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.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Bonds passes Babe with home run No. 715"


Even if Bonds breaks Aaron's record of 755 home runs, I think his record will be forever tainted by the steroids flap.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Scientists float plan to blast water to moon"

What a stunning solution. If you need ice on the moon for future settlements, send a chunk up there.

From Leonard David of

SLAM needs no midcourse correction en route to the moon — nor does it need a spacecraft, for that matter. All that’s necessary is a thermal jacket for the water ice payload that’s flung by rocket booster toward any selected spot on the moon. ...

At lunar impact speeds, virtually all of the ice will come to rest less than 5 feet (1.5 meters) below the surface, if properly pre-fractured.

Need I say the idea is cool?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Stink bug afternoon

Nothing but a picture of a bug that will stink up your hand if you touch it for even the briefest of seconds.

Most puzzling headline of the day

Some headline writers must just be bored. Else, why this?

"Scientists Show Dinosaur Fingernail Fossil"

The headline says the fossil is of a fingernail, yet the body text calls it what it actually is -- a claw.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - A dinosaur claw fossil found in Brazil reinforces the theory of an evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, a new study says. Brazilian scientists dubbed the dinosaur the dino-bird, which they said was found in Minas Gerais state, about 370 miles northwest of Rio. ...

"The anatomic structure of this claw shows ..."

... he expressed doubt that a claw fragment could prove the existence of a previously unknown dinosaur. ...

"If this claw was all that was found, .... This claw doesn't add particularly much to our knowledge ....

"The claw is similar in shape to that of many other raptors ...."

Nowhere is "fingernail" mentioned, so why did the headline writer feel the need to anthropomorphize the fossil? Was it a joke? Was it a subtle way to try to influence readers to think of animals as somehow human? Either way, it was uncalled for. This guy's boss should admonish him.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Refreshing knowledge of the language

I found a new blog about the use of the English language: The Language Log.

Looks pretty good so far.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"Soldiers test space-age water purification system"

What can be done for the residents of a village whose sole source of water is severely tainted? Well, if the U.S. Army is nearby, you might see if they could help out.

From Sgt. Dennis Gravelle of the 138th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment:

A creek running through the small village [of Dahuk] in northern Iraq is the only natural source of drinking water for the residents. Because there is no filtration system, the water contains pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals used in the heavily agricultural community. ...

“This village lost 10 children in June 2003 from drinking sewer water out of the stream, because there was no other water,” [Concern for Kids's John] Anderson said.

The 401st CA Bn. and NGO are testing a space-aged portable water filtering and purification system that was originally designed for NASA, which models after the space shuttle water recycling system.

Good work, guys.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"MRO: Delicate Dips into the Martian Atmosphere"

It's amazing what humans can do. By remote control.

On another planet.

Now underway is the delicate art of “aerobraking”—using hundreds of cautiously calculated dips into the upper atmosphere of Mars. The process uses brief burns from MRO’s thrusters. Those dips have to be deep enough to slow the spacecraft by atmospheric drag … but not deep enough to overheat or damage the orbiter.

At aerobraking’s end, MRO’s orbit around Mars will be approximately two hours. At that point, from the spacecraft’s nearly circular orbit, the mission’s science observations are to begin in earnest.

But the coolest part is the start of the multi-World Wide Web.

The multi-tasking Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will study the history of water on the red planet. In addition, it will become the first link in a communications bridge back to Earth—an “interplanetary Internet” that can be used by spacecraft in coming years.

Furthermore, MRO’s ultra-powerful camera system can guide future spacecraft missions—such as NASA’s Phoenix lander and the Mars Science Laboratory—to precise and safe landings on that faraway world. Data gleaned by MRO can also help plot the touch down zones for human explorers too.

Careful with that aerobraking. Sounds like we really need MRO.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Discussing "individual" vs. "person"

Eugene Volokh starts a worthy discussion on the relative merits of using the word "individual" vs. the word "person". The comments are lively, and they touch on other sticking points in the language. I especially like this from "John Jenkins":
Utilize: This is the most useless word in the English language. It should always be replaced with use. This one just drives me bonkers.

I heartily agree, though I would qualify his "always" with "almost always". "Utilize" has its place, but the shorter, more-to-the-point word "use" is often the better choice.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Indian Moon Mission to Carry NASA Devices"

Wow. Who'da thunk this would've happened? India and the U.S. teaming up on a moon mission.

NEW DELHI - An Indian unmanned mission to the moon will carry two NASA scientific devices designed to find minerals and ice on the lunar surface, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

The deal between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO is seen as another sign of the increasingly close ties between New Delhi and Washington after decades of Cold War estrangement.

I wish them well, and I hope this bodes well for humanity's space exploration in general -- and our international relations in particular.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Mars Spacesuit Prototype Trials Underway in North Dakota"

Encouraging news.

A spacesuit prototype designed for Mars exploration is bounding across the North Dakota badlands this week in a series of field tests to check its mobility and performance.

Engineers and university students are putting their North Dakota Experimental Planetary Space Suit through a series of challenges, including mock-Martian hikes, sample collections and - this Saturday - a simulated sandstorm.

They're testing a suit designed for another planet! That's exciting! I just hope they get a chance to use it for real in my lifetime.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Practicing plagiarism

Kaavya Viswanathan: fraud.

Little, Brown pulled “Opal Mehta” after extensive similarities were discovered to two works by Megan McCafferty, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings.” But until Tuesday, the publisher had not said whether the book would be canceled altogether or simply revised, as originally planned.

The Harvard Crimson student newspaper, alerted by reader e-mails, reported Tuesday on its Web site that “Opal Mehta” contained passages similar to Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel, “The Princess Diaries.” The New York Times also reported comparable material in Viswanathan’s novel and Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?[emphases added]

That's four works she ripped off in her laziness and deception. Does this woman ever write anything original? After all this, I would question the name she signs.

UPDATE: Make that five works she ripped off. From the Scotsman [emphasis added]:

Miss Viswanathan admitted to the Harvard Crimson that she borrowed language from two of Ms McCafferty's novels but that any similarities were "unintentional and unconscious". [Snort!]

The books involved, first identified by the New York Times, are Can You Keep a Secret by British author Sophie Kinsella, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot and Haround and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.

All in one novel by a teenager? Wow. She sure assimilates information totally.

Monday, May 01, 2006

"Helmet protects Soldier from bullet wound"

At first, the headline quoted above seems trivial, way obvious, and hardly newsworthy. But then, helmets worn by soldiers in the Twentieth Century were primarily designed to protect the wearers from shrapnel, not direct bullet fire. And this story is a testament to how far we've come in military tech. Helmets are now stopping bullets, not just deflecting shrapnel.

And the following excerpt exemplifies the true spirit of the American soldier under that helmet.

While [Capt. John] McFarlin’s unit recently responded to attacks on an Iraqi police station in Buhriz, he was hit in the helmet with a shot from an AK-47.

“I was suppressed for a moment and then I got back up" and returned fire, said McFarlin of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers’ Military Transition Team who oversees the 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division.

A day after the attack, McFarlin was still sporting the damaged helmet. He said he felt unaffected by his brush with death.

Here's a link to other cool things the U.S. Army uses.