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Gender: Male
Hometown: Northern VA
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 10:34 AM
Number of posts: 43,270

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Just finished: The Perfectionists: How precision engineers created the modern world by

Simon Winchester

My library's synopsis:

The revered New York Times bestselling author traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age to explore the single component crucial to advancement--precision--in a superb history that is both an homage and a warning for our future.

The rise of manufacturing could not have happened without an attention to precision. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in eighteenth-century England, standards of measurement were established, giving way to the development of machine tools--machines that make machines. Eventually, the application of precision tools and methods resulted in the creation and mass production of items from guns and glass to mirrors, lenses, and cameras--and eventually gave way to further breakthroughs, including gene splicing, microchips, and the Hadron Collider.

Simon Winchester takes us back to origins of the Industrial Age, to England where he introduces the scientific minds that helped usher in modern production: John Wilkinson, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden, and Joseph Whitworth. It was Thomas Jefferson who later exported their discoveries to the fledgling United States, setting the nation on its course to become a manufacturing titan. Winchester moves forward through time, to today's cutting-edge developments occurring around the world, from America to Western Europe to Asia.

As he introduces the minds and methods that have changed the modern world, Winchester explores fundamental questions. Why is precision important? What are the different tools we use to measure it? Who has invented and perfected it? Has the pursuit of the ultra-precise in so many facets of human life blinded us to other things of equal value, such as an appreciation for the age-old traditions of craftsmanship, art, and high culture? Are we missing something that reflects the world as it is, rather than the world as we think we would wish it to be? And can the precise and the natural co-exist in society?

Awesome history about the need for precision and even mentions a museum I recently visited, the American Precision Museum in Windsor, VT.

Great read by a great author. Recommended.

Not really kidding.

Want to raise empathetic kids? Try spending time in nature.

Earlier this year, I wrote about what kids should do if they found a baby bird on the ground. The idea for the story came from an experience I had with my sons last summer, when we discovered a robin’s nest in a holly bush. The fragile home, stitched together with twigs and lined with dried grass, clung to a prickly-leafed branch near the busy bus stop at the edge of our yard in Northwest Washington. We watched the parents deliver dangling worms to the babies, snapped pictures from a distance, fretted through heavy rainstorms and, when they finally grew feathers and disappeared, wondered whether the little birds would make it to adulthood.

When writing the story a year later, I interviewed David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. He shared advice for kids who encounter a baby bird. He also talked about how ordinary backyard wildlife — from birds to bunnies — provides valuable context for teaching kids to care about others. “All of these are fellow creatures who need a happy and safe habitat, even if it’s in the backyard,” he said at the time. “And . . . giving your kids the exposure to nature is just the right thing to do.”

Kevin Coyle, the NWF’s vice president of education, says: “The research tends to show that even very young kids can develop a real sense of caring about things other than themselves, like wild animals. They develop tolerance toward other things and develop a sense of empathy. That’s a good thing overall.”

Rest of the WAPO article by Kitson Jazynka at


Gardening Mystery. Can you solve it?

Had a small mimosa tree in the side yard. It was growing twisted because of some big pines, so we dug it up and planted it by the garage.

We must have left a piece of the root behind, because another mimosa came up in the same spot. The pines trees were removed and the new mimosa stayed.

Two years later they are both about 20 feet tall. The one in the side yard has green leaves and the one by the garage has reddish colored trees. Both trees get the same amount of sunlight and water. The redder tree gets more flowers in the spring.

What gives? Why isn't it green? Any theories?

What Paul Ryan should have said:

What he said:

"There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy,"

The truth of the matter:

"There is no moral equivalence between the United States and the GOP, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Republicans accountable and putting an end to their vile attacks on democracy,"

This is America! "Can I donate blood to lose weight?"

Dear Cecil: OK, so I'm trying to lose some weight. My current plan, eat less and exercise more, is working pretty well, but I want to take it up a notch. So I'm wondering: How many calories are in a pint of blood? How often can you donate without making yourself ill? This could be a great thing for both humanity and myself. - ubernina from Wisconsin

Cecil's reply is pretty good:

Americans are so pathetic. A while back I heard from a guy who reasoned that: (1) beer is cold; (2) when I drink beer, my body warms it up to 98.6 degrees; (3) this burns calories; (4) therefore, drinking beer helps me stay thin. Then there was the genius who argued: (1) fat people carry more weight; (2) carrying more weight means doing more work; (3) work = exercise; (4) therefore, fat = good.

Your proposal continues this dubious tradition. Presumed advantages: (1) You get to lie on a couch! (2) You get to watch TV! (3) You get to eat Oreos and drink juice! The only disadvantages: (1) You have to tell a complete stranger whether you’ve accepted money or drugs for sex; (2) needles; (3) they drain the blood out of your body. OK, not all the blood, but that’s what it would take for this stupid plan to work.

Don’t get me wrong. Blood donation is a noble thing. Your columnist, not content to devote his intellect to global improvement, regularly contributes a pint of his blood too. But I don’t kid myself that I’m going to lose weight this way.

Rest of the reply at:


Dismissed as a forgery, could a mysterious stone found near Roanoke's 'Lost Colony' be real?

In 1937, a California tourist walked into the history department of Emory University in Atlanta with a 21-pound engraved rock he said he’d found in a swamp while traveling through North Carolina. It immediately caught the eye of Haywood Pearce Jr., an Emory professor who also served as vice president of Brenau, a small women’s college in Gainesville, Ga.

On one side, the engraving appeared to be a grave marker, reading, “Ananias Dare & Virginia Went Hence Unto Heaven 1591 Anye Englishman Shew John White Govr Via.” On the other side, the inscription was much longer and appeared to address White as “Father”: “Soone After You Goe for England Wee Cam Hither Onlie Misarie & Warre Tow Yeere … Ye Salvages Faine Spirits Angrie Suddaine Murther Al Save Seaven Mine Childe Ananais to Slaine wth Much Misarie.”

It was signed “EWD” — the initials of Eleanor White Dare.

Good story about the lost Roanoke Colony and the perils of offering public bounties on recovering historical artifacts.

Whole story by Washington Post's Gillian Brockell here:


Once a foster kid himself, he's launched a drive to show every separated border child someone cares

The Facebook messages, emails and calls began flooding Kim Stokes’s phone soon after images and audio of immigrant children forcibly separated from their parents did.

Strangers across the country and beyond were reaching out to ask how they could help Comfort Cases — a small charity based in Rockville, Md., that delivers care packages to foster children — send backpacks stuffed with basic necessities to the thousands of children parted from their mothers and fathers. Stokes, the charity’s director of operations, was stunned by one of the largest “outpourings of support” she had ever seen.

One woman in Arizona emailed asking if she could put together toiletry kits for the children. Another woman in Canada wrote to say she wanted to fly to the United States to volunteer. Still another woman, a teacher based in California, emailed a list of bilingual books she thought the immigrant children could read.

Flipping between the messages and news reports, Stokes knew that Comfort Cases had to act. She texted the charity’s executive director, Tony Bonetti, and its founder, Rob Scheer, and learned that they had independently arrived at the same conclusion. Thus began a mobilization effort that over the past two weeks has led to an emergency fundraiser, a massive outreach campaign to government officials and a new mission for the charity.

Rest of the story by Washington Post's Hannah Natanson here:


The first battle of the #SecondCivilWar is Nov. 6. Female voters must be a force.

Okay, sisters. You wore your pink pussyhats, and you gave the Red Hen five-star reviews. You mocked the Second Civil War that was supposed to break out at all the SoulCycle studios and raw juice bars this week. That felt good.

But there’s a problem. The one place where women have the undisputed power to make real change — at the polls — has been a little lonely around some parts.

Voter turnout for this past string of primaries was pathetic in a number of states.

“If you didn’t knock on doors this cycle, if you didn’t help a candidate, you didn’t do enough,” said Wanika Fisher, 30, who is Maryland’s version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old who took out ­10-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley in last month’s Democratic primary in New York.

More by Washington Post's Petula Dvorak at


I strongly agree with her point: social media likes, tweets, memes, and discussion boards arguments aren't activism. GOTV.

Hey, what's everyone doing later today after we wrap up the Civil War?

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