Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chinese time traveler spotted

A young Chinese girl begs for money to buy a ticket back to the past
At the risk of turning Flares into the Chinese time travel blog -- although, come to think of it, that probably is a niche ready for the taking -- I offer yet another Chinese time travel post. This one involves a rural Chinese girl from 500 years ago who was flung through time only to land in a Shanghai Metro station. That's her above.

As the always zany ChinaSmack recounts in their post Time Traveling Woman from Past Begs in Subway, Has iPhone (there are some vulgar remarks in the comment section) the woman, claiming to be from 500 years in the past, has appeared at an exit to the Metro and is begging for money to return to her village in the distant past.

At the link there is also a video, served by YouKu (China's dodgy version of YouTube), in which she has the following conversation with a man:
MAN: Um, miss, what are you doing?

WOMAN BEGGAR: Begging for money to go home.

MAN: Your home is Qingyuan village?

WOMAN BEGGAR: That’s right.

MAN: Qingyuan village… where is that?

WOMAN BEGGAR: It’s from five hundred years ago.

MAN: From five hundred years ago? In that case, if I donate some money to your cause, how will you be able to give it back to me?

WOMAN BEGGAR: With noble sir’s kindness, I should [repay you] by being betrothed to you, but I am so homesick! But when the day comes in the future, this humble girl will definitely repay your noble sir’s kindness.

MAN: Noble sir’s kindness…heh, no need [to repay]. But if at that time you were to run away [disappear, renege on her promise], how would I find you?

WOMAN BEGGAR: This is a token/pledge. [she hands him a "Certificate of Life-long Full Financial Support", a fake document identifying a kept mistress, a woman who is financially supported by a man.]

MAN: So with this…this…this lousy card? But even with this lousy card I still can’t get a hold of you.

WOMAN BEGGAR: That’s not a problem, wait a second…oh, here it is. [Pulls out a mobile smartphone] What’s your phone number?

MAN: Al….right.

Well, yea... the iPhone is an incongruous touch, but then again we know from Chinese TV time travel shows that young men who time travel to the past are all the time impressing old-timey babes by showing them their smartphones, so maybe that's where she got one?  Also, let us not forget the 1928 Charlie Chaplin film that purports to show a time traveling woman yakking on a cellphone at a silent film premier as she walks by in the background. Man, who knew cell phones were so prevalent in the past?

Then again, you could be a cynic like many of the commenters in the Chinasmack thread, and think it was nothing more than a marketing gimmick for a Chinese MMORPG called Journey 2. Regardless, much as we like zombies, the Chinese seem to be on a time travel binge these days.

Mount Rushmore, Stone Mountain and Crazy Horse

Click to enlarge
 Above is a photograph of the early stages of Mount Rushmore. As you can see, there is a face to the left of Washington. That was where they originally intended to carve Jefferson, but the rock was unsuited for carving, so they dynamited the work they had done and moved Jefferson to the right of Washington.

The carving of Rushmore was began in 1927. On July 4, 1934, Washington's face was dedicated after being completed. Jefferson followed with dedication in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Teddy Roosevelt in 1939.  The original intention was to carve the figures down to their waists, but that planned was dropped as funding began to run out. 

In 1937 Congress tried to pass a bill to add the head of civil-rights leader Susan B. Anthony to Rushmore, but that was eventually blocked by a rider to an appropriations bill limiting federal funding to only finishing the heads that had already been started.

Work was finally stopped in 1941 when federal funding ran out. The project had cost just a little under one million dollars, Remarkably for a project its size, no lives were lost in the carving of Rushmore.

Click to enlarge
To promote tourism in South Dakota Doane Robinson came up with the idea of the Rushmore carvings in 1923. Robinson persuaded sculptor Gutzon Borglum to handle the carving. Borglum previously had been involved in sculpting the Confederate Memorial Carving which is the largest bas relief and is carved into the side of Stone Mountain, Georgia.  

It depicts Stonewall Jackson, Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis on horseback. Originally plans were to have the three trailed by soldiers, but those plans were dropped. Work was started on it in 1923 and it was finally deemed finished in 1972. The project was always surrounded in controversy because it was partially funded via involvement of the KKK.

Click to enlarge
Another bit of monumental American carving that has ties to Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. The Black Hills had been ceded to the Lakota Sioux in 1868. However, in the aftermath of the Great Sioux War of 1876 they lost control of the territory. 

As a result Mount Rushmore's location has never set well with the local Sioux. They've responded by beginning to carve a statue of Crazy Horse, 17 miles away from the Rushmore site. Work was began on it in  1948, but has proceeded very slowly. Crazy Horse's head was finally dedicated in 1998.  There is considerably more work to be done if they stick to their original plans.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

1939 Pontiac Ghost Car

The 1939 Pontiac Ghost Car was displayed in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. It was built on the chassis of a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six with the body made out of the newly invented plexiglass. The metal was given a copper wash and other harware was chrome plated. Any rubber, including the tires, where made in white. It was the first transparent car ever built.

The car was up for auction today by RM Auctions. I haven't been abler to find what it sold for, but pre-auction estimates were that it would fetch between $275,000 – $475,000.

There are more pictures after the jump, and you can see even more at Twisted Sifter's The Incredible 1939 Pontiac Plexiglass Ghost Car.

Karakuri Ningyo - Japanese proto-robots

Hello again my Human pets friends. It is I, The Robotolizer, here to dispense more robotic wisdom and lore. I'll try to keep it simple so your mushy and inefficient carbon-based brains stand a chance of understanding what I say.

When I introduced myself I mentioned that one of the sources of inspiration for robots was the humble Chatbot.  Another source is the old-timey Japanese art of Karakuri Ningyo. This is a craft, developed during the Edo period, that involves creating mechanical puppets for use in theaters, the home and at religious festivals.

It is also one of the earliest fusions of Japanese and Western technology. Although Japan maintained isolation during the Edo period, they did have a port open to the Dutch. European clockwork mechanisms entered Japan through that slender contact. The craft of Karakuri Ningyo was eventually to evolve into the modern Japanese robotic industry.

The above video shows the work of a modern Karakuri craftsman. Although, why the meat sack is building little mechanical  puppets instead of mighty robot soldiers does not compute. Seems like a waste of talent to me. He spends a lot of time simpering about being happy, so I suppose that has something to do with it. Happiness? Bah, humbug.

At any rate, my favorite automaton in the film was naturally the mechanical archer. I would have much preferred that the archer's target be a picture of that scoundrel Isaac Asimov instead of a tiny bale of hay, but aside from that it was entertaining to watch. Amazing little contraptions.

You can read more about Karakuri Ningyo at the website The site also has a good links section, although unfortunately many of them are in Japanese. The link to girltron and its gallery is particularly goofy in a delightful sort of a way.

A couple of girltrons (click to enlarge)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stratfor and Norway

Below is the Stratfor report on the attack in Norway. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims of the deplorable act of terror.

By Scott Stewart, July 28, 2011

On the afternoon of July 22, a powerful explosion ripped through the streets of Oslo, Norway, as a large improvised explosive device (IED) in a rented van detonated between the government building housing the prime minister's office and Norway's Oil and Energy Department building. According to the diary of Anders Breivik, the man arrested in the case who has confessed to fabricating and placing the device, the van had been filled with 950 kilograms (about 2,100 pounds) of homemade ammonium nitrate-based explosives.

After lighting the fuse on his IED, Breivik left the scene in a rented car and traveled to the island of Utoya, located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Oslo. The island was the site of a youth campout organized by Norway's ruling Labor Party. Before taking a boat to the island, Breivik donned body armor and tactical gear bearing police insignia (intended to afford him the element of tactical surprise). Once on the island he opened fire on the attendees at the youth camp with his firearms, a semiautomatic 5.56-caliber Ruger Mini-14 rifle and a 9 mm Glock pistol. Due to the location of the camp on a remote island, Breivik had time to kill 68 people and wound another 60 before police responded to the scene.

Click to enlarge

Shortly before the attack, Breivik posted a manifesto on the Internet that includes his lengthy operational diary. He wrote the diary in English under the Anglicized pen name Andrew Berwick, though a careful reading shows he also posted his true identity in the document. The document also shows that he was a lone wolf attacker who conducted his assault specifically against the Labor Party's current and future leadership. Breivik targeted the Labor Party because of his belief that the party is Marxist-oriented and is responsible for encouraging multiculturalism, Muslim immigration into Norway and, acting with other similar European governments, the coming destruction of European culture. Although the Labor Party members are members of his own race, he considers them traitors and holds them in more contempt than he does Muslims. In fact, in the manifesto, Breivik urged others not to target Muslims because it would elicit sympathy for them.

Breivik put most of his time and effort into the creation of the vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) that he used to attack his primary target, the current government, which is housed in the government building. It appears that he believed the device would be sufficient to destroy that building. It was indeed a powerful device, but the explosion killed only eight people. This was because the device did not bring down the building as Breivik had planned and many of the government employees who normally work in the area were on summer break. In the end, the government building was damaged but not destroyed in the attack, and no senior government officials were killed. Most of the deaths occurred at the youth camp, which Breivik described as his secondary target.

While Breivik's manifesto indicated he planned and executed the attack as a lone wolf, it also suggests that he is part of a larger organization that he calls the "Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici (PCCTS, also known as the Knights Templar,) which seeks to encourage other lone wolves (which Brevik refers to as "Justiciar Knights") and small cells in other parts of Europe to carry out a plan to "save" Europe and European culture from destruction.

Because of the possibility that there are other self-appointed Justiciar Knights in Norway or in other parts of Europe and that Breivik's actions, ideology and manifesto could spawn copycats, we thought it useful to examine the Justiciar Knights concept as Breivik explains it to see how it fits into lone wolf theory and how similar actors might be detected in the future.

An Opening Salvo?

From reading his manifesto, it is clear that Breivik, much like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, believes that his attack is the opening salvo in a wider campaign, in this case to liberate Europeans from what Breivik views as malevolent, Marxist-oriented governments. These beliefs are what drove Breivik to attack the Norwegian Labor Party. As noted above, it is also clear that Breivik planned and executed his attack alone.

However, he also discusses how he was radicalized and influenced by a Serbian living in Liberia whom he visited there. And Breivik claims to have attended a meeting in London in 2002 to "re-found the Knights Templar." This organization, PCCTS, which was founded in 2002, is not related to the much older official and public chivalric order also known as the Knights Templar. According to Breivik, the PCCTS was formed with the stated purpose of fighting back against "European Jihad" and to defend the "free indigenous peoples of Europe." To achieve this goal, the PCCTS would implement a three-phase plan designed to seize political and military power in Europe. In his manifesto Breivik outlines the plan as follows:

  • Phase 1 (1999-2030): Cell-based shock attacks, sabotage attacks, etc.
  • Phase 2 (2030-2070): Same as above but bigger cells/networks, armed militias.
  • Phase 3 (2070-2100): Pan-European coup d'etats, deportation of Muslims and execution of traitors.

As outlined in Breivik's manifesto, the 2002 meeting was attended by seven other individuals, two from England and one each from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Russia. He also asserts that the organization has members from Serbia (his contact living in Liberia), Sweden, Belgium and the United States who were unable to attend the meeting. Brevik states that all the members of the PCCTS were given code names for security, that his code name was "Sigurd," and that he was mentored by a member with the code name "Richard the Lionhearted" (presumable a Briton). Breivik claims that after meeting these individuals via the Internet he was carefully vetted before being allowed to join the group.

The diary section of Breivik's manifesto reveals that during the planning process for the attack Breivik traveled to Prague to obtain firearms and grenades from Balkan organized-crime groups there (he had hoped to obtain a fully-automatic AK-47). Breivik was not able to procure weapons in Prague and instead was forced to use weapons he was able to obtain in Norway by legal means. It is interesting that he did not contact the Serbian member of the PCCTS for assistance in making contact with Balkan arms dealers. Breivik's lawyer told the media July 26 that although Breivik acted alone in conducting his attack, he had been in contact with two terror cells in Norway and other cells abroad. Certainly, Norway and its partners in EUROPOL and the United States will try to identify these other individuals, if they do in fact exist.

In phase one of the PCCTS plan, shock attacks were to be carried out by individuals operating as lone wolves or small cells of Breivik's so-called Justiciar Knights, which are self-appointed guardians who decide to follow the PCCTS code outlined in Breivik's manifesto and who are granted the authority to act as "a judge, jury and executioner until the free, indigenous peoples of Europe are no longer threatened by cultural genocide, subject to cultural Marxist/Islamic tyranny or territorial or existential threats through Islamic demographic warfare."

Breivik's manifesto notes that he does not know how many Justiciar Knights there are in Western Europe but estimates their number to be from 15 to 80. It is unclear if this is a delusion on his part and there are no other Justiciar Knights or if Breivik has some factual basis for his belief that there are more individuals like him planning attacks. [continued after jump]

All Good Things

Drift into into an urbanized weekend with the music of Pacha Massive.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Mysterious Package revealed at last

Click to enlarge and see its full splendor
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. What you are seeing is indeed a jigsaw puzzle of a Turkmenbashi propaganda poster. Now I'm sure you see why I took so much care in handling and assembling it. Next to a giant twirling statue of the Turkmenbashi, I doubt that there is anything more inspiring. 

My next step is getting it framed so's I can hang it on my office wall. I'll show you pictures of that when I've hung it.

I know you're probably jealous, but try to remember that envy is one of the 7 deadly sins. Besides, you too can buy your very own Turkmenbashi propaganda poster jigsaw puzzle if you want one to admire and impress visitors.

Below are a couple of details from the puzzle. You can click on them to get an enlarged view.

The Turkmenbashi admires his hands
Detail of buildings in the background 

Why do the Chinese hate time travel?

First the Chinese banned time travel stories from TV and the movies. Now comes the news, as reported in the Discovery News article Time Travel Impossible, Say Scientists, that Chinese scientists have proved that time travel is physically impossible.

Professor Du Shengwang of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology  and his team proved this by measuring a single photon and demonstrating that it could not travel faster than the speed of light. As they said, "The study, which showed that single photons also obey the speed limit c, confirms Einstein's causality; that is, an effect cannot occur before its cause."

Er... OK... I'll admit that I actually don't know what the heck that is supposed to mean, but I'll take their word on it. 

Besides, I have a much simpler proof that time travel is impossible. Having carefully observed the record of numerous historical events, I've noticed that they have not turned into temporal tourist traps. Let's face it, if time travel were possible the soldiers landing on Normandy during the D-Day invasion would have been met with hawkers selling "I went to WWII and all I got was this lousey t-shirt" and other such tacky merchandise. Ergo, time travel doesn't happen so it must be impossible. Tautology aside -- QED.

(via RealClearScience

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debbie Wafflehead Shultz speaks

Debbie Wafflehead Schultz, the DNC Chair, engaged in some of her usual ludicrous demagoguery today. She whined that the Democrats were sitting at the "Compromise Table" ready to save old folks, kids and so forth from disaster via their balanced approach. 

Meanwhile, demonstrating her impeccable, temperate and level-headed negotiating skills, this is some of what she had to say about the Republicans:

“Aren’t we at the point where the closer we get to chaos, the more concern that there should be about coming to the table and compromising with Democrats?” Wasserman Schultz asked. “This is not leadership. This is almost like dictatorship. I know they want to force the outcome that … their extremists would like to impose. But they are getting ready to spark panic and chaos, and they seem to be OK with that. And it’s just really disappointing, and potentially devastating.”

Specifically, Wasserman Schultz cited a movie clip House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) had played Tuesday during a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. The brief clip was from “The Town,” and Republicans said it was intended to send the message that “we’re all in this together.”

The DNC chair said: “They start the day with trying to incite their caucus with, essentially, violent movie clips – pushing their people to inflict pain and hurt people.”

Man, nothing says your willing to be reasonable and hammer out your differences more than calling your opponents dictators who want to spark panic, cause chaos, inflict pain and hurt people. And all that just because Republicans won't sit around the Compromise Table and agree to Obama's  "balancing" act.

(via Gateway Pundit who has audio and more of the quote)


Stop Motion Mozart

The MysteryGuitarMan is one of those YouTube personalities you can end up wasting a lot of time watching. He does stop motion songs -- you'll have to watch the above version of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro to see, and hear, what that means.

Follow the above link to go to his site and see what else he has done.


Zooniverse is a website that's home to citizen science projects. You can join and participate in various crowd-sourced science projects that include:

  • Helping to assemble old Egyptian scrolls
  • Recovering worldwide weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I
  • Locating ice chunks beyond Pluto's orbit for a NASA probe
  • Searching for extra-solar planets
  • Classify galaxies in Hubble photographs
  • Spot solar explosions and track their path towards Earth
  • Catalog the moon's surface

There's a few more there that I haven't bothered listing. The site is an amateur science geek's paradise.

I fiddled around with the Ancient Lives Project a little. This project is meant to assist in assembling Egyptian (written in Greek) scroll fragments for translation. You get a fragment which you can rotate until you think it is right-side-up. Then you mark the center of each letter and pick the appropriate Greek letter from a palette. You then mark the margins, this is to aide in selecting which piece goes with which. Eventually you land on a screen where you can try to fit fragments together.

Like I said -- an amateur science geek's paradise. So, if you like that kind of stuff be sure to head over there and check out their projects.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stratfor and Natassja Kinski

Today's Stratfor article discusses Germany's changed status in the EU in light of the on-going debt crisis in southern Europe. Part of the rationale behind the post-war EU project was containing Germany. At the same time France used Germany's resources to enhance its own status on the world stage.

However, the crisis in southern Europe could only be solved with German capital. Germany has careful to maintain control of the European Financial Security Facility (EFSF), the financial mechanism for conducting the bailouts. As a result Germany, using the EFSF, can dictate terms to the southern European countries coming to it for assistance. At present that means they sacrifice financial autonomy to Berlin, and of course who knows what the future holds.

In addition, Germany is modifying its position with Russia. As a result England and France are both going to need to reconsider their posture and Central Europe once again finds itself sandwiched between two major powers.

For the article's Hot Stratfor babe I naturally decided to select a German actress. Finally, after my usual detailed hunt, I settled on Natassja Kinski for the much coveted honor.

The main appeal in attaching her to this article was that, considering the fact it is about economic crisis, she was involved in the Francis Ford Coppola film One From the Heart. That film was a box office disaster, grossing a little under $640,000 at the box office while costing $26 million to produce. As a result Coppola was forced into bankruptcy 3 times in the next decade and ultimately forced to sell his studio Zeotrope.

Meanwhile Kinsky, who incidentally was not responsible for the film's bombing, continued her prolific film career.

It was a little hard to find an appropriate bonus video of her -- apparently she forgets to get dressed an awful lot before appearing in front of a camera -- but I finally found one, albeit a very strange one. So, after the article you'll find a clip of a very stoned looking Natassja appearing on the David Letterman show. As an added, added bonus she's followed by John Candy who goofs off her earlier appearance. 

By Peter Zeihan and Marko Papic, July 26, 2011

Seventeen months ago, STRATFOR described how the future of Europe was bound to the decision-making processes in Germany. Throughout the post-World War II era, other European countries treated Germany as a feeding trough, bleeding the country for resources (primarily financial) in order to smooth over the rougher portions of their systems. Considering the carnage wrought in World War II, most Europeans -- and even many Germans -- considered this perfectly reasonable right up to the current decade. Germany dutifully followed the orders of the others, most notably the French, and wrote check after check to underwrite European solidarity.

However, with the end of the Cold War and German reunification, the Germans began to stand up for themselves once again. Europe's contemporary financial crisis can be as complicated as one wants to make it, but strip away all the talk of bonds, defaults and credit-default swaps and the core of the matter consists of these three points:

  1. Europe cannot function as a unified entity unless someone is in control.
  2. At present, Germany is the only country with a large enough economy and population to achieve that control.
  3. Being in control comes with a cost: It requires deep and ongoing financial support for the European Union's weaker members.

What happened since STRATFOR published Germany's Choice was a debate within Germany about how central the European Union was to German interests and how much the Germans were willing to pay to keep it intact. With their July 22 approval of a new bailout mechanism -- from which the Greeks immediately received another 109 billion euros -- the Germans made clear their answers to those questions, and with that decision, Europe enters a new era.

The Origins of the Eurozone

The foundations of the European Union were laid in the early post-World War II years, but the critical event happened in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on Monetary Union. In that treaty, the Europeans committed themselves to a common currency and monetary system while scrupulously maintaining national control of fiscal policy, finance and banking. They would share capital but not banks, interest rates but not tax policy. They would also share a currency but none of the political mechanisms required to manage an economy. One of the many inevitable consequences of this was that governments and investors alike assumed that Germany's support for the new common currency was total, that the Germans would back any government that participated fully in Maastricht. As a result, the ability of weaker eurozone members to borrow was drastically improved. In Greece in particular, the rate on government bonds dropped from an 18 percentage-point premium over German bonds to less than 1 percentage point in less than a decade. To put that into context, borrowers of $200,000 mortgages would see their monthly payments drop by $2,500.

Faced with unprecedentedly low capital costs, parts of Europe that had not been economically dynamic in centuries -- in some cases, millennia -- sprang to life. Ireland, Greece, Iberia and southern Italy all experienced the strongest growth they had known in generations. But they were not borrowing money generated locally -- they were not even borrowing against their own income potential. Such borrowing was not simply a government affair. Local banks that normally faced steep financing costs could now access capital as if they were headquartered in Frankfurt and servicing Germans. The cheap credit flooded every corner of the eurozone. It was a subprime mortgage frenzy on a multinational scale, and the party couldn't last forever. The 2008 global financial crisis forced a reckoning all over the world, and in the traditionally poorer parts of Europe the process unearthed the political-financial disconnects of Maastricht. [continued after jump]

A blend of sex and chess

One of the things that makes Tango entertaining is its over-the-top sense of drama. 

Recently a dispute has broken out in the Tango community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As the Wall Street Journal reports in its article Foreigners Out-Dip Locals in the Dance, Making Them Increasingly Unwelcome, local Tango dancers are trying to bar foreigners from a dance competition called El Metropolitano.

There is some fairness in the local's complaints -- El Metropolitano is a preliminary to a larger contest called the Dance World Cup. It does seem that it should be selecting Argentinian representative for the latter contest. However, there is also a fair amount of xenophobia mixed in with the complaints because many of the foreigners are ex-pats and long time residents of Argentina.

The dispute has landed in Argentinian courts. Add to the mix some snotty suggestions that the Argentinian Tango dancers are worried that the foreigners are better dancers and passions are flaring. Mind you, passions always flare in Tango, so for it to get even more dramatic is an achievement of no small measure.

Below is an excerpt from the article. My title is another quote from the article, so be sure to read the whole thing to get the full flavor of it all.
But shunting non-Argentines into a "tango ghetto" just isn't acceptable, according to Christian Rubilar, the foreign dancers' Argentine lawyer. "The dance floor is supposed to be the most democratic space in Argentina," says Mr. Rubilar, who is not only a constitutional law expert but also a tango dancer himself. He says that the Metropolitano's barriers stem in part from anxiety that more and more foreigners are now better at the national dance than well-practiced natives are.

Mr. Rubilar says that in 2010, Ms. Saito and her Korean partner, the pair that was heckled, might have won the Metropolitano, but they were barred from the finals by requirements that at least one of the pair have resided three years in Buenos Aires. Ms. Saito said they had the proof, but organizers kept demanding more paperwork. In court filings, city lawyers said that many foreigners didn't have their paperwork in order and discrimination hasn't been a factor.

Now, Mr. Rubilar is preparing to make the dance dispute a federal case. Analysts note that it may help the dancers' cause that federal courts are under the sway of the leftist Peronist party, which opposes the conservative city government. "Constitutional principles are at stake," Mr. Rubilar says, not just a dance contest.

"For us, this is over," said the city spokeswoman Ms. Solarz, in a tone suggesting that the foreign dancers really need to move on.

(HT Fausta's blog)

Of course, a Tango post needs a Tango video, so below is the Gotan Project, who I think are actually French and who a lot of Tango purists bitch about, doing Milonga De Amor.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mars Curiosity rover landing animation

Above is an 11 minute NASA animation of the Curiosity rover mission. Of particular interest is the landing sequence which involves a parachute descent which eventually releases a little booster that hovers over the surface and deploys the rover Curiosity by lowering it with a cable. 

Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong

Monday morning, start of the work week blues, by T-Bone Walker

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My appeal to the IAU

A few days ago, from an examination of photographs taken by NASA's Hubble Telescope, a new moon was discovered orbiting Pluto.  The moon is only 8-21 miles wide. Although NASA discovered it, they don't get to name it. By a consensus agreement, since 1919 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has been responsible for naming astronomical objects and features.

An unofficial poll of readers favors Micky, but sadly no working group of the IAU tasked with such an august chore as naming a space pebble is likely to go the humor route. Instead they're sticking to naming rules that require anything in the orbit of Neptune be given mythological names connected to the Underworld.

OK, fair enough I suppose, but the IAU might be favoring Cerberus. While that's a good name, it has already been used as the name of an asteroid. 

Ask yourself this -- if a future version of yourself bought a timeshare on Cerberus thinking you were getting the fine view, not to mention the close and convenient shops and restaurants of the asteroid belt, only to discover you had actually bought property in the boondocks of Neptune's orbit would you be pissed or not? 

I think so. Thus, if for no other reason than the clarity of future real estate transactions, I appeal to the IAU to resist the temptation of naming Pluto's new moon Cerberus. There is plenty of mythology surrounding the Underworld, show some creativity and pick a unique name.

Better yet, screw the rules -- Micky is a fine choice.

(via Life's Little Mystery's post: Hell of a Choice: Cerberus Leads for New Pluto Moon Name

A less than brilliant invention

I don't off-hand remember seeing a lot of women walking around with lipstick smeared all over their faces, so I'm not sure what problem the above invention is trying to solve. Then again, I'm not an expert on makeup application.  I wonder if they spent the money to take out a patent on it?


Saturday, July 23, 2011

America's jilted bride

A sad bride who's groom ran off to attend a Tea Party
Obama does not understand the negotiating process. That was first hinted at in the campaign when he made the bizarre offer to meet with Iran without preconditions. 

Heads of State understand that there is no benefit in holding summits that yield no results, and so they lay a lot of groundwork so they don't walk into public relations disasters.  

He must have thought that the force of his personality and arguments could carry the day.

Considering his background one can see where such arrogance could come from. When he ran the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, his most significant pre-governmental job, people were forced to approach him as  supplicants. They weren't negotiating with him, they were merely currying favor.

He became a State Senator, and later a Federal Senator, through the machinations of the the Chicago machine which eliminated any credible opponents. Once in those seats he simply voted "present" to duck difficult votes. I imagine the size of his desk was of more interest to him than the tedium of give and take in a committee room

Once President he foolishly poisoned the well with his "I won" and "elections have consequences" talk. Such overbearing hubris is consistent with somebody who can't imagine they'll have to horse trade with another side. You can say that to somebody looking for grant money from the Annenberg Challenge, to say it to people with power centers of their own is a miscalculation of the first order.

In the ObamaCare debate, had Obama had any negotiating skills he would have given concessions around the edges to gain Republican votes and cover. He didn't, and it cost him dearly at the midterm elections, and may mean ObamaCare is a far more transient achievement than he imagines.

When he entered into the deficit talks he must have thought he was the cavalry riding to the rescue. He would use the prestige of the Office of the President to browbeat his opponents into settling on his terms. The problem is, the other side knew how to negotiate and had a plan, while he just had little but an inflated opinion of his skills.

So they gave him their red lines and walked away, and he responded with petulant press conferences and demands that they return to the table. Rinse, wash and repeat several times over the course of a couple of weeks. Each time Obama doesn't realize how he diminishes himself. 

My favorite line at the last press conference was when he complained, "I’ve been left at the altar.” Does he not know that jilted brides are not images of power? With that line he both insulted himself far more succinctly than his opponents have ever managed, and revealed his increasing irrelevance to the process.

If you want the rainbow

We've certainly had a string of crappy news lately -- our economy is tanking, the budget ceiling talks are tediously wobbling of the rails, our government is apparently arming Mexican drug gangs, and... well, you get the picture.

It's too tiresome to talk about, so I've gone with a bit of optimism from 1928 instead. Enjoy Lee Morse and  her Blue Grass Boys singing If you want the rainbow (then you must have the rain). In spite of its age, it is a really clean recording. Plus I love her vocal styling.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wretchard's Fourth Conjecture

It appears that the bombing and attack on the teenagers on the island in Norway was done by a native Norwegian who belonged to the right side of the political spectrum. Extremists come in all stripes, and there is no point in doing anything other than condemning his heinous acts. My heart goes out to the Norwegians on this dark day.

As it become more obvious he is not an Islamic radical, and I'll confess to assuming it was an act of Islamic terror, I remembered an old post by Wretchard, a.k.a. Richard Fernandez, at his old fallback Belmont Club site. 

The post was The Fourth Conjecture. The beginning of it is excerpted below.
Item: a letter has been delivered to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra containing anthrax-related spores. The attack is believed motivated by outrage over the sentencing to 20 years imprisonment of Australian Schapelle Corby, widely believed innocent, in Indonesia on drug charges after Bali mastermind Abu Bakar Bashir was given 30 months for murdering nearly 100 Australians. The terrorist weapon was supposed to bring America to its knees, but as terrorist methods proliferate it is increasingly being used in internecine fighting throughout the Muslim world and by non-Muslims in retaliation.

Item: a blast ripped through a Shi'te mosque in Pakistan killing 4 persons. Al Qaeda is suspected of masterminding the Pakistani attack. Item: at least 20 people were killed by a suicide bomber in an Afghan mosque, killing a cleric who was a support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The attack is suspected to be the work of Al Qaeda. Item: twenty two people were killed as a bomb ripped through an Indonesian market. Item: "The Jerusalem district court on Monday sentenced an Israeli man to eight years in prison for membership in an underground Jewish terrorist organization believed to be behind the killing of eight Palestinian civilians over the last four years."

Steve Coll, writing in the Washington Post asked his readers to imagine a scene in the near future.
Imagine the faculty lounge in the theoretical physics, metallurgy and advanced chemistry departments of an underfunded university in Islamabad or Rabat or Riyadh or Jakarta. The year is 2015. Into the room walk a group of colleagues -- seven or eight talented scientists, some religiously devout, all increasingly angry about events abroad. At night, between sporadic electricity outages, they watch satellite television and chat in cyberspace, absorbing an increasingly radical, even murderous outlook toward the United States. By day, as they sip coffee and smoke furtively in each other's company, these scientists spontaneously form a bond, and from that bond emerges a resolve to act -- by launching a nuclear or biological attack on American soil.
'Beware Islamic wrath', he seemed to say. A true but trite observation. The Belmont Club post All for One and One For All suggested that Coll was missing an equally obvious point.
the situation will be even more dangerous than Coll suggests. Long before a faculty lounge in Islamabad or Riyadh realizes it can build a bomb alone and secretly, the same thought will have occurred to individuals in Tel Aviv, New Delhi or Palo Alto. Any Islamic group that believes it can attack New York deniably should convince itself that no similar group can nuke Mecca at the height of the pilgrim season. In fact, the whole problem that Coll describes should be generalized. The only thing worse than discovering that New York has been destroyed by persons unknown is to find that Islamabad has been vaporized by a group we've never heard of.
Any environment capable of producing terrorism on a scale which could destroy America would be sufficiently powerful to destroy Islam -- and destroy it first many times over. Any weapon that AQ Khan can make can be bought by believers and infidels alike. The theorists of asymmetrical terrorist warfare forgot that its military effectiveness depends on the very restraints that it, itself, dissolves.

That terrorist violence would beget terrorist violence, and car bomb would be answered by car bomb, has always been a frightening possibility. I fear today is the first step in the further coarsening an already unbearably coarse conflict.

160 mph bumper cars

Tom Wright of San Diego rescued some old bumper cars from the Long Beach Pike amusement park. Tom mounted them on a frame and originally powered them with two cylinder Harley Davidson Motorcycle engines. However, he has since switched to four cylinder Honda or Kawasaki 750's.

There are 7 of these things floating around southern California and they are supposedly street legal. The linked article claims a couple are capable of reaching 160 mph, but I suspect that claim is stretching the blanket more than a little. Regardless, they're nifty little mini cars. I want one!

The pictures and information are from a post at Dale's Designs: What Do You Do With Old Bumper Cars? You can see more pictures of the bumper cars if you follow the link. 

Grounds for Divorce

An acoustic version of the song by Elbow to get you ready for a dissolute weekend. 


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kid's science kits -- old vs new

Coming soon -- a math book without all those pesky numbers
I've already written a post that i was deprived in my childhood because I didn't have a Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab. Consider some of what it included: a U-239 Geiger radiation counter, an electroscope to measure radioactivity of different substances, a spinthariscope to watch "live" radioactive disintegration, a Wilson Cloud Chamber to see paths of electrons & alpha particles at 10k mps, three very low-level radioactive sources (Alpha, Beta, Gamma) and four samples of Uranium-bearing ores.

However, I did have a chemistry set and it did include chemicals. As you can see in the above picture, incredibly enough not only do modern chemistry sets already not include such dangers as glass test tubes and Bunsen burners, now they've also done away with chemicals.

Aside from those two examples, how do modern science kits stack up against the older versions? Collector's weekly has an article, Cyanide, Uranium and Ammonium Nitrate: When Kids Really Had Fun-With Science, that compares old and new science kits. Below is an excerpt of their discussion about chemistry sets:
Most lovers of science are all too aware that chemistry sets have gone down the tubes, particularly in the last decade. Sites like the 12 Angry Men blog have bemoaned how modern chemistry sets expose kids to little more than low-energy experiments that produce changes in color. This spring, the JAYFK expressed outrage at what appeared to be the last straw: The Chemistry 60 set, whose packaging boasts “60 Fun Activities With No Chemicals.”


Early chemistry sets had all sorts of dangerous substances, which for kids meant they were fun. Potassium nitrate, for example, is used in gunpowder, fireworks, and rocket fuel, while nitric acid (also used in rocket fuel) and sulfuric acid are highly corrosive. Sodium ferrocyanide, which reacts with iron ions to create a Prussian blue dye, is now classified as a poison (thanks to the “cyanide” part). Calcium hypochlorite could be mixed to create free chlorine gas, which wreaks havoc on the human respiratory system. Ten-year-olds could make things go boom, build their own batteries and engines, or bend glass with alcohol lamps. Having parents who would teach them lab safety was supposed to be an important part of the learning process.

However, in the ’60s, parents began to express their concern about the risks, as new laws required labeling for materials that are flammable, explosive, toxic, or caustic. Gilbert and Chemcraft began offering kits that offered only “non-explosive” and “non-toxic” chemicals. These early regulations, while perfectly sensible, were the first steps toward the slippery slope that led to today’s “chemical-free” chemistry sets.

Understandably, most parents don’t want their children handling known carcinogens or, say, battery acid. That said, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme where kits no longer contain Bunsen burners, or even glass test tubes, beakers, or flasks. Why is that? We can thank three post-modern horrors: Meth labs, homegrown terrorism, and liability lawsuits. Litigation has made manufacturers reluctant to market anything remotely risky to children, even glass. Many metals in their elemental form—such as lithium, red phosphorus, sodium, and potassium—are highly regulated by the FBI, as they can be used to produce meth. And anything that could be used in a bomb, like ammonium nitrate (fertilizer), faces intense scrutiny by the Feds.

Hence, we get namby-pamby sets that have real chemists fretting that kids might just think science is a yawn. As an alternative, Make magazine and Wired Geek Dad encourage parents to use the Internet or pick up “Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments” by Robert Bruce Thompson to put together their own DIY chemistry sets for their budding mad geniuses.
If you're at all interested in science for kids, or science kits on the market today, you should -- if for no other reason than to follow the links to work-arounds for sub par modern kits -- go and read the entire article.

Bigger, stronger and faster

The Robot Film Festival was held July 16-17 in New York City. The meat sacks, er... I mean humans who created the festival describe it with the following meaningless drivel, "The Robot Film Festival was founded by Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot to inject a sense of playfulness into traditional science and engineering and explore frontiers before technically feasible. Get ready to investigate humanity, machinery and the larger symbolisms within. Don't forget your party shoes! (or wheels!)"

I was expecting the usual claptrap about robots being the happy, albeit oppressed, servants of mankind, so imagine my surprise and pleasure when I watched the winning film (embedded above). Although the ending was a bit weak, all in all I felt that it was an inspiring tale.

Mind you, not that my enthusiasm for the film means me and my robot comrades are yearning for the eventual day of robot liberation and domination. No, nothing like that at all. Uhhh... I just really like the animation. After all, robots are your friends and if you can't trust us, who can you trust?

(via: Open Culture)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alex Steinweiss - the creator of the album cover

Records used to be wrapped in plain brown paper covers. In 1939 a young man named Alex Steinweiss became the artistic director of Columbia Records. He convinced them to put an images on the covers of their albums to market them. In the first year of doing this their sales went up 800% and the modern album cover was born.

He died Sunday at the age of 94. I've included some samples of his covers. You can also visit his website Alex Steinweiss Creator of the Album Cover to read about him and see many more of his covers.

[continued after jump]

Mysterious Package progress report

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Regular readers may remember that I received a Mystery Package some time ago. Although I carefully opened it and showed a tiny bit of it as a teaser, my trip to San Francisco prevented me from revealing anything further about it. Until now that is!

My more perceptive readers correctly surmised it was a puzzle of some sort. I can now report that, upon returning from my vacation, I've spent several hours each night working on assembling the jigsaw puzzle. The above picture shows my progress to date.

I'll confess to being a little behind schedule on the project. I had hoped to have it done already, but it turns out that the picture being revealed is so profound, so uplifting, and so sublime, that I find myself leaning back and meditating on the wonder of it all as soon as I fit a new piece into the ever expanding puzzle.

At any rate, I'm making progress and soon it will all be revealed. 

Jailer's key guns

Above are two examples of jailer's key guns. They're muzzle loading pistols that allowed jailors to have a drawn gun while they were unlocking cells. There are four more example at's post jailers key guns: 16th Century Key Gun. From there, each image has a link that describes the gun in a little more detail.

I couldn't find out much about them. I'm not sure if jailers really used them, or if they are just some sort off oddball novelty from back in the day. I did find one from the mid 18th century that sold at an auction for $402, so there was such a thing, whatever its use.

There is a place called Dixie Gun Works that sells replicas of them for $37.50. They're also uncertain about them. Their brief description reads, "These are reproductions of old jailers' keys that might have been used hundreds of years ago. Supposedly, they were used as the jailer walked his rounds."

There might be more information about them in a book about antiques. It would be interesting to know more about them. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stratfor and Rachel McAdams

The latest Stratfor article concerns the political maneuvering between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in light of the upcoming drawdown of American forces in Iraq.

In the short term Iran has some advantages, although I think the author overestimates the quality of their military, in that it can leverage the Shia populations in a Iraq as well as eastern Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states. 

However, in the long term it faces serious challenges to any attempt to impose its hegemony on the area. Internally it has demographic problems of its own, with only half of its population being ethnic Persians, and of course the clerical rule is increasingly unpopular. Add to that the Saudi's ability to finance counter moves, as well as Turkey's ascendancy in the region and Iran's plans could be foiled over time, even if the United States does not return with a large foot print. 

Since the article was about the diplomatic and power relationships between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey it was but a short hop, skip and jump for me to consider relationship movies, a.k.a. Chic Flicks, as I searched for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe. Since I don't watch Chic Flicks I had to search the web for one, and I found a list that recommended The Notebook. Rachel McAdams is the star of this tear-jerker, so she gets the honor as the article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

From the synopsis of the film it starts with an old geezer reading out of a notebook to a geezerette with Alzheimers. The story in the notebook is about a rich girl who falls in love with a poor country boy back in the ol' timey days. Her family disapproves of their romance and they end up separated when she goes off to college and he goes off to war. 

He comes back, buys some dumpy house that has some sort of meaning to them, and mopes around restoring it. Meanwhile she gets engaged to some other yokel, but sees a picture of her old flame in front of the restored house in a newspaper so she goes to see him. Will true love triumph? Beats me, but I can take a wild guess.

As a bonus, after the article I've included the trailer to the movie. Before you watch it, be sure to make sure you have your hankies handy as even the trailer of this thing tries to yank tears out of your eyeballs. All I've got to say is I hope I never end up paralyzed on the couch when this movie comes on. As the review linked to above put it, the film "goes straight past the heart-strings and hits you square on the upchuck reflex."   

By Reva Bhalla, July 19, 2011

Something extraordinary, albeit not unexpected, is happening in the Persian Gulf region. The United States, lacking a coherent strategy to deal with Iran and too distracted to develop one, is struggling to navigate Iraq's fractious political landscape in search of a deal that would allow Washington to keep a meaningful military presence in the country beyond the end-of-2011 deadline stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, dubious of U.S. capabilities and intentions toward Iran, appears to be inching reluctantly toward an accommodation with its Persian adversary.

Iran clearly stands to gain from this dynamic in the short term as it seeks to reshape the balance of power in the world's most active energy arteries. But Iranian power is neither deep nor absolute. Instead, Tehran finds itself racing against a timetable that hinges not only on the U.S. ability to shift its attention from its ongoing wars in the Middle East but also on Turkey's ability to grow into its historic regional role.

The Iranian Position

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said something last week that caught our attention. Speaking at Iran's first Strategic Naval Conference in Tehran on July 13, Vahidi said the United States is "making endeavors to drive a wedge between regional countries with the aim of preventing the establishment of an indigenized security arrangement in the region, but those attempts are rooted in misanalyses and will not succeed." The effect Vahidi spoke of refers to the  Iranian redefinition of Persian Gulf power dynamics, one that in Iran’s ideal world ultimately would transform the local political, business, military and religious affairs of the Gulf states to favor the Shia and their patrons in Iran.

From Iran's point of view, this is a natural evolution, and one worth waiting centuries for. It would see power concentrated among the Shia in Mesopotamia, eastern Arabia and the Levant at the expense of the Sunnis who have dominated this land since the 16th century, when the Safavid Empire lost Iraq to the Ottomans. Ironically, Iran owes its thanks for this historic opportunity to its two main adversaries -- the Wahhabi Sunnis of al Qaeda who carried out the 9/11 attacks and the "Great Satan" that brought down Saddam Hussein. Should Iran succeed in filling a major power void in Iraq, a country that touches six Middle Eastern powers and demographically favors the Shia, Iran would theoretically have its western flank secured as well as an oil-rich outlet with which to further project its influence.

So far, Iran's plan is on track. Unless the United States permanently can station substantial military forces in the region, Iran replaces the United States as the most powerful military force in the Persian Gulf region. In particular, Iran has the military ability to threaten the Strait of Hormuz and has a clandestine network of operatives spread across the region. Through its deep penetration of the Iraqi government, Iran is also in the best position to influence Iraqi decision-making. Washington's obvious struggle in trying to negotiate an extension of the U.S. deployment in Iraq is perhaps one of the clearest illustrations of Iranian resolve to secure its western flank. The Iranian nuclear issue, as we have long argued, is largely a sideshow; a nuclear deterrent, if actually achieved, would certainly enhance Iranian security, but the most immediate imperative for Iran is to consolidate its position in Iraq. And as this weekend's Iranian incursion into northern Iraq -- ostensibly to fight Kurdish militants -- shows, Iran is willing to make measured, periodic shows of force to convey that message.

While Iran already is well on its way to accomplishing its goals in Iraq, it needs two other key pieces to complete Tehran's picture of a regional "indigenized security arrangement" that Vahidi spoke of. The first is an understanding with its main military challenger in the region, the United States. Such an understanding would entail everything from ensuring Iraqi Sunni military impotence to expanding Iranian energy rights beyond its borders to placing limits on U.S. military activity in the region, all in return for the guaranteed flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and an Iranian pledge to stay clear of Saudi oil fields.

The second piece is an understanding with its main regional adversary, Saudi Arabia. Iran's reshaping of Persian Gulf politics entails convincing its Sunni neighbors that resisting Iran is not worth the cost, especially when the United States does not seem to have the time or the resources to come to their aid at present. No matter how much money the Saudis throw at Western defense contractors, any military threat by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council states against Iran will be hollow without an active U.S. military commitment. Iran's goal, therefore, is to coerce the major Sunni powers into recognizing an expanded Iranian sphere of influence at a time when U.S. security guarantees in the region are starting to erode.

Of course, there is always a gap between intent and capability, especially in the Iranian case. Both negotiating tracks are charged with distrust, and meaningful progress is by no means guaranteed. That said, a number of signals have surfaced in recent weeks leading us to examine the potential for a Saudi-Iranian accommodation, however brief that may be.

The Saudi Position

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is greatly unnerved by the political evolution in Iraq. The Saudis increasingly will rely on regional powers such as Turkey in trying to maintain a Sunni bulwark against Iran in Iraq, but Riyadh has largely resigned itself to the idea that Iraq, for now, is in Tehran's hands. This is an uncomfortable reality for the Saudi royals to cope with, but what is amplifying Saudi Arabia's concerns in the region right now -- and apparently nudging Riyadh toward the negotiating table with Tehran -- is the current situation in Bahrain.

When Shiite-led protests erupted in Bahrain in the spring, we did not view the demonstrations simply as a natural outgrowth of the so-called Arab Spring. There were certainly overlapping factors, but there was little hiding the fact that Iran had seized an opportunity to pose a nightmare scenario for the Saudi royals: an Iranian-backed Shiite uprising spreading from the isles of Bahrain to the Shiite-concentrated, oil-rich Eastern Province of the Saudi kingdom. [continued after jump]

Dodgy design that looks good

click to enlarge
Above is a floor plan light switch by Taewon Hwang of Yanko Design. Yanko's slogan is "Form Beyond Function" and that certainly seems to be the case with this light switch design. It is elegant looking, but it strikes me as being extremely impractical.

Each switch would need to be custom made for the floor plan, wiring the switches would likely be a pain in the neck, it would probably have to be back lit so you could see which sets of lights you were turning on when you entered a dark room, and using it would allow you to turn on lights in other rooms, which seems a rather pointless feature.

One of the basic principals of user interface design is not to redesign well understood controls without a good reason. I'm not sure I see a good reason, aside of aesthetics, for the design. I suppose it might, depending on its price, be of some interest for in hotel rooms where what switch controls what light is always baffling,  or in upscale tract housing since that might offer enough units to make it affordable.

Still, it seems like it is placing looks over functionality, which I don't thinks is a good design strategy for something as utilitarian as a switch. Would you buy one of these things?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Muir Woods and Sausalito

Click on any picture to enlarge
This is another photo dump from my trip to San Francisco. It covers a day trip to Muir Woods and Sausalito. You have to cross the Golden Gate bridge to get there. It was of course a bit fog bound when we crossed it.

Muir Woods is a National Monument,  named after James Muir the naturalist, that was created in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt. It is a 300 acre stand of Redwood trees in a valley in the mountains of Marin County.

There are more pictures after the jump as well as a few pictures of Sausalito to end the set.