August 28, 2008
Why I wouldn't go to the International Space Station even if it were free
It's not a case of "scornful dog eat dirty pudding" as they say in Jamaica but, rather, the result of reading David Kushner's eye-opening September 2008 Wired magazine article about the training requirements for the $30 million dollar 10-day-long trip of a lifetime (note that that's the price the most recent erstwhile space tourist paid; the next ticket could be as much as $45 million).
• You have to spend up to eight months living at the grueling cosmonaut training camp in Zvyozdny Gorodok, aka Star City. Put it this way: it's not the Four Seasons. Wrote Kushner about the cosmonaut-tourist wannabes, "They live in cramped dormitories ... which look more YMCA than 'Star Trek.' They slip and slide down frozen walkways past dilapidated Soviet structures. They subsist on cafeteria food slathered in mayo. They bury themselves in textbooks or ride 'vomit comets' and centrifuges."
• Charles Simonyi, the former chief software architect of Microsoft who stayed at the camp from September 2006 to March 2007 to train for his subsequent ride, told Kushner, "It's like going to a monastery. You have a small bag and a toilet kit and move into a dorm. You have to live very simply."
• Said the fourth client to take the trip, Anousheh Ansari, "You can't count on hot water. A lot of time, the water that comes out is dark brown and starts lightening up only after 20 minutes."
• Kushner wrote, "It's one thing to adjust to life in Star City — but quite another to endure the confounding, confining, and sometimes just plain goofy training regimen. The first challenge is the language .... All of the instructions, instrumentation and communications in space will be in Russian. So, for four hours a day, Garriott and Halik [the next two passengers to go up] slave over fat, dusty language books in class, then tote them back ... to study more at night."
Excuse me — but one trip through med school was more than enough misery for a lifetime.
Here's a link to a photo gallery that accompanies the Wired article.
Squirrels in the attic? Evictor Squirrel Strobe will drive them mad — and then out
Just in via John Kelly's column in this morning's Washington Post, news of a humane squirrel eliminator (above) so powerful and effective "they" don't want you to know about it.
Wrote Kelly about the effect of the paradigm shattering strobelight-centered device, "It's like living in a cheesy '70s nightclub — a perpetual cheesy '70s nightclub, Studio 54 with a cocaine-addled DJ who refuses to stop the checkerboard dance floor from pulsating."
Here's Kelly's piece.
- A Device That Drives Squirrels Nuts
I haven't met Bill Earl in person. I've only talked to him on the phone. But when I think of Bill, I imagine Robert Shaw as Quint, the crusty shark hunter in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws."
"They come at you," Bill told me not long ago. "They rush right at you. If you're near their hole, they charge you. They're able to read you, actually."
He was talking about a creature he has spent much time studying: Sciurus carolinensis, the common gray squirrel. Bill, 59, repairs roofs and gutters not far from Valley Forge, Pa., and so is often called upon to fix the damage caused by the marauding, bushy-tailed beasts.
"They're so much smarter than I ever dreamed possible," he continued. "They work in groups."
Sort of like the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park."
Squirrels are cute when they are frolicking in the park. They are not so cute when they are exploding from a hole in a soffit — furry balls of coiled anger, their lifeless doll's eyes rolling over in their pointy heads. Bill has been known to take a neighbor with him on squirrel calls "to watch my back, because I don't know what they're gonna do." (In my biopic about Bill — "Nuts!" — the neighbor will be a squirrel biologist played by Richard Dreyfuss.)
Often, Bill would close up the holes that had allowed the squirrels in only to find the rodents digging their way back in, clawing or gnawing through shingles and roof decking, even through aluminum. When generations of squirrels have been living in your attic for 10 or 20 years, he said, they tend to think of it as their home, not yours.
Bill pondered the ways humans have chosen to deal with squirrels — poisoning, shooting, trapping — and decided no one had tried to annoy them into submission. That is Bill Earl's great contribution to pest control: He's the first man to think of ticking squirrels off.
"I thought of the old disco lights," he said. Bill contacted his friend Mike DeGinto [below, right; Bill is on the left],
who works at an electrical and lighting supply shop in Pennsylvania. And thus was born the Evictor, a high-intensity strobe light that flashes 92 times a minute. Bill and Mike say if you install enough in your attic to illuminate every last dark corner the squirrels will, um, high-tail it.
"The reason they leave is it's so very annoying," Bill said. "It's very, very annoying. The squirrels can't get past that. They decide it's a bad place to raise their young."
It's like living in a cheesy '70s nightclub — a perpetual cheesy '70s nightclub, Studio 54 with a cocaine-addled DJ who refuses to stop the checkerboard dance floor from pulsating.
Either that or Abu Ghraib, where the U.S. military reportedly turned strobe lights on prisoners as a way of inducing nausea and general unease. Bill said that when a guy came out from the Philadelphia NBC affiliate to see the Evictor in action, the reporter reported feeling sick to his stomach. (Hey, maybe there's a secondary market for these: keeping local-TV hacks out of your house.)
Bill and Mike say the Evictor works for squirrels and roof rats and has been used in Florida against feral cats that had infested an old hospital. (Isn't that the plot of a Stephen King novel?) The base model (you can see it in action at www.evictorproducts.com) retails for $295 and draws $9 worth of electricity a year.
Mike estimates they've sold 5,000 but would sell even more if only the pest control industry weren't so enamored of its poisons and its temporary fixes.
"If you solve a problem, that means your cash flow is gonna be diminished," said Mike. The rodent elimination industrial complex has turned a cold shoulder on the strobe light. "We're like the Rodney Dangerfields in the industry. We get no respect."
Maybe, but there are a lot of annoyed squirrels out there.
Watch any or all of seven (7) videos featuring the Evictor here.
MorphWorld: Chevy Chase into... Dick Cheney?
Hey, I'm just the messenger, don't beat on me.
I saw Chase's picture in yesterday's USA Today and at first thought it must've been a mistake, but once I went online and saw more like that one (top), I realized time had done yet another makeover.
"Walk a mile in my shoes."
Just don't smell my feet.
Considering that it was 3-year-old Alyssa Hayes's 30-inch-long Barbie fishing rod (above, in her hand) that hooked and landed a North Carolina state record channel catfish (also above, along with her grandfather David) weighing 21 pounds using 6-pound test line.
Here's the Winston-Salem Journal's August 20, 2008 story with the details.
- Wilkes County man uses child's fishing rod to land record-setting fish
A Wilkes County man used his granddaughter's Barbie Doll rod-and-reel combo — all 2-½ feet of it — to reel in a new state record channel catfish that measured 2 inches longer than the fishing pole.
David Hayes landed the record-breaking fish, which weighed 21 pounds, 1 ounce, on Aug. 5 from a private pond in Wilkes County while fishing with his granddaughter Alyssa, 3.
According to Hayes, the unusual fishing experience began in the early evening with a trip to the garden for bait. After collecting several black crickets, Alyssa and he went down to the pond behind the house to fish for bluegill, an activity the pair have enjoyed together since Alyssa was barely big enough to hold a fishing rod.
Like previous fishing trips, Hayes baits the hook and Alyssa catches the fish, using her hot pink Barbie doll rod-and-reel combo. It is a routine that usually works well — until that afternoon when nature called at the most inopportune time.
"After catching two or three bluegill, Alyssa turns to me and says 'Papa, I've got to go to the bathroom. Hold my fishing rod'," Hayes recalled. "A few minutes later, the float went under and I saw the water start boiling up — I knew right then that I had my hands full with that fishing rod."
It took Hayes about 25 minutes to land the fish, which measured 32 inches in length and 22 ½ inches in girth. Once he got it to the bank, Hayes said he was pretty certain his channel cat would exceed the current state record, an 18-pound, 5-ounce fish reeled in by Wesley Trucks of New Bern in August 2007.
The fish was weighed on certified scales at Thurmond Grocery. It was certified by Kin Hodges, a fisheries biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
From the website:
- Smart Molded Kneeling Pad
Far more support for gardening, planting, weeding
• Better support reduces stress on knees and lower back
• Molded knee cushion lets you lean into your work
• For cleaning the bathtub or sorting low cabinets
• Great for both weeding and planting
• Lightweight material rinses clean
Breaking News: Beauty Pageant For Nuns Cancelled — R.I.P. "Sister Italia 2008"
Long story short: Father Antonio Rungi, an Italian priest from Caserta (near Naples), said that some people had "deliberately misinterpreted an innocent initiative," resulting in his receiving a flood of abusive emails.
He added that the idea had caused "too much commotion" and thus the online beauty pageant, scheduled to have taken place next month, had been cancelled.
Here's Times of London Rome correspondent Richard Owen's article, which appeared yesterday.
- The proposed beauty pageant for nuns was 'misunderstood"
Father Antonio Rungi says his plans have been 'deliberately misinterpreted'
An Italian priest who at the weekend launched an online "beauty pageant" for nuns has been forced to cancel it because it had been "misunderstood".
Father Antonio Rungi, from Caserta near Naples, said he had "many" requests from nuns to take part in the contest, "Sister Italia 2008", which was due to start on his blog next month (September), with nuns posting photographs and readers sending in votes.
When announcing the scheme Father Rungi said many younger nuns in Italy were attractive, especially those from Africa and Latin America, although the idea was also to reflect "chaste, inner beauty" and explain the conduct of religious life in convents.
However some people had "deliberately misinterpreted an innocent initiative", Father Rungi said, and he had received a flood of abusive emails. "One of them told me I would end up in Hell". He said the idea had caused "too much commotion", and he had temporarily taken down his blog.
The photo up top is of Sophia Loren, as she appeared in the 1972 film "White Sister."
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.