30 September 2015


Rico says that Amy on The Big Bang Theory used to be Blossom:

Quote for the day

Sherlock Holmes to Watson in Darkest Gold by L.B. Greenwood in Murder in Baker Street:
'Karl Barker, whose ethics and morals were left in the Lost Luggage department of life very early in his career.'

Old tree, freshly fallen

Rico says the fiancée's daughter will be spending the night elsewhere with her husband and babies after this...

Joaquin's not coming, it seems

The Slatest has an article by Eric Holthaus about bad weather on its way:
The National Hurricane Center's late-morning update to Hurricane Joaquin's forecast now has the storm aimed squarely at the East Coast, with the center just offshore the Delmarva Peninsula on Monday morning. It also includes a must-read "key messages" section that emphasizes the uncertainty in the current forecast: basically, all options are still on the table, but the characteristically deliberate NHC seems increasingly on board with an East Coast landfall.
Over the past thirty-six hours, a deeply troubling trend has emerged in this week’s weather forecast: in addition to the torrential rainfall currently impacting much of the East Coast, it’s looking increasingly likely that a major hurricane could also be headed toward land on Saturday or Sunday.
The area of most intense concern for Hurricane Joaquin is the mid-Atlantic, from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to New Jersey. The current worst-case scenario: many weather models have been homing in on the possibility of a Hurricane Sandy–like hard left turn into North Carolina, Virginia, or the Delmarva Peninsula, which could produce enormous impact in Washington, DC; this is similar to the scenario mapped out in a 2007 Washingtonian article that imagined a Category 3 hurricane entering the Chesapeake Bay and flooding the National Mall with saltwater.
While that disaster is unlikely to occur with Joaquin, it’s worth considering, which feels shocking to say, since this storm wasn’t even on many meteorologists’ radar two days ago. The most likely scenario at this point is an East Coast hurricane landfall, though it’s still too soon to say exactly where. There’s also still a slim and narrowing chance the storm could dawdle near the Bahamas long enough to be shunted safely out to sea.
Because of the storm’s quick growth and the complex overall weather pattern, there is still a high level of uncertainty in the forecast. Wednesday morning’s official forecast track from the National Hurricane Center shows Joaquin remaining further offshore than virtually every weather model, a necessary hedge for what still is a very tough forecast. On Twitter, NHC director Rick Knabb wrote: “Until models are consistently in better agreement, the direct impacts, if any, of Joaquin on the US are very uncertain.”
The NHC’s hedging is due almost entirely to one model— the European one— which, while historically the most accurate when it comes to forecasting hurricanes, is also currently an outlier: it shows Joaquin being shunted out toward Bermuda after a close brush with the Bahamas. That doesn’t mean the European model is wrong, but it does mean significant weight should be given to the fact that virtually every other independent model shows a dangerous landfall somewhere on the East Coast. Only one of the twenty submodels in the Global Forecast System’s forecast shows Joaquin remaining safely out at sea.
But what’s increasingly clear is the atmospheric and oceanic environments supporting Joaquin are becoming nearly ideal for rapid strengthening— very low wind shear is forecast, which should help create a symmetric and darkly beautiful major hurricane over the next two or three days, fueled by very warm tropical waters near the Bahamas. In fact, water temperatures near Joaquin are currently at all-time record levels and could easily support a Category 5 hurricane if all other factors align.
Some weather models, like the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting and the GFS— the two flagship models of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration— have consistently showed that’s not such a far-fetched scenario. A high-end Category 3 or 4 is now likely for Joaquin at its peak, which would pack sustained winds of more than a hundred mph and generate a large storm surge should Joaquin make landfall, and fifty-foot waves even if it doesn’t. As it approaches the US coastline, Joaquin is likely to weaken to around a Category 2.
Even if Joaquin somehow avoids a US landfall, it’s going to rain a lot in a lot of cities over the next few days. This morning’s GFS model shows a ridiculous two feet or more of rain possible over the Carolinas by Monday. 
Rico says it looks like we won't have to water the plants next week...

California history for the day

Laura Holson has an article in The New York Times about a troublesome priest:
A group of teenagers huddled at the foot of a statue of Junípero Serra (photo) at the Carmel Mission in Carmel, California, there to pay homage to the Spaniard who helped colonize California in the eighteenth century. Only a day earlier, vandals had toppled the six-foot figure and doused it with paint, writing “saint of genocide” on a nearby triangle of stone. But now the statue was upright and scrubbed clean for visitors.
Catholic Church officials said the vandalism was the first of its kind at the mission, timed to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, during which he elevated Father Serra to sainthood at a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The attack also came just hours before parishioners planned to honor Father Serra, a revered former Carmel resident whose celebrity attracts thousands of tourists each year to this quiet hamlet along Monterey Bay.
The police continue to investigate what they have called a hate crime. And the episode threatens to inflame a decades-old wound between the Roman Catholic Church and Native Americans who contend that Father Serra was more oppressor than saint. Historians agree that he forced Native Americans to abandon their tribal culture and convert to Christianity, and that he had them whipped and imprisoned and sometimes worked or tortured to death.
In the vandalism case, there are, so far, no suspects, and no group has claimed responsibility, said an investigator on the case, Sergeant Luke Powell of the city’s police force.
A security camera that might have identified the intruders was not working when the vandalism occurred, Powell said. A private guard hired to patrol the grounds told the police that he had not seen or heard a disturbance. And to complicate matters, Powell said, parishioners and others walked through the crime scene, making even the paint cans left by the vandals useless as evidence.
Visitors and mission representatives sought healing this week, while Native American tribal members who opposed Father Serra’s sainthood sought to distance themselves from the desecration, fearing a backlash. Pope Francis, after all, had praised the missionary as “one of the founding fathers of the United States”, someone who sacrificed a great deal to spread the gospel of Christianity in America. And, as America’s first Latino saint, Father Serra holds particular appeal in this state, where Latinos are the dominant ethnic group.
But not everyone is a fan. “I am against Serra being made a saint,” said Louise J. Miranda Ramirez, tribal chairwoman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, which represents Native American tribal members from the coast of Central and Northern California. “But just because we objected to the canonization, that doesn’t mean we did it.”
The Reverend Bob Brady, a Franciscan priest who lives in Oakland, California and attended Mass at the mission on Monday, said one of the priests there had described the vandalism “as a punch in the gut”. He added of the vandals: “This came from someone’s pain, and they need to know of our forgiveness.”
Father Serra was born in 1713 on the Spanish island of Majorca and came to California in 1768, wielding his influence not only to convert Native Americans to Christianity, but also to bolster Spain’s economic and political interests. In 1770, he founded Carmel Mission, the second of California’s twenty-one missions, which served as centers of cattle and grain production in addition to being hubs for the expansion of Catholicism. Father Serra’s motto, which is printed on water bottles and other souvenirs sold in the gift shop, was “Always go forward and never turn back.”
Most Californians agree that colonization came at a price. Thousands of Native Americans died after being exposed to European diseases. Those who survived were forced to give up tribal customs and submit to the demands of their Christian overlords— from observing rites like baptism to enduring physical abuse and working conditions that resembled slavery.
For many Native Americans, Miranda Ramirez said, the colonization of California was tantamount to genocide. Villagers were rounded up, shackled, or flogged if they failed to follow the missionaries’ Catholic code. Steven W. Hackel, a history professor at the University of California at Riverside, and the author of Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father, wrote in his book that the newly-canonized saint was both a visionary and an imperialist whose attitudes reflected the era in which he lived.
The spread of Christianity in California was as much a governing force as spiritual practice. According to the website of the California Missions Resource Center, Spanish conquerors had promising results backing missionaries who settled areas in the American Southwest and the Río de la Plata region of Latin America. Missionaries taught school and farming and imposed what they believed to be societal order.
During a trip to Bolivia in July of 2015, Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, spoke of the subjugation of local cultures by Catholics, saying “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” But that has done little to sway the attitudes of Native Americans here.
Last Wednesday, several hundred people gathered in the mission courtyard to watch the canonization Mass on a live broadcast from Washington. As the Pope named Father Serra a saint, bells clanged from a tower. Twenty feet away, about two dozen Native Americans had gathered in a cemetery containing the remains of forebears who had worked at the mission, their graves adorned by rows of stones, wooden crosses, and plate-size abalone shells.
Jewel Gentry, the California missions coordinator for the Diocese of Monterey, said the tribal gatherers were welcome. “It’s a sacred space to both Christian people and Native Americans,” he said.
But in the early hours of Saturday, not long before the parishioners planned to celebrate Father Serra’s canonization with a Mass and barbecue, vandals climbed over one of the low stone walls that flank the mission, Sergeant Powell said. There they found an unlocked utility closet containing buckets of dark green and eggshell-colored paint. After toppling and painting the statue, the vandals wandered over to a sign with Father Serra’s name on it and wrote: “This man is responsible for genocide. Greed is evil.” (The sign has been removed, Powell said.) Paint was also splattered on the basilica’s front doors and on two Christian headstones in the graveyard.
The vandalism was discovered when a priest went to open the basilica for an early Mass. According to a spokeswoman for the mission, priests at the morning Masses asked parishioners to help clean the courtyard, and posted a note on Facebook seeking other volunteers. Townspeople brought sponges, buckets, cleanser, and a pressure washer to remove as much of the paint as possible before 11 am, when the Mass to celebrate the canonization was scheduled to start. The evidence was mostly gone by Monday, except for random spatters and a patch of dry paint on the ground below the statue.
“It was devastating,” said Rudy Rosales, a former tribal chairman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, who is Catholic and tends the Native American graves in the mission cemetery. “I can’t think of someone doing this. Three-quarters of our tribe is Catholic.” He said he neither supported nor opposed the canonization of Father Serra, although it has angered some in his tribe. “I’ve had Indians call me a Mission-token Indian,” he said, adding, “Everyone has been through so much.”
On Monday, the paint splatters in the dirt were a momentary curiosity for the teenage pilgrims, students from Thomas More School in San Jose, California. They formed two lines and walked into the basilica singing Salve Regina, their lilting voices reverberating against the walls. Boys and girls, some wearing lace veils and carrying rosary beads, whispered Hail Marys, while a priest blessed them with a relic, a splinter of the coffin Father Serra was buried in.
The Reverend Gerard Hogan, the school chaplain, said of the vandalism: We were sad to see that.” He wondered, “If you sense an injustice, why would you seek an injustice as payback?”
Rico says that, as ever, it depends on whose ox is being gored: valiant saint, or evil conquistador...

History for the day

On 30 September 1938, British, French, German, and Italian leaders agreed at a meeting in Munich, Germany that Nazi Germany would be allowed to annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.

Rico says that that worked out well... (Yes, sarcasm.)

Almost made it

The BBC has an article about a guy who almost got away:
A man wanted on suspicion of kidnapping and torturing two women in Oregon has been arrested in Mexico after more than 24 years on the run.
Paul Erven Jackson (photo), 45, was arrested by Mexican immigration authorities at a hotel in Guadalajara, where he had been living and working under a new name.
After Jackson was featured on CNN's The Hunt, a viewer provided a tip-off to police which led to his arrest.
He and his brother kidnapped and abused two prostitutes, police say. Jackson and his older brother, Vance Roberts, were arrested in 1990 but, a year later, disappeared after they were bailed out of prison by their mother.
Roberts gave himself up to police in 2006 and was sentenced to over a hundred years in prison for kidnap, rape, sodomy, and sexual abuse.
His brother, who has also been featured several times on America's Most Wanted, is now behind bars in Los Angeles, California awaiting charges.
"We always follow up with everything we get, and this one turned out to be it, so we're very happy," said Deputy US Marshal Eric WahlstromJackson was living in Mexico under the name Paul Bennett Hamilton, Wahlstrom said. No further details about his life there were disclosed.
His first alleged victim was a twenty-year-old who was kidnapped in 1988 and then driven to his brother's home west of Portland. She said at the trial of Vance Roberts that she was sexually abused for a week, chained to a bed, and treated like a sex slave.
Two years later, the brothers allegedly struck again. But the second victim, seventeen, escaped her handcuffs and jumped through the window of Roberts' home before reporting the men to police.
Rico says some guys got serious problems about women...

Stupid religious behavior for the day

The BBC has an article about carrying religious beliefs too far:
A fifty-year-old man in northern India has been killed in a mob lynching, allegedly over rumors that his family had been storing and consuming beef at home.
Mohammad Akhlaq (photo) was kicked and beaten with stones by a group of men in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh state.
Akhlaq's twenty-year-old son was also seriously injured in the attack, and has been admitted to a hospital.
Six people have been arrested in connection with the incident. Police are probing who spread the rumor.
Slaughter of cows is a sensitive issue in India, as the animal is considered sacred by Hindus, who comprise eighty percent of the country's billion-plus people.
Uttar Pradesh is among a number of Indian states who have tightened laws banning cow slaughter and the sale and consumption of beef. The beef ban has also provoked outrage, with many questioning how the government decides what is on their plate.
Akhlaq's family said the family had stored mutton, and not beef, in their fridge. The police have taken the meat and sent it for testing, reports said.
"Some locals spread rumors that Akhlaq had cow meat at his home and engaged in cow slaughter. Following the rumors, they attacked his home," senior local official NP Singh told The Indian Express newspaper.
Senior police official Kiran S told the AFP news agency that the "announcement about the family consuming beef was made at a local temple".
The incident happened in a village, barely thirty miles away from the Indian capital, Delhi, where Akhlaq, a farm worker, lived with his family.
His eighteen-year-old daughter Sajida told the newspaper that a "group of more than a hundfed people from the village" reached the house on Monday night. "They accused us of keeping cow meat, broke down our doors, and started beating my father and brother. My father was dragged outside the house and beaten with bricks," she said. "We had come to know later that an announcement had been made from the temple about us eating beef. There was some mutton in the fridge. The police have taken it for examination."
Reports said local villagers, protesting against the arrests, had clashed with the police, and damaged a number of vehicles.
Eleven states, including Uttar Pradesh, and two union territories (Federally-administered regions) in India ban slaughter of cows, calves, bulls, and bullocks.
Rico says if you're gonna lynch a guy over a steak, he suggests you do not try it in Texas... (And killing cows is bad, but sheep? No problem...)

There are, of course, people, even in India, with opposing views, as the BBC notes:
Indians expressing outrage that beef has been banned in the state of Maharashtra have generated one of the world's top trending hashtags.
India has a contradictory relationship with beef. It's a secular country where many eat the red meat, but Hindus, who comprise eighty percent of India's population, revere cows, leading many parts of India to place restrictions on beef. But ever since Maharashtra, one of the country's largest states, with Mumbai as its capital, imposed an especially stringent beef ban, the hashtag #BeefBan has soared up Twitter's trending charts. It has become one of the most used terms on the network across the world, appearing more than twenty thousand times in less than 24 hours.
Much of the conversation was critical of the decision, and tweets laced with sarcasm appeared in abundance. "Eat what we tell you to eat. Watch what we tell you to watch. Wear what we tell you to wear. Don't complain. We are a democracy. #BeefBan," was a typical example. Others used it to flag what they saw as hypocrisy in the decision. "Now ban all these please," another said, posting a picture of all the products in which cattle are used.
Some made dark jokes to highlight other social problems facing the country, like the series of high profile rape cases. "Good to know a cow can now step out after dark and wear what she likes," wrote comedian Neeti Palta.
The overwhelming weight of opinion expressed on social media was in opposition to the ban. That may suggest that liberal voices are more dominant online, however, not that the decision is unpopular. Most tweets were published in the urban areas around Mumbai and New Delhi. Still, a distinct segment of the conversation did show support for the move. "As a Hindu, I fully support #BeefBan. Killing or instigating to kill any living creature is a sin," said one tweet. Indeed, vegetarians calling for the ban to be extended to other animals joined the debate in numbers.
Discussion of the ban dominated Reddit's India subforum, making up the top four discussion topics. Humor seemed to be the order of the day. "In addition to a weed guy and booze guy, I now have to find a beef guy?" said one comment.

Tesla for the day

The BBC has an article by its North America technology reporter, Dave Lee,  about the latest from Tesla from the launch event:
Silicon Valley electric car-maker Tesla has launched its third model to date, a sports-utility vehicle distinguished by its double-hinged "falcon wing" rear doors (photo), which unfurl themselves upwards to help parents put their children inside.
The Model X was unveiled nearly two years later than originally scheduled.
The firm's chief executive, Elon Musk, acknowledged that the "difficulty in engineering" some of the parts involved had been greater than originally expected.
The car can fit seven people and can travel about 250 miles on a single charge.
However, analysts say its price, which runs as high as $144,000, is expected to temper demand. Tesla has said it plans to unveil a lower-cost vehicle in 2017.
Electric car-maker Tesla has launched its long-awaited Model X, which has a "bio-weapon defense" system and double-hinged doors that open upwards.
It is the third vehicle produced by the firm, and was unveiled nearly two years later than originally planned.
The firm, which has yet to make a full-year profit, said about 25,000 people had pre-ordered the car.
Analysts say the Model X should be a success because it will be seen as a status symbol.
"I think we got a little carried away with the X," acknowledged Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk at the launch in Fremont, California. "There is far more there than is really necessary to sell a car. And some of the things are so difficult, they make the car better, but the difficulty of engineering those parts is so high."
One expert suggested the model filled a gap in the market.
"If Tesla's going to be a more significant player, they need more products and SUVs are what the market is demanding," said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at the car buying site AutoTrader.com.
The sports utility vehicle (SUV) can fit seven people at a time. Its "falcon-wing" doors open upwards and use sensors to help them clear obstacles, such as garage ceilings. The company suggests this will make it easier to put young children in car seats without hitting their heads on the roof.
The biohazard button activates the air filtration system, which fills the cabin with "medical-grade air".
The Model X also features a panoramic windshield that extends overhead, which Musk said was the largest single piece of glass ever used in a car.
Tesla says the vehicle, which has two electric motors, can travel about 250 miles on a single charge and features automatic functions that bring it "ever closer to autonomous operation".
It will be continuously improved, Tesla says, via software transmitted "over the air".
An update expected within the next month should enable an auto-pilot function, allowing the cars to be driven hands-free on motorways.
The Model X is priced as high as $144,000, and Tesla expects the pre-orders will take between eight months and a year to fulfill.
The company has not disclosed pricing for the base model, but Musk said that in the future there would be a "lower-cost" version. 
Analysis by Theo Leggett, auto industry reporter:
For Tesla, it's vital the Model X is a success. But the company may already have left an indelible mark on the motor industry.
The vehicle looks a bit Back to the Future, but there's little that's retro about it.
It comes equipped with a range of hi-tech gizmos, not least radar and sonar systems to enable what the company calls "advanced autopilot features".
It's a crossover SUV, which is what upmarket consumers seem to be looking for these days, particularly in the US.
Clearly, Tesla wants to boost its sales. And it needs to; it's still racking up losses. But the company has already proved its point. It has shown that electric cars can be fast, have a decent range and look, well, quite sexy.
At the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, both Audi and Porsche unveiled striking electric sports car concepts. They're not in production yet, but they do show what the carmakers think the future holds. It seems Tesla has worried them.
The Model X is the third vehicle to unveiled by the company. Its first was the Roadster sports car - which is no longer in production, and its second the Model S saloon.
The firm has pledged to make its next vehicle, the Model 3, lower cost. It is due to be revealed in 2017.
The company hopes to disrupt the car market by demonstrating that vehicles with electric motors do not need to compromise on speed or handling.
The Model X, Musk said, "gives us a cashflow stream we can use to develop and facilitate" production and development.
In August of 2015, Musk said Tesla would make about fifty thousand Model S and Model X vehicles this year, and would have the capacity to roll over sixteen hundred vehicles off its production lines per week next year. 
Rico says he's still hoping his father buys one some day...

1954: USS Nautilus commissioned

On 30 September 1954, The USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, was commissioned by the Navy.
The Nautilus was constructed under the direction of Captain Hyman G. Rickover, a brilliant Russian-born engineer who joined the US atomic program in 1946. In 1947, he was put in charge of the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program and began work on an atomic submarine. Regarded as a fanatic by his detractors, Rickover succeeded in developing and delivering the world’s first nuclear submarine years ahead of schedule. In 1952, the Nautilus‘ keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman, and on 21 January 1954, Mamie Eisenhower broke a bottle of champagne across its bow as it was launched into the Thames River at Groton, Connecticut. Commissioned on 30 September 1954, it first ran under nuclear power on the morning of 17 January 1955.
Much larger than the diesel-electric submarines that preceded it, the Nautilus stretched over three hundred feet and displaced over three thousand tons. It could remain submerged for almost unlimited periods, because its atomic engine needed no air and only a very small quantity of nuclear fuel. The uranium-powered nuclear reactor produced steam that drove propulsion turbines, allowing the Nautilus to travel underwater at speeds in excess of twenty knots.
In its early years of service, the USS Nautilus broke numerous submarine travel records and, in August of 1958, accomplished the first voyage under the geographic North Pole. After a career spanning 25 years and almost a half million miles steamed, the Nautilus was decommissioned on 3 March 1980. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, the world’s first nuclear submarine went on exhibit in 1986 as the Historic Ship Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut (photo).

Future Martian habitats

Gizmodo has an article by Maddie Stone about space igloos, lava tubes, and Hobbit holes:
The discovery of liquid water on Mars is great news for would-be settlers, but we’ll need more than H2O if we actually want to live there. The only cost-effective way for humans to colonize the Red Planet is for us to start building infrastructure out of local materials. I’m talking rovers made of Martian metals and greenhouses built on Martian cement. A series of fascinating new designs are helping NASA imagine what that locally-sourced space colony could look like.
Earlier this year, NASA and America Makes challenged Mars enthusiasts to design 3D printed habitats for future astronauts. After a four-month submission period, thirty design competition finalists were selected and displayed at the New York Maker Faire this past weekend. There, teams were judged based on their architectural concept and design approach, in addition to the habitability, functionality and constructibility of the concept using 3D printing. The top two design teams took home a $25,000 and $15,000 prize, respectively. 
Let’s have a look at some of the wonderfully weird habitats that creative, space-addled minds have dreamt up: 
The Space Igloo of Your DreamsIf you can’t beat the cold and, trust me, on Mars you really can’t, you might as well embrace it. The first place prize went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for Ice House (illustration), a space igloo that takes the edge off the bitter Martian winters with gently sloping glacial facades. The team envisions human colonists extracting ice from the regolith near Mars’ north pole to construct a “pressurized radiation shell” that encloses a habitat and gardens. Not totally clear on how you go outside, but hey, Martian north pole? You probably won’t want to. 
Go Modular or Go HomeSpace habitations are vulnerable in a big way. If a single piece of shrapnel pierced the hull of the ISS, the atmosphere would quickly fizzle off into space. If we’re going to put humans on Mars, we want to make sure there’s enough redundancy built into their infrastructure that one leaky roof doesn’t bring on the apocalypse.
That’s the philosophy behind Gamma, the second place design built by acclaimed architectural firm Foster + Partners. As Gizmodo’s Jamie Condliffe describes in detail, this scheme involves deploying a set of modular, inflatable habitations to the Martian surface to scout a suitable location before humans arrive. Once the habitations are in place, a “multi-robot regolith additive manufacturing” system will begin construction of an outer hab shield made of Martian regolith, a sort of high-tech termite mound.
As Mark Watney’s fictional survival saga reminds us, there are going to be lots of unforeseen difficulties on Mars. A design that acknowledges this reality gives us a better chance of beating the odds. 
Waste Not, Want Not
“Recycle everything” will surely become one of the Ten Martian Commandments. But team LavaHive, the third place runner-up in the design competition, takes the environmentalist mantra to a new level by cleverly incorporating spacecraft components into its design. (Not like you’ll need those spaceships for running back to Earth or anything, huh!)
Once an Entry, Descent, and Landing system deploys construction rovers to the surface, its back shell pops off and becomes the roof for an inflatable habitat. Next, the team proposes using a novel “lava casting” method— melting basaltic rocks into hot lava and molding them into walls and floors and such— to build connecting corridors between the main habitat and various subsections. With greater structural strength and density than traditional sintered materials, basaltic lava could offer better radiation shielding, atmospheric containment, and protection from those deadly Martian dust storms. It’s also the ultimate reusable material. 
Let the Robots Build ItMachines are a wonderful perk of living in a technological society. But, in space, they’re literally going to be our lifeline. Embracing the fact that we’ll need robots to do just about everything, team MASS puts them to work. Large, earth-moving robots to excavate the Martian regolith. Swarms of smaller, legged robots to laser sinter rocks into structural components, explore the surrounding region, and build the hab from the ground up. Robots, robots, everywhere— let’s just hope they don’t turn against us.
The anthill-like dome is only the tip of this Martian habitation: to avoid exposure to surface radiation, colonists will sleep and spend their downtime in a cavernous below ground structure, nesting away the cold Martian winters like the happy space hobbits they are. 
Bio-InspiredA little biomimicry could go a long way toward making Mars feel Earth-like. Mollusca L5, designed by LeeLabs, draws inspiration from shell-building creatures on Earth, which, like Martian settlers, are just trying to keep their soft squishy parts safe. In this concept, inflatable habitats for living and growing crops are protected by a vaulted, shell-like structure composed of high strength glass panels refined from Martian minerals.
It isn’t clear whether the entire enclosure, or just its sub-components, would contain an atmosphere. But one way or another, the “shell” creates a sense of protected open space outside the habitation, a sort of Martian backyard, if you will. If you squint, you can even see room for a jogging track around the outer perimeter.
Despite its recent case of Mars-mania, NASA recognizes that a human colony on the Red Planet is a distant dream and, as such, all outlandish ideas are still on the table. But the philosophy that unites these concepts, of using and reusing the resources at hand, is one that we’re going to have to embrace if our crazy life-in-space dream is ever to be realized.
Rico says it's another place he won't be visiting, but the grandkids might...

Stuff Google just announced

Alex Fitzpatrick has a Time article about new stuff from Google:
Google had a busy Tuesday, dropping two new phones, a pair of Chromecasts, a new tablet, and a release date for the new Android software. Here’s what you missed: 
New Nexus phonesFirst, there’s the higher-end Nexus 6P. It’s a 5.7-inch device running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and made by China’s Huawei. The 6P has an all-metal body, a 12.3 megapixel rear camera that shoots 4K video, and fast-charging technology using the new USB-C. There’s also a fingerprint sensor on the back (unlike many other smartphones, where it’s on the front) for security features. The 6P starts at $499 for a 32GB unlocked unit which can run on any major carrier or Google’s own Project Fi. Pre-orders start today; expect the first shipments in October.
Then there’s the more affordable Nexus 5X, which starts at $379 for the 16GB version and is a generally less powerful phone than the 6P. Made by LG, the Nexus 5X is a 5.2-inch smartphone also running Marshmallow. It has a 12-megapixel camera, also charges with USB-C and also has a rear fingerprint sensor. Pre-orders also start today.
Buyers of either phone can also choose to purchase Nexus Protect for their devices, which is Google’s answer to AppleCare. The replacement and repair program starts at $69 for the Nexus 5X and costs $89 for the Nexus 6P.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow, meanwhile, will arrive on Google’s existing Nexus devices starting next week. 
New Chromecasts
Chromecast fans, rejoice: You get not one, but two new models of Google’s popular streaming stick.
The first is an upgrade to the existing video-focused Chromecast, which now looks less like a stick and more like a puck (must be hockey fans at Google). The design is meant to make it easier to fit behind a television. Google also says the Chromecast itself as well as the Chromecast app have gotten upgrades meant to make streaming faster and a better overall experience.
The brand new Chromecast, meanwhile, is called Chromecast Audio. It’s designed to turn dumb speakers smart: plug it into an analog audio system, and suddenly it’ll be able to play music from the cloud.
Both Chromecasts are on sale immediately for $35. 
The Pixel C
Is it a laptop? Is it a tablet? Is it a laptablet? Who knows? But the Pixel C is Google’s tablet-laptop hybrid answer to Microsoft’s Surface and Apple’s new iPad Pro. It starts as a $499 tablet running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, while an optional $149 Bluetooth keyboard opens up a new laptop mode. Google says the Pixel C will be on sale before the holiday season.
Rico says he's got enough hardware, but somebody will be buying all this...

29 September 2015

Foreign Legion for the day

Rico says they're a unique outfit, with the slowest marching step in the world, which always places them at the back of any parade...

Deadliest Warrior has a comparison (as if one were necessary) between the Legion and the Gurkhas (though Rico says he votes for the Gurkhas):

And then there's a British soldier's experience in the Legion:

Drone herding sheep on Irish farm

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this FoxNews article on new farming technology:
Irish farmer Declan Brennan has found the most unlikely kind of sheepdog: a drone. Brennan operated a Yuneec Q500 drone to herd his flock of sheep at Herondale, his Carlow, Ireland farm. In a YouTube video (above) posted by Brennan’s brother Paul, who runs Skyfly Photography, which provides drone-shot aerial videos, viewers can get a bird’s-eye view of the flock being ushered around the lush farmland by the drone.
“Although Declan doesn’t do this every day, he has done it before quite easily, depending on the weather, and it is a very feasible idea,” Paul told CNET. “Ask any sheep farmer about trying to drive sheep from one field to another and he will tell you it’s a difficult job. So, in this case, Declan did a great job.”
Does this mean Lassie is out and Shep the drone, the name the brothers gave the flying robot, is in? Only time will tell.
Rico says it beats trying to get the little bastards to move any other way...

$3.94 for swiping Francis’ water glass

The Washington Post has an article by Colby Itkowitz about some petty (really petty) theft:
There is apparently no up charge for a water glass that graced the lips of the Pope.
By now, we’re sure you’ve heard the tale of Representative Bob Brady (a Democrat from Pennsylvania), who last week snatched Pope Francis’ still mostly-full glass from the House chamber podium and later shared sips of the leftover water with his wife and staffers. He poured the remaining water in a bottle to bless his grandchildren and sent the empty glass to forensics to have the prints authenticated.
Brady told us that he offered to pay the Architect of the Capitol for the glass. But when we checked with that office, spokeswoman Laura Condeluci said they didn’t provide the glass. “I’m not quite sure who does, but those kinds of preparations are not from our office,” she said.
A little more sleuthing determined he meant the House Clerk, who is responsible for purchasing the glasses on behalf of the Parliamentarian.
The clerk has since sent Brady a bill. The cost? $3.94.
Rico says, if you're a Catholic, it's probably worth the four bucks and postage...

History for the day

On 29 September 1957, the New York Giants played their last game at the Polo Grounds, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-1. The Giants moved to San Francisco for the next season. 

A nation of tall cheese-eaters

The BBC has an article by Ben Coates, the author of Why the Dutch Are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands, about the Dutch:
The Dutch drink a lot of milk, eat a lot of cheese, and are now the tallest people in the world. Could there be a connection? The author of a new book on the Netherlands, Ben Coates, explains how the Dutch became not only voracious but also very discerning cheese eaters.
Earlier this year, a museum in Amsterdam was the scene of a terrible crime. Doing their rounds at the end of a busy day, curators were horrified to discover that one of their most prized exhibits, a small shiny object glittering with over two hundred diamonds, was missing. A security video showed two young men in baseball caps loitering near the display case, but the police had no other leads. The world's most expensive cheese slicer was gone.
In some countries, a theft from the national cheese museum might sound like the plot for an animated children's film. In the Netherlands, however, cheese is a serious business. For the Dutch, cheeses, milk, yoghurts, and other dairy products are not only staple foods, but national symbols, and the bedrock of a major export industry.
The Netherlands' love of all things dairy is largely a consequence of its unique geography. Four hundred years ago, much of the country lay under water, and much of the rest was swampy marshland. "The buttock of the world", was how one seventeenth century visitor described it, "full of veines and bloud, but no bones". Over the next few centuries though, the Dutch embarked on an extraordinary project to rebuild their country. Thousands of canals were dug, and bogs were drained by hundreds of water-pumping windmills.
Some of the new land was built on, but large areas were also allocated to help feed the growing population of cities like Amsterdam. Silty reclaimed soil proved perfect for growing rich, moist grass, and that grass in turn made perfect food for cows. Thousands of the creatures soon were grazing happily on reclaimed land. The country's most popular breed, the black and white Friesian, became world famous. At one point, a Friesian called Pauline Wayne even lived at the White House, providing fresh milk for President William Howard Taft and giving personal "interviews" to The Washington Post.
In the Netherlands, milk became a popular drink at a time when clean water was in short supply. Any that wasn't drunk was churned into butter or cheeses, often named after the towns where they were traded, such as Gouda (pronounced, to the confusion of cheese-lovers worldwide, How-da). In a neat circularity, stacks of tough cow hides were even used as foundations for buildings in Amsterdam: the cows which grazed on reclaimed land providing the foundations for further reclamation. By the twentieth century, the Dutch had fallen head over heels in love with the cow.
Today, the country's affection for all things bovine continues. The Netherlands now has nearly two million dairy cows, roughly as many as Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden combined. (The UK has slightly more, but is roughly six times the size). Dutch cattle produce more than twelve million tons of milk each year and some eight hundred thousand tons of cheese, more than twice as much as the UK.
Dairy producers often adorn their packaging with pictures of docile cows grazing amid buttercups, watched over by ruddy old farmers. In truth, although the Netherlands still has many small farms, the industry is now dominated by a few large dairies like Friesland Campina. Two small Dutch butter businesses, which merged and started making margarine, helped give rise to one of largest companies in the world: Unilever.
According to the dairy association ZuivelNL, nearly eighteen thousand Dutch dairy farms now support sixty thousand jobs nationwide. Nearly seven billion euros of dairy products are exported each year, to countries as far away as China, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. With the Dutch economy taking a battering in recent years, the humble dairy cow now finds itself shouldering an unlikely burden, as one of the big beasts keeping the Dutch economy off the ground.
Dutch dairy exports might be even larger were it not for the fact that the Dutch eat so much dairy themselves. To the Dutch, milk and cheese are staples, as essential a part of the weekly shop as rice is for a Chinese shopper or tea is for an Englishman. It's said that about a sixth of the average Dutch food shopping bill goes for dairy products. In a typical year, the average Dutch person consumes more than 25% more milk-based products than their British, American, or German counterparts.
Dutch cuisine is not especially renowned internationally. Popular dishes tend to rely heavily on simple, earthy stodge such as cabbage and potatoes. Cheese, though, is a major exception, a foodstuff which can transform even the humblest Dutchman into a fussy gourmand. Markets throughout the Netherlands sell an astonishing range of different sizes, ages and flavors, from Maasdammer with its Swiss-style holes, to wagon wheel-sized Komijnekaas speckled with cumin seeds. Perhaps the most famous are the spherical Edams, coated in wax to help retain moisture and stacked in markets like cannonballs. In the 1840s, a Uruguayan battleship allegedly even used some Dutch cheeses as cannonballs, smashing the mainmast and ripping up the sails of an Argentine rival.
In today's Netherlands, piles of cheese cubes make a popular bar snack, and nothing is more likely to get Dutch lips licking than a kaasplankje cheese platter. But cheese also makes a popular breakfast. Cereal isn't as popular as elsewhere in Europe, and morning trains are filled with commuters eating homemade brown-bread-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast, often with milk or yoghurt on the side. Urban legend tells of a wealthy executive who complained to the national airline KLM about the food provided in business class. There was no need for all the fancy hot food and champagne, he said. A tasty cheese sandwich and a glass of milk would do just fine.
One might think that an all-dairy diet would bad for waistlines, but in fact the Dutch have grown mostly in the opposite direction. In the mid-1800s, the average Dutchman was about 5 foot 4, 3 inches shorter than the average American. In 150-odd years of scoffing milk and cheese, however, the Dutch soared past the Americans and everyone else. These days, the average Dutchman is more than 6 feet tall, and the average Dutch woman about 5 foot 7. The Dutch have gone from being among the shortest people in Europe to being the tallest in the world.
Scientists continue to debate the causes of this growth spurt: improved nutrition, democratization of wealth, genetic factors, and the natural selection of tall men are all thought to play a role. One important clue is that the fact that growing tall appears to be contagious: immigrants who move to the Netherlands usually end up taller than people who remain in their home countries. So it's perfectly possible that the Dutch dairy addiction played a major role in turning one of the world's flattest places into a land of giants.
In recent years, dairy farmers throughout Europe have fallen on hard times. Exports to Russia, a sizeable market for Dutch cheese, collapsed last year during the conflict in the Crimea. This year, the abolition of EU milk production quotas has forced milk prices down by some twenty percent in parts of the continent. For most Dutch, though, their love of lactose is as strong as ever. Milk remains one of the nation's favourite drinks, and cheese a national religion.
The diamond slicer that was stolen from the Cheese Museum has, sadly, never been found. In desperation, the company that made and owned it, Boska, has offered a reward which it hopes will attract the interest of its countrymen. Anyone who finds the slicer can claim the world's largest cheese fondue. 
Is it just the cheese?The height of Dutch people has intrigued scientists for many years; it's been suggested that the Dutch growth spurt could also be down to genetics, better medical care, and natural selection, as Jane O'Brien found out on a trip to the Netherlands in the BBC's usual non-bloggable video:

Rico says he, of course, forwarded this to his friend Bicycle in Holland...

What water on Mars means

Jeffrey Kluger has a Time article about Mars:
Mars may be the solar system’s most tragic planet. It once had a dense atmosphere; it once fairly sloshed with water; just one of its oceans may have covered two-thirds of its northern hemisphere. With seasons very much like Earth’s, it could have been home to who knows what kinds of life.
But Mars suffered an apocalypse that’s never quite been explained; perhaps meteorite bombardments blasted its atmosphere into space, and the planet’s weak gravity frittered away the rest. The result either way is the cold, dead, dry world we see today. Except now, it seems, it’s not so dry, and perhaps not so dead.
According to a paper just published in Nature Geoscience, there appears to be liquid water flowing on Mars. And in this case, it’s not the geological definition of contemporary, which can mean the past few million years, but the common definition, which can mean, say, Tuesday.
Mars is not the dry, arid planet planet we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division, at a packed press conference. “Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.”
The announcement goes back to a discovery that was first made in 2010, when then University of Arizona undergraduate student Lujendra Ojha was studying images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and found transitory streaks along the sides of hills and cliffs that looked for all the world like the tracks of running water. The formations appeared in the Martian spring and summer, when water would be the likeliest to exist in liquid form, and disappeared in fall and winter.

Rico says Lily Rothman has another Time article about going to Mars:
There have been lots of times we thought we'd get to Mars in the near future, The new movie The Martian (video), the story of an ill-fated NASA mission to Mars, takes place in the relatively near future. While some of the science has been nit-picked—though relatively little, considering it’s a movie—one aspect is, historically speaking, completely believable: the idea that human beings would be sending manned missions to the Red Planet is the very near future.
As NASA recently revealed that scientists have found evidence of water on Mars, our solar system neighbor became the focus of renewed interest, but it’s been decades since humankind first heard that a Mars mission was imminent.
It started in the mid-1960s, even before the moon landing, as the fifth-ever class of astronauts chosen by NASA were told that a Mars mission could possibly be in their future. By 1969, with the lunar landing a success, they had a timeline: engineer Wernher von Braun said the American space program could get there by 1982, while the more cautious then-Vice President Spiro Agnew was aiming for the year 2000 at the latest.
A panel headed by Agnew was, later that year, settled on a middle ground: “If Congress compromises on a maximum NASA budget of eight billion dollars by 1980,” Time reported, “the Martian touchdown can be achieved in 1986.” Over the next few years, the 1986 deadline continued to be discussed. (Attention, Hollywood: by 1972, NASA even got into the weeds with the question of what to do about the astronauts’ inevitable romantic entanglements during a six-hundred-day mission.)
Fast-forward to the mid-1980s. Humankind was not on Mars.
But that didn’t mean we weren’t still trying. By 1985, the idea of a joint US-Soviet mission was floated by space experts from around the world. It was to be a Cold War-defying act of scientific greatness, made possible by splitting the bill. The deadline that time around: 2010.
Hopes of that idea becoming reality were temporarily dashed the following year by the Challenger space shuttle disaster, which led NASA to recalibrate its entire mission, but by 1988 it was back on track. “A manned trip to Mars, long the stuff of science fiction, now appears to be just a matter of time. The mystic planet, glowing red and ever brighter in the night skies, is heading toward its closest approach to the Earth in seventeen years this September, tantalizingly near and beckoning,” Time noted in a cover story about the progress the US and the then-USSR were both making in research and preparation for such a trip.
By the start of the 1990s, then-President George H. W. Bush had adjusted the target to aim for “astronauts on the red sands of Mars by 2019”. Science experts like Time’s Michael Lemonick agreed that 2020 was a “reasonable” estimate for when we’d get there. But, as the next decade progressed, there was more and more news of probes and rovers going to Mars, and less and less news of potential manned missions. At the dawn of a new century, that trend continued.
Then, however, George W. Bush announced that Mars was once again a priority for NASA. The summer before the 2004 election, he laid out a plan for returning to the Moon around 2015 and getting to Mars not too long after. “Though the year 2030 was bandied about in the press as a target for putting a man on Mars, the President was careful not to set a date,” Time's Jeffrey Kluger noted. Some experts at the time even saw 2030 as unnecessarily far away; with real dedication to the mission, they estimated, the 2010 date could have been met.
Now 2010 has come and gone, and 2030 is practically just around the corner. But we haven’t given up: just about a month ago, none other than former astronaut Buzz Aldrin declared that he wanted to see humans on Mars by 2039.
So The Martian may yet become even more scientifically accurate than its creators could have planned, something that future astronauts may well find worth raising a glass of Martian water to celebrate.
Rico says we oughta do it, expensive though it'll be...

1,100 killed in hajj stampede

Time has an article by Zarar Khan and Jon Gambrell about the hajj disaster:
Saudi Arabia has given foreign diplomats some eleven hundred photographs of the dead from last week’s hajj crush and stampede, Indian and Pakistani authorities said, an indication of a significantly higher death toll than previously offered by the kingdom.
Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment about the discrepancy in the toll of the disaster in Mina. The Saudi Health Ministry’s latest figures, released Saturday, put the toll at 769 people killed and 934 injured.
Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, a lawmaker in Pakistan’s governing PML-N political party who is leading his country’s response to the disaster, said Saudi officials gave diplomats “eleven hundred photos” of the dead from Mina. Chaudhry told journalists during a news conference that the photos could be viewed at Saudi embassies and missions abroad.
“This is the official figure of martyrs from Saudi officials, given for the identification process,” Chaudhry said.
His comments echoed those of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. “Saudi authorities have released photos of eleven hundred pilgrims who have died in the hajj stampede,” Swaraj wrote on Twitter.
Indian diplomats and government officials declined to immediately discuss or elaborate on Swaraj’s tweet. It wasn’t immediately clear if other foreign embassies in Saudi Arabia had been given similar photographs.
Saudi authorities have said that the disaster began when two large waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road last Thursday during the final days of the annual hajj in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca. Survivors say the crowding caused people to suffocate and eventually trample one another in the worst disaster to befall the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century.
Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional Shi'ite archrival, has criticized the kingdom over the hajj disaster, and daily protests have taken place near the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Iranian state media also have suggested that the death toll in the disaster was far higher, without providing any corroboration.
Later Monday, the death toll for Iran in the disaster rose to 228 pilgrims killed, Iranian state television reported. Speaking before the UN General Assembly in New York City, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his nation was mourning the loss of “hundreds of its citizens” and blamed the hajj stampede on the “incompetence and mismanagement of those in charge.”
Rouhani used the podium to lash out at Saudi authorities, saying that, “due to their unaccountability, even the missing cannot be identified and the expeditious return of the bodies of the deceased to their mourning families has been prevented”. He called for an “independent and precise investigation into the causes of this disaster” so that its repetition in the future would be prevented.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations said Rouhani was canceling events on Tuesday and would return to Tehran after addressing the General Assembly due to “the tragic events” at the hajj.
The hajj this year drew some two million pilgrims from nearly two hundred countries, though in previous years it has drawn more than three million without any major incidents. Able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime, and each year poses a massive logistical challenge for the kingdom.
This year also marked the first hajj overseen by King Salman, who holds the title of “custodian of the two holy mosques”, which gives the monarchy great religious clout and prestige in the Muslim world.
But even before the hajj began, disaster struck Mecca as a tower construction crane crashed into the Grand Mosque on 11 September 2015, killing at least 111 people.
Countries continue to count their dead from the Mina disaster.
Abdullahi Mukhtar, the chairman of Nigeria’s national hajj commission, said fifty-six pilgrims from the West African nation were killed and seventy-seven injured in the crush. Chaudhry, the Pakistani lawmaker, put his country’s death toll at forty, while dozens remain missing. Meanwhile, Morocco’s state MAP news agency said its country had at least three pilgrims killed and six injured.
Rico says everybody was pissed when it was only seven hundred...

Apple for the day

Fortune has an article by John Kell about sales of the newest iPhone:
Apple said it sold more than thirteen million new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus smartphones over the weekend, a new record for the gadgets maker as it plans to ramp up global distribution next month.
“Sales for iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus have been phenomenal,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook (photo) in a statement.
He’s right. Last year, the prior generation phones— the iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus— sold over ten million new devices over their first weekend. The 2015 results imply a roughly thirty percent increase. That’s bigger than the increase reported in 2014, as Apple sold nine million iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c models in 2013.
Apple’s product launches generate strong early sales results and a lot of buzz, with video and news stories often focusing on the long lines outside the company’s retail stores and dozens of websites live-blogging the event for readers.
The 2015 slate of phones will start scoring sales in more than forty additional countries beginning on 9 October 2015, including Italy, Mexico, Russia, and Spain. Apple expects the new iPhones will be available in over a hundred and thirty countries by the end of the year.
The sales completed by Saturday, 26 September 2015, will be included in the company’s fiscal fourth quarter results. After that point, sales will trickle into the fiscal first quarter.
Rico says he'll stick with his iPhone 6 for the moment...

28 September 2015

Not worth the money

What with the price of oil dropping, Shell has decided to stop drilling in the Arctic; environmentalists are rejoicing, and Slate has an article by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense, about it:
In a stunning reversal, Royal Dutch Shell recently announced that it would abandon its offshore oil drilling activities in the Alaskan Arctic “for the foreseeable future".
Shell’s Arctic exploration had become a favorite target for environmental activists in recent months, as controversy swirled over the Obama administration’s decision to green-light the project. Earlier this year, hundreds of brightly colored boats briefly blockaded one of Shell’s Arctic-bound ships in Portland, Oregon (photo), citing climate change concerns. It’s unclear how central these protests were in motivating Shell’s turnaround, but, as The Guardian notes, Shell has “privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling, which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.”
The primary reason Shell gave for its decision was that it just didn’t find enough oil.
Shell also cited an “unpredictable Federal regulatory environment”— likely a nod to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent decision to break with the Obama administration and oppose the project— as well as high costs associated with the drilling.
Shell has spent seven billion dollars and eight years working toward developing offshore oil in the Arctic. According to an industry analyst who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, Shell’s investors should be pleased with the economics of the decision to stop the project. Even activists were worried about money: chief among concerns of environmentalists, in addition to the additional greenhouse gases, was that a large oil spill in the sensitive Arctic would be particularly difficult to clean up and would likely come with a huge price tag.
Shell says its exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea, eighty miles off Alaska’s northwest coast will now be “sealed and abandoned in accordance with US regulations.” But that doesn’t mean Shell’s quixotic dreams of Arctic oil are over yet.
"Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US,” said Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas in a statement. But probably not for quite a while. The head of Shell’s Arctic division, Ann Pickard, told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that if its efforts in the Chukchi failed “for whatever reason”, and they now clearly have, that it would likely be 25 years before any other company, Shell included, would try again. By that time, climate change may have become such a pressing concern that the Arctic would be seen as off limits. A groundbreaking study earlier this year calculated that the “economically optimal” path for reducing emissions requires no further development of fossil fuels in the Arctic.
The Shell news is the second major victory for global warming campaigners in less than a week, during a critical period in advance of global climate negotiations in Paris, France later this year. On Friday, China announced it would start a nationwide cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which will be the world’s largest such program.
Rico says it's a good thing, even though we'll need the oil eventually...

Not that kind of meat

Rico's photographer friend Mike Martin sends this joke from California:
Dad cooks a deer and doesn't tell his kids what it is, but he gives them one clue: "It's what your mom calls me." The boy shouts: "It's a fucking dick, don't eat it."

Mislabeled vehicle for the day

The Jeep was originally a military vehicle named the GP, for 'General Purpose', but pronounced 'Jeep' after a character, Eugene the Jeep, in the Popeye comic strip...

Forgot the song: WG

Rico says that his review of the splendid movie The Wild Geese neglected to include the theme song, sung by Joan Armatrading:

Movie line for the day (scary division)

Rico says he had to look up "Is it safe?", because he couldn't remember where it came from, but it was Laurence Olivier interrogating Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man:

Bond for the day

The BBC has an article by Fiona Macdonald about the latest Bond movie theme:
Writing’s on the Wall has just been released. How does it stand up against the 007 classics? Here’s our checklist:
Does it hit a Tom Jones-style top note?
The Welsh singer reportedly fainted in the recording booth after singing the final high note of Thunderball. Smith might do well to sing this one sitting down: he swings back and forth between baritone and a falsetto worthy of Pharrell, or a sixteenth century castrato. No wonder he asks in the song: “If I risk it all/Could you break my fall?”
Does it have sweeping strings? Haunting horns? A sense of majesty?Yes to the strings; the first few seconds are signature Bond, and there’s the familiar feeling that an orchestra is lurking behind the Secret Service agent, moving between the shadows with him. But it’s a more downbeat offering than some of 007’s rousing tunes: majesty is replaced by melancholy, fitting for Daniel Craig’s brooding Bond (photo).
Is there a whiff of gunsmoke and a suggestion of shadows?Plenty of shadows, but not so much the assassin-hiding ones. This is Bond waking up with a start in the middle of the night, heart pounding, and staring into a different kind of darkness. It’s the blackness of an insomniac’s 4 am; it’s Craig crouching in the shower gazing blankly at the tiles. As Smith croons: “I’ve spent a lifetime running/And I always get away/But with you I’m feeling something/That makes me want to stay.”
Does it also imply the world is about to end?Not so much; this is more intimate ballad than apocalyptic barnstormer. If Bond has a soul, Smith is attempting to provide its soundtrack.
Does it go well with a helicopter barrel roll?It might, if footage of the stunt was slowed down and immediately cut to a close-up of a tear rolling down Bond’s craggy cheeks.
Is it timeless, or more like Duran Duran’s pop-with-a-sell-by-date?
Duran Duran
’s 1985 track A View to a Kill is still the most successful Bond theme ever, but it has been criticized for sounding “stylistically mired in the tropes of the day, pandering to the very pop audience that propelled it into the history books”. Smith’s track is going for a timeless feel, although comedian David Schneider tweeted: “The name is Bland. James Bland.”
Would it make Daniel Craig cry?The star has said that he cried after listening to Adele’s Skyfall track for the first time: this one will have him curled up in a fetal position. Every chord change is tinged with regret; even the crescendoes are mournful. The comedian Omid Djalili, who appeared in The World is Not Enough, has tweeted that listening to Writing’s on the Wall left him in a broken heap.
Does it sound like a Tom Petty song?The veteran singer was awarded a share of royalties from Smith’s Grammy-winning Stay With Me after the Brit acknowledged similarities with Petty’s I Won’t Back Down; he said that it had been “nothing more than a musical accident”.  There won’t be any calls from the Petty camp this time, although Writing’s on the Wall is drawing comparisons to the 1995 Michael Jackson hit Earth Song.
Does it fit with the rest of the canon?Opinion is divided on whether Writing’s on the Wall can compete with classics like Goldfinger. But by veering into break-up song territory, it can’t be accused of straying too closely to former title tracks, as when the writers of License to Kill allegedly had to make royalty payments for using Goldfinger’s horn line. Smith’s emoting over lines like “When you’re not here I’m suffocating/I want to feel love/Run through my blood/Tell me is this where I give it all up?” isn’t likely to be mixed up with Shirley Bassey belting out “He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch”:

Rico says it's a hard act to follow...


Rico says it was cloudy, so he didn't stay up to see the eclipse, but he's sure it was spectacular:
Stargazers were treated to a rare sight on Sunday night: a supermoon eclipse. The phenomenon only happens when a full lunar eclipse coincides with the moon’s closest approach to the Earth. Until Sunday night, these events had not occurred in unison for thirty-three years, and another eighteen years will pass before we get to experience a supermoon eclipse again.
Here’s what you need to know about the celestial event:
What is a supermoon eclipse?A supermoon happens when a full moon reaches the closest point to Earth in its orbit (the orbit is not a perfect circle, so one point, called the perigee, is closest). At this point, the moon is only 225,000 miles from the Earth. That’s what makes the moon look about 14% larger and 30% brighter in the sky. A full lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth and moon line up, with the Earth directly between the moon and the sun, and the moon completely in the Earth’s shadow, which gives the moon a reddish tint.
A supermoon eclipse is the simultaneous combination of these two events.
How frequently does a supermoon eclipse occur? A supermoon or a lunar eclipse by themselves are not rare. But the two occur together very infrequently. Since 1900, a supermoon eclipse has only happened five times—1910, 1928, 1946, 1964, and 1982. The next one will happen in 2033. Lunar eclipses are far more common, usually occurring twice a year.
Why did the moon look reddish?The moon’s reddish tint was a result of light being scattered through the Earth’s atmosphere and cast back toward the surface of the Moon. Only light that passed through our atmosphere reached the Moon, and since the planet’s gaseous envelope traps blue light, it acted like something of a filter, only reflecting the more reddish light onto the Moon. That color can vary based on how much dust is in the Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse. The red hue has earned lunar eclipses the nickname Blood Moon.
“You’re basically seeing all of the sunrises and sunsets across the world, all at once, being reflected off the surface of the Moon,” NASA scientist Dr. Sarah Noble told The New York Times.
How did it look in different parts of the world?The full supermoon eclipse was visible from the eastern half of North America, South America, and the western half of Africa and Europe. Stargazers on the East Coast of the United States were particularly well positioned to see it, based on weather conditions and the convenient time of night it occurred.
Stargazers in the western half of North America, the rest of Europe and Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia did not miss out entirely, but they were treated to just a partial eclipse, and so the missed out on the full crimson hue.
How long did the supermoon eclipse last for?The full eclipse started about 10:11 pm EST and lasted a little over an hour. 

Olympics for the day

Five additional sports, including baseball and skateboarding (photo), are recommended for inclusion at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Rico says that baseball is okay (at least it's played by the Japanese) but skateboarding? That's just silly...

History for the day

On 28 September 1924, two planes, piloted by United States Army fliers (photo) landed in Seattle, Washington, having completed the first around-the-world flight in 175 days.

Movie review for the day: JotN

The Jewel of the Nile is equally classic:
In this sequel to Romancing the Stone, Jack (played by Michael Douglas, photo, right) and Joan (played by Kathleen Turner, photo, left), have their yacht and easy life, but are gradually getting bored with each other and this way of life. Joan accepts an invitation to go to some Middle Eastern country as a guest of the sheik, Omar (played by Spiros Focás) but there she is abducted and finds herself involved with the "jewel". Jack decides to rescue her with his new partner, Ralph, (played by Danny DeVito). But what is the story of this "jewel"?
In the original story we watched Turner blossom from timid storyteller to lusty adventuress. In this flick she is too much like all the other action adventure babes we've seen before. 
Rico says there's nothing wrong with 'lusty adventuresses' or 'action adventure babes'... (Spoiler alert: the 'jewel' is a guy (played by Avner Eisenberg).

Movie review for the day: RtS

Romancing the Stone is a classic:
A romance writer (played by Kathleen Turner) sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.
Rico says WHAT

The wisdom of old friends

"Damn Monday another" as Rico's old school friend Peter Wright always put it.

27 September 2015

Movie review for the day: TW

It's a triumph of CGI, because The Walk shows Philippe Petit walking between two buildings that don't exist anymore, as A.O. Scott's review in The New York Times reveals:
“Now I’ve seen everything,” an anonymous New Yorker remarks, marveling at the spectacle unfolding more than a hundred stories above street level. It’s the morning of 7 August 1974, and Philippe Petit is walking across a steel cable strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Amid the gasps and murmurs, that line stands out, and invites a bit of pondering. It’s an expression of wonder, for sure, but it also carries an implication of jadedness, especially for moviegoers. All the surround-sound bells and whistles and digitally enhanced fireworks in the world can’t quite shake us out of the feeling that we’ve seen it all before.
But we haven’t. There is always something new under the sun. To stop believing that, to mean it when we say we’ve seen everything, would be to give up on art and surrender to cynicism. The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ painstaking and dazzling cinematic re-creation of Petit’s feat, stands in passionate opposition to that kind of thinking. There will always be fresh, hitherto unimagined wonders in store. And fresh horrors too, as the sight of the twin towers can’t help but remind us.
Innocence has often been a theme of Zemeckis’ films— not so much its loss or recovery as its stubborn persistence. Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and the Back to the Future movies are stories of optimists battling the cruelty of history and the indifference of the universe. They are also, each one in its own way, testaments to the ingenuity of their maker. Though he may see himself as more of a tinkerer than a visionary, Zemeckis frequently uses the novelty of special effects in the service of an aesthetic idea that is also a moral ideal. Like Petit, he’s interested in tackling the impossible, which is to say in discovering new possibilities for delight and awe and celebrating the transformative power of human creativity.
The impossible, as you may have read on a poster somewhere, can take a while. The Walk does not hit its stride right away. I might go a little further: the first half of the movie treads the boundary between mildly irritating and completely unbearable. Petit, an elfin Frenchman with a terrible haircut, is played by manic-pixie song-and-dance man Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an irrepressible imp, greeting the audience in accented English from a perch on the Statue of Liberty’s torch. The Manhattan skyline— digitally rendered to include the towers and to omit more recent construction— stretches out in the background, and the lady in the harbor stoically tolerates the presence of her voluble compatriot.
You might have a harder time. Let me see if I can put the matter in scientific terms. Philippe, in addition to being an aspiring wire-walker, is a juggler, a mime, and a unicyclist. He is, as I’ve mentioned, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This makes him, objectively speaking, the most annoying person on earth. And The Walk, before ascending into the New York City sky, tries to seduce you with forced amazement and sleeve-tugging displays of whimsy. Instead of wowing you, the movie gets in your face and yells Wow! It’s not quite the same feeling.
But all of the bustling 3-D IMAX mugging and prat-falling is really just the warm-up act, as is the mildly diverting tale of the period in Philippe’s life leading up to what he calls “the coup”. Glimpsing a pretty busker on a Paris street (she’s singing a Leonard Cohen song in French), he steals her audience and then, bien sûr, her heart. Her name is Annie, she’s played by Charlotte Le Bon, and she becomes the first of Philippe’s accomplices. Joining them are a photographer named Jean-Louis (played by Clément Sibony) and a math whiz named Jean-François (played by César Domboy) who is afraid of heights. Philippe’s mentor is an irascible Czech funambulist played, as an irascible Czech funambulist in a movie of this kind must be played, by Ben Kingsley.
After some practice and planning, the coup plotters head to New York City, where they acquire a few more accomplices (including James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, and the scene-stealing Steve Valentine) and begin their infiltration of the as-yet-unfinished Trade Center. Almost magically, The Walk transforms itself into a beguiling caper movie, full of comic energy and nimble ingenuity. Whereas the earlier sections suffered from an absence of dramatic conflict— Philippe is immune to doubt, averse to introspection, and impossible to argue with— the Manhattan chapters hum with practical, tactical excitement. There are so many problems to solve: security guards to evade; equipment to test; disguises to wear.
It’s a lot of fun, with darker implications falling across the story like early morning shadows on a sunny day. There are tensions among Philippe and his comrades, including Annie. There is the danger of the coup itself. And of course, for the audience, there is the inevitable premonition of grief. But Zemeckis, who wrote the script with Christopher Browne, spares us heavy-handed portents of destruction. Instead, he acknowledges the loss of the towers by lovingly and meticulously resurrecting them at the moment of their birth. The film becomes a poem of metal and concrete, a symphony composed in glass and rebar, light and air and brought alive by an antic, crazy inspiration.
It has often been said that Petit taught New Yorkers to love the twin monoliths that were initially viewed as bland, arrogant interlopers on a cherished skyline. His coup, recounted in his book To Reach the Clouds and in James Marsh’s excellent documentary Man on Wire, is a cherished and bittersweet part of local history, and Zemeckis, astonishingly, brings it back into the present tense. Even though the outcome is never in doubt— this may be the most spoiler-proof movie ever made— you can’t help but hold your breath and clutch the armrests when Philippe steps out into the sky. The reality of the moment is so vivid that you may reflexively recoil, as if you risked plunging onto the sidewalk below. And the moment lasts. I had forgotten just how long Petit stayed up there, stretching a daredevil act into an astonishing and durable work of art.
In paying tribute to that accomplishment, Zemeckis has also matched it. He has used all his brazenness and skill to make something that, once it leaves the ground, defies not only gravity, but time as well.
Rico says he'll probably see it, just for the effects...

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