Sunday, July 29, 2012

It’s Newfoundland, Not Disneyland

Previously I’ve posted references to my wife and I having lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland for a year and a half while I was doing some graduate work – Iceberg Beer and real icebergs. This USA Today travel article profiles Newfoundland and makes it clear that you can expect rustic beauty and reality – not Disneyland.  That rustic beauty and the friendly native population is what created lasting memories for my wife and me. We lived in Maine for three years and certainly appreciate the Maine coast.  But the Newfoundland coastal scenery puts Maine to shame I’m afraid.

The article mentions St. John’s and several communities around the north-facing Conception Bay and Trinity Bay and a few towns we had the opportunity to visit, like Heart’s Content, Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Delight.  But we never did make it to Bonavista Bay, heavily mentioned in the travel article. My graduate research was in the huge south-facing Placentia Bay (separating the Avalon Peninsula from the Burin Peninsula) and I had many opportunities to explore abandoned outports as the linked photos reference. One of these days I’ll get around to posting my photos on-line.

Here's the official travel website for Newfoundland and Labrador (all one province).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nothing Left But Puddles?

You may have caught this story about extensive melting on the Greenland ice sheet this summer due to a dome of warm air over virtually all of the landmass. Some surface melting occurs every year, but the extent of July's melting is what is unusual, apparently the last such event was 150 years ago.

But what I find most interesting was hearing this story presented by two news organizations, ABC and NPR, where it was quite clear that the news anchors thought scientists were reporting that the ENTIRE ice sheet had melted during the last two or three weeks. And in one case the scientist being interviewed seemed to pass up the opportunity to set the record straight. The Greenland ice sheet averages 2 km thick for crying out loud! So how many viewers/listeners out there believe the entire continental ice sheet melted in two weeks? I bet more than a few.

You can denigrate the climate deniers if you want, but this is the kind of misinformation that gets ingrained into the minds of the public, then lawmakers who react and want to do something rash.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vending Machine Economic Policy

I think the guy that runs the vending machine concession in our office building must have been an Obama Administration economic advisor – part of the group that hung around for the initial year or so and then split. The group that kept talking about the coming “recovery summer.” 

I do break down and buy a soft drink once in a while but don’t patronize the candy machine very often – everything in there tastes good, but of course nothing is good for you. The machines seem pretty well run and all. But today when passing by I noticed a letter from the vending company taped to the candy machine explaining unfortunately, they had to raise their prices on each item “a modest amount.”  Now I did recall that most candy or cracker items in the machine had sold for $0.85 each. The new prices were all $1.00 each. Let’s see, $0.15 increase on an original price of $0.85 is, well, an almost 18% increase in the price. Candy may not be a consumer staple (or if it is, it shouldn’t be) but anyway you bite your Necco Wafer, 18% is a lot. If I had received an 18% salary increase today, I don’t think that “modest” is the descriptor I would be using. In fact, I’d probably have to rescue Mrs. Sponge from the top of our built-in bookcases where she would have leapt due to the shock and awe factor.

Thinking it through, maybe this vending guy was in the Obama Administration’s PR group after he left the economic advisory’s group.    

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Edible Edsels

Ahh, the wonders of science. Someday soon we might be able to eat our cars. Got yourself stranded in the Mohave with no help in sight? No problem. Just munch on a door handle while waiting for the next ranger patrol to swing by. Actually, these new bioengineering chemical alchemists kind of scare me, like my college roommate used to. Too many hours in the basement chem lab drinking strong coffee from Pyrex beakers, me thinks.

But on the political side, do Michael Moore, Deval Patrick or Mayor Bloomberg know what Detroit is cooking up? I think they’re going to figure out a reason to be unhappy. I don’t know what their angle is going to be yet, but in my mind I can hear some pronouncements coming from the “concerned leaders of Nannyville.”  

Can One Person Make a Difference? Unfortunately Yes

About 6,000 additional Exeter Hospital (NH) patients will be tested for hepatitis C exposure after a traveling medical technician may have infected patients locally, and in as many as eight states. The technician allegedly used syringes containing the drug fentanyl to shoot up and later other medical staff used these syringes on patients.

A civilian employee of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (ME) set the May 23 fire that caused $400 million in damage to the submarine USS Miami because he wanted to get out of work.

A gunman wearing a gas mask, helmet and full body armor opened fire early Friday in a crowded suburban Denver (CO) theater at the opening of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.

The man who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out. Proverbs 10:9

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I’d Chop Off My Head for You

I like a lot of today’s music, not all, but a fair bit of it. Bruno Mars is talented and the official video of his Grenade has something like 260 million hits on Youtube. I like his acoustical guitar version that I posted below much better – no cheesy symbolism – just music. Heck, this version has 45 million hits so you can’t say it’s being ignored.

But I’m a sucker for good parody. I read Mad Magazine faithfully in my junior high years and have been a Weird Al Yankovic fan from the start. So the second clip by the Key of Awesome hits home with me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

106 Foul Balls

If the Romney camp is correct in their math, President Obama attended 106 fund-raising events over the past six months.  I suppose some of the events were likely in the evening when he was "off duty,"  but others certainly must have been during the day.  Now if you attended 106 external events in the last six months, do you think you would still have a job?  Do you?

Oh, you have one of those salaried positions where it doesn't matter how many hours you work; as long as you get your job done you can go home early?  Good for you.  Do you think the President has gotten his day job accomplished? Do you?

Two strikes, no balls, infinite fouls. Batter up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Darwin and the Gamers

Sounds like an Indie rock band – but it’s not.

An 18 year old video gamer died in an internet café after playing for 40 hours straight.  Apparent this is not a first because earlier this year a video gamer died after a mere 23 hours of playing.  Amateur!  Wimp!

But wouldn’t the Darwinists consider this just natural selection at work?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Royalty At Last!

Well, finally, my wife and I have got the recognition due us.  We are King and Queen of our neighborhood, the longest residing family in our neighborhood of about 30 homes.  Our neighborhood is linear, running east and west connecting two north-south roads in town.  The development started at the east end and filled in toward the west in stages.  We were the last stage built out when the roads and utilities were put in during the mid 1980s, a boom time for residential building in much of New England with pent up demand after the recession years in the early 1980s.

We had outgrown our older home in a settled neighborhood in the French-Canadian side of the city – the “West Side” as it’s called.  We knew an excellent home builder, the brother of a good friend of ours and decided to try to find a house lot in a neighboring town. Since these were boom times we got discouraged quickly as spec builders seem to grab up anything and everything coming on the market.  They wanted to build you a cookie-cutter house of their design – but no thanks. We gave up looking for a while until a realtor we’d worked with a little called us out of the blue about a house lot she thought we’d like.  The lot wasn’t for us but that got us charged up to start looking on our own again and we found a lot that spec builders hadn’t gobbled up (yet) and made a quick decision to buy.

The closing was in March 1985 but we were so settled on this one builder, Ronnie, that we were willing to wait until the following year if needed to get onto Ronnie’s schedule.  He was a popular guy – an honest builder with an excellent reputation and he usually just worked with maybe two helpers.  So he could usually take on only two houses a year, plus some smaller side projects.  Fortunately the one family ahead of us in the queue dropped out of the line when their intended lot failed its leach bed test (not in our neighborhood but the other side of town).  So Ronnie started our house that early summer and we moved in just before Thanksgiving 1985.

Spec houses were rapidly going up around us - fortunately by different builders so our neighborhood has a reasonable amount of variety of styles.  One other family behind us bought a lot and had a custom builder put up a very attractive Cape style home.  That family “beat” us by a few weeks and were the first to occupy a home in this new neighborhood.  Ironically the spec house next to us became occupied just a few weeks after we moved in. Then the rest of the neighborhood filled in over time, some lots being held for investment purposes were only built upon many years later, a few up to 10 years after the starting gun.

Like most newer communities, many first time residents only stayed a few years in their homes.  Changing jobs or the lure of a bigger home caused turnover and before long many homes had experienced several owners, including that spec house next to us.  But that Cape behind us?  Those guys were in for the duration it seemed, so we remained second fiddle, vice residents, second rate, whatever.

But, victory goes to the patient, I guess.  The Capers moved last week!  We waited them out.  Now we reign supreme over the land, our little dominion.  We just need to convince our subjects, errr, neighbors, to give us all the full respect we now deserve.  Dear, throw away that retirement community brochure.  We ain’t never leaving now that we're on top.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Ritual Lost

We retired a 10-year old car recently and purchased a 2012 Toyota.  While the retired car wasn’t exactly an antique, the new car reflects lots of newer safety features – side airbags and a back up camera, just to name two.

My wife and I may have a heighten appreciation for auto safety these days with the arrival of three grandkids in the past 24 months.  And our oldest daughter and her husband are about to head out with their 1 year old on that most American of all adventures, the Summer Car Trip. To say that times have changed is an understatement. The child car seats are now engineered like a jet fighter ejection seat – and maybe weigh about as much. Alan Shepard wasn’t so well protected when NASA technicians strapped him on to a Redstone rocket, lit the fuse, wished him good luck and ran!

Child restraint improvements are a good thing of course – compared with the flimsy chair things that parents used in the 50s and 60s.  They were virtually no projection in the event of even minor crashes.  Man, I’d rather not think about it.

But for every gain, there’s a loss.  Gone are the days when a parent or neighbor could pile a bunch of kids into the back of a pickup truck or into every nook and cranny of a station wagon and drive off to the Dairy Queen on a hot summer night - sweaty heads hanging out of every window yelling out what flavor they intended to select that evening. Or letting the kids and family dog roam around the car at will on a long road trip (without A/C of course).  Gone for the better – but still, something lost.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beach Glass Bandits

People who live on glass beaches…. 

1)     Should not be throwing bottles into the sea in the first place

2)     Need to wear sturdy sandals and use Masonite beach blankets

3)     Need not invite touristas who take anything not nailed down

4)     All of the above

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Readers of this blog might be aware that my favorite comedy movie is the 1963 Cinerama release, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World starring an almost endless supply of comedic greats.  Last year I chronicled those in the cast still with us and those who had passed on.

Great to see three of the legends – Mickey Rooney, Carl Reiner and Jonathan Winters reunite for this 70mm film festival. 

A Long Line of Button Pushers

My 23 month old grandson has been a button pusher since he could crawl and reach. So cabinet doors to electronics are secured, sometimes with just heavy rubber bands, and other devices placed like cordless phones set out of his grasp. I’m not sure but I think he’s asking his mom and dad for his own Smart phone for his second birthday so he doesn’t have to bother theirs.

I realized this morning that I’m a button pusher just like my grandson. Every morning I have five buttons/switches to push in my office to start my day: 

1)     Light switch

2)     Desk fan (to move air and also create a little white noise)

3)     Computer power (laptop on docking station)

4)     Separate monitor (easier on the eyes)

5)     Plug in a wireless mouse (It has no separate off switch. I unplug the USB tab to save battery life overnight, Frugal Yankee that I am).

Then I’m set for the duration. No more button pushing required until quitting time

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Seismic Light

A data visualization company compiled this global map of magnitude 4 and greater earthquakes recorded since 1898; over 200,000 of them.  The map is centered over the Pacific Ocean and quite clearly illustrates the ring-of-fire seismic zones surrounding the ocean basin, especially highlighting the subduction zone areas in the western Pacific. Subduction zones where two tectonic plates are colliding and one plate dives under the other creating the planet's largest, most violent earthquakes (why Alaska, Japan and Indonesia are so often in the geologic news).

Other fascinating features are the Hawaiian Islands volcanic hotspot - that light cluster in the otherwise dark mid-Pacific, and the north-to-south wavy outline of the mid-Atlantic ridge along the far right border. The mid-Atlantic ridge is an area of plate creation and spreading of materials east and west – a less violent activity than subduction so with corresponding “milder” seismic activity.

While this map is simply a visual representation of data, its net effect can be a much more powerful on our imaginations than mere tables or columns of data can possibly be. Such visualization techniques aid in big-picture thinking – the ability to take lots of individual data points and imagine and then study the natural processes they represent. The printed media is no stranger to this technique of course. In my early days of budding interest in oceanography, National Geographic published their mapped representation of the oceans’ bathymetry. Especially startling was the pronounced mid-Atlantic Ridge feature. Of course the vertical scale (relief) was over-represented for creating a visual effect, but the purpose was to illustrate data and stir the imagination. It had that effect on me and helped spur a love of maps, including those for underwater topography. In later research years I would spend hours on lakes and rivers mapping bathymetric contours and study submerged features on the Grand Banks and off the coastlines of maritime Canada and New England. There’s another world down under that is sometimes hard to fathom.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nigerian E-mail

It turns out the Nigerian E-mail Business Model is as good as anything coming out of the Harvard Business School. You can’t perfect perfection.  The misspellings and poor grammar - purposeful. The outlandish setup in the letter - by design. You see, the Nigerians don’t want to interest ORDINARY chumps like you and I, ones who might initially stick a toe in the water and then not carry through with sending the money. What a waste of their valuable time! Their model weeds out all but the hopelessly chumpy.  Apparent that subset of the population produces a fair rate of return on a reliable basis.

Sheriff Taylor

I was sorry to see venerable actor Andy Griffith pass away a few days ago.  I always admired his work, especially the original Andy Griffith Show that ran from 1960 to 1968, and now lives on forever in reruns. Once on a long Southern car trip I made my teenage daughters humor me when I just had to detour to see Mount Airy, NC, Griffith’s home town and the acknowledged model for the fictional Mayberry. As adults they claim to still have the emotional scars of that sidetrip. But as Barney Fife would say, “Nip it in the bud!”  And I got to see the black & white squad car and Floyds barber shop. So to me it was worth risking the charges of unmitigated emotional abuse.

One thing I admired about Griffith was how he changed his screen character in the show after Season 1.  In the first season he was a goofy, backwoods, somewhat naïve character – which is how he started his comedy career with skits and recording such as the radio classic of the mid 50s, What is Was, Was Football.  That record led to a spot on the Ed Sullivan Show.

But after Season 1 he realized that there were plenty of talented actors that could play the comic foil and what the series needed was a level-headed, but affable straight man.  So Don Knotts took on a more pronounced comedic role as eventually did Jim Nabors and George Lindsey, as well as a host of minor regular or occasional characters.  Griffith was then free to play the kind and wise sheriff figure. The level-headed guy who bailed the others out of the foolish predicaments they got themselves into. Wise ol’ Andy. I really wonder if the Andy Griffith Show would have had such a long run, going out at No. 1, if Griffith hadn’t made that transition. I doubt it.  I think the show’s chuckles would have grown old and not at all endearing after just a few seasons.

I also got a kick out of the future stars that made appearances on his show:  Bob Denver, Jack Nicholson, Gavin MacLeod, Elinor Donahue, Rob Reiner and others.  And then there was Denver Pyle as Briscoe Darling, leading his pack of “sons,” The Darling Boys (The actual bluegrass group, The Dillards).

If I get back to Mount Airy, maybe during the annual Mayberry Days, I’m going to send my daughters postcards so they can see what they’re missing. Then if they don’t come around to my point of view, I’d be in my legal rights to make a citizen’s arrest.

Does Yogurt Have Subatomic Particles?

Alright, so we discovered the Higgs boson subatomic particle.  Good job guys.  But when are scientist going to put their full attention to practical container problems here on Earth - like why can't we get that last bit of product out of the mayonnaise/peanut butter/yogurt/etc. jar?  Think of the cumulative food waste!  I would calculate the global raw tonnage myself, but as AVI knows, I'm not great at math. Someone needs to put their undivided attention to this problem. It's gone on way too long.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Job Loss Trough

I came across this article on job losses and growth by R. Paul Herman and Tom Bowmer.  I’m not sure I fully buy in to their “impact sector” job growth category – jobs that have a positive impact on the world are growing faster than those that don’t.  Interesting thesis – I guess I’d need to study what gets grouped by category and why.

But one chart presented in the article caught my attention. A stark representation of the depth and longevity of this Great Recession we’re in. If you project out the slope of the current jobs trend line it looks like we’re 30 months or so away from getting back to the null point.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rusty Pirate Talk

Arrrgh.  Every Bilge Rat wet behind the ears knows ya can't use iron hinges wheres ya have salt spray!  Wait till I catch up to that littl' scupper. Thirty lashes before dinner!