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I found this post today that talks about a wormhole to another galaxy that might be located in the center of the Milky Way. It’s an interesting article, it makes for fun speculation, but it had a sentence in it that gave me pause:

“But there’s more. We could even travel through this tunnel, since, based on our calculations, it could be navigable. Just like the one we’ve all seen in the recent film Interstellar.”

I reviewed that movie and enjoyed it a lot. In it, astronauts traveled to Saturn to enter a wormhole that connected to another galaxy. You can travel to Saturn in a few years, as they did in Interstellar. However, to get to the wormhole in the center of the Milky Way, we’d have to travel about 26,000 light years first. At the speed of light, we’d get there in 26,000 years. With space travel technologies we have today, we could get there in a few million years at the very best.

So writing the nonchalant sentence “we could even travel through this tunnel” makes it look just a bit too simple for me.

The trip to the other galaxy through the worm hole and back would take longer than it took for our prehistoric ancestors to climb out of the trees, enter the savannahs and eventually become space travelers.

Norbert Haupt:

Here is the harrowing report of a “badass hiker” with tons of experience, doing a winter climb of Mount St. Helens, showing how a seemingly simple trip can get very dangerous. I have hiked and had my scary moments, but nothing like this.

Originally posted on CARROT QUINN:

Ascent of Mount Saint Helens in winter via the Worm Flows route
12 miles round-trip
5,699 feet elevation gain

I got into Portland around midday on Friday and dropped my bags on the floor of my friend Seamus’ empty house. He and his partner were both at work but the cats were there, mewing and batting at things, and I curled up on the couch for a nap. It was cold and drizzly outside but inside was warm and soothing and soon I was asleep. I woke with a start in the long afternoon light- I’d been dreaming about mountain climbing, cold deep snow, all of the unknowns. Lia and I had plans to climb Mount Saint Helens the next day, but I’d never climbed a mountain in the wintertime. How hard would the wind be blowing on the summit? What even was I supposed to wear? My phone bleeped-…

View original 2,370 more words

Into the Woods

The witch (Meryl Streep) has put a curse on her neighbor, the baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), preventing them from ever having a child. She commands them to get her a cow as white as milk, a red cape, hair yellow as corn and a golden slipper.

This weaves together the Brothers Grimm fairy tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, for the cow, Little Red Riding Hood for the cape, Rapunzel for the hair and Cinderella for the shoe.

Into the Woods is a musical, where most of the dialog is sung, with complex melodies, and orchestral background music, that makes all the songs sound alike. Unlike other musicals, where you can walk out with an earworm in your head, because it’s comprised of distinct songs, when you walk out of Into the Woods, singing “Into the Woods” is all you can do.

The musical dialog is fresh and sometimes humorous, and the acting quite entertaining. The scenes and costumes are elaborate. I was skeptical when I first started watching, but the story and the way it is presented is so different, so unique, and so elaborate in its own way, I actually enjoyed it all the way through the two hours and five minutes runtime. To me, it was enjoyable, solid entertainment, something very different from the normal movie experience. Something unique.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

… just don’t marry anyone gay.

If you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat donuts or French fries.

It’s pretty simple.

There are people in our government that don’t like gay marriage and they want to subjugate the rest of us to their preferences. That would be like they are fat and they want to lose weight, and they don’t like it that I am eating donuts.

state of the union of msnbcI tried to watch the State of the Union Address on MSNBC. I was thoroughly distracted by the voting band on the bottom of the screen, which constantly tried to show people’s reactions to what the president said, and kept asking me to go to a website to vote. Within just a few minutes I could not stand it anymore and I flipped over to Fox News, which was clean and I could listen to the president the way I wanted to.

Sorry, MSNBC, you lost me there. I am fine with you conducting polling experiments, and I am fine if you allow us access to the results later, but don’t do it on prime time live television on shows that we want to watch without being distracted by your experiments. I really was not interested in what other people thought at that time. I wanted to listen with concentration, and your coverage didn’t provide that. So I flipped over to Fox News, where I usually go to get my dose of the other extreme when you go on commercials.

This time, however, I stayed with Fox News until it was all over.

A few days ago I objected to our government leaders fawning over King Abdullah after his death. I said that the King was a tyrant. Today I found this chart, that outlines crimes and their punishments. I must admit that I cannot find the source, and I could not firmly corroborate accuracy. I don’t read Arabic. If a reader wants to correct anything in this chart, please let me know. As it stands, it seems obvious that ISIS simply copied its commandments and their respective punishments from Saudi Arabia.

We hate ISIS  for what it does to its people and those it subjugates, but Saudi Arabia is our friend?

ISIS vs. Saudi Arabia

Click for source i.imgur.com

 

 

 

3 days to killReminiscent of the Taken series with Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner is a badass CIA type spy who can beat up and kill bad guys and terrorists like no other. He is in Paris. His estranged wife and daughter live there. His daughter is a typical teenager who does not want anything to do with her father. This relationship between the daughter and the father makes this a slightly humorous family drama.

But the badass CIA type gets sucked into bad guy stuff and he has to keep killing people, which keeps him from meeting his dates with his daughter. Eventually she gets sucked into the vortex. Now the badass CIA type not only has to save the world from the terrorist, he has to save his daughter’s life.

Now he is really pissed.

Kevin Costner’s acting saves this movie from the abyss. There are exciting car chases, gun fights and kickass sessions that keep the action moving, but it’s all stuff we have seen before, with Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson. We really don’t need it with Kevin Costner.

Save your money.

Rating - Half a Star

 

 

The King is Dead

obama-abdullah-article-display-b

Senator John McCain called King Abdullah “a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East”.

John Kerry called him “a brave partner in fighting violent extremism” and “a proponent of peace”.  He tweeted: “King Abdullah was a man of wisdom & vision. US has lost a friend & Kingdom of #SaudiArabia, Middle East, and world has lost a revered leader.”

Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would be personally leading a presidential delegation to offer condolences on his passing.

Why are our leaders fawning over an unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents, beheads people for political “crimes,” oppresses half of their population (females), funds terrorism, restricts free speech, and punishes atheists for not being Muslims?

Abdullah was a tyrant and abuser of his own people.

We should be despising him, not eulogizing him. What’s wrong with us?

World Without Us

Imagine all the people in the world disappeared today. Gone. I recognize this is a hypothetical scenario, one that has a low likelihood of happening, but — it could happen. An Ebola-like plague could sweep the world and eradicate the human race in a matter of a few weeks. There have been doomsday books, like Stephen King’s The Stand that were based on just that premise. My favorite book about this subject is Earth Abides by George Stewart. Both novels start out with just about all people dead, and one single survivor eventually finding another one, starting the long process of building a new world from scratch and from the ruins of the old world.

The World Without Us is not a novel. It is a speculative work taking on many of the controversies of our society, including overpopulation, climate change and runaway pollution. Every chapter explores, from its own viewpoint, what it would be like if humans simply were no longer here.

Here is an example. What would happen in New York City if humans disappeared. Surprisingly, the city would come to pieces very quickly, must faster than other places out west.

Schuber peers down into a square pit beneath the Van Siclen Avenue station in Brooklyn, where each minute 650 gallons of natural groundwater gush from the bedrock. Gesturing over the roaring cascade, he indicates four submersible cast-iron pumps that take turns laboring against gravity to stay ahead. Such pumps run on electricity. When the power fails, things can get difficult very fast. Following the World Trade Center attack, an emergency pump train bearing a jumbo portable diesel generator pumped out 27 times the volume of Shea Stadium. Had the Hudson River actually burst through the PATH train tunnels that connect New York’s subways to New Jersey, as was greatly feared, the pump train— and possibly much of the city— would simply have been overwhelmed.

Weisman, Alan (2007-07-10). The World Without Us (p. 25). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

650 gallons of natural groundwater run into that one subway station every minute, and pumps must keep running 24 hours a day to keep it try. When the power runs out (and that’s another chapter), in a half hour the water would be high enough to flood the tracks and trains could no longer pass. In 36 hours the entire subways system would fill up. Weisman goes on:

Even if it weren’t raining, with subway pumps stilled, that would take no more than a couple of days, they estimate. At that point, water would start sluicing away soil under the pavement. Before long, streets start to crater. With no one unclogging sewers, some new watercourses form on the surface. Others appear suddenly as waterlogged subway ceilings collapse. Within 20 years, the water-soaked steel columns that support the street above the East Side’s 4, 5, and 6 trains corrode and buckle. As Lexington Avenue caves in, it becomes a river.

Weisman, Alan (2007-07-10). The World Without Us (pp. 25-26). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

This is just about one of our great cities.

There are 441 operating nuclear power plants in the world. Without the regulating eye of humans, many of these plants would go through some form of catastrophic failure and eventual meltdown. Imagine 441 Chernobyls around the world. Check out this map and find how close you live to one? Hey Australia! Safest place on Earth in case of a meltdown.

world_map_nuclear

Source: International Nuclear Safety Center at Argonne National Laboratory.

This map is from 2005, I could not find a newer one, but given how long it takes to build such a plant, and considering that they are not building many more, it’s pretty close.

The World Without Us was published in 2007. Given today’s pace of development, and pollution in China (check out this link and be shocked), and runaway fossil-fuel-burning, things are much worse than described by Weisman in 2007, when there were only 6.5 billion people on the planet, rather than seven.

We’re adding one million people to the planet every four days.

The World Without Us reads like a fast-paced thriller, where the bad guys are out the make the world go away. As I read the book, I realized that I was in it, and it wasn’t a thriller, it wasn’t a novel, it was a giant reality show, and my life, and the life of my children, and their children, was on the line.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you boy

– Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction

Choose not to read this book at your own peril.

Rating - Four Stars

From_Time_to_Time

It was late in the evening on a weekend. I was up alone. My mind was fried. I had no initiative for creative work of any kind.

I flipped through the Netflix pages and found From Time to Time, where the description talked about time travel.

Time Travel! I am always ready for a good time travel story. So I watched it.

Tolly, a British teenager returns to his ancestral home for a long vacation in 1944, towards the end of World War II. His grandmother thinks that his father had died in the war, but the boy does not believe it. He senses his father is still alive.

As he explores the old house, he finds that he can mysteriously travel between the present and the 1700s, or the people that lived in the house in the 1700s overlap the present like ghosts that only Tolly can see. He communicates with the ghosts and actually interacts with them. This helps him unlock family secrets that have been sleeping for centuries.

From Time to Time is a dry and slow ghost story, just interesting enough that I kept watching, but not good enough that it mattered that I didn’t quite follow the full plot. When it was done I realized that I’d hang on to the memories just long enough to write this review.

And that would be that.

Rating - One Star

Today the U.S. Senate voted that climate change was real, not a hoax. The vote was 98 – 1. Even Senator Inhofe, who I often ridicule here, voted affirmative. The lone nay vote was Roger Wicker (R–MS).

It is hard for me to swallow that people can still say that “climate change” is a hoax. What evidence do they need? Fourteen of the fifteen hottest years in history were in this century. We went over 400 ppm for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured on Mauna Kea. This is the highest reading in 800,000 years. There are people that say this is all coincidence.

Inhofe says that “man is arrogant” for thinking he can change the climate. Man doesn’t need to be arrogant to mess things up. Man messes things up by accident and ignorance alone. Look at the great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast swirling vortex north of Hawaii.

During his first 1,000-mile crossing of the gyre, Moore calculated half a pound for every 100 square meters of debris on the surface, and arrived at 3 million tons of plastic. His estimate, it turned out, was corroborated by U.S. Navy calculations. It was the first of many staggering figures he would encounter. And it only represented visible plastic: an indeterminate amount of larger fragments get fouled by enough algae and barnacles to sink. In 1998, Moore returned with a trawling device, such as Sir Alistair Hardy had employed to sample krill, and found, incredibly, more plastic by weight than plankton on the ocean’s surface.

Weisman, Alan (2007-07-10). The World Without Us (p. 123). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

So man can foul up the ocean by dumping stuff into it, from ships, through rivers, through leaking landfills.

What stunned Charles Moore most was learning where it came from. In 1975, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences had estimated that all oceangoing vessels together dumped 8 million pounds of plastic annually. More recent research showed the world’s merchant fleet alone shamelessly tossing around 639,000 plastic containers every day. But littering by all the commercial ships and navies, Moore discovered, amounted to mere polymer crumbs in the ocean compared to what was pouring from the shore.

Weisman, Alan (2007-07-10). The World Without Us (pp. 121-123). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

639,000 plastic containers dumped into the ocean every day! Senator Inhofe, I would think you agree that we are definitely fouling up the ocean. What makes you think we’re not fouling up the atmosphere as well? Is it because you can see plastic floating, but you can’t see the carbon dioxide? You believe in God, right, so you do believe in things you can’t see.

We’re messing with the planet big time, and it’s about time our leadership recognizes it and takes responsibility for it on our behalf. After all, they represent us. It was refreshing to see Obama stand up for science yesterday in the State of the Union Address, and it was encouraging to see the Senate vote today.

Pretty soon the deniers will simply look ridiculous in their affirmations, as  ridiculous as a medical doctor in a 1955 commercial telling us we should smoke Camel cigarettes.

If the Earth were surrounded by the rings of Saturn, this is what it would look like.

Picture Credit: John Brady – Astronomy Central

If we were on Earth, looking up, it might look something like this:

rings

click for picture credit: gizmodo.com.au

 
If Earth had a ring like that, it would never really be night. The sun would always be hitting the ring somewhere, and it would reflect on the Earth. There would always be “ringlight.” Also, the sun would sometimes be behind the rings, making for interesting visual spectacles, which we can’t even imagine. The ring is so thin, the sun would really hardly be obstructed, but the ring surely would light up in a huge corona.

Movie Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is about six years old when the story starts, around 2002. His sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) is a year or two older. They are being raised by their mom (Patricia Ardette), who is barely able to make ends meet, financially and emotionally. Their “out of the picture dad” (Ethan Hawke) swoops in from time to time and takes the kids out. They love being with him.

Boyhood is the ultimate coming of age story. It’s a movie about nothing, just growing up. We watch Mason and his sister cope with their mom’s antics and life changes. She falls in love with her professor. They get married. She and the kids move in with him and the kids, but Brady Bunch it is not. He turns out to be an abusive alcoholic, and one day they all just walk away, with only the clothes they are wearing. The next boyfriend does not work out much better.

Mason and Sam are dragged away from their familiar surroundings, and schools, again and again. They have no stable homes, no security and no apparent plans. They grow up – just like millions of American kids in the new millennium.

Ironically, the guy portrayed as the wayward, absent father, their dad, is the best, most stable and healthiest influence on the kids, while their mom in her neurotic fog, and her men, and her friends, and her relatives are all mostly messing with the kids’ heads, even though they think they are helping. Does this sound like Thanksgiving day with the family?

Boyhood goes on for two hours and 45 minutes, telling the story, like a string of home movies. Which in a way it is. Linklater filmed this movie over a period of 12 years, and we literally see the kids grow from elementary schoolers into college in front of our eyes. Unlike movies where there is a Mason as a small boy, and another actor for Mason as a teenager, and another one as a college student, the same actor plays the boy as he grows up. It’s the same with Sam, who happens to be Linklater’s real-life daughter. This gives the film a sense of reality unlike any other movie I can think of, with the only exception perhaps of 7 Up and the Up Series that followed.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars

Look, Ma, No Rope

Every few months I am attracted climbing sites and pictures of the sport’s superstars. Some years ago it was Dan Osman. Here he is on a wall, climbed up on that crack without any protection, and felt secure enough to show off with acrobatics I could not pull off in the gymnasium with a mat under me:

No Rope

However, most free soloists eventually die, not due to lack of their own skill, but because something weird happens. A falling rock hits them on the head, or a rock flake breaks off just when they put their weight on it.

Dan Osman died on November 23, 1998 at the age of 35. He was performing a “controlled free-fall” jump (like a bungee jump with a climbing rope) from the Leaning Tower rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Osman had come back to Yosemite to dismantle the jump tower but apparently decided to make several jumps (over a few days) before doing so.

Investigators later concluded that a change in jump site angle probably caused the ropes to cross and entangle, leading to the rope cutting by melting. That was 17 years ago.

The current reigning champion of free soloing is Alex Honnold. I have written about him before on this blog, just search for his name. Here is one post. I cannot watch the video below without my palms getting sweaty – while I am sitting safely at my desk. But there is a reason why there is a category of “climbing” in this blog, so I can’t help myself. I am too old to seriously climb, but not too old to watch.

Here is Alex on El Sendero Luminoso:

 

Over six years ago I wrote this book review of The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. It is a wonderful story about tall trees and the nature lovers who study them. The foremost expert is Steve Sillett. Just recently I saw this video link by a friend on Facebook about Sillett measuring the tallest tree in the world, named Hyperion. It gives some perspective. In The Wild Trees, I learned about the art of tall tree climbing that Sillett and his friends and coworkers essentially invented as they went.

 

 

 

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