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.