Friday, October 23, 2009

Not long after I took this photo, Air National Guard fighters in Madison were put on alert

Intersecting Trajectories
I'm not sure I'll ever look at jet contrails quite the same way again. I took this photo around sunset on Wednesday, struck by the intersecting trajectories, each headed straight as an arrow for their respective destinations. They looked so purposeful and intentional. I'm still pretty sure the geese knew where they were going. Not so sure about the humans anymore.

By coincidence, the photo was taken at the very same time that Delta Airlines' Northwest Flight 188 was enroute from San Diego to Minneapolis, an hour or so before the pilots started losing "situational awareness," eventually overshooting their destination and heading into Wisconsin toward Eau Claire. Right here in Madison, Air National Guard fighters were put on alert, but the Northwest flight crew's situational awareness apparently returned before the fighters could be deployed to check on the wayward airliner.

We don't know yet whether the flight crew was engaged in a “heated discussion over airline policy,” as they told investigators, or as was widely rumored, just plain asleep. It was the second case of Delta absent-mindedness in the week -- just two days earlier, another Delta jet landed on an active taxiway in Atlanta instead of the runway. Pilots are human, and humans make mistakes. But when mistakes involving life-and-death situations happen too often, you have to start looking at the system that is producing them.

Ever since Reagan broke the air traffic controllers' union, airline industry employees have been relentlessly squeezed by deregulation, consolidation (like the Delta-Northwest merger) and cost-cutting. Compensation has been slashed and pensions have disappeared. The flying public has benefited in cheaper -- if less pleasant -- air travel, but at what cost?

Remember "Sully" Sullenberger, his heroic landing in the Hudson River and his subsequent testimony to Congress?
Hero pilot Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed the US Airways airbus on the Hudson, has a tough message for Congress: Pilots are getting so shafted by their employers that the good ones are leaving to do something else.

Sully, for one, is paid 40% less than he was a few years ago and is maintaining a middle-class existence only because he started a consulting company on the side. Folks on the Hudson flight are no doubt glad he didn't decide to start consulting full time.
Looks like it's time to start paying attention.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On the day Windows 7 launched I installed iTunes and QuickTime on my XP netbook

It happened because I went to Apple's site to play the three hilarious new videos aimed at Microsoft's big day, and to play them I had to download QuickTime -- and iTunes came as a ride-along with another button click. Hey, why not? The whole thing seemed to have a real symbolic resonance.

I liked this video in particular, because it appears to be pointing at something I found very odd while reading David Pogue's review of Windows 7 in the NYT this morning. I wasn't fully awake, but it seemed to be a very positive report -- right until this paragraph brought me up short.
Upgrading from Vista is easy, but upgrading from Windows XP involves a “clean install”— moving all your programs and files off the hard drive, installing Windows 7, then copying everything back on again. It’s an all-day hassle that’s nobody’s idea of fun.

Microsoft doesn’t think XP holdouts will bother; it hopes that they’ll just get Windows 7 preinstalled on a new PC.
That's just mean. It's as if Microsoft wants to punish all those users -- many of them businesses -- who stuck with XP instead of upgrading to Vista. And Pogue doesn't mention another possibility. Maybe some of those "XP holdouts" will buy new computers, but maybe some of those computers will have Apple's Snow Leopard installed instead.

In the interest of full disclosure, our household runs on Macs for the most part. My XP notebook is just for taking places where I'd rather carry a small, cheap computer that can get me on the net. But we started out as PC users, mainly on account of cost. I gotta say, Microsoft sure is not doing much to tempt me back into the fold.

XP stays on the netbook. Actually, I don't think it could run Windows 7 anyhow, but if it could, I still wouldn't upgrade.

You can see all three Apple ads here.

You've gotta love a car company that's thinking green and comes up with stuff like this

This is the Honda U3-X, an experimental new "personal mobility device" being unveiling at the Tokyo Auto Show -- the Segway reinvented as a small unicycle. It weighs about 20 pounds and comes with an hour of battery life in its rechargable lithium-ion battery. The single wheel is made up of concentric smaller wheels that can turn at different computer-controlled speeds, taking their direction from the direction the rider is leaning. The balance control that operates the U3-X came out of Honda's robotics lab. It's derived from the technology that enables Honda's Asimo robot to keep its balance as it walks (and conducts the Detroit Symphony performing "The Impossible Dream"). Cool.

So where is Honda going with this? The concept prototype U3-X seems designed for indoor use only, but the the idea looks as if it could be scaled up for outdoor use in crowded urban areas. It looks like the kind of out-of-the-box thinking needed by a world that's looking for alternatives to the automobile. For it's part, Honda says it's "pursuing the concept of harmony with people." Not sure what that means, but harmony is good.

Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear

Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear
I photographed this resolute little muskrat making its way across a pond near Gammon Road yesterday. Interesting optical phenomenon right in front of it -- the bow wave it's pushing up ahead of it in the still water curves in such a way as to form a perfect convex mirror. It's like those outside right rear-view mirrors on cars with the familiar warning, creating a tiny upside-down image of the muskrat's head (view large on black).

Mineral Point and Gammon Road: Honk if you want health reform, but that's just the beginning

Mineral Point and Gammon Road: Health Reform Now
We honked and gave a thumbs-up, but it's going to take more than that. Members of Congress are cobbling together the final bill while trying to keep from tripping over all the health and insurance industry lobbyists. Call your Congress peeps and help them grow a spine. Remind them they're in Washington to serve the needs of the public, not of the special interests. Remind them there's an election coming next year, and that we have long memories. It probably wouldn't hurt to tell the Democrats that a majority party that blows the big issues doesn't remain a majority party for long.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All dressed up for Freakfest but unable to move

All Dressed Up for Freakfest But Unable to Move
Who knows -- maybe it's fright. Who are those tall, thin guys with the triangular heads? Or maybe it's that the poor dear's feet are stuck in the mud.

No problem -- a week and a half is plenty of time to overcome any lingering paralysis and get down to State Street and join protesting zombies and thousands of others driven more by exhibitionism, music and alcohol than the hardcore ideology of the undead. For once, Freakfest 2009 is actually being held on Halloween Night -- Saturday, Oct. 31. Note: Advance tickets are $7.00, while they're $10.00 the day of the event. They're available from Ticketmaster and all over town (see list at the link.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Commuter returning from the 'rat race

I usually take still photographs, looking for that nearly mythical "decisive moment" that tells a story and, if everything works out, is visually interesting at the same time. I did take a number of stills of Mr. or Ms. Muskrat, but they looked like pictures of some sort of furry little log or something. This situation just seemed to call for video.

I think of this muskrat as a commuter returning home after a long day at the job (or as T put it, "the 'rat race," driving carefully, avoiding accidents and trying to enjoy the scenery on the long and tedious commute (this is just the very last leg). Finally the muskrat arrives home. Note the practiced ease with which it turns into the driveway, scarcely slowing its pace, and then skillfully glides right on into the garage, presumably to the warmth of the family hearth (though I imagine that this time of year Mr. and Ms. Muskrat are probably empty-nesters.)

Not much to do yesterday except kick back and worship the sun like this Green Heron

Worshipping the October Sun
Finally, a gorgeous Indian Summer day on Monday. The temperature climbed up to the mid-fifties, but felt warmer. The autumn colors glowed in the trees. Won't be many more like this, if any. For this Green Heron and practically everyone else, there really was nothing to do but kick back and worship the sun.

View Large On Black

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cafeteria Line

Cafeteria Line
Get in line, grab a bite, and take off... Great Blue Herons fishing in Middleton near Gammon Road.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where the wild things aren't (quite)


Don't get me wrong. I liked the Spike Jonze movie Where the Wild Things Are a lot. Critical reaction was highly favorable overall, but this is one of these misleading "averages" with no middle ground. It's a movie that left most critics deeply polarized between those who loved it and those who hated it. I'm much closer to the ones who loved it.

There's a lot of magic in this movie. The creatures are amazing, a very canny melding of costumes and CGI, and they express real feeling, not the synthetic substitute we see in so many children's movies. I admired the director's imagination, his love of the material and his refusal to pander in what became a big-budget studio movie. But in the end I was vaguely disappoined, and I couldn't figure out why at first. Part of it was that, as usual, I expected too much of a highly hyped movie by someone I admired. But it was more than that. And then I realized what it was.

Think if The Wizard of Oz had been filmed on location in Australia, and how different it would have been. Both movies are classic evocations of childhood and the power of fantasy and dreams (I think Where the Wild Things Are will become a classic despite its imperfections.) But there's something very important in dreams that this movie got wrong, and it's the setting, which carries so much of the emotional resonance. Sendak got that exactly right. His book wasn't just about Max and the wild things. Or rather, the wild things included more than just the creatures. Most scenes as I recall took place in the dark, or a kind of dreamy half-light. The trees and plants were expressive and in no way naturalistic. It's impossible to imagine the book without the dreamlike setting.

If ever a movie cried out for an imaginative studio set, both less real and more real than reality itself, it was this movie. I only wish Jonze and his collaborators could have had the same faith in the material and their own imaginative powers as they showed in the creation of the creatures. Then they would probably have had a true masterpiece on their hands.

But, hey -- "good" ain't bad. It's good. I just wish it had been better.

Tuna salad, at least that's what the menu said

Tuna Salad
Damn near a mystical experience, like eating beauty. The words "tuna salad" don't do this creation justice. Sushi Muramoto. Sometimes I wonder why we eat anywhere else.