Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poor ape

Just so you know, those who love creatures can take their anthropomorphizing too far. And it might end up looking like this.

(Hat tip to Language Log)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: State quarters - Illinois

The badness of Illinois's state quarter design is astounding. Its biggest sin: Way too many elements.

Let's start, shall we?

State outline - Actually not very bad. The outline of Illinois is recognizable, and by itself it would be fine. But, then, lo! What is that mysterious figure bursting forth out of that humble state? Why, it's no other person than ----

Lincolnman! - I know, Abraham Lincoln lived most of his life in Illinois (born in Kentucky, though), so a Lincoln-related reference is apropos. In fact, if the designers had done something with Lincoln and left it at that, they might have ended up with a superior design. But, no, they had to do something like pose the sixteenth president of the United States as some kind of dauntless superhero with a book of spells, or whatever. In fact, this likeness of Lincoln looks almost like parody rather than serious homage.

State nickname - "Land of Lincoln". Just in case you didn't realize who that superhero was.

Farm silhouette - To show that Lincoln was a farmer. Or to appease the farming communities of Illinois who worried that Chicago would get too much consideration on the quarter.

Chicago silhouette - To remind the farmers why anyone even remembers Illinois at all.

Strange and awkward motto coined just for this occasion - "21st State/Century". Because being the 21st state isn't exciting at all. And because making it into the 21st Century is nothing to brag about (all the other 49 states did, too). But the coincidental juxtaposition of the two concepts is something just too ripe for an uncreative quarter designer to pass up!

Overall rating - 1 - Bad

Coming up: Alabama

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: State quarters - Mississippi

I'm torn.

On the one hand, I admire Mississippi for sticking to one main image and playing that up instead of cluttering its quarter design with too many components.

On the other hand, that one image is Mississippi's state flower, the magnolia. State flowers are always going to be lame, and the magnolia is especially bad. All those large petals and leaves end up cluttering the design, which negates all the goodness that comes from one single, identifiable element.

I want to like it, but I can't.

Overall rating - 2 - Mediocre

Stay tuned for Illinois.

Downtown early day

What could liven it up?

How about a music store, right in the middle of things.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: State quarters - Indiana

I like Indiana's quarter design. The state outline is nothing special (it looks like a rectangle that's spilling its innards), the circle of stars is unimaginative, the motto is shrug-worthy, but all of this is marvelously redeemed by that way cool race car!

Yes, we all know what Indiana is really famous for (no, not the little horsey team) -- it's a fast formula car race they have every Memorial Day called the Indianapolis 500. And I'm glad the team that designed this quarter had the guts to feature that aspect of the state's culture front and center. (OK, it's a little off-center, but that's part of its charm.)

The race car is a bit of a departure from the stuff that's normally put on a state quarter, but I like it a lot. It's a very good design, and I'm glad to get it after so many weak offerings in a row.

Overall rating - 4 - Better

Mississippi's just down the road.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jupiter's Great Red Spot

We're starting to understand it a little more, as Space.com reports.

New images have revealed an unprecedented look at the swirling winds inside Jupiter's famed Great Red Spot and allowed scientists to build the first-ever detailed weather map of the giant storm's insides.

"This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the solar system," said Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the leader of the team that studied Jupiter's giant spot.

Orton and his team looked at thermal images of the Great Red Spot taken with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The images revealed that the reddest colour of the Great Red Spot corresponds to a warm core within the otherwise cold storm system, and images show dark lanes at the edge of the storm where gases are descending into the deeper regions of the planet.


"We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated," Orton said.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is at least hundreds of years old and has been observed by astronomers on Earth since the 19th century. The storm is massive, and is large enough to fit three entire Earths inside.


"One of the most intriguing findings shows the most intense orange-red central part of the spot is about 3 to 4 degrees warmer than the environment around it," said team member Leigh Fletcher of the University of Oxford in England.

This temperature difference might not seem like a lot, but it is enough to allow the storm circulation, usually counter-clockwise, to shift to a weak clockwise circulation in the very middle of the storm. Not only that, but on other parts of Jupiter, the temperature change is enough to alter wind velocities and affect cloud patterns in the belts and zones.

"This is the first time we can say that there's an intimate link between environmental conditions — temperature, winds, pressure and composition — and the actual color of the Great Red Spot," Fletcher said. "Although we can speculate, we still don't know for sure which chemicals or processes are causing that deep red color, but we do know now that it is related to changes in the environmental conditions right in the heart of the storm."

Image courtesy of ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher

Sorry about the lengthy block quote, but this kind of thing fascinates me. A giant storm, bigger than three Earths, stable for hundreds of years despite its tempestuous nature. What's not to like?

I just had to share.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: State quarters - Louisiana

Another quarter, another ho-hum design.

With Louisiana, the trumpet returns. Remember what I said in my review for Tennessee's quarter? The same applies here.

And, a pelican? Remember what I said in my review for South Carolina's quarter? The same applies here.

And, the state outline? It's the only good thing about this design. The Louisiana Purchase was a significant transaction that changed how the United States developed, and Louisiana did well to feature this historic event. In fact, they should have just left it at that, showing off the Louisiana Purchase and forgetting about the state bird and blaring trumpet.

Overall rating - 2 - Mediocre

Indiana's coming.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Going for an Oscar

Want to make a movie that will win an Academy Award? Do it like this:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: State quarters - Ohio

Where to begin.

OK, the Wright brothers. As already mentioned, North Carolina did a pretty good job with its quarter design because it focused on one element only: a depiction of the Wright brothers performing the first powered airplane flight in history. So, looking at Ohio's quarter, I have to ask: Why is the Wright Flyer also on this design?

The answer is, of course, BIRTHPLACE OF AVIATION PIONEERS!!!

How's that for a slogan? Lame, that's what. OK, OK, Ohio, you have Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which -- according the oracle of the internet, Wikipedia -- is "one of the largest, most diverse, and organizationally complex bases in the Air Force with a long history of flight test spanning from the Wright Brothers into the Space Age." That goes a long way toward explaining why the Wright Flyer is there and why the astronaut is also there. Wright brothers to the Space Age. I get it.

But if that's the case then WHY IS THERE NO FREAKIN' ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE ON YOUR STUPID QUARTER??!! Geez, I had to spend a decent amount of time looking this up to try to figure out what your design even means. I had to dig to find out Wright-Patterson AFB is in Ohio, and then I had to look that up to see if there is some kind of history that's being depicted here, and dammit I'm working too hard for such a simple concept as a state quarter!

Make it easier for your audience, the rest of the whole blessed United States! Replace "Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers" [retch] with "Wright-Patterson Air Force Base" and then the images would at least be slightly less cryptic.

And the state outline, normally a decent element, doesn't even redeem the design. It's a simple line overlaid by the other components, and it makes it look like the poor astronaut has had some horrific accident and now his intestines are spilling out into the emptiness of space.


Way to go, Ohio. You have a cool flag. You should have put that on your quarter instead.

Overall rating - 1 - Bad

Louisiana to follow

Monday, March 08, 2010

Excerpts: The Planets

Schooling the schoolmarms


All those rules you learned about the English language while you were a kid (and even as an adult), are probably wrong, misguided, or just plain non-existent. English is a wonderful mish-mash of many influences, and it doesn't neatly adhere to any set of regulations that fit other languages. That's its beauty.

The people at Language Log have long been debunking certain steadfast rules that supposedly govern word usage in English, and Geoffrey K. Pullum continues that tradition with today's post about a website called The Apple that has a list called "11 Grammar Mistakes to Avoid".

Here's a sample of Pullum's critique:
4. The fourth is headed "Less vs. Fewer", and warns against substituting less for fewer. It is claimed that the latter "describes finite, listable items". Strictly that would imply that it's ungrammatical to say There are fewer rational numbers than reals, because neither the rationals nor the reals are finite in number, and the reals are not even listable. But never mind the math. The page recommends saying "fewer brains", as in "He has fewer brains than I thought", which is ludicrous (how many more does he need, if he has one?). It's an old, old usage quibble, and here it's very badly presented and described.

If you like to write, and if you are truly concerned with improving your writing while not submitting blindly to phantasmal language laws, give Pullum's list a read, and then poke around a little more on the Language Log website. And remember, when it comes to English, take all rules with a creative grain of salt (even this one).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Review: State quarters - Tennessee

I'm not quite sure what to think about this one.

There is no doubt that Tennessee has contributed greatly to the musical landscape of America (Nashville for country music, Memphis for the blues, for example), so it's not surprising to see musical instruments featured on this design. In fact, I kind of like the idea. But I wish the coin designers would have picked just one instrument to focus on.

I know, I know, the guitar symbolizes country music, the fiddle is folk music, and the trumpet stands for the blues, and by including all three nobody gets offended because their favorite genre got left off. But it's a bit much. The back of a quarter does not leave a lot of space to play with, and to get all your elements in you have to shrink down their sizes. When you do that, the details get lost, and your main ideas get very difficult to see without magnification. I mean, just look at that trumpet. Now go find an actual Tennessee quarter and take a good look at that.

Go ahead. I'll wait.


See what I mean? You can't even see the details on the trumpet. And look at what a disaster that music book is. It's not good design. Again, I like the idea of using musical instruments, but I think Tennessee blew it by trying to put it all in there and by trying to get too detailed with it. A simple, steel-string acoustic guitar would have looked beautiful, and it would have been more than adequate for a quarter design.

Oh, and another minus for an otherwise promising design is this: That stupid, insulting, stating-the-obvious banner that assumes we're all too dense to catch the reference.

Yes. We know you're proud of your musical heritage. We got it. The musical instruments clued us in.

Didn't need the banner.

Overall rating - 2 - Mediocre

Next in line: Ohio

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Review: State quarters - Kentucky

"My Old Kentucky Home" -- I've never heard of it.

It must be the official song of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but it's meaningless to me and everyone else from the other 49 states. So this design gets off to a bad start right away.

But, you know, that horse is a good image to have on there. Really, besides bourbon, what is Kentucky the most famous for? Yes, a little horse race they hold at Churchill Downs every year in May. So the likeness of a horse would have been powerful and strong all by itself without any other imagery. Too bad they had to go and mess it up with that stupid fence. I wonder how that decision went down.
Coin designer 1: Hey, we have a beautiful Thoroughbred looking great in all its graceful majesty on our little coin. What could be better than that?

Coin designer 2: I know! Let's block half of it off with a bunch of horizontal lines. Something like a fence, maybe.

Coin designer 3: Brilliant!

And the house on the hill? Mmmmm -- I'm not so sure about that. It's not entirely bad, but whose house is it supposed to be, anyway? Is it a famous house? Is it just a generic house that is supposedly representative of Kentucky architecture? Does it even matter? I'm going to say, no. So it would have been better just to leave it off.

Kentucky, if the U.S. decides to do this program again, stick with the horse. Just the horse.

Overall rating - 2 - Mediocre

Stay tuned for Tennessee.

Monday, March 01, 2010

"Tons of Water Ice Found on the Moon's North Pole"

More good news on the space exploration front.
Vast pockets of water ice numbering in the millions of tons have been discovered at the north pole of the moon, opening up another region of the lunar surface for potential exploration by astronauts and unmanned probes, NASA announced Monday.

A NASA radar instrument on an Indian moon probe found evidence of at least 600 million metric tons of water ice spread out on the bottom of craters at the lunar north pole. It is yet another supply of lunar water ice, a vital resource that could be mined to produce oxygen or rocket fuel to support a future moon base, NASA officials said.

Now, if we could just get there, we might have something to drink to celebrate.