Monday, September 25, 2006

Darwin Awards

What makes this story remarkable is the understatement. The headline reads "Teen-agers Missing". A more sensational editor would have chosen "TEENAGED VANDALS BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS”. The story soberly continues:
“Sheriff Bob Rice believes one of them fired a shot into a tin-roofed storage building, possibly not knowing it contained 12 ½ tons of dynamite.”
I like the part about “possibly” not knowing the building was full of dynamite. Being teenage boys, they would have done it anyway. They may have stood a few feet farther back.

The picture tells the real story. Notice the guys in the upper right corner - just standing around and looking into the crater. There’s something about the way men stand around the scene of an accident. The conversation probably went something like this:
“Big damn hole”


“S’pose there any point in lookin’ for them boys?”

[long pause]


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lingual torsion

I recently had a linguistic accident. It happened when I was looking for the Shoe Show (a shoe store), and was thinking about Japanese food.
"Shoe Show Sushi Store"
Say that five times - fast.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Flying trees

We take it for granted, but wood is a remarkable material. It’s strong and light, easy to work, attractive, and relatively cheap. For building airplanes, the strength to weight ratio of materials is critical – perhaps more than in any other technology. Early on, aircraft designers recognized the advantages of wood. Most airplanes had a wood structure up until World War II. For manufacturing efficiency, as much as for strength, wood eventually gave way to aluminum, and more recently composites.

A skilled craftsman can build almost anything out of wood. This includes not only airplanes, but almost any other vehicle. An Arizona man constructed a fully functional car out of wood. This isn’t your 1940’s Mercury “Woody” wagon with wooden panels – but a car with a complete wooden body.

Perhaps the most famous wooden vehicle of all time is Howard Hughes’ H-4 flying boat – the “Spruce Goose”.

The H-4 had a skin of molded plywood that many engineers agreed was both stronger and lighter than aluminum.

The H-4 was 218 feet long and had a wingspan of 319 feet. That was the biggest airplane EVER – until 1988 when the Russians built the An-225, which is slightly longer. By comparison, the enormous carbon-fiber and aluminum Airbus 380 passenger jet is dwarfed by its wooden predecessor.

One of the delights of wood is that the do-it-yourselfer can also get into the act. Can’t afford a motorcycle? Build one!

In addition to its strength, wood is aesthetically pleasing. When we think of computers we think of the ugly black or white plastic shell of a PC. A group of Russian craftsmen offer a new old twist on computer design. I wonder if there's a wooden disk-drive inside?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The latest census data

DALLAS, TEXAS. Figures released by the Census Bureau show rednecks are now the single largest stereotyped Caucasian group in the United States. Rednecks make up 18 percent of the U.S. Population, edging past hillbillies at 15 percent.

Demographic trends show that rednecks are also the fastest growing stereotyped Caucasian group, increasing a whopping 20 percent since the 2000 census. Other groups continued to decline, with hillbillies at 15 percent, hicks at 4 percent, and okies dwindling to less then one percentage point.

During the Great Depression (1929-1940) okies were the leading stereotyped group, peaking in 1933. Historically the okie population gave way to hillbillies, who peaked in 1963 with the airing of the hit CBS sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. The earliest figures for rednecks only go back to 1945, when the Census Bureau combined crackers, peckerwoods, and Caucasian non-Oklahoma cowboys into the redneck classification.

Advertisers have been quick to recognize this trend. Bill Rand, CEO of Rand Econometrics, estimates that rednecks wield a staggering $2.1 trillion in purchasing power. “We’ve seen advertisers increasingly targeting the bubba demographic. You can see it in the explosive growth of Trucks, Beer, and Wal-Mart sales during the past 10 years,” explains Rand. “With FOX they have their own major media outlet, but others media groups are catching up.”

Rednecks are also a formidable political force, widely believed to have thrust George W. Bush and the Republican Party into a solid majority in the 2000 elections. Rednecks are ideal voters, having abundant transportation to the polls, as well as a willingness to embrace simple political messages. Democrats have been less successful at courting redneck voters, despite adopting southern candidates such as John Edwards or North Carolina.

Once considered a derogatory term, many Americans not proudly describe themselves as rednecks. In a surprising development, 4 percent of Hispanics, and 3 percent of African Americans also identify themselves as rednecks.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lead paint

Back on the old days almost all white paint was made with lead. For thousands of years, lead was recognized for its ability to produce a superior opaque white pigment. Lead paint was used in almost all buildings, both inside and out.

Lead is toxic to humans, causing nervous system and brain damage, hearing loss, stunted growth, and memory loss. In 1978 the U.S. Government finally banned the use of lead paints for residential use. That means everyone over 30 was probably exposed to large amounts of lead during childhood. That explains a lot.

Take a look at this recipe from a 1953 U.S. Forest services painting manual:

Formulas for Mixing White Lead Paste Paint

For painting on new woodwork soft paste white lead paint should be mixed as follows:

Soft paste white lead : 100 pounds
Raw linseed oil
: 4 gallons
: 1-3/4 gallons
Paint drier
: 1 pint

Please note: That's 100 pounds of lead!

© 2008 Raoul Rubin