Space Oddity

I found out that pictures of the Roadster in Space were put into the public domain, and I couldn’t resist.

Wired reported: “SpaceX revealed last weekend that a mannequin wearing the company’s new spacesuit would ride in the driver’s seat of the electric sports car. Nicknamed Starman, the dummy will listen to some tunes on its long and endless journey: David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity.’ ”

I watched the Falcon Heavy launch on my computer after the fact, as one does these days. Aside from the fact that it didn’t explode on the pad, the remarkable thing was the robust cheering from the crowd at launch.

Did Mr. Musk hire a cheering section? Probably not, but it’s a fun thought. Compare with the launch of Apollo 11 — you can hear faint cheering briefly right after liftoff. Maybe the microphones weren’t in position to get much crowd reaction in 1969.

An aside: Jack King, who announced the Apollo 11 liftoff, died only in 2015.

February 1st Miscellanea

February, bah. A really cold week lies ahead, with some snow. The only good thing is that January is over.

We got a call one recent day at 7:41 a.m., not the best time, but I guess it couldn’t wait. Our machine recorded it, so I can transcribe it here, with a few details changed.

“Please stand by for an informational message from your community. There may be a short delay before the message begins.

(pause)

“This is an important message from the Schleswig-Holstein Police Department. Please be on the lookout for a missing juvenile named W—-. Male, white, five feet tall, approximately 90 pounds, brown hair, brown eyes. Last seen wearing a purple Washington Huskies sweatshirt, gray sweatpants, and black, white and red Nike Air Jordan sneakers. Please call the Schleswig-Holstein Police Department or 911 if you have any information. Thank you.”

At 8:44 a.m., there was another call.

“Please stand by for an informational message from your community. There may be a short delay before the message begins.

(pause)

“This is an important message from the Schleswig-Holstein Police Department. The missing juvenile referenced in the previous message has been located safely. Thank you for your assistance.”

That was a first. Maybe W—- wandered off without telling anyone. It was a relatively warm morning.

Something I happened across in my online wanderings, an incident in New Jersey: “A 16-year-old from Willingboro was arrested by West Windsor Police on Dec. 4 after attempting to steal a car. The theft was thwarted because the car had a stick shift, and the would-be thief only knew how to drive cars with an automatic transmission.”

You’d think the JD — there’s a term to bring back — would have backed away when he saw that the car had a stick, and before police got involved. Then again, JDs aren’t known for their brains.

This falls under the My, How Things Have Change File: Recently I got an email from a grocery store that has my address. The subject line said: ORDER YOUR SUPER BOWL SUSHI PLATTER FOR $29.99.

I’m not holding a Super Bowl party, or going to one, or watching the damn thing at all, but somehow I don’t associate it with sushi. Just me being old. I vaguely remember, about 30 years ago, Mike Royko (maybe) mocking in print the fact that sushi was being sold at some baseball game, probably in California. That seemed strange, I suppose.

Since then, though still associated with Japan, sushi has been fully assimilated into American eating habits. Probably not too many people younger than me would give sushi at a Super Bowl party a second thought.

Bayeux Tapestry Odds

Faux spring no mo’. Woke up this morning to a light coat of snow. Not even enough to warrant shoveling, but snow all the same.

I check the Paddy Power web site now and then, not because I’m interesting in betting, but because its predictive powers seem pretty good. Usually. The Irish bookies got the 2016 election wrong, but they get a pass for that, since everyone else did too.

Last week Amazon winnowed its second headquarters site selection to 20 cities, something I’m following as a professional matter. I was a little surprised to see that the odds favor Boston right now, at 2/1, with Atlanta, Austin and Washington DC next.

All very interesting, but what really caught my attention on the site was, “Bayeux Tapestry Location Display.” What? It’s going to be displayed somewhere outside Bayeux?

Apparently so. At some point in the next few years, at someplace in the UK. Exactly where is the betting matter.

Paddy Power puts the British Museum as the clear favorite, at 1/2, which seems reasonable, but also possible are Canterbury and Westminster Abbey at 5/1. Less serious possibilities are at Paddy Power Tower or “Any Carpet Right store.”

I assume the tower is the company headquarters in Dublin. As for Carpet Right, which is actually styled Carpetright, that’s a carpet retailer with 426 stores in the UK and 138 in the Low Countries and Ireland. Just a spot of fun from the Paddy Power bookies.

The Internet, being what it is, allows me to find out about other things related to the Bayeux Tapestry with ridiculous ease. For example, if I wanted to spend $230, I could have my own Bayeux Tapestry tablecloth, 95 percent cotton and also made in France. Nice, but no thanks.

O Tannenbaum Where Art Thou?

Something I didn’t know before, courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Association: “Christmas Trees were added to the federal agriculture census in 1997, when the responsibility for census shifted from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The agriculture census is conducted every five years.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture results were released by USDA in May 2014.”

That means that for this year’s census, we’ll have to wait until 2019. Then we’ll know for sure whether there was a Christmas tree shortage this year, as has been reported.

The association says: “Recent price increases are due to a tighter supply of harvestable size Christmas trees. The current tight supply situation results from fewer trees being planted 7 to 10 years ago. This was due to a combination of excess supply at that time and the recession both pushing prices downward, along with some growers exiting the business.”

I will say that all of the Christmas tree lots I’ve visited in recent years are gone. Even the nursery that sells trees not too far from my home has none this year. But it didn’t have too many last year.

So this year I went to a big box store, my last resort when it comes to trees. I was late anyway, only getting around to it on Monday. Even that store only had a few. The price was right, though: about $16 plus tax for something not so different from last year’s. Guess the store was trying to get rid of its remaining inventory.

Back to the census. In 2012, there were 309,356 acres of Christmas tree farms nationwide, down from 446,996 in 2002. That could indeed help account for a paucity of trees this year. The number-one state when it comes to acres of Christmas trees under cultivation? Oregon, at more than 53,600. North Carolina is next at about 40,300 acres and then the state I’d have guessed at number one: Michigan, nearly 38,000 acres.

Wyoming is at the bottom at zero acres. Nevada, North Dakota and Oklahoma are all listed as (D) with no explanation. Maybe the data is incomplete. Remarkably, some 52 acres of Christmas trees were cultivated in Hawaii in 2012.

One more thing. The motto of the National Christmas Tree Association is “It’s Christmas. Keep it real.”

The New Oldest President

This came to my attention the other day. Last Friday, George H. W. Bush became the longest-lived president in U.S. history, at 93 years, 166 days. He bested Gerald Ford — who isn’t getting any older — that day, and topped Ronald Reagan about a month and a half ago. Reagan had the longest-lived distinction for a few years in the early 21st century, and more recently, for about the last 10 years, Ford was the oldest.

Presidential longevity is reaching new heights here in the 21st century. For a very long time, about 175 years, John Adams was the longest-lived president. He famously died on July 4, 1826, aged 90 years, 247 days. Reagan passed him only in 2001.

Now each of the four presidents who followed Richard Nixon have lived to be at least 93, with the elder Bush and Jimmy Carter currently gunning for 94. To reach 93, George W. Bush and Donald Trump would both need to live to 2039; Bill Clinton, to 2040; and Barack Obama, to 2054.

Autonomous Pods, The Black Mirror Version

Something I read today: “[He] spoke at length about the future he imagines for the automobile industry: autonomous pods that consumers hail on demand rather than owning, networked together in ways that render such familiar 21st-century headaches as traffic jams and car accidents largely (perhaps entirely) a thing of the past.”

Oh, really? Call me a skeptic. Or maybe it’s just that I can imagine some of the new inconveniences, or worse, of such “autonomous pods.”

Hail a pod? Maybe that would work well in a dense city. Here in the suburbs? I don’t have to wait for my car at all. It’s here. It’s now. How can pods possibly match that?

Every trip you take will be monitored. Some system somewhere will know everywhere you go. That kind of thing is bad enough already, this will make it worse.

There will be advertisements in the pods, based on where it thinks you might go. Or just advertising. Maybe it will be loud. It isn’t your car, so you can’t turn it off. Or maybe you can, for a price.

Will pods refuse you service if you want to pay in cash (assuming there is such a thing)?

What happens if you’re mistakenly put on a terrorist watch list, and the pods refuse to pick you up?

Impulse destinations will be, sadly, a thing of the past.

Demand pricing for the pods, just like Uber. That’ll be terrific.

Of course the systems will be privately owned. This is the USA. What happens when cities start granting local monopolies for pods and price increases far outstrip the rate of inflation every year?

Taking items with you will be no extra charge. For a while. Then items will become revenue streams for the autonomous pod companies.

No eating or drinking allowed in the pods. Except for food and drink purchased from the glove compartment minibar.

Your pod will pick you up in 10 minutes. Except, there’s a system failure on a road nearby, so it doesn’t come for two hours. Your alternative? Not that car in your garage.

If you’re late for work, I imagine “the pod was late” will be no excuse.

What happens when two autonomous pods run into each other? Impossible, say the engineers. Ha, ha, say I. Of course it’s going to happen.

One reason for traffic jams is that too many people want to go the same place at the same time. So will a pod ever say, sorry, you can’t go there because there’s too much traffic already?

Thursday Tidbits

Last night Northern Illinois dropped below freezing, and it wasn’t a lot warmer during the day. A taste of winter, dressed like fall.
Fall colors, ChicagoI didn’t know until recently that Lotte Lenya, who can be heard here singing “Mack the Knife,” or maybe more properly “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” played Rosa Klebb, the SPECTRE operative who tries to off James Bond with her poison-tipped shoe in From Russia With Love.

Not an important thing to know. Just another one of those interesting tidbits to chance upon.

A rare thing: a YouTube comment that’s actually funny. It’s at a posting featuring “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!” sung by Oscar Seagle and the Columbia Stellar Quartette, recorded January 25, 1918.

Someone calling himself Xander Magne said: ” ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’ ain’t got s–t on this, sonny. Damn 30s kids with their jazz and their swing and their big band and their ‘World War 2.’ We used to have a Great War and it was Great and you liked it!”

One more thing I saw at the International Museum of Surgical Science, a polemic cartoon by Edward Kemble that was part of a display about patent medicine, the Pure Food & Drug Act, etc.

International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago“Palatable Poison for the Poor.” Whew. Good thing that’s not possible in the 21st century, eh?

Again, too melancholy a note on which to end. Here’s something I saw just before Halloween. Pumpkin π.

Pumpkin π

A bit o’ pumpkin whimsy.

The Frozen World of Bob

This from a recent NASA press release: “On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. The target Kuiper Belt object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation (486958) 2014 MU69. NASA and the New Horizons team are asking the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target…

“After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons project plan to choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects. The chosen nickname will be used in the interim.”

Well, well. The space agency directs interested parties here to suggest a name, or see what’s already been suggested. Such as Mjölnir and Camalor and Z’ha’dum. I might well suggest “Bob.” If it’s good enough for the cold, forbidding Northwest Territories, it’s good enough for space rock(s) in the cold, forbidding Kuiper Belt. I will not suggest some variation on Boaty McBoatface.

Mr. Hall is Gone, But the Monty Hall Problem Lives On

There needs to be a verb to describe reading an obiturary, or hearing about a recent death, with the reaction: He was still alive? Or she, to be complete. Happens a lot. Example I read about not long ago: Monty Hall.

I can’t deny that I spent some hours of my young life watching him preside over eager costumed contestants vying for a new car! etc. But I didn’t know until a few years ago about the Monty Hall problem.

Another example: Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers, the other musical Tom P who died recently. How many people recorded songs about the war with Spain in the late 1950s?

For an even more obscure version, here’s “The Battleship of Maine” by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers. Recorded in 1927, when the war was very much in living memory. It’s a little hard to (easily) scare up information about Red, but it’s possible.

What Kind of Dog Days Are These?

Time to knock off for a little while. Back to posting around August 22. Got stories to file, things to plan, maybe a marvel or two to see.

These ought to be the dog days, when Sirius returns and dogs lie around. Of course dogs lie around all the time. The swelter ought to be enough to make us all want to lie around. Hasn’t happened this summer, at least here in northern Illinois. We haven’t been oppressed by much heat this August, even by local standards (anything around 90 F. or more).

It’s also supposed to be the silly season. You know, when there isn’t much serious news. Maybe that’s an old-fashioned concept in our time, when information of all kinds and quality oozes from every medium. Even so, lately there’s been entirely too much serious news, too much for any time, much less August.

Got reading to do, too. Always that. Four or five books at a time. Always that, who would do it any differently?

Lately read the following passage by Jack Kerouac in The Dharma Bums, one that runs on yet holds together, as he had a talent for. The woods don’t quite have this effect on me. Too bad.

“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.”