Friday, April 30, 2010

Another wacky Japanese game show

I've no idea what they're saying, but one doesn't need a translation to laugh!


A suggestion to deal with the illegal immigrant problem

The political blog HillBuzz has a suggestion about how to highlight the problem with illegal immigration - although it's not one that liberal politicians will necessarily appreciate.

What if billboards were put up all through Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada pointing the way to San Francisco for all illegal aliens?

These would be written in Spanish so the illegal aliens can read them.

They would also feature plenty of large, colorful pictures for anyone who might be completely illiterate.

Each billboard would be like those signs in the mall that say YOU ARE HERE and direct you to the food court with big arrows and simple directions.

The billboards would depict San Francisco as the greatest utopia on Earth ... a sanctuary city where illegals’ dreams all come true, and the Liberals entrenched there welcome all criminals with wide-open arms and faces stained with joyful tears.

Come to San Francisco, lawbreakers.

Come to the Bay Area, anyone who doesn’t believe they have to follow US law.

San Francisco is calling, so bitch, ya’ll best answer da phone.

This would be a fun Photoshop Challenge project, too, because if we can’t ever get these billboards put up, we could at least make posters that people in border states could possibly print up. They could plaster them all over the place in border states, like people did with the Joker posters against Ben Nelson in Nebraska.

“Move to the Sanctuary City of San Francisco” should be a major push…depicting the city as a Candyland for illegal aliens.

Let’s see what Gavin Newsom does then.

Let’s watch as California completely collapses under the weight of all those criminals.

Purge them from Arizona and Texas first, two states with brass ones big enough to start this, then work on Nevada and New Mexico, and drive all these lawbreakers into the den of anarchy that most deserves them…with San Francisco, in particular, being the favored nesting place.

Will the Liberals of San Francisco, from their perch on Knob Hill, be so found of unrestricted illegal immigration and the non-enforcement of existing law when it’s not the border states having to shoulder the burden, but Leftist utopia San Francisco?

There's more at the link.

Personally, I think it's a great idea! I'm all in favor of legal immigration - I'm an immigrant myself! - including a guest worker visa program to allow for seasonal farm labor, etc.: but the present situation, where millions and millions of illegal immigrants are leeching off the US economy, taking jobs that Americans need very badly right now, burdening our medical and social systems, and not paying their share of taxes and other dues, is simply outrageous. There can be no solution, no improvement, unless and until we seal the borders and deport those here illegally. Only then can we start to set up a better system, one that will avoid the problems we're experiencing at present.

Nice one, HillBuzz!


Identity theft just became much easier!

I was surprised - and very angry - to see the report below. CBS News has uncovered a new risk to our personal information of which I wasn't aware, but which might explain a great deal of the identity theft that appears to take place. I think this report is a 'must see' for anyone concerned about their personal security.

A print version of the report can be read here.

I hope readers will spread the word about this report to their families and friends. If we can alert our employers, doctors, pharmacists, and others who routinely use such copiers for our personal information, we can at least minimize the danger as far as we're concerned.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

A very clever - and funny - advertisement

There's a budget airline based in Cologne, Germany, called Germanwings.

It competes with other European budget airlines, including one called EasyJet, which is based in London, England.

It seems Germanwings wanted to advertise its superiority over EasyJet. To do so, they installed actors aboard an Easyjet flight, and filmed them (presumably surreptitiously, and certainly without EasyJet's permission!). Here's the result.

Note the amusement of the Easyjet passengers when the final boards are displayed. Cheeky, but very funny!



I'm pleased to see that an ancient English . . . er . . . entertainment has been re-created.

Even by the excessive standards of Henry VIII, this was something of a corker.

Intent on displaying his wealth, sophistication and generosity at a meeting with Francis I, the king of France, the portly English monarch built two fountains which spouted hundreds of gallons of free wine a day for his courtiers to enjoy.

Today, the clock was turned back to those extravagant times when a fully-working replica of one of those Tudor symbols of magnificence was unveiled at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry did much lavish entertaining.

The project was inspired by the discovery of the remains of a 16th century fountain during an archaeological dig at the palace two years ago.

The replica's design was based on the Field of the Cloth of Gold painting displayed at the palace. It shows Henry's meeting with Francis I at Guines near Calais in June 1520, when Henry also erected a a temporary 'palace' made from canvas.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, with the wine fountain ringed in red.
(Click the image for a larger view.)

The meeting's aim was to strengthen the friendship between the two kings.

Henry's wine fountains clearly went down well - the painting even depicts some people vomiting after having too much to drink.

Close-up detail of the wine fountain

According to historical documents, one French guest observed that the fountains 'continually spouted white wine and claret, the best that could be found, with large silver cups for any one to drink - which was a remarkable thing!'.

. . .

The 13ft tall replica, made of timber, lead, bronze and gold leaf, stands on the site of the excavated fountain in Hampton Court's largest inner courtyard, Base Court, where Henry's guests were welcomed and received by court officials.

It is painted to look like white and red marble, features a naked gold figure of the Greek god of wine Bacchus, and bears the motto 'faicte bonne chere quy vouldra' - or 'let he who wishes make good cheer.'

The modern replica of the wine fountain

A spokesman for the Historic Royal Palaces admitted they did not know how the fountain would have operated in Tudor times.

'We have had to start from scratch. We know what it was built of and what it looked like but not the details,' she said.

'The outside is very 16th century, but it has a 21st century interior.'

There's more at the link.

Now that's something I'd like to see! Even better, glasses of the fountain's bounty are for sale. I think one could have quite a bibulous tour of the Palace, if one tried!


Another needless death, caused by sheer carelessness

I've had occasion before to write about the Four Rules of firearms safety. If you adhere to these four rules, you will never, repeat, never injure or kill another living being by 'accident' or negligence with a firearm.

The Four Rules, as codified by the late, great Col. Jeff Cooper, are:

1. All firearms are always loaded. In other words, never assume that a firearm is unloaded until you've personally verified that fact; and if it passes out of your hands for even an instant, re-check it the moment you get it back. Never assume that because it was safe once, it's still safe.

2. Never point the muzzle of a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. This means what it says. If you value it, don't point the gun at it. Period.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. Again, this means what it says. Your finger stays OFF the trigger until your sights are ON what you want to shoot. If your sights come off target, your finger simultaneously comes off the trigger. No exceptions.

4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it. Don't shoot at a noise, or a shape that you can't identify; and don't shoot at a 'presumed' threat unless and until you're sure that the threat is real. Remember, too, that your bullet can miss your target, or pass right through it, and hit something - or someone - further away. You're responsible for any harm caused by your shot.

Horrifyingly often, someone forgets to apply one or more of these four simple rules . . . and tragedy results. It happened yesterday in Lebanon, TN.

"In looking at all the cameras, all the policies were followed," Weeks [Lebanon's public safety commissioner] said. "It was just the perfect storm of a nightmare."

The chase that led to Thompson's death started shortly before 3 a.m. Thompson was driving on the wrong side of the road and nearly hit McKinley's patrol car near an intersection just east of Lebanon's public square, Weeks said.

After both drivers slammed on their brakes, he said, Thompson backed up and fled down Carthage Highway. McKinley chased him. About three miles outside of Lebanon, Weeks said, Thompson drove off a highway embankment.

Weeks said McKinley went down the embankment to try to get Thompson out of the car. McDannald, who had joined the chase, stayed up on the road to cover him.

As McKinley walked toward the car with his gun drawn, Weeks said, McKinley slipped on some loose rocks. As McKinley tried to steady himself, he accidentally fired his gun into the air.

McDannald saw the officer's gun go off. Thinking that Thompson was shooting, Weeks said, McDannald opened fire and killed Thompson.

Weeks said that, to his knowledge, Thompson was unarmed.

"It's a terrible thing," Weeks said. "It's traumatic for the family. It's traumatic for the officers."

There's more at the link.

Sorry, Mr. Weeks, but you're wrong. Officer McKinley had his finger on the trigger when he shouldn't have. He violated Rule 3: therefore, his shot wasn't accidental - it was the result of negligence. Furthermore, Officer MacDannald's reaction to the shot, while understandable, was also negligent, in that he wasn't sure of what was going on before he exercised lethal force. He violated Rule 4, in that he could not have been sure that his target needed shooting. If he'd been a civilian, you can bet your boots that he'd be in jail tonight, charged with manslaughter at the very least, if not murder in the second degree. However, Officer MacDannald's walking around a free man. What does that say about the local District Attorney's attitude towards the rights of citizens vs. those of cops?

If Mr. Weeks genuinely believes that 'all policies were followed' in this case, he needs to urgently re-examine his district's law enforcement policies, procedures and standards. They're clearly not up to scratch. A young man is dead, who need not have died. To those who say that cops can't afford to take chances in such situations - what chances? The deceased wasn't armed. To judge by the report, he didn't make any threats, either verbal or by gesture, to the approaching officers. There was no reason to shoot him . . . but he's dead.

I'm no cop-basher. I've been a sworn law enforcement officer myself, and count many cops among my friends. However, the facts in this case appear relatively straightforward . . . and they don't paint a pretty picture of the competence of the officers concerned, or the training provided to them by their department.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A watch made from the Titanic?

Reader Adrian S. sent me a link to an article about watches made from the steel of the Titanic, salvaged from the wreck site deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

We’re all for reuse and recycle, but Romain Jerome’s Titanic DNA Watch is borderline macabre/bizarre. Granted, we really dig the design — but taking actual steel from the Titanic and incorporating it into a watch?

From the release:

"The watches will have black dial faces thanks to lacquer paint, the ingredients of which consist of coal from the Titanic, while pieces of steel from the vessel will also be used in their creation.

"Yvan Arpa, Chief Executive of Romain Jerome, revealed that the number of watches made will be limited to 2,012, to coincide with the centenary anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, when it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 14th 1912."

There's more at the link.

Never mind the macabre/bizarre aspects . . . with prices for the ten different designs in the collection ranging from a mere US $7,800 to a truly Titanic $173,100 (!!!), I suspect I won't be buying one anytime soon!


Readers, I need treadmill advice, please

A few days ago I wrote about elevated desks, the kind one can use standing or seated, and asked whether any readers had used them, and if so, how they'd found them. As a result of some responses, I found that there are things called 'treadmill desks', which combine a treadmill for exercise with a shelf or desk top on which one can put a computer monitor and keyboard. The idea is that one can walk gently (at about 1 mph - nothing too strenuous) while typing.

This sounded like a very useful idea, one that would both give me exercise and allow me to work without long hours in a chair, which creates a higher risk for deep vein thrombosis and other health problems. A Google search on 'treadmill desk' revealed a number of Web sites about them, and a number that are offered for sale.

However, most of the latter seem extraordinarily expensive, and their advertising is very short on details about the strength, longevity, etc. of the treadmills concerned.

I found two sites, Treadmill Doctor and The Treadmill Sensei, that provide excellent reviews and advice about treadmills. They seem to agree that the cheaper treadmills - the sort sold at supermarkets - simply aren't strong enough to stand up to prolonged usage of the sort I'll be doing. They reckon that buying a cheap treadmill simply isn't worth it. On the other hand, I'm on a disability pension - I can't afford a commercial-strength treadmill, no matter how much I might want one!

That leads me to ask for your input, readers. Who among you owns and/or uses a treadmill on a regular basis? Based on your experience, what treadmill make(s) and/or model(s) would be suitable for use as the foundation for a 'treadmill desk'? They wouldn't be worked overly hard (I'd set the treadmill to about 1 mph, on a slight upward incline), but they'd have to function for three to four hours a day, seven days a week, for a long time. I simply can't afford to buy something that'll burn out after only a few months of such use. Apart from which brand(s) and model(s) might be suitable, what else should I watch out for? The less maintenance involved, the better (apart from routine lubrication, etc.).

Also, any suggestions as to where I should look to buy one? I've found many offered on Craigslist, for example, but on investigation most turn out to be the cheap supermarket variety - the sort that won't stand up to long-term heavy usage. There are some that claim to be reconditioned commercial units, but these either require a dedicated 220V. circuit (which I don't have in my present lodgings), or use some esoteric brand name that I can't find reviewed in any online source. In the absence of an impartial review that'll give me some idea of their quality, I'm reluctant to invest several hundred dollars in one of them.

(As to the desk part, that's relatively simple. I can put a bookcase up in front of the treadmill, and mount the monitor on a shelf. The only things that'll have to go on the treadmill's 'handle-bars' are the keyboard and mouse, and to make a shelf fitting over the treadmill control panel to hold those two items is no trouble at all. I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a custom-built treadmill desk when a DIY solution is so much cheaper.)

I'd be very grateful for your advice and input, readers. Thanks in advance.


Another Hobbit house - this time above ground!

I posted a couple of days ago about a doll's house built in the style of Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings. That was followed (thanks to a link provided by fellow blogger Crucis) by a second article about a real-life 'hobbit house' in Wales.

Thanks to an e-mail today from another reader, Jenny C., we learn of yet another hobbit-style house. The architect writes:

Located on a flag lot, a steep sloping grade provided the opportunity to bring the main level of the house into the tree canopy to evoke the feeling of being in a tree house.

A lover of music, the client wanted a house that not only became part of the natural landscape but also addressed the flow of music.

This house evades the mechanics of the camera; it is difficult to capture the way the interior space flows seamlessly through to the exterior. One must actually stroll through the house to grasp its complexities and its connection to the exterior.

One example is a natural wood ceiling, floating on curved laminated wood beams, passing through a generous glass wall which wraps around the main living room.

There are more photographs at the link.

Thanks, Jenny! It looks like hobbit-style houses are more common than I'd imagined. Kudos to the architect for a very flowing, almost poetic vision.


iPad pro's and con's

I've mentioned Apple's new iPad on this blog from time to time.

It seems to be attracting equal proportions of adoring fans and grumpy disdainers. In that light, I was amused that two readers of this blog each sent me a link to a different article today:

As you can probably guess, the respective authors of the articles don't exactly agree with each other! Still, it's entertaining to read each perspective.

Ah, technogeek fanboys . . .


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Doofus Of The Day #344

Today's award goes to the Thai Spice restaurant in Grange, Australia.

A restaurant that refused a blind man entry because it thought his guide dog was "gay" has been ordered by the Equal Opportunity Tribunal to pay him $1500.

Woodville North man Ian Jolly, 57, was barred from dining at Grange restaurant Thai Spice in May last year after a staff member mistook his guide dog Nudge for a "gay dog", the tribunal heard this week.

A statement given by restaurant owners Hong Hoa Thi To and Anh Hoang Le said one of the waiters had understood Mr Jolly's partner Chris Lawrence "to be saying she wanted to bring a gay dog into the restaurant".

"The staff genuinely believed that Nudge was an ordinary pet dog which had been desexed to become a gay dog," the statement said.

Mr Jolly and Ms Lawrence were refused entry to the restaurant - which displays a "guide dogs welcome" sign - even after providing staff with a guide dogs fact card.

There's more at the link.

I ask you! How could anyone be dumb enough to believe that an operation exists to make a dog 'gay'???

(On the other hand, if there really is such an operation, would any reader who knows about it please send me details? There are a few politicians I'd like to nominate for surgery . . . )


An alternative to cremation?

An article in the Daily Mail suggests that new technology may offer an alternative to the traditional practice of cremation.

The Resomator is a green initiative that offers a smokeless alternative to cremation using chemicals to speed up the decomposition process.

Each device costs a staggering £300,000 and sees the odd-shaped unit filled up with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide which speedily dissolves soft tissues and organs.

An ornate, reusable wooden casket is used to carry the deceased to the Resomator.

The person's body, in a sealed internal silk or wool coffin, is placed on a stainless steel shelf inside the metal cylinder and then the chamber is heated to 180 degrees under extreme pressure breaking down the body in less than three hours.

Any harmless residue left over is then drained away, leaving the skeleton which is ground to dust ready to be laid to rest.

There's more at the link, including a photograph of the machine.

I tried to find more information, and noted that Wikipedia has an article on resomation. It seems to be meeting with approval in more and more states. Basically, it appears to speed up the natural process of decomposition by using chemicals and agitation of the remains.

Sounds like an interesting and more environmentally-friendly alternative to cremation, all right . . . but I hope I won't need it for a long time to come!


An underwater river???

Surely 'an underwater river' is a contradiction in terms . . . but some amazing photographs purport to show a river beneath the water, all right!

Note the diver circled in red. According to Bin's Corner, where I found these pictures, the 'river' is a layer of hydrogen sulphide at the bottom of the Angelica Cenote in Mexico.

There are more photographs at the link. Fascinating!


The death of the floppy disk

I can remember the first floppy disks (also known as 'diskettes'), the 8" monsters IBM launched in 1969, and which continued in use through the early 1980's with its DisplayWriter dedicated word processor. In their initial form, they held all of 80 kilobytes of data (which wasn't bad for the time). The 8" diskette was followed by the 5¼" diskette, which really took off with the advent of the original IBM PC in 1981. It held 120 kilobytes in some early non-IBM incarnations, and 180 kilobytes (single-sided) or 360 kilobytes (double-sided) in PC form. IBM then moved to the 3½" diskette with its PS/2 computers in 1987. Using a rigid plastic case, it was known as the 'stiffie' to distinguish it from its soft-sided 'floppy' diskette predecessors, leading to such memorable advertising bylines as 'I'd rather have a 3½" stiffie than a 5¼" floppy!'. The new diskettes held 720 kilobytes or 1.44 megabytes, depending on type.

Diskettes have been slowly but surely disappearing from computers for many years. Apple dropped them from the iMac line as early as 1998, and Dell dropped them from its IBM-compatible machines in 2003. I haven't seen a new personal computer with a floppy diskette drive for several years. (In my case, since I have a slew of data on old diskettes, I bought an external 3½" diskette drive some time ago, and plug it into my computer via a USB port when I need it.)

Sony has been the only company still making 3½" diskette media. It's now announced that it'll terminate production in March next year. It seems that CD-ROM's, DVD's, flash drives and the like have finally done for the diskette. Now, all of us who have data on old diskettes are going to have to copy it onto more modern media, before it becomes useless. I guess it's not before time . . . I'm sure I still have copies of 1980's data files that can't be read by any modern software, anyway! I'm sure there are readers of this blog who, like me, used all three sizes; but younger readers may never have used a diskette at all. I feel old . . .


Monday, April 26, 2010

Doofus Of The Day #343

Today's Doofus is from Indiana.

Officers searching for a man wanted on methamphetamine charges found him hiding neck-deep in a liquid manure pit at a northeastern Indiana farm, police said.

Noble County sheriff's deputies thought they'd lost the man until an officer spotted him in the tank beneath an outbuilding floor on the farm near Albion.

Chief Deputy Doug Harp said the man, 52, had been neck-deep in the combination of hog and dog feces for at least an hour Tuesday evening. He later became combative and had to be shocked twice with a stun gun.

The suspect was treated at a hospital for hypothermia before he being taken to jail.

Here's a video clip showing the scene of the stink crime.

I'm most sorry for the poor police officer who had to transport Mr. Hovis in the back of his car! I trust they hosed him down thoroughly before loading him . . . perhaps that's how he contracted hypothermia?


The world's best bicycle garage?

A 2009 article in the Guardian newspaper, which I've just read, suggests that Japan has the world's most innovative system for garaging commuters' bicycles.

It's not often something stops you in your bike tracks. But a spectacular "bike tree" invention from Japan bowled me over when I was in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago.

Fed up with bicycles locked to railings, piled on top of each other, blocking doorways and roads, a local council in the city installed the mechanical masterpiece. It's basically an automatic storage system for cycles and operates with computer tagging of bikes and either storage in a building or a basement structure.

There are a number of locations where these bike trees are now in place in Tokyo – some hold 600-odd bikes, others more than 6,000. The concept came from the massive Japanese steel company JFE, whose engineering works division first started them in 2007 but are now spreading.

The idea is quite simple, although no doubt the technology is fiendishly complicated. Bike owners who want a secure parking spot must register and pay a monthly fee – 1,800 yen [just under US $20] per month – and students get discounts.

Bikes are fitted with a small electronic tag. When the bike is placed into the ruts of the bike tree machine, a sensor logs the owner's details. A mechanical arm then emerges, pulls the bike into a cylindrical well and stores it at high speed in a free location. To retrieve the bike, the owner swipes a card through a reader and the bike is plucked from racks and brought back down – or up if it's a basement design – to earth. The process of retrieval normally takes 15 seconds but can be slightly longer (it took 30 seconds in my experience).

The advantages are plain – your bike becomes theft-proof, you are encouraged to cycle to work and local authorities don't have to deal with unsightly and sometimes annoying bicycle clutter. The downside is that it costs a lot of money and the infrastructure involves serious resources.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video clip of how their system works.

Interesting! If we're serious about reducing the number of cars on city roads, we might learn something from the Japanese.


A hobbit house for real!

Following yesterday's blog post about a doll's house version of Bag End, fellow blogger Crucis (in a comment to that post) pointed me to a real-life, livable 'hobbit house' in Wales. The builder writes:

You are looking at pictures of a house I built for our family in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 [about US $4,640] put in to this point. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq. m. [about US $8.62 per square foot] excluding labour).

The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature. Being your own (have a go) architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass produced box designed for maximum profit and convenience of the construction industry. Building from natural materials does away with producers profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.

Some key points of the design and construction:

* Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
* Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
* Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
* Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
* Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
* Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
* Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
* Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
* Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring...)
* Woodburner for heating - renewable and locally plentiful
* Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
* Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
* Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
* Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
* Water by gravity from nearby spring
* Compost toilet
* Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.

Main tools used: chainsaw, hammer and 1 inch chisel, little else really. Oh and by the way I am not a builder or carpenter, my experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around in between. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverance and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.

There's much more at the link. Very interesting and entertaining reading, including photographs of other simple woodland homes. Thanks, Crucis!


The impact of obesity on health

Since my heart attack last October, I've been paying a lot more attention to my health, and trying to lose weight. (Having been semi-crippled by a work-related accident in 2004, it's been a losing battle trying to keep the weight off . . . without being able to exercise properly, I've had to rely primarily on diet to do so, and bachelor cooking's not exactly conducive to that!) I've had some success, with a lot of help from Miss D., and am now more than 50 pounds lighter than when I started: but there's still some way to go.

I've been given an additional incentive to lose weight by a rather scary article in the Daily Mail. It illustrates through MRI's what happens when one builds up fat.

The article provides a great deal of information about how excess fat affects various body parts and functions. Highly recommended reading if, like me, you need to lose weight, or are health-conscious.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The song remains the same . . .

Back in September last year I featured a rant by comedian Rob Paravonian, who complained that every song he heard reminded him of Pachelbel's Canon. I found it very funny, and judging by the comments, so did at least some of my readers.

It seems that comedy rock group Axis of Awesome have made a similar discovery, not involving Pachelbel's Canon, but identifying a four-chord progression that they claim is at the heart of every major pop hit of the past few decades. Here's a video where they demonstrate their claim.

LANGUAGE ALERT: There are a couple of F-bombs here and there. Not suitable for work or children.

In case you missed any, the songs they sang included:

0:52 Journey - Don't Stop Believing
1:00 James Blunt - You're Beautiful
1:09 Alphaville - Forever Young
1:17 Jason Mraz - I'm Yours
1:25 Mika - Happy Ending
1:34 Alex Lloyd - Amazing
1:41 The Calling - Wherever You Will Go
1:49 Elton John - Can You Feel The Love Tonight
1:56 Maroon 5 - She Will Be Loved
2:04 The Last Goodnight - Pictures Of You
2:12 U2- With Or Without You
2:19 Crowled House - Fall At Your Feet
2:29 Kasey Chambers - Not Pretty Enough
2:38 The Beatles - Let It Be
2:42 Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Under the Bridge
2:48 Daryl Braithwaite - The Horses
2:54 Bob Marley - No Woman No Cry
2:56 Marcy Playgroung - Sex and Candy
2:59 Men At Work - Land Down Under
3:03 Banjo Patterson's Waltzing Matilda
3:05 A Ha - Take On Me
3:06 Green Day - When I Come Around
3:22 Eagle Eye Cherry - Save Tonight
3:23 Toto - Africa
3:30 Beoynce - If I were a Boy
3:32 The Offspring - Self Esteem
3:38 The Offspring - You're Gonna Go Far Kid
3:47 Pink - You and Your Hand
3:53 Lady Gaga - Poker Face
4:00 Aqua - Barbie Girl
4:04 The Fray - You Found Me
4:09 3Oh!3 - Don't Trust Me
4:16 MGMT - Kids
4:23 Tim Minchin - Canvas Bags
4:33 Natalie Imbruglia - Torn
4:49 Five For Fighting - Superman
4:53 Axis Of Awesome - Birdplane
5:05 Missy Higgins - Scar

Nice try, guys!


Creativity to the max!

I'm amazed to see the level of detail that's been incorporated in a doll's house version of Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. The creator, Maddie Chambers, has modeled it after the home portrayed in the film version of the trilogy. She writes about it, along with plenty of pictures, on her blog.

Here are some close-up pictures of her workmanship.

There are dozens more photographs at the link. Click on them for larger views (larger than shown above, too). They make very interesting viewing.

I marvel at the amount of detail she's managed to include. I can't imagine how many hours of work went into so intricate a piece of design and construction: but congratulations to Ms. Chambers on a remarkable example of creativity.


'Alice Day': a sick pedophile anniversary

Many of my readers may not be aware that April 25th is celebrated as 'Alice Day' by many pedophiles. My friend Strings, who's active in Bikers Against Child Abuse, asked me to link to a post by a friend of his giving details of this sick 'festival'. She writes:

Alice Day is a celebration by pedophiles and child rapists, who have distorted the relationship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson – author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (though you know him by his pen name of Lewis Carroll). They claim there was a sexual relationship between he and the child just because he would take her and other children on rowing trips telling them stories he would create through his own imagination. This has become known as “the Alice myth” and has absolutely no foundation in truth.

This was accompanied by the naming of the pedophile site used to lure young girls in a way to introduce them to sex with older men, the site named Annabelliegh, or Girl Chat. This is their twisted distortion of Edgar Alan Poe’s poem, Annabel Lee.

The pedophiles and child rapists have adopted what they call “Alice Day” in celebration of who they revere as a pedophile’s hero and their own sick ideas of little Alice and children like her, of enticing children with stories and any other means to gain a victim.

There are many ways pedophiles and sexual predators will celebrate this day and this month :

1. Find activities in their area involving children – such as parties, park outings, sporting events

– They will watch the children, photograph the children, and attempt to have a BM or GM, which stands for “Boy Moment” and “Girl Moment”. This includes a conversation with the child, in which they could gain information to get to the child at a later date. However, this could also include just sitting back watching a particular child at play.

They appraise a child’s form as if it were that of a stripper in a club, and they write the moment down later for their friends – online and in real life – with added feelings of desire they had while exploring the child’s body with their eyes and filthy mind.

Please keep in mind that a child does not have to be nude or in a bathing suit to be visualized that way by these people.

2. Seek victims for themselves

– either through the first option or by riding around looking for easy targets: children walking alone, children playing outside with no supervision, children wandering in a store with an inattentive parent… I don’t have to tell you the rest as “victim” says it all.

3. Seek victims for others – through option 1 as well as option 2.

The information they attain through their Boy or Girl moment is not always kept to themselves, especially on Alice Day. They get that information and share it to their pedophilia ring friends so that others will have a chance at acquiring a victim at a later date. The children they snare also often become shared sexual toys for themselves as well as others in their group.

4. Wear pink and Girl Logo images.

There's more at the link. Please take the time and trouble to read it, and spread the word, so that as many people as possible are aware of what these sickos are up to on that day (and every day, for that matter). The more people who are aware of them, and on the lookout for them, the fewer kids will become their victims.

Thanks for the heads-up, Strings. More power to you and BACA in dealing with these scum!


Armed UAS's are getting smaller and smaller

We've grown accustomed to larger unmanned aerial systems (UAS's) like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (shown below) carrying weapons (such as the Hellfire missiles illustrated beneath the wings of the aircraft below) and firing them at enemies.

These large aircraft can lift hundreds, even thousands of pounds, and are analogous to World War II close-support aircraft like the P-47 Thunderbolt or F-4U Corsair in terms of their size and payload. However, smaller UAS's such as the RQ-7 Shadow (shown below), deployed at battalion or even company level in the field, have a much more limited payload. Even the latest model RQ-7B can carry only up to 100 pounds.

It seems the US armed forces now want weapons for these small UAS's as well. The Department of the Army has just issued to industry a request for information about potential armament for the Shadow system. The request:

... seeks information from industry on weapons systems ready for production and suitable for integration on the RQ-7B with POP 300D laser designator payload Shadow Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs). Potential weapons systems must be ready to field within 12 months from the date of a potential contract award. The primary interest is in weapon systems approximately 25 lbs or less total system weight (to include munition, launcher, wiring, fire control interface, etc). The weapons system should be able to engage stationary and moving targets such as light vehicles and dismounted combatants in day and night conditions with low collateral damage when launched from a Shadow UAS flying at speeds of 60-70 knots and between 5,000 and 12,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). Terminal accuracy must be on the order of that demonstrated by currently fielded Semi Active Laser / Imaging Infrared / Millimeter Wave (SAL/IIR/MMW) weapons.

There's more at the link.

This is a tall order, of course. The Hellfire missile is out of the question - it weighs just over 100 pounds, so only one missile could be carried, and it requires a more sophisticated guidance system than the commercial product specified in the request for information. Ideally, the Shadow would need to carry at least two weapons, so that if one failed to hit the target, a second-shot capability would be available.

Here's where a new idea comes in. General Dynamics recently announced the successful testing of an air-dropped guided 81mm. mortar bomb. Somebody was wonderfully inventive to think of this. Mortar bombs are common as dirt and almost as cheap; the military supply system stocks them by the hundreds of thousands, I should think. The bombs for the standard US M252 81mm. mortar weigh between 7.15lb. and 12.46lb. General Dynamics' clip-on Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) is an integrated fuze and guidance-and-flight control kit that uses GPS/INS navigation, replacing current fuze hardware in existing mortars. It adds only 1.7lb. to the weight of a standard-fuzed bomb. A test round fitted with RCFC is shown below.

In terms of their weight, in theory at least, the MQ-7B could carry up to eight of them, although two to four is more likely, given their bulk. (Heavier 120mm. mortar bombs have also been turned into 'smart weapons', albeit still tube-fired rather than air-dropped. I'd assume that the larger mortar bombs could also be converted to the air-drop role, if necessary.)

If such weapons can be further developed, the operational flexibility of the MQ-7B Shadow will be greatly enhanced. It's so small and quiet that most enemies won't know it's circling just a few thousand feet overhead; and an 81mm. high-explosive mortar round is more than sufficient to deal with a pickup truck, or a small building, or a defensive machine-gun position. If troops on the ground can call in their own high-precision strikes in this way, it'll ease the burden on the USAF to provide such services, and shorten the response time needed to provide them.

Someone's been thinking outside the box . . . to good effect, it seems to me. I wish we'd had these things available during my service 'up at the sharp end'!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

The horror!

In the light of the gee-whiz, wow-factor, seamless integration of computer-generated graphics and photography in movies such as 'Avatar', I thought this trailer for the 1957 movie 'The Giant Claw' might amuse you. Note the state-of-the-art special effects for the era, which appear so chintzy today.

Things have improved since then - although if a 'giant bird from outer space' were to attack the United Nations building today, I daresay many of us would cheer it on! That might call for some script adaptation . . .


Some more great photography

The World At Night organizes an annual Earth And Sky photographic competition. The winners of this year's event have been chosen, and their work (plus other entries) has now been posted on the organization's Web site. Here are a few of the pictures to whet your appetite. Click each one for a larger view.

Temple Night (overall winner of the competition)

Light House and Stars

Lights of Los Angeles

Everest Startrails

There are many more great images at the two links. Highly recommended viewing.


Of desks, chairs and health

I've been doing a bit of research into desks, chairs and the like, as I spend many hours seated before my computer. Since my heart attack last October, the health risks of prolonged sitting have been on my mind, and I've been looking for a better way to work. I'm using a (very expensive) ergonomic office chair, but that still isn't enough to prevent circulation problems.

The New York Times had a very interesting article this week on 'standing desks' that can be reconfigured to seated height.

I’ve spent several weeks trying to find the perfect way to work at my computer without a chair. The search was not quixotic; standing up is in vogue. Medical researchers have found that people who stand at work tend to be much healthier than those who sit, and there’s a large online subculture of stand-up fanatics who swear that getting rid of your chair will change your life.

But I wasn’t just looking for better health; standing, I hoped, would also improve how I work.

Several years ago, I read that the novelist Philip Roth writes at a computer propped up on a lectern. I’ve used this technique as an occasional therapy for writer’s block. I’ll set my laptop on the kitchen counter and hover over it as if I were a conductor before an orchestra. This seems to help. Standing up saps some of my extra restless energy, allowing me to focus better on the task at hand.

The kitchen counter, though, wasn’t meant for office work, and after a short while my neck begins to strain from staring down at the screen.

Enter the standing desk. In the last few years, many office supply companies have begun to sell desks that are tall enough to put your computer screen at eye level while you’re standing. But I was wary of furniture that required me to stand all the time; these desks seemed to enforce a rigidity that’s unseemly outside of a Navy brig.

I needed something more flexible. Then I discovered the adjustable-height desk. These so-called “sit/stand” models are equipped with an electric motor that lets them shift from chair height to person height at the push of a button. Unfortunately, they’re regarded as specialty furniture. Sit/stand desks tend to be expensive, hard to find and not very easy to test in person. That’s too bad. I got my hands on an adjustable-height desk a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop raving about it.

. . .

I tried the smaller of GeekDesk’s two basic models — a 45-inch-wide desk that sells for $749. (The 79-inch model goes for $799. Shipping to the lower 48 states starts at $110; the desks ship unassembled.) I’ll admit it took a few days to get used to. At first, I couldn’t decide when to stand and when to sit. I also tended to forget that I could switch at all; only at the end of the workday would I remember that my desk was moveable.

And although shifting between standing and sitting was effortless — flick a switch one way to go up, the other to go down — deciding on the right height for each position took a bit of practice. The trick, I found, was to adjust the desk so that the top of my computer monitor was in line with the top of my head; this allowed me to look straight ahead at my work whether I was sitting or standing.

After a few days of warming up, I settled into a pleasant sit/stand routine. Because I found it difficult to drink coffee or eat breakfast at my desk while standing, I began most mornings seated. I’d begin to stand about an hour later. If I had to write an article, I’d remain standing for most of the day. But if I was planning to spend a lot of time on tasks that required less creative focus — surfing the Web, making phone calls, watching online videos — I’d usually switch back to sitting at around lunch time.

Nichole Stutzman, creative manager for the ergonomic furniture company Anthro, which makes a wide variety of adjustable-height desks, spotted a similar pattern at her office; people tend to stand when they want to get something done.

“We have a lot of designers here, and when they’re trying to draw or do something creative, I start hearing the desks go up,” she said.

I suspect that this is because when you’re standing, you feel a bit unchained from your desk. If I got stuck on a word or sentence as I wrote, I found myself shaking my arms, bouncing on my feet or stepping away from the desk for a bit — things I couldn’t do in a chair. Often, the antsy-ness seemed to relax my mind enough for me to get over my creative hurdle.

There's more at the link. Pictures are courtesy of the GeekDesk and Anthro Web sites (see links in article).

I think one of these desks might offer the solution I've been looking for: but I'd like more information. Do any of my readers have experience with such workstations, or know someone who uses them? If so, how did you (or they) find it? Did it help with overall health concerns? Please leave a comment with your feedback.

Many thanks.


Statism versus personal freedom - corporate edition

I've been following with interest the brouhaha between Apple and Adobe over the use of Flash code on the former's product line. According to the linked article, it looks as if this is just the latest instalment in a concerted effort by Apple to ensure that only those who buy into its business model - where Apple exercises total control over what's available, is the sole source for it, and takes a hefty chunk of the profits - will be able to provide 'apps' to its users. As Slate put it: 'Apple wants to own you'.

This ties in with a number of other corporations and their efforts to control their particular market. Recently got into all sorts of trouble by trying to force publishers to accept its lower price guidelines for e-books. It actually had the gall to try to boot e-books from Macmillan (one of the largest publishers in the world) off its site, gambling that its sales volume would force Macmillan to knuckle under and accept its demands. It failed, and had to climb down in rather humiliating fashion . . . but this wasn't the first time Amazon has wielded its marketing muscle to force its vendors to conform to its wishes. A couple of years ago it caused another fuss by insisting that its own print-on-demand vendor, BookSurge, be used to produce all POD books offered for sale on its Web site, despite quality control issues that had plagued BookSurge products. Needless to say, this held out the prospect of vastly increased costs and diminished profits for those forced to comply. Cue screams of outrage from unhappy customers.

Another example is Facebook, which is trying to make the personal information of its members as widely available as possible. The benefit for Facebook is that it gets to dish up advertising to a much wider audience; but the benefit for its members is less obvious. The New York Times reports:

This week, Facebook’s introduced the “open graph,” a giant expansion of the “social graph” concept on which Facebook is built. The word “open” alone should be a tip-off that there are significant new privacy issues to weigh.

In the open graph, Facebook sees us as connected not just to other people – our friends — on Facebook, but to myriad things all over the Web. These things could be favorite bands, news outlets or restaurants. It’s a potentially powerful idea – Facebook wants to uncover all these interests and predilections and let us share them with our friends, whether we’re at Facebook or somewhere else, in ways that could deepen personal connections and help us discover cool and interesting information.

But there’s a price paid in privacy. Facebook deems these “connections” to interests and businesses and content to be public information — along with your name, profile picture, gender and friend list. And it intends to make them very public through new “social plugins” and “instant personalization”.

If you like the idea of broadcasting which articles and bands and restaurants you like, you’re in luck. But if you’d rather keep your personal preferences private, beware.

There's more at the link.

I got to thinking about such corporate tactics. There's a real problem here. Companies like Apple can say, "We have the latest, greatest and hottest gadgets - buy into our product line, and you can make money off our sales volume". Trouble is, the only way you can do that is to let Apple control what you sell, and rake off a very large share of the profits. If you want a more independent product, or want to sell it for less by avoiding having to pay 30% of the gross price to Apple, you're out of luck. Amazon doesn't primarily sell its own product line (unless you count its Kindle e-book reader, which it's trying hard to make into a de facto standard in that market), but it tries to use its overwhelming market share among readers as a 'carrot' to force you to market your books and other products through its portal - in return for which, of course, it also wants a very nice chunk of your profits. Facebook offers its members social connectivity, but at the price of greatly diminished privacy - which lets it make money off them.

Such policies remind me irresistibly of statism. Isn't the problem with statist governments very similar? They promise to give you peace of mind, help when you need it, free this, free that, etc. - but only if you let the State control almost every aspect of your everyday life. You want free health care? Sure, statist government can provide it - at the cost of vastly increased taxation. There's also the little matter of ancillary issues. Citizen, if you want free health care, you surely can't object if we control what you eat, drink or smoke, can you? That's to make sure you don't live an unhealthy lifestyle that would increase health care costs, you understand. You want us to provide for the poor? Sure, we can do that; but then we get to take more of your pay packet in taxes, because someone has to pay for that care, and you can't expect us to do so from other sources, can you? You want us to protect the environment? Sure, Citizen, we can do that; but then we're going to regulate what you can do in that environment, in case your desire for water for farming condemns to death a minuscule fish that's of no ecological importance. If that reduces the number of farm products available, and/or increases their price, that's too bad, Citizen - it goes with the territory. Oh - and we're cutting the amount of electricity you can consume, too, so that we reduce polluting emissions from power plants. Need more, you say? Too bad, so sad, your bad.

I'd love to see a statistical comparison between those who support statist government (as opposed to the freedom and rights of the individual), and those who support and remain loyal customers of firms such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and the like, who try to dominate their market segments, decide what's good for you (and them), and impose it on anyone who wants to market to their clientele or use their marketing channels. I suspect there might be an interesting correlation of views.

For myself, I share Cory Doctorow's perspective on Apple (he won't buy an iPad, and thinks you shouldn't, either). I'm also with Angela Hoy of BookLocker, who chose not to knuckle under to pressure from Amazon, but sued (and won). I'm with all those who are locking down their Facebook profiles, or even deleting them altogether, rather than allow that company to use them as marketing fodder. I'm with anyone who stands up for liberty and personal freedom, be the context corporate dealings, politics, or government. The more freedom, the better. The more restrictions (no matter how appealingly packaged and attractively presented), the worse for all who love and want their freedom.

What say you, readers? Can you provide more examples of 'corporate statism' (to coin a phrase), and the damage it's caused? How are you dealing with it in your own life?


Friday, April 23, 2010

A 100 mph lawnmower?

A British team is trying to break the world speed record for a ride-on lawnmower. The BBC reports:

A machine that carries British hopes of shattering the world land speed record for a lawnmower has been unveiled at a beach in Carmarthenshire.

The specially made mower has been put through its paces at Pendine sands.

Called Project Runningblade, the team will return next month to try and power past the 100 mph barrier.

The mower is driven by Don Wales, whose grandfather Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the world land speed record at the seven-mile long beach in 1924.

The current mower record is held by American Bob Cleveland whose home-built lawnmower reached 80.792 mph on Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in 2006.

The British attempt is the brainchild of 49-year-old Stephen Vokins who has worked at The National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire, for more than 25 years.

He underwent major heart surgery, and the record attempt is being used as a way to raise awareness and money for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and Wessex Heartbeat.

Communications director Clare Hensley-Boyd said they had already tested a prototype at Pendine but the machine unveiled on Friday would be the one used for May's record attempt.

They are aiming to go more than 20 mph faster than the current world record.

"Basically to meet the criteria it has to be fundamentally built from lawnmower components, " she explained.

"It will be the first time many in the team will have seen it - it's quite exciting.

"It's a test run to see how it copes with the sands."

To qualify for the record, the team will have to demonstrate their machine is still capable of cutting grass, which it must do on the same day it takes the record.

The actual record attempt is scheduled for the weekend of the 22 and 23 May.

Here's a video clip of tests of the lawnmower at Pendine in Wales.

I'd like to see them cut grass at that speed . . .