December 18, 2014
What our skies would look like without city lights
From the New York Times:
"We treat light like a drug whose price is spiraling toward zero," the science reporter Dirk Hanson wrote in Nautilus. And when faced with the availability of cheaper and more efficient lighting technology, he noted, we "simply use more of it," rather than bank the savings.
As a result, the Milky Way is indecipherable by the naked eye to two-thirds of Americans and about 90 percent of the world’s population. Many people consider this a profound loss — for our health and for our humanity.
"I address in particular the city dweller who forgets and no longer understands nature.... To show him stars is to help him dream again."
He imagines some of the world's largest cities [from the top down: New York, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, and Tokyo] — with all the lights turned out, mere silhouettes against sparkling night skies.
Each image consists of actual photos — plural — one for the city in silhouette, the other for the wondrous sky. For the first, he shoots a city in "day for night" fashion, that is, by the preferably low light of a day for a view that looks like nighttime. For the next, he trots off to a faraway place on the globe with the same latitude, "mostly in deserts," he said.
December 14, 2014
Grand Canyon covered by a sea of clouds
One of the natural wonders of the world was a sight to behold this week, shrouded by a sea of clouds.
A rare cloud inversion transformed the Grand Canyon into a foggy vision that was captured on video.
"A view of the total cloud inversion from Mather Point around 10 a.m. … Thursday," the National Park Service said in a message accompanying the video.
Mather Point is on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and sits at 7,120 feet (2,170 meters).
It offers a spectacular view of the canyon, and is especially a hit during the cold season, when the North Rim of the park is closed for the winter.
"This is a rare occurrence that took place because cool, damp air became trapped in the lower levels of the canyon," CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
"It was literally stuck underneath a warm layer of air just above. In the meteorological world, this is referred to as an inversion when the temperature actually warms with height (as opposed to it cooling with a rise in altitude)."
Van Dam said though cloud inversions are a treat for the eyes, they are hardly unprecedented.
"However, when it produces this short-lived, almost ethereal event, it sure has many people’s attention."
The video of the cloud inversion condensed 15 minutes into one minute, according to the park.
It "almost looks like a tide coming in and going out," it said in a post.
The canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, nearly 18 miles (29 km) wide, and a mile (1.6 km) deep.
December 13, 2014
"Keep Your Distance" Bug Vacuum
From the website:
This handheld vacuum with a telescoping nozzle uses a patented mechanical suction system to capture bugs without getting close to them.
Requiring no electrical power, a pleated plastic bellows at the vacuum's bottom compresses by hand and locks in place automatically with a spring-loaded mechanism.
A press of the button trigger expands the bellows instantly to generate 10X the suction of battery-powered vacuums, capturing flies, bees, spiders, and other insects through a one-way trap door in the nozzle into a removable isolation chamber that allows bugs to be dumped outdoors.
The vacuum’s expandable tube places the nozzle's tip 16-3/4" to 23" from a user’s thumb on the button trigger.
37" L x 3-3/4" Diameter.
Weight: 1-1/4 lbs.
December 12, 2014
The Economist's Intelligent Life app
From The Economist's description:
"The Intelligent Life iPad app is free to download and includes every piece from each issue of Intelligent Life, the award-winning magazine published by The Economist, covering life, culture, style and places. It publishes original features, memoirs, profiles and other articles by contributors including Economist staff, leading journalists from elsewhere, well-known authors such as Julian Barnes, Douglas Coupland, Carlos Fuentes and Margaret Drabble, and prominent photographers such as Tim Flach and Sebastião Salgado."
Also for Android.
The best part: Free, the way we like it.
December 11, 2014
Experts' Experts: How to choose the juiciest lemons
Finally, something of practical value.
Who hasn't stood in front of a display of hundreds of lemons, wondering which one is best?
Full disclosure: me.
But I'm not you, and so here's Cook's Illustrated advice on how to identify the choicest specimens.
Choosing the Juiciest Lemons
Most lemons at the supermarket come in just two varieties. Lisbon lemons [below]
are often characterized by slightly smoother skin, a rounder shape, and a flatter stem end, while Eureka lemons [below]
are frequently distinguised by a more elliptical shape and knobs at both ends. No matter the variety, the most important trait to look for is fruit that gives under pressure, which indicates a thin skin and pith. We found that thin-skinned specimens yielded an average of 8% more of their weight in juice (or about 2-1/2 teaspoons per medium lemon) than those that felt rock hard. Green skin is also not a problem. In our tests, as long as they were thin-skinnned, lemons with a greenish cast had as much juice as their more uniformly yellow counterparts, and they did not taste more tart.
The less ubiquitous Meyer lemon is described here.
December 10, 2014
Why doesn't honey spoil?
[via Compound Interest]
December 6, 2014
Mini Clip Multitool
"Flat Phillips screwdriver."
Must be a Brit thing, what?
December 5, 2014
Sony ad, 1973
A lot happens in 41 years.
[via History in Pictures]
December 4, 2014
Giant Wall Scrabble
From The Green Head: "When you take the original 1949 edition of the classic board game Scrabble, blow it up to gigantic proportions, and then hang it on the wall to be used as full-blown playable artwork, you get this.... This gigantic wooden version of Scrabble is played vertically on the wall using letter tiles with strong magnets, and a built-in chalkboard on the side helps you keep score. It even includes a big fabric bag to hold all the letters."
80"W x 59"H x 3"D.
December 3, 2014
Google Chromecast: 100,000 radio stations on your TV
Below, excerpts from Hugh McIntyre's November 28 Forbes story.
In the race to win the television streaming race, Google is taking some big, bold steps with its Chromecast [above], including adding radio and other recordings to the lineup of what's available.
TuneIn will... now be available on Chromecast, which means anyone who has the device now has access to more than 100,000 radio stations, including almost any local or international option you could want. On top of that, upwards of four million podcasts are also offered, covering everything from news, sports, and yes, music.
If you're not familiar with Chromecast, it's a thumb drive-sized device that plugs into any TV with an HDMI port. It then connects to laptops, smartphones, or tablets, and displays the apps right on the TV screen, turning any TV into a smart TV.
When asked about why radio and podcasts were a good fit for Google's move into the smart television market, TuneIn CEO John Donham said:
"A tremendous amount of listening happens in the house. People ask the question: 'Why is it that I'd want to listen through my TV,' and yet we can look at a twenty year history of cable companies providing that very popular service. Now, instead of fifty or one hundred channels or music, TuneIn does it with 100,000 channels."
Chromecast would appear cheap at twice the $22.99 price, considering it's a one-time purchase with no further subscription fee.
December 2, 2014
"Not even wrong"*
Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit's above-titled blog is quite entertaining if, like me, you're inclined to daydreaming occasionally about what your other selves are up to in other universes in a theoretical multiverse.
He wrote, "Since 2004 I've maintained an active blog called Not Even Wrong, which deals with topics in physics and mathematics. At the end of 2011 it had 13,378 subscribers at Google Reader. It now contains over 1,000 postings that may be of some sort of interest.
There's also a book (top).
And he's on Twitter.
December 1, 2014
The Secrets of Color
Above, "An illustration of the relativity of color in Josef Albers's 'Interaction of Color': The inner violets are alike. But the one to the right appears to match the outer violet on the left, which is actually lighter."
Just out, the 50th-anniversary edition of "The Interaction of Color," by the Bauhaus-bred artist and teacher Albers.
[via Sebastian Smee's piece "The Secrets of Color," in the December 2014 issue of The Atlantic]
November 30, 2014
We get email: "Do you have bottle opener bracelet?"
Rita's inquiry (above) came in early last Tuesday, along with the photos below.
While I was still thinking about this clever piece of functional jewelry, early the very next day Beryl made her pitch:
These emails only serve to strengthen my belief that the first human footsteps on Mars will be Chinese.
November 29, 2014
Experts' Expert: How to make drawers open and close smoothly
Pretty much everyone's got a problem drawer.
Jeanne Huber's November 19 "How To" column in the Washington Post dealt with the subject in the following Q & A.
Q. We have an art-deco dresser from the 1920s-1940s that we inherited from my husband's mother.... However, the dresser drawers need repair. I can't pull out any of them smoothly. I guess the runners and tracks need to be replaced. Can you suggest someone who would repair the drawers for a reasonable price?
A. Before you resort to having someone rework the dresser, try one of the simple solutions that often work. Rub paraffin wax or soap on the sliding parts — the drawer runners and the tracks inside the cabinet. Or opt for a newer quick fix, which has won dozens of rave reviews online: Buy a roll of thin, low-friction tape and apply that to the tracks.
Rockler Woodworking and Hardware (www.rockler.com) sells a low-friction tape made of nylon. Called Nylo-Tape, it comes in ½- and ¾-inch widths and is only 10 mils (0.01 inch) thick. A 10½-foot roll costs $14.50 or $16.50, depending on the width.
Woodcraft, which has a store at the Woodworkers Club of Rockville (www.woodcraft.com), sells a similar product, made of an unidentified type of plastic. Called Slick Strips, it’s thicker but still very thin (1/32 inch) and comes in a ¾-inch-wide roll, also 10½ feet long, for $8.
If you use tape, be sure to clean the surface first to remove any wax or soap that someone might have added in the past. Use mineral spirits, then lightly hand-sand and wipe or vacuum away the dust. Cut the tape to length and press it in place. Nylo-Tape is recommended for tracks only. Slick Strips can be used on the tracks, the runners or on both, but the manufacturer cautions that applying it to both surfaces will make the action super slick.
If the drawers still stick, a company that specializes in restoring antique furniture should be able to help you. The cost would depend on what is causing the drawers to stick and whether you also want the finish restored. At the top end, it might cost $850 to fix runners that are out of line, reglue drawers, repair veneer and apply a new finish, according to David Hawksford, who runs Colonial Restoration Studio in Gaithersburg (www.colonialrestorationstudio.com).
November 28, 2014
"Vanishing Spirits — The Dried Remains of Single Malt Scotch"
Above, photographs from Phoenix-based photographer Ernie Button's above-titled series.
[via the New York Times]