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, (August 13, 2013)

Anthony Watts,, via"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"

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 (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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