essentialsaltes: (eye)
Science journalist and umbraphile David Baron makes canny use of the upcoming solar eclipse to market this fine story of the 1878 eclipse, and the efforts of the nascent scientific power of the US to observe and record the event in what was then a pretty wild west as the path crossed from Montana Territory through Wyoming and Colorado to Texas.

Among the teams being assembled:

Simon Newcomb and Thomas Edison in Creston, Wyoming.
Samuel Pierpont Langley atop Pikes Peak. (Meteorologist Cleveland Abbe was so struck with altitude sickness, he was obliged to come down the mountain and make what sketches he could.)
Asteroid hunter James Craig Watson in Rawlins, Wyoming.
And a team of six from Vassar, including recent alumnae and astronomer Maria Mitchell, providing witting and unwitting fodder to the controversies surrounding the vote for women, and recent claims on the effects of education on women, epitomized by Clarke's ridiculous-yet-infuriating Sex in Education (1876):

 The delicate bloom, early but rapidly fading beauty, and singular pallor of American girls and women have almost passed into proverb. The first observation of a European that lands upon our shores is, that our women are a feeble race ; and, if he is a physiological observer, he is sure to add, They will give birth to a feeble race, not of women only, but of men as well. " I never saw before so many pretty girls together," said Lady Amberley to the writer, after a visit to the public schools of Boston ; and then added, "They all looked sick." Circumstances have repeatedly carried me to Europe, where I am always surprised by the red blood that fills and colors the faces of ladies and peasant girls, reminding one of the canvas of Rubens and Murillo ; and am always equally surprised on my return, by crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia. To a large extent, our present system of educating girls is the cause of this palor and weakness.
Those grievous maladies which torture a woman's earthly existence, called leucorrhcea, amenorrhcea, dysmenorrhoea, chronic and acute ovaritis, prolapsus uteri, hysteria, neuralgia, and the like, are indirectly affected by food, clothing, and exercise ; they are directly and largely affected by the causes that will be presently pointed out, and which arise from a neglect of the peculiarities of a woman's organization. The regimen of our schools fosters this neglect.

The book does a great job setting the stage for who all the players are, and their preparations and difficulties in getting equipment (or failing to get equipment) to the middle of nowhere, with dangers ranging from Native Americans to feuds between competing railroads.

And then, of course, the event itself is all of three minutes long.

And there is what follows. The good (American science on the upswing, Mitchell drawing a crowd of more than a thousand to hear her lecture at the Woman's Congress in Providence), the bad (Edison's much-touted but not very useful tasimeter, although presaging IR astronomy), and the ugly (Watson's erroneous claim of the discovery of Vulcan, a planet within the orbit of Mercury -- his later misguided efforts to vindicate his view may have inadvertently led to his early death).

essentialsaltes: (eye)
 For Valentine's, Dr. Pookie gifted me (upon some future day) a trip to Mt. Wilson and lunch. Today was the day.

Driving up there is a lovely experience. Twisty mountain roads with great vistas. It was a bit hazy and wildfire-smoky today, but still lovely. I'm not sure it's as nice to be a passenger who does not like twisty mountain roads all alike, but so be it.

I was sorry that I did not see this sign at the Observatory. Maybe I should have asked a docent, but I expect it's long gone. I saw a number of stumps around the visitor area, and the Carnegie Institution no longer runs things...

That's Mom and Dad's Uncle Harold (Herrill?) sometime probably before me.

The astronomical museum was not all that big (Bah-DUM-bump-TISH). There's not a whole lot to do... the solar observatory was sadly closed. But it's still neat to see the 100 inch scope.

And the CHARA array is pretty cool. Light from 6 telescopes is funneled through vacuum filled pipes to be reintegrated in an interferometer. Its resolving power is such that it captured the first image of a star's surface (other than the Sun, ninny).

I'm pretty sure we got a special treat. While we were there, some sort of VIPs must have been in attendance, because they opened the observatory and rotated it a bit. (We overheard some astronomers later kvetching about it - whatever it was done for, they didn't think it was justified.)

Back down off the mountain, and we stopped off at Din Tai Fung for some excellent dumplings (soupy xiaolongbao) noodles, broccoli, and a much needed strawberry mango slushy (though the chili dog at the Observatory wasn't half bad).

All the photos. Including a video of the big observatory in motion.


Feb. 12th, 2017 05:58 pm
essentialsaltes: (poo-bush)
I went for a quick business trip to Washington DC.

Pictures here.

The flight out was pretty rocky. Coming in for landing at Dallas, the lady next to me had her airsickness bag out. It was a near thing, but we made it through together. Alas, my bag was so frightened, it stayed in Dallas. But it was coaxed onto the next flight so it arrived at my hotel at midnight. So much for getting an early night to help with the time change.

The business stuff was successful, and (as the photos show) I had some time to walk around the national mall before heading back to the airport. I was surprised there were no protestors at the White House. Just a small gaggle of tourists.

On the flight back, I couldn't help but notice the guy next to me with his e-reader set to blind-bat text size, especially when the screen read:

"aggressively sharpened on the whetstone of her sex"

Which reminds me... there was some commercial for something quoting Dylan Thomas - "Do not go gentle into that good night". Seems to me James Bond uncharacteristically missed an opportunity for a witticism in The Man with the Golden Gun.
essentialsaltes: (facegouge)
My rhetorical question appears to have been answered.

If one cannot bring oneself to punch a lady Nazi in the face, you should pepperspray her in the face.

Now, it's almost too good to be true that she had just finished saying "I'm looking to make a statement by just being here and I think the protesters are doing the same. Props to the ones who are doing it non-violently, but I think that's a very rare thing indeed."

So, if you're of a conspiratorial bent, this is a false flag operation or something. But I think it's fair to say that there were plenty of anonymous violent troublemakers there. The police are of the opinion that they were 'outside agitators' (a phrase I knew we would see more and more of) and not Berkeley students. Which is probably the case, since I'm now hearing all about these experienced antifa activists. Who are these experts all of a sudden and where did they get their expertise? There hasn't been a fascist state to fight in some time, and never in the US, so I find myself suspecting that these are just people who like to have fistfights with skinheads. Whoever they are and whatever their movement is about, they know squat about working against the excesses of a Trump Administration.

Instead, of course, they are falling into the trap.

Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?

Berkeley was literally the origin of the Free Speech Movement and Sproul Plaza is Free Speech Central.

The university did the right thing in not preventing the speech, and they (or the UCPD who made the call) did the right thing in shutting it down for safety reasons.

Of course the Donald had to weigh in on Twitter:

"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

This is literally one of the stupidest things I've ever read. Even among Trump tweets, this is a doozy.

But remember my warning "Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts"

Don't be down on Free Speech, just because Trump says he likes it. This is exactly the kind of emotional response thing that Trump apparently uses to perfection. Of course, it only works on stupid people. So don't be a stupid person.

Anyway, I'm reiterating my distaste for Nazipunch and the flawed philosophy behind it.

And again I'm warning against falling into the trap.

Because if not, something terrible is going to happen, and years from now, some kid will be walking with his grandfather on the campus, and grandpa will point to the pocks of bullets in a wall and say something like, 'And over there in that field is where it happened. It was a terrible thing those kids died. But these outside agitators (communists or anarchists or some such) came in and caused a lot of trouble, and stirred things up. Setting fires and so forth. Had to restore Law & Order.'

Because no shit that's exactly what my grandpa told me 40 years ago as we visited Kent State.
essentialsaltes: (larpies)
We took a hike this morning to climb up and down some of the stairs in and around the original Hollywoodland development. There's a nice guide to the trail here (and a couple other hikes on the site).

All the pictures.

You do get a bit of a work out.

Stairs Hike

Lots of crazy castles and castle-esque stuff up there.

Stairs Hike

Views of the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, the Ocean, and a few spots for DTLA.

Stairs Hike

Going down is less work, but reminds me of the dangers of climbing down Mesoamerican pyramids.

Stairs Hike

The guide describes this as Prince Valiant.

Stairs Hike

But surely Valiant is raven-haired! This is more Ivanhoe.

The grandest stair had two staircases. Originally, the middle had a stream that ran down it, now replaced by planters.

Stairs Hike

The sun was difficult for many shots in the early morning, but I still like this of DTLA through a tree.

Stairs Hike

Also ran into the Theosophists.

Stairs Hike

After the hike, we jetted down Sunset to an estate sale in Santa Monica, where we picked up a new desk chair for me, in which I now sit.
essentialsaltes: (space invader)
Each year, The Strong National Museum of Play inducts a new group of toys to the National Toy Hall of Fame. This year, the museum inducted three new toys: Dungeons & Dragons, Fisher-Price’s Little People figures, and the classic swing. The recognition for fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons is long overdue, as its innovative approach to playing complicated, creative games has had an outsized impact on the larger gaming world.

I love the inclusion of a non-commercial thing like the swing. It's also adorable that one of the previous inductees is the cardboard box.

But I confess this is the first I can recall hearing of the Strong. Or its benefactress, Margaret Woodbury Strong, who may well have married into some distant part of Dr. Pookie's family.

"Developing her youthful interests, Margaret became a skilled competitor in golf, archery, bowling, flower arranging, and collecting. She recalled later that her collecting began with miniatures, when she was allowed “to carry a small bag to put my dolls and toys in, and to add anything I acquired on the trips.” That small beginning led to an expansive task that dominated her later life. Margaret’s collecting included everything from fine art to the ordinary, all linked by the common themes of play, imagination, “let’s pretend,” and fun."

Another great detail is her father's perspicacity in selling high: "Margaret travelled the world with her parents beginning around 1907 after her father retired and sold the business started by Margaret's grandfather, The Strong and Woodbury Whip Company."

Buggy whips have become one of the go-to examples for product obsolescence. Getting out in 1907 was a pretty good move. (As was subsequently investing in Eastman Kodak.)

Anyway... field trip? Rochester, NY is a ways away, but maybe someday.
essentialsaltes: (poo-bush)
While I don't want to minimize how awful this is, it reminds me a lot of 2000 when we also elected an incompetent moron. All that cost us was our budget surplus, one or two hundred thousand dead brown civilians, and a few thousand dead American soldiers. We got through that, right? Right?

essentialsaltes: (unleash the furry)
Subtitle: A History of Proper English

The book was not really what I expected, although I'm not sure what I expected. I guess I hoped for more war -- placing authorities against each other on the nitpicky rules of grammar we all love and/or hate. Instead, it was more of a history of how people have formalized the English language, from early grammars to modern linguistics. A strong undercurrent is the prescriptivist bent of 'grammarians' and the descriptivist bent of linguists.
I think I hoped for more amusing little tidbits, and although they are there, it is like one of those disappointing pours of breakfast cereal that you got as a kid, where you mourned that there weren't more dehydrated marshmallows among the cat kibble. Perhaps because it was a slower slog to get through the book, I've forgotten most of the tidbits already. One that did stick was the idea that, after the Civil War, where one side had been associated with 'the Union', the use of that phrase for the country as a whole fell out of fashion. The constitution speaks of forming a more perfect union, and a state of the union address. In the post-war period, we began to speak of the US as a nation. Perhaps related to this, around 1900 the government printing office (IIRC) made a declaration to standardize that "the United States" was a singular noun.
essentialsaltes: (perill of Breakdancing)
First off, hard drive went kaput, taking most of my photos with it. Veratrine has hers up, and there's still a slim chance I'll be able to recover mine.

We arrived in Mexico City Sunday afternoon. My first attempt to get money from an ATM was declined, but Becca's bank was less fussy. We taxied to the hotel, the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, which is right on the main square, the Zócalo. The hotel is an Art Nouveau treasure with an enormous Tiffany glass ceiling, and ironwork elevators. Originally it was a department store, the Centro Mercado, but the initials worked well for Ciudad de Mexico when it was converted to a hotel in preparation for the 68 Olympics. Much of this we learned from Freddy the porter, who led us to our room. We had a gorgeous room with windows overlooking the square itself opposite the National Palace. Although the President no longer lives there, he dropped by for a visit -- On Monday, they hung red swags from the balcony, there was twice as much security as usual (which is usually a lot) and a couple dozen black SUVs arrived. Apparently, he and the president of South Korea had a summit meeting there.
Read more... )
essentialsaltes: (shoot)
A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science

The book interleaves the career of serial killer/mutilator/rapist Joseph Vacher with the development of modern (or at least modern-like (or at least not too pseudoscientific)) forensic techniques through Lombroso, Bertillon, and most relevant to these cases, Lacassagne (Lombroso's rival).

Vacher's early career is the most interesting part. After being spurned by a woman, he bought a gun. Unbeknownst to him, it had been loaded with half powder charges. So he managed to shoot the woman four times, and himself twice in the head, and both survived. He was placed in a mental institution, but released 'fully cured' a year later. Of course that's when he went on to murder, disembowel and rape a dozen or more teenage girls and boys over the next few years. This part of the story gets rather tedious, as he settles on a successful MO, and the murders are depressingly alike, so it's good to have it interleaved with the developments of forensics, and then the trail of evidence (and hard work) that leads to his capture and trial, his failed insanity defense, and ultimate execution.
essentialsaltes: (shoot)
I was idly poking around Supreme Court decisions about ranching land. As one does. And stumbled across this great description of authentic Zane Grey era cattle ranchers versus sheep ranchers sorta stuff. McKelvey v. United States (1922). The legal stiffs just need to punch up the word choices a little bit.

"One of the defendants then requested his comrades to line up with their rifles, which they did, whereupon he proceeded to make a hostile demonstration against one of the employees and to chase him about, obviously as a matter of intimidation."
Early the next morning, before the employees started the sheep again, one of the defendants returned and inquired what was going to be done and, on learning what the owner had directed, said: "You can't go through there." "Something will happen to you this morning." "Are you willing to take the consequences?" This defendant then rode away and a little later others of them rode up on a gallop, ordered the employees to put up their hands, which was done, and then began shooting. They shot and seriously injured one of the employees, threatened to finish him, and did other things calculated to put all three in terror."
essentialsaltes: (quantum Mechanic)
I always associated the New Math (not the new new Math of today) with oddball things like matrices, different bases, and an emphasis on abstract relations like commutativity. But apparently another new-ish thing of the New Math was 'borrowing' in subtraction. Although the idea of borrowing is centuries old, apparently many older Americans were taught an algorism to follow that involved 'carrying the one' onto the lower number. Obviously the result is the same. And they were abjured from additional tick marks, or actually adding tens (i.e. borrowing) so that (rather illogically) they were taught "3 from 2 is 9" rather than "3 from 12 is 9".

I only learn this news by careful watching/listening to Tom Lehrer's "New Math", in which it looks like there were two different methods, not that it makes much difference.

The horrors of the New Math was that it wasn't just a mechanical process, but we were supposed to learn that one ten is the same as ten ones. And this is good. It adds some sense to the algorism, since the older version is somewhat more arcane (to me anyway).

The new new math, as I understand it, continues this process of making it clearer what the association is. You start from the lower number, and basically count up to the larger number. This establishes what the difference is between them.

Probably one could determine which is the most efficient, or which produces the fewest errors, or which is the most 'true' to the underlying mathematics. None of these mean much in the end, so stick to what you love.
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
A History of American Secularism

A fascinating look at the idea of secular government from the Founders to the present, and how the idea has shifted from Enlightenment ideals to the Golden Age of Freethought in the 19th century, when the Great Agnostic Ingersoll could give the nominating speech for a Republican candidate for president (even in the good old days, when Republicans were the party of abolition). To the emergence of fundamentalism in the early 20th and its later common cause partnership with conservative Catholicism, and the response with the freethinker's coalition with liberal Protestantism and (secular) Judaism.

The historical detail is quite excellent, but as the time grows nearer the present, a hint of polemicism arises. I don't disagree with her, but the shift in tone is noticeable in the last chapter or so.

And yes, the blockquotes )
✓one-word title
essentialsaltes: (titan)
Published in English as The Three-Body Problem (<---spoiler-laden wiki entry), translated by Ken Liu, not to be confused with the author, Liu Cixin.

The book opens with some pretty brutal scenes from the Cultural Revolution, such as a physicist undergoing a fatal struggle session for teaching 'imperialist' physics. The historical milieu was interesting in its own right, especially from a writer inside China. But obviously, there's more to it than historical fiction. It's a novel of First Contact, and it's hard to talk about it in much detail without getting too spoilery. There are a lot of really inventive ideas in here, but also some things that stretched my disbelief suspenders past their breaking point, on both science-y stuff and character motivation. But I confess to being a little curious to see how things turn out (alas, the remaining books in the trilogy have not yet been published in English).

The Three-Body Problem of the title refers to the problem of characterizing the motion of three bodies interacting via gravity. Turns out it's incredibly complex. But Cixin mentions something I hadn't heard of. A funky figure eight pattern was discovered a while back, and even more recently (after the publication of this book) 13 more families of repeating solutions were discovered.

New Bookchallenge categories:
✓with a number in the title
✓'based entirely on its cover' (On a rare visit to a real live dead tree bookstore, it caught my eye. More because #1 the title caught my physics brain, and #2 on closer inspection it was a Chinese author, rather than 'the cover' but still.)
✓originally written in another language
essentialsaltes: (dead)
Swann Galleries sent me the catalog for their upcoming autograph auction. One of the items really caught my eye.

Two Autograph Letters Signed, to President Garfield's private secretary J. Stanley Brown.

July 15: "Experiments made last night with Induction Balance very promising. Please send two bullets same size as that in President's body. Keep newspaper correspondents away from my laboratory if possible."

After the assassination attempt on President Garfield on July 2, Bell offered to help extract the bullet that was lodged in the President's back by means of an electro-magnetic device. By the time the device was ready for use, the President's physicians refused to allow it to be employed because of their patient's weakness.
essentialsaltes: (city Hall)
St. Vibiana's, which did NOT get illegally knocked down, is now open as a wedding venue.

More importantly(?), the cardinal's residence is now Neal Fraser's restaurant, Redbird (get it?). Not a lot of info as yet, but he also does the menus at Vibiana.
essentialsaltes: (cthulhu)
This huge tome weighs in at about 850 pages and 5 pounds. It was a trial for my mind and my wrists. Here at the end, I've forgotten what I thought about the beginning, apart from a remembrance that Alan Moore's introduction is turgid and unilluminating, while Klinger's own foreword is a really good epitome of HPL's life and work.

Perhaps the best part of the annotation is the included illustrations: photos (including many of Donovan's photos of relevant architecture) maps, images from Lovecraft's letters, and the most welcome addition of some of the original artwork that accompanied the stories in the pulps.

The 20-some stories are well-chosen, although (for good or ill) they present the slow evolution of Yog-Sothothery from its nebulous origins to its full flowering, while the Dunsanian, Dreamlands-y stories have been excluded.

The textual annotations are mostly interesting and provide relevant background and/or additional detail. Dictionary definitions are blessedly few. Some of the notes annoyed me somewhat, in that they winkingly accept the stories as true, or 'apologize' for incorrect details. Klinger has also produced an Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and I think this is more an attitude of the Baker Street Irregular set, to attempt to conform reality and the sacred texts. Just as an example, when "Inspector of Police" Legrasse appears, Klinger presents the names of the actual holders of that title circa 1908, and then declares that "It is more probable that the narrator confused the officer's title -- that the latter was likely a mere junior official of the NOPD given the task of the strange raid described following."

That's not as winky as some of the others, but it was the first I found hunting randomly. If someone were actually using these notes for insight, they might lead to confusion as Klinger mixes the real with the fictional.

Other notes seem to be more snarky editorial comments rather than annotations. In reference to the "nauseous musical instruments" of 'The Hound', he writes "The narrator is exaggerating here: The instruments could hardly be at fault, only the sounds that St. John and he made on them." I am neither illuminated nor amused.

Not that I researched everything, but there are a few (and only a very few) errors that leapt out at me. I believe he gets the conversion between the Gregorian and Julian calendars backward, or rather confuses which calendar is Julian and which is Gregorian. And though Klinger may be technically right (the best kind of right) that Palæeogean (C'mon Howie, why not Palæogæan?), though obviously formed from Greek roots to mean pertaining to the old earth, does not appear to have ever been a word used in that sense (apart, I suppose, from Lovecraft) -- Klinger's gloss is "A Byzantine dynasty from the eleventh century to the seventeenth century CE. Lovecraft evidently means simply "old" -- palaeology is the study of antiquities."

From my knowledge of numismatics, I knew that what Klinger is referring to is the Paleologan dynasty. A frightful error! Though not so bad as Joshi's hilarious gloss on lemur! Buffoons!

OK, having laid down the erudite smack, I declare this a very fine, informative, and genuinely useful, book.
essentialsaltes: (wingedlionbook)
I've started reading On the Map, and there have been some lovely things, like the Hereford Mappa Mundi, and some awesome work by the monk Matthew Paris. There's a lovely road map by him (the AAA Trip-Tik of its day) that shows the journey from London to Jerusalem in various stages, and there's even some neat little flaps that fold out for more info. And I'm delighted to see that the book/map has been scanned by the British Library, so you can navigate it yourself. Be sure to flip forward a bit to see the map of England.
essentialsaltes: (poisonous & Evil)
I don't own many books from the 19th century, but this is my first from the 18th century.

You can read the 1823 version on Google Books (which is probably what I will do, since this puppy is a bit fragile. Mine is the 1796 version printed at Salem. The original publication was done in London, mainly because Boston publishers wouldn't touch it in 1700, not long after the Salem Witch Trials.

The author/compiler, Robert Calef, was critical of the witch trials, and Cotton Mather's part in them.

You can maybe see the pinholes along the left-hand page. They are marks from the library of the Meadville Theological School, founded in 1844 as a Unitarian seminary in Meadville, PA.

An inscription on the endpaper reads Samuel Clark, Cumberland RI[?] -- not quite sure about the script-y I, but since there is such a town in Rhode Island, I think it's a safe bet. It's a pretty common-sounding name, but let's be generous and connect this Sam Clark to the one referred to here:

Mrs. Whipple is a descendant of one of the oldest and best known families of Cumberland. The first of the Clark name in this town was Samuel Clark. His first wife's name was Rachel and his second, Elizabeth [nee Barney]. His children were ... The father died in 1817.

Another note written along the gutter of the first page of the text reads "J.R. Tyson Feb. 10/28 $4.50".

At the end is a darling advertisement from a bookseller.

[a few more books]...
a large assortment of
of every kind.

* *
* Printing and book-binding done with that neatness and dispatch which ever insures satisfaction.
essentialsaltes: (arkham)
Dr. Pookie noticed Edwin Henry Landseer's "Man Proposes, God Disposes," painted in 1864. It's quite a striking painting.

Despite the title, the complete lack of tentacles, and being painted decades before Lovecraft's birth, I think there's a hint of the Lovecraftian here, in the illustration of the futility of man in the face of the uncaring universe, even with the benefit of our feeble science, represented here by the telescope. This is not a celebration of the heroism of those who risk their lives in exploration, but a scene of horror at their failure.

The painting depicts the aftermath of John Franklin's last expedition to the Arctic, which led to the deaths of the entire complement of 129. Obviously, "At the Mountains of Madness" also deals with a failed polar expedition, and to make an extremely tenuous connection, the fictional expedition passes Franklin Island, named after John Franklin.

To get even more tenuous, the story also mentions Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, two volcanoes in Antarctica. The mountains are named after the ships used by James Ross in his polar expeditions, and later used by the doomed Franklin expedition. The remains of HMS Erebus have recently been found.

The painting now hangs in a university hall in London, where (on test days) it is covered by the Union Jack to avoid spooking the students.

Recent graduate Michaela Jones was told that a student during an exam had stared directly into one of the polar bears' eyes. Trance-like, the student had then gone "mad" and killed herself - although not before etching the words "The polar bears made me do it" onto her exam paper.

Friendspage breaking giant image back here )


essentialsaltes: (Default)

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