Three from English Russia

English Russia is one of those blogs I check once in a blue moon, then kick myself for not subscribing to their RSS feed. As Bullwinkle says, “This time, fur sure!” Three wicked pisser posts, among many.

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Reindeer Racing.

These days is a great day for the dwellers of Northern regions of Russia. The polar night lasting many days before when the Sun didn’t come above the horizon and the land was covered with the darkness ends. People come from all the regions to celebrate.

The main fun during celebration is the deer race. People bring their best deers and race, race, race. The looser deers are being eaten then, like, they did not satisfy the expectations, giving the big meals to everyone.

No mention of amanita, but a boy can hope…

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Ukranian Amazons.

A French explorer Guillaume Herbaut has found a group of amazons hiding in the woods of Ukraine. They live together, dress like locals, study martial arts and their idol is Ukrainian lady minister Julia Timoshenko.

No mention of White Tights, but a boy can hope…

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Russian Flying Fortresses.

Photoshop awesomeness.

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The future – here, but not widely distributed

Three quick forward-looking links.

Crooked Timber is doing a Charlie Stross book event.

A New Year, a new Crooked Timber book event. But instead of one book, we’re covering a dozen or so, all written by Charlie Stross, exploring different forms of the SF genre from postcyberpunk to alternate history and beyond. For this we need an all star cast, and, in addition to several CT regulars (Henry, both Johns and Maria), we have contributions from Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong and Ken MacLeod. Between us, we’ve managed to cover nearly everything. Glaring exceptions include the Laundry series, which every fan of Len Deighton and HP Lovecraft should read, and Glasshouse. I’ve added an open thread at the end of the seminar, for those who want to discuss what we missed.

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Geoff Manaugh is getting close on the BLDGBLOG book.  Close enough, in fact, that he’s posted some Wordle word clouds – looks like it’s going to be an interesting read.

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At City of Sound, The Personal Well-Tempered Environment.

SUMMARY

  • A real-time dashboard for buildings, neighbourhoods, and the city, focused on conveying the energy flow in and out of spaces, centred around the behaviour of individuals and groups within buildings.
  • A form of ‘BIM 2.0′ that gives users of buildings both the real-time and longitudinal information they need to change their behaviour and thus use buildings, and energy, more effectively. An ongoing post-occupancy evaluation for the building, the neighbourhood and the city.
  • A software service layer for connecting things together within and across buildings.
  • As information increasingly becomes thought of a material within building, it makes sense to consider it holistically as part of the built fabric, as glass, steel, ETFE etc.

Wordly Wise

merkin – a pubic wig (usually for women).

The Oxford Companion To The Body traces the merkin back to 1450, a time when the bidet was a distant prospect and personal hygiene fell well short of the mark. Pubic lice were common – so some women, fed up with the constant itching, just shaved the lot off and then covered their modesty with a merkin.

Prostitutes, too, were frequent wearers. In the days before penicillin, it didn’t take long to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases. They knew it was no work, no pay, and didn’t want to scare the customers off with their syphilitic pustules and gonorrhoeal warts. So the merkin was used as a prosthesis to cover up a litany of horrors.

The Oxford Companion recounts an amusing tale of one gentleman who procured the disease-riddled merkin of a prostitute, dried it, gave it a good comb and then presented it to a cardinal, telling him he had brought him St Peter’s beard. *

Today’s Wordly Wise is inspired by a bit of Twitter fun.  Yesterday @boasas re-tweeted a message from @Beard_of_Cloud – folks who follow @boasas figured out instantly what was going on. @boasas is Steven Cloud, author of Boy on a Stick and Slither; @Beard_of_Cloud is his beard’s Twitter stream (or micro-blog , if you prefer).  I loved the idea – thus @Beard_of_Doc_H was created.  While basking in Cloud’s reflected glory, I was saddened to think of the 51% of the population who are shut out of the fun. “Not so fast”, thinks I, “there are some possibilities…”

One definition of beard works logically, but not practically. @Beard_of_Tina_Vitale is another person – Danny Rose. On we go to another sense of beard – from there it’s an instant connect to a favorite old word.

Two famous merkins:

Del’s Merkin – a Permit and Bonefish fly, meant to imitate a crab, tied with Aunt Lydia’s Rug Yarn.

permitcrab

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Merkin Muffley, last President of the US

merkinmuffley

“My fellow merkins…”

Got a Match?

Special God’s Holy Trousers Edition

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Two empires meet in one of the most interesting places on the planet.

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First up – and oldest – the kukri. I first encountered this knife in the classified ads of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, etc. back in the days when the ads also featured squirrel monkeys (I wish I could remember the name of one importer – I had a price list – their motto was “xx years in the monkey business”) and get rich quick chinchilla ranching schemes. In spite of that somewhat inauspicious intro the kukri immediately took it’s place in my little pantheon of cool edged tools and never left.

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The origin of the kukri is open to debate – my favorite theory is that Alexander the Great brought it east (the kopis) when he invaded India. Tying Alexander’s empire to a more recent one are, of course, the Gurkhas. A more indirect link to someone of note – the kukri is also common in Kumaon – Corbett, anyone?

What to match the kukri with? The Martini-Henry rifle is one candidate, but I’m going with something that could hang on a web belt near the knife – the Webley Revolver. More even than the Martini, the Webley, in a service holster with a lanyard round the officer’s neck, is for me the essence of British colonial militaria.

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There you have it – Alexander and Victoria meet in northern India and Nepal as Daniel and Peachie are tromping through the Khyber pass on their way to Kafiristan. A picture from much later showing a Gurkha paratrooper kitted out with what I’m assuming is a Webley – the kukri is there – you just can’t see it.

gurkha1

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Fun fact – the pistol Sean Connery carries in his finest film role – as Zed – is a Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver (automatic revolvers are, IMHO, a solution in search of a problem, but interesting nevertheless).

Orchid nano-viv

A great Flickr find – a couple days ago Karlboms orchids favorited a picture of mine; as I usually do, I backtracked to see what sort of things they are up to. Jackpot! Aside from being the EpiWeb people (a material that’s generated a lot of discussion in the dart frog community) they are also doing some amazing things with small vivaria for orchids. I’ve put the following together by running down various threads on the Orchid Source forum.

The core (literally and figuratively) of the setup is a terracotta drain pipe.

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A sheet of glass is siliconed to the bottom, the pipe is filled with water, a piece of EpiWeb is used as a cork (to keep the water in the pipe from becoming algae-choked) and in the latest incarnation a piece of rubber cord is wrapped around the pipe to secure specimens.

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An obvious warning – rainwater or RO water only – and a less obvious one – fertilize from the outside only.

As Ron Popeil would say, “But wait! There’s more!” Mikael encloses the pipes in lexan tubes.

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On the first picture you see the top of the lid on the nanoviv. I have cut out a piece of the glass to allow air to pass out.
Under the glass you can see the PC fan that circulates air inside the cover.
The light set-up is made by using 12V halogen lamps that sits on a metal strip that is covered with copper foil. The lamps is attached to and connected to the “rail” by very strong neodym magnets. This allows me to move the lamps freely and makes a minimal fixture.

nanotop1

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Here you can see the way I mount the fan. By using neodym magnet (one on each side of the cover)I can set the fan in all directions without destroying the plastic. (this fan is from another vivarium). I use fans that are only 40×40 mm.

nanofan

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Really amazing stuff – you can see the entire nano-viv Flickrset by clicking on the picture below.

Status update

Some of you may have noticed that the blog has been doing a bit of time travelling – first back to the beginning of December and then to January 10. I think we’re resynchronized, time/space-wise – sorry for any confusion.

Enormous lacuna

How in the world did I not know about this? Trains, model making and everything shitty about the 70′s – SUPERTRAIN!

The series took place on the “Supertrain”, an imagined nuclear-powered bullet train that was equipped with amenities more appropriate to a cruise ship than a train, such as swimming pools and shopping centers. It was so big it had to run on very broad gauge track (not two sets of tracks as depicted in some advertising). The train took 36 hours to go from New York City to Los Angeles. Much like its contemporary The Love Boat, the plots concerned the passengers’ social lives, usually with multiple intertwining storylines, and most of the cast was composed of guest stars. The production was elaborate, with huge sets and a high-tech model train for outside shots.

At the time, Supertrain was the most expensive series ever aired in the United States. The production was beset by problems, including a model train that crashed, and while it was heavily advertised during the 1978-1979 season, it suffered from bad reviews and low viewership; despite attempts to salvage the show by reworking the cast, it never took off and left the air after only three months. *

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Special guest stars: Dandy Don Meredith, Vickie Lawrence, and George Hamilton. It’s got success smeared all over it!

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The only other atomic locomotive that I can think of offhand is the mighty Dreadnought in Harry Harrison’s A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! ATTH is both a good piece of alt history (as I’ve said before, a genre prone to “what if the Spartans had a nuke?” crapola) and a bit of proto-steampunk (I guess by IDing it as steampunk, the alt history is a given).

Googling ‘atomic train locomotive’ turns up a late-50s ‘how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb’ train set – the Kusan KF-100 Atomic Train. A youtube clip of the train in action (sorry, pas de mushroom clouds):

Fish wish list

There are many fish I’d like to chase, but three keep turning up in my fantasies. For some reason, they’re all (at least in part) gold – go figure. Today, the first – the majestic mahseer. Saying you want to catch a mahseer is kind of like saying you want to catch a trout – there’s more than one kind. The one I’m thinking of is the Himalayan or golden mahseer – Tor putitora. Westerners have been angling for golden mahseer since the mid 1800s – large fish, swift water, incredible setting, fabled history – I’m in.

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A note on the painting above – a week or so ago Steve clued me to a Walton Ford calendar – while messing around on Amazon, I stumbled across a date book as well. This is for the week of June 29. The painting is titled Baba B. G. and I’m pretty sure the fish are mahseer (they are big cyprinids of some sort for sure).

Several of the paintings are quite specific in their references. One (also at Long Beach) responds to Microsoft chief Bill Gates’ visit to India in 1997, when Ford and his family were spending an extended time there. It shows “Baba B.G.” as a North American kingfisher holding court to eight other brilliantly plumed birds sitting lower down on the same branch. A large fish, skewered by the branch where it meets the trunk, hangs nearby, spilling smaller fish from its slit gut. Some of those tumbling from its belly are shown in the process of eating even smaller fish. Such is the law of economic imperialism. *

Oh, and I couldn’t resist the calendar either… A hint as to the identities of the other two species – they have the same name in Spanish and one is freshwater, the other salt.

Transient (I hope) twitter issue

You may see a request pop up from ‘Twitter API’ asking for an ID and password when you first visit DoaMNH. It’s an issue with the twitter badge (halfway down the right margin). The twitter folks are working on it – if it’s not resolved soon, I’ll comment out the badge. In the meantime, just click cancel and press on. Sorry ’bout that…

PETA – opportunists and scum

Via an email from Patrick:

The makers of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the BBC documentary film that led to the BBC withdrawing from televising Crufts Dog Show in the UK are furious with PETA for jumping on the film’s bandwagon. *

Why?

“I am horrified that PETA is using the film to further its own, warped agenda,” says Jemima Harrison, of Passionate Productions, which made the film for the BBC. “Our film is about animal welfare, not animal rights.

“PETA’s animal welfare record is appalling. It kills 97 per cent of the dogs that come to its shelters and admits its ultimate aim is to rid the world of what it calls the “domestic enslavement” of dogs as either pets or working dogs.

“In stark contrast, and the reason we made the film, is that we believe pedigree dogs are of tremendous value to society and that something needs to be done to arrest the damage caused by decades of inbreeding and selection for ‘beauty’. The film is a passionate call for urgent reform to save them before it is too late. To do that, there needs to be urgent reform of breeding practices and dog shows. *

[emphasis mine]

Sorry PETA – you have a track record. Pretending to care about animal welfare? That dog won’t hunt.

If you haven’t seen it already, Pedigree Dogs Exposed is worth checking out, as are Patrick’s posts on the subject.

Smart Grids

It was this article that got me started thinking about it – the money graf:

Around the corner at Madigan Lane, John Sweeney, a member of the town’s conservation-minded Heat Advisory Committee, took a characteristically green approach to powering his home during the storm. He reported his achievement in an e-mail, saying it was no big deal, but that his wife thought it an impressive tale worth sharing: Sweeney ran his refrigerator, freezer, TV, woodstove fan, and several lights through his Prius, for three days, on roughly five gallons of gas.

Up here in New England we just got through a short duration disaster (the ice storm). As a country (and globally), we in the beginning of a longer term disaster – the current recession/depression. One of the factors that kicked the recession into high gear (IMHO) was the spike in oil prices last summer and fall – the spike affected consumer spending directly – less money spent on other things – and indirectly, as people tightened their belts. Like it or not, it’s consumer spending (particularly American consumer spending) that has driven the global economy for decades. Oil prices have dropped recently (in large part because of the global economic contraction) – I don’t think that relying on energy costs staying low is a good bet. Kunstler’s take:

Many were stunned this year to witness the parabolic rise and fall of oil prices up to nearly $150 and then back around $36 by Christmas time. Quite a ride. I said in The Long Emergency that volatility would be the hallmark of post peak oil because it was obvious that advanced economies could not absorb super high prices and would crash in response; that at some point after crashing, these economies would respond to the new lower oil price, resume their cheap oil habits, and build to another price rise. . . and crash again. . . in a declension of ever-lower industrial activity.
What I probably didn’t realize at the time was how destructive this cycling between low-high-and-low oil prices would actually be in the first instance of it, and what a toll it would take right off the bat. We can see now that our first journey through the cycle took out the most fragile of the complex systems we depend on: capital finance. As a result, a huge amount of capital (say $14 trillion) has evaporated out of the system, never to be seen again (and never to be deployed for productive purposes). It will be harder for the USA to rebound from the grievous injury to this crucial part of the overall system, and Europe has foundered similarly — though the European nations are not burdened to the same degree by the awful liabilities of suburbia. *

JHK may be too pessimistic, but to put things in context – last spring (I think) a friend put Nouriel Roubini (aka Dr. Doom) in context by describing him as the James Howard Kunstler of economics. On December 3, 2008, Nassem Taleb – author of The Black Swan – suggested that Roubini is an optimist. What’s that saying – hope for the best, plan for the worst?

So – three things – severe weather (say what you will about climate change, but from a risk/reward perspective, the chances of climate change being real need to be down near zero if you want to justify staying the course), volatile energy costs and a recession that militates heavily for big government spending – if I could do a 3 circle venn diagram a la Indexed, one of the things in the climate/energy/spending intersection would be smart grids. I was a little surprised to find – as the result of a lunchtime rantlet – that some folks haven’t been exposed to the notion. A smart grid is not a thing – it’s a bunch of desired outcomes and technologies to achieve those results.

Before examining particular technologies, a proposal can be understood in terms of what it is being required to do. The governments and utilities funding development of grid modernization have defined the functions required for smart grids. According to the United States United States Department of Energy‘s Modern Grid Initiative report,[11] a modern smart grid must:

  1. Be able to heal itself
  2. Motivate consumers to actively participate in operations of the grid
  3. Resist attack
  4. Provide higher quality power that will save money wasted
  5. Accommodate all generation and storage options
  6. Enable electricity markets to flourish
  7. Run more efficiently *

Bullets 3, 5 and 7 are of particular interest to me. Efficiency – wasting less – is one of the most important ways to go after climate change and energy costs. There is no free lunch – there are costs associated with any kind of power generation – but improvements in efficiency are as close to a free lunch as we’re going to find. Bullet 5 touches on the Prius example I started the post with. A lot of non-fossil energy options are intermittent – wind is probably the classic example. Being able to do some curve-smoothing by storing/releasing energy in a fleet of plugged in hybrids? Interesting. Bullet 3 ties back to climate from the other side – as weather gets more severe, being able to resist disruption is a very good thing. Bullet 3 also links nicely to John Robb’s concept of resilient communities. There are tension here as well – at least for the purposes of this post. I’m arguing that the Federal government ought to spend some money on implementing (not just designing/armwaving) a smart grid – Robb argues that resilient communities must be bottoms-up and self organizing. Given that my chances of affecting prez-elect Obama’s decisions on anything are virtually nil, I’ll kick that objection under the rug. I do think there’s an example where we meet in the middle, though – you’re soaking in it (the Internet).

I’m sitting by the phone, waiting for the call from Washington that let’s me know I’ve been tapped to be an Special Presidential Advisor on technology, foraging and comics (I plan to telecommute) – while we all wait for an announcement, keep your eye on the grid and on resilient communities.

Update – I swear I did not know about this when I posted:

At a committee briefing Boxer held Wednesday in Washington, green tech evangelist John Doerr called for stimulus money to be used to update the nation’s electrical grid. He said a modern grid that could better handle wind and solar power would enable a green technology boom. A venture capitalist who backed Google and Amazon in their early days, Doerr says the green revolution has much greater potential for job creation than the Internet did. *

There go my Presidential Advisor chances…