Friday, November 30, 2012

"Nautilus 90 North"

The title of this article was the signal sent by William Anderson, commanding officer of USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, upon completion of Operation Sunshine - the first submerged crossing of the Arctic Ocean beneath the polar ice-cap.  It told his superiors back in the USA that the ship had successfully passed beneath the North Pole.  He later gave his book about the operation the same title.

The operation made history in many ways, as well as being a triumphant demonstration of US naval technological capabilities.  I was fascinated by it as a youngster, reading Cdr. Anderson's book and many others dealing with it.

I recently came across this video clip about Operation Sunshine on YouTube, and thought you might enjoy it as much as I did.


A treasure trove of historic aviation images

I was very happy to discover the image gallery of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.  It contains images covering the last sixty years or more of aviation research, including some of the most iconic aircraft in aviation history.  Most are available in high resolution, making them perfect for computer wallpaper or large-scale printing.

Here are just three examples out of many in the archive.  All have been reduced in size to fit here.

A US Navy P2B-1S (a Navy designation for the USAF's B-29 Superfortress) launches a Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket in the late 1940's or early 1950's.  (The image's source page, with more information, may be found here.)

The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle flies at Dryden on January 11th, 1967.  (Image source page here.)

A Vought F-8A Crusader fitted with an experimental supercritical wing flies on January 10th, 1973.  (Image source page here.)

There are many more images at the link.  It's an outstanding collection for aviation history buffs.


Timekeeping - with explosions

I was amused to read about a sundial complete with a miniature cannon.  WorldTempus reports:

It is on the dot of midday in the garden of the Palais-Royal. As happens each day, the cannon attached to the sundial booms, alerting all and sundry that the sun is at its zenith. It is a beautiful summer's day in the 18th century.

During this period, the precision of mechanical clocks still leaves a lot to be desired. They are liable to lose or gain several minutes each day. So much so that they need regular resetting.

Knowing that the sun is still the best point of reference, a certain Rousseau, a mathematical instrument maker, invented a new type of gnomon in 1785. Comprising a small cannon loaded with gunpowder and mounted by a magnifier accurately tilted towards the sun's meridian passage, this ingenious system is triggered by the concentration of the sun's rays through the lens. It thus allows all those within hearing to set their watches. The one on the lawn of the Palais-Royal was once the most famous example of them ... it was first installed by order of the Duke d'Orleans, the future Philippe Equality.

There's more at the link.

According to the French caption of the image above (courtesy of Wikipedia), the original sundial cannon was stolen in 1986, and replaced with a replica (as shown).


Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Over the hills and far away"

I'm sure many readers are familiar with Bernard Cornwell's 'Sharpe' novels, and the TV series made from them.

For the TV series, musician John Tams played the role of Daniel Hagman, one of Sharpe's 'Chosen Men'.  He also adapted an old English folk tune into a Peninsular War-era soldier song, which was used as the theme song for the entire series.  I'm well schooled in English folk music, and I thought he did an excellent job.  Here he is singing it.

(For details of the images used in the video, see its page on YouTube.)


A major change in the US employment model?

More and more businesses are reported to be adjusting the hours of work of their employees, converting as many as possible from full-time status (i.e. up to 40 hours or more of work per week) to part-time (i.e. less than 30 hours of work per week).  This is thanks to a provision of Obamacare that takes effect next year, which will require companies with 50 or more full-time employees to purchase medical insurance - or pay a fine for not doing so - for every one of them.  Needless to say, it's a lot less expensive for companies to simply hire more part-time workers, and make sure that none of them exceed the 30 hour work limit every week.

Warren Meyer (who's doing the same thing in his own business) had this to say:

... this is going to be an ENORMOUS change in the ... service sector.  I have talked to a lot of owners of restaurants and restaurant chains, and the 40-hour work week is a thing of the past in that business.  One of my employees said that in Hawaii, it was all the hotel employees could talk about.   Many chains are working on mutli-team systems where two teams of people working part-time replace the former group of full-time employees.  2013 is going to see a lot of people (who are not paid very well to begin with) getting their hours and pay cut by 25%.  At the same time that they are required, likely for the first time since many are relatively young, to purchase health insurance.

It will be interesting to see what solutions emerge.  My bet is that it will become standard for people in the service sector to work two different jobs for 20-25 hours each with two different companies.  This will be a pain for them, but allow them to keep their income up.  The hard part may be coordinating shifts between companies.  For example, a company that divides their shifts into mon-tue-wed vs. thu-fri-sat cannot share employees with one who divides their shifts between morning and afternoon.  If given time, I would guess that just as the mon-fri workweek emerged as a standard, companies may adopt standard ways of dividing up the work weeks for part-timers, making it easier for schedules to mesh.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

I think this is going to make it much harder for people to earn a decent living.  It's all very well to say that people will have to work two part-time jobs to make the same amount of money;  but there are millions and millions of unemployed people out there.  I would think that if more part-time jobs open up, they're also going to compete for them, so that many workers will end up with only one part-time job, earning much less money per week than they did before in full-time employment.

So Obamacare runs headlong into the law of unintended consequences - and millions are likely to be worse off as a result.  Furthermore, if this becomes as widespread a reaction to Obamacare as appears likely at present, expect the politicians to try to 'tweak' Obamacare to solve the problem - thereby producing yet more unintended consequences, and probably making everything worse still.


Saving money at the expense of security

Two high-profile cases have recently illustrated how many companies are implementing high-tech solutions to their operations without paying any attention to the security risks involved.

  • It's emerged that a single key controls access to most gas pumps across California (and probably the rest of the country as well).  If thieves can obtain a copy (as they already have), it allows them easy access to the machines to install 'skimming' devices to read customers' credit card information.
  • A major supplier of locks to the hotel industry has done little or nothing to prevent a widely publicized hacking device from being used to enter rooms 'protected' by its lock.  As a result, more and more guests at hotels are finding that their rooms have been accessed in their absence, and their belongings stolen.

Of course, these companies don't want to do anything to solve the problem, because that would cost a lot of money and cause all sorts of headaches to distribute the 'fix' as quickly as possible.  Also, the very fact of implementing a solution might be seen (in our litigation-mad society) as a de facto admission that something was wrong, and might therefore expose them to lawsuits for compensation and/or damages.  Unfortunately, while all this is going on, we, the consumers, take it in the shorts thanks to companies' lack of security-consciousness and failure to implement the most basic of security precautions.

This is one of the unacceptable faces of capitalism, I'm afraid.  I don't know what the answer might be, except to boycott any and every company that perpetrates such stupidity at our expense.  Perhaps, if more of them were driven out of business, the others might get the message . . .


Moral courage of a rare order

I was very impressed to read of the moral courage and generosity displayed by two rape victims in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice.  The Telegraph reports:

It was a court scene unlike any other. As a 47-year-old painter and decorator accused of two separate and brutal rapes waited to face his alleged victims in a humid Barbados courtroom, he was anxious - but not for the obvious reason.

A small crowd of local lawyers and observers had gathered at Holetown Magistrates Court in the parish of St James, a squat, one-storey building with peeling beige and white paintwork, to witness an extraordinary encounter between two victims and their alleged attacker.

Only after the magistrate called one of the two British women to the witness stand to give evidence could the accused man Derick Crawford begin to relax.

While the second woman watched from the scuffed wooden benches of the public gallery, 63-year-old Diane Davies - a grandmother from Angelsey, north Wales - declared, in a clear and unwavering voice, what she believed to be true.

She had indeed been attacked and raped, she told the prosecutor, after being dragged from a sandy beach into the ruins of a disused hotel building in 2010.

So had her compatriot, Rachel Turner, 30, an academic at the University of West Indies' Barbados campus, in an almost identical way and at the same spot, two days earlier.

In many such cases the account of the victims can be the evidence that clinches a conviction. But in this extraordinary case the women were there for the opposite reason. Mr Crawford was definitely not the man who had assaulted her, Mrs Davies said defiantly. Nor, the court was told, was he Dr Turner's assailant.

Instead, both women were there to make clear that the Barbadian-born man facint them was innocent of the accusations against him - and to urge the magistrate, Barbara Cooke-Alleyne, to clear him.

They would not, Mrs Davies said, cooperate with any further attempts to prosecute Mr Crawford for a crime they did not believe he committed.

It was an astonishing moment - the more so when it emerged that in an unprecedented act of courage and generosity the two women had not only waived their right to anonymity as rape victims but also raided their savings to help pay for Mr Crawford's defence lawyer.

"I could not have afforded it," said Mr Crawford, newly released on bail while the magistrate consults the island's director of public prosecutions on the next legal step. On Friday she adjourned the proceedings until Dec 13.

"They gave their own money to help me. This is a one in a million thing. They could have just tried to forget what happened but they did the right thing." He and the women would be "friends for life", he said.

. . .

With its fabulous beaches and glitzy nightlife, Barbados is a paradise holiday destination for thousands of Brits every year but there is also a more sinister side to island life: a growing number of rapes and sexual assaults which is besmirching the island's reputation.

The women believe that the police acted to protect the tourist industry when they swiftly arrested Mr Crawford - even though both had said their attacker was younger, probably in his thirties, and taller.

There's more at the link.  Bold print is my emphasis.

That took real courage on the part of both ladies to waive their right to anonymity - let alone use their own money to defend an innocent man.  Sure, one might argue that they should have done so, but in this day and age, how many would have bothered to find out the details and stand up for what's right?  Too many would have turned their backs and tried to forget the whole thing.  Hats off to them both.


Pictures of the day

One of the features I most enjoy about the Telegraph in London is its 'Pictures Of The Day' section.  Each day it puts up a couple of dozen photographs submitted during the past 24 hours.  Some of them can be quite spectacular.

Today's edition is no exception.  Here are just three of the pictures included in it, to whet your appetite, along with the captions provided.

A great white shark leaps out of the water clutching a decoy seal in its jaws. The picture of the shark hovering in mid-air above the water was taken by Dana Allen in False Bay, off Cape Town in South Africa. Dana's team spent three days trying to set up the shot by using a rubber 'decoy' seal to tempt the sharks out. He said: "The strike, when it happens, takes just over a second, up and out and back into the water. If you flinch, you can miss it. We were getting ourselves settled, preparing for a long wait and then whoosh! In an instant the four metre great white shark was up and out of the water, right in front of our eyes. The water was streaming off its body and I pressed my trigger button. It almost seemed like slow motion and I remember seeing the eyes and the teeth as the shark leapt up."

This beautiful floating bridge is held aloft by three balloons filled with helium. It was created by French artist Olivier Grossette for a 'Flights of Fancy' themed outdoor sculpture exhibition at Tatton Park in Cheshire, England.

A full moon rises near the Empire State Building, as seen from Hoboken, New Jersey.

There are more (and larger) images at the link.  Recommended viewing, as are the back issues.

Kudos to the Telegraph for retaining this feature - and highlighting it on its Web site's front page every day - at a time when many other newspaper Web sites have abandoned or scaled back cultural and artistic sections in favor of more commercial approaches.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Music, memories and tears

Over supper tonight I mentioned casually to Miss D. that I'd been looking for years for a copy of Penny Croft's song 'Count The Red Cars'.  Her first (self-titled) album was released in 1977, and that song from it became something of a hit in South Africa.

It was once a very important song to me, because it was a favorite of my friend Flynn.  I wrote about him a couple of years ago, and of his tragic death in combat.  I remember how he used to play a worn cassette tape of that song, over and over, singing along to it in our shared tent in a military border camp.  It grew on me, too, and it got to the point where he and I would harmonize (probably very badly) as we softly sang the lyrics together.

After Flynn's death I couldn't bear to hear it any more, because it always brought back memories of my buddy;  so I stopped listening to it.  However, in recent years, as I was able to write about Flynn for the first time, and allowed myself to begin to relive some of the memories I'd buried very deep down inside, I began to want to hear the song again.  Unfortunately, I don't think it gained much traction outside South Africa, and I couldn't find any trace of it online;  so I gave up.

Imagine my astonishment when, after we got home, Miss D. went online and within moments found two recordings of the song on YouTube!  She played one of them for me.  To my surprise and, yes, embarrassment, I couldn't help breaking down in tears as I remembered Flynn.  The memories, and the pain of his loss, came flooding back . . . and she, dear heart that she is, simply took me in her arms and let me cry as I remembered my long-dead friend.  She didn't say anything;  she was just there, with me and for me.  It was a wonderful gift . . . the music, and the love she gave, and the release both brought to me.  (Yet another reason why I love my wife.)

So, in memory of my friend Flynn, and in gratitude to my wife, here's Penny Croft, from 1977, singing 'Count The Red Cars'.

Sleep well, Flynn.


Doofus Of The Day #664

Today's winner is from Lynn, Massachusetts.

"The brakes to [Reynolds'] pickup truck failed on the decline of the roadway just before the entrance to Mack Park," one of the responding officers wrote in the log. "As a result he opened his drivers door and put his left foot out trying to stop his truck."

When that didn't work, Reynolds reportedly attempted to turn his truck up a hill to the right side of the road, but police say it caused him to fall out of his open door.

The truck drove over his left leg, rolled further down the street - luckily without involving any other vehicles - and crossed the road before hitting a fire hydrant and coming to a stop.

There's more at the link.

What on earth inspired him to think that his left foot could brake a pickup truck weighing several thousand pounds?  His calves would have to be the best-developed in creation (and his shoes would have to have pretty powerful treads) to make that work!


Don't tell Brigid about this!

I'm afraid if the author of Home On The Range (whose writing reveals a severe bacon addiction) finds out about this, who knows the lengths to which she might go?

For $14.99, you can purchase a limited-edition can of what creator J&D's Foods suggests "is best used after a hot shower or before an important date with someone you may want to spend the rest of your life with."

Still, covering your face in bacon-scented shaving cream does pose its share of risks. The self-described "Bacontrepreneurs" at J&D's offer a fair warning to anyone using their new shaving cream: "Prepare to be loved, admired and possibly be eaten by bears."

There's more at the link.

If I were a certain engineer, I'd be getting ready to be lathered up . . .


Welcome to the worst of the Third World

I've frequently tried to describe to my American friends what it's like to visit the really run-down, seedy parts of the Third World.  Many of them accuse me of making up my descriptions, because "nothing could be that bad!"  Others simply can't visualize it, and admit that.

I came across this article at Outback Medicine the other day, which gives ample warning to Americans visiting Haiti what they're likely to find there.  I can attest from lengthy and bitter personal experience that precisely the same conditions (sometimes even worse) may also be found in other Third World hell-holes.  At any rate, it's good to have another source that I can point out to my friends, and tell them, "See?  I'm not the only one warning you!"  Here's an excerpt.

All you have is what you take with you, and you better take a bunch of stuff, because the Customs Officers that hold you up on arrival will be there to rifle through your stuff and then call it their own – literally!  They always rifle through your bags and take whatever they want, as their personal “fee” for your arrival (and hopeful passage) into their nice country!  (I dare you to object -when they start doing this!  And that look they give all Americans who do that is simply priceless, too, let me tell you!)

. . .

If you get through this process with your bags intact, mostly, you will want to exit this “entry area” to their country fast!  Do you know why?  It’s because there are “bad men” standing around watching this whole process!  They know what you’re doing down there, believe me, and they know you brought “stuff” with you…that they want!  They are ready for your entry into their country, and you will be their next “meal ticket” if possible…so just know you WILL be followed as you leave this staging area, entering their crime-ridden country, without help from anybody around, most likely…which comes next!  Watch out!  (I’m not kidding about this, Mr. & Mrs. Clueless American missionary!)

. . .

Take a trip to the airport bathroom (in pairs), and see if you can comprehend the paper posted signs behind most of the toilets, down here!  It says: “If it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” (They leave out the appropriate punctuation marks on all signs, other than some nasty comments about we American Tourists, of course.)  No joke; you should be learning from everything that hits your eyes now.  They want you to know “this isn’t America,” friends.  ”You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!”  The sign also informs you that they have a real water de-salination problem here; that too, you’re about to find out at your first watering hole, soon!  (Better stick to the bottled water – if you can find such, down here.)  Have you ever tasted “Salt Water Tea”?  They have a real fine brand of it – like most Caribbean Islands in the 3rd World do. (Better pack that hand-held Katadyn Water Filter in your back pack; you know, the one you’ll NEVER let out of your sight while down here!  Yeah, that’s the one.)

There's much more at the link - and it's all true.  Read, and be warned!


Australian weather forecast

Reader Snoggeramus sends us this screen capture of a TV weather forecast from Perth, Australia.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An inside look at the Isle of Man TT

Earlier this year I put up several video clips of the annual Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, the most arduous - and dangerous - of its kind in the world.

Al Jazeera TV has made an extended documentary about the race, covering the efforts of a first-time rider and his team, and looking at other famous racers and teams along the way.  It's a fascinating inside look at the race, showing several perspectives I've not encountered before.  Some of the accident scenes are shown in positively brutal detail!  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Excellent work by Al Jazeera TV.  Thanks, guys!


Doofus Of The Day #663

Today's winner, like yesterday's, comes from England.

Children at a shopping centre in Reading saw Santa Claus make an unusual entrance after his beard got stuck in the rope he was abseiling down.

Steve Chessell - from 11th Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers - spent 40 minutes suspended 15ft in the air before being rescued by his colleague Marc Hilton, as hundreds at Broad Street Mall looked on.

The 32-year-old arrived to cheers but laughter broke out when it emerged he had become stuck.

'Say "hello Santa!". Ho, ho, ho hello Santa,' the shopping centre's announcer had said. 'He always likes to make an entrance. He's used to coming down chimneys, but we've never seen this before.'

. . .

Stephanie Maynard, the shopping centre's marketing manager, praised Chessell for his professional approach to playing Father Christmas.

'He could have just taken his beard off and let himself down but he was such a professional and he didn't want to let the children down,' she said.

'He lost his footing as he came through the hole in the ceiling and there was a sudden jolt and he got caught in the clip on the rope.'

There's more at the link.  Here's a video clip of Santa's unfortunate arrival.

What would have been even funnier is if Santa had ridden one of his reindeer down the rope, and the latter's antlers had gotten tangled up.  Perhaps they can try that next year.  Talk about being on the horns of a dilemma!


Weird hotels galore!

The Telegraph has published a picture gallery of hotels made from weird and wonderful substances - from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the subterranean to the elevated, and most places in between!  Here are a couple of examples.  First, a 'hotel' made from recycled sewage pipes (the - formerly - 'subterranean'):

And here's one built atop an old harbor crane (the 'elevated'):

There are many more examples and pictures at the link.

I hope no-one sleep-walks in the latter hostelry . . . it's a long way down!


Arcane societies and secret languages

Wired has a fascinating article - more like a detective story, really - about how an unknown language was partly decoded and the secrets of a centuries-old arcane society partly revealed.  Here's an excerpt.

The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.

The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles.

The master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another. This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the members say. Now you can see.

For more than 260 years, the contents of that page—and the details of this ritual—remained a secret. They were hidden in a coded manuscript, one of thousands produced by secret societies in the 18th and 19th centuries.

At the peak of their power, these clandestine organizations, most notably the Freemasons, had hundreds of thousands of adherents, from colonial New York to imperial St. Petersburg. Dismissed today as fodder for conspiracy theorists and History Channel specials, they once served an important purpose: Their lodges were safe houses where freethinkers could explore everything from the laws of physics to the rights of man to the nature of God, all hidden from the oppressive, authoritarian eyes of church and state. But largely because they were so secretive, little is known about most of these organizations. Membership in all but the biggest died out over a century ago, and many of their encrypted texts have remained uncracked, dismissed by historians as impenetrable novelties.

It was actually an accident that brought to light the symbolic “sight-restoring” ritual. The decoding effort started as a sort of game between two friends that eventually engulfed a team of experts in disciplines ranging from machine translation to intellectual history. Its significance goes far beyond the contents of a single cipher. Hidden within coded manuscripts like these is a secret history of how esoteric, often radical notions of science, politics, and religion spread underground. At least that’s what experts believe. The only way to know for sure is to break the codes.

There's more at the link.

It's strange to think that so many of these societies existed, all offering to 'enlighten' their members.  Most of them are now defunct, long extinct, even their so-called 'secrets' lost to us because they encoded them so carefully.  Their 'enlightenment' has gone down into the darkness of history, and been extinguished.  For most of them, it will forever be lost there.  It's a depressing thought.  I hope our generation will do better with our 'modern' understanding . . . although at times, particularly after the last election, I have my doubts!


Monday, November 26, 2012

"Popcorn" kittens?

Miss D. sent me a link to this video of kittens gone wild.  We both found it (and them) irresistibly cute!


Doofus Of The Day #662

Today's winner is from England.

When police received reports of an armed man in a residential street, they acted immediately, deploying a crack team of 15 officers sporting bullet-proof vests and machine guns.

So they were less than amused when the man turned out not to be wielding a concealed weapon but a sex toy.

And jurors at Shrewsbury Crown Court appeared to share their concern when the man was jailed for five years after admitting possessing an item with the appearance of a handgun with intent to cause fear of violence.

. . .

Other residents on the street were astonished by the arrival of the “Robocops”, but the operation descended into farce when they seized the weapon, only to discover he had in fact been “brandishing” a silver sex aid.

Jailing Poulton on Wednesday, Judge Robin Onions said: “It was clearly not a gun, be it imitation or real. It was an entirely innocent object. [But] it was the defendant’s intention to deceive.

“Witnesses thought it was a firearm so he has to take the consequences.”

Speaking at the time of the incident, a neighbour said: “I think this is what you might call a classic cock-up.

“Nobody could believe what they were seeing when these armed Robocops turned up on the street from nowhere. Hadley can be a tough area but it’s not that bad, surely?

“Then we heard them arresting this guy and he was screaming to his girlfriend to hand over the sex toy. It was unbelievable.”

There's more at the link.

Of all the phrases I never, ever expected to hear in connection with law enforcement, "hand over the sex toy" has to be near the top of the list!  That's a "cock"-up, indeed!


An interesting naval experiment

The first Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), USNS Montford Point, was floated from her construction dock earlier this month, and is now completing her fitting-out in San Diego.

She represents a new, still experimental approach to the problem of getting heavy equipment off Navy transports and onto smaller craft that can carry it to beaches and other landing sites for amphibious operations.  Global Security describes the idea like this:

Mobile Landing Platforms, or MLPs, are being developed to facilitate at-sea cargo transfers. A platform that partially submerges in water and allows cargo to float on and off of it, the MLP is essentially a "beach" that links a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship to small, barge-like watercraft that can deliver the equipment from the sea base ashore.

The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) is a 34,544 MT displacement carrier for LCACs [Landing Craft Air Cushion]. It would also function as a staging position for doing some of the assembly of forces. The MLP would be a troop carrier, carrying 1,112 Marines, and a place where forces could be matched with their equipment before being transported ashore on LCACs or via aviation assets. The ships would be about 800 feet (250 meters) long and built to commercial standards, with a maximum speed of about 20 knots.

They would have the ability to "pump up and pump down" to ease taking on cargo which requires dry towing across open water ... The semi-submersible MLP would be designed specially for float on / float off transport of LCACs. The self-contained ballast system allows accurate control the entire sumbersion and lifting process from the safety of the control room. Unobstructed decks and high deadweight capacity give flexibility in placement.

Float-on/float-off ships are unique. In order to load or float on cargo, these ships lower into the water by filling their ballast tanks with water. Lowering submerges the cargo deck of the ship. While the deck is submerged, the cargo is floated above it. When the float-on/float-off ship empties its ballast tanks and raises in the water, the cargo is landed on the cargo deck. The cargo is then secured to the flo-flo ship, and the ship is ready to sail. Just the opposite happens at the discharge location. The cargo is prepared for discharge (the securings are cut), the flo/flo ship ballasts down and the cargo is discharged or floated off.

There's more at the link.  It certainly looks like an interesting concept.

My major concern is that the MLP's are being designed and built to commercial rather than military standards.  That will certainly save money (which is the whole idea, of course), but it also means they can't absorb damage the way a warship can.  They're also considerably slower than most warships, making them more vulnerable and taking longer to get into position;  and they carry no armament, not even defensive systems.

If I were an enemy wanting to stop US forces getting ashore, and I knew that one or more links in the amphibious landing chain were easier to attack and damage than others, guess which links I'd target first?


Opposing Big Brother by working together

I wrote an article last year in which I urged activists from the Tea Party on the right, and Occupy Wall Street on the left, to work together.  I said, among other things:

I may not see eye-to-eye with the political views of many on the Left, but I think I'd have far more in common with a left-wing Tea Party equivalent than I'd have with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. For a start, there's so much we'd agree on! Just think about it:

  • Fed up with bloated, inefficient government programs? Check.
  • Fed up with the banksters and their predatory, thieving, dishonest ways? Check.
  • Fed up with the War On (Some) Drugs and the erosion of our civil liberties that's followed in its wake? Check.
  • Fed up with corruption, whether in politics, or big business, or big labor? Check.
  • Fed up with Big Brother, as evidenced by the TSA and all the other alphabet-soup agencies? Check.

Serious, thoughtful people on both the Left and the Right agree on all those things! I see the OWS protesters inveigling against them, and I hear the Tea Party saying almost exactly the same things! Why aren't they talking to each other?

I can see a really useful, practical alliance in US politics between pragmatic people on the Left and the Right. We don't have to agree on the solutions. We only have to agree on two points if we're to work together:

  1. The present problems of our country have been caused by doing things the same old way, for far too long.
  2. The only way to fix those problems is to get rid of every politician who continues to do things the same old way, and replace them with those who'll be more responsible to and representative of those who elect them.

Given those two points of agreement, much becomes possible.

There's more at the link.

Earlier this year, both left-wing and right-wing activists worked together to defeat a tax-and-spend initiative in Atlanta that was heavily backed by a well-funded political-incumbent alliance.  The Christian Science Monitor reported in August:

It was the Davids versus the Goliaths. On one side of a $7.2 billion referendum aimed at unsnarling Atlanta’s traffic stood the two most powerful men in Georgia, and an unlikely pair to boot: Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat.

On the other side stood the little guys: Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots and Colleen Kiernan from the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. Despite seemingly dueling ideologies, they found common cause to lobby against a 1-cent-on-the-dollar tax to pay for 157 traffic-friendly projects in the metro area over 10 years.

Also on that side was local NAACP president John Evans – another unlikely partner, especially for the tea party, which some critics have seen as anti-minority and anti-immigrant.

The establishment bipartisans had a reported $8 million on hand to sell the transit package. The tea party alliance has been quoted as having $15,000, but tea party member Julianne Thompson, reached by the Monitor Wednesday, laughed that off. “We had maybe a few hundred dollars,” she says.

On Tuesday, the “Sierra Tea” nexus claimed giant-killer status: Voters shot the Transportation Investment Act down, yelling “no” by a margin of 63 percent – despite warnings from supporters of imminent urban decline and worsening traffic woes. About 670,000 metro Atlantans voted.

. . .

Well before the vote, tea party activists, Sierra Club officials, and the NAACP agreed to not just say no to the transit tax, but start building a “Plan B.” They even held joint press conferences ahead of Tuesday. The proponents of the plan reportedly were caught flat-footed when urban blacks and environmentalists, which should have been their natural partners, coalesced against the project.

Again, more at the link.

I think many on both the Left and the Right are extremely unhappy with what's going on in Washington at present, and equally unhappy at the thought of what a second four years for the Obama administration will bring.  We may be unhappy for different reasons, and want different outcomes;  but is that any reason not to work together to block 'big government' initiatives that we both oppose, even if for different reasons?

We can accomplish a great deal by working together wherever possible, and letting the cards fall where they may for future elections.  If we don't do that, we're all going to suffer.  I think, instead of feeling depressed at the prospect of four more years of institutionalized incompetence in the White House, we need to focus on opposing such incompetence at our local and regional levels, so that we can rebuild Washington from a stronger (and saner) foundation when the time comes.


Don't live in a 'death spiral' state

That's the message of a very timely article in Forbes.  It's particularly timely because the arrival of Obamacare - which begins to take effect next year - is going to add to the pressures on such states, and make things worse instead of better.  Here's an excerpt.

Two factors determine whether a state makes this elite list of fiscal hellholes. The first is whether it has more takers than makers. A taker is someone who draws money from the government, as an employee, pensioner or welfare recipient. A maker is someone gainfully employed in the private sector.

Let us give those takers the benefit of our sympathy and assume that every single one of them is a deserving soul. This person is either genuinely needy or a dedicated public servant or the recipient of a well-earned pension.

But what happens when these needy types outnumber the providers? Taxes get too high. Prosperous citizens decamp. Employers decamp. That just makes matters worse for the taxpayers left behind.

. . .

The second element in the death spiral list is a scorecard of state credit-worthiness done by Conning & Co., a money manager known for its measures of risk in insurance company portfolios. Conning’s analysis focuses more on dollars than body counts. Its formula downgrades states for large debts, an uncompetitive business climate, weak home prices and bad trends in employment.

. . .

A state qualifies for the Forbes death spiral list if its taker/maker ratio exceeds 1.0 and it resides in the bottom half of Conning’s ranking.

There's more at the link.  Compelling reading.

Some of the 'death spiral' states surprised me - for example, I hadn't thought to find Kentucky on the list.  For what it's worth, here they are in descending order of their taker/maker ratios:

New Mexico (1.53)
Mississippi (1.49)
California (1.39)
Alabama (1.10)
Maine (1.07)
New York (1.07)
South Carolina (1.06)
Kentucky (1.05)
Illinois (1.03)
Hawaii (1.02)
Ohio (1.00)

It's useful to have a list of where not to move to!


World's biggest flying billboard?

Earlier this month we noted that Air New Zealand had produced a flight safety briefing movie based on the forthcoming 'Hobbit' movie trilogy.  Now they've tricked out one of their Boeing 777-300ER aircraft in the biggest graphic ever applied to an aircraft - 830 square meters, or almost 9,000 square feet!

Here's how they did it.

I think that's pretty cute!  I understand some of the lead actors in the trilogy will be flying to New Zealand aboard this aircraft for the world premiere of the first film on Wednesday.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Doofus Of The Day #661

Today's winner is a Japanese businessman in London, England.  He was apparently drunk as a lord, and tried to make his way down an 'up' escalator at the Tottenham Court Road Tube station.

You can read more about his adventures in this news report.

I've never understood drinking to such an extent that one does things like that.  I've over-indulged on a couple of occasions, but never to the point of losing control or becoming incapable of knowing what I was doing!

(It reminds me of a lesson in etiquette and deportment given to candidate officers in the South African Defense Force.  We were solemnly informed that "An officer is never drunk.  He is only pleasantly tired."  Yeah, right!)


From the trenches of World War I to modern English

The Telegraph has a fascinating article about how slang from the trench warfare of World War I entered common English usage, and persists to this day.  Here's an excerpt.

If you’re feeling washed out, fed up or downright lousy, World War One is to blame.

New research has shown how the conflict meant that hundreds of words and phrases came into common parlance thanks to the trenches.

. . .

The results of the research are included in a new book, Trench Talk: Words of the First World War, which documents how new words and phrases originated, while others were spread from an earlier, narrow context, to gain new, wider meanings.

Many of the words were created by soldiers to describe their unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances. While they had to come up with names for new items like “trench coats” and “duckboards”, other, more descriptive phrases were also developed.

“Lousy” and “crummy” both referred to being infested with lice, while “fed up” emerged as a widespread expression of weariness among the men.

. . .

Other phrases to develop were “snapshot” (from a quickly aimed and taken rifle shot), and “wash out”, which described a process by which aspiring officers who failed their commissions and were sent back to their regiments, or “washed out”. By 1915 the term was being used to signify any kind of failure.

“Dud” also came to take on a wider meaning for something which failed, from the large number of faulty shells which did not explode.

. . .

Many more new terms came from the mix of nationalities thrown together by the war.

The French term souvenir replaced keepsake as the primary word for a memento, following exchanges with the locals, while officers being sacked were said to have “come ungummed” - from the French “dégommér”, to dismiss. This quickly developed into “come unstuck”.

Other words arrived with troops from the US - such as “cooler”, for prison - and Canada - including “swipe”, for acquiring something by means that were not necessarily above board.

. . .

Many of the technical devices encountered by soldiers could be quite baffling and hard to describe, which helps to explain the widespread emergence of the word “thingumyjig” from the period.

There's more at the link.

Of course, I'm familiar with many of these words due to my background of English parents and a colonial upbringing.  Americans may find some of them less familiar.  Nevertheless, the article makes interesting reading.


Making an AK-47 from . . . a shovel???

It seems an enterprising do-it-yourself gunsmith has done precisely that!  In a detailed thread on (language alert - there are a few naughty words flying around), the intrepid shooter describes (with the aid of many photographs) how he used the handle of a shovel to make the buttstock, then heated and beat the shovel blade into shape to form the receiver of the rifle.

He commented, "Here is a pic of an AK receiver and Shovel AK receiver. The latter is almost 2.5 times thicker and it feels like a rock. S***, I tried to pound some dents out of the receiver and the hammer got dented, because in communist mAssachusetts receiver dents you!"

Here's the finished article.  I thought the hammer, sickle, and burning glass of vodka were very nice touches!

The weapon apparently shoots very accurately for an AK-pattern rifle (at least, he displays targets on the thread to prove it).  I'm in awe at his ingenuity and dedication!  Who'd have thought a shovel could become the foundation for a clone of an assault rifle?  So much for gun control!


Chinese naval aviation takes the next step

Having got the former Soviet aircraft-carrier Varyag into operational condition, and renamed it Liaoning, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has made the first landings and take-offs from her deck.

The aircraft involved were unlicensed (that's to say, reverse-engineered - i.e. stolen) derivatives of the Soviet Sukhoi Su-33, known locally as the Shenyang J-15.  In the photograph below, note the puffs of smoke from the tires hitting the deck, and the V shape (on the deck) of the arrestor cable that's been picked up by the tail-hook at the rear of the aircraft, and is running out as it slows it to a standstill.

Being a STOBAR design and lacking catapults, the Liaoning isn't capable of launching heavy (or heavily-laden) aircraft, as there is no external assistance available to the aircraft - they must rely on their own engine(s) for all take-off power, plus the brief upward boost derived from the carrier's ski-jump bow.

Despite that limitation, this is an important increment on the naval aviation learning curve for the PLAN.  I'm sure the service is planning for CATOBAR carriers (like those of the US Navy) in the not too distant future, plus aircraft that can take advantage of them.

Here's video footage of the first landings and takeoffs.

Unlike some observers of naval technology and the maritime balance of power, I'm not unduly alarmed by China developing its naval aviation in this way.  After all, it's got every right to do so!  It may use it to 'flex its maritime muscles', yes;  but that's exactly what Western powers have done to China for decades - generations! - so I'm afraid that 'turn about is fair play'.  We should expect more such developments from China in the short to medium term.  We'll just have to learn to live with it, as we did with earlier maritime developments in the Soviet Union and other rivals.

(There are more [and larger] photographs of Liaoning's first landings and takeoffs here.)


Saturday, November 24, 2012

A timeless timelapse

I enjoyed this timelapse video of nature at her best.

Peaceful, isn't it?


Terminal doofidity?

I hesitate to use incidents like this as part of my Doofus Of The Day series, as the death of the protagonist is always a tragedy for his loved ones.  Nevertheless, it was a particularly stupid and senseless way to die!

A Brazilian angler died after a fish he had just caught swam down his throat and choked him to death, according to reports.

The man was fishing with friends on a beach in Icapui, in Brazil's northeastern state of Ceara, when he reeled in a small sole fish, according to police.

The fishermen then reportedly made a bizarre bet with his friends that he would be able to hold the slippery fish between his teeth for a minute.

But no sooner had he put the fish into his mouth that it escaped and swam down his throat, getting lodged in the man's windpipe.

Despite suffocating, the angler managed to get to his car and drive to a hospital two miles away.

But when he arrived there at 11am on Sunday he collapsed and died before doctors could save him.

There's more at the link.

To adapt a well-known song, I guess the angler's body is 'mouldering in the grave' because his sole kept marching on!


Around the blogs

There are lots of interesting entries this week.

Let's start with a couple of 'blasts from the past' (from 2004, to be more precise) by Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog.  Both of them came to my attention in the process of researching some post-election articles (which have yet to appear).

Both make interesting reading.

# # #

I came across the blog 'Loner In The Night' recently.  It hasn't been updated for several months, so it may be defunct, but two of its previous articles made me chuckle:

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The always interesting Charles Hugh Smith has two articles on our economy and our society that will give you a great deal of food for thought:

Recommended reading.

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Depleted Cranium, which advertises itself as 'The Bad Science Blog', has an amusing article titled 'The One True Religion: The Church of Aircraft'.  It's full of interesting comparisons like this one:

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I enjoy Cajun cooking, and prepare Cajun recipes myself from time to time.  I've been told I make a passable jambalaya, but I'd never heard of 'pastalaya' until Pawpaw put up his recipe for it.  Basically, pastalaya substitutes pasta for the rice used in jambalaya.  It looks very interesting.  I'm going to have to experiment.

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The inimitable Karl Denninger compares our infatuation with the Republican and/or Democratic political parties to an abusive relationship.  Here's an excerpt.

Think long and hard ladies and gentlemen. Political parties and groups will try to tell you that you must choose between evils, and of course they are the lesser of them, as if there is no other option. But there are other options -- you can refuse to participate entirely or you can go off and form a new group among those of you who refuse to be abused.

The woman in an abusive relationship or the person in a cult may not recognize that they are the victim of abuse but this does not change the objective view of what is going on. Your time, effort, personal well-being and sometimes wealth are being siphoned off for the benefit of others -- and to your detriment.

There's more at the link.  Methinks the man has a point.

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Old NFO, as a public service, teaches us about the geography of a woman.  I daresay he's still running and looking for cover . . .

# # #

I'm sure at least some of my readers have read polemics from environmental activists that proclaim the past to have been wonderful, right up until the Industrial Revolution started polluting the environment and Mother Nature was gang-raped by greedy capitalists.  It's not that easy at all, as anyone with so much as an inkling of history will understand.  Allan Bevere has an excellent article in his blog archives pointing out the historical fallacies of the enviro-Nazies.

Imagine that it is 1800, somewhere in Western Europe or eastern North America. The family is gathering around the hearth in the simple timber-framed house. Father reads aloud from the Bible while mother prepares to dish out a stew of beef and onions. The baby boy is being comforted by one of his sisters and the eldest lad is pouring water from a pitcher into the earthenware mugs on the table. His elder sister is feeding the horse in the stable. Outside there is no noise of traffic, there are no drug dealers and neither dioxins nor radioactive fall-out have been found in the cow’s milk. All is tranquil; a bird sings outside the window.

Oh Please! Though this is one of the better-off families in the village, father’s Scripture reading is interrupted by a bronchitic cough that presages the pneumonia that will kill him at 53 – not helped by the wood smoke of the fire. (He is lucky: life expectancy even in England was less than 40 in 1800.) The baby will die of smallpox that is now causing him to cry; his sister will soon be chattel of a drunken husband. The water the son is pouring tastes of the cows that drink from the brook. Toothache tortures the mother. The neighbour’s lodger is getting the other girl pregnant in the hayshed even now and her child will be sent to an orphanage. The stew is grey and gristly yet the meat is a rare change from gruel; there is no fruit or salad at this season. It is eaten with a wooden spoon from a wooden bowl. Candles cost too much, so firelight is all there is to see by. Nobody in the family has ever seen a play, painted a picture or heard a piano. School is a few years of dull Latin taught by a bigoted martinet at the vicarage. Father visited the city once, but travel cost him a week’s wages and the others have never travelled more than fifteen miles from home. Each daughter owns two wool dresses, two linen shirts and one pair of shoes. Fathers’ jacket cost him a month’s wages but it is now infested with lice. The children sleep two to a bed on straw mattresses on the floor. As for the bird outside the window, tomorrow it will be trapped and eaten by the boy.

More at the link, and well worth reading.

# # #

Dustbury links to a particularly stupid car question on the Internet.  The fun part is the responses by other readers . . .

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Tam links to an interesting article in ComputerWeek, and points out that the privacy genie won't go back into the bottle.  To my abiding (and increasingly curmudgeonly) anger, frustration and sadness, I fear she's right . . .

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Last but not least, Dr. Grumpy informs us of an act of coitus terminally (and musically) interruptus, involving alcohol, a piano, and a hoist.  All I can say is, what a way to go!

That's all for this week.  More soon.


Friday, November 23, 2012

How's this for a hair-raising ride?

Adam Riemann of Motology shows us a motorbike ride down a particularly hairy mountain trail. It's part of his movie 'Himalayan Hero', documenting a father-and-son ride of 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 miles) through the Himalayas.

I can't help wondering what normally uses that trail.  It's certainly not wide enough for full-size motor vehicles.  Yaks, perhaps?


The Mayflower gun

This Thanksgiving, I was fascinated to read about the Mayflower gun, once owned by John Alden of the Mayflower.

What’s even more American than turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie these days?  An Italian gun, that’s what.  The only known surviving firearm that crossed the wild Atlantic aboard the good ship Mayflower, settled with the pilgrims at Plymouth Colony and ultimately helped the first colonists not only survive, but prosper.  Meet the Mayflower Gun.

Affectionately dubbed the Mayflower Gun and thought of as an American icon, the gun is actually an Italian-made wheel-lock carbine.  This single-shot musket was originally chambered in .50 caliber rifle, though ages of heavy use have worn away the majority of the rifling.  Given the combination of natural wear, repairs and modifications, if the gun were to be loaded and fired today, it would require a .66 caliber.

There's much more at the link.  Most interesting, particularly to firearms enthusiasts.  I knew of wheel-lock firearms, of course, but I didn't know they'd come to this country - all the other historical guns I've seen here have been shaphaunces, flintlocks and percussion-fired firearms


Black Friday musings

I didn't bother to join the Black Friday frenzy today.  I find the very idea abhorrent, never mind the reality!  I did a bit of ordinary household shopping, making sure to go early to an out-of-the-way supermarket that would attract less traffic.  It wasn't busy at all, and I was in and out with my purchases in a matter of a few minutes.

I came home to read headlines of havoc and mayhem at larger shopping centers.  This screenshot of Drudge Report headlines this morning speaks for itself:

I have no desire whatsoever to support Black Friday in any way, shape or form if it produces behavior like that!  Also, as one who's lived in the Third World for many years, I can't help consider such behavior an obscenity in the light of the reality currently lived by so many others, illustrated very graphically by Allan Bevere:

Mr. Bevere makes several good points about Black Friday, including these:

Fifth, and related to my fourth point, we need to stop blaming the retailers for the fiasco that is about to happen. If Black Friday was not such a huge success, retailers would not be marketing it. If opening the doors on Thanksgiving were not a money-maker, no store would even consider it. It's we the shoppers who have made such things possible. We blame the retailers because we know we have the inability to be responsible and just stay home, so if they would only stay closed we would not have to exercise the discipline necessary to just say no to ourselves. Someone else must be to blame for our bad behavior.

Sixth, and finally, Black Friday and the entire Christmas shopping season is one more instance that reminds us of the deep problem in American culture in which we are unable to separate our wants from our needs. The reason for such inability results from the loss of life centered on the divine. When that center is lost we rush to meet our needs with every imaginable want, and we seek to make others happy by giving them what they want.

There's more at the link.  Eminently sane, sensible and worthwhile reading.

I loathe Black Friday.  I'm glad it's almost over.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Doofus Of The Day #660

Today's winner is a delivery driver in Russia.  The video speaks for itself.

Oops . . . !


End of an aviation era in Australia

The Royal Australian Air Force this week retires the last of its old-model Lockheed C-130H Hercules transports, which it will replace with new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.  Thanks to Australian reader Snoggeramus, we have several video reports about the Herky-birds' last flight over Sydney.  (The video continues with news of the arrival of the sixth and last Boeing C-17 Globemaster III ordered by Australia.)

You can read more about the Hercules' retirement here and here.  There's an excellent large-format photograph (suitable for computer wallpaper) here of the last C-130H flying over the iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.


Fighting bureaucratic corruption in Russia

Yahoo! News has a very interesting report about a Russian farmer who ran headlong into official corruption, and is trying to do something about it.

When Eduard Mochalov tried to have the people who stole his cattle and pig farm brought to justice, he spent eight months in jail on charges he says were cooked up. He appealed to Vladimir Putin and even set himself on fire outside the Kremlin in protest, but still couldn't draw attention to his cause as his farm slowly fell into disrepair.

Now, Mochalov has found a new life as a crusading journalist investigating corruption in his native region, fueled by tips from disgruntled businessmen and government workers. Undeterred by a system where the law is selectively used to protect the powerful and crack down on critics, Mochalov has quickly earned cult status — not to mention the ire of countless local officials — throughout the small province of Chuvashia.

Roughly once a month, he publishes a free newspaper called Vzyatka, or The Bribe, which rails against what it calls "Chuvash kingpins" who steal from the province's budget. Headlines include "The governor of Chuvashia's family business" and "If nobody's been found guilty, that means they're already in power." The paper has proved so popular that with a print run of 20,000 he has trouble meeting demand.

There's more at the link.  Very interesting reading, particularly (since Mr. Mochalov encountered corruption as a farmer) in the light of allegations of corruption within the US agricultural bureaucracy.  I wonder how long it may be before such action is also necessary here?