Wednesday/ Big K is going away

The original International Prototype Kilogram (Big K), safe within three vacuum-sealed bell jars. Credit: BIPM

The kilogram is currently defined as the mass of a chunk of platinum-iridium alloy created in 1889, that is housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France. (Le Grand kilogram, or Big K, as it is affectionately known).

But what if Big K gets stolen, or damaged? And it has already (mysteriously) lost some 50 micrograms since 1889. So this state of affairs will not do for the 21st century.

This Friday in Versailles, a gathering of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, is expected to vote to redefine the kilogram by its existence as a unit in the Planck constant.  This new definition is very complicated to explain (see here).  For it to work, the Planck constant also had to be precisely defined and fixed to 9 significant digits, with the aid of a Kibble balance.

And voila!

Tuesday/ the Seattle Tower

I guess Seattle has many gleaming glass and steel towers nowadays, but the Seattle Tower is one of the city’s original art deco gems.
Its construction was completed in 1929, and at the time it was called the Northern Life Building.

I just took a quick picture this afternoon, but looking at online pictures, I see I made the mistake of not going into the Tower’s lobby. Architect A.H. Albertson’s art deco design is featured inside and out, and the warm brown brickface of the Tower had held up well against the ravages of time.
Here is the Northern Life Tower (Seattle Tower), featured on an antique postcard, possibly from the 1930s or 1940s (no date was given for it). It tapers to the top in a pyramid, in progressively lighter shades of brown bricks.
And here is today: Google Streetview with the Seattle Tower (completed 1929, 27 storeys) in the middle, at the southeast corner of 3rd Ave. and University St. That’s the US Bank Centre building (completed 1989) in front of it, itself only the 8th tallest in the city at 44 storeys.

Monday/ Amazon’s new HQ2 times 2

Amazon says it will eventually employ 25,000 workers at each of its two new locations, and the impact on the surrounding areas might be big. (Raise rents and property prices & add to traffic congestion). [Picture from New York Times].
Word had leaked out by Monday night (before an official announcement from Amazon), that the two sites of the much anticipated Amazon HQ2 (second headquarters) will be Long Island City (in New York City) and Crystal City (in northern Virginia, just south of Washington DC downtown).

I think – I’m not sure – that it’s good news for Seattle that HQ2 will be split in two. Seattleites were fretting that HQ2 might eventually become bigger than Seattle, and this seems to make that less of a possibility.

Sunday/ Veterans Day

‘American soldiers, with a sprinkling of French infantry soldiers, parading the streets of Paris in an American Army truck to express their joy over the war’s end.’   Dec. 8, 1918. [Picture from the New York Times. Credit: Émile Barrière/Photo Press Service].  
It’s a very special Veterans Day: we can celebrate the 100 year mark since the end of World War I.

Says the New York Times, though: After more than four years of fighting, 8.5 million soldiers had been killed, including more than 100,000 Americans, and 7 million civilians were dead. In that time, modern warfare was born, and the trenches of Western Europe became a charnel house*.  Just 20 years later World War II would start, bringing vastly greater destruction, and numbers of casualties.

*A building or vault in which corpses or bones are piled.

Saturday/ California’s infernos

Active fires in California on Nov. 10. [From the LA Times]
I was sadly mistaken, assuming that the summer wildfires in California had been under control.

The Camp Fire is now the most destructive fire in the state’s history. 23 people have died with 100 more still reported missing.  The fire has destroyed nearly 6,500 structures.

Further south, the Woolsey Fire has scorched 70,000 acres (130 sq mi), and forced 250,000 people to evacuate in the Malibu area.

Friday/ hey little bird, what’s your name?

These little birds like to hop around in my backyard sometimes, looking for fallen seeds.
This morning, one was finally ready to pose for his close-up. (It’s time to get a 500 mm telephoto lens, if I’m going to be serious about shooting pictures of little birdies like these!).
It took a little searching to find it online, but now I know: it’s a dark-eyed junco.

Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) belong to a genus of American sparrows. This one is a male with the so-called Oregon coloring: black head & chest, brown back, white belly.

Thursday/ please be shocked

At least 12 people were killed in a shooting late Wednesday at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif.  Borderline Bar and Grill was holding its weekly event for college students.   The gunman (28) was a troubled Marine Corps veteran that turned his gun on himself.

Here is Roxane Gay writing under a heading ‘Please Be Shocked at the Thousand Oaks Shooting’ in the New York Times:

According to statistics from the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 307 mass shootings in the 312 days of 2018. They are a commonplace occurrence. This is a horrifying thing to say, but it is the truth. We need to say this truth over and over. We need to face this horror without looking away. We live in a country where there are relatively few restrictions on gun ownership and where our cultural tolerance for mass murder appears to be infinite.

It is a peculiarly American affliction that this epidemic of gun violence doesn’t move us to take any real steps toward curbing gun violence and access to guns.

It is painfully obvious that there is no shooting appalling enough to make American politicians stand up to the National Rifle Association and gunmakers. A congressman was shot and critically wounded. Children at Sandy Hook Elementary were murdered. Revelers at the Pulse nightclub were murdered. Concertgoers in Las Vegas were murdered.

A man outside the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a gunman killed 12 other people Wednesday night. [Mike Nelson/EPA, via Shutterstock]

Wednesday/ it’s Novem-brrr

It was sunny today, but we only got up to 52°F/ 11°C.
The sunlight we got, was gone by 4.41 pm – the time the sun now sets in the Pacific Northwest. Yikes. (On Saturday night, across the United States, we set our clocks back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time*).

*California voters approved Prop. 7 on Tuesday, a proposal to permanently stay on Daylight Saving Time. The measure still requires a two-thirds vote from the California legislature and a change in federal law before it can take effect, though.

The squirrels in my backyard were out and about in the sun, and hey! munching on the honey mushrooms under the laurel hedge. I have the big fly agaric (red with white spots) mushrooms this year as well, but they just nibble on those and then leave them alone. The fly agaric is not deadly toxic, but it does contain psychoactive substances that produce hallucinations in humans (and squirrels?).

Tuesday night/ got the House

The Democrats have taken back the House! Yes!
This is of monumental importance. The Speaker and the House Committee chairs are going to be Democrats. There will be a real check on Trump’s excesses and the appalling Republican legislation that have come out of Congress.  For the first time, there will be more than 100 women among the 435 House of Representatives.

The Republicans will retain the Senate. A bitter disappointment for Democrats in the Senate races, was that Texas star and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke’s inspiring campaign against incumbent Republican Texas senator Ted Cruz, came up short.

Monday/ tomorrow is almost here

Alright.  If 2016 was the Year of the Angry Older White Male in American politics, maybe 2018 is the Year of the Female College Graduate, says Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. These suburban and younger women take a very dim view of our 45th president. (As do I).

The Democrats really need to win the House. Hopefully they will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, like they did in 2016.
It is unlikely they will win the Senate.

There are also some very interesting gubernatorial (state governors) races. For my fellow citizens in red states (Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin): some free advice.
DO NOT vote for a Republican governor.
Republicans DO NOT CARE FOR PEOPLE, not even for you. 

Update Wed 11/7: The Dems got the house, but not the Senate. Michigan, Pennsylvania & Wisconsin voted in Democratic governors.

Katy Tur interviewing a die-hard Trump supporter. She says nothing has changed at these Trump rallies since 2016. Trump supporters don’t follow the news, or simply say: ‘Why is all the coverage so negative? We don’t believe it’. (Psst. The reporting on Trump is negative because what Trump does flies in the face of American values, democracy and decency).

Sunday/ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ rocks

We ran out to the movie theater today to go see the just-released Freddie Mercury/ Queen biopic called ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It had gotten mixed reviews from the critics – but as it turned out: what do they know? I thought it was very, very well done.

American actor Rami Malek worked hard to undergo a stunning transformation to portray Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance and human side. The filmmakers collaborated with Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor (71) and lead guitarist Brian May (69).  (Bass guitarist John Deacon (67) retired from the band’s activities a few years after Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991).

The movie ends with an amazing recreation of Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert that was held in 1985 at Wembley Stadium in London (worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans).

Great picture of Freddie Mercury and partner Jim Hutton. They had been together for 6 years when Mercury passed away in 1991.  [Picture from Hutton’s memoir ‘Mercury and Me’, published in 1994].

Saturday/ the fungus among us

This is the time of year for some mushrooms to sprout in urban gardens here in the Pacific Northwest, and I discovered a new type under my laurel fence this year.  Maybe they’ve been coming out every year, and I just haven’t noticed before!

These are honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) .. there are several distinct Armillaria species within the group formerly called honey mushrooms (or honey fungus). The ‘honey’ is a reference to the smooth appearance of the caps, and not their flavor, which is anything but sweet. (I am not about to try these suckers by cooking them, thank you very much. I’ll stick to buying my mushrooms in the grocery store!).
A view from the side that shows the little collar on the stem, and the adnate gills (gills fully attached to the stem). The cap is about 3 in. in diameter.

Friday/ the Gariep Dam is on my banknote

I am still adding to my old South African bank note collection. My latest addition is the R2 note issued in 1966. It arrived in the mail today, sent by an Ebay seller – from Istanbul, Turkey, no less.

The Gariep Dam on the back of the note is South Africa’s largest, by far (cap. 5.7 cubic km /1.4 cubic mi)* . Its turbines can contribute some 360 MW of electricity to the national grid.

*By comparison, the Hoover Dam in Nevada can hold a vast amount of water, some 32.2 cubic km (7.7 cubic mi). It has not been filled to capacity since 1983, though. Then there is the Three Gorges Dam in China that is bigger still (the world’s largest), with a capacity of 39.3 cubic km (9.4 cubic mi).

The front of the 1966 R2 note features Jan Van Riebeeck, a founding father of sorts: the first administrator of the the Dutch Cape Colony in 1652.  The back of the note shows the Gariep Dam located in Free State province. South Africa’s largest dam, it was decades in the making, and construction was finally completed in 1972.  Its primary function is for irrigation, hence the cob of corn in the top left corner. [Picture from Ebay].
A still frame from Dirk Grobler’s YouTube drone video of the dam from Feb 2017. At the time the water level was only at 61%.  In April of this year, the dam was full, and attracted tourists from all over the country that came to see the water spill over the sluice gates in the arched wall.

Thursday/ all-out lies & propaganda

Five days to go before November 6, and Trump’s lies and propaganda are reaching a fever pitch.

1. Migrant caravans with Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans in Mexico, walking to the US border, are going to ‘invade’ the country. The Pentagon was told to ready as many as 15,000 troops to go to the Mexican border.
Fact: The threat is very small. Only a small percentage of the migrants will make it to the border, is the Pentagon’s assessment.

2. The Republican Party will protect our healthcare.
Fact: Twenty Republican governors are suing the Federal Government right now, seeking end to Obamacare. Trump supported the wholesale repeal of Obamacare.

3. Trump will reduce middle-income taxes by 10% before the midterm elections.
Fact: Congress is not even in session. A pipedream and laughable lie.

4. Trump will end birthright citizenship, presumably by executive order.
Fact: Pfft. Not going to happen. He will have to get Congress to overturn the 14th Amendment.

5. Trump warns of widespread voter fraud.
Fact: The only widespread voter fraud is that which is committed by Republican governors and legislators. They are working flat-out to prevent voters from minority groups and others that support Democrats, to vote. This is in addition to a long tradition of gerrymandering districts in many states.

A page from an unclassified document (but for official use only), that was leaked to Newsweek today. The U.S. Army projects that only a small percentage of the 7,000 migrants will actually reach the border. And those that do, will have done nothing illegal. That is how international amnesty laws work: you show up at the border IN PERSON, and apply for amnesty. These people are desperate and fleeing violence, misery and a drought that has caused major crop losses in Central America.

Tuesday/ the Facebook dilemma

I just watched the two episodes on the public television channel called ‘The Facebook Dilemma*’ – and did not find it reassuring.  Facebook has a long history of being too late to address disastrous uses of their platform: for hate speech, for spreading lies, for sowing distrust and division. Should anyone trust them again, ever?

*Facebook should be reinvented (run with different functionality & algorithms) or even be shut down, but it has become too big and powerful.

Congress – and the citizenry – have a responsibility as well. Do we care enough? Here’s former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos: “We’ve had two years since the main part of the Russian attack against the 2016 election, and very little has been done as a country, as a government, to protect ourselves,” Stamos told FRONTLINE. “We have signaled to the rest of the world that interfering in our elections is something that we won’t really punish or react to.”

Is Facebook ready for the 2018 Midterm elections? The answer: Nobody really knows – nor does Facebook. Here’s the Facebook ‘War Room’ with the Facebook election team. The team will do real-time monitoring on election day, to monitor fake news stories and delete fake accounts. [Picture from Frontline at https://www.pbs.org]

Monday/ a Halloweeny crow on my porch

I don’t have a Halloween pumpkin on my porch – but found a crow sitting there today (on the post by steps to my front door).
I like Mr Crow’s sharp, inquisitive look, checking me out, as I was snapping his picture.

Crows and ravens belong to the Corvid family (which includes jays and magpies) and are considered to be among the most adaptable and intelligent birds. Although most bird books recognize populations along the coast and Puget Sound to be a distinct species called the Northwestern crow (Corvus caurinus), some experts classify the smaller Northwestern crow as a subspecies of the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). [From Washington Dept. of Fish & WIldlife].

Sunday

The official list of the victims killed in the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday:
Joyce Feinberg (75)
Richard Gottfried (65)
Rose Mallinger (97)
Jerry Rabinowitz (66)
Cecil Rosenthal (59)
David Rosenthal (54)
Bernice Simon (84)
Sylvan Simon (86)
Daniel Stein (71)
Melvin Wax (88)
Irving Younger (69)

Six people were injured, four of which were police.

Flags at half-staff on the White House and the Washington Monument.

Saturday/ the ripoff, wrapped in a swindle, inside a bank called Wells Fargo

The bank I referred to yesterday is Wells Fargo. I’m in the process of closing out all my accounts there. It’s really just to simplify my finances, but I could have justified it with the never-ending stream of scandals coming out of this bank.

Says Huffington Post: ‘To any reasonable person, Wells Fargo is a rolling disaster – a ripoff, wrapped in a swindle, inside a bank’.  And: ‘Wells Fargo’s very existence, not to mention its continued profitability, is an indictment of two decades of embarrassing regulatory oversight from four separate administrations‘.

Among the scandals: millions of new accounts in customers’ names without their consent, wrongly repossessing 27,000 cars and foreclosing the homes of 400 families for no reason.

Nice picture of Seattle’s history outside the Wells Fargo branch at Westlake Center, though.

Friday/ a 20 Deutsche Mark, 1894

I closed my safety deposit box at the bank today. It had a few Krugerrands in, and an 1894 20 Deutsche Mark coin. I bought the coin from my dad long ago in South Africa, and it’s worth about $400 today. It was gifted to him by a German business associate called Eduard Dörrenberg in the 1970s, says a little cardboard note with the coin.

The obverse of the coin. The coin is 90% gold (0.23 oz), slightly smaller than a US quarter. Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, reigning from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918. Says Wikipedia: ‘Bombastic and impetuous, he sometimes made tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics without consulting his ministers’. Sound familiar?
The reverse of the coin. The eagle is from the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Prussia (1871–1914). I love these ferocious creatures that are featured on coins. The implicit message is: Don’t mess with our sovereignty!