Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Sandbar Made of Galaxies

"Astronomers Probe 'Sandbar' Between Islands of Galaxies"
Adam Hadhazy, Mission News, Spitzer, NASA (November 24, 2010)

"Astronomers have caught sight of an unusual galaxy that has illuminated new details about a celestial 'sandbar' connecting two massive islands of galaxies. The research was conducted in part with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

"These 'sandbars,' or filaments, are known to span vast distances between galaxy clusters and form a lattice-like structure known as the cosmic web. Though immense, these filaments are difficult to see and study in detail. Two years ago, Spitzer's infrared eyes revealed that one such intergalactic filament containing star-forming galaxies ran between the galaxy clusters called Abell 1763 and Abell 1770.

"Now these observations have been bolstered by the discovery, inside this same filament, of a galaxy that has a rare boomerang shape and unusual light emissions. Hot gas is sweeping the wandering galaxy into this shape as it passes through the filament, presenting a new way to gauge the filament's particle density. Researchers hope that other such galaxies with oddly curved profiles could serve as signposts for the faint threads, which in turn signify regions ripe for forming stars...."

Since this 'bent' galaxy is about 11,000,000 light years away, we're not sending a probe there. Not any time soon. And what astronomers and cosmologists learn about it isn't likely to affect the next Super Bowl, or help anyone win the lottery.

Still, the Lemming thinks this sort of thing is interesting.

As for why studying this cosmic sandbar is important:

"...Knowing how much material these filaments contain and how they interact with galaxy clusters will be very important for understanding the overall evolution of the universe, Edwards said...."

Sort-of-related posts:
A tip of the hat to NASA, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this page.

Five Writing Mistakes: And Why Bloggers Should Avoid Them

"5 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Writing for the Web"
Tucker Cummings, Blue Glass (November 29, 2010)

"If you are a seasoned blogger or online content writer, this post may be a little basic for you. For others just learning how to maximize their writing on the Internet, however, this post is a solid education in what not to do.

"There are many great writers creating content on the Internet, but even the best writers can falter when it comes to sharing their work online. No matter how talented a writer may be, or how thoroughly they've researched their topic, a seasoned writer can still make rookie mistakes...."

The five mistakes:
  1. Long Paragraphs
  2. Forgetting to Check Your Sources
  3. Tossing Out the Funk and Wagnalls
  4. Starting a Flame War
  5. Missing Great Opportunities
The Lemming would add a sixth mistake: Not reading about those five mistakes. The post is mercifully short, easy to read, and sensible - in my opinion.

Also, again in the Lemming's opinion, a good review - even for someone who's been writing for a while.
A tip of the hat to Steveology, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Credit Card Use, Economics, and North Dakota Winters

"More than 8 million drop out of credit card use"
AP, via Breitbart (November 29, 2010)

"More than 8 million consumers stopped using credit cards over the past year. The decline stems from a combination of consumer choices and bank actions.

"An analysis by credit reporting agency TransUnion found that use of general purpose credit cards bearing MasterCard or Visa logos, or issued by Discover or American Express, fell more than 11 percent in the third quarter, compared with the July to September period last year.

"About 62 million people now have an active card, compared with 70 million a year ago.

"The Chicago company found that consumers in the subprime category, or those with low credit ratings, were believed to be without cards mostly because they were shut down by banks after payments fell behind or balances were written off...."

The Lemming's household has a credit card account. It sure beats carrying a wad of cash to the grocery, for one thing. We're probably not 'typical' credit card users. For one thing, we pay the balance each month. No great virtue: this household can't afford the interest.

Turns out, debit card use is increasing. Maybe.

Back to the Breitbart article.

"...[TransUnion's financial services business unit vice president of research and consulting Ezra] Becker said the balance increase from the second quarter is mostly an indication that consumers are still under stress. Prior to the recession, he said, carrying a credit card balance was more of a lifestyle decision reflecting spending choices. 'Now it's out of necessity,' he said. 'In times of financial distress, nobody wants to carry a balance. Where people can afford to pay things down, they do.'..."

Maybe we aren't all that unusual, after all. The article says that credit card delinquencies "are in a normal range." Presumably:

"...That's partly because with unemployment high, credit cards became more important for cash-strapped consumers who needed them to purchase necessities like groceries and gasoline, so they kept their payments current...."

Finally, this bit of demographic data:

"...The third-quarter delinquency rate was highest in Nevada, at 1.28 percent, and Florida, at 1.09 percent. These two states have also been among the hardest hit by the housing crash and foreclosure crisis. Late payments were lowest in North Dakota, at 0.48 percent and South Dakota, at 0.53 percent."

The Lemming has lived in North Dakota. This is a dubious argument, but I've wondered if North Dakota weather - particularly the winters - tends to weed out folks who aren't fairly good at planning ahead.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Designer Pool Cues: Yes, They Really Exist

Monarch Hardwood Designer Pool Cue

" 'THE NEW MONARCH Pool Stick'

"This stylish cue is 58 inches long and weighs 20 ounces and is made of Hard Wood.

"It is a 2 piece cue with Brass Joints to provide a precision fit to guarantee straightness over the length of the stick.

"The design on this stick is very trendy yet conservative. The color is polished black with reflective gold/white designer patterns on the butt and the traditional arrows in the same design above the slip proof grip...."

The Lemming, pondering what topic into which to delve for this post, realized that designer pool cues had not previously appeared in this blog. I wasn't even sure that such things existed. "Designer" sunglasses, handbags: sure. But "designer pool cues?"

Slightly to the Lemming's surprise, there are quite a few designer pool cues out there: including this one.

Next thing you know, someone will try to tell the Lemming that someone makes designer ashtrays.

Oh, wait. Someone does: "...Our range of tabletop items includes designer ashtray, designer pen stand, designer name plates, decorative ashtray, table top ashtray, decorative pen stand, table top name plates,napkin rings and card holders...." Table and Tabletop Items, creative and functional art. The thing don't look bad, either: in a sort of retro way.

Picasso Art, an Electrician, Miffed Heirs, and a Lawyer

"Picasso treasure trove surfaces in France"
(November 29, 2010)

"Hundreds of unknown Pablo Picasso works worth tens of millions of euros have surfaced in France in the hands of a 71-year-old retired electrician who says they were gifts from the master.

"Dating from the first third of the 20th century -- considered Picasso's most fertile period -- the 271 pieces are valued by experts at more than 60 million euros (80 million dollars), France's Liberation newspaper reported.

"And the new-found drawings, paintings and studies are now at the heart of a legal tug-of-war between the electrician, Pierre Le Guennec, and the artist's heirs who believe they must have been stolen and have filed for charges.

" 'No one can seriouly believe that the artist made these gifts, it's completely crazy,' the Picasso family's lawyer Jean-Jacques Neuer told AFP on Monday.

" 'This electrician, who claims to have been a long-time friend, has never been heard of despite the fact we now know every detail about Picasso's life.'..."

The Lemming doesn't know enough about Picasso's life to have an opinion about the artist and the electrician. On the other hand, I don't think it's impossible that Pablo Picasso might have known someone and not told the family lawyer. I'll leave it at that.

On the 'up' side, it's nice to have so many previously-unknown works by Picasso come to light.

Somewhat-related posts:

Fashion, Drawings of Brains, and Space Aliens

"Fashion shows aren't brain surgery?"
Robert Basler, Oddly Enough blog, Reuters (November 29 2010)

"I can't put my finger on it, Lamar, but there's something strange about the models we're using for this fashion show. They're not the usual girls, are they?

"No Boss, you said we had to save some money, and I had a brilliant idea. You're gonna love this one.

"Oh Lord, another one of your brilliant ideas, Lamar? What did you do this time?

"I went over to a hospital early this morning and picked up some women who were scheduled for brain surgery. They've already been prepped, and they're partially anesthetized already!..."

Turns out, these are "...creations by Georgian designer George Shaghashvili during Tbilisi Fashion Week, November 23, 2010." Those models, with drawings of a brain plastered on the sides of their heads, reminds me of - I think it was a scene in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).

They just don't make movies like that any more. Which isn't quite true, and is another topic.

I mean to say: brain-sucking aliens who are really just misunderstood - no, the Lemming is not going to wander off-topic.

The 'brain surgery' photos were odd - nothing unusual in the "Oddly Enough" blog - but this time I decided to see if this improbable pastiche of drawings stuck on people's heads actually came from a fashion show somewhere.

Looks like it did. Photos showed up in a fashion blog called, straightforwardly enough, Fashion Blog. Not the same set used by Oddly Enough, either.

For reasons which puzzle the Lemming, someone deliberately made those side-view drawings of the human brain, plastered them on models who seem resigned to their fate, and let the result be photographed.

The models I can understand: they're presumably being paid to look like that. Although the one who doesn't look dead may be thinking, "not nearly enough."

Maybe it's art.

Or a really relevant message. Like "I get paid to plaster photocopies on peoples' heads - and I still get taken seriously?!"

Or maybe the space aliens from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers are back - and this is their way of saying "we're baaack!"

Not-completely-unrelated posts:More:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Did You Know There's an Authentic German Restaurant Near Lake George?

Well, now you do:

Pumpernickel's Restaurant

"Welcome to Pumpernickel's Restaurant near Lake George..."

"...The area's only authentic German Restaurant, serving traditional German fare expertly prepared by our professional staff of classically-trained Chefs.

"Pumpernickel's Restaurant is located on Lakeshore Drive, Route 9N, Bolton Landing, and just 8 miles north of Lake George Village. Open daily at 5:00 mid June through Labor Day...."

That 'just 8 miles north of Lake George Village" caught the Lemming's attention. Lake George isn't a particularly big place - but we just call it "Lake George."

Some of the other place names weren't quite familiar - and I realized it wasn't Lake George, Minnesota, that Pumpernickel's Restaurant was near. It's Lake George Village, in New York state.

The address, by the way, is:

Pumpernickel's Restaurant
Lakeshore Dr.
Bolton Landing, NY 12814

Finally, it isn't phrases like "German cuisine" that, in the Lemming's opinion, mark this as a very American place, it's this discussion of a cuckoo clock:

"...Pumpernickel's is also the home of the largest cuckoo clock in the United States. Carved in the Black Forest of Germany in the early 1960's, the clock was displayed at the World’s Fair in New York and spent its first years outdoors at the Wiener Wald Restaurant in Times Square in the heart of Manhattan...."

Not just an impressive cuckoo clock: the largest cuckoo clock in the United States.

That reminded me of Chicago's Buckingham fountain: a replica of the one back in England, only lots bigger. Americans seem to think big: And that's another topic.

Almost-entirely-unrelated post:

Lemming Tracks: "8 x 8" Water Rule, Real Research; Beer and Pretzels

Ever tried drinking those eight glasses of water - eight-ounce glasses, of course?

Somewhere around the time when experts warned that everything caused cancer1, The Lemming decided to drink as much as was needed to feel comfortable, and leave it at that.

Sloshing Toward Enlightenment

Ever wonder, as you sloshed between the lavatory and the water faucet, why the eight x eight rule was so 'scientific?'

Turns out, although 'everybody knows' that the eight x eight rule is very 'scientific,' the idea is about as solid as the emperor's new clothes.

About eight years ago (yet another eight!), a brave soul at the Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire's Department of Physiology decided to find out where the eight x eight rule came from.

Even though The New York Times itself had published the rule.


Here's what he found.

Or, rather, didn't find.

Take a Deep Breath: Journalese Ahead

The Lemming will be back, after this rather extensive - and possibly boring - excerpt from a refreshingly competent bit of research.

Real research: with citations and everything. Not the sort of 'expert' proclamations you see in news media.

" 'Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.' Really? Is there scientific evidence for '8 × 8'?"
Heinz Valtin, with the Technical Assistance of Sheila A. Gorman
Department of Physiology, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire 03756
Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 283: R993-R1004, 2002.
First published August 8, 2002; doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00365.2002 0363-6119/02 $5.00 (November 2002)


"Despite the seemingly ubiquitous admonition to "drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water a day" (with an accompanying reminder that beverages containing caffeine and alcohol do not count), rigorous proof for this counsel appears to be lacking. This review sought to find the origin of this advice (called "8 × 8" for short) and to examine the scientific evidence, if any, that might support it. The search included not only electronic modes but also a cursory examination of the older literature that is not covered in electronic databases and, most importantly and fruitfully, extensive consultation with several nutritionists who specialize in the field of thirst and drinking fluids. No scientific studies were found in support of 8 × 8. Rather, surveys of food and fluid intake on thousands of adults of both genders, ... strongly suggest that such large amounts are not needed because the surveyed persons were presumably healthy and certainly not overtly ill. This conclusion is supported by published studies showing that caffeinated drinks (and, to a lesser extent, mild alcoholic beverages like beer in moderation) may indeed be counted toward the daily total, as well as by the large body of published experiments that attest to the precision and effectiveness of the osmoregulatory system for maintaining water balance...."


"WE SEE THE EXHORTATION EVERYWHERE: 'drink at least eight glasses of water a day' (17). The advice comes not only (as in the above quote) from a respected health columnist of The New York Times, but also from numerous writers in the popular press (3, 6, 10, 26, 54). Some, perhaps many, physicians counsel their patients in a similar vein, both orally and in writing. So prevalent is the recommendation that it is now commonly expressed simply as '8 × 8' (signifying that each of the 8 glasses in question must have a volume of 8 oz).

"As we look around us in our daily activities, we can observe how slavishly the exhortation is being followed. Everywhere, people are carrying bottles of water and taking frequent sips from them. Prior to September 11, when there was little restriction on how much baggage passengers could carry onboard airplanes..."


"Despite a comprehensive search of the literature (see SEARCH STRATEGY, end of article), I have not been able to find an article where 8 × 8 is recommended on the basis of solid scientific evidence. The closest reference was an obituary on the renowned nutritionist Fredrick J. Stare, brought to my attention by Dr. Barbara Rolls, an expert on the topic of thirst (76). The obituary (77) stated, in part, that Dr. Stare "was an early champion of drinking at least six glasses of water a day." A former colleague of Dr. Stare, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan (82), found the following passage in a book that Dr. Stare coauthored with Dr. Margaret McWilliams in 1974 (81):
"How much water each day? This is usually well regulated by various physiological mechanisms, but for the average adult, somewhere around 6 to 8 glasses per 24 hours and this can be in the form of coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, beer, etc. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water.
"The passage, which is not referenced, appears as part of a very brief section at the very end of the book, after the authors have discussed various aspects of nutrition (calories, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, etc.) in the preceding 174 pages. Thus water is taken up in this book almost as an afterthought....

But, Dr. Stare had a "leading position in the field of nutrition." He was an "exert," in other words.

Back to the article.

"Furthermore, lest the advocates of 8 × 8 now adopt this quote from Dr. Stare as scientific evidence, let me point out the following: 1) this is an apparently casual opinion by Drs. Stare and McWilliams, which is undocumented by any scientific experiment; 2) there is a huge difference between 'somewhere around 6 to 8 glasses' and 'at least eight glasses' (17), and it is the latter recommendation that is in question; 3) in Drs. Stare and McWilliams's passage, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and beer are allowed, whereas these categories are excluded by the proponents of 8 × 8; and 4) Drs. Stare and McWilliams introduce their estimate with the statement that water intake is 'usually well regulated by various physiological mechanisms,' whereas the advocates of 8 × 8 claim that if we wait for these mechanisms to determine our water intake we will already be dehydrated.

"According to J. Papai (65), P. Thomas has suggested a different origin for 8 × 8. Thomas reminds us that in 1945 the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council wrote (31):
"A suitable allowance of water for adults is 2.5 liters daily in most instances. An ordinary standard for diverse persons is 1 milliliter for each calorie of food. Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.
"Thomas suggests that the last sentence was not heeded, and the recommendation was therefore erroneously interpreted as eight glasses of water to be drunk each day. The Food and Nutrition Board is currently reevaluating its recommendation [see below, under National Academy of Sciences (USA), Food and Nutrition Board]...."

I am Not an Expert: But I have Seen Human Beings

Ever get the impression that some 'experts,' particularly the 'child-rearing experts' of post-WWII America, had heard of human beings, but never actually seen one?

The Lemming has seen human beings. Living ones. In fact, I have been accepted into a small community of these strange creatures: here in the heart of darkest Minnesota.

After decades of observations, I have come to a few conclusions, about how healthy human beings eat foods and drink fluids.

When a human being is thirsty, it probably needs water or other fluids.

When a human being is not thirsty, it probably doesn't need water or other fluids just then.

In fact - and this may be the most startling discovery of all - human beings have been known to be thirsty, waited several minutes before ingesting fluids: AND SURVIVED!!

Perhaps a panel of 'experts' could get a government grant - a few million dollars should do - to study human beings in the wild.

The Lemming suggests that grant writers focus on a topic of manageable scope: like "A Longitudinal Study of Fluid Intake Among Indigenous Populations in Central Minnesota, With Particular Emphasis on the Ratio of Beer to Pretzels."

More silliness:
1 To be fair, those often-anonymous experts didn't quite name everything on Earth as a carcinogen. On the other hand, one of my college textbooks had a list of "known carcinogens." Full page. Fine print.

We've got a phrase for that sort of thing now: "junk science." (Junk May 18, 2009)

'Today the Sun, Tomorrow the Stars?' Weird-But-True Legal Claim

"Spanish Woman Claims She Now Owns Sun"
AFP, via myFOXOrlando (November 26, 2010)

"After billions of years the Sun finally has an owner -- a woman from Spain's soggy region of Galicia said Friday she had registered the star at a local notary public as being her property.

"Angeles Duran, 49, told the online edition of daily El Mundo she took the step in September after reading about an American man who had registered himself as the owner of the moon and most planets in our solar system.

"There is an international agreement which states that no country may claim ownership of a planet or star, but it says nothing about individuals, she added.

" 'There was no snag, I backed my claim legally, I am not stupid, I know the law. I did it but anyone else could have done it, it simply occurred to me first.'..."

This is going to be interesting.

The Lemming thinks that the 'no country may claim' agreement is the sort of thing that happened in the days when the United States and Soviet Union were the only countries with a serious chance of reaching the moon or any other planet. And when 'serious' thinkers who were still getting used to the 20th century didn't imagine that anybody would really want real estate that wasn't on Earth.

That was before Bigelow Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, and Spaceport America.

The folks who've staked their claims to nearby real estate may show a profit - after balancing lawyers' fees with whatever they get from Lunar Development Corporation, Martain Plains Industries, or whatever outfits doing the actual work are called by then.

And yes: The Lemming thinks there's a good chance that there will be a lively commercial interest in off-Earth properties within the lifetime of the folks mentioned in that article.

Somewhat-related posts:More:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Thanksgiving Weekend

The Lemming's taken the day off. And intends to continue doing so.

It's Friday of America's Thanksgiving weekend, and the Lemming has been distracted by family: "and loving it!" As Maxwell Smart used to say.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, 2010: Just Outside the Turkey Farm

IBM and Aquasar: SAVING THE PLANET!!! CARBON FOOTPRINT!!! (works better, too)

"MADE IN IBM LABS: IBM Hot Water-Cooled Supercomputer Goes Live at ETH Zurich"
IBM Research - Zurich (July 2, 2010)

"IBM (NYSE: IBM) has delivered a first-of-a-kind hot water-cooled supercomputer to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), marking a new era in energy-aware computing. The innovative system, dubbed Aquasar, consumes up to 40 percent less energy than a comparable air-cooled machine. Through the direct use of waste heat to provide warmth to university buildings, Aquasar's carbon footprint is reduced by up to 85 percent.

"Building energy efficient computing systems and data centers is a staggering undertaking. In fact, up to 50 percent of an average air-cooled data center's energy consumption and carbon footprint today is not caused by computing but by powering the necessary cooling systems to keep the processors from overheating – a situation that is far from optimal when looking at energy efficiency from a holistic perspective.

"The development of Aquasar began one year ago as part of IBM's First-Of-A-Kind (FOAK) program, which engages IBM scientists with clients to explore and pilot emerging technologies that address business problems. The supercomputer consists of special water-cooled IBM BladeCenter® Servers*, which were designed and manufactured by IBM scientists in Zurich and Boblingen, Germany...."

"Carbon footprint?" That IBM press release says an aspect of Aquasar is "sustainable," too. Only in this case, that buzzword makes sense in context.

What makes this special are the "micro-channel liquid coolers" that attach directly to the processors.

Sounds like a good idea, considering how much heat gets generated inside a computer. IBM says that water carries heat away about 4,000 times more efficiently than air does - which explains why automotive engines are often water-cooled.

More, about the Aquasar:

"IBM and ETH Zurich unveil plan to build new kind of water-cooled supercomputer"
IBM Research - Zurich (June 23, 2009)

"In an effort to achieve energy-aware computing, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), and IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced plans to build a first-of-a-kind water-cooled supercomputer that will directly repurpose excess heat for the university buildings. The innovative system, dubbed Aquasar, is expected to decrease the carbon footprint of the system by up to 85% and estimated to save up to 30 tons of CO2 per year, compared to a similar system using today’s cooling technologies.1

Making computing systems and data centers energy-efficient is a staggering undertaking. In fact, up to 50% percent of an average air-cooled data center’s carbon footprint or energy consumption today is not caused by computing but by powering the necessary cooling systems to keep the processors from overheating—a situation that is far from optimal when looking at energy efficiency from a holistic perspective....

"1 By making use of a physical carbon offset that fulfills criteria set forth in the Kyoto Protocol. The estimate of 30 tons CO2 is based on the assumptions of average yearly operation of the system and the energy for heating the buildings being produced by fossil fuels."

With all that "first-of-a-kind," "carbon footprint," "holistic" stuff, it's not hard to miss the nugget of fact: Quite a lot of energy is used to heat buildings. More is used to get heat out of computers so that they don't fry. It makes sense to (efficiently) pull heat from the computers, redirecting it to where we want the 'excess' energy.

Oh, well: there seems to be some rule that corporate press releases have to be filled with gibberish and buzzwords, along with some degree of pandering to the day's intellectual fashion. Maybe stockholders and board members like that sort of thing.

Whatever explains the linguistic fog surrounding these Aquasar announcements: it looks like IBM/ETH may be on to something useful here. Providing that the cooling system in Aquasar-style computers doesn't fail more often than air-cooled models.

The Lemming's looking forward to water-cooled computers: not so much because of the breathless 'save the planet' stuff, as the performance improvements we might see. Also lower power bills.

Somewhat-related posts about information technology:

A Rabbit, Pumpkin, and Thanksgiving

"Cinnamon Thanksgiving 2010"

DisapprovingRabbits, YouTube (November 25, 2010)

"Cinnamon gets her Thanksgiving bounty."

As featured on Disapproving Rabbits.

The Lemming's pretty sure that Cinnamon wasn't able to finish the entire can. Or allowed to try. Getting the can away from her would have involved a conflict of wills, though.

Van Gogh, Art, and Greenish Phytoplankton

"Van Gogh from Space"
USGS/NASA/Landsat 7, via flickr (July 13th, 2005)

"...In the style of Van Gogh's painting 'Starry Night,' massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

"Credit: USGS/NASA/Landsat 7

"To learn more about the Landsat satellite go to: landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/..."

As NASA put it, "This planet is so beautiful sometimes. Look at this satellite image. Something to be thankful for, yes?"

After that, there's not much for the Lemming to say.
A tip of the hat to NASA, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this photo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different: A Walrus Tango


olsem1980, YouTube (February 10, 2008)
video, 1:01

"walrus Sarah"

A walrus. Dancing. The tango.

Not for very long, and the Lemming has seen more intricate choreography. But still -

A walrus.


The tango.

Discovery Launch: Hydrogen Leak, Cracks, and Canvas Sails

"Latest Launch Delay May Push Shuttle Discovery's Final Flight Into Christmas "
Denise Chow, Space.com (November 24, 2010)

"NASA's latest launch delay for the space shuttle Discovery could push the spacecraft's final mission into the Christmas holiday, or even postpone it completely until February, agency officials said Wednesday.

"Top shuttle program managers met today (Nov. 24) to review recent repairs to Discovery's massive external fuel tank. Based on the discussion, NASA officials decided to forgo any launch attempts until at least Dec. 17, if not into the next launch window in February.

" 'What we've told the agency leadership is that clearly we're not ready for the Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 window that's coming up next week,' John Shannon, NASA's shuttle program manager, said in a news conference this afternoon. 'We'll leave the option open for a launch window for Dec. 17, but a lot of data has to come together to support that.'..."

If Discovery doesn't launch in December, it looks like the launch date will be pushed back to February, 2010.

All of which doesn't leave the folks on the International Space Station (ISS) stranded. They've been getting cargo from robotic freighters; and the last the Lemming heard, Russia had spacecraft that could ferry people to and from the space station.

The hydrogen leak's been patched, and cracked metal ribs in Discovery's external tank are now reinforced. Part of what's keeping Discovery on the ground, is that program managers don't think they've got a clear enough idea of why the ribs cracked in the first place.

The Lemming thinks that waiting is prudent in this case. It certainly makes more sense than the Qantas 'there was no explosion' approach to vehicle maintenance. (November 4, 2010)

That crack in the exterior tank's insulation? Not related to the cracked ribs, and that's patched, too.

The Lemming hopes to watch Discovery's last mission on television. It'll be a time for a little nostalgia. It's the end of the first line of surface-to-orbit freighters.

There's also a great deal of 'firsts' happening. Bigelow Aerospace is well on its way to having rental property in Earth orbit. (October 20, 2010) We've been assured that Russia will have the "first" commercial space station - probably true, depending on how "first" and "space station" are defined. (September 29, 2010) There's even not-entirely-crazy talk about commercial flights to Mars in maybe 15 years. (September 1, 2010)

Sure, the Lemming will miss the Space Shuttles. A little like someone might miss the days when wooden hulls and canvas sails carried people between continents. But it's exciting, living in an era where people are traveling to orbit and back - and it doesn't necessarily make the headlines any more.

The folks working at getting Discovery launch-ready? They're getting Thursday and Friday off. It's Thanksgiving weekend, you know.

Related posts:More:

Massachusetts Turnpike Jam, Thanksgiving Traffic, and a Space Alien Solution

"Mass Pike traffic jammed out west"
Boston Herald (November 24, 2010)

"The feared Thanksgiving crawl has begun on the Mass Pike where westbound traffic is backed up for miles all the way out to Charlton, state police report.

"State police say it's only going to get worse.

"The backup begins on the Pike in Framingham and continues well into western Massachusetts. The Web site traffic.com is labeling the mess a 'jamfactor' of eight out of 10.

"Earlier today the crash that snarled Thanksgiving traffic early on a ramp connecting Route 295 and Interstate 95 in Attleboro is over after crews spent nearly three hours cleaning up spilled fuel and debris from a dump truck rollover.

" 'There was going to be a lot of traffic today anyway,' said state police Sgt. Matthew Murray. 'That didn't make the start of the holiday commute very easy.'

"State police said it appeared no one was injured in the accident.

"But there's more traffic headaches...."

Hey, how bad can it be?

"30-Mile Backup Causing Holiday Headaches"
WCVB Boston (November 25, 2010)

"Delays Reported On Massachusetts Turnpike

"A 30-mile backup on the Massachusetts Turnpike is causing holiday headaches for thousands of travelers.

"By mid-afternoon, the lengthy backup was reported between Framingham and Charlton on the turnpike. Motorists said there were some heavy pockets of congestion...."

This is part of why the Lemming recommended that folks consider webconferencing as an alternative to dealing with traffic jams - and dealing with traffic jams as an alternative to run-ins with the TSA and it's - interesting - new rules. And fines.

Now, the Lemming doesn't recommend this, but someone in the United Kingdom came with a breezy method of minimizing hassle at airport security. It's part of a discussion of an old science fiction magazine cover:

Image courtesy Fabio Feminò, via DavidSZondy.com, used w/o permission"...The Mizarans live far above their world; never going to earth and always able to enjoy the spectacular views of their world and the great fleets of airships that are their sole means of transportation.

This idyllic form of habitation is so original, so picturesque that it is universally regarded as the stupidest idea ever hit upon. Yes, the view is very pretty, but the price is a major pain in the arse, as popping next door means a three-hour wait at airport security both ways. The average Mizaran has had his person searched so many times that they now travel stark naked and without baggage to save time and aggravation....
("Mizar," Tales of Future Past, Davidszondy.com, also quoted in this blog (November 15, 2010) and Another War-on-Terror Blog (November 14, 2010))

There's snow on the ground, here where the Lemming lives, in central Minnesota. Clothing-optional air travel really isn't a viable option around here during the colder months.

Our air terminals are heated: but there's always that little gap between the airliner and the loading bridge. And quite a few outstate terminals offer passengers a brisk, invigorating walk in the fresh outside air for the few dozen yards between the terminal and the plane. When its below water's freezing point, that walk is really brisk and invigorating.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Where the Lemming Was

The Lemming plans to be back with something tomorrow.

No, really!

There's an explanation for the post dearth: "About 100 Miles of Errands," Through One Dad's Eye (November 23, 2010).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Juggling Smorgasbord

"a juggling smorgasbord"

pogentertainment, YouTube (November 14, 2006)
video, 3:36

"A selection of some of our juggling takeouts and passing.

"For bookings or more info about circus performances and workshops, please visit http://www.circusentertainment.com.au"

Three - and, once, four - folks juggling Indian clubs. No food. Also no sound.

These folks definitely practiced before shooting the video: an impressive, if impassive, display.


Femtosecond Transient Imaging, Seeing Around Corners: Available in About Two Years

"MIT Researchers Create Camera That Sees Around Corners"
Tracie McDaniel, Science, DailyTech (November 21, 2010)

"Using ultra-fast imaging and 'echoes of light,' researchers have developed an innovative camera that takes pictures outside of traditional line of sight.

"Short bursts of light that reflect off of different objects is key for researchers at MIT. They've named the process 'Femto-Photography.' It exploits the finite speed of light and it is part of what they call the 'femtosecond transient imaging system.'

"Applying a femtosecond laser, short pulses of light bounce around off of one object and on to another before reflecting back onto the original object where it is then captured by the camera. The bursts of light last for one quadrillionth of a second. Algorithms then reconstruct what is hidden.

"According to MIT Professor Ramesh Raskar, the camera creates a '3D time-image' of the unseen image, by continuously gathering light and computing the time and distance that each pixel has traveled...."

Two words:
  • Oh
  • Wow
This technology is in its very early stages - sort of like X-ray machines, about a hundred years back. (November 8, 2010) The DailyTech article doesn't show any pictures made by the Femto-Photography, so the Lemming's guess is that the results aren't all that spectacular.

Given how useful this sort of thing could be, the Lemming's guess is that the MIT folks won't have to work all that hard for R & D funding.

Back to that article:

"...potential applications could include search and rescue, medical imaging, industrial building inspection and traffic collision prevention.

" 'You could generate a map before you go into a dangerous place like a building fire, or a robotic car could use the system to compute the path it should take around a corner before it takes it.'..."
(MIT Professor Ramesh Raskar, via DailyTech)

How long before there's a portable imaging system that uses this technology? The folks at MIT think - about two years.

More (a bit on the technical side):

Blink, and You'll Miss Something

Someone pointed out that Julius Caesar and George Washington wouldn't have had all that much trouble communicating with each other - apart from a nearly-eighteen-century gap between their lifetimes. George Washington probably understood enough Latin to get by - or could have found someone who did. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that Latin stopped being 'required' for serious students in the Western world.

Their common ground wasn't limited to language. Both men lived in a world where most people either grew food themselves, or worked directly with someone who did. Land transportation was powered by horses or other draft animals. Writing was the ultimate data storage and retrieval technology - although Julius Caesar would, the Lemming thinks, have been fascinated by the implications of movable type.

Not much had changed, in terms of technology.

Then somebody developed a way to get enormous amounts of more-or-less controllable power by boiling water. Steam locomotives, the telegraph, airliners, the Internet, and robotic spaceships followed in quick succession. And farming has changed from a nearly-universal occupation to a sort of professional specialty.

American English hasn't changed all that much in the last two centuries, so George Washington would be able to hold a conversation without much trouble. Until someone mentioned a car, cell phone, iPod, television - you get the idea. The former president would have a whole lot of catching up to do.

And now we're looking at portable 'see-around-corner' technology in about two years.

No wonder some folks write about an 'overwhelmed' 'hive mind.' (January 27, 2010)

The Lemming doesn't see things that way, but I've had a life that let me keep up with what's happening. Having to learn a new job every year or so helped.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:
A tip of the hat to paulcbrady, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the DailyTech article.

Lots of Lead and Cadmium in Kids' Tableware: Spiffy

"Toxic Metals Found in Kids' Drinking Glasses"
Associated Press, via FOXNews.com (November 22, 2010)

"Drinking glasses depicting comic book and movie characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman and the Tin Man from 'The Wizard of Oz' exceed federal limits for lead in children's products by up to 1,000 times, according to laboratory testing commissioned by The Associated Press.

"The decorative enamel on the superhero and Oz sets -- made in China and purchased at a Warner Brothers Studios store in Burbank -- contained between 16 percent and 30.2 percent lead. The federal limit on children's products is 0.03 percent.

"The same glasses also contained relatively high levels of the even-more-dangerous cadmium, though there are no federal limits on that toxic metal in design surfaces...."

Lead and Cadmium on Tableware: How Bad Can It be?

The Lemming gets interested - but not necessarily worried - in headlines like "POISON IN YOUR DRINKING WATER?" I also get interested in headlines like "SPACE ALIENS AT OSCAR AWARDS!" Whether or not the Lemming takes an article seriously depends on several things, including how sensational it is, whether there's a context given for numbers given, and quite a few other factors.

Let's say the was in the supermarket checkout line and saw "LEAD FOUND IN TEACUPS!" I'd be interested - and would probably see what another news service had to say on the subject. Like Reuters, the BBC, or The Associated Press: folks whose livelihood depends on hanging on to at least a few shreds of credibility.

It's not cynicism. It's a smattering of knowledge.

There are trace amounts of just about everything in the food we eat, the utensils we use: and in us. Take iodine, for example. It's toxic. In large doses. Americans use iodized salt because human metabolism requires tiny amounts of iodine to function well. Folks living near oceans get it in seafood - which has fascinating implications regarding where we came from. And that's another topic.

The AP article cites the amount of lead found in some tableware - at "between 16 percent and 30.2 percent."

That's a number. Interesting, but not - alone - terribly informative. The AP also gives a context for that number. For lead: "The federal limit on children's products is 0.03 percent."

So, the lead levels are 10 times the minimum allowed level.

That doesn't sound good: and it isn't.

Turns out there's cadmium in some made-in-China products, too. In excessive, illegal amounts.

Bottom line? Lead and cadmium are everywhere, so "zero tolerance" makes as much sense in product regulations as it does anywhere else. But high levels of these metals are not good for people.

Here's some background:
  • "Cadmium"
    Toxic Substances Portal, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services (September, 2008)
  • "Cadmium"
    Fact Sheet, National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services
  • "Lead: Topic Home"
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services

Lead and Cadmium in Tableware: Not, Apparently, a Small Problem

Okay, so a handful of products have too much lead. Big deal. Recall them, and move on.

Good idea: Just one problem.

It's not just those glasses. Some of the other brands involved are: Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Burger King, and McDonald's. Coca-Cola has recalled the products fingered by the AP - the Lemming's guess is that the others will, too. This is a recent development.

The problem is that quite a few of these products are used by kids. Toxic paint can flake off, get on their hands - and then into their mouths, where the metals get into their systems and stay there.

Adults can be affected, too, but since metal poisoning is a cumulative thing - we don't have as long to build up dangerous levels. Kids do.

Old-School News: Sometimes They Get It Right

The Lemming doesn't have the good old fashioned notion that 'they wouldn't print it, if it wasn't true' attitude. My respect for journalism is - somewhat conditional. And that's yet another topic.

That said, in this case the AP seems to have done what journalists are supposed to do: collect data, analyze what they've found, and see if their conclusions can be verified.

Then rushing into print.

Like this time. The AP even detailed how the reporters arrived at their conclusion.

"...The AP testing was part of the news organization's ongoing investigation into dangerous metals in children's products and was conducted in response to a recall by McDonald's of 12 million glasses this summer because cadmium escaped from designs depicting four characters in the latest 'Shrek' movie.

"The New Jersey manufacturer of those glasses said in June that the products were made according to standard industry practices, which includes the routine use of cadmium to create red and similar colors. That same company, French-owned Arc International, made the glasses that Coca-Cola said it was pulling.

"To assess potential problems with glass collectibles beyond the 'Shrek' set, AP bought and analyzed new glasses off the shelf, and old ones from online auctions, thrift shops and a flea market. The buys were random...."

"...The irony of the latest findings is that AP's original investigation in January revealed that some Chinese manufacturers were substituting cadmium for banned lead in children's jewelry; that finding eventually led to the McDonald's-Shrek recall; now, because of the new testing primarily for cadmium in other glassware, lead is back in the spotlight as well.

"AP's testing, conducted by ToyTestingLab of Rhode Island, found that the enamel used to color the Tin Man had the highest lead levels, at 1,006 times the federal limit for children's products. Every Oz and superhero glass tested exceeded the government limit: The Lion by 827 times and Dorothy by 770 times; Wonder Woman by 533 times, Superman by 617 times, Batman by 750 times and the Green Lantern by 677 times...."
(Associated Press, via FOXNews.com)

There's quite a great deal more in the AP article, as found of FOXNews.com's website - and in the AP-on-Google version of the same AP story.

China, Business, and Poisoning Your Customers

The Lemming doesn't particularly like regulations. In large part because some are - daft, to be polite about it. (Remember the TSA's latest SNAFU? (Monday, November ))

On the other hand, Federal bureaucrats aren't the only nitwits around:Regulatory agencies get started for a reason. Sometimes the regulations even make sense.

Like keeping lead and cadmium levels in tableware down to comparatively safe levels.
Business 101: Don't Poison Your Customers
You'd think that someone who runs a company would realize that it's not a good idea to poison the customers. Or, as in some recent cases, end users.

But as the disgusting cases of the poison peanuts and sickening eggs demonstrated: running a company doesn't magically endow a person with common sense.

It must seem like a smart idea, to some of these folks, to cut costs - or make a product look better - or avoid the fuss and bother of cleaning rat poo out of the food factory - and hope for the best.

It's not just end users who suffer.

Folks who work for innovatively suicidal nitwits like the poison peanut king and the salmonella-egg dude sometimes lose their jobs, or their health. The boss doesn't always emerge unscathed, either.

The last I heard, some chaps over in China who put melamine in baby food and other products were on death row. The stuff registers on tests as a protein, so they got better prices for 'high protein' food. Then people started dying. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 4, 2008)

My guess is that the folks running China aren't happy with what the melamine mess did to their reputation - and cash flow.

Then there's the matter of lead and cadmium in tableware.

The Lemming doesn't think that everybody should start making their own 'hand thrown pottery jars.' Remember Larry Groce and "Junk Food Junkie?" Yet again another topic.

Toxic Tableware: Something to Monitor

The Lemming is also pretty sure that lead and cadmium in tableware isn't 'some kinda plot.' As my father used to say: 'Never ascribe to malice, what can be explained by stupidity.' Or world-class nitwittery.

A common-sense approach to this seems to be keeping an eye on the news: and panning for those nuggets of fact.

Related posts:More:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming's Taking the Day Off

It's Sunday, and the Lemming is trying to shake a cold in time for Thanksgiving.

I plan to be back, catching up, Monday.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mastodons, Mammoths, and Wood That's Been Chewed

"Dozer Driver Makes Fossil Discovery of the Century"
Loren Grush, FOXNews (November 20, 2010)

"An accidental discovery by a bulldozer driver has led to what may be the find of the century: an ice-age burial ground that could rival the famed La Brea tar pits.

"After two weeks of excavating ancient fossils at the Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado, scientists from the Denver Museum of Natural Science returned home Wednesday with their unearthed treasures in tow -- a wide array of fossils, insects and plant life that they say give a stunningly realistic view of what life was like when ancient, giant beasts lumbered across the Earth.

"Since the team's arrival in mid-October, scientists have extracted nearly 600 bones from about 20 different animals from the Pleistocene era, a period of time during the Ice Age. The remains of up to six different species have been exhumed, including five American mastodons, three Ice Age bison, a Jefferson's ground sloth, a mule deer, a tiger salamander, and two Columbian mammoths. ..."

For paleontologists, this is a pretty big deal. For one thing, the article points out that the number of mastodons found in Colorado went from three - found over the last 120 years - to eight. In about two weeks.

It's not just the number of specimens. It's where they are.

"...The Ziegler Reservoir stands at the top of a ridge at an elevation that is higher than most excavation sites. The reservoir was soon revealed to be a glacial lake that had filled over, allowing the fossils inside to survive erosion for more than 40,000 years.

" 'We've got a lot of records at low elevation where sediment accumulates and where fossils are better preserved,' Miller told FoxNews.com. 'But you really don't get things like lakes preserved at high elevations for long periods of time,' said Miller. 'So this site is really going to help us answer questions about how high elevation floras and faunas reacted to Pleistocene climate change.'..."

There's more than mastodons and mammoths in the Ziegler Reservoir find: like insects, plants, and wood that looks like it's been worked over by a beaver. That doesn't seem very exciting - unless you're someone looking at an opportunity to study an ancient ecosystem.

One thing seems obvious right away, from the new Colorado fossils: Things have changed in the last 40,000 years.

The Lemming went on (and on) about change, and how folks react to it, yesterday. One thing that's interesting - in the Lemming's opinion - is how ideas about how change happened have changed over the last hundred years. (August 10, 2010)

Folks who study facets of the universe like the development of life, how Earth's interior works, or how the planets and stars got to where they are now, have been on some very steep learning curves. And we don't seem to be all that much close to having 'all the answers.' Sometimes it seems that we're collecting questions faster than we're finding answers. Which the Lemming doesn't mind one bit.

From quite a few points of view, this is a very exciting time to live in.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:More:

A Rabbit, a Reindeer Tiara, and a Grim Sentiment

Disapproving Rabbits (November 19, 2010)

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

"Let's wait 'til after Thanksgiving.
"For me to kill you."

Disapproving Rabbits is hard to write micro-reviews for. At least, the way the Lemming does it. Take a sentence, and you've got most - or all - of the post. Leave the photo out, and the sentence doesn't make sense. Describe the photo - which could be tedious for both of us - and half the fun's gone when you finally see it.

So: this is pretty much the whole post, as-is, from Disappearing Rabbits.

The Lemming hopes they don't mind.

And that TJ isn't quite as upset as all that, about that oversize reindeer tiara.

Fetching Water With a Q Drum: Looks Simple

Q Drum
"the rollable water container for developing countries"

"Water is essential to the survival of all forms of life and a clean and accessible supply is a basic need that millions of people around the world do not have. In disadvantaged and rural communities, the burden of fetching water invariably over long distances by cumbersome and far too often, unhygienic means is all too evident. The Q Drum is the simple, durable, effective and user-friendly solution to this problem. A device designed to improve the lives and health of countless people around the world...."

Looks like a good idea.

Ideally, folks living all over the world would have the sort of water treatment plant that's on the north side of Sauk Centre, where the Lemming lives. Plus the water tower, pumps, water mains and sewer system we've got.


Until everybody can afford that, technology like the Q Drum could make the job of getting clean drinking water easier. And, in some cases, practical.

From the company's About the Q Drum page:

"The idea of the Q Drum originated in response to the needs of rural people in developing countries who have a problem carrying adequate quantities of potable water from a reliable source.

"A burden which is generally bestowed on the women and children of each community. In Africa for example, many debilitating back and neck injuries are a result of women carrying heavy loads on their heads.

"Rolling water in a cylindrical vessel was the only solution that seemed to make sense and allow for a greater quality of life in this regard...."

The Q Drum is essentially a plastic drum with a hollow shaft down the center. The company's website says it's made of Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE), a synthetic material that's safe for carrying drinking water and "dry foodstuffs" - by which I gather they mean food like grain or flour.

It's got a fifty liter capacity - filled with water, it weighs 54.5 kilograms. If I did the math right, that's roughly 120 pounds. Once someone got it moving, it shouldn't be too hard to keep going on a relatively smooth, level surface. Going up or down slopes, though, might require planning - in the Lemming's opinion.

The thing comes with a rope - but if that breaks, just about anything long and flexible will do: a leather strap; or, of course, another rope. The website doesn't put it this way: but rope is a very common technology, quite possibly among the first we developed.

The Q Drum does have a 'down' side. A set of these things is cheaper than an urban water treatment facility - by far. But they're not exactly cheap, either.

The company has a Pricing page that discusses this - and has a table with costs per unit.

Somebody buying between 1 and 99 of them would pay R500 per unit. I assume that's 500 Rand - the South African currency unit. That might be around $72 USD. But don't take the Lemming's word for that. For one thing, currency values change over time.

The point is, as it says on that page: " 'The people that need them need can't afford them & must rely on people who can afford them but don't need them' "

Well, it's not a perfect world.

Some of the outfits that are helping Haiti might be interested in picking up Q Drums in large lots and taking them where they're needed.

Which brings the Lemming, somewhat clumsily, to Haiti: which doesn't seem to be doing any worse than last week; but not all that much better, either.Apparently there are already Q Drums in Haiti:And that's another topic.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Ice Age, Global Warming, Climate Change, and Living Scared

The Lemming was born during the Truman administration. That's what it says on my birth certificate, and that's the story I'm sticking with.

I remember when civilization was going to be scraped off the face of the earth by the coming ice age. That was before most of us were going to die in the food riots and ecological disasters popularized by a butterfly expert. (April 20, 2010)

More recently, it's been acid rain and global warming that's gonna kill us all.

An informal spot-check in America's media suggests that global warming's on the way out as the Big Bad. What we're all supposed to be scared silly about now is "climate change."

Oddly enough, I think the doomsayers are right. Sort of.

The Lemming Predicts: Change

This prediction is about as close to a 100 percent sure thing as it gets: A hundred years from now, things will be different. The Lemming will go even further out on this limb: A thousand years from now, things will be different.

How can the Lemming be so confident?

For the last several billion years, change has happened. There's no reason to think that the situation has - well, changed.

Like the fellow said:

"Nothing endures but change."
(Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC) (Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (October 29, 2009))

Falcons of the Ohio Mountains

People make things. Paleontologists recently unearthed a kitchen that someone used 1,600,000 years or so back. Homo sapiens sapiens wouldn't show up for quite a while - and the kitchen didn't have a refrigerator, but it was an area set up for food preparation.

Like the Lemming said, people make things - and have for quite a long time.

More recently, we've been making buildings. Quite a lot of them. That's - change. Buildings and clusters of buildings have been popping up across the North American continent. As a sort of side-effect, peregrine falcons are now building their nests on the sides of cliff faces - in places that didn't have cliff faces a century or so back. ("Ohio's Falcon Nesting Sites," Ohio Department of Natural Resources)

So far, the Lemming hasn't run into any anguished articles about the dreadful spread of peregrine falcons. Partly, I suspect, because quite a few people like birds.

Change, Dinosaurs, and Somebody's Fault

The Lemming's mentioned this before: America's dominant culture is convinced that vast, impersonal, mindless forces have wrought great changes on the face of the earth for billions and billions of years.

Mountains rose and fell; species appeared, changed, and went extinct; steamy jungles made way for continental glaciers which in their turn melted to form new landscapes.

Change happened: lots and lots of change. And it was part of the fascinating panoply of natural phenomena which Science revealed.

Then, starting maybe a couple centuries ago, change still happened - but it was somebody's fault.

Quite often, change was the fault of the authoritarian, male-dominated, white European culture that was to blame for just about everything else. Officially. And that's another topic. Almost.

The History Channel (which covers a lot more than what's "history," strictly speaking) had a fascinating show on this morning: First Apocalypse. It's about "how we can learn from the dinosaur's fall from grace and how much our own fate may be intertwined with theirs. Are we doomed to follow in the dinosaurs footsteps or can we face down extinction?

"Perhaps this fear is why we are so fascinated by the demise of a species that lived millions of years ago. If something so large that ruled the earth for so long can be wiped out in a matter of centuries, what does that say about our ultimate survival?

"The world we live in may already be in the throws of its own mass extinction... a new apocalypse."

Sounds like the same yadda-yadda about how we're all gonna die of [insert current intellectual fashion]. Some of it is. One can't be taken seriously, these days, unless one says that we're doomed - DOOOOOMED, I TELL YOU!!!!!!

Reminds me of the 'end times' chaps and their perennial apocalypse predictions - that that's almost another topic, too.

Back to First Apocalypse. What was running on History Channel this morning (which may be the same as the video they're selling) included the usual 'big rock killed the dinosaurs' thing. But it did a pretty good job of discussing the reasons for looking beyond that Yucatan impact for explanations.

The documentary suggests that between the Deccan traps, miscellaneous other impacts, changing landscapes, climate change, disease and parasites: the dinosaurs were on their way out when that big rock came down.

There was a particularly interesting bit about a nematode somebody found in a cockroach - which had been frozen in amber. The Lemming is getting off-topic again.

Cockroaches, Climate Change, and Humanity

Remember the Black Death? About a third of Europe died.

More to the point: in that global, species-threatening mega-disaster - two thirds of Europe didn't die.

The Lemming isn't trying to minimize the scope of that tragedy. But folks who weren't killed by the Black Death picked up the pieces of their culture, developed new social structures - and eventually discovered the usefulness of penicillin.

And microbes that aren't killed by penicillin. Which is another topic.

The point? It's like the one fellow in that documentary implied: Humans are about as hard to get rid of as cockroaches.

Finally, another one of the chaps interviewed (Physics of the Impossible's author, Michio Kaku) discussed the next ice age - which he said was coming in about 10,000 years.

He could be right about that - if we're in an interglacial period, that's when the next episode of continental glaciation is due. Give or take a few millennia.

But the last I checked, the jury's still out on whether or not we're at the end of the most recent set of ice ages - or in one of the more-or-less temporary thaws.

The Lemming's guess is that we'll know for sure - in about 10,000 years. And that folks will be around to argue about it then. And that cockroaches will still be nibbling their way through time.

Related posts:

And Now, for Something Completely Different: Two Minutes of UP

"UP: Stuff I'm Going to Do"

DisneyPixar, YouTube (December 16, 2009)
video, 2:00

"...Carl looks through Ellie's 'Stuff I'm Going to Do' scrapbook."

This video makes a little more sense if you've seen the movie UP: but the Lemming thinks it'll do as a stand-alone vignette.

Hyperbole, Business, and a Spaceship Factory

"Race to space in Mojave "
KGET TV 17 (November 17, 2010)

" 'This is the Plymouth Rock of the new modern American space movement. This is where it starts,' said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (R) California.

"In about a year, it will be home to Virgin Galactic's first spaceship factory. A 68,000 square foot hangar at Mojave's Air and Spaceport. Sir Richard Branson's spaceship company will build and test fly three Whiteknight mother ships and five Spaceshiptwo rocket planes here.

"That $250 million endeavour is overshadowed, however, by what happened in New Mexico in mid-October, the unveiling of the runway for 'Spaceport America', the nation's first commercial airport for space tourism. 'But we took the risk and here we are today, landing on the runway, touring the terminal hangar facility and talking about when commercial operations will begin,' said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson...."

The 'Plymouth Rock' thing may be hyperbole: the spaceship factory isn't; and neither is the work-in-progress at Spaceport America.

I'll skip the standard-issue stuff that's in the news, about these here now newfangled spaceships dee-stroying pretty near all of delicate little Mother Nature's thingummies. You've heard it all before, anyway.

Which reminds the Lemming of the story about these two cavemen. They were looking, suspiciously, at a bunch of less-fearful folk gleefully viewing a campfire. One said to the other, "just wait: someday it'll get out of control and burn down the entire village."

Come to think of it, there was the Great Chicago Fire - - -. Which happened well after the Paleolithic era, and is another topic.

Where was I? Spaceships. Factories, Spaceport America. Right.

The Construction Status page at Spaceport America's website was updated on the 15th. No big whoop there: They've posted a new photo of a construction site.

The prosaic 'look' of some of the photos at Spaceport America's website is, in its own way, a pretty big deal. The Lemming remembers when construction at a commercial spaceport was 'science fiction stuff:' the sort of thing you might expect to see in an old Flash Gordon serial.

Now? Spaceport America is one of about a half-dozen spaceports in this country. And America's space industry isn't the only game in town - by a long shot. (see "Humanity in Space: Looking at the Big Picture" (January 29, 2010))

Back to Virgin Galactic's spaceship factory, the WhiteKnight mother ships SpaceShipTwo suborbital jitneys.

The Lemming's opinion is that space tourism is important: particularly for folks who provide services to those of us with the wherewithal to pay for a short hop into space. That sort of thing is 'way beyond my household's budget: but so are Caribbean cruises and quite a few other high-end leisure activities.

As the Lemming has said, about high-end mansions: it's nice to have folks with that kind of money. They make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy the glitter - at a distance - without the hassle of maintaining that kind of pile.

The Lemming's getting off-topic again. That's been happening a lot lately. Like right now.

According to the Virgin Galactic website, upwards of 340 folks have already booked flights on their spaceships - and the company gives you an opportunity to sign up online.

Even if you're not planning a short trip to space, virgingalactic.com's got some nice eye candy.

Related posts:More:

COICA: A Federal Official Deciding Who Gets to Stay Online

"Web Censorship Bill Sails Through Senate Committee"
Sam Gustin, Epicenter, Wired (November 18, 2010)

"Who says Congress never gets anything done?

"On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would give the Attorney General the right to shut down websites with a court order if copyright infringement is deemed 'central to the activity' of the site — regardless if the website has actually committed a crime. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is among the most draconian laws ever considered to combat digital piracy, and contains what some have called the 'nuclear option,' which would essentially allow the Attorney General to turn suspected websites 'off.'

"COICA is the latest effort by Hollywood, the recording industry and the big media companies to stem the tidal wave of internet file sharing that has upended those industries and, they claim, cost them tens of billions of dollars over the last decade...."

Okay: the Lemming isn't "political," and I do think that intellectual property rights need to be protected.

The Lemming also thinks that COICA has 'bad idea' written all over it.

Not the basic notion of making it harder to rip off someone's work and pass it off as your own - or get the profits that should have gone to the owner. That actually makes sense.

It's the Senate, right after an election - with another reality check a couple years away and some of them at the end of the line in Congress - putting a bill through that lets a Federal official decide who's allowed to be online.

Sure - it's not for 'honest citizens like me.' The only people who have to worry are those low-life pirates. Or folks who might be pirates. Or might become pirates.

'It can't happen here?' The Lemming sure hopes so.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lemming Tracks: China, Internet Traffic, and Why It Matters

"Update: Report sounds alarm on China's rerouting of U.S. Internet traffic"
Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld (November 18, 2010)

"A report submitted to Congress on Wednesday by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission expressed concerns over what the commission claims is China's growing ability to control and manipulate Internet traffic.

"The report points to two specific incidents earlier this year where actions taken inside China had a direct impact on Internet traffic in the U.S. and other regions of the world.

"In one of the incidents, traffic to and from about 15% of all Internet destinations was routed through servers belonging to China Telecom, a state-owned telecommunications company.

"In an e-mailed statement Wednesday, China Telecom rejected the claims, but offered no further comment.

"The rerouting happened on April 8 and lasted for about 18 minutes. The traffic hijacking affected U.S. government and military networks, including those belonging to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Commerce, NASA and the U.S. Senate.

"Commercial sites, including those belonging to Microsoft, Dell and Yahoo, were also affected.

"It's unclear if Chinese telecommunications companies did anything with the hijacked data, the commission said in its report. But the kind of access that Chinese authorities had to the data could enable surveillance of specific users or sites, disrupt transactions, prevent a user from establishing connections to specific sites or divert them to other spoofed sites, the report noted.

" 'Incidents of this nature could have a number of serious implications,' the report said...."

Which in the Lemming's opinion, is a very low-key, understated way of putting it.

It's "incidents," by the way. Here's what Computerworld has to say about number two:

"...The second incident involved a more widely reported botched attempt by Chinese authorities to block users inside China from accessing sites such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

"Because of a network error, users in the U.S. and Chile also found themselves unable to access those sites, and were directed to incorrect servers -- just as they would have if they had been inside China.

"Today's report makes it clear that there is little evidence to show that either incident was planned or executed deliberately. Even so, the incidents show that China and other countries have the capability to do so, if they want to.

" 'Although China is by no means alone in this regard, persistent reports of that nation's use of malicious computer activities raise questions about whether China might seek intentionally to leverage these abilities to assert some level of control over the Internet, even for a brief period,' the report noted...."

So Internet Traffic Went Through Another Server: So What?

When this story broke, yesterday, the Lemming thought it might be like last week's San Diego contrail: interesting, even intriguing; but not all that significant. (November 10, 2010)

Turns out, there's a lot that could be done with all that rerouted Internet traffic. It's like Computerworld wrote: "...the kind of access that Chinese authorities had to the data could enable surveillance of specific users or sites, disrupt transactions, prevent a user from establishing connections to specific sites or divert them to other spoofed sites, the report noted....

Then there was the other incident (again, from Computerworld): the "...botched attempt by Chinese authorities to block users inside China from accessing sites such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

"Because of a network error, users in the U.S. and Chile also found themselves unable to access those sites, and were directed to incorrect servers -- just as they would have if they had been inside China....

Apathy, Lemming Style

The Lemming's discussed the name of this blog before. I'm "apathetic" only in the sense that I do not share the occasionally-hysterical (in my opinion) assumptions and phobias of America's dominant culture.

There are things that the Lemming cares about. Like being allowed to share and distribute information. Or to have information kept private: like access codes for my bank account, or how to shut down a country's coastal defenses.

Would it be nice if nobody had to have any secrets at all? Sure. It'd be nice if everybody looked like movie stars and had a mansion on the Côte d'Azur. Maybe. We don't live in a perfect world, though: and recent efforts to 'fix' things haven't met, in my opinion, with unqualified success.

Like the various workers' paradises.

No, this blog isn't "political," but China's leadership style is about as hard to ignore as an elephant in the parlor.

Internet Traffic, China, and Coincidences

China's a big country, both in area and population. It shouldn't be any surprise that some Internet glitches involve Chinese servers.

Coincidences happen.

But it's not always a good idea to assume that something 'just happened.'

Say, for example, that you live in a neighborhood where stuff disappears: a television set here; a computer there; a set of bedroom furniture somewhere else. After a few years, someone points out that these items generally show up in the house of this guy down the block who doesn't have a job, but has a house full of nice stuff. Including a television set, computer, and set of bedroom furniture identical to the missing items.


Could be. Not very likely, though.

The Lemming has a great deal of respect for Chinese history and culture. The lot that's running the place now? Not so much. Although they seem to be learning that it's okay for their subjects to have wealth. (November 14, 2010) And that's another topic. Almost.

The sad fact is that China's leadership has - or wants to have - the sort of stranglehold on what people are allowed to see, hear, read, and - by extension - think; that has been the dream of crackpot religious leaders, red-white-and-blue 'real' Americans, and at least some college professors. Remember political correctness?

And no, this isn't a "political" blog. But, like the Lemming said: elephant in the parlor. Ignore the obvious, and a person's likely to get stepped on. Hard.

What does the Lemming think about the recent reroutings of Internet traffic through China? It could be a coincidence. But the situation looks a lot more like that hypothetical fellow with the house full of other people's stuff.

I think China's leaders are fiddling with the Internet - and don't want folks to notice.

Freedom: It Matters

Someone who has absolute trust in some government might be quite content to see what Dear Leader wants us to see, hear what we're supposed to hear, and read nothing but the 'proper' material.

The Lemming isn't one of those people. I think that freedom of expression - and the freedom to either attend to or ignore ideas expressed by others - is valuable. Also a safeguard against crackpot ideas from some agency. (Example: TSA "pat downs" might be the only alternative - but the Lemming thinks the idea should be discussed - openly - and elsewhere.)

China's leadership has a track record for not being comfortable with its subjects being exposed to unapproved ideas. The Lemming has been told that they've got good reason for wanting that sort of tight control. Given their recent history, I can sort of see why they don't want their subjects to find out too much about what's going on - and that's yet another topic.

Bottom line? I think that anybody who values freedom of expression and isn't comfortable with censorship should be very, very interested in all the 'coincidences' involving China and the Internet.

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