Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Report from the Department of Silly Hats

"Princess Beatrice and the hat that launched a Facebook page [Poll] [Updated to include, um, commentary]"
Ministry of Gossip, Los Angeles Times (April 29, 2011)

"Oh, Princess Beatrice -- the hat she presumably thought was a lovely choice for Prince William and Kate Middleton's royal wedding turned out to be a royal disaster, prompting the scorn of thousands of Facebook users. Their hate wasn't necessarily for all hats, but rather specifically for the one perched Friday on Beatrice's high-profile head.

"The 22-year-old took a risk donning headgear that many thought would be more appropriate for Lady Gaga, and the risky hat choice quickly backfired for her on Facebook. Witness the emergence of "Princess Beatrice's ridiculous Royal Wedding hat," a group dedicated to her headgear that had received more than 18,000 "likes" just hours after the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Has any topper since Aretha Franklin's unforgettable inauguration hat seen such biting abuse?..."

Princess Beatrice is the lady in beige, with the oval-and-ribbon sculpture stuck to her forehead.

(from Ministry of Gossip, Los Angeles Times, used w/o permission)

Back to the L. A. Times op-ed:

"...Beatrice, the daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, stepped out at the fairy tale wedding in a sculptured ribbon topper made by London milliner Philip Treacy, a native of Ireland who trimmed the tops of dozens of guests at the wedding including Victoria Beckham, Zara Phillips and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

"But when the hat-crowned Beatrice and her sister Princess Eugenie, 21, emerged from their ride, one comparison rang clear: The evil 'Cinderella' stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella had arrived...."

Discussion of Princess Beatrice's headgear goes somewhat downhill from there.

Although the Lemming acknowledges that the hoop-and-ribbon arrangement might seem somewhat out of place here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: from what has been aired and published about couture, haute and otherwise, at and around the royal wedding, Princess Beatrice's hat might be considered a tad understated, if anything.

Consider: it's beige. Symmetrical. And not even shiny.

The Lemming was impressed by the imaginative range of headgear exhibited yesterday. Many of wearable sculptures occupied significantly more volume than that beige hat. One reminded the Lemming, slightly, of the flying fried eggs in a first-season Star Trek episode. Another, of a wireless headset caught moments after catastrophic flashover. The Lemming was unable to find an online pictorial record of the latter, alas!

The Lemming is, therefore, somewhat at a loss when it comes to understanding the reaction to Princess Beatrice's hat. Particularly considering options available to someone in her position. Think of the possibilities - - -

Unique 2010 Autumn/Winter collection during London Fashion Week, February 20, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
(from Oddly Enough, Reuters, used w/o permission)

Yes: it could have been worse.

In fact, compared to her 2008 butterfly number, Princess Beatrice's hat was, in the Lemming's opinion, a study in understated elegance. Not the sort of thing one generally sees here in central Minnesota: but cultural standards seem to be different in the United Kingdom.

Clockwise from upper left: 'Fluttering in: Princess Beatrice in a spectacular hat' (MailOnline); 'Princess Beatrice and her hat for the royal wedding' (Ministry of Gossip/L. A. Times); 'April 29: Christine Peckham from London wears a fancy hat along the Royal Wedding route in London on Friday. (AP)'; 'Ministerial misstep: The wife of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
may have gone a bit too theatrical with her attire at the royal wedding.' (SFUNZIPPED, SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle)
(Clockwise from upper left: MailOnline; Ministry of Gossip/L. A. Times; AP, via; SFUNZIPPED, SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle; used w/o permission)

For those keeping score, clockwise from upper left: Princess Beatrice, 2008; Princess Beatrice, at the 2011 royal wedding; Christine Peckham from London, along the royal wedding route in London; the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, at the 2011 royal wedding.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:
News and views:

North Dakota Blizzard Warning: April 30

"Blizzard Warning"
Watches, Warnings & Advisories, National Weather Service, NOAA (April 30, 2011)

346 AM CDT SAT APR 30 2011


Snow in April isn't all that unusual here in the upper Midwest. Like last weekend's April (snow) showers. (Sauk Centre Jounal Blog (April 17, 2011)

A full-scale blizzard? with a forecast of 6 to 9 inches in northwest and north central North Dakota? "...WITH ONLY 1 TO 2 INCHES EXPECTED FROM
" "Only one to two inches?" It does seem a paltry amount: it's the wind that makes it a storm. And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, and the Hanseatic League

"Scientists Itching for Suborbital Space Research"
Denise Chow, (April 28, 2011)

"When private companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace start regularly flying passengers to the edge of space, thrill seekers and space fanatics won't be the only ones standing in line.

"The commercial spaceflight industry's potential to provide frequent and relatively inexpensive trips to the upper reaches of the atmosphere could revolutionize the science and research community. And even with the suborbital vehicles still in their testing phase, at least one institution is already onboard.

" 'We're a bit ahead of the curve,' Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told 'We've gone out - not even waited for taxpayer dollars. We're almost ready to fly. The vehicles aren't quite ready, but the experiments are pretty much built and ready to fly....

"...Performing experiments on private suborbital and orbital flights could also bridge a crucial research gap between Earth and the International Space Station, the massive laboratory that orbits 220 miles (354 kilometers) above our planet. Stern likened the space station to baseball's major leagues, with commercial flights akin to the minor leagues...."

The Lemming remembers the 'good old days' when moon rockets were built and launched from what's now Space Shuttle launch complex. There's a little nostalgia to be indulged in these days, as the last Shuttles ferry cargo and people to and from the International Space Station.

Mostly, though, the Lemming's looking forward to what Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, and Beal Aerospace have been doing.

Beal Aerospace? You probably won't hear too much about that company. Beal Aerospace didn't quite make it as a commercial venture. It's the Lemming's opinion that some other aerospace startups won't be around a decade or so from now. Which isn't too surprising. The Alena Steam Car isn't with us any more. Neither is the Columbia Electric Car Company of Detoit. Studebakers are still around, thanks to hobbyists, but the company hasn't been around for decades.

That seems to be the way it goes with new technologies: many folks think they can run a profitable business by applying the new processes; some turn out to be correct in their assumptions; and the tech gets used.

The Lemming expected to be writing about the Space Shuttle today, but weather happened: "NASA Postpones Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch at Least 72 Hours," (April 29, 2011)

Does the Lemming think that the end of the Space Shuttle program means the end of people going into space? At least for Americans?

Not hardly.

We may be near the end of the era where a huge federal bureaucracy runs a moderately-successful freight and passenger service for scientists.

But, after taking at how many entrepreneurs are getting ready to take over the low-Earth-orbit transit services, the Lemming seriously doubts that we're looking at a serious lack of options.

As for whether or not it takes a government program to get large-scale tasks done? The Lemming offers two words: Hanseatic League.

Related posts:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This Post is Not About the Royal Wedding

If your existence will feel aimless, banal, barren, cheap, devoid of meaning, expressionless, futile, hollow, inane, insipid, jejune, paltry, petty, purposeless, and generally vapid without yet more coverage of the upcoming royal wedding in England, here are some links:

For Everybody Else - - -

Grand Reopening of The Domes

(from Milwaukee County website, used w/o permission)

"County Executive Scott Walker and Parks Director Sue Black
"invite you to be our guest at this historic event. . .

"The Grand Reopening of The Domes

"November 5, 2008
"5-9 p.m.
"Mitchell Park, 524 S. Layton Blvd.

"Meet Donald Grieb, architect of this one-of-a-kind glass structure!"

That page of, the Milwaukee County website, does not mention William and Kate - not once.

"The Domes:" Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

"The Domes" is a more colorful, in the Lemming's opinion, name for Milwaukee County's Mitchell Park Conservatory.

(from Milwaukee County website, used w/o permission)

Milwaukee County's website has pages about:
The county website has other pages, too, of course. But those are some of the main ones about The Domes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two Days Until Last Endeavour Shuttle Launch

"NASA Clears Space Shuttle Endeavour for One Last Launch"
Clara Moskowitz, (April 27, 2011)

"The space shuttle Endeavour is officially 'go' to launch on its 25th and last spaceflight this Friday (April 29), with NASA expecting record crowds and visit from President Barack Obama to watch the spectacle.

"NASA mission managers cleared Endeavour for launch this morning after meeting to review any concerns...."

As the Lemming's opined before, this isn't so much an end - as a beginning. The Space Shuttle fleet has done a good job of helping get the International Space Station built, and demonstrating that (fairly) regular ferry service to low Earth orbit is possible.

The Lemming will probably indulge in a little nostalgia this Friday. But that's about what's been done. There are more than a half-dozen spaceports in this country, many more around the world today. With folks like Richard Branson developing ways to make use of rapidly-developing technologies, the Lemming thinks that 'the sky's the limit' - - - and that the sky's gotten a whole lot farther away.

Related posts:More:
  • "Endeavour"
    NASA Orbiter Fleet, NASA
  • "Endeavour Tribute"
    Printable image:
    • Full Size (3,000px × 2,400px)
    • 1600 x 1200
    • 1024 x 768›800 x 600

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sony PlayStation: No Network, No Explanation; Big Trouble

"Sony mum on details about ongoing PlayStation Network outage"
Mark Milian, CNN Tech (April 25, 2011)

"PlayStation Network users are still waiting for an extra life.

"Five days after a hacker invaded Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation Network resulting in a lengthy outage, the video game giant has yet to offer a comprehensive explanation.

"PlayStation internet services went offline on Wednesday and have remained down....

"..Sony has said the persistent downtime was due to an 'external intrusion,' but has not provided a target date for when services will return. Sony previously said it was rebuilding its framework to ensure proper security measures are put in place....

The Lemming doesn't envy the folks at Sony who are trying to sort out what happened and fix the problem - and those whose job it is to figure out what to tell Sony's PlayStation customers.

That said, the Lemming also thinks it's not smart to describe the problem as an "external intrusion" and leave it at that: assuming that the CNN article gave the correct impression.

On the other hand, Sony's said that it will let its customers know if there's bad news:

Let's Hope Sony Follows Through

"...A Sony spokesman in Tokyo, where the company is headquartered, said investigations haven't uncovered whether the intruders gained access to personal information or credit card numbers, according to a report from technology news service IDG. The spokesman reportedly said Sony would contact those affected if investigators discover that info was leaked...."
(CNN Tech)

That was yesterday. Looks like Sony had some reason for not wanting to talk about the "external intrusion." What happened is - embarrassing.

Customer Relations 101: Tell - Them - the - Truth

"Sony PlayStation suffers massive data breach"
Liana B. Baker and Jim Finkle, Edition: U.S., Reuters (April 26, 2011)

"Sony suffered a massive breach in its video game online network that led to the theft of names, addresses and possibly credit card data belonging to 77 million user accounts in what is one of the largest-ever Internet security break-ins.

"Sony learned that user information had been stolen from its PlayStation Network seven days ago, prompting it to shut down the network immediately. But Sony did not tell the public until Tuesday....

If that "...did not tell the public until Tuesday..." thing sounds familiar, it should. Major Japanese companies are starting to earn a reputation for not letting their customers worry. Or not giving their customers important information fast enough.

It depends on how you look at it, the Lemming supposes.

Trick Brakes; Melting Reactors: and Now World-Class Data Theft

"...The electronics conglomerate is the latest Japanese company to come under fire for not disclosing bad news quickly. Tokyo Electric Power Co was criticized for how it handled the nuclear crisis after the March earthquake. Last year, Toyota Motor Corp was slammed for being less than forthright about problems surrounding its massive vehicle recall.

"The 'illegal and unauthorized person' obtained people's names, addresses, email address, birth dates, usernames, passwords, logins, security questions and more, Sony said on its U.S. PlayStation blog on Tuesday....

"...Alan Paller, research director of the SANS Institute, said the breach may be the largest theft of identity data information on record...."

"There's no such thing as bad publicity" is an old saying - but the Lemming thinks this may be an exception. On the other hand, Sony could take some pride in having possibly set a world record.

No, on consideration, the Lemming thinks that there isn't all that much of an 'up' side to this SNAFU, from Sony's point of view.

As for the folks who may or may not be told by Sony that someone stole their "...names, addresses, email address, birth dates, usernames, passwords, logins, security questions and more...," the Lemming hopes that not too many of them learn about 'identify theft' up close and personal.

If someone had the Lemming's real name, mailing address, email address, and all the rest - plus, say, credit card information - well, the Lemming is glad that Sony PlayStation doesn't have that data.

This could be a really bad situation, even assuming that all companies, world-wide, are extra-special-super-careful about making sure that their new customers really are who they say they are.

The Lemming tries to stay 'upbeat.' But seriously? This is emphatically not good news.

Somewhat-related posts:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Television's Ephemeral Art: 'Click,' and It's Gone

"Television 'Deaths' Become Morbid Obsession for Berlin Artist"
Alice Vincent, Underwire, Wired (April 23, 2011)

"These images may look like the product of hours spent on Photoshop, but they’re actually memento mori of the kind of TV sets your parents (or even grandparents) grew up with.

"Retro televisions sparked an interest for Berlin graphic designer Stephan Tillmans after he noticed the brightly colored picture breakdown when certain screens were switched off. After much experimentation with old televisions, Tillmans realized that every old television has its own 'death,' and, with enough patience, this could become an intriguing photographic subject.

"What started as a happy discovery has turned into a kind of expertise for Tillmans, who explains to that 'some televisions give better results that others. The TVs I photograph are of different models and sizes.'

"Choosing which televisions will provide the right results is somewhat of a fine art, as television deaths that appear photogenic initially may not through a camera lens...."

There's quite a bit of work involved in getting a photo like the two in the post. For starters, Tillmans hauls an old-tech television up to his fourth-floor apartment. If that's British usage, the Lemming thinks that's fifth-floor for Americans.

And the Lemming remembers the 'tube' television sets. Those things were heavy. Then, once in place, it can take Tillman 800 tries to get one photograph that's 'art' quality.

The article includes a link to more of Tillman's images, in Wired UK's gallery.

The Lemming remembers the flash-and-fade of old television sets - and other variations on that particular tube technology. It's nice to have some of those moments caught, enhanced, and preserved: But the Lemming's also glad that television technology has progressed since 'the good old days.'

Related posts:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weaving a Universe: New Look at Vanishing Dimensions

"Did the Universe Begin As a Simple 1-D Line?"
Natalie Wolchover, Life's Little Mysteries, (April 22, 2011)

(NASA, via, used w/o permission)
"Incomprehensible as it sound, inflation poses that the universe initially expanded far faster than the speed of light and grew from a subatomic size to a golf-ball size almost instantaneously. | CREDIT: NASA"

"A refreshingly simple new idea has emerged in the complicated world of high energy physics. It proposes that the early universe was a one-dimensional line. Not an exploding sphere, not a chaotic ball of fire. Just a simple line of pure energy.

"Over time, as that line grew, it crisscrossed and intersected itself more and more, gradually forming a tightly interwoven fabric, which, at large distances, appeared as a 2-D plane. More time passed and the 2-D universe expanded and twisted about, eventually creating a web — the 3-D universe we see today.

"This concept, called 'vanishing dimensions' to describe what happens the farther one looks back in time, has been gaining traction within the high energy physics community in recent months.

The Lemming's no theoretical physicist, but the simplicity of the 'vanishing dimensions' model is attractive - aesthetically, if nothing else.

Maybe another reason the 'vanishing dimensions' cosmological model looks good is that we've been through this sort of thing before, in a way.

The Ptolemaic model for the universe - with Earth in the middle, surrounded by concentric circles and spheres all moving at a steady pace - was simple enough. Problem was, it wasn't a particularly good match for what we actually saw in the sky - like planets apparently slowing down, stopping, backing up, and then going 'forward' again.

Folks who liked the Ptolemaic system had and answer: more circles. Lots and lots more circles. epicycles is what they called them - and by the time they were through, they had a wonderfully elaborate set of epicycles circling epicycles circling - - - but the thing still didn't match what we saw in the sky.

Then Copernicus came along, with a model that had our sun in the center. Turns out, the 'perfect circles' idea isn't the way the Solar system works - but even assuming that the orbits of planets were exactly circular - the comparatively simple Copernican model was a much better match to observations, that the Ptolemaic system.

Maybe this 'vanishing dimensions' thing is another case of 'simpler is better.'

Back to the article:

Vanishing Dimensions and Occam's Razor

"...If correct, it promises to bridge the gap between quantum mechanics -- the physics of the very small -- and general relativity – the physics of space-time. It would also make sense of the properties of a hypothetical elementary particle called the Higgs boson. And best of all, it would do so with elegant simplicity.

" 'In the last 30 years, [physicists] were trying to make our theories more complicated by introducing more particles, more dimensions,' said Dejan Stojkovic, a physicist at the University of Buffalo who researches vanishing dimensions. 'We decided to go the other way and make theories less complicated in the high energy realm. At high energy [in the early universe], we are changing the background on which the standard model of particle physics is formulated. In 1-D, the problem greatly simplifies.'..."

Like the Lemming said before: sometimes the trick is to see which explanation is simpler. That principle's called Occam's Razor - named after William of Occam, a Franciscan friar. (Phil Gibbs, 1996; Sugihara Hiroshi, 1997;

What's particularly attractive about the 'vanishing dimensions' model is that it can be tested. There's one experiment, mentioned in the article, that will/would 'look' at gravity waves. Just one problem with that: it seems that nobody's managed to detect a gravity wave yet.

There are other ways to test the 'vanishing dimensions' model, though: outlined in the article.

Whether it turns out to be a good match with reality or not: the 'vanishing dimensions' model for the early universe is a fascinating, elegant, idea. In the Lemming's opinion.

Somewhat-related posts:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Apex Chert: Microfossils, Microfractures, or Maybe Both

"Most Ancient Fossils Aren't Life, Study Suggests"
Charles Q. Choi, (March 24 , 2011)

"Structures thought of as the oldest known fossils of microbes might actually be microscopic mineral formations not associated with life, suggesting that astrobiologists must be careful calling alien objects 'life' when scientists have trouble telling what is or was alive on Earth.

"More than 20 years ago, microscopic structures uncovered in the roughly 3.5-billion-year-old Apex Chert formation in western Australia were described as the oldest microbial fossils. These structures were interpreted as cyanobacteria, once known as blue-green algae, embedded in a silica-loaded rock formed in a shallow marine setting. These structures were all detected in slices of rock just 300 microns thick, or roughly three times the diameter of a human hair.

"However, the interpretation of the structures has always been controversial, and it is still hotly debated among scientists searching for Earth’s earliest evidence for life. Specimens from the site apparently displayed branching structures that some researchers said were inconsistent with life, while others dismissed such branching as artifacts from photo software...."

One of the more interesting parts of this article, in the Lemming's opinion, may be the date stamp: April 24, 2011. At this moment, it's 10:55 a.m. in North America's Central time zone. That's 3:55 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 9:25 p.m. in Mumbai, (Still Saturday, April 23, 2011), and 12:55 a.m. Sunday morning, April 24, 2011, in Tokyo. And back to 5:55 a.m. April 23, 2011, in Honolulu.

Looks like this article was written by someone living near the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. That's more interesting than microfossils that may not be microfossils? Of living things, anyway? Not really: but nearly-as-interesting. For the Lemming. Your experience may vary.

"A Little More Complex"

"...'We were interested in developing new methods of looking at ancient microfossils, and so we were drawn to the Apex Chert as these putative microfossils are so iconic,' [University of Kansas geospectroscopist Craig] Marshall explained. "However, when we started working on the rocks, we discovered things were a little more complex than we thought they would be.'..."

That phrase, "a little more complex than we thought they would be," sums up quite a bit of what we know, as the Lemming sees it. Particularly in comparatively new fields, like studies of what's happened for the last few billion years on this planet.

The issue with the Apex Chert micro-things seems to be that when you take a close look at them, they look like fossils of living things. When you look closer: not so much. The microbe-things start looking more like fracture-things.

Sort of like the canals of Mars, only going in the other direction in terms of scale.

On the other hand, Marshall and company point out that their closer look may be a closer look at something different from what researchers took a close look at before. Both samples could look like the same thing at 'normal' distances - but not be quite the same thing at all.

So, where's the absolute certainty that scientists have about stuff? The Lemming thinks the sort of scientific triumphalism that was fashionable in some circles a half-century back - isn't quite so fashionable now.

Besides, the Lemming suspects that 'those scientists' never were quite as self-assured as some of their fans wanted to think they were. And that's another topic.

Back to the Apex Chert microfossils that may not be microfossils - or not fossilized organisms, after all. Again.

Apex Chert and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

"...If the new study is true, the findings are important not only when it comes to evaluating evidence of life in ancient rocks on Earth, but have ramifications for astrobiological prospecting elsewhere in the universe.

" 'If it is really this hard to find convincing evidence for life on early Earth when we know there is life on Earth now, then it becomes clear that we need to be extra cautious interpreting data collected on Mars,' said paleobiogeochemist Alison Olcott Marshall at the University of Kansas, a co-author of the new study.

"The scientists detailed their findings online Feb. 20 in the journal Nature Geoscience."

Being "extra cautious" makes sense, in the Lemming's opinion. Particularly when there's not all that much data to go on, or when studying something new.

So, interpreting the Viking lander's life experiment results as "peculiar chemistry" may have been more sensible caution than insufficient imagination.

On the other hand, if a camera on one of the Mars rovers sent back a picture of something with four arms, eight legs, and tool belt - that hadn't been there a minute before - being "extra cautious" might not be quite so necessary.

Related posts:More related posts:More in this blog:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cloud Computing: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

"Why Amazon's cloud Titanic went down"
David Goldman, (April 22, 2011)

"This was never supposed to happen.

"Amazon Web Services is the Titanic of cloud hosting, designed with backups to the backups' backups that prevent hosted websites and applications from failing.

"Yet, like the famous ocean liner, Amazon's cloud crashed this week, taking with it Reddit, Quora, FourSquare, Hootsuite, parts of the New York Times, ProPublica and about 70 other sites. The massive outage raised questions about the reliability of AWS and the cloud itself.

"It was supposed to work like this: Thousands of companies use AWS to run their websites through a service called Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2. Rather than hosting their sites on their own servers, these customers turn to Amazon, which essentially rents out its unused -- and highly intricate -- server capacity.

"EC2 is hosted in five regions across the globe: Northern Virginia, Northern California, Ireland, Tokyo and Singapore....

Spread out that way, with facilities on three different continents (two, if you count Eurasia as one continent), Amazon's EC2 looks pretty safe: with five-way redundancy. A big question, as's article pointed out, is - - -

Cloud Computing Meets Murphy's Law

"...So what went wrong exactly?

"Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) has been tight-lipped about the incident, and the company said it won't be able to fully comment on the situation until it does a 'post-mortem.' So it's not clear yet exactly how the problem occurred.

"But bits and pieces of information from Amazon, its customers and cloud experts help to explain what happened.

"Thursday's crash happened at Amazon's northern Virginia data center, located in one of its East Coast availability zones. In its status log, Amazon said that a 'networking event' caused a domino effect across other availability zones in that region, in which many of its storage volumes created new backups of themselves. That filled up Amazon's available storage capacity and prevented some sites from accessing their data.

"Amazon didn't say what that 'networking event' was....

The Lemming doesn't blame Amazon for not saying what the "networking event" was. It's possible that the techs who keep EC2 working (most of the time) don't know themselves. With a SNAFU this big, whoever's in charge of EC2 would reasonably want to be really certain of facts before publicly stating anything.

Then, there's the possibility that the "networking event" was something trivial-sounding, like the possible "wiring problem" cited in the article.

Whatever the explanation, the Lemming's glad to be well clear of having to explain what happened. As well-known as Murphy's law is, "...anything that can go wrong will go wrong" (Princeton's WordNet), folks often seem surprised when it crops up in something they're using.

The Usual Anonymous Experts

"...EC2 is so simple to use -- a credit card and a few keystrokes literally gets your business into the cloud -- that some experts say can give a false sense of security. They see in Amazon customers a certain level of naivety that nothing could possibly go wrong.

"Of course, things go wrong and systems fail. Other cloud-hosted products like Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) Gmail have gone down from time to time...."

The Lemming's gotten a bit tired of the anonymous "experts" that pop up in the news. It's one thing to have a reputation, and make a statement based on that reputation: and something else to come up with this sort of 'false sense of security' proclamations.

In contrast, there's this non-anonymous chap quoted in the article:

"...'Amazon's products are only as good as the people putting the architecture up,' said Michael Kirven, co-founder of cloud services provider Bluewolf. 'If you put all of your eggs in one basket, you put yourself at risk.'..."

True enough - and fairly obvious, when you think about it.

Which brings up what the Lemming sees as a serious problem with cloud computing.

The idea of getting access to (relatively) low-cost storage and computing power, over (generally) reliable connections, that (usually) don't stay down for long - looks good. And, in the Lemming's opinion, might make sense: if a company's data is backed up through an independent system - and it doesn't matter if operations stop dead in their tracks on occasion.

It's one of those things, in the Lemming's opinion, that looks good on paper; may be practical in some cases; and isn't going to solve all our problems

Cloud Computing and Dilbert

There's been an interesting evolution - maybe - in Dilbert's attitude toward cloud computing:

November 19, 2009

January 7, 2011

Related posts:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Language - Not Hard-Wired After All, (Not Very, Anyway)

The Lemming's going heavy on the excerpts in this post - mostly because this is a fascinating article. In the Lemming's opinion.

Your experience may vary.

What jumped out at the Lemming in this Wired Science article was that the old assumption - that human beings are more-or-less hard-wired for language - doesn't, quite, hold up when languages are run through a massive statistical analysis.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a sort of 'preferred pattern.'

Thousands of Years, Thousands of Languages: Few Common Structures

"Evolution of Language Takes Unexpected Turn"
Brandon Keim, Wired Science, Wired (April 14, 2011)

"It's widely thought that human language evolved in universally similar ways, following trajectories common across place and culture, and possibly reflecting common linguistic structures in our brains. But a massive, millennium-spanning analysis of humanity's major language families suggests otherwise.

"Instead, language seems to have evolved along varied, complicated paths, guided less by neurological settings than cultural circumstance. If our minds do shape the evolution of language, it's likely at levels deeper and more nuanced than many researchers anticipated.

" 'It's terribly important to understand human cognition, and how the human mind is put together,' said Michael Dunn, an evolutionary linguist at Germany's Max Planck Institute and co-author of the new study, published April 14 in Nature. The findings 'do not support simple ideas of the mind as a computer, with a language processor plugged in. They support much-more complex ideas of how language arises.'..."

"Human Mind?" or "Human Brain?"

The Lemming prefers to distinguish between the brain - the complicated network of neurons, blood vessels, and connective tissue about our eyes and ears - and the mind - the way that the we use the brain.

Then there are the folks who say that you're not really there - you just think you are, but actually it's just your brain fooling you into thinking you exist. The Lemming was never 'intelligent' enough to take that sort of thing seriously, though - besides, that's another topic.

Back to the article.

Hard-Wired for Language? It's Complicated

"...One school of thought, pioneered by linguist Noam Chomsky, holds that language is a product of dedicated mechanisms in the human brain. These can be imagined as a series of switches, each corresponding to particular forms of grammar and syntax and structure...."

"...Unlike earlier linguists, however, Dunn and Gray had access to powerful computational tools that, when set to work on sets of data, calculate the most likely relationships between the data. Such tools are well known in evolutionary biology, where they're used to create trees of descent from genetic readings, but they can be applied to most anything that changes over time, including language.

"In the new study, Dunn and Gray's team created evolutionary trees for eight word-order features in humanity's best-described language groups — Austronesian, Indo-European, Bantu and Uto-Aztecan. Together they contain more than one-third of humanity's 7,000 languages, and span thousands of years. If there are universal trends, say Dunn and Gray, they should be visible, with each language family evolving along similar lines.

"That's not what they found.

" 'Each language family is evolving according to its own set of rules. Some were similar, but none were the same,' said Dunn. 'There is much more diversity, in terms of evolutionary processes, than anybody ever expected.'

(Nature, via wired, used w/o permission)
"Comparison of trends in Austronesian and Indo-European languages (Nature)"

"In one representative example of divergence (diagram above), both Austronesian and Indo-European languages that linked prepositions and object-verb structures ('over the fence, ball kicked') tended to evolve preposition and verb-object structures ('over the fence, kicked ball.') That’s exactly what universalism would predict.

"But when Austronesian and Indo-European languages both started from postposition, verb-object arrangements ('the fence over, kicked ball'), they ended up in different places. Austronesian tended towards preposition, verb-object ('over the fence, kicked ball') but Indo-European tended towards postposition, object-verb ('the fence over, ball kicked.')..."

The researchers figure that random chance, "cultural circumstance," or maybe something else, has something to do with the differences between languages. The Lemming figures they're probably right - given the broad swath of possibilities cited.

A little more seriously: It's the Lemming's impressed that the researchers didn't take their conclusions beyond the data they'd collected - and their analysis of that data.

Hard-Wired for Language? What They Didn't Find

"...There is, however, still room for universals, said Pagel. After all, even if culture and circumstance shapes language evolution, it's still working with a limited set of possibilities. Of the six possible combinations of subject, verb and object, for example, just two - 'I kicked the ball' and 'I the ball kicked'- are found in more than 90 percent of all languages, with Yoda-style 'Kicked I the ball' exceedingly rare. People do seem to prefer some structures...."

"...People do seem to prefer some structures...?" Maybe not consciously - but the Lemming would be mightily surprised if the hardware in our heads didn't make it easier to put ideas in one order - and not so much in another.

As for metaphysical stuff like the meaning of life and all that? The Lemming doesn't expect to find such things answered in a statistical analysis of languages. What the Lemming expects from this study - and the more in-depth analyses planned by Dunn and his team - are insights into how people use language. And, maybe, how we organize information: how, in one sense of the word, we think.

That expectation comes from the Lemming's view of science. It's like the fellow said: the task of science "was and remains a patient yet passionate search for the truth about the cosmos, about nature and about the constitution of the human being."sup And that is another topic, for another blog. (A Catholic Citizen in America (October 30, 2010))

Slightly-related posts:

1 From:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Soap Operas and the End of Civilization As We Know It

Soap operas - those continuing stories on afternoon television - may not be around much longer.

It's the end of civilization as we know it: which doesn't bother the Lemming at all.

The Lemming has been watching 'civilization as we know it' collapse (or change, depending on your point of view) for decades, and would be concerned if the process stopped.

Over the last half-century:
  • Poodle skirts gave way to
    • Bell bottoms
    • Business suits
  • Computers - or, rather, the software in computers - forced folks whose chief talent was adding up huge columns of numbers to find new lines of work
  • Doomsayers warned us about:
    • Cyclamates
    • Satanic messages in Mr.Ed's theme song 1
    • Texting
Come to think of it, things haven't really changed all that much. Or, rather, the culture has changed - but people haven't. Not essentially. In the Lemming's opinion.

Here's what got the Lemming started:
"Real Soap Opera: Why America Hates Breaking Up With Erica Kane"
Wynne Parry, LiveScience (April 19, 2011)

"Can't bear to say goodbye to Erica Kane of the long-running daytime soap 'All My Children?"'

"If so, you're not alone. New research suggests dedicated viewers of that drama and 'One Life to Live' - both of which get the ax this year - will feel the anguish, particularly those who have stronger -relationships- with their favorite characters such as Erica Kane (played by AMC's star Susan Lucci for more than 40 years). [Lonely Hearts Find Comfort in TV Characters]

"A survey that measured the effect of the television writers' strike of 2007-08, when many shows went off the air or were replaced by reruns, on college-age viewers may offer some insight into the psychological effects of this latest disruption to TV watchers' routines...."

The LiveScience article probably won't shock and amaze you - particularly if you've got a modest awareness of American culture. It's interesting, though, to see what assumptions about 'those folks who watch the soaps' are (presumably) valid.

Then there's the Hoover exec who pulled ABC advertising. And the (probable) reason he had for pulling out of ABC:
"Facing the loss of its soaps, Hoover pulls advertising from ABC"
Business, Los Angeles Times (April 19, 2011)

"Millions of soap opera fans aren't the only ones who had the rug pulled out from under them.

"Hoover, the vacuum cleaner company, said it was yanking its advertising from Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC after the network's decision last week to sweep two of its three soap operas off its daytime schedule.

" 'My wife and mother are both passionate viewers of "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," as are many of my colleagues here at Hoover,' marketing executive Brian Kirkendall wrote this week on Hoover's Facebook page...."

The article points out that Hoover/Kirkendall's action may be an effective - and low-cost - publicity/marketing gimmick. Hoover's getting more coverage over those ads than they could have bought with a Super Bowl spot. In the Lemming's opinion.

Or maybe it's a Proverbs 25:24 situation.

Moving on.
"All My Children's Denise Vasi reacts to the show being axed"
US & Canada, BBC News (April 19, 2011)

"US television network ABC has axed two of its long running daytime soaps: All My Children and One Life To Live.

"Actress Denise Vasi, who has appeared in All My Children for the past three years, told BBC Radio 5 live she was frustrated by the decision.

" 'ABC's decision was based on business, so it's not personal,' Vasi explained to Rhod Sharp on Up All Night...."

There's a video on the BBC page, in case you're interested.

The Lemming's been told - and is inclined to believe - that soaps offered young actors a sort of 'foot in the door' in television. Sort of like vaudeville, a generation or so earlier.
"'All My Children': Goodbye to a fondly remembered world"
Hal Boedeker, The TV Guy, blog, Orlando Sentinel (April 17, 2011)

"Even though the end of 'All My Children' had been rumored for months, the news that ABC will drop the long-running soap was hard to absorb.

" 'AMC' superstar Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) survived a lot during the soap's run: bad marriages, strange pregnancies, business setbacks, brushes with the law and an encounter with a bear. But she couldn't outrun bad ratings. The bottom line: The epic sagas on decades-spanning soaps don't fit a Twitter world.

"ABC also whacked 'One Life to Live' and Llanview — so much soap history washed away in one day.

"When I think of these soaps, their central divas come to mind first. 'One Life to Live' showcased Erika Slezak, the Meryl Streep of daytime whose virtuosity as Viki brought her six Emmys...."

There's more - which is probably more interesting to a soap fan than to the Lemming.

You won't see a criticism of acting in the soaps in this post. Not that daytime television was necessarily the place to go for the best that television had to offer.

The Lemming remembers watching an actor's eyes scanning a cue card - probably held none-too-steadily just off-camera - while he delivered a set of highly dramatic lines.

Was that an example of bad acting? Incompetent performance? Atrocious memory?

No, in the Lemming's opinion.

Not when you consider that the forgettable lines the young man was declaiming probably hadn't been written yet, the morning of the day that episode was filmed.

It's possible that he hadn't seen those heart-rending words before a stage hand held up that cue card.

For generations, American soaps showed what entertainment professionals can do with a production schedule that demanded five new episodes a week. Under the circumstances, the Lemming thinks folks who made the soaps did a pretty good job.

As for the snobbish 'One never views such things?' Not gonna happen. Decades back, the Lemming enjoyed watching Dark Shadows. Think Kolchak: The Night Stalker meets Little House on the Prairie. Sort of.

Vaguely-related posts:
News and views:

1 You can't make this sort of thing up:

"Satan Taking Mr. Ed Along For The Ride?"
Justin Mitchell, Scripps-Howard News Service, via Chicago Tribune (May 8, 1986)

"Southern Ohio evangelist Jim Brown claims that he and cohort Greg Hudson have discovered that the theme song to the old 'Mr. Ed' television show contains a satanic message when played backward.

" 'A Horse Is a Horse' contains the backward messages 'the source is Satan' and 'someone heard this song for Satan,' Brown claimed recently during a seminar he held for teenagers about rock and country lyrics in Ironton, Ohio...."

That's right up (or down) there with a complaint about the "effete custom of men growing beards," and identifying David, king of Israel, as a "Christian."

The Lemming doesn't assume that all religious folks are a few tacos short of a combination plate, though. More about what the Lemming believes, elsewhere:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Internet Freedom; or 'Be Careful What You Wish For'

"Threat to Internet Freedom Growing, Report Claims" (April 19, 2011)

"Iran is the worst country in the world -- at least when it comes to web freedom, claims a new report.

"Among the reports eye-opening findings: The number of Internet users has doubled over the past five years, and governments worldwide are trying to find ways to control the heightened online activity -- sometimes relying on extreme measures to send a message.

" 'Freedom On the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media' evaluates a country based on factors that potentially violate a users' rights, such as limitations on content and barriers to access. According to the report released Tuesday by watchdog group Freedom House, an alarming 11 out of 37 countries received a ranking of 'Not Free,' while only eight were granted 'Free.'...

'Be Careful What You Wish For'

The Lemming doesn't particularly like seeing hateful screed online - or otherwise. The Lemming thinks that some "adult" content isn't good for people.

And the Lemming is very, very concerned when public-spirited citizens start clamoring for more 'hate crime legislation,' or vow to rid the Internet of pictures they don't like.

Right now, at least in America, the Internet allows folks who are not part of the establishment to publish their ideas. The Lemming doesn't agree with quite a bit of what's online - but that's not the point. Right now, in some parts of the world, we've got a system where you don't have to get an editor's approval, or know the right people, to get published.

Old-school information gatekeepers are having conniptions about that - but the Lemming likes living in world where the marketplace of ideas isn't limited to what the 'good old boys' think should be discussed. (see "What is an Information Gatekeeper?," Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 14, 2009))

Internet Freedom in Iran: So What?

The Lemming doesn't live in Iran, and could take the 'my end of the boat isn't sinking' approach to this issue. Or even rant about the innate superiority of Yankees.

Not gonna happen. For one thing, the Lemming looks Anglo - but isn't "Yankee." Not in the 'New Englander' sense, anyway. And the Lemming's skittered off-topic again.

For another - goofy as some "global village" rhetoric is, in the Lemming's opinion, the 6,920,000,000 or so folks alive today are far more connected than we were a generation ago. Back in the 'good old days,' what happened in, say, Uzbekistan or Ghana, affected folks living in Indonesia or America - eventually. Today, it's harder to ignore the 'no man is an island' aspect of existence. In the Lemming's opinion.

Back to that article:

"...In 22 of the countries online users have been jailed for posting something online, and it's getting easier for some of these governments to make arrests thanks to developing programs that enable a government to track down users looking up specific keywords.

"Social networking websites like Facebook, YouTube and Flickr were among the top websites to be blocked by these governments, while some find ways to disrupt e-mail services provided by Google in an effort to frustrate users and push them towards more easily monitored programs.

"The bottom ten, in order from bad to worst, were: Bahrain, Belarus, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Cuba, Burma and Iran."

Freedom: Precious, and Easily Lost

'It can't happen here,' right?

Wrong, in the Lemming's opinion. Not all that long ago, by the Lemming's standards, frightfully virtuous folks were warning their flocks about the evils of the Internet. The Lemming got the impression that some of the radio personalities of the day might think that "WWW" stood for "Wicked, Wicked Web."

Oddly, they didn't rail against the evils of movable type - even though Playboy magazine was one of the results of Gutenberg's invention. And that's almost another topic.

I was particularly concerned when an odd couple of advocacy groups joined forces - the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority.1 (Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 9, 2008))

The Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority didn't describe their goal quite this way: but what they wanted was a Federal agency that would decide who was allowed to put what online.1 They didn't get what they wanted, for which the Lemming is duly grateful.

That was then, this is now.

It's been a few months since the last time America's old guard tried to muzzle the Internet - in the Lemming's opinion. Folks in this country are still free to express their ideas, even if it annoys the powers that be.

The Lemming likes it that way. The Lemming also thinks it's just a matter of time, before some well-intentioned outfit decides to 'protect' us from stalkers, or [insert a political party you don't loathe], or people who say naughty things.

The proposal may sound very nice, and quite harmless. And the Lemming hopes it gets stopped, before we all lose the freedom to say what we think.

Related posts:
In the news:

1 "Commentary / Net Neutrality: Telecom Policy and the Public Interest" Neil Barratt, Leslie Regan Shade, Concordia University. Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 32 (2007) 295-305. Available through Canadian Research Alliance For Community Innovation And Networking.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Gets Transparent

You realize that the Lemming isn't really a flannel-clad rodent. At least, the Lemming hopes so.

The Counter-Cultural Case of the Transparent Lemming

During the last presidential election here in America, the Lemming noticed folks writing about "transparency:" but not the sort that windows are supposed to have. They seemed to be using "transparency" as a sort of metaphor, based on "the quality of being clear and transparent" part of transparency's definition (Princeton's WordNet)

In context of election year politics, "transparency" was what the writer's candidate was for, and the other guy was against. The Lemming is not looking forward to the next election year - and that's another topic.

Election-year slogans aside, the idea of being 'transparent,' in the sense of letting folks get a clear picture of what's happening, seems - for the most part - to make sense. To the Lemming.

Which brings the Lemming to an explanation for that flannel-wearing rodent with binoculars in the upper left corner of this blog:
  • Why call this blog 'Apathetic Lemming of the North?'
  • Who is the Lemming, really?
Now, a little more detail about the Lemming.

Why Write Posts as "the Lemming?"

I generally use the 'third person' tense when writing for this blog because I think it's fun. Also because it's a sort of parody of the old 'this editor' and 'editorial we' journalistic style.

The Man Behind the Lemming

My name is Brian Gill. That's a photo of me, taken in January of last year, for a post in another blog.

I live in a small central Minnesota town, Sauk Centre: which, apart from having paved streets, utilities, and pretty good internet connections, isn't a whole lot like living in, say, Manhattan.

Which is part of why I live here - and that's yet another topic.

I've discussed my household's economic status before:
Back in my teens, which happened during the '60s, I was one of those crazy kids who didn't conform. Except that I really didn't conform. I didn't go along with the long-hair-and-jeans thing, wore white socks every day at high school, and used pocket protectors.


'The American Dream' - and Waking Up Screaming

Like many of my peers in the 'Woodstock' days, I took a hard look at 'the American dream.' I decided that I liked the perks - but not the cost.

I realized that a 'success track' in America didn't necessarily involving 'buying things you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like' - but I didn't like the idea of getting into some claustrophobic little career rut, either.

I haven't regretted my choice: particularly during the lending industry and automotive industry meltdowns.

And the Lemming is getting (what else?) off-topic: nothing new there.

Sex, Religion, Victorian England, and Today's Mores

The alert reader will have noticed that I link to A Catholic Citizen in America now and then. It's another of my blogs.

Which isn't another topic.

I'm a practicing Catholic.

I've gotten the impression that here in America, religion is sort of like sex is supposed to have been in Victorian England. People presumably knew that sex existed, but decent folks kept it discretely hidden, inside, behind closed doors. And certainly never discussed sex in public.

Today's 'don't discuss politics or religion' rule makes some sense. Particularly, in my opinion, considering the sort of malignant virtue I've run into now and then. There is, sadly, something to "your Christians are so unlike your Christ," attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. (A Catholic Citizen in America (April 7, 2011; December 9, 2010; July 21, 2010)

'Everything I Don't Like is Satanic?' Hardly

Don't worry, by the way: I am not going to claim that everybody who isn't just like me is condemned to eternal torment. Hating people is out of the question too. Like I said, I'm a practicing Catholic - and there's a rule about that sort of thing. (A Catholic Citizen in America (December 9, 2010)

I'm not going to go along with the mores1 of today's America, either.

Think of it as 'coming out of the closet,' in a counter-cultural sense of the term.

Related posts:

1 "conventions that embody the fundamental values of a group" (Princeton's WordNet)

Rebuilding Japan, Living in a Big World

"U.S., Japan announce joint post-crisis rebuilding effort"
Matt Smith, CNN World (April 17, 2011)

"The U.S. secretary of state and the Japanese foreign minister on Sunday announced plans for a joint reconstruction venture as the Asian nation grapples with a nuclear crisis following a devastating earthquake and deadly tsunami.

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said aid to Japan honors Japan's legacy of assisting other countries in crisis.

" 'Our two governments ... have agreed to create a public-private partnership for reconstruction,' Clinton said. 'We wish to enhance cooperation between Japan and American businesses, between civil society groups, public officials, under the guidance of the government of Japan, with its planning.'..."

The mess in and around TEPCO's Fukushima nuclear power plant is not the only clean-up job in northwestern Japan. That March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami destroyed quite a few buildings, roads, and assorted structures - and killed quite a few people. In the Lemming's opinion, it'll take years to rebuild that part of Japan. Decades. Centuries, if you include woodlands. (April 16, 2011)

Japan, and Living in a Big World

The United States-Japan plans probably aren't the only government-related ones in place or in development. The Lemming lives in America, and this is the one that the Lemming ran into.

It looks like Japan's government is trying to take care of some of the reconstruction efforts 'in-house:'If the government programs do something more than provide employment for bureaucrats, the Lemming doesn't have a problem with them.

An example of fairly competent government programs are America's roads. For the most part, roads in this country are built and maintained by government agencies. Major failures are uncommon. The August, 2007, Interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Through One Dad's Eye (August 3, 2007)) is the exception, not the rule.

Even so, the Lemming doesn't think that government programs are the only way that folks can get things done.

Another example: That photo shows folks in Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, Korea, giving money to a relief fund for folks in Japan's disaster area.

It's not just Buddhists pitching in to help folks in Japan. Another example: Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was responding, along with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, within days of the quake. (A Catholic Citizen in America (March 20, 2011))

Japan, the Aflac Duck, and the Lemming

The idea of helping Japan is probably controversial. Or maybe not.

Actually, what surprises the Lemming is the relative dearth of 'Japan deserved it' statements. Apart from that little cluster of celebrity blunders in March, that is. Can't say that the Lemming is sorry about that. And that's another topic, for another blog:Not-quite-so-unrelated posts in this blog:In the news:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rikuzentakata's 'Tree of Hope:' and a Philosophizing Lemming

"Lone pine tree symbol of hope in Japan tsunami city"
Shingo Ito, AFP (April 2, 2011)

"The forest of black and red pine trees is gone, scattered like matchsticks"
(from AFP, used w/o permission)

"A lone pine tree stands on the shore of a tsunami-wrecked Japanese city, a symbol of hope and defiance for people who have lost everything.

"The tree was one of 70,000 in a forest that had protected the city of Rikuzentakata from ocean winds for more than 300 years.

"Large parts of the city now lie in ruins, with only the shells of a few concrete buildings left standing. Ten percent of the city's population is dead or missing

"The forest of black and red pine trees is also gone, scattered like matchsticks across this once-pretty resort by the enormous power of the March 11 tsunami -- except for this single tree, whose survival is counted as a 'miracle' by those whose homes have now vanished.

" 'Since it was the only tree left intact, it will become a symbol of restoration,' said 23-year-old Eri Kamaishi, as she stood in the shadow of the tree now known locally as the 'pine of hope'.

"The tree is one of the few landmarks left to show where Rikuzentakata once stood, said Kamaishi.

" 'I can't even remember exactly what the city looked like because it has so completely gone,' she said.

"Resin oozes from a scar on the trunk of the tree, where the lower branches were ripped off by the power of the waves, but a thick spray of green pine needles at the top of the 10-metre (33-foot) tree shows it is very much still alive....

"...The history of the pine forest can be traced back to the 17th century, when a wealthy merchant began planting trees as a windbreaker to protect residents from storms.

"The beach, which sits at the mouth of a bay, drew around 200,000 visitors a year and was listed in guide books as one of the 100 most scenic places in Japan.

" 'For us, the pine trees are very special' because of the protection they offered to local people, said Yasuo Murakami, 69.

"He said he hoped the tree would encourage survivors and heal the broken hearts of those who have lost their loved ones. Murakami's wife and sister were found dead and his six-year-old grandchild is still missing....

"...Around 1,000 people [in Rikuzentakata] are known to have died, with 1,300 still missing. Many thousands are living in evacuation centres. Heaps of debris across a vast area of the city remain almost untouched...."

It's taken about two weeks, but news of the Rikuzentakata 'tree of hope' has reached an American news outlet. The Lemming will be back after this excerpt from CNN, with an opinion or two.
"Single pine tree a sign of hope amid devastation in Japanese city"
Brian Walker, CNN World (April 16, 2011)

"More than a month after Japan's killer tsunami struck, there's not much standing in Rikuzentakata, and even fewer things still alive.

"But across a shattered bridge and among the scattered concrete shells and piles of debris, there's a surprising sight along the tsunami-battered coast -- a single towering pine tree.

"It's the last surviving one in what was once a sprawling grove of more than 70,000 that towered above the white sandy shore and made it a popular tourist destination....

"...But they were no protection from the March 11 tsunami waves, which reached more than 10-meters high and washed several kilometers inland.

"At least 10% of the 23,000 people who once called the town home are dead or missing, says the town's mayor, Futoshi Toba.

"There are huge logs now piled up along the shore, while tree trunks litter the coast, many snapped in half by the waves.

"Those trees that once protected the city instead added to the destruction.

"Residents in a crowded local shelter recall seeing the giant trees cracking off and sweeping like battering rams through the town.

"Now the people of the town see the last pine as a symbol of hope and renewal.

"But first they have to save it.

"Salt water, oil and chemicals have soaked into the earth all around its roots.

"Its lower branches have all been torn off, and it is oozing sap but still holding on to the pine needles and cones some 40 feet up.

"The town leaders have begun to plan for keeping it alive. They are monitoring its health and even considering digging up the soil surrounding it and replacing it with fresh dirt...."

Apart from a few celebrities saying daft things (March 15, 2011), there's been - in the Lemming's opinion - remarkably little public comment about how the March 11, 2011, earthquake was Japan's fault.

The Lemming has, however, seen quite a bit written about how nuclear power is a bad thing. And that's almost another topic.

About that pine tree, the folks in Rikuzentakata, and getting a grip, the Lemming opines:
  • Was the earthquake Japan's fault?
    • No
  • Should TEPCO's Fukushima power plant be rebuilt?
    • Probably not
      • But that's not the Lemming's decision to make
  • Is nuclear power safe?
    • Of course not
  • Is any technology safe?
    • No
    • People have been killed by
      • Fire
      • Sharp sticks
  • Should nuclear power be banned?
    • In the short term, no
    • In the long term, it's likely to be replaced by other technologies
      • Which will have their own problems
  • Are we all doomed? DOOMED? DOOMED?!!!!
    • The Lemming doesn't think that's likely

Rikuzentakata's Tree, and Hope

The Lemming realizes that bad things happened in Japan last month. Many people died, and many things were broken. That was not good.

But many more folks did not die - and survivors can, in the Lemming's opinion, use symbols like that pine tree as a sort of focusing point. There's a huge amount of work to be done in the northeastern part of Japan - and the Lemming thinks that folks find reconstruction easier when there's some physical thing they can point to as a symbol of what they're trying to achieve.

Maybe keeping that tree alive isn't the most practical thing that folks in Rikuzentakata could do - but the Lemming thinks it's important, anyway.

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