Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Brazo River US 59 turnaround

If you drive south from Sugar Land, down US 59, it crosses the Brazo River.  There used to be a U-turn on the north side of the of the river, that went under the freeway, close to the river.

Before the area was developed, the bridge was remote, with easy access to the river.  It  allowed a quick way to dump bodies unseen, under the bridge, and make a quick escape back to Houston.  They barely had to slow down.

The U-turn was closed in 1995 to deter the body dumping.  But the freeway has been remade and it seems from Google maps the turnaround is open again.  I guess I should check it out to see if there is still access to the river.

Update, it is open for business:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The two sides to NASA

NASA has a split personality, the manned program, which lost its way after Apollo was cancelled back in the 1970s, and the unmanned program, which carries out the hard science and gives us awesome pictures.

Looking to the future, NASA should get out of the International Space Station, and back to science.  SpaceX should soon be able to resupply the space station for the rest of its limited life.

We are not yet ready to live on another planet, so spend the money wisely.  We need satellites, telescopes, and a floating spacecraft on the hydrocarbon seas of Titan.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Newfoundland or bust

It was a bust.

2005 September 12 I was in a ship off the coast of St Johns.  The wind was howling 90 km/hr and the boat was stable but the harbor closed and the pilot unable to meet us.

We sailed on to Newport and it was calm and warm, and then on to New York City, just before dawn, approaching from the south, past the statue of liberty, to dock on the west side of Manhattan.  It was magical.

Words within words

When I was at primary school, in the UK, the teacher gave us a group exercise to come up with a word that contained three other words within it.  We had to use the word in a sentence and the other children had to identify the word.

I was the only one to come up with a valid word.  My word was Newfoundland, and of course, it was immediately identified.

So, a few years later, the word "organizational" popped up in a meeting, and being an astute doodler, I wrote the word down, and segmented it into 6 words!

  • Organ - a musical instrument or body part
  • I - the name I call myself
  • Za - a pizza, as defined in the Scrabble dictionary
  • Ti - a musical tone
  • On - a preposition
  • Al - a tree
And in UK English this works a little differently as the S replaces the Z.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The armadillos are back

The Armadillos are back!  While we were gone, they dug under the fence to get access to the flowerbeds. Armadillos are nocturnal, love loose dirt and irrigated areas that contain bugs.  We now have holes in the grass and flower bends, but luckily, no uprooted plants.  But they were here first.

Nine-band armadillo

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Trip to Bison - Take One

Bison is a great place to get millwork, and I needed crown molding for the house in New Ulm.  The cold front had blown through, and there was no chance of rain.  I drove up the tollway and got stopped at the gate by an employee.

"Sorry, but we are closed right now, " he said.  "Why?, " said I confused.  It was early afternoon, and there were vehicles everywhere.

"Our computers are affected with a virus, and we cannot sell anything."

I left.  Tomorrow I will call before I drive up the tollway, and ensure they are virus-free and open for business.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Earthquake in Oklahoma and the aftermath

The earthquake was small, magnitude 5.6, on 2011 November 06.  It buckled the highway and broke some windows, and part of the tower on St Gregory's University fell to the ground.  The other towers were damaged too.

The University is small, only 700 students.  It is a private, religious institution.

The cost to repair the towers is estimated at $5 to $6 million.   Half the money has been raised locally, and they expect to get grants from the Oklahoma State and the US Federal Government for the rest.

Why should I, a taxpayer, support this private enterprise?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spring is here, and so are the June bugs

This has been a warm winter, and the plants are shooting out. We have succumbed and cut back the perennials, asked the guy who cuts our grass to come and mow, got an e-mail from our "weeder" that she is back to work.

Spring is here.

The Houston Garden Center ended it's 50% off winter sale Sunday night at 19:00.  We got there with an hour to spare, the sun had set and it was almost dark.  "Just in time" plant shopping.

Monday, February 4, 2013

UK Royalty and a State Religion

So why is the UK, a liberal democracy, still a kingdom with a royal family?  And why is there no separation of Church and state?  Can a liberal democracy justify power and privilege based on an accident of birth?  The royal family and the historical trappings should, logically, be a subdivision of the British Tourist Board.

This was in the Sunday Houston Chronicle, a quote  by Hilary Mantel:

"I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Books - Grabbed by the first paragraph

When you die, you feel as though there were some subtle change, but everything looks approximately the same. You get up and brush your teeth. You kiss your spouse and kids and leave for the office. There is less traffic than normal. The rest of your building seems less full, as though it's a holiday. But everyone in your office is here, and they greet you kindly. You feel strangely popular. Everyone you run into is someone you know. At some point, it dawns on you that this is the afterlife: the world is only made up of people you've met before.

Eagleman, David (2009-02-10). Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Kindle Locations 83-87). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

“I DON’T KNOW why we gotta sit here baking in your car in the middle of the day, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of this crummy neighborhood,” Lula said. “It must be two hundred degrees in here. Why don’t we have the air conditioning on?” “It’s broken,” I told her. “Well, why don’t you have your window open?” “It’s stuck closed.” “Then why didn’t we take my car? My car’s got everything.” “Your car is red and flashy. People notice it and remember it. This is the stealth car,” I said. Lula shifted in her seat. “Stealth car, my big toe. This thing is a hunk of junk.”

Evanovich, Janet (2012-11-20). Notorious Nineteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel (Kindle Locations 30-36). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

For ten days the CIA team waited for the mysterious Jordanian to show up. From gloomy mid-December through the miserable holidays the officers shivered under blankets, retold stale jokes, drank gallons of bad coffee, and sipped booze from Styrofoam cups. They counted distant mortar strikes, studied bomb damage reports, and listened for the thrum of Black Hawk helicopters ferrying wounded. And they waited.

Warrick, Joby (2011-07-19). The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA (Kindle Locations 82-85). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Oxygen is a toxic substance, it reacts readily to many substances to create oxides.  Strangely this substance is a byproduct of life, and detecting it in the atmosphere of a distant planet is an excellent indicator that there is life on the planet.

Oxygen is created by the biological process of photosynthesis, where sunlight converts water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and food.

Cyanobacteria has been creating oxygen, as a waste product, since maybe 3.0 GA, 3.0 billion years ago, and it was absorbed by the rocks and oceans, until they were saturated, the iron deposits rusted.

35% oxygen in the late Carboniferous
The Great Oxygen Event occurred around 2.4 GA when excess oxygen began accumulating in the atmosphere.  The oxygen killed many forms of life at this time. The amount of oxygen was still much less than today, perhaps 2%. To make matters worse the free oxygen reacted with the methane in the atmosphere, removing the greenhouse gas, and triggering the Huronian glaciation, cooling the planet so much that most of it was under ice for 300 million years.  Not a good time to be living, but a greater time for evolution.

The creation of oxygen at this time was much slower than today as plants did no colonize land until much later, around 510 MA.  The chloroplasts in modern plants are descended from the ancient symbiotic cyanobacteria.  Invent it once and fine tune for eons!

Since 510 MA complex life has blossomed, and the oxygen levels have been between 15% and 35%, and sit today at 21%.