Archive for the ‘cool’ Category

krakatoa: the day the world exploded, august 27 1883 by simon winchester

I have been interested in volcanoes for a long time. I first wrote about them for a college essay in 1999, but my attraction to them began far earlier. Most likely it was triggered by hearing from my mom that her wedding day was the first time she’d ever really had allergies – just 6 days after Mt St Helens exploded, the cloud o’ crud had wafted its way across the North American Continent, and helped trigger lots of folks’ allergies, including my mom’s.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that read, “Save The Volcanoes!”

It was quite the conversation starter. (And short satirical essay fodder.)

My dad thought it would be brilliant to dump most of our trash into Kīlauea or Mauna Loa – what better place to incinerate garbage than a pool of liquid rock? (Side benefit: no need to use fuel to burn it, just to transport it!)

I remember Pinatubo exploding in 1991. It ejected about 2.4 cubic miles of crud into the atmosphere. That was 10x more than Mt St Helens burped.

But only half of what Krakatau did in 1883. Krakatoa (the spelling forever etched in world memory, through the typo of a Times of London editor) chucked about 6 cubic miles. It is claimed that it is the loudest sound ever recorded in modern history, and the air-borne pressure wave of the explosion was measured around the world on barographs, as many as 7 times.

(Tambora in 1815 was even bigger (estimated at up to 38 cubic miles), but it was in a relatively unknown (to “modern man”) part of the world, and certainly did not capture the attention of the world they way Krakatoa did 68 years later after the advent of near-instant global communication (the telegraph) and pop culture’s attention to “science”.)

It was this eruption that helped set the stage for a variety of modern scientific fields of inquiry and practice, including a better understanding of geology, meteorology (the beginnings of figuring out the jet stream), and plate tectonics (though not formally accepted globally until after WWII).

Simon Winchester did a masterful job in his book, Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27 1883. It is one of the few books I have read as an adult in which my reading was slowed due to vocabulary. Winchester’s writing showcases his vast vocabulary, his scientific bent, his Oxford education, and his deep interest in his topic. But he manages to use an extensive lexicon without ever appearing to talk down to his audience – an exceptional gift. He also writes in a very precise manner: every word he uses feels like he meant for it to be there because it truly describes what he wants to say the best.

I take a few minor issues with his worldview, because I do believe in a literal Creation Week 6000-12000 years ago, but excepting his ongoing references to millions and billions of years, I could find nothing in the book to complain about.

Krakatoa provides a deep history of the Indonesian region, both geologically and politically (starting, on the latter, with the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (or Dutch East India Company)) takeover of Portuguese influence in the region) and spans far and wide through a variety of then-unrelated sciences which presciently foreshadowed modern geologic, biologic, meteorologic – even astronomic – advances.

If you are at all intrigued by history, geology, volcanoes, or disaster, you should read Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

I can’t wait to read several of his other works.

atlas of the year 1000 by john man

It was with great excitement I reserved Atlas of the Year 1000 from my local library.

John Man’s work did not disappoint (excluding the humorous typo of “a a” when only the single article use was intended).

Starting with the Americas, then working Eastward to Europe, the Islamic region, and Asia before moving back west but south to Africa and then finally to Oceania, Atlas of the Year 1000 provides a fantastic glimpse of the state of the world a millennium ago ± 50 years.

From the Introduction on the significance of the year 1000:

[B]y pure coincidence, the year 1000, or thereabouts, marked the first time in human history that it was possible to pass an object, or a message, right around the world. This had, of course, been almost possible for a long time. Although no culture knew what the world looked like, and few had any idea of its size, almost every habitable region had been peopled for thousands of years, and almost every culture had a neighbour or two. Messages and artefacts had been passed between neighbours, across continents and between continents. Such messages – pottery styles, agricultural techniques, new technologies, religions – are the stuff of cultural diffusion.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who is looking for what avenue of historical inquiry they wish to follow next, or to be reminded that nothing happens in isolation – as isolated as some of these cultures were from each other, there were myriad other cultures operating at the same time around the world.

geeks night out

Last week I went to the Geeks’ Night Out at Beerworks in Lexington.

One of the people I met was a junior EE major at UK named Robyn who, along with two of her friends, is looking to start a home automation company (The Unity Box) – but not in the realm of a company like Ambiance (interestingly, a company I was going to start with as a junior developer back in 2001 when the bottom dropped out of the tech bubble – but that’s another story). They want to make a small control device along the lines of a DVR or Roku that would control smart outlets/switches in your home (and be able to learn a la the Nest about your habits (with, of course, manual overrides for non-pattern events)).

Yesterday I found the WeMo from Belkin.

Robyn – looks like you and Belkin should talk: they’ve done the part about the smart outlets :)

gardening efficiently – for fun and profit

I have gardened off and on for most of my life. Back in the 1980s, there was a show called “Square Foot Gardening” on PBS hosted by Mel Bartholomew. Now there is a website. When we lived in Albany, we purchased the book Square Foot Gardening (which has been updated and simplified even further by Mel Bartholomew in the intervening years, and is now titled All New Square Foot Gardening (I reviewed SFG a while back)). I also own a copy of the companion text, CA$H from Square Foot Gardening – though I never put any of the suggestions into practice for personal money-making.

In college, I took a course on the culture of food, and my term paper was entitled, “Eating off the Grid” (intro page and associated diagrams). The basic premise of the paper was that an efficiently-designed, efficiently-grown, and strategically-planned small garden can provide for individuals, families, or even whole neighborhoods – all with minimal up-front investment, and reduced on-going care cost and effort.

With a recent rise on the popularity of “locavore” eating, and the relative increase in observed popularity of canning, farmer’s markets, etc, it seems that for many people, growing at least some of their own food should be a “no brainer”.

My wife and I have had a small (6×6) garden in our backyard for a couple years. Out of that space, we [typically] get not only a substantially better harvest than her dad does using a 50×100 plot in “garden farming” (aka, the “traditional” method of gardening, wherein folks try to grow miniaturized farms instead of scaling-up window gardens) – just a small example, the dozen or so hand melon vines he had took 1/4 of the total ground space of his garden … which is nuts!

I love making salsa, for example – this past summer out of just 4 plants, I got 4x more serrano peppers than I could use … and I can use a lot of serrano peppers :)

The basics of SFG are easy – build a 4’x4′ box at least 6″ deep (full plans and kits are available in the books and on the website – or you can see the end of the paper I wrote). The soil mix is also easy – peat moss, compost (which you will be able to create on your own going forward once you start gardening, if you have a small space in the back part of your yard), and vermiculite. Everything is organic, and because the individual plots are so small, keeping-up with weeds is a cinch.

I’m not going to replicate everything in the books here – they’re just too chock-full to do full justice in a blog post, and they’re so accessible without being condescending, that I can’t give a higher recommendation to read and own them.

thanks, {redacted}

A friend and coworker owns a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, and invited my wife and I to spend part-to-all of a week with him and his wife there at the beginning of March – doing a “WFC1” week instead of being ‘merely’ WFH2 (like we normally are)..

He arrived Saturday morning with his wife, and my wife and I arrived that evening.

Sadly, he had to leave early, and couldn’t stay the whole week – but my wife and I were able to enjoy all the way through the middle of the week before we also needed to leave to get back to “the real world”.

So, thanks, {redacted} for letting us crash with you, and then stay after you :)


1 work from cabin
2 work from home

bursts by albert-lászló barabási

Albert-László Barabási’s book “Bursts: The Hidden Patterns Behind Everything We Do, from Your E-mail to Bloody Crusades” is fascinating. In the same overall genre as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (review) – pop psychology and pop science – Bursts is a great read: bringing highly technical and dense topics to the masses in a manner that [apparently] doesn’t dumb it down, and never condescends to the reader.

The author is a professional researcher with deep experience in the fields he writes about – a huge plus. If you can wade through all the Hungarian names in a couple of the stories (it’s not that hard), you’ll find this a fantastic, enlightening read.

Reading this makes me want to go buy his other book, Linked.

bufferapp.com – schedule social media posts

I learned about bufferapp.com this week – finally a way to not overload Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc with posts – and put them in relevant venues easily.

Thanks, Passive Panda.

some great finds

Diagram.ly – it’s sorta like Visio, but free, and web-based.

Meetings.io – like webex, including conference calling and file and screen sharing.

Qama – a calculator that doesn’t give an answer until you provide a “reasonable” guess.

Udacity – a free computer science program.

Urbanchickens – dedicated to raising chickens in “non-traditional” environments (like cities).

groupon is no good!

I think I might have to boycott Groupon: a few months back they had a deal for an introductory flight, first ground school time, and pilot log book for about 50% off the normal rate from the local flight training company, NexGen Aviation.

I arrive at the airport a little before 1400 for my flight on Sunday. Adrian, my instructor, is an intensely friendly man. He’s originally from Zimbabwe, though has spent enough time in Kentucky that now his family think he has an accent :)

NexGen has a Piper Warrior – a four-place, low-wing, single engine airplane they use for lessons.

Things I did not know about operating an aircraft – you steer while you’re on on the ground with your feet.

Adrian opened the door and told me to get in first. That was not what I expected – that put me in the pilot’s seat. After doing a quick preflight, he started the engine, and we started taxiing… more accurately, while he radioed the tower for clearance, he had me taxi us out onto the runway.

So that was pretty cool .. but it got better: when we got to the runway, and the tower had cleared us, I got to take off =D

Adrian ran the throttle, and he took care of the trim tabs and explained to me what I had to do, but otherwise he let me fly for the about 30 minutes we were up – the only time he took over was for our landing. We toured around Lexington at ~2500 feet (buzzing up to nearly 3000 as I tried to maintain our heading, steer, look around, and keep us flying level-ish.

I got to see our house from 2500 feet, and a variety of other parts of Lexington that I think may help when it comes to driving, too.

Now for the bad news: I’m hooked. And the total time and outlay that getting my license will entail will be at least 40 hours of flying time (including different type of solo time), along with several hours of ground school. And all of that combined with needing to take a written test so the FAA will eventually be willing to give me a check ride so I can get my license.

Sigh.

That’ll run ~$6650 … if I go as quickly as I can. Taking too much time between lessons will help to reduce retention, so I’m probably more realistically looking at about $10k to complete my license.

I’m accepting donations, though 😉

where google makes its money

Wired has an interesting infographic today from WordStream on where Google makes its money in advertising.

No surprise on some of the top entries: but the last was surprising (both to me, and the folks who did the analysis): Cord Blood. Seems “rich parents” are wanting to store their newborn’s umbilical cord blood for the stem cells contained, in the hopes that they could be used later in life if some health crisis arises.

Fascinating.