.

" 'Once this disease is in the field, that's an absolute loss because farmers cannot save anything,' said Leena Tripathi, a plant biotechnologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kampala, Uganda. 'The economic consequences are quite high.'...

This sounds like a good idea. Particularly considering how important the things are: and not just for making banana splits.

"...Bananas are one of the most important sustenance crops in the world. In Uganda, Tripathi said, a single person often eats more than three pounds of banana a day. In the United States, people eat more bananas than any other fresh fruit, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, averaging about 26 pounds per person each year...."

Bioengineering better bananas: we don't have many options.

One reason that disease spreads so quickly in banana plantations is that the trees in a plantation are usually genetically identical to each other. Bananas can't reproduce sexually: they don't make seeds that will grow.

That means that it's impossible to breed new strains of bananas. The plants don't breed.

The good news is that we've now got ways to take genes from one creature and put them in another. Sounds spooky, but it's pretty much the same sort of thing we've been doing for millennia, by breeding plants and animals. And, for that matter, grafting the branches from one tree onto another's trunk or roots.


"...In 2005, Tripathi and colleagues started investigating the potential of two genes from green peppers that have been infused into other plants and have provided resistance to bacterial diseases. In lab conditions, they found that normal bananas developed severe symptoms of BXW in just 12 days.

"Six out of eight lines of their transgenic bananas, on the other hand, developed no symptoms at all. They reported some of their findings in the journal Molecular Plant Pathology...."

Provided that the disease-resistant bananas don't produce allergic reactions in humans, or have other problems: looks like folks who depend on bananas for their food and livelihood will get a break soon.

Related posts:

Salmonella in Eggs: What Happens When Nobody's In Charge

"Egg Recall Exposes Gaps in Federal Oversight"
FOXNews (August 23, 2010)

"Two federal agencies are downplaying their oversight roles in the wake of a massive egg recall that so far has affected 22 states and shined a light on what lawmakers and watchdogs for years have claimed is a broken system for regulating a primary source of salmonella outbreaks.

"About 1,300 cases of salmonella poisoning have been linked to the latest outbreak, and approximately 500 million eggs have been recalled from two Iowa egg distributors.

"One supplier linked to the cases has a history of violations dating back to 1994 -- but the Food and Drug Administration says the violations that were recorded were outside its purview. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it never had an inspector dedicated to food safety at the farms...."

I Thought You Were Driving

It looks like the FDA believes that it's been responsible for monitoring eggs after the eggs are processed. Until then, again from the FDA point of view, it's the USDA that's supposed to be seeing to it that some cost-cutting wunderkind of a boss doesn't let salmonella get in our food supply.

The problem is that the USDA seems to think that they're not involved in food safety regulations involving shell eggs - at all:

"...A USDA official, though, told FoxNews.com that USDA agencies have had no involvement in food safety regulations over shell eggs. The official said USDA's chief task was to send an official to the farms, including one involved in the latest outbreak, to grade the eggs -- in other words, inspect them for thickness and cracks and other quality assurance factors in order to give them a USDA seal of approval. That stamp, though, does not certify that an egg is salmonella-free...."

Remember: Most American Egg Producers Don't Make You Sick

It's a wonder we haven't had more salmonella outbreaks.

I think this tells us something about integrity of the agribusiness operators who didn't poison their customers - even though nobody was looking over their shoulder.

Integrity - or common sense.

Ending Salmonella in Eggs by 2010? Oops

There's some good news in the article.

A set of policies dating back to the Clinton administration address these gaps and vague areas in federal oversight of egg production. Or, rather, would address them if they'd been put into effect.

The target date for making salmonella in eggs a thing of the past was 2010.

Looks like we didn't quite make it.

I appreciate the - irony? dry humor? - of this statement:

"The FDA probably had some authority to inspect egg farms but did not exercise it, said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She said the confusion is no surprise since federal law does not clearly put one agency in charge of egg safety.

" 'Food safety just totally fell through the cracks here,' she said. 'If you have a company violating a number of different types of laws and (it) is found to be a repeat violator ... it's highly likely that they're also cutting corners when it comes to food safety. But no one was checking.'

"Instead, the FDA has mostly been reacting after outbreaks occur, she said, 'like the fire department.'..."

I'd say that's definitely better than nothing.

Then there's this wonderfully obvious observation, about the effectiveness of the new rules:

"...'Unfortunately, they went into effect a little bit after this outbreak began,' she said...."

Is There Intelligent Life in Washington?

I've ranted, a little, before about Congress making up rules for the rest of us to live by - and then not not allocating money so that some inspector can come around from time to time and see whether rat poop is being put in peanut butter. (I'm not making that up.)

I'm no fan of regulations - particularly the sort that make no sense. On the other hand, I realize that we need to have rules to deal with the occasional nitwit who poisons our food. Quite accidentally, of course.

I'm fairly sure that the peanut potentate who thought rat poop in his product didn't matter was just trying to save a buck. My guess is that a similarly suicidal budget-mindedness is behind this salmonella outbreak.

Now, Some Good News

A somewhat hopeful headline that showed up since I started writing this post:

"No Evidence Tainted Eggs Go Beyond 2 Farms"
Associated Press, via FOXNews (August 24, 2010)

"Food and Drug Administration officials said Monday that there is no evidence a massive outbreak of salmonella in eggs has spread beyond two Iowa farms, though a team of investigators is still trying to figure out what caused it.

"FDA officials said they do not expect the number of eggs recalled — 550 million — to grow.

"Dr. Jeff Farrar, FDA's associate commissioner for food protection, said 20 FDA investigators are at the two farms, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, and could be there until next week. He said preliminary findings of the investigation should be available later this week.

"Farrar said the chicks that came to the farms from a Minnesota hatchery appear to have been free of illness, so contamination most likely happened at the Iowa locations. The FDA is looking at eight different sites on the farms where laying hens were reared as well as other locations, he said...."

Now, long after the hens were infected, it's going to be tricky, trying to find whatever it is that infected those chickens.

At least it looks like we don't need to be concerned about more outfits being involved in this particular case.
Related posts:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Making a 'Super Password'

"How to create a 'super password'"
John D. Sutter, CNN (August 20, 2010)

"Say goodbye to those wimpy, eight-letter passwords.

"The 12-character era of online security is upon us, according to a report published this week by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"The researchers used clusters of graphics cards to crack eight-character passwords in less than two hours.

"But when the researchers applied that same processing power to 12-character passwords, they found it would take 17,134 years to make them snap.

" 'The length of your password in some cases can dictate the vulnerability,' said Joshua Davis, a research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

"It's hard to say what will happen in the future, but for now, 12-character passwords should be the standard, said Richard Boyd, a senior research scientist who also worked on the project...."

According to the CNN article, the researchers chose the number 12 for their recommended password length because they think it's a good balance between convenience and security.

Eventually, we may get really long passwords.

"...Here's one suggested password-sentence from Carnegie Mellon University:

" 'No, the capital of Wisconsin isn't Cheeseopolis!'..."

That'll have to wait until the security systems websites use will handle characters other than letters of the alphabet and numbers: like commas, apostrophes, and blank spaces.

The Lemming must be using some of the better-run websites: I was surprised to learn that a fair number of places online won't accommodate long passwords.

The Lemming Applauds Himself: But You Might Find It Useful

Me? I've been using 'long' passwords, a dozen or so characters long, for years. They're not all that hard to remember, since I use a pattern. I have three parts for each password. One's a word that isn't in most dictionaries, the other involves a number that's easy for me to remember, and the third is very mnemonic - generally having something to do with the website or service I'm logging into.

If all I relied on was the mnemonic part, I could be hacked fairly easily. All three together? I'm not sure how long it'd take for a program to run through enough combinations to 'guess' the right one. I'm not worried, though: the places I go generally limit the number of times I'm allowed to make a mistake before having to wait and visit the place later.

The CNN article does a pretty good job of discussing password security: including how to deal with the issue of remembering your passwords.

One of the solutions seems to be a disaster waiting to happen, as the author concedes:

"...A website called Password Safe will store a list of passwords for you, but Boyd and Davis said it may still be possible for a hacker to obtain that list...."

There are other solutions: including physical gadgets you can carry around with you.

The Lemming's opinion is that the best approach to password security is to work out a system that
  • You can remember at 2:00 a.m.
  • Produces
    • Different password for every site
    • Long passwords
    • Passwords with letters and numbers
  • Doesn't involve your birthday, or other fact that others know about you
  • Isn't on a sticky note stuck to your monitor
Related posts:

Two-Foot Crocodile (Alligator?) Caught in New York City

"Urban legend comes to life, maybe: Baby crocodile hiding under car shocks Queens"
New York Daily News (August 23, 2010)

"A crocodile caused a commotion in Queens Sunday when it was cornered under a car.

"Yes, a crocodile.

" 'Before you ask, no cops could confirm it came out of the sewer,' said police spokesman James Duffy, referring to an urban legend that such reptiles live in the city's sewer system.

"Duffy said it remained a mystery where the 2-foot-long baby reptile came from.

" 'No one's come forward and said, "Hey, I lost a crocodile," ' said Duffy, adding that cops initially thought that the creature was an alligator.

"Pictures of the creature suggest it might indeed be a gator, which have U-shaped snouts while crocodiles' are V-shaped...."

Whatever it is, the two-foot-long reptile was caught with a noose on a pole, its mouth wrapped with black electrical tape, and then taken to the local precinct.

Why the tape? Things like that bite, and have sharp teeth.

Urban legends notwithstanding, the odds are that the critter is an escaped pet.

The Lemming tried to come up with something clever, playing off the old "take a bite out of crime" slogan: but got nothing.

Black Boxes are Fine: Glass Boxes Might be Better

"Beyond the Black Box"
Krishna M. Kavi, Tech News, Discovery News (August 23, 2010)

"On 1 June 2009, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-200, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew members. No one knows why the plane fell out of the sky, because no one has ever found its black box.

"The plane plunged so deep that the black box's sonar beacon could not be heard, and by the time the French navy had dispatched a submarine to the area, the beacon's battery had evidently died. Crash analysts were thus reduced to poring over information the airliner had transmitted before going silent, information too sparse to determine what had happened, let alone how to prevent it from happening on some other airliner.

"One of the Best Inventions in Safety Engineering

"For half a century, every commercial airplane in the world has been equipped with one of these rugged, reinforced, waterproof boxes, which each house a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. For hundreds of crashes, they have given investigators the often heartbreaking details of the plane's demise: the pilot's frantic last words, his second-by-second struggles to keep the plane airborne, and the readings of the gauges and sensors that reveal such key parameters as the airspeed, altitude and the state of the plane's engines and flight-control surfaces. Such information has enabled analysts to infer the causes of most crashes and, often, to come up with preventive measures that have saved thousands of lives.

"Every now and then, though, a black box is destroyed, lost beyond all chance of recovery or, as in the case of Air France 447, beyond all chance of detection. Lacking the black box and its precious data, we have no way to tell whether the last problem reported was the cause of the crash, the result of a deeper problem, or just an artifact of the sensor system on board. And because we can't pinpoint the cause of the crash, we can take no steps to prevent similar failures in the future....

"...I envisage a glass box, that is, a system that would be transparent because it would be in the cloud -- not a cottony puff in the sky but rather the network of servers and databases that covers ever more of the world every day. The system would offer ubiquity, invulnerability, unlimited storage, and unparalleled powers of search...."

First of all, this isn't so much news, as an op-ed piece. And a pretty well-thought-out one.

Krishna M. Kavi's glass box could be used for situations other than crashes. The op-ed points out the experience of Flight 188, when pilots overshot an airport by 150 miles. A glass box on the plane would, in principle, have narrowed the possible explanations: and at the very least frazzled the nerves of ground controllers a bit less.

In a way, a "glass box" isn't a very new idea:

"...Most aircraft already shunt some information to ground stations. The data, which come at regular intervals, have to do with the flight path and airspeed, as well as information that maintenance crews need to service the plane when it lands. This system mostly uses VHF frequency-shift keying, which can handle just 16 bits per second, now popular in ships at sea...."

It seems to the Lemming that it wouldn't take all that much to expand the system to include what's stored in black boxes today.

Which are orange: This piece gives a short history of the black box, including how it got its name.

Out With the Old Mansion, In With the New

"Megamansion estate sale mainly draws the curious"
CNN (August 22, 2010)

"Some came for the bargains. Others arrived just to capture a glimpse of a lifestyle from a largely bygone era of decadence and conspicuous consumption.

"Technology entrepreneur Larry Dean priced and tagged almost every possession at his former residence, a 32,000-square-foot megamansion appropriately called Dean Gardens.

"Parts of the home's architecture, such as the rotunda in the foyer that inspired by the dome of the Brunelleschi Cathedral in Florence, Italy, also were up for bids at the weekend estate sale.

"The megamansion was recently sold after sitting on the market for more than a decade. Dean decided to liquidate most all of the home's contents after learning of the new owner's plans to level the palatial estate...."

The CNN article has quite a bit of human interest: like the mother who got her kids a gumball machine from the mansion's game room. And a sort of ultra-short story of the mansion and its owner:

"...After the company went public and Dean earned his fortune, he and his first wife, Lynda, spent four years and $25 million to create the home of their dreams -- a neoclassical mansion for the nouveau-riche featuring 10 bathrooms and eight bedrooms. It is situated on 58 acres of landscaped Italian and French gardens that rival that of Versailles. The grounds feature an 18-hole golf course, grass tennis courts, an amphitheater and a conservatory.

"Soon after the home was complete, the couple split, and Dean was faced with operating costs ranging from $750,000 to $1 million a year..."

There's more: including speculation about the new owner - who plans to build a mansion that's - what else? - "sustainable."

I don't have a problem with that: although I don't much care for the 'more environmentally-conscious than thou' attitude I associate with such claims. Whoever bought the property is presumably using his or her own money: and as long as the result isn't so "sustainable" that nobody can use it, I don't see a problem with haring after that notion.

As for the kitschy decor? I like the idea of somebody building a house and furnishing it to suit his taste. In contrast, whoever arranged for the inside of their home to resemble an upscale hotel lobby: Come to think of it, somebody might actually have like that blandly opulent look.

Me? As I said, I like the idea of somebody building a place with a dome that's like one in a European cathedral, a 24-karat gold sink, and a gumball machine.

Advertising Humor: In Dubious Taste

The Lemming thought this was funny. Your experience may vary.

"Have a cold one, we've got you covered!"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (August 22, 2010)

" 'Team, we're here to brainstorm a brand-new Coca-Cola ad campaign, built around this new photo we found on that ODD Blog.

" 'The photo wasn't supposed to be available for commercial use, but we paid that stupid Blog Guy a fortune for the rights.

(REUTERS/Francisco Gonzalez Bolon/Expreso NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS, via Oddly Enough, used w/o permission)

" 'We need to roll the campaign out quickly. We don't have time to register a new slogan, so we'll go with one we've used before, from this list going way back to the early 1900s. Understand?...'..."

Human nature being what it is, I'd better point out that, although the photo is of a real situation, the story is fiction. It's made up. That advertising meeting never happened.

The (fictional) ad meeting ended with the demented marketing folks settling on "Good to the last drop." Which really was a Coca Cola slogan in 1908.

The Oddly Enough post includes a link to a list of real Coca Cola slogans: www.angelfire.com/oh/cocacolaantiques/slogans.html.

Finally, about that photo. Here's the Reuters caption, quoted in the Oddly Enough post:

"Patrons eat at a taco stand, as the body of a man lies on the pavement in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, August 10, 2010. According to local media, the man died after suffering a fatal heart attack. REUTERS/Francisco Gonzalez Bolon/Expreso NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS"

Salmonella: A Half-Billion Bad Eggs; and Another Sort of Bad Egg

"Supplier in Egg Recall Has History of Violations"
Associated Press, via FOXNews (August 22, 2010)

"Two Iowa farms that together recalled more than half a billion potentially tainted eggs this month share close ties, including suppliers of chickens and feed.

"Both farms are linked to businessman Austin 'Jack' DeCoster, who has been cited for numerous health, safety and employment violations over the years. DeCoster owns Wright County Egg, the original farm that recalled 380 million eggs Aug. 13 after they were linked to more than 1,000 reported cases of salmonella poisoning.

"Another of his companies, Quality Egg, supplies young chickens and feed to both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, the second farm that recalled another 170 million eggs a week later...."

DeCoster seems to be something of a 'bad egg' himself - or one of the unluckiest men in America.

More, from that AP article:
  • "In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a more than $1.5 million settlement of an employment discrimination lawsuit against DeCoster Farms on behalf of Mexican women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster's Wright County plants.
  • "In 2007, 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six DeCoster egg farms. The farm had been the subject of at least three previous raids.
  • "In June 2010, Maine Contract Farming - the successor company to DeCoster Egg Farms - agreed in state court to pay $25,000 in penalties and to make a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture over animal cruelty allegations that were spurred by a hidden-camera investigation by an animal welfare organization...."
More, about those salmonella-tainted eggs:I think an important point is that it's still early days in the CDC/FDA investigation of this monumental foul-up in America's food production & distribution system. It'll probably be months before we know with any degree of certainty exactly what happened. In the meantime, there's a mess of eggs to get off the shelves - in groceries, in warehouses: and possibly in your refrigerator.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming is Taking the Day Off

The Lemming is taking Sunday off this week. I plan to be back Monday morning, and start catching up on posts here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Naming of Restaurants: Beyond "EAT"

"Bad names litter the dining landscape"
Christopher Borrelli, Restaurant, CollectionsChicagoTribune.com (August 19, 2010)

"...America is dispiritingly awash in bad restaurant names - every autumn, poking through best-new-restaurants-of-the-year lists, I self-righteously smirk at the chance that any place named, oh, the Moss Room (in San Francisco) could be worth the hassle. I admire the randomness of Scarpetta (which is in Manhattan and means "little shoe" in Italian) but roll my eyes at No. 7 (which is in Brooklyn and means 7 Greene Ave.) - who needs another restaurant named for an address? I marvel at dullard one-word names like Feast, Reef and Textile....

"...One expects Las Vegas to have a restaurant as gaudily named as Society Cafe Encore (on Esquire's best restaurant list, incidentally), but when one stumbles upon a Mexican joint in North Carolina named El Titanic (no joke), one wonders if America is experiencing a drought of smartly named restaurants...."

I think Christopher Borrelli's on to something here: although I also suspect that there are stranger eatery names. I've left out quite a bit of his op-ed piece: including a mention of a place in Minneapolis, a maybe-three-hour-drive south and east of my home.

Still, the ultimate bad name for an eatery may be in - I think it was an old New Yorker cartoon: Sam and Ella's.

And Now, for Something Completely Different: A Paper Bag, a Kitten and Two Ferrets

" Kitten, ferrets and a paperbag"

hiddenshoe, YouTube (July 01, 2007)
video, 1:17

"Just a kitten with a paperbag... and some ferrets!"

Two ferrets, to be precise.

The kitten was clearly playing: having fun. I'm pretty sure the lighter-colored ferret was playing, too, when it crawled into the bag. The darker-colored ferret: I'm not so sure. At the end there, with the fur on its back up and sidling away, I'm pretty sure it had had quite enough.

Still: I'm quite willing to see this as a short exercise in "cute."

Typhoid Fever in Fruit Smoothies and Shakes: Now You Tell Us?!

I am not making up the date on this CNN news item:

"Frozen mamey fruit pulp recalled in U.S."
the CNN Wire Staff, CNN (August 20, 2010)

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Friday not to eat frozen mamey fruit pulp -- sold under the La Nuestra and Goya brands -- after at least nine people in California and Nevada fell ill with typhoid fever.

"Both companies, which have voluntarily recalled the product, get their mamey fruit from a common supplier in Guatemala, the FDA said...."

Well, I suppose "better late than never."

This news is about a week old.

Related post:

Salmonella: More Bad Eggs

"Second Iowa farm recalls eggs in salmonella sweep"
Reuters (August 21, 2010)

"A second Iowa egg farm is recalling eggs as part of an investigation into a U.S. salmonella outbreak that is linked to almost 300 illnesses across the country, federal regulators said on Friday.

"Hillandale Farms of Iowa Inc is voluntarily recalling shell eggs potentially contaminated with salmonella in an expanding national egg recall that is among the largest in recent years, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

" 'Through tracebacks conducted as part of its ongoing investigation into the increase of Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses nationwide, FDA and the State of Minnesota identified Hillandale Farms in Iowa as a second potential source of contaminated shell eggs,' FDA said in a statement.

"The first potential source is another Iowa egg producer, Wright County Egg, which recalled 380 million eggs on Thursday...."

This may or may not be a "second" source for tainted eggs. Hillandale shows up on an August 18, 2010 list from the FDA. I wrote about this before. (August 20, 2010)

Does this seem like a lot of fuss over an upset tummy?

Maybe: but the American food distribution system is not supposed to let salmonella get on your table. We take the idea of safe food pretty seriously here.

More than 270 illness, so far, are connected to these bad eggs. The cases are in California, Colorado, and Mississippi, according to the Reuters article. That's literally one in a million Americans - but like I say, we take safe food pretty seriously.


"...Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain and sometimes more serious illness or death...."

So far, we've been - lucky? - with this outbreak. No deaths, as far as I've heard.

On the other hand:
"Egg Recall Expands to More than Half-Billion Eggs"
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (August 20, 2010)

"More than a half-billion eggs have been recalled in the nationwide investigation of a salmonella outbreak that Friday expanded to include a second Iowa farm. The outbreak has already sickened more than 1,000 people and the toll of illnesses is expected to increase.

"Iowa's Hillandale Farms said Friday it was recalling more than 170 million eggs after laboratory tests confirmed salmonella. The company did not say if its action was connected to the recall by Wright County Egg, another Iowa farm that recalled 380 million eggs earlier this week. The latest recall puts the total number of potentially tainted eggs at about 550 million.

"FDA spokeswoman Pat El-Hinnawy said the two recalls are related. The strain of salmonella bacteria causing the poisoning is the same in both cases, salmonella enteritidis.

"Federal officials say it's one of the largest egg recalls in recent history. Americans consume about 220 million eggs a day, based on industry estimates. Iowa is the leading egg producing state.

"The eggs recalled Friday were distributed under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, Sunny Meadow, Wholesome Farms and West Creek. The new recall applies to eggs sold between April and August...."

Never mind the Hillandale name showing up in an older listing from the FDA. The AP article's a bit more detailed: and it looks like there's a second recall, announced yesterday.

I'm going to break the brands and the states affected out into lists, as I've done in previous posts:
  • Brands:
    • Hillandale Farms
    • Sunny Farms
    • Sunny Meadow
    • Wholesome Farms
    • West Creek
  • States where they were sent:
    • Arkansas
    • California
    • Iowa
    • Illinois
    • Indiana
    • Kansas
    • Minnesota
    • Missouri
    • Nebraska
    • North Dakota
    • Ohio
    • South Dakota
    • Texas
    • Wisconsin.
The irony of those squeaky-clean names, like "Wholesome Farms," adds a sort of grim humor to this mess. Or maybe that's just me.
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Lemming Tracks: Argentina's Government Pulls the Plug on Grupo Carlin

"Argentina orders Internet provider shut down"
The Associated Pres, via Breitbart (August 20, 2010)

"Argentina's government on Friday ordered the closure one of the nation's three leading Internet providers, demanding that Grupo Clarin immediately inform 'each and every one' of its more than 1 million customers that they have 90 days to find new ways of getting online.

"The order says Grupo Clarin—which has grown through mergers to become one of Latin America's leading media companies—illegally absorbed the Fibertel company through its Cablevision subsidiary in January 2009 because it failed to obtain prior approval from the commerce secretary.

"Cablevision denied that Friday, citing a previous approval obtained in 2003, and planned to appeal, accusing the government of continuing a campaign to stifle opposition viewpoints.

"President Cristina Fernandez has made dismantling Grupo Clarin a priority of her government. A new law that has been challenged in court would force the company to break apart in a drive to dissolve media monopolies.

The immediate effect of taking Fibertel offline may actually reduce competition for high-speed Internet access in Argentina,...

Repeating that third paragraph, with emphasis added:

"...Cablevision denied that Friday, citing a previous approval obtained in 2003, and planned to appeal, accusing the government of continuing a campaign to stifle opposition viewpoints...."
Argentina tells Clarin's Fibertel to quit market"
Reuters UK (August 19, 2010)

"Argentina's government said on Thursday that leading Internet provider Fibertel, part of mammoth media conglomerate Grupo Clarin (CLA.BA), must cease operations, and users will have 90 days to switch companies.

"President Cristina Fernandez is at loggerheads with top daily newspaper Clarin, which she accuses of lying to undermine her government...."

She could be right. Or, she could not like the idea of people not agreeing with her: and be in a position to silence them.

Unintended Consequences?

It could be sheer coincidence that a media company which doesn't see eye-to-eye with Argentina's government just happens to get its plug pulled. By an anti-monopoly measure that reduces competition in that sector of Argentina's economy.

Granted, national governments can do stupid things.

On the other hand, when an 'anti-monopoly' measure decreases competition while silencing opposition voices: I think that stupidity isn't the only possible explanation.

It Can't Happen Here?

I've written about this before (February 1, 2010)

I think it's prudent, when a good-looking spunky girl reporter says the government should defend her from nasty online predators, or when an earnest upholder of something frightfully important warns of dire dangers of those unregulated bloggers: to stop, take a deep breath, and think.

Do we really want big daddy in Washington (or whichever city your country's seat of government is) deciding who's allowed to say what?

Is that overstating the issue? Maybe.

Or, maybe not.

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