Archives for September 2017




Beer, give me a beer that’ll

disappear my fears.

Not just any beer. Give me

one brewed with 9% alcohol

or more.



Make it dark and bitter if you

will. Frost my glass and fill

it with dark, dark brew that’ll

go down my chute to satisfy

that urge for a cold, cold beer.


I don’t want to drink a Miller or a Bud

that I’d spit into the dust. Those names

are easy to say, you know they are, but

I’ll wait for beer brewed to taste and if

the name is hard to say, like

Weizenbier or Rauchbier, it’s okay.


I’ll even drink some Raspberry Imperial

Stout or a Fruit and Vegetable Beer.

Herb and spice beer will quench my thirst,

but I’ll never know unless I drink beer beer,,

and more beer brewed specially for me.



King of the BLUES

It’s the birthday of “Blind” Lemon Jefferson , born on a farm in Coutchman, Texas, in about 1893. Jefferson began playing picnics and parties in the region, and eventually he made his way to Dallas. He performed every day on the corner of Central and Elm, near a train stop where the black workers would get off at the end of their day to visit the neighborhood bars and dance halls. Stories vary, but Dallas was probably the place where he first met fellow blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Lead Belly later wrote “Blind Lemon’s Blues” in tribute to his friend.

In the early 1920s, Jefferson began traveling: to the Mississippi Delta, and Memphis, and maybe even farther than that. Late in 1925, he was “discovered” by a Texas talent scout, who took Jefferson to Paramount Records in Chicago; there he recorded two gospel songs under an alias. Over the next three years, he recorded nearly a hundred songs and became the first country blues musician to develop a national following. He was expected to produce one record a month, and in between recording sessions, he traveled around the South. Everybody had a story about seeing him at the local venue. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to “see” even through sightless eyes; musician Lance Lipscomb said later: “He had a tin cup, wired on the neck of his guitar. And when you pass to give him something, why he’d thank you. But he would never take no pennies. You could drop a penny in there and he’d know the sound. He’d take and throw it away.” Delta musician Ishman Bracey said: “He carried a pearl-handled .45, and he could shoot the head off a chicken. And he couldn’t see nary a lick. Just did it from the sound he heard.”

In 1929, Jefferson was buried in Wortham, Texas, in a grave that remained unmarked until 1967; in the 1990s, fans raised money to erect a granite marker engraved with Jefferson’s own lyrics: “Lord, it’s one kind favor I’ll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean.”

Taken from Writer’s Almanac.

Lockheed’s Laser Cannon Shoots Drones Out of the Sky, No Fuss

Don’t mess with ATHENA. That’s the Advanced Test High Energy Asset to you and me, and it’s Lockheed’s astonishingly destructive laser cannon. It’s been developing the weapon in order to take down drones without messy—and position-revealing—recourse to anything as crass as bullets.

By focusing a high-intensity 30-kilowatt laser beam at the airframe of a drone, Lockheed says, it is able to cause “loss of control and structural failure” that downs the aircraft. In tests at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, it brought down five of five 10.8-foot wingspan Outlaw drones. You can see its brutal efficacy on display in the video above.

As Gizmodo notes, this isn’t a new idea: tests of using lasers to down small aircraft have been happening since the 1970s. But with finely tuned optics, upgraded beam control, and a compact Rolls-Royce turbo generator as a power source, this is Lockheed’s most potent laser cannon yet

I’d love to write like S.K. and try. The above is my book. Not as scary as his though.

It’s the birthday of famed horror writer Stephen King (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine (1947). King is most known for his supernatural novels like Carrie, The Shining, and PetSematary . His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide. King often laments the fact that the genre of horror is maligned as a literary art form. He once scoffed: “Hemingway sucks. If I set out to write that way, it would have been been hollow and lifeless because it wasn’t me.”

King worked as a janitor, gas pump attendant, and high school teacher, while he wrote what would be his first published novel, Carrie (1973). He threw the first draft of the book into the trash, thinking no one would like the story of a lonely teenage girl with telekinetic powers, who ends up setting fire to her high school prom and destroying a town. But his wife saved the manuscript and he kept working. Eventually, Doubleday bought the book for $2,500. The paperback rights netted him nearly half a million dollars. The novel is one of the most frequently banned books in high schools. He wrote the book on a portable typewriter while he and his family lived in a trailer in Maine.

When asked why he writes, he said, “The answer to that is fairly simple — there was nothing else I was made to do.”

About the character of Carrie White in Carrie, King said: “For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she’s also a woman, feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight […] Carrie uses her ‘wild talent’ to pull down the whole rotten society.”

The Shining (1977) was partly written from King’s struggle with alcoholism and a visit he made to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. In the book, the character of Jack Torrance, like King, is a writer and recovering alcoholic isolated during the winter at a grand hotel with his wife and odd son. When King and his wife stayed at the hotel, they were the only guests, and he was inspired to write a book about a haunted hotel after he and his wife shared a lonely dinner in the hotel’s large restaurant. Danny, the little boy in the book, has what King termed “the shining,” which is the ability to see the hotel’s terrible past. The first draft of the book took King only four months to complete. He isn’t afraid of the macabre, or doing terrible things to people in his books. He says, “When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.”

When asked why he likes to write horror stories, Stephen King said: “It’s built in. That’s all. The first movie I ever saw was a horror movie. It was Bambi. When that little deer gets caught in a forest fire, I was terrified, but I was also exhilarated.”

reposted from Writer’s Almanac.

We’re All a Little Plastic on the Inside

You’re made of water, bone, blood, muscle, and fat; you’re also a few parts plastic.

That is, if you prefer sea salt on your meal. Or honey, shellfish, beer or tap water. Recent studies have found microplastics, tiny shards of degraded plastic, in them all. Even the air is filled with the minuscule plastic bits.

Plastic Not-So-Fantastic

Hold off on the panic though; it’s still too early for researchers to say what the effects of microplastic consumption are, although preliminary studies in animals suggest that they can certainly cause harm. In humans, though, it’s a bit harder to study because nearly everyone has microplastics in their bodies, so there’s no control group for comparison.

The pieces themselves seem relatively benign — they’re just tiny bits of plastic, looking in large quantities like so much sand, created as larger plastic objects gradually degrade. NOAA defines a microplastic as anything plastic under 5 millimeters — large enough to see easily with the human eye, although many can be microscopic. Most are small enough to pass through the digestive system without causing harm, but they can also hold on to and deliver pollutants inside our bodies, something the animal studies supported.

There’s been evidence that microplastics have been infiltrating our bodies for a few years now: A 2013 study found them in German honey and sugar, 2014 saw them pop up in some shellfish and beer, and in 2015 they were found in Chinese table salt and took to the air in Paris. The latest such research also examines salt — an April study found microplastic particles in 16 of 17 brands of sea salt, and a recent Guardian article details more work in the same vein.

Here and Gone

In most cases, the levels of microplastics were quite low — with the notable exception of shellfish. Regular and even excessive consumers of salt, beer and honey will only ingest a few thousand particles a year at most from those sources, and we’ll never notice their fleeting passage. The point though, is that these products come from very different places, which is an indication that microplastics are far more pervasive than we might think. Plastic in the air brings new concerns as well, as it can enter the lungs and spread through the environment more readily.

And those shellfish? The study found the average European could consume up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic from them annually.

Although the impact of microplastics on our health aren’t settled, their ubiquity is a growing concern. It will likely only get worse, too. A July study found that humanity has produced some 9 billion tons of plastic so far, the majority of which has ended up as trash. We’re on track to have thrown around 13 billion tons away by 2050, and that will only translate into more microplastics. An international team of researchers estimated in 2014 that there are around 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean, weighing 250,000 tons.

Bit by bit, it will break down and make its way back to us.

Francis wrote a poem that inspired Americans. Maybe some day I will too?

It was on this day in 1814that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,”  by witnessing the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. It had been a dark summer for the young United States. Just three weeks previous, on August 24, British troops had set fire to much of Washington, D.C., including the Capitol, the Treasury, and the president’s house. President James Madison had been forced to flee for his safety. Americans were terrified that the British might choose to invade New York or Philadelphia or Boston and destroy those cities as well.

The British had recently begun using rockets, a new military weapon adapted from Chinese technology. Francis Scott Key was horrified as he watched these rockets raining down on Fort McHenry, at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor. He watched the bombardment all night, and he had little hope that the American fort would withstand the attack. But just after sunrise on September 14th, he saw the American flag still flying over the fort. In fact, Francis Scott Key might never have even seen the flag if the fort commander, Major Armistead, hadn’t insisted on flying one of the largest flags then in existence. The flag flying that day was 42 feet long and 30 feet high.

Francis Scott Key began writing a poem about the experience that very morning. It turned out that the battle at Baltimore was the turning point of the war. Before the war, the American flag had little sentimental significance for most Americans. It was used mainly as a way to designate military garrisons or forts. But after the publication of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” even non-military people began to treat the flag as a sacred object.

Reposted from Writer’ Almanac.

Humanoid robot YuMi conducts the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra

PISA, Italy (Reuters) – YuMi the humanoid robot showed no signs of nerves on Tuesday night as it raised its baton to conduct the Lucca Philharmonic orchestra alongside Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

The two-armed robot, designed by Swiss firm ABB, made its debut at Pisa’s Verdi Theatre to mark the First International Festival of Robotics in the Tuscan city.

“We basically had to find time to understand his movements. When we found the way, everything was pretty easy,” said the orchestra’s resident conductor, Andrea Colombini.

“It is absolutely fantastic. And the technicians were fantastic just to make everything perfect, especially in the length and in the speed of the gesture, which is very important,” he said.

YuMi, whose name is derived from the phrase ‘you and me’, was taught all the movements by Colombini, who held its arms in rehearsals so the computer could memorize the correct gestures. The robot is not able to improvise and any unexpected change in tempo from the musicians would have been ruinous.

The robot conducted three of the 18 pieces performed on Tuesday night, including the famous aria La Donna e’ Mobile, from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.

 From Reuters

Writing by Eleanor Biles; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Should the U. S. make English and Spanish official languages. Canada made two official.

Forty-eight years ago today, in 1969, the Official Languages Act came into force in Canada, making French equal to English throughout the Federal government. The act was introduced by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government and was intended to promote national unity and improve relations between Canada’s English-speaking population and the French Canadians of Quebec.

In 1971, Trudeau claimed that “Although there are two official languages, there is no official culture.” But talking about equality did not satisfy Canadians on either side of the language divide. The act failed to reduce tensions between groups and was unpopular with both. Plenty of Quebec natives felt the act sidestepped more urgent political concerns, while many English speakers felt the French language was being forced upon them. Almost five decades later, however, the majority of Canadians are in favor of bilingualism and the act that made it an official part of their culture. Eighty-eight percent of Canadians who responded to a 2016 Nielsen survey supported the Official Languages Act. About the same percentage agreed that Canada’s prime minister ought to be bilingual and that major national events should occur in English and in French. Some feel bilingualism puts Canada a step ahead of other powerful nations. “Canada’s gradual acceptance of linguistic duality has made us more open, more inclusive, and readier to welcome others in our society,” said the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser. “This puts us in a significantly different place than the United States, Britain, and much of Europe.”

The Contest

Kate Robinson and I collaborated on this book for years. Finally, it’s close to publication.