Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Twilight Zone..

The oceans of the world are amazing places, where all kinds of weird forms exist. It is said that all terrestrial life started off in the oceans, some having crawled out a very long time ago, and plant life by virtue of the fact that some got used to being above the surface in air. The color and diversity of sea life is almost beyond comprehension.

We create environments where we can watch and study fish, in bowls, tanks, aquariums and sea-quariums, but we can't see everything in this way because some are too large, and those that aren't require very deep water indeed.

Watching fish can be quite relaxing, as they glide around in three dimensions, and even the not so pretty are fascinating, like Conger eels, Stonefish and the Octopus. The rest we have to see on TV, brought to us by submersibles that can descend way further than any diver with a camera. One has to be prepared though, because some of the real deep sea creatures are just not pretty at all.

Three examples here are the Angler Fish (top left), the ViperFish (middle right), and the Fangtooth (middle left). All three are active predators that either wait for food to fall to their level or rise at night to where live food is more plentiful. You will be pleased to know that they live deeper than 200 metres so don't panic when splashing about where shore meets water, not however applicable to the Stonefish. It doesn't bite, but is armed with highly poisonous spines, and it lurks in the shallows of tropical waters.

For the sea fisherman, rules change a little, and sometimes he may come face to face with a denizon of the deep as in the last picture, where both fisherman and Giant Squid were sharing prey.

Whatever became of Renaissance Man?

This is a town in Tuscany, Italy, and it looks like many other towns in that area. A pretty place, yes? It has a claim to fame that will be more obvious when I tell you the name of the town which is fairly close to Firenze (Florence). This is the town of Vinci. Not far from this place was born (1452) the man we know as Leonardo Da Vinci (Leonardo of Vinci). No, it was not a family name. He is known as Renaissance Man, but he was not the only person with that title. There were one or two others who displayed that same kind of talent across a wide range of subjects, but maybe not to the degree of Leonardo.

He wasn't just multi talented, but regarded as a genius, and not only in his day, but for centuries after. His most famous achievements were in art, he being the procurator of the 'Mona Lisa', and 'The Last Supper', but he was also a skilled engineer among other things. He made drawings of more than a few things, laying down a variety of principles, one being that of the helicopter. Yet this man received little credit for much of his work, albeit mostly unpublished at the time, and left surprisingly little art, despite being one of the all time greats in the same league as Michelangelo.

So what was the 'Renaissance'? Basically, it was a revivalist movement in the period between the 14th and 17th century, primarily in Italy but across Europe generally, dedicated to classical culture, invention, science, and the pursuit of knowledge. Leonardo Da Vinci was a major player almost at the beginning of the period. Notwithstanding the fact that the Renaissance came to something of a stop after the 17th century in favor of going to war for gains that were and still remain in the abstract dimension, is there still such an animal as Renaissance Man?

The 19th century saw the Industrial Revolution take over. This was no renaissance, more a quantum leap in engineering, and it saw the rise of many great men, only this time there was much more a leaning towards specialization in one field. So, did Renaissance Man go the way of the dinosaur, becoming just one more entry in the book of time?

Absolutely NOT!! Renaissance Man is alive and well, and he/she lives in suburbia, relatively unknown, no particular claim to greatness, and he/she can fix the car, the computer, the plumbing, the stove, the hairdryer, the mower and a whole host of other things, and in his/her spare time designs custom mouse traps for the garage, plays stuff on a guitar or keyboard, helps the kids set up all of the Halloween stuff up outside. And unlike Leonardo, he/she also has a full time job, working in an office, foundry, factory, store, park, forest, mine, school, hospital, or Emergency Services.

You can't be much more talented than Renaissance Man/Woman 2000..

Caveat Emptor..

.. or put more simply, 'BUYER, BEWARE'

When you go into a store to buy something, how much do you know about the product you intend to buy? What criteria do you apply to your purchase? Are you looking for the best, or do you think that 'value' is the primary consideration? When faced with a list of features, have you really thought about which are most important to you and which, if any, can be sacrificed?

At the auto dealer showroom, you can look around a vehicle, sit in it, open everything up, go for a test drive. In all probability, you will be looking at the top of the range model on display which has every option and embellishment, and the model you pick may not have the leather seats, GPS mapping, or extra driving lights, but you have a good idea of what you are getting for the outlay. There are some things you simply can't tell by looking, one of them being how you will feel after maybe driving for 500 miles in one session!

You can still get caught out is the point here. If you went into a showroom looking for a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and came out with a Jeep Liberty, I hope you tipped the salesman well because he did a great job on you. When you walked out of the dealer showroom, did you take a look down the side to see how many unsold silver 'great deal' Jeep Libertys were sitting for the last six months in all kinds of weather?

The computer store is also a showroom, but here you will find a range of products for the most part looking very similar in exterior appearance. They will all have the same Operating System installed, and the display on the screen will look the same. Nobody will show you the inside because there is little point really. A circuit board is a circuit board to the uninitiated. So is the 'shouter' card in front of each unit. Most understand what is written on the cards as much as they understand the list of ingredients on the side of a food package. What the hell is all of this crap?

Best talk to a salesperson, eh. They will know. From a management stand point, a great computer salesperson is not judged by what he/she knows about the product. It is all about the ability to talk the potential purchaser into leaving the store with a purchase. Why doesn't it matter that the salesperson knows much? Simply put, there is a 99% chance that the purchaser knows a whole lot less.

I stood in a store one time and heard a salesperson talk a potential purchaser into buying a system that in no way, shape or form would do what the customer wanted, based upon the fact that the customer did not have much to spend and knew less than Jack about computers. He just knew what he wanted the computer to do. The salesperson outright lied about the capability of the machine, and he must have known that he was lying because, if he had been trained or knew anything at all about using computers, he could not have honestly fed the customer with crap.

The salesperson would have gotten commission for the sale, but the customer's woes were only just starting. I have no doubt that there would follow multiple calls to some idiot in a call center, each call generating commission for the operators.

Regardless of what you purchase today, or any day, do your research. Talk to people who really know about stuff, not somebody who is paid just to sell. If you see a 'good deal' or the salesperson keeps trying to steer you to a particular product, ask yourself the following questions.
  1. Will the product do what I want and expect it to do for a reasonable period?
  2. Is the product about to be replaced by something that I might desire more?
  3. Is the store/garage trying to dump a product that is overstocked and has been declared useless by magazine reviews?
Do not rely on the integrity of the salesperson who is most likely under pressure to sell what he is told to sell or face dismissal. Do your homework, and do it well because at the end of the day, it is your responsibility.

Good Luck..

Friday, April 13, 2007

England Expects..

.. that every man will do his duty. This does not appear to apply to the Captain and crew of F99, HMS Cornwall, all of whom seemingly sat and watched 15 members of the ships complement get taken by two small Iranian vessels.

I have to tell you that I am no advocate of war, especially this one being surely the most contrived war ever, but there are limits. We are told that the ship to be searched was 1.7 nautical miles within Iraqi waters. OK, not much of a margin for error, but where was HMS Cornwall? I have yet to see a news item that shows the position of the British Frigate. This ship was built in 1985 for use in the North Atlantic. It is just one ship in a once proud navy that truly did rule the waves. F99 is a commissioned warship of the British Royal Navy, not a cruise ship out for a jaunt in the sunny waters of the Gulf.

If radar can't detect the approach of small vessels, surely the ships watch would have maybe seen something. Radio contact? Helicopter cover? The 15 sailors are now getting bad press for the video shows put on for us all by the Iranians, but the blame for this really lies on board HMS Cornwall.

For the benefit of all, I will remind you of a message hoisted up the mizzen mast of HMS Victory on October 21, 1805, prior to a sea battle where the British Royal Navy, hopelessly outnumbered, managed to rout the combined Naval force of both France and Spain.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

Beef Stroganov.. From Russia with Taste..

Beef Stroganov, as the name suggests, hails from 19th century Russia. It was popularized in China by those who escaped the Socialist Revolution of 1917, and subsequently made popular in other parts of the world by escapees from the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Essentially, it is a dish based on sliced beef, but any meat can be used. In Brazil chicken is substituted, and in Northern Europe it is not uncommon to find types of sausage used. The simple truth is that you can use whatever you prefer. It is also a recipe that lends itself to easy production in large quantities.
This is the ingredient list:

  • ½ pounds beef fillet, sirloin or porterhouse steak
  • Salt, ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbs four
  • 1 can of drained button mushrooms (the liquid of the mushroom maybe used for thinning the sauce if necessary)
  • 1 cup beef broth or canned consommé
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • ¼ cup sour cream, more can be used according to taste
.. and this is how you prepare it:

  1. Remove all fat and grizzle from meat, cut into narrow strips about 2" long and half an inch long, season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. In a saucepan, add the olive oil and then melt 1½ Tablespoons of butter, add the flour and stir with a wire whisk or wooden spoon until well blended, heat the consommé and add all at once to the flour/butter mixture (called a roux), stir until well blended and add the mustard.
  3. In a separate saucepan heat the remaining butter, add the meat and brown quickly all around.
  4. Add the sour cream to the sauce and heat well, constantly stirring.
  5. Add the mushrooms.
  6. Pour the sauce over the meat, adjust salt and pepper according to taste. Stir it reasonably well.
It would traditionally be served on a bed of rice or noodles, but would be as fine a treat with potatoes, Duchess perhaps, and green vegetables.

Please note that your finished product may not look exactly like the picture.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Trains and Records..

TGV V150 of the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer), France's national railway system, has set a new record of 357.4 mph on track between Paris and Strasbourg. The engine was uprated to 25000 hp, and larger wheels were fitted for the attempt. It was hoped that the record set by a Japanese MagLev train of 361 mph could have been equalled or broken, but unfortunately fell just short of the target. Unfortunate it may have been, but when one considers that it was running on rails, and picking up off of an overhead Catenary wire, overcoming all of the friction induced by the rails, wire and air, it was a huge achievement. The French are not new to rail speed records, having first set the record back in the '60's for electric locomotives on specially prepared track between Paris and Lille. Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and Japan all have their own high speed railway networks, proving that there is still life in the railroad.

There is a speed record which has never been broken, that of a steam hauled train. On July 3rd, 1938, the London North Eastern Railway LNER 4468 Mallard, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, set a record of 126 mph. Notice that the front end design has not changed too much!

One more record that deserves a mention is that of the 'Rocket', designed by George Stephenson. In the year 1829, there was a competition for all railway locomotive builders. It was called the Rainhill Trials, and was sponsored by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials successfully, weighing just less than 6 tons while pulling a 20 ton load at a speed of 10 mph. It became the railway locomotive to haul the very first passenger service.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I Can Read this. Can You?

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!