29 January 2013

Because It Is Good to Remember This

Pale Blue Dot from ORDER on Vimeo.

Keep track of our beautiful blue dot at Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Tumblr.

Cmdr. Hadfields's Pic:  
"A clearer view of Vancouver on a sunny day 
- can clearly see the ferry terminal, airport and many boats in the Inlet." 

22 January 2013

COOL BOOKS: From a Vending Machine

Image from the video posted below. 

I really need to get back into listening to NPR's All Things Considered.  I miss the coolest stuff.  Like this: a one-of-a-kind, specially constructed vending machines for old books. 

Thanks to the "Spooky Librarians" at Folderol this November 2012 story was brought to my attention.  Here are the opening words of the story.

Earlier this year, Stephen Fowler, owner of The Monkey's Paw used-book store in Toronto, had an idea.

He wanted a creative way to offload his more ill-favored books — "old and unusual" all, as the store's motto goes — that went further than a $1 bin by the register.

It came in a conversation with his wife: a vending machine.

It was done, and this delightful video was made about it. More than delightful.  It has Tom Waits singing and a magnificently MADE contraption that is a mix of steampunk flair, modified Rube Goldberg, and such perfect, perfect whimsy!

15 January 2013

Packages for an Imagined Event: Item 13

On 19 August 2011, as noted on the mission site of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, "NASA's Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser for the first time on Mars, using the beam from a science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called 'Coronation.' The mission's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. The energy from the laser excites atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma. ChemCam catches the light from that spark with a telescope and analyzes it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the target."

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law) 

Early in the schedule for the 2011 Summer Wizarding Event, I put out a call for unusual stuff -- oddments, baubles, and what-have-you items to serve as the contents for the Perfect Postal Packages I was making for our 1st Year Wizarding Students.  I had it in mind that I wanted things that were, essentially, old science & engineering tools - like those pictured below.

My father-in-law, Professor Science, provided a number of really wonderful items. Why do I call him Professor Science, you ask?  Check this out -- his areas of research study:
Electronic Spectroscopy: Analysis of the vapor spectra of aromatic and heterocyclic compounds. The principal areas of interest are the shapes of vibronic bands and computation of the band contours of asymmetric rotors. The objective is to determine the change in molecular shape in the first excited electronic singlet state.

Infrared and Raman Spectroscopy: Determination of the fundamental vibrational frequencies of aromatic and heterocyclic molecules by measurement of the infrared and Raman Spectroscopy and calculation of the normal coordinates. The objective is to determine the force constants of these molecules and to examine the transferability of these force constants to related molecules.
Yeah, when the so-called Sarcastic Rover writer talks about "doing a Science" let''s just say my FIL is all over that like white on rice!

The recipient of this package was the oldest of our nineteen new wizarding students (who ranged in age from 8-14 years).  Like the other older boy, he was a little uncertain about participating in the event.  But there was still a tad of want-to-believe in his soul!  He wanted to be a wizard.

This wooden box was something I found at our neighborhood rummage sale.  It had belonged to an artist who used it to hold brushes and drawing pencils.

The wizardly tools found within were a metal, expanding spectrometer (Professor Science had used this in his grad school work!); a skinny steel tweezers (found at the ever-awesome American Science & Surplus); and a piece of obsidian that my brother Architect (who was one of the two prime movers of this event and who played our Headmaster) had given me the day he invited me to play along.  (It was in a box of marvelous junky stuff much of which was included in the "Perfect Packages" -- miniature glass tubes, small locks, a wee carved soapstone elephant, to mention but a very few!)

As with each package, the items were boxed or wrapped or bagged within.

And as with each, a personal letter was enclosed. 


Hello S- - -,

You're probably wondering what this package is all about! Here's the story.  It's a N - - - - - tradition that former students write letters of welcome to the incoming First Years.  As former Head Boy, I am going to take the extra step and send you some stuff I know you will need if you take any of Prof. Trolly's classes. (By the way, that' "Professor T------------" to you anytime you are speaking to him or about him with other faculty! We just call him that behind his back!)

He is big into Muggle technology, as you will soon find out. He always requires his students to gather together examples of Muggle stuff. I never got around to showing him these items so I figure I'd save you some time up front by sending them on. I'm sure he'll be delighted.

Too bad Professor E - - - - - - -  (or E-cubed, as we upper levels refer to him) is on sabbatical this year.  He teaches a mean Magical Metals class.  Tough as all get out but he has a great sense of humor which makes it do-able.

Well, that's all I've got to say.  If you have a moment with the Headmaster, tell him the former T---- Head Boy says hello.  Better tell him my name, though, as there have been a lot of T----- Head Boys during his time there (and he's ancient!).

Good luck in your first year work!

T------- C-------- V----------, III
House T-----, 2002

p.s.  That's OBSIDIAN in the green bag.  Not Muggle, just volcanic!

I never did find out if this young man passed on the message from this letter writer to the Headmaster. I had a lot of fun "seeding" the improv aspect of the day with my many letters to the new students.  (I wrote 125 of them all told, each from a different imagined character!)  Each of the actors had a general idea of the day's story but as it was a live action role play event, improv was the name of the game.  

Almost a year later, this past Spring, when a few of us got together for a dress-up dinner, I learned that this gift of scientific tools thoroughly delighted this young man and that he thought the tools to be truly wizarding in nature!  I am sure Professor Science and Arthur C. Clarke would agree.

The posts describing all the imaginary postal packages can be found grouped here under the tag faux package.  

08 January 2013

A Daily Letter - The Attempt Shall Be Made

As a number of you know (or fairly guessed), I am big into letter writing.  And not so big into New Year's Resolutions.  But this year I am going to try to be more committed to correspondence.  To the point where I am actually "doing a thing" -- the Month of Letters challenge this coming February!

Normally I shy away from formal events such as these.  In part because I am an introvert and letter writing is a private activity.  But also because, like most folks, I have only a limited amount of time and many things I want to do!  This particular event, though, has me intrigued because the person who is leading it is someone whose creative bent resonates with mine.

I didn't know that when I first heard about the Month of Letters challenge on Twitter the other day.  Then I did a little info-scrounging and came upon the author of the event - and this sentence on her About page had me at the instant.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a novelist and professional puppeteer.

From the album on Ms. Kowal's site.

I have never heard of Ms. Kowal nor her books.  The rest of her About page, however, will have me at the library soon to investigate. Her About page bio tells of an eclectic maker/writer/imagineer. 

"Hugo-award winning author, Mary Robinette Kowal is a novelist and professional puppeteer. Her debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while three of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award: “Evil Robot Monkey” in 2009 and “For Want of a Nail” in 2011, which won the Hugo for short story that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press.

Kowal is also an award-winning puppeteer. With over twenty years of experience, she has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve.

When she isn’t writing or puppeteering, Kowal brings her speech and theater background to her work as a voice actor. As the voice behind several audio books and short stories, she has recorded fiction for authors such as Kage Baker, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Sometimes she even writes on them."

And she owns typewriters!  How can I not be inspired?  Though I will have to modify the 'rules' to suit my style of letters - which tend to be lengthy and often introspective.  For me it will be this: writing/typing at least two pages of a letter per day will be considered has a letter for the day.  I know I am likely to write more and more often per day, but I am not about to have myself fretting over an artificial goal.  The point is to WRITE & CONNECT consistently.  

Whom I shall write to will really be the challenge.  I have a small coterie of pen friends, but not enough to match a letter-per-day output.  I'll take these next few weeks before the event begins to create a list of people I might write to just for fun. 

And I will restock my supply of postage stamps as the price of 1st class/postcards/international letter postage is going up again starting on 27 January of this new year.

  • Letters (1oz.) — 1-cent increase to 46 cents
  • Letters additional ounces — unchanged at 20 cents
  • Letters to all international destinations (1oz.) — $1.10
  • Postcards — 1-cent increase to 33 cents
Complete info on the increases can be found at this USPS page.

One last thing, an International Forever Stamp is being issued for the first time this year.  And it seems to be ROUND!  This is very cool.  

The USPS description for it is this:
"In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service introduces Global Forever®, a new international rate stamp. The Global Forever® stamp offers a single price for any First-Class Mail International 1-ounce letter to any country in the world. For the January 27, 2013, price change, the Global Forever® stamp may also be used to mail a 2-ounce letter to Canada.

This stamp features a rendering of Earth composed of images created from satellite data and redesigned with 3D computer technology. The view of our planet shows the Atlantic Ocean flanked by the Americas, Africa, and part of northern Europe. In the stamp art, the globe is isolated on a white background. The shape of the stamp is round. The text, which surrounds the image of Earth, includes the words “Global Forever.”

Artist Leonello Calvetti used a variety of maps, primarily from NASA, to create his design. With 3D computer technology he was able to modify depth, vary color, and create subtle light and shadow details on terrain surfaces to achieve a high level of photorealism while also attaining something new. “I always have been fascinated by space and what astronauts could see from out there,” Calvetti says. “As an artist, an illustrator, I wanted to make my own representation of the Earth.”

Art director William J. Gicker selected this depiction of Earth by Calvetti. Greg Breeding designed the stamp.

The Global Forever® stamps are being issued in self-adhesive sheets of 20 at the $1.10 rate, or $22.00 per sheet.  Made in the USA."

01 January 2013

"He/She/It Makes" The Typewriter Said.

Once upon a time in an earlier incarnation as a medieval studies graduate student, I tried to learn Latin.  Actually, the attempt first began in high school (where my instructor's surname was Latin for doctor!).  Moving on into college and beyond I tried to learn Italian and French and German . . . and then Latin again.  What I ended up learning, much to my chagrin, is that I do not have the knack for learning languages. Thus my career as a medieval scholar bit the proverbial dust.

Still, certain grammatical vagaries stayed stuck in my mind.  The notion of declensions for instance.  The Great Wikipedia says thusly: "In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number (at least singular and plural), case (nominative or subjective, genitive or possessive, etc.), and gender."

This leads me to another memory.  Long ago both my father and his father worked in factories.  My grandfather, an immigrant from Poland, spoke several languages and because of this was the foreman to the crewmen that were mostly European immigrants like himself.  My Dad told us stories of that time.  One that sticks with me, though I haven't been able to confirm it, is that either his initials or that of his father's were inscribed by their hands on a great iron girder that now lives somewhere inside the Grand Hoover Dam!

Along with the initials was the Latin word facit.  It is the nominative case, 3rd person singular for facere (to make).   My Dad told me it meant "He made it."

A couple of months ago I came across a Facit TP1 at Goodwill.  I was surprised as it seems that 1970s Smith Coronas seem to be the mainstay for our local shops.  It looks nothing like the Facit machines described by Typospherian collectors Robert Messenger of OZ Typewriter and Richard Polt of Writing Ball (that is, mine has definitely seen better days and is in need of some TLC!).

Mr. Messenger's blog post, Facit TP1 portable – The Prince of Typewriters, is here.  
A follow up post, Facit v Facit: The TP1 and TP2 Portable Typewriters is here.

 Mr. Polt's blog post, Facit's facets, is here.

The machine I found has been very well used. But notwithstanding, it seemed to have been well tended and retained all of its original accouterments.

It is also in need of some cleaning - the remains of many an erased typo fill its innards. 

The case is in good shape, inside and out.

When I opened the case, I was pleased to see it came with its original dust cover. . .

. . . and was surprised to find it also had its original "hide-the-hands" pasteboard shield.

According to the instructional card that was also present, the newbie typist was to place this shield as shown.  One then learned to touch type without being able to see one's hands. I tried this, but my hands are fairly large; I was unable to type without knocking the shield off.

In addition to a pad of carbon paper, there was also this packet of 8.5 x11 inch typewriter cleaner paper.  This is something I've never seen nor heard of.  If there is anyone out in the Typosphere who knows something about this product, would you please share your info in the comments section?

This typer lives up to its reputation as having a keystroke action that is fast and easy.  Not surprisingly, several NaNoWriMo authors have reported liking this machine!  I like to use it when I have several letters to write in a row and don't want to get a literal pain in the neck (an affliction some of my other, prettier machines are prone to offer).

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