2 4 / 0 9 / 0 4:
'b e a u t i f u l i n e r t i a'


"you're a product of our language," brandy says, "and how our laws are and how we believe our god wants us. every bitty molecule about you has already been thought out by some million people before you," she says. "anything you can do is boring and old and perfectly okay. you're safe because you're so trapped inside your culture. anything you can concieve of is fine because you can conceieve of it. you can't imagine any way to escape. there's no way you can get out," brandy says.
"the world," brandy says, "is your cradle and your trap."

- from 'invisible monsters' by chuck palahniuk

apparently in olympic judo you can be 'penalised for passivity'. a nice turn of phrase. sounds like a good plan for life.

a self styled "interactive documentary web project", 'collateral assets' uses images contributed by the general pubic, mostly self portrait photographs, each bearing the title of the project -apparently a military term "used to indicate specific civilian populations". created in the aftershocks on '9/11', it all seems a little lame and preachy. the intent of the piece seems to be to protest earnestly "but we are so much more than this! human beings cannot be reduced to such impersonal, inhumane labels!" ("I am not a number, i am i free man" etc.) but of course in so many ways this is, in fact, all we are. when viewed like this, the project is strangely soothing to watch.

passing a church, i noticed a banner hanging on the railings: 'lunchtime recital at st. pancras church'. the wind had creased the banner and obscured the 'i' in recital.

yesterday i worked with a girl i hadn't seen for some eight or more years. it seems that soon after working with me all that time ago (though it must be stressed that she made no connection) she went a little off the rails, losing it in her local sainsbury's, frisbee-ing hot cross buns at old ladies and stamping on easter eggs. woke up the next day in a mental ward. been on prozac ever since. and yet i assure you she makes no connection.

"in 1781 herschel became the first person in the modern era to discover a planet. he wanted to call it george, after the british monarch, but was overruled. instead it became uranus."

-from 'a short history of nearly everything' by bill bryson

where is that bastard spam coming from? here's where:
now you know where to aim the missiles...

someone told me this week that they thought physical beauty was a talent (and by beauty they meant that which is commonly accepted as beauty). their argument went a little something like this: talent is something that cannot be taught. you can paint. you can sing. you can dance. you have a facility with figures. you have an innate business sense. you can either do these things or you can't. talent is something you're born with, something that advances you in life, that provides openings and career opportunities; physical beauty too does all this... perhaps influenced somewhat by my status as a less than beautiful male, i thought this a ludicrous idea and said so. when i got home i got to thinking and maybe it isn't as clean cut as i'd thought. maybe. the dictionary definition of talent was no help, including as it does the colloquial use, meaning "young girls or young men, esp. attractive, handsome etc." but, i'd said, true talent takes hard work to maintain, realising almost immediately the lengths these so called beautiful women go to to hang on to their looks; dieting, make up, preparation h etc... but, i tried again, true talent requires technique, innate ability isn't enough, talent must be worked at, honed, perfected. to promote or exercise talent also requires hard work but beauty is exercised only by passivity: "stand there. look nice. oh, you already were looking nice." most men (and women?) want to fuck models but can we really be expected to respect their career choice? what do these people actually do? what real use are they? buy this. smell like this. wear this. how unbelievably dull. the strive for perfection is the strive to do nothing: the promotion of inertia. if pointlessness had a face, it would be a beautiful one.

i am (un?)reliably informed that: "you're just as likely to die by falling out of bed then you are to get struck by lightning; each is a 1 in 2,000,000 chance. you have a 1 in 3,000,000 chance of being killed by a snake."

won two cheap (£10) tickets to the royal opera house's production of werther (pron: ver-tair), sitting in £150 seats. standing in the queue to collect the tickets, hostess elisabeth and myself were accosted by the people organising the promotion and talked into having our photo taken, posing as 'winners' (holding a borrowed ten pound note), then at the first interval we were introduced to their managing director, some bigwig 'sir something' from the opera house and a journalist from the times. it just kept getting stranger and stranger. of course we were playing the part of the lumpen proletariat that had only been able to attend because of their kind lottery. patronising? perhaps but then free wine was involved so we went along with it (maybe confirming their prejudices of us) christ only knows where the photos will appear... and there was me having a bad hair day... o dear.

live your dreams - www.channel4.com/entertainment/games/gameson4/ant_city.html

recommended: (audio) 'my long accumulating discontent' -cd- by andrew liles / (comestible) skittles / (visual) werther, act iii / (sensorial) foot 90% back to normal

reviled: (audio) kylie / (comestible) champagne / (visual) bad hair day / (sensorial) ...lack... of... sleep...

and finally:

"spacecrafts powered by thunder

15:46 20 september 04

newscientist.com news service

thunderous sound waves could one day propel spacecraft to the edge of the solar system, say engineers who have developed a new type of acoustic engine.

current long-range spacecraft - like the us-european cassini probe now orbiting saturn - roam too far from the sun to use solar power so instead carry plutonium bricks to fuel their engines. as the radioactive plutonium decays, it generates heat that produces an electric current between two different types of metal.

this system uses no moving parts - an advantage since these can fail - but the bricks are large, heavy, and difficult to produce. and these engines yield efficiencies of just 7%.

so nasa is funding research into stirling engines, which use temperature differentials between reservoirs of gas to create electricity. conventional stirling engines are an old technology, invented in 1816 as a safer alternative to steam engines.

reliability issues

the modern nuclear stirling engines developed by nasa boast efficiencies between 25% and 30%. so, if used in a spacecraft like cassini, they would require fewer plutonium bricks. but there is a reliability issue as they use two pistons - one to move the gas back and forth and one to extract electricity.

now, a team of engineers at los alamos National laboratory in new mexico and northrop grumman space technology in redondo beach, california, have built a stirling engine with just one piston.

"it's more reliable and more easily scaled to very large sizes," says team member mike petach of northrop grumman.

the engine consists of a 0.3-metre-long tube filled with helium gas and about 1000 closely-spaced metal screens. decaying plutonium heats one end of the tube to 650 °c, causing the gas around it to expand. that gas transfers its heat to the next screen, then contracts again. this process repeats in a domino effect all the way down the tube.

burst eardrums

the expanding and contracting gas produces sound waves - a deafening roar - that oscillate at a frequency of 120 hertz and drive a piston, generating electricity.

"inside the engine, the acoustic pressure is high enough to pop your eardrums," petach told new scientist. "It's louder than a thunderclap."

he adds that the sound does not escape the engine, so the device could be used to produce electricity for submarines, which must glide undetected beneath the ocean's surface.

team member scott backhaus of los alamos has worked on the cooling applications of the acoustic engine for years, such as the liquefaction of natural gas. But the new laboratory model is the first to generate electricity.

their model runs at 18% efficiency - more than double that of today's space engines - but petach says that within two years the engine could be tweaked to match the 25% efficiency of two-piston Stirling engines.

higher efficiency "saves you weight and gives you longer missions", he adds.

journal reference: applied physics Letters (vol 85, p 1085)"

- maggie mcKee

um, mp3s please...