Saturday, May 31, 2014

Predicting Earthquakes

Dear Madame L,

I just read an article about some guy who says you CAN predict when earthquakes will take place, despite what some scientists say. Specifically, this man who used to be a teacher in California says he noticed that earthquakes always happened around dusk or dawn, and he says this is because of “conjoined lunar and solar gravitational tides."

What do YOU say?


Living in California and Wanting to Stay Alive There

Dear Californian,

Since Madame L is not a scientist herself, she must decline to comment except to say that in general she tends to trust the scientific judgment of actual scientists who are specialists in the field being discussed. For example, Madame L refers you to the blog of Dr. Jeff Wynn, a USGS scientist who says earthquakes cannot be predicted with accuracy.

Thus Madame L tends NOT to trust the observations of a "guy" or even a "man" who used to be a teacher in California. Madame L also used to live in California, and also experienced some earthquakes, none of which occurred around dusk or dawn. While Madame L must assume the teacher was a good teacher, she does not feel compelled to assume that he's a good scientific observer or gatherer or analyst of data.

In addition to the general blog address of Dr. Wynn, which Madame L recommends highly as a place to browse about earth sciences and science in general, Madame L suggests you read the following:

"What states are safe from earthquakes?"

"Are tsunamis and volcanic eruptions a result of other catastrophic natural disasters?"

"With every fault is there an earthquake?"  

"Earthquakes and climate change --- related?"

"Earthquakes --- how often?"

"The largest possible Bay Area earthquake"

Dr. Wynn will be writing again about this topic soon because lately two seismologists have published a paper in "Science" (which has stirred up an ants nest among seismologists) claiming that certain very large earthquakes might be predicted.

Meanwhile, Madame L will be watching with bated breath (ha ha ha) for the guy's prediction of earthquakes on "July 12 and Sept. 9, between 4:45 to 7:55 a.m. and/or p.m."

"If I had a dollar for every one of those predictions that has proven to be false, I could finally buy a new car!" comments Dr. Wynn.

Good luck in California,

Madame L

Thursday, May 22, 2014

National Parks on Memorial Day

Dear Madame L,

I think you wrote once about free entrance fees for national parks on certain holidays. Do those days include Memorial Day or maybe even the whole Memorial Day weekend?


Fan of the National Parks

Dear Fan,

Unfortunately, those "free fee days" do not include Memorial Day. Here's where you can find which days the participating parks are free. The remaining free days in 2014 are Aug. 25 (National Park Service Birthday), Sept. 27 (National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day).

The list of participating parks is here.

And, by the way, you may be interested in an annual national park pass, which is only $80, and will get you and your car full of family (details at that link) into every and any national park. 

If you're 62 or older, you can get a lifetime pass for $10. Madame L once got into a national park with a small tour group courtesy of one member of the group who had that kind of pass.

And, if you're in the military, you can get in for free.

Madame L hopes you'll still visit  a National Park this Memorial Day weekend, and, if you do, you'll let Madame L and her other Dear Readers know how much fun it was.


Madame L

P.S. You might have a better chance of seeing the meteor shower at a National Park Friday night, than at your own home, too!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Meteor Shower Friday Night!

Dear Star-Gazing Readers,

Madame L has just read about an amazing meteor shower that may be visible to many people in North America this Friday night (May 23).

Not that Madame L is expecting to be able to watch, since it's always overcast where she lives. But she hopes that those of you who live above the clouds, or wherever you can look up and see stars, will watch and let Madame L know how glorious it was.

The astronomy writer on, where Madame L read about this, writes:
Predicted rates for this new shower are quite high, about 100–400 meteors per hour, far higher than normal showers. And they’ll appear to be coming from an area of the sky near the north pole, so they should be visible raining down all over the sky!

As the Earth orbits the Sun, it sometimes crosses these trails. When that happens we plow into this interplanetary junk, and it burns up in our atmosphere, creating meteors. They appear to come from a single point in the sky called the radiant, because the meteors appear to radiate outward from it (see the photo at the top of this post). This is due to perspective, and is similar to how lights on the walls and ceiling of a tunnel all seem to come from a point directly ahead of you as you drive through the tunnel, and they fan out as you pass them. The radiant for this shower is in the relatively obscure constellation Camelopardalis, the giraffe, very near the north pole of the sky.
Please read that whole article to learn more about the meteor shower, the "parent" comet, how to watch, and more.

(And especially to look at the magnificent photos!)

Sincerely, and wistfully,

Madame L

Monday, May 12, 2014

What's Wrong With These People? (Chair Stealer at B&N)

Dear Madame L,

I was in my local bookstore the other day. I wandered around for awhile looking at books and magazines and then I put my notebooks down on a table in the coffee shop and went to the counter to order a hot chocolate.

As I waited for my hot cocoa, I happened to turn around and see a man at my table, pawing through my notebooks. I walked over and said, "This is my stuff. What are you doing?"

He said, "I want to sit here, and nobody is sitting here." He put down my notebooks and stood there staring at me.

I noticed he was wearing an NRA cap. I didn't see a gun anywhere, but apparently now you can carry them anywhere, even into a bookstore, just in case there's some lawless book-lover there whose notebooks you might have to forcefully remove from a table where you want to sit, even though there are more than 10 other tables, empty, in the place.

I said, "I'm sitting here, or I will be, in a minute or two. That's why I put my things here." After staring at me for another second or two, he finally moved to another table.

But if he'd shown a gun and started waving it around, I'll bet I would have let him have the table.

What's wrong with these people?


Should Have Been Scared Witless

Dear Scared,

Madame L does not know what's wrong with these people, but she would have been scared, too. Gun-toting demonstrators have lately felt they could, and should, celebrate their Second Amendment rights by showing up at all kinds of public establishments with their gun-loving pals, waving their weapons around and wondering why people don't like it. (Interestingly, though, they do this in groups, because even the stupidest among them grok that if they show up alone, waving a gun around, they'll be mistaken for a crook [see below for more on this aspect].)

From the article Madame L linked to above:
Just last week open carry proponents decided to have one of their “demonstrations” by going into a Jack in the Box en massescaring the employees so badly that they hid in the walk-in freezer. The so-called demonstrators seemed confused by the response of police who assumed there was an armed robbery in progress and dispatched a phalanx of cops.
“We’re not breaking the laws,” Haros said. “We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to alarm anybody. We’re doing this because it’s our constitutional right.”
Haros, who believes openly carrying firearms helps police, said citizens should know that the demonstrations will continue.
“It’s just for safety purposes,” Haros said. “Officers can’t be there at all times. We understand that. They can only do so much.”
So this fine fellow believes he is doing this to protect the public. And while they don’t wear uniforms so you can’t identify them, have no specialized training in the law, are not bound by police protocols or answer to the authority of the democratic system of government of the people, they have taken it upon themselves to look after all of us because the police are busy. (And presumably, unless you are wearing a hoodie and they think you look suspicious, you probably won’t get shot dead by mistake.) We used to have a name for this. It was called vigilantism. One can only hope that when a “bad guy” really does show up at your Jack in the Box or Starbucks and one of these self-appointed John Waynes decides to draw his weapon you’ll be as lucky as the innocent civilian who narrowly escaped being killed in error at the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. 

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.  

You can see why they think that’s freedom. It is. For them. The rest of us just have to be very polite, keep our voices down and back away very slowly, saying, “Yes sir, whatever you say, sir,” and let them have their way.
 Madame L is personally acquainted with several people who think they should be able to carry their loaded weapons into movie theaters, parks, churches, and, yes, Jack-in-the-Boxes, to show their freedoms. Madame L tries to stay as far away from these vigilantes, and their places of film-watching, recreation, worship, and eating, as she can. Because these people are NOT police, they are NOT trained in gun safety or police tactics, they do NOT know how to tell a "good guy" from a "bad guy," they are NOT helping anyone, they are NOT keeping anyone safe, and they ARE, simply, and deliberately, scaring a lot of innocent and harmless people.

Other than that very personal and visceral reaction, Madame L has no solution to the problem. Other Dear Readers, your suggestions?

Sincerely, and with some trepidation,

Madame L

Friday, May 9, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Damper

Damper, which will be made over campfires by Scouts all over Australia (or at least Sydney) this Mother's Day, to serve to their mums along with hot chocolate, is bread, made of flour and water, and sometimes milk and baking soda, and cooked in a campfire. From Wikipedia:
The damper was normally cooked in the ashes of the camp fire. The ashes were flattened and the damper was placed in there for ten minutes to cook. Following this, the damper was covered with ashes and cooked for another 20 to 30 minutes until the damper sounded hollow when tapped. Alternatively, the damper was cooked in a greased camp oven. Damper was eaten with dried or cooked meat or golden syrup, also known as "cocky's joy".
Nowadays, the Scouts who will be making damper for their mums may be wrapping the damper dough in foil before placing it in the ashes of the campfire, or wrapping it around a stick which they'll poke into the coals. This sounds to me like Girls' Camp biscuits on a stick, without the clever name. Does this ring a bell with any of Madame L's Dear Readers?

Wikipedia says damper "has become available in bakeries. Many variations and recipes exist, some authentic, others using the name to sell a more palatable bread product to the urban public."

Because, damper, yum! But "...a more palatable bread product..."? They have to add ashes, right? So it will seem authentic?

(Madame L checked Google Images for a picture of damper, and found only the "more palatable bread product," i.e., photos of nice round Irish soda bread, along with a lot of photos of some round cooking utensils, apparently devised so the damper-maker can make his/her damper nice and round and perfect with little scorings in the top to help cut it with a fancy knife. Madame L wanted some disgustingly authentic ash-covered shaped-by-the-fingers-of-a-young-scout damper. Too bad Madame L didn't take any pictures of her own U.S. Girls' Camp damper all those years ago. Maybe she will have to make some damper herself, possibly this weekend, possibly this Mother's Day, so she can post a photo of the real thing. Or maybe Lisa will send her a photo of the damper her young scouts make for her on Sunday.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Obama's Best Lines from Dinner

From the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, here are Pres. Obama's best lines:

- “I usually start off these dinners with a few self-deprecating jokes. After my stellar 2013, what could I possibly talk about?”

- “At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.”

- “In 2008 my slogan was ‘Yes We Can.’ In 2013 it was ‘Control-Alt-Delete.’”

- On the host, Joel McHale: “On ‘Community’, Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist. So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.”
- On CNN: “I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia... the lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.”

- On the Boston Marathon: For an American to win the Boston Marathon was “only fair, because a Kenyan has been president for the last six.”

- On Fox News and Hillary Clinton: “Let’s face it Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It’ll be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”
- On Cliven Bundy: “As a general rule, things don’t end well when a sentence starts, ‘Let me tell you something about the negro.’”

- On Obamacare: “What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old Don Sterling Clippers, the new Oprah Clippers. Would that be good enough?”

- “These days the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me... which means that orange really is the new black.”