Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Weekend Chum Stew: Food, Fiddler, Fonts, &c

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 31, 2016 @ 2:39 pm PST

Observation StewYesterday was a crazy day, and I didn’t get the news chum stew on the stove. Today is chilly and rainy, so I’ve made an extra big pot:

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To Boldly Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 6:49 am PST

userpic=star_trekSpace, the final frontier. Here are three articles related to exploration of space, and those that boldly go…

  • No, The One That Isn’t A Witch. When I read the headline of this article, I did a double take. Margret Hamilton — the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939’s Wizard of OZ — worked on the Apollo project? But no, that wasn’t the case. This Margaret Hamilton was much more important — she was the lead software engineer on Project Apollo. Hamilton was 31 when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon, running her code; in fact, it was able to land at all only because she designed the software robustly enough to handle buffer overflows and cycle-stealing. We need to remember these unsung women who have been out in the forefront, and keep reminding the students of the day that women can succeed in engineering and scientific fields.
  • Keep Coming Back. When I was a teen, we were regularly going to the moon. That stopped with Apollo 17. Here’s an article that presents the real story of Apollo 17, and why we didn’t go back to the moon. What changed? A public that was increasingly fiscally wary. Spending in space was something that could be done, but with far more fiscal constraints than ever before, limiting NASA to research and scientific missions in the coming years. Such programs included the development of the Skylab program in 1973, and the Space Shuttle program, as well as a number of robotic probes and satellites.
  • Looking Inward. NASA, at least from what you normally hear from the news, has been outwardly focused — that is, we’ve been paying lots of attention to Mars. But there’s another planet that is close to us: Venus. There hasn’t been much exploration of Venus due to the heat and pressure — unlike Mars, there’s no change of landing people and exploring. But why land? A new NASA study has proposed an approach to investigating Venus, including inflatable airships, that could serve as good experimentation for future Mars missions. This would be really neat to see.


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Designs of the Past, the Needs of Today

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jul 23, 2013 @ 11:22 am PST

userpic=cardboard-safeToday’s lunchtime collection of news chum brings together three stories about product designs from the past:


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Saturday Links: Themes That Didn’t Quite Make It

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 15, 2013 @ 7:47 am PST

userpic=cahwys-licenseToday’s clearin’ of the links is dedicated to So Cal Games Day 54, which I’ll be heading off to later. The links this week just didn’t want to theme, so posts never quite came together. Here’s what accumulated:

Music: SMASH – The Complete Season Two (Music From the TV Series) (Katharine McPhee, Jeremy Jordan): “Rewrite This Story”

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Friday News Chum: Redistricting, Fonts, Liddsville, Dogs, Lawns, Apollo 11, Stomach Flu, and Postage

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 25, 2013 @ 11:17 am PST

userpic=headlinesWell, it’s Friday at lunch, and you know what that means — time to clear out the accumulated links that couldn’t be formed into a coherent theme. Well, at least I couldn’t figure out a theme. Perhaps you can:

  • Impacts of Redistricting. Let’s start with a couple of aspects of redistricting. First, in California, the state senate districts have staggered elections and terms (just like the real senate). This means when redistricting occurs, there is a short period where some people might have two state senate representatives and others might not have a state senate representative at all. The state senate has just addressed the quirk, assigning senators to those areas that ended up without representation. If you are wondering how this happens, The no-senator areas, known as deferrals, stem from the interplay of the Senate’s election schedule and redistricting. One-half of Senate seats are up for election every two years and the 2011 remap moved some residents from odd-numbered districts scheduled to be on the ballot in 2012 to even-numbered districts on the ballot in 2014. The result is that those areas have no senator for two years. Here’s another redistricting issue: Redistricting in many states results in gerrymandering, where districts are created to have majorities in one party or another. The Republicans in Virginia and a number other “swing” blue states are attempting to take advantage of this by allocating electoral votes to the winner of the district. It’s one thing to allocate proportionally based on total state voting, but doing it by congressional district allows the gerrymandering effect to predominate, disenfranchising those in the minority in the district.
  • Readability. Let’s move away from politics. You’re reading this post on your computer, in a serif or non-serif font, depending on your preference. Mine’s serifed. We’ve always believed that serifed fonts were more readable because the serifs helped move your eye along the line. Guess what? Serifed fonts may not be more readable. Ariel or Lucida Sans for the win!
  • It Won’t Be The Same Without Charles Nelson Reilly. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s will remember Lidsville, a Sid and Marty Krofft series about talking hats. It may even live in that scary memory place with the Bugaloos, the Banana Splits, and H.N.R. Puffnstuff. Well, this article will really cause you to flip your lid. Alan Menken, composer of such shows as Little Shop of HorrorsBeauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and many others, is working on a live-action movie version of Liddsville (as well as a musical episode of The Neighbors). Dreamworks is producing.
  • Turning Wolves into Dogs. There has been a lot of debate of how the wolf was domesticated and became man’s best friend, the dog. A story in the Washington Post posits that it was moving to a diet of grains and potatoes that did it. A team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. On their way from pack-hunting carnivore to fireside companion, dogs learned to desire — or at least live on — wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. As it turns out, the same thing happened to humans as they came out of the forest, invented agriculture and settled into diets rich in grains. Co-evolution at work!
  • A Concrete Jungle. Los Angeles has been referred to as a concrete jungle. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a problem with concrete lawns. Specifically, under San Francisco city law, at least 20 percent of a front yard must consist of permeable surfaces with vegetation, mostly to allow for proper drainage and to keep the neighborhood looking green. Homes can be reviewed for compliance every time an owner does construction on the driveway or property. However, this is ignored more in the breach, and now the paved-over lawns in San Francisco are creating environmental concerns due to excessive drainage.
  • Learning from the Past. Another thing that those of us from the 1970s will remember is the Apollo Program and the launches to the moon. Bet’cha thought it was dead. Well, not quite. NASA has started testing a vintage F-1 series engine from the Saturn V.  The hope is that it could become a template for a new generation of motors incorporating parts of its design. Those of us who live in the San Fernando Valley remember well the roar of those engines — they were built in Canoga Park and tested in Chatsworth!
  • Getting Sick of It All. I’m sure you have all heard the exhortations about the Influenza going around the country, and you have gotten your flu shot (except those of you who don’t believe in vaccines — but that’s a different debate). There’s another “flu” going around (with “flu” in quotes since it really isn’t a flu), and this one doesn’t have a vaccine: There’s an epidemic of norovirus, a/k/a “stomach flu”, going around. It’s a pretty strong variant (from Australia, where they make things stronger). This variant causes nausea, forceful vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, accounted for 58% of outbreaks of norovirus nationally. Norovirus typically begins very suddenly and lasts one to three days. Most people recover without treatment, but some require rehydration with liquids or intravenous fluids. The disease is most severe in the elderly and can also hit young children hard. Norovirus is extremely contagious. The best protection is vigilant hand washing with soap and water. If surfaces may have been contaminated, the CDC recommends disinfecting them with a diluted bleach solution made of five to 25 tablespoons of household bleach to a gallon of water.
  • Stamping It Out. And lastly, first-class postage is going to 46¢ on Sunday, with postcards going to 33¢. I’m sure most of you are unfamiliar with postage and postage stamps, as you have never written an actual letter or paid a bill by mail. You see, people once communicated not via email, but by putting pieces of paper in an envelope, affixing a money-equivalent to the envelope, and giving it to someone to take to the recipient. Seriously, even those of us that use postage stamps forget the price of postage these days, as most first class stamps are “forever” stamps. So pick up some forever stamps now, before the price goes up. Those dollars you save might buy you a cup of coffee. I emphasize the “might”, given Starbucks’ prices. You’ll do better at McDonalds!


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Friday News Chum: Iranian Jews, Homework, 7-11, and Shuttle Moves

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Oct 12, 2012 @ 11:35 am PST

Well, it’s Friday at lunch time (well, it’s really Thursday night, but let’s do like they did at the debate and play “let’s pretend”). It’s time to clear out the remaining accumulated links…

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Sunday Morning Musings: Space Shuttle Route, -Stan, Yelp, Vegas History, Porn, and More Politics

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 09, 2012 @ 6:48 am PST

Sunday morning… everyone else in the house is asleep, so I thought I would share a few articles I discovered yesterday:

  • Space Shuttle Final Flight. You’ve probably seen this, but they’ve announced the route for the final flight of the space shuttle. The itinerary starts on 9/17 with flyovers of its former Florida home. Continuing west, Endeavour will make low flyovers of NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly plant near New Orleans. As Endeavour approaches the Texas coast, it will fly over Houston, Galveston and Clearlake. The 747 carrying Endeavour will touch down at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center. At sunrise on 9/19, Endeavour will depart Houston and refuel in El Paso at Biggs Army Airfield. The next low flyovers at 1,500-feet will take place over White Sands Tests Facility in New Mexico and the Dryden Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. After the Edwards flyover, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, SCA, will land at Dryden. On 9/20, the shuttle will overfly Northern California, passing nearAmes Research Center outside San Francisco. It will make numerous flyovers of landmarks, NASA says, in multiple cities including San Francisco and Sacramento.The final flyovers will take place over Los Angeles before landing at LAX around 11 a.m. Pacific time. I’m sure we’ll all be out to watch it from the Circle A parking lot. On 10/12, the shuttle will depart again, this time using surface streets (Westchester Parkway, Sepulveda Eastway, Manchester, Crenshaw, MLK Blvd) to get to the California ScienCenter. Over 400 trees are being cut down to clear the route for the shuttle’s wingspan.
  • Hi, Stan.  One of my favorite books is “How the States Got Their Shapes“. I read it again over vacation, and learning the history behind the various boundaries is fascinating. So naturally I loved a recent Mental Floss that explored why so many countries end in “-stan”. The proto-indo-european root root, stā, or “stand,” found its way into many words in the language’s various descendants. The Russian -stan means “settlement,” and other Slavic languages use it to mean “apartment” or “state.” In English, the root was borrowed to make “stand,” “state,” “stay” and other words. The ancient Indo-Iranian peoples — descendants of Proto-Indo-Europeans who moved east and south from the Eurasian steppe – used it to mean “place” or “place of.” It’s this meaning that’s used for the names of the modern -stan countries, which got it through linguistic descent (Urdu and Pashto, the respective official languages of Pakistan and Afghanistan, both descend from the Indo-Iranian language), or by adopting it (the former Soviet -stan countries have historically been mostly ethnically Turkic and speak languages from the Turkic family). Thus, a country such as “Afghanistan” means “Land of the Afghans”. Cool.
  • Impact of Yelp. With my daughter at UCB, naturally I’ve added the Daily Cal to my reading list. Last week there was a very interesting research report on the impact of Yelp on restaurants. Specifically, the research found that when you move up half a star, your probability of being sold out goes up by roughly 20 percent. Moving up from a 3 to a 3.5 star rating gives restaurants between a 20 and 40 percent chance of being sold out at peak hours, while moving up from a 3.5 to 4-star rating gives restaurants a 40 to 60 percent chance of being sold out. I’d be curious to see a similar impact of ratings on items at sale at Amazon, and on Amazon Marketplace sellers. I’d expect to see similar impacts.
  • Las Vegas History. One of my hobbies is the history of Las Vegas (and other areas with lots of development in the 40s and 50s). So naturally I found the article about the El Cortez Hotel seeking a historic designation interesting. Most hotels in Vegas (especially on the strip) want to get rid of their history. You’ll find very little of 1950s Vegas left on the strip: there is the original building at the heart of the Riviera, and the Circus area at Circus Circus. I’m not sure how much of the original building is left at Ceasars, but the rest of the original strip is either gone (El Rancho Vegas, Last Frontier, Dunes, Hacienda, Desert Inn, Sands, Thunderbird), due to come down (Sahara), or had the original portions remodelled away (Flamingo, Tropicana, Caesars). The El Cortez downtown has done none of that. Original walls, original signs, original everything.
  • Porn Changes. One of the people I read on FB posted a link to an interesting article from Time Magazine in 2005 that explored how porn has changed since the 1970s. It talked about the history of the porn movie, and how the early films at least had pretenses of being real movies with real stores… just more sex. Eventually, that trend died away, and we were left with the straight-to-Internet garbage of today. An interesting analysis, and one that begs an alternate history where the skin flick and mainstream movies merged, and it was violence in movies that died out and went underground.
  • A Political Closing Note. As you know, I’ve been following the election this year. One of my favorite sites is electoral-vote.com; if you don’t read it… you should. I’ve also got Facebook friends who post good political links. For example, Stephen Greenwald posted a link to a great piece on why it is so important that Our Side must win and the Wrong Side must absolutely lose. One of my favorites on FB is Gene Spafford (who, as he wrote, is looking to be put on a pedestal… he’s hoping that one day his plinth will come). Gene posted a link recently to his blog, where he wrote about all you need to know for this Presidental year. Well worth reading… and worth asking yourselves why the Republicans didn’t trot out a former president to recommend their candidate.

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A Star Trek

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Aug 09, 2012 @ 5:42 pm PST

Yesterday, an interesting “star trek” was announced: the trek of the orbiter Endeavor from LAX to the California ScienCenter. There have been a number of articles written (LA Times, Curbed LA, Daily Breeze, and of course, the California ScienCenter site itself). These articles provide lots of interesting details on the route and some of the incredible logistics that will be involved:

  • The shuttle will fly across the country on the back of a specially modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, arriving at LAX (weather permitting) on September 20, 2012. This should be neat; we will probably be able to see the landing from our offices here at Circle A ranch.
  • Once at LAX, the shuttle will be prepared for transport. Once there are assurances that wind conditions are below 10 mph, a pair of cranes and a giant sling will be used to lift the 170,000-pound orbiter off the NASA 747. NASA’s 747 plane will be backed out while an overland transporter rolls under the shuttle. From there, the Endeavour will be moved to a hangar provided by United Airlines, where crews will prepare the shuttle for the drive across LA. This includes installation of a final – yet arduous – haul through Los Angeles and Inglewood. This will include installation of a transponder so that the Shuttle can use the express lanes on the Harbor Freeway (just kidding).
  • The transportation of the shuttle itself won’t be easy, as it is 78 feet long and 58 feet high! The route from LAX to the museumwill be along city streets. The shuttle will leave LAX, take Westchester Parkway and LaTijera to Manchester, go along Manchester to Crenshaw, up Crenshaw to MLK Blvd, and thence to the California SciencCenter. This includes a bridge over I-405 that was probably not constructed to handle the weight of a shuttle (the shuttle weighs 165000 lbs when empty, but will be engine-less but have the transport trailer… so we’re still talking between 70-85 tons!). The city streets along the way probably can’t handle the weight too well either. It also includes numerous power poles and trees and such. One article notes that crews will need to remove 212 traffic signals and lights and move overhead utility lines so that the massive shuttle can slowly maneuver through the streets of Westchester, Inglewood and Hyde Park before it finally arrives at the museum. Trees will be pruned back or even uprooted. Power lines will be raised. Every tree removed along the route will eventually be replaced with two trees in an attempt to minimize impacts on surrounding communities.
  • The shuttle will move over two days: October 12-13, weather permitting. Along the way, the shuttle will arrive at Inglewood City Hall for an official launch ceremony on the morning of October 13. After that, it’ll go to Martin Luther King and Crenshaw Boulevards for a celebration produced and directed by Debbie Allen.
  • At its top speed, the giant mobile transporters carrying the shuttle will travel about 2 mph along the city streets. But there are some points along the route where Endeavour will have less than a foot of clearance on either side! The drivers better drive straight!
  • Once it arrives at the California ScienCenter, it will be housed in a temporary exhibit — open to the public Oct. 30 — until construction on a new Air and Space Center is complete. According to the CTC, “The public will be able to view the shuttle in the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion at the Science Center while the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, a new addition to the Science Center, is being built. When completed, Endeavour will be the centerpiece of this new building, envisioned as part of the Science Center’s 25-year master plan”. No word if they’ll need to move it again at that time! In case you are curious, costs for the move and construction of the temporary and new exhibits will total about $200 million. The money will come entirely from donations.
  • Note that the shuttle is considerably lighter than the recent move of the “Levitated Mass” boulder. The 340-ton boulder sat atop a massive truck that crept 105 miles from Riverside County to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art during a 12-day journey. The shuttle is only 80-ton, so with the trailer, at worst, it is probably half the weight of the boulder. That really puts things in perspective. Where the shuttle tops the boulder is sheer size, at 78 feet long and 58 feet high compared to the boulder’s 21½ feet height and length. Here’s some more perspective. A story in a building is roughly 10 feet, so moving the shuttle means moving a 5-6 story building (when you add in the transport). A block is roughly 660 feet, so moving the shuttle means moving a 5½ story building that is 1/8 block long, including making 90° turns. Quite a challenge.


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