Mystery of The Giant's Causeway in Ireland has been unlocked

Time for a bit of folklore.

Benandonner was a giant from Scotland. He was something of a tool and constantly threatened to lay a beating on Ireland.

Fionn mac Cumhaill was a giant too. He resided in Ireland. Fionn wasn't down with Benandonner's wanting to put a hurt on his homeplace. In fact, Fionn was so bent out of shape about it that he decided to rip up chunks of County Atrim and throw them into the sea in order to build a causeway to Scotland. The causeway would make it possible for Fionn to travel and beat Benandonner's ass.

With the Giant's Causeway built, Fionn stomped off to Scotland to get down with his island's adversary. He didn't stay long though: Upon reaching Scottish soil, Fionn discovered that Benandonner was frigging huge – like, giant, even for a giant. Afraid of having his ass handed to him, Fionn hightailed it back to Ireland. When the larger giant heard that Fionn had come to Scotland to fight him, but turned coward at the last moment, he set out for Ireland across the causeway to lay a curb stomping on poor Fionn.

Seeing that her husband was in trouble, again, Fionn's wife, Oonagh, bundled her husband up in swaddling clothes, disguising him as a baby. Benandonner came upon Oonagh and saw the enormous baby. He freaked out: if Fionn's child is that big, even as a toddler, Fionn himself must be HUGE. Benandonner crossed the causeway once more, back to Scotland and safety. Read the rest

NASA's got a computer model for predicting landslides

Landslides are bad news. In parts of the world where heavy, sustained rains can rapidly give way to flash flooding, they're responsible for tragic loses of life, property and transportation infrastructure. That the latter can wind up under hundreds of tons of mud and debris makes it far more difficult for first responders to do anything about the former--if you can get to people, you can't save them. Since we can't change the weather, we can't stop landslides. But NASA's churned out new tech that could make the difference between an evacuation and a recovery effort.

According to Space.com, NASA's got a hot new computer model designed to identify landslide hazards around the world, every 30 minutes:

Heavy, sustained rainfall is a key trigger of landslides around the globe. So Kirschbaum and co-author Thomas Stanley, a landslide expert with the Universities Space Research Association at NASA Goddard, built the new model using rainfall data gathered by the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which is run jointly by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The model also employs a "susceptibility map" to determine if areas getting hammered by rain are particularly landslide-prone — for example, if they lie on or near steep slopes and/or tectonic-plate boundaries, or have been subject to significant deforestation.

High-risk areas are identified in "nowcasts," which the new open-source model produces every 30 minutes.

Given the number of lives per year that this computer model's predictions could save, to call this news huge would be an understatement. Read the rest

Beautiful animated air traffic patterns

Air traffic data is great fodder for visualizations. Case in point, this lovely animation of a day of flights titled "North Atlantic Skies" by air traffic control firm NATS. (via Laughing Squid) Read the rest

Cookie recipes for Christmas or any day

This year, as a Christmas gift to my family, I scanned the pages from my Grammy's recipe folio and turned them into a spiral-bound cookbook with the help of Lulu.com. The project took several months. But, through it, I feel like I was granted some extra time with the woman who was such an important part of my life. My Grammy is in that portfolio. The binder, held together with duct tape, has been around since my Dad and uncles were in high school. She typed the pages on her old typewriter and fixed the errors with correction fluid. She wrote notes into the margins—reminders about which recipes are best, what substitutions you could make, and what the measurements should be if you want to half or double the recipe. Looking at the recipes she chose to keep around, I see her. For instance, my Grammy was the kind of woman who collected no fewer than three recipes for spinach and bacon salads. 

More seriously, the mix of recipes in this cookbook remind me that my Grammy was first, and foremost, a baker. Of the 315 pages, 106 of them are just bread recipes. If you look at all the baked goods, you've probably accounted for a good 2/3 of the cookbook. This is interesting to me, because while I love cooking, I am still at a level of baking that usually involves opening a box and adding an egg. 

So I've set myself a challenge. Over the next year, I'm going to learn how to bake. Read the rest