Saturday, December 31, 2005

Fighting panda extinction

How's this for news?
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The San Diego Zoo's 5-month-old panda cub, Su Lin, slept through most of her first days on public display this week, but behind the scenes, the fuzzy 15.6-pound (7 kg) panda is performing headstands and nibbling on her mother's ears, a zookeeper said on Friday.

Holy cow! A fuzzy animal nibbling ears. Certainly deserving of the lead paragraph, dontcha think?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"No arrests in mob beating"

Microbots represent humanity at its finest. Milwaukee thugs, at its worst.

Sending robots to Mars

It will be a long, long time before we actually send people to Mars, so it looks like robots will have to do the job of exploring that planet for a while. But designs like this -- essentially bouncing balls of sensors -- show promise and creativity.

Microbots, rovers, asteroid landers -- all proud achievements of the human race and proof of our potential.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"Palestinian Gunmen Seize Election Offices"

Now that's the way to promote democracy!
Gunmen in Gaza and parts of the West Bank repeatedly take over government buildings and election offices, demanding jobs and changes to election policies ahead of a January parliamentary vote. The almost daily standoffs are a sign of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' inability to bring law and order to his towns and cities.

Yep. I can see how that will win voters over to your side.

By the way, if you owned a business, what kind of employee do you think you'd get if the selling point on his résumé was a pistol to your face?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Reflecting on the rovers

In thinking about the amazing things humans can do when we actually set our minds to it, one could do worse than list the accomplishments of Spirit and Opportunity, the Martian rovers.

The Rovers That Just Won't Stop (Leonard David)
NASA site

Happy anniversary, rovers. Keep on chuggin'.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

"Christmas Tree Opossum Surprises Pa. Teen"

This is funny.

ENGLEWOOD, Pa. - Mary Kathleen O'Connor, 16, doing some studying for school about 6 a.m. Tuesday, said she was the first to be startled by an apparent Christmas tree stowaway.

"I'm looking at the tree and the angel just pops off," she said. "And a second later, this head just popped up. The eyes were, like, glowing. I was thinking, 'Oh my God!' And I screamed."


Having grown up in rural Texas, I've run across possums at some startling moments (usually at night), and I don't blame Mary Kathleen O'Connor for screaming. The creatures are plain ugly and nasty looking, and I can imagine the sight of one topping your Christmas tree can be disturbing, to say the least. Possums, along with platypuses, stand as proof that God does indeed laugh from time to time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Finishing Silence

Here is what I have just finished reading:














It's quite geeky to admit that I have just read a thirteenth-century French romance for fun, but the story is actually just that--fun!

Brief rundown: a count in merry old England has a daughter as an only child. Since the king has declared that women cannot inherit property in England, the count raises his daughter as a son and calls her/him "Silence". The person named Silence goes on to win favor and fame throughout the land as a knight, but then raises the ire of the queen by turning down her sexual advances. Confusion ensues, sexual stereotypes and gender-bending are tossed about with abandon, and Merlin even makes an appearance to wrap things up and sow a little more bewilderment at the end. A jolly good read, indeed!

And, no. I did not read the story in the Old French. I stuck with the much-more-facile modern English translation. As should you.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Classic design inspires futuristic space glider"

The Silver Dart hypersonic glider. Looks like it was designed in the 1960s, but it would still look cool if built today.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"‘Refugee,’ ‘tsunami’ top words of the year"

"Refugee" is the word of the year.
Global Language Monitor head Paul JJ Payack said refugee, which was was used five times more often than other words to describe those made homeless by Katrina, triggered a debate on race and political correctness.
I hope the word does not forever suffer because of a stupid hurricane. Animosity toward the use of "refugee" was, and is, anger misplaced. Frustation because of the original Katrina situation is understandable. Impatience with a French word that refers to one who seeks shelter from danger isn't.

"Researchers: Mother Squids Nurse Eggs"

The researchers may be right, but how do the little eggs latch on to the nipples?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Landing Stardust in Utah

The Stardust space probe is returning to earth after collecting samples from the tail of Comet Wild 2. I'm sure everyone involved in the project hopes it has a safe landing in Utah. And I'm sure this is on all their minds.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"Activists' destruction of GM crops was justified: French court"

This is unfortunate.

Now, future acts of vandalism and destruction in the name of activism will be justified because they respond to "a situation of necessity".

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Japan's landmark asteroid probe likely a failure"

This is too bad.
TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese spacecraft is likely to have failed in its landmark mission to collect the first-ever samples from an asteroid and faces trouble returning to Earth.

I wish them luck on their next venture.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Claiming truly free roads

The Texas Toll Party in San Antonio is opposed to the building of toll roads in the Alamo City. They're entitled to their view, but I don't think it helps their argument to claim that an absence of toll roads means that a highway could possibly be built for free. Witness the following quote from this post:
If they get rid of just these toll equipment [sic] not to mention the toll lanes (that only half of all motorists can use) and just build what's needed, the road is 40-100% less money to build and EVERYONE can drive on it. [emphasis added, except for the all-capped word]

Everyone can drive on it. And it could cost nothing to build. As long as there is no toll equipment. Or toll lanes. Got it?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Learning something new

I've been around awhile, but I just discovered that electricity is apparently corrosive! That's what caught my eye in this Houston Chronicle story, "MetroRail still leaking electricity".

Electricity from power stations along the route is supposed to flow through the overhead traction wire to the train motor, then into one of the rails and back to the power station.

If rails, bridges or switches are not well insulated, power will leak into the ground and can damage metal objects such as pipes and structural steel near the rails, although such damage is generally quite slow.

I did not know that. Did you?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Coin from Mexico







































Nothing but a coin from the United States of Mexico.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

"Wasps Could Replace Bomb, Drug Dogs"

This sounds promising, using insects to detect chemicals.

"What we have ... is a technology-free organism that you can quickly program and use in a highly mobile way," said [U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Joe] Lewis, who believes the Wasp Hound could be used to search for explosives at airports, locate bodies, monitor crops for toxins and detect diseases such as cancer from the odors in a person's breath.

"They're very cheap to produce and very sensitive," [University of Georgia agricultural engineer Glen] Rains said of the wasps. "Dogs take months to train and they need a specific handler. Wasps can be trained on the spot." [ellipsis in original]


I like and applaud the idea, but don't let the vegans know. They think honey farmers enslave bees. What magnificent paroxysms they would suffer if they knew humans were exploiting wasps just to keep other humans alive.

Friday, December 02, 2005

"NASA Sets Centennial Challenges to Boost Robotic Space Exploration"

Tariq Malik at Space.com reports something promising.

NASA announced two new cash prizes Friday, each with a weighty $250,000 purse, in a pair of contests aimed at developing robotic systems for space exploration.

The space agency is challenging innovators to build an autonomous aerial vehicle to navigate a tricky flight path or robots capable of building complex structures with only limited guidance from their human handlers, NASA officials said.

The contests - dubbed the Planetary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Telerobotic Construction challenges, respectively - are part of the agency's Centennial Challenges program to spur interest in commercializing space technologies. Both challenges will make their competitive debut in 2007, NASA officials said.


I know such contests probably won't capture popular attention, but I wish they would. I find them much more interesting than what the Olympic games have become.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fighting panda extinction

"Panda cub takes Washington by storm"

... and journalists lose it. Babies.

WASHINGTON - So little in Washington is black and white that all it takes is a tiny panda cub to captivate the entire U.S. capital.

Tai Shan, the 21-pound baby panda born in July at the National Zoo, took his first bow before the media on Tuesday, reducing one of the hardest-bitten press corps in the world to cooing and incoherent babble.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fighting panda extinction

Science is apparently--possibly--reversing the decline of the evolutionary dead-end known as the panda.
CHENGDU, China - Chinese scientists have logged a record number of giant panda births in captivity this year through improved artificial insemination techniques and better understanding of how the reclusive but universally appealing creature lives and mates.

I wouldn't say the panda is "universally appealing", but apparently Edward Cody of The Washington Post would.

The result of hard science by no-nonsense researchers, the increased birthrate is good news for the many children and soft-hearted adults around the world who delight in the sight of pandas, with their distinctive black and white fur, sitting back and tranquilly munching on bamboo leaves.

So, following the logic of the article, you are a hard-hearted adult if you don't delight in watching pandas eat leaves.

Edward Cody, bite me.

I care immensely for my fellow human beings (friends and family in particular), but I take no particular delight in the panda, and I really don't care if the species actually goes extinct. Call me hard-hearted if you will, but I would like to see more "no-nonsense" research focused on the advancement of the human race. We need cures to very common diseases; we need better ways of using natural resources; we need further exploration of the depths of the ocean and the far reaches of the universe; and we need these more than we need the panda.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"Japanese Space Probe May Be in Trouble"

I hope not.

It seems that the Hayabusa probe has already gathered some dust from the asteroid Itokawa, and it is now awaiting the return home with its unique--if miniscule--cargo. That is, if the Japanese can overcome yet another problem on this mission.

The Hayabusa probe, hovering about three miles from the asteroid, appeared to be shaking due to a possible gas leak from a thruster, said Atsushi Akoh, a spokesman for Japan's space agency, JAXA.

JAXA will put Hayabusa into "safety mode" — which stabilizes the probe by turning its solar panels toward the sun — for two to three days to investigate, Akoh said.

Good luck to them.

Oh, and don't let this guy know what they are doing. He might accuse them of excavating for a military base.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Former Canadian Minister Of Defence Asks Canadian Parliament To Hold Hearings On Relations With Alien "ET" Civilizations"

Can you say kook?

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."

Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."


Kook.

Even kookier.

Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation.


Geez.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Coin from India, Nov. 21, 2005









































Nothing but a coin from India.

Fighting panda extinction

Pandas are popular, for some reason. And they're going extinct, I think. But the media won't let them go without fawning over them every step of the way.

"Panda Cub Tickets Going Quickly"
The zoo had expected the tickets to be "extremely popular, but I don't think we expected quite this amount so quickly," [Friends of the National Zoo spokesman Matt] Olear told WRC-TV. "We're just asking people to be patient, and bear with us. Just keep trying."
Please, let's not have any riots triggered by a shortage of panda-viewing tickets.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"The Surprising Origin of Venom Revealed"

Wow. Seems like lizards are more poisonous that we thought. And that makes the Komodo dragon truly frightening.

Bacteria has long been blamed as the aggravating agent in a Komodo dragon's nasty bite. [Bryan Fry at the University of Melbourne, Australia] now suspects otherwise.

"Bacteria couldn't work this quickly," he said. "The effects are totally inconsistent with bacteria."

The effects – a drop in blood pressure, loss of clotting ability, amplified pain, and loss of consciousness – are more biologically consistent with venom.


The Komodo dragon is scary looking all on its own, but its fearsome reputation is enhanced by the knowledge that its bite is deadly. Since the lizard often eats carrion, it was assumed that massive amounts of bacteria lived in the Komodo's mouth, and that very nasty infections killed anyone unfortunate to get chomped by one.

But now, it seems possible that the Komodo dragon is actually venomous. That's scary. Let's see Steve Irwin wrestle one of those to the ground.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Putting Bosnian towns into space

Here is a screen capture of Yahoo! News, Space and Astronomy on November 17, 2005. Can you guess which item doesn't belong?


(Hint: it's the story about a town in Bosnia called Brcko, a story that happens to use the phrase "black hole" to describe the town's violent past, which apparently triggered the Yahoo software to dub it a story about space.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Railing against apostrophes in plurals, part 2

In the November 16, 2005 New York Times ("Business Day" section), Tom Zeller, Jr. has a follow-up article to his piece discussed here. In this article, he reports on Sony BMG's decision to recall millions of CDs that have copy-restiction software on them. Except Mr. Zeller writes it as "CD's", just as he did in his November 14 article.

This time, he uses "CD's" at least 12 times. And he uses "PC's" twice as well.

Again, the proper way to indicate these plurals is CDs and PCs. But I'm beginning to think that this is house style at the Times. After all, the headline for Mr. Zeller's November 16 article is "CD's Recalled For Posing Harm to PC's".

It may be house style, but it's still sloppy.

"NASA wants private sector help for space"

This sounds promising.

Businesses could, for example, take on the task of flying and tending to fuel depots in low-Earth orbit that would service spaceships heading to the moon and eventually Mars, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said at the Florida Space conference being held at the Kennedy Space Center this week.

Fuel makes up half the weight of what a rocket leaving Earth must carry for a trip to the moon. Griffin is hoping commercial launch providers will be able to fly fuel aboard less expensive rockets, leaving NASA with a smaller load to haul on its more expensive moon ships.

"It would free us from the cost of transporting thousands of pounds of fuel," Griffin said.

It's a good development. It should save the government some money, and hopefully speed up our exploration of space.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Railing against apostrophes in plurals

In the English language, plurals -- words that indicate more than one of a thing -- are generally pretty straightforward. You add an s to a singular word and it means "more than one". There are some words that change form or get a different ending ("children" for more than one child, for example), but usually just one s will do.

And remember this -- use no apostrophes. Not even for initialisms.

Rare exceptions may be warranted, but this passage is plain wrong [emphases added]:
Sony BMG seems to have failed that test when, in seeking to limit consumers to making three copies of its CD's, it embedded the First 4 Internet software, which penetrates deeply into the PC's of users with a program that introduced a real, if minor, security risk.

Sad to say, but something like this doesn't really surprise me in some sources where I think a lack of competent editors might be an adequate excuse for such a mistake. But the passage quoted above appeared in the November 14, 2005 edition of The New York Times, "Business Day" section. This is a periodical that you might think would know better.

The editors really fell down on this one. Tom Zeller, Jr., the writer of the piece headlined "The Ghost in the CD", used the erroneous "CD's" at least nine times in his article, which clearly suggests that he believes this to be the correct way of indicating more than one CD, or compact disk. It is not. It is CDs, just as the plural of PC is PCs. And any editor at The New York Times should have caught that even on the most cursory reading of Mr. Zeller's article. That they didn't reflects poorly on the once proud paper.

Of course, I don't own a copy of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, so I guess it is possible that "CD's" and "PC's" are actually house style at the Gray Lady. If so, it looks sloppy, and it still reflects poorly on the paper.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Coin from Costa Rica, Nov. 13, 2005









































Nothing but a coin from down south in Costa Rica.

Friday, November 11, 2005

"New Chewing Gum Could Replace Toothbrush"

Humans can do some amazing things when they set their mind to it. Especially when they are developing it for the military.

Witness, the possibility of gum that makes brushing unnecessary.

Soldiers in the field often do not have the time or the means to brush and floss. Beyond that, the stress of combat can encourage bacterial growth in the mouth, said Col. Dennis Runyan, commander of the Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment in Great Lakes, Ill.

[Bacteria-fighting g]um was considered an ideal solution because the Army already issues gum to soldiers in their field rations.


Brush your breath!

"Hayabusa approaches within 70 meters of asteroid Itokawa"

It won't be long now until the Japanese attempt to land a probe on an asteroid, collect samples, and bring them back!

Cool.

And what's really cool is the picture with the above link showing a shadow of the probe Hayabusa on the face of the asteroid Itokawa.

Go JAXA.

Honoring those who serve

I don't like to get into the political fray too much on this blog, but I think it is important that we honor those who serve in our armed forces and make sure they know how much this nation appreciates them. And denouncing our efforts in the war on terror is not the way to do it. It is ludicrous, disingenuous, and borderline evil to say you support the troops while hoping for them to fail in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I support our troops. On this Veterans Day and on all days. I hope they succeed in Iraq and come home. I hope they succed in Afghanistan and come home. I hope they succeed in Kosovo and come home.

Oh wait, you didn't know we still had troops in Kosovo? From the previous administration's war efforts? I did. And I still support them. I hope they succeed and come home to be remembered always on November 11.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Astronauts float gravity plan to deflect earth-threatening asteroids"

Serious talk about gravitational tractors to protect the Earth from collisions with space bodies.

I love it. Things outlandish yesterday are becoming household today and in the near future.

Nanobots. Space elevators. Gravitational tractors. The Industrial Revolution's scientific grandson seems to have grown up.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"European Space Agency Launches Venus Probe"

The Venus Express -- on its way to hell.

And what hell Venus is. (From an excellent site called The Nine Planets.)
The pressure of Venus' atmosphere at the surface is 90 atmospheres (about the same as the pressure at a depth of 1 km in Earth's oceans). It is composed mostly of carbon dioxide. There are several layers of clouds many kilometers thick composed of sulfuric acid. These clouds completely obscure our view of the surface. This dense atmosphere produces a run-away greenhouse effect that raises Venus' surface temperature by about 400 degrees to over 740 K (hot enough to melt lead). Venus' surface is actually hotter than Mercury's despite being nearly twice as far from the Sun.
Hot enough to melt lead. "The Long Rain", it's not.

NOTE: The Nine Planets Web site indicates that Venus has a very dense atmosphere. This is in contrast to my previous post quoting the Associated Press article, which says Venus "lacks atmospheric pressure." Given the two sources, I'm inclined to go along with The Nine Planets claim.

"Scientists Ready Russian Rocket to Venus"

The Venus Express -- ready for hell.

Not only is Venus the nearest planet to Earth within the solar system, but the two share also roughly the same mass and density. Both have inner cores of rock and are believed to have been formed at roughly the same time.

But the two have vastly different atmospheres, with Venus' composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide with very little water vapor. It is also the hottest surface of all the planets and lacks atmospheric pressure.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Horizon view


The view from the lookout posted below.

Lookout morning



Nothing more than a lookout on a hilltop early in the morning.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Letting the students down

The following question is taken from a test bank to accompany a text that teaches college students how to write. The question was multiple choice, and the student is required to choose the proper adverbial conjunction. But something else caught my eye:
The people of America are demanding a change; _______, studies conducted by sociologists and psychologists are being used to affect a change. [emphasis added]

Effect! Which means "to bring about".

The proper use of "affect" and "effect" can be mildly confusing, but most English majors and teachers should be able to make the distinction. What's troubling is that the editor of this text -- one that is designed to teach students how to write properly -- could not.

In a nutshell, "affect" is usually a verb meaning to influence something else (Ex.: The play affected me emotionally.) while "effect" is usually a noun that describes a result (Ex.: Watching the play after eating nachos had the effect of making me sick.).

Usually is the key word.

"Affect" can be a noun meaning emotion or feeling, but this use is not very common. Also, "effect" can be a verb meaning to bring about, to cause to happen. And this is the meaning that best fits the question above.

To write well, make sure you always have the proper word choice. The dictionary is your friend; use it. And always, always double check potentially confusing word choices. If you think you have it right, check it again. Then check one more time. We all make mistakes, but a little diligence can go a long way toward clarity.

Making our lives miserable

Looks like spyware, viruses, and worms just weren't good enough for those pendejos. Now there's a new kind of malware that just sits quietly on your computer, waits for you to go to a bank site, and then steals your password. And they are sneaky.
These specialized forms of spyware, now being called by other names like crimeware, ratware, and even bankware, worm their way onto victims' computers in a number of ways. Some are inserted completely in silence, through an unpublished or unpatched software vulnerability. Others are hidden in Web sites on the Internet's darker side, such as pornography sites. Still others come in e-mail, disguised as electronic greeting cards.
They're called RATs, which stands for "remote access Trojans". And they could get worse.
The next step for RAT programs is continuous screen capture, which would allow a criminal to watch every move a consumer makes online, as if peeking into the room with a video camera. The technology already exists, but it is bandwidth intensive -- a problem that's slowly disappearing as consumers sign up for higher-bandwidth services. ING's system would be easily foiled by continuous screen captures.

Personally, I like the term "crimeware". Aptly labels the actions of such psychotic bastards.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Greenpeace to pay fine for damaging reef"

This is kinda funny.
MANILA (Reuters) - Greenpeace said Tuesday it will pay nearly $7,000 in damages after the environmental group's flagship, the Rainbow Warrior II, hit a coral reef at a world heritage site in the southern Philippines.
...
Officials from the marine park assessed the area of damaged reef at 96 square metres (113 square yards) and valued it at 384,000 pesos.
...
The visit to the reefs in the Sulu Sea was part of a four-month tour by the Rainbow Warrior II to Australia, China, the Philippines and Thailand to raise awareness about global warming and promote renewable energy.


The Rainbow Warrior II sails the oceans campaigning for the environment, but it seems to still rely on fossil fuels, from time to time. Oh, but the ship does make use of a "heating and hot water system that uses waste heat". Nice. No use letting heat go to waste. Especially if it comes from the running diesel engines.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Tractor day


Nothing but a picture of a tractor making its way through an orchard.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sighting the space station

I just watched the International Space Station pass overhead. Very cool indeed.

Friday, October 28, 2005

"FDA Warns Against Cherry Health Claims"

I've never thought of cherries as health food. And, apparently, neither does the FDA.

The cherry industry has promoted the fruit as a health food in recent years. The [Lansing, Michigan-based Cherry Marketing Institute]'s Web site carries information on university studies of the fruit's possible health benefits, describing cherries as "a natural pain killer."

"Recent research has shown that tart cherries contain powerful antioxidants that may help relieve the pain of arthritis and gout and also protect the body against cardiovascular disease and inhibit cancer tumors," says one statement posted on the site. Another describes Montmorency tart cherries as "the healing fruit."

Producers tend to couch their health labels in conditional terms, using words such as "may."

I wonder if this is one of Kevin Trudeau's secrets.

Actually I can't stand cherries, so I don't really care if anyone eats them. But, I guess it would provide justification for the ultimate topping to sundaes.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Corpse mistaken for Halloween decoration"

I wonder if this story is real.

If it is, then what kind of neighborhood is it where a hanging body can actually be dismissed as a decoration? Sure, I can understand people ignoring or dismissing plastic witches and inflatable monsters, but those are such kitschy items. Who could mistake them for anything more than fun? But something that looked like a real body?

What would you do if your neighbor put up a decoration like this?

I might keep a closer eye on my neighbor.

(Here's a local version of the story from the News Journal in Wilmington, DE.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chasing the space elevator prize

This was an interesting competition: a space elevator race and a space-age ribbon tug-of-war. The winners, respectively: the University of Saskatchewan and Centaurus Aerospace of Logan, Utah (well, they didn't actually win the prizes, but I call them "winners" because they got closest to the prize and because the whole concept is so cool!).

I can't wait for the next of the space games from NASA.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Fighting panda extinction

The strange obsession with the evolutionary dead-ends known as pandas apparently makes it a news story when one of them hollers as it is poked by a needle.

I am not kidding.

The headline of this story is "Panda Cub Not Thrilled About Latest Shot".

Yes, and my last dog probably wasn't too happy when his manhood got clipped. Oh, but then again, dogs know how to breed, so they are not endangered. Pandas don't, so they are. And, therefore, worthy of every superhuman effort to keep them from disappearing from the earth. And worthy of the Associated Press's attention whenever one barks.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Putting weather in the vacuum of space


Here is a screen capture of Yahoo! News on October 20, 2005. Can you guess which item doesn't belong? (Hint: it's the one that doesn't have to do with space or astronomy.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"Cassini Views Dione, a Frigid Ice World"

The Cassini spacecraft is still going strong, and it recently came pretty close to Saturn's moon, Dione. What's incredible is this picture taken by the probe.

When my wife saw the picture, she said it looks fake, like it's a special effect. Such talk could encourage the moon-landing-hoax believers. But, then again, could anything really discourage them?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sucking up to the Chinese


Here is a screen capture of Yahoo! News on October 16, 2005. Can you guess what happened in space news on this day?

Friday, October 14, 2005

"Spyware can constitute illegal trespass on home computers"

Eric J. Sinrod has a column in USA Today about a lawsuit that was brought against a pusher of spyware. Having been the victim of spyware so disabling and persistent I had to reformat my hard drive, I welcome the decision of the court that spyware makers and distributors can be sued for trespass.

The plaintiff asserted that the defendants deceptively downloaded spyware onto thousands of computers.

...

In addition, the plaintiff asserted that the spyware is designed specifically to be difficult to remove from a computer once it is installed. Worse still, the plaintiff argued that computer users are bombarded with annoying pop-up advertisements by virtue of the spyware. Finally, the plaintiff claimed that the spyware destroys other legitimate software, slows down computers, and depletes bandwith and computer memory.

...

In sum, and in the words of the court: "Simply put, plaintiff alleges that Spyware interfered with and damaged his personal property, namely his computer and Internet connection, by over-burdening their resources and diminishing their functioning. Accordingly, the court denies (the) motion to dismiss (the) trespass to chattels cause of action."


I know this won't stop the scourge, but maybe it will make some of those pendejos think twice before hijacking and infecting as many computers as they can.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"World's Oldest Noodles Alter View of Ancient Diet"

According to LiveScience.com, the world's oldest noodles are 4,000 years old.
Archeologists excavating an ancient Chinese settlement discovered a small pile of well-preserved noodles after turning over an upside-down clay bowl.

Them's some noodles.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Water bridge


I meant to blog this yesterday. This is a bridge. Over water. Containing water!

I ran across this on Snopes.com, and it just blew my mind! Humans can do some amazing things, and this engineering marvel is testament to what we can do when we try.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dinosaur morning


Nothing but a picture of a T. Rex.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Anticipating our future

Glenn Reynolds has been following the buzz about the "Singularity". It's an interesting concept that predicts a future time where technology has become so advanced that, at a point called the Singularity, we become more than the humans we are now.

Superhuman intelligence. Biotechnology. Cyborg interfaces.

More human than human.

And we seem to be well on the way to the Singularity already, according to Mr. Reynolds. He may be right about our progress; I definitely think he is on target in this post when he names what should really matter to us on an evolutionary level:
And the technological changes that we're undergoing are likely to be more important than the day to day political and economic and military news that occupies most of our attention. Somebody in a lab somewhere will change our lives more, for better or worse, than Harriet Miers is ever likely to.

Let's just hope that lab isn't being used by al-Qaeda.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Describing Beowulf

In the words of Hrothgar:

Why, I knew him - when he was only a boy;
his father, now dead, - was named Ecgtheow:
Hrethel of the Geats - gave him a wife,
his only daughter. - And so his brave son
has now come here, - seeks a loyal friend!
In fact, the merchants - who used to carry
gifts of coins, - our thanks to the Geats,
said he had war-fame, - the strength of thirty
in his mighty hand-grip. - Holy God
in the fullness of mercy - has sent him to us,
to the Danish people, - if I'm not mistaken,
against Grendel's terror. - I must offer this man
excellent treasures - for his daring courage.

-----Beowulf, translated by Howell D. Chickering, Jr., lines 372-385

"'Beowulf' Turned Into Modern Rock Opera"

Let's hope this treatment does the classic poem justice. My suspicions, however, are that it won't.

Beowulf is historically significant for the English language, but it is also a damn good story. I'm not sure how well it will translate to the stage. This attempt at turning it into a movie didn't seem to work so well.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Speckled sky


Nothing but an early-morning, speckled kind of Texas sky.

"Calif. Gov. OKs Viagra Ban for Offenders"

This seems like a good idea. [Mild understatement!--ed.]
California taxpayers will no longer help pay the cost of impotency drugs for registered sex offenders under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here's the scary part:
Federal support for subsidized Viagra was curtailed earlier this year when a New York state audit found nearly 200 sex offenders benefiting from the program. [emphasis added]

That's 200 convicts whose crimes involved sex getting taxpayers to help them with their erections. It happened. Now let's hope other states follow California's example quickly and make sure local programs don't fund this sort of sickness.

And, if somehow you can justify letting a sex offender get tax-funded Viagra, I would be interested to hear your argument. I seriously doubt you will be able to persuade me, but I would be interested in hearing the argument nonetheless.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Impugning words

Here is an interesting discussion by Jeff Goldstein on language, intent, and interpretation.
Linguistically speaking, we have but two choices: either insist language be ground in the intentions of its utterers, or else conclude that we must each be responsible, in perpetuity, for whatever might be done with our utterance once it leaves our control. ... And if our goal is to hash out policy or to discuss potentially controversial issues, we simply must be able to do so without worry that parties invested in maintaining the status quo are allowed to silence us by assuming control over the terms of debate. [emphasis in original]

Too bad someone else's sensitivities can shut us all up.

Taking millionaires into space

A Russian rocket took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, and one of the people on board is Gregory Olsen, an American millionaire.

I say, Good.

We need more space tourists, even if they are millionaires at first. As space travel becomes more and more common, the costs will eventually come down (think airline travel in its early days) and more and more people will be able to afford it. Eventually we should see the rise of space liners, and travelling beyond our atmosphere will be as commonplace as going to Las Vegas on Southwest.

I can't wait. I just hope it doesn't take too long.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fighting extinction

Reuters reports that, once again, some pandas have failed to mate. The reluctance this species has toward procreating may eventually spell doom for the black-and-white fuzzballs.

Shuan Shuan, 18 and born in Mexico, was flown back from Japan earlier this week, dashing hopes that a far eastern romance might get her pregnant, after attempts to spark chemistry with Beijing-born Ling Ling, 20, fizzled out.

"We couldn't get them to mate," said Mexico City zoo director Rafael Tinajero sadly. [Is it really necessary to include this adverb? What if he had been indifferent? --ed.]

The 1-1/2 year mating mission was part of a worldwide breeding program to try to bring pandas back from the brink of extinction. But Shuan Shuan and Ling Ling
didn't hit it off.


Maybe we are doing the wrong thing to push these animals so hard to reproduce. Maybe we are witnessing natural selection in process. Perhaps the panda was meant to die out. Perhaps it should not survive because it is not the fittest of animals.

But I can hear the admonishments already:
"They're so cute!"
"They're so cuddly!"
"We should save all animals!"
"Especially cute and cuddly ones!"
"After all, that zoo director was so sad when those pandas couldn't mate!"

Faugh.

The pandas seem to be an evolutionary dead-end. And this is not the fault of humans! In fact, we seem to be doing everything in our power to save them and they just don't seem interested in each other!

Should we be expending this much energy on animals that can't (or won't) mate and that can't seem to survive on their own?

I'm inclined to say, No.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sailing the cosmos

The thought of a solar sail deploying may not be exciting for most people, and the technology is not likely to be featured in any movie space battles (Count Dooku's use notwithstanding), but I can't believe that this technology is not getting wider coverage. Especially since, according to Physorg.com, it's starting to seem entirely feasible and not so much like fiction anymore.
NASA engineers and their industry partners have successfully deployed two 400-square-meter solar sails during ground testing. This is a critical milestone in the development of a unique propulsion technology that uses the Sun to propel vehicles through space.

Again, it's not all blasts and rocket fire, but solar sails may play a significant role in future space travel.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

"Professor Using High Tech to Detect IEDs"

This sounds like good science. For a good and timely purpose. Imagine if our soldiers can just turn on a device and detect explosives in their path.

With some modifications here and a few tweaks there, [Kansas State University nuclear engineering professor Bill] Dunn believes technology routinely used to figure soil density or measure muscle fat in meat can detect explosives.

Dunn envisions two types of sensors. One would be large and transported in a van, capable of detecting explosives several yards away. The van could be at a vehicle checkpoint and data could be fed into a computer a safe distance away.

Right now, the sensors can work up to a couple of yards, but Dunn's goal is to extend that range to at least 10 yards and be able to detect an explosive in less than 10 seconds.

After the London transit bombings in July, Dunn started work on a smaller version — about 3 feet by 2 feet — that could be wheeled around to check smaller items such as suitcases and knapsacks.

Godspeed and good luck to Dunn. Let's give our soldiers all the protection they need.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"IRA 'on the threshold' of full disarmament"

It looks like the IRA is finally playing nice.

The outlawed Irish Republican Army is on the verge of disposing of its stockpiled arms in a long-sought peace move, Sinn Fein leaders said Friday after their first meeting with the Irish government in eight months.

The British and Irish governments have also forecast that the IRA could confirm it has scrapped its weapons arsenal by the middle of next week.


So close. Let's hope they're not blowing smoke up our asses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Revealing the new vehicle

Here it is, the new space vehicle to replace the space shuttle.

The Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV, is slightly less than imaginative in design (it's rocket-shaped), but the functionality and safety are what's most important. According to NASA, it "will be 10 times safer than the shuttle, due to an escape rocket on top of the capsule that can quickly blast the CEV if problems ... develop during takeoff." [ed.: I think they meant to say "... blast off the CEV ..."]

Good. Let's get those astronauts up there.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Impugning a perfectly good word, part II

Michael Quinion at World Wide Words has a good entry on the beating that the word "refugee" has gotten after the Katrina disaster. He thinks the word is being used in a perfectly good way that captures the situation aptly. I tend to agree.
Evacuee implies an orderly and organised process. Refugee implies a desperate, involuntary and unplanned move. The former doesn’t have the emotive implications or emotional force of the latter. Whatever its dictionary sense, or the definitions of the international aid organisations, or the plaints of politicians, or the lexical views of dictionaries and pedants, for most people refugee sums up the situation of the sufferers more accurately than any other.

As I said previously, it's too bad when sensitivities effectively ban a neutral and descriptive word. The English language as a whole suffers for it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

"NASA to unveil plan for moon mission in 2018"

It's good to see we will be back on the moon soon. And after that, Mars. What with all the developments we have been seeing lately (Mars rovers, private space flights, space elevators, Saturn probes, asteroid probes, etc.), it looks like we're on the threshold of a new age of space exploration.

Exciting stuff.

UPDATE: Truly exciting stuff, especially when some people have a vision like this: "New Company Sets Goal of Settling Mars".

I hope these guys are serious, though I am afraid they might fail. Still, you can't help admiring their spirit.

[4Frontiers Corp. co-founder Bruce] Mackenzie, a software developer, has devoted much of his energy to a nonprofit group called the Mars Foundation, which aims to advance knowledge about how to colonize the planet. But he decided a private venture like 4Frontiers also would be necessary, to drive things forward.

Although President Bush has called for a manned mission to Mars, Mackenzie believes big bureaucracies might never get the job done right.

"It's better to have lots of groups out there, all trying things," Mackenzie says.


Amen. And good luck.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"Japan's Probe Within 12 Miles of Asteroid"

Did I mention this was cool?

What's really cool is how the Japanese plan to collect samples of the asteroid. They're going to shoot the rock!

When Hayabusa moves in for the rendezvous, expected to be over in a matter of seconds, it will pull up close enough to fire a small bullet into the asteroid and collect the ejected fragments in a funnel-like device. It won't be coming back with much — the amount of material planners hope to capture wouldn't even fill a teaspoon. [emphasis added]


That's a small amount of asteroid dirt. But I'm sure it will keep scientists busy for a long time.

More information here at the Web site for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

"Gillette ups the ante, unveils 5-blade razor"

Two blades have always been ample for me. But, if someone wants to shave with the equivalent of a set of sharp mini-blinds, who am I to disparage such an invention?

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Japanese Space Probe Reaches Asteroid"

This is so cool. They're actually going to land a space probe (called "Hayabusa") on an asteroid (called "Itokawa"), take samples, ...

... and then take off again!

I wish the Japanese all the luck in this endeavor.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A crane


Nothing but a picture of a crane.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"Deep Impact probe shows a fragile, empty comet"

I guess comets really are dirty snowballs. At least, according to this article from Reuters.

"The comet is mostly empty, mostly porous," said Michael A'Hearn, a comet specialist at the University of Maryland. "Probably all the way in, there is no bulk ice. The ice is all in the form of tiny grains."

The material on the comet's surface, down to a depth of several dozen yards (meters) is "unbelievably fragile, less strong than a snowbank," A'Hearn said in a telephone news briefing to release early findings from the mission.


I hope this means they should be pretty easy to destroy if they ever threaten Earth. And that maybe this book got it wrong.

Impugning a perfectly good word

It's too bad when sensitivities effectively ban the use of certain words. This year's top victim is surely "refugee".

The Associated Press has a good article by Jocelyn Noveck about the recent commotion regarding the use of "refugee" to describe New Orleans residents left homeless by Katrina. I've got to agree with William Safire on this one: how does this word imply race at all?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Trying something new

I tried one of those new aluminum bottles. It was Michelob Light, and the look and feel of the bottle was truly interesting.

But I fail to see the point. The beer still tasted like beer.

At least it isn't as silly as Keystone Light's glass-lined cans.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Anti-rape condom aims to stop attacks"

All I have to say to this is, "ouch"!

An inventor developed an anti-rape condom for women, which she envisions will help prevent rapes in South Africa. The operative words are "hooks" and "shafts of sharp barbs".

And, she calls it the "rapex".

Not surprisingly, some people have objected to the "rapex".

But the "rapex" has raised fears amongst anti-rape activists that it could escalate violence against women.

"If a victim is wearing such a device it may enrage the attacker further and possibly result in more harm being caused," said Sam Waterhouse, advocacy coordinator for Rape Crisis.

Other critics say the condom is medieval and barbaric -- an accusation [inventor Sonette] Ehlers says should be directed rather at the act of rape.


Can't argue with that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"'Loverspy' Spyware Creator Indicted, On the Run"

Hooray!

I hope the feds catch him, and I hope they go after more of these creeps. People who write spyware are no better than vandals and thieves.

Monday, August 29, 2005

"Brits driving Austrians bonkers over rude village name"

This is kinda funny.

Some interesting pull quotes from this article:

"We will not stand for the F---ing signs being removed," the officer told the broadsheet.

... and ...
Local guide Andreas Behmueller said it was only the British that had a fixation with F---ing.

... and ...

Guesthouse boss Augustina Lindlbauer described the village's breathtaking lakes, forests and vistas.

"Yet still there is this obsession with F---ing," she said.

"Just this morning I had to tell an English lady who stopped by that there were no F---ing postcards."



Do the Austrians realize how hilarious this sounds? Perhaps not. Perhaps they are just tired of the jokes. If so, maybe they should change the name of the village.

How about "Sucking"?

UPDATE: Some pictures here on this excellent Web site.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Telling statistics

Trust for America’s Health, an advocacy group, released a ranking of all 50 states in the U.S. based on how fat the citizens are. According to them, Mississippi is the fattest state and Colorado is the thinnest.

But some have questioned the group’s report, as noted in this USA Today article.

But government and other statistical experts take issue with the methods used to compile the ranking. The group averaged three years of data (2002-2004) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-by-state telephone system in which participants report their own weight and height.

Because people are believed to underestimate weight and overestimate height, some experts say actual obesity rates are higher than data suggest in self-reported surveys of this kind.

CDC officials say the ranking is misleading for a more technical reason. "This is not a valid statistical comparison," says Michael Link, a senior survey methodologist at the agency.

The percentage of obese adults in each state actually could be several points higher or lower than the numbers indicate, Link says. Because the sample size varies from state to state, each one has a different margin of error, which means the states can't be compared without giving that range, he says. [Emphasis added]


Advocacy groups often release studies and reports with no real intrinsic value other than the sensational media attention they generate (which, I realize, is the point with such groups). But it is disingenuous to try to influence public opinion with bad statistics. Or no statistics.

And that brings me to my annual moment of tooth-grinding frustration, when Men’s Fitness reveals its annual ranking of the fattest cities in America.

The Men’s Fitness survey is hopelessly flawed. It postures as a genuine statistical report, which is risible because its methods are lazy and not based on any legitimate method that I am aware of. Granted, I am not a professional in the field of statistics, but I question their choice of factors, and their blind reliance on an Internet telephone book for data strikes me as a poor method of statistical analysis.

Let me explain why I feel this way.

Men’s Fitness has graciously explained their method on their Web site (here), and I will address each portion as I see fit to explain why I look on the survey with contempt.

[The block quotes are from the Men’s Fitness Web site, and the emphases have been added by me.]


How We Did It - The 50 largest U.S. cities were selected using the most recent United States Census Bureau statistics available at the time of the survey, which was conducted from August 2004 through October 2004. Cities were assessed in 14 equally weighted categories, using data specific to each city, except as noted when data was available only for a metropolitan statistical area or for a state. (When no data was available, an average score was assigned.) The categories were selected as indicators, risk factors or relevant environmental determinants affecting fitness, obesity and health.


Indeed, there are a lot of categories, and I do not see why they all should be weighted equally. Should equal consideration be given to hard data and assumptions, as some of the categories surely cover?

Also, the survey makes up for a lack of data with an average score. Admittedly, I am not sure if this practice is common among statisticians and auditors, but I would think the report would just reflect that no data is available for certain markets.


The cities were ranked first to last and assigned numerical grades based on a relative curve. The scores were then translated into letter grades, which, while a more familiar point of reference, eliminated some of the scoring nuances. Since the survey is based on a comparative scale, with cities ranked solely in relation to each other, some positions and grades may have shifted from last year without necessarily indicating significant statistical changes.


Why was this done? Was something wrong with the numerical grades? How are letter grades more familiar than numerical grades?


Gyms/Sporting Goods - Composite score, equally weighing (a) total number of clubs, gyms and fitness studios ranked per 100,000 population, from YellowPages.com; and (b) total number of sporting-goods retailers ranked per 100,000 population, from YellowPages.com.


Does YellowPages.com include all clubs, gyms, fitness studios, and sporting-goods retailers in any given market? I doubt it. What about those clubs and gyms that aren’t listed? Without them, the survey is less accurate and less reliable.

Besides, counting fitness clubs does not take into account the people who work out at home or on the road. My wife and I work out together, but we do so in our house and not at an expensive gym.


Nutrition - Composite score, equally weighing (a) average frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption (percent that consumes five or more servings per day) in state-level data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; and (b) total number of health-food stores ranked per 100,000 population, from YellowPages.com.


Again, I doubt all health-food stores in the nation are listed on YellowPages.com.

Also, the Men’s Fitness survey is relying on data from the same source as the scorned Trust for America’s Health report, i.e., the CDC surveillance system that relies on people to be honest about how tall they are and how much they weigh.


Exercise/Sports - Total participation in 103 sports and fitness-related activities. Measured by participants per 100 residents for the top 30 metropolitan statistical areas and by state. State-level data used when no metropolitan data available. Honolulu and Wichita, not surveyed, were given average scores. Data from the Superstudy of Sports Participation Geographic Supplement, from American Sports Data Inc.

A “superstudy” is the source of the data, but does it take into account people who work out at home?

Also, Honolulu and Wichita get the short end of the stick. They were assigned average scores. I wonder if that includes surfers?


Overweight/Sedentary - Composite score according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, equally weighing (a) percentage of population that is obese; (b) percentage of population at risk for health problems related to being overweight; (c) percentage of population at risk for health problems related to lack of exercise; and (d) percentage of population not participating in physical activity. SMART (selected metropolitan-micropolitan area risk trends) data used for specific cities. State data used where city data unavailable.

Again, Men’s Fitness is relying on the CDC surveillance system, which (according to Michael Link, a survey methodologist at the CDC) doesn’t reflect the actual number of obese adults in any given state.


Junk Food - Total number of fast-food outlets, pizza parlors, ice cream shops and doughnut stores ranked per 100,000 population, from YellowPages.com.


Again with the YellowPages.com. Is that gospel?

Besides, a strict cumulative count of fast-food outlets does not take into account eating habits. Should MacDonald’s be given equal ranking along with Subway, which offers several low-fat menu items? What about new menu items that are much healthier? I went to Jack in the Box today, but I did not have cheeseburger. I ordered an Asian chicken salad with a diet Dr. Pepper. Might others in the land of fast-food chains be doing the same?


Alcohol - Composite score, equally weighing (a) total number of bars/taverns ranked per 100,000 population, from YellowPages.com; and (b) apparent alcohol consumption by state, from the surveillance report of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


OK. They've admitted this is just a complete guess. How statistically significant can it be to measure apparent data?

And, again, the gospel according to YellowPages.com.


TV - Metered Market HUT (Homes Using Television) Analysis, Primetime, June 1, 2003-May 31, 2004, from Nielsen Media Research. Average or regional scores assigned to cities where specific data unavailable.

Does anyone still believe the Nielsen numbers? Have they ever? I never have.


Air Quality - The air-quality index is based on annual reports from the Environmental Protection Agency. The number of ozone-alert days is used as an indicator of air quality, as are the amounts of pollutants, including particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and volatile organic chemicals. From Sperling's Best Places.


What does this have to with fatness? Don’t lean and hefty people all breathe the same air?


Climate - The climate index is based on National Weather Service data combining estimated annual days above 32 degrees and below 90 degrees, amounts of precipitation and sunshine, and the August heat/humidity index.

Wow. Cities in Texas and Florida get bad marks right from the start because of the weather. As does Alaska. That seems lame. Good thing Canada was not included in the survey.


Geography - Accessible recreational forests, lakes, rivers, waterways, mountains, and ocean beaches, compiled from almanacs and additional sources.


I don’t know about you or the researchers at Men’s Fitness, but I don’t need a mountain to do pushups. Besides, fatties can float on lakes, rivers, and waterways.


Commute - Based on the Travel Time Index, which measures traffic delays due to congestion, according to the Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. Average score for small cities assigned to Tulsa and Wichita.


I’ll concede this category. Long commutes can discourage activity, which can lead generally worse health. We all could walk more.


Parks/Open Space - Composite score, equally weighing (a) total acreage per 10,000 population of federal and state recreation areas plus all listed water areas, from the Places Rated Almanac; (b) number of city parks per 10,000 population, according to a 2004 Men's Fitness custom survey; and (c) acres of city parks and recreational open space per 10,000 population, according to a 2004 Men's Fitness custom survey.

See my remarks to the “Geography” category above.


Recreation Facilities - Composite score based on totals per 10,000 population, from a a 2004 Men's Fitness custom survey, equally weighing (a) number of public basketball courts; (b) number of public swimming pools; (c) number of public tennis courts; and (d) number of public golf courses.

What about roadways for runners and bicyclists? Why weren’t they taken into consideration? Are golfers inherently more fit than bicycle riders? Do you think John Daly could take Lance Armstrong?


Health Care - Based on city-by-city ranking of health resources, access, cost of hospital stay, and cost of doctors' visits, as measured by Sperling's Best Places.


How is this a direct indicator of fitness? My last doctor visits had more to do with colds and allergies than anything else.


OK, I’m done. Needless to say, I think the rankings released by Men’s Fitness every year are bogus, and the media and local officials give the whole thing way too much consideration.

To which, I give a healthy “faugh”!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Selling flimflam

It seems like Kevin Trudeau has a book for sale called Natural Cures 'They' Don’t Want You to Know About. It seems like it's popular. And it seems like a whole lot of snake oil and flimflam.

According to this article on MSNBC.com, the New York State Consumer Protection Board called the book a "fraud", and one disgruntled buyer had this to say:
"The book is just gobbledygook. There's nothing in it. He doesn't say what the cures are," [Gerald] Bates said. Instead, Bates said, on page after page the book urges readers to head to Trudeau's Web site, NaturalCures.com. Consumers must pay $10 a month to use the site. And for those calling the toll free number to purchase the book, operators work hard to tack on a Web site subscription. "Something should be done to pull that ad off TV."

Ouch. Sure sounds like a bait-and-switch to me. Get the mark -- er, customer -- to spend $40 on a book that supposedly contains cures but that actually directs them somewhere else for $10 a month where the cures actually (presumably) are. It's shameless, but it's an old scam, updated for the Internet age.

I am a firm believer in the First Amendment, and people like Trudeau have the right to publish whatever drivel they want. But, buyers beware. Don't believe everything you see, hear, or read, especially if it sounds too good to be true.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

"Black Hole Forges Invisible Bubble"

The universe is so cool.

The newfound bubble [around black hole Cygnus X-1] is about 10 light-years across and is expanding at about 225,000 mph (100 kilometers per second). Its creation has been ongoing for a million years or so. Astronomers are excited about the disovery because it is impossible to measure directly the power of jets like this one. By noting the interaction at the bubble, however, the researchers were able to calculate the jet's power.

The jet packs about 100,000 times more energy than our Sun.

"Remarkably, it also means that, after a massive star dies and turns into a black hole, it is still capable of energizing its surroundings, by means of completely different mechanisms," [University of Amsterdam's Elena] Gallo said.

Astronomers suspect there are millions of black holes similar to Cygnus X-1.


The cycle of life goes on, even for the universe. Stars die, but apparently they turn into the soil that feeds the space around them.

Makes me want to listen to Rush some more, especially this album.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Microsoft, Apple in iPod patent tussle"

How could Apple let Microsoft get to the patent office first? This is almost laughable.

I can't believe Microsoft was able to patent some of the iPod technology before Steve Jobs, who's probably grinding his teeth right now at the prospect of paying Bill Gates for the iPod's success. If Apple truly makes products that revolutionize the computing world and everyone else just copies them (as any Mac lover will assert), I would think they would be filing patents at the drop of a hat.

Maybe they will be quicker from this point on.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Appreciating vanilla

Amanda Fortini defends vanilla in "The White Stuff", and gives a little history as well.

I appreciate true vanilla flavors, and I don't write the flavor off as bland. I also appreciate Fortini's writing in defending the precious, expensive stuff (the real stuff, that is). For example:
And suddenly I had a vanilla epiphany. The rice, a truly bland food, forced the vanilla to take center stage. But vanilla is essentially a supporting actor. It is a sociable flavor, at its best when bringing out the best in other distinct ingredients, softening their acidity, drawing out their intensity, helping them to cohere. This is why baked goods made without vanilla lack depth and dimension, like music without a bass line.

She packs a lot of metaphors in this one passage, but I don't think she goes overboard with them. It is a smooth, readable writing style in defense of a smooth, delicious flavor. And I like it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pondering the next vehicle

I'm glad the shuttle made it safely back to Earth. But it's probably time to put a new vehicle design on the fast track. The shuttle design has served well, but it might not be a bad idea to separate missions where a crew is critical from those that are just putting a payload in orbit (for which plain rockets will do just fine).

I, for one, can't wait to see what they come up with.

Monday, August 08, 2005

"Ex-U.N. official admits taking bribes"

Wow. One of them actually confessed.

By "them", of course, I mean the miscreants who were taking advantage of a humanitarian program to make themselves rich. And they weren't Americans. And I'm sure that they, to a man, opposed invading Iraq.

No wonder. That took away their gravy train.

A former U.N. procurement officer pleaded guilty Monday to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from U.N. contractors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Alexander Yakovlev pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering and could face up to 20 years in prison for each charge, the office said in a statement.


I really have no opinion of John Bolton, Bush's appointment as United Nations ambassador. But it sounds like he has a tough job ahead of him as he heads into the snakepit. I wish him luck.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Finding chiasmus

Chris Lydgate has a piece in the Opinion Journal about the sad state of prison affairs near Portland, Oregon. Though the subjet matter of the piece is quite interesting, what caught my eye was Lydgate's cheeky use of chiasmus, a rhetorical literary devise whereby a parallel structure is reversed for poetic effect.

Like this: "While scofflaws scoff and perps perpetrate, the Board of Commissioners is deadlocked over the sheriff's budget."

It isn't an exact chiasmus as I learned it, as the subject and verb of each phrase are in the same position. However, the spirit is there as the one syllable word that echoes its polysyllabic partner switches places in the second phrase.

I know I'm a language geek, but something like this impresses me more than whether or not Oregonians can figure out how to fill a jail with criminals.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A ferry landing



Just a simple picture of a ferry landing.

Watching space junk

Since the 1960s, humanity's forays into space have become so commonplace that no one really notices launches anymore. Oh, people pay attention to NASA's space shuttle, but, really, can you remember the last time a communications payload was put into orbit?

I think this is good, in a way. Using space for the benefit of humanity has become necessary in many respects. But, with so many launches of so many satellites (not to mention the shuttle missions and those association with the International Space Station), litter has tended to build up over the past few decades.

Space litter. Junk left over from previous launches and missions and spacewalks and what-have-you. On the ground, such mission detritus would pose no real problems because whoever came along next could just kick the debris to the side of the road.

In space, however, the junk remains in orbit, which means it is moving around the earth at very high speeds. If such trash would happen to hit a valuable item -- such as the space shuttle -- then severe damage could result.

Enter the 1st Space Control Squadron. This unit of Peterson Air Force Base is located in Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado. There, they keep an eye on all identifiable manmade items in orbit and assess the danger they may pose to any current or future space mission. Not a very celebrated unit of the Air Force, I am sure, but an absolutely necessary one.

Keep watching the skies, guys.

Monday, August 01, 2005

"Study Links Tobacco Smoke With Belly Fat"

OK, I get the message that smoking is bad for you. But does it really cause everything? What's next, smoking causes smallpox? Excess hair? Athlete's foot? Locusts?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

"IRA vows to end armed campaign"

Let's hope this is for real.

I'm only half Irish, but it makes me feel good when Ireland makes great strides. I hope the IRA is serious about disarmament, and I hope there is a lasting peace throughout Northern Ireland -- at least between the republicans and those loyal to the crown.

Now the British can concentrate on the radical Muslims.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Abandoning your work

This is an interesting article by Scott Carlson in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, he talks about the legal and ethical quandries associated with using "orphaned" works, those works of art for which no creator can be found.

An orphan work can be a film, a book, a private letter, a painting, or any other creative work covered by copyright, in which protection, through the complexity of the law, can extend as far back as 1923. A work can become orphaned in any number of ways: For example, an artist can die, and the heirs may not know about the artist's copyrighted work. A company that published a novel might go out of business or fall into the hands of another company that does not maintain publication records. It is particularly hard to figure out who took a photograph, unless the name of the photographer or studio is cited somewhere on the print.

I am all for copyright protections, but big companies wield copyright law as a formidable weapon over the heads of scholars, satirists, and other creative types. Disney and other such organizations are good at such boorish actions, and they shudder to see a copyright lapse into public domain.

I think public domain is a good thing. Evenutally (I think 75 years after the death of the identifiable creator is ample time), all works of art should be fair game for anyone to use, whether it be in marketing campaigns, new works of art, or any other use. In the event of orphaned works, the time limit should be 75 years after the work can be reasonably assumed to have been created. After that, it belongs to everybody.

We all share in the output of humanity. Creative artists should be compensated for their works, but not forever.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Smog Fight Aided by Self-Cleaning Elements"

The future is here.

Self-cleaning materials. Concrete that breaks down pollution. Oh, this is the stuff of science fiction, and I love it! Of course, nanotechnology is the key:

Research in the field has been made possible by the revolution in nanotechnology
— science dedicated to building materials from the molecular level. The catalytic properties of titanium dioxide become active when it is applied in a very thin layer, or in microscopic particles.

A range of self-cleaning products coated with titanium dioxide, including windows and ceramic tiles, are already on the market but the focus has mostly been on their practical value rather than the environmental impact.

In Rome, the Dives in Misericordia church, designed by U.S.-based architect Richard Meier, is made of self-cleaning concrete that helps keep the surface shiny white. In Japan, several modern buildings including the Marunouchi Building in downtown Tokyo, are covered with photocatalytic tiles to reduce discoloring from pollution.


Let's just hope the by-products of such chemical reactions ultimately prove to be benign. If so, as I already said, the future as envisioned in science fiction is already here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Mars Rovers Wheel Onward"

Go rovers!

This is probably the most successful space mission in a very long time. And it has produced some absolutely magnificent images.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"Poaching making China elephants evolve tuskless"

This is an interesting article. Evolution -- at least in my mind -- has always seemed an indomitable force of adaptation that pretty much happened on its own. Now, it seems that humans can actually influence the process, even if unintentionally.

Actually, now that I think about it, hunters in Texas (and I assume in other parts of North America) have already been influencing evolution. In this state, many hunters who eat venison prefer to shoot "spikes", those deer that grow single-tine antlers with no branches. The thinking goes that such spikes are genetically inferior to other male deer, and that increased taking of such animals will eventually ensure more deer with bigger racks.

Up until reading this article, I always took the spike argument with a grain of salt. I'm not so willing to, anymore.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Claiming a comet for herself

So this woman in Russia, who happens to believe in astrology, is quite upset with NASA for throwing a chunk of metal at her beloved comet. In doing so, she claims that the space agency has caused her anguish, and she wants someone to pay for screwing her up so badly.


Writer Marina Bay claims that by slamming the probe into the comet, Nasa endangered the future of civilisation.

...

However, even if the comet stays at a safe distance from Earth, Ms Bay's own life, she thinks, will never be the same again.

An amateur astrologist, she believes that any variation in the orbit or the composition of the Tempel comet will certainly affect her own fate.

So Ms Marina's claims to be experiencing "a moral trauma" - which only a payment of $300m (252m euros; £170m) can put right.

This is roughly what Nasa has spent on the experiment so far. [emphasis added]

If -- and I mean IF -- this ever gets to a trial, NASA's best defense would be to question how come she, and nobody else, has a personal claim to a giant ball of rock and ice. After all, I could say that the comet Tempel 1 was actually causing me "moral trauma" in its un-smashed form, and I could have demanded that someone blow it up.

Now, do I get $300 million?

Monday, July 04, 2005

"Scientists marvel at comet collision"

All I can say is, hooray! I'm glad it was a success, because this will teach us more about the universe than simply looking at a comet through a telescope. We need to do more missions like this.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"NASA comet crash to seek building blocks of life"

I can't wait for this to happen, especially since the disappointing end to Cosmos 1, the Russian solar sail mission. I just hope we get some good pictures of the comet crash.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Finding a label?

Philip Stott's article, "On Being a Mitigated Sceptic", deals primarily with the issue of global warming and its status as a religion among those who accept it unquestioningly. Though I tend to agree with Stott on his views of global warming --
The fundamental question in relation to ''global warming'' is: "Can humans manipulate climate predictably?" Putting this more scientifically: "Will cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the margin produce a linear, predictable change in climate?"

-- I like more his concept of a "mitigated" skeptic, especially as applied to my own world view. If I must settle on a label for myself, don't call me a liberal or a conservative. Don't call me fundamentalist or atheist. Don't place me anywhere on the opposite extremes. Refer to me as a mitigated skeptic, if you must label me at all.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Crossing the channel



Nothing more than a photograph of a bridge over a ship channel.

Friday, June 24, 2005

"Female U.S. Marines Ambushed in Iraq"

This article points out the jihadists' worst characteristic -- their contempt for women. If anything, this one point should be uniting the liberals (or at least the feminists) with Bush in his pursuit of this human trash.
Female Marines are used at the checkpoints to search Muslim women "in order to be respectful of Iraqi cultural sensitivities," a military statement said. It is considered insulting for a male Marine to search a female Muslim.

But it's apparently no problem for male Muslims to shoot female Marines.