Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, 2014

By the time you read this, the Lemming will probably be asleep. Then again, maybe it would be fun to check in and see if this chap got 'high score' yet:

Oh, right. Earth's gone around Sol again. Happy New Year!

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's Friday Already? Musings of a Rambling Lemming

Sunday happened on Wednesday this week, since that's when Christmas fell this year. It didn't actually fall: not the way Santa Clause would if the jolly old elf tripped over the light fantastic with Fred Astair and Ginger Rodgers.

Gene Kelly was a good dancer, too, with or without an umbrella.

What with one thing and another, the Lemming is discombobulated, which is not to be confused with disco or deltoids. "Deltoid, over the rainbow:" No, that's not how it goes, not even across the yellow brick road.

Sleep. The Lemming definitely needs sleep.

Good night. Or, rather, good morning. Good grief.

Posts, but not the related kind:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Channel Surfing With the Lemming

Merry Christmas! Or happy holidays, or whatever.

Remember, even if you're feeling down: if you're in Earth's northern hemisphere, days are getting longer; if you're south of Earth's equator, it's summer! Either way, being alive sure beats the alternative.

Vaguely-related posts:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Safety Coffins, Sleeping Beauty, and a Rambling Lemming

Coffins with bells mounted topside that would ring if the occupant pulled a cord aren't as silly as they may seem. The idea wasn't that the dead might want room service.

Safety coffins met a need, or fueled fears, of being buried alive. Back in the 'good old days' of Cholera epidemics, that fear wasn't entirely unreasonable. The Lemming does not miss the 'good old days:' at all.

Then there's the Donora death fog of 1948. Oddly enough, "Happy Days" didn't mention it. Not once. It was set in the 1950s: the sitcom, not what happened in Donora.

Happy thoughts. The Lemming really should think happy thoughts.

Happy wasn't particularly perturbed when a fugitive took refuge in the home he shared with — those miners weren't minors, but were they related, and why didn't Merryweather keep an eye on — never mind.

That was Disney's "Sleeping Beauty:" a heartwarming tale of true love and spinning wheels; or a cautionary tale, chronicling the tragic consequences of Maleficent's hiring practices. Really, couldn't she have found one goon who knew that humans grow?

Growth happens, and so to seasons, which is why trees have growth rings, but folks who study dendrochronology apparently aren't called dendrochronologists. Maybe because they'd get confused with dental hygienists, or start thinking that their job was writing a chronology for some tree.

None of which explains why the Lemming is rambling today. There's an interesting explanation for that, or might be: if the Lemming knew why three days of work abruptly fell into the digital abyss Wednesday evening.

Instead of regularly-scheduled programming, or research, or writing, or whatever it is that the Lemming does to get these posts ready, the Lemming spent most of Thursday doing Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday's work again. A one-to-three compression ratio, or is it three-two-one-we have liftoff?

The Lemming needs coffee. Or sleep. Yes: definitely sleep. There's no question about it, Dave: and the Lemming is not going to get started on HAL 9000's descent into madness.

Utterly-unrelated posts:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Young" Martian Mudstone: Only 80,000,000 Years Old

"Erosion by Scarp Retreat in Gale Crater "
(December 9, 2013)

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission.)

"This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a series of sedimentary deposits in the Glenelg area of Gale Crater, from a perspective in Yellowknife Bay looking toward west-northwest.

"Curiosity's science team has estimated that the 'Cumberland' rock that the rover drilled for a sample of the Sheepbed mudstone deposit (at lower left in this scene) has been exposed at the surface for only about 80 million years. The estimate is based on amounts of certain gases that accumulate in a rock when it is close enough to the surface to be bombarded by cosmic rays. An explanation for that unexpectedly young exposure age comes from improved understanding of how the layers are eroding to expose underlying layers. The explanation proposes that the mudstone is being exposed by abrasion by windblown sand, indicated by arrows. The role for wind is strongly suggested by the undercutting of the Sheepbed layer below the Gillespie Lake sandstone...."

Calling something that's about 80,000,000 years old "young" may seem odd. Compared to the 4,500,000,000 or so times that Earth went around our sun since the Solar system's inner planets settled down, though: it's very new indeed.

Quite a bit happened since the Sheepbed mudstone started soaking up cosmic rays. Something reset Earth's ecosystem, giving furry little critters a chance to assert themselves; and now Earth is either in the warm cycle of an ice age, or at the end of one.

Either way, the Lemming thinks the next 80,000,000 years should be interesting too..

Related posts:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Starlit Clouds of Rho Ophiuchi, Puritan Privateers, and a Rambling Lemming

"The Colorful Clouds of Rho Ophiuchi"
Image © Rafael Defavari, via apod.NASA, used w/o permission.
(Image © Rafael Defavari, via NASA, used w/o permission.)
"The many spectacular colors of the Rho Ophiuchi (oh'-fee-yu-kee) clouds highlight the many processes that occur there...."

There's more, including a link to a "Free APOD 2014 Calendar in PDF format" that didn't work when the Lemming tried it. Maybe you'll have a less anticlimactic experience. Or maybe not.

Apparently Robert Nemiroff (MTU) and Jerry Bonnell (UMCP) wrote the description of Rafael Defavari's photo; and the Lemming found all of the above on APOD, which has very little to do with Apple's portable media players, oranges, or William III of England, who probably didn't inspire the phrase "to give the willies."

Naturally, that reminded the Lemming of Nassau, Bahamas, that's on New Providence. Old Providence is in the Caribbean, too: but instead of transplanted American loyalists, Old providence got Henry Morgan and Puritan privateers. The Lemming is not making this up. Really.

Allegedly-related posts:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Revenge of the Turkey

(Memorial Hermann, via LiveScience, used w/o permission.)
"Thanksgiving Trauma: The 7 Strangest Holiday ER Visits"
Tanya Lewis, LiveScience (November 27, 2013)

"The holidays are a time of joy and giving thanks. But like any occasion that involves families gathering to enjoy good food and each other's company, accidents can happen.

"LiveScience asked emergency room doctors about the weirdest, funniest or most unfortunate reasons for a visit to the ER over Thanksgiving and other holidays. From deep-fryer burns to in-law anxiety, here are some of the most notable:

"1. Turkey troubles

" Nothing says Thanksgiving like cooking an obscenely large farm bird. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that emergency rooms see a lot of fowl-related injuries on Turkey Day.

"Deep-frying turkeys poses a major hazard. If the turkey is wet or partially frozen when it hits the oil, the bird can catch fire, or even explode. 'We've had fires that singed hair and eyebrows, and splash burns to the face,'" said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician...."

"...People also drop their turkeys, causing second-degree burns to the tops of their feet, contusions and the occasional toe fracture...

"...3. Overindulging

"One of the most common problems around Thanksgiving, as one might guess, involves eating and drinking too much, Glatter said. The combination, he explained, can cause a surge in epinephrine or norepinephrine, which triggers atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) in a structurally normal heart. Doctors call it 'holiday heart.'...

"...And when people eat too quickly, food can get lodged in their throats — especially turkey, because it's so dry...."

There's more: carving under the influence; the potato salad that time forgot; energetic in-laws; and  — the Lemming's favorite — a raw turkey used as a football helmet.

There's a wonderfully redolent tale of revenge from beyond the grave here, or maybe "from beyond the gravy:" a turkey, vowing with its last breath to wreak terrible vengeance, lodging in the throat of a holiday guest.

On that cheerful note, the Lemming bids you bon appétit, which is the name of a magazine, and another topic.

Vaguely-related posts:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot News from IceCube - or - A Neutrino Named Ernie

(From IceCube Collaboration, via Space.com, used w/o permission.)
"This image shows the highest energy neutrino ever observed (1.14 petaelectronvolts), which scientists named 'Ernie,' as seen by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole on Jan. 3, 2012. Image released Nov. 21, 2013."

"Neutrino Detector Finds Elusive Extraterrestrial Particles in 'Major Breakthrough'
Tanya Lewis, Space.com (November 21, 2013)

"For decades, scientists have been searching for ghostly neutrino particles from outer space, and now they have finally found them.

"Using the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, researchers found the first evidence of neutrinos from outside the solar system since 1987. The findings open the door for a new era of astronomy that could reveal secrets of the strangest phenomena in the universe, scientists say.

" 'It is a major breakthrough,' said Uli Katz, a particle physicist at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, who was not involved with the research. 'I think it is one of the absolute major discoveries in astro-particle physics,' Katz told SPACE.com...."

First, what this doesn't mean. Ernie the Neutrino isn't going to blow up the sun, find Elvis, or help anyone win the lottery.

Ernie is one of two recent neutrino events. The other one's Bert: and yes, they had Sesame Street in mind. Scientists aren't nearly as heavily-starched about names as they were a century back, about which the Lemming is pleased. Not that the Lemming's preferences are of great import: except to the Lemming, and this is getting off-topic.

Where was the Lemming? Neutrinos. Bert and Ernie. Really cool science. Downright cold, actually, since IceCube is in Antarctica, and that's yet another topic.

The big deal about Ernie and Bert is that they've got more than one petaelectronvolt. A petaelectronvolt is 1,000,000,000,000,000 electronvolts. That number is pronounced "one quadrillion," or "wow, that's a lot of zeroes."

Maybe these overachieving neutrinos are from someone's ham sandwich, but it's much more likely that they're from deep space: the dark abyss between stars.

It's the first time that scientists are pretty sure that they've detected an extrasolar neutrino, and they're excited about it. So is the Lemming.

One of the next steps will be to find out what flavor the neutrinos are. The Lemming likes pistachio and Butter Brickle ice cream, which may or may not be a registered trademark: and has just about nothing to do with neutrinos. The Lemming is still catching up on sleep.

More-or-less-related posts:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Out, Out, Brief Prince! Or, It's Brillig Already?!

Friday snuck up on the Lemming, or is it sneaked up? Either way, this post needs to be out several hours before brillig, come slithy toves: or Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, for that matter.

Then there's Lady Macbeth, and her odd tastes in castle decor. And what she said about that spot: shocking!

One thing seems certain, the Lemming needs more sleep.

Pretty much unrelated posts:

Friday, November 8, 2013

A 'Bookish' Librarian, Art, Words, and a Rambling Lemming

Giuseppe Arcimboldo's The Librarian, painted in 1566, currently residing at Skokloster Castle, Sweden.

If artists paint what they see, Giuseppe was deranged; which has little to do with "Home on the Range;" although spending too much time where the antelope roam might.

On the other hand, maybe his paintings are incisive social commentary; or clever puzzles; or maybe he was essentially not in madness, But mad in craft. Bill had a knack with words: like when Hamlet said "unpack my heart with words," and it's funny how unpack sounds like knack, except that first k is silent, and the Lemming's train of thought jumped the track, which also rhymes with knack.

Which reminded the Lemming that Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted a quartet of seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, except they came about ten years apart: the first two and the last two, that is; and October is in autumn, followed by November and December, which got those names because they're the eighth, ninth, and tenth month; but that was when Romans only had ten months in a year, since winter didn't count. Sort of.

That was a long time ago, or maybe not so much. It depends on your frame of reference, and the Lemming definitely needs sleep.

Allegedly-related posts:

Friday, November 1, 2013


Ninjas never really existed. The folks whose skills inspired stories of ninjas were in a profession that died out centuries ago.

It's the perfect cover.

Entirely-unrelated posts:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Taiyaki and Wagashi: Genuine Imitation Food Substitutes

(Toto-tarou, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

"Taiyaki (鯛焼き , literally "baked sea bream"?) is a Japanese fish-shaped cake. The most common filling is red bean paste that is made from sweetened azuki beans. Other common fillings may be custard, chocolate, cheese, or sweet potato. Some shops even sell taiyaki with okonomiyaki, gyoza filling, or a sausage inside...."

(MC MasterChef, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

"Wagashi (和菓子 wa-gashi?) is a traditional Japanese confectionery which is often served with tea, especially the types made of mochi, azuki bean paste, and fruits. Wagashi is typically made from plant ingredients...."

There are those who don't like unfamiliar food because it's "foreign," others who praise unfamiliar food because it is. The Lemming likes good old American foods like pizza, sauerkraut, zucchini, chow mein, and lefse.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for folks who can bake bean paste, call it "baked sea bream:" and get others to pay for the privilege of eating it.

Then there's bean paste that's shaped like a variety of fruits.

Which brings up an interesting point: does anyone eat fish-shaped baked bean paste stuffed with chocolate and cheese? If so: why?

Allegedly-related posts:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Holiday-Themed Nebulae: Caldwell 92 and IC 2118

(From NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni, used w/o permission.)

"Witch Head Nebula

"As the name implies, this reflection nebula associated with the star Rigel looks suspiciously like a fairytale crone. Formally known as IC 2118 in the constellation Orion, the Witch Head Nebula glows primarily by light reflected from the star. The color of this very blue nebula is caused not only by blue color of its star, but also because the dust grains reflect blue light more efficiently than red. A similar physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue."

The Witch Head Nebula is either left over from a supernova, or not. Either way, from Earth's angle it looks like the ethically-challenged stepmother in Snow White or Hansel and Gretel, sort of. Some of those tales are downright Grimm.

The way light gets scattered by tiny particles is why Earth's sky and the Witch Head Nebula look blue. It's called Rayleigh scattering, not to be confused with the Raleigh Bicycle Company, Sir Walter Raleigh, or Sir Walter Scott.

Sorry about that. The Lemming's catching up on sleep, or fighting a cold, or in a puckish mood. Oddly, "pawkish" isn't in dictionaries, although the Lemming's seen and heard it used. Definitions aboud for gawkish, hawkish, mawkish, peckish, perkish, rakish, and the aforementioned puckish: but nary a peep about "pawkish."

Somewhere in Earth's sky there must be a nebula that looks like Little Bo Peep or her sheep, and that's another topic.

(From Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, used w/o permission.)

"Hubble Celebrates Its Seventeenth Birthday with the Birth of a Star

"...one of the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble's cameras. It is a 50-light-year-wide view of the central region of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of star birth - and death - is taking place....

"...The immense nebula contains at least a dozen brilliant stars that are roughly estimated to be at least 50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun. The most unique and opulent inhabitant is the star Eta Carinae, at far left. Eta Carinae is in the final stages of its brief and eruptive lifespan, as evidenced by two billowing lobes of gas and dust that presage its upcoming explosion as a titanic supernova.

"The fireworks in the Carina region started three million years ago when the nebula's first generation of newborn stars condensed and ignited in the middle of a huge cloud of cold molecular hydrogen. Radiation from these stars carved out an expanding bubble of hot gas. The island-like clumps of dark clouds scattered across the nebula are nodules of dust and gas that are resisting being eaten away by photoionization...."
NASA (March 24, 2007)

Like most other things in the sky, the Carina Nebula has quite a few names and catalog numbers. Depending on who's writing, it's Caldwell 92; or the Eta Carinae Nebula, Grand Nebula, Great Nebula in Carina; or NGC 3372.

A nebula by any other name wouldn't smell as sweet, and the Lemming is not going to go into a Shakespearean frenzy.

Points of interest in the Carina Nebula include the Homunculus Nebula. There we go with a Halloween theme again. Sort of.

The word homunculus first showed up in 16th century alchemical records. These drastically undersized human-like critters are sort of related to the mandrake plant, except they don't really exist. That's the Lemming's story, and he's sticking to it.

Mystic Mountain is another scenic spot in the Carina Nebula, and not to be confused with an amusement park in Jamaica, or a ski resort in Pennsylvania. The latter are both on Earth, which may be obvious. Then again, maybe not.

Related posts:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Martian Supervolcanoes

(From NASA/MOLA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Eden Patera is the best example. The irregular-shaped caldera formed when the ground collapsed into the void. The colours here represent elevation in the surrounding terrain. Red is high; blue is low"

"Supervolcanoes ripped up early Mars"
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (October 2, 2013)

"Mars may have had giant explosive volcanoes in its ancient past that spewed billions upon billions of tonnes of rock and ash into the sky.

"Vast areas of collapsed ground in a region of the planet called Arabia Terra are their likely remains, believe Joe Michalski and Jacob Bleacher....

Scientists kept finding evidence that really big volcanoes erupted when Mars was young, but hadn't found enough to account for all the ancient ash.

Apparently they were looking for the wrong kind of volcano.

Yellowstone Caldera and Mars

(From NASA/JPL/MSSS, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"An impact crater (L) is usually circular and surrounded by an apron of ejected material. The collapsed calderas of supervolcanoes (R) look very different, with volcanic features such as terracing and pinched rims"

"...They [Michalski and Bleacher] say such supervolcanoes would have had a profound impact on the early evolution of Mars.

"Their gases would have influenced the make-up of the atmosphere and perturbed the climate. And the ashfall would have covered the landscape across great swathes of the planet. It is quite likely some of the deposits the rovers are now encountering on Mars have their origin in colossal blasts...."
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

"Supervolcano" is an unofficial name for volcanoes that blow 1,000 cubic kilometers or more of rock into the air.

One of Earth's better-known supervolcanoes is the one that's powering Yellowstone Park's hot springs and geysers. That one probably has one more eruption coming. Not to worry, though. If the Yellowstone caldera's past eruptions are a guide, humanity probably has another 60,000 years to get ready: more or less.

The Yellowstone caldera doesn't look like a volcano, and neither do the Martian supervolcanoes. Olympus Mons was easy to spot: it's a huge mound with craters on top. What Michalski and Bleacher found look a little like irregular impact craters.

Part of what's different about the possible supervolcanoes on Mars is that, unlike craters left by impacts, they're deep.

If Michalski and Bleacher are right, scientists have part of the explanation for how parts of Mars got covered with so much ash. Understanding how Mars got to be the way it is should help settlers, when humanity gets around to moving outward, and that's another topic.

Related posts:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fishface! Ancient Fish with a Jaw, Cheekbones, and Beady Little Eyes

"The earliest known species with what we would recognize as a face was an armored, beady-eyed prehistoric fish."

"First face? Prehistoric fish was a jawdropper"
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, via FoxNews.com (September 25, 2013)

"The earliest known species with what we would recognize as a face was an armored, beady-eyed prehistoric fish, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

"The fish, entelognathus primordialis (meaning 'primordial complete jaw'), is the oldest known animal to have face-forming jaw and cheek bones comparable to those of today's bony fishes and most terrestrial animals, including us....

"...'Entelognathus had a rather unprepossessing face,' co-author Per Erik Ahlberg of Uppsala University told Discovery News. 'The mouth was wide, the forehead low and flat, and the small, close-set and almost immobile eyes pointed forwards like a pair of car headlights.'..."

The Lemming isn't sure that "primitive" is quite the right term for this piscine prodigy. That jaw was a revolutionary development in fish: and still standard equipment in most land animals that keep their skeleton on the inside. Which is dandy place for it, in the Lemming's opinion.

Sharks definitely aren't primitive, as Friedman points out in the article. Matt Friedman: the Lemming gathers that he does lectures about paleobiology at Oxford. The university, not the town: although Oxford U. is in Oxford, and that's another topic.

Sure, the skeletons of sharks are cartilage, not bone, but those fish are specialized and represent a fairly recent development. "Recent" is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Or Lemming, in this case.

Lampreys and hag-fish: now those things are primitive. Not the current ones so much, but their equally-jawless predecessors back in the good old days when agnatha shared the world with critters that give new meaning to the word "weird."

(D.W. Miller, via the Smithsonian Institution, used w/o permission.)

Of course, if opabinia had kept going for another 500,000,000 years or so, they might be complaining about the younger generation and cost of living: and think critters with only two eyes are weird. And that's another topic. Topics.

Opabina? That's the little critter with five eyes and an improbable-looking mouth-claw-pincer thing sticking out of its front end in that picture.

Allegedly-related posts:

(From Chase Studios, via Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma, used w/o permission.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

From the Mind of the Lemming: Amateur Night

The Lemming didn't think it was all that funny, either.

You'll find more than you may want to know about Roomba® at www.irobot.com.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday the 13th, Poetry, and a Rambling Lemming

First, a public service announcement. Thursday, September 19, is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Ye have been warned! Arrr!

Paraskevidekatriaphobia and Prismatic Poem Parts

Friday the 13th came on a Tuesday last month, but this time it's the real deal: Friday the 13th, not just the 13th day of the month.

Not that it really matters, except for people prone to paraskevidekatriaphobia, which doesn't have much to do with parasails, although finding two Friday Special sales would be nice.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia doesn't have much to do with parrots, either, and come to think of it someone with paraskevidekatriaphobia probably wouldn't go parasailing today. That long word starting with "p" means "fear of Friday the 13th," which the Lemming doesn't have.

The Lemming doesn't have a parrot, either, or a parasail. This post was supposed to be about something besides Friday the 13th and fearful feelings, which the Lemming does occasionally have: but not about Friday the - - - oh, never mind.

Now, for no particular reason, here's a set of snippets. The Lemming likes this sort of thing. Your experience may vary.

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

"...Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye....

"...'And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away'.

A Rambling Lemming Ponders Poe's Poem

How, the Lemming asks, could one ponder "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore?" If the lore is in a volume, it's been set in writing: and can hardly be called "forgotten." Someone might forget where the book is, or how to get to the library, and folks have lost their library cards on occasion: and that's another topic, sort of.

That line is from Poe's cheerful ditty that starts with:

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, -
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door....

"Cheerful?" What was the Lemming thinking? Never mind.

The Lemming can understand why a person with a propensity for abstruse pursuits might ponder ponderous volumes. That's how some of these posts get started.

A particularly polite person might answer a nocturnal tapping on the door. But when tapping came at the window: What was he thinking?!

Then, to top it all off, he lets the - raven? - in: and has a conversation with it.

The chap must have been particularly lonely. Or something.

For some reason, the Lemming has exhibited a propensity for words beginning with "p:" and that's yet another topic.

Time to stop. The Lemming is pooped from all that pondering.

Almost-related posts:

Friday, September 6, 2013

From the Mind of the Lemming: Guest Speaker

The Lemming's mind wandered this week, and dropped in at a conference somewhere.

Almost-entirely-unrelated posts:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chengdu's Huge New Mall, and a Musing Lemming

(From ETGCN, via International Business Times, used w/o permission.)
"Inside the shopping area of the New Century Global Center."

"World's Largest Building, New Century Global Center, Opens In Chengdu, China"
Mark Johanson, International Business Times (July 01 2013)

"Whenever you're talking about the world's biggest, largest, tallest or fastest, chances are China is somehow involved. After all, the People's Republic boasts the world's biggest shopping mall and museum, tallest statue and highest observation deck, among other superlatives. And, as of this week, you can add the world's largest freestanding building to the growing list.

"The New Century Global Center in Chengdu, in Sichuan in western China, is so big that it's got its own artificial sun. Indeed, at 500 meters (1,640 feet) long, 400 meters (1,310 feet) wide and 100 meters (325 feet) high, it's massive enough to hold 20 Sydney Opera Houses or three Pentagons, according to local authorities.

"Of course, you won't find any Sydney Opera Houses or Pentagons inside this 1.76 million-square-meter (18.94 million-square-foot) space. The colossal structure, which opened June 28 under the management of Exhibition and Travel Group, is like an enclosed town, with businesses, offices, shopping malls, theaters, two five-star hotels, a skating rink and even a water park called Paradise Island with an “indoor beach.” The New Century Global Center also boasts a faux Mediterranean village, following the bizarre trend in China for copycat European towns...."

Mark Johanson's article is fairly upbeat, which is just as well since it's in IBT's Media & Culture/Travel section. When was the last time you read something unglowing in that a 'places to go' publication?

That said, the Lemming's impressed with Chengdu's new shopping mall. It's not just big: architects did a good job of making it look good. In the Lemming's opinion.

Where Chengdu's new shopping mall goes in lists of 'world's biggest shopping malls' will depend on who makes the list. Minnesota's Mall of America is 23rd in a 'biggest shopping malls' list on Wikipedia.

That's because whoever put the list together didn't count an amusement park that's inside the mall. Credit where credit is due: there's a notation that the Mall of America would be #11 on the list, if all the interior space counted.

The West Edmonton Mall, several hours north and west of the Lemming, is big, too: and was the biggest in the world until 2004. These days the really big shopping malls are in Asia and the southwestern Pacific, and that's almost another topic.

Marine Theme for an Inland Mall, and Smog

(From ETGCN, via International Business Times, used w/o permission.)
"The hotel rooms are seen in the New Century Global Center."

"The exterior of the new mega-structure is shaped like a wave, while the interior has a marine theme, despite the fact that the nearest ocean is some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away. The Japanese-designed artificial sun, meanwhile, will shine 24 hours a day and offer a welcome respite from the thick smog that typically blankets Chengdu's streets.

"The building forms the centerpiece of a recently developed area known as Tainfu New District on the outskirts of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Like many Chinese megacities, this hub of 14 million is rapidly expanding, with a growing subway system and a new airport planned for 2020.

"Officials had hoped to have the New Century Global Center completed in time for a global forum hosted by the U.S. magazine Fortune that brought presidents and CEOs of some of the world's largest companies to the city for two days in early June. That didn't pan out, but the government isn't shy about its desire for Chengdu to become the economic capital of western China. Chengdu's GDP reached 800 billion RMB ($130.48 billion) by the end of 2012, according to state media, ranking it third among China's sub-provincial cities...."
(Mark Johanson, International Business Times)

"Not shy" is a pretty good way to describe a promotional video the Lemming found. The audio isn't distorted, but you might want to turn the volume down before playing it:
Chengdu probably does have smog. China has been running its industrial and commercial development in fast-forward, and may better air-quality standards in a few years. Then again, maybe not.

The Lemming decided to settle outside metropolitan areas, partly because the air is cleaner out here. Most of the time, anyway. Now and then a manure pit's turned when the wind is just right, and a very organic fragrance permeates the Lemming's abode. More topics.

Another View of a Smoggy, Phoney,  . . . You Get the Idea

(From STR/AFP/Getty Images, via CNET, used w/o pemission.)
"The New Century Global Center (top) looms over the Export-Import Bank of China in Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan province."
"China opens city-sized shopping mall, with fake sun"
Tim Hornyak, CNET (July 3, 2013)

" The international tallest building arms race has been dominated by Dubai, with its Burj Khalifa, for several years, but China has upped the ante by unveiling what it calls the world's largest building.

"The New Century Global Center building opened recently in Chengu, a city of more than 14 million people in southwest China's Sichuan province. It's described as 'the world's largest standalone structure' by Chinese officials and is 328 feet high, 1,640 feet long, and 1,312 feet wide.

"While Boeing's plant in Everett, Wash., is the world's biggest building by volume, the Chinese mall seems to be tops in floor space. Almost the area of Monaco, its 420 acres of floor space could fit nearly three Pentagons, four Vatican Cities, or 20 Sydney Opera Houses.

"The cavernous structure will feature a mix of retail outlets, a 14-screen movie theater, a university complex, offices, hotels, a water park called Paradise Island, a skating rink that's big enough to host international competitions, a pirate ship, 15,000 parking spots, and even a fake Mediterranean village...."

Did the Lemming mention that the New Century Global Center is huge? That's a common denominator in these articles. Also the smog.

Given time, the Lemming thinks that China's leadership will get around to cleaning up their country's air. That's not just empty optimism. The powers that be over there seem to have decided that putting China back on the map for world commerce is a good idea.

If they don't know that folks notice smog now, they soon will. "Soon" by the Lemming's standards, anyway.


"...Oh, and there's an artificial beach, too.

"But the ersatzery doesn't stop there. While Chengdu's factories, which include a Foxconn plant that turns out Apple gizmos, regularly contribute to the city's smog problem, visitors will enjoy an artificial sun that gives off light and heat 24 hours a day and a 164-yard-long LED screen serving as a stand-in for the horizon...."

Tim Hornyak can't seem to get over the artificiality of Chengdu's new megabuilding.

Artificial light, air at a controlled temperature, and efforts to make indoors feel like outdoors doesn't bother the Lemming quite so much. But then, the Lemming lives in Minnesota, where water is a mineral for several months each year. "Artificial" and "habitable" are far from mutually incompatible here. Yet more topics.

Related posts:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Vistas in Orion

"PIA04215: Horsehead Nebula"
Photojournal, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1999)

"Rising from a sea of dust and gas like a giant seahorse, the Horsehead nebula is one of the most photographed objects in the sky. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took a close-up look at this heavenly icon, revealing the cloud's intricate structure...."

Like the fellow said, "Hier ist wahrhaftig ein Loch im Himmel." If Sir William Herschel had been using English at the time, he'd have said "here is truly a hole in the sky." The Lemming found that comment on BBC's website. And no: Sir William Herschel's comment was not made in a blog. The Internet wasn't around in the 18th century, and that's another topic.

The same BBC page says that some folks call the Horsehead Nebula Barnard 33, and that someone took a photo of it at an observatory in Cambridge. Not the one in England: the one in Massachusetts.

Edward Pickering got credit for IC 434, the bright nebula 'around' Barnard 33, AKA the Horsehead Nebula, in 1889. The BBC pointed out that Pickering's assistant, some dude named Flemming, spotted IC 434 and the Horsehead Nebula in 1888.

One more thing: Pickering's a Harvard man, but Harvard College Observatory records, again quoted by the BBC, lists the dark nebula as "discovered by WP Fleming." (Volume 60, dated 1908, on page 149 entry 62)

If the Lemming wore a hat, it'd be tipped to Harvard for giving credit where credit is due.

Hot Winds in Orion

"PIA04227: Orion Nebula and Bow Shock"
Photojournal, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1995)

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have found a bow shock around a very young star in the nearby Orion nebula, an intense star-forming region of gas and dust.

"Named for the crescent-shaped wave a ship makes as it moves through water, a bow shock can form in space when two gas streams collide. In this case, the young star, LL Ori, emits a vigorous wind, a stream of charged particles moving rapidly outward from the star. Our own Sun has a less energetic version of this wind that is responsible for auroral displays on the Earth.

"The material spewed from LL Ori collides with slow-moving gas evaporating away from the center of the Orion nebula, located to the lower right of the image. The surface where the two winds collide is seen as the crescent-shaped bow shock...."

If it seems that a lot of photos taken through telescopes show stuff in the Orion Nebula, you're quite correct. That's because Earth's star is so close to this complex mess of hot and cold running gasses, stars in various stages of formation, and spectacular light shows.

'Close' is a relative term, of course. Light captured in those photos started its journey to Earth more than a dozen centuries back. Most humans probably think of that as a large distance.

By the way, if you're interested in watching the Orion Nebula: don't dawdle. Its supply of gas and dust will run out in about 100,000 years. Oh, wait. That's probably a long time in your frame of reference.

Vaguely-related posts:

Friday, August 16, 2013

The History of Playing-Cards: Hand-Crafted Art, Gutenberg, and All That

"A Concise History of Playing-cards"
The World of Playing-Cards

"Playing Cards have been around in Europe since the 1370s. Some of the earliest surviving packs were hand painted works of art which were expensive and affordable only by wealthy patrons. But you can play card games with any old pack so as demand increased new, cheaper methods of production were discovered so that playing cards became available for everyone...

"The history of playing cards in popular art is fascinating and has a long tradition. This section is an online tutorial covering the early history of playing Cards...."

It's an "online tutorial," but the Lemming had fun with The World of Playing-Cards' "Concise History. Your experience may vary.

The title is accurate, by the way. Their history is a quick shuffle through Europe's encounter with playing cards. Apparently they showed up in Europe about two decades after the Black Death, which may explain some of the more colorful playing card art.

After reading this and other histories of playing cards, the Lemming is quite certain that they came from the Middle East or somewhere else.

The World of Playing-Cards - good grief, that's a long name. Let's call them WoPC. Where was the Lemming? Playing cards. History. Really long names. More history. Right.

WoPC takes you through the social, economic, and artistic sides of playing cards: which isn't as boring as you might think.

These things started as one-of-a-kind handcrafted playthings of the aristokrater. That didn't last. New technology, woodcuts and Gutenberg's movable type, let new players deal in: starting near the end of the 14th century. Breakthroughs in printing tech eventually led to mass produced Harlequin romance books and Hoyle playing cards.

By now, just about anybody in Europe or North America can get their hands on a deck of playing cards. Or, in the case of the Lemming, paws.

There's more to WoPC's history:
And, if you just can't get enough of this sort of thing, IPCS has a history, too:
IPCS says playing cards must have been invented in China, because that's where paper was invented. They may be right. On the other hand, paper isn't papyrus or vellum, which has nothing much to do with Velcro.

The Lemming needs to get more sleep. Definitely.

Nearly-related posts:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lemming Tracks: Global Warming Solution: Air Conditioned Parking Lots

Now that global warming has replaced the coming ice age as a looming disaster, humanity awaits the doom and gloom of flooded cities, submerged yacht harbors, and offshore ocean front property.

But fear not! After intense study the Lemming found a solution!

Enclosed, air conditioned parking lots and airports!!

The cost will be enormous, and humans will have to give up air travel - airplanes couldn't land at the roofed-over airports - but perhaps it would be worthwhile. Or maybe not.

Here's what goaded the Lemming into this rant:

"Distorted data? Feds close 600 weather stations amid criticism they're situated to report warming"
Maxim Lott, FoxNews.com (August 13, 2013)

Anthony Watts, SurfaceStations.org, via FoxNews.com"Data from hundreds of weather stations located around the U.S. appear to show the planet is getting warmer, but some critics say it's the government's books that are getting cooked -- thanks to temperature readings from sweltering parking lots, airports and other locations that distort the true state of the climate.

"Indeed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed some 600 out of nearly 9,000 weather stations over the past two years that it has deemed problematic or unnecessary, after a long campaign by one critic highlighting the problem of using unreliable data. The agency says the closures will help improve gathering of weather data, but critics like meterologist [!] and blogger Anthony Watts say it is too little, too late.

" 'The question remains as to why they continue to use a polluted mix of well-sited and poorly-sited stations,' Watts told FoxNews.com...."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) probably set up weather recording stations on or near parking lots and airports for practical reasons. It'd be easier to get at a weather station that's near a parking lot, than one that's not conveniently close to paved roads. Besides, it's a good idea for pilots to know what the weather's like at airports.

Making assumptions about world climate based on data from notoriously sun-baked spots? That might not be the best idea.

'Trust Us'

"...Watts has for years searched for weather stations that have flaws. And he points to a still-open station at Yosemite park as an example of one with 'heat sinks' - objects that store heat, and then release it at night. Heat sinks can cause stations located in or near them to give off useless data -- generally in the form of inflated temperatures not representative of the broader area.

" 'The heat sinks are a road, a building, and stacked metal pipe and beams surrounding the station,' he said.
"After the heat sinks were added at Yosemite, temperature readings show a curious trend: minimum nighttime temperatures increased more than daytime temperatures. Watts says that's because the concrete structures store heat that is released at night, and that such a trend backs up the idea that the 'heat sinks' are having an effect.

"But the government agency that compiles the temperature data says that such concerns are unfounded because of statistical methods used to adjust the data...."

Maybe those "statistical methods used to adjust the data" really are valid. On the other hand, the Lemming has joked about the expert who knows he's right: because it says so in the book he wrote.

Getting a Grip About Climate Change

Some humans know this, but the Lemming will rant anyway: CHANGE HAPPENS!

Water flows. Plants grow: and climate changes. Humans started finding out just how much stuff changes a few hundred years back, and some still don't want to believe it. The Lemming prefers living in the real world, and that's another topic. Topics:
Some changes are progressive, some run in cycles: like the sun's 22-year sunspot cycle. The sun's magnetic field is decreasing just now, and will go out completely in a few months. Interestingly, the Lemming hasn't read about anybody blaming Big Beach or the other political party.

"Big Beach" is the Lemming's invention, by the way: it's an imaginary cabal or resort owners who force folks into taking vacations.

Back to climate change, the Lemming would be concerned if scientists discovered that for several years the world's weather hadn't been changing at all. That would be weird.

Earth's climate has been changing for billions of years. The Lemming thinks it will continue to do so, no matter where humans put weather stations.

Related posts:

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Maastricht Hamburger

A hundred and one years ago a French scientist named Lewis Carrel started growing a chicken heart. Nothing unusual about that, except this bit of chicken meat wasn't inside a chicken.

It was in a laboratory in New York City, run by the Rockefeller Institute. The lab, that is. As far as the Lemming knows the Rockefeller Institute doesn't run New York City.

The Real 'Immortal' Chicken Heart

Ten years later, chickens hatched when Lewis Carrel started his experiment had died of old age: those that hadn't wound up as chicken soup or obscure ingredients in canned food. Carrel's chicken heart kept beating.

Actually, it wasn't a complete chicken heart: but the bit of undying poultry was beating, just as if it was inside a bird. Lewis Carrel wasn't the chap who wrote the Alice books, by the way. That was Lewis Carroll, he was English, his name wasn't Carroll, and that's another topic. Topics.

In 1946, 34 years after it began, folks at the Rockefeller Institute threw the still-living experiment away. Excitement over the prospects of immortality, at least for chicken hearts, faded:
That's the official story, anyway. Now, in the spirit of 100-proof conspiracy theories, is what the Lemming thinks might have happened.

Good Enough for a Story

Lewis Carrel really is Lewis Carroll. He's a space alien secret agent currently masquerading as an "America's Next Top Model" judge. The immortal chicken heart is still alive, working as a CIA spy but really conspiring to disrupt America's economy by organizing fruit flies in California.

- Or -

The CIA/FBI/Big Oil/Big Peanut/whatever assassinated Lewis Carrel and stole the secret formula that was keeping the chicken heart alive. The Rockefeller Institute threw the immortal chicken heart away because they're part of the conspiracy.

No, the Lemming doesn't believe that. At all. Either of those whoppers might make a good story: maybe along the lines of "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein" or "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"

More of the Lemming's take on conspiracy theories and getting a grip:

Return of the Immortal Chicken Heart: Sort Of

Some of their laboratory (pronounced 'lah-bore-ah-tor-ee) equipment might look like props from " 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' Meets 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,' " but Mark Post's hamburger special is very real.

(from www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/file?uuid=a5668f05-839f-4007-ae18-29f40d3608a1&owner=c485ea3c-7a41-4eed-b905-19507dc8ee84 (August 8, 2013))
"Electrical stimulation of muscle cells (left panel) matures early muscle cells (middle panel) into mature skeletal muscle which shows typical transverse striations (right panel, arrows) based on abundance of contractile protein units."

Post and two technicians used a few cells, a lot of science and about 250,000 euros - $325,000 - to grow enough "cultured beef" for a hamburger. Food critics said it was a bit lean, but otherwise quite passable.

Don't look for this at the corner grocery any time soon. The $325,000 burger was a prototype, and there's a lot of work left before cultured beef is available commercially.

When, or if, that happens, folks can buy beef that's grown on a tiny fraction of the land, and with fewer resources, than 'real' beef from something with hooves that goes "moo."

Aside from all-too-predictable fussing about technology, science, and "The Island of Lost Souls," the Lemming doesn't see a problem with cultured beef.

Allegedly-related posts:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Killer Tomatoes and a Ranting Lemming

As anyone who viewed "The Satan Bug" or "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" knows, humanity is ever in peril from the deadly dangers of science and new ideas.

There are days when the Lemming feels like cheering on the tomatoes' side of the stadium.

This, however, is not one of those days.

Instead, the Lemming offers some helpful advice to the more timorous specimens of Homo sapiens sapiens.

Beware! Beware!

Humans have been developing 'genetically modified' plants and animals for a long time. What's different now is that some call the old ones "domesticated," and the new ones "GMO." And, inevitably, are afraid of the new ones.

For the benefit of those who wish to avoid all genetically modified plants, here's a short list of plants that humans have modified:
  • Alfalfa
  • Almond
  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Asian Pear
  • Azuki Bean
  • Banana
  • Barley
  • Beet
  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Breadfruit
  • Carrot
  • Cashew
  • Cassava
    • (aka manioc, yuca)
    • (requires special processing to be edible)
  • Cherry
  • Chestnut
  • Chickpea
  • Citron
  • Clover
  • Coconut
  • Common Bean
    • (including pinto bean, kidney bean and others)
  • Common Medlar
  • Cranberry
  • Currant
  • Durian
  • Eggplant (aubergine)
  • Ensete
  • Fig
  • Finger Millet
  • Fonio
  • Foxtail Millet
  • Gourds
  • Grape
  • Grapefruit
  • Hazelnut
  • Huckleberry
  • Jackfruit
  • Lemon
  • Lentil
  • Lima Bean
  • Lime
  • Little barley
    • (Hordeum pusillum, central US pre-Columbian)
  • Loquat (Japanese medlar)
  • Macadamia
  • Maize
    • (called corn in the U.S.)
    • Old domesticated plant
      • Found in countless variations throughout the Americas
  • Mango
  • Maygrass
    • (Phalaris caroliniana, central US pre-Columbian)
  • Melon (several species)
  • Mung Bean
  • Oats
  • Olive
  • Orange
  • Papaya
  • Parsnip
  • Passionfruit
  • Pea
  • Peanut
  • Pear
  • Pearl Millet
    • (predominantly in African cultures, also for beer brewing)
  • Pecan
  • Peppers
  • Pistachio
  • Plum
  • Pomelo
  • Potato
  • Proso Millet
  • Pumpkin
  • Quince
  • Radish
  • Raspberry
  • Rice
  • Runner Bean
  • Rye
    • (used in Eastern Europe Countries, and for alcoholic beverages)
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt
  • Squash
    • (e.g., Cucurbita pepo, multiple varieties)
  • Strawberry
  • Summer Squash
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tangerine
  • Taro
    • (requires special processing to be edible)
  • Teff -- Ethiopia (also tef)
  • Tomato
  • Triticale
    • (Secalotriticum spp.)
    • Hybrids between wheat and rye.
  • Turnip
  • Velvet Bean
  • Walnut
  • Wheat
  • Winter Squash
  • Yam
  • Zucchini
(Source: "Domesticated Plants," Wikipedia)

Related posts:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lemming Tracks: Writing and POOP

Somewhere between the era of poodle skirts and the advent of DLL files, the Lemming did time in academia.

The Lemming never let getting an education interfere with learning, and that's another topic.

Along the way, one question continued to perplex the Lemming: why, in the name of all that's sane and coherent, couldn't academics write?!!

Actually, learned savants could write: but apparently believed that a writer's job is to obfuscate, producing text that's clear as mud.

Or, as an academic might put it:

"Sesquipedalian exposition primary comprised of prolix utterances tends toward deficiencies of a cognizable nature."

Seriously: would folks read a thousand words of that unless they had to?

Writing, Communication, and All That

The Lemming wasn't particularly good at passing tests. Maintaining a "B" average depended on the Lemming's term papers.

Good research skills and understanding the subject are important for college students. But the Lemming also realized that some poor sap had to read his term paper, plus maybe hundreds of others: all on pretty much the same subject.

Once in a while, there's no way to express an idea except by utilizing polysyllabic utterances in protracted prose. But shorter words and simpler sentences generally do just as well. Humor helps, too, and that's almost another topic.

Being Sententious: Good News; Bad News

"Sententious" means at least two things:
  1. Abounding in or given to pompous or aphoristic moralizing
  2. Concise and full of meaning
    (Princeton's WordNet)
The first definition isn't, in the Lemming's considered opinion, a good way to write. Not if you're trying to communicate. Maybe some folks like that sort of tedious stuff: but not, the Lemming thinks, many.

The second definition is what the KISS principle is about: "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Or, for the more polite folks, KIS.

Avoid POOP

And now, a plea from the Lemming to writers: don't write POOP.

This acronym has been used before, but the Lemming doesn't mean Perl Object Oriented Programming or Pipe Organ Owners and Players.

The Lemming's contribution to the world's cultural and lingustic treasure is: Pretentiously Opulent Overblown Prose.

Wait a minute. That didn't come out right.

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