Friday, January 30, 2009


Click image for big
Great info on how to spot a dangerous cat.  Its floating around the Interwebs, so I don't know where it originated.  If anyone knows, let me know so I can give proper attribution.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Pix

    Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA, 1989.  Kodak High-Speed Infrared, 35mm.
All my photos are on Flickr.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Pix

    Fisherman, Jekyll Island, Georgia, 1989

This is one of my favorite photos.  Nobody else seems to like as much as I do, but I love it.  Another photo that benefited from a photoshop clean-up of extraneous details.
All my photos are on Flickr.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Nicholas Bradbury with the gadget, Alamogordo New Mexico, July 1945.

The gadget was the bomb fired at the Trinity test, July 16, 1945.  The photo must have been taken on the 14th or 15 as the bomb has been hoisted into the tower.  It seems likely that Bradbury (who was in charge of the gadget) wouldn't stop for a photo until he was finished, so this is likely from the evening of the 15th.  The test took place before sunrise on the 16th.

The gadget was the first plutonium implosion bomb, and another like it was dropped on Nagasaki in August.  The Hiroshima bomb was a much more primitive Uranium gun-type bomb.  It was considered so reliable that it didn't need testing.  The implosion bomb, by contrast was extremely complex.  Inside the case is more than a ton of specially formulated high explosive designed to crush an orange-sized ball of plutonium to criticality.  The charges need to be perfectly shaped and fitted, then exploded simultaneously or it won't work.  By simultaneously, I mean within within all the charges needed to be fired within some millionths of a second.  Thus the complex wiring and need for a test.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


    Areopagus, Athens, May 1986

World Population Density

Click image for very big version, from Wikipedia

This is a fascinating map, worth studying in some detail.  Most of the people in the world inhabit about 20% of the land.  More than half the land is essentially empty.  Add the ocean and that makes the planet about 87% uninhabited by humans.

The pockets are interesting too.  Most of Brazil's population of 190 million lives on or near the east coast.  Columbia is suprisingly dense, but to the west of the mountains.  North America (including Mexico) is overwhelmingly urban.

Africa's population is clumped:
  • Nigeria and the south coast of West Africa
  • A band running from Nairobi around the top of Lake Victoria through Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi
  • Ethiopia
  • Khartoum
  • Malawi
  • The east half of South Africa
  • The lower Nile
  • The North African coast between Adagir and Tunis
The Mid East is clumped in surprising ways (at least to me)
  • Saudi Arabia's 27 million are clumped around the lower west coast, running into the west quarter of Yemen (pop 23 million)
  • Israel and Lebanon are suprisingly dense given their relatively small populations.  
  • I had no idea that most of the people in Syria live on the coast.  I thought they were mostly in Damascus.  
  • Aside from Istanbul, the Turkish population (72 million) is spread pretty evenly through the country.  
  • Iraq's 24 million people reside almost entirely between Badhad and Basra.
  • Everyone in Iran (65 million) lives in the west of the country, the eastern half is almost empty.
Asia also has a few suprises.
  • Beyond the Urals, most Russians live near the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
  • There is a pretty big clump of people in a small band of Central Asia around Tashkent through to Almay.
  • Although dense everywhere, India (1.14 billion) is dominated by the Ganges valley and especially the delta.
  • South India has a distinct population, ethnicly, and linguistically.  The multiple clusters in the South suggest a coherent sub-nation.
  • In Pakistan (172 million), I expected most people to live in the lower part of the Indus valley, but apart from a couple of big cities like Karachi and the areas right around the river, people in the southern half of the country are scarce.  Everyone lives in the northern quarter, especially the Peshawer - Lahore corridor and the upper part of the Indus.  
  • Afghanistan is another country that swallows up its population, looking at the map, you would never guess this is a country of almost 33 million people.
  • South-East Asia has a combination of big cities and extensive agracultural populations, with empty mountainous regions.  The biggest clusters are in Vietnam, which has a population of 86 million.
  • Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country (237 million), has an insane density on the island of Sumatra.  Much of the rest, aside from Java and a few clumps in Borneo and the Celebs, is nearly empty.  Although the Celebs are surprisingly dense on the west side.
  • That trend continues South and East.  New Guinea (~7.5 million)has a very low density, and Austrailia's 30 million almost dissapear into its vastness.  
  • The Phillipines (96 million) are dense, like Japan and Korea.  
  • Most of the Japanese population (127 million) lives in south-west Honshu and the northern part of Kyushu
  • China (1.33 billion) is interesting.  Everyone lives in the Eastern third, with the rest being almost empty.  The empty areas are made up of Tibet and the Gobi desert (2nd biggest after the Sahara).  Otherwise, China has four main population areas: The south coast, Sichwan in the center, the Han heartland (Bejing, Wuhan, Nanjing, Xian, Shangai), and Manchuria in the north.
Europe, on the other hand, is exactly what I expected.  Draw a triangle from Manchester to Paris and Berlin and you have half the European population .  The cities, especially near the lower Rhine, run into each other, creating a meta-metropolis.  Much like, but bigger than the Boston - Washington meta-metropolis in the US.

Bonus: 30 biggest countries on Earth by population.  Some of these numbers are different than the ones above, both higher and lower.  Canada is #34.  The top 10 countries comprise 58% of the world population.

Rank Country Population
1 China 1,335,962,132
2 India 1,143,590,000
3 USA 305,683,000
4 Indonesia 229,331,501
5 Brazil 190,571,000
6 Pakistan 165,458,000
7 Bangladesh 158,665,000
8 Nigeria148,093,000
9 Russia 141,864,046
10 Japan 127,704,000
11 Mexico 106,682,500
12 Philippines 90,457,200
13 Vietnam 87,375,000
14 Germany 82,062,200
15 Ethiopia 79,221,000
21DR Congo62,636,000
25South Korea48,224,000
26South Africa47,850,700

Fun Facts To Know And Share

Last week, the total world audience for the Internet passed one billion people.  Here is a list of the top 15 countries.  Note that the percentage of population varies widely.

Country Online
(in millions)
Percentage of
China 179.7 13.4%
USA 163.3 54%
Japan 60.0 47%
Germany 37.0 45%
UK 36.7 59%
France 34.0 52.2%
India 32.1 2.8%
Russia 29.020.4%
Brazil 27.7 14.6%
South Korea 27.3 57%
Canada 21.8 66%
Italy 20.8 34.7%
Spain 17.9 38.9%
Mexico 12.5 11.7%
Netherlands 11.8 73.7%

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Pix

    Shop, Mayfair, London, 1987
This couldn't be anywhere but London
All my photos are on Flickr.

So Long and Fuck You Very Much

    George Bush channels James Buchanan

I haven't got anything original to say about George Bush.  But I can't let him leave without expressing my contempt.  George and his buddies think they will be vindicated by history, like Truman.  They think he was a great president and that eventually everyone will understand that.  As far as I know, nobody ever debated if Truman was the worst president of all time.  Lots of credible people think George Bush was the worst of all time.  I'm not sure.  James Buchanan led the country into a civil war.  That's pretty much the worst by definition.  George is certainly the worst since Buchanan.  He won't be missed by anybody but cartoonists.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Pix

    St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, April 1990.


It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating.
Jack Handey

Defeat In Gaza

    Do they look deterred?

There was an interesting story that showed up on the Interwebs yesterday from an apparently reliable Israeli news site.  Unfortunately, I can't find the link to include for reference.  The story said that at least some Israeli commanders were forbidden to leave the country for Europe without permission from the IDF legal office.  The military is afraid that bench warrants are forthcoming in several EU states for war crimes.  The story suggested that Israel can easily outmaneuver any UN indictments and that it was unlikely charges would be brought via the International Court in The Hague.  However, authorities were worried that it would be relatively easy for their opponents to convince courts in countries like Spain, Germany and the UK to open investigations and issue arrest warrants for specific individuals.  There was evident frustration that European countries regard war crimes committed anywhere as within their jurisdiction.  I was amazed at both the substance of the story and the candor of the IDF.

This, to me, is a major development and makes it clear that the IDF at least is acknowledging they crossed a line in the Gaza operation that had not been crossed before.  Even if they regard the consequences as enemy action rather than deserved, the recognition of a changed situation is there.  Israel did cross a line in Gaza.  The obvious, blatant and apparently careless commission of war crimes is a new thing.  Past crimes, like the aggressive invasion of Lebanon in 2006 were more theoretical, or at least arguable.   Besides, the IDF lost decisively.  They were humiliated by Hezbollah.  That seemed punishment enough to many.

Its worth recalling the Israeli objectives in 2006.  They aimed to turn the populace against Hezbollah by destroying the country's infrastructure.   But the populace did not blame Hezbollah for the damage, they blamed Israel.  The "bomb them into opponents" strategy was a total failure.  The next objective was to break Hezbollah militarily by clearing them entirely from the area south of the Litani river.  This was also a total failure.  The IDF only made it to the Litani on the last day of the war, and that was essentially a helicopter raid to say they'd been there.  Otherwise, Hezbollah wiped the floor with the IDF.  Their tactics, weapons, training and preparation were off the scale of Israeli expectations.  In particular, they built a vast, hidden network of bunkers and tunnels that were unknown to Israeli intelligence.  The result was a total defeat for Israel and humiliation for the Army.

Two and a half years later, Israel tried exactly the same strategy against Hamas in Gaza.  While Hamas is no Hezbollah and proved completely hapless, the strategy that failed in Lebanon failed again in Gaza.  The populace does not blame Hamas for all the misery, but Israel.  Hamas is not only still in existence, they have actually strengthened their hold on Gaza.  All they needed to do was survive, and that they did.  As a result of these two wars, Israel is much worse off strategically, diplomatically and politically.  Not only are they weaker, but their allies like Egypt and Fatah are weakened as well.  The tunnels Israel boasted they would destroy are still in business.  The pathetic rockets are still being fired.  The Israeli generals toasting a great military success and the restoration of the military's power of deterrence look like morons.  But that's not the worst part.  The worst part is that Israel crossed a line and world public opinion has turned massively against them for the first time.  War crimes prosecutions now look inevitable.  Again, the Army are fingered as the weak link.  Virtually all the accusations are based on actions by the Army, not the Air Force.  It appears, for example, that all of the white phosphorus was fired by artillery units, and a majority by one (reserve) unit.  I suspect it may emerge that many, if not most, of the documented attacks on civilians were committed by a few units.  There were clearly some in the Army that wanted revenge against someone for the Lebanon debacle.  They entered the operation with a vindictive and undisciplined attitude.  The IDF used to be the best army in the world.  Not anymore.  They have changed from a tremendous national asset to a tremendous national liability.  That's what defeat looks like.

For the sake of balance, its important to note that Hamas has been thuggish and brutal.  Their propaganda is nasty, self-serving and effective.  It may be true to a greater or lesser degree, but it is propaganda and the intention is not to reveal truth, but to exploit it.  The widely circulated comparisons between the IDF and the SS are particularly offensive.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Pix

Here's a first look at a map I've been working on for a month.  It shows all the main airline routes in the world.  Here's a detail showing East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  The big blob in the top center is Japan.  The color scheme is not final.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Pix

    Painting and nice light in the living room, Toronto, 1986.  
Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the painting.
All my photos are on Flickr.


There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
Robert Louis Stevenson


To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.
Freya Stark

Fun Facts To Know And Share

    Airbus A380 - a remarkably ugly plane.  It looks too short and may improve with the streach version.
    Boeing 747-400 - a very graceful plane, much better looking than the Airbus.  Beloved by all long-haul airlines.

click the photos for big size on Wikimedia

A380 747-400 ER
Range 9,400mi
Passengers 525 416
Max takeoff weight 1,200,000lbs

The A380 has a payload of 200,000lbs.  That means the plane and the fuel weigh a million pounds and the 200k lbs is passengers and luggage.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Faves: Paradise Lost

Watercolour illustration of Paradise Lost by William Blake

I downloaded an audio book of Paradise Lost by John Milton.  This is the kind of thing I'd never read as the language is too difficult and obscure.  What put it in mind was news of a new translation of the work, into English.  Anyway, listening is a lot easier than reading.  Its an amazing work of imagination.  Describe the Fall of Man in 240 pages of blank verse.  Milton takes paragraphs from The Bible and spins them into pages of story. The book's reader was very good as well.  The torrent can be found here .  Interestingly, I found it because it was on Pirate Bay's Hot 100 audio books.  There was an enormous interest in the torrent.  The 139MB download generated more than 1GB of upload in three days.  This may be the most popular audio book on The Pirate Bay.  This audio book is not readily available through Amazon or other online retailers.  It would appear that downloading is the only way to get it.


Enthusiasm - a distemper of youth, curable by small doses of repentance in connection with outward applications of experience.
Ambrose Bierce

My Pix

    Very green fields near Tralee, 1990.
All my photos are on Flickr.

War Crime

The above photo shows white phosphorus wafers falling on Gaza.  You can see the burning wafers bouncing off the roofs and pavement.  They burn at C2700˚ until they are deprived of oxygen or completely consumed.   Contact with any of the wafers guarantees at best a swift, painful death.  At worst, a slow, agonizing death.  The people in the photo are literally running for their lives.  I photoshopped the picture to lighten the shadow areas, no retouching was done.  Original photo is here.

White Posphorus is a nasty incendiary weapon. It not only burns in contact with oxygen, but the smoke and the burned or unburned residue are highly toxic.  It is permissible under International Law to use incendiaries either as a weapon or as a concealing agent (a smoke screen) against military targets.  However, the use of incendiaries against military targest is prohibited in areas containing civilians.  Indeed, incendiaries are illegal against even military targets as long as other effective weapons are on hand.  Though not classified under International Law as a chemical weapon, many countries regard it as such.
An official Israeli military manual puts it thus:
“Incendiary arms are not banned. Nevertheless, because of their wide range of cover, this protocol of the CCW is meant to protect civilians and forbids making a population center a target for an incendiary weapon attack. Furthermore, it is forbidden to attack a military objective situated within a population center employing incendiary weapons. The protocol does not ban the use of these arms during combat (for instance, in flushing out bunkers).”
The people visible in the photo are unarmed.  Even if there were a brigade of Hamas soldiers off camera, it makes no difference.  You cannot use phosphorus against civilians and there are civilians in the picture.  The picture is therefore definitive evidence of a war crime.  The individuals responsible for authorizing use of the weapon and those responsible for its delivery are war criminals.  Period.

Earth From Above

Here's a great website with a huge number of really good aerial photos.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


    Interesting photo of Dimitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.  From Wikipedia.


A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age.
Robert Frost


Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
Mark Twain

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to someone special.  Also, happy birthday to someone also special, but in a different way.  Way to go on those croĆ»tons!


A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
Paul Valery
via Gabriel Robins

My Pix

    Roman Forum, 1986.

Not a great photo, but important to me as a keepsake of my travels.  Rome is impressive.  Interestingly, James Joyce loathed Rome.  He said it reminded him of a man who makes his living by exhibiting the corpse of his grandmother.
All my photos are on Flickr.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Pix

    Swiss Guard, Vatican, 1986

All my photos are on Flickr.


All things deteriorate in time.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Faves: Richard III

Olivier's fantastic, star studded 1955 movie was a key piece in my political education.  Shakespeare created a neat bit of propaganda for his Tudor patrons.  Whatever its historical inaccuracies, it created such a compelling narrative that there hasn't been a King Richard of England for more than 500 years.  But the play is more than just propaganda, or it would not have remained relevant beyond the Tudor's reign.  What keeps the play relevant is its keen political analysis and the fabulously villainous Richard.

 I first saw the movie when I was 17 or 18.    It taught me that getting power, using power and keeping power are three different things.  Just having a crown doesn't make you King.   That power and office are not the same was a significant revelation to me at the time.

Olivier's portrayal of Richard is definitive.  Nobody since has been able to play the part without taking Olivier into account. As my father says, Olivier's Richard raises skulking to an art.  The movie is very stagey, but reminiscent of contemporary paintings, like Frossart's. This is my favorite of all Shakespeare films.

    Killing of Wat Tyler by Jean Frossart.

My Pix

    St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, 1992 or 1993.
Red Square is one of the most impressive public spaces I've ever been to.  In terms of important historic events per square foot, it packs in more than anywhere else.  
BTW, the "red" in Red Square has nothing to do with Communism.  It's actually a misnomer.  In Russian, the name is Krasnaya Ploschod.  "Ploschod" means public space.  The word "krasny" means both red and beautiful.  Really, its "beautiful square", not "red square".  There's a reflecting ambiguity in English, where the word "square" can mean two entirely different things.  
All my photos are on Flickr.

Why Israel is Losing In Gaza

    REUTERS/Nikola Solic (GAZA)
    AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Both photos are from the always fantastic Big Picture .
Update: I picked the first photo to show the amount of damage created by dropping an aerial bomb in an urban area.  The Economist was interested in the same thing and picked the same photo for this week's cover.

Its hard to know where to start.  Israeli politicians, the Israeli military, Hamas, Fatah, the Egyptians and the Americans all have blood on their hands.  The whole thing is a mess.  Nobody knows what they want to achieve, and if they did, nobody is capable of achieving it.  At this point, both Hamas and Israel are content to inflict, or have inflicted, civilian casualties.  Indeed, in the war of attrition that seems to be developing, Hamas wins with more civilian and Israeli casualties.  More Palestinian civilian casualties creates more public opinion pressure on the US, Egypt and the Israeli government.  More Israeli military casualties creates incredible domestic pressure inside Israel.  The longer this goes on and Hamas survives, the more its going to look like an Israeli defeat.

The Israelis have run out of targets, and are now bouncing the rubble.  Any Hamas fighters dumb enough to come out with their guns died in the first 48 hours of the Israeli ground invasion.  The Hamas leadership flew the coop as soon as it became apparent the Israelis were going to systematically bomb their homes.  As a result, Israel is now dropping 500 lb bombs on apartment buildings that contain only civilians unlucky enough to live in the same building as a now fugitive Hamas leader but have nowhere else to hide.

What Israel intends to achieve is unclear to even the Israelis.  Haaretz reports strong divisions between Omert, Livni, Barak and the military over what should happen next.  Each favours a different approach.  So much for the lessons of 2006.  The most unforgivable sin in war is to not have a clear idea of what the end looks like.  Without that, you are throwing away people's lives for nothing.  Israel may have had a causus belli, but it looks thin when compared on the one hand with the Israeli military's ability to stop the rocket fire, and the inevitable humanitarian catastrophe on the other.  Let's be clear, the Israeli military cannot stop rockets from being fired.  As long as Hamas has rockets and is willing to take civilian casualties, they will keep launching.  I guess the plan is to have them use up their stockpiles and ply the Egyptians to prevent re-armament.  Good luck.  Both Egyptian public opinion and local economic advantage favour supporting Hamas.

The necessity of self-defense is an important principal, but more Israelis probably die in car accidents each year.  The real target of Hamas is the IDF itself.  If the IDF can't stop daily attacks on Israel from known enemies, then what good is it?  The rockets have made that question so urgent that the IDF is willing to gamble on a war to settle the matter.  War, even against the hapless Palestinians, is not taken lightly by the IDF.  But, as shown by the photo above, dropping aerial bombs in a crowded urban area is guaranteed to kill civilians.  The second photo above shows the damage from a Hamas rocket.  Compare the two photographs for a compelling story.  A Hamas rocket landing anywhere in Israel is a victory for Hamas, no matter how little damage it does.  Each Israeli bomb no matter how well targeted is not going to stop Hamas, no matter how much damage it does.

What's effectively happened is that Hamas has drawn Israel into the low-intensity Palestinian civil war between Hamas and Fatah. The IDF can hurt Hamas, but can't kill it.   Each blow Israel lands strengthens Hamas politically and damages Fatah.  Like 2006, Israel has been tricked into a war it can't win.  Like 2006, it can't stop the rockets. Like 2006, it has no viable exit strategy.  Like 2006, the math is working against them.  Like 2006, innocent civilians are having their homes, infrastructure and lives destroyed.  Like 2006, war it was easier to start the war than to end it.  Like 2006, the Israelis are losing.  Each day, each dead civilian, each bomb, exacerbates that defeat.  One of the primary goals in this operation was to restore Israeli deterrence.  But just the opposite has happened.  Even the hapless Palestinians have figured out the formula pioneered by Hezbollah, how to beat the Israelis by having them attack you.  As a result, this war is worse than lost, its a waste.  Israel is rapidly digging a hole for itself strategically.  The Israeli government, and especially the IDF, need to stop digging.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Pix

    Old motorbike, Kas, Turkey, 1986

Saturday, January 3, 2009

My Pix

    Electrical worker, Progresso, Mexico, 1987

Fun Facts To Know And Share

The longest non-stop scheduled passenger flight is Singapore Airline's flight SQ21 between Newark and Singapore.  It flies 16,600km (10,314 miles) in 18 hours, 40 minutes and crosses the North Pole.    Because of the prevailing winds, the Newark - Singapore leg has different routing than Singapore - Newark.  Singapore - Newark is 1,000 km and 2.5 hours shorter.  The aircraft is an Airbus A340-500.

A list of the current longest flights is on Wikipedia here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Pix

    Houses of Parliament, London, 1984

All my photos are on Flickr.

Crisis: Phase 2

The financial crisis has slipped off the front pages.  That doesn't mean its over.  The US Fed has consistently reacted to the crisis as if it were worse than it appeared.  So far, they've been proven optimistic.  Several weeks ago, they announced a new set of policies.  Its taken awhile for their significance to sink in.  Since WW2 and Bretton Woods, the task of Central Bankers has been to manage inflation.  While monetary stimulous (low interest rates and a larger money supply) has always been tempting in order to goose economic activity, anyone that relied on it too much got hammered by inflation and currency devaluation.  Its a well understood balancing act, though not easy.   Like doctors, central bankers have an oath, "First: cause no inflation".  Not really, but they act like it.

All that makes the US Fed's new policies all the more bizarre.  They appear to be so afraid of deflation that they are deliberately trying to cause inflation in the US economy.  Recall that deflation is fatal for an economy.  Consumers put off purchases because goods will be cheaper tomorrow.  Economic activity crashes.  Even worse, debts have to be paid back from declining incomes.  The last time this happened in the early '30's, US economic activity fell by nearly half.  It took the massive inflationary event of WW2 to correct the situation.

Now, the Fed has announced it will in effect print an extra $2 trillion next year.  Big numbers tend to blur, but its worth putting this one into perspective.  The total US economy is running at about $14 trillion per year.  Only 8 countries in the world have a GDP of more than $2 trillion.  Only 14 have a GDP more than $1 trillion.  Nobody has ever attempted corrective action on such a scale.  Nobody knows what will happen.  In philisophical terms, this is like the Pope announcing that he's become a Satanist.

There are no mechanisms to distribute this volume of debt.  Its a tremendous gamble, because nobody knows if there is a market.  If there isn't a market, the Fed could end up with the worst of both worlds, domestic deflation and a currency crash.  This is bad, bad, bad.  I sure hope they know something we don't.  I hope the current situation is worse than anyone outside the Fed has guessed.  Because otherwise, the Fed has gone crazy.  Either way, it looks like several years of economic turmoil for everyone with a stake in the US economy.

Fun Facts To Know And Share

The five most populous countries in Africa:
Nigeria: 129.9 million
Egypt: 70 million
Ethiopia 67.6 million
DR Congo: 55.2 million
South Africa: 43.6 million

My Pix

    Guard, Clarence House, London, 1984

Synthetic Natural Selection with M&Ms

    From the Interwebs. Click image for larger.