Sunday, December 31, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Not only do the evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas have a hard time reproducing, they also seem to find it difficult to eat. Even when food is around.

The [Zoo Atlanta pandas'] diet consists almost entirely of bamboo, but they will eat only about 20 of the 200 or so species that grow in Georgia. What type they like also varies by the time of year. Sometimes the pandas will eat nothing but one variety for a week, then refuse to eat it anymore. (Sound familiar, parents?)

And the bamboo has to be fresh — the pandas turn up their noses at dry or wilted leaves and discolored stalks.

So the zoo relies on a bamboo hunting team to find and harvest local patches of the plant. The bamboo they collect cannot be grown with pesticides or near polluted waterways. And most important, it must be appetizing to the pandas.

The astounding effort humans put forth to keep the panda from dying off is remarkable. What's even more remarkable is how the media feels it needs to be clever and cute whenever reporting on every little quirk of this species.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Hazy Titan

Just a reminder that Titan, a moon of Saturn, is probably one of the most interesting bodies in our solar system. It's cold, it's hazy, and it's fascinating.

Read more about this image here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"European Planet-Hunting Satellite to Launch Tomorrow"

Good news here.

Flying high above the Earth's atmosphere, the Convection Rotation and planetary Transits (COROT) satellite will use a different technique better suited to finding smaller worlds. Called the "transit" technique, it will detect extrasolar planets by measuring the dip in starlight their passage creates as they glide across the face of their parent stars.

COROT's 27 centimeter (10.6 inch) lens will monitor the brightness of the stars, looking for the slight dip in starlight caused by the planet's passage. COROT will be able to monitor hundreds of thousands of stars simultaneously and will turn its unblinking eye toward different parts of the sky for 150 days at a time. COROT is expected to find between 10 to 40 rocky worlds over the course of its two and a half year mission, along with tens of new gas giant planets. ...

In 2008, NASA will launch Kepler, a space telescope that works in the same way as COROT, but which will be able to detect the first Earth-sized planets in similar orbits to our own world.

"The goal of Kepler is to find Earth-sized planets in habitable zones around equivalent Suns, or slightly smaller," said Micheal Moore, NASA's program executive for the mission. "We actually like them a bit smaller than our Sun itself, but basically the same thing."

Let's find those planets, and get busy settling them. In the meantime, we could also work on this.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Tree afternoon

Nothing but a picture of a gnarled tree.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"13-foot pet boa kills owner in Ohio"

Just a friendly reminder: some animals really don't make good pets.

CINCINNATI - A 13-foot boa constrictor wrapped itself around its owner's neck and killed the man in his home, authorities said.

An acquaintance found Ted Dres, 48, inside the snake's cage Saturday and called police, the Hamilton County Sheriff's office said.

The snake was still strangling Dres when deputies arrived, and the officers had to work with members of an animal protection group to remove the reptile, the sheriff's office said.

Dogs are good pets. Cats marginally so. But snakes? Not really.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Military meets, exceeds recruiting goals"

I like this news.
WASHINGTON - Though Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the war in Iraq, the Pentagon said Tuesday it is having success enlisting new troops. The Navy and Air Force met their recruiting goals last month while the Army and Marine Corps exceeded theirs, the Defense Department announced.
Maybe there are a lot of other Americans that are not increasingly pessimistic about this war. It would be nice if the media gave more attention to that view.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Spider-Man ...

... European sports cars, and China. Who would have thought they'd all go together?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Love is blind in pitch black restaurant"

Well, I guess the kitchen would not have to worry about the presentation too much in a dark restaurant.

Diners at the once-a-week restaurant called "Opaque" are led into a pitch black dining room by the blind waiters who act as their guides for the evening.

"Oh my God, it's really dark! They're not kidding, it's really dark!" laughed waiter Michael Headley, mimicking a typical first reaction by customers.

The idea of eating dinner in utter blackness may strike many as odd, if not downright unpleasant.

Count me in on that sentiment. Part of the enjoyment of a meal eaten out is how it looks, and part of the dining experience is the place's ambience, not the complete lack thereof. Which is why I shudder at the thought of a pitch-black restaurant. I much prefer a clean, well-lighted place.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Signs of liquid water add to 'Life on Mars' debate"

Perhaps the best evidence so far for liquid water on Mars. Today, not long ago.

An orbiter going around Mars has photographed gullies which indicated that water had flowed there in the past decade.

"These observations give the strongest evidence to date that water still flows occasionally on the surface of Mars," said Michael Mayer, head of NASA's Washington-based Mars Exploration Program.

Ripping off George Lucas for a fortune cookie message.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Parsing English for vagueness's sake

The Texas Ethics Commission has made an embarrassing admission: The English language says what we want it to say. Because that makes corruption easier.

The editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News weighs in:

The Texas Ethics Commission in the past year has twice displayed an appalling ignorance of the written word in its interpretation of state law.

For the official watchdog of the Texas Election Code, the third time wasn't a redemptive charm, it was a disgraceful embarrassment.

At issue is a statute that requires state officers to provide "the identification of a person or other organization from which the individual or the individual's spouse or dependent children received a gift of anything of value in excess of $250 and a description of each gift."

Most practitioners of the English language understand this section of the Government Code to mean that an officeholder or candidate must identify who gives them anything worth more than $250. ...

In March and again in September, a majority of the commission ruled that what the code says isn't what it really means. Disclosure in Texas merely requires the
acknowledgement of a gift in the most vague terms. ...

Even if some uncertainty did exist, the Government Code allows the commission to adopt rules to administer the disclosure statute, such as establishing that the precise value of a gift must accompany its description.

The linguistically challenged commissioners have called on the Legislature to provide a law with more clarity. Lawmakers should do more. They should clear out commissioners and staff who have such a fundamentally flawed understanding of ethics laws.

There are many times I do not agree with what the editorial board says, but this time I heartily concur. It's a shame that the watchdog that is supposed to keep state politicians somewhat honest is helping their corruption, and it's sad that they sacrifice the English language for that complicity.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Denigrating the bravest among us

I don't normally wade into the politics pond on this blog, but I am an ardent supporter of the U.S. armed forces, and it irks me quite a bit to hear them denigrated. Especially when the one uttering an insult is a blow-hard politician.

Which is why I wish I could live in New York just long enough to vote against Representative Charles Rangel, who recently said that the only people who enlist in our military are those who don't have good job prospects.

I can't say much more insightful other than I think Rangel's opinion of our troops is offensive. Big time. But James Taranto of the Opinion Journal has a good sample of the responses from people who are close to the military. And they aren't too happy with Rangel.

It's nice to see the troops and those who love them standing up to this windbag.

UPDATE: Taranto has more of the military response to Rangel.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"NASA Auditions Robots for Lunar Exploration Missions"

This sounds like fun.

In September, several such robots and an autonomous Moon buggy called Scout were put through their paces in the rough desert terrain. During a two-week campaign conducted by NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies team -- a collection of government, university and industry scientists and engineers known as the Desert Rats -- the robots demonstrated their ability to work side-by-side with space-suited researchers, helping with the kinds of tasks that actual astronauts will have to perform as they begin exploring the Moon and establishing outposts. ...

In addition to Scout, NASA's current line up of field assistants includes a nimble six-legged rover called Athlete, a dexterous humanoid torso on wheels called Centaur, and K-10, a boxy little rover specially equipped for site survey work. ...

"The interaction between robots and humans is very important to me," [NASA Johnson Space Center engineer in charge of the Human Robotic Systems program Chris] Culbert said. "Industrial robots are typically behind barriers and big alarms ring if humans come within 10 feet. Our robots live with the humans."

Wish I could be there.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fighting panda extinction ...

... with their own poop.

Not to be outdone, Thailand has come up with yet another, seemingly unlikely way to capitalize on this globally loved, bamboo-munching animal — panda poop.

When keepers of the country's panda couple — Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui — got tired of disposing the 55 pounds of feces daily produced by the duo, Prasertsak Buntragulpoontawee came up with the idea of turning it all into notebooks, fans, bookmarks and key chains.

"At first the Chinese were very skeptical," says the head of Chiang Mai Zoo's panda unit, referring to the proprietary attitude China takes toward its iconic animal.

But the multicolored paper products have proved hot selling-items at the zoo, with the 300,000 baht (US $8,200) earned to date helping balance the accounts of panda keeping.

Egads! And the first step in the process is cleaning the poop! What, exactly, is left when they're done cleaning the poop?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Expletive inserted"

Geoffrey Pullum comments on cussing in The New Yorker:
It's puzzling to me why, when The New Yorker can risk dropping the prime obscene expletive of the English language in mid fucking idiom in a feature article about turkeys, so many newspapers are so astonishingly coy that they can't mention shit without at least a couple of asterisks. (I guess I mean that last clause in both its literal and idiomatic senses.)

Haw haw!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

This should make the lovers of the endangered panda quite happy: "China enjoying baby boom in artificially bred pandas"

Hooray! Maybe the little buggers have finally learned to breed on their ow--- oh, I see.

A total of 30 pandas were born in China this year through artificial insemination, including 11 sets of twins, Zhang Zhihe, director of the China Giant Panda Breeding Technical Committee told Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.

Although three died shortly after being born, the number of new pandas this year is the most since Chinese biologists began artificially breeding the endangered species in 1960, the report said. [emphases added]

They haven't learned, then. Oh well, I guess porn couldn't hurt.
BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai zoo will show its star residents, a pair of young giant pandas, "porn" videos to teach the famously sexually-inactive animals how to mate.

Monday, November 13, 2006

""Sexist" urinals sell out"

And just who complained about it?

VIENNA (Reuters) - Four urinals shaped like a woman's lips were sold on eBay Sunday for a total of 5,343 euros ($6,877) after their owner removed them from a public toilet in Vienna following protests that they were sexist.

Designed by Austrian artist Rudolf Scheffel for the "toilet-bar Vienna" next to the National Opera, the urinals featured lips covered in red, orange or blue lipstick, a bright red tongue and gleaming white teeth.

The urinals were in the toilets for three years but raised an outcry in the run-up to Austria's October 1 parliamentary election when they were used by political party
supporters attending rallies nearby.

What happens in Austrian mens rooms stays in Austrian mens rooms.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Learning to spell on the job.

This is the worst spelling of the word "amateur" I have seen.

From the WOAI Web site:

"Suarez’ Controversial Win Tops Night of Phenomenal Armature Fighting"

Somebody get that headline writer a good dictionary. Or just get him to click here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Honoring them on this day

On this Veterans Day, let's not forget who it is that works so hard to make sure our enemies do not defeat us.

It is these guys and their fellow soldiers and sailors.

Happy Veterans Day. Thanks for the sacrifice.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

Friday, November 10, 2006

Imaging the great eye of Saturn

What do you get when you point your spacecraft over the south pole of Saturn? A great picture like this.

Read more about what this image means here. (And there's a cool animation of this feature, too.)

Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Death of a Spacecraft: The Unknown Fate of Cassini"

An interesting discussion is going on about what to do with the Cassini spacecraft when it has fulfilled its mission.

Sometime around 2012, Cassini, like the ocean-going ships of old, will need to be decommissioned. However, the spacecraft cannot be towed to some nearby shore to be dismantled; she must either drop anchor, be scuttled, or cast off her gravitational moorings altogether.

NASA is considering several options, including:

  • Leaving the craft in an orbit that doesn't pose a danger (a likely option)
  • Crashing it into Saturn (an intriguing option)
  • Crashing it, gently, onto one of Saturn's moons
  • Escaping Saturn to drift off into deep space or to possibly visit Jupiter

I say land Cassini onto one of the moons, Iapetus preferably. That strange, duotoned moon needs some close scrutiny, and think of the wonderful close-up images we could get as Cassini nears its final target. Just like when Deep Impact crashed into Tempel 1.

That would be great stuff, though I think NASA will probably choose the first option. Even if they do, Cassini has served us well in her journey.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Getting the job done

This image is truly sublime.

[Photo courtesy of U.S. Army. Original caption: "Pfc. Raymond Purtee, from the 561st Military Police Company, attached to the 10th Mountain Division, provides convoy security during a patrol near Bagram, Afghanistan."]

Saving the ruins

Not sure what to think about this story: "Experts: Global warming threatens ruins"
NAIROBI, Kenya - From ancient ruins in Thailand to a 12th-century settlement off Africa's eastern coast, prized sites around the world have withstood centuries of wars, looting and natural disasters. But experts say they might not survive a more recent menace: a swiftly warming planet. [emphasis added]
Well, if they are considered ruins, it seems as if they haven't "withstood" very well at all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spotting a retronym

I noticed an interesting retronym the other day. On a soap bottle.

A retronym in the English language is a new term formed out of an old one because the original term is obsolete or no longer completely accurate (Wikipedia's entry here). The reason for the rise of a retronym is usually due to advances in technology, and a classic example is the term "acoustic guitar". Before the advent of household electricity, all guitars were acoustic, and they were just called "guitars". After the invention of the "electric" guitar, it was necessary to add the qualifier "acoustic" to differentiate the older musical instrument from its new brother. Thus, a retronym.

The other day, I bought a new bottle of dish soap. Joy. In the good old days of hand-washing the dishes, there was just "Joy". My previous purchase had been the new, improved version of the soap, "Ultra Concentrated Joy".

My latest purchase, however, was the original Joy, or so I thought. To my great interest (because I am an amateur etymologist!), I noticed that Procter & Gamble had seen fit to put a retronym on the label.

To wit:

Now, we no longer have Joy and Ultra Concentrated Joy; we have Ultra Concentrated Joy and Non-Ultra Joy!

But, at least it still offers great cleaning at a great price.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Getting more life from the space program

These are encouraging news items:

"Deep Impact heads to new comet"

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The surviving portion of the Deep Impact space probe that watched as its other half smashed into a comet on July 4 is being sent on a mission to study another comet.

NASA announced Tuesday that it has accepted a proposal by the University of Maryland, which developed and manages Deep Impact, to send the vehicle on an extended mission to intercept Comet Boethin.

"NASA to send astronauts to repair Hubble"

GREENBELT, Md. - The Hubble Space Telescope, which opened Earth's eyes to an awe-inspiring universe of star births and colliding galaxies, got a reprieve from the junk pile Tuesday.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced a daring space shuttle flight to repair and upgrade the 16-year-old telescope in the spring of 2008 — a reversal of the previous NASA chief, who chose to let the orbiting telescope die because of safety concerns for astronauts after the shuttle Columbia disaster.

Let's keep going. If you've got it, why not use it?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tree-lined afternoon

Nothing but a picture of some cypress trees lining a river bank on a sunny day.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Burning in Paris

In case you hadn't heard, they're burning things in France again.

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France - Police deployed 4,000 reinforcements as marauding youths torched at least two public buses Friday, the anniversary of the deaths of two teenagers that ignited weeks of riots in largely immigrant housing projects across France. ...

Some 100 cars were torched nationwide overnight, half of them in the Paris region, police officials said. The figure was higher than usual — police say between 30 and 50 cars are set on fire during an average week, though some weekends the figure jumps to 100. On the most fiery night of last year's riots, more than 1,400 cars went up in flames. [emphasis added]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lettering a misspelling

The October 24, 2006 Ripley's Believe It or Not! cartoon features a misspelled word.

I go to great pains to make sure I spell words correctly, and it bothers me a bit when people make obvious mistakes. I'm not talking about true typographical errors (such as when a finger slips and hits a key near the intended key), I'm talking about spelling errors that a writer should know better about. It's easy to blame a word processing program's spell checker that misses "pubic" when you meant to type "public", but software can't be blamed when the one doing the misspelling is a comics letterer.

For example, the text in the October 24 cartoon includes the following hand-lettered mistake: "From 2001 to 2005, Alastair Humphreys peddled around the world on his bike...."

When riding a bicycle, one pedals. Only by carrying around trinkets to sell would one peddle. This is an amateurish mistake, and writers should know better. Letterers, too. (At least, I hope the Believe It or Not! cartoon is still lettered by a person. I lament the development of software that can mimic this art.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tractor afternoon

Nothing but a tractor pulling a hayride on a very pleasant autumn afternoon in the Texas Hill Country.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Slamming a prolix writer

I like clear, concise writing. Apparently, so does Ann Althouse.

Speaking of "waste of time"... do you think you could waste some of your own time paying a little bit of attention to your ridiculous writing, like maybe by not writing the phrase "waste of time" twice in that laughably verbose sentence?

Someone throw a copy of Strunk and White at that man!

Ouch! Edit, edit, edit. Or get the book thrown at you.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"German cottage destroyed by meteor"

BERLIN (Reuters) - A fire that destroyed a cottage near Bonn and injured a 77-year-old man was probably caused by a meteor and witnesses saw an arc of blazing light in the sky, German police said on Friday.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Don't be a space slob"

So says Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log. Makes sense to me. Who would want a faceful of someone else's sweat while orbiting above the Earth?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fighting panda extinction ...

... by breathlessly reporting a natural, commonplace, and expected happening as something new and exciting.

ATLANTA - Zoo Atlanta's baby panda opened it eyes for the first time on Thursday.

Zoo officials made the discovery during a physical examination of the 36-day-old unnamed female cub. [emphases added]

Silly antropomorphizing journalists.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Shutting down a tired riddle

Heh-heh-heh. Maybe we should retire that old riddle about words that end in "gry".

Stunning Saturn

One of the best pictures of Saturn so far.

Read more about the image here.

[Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"New Bush Space Policy Unveiled, Stresses U.S. Freedom of Action"

I'm liking this:

The White House document spells out U.S. space policy goals, including the implementation of a sustained “innovative human and robotic exploration program” geared to extending human presence across the solar system.

As a civil space guideline, the policy calls upon NASA to “execute a sustained and affordable human and robotic program of space exploration and develop, acquire, and use civil space systems to advance fundamental scientific knowledge of our Earth system, solar system, and universe.”

Faster, please.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Singing our language

Does our speech have natural musical patterns? Mark Liberman at the Language Log looks at the possibility in depth. And the analysis starts with Tigger and Eeyore.
I'm not 100% convinced by these plots; and also I think their selected examples might be stacking the deck a bit, since Eeyore is stereotypically (since the Disney movie, at least) someone who signals a depressed state by speaking almost in a chant, in which minor-third intervals are prominent. But still, this is really interesting stuff.

Yes, it is. I'm not sure I grasp everything in Liberman's piece, but I have noticed that professional speakers -- especially news casters and voice-over talent -- tend to have a sing-song style of speech, and that certain pitches and intonations are consistent with punctuation. A uptick here falls in line with a comma, a falling tone there matches with a period, a pause indicates a colon, and so on. Each speaker seems to have his own speech shape, and I sometimes listen to casual speakers to see if I can pick out similar patterns. I tended to think I was the only one that really noticed and pondered this. But it's nice to know I'm not.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Mad deer disease may spread with saliva"

Don't kiss a deer.

WASHINGTON - Deer probably spread a brain-destroying illness called chronic wasting disease through their saliva, concludes a study that finally pins down a long-suspected culprit. ...

Chronic wasting disease is in the same family of fatal brain illnesses as mad cow disease and its human equivalent. There is no evidence that people have ever caught chronic wasting disease from infected deer or elk.

But CWD is unusual because, unlike its very hard-to-spread relatives, it seems to spread fairly easily from animal to animal.

It's probably a good bet for hunters to be careful in areas where this disease has appeared, but why was this AP story written by a "medical writer"? Has anthropomorphization in the media gone so far that now human medicine and veterinary medicine are interchangeable in an editor's eyes? I hope not. I like my doctors and vets operating out of different buildings.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Panel: IRA no longer poses a terrorist threat"

This is good news for the Northern Irish.

DUBLIN, Ireland - The Irish Republican Army has begun reducing its membership and shut down key units responsible for weapons-making, arms smuggling and training, an expert panel reported Wednesday in findings designed to spur a revival of Catholic-Protestant cooperation in Northern Ireland. ...

The assessment reported that the IRA — which last year declared a formal end to its campaign to overthrow Northern Ireland by force and handed its weapons stockpiles to disarmament chiefs — had recently shut down three command units and “run down its terrorist capability.”

The report said the IRA has disbanded military structures, including the departments responsible for weapons procurement, engineering and training, and it had cut back rank-and-file members and stopped payments to them, the report said.

Let's hope this sticks. And let's hope we read about something very similar happening sometime in the near future with al-Qaida, Hamas, Fatah, Hizbollah, and other Islamic terror groups.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Giving too much credit to dogs for intelligence

From the AP:
FORT MEYERS, Fla. - A pit bull who was recently adopted by a family after wondering onto a construction site may have saved a teen girl from a house fire on Friday. [emphasis added]
It's a good thing that family interrupted the dog's musings long enough to adopt him.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Maggie the sea lion paints for fish"


PITTSBURGH - Some artists suffer for their work. Maggie, an 11-year-old sea lion at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, gets to eat dead fish for hers. Kesha Phares, a zoo trainer, has been teaching the animal to paint since last year.

"It's, in a way, enriching," Phares told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for Wednesday's editions. "Sea lions are very smart animals, and painting keeps their minds active."

So, how brilliant and artistic is this sea lion?
It took three months to get the animal to hold a paint brush and touch the bristles to paper.

This is astounding drivel that only proves animals can be trained and humans can be duped.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Mars rover reaches rim of deep crater"

Opportunity finally reaches Victoria crater, and the scientists are happy.
"We made it!" said rover principal scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University.
It's been a long journey for the Mars rovers, but the trip has greatly improved our understanding of the red planet. Let's hope future space endeavors will be as fruitful.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Exposing the "Face" ...

... for the mountain that it is.

BERLIN - For decades, photos of what appeared to be a huge, face-shaped rock formation on Mars — or even a statue of Elvis — fueled theories of intelligent life on the Red Planet.

But high-resolution stereo cameras from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter have debunked that myth with the clearest pictures yet of the region where the so-called face was found, ESA has said.

"The face remains a figment of human imagination in a heavily eroded surface," the agency said in a statement.

Why do I have a nagging feeling that this news will in no way at all deter those who think this is a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence? Oh, yeah, I forgot; there's a conspiracy to cover up the "truth" about the "face".

Monday, September 25, 2006

"PETA upset at Six Flags roach contest"

Somehow, I don't think PETA's gonna garner too much sympathy with this one.

GURNEE, Ill. - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants Six Flags Great America to scrap its Halloween-themed cockroach-eating promotion.

A spokeswoman for the animal rights organization says the contest at the amusement park's FrightFest is "gratuitously cruel."

The park in Gurnee, Ill., is joining other Six Flags parks in offering unlimited line-jumping privileges to anyone who eats a live Madagascar hissing cockroach. The bugs are up to three inches long.

Well, at least PETA's being fairly consistent. They are defending a vile animal as much as they defend cute ones. But does anyone else think the animal rights organization has jumped the shark yet? C'mon, roaches? Is that any way to win someone over to your side, by speaking out for nasty insects?

I suppose we should love wasps and scorpions, too.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Well, it looks as if the evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas can still fight back. Now, if they can just breed as well as they brawl.

Zhang Xinyan, from the central province of Henan, drank four jugs of beer at a restaurant near the zoo before visiting Gu Gu the panda on Tuesday, the Beijing Morning Post said.

“He felt a sudden urge to touch the panda with his hand,” and jumped into the enclosure, the newspaper said.

The panda, who was asleep, was startled and bit Zhang, 35, on the right leg, it said. Zhang got angry and kicked the panda, who then bit his other leg. A tussle ensued, the paper said.

“I bit the fellow in the back,” Zhang was quoted as saying in the newspaper. “Its skin was quite thick.” ...

No one ever said they would bite people,” Zhang said. “I just wanted to touch it. I was so dizzy from the beer. I don’t remember much.” [emphasis added]

Sounds like them cute, cuddly creatures got sharp teeth.

Oh, and by they way, this story illustrates the danger of athropomorphizing wild animals too much: people forget that they are wild and that they will attack you and kill you if the need arises. And, it doesn't matter how much you love them.

Remember what happened to Steve Irwin.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Scientists: Make invasive carp zoo feed"


ST. LOUIS - Voracious carp that can literally throw themselves right into boats and pose a major ecological threat to Midwestern rivers and lakes could someday be a meal at the local zoo. ...

There's little profit for commercial fishermen in harvesting the fish. But the St. Louis Zoo may have a partial answer to that problem, as a team of researchers seeks to create a carp product to feed to animals.

"We want to make good food of bad fish," said Ellen Dierenfeld, staff nutritionist at the zoo.

University of Missouri-Columbia food scientist Andrew Clarke has developed a "carp cake" made from raw, ground fish.

Carp are crap. Feed 'em to the fish-eaters at the zoo, and get 'em out of our lakes. They are an imported species that poses all kinds of dangers to local ecosystems. And, they can hurt you, too.

The high-jumping fish can be so dangerous that Missouri Department of Conservation staff wear head gear for protection while motoring on fast-moving boats. Some have protective netting around the driver area and across the bow.

"They can break your nose or knock you out of the boat," said Duane Chapman, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is part of the team working on the feed project.

Grind 'em up, I say.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Demoting a planet

Well, poor Pluto is just a number now.

On Sept. 7, the former 9th planet was assigned the asteroid number 134340 by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), the official organization responsible for collecting data about asteroids and comets in our solar system.

The move reinforces the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) recent decision to strip Pluto of its planethood and places it in the same category as other small solar-system bodies with accurately known orbits.

That's fine. I never thought Pluto -- excuse me, 134340 -- was that special anyway. Now, let's never mention that name again in conjunction with The Planets, a true masterpiece.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"NASA craft settles into Mars orbit"

Good for NASA.

PASADENA, Calif. - The most powerful spacecraft ever sent to Mars has settled into a nearly circular orbit, a move that allows scientists to begin studying the planet in unprecedented detail, NASA said Tuesday.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its thrusters for 12 minutes Monday to adjust to its final position six months after it arrived at the planet. Its altitude ranges between 155 to 196 miles above the surface. ...

Over the next several months, the orbiter will deploy its 33-foot antenna and remove a lens cap from one of its instruments. It will begin collecting data in November, and scientists expect the resolution of those images to be nine times higher.

I can't wait for the pictures. Until then, there's these.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Despite humanity's best efforts, the evolutionarily-challenged panda still seems intent on slouching into extinction.

Reuters reports:

BEIJING (Reuters) -Staff at a zoo in southwest China are in mourning after a sleep-deprived panda dropped her two-day-old baby and crushed it to death, local media reported on Friday. ...

Ya Ya, a seven-year-old panda and new mother of twins, "appeared tired" when nursing the younger cub in a patch of grass, the paper said.

Her head sagged, her paws separated and her baby fell to the ground next to her. The panda then rolled on to her side and crushed her baby beneath her.

The tragedy [!] occurred because she hadn't slept or eaten properly since giving birth, Guo [Wei, panda department chief at Chongqing city zoo] said, adding that Ya Ya lacked motherhood experience. ...

Pandas who lose their young tend to be depressed for a month or so," Guo said, adding that the zoo would assign people to care for her and provide special food to improve her mood.

Somehow, I think there are humans who will mourn longer than Ya Ya. [You don't think it's a tragedy when a panda cub dies tragically? --ed.] I think there are people who want us to think it is, and those people seem to be replete in the media. They seem to suggest that anytime the panda suffers a setback in its struggle to survive then all mankind should feel sufficiently morose. [You don't? --ed.] No!

Animals simply die, and they do their darndest to kill each other if you let them. I can understand if a zookeeper feels disappointment when losing an animal, but, really, an entire zoo "in mourning"? That's a bit too much of the anthropomorphization.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Good news for lovers of the evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas:

ATLANTA - After seven years of trying and hoping, Zoo Atlanta officials announced a rare giant panda birth Wednesday, one of only a few in the United States.

Lun Lun delivered her first cub just before 5 p.m., zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Waller said. The zoo planned a news conference for later in the evening. ...

Zoo Atlanta artificially inseminated the 8-year-old Lun Lun at the end of March with semen taken from her partner, Yang Yang. They had tried for years to successfully mate the pair naturally.

But they had success time and time again in unsuccessfully mating the pair naturally.

Criticizing just about everybody

This article from Reuters addresses some criticism directed toward Steve Irwin following his strange death by stingray. The observation, from "feminist academic" Germaine Greer, basically goes along the lines that Irwin exploited animals for entertainment, much the same as traditional circus acts, and he should not be celebrated for his actions.

“It’s no surprise that he came to grief,” Greer told Nine Network television.

“We now have enough respect for lions to be embarrassed if we see someone trying to crack whips at them and wave chairs at them. Jumping all over crocodiles is the same kind of thing.”

Greer may have a point, but I can't really buy her argument. She seems to me to be a bit of a misanthrope, and she apparently finds fault with just about all humans.

Greer, an award-winning author, is a frequent critic of personalities like British soccer star David Beckham and social trends like reality television.

In 2003 she criticized J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for attracting “spaced-out hippies, environmentalists, free-market libertarians, social conservatives, pacifists, new-age theosophists, sexists and racists the world over.”

That's quite a lumping of disparate viewpoints into one all-encompassing despisal, which suggests that she doesn't like people in general. I, on the other hand, do. So, I happily conclude that Greer is wrong.

Irwin may have been foolhardy, but I think he honestly loved his animals and cared about them. I didn't particularly care for his style, but I think Irwin's main goal was education through entertainment, not entertainment as an end in itself. And that is a laudable effort.

And I disagree with Greer's assessment of the ability of Tolkien to appeal to so many different kinds of people. That is a good thing, especially when the author is one as learned as Tolkien. This distinguished gentleman was a scholar, a teacher, and a damn good writer. His works are not to be sneered at, and his fans are not to be derided simply for loving his works.

Since I disagree almost completely with Greer's outlook, I dismiss her argument. Her assessment of Irwin is rubbish.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"European probe smashes into Moon after successful mission"


PARIS (AFP) - One of the most innovative missions in space exploration has come to a dramatic close as Europe's first probe to the Moon crashed into the lunar surface giving stargazers around the world an astronomical fireworks display.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) revolutionary probe known as SMART-1 smashed into a plain called the Lake of Excellence on the southwestern side of the
Moon's face, "producing a more intense flash than expected", the mission's chief
scientist Bernard Foing said from ESA's base in Darmstadt, Germany. ...

Over the past three years, operating with a full-time staff of just seven and a total budget of just 120 million euros (151 million dollars), the little probe has been patiently testing new technology that one day could help put Man on Mars.

Scientists also say that the 20,000 extremely detailed photos transmitted by the craft will yield a fresh look at the Moon, revealing Earth's satellite as a place of surprising complexity and promise rather than a lifeless rock with little to offer except grey dust.

Congratulations are due to the ESA.

"Army reaches retention goal with Fort Campbell Soldier"

Seems like the Army is doing fine.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Army News Service, Aug. 31, 2006) – The active Army reached its fiscal 2006 retention goal one month early today when a Fort Campbell Soldier reenlisted.

Staff Sgt. Michael Obleton, a truck driver assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, became the 64,200th reenlistment since Oct. 1, 2005. Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody presided over the ceremony.

“What a commitment. Our Army has been at war longer than we fought in World War II. Soldiers still reenlist knowing full well the dangers, knowing full well the sacrifice,” said Cody.

Obleton, of Columbus, Ga., joined the Army in 1997 at age 27. "I had a job, but I was looking for more," he said. "I was looking for a challenge.”

The Army will definitely give you that.

Good luck to him, his familly, and his fellow soldiers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Crashing into the moon

This should be cool.

BERLIN - Europe's first mission to the moon is due to crash-land in a cloud of dust and rock early Sunday, ending a three-year voyage that gathered data about the lunar surface and tested a new engine intended to propel future spacecraft to Mercury and other planets. ...

Even before the mission ends, however, ESA is already celebrating the main goal — a successful test of the ion engine they hope to use for future interplanetary missions, such as the BepiColombo joint mission to Mercury with Japan's space agency slated for launch in 2013.

"The prime object of this mission was to test the ion propulsion," mission manager Gerhard Schwehm told The Associated Press. "This is a very efficient means to get a spacecraft over large distances with a very small mass of fuel. It worked really well."

I'm glad the Europeans had such a success with this mission. I hope the various space agencies -- and private entities -- continue to work together to move us out to the stars. And, I'm a bit jealous of Anousheh Ansari. I wish her well and hope she has a blast in space.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Repeating a python

The AFP apparently has only one picture of a snake, and they use it as an illustration for all snake stories. Witness below, a screen capture from Yahoo News on August 27, 2006:

The datelines for the stories read "ANKARA" (Turkey) and "GENEVA" (Switzerland), and they were posted on different days, yet they bear the same photo of a python. Lazy on the part of the AFP, especially since the story from Switzerland is about an adder, not a python.

Friday, August 25, 2006

"Company urges tourists to 'save Haiti'"

Sure, I'll go vacation in Haiti. Right after I attend that marketing convention in Somalia.

"Visit Haiti. Don't listen to what you see on the news," says Wilfrid Belfort of MWM & Associates in North Miami Beach....

Recent news from Haiti does not promise relaxation: Gang violence and kidnappings have surged in the capital of the Western hemisphere's poorest country.

But Belfort's Haitian-American-owned company sees increasing tourism as Haiti's best chance to improve its crippled economy and finally achieve political stability — a plan Haiti's new president also proposed at a Florida tourism conference in June. ...

Most tourists will likely heed a U.S. State Department warning discouraging travel to the Caribbean nation. More than 50 Americans, including children, have been kidnapped in Haiti in the past year, the agency says.

Sounds like a good enough reason for me not to go. Florida's got hurricanes, but at least it's in the U.S., so I might try there for a vacation. And, it seems good enough for Haiti's new president.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Rare Sumatran tiger killed at Florida zoo"

What a sad headline. You can't tell from it that the tiger first escaped, headed toward a public area, and then charged a person, before being shot to protect human life. It seems to me that the tiger deserved killing. But, then, he was a rare tiger, and that should make people feel sad about his death.

From Reuters:

Enshala, a 180-pound (81 kg) female tiger, was being put into her night house when she slipped past an unlocked latch and headed toward a public area on Tuesday. A veterinarian shot Enshala with a tranquilizer dart but she then charged at him, and zoo president Lex Salisbury killed her with a shotgun.

"I feel sick to my stomach," Salisbury, head of the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, told the St. Petersburg Times. He said he felt he had to shoot to protect the veterinarian.

That must be some comfort to the veterinarian.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fighting panda extinction ...

... through blogging!

BEIJING (AFP) - A week-old giant panda cub has received her own blog as China seeks to raise public awareness about protecting the endangered animal, state media have said. ...

"Mummy says it will be very hot outside today. So we'll stay together inside where the air-con is on," said one entry.

Oh, Lord!

Ah, well, I guess they need all the help they can get. After all:

The famously sexually inactive giant pandas are among the world's most endangered animals. [emphasis added]

Gee, I wonder why.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Ozone-friendly chemicals lead to warming"


The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse.

That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate.

This unintended consequence now haunts the nations that signed both U.N. treaties.

Well, I guess that's what you get for letting the U.N. try to save the planet. And, was this a surprise? Not really, to some.

Switzerland first tried in 1990 to sound an alarm that the solution for plugging the ozone hole might contribute to another environmental problem. The reaction?

"Nothing, or almost," said Blaise Horisberger, the Swiss representative to U.N.-backed Montreal treaty. "We have been permanently raising this issue. It has been really difficult."

Horisberger, a biologist with the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape, kept trying. Finally, the first formal, secret talks on the subject were held in Montreal last month.

Wow. The tin ears are holding "secret" talks to save the planet. If nothing else, the U.N. sure has effrontery.

Leafy afternoon

Nothing but some briar leaves.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stink bug morning

Nothing but a stink bug on a prickly pear on a hot morning.

Reclassifying Pluto

Poor Pluto. It may no longer be considered in the same class as its solar siblings.

From the blog:

Several of the panel members favor dividing round objects up as terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) and a third class that would include Pluto, NPR reported. “We’ll call them dwarf planets or something,” said Iwan Williams, an astronomer at the University of London who served on the panel, according to NPR.

This seems reasonable. Pluto never did fit in with the other eight planets, and it really seems to be something that should be in a different classification. Either way, perhaps that parasite movement can now be forever dissociated from Gustav Holst's masterpiece.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Study also shows some too thin, and some just right

"Mass. study shows some babies too fat"

Something lacking in the metaphor

From the first paragraph of "NYC professor promotes urban fish farm" by AP writer Karen Matthews [all emphases below added]:
NEW YORK - In the basement of an ivy-covered building on the surprisingly leafy campus of Brooklyn College is something even more surprising: thousands of tilapia packed tighter than a subway car into 300-gallon fiberglass fish tanks.

The metaphor is incomplete. What is the subway car packed with?

Another poor metaphor: "Schreibman, a genial 70-year-old in Birkenstocks and a Hawaiian shirt, didn't set out to be the Johnny Appleseed of tilapia."

Johnny Appleseed (really John Chapman), from what I can remember, planted trees far and wide in the Midwest. Martin Schreibman of Brooklyn College seems to be going no further than the school's basement.

Matthews tries to spice up her piece about tilapia in Brooklyn with some metaphors, but they are ill-conceived and incomplete. That's too bad, because the subject matter is interesting enough on its own.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Twin pandas each have twin cubs in China"

This should be good news for all those who love the cute evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas.

BEIJING - Twin giant pandas each gave birth to twin cubs this week as the number of pandas born in captivity this year in China rose to six, state media reported Tuesday.

Here in Texas, we hunt animals. And there's plenty of them.

"China to let tourists hunt endangered species: paper"

Oh, we have plenty of paper, too.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Asterisking words on iTunes II

Arnold Zwicky at the Language Log caught on to the asterisking of cum on iTunes. He says:
Yes, another triumph of the iTunes automatic asterisking program: the innocent Latin preposition "cum" 'with' loses its "u" because of its dirty homograph, as in Blowfly's song "Cum of a Lifetime" and Super 8 Cum Shot's self-titled album. This wonderful fact from Barbara Partee, who downloaded "Carmina Burana" from iTunes and was confronted with "Si puer c*m puellula", which she would never have understood if it hadn't been for the work of the Taboo Avoidance Crew (also known as the Too Asterisked Crew) here at Language Log Plaza.

I also noticed that about the piece from Orff's "Carmina Burana", but I neglected to mention it at my own post on the matter.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Changing the terms on us

Eugene Volokh has an excellent post on the confusing practice of changing terms that refer to groups of people. He concludes:
5. So I think the approach that's more tolerant of speakers, ultimately more likely to avoid offense to the subjects of the speech, and less likely to be subject to the whims of a small minority of activists is generally to tolerate both the old terms and the new terms, and not consider either to be a breach of good manners. [emphasis in original]

Generally, "If you change the term for your group and you don't tell me, don't get mad if I slip up later". Or something like that. I suggest reading the whole post to see how he gets to that point.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

Asterisking words on iTunes

Arnold Zwicky at the Language Log posts on the odd logic Apple uses to insert asterisks in words on iTunes in order to not offend ("Automatic Asterisking").

I guess.

I, too, have noticed some of the same things Zwicky did, such as "[a]sterisking affects the song titles and the album titles, and with (so far as I can tell) perfect consistency -- but, bizarrely, NEVER affects the name of the artist(s)." Apple's software also asterisks some words that can have an offensive connotation, but many times do not. Zwicky lists a few of these, but he misses cum.

To be sure, cum as slang has a very sexual meaning, and Apple may have an argument in asterisking "I C*m Blood" by Cannibal Corpse. But the word is also a slang spelling for come, as in "C*m On Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot, and it is even a Latin word meaning with or plus. But the software makes no disctintions between slang or dead languages, and even "Summa C*m Laude" by Rudy Adrian gets its perfunctory little star.

No software can censor with as much refinement as the human mind precisely because the English language is alive, varied, and richly complex. It takes a living mind to truly grasp the language, and, until computers actually think as we do, we will continue to get risible results from such efforts as that employed on iTunes.

But that's OK. We all need a good chuckle from time to time.

"Blair vows 'robust' action against animal rights extremists"

The Brits are cracking down on violent animal rights folks, and I say good for them.

"Hundreds of millions of people in the UK and around the world today are alive and healthy because of the pioneering work of our scientists and researchers," [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair said in the three-page document.

"Many millions more will be spared an early death or a life of pain because of the research now under way. They deserve our support. And they should get it."

Amen. Because of this:

The British government tightened up legislation in response to a number of high-profile animal rights campaigns.

They included threats, intimidation, harassment, criminal damage and violence against staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences, in Cambridge, eastern England, which tests new medicines and vaccines on animals.

Companies and individuals associated with the facility, including shareholders of British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, have also been targeted.

Contractors at a new biomedical research centre in Oxford, southern England, have also faced threats, forcing work to stop, while the owners of a farm that bred guinea pigs for medical testing suffered a six-year terror campaign. [emphases added]

It's sad when people put animals above people. I don't think you should be cruel to animals for cruelty's sake, but, then again, how much of an argument can animal rights activists have when they also think dead fish should be treated with respect?

If you run across people who threaten you for being disresepctful to sushi, keep your kids away from them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Evidence of Hydrocarbon Lakes on Titan"

It's looking like Cassini has found evidence of great big lakes. But don't expect to ski on them.


The cluster of lakes was spotted near Titan's frigid north pole during a weekend flyby by the international Cassini spacecraft, which flew within 590 miles of the moon.

Researchers counted about a dozen lakes six to 62 miles wide. Some, which appeared as dark patches in radar images, were connected by channels, while others had tributaries flowing into them. Several were dried up, but the ones that contained liquid were most likely a mix of methane and ethane.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Virginia firm offers spacewalks for $35M"

Nice adventure. If you've got the dough.
A private Virginia firm that already has sent three super-rich men to the international space station for $20 million each announced Friday it would offer an even rarer adventure: A stroll outside the space station for an extra $15 million.

If I had the money, I would consider it, though I would probably be frightened and exhilarated at the same time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Farmers use bull semen to inseminate cows"

Uh, why is this a story? Anyone who has grown up anywhere near a farm or ranch knows that people have been using artificial insemination on domesticated animals for a long time. How long? The article even tells us:

Matt Schultz, a herdsman at B & B, said the farm has used artificial insemination since 1987. ...

Evidence shows one of the first uses of artificial insemination dates back to the Arabs in the 14th century .... The first official use was in Italian dogs in 1780.

Rutgers University in New Jersey formed the first commercial artificial insemination organization in the U.S. around 1938.

That's a long time to get around to writing a news story about it. Poor Carrie Antlfinger, Associated Press Writer. She must have really pissed someone off to get assigned this yawner. But, she did manage to work in a gem of a quote:

Back at B & B Dairy, Schultz said the cows seem to know Ken Montsma, the artificial insemination technician for Accelerated Genetics, one of the insemination companies.

"Kenny comes in and it's like they come and find him," Schultz said.

Heh. Maybe they find him first.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

How did they resist adding three or four exclamation points after this hyperventilative headline?

"Injured China panda in blood plasma alert"

Friday, July 14, 2006

Waiting for the end of the sentence

Rescue our children's what?

Original AP photo appeared in this slideshow with this caption: "Mahmoud Hakim, center, and family whose daughter lives in Nabatieh, Lebanon, demonstrate against Israeli bombardment of their native country on Friday, July 14, 2006, of Dearborn Heights, Mich. (AP Photo/Jeff El-Sayed)"

One with plenty, one with none

Atmosphere, that is.

This is an incredible image of two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Rhea. Titan is the larger of the two, and it has a thick atmosphere of primarily nitrogen. The smaller moon, Rhea, has no air.

This image demonstrates the extent that light can be affected by an atmosphere. Titan's thick smog allows sunlight to encircle the moon in a dramatic all-over sunset (or sunrise, I suppose), while the light barely peeks over the edge of airless Rhea, producing an equally dramatic crescent.

More about this image and how it was produced can be found here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Spacecraft successfully inflates in orbit"

The interesting becomes plausible, and then is cool.

LOS ANGELES - An experimental spacecraft bankrolled by real estate magnate Robert Bigelow successfully inflated in orbit Wednesday, testing a technology that could be used to fulfill his dream of building a commercial space station.

In a brief statement posted on his Web site, Bigelow said the Genesis I satellite "successfully expanded" several hours after liftoff. No other details were provided.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Tycoon to test space station technology"

Hmm. This sounds interesting.

LOS ANGELES - A hotel tycoon's dream of building an inflatable commercial space station is taking a step toward reality — or a reality check — with the launch of a satellite that will test the technology behind the orbital outpost.

The fact-finding mission scheduled for this week will explore the feasibility of Robert Bigelow's planned commercial space complex. When finished by 2015, he said, it will consist of balloon-like modules strung together like sausage links and serve as a hotel, laboratory, college or entertainment venue. ...

The company plans to boost several prototypes into orbit this decade to increase the chances of success. Subsequent launches will test docking among spacecraft. But the maiden Genesis flight will primarily test the inflation process.

The concept of balloon modules for space vessels is something NASA apparently considered in the past but rejected as being too costly. I wish Bigelow well and hope he gets a good return on his investment, but he had better find some good success with this technology. Though the structures are supposedly "pop-proof", I don't see people paying money to crawl inside a big balloon in space unless it has a good performance record.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Coin from Thailand

Nothing but a coin from Thailand.

"Hunting Norwegian whalers shock tourists"

OSLO, Norway - Hunters shocked a boatload of tourists on a whale watch off Norway's Arctic during the weekend, harpooning a whale in front of them.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Push for simpler spelling persists"

Every once in a while, this bubbles to the surface of the news cycle: an idiotic idea to rework the entire English language to make spelling easier.

It's been 100 years since Andrew Carnegie helped create the Simplified Spelling Board to promote a retooling of written English and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to force the government to use simplified spelling in its publications. But advocates aren't giving up. ...

"It's a very difficult thing to get something accepted like this," says Alan Mole, president of the American Literacy Council, which favors an end to "illogical spelling." The group says English has 42 sounds spelled in a bewildering 400 ways.

I prefer to see as a wonderfully rich 400 ways.

English's uniqueness comes from its dual nature. It is, at its core, a Germanic language fused with a Romance language, and every subtle, daring, inspiring, breathtaking way that our words can be combined to convey meaning make me love the language even more. The odd spellings that survive to this day reflect some of the adventurous paths that our words have taken, and to strip the words of their etymological pasts will erase those paths for future generations.

I don't like the idea of simplifying our spelling, and I hope it is forever a novel concept that cannot find purchase.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Pulling our legs?

This story by Sonia Moghe at the AP claims that some students in Dallas have made a microscopic U.S. flag using an ion beam and a nano manipulator. Though the story is all over the place, I have yet to see an image of the flag, which leads me to believe the students may be a bit full of it. It's easy to make claims if you don't have to show proof to back it up.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Fighting panda extinction ...

... by holding a birthday party for one of the evolutionary dead-enders.

From the Washington Post:

Tai Shan, the National Zoo's rare and popular giant panda cub, turns a year old Sunday, and the scientists, keepers and volunteers who helped bring him into the world are holding a big public birthday party.

The celebration, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the animal park, will feature entertainment, children's activities and the opportunity to talk with the zoo's panda staff, scientists and veterinarians.

Gotta promote them pandas. Especially after all the trouble us humans have gone to to get them to breed. Whether they like it or not.

The cub, in particular, has become a high-profile ambassador -- used to promote efforts to save giant pandas in the wild, where 1,600 live in the rugged mountains of south-central China, and to increase the captive population of fewer than 200 worldwide, including 11 in U.S. zoos. His birth last summer using cutting-edge artificial insemination techniques also has put the National Zoo front and center among those working to breed and protect this endangered species. [emphasis added]

No matter what, the panda will survive. Because they are so cute.


Photo courtesy of U.S. Army, Phil Manson.

Original caption at the Army's site: "Sgt. Tommy Hughes, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief from the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, participates in a pre-Iraq deployment exercise at Fort Hood, Texas."

Friday, June 30, 2006

Titan dazzles


This incredible picture was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, currently exploring Saturn and its environs. The hazy ring of light is a planet-wide (moon-wide?) sunset seen through Titan's thick atmosphere. Find out more here. [Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech]

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Anchor day

Nothing but an anchor over the sea.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Soldiers find, save baby"

You're in Iraq, and suddenly you are set upon by wild dogs. What do you do? Put the baby down so you can run faster.

From the site of the Multi-National Force in Iraq:

The mother of the child told Iraqi Police she left the child in her daughter's care. The daughter was carrying the baby on the road near the LSA when she was chased by wild dogs and left the baby so she could run faster, according to reports given to Capt. Lance Awbrey, commander, Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery.

Good thing there were American soldiers nearby.

Staff Sgt. Donald White, patrol leader 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, and his team came across a box on the side of the road while on patrol.

Initially, he thought it was an improvised explosive device until he heard crying coming from the box. ...

The skin was literally hanging off the child and we could see it was massively dehydrated and malnourished. Sullivan told me we needed to get the child to a hospital right away and we jumped into the trucks and drove to the hospital as fast as we could, Smith said. ...

By the time the patrol made its way to the Balad Air Base hospital the staff was already waiting for them when the vehicles pulled up. The Air Force medical staff treated the child by putting a feeding tube into him to replenish lost fluids. After a while the baby regained its strength and was in stable enough condition to be released. A civilian liaison with the Iraqi hospital in Balad was called and the child was released to hospital care.

Those guys don't get paid enough.

Ship evening

Just a picture of a big ship making its way through the channel.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

The Chinese are trying to help pandas reproduce by setting aside more land area as reserves for them.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is giving an unusually endangered species of panda extra space, privacy and protection to help the animals reproduce, state media said on Friday.

The 300 pandas of a rare subspecies who call northwest China's central Shaanxi province home will soon be protected by five new reserves in the fog-shrouded Qinling mountains, the China Daily said. ...

The reserves would cover about 80 percent of the pandas' habitat once they are expanded from 181,100 to 500,000 hectares, the paper said.

This is undoubtedly a triumph for all the panda lovers, but I can't see how changing the designation of land that the creatures already use will help them breed more.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

"Hubble telescope main camera not working"

Oh no.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys, a third-generation instrument installed by a space shuttle crew in 2002, went off line Monday, and engineers are still trying to figure out what happened and how to repair it.

"It's still off line today," Max Mutchler, an instruments specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said Saturday.

I hope they can get it fixed. The images taken by Hubble have been breathtaking and sublime. It is sad to think there might be no more, but we can be thankful for what we have.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Good news for all those who love the cute dead-enders called pandas. There's more out there than we thought.

From the AP:

SHANGHAI, China - Scientists using DNA samples have doubled their estimates of the wild panda population in a nature sanctuary in China, a finding they say bodes well for the survival of the endangered species.

The researchers believe between 66 and 72 pandas are living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve — more than twice the previous estimate of 32, said Wei Fumin, a zoologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

How do they know this? They took genetic profiles of poop. And it had to be fresh.

[Study author Michael] Bruford said the field work, carried out by graduate student Zhan Xiangjiang, was arduous, not only due to the mountainous terrain but also because of the need to obtain fresh samples for DNA analysis.

"Once panda feces change from green to brown, we know we've had it," he said.

What a job.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hashing out "times"

Interesting discussion at The Volokh Consipiracy about whether saying something is "X times lower" than something else makes any sense at all. The only definitive conclusion I can draw from the comments is that it's probably best to just skip the phrase. For example, Hedberg says:

As the first comment demonstrates, these usages (x times larger, x times lower) can be confusing. For ten times larger, multiply by 11; for ten times lower, divide by which: ten or eleven? Although I'm neither a genius nor an expert on English usage, I do have an advanced engineering degree and some facility and familiarity with both math and English. Despite that, I find the usage "X times lower" to be confusing; I'm never quite sure what is intended. If what is meant is "one tenth as much," I ask myself, when I encounter it, why did not the writer write that?

If what you have written causes this much confusion (128 comments to discuss the matter at the time of this writing!), then dump the phrase. Find another way to say it. This bugbear just isn't worth the hassle.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pelican afternoon

Nothing but a shot of a few pelicans on a warm afternoon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Engrish: Crawler Crab

Flashing Light




CHOKING HAZARD-Small ball. Not for children under 6 year.

Caution: If your crab gets dirty simply washing with clean water.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Russian mission to Mars in 2009"

Everybody in the pool!

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia plans to send up a space exploration capsule to analyse the surface of Mars and collect test samples from one of the red planet's moons in 2009, Russia's space agency has said.

Let's all work together to get humanity to Mars. Soon. Even if it means working with Russia.

And, how can you not like a spacecraft called "Phobos-Grunt"?

Getting back in

Been out for awhile, but now I'm back. New posts soon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Slamming a language slammer


Don't raise the ire of the people at the Language Log, especially Geoffrey K. Pullum.

The bottom line here is that people who are clueless about English grammar shouldn't be trying to humiliate others over grammar for political advantage. Those who feel grammar correction is something they want to discuss in the media should do just a little bit of work to prepare themselves for their calling. Not knowing a preterite from a participle or a clause from a phrase is like not knowing how to add small integers.

That's why I try to keep my criticisms to the obvious. If I'm unsure about why a piece of writing looks wrong, I usually keep my mouth shut to avoid putting a Reebok in it. And I almost never ridicule typos. They're pretty easy to identify, and I know they stem from a slip of the finger, not from a lack of learning. Though sometimes they are pretty funny.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Adios, apostrophe"

The horror!

The Internet is reinforcing bad English habits started during the linguistically lackadaisical '60s and '70s, [Naomi Baron, professor of linguistics at American University in Washington, D.C.] says.

"There are other social forces affecting languages that make them far more informal than it used to," she says, citing the decline in formal tone and grammatical discipline set in motion in public education during the feel-good, express-yourself-as-you-will, don't-be-hampered-by-the-Man-with-the-red-pen hippie era.

"The Internet reinforces that," Baron says.

(He-he. Hippies.)

This is a good piece from Jen Gerson of the Toronto Star on the changing nature of the English language. I know that all languages evolve, but I lament any decline in punctuation in English. The properly placed mark can make all the difference in meaning, and I’m for more punctuation if it clarifies the message. Heck, I even prefer to use the optional comma before “and” in a series.

But, there is still hope for the language.

But Baron says that the day of abbreviating phrases and encrypting communication is ending.

She has found that while coded language is common among young teenagers, once a given person becomes more confident with typing and computers, the abbreviations and corruptions are abandoned.

The reason is simple: It often takes more time and effort to decode abbreviations than it does to spell out phrases in full.

I’ve often thought the same. What’s the point of “ROTFLMAO”? I can type the entire phrase as quick as it takes me to hold down the shift key with one hand and peck out the letters with the other. And how much does it actually add to “LOL”? Not much, I think.

I think Baron’s right. As people mature, they tend to put aside childish ways of thinking, acting, and—thankfully—writing, and they spell out words and use punctuation more. That’s good for our beautifully complex language.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Choosing a photograph

In the New York Times today (as on the Web site), there was some coverage of young golfer Michelle Wie. Though there is a slide show here that features several good photographs of Ms. Wie, the following is the one they chose to run in the hardcopy version.

That's an ass-shot of a 16-year-old. In the New York Times.

Is the Gray Lady going tabloid?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Coin from Canada

Nothing but a coin from the Great White North.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Beer evening

Nothing but a picture of a cool beer on a nice evening.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Writing exceptionally

Dean Bertram has a piece in The Australian about Hollywood's treatment of conspiracy theories and the silliness that ensues when new movies come out. I tend to agree with his arguments ("Hollywood has sanitised an assortment of weird beliefs and helped create what American political scientist Michael Barkun identifies as "a culture of conspiracy"."), but I enjoy his writing. He mixes magnificent words with common parlance in a way that is tight, expressive, and not overdone.

Take this wonderful sentence:
Intercutting the real with the staged and bombarding the audience with emotive footage and questionable data, these dubious productions served up an easily digestible but nonetheless half-baked reality, a type of dissent for dummies.

Nicely done. A little song in prose, as far as I am concerned.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Violence flares again in Paris suburbs"

They're burning cars again in France.

MONTFERMEIL, France - Youths torched a dozen cars and hurled stones at police in a second night of violence in the troubled Paris suburbs, raising memories of rioting that rocked the nation last year. ...

About 12 cars were torched before calm was restored around 1:30 a.m., police said. At the height of last year's riots, more than 1,000 cars were torched in one night. Even in times of relative calm, torching cars is a regular occurrence in the troubled suburbs. [emphasis added]

The insurance rates in France must be high. And the car salesmen must be giddy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Water afternoon

Nothing but an arc of water on a beautiful Memorial Day afternoon.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Honoring them on this day

Ben Stein delivered some remarks to people at a grief camp for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Stein is always a great writer and speaker, but this speech is almost perfect in construction and subject matter.

An excerpt:

The media try to rob your husbands' and wives' and kids' lives of meaning saying this war is not about anything.

They're wrong and they say what they say because they don't see the truth. They print a story on the front page about Marines killing civilians in a town in Iraq and if they did, it was wrong. But the big media never report a MARINE throwing himself on a bomb to protect an Iraqi child, or a Marine giving his life to rid a town of murderers or a Marine or an Army man or woman or a Navy Seal or a Coast Guardsman offering up his life so that Iraqi human beings can have the same freedoms and rights we take for granted here in America.

The media are like grave robbers, robbing you of the certain knowledge that your spouses gave their lives for something deeply worthwhile: human dignity.

Amen. We can't honor them enough.