Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 20th, 2021

Parts & Recreation: Revell’s world of plastic models

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Ed Sexton, a former race car driver and a longtime manager at Revell, practicing his favorite hobby: building tiny plastic model cars.

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Jeff Greenwald writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

1. “Very Much an Art”   
2. An Uniquely American Industry  
3. Industrial Ikebana   
4. Models of Obsession  
5. Could Revell Take on Lego?  
6. A Physical Story

My first plastic model, financed by weeks of snow shoveling, was Revell’s 1965 Gemini spacecraft. The kit had 93 parts, including two Lilliputian astronauts that I manipulated—with real envy—into the impossibly cramped capsule that would carry them into orbit. I remember bits of the process: the pages of the Long Island Press, spread over the kitchen table; the dizzying aroma of Testor’s glue; the UNITED STATES decals that seemed permanently attached to their backing until they suddenly slid off, in useless fragments, onto the painted plastic.

Over the years I built scores of models. I was a geeky adolescent outsider, sneaking into American pop culture through tiny plastic doors. While my peers were collecting Beatles singles, I exulted in the 1966 Batmobile that perched on my desk, honoring me with its silver rocket tubes and fine orange piping. A panoply of popular movie monsters snarled on my bookshelves. Each one had taken hours to assemble, but what else was I doing? Pong was still six years away.

Five decades later, in November, 2014, Warner Brothers re-released the entire original series of 120 Batman episodes. The news inspired an immediate visit to the neighborhood hobby shop, even though I hadn’t been inside one in decades.

In the 1960s and 70s, plastic models had sprung—as effortlessly as Pop-Tarts—from the aerospace programs, car designers and TV shows they mimicked. What were today’s inspirations? Once I arrived in the hobby shop, what amazed me most was that plastic models still existed—thousands of them, including a vintage Batmobile.  Yet unlike the models I built as a kid, most of these now bore a “Made in China” disclaimer. Even Revell, a company whose very logo looks like an American flag, had outsourced. But Revell’s home office was still in Illinois, apparently going strong. How could this be?

“VERY MUCH AN ART”

Sprawled over the flatlands some 30 miles northwest of Chicago, the boundaries of Elk Grove Village embrace the largest industrial park in the United States. More than 3,600 businesses have set up branches or headquarters in this former farming community. Next to Chicago itself, it’s the second largest manufacturing area in the country. Incongruously, the town still hosts its namesake: a herd of elk imported from the plains of Montana in the 1920s, now living in resigned boredom near the eastern edge of the Busse Woods Forest Preserve.

Brian Eble, vice president of marketing for Revell—still America’s premier model company—met me at the breakfast buffet of Elk Grove’s Comfort Inn, hand outstretched. Eble grew up on an Illinois farm and looks like a middle-aged superhero: close-cropped gray hair, a strong jaw, broad shoulders. An avid builder as a kid, he spent breakfast waxing philosophical about how model making had changed since our childhoods.

“Take a model car,” he suggested. “They used to carve the originals out of bass wood, and fashion the mold from that. Now, of course, it’s all done with computers. But the magic is the same. You’re taking a real car,” he said, lifting his java, “and shrinking it down to the size of this cup.

“Here’s the question,” he said. “How do you infuse craftsmanship into . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including many more photos.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2021 at 2:07 pm

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2021 at 1:56 pm

Secrets of the largest animal genome ever: The Australian lungfish

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The platypus genome revealed a mix of mammal, bird, and reptile characteristics, and the lungfish is similarly bears signs of lifeform transition. Donna Lu writes in New Scientist:

The Australian lungfish has the largest genome of any animal so far sequenced.

Siegfried Schloissnig at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Austria and his colleagues have found that the lungfish’s genome is 43 billion base pairs long, which is around 14 times larger than the human genome.

Its genome is 30 per cent larger than that of the previous record holder: the axolotl, a Mexican amphibian that the team sequenced in 2018.

The researchers used high-powered computer sequencers to piece together the lungfish genome.

To account for inherent errors that the sequencers introduce, they used multiple copies of the genome, each fragmented into small pieces of DNA. After all the fragments were sequenced, the team used algorithms to reassemble the pieces into a complete genome.

The result took roughly 100,000 hours of computer processing power, Schloissnig estimates.

The Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri), native to south-east Queensland, has changed little in appearance since the time when animals began transitioning from a water-based to a terrestrial-based lifestyle, says Schloissnig.

The animal’s fins are fleshy and flipper-like, and it has a single dorsal lung, which it can use to breathe air at the water’s surface.

Previously, it was unclear whether lungfish or coelacanths – a group of archaic fish found in the Indian Ocean and around Indonesia – were more closely related to land-based vertebrates such as mammals and birds.

The new genomic analysis shows unequivocally that lungfish are more closely linked to the evolutionary line that gave rise to four-legged animals. Coelacanths diverged earlier, while lungfish branched off 420 million years ago.

“In order to get out of the water, you need

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2021 at 11:55 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Goodbye, Ajit Pai. Welcome back, net neutrality.

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Nitish Pahwa writes in Slate:

It took an industry man to ruin the internet as we knew it. The damage to a free and open virtual network wrought by the killing of net neutrality standards hasn’t yet assumed the apocalyptic form that digital watchdogs warned of. But the internet service providers who benefit from relaxation of the restrictions are already taking advantage in subtle ways, toeing the line into future, likely more explicit abuses, while prices for service remain sky-high for low-income users. This is all a gradual rollout by savvy design, thanks to the machinations of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai—who announced that he would be stepping down from the agency after President-elect Joe Biden is officially sworn in Wednesday—may not have been among the most blatantly corrupt lawbreakers who peopled the Trump administration, but he was one of its most apt representatives: laissez-faire, corporate-friendly, never above trolling the libs. Now, the internet is unquestionably a worse place, and the commissioner will take his stupid oversize Reese’s-branded mug wherever he goes next, likely somewhere that allows him to continue to profit from his friendly relationships with tech and communications companies.

Pai has been a public servant for much of his career, having worked in the Justice Department, the Senate, and the FCC, but the most instructive and relevant parts of his résumé have always been his brief private sector dalliances: his early years as in-house counsel for Verizon, and his between-government-appointments time in the communications branch of law firm Jenner & Block, where he represented companies like Securus Technologies and AOL. The D.C. public-private revolving door isn’t exactly a secret or any source of excessive stigma for those who happily participate, but it’s worth extra focus in Pai’s case, since his reign as FCC chair couldn’t have been more of a blessing to those very corporations he once worked for.

Consider the defining aspect of his legacy. For years, Pai railed against net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat all sources of data usage the same and not exercise favorability in providing broadband to their users. In effect, it’s the attitude that the government should ensure an accessible internet to all users, whether they be hulking megacorporations or small-time streamers. Pai claimed, in line with typical Republican reasoning, that staying true to net neutrality neutered ISPs and imposed an unfair, burdensome regulation on the corporations that control our digital infrastructure—such as, say, Verizon Communications. When he was appointed to the FCC board by President Barack Obama in 2012, upon Sen. Mitch McConnell’s recommendation (following a tradition of letting the minority party pick commissioners when the majority party already controls three of the five commission seats), he used his platform to continually undermine the agency’s yearslong attempts to enshrine net neutrality rules into law, even as the FCC’s standards finally went into effect in 2015. And while net neutrality was and still is broadly favored by Americans—including, yes, some Republicans—Pai never stopped trying to gut it, eventually succeeding in late 2017 even as outraged constituents flooded the FCC’s public comments section, making clear their disapproval by crashing that system altogether. Pai very publicly had a great time dismissing these concerns, mocking the public perception that he was a Verizon shill and filming a how-do-you-do-fellow-kids Daily Caller video alongside a Pizzagate truther that claimed the end of net neutrality wouldn’t mean the end of any popular internet activities.

The effect of the neutrality deregulation has begun to play out as activists predicted, with providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast already throttling traffic to certain online services like Skype and privileging effective internet connection to those with money. Not to mention, an Idaho-based ISP recently threatened to kick off Facebook and Twitter altogether after the networks banned President Donald Trump. (It backed off after public criticism.) Pai also tried to prevent states from passing their own net neutrality regulations and, after being halted from doing so by a federal appeals court, raised the fantasy of abolishing the federalist system altogether in order to unilaterally impose his agenda and yank the power of the states to pass legislation he didn’t care for. You know, just a typically Trumpy view of the executive.

Democrats are already looking at reversing Pai’s net neutrality scything, through legislation or other means as they stand to regain majority control of the FCC. But Pai’s damage extends far beyond this one policy. Affordable internet access is further out of reach for rural residents thanks to ISPs’ increased price and traffic control as well as the rollback of an important telecoms subsidy for low-income Americans. Prison communication companies—whose oversight should not have been run by Pai—have gotten away with still charging exorbitant prices for phone and video calls. Big mergers, like that of T-Mobile and Sprint, have gone ahead with barely any questioning or interrogation. Deregulation was priority above all, and the ensuing higher costs and consumer choice decline were, well, apparently just the cost of a truly “free” digital society.

In fairness, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2021 at 11:43 am

Floris No. 89, beloved by James Bond, and the wonderful Dorco PL602

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James Bond (and presumably his creator Ian Fleming) had a high regard for Floris No. 89 (that being the street address of the shop). The fragrance from the shaving soap was exceptionally good:

Orange and bergamot blended with lavender and neroli give this scent its classical cologne aspect. Warmed with a touch of spicy nutmeg, the floral heart is underscored by the dominant woody accord of sandalwood, cedarwood and vetiver in this quintessentially English gentleman’s fragrance.

The fragrance of the lather adds immeasurably to the shave, which otherwise would be nothing more than an automatic routine of maintenance, like eating a nutritious meal that had no taste at all. You can’t pause to smell the roses if no roses are present.

Beyond the pleasure of the fragrance, the lather itself was excellent. I have no idea of the current quality of Floris shaving soap, since this tub is at least two reformulations ago, but what I have makes a grand lather, ably assisted this morning with the Edwin Jagger synthetic brush, a brush I like more and more.

My Dorco PL602 razor is in the very top tier of my razors in terms of its feel on my face and its performance. If you ever get a chance to pick up one (or a few — they eventually will probably break: after several years, the plastic seems to become brittle), then I highly recommend you get it just for the pleasure it affords as it provides a highly efficient shave.

A splash of Floris No. 89 aftershave, and the day is launched, with President Joseph Biden taking office and what’s-his-name slinking of town with his tail between his legs, devoid of grace and courtesy to the very end.

In passing, let me note I have updated my post on a quick & easy way to cook a steak to include a slow & easy method that does an even better job. And in fact, if you include the time the quick method requires for heating oven and skillet, the slow method is not very much slower, but is safer (less chance of overdone steak) and easier.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2021 at 11:05 am

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