The Rat
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
      ( 10:53 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:53 AM

      ( 10:24 AM ) The Rat  

With a bend of the knees and an arch of the back, a Japanese engineer today set a world flight record for a paper plane, keeping his hand-folded construction in the air for 26.1 seconds.

Using a plane specially designed for 'long haul' flights, Takuo Toda narrowly failed to match his lifetime best of 27.9 seconds, a Guinness world record set in Hiroshima earlier, but achieved with a plane that was held together with cellophane tape...

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:24 AM

Monday, December 28, 2009
      ( 8:18 PM ) The Rat  
SURELY THIS ARTICLE could have been given a less-easily-mocked headline. (In case it gets updated to something else—at the moment, the hed is "Obama vows to use power to thwart terrorists.")

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:18 PM

Sunday, December 27, 2009
      ( 9:49 AM ) The Rat  
THE BITTER/SNARKY REJOINDERS CROWDED IN SO THICK AND FAST when I saw this Postsecret card, it made my head spin.

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:49 AM

Saturday, December 26, 2009
      ( 9:20 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:20 PM

      ( 9:08 PM ) The Rat  

In effect, the restrictions mean that passengers on flights of 90 minutes or less would most likely not be able to leave their seats at all, since airlines do not allow passengers to walk around the cabin while a plane is climbing to its cruising altitude...

—imitates the Onion:

"You can't just dump them in there any which way," Brown said. "The delicate ones are liable to break, and if you're not careful, they start to sway, and pretty soon the whole mess comes tumbling down."

Added Brown, "On longer flights we really want to make sure there's no room for them to move around at all."

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:08 PM

Thursday, December 24, 2009
      ( 11:55 PM ) The Rat  
AIRLINES IN ASIA RESIST THE NO-FRILLS TREND. Having flown a number of American, European, and Asian airlines, I was so astonished that even one of the "five-star" carriers was not based in Asia, that I looked up the ratings... the carrier in question is Qatar Airlines, according to this page. Btw, and this should go without saying, my favorite thing in this article is easily that "Outside of mainland China..."—a useful proviso anytime you're talking about the manners and breeding of people in the Asian-Pacific region.

Outside of mainland China, Asian airline passengers expect top service because it is part of the region's cultural makeup and because no-frills, budget carriers are not as established here yet. For many carriers, the top end of the market makes up a huge part of revenue, and none can afford to be the first to cut corners when it comes to service levels.

Singapore Airlines is installing new seats in the premium cabins on some aircraft and has improved in-flight entertainment systems. Like Cathay, it is based in one of Asia's financial hubs and was hit hard by the turmoil in the banking industry. But about 40 percent of its revenue comes from its premium classes. That may explain why it has not only maintained its annual wine budget for first class—10 million Singapore dollars, or $7 million—but also has introduced new meals for first-class passengers on Chinese routes, specially created by a leading Chinese chef, Zhu Jun.

Qantas, the Australian carrier, canceled orders for several aircraft in June. But it has pressed ahead with a program devised to cut check-in times in half on domestic flights by allowing members of its frequent-flier program to check in with a membership card fitted with a special chip.

Asian airlines' obsession with service shows through in the quality rankings of Skytrax, a consulting firm based in London. Five of the six airlines in Skytrax’s five-star category are based in the Asia-Pacific region, as are nearly half of the 27 carriers that hold four stars...

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:55 PM

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
      ( 10:22 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:22 PM

      ( 8:59 PM ) The Rat  

Time was, not so long ago, when things were the other way around; pink was for boys and blue was for girls. Near the end of World War I, The Ladies Home Journal advised new mothers that "the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." A few years later, in 1927, Time Magazine wrote about the disappointment that Princess Astrid of Belgium was not a Prince, saying her cradle had been "optimistically decorated in pink, the color for boys."

As my nieces can tell you, things have changed since then. That pink now stands for girls is, in part, the legacy of feminism, says Prof. Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, who is working on a book to be called "Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America." During the height of the women's movement, she says in an interview with the BBC, pink was shunned as "the color you were not going to put your little girl in because dresses were bad and pink was bad and we were going to eliminate all the frippery from little children's clothing so that they could grow up to be whatever they wanted to be. Ironically, what I think that did was firmly fix pink as the ultimate feminine color by the end of the 1970s."

And now that pink is back, it is back with a vengeance.

"For maybe the past decade or so, little girls have inhabited a universe that is, almost entirely, pink," the British newspaper, The Guardian, explained recently in a fascinating examination of the meaning of pink. "It is made up not just of pink princesses and fairies and ballerinas and fluffy bunnies, but of books, bikes, lunchboxes, board games, toy cookers, cash registers, even games consoles, all in shades of pink. This Christmas is no exception. There is a pink globe, specially for girls. Scrabble has been repackaged in pink (the tiles on the front of the box spell FASHION). Monopoly has gone pink, with the dog, thimble and shoe pieces replaced by flip-flops, a handbag and a hairdryer, houses and hotels becoming boutiques and malls, and utilities turned into beauty salons"...

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:59 PM

Monday, December 21, 2009
      ( 12:11 PM ) The Rat  

People whose faces belie their real age also live longer, enjoy better health and are less likely to get dementia, according to a study published today in the British Medical Journal. The research was conducted among 1,826 twins in Denmark aged 70 or older...

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:11 PM

Friday, December 18, 2009
      ( 10:29 PM ) The Rat  
'TEMPUS FUGIT,' Ian Peacock's rather intriguing radio documentary about how we perceive time, has already been taken down, but there's a synopsis of one of its most interesting bits here.

As Ian Peacock discovered in the riveting Tempus Fugit, we're still not completely sure how our brains process time. I once had the idea that things seem to speed up as we get older because each successive day is an increasingly smaller fraction of our lives, and it was gratifying to hear maths egghead Marcus du Sautoy voice the same theory (words I never expected to write, I must say).

But it's more complex than that, apparently. Car-crash survivors report it happening in slow motion, and David Eagleman, an excitable American neuroscientist, wanted to see if that's just how we're remembering, or whether our time-resolution actually increases during the event.

So he sent a guinea pig, a graduate student called Chess Stetson (oh yes), off the top of a 150ft tower in Dallas into a safety net—it's called Scad diving, and is reportedly terrifying. He was wearing a special watch flashing the time so quickly that it's beyond normal vision. If Chess (who we heard screaming in the background) could read it on the way down, Eagleman explained, then we'd know...

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:29 PM

Thursday, December 17, 2009
      ( 10:02 PM ) The Rat  
I have recently acquired a hat of such ferocity that it has been running my whole life for me. I wake up in the morning thinking, "Who shall I wear my hat at today?"
—Katherine Whitehorn

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:02 PM

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
      ( 11:51 PM ) The Rat  

Emboldened by newfound wealth, China has been on a noisy campaign to reclaim relics that disappeared during its so-called century of humiliation, the period between 1842 and 1945 when foreign powers subjugated China through military incursions and onerous treaties.

But the quest, fueled by national pride, has been quixotic, provoking fear at institutions overseas but in the end amounting to little more than a public relations show aimed at audiences back home.

At its core, such mixed signals are an outgrowth of China's evolving self-identity. Is it a developing country with fresh memories of its victimization by imperial powers? Or is it the world's biggest exporter, eager to ensure good relations with the outside world to protect its trade-dependent economy?

"China is like an adolescent who took too many steroids," said Liu Kang, a professor of Chinese studies at Duke University. "It has suddenly become big, but it finds it hard to coordinate and control its body. To the West, it can look like a monster"...

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:51 PM

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
      ( 3:56 PM ) The Rat  
'I need not tell you what it is to be knocking about in an open boat. I remember nights and days of calm when we pulled, we pulled, and the boat seemed to stand still, as if bewitched within the circle of the sea horizon. I remember the heat, the deluge of rain-squalls that kept us baling for dear life (but filled our water-cask), and I remember sixteen hours on end with a mouth dry as a cinder and a steering-oar over the stern to keep my first command head on to a breaking sea. I did not know how good a man I was till then. I remember the drawn faces, the dejected figures of my two men, and I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more—the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort—to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires—and expires, too soon—before life itself.'

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:56 PM

      ( 1:35 PM ) The Rat  

"[T]hese are the first proof that people in the Bronze Age were actually placing flowers in with burials."

The dark brown heads were found, along with a clump of organic material which archaeologists now say is the stems of the flowers.

The bunch had been placed by the head of the high-status individual known to have been buried in the grave.

Diggers also found pieces from a birch bark coffin in the grave, and a bronze dagger with a gold hilt band.

"In burials we're used to finding metalwork", said Dr Brophy. "But to find these very human touches is something very rare, if not unique. It brings it home to you that what you're looking at is not just a series of abstract remains, but actually these are people that you're dealing with."

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:35 PM

Saturday, December 12, 2009
      ( 2:07 PM ) The Rat  
SINGAPORE BIRDS SENT TO MARKET PARTY. From Our Own Correspondent is easily one of my two or three favorite podcasts (and I listen to a lot of podcasts). Each half-hour-ish episode is made up of four or five segments from all over the world, and my experience has been that, per podcast, at least one segment is pretty much guaranteed to be outstanding (the 3-4 others will be "merely" good). This dispatch—on bird enthusiasts in Singapore who bring their pets together once a week to socialize—is characteristic. FOOC is available in podcast format (read by the author) at the bottom of the page, or via iTunes—I highly recommend listening to it rather than just reading. But if you're going to listen, don't read the italicized excerpt, below, which is spoiler-ish.

I believe residents of Hong Kong also adhere to the practice described here with their pet songbirds (which suggests that it may also be done in China, Singapore, and/or Taiwan). Unfortunately, on my only stay in Hong Kong since learning about the bird market, I was there at the wrong time of day to see the "conference."

It was beginning to rain and my bird man joined his friends putting the floral covers back on the birds, and gathering them into bulging shopping bags.

As he placed the cage with the bird in front of me, I could not help noticing how the shape of the cage mirrored the tall tower block where he lived in the sky with his bird.

The cover was on. "You can photograph him now," said the man. "He can't see you, to be frightened."

As he turned to go, I was still wondering why his wife seemed less than supportive of what seemed a rather sweet and benign pastime.

So I asked, "Does your wife have any interests, any hobbies?"

The man smiled. "Singing," he said. "More than anything, my wife loves to sing."

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:07 PM

Monday, December 07, 2009
      ( 12:17 PM ) The Rat  

At home, comic actor Walter Matthau, then 21, was tuned in, too.

"I was listening to a football game and I thought it was very presumptuous of them to tell us about Pearl Harbor while this important game was going on.

"I have since changed my mind..."

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:17 PM

Saturday, December 05, 2009
      ( 1:59 AM ) The Rat  
MOZART DIED ON THIS DAY, IN 1791. And no, I'm still not over it.

'Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio' was the aria that first got me hooked on his operas. Sophie Koch was Cherubino in that production (Covent Garden, July 2008)—I can't find any clips of her in the role, but Christine Schäfer is not exactly chopped liver... (The tempi in von Stade's iconic interpretation are too slow for my idea of Cherubino, though it's wonderful in every other way.)

Lyrics (with translation) here.

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:59 AM

A page I'm starting to get the overlords at to stop $#@! bugging me

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