Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The best laid plans...

Dad's been destashing his apartment a bit, and I've been given a few things as a result. I had intended to get a post up about some of them today, but instead I've been over on LibraryThing. They released a shiny new toy to the site's "beta testers" -- really a semiofficial group of members who get to try out new features before the official roll-out, in order to make sure they're not half baked. (If you're on LT and want to get in on said group, you can send me a private message on my profile and I'll see if I can get you in. And if you're already a member of that group, you'll know that the feature in question is this one.)

LibraryThing has released a second toy to the usership in general. This particular toy -- discussed in this post on the site's blog -- is the integration of Lexiles with the site and with user catalogs. I'm neither a library nor a school, and it would be shinier to those institutions than it is to me, but this feature has already sparked quite a bit of discussion since it was made public around 11 this morning. I, of course, promptly went to see what my highest-Lexile book is (The Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol F. Karlsen, you can see the detail page here). And I wasn't the only person to do so, either: there's already at least one discussion thread discussing where our highest ranked books fall. The results can be fun, since apparently the people behind Lexiles use vocabulary and sentence structure to assign Lexiles, but pay little to no attention to things like subject matter or concepts. Some of the results are a bit odd, to say the least, and have earned a bit of laugh-and-point.

Well, back to the discussions. And the laughing and pointing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy April!

I have yet to think of any really good, yet safe (and safe-for-work) pranks and or hoaxes of my own, so I'll share two of my favorites -- both of which started with the BBC.

The first, of course is classic. The video below is a bit fuzzy, but a better one can be seen here.

Another good BBC hoax, narrated by Monty Python member Terry Jones, features Adélie penguins that have learned how to fly -- and migrate.

Obligatory Linkage
Wikipedia articles: April Fool's Day, Spaghetti Trees and Flying Penguins.
Youtube clips of the spaghetti harvest, available in fuzzy or not fuzzy
Youtube clip of the flying penguins

Friday, March 25, 2011

Duly Noted: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Some six months ago, a post in this department noted the fiftieth anniversary of a relatively unknown tragedy in Park Slope. Today's post marks the 100th anniversary of another tragedy, but one you've likely heard of: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire -- often held up as a catalyst for workplace safety laws, and as a prime example of why measures such as fire drills are necessary.

The fire killed 146 workers -- most of then young women -- at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which occupied the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, just off Washington Square. It started in a wastebasket on the eighth floor, and spread quickly, growing so quickly that it was out of control before anyone had much chance to control it in the first place.

Remains of the fire
escape (NY Times)
One worker on the eighth floor placed a call to the tenth floor, but no call alerted those on the ninth floor. One of the NY Times articles says this is because the worker who received the call on the tenth floor did not hang up the phone, but I think in von Drehle's book it said that the ninth floor did not have a phone. Either way, most of those on the eighth and tenth floors escaped, while many of the 250 workers on the ninth were not so fortunate. Some made their way down the fire escape before it collapsed -- and indeed, in photos of its twisted remains, the fire escape looks rickety and hardly of much use in evacuating a crowded workplace in a fire. Many of those who escaped by means other than the stairs did so by way of the freight elevators; Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo, who ran the elevators, risked their own lives to save as many as they could, until the elevators failed.

Further reading
David von Drehle, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire

Article on Wikipedia
Blog posts from The Bowery Boys:
-  "Some Basic Information" (Feb. 28)
-  "Where they lived" (Mar. 24)
Posts from the New York Times City Room blog:
-  "A Half-Hour of Horror" (Mar. 21)
-  "The Building Survives" (Mar. 22)
-  "A Frontier in Photojournalism" (Mar. 23)
-  "Liberating Clothing Made in Confinement" (Mar. 22)
Blog post from the New-York Historical Society
Blog post from Ephemeral New York, on Zito and Mortillalo
Information from About.com Women's History

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Duly Noted: Susan B. Anthony's birthday

Susan B. Anthony, photographed by
Napoleon Sarony (Wikimedia Commons)
Activist Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts. Besides being depicted on the $1 coin that was replaced by the Sacajawea dollar, she is best known for her work to promote women's right to vote. She worked most often with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with whom she founded the National Woman's Suffrage Association.

Sadly, at her death in 1906, women still had the vote in only a few states; the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the vote nationally, was not ratified until 1920.

Author page on LibraryThing
Legacy Library on LibraryThing
Article on Wikipedia

Friday, January 28, 2011

Duly Noted: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

(This is a bit of a drive-by posting, since it's already 3 and I don't have time at the moment to write up more than a summary and a link list.)

Twenty-five years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated a minute and change after lift-off, killing its seven-person crew. It had been cold the night before, and predictions were for temperature near freezing at the time of the launch; the low temperature caused the failure of an O-ring on the shuttle's solid rocket booster. Engineers for one of NASA's contractors expressed concern about proceeding with the launch under the weather conditions forecast, but were overruled. The launch went forward, and the O-ring's failure allowed heated, pressurized gas to escape and damage certain hardware.

Wikipedia has an article about the launch. Sub-articles include:
--  Space Shuttle Challenger launch decision
--  STS-51-L Mission timeline
Detroit Free Press coverage: 25 years ago today: Space shuttle Challenger explodes
Space.com article: Challenger Shuttle Disaster at 25: NASA Recalls Darkest Moments
New York Times coverage from 1986:
-- The Shuttle Explosion: Suddenly, Flash of Fear Dashes Watchers' Hopes
-- Thousands Watch a Rain of Debris

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Duly Noted: US Airways flight 1549's unusual runway

About a month ago, another Duly Noted post detailed the 50th anniversary of a nasty plane crash. Today's airliner story has a much happier ending (provided, of course, you aren't a Canada goose).

Two years ago, on January 15, 2009, a US Airways flight left LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina. On its way up, however, its two engines each inhaled a Canada goose*, causing both to lose power.** Unable to get the plane safely back to LaGuardia (or, for that matter, to any airport), pilot Chesley Sullenberger instead chose to land the plane on, of all things, a tidal estuary.***  The landing can only be described as successful: all 155 people aboard the plane survived, with only five serious injuries.

* There are, apparently, a lot of geese who live at and around LaGuardia, and who pose a threat to the aircraft that come and go. I found a reference to at least one other such incident on the first page of results from a quick Google search. If you'd like to read more, the same search also brought up this article from CBS News and this press release from the City, both from the middle of last year.

** I'm not sure if it would have been possible to safely limp back to a proper runway with a single working engine, but I assume as much from the fact that everything I've read or heard about the incident make a point of saying that both engines were knocked out.
*** Before you start complaining that the Hudson is a river, let me point out that lower Hudson is indeed a tidal estuary. Check out the second paragraph of this section of the Wikipedia article.

Yesterday's New York Times article.
Further coverage from the NYT's City Room.
The inevitable Wikipedia article.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Duly Noted: Joan of Arc's (supposed) birthday

A late-15th century depiction of Joan
of Arc. (Wikimedia Commons)
January 6, 1412, is the date legend gives for Joan of Arc's birth. It probably wasn't, though: it would have been common knowledge in fifteenth century Europe that January 6th was the feast of the Epiphany, and as Joan interpreted the voices she heard as guidance on a divine mission, she would not have failed to make the connection had her birthday actually fallen on the traditional date.

Today, Joan of Arc is remembered more for her death at the stake in 1431 than she is for her earlier achievements: she led the campaign to raise the siege of Orléans and participated in enabling the Dauphin to his coronation in Reims in 1429.

Recommended reading:
Régine Pernoud, Joan of Arc: Her Story.
Article on Wikipedia
Short bio & link lists on About.com

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Have a happy new year, good reader, and hopefully a more prosperous one for all of us than the last has been.

(Complete text of Robert Burns's poem can be found at Project Gutenberg.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photo: Accumulated

"Accumulated" (Flickr)
Unless you've been sleeping since Christmas Day, you'll have heard about the blizzard that dumped a whole bunch of snow on the northeastern United States last weekend. I had a snow day on Monday -- which was really a no-brainer since the nearest subway line wasn't running and there was no way in hell I was going to make it to the next-nearest. (Turned out there was no way in hell I would have made it even to the nonfunctional nearest line, but I didn't find that out until I went out for a few groceries.)

So, I took a picture of the snow that built up on the windowboxes out back. Just to give you a sense of scale, each of those boxes is about two feet long and maybe five inches high -- and the snow, as you can see, is taller than the boxes. And just to give you a sense of magnitude, behind those windowboxes is the only side that isn't sheltered.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Duly Noted: Jane Austen's birthday

Just a drive-by posting to say that novelist Jane Austen was born today in 1775.

(Links: Jane Austen on LibraryThing and Wikipedia)