Friday/ got to mow the lawn

There was a tornado in the town of Three Hills, Canada (northeast of Calgary) on Friday. Here’s a guy that mowed his lawn in the middle of all this, ignoring pleas from his family to come inside. ‘The wind is moving in the other direction’, he told his wife.

Here is the YouTube link that shows the monster as it moves.  No one was hurt.

Got to mow the lawn, come hell or high water – or tornadoes- right?  [Photo credit Cecilia Wessels]

Thursday/ disgrace for America

A large contingent of Fortune 500 and international companies – including ExxonMobil and Chevron – called on President Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Accord.

What a disgrace, and what a sad day for American leadership.

As Daniel Larison notes in his tweets: Trump reneges on international agreements that he cannot possibly improve on, while congratulating himself with his deal-making prowess.

Wednesday/ the Federal Office building

A photo from the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889. A pot of glue over a gasoline fire – in what was a woodworking shop – boiled over. That started an inferno that raged on for 12 hours, destroying 25 city blocks.

I walked by the Federal Office building on 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle today.
Whoah! I thought .. I love all the Art Deco lines and motifs at the main entrance.

I learned later that the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889 actually started right there, in the basement of what was a woodworking shop.

The Federal Office Building (completed in 1933) on 1st Ave in downtown Seattle is a great example of Art Deco architecture. The facade is stepped (see insert picture), with the outer portions rising from six stories to nine stories, while the central tower reaches eleven stories in height. The tower is topped by a ziggurat (stepped pyramid) with a flagpole at its apex. [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Tuesday/ creatures from Hansville

Here are some pictures that I took while I was in Hansville this weekend.   Be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry that shows the hummingbird’s wings in slow motion.

Clockwise from top left: Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) at Paul’s house (yes, the flower is plastic: it’s a hummingbird feeder); sand dollar skeleton close-up from the water’s edge; sand-dollars (Echinarachnius parma) are flat sea urchins and this one still has some of its dark covering of tiny spines; this tiny crab is just an inch across, and can melt into the sand to hide from larger crabs and sea gulls.

Monday/ Memorial Day

My Memorial Day post is late, but I am posting it nonetheless.   (Memorial Day commemorates the soldiers that gave their lives in wars fought by the United States of America).

‘Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms, known but to God’ .. inscription on the cross for the grave of an unknown soldier that died on D-Day (June 6, 1944).

Sunday/ ferry to Kingston

It is the warmest Memorial Day weekend in Seattle in decades, with temperatures up to 84 °F/ 29 °C in the city.   Late on Sunday afternoon, Bryan and I took the Edmonds-Kingston ferry out to Hansville on the Kitsap peninsula, to go and visit Paul.

Here’s where the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route is located in Puget Sound. (The blue dot on the map is our final destination Hansville, in the northern part of Kitsap County). The pictures on the right shows the ferry Walla Walla’s departure from Edmonds. The Walla Walla ferry has been in service since 1972, and was refurbished in 2005.

 

Saturday/ Cambrian creatures

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History is a 1989 book on the evolution of Cambrian fauna by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

 

I finally opened the packaging of my collection of Cambrian creatures that I had bought some months ago in Tokyo.  (They are on exhibit in my kitchen window, so that I can get to know their difficult names).

It turns out we know of these creatures from their discovery in what is now known as the Burgess Shale : a fossil-bearing deposit exposed in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia in Canada.

Earth and its continents looked radically different some 500 million years ago! The Cambrian creatures were the only ones around but appeared in such a short time, that it is called the Cambrian explosion (of animal life). Earth’s surface was some 7 °C warmer than today, and the atmosphere only had 2/3 of today’s levels of oxygen.

Here is my collection of Cambrian creatures (http://www.f-favorite.net/). The little models are faithful reproductions from what is known from the fossils. I’m sure some artistic license was taken for the colors of the creatures, though.

 

Friday/ avoid heavy charges

Here’s another one of my favorite print ads from several years ago, from South Africa.  It’s from telecom and mobile phone company Vodaphone.

When in Africa – avoid heavy charges of the elephantine kind, as well as those from your mobile phone service provider!  This was several tears before 2007 (the first iPhone’s appearance), when Nokia was still at the top of the mobile phone handset game. 

Thursday/ summer is coming

Memorial Day weekend is approaching – the unofficial start of summer here in the United States.

In the spirit of summer, here is a Mazda print ad from 2002 that appeared in a South African magazine, and that I had saved.  It’s near Muizenberg beach close to Cape Town. (The printed ad spread across the magazine centerfold, and I did the best I could to make it into one picture).

A Mazda print ad from 2002, for the South African market. Find FIVE things in the picture, says the ad, that are ‘not quite what they appear to be’ (to enter into a competition to win a new Mazda).  Can you find the five things?

Wednesday/ budget numbers that are a lie

The 2018 budget’s byline is ‘A New Foundation For American Greatness’. Well, the foundation is very flawed. And as for what constitutes greatness – it’s a greatness that further shreds the bare social safety net for the sick and the poor, and for children.  Yessir.  That’s how we make America great.

The Trump Administration’s 2018 budget numbers were released on Tuesday.

The budget forecasts the US economy to grow by 3.0% every year for the next then years. Well – the U.S. economy grew 1.6% in 2016, and for the next ten years the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a team of economists, projects it to be 1.8%. That’s an enormously lower figure than 3.0%.

Then, the budget assumes that the Trump Administration’s proposed tax cuts would boost economic growth enough (again, extremely unlikely to be 3%) to pay for $2 trillion in additional spending (on the military, for example) by 2027.  But the Trump tax cuts are also supposed to be revenue-neutral, a phrase that already accounts for the $2 trillion.  The $2 trillion cannot be used twice in the budget!   Yes, yes, never mind all that, countered Budget Director Mick Mulvaney when this was pointed out to him.  ‘We stand by the numbers’.

All this nonsense and sloppiness from a White House team of billionaires, many from Goldman Sachs, calling themselves business people and economically savvy.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney explaining the budget. (Um. Actually – 3% IS too optimistic). Mulvaney also spun (or tried to spin) proposed cuts to social services as an act of “compassion” for wealthy taxpayers.

Tuesday/ standing with Manchester

Manchester’s location, with intercity travel times from visitmanchester.com. The times are actually for traveling by train (much quicker than taking a car).

There was a very large outpouring of support for the city of Manchester today, as the toll of the deceased in the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena rised to 22.

I saw an instagram picture of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai will an enormous Union Jack flag displayed on it.

 

People speaking to a police officer on Tuesday in Manchester. [Credit José Sarmento Matos for The New York Times]

This image of the city of Manchester is from the visitmanchester.com home page.

Monday/ a king’s ransom for king salmon

Hey! You cannot fool me: $74.99 is really $75, is it not? (and it comes to $82.19 after adding the city’s 9.6% sales tax).

King salmon is the most expensive of the salmon for sale here in Seattle (and the best), and Copper River King Salmon is even more pricey.  Shipments from this year’s limited catch have arrived on Alaska Air, and salmon fillets were available at Pike Place market this weekend – for $75 per pound. Yikes.

Just for fun, I compiled a list of other expensive foods – much more expensive, in fact.   [Source: much of the information gleaned from a list published on The Awesome Daily.]

Food Country of OriginPrice, USD, 1 lb
Copper River SalmonAlaska, USA$75
Moose Milk CheeseSweden$500
Kopi Luwak CoffeeThe Philippines$100-$600
Kobe BeefJapanUp to $500
La Bonnotte PotatoesFranceUp to $1,500
Blue Fin Tuna SushiJapanUp to $1,200
Matsutake MushroomJapanUp to $1,000
European White TruffleItalyUp to $1,000
Densuke Black WatermelonHokkaido, JapanUp to $1,200
Tieguanyin TeaChina, JapanUp to $7,000

Sunday/ going to the beach (but not the ocean)

It’s almost summer here in the northern hemisphere, and it was a sunny and warm day (76° F/ 26°C) here in Seattle (warm for us).  I went down to Madison Park Beach.  It is not even 2 miles from my house, but admittedly: not a true beach.  It’s a grassy park with a pebbly, sandy edge on Lake Washington.

Here is the location of Madison Park Beach in Puget Sound with a picture from this afternoon. The SR 520 floating bridge is north of the I-90 floating bridge (from Saturday’s post).

Saturday/ adding trains to the I-90 floating bridge

A computer simulation of the completed rail tracks.  The east-bound train is running toward Mercer Island in Lake Washington. It will take until 2023 to make this construction a reality! Yikes.

Construction of the so-called East Lake extension of the Seattle Light Rail system is about to start.  The East Lake extension goes across one of Lake Washington’s floating bridges (the lake is too deep for a conventional bridge with pylons and spans).  Seattle is on the west of Lake Washington; Bellevue and Redmond with its Microsoft campus are on the east side.

There are several forces that will cause significant movement in the giant bridge pontoons: two 300-ton trains passing each other, water movements in the lake due to tides and stormy weather, and even the tremors of an earthquake.  So the engineering team has already spent lots of effort on coming up with a design that will accommodate the moving rail bed, so that the rail tracks will stay stable and parallel.

[From the Seattle Times] Here’s the future light rail line. There is 1 mile of floating bridge span. The train tracks will be added in next to the existing vehicle lanes on the bridge (on the existing the bridge surface).

[From the Seattle Times] And here is the engineering design that will mitigate the pontoon movements. Steel platforms and one sets of bearings below the platforms, and another set on top of it, will provide stability to the rail tracks. As a final safeguard, guard rails will also be installed for the rail tracks.

Friday/ avocado is expensive

[Graph from Bloomberg Business]. Avocado prices are at a record high. Avocado trees bear fruit in alternate years, with large harvests one year and smaller ones the next. A lighter crop is expected this season from Mexico.

Here is Tim Gurner, a 35-year-old real estate mogul in Melbourne, in a 60 minutes interview done in Australia.  “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each.  We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high. They want to eat out every day; they want travel to Europe every year.  The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it.  They saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder.”

His comments may be true to some extent, but were not received well (he says only snippets of the full interview were posted on Twitter). The New York Times also notes in a fact-checking report that the truth is much more complicated –
1. Research suggests that people from 18 to 34 are no more freewheeling with their spending on travel and dining than other generations.
2. Yes, that European vacation is indeed an opportunity for savings, but research suggests millennials are the generation spending the least on travel.
3. The heavy costs of home ownership is not always a prudent financial goal.  It is good to ask the thoroughly explore the question whether it is better to rent, or to buy, a home, before taking the plunge.

Thursday/ looks like the Trump presidency is done for

It is by now very clear that there were extensive connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  One connection was with none other than Vladimir Putin’s ‘fixer’: his right hand man that is so close to Putin, that Putin is his daughter’s godfather.   Check out the headlines below from inside an article from the ‘explain-the-news’ website vox.com.

Even if Trump is not eventually impeached, nor some of his staff indicted, I cannot see how the Trump presidency can accomplish anything.  There is a deafening silence from the Republican leadership in congress.  The White House or Trump cannot explain away hard evidence.  (Nonetheless: in his trade-mark over-the-top hyperbole, Trump called the investigations today the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history, and in another tweet, said With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!).

From vox.com : The past 24 hours of devastating Trump news, explained
– Robert Mueller was selected as the special counsel (for the Russia investigation)
– Trump’s team knew Michael Flynn was under FBI investigation (when he was appointed National Security Advisor)
– Trump shared top secret intelligence from Israel’s best anti-ISIS spy with the Russians
– In 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Putin was paying Trump
– The Trump campaign didn’t disclose at least 18 contacts with Russian officials

Tomorrow’s TIME magazine cover. No cover headline. (A picture is worth a thousand words?) Yes, the tentacles from the Kremlin reach up up up, all the way into the White House. Is the White House still white, or is it red?

 

Wednesday/ good news, at last

There was a little bit of a stock market sell-off today (~2%). Apparently investors started to take notice of the on-going Washington chaos.   There is now serious doubt if any of the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy & other so-called business-friendly campaign promises will come to fruition in all of 2017. (Good).

Then, late afternoon news broke that ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller (from 2001- 2013), was appointed by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein to look into the meddling with the Russia investigation by President Trump and the White House.   This is a big deal, and is possibly very bad news for the White House (depending on what they are hiding).  Mueller started his tenure as FBI Director one week before 9/11.   He has a stellar reputation and has worked closely with his successor Jim Comey (fired by Trump last week).

Tuesday/ wanted: a crisis-free day

Can we have a crisis-free day? That’s all I’m asking’ said Republican senator Susan Collins from Maine today.

Since the Comey firing last Tuesday, there was Trump’s admitting on Thursday that Comey was fired for persisting with the Russia investigation (making instant liars of Trump’s aides, and of the Vice President, that insisted on Wednesday this was not the reason).

On Friday Trump tweeted out a veiled threat: James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!  As of today the White House has refused to admit or deny there was such a tape.

Then there was the unsettling news from yesterday (Monday), that Trump blurted out top secret ‘code word’ information (obtained from Israel) to the Russians in the Oval Office last Thursday.  This completely bypassed intelligence protocols, angered the FBI and CIA – and surely the Mossad (Israeli intelligence agency) – and could even put the lives of agents at risk.

Today news broke that Comey has a memo of a conversation with Trump from February, documenting that Trump asked him to end the Michael Flynn investigation.   All of Washington DC and cable news was abuzz today with talk about obstruction of justice. (Side note: Nixon was impeached for obstruction of justice. But for Trump it could very well be that the 2018 mid-term elections will be needed, for the Dems to perhaps take back the House, before impeachment proceedings can start.  That’s another 18 months!).

And also today, Trump received Turkish President Erdoğan (a dictator, in my book) in the White House. American Kurdish demonstrators outside the Turkish ambassador’s house were attacked by Erdoğan’s bodyguard goons before the Washington DC police intervened.

What will tomorrow bring?

Monday/ do not cry (and do not pay)

Man! Very embarrassing to see a public display terminal frozen (looks like it’s for German railway operator Deutsche Bahn), and overlayed with the ransomware lock. Someone in the IT Dept. dropped the ball here. The Windows operating system was evidently not kept up to date and therefore not protected.

Late on Friday, a large number* of ransomware attacks called WannaCry surfaced across the world.  This morning, there was a segment on the Today show here in the USA, that was unfortunately way too general to be helpful at all.  The Finnish IT security company F-Secure  provides a nice explanation about the different types of ransomware, and how PCs become infected.

*Relatively large as far as sheer numbers go.  Some 200,000 computers are thought to have been affected .. but the planet has an estimated 2 billion PCs installed at this point. So that’s 0.01% of all PCs. Of course: if the PC is a server, or is used in mission-critical applications such as running a hospital, an airline or railway operations, it is a very bad situation.

Advice:
1. (As always) Do not click on links or URLs from unknown senders, and be suspicious even if you know the sender!   Watch out for dubious, shady websites or pop-ups with buttons.
2. Use anti-virus applications and keep your operating system up to date. If you have Windows, turn on automatic updates!
3. Back up your data and program files to an external drive.
4. If your system does get infected, do not pay the ransom.  (I guess in some cases the company or user may not have a choice.  But even if there is no back-up, the user may be able to get his or her original files back with some technical help).

(From Finnish IT security company F-Secure’s website). Criminals, competitors, hacktivists or spies use two methods to plant ransomware on your device: exploit kits on the web or by sending phishing e-mails. The IT administrator or end-user should have multiple layers of security in place. Firewalls and antivirus programs on the local server, and on the workstation, instructions to the users to be careful, and policies that provide for backing up data and technical support that is on standby 24/7 so that immediate action can be taken, as a last resort (disconnect the infected device from the network immediately, and report the event).