Friday, August 28, 2009

Skip to My Loo

Public lavatories are notoriously vile places, but unfortunately they can't always be avoided. An interesting conundrum (and perhaps "interesting" is not the term to use..."unspeakably dull" might be better) I often run into is whether to, after washing my hands, to use a paper towel or an air dryer. I inevitably prefer the paper towels, especially if the lavatory in question uses a dispenser that has one of those no-touch motion sensors. Not that I'm Howard Hughes or Monk or anything, but, still, public lavatories are wretched enough to begin with. And those air dryers take far too long.

With that exciting prelude, I was interested (and the same caveat applies to the use of that word here as above) to read the results of a recent study, sponsored, it should be pointed out, by the European Tissue Symposium, a paper tissue products advocacy group (which begs the question, do paper tissue products really need an advocacy group? I mean, after all, there are certain paper products that will, um, never be replaced by, say, electronic methods, although there are some Web sites that make it tempting to try. Although, I bet if you have a cold, one of their meetings might be the best place to be.) Anyway, about the study:
There were four parts to the study: Part A looked at the drying efficiency of hand drying method; Part B involved counting the number of different types of bacteria on the hands before and after drying; Part C studied the potential contamination of other users and the washroom environment; and Part D took a bacterial sampling of Dyson Airblade dryers in public washrooms.

Paper towels and the Dyson Airblade were found to be equally efficient at drying hands, each achieving 90% dryness in approximately 10sec. However, the warm air dryer was considerably less efficient, taking 47sec to achieve the same level of dryness.

Twenty subjects (10 male and 10 female) were used in Part B. Three different agar growth media (nutrient, cystine-lactose-electrolyte-deficient and mannitol salt agar) were used to count and identify the bacteria on the fingerpads and palms before and after washing and drying.

Paper towels were found to reduce the number of all types of bacteria on the fingerpads by up to 76% and on the palms by up to 77%. By comparison, the Dyson Airblade increased the numbers of most types of bacteria on the fingerpads by 42% and on the palms by 15%. However, after washing and drying hands under the warm air dryer, the total number of bacteria increased by 194% on the fingerpads and on the palms by 254%.
Good! I certainly was in the right all these years. Three guesses, though, who had issues with the study's methodology. Yep, the Dyson Airblade people who said, in essence, that the researchers were full of hot air. So to speak.

To be honest, though, when it comes to the unspeakable vileness of public loos the hand-drying method is the least of my worries. Door handles, water taps and knobs, etc., are far more gross. Which is why I really like the trend in public bog design to make everything as touch-free as possible. It's finally getting to the point where I don't have to don my HazMat suit.

One question I do have involves the environmental responsibility of paper towels vs. hot air dryers. Sure, paper requires the cutting of trees and can take up space in landfills, but trees are a renewable natural resource and hot-air dryers run on electricity and likely have some carbon cost associated with them. The answer, perhaps, can be found at The Wild Center, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks up in Tupper Lake, NY. They have considered the environmental impact of just about everything, it seems, and pride themselves on their green building(s). And their lavatories do not use air dryers, but rather paper towels made from 100% recycled paper. Q.E.D.

CD Universe

I want to take this opportunity to praise my favorite online retailer--CD Universe. I really don't buy much else aside from CDs, DVDs, and books (CD Universe does not sell books, alas), so whatever meager disposable income I have I usually spend at CD Universe. I have been shopping there since around 2002 or 2003, they have just about everything in stock that I have ever looked for, their prices are on a par with--or are often cheaper than--Amazon, and since their warehouse is located in Connecticut, most stuff usually comes the day after it ships without having to pay extra shipping.

Such has been my satisfaction with them that it was only recently that I had to find out what their return policy was (a CD came lacking an actual disc!). I sent it back with a short explanation, and they shipped a replacement the next day and even reimbursed me for the postage. They also don't spam me like Amazon does with those "When Databases Attack" e-mails promoting things I wouldn't want in a million years. If you're ever in the market for CDs (although I think I'm the only one who buys them anymore), DVDs, games, or even MP3s, I highly recommend them.

"I'm Going to Dickens World"

Via Steven H., from across the pond, Dickens World, a theme park in Chatham, Kent:
jump on board the Great Expectations Boat Ride for splashing good fun, take a trip back in time to a Victorian School complete with nasty schoolmaster or get spooked in The Haunted House of 1859.

Visitors will get the chance to come face to face with some of Dickens' literary characters in their magnificent rendition of a Victorian town courtyard!

After all the excitement in the Dickensian courtyard, visitors can take a rest in the 4D cinema show at Peggotty's Boathouse or at the animatronic show in the Britannia Theatre - sit back and enjoy the story of Dickens' life and his literary works.
4D cinema show? I wonder if there is also an interactive Edwin Drood quicklime pit and an Our Mutual Friend drowning in the Thames. Still, it sounds a heck of a lot better than Disneyworld.

Interestingly, an Abba tribute band is playing there this weekend. I see the connection; few people know that the "Dancing Queen" was actually Queen Victoria.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It Might Still Be Continuing

Sorry...I've been traveling about; blogging has been light. So it goes.

But a new chapter, "Brianstorm," has been posted over at It Might Have Been. Apologies to the Arctic Monkeys (new album out next week!) for the title. By the way, the song has nothing to do with the chapter, aside from the pun.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Lady Tweets

The inexorable march toward the Apocalypse continues apace: the first Twitter Opera is about to debut in London (there's probably a joke about the "Upper-Class Twit of the Year Competition" to be made):
The libretto has been taken from the sublime to a ridiculous conclusion. Instead of a "little book" - its literal meaning – the latest, and most avant-garde, of operas will feature little "tweets". In a blatant attempt to shake off its fusty image, the Royal Opera House has teamed up with the micro-blogging site to produce The Twitter Opera with a libretto composed entirely of public tweets.
Curiously, I was going to tweet this over at Twitter, but it appears to be down again. Pity.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

To the Moon

Speaking of Apollo, I recently finished a really good book that came out this year called Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson. This is a richly--nay, meticulously--detailed history of Apollo 11 that is a wealth of information and a nearly minute-by-minute chronicle of the events of July 1969. Basically, it's everything you wanted to know about the first moon landing--and many things you probably didn't want to know, such as why you really don't want to vomit in zero-gravity, some of the, um, waste disposal problems of earlier Apollo missions, and so forth. But it's also a pretty compelling story--even if it's one we all know.

Or thought we did. There was a fair number of things that went wrong, and even though you know that they landed on the moon and came back safely (except for those morons who deny the whole thing--there's a cool video of Buzz Aldrin punching out one of them), the book is actually quite suspenseful. For example, the programmed landing site on the lunar surface turned out to be strewn with huge boulders, so Neil Armstrong had to fly the lunar module manually and find a suitable substitute--as the fuel was running out. They touched down just as the needle hit E. It's quite gripping.

The book also includes all the background detail and history of NASA, the Space Race, the Missile Race, and pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about the first--and some would argue finest--decade of the U.S. space program.

There is a great deal of longing for a renewed interest in manned spaceflight (interestingly, if NASA ever completely gives up the idea of manned spaceflight, it will lose its lease on the Johnson Space Center in Texas and have to give it back to Rice University, as is stipulated in the lease). The book ends with a lengthy quote from Michael Griffin, the former administrator of NASA:
[T]he value of space exploration really is in its spinoffs, as others have argued. But it's not in spinoffs like Teflon and Tang and Velcro—and which in fact did not come from the space program [what did come {the author adds} are dialysis machines, CAT scans, MRI machines, space suit technology used for firefighters and oil derrick workers, and great strides forward in solid-state electronics, plastics, metals, lubricants, coatings, insulation, packaging, and water purification].

The real spinoffs are just as they were for cathedral builders, more fundamental. Anyone who wants to build spacecraft, who wants to be a subcontractor, or who even wants to supply bolts and screws to the space industry must work to a higher level of precision than human begings had to do before the space industry came along. And that standard has influenced our entire industrial base, and therefore our economy.

As for national security, what is the value to the United States of being involved in enterprises which lift up human hearts everywhere? What is the value to the United States of being a leader in such efforts, in projects in which every technologically capable nation wants to take part? The greatest strategy for national security, more effective than having better guns and bombs than anyone else, is being a nation that does the kinds of things that make others want to do them with us. [Rocket Men, page 346]
All eyes were on the U.S. on July 20, 1969--and there was even a brief thaw in the Cold War.

One of the memes in the news during the 40th anniversary of the moon landing was all the poll results which find younger people to be pretty blasé about the whole thing. That's probably not unexpected, as it is pretty far removed from their experience, just as those of us who were born in the late 1960s don't really appreciate the excitement of what, say, Charles Lindbergh accomplished with the first transatlantic flight. Or at least not on a gut level. (Most of us are just pretty annoyed by air travel these days.)

Still, it's hard not to see the Cassini images from Saturn or the Hubble photos and not be similarly awed at what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it. Sure, it's not the same as having a human being out walking among the stars, but it's still pretty impressive.

Anyway, it's a compelling and fascinating book. I highly recommend it. I also rcommend the excellent A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaiken, a chronicle of all the Apollo missions, which I read back in the mid-90s (it had been published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11--tempus fugit!).

Music from the Hearts of Space

I've never been a fan of so-called ambient or New Age music, although it is pretty good for combatting insomnia. But it is bearable--and even listenable--when it has been mixed with radio transmissions from the Apollo missions, as the SomaFM Internet radio station has done with their Mission Control Channel. Right now, they are playing the Apollo 12 mission over what I can only assume is called "Bedtime on Tralfamadore" or something. It's very cool. And, hey, it sure as heck beats talk radio.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Antisocial Media?

I suspect every new medium has encountered some level of resistance from church elders.
According to Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, modern friendships built around (or involving) heavy SMS volley, electronic mail correspondences, and social networking sites create "transient relationships" which put users at the risk of suicide.
Of course it does. Transient relationships? I bought one thing from Harry & David ten years ago and there's still no stopping them from e-mailing me.

I would imagine that if we went back in time to the advent of any new technology or communication medium, we would find all sorts of loopy pronouncements from those of the clerical persuasion, like "The Telephone: Collect Call from Mr. Satan," "The Telegraph: ... .. -." and probably even "CB Radios: Breaker, Breaker, Good Buddy...Of The Devil." And so it goes. Wait until the Pope starts Twittering. (I just checked. He's not. Yet.)

So what's the problem this time?
the Archbishop of Westminster believes that social networking sites encourage people to concentrate on their number of friends rather than build actual relationships, and they tend to view that number as a commodity.
Ah, because, of course, that never happens offline. Oh, and it's even worse than that:
your addiction to texting and email is ruining your relationship... with god.
You know, I think the archbishop is just bitter because god defriended him.

Grate Expectations

Sometimes an invention is so brilliant because it is so simple and yet no one had ever thought of it before. One of the winners of the 2009 International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) competition is a cheese grater—with a solid bottom to catch the cheese. I wish I'd thought of that.

Another of the winners is a digital cookbook:
it sports a touchscreen and an edible print system with 18 "flavour" cartridges to recreate the taste of the dishes in the book.
I can imagine the dinner comments now: "Hmm...needs more magenta."