Thursday, April 30, 2009


Accents have been following me around for my entire life. My father is from Memphis and my mother is from Atlanta so I have been exposed to their different accents all along.

I was born in Birmingham and my brother was born in Charlotte and up until we were 12 or 13 years old we also lived in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New Jersey, and Boston...all places with pretty distinctive regional accents of their own.

When we arrived in Boston, my speaking patterns were pretty much set - an amalgam I guess of all of those places which ended up sounding more or less neutral.

My brother however, was two years younger than me and his speech patterns were not yet fixed. Today he speaks with a moderately strong Boston accent.

Kind of interesting in a developmental timeline kind of way.

People occasionally wonder and ask why my mother sounds like Trisha Yearwood, my father sound like Fred Thompson, my brother sounds like Cliff Clavin and I sound like I was adopted.

Add my in-laws from Maine to the mix and I weep for Littlefoil’s linguistic future.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I just stumbled upon this video in which actress/singer/writer Amy Walker repeats the same sentence 21 times in 21 different accents. This thing “went viral” last year or some time but I only just found it. So here for your listening pleasure is a series of 21 accents, none of which sound like anyone in my family!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More bees!

Reader Domino Bianchi posted a comment with a couple of "Flight of the Bumblebee" gems that I missed...thanks Domino!

And if you just can't get enough, you might also want to check out The 5 Browns version.

13 Billion Years

That’s billion with a “B.”

Well over 13 billion years ago, a massive star, perhaps 100 times the size of our sun, exploded in a supernova. As it happens, sometimes the entire force of a supernova explosion can be focused and concentrated in two beams of insane energy blasting out in opposite directions from the core.

Artist's rendering of a supernova "going gamma."

These events are called gamma ray bursts and we don’t really know why or how they happen but we do know that they represent the strongest and brightest events in the universe

In 2004 NASA launched the Swift Satellite to detect gamma ray bursts (GRB’s in space-geek parlance). Swift has recorded hundreds of GRB’s but this one, designated GRB 090423A is, is the most distant discrete object ever detected in the universe.

The light from GRB 090423A had been traveling for over 13 billion years before it hit the detector on Swift.

There it is. GRB 090423A. One hell of a speck.

That’s 13 billion years – almost the entire history of the universe - of light-speed travel through interstellar and intergalactic space, through patches of dust and vast voids of empty space.

Holy shit right?

(Actually, the universe was only 630 million years old at the time of the supernova. Just a baby universe really, that probably even lacked the heavy elements needed to form planets.)

Back on September 10, 2008 I posted about a GRB that reached us in March, 2008. In that case, the beams of light and energy hit the earth right between the eyes. That particular GRB originated some 7.5 billion light years away which is good because if we had been any closer, say just a million light years away, our atmosphere would have been ripped away, the oceans would have boiled and the planet would have been soaked in a million times the lethal dose of high-energy gamma and X-rays.

It just goes to show that the universe is a monster, huge beyond comprehension and extremely hostile to our puny little lives.

Thanks to Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog for the news.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reasons to root for the New York Times...

Check out this slide show about an ambush on US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Guess I’ll stop bitching about my job for a while…

Hawking On The Road

I guess Stephen Hawking is getting better…Cambridge University released a statement saying that he is “on the road to recovery.”

But I can’t find anything more specific than that.

I have to believe that if it was Jessica Simpson who was rushed to the hospital there would be a lot more coverage!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hawking Hospitalized

Stephen Hawking was rushed to the hospital today and is reported to be “seriously ill.” He has been fighting a chest infection for several weeks which led to the cancellation of an April 6 appearance at Arizona State University.

Details are still vague but the report raises grave concerns about the 67 year old physicist and mathematician who suffers from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

Hawking was 21 when he was first diagnosed with the disease. Only about 5% of people diagnosed with ALS live for 10 years or longer which is just one aspect of his incredible story.

Last year Hawking announced that we would step down from his post as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics – a pleasant little job once held by Isaac Newton.

In 2007 Hawking was able to experience zero-gravity for himself when he took flight in an airplane specially modified for “parabolic flight” which allowed him to experience weightlessness in 25 second increments.

Having a resonant understanding of gravity and singularities like black holes and having spent decades pinned into a wheelchair by gravity made this lifelong dream of Hawking’s positively poetic.

All of us here at TMUOTF (which is just me really) hope that Hawking will be able to continue to explore the mysteries of the cosmos and help us understand our universe.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another cockpit recording...

More cockpit audio, this time a passenger lands a plane after the pilot dies mid-flight!

Here's the AP story from April 14...

TAMPA, Fla. – Doug White and his family had just enjoyed a smooth takeoff and were ascending through the clouds when the pilot guiding their twin-engine plane tilted his head back and made a guttural sound.

The pilot, Joe Cabuk, was unconscious. And though White had his pilot's license, he had never flown a plane as large as this.

"I need help. I need a King Air pilot to talk to. We're in trouble," he radioed.
Then he turned to his wife and two daughters: "You all start praying hard."

Behind him, his wife trembled. Sixteen-year-old Bailey cried. Eighteen-year-old Maggie threw up.

White, 56, landed the plane on his own about 30 minutes later, coaxed through the harrowing ordeal by air traffic controllers who described exactly how to bring the aircraft to safety. The pilot died, but White somehow managed.

When a controller asked whether he was on autopilot, White replied: "I'm in the good Lord's hands flying this Niner Delta Whiskey," giving the code for the aircraft.

White had logged about 150 hours recently flying a single-engine Cessna 172 but had no experience flying the faster, larger King Air. He declared an emergency to air traffic controllers — White already knew how to use the radio. On Sunday afternoon, he got his first lesson landing the larger craft.

They were on their way home from Marco Island, where they'd traveled after his brother died from a heart attack the week before. White owns the King Air plane and leases it out through his company, Archibald, La.-based White Equipment Leasing LLC.

White got his pilot's license in 1990, but said 18 years had passed until he recently started flying again.

White had his wife try to remove the pilot from his seat — afraid that he'd slump down and hit the controls.

But the space was too small. His wife couldn't remove him. They strapped him back in, and White sat at the adjacent set of controls.

White knew they were supposed to stop at 10,000 feet, but he watched as they ascended thousands of feet higher.

Flying the Cessna, White said he's never gone higher than 7,000 feet.

White tried to stay calm and listen to the air traffic controllers as they relayed instructions.
"It was a focused fear," he said. "And I was in some kind of a zone that I can't explain."
One of the air traffic controllers called a friend in Connecticut certified in flying the King Air, 43-year-old Kari Sorenson. Sorenson got out his flight checklists, manuals and cockpit layout sheets and issued instructions to the controller. The controller relayed the process to White.
Sorenson told the New Haven Register he hadn't been up in a King Air since 1994 — but he still had all the manuals, and it came back easily.

"After 3,500 hours in an airplane you get right back in it pretty quickly," said Sorenson, who has more than two decades of flight experience.

At one point, White said he tried putting the autopilot back on, but it steered the plane north, as Cabuk had programmed in the flight's destination in Jackson, Miss. They had planned on dropping White off there, where he'd left his truck, and having Cabuk continue on home to Louisiana with the rest of the family.

Flying by hand, White navigated the plane through the descent.

"When I touch down, if I ever touch down, do I just kill the throttle or what?" he asked.
"That's correct," the controller replied. "When you touch down, slowly kill the throttle."

They landed safety shortly after 2 p.m. Fire trucks and EMTs were waiting on ground.
"Looks good from here," the controller said. "Good job."

White said they tried for about 30 minutes to revive Cabuk, the pilot.

The medical examiner's office has not yet determined his cause of death.

A day after the ordeal, White said he could never have done it without the help of the air traffic controllers.

"Heartfelt thanks," he said. "They don't make near enough money, don't get near enough respect for what they do."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Turns out pirates don't just say "arghhh"...

This pirate thing happening off the coast of Somalia has been such an unbelievable, mind-blowing story...I mean, I haven't been so completely consumed since "Sully" Sullenberger brought that plane down in the Hudson River .

I would love - LOVE - to be blogging this thing because, c'mon! It's PERFECT! Alas, work intrudes and I have no time and no choice but to pick my jaw up off the ground every time the story takes another turn.

Still, WOW! Have you read about this deal? Unbelievable. And my man Phillips is a New Englander...a proud graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Institute...Massachusetts in the house!!!!

We're going to have to create some kind of TMUOTF Hall of Fame and get Sully Sullenberger and Richard Phillips enshrined ASAP!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reasons To Be Frightful 1-2-3...

Research and polling data reveal that a majority of Americans consider terrorism one of their greatest fears.

Political newsletter Counterpunch , self described as having “all the right enemies”, has an article by John Goekler revealing a vast list of things that we should fear even more.

For example, the US Department of Health and Human Services says that between 380,000 and 580,000 Americans will die this year as a result of smoking cigarettes. Another 260,000 to 470,000 will die due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. 85,000 more will die from alcohol abuse.

That makes the person in the mirror the most dangerous individual that you’re likely to meet.

After your own bad self, the next most dangerous person you meet might just be your doctor. The article claims that 200,000 of us will die due to medical errors like botched procedures and prescription drug errors and even “nonsocomial infections” which are the really bad bugs floating around hospitals and health care centers.

75,000 people will die from “microbial agents like flu and pneumonia. 55,000 people will fall victim to toxic agents like asbestos, lead and lawn fertilizer.

42,000 Americans will die on highways this year (over half of them could be saved if they were just wearing seat belts). 31,000 will commit suicide.

30,000 will die from sexually transmitted AIDS or Hepatitis C. 20,000 more will die from die from illicit drug use.

16,000 Americans will be murdered, 5,500 will die due to occupational trauma at work. 5,200 will die from lunch. Or rather the food-borne agents contaminating our lunch.

4,000 more of us will drown.

Terrorist activities however, according to the US State Department, have killed less than 15 per year since 2002 and all of those took place overseas.

The data shows that the things most likely to kill us are things that we choose to ignore or are risks that we choose to accept. You are much more likely to die from a lightning strike than an Al Qaeda attack.

In fact, we’re spending billions to fight the “war on terror” but terrorists are MUCH less likely to harm us than a bag of peanuts. (Peanut allergies kill between 50 and 100 Americans per year.)

Goekler concludes that “terrorism is an act of the weak. But so is walking through the airport in our socks."

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Space Shuttle Close Call That You Never Knew About

In 2003 after the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas, investigators determined that insulation from the solid rocket boosters slammed against the shuttle’s heat tiles during liftoff causing enough damage to destroy the shuttle during re-entry.

You probably remember that. What you don’t remember or even know about is the extraordinary 1988 flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Just three years after the destruction of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985, Atlantis lifted off with a top-secret satellite payload for the Department of Defense. During liftoff, in an eerie presaging of what would happen to Columbia fifteen years later, insulating foam from the solid rocket boosters slammed into the shuttle’s heat tiles causing massive damage and putting the flight, the crew and indeed the entire shuttle program in jeopardy.

After achieving orbit, astronauts on Atlantis used the shuttle’s robotic arm and a black and white video camera to view and assess the damage.

It was extensive. The underside of the right wing was severely damaged as was most of the right side of the fuselage. Upon seeing this, Veteran Shuttle Commander Robert "Hoot" Gibson thought that he was dead for sure. He was looking at the worst damage any shuttle had ever experienced. has a great story about the incident. It turns out that Mission Control and the Atlantis flight were operating under military restrictions that prevented the crew from downlinking clear images showing scores of chipped and broken tiles. This led to Mission Control’s mistaken analysis on the ground that suggested that the crew had nothing to worry about.

Boy were they ever wrong. That no critical failure happened during re-entry was a stroke of pure luck. When the shuttle landed, engineers and Mission Control staffers were absolutely horrified when they inspected it.

The story is a gripping real-life reminder of the dangers and challenges of space flight even as it was becoming routine…if in appearance only.