Another dang Garfield cartoon

I think I stopped finding Garfield funny a long time ago, but I’m not sure whether it’s me or Garfield that has changed (click on the image for the full-size version). Thanks to Tanja for bringing this excellent Hark, A Vagrant to my attention.

If you are quite ignorant like me, you might have to look up some of the more intensely historical references, but I think this works even if you do not.

On Station

Right now, two hundred miles above your head, five men and one woman are falling freely through space, probably enjoying a healthy lunch and doing a little email. They are the crew of the International Space Station (just ‘Station’ for short, as there is only one, and likely we will not be able to afford another).

You can see them tonight, or most nights, if you pop outside at the right time and look up. Station is so big it’s clearly visible to the naked eye, crossing the sky like a lazy meteor, or a 17,000mph spacecraft, which is what it is. HeavensAbove.com will give you Station’s ephemeris (not an unsightly skin disease, but just the times when you can see things in the sky).

Skywatching is quite fun even if you do not have a telescope or binoculars, as the Mark I eyeball is quite a sensitive optical instrument and you can use it to detect Station, meteors, satellites, and even quite a few things that do not exist (at least according to the US Government).

Space is closer than you might think, only 60 miles or so away. You could drive there in an hour, assuming your car went straight up, which some cheaper models do not. The odd thing is that just getting to space does not mean getting away from the Earth. What goes up must come down, as Newton pointed out, and the only exceptions to this rule are objects travelling faster than about seven miles a second. Probably Newton could not throw an apple this fast, so we should let him off.

Why doesn’t Station come down, you inquire, worriedly. It does, but the Earth keeps moving out of the way. Imagine a bullet. The faster you fire it, the further it goes before it falls to Earth. If you fired it fast enough, it would make it all the way round the world before coming down. This is exactly what Station does - and it sinks a little bit on every orbit, like a slowly settling blancmange. If it did not get a regular boost from Shuttle or other visitors, it would fairly soon become a meteor itself and we would be treated to a very expensive firework show in the upper atmosphere.

It is worth remembering that in all the astonishing æons of life on Earth, or the tiny recent sliver of time that is human history, we are the first to cross that sixty-mile gap to reach space, and there are plenty of people alive today who were born before the Space Age. In the brief time since, we have visited the Moon and played golf there, sent robot explorers to Mars, Venus, Mercury, and the outer planets, and established a permanent human colony in Earth orbit. Have a look at it some night.

(See also keithlard’s guide to alco-stronomy.)

Far Away Frames Passing By (Part 4)

The final chapter! A heartwarming story of a boy and his camera, love, loss, and coming of age, against a backdrop of a family torn apart. And six world wars.

(The backing track is Ulrich Schnauss’s Blumenwiese neben Autobahn.)

The toilet of Venus

Cheerful plush toilet by My Paper Crane.

I believe that we, as a people, should aspire to better toilets. It is so simple to get right:

  1. Clean and working facilities
  2. Sink that is not falling off the wall
  3. Soap
  4. Tap that does not soak the front of your trousers and make it look like you have peed
  5. Hot air hand drier that is actually hot, and does not leave you with disagreeably moist and sticky hands

Or if it is your own of course then fluffy towels. But if it is a public toilets then the best hand drier that is available, according to independent research carried out by me, is the Model A manufactured by the World Dryer Corporation at 5700 McDermott Drive, Berkeley, Illinois, and I am trying to raise sponsorship for a fact-finding mission there. I think the executives at World Dryer, Inc. would welcome a visit from someone who appreciates their products as much as I do. But America is a long way away, and I also need spending money while I am there so as not to get hungry and so forth. Please telephone to make your pledge now.

I like inspecting motorway service station toilets, although I do not have any official authority to do so (for now). I am just writing down the results and remembering them. Rebecca West once referred to the “comfort which is given out by the major works of Mozart, which is as real and material as the warmth given up by a glass of brandy.” There is an uplifting, Mozartian glow to a really well-appointed bathroom. This is one reason I like expensive hotels, which unfortunately I cannot afford to stay in every day, but always smell delicious and magically clean themselves if you go out for ten minutes.

Pub toilets, though, are often a source of anguish and spiritual turmoil. I have been to pubs where exquisite viands are served on silver among tropical ferns and muted jazz quartets. Yet when you go into the toilets it is like Trainspotting. If you washed your hands in there you would only, on average, make them slightly dirtier.

But in a well-groomed and prosperous service station, or a large chain cinema where the toilets are cleaned by lasers and fumigation every 108 seconds, it is different. What a piece of work is a loo! how noble in porcelain, how infinite in roller towels, in form and flushing so express and admirable, in action how like an angel!

Far Away Frames Passing By (Part 3)

It is Friday and everyone is very tired after not electing a governmint, so relax with some photos that I took, accompanied by soothing whale sounds, if whales emitted ambitronica.

(The backing track is Ulrich Schnauss’s Never Be The Same.)