Soviet battleships, travelling gnomes, the world's smallest park, cowsay, and the tiniest photo of Earth

Today, we will examine the Pale Blue Dot, Mill Ends Park, the travelling gnome prank, K-1000 battleship hoax, and cowsay.

The Pale Blue Dot is a famous photograph of the Earth taken from the Voyager 1 probe in 1990. A compliment of the so-called "Family Portrait", it depicted our planet as a tiny speck amongst the vastness of the cosmos. Taken as the probe departed our solar system after 23 years of studying Jupiter and Saturn, the photo is the record for being taken the farthest from Earth (much as the probe is currently the farthest man-made object from Earth at about 3.781 billion miles when the image was transmitted, and currently about 10.788 billion miles). I don't want to wax philosophical on this blog too much, but one can't help but reflect on the perspective of the universe; our conflicts that seem so all-encompassing are so small in the scope of the planet, which is itself insignificant in the scope of the galaxy around us.

"What mighty contests rise from trivial things"
 Some people joke that military intelligence is an oxymoron, to which I would reply with a roundhouse kick were it not for the ironic validation it would provide. Nonetheless, even nations at peace often go to great lengths to deceive each other regarding their military strength and technologies. The K-1000 battleship is a hoax that serves as a great example of disinformation. The naval weapons race at the beginning of the Cold War was motivated more by a WWII mindset of capital ships; thusly, it was natural that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would try to intimidate each other with bigger ships that had bigger guns and bigger armor. Even though the decline of the battleship in favor of the aircraft carrier was well established, the show of force of a battleship was still an iconic touchstone for the American and Soviet navies. The Soviets encouraged the spread of rumors about a new class of big ships, to the point that even Jane's published accounts of vessels being built with 16-inch guns, guided missiles, and averaging estimates of 45,000 tons displacement. They even produced a fake copy of a fleet recognition manual listing K-1000 Heavy Fleet Unit Sovietskaya Byelorussia in commission from 10 November 1953, with a fake diagram. Even though it was a crock, it influenced Navy shipbuilding plans for years. By the way, if you have an interest in battleships, consider joining Operation Majestic Titan.

More computer geek humor: cowsay is a small program (and the titular command) that generates an ASCII drawing of a cow and a speech bubble. The "spoken" text is up to the user, with parameters that allow him or her to use different varieties of eyes, such as Borg, dead, tired, and stoned, or to replace her entirely with Tux. That last bit, unsurprisingly, marks the program as being of supreme interest to Unix users, and as a Perl program, can be adapted for use with plenty of system tasks, such as notification messages. It was written by Tony Monroe, with the first stable release in 2000.
 < This blog rocks!      >
         \   ^__^
          \  (oo)\_______
             (__)\       )\/\
                 ||----w |
                 ||     ||

The world's smallest park, a 452 square inch planter in the median of a downtown Portland, Oregon street, is Mill Ends Park. The creator, Dick Fagan, concocts a lovely story about a leprechaun founding it as a trick wish fulfillment, though it was actually established in 1948 when a hole dug for a light pole never erected was planted with flowers and named after Fagan's column in the Oregon Journal. The record was recognized by Guinness in 1971, and it was named a city park five years later. Usually simply planted with some kind of pretty flora, it once held a swimming pool for butterflies, complete with diving board, a horseshoe, and a miniature Ferris wheel which delivered by a full-sized crane. It was temporarily relocated to a planter in 2006 during road construction, and now houses a shrub.
Taken in 2004, above, and 2007, below.
I'm gonna be honest here: I don't like garden gnomes. I think they are ugly, creepy, and lend themselves to a horrible slippery slope that culminates into drinking tea from Styrofoam cups in your underwear while watching the Harry Potter films over and over. So I can kind of get behind the concept of the travelling gnome prank, which consists of stealing a beloved gnome, photographing it in front of famous landmarks, and sending the photos back with a letter that tells the owner how the gnome "escaped back to the wild". Mind you, I'm only advocating the theft and ransom photographs, not so much the cheeky letters. There are actually groups that do this, called garden gnome liberationists, and is the reasoning behind Travelocity's current mascot (listening to their awful commercials is probably what started this gnome-hatred I feel). The only good thing I can say about this is the "Little Rocket Man" easter egg in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, where lugging a gnome through most of the damn game and putting him in a rocket set for orbit nets you nice little achievement.
The invaders take London!

Today's bonus is not so much a positive bonus, but commiseration over two tragedies. First, Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, passed away on Monday, leaving only two known survivors of the war, both British (hopefully, they both live to see the centennial). Second, if you recall that I posted about Snyder v. Phelps in January, then you won't be surprised that I'm rather unhappy about the decision the Supreme Court turned in today. Not-so-happy reading...

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