GirlHacker's Random Log

almost daily since 1999

Rockefeller Christmas Tree 2011


It’s been 8 years since I started researching the origins of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and this is the fifth year I’ve located it with aerial photos in online maps. Unfortunately this is the fuzziest online map view I’ve had in those years. I usually find a pretty nice photo of the tree in its original location, but this year’s tree, hailing from Mifflinville, Pennsylvania, hasn’t had a good photo op and so we must admire it instead in its decorated glory.  Instead I took a screenshot illustrating its proximity to Interstate 80 where a Rockefeller Christmas Tree scout, driving along, spotted it in March. The owner, Nancy Keller’s late husband had wanted to cut the tree down when they first moved there 30 years ago.  Now Mrs. Keller gets to fulfill his old wish and also donate it to a very public and worthy cause.  After the holiday season ends the Norway Spruce will be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.

Posted in plants

Polymer Gel Vocal Cords


Julie Andrews’ scarred vocal cords robbed us of  her lovely soprano. Other people with cancer, intubation scars, vocal strain, or other throat conditions suffer even more loss of their speaking and singing abilities.  When Andrews went to Dr. Steven Zeitels, a Harvard professor specializing in laryngeal surgery, she learned of the project he and Robert Langer, a MIT professor in chemical engineering, had been working on to simulate vocal cords with a polymer gel. Langer’s lab started with polyethylene glycol, used in numerous medical and other applications. They’ve altered the arrangement of the molecules so that the gel vibrates the same way as vocal cords do when air passes by. When injected into scarred vocal cords, the gel can restore the behavior of the patient’s vocal cords, hopefully restoring their voice. The team hopes to start human trials next year. The Institute of Laryngology and Voice Restoration, which brought Julie Andrews in as honorary chairwoman and counts rock musicians Roger Daltrey and Steven Tyler among its supporters, helped to fund the research. Below is a short video of the gel compared to human vocal cords.

Posted in science

RIP John McCarthy


I wish had an interesting John McCarthy story but mine is hum drum. I was at a talk at MIT circa 1990.  It was most likely about software patents but I don’t recall the topic exactly. Someone a few rows over stood up to ask a question (actually he made a statement, a good one) and a revered hush spread across the room as we collectively recognized the father of Lisp. He said his piece, sat down and that was that. Since I was actually a Cognitive Science major (who realized I only needed a few more courses for a resume-burnishing Computer Science major) the artificial intelligence topics were especially interesting. I spent a lot of time in LISP and Scheme during college and while I’ve never used them in my career, I’ve always strived for that elegance of expression.

Posted in education

Steuben Glass Closes


Corning Inc. has ably survived into the computer age with its glass a necessity for electronic displays both small and large. In 2008 it shed its money-losing luxury glass division, selling Steuben to Schottenstein Stores, a holding company of various retailers. Steuben is the last manufacturer of luxury lead crystal in the United States. It continued to lose money and in August of this year Schottenstein announced that the 108 year old company will close in November. The flagship Steuben store on Fifth Avenue in New York will close after 77 years of business. Buyers of wedding gifts, commemorative glass pieces, and mementos for heads of state and royalty will have to find something else. The Corning Glass Museum has replaced its Steuben store with works of local glass artists. Steuben’s online store has marked down the merchandise so for some time you can still get an animal hand cooler without having to turn to eBay. Corning has bought back the brand name so perhaps one day when we tire of buying each other gift cards and electronic devices Steuben can shine again.

RIP Dennis Ritchie


Above is my copy of “K & R”. It’s actually my dad’s. In college we were first taught Pascal. When I found out nobody actually used Pascal in the real world, I used this to try to learn C one summer and then borrowed it when I went back to college. I still have it. My favorite part is the opening for “Pointers and Arrays”:

Pointers have been lumped with the goto statement as a marvelous way to create impossible-to-understand programs. This is certainly true when they are used carelessly, and it is easy to create pointers that point somewhere unexpected. With discipline, however, pointers can also be used to achieve clarity and simplicity.

Rest in Peace, Dennis Ritchie.

Posted in education

The Bankruptcies of Eddie Bauer


Retailer Eddie Bauer has been pulling itself back from the brink of bankruptcy, the second in its 90 year history. Seattle Met magazine has a nice article on the history of the company detailing how its latest CEO Neil Fiske has been rebuilding on its outdoorsman heritage.  Eddie Bauer began as a sporting goods company with Bauer repairing tennis rackets and patenting a badminton shuttlecock. His love for fishing led to a down-filled jacket which led to a commission for the Army which led to a mail-order business that included women’s clothing created by Bauer’s wife. He sold the company in 1968 to General Mills and went back to fishing. General Mills also owned Talbots and Eddie Bauer’s women’s clothing line grew into a huge success.  General Mills cashed out in 1988, selling to Spiegel.  Things went well until Spiegel topped under the weight of defaults from the gobs of easy credit it had handed out to eager shoppers. Eddie Bauer survived its parent’s bankrupcy by taking on a huge chunk of Spiegel’s debt.  Repaying that debt took its toll on their bottom line. Neil Fiske was brought in as a CEO with vision.  Miraculously, second bankruptcy proceedings saw Eddie Bauer through the 2008-2009 downturn. It emerged from bankruptcy auction with the Spiegel debt erased and Neil Fiske still in charge courtesy of investors who believed in the progress he’d made and his passion for the brand’s history.  James Whittaker wore an Eddie Bauer parka when he become the first American to climb Mount Everest in 1963. Fiske brought in Whittaker’s nephew Peter to develop the First Ascent line to bring Eddie Bauer back to the mountains. He’s planning to retake the forest and streams too.  It’ll be a tough road.

Posted in manufacturing

Firehouses for Sale


A sliding pole? A huge garage? What attracts buyers to old firehouses? It’s not just the romanticism. Firehouses often reflect the architecture of the time they were built and since the older, historic houses are the ones usually up for sale, the draw’s in their appearance and what can be done with the interesting space. Seattle has just granted approval for two old firehouses to go up for bid. Fire Station 38 was built in 1930, Fire Station 37 in 1925. Their assessed values may not be accurate for fair market value but they provide a ballpark price for the curious. Both are historical landmarks so alterations will have to go the city’s Landmark Preservation Board. Fire Station 37 suppposedly comes with a ghost upstairs which the firefighters won’t mind leaving behind when they move into their new modern station.

Posted in nostalgia

Still After the Shuttle


Seattle’s Museum of Flight missed out on getting a space shuttle but their board hasn’t given up on trying. They’ve met with NASA to point out flaws in the data regarding tourist attendance numbers used to determine which cities would get one of the coveted, retired spacecraft. NASA is of course standing firm on its decision to place shuttles in Los Angeles and New York City, along with the obvious winners Washington D.C. and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. New York’s Intrepid Museum has already changed its plans for displaying the shuttle and may take a few years to raise the funds and build a suitable structure. The Seattle folks would love to take a shuttle even temporarily while permanent homes are built. The Museum of Flight is already spending $11.6 million on a new Space Gallery which was hoped to house a shuttle but will display a full-scale shuttle trainer instead.

Posted in space

General Store


At the heart of the general store is the community. Tourists may come to see the New England fall foliage and stop in to buy a souvenir but these stores may also be the local post office, coffee and donuts gathering spot, soda fountain, penny candy store. As this A.P. article points out, one of them sells guns and wedding gowns.

This is Cinerama


My brother and 70MM Lawrence of Arabia

This Friday the Seattle Cinerama begins a two and a half week 70MM and Cinerama film festival. The theater’s curved and impressively wide Cinerama screen will be used for all showings. Greg Wood tracked down several 70MM classics including “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Cleopatra”, and “My Fair Lady”. A few years ago at a similar event, I saw “This Is Cinerama” there with all 3 projectors going. “Lawrence of Arabia” in 70MM had just been delivered to the theater from Sony Pictures by FedEx and so I snapped a photo of the 13 large containers sitting in the lobby. The festival is a unique opportunity to truly see the widescreen movie experience as it was before theaters were crammed down into sizes that makes one want to just wait for home television viewing.