Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tractors, Horses, and a Weekend Project


anoasisproduction, YouTube (June 22, 2010)
video, 2:05

Two minutes and five seconds of tractor and horse pulling contests in Hillsboro, North Dakota. I talked to the fellow who made the video - this was a sort of 'weekend project' for him. Turned out pretty well, I think.


A few points:
  • No tractors were harmed in the filming of this video
  • Those horses are not full-size draft animals
    • The Norwegian- and German-Americans who live in that part of the country tend toward height
      • But we're not that big

Digital Image Inventor Looks Past the Pixel

"Digital Image Founder Smooths Out Pixels"
Tech News, Discovery News (June 26, 2010)

"Russell Kirsch says he's sorry.

"More than 50 years ago, Kirsch took a picture of his infant son and scanned it into a computer. It was the first digital image: a grainy, black-and-white baby picture that literally changed the way we view the world. With it, the smoothness of images captured on film was shattered to bits.

"The square pixel became the norm, thanks in part to Kirsch, and the world got a little bit rougher around the edges.

"As a scientist at the National Bureau of Standards in the 1950s, Kirsch worked with the only programmable computer in the United States. 'The only thing that constrained us was what we imagined,' he says. 'So there were a lot of things we thought of doing. One of which was, what would happen if computers could see the world the way we see it?'..."

There's a pretty good signal/noise ratio in the article: which covers (very briefly) the history of digital images; and discusses (also briefly) Kirsch's new idea.

Which sounds a lot like vector graphics - and a little like the way our visual cortex process data. Which is another topic.

It's not exactly 'smoothing out the pixel' - more like developing a new way to present images. And, maybe, a promising one.

Waffle the Rabbit and an Inflamed Owner

Rachael, via Disapproving Rabbits (June 29, 2010)

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

"Yes, yes, now get to the part where you being on fire affects me."

I don't know rabbits all that well: but my oldest daughter's pet does give the impression of being rather self-centered. Or, more accurately, food-centered. Not at all like most dogs.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Programmable Matter: Today, Robotic Origami; Tomorrow, Claytronics

"Video: Pentagon's Shape-Shifting Bot Folds Into Boat, Plane"
Danger Room, Wired (June 29, 2010)

"Even for the Pentagon's science-fiction division, it seemed like a stretch. But in 2007, Darpa really did launch an effort to build programmable matter that could reconfigure itself on command. Then, two years later, Harvard and MIT researchers really did make progress building “self-folding origami” that just might be able to twist themselves into different shapes. Yesterday, Darpa-backed electrical engineers at the two schools released the stunning results: a shape-shifting sheet of rigid tiles and elastomer joints that can fold itself into a little plane or a boat on demand...."

video, 0:57

There's another copy video on YouTube: the same thing, except it loads faster:

"Shape-shifting sheets automatically fold into multiple shapes .flv"

suchitaher9, YouTube (June 29, 2010)
video, 0:57

"...A programmable sheet self-folds into a boat- and into a plane-shape
Credit: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and MIT/CSAIL.

That little sheet of motorized triangles may not look very practical: unless you have a need for tiny boats and airplanes. The Lemming is impressed that DARPA and all have made a sheet of material that folds into different shapes - on its own.

It's one thing to have a cool idea for some new technology.

Making a working prototype: that's another step. And, sometimes, a big one.

Another Approach to Programmable Matter: Claytronics

This YouTube video gives a pretty good look at what we'll probably be seeing in - five years? a decade? Depends on how difficult it is to make the technology user-friendly, and what sort of market there is for it: mostly the latter, I suspect.

"NEXT WORLD - Intel Claytronics (Programmable Matter)"

suhelbrar, YouTube (April 05, 2009)
video, 3:14

" 'Claytronics' is an emerging field of engineering concerning reconfigurable nanoscale robots ('claytronic atoms', or catoms) designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms. Also known as 'programmable matter', the catoms will be sub-millimeter computers that will eventually have the ability to move around, communicate with other computers, change color, and electrostatically connect to other catoms to form different shapes. The forms made up of catoms could morph into nearly any object, even replicas of human beings for virtual meetings.

The "Claytronics" video emphasizes the technology's potential for communications. Maybe this time, the predictions will be right. I remember the videophone of the sixties, and predictions that we'd all be talking to each other on the things by now.

Well, some of us are: via the Internet and webcams. But the videophone/picture phone never really took off, apart from a little videoconferencing now and then.

I think that's partly because a whole lot of people don't want to be seen when they pick up the phone. Here's what I look like - and I had time to get ready for the photo:

Think about it: would you like to get a call while you were cleaning out the grease trap, or waking up - and have someone see you, as-is?

I could be wrong, of course.

Where I think Claytronics has real possibilities is shown in that video, too: cellphones that become laptops - or anything else with a manual user interface; furniture that morphs to fit what you want at that moment; pictures on the wall that change - use your imagination! Forget 2D pictures.

Think about a sculpture that's what you want it to be - with (how many?) variations. My guess is that if the manufacturer is smart, they'll do what some ballpoint pen companies have done - sell the basic unit at a loss, and make their profit by selling/renting/leasing virtual modules with new and different art.

Then there's what can be done to streamline research and development of complex machines like automobiles and industrial robots.

The 21st century is starting to look like, well, the 21st century.

Related posts:More:

Excalimaze: That's a Really Big Maze-in-a-Picture


(from, used w/o permission)

That's a thumbnail from the website. The puzzle is 2592 by 1722 pixels: about 2 megabytes. That's over 300 dots/pixels/lines per inch on an 8' x 10' printout: where it'll look a whole lot like a hand-drawn picture. Which is what I suspect the maze started as:

(from, used w/o permission)

I haven't printed Excalimaze out and solved the maze - partly because I don't think it's one of those 'solved-in-five-minutes' puzzles, and right now I don't have a whole lot of free time to deal with. But don't let that stop you: This looks like fun.

Or, maybe, a sort of substitute for refrigerator door art.

Either way, enjoy!
A tip of the hat to IDreamHappily, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this maze.

Putting the Bite on an Old Assumption About Human Jaws

"Human Bite Stronger Than Thought"
Human News, Discovery News (June 27, 2010)

"Humans have a much more powerful bite than previously thought, thanks to the mechanics of their skull, say Australian researchers.

Stephen Wroe from the University of New South Wales in Sydney and colleagues reported their comparison of human and other skulls recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"'The traditional view is that modern humans have lost the ability to generate a powerful bite,' said Wroe.

"He said this has been driven by the fact that humans have relatively weak jaw muscles and lightweight skulls, compared to our fossil ancestors and living great apes.

"Some scientists argue a weaker bite evolved in response to humans eating softer foods, processing them with tools and cooking.

"But, said Wroe, there has been no direct data to support these conclusions. He said the very thick tooth enamel coating human teeth is generally associated with processing hard foods in primates...."

It's amazing, what one discovered, when experts collect and analyze data, instead of reading each other's books.

Sorry - the Lemming had a long night, and may be a bit less chipper than usual.

The article gives a little information about the human skull. Basically, we've got lighter bones and less muscle in our heads than, say, a gorilla. But they're placed more efficiently.

And the enamel in our teeth is thicker than in most primates. It better be, since between our teeth, where it counts, we're 40% to 60 % more powerful than any of the great apes. Of course, we don't have as many pounds of bone and muscle.

Still, our teeth aren't anything to sneeze at:

"...'Pound for pound we're actually biting harder than a gorilla or a chimpanzee,' said Wroe, adding there's no big difference between the bite force of a human and the nutcracker man, once body size is allowed for...."

The Lemming wouldn't recommend trying to crack walnuts with your teeth, though: Our ancestors worked long and hard to develop tools for that sort of thing.

Don't start feeling too superior to chimps and gorillas, though: they're better at chewing tough vegetable fiber. Which, considering what they normally eat, they have to do for hours - and hours - and hours.

Lemming Tracks: Catching Up

The Lemming was up late last night, waiting for an Internet connection that didn't come in time. ("I'm Not a 40-Year-Old Kid Anymore," Through One Dad's Eye (June 29, 2010))

I slept until almost noon. Which explains why there are no morning posts in this blog.

The Lemming is back on the job, though: a little fuzzy around the edges, though. At the rate I'm going, I should have three more posts done by the end of the day.

Or, not.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pygmy Jerboa: A Tiny Head with Feet

Meg, via Cute Overload (June 27, 2010)

"The Cute Overload Rules of Cuteness Rule #45 specifies that if you have ‘pygmy’ in your species name, you’re auto-magically cute...."

"pygmy jerboa 体重測定"

tamasanndesu, YouTube (January 20, 2009)
video, 1:09


There's no sound: just one minute and nine seconds of miniature cute.


Credit Card Fraud: A Few Cents Here, a Few Dollars There

"FTC says scammers stole millions, using virtual companies"
Computerworld (June 27, 2010)

"The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has disrupted a long-running online scam that allowed offshore fraudsters to steal millions of dollars from U.S. consumers -- often by taking just pennies at a time.

"The scam, which had been run for about four years years, according to the FTC, provides a case lesson in how many of the online services used to lubricate business in the 21st century can equally be misused for fraud.

" 'It was a very patient scam,' said Steve Wernikoff, a staff attorney with the FTC who is prosecuting the case. 'The people who are behind this are very meticulous.'..."

That "just pennies at a time" is accurate, but a little misleading:

"...The scammers stayed under the radar by charging very small amounts -- typically between $0.25 and $9 per card -- and by setting up more than 100 bogus companies to process the transactions...."

It's still "small change," by American standards, which may explain the next paragraph:

"...U.S. consumers footed most of the bill for the scam because, amazingly, about 94 percent of all charges went uncontested by the victims...."

The Lemming is nitpicking with this micro-review, but "amazingly" is in the eye of the beholder. With most of the transactions being under $10, I'm not all that surprised that the transactions weren't challenged.

I might have noticed charges to the family's account - but this household isn't exactly a 'typical' bunch of Americans. We routinely check the monthly bills we get - including the one from our credit card service. If there's something odd - we start asking questions. We're not suspicious - but we can't afford to throw money away, either.

Then there was the company whose service I didn't use. Their representative seemed surprised, and perhaps a bit offended at the idea that I expected regular bills, invoices - something - besides a periodic charge on my credit card account to show that I was paying for the service.

The Lemming is getting off-topic.

The criminal activity went undetected so long, we're told, because most outfits don't pay attention to charges under about $10 - they just let them go through - and most people don't raise a fuss over small charges to their accounts.

Each fraudulent charge was small - but they added up. To about $9,500,000, according to the article.

There's a fair amount of detail in the Computerworld account - more than I saw in other news articles.

It's good to know that fraudsters get caught. The trick now will be for credit card services and the folks who use them to work out ways to keep from being nickled and dimed out of dollars again.

A Touching Bit of Research: Tactile Sense and Decision-Making

"Sense of Touch Affects Decision-Making? Maybe Not a Crazy Idea"
Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind (June 25, 2010)

"When I read this article's headline and first paragraph, I was ready to dismiss the whole thing as silly science: the sort of thing that folks with letters after their name do sometimes, to increase their own status or push some political preference. Or maybe because they don't know any better...."

That blog post is brilliant! Insightful! Thought-provoking! The Lemming should know: I wrote it myself.

Seriously? I ran into a Wired Science article last Friday: "Sense of Touch Shapes Snap Judgments," whose headline and cleverly-written first paragraph encouraged me to dismiss the whole thing as more silly science.

I'm glad I kept reading, because I think the researchers are onto something:

"...The experiments included would-be car buyers who, when seated in a cushy chair, were less likely to drive a stiff bargain. The findings don't just suggest tricks for salesman, but may illuminate how our brains develop.

" 'The way people understand the world is through physical experiences. The first sense they develop is touch,' said study co-author Josh Ackerman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist. As they grow up, those physical experiences shape how people conceptualize abstract, social experience, he said. 'Later on, you can do what we did — trigger different physical experiences, and produce changes in people's thoughts.'

Published June 24 in Science, the study is the latest addition to a booming field of embodied cognition, which over the last decade has scientifically eroded the notion that mind and body are distinctly separate....

"The notion that mind and body are distinctly separate?" Okay - although I thought we'd known that we use our brains for thinking for - well, quite a long time. (More about that in another of my blogs: "State-of-the-Art Neuroscience, About Two Dozen Centuries Back," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (June 1, 2010))

Anyway: My post over in Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind wasn't much more than a sort of 'hey, this might be useful' heads-up. Plus a suggestion that soft chairs for clients might be a good idea.

Besides practical marketing applications, I think this "embodied cognition" research is very interesting: because it looks like we may be discovering a physical angle on the development of metaphor.

"Metaphor?" If you're not very familiar with that term, you've got lots of company. In my opinion, Western civilization may be the culture which has most successfully ignored metaphor and poetry in general. Which is another topic. (More: ""God Created Man in His Image" wasn't Written by An American," A Catholic Citizen in America (January 25, 2010))

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming's Taking the Day Off

The Lemming has had an - interesting - week. There weren't any noteworthy crises, no monumental events: just a lot of little tugs and pushes that took energy to deal with.

So, I'm taking Sunday off. The Lemming has something lined up for Monday morning, and expect to be back with more around noon on Monday. That's -6 GMT/UTC, more or less.

See you then, I trust.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch: Aerial Snapshot

"Space Shuttle Launch Seen From Jet Fighter " (June 25, 2010)

"It's an amazing scene: A NASA space shuttle rocketing into space while U.S. Air Force pilots watch from their airborne F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter. The stunning snapshot was taken May 14 as NASA's shuttle Atlantis soared into orbit on its final scheduled mission...."

(United States Air Force photo by Captain John Peltier, via, used w/o permission)
"Lt. Col. Gabriel Green and Capt. Zachary Bartoe patrol the skies over Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in an F-15E Strike Eagle as the Space Shuttle Atlantis launches into space for the last time. During the patrol, Strike Eagle aircrews identified and redirected five aircraft that inadvertently violated the airspace restriction put in place for the launch. Colonel Green is the 333rd Fighter Squadron commander and Captain Bartoe is a 333rd FS weapons system officer. Both aircrew members are assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro, N.C. Full Story...."

The Lemming doesn't, as a rule, copy this much of an article's text - but there wasn't all that much text with the article to begin with. Besides, I wanted to be sure that the names got passed along. And you'll probably want to follow the links to the article for the full-size photo. And the fuller-size photo.

That should be "more-full-size" or "bigger" photo. You get the idea.

Let's see, the Lemming's reaction: spectacular? wow? Yeah, I think that just about covers it.

"Nightshade" - Another Random Poem

"Nightshade – Random Twitter Poem for June 25th"
Wanderer Thoughts (June 25, 2010)

"Nightshade is a poem about alchemy or herbalism, it is a tale of a plant that grows by night and is harvested to produce a healing type of effect when imbibed...."


"Celebrate this mystical nightshade
appearance like a scruffy parsnip....

"...absinthe liquid of absolution
healing all mortal exhaustion

I experienced the poem itself before reading what the author had written about it. That's my habit, since I would much rather meet the poem - or movie, or book, or any creative work - before learning what the artist thought I should perceive in it.

Which is getting seriously off-topic.

Or, maybe, not.

This time, I learned that the swirl of imagery was a salute to alchemy or herbalism - appropriately, given Western civilization's perceptions of both, in this time. The mysterious, shifting 'feel' of the poem (my experience, anyway) probably explains why the last lines of Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn" came to mind while writing this post:

"...And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Twitter's Password Plight(s)

"FTC Forces Twitter to Safeguard User Information" (June 24, 2010)

"Twitter on Thursday reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it failed to adequately safeguard user information, which led to two high-profile hacker attacks in early 2009.

"The case is the first that the FTC has brought against a social networking site, it said.

"Under the terms of the deal, Twitter is banned for the next 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it protects the security and privacy of non-public information, the FTC said. Twitter must also establish a comprehensive information security program, which will be assessed by an independent third party every other year for the next 10 years...."

Somebody's hacked into Twitter's administrative accounts more than once - it looks like the Lemming posted about the first one, back on January 6, 2010. Back to the article:

"...In the first case, which happened in January 2009, a hacker used an automated password-guessing tool to gain administrative control of Twitter. Twitter's system did not automatically lock people out after they failed to guess the correct password after several tries, so the hacker was able to submit thousands of guesses before gaining access.

" 'The administrative password was a weak, lower case, common dictionary word,' according to the FTC...."

Two (rookie?) mistakes: letting a bot try a large number of times to guess the password; and using a "common dictionary word." I looked it up: the password was "happiness." Well, it could have been worse. The admin might have chosen password as the password.

What impressed me was that Twitter didn't clamp down on security after that January 2009 caper.

I use Twitter myself (where I'm Aluwir), but I'm not too concerned about "privacy" of my account information - I've followed the same rule there that I do elsewhere online: I never give more information than I would put on the back of a postcard. With the exception of a few financial accounts, where I'm pretty sure the company is playing with a full bag of marbles.

Of course, I'd hate to lose my account because my password got broadcast to the world.

Bottom line, I think, is that Twitter needs to accept the fact - fast - that it's no longer a little circle of like-minded people in a San Francisco neighborhood. Twitter is a huge online community: and folks who use Twitter need to be able to trust the system.

Related posts:
A tip of the hat to TweetSmarter (formerly Twitter_Tips), on Twitter, for the heads-up on the article.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: Reset

"Toy Story 3 - Spanish Buzz"

DisneyPixar, YouTube (June 22, 2010)
video 2:10

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. Spanish dance. Dancing with the Stars. Pixar.

And a cartoon hat that was too wide.

DisneyPixar's YouTube video is definitely a promotional piece for "Toy Story 3:" and fun to watch. My opinion. One thing I appreciate about it is the quick glimpses at the production process for the film.

Neanderthals, Teeth, Us, and an Ongoing Puzzle

"When Humans and Neanderthals Split"
Human News, Discovery News (June 23, 2010)

"While DNA evidence suggests humans and Neanderthals mated way back when, the two groups did represent distinct species at the time. The question is: when did they last share a common ancestor?

"A new study on dental fossils indicates Neanderthals and our own species, Homo sapiens, shared a common ancestor at least one million years ago, which is more than 500,000 years earlier than previously thought.

"A million years is a drop in the evolutionary bucket, however, which perhaps helps to explain why we share so many features and behaviors in common with the red headed, meat loving, music producing Neanderthals...."

Before the Lemming opines about the article, a few items:
  • Neanderthal? Neandertal?
    • I've seen it spelled both ways, most often ending in "thal."
  • No rant about
    • Either
      • Ignorant religious people
      • Evil scientific people
      • Redheads
    • I've seen old family photos
      • I don't look quite like my recent ancestors
      • Change happens
      • I've written about this before
Neanderthals looked (a little) different from most of the folks in the central Minnesota town I live in. That shade of red, though, I've seen fairly often: no surprise, maybe, since I've lived much of my life in places where most folks' ancestors came from the same general parts of the world where Neanderthals lived.

Interestingly, I haven't read whether anybody's traced redheads back to Europe's Neanderthals.

The Discovery article's particularly interesting, for me, because it gives an opinion about how accurate identification of a hominid fossil is, based on teeth alone. Bottom line there is: with enough teeth, the individual's species can be identified with 100% accuracy.

Something that's not in the article is a discussion that was percolating a decade or so back, about just exactly what a "species" is.

Back when I was in school, one definition of a species was a set of animals that could interbreed. Then somebody started acting very human, and we got ligers and tigons. The Discovery article and others agree that Neanderthals are extinct, that they were a separate species - and that (most) Europeans have Neanderthal ancestors.

My guess is that the 'what is a species' discussion isn't over.

Back to the Discovery article: It's a pretty good look at one set of research that's nowhere near over (my opinion) into how people got to be the way we are today.

Right now, finding out about where, when, and how Neanderthals and our more obvious ancestors parted ways depends on finding at least one more skeleton in the closet. Or, rather, in the ground.

Related posts:
Related posts, at

World Wide Web's New Horizons: Starbucks and All That

"Most Exciting Part of Web Isn't 'World Wide'"
Epicenter, Wired (June 23, 2010)

"The world wide web removed a sense of space from our lives by connecting everyone on the globe to the same content — totalitarian regimes excepted. But the web's most promising developments of late indicate that we're entering a new phase where place matters as much as reach.

"Perhaps there is a 'there' here after all, in other words, to corrupt Gertrude Stein's infamous aphorism. Craigslist, Citysearch, and other veterans have long profited from acknowledging that web surfers live in geographic locations, but only recently has the shift from globalization to localization become a major driver of innovation...."

The article's about things like "geo-tagging technology" and Starbucks' "plans to capitalize on the rise of the neighborhood wide web with news portals." I'd say that I'm not very interested in the business end of this: but some of my Small World of Websites have a quite local focus. I started my online career by writing about the small town in Minnesota where I live, and never stopped.

There's quite a bit more to the article besides Starbucks: like a 2:53 video interview with Howard Schultz, an ex-AP reporter who's launching The Venice Dispatch, and - come to think of it, the article does talk about Starbucks a lot.

Still - it's a pretty good look at what's happening online. At a Starbucks near you.

What? You're not near a Starbucks?! Isn't everybody near a Starbucks?! (The Lemming firmly refuses to go off-topic. This time.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

17 Seconds with a Squirrel

"Having lunch with Buddy"

ftanadmin, YouTube (May 15, 2010)
video, 0:17

"He is such a good listener!"

It's short, with nothing but ambient sounds like birds and the squirrel's chewing: and I think it's charming. Cute. Fun.


Brain Scans and Marketing: This Isn't Science Fiction

"Now scientists read your mind better than you can"
Reuters (June 22, 2010)

"Brain scans may be able to predict what you will do better than you can yourself, and might offer a powerful tool for advertisers or health officials seeking to motivate consumers, researchers said on Tuesday.

"They found a way to interpret 'real time' brain images to show whether people who viewed messages about using sunscreen would actually use sunscreen during the following week.

"The scans were more accurate than the volunteers were, Emily Falk and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles reported in the Journal of Neuroscience...."

"...About half the volunteers had correctly predicted whether they would use sunscreen. The research team analyzed and re-analyzed the MRI scans to see if they could find any brain activity that would do better.

"Activity in one area of the brain, a particular part of the medial prefrontal cortex, provided the best information.

" 'From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do, Lieberman said...."

The functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, predicted the subjects' behavior correctly about 75% of the times.

I'll admit to being a little spooked by this article. It's unsettling to think that a gadget can 'look' inside my head and do a better job of predicting what I'll do better than I can. Even if it's possible only in tightly controlled conditions.

On the other hand, I can see the possibility of very useful medical applications for this sort of technology. Which could be used for - or against - a patient.

Oh, well, it isn't a perfect world.


For Sale: Siegel Mansion; Some Assembly Required

"$75M mansion near Orlando selling 'as is' "
The Associated Press (June 22, 2010)

"Listed as a 'monument to unparalleled success,' the largest home for sale in the United States comes with plenty of space but no carpet, tiles or interior walls. It's up to the future buyer to finish it.

"The mansion started by timeshare tycoon David Siegel boasts plenty of big numbers: 90,000 square feet. Twenty-three bathrooms. Thirteen bedrooms. Ten kitchens. A 20-car garage, with additional space for two limos. Three pools. A bowling alley. Indoor roller rink. Two-story movie theater. Video arcade. Fitness center. Baseball field and two tennis courts...."

And few if any interior walls.

The place isn't finished.

There's a pretty good reason for that - although you'll have to read through quite a bit of the AP article to get to it.

"...'He figured it would be for his family. They'd never have to leave, because they would have everything they needed here,' [Coldwell Banker real estate agent Lorraine] Barrett said during a recent tour of the mansion. 'Nothing broke his heart more.'

"She said Siegel, who has 12 children, could have easily moved forward with construction but wanted to avoid cutbacks at his company, Westgate Resorts...."

I wouldn't mind working for someone who'd rather let his family's dream home go unfinished, rather than do "cutbacks." Which generally means somebody getting a pink slip.

If you've got $100,000,000, you can buy the Siegel mansion complete, instead of in kit form.

The AP article has several photos - and quite a bit more detail about this lavish pile.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

1783, Iceland: Biggest Lava Flow in History

"June 22, 1783: Icelandic Volcano Disrupts Europe's Economy"
Wired (June 21, 2010)

"1783: Ash from the Laki volcano in Iceland arrives in Britain and northern France. It will linger for months, creating a hot summer, a very cold winter and thousands of deaths.

"Laki began erupting June 8. It produced the largest lava flow in historic times when a fissure 16 miles long sent a flow of pahoehoe (fast-moving, smooth or ropy lava) more than 40 miles, The 2.9 cubic miles of lava covered 218 square miles.

"Fluorine gas fell to the land as hydrofluoric acid in Iceland, dissolving the flesh off livestock. Fully half the horses and cattle, as well as three-quarters of the sheep died. Famine set in, the social order broke down and looting was rampant. Eventually, a quarter of Iceland's people died of starvation...."

Folks in Europe didn't have a particularly good time, either. Sulfur dioxide and heat, direct and indirect consequences of the eruption, killed "scores of thousands of deaths," as the article put it.

After the unusually hot summer, came a freakishly cold winter. The Mississippi River froze around New Orleans, Siberia and Alaska had the worst winters they'd experienced in about five centuries.

Compared to the Laki eruption's effects, well: Maybe airline delays aren't quite such a bit deal, after all.

"Machine Gun Twittering:" Probably Not Cool

"Machine Gun Twittering"
Damien at the Speed of Life (June 22, 2010)

"Twitter is both a fun way to network and also a promotion tool for my online writing. In the past 2-3 months I have really applied myself to seeing what it does. I learned how to mass add followers and after that learned I wasn't really compatible with most of them so … mass adding is not cool. Something else is not cool either, which is what I'm getting to in this post..."

"...The other night I shared with my wife how annoying it is when someone I follow 'tweets' in rapid succession. I had some people on my list I dropped because their successive tweets were annoying....."

It's not a long post - and that "machine gun Twittering" could be annoying. Which concerns me, since I do it myself. So, as Damien Riley's wife pointed out, does he.

Maybe you do, too. Like I said, it's a short read - and could be a useful one. I've reminded myself to watch how fast I Tweet tomorrow. We'll see if I listened.
A tip of the hat to rileycentral, on Twitter, for the heads-up on his post.

"Wireless Singularity" - in "Failed Venture"

"Failed Venture – Random Twitter Poem for June 22nd"
Wanderer Thoughts Poetry (June 22, 2010)

"...Failed Venture is a poem dedicated to all people who buy into a sales pitch only to have their own start up or venture fail with no support. It is a poem about disappointment and the struggle of the entrepreneur who isn’t successful. Inspired by..."

" abandoned like a wireless singularity...."

The last two words in that line from the poem, "wireless singularity," jumped off the screen, into my head, and stayed there. Turns out, they're the first two words that Dragon Blogger put together in this poem.

It's another of his 'random' poems - which I've micro-reviewed before.

Related posts:
A tip of the hat to dragonblogger, on Twitter, for the heads-up on his poem.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A History of the Divisive Paperclip


"The fastening of papers has been historical referenced to as early as the 13th century, when people put ribbon through parallel incisions in the upper left hand corner of pages. Later people started to wax the ribbons to make them stronger and easier to undo and redo. This was the way people clipped papers together for the next six hundred years...." left quite a bit out: like the Fay Paper Clip (1867). The article does a fast-forward through:
  • John Ireland (1835)
    • New York physician
    • Inventor of machine to make straight pins
    • Which held papers together until - - -
  • Johan Vaaler (1899)
    • Norwegian inventor - - -
    • Of a paperclip
All of which doesn't seem very "divisive." Johan Vaaler patented his invention in Germany: which wasn't particularly divisive, either. Norway didn't have patent laws in 1899, according to the article.

The paperclip wasn't divisive in 1923, either, the year in which no paperclips were found in King Tutankhamen's tomb.

Somewhere between 1940 and 1945, though, the paperclip was downright divisive. In Norway:

"...During World War II, Norwegians were prohibited from wearing any buttons with the likeness or initials of their king on them. In protest they started wearing paperclips, because paperclips were a Norwegian invention whose original function was to bind together. This was a protest against the Nazi occupation and wearing a paperclip could have gotten you arrested."

There's more to the history of the paperclip. Like Cornelius J. Brosnan, an American, who filed a patent in 1900 for the sort of paperclip he called the Konaclip. Funny: It's really hard to find a Konaclip these days.

That may have something to do with with Gem Manufacturing Ltd., of the U.K. - the company that designed and marketed the 'trombone' paperclip that we're familiar with today.

If this account seems overly-simple: you're right. There's quite a lot that can be written about the history of paperclips. And has been:


One Cat, One Puppy, 30 Seconds of Cute

"Cat and dog...Best friends for ever..."

michkouros, YouTube (December 3, 2007)
video, 0:30

"Cute cat and dog"

More of a puppy, I'd guess - but they are cute.


Another Martian Cave: Discovered by Seventh Graders

"7th-Graders Discover Mysterious Cave on Mars" (June 21, 2010)

"A group of seventh-graders in California has discovered a mysterious cave on Mars as part of a research project to study images taken by a NASA spacecraft orbiting the red planet.

"The 16 students from teacher Dennis Mitchell's 7th-grade science class at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, Calif., found what looks to be a Martian skylight — a hole in the roof of a cave on Mars.

"The intrepid students were participating in the Mars Student Imaging Program at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. The program allows students to frame a research question and then commission a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question...."

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU, via, sued w/o permission)
"California 7th graders discovered this Martian pit feature at the center of the superimposed red square in this image while participating in a program that enables students to use the camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The feature, on the slope of an equatorial volcano named Pavonis Mons, appears to be a skylight in an underground lava tube"

The working assumption now is that the Martian 'skylight' is in the top of a lava tube: the sort of feature we see in places like Hawaii, where there's a volcano nearby.

That pit is a new discovery, but it isn't the first of its kind: there's another, spotted earlier, on Pavonis Mons.

Still, it's an uncommon feature - and one that may give us a look 'inside' Mars. Back to the article:

"...The students have submitted their site to be further imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which could reveal enough detail to see inside the hole in the ground...."

I remember being in seventh grade - and we weren't doing class projects with NASA then, or asking a robot spaceship to take another picture of something we'd found. On Mars.

This is an exciting time to be living in.

Related posts:
Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

Related posts, at

Lemming Tracks: "Gold Rush in the Gulf" Could Clean Up Oil and Boost Economy

" 'Gold Rush in the Gulf:' a Guest Post"
Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind (June 22, 2010)

"Get the oil back and boost the economy of effected regions at the same time. Advertise an all hands on deck approach to the American people, enlist their help, and create a 'gold rush in the gulf'. BP has an opportunity to turn its stocks around, retain customer loyalty, and be a driving force in economic recovery in a time of devastation...."

I think I'd see this as a good idea, even if Mr. McWilliams wasn't my son-in-law. He came up with this idea about a week ago - and today I learned that he'd written what I put in Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind, and sent it around to some political leaders and news organizations.

Seriously: I think he's got a smart way to get money to people living on the coast, and clean up the oil spill.

Monday, June 21, 2010

African Art, Photos, and a Whacking Great Generalization

"The African sculptures mistaken for remains of Atlantis
CNN (June 21, 2010)

"A hundred years ago when German explorer Leo Frobenius visited West Africa and came across some sculpted bronze heads and terracotta figures, he was sure he had discovered remains of the mythical lost city of Atlantis.

"He refused to believe that the sophisticated and ornately carved bronze sculptures were made in Africa.

"In his book, Voice of Africa, Frobenius wrote: 'Before us stood a head of marvellous beauty, wonderfully cast in antique bronze, true to the life, incrusted with a patina of glorious dark green. This was, in very deed, the Olokun, Atlantic Africa's Poseidon.'

" 'I was moved to silent melancholy at the thought that this assembly of degenerate and feeble-minded posterity should be the legitimate guardians of so much loveliness,' he added...."

I don't think there's much doubt, these days, that 19th century Euro-Western cultures weren't as inclusive and insightful as they could have been.

That said, let's remember that Frobenius's book is, as the reporter wrote, a century old:
  • "The voice of Africa: being an account of the travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the years 1910-1912 (1913)"
    Author: Frobenius, Leo, 1873-1938; Deutsche Inner-Afrikanische Forschungs Expedition
    (Internet Archive)

19th-Century Biases, Huck Finn, and Getting a Grip

Parts of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" do a pretty good job of showing the sort of attitude 'proper' people had toward Africans and things African then:
"...'It warn't the grounding—that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head.'

" 'Good gracious! anybody hurt?'

" 'No'm. Killed a [redacted].'

" 'Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt....'..."
Chapter CHAPTER XXXII, "Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens (1885)
That term, [redacted], is probably why "Huckleberry Finn" was banned a couple decades back, when political correctness was in bloom. That, and a certain cluelessness about what the book was saying about [redacted] Jim and 19th-century mores.

In this context, [redacted] means a person whose ancestors came entirely or primarily from Africa. You know: one of those "degenerate and feeble-minded" folks the German author described.

What sets Twain apart from Frobenius is that in "Huckleberry Finn," [redacted] Jim comes across as among the smartest and wisest folks in the story: and certainly as worthy of respect as any of the 'proper' people.
An Exhibition With a Message
This Ife sculpture exhibition has a Message - capital "M:"

"...According to Neil Macgregor, Director of the British Museum, there was a conscious effort to display the Ife sculptures at the same time as an exhibition of Italian Renaissance drawings at the museum because he wanted to highlight the 'relationship between Nigerian culture and the rest of the world.'

" 'We wanted to make the point that nobody, when they learn European art history, studying Italy and Renaissance in the fourteenth, fifteenth centuries, is taught that at exactly the same time in West Africa, artistic production of the same level and the same quality is going on,' he said during a talk on Nigeria at the museum...."
"Nobody, When They Learn European Art History..." - Who's "Nobody?"
Hi, I'm "nobody:" the fellow who learned about African art in courses about European art.

I'm one of the many "nobodies" who sat around me. As I recall, with a few exceptions, we were simply 'not British.'

Maybe British Museum Director Neil Macgregor was thinking exclusively of British students, when he said that nobody learned about African art in European art courses. Maybe the United Kingdom skipped the 'all Africa, all the time' academic fad, back around the seventies and eighties.

Bottom line? I think it's a good idea to study connections and parallels among cultures. But I've also gotten over feeling ashamed and/or bitter over what somebody else did, a century and more ago.
What? European Art History Courses Focusing on European Art?!!
I've been a teacher: it can be challenging to fit the content you're supposed to cover into the class periods of a semester, quarter, or summer session.

Maybe European art history courses in the United Kingdom actually do focus exclusively on European art.

It'd be nice, of course, to push some of the European stuff aside, to make room for art from:
  • Africa
  • India
  • Australia
  • China
  • Polynesia
  • America
    • North
    • South
    • Central
If I left out someone's favorite cultural/ethnic group, by the way: I'm sorry about that. There are so many.

Moving along.

'I don't Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like'

Back to the reporter, Frobenius, and a remarkable art exhibition.

The CNN article's slide show features mostly representational sculptures from Ife: the sort of art that Frobenius and most contemporary Westerners are apt to recognize as 'good' art.

I like well-done representational art, myself. There's been a great deal of art created in many cultures, which is worth studying and takes pains to follow exactly those forms which we see in nature. In some circles, the person who says 'I don't know much about art, but I know what I like,' is considered a boor or a buffoon. My take on the phase is that it's an expression of art appreciation that's latent in most people. That's another topic.

I don't know all that much about Ife culture, but I assume that the British museum has a particular theme or idea in mind, and that the 'life-like' sculptures fit that idea.

Africa and Abstract Art

On the other hand, the biggest contribution of African culture and art to European culture may be what European artists started studying, as gaping holes in the 'degenerate African' model became impossible to ignore.

Take this Songye mask, for example.

It doesn't "look like" a human face. Certainly not in the same way that the Ife sculptures pictured in the CNN article do.

But even by itself, with not hint of scale or position relative to the rest of the world, it, it - looks like a human face. Once recognized as a mask, it's almost impossible to not pick out the eyes and mouth.

Westerners have seen abstract art (good, bad, and atrocious) for generations now: so we're probably not all that surprised or shocked any more. But we wouldn't have gotten the pioneering abstract artists, if they hadn't gotten interested in African art.

I'm getting off-topic here, but not by much.

On Tour - in "Various States"

I'd like to see this Kingdom of Ife collection, myself: and might have an opportunity, if I can figure out where it's going to be, later this year. The CNN article has this tantalizing paragraph:

"...The sculptures are currently on display at the British Museum in London until 4th July and will move to various states in the United States from September...."

Which states? When? Good question. If you've got an answer, I'd appreciate your sharing it in a comment - with a link to wherever the exhibition is, if possible. Thanks in advance.

Related posts ('sculpture' is the connecting idea):More:

Looking Down on the Auroras

"Aurora Australis Observed from the International Space Station"
Image of the Day, Earth Observatory, NASA (June 21, 2010)

"Among the views of Earth afforded astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), surely one of the most spectacular is of the aurora. These ever-shifting displays of colored ribbons, curtains, rays, and spots are most visible near the North (aurora borealis) and South (aurora australis) Poles as charged particles (ions) streaming from the Sun (the solar wind) interact with Earth's magnetic field.

"While aurora are generally only visible close to the poles, severe magnetic storms impacting the Earth's magnetic field can shift them towards the equator...."

The ISS was over the Southern Indian Ocean, 220 miles / 350 kilometers up, when an astronaut took this photo.

(from ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA, used w/o permission)

There's a much larger image on the NASA website, with finer detail. And a few stars.

(from NASA, used w/o permission)

Also a short description of auroras.

It's an impressive photo: one of many taken from the ISS.

Related posts:More:

FCC, Internet, Rules, Technology, and Business

"FCC Will Tame the Internet—Or Kill It"
Dennis Kneale, CNBC Media & Technology Editor, CNBC (June 21, 2010)

"For almost two decades the U.S. government has kept its meddlesome mudhooks off the Internet, freeing it to spread its kudzu-like tendrils into the global economy. And it worked.

"The FCC took a big step this week to end all of that. For the first time, the Federal Communications Commission proposes using a set of 75-year-old phone regulations to oversee the Net of the 21st century and have a say in the prices that companies like AT&T and Comcast can charge. And set rules for what traffic they must carry. (Comcast is acquiring a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal' CNBC's parent company. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.)

"Some telecom execs say the FCC's agenda is downright radical. It could thwart high hopes for the wireless Internet...."

The CNBC article/op-ed focuses on the commercial & business aspects of this latest FCC action - naturally enough. The Lemming thinks that folks who like to use the Internet, either as viewers or content providers, should be interested.

Very interested.

The Rules Won't Let You? Re-Define Them

Back to the CNBC piece:

"...Two months ago the DC appeals court unanimously agreed: the FCC had no such authority.

"What to do? Make it up!

"To do that, the FCC proposes a nifty little change in definitions. It wants to re-classify the Internet and say it no longer is an 'information service'—which gets a light hand. Now the Net shall be called a 'telecommunications service'—a phone service, basically, that gets subjected (and subjugated) to a lot more government oversight...."

So the bureaucrats on Capitol Hill want to protect the masses from Big Internet? What could possibly go wrong?

See:I'm not entirely sure that I go along with (AT&T's chief executive) Randall Stephenson's argument that today's FCC move is archaic because it uses a 1934 regulation that applied to rotary dial phones. On the other hand, quite a lot has happened since 1934: and I get suspicious when someone in authority starts re-writing definitions. Particularly definitions used in regulations that affect what the rest of us will be allowed to see - and how we'll be allowed to see it.

This latest FCC effort isn't censorship: it's more of an attempt to stop 'Big Internet' from setting up more effective, faster, communications channels. For the good of the common citizens, I'm sure - but as a common citizen, I'm not at all convinced that making it harder to upgrade information technology's infrastructure is a good idea.

But then, I'm one of those folks who don't want to be protected from the 'wicked, wicked web' - which the Lemming has said before.

Related posts:

Power From the Sun and Boiled Potatoes! Smart Clothing! Dark Lasers! Robots Delivering Pills!

"Tech universe: Monday, June 21" (June 21, 2010)

"A round-up of the latest technology news from around the globe.

"MORE LIGHT THAN HEAT: The average solar cell loses most of its electrons as heat, so it's only...

"...MOOD-ALTERING CLOTHES: Sensors in your clothing can assess your mood then send you messages, music or video to perk you up or...

"...PILLS ON WHEELS: The new Forth Valley Royal Hospital will have a fleet of robots delivering pills...

"...DARK LASERS: Lasers come in red, green, and blue. Now there are dark lasers too....

"...DON'T EAT YOUR VEG: The latest in green power sources is...."

The New Zealand Herald's Tech universe column is sort of like this blog, only focused on technology. If today's sample is typical: pretty cool technology.

Something the Lemming appreciates in Tech universe are the links to articles in other publications. Someone at the New Zealand Herald's got it right: online, you don't want to try trapping your readers. Folks like links: and most of us know where the 'back' button is, and aren't afraid to use it.

That bit about mood altering clothes? That's from Tech News Daily: "'Smart' Clothing Responds to Wearer’s Emotions," Tech News Daily (June 8, 2010) What's described in Tech News Daily looks promising, but I think Tech Universe's Miraz Jordan has a point: we don't want clothes that are too smart.

Consider: you put on a shirt, and it says "surely you don't suggest I be seen with those pants!"

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming's been Taking a Break

If you follow this blog, you probably expected to see two of today's posts up by this time. There's a simple explanation for this break in routine.

Yesterday was Father's Day, and today the Lemming is taking a break.

I decided to enjoy being a dad - and to take part of Monday morning off.

That was then, this is now: and I've got an item or two that look post-worthy. Stick around. This shouldn't take long. (Make that 'this shouldn't take more than a half-hour or so. The Lemming is feeling Mondayish moreso than usual today.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Telluride: "The Bluegrass Festival," According to Them

37th Telluride Bluegrass Festival | June 17-20, 2010 in Telluride, CO

"...The Summer Solstice...

"The 37th Annual Telluride Bluegrass once again coincides with the Summer Solstice; the longest day of the year; the beginning of summer. It's a magical time of sun and light, when the the high country of Colorado puts away its skis and grabs hiking boots, kayaks, and a low-back festival chair to take in 'Bluegrass.'

"The 2010 artist lineup provides another magical four days of only-in-Telluride performances. Beloved Festival veterans and inspiring new talent. The Telluride royalty of virtuosic bluegrass superpickers, soulful songwriters, and some of the biggest stars in the rootsy Americana landscape - including Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Brandi Carlile, Court Yard Hounds (featuring Emily Robison and Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks), and Dave Rawlings Machine (featuring Gillian Welch).

"The festival is built around the many artists that have defined the Telluride Bluegrass sound. The weekend is sprinkled with inspired sets from Peter Rowan & Crucial Country..."

If you're reading this, odds are pretty good that you're not in Telluride: and probably too far away to get there for the last day of the festival.

The writeup on makes the Telluride Festival sound like the best thing since sliced bread. Well, there's always next year. Where there are 37, the Lemming's guess is that there will be a 38th.

'Toy Story 3' - Buzz? No, Really: That was in the Headline

"'Toy Story 3' lives up to buzz with $41M opener"
The Associated Press (June 19, 2010)

" 'Toy Story 3' has become the favorite plaything for moviegoers as the animated sequel heads to a $100-million-plus opening weekend.

"The latest hit from Disney's Pixar Animation took in $41 million in its first day Friday...."

I know that "buzz," in this context, can mean "a confusion of activity and gossip." (Princeton's WordNet) But considering that a key character in the Toy Story movies is Buzz Lightyear of Star Command - that headline is one of the more delightfully painful plays on words it's been my pleasure to read in the news for a long time.

I'm planning to see "Toy Story 3" soon, by the way: and looking forward to the experience.

Lemming Tracks: Father's Day, 2010

In case you missed it, here's a link to this blog's 2009 post about Father's Day:The Lemming's taking it easy today. I'll be back in about an hour, maybe with something a little more up-to-date.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

National Kazoo Day is January 28: No Kidding

National Kazoo Day
"January 28, 2010"

"National Kazoo Week - January 25-31, 2010"

"National Kazoo Day 2010 will be celebrated on Thursday, Jan. 28th which is the fourth Thursday of January.

"Most Kazoo aficionados know that National Kazoo Day may be celebrated on January 28, or the fourth Thursday of January, or any other day during that period deemed convenient by kazooists.

"May you all enjoy a HAPPY NEW KAZOO YEAR!

"This year we commemorate the 160th birthday of the Kazoo -- an American instrument invented in the 1840s in Macon, GA. Legend tell us the kazoo was invented by collaboration of Alabama Vest (American black) and Thaddeus Von Clegg (German-American clockmaker)...."

This is a new one to me: and I haven't thoroughly researched National Kazoo Day, but there are quite a few references to it online. Which doesn't prove much, one way or the other. Here's some of what I found:
"National Kazoo Day"
Holiday Insights

"When: Always January 28th

"People young and old love Kazoos. Kazoo Day celebrates the the joy of this musical instrument.

"Alabama Vest of Macon Georgia made the first Kazoo in the 1840's. Actually, he conceived the Kazoo, and had Thaddeus Von Clegg, a German clockmaster make it to his specifications.

"Commercial production of the Kazoo didn't occur until many years later in 1912. Manufacturing was first started by Emil Sorg in Western New York. Sorg joined up with Michael McIntyre, a Buffalo tool and die maker. Production moved to Eden, NY where the factory museum remains today...."
"Humming Right Along: The Kazoo Marks 160th Birthday"
AolNews (January 27, 2010)

"This year marks the 160th anniversary of the kazoo, and perhaps no musical instrument is more universal – and universally misunderstood.

"Although the instrument has been used by such greats as Jimi Hendrix on 'Crosstown Traffic,' the ease with which any amateur can toot on the buzz-worthy instrument has led to it being unfairly maligned.

"As one old joke goes: 'What do you call a kazoo player with a union card?'

" 'Optimistic.'..."
"The Kazoo: A Historical Perspective"
HMT - Instruments > Music Articles

"The following piece was rescued from the bottom of a box of packing material in the shed in back of the House of Musical Traditions, inside a very beat up and moldy carton marked "North County Dulcimers." And indeed, Robert D. Hutchinson of North Country Dulcimers bravely wrote us in July of 2002 to claim authorship. The box has since been consigned to the trash heap. We thought the article deserved a slightly better fate.

"While major kazoo research has been minimal for the past decade, those willing to explore the record will find the kazoo to have a long and fascinating history. Though some revisionist Biblical scholars would have kazoos, not trumpets, bringing down the walls of Jericho for the Israelites, substantial rumor place the origins of this instrument with the Roman military kazoo bands that led Caesar's legions against the hordes of Vercingetorix in 52 BCE. The record fades, of course, with the decline of Rome; however, through the oral tradition, we can follow the development of the kazoo within the Kingdom of Charlemagne, along the Mediterranean Crusade routes, and even across the English Channel with the more lyrical vassals of William the Conqueror...."
Before anybody has a stroke: the African/William the Conqueror/anti-Vercingetorix stories aren't necessarily at odds with each other. Take a look at a globe: Europe (where France and Rome are) is just north of Africa. All that separates the two areas is the Mediterranean. Which has known shipping for thousands of years.

People move around. Often for commercial purposes. It shouldn't be any surprise that essentially the same simple musical instrument was made in two adjacent areas.

Me? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that kazoos were invented in Assyria. Or China.

The one thing I'm sure of is that they're easy to play - and fun.

Lemming Tracks: BP Well, "Gross Negligence," a Contract - and an Alternative

Isn't the Lemming "apathetic?" I've explained that before. There's a really bad oil spill - more like a leak - in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of it's from a British Petroleum drilling rig that blew up, killing 11 people. But not all: the Ocean Saratoga rig's contributing a little. (June 8, 2010)

Someone Must be Blamed: How About Those People Over There?

But let's pretend that the Gulf oil mess is all the fault of that bunch of foreigners, British Petroleum: BP for short. That's what the federal government seems to be doing.

And so is at least one of BP's business partners:

"Anadarko blasts BP for 'reckless actions' " (June 18, 2010)

"...Anadarko, which owns 25% of the Macondo well where the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling, signed a contract saying that it would pay a quarter of the costs associated with the well, unless BP is found guilty of gross negligence...."

Take note of that: Anadarko is off the hook, if the "gross negligence" tag sticks to British Petroleum.

Gulf Oil Cleanup Costs

Let's see what the latest guess at what the bill for cleanup may be.

No, never mind the bill. Let's see what the fine may be.

"Day 59: The Latest on the Oil Spill"
The New York Times, U.S. (June 18, 2010)

"...The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit on Friday against BP, seeking monetary penalties for the oil spill under the Clean Water Act. The group, which sued in federal court in New Orleans, said that if the spill was found to be 'the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct,' it should be assigned the maximum penalty set out by the federal act, which is a fine of $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled. If the spill continues through August, the center calculated that BP's liability will be about $19 billion, which would be paid into the United States Treasury...."
[emphasis mine]

That "$19 billion," written as a number, is $19,000,000,000. That's a whole lot of money. Even for the United States Treasury.

I see that "gross negligence" shows up in The New York Times' article, too.

Can't say that I blame Anadarko Petroleum for wanting British Petroleum to be guilty of "gross negligence." 25% of $19,000,000,000 is - let's see - $4,750,000,000. Even for a "Big Oil" company, that's a lot of zeroes.

That $19,000,000,000 figure is probably what's behind the "20 billion" we've been reading in the news lately:

"$20 billion escrow fund a positive outcome for BP"
International Business Times (June 17, 2010)

Anadarko Petroleum?

Anadarko Petroleum? They're American - and award-winning. With corporate headquarters in Woodland, Texas. (Anadarko Petroleum Corp - Office Locations)

The Anadarko headquarters building is green, too:

"In 2009, Anadarko's corporate headquarters in The Woodlands, Texas earned LEED Certification for its energy-efficient design and updates - making it the first office complex in The Woodlands to earn this designation." (Anadarko)

A Piece of the Action - And an Alternative

It could be worse: British Petroleum could be facing the possibility that it's executives would be hung, drawn, quartered, and finally have their heads stuck on pikes in front of the White House.

As it is, the company will almost certainly be forced to hand over at least $19,000,000,00 to the United States Treasury over the next few years.

That may not seem like a lot of money, but BP's annual profits were $25,124,000,000 in 2009. After taxes, that was $16,578,000,000. (Annual Financials for BP PLC, MarketWatch) That's less than that $19,000,000,00 piece of the action that the feds seem to want.

Yes, BP makes a lot of money. Look at it this way, though: how would you pay a fine that was more than what you earn, after taxes? That's what British Petroleum will almost certainly wind up doing.

Maybe I'm pessimistic, but I don't see the U.S. Treasury letting a windfall like that $19,000,000,000-plus dollars get away from them.
Bounty on Oil: A Common-Sense Alternative?
Between that 'walruses of the Gulf' report and what's been coming out about BP's dicey cost-cutting, I don't doubt that the company is at least partly responsible for the oil that's fouling the Gulf.

And, I think they should pay for the cleanup. More than that, I think they should help out the folks along the Gulf whose jobs have been directly and indirectly affected by the spill - and by the feds' daft decision to shut down all wells. Even the ones that are working.

Put a bounty on spilled oil.

The idea isn't mine, but I wrote a post about it in another blog:Essentially, the idea is to have BP pay people who collect and deliver oil that's loose on and near the Gulf.

That would penalize BP - although not to the 'off with their heads' extent that some might want - and more importantly it would get money into the hands of folks who live along the gulf.

The downside, as I see it, to the 'bounty' idea is that it doesn't give a piece of the action to the feds. Maybe the U.S. Treasury could fine the folks collecting the petroleum for something.
More from the news:

"Anadarko blasts BP for 'reckless actions' " (June 18, 2010)

" 'The mounting evidence clearly demonstrates that this tragedy was preventable and the direct result of BP's reckless decisions and actions,' Anadarko chief executive Jim Hackett said in a statement issued late Friday.

"Anadarko Petroleum, a minority partner in the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico, blamed BP for 'reckless' behavior, seeking to distance itself from the worst oil spill in US history.

"Anadarko, which owns 25% of the Macondo well where the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling, signed a contract saying that it would pay a quarter of the costs associated with the well, unless BP is found guilty of gross negligence...."

"Day 59: The Latest on the Oil Spill"
The New York Times, U.S. (June 18, 2010)

"BP Makes a Change on Response Efforts

Tony Hayward, the public face of BP since oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in April, is stepping away from his daily involvement in the company's response efforts. Mr. Hayward, who will remain as BP's chief executive, will hand off the duties of overseeing the daily spill operations to Robert Dudley, an American oil executive who has been a managing director of BP since 2009. The change came a day after Mr. Hayward went before a Congressional committee in Washington and received a drubbing from lawmakers who are angry about the slow pace of efforts to stop the oil leak, which has become one of the worst environmental disasters in American history....

"...The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit on Friday against BP, seeking monetary penalties for the oil spill under the Clean Water Act. The group, which sued in federal court in New Orleans, said that if the spill was found to be 'the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct,' it should be assigned the maximum penalty set out by the federal act, which is a fine of $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled. If the spill continues through August, the center calculated that BP's liability will be about $19 billion, which would be paid into the United States Treasury...."

"$20 billion escrow fund a positive outcome for BP"
International Business Times (June 17, 2010)

"Credit analysts see the negotiated $20 billion escrow fund as a positive outcome for BP because it reduced a significant amount of uncertainty and stretched the payments over 3.5 years.

"The terms include $20 billion set aside in an escrow fund to pay for damages and $100 million in a separate fund to help oil workers who lost their jobs. In addition, BP has agreed cancel dividends for the rest of 2010.

"For the $20 billion fund, BP will pay $3 billion in the third quarter of this year, $2 billion in the fourth quarter, and then $1.25 billion per quarter until the full amount is exhausted. Meanwhile, before the fund reaches $20 billion, BP will set aside U.S. assets to 'assure' payments...."

One Minute, 23 Seconds of Cute

"Baby skunk leg wiggle"

Amphibiansunrise, YouTube (May 28, 2009)
video, 1:23

"This baby skunk is one of a litter of three, and is now about three and a half weeks old. He has just been fed and is enjoying some grooming from 'mom' (who has had her pre-exposure rabies shots. Never handle wild animals unless you have been trained - even if they are adorable). Physical touch is beneficial when the babies are very young, but since this skunk will be released into the wild when he is older, it will soon be 'hands off' so that he doesn't become too tame or friendly towards people."

Looks like dogs aren't the only creatures that'll start 'scratching' with the rear leg, when the ribs are rubbed. I think my favorite moment is when the little skunk's tail is tucked up toward his nose, and he settles down - apparently for a snooze.

That's good sense, by the way, about rabies shots and handling wild animals. They can be very appealing - but they don't have the breeding and conditioning that domestic critters do.

I've heard of folks making (de-scented) skunks into pets, but I'm just as glad that this little fellow will be released.

There's a pretty good writeup on skunks on the Minnesota DNR website:
  • "Skunks"
    MN Department of Natural Resources Home > Nature > Animals > Mammals

JAXA's Ikaros Sets Sail for Venus

"World's First Solar Sail Photographed in Deep Space " (June 18, 2010)

"A tiny space camera has snapped amazing photos of the world's first solar sail spacecraft to voyage into deep space on an interplanetary mission for Japan.

"The solar sail vehicle, named Ikaros, took the opportunity for a self-portrait by deploying a free-floating cylindrical camera just 2.4 inches (6 cm) in both width and height. In the photos, the Ikaros sail shines like a gleaming silver ship in a sea of black space...

"...Ikaros, short for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun, launched in late May and deployed its solar sail in early June to become the first space mission ever propelled only by sunlight. The mission was designed and built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)...."

Looks like days of sailing ships are coming back. Sort of.

The idea of using sunlight to sail around the Solar system is decades old: It's gratifying to see someone going ahead and making the idea a practical reality.

In addition to the solar sail that provides propulsion, Japanese engineers have solar cells mounted on Ikaros, and will be monitoring how much power they generate. It may be practical to use sunlight to power ion rocket engines on vehicles - maybe in combination with solar sails.

That would be an echo of the early 19th century, when ships like the Savannah were driven with hybrid steam/sail propulsion systems.

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