1-10 February 2003
|10 Feb||Singapore's independence|
|8 Feb||The Hype of Shanghai Knights|
|8 Feb||The Flop that is Nemesis|
|8 Feb||Breakfast at Tiffany's|
|7 Feb||More Columbia coverage|
|7 Feb||Surfing at Work|
|7 Feb||Security Blanket|
|4 Feb||Google Trouble|
|4 Feb||Miracles, Cassandras & Polemics|
|4 Feb||CSS2 Test Suite in progress|
|3 Feb||Go Retro: Commentary to Millennium Bug|
|3 Feb||To Gillian on her 37th Birthday|
|3 Feb||The Net|
|2 Feb||Breaking news|
10 February 2003 2:11 PM SGT (link)
We gave Singapore its sovereignty. It was we who gave Singapore the status of a nation, a sovereign nation. Before it was just part of Malaysia.
- Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad
No society that has or wants independence will assume it is in someone else's gift... Independence - like sovereignty or freedom or fundamental human rights - is inalienable.
- Sunday Times, A country's independence cannot be given, by Janadas Devan
Mr. Devan, who usually writes about etymology of words in the news in the Sunday Times, had an interesting piece yesterday that analysed the innuendo behind Dr. Mahathir's words, which seem to have become a canon of the official Malaysian worldview - that since Singapore owed its independence to the Malaysians, Singapore and its government should stop being oh-so legalistic and hostile about matters such as the water treaties and Pedra Branca. I say it seems to have become a canon because Dr. Mahathir isn't the first and certainly won't be the last to espouse such views.
The words are obviously calculated as a sneer, to put down Singapore's independence and accomplishments over the past 30+ years as being somewhat related to the Malaysians. As Mr. Devan points out, from a strictly legal sense it is right: the Malaysian parliament and nation had to have "released" Singapore since Singapore was part of Malaysia. But his retort is devastatingly effective: would Malaysians agree that Britons "gave Malaya the status of a nation"? Post-WWII Asian nationalism, anywhere from India to the Philippines to Malaysia/Singapore, advocate that colonial powers like Britain had lost whatever legitimacy they had in governing previously, that Asians should govern Asians, and hence they had to go. Mr. Devan points out that it seems inherent in the definition of nationalism that is not a gift from a higher or superior authority.
Methinks these Malaysians have chosen to think that if Singapore, & the PAP government then, had not been so enthusiastic behind the proposed merger, the British might not have wanted to give up sovereignty over Singapore. But in any case Britain's interest and influence in the region was waning, & they withdraw their military forces in 1971, so the point is moot: Singapore would have had to become independent eventually. Nonetheless, this is a position very favourable to their idea that Singapore as a nation is somehow inferior, or beholden to, Malaysia for its existence. I find any diplomatic dealings, whether on water, Pedra Branca or whatever, could hardly be fruitful when the other side retains such an opinion.
The Hype of Shanghai Knights
8 February 2003 11:10 PM SGT (link)
(I haven't watched it; I think I will watch it on TV/cable as I did for Shanghai Noon, which was so-so).
There has been quite a lot of hype about the movie (IMDB entry) & Fann Wong's role in it, especially by MediaCorp. But it seems that American reviewers, which I think are impartial to that issue, don't think much of it at all (e.g. Mild 'Knights' by Chan, Wilson, CNN; Salon's review). They largely look at the movie as viable entertainment, or the comedic talents of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. So I wonder if MediaCorp's press about Fann Wong "making it big" in Hollywood (the Straits Times too) is just mostly self-congratulatory propaganda. They claim a lot of screen time for her - 45 minutes is one estimate I've heard. Ahem, Dame Judi Dench won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, with less than 10 minutes of screen time. That's what's called putting your stamp on a role. Maybe that's an unfair comparison, but I think that if you've really made a deep impression, that would result in more than a cursory mention.
Heh the balance between humility & arrogance - a healthy dose of Singaporean ego & exaggerated sense of self-importance in the world - is not easy to attain. I think this is a small counter-weight to the conventional wisdom we are seeing in our local media. I'm not trying to be mean; it's not easy playing the devil's advocate. So Fann Wong fanns, please don't flame me.
The Flop that is Nemesis
8 February 2003 10:06 PM SGT (link)
The current domestic (US) total box office takings for Star Trek: Nemesis are the lowest of any Star Trek movie, even the total disaster Star Trek: The Final Frontier (no. 5). Rick Berman, last mentioned by me here, hems & haws about why:
"There's no way of telling what happened," Berman said. "I'm convinced that we made a very good movie, and I'm also convinced that the movie was promoted properly. I thought the trailers and the television spots were all excellent. It's easy to blame that sort of thing, but I don't think we can in this situation. I think that the competition of other films may have played some part in it, but I can't be certain of that, either. It's very, very hard to tell."
As could be expected, the Slashdot community has plenty of its own opinions (Rick Berman Doesn't Know Why Nemesis Tanked) on why the movie is a flop, as other Trek fora should too. I haven't watched the movie so I can't comment, but I think the decision to have it open in the same month as The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day, thus taking on three big franchises, is some crazy Paramount executive's moment of chutzpah. The TNG crew might be stale to non-TNG fans: after all it's been 4 years since the last movie Insurrection and 9 years since the series ended (though it should still be showing on some networks). The newer series, Voyager and now the trashy Enterprise, never got as big a following. Maybe the movie itself sucked and Trek fans & non-fans hence decided to show Berman exactly that (but that doesn't gel with most of the favourable feedback from fans on Slashdot & other places). True lovers of Trek are now out for blood, and they should be.
Above all, I think years of mostly lousy Star Trek, and with Insurrection - not a bad movie, but too small-scale & ultimately irrelevant; Enterprise easily the worst series ever, & now the tired old story of the captain's "nemesis" - have disappointed many Trekkies, and with all the good movies in December and January, it just could not do well at the US box office. It's worth mentioning that Maid in Manhattan, a Jennifer Lopez vehicle, did much better than Nemesis - to me, that's a particularly egregious sign of failure.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
8 February 2003 9:35 PM SGT (link)
It's kind of late to be having a crush on Audrey Hepburn, but after watching Breakfast at Tiffany's, doesn't everybody love Holly Golightly? I watched the 1961 movie and then read Truman Capote's novella on which the movie is based (not the Penguin edition with the beautiful cover, but the older version).
Holly Golightly is a self-described "brazen, or tres fou" girl who lives in the apartment below the narrator whom she calls Fred because he looks like her brother Fred. While living a seemingly carefree life, amidst good parties and tons of men around, and she searches for the place where she can feel truly comfortable and at home. This is how she talks about herself after rejecting her farmer ex-husband Doc (she had run away from home at the age of fourteen):
Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell [a bartender]. That was Doc's mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll end up looking at the sky.
- Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote
There are many worthy quotes, and witty irony in profound sadness, in this slim novella that at the end of it the character of Holly Golightly will stay with you for a long time.
The movie is mostly in-sync chronologically with the novella, and uses most of its best passages, mostly from Holly Golightly, to good effect. Regrettably it turns Mr. Yunioshi, the Japanese photographer who lived in the apartment one floor above Holly Golightly into a clumsy loud cliché played by Mickey Rooney under a lot of makeup & with buck teeth (I read somewhere that this was really mean, even in 1961).
Besides that offensive flaw, it enriches the role of the narrator. In the book he was reminiscing about Holly Golightly - how, like Mr. Yunioshi, Mr. Bell the bartender, and hosts of other men, were infatuated & mesmerised by her, love but a different kind of love - but in the movie he's christened with the name of Paul Varjak, and is a struggling writer who survives as a gigolo (though no one would be so rude as to call him such). Played by George Peppard, he's quite a dullard (or else it could be Mr. Peppard's poor acting). The ending could be controversial: Paul in the end convinces her that they belong to each other & she could stop travelling & searching - that's the Hollywood ending for you. In the book she remains what she is, and the story's actually the 15-year-old memory of the narrator.
What really made the movie what it is is Audrey Hepburn's performance. Just the picture I've included here gives you a hint of the charm & class she exudes in the role (it was presumably publicity material for the movie, and Penguin uses it here for its 2000 edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's). Her rendition of Henry Mancini's Moon River is also very good. Audrey Hepburn lives on unforgettably as Holly Golightly, though she passed away in 1993 - that's one of the many instances of screen immortality one could find, I suppose.
Links: Read IMDB entry for Breakfast at Tiffany's, and more at The Breakfast at Tiffany's Homepage and at Reel Classics. A Tribute to Audrey Hepburn - Multimedia has some video clips of her from other movies like Roman Holiday, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar, and her singing Moon River.
More Columbia coverage
7 February 2003 1:10 AM SGT (link)
Coverage of the space shuttle disaster continues unabated.
Ambition and frustration at NASA (MSNBC) chronicles the struggle in the 1990s to manage the aging shuttle fleet, and find alternative launch vehicles at the shoestring budget and low publicity the agency has been coping with. Vocal shuttle opponents don't seem to have many useful suggestions besides accusing NASA of helping themselves to pork barrel projects with aerospace contractors like Boeing & Lockheed Martin, like Gregg Easterbrook. Plus any new launch vehicle, besides being used for civilian experiments & launching scientific satellites & probes, probably can't attract real money like launching commercial or military satellites. It's a knotty problem.
Latest word on the cause of the disaster: NASA downplays foam theory. Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore backs down from earlier statements of the theory that a piece of the fuel tank's external foam hit the left wing of the shuttle during launch and caused lethal damage. Now they are investigating other explanations, like a micrometeor or piece of space debris hitting the shuttle. Talk of shuttle tile problem brief (MSNBC) documents in detail exactly how the shuttle engineers & managers deliberated about the severity of the tile problem on Day 12 of the mission - it's not exactly as thorough as NASA had made it out to be, it seems to be implying. But where's the evidence of negligence? the NASA defence would say.
Salon has a good piece, Spaced out, on the real goals of human space exploration as opposed to robotic probes or simply getting out of the game. Simply put, it's not about making money. He has a quote taken from Star Trek: The Next Generation too.
Soon after Columbia broke apart on Saturday, the following message appeared in my e-mail. It's a quote from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and it's been making the rounds. Its message is not to minimize the death of seven astronauts, but to remind us of what the point of human space exploration really is:
"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."
- Salon, Spaced out
As you might expect, I can explain the context in which the quote was made (you can find an audio clip of Q saying it expressively at StinSV's Q Continuum Audio Logs). It's taken from "Q Who", a Season 2 episode, where Q, an omnipotent lifeform who likes to drop in every now & then to pose tough challenges to the crew, transports the Enterprise deep into unexplored space, where they encounter the Borg for the first time.
The Borg, it might be re-stated, exist in a collective much like ant or bee colonies, where no single individual controls the actions of himself or others, but the collective collectively decides. In this case, the Borg are a super-efficient technological collective that has set itself the goal towards further "perfection", and that would be to assimilate alien species, cultures and technologies - entire civilisations - so that the collective can grow stronger. The sheer alien-ness of the ways the Borg operate, their military sophistication, and their resistance to tried-and-tested means of contact, diplomacy and cooperation, unnerve the crew badly. There is a perverse beauty in their quest (hence "gross... desires"); their destiny to assimilate and grow is unstoppable. Q smirks in the sidelines:
You judge yourselves against the pitiful adversaries you've encountered so far - the Romulans, the Klingons... they're nothing compared to what's waiting...
You can't outrun them, you can't destroy them. If you damage them the essence of what they are remains - they regenerate and keep coming. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless!
- Q referring to the Borg, in "Q Who"
In the aftermath of the encounter - the Enterprise survives the Borg attack with Q's help, but only just - Q tells them about the implications of roaming through the galaxy, hence the quote above. It's important to point out that Q's not your garden-variety adversary, or merely a technologically-advanced lifeform using the Enterprise crew for his amusement - he seems to take a real interest in humanity & its destiny, and his purpose for exposing the Federation to the Borg decades before they would have themselves makes us wonder whether his action ultimately saved the Federation with the wake-up call to a threat far graver because of its difference.
"Q Who" is easily one of the best episodes of TNG, and should be watched together with the two-parter "Best of Both Worlds" where the Borg launch their first attack on the Federation.
Note: the Borg are not as portrayed in the movie "First Contact", at least, not when they were first introduced in "Q Who". Over time the "collective" character of this threat was downplayed and eventually discarded when the Voyager scriptwriters couldn't resist pitting their captain Janeway against the Borg Queen, thus making her a sort of autocratic tyrant over all Borg, and then the movie, which tried to use her as the dangerous sexpot. The courage and imagination of earlier writers so overwhelmed later ones that in their effort to assimilate the idea of the Borg they domesticated them into your usual hapless villains. Read: they copped out. Sigh.
Surfing at Work
7 February 2003 12:28 AM SGT (link)
Something that definitely goes against the grain of common assumptions: Office surfers aren't slackers, says study (ZDNet). Basically it says that those with Internet access surf for personal use at work, but also do the opposite: surf at home for work, like answering emails at odd hours of the day.
7 February 2003 12:20 AM SGT (link)
Dell is apparently going to take the plunge to become the first major PC manufacturer to eliminate floppy drives from their standard Dimension desktop configurations: Dell foments floppy's fall (News.com) or Dell: It's Time Floppy Drives Go Way Of The Dodo (Yahoo). Although floppy disks have been essentially obselete by not having enough capacity for simple things like PowerPoint presentations for years, it's sticking around as the quick, dirty & cheap way for transferring small files, or simple troubleshooting like booting an errant computer. Plus Dell's touted substitute, USB flash memory drives, aren't really there yet in terms of price.
Trivia: Apple was the first manufacturer to scrap floppy drives completely, way back in 1998 with the iMac.
4 February 2003 11:04 PM SGT (link)
Google, as most of us know, is the most popular search engine around, mainly because of its unique PageRank algorithm that democratically ranks search returns according to how many people link to them. Search King is one of the advertising networks and spammers that try to trick Google by setting up "link farms" to up their clients' ranking in Google searches. Google is in a perpetual arms race with these companies, because it makes no sense to have a good algorithm when everyone circumvents it, so it apparently downgraded Search King's rank for a time (News.com, Google counters search-fix lawsuit). Even though the rank has been restored, Search King is continuing the lawsuit "on principle."
It might sound a bit ludicrous to sue a company for changing the results of its own algorithm, but the Search King boss argues that downgrading his company's link resulted in losses, since searchers couldn't find it as easily as before. Slate's Jurisprudence column analyses the case (Google-Opoly: The Game No One but Google Can Play) and finds little merit in Search King's suit, although the implication is that Google has been so successful that it can really affect the business of any company it chooses (although in this case Google was justified to act against Search King, IMHO). Anything wrong with that? LawMeme (Google replies to SearchKing lawsuit) has an analysis of the case too.
Miracles, Cassandras & Polemics
4 February 2003 10:14 PM SGT (link)
This AP article seems to have been very popular - I've seen versions of it in many places, today's ST among them, so here it is: Space rescue ideas all flawed, NASA says - "Hollywood-type" measures that NASA or the Columbia crew might have carried out had they learnt of the possible danger of the damage to the left-wing tiles (assuming that is the cause of the disaster), or else, possible ways to evacuate the astronauts back to Earth. It's almost a compulsion to imagine "what-if" scenarios: what if they did manage to discover & fix the problem? Or evacuate to another shuttle? Or even remain on the shuttle for a slow descent to Earth, and certain death? MSNBC's Space shuttle questions and answers has some of the same questions, & others not relating to the disaster itself.
Update: Could Crew have been Rescued? Options were Limited at Space.com: another version. I think this was the article I originally had in mind.
More good questions asked & answered from Slate in their always-useful Explainer column: Could Ejection Seats Have Saved the Columbia Astronauts? and Did Witnesses Really Hear the Columbia Split Apart?. Slate also has a good summary of online resources about the Columbia disaster - blogs etc. - so you don't have to go hunting for them: The Columbia Shuttle Disaster: An Internet Guide.
Mickey Kaus of Slate, again, calls them NASA Cassandras, from the mythical Greek goddess endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated never to be believed. It has a link to the famous appendix to the Challenger findings by Richard Feynman, where he severely criticises NASA for (then) taking PR over engineering reality. Accusations are flying everywhere, particularly at Washington D.C. where it's been suggested that excessive budget cuts, and inadequate shuttle maintenace, indirectly led to the disaster (e.g. CNN, NASA budget under fresh scrutiny).
Finally, polemics from Gregg Easterbrook, a long-time critic of the space shuttle programme (& hence not a new Cassandra): Time, The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped. He argues that the shuttle is outdated - the shuttle was first launched in the 1980s and NASA planned to keep them flying till at least 2015; expensive - the result of pork barrel money doled out to contractors - & even worse, dangerous, and that the US should develop a new reusable orbiter system no matter how long it takes. I believe he is correct in the long-term view, in that it doesn't make sense to cling on to old stagnant technology, but I think it would take a lot more political will and financial wherewithal than what was available to begin development of a new system from scratch (even though this kind of thing has been in the planning stages before) & retire the shuttles & all their supporting infrastructure afterwards. Btw, also read Easterbrook's eerily prescient 1980 Washington Monthly article Beam Me Out Of This Death Trap, Scotty. This is pre-Challenger, too - but its title & teaser are now really quite, well, je ne sais quoi... Kaus's word "irresponsible" doesn't seem right, but "tragic" or "inappropriate" don't really cut it either.
Newsweek (Still Reaching for the Stars), among other publications, skip the hostility to celebrate the endeavour of the American human spaceflight programme in the face of budget cuts & a general loss of interest in what NASA is doing, and where the programme should go.
CSS2 Test Suite in progress
4 February 2003 10:01 PM SGT (link)
As a result of the frustrations and rewards of trying to improve my CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) skills, & also by the goal of wanting to get really acquainted with how it's supposed to work, I've decided to devise my own test suite. It's a pretty big project, no less because I don't know some parts of it well, but in the end I hope to not only master CSS2 but also find the best design that doesn't break in any of the recent browsers (as the current one does for Opera now, as I said here). I've also ran into my own problems when designing l.z.y./Data & I hope I can sniff out whether they are browser bugs or my CSS code bugs.
I'm doing it pretty much as others have done: I will exploit all the features of each selector, each property in the browser & see if it's implemented properly. A close example would be W3C's own CSS1 suites, my model for this project, and good examples online are CSS2 Tests, which accesses support for the spec in thirteen browsers1, count 'em, plus browser hacks & all that. It's a bit advanced for me: I need to start on a more basic level. WebReview's Master Compatibility Chart unfortunately isn't updated for the latest browsers. It's not going to be reinventing the wheel - no suite/chart is the same as the other.
Note: 1. The thirteen are: NN4 (Netscape Navigator 4) - totally crappy in terms of CSS support, IE4 Win, IE4 Mac, IE5 Win, IE5.5 Win, IE6, IE5 Mac, Op(era) 5/6, Opera 7, Safari + Konq(ueror), Mozilla, iCab and Omniweb. In case you're wondering about the proliferation of IE versions, yes, the CSS engine for Mac and Win versions seem to differ quite a bit. I talked a bit about Safari sometime back.
Go Retro: Commentary to Millennium Bug
3 February 2003 10:58 PM SGT (link)
I spoke too fast when I said that I had lost my commentary to the Millennium Bug TCS show. Here you can enjoy this stuff that I wrote in 1999, although most of it probably doesn't make sense even to those who watched the show before: the Millennium Bug Critique. There's a lot of anger in it - I'm surprised I took it so seriously back then. Oh, sorry for not including a conclusion to the whole show (as promised inside) - I guess I was just relieved that it was over that I didn't do it.
To Gillian on her 37th Birthday
3 February 2003 6:33 PM SGT (link)
Maybe it's the mood surrounding the Columbia tragedy that's with me these days, but re-watching To Gillian on her 37th Birthday (IMDB) was quite a cathartic experience, although I've watched it before & didn't think very much of it.
It has been two years since David (Peter Gallagher) lost his wife, Gillian (Michelle Pfeiffer), to a freak accident - it also happened on her 35th birthday, so the events of the movie actually take place on what was to be her 37th. He's become a recluse, claiming to be writing a book, and is irritable and obviously still in grief. Her daughter Rachel (Claire Danes), and Gillian's sister Esther (Kathy Baker), worry about him - Rachel thinks he's still talking to her mother on the beaches at their Nantucket island home, while Esther is self-righteous enough that she's prepared to take David to court to force him to let her take care of Rachel, judging him incapable of doing that himself. Is David prepared to let go of Gillian at last so that he can get his life back on track?
Roger Ebert in his review is extremely annoyed at the un-original plot and loose ends which see characters doing nothing for most of the show, and an irrelevant, and unconvincing, teen romance. I sympathise with him, because I felt the same way when I first watched it. But comparing it to Ghost (oh....my love...) is not really warranted, because they don't really share much besides the premise of the ghost of the loved one (plus I didn't really like Ghost's pop-Christian mythology).
Still, Gillian is worth watching for the witty dialogue, for the beautiful Nantucket beach front, for the sandcastle with "Corinthian columns" David builds etc. It's worth pointing out that Gillian is a pretty emotional story that viewers who aren't paying attention are going to miss totally (plus you have to have patience, because the story gets repetitive after a while). What's more, the screenplay is done by David Kelley, and it shows with the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer as an essentially guest role (Michelle Pfeiffer is his wife) and the plot device of talking to a "ghost" as if he/she were actually there, and the ghost cracks self-referential jokes at his/her death and says something to the effect of "hey, you're the one imagining me, so I'm saying whatever you want me to say." Sounds familiar? Kelley used the same trick with Billy in Ally McBeal (1998-; Gillian was done in 1996) (but Billy is much more irritating than Gillian is, and takes years to have Ally let him go).
3 February 2003 6:08 PM SGT (link)
The Net is a 1995 thriller starring Sandra Bullock as Angela Bennett, a consummate hacker who's more comfortable with hacking & cyber-chatting than eating out, who is the victim of a big conspiracy by a company to sell "security" to governments and companies - it actually as a Trojan horse that allows the company's programmers free access to personal information & all that - the American libertarian's privacy nightmare: criminal records, credit card information, medical records etc. She has to keep her sanity as she wrestles with this seemingly omnipotent enemy to expose the truth. As a thriller it's above average, and when it tries the FBI agent thing it resembles, but doesn't reach the level of, The Game, a real reality-bending thriller starring Michael Douglas, or Total Recall.
When news broadcasts report that due to massive break-ins, government agencies and companies have chosen Gatekeeper software to protect them (this point is hammered into us viewers). That reminded me of TCS's 2000 TV show Millennium Bug, which besides this plot line had miracle programming whiz-kids that could fix viruses in 5 minutes, and other ridiculous things. It was a huge TCS/MediaCorp flop, and one shouldn't be surprised that it's not mentioned at all these days. Anyway at that time all the inconsistencies and wild extrapolations of programming genius made me so fed up that I documented everything wrong by episode - but unfortunately I've lost it, or else I'll post it here. Watching The Net has made me realise yet another place where TCS/MediaCorp found it easier to copy shamelessly from others rather than actually come up with something original. Sadly, this pattern still holds today.
3 February 2003 5:49 PM SGT (link)
- No Coming Home (Slate) summarises the various aspects of the coverage of the disaster by the US's main papers.
- In Space, but Down to Earth: the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek (The Right Stuff) pay tribute to the new breed of astronauts who were down-to-earth in life but definitely not in dreams.
- Networks Struggle to Convey Another Day of National Anguish: the media looks at itself in the mirror about coverage of the disaster as the story broke. It was indeed "in turn impressively authoritative and irritatingly improvised and confused," as this NYT article also points out.
- Timothy Ferris has a touching tribute to Columbia and the space programme in general in the NYT:
Watching the shuttle go over can make you feel like a savage seeing a ship. It's not terribly far away, typically less than 200 miles high. As Isaac Asimov used to say, you could drive the family car to space in an afternoon, if the car could go straight up. Yet, it's in space. The shuttle astronauts see Earth as it is, just one small planet. They see the atmosphere for what it is, a fragile membrane no thicker, relative to the planet, than the skein of tears that a blink bestows on the eye. And they float, weightless, like fish in the sea or an embryo in the womb. They may be "coasting," like the mariners of old who cautiously kept within sight of land, but the transition they are making could prove to be as epochal as the one that transpired when life first ventured out of the oceans onto land.
- The New York Times, At Dawn, the Columbia, by Timothy Ferris
2 February 2003 12:31 AM SGT (link)
Everyone admits it's too early to come to any conclusion about this terrible accident, but still there has to be something on the air. The ramifications are great, for the shuttle & continued use of the remaining three, for the ISS project, even for the human space exploration programme. But it should be pointed out that before this, NASA has had only two fatal accidents in its decades-long history of space engineering and exploration - the Apollo craft, and its intended crew of three, on the ground in 1967 due to a flash fire, and the Challenger shuttle explosion on takeoff in 1986, killing the seven astronauts on board. Condolences to the families of the crew.
2 February 2003 12:12 AM SGT (link)
Oh my goodness the space shuttle Columbia has been lost... (CNN for updates)
1 February 2003 11:27 PM SGT (link)
It's the Chinese New Year, and though I may not be very high on the festivities & the corny music, the holiday is really not bad. Plus there's the trilemma of whether I should go to the Borders sale (15%) or the MPH sale (20%) or just go visiting with everyone else tomorrow... (I could do all three but I would be exhausted)
Anyway this blog shouldn't stop during the holidays, especially if my readers need a break from visiting & meeting estranged relatives & enduring remarks about one's height/weight/marriage status etc. :-)
- Stealth Antennas Try to Blend In (Wired) as people demand more and better handphone coverage but don't really welcome the conventional unsightly towers. I wonder if there are any interesting stealth antennae in Singapore...
- Taking maps into a new dimension (MSNBC) is a team of cartographers from the University of Oregon, who have developed software that not only gives the basics, but also allows the user to call up historical maps for comparison, labour distribution, physical data like rainfall, and even go online to get updates of Los Angeles traffic. Definitely not the kind of old, boring map we're used to.
Anyway when I got my big National Geographic Atlas some years back - it was very impressive, but in paper, so it isn't capable of things like the Oregon software - I realised for the first time the difference between the physical map of the world and the political map of the world (they were printed on three big pages on opposing sides, altogether around 91.5cm x 46.5cm). This might sound self-evident to some, but I was young and immature, OK, & it was quite an epiphany for me: the qualitative difference between talking of physical entities like the Himalayas, Antarctica, the the ocean floor etc., and what National Geographic simply called "The World", of nations, cities and settlements - the world of human concerns. Something like that can be found at the CIA World Factbook 2002 - Reference Maps, although it's not at a very high resolution.
- These German folks are playing with things that would make fireworks seem like harmless sparklers: Safety chiefs target German craze for 'bazooka' spud guns. Apparently it's some kind of bazooka-like weapon that uses "hairsprays and pressurised lighter fluid" as the propellants, and potatoes as projectiles:
The so-called Kartoffelkanone are made from piping and masking tape bought at any hardware store. With a range of 200 metres they could split a man's head at 15 metres and penetrate a wooden wall at 90 metres.
...The hairspray is ignited using a battery which provides a spark. Some youths have made multi-barrelled potato cannons, resembling the Soviet Katyusha rocket launchers of the Second World War and capable of firing at a phenomenal rate.
- Times Online, Safety chiefs target German craze for 'bazooka' spud guns
Reportedly quite a few people have been injured, and with references to military equipment this kind of thing just isn't funny anymore.
I've also come up with a name for this kind of post, since I seem to be doing it quite often: Kaleidoscope. Strictly speaking it's not accurate, but I like to think I'm alluding to the source of the word:
- A series of changing phases or events: a kaleidoscope of illusions. [Greek kalos, beautiful + eidos, form; see weid- in Indo-European Roots + -scope.]