Tag Archives: history

Links: Identity, Kindle, Language, and the Moon

  • Geek Merit BadgesFanboy Scouts has launched a series of Merit Badges for Geeks including achievements for Speedster, Mt. Doom, Tie Fighter Pilot, Away Team, and more.
  • Privacy in terms of contextual identity. How you present yourself to your friends is not how you present yourself to your colleagues, and what you’re willing to share in each context is going to be different.
  • XKCD is probably right about the future of “old-timey” speech. “Forsooth, do you grok my jive, me hearties?” We have a hard enough time getting the mid-twentieth century right, and that’s with people around who lived it!
  • Darryl Cunningham debunks the Moon Hoax in comic-strip form.
  • The new Kindle looks nice. They’re starting to get to the price/feature/polish point where I’d be tempted. (Well, except for that pesky DRM…) Also, Amazon launched Kindle for Android recently, but I haven’t tried it out. While it will run on Android 1.6, it’s a bit big for my G1 unless I clear out some other apps.
    Kindle Wireless 3G+WiFi.

Great Quotes With “Dear”

Here are some of my contributions to today’s Twitter meme, #greatquoteswithdear. You can probably figure out how the game works…

  • “Damn it, dear, I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”
  • “Damn the torpedoes, dear. Full speed ahead!”
  • “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes, dears.”
  • “Hello, dear. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  • “I aim to misbehave, dear.”
  • “I came, I saw, I conquered, dear.”
  • “Kneel before Zod, dear.”
  • “Madness? This is Sparta, dear!” ← (this one’s my favorite)
  • “More weight, dear.”
  • “Something wicked this way comes, dear.”
  • “The same thing we do every night, dear: Try to take over the world!”
  • “Why so serious, dear?”
  • “Yippee-ki-yay, dear.”
  • “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, dear?”

Eifelheim & Rethinking the Black Death

EifelheimI recently finished reading Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. It’s a science fiction novel written as historical fiction, following two parallel stories:

  • In the present day, a historian is trying to figure out why a village wiped out in the Black Death was never resettled, while a physicist tries to work out a new cosmological theory.
  • In 1348, the pastor of Oberhochwald unexpectedly makes first contact with shipwrecked aliens, who spend the next year stranded on Earth near the village.

The present-day story is interesting, but hard to follow just because the viewpoint characters are very…self-absorbed.

Fortunately, most of the book focuses on the middle ages and the story of how a tiny German village encounters and eventually learns to live with the stranded aliens. It paints a detailed picture of life in the 1300s and how their strange visitors disrupt it, and it’s fascinating to look at how someone highly-educated in science and philosophy, but with a medieval European mindset, might see concepts like space travel, electricity, or even evolution. How do you explain coming from another planet in another star system to someone who believes that the Sun moves around the Earth, the stars are all the same distance away, and the “world” encompasses all of the above?

The Black Death

As the book caught up to the arrival of the plague in the village, I found myself curious about the timeline of the pandemic. In looking it up, I found an article proposing that, based on descriptions of the symptoms and spread of the disease, it might have been a viral hemorrhagic fever like Ebola or Marburg (with a longer incubation period), and not the bubonic plague. It probably falls under the category of “extraordinary claims,” but it’s certainly an interesting idea!

Man-Eating Birds, Algae-Powered Cars, and Googly Androids

  • Fossils linked to Maori legend of man-eating bird. # The giant Haast’s Eagle, which died out at least 500 years ago, was originally thought to have been a scavenger, but new analysis of fossils indicates that it was a lion-level predator…making it the probable basis for the Maori Te Hokioi legend.
  • Top Cyber Security Risks 2009. # Operating systems are becoming less and less of a problem, as attackers focus on client applications like Adobe Reader, QuickTime, and so forth.
  • Odd headline combo: “The algae-fueled Prius hits the road” and “Flesh-eating bacteria hit the beach.” (ZDNet newsletter) #
  • I like the sound of “Googly Android devices” #
  • Not sure what this song is, but what I can hear of it sounds like the chorus from Gethsemane – over and over and over. #
  • WTF? Allergy recall of “Fannie May Milk Chocolate & Almonds” due to undeclared almonds. How is that undeclared? #

Touring the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1992

The Station Fire burning through the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles is expected to reach the summit of Mt. Wilson sometime tonight. In all likelihood it will damage or destroy the communications towers and the observatory complex. The Mount Wilson Observatory is an active observatory, and is also of historical importance because of discoveries made there over its 105-year history. In particular: Edwin Hubble’s* observations with the 100-inch Hooker telescope (shown at right) indicated that universe is much larger than was previously thought, and that it was expanding — observations that revolutionized astronomy and led to the current Big Bang theory.

People listening to a talk, lots of pictures of the sun printed out on the wall.I’ve been to the observatory once, on a tour my family took on August 8, 1992. We’d just come back from a trip to Florida where we visited Disney World and Cape Canaveral during the summer I was 16. I really wish I could remember more about the trip…but I took pictures and labeled them (though not in much detail). With the observatory threatened, I thought I’d dig them out and scan them**. You can see all eight on my Mt. Wilson Observatory Tour 1992 photoset on Flickr.

Forested mountain valley with a hazy white sky.The Observatory’s website is apparently hosted on the grounds, so the fact that its fire status page is still responding indicates it’s still there and has power. The latest update says that they’re setting up a backup info page at http://joy.chara.gsu.edu/CHARA/fire.php, but that’s showing a 404 error right now.

*As in the Hubble Space Telescope.

**Scanning them was not a problem. Digging them out? That was a problem. I knew exactly which photo album they were in, and thought I knew where the album was. As it turned out, it wasn’t there. It was in an unopened box shoved at the very back of the long,narrow hall closet, such that I had to move 3 other boxes, several bags, and an unused CD rack just to see that it was labeled “photo albums” on top. Edit: And, oh yeah, the trail of ants along the wall, going after the long-forgotten bag of Halloween candy. The wall I kept brushing up against. How did I forget that part?

That’s the missing piece that makes the classic phrase more than a simple tautology. It’s not just that it’s in the last place you look. It’s that it’s in the last place you want to look.