Monday, February 28, 2011

Four Ships Docked at the ISS

"A Space First: Spaceships From 4 Different Fleets Linked Together"
Denise Chow, (February 26, 2011)

"When NASA's shuttle Discovery arrived at the International Space Station Saturday (Feb. 26), it made some space history: It marked the first time ever that spaceships from four different space agencies were docked together at the same time.

"The historic moment occurred at 2:16 p.m. EST (1916 GMT), when Discovery arrived at a docking port on NASA's Harmony module, a multi-port hub on the space station. The shuttle joined two Russian Soyuz space capsules and three robotic space freighters (from Europe, Japan and Russia) that were also docked to the orbiting lab.

" 'That that's about as many different visiting vehicles as you can imagine,' Discovery astronaut Alvin Drew radioed Mission Control in Houston before the docking...."

(NASA TV, via, used w/o permission)
"NASA's space shuttle Discovery is shown docked to the International Space Station shortly after arriving on Feb. 26, 2011. The gold spacecraft at the bottom of this view is Japan's HTV-2 spacecraft. CREDIT: NASA TV"

HTV-2 is a robot, by the way. This is definitely not the Lemming's 'good old days,' when robots in 'the future' were generally imagined as looking a bit like Star Wars' C3PO - and many assumed that space flight needed the human touch for all but the simplest missions.

Today, we've got over a half-dozen spaceports here in America, many more around the world, and at least one commercial outfit getting ready to offer rental property in orbit. And quite a number of next-generation freighters either in service or on the drawing boards.

Speaking of C3PO, there's the humanoid (well, half-humanoid) robot that Discovery delivered on this run. Not as bright as the Star Wars character, and that's another topic.

Related posts:More:More:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hellgrammite: A Lake, a Character, and a - Thing

"Hellgrammite (Dobsonfly Larvae) (Corydalus cornutus)"
Texas Parks and Wildlife

"Other Names
"Eastern Dobsonfly

"Hellgrammites grow to a length of 2.75 inches (7 cm). They have yellowish to brown, stout, segmented, caterpillar-like bodies, large pinching mandibles, six legs on the thorax, eight feathery appendages on the abdomen, and four claws at the rear of their abdomen.

"Life History
"Hellgrammites consume aquatic insects and small invertebrates, and are eaten by fish, frogs, other aquatic predators. They are nocturnal (active at night). Hellgrammites are also poor swimmers, but voracious predators. To catch prey, they hide under large rocks and other shelter in fast flowing stretches of streams, creeks and small rivers and attack prey as it swims or crawls past.

"It can take up to three years before they reach sexual maturity. Mating begins immediately after emergence from the pupae stage as dobsonflies, from April through May. Up to 3,000 eggs are contained in each egg mass. Eggs are produced from May through August. Females lay circular egg masses at night on rocks, leaves, trees, bridges and other suitable sites that hang over water. When the egg masses dry, they look chalky and white...."

Hellgrammite is also the name of a lake in California, and a character in DC Comics.

This post emerged when the Lemming remembered Pootwaddle, a character - and a brand of cigarettes - played by members of Spike Jones' City Slickers: which is another topic. Topics.

Vaguely-related posts:More:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Solar Superstorm and the North American Power Grid: A Heads-Up

" 'Monster' Solar Storm Erupts On the Sun"
Tariq Malik, (February 26, 2011)

"The sun unleashed a powerful flare Thursday (Feb.24) that - while not the strongest solar storm ever seen - let loose a massive wave of magnetic plasma in a dazzling display.

"The solar flare kicked up a huge, twisting tendril of plasma that scientists call a solar prominence. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the flare in an eye-catching video, with mission scientists calling the eruption a 'monster prominence.'

" 'Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface,' NASA scientists wrote in a statement released Friday (Feb. 25)..."

There's even a video, complete with mood music:

"Sun Whips Out Massive Flare"
video, 1:05

So, scientists are interested in something that folks can't see without special equipment. They call it a 'monster prominence,' and have cool video: but really, what's the big deal?

After another one of these big flares, folks might see auroral displays. Big ones. Spectacular. Even near Earth's equator. That's happened before, back in 1859.

If you're living in a place like New York City or Seattle, you probably don't see auroras all that much. City lights drown them out, along with all but the brightest stars.

During the coming cycle of maximum solar activity, you'd stand a chance of seeing the show even in the heart of Manhattan: weather permitting. There's a chance that the power grid in your part of the world would have been knocked offline. And would stay that way for months. Maybe a year.

Or, maybe not. Y2K demonstrated, in the Lemming's opinion, how technical issues can be dealt with - before they become crises. When legacy software changed the year from 99 to 00, a few folks were affected: but the worst-case scenario didn't happen. I've discussed Y2K before. (April 22, 2010)

Unlike some of the weirder assertions the Lemming has run across, warnings that a major solar flare could affect the power grid make sense. Something very much like what's coming has happened before.

Solar Flares: 2011 isn't 1859

Back to that article:

"...Strong solar flares aimed at Earth can disrupt satellites and power grids, as well as pose a hazard to astronauts on spacecraft. They can also spark dazzling shows of the northern lights, or aurora borealis.

"The threat of solar flares to satellites and infrastructure has been gaining notice among decision makers lately. Last week, Jane Lubchenco – the chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – told a gathering of scientists that the United States must take steps to protect assets from potentially dangerous space weather events...."

That still doesn't sound too serious. Words like "satellites" and "infrastructure" might make it seem like a major solar flare would be a concern to a few scientists and techno-nerds, but not to many other folks.

Since folks like Lubchenco are starting to get the word out that weather in the Solar system affects what we do on Earth, maybe the next really big flare won't do all that much damage.

On the other hand: there's what happened in 1859.

You won't find any mention of the Great Blackout of 1859, because we didn't have a continent-spanning power grid then.

There were telegraph lines, though.

"The Perfect Solar Superstorm"
Sky and Telescope p. 29 (February 2011)

"...Humanity was just beginning to develop a dependence on high-tech systems in 1859. The telegraph was the technological wonder of its day. There were no high-power electrical lines crisscrossing the continents, nor were there sensitive satellites orbiting Earth. There certainly was not yet a dependence on instantaneous communication and remote sensing of Earth's surface. At present, when the sun is ramping up its activity in Solar Cycle 24, we need to ask ourselves: What would happen to our 21st-century world if a solar storm as severe as those in 1859 were to strike today?

"The Sun-Earth Connection

"The 1859 auroras were the visible manifestation of two intense magnetic storms that occurred near the peak of the 10th sunspot cycle. On September 1st, the day before the onset of the second storm, British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington observed an outburst of 'two patches of intensely bright and white light' from a large group of sunspots near the center of the Sun's disk. The outburst lasted 5 minutes and was also observed by Richard Hodgson from his home observatory near London. Carrington noted that the solar outburst was followed the next day by a geomagnetic storm, but he cautioned against inferring a causal connection between the two events.

"Contemporary observers such as American astronomer Daniel Kirkwood recognized the dazzling auroral displays, magnetic disturbances, and telegraph disruptions between August 28 and September 4, 1859 as spectacular manifestations of a 'mysterious connection between the solar spots and terrestrial magnetism.' Several scientists had proposed such a connection earlier in the decade based on the regular observed correspondence between changes in Earth's magnetic field and the number of sunspots. By the mid-1860s, Hermann Fritz in Zürich and Elias Loomis at Yale University would furnish convincing evidence of a link between auroras and the sunspot cycle...."

There's quite a bit more in the article, like the discovery of coronal mass ejections in the 1970s. That gave researchers the link between what happens on the sun, and electromagnetic phenomena here on - and near - Earth.

Quite a bit later, on page 33, there's an explanation for why a Solar flare could do bad things to electrical power systems here on Earth. It has to do with a five-dollar phrase, electromagnetic induction. Basically, moving stuff that can conduct electricity through a magnetic field sets up a current in the stuff. Moving a magnetic field around stuff that conducts electricity does the same thing.

It's the physics behind our AC and DC generators.

Big Solar Flare: How Bad Could That Be?

Here's what a King-Kong-Size Solar flare could do, when its effects hit Earth's magnetic field:

"...Auroral currents from space weather induce powerful, fluctuating direct currents (DC) in electrical power grids. These currents flow through large extra high-voltage transformers and can cause the transformers to saturate and overheat. This saturation can be severe enough to cause network-wide voltage-regulation problems, which can lead to widespread blackouts. The most intense current flows can burn out transformers in a matter of minutes...."

Let's say that major solar storm comes, and sets off something like the 1989 Québec blackout. Except this time the disruption isn't contained. Look closely at that graphic, and you'll see a gray area that doesn't cover the entire United States, east of the Mississippi, and another that hardly affects California at all, apart from a little slice of the northern counties. Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho are affected, though: plus parts of Montana, Canada, and a few other places.

Those gray areas are where extra high-voltage (EHV) transmission lines and major power substations would convert magnetic energy from a Solar storm into electricity, overloading EHV transformers. Overloading and - quite likely - damaging the things permanently.

EHV transformers aren't the sort of thing they carry in hardware stores, and we aren't set up to manufacture new ones all that fast: there just hasn't been demand for them. (Sky and Telescope, p. 34 (February 2011))

Only a little over 130,000,000 people live in those gray areas. But if the sort of catastrophic failure of the power grid that Sky and Telescope discuss happened, they could be without power for months. Maybe a year.

I don't think the folks living in Seattle, Spokane, Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York City, and all the rest, would be too happy about being left in the dark. Particularly if it's a cold winter.

Panic? Hardly

If you follow this blog, you've probably caught on that the Lemming doesn't take most 'and we're all gonna die' pronouncements all that seriously:
On the other hand, unpleasant things have happened from time to time: like the Krakatoa eruption and Mt. St. Helens (June 3, 2010); The 2010 hurricane in Haiti (November 6, 2010); and those are just in the last few centuries.

Prepare? Sounds Like a Plan

Large-scale power outages in North America have happened before. The more notable ones include:
Right now, with what looks to be a strong Solar maximum on its way, the odds are that the next major blackout will be caused, at least in part, by a major solar flare.

Even if we're lucky during this cycle, there's no reason to assume that the Sun will stop being a mildly variable star. Not any time soon, at least. It's the old 'ounce of prevention' thing.

Back when Y2K was coming, folks with computers and good sense saw to it that older software wouldn't raise havoc by calculating years based on the last two digits, instead of all four. The Lemming thinks the same principle applies now: folks who look after power supplies know - or should know - what's coming, and are probably working out ways to keep a solar-generated power surge from turning out the lights.

Either that, or there will be a whole lot of folks learning why they need electricity in the next few years.

In the Lemming's opinion.

Related posts:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Now You, Too, Can Grow Mushrooms: In the Office?!

"Most Dangerous Object in the Office: Mushroom Box Mini Growing System"
Aaron Rowe, Wired Magazine (February 2011)

"Man, the gradual decriminalization of marijuana is really taking all the fun out of indoor agriculture. So we’re shelving our hydroponic systems in favor of an earthier new future: mushrooms. The housing, grow light, and clay pellets in this DIY kit are designed for foodie fungi - enokis, shiitakes, and so on...."

There's a video, too:

Turns out, it takes four to six weeks to grow mushrooms: from "spore inoculation to fruiting."

The Lemming isn't sure just how dangerous this mushroom growing kit would be: providing that one was sure to get safe, edible fungus. And didn't work in an office with a health nut, neat freak, or lawsuit-averse supervisor.

Not that the Lemming thinks that the little fungi would necessarily be a health hazard: or a beachhead for the mushroom people.

Quite a variety of mushroom growing kits are available:
Related (?) posts:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People With Email: 10 Easy Points

"How to Be a Jerk in E-mail"
Eric Griffith, (February 23, 2011)

" 'Friends' are for social networks. But e-mail is for everyone, even enemies, frenemies, family, and co-workers, of course. E-mail remains the killer app of Internet communications for one reason: you can't really do anything wrong in e-mail. Seriously, follow these ten tips and you might end a marriage or two, lose your livelihood, or look like a complete and utter fool, but that won't be your fault. It's e-mail, where anything goes, you can do what you want, and so-called 'netiquette' doesn't apply. Right?

"Uh...okay. If you buy that, then keep reading, [insert insult here]. We're sure you'll take it all to heart.

"1. Never BCC
"You should always put every e-mail address in the "To" field, especially if you're mailing to your entire address list—and that goes double if you're at work. CC'ing folks only makes them feel unworthy. And using the BCC, well, that's just plain rude. Why not put it all out there? Don't you want all your recipients to be friends with each other?...

Eric Griffith wrote "How to Be a Jerk..." with tongue firmly in cheek, and the Lemming thoroughly enjoyed it. Your experience may vary.

And now, for those who need help being jerks, here's a sample of that advice:

"...2. Always 'Reply All'
"Remember that Super Bowl commercial where the guy was so upset that he might have done a 'Reply All?' Such nonsense. It's best to click 'Reply All' every single time, just to be sure you're covered. That way no one is ever left out. It's particularly important when you write a long-winded diatribe about the monumental stupidity of a cubicle neighbor…or your boss.

"3. Write a Book
"Do not keep to just one topic in an e-mail. What a waste. It's always best to fit in as many bullet points as possible. Better yet, eschew bullets for several paragraphs on several topics and clump them together into one gigantic über-missive. The greater the length, the more details, the more topics covered in the e-mail, the better. Bonus: Make the subject line of the e-mail a rant in and of itself....

Actually, the Lemming has used bullet points in emails, and memos: but the 'pick a topic and stick to it' advice is sound. Or, if you're trying to alienate folks: Go ahead and ramble.

Wait a minute - - - the Lemming rambles at times does that mean - - -?

Back to the 'be a jerk' article:

"...4. Don't Sweat Infection
"Sure, others may be chicken about getting a computer virus, but you're not as cowardly and stupid as them, right? Forgo the installation of anti-malware software and feel free to download and click those attachments. All of them. Especially the ones in spam. What's the worst that could happen? Maybe you will actually get some free 'enhancement' pills.

"5. Attach Big Files
"Got a fantastic digital photo of your sleeping cat you want to share?..."

And that's just the first page. Here's what you'll find on the second, with the occasional interjection by the Lemming:


Yes, some folks still use ALL CAPS. or not capsatall and minimalpunctuationmaybeitsbeingcreativelikeeecummings

"...7. Make Esoteric Signatures..."

Eric Griffith explains, with a picture. One that's worth, in the Lemming's opinion, a thousand words:

"...8. Pass On Problems..."

The Lemming expected something about those memorable folks who inform you, in clinical detail, what the doctor discovered during their last colonoscopy, or why they never eat meat. Instead, the topic was those wonderful opportunities the Lemming finds now and again: heads of state who need the Lemming's help to move their fortunes around; work-at-home opportunities; that sort of thing.

"...9. Spread Out Your Bad Self..."

On this one, the Lemming agrees: to an extent. One email address is best, for anyone who's serious about getting replies. On the other hand, sometimes it's better to have a 'personal' and a 'business' account - and that's another topic or two.

"10. Write When Enraged..."

The Lemming loves a particular bit of this point: "...You need to get your lizard-brain thoughts down quickly, without thinking it through. It's called catharsis, people, look it up!..."

"Lizard-brain thoughts:" That's a wonderful way to describe those knee-jerk, instant reactions that most of us learn to control somewhere before adolescence. In the Lemming's opinion, of course. Then there's that word, "catharsis." The Lemming remembers those balmy days after wig pickers started saying that 'catharsis' was good for you - and before others noticed the mess that catharsis spills make.

Moving on.

The article is fun, a fairly fast read, and full of fanciful philosophizing. Fraught, in fact.

Enough of that.

For what it's worth, the Lemming suspects that quite a few folks are sensible - and don't clog email with what Eric Griffith described. It's like the fellow at a gathering whose voice has two settings: loud; and overbearing.

The Lemming will skip the usual hand-wringing about the appalling state of communication skills and emotional maturity online. You've probably heard it all before.

Besides, it's a beautiful day here in central Minnesota: and the Lemming's not going to rant.

Well, maybe just a little.

Here's something the Lemming ran across, back in 2008:

I found it on a page whose title is 'the disordered clipboard of Giuseppe Mazza,' except it's in Italian. Not the cartoon, the title.


Related posts:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GJ 1214b: Water in the Atmosphere; Close; and No Vacation Destination

"A Steamy Super-Earth?"
Alan MacRobert, Sky and Telescope (November 30, 2010)

"In the latest breakthrough for exoplanet science, a team using one of the European Southern Observatory's 8.2-meter Very Large Telescope reflectors has obtained a crude spectrum for the atmosphere of a super-Earth orbiting a dim red dwarf star 40 light-years away. The planet's upper atmosphere is apparently dominated by steam or cloudy haze.

"The star, 14.7-magnitude GJ (Gliese-Jahreiss) 1214 in Ophiuchus, is 300 times dimmer than the Sun with a spectral type of M4.5. Its planet was discovered in 2009 when the MEarth Project detected the planet's silhouette periodically dimming the star. The planet has 6.5 Earth masses, as determined later by the star's gravitational wobbles, and it circles the little star very closely in just 38 hours. The transits reveal the planet's diameter to be 2.6 times Earth's - making its average density very low, only about a third of Earth's density...."

The Lemming's mentioned GJ 1214b before. (December 2, 2010) The Sky and Telescope article gives a bit more information about the exoplanet - and a little more about where it is. At 40 light years, it's practically in our back yard - by galactic standards.

Finding water in GJ 1214b's atmosphere was possible, given today's technology, because the planet is a transiting exoplanet. Its orbit carries it across GJ1214's face, as seen from Earth.

The water could be water vapor; or high-altitude clouds, or haze.

Analyzing an exoplanet's atmosphere is a big deal. With more of that sort of data, astronomers will be able to start classifying worlds around other stars.

About GJ 1214b, detecting water in its upper atmosphere narrowed the possibilities for what the place is like considerably. Back to the article.

"...Before this observation, astronomers had suggested three possible atmospheres for GJ1214b. The planet could be shrouded by water - which, given its high temperature so close to the star (200ºC; 400ºF), would be in the form of steam. Or it could be a rocky world with an atmosphere of mostly hydrogen obscured by high clouds or hazes. Or it might be a mini-Neptune, with a small rocky core and a deep hydrogen-rich atmosphere, the upper part of which would be clear.

"The measurements clearly show no sign of hydrogen and thus rule out the third option. So the atmosphere is either rich in steam or blanketed by clouds or hazes. The planet's low density, meanwhile, indicates that it's a waterworld.

" 'Although we can't yet say exactly what that atmosphere is made of, it is an exciting step forward to be able to narrow down the options for such a distant world to either steamy or hazy,' says Bean. 'Followup observations in longer-wavelength infrared light are needed to determine which of these atmospheres exists on GJ 1214b.' "

"Waterworld," in this context, doesn't mean that GJ1214b is inhabited by folks who look like Kevin Costner. It's a sort of planet that, according to today's models for planetary formation, could exist. And, given the number of planets we're finding, how common hydrogen and oxygen are, and the size of the universe, probably does exist.

A real waterworld isn't so much covered by water, like Earth, as it is made mostly of water. If GJ 1214b is a waterworld, its ocean could be around 15,000 kilometers deep or more. The planet's around 33,020 kilometers in diameter. Those numbers aren't typos. A waterworld's oceans would be deep.

By comparison, Earth is about 12,700 kilometers in diameter; with the Pacific ocean floor at a depth of around 4.3 kilometers/4,300 meters.

There's serious doubt that life could exist on a waterworld. Life-as-we-know it needs water, but everything from microcritters that live in geysers to polar bears and moss need other elements and compounds, too. Which would be in mighty short supply anywhere in a waterworld, about the ocean floor. Which would probably be solid water. Not the sort of ice that's on the ground here in central Minnesota. More likely ice VII - a (very) high pressure sort of solid water. And that's another topic.

Related posts:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dilbert, Lawyers, and the Lemming

A few minutes ago, the Lemming opined about Big Cheese and a threat to the status quo in America. Looks like the Lemming isn't the only one who's become disenchanted with lawyers, as a group:

Before someone who knows a nice lawyer has a fit, please note: The Lemming knows that quite a few lawyers are honest folks, doing a job that's necessary in most contemporary societies. On the other hand, too many lawyers seem to have realized that other folks can be convinced that they deserve to get money as a compensation for doing something daft and self-destructive.

The Lemming's aware that some lawyers offer their services free of charge, as a public service. On the other hand, the Lemming suspects that there's more than altruism behind those advertisements for class-action lawsuits on national television.

And that's another topic.

Cheeseburger Bill: Minnesota's Shocking Attack on Contemporary Values

"Cheeseburger bill could become law"
Bizarre Bazaar, Action News, (February 22, 2011)

"Don't blame Mickey D's or the King for your gut.

"That's the gist of the "cheeseburger bill" approved by a state House panel in Minnesota.

"The measure would block consumers from suing fast-food chains and other food companies for their weight problems...."

This "Cheeseburger bill" is, in the Lemming's opinion, a shocking attack on values - indeed, on an entire way of life - that has made America what it is today.

If the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act passes, there is no telling what dire consequences may ensue. Imagine, if you will, the horror of someone slamming a car door on their hand - and not being able to sue the dealership that sold them the car.

The "Cheeseburger bill," in the Lemming's opinion, threatens the very foundation upon which today's American culture is based. Should it pass, a concept at the very core of American culture is at risk: the idea that the consequences of every act, no matter how foolish, are not the responsibility of the person directly involved.

Someone has to be blamed, of course: which is where greedy corporations come in. Generations of Americans have been raised with the comforting knowledge that that they, personally, are not responsible for their actions. It's the other guy. Generally someone with enough money to make a lawsuit worthwhile.

And now, some Minnesota politico is attacking this cornerstone of American culture.

The horror! The horror!

A Little More Seriously, Background on the "Cheeseburger Bill"

"'Cheeseburger bill' debate gets reheated in Legislature"
Mark Sommerhauser, St. Cloud Times (February 6, 2011)

"Attention fast-foodies: The 'cheeseburger bill' is back.

"State law would bar people from suing restaurants for causing them to gain weight, under a proposal revived by a Central Minnesota legislator.

"The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act is authored by Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who also calls it 'the cheeseburger bill.'

"Urdahl says his bill would shield restaurants, farmers and others in the food business from frivolous litigation. He points to a 2002 New York case in which people sued McDonald's Corp. after eating its food for years and becoming overweight.

"Fast-food chains have long taken heat from people who say they contribute to the U.S. obesity epidemic. In December, a California mother joined the Center for Science in the Public Interest in filing a class-action complaint against McDonald's, calling for the company to stop using toys to market Happy Meals to children.

"But to Urdahl, such cases are absurd.

" 'If you eat too many cheeseburgers at a fast-food restaurant and get fat, it's not their fault. It's your fault,' Urdahl said.

"Urdahl has introduced his cheeseburger bill repeatedly since 2004. It passed the state House in 2005 before stalling in the Senate. With Republicans now controlling both chambers of the Legislature, Urdahl hopes it will have new life in 2011, after legislators have tackled job-creation and budget issues.

"The proposed liability exemption wouldn't apply if a weight-gain claim were based on certain violations of law, according to the bill.

"Twenty-three other states have passed laws similar to what Urdahl proposes, according to the National Restaurant Association...."

Big Cheese is Victimizing You!

The Lemming has seen the "Cheeseburger bill" described as "frivolous." Maybe it is. It certainly flies in the face of America's habit of suing someone else when things go wrong.

Or, maybe there's more to this "Cheeseburger bill" than meets the eye.

As is well known:
  • Cheese is a fatty food
  • Cheeseburgers are common fare at fast-food businesses
    • As well as other foods high in saturated fats
  • Many foods high in saturated fats contain vegetable oil
  • The "Cheeseburger bill" was introduced by a Republican
  • Republicans are tools of Big Oil
    • As is well known
      • In some circles
You see? It all fits together! We're not just victims of Big Oil!!


No, the Lemming doesn't think so. But lard that silly notion up with enough emotive words and verbal filler: and somebody might buy it.

Isn't the Lemming "Apathetic?"

The Lemming has discussed the name of this blog, and the sense in which it exudes "apathy" before.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery, Names, James Cook, and a Little History

"How Did the Space Shuttle Discovery Get Its Name?"
Denise Chow, (February 21, 2011)

"Twenty-six years after its maiden flight, NASA's space shuttle Discovery towers majestically over the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center here, just days away from embarking on its final spaceflight to the International Space Station.

"Discovery, the oldest of NASA's space shuttles still in operation, is scheduled to launch Feb. 24 to deliver a new storage room, humanoid robot helper and critical supplies to the space station. The orbiter has made more spaceflights than any other in the agency's fleet, and over the course of its illustrious history, its name has become synonymous with the spirit of exploration and human spaceflight.

"So, where did the shuttle's designation come from?

"Discovery was partly named after one of two vessels used by British explorer James Cook during his voyages in the South Pacific in the 1770s. One of these journeys eventually led Cook to discover the Hawaiian Islands. Cook also navigated Discovery to explore the coasts of southern Alaska and northwestern Canada...."

Today's Discovery will carry a medallion from Britain's Royal Society: one struck in honor of Captain Cook. At least, that's the plan.

The Lemming is fascinated by language, names, and how they relate to the human experience: so this account of how ships used by James Cook and Henry Hudson are commemorated by a surface-to-orbit freighter is quite interesting.

To the Lemming. Your experience may vary.

As for Captain James Cook and his expedition: His ships made it back; he didn't. Resolution and Discovery left port in 1776, returning in 1780. Hawaiians killed him in 1779, during a disagreement. My guess is that it had to do with Cook's returning to repair a broken mast, after a breakdown in communications. Cook's decision to grab a Hawaiian in retaliation for the capture of a ship's boat probably didn't help. His hostage was a Hawaiian leader.

Look at it this way: say space aliens snatched the American president. The Secret Service would not take kindly to that. Which is about as close to hand-wringing as the apathetic Lemming will get today.

Which is another topic. Topics.

Somewhat-related posts:

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming is Cutting Back

At this moment, Apathetic Lemming of the North's description reads: "Three micro-reviews, or the occasional rant, daily! (on average, technology and the nature of the universe permitting)"

A few things happened this winter. The Lemming:
  • Caught the flu
    • Or something that acts the same way
  • Reviewed
    • Some 'back burner' projects
    • His inner motives and quirks
  • Fell badly behind in this blog
    • And others
Given time, the Lemming could catch up on the last two and a half months' worth of missed posts. Probably. But that would mean taking time away from other pursuits. More to the point for this blog, it would likely mean lower-quality posts here.

The Lemming doesn't want to do that.

So the Lemming will continue to post in this blog - just not quite so often.

The way things have been going lately, that probably means one post a day. On average, technology, the nature of the universe, and limitations of the Lemming permitting.

Thanks for your patience - and the Lemming plans to be back with something more interesting in a few hours.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lychee Nuts, Litchi Nuts: Either Way, They're Edible

"Lychee Nuts"
Produce Oasis

"(Scientific Binomial Name: Litchi chinensis)...

"...Usage: Eaten raw, out of hand or with other fruits like pineapples, bananas & mangoes. Peeled and pitted lychees make a great addition to fruit cups and fruit salads.

"Selection: Also called litchi nuts or leechee, good-quality lychee nuts will be firm, rough-skinned and have deep-red to brown colored skin. Peel the skin to reveal a fruit that resembles a peeled grape. The fruit covers a smooth brown seed.

"Storage: Once picked lychee nuts retain their color and quality only 3 to 5 days when stored at room temperature...."

What, one might ask, is so special about lychee nuts?

For one thing, it's also spelled litchee. And :


"also li·chee or ly·chee (lē'chē)...."

For another, the Lemming hasn't discussed lychee/litchi/lichee nuts before, apart form a passing mention: "Apathy is Rampant, But Who Cares?" (October 15, 2009).

In that post, the Lemming linked to a page in "The new dietetics: a guide to scientific feeding in health and disease, Volume 1," John Harvey Kellogg (1921, 1923), via Google Books.

If you live in America, and the name "Kellogg" sounds familiar: it should.

John Harvey Kellogg, MD, is the fellow who brought us Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and Tony the Tiger. Indirectly, that is.

Corn Flakes and a Strange Doctor

"John Harvey Kellogg"
Museum of Hoaxes

"Type: Questionable Medicine.
"Summary: John Harvey Kellogg was a brilliant surgeon, the creator of corn flakes cereal, and health faddist who bordered on quackery.
"Posted by: Elliot Feldman

"Brothers John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan invented the breakfast cereal industry. Will Keith Kellogg was the business genius, and John Harvey was the creative genius. In 1906, John Harvey Kellogg left the company after a bitter dispute with his brother about adding sugar to their cereal products. The two brothers never spoke again.

"An acclaimed surgeon, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg went on to devote his life to the Battle Creek Sanitarium and the promotion of healthy living. While many of his ideas and methods were sound and have remained popular to this day, other ideas approached the lunatic fringe...."

"...Despite all the Doctor's legitimate achievements, accusations of quackery soon surfaced.

"Kellogg claimed that 90% of all illnesses originated in the stomach and bowels. Yogurt, both ingested and given as a daily enema, was a central part of his Battle Creek wellness program...."

A yogurt - enema?

You can't make up that sort of thing.

Eugenics and a Ranting Lemming

Dr. Kellogg also didn't seem to approve of the way folks make babies: and had opinions about the results of many of our efforts:

"...From 1914 to 1916, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg sponsored 'Race Betterment Conferences' that supported eugenics and race segregation for 'the preservation of the human race.'..."

The Lemming isn't all that keen on the notion of 'improving the race' by eliminating 'inferior' people. Partly it's having read about what happened at places like Dachau: partly because the Lemming is one of those 'inferior' people.

Between living with a birth defect, and having been used in a medical experiment - the Lemming has something of an attitude on the subject of medical ethics.

And that's another topic, mostly for another blog:

Designing Parking Facilities: There's More to It Than Concrete Slabs

"Parking Basics & Green Strategies" (.pdf)
Ed Rahme, AIA, LEED AP,, via New York (state) Parking Association

"Fundamentals of Parking
"Parking Garage Basics & Green Strategies...

"...Learning Objectives

"Presentation Structure:
• Part I: Size of the Parking Space
• Part II: Circulation: Width of the Traffic Aisle & End Turning Bays
• Part III: Vertical Circulation: Parking & Speed Ramps
• Part IV: Circulation Systems: Single and Double Helix
• Part V: Vehicular Entry and Exit Lanes
• Part VI: Parking Efficiency
• Part VII: Structural Systems
• Part VIII: Concrete Durability
• Part IX: Code Provisions
• Part X: Accessibility
• Part XI: Security
• Part XII: Lighting
• Part XIII: Elevators
• Part XV: Sustainability
• Part XVI: References....

This is a .pdf/Acrobat file - but it looks to the Lemming as if it was converted from something like a PowerPoint presentation.

If you've ever wondered just how wide and long a parking space should be, how much headroom there should be in parking ramps, or how the turning radius of a Toyota Sequoia compares to that of the AASHTO Passenger Car (P) Design Vehicle - this should be a very useful resource.

Some of what's here seems to be specific to New York State building codes - but there's quite a bit that's applicable for most parking lot/garage designs. Or, in the case of why salt is bad for concrete, applicable in places where winters involve ice or snow.

Some of the "sustainability" and "green" stuff is surprisingly practical: plantings on the roof to keep the upper deck cooler (sunlit plants are cooler than sunlit concrete); filtering and recycling storm water; that sort of thing.

Then there's the nifty idea of giving priority to those cute little toy cars with almost enough room inside for the driver. They're probably practical for getting around inside a convention center, or for driving a block or two: provided you don't have to carry much along.

The Lemming lives in central Minnesota. Never mind how energy-efficient those little mini-micro-bitty junior cars are: During winters here, it would hardly be worthwhile searching for one of those things after each snowfall.

What's the Big Deal With Parking Garages?

Folks in America, and a fair number of other places around the world, use powered vehicles to get around. Back in the 'good old days,' when horsepower could be calculated by counting the number of horses attached to a cart, folks didn't have to worry about exhaust fumes.

Manure in the street and the occasional dead horse? That they had to be concerned with. And, unlike exhaust, that stuff didn't just drift away on its own.

Which is another reason why the Lemming doesn't miss the 'good old days' all that much.

Since we use cars in this country, we need some place to put them when they're not carrying us and groceries - or whatever - around. Here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the population density is low enough for us to get by with a parking lane on most streets, and a few parking lots.

In a place like, say, San Francisco, or Albany, new York, that won't work. Now in the more heavily-built-up parts, anyway.

Which is where parking garages come in. Happily, folks have caught on that parking garages don't have to be bug-ugly eyesores - and that the things should be designed with safety and health in mind.

Change, as the Lemming has opined before, happens. And sometimes it's for the better.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

DVR: Hundreds of Hours of News and Entertainment, Stored in an Expensive Paperweight

"Saving the Big Game on Your DVR? Better Think Twice"
David Roth, Playbook, Wired (February 18, 2011)

"When the long-lost broadcast of the first Super Bowl arrived at the Paley Center for the Media in midtown Manhattan, it was in a shopping bag, on reels of two-inch videotape that weighed 20-ish pounds apiece.

"Given that Super Bowl I was played on Jan. 15, 1967, that was the only way a recording of the game was going to get to anyone. Back then, video-recording devices were the size of Sub-Zero refrigerators (and much noisier) and networks routinely taped over things like soon-to-be-historic sports broadcasts in order to save tape stock.

"That even one recording of the first Super Bowl's two national broadcasts survived, then, is something of a fluke event — and one that took 44 years to come to light.

"In the intervening period, the holy grail of NFL game tapes spent 38 years in a Pennsylvania attic, underwent a top-to-bottom restoration in the summer of 2005, and was transferred to Betacam SP video. None of those media, of course, are anyone's idea of state of the art. Super Bowl I's decades in the wilderness are enough to make anyone appreciate that safe, silent digital video recorder sitting by the TV.

"Maybe too much so...."

Here's a key point of the article, in the Lemming's opinion: videotape stored in a hot, dusty attic lasted for decades. Which, apparently, more contemporary recording technology doesn't. At least, not always.

Back to the article.

"...[Mike] Alltmont, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, lost his recording of a game he'd waited his whole life to see, as well as his recording of the anarchic post-game local coverage — 'The live shots of the French Quarter,' he says, 'stuff that, even if you buy the DVD, you wouldn't get that moment' — when his Dish Network DVR conked out last winter. The box was one of what he estimates were four that melted down over a two-year period...."

Acronyms are handy, but require somewhat active reading. DVR might mean "Diploma in Veterinary Radiology," but in this context it stands for "Digital Video Recorder."

There are good reasons for using digital video: "...DVRs are often used to convert video feeds from analog cameras into a digital medium for easier storage and enhanced searching/analytical capabilities." (Alpha Card Security) Today's digital storage devices are also tiny, compared to '60s videotape tech.

But analog data storage isn't dead:

"...The Paley Center (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) is digitizing its massive archives, but it is also moving terabytes of information onto data tape, which uses a supercharged version of the magnetic tape in your moldering VCR cassettes — LTO-5 data tape, the current state of the art, can hold 1.5 terabytes of information. Because the Paley Center does not compress its files for quality purposes, it needs every bit of that storage power — it would take more than 17 standard DVDs to hold an hour of TV recorded to Paley's standards.

"Doug Warner, Paley's director of engineering, acknowledges that relying on actual physical tape creates storage-space issues — kind of an inherent risk when the goal is archiving every hour of television, ever — but he argues that analog technologies have their benefits.

" 'Think about the Super Bowl I tape,' Warner said. 'That sat in an attic for 40 years, extreme heat and cold, basically the worst conditions possible. But we can watch it.' In contrast, he adds, 'if I download a file over FTP and it wasn't uploaded properly, it can become corrupted. Even as a technologist, you can see how fragile data is, relative to the old analog methods.'

"Anyone old enough to have squinted through a third-generation VHS dub knows that there's something to be said for the robust visual splendor of high-def recordings. But factor in the fragility of digital files and a lack of standardization — there are currently more than 10 HD formats in the United States, with no standardization between them — and whoever has Warner's job three decades from now is likely to face some industrial-strength headaches...."

There's more, but the Lemming thinks that's the gist of the article.

Baked Clay to Flash: Five Millennia of Information Technology

About 5,000 years ago, folks in Mesopotamia started recording business transactions on clay tablets. The one in the picture describes a transfer of land. Cuneiform was better, in some ways, than counting on a person's memory. Once the clay had been marked, it was fired in a kiln - providing a tamper-proof record with a shelf life of five millennia and counting.

Particularly when compared to 20th-century paperbacks printed on high-acid paper, that's impressive.

On the other hand, these days we could store a few movies and maybe an encyclopedia in something the size of a cuneiform tablet. Plus, unless the data is copy-protected, we can make copies - lots of copies.

Which has been a major headache for folks who own copyrighted material. And that's another topic.

The problem with those DVR Super Bowl recordings isn't, in the Lemming's opinion, so much a matter of DVR being an 'inferior' data storage method. It's more, again in the Lemming's opinion, a matter of quality control by the manufacturers, purchasing decisions by the end users: and "the innate perversity of inanimate objects," as the Lemming's father used to say.

Somewhat-related posts:

Thursday, February 17, 2011


"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing....

"...Thou dirge

"Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

"Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh, hear!

Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley, via
"...Til day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-like, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye....

Wind, Ted Hughes
"Air Pressure and Wind"
John P. Stimac, Department of Geology/Geography, Eastern Illinois University College of Sciences

"We know that standard atmospheric pressure is 14.7 pounds per square inch. We also know that air pressure decreases as we rise in the atmosphere.

"1013.25 mb = 101.325 kPa = 29.92 inches Hg = 14.7 pounds per in2 = 760 mm of Hg = 34 feet of water...."

There's quite a bit more about air pressure. Quite informative, too.

Then the page turns to wind:

"...Wind results from a horizontal difference in air pressure and since the sun heats different parts of the Earth differently, causing pressure differences, the Sun is the driving force for most winds.

"The wind is a result of forces acting on the atmosphere:
  1. "Pressure Gradient Force (PGF) - causes horizontal pressure differences and winds
  2. "Gravity (G) - causes vertical pressure differences and winds
  3. "Coriolis Force (Co) - causes all moving objects, such as air, to diverge, or veer, to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.
  4. "Friction (Fr) - very little effect on air high in the atmosphere, but more important closer to the ground.
  5. "Centrifugal Force (Ce) - objects in motion tend to travel in straight lines, unless acted upon by an outside force.
"The Net force = PGF + G + Co + Fr + Ce...."

All of which is rather technical.


Which helps the reader understand wind?

The poetry?

The mathematics?

The Lemming thinks the answer is - both.

But not the same sort of understanding.

Wind in Minnesota

The Lemming, sitting by a dark window in central Minnesota, hears wind rubbing against the sky, patting the house with nebulous paws.

A Thought for the Day: About Following Your Dream

"I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're going and hook up with them later."
Mitch Hedberg, Mitch All Together, (American comedian (1968 - 2005))
via The Quotations Page

Windows 7, Hardware, Troubleshooting and an Equivocal Title

"Find Out What's Not Working in Windows 7"
Michael Muchmore, (January 13, 2011)

"You may have problems with hardware you don't even know about. Here's a way to check for these and correct them. I recently had to do a clean install of Windows 7 on a friend's laptop. Easy, right? Boot from the installer disk, and let Windows download all the appropriate drivers.

"Not so fast. What if the very network driver, which allows this downloading of the rest of the drivers, wasn't working? That turned out to be the case with my laptop upgrade.

"Have Windows Automatically Fix Driver Problems

"The first thing to try is Windows 7's automated hardware troubleshooter. Click on the Windows button, and type "fix hardware" into the search bar. The top hit should be "Find and fix problems with devices." Click on this. This will start a Wizard entitled Hardware and Devices. Click Next to have it start detecting problems and checking for missing drivers. The troubleshooter will search through all your installed devices, and for each issue it finds, you'll be offer a choice between Apply this fix, and Skip this fix. It's probably a good idea to choose the first, especially if the troubleshooter appears to have found your network driver...."

That title, "Find Out What's Not Working in Windows 7" can be taken at least two ways. Reading it, the Lemming suspected it meant something like "discover what, in the Windows 7 system, is not working." The Lemming has run into quite a few 'I hate Microsoft because - - -' screeds over the decades: and that sort of thing leaves an impression.

Turns out, the title means 'using Windows 7, discover what is not working.' Obviously, the way Mr. Muchmore phrased it is shorter, easier to read, and much more like your typical headline.

The article is a sort of how-2, with fairly detailed procedures - including what to do if you had the operating system scramble your network driver. That's not the best idea, according to the article, since then you'll find connecting to your network awkward - and that'll make it a trifle challenging to download working drivers from the manufacturer's website.

The Lemming may be back to the article tomorrow: The new computer here has Windows 7 - and no driver at all for the scanner.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cincinnati, Cleopatra, and Big Bone Lick State Park
The Official Tourism Site of the Cincinnati Region

"rediscover your weekend state of mindTM"

"Come for Cleopatra: The Exhibition, Stay for Fountain Square Ice Rink Feb. 17 - Feb. 20...."

That Cleopatra thing is at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. Then there's Big Bone Lick State Park (it's a Pleistocene thing), Bluegrass Motor Sports (not to be confused with the Cincinnati Blues Festival), and the American Sign Museum.

The website's navigation is fairly intuitive - for the Lemming, anyway. Your experience may vary.

Why this interest in Cincinnati? The Lemming's been doing research for a story that may not get written: there have been quite a few of those. Since the story involves a fictional small town in central Minnesota, the Lemming thought of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Which sort of explains why what the Lemming finds intuitive may not work for everyone.

Of 40,000 Class M Stars, 18 Might Come (Sort of) Close

"Solar System 'Nemesis': Nearby Stars Could Pose Threat"
Mike Wall, (February 16, 2011)

"Astronomical detectives have assembled a stellar lineup, identifying a handful of nearby stars that may come close enough to disturb our solar system in the next billion years or so.

"Researchers calculated the orbits of 40,000 low-mass M-dwarf stars and found 18 that may come dangerously close to our cosmic neighborhood in the next billion years. While the chances of this actually happening are probably slim, researchers said, the results could be dramatic.

" 'The probability of an M dwarf running into the sun is essentially zero,' said study lead author John Bochanski of Pennsylvania State University, who presented the results in Seattle last month at the 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. 'But if one just came close, it could still cause comet showers.'..."

"Close" is a comparative term, of course. That chart, showing how close a few nearby stars may come over the next billion or so years, is marked off in kpc, or kiloparsecs. One parsec, or parallax second, is about 3.26 light years, or - a whacking long distance compared to driving down to the grocery.

The astronomers are quite calm about what they've found, since they almost certainly know just how big - and small - the numbers are that they reported. What happens when some movie producer hears what someone said about the "Nemesis" stars - well, there was that '2012' stuff. (November 16, 2009)

Related posts:

Specialty Candle Prototype Video


anoasisproduction, YouTube (February 15, 2011)

[no description]

A prototype - candle?

This is a new twist on the very old craft of candle making. Essentially, wax from the spiral wick's burning flows into the candle's core. Then, about 24 seconds into this time-lapse video, the central wick lights up. Apparently by itself.

What you don't see is the trimming and lighting that took place between two frames. The Lemming's been following development of this sort of candle: which is a new product being developed by the Lemming's son-in-law and daughter.

The video's got a few captions - which go by pretty fast, in the Lemming's opinion, and a nice music track. Again, in the Lemming's opinion. You may think it sounds like 'elevator music:' and the Lemming sort of likes elevator music.

Also Mozart and Daft Punk.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bladderwort: Fastest Slurp in the Pond

"Killer Plant Sucks in Prey at Record Speed"
Jennifer Viegas, Earth News, Discovery News (February 15, 2011)

"Aquatic, meat-eating bladderworts are among the world's best suckers and they have just been named the fastest trapping carnivorous plants, according to a Proceedings of the Royal Society B study.

"Their traps suck in prey in less than a millisecond, making this one of the speediest movements in the entire plant kingdom.

" 'The popular Dionea (Venus fly trap) is one hundred times slower,' co-author Philippe Marmottant told Discovery News...."

The article links to this video:

"The ultra-fast trap of an aquatic carnivorous plant"

PMarmottant, YouTube (February 9, 2011)
video, 3:48

"Aquatic carnivorous bladderworts (Utricularia species) catch prey animals with suction traps. High speed video recordings show that the plant "swallows" its prey in less than a millisecond!..."

The video's narrator probably leaned English as a second language - so be ready for some non-standard syntax. It's a well-done mini-documentary, in the Lemming's opinion.

The Discovery News article tells how the bladderwort slurps so fast:

"...The investigations showed that glands in each plant first pump water out of a closed trap.

" 'This deflates the trap and stores elastic energy, like the stored energy in a bent bow, and also generates a depression inside, like with a rubber pipette,' Marmottant explained.

"During the second actual trapping phase, the stored elastic energy is released.

" 'The firing starts when sensitive trigger hairs located on the (trap) door are touched,' he said. 'We showed that, because of the inside depression, the door is already on the verge of inverting towards the interior. The curvature inversion of the door is an abrupt event known as an 'elastic buckling' phenomenon, and happens in everyday life when a curved elastic wall is set under depression, like a balloon or plastic bottle.'..."

Some plants act faster than the bladderwort - but those are one-shot explosive events. The bladderwort can reset its traps something like a hundred times.

Impressive, at lest to the Lemming.

"Unscheduled Maintenance" Grounds United 757 Fleet

"United grounds its Boeing 757 fleet"
CNN Travel (February 15, 2011)

"United Airlines has grounded 96 Boeing 757 airliners for 'unscheduled maintenance,' an airline spokesman said Tuesday.

"The grounding meant that some of the airline's flights would be canceled or delayed Tuesday night and Wednesday, spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said.

" 'Specifically ... United is performing follow-up maintenance checks starting today to the air data computers on its 96 Boeing 757s,' Johnson said. 'All of the air data computers are fully functional. The checks are necessary as part of a modification process to the system.'..."

That was "unscheduled maintenance," but apparently not unexpected. Work on the Boeing 757 computers connects with a 2004 Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness directive. The idea is that flight crews will now be able to stop an overspeed warning, or stall warning, that's going off when the airliner's flying normally.

Makes sense to the Lemming. Although it does raise the question of what happens if the airliner starts misbehaving - after the alarm's been turned off.

Slightly-related posts:

Accura Commercial; Baudette, Minnesota; and Weather That's Not Boring

An Accura television commercial's narration caught the Lemming's attention:

"Every year year we travel to Baudette, Minnesota, to see how our luxury vehicles ... perform under the most brutal, punishing conditions. If your winters are tougher than this, you don't need a new car: You need a new place to live."

Baudette, Minnesota, is near the Canadian border, a bit south of Lake of the Woods. The Lemming thought you might like to see what current conditions are in Baudette:
Click for Baudette, Minnesota Forecast

Despite what that Acura commercial showed, temperatures around 25 below Fahrenheit aren't quite typical. The Lemming checked the almanack for today (February 15) in Baudette, and found that the average high today is 19 degrees above, with a low of minus five . Fahrenheit, that is. Celsius, that'd be be about minus seven down to minus 20.

Here in central Minnesota, where the Lemming lives, the average is a comparatively balmy 25 degrees for a high and three for a low. Celsius, about minus four and minus 16.

We're both in Minnesota, so "average" weather is more of a mathematical abstraction than something that actually happens. According to the records, a place near here had a record high of 45 °F in 1981, and a record low of -23 °F in 1970, 'on this day in history.'

For Baudette, Minnesota, it's a record high of 47 °F in 1981 (that was a warm year), and low of -45 °F in 1939.

Say what one may about Minnesota, our weather isn't boring.

Lest Acura be accused of exaggerating the ruggedness of Baudette's winters, today's average high and low in Winnepeg, Manitoba are 22 °F and 2 °F. The records were 32 °F in 1998 and -31 °F in 2003.

Of course, there are places with colder winters than Minnesota. Like the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole. And that's another topic.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Buying a PC Case: Pretty Good Advice

"How to Buy a PC Case"
Matthew Murray, PC World (January 23, 2011 )

"First impressions are the most important, even when it comes to computers. So make sure your PC gives off a good one by using these tips to find the case that looks—and behaves—exactly the way you want it to.

"Unless you're a really serious system builder, chances are that when you think about your desktop computer, you don't think too much about its case. In fact, as long as a few basic requirements are met, everything else is probably pretty much okay: Does it hold all your hardware? Do the buttons and lights work? Are there USB ports on the front? And when it comes right down to it, these aren't minor concerns. More than any other component, the case is so simple that you only have to look at it to know how it works.

"That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't plenty of places to go wrong when deciding which case you want to house your new computer (or the components you already have). Understanding what the case does, how it works, and why it's designed the way it is will help you make smart buying choices...."

The article starts out with "Pick the Right Size and Shape," which may not be as obvious as it seems.

It's fairly short, not overly-laden with technical jargon, and seems intended for folks who know enough about computers to tell when they've got one that suits their needs - but not so much that they know why it's a bad idea to put an ATX motherboard in a microATX case. (Mr. Murray tells why.)

Somewhat-related posts:

"Flail the Rude Fresco?!" - It's Not the Technology

Scott Adams, (February 9, 2011)

It's anyone's guess, what Dilbert's clueless manager meant by "burped the grope plow armistice" and "flail the rude fresco."

It's the Lemming's opinion that it's not the technology that's at fault here: it's the folks who use it. Or, rather, the cartoon characters. Some folks have a gift for garbling communication: and it's not always a matter of not spelling or saying words correctly. The Lemming's had supervisors who - but that's another topic.

Texting is in the news and views today, by the way. Somewhat seriously:It's the Lemming's opinion that texting, like anything else that folks do, can be misused. But the problem isn't the technology: It's us. In the Lemming's opinion.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:The Lemming modified the 'embed' code for today's strip. You're looking at a reduced-size copy of the original Dilbert strip, made to fit into this blog's format. The rest of the embed code is as-provided at Follow the link and you should see the original 640-pixel-wide graphic.

Bullet Trains, Engineering, Economics, and Politics as Usual

"It's the Bullet Train ... to Nowhere"
William La Jeunesse, State & Local, Politics, (February 14, 2011)

"Hailed as a high-speed road to the future, a jobs program and a symbol of America's dedication to innovation, President Obama proposed Monday spending $8 billion on a bullet train -- a down payment on a nationwide network that will cost $58 billion over the next six years.

"But in the one state where the federal high-speed rail project is underway, critics say money is being misspent, ridership studies are inflated, the route is politically corrupted and the system will never be self supporting.

" 'They don't know where they're going to build it, they don't have a mile of right of way under possession, it is not shovel ready, it is not even engineer ready,' said Richard Tolmach, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. 'It is still a work in progress where the line might go. Right now it is not somewhere the feds should be putting their money.'..."

In the Lemming's opinion, there's going to be a - lively - debate about this bullet train project. Like where it should go. Back to the article (op-ed?):

"...And that is where the controversy comes in. The first leg of the project is slated for the middle of Central Valley -- not between major cities, or congested freeway corridors like San Francisco and San Jose or Orange County and Los Angeles. The Central Valley site is between Borden -- a point on the map where no one lives -- and Corcoran, a town where half the residents will never board a train because they're in prison...."

'Obvious' is in the Eye of the Chauvinist

The Lemming suspects that whether it's sensible, starting work on a new transportation system in a relatively remote location, depends in no small part on what sort of person is asked.

Some folks, in the Lemming's opinion, will feel that anybody who likes this project is a doo-doo-head. They, again in the Lemming's opinion, are likely to think it's 'obvious' that starting construction in California's Central Valley is 'stupid.' Likely enough, again in the Lemming's opinion, the same folks would be incensed if starting the project involved demolishing part of San Francisco's financial district.

Other folks, still in the Lemming's opinion, will feel that anybody who doesn't like this project is a doo-doo-head. They, still this blogger's opinion, are likely to feel that the project's detractors are the spawn of Satan - or the equivalent. And, of course, would probably feel that only an idiot would consider starting the project anywhere else.

A Train Should Go Somewhere

What does the Lemming think?

The Lemming thinks that for a transportation system to be of any use, it had better connect at least two points that need to exchange material and/or people.

Also that it's a good idea, if bullet trains are going to be built, to start work somewhere.

It may even make sense to start somewhere other than in the heart of a major city.

Apathy and a Blogging Lemming

This isn't a political blog - and the Lemming isn't 'political.' Not in the sense that the Lemming claims that one person or party is always right, and that others are always wrong. The Lemming's 'apathetic,' too - but only in a sort of sideways sense:

Bullet Trains: Catching Up With the 20th Century

It's the Lemming's of the opinion that 'bullet trains' are some of the 20th century's more impressive transportation technologies. And effective at moving people from city to city.

The last time the Lemming checked, we were a little over a decade into the 21st century. The Lemming could be wrong about this, but maybe the United States should start moving some of its transportation network into the 20th century.

Related posts:

How to Poach an Egg: That's on the Web, Too

"How to Poach Eggs"

"Poach EggsPoached eggs are perfect for serving atop a piece of toast or for making eggs Benedict. There's no added fat, and they're very easy to make. If you're an egg lover, this is certainly a dish for you!..."

It's a step-by-step how-2, with photos.

The part the Lemming has trouble with sometimes is "Carefully crack one egg..."

Oh, well: It's not a perfect world.

Interesting, yes: Perfect, no.

Tempel 1 / Stardust-NExT Flyby: How2 Watch Online

"5 Valentine's Day Facts About NASA's Comet Tempel 1 Flyby" (February 14, 2011)

"NASA's Stardust spacecraft will zip close by the comet Tempel 1 tonight (Feb. 14) in a cosmic Valentine's Day rendezvous to take a new look at the icy wanderer.

"The cosmic flyby will mark the second comet visited by the Stardust spacecraft – as part of its extended Stardust-NExT mission – as well as the second time an unmanned probe from Earth has approached Tempel 1.

"In 2005, NASA's Deep Impact mission visited comet Tempel 1 and intentionally crashed a probe into the comet to determine its composition. Researchers hope tonight's Stardust flyby will give scientists a fresh look at the damage inflicted by the Deep Impact crash...."

The rest of the article is a sort of Valentines-Day-themed list of interesting facts about the Tempel 1 mission.

How to Watch the Tempel 1 Flyby Online

"Want to Watch NASA's Comet Tempel 1 Flyby? Here's How" (February 14, 2011)

"NASA's Stardust spacecraft may be 209 million miles from Earth when it snuggles up to comet Tempel 1 tonight (Feb. 14), but that doesn't mean the rest of us will have to miss out. NASA is giving the public several ways to see the comet flyby online.

"First, a bit of cosmic scheduling info: The Stardust spacecraft will fly by comet Tempel 1 tonight at 11:37 p.m. EST (8:37 p.m. PST, 0437 Feb. 15 GMT). That's the time of closest approach, though cameras on Stardust have already been able to spot comet Tempel 1. The flyby is part of NASA's Stardust-NExT flight, which extended the Stardust probe's original mission after it visited the comet Wild 2 in 2004.

"How to watch Stardust-NExT's comet rendezvous:

"NASA will broadcast the flyby live on NASA TV starting at 11:30 p.m. EST. If you don't get NASA TV on your televisions at home, you can watch the webcast here: here:"

Hey! What are you still doing, reading this post? If you're interested in the Tempel 1 / Stardust-NExT flyby - follow that link.

Or, if the flyby's already happened by the time you read this, you can try these:
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