25 February 2006

Un-Pimp My Ride

This just in from the "Corporate World Co-opting and Mainstreaming Ghetto Subculture But Going One Up On It" department... Yup. The viral marketing geniuses over at VW have done it again with these three totally genius spots for the new VW GTI Mark V. @#$@kin' GREAT ads. This time, unlike the "Polo suicide bomber" ads, they're legit.

Here's hoping these "lame" ride drivin' pimp daddies take Deutschland Snoop's advice and "drop it like it's hot."

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23 February 2006

Cool Gizmo: Podzinger

Podzinger. So many pods, so little time. Why not use their proprietary voice recognition algorithm to search for and find relevant things you're interested in? This sort of reminds me of TVEyes, which sort of does the same thing for TV, radio and finds video clips on the 'net.

Know any other cool gizmos? Modify this post...

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22 February 2006

Neutral Milk Hotel

I just saw this over on MetaFilter: Neutral Milk Hotel demos, videos, and bootlegs. Brainchild of enigmatic, now-reclusive singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum (not Magnum!), the "fuzz-folk" project known as Neutral Milk Hotel began and ended in the 90s and only released two LPs, but is still held as a touchstone by many indie rock critics. More live recordings can be found at the site for Elephant 6, the collective which included NMH and other bands like Beulah, Circulatory System, Elf Power, and Apples in Stereo. The complete discography and more MP3s. Some lyrics. (Previously)

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20 February 2006

Cool: Holograms


Oops, I mean: Technology of carrying out the focus of the laser beam all over space, plasma-izing air and making it emitting light The technology which controls the luminosity, contrast, and generation distance of the plasma to generate is developed. It succeeds in displaying "a real 3-dimensional (3D) image" on the space which does not exist at all except air for the first time in the world.

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17 February 2006

Dante, the Hypnotist

This is easily one of the most fascinating articles I've ever read.

What is it like to have someone attach themselves to the essence of who you are, and feed off that essence for the rest of your life and beyond, like a vampire sucking your nourishment? And what if you became rich and famous and this vampire on your essence also became rich and famous, so that no one could ever remember you without remembering them?
Once upon a time in the west there was a stage hypnotist named Dr Michael Dean...

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16 February 2006

Neverland, Amerika

This is the most amazing, surreal, filmlike set of photos I've ever seen on Flickr. Somewhere between beautiful and terrifying, this guy's imagination impresses me no end.

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The truth about cowboys...

Willie Nelson tells all.

(I used to like Pansy Division's version of the song, but Willie's version beats it by a mile.)

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15 February 2006


Want a poster the size of [insert 'size of' here]? Enter: Rasterbator. It allows you to "Posterize" or, rather, "Poster Size" just about any image, even if it's a relatively low-res JPG. This is especially amazing as usually, larger images require huge resolution/file sizes or, more often than not, require large committments to layout and vectors.


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14 February 2006

The death of handwriting

Having only last week had to add an apology for my now appalling handwriting to a letter that accompanied some stuff to Lee, the essay below on that same subject from today's Guardian newspaper seems especially appropriate. While I'm sure we're all excellent typists by now, has that come at the expense of physically being able to write as well as we used to? I used to be complimented on my handwriting - not that it was the fancy script that's often associated with a fine hand, but it was clear and kind of reflected my personality - but now, my hand and wrist physically feels like it's about to cramp up if I do much more than addressing an envelope in block capitals! Anyway, here's the essay from the paper...

The death of handwriting

We spend our working days tapping into computers. We communicate with each other via email rather than letter. And today, as chip and pin technology becomes compulsory on the high street, even our signatures have become obsolete. Could it really all be over for handwriting? Stuart Jeffries reports...

Patrick McGoohan's words are becoming less and less true as technology extends its cheerless remit. "I am not a number," he declared in The Prisoner, "I am a free man." But increasingly we are numbers - digitised and quantified, rewritten as algorithms and asked for our personal codes to confirm who we are before call centre workers will deign to bandy words with us. As if to prove the point, from this morning anyone with a chip and pin card will be obliged to use their pin number and not their signature when making a purchase. It seems odd that the powers-that-be have used Valentine's Day as the deadline for their unromantic automatisation project. Who, after all, writes poetry about pin cards? Let's have a go. "Roses are red, violets are blue, my pin number is 3, 5, 4, 2" (It isn't, incidentally. I'm not that daft).

Rather than sinuous penmanship, our identities are increasingly confirmed by numbered sequences that have been imposed on us. And, if signatures are becoming increasingly irrelevant, what then is the future for handwriting in a world when (according to a new Lloyds TSB Insurance survey) one in three children has a computer in the bedroom, many more are accustomed to writing on them at home and school and, if I had a penny for every time I have heard or read parents and teachers bemoaning the poor state of pupil's handwriting, I would have enough for a £335 Mont Blanc Meisterstück fountain pen in precious resin with a gold-plated finish?

Yesterday afternoon I received a lovely letter from a correspondent that began: "Please forgive scribbled note. I can no longer type." But why, with all due respect, should anyone ask forgiveness when favouring me with the personal touch of their penmanship? When did typing become better than handwriting? (To which question an irritatingly good reply is: If you're so clever, why didn't you write this article by hand?)

Our very personalities seems to be slipping away when it comes to determining our identities. True, even signatures can be hellishly commodified (think of how Picasso's signature became the imprimatur of the boring Citroën people carrier), but they do at least remain distinctive to each of us, and an expression, whether we understand it or not, of some aspect of our character. As the website for the British Institute of Graphology says on its home page: "As a child you were taught to write. Why don't you continue to write the way you were taught?" The fact that you don't, it postulates, is the reason graphology exists.

Elaine Quigley, psychologist and chairwoman of the institute, says: "Pen and paper will always be necessary. Everything changes but I think writing will survive." She would say that, wouldn't she? Her discipline depends on people disclosing their personalities via handwriting.

The death of handwriting has been greatly exaggerated, says Patricia Lovett, fellow of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society. "When the telephone was invented, for example, it was thought that there would be no need for writing, then this was repeated with the invention of the typewriter, again with the computer, fax machine, emails and, recently, texting. At each stage some have suggested that this would result in the demise of the need to write by hand. Yet so far, this has not been the case. Even though some people may find typing easier than handwriting, putting pen to paper is something that children need to learn to do." But why, when we have so many other means of communicating? Lovett imagines a time when the electricity is down, your palm-held is on the blink, there is no sun to recharge the batteries and something essential needs to be written down. "What is to be done - employ a scribe? I don't think so."

Sumerian merchants were the first to codify their transactions in a recognisable script more than 5,000 years ago. They were alone in this discovery, archaeologists have long claimed, though some new evidence suggests the Egyptians were developing pictorial hieroglyphics independently at the same time.

(The less prosaic version is to be found in Plato's Phaedrus, where Socrates tells the story of a god who offers an Egyptian king a miraculous aid to frail human memory. The king is sceptical, as is Socrates who warns that writing will replace memory and argues that the truth that lives in the human soul will be dissolved in its translation into ambiguous inscription. (Ironically, as Jacques Derrida pointed out, we only know of Socrates' sceptical thoughts about writing because Plato wrote them down.)

The Sumerians used a stylus and wet clay to record the ingredients for beer. The endlessly inventive outpouring of human writing thus grew out of commercial necessity. Since then, the history of writing is one of a virulent spread of the written word, such as India's 200 different scripts, or Japanese which has three scripts and thousands of characters. But the story also cannot miss the wholesale erasure of written cultures. The Spanish destruction of Mayan civilisation meant the loss of thousands of documents; only four codices survive.

According to Steven Roger Fischer, author of A History of Writing, Hitler decreed that the Latin script should replace the Gothic, which had hitherto been a symbol of Germanic identity. Gothic was described by the Nazis as a "Jewish script", but quite possibly, behind this racist rhetoric were practical considerations: Latin script was easier to write. In Britain, Latin handwriting styles were popularised in the first writing manual in the 1570s. Early Victorians used a copperplate style with thick and thin strokes, but later in the 19th century, the "Vere Foster civil service" hand was most frequently taught in schools. Only in the 1930s was the semi-cursive or joined-up style known as round hand developed. Most schools now teach a variant of this.

But there are other national handwriting cultures. Different national forms of handwriting are distinctive - British, French and American schoolchildren, for instance, write in entirely distinct ways. In France an ideological row over handwriting erupted in 2002 when the education minister, Jack Lang, decided to stop teaching French children the traditional baroque handwriting because he claimed it had resulted in loss of legibility at speed and the failure of some disadvantaged secondary students to write at all. Lang said he "felt it was time France had a clearer; more businesslike handwriting for the 21st century", while critics bemoaned the loss of a piece of French heritage.

Today, Latin script's global dominance is intensified not just by the global stranglehold of English but because of computers. Times New Roman is everywhere because it is Microsoft's default typeface. Writing and handwriting have grown apart. Brian Dillon, lecturer in English at the University of Kent, writes in his review of Fischer's book: "In a world in which most of our handwriting is as unreadable as ancient Sudanese, writing dominates as never before in the form of a technological spectre: Plato's 'dream-image'."

If that is the case, what is the future for handwriting? What, really, is the point of teaching our children to write, when most writing can be word processed and voice recognition technology can turn speech into text? There is a very interesting discussion of just this at the Basic Skills Agency website (go to basic-skills.co.uk), a discussion whose chosen medium, one might think, proves the sceptic's point.

One correspondent, Alan Wells, bemoans his own handwriting, before writing: "My point is, does it matter? I've had two chairman [sic] who were major industrialists, neither of whom had handwriting better than mine. It didn't seem to stop them rising to the top in business even though much of their rise must have been before the introduction of the word processor. So is it worth schools spending endless time on handwriting when it seems to matter less and less? Could the time not be spent better? And so long as we have access to word processors why bother?"

Quigley, though, is convinced that writing is a skill we will always need. "There are lots of reasons to write. If you have a shopping list to write for example, or a note for a milkman."

Personally, I don't know when I last had a milkman, still less when I last left him a billet doux. A more persuasive argument for the maintenance of handwriting is surely that, as students learn this skill, they are building other developmental skills such as sequential memory and fine motor ability. These fundamental skills assist students in other essential academic areas such as maths. There is also a strong aesthetic argument: we shouldn't neglect the sheer beauty of which handwriting is capable. As Professor Rosemary Sassoon, author of Handwriting: The Way to Teach It, says: "Handwriting is an imprint of the self on the page."

The national curriculum, in any event, now stresses handwriting skills. The four criteria of the Sats level two handwriting test are legibility, consistent size and spacing of letters, flow and movement, and a confident personal style. But there is a problem. Anecdotal evidence suggests that young children have fewer opportunities for developing pre-writing skills, such as balance, hand-eye coordination and muscle control, which can themselves be critical in developing good handwriting ability as the child grows.

"Doing jigsaws, modelling clay or stacking saucepans inside one another helps to develop these skills, but time spent on such activities is decreasing in favour of more passive pursuits such as watching TV," contends Beverly Scheib of the Institute of Education, a special-needs consultant and handwriting specialist. It is not only later in life, it seems, that technology is a threat to writing development. Indeed, as reading levels have improved in recent years, writing skills have not. The Department for Education and Skills, which set up a National Literacy strategy in 1998, has noted that even though reading skills rose subsequently, writing did not until a concerted programme was subsequently devoted to it.

Thus, even as some disparage handwriting, the government is refusing to let it become a minority interest along with other skills such as scrimshaw or horse riding. And not only the government. In May, for instance, the National Handwriting Competition will take place and thousands of children's handwriting skills will be judged for legibility, flow, consistency, individuality, layout and tidiness. Perhaps this is one of those competitions for children that does not require rote performances (handwriting competitions are very different, in this sense, from spelling bees). Perhaps handwriting's obituary has been typed too soon. We may not be numbers after all.

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13 February 2006

Damn, Mexico City is BIG!

Damn, Mexico City is BIG! These pictures totally remind me of Sim City (cool fan site). Speaking of SC, I can't wait to play SuperPower 2, the "global geopilitical simulator."

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What a great house!

Oh man... I can so totally see myself living here:

"The Round House," Richard Foster's architectural masterpiece, rotates 360 degrees at the push of a button to offer lovely views of the pond, rolling landscape & reservoir

A bargain at $2.5 million!

Actually, I think it's cool that the place is still available for someone to live in. I've always been kind of torn on that point about Fallingwater... I think it's so cool that the Kaufman family wanted to share it with the rest of the world, but it's also kind of sad that only one family ever lived in what may be the perfect residence.

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11 February 2006

Food for thought

This is from the web site of Joe Bageant

In this I hear the truth, becuase this is the majority of my family...

The rest of this site is worth looking over as well. He's a good writer. A good southern writer. A good southern liberal writer. A good southern liberal writer that understands the people that he sprang from.


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The Soft Bulletin 5.1

So I got The Flaming Lips' surround sound 5.1 version of The Soft Bulletin as a birthday present to myself, and it's as awesome as one would expect. :)

The track listing is slightly different from the original album, including one song that isn't on the original, and not including the remixes of "Race For The Prize" and "Waitin' For A Superman" (which makes sense, with the whole album being one big remix).

I'll list both in the complete post.

BTW, the 5.1 version also comes with an audio CD of the album (in stereo, not surround, obviously) and it uses the new tracklisting as well.


1. Race For The Prize (Remix)
2. A Spoonful Weighs A Ton
3. The Spark That Bled
4. The Spiderbite Song
5. Buggin' (Remix)
6. What Is The Light?
7. The Observer
8. Waitin' For A Superman
9. Suddenly Everything Has Changed
10. The Gash Listen
11. Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
12. Sleeping On The Roof
13. Race For The Prize
14. Waitin' For A Superman (Remix)


1. Race For The Prize
2. A Spoonful Weighs A Ton
3. The Spark That Bled
4. Slow Motion (not on the original album)
5. What Is The Light?
6. The Observer
7. Waitin' For A Superman
8. Suddenly Everything Has Changed
9. The Gash
10. Feeling Yourself Disintigrate
11. Sleeping On The Roof
12. The Spiderbite Song
13. Buggin'

Also included are the "Waitin'" and "Race" videos, 4 radio sessions, and three album outtakes, all in stereo, plus the aforementioned audio CD as a separate disc.

I'm hoping their next album, At War With The Mystics, was recorded with the 5.1 version as a part of the original process, so both will be released at or near the same time, but I haven't heard if that'll be the case or not.

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10 February 2006

MMMmmm, astroturf

Okay, some of the little cakes and bon-bons on this page look tasty, but this is just scary-looking. Babelfish provides this translation of the text:

Fragrance of powdered tea or roll cloth
* Commodity explanation...
�吾�с�����若�冴�帥�ゃ�� to burn politely moistly it was fragrant in �� dust cloth and mixed the high first class powdered tea, color the refreshing roll cake. Fresh winding the black bean of the Tanba product in the raw cream.

OK, make that "Mmmm, roll cloth."

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09 February 2006

Look what I found....

Originally uploaded by lee_3dhighway.
...in my pocket after eating at a Mexican restaurant with my mom. A real buffalo nickel, from 1919!

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07 February 2006

How long before the "Lost World" is lost again...?

Sounds quite an amazing finding here, but - as with the previously pristine Antarctic now being spoiled - how long before tourism and other commercial interests spoil this seemingly Garden Of Eden...?


Scientists hail discovery of hundreds of new species in remote New Guinea

An astonishing mist-shrouded "lost world" of previously unknown and rare animals and plants high in the mountain rainforests of New Guinea has been uncovered by an international team of scientists.

Among the new species of birds, frogs, butterflies and palms discovered in the expedition through this pristine environment, untouched by man, was the spectacular Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise. The scientists are the first outsiders to see it. They could only reach the remote mountainous area by helicopter, which they described it as akin to finding a "Garden of Eden".

In a jungle camp site, surrounded by giant flowers and unknown plants, the researchers watched rare bowerbirds perform elaborate courtship rituals. The surrounding forest was full of strange mammals, such as tree kangaroos and spiny anteaters, which appeared totally unafraid, suggesting no previous contact with humans.

Bruce Beehler, of the American group Conservation International, who led the month-long expedition last November and December, said: "It is as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth. We found dozens, if not hundreds, of new species in what is probably the most pristine ecosystem in the whole Asian-Pacific region. There were so many new things it was almost overwhelming. And we have only scratched the surface of what is there." The scientists hope to return this year.

The area, about 300,000 hectares, lies on the upper slopes of the Foja Mountains, in the easternmost and least explored province of western New Guinea, which is part of Indonesia. The discoveries by the team from Conservation International and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences will enhance the island's reputation as one of the most biodiverse on earth. The mountainous terrain has caused hundreds of distinct species to evolve, often specific to small areas.

The Foja Mountains, which reach heights of 2,200 metres, have not been colonised by local tribes, which live closer to sea level. Game is abundant close to villages, so there is little incentive for hunters to penetrate up the slopes. A further 750,000 hectares of ancient forest is also only lightly visited.

One previous scientific trip has been made to the uplands - the evolutionary biologist and ornithologist Professor Jared Diamond visited 25 years ago - but last year's mission was the first full scientific expedition.

The first discovery made by the team, within hours of arrival, was of a bizarre, red-faced, wattled honeyeater that proved to be the first new species of bird discovered in New Guinea - which has a higher number of bird species for its size than anywhere else in the world - since 1939. The scientists also found the rare golden-fronted bowerbird, first identified from skins in 1825. Although Professor Diamond located their homeland in 1981, the expedition was able to photograph the bird in its metre-high "maypole" dance grounds, which the birds construct to attract mates. Male bowerbirds, believed to be the most highly evolved of all birds, build large and extravagant nests to attract females.

The most remarkable find was of a creature called Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, named after the six spines on the top of its head, and thought "lost" to science. It had been previously identified only from the feathers of dead birds.

Dr Beehler, an expert on birds of paradise, which only live in northern Australia and New Guinea, said: "It was very exciting, when two of these birds, a male and a female, which no one has seen alive before ... came into the camp and the male displayed its plumage to the female in full view of the scientists."

Scientists also found more than 20 new species of frogs, four new butterflies, five new species of palm and many other plants yet to be classified, including what may be the world's largest rhododendron flower. Botanists on the team said many plants were completely unlike anything they had encountered before.

Tree kangaroos, which are endangered elsewhere in New Guinea, were numerous and the team found one species entirely new to the island. The golden-mantled tree kangaroo is considered the most beautiful but also the rarest of the jungle-dwelling marsupials. There were also other marsupials, such as wallabies and mammals that have been hunted almost to extinction elsewhere. And a rare spiny anteater, the long beaked echidna, about which little is known, allowed itself to be picked up by hand. Dr Beehler said: "What was amazing was the lack of wariness of all the animals. In the wild, all species tend to be shy of humans, but that is learnt behaviour because they have encountered mankind. In Foja they did not appear to mind our presence at all.

"This is a place with no roads or trails and never, so far as we know, visited by man ... This proves there are still places to be discovered that man has not touched."

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Cool Gizmo: Laser Record Player

Want those records to last forever? The laser record player is here to save the day. It'll play recods without even touching them. Nifty (my only criticism here is, though, that the thing won't play laser discs, too).

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06 February 2006


Wow... I've just seen Steven Soderbergh's new movie, Bubble, which has gotten some press for being released in theaters, on DVD, and on cable TV all in the same week. I picked up the DVD last weekend at Target.

(More in the complete post)

In a word: brilliant. It's not going to be to everyone's taste, particularly because the plot is very slowly paced, and the editing is extremely spare. But if you give it time, this movie will burn itself into your brain, for many reasons.

Visually, the film is wonderful. All the locations used are real, and most were shot with available light, but the framing (most of the time the camera remains static) makes fast food restaurants, mobile homes, a bakery, and the doll factory look like monuments. Some of the scenes of doll manufacture are surreal and unsettling.

The actors are all non-professionals, cast from the small Ohio town where Soderbergh and his team found the doll factory that the characters work in. The film was shot sequentially, and the actors often didn't know about plot points that were going to unfold in the scene they were about to shoot. The acting can be a little awkward at times, but the characters these people are playing are also awkward, so it comes across as natural. Two of the scenes, one where a character is accused of a murder, and another where an elderly man hears of the first character's arrest, are so subtle and powerful that I had to jump back and watch them twice. (In fact I watched the whole film twice this afternoon, and may very well watch it again tomorrow.) Having spent a lot of my growing-up years in a small town, I thought this movie had one of the most realistic depictions of small-town life I've ever seen on film.

I'd highly recommend this to anyof y'all looking for something a little unusual and very, very effective.

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Was 9/11 CIA Orchestrated? Uh, No.

We've all seen the stupid little movies and Flash animations and whatnot about whether the government orchestrated 9/11, so many times so in fact that I'm not going to bother linking them all here. But I found this article titled How To Stalk Your Girl/Boyfriend, James Bond Style (which of course I would never do), which, appropriately enough, is self explanatory when I throw in the terms "GPS" and "CELL PHONE."


But still, I was curious about the technology, how it's being used and what its ethical ramifications might be, etc., and I did a wee bit of snooping around. OK, it can catch bank robbers. Or track other things (like dogs, children, trucks, employees and other assets? How about a fascinating way to track air pollution?)... we all know this. And, uh, so you might be wondering, how does this relate to my opinion that the CIA wouldn't have had the brains necessary to have planned and executed 9/11? Oh, just a hunch...

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03 February 2006

It's... CLAMP MAN!

Pre-Blog Note: Appparently, I'm 2 years off on this post (and it's already been on CNN, but this still kills me. --C5)

Who's going to take on the 'cowboy clampers'? It's Clamp Man! (a must-see link)

That's right. Apparently in the UK there's a problem with hooligan businessmen who'll clamp your car and then demand an outrageous fee to release your car. Apparently, "clamping" (what we call the 'Boot' here) is unregulated there as long as it's on private property. But, as usual, a few people take it a bit too far.

Clamp Man's answer? Just call him. He'll cut your clamp for free. And that's not all!

"I may not be able to single-handedly and totally cast off the repressive shackles of a corrupt government - but I can cut off your wheel-clamps for you."

He's not the only amateur superheroes, either.

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02 February 2006

Mathematics is elegant, romantic

To most people, getting emotional about mathematics makes about as much sense as being moved by a tax return. But to Justin Mullins, equations can contain a profound personal beauty. An exhibition of his "mathematical photography" opens in London Wednesday.

According to Mr Mullins, what mathematicians traditionally call beauty is not visual but a conceptual elegance - for example, an equation that uses few assumptions or gives an original insight. And plenty of others seem to agree. His three-month-old website has already received nearly 2m hits.

Check his site out. It's really cool, especially with the little blurbs here and there. I especially liked the one about entanglement. And what is an Aleph? Why, it's a transfinite number, of course.

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01 February 2006

Everest 1924: Where's the Camera?

Everyone knows that Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tensing Norgay were the first humans to reach Earth's highest point: the summit of Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Right? We all know that. After all, I've seen, personally, Sir Edmond's axe on display at the Explorer's Club in New York City (where I three months trying, unsuccessfully, to convince them to re-do their website).

On June 8, 1924, one of the first real assaults on the Everest summit met with... mystery.

George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine left their tent high up on the slopes of Mount Everest and climbed into history. They were seen at 12:50 pm just 800 feet from the summit and "going strong for the top". Within minutes, Mallory and Irvine had disappeared in a snowstorm and were never seen alive again.

What happened to these two pioneering climbers is perhaps the most famous mystery in the history of mountaineering. For over 75 years there has been fierce debate over whether they were the first to reach the summit, doing so 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. In March 1999 an expedition primarily sponsored by the BBC climbed to the North Face of Everest. The discoveries of this expedition became front page news around the world.

Did George Leigh Mallory Summit Mt Everest? What happened? George's climbing partner Sandy had a Kodak VPK camera (pictured below) with him. Is it still on Everest? According to experts at Kodak, the film inside the camera recorded only blue and green light wavelengths, so it could still potentially produce a salvagable image. A 2005 expedition to the top did not find the camera, but as you can see above, they did find George.

Although it all made for an interesting book (and a damned cool Web page, with audio soundbites), the mystery endures. The camera that Mallory is reputed to have taken up with him was not found with his body. It is quite possible that he gave it to Irvine, who was much more practical than Mallory. Somewhere on the North Face of Everest still lies the body of Andrew Irvine, undisturbed since 1975, and possibly still holding the secret of their remarkable and heroic attempt on Everest in 1924.

Footnote: The Una Tropical Hand Camera belonging to John Noel (pictured,right), the explorer who took the last known photo of the pair, was recently sold at auction(cool pic) by Christie's of London.

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New Orleans: Dark Tide II

I'm sure a lot of people on the list have heard about the 1919 Boston Molasses Flood, but I was reading a book review about the flood by Stephen Puleo, titled, "Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919." And whatever I read in the book's review, the most fascinating thing was that, although the flood that happened almost a century ago, to me, the conclusions drawn by the Boston flood investigation seem pretty darned relevant to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans.

There's a quote about halfway through this book review that particularly jumped out at me. Judge Wilfred Bolster, in his report on the criminal inquest into the events of January 15, 1919 (which led to the eventual lawsuit against US Industrial Alcohol), "blasted the public for its failure both to adequately fund its city inspection departments and to insist on qualified people to staff them":

"The chief blame rests upon the public itself [ ... ] This single accident has cost more in material damage alone than all the supposed economics in the building department. Laws are cheap of passage, costly of importance. They do not execute themselves. A public which, with one eye on the tax rate, provides itself with an administrative equipment 50 percent qualified, has no right to complain that is does not get a 100 percent product - and so far as it accepts political influence as the equivalent of scientific positions which demand such attainment in a high degree, so long it must expect breakdowns in its machinery."

Why is that interesting to me? And what does that have to do with New Orleans? From the "relevant" link above (which I read a good while back but did not then see the correlations between Katrina and the Boston disaster), this quote jumped out at me:

The problem is the US is full of dozens if not hundreds of such "0.5%" events. Each one, if it happened, would be a monumental loss; each one, taken separately, has a favorable ROI if that event happened. For example, fortifying all of California to handle a Richter 9.0 earthquake. Or even a Richter 8.0. Fortifying the middle of the US to handle a Richter 8.0 if (when) the New Madrid fault lets loose again. Closer to (my) home, fortifying most of the Midwest to better withstand a Category 5 tornado. Fortifying the East Coast to withstand a tsunami of the magnitude of the last Indonesia tsunami. And so on and so on and so on...

But the US can't afford to budget for each and every one of these events. As one pundit reported, politics is the sordid business of, however unfairly, setting priorities with limited funds in a world of unlimited projects. We can't plan and build for every "once in every two centuries (99.5%) events" that might happen anywhere in the US.

Was the Katrina disaster the fault of political bungling, underfunding and public negligence as well? In the end, is the public itself culpable, with FEMA, the Federal and state and local governments serving their intended purpose as scapegoats?

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