Sunday, August 20, 2017

Neither Rain Nor Sleet Nor Depth of Sea...

Although a couple more underwater mailboxes have popped up around the world, the post office box at Vanuatu lays claim to being the first such operation. It's 10 feet beneath the surface, about 160 feet from land, and is an actual post office box that will receive your special waterproof plastic postcard, marked with a special embosser so the postmark ink won't smear.

If you want to do the real experience, you have to snorkel, dive or hold your breath long enough to go below and float your card into the slot. Or you can ask someone able to do those things to drop it off for you. (There's also a land-based box for the wimps).

Then, at 3 PM each day, the mail is collected from the box to be sent off to its destination. The local post office used to train its folks to scuba dive so they could pick it up themselves, but found it easier to enlist the aid of local dive masters who could pick the mail up for them.

The story at Smithsonian says that the box in Malaysia is 130 feet below the water, which is the maximum depth for a certified, experienced recreational scuba diver using tanks with normal compressed air.

And it would seem that the most unsurprising thing about this whole idea is its origin: The local postmaster and a resort owner whipped it up over drinks.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dig Straight Through to...Where Are We Again?

The saying is "Dig a hole clear to China," with the idea that China is on the opposite side of the world from us.

But as you can learn by having fun on this online "Antipodean Map" page, China is actually not directly on the other side of the world from the United States. "Antipodes" is the name for two points that are directly opposite each other on a solid object. New Zealand and Australia are called that because when they were first discovered by Europeans, they were considered to be "the other side of the world."

Someone who wanted to dig a hole through the Earth and come up in China would have to do two things:

1) Figure out how to survive the incredible heat and pressure of the Earth's core, and

2) Start in South America

Almost any straight line from the continental U.S. directly though the center of the Earth will wind up in the Indian Ocean. We have almost no antipodean land, in fact. Granada, CO, is the antipodes for the Íle Amsterdam, about halfway between Madagascar and Australia. It's home to a research station with about 30 workers who rotate on and off. Íle Saint-Paul, about 50 miles away and even smaller, is the antipodes for Cheyenne Wells, CO. Its research facility is not even permanently staffed.

Until someone fixes that whole temperature (just shy of 10,000º F) and pressure (3,600,000 atmospheres) thing, though, it'd probably make more sense to fly or take a boat.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Law and the Jungle

There's a legislature that has a rat problem. Doesn't narrow the field much, does it?

This legislature is the British Parliament and the rat problem is literal, as in members of ye olde genus Rattus scampering about offices, break rooms and cafeterias. A member of parliament brought four cats to address the matter but health and safety officials banned them -- demonstrating that even with that beautiful British diction, bureaucrats are unable to grasp facts with either hands or their feeble minds. Because several other government offices do allow cats to live on the premises and provide sharp, pointed arguments to Mickey's uglier cousins why they should relocate.

Some might say the bureaucrats are on the rats' side, sensing a kinship. This uncharitable suggestion insults at least one of the groups involved.

It's possible that the bureaucrats are worried about the example cats would set. They are seen to spend a great deal of their time sleeping but would probably accomplish their task nonetheless, after hours being an excellent time to present one's threats and ultimatums to the scurrilous scurriers with the proper level of bloodthirsty rending. By comparison, bureaucrats are usually very industrious while accomplishing next to nothing, and should the cats succeed in their mission some might wonder why those possessing opposable thumbs seem unable to do so as well.

The cats, of course, would not wonder. They would simply take a nap until another twitchy little nose tried to poke itself into the hallowed halls of the Palace of Westminster and then resume their work.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

All Is Not Lost?

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he doesn't see umpiring for his sport as a field amenable to automation. Which means no robot umpires.

Which means there are still limits to the dumbness of the changes that Manfred is willing to tolerate, despite evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lines Around the Block

I know what you're thinking -- you see this Washington Post story about a company that offers to pay people to stand in line -- only if they're cool enough.

And you're saying, Friar, there's nothing about that for you. You are nowhere near cool enough to be selected to stand in line and be one of the beautiful people that draws in other people.

Au contraire, Faithful Reader. I am in fact way too cool to stand in line for something I wouldn't do unless someone paid me. Wait, what, you may ask?

You're not cool enough to know.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Petard, Hoist!

This item from the BBC News, ironically in its arts and entertainment section, notes something interesting about the dying magazine industry: Some of it seems not to be dying.

Writer Stephen McIntosh looked at a recent magazine and circulation report in England and found that news and news/opinion magazines like The Economist and The Spectator showed sales increases. Other similar publications also had some bumps, even factoring in things like paywalls for some online articles and other web-based content.

The people McIntosh talked to suggest that the rise of quickly-disseminated general news -- sometimes too quickly, in a fashion that has to be walked back or which proves later to be inaccurate -- means that people also want to have some analysis and context to help understand the blizzard of data thrown their way. Publications that can produce that get readers, and if they can make their content good enough, then they can get readers who will pay for it.

Celebrity, gossip and fashion mags, though, are still seeing sales slumps. I've got no opinion on the value of fashion magazines, but there seems little downside in the reduction of celebrity and gossip outlets. The slump's probably only worth one or two cheers, though, rather than three, since the content moves out of the checkout line and onto everyone's phones.

The one or two cheers comes because these particular organs have long been invested in things that turn out to be ephemeral or are of interest only because the people doing them have been in movies or television. A guy starts an affair at work and winds up leaving his wife for the other woman, but a few years later it turns out he's not that great a catch for her either. It happens all the time and if everyone involved lives in a trailer no one but those affected care much about it. But if those involved are named Jennifer, Brad and Angelina, well, then stop the press! We now even have celebrities who are famous for no reason whatsoever, who all seem to be named Kardashian or Jenner.

Having nailed their colors to the mast of ephemera, these folks now find themselves adrift because the ephemera has found a medium much better suited to it: The here-today-gone-in-20-minutes world of online celebrity gossip.

McIntosh notes that Vogue magazine recently did a large photo spread and interview with Jennifer Lawrence, a very good young actress who has been interesting before and may be again. But since all of the content went up online before the issue hit the stands or subscribers' hands, they took away any reason to actually buy the magazine. They're caught between offering enough online content to create buzz but keeping the free stuff at a low enough level that there's still a reason to pay for the rest. It's hard, though to feel sorry for publications that have trafficked in the least appealing aspects of the lives of people who just want to act, or sing, or live out their muse in some other way.

Whether the bump in news magazine sales is an actual long-term upward trend or just a bump has yet to be seen. But if the slide in the others' sales is a trend as well, then we can only hope the celebrity and gossip website will follow its path someday.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Truth With Pictures!

Just gonna let Mr. Opus do the talkin...