Sunday, October 31, 2010

Space Shuttle Discovery: Last Launch Rescheduled

"Shuttle Discovery's Gas Leaks Repaired In Time for Wednesday Launch"
Denise Chow, (October 31, 2010)

"NASA is counting down toward the final flight of space shuttle Discovery after engineers successfully repaired two minor gas leaks on the spacecraft in time for one last launch on Wednesday (Nov. 3).

"Discovery's final launch has been delayed two days due to leaky helium and nitrogen seals found in the shuttle's right orbital maneuvering system pod last week.

"Technicians raced to troubleshoot the problem and re-pressurize the orbiter's rocket engine in time for a targeted launch at 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT) on Wednesday. The official countdown toward liftoff began today (Oct. 31) at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT)...."

The Lemming may indulge in a little nostalgia around Wednesday. I remember watching coverage of the first Space Shuttle test flight, and have followed the program over the decades - including the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Those are reminders of how risky getting to orbit and back can be. Looking at it another way, the 131 Space Shuttle missions that went pretty much as planned shows how far this sort of transportation technology has come since the Vanguard days.

The end of the Space Shuttle program is hardly the end of people traveling to space. It's more the end of a very early stage in our travels beyond Earth.

"...NASA will retire the three remaining shuttles in its fleet – Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – next year to make way for a new plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars. Discovery is the oldest of NASA's space shuttles...."

In the short run, it looks like vehicles that will replace the Space Shuttle fleet will look more like the old Soyuz/Apollo-era capsules. A few years further out, my guess is that transoceanic air travel will merge with service to low Earth orbit. Ten years or so from now, folks may be flying something like the X-51 or Skylon hypersonic vehicles.

One thing this era is not, is boring.

Related posts:More:

The Best Speech You'll Ever Regret

"Speak when you are angry--and you will make the best speech you'll ever regret."
Laurence J. Peter (US educator & writer (1919 - 1988), The Quotations Page

The Lemming thinks he's got a point.

I've hit the "Delete" key fairly often, after creating some inspired rant - and re-reading it a few minutes later.

And then, there's my last post before this one:

The Horror! Monster Comics that Scared Congress

"Horror! Book Digs Up Lurid 'Pre-Code' Monster Comics"
Underwire, Wired (October 31, 2010)

"During the golden age of comic-book gore, ghoulish stories about zombies, werewolves, skeletons and gorgons arrived in drugstore magazine racks on a monthly basis. Honoring America's midcentury infatuation with all things macabre, new book The Horror! The Horror! surveys 'pre-Code' comic titles from the early 1950s that specialized in outlandishly violent supernatural fantasies.

"Written by Jim Trombetta (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), the 305-page soft-cover chronicles the period's rich stew of graphic insanity. Often produced by uncredited illustrators, the comic books eventually attracted congressional attention.

"In 1954, Senate hearings concluded that pulp fiction posed a threat to the mental health of youthful readers...."

And so, for whatever reason, the American Congress leaned on the comics industry, which came up with the Comics Code Authority. From what I've read, the Code was an alternative to federal censorship. Under the circumstances, it was probably the best response by the comics publishers. That was the middle of the 1950s, after all.

Over a half-century later, the feds aren't likely to come up with quite the same reasons for grabbing control of what 'the masses' read. We've got a new set of phrases to rev up emotions, like "hate speech." The idea that Congress is throwing its weight around to 'save the children' hasn't changed all that much, though.

Looking at the nine covers featured in this Wired article, I'd say that "lurid," like the headline says, is a pretty accurate description.

For what it's worth, the Lemming isn't a huge fan of that sort of comic. On the other hand, I don't think very highly of our 'betters' in Congress deciding what we are and aren't allowed to see.

As for 'protecting the children?' Okay: so maybe those comics weren't particularly wholesome for small children and adults with personality disorders. Adults with screws loose - well, that's another topic. ("Original Sin, Free Will, ADD, and There Goes the Air Conditioner," A Catholic Citizen in America (October 15, 2010))

This may sound counter-cultural: but the Lemming figures that parents might be more interested - and motivated - in keeping tabs on their kids. And, in my opinion, in a better position to decide what's acceptable and what's not.

Related posts:The Lemming, on censorship: You could click on "censorship" in the

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Hotel on Turtle Creek

Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek

"Recognized as the most celebrated hotel in Texas, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is the only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond hotel in Texas. Considered a Dallas icon by both locals and visitors alike, the Mansion retains the intimate ambience of the private residence it once was while providing the highest levels of quality and service."

Unlikely as it sounds, to have "Turtle Creek" and "ambience" in the same paragraph, this sounds like a really classy place to stay. Expensive, anyway.

Don't take the Lemming's word for it, though: the website has an impressive Photo Gallery. The one showing "The Library at the Mansion Restaurant" - doesn't seem to have a single book in sight.

Oh, well.

The Endoplasmic Reticulum, Explained

"The Endoplasmic Reticulum"
Michael W. Davidson and The Florida State University, Molecular ExpressionTM

"The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a network of flattened sacs and branching tubules that extends throughout the cytoplasm in plant and animal cells. These sacs and tubules are all interconnected by a single continuous membrane so that the organelle has only one large, highly convoluted and complexly arranged lumen (internal space). Usually referred to as the endoplasmic reticulum cisternal space, the lumen of the organelle often takes up more than 10 percent of the total volume of a cell...."

There's more - including a colored drawing of the endoplasmic reticulum and part of the nucleus that does a better job than most, of illustrating what the ER is, how it's and how it relates to the rest of the cell. I'd show you, but the copyright statement at the bottom of the page seems to exclude use of images - even for a micro-review like this.

So you'll have to take the Lemming's word for it.

It's a pretty good resource, for learning how this part of cellular machinery works. Here's a sample of how the ER's function is described:

"...These proteins may be either transmembrane proteins, which become embedded in the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum, or water-soluble proteins, which are able to pass completely through the membrane into the lumen. Those that reach the inside of the endoplasmic reticulum are folded into the correct three-dimensional conformation, as a flattened cardboard box might be opened up and folded into its proper shape in order to become a useful container. Chemicals, such as carbohydrates or sugars, are added, then...."

I've seen educational pages that are a tad easier to read than this one - but the author did, in my opinion, an unusually good job of actually saying something with the big words.

Yves Rossy and His Flying Backpack

"Jet-man: Human powered flight"

fdt2k, YouTube (December 22, 2006)
video, 3:13

"Yves Rossy, the first man to have the performances of an airplane (climb !) with only his body movements to steer: The Icare's dream reality !"

Yves Rossy's flown across the English Channel since that video was made: and other folks are developing personal flight technology, too. The Lemming doesn't think that the flying belts of the Jetsons are all that likely - not any time soon.

On the other hand, there are recreational and practical applications that just about guarantee that we'll see more of these things in the next few years.

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

What Happened to Argleton?!

"Welcome to Argleton, the town that doesn't exist" (November 3, 2009)

"The world's eyes are focused on a small village called Argleton just off the A59 near Ormskirk, Lancashire. Camera crews have been dispatched. "Argleton" is fast becoming a popular hashtag on Twitter. There is even talk of merchandising opportunities.

"The reason for all the interest is simple: Argleton doesn't actually exist. It is a phantom village that appears on Google Maps. You can search online for Argleton's local weather forecast (10C yesterday), property prices (not much for sale at the moment) or for the number of a local plumber, but in reality the village's coordinates point to little more than a muddy field. However, just a few hundred metres away stands the very real village of Aughton. So, is this a case of a simple spelling mistake by a cartographer? Or is Argleton evidence of something more conspiratorial afoot in the county? After all, the Ormskirk and Skelmersdale Advertiser has already posed the question of whether the Argleton mystery might indicate the presence of a 'Bermuda triangle of West Lancashire'...."

The Lemming rather likes the idea that a vast conspiracy of space aliens, Elvis and the Knights Templar is involved - and that Argleton really does exist - cleverly hidden by holographic projectors and mind-control rays from the invisible mothership.

None of which are mentioned in the article.

See? That proves there's a conspiracy!

Let's see: Edge Hill University in Ormskirk's head of web services, Mike Nolan, says it's most likely that somebody's fingers skidded when they keyed in "Aughton" - and it came out "Argleton."

Not as cool as the space-alien explanation - but a great deal more plausible.

Or is that what they want us to thing?!

The Lemming has got to get some rest.

Friday, Rome, Language, and Boudicca of the Iceni

Friday is more than just something that keeps Thursday from bumping into Saturday.

Which reminds me, in the tradition of after-dinner speakers, of an amusing story. You've probably heard it before, but here goes: this fellow gets called into his boss's office, and is told to close the door. The manager looks upset.

"It's come to my attention," the manager said, "that twenty percent of all sick days in this department are on Friday. I want you to give me a full report on what's behind this abuse."

Which is one reason why the Lemming never regretted not following the usual 'success track' in corporate America.

Back to Friday. Which is entirely distinct from Thursday and Saturday: which come from different pantheons. Although Thor and Saturn both liked beer. No, wait: Thor liked beer, Saturn liked wine, or something like that.

Neither of which have much to do with Friday.

There's some interesting stuff about Friday, Tuesday, and where the Germanic languages came from in:

"A Grammar of Proto-Germanic"
Winfred P. Lehmann; Jonathan Slocum, ed.
6.1. The Culture of the Speakers of Proto-Germanic
Linguistics Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

The writing style is a trifle on the dry side - and my forebears are described from the point of view of the Romans. Understandably, since they're the folks who were storing data in external devices: writing things down, in other words.

The Romans were fine engineers, great at organizing things, but the little guys didn't - I think - relate all that well to the outsize beer-drinking folks living along the north side of their territory. We left quite an impression on them, though. Literally, in the case of Boudicca of the Iceni. Which is another topic.

Back to Friday. Here's what that U of T at A thing has to say:

"...The equations with Roman gods are maintained in our names of the days of the week: Tuesday honoring Tiu, Wednesday Wodan, Thursday Thor, and Friday, with the goddess Freyja representing Venus..."

The Lemming thinks that there's a certain Roman bias here - Venus might just as well be representing Freyja. But that's all water under the bridge. The Roman Empire's been out of business for over a dozen centuries now. And that's another topic.

The Lemming will be very, very glad when this cold has finished working its way through my system. Which may explain the organization (if that's the right word) of this post.

Space Shuttle Discovery: Last Launch, First Robot

"Space Shuttle Discovery's Last Crew Arrives at Launch Site" (October 28, 2010)

"The six astronauts who will fly on space shuttle Discovery during its historic final flight have arrived at their Florida launch site for the planned Monday launch, after a slight delay due to an aircraft glitch.

"Discovery commander Steve Lindsey and four of his crewmates began landing their NASA T-38 jets here at the Kennedy Space Center at about 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT). A plane swap for the sixth crewmember, mission specialist Alvin Drew, delayed his arrival by an hour.

" 'It's great to be down here – what an exciting week,' Lindsey told reporters who had gathered for the crew's arrival. 'Hopefully, weather permitting, all goes well and we'll have a nice Nov. 1 on-time launch. We're looking forward to it.'..."

The Shuttle fleet has been ferrying people and freight to and from orbit for three decades: and this is the last flight. Last flight of the Shuttle program.

Folks working in the International Space Station (ISS) won't be stuck in orbit: they'll just have other travel arrangements. And if the plans of Bigelow Aerospace and others stay on track, they'll soon have neighbors.

Then there's Robonaut 2, or R2, the robot assistant that Discovery is taking to the ISS. R2 looks more than a little human from the waist up: mostly because a lot of the jobs it's designed to help with require the sort of dexterity that humans have.

This is definitely not the 20th century any more. More about R2:The Lemming remembers Sputnik and the landing at Tranquility Base. It's exciting to be around when spaceports are being built and the first generation of space freighters is being retired.

Related posts:More:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Your Daily Adult Requirement of Cute: Baby Hamster & Broccoli

"Baby hamster eating broccoli"

bionca88, YouTube (September 25, 2007)
video, 1:18

"This is Yogi Sat at 14 days old eating broccoli. Isn't he cute or what?"

Cute. A little awkward - but definitely cute.


Related post:

Driverless Van: Nifty Concept; Apparently Works

"Driverless van crosses from Europe to Asia"
Jo Ling Kent, CNN Tech (October 28, 2010)

"A driverless van has completed the longest-ever trip by an unmanned vehicle, beginning in Italy and arriving in China, covering 13,000 kilometers (8,077 miles), researchers said.

"The van arrived at the Shanghai World Expo on Thursday, after leaving Italy on July 20.

"The three-month trip took the van through Eastern Europe, Russia and Kazakhstan; across China through the Gobi Desert; and finally along the Great Wall, before arriving for a celebration at the expo. The driverless van relied solely on electricity...."

Quite impressive - and apparently legit. There's a sort of slide show that goes with the article.

Electric cars have come a long way: from golf carts with pretensions of practicality, to vehicles that somebody might actually pay good money for.

Apparently it's very important that this robotic car also is all-electric.

What impressed the Lemming is that - apparently - a robotic vehicle made it so far, without needing help. Again, technology has come a long way. Information technology in this case.

Then there's this odd ending for the article:

"...The European Research Council primarily funded the expedition, to develop technology to increase road safety and fuel efficiency by supplementing driver decisions at the wheel. The project used low-cost technologies that could be integrated in most current vehicles' chassis, researchers said.

"More than 1.2 million people die annually in auto crashes, according to the World Health Organization."

The implication, apparently, is that robotic cars will be really, really safe. After all, they'll use software in computers: and everybody who uses computers knows how absolutely reliable the are.

If self-driven cars include a dashboard screen display, they could give the "blue screen of death" a whole new meaning.

Digital Halloween? Neat Idea: So-So Execution

"Carve A Pumpkin? Pffff! Use LEDs"
Tracy Staedter, Analysis, Tech News, Discovery News (October 27, 2010)

"Carving pumpkins for Halloween is so 20th Century. Here in the age of Google Street View, nanotechnology, botnets and 3D film, we use LEDs. The guys at Hack A Day have a great project for the do-it-yourselfer not content with homemade costumes: a marquee made from matrix of 70 light emitting diodes, or LEDs. It's a little too involved for me, but I'll bet plenty of you could tackle this baby and perhaps even come up with a new twist...."

Looks like a neat idea - there's a photo and an embedded YouTube video in the article.

The Lemming's no Luddite, but somehow the LED Halloween pumpkin doesn't lend quite the same ambiance. Maybe I've seen too many signs like it near the grocery checkout.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Haiti, Nigeria, Cholera

"Haiti, Nigeria Battle Cholera"
Voice of America (October 26, 2010)

"Health providers and aid groups have mobilized to combat outbreaks of cholera in Haiti and Nigeria. Often causing extreme dysentery and dehydration, cholera arises from a strain of bacteria that is easily spread and hard to eradicate from infected zones. Cholera is a common after-effect of natural calamities.

"Ever since January's massive earthquake devastated Haiti, health officials have warned of the dangers of cholera. In a country where public sanitation infrastructure is poor to non-existent and clean drinking water is often hard to come by, more than 3,000 cholera cases and more than 250 deaths have been reported in recent weeks, mostly north of Port-au-Prince.

"Doctor John Andrus, Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization, spoke with reporters this week:

" 'People with low immunity, such as malnourished children or people with the HIV virus, are of greatest risk for death, if infected [with cholera],' said Andrus...."

Haiti and Nigeria aren't alone: There have been cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, too, according to the article.

The Lemming ran into the assertion that the earthquake in Haiti didn't cause cholera. True enough: the disease is caused by a bacteria. Roads, water handling systems, and buildings being destroyed by the earthquake in Haiti - and a great many folks who weren't killed having to move - in a country that was terribly poor to begin with - probably didn't help keep cholera from happening, either.

The Lemming is concentrating on Haiti - partly because it's closest to home; partly because it takes time to put together a list of charities; partly because quite a number of the outfits that help Haiti are interested in places around the world.

Related posts:More about Haiti, including a list of charities:

Ypsilanti Michigan: Not Ipsilanti

City of Ypsilanti, Michigan
The official website

"History of the City of Ypsilanti"

"Ypsilanti is located where an old Indian trail crossed the Huron River and long before the coming of the white man, was the camping and burial ground for several native American tribes.

"In 1809 three French explorers built a log structure on the west bank of an Indian trading post and was one of the earliest structures in the vast, sparsely populated Michigan territory whose citizens, including forts, numbered just 4,762.

"Gabriel Godfrey, proprietor of the trading post, was followed in 1823 by Benjamin Woodruff who, along with several companions, established a small settlement on the river a mile south of the post and named it Woodruff's Grove, the first settlement in Washtenaw County...."

You might think that Ypsilanti is an anglicized name from the Huron language. Turns out, Ypsilanti is named for Demetrius Ypsilanti, a Greek fellow who made quite a name for himself around the time folks were setting Ypsilanti up. Except it wasn't Ypsilanti until the locals decided to use Demetrius Ypsilanti's name.

The Lemming still has a cold: please excuse me.

Woodruff's Grove might have been the major city in that area - but a survey crew decided that a federal highway connecting Detroit and Chicago should cross the Huron River a mile north of Woodruff's Grove. Then the school in W.G. burned down.

There's more about Ypsilanti, Demetrius, and Depot Town. Also a lot of other places and people that you'd know about if you lived there. Sounds like a pretty nice place to live, actually.

They've got a solar powered city hall, too.

Art Portraying Art: Meta-art?

"Inspired Impressions: Interior Paintings by Jeremiah Goodman"
Nicholas McLaughlin and Katy Mantyk, The Epoch Times (October 26, 2010)

"The New York School of Interior Design opened its exhibit Inspired Impressions: Interior Paintings by Jeremiah Goodman last week and will keep it running through Dec. 20.

"On show will be a retrospective of the New Yorker's signature room portraits and the iconic magazine covers he created for Interior Design Magazine. Carolina Herera, renowned clothing designer and style icon, could be seen among the guests admiring the works, one of which is a painting of her room.

"According to the New York School of Interior Design, Goodman is treasured in the interior design community for his rare ability to infuse static rooms with warmth and personality and bring them so vividly to life.

" 'I got to be known for interpreting a decorator's style,' Goodman told Home Miami.

"Still energetic and fully engaged in his work at 88, Goodman told Habitually Chic writer that growing up during the Depression instilled in him a strong work ethic, and that he still gets up every morning to draw and paint...."

The Lemming isn't sure what the status is, just now, of an artist who's chiefly known for painting representational pictures of interior designs that someone else made. I think it qualifies as "art" - but then I think highly of Norman Rockwell's work, too: including what he did before he became 'relevant.'

Which is another topic.

Sort of. Goodman is known for being the creator of covers for Interior Design magazine: which might suggest that Interior Design magazine covers are "art," while Saturday Evening Post magazine covers aren't. Or weren't.

The Lemming wrenches himself back on-topic again.

There's more detail in the article about the exhibition and Goodman's art. Which will be on display until December 20th. Even better, admission is free. All you have to do is walk over to the New York School of Interior Design exhibit at 161 East 69th Street. Folks who aren't in New York City? Well, that is yet another topic.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different: 38 Seconds of Cute

"Tiny Squee and her big sister Polly"

anonleft, YouTube (October 13, 2010)

"Kittehs (7 wk old tabby and 4 year old tortoise shell) being ridiculously cute together. I don't think you can hear the purring very well over ABC24 in the background, but believe me they were purring pretty darn hard."

That should fulfill the daily adult requirement for "cute."


A tip of the hat to " 'Squee' and her Big Sister 'Polly”'," on Daily Squee! (October 25, 2010 ).

Two Planets, Each Orbiting the Same Two Stars

"Surprise Discovery: Two Planets, Two Stars, One System" (October 26, 2010)

"Two massive Jupiter-like planets were recently discovered orbiting around two extremely close sister stars – an unexpected find, given the disturbing gravitational effects within most binary star systems that usually disrupt planets from forming.

"The alien planets were found to orbit around the binary star system NN Serpentis, which is located about 1,670 light-years from Earth.

"The more massive of the two stars is a very small white dwarf – the burnt-out remnant that is left over when a sun-like star dies. The star is 2.3 times the diameter of Earth, but has a temperature of more than 89,500 degrees Fahrenheit (49,700 degrees Celsius) – almost nine times hotter than the surface of the sun.

"The other star in the pair is a larger but cooler star, with a mass only one-tenth that of the sun. The two stars are joined in a very tight mutual orbit...."

The stars are lined up so that they eclipse each other, as seen from Earth. That made very precise measurements of their orbit possible. That helped astronomers spot the planets.

"...The larger planet in the system is about 5.9 times more massive than Jupiter. It orbits the binary stars every 15.5 Earth years at a staggering distance of roughly 558 million miles. Closer in, the second planet orbits every the binary pair every 7.75 Earth years, and is about 1.6 times more massive than Jupiter.

"An international team of astronomers detected the planetary system using a wide variety of observations taken over two decades from several ground-based telescopes...."

That white dwarf star shows that NN Serpentis went through rapid changes recently. "Recently" in the cosmological sense, anyway.

There are at least two possible ways that the planets of NN Serpentis would have been involved in the more massive star running out of hydrogen, expanding into a red giant, and then shrinking to its present size.

They might have had their orbits changed - a lot.

Or the planets might be only about a million years old: formed from material thrown off by the red giant star.

Either way, there's a whole lot more to be learned about NN Serpentis.


Lemming Tracks: The Donora Death Fog and the Good Old Days

"Oct. 26, 1948: Death Cloud Envelops Pennsylvania Mill Town"
This Day in Tech, Wired (October 26, 2010)

"1948: An inversion layer settles over the rust belt town of Donora, Pennsylvania, trapping industrial pollution in the atmosphere. When it clears six days later, 20 people are dead, another 50 are dying and hundreds will live out their days with permanently damaged lungs.

"Inversion occurs when the air near the ground is cooler than the air above it, a reversal of normal atmospheric conditions. When that happens, manmade pollutants are trapped, resulting in smog. The physical conditions around Los Angeles, for example, lead to frequent inversion layers over the basin. That, combined with heavy automobile pollution, consistently gives L.A. the worst air quality in the country.

"But L.A. has never seen anything quite like that one week in Pennsylvania, in what became known as the Donora air inversion or, more dramatically, the 'Donora Death Fog.'..."

The town is about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. During the night of October 26, 1948, pollutants from steel smelting plants and a zinc works got stuck under a temperature inversion there.

"...The companies connived with the U.S. Public Health Service to cover up the facts of the incident and succeeded in doing so for half a century. Whistle-blowers were silenced; records disappeared. It wasn't until 1994 that a full accounting of what happened in Donora was finally published...."

The Good Old Days and the Lemming

A good memory is one of the better defenses against pathological nostalgia, in the Lemming's opinion. It's okay to remember days of October's bright blue weather: but prudent, I think, to remember what didn't go so well, too.

Like the Donora Death Fog.

The Lemming isn't surprised that the cover-up happened in the 1940s. That wasn't a particularly bright patch in America's history, in several ways. Doctor John Cutler was making medical history in Guatemala, in cahoots with the Public Health Service. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 2, 2010)) The Tuskegee experiments - but those started in 1932 and continued until 1972. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (June 17, 2008))

Of course, those were scientific medical experiments on natives and other unimportant people - not like the little oopsie in Donora. The point is that the Public Health Service had a quite - convenient - sense of ethics.

You'd think that using words like "medical" and "scientific" wouldn't work so well as excuses for hurting and killing people these days - but I've discussed that in another blog (A Catholic Citizen in America (August 30, 2010))

Welcome to the Information Age

Between cell phones, blogs, and other threats to the power of old-school information gatekeepers, the Lemming doubts that something like the Donora Death Fog could be kept quiet for quite so long today. A few hours, maybe: not decades.

No, the Lemming doesn't miss 'the good old days.'

Not that the current era is particularly perfect.

Given changes in the establishment since the sixties, it's not likely that Big Oil, or any industrial outfit, would be given the benefit of the doubt in a "Donora" situation. Pollution seems to have replaced Communism as a major subject of fear - reasonable and otherwise - for America's leadership.

Humanity's talent for ethical lapses remains undimmed, though: and that's another topic.

Related posts, touching on health, ethics, and government:

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Next: Robot Lifeguards?

"A robot lifeguard patrols Malibu"
Cindy Waxer, Innovation Nation, (October 25, 2010)

"Emily may not be the prettiest thing with plastic parts on bikini-riddled Zuma Beach in Malibu, Calif., but 'she' still turns heads.

"That's because Emily -- whose name is an acronym for Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard -- is a four-foot-long robotic buoy capable of racing through rough surf at 24 miles per hour. Emily's creators estimate that the robot can rescue distressed swimmers twelve times as fast as human lifeguards. Take that, David Hasselhoff!..."

"...The final result is a remote-controlled contraption powered by a tiny electric pump called an impeller, which squirts a forceful stream of water, much like the propulsion system on a Jet Ski. Manufactured by Mulligan's startup, a seven-employee company called Hydronalix in Sahuarita, Ariz., Emily can run up to 80 miles on a single battery charge. The device's foam core is buoyant enough to support up to five people, who cling to Emily's ropes until human aid arrives...."

It looks like a sawed-off red pontoon with a flag - and relies on the drowning victim being alert, and able to grab and hold on to the lines along its side. Also realize that the red torpedo is there to help.

"...'This is a classic example of an inventor's idea of how to solve a problem that doesn't necessarily coincide with reality,' says B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association. He notes that a robotic floatation device -- no matter how nifty -- can't save an unconscious swimmer...."

That's a reasonable point.

Still, that 24-knot 'swimming' speed is impressive. And well outside the envelope of what human beings can do.

The Lemming thinks that something like EMILY could be a lifesaver - literally - in situations where getting there fast is important.

Add a camera, arms, and artificial intelligence - and the 'uncooperative victim' issue is dealt with. That'd be a huge upgrade, of course.

Zanzibar, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Words

Zanzibar is an archipelago off Tanzania. (

It's also the name of a restaurant and pub in Menomonie, Wisconsin: which has its own website, The restaurant and pub, I mean: not Menomonie. Although Menomonie has a website, too. Several. There's the official one,; and another one that claims to be the number one (in bold) source for information about the place,

The latter is more mnemonic, since it's just the name of the town and the familiar ".com" - and it's interesting because Menomonie sounds a little like mnemonic, but doesn't mean the same thing. Mnemonic means "a device (such as a rhyme or acronym) used to aid recall" (Princeton's WordNet). Menomonie apparently means "wild rice people," in Ojibwa. ( And Mahnomen, Minnesota, means "wild rice," in Chippewa ( which seems to be pretty much the same word as Ojibwe. Or Ojibwa.

Please - don't be offended. French, English, and English-speaking Americans have been around the Wisconsin-Minnesota area for quite a while, they're the ones who started writing down what they thought they heard folks say when they asked, 'what's that?' Between creative spelling, local and regional dialects, and time - it's a wonder the names are as close as they are.

In the Lemming's opinion, anyway.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Abecedarians, Monday, and All That

An abecedarian may be "a novice learning the rudiments of some subject" or, if it's Abecedarian with a capital "A," it's "a 16th century sect of Anabaptists centered in Germany who had an absolute disdain for human knowledge" (Princeton's WordNet)

The Lemming is clearly no Abecedarian. It's the wrong century, and I don't disdain human knowledge: absolutely or otherwise. Not that the Lemming thinks humanity's got all the answers - and that's another topic.

On the other hand, I suppose we're all abecedarians in a way: novices learning the rudiments. Although that's an assumption based on another assumption: that humanity doesn't have all the answers.

The Lemming's repeating himself.

The Lemming also has a cold. Which may or may not explain this post. Which I was planning to have appear tomorrow morning. Which it is already, but not here.

Monday is less than an hour from now. So while it's Sunday here, it's already Monday on the east coast of North America - and points east.

Time to stop writing.

FailCon: Learning From Failure

"FailCon Fails to Fail, Returns for 2010"
Epicenter, Wired (October 23, 2010)

"Failcon, a Silicon Valley conference focused on stories of failure, was so successful last year that's it's back again in 2010. Which means it either failed to fail or succeeded at failure, depending on how you look at it.

"In 2009, some of the Valley's prominent tech figures including former Paypaler and now Slide founder Max Levchin, David Hornik and Zynga founder Marc Pincus talked about the projects that didn't work - the ones few people remember, including the first four companies that failed for Levchin before PayPal sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion....

"...Failcon, the brainchild of event producer Cass Phillipps, along with associate producer Diane Loviglio, isn't about celebrating failure, but about talking about why ventures failed, how failure can be acceptable, and even how to fail gracefully e.g. how do you lay off employees, shut down a company and explain to investors that their money was for naught.

" 'Failure is interesting,' Phillipps said. 'My goal with FailCon isn't to make money, it's to not lose money and change people's opinions about failure.'..."

Learning about failed ventures is by far not the worst idea that the Lemming's run across recently. 'Success stories' seem to be more popular - at least with the 'get rich quick' set. Reviewing how business ideas that looked good at first - but didn't work - may not be calculated to quicken the pulse and have folks whipping out their credit cards. But it seems like a common-sense approach to not repeating the same mistakes.

Then there's that abysmal failure, Thomas Edison: who tried 1,500 filament materials without finding one that would be practical in an incandescent light.

And, no: Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb. All he did was develop one that people could use. And that's another topic. ("The History of the Incandescent Lightbulb," "The Inventions of Thomas Edison,"; "Inventing Edison's Lamp, Lighting a Revolution, National Museum of American History)

"If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."
Thomas A. Edison, The Quotations Page

Four Insistent Puppies and Their Mother

"No more milk guys!"

maxie363, YouTube (January 24, 2007)
video, 0:51

"Puppies chasing for more milk while mommy teases."

Judging from how active they are, my guess is that those puppies are being taken care of quite well.

That barrier - low enough for the mother dog to pass, too high (at this point) for the puppies - is an ingenious way to give her some breathing space.
A tip of the hat to "No More Milk! Mom Needs a Break!"
Shezael, Daily Squee! (October 22, 2010).

Haiti: It's Cholera

"Cholera Outbreak Hits Haiti, Nearly 200 Dead"
FOXNews (October 22, 2010)

"A cholera epidemic spread in central Haiti on Friday as aid groups rushed doctors and supplies to fight the country's worst health crisis since January's earthquake. Nearly 200 deaths had been confirmed and more than 2,000 people were ill.

"The first two cases of the disease outside the rural Artibonite region were confirmed in Arcahaie, a town that is closer to the quake-devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.

"Officials are concerned the outbreak could reach the squalid tarp camps where hundreds of thousands of quake survivors live in the capital...."

The situation in Haiti isn't good. Many folks are living in camps, after their homes were destroyed in the earthquake earlier this year.

Back to the article:

"...'You cannot say it is because of the earthquake, but because of the earthquake the situation here requires a high level of attention in case the epidemic extends,' said Michel Thieren, a program officer for the Pan-American Health Organization.

"Cholera is a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours...."

The family of one of the fatalities in Haiti had been drinking water from a river that flows down from the island's central plateau. The river tests positive for cholera.

Adding another level of trouble, Haiti has a presidential election coming up. That gives the country's leadership unpleasant options.

They can go ahead with the elections. Which will encourage folks to travel and crowd together at polling locations. There's a good chance that the cholera will spread farther, faster, that way. And the current government will probably be blamed.

They can postpone the elections. Which will probably fray nerves even more in an already stressed-out country. Losing the next election might be a best-case scenario if the elections don't happen on schedule.

Either way, it looks like more folks are going to die of cholera.

There's an effort on to deal with the situation, though:

"...Meanwhile, the government and the international community have stepped up public awareness campaigns on best sanitation practices and started to deliver bottled water and bars of soap."
(Miami Herald)

Related post:In the news:More about Haiti, including a list of charities:

Saturday, October 23, 2010



"Crumb is a term that bakers use to define the inside of the bread. By looking at the way the cell structure of the crumb is formed, and the shape and size and color of the cells, a baker can analyze the hydration, flour types, and yeast amounts as well as how the dough was mixed and shaped. By looking at the shape and crust a baker can see how the bread was baked, flour types, fermentation balance, and moulding techniques...."

There's a comparison of machine-made and hand-crafted pullman loaves and baguette; and hydration levels. There's probably more to crumbs than that: but this page looks like a good place to start of study of the crumb.

Those loaves of bread are called pullman loaves. Whaddaya know!

Acacia: Umbrella Thorn and Otherwise

"Umbrella Thorn Acacia"

"...A tree that commonly brings thoughts of the African desert to mind, the umbrella thorn acacia tree grows in many places. In the driest soil and conditions, it may only be a wiry bush low to the ground. Most sightings of the tree show a looming, wide species with a distinct shape.

"Not completely unique to the Serengeti, this particular form of the acacia tree is native to the savannas of Africa but grows as far as the Middle East and has been planted in India and Malawi. Other names for the tree include the Israeli Bambool, samar, abak and karamoja.

"The umbrella thorn acacia, or acacia tortilis, can grow to a size from 13 to 68 feet tall and spreads its branches over a wide area, hence the name. Up to 15 leaves, just under an inch long themselves, sprout from the 4 - 10 pinnae on each branch. A mature tree looks much like a giant umbrella, covering the soil and wildlife underneath. It boasts two different sizes of thorns, the longer being straight and white and the shorter more curved and brown in color. Some consider the tree unusable or difficult to use due to the thorns...."

Well, that's interesting.

Acacia wood - there's a wide variety of "acacia" plants, by the way - is useful stuff. And has quite a long history.


"Mommy Brain" Research by a Mother

"Mommy Brain: It's Not What You Think"
Emily Sohn, Human News, Discovery News (October 22, 2010)

"New moms may feel their brain cells dying with every cumulative hour of sleep loss. But a new study offers hope.

"In the first months after giving birth, the study found, parts of a mother's brain may actually grow. Even better news, doting mamas who gushed the most about how special and perfect their babies were showed the most growth.

"The parts of the brain that grew are involved in motivation, reward behavior and emotion regulation. That suggests that, by reshaping itself, the post-partum brain motivates a mother to take care of her baby, and then feel happy and rewarded when she does.

"The findings may eventually help women who feel disconnected from their babies or even hostile toward them in the early months, said lead author Pilyoung Kim, a developmental psychologist, now at the National Institutes of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md...."

Some of the regions that grow are the hypothalamus, prefrontal cortex and amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is where we do a lot of what we think of as 'thinking:' "mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong or good and bad, predicting future events, and governing social control." ("What Is the Prefrontal Cortex," wiseGEEK)

Back to the article:

"...During pregnancy and the post-partum period, women often feel their brains turning to mush. New moms report that they have trouble remembering things that they used to remember easily. It's such a common phenomenon that women often call it 'Mommy Brain.' Some research has even shown that women's brains shrink slightly during pregnancy...."

"...As for the complete loss of memories for names, trivia and other ordinary things that come with giving birth, the brains of new moms may simply have new priorities.

" 'We are clearly showing that mothers have better memories about things related to their infants,' said Kim, who has a four-month old of her own. 'There are a lot of things going on, and mothers might feel forgetful about things that are not related to their infants. It's just dependent on what is really important for us to remember at the time.' "

Offhand, the Lemming thinks that storing "trivia" in a person's head is a convenient ability - and one which can be duplicated with a pocket organizer. We don't have carry-along gadgets that can:
  • Mediate conflicting thoughts
  • Make choices between right and wrong, good and bad
  • Pedict future events
  • Govern a person's social behavior
From the Lemming's point of view, "mommy brain" is a step up. But then, I've always been a bit in awe of how my wife manages the household.

And that's another topic.

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming's Got a Cold

There are much worse things than having a cold: but there are better ones, too.

The Lemming plans to be back, later today: but for now I'm taking a break.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Touch Screens, Gorilla-Arm Syndrome, and Ergonomics

"Why ‘Gorilla Arm Syndrome' Rules Out Multitouch Notebook Displays"
Tim Carmody, Gadget Lab, Wired (October 21, 2010)

"Apple's new MacBook Air borrows a lot of things from the iPad, including hyperportability and instant-on flash storage. But the Air won't use an iPad-like touchscreen. Neither will any of Apple's laptops. That's because of what designers call 'gorilla arm.'

"And while Apple points to its own research on this problem, it's a widely recognized issue that touchscreen researchers have known about for decades...."

The focus of the article is on Apple, iPad, Mac, control interfaces and human engineering (it's called "ergonomics" now). The Lemming's interested in that - but also in this bit of linguistic history:

"...'Gorilla arm' is a term engineers coined about 30 years ago to describe what happens when people try to use these interfaces for an extended period of time. It's the touchscreen equivalent of carpal-tunnel syndrome. According to the New Hacker's Dictionary, 'the arm begins to feel sore, cramped and oversized - the operator looks like a gorilla while using the touchscreen and feels like one afterwards.'

According to the NHD, the phenomenon is so well-known that it's become a stock phrase and cautionary tale well beyond touchscreens: ' "Remember the gorilla arm!" is shorthand for "How is this going to fly in real use?".' You find references to the 'gorilla-arm effect' or 'gorilla-arm syndrome' again and again in the scholarly literature on UI research and ergonomics, too....

That bit of cultural history and etymology may not have quite the same wide appeal as Rose Bowl coverage: but the Lemming's interested in that sort of thing.

"Hitch Your Wagon to a Star" - or Planet, In This Case

"Mars or Bust! One-Way Trip to the Red Planet Could Kick-start Colonization"
Denise Chow, (October 21, 2010)

"The vast plains of Mars may be the most promising place beyond Earth for human colonization, but is it enough for a one-way trip to the red planet? Two researchers seem to think so.

"In an article published this month in the Journal of Cosmology, Earth scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and physicist Paul Davies argue that a manned one-way mission to Mars would not only make economical sense, but would also mark the beginning of long-term human colonization of the planet.

"The researchers contend that while a manned flight to Mars and back is technically feasible now, the steep financial and political costs make such a mission unlikely to launch anytime soon.

"And since the greatest portion of expenses will be incurred by the safe return of the crew and spacecraft to Earth, the authors conclude that a manned one-way mission to Mars would both cut costs and help initiate Martian colonization. [POLL: Would You Join a One-Way Trip to Mars?]..."

This isn't as crazy an idea as it may seem. My ancestors, after all, settled in North Dakota. Which isn't as inhospitable as Mars: but isn't on any of the 'tropical paradise getaway' lists.

Back to that article:

"The scientists stress that such an expedition would not amount to a suicide mission, but would instead culminate in a series of missions over time, with an eye toward suffiently supporting long-term colonization.

"The proposed project would begin with selecting an appropriate site for the Martian colony, ideally associated with a cave or other natural shelter, as well as other nearby resources, such as water, minerals and nutrients...."

Setting up a colony on Mars won't be as easy as settling in North Dakota. There's the matter of breathable air, for starters.

Mars is a wonderfully rich world in many ways: its soil contains iron, there's a great deal of oxygen chemically locked in with the iron, and more in the CO2 atmosphere - thin though it is. There's even water by the ton - frozen, but near the surface.

What Mars doesn't seem to have in abundance is nitrogen. We're used to breathing the stuff here on Earth - it's a major component of our atmosphere. And, perhaps more to the point, the plants we need for food and fodder need the element. There's nitrogen - and other useful materials - in comets, though, so that doesn't seem to be an insurmountable obstacle. (NASA (December 14, 2006))

The Lemming's guess is that Mars won't see a whole lot of people in the next few decades - but the next few centuries? That may very well be another story.

As for 'one way' colonization? It's been done before. Which is why we're not all living in eastern Africa now. And that's another topic.

About this post's title? "Hitch your wagon to a star" is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson ("American Civilization", The Atlantic Monthly, 1862) (The Quotations Page)

Haiti: First an Earthquake - Now - Cholera?

"Dozens dead in Haiti from outbreak of disease"
BBC (October 21, 2010)

"Dozens of people in Haiti have died from an illness that produces diarrhoea, acute fever and vomiting.

"A government announcement is awaiting test results but the head of the Haitian Medical Association told AFP news agency the outbreak was cholera.

"Claude Surena said 135 people had died and 1,500 infected in recent days...."

First, the good news: So far, only a few dozen folks have died of this disease.

Now, the bad news: It could be cholera. And, no matter what it is, Haiti isn't as well-prepared as it might be to deal with the outbreak.

The nation wasn't at all well-off, and that earthquake didn't improve conditions any.

More about Haiti, including a list of charities:No pressure: but the folks in Haiti could use help.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

California Mall Fire: "This is absolutely ridiculous"

Roseville, California, didn't have a good day.

There's a 240-store shopping mall in Roseville, California, called the the Westfield Galleria. Which is a little odd, since it's on the northeast side of Sacramento.

The building's in pretty good shape, considering that it took seven hours to put out the fire. The good news is that nobody seems to have been hurt or killed in the fire.

Fire in the Mall

"Calif. Mall Severely Damaged After Out-of-Control Fire"
FOXNews (October 21, 2010)

"An entire arm of a high-end mall outside Sacramento, Calif., has been damaged in a fire that spread out of control after a man who barricaded himself inside the building was arrested.

"Officials say the Roseville Galleria could be closed or limited in operations for months because of Thursday's blaze, which caused part of the roof on the building's south end to collapse.

"Authorities say the 1.3 million-square-foot mall was evacuated earlier, after the man holed up in a store and started what appeared at first to be a small fire.

"Police said the blaze began spreading as members of the bomb squad were examining the man's backpack, forcing them to flee the building.

"Police identified the man as 23-year-old Alexander Corney Pigee...."

Some articles spell the fellow's name "Pigee," others "Piggee." There's probably a correct spelling: but with a slightly-uncommon name like that, it's no surprise that 'breaking news' reports are a bit iffy about how many of which letters it's got.

The Lemming realizes that worse things can happen, than the place where you earn a living burning: but there are better sorts of events, too.

The 'alleged' arsonist's mother seems to have told a station (KCRA-3) that he lost his job recently. That can be upsetting. From the looks of things, Mr. P. will have lots of company now. Somehow, though, 'misery loves company' probably doesn't apply in this case.

Masterful Understatement

One of the best comments made on what happened today appeared in an ABC News10 story:

"Employees, customers shocked by Roseville flames" (October 21, 2010)

"...Mall employee Ray Cook watched the firefighters working on the blaze.

" 'This is absolutely ridiculous,' Cook said. 'I can't believe I'm actually witnessing this. This is not what I thought I would be seeing when I came into work today.' "

Couldn't have put it better, myself.

Westfield Galleriea Fire: Local Paper, More Details

"Roseville's Westfield Galleria Mall ablaze, suspect ID'd"
Lien Hoang, Roseville Press-Tribune (October 21, 2010)

"The quietest time of day at Roseville’s top landmark turned frantic Thursday when a man took over a store and set off several fires.

"Alexander Piggee forced a total evacuation of the Westfield Galleria Mall after he allegedly marched into a second-story Game Stop, told employees he was armed, and ignited multiple fires that brought down part of the roof. The fires were not fully extinguished by press time.

"Peace officers, who have arrested Piggee, got the first call at 10:22 a.m. The 23-year-old transient reportedly barricaded himself in the backroom or bathroom of the Game Stop after forcing the employees to leave.

"Officials have linked Piggee to two recent arsons in Sacramento County...."

The Roseville Press-Tribune article has quite a bit of detail, including mention of one reason why the fire was so hard to contain:

"...When they arrested Piggee (pronounced pi-GAY), authorities said he was no longer wearing a backpack he had carried inside. That prompted a bomb investigation, but when the squad located the bag, flames flared up again, forcing them to leave the building. They couldn’t recover the backpack, which ended up buried beneath debris after the partial roof collapse, as of latest reports.

" 'It was just too unsafe,' Roseville Police Lt. Michael Doane said, adding that the squad was using a robot and protective gear. No injuries were reported...."
(Roseville Press-Tribune)

Sure, with 20-20 hindsight it's 'obvious' that there wasn't a bomb in that backpack. But when someone sets fires in a landmark building - and leaves a package behind - law enforcement and firefighters would be daft to not consider that there was an explosive device, ready to blow up in someone's face.

Another paragraph fills in more of the fire's timeline:

"...Smoke that billowed from the mall roof died down until 1:45 p.m., when it burst back into the sky and sent pieces of ash raining down into the parking lot. It was not until this second wind that the roof over Game Stop came down...."
(Roseville Press-Tribune)

More News, More Details: and More Consequences

"Fire Rips Through Mall; Arson Suspect's Mom In 'Shock'" (October 21, 2010)

"...Meanwhile, the mother of Alexander Piggee, the man arrested in connection with an earlier standoff and blaze at the mall, said she was in 'shock.'

"Piggee, 23, said on his on Facebook page that he lives in the Sacramento area and has battled mental illness. He said he is originally from Stockton...."

'And the moral of this is - - -' There may be folks among Earth's billions who are, really, alone. But they seem to be few and far between. Most of us have someone whose lives we affect: parents, siblings, friends, neighbors.

And, in this case, the folks whose place of employment we torched.

The Lemming isn't surprised that the (alleged) arsonist's mother is "in 'shock.' " This isn't the way any reasonable person would want a member of the family to get into national news.

The news article adds a few data points to the timeline:

"...At about 1 p.m., Piggee was loaded into a police car and taken to the Roseville jail...."

He was spotted being taken from the jail to an ambulance around 5 p.m. "...Police said he was taken to Sutter Roseville Medical Center with an undiagnosed medical condition. By 7 p.m., Roseville police said, Piggee was transported to the Placer County Jail.

"Smoke billowed skyward and flames shot from the roof of the mall Thursday afternoon as an earlier fire flared up again. At about 6:45 p.m., more flames were seen flickering from the roof of the building....

"...Authorities said the original standoff occurred at the GameStop store at the mall, which was evacuated at about 10:30 a.m. Police and firefighters from several agencies responded....

"...The earlier blaze appeared to die down by early afternoon. But shortly before 2 p.m., a large plume of smoke rose from the mall. Flames could be seen shooting from the roof, which partially collapsed...."

Something that many news items mentioned was that Roseville is in the same shape that many American towns and cities are in: Folks need jobs, but have a hard time finding them.

Burning down part of a major employer's building isn't going to help that situation.

Turns out that KCRA is a CNN affiliate:

"California mall ablaze after man sets fire, barricades self in store"
CNN (October 21, 2010)

"...The man entered the Westfield Galleria at Roseville 'speaking incoherently' in the late morning, police said. He claimed he had a handgun and then set the fire, which has lasted for hours.

"Police and fire crews converged on the scene, and several police officers led a suspect out in handcuffs shortly after 1 p.m. Authorities said they believe he may have been involved in an arson the night before, Sacramento fire officials told CNN affiliate KXTV.

"Roseville police identified the suspect as Alexander C. Pigee, 23. He was being checked at a hospital before being sent to jail, officials told CNN...."

Another vote for the "Pigee" spelling. I'm pretty sure that the courts will sort out which spelling they prefer. And, quite possibly, decide that Mr. P. did something illegal. For his sake, I hope so. Right now, turning him loose in Roseville might lead to informal - and highly unpleasant - sanctions.

The town's had enough trouble for the week, in my opinion.

Why All This Fuss Over a Fire?

The Lemming doesn't, as a rule, post about 'breaking news' stories. This time, though, what's happening will affect - directly and indirectly - a great many people in a state I lived in, years ago.

Think of it as having a small personal stake in this story

City of Roseville California

"The fire has been 100% contained; the Roseville Fire Department will be on-site monitoring hot spots throughout the night.

"Update @ 8:20 p.m.
"The suspect, Alexander Corney Pigee, was transported at 6:45 p.m. to the Placer County Jail.

"Follow this event on the City's Twitter feed:

I'm sure that the city isn't trying to boss anybody around: that "follow this event" phrase is, in American English and following our cultural norms, more of an invitation than an order.

And Now, for Something Completely Different: a Squirrel

Tree Hugger"
Penny, via Daily Squee! (October 20, 2010)

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

There's a bit of text - but with a photo like that, who needs words?


Related posts:

'I was Dead, But I'm Better Now'

There's a bit of dialog from a drama that goes something like this:

"I thought you were dead."

"I was, but I'm better now."

That's fiction. This is fact - or news, at any rate.

In France, a woman died - officially. Doctors said so.

Her sons, mere laymen, wouldn't let the doctors unplug the woman's life support system.

An example of ignorance and sentiment overruling the superior minds of Science and Medicine?


It's a good thing for the woman that her sons kept her plugged in, though. She woke up later.

Here's the story:
"'Clinically Dead' Woman Alive and Well"
Human News, Discovery News (October 20, 2010)

"A woman pronounced 'very certainly clinically dead' at a French hospital woke up hours later after her sons refused to turn off her life-support system, medics and the woman said.

"Doctors were preparing cancer patient Lydie Paillard, 60, for a chemotherapy session when she passed out, the director of the Bordeaux Rive Droite private hospital Yves Noel told AFP on Wednesday.

"A doctor managed to resuscitate her and put her on a ventilator but then, having consulted other doctors, called Paillard's sons to break the news that their mother was 'very certainly clinically dead.'

"But her sons would not turn off the respirator and she was then transferred to the university hospital of the southwestern French city where a scan revealed that she was in fact not brain dead, Noel said...."

Not to be morbid, or macabre: but this is one reason why I haven't checked off that 'organ donor' option on my driver's license. My wife knows that I'm quite willing to have parts harvested: but I don't want to wake up on a dissecting table after some hotshot medico decided I was dead.

The Lemming can understand how the medical types made that little mistake. The woman's 60 - and old folks die all the time, right? Besides, an unconscious person doesn't look all that different from a dead person: particularly if breathing is on the shallow side.

The Discovery News article doesn't give enough detail to suggest just why doctors were so eager to write Paillard off.

More, about medical ethics (it shouldn't be an oxymoron), organ transplant, research, and my take on the subjects, is in another blog. I'll admit to a bias: I think life is precious, even if a person isn't young, good-looking, and in perfect health.

Camuy, Caves, and Karst

"Camuy" (kahm-WEE)
Welcome to Puerto Rico! (

"Camuy is known as 'La Ciudad Romántica' (romantic city) and 'La Ciudad del Sol Taíno' (city of the Taino sun). The town was founded in 1807, when it was disassociated from Arecibo by Petrolina Matos.

"It is said that Camuy derives its name from a word used by the Indians 'camuy', which means sun, at the same time others think that it was the name that the Indians gave to the river that crossed this region...."

Camuy is in northwest Puerto Rico, which someone described as a series of caves connected by limestone. Which the Lemming thinks sounds more picturesque than saying that karst landforms dominate the region. I'll get back to that.

This visitor-and-tourism-focused page discusses the Río Camuy Cave Park, right after some statistics and photos:

"...This incredible 268-acre park is the site of the great subterranean caverns carved out by the Camuy River over one million years ago. The impeccably maintained trails gently descend 200 feet through a fern filled ravine to the yawning, cathedral-like caverns. The caves are home to a unique species of fish that is totally blind. ... Rio Camuy Cave Park is the third-largest cave system in the world...."

The website has a pretty good discussion on the geography of Puerto Rico, on a page titled, appropriately enough, "Geography:"

"...Puerto Rico has three main physiographic regions: the mountainous interior, the coastal lowlands, and the karst area....

"...The third important physiographic feature is the karst region in the north. This area consists of formations of rugged volcanic rock dissolved by water throughout the geological ages. This limestone region is an extremely attractive zone of extensive mogotes or haystack hills, sinkholes, caves, limestone cliffs, and other karst features. The karst belt extends from Aguadilla, in the west, to a minor haystack hills formation in Loíza, just east of San Juan...."

Limestone is a sedimentary rock, not volcanic - and the page doesn't discuss what sort of volcanic rock is in the karst region. But it's still a pretty good introduction to Puerto Rico's land.

More, about rocks:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sleepy Eye, Minnesota: There's a History to the Name

Sleepy Eye, Minnesota
official website

"This is the official website for the City of Sleepy Eye! Our website is used to communicate with our residents, businesses, and visitors. We hope you will find the site to be user friendly and a service to the people of Sleepy Eye...."

It's a well-developed website for the Minnesota municipality - but doesn't explain the town's name.

This outfit does:

"Historical Facts on Sleepy Eye"
Sleepy Eye Area Historical Society

"...The City of Sleepy Eye was named after the Dakota Chief named Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba, which means Sleepy Eye or Dropping Eyelid...."

The place was re-named Loreno from 1880 to 1881 - fallout from a series of incidents in 1862.

There's more, mostly about the town, on that page - along with photos.

The name Sleepy Eye is easier to pronounce than Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba, for folks who grew up speaking American English. Easier to pronounce correctly, at any rate. As for assertions that "Sleepy Eye" sounds funny - well, most Americans aren't used to seeing names that still mean something in the contemporary language. There are exceptions, like "Victor" and "Rose:" but those are few and far between.

The Lemming figures that some folks would make fun of the name, if it was Ishtakaba, too - or however the words would be rendered in this alphabet. Oh, well.

Then there's my name - which would be Speaks With Loud Voice, if my parents had decided to translate it into contemporary English. Happily, they didn't - and I use the sequence of sounds that was frozen in time, centuries back, over in Ireland.

As for the Lemming's interest in Sleepy Eye, Crazy Horse, and other greats of the Lakota - there's a family connection, and that's another topic.

Not-completely-unrelated post:

Otters, Snow, Ice, and Fun

"Otter Chaos"

NationalGeographic, YouTube (November 24, 2009)
video, 1:38

"Fascinated by these otters? Here's fair warning: cute doesn't necessarily mean cuddly."

There's a (mercifully brief) commercial before the short feature.

National Geographic's "fair warning" is common sense: otters are a whole lot of fun to watch, playful, smart - and wild animals. City folks probably need to be reminded of that from time to time.

The serious stuff out of the way: enjoy that video.

Bigelow Aerospace, Private Space Station, International Enterprise

"Bigelow Aerospace Soars with Private Space Station Deals "
Leonard David, (October 19, 2010)

"A private space company offering room on inflatable space habitats for research has found a robust international market, with eager clients signing up from space agencies, government departments and research groups.

"Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, chief of Bigelow Aerospace, has been busy marketing his private space modules, an outreach effort leading to six deals being signed with clients this year.

"The deals, in the form of memorandums of understanding, involve Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom.

" 'These are countries that do not want to be hostage to just what the International Space Station may or may not deliver,' Bigelow told in an exclusive interview. [Bigelow Aerospace plans private moon bases.]..."

The Lemming has been following Bigelow Aerospace for a couple years now. I think Robert Bigelow has the right idea, building a line of commercial space stations.

Back to that article.

"Robust and global

"A question that continues to float through the halls of NASA and the Congress: Is there a commercial market for utilizing space?

" 'We've got a very certain and loud answer to that. Not only is there a commercial market, but it's a one that's robust and global,' said Michael Gold, director of Washington, D.C., operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace...."

"...While countries in Asia and Europe take commercial advantage of space, 'my fear is that this could become yet another extremely lucrative economic opportunity that is engendered here ... and then shipped overseas,' Gold cautioned. 'The U.S. Congress should spend less time questioning the business case of the commercial market. They need to spend more time trying to figure out how to grow that market and ensure that it happens here in the United States.'..."

The Lemming thinks Mr. Bigelow is being rather charitable in his assessment of the U.S. Congress. Their greatest role in his enterprise might be to get out of the way, and let his company build space stations.

Before someone has a fit: This isn't an 'America first' thing. Yes, Bigelow Aerospace is based in the United States. B.A.'s clients, though, are all over the world. Or will be, provided that America's leaders don't 'protect' us from having a chance at one of the 21st century's major business opportunities.

Getting There

There are still pieces of 'business in space' to be put in place: like how to get there and back. Boeing's CST project is a hopeful start.

Bigelow Aerospace and Boeing may build space stations and the vehicles to take folks up and back. If they don't, the Lemming is pretty sure that someone else will. As I wrote before, "When it's Time to Build Spaceships, People Will Build Spaceships." (October 4, 2009)

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Early Life, an Asteroid, Ice, and Fossils

"Iceblocks Hold Traces of Early Life"
Abbie Thomas, ABC Science Online, via Animal News, Discovery News (October 19, 2010)

"The discovery has forced a rethink of conditions that existed more than 500 million years ago.

"The discovery of blocks of gravel which sank to the bottom of the sea trapped in ancient icebergs has sparked a new understanding of a bizarre group of creatures.

"The research, published in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, has also forced a rethink of the conditions that existed more than 500 million years ago.

"Associate Professor Victor Gostin and colleagues at the University of Adelaide found evidence of ancient icebergs mixed in with volcanic rocks which were spewed out when an asteroid hit the earth between 635-542 million years ago...."

Here's the deal: we knew that Earth was an icy place after that asteroid hit; but the assumption had been that the glaciation had been a result of the impact.

Back to that article:

"...The 4.7-kilometer (2.9-mile) asteroid left a 90-kilometer (55.9-mile) crater in what is now Lake Acraman in the Gawler Ranges of South Australia.

"Gostin, who first discovered rocky traces of the asteroid 'ejecta' almost 30 years ago, said the asteroid impact occurred during a period of extreme cold.

"This contradicts previous ideas which suggest the impact of the asteroid actually precipitated a period of glaciations, Gostin says.

He said evidence of the ancient icebergs is embedded in the fine grained shale found several hundred miles from Lake Acraman....

Lake What? Where?

Lake Arcaman, South Australia, isn't as well-known as, say, the Caspian Sea or Lake Superior. For that matter, it's not exactly a lake at this point. It's more of an "impact structure" ("The Acraman Impact Structure, South Australia," G. E. Williams, Abstracts for the International Workshop on Meteorite Impact on the Early Earth. Workshop held in Perth, Australia (September 21-22, 1990), via Harvard)

Here's how it looks from orbit (via Google Maps):

View Larger Map

Change Happens

The Lemming has mentioned this before: Things don't stay the same for very long. Or, putting it another way, change happens.

Like 500,000,000 or so years back, when an asteroid hit what's now the Gawler Ranges in South Australia.

"...In a commentary to be published in the The Australian Geologist, Professor Malcolm Walter of the University of New South Wales says the research resolves issues around the timing and record of the glaciations, the impact and the rise of the Ediacaran biota.

"He describes the effect of the icy climate and asteroid impact as a 'double whammy' that paradoxically led to the 'flourishing of exotic plankton and the first macroscopic animals'...."

Ediacaran Critters: That's Odd

There's a pretty good set of pages on the U. C. Berkeley website about the algae, lichens, giant protozoans, and - things - that lived a half-billion or so years back. It's part of their section on the Vendian period: which leads with the usual stuff about Darwin and those religious people over there. Never mind: they've got some pretty good photos.

(U. C. Berkeley, used w/o permission)

That photo shows a fossil of Dickinsonia: found in the Ediacara Hills of Australia. It's quite definitely an annelid worm; or a cnidarian polyp; or something else. The Lemming's hat is off to the U. C. Berkeley folks, and others writing now. They've dropped that know-it-all attitude that made their predeceasors' assertions a trifle hard to take seriously, a few generations back. That 'worm - or - polyp' is from the page. The Lemming's opinion is that it's a little early to be really certain: As Berkeley put it, the critter's "often considered to be an annelid worm...." Or maybe a polyp.

Whatever it is, dickinsonia has been compared to an air mattress. (Wikipedia, among others)

This - thing - is also from the Ediacara Hills. It's called a tribrachidium, it's got triradial symmetry - three-way radial symmetry, like the starfish we usually see has five-way radial symmetry.

As the page featuring tribrachidium says, "its affinities are still mysterious, although distant relationships have been proposed with either the Cnidaria (corals and anemones) or Echinodermata (urchins and seastars)."

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