Archive for the ‘Possibly neat stuff’ Category

Greg Ross’s Futility Closet is full of interesting tidbits. Here’s part of “Medley of Poems“, from Westminster Monthly, April 1910. A sample:

The boy stood on the burning deck,
His fleece was white as snow,
He stuck a feather in his hat,
John Anderson, my Jo!

“Come back, come back,” he cried in grief,
“From India’s coral strands,
The frost is on the pumpkin, and
The village smithy stands.

Full post here.

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Update 12/20/10: one of my favorite sites, Astronomy Picture of the Day, notes that this eclipse solstice is the first in 456 years, and that no one has yet figured out when the next one will be.

This is a pretty neat coincidence: there will be a total eclipse of the moon early in the morning of December 21st (Eastern time); in the evening of the same day the December solstice (winter solstice) arrives.

Coincidence … or conspiracy? You be the judge.

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It’s been a long time since I did this, but leaving a meeting in Kentucky, I decided to take the Anderson Ferry across the Ohio instead of the interstate. As you can see (looking back to Kentucky), it’s not a particularly high-tech operation — maybe 12 cars at a time. And even if all the cars are turned off as mine was, maybe not good in terms of a carbon footprint. That would be a good question to calculate.

A ferry has been going back and forth from Ohio to Kentucky at that site since 1817, and it’s a national historic landmark. Perhaps not as adventurous as Pirates of the Caribbean. But it’s relaxing, even if over too soon, and costs only $4.

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Here’s a photo of our night-blooming primroses, aka evening primroses. I tried to make this a video but couldn’t get my BlackBerry to record it. (I’ll try again).

If you’ve never seen one pop, it’s pretty amazing. Just like a time-lapse movie, except that once the quivering starts it only takes about 30 seconds for the sepals to peal back and the blossom to emerge.

We think the mild weather and frequent rain in Cincinnati this spring have finally done the trick. We were inspired to do this by evenings spent on the patio of our friends the Davises in Winston-Salem, who seemed to have dozens of them going.

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At least, according to HowManyofMe.com. Supposedly their conclusions are based on census data.

The good news is I’m unique. The bad news is I can’t claim those bills belong to someone else. At least it makes my LinkedIn profile easy to figure out.

Actually, I’m the 3rd of 4 people with my full name, Tolliver Cleveland Callison. My grandfather was Papa to his grandkids and Mr. Callison to just about every else, including my grandmother. My father was T.C., Jr. (known as T.C., aka Top Cat, aka Yip). They’re both deceased now, and greatly missed. My son Todd is actually T.C. the IV, but he lives in Mexico so the qualification “in the U.S.” still applies.

I don’t know what they mean by “1 or fewer” people with my name. How can there be fewer than 1 of me? Oh no! It’s like that Twilight Zone episode with Rod Taylor as the astronaut who knows he’s about to disap . . .

For my wife Jenny they’re emphatic: “There is 1 person in the U.S. named Jenny Callison.” The 1 and only. They got that right.

–Thanks to the J-Walk Blog

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Update 4/18/10: it seems that the Boy Scouts are celebrating their centennial year this week, which I didn’t realize when I wrote this post. Happy 100th!

One of my favorite books from younger days is the Scout Field Book — as in Boy Scouts, but way better than the Boy Scout Handbook. It’s basically oriented, as the name suggests, to hiking, camping, swimming, felling trees, tracking animals, identifying trees and more. As Bertie Wooster says of young blighted Edwin the Boy Scout, “They spoor, and creep about, and what not, don’t you know.” I pulled it down from the shelf today and got great nostalgic retro pleasure from leafing through  it after many years.

The illustration shows how you tie a half-hitch. I’ve never forgotten how to do it after all these years. And a bowline, which allows you to make a loop that won’t slip. I still know how to tie both these, although I’ve never mastered the sheepshank.

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pictured, left to right: Messor barbarus; physicist Murray Gell-Mann

This post’s title comes from one of the great imaginative romances of the 20th century – and from quantum mechanics. As you might suspect, there’s a connection.

T.H. White’s The Once and Future King is a brilliant re-creation of King Arthur (with the Round Table, Lancelot, Guinevere and all the rest). It’s the direct basis of at least two other works: the musical Camelot and Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. Re-reading it this month I was also struck by how much the relationship between Merlyn the magician and the boy Arthur (aka the Wart) resembles that between Dumbledore and Harry Potter. I later learned that J.K. Rowling has described the Wart as “Harry’s spiritual ancestor.”

The Sword in the Stone is the first of four sections of the novel, and the only one about Arthur as a boy. Merlyn’s tutorship includes changing the Wart into, among other things, a fish in the moat, a falcon in the mews, and an ant in a glass case. White’s ant world is the ultimate totalitarian society (its appearance in 1939 is hardly coincidental). The Messor barbarus ants know only two concepts: Done and Not-Done. They obey all orders sent wirelessly to their antennae. They never ask questions. Everything Not Forbidden is Compulsory is the slogan carved above each tunnel in their nest.

It’s also Gell-Mann’s Totalitarian Principle, coined by physicist Murray Gell-Mann as a basic law of quantum mechanics. Any interaction between sub-atomic particles not expressly prohibited by some natural law must be assumed to be probable (the soft version) or must be inevitable (the hard version). Astronomers now have indirect though pretty good photographic evidence that black holes are real; but long before that, their existence was considered almost certain because (a) the laws of physics said that they could exist, and (b) no known law prevents them from existing.

Gell-Mann had a flair for such things. He also coined the term quark, the never-seen subatomic building block of observable particles, from a passage in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (‘Three quarks for Muster Mark!’). A physicist after my own heart.

The Once and Future King is one of the great, great books of the 20th century. I’m certain that the Disney cartoon is a two-edged sword (ha!) in that most people wrongly assume the novel is aimed only at children.

They’re wrong. Read it. It will break your heart.

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Not really. But the 5-kilometer diameter asteroid 3753 Cruithne is one of a kind — at least a far as planet Earth is concerned. It orbits the Sun in a 1:1 orbital resonance with the Earth (this is space-talk for the fact that its orbit is just about exactly one year long).

The things I learn from Wikipedia. The upper illustration shows the orbits of the Earth and 3753 Cruithne from the vantage point of a stationary sun. The two make their closest approach (about 30 times the distance from the Earth to the moon) each November.

From Earth’s point of view 3-C (I’m tired of typing the full name) moves first toward and then away from us, and further oscillates between being farther away from, then closer to, the Sun.

The resulting motion, far from being random, follows a shape known to cosmologists by the highly technical terms “kidney bean-shaped” or “horseshoe.” This is the perspective of the second illustration.

There are other, more  subtle effects as well. Gravitational attraction between Earth and C-3 increases and decreases as they approach and recede. The resulting tugs move C-3’s orbit by about half a million kilometers, and Earth’s by a whopping 1.3 centimeters, so the orbits as a whole move apart and together over a period of several hundred years. The next closest approach will be in July of 2292, so set your alarms.

The existence of 3-C was not known until the 1980’s. Alas for the science fiction writers and others who have postulated a second moon for Earth, this technically isn’t it, since 3753 Cruithne does not literally revolve around the planet. But it’s the closest thing we have.

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freecycle_logoMy friend John put me on to FreeCycle. It’s essentially an on-line “swap & shop” radio show (remember them?). If you have something you want to get rid of and don’t want the hassle of selling it, just offer it on your local FreeCycle. I joined about a month ago, specifically to see if I could locate a scanner. Last week an office about a mile from my home offered an HP scanner that works with my Mac, has OCR, and can scan slides and negatives. Perfect.

Here’s what their website says:

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,851 groups with 6,690,000 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them’s good people). Membership is free.

Here in Cincinnati there are 3 flavors, organized geographically (City, East Side, West Side), with a few thousand people in each one.

WARNING: do NOT confuse this with FreeCycle.com, which appears to be a rip-off site advertising deals which are for the most part not free.

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What is it? revealed

whatisitI posted this image a few days ago. I read the site where it appears every day, but this is the first time I remember being totally stumped by an image.

It’s a photo of a Martian plain, taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter. It appeared on the Astronomy Picture of the Day site on October 21, 2009. The black trails are thought to be the underlying bedrock after surface dust has been disturbed by dust devils.


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