April 2016

Posted by Ellen

Drawings that can be appreciated only by looking at them in a curved mirror have been around for hundreds of years, but three-dimensional sculpture that reveals itself only in a curved mirror is brand new, perhaps thirty or forty years old. It can't be done without modern computer power, calculating in three dimensions the projection in space of each point on the mirrored surface and generating the "solution" to the digital algorithms via a 3-D printer.

There was often a practical reason for many of the old 2-D mirror drawings; they allowed the artist to ncorporate details into his work that were too racy or politically incorrect for a general audience but of considerable interest to those in the know, who might enjoy them by setting a polished cylinder in front of the painting.

The purpose of 3-D sculpture, on the other hand, such as these works by South African artist and software engineer Jonty Hurwitz, is less utilitarian, more a matter of artistic virtuosity. It's a cool thing that's really, really hard to do, but Hurwitz can pull it off. 

Posted by Ellen

This fence is part of the security for Naval Base Kitsap–Bangor, home to eight submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles.

The deer are apparently not a security issue, but drones, on the other hand, are becoming a big problem. Multiple drone flights over the base been reported, all taking place at night, and nobody knows who is flying the drones or why.

Naval investigators have yet to solve the mystery.  Nearby residents have been interviewed, but their involvement is doubtful. "I really can't imagine any of the neighbors or neighbors' kids thinking it's OK to run drones over Bangor," said one area resident who'd been interrogated about the incidents. "Everyone here is very aware that this is one of the most lethal places on earth."

Signs around the base perimeter warn "Keep Out. Use of force authorized."

Posted by Ellen

Twenty years ago, the SS United States was tied up to a wharf on the Delaware River in South Philadelphia to rust away next to Home Depot and Ikea and the cars whizzing by on Columbus Boulevard. The plan was to eventually ???

Once upon a time, this was the largest and fastest ocean liner on earth. Building it was the forty-year obsession of a man who never spent a day in school studying ship design; William Francis Gibbs was a lawyer by training, but in 1913, a year after that thing happened with the Titanic, he left his law practice and started drawing sketches for a bigger, better, safer, faster passenger ship.

The ship is 980 feet long, more than 100 feet longer than the Titanic.  It's divided into 20 watertight compartments reaching almost fifty feet above the waterline, and it's designed to keep on sailing even if as many as five of the compartments are breached and flooded. It's also virtually fireproof; the only wood on board was in a Steinway grand piano.

When the SS United States was finally constructed after World War II, certain of its design features, including its four propellers and the shape of its hull underwater, were classified military secrets, in case the ship were ever refitted as a troop transport. Its maiden voyage from New York to Rotterdam–during which its engines ran at about about two-thirds of full speed–took less than four days, setting an Atlantic crossing speed record that was only broken by subsequent SS United States crossings.  To this day, no other ocean liner has ever been built that could sail any faster.

But air travel, of course, waits for no ship. In 1969, the SS United States sailed for the last time under its own power. After idling for a while in New York, it was towed to Ukraine, where it was stripped of all its fittings (and of the asbestos that had helped make it so fire-resistant). Eventually, it was tied up a pier in Philadelphia, designer Gibbs's hometown, where business plan after business plan for the hulking hull never could attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be necessary just to stop the rust and turn it into something commercial, perhaps a floating hotel that would never leave the pier.

A nonprofit conservancy organization, meanwhile, has had to raise $60,000 a month just to keep the rusted thing afloat. This year is the final deadline, they say; if the money for a real plan doesn't show up this year,  the ship will finally have to be scrapped.

At the moment, there's a new plan: Crystal Cruises, a Hong Kong–based cruise line, has taken over the monthly maintenance costs and signed an option to buy the ship within a year. The company says it is currently studying the feasibility of restoring it as a luxury cruise vessel, which could cost something like $700 million.

So maybe she'll sail again. Meanwhile, you can get a really good view of what's left of the SS United States from the parking lot outside Longhorn Steak House.

Posted by Ellen

We have a new dog in the family, Hank's shaggy pup Mabel. She's a cross between an Australian Shepherd–which is actually an American breed with no connection to Australia–and an Australian Cattle Dog–which is actually an Australian cattle dog. The two breeds are often crossed to produce a kind of sturdy, active, people-oriented working dog that's sometimes called a Texas Heeler.

Hank tells us that Mabel, who's seven months old, is the world's smartest dog. She's smart enough, obviously, to know when she's got a good thing going.