Thursday, March 31, 2011

Florida tornado warnings in effect

Dramatic photo taken at the Kennedy Space Center earlier today. Severe tornado warnings are currently in effect throughout Florida.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MESSENGER’s first picture from Mercury orbit!

The first pictures of Mercury taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft are now coming in! You'll recall that MESSENGER recently went into orbit around Mercury.

More information about MESSENGER and its mission can be seen on the website.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy anniversary M1911

Today is an important anniversary in U.S. military history. On this date 100 years ago, the U.S. Army formally adopted John M. Browning's .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) design and it is forever known as the M1911 (Model 1911).

Prior to 1911, the Army had used smaller caliber handguns, such as the .38 caliber revolver. This was proving to be ineffective in jungle warfare, especially during the Philippine-American War in 1902. In 1906, the Army announced trials to replace it's service revolvers with the new self-loading pistol technology. Several gun manufacturers submitted designs and, after rigorous testing, two designs remained -- a design by Savage Arms and a design by John M. Browning (and manufactured by Colt). 6,000 rounds were fired from a single pistol over the course of two days. When the gun began to grow hot, it was simply immersed in water to cool it. The Colt gun passed with no reported malfunctions, while the Savage design had 37. It was formally adopted on March 29, 1911.

The 1911 entered service later in 1911 with the U.S. Cavalry. It was adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps in 1913.

Originally manufactured only by Colt, demand for the firearm in World War I saw the expansion of manufacturing to the government-owned Springfield Armory and to Remington Rand.

The gun was the official firearm from World War I through Vietnam and was used in Operation Desert Storm by U.S. Army units and U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalions (Seabees) and in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom with U.S. Army Special Forces Groups. The Texas Rangers carried M1911s and many police departments carried it as their official (or unofficial) sidearm.

By the late '70s the 1911 was acknowledged to be showing its age. Congress pressured the military to standardize on a single modern pistol design and the U.S. Air Force conducted trials to select a new semi-automatic pistol using the NATO-standard 9mm Parabellum pistol cartridge. After trials, the Beretta 92S-1 was chosen. The Army contested this result and subsequently ran its own competition in 1981, the XM9 trials, eventually leading to the official adoption of the Beretta 92F on January 14, 1985.

Despite "losing" its designation as the official sidearm of the military, the M1911 is still used by many law enforcement agencies and is probably more popular than ever.

Beginning in the late '80s, a number of gunsmiths and "boutique" gun manufacturers began building custom M1911s based upon the original design. These manufacturers began adding new features and cosmetic changes that proved popular with collectors and hobbyists alike.

Today the M1911 is more popular than ever and many manufacturers are issuing special "centennial editions" of the classic M1911 such as the Ed Brown model below.

Happy anniversary!!

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Scar on Mars

Another photo from Mars. This time taken with the Mars Express orbiter. This is an elongated crater measuring about 50 miles long and 15 miles wide at its widest point.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Valley at the north pole of Mars

Photo from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft of the valley Chasma Boreale ("northern chasm") near the north pole of Mars. This photo is stitched together from a combination of photos taken by the spacecraft between 2002 and 2005.

Click on the photo to see it enlarged. I've downloaded it for desktop wallpaper.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Facebook needs a new filter!

Since social gaming has really taken off on Facebook, my wall is now cluttered with updates from my FarmVille and FrontierVille neighbors. This is fine as I actively play both games, but my neighbors are also Facebook friends and I'm interested in their non-gaming posts and status updates.

I use Facebook Lists and all my FarmVille/FrontierVille neighbors are in one list called "Neighbors."  However, I have not figured out a way to filter out the gaming posts in this List to see their regular posts.

Is there any way to do this or should this be another Facebook feature request?? There is a filter called "Games," but there should also be a filter called "Non-Games."

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love is in the air

The temperature nearly made it to 60 degrees today. It was warm and sunny and the feeling of spring was definitely in the air.

It brought out something else too as the Killdeer have returned and their mating ritual was in high gear.

Unlike most birds, Killdeer build their nests on the ground instead of up in the trees. We have several vacant lots south of us and every spring we have a number of nests in place. That apparently will be the case again this year judging from all the noise and activity in the lots. A lot of flapping of wings and singing indicates that something is happening. A couple of male Killdeer were trying to impress the ladies and seemed to be battling it out.

I'm sure we'll have several hungry mouths again soon!

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Disappointed with Fox News

I have to say that I'm  very disappointed with Fox News regarding their coverage of the Japan earthquake and the resulting nuclear crisis.

First of all, let me say that I'm a fan of Fox News as they seem to be the one news channel that "gets it." As a conservative Republican, they best match my political ideology but, more importantly, they seem to be the one channel that is "fair and balanced" just like their motto says. They seem to bend over backwards to bring in people with different political viewpoints and have a balanced debate on whichever issue is top of mind. They clearly have an agenda, but so does MSNBC who could care less about bringing in different viewpoints. CNN seems to be in the middle and not taking sides with anyone. I watch them second if I'm not watching Fox News.

My complaint about Fox News centers around their evening prime-time lineup. Of their three major night-time shows, only Greta Van Susteren is actually in Japan and reporting on what is happening there. Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity are staying in-studio, but refer to Japan in passing. They are concentrating more on their usual political reporting, specifically NPR, the Wisconsin union debates and the budget impasse. These are all important topics -- and would be important to discuss in "normal" times -- but the Japan earthquake and tsunami are major international events with repercussions for all of us. The news crawl at the bottom of the screen is about the only earthquake news they show. To be fair, the Fox News daytime lineup is covering the earthquake and they have many reporters in Japan reporting on it. However, people who work during the day don't see this coverage and want to know the latest when they are home. Instead, they see John Stossel in front of the Capitol Building pulling a stunt that seems petty in light of the nuclear meltdown that may be happening overseas.

CNN has many reporters in Japan as well as two of their main anchors and seems to be providing the most informative coverage ... at least for these eyes.

I'll be curious to see the ratings over the next few days.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Event

Anyone watch "The Event" Monday night on NBC? Part of the show's storyline had to do with the theft of fuel rods from a Southern California nuclear plant. The rods were stolen by aliens. In 1986, the same aliens unsuccessfully attempted to steal fuel rods from a reactor in the Ukraine which ended up causing the Chernobyl "accident."

While the theft was occurring, the president was meeting with the Japanese prime minister!

You can't make this up!

NBC is bring criticized for airing the show as events in Japan were developing.

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President Obama on cars

From the San Fransisco Chronicle:

At Friday's news conference, President Obama tried to connect with the common man coping with rising gasoline prices. Instead, the president left little doubt that he is clueless about cars.

"You may want to buy a fuel-efficient car," quoth Obama, "but you may not be able to afford it. And so you're stuck with the old clunker that's getting 8 or 10 miles a gallon."

Eight to 10 mpg? Which clunker would that be? I wondered. An old Hummer? Your father's father's Oldsmobile? A late-model Lamborghini? It takes a luxury brand, a boat-sized machine and/or a few decades to approach those dismal mileage numbers.

Perhaps the president is laying the groundwork for "Cash for Clunkers Part Deux."

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dark side of the Moon

Amazing mosaic from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter orbiting the Moon from a height of 30 miles. This image is stitched together from 15,000 images and shows the dark side of the Moon -- the side we never see.

For more information and additional images, click here.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Obama against defunding of public broadcasting

President Obama came out today against defunding of public broadcasting.

President Obama defended public broadcasting from cuts on Friday, emphasizing that defunding networks like NPR and PBS would do little to rein in spending. 


"I think it's going to be important for us to have a conversation after we get the short-term budget done, about how do we really tackle the problem in a comprehensive way," Obama said at a press conference on Friday.


Republicans included in their continuing resolution to fund government the rest of this year provisions that would severely cut support for public broadcasting. Calls to defund those networks have only intensified after a conservative activist's video emerged this week showing a former NPR executive referring to the Tea Party movement in harsh terms. 

Democrats, in turn, have accused Republicans of trying to defund "Sesame Street," the popular children's program on PBS. 

I wonder if he would feel the same if Fox News received Federal support!

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Ravinia Festival has some "interesting acts" this summer

The 2011 Ravinia Festival schedule has been announced. Besides the usual wonderful classical music lineup, there are some odd pop pairings this year. For example, on 18 June, classic rock band Deep Purple will play with the Ravinia Festival Orchestra. On 4 September, country-pop artist Carrie Underwood will also appear with the Ravinia Festival Orchestra.

No Kanye West or Lady Gaga, of course, but some of the acts have been around for awhile. On 10 June, The Judds will appear in a farewell concert although I thought they quit performing years ago. Maybe it's their 2011 farewell concert! Hall & Oates appear on 26 June. Peter Frampton will appear on 5 July for his Frampton Comes Alive 35 tour! I think the "35" refers to the 35th anniversary of the Frampton Comes Alive album (although it could refer to the 35 people who still care!).

Other acts past their prime are Chicago, The Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I guess Wham! isn't touring this summer.

There's even an ABBA cover band presenting the "Music of ABBA." You really can't make this up!

To be fair, still-relevant Maroon 5 appears 30 June and 1 July.

Since Ravinia is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I have always found the classical music to be more interesting than the pop acts.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My old bank is turning into a bar

Just read an article about the bank building where I used to work at Ashland and Division in the Wicker Park area. The building is being converted and the old basement vault area will become a bar!

The building was built, if I remember correctly, in the early 1920s and was a solid "old-school" bank building. The vault in the basement was huge and will serve as the lounge for the restaurant that will go in there.

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I know I'm sounding like a broken record...

...but I'm so freaking tired of the idiots using the self-service checkout at the grocery store!

I've lamented in the past about rude, inconsiderate or unaware people who use these checkout lanes. I use them all the time (I'm none of these people!) as I find it quicker and easier to check out. When I use them, I'm always aware of the person in front of me and I wait until they finish packing up their food. I wish people gave me the same consideration.

Once again today, I checked out and finishing packing up my food and some older woman decided not to wait and send her two cases of bottled water in my direction. This time I firmly asked if she would wait until I finished. She mumbled something about being sorry and she didn't see me there. What?? I'm right in front of her. Then she said that she didn't know the conveyor belt would move. Of course she knew, she didn't want to be bothered waiting literally a few more second for me to finish.

I'm tired of these people. I'm either going to stop using self-service or make an ugly scene the next time it happens. I'm leaning towards the latter!

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Skywatchers are in for a treat tonight!

Skywatchers, especially those in the Chicago area, are in for a treat tonight if the weather is clear. Early Monday, the space shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station to prepare for its return to Earth. On Monday and Tuesday (and depending on where you live) you can see the two spaceships as they fly in tandem with each other. Tonight (Tuesday) will be the last night to see those two as Discovery is scheduled to land in Florida on Wednesday.

In the Chicago area, the best time to see the two spaceships will be at 6:20 p.m. local time. They will be in the north sky flying west to east. Discovery will be the fainter of the two (at a magnitude -1.1) and the space station will be brighter (at -3.4). The reason the ISS is brighter is because it is much bigger.

They will reappear at 7:56 p.m., but will be in the lower southwest sky and will appear fainter.

It is suppose to rain this evening in the Chicago area, but I hope it hold off until later in the night.

This will be the last time to see Discovery as it is retiring after this flight. There are only two more shuttle flights scheduled -- Endeavour and Atlantis will each make their final flights this year.

You can check to see the location of the space shuttle or the ISS or any other satellite by going to Heavens Above and input your location.

Enjoy this NASA video taken Monday morning of Discovery performing the fly-around maneuver of the ISS.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Can't tell if it's winter or spring!

It was an odd day weather-wise in the Chicago area. On the same day that we saw our first robin, it was blustery and overcast with snow flurries most of the day. Seems like it couldn't decide what kind of day it should be and so it was both. It is suppose to get warmer next week with temps in the mid-40s.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

My crock pot chicken recipe...

...was not well received by my family tonight so I will not be posting it. Back to the drawing board, I guess.

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Apps to Keep Your Dog Healthy, Active and (Maybe) Quiet

Chicago White Sox on MLB TV

Jake Peavy's long road back to the White Sox starting rotation begins today with his scheduled start again the Anaheim Angels. The game begins at 2 p.m. CST and will be braodcast on MLB TV. He will be limited to about 40 pitches today.

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My Top Ten iPhone apps

I've had my iPhone 3GS for about a year and have loaded a lot of apps into it. Some of the apps I have since discarded, but there are many worthwile apps and I thought I would share my Top Ten iPhone apps. All of these apps work on the 3GS running iOS 4.2.1. These apps are listed in no particular order and were free at the time I downloaded them.

  • Facebook - If you are a Facebook user, this is a must-have app. It's fun to update your status while away from your PC. It's also convenient to easily upload pictures or video from your iPhone.
  • Twitter for iPhone - If you are a Twitter user, this is the "official" Twitter iPhone app. Other great Twitter iPhone clients include TweetDeck, HootSuite and Seesmic. These apps also let you update your Facebook status.
  • IntoNow - This is an interesting app. Asuming you are a Facebook or Twitter user, you can share the TV show you are watching with your friends/followers. Load the app and place the iPhone near the TV speaker, within a few seconds it will recognize the show and list it on the phone. From there, you can share it. I don't know how it knows the show, but it's recognized the show about 98% of the time!
  • SoundHound - Have you ever turned on your favorite music station only to miss the name of the song that's playing? With SoundHound, you simply place the iPhone near the radio speaker and it will recognize the song and display it for you. You can even order it from iTunes if you wish. Be careful doing this, however, while driving!!
  • GasBuddy - With gas prices soaring, finding the nearest gas station with the lowest prices has become a challenge. With this app, you can find out where the lowest prices are. After sharing your location (via GPS) with GasBuddy, you can find the nearest stations and sort it by the lowest prices or the nearest location. If you register at the GasBuddy website, you can also update the station prices.
  • FootFeed - After getting your mobile phone, you may find yourself playing some of the locational games such as Foursquare and Gowalla (among others). These games involve checking in at some location such as a restaurant, store, bar, museum and so forth. If your friends also belong to these services, they will know where you are. You can vy to be the "mayor" of the location by having the m,ost check-ins. Some locations offer discounts or some incentive to check-in. Each of these services have their own mobile app, but if you belong to several services, it becomes a pain checking in to each service. FootFeed solves that by letting you check into multiple services at one time.
  • Google Mobile App - This app lets you use your Gmail or do a Google search on your iPhone. There are a host of Google services bundled within the app and can be revied here.
  • RedLaser - Ever been to a store and found an item you wanted to buy, but were curious if you could buy it cheaper somewhere else? With RedLaser, simple scan the item's barcode and you will be presented with a list of prices at nearby locations and online stores. RedLaser was recently purchased by eBay and the scanning functionality has been built into the eBay iPhone app. The new eBay app now includes online auctions.
  • Posterous - If you have a Posterous blog like me, you can update your blog or upload photos to your blog with their new app. Tumblr has a similar app for their blogs too.
  • ESPN ScoreCenter - Do you have to be somewhere, but don't want to miss the score of the big game? With ESPN's app, you can keep track of your favorite teams away from home. You can set up score alerts so each time your team scores, it will sound an alert. (Be careful with this, however, as it can become obnoxious!)

There are other great apps for the iPhone, but I limited this list to my favorite ten apps. I'm curious what your favorite iPhone apps are.

Note: With the new iOS, you can organize your apps into folders for easier access.

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Chicken legs for dinner

A couple of weeks ago I bought a large "family pack" of chicken legs from Sam's Club. There must be a lot of large families as the pack contained about two dozen chicken legs. We used what we needed and froze the remainder. After scouring the web in search of crock pot chicken recipes, I decided to try my own recipe for tonight. If it turns out well, I'll post it on my mom's recipe blog.

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