Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sly as a Fox?

In his heyday, he lived at 783 Bel Air Road, a four-bedroom, 5,432-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion that once belonged to John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas.

The Tudor-style house was tricked out in his signature funky black, white and red color scheme. Shag carpet. Tiffany lamps in every room. A round water bed in the master bedroom. There were parties where Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Miles Davis would drop by, where Etta James would break into “At Last” by the bar.

Just four years ago, he resided in a Napa Valley house so large it could only be described as a “compound,” with a vineyard out back and multiple cars in the driveway.

But those days are gone.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's not just circuses, bread is on the way

Saudi Arabia will spend $43 billion on its poorer citizens and religious institutions.

Kuwaitis are getting free food for a year. Civil servants in Algeria received a 34 percent pay rise. Desert cities in the United Arab Emirates may soon enjoy uninterrupted electricity.


Coming soon to an easily appeased nation near you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mine's 5mm Short

In 1668, Wilkins proposed using... a pendulum with a half-period of one second to measure a standard length....

...The other approach suggested defining the metre as one ten-millionth of the length of the Earth's meridian...the French Academy of Sciences selected the meridional definition over the pendular definition...measurements of this meridian more accurate than those available at that time were imperative.

The French Academy of Sciences commissioned an expedition...

However, in 1793, France adopted as its official unit of length a metre based on provisional results from the expedition.

Although it was later determined that the first prototype metre bar was short by a fifth of a millimetre because of miscalculation of the flattening of the Earth, this length became the standard.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


 Osmiridium is very rare, but it can be found in mines of other platinum group metals...

It can be isolated by adding a piece to aqua regia, which has the ability to dissolve gold and platinum but not osmiridium. It occurs naturally as small, extremely hard, flat metallic grains with hexagonal crystal structure.


Abnormally high amounts of iridium have been found in rocks dating to the K-T boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods (65 million years ago). This has led to a widely held view that an iridium-containing comet struck the Earth at that time, which led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other forms of life. 

I have some Osmium and Iridium lying around. They are both about 40x rarer than gold in the Earth's crust. Gold is for pikers and scrooges.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Prices in the $150 billion fertilizer market are lagging behind gains in food costs, providing farmers another incentive to boost production as grains and oilseeds advance.

Urea, the most common nitrogen fertilizer, is down 33 percent from June 2008 when corn rose to a record, according to data from ICIS, a commodity-pricing company. Potash is 36 percent cheaper. Food prices gained 4.3 percent over the same period, an index of the United Nations shows.

Crops require nitrogen, phosphorus and potash for growth.



Saturday, September 10, 2011

Grid Down, Community Up

Yesterday at about 15:40 local time, San Diego lost power—along with many other parts of Southern California, Arizona, and Mexico. Our power was out for 11 hours. The experience was fascinating for me, because it changes the rules of the game suddenly, and exposes certain fragilities in our system...

I headed for the bus, but saw right away that “normal” operations did not apply, and that waiting for my bus may have me sitting idle on campus for some time.  So I took the first bus that came along to get part of the way home, and rode it for 1.3 mi (2.1 km)—taking 20 minutes, after which I walked the remaining 5.7 mi (9.1 km) home in 1.5 hours: same speed as the bus had been. It took a neighbor a full hour to drive the same route I walked. Only one bus passed me the entire time—normally running on a 15 minute schedule.

Traffic lights were out, forcing traffic to a crawl. Gas stations could not pump gas, so I passed several cars pulled over to the side of the road out of gas during my walk. If I wanted to stop somewhere for food or drink, I was out of luck: the places I passed were closed...
When I arrived home, the neighbor across the street was setting up chairs in the front yard, and a spontaneous block party erupted...

The sky was clear and dark, so I hauled out my 10-inch telescope for the first time in a very long while and entertained kids and adults with mind-blowing vistas (lots of satisfying oohs and ahhs)....

So while many fractures were exposed, and our society ceased to function in many ways, some things functioned better than they had in decades. Community has largely been lost in modern America. Our houses are little castles provisioned with all the entertainment, appliances, tools, and food that we need. We don’t need each other, so we don’t bother interacting. Last night, I was delighted to see just how quickly a community spirit re-emerges.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Watching the Doers

The machine age has, of course, already supplied an unexampled wealth of leisure and what happens? The average man who has time on his hands turns out to be a spectator, a watcher of somebody else, merely because that is the easiest thing. He becomes a victim of spectatoritis—a blanket description to cover all kinds of passive amusement, an entering into the handiest activity merely to escape boredom. Instead of expressing, he is willing to sit back and have his leisure time pursuits slapped on to him like mustard plasters—external, temporary, and, in the end, “dust in the mouth...

...Man can sleep too much. Granted freedom, many men go to sleep—”physically and mentally,” organically and cortically. Not having the drive for creative arts they turn to pre-digested pastimes, prepared in little packages at a dollar per. This has literally thrown us into the gladiatorial stage of Rome in which the number of participants becomes fewer and the size of the grandstands, larger. Spectatoritis has become almost synonymous with Americanism and the end is not yet. The stages will get small and the rows of seats will mount higher.”


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Probably Unprofitable

 Now the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) has been presumed extinct for decades and was officially declared as such in 1994....Cornell University has an outstanding offer of $50,000 to anyone who can lead their researchers to an indisputably living, breathing Ivory-billed.

The bird alit on the trunk of a honey locust next to the road and started its rapid thonk-thonk-thonk, but it was cagey enough to stay on the side I couldn’t see....Since Ivory-billed Woodpeckers live (or lived) primarily in the southeastern US and the Caribbean I wasn’t expecting any big miracle here. It turned out that, yes, what I had spotted was actually a ringer for it, the perfectly common Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). A true Ivory-billed would have been even larger — about 20 inches long with a 30-inch wingspan — and would have had more white on the top near its tail. In addition it had a doubled pecking rhythm whereas the bird I saw and heard kept things perfectly even.

There’s an Ivory-billed lookalike that’s larger yet, and again rare if not extinct: the Imperial Woodpecker (C. imperialis). Their traffic-stopping appearance sped their final demise as it encouraged people to shoot them simply out of curiosity. The last confirmed live specimen was dispatched in this manner in Mexico in 1956 (specifically Durango, where The Treasure of Sierra Madre had been filmed a decade earlier), so you might keep a semi-jaundiced eye out for this bird, too.


diminishing returns - thesaurus entry


a situation in which benefits or profits do not increase enough to make it worth making more effort or spending more money


Not providing profit: unprofitable, uneconomic, loss-making, uneconomical, unhealthy, non-profit, not-for-profit, untapped, dull, underfunded...


Friday, September 2, 2011

A Litlle Late, but still pretty funny...

We gathered around him and found him bleeding, but sitting up. Bones McKay arrived first, saw where the ball was, and told the man that he is now an official member of the team. When Phil Mickelson arrived, he apologized very sincerely and gave the man a golf glove.

Sitting on the ground and looking up at Phil, the man said "This is my first golf tournament, and I get hit in the head!" A little smile formed at the corner of Phil's mouth, and he said, "Sir, if this wasn't your first tournament, you would have known to pay more attention when I'm hitting driver."