Thursday, August 30, 2007

Paul B. MacCready, 81; scientist and inventor of human-powered aircraft and other innovations

Paul B. MacCready, the Caltech-trained scientist and inventor who created the Gossamer Condor -- the first successful human-powered airplane -- as well as other innovative aircraft, has died. He was 81. Shown above is Paul MacCready in 1979, holding a photograph of the Gossamer Albatross, a human-powered craft that he helped design and build, which won $300,000 in prize money along with a similar craft, the Condor.
An accomplished meteorologist, a world-class glider pilot and a respected aeronautical engineer, MacCready headed the team that designed and built the Gossamer Condor and the Gossamer Albatross (shown above) -- two flimsy, awkward-looking planes powered by a furiously pedaling bicycle racer -- that won him international fame and $300,000 in prize money.

Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic did not directly advance airplane design," MacCready said. "The plane was a lousy plane. It was unstable and you couldn't see forward very well. You wouldn't want to design another like it. But it changed the world by being a catalyst for thinking about aviation." Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, hangs today from a ceiling at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Hanging next to it is MacCready's Gossamer Condor. The spindly, translucent Gossamer Condor was crafted of aluminum tubing, plastic sheeting, piano wire and Scotch tape. It had a wingspan of 90 feet but weighed only 70 pounds. The pilot was Bryan Allen, a strong, slender bicycle racer who powered the single propeller by pedaling a drive chain made largely of old bicycle parts.

"If you can make something that moves around but gives you the feeling of a prehistoric creature, then people experience it; they feel it much better," MacCready said in a magazine interview.
Above MacCready displays a model of one of his creations, Helios. The solar-powered plane, with a 200-foot wingspan, shattered the world altitude record in 2001, climbing to 96,863 feet.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Iceman Cometh

It’s particularly fitting that the title of Damien Hirst’s new headline-grabbing work came from an exasperated exclamation of his mother’s: “For the love of God, what are you going to do next?”

The answer, pictured above, is a life-size platinum skull set with 8,601 high-quality diamonds. If, as expected, it sells for around $100 million this month, it will become the single most expensive piece of contemporary art ever created. Or the most outrageous piece of bling.

At home in Devon, Hirst insists it’s absolutely the former. “I was very worried for a while, because if it looked like bling — tacky, garish and over the top — we would have failed. But I’m very pleased with the end result. I think it’s ethereal and timeless.”

For Hirst, famous pickler of sharks and bovine bisector, all his art is about death. This piece, which was cast from an 18th-century skull he bought in London, was influenced by Mexican skulls encrusted in turquoise. “I remember thinking it would be great to do a diamond one — but just prohibitively expensive,” he recalls. “Then I started to think — maybe that’s why it is a good thing to do. Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.”
Damien Hirst with "The Love of God"

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Tulips in Love"

Photo by krisdecurtis on Flickr
"I have a dream that one day this nation will live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal'."

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., 28th August, 1963, addresses the civil rights campaigners who had marched to Washington.

Drama and Tragedy

On this day in 1947, Legendary bullfighter Manolete was mortally wounded by a bull during a fight in Linares, Spain; he died the following day.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Catastrophic Krakatoa

The volcano Krakatoa is located on Rakata, an island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, Indonesia. Its eruption on this day in 1883 was one of the most catastrophic ever witnessed in recorded history. Until recently, its only known previous eruption was a moderate one in 1680. On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 1883, the first of a series of increasingly violent explosions occurred. A black cloud of ash rose 17 miles (27 kilometers) above Krakatoa. On the morning of the next day, tremendous explosions were heard 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) away in Australia. Ash was propelled to a height of 50 miles (80 kilometers), blocking the sun and plunging the surrounding region into darkness for two and a half days.

The drifting dust caused spectacular red sunsets throughout the following year. Pressure waves in the atmosphere were recorded around the Earth, and tsunamis, or tidal waves, reached as far away as Hawaii and South America. The greatest wave reached a height of 120 feet (36 meters) and took 36,000 lives in the coastal towns of nearby Java and Sumatra. Near the volcano masses of floating pumice produced from lava cooled in the sea were thick enough to halt traveling ships. Everything on the nearby islands was buried under a thick layer of sterile ash. Plant and animal life did not begin to reestablish itself to any degree for five years. The volcano was quiet until 1927, when sporadic weaker eruptions began. These tremors have continued into the 1990s.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Christopher Isherwood (1906-1986) - Byname of Christopher William Bradshaw-Isherwood

Anglo-American novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood, best known for his stories about Berlin in the early 1930s was born on this day in 1906. Isherwood's novels were based largely on his own life. Many of his famous literary friends appeared in his books under different names, including W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Virginia Woolf.

"I am a camera with its shuter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." (from Goodbye to Berlin, 1939)

L. A.'s Juke Box

The Triforium is a downtown Los Angeles landmark at Temple and Main streets that is wired to light up and play music.

Friday, August 24, 2007

1857 DISASTER !!

When the 272-foot wooden-hulled steamship SS Central America set sail from Panama for New York she had aboard 581 persons (many carrying great personal wealth) and over $1 million in commercial gold. She also bore a secret shipment of fifteen tons of federal gold, valued at twenty dollars per ounce, intended for the eastern banks.

Devoid of modern weather tracking devices, the Central America sailed directly into the path of a severe hurricane. For four days the steamer's passengers and crew bailed water and carried coal to keep her iron boilers lit.

Distress rockets finally attracted the attention of a small Boston brig, the Marine, to which the women and children were transferred. Most of the men remained aboard, however, with life preservers and the hope that another ship would pass. However, about 8:00 P.M. on Saturday, September 12, 1857, the Central America momentarily righted, lurched three times, and went down stern first in the Gulf Stream, 200 miles off the coast of South Carolina. Of the 478 men set adrift only 53 were later rescued by passing ships.

Watch for this group . . . you'll be glad you did !!

Il Divo has conquered the world. In just two years since their debut album, the dramatic rise of the international operatic supergroup has been breathtaking in its speed and unparalleled in its success.

The fusion of four exceptional voices, bringing the passion and virtuosity of their classical training to the interpretation of romantic and popular songs, has brought a sense of opera into the mainstream and thrilled the world in the process.

They have achieved 26 # 1 chart positions internationally, sold over 13 million albums, and achieved some 104 gold and platinum awards around the world.

With Il Divo, their first album, which was released in October 2004, they smashed Led Zeppelin's 25-year record of being the only band to achieve a number 1 album without a commercial single release. It was even the highest charting debut album for a UK signed act ever in America.

Their second album, Ancora, went straight in at number 1 in the USA, sold a phenomenal 150,000 copies there in just one week, and confirmed them as one of the biggest acts in the world. In the UK, Ancora also went straight to number 1 and they finished the year on a high performing for Her Majesty the Queen at The Royal Variety Show.

This year their sell-out 86-date world tour where they played to over 500,000 fans, took in 69 cities across the UK, USA, Europe and Australia, and was followed by an invitation from the legendary Barbra Streisand to join her on her 20-date US tour throughout October and November.

They recorded the official anthem for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, performing in front of an International audience of 1 billion people at the opening ceremony and the Final of the World Cup.

For all four members it has been an incredible journey. With the release of their third album, Siempre, Il Divo are poised to take their meteoric success to another level

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Don't sit under the bunya-bunya tree

If Isaac Newton had been struck on the head by a bunya-bunya cone instead of a mere apple, the theory of universal gravitation might have died at birth.

Weighing 10 pounds or more, the cones are borne high up in the tree, a shapely evergreen of moderately rapid growth to an eventual 80 feet. When ripe, usually in September or October, these enormous seed clusters fall with a crash, sometimes breaking small branches as they descend.

Bunya-bunya (Araucaria bidwillii) is less formal than its relative the Norfolk Island pine (A. heterophylla) and shapelier than the prickly monkey puzzle (A. araucana). Resembling flattened needles, its glossy, deep green leaves grow to 2 inches long. A well-grown bunya-bunya stands as a noble landscape ornament.
Bunya-bunya cone

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New James Stewart Stamp

The photo on the stamp is based on a portrait of Stewart as he appeared in a publicity photo for 1949's "The Stratton Story."

Flying and Falling

Australian skateboarder Jake Brown knocks off a big air practice session at the Staples Center just days before the event in which he suffered a concussion. He fell 45 feet to the flatter part of the ramp, feet first. He bounced as he landed and slid a few more feet down the ramp. After lying unconscious for a few minutes, he got up and walked away. Brown survived because he landed feet first, not head first. Also, at the moment he lost control of his skateboard, his body was upright, not somersaulting, and was hardly spinning, says physicist and skateboarder Yung Tae Kim of DePaul University in Chicago
(Alex Gallardo / LAT)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Myth and the Reality

The myth: On Aug. 27, Mars will come so close to Earth it will look as big as the moon!

The reality: It's a good thing this message -- being spread by e-mail -- is false. If Mars got close enough to rival the moon in size, according to NASA, it would alter Earth's orbit and bring on terrible tides. The closest Mars will come to us this year is in December, when it will be about 55 million miles away. It won't look much different than usual to the unaided eye.

The background: The Snopes website, which tracks urban myths on the Internet, traces this one back to August 2003, when Mars came far closer than usual -- about 35 million miles. Even then, it didn't look all that much different to casual observers. But the erroneous message began to spread, probably because of a misunderstanding about needing a telescope to see the planet close up. The e-mails popped up again this summer. mars.asp

Friday, August 10, 2007

The largest counterfeiting scheme in history.

On September 24th, 1942, the Bank of England received a bundle of forged £10 notes from the British Bank of West Africa. They were recorded as being, ‘the most dangerous ever seen’. For Kenneth Oswald Peppiatt, the Bank’s steadfast chief cashier, it was the first of many discoveries that would emerge from across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, America and Asia. Unknown to the British authorities at the time, the notes were products of a Nazi scheme to undermine the Allied economies: an operation that led ultimately to the F├╝hrer himself.

The pre-war design of British bank notes was of exquisite detail; the inked Britannia design was specially-commissioned, the watermark was the work of a skilled master, the texture of the cross-laid linen-paper was tangible, the craft involved in the multi-layered production was unique, and the numbering system was highly sophisticated. Altogether it was almost a work of art, and almost impossible to forge. Yet by 1945, up to a third of all British bank notes in existence were counterfeit.

You know what they say: "Be careful what you wish for---you may get it."

Last year Antonio Banderas declared on the Saturday Night Live program that he was tired of being called a latin lover and macho man. "As a man I was living a lie. As a woman, I am less attractive" he said. Antonio turned 47 today.

The VOLT or just another "plug-in" ??

General Motors Corp. took another step Thursday in its quest to develop a car that will be able to travel as far as 40 miles on a single electric charge.

GM said it had signed a contract with battery maker A123Systems to develop lithium-ion batteries specifically designed to power the Volt plug-in hybrid vehicles that GM hopes to put on the market in the next few years.

The battery technology used by A123Systems is potentially safer, cheaper and more durable than other designs now being tested, the automaker said. This would give Detroit-based GM a boost over Toyota Motor Corp. and other rivals in the race to produce a viable plug-in car for the U.S. market.

GM said it expected to start road-testing prototype vehicles powered by A123Systems' lithium-ion batteries by the end of this year or in early 2008.

Reggie comes home . . .

Reggie the alligator -- last seen in public in May, when he was captured at a Harbor City lake -- made his debut at the Los Angeles Zoo on Thursday, with many of his fans there to cheer him on.

Nearly 150 people, many decked out in alligator hats and Reggie T-shirts, crowded around his enclosure awaiting the big event, craning for a view over a line of news cameras. Many visitors had arrived from Harbor City on buses arranged by City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

Officials said the event was a fitting end to Reggie's saga, which began in 2005 when he was dumped by his owners into Lake Machado.

After an extended stay marked by expensive attempts at capture, the urban alligator was caught and sent to the zoo via motorcade, whose progress was followed live on television.

"Someone put him in a lake and now he's here," said Isaiah Hernandez, 4, who wore a "Welcome Reggie" pin and had his face painted green. "I really like alligators. When I grow up, I'll be a croc hunter."

As onlookers chanted "We want Reggie," about a dozen firefighters and zookeepers gently lowered the alligator into his open-air habitat, unwrapped a towel from his eyes and a restraint from his jaw, and then retreated to safety.

Amid cheers and applause, Reggie crawled languidly into the water and promptly hid behind a large rock. His caretakers said he is still adjusting to his new home.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

They Know How to Get Our Attention

The 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster LP640 made a big splash at the Los Angeles Auto Show--the price of course--if you have to ask, you can't afford it.
. . . and if you're looking for something a little more exotic, there's the Lamborghini Concept S

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Aliens Kill Weekly World News

MIAMI (Reuters) - Publisher American Media Inc. said on Tuesday it will stop printing the Weekly World News, which for 28 years gleefully chronicled the exploits of alien babies, animal-human hybrids and dead celebrities.

The company said in a brief statement it would end the print version of the tabloid newspaper next month but would maintain the online version (

The Weekly World News, which boasted it was "The World's Only Reliable Newspaper," reveled in shocking and almost always exclusive reports about extra-terrestrials, ghosts, scoundrels and scientific discoveries, such as the cure for lovesickness found on the walls of an ancient Mexican monument.

Bat Boy, the half-bat, half-human child found in a cave, was a regular feature. After the September 11 attacks, the tabloid reported he had been enlisted in the hunt for Osama bin Laden because of his special cave-dwelling skills.

The current online version reports that Mother Nature has endorsed Al Gore for president and other recent headlines include: "Man bothered by alien telemarketers" and "Dentist uses UFO metal in patient's tooth"
The headline above appeared in 2003.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Perth is Beautiful

This striking image is by kimtojin on Flickr.

"Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one."

On this day in 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were found hacked to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts, home. Andrew was discovered in a pool of blood on the living room couch, his face nearly split in two. Abby was upstairs, her head smashed to pieces; it was later determined that she was killed first. Suspicion soon fell on one of the Bordens' two daughters, Lizzie, age 32 and single, who lived with her wealthy father and stepmother and was the only other person besides their maid, Bridget Sullivan, who was home when the bodies were found. Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged with the double homicide. As a result of the crime's sensational nature, her trial attracted national attention.

The evidence that the prosecution presented against Borden was circumstantial. It was alleged that she tried to buy poison the day before the murders and that she burned one of her dresses several days afterward. And, although fingerprint testing was becoming commonplace in Europe at the time, the Fall River police were wary of its reliability, and refused to test for prints on the potential murder weapon--a hatchet--found in the Bordens' basement. The fact that no blood was found on Lizzie coupled with her well-bred Christian persona convinced the all-male jury that she was incapable of the gruesome crime and they quickly acquitted her.

Lizzie, who inherited a substantial sum after her father's death, moved from the murder site into a different home, where she lived until her death on June 1, 1927. Today, the house where the Borden murders occurred is a bed and breakfast. Despite Lizzie Borden's acquittal, the cloud of suspicion that hung over her never disappeared. She has been immortalized in the famous rhyme (above).

Warmest Wishes Go Out Today To Tony Bennett Who Turns 81

Happy Birthday, Tony. I hope your "special day" is everything you could ask for and more.