Kelley and Coula

01 Nov 2014
Posted by Ellen

Back in the '80s, when Kelley was a little girl growing up in Mobile, Alabama, the camera caught up with her and her giagia (yaya) as they settled down into the couch for a game of chess.

We are told that Kelley turns 36 this month. Her giagia, Coula, lived to the age of 95, long enough to get to know her great-grandson, Kelley's son Thomas.

Is there anything more adorable than a grandmother-granddaughter chess match? Let's not overthink that. It's perfect.

Fire Fountain #2

16 Sep 2014
Posted by Ellen

Blacksmith Michael Hart of Horsmonden, Kent, U.K., beats an old chainsaw chain into a new knife.

Hart tries to keep the fire in his forge at about 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Each time he pulls his work out of the fire, it glows white-hot and his first hammer blow releases a shower of sparks. Succeeding blows do less glitzy work. 

Fire Fountain #1

15 Sep 2014
Posted by Ellen

Tectonic drama is vividly on display these days in central Iceland, where the trailing edges of two continental plates–the North American and Eurasian plates–are tearing the island apart. 

The Atlantic Ocean is growing wider and wider, at an average rate of about an inch a year. The seafloor bulges upward in the middle, where the tectonic plates meet, and cracks develop in the bulging ridge. These fissures fill up immediately with magma squirted up from deep below the earth's crust.

When the magma erupts at the surface–at which point it's called lava instead of magma–it cools and hardens into new rock, lodged in between the edges of the two old plates. This process, called rifting, pushes the plates further and further apart. 

Iceland is one of the few places on earth where rifting is visible above the water. The fissure eruption currently active near a large old volcano called Bardarbunga is not particularly explosive–no threat to airplanes at the moment–and it is occurring in an unpopulated area where there is little risk to people or property. In fact, the scene of the eruption is a desolate plain called Hohluraun, which is covered with old lava from ancient eruptions.

There is concern that the fissure may "unzip" back toward Bardarbunga, in which case the eruption could spread underneath hundreds of meters of snow and ice in Europe's largest glacier. Much of the glacier could be vaporized by the heat of the eruption, creating a massive steam explosion and ash cloud.

There is also concern that the lava erupting from the fissure is emptying out the old magma chamber underneath Bardarbunga volcano, which is the largest in Iceland.  Ongoing earthquakes are readjusting the mountain as the partially empty magma chamber caves in on itself; if one of the earthquakes breaches the chamber, the explosion and eruption could become as large as any in recorded history. Bardarbunga's last eruption was the largest in the past 10,000 years.

But it won't be apocalyptic; it won't extinguish life as we know it. It will just darken the skies for a while and widen the Atlantic Ocean by a bit.

Or: the current fissure eruption could die down in a day or a month or a year, leaving central Iceland quiet and relocating the scene of the next tectonic drama to some other time and place.

Posted by Ellen

Last month, Hank joined a group of Montanans climbing in the Andes, summiting above 18,000 feet in the middle of the Peruvian winter. They were closer to the Milky Way up there.

A Fringe Display

08 Sep 2014
Posted by Ellen

The latest and greatest in electric lights, as seen in 1917 in the Washington, D.C., showroom of Dulin & Martin Co.

Note that the business ends of the lamp cords were shaped like the bottoms of light bulbs. Those were the days when houses were wired with sockets for light bulbs but not with wall outlets; to plug in a lamp or a toaster or any other kind of electrical appliance, you'd first have to unscrew a lightbulb from the ceiling.

Eye of the Reptile

28 Aug 2014
Posted by Ellen

Craning

26 Aug 2014
Posted by Ellen

The penthouse dilemma story in yesterday's Good Morning was evidently inaccurate and incomplete.

Among the dozens of onlookers who spent much of the day Saturday supervising the crane assembly and glass-lifting from the sidewalk was a neighbor, Carolyn, not pictured above, who had the real scoop.

The crane, she reports, arrived on seventeen tractor trailers. The guys assembling it say it's one of three of its kind in the entire country. 

And the glassworkers were from Local 252, not 262 as written in these pages.

Several commenters observed that the estimate of a quarter million dollars to pay for new windows was likely on the low side. They believe the actual expense could be two or even three times as high.

But the main thing is: a good time was had by all.

The Penthouse Dilemma

25 Aug 2014
Posted by Ellen

This is the story we heard Saturday on the street. Of course, none of it is confirmed.

So. There's this guy who bought a penthouse atop a nice new condo tower on 18th Street, half a block north of Rittenhouse Square. His unit includes a nice big terrace that wraps around at least two sides of the building; his views must include virtually all of downtown Philadelphia and beyond. Expansive, and no doubt expensive.

But not good enough. He didn't like his windows, we're told. He wanted to replace them with better windows and, apparently, more windows. He wanted lots and lots of really, really big windows. Three long trailer trucks full of windows.

Problem was, the new windows wouldn't fit in the elevator to get them up to his penthouse.

He needed a crane, and not just any crane. To operate in the cramped confines of a narrow city street laid out in the days of William Penn, the crane had to lift glass straight up for hundreds of feet and then rotate without bumping into any of the buildings thereabouts and deposit the glass gently on the penthouse terrace. Vehicular traffic could be blocked during this process, but not pedestrian traffic; nearby businesses wanted to keep their doors open the entire time.

There were only three cranes on the east coast, we were told, that could handle this sort of job. One of them was hauled to Rittenhouse Square on Saturday morning. In pieces.

Another crane was needed to help put the big crane together. In case you were wondering, the pieces are held together with big cotter pins.

Police officers were needed to direct traffic around the closed-off block. City buses were rerouted and sometimes delayed, forced into attempting painstaking tight turns onto streets not really suitable for them.

Two large crews of workmen were on duty all day, a crew of heavy equipment guys and a crew of glaziers from Local 262.

So there's the cost of the new windows, and of a rare, expensive crane that had to be assembled by a second crane, plus three tractor trailers to haul in the windows, various vehicles to haul the parts of the cranes, two crews at union wages, lots of expensive permits to block a street and redirect traffic and park all the trucks all day . . . 

And then later, after all the new windows are up on the penthouse terrace, there will be the expense of removing the old windows, redoing the walls to accommodate the new windows, installing them . . . 

We were told $250,000. Does that sound right to you?

Bardarbunga

24 Aug 2014
Posted by Ellen

On Saturday morning, geophysicists believed Iceland's Bardarbunga volcanic system had begun erupting beneath the huge glacier that hides it from view. By Saturday evening, however, new data or new interpretations of the data were raising doubts about this conclusion; the magma might still be trapped in rock a few kilometers below the bottom of the ice.

The actual eruption might have already begun or might begin at any moment or might never happen at all. But Bardarbunga's magma is definitely on the move down there in the earth's crust, melting some of the rock in its path and shouldering the rest out of its way, along a northeasterly route tracked by literally thousands of earthquakes.

Halldor Eldjarn has set the earthquake data to music, which you can listen to in near-real time.

Bollywood

23 Aug 2014
Posted by Ellen

For an international festival this summer, Marco and friends did Bollywood with a San Diego accent. . . .

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