31 December 2008

Here's what you're missing tonight

The Chase on the Lake is a premier hotel, restored to the elegance it displayed when it was first built in 1922, when revelers used to ride the railroad train up from Mpls-St. Paul to spend holidays at Leech Lake.

This year they are offering a New Year's Eve package which includes lobster/chateaubriand dinner, drinks, dancing, and... the rental of a fish house?


An iconic coiffure of the (I think) 1920s. The model looks familiar, but she isn't named at the source; it may be a generic photo. Note how much shaving of the neck was required to attain this look.

Megachurch gets heliport

A Federal Way megachurch won approval Monday to add a helicopter takeoff and landing area, called a helistop, on its property.

It will enable Pastors Casey and Wendy Treat of Christian Faith Center to shuttle by air between the 15-month-old Federal Way church and its Everett campus...

The church will use the helistop only on major religious holidays and for special guest speakers, said Hulsmann, owner of Abbey Road Group Land Development Services. Another case would be a special event, such as Wendy Treat’s birthday, so she could be at both campuses for services, Hulsmann said...

(Curious about the distance involved, I used Mapquest to check. It's about a 50 mile drive.)

Food pyramid

credit here

Amazing spy camera

Hidden in the watch, it is a video camera with 8 hours recording capability. More details at the link.

7-year-old girl weighed 400 pounds

She weighed 7.5 pounds at birth and was "only" 200 pounds at age 5, then doubled over the next two years. One article estimated her daily caloric intake at 10,000 calories.

Found an updated video. It's an amazing transformation after she loses 320 pounds. The technology used to lose weight? Diet. And exercise.

Yoshimoto Cube

Very cool. It demonstrates the transformation of two stellated rhombic dodecahedrons from a cube.

Illinois furniture store ad

Image credit here.

Handicap sign fail

Image credit here.

Mathematicians decry Mariah Carey album cover

The album title is E=MC2 (with the 2 superscripted as in the famous mass/energy equation). This is supposed to stand for "Mariah Carey times two," but as written the 2 applies only to the C, so it "translates" as Mariah Carey Carey.

It should have been written E = 2(MC).

Not to be out-geeked, someone else has pointed out that the equation actually should be written as follows:
E^2= (m^2)(c^4) + (p^2)(c^2)

because it only simplifies to E=MC^2 for particles with no motion. You learn something every day.

Find your car in a movie...

...using the Internet Movie Cars Database, the link to which was posted at Presurfer today. The nice part is that it lists not just fancy cars that are prominent in the movie (which would never include mine), but also incidental cars parked on the sides of streets. I found my original yellow Beetle in Sahara, my treasured Z-car in Good Burger, and my 160,000 workhorse green Subaru in Inspector Gadget. Yours will be somewhere in the database.

Update May 2010:  The Forester now has 175,000 miles and is still going strong.

30 December 2008

Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin

As a reader who prefers nonfiction, I had not encountered Margaret Atwood's writings until an article in ?Harpers or ?The Atlantic praised this one, so I gave it a try, and decided it's worth reviewing. At 500+ pages the book is a bit long and likely could have been compressed a bit; there are some passages that to my ear sound awkward:
The storm was gone by nightfall, but it was still dank as a drain. I roiled around in the muddle of my bed, listening to my heart limping against the bedsprings, trying to get comfortable. (p. 135) 
A "limping heart" as one "roils around" in the "muddle of a bed" seems like the effort of a young writer trying to be artistic. Such passages, however, are few, and are overbalanced by an abundance of nicely phrased (and deeply-thought) pieces. Here is an elderly woman musing over her wedding photos:
I and the girl in the picture have ceased to be the same person. I am her outcome, the result of the life she once lived headlong; whereas she, if she can be said to exist at all, is composed only of what I remember. I have the better view – I can see her clearly, most of the time. But even if she knew enough to look, she can’t see me at all. (p. 239)
Here she contemplates the development of a major tragedy:
Breakfasts, picnics, ocean voyages, costume balls, newspapers, boating on the river. Such items do not assort very well with tragedy. But in life, a tragedy is not one long scream. It includes everything that led up to it. Hour after trivial hour, day after day, year after year, and then the sudden moment: the knife stab, the shell-burst, the plummet of the car from the bridge.” (p. 417)
And some final thoughts as death draws near:
At my age you indulge in these apocalyptic visions. You say, The end of the world is at hand. You lie to yourself – I’m glad I won’t be around to see it – when in fact you’d like nothing better, as long as you can watch it through the little secret window, as long as you won’t be involved. (p. 478)
And one final witty observation:
Aimee looked like any newborn baby – she had that squashed face, as if she’d hit a wall at high speed. (p. 431)
The novel itself has several story lines intertwined into a complex but ultimately coherent plot with a surprising and satisfying outcome. It was published in 2000 and won the coveted Booker Prize that year. Time magazine lists it among the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923. If you enjoy reading (long) novels, it will reward your time.

What's the plural of "sweet tooth" ??

"Sweet tooths"? or "Sweet teeth"?

The singular term "sweet tooth" is a phrase that everyone knows, referring to a liking or preference for sweet foods or candies.

While reading The Blind Assassin, I encountered this sentence:
“Young girls have such sweet tooths.” (p. 234)
The knee-jerk response is that it must be wrong, that it should read "sweet teeth," but then the latter sounds equally awkward.

The "sweet tooth" is either a single item in one's mouth, or a condition or perception in one's senses, so one person can't have plural "sweet teeth," which conveys the wrong implication that the teeth themselves are sweet. To my ear, "sweet tooths" does in fact sound more appropriate.

But "tooths" is not offered as a plural of "tooth" in Random House or in the OED. (Though, curiously, "teeths" can sometimes be used).

Perhaps there's a copy editor out there somewhere with a reference book of usage that can clarify this matter...

Mixed message

Riding the "orphan train" across the U.S.

New York City in 1926 was teeming with tens of thousands of homeless and orphaned children.

The Orphan Train … took destitute children, in small groups, by train to small towns and farms across the country, with many traveling to the West and Midwest. From 1854 to 1929, more than 200,000 children were placed with families across 47 states...

"We'd pull into a train station, stand outside the coaches dressed in our best clothes. People would inspect us like cattle farmers. And if they didn't choose you, you'd get back on the train and do it all over again at the next stop."
By today's standards such behavior would be unthinkable. But this was only about two generations ago. More details at the link

Are we in the midst of a "forgetfulness epidemic" ??

Having an elderly parent with suboptimal short-term memory probably sensitizes me to such things, but over the past year or two I notice friends and acquaintances commenting offhandedly re their lapses of memory ("senior moments" according to some, or "CRAFT* moments" according to others).

Last week I received an email in which a friend commented "... my dad is getting forgetful, B----- is getting forgetful, J---E---- is getting forgetful... Bums me out." This afternoon I was walking downtown with a young friend who suddenly couldn't remember the (common) word he wanted to use in conversation.

It almost makes one wonder if the fast pace of our cyberworld lives keeps introducing so many facts/stories/videos/tunes into our brains that the cerebrum winds up having to zap its parameter RAM and reboot, and in the process loses a few "inconsequential" data bits. Or perhaps there's something in the air...

or in the water... [see next blog entry]

*Can't Remember A F------ Thing

You're on antidepressants (whether you know it or not)

That dose of Prozac, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Zoloft or Zyban doesn't disappear once you swallow it.

Some of it flows through your body into toilets, sewer lines, wastewater treatment plants and eventually into lakes and rivers.

Multiply that by millions of people, and tons of diluted but biologically active drug residues end up in the drink...

Scientists at St. Cloud State University [are] studying what happens to fathead minnows when they're exposed to antidepressants. The results have been surprising.

They've found that fish eggs and hatchlings doused with drugs are more laid back than those raised in cleaner water. That may be a death sentence in nature; they could be gobbled up by larger fish before they can escape...

...those exposed to antidepressants for five days as eggs or during 12 days after hatching were almost twice as slow to react as those raised in clean water. "If you're a fish living downstream of a wastewater treatment plant, you're not just getting a single dose of Prozac, you're getting several antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogen, birth control pills and other compounds...."

Some of his other research has shown that males exposed to some antidepressants were "feminized" and developed proteins normally made only by egg-laying females.

What all of this means is unclear, said Schoenfuss, except that pharmaceuticals even at extremely low concentrations can affect growth and development of very young and adult fish.

(Text and image credit to the StarTribune)

This lady did a C-section on herself

Old news from 2004, but worth repeating as a reference base for those who think they are "tough guys."
Alone in her one-room cabin high in the mountains of southern Mexico, Ines Ramirez Perez felt the pounding pains of a child insistent on entering the world...

Three years earlier, she had given birth to a dead baby girl. As her labour intensified, so did her concern for this unborn child.

The sun had set hours ago. The nearest clinic was 80km away over rough roads, and her husband, her only assistant during a half-dozen previous births, was drinking at a cantina. She had no phone and neither did the cantina.

So at midnight, after 12 hours of constant pain, the petite, 40-year-old mother of six sat down on a low wooden bench. She took several gulps from a bottle of rubbing alcohol, grabbed a 15-cm knife and began to cut.

By the light of a single dim bulb, Ramirez sawed through skin, fat and muscle before reaching inside her uterus and pulling out her baby boy. She says she cut his umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, then passed out.

That was March 5, 2000. Today the baby she delivered, Orlando Ruiz Ramirez, is a rambunctious 4-year-old. And Ines Ramirez is recognised internationally as a modern miracle: She is believed to be the only woman known to have performed a successful Caesarean-section on herself.

(Photo inset shows the knife she used)

Paramedics consider man "not worth saving" - he dies

The ambulance crew had been sent to Barry Baker's detached home after he dialled 999 saying he thought he was having a heart attack.

Ambulance controllers kept Mr Baker talking on the phone as they ordered the paramedic and ambulance technician to use their blue lights to get to him as quickly as possible.

However the 59-year-old, who lived alone, collapsed unconscious while talking on the phone, leaving the line open to the control centre as he lay on the floor.

Minutes later, dispatch centre staff heard their crew enter the house and allegedly make disparaging comments about its state.

A police source said the ambulancemen were then heard over the phone discussing Mr Baker and allegedly saying "words to the effect that he was not worth saving"...

They are then heard discussing what to tell ambulance control and allegedly decide to say that he was already dead when they arrived.

"Obviously the crew did not realise that the phone was still connected and, of course, the 999 call was all recorded on tape," said the source.

"The tape recording of what the paramedics allegedly said has been handed over to the Sussex Police Major Crime Team as evidence."

"The men were arrested by Sussex Police on December 5 on suspicion of wilfully neglecting to perform duty in a public office.

(Text and image credit to the Telegraph)

"You're doing it wrong" - re tattoo eyebrows

I'm certainly the last person who should make value judgements on fashion trends, but I sincerely doubt that "tattoo eyebrows" are meant to be done as a "connect-the-dots" pattern.

Image found here, which may not be the original source (it looks like it should be a smoking gun mugshot).

Bill Maher's New Rules - "America is NOT #1"

If you don't like Bill Maher, skip this one. But if you're willing to face/hear some hard facts, this is an impressive rant.

29 December 2008


An amazing creature. Undoubtedly the basis for some legends of sea serpents. More about them at Wiki. Image found here.

Diversity of species in the rainforest


Infographic created by Oro Verde.

A commentary on math education

Teaching Math In 1950:
A logger sold a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1960:
A logger sold a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1970:
A logger sold a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

Teaching Math In 1980:
A logger sold a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math In 1990:
A logger cut down a beautiful forest, because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? After answering the question, the topic for class participation is: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers.)

The Result In 2005:
Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The young woman at the counter took my $2. I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies while looking at the screen on her register.

I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried.

(Found here)

"Faeries Aire and Death Waltz"

Posted for my musical cousin Karl, visiting us from Barcelona. Remember to "balance your chair on 2 legs," "release the penguins," and "remove cattle from stage."

Click to enlarge to see details. Found at Reddit.

Neutrophil chasing a bacterium

"This video is taken from a 16-mm movie made in the 1950s by the late David Rogers at Vanderbilt University." Found at ScienceHack.

28 December 2008

Sunday smörgåsbord

The world's largest emerald weights 850 pounds. Not carats, mind you. Pounds.

What to do with calendars at the end of the year? One suggestion is to recycle the pictures into colorful envelopes. I would suggest not using these for postal mailings, since patterned envelopes may impair computerized reading of addresses and ZIPs, but they would look nice on gifts.

A California family found $10,000 (cash) inside a box of crackers.

A girl in India has set a new record as the youngest person ever to pass the exam as a Microsoft Certified Professional. She is 9 years old.

During the riots in Greece, one of the "anarchist agitators" smashing windows etc. was filmed mingling freely with the police. The narration of the YouTube video is in Greek, but the guy does appear to be acting like an agent provocateur.

An increasing number of private individuals are dressing up in Spandex outfits of superheroes and going out on the streets to battle criminals.

A long article in the WSJ details how Iceland succumbed to financial trends and became a prime victim (and a prime propagator) of the worldwide financial meltdown.

Presurfer has a link to a good article on How To Avoid Looking Like An American Tourist. Lots of commonsense and ordinary recommendations, but also some one might not think of. I didn't know holding one's fork in the right hand makes Americans obvious in restaurants.

Modern nostalgia for a white Christmas can be traced back to a string of unusually cold and snowy winters during Charles Dickens' childhood.

The earth is being bombarded by cosmic rays from a mysterious nearby source.

Nice photos of ice ribbons emerging from a metal fence.

The Madoff scandal prompted Alex at Neatorama to list the 9 Most Brazen Ponzi Schemes (the ninth one is the American Social Security system).

A purple squirrel has been seen in England. Hopefully unrelated to reports of amateurs doing genetic engineering at home.

Smoke from an office fire in Houston killed three people. The insurance company is arguing that the policy does not cover deaths due to "pollution."

Ancient and modern legends of "milky seas" can be explained by bioluminescent bacteria. (There was also an excellent satellite image of such a phenomenon, but I can't locate it right now).

Video of the incredible camoflage of an octopus.

Annoy-A-Tron - a tiny device you hide in a (friend's) office. It intermittently emits a "beep" but it's so tiny it's hard to find.

"The Curse of the Crying Boy" - a story from Fortean Times.

(image credit here)

When life gives you mutant lemons...

... make mutant lemonade. (credit here)

Is the Yellowstone caldera becoming more active?

There was a swarm of sixteen earthquakes in 24 hours this weekend (map above, updates at this link). It probably is not significant, but it is worth remembering that the Yellowstone caldera is a hotspot above a supervolcano, the eruption of which would mean theendoflifeasweknowit, at least for the United States. The Yellowstone one has erupted approximately every 600,000 years, and the last eruption was... lets see... 600,000 years ago.

Found at Reddit, where there is a discussion thread.

The "Totem Pole" of Tasmania

If I get tired of blogging, I think I'll take up rock climbing, and the first rock I'll climb will be this one. What a spectacular natural formation. Images found here.

"Tomato angels"

Smells like Photoshop, but could be real. Clever in any case.

(Found at Bits and Pieces)

27 December 2008

Please support Wikipedia

TYWKIWDBI contributed tonight to what we consider to be the single most useful resource on the internet. You can read Jimmy Wales' message about Wikipedia and the fund drive here.

Just click on the button below to be directed to the Wiki site for processing Paypal and credit card payments. Thank you.

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Photos from the Harbin Ice Festival

Ice festivals and winter carnivals are common celebrations in northern countries; where I grew up in Minnesota, the St. Paul Winter Carnival had been an annual event since 1886 (when it was established in response to a New York reporter's claim that the area was "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation." The bottom photo above shows the Ice Palace of 1887.

Among the modern winter festivals, one of the most spectacular is held in Harbin, in the PRC (next door to the real Siberia). I've embedded two photos above. There are impressive collections of photos here and here.

The "Jesus Christ dinosaur hypothesis"

The video above is from National Geographic, documenting the remarkable ability of the basilisk to walk on water (that's why it is colloquially known as the "Jesus Christ" lizard).

Understanding how the basilisk accomplishes this raises the question as to whether this was the mode of locomotion of the dinosaur ancestors of modern birds. All of the fossils of the primitive Archaeopteryx have been found in what 150 million years ago was an archipelago of coral islands. There is no tree pollen in the deposits that hold the Archaeopteryx fossils, suggesting that they did not glide from trees. Also, they were very small - the size of the basilisk.

Perhaps Archaeopteryx was a shore bird running across shallow waters, and the feathered upper limbs were developed to enhance this performance; after several millennia they could have evolved into proper wings with aerodynamic lift. Anyone who has ever spent time fishing or at a lakeshore or seashore has certainly seen modern seabirds run across the surface before attaining enough velocity to allow liftoff.

This "ground up" hypothesis for the origin of bird flight was apparently first proposed in 2000; other paleontologists and biologists disagree and favor a "trees down" development from gliding to flapping. The argument won't be settled soon - nor need it be. It's just interesting to ponder...

A last word about Christmas...

... from Garrison Keillor:
But slipping into St. Patrick's for Mass in Spanish is pretty wonderful. It's like a big family reunion at which I know nobody and so nobody is mad at me. Nothing said in Spanish offends me doctrinally or any other way. I squeeze into the crowd, under the placid stone faces of saints, the sweet smell of burning wax and a hundred varieties of cologne, and feel the religious fervor, and tears come to my eyes, and I light a candle, say a wordless prayer, and out into the cold I go.

It brought back memories of Christmas Eve in Copenhagen 20 years ago and how beautiful the sermons were before I started learning Danish.

A man gets a keener sense of the divine in a church that is not your own. Maybe Luther and Calvin and Jan Hus and all them were dead wrong and literacy is not the key nor an understanding of Scripture, and maybe the essence of Christmas is dumb childlike wonder and the more you think about it, the less you understand.

Do cell phones cause cancer?

I've always doubted claims about cellphones and cancer because of the latter should require a long latency, and cell phone use is a recent development. Early results from a large collaborative study are, however, beginning to suggest a trend...
Interphone researchers are pooling and analyzing the results gathered from studies on 6,400 tumors sampled from patients in 13 countries... people who use cellphones regularly are 50 percent more likely than non-users to develop brain tumors. And a joint Interphone analysis from the U.K., Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland reported a 40 percent increase in tumor risk in people who use cellphones for more than a decade; the study found no discernable risk for people who have used cellphones for fewer than 10 years.
Note that's not a study of 6,400 people - it's a study of 6,400 cases of brain cancer, which is a relatively uncommon disorder.

Image credit to Gizmodo - I interpret it as a commentary on where people should store cell phones while driving a car...

Book rental service???

The text of this question posted on the 'net reads as follows...
"[I] was just thinking my sister does -alot- of reading and spends like $1000 a year on just books alone. most of them she reads once then never looks at again. is there any kind of like… video rental store but for books? would make things alot cheaper, plus once has read one the next person can get enjoyment from it etc"
This is several years old and has been amusing librarians and library users ever since; I thought it is worth sharing.

African-American women are getting shorter

In an age when the adult populations of most industrialized nations have grown significantly taller, the average height of black women in the U.S. has been receding, beginning with those born in the late 1960s.

The difference in stature between white women and black women has now stretched to three-quarters of an inch and appears to be increasing, according to newly released data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The main culprit appears to be diet.

The average height of a black woman born in the 1980s is just under 5 feet 4 inches; her mother, born in the 1960s, is more than half an inch taller. Even her grandmother, born in the 1940s, is a bit taller. The average white woman born in the 1980s is about half an inch taller than her mother...

You have to go back to the antebellum South to find a similar shrinkage. The generation of white men born in the 1840s who experienced the ravages of the Civil War lost nearly an inch to their Northern counterparts, Komlos said.

... the average height of adult Americans, once the tallest folk to roam the planet, stopped rising after World War II and has since been surpassed by that of several European nations. The Dutch now lay claim to the title of tallest...

"The only reasonable explanation we can come up with is diet and the obesity epidemic among (middle- and low-income) black women," said Komlos.

Over the last three decades, the prevalence of obesity among white Americans has tripled, while among blacks it has increased fivefold....

High caloric intake... speeds the onset of puberty... This early onset of puberty reduces the duration of the critical pre-adolescent growth spurt, resulting in a lower adult height.

More at the link. Image credit here (the women in the image were not part of the study and I don't know if they are shorter than expected; it's just a random picture of a group of African-American women).

What web designers experience at parties

In case you meet one on New Year's Eve, you'll know what not to say...

Huntington Beach surfer

It almost sounds like English...

10-year old arrested for carrying toy gun

NEWTON COUNTY, Ga. -- The latest case of zero-tolerance at the public schools has a 10-year-old student sadder and wiser, and facing expulsion and long-term juvenile detention... Alandis' gun was a "cap gun," a toy cowboy six-shooter that his mother bought for him...

"We got it from Wal-Mart... That's what he wanted because it was just like the ones he was studying for the Civil War" in his fifth-grade class at Fairview Elementary School...

"On the school bus... when I dug into my bookbag trying to get my phone out, the boy beside me, he reached in my bookbag and got it [the toy gun] and started telling everybody, 'He's got a gun, he's got a gun,' and spread it around the whole bus. So I put it back in my bookbag."
The story continues at the link, with a neighborhood child calling the police to say that the boy had a real gun. Six police officers arrived at his home, booked him, and fingerprinted him.
Alandis was charged with possessing a weapon on school property and with terroristic acts and threats....

"Student safety is our primary concern, and although this was a toy gun, it is still a very serious offense and it is a violation of school rules. We will not tolerate weapons of any kind on school property."
I do understand the danger that toy guns can be mistaken for real ones. But it's not right to charge him with "possessing a weapon." A toy gun is not a weapon. Something doesn't become a weapon because it looks like one. I'm reminded of the Canadian woman who had a two-inch gun charm on a necklace and was hassled by the TSA for that.

The boy needed to be educated and gently disciplined. "You shouldn't have done that. Don't do it again." He didn't need to be "booked and fingerprinted." Zero-tolerance policies in schools require no brains to administer, as when that 13-year-old girl was strip-searched for ibuprofen (later ruled by U.S. Court of Appeals to be unconstitutional).

Old Sears catalogs complete online

Want to browse Christmas "wish books" from Sears (and Spiegel, J.C. Penney, FAO Schwartz) from when you were a kid? Want to know what your parents paid for your Christmas presents.

Catalogs from 1940 to 1988 are stored here. Be patient while they load; some have 600 images.

Embedded above are the pages showing microscope sets ($5 - $15), chemistry sets with lots of toxic materials ($5 - $28), and a Lionel train for $40. I wonder what the latter would go for now on eBay new-in-box. Would have been a better investment than General Motors stock...

You might not want to invite these people to your home

Jason and Jenny Cairns-Lawrence, from Dudley, West Midlands, U.K. were vacationing in New York City in 2001. On September 11.

Four years later, on July 7 they were visiting London (see photo above).

Last month, they took a trip to... (wait for it)... Mumbai.

Found at Arbroath. Image credit here.

26 December 2008

Hong Kong panorama

I took a picture of Hong Kong from this same vantage point about 25 years ago; there were not nearly as many buildings then, nor were they as high. The above image enlarges to fullscreen, but the original image at Wiki is a much more impressive panorama.

Addendum:  This photo compares a view of Hong Kong from 1964 and recently -

A different focal length on the camera from the top image, but the point is made.

The Obama caganer

The display of caganers has been a tradition in Catalonia since the 17th century:
Accompanying Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, the caganer is often tucked away in a corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for "caganer" translates from Catalan to English as "pooper", and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.
Traditionally the figurine depicts a peasant in a red stocking cap, but in the modern era celebrities and politicians have been used, including Pope John Paul II and George W. Bush. This year's additions include Vladimir Putin and Gordon Brown, but the best seller is Barack Obama. (Image credit here)

The Army needs 30,000 more soldiers

The Army needs to add at least 30,000 active-duty soldiers to its ranks to fulfill its responsibilities around the world without becoming stretched dangerously thin, senior Army officials warn...

But the demand for soldiers extends beyond [Iraq and Afghanistan], with the Pentagon creating new missions that require troops trained in cyber-warfare, homeland defense, intelligence-gathering and other areas...

The Army is currently on track to grow to 547,000 active-duty soldiers next year, up from 482,000 before the war. But Ford and other Army officials say that, with rising demand for ground troops for Afghanistan and other contingencies, the increase is insufficient...

The demand for soldiers extends beyond the war zones, as commanders in other regions request troops, Ford said. "It's a real challenge. It's not just Centcom that thinks they need more soldiers; Northcom wants more soldiers, Africom wants a dedicated headquarters, Pacom wants more for 8th Army in Korea...."
Someone can perhaps enlighten me as to why it is important for this country to maintain, much less increase, the number of our soldiers in Korea. I would note that it is certainly convenient for the Armed Forces that the U.S. is heading into a major recession with all that attendant rising unemployment. Just a coincidence, of course, but quite convenient.

Truck and SUV sales soaring

The American consumer has the attention span of a goldfish...
After nearly a year of flagging sales, low gas prices and fat incentives are reigniting America's taste for big vehicles.

Trucks and SUVs will outsell cars in December… Meanwhile the forecast finds that sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to be way down.

This month, trucks and SUVs will make up 51% all vehicles sold in the U.S…. In November, Prius sales were already down 48% compared to the same month in 2007…

Lord of the Rings

(found at Nothing to do with Arbroath)

Hexagonality of Giant's Causeway explained

The Giant's Causeway and other similar structures around the world are composed of basalt, which is extruded from volcanoes as fluid lava. It has been difficult to explain how lava would solidify into such regular hexagons. Physicists at the University of Toronto are now reporting that they have reproduced the phenomenon using water, corn starch, and a heat lamp. It appears to depend on the rate of cooling of the lava, and the principle may be extended to explain other regular geometric figures such as that found in polygonal permafrost. (p.s. - "hexagonality" is a neologism; I needed something short to fit in the title space)

Addendum: better pictures here.

Bamboo scaffolding on high-rise buildings

When I visited the PRC many years ago, I was impressed by their use of bamboo scaffolding. Apparently the technique is still in use, as illustrated by this Wiki photo taken in Hong Kong.

How would you defeat a war elephant? With a war pig!

Pliny the Elder reported that "elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of a pig" (book VIII ch. 9). Antipater's siege of Megara during the Wars of the Diadochi was reportedly broken when the Megarians poured oil on a herd of pigs, set them alight, and drove them towards the enemy's massed war elephants. The elephants bolted in terror from the flaming squealing pigs often killing great numbers of the army the elephant was part of… The Romans would later use the squeals of pigs to frighten Pyrrhus' elephants…

Blue roses

Genetically modified blue roses have reportedly been successfully created by the Japanese company Suntory; they inserted the gene for the blue plant pigment delphinidin into a strain of white roses. The ones in the photo at the top (from their website) appear to be more lavender than blue. Link found here.

The very blue ones in the bottom photo are "conventional" blue roses created by placing a cut stem into a blue dye.

Cute and funny cats

Christmas, 1922

As someone at Shorpy pointed out, the toys under the tree would be worth a fortune today (the Toonerville Trolley in the foreground goes for about $1500).

What interests me about this tree and the one in the next blog entry, apart from the decorations, is the "openness" of the branches. This is the way trees were when I was a child in the 1950s. Modern farmed trees are repeatedly mechanically pruned with I think a conical trimmer, and they become so dense with new growth that it becomes difficult to have ornaments dangle from the branches.

Definitely worth clicking to enlarge.

1920 Christmas tree

Worth viewing full screen (click to enlarge). Image credit to Shorpy.
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