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 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.