Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moon Night

Moon False Color Mosaic
Moon - False Color Mosaic - NASA
It's the second full moon of August, 2012 - the last one was in March 2010. The next one won't be until July 2015. This is a good time to explain what a blue moon really is, since most people misunderstand it to mean the second full moon in a month. Technically, it's the the third full moon in a season with four full moons. Sky & Telescope thoroughly and clearly explains the science behind this lunar occurrence.  Today it is commonly thought of as the second full moon in one month. So, it's the perfect time to listen to Ella Fitzgerald softly singing Rodgers and Hart's classic "Blue Moon," one of their most plaintive ballads.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Time for a Commercial Break

The video above showcases one of the greatest compositions for a commercial - Clorox of all things! This video has combined the music for two Clorox commercials, one featuring pirates, the other mermaids. They're complementary pieces and are very cinematic and grand. You can view both the pirates and mermaids commercial versions on Youtube of course. Cdbaby has some info on the artists who composed this music, H. Scott Salinas and Francois-Paul Aïche. The Blue Sky Project was a charity project started by Clorox designed to benefit students of music.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Now You Can Have Your Cake and Read About It Too!

Bundt cake pan - photo by David Benbennick, Wikimedia Commons
Bundt cake pan - photo by David Benbennick, Wikimedia Commons
Libraries lend all sorts of unusual materials, and over the years I have worked at branches that have loaned out art prints, engravers, kilowatt readers, etc.  Now a recent news story reports that Kansas Public Libraries have a collection of decorative cake pans that patrons can borrow! Some of their libraries have hundreds of cake pans which are cataloged with call numbers, in this case their Dewey classification is simply, "cake pan." A catalog search of the Coffey County Library reveals that their cake pan collection contains interesting character pans as well as simple cake molds. It seems that libraries have to provide all things to all people to avoid becoming an entirely virtual presence!

And now libraries are experimenting with 3-D printers that may be used to convert any sundry items to a digital format which can then be duplicated physically for people to download and use. After that, nothing left to do but live our lives in the Holodeck!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Music on Mars

The first music broadcast on Mars was's song "Reach for the Stars" at about 4 pm EDT today. The Martians got to hear the song first as this was the debut of the single. NASA is trying to inspire and encourage kids to become more interested in science. This isn't the first time that music has been piped from earth into the heavens, however - other instances occurred earlier, notably in 2008 when NASA sent George Harrison's "Across the Universe" out into the universe!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to School

Back to School in Mayberry
Back to School in Mayberry
This time of year always brings back memories of the inevitable return of classes, teachers, friends, books, team sports and other school events. Despite the nervousness I always felt as a child on the first day back, I still welcomed the anticipation of learning new things, making new friends and just that feeling of change in the air. To me the best time of year has always been that stretch between September and December, especially with all the holidays to look forward to and the blessedly cooler weather. The shorter days and longer hours of darkness made me feel cocooned and comforted. Back to School is also a huge industry, of course, with retailers almost treating it like a major holiday with urgent reminders to shop and save. Shopping for clothes, school supplies, especially new and decorative ring binders and notebooks, gave me a feeling of fresh hope for the academic year. Today much of the shopping involves high tech gadgets that kids can't be without; I was happy with a cool notebook and binder! And today, backpacks are a part of every student's uniform; I guess kids just carry more stuff now. What did we have growing up? At the most three or four books, a calculator, protractor and compass. And of course pencils with extra erasers since we didn't have laptops then. But then kids today have so much more to retain mentally than we ever did, everything from Apps to ZiBs. Good thing their bones and brains are flexible!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One Small Letter

Footprint on moon
One Small Step
Neil Armstrong's passing has re-invigorated the topic of whether he actually uttered the article 'a' in his famous sentence upon stepping on the moon. Everyone in the world heard him say, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Though Armstrong initially claimed he had used the article 'a'  before 'man,' he later conceded after hearing his recorded voice, that he had intended to say it, since grammatically it would make more sense in the context of the event. A few years ago, researchers studied the sound file of his [mis]quote and came to believe that there was a break in the file of several milliseconds.  And some scholars have even stated it might be simply an issue of dialect, that the 'a' might just have been combined with the 'for' as in 'fruh.' However, later analysis by other reseachers came to the conclusion that he simply misspoke. quotes Rick Houston, an Apollo historian, as refuting the claims that the 'a' was somehow garbled, stating it would be, "revisionist history" to believe so.

But whatever was said or intended to be said when Armstrong stepped on the moon, the discussion is dwarfed by the magnitude of the achievement of one human and all humankind. I for one will never forget the day the moon landing occurred as I watched it years ago as a child, riveted to the television with wonder and awe.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Getting Your ZZZs

Sleeping Puma
Sleeping Puma
Here's a very interesting quiz about sleep at NYT; I took it and found that I knew much less about it than I thought. I generally know a good deal about sleep and the adverse effects of not getting enough; and about how to  remedy the problem, though it doesn't always work for me. But this quiz contains information that most people are unaware of, specifically, quantitative information about the science of sleep.

Dr. Weil's site provides other interesting health-related info - a FAQ as well as a helpful library of various health topics.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Machine Checkout versus People Checkout

Self-checkout Machine
Self-checkout Machine
Just read an article about how Ikea is rethinking its self-checkout service; apparently, it causes major lines and frustration for customers. Personally, I've never liked self-checkout kiosks and would rather deal with a human when making purchases, even for a small number of items. It may be efficient for some (especially misanthropes), but I've had more negative experiences than positive ones. Plus, we really need jobs for people. Checkout clerks do more than just ring up purchases and bag them. They actually provide valuable marketing for their stores, if only they were seen that way by their employers. The human interaction, especially if clerks are trained to provide the service well, leads to customer loyalty and is a valuable community service. It gives elderly people much needed human contact on a regular basis and can make a huge difference in their quality of life. I've never thought replacing humans entirely or even mostly with these machines makes good business sense. Many people do like them, it's true, but it's not for everyone. In the case of Ikea, it seems hare-brained really when you think of how many of their products are large, heavy and unwieldy. Who wants to try to scan and maneuver these items through a self-checkout line? Fortunately, they're doing away with some of their self-checkout service. And others are doing the same thing, namely Albertsons grocery store. I think there's room for both kinds of services, so hopefully businesses will reach that balance and provide that choice.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gene Kelly's 100th Birthday

One of the most cheerful, optimistic dance routines ever produced by Hollywood, performed by one of the most athletic and graceful dancers ever. NPR calls him the Marlon Brando of screen dance. PBS produced a nice biopic on Kelly some time ago, with great dance footage and a timeline of his life and career.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Library Cart

Library book cart
My Library Cart
Often I find that my e-book selections are based mainly on availability, rather than preference. But I find I do enjoy most of them, even if I don't finish them all completely.

The Wave
The Wave

The Wave, In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
Casey looks at the huge waves (100 feet or more) that occasionally develop on the oceans, and the brave (or foolhardy) people who pursue them. Scientists and surfers alike are challenged by their need to understand or conquer them. Climate change is likely the culprit behind the development of some the biggest monster waves. Casey informs the reader about the science and suspense behind these powerful forces of nature. NYT reviewed the book favorably when it was published.

Drama by John Lithgow

Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow 
Lithgow has written an absorbing memoir about his childhood and his years as a struggling actor, both on stage and screen. Memoirs are difficult to write completely honestly since most authors self-censor their stories; Lithgow's account reveals a good deal but probably masks some parts of his life which he doesn't examine too closely. While the book reads in some ways like a love letter to his family and his chosen profession, one gets the sense that there was more tension in his life which he doesn't impart to the reader. He writes of his life with a sardonic sense of humor and doesn't flinch from taking responsibility for his mistakes. His book provides a very detailed description of the entire acting profession, from the travails of unemployment to the euphoria of landing a significant role that can make or break a career. It is actually a very detailed CV of his entire acting career. Acting aside, I found his introductory chapter to be the most moving passage in the entire book. He writes very touchingly and openly about caring for his elderly parents, especially his father, in their later declining years. In this chapter,  Lithgow reminisces about his childhood growing up with siblings who were close to him, as well as two parents who provided a loving if peripatetic existence for them. Mostly, it's the story of a man who chose a profession he loves and followed a path leading to fulfillment. His book received a warm review in the Times.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

These Books are Really Overdue!

Bookshelf garage
Bookshelf Garage

Author Robert Crais posted this pic on his FB page and it sort of went viral. Here's what he had to say about this photo: "More door! I never expected you guys to flip over "the library garage door" as you have. Over 40,000 people saw the post, and over 7000 of you shared it. Here's the 411, and please feel free to share this post, too: The door was commissioned by Lee Dembart, a former writer and book reviewer for the L.A. Times, who explained, "I love books. They're my passion." (Don't you just love the man?) The mural was painted by artist, Don Gray. You can see more of Mr. Gray's amazing work on his website, here: "

Crais is the author of several popular detective novels, such as The Monkey's Raincoat (his first) and most recently, Taken. He also wrote scripts for popular TV shows such as Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, L.A. Law, among others.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Best Car Commercial - BMW's 1996 "Canals of New York"

Here's the commercial that kicked off my interest in well-done commercials. Wonderful music! And while I am generally interested in original music composed for ads, Tamara Warren of Forbes has compiled a great list of Ten Best Songs In Car Commercials with famous tunes.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The End of Books?

Antique book
Antique Book
Any article about the end of books will generate considerable buzz on the web, and a recent article in the NYT by Leah Price, no less. What sets Ms. Price's essay apart from so many others is the depth to which she has explored the subject. She is a professor of English at Harvard and a specialist on the history of  books. Ever since technology began its exponential growth, scholars and technophiles alike have predicted the end of books. But this discussion has been sloppy to some extent because people do not distinguish between the written word and its vehicles. In her article, Ms. Price examines the rise of new technologies which were predicted to supplant older ones, but which actually never happened, such as books with radio, and radio with TV. Which all begs the question, is it really about the end of books or of reading? And what will be the ultimate killer of the printed book? Even ereaders, despite their explosive popularity, have their limitations. Any physical medium which requires one to grasp and interact with it will be supplanted by others that will reduce the strain our hands and optic nerves. Maybe a new technology that will simply generate words in front of our eyes, for those who actually still wish to read as opposed to listen to books. And I don't mean by the use of goggles or any device that simply projects words on a screen, but which may be able to transmit them through the optic nerve to our brains. A kind of reverse projector through the eyes. After all, necessity (and laziness) is the mother of invention, so it may happen, as sci-fi authors have often forecasted.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Leonard Cohen at London's O2 (2008) - Dance Me to the End of Love

Watched this performance on PBS last night; a beautiful, haunting, and complicated love song. Interesting that this song was released in 1984, when the world was listening to Duran Duran, Culture Club, Thompson Twins, et al.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lovely Paean to Public Libraries

The Librarian, a 1556 painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The Librarian, a 1556 painting
by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The late Mary Lee Dante said several years ago, "Libraries are the canaries of civilization .... and the canaries are dying." She must have had some sort of foreknowledge because all during the years that libraries were growing their internet presence, she was lamenting their general demise. Now it would seem that libraries everywhere are last on the list of priorities for those deciding their fates. And to add insult to injury, Forbes not long ago listed an MLS degree as one of the least valuable of graduate degrees. It's true it doesn't pay well, but the rewards are tremendous for anyone truly wishing to make a difference in people's lives.

Now, comes a very convincingly written article by Emmily Bristol enumerating the reasons for preserving libraries. Library degrees may not be valuable, but libraries promote civilization unlike any other institution. As much as one hates to think so, it may be a losing battle; the tide is rapidly moving information away from the hands of independent curators to corporate entities that do not freely purvey it. And unfortunately, not enough people really care enough to stop this trend. The aforementioned article quotes President John F. Kennedy on the need for libraries: "If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty." Sadly, this plea is falling on deaf ears today, though we need libraries now more than ever.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Phoenix Cluster

Animation of the Phoenix Cluster by NASA
Amazing news release from NASA:
August 15, 2012
RELEASE : 12-278
Phoenix Cluster Sets Record Pace at Forming Stars

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers have found an extraordinary galaxy cluster, one of the largest objects in the universe, that is breaking several important cosmic records. Observations of the Phoenix cluster with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the National Science Foundation's South Pole Telescope, and eight other world-class observatories may force astronomers to rethink how these colossal structures and the galaxies that inhabit them evolve.

NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory website provides more intriguing images and details. Almost six billion light years away - all its stars should have formed by now since what we see actually happened billions of years ago!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happened Yesterday

Pi Unrolled by John Reid
Pi Unrolled by John Reid
From the US Census:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  TUESDAY, AUG. 14, 2012 - United States Population Reaches Milestone Shortly after 2:29 p.m. EDT today, the U.S. population clock will reach a milestone that is very meaningful to mathematical statisticians: it will show there are 314,159,265 residents, or pi (3.14159265) times 100 million. Pi is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. “This is a once in many generations go out and celebrate this American pi,” said Census Bureau Chief Demographer Howard Hogan.

Happy Birthday to the 314,159,265th person born yesterday - may you always have pi!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Where's the Fire?

Fire department testing fire truck - photo by theLibraryLander
Fire Dept. testing apparatus
Nowhere! Just our local Fire Department testing its tiller ladder truck today. Pretty cool to see the ladder functions being tested - telescoping to its maximum height, turning on the turntable, and firemen testing the aerial bucket.

"Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation." --Robert H. Schuller

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sad Flower

Those of a certain age might recall this beautiful short film shown on Sesame Street years and years ago. The music is "Largo,'" from Concerto for Lute in D Major, RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi, one of the most poignant compositions from the Baroque era. In the modern era, it's often played on guitar as in the film above. To hear a longer arrangement, see this wonderful performance by Boris Björn Bagger.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Comfort Cooking

Martha's American Food
Martha's American Food

Martha's American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation's Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast by Martha Stewart,
Clarkson Potter (April 24, 2012).

There are many regional cookbooks available with recipes containing specialized ingredients that appeal to curious foodies. Martha's American Food covers regional cooking with a more generalized approach that will appeal to a majority of palates. She explores each region - Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest, and West - by briefly discussing its culinary history and providing the most noted recipes found there. They're basically the comfort foods for each region which I found very intriguing. How many people know that Michigan produces about 75 % of the country's tart cherries, the best type for cherry pies? She covers well-known regional recipes such as Maryland Crab Cakes, and New York-style Cheese Cake, but she also discusses lesser known dishes such as Posole, which I haven't had since I was a child growing up in the Southwest. She also provides traditional recipes such as Mac and Cheese, Green Bean Casserole, and Apple Pie. It reminds me a bit of the well-known Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, but less dense and more modern. I read the eBook version of Stewart's book and found it easy to navigate the contents with my Nook Tablet. The high-quality photos are attractive and will appeal to armchair cooks as well as more serious ones. It's a comforting book to just peruse, a sort of culinary travelogue.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"I think that I shall never see..."

tree photo by theLibraryLander
Tree on a local farm
"A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human."
 --Georges Rouault

A beautiful day to take a picture of a beautiful tree.

About that empty middle seat, a survey of passengers by a researcher for Boeing and other airlines, found that travelers who enjoyed an empty middle seat, "thought the plane was more on-time, the flight attendants were friendlier and the food tasted better." How about that? It doesn't take much to make people happy. This passenger survey was referenced last year in a WSJ article about travelers' satisfaction. It does, however, note the fact that empty middle seats are becoming rare with airlines under more financial pressure to fill all seats.

Friday, August 10, 2012

One thing leads to another...

Klein Bottle
Klein Bottle

Driving up to work recently, I was surprised to see a delivery truck with the name ACME on its side; they were delivering paper and plastic goods. I was surprised because I didn't think there really were companies called ACME, having only seen them on the Roadrunner cartoons. (I half expected to see Wile E. Coyote on the loading dock!) I had to look up this company, of course, and found out they are a locally based company and have been around since 1946, which just predates Chuck Jones' cartoon. All this searching around naturally lead to the origins of ACME and an interesting discussion about the topic in a Guardian forum. Which then led to further surfing and the discovery of the ACME Klein Bottle company, started by Cliff Stoll (yes, he of The Cuckoo's Egg fame). So, what's a Klein Bottle? It's actually a mathematical concept which I won't pretend to understand, but it's a manifold without boundaries - you'll just have to read about it to grasp it. Now, Cliff Stoll actually makes glass Klein Bottles, which are primarily purchased by mathematicians. He discusses his work on his company's faq and explains the concept of the Klein Bottle. Finally, a word about Wile E. Coyote - he actually filed suit against ACME some time ago.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Walk this way...

Statue of Liberty - photo by theLibraryLander
Statue of Liberty

This bit of news may have been well-publicized earlier, but I'd only heard this yesterday when Dr. Weil's Daily Tip revealed that New Yorkers are among the healthiest people around. His column cited a 2007 study conducted by the New York City Department of Health which stated that a baby born in New York in 2004 can expect to live nine months longer than the average American. New Yorkers seem to overcome the stresses of urban living by engaging in healthy habits, such as not smoking and walking everywhere. New York Magazine, back in 2007, examined the results of this study in more detail and provided interesting comparisons of the walking habits of native New Yorkers and tourists. (Yes, NYers walk way faster.) I guess it's time to pack up and join Lady Liberty!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weekly Read

 Here comes the inevitable book review...

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by James Tabor
Blind Descent
Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by James Tabor

Not a rave read, but it is an engaging analysis of the personalities of people who participate in extreme caving. The two principal subjects are Bill Stone, who explored vast Cheve Cave of southern Mexico, and Alexander Klimchouk who oversaw the exploration of the supercave Krubera of the Republic of Georgia. Both are scientists with a drive to discover the deepest cave on earth, in addition to advancing scientific exploration. These speleology teams must be in top physical and mental condition to endure the dangers inherent in this pursuit. Their efforts are basically analogous to mountain climbing in reverse, except in some ways more dangerous because of the lack of natural light and the possibility of being buried. There's also a lot of water underground that at times must be plunged through to get to an opening within a cave. At this time, the Krubera cave is the deepest known cave in the world, very steep and plunging, but the Cheve Cave is the deepest in the Americas. The Cheve cave also seems to contain more cavernous areas that can actually hold a few Boeings! The book also delves into the science and history of speleology, covering earlier expeditions to find the deepest caves. All in all, the author does a good job of providing the reader with an armchair experience of caving; one feels the depth, danger, and the triumph that accompany such expeditions. Don't miss NPR's story about this book on All Things Considered - there's also a stunning image of the cavernous Cheve cave in Mexico.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I always enjoy Ben Yagoda's occasional essays on language which he writes for the NYT. Yesterday's column on the overuse of the exclamation point was particularly entertaining. In it, he brought up a term that I was previously only vaguely familiar with: the interrobang. We've all seen its use in expressions using the combo question mark and exclamation point. As in, what the?!  And is there a difference between ?! and !? - apparently there is. Wikipedia, not surprisingly, has an entry on its history and development. Is there anything Wikipedia doesn't know?!

turquoise salmon sunset
Turquoise Salmon Sunset
Yesterday, saw this beautiful sunset in my neck of the woods. The photo here doesn't do it justice, but I can only describe it as one of those sunsets where the sky is an intense turquoise blue and the clouds a deep salmon pink (Alaskan, not Atlantic!). With most sunsets, the colors seem to meld together in various shades of red, orange, pink, a bit of blue. But this sunset seemed marked by only two distinct shades of turquoise and salmon - very startling!

Monday, August 6, 2012


I pay attention to eye and ear catching commercials on TV, mainly those with a notable soundtrack or special effects.  Currently during the Olympics, HP is broadcasting a commercial with a beautiful piano composition. Just discovered it's a piece called Primavera by the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. You can hear the full composition on YouTube's Top Tracks for Ludovico Einaudi. The composer's website has more music and information.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Black Hole - NASA artist's depiction
Black Hole - NASA artist's depiction
Just discovered these 'on-this-day' pages not long ago (great for trivia buffs and just random reading): from NYT, on-this-day, searchable by month and day. The BBC does this as well.

And going in the other direction, Wikipedia has some interesting timelines of the future - the future in forecasts, of the near future, and the far future.
Pretty mind-boggling, thinking of the future in terms of billions of years!

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Airplane cabin
Airplane cabin
How much happiness is enough? Maybe about the level you feel when you realize that the middle seat next to you on your flight is empty. Isn't that just about right? It's a feeling not predicated upon greed or excess, just a simple sigh of relief when something nice and unexpected happens. Gratitude would be in order.