30 November 2014

Burmese rock

Rico says that religious pilgrims put gold leaf on the rock (said to be the stepping-off point of the Buddha when he ascended into Heaven), now up to an inch thick:

The kiss, then and now

Rico says it's an Alfred Eisenstadt classic (top) now life-size in Times Square (center & bottom):

Big fish in a big place

Jeff Corwin did a segment at the Georgia Aquarium; amazing place. You can see it here.

Song for the day

Rico says he finally found the video; enjoy:

Snoopy doesn't like winter, either

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this:

Movie review for the day (TToE)

Rico says the ladyfriend wanted to see The Theory of Everything, so we went:
Starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, this is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge, England university student Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones. Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking receives an earth-shattering diagnosis at just twenty-one years of age. With Wilde fighting tirelessly by his side, Hawking embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of: time. Together, they defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science, and achieving more than they could ever have dreamed. The film is based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, and is directed by Academy Award-winner James Marsh.
Rico says that Redmayne does an amazing job of physical acting, descending into the twisted form of Hawking over the course of the movie (revealed, brilliantly, in a dream sequence where Hawking unfolds from his wheelchair). In the immortal words of Joe Bob BriggsJoe Bob says check it out.

Rico also says that the movie was far too reminiscent of what his life might easily have been like, if his brain bleed had been worse...

More Star Wars

Time has a review of the new Star Wars: Episode VII:
I just got back from paying fifteen bucks to see the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer in a theater, then ducking out well before the third Hunger Games started. And, boy, this is not your dad’s Star Wars. Here are five things that stuck out about The Force Awakens trailer:
1. The very first person we see is blackThe original Star Wars trilogy only had one black character of any significance: Lando Calrissian. And while some may see Lando as a positive role model in the realm of science fiction/fantasy, let’s face it: In the first film in which he appears— The Empire Strikes Back— audiences were left seeing him as a traitor who sold out his old buddy Han to Darth Vader/Boba Fett/Jabba the Hutt. Only in the next film do we see Lando as a hero who helps destroy the second Death Star. The next major black character didn’t show up until Sam Jackson was cast as Jedi Knight Mace Windu for The Phantom Menace, a character who, I should note, was intended to be in the original trilogy but got scrapped along the way.
This might seem like a minor point, but Star Wars movies have traditionally opened with a shot of a passing ship, while the first characters we see are often droids. Starting this trailer with a black actor on what’s clearly Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine is a big statement in the Star Wars movie universe.
2. Those X-Wings look awesomeThat squad of seemingly souped-up X-Wings we see skimming the water’s surface at high-speed? I don’t have anything of eloquence to say about them other than, yeah, those look really cool. Expect director J.J. Abrams to bring to Star Wars space battles what he brought to those in Star Trek: bigger and way more intense.
3. That three-bladed red lightsaberWe see some shadowy, very evil Sith-looking figure in a dark forest, who then switches on his very evil Sith-looking red lightsaber, only for it to have two shorter energy beams pouring out the hilt, a design we’ve never seen before. My first thought was maybe this very evil Sith is using some supercharged, possibly unstable crystal to power his lightsaber, a very evil Sith thing to do.
But then I realized the tiny blades sticking out the sides make the new lightsaber look more like a longsword. Those pack a handguard just on top of the hilt, convenient for avoiding getting your fighting hand chopped off— a fate that’s befallen far too many Jedi and Sith before somebody finally figured out how to stop it.
4. The Millennium Falcon returnsThe last sequence we see is Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon zipping along the desert of what, again, is presumably Tatooine, and getting shot at by TIE fighters. The audience in my theater burst into cheers at the sight of it, proving that, hey, maybe she is much to look at after all. Can the Falcon do the Kessel Run in less than eleven parsecs now? Who knows!
5. The voiceover.The voiceover (is that Max von Sydow?) gives us just a little more insight into the movie’s plot. It sounds like the film’s title is very literal: there’s been an awakening in the Force, both on the light side and the dark side, so it’s a safe bet we’re going to see some very good Jedi-on-Sith action come December of 2015.
Rico says he'll doubtless be seeing it.. (But asking if the Falcon do the Kessel Run in less than eleven parsecs was always nonsensical; a parsec is a measure of distance, not time...)

History for the day

On 30 November 1995, President Bill Clinton became the first US chief executive to visit Northern Ireland.

29 November 2014

Ad for the day

Rico's friend Dave sends a only-slightly-pervy Fiat 500 ad:

Paris flea market, maybe

Rico is still hoping for a lottery win to finance the trip, but there's an article in The New York Times about one of the places where he and the ladyfriend will be going: the Flea Market in Paris, France:

Over the past two years, the giant Marché aux Puces de Paris/St.-Ouen (photo) has become cool again.
Rico says that, worst case, there's a flea market in Paris, Texas, too...

Motive: complicated

The Associated Press has article about a (for once) righteous police shooting in Texas:
A gunman attempted to set the Mexican Consulate ablaze and fired more than a hundred rounds at downtown buildings before he died, Austin, Texas authorities said. Investigators were trying to determine the man’s motives after he began shooting at the consulate, Austin police headquarters, the US Courthouse, and other locations.
Some of the buildings are near the popular Sixth Street entertainment district, where bars close at 2 am, about the same time the shootings began. Austin police chief Art Acevedo noted that thousands of people are typically on the street at that time. “Many, many rounds were fired in downtown Austin,” Acevedo said. “With all the people on the streets, we’re very fortunate. I give thanks that no one but the suspect is injured or deceased.”
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department issued a statement expressing “profound concern and condemnation” of the attack, but also said “there is no evidence the shots were exclusively directed at our facility”.
Acevedo said a sergeant, who was holding the reins of two police horses after his patrol, shot the gunman just outside the main entrance to police headquarters. But Acevedo said it’s not clear if police fatally shot the suspect or if he took his own life.
Police said the shooter was a man about fifty years old, with a criminal record. His identity was not immediately released, and Acevedo said investigators had not yet established a motive.
The shooter’s targets were located throughout downtown Austin and officers received multiple reports of gunfire. The entire incident lasted about ten minutes from the first call, Acevedo said.
Officers approached the man after he had been shot, but noticed cylinders in his vehicle, which was nearby, and discovered he was wearing a vest they thought may be rigged to explode. Officers retreated, and the bomb squad was called. It was later determined the items were not explosive. “Anytime you have cylinders like this with someone attacking government buildings, you have to think of explosive devices,” Acevedo said in describing the officers’ caution.
The suspect’s white van was still on the street outside police headquarters (photo) several hours after the shooting, with all its doors, trunk, and hood open while investigators looked it over.
The fire at the Consulate was extinguished before any significant damage was done to the building. The Federal Courthouse’s guard house was shot several times, as was police headquarters, which Acevedo said was “extensively damaged”.
The governor’s mansion is a few blocks away from the police station; it’s not known whether Governor Rick Perry was there at the time, and his staff did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment.
A police tactical team later went to an Austin apartment complex where the gunman lived as precaution. The FBI also was participating in the investigation. Adam Peyton awoke to the sight of SWAT vehicles and police officers on motorcycles in his southwest Austin neighborhood near the city’s well-known Zilker Park. Authorities evacuated some of Peyton’s neighbors close to the apartment where the gunman is believed to have lived. Peyton described the area as “really laid back” and close-knit, where residents know each other and are often out walking their dogs. “As soon as they show his face, we’ll instantly know,” he said.
Rico's old friend Bill, who lives in Austin, Texas, notes that: "the part of the story I like is the officer holding the reins of two horses while he shot his sidearm with the other hand. Now that's cool."
Rico says that he and Bill agree that the horse thing's gotta be in the movie. (But, given the targets, the guy's motive is gonna be complicated...)

History for the day

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews.

Rico says we all know how well that great idea turned out...

Gubs for the day

The New York Time has an article about gubs:
Ready, Aim, Fire, Then Relax in the Lounge 


A new wave of luxurious gun clubs is popping up around urban centers, modeled after country clubs to appeal to people who did not grow up in gun-owning households

Quote for the day

"In human history, there has never been a better time to be a drinker."

GARRETT C. PECK, who has written books on alcohol and Prohibition, on the explosion of distilleries and craft beer, reflecting demand for local products, including single-barrel $100-a-bottle bourbon.

28 November 2014

Finally, more Star Wars

Rico says that, just in case LucasFilm hasn't enough money already, they're releasing Episode VII in the Star Wars saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on 18 December 2014, just in time for Xmas:

"There's been an awakening. Have you felt it?"
The first line of dialog from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser released online is wonderfully meta; have we felt it? Of course we have: what else would explain the excitement surrounding the release of the trailer so early on the day after Thanksgiving, or the frustrations of social media filled the realization that everyone has to update Quicktime? But it's a joke that is readily forgiven, considering what immediately follows.
It’s not just the sight of John Boyega popping up from the bottom of the screen that thrills; it’s seeing him do so in a Stormtrooper outfit, against a sandy landscape with both the intercom crackle of Stormtrooper discussion and a John Williams score blaring out; it feels like Star Wars, immediately. That’s something that’s true of everything that follows; everything is familiar enough that it registers as "the real thing," but with enough novelty to get our attention: An R2 unit with a ball for a body! A carrier filled with Stormtroopers ready to deploy! Daisy Ridley on something that looks like a cross between a speeder bike and a land-speeder! X-Wing pilots shot in the same framing as the original movies! It’s Star Wars, everybody!
And then, of course, the money shot: the one that no fan could resist, in theaters or online. The Millennium Falcon, flying in space as Williams’ beloved theme plays. And TIE Fighters are attacking, with that sound! (The sound in this teaser feels very important; it’s the music, the sound effects, as much as anything that give it legitimacy as Star Wars; the roar of the engines, the sound of the laser blasts, these are things that fans have held in their heads for decades; if those weren’t present, and weren’t exactly right, the entire enterprise would be doomed to failure.)
Again, it’s both familiar and new; that shot of the Falcon and TIE Fighters in the air, with the audience quickly realizing that we’re upside down, is far more kinetic than anything we’ve seen in Star Wars before, born of a cinema that became mainstream after George Lucas’ original movies (it is, indeed, very J.J. Abrams, in terms of framing; a nice way of his claiming ownership over the franchise subtly here). It’s dizzying, exciting and, like the R2-ball or the slightly different Stormtrooper helmets, or the mysterious Sith with the new lightsaber, a sign that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is very purposefully the same-but-different, informed by the same nostalgia that it very intentionally plays on here, but not beholden to it. It’s the perfect shot to end on.
In so many ways, there’s nothing really revealed here, as such. We knew the cast list, we knew the Millennium Falcon was going to appear in the movie already. That there’s a bad guy with a lightsaber isn’t a surprise, and no plot gets revealed beyond: The Force is back and it sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch is doing the voiceover.
And yet, watching the teaser, all of it feels new in a way that it hasn’t before, perhaps because Star Wars, at its best, has always been about the visceral, childlike thrill of the visual spectacle. (Who can forget seeing the Death Star for the first time, or Darth Vader?) This is a teaser that, undoubtedly, was put together cynically to provoke both nostalgia and excitement for the future in equal measure, but there’s no denying that it works.
December of 2015 suddenly seems just a little bit further away...
Rico says he'll see it...

Oops is, yet again, a political term

Time has an article about a misguided idiot in the UK:
The anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) was left red-faced recently after a local branch mistook Westminster Cathedral (photo), one of the most famous Christian churches in the country, for a mosque.
The UKIP’s South Thanet branch was reacting to a BBC news program’s decision to poll passersby outside the historic, 1902 edifice. “The perfect place to hold vote, in front of a mosque in London,” it tweeted.
Ironically, the segment, by BBC reporter Giles Dilnot, was asking bystanders outside the UK’s venerable Catholic cathedral whether or not they took the UKIP as a serious political force.
Rico says it's hard to believe some people have a brain at all...

Fifteen-minute results in Ebola trial

James Gallagher has a BBC article about new trials in Guinea for an Ebola test:
A fifteen-minute blood and saliva test for Ebola is to be given a trial in Guinea, it has been announced. The solar-powered, portable laboratory should deliver results six times faster than tests currently used in West Africa. The researchers involved say faster diagnosis would increase the chances of survival and reduce transmission of the virus.
The trial will take place at an Ebola treatment center in Conakry, Guinea.
Ebola is currently diagnosed by hunting for the virus's genetic material in the blood of a patient. Patients in Conakry will still have the proven test, but the new faster method will be trialled at the same time so the results can be compared.
The project, led by the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal, uses a 'mobile suitcase laboratory'. It is portable, solar-powered. and can be used at room temperature.
The project is being funded by the Wellcome Trust medical charity and the UK's Department for International DevelopmentDr. Val Snewin, the international activities manager at the Wellcome Trust, said: "A reliable, fifteen-minute test that can confirm cases of Ebola would be a key tool for effective management of the Ebola outbreak, allowing patients to be identified, isolated, and cared for as soon as possible. It not only gives patients a better chance of survival, but it prevents transmission of the virus to other people. This pilot study is particularly promising because researchers have considered how to make the test suitable for use in remote field hospitals, where resources, such as electricity and cold storage, are often in short supply."
The UK's International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "The UK is doing everything possible to help the government of Sierra Leone tackle and ultimately defeat Ebola. Funding this groundbreaking research will develop new ways of diagnosing suspected cases even more quickly, and stop more people suffering from this deadly virus."
Rico says that, good news or bad, fifteen minutes to knowing is a good thing... (But that photo doesn't look like the end of the world, does it?)

27 November 2014

Xmas, early

Rico says that a white Christmas is bad enough, but a white Thanksgiving? Too much, too soon. (It's compounded by the ladyfriend starting to play Christmas carols for Thanksgiving dinner; if it's not illegal to play carols before the day after Thanksgiving, it should be...)

World War One, elsewhere

The BBC has an article by Deborah Basckin about obscure World War One history:
Not all crucial battles in World War One took place on the muddy fields of Europe. Some significant fights took place in little-known places much further afield. The Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele, all were iconic battles of World War One. But what made it a global war are the lesser-known tales from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
New technology, broken promises and shifting alliances meant events which started in Europe had far-reaching consequences beyond the trenches of the Western Front, consequences that still affect millions of people around the world today.
Here are six of the lesser-known battles of World War One
1. Togo
Pinpointing the exact moment a world event begins is not an exact science, but it could be said some of the very first shots of World War One were not fired in Europe. They were fired in West Africa, in the then-German colony of Togo.
In August of 1914, troops were massing on the front lines of Europe. But thousands of miles away in the small Togolese town of Kamina, a cutting-edge piece of technology came under threat. With it, Germany's control of the region.
On 12 August 1914, near Kamina, Alhaji Grunshi became the first soldier in British service to fire a shot in World War One. On 22 August 1914, also near Kamina, Lieutenant George Thompson became the first British officer killed in action in World War One.
The Germans were using a local workforce to build a wireless station so advanced that its communications could reach as far afield as Asia. It was an incredible military advantage at the time, akin to having email in a time of smoke signals. At the outbreak of World War One, it wasn't fully completed, but it was operational. When war was declared the station immediately came under threat, its worth to any military force incalculable. It was soon surrounded by Allied forces.
Without an army, the Germans first tried to marshal a local police force, led by its own soldiers and made up of mercenaries from nearby. But ultimately they were left with no option but to destroy the station and surrender.
The five hours it took for the station at Kamina to burn ended German colonial rule. It marked the first allied victory of World War One and irrevocably changed Togo's future. 
2. Lebanon
One third of the local population died in the largely forgotten famine of Mount Lebanon. A devastating confluence of political and environmental factors lead to the deaths of two hundred thousand men, women, and children in the region.
At the outbreak of war, arid Mount Lebanon was a semi-autonomous area within the powerful Ottoman Empire. Its economy was based on the production of raw silk, which was woven by women in mills and exported to Europe. But the Ottoman alliance with Germany caused the Allies to cut off international trade routes, damaging the silk trade and choking the economy. Food was scarce and prioritised for the soldiers of the Ottoman war effort. Families started to go hungry.
Then came the locusts. In Biblical swathes, the insects swarmed through the region in 1915. They devoured the few remaining crops and delivered a fatal blow to the already starving people. There were reports of bloated bodies dead in the streets, even cannibalism. One account from a Jesuit priest tells of a father coming to confess he had eaten his own children. Some tried to help, and soup-kitchens started to open. Thousands were fed, but there was no way to mitigate the effects of the double blow.
A footnote in some history books, or left out of others altogether, the famine of Mount Lebanon is still painfully remembered by those who live there. 
3. Mexico
The length of one of the most aggressively-monitored borders in the world runs for nearly two thousand miles. The iron pillars, concrete walls, security cameras, and drones that make it virtually impermeable today were partly triggered by just a tiny bit of paper during World War One: a telegram.
In 1917, Germany tried to capitalise on the uneasy peace between the US and Mexico, two countries at odds over their shared border.
German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann sent a coded telegram: "We make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together." Its meaning was clear: join the war on Germany's side and secure its help to invade America in return.
Zimmermann hoped, by drawing the US into conflict with Mexico, it would distract the US from the war in Europe. The telegram was composed and sent from Berlin. Before it reached its intended destination, it was intercepted and decoded, revealing Germany's plans to the world. Zimmermann's message to Mexico achieved the very opposite of its aim, helping draw America into World War One
4. Tanzania
Twice a month, the MV Liemba's prow slices the waters of Lake Tanganyika along its route from Kigoma, in the north, to Mpulungu at its southern tip. The ship's hull carries people, chickens, beer, pineapples, and a hundred years of history.
Originally commissioned as the Goetzen, the boat was designed and built in a shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. In 1913, it was shipped in pieces across the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, and travelled by train over German East Africa (now Tanzania) to the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
In the lakeside town of Kigoma, the boat was assembled by a local workforce, watched over by three German engineers. At the outbreak of World War One, now armed with guns and soldiers, the Goetzen was set to dominate the lake as a German weapon against British and Belgian fleets. But, despite its enormous size and impressive speed, military setbacks on land meant the Germans were forced to scuttle their own "indestructible" boat, saving the guns and making more soldiers available for the fighting on shore.
The same engineers responsible for its construction were tasked with sending the Goetzen to the bottom of the lake. Six years later, she was raised, re-christened, and re-purposed; it still runs as a passenger ferry, a lifeline for the people living along the waters' edge and a connection to one of the defining periods in world history. 
5. China
The Chinese port city of Tsingtao, modern day Qingdao, came under German rule in 1897. During World War One it was to become the site of a fatal siege and the cause for continuing antagonism in the east for decades.
By the time the war came to Asia, Tsingtao had evolved from a fishing village into a modern city with German infrastructure, schools, and a naval base. It had also become a strategic outpost for Germany on the other side of the globe, and therefore a target for Japanese and British forces, who invaded in 1914.
The Germans were braced for attack. Chinese laborers had been enlisted to build fortifications along the city's steep hills, dig trenches and position artillery. The city came under siege. For two months it was pummelled from land and sea. Bombs rained down from the new weapons of war: aeroplanes. Overwhelmed by force and without sufficient reinforcements, Germany eventually capitulated. An estimated four hundred and fifty men died in the siege, forty of whom were Chinese laborers.
Politically the siege had enormous ramifications. Tsingtao was not returned to Chinese rule, but instead the Japanese victors held on to their territory. After the war, the world powers met in Versailles to negotiate the terms of global peace. Japan refused to relinquish Qingdao and China refused to sign the treaty, setting off a chain of events which lead to war twenty years later. 
6. Malta
The tiny island of Malta earned the nickname the Nurse of the Mediterranean for its unique role in treating more than a hundred thousand casualties of World War One. It was a battleground in the sense that medics found themselves struggling to save vast numbers of soldiers suffering from wounds unlike those seen in previous wars.
Malta famously has a medical tradition that stretches back more than five hundred years. The war brought that tradition right up to date as the island opened the doors of its nearly thirty hospitals to injured allied soldiers pouring in from the front lines.
The very location of Malta, in the middle of the Mediterranean, was an ideal position to receive casualties from fighting in Turkey and Greece. The wounded, many Australian, were brought to the island by hospital ships and hoisted up its steep cliffs to the doctors and nurses waiting for them.
What they saw arriving in their hospitals, however, was unprecedented. World War One was the first industrialized war. It marked the first use of tanks, machine guns, and aeroplanes. With new weaponry came horrific new injuries. Some doctors were adventurous, attempting procedures to treat unfamiliar wounds. But in this time before antibiotics, sepsis was often the ultimate outcome and cause of death. Despite the limitations of medicine at the time, thousands of soldiers passed through the island's care.
Rico says there's always more history...

Zeppelins, and not the band

Jonathan Glancey has a BBC article about airships:
Test flights over California in recent months of the prototype Aeroscraft, the first of a new generation of fully rigid airships, have encouraged a new wave of enthusiasm for a form of aerial transport effectively killed off by the fiery fate of the Hindenburg, the most imposing of all pre-war Zeppelins. This colossal German aircraft burst into flames on 6 May 1937 while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, after a successful Atlantic crossing. Thirty-five of the ninety-seven people on board were killed. The sudden and dramatic end of this supremely elegant German ‘airliner’ was, perhaps, the aerial equivalent of the sinking of the Titanic a quarter of a century earlier.
Remarkably, passengers still requested tickets for transatlantic flights from Germany to the US or South America aboard the Hindenburg’s older sibling, the Graf Zeppelin (photo, above) named after the inventor of these impressive machines that caught the public imagination between the two world wars, and haunt it still. The German government, however, withdrew the Graf Zeppelin, and went on to scrap the ambitious Hindenburg II in 1940. The great sadness of the Lakehurst tragedy lies in the US government’s steadfast refusal to supply foreign countries, including Germany, with non-flammable helium gas. Its substitute, highly flammable hydrogen, ensured the death of those hapless passengers and their crew in 1937. Their fate was caught on sensational cinema newsreels (photo, below) shown around the world, as terrifying to watch today as they were a lifetime ago.
Helium was, and remains, the ideal gas for airships, whether rigid with internal skeletons like the Graf Zeppelin, or deflatable like the ‘blimps’ used for anti-aircraft defense in World War Two and for aerial advertising today. The Germans had no alternative but to inflate the enormous gelatine-coated cotton gas cells inside the lighter-than-air Hindenburg and its sibling Zeppelins with hydrogen. If only the Hindenburg had been born aloft by helium, perhaps we would be cruising around the world today, when not in a hurry, in serene and supremely elegant airships.
Despite the fate of the ill-starred Hindenburg, it is not difficult to see the attraction of the legendary Zeppelins. These long, sleek, silver machines could be beautiful, their design a masterpiece of lightweight construction. They appeared to cruise through the air effortlessly. They could circumnavigate the world, as the Graf Zeppelin did in the summer of 1929, in twenty-one leisurely days. And, they offered the kind of accommodation that makes even the latest jet airliner seem pinched and mean-minded.
At its launch in 1930, the seventy-mph Hindenburg boasted enticing public rooms, snug private cabins, ship-shape crew’s quarters and airy promenades on two decks inside the taut belly of its svelte, streamlined hull. There was a restaurant, lounge, a cocktail bar and, perhaps surprisingly, a smoking room– sealed and pressurized for safety’s sake– alongside twenty-five twin-berth cabins. Furniture and fittings were as light as possible: tubular aluminum dining chairs, white plastic washbasins in the cabins, fabric-covered foam walls. The overall aesthetic was a playful version of Bauhaus design, conceived by the flamboyant architect Fritz August Breuhaus de Groot, well-known for ocean liner interiors and ultra-modern holiday homes for German film stars. The walls were lined with silk painted with scenes depicting great historic voyages, the adventures of the Graf Zeppelin, or charming capriccios of exotic holiday settings. Not for nothing was the Hindenburg described as a ‘hotel in the sky’.
Technically, too, the Hindenburg, which usually took off weighing over two hundred tons, was an advanced design in several ways. Her structure was shaped from rings and struts of lightweight duralumin coated in bright blue protective paint. Her cotton cloth skin was impregnated with aluminium powder to repel radiation and ultra-violet light: it made the airship sparkle. The flight deck was equipped with an early form of autopilot, while the aircraft was able to lift prodigious loads of cargo, mail and luggage, and even passengers’ cars, up and across the Atlantic.
Her engines– four, sixteen-cylinder Daimler-Benz diesels adapted from the latest motor torpedo boats– were each attended by a crew which stayed with them throughout each flight, an ear-splitting job that involved walking out of the hull to the engine pontoons along tiny aluminum catwalks exposed to the elements, out of sight and mind of those quaffing Maybach cocktails in the airship’s well-stocked bar.
The Hindenburg, like every other Zeppelin except the very first, was designed by Dr. Ludwig Durr, who had joined Count Ferdinand Zeppelin in 1900 as an assistant on the development and construction of Luftschiff Zeppelin 1, which made its maiden flight from Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance in July of 1900. Despite early accidents, the revolutionary Zeppelins were soon turned into reliable and attractive machines. In 1909, Zeppelin even founded the world’s first airline.
The Hindenburg remains the largest aircraft ever built. The top of the Empire State Building was intended as a dock for it and other Zeppelins. And then, in World War One, the Zeppelin– intended by its inventor as a harbinger of international peace– was pressed into service with the Imperial German Army and Navy. Soon, the name Zeppelin became one to be feared, as these seemingly impregnable machines rained down bombs on cities stretching from St. Petersburg in Russia to London in England. A new terror had been born: death and destruction of civilian populations and their cities from the air. The development of explosive bullets, fitted to Allied fighters from 1916, however, led to the destruction of what Winston Churchill had mocked as “enormous bladders of combustible and explosive gas”. Of the eighty-four Zeppelins built during the war, sixty were lost to accidents and enemy action.
Between the wars, Britain attempted to develop its own ‘Zeppelins’. Sponsored by the Ministry of Aviation, two giant rigid airships– the government’s own R100 and the R101 developed by a subsidiary of the aircraft manufacturer Vickers and designed by Barnes Wallis, of World War Two ‘bouncing bomb’ fame– were to have commanded the imperial airwaves. But the R100 crashed in France in October of 1930 on its maiden overseas flight, killing all but two of the people on board, including most of her design team and Lord Thomson, the Air Minister responsible for the project. The R101 was broken up soon afterwards.
With Zeppelin back in action, although now with Nazi government support and swastikas on the tails of its aircraft, German airships ruled the skies. And then the Hindenburg went up in flames and, at the end of World War Two, the Zeppelin company folded. Since then, new airships have come and gone, and may yet come again, especially for the distribution of freight, machinery, and emergency supplies in terrains around the world challenging for conventional aircraft.
And yet the dark legend, as well as the sorcery, of the Zeppelin lives on. When, in 1968, the guitarist Jimmy Page announced the formation of a new band, Keith Moon, drummer with The Who, said it would sink like a “lead zeppelin”. Dropping the “a”, so no-one could mispronounce the word, Led Zeppelin burst onto the rock scene with a best-selling first album (photo, above), its sleeve depicting the Hindenburg bursting into flames. Led Zeppelin soared into the rock firmament, yet the rigid airship, despite a number of half-promising new starts, including the Aeroscraft and those by a reformed Zeppelin company, has yet to make its promised comeback. Despite the odds, many of us hope it will.
Rico says that's a ride he'd take...

Into darkness

The BBC has an article about Sylvia Earle and the deepest parts of the ocean:
We know so little about the depths of our oceans that they might as well exist on another planet. The majority of the sea floor has never been visited by humans. As to what lives and feeds and breeds down there in the icy depths, it remains best left to our imagination.
Sylvia Earle, an Explorer in Residence at National Geographic, has been exploring the sea since she was a teenager, and she has been diving since the 1950s. In those early days, as she explored the shallow seas in scuba gear, she was frustrated at not being able to see what was going on in deeper waters: “From the earliest time I had frustration, to go out to the edge of a drop-off, as deep as I could go, and look over, and the fish didn’t stop, the ocean didn’t stop. I wanted to go over the edge and see what was in the deep water beyond. Technology was the key for me to be able to see the ocean with new eyes.”
Earle founded the company Deep Ocean Exploration and Research in order to investigate this world, invisible from the ocean surface. One of the submersibles the company is currently designing is what Earle calls her “dream machine”, a submarine that can take scientists all the way to the bottom of the deepest ocean floor, 11,000 meters beneath the ocean’s surface.
Rico says that Ms. Earle is a contemporary of Rico's father...

Don’t call them “Hawai'ian”

The BBC has an article by Ramsey Qubein about what not to call Hawai'ian shirts:
Think of Hawai'i, and you get images of hula dancers and pristine beaches, but the state capital of Honolulu (photo) is heating up in an entirely new way. As the shock of the 2008 economic crisis wears off, the state’s business scene is becoming the talk of the region.
The Hawai'ian islands inhabit a prime geographic spot between the US and Asia, which means that it is possible to conduct business with both New York City and Singapore in the same calendar day. Honolulu, located on the island of Oahu, has also become a particularly popular for conventions.
"People are travelling to Hawai'i for business because it is the bridge between cultures,” said Kainoa Horcajo, Hawai'ian cultural director at Andaz Maui and former host of the local TEDx conference. “Companies here are respectful of many different cultures, which is a hallmark of our economy."
Understandably, the islands are a hot spot for vacationers, but one look at home carrier Hawai'ian Airlines' growing route map proves that Honolulu's business sector is booming, too. New flights are now bringing business travelers from Beijing in China, Brisbane in Australia, Seoul in South Korea, and Tokyo in Japan.
Airline traffic from Asia, in particular, has soared. The state of Hawai'i, boosted by Honolulu’s popularity, saw a twenty percent boost in arrivals from Asia (excluding Japan, the state's most popular international market).
According to the Hawai'ian Tourism Authority, this is expected to lead to a nearly forty-percent increase in visitors from China alone in 2014. That’s good news for the local economy, as Chinese visitors are proven to spend the most while visiting.
The Hawai'i Convention Center, with its open terraces and lanai (verandas), is within walking distance of Waikiki, the tourist heart of Honolulu where beach hotels and shopping provide a hub of entertainment. The National Medical Association and American Podiatric Medical Association were responsible for drawing four thousand attendees alone in 2014 to the center, which can hold as many as 25,000 people. Other events, including the US-Japan Council annual conference, the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit, and the World System Builder financial services convention, draw visitors from both east and west, solidifying Hawai'i's importance in the Pacific.
Honolulu International Airport (HNL), one of the world’s most refreshing hubs, is located approximately thirteen kilometers northwest of downtown. Numerous bus and shuttle companies take travellers into the city center and directly to their hotels, for as little as fifteen dollars one way, whereas a taxi would set visitors back around thirty-five dollars. One airport feature not to miss is the open-air walkways and tropical gardens that wind their way between terminals. It is not uncommon to see travellers picnicking underneath a palm tree or napping by fragrant flowers in the surprisingly quiet gardens, while others snap photos of the oh-so-close aircraft.
As the fiftieth state of the US, Hawai'ians use the US dollar, but the number of Asian visitors (especially from Japan) is so great that many stores provide their prices in Japanese yen. All major credit cards, including the popular Asian JCB card, are accepted at many locations. Given that this is a remote island chain that relies on imports from the mainland, food prices can be especially high. Expect to pay more than ten dollars for a traditional acai bowl (blended acai berries with fresh fruit and granola) and a small cup of coffee at breakfast.
Hawai'i was once a monarchy with its own language and cultural traditions. Its heritage lives on today, albeit more for tourists than locals. A movement to revive the Hawai'ian language is surfacing, however, and signage is often written in both languages in public areas. While almost all Hawai'i residents speak fluent English, the business language of choice, it is important to remember many of the cultural traditions are still observed today by native Hawai'ians. Respect for those older than you is paramount, as is honoring the land. Collecting souvenirs from the beach, such as seashells or flowers, is considered inappropriate.
When referring to the US mainland in meetings, avoid using the term "the States," since Hawai'i is also a state. The "mainland" or "the continental US" is preferable. Also note that not everyone who lives in Hawai'i is a native. Only ethnically native Hawai'ians are referred to as Hawai'ian. Those born outside of the islands are referred to as locals or simply "being from Hawai'i."
The Halekulani's 453 rooms are set away from the hubbub of the main shopping area, giving business travelers a more quiet stretch of Waikiki Beach. In-room amenities include free wireless internet, bottled wate,r and turndown service with a local souvenir. Long a beacon for the arts, this property offers free tickets to nearby art and cultural attractions including the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and Iolani Palace, which encourages busy guests to explore the city on their downtime.
The 353-room Modern Honolulu, located near the Hawai'i Convention Center, is the city's most recognized fashionable hotel. Free wireless internet is convenient for corporate guests.
Morimoto Waikiki is well-known in business circles for its Japanese fusion cuisine. For a weary road warrior dining alone, this restaurant, located in the Modern Honolulu hotel, boasts a lengthy sushi and sashimi selection. Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who specializes in Asian fusion dishes, is known for his stints on the televised cooking shows Iron Chef and Iron Chef America; he originally planned to be a catcher for a major Japanese baseball team before injuring his shoulder. The restaurant is also a good place to impress clients over Hawai'ian poke (a raw seafood salad similar to ceviche) and Wagyu beef carpaccio before tucking into large bowls of his famous ramen noodles.
For a more authentic taste of Hawai'i, Alan Wong's, located on the third floor of a small Honolulu office building, is a perennial favorite for its convenience to other business offices. Chef Wong experiments with new dishes on a regular basis. The most recent tasting menu brings together island classics such as poached Kona cold lobster and Maui Cattle Company tenderloin, each paired with wine.
Oahu's north shore is often known as its wild side with plentiful opportunity for surfing, hiking and water sport activities with fewer crowds than Honolulu. However, it would be a shame to miss a visit to another of the state's islands, which can be reached in just thirty minutes on any of the flights that operate hourly from Honolulu.
Those who visit Kauai, to the northwest, will find an unspoiled, postcard perfect beauty that lacks the tourist frenzy found on other islands. Outdoor activities vary between ATV rides, coffee and pineapple plantation visits, or helicopter tours to remote waterfalls deep in the lush rainforest and above its black-sand coastline, where passengers may spot humpback whales swimming offshore. Kauai is one of the state's hidden treasures that make it the perfect escape from a harried business meeting or conference in Honolulu.
Given Hawai'i’s unique isolation in the Pacific Ocean, the local government works fiercely to protect the safety of the islands’ natural resources from outside harm. Be sure to declare all fruits, vegetables, and seeds upon arrival. Departing the islands is less stringent, but it is important to inquire about agricultural restrictions before purchasing gifts like flowers, fruit, or meat to take home.
"Leave your business suits at home; they are not needed here, and certainly not for meetings that include the local population,” said Andrew Lockwood, president of the Pacific Islands Institute. You'll be more comfortable, and even feel more creative, in relaxed clothing. And don't call the colorful, short-sleeved shirts Hawai'ian shirts; they are known locally as aloha shirts."
Rico says he has many, and wears them when the weather permits (thus, not currently), but he'll probably still call them Hawai'ian, since no one in Philadelphia knows what aloha means...

GSK hails Ebola breakthrough

The BBC has an article about good news on the Ebola front:
The devastation of the Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa has been one of the most shocking and distressing stories of the year.
Tonight there is a glimmer of hope, the first evidence that a vaccine could be available for health workers and others battling to bring the virus under control. Ultimately, it could mean a vaccine for everyone in areas at risk.
Sir Andrew Witty (photo, top), the chief executive of GSK, told the BBC that new clinical data published tonight was "very encouraging" and that a viable vaccine could be available in the second half of 2015 if early trials continue to provide positive results.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in America has just released the first trial data for the vaccine that GSK is working on in its laboratories in Italy and Belgium.
Twenty adults were tested and an immune response to Ebola was prompted in each of them. The vaccine was also "well tolerated" by each of the people tested.
"It's a very encouraging first signal," Sir Andrew told the BBC. "Whether it's a breakthrough depends on making sure that all the rest of data over the next few weeks and months is in line. But this certainly gives us very significant cause for optimism. We've been looking at a potential Ebola vaccine, we've been looking at its basic safety and whether or not it can generate an immune response in healthy volunteers, and the data is very encouraging. But we need to put it into context; this is a very accelerated development program and this is the first bit of data. It's the first piece of what will be a jigsaw of information that we are going to gather over the next five or six weeks before we move to the next stage. We are busy working out how we scale up manufacturing capacity, so that as we move into the second half of next year we would be in a position to manufacture very large quantities”
Of course, as Witty says, any developments must be kept in perspective and there are a number of other trials still to report this year. Any of those could throw up major problems in the vaccine's progress.
The NIH is certainly encouraged by these initial findings. "The unprecedented scale of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has intensified efforts to develop safe and effective vaccines which may play a role in bringing this epidemic to an end and, undoubtedly, will be critically important in preventing future large outbreaks," said Anthony Fauci, of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Based on these positive results from the first human trial of this candidate vaccine, we are continuing our accelerated plan for larger trials to determine if the vaccine is efficacious in preventing Ebola infection."
Witty said that, if the next series of smaller trials are similarly successful, then a major clinical trial of thousands of health workers in Sierra Leone and Liberia will take place early next year. "If all goes well, the large scale clinical trial will be largely with healthcare workers, burial workers and people who are in close proximity to people with Ebola," Witty said. "If the vaccine works, it will of course be a significant advantage to those workers. If overall that trial is successful, all things being equal, that should move us to a rapid license for that vaccine. We are busy working out how we scale up manufacturing capacity, so that as we move into the second half of next year we would be in a position to manufacture very large quantities; that means millions of doses of the vaccine being available if governments and health authorities felt it necessary to go further than vaccinating health care workers." That means a vaccine could be made available to resident populations in the affected countries.
As well as GSK, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck are also proceeding with trials.
In this emergency situation, the pharmaceutical sector as a whole has been asked by G20 governments and the World Health Organisation to take on a considerable degree of financial and legal risk through this accelerated program.
For example, the program is not going through all the usual stages of a vaccine's development, which would normally take many years. If something does go wrong in the future, the pharmaceutical sector does not want to be the only part of the process exposed to, for example, legal action.
To tackle that, Witty said that GSK is in discussions with governments of the G20, including America and the UK, about an indemnification agreement. "We are not waiting for that to be settled, but it is obvious there are some risks that companies should not be expected to carry on their own," Witty said. "This is a very special circumstance. There is a risk in the development, and it is important to know that organizations like the NIH in America and the European Union are helping to support some of these trial costs, so that is an important contribution and shows good solidarity. In terms of the indemnity risk, those conversations go on; we have a good precedent for this with the pandemic influenza case of three of four years ago." On that occasion, governments agreed to offer GSK indemnities in return for supplies of its flu vaccine.
Witty said that the indemnity issue was not holding back development of the Ebola vaccine. "We take our responsibilities very seriously to make sure that there is good access to our vaccines, even in countries which can't pay very much for it," he said. "It sounds trite but, in a situation like this, you have to do the right thing. It turns out that, on this project, we are the leader in terms of time, and the right thing to do was for us to commit all our energies to make this thing happen. We are doing that; we are taking risks, we are taking financial risks. We have taken decisions without being asked. We've taken decisions without the guarantee of compensation. I think that's the right human response to this crisis. Whether we are a big company or not, we are still humans. We are talking about people's lives here, every day counts, we get that, our employees get that. Our scientists are working around the clock to deliver for those people in those camps."
Today's break-through is another important step on the journey to finding a vaccine against Ebola.
Rico says that GSK is an ex-employer of his, and it's good to see them still at it...


Peter Mucha has an article at Philly.com about Mega Millions being worth 'only' $10,000:
The pre-Thanksgiving drawing in Mega Millions proved to be a real turkey: the highest prize awarded was $10,000, and only a single person won it.
No one matched all the numbers, 10, 11, 29, 47 and 56, with a Mega Ball of 4, so Friday's jackpot will be worth sixty million.
No one matched the first five either, so forget a million or two million dollar winners.
Actually, such stingy results are far from a fluke for Mega Millions. It also happened last Friday. A $10,000 top prize. Just a single winner. And $10,000 was tops five other times since April. The winners even paid an extra buck for the Megaplier, the prize multiplier option. Without the Megaplier, the top prize for any of these dates would have been $5,000, not close to enough for a new car. It's less than the lowest 50/50 prize at any Eagles game this season.
And Mega Millions is played by millions of people in forty-four states and the District of Columbia. In New Jersey, a fairly lottery-happy state, no Mega Millions player has won more than $1,000.
Something is screwy about Mega Millions' prize structure. Naturally, the enormous jackpots are extremely tough to win. Totally understandable. Winning a fortune, after all, is the dream of most Mega Millions players.
The next prize level, though, is also often missed, because the odds, frankly, are horrible.
In Mega Millions, the chances of winning a million are one in about eighteen million.
Compare that to Powerball: about one in five million per $2 ticket, one in ten million per dollar. That helps explain why Powerball regularly produces millionaires and Mega Millions doesn't.
In the last six Mega Millions drawings since the last jackpot winner only one person has won more than $25,000.
Powerball's last six drawings produced sixteen winners of one or two million dollars. Not once was the top winner from the third tier. Not that Powerball's generous with third-tier prizes, either. The base prize is $10,000, which the Power Play can multiply as high as $50,000. You might suspect the third prizes are lousy because every extra penny is funneled into big jackpots. After all, the bigger they get, the more lottery fever whips into a frenzy.
Not entirely. A lot of money is funneled to the bottom of the prize chart, too.
More than one-third of the $2.5 million won Tuesday went into one-dollar prizes without the Megaplier, or two-dollar prizes with it.
But are those prizes, or refunds? Many players probably give it right back by buying more tickets.
One in every 14.7 tickets wins a prize, Mega Millions pitches. Technically true, but only about one in ten thousand dollar tickets will win more than five dollars. If the most you ever won in Mega Millions was five dollars, now you know why.
Rico says that ten grand would be nice right about now, but they're right; he'd rather it had two commas in it...

The last train robbery in Texas

Speaking of taking the train (see the Russian article below), Mark Boardman has an article in True West about the hundredth anniversary of the last Old West-style train robbery in Texas:
The last train robbery in Texas was strange. It started off as a joke and ended up with a trip to Mom’s house.
In his mid-twenties, Willis Newton, a good ol’ boy from the Uvalde area, was a few years away from forming the famed Newton Gang with his three brothers. As he told the story some sixty years later (published as The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang), Willis had nearly spent all the money he had earned picking cotton. In December of 1914, he jokingly told his buddy Red: “Let’s go down to South Texas and rob a train.”
The pair headed toward Willis’ old stomping grounds, armed with a cheap pistol and two stolen Winchesters. Just before Christmas, they missed their chance to rob a train near Cline, but, on 30 December 1914, their target pulled in at the Cline freight house at around 2:30 am. Wearing masks made from the linings of their overcoats, the two climbed onto the rear car and began robbing the passengers as the train rolled out of the station.
The first man they stuck up was the Southern Pacific’s superintendent. The bandits got only forty dollars from him. They left single women alone, but everybody else was fair game. Many passengers were asleep; some were in Pullman berths shielded by privacy curtains. Not understanding that people were behind those curtains (Willis thought they were privies), the outlaws missed out on an estimated thousands of dollars.
After the pair had gone car to car, they pulled the cord, stopped the train near Spofford, and began their escape to Willis’ mother’s home in Crystal City, which, over the prickly pear flats, was about fifty miles southeast. They didn’t cover their tracks. In fact, the boys killed and cooked a steer en route, even though the fire or the smell could have given them away.
About two days later, they got to Momma Newton’s home. They split five thousand dollars, the most money either of them had ever seen. When they didn’t get caught, the take tasted even sweeter.
Brothers Dock, Jess, and Joe joined Willis on the outlaw trail. Between 1919 and 1924, the Newton Boys allegedly held up eighty-seven banks and six trains. Their swan song was a 1924 train stickup in Rondout, Illinois, just outside Chicago, in which the gang got about three million dollars and sent to prison.
They later rekindled their fame with a documentary filmed in 1975, and a 1980 appearance by Joe on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. A 1998 film starring Matthew McConaughey further burnished the legend of the Newton Gang.
The story got its real start, though, a hundred years ago, when Willis jokingly suggested robbing a train, and then went home to Mom.
Rico says another bunch of idiot criminals, who got away with it for a long time...

Westerns for the day

Rico says that, yes, he does like Westerns, and hopes you do, too; some of these are great, and some are terrible, but you'll have to watch 'em to find out which is which:

John Wayne for the day

The song in Rico's head

Rico says that, because it's Thanksgiving, and the ladyfriend was using all the same spices:

and because (to Rico at least) it sounds the same:

26 November 2014

Space for the day

Jack Linsh has a Time article about new technology in an unlikely place:
The first 3-D printer in space has borne its first object, NASA said recently, and it’s a bit self-fulfilling.
The object, a replacement faceplate for the printer’s casing that holds its internal wiring in place, is one of about twenty objects that will be printed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) over the coming weeks, the space agency said. The objects will then be sent down to Earth for analysis, the final step in testing the 3-D printer before establishing a permanent 3-D printing facility aboard the space station.
“This is the first time we’ve ever used a 3-D printer in space, and we are learning, even from these initial operations,” said Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the ISS’ 3-D printer. Creating the faceplate demonstrated how the printer is able to make replacement parts for itself, the agency added. “As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing.”
Before its launch in June to the ISS, the 3-D printer had successfully completed a series of tests evaluating its ability to withstand take-off forces and to function properly in zero gravity. The goal is to create spare parts and tools to make the ISS less dependent on expensive resupply ships, in addition to improving crew safety.
Rico says some things are amazing...

Lives of famous writers

StumbleUpon has an article about crazy writers:

1. Virginia WoolfNotable works: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway
Woolf was a famous writer known for her “stream of consciousness” style of writing— basically an unorganized ramble of thoughts, unintelligible to most. Her life story is also a famous one. She went insane, and would talk for days on end without stopping, as if voicing her inner stream of consciousness. She suffered from severe bipolar disorder and had a number of mental breakdowns throughout her life. At age 59, she filled her coat with stones, jumped into a river, and drowned.
2. William ShakespeareNotable works: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth
Shakespeare is known for his plays and his legendarily romantic sonnets. You’d expect the famous writer of works so rich with passionate love to be some sort of passionate lover himself, right? Well, his love life was certainly scandalous, if not strictly loving.
Shakespeare, at the age of 18, impregnated a woman eight years his senior, Anne Hathaway, so they got married. Shortly afterwards, Shakespeare moved to London and lived without her.
3. Sylvia PlathNotable works: Ariel, The Bell Jar
Plath was a famous writer of poems, as well as a novelist. For most of her life, she suffered from depression, when, at eight years old, her father passed away. At just thirty years old, she committed suicide by putting her head in an oven.
Her troubled experiences are expressed in her semi-biographical novel, The Bell Jar. It’s a story about a beautiful young woman, bursting with potential who slowly falls to insanity. It’s shocking, gripping, and emotional — and a haunting insight to Plath's own life.
4. Ernest HemingwayNotable works: The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises
Though his legacy in American literature is well known, few know that this famous writer had a family history of mental illness.  He became extremely paranoid and certain that the government was keeping tabs on him. He was treated with electroconvulsive therapy; basically, electric shock “treatments”. During these series of treatments, he begged his wife not to let him go back for another bout, because he’d lost so much memory after each.
Shortly afterwards, this celebrated famous writer put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. And then it was revealed that the FBI really was tailing him.
5. Charles DickensNotable works: A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist
We know him for his provocative tales, masterly writing, and creativity — but do you really know how far his imagination stretched? This famous writer was a member of The Ghost Club. It’s a club for the investigation of paranormal activity; they talked about ghosts, looked for ghosts, performed “investigations” for ghosts. Imagine putting that on your resume. Needless to say, Dickens was quite the supernatural nerd.
Rico says he knew about Hemingway and Plath, but the others were a surprise...

Siberian passengers: get out and push

Buzzfeed has an article by Francis Whittaker about the state of Russian air travel:
Many people are used to giving their cars a push start in freezing temperatures, but it really takes some effort to give the same treatment to a 61,640-pound, 122-foot-long passenger jet in temperatures of -62 degrees.
That’s exactly what 74 passengers had to do Wednesday in Igarka, located some 163 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the Krasnoyarsk region of Russia, when they joined a seven-strong crew in shifting a Tupolev Tu-134 from the frozen ground with their bare hands.
Having spent over 24 hours on the tarmac, the plane’s breaking system had frozen solid, Tass.Ru reported.
The passengers lined up on both wings, and gave an almighty heave before the UTair jet was free.
A spokesperson for UTair said: “The passengers disembarked to lighten the weight, and then they volunteered to move it,” RT reported.
Oksana Gorbunova, of West Siberia’s transport prosecution department, told Tass.ru: “In air temperatures as low as -52 degrees Celsius, its braking system got jammed. The tug-truck failed to get the plane moving so friendly passengers agreed to help and they soon safely left for home.”
Prosecutors are now probing the incident.
According to Tass.ru, one of the passengers (all of whom were rotation workers in the oil industry) said: “Several things that make a real man’s life worth living: Writing a book, planting a tree, or at least bracing one’s muscles to help an immobilized passenger plane take to the skies.”
Rico says he wonders how you say 'fuck this, I'm taking the train' in Russian?

Greyhound routes in 1935

Slate has an article by Rebecca Onion about old-time travel:
A 1935 promotional map for Pacific Greyhound (above) shows the long reach of the bus company, when its regular schedules were combined with routes of regional affiliates. Printed a few decades after the founding of the company that would become Greyhound, the map shows how quickly Americans took to the idea of interstate bus service.
In a history of Greyhound published in Mental Floss, Gary Belsky writes that it was an older transit industry— the railroads— that gave buses a lift in the 1920s. Analyzing a post-World War One dip in ticket sales, railroads found that people who would previously have ridden a train were either buying cars or, if they couldn’t afford a train ticket, taking regional buses. By investing in buses and combining routes, railroad companies retained passengers.
During the 1930s, appearances of Greyhound buses in popular culture put the mode of travel in the public eye. In It Happened One Night, characters played by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert meet on a Greyhound bus. While the pair’s experience was sometimes less than smooth (in one scene, the coach gets mired in the mud), the romantic tone of the movie made travel on a Greyhound look appealing. The border of this map, featuring the notable attractions of the United States represented in dignified black and white, echoes this positive vision of bus travel. 
Rico says that cheaper cars and the Interstates pretty much blew buses away by the 1970s, though Rico and his friend Christopher Montalbano used to take the bus when going up to Usal...

Quote for the day

"I believe there's a very special place in Hell for men that rape twelve- and fourteen-year-old girls."
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams

Another idiot pervert

Dana DiFillipo has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about a guy going to jail:
He bragged to friends about the girls he "banged", showing them pornographic pictures on his cellphone. He let loose his lust at work, locking the conference room doors for illicit, paid trysts in front of windows overlooking Center City. He even offered baked treats made by his wife to his favorite escort and discussed his daughters with her.
But, worst of all, Brian Meehan's conquests were teenage girls forced into prostitution, and he was a prominent Center City attorney introduced to them by clients, according to a Philadelphia investigating grand jury.
Meehan, 56, of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, turned himself in to police yesterday after grand jurors indicted him for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, promoting prostitution of a minor, and related crimes. Investigators say he paid for sex with a fourteen-year-old girl many times in his law offices at One Penn Center and once confessed to her that his youngest conquest was just twelve years old.
The girl, now sixteen, and four others between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, were part of a sex-trafficking scheme run by a man and woman from Germantown, who Meehan had represented in past cases, District Attorney Seth Williams said during a news conference yesterday.
The duo kept the teens hostage in a home on Harvey Street near Concord and delivered them to johns for sex, Williams said. The fourteen-year-old, who was prostituted to more than twenty men a week in Philadelphia, was later sold to other traffickers in Camden and Georgia, according to the grand-jury report.
"I believe there's a very special place in hell for men like Brian Meehan that rape twelve- and fourteen-year-old girls," Williams said.
Meghan Goddard, an assistant district attorney who specializes in family violence and sexual assault, agreed: "He practiced law by day and bought an underage girl by night. This arrest shows that the underground world of human trafficking is fueled by predators from all walks of life. It also shows that investigators will punish those who not only force girls into prostitution, but the men who buy them."
Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, confirmed that the Germantown pair has been arrested and remain in custody. But she and Williams declined to release their names or information about other offenders, saying an indicting grand jury, the FBI, and authorities in Camden and Georgia continue to investigate the scheme and revealing too many details will imperil those probes. More arrests are expected, Williams added.
The fourteen-year-old victim who testified against Meehan told grand jurors that she lived just a few blocks away from the Germantown duo, who "recruited" her for sex work in March of 2012 but held her hostage in their home for a month, bullying her with physical abuse and threats. Her family reported her missing on 2 March 2012.
The pair sold her for several hundred dollars to a man in Camden, Pennsylvania, where she sought hospital treatment in April of 2012 for severe vaginal injuries she suffered from sexual abuse, according to the grand-jury report. The report doesn't reveal which hospital, nor whether staff there reported the abuse. But investigators later determined the girl gave staffers a fake name, the report notes.
After returning to the Germantown couple, another pimp took her to Georgia, where she lived for a year, and where Federal authorities identified her as a human-trafficking victim. They alerted Philadelphia's Special Victims Unit, whose detectives had been investigating trafficking claims about the Harvey Street home since April of 2012.
Meehan is the only alleged john arrested so far, Jamerson said, mostly because he's the only one whose full name and workplace his alleged victim knew.
Investigators searching his office last month found semen stains on a couch, chairs, and the floor in the firm's conference room, according to the grand-jury report. They discovered hundreds of pornographic websites in Meehan's smartphone history, including at least 35 featuring videos of teens, according to the grand-jury report.
Meehan's firm did not return a request for comment, and it appears he no longer works there.
Fortunato Perri, who represents Meehan, couldn't be reached.
Rico says if there isn't a 'special place in Hell' for assholes like this, there should be...

Winter coming

Ben Finley has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the weather:
If you were looking for a last-minute excuse to stay home on Thanksgiving, Wednesday's forecast could be a rock-solid justification.
Anywhere from one to eight inches of snow is expected to drape the Philadelphia region on the busiest travel day of the year, when AAA predicts more than a half-million area residents will hit the roads.
A nor'easter will first bring overnight wind and rain, which will be heavy at times, before dumping wet snow as soon as late Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said. The northern and western parts of the region will be the hardest hit.
"It'll be a slow travel day, I think, for a lot of people," said meteorologist Gary Szatkowski. "Patience will be an important commodity."
Philadelphia International Airport warned travelers that flights "may be impacted."
Department of Transportation officials urged drivers to alter their travel plans to avoid the storm, which is expected to be at its heaviest between 9 am and 3 pm. Les Toaso, PennDot's District Six executive, promised that his four-hundred-plus plow-and-salt trucks are prepared.
On Tuesday afternoon, PennDot workers were busy readying Montgomery County's fleet. They appeared relaxed and said they were confident that they and the region's travelers would be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner well rested and with their families.
"It's a break-in storm," said Doug Heichel, a cigarette hanging from his mouth as he helped affix a plow to his truck. "After last winter, it can't be nothing."
PennDot has been preparing for the storm since Monday morning, when the train-whistle ringtone on Bill Zilen's phone began a barrage of alerts about the impending storm and the status of Montgomery County's fleet of trucks.
When the PennDot equipment manager went to bed that night, his wife asked him to turn off the phone. Not a chance, he said. "She knows the drill," he said with a laugh. "We've been married almost twenty years by now." Zilen (photo) said he expects to finish clearing the storm or even heading home by midnight. "This is nothing," he said. "We've done this. It's just another day pushing the snow to the side of road."
Rico says he's not looking forward to it...

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