September 15th, 2005

krazy koati

Gotta find your way back to the Animal Zoo

I'd forgotten one of the side benefits of the mid-fall festivals going on incongruously around here ... a bazaar by the central library which included one of the used book stands. There's a desperate shortage of good used book stores, defined by me as bookstores with stuff from before 1980, around here; the bazaars, though, often reach back before then. Today's didn't have any science fiction of note, but it had those Time-Life books I mentioned a few months back, with Giant Molecules and the kitten on the plate of clear plastic over a bunsen burner and the like. Today's big purchase was the Life Nature Library tome, The Land and Wildlife of South America, based mostly on two pages about coatis.

Actually, it's about two paragraphs talking about the habits of coatis, and then two pages describing ornithologist Frank Chapman, whose toucan-feeding post very quickly turned into a research project to determine whether he could design a bird feeder that coatis couldn't hack (he couldn't) and then studying how sensitively coatis could smell. No relevant pictures, alas.

On a side note, dabber mentioned seeing a coati icon for something that was involved in Free Software Day, but couldn't locate it again. Did anybody else spot it? It's a bit surprising to see coatis mentioend in any context; the last I saw one in a computer context was on the cover of one of those O'Reilly books on some aspect of C programming I'll never do.

Trivia: Sidney J Herrtage was arguably the first assistant of the Oxford English Dictionary project to be hired; he was the first fired. Source: The Meaning of Everything, Simon Winchester.

Currently Reading: Satellite E One, Jeffery Lloyd Castle. The stirring 1954 story of the first satellite/space station, in the far future date of 2003, built by the exceedingly British space program. It reads a lot like an Arthur C Clarke novel, actually, particularly in the attention paid to aggravating glitches of technology. The first flight goes wrong when a reaction control jet gets stuck open (like that could ever happen), and the rescue mission gets its first eyesight contact seconds before the spaceship passes into the earth's shadow and thus vanishes. (Radio doesn't work for reasons that probably sounded plausible before there was any useful experience above the Heaviside-Kennelly layer.) But then there's peculiar technical choices like launching the first astronauts in form-fitting mummy-like cases with robotic arms and TV screens an inch in front of the eyes for all visual contact the whole mission (there being no materials suitable as faceplates or as flexible spacesuit material for arm or hand or leg joints -- a problem I particularly like; who in 1954 besides the makers of No Highway In The Sky and The Trollenberg Terror thought of materials science at all, much less as the really hard problem of spacesuit engineering?), and launching astronauts face-down. It's also giving me weird feelings of déjà vu when I'm certain I haven't read it before.