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

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; 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.