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July 31, 2003

Happy Blogday, Languagehat!

Today one of our weblog friends is celebrating a first blog anniversary! One year ago today Languagehat featured its very first post, and the site and its eponymous author have been rewarding loyal readers ever since. Happy blogday, Languagehat!

That Weird Froghopper Illustration

From an interesting insect news story comes this oddly troubling picture. Look closely for at least two sources of amusement, or read on and I'll point them out.

OK. Thanks for sticking with me.

Amusing item number 1: "Insects actual size." The problem arises from the inherent ridiculousness of stating such a thing in an electronic image designed for reproduction both in print and onscreen at wildly varying scales. But the question remains: is that not the biggest flea you've ever seen?

Amusing item number 2: "Gateway Arch not to scale." 'nuff said.

Any others? C'mon, let's poke fun at the good old AP!

Dakotans Do It Longer

Do what? Everything, it would seem. The New York Times reports that North Dakota, and most especially McIntosh County, have the highest proportion of residents aged 85 or older. Clean living? Maybe. Healthy diets? Probably not. Maybe they have less stress, or maybe they handle it better. I'd be very interested in other people's theories about this!

July 26, 2003

Mars Attempt #2

I just came from my second crack at Mars. I'm under gorgeous dark skies, and even a couple of nearby streetlights do little to annoy me. My nemesis tonight was dew. I could get focused images of Mars at 240x, with some shimmer from the atmosphere, but my optics were definitely fogging up; even the telescope tube was showing the humidity. This didn't stop me from looking though, and I was rewarded with the icy glow of the Southern Polar Cap, shining like a diamond (or a National Guitar). Absolutely gorgeous. I was also aware of a large dark feature in the center of the disk, but the fogging was too severe to make out its outline. Now if we could just get some dry air ...

Update: The dark region, not surprisingly, was Syrtis Major. I learned this from Sky & Telescope's handy Mars Profiler.

July 22, 2003

Soaring Dreams

I was dozing in the passenger seat on the drive back home, and my wife woke me to point out an unusual sight: we were travelling parallel with a ridge of southern Berkshire Hills and above the ridge was what I can only call a swarm of paragliders and hang gliders, colorful fabric envelopes and wings circling and wafting over the green treetops. We saw flyers soaring on thermals, launching from a mountaintop clearing, and sailing down to land in rich fields in the valley below.

For a long time I've been interested in trying paraplanes—like ultralights with parasails for wings. I thought if I was going to bolt together my own aircraft it would be comforting to always have an open parachute above me. More recently I've thought that maybe a trike-style ultralight would be a smarter thing to fly, and I made motions toward trying this on both of our Hawai`i trips. But boy, those gliders over the ridge made soft wings look fun. I don't think I could bring myself to run off a cliff in a hang glider, but I might manage a hillside paraglider launch.

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of the thermal riders; didn't think my 3x zoom was sufficient to bother and I wasn't fully awake. But I've done a little online research to determine that they were flying over Mount Brace, near the Dutchess/Columbia county line (that's New York State), and I've tracked down a couple of sites with pictures: Wierck's Paragliding Site: Brace Mountain and P&K Industries/Fly New York/Mt. Brace Outdoor Club - I think we caught the tail end of their Fly-in!

July 21, 2003

Recently Seen On the Landing

There are a number of elevators, one of which is closed today. A few minutes ago I saw a workman standing outside an elevator door open onto a dark shaft. He appeared to be belaying someone on a thick hemp rope [shudder].

July 17, 2003

Pain in the ...

Neck. My neck. I look like Frankenstein's Monster.

For the second week in a row I felt a sudden blossoming nastiness in there while doing seated bench presses. I was much more careful this week, to make sure that I wasn't pressing my head back or anything like that, but it hurt just the same, prompting an early stop halfway through the set. Unlike last week, however, it got stiffer in the evening and was really stiff in the morning. When I want to look far to the side today I have to swivel my body, as if my head were bolted on. I hunted around online and found that this happens to other people, usually when they break form, hold their breath, or strain their head forward as they press. I may have been guilty of any or all of those. Needless to say, I won't be doing bench presses for several weeks, just in case, and when I do I'll start over, very carefully.


And Mom, if you're reading this, I'll talk to a professional if it's not better tomorrow. I just suspect it will heal before I could actually get in to see anyone. Blech.

July 14, 2003

Mars Attempt #1

We were up in western Massachusetts this weekend visiting family and I packed the telescope in case I could get a look at Mars. As you may already know, this summer's apparition is the most promising in recorded history, with Mars appearing larger from earth's surface than anyone alive has ever seen it, or will ever see it again. Mars will be closest and look biggest next month, but there's a significant possibility that a dust storm currently brewing on Mars will have blanketed the planet by then and prevent us from seeing any surface features.

So I dragged myself out of bed at three o'clock Saturday morning, peeked out a window to see Mars beaming peachily over a neighbor's house, and snuck outside and set up. Unfortunately I was beset by atmospheric problems closer to home. I found Mars easily at 48x, then switched to 96x and then 240x to try and get a look at some details, but the seeing was terrible and Mars billowed and swirled in the eyepiece. Back at 96x it wasn't long before I noticed a half dozen prismatic rays haloing the planet - high altitude ice or dew on my mirror, I'm not sure which.

Doing this in the middle of the night takes more out of me than I'd like, but I'll try again if New Jersey blesses me with clear steady skies on of these nights. Cross your fingers for me.

July 03, 2003

Fun Public Domain Travesty Gifts

Have you seen the offers for books staring YOUR CHILD in fairy tale adventures? You know, Snow White, YOUR CHILD, and the Seven Dwarfs. Stuff like that. Well now, thanks to the same miracles of public domain etexts and printing-on-demand you can get books like that for YOU, featuring fascinating stuff like this (check out the optional modifications).

My curiosity is piqued, but why the limited selection? I'd be much more tempted if I could order a copy of Goethe's YOUR NAME, or D. H. Lawrence's Lady YOUR NAME's Lover; what fun! Until then, "Call me YOUR NAME?" Got it.

July 01, 2003

Slimmer Foods to Come?

So called Big Fat has been getting a lot of negative attention in the past year, as lawsuits criticize the marketing of unhealthy edibles. Now it looks like Big Food is getting skittish, as Altria subsidiary Kraft Foods announces plans to skinny their product line. Tastier lowfat Oreos may not make people forget the Phillip Morris side of Altria Group, but at least they'd be a positive step.