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."


Even kookier.

Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation.


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!


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.


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.