Friday, December 28, 2007

Gravitational ripples

The small moon Prometheus pulls and deforms one of Saturn's rings with its gravitational influence.


Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Read more about it here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

And to all a good night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday sonnet: William Blake

I include this sonnet from William Blake, written in 1783, because it haunts me a little with its divine and pastoral imagery. And because it is in blank verse, which is a bit unusual for a sonnet.

"To the Evening Star"

Thou fair-hair'd angel of the evening,
Now, while the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; they radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves; and, while thou drawest the
Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And the lion glares thro' the dun forest:
The fleeces of our flocks are cover'd with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence.

Rhyme scheme: blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"NASA Names Next Generation Moon Lander 'Altair'"

The name lacks pizzazz and prestige, but I suppose it will do.

Move over Eagle, the Altair has landed.

NASA today introduced a new name and logo for its next generation lunar lander, which was previously referred to as the Lunar Surface Access Module, or LSAM for short.


"Altair is the brightest star in the constellation Aquila and is the twelfth brightest star in the night sky," wrote Lauri Hansen, NASA's Altair project manager, in an e-mail sent to Hanley this morning, a copy of which was obtained by "The word 'Altair' finds its origins in Arabic and is derived from a phrase that means 'the flying one'," she continued.

"In Latin, 'Aquila' means Eagle, tying our new lander to the historic Apollo 11 Eagle," concluded Hansen, referring to the vehicle that brought mankind's first two men to the lunar surface in July 1969.

The Altair project logo emphasizes that connection, using the major design element from the Apollo 11 patch as its own. Both emblems depict a bald eagle clasping an olive branch in its talons, an image chosen by Michael Collins, Apollo 11's command module pilot, based on a photo in a 1965 book published by National Geographic.

Just get those landers up there, whatever you call them.

Oh, and here's the logo. I suppose it will have to do, too.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Sonnet: Gerard Manley Hopkins

And now, a dense sonnet written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877, a poem marvelous in its compact complexity.

"The Windhover"

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
- dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
- Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
- As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
- Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,---the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
- Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

- No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
- Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdc dcd
It looks at first as if the rhyme scheme should be aaaa aaaa bcb cbc, but a closer examination reveals the a rhymes to be words that end in "-ing" and the b rhymes to be words that end in "-iding."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Scientists cure mice with sickle cell"

Wow, this sounds like incredibly good news.
WASHINGTON - Scientists have the first evidence that those "reprogrammed stem cells" that made headlines last month really have the potential to treat disease: They used skin from the tails of sick mice to cure the rodents of sickle cell anemia.

Let's hope this pans out and leads to much more.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday sonnet: John Keats

Today, I offer a fantastic expression of the awe a poet feels when reading an exceptional work of literature (in this case, a translation of Homer's works done by George Chapman). Keats's experience was written down in sonnet form in 1816, and I include this poem because I like it, and because it contains a well-known goof on the author's part.

"On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
- And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
- Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
- That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
- Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
- When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
- He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise--
- Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdcd

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Private Spaceflight Firm Takes Aims at NASA Cargo Flights"

Go, private sector!

A private spaceflight firm is developing a new unmanned spacecraft in hopes of delivering cargo for NASA missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Chicago-based company PlanetSpace, Inc. is working with veteran aerospace firms to build the Modular Cargo Carrier, an automated supply ship vying for funding under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

"We're very comfortable and confident that NASA is going to have a low-cost, very reliable cargo and crew transport to the space station," PlanetSpace chairman Chirinjeev Kathuria told

Let's hope so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

This is good news for panda lovers.
Since 2003, Bai Yun and her consort, Gao Gao, have produced three cubs, making them one of the most reproductively successful panda couples ever in captivity. Their youngest offspring, a chubby female, will be named Monday when she reaches 100 days old, following Chinese tradition.

Their secret? Separation.

For all but two days of the year, Bai Yun (White Cloud) and Gao Gao (Big Big) lead separate lives, gnawing on bamboo and taking long naps in pens far apart, much as wild pandas — naturally solitary creatures — would hide from each other in mountain forests.

But when Bai Yun enters her brief fertile periods, zookeepers make sure Gao Gao is there, sniffing her through a perforated gate zookeepers call the "howdy door" until her chirps and bleats indicate she's ready to get down to business.

Hee hee. "Howdy door."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trivializing death

When journalists write or deliver news stories, they try to hook you in with the first paragraph. Sometimes their efforts work, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they are just pitiful. The opening of this story from Kim Fischer at WOAI-TV is an example of the third.

Freezing temperatures can be dangerous for the homeless, the elderly, your pets, and even your yard. Flower beds will need some extra attention with the dropping temperatures.

Here are some tips to protect your gardens' most beautiful blooms from the frost.

What follows is a story about how to keep plants alive during a freeze, but the opening sentence hooks you with freezing humans and animals. Jeez, what's wrong with just leading the whole thing off with the second paragraph? If I'm concerned about my plants, that's all I need to get me to read the story. Don't play on my emotions and concern for things with a pulse just to remind me to cover my flowerbed.

Sunday sonnet: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For today's sonnet, we turn to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a painter as well as a poet, and his collection called The House of Life. This sonnet was written in 1847 and published in 1870.

A Sonnet is a moment's monument,--
- Memorial from the Soul's eternity
- To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent:
- Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
- As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
- The soul--its converse, to what Power 'tis due:
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
- Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue,
It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath,
In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdee

Friday, November 23, 2007

Greening everything

The use of the word green to indicate something that's good for the environment is starting to grow tired. Now, we have "green" Christmas trees.

Now a handful of growers in the top Christmas tree producing state of Oregon want people to consider another factor — how "green" a tree is. They've created a system to help consumers identify trees grown under certain environmental standards.


To pass muster, a farm must be inspected to ensure that it meets certain standards for managing wetlands, nutrients and pests. Water and soil conservation measures are reviewed, and biodiversity and worker safety are also considered.

The trees are not organically grown, but the coalition says the measures help mitigate some of the environmental dangers of Christmas tree farming, such as excessive use of pesticides and contribution to erosion.

Of course, fake is greenest. You reuse the same tree year after year, and it helps you save the traditional green as well as the environment.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday sonnet: William Wordsworth

Why the sonnet? Because it is a classic structure, and even the likes of William Wordsworth -- who made a name for himself shunning traditional meter -- still found refuge in the sonnet from time to time.

But, don't take my word for it. Here's "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room," published in 1807:

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cddccd

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Straining an acronym

OK, I'm going to rant just a bit, but I will keep it short. Here it is:

Acronyms are annoying, especially when they try too hard to make a common word. Take this story from the AP:
After addressing a gathering of sheet metal, air, rail and transportation workers for the soon-to-be-merged SMART union, [Hillary] Clinton spoke at a rally at a high school in a largely Hispanic district of North Las Vegas, with the support of the first Hispanic immigrant elected to the Nevada legislature, Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen. [emphases added]
I get the feeling the sheet metal guys were included just so they could make that "clever" acronym. Kind of reminds me of the Pakleds.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"NASA probes smoky smell in spacesuit"

Uh oh. This can't be good.

HOUSTON - NASA is investigating a smoky smell in a spacesuit worn during a test on the ground, and officials said Tuesday they won't hold any spacewalks until engineers can pinpoint the source of the odor.

The scent was apparent Friday during a test of a spacesuit assigned for use on a future mission. Early examinations have not found evidence of burning in the test suit.

I don't guess any NASA astronauts actually smoke, do they?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday sonnet: John Donne

For no other reason than I read it and I liked it, here is a sonnet written by John Donne. It is number four of a series of six sonnets called Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations (ca. 1609):

At the round earths imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soules, and to your scattred bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe.
But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,
For, if above all these, my sinnes abound,
'Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,
When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach mee how to repent; for that's as good
As if thou'hadst seal'd my pardon, with thy blood.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdee

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Comet draws scientific, amateur interest"

What could be cooler than an exploding comet?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A comet that has unexpectedly brightened in the past couple of weeks and now is visible to the naked eye is attracting professional and amateur interest.


The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

Let's just hope it doesn't turn out to be another hammer.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Giving chimps too much credit

Too bad the chimp died.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Washoe, a female chimpanzee said to be the first non-human to acquire human language, has died of natural causes at the research institute where she was kept.

Washoe, who first learned a bit of American Sign Language in a research project in Nevada, had been living on Central Washington University's Ellensburg campus since 1980. Her keepers said she had a vocabulary of about 250 words, although critics contended Washoe and some other primates learned to imitate sign language, but did not develop true language skills.

Yep, gotta agree with the critics here. The chimpanzee may have been adept at learning the motions to replicate the signs, but I don't think the animal actually grasped language.

Enough anthropomorphization. Respect animals, treat them well, try to protect them from everything, if you must. But, please, stop trying to make them human.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

It's fine to wish pandas had a better chance in this world. It really is. It's also fine if you think they're cute. They do have a certain teddy-bear look to them.

But it's not fine to forget they are still animals. Wild animals, as this guy found out.

BEIJING (AFP) - "Gu Gu" is one of the star attractions at the Beijing Zoo but the panda bear with a bad temper has lashed out at a fan for the second time, this time mauling a 15-year-old boy.

Eight-year-old Gu Gu, who weighs 110-kilogrammes (242-pounds), attacked the boy after he jumped into the animal's enclosure, the Beijing News reported on Tuesday.

The boy, Li Xitao, had both his legs gnawed to the bone, the paper said.

Monday's attack was not the first time Gu Gu has tasted human flesh.

In September last year, the panda bit a chunk out of a leg of a drunken man who had jumped into the enclosure to "hug" the cuddly animal, according to reports at
the time.

Teddy bears, they ain't.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The sharp and the blurred ...

... the near and the far, the lowly and the sublime.

Epimetheus and Titan.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"NASA extends Mars rover mission again"

Good news for us roverphiles.

PASADENA, Calif. - Mars' aging twin rovers will explore the red planet for at least two more years under an extension approved by NASA.

It is the fifth time the space agency has continued the activities of the solar-powered, six-wheel robots, which landed on opposite ends of the planet in 2004.

The extension means Spirit and Opportunity will conduct science experiments through 2009 provided they stay healthy. The rovers weathered a giant dust storm earlier this year that at one point drastically reduced their power and scaled back their operations.

The rover missions have truly been one of NASA's finest accomplishments, and I hope they continue to expand humanity's knowledge for years to come.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wicked treee morning

Nothing but a picture of a wicked-looking tree somewhere in Texas.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"NASA's Dawn Asteroid Probe Tests Ion Engine"

Cool stuff.

Spacecraft controllers fired up Dawn's ion drive on Oct. 6 and continued monitoring the system's performance over the next 27 hours. The ion engines consumed less than 10 ounces (0.28 kilograms) of xenon propellant – not even the equivalent of a can of soda – compared to the 937 pounds (425 kilograms) of Dawn's onboard fuel supply. That energy efficiency will permit the three ion engines to fire continuously for more than five years, a record for spacecraft, mission managers have said.

The ion engines were tested at five different throttle levels and performed "flawlessly" according to Jon Brophy, the Dawn project's ion propulsion manager at JPL, in an official statement. Charged ion particles shoot out of the engines at 90,000 miles per hour (144,840 kph) to slowly accelerate the spacecraft over time.

Dawn is slated to arrive at Vesta in 2011 and spend about a year studying the space rock before meeting the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. The spacecraft will measure the asteroids' shape, surface topography, tectonic history, elemental and mineral composition, and look for water-bearing minerals. Scientists will also use Dawn's orbit around Vesta and Ceres to gauge mass and gravity fields.

This, it surely ain't.

Who listens to Saturn moon forecasts anyway?

"Saturn moon forecast said drizzle of gas"

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Marketing something as being not what it is

Pure Cashmere
Softsoap Brand Pure Cashmere is a mild, soap-free
Foaming Hand Soap enriched with moisturizing ingredients.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Moving out to space

At least one company is serious about getting humans into space.

GOLDEN, Colorado - Two privately-built prototype modules are circuiting the Earth - prelude technology to seed space with far larger orbital housing that support human occupants.

Lofting all that living room into Earth orbit is on the business agenda of Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nevada -- but the company faces significant challenges in attaining their sky-high goals.

The privately-backed Bigelow Aerospace Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 expandable sub-scale space modules were shot into orbit -- on July 12, 2006 and June 28, 2007, respectively -- via Dnepr boosters from the ISC Kosmotras Yasny Cosmodrome, located in the Orenburg region of Russia.

Both remain in excellent shape, providing valuable data on the use of expandable space structures for crews, not only in low Earth orbit, but on the moon and Mars, said Michael Gold, Corporate Counsel for Bigelow Aerospace in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Go Bigelow.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Star Trek as Mafia

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy explores the presence or lack of federalism in The United Federation of Planets, and suggests along the way that Starfleet could be likened to a crime organization.

How to reconcile the evidence? I would suggest that it is only Earth that is socialistic, while the other member worlds have free market systems or mixed economies. The human-dominated Star Fleet military is the only Federation military force, and is tasked with collecting tribute from the nonhuman planets for redistribution to Earth. But as long as they pay their taxes, which subsidize Earth's welfare state and Star Fleet itself, they are largely left alone to govern their domestic affairs as they see fit. The Federation isessentially a big protection racket (in both senses of the word: providing external security, and also "protection" against its own depradations).


Why don't we ever see Captain Kirk or Capt. Picard on tribute collection runs? Because the Enterprise is one of Star Fleet's most advanced warships, and is therefore reserved for more difficult missions, such as going "where no man has gone before" in search of new wealthy star systems to occupy and tax.

If Gene Roddenberry were alive, I doubt he would be happy with this analysis. It makes the Federation seem somewhat less than ideal.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Germs taken to space come back deadlier"

If true and consistent, this could be a problem for the future of space travel.

The researchers placed identical strains of salmonella in containers and sent one into space aboard the shuttle, while the second was kept on Earth, under similar temperature conditions to the one in space.

After the shuttle returned, mice were given varying oral doses of the salmonella and then were watched.

After 25 days, 40 percent of the mice given the Earth-bound salmonella were still alive, compared with just 10 percent of those dosed with the germs from space. And the researchers found it took about one-third as much of the space germs to kill half the mice, compared with the germs that had been on Earth.

The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space.

There's talk about fluid shear, but, so far, the researchers really don't know why this is.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Describing something exactly

I love to hear English used in creative, nifty, and thought-provoking ways that still convey their meaning. Take this passage, for example, from a blog called San Antonio Daily Photo:
There's some work being done to the exterior of the Central Library. I'm not sure what's being done, but they have the whole work area cordoned off with that caution do not cross tape and those pylons. You see the men on scaffolding, or sometimes they have this big craney-like machine that raises them up into position.
I love the phrase "big craney-like machine". At first glance, it seems wrong. She means a cherry picker, but she didn't use that term, because she either didn't know it or because she just liked the "craney-like" phrase. Then it strikes me that, in reading her description, I know exactly what she is talking about. And then, it doesn't seem wrong at all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Faith afternoon

Nothing but a picture of a tanker being guided through the channel on a bright afternoon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iapetus surface

A fabulous picture of the surface of Iapetus, a moon of Saturn.

Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Read more about the picture here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Noncommittal headline of the day

"Pregnant smokers may suffer depression"

And, in other news, so might everyone else. Or not.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

"Wicca teacher claims 1 Mega ticket"


NOTTINGHAM, Md. - Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett says a New Age book store made it possible for him to become an overnight multimillionaire.

He and his wife, Denise, were on their way to the shop where he occasionally teaches Wicca and Reiki (RAY'kee) healing when they stopped at a liquor store and bought two $5 Mega Millions tickets for Friday night's estimated $330 million jackpot. On Sunday, he said one ticket was a winner.

"If it wasn't for this place I wouldn't have won the lottery," Bartlett said Sunday at Mystickal Voyage, the New Age shop. [emphasis added]

Sounds like if it wasn't for the liquor store he wouldn't have won the lottery. Post hoc fallacy, folks.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Mars rovers OK after dust storm"

This is good news for roverphiles.

LOS ANGELES - They're old and dirty, but NASA's Mars rovers are back in the exploration business after enduring a lengthy Red Planet dust bowl that blocked most of the sunlight they need for power.

With skies gradually brightening, the solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity recently resumed driving and other operations that had been suspended during the dust storm.

"The rovers are in good health and in good shape," said John Callas, the rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Things have improved from the more dire conditions that were existing previously due to the dust storm on Mars."

Go rovers! Successes like this more than make up for any of NASA's shortcomings.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Best quote I've read today

"In Louisiana they skim the cream, steal the milk, hijack the bottle and look for the cow."

That's FBI agent James Bernazzani talking about corruption in New Orleans, and he seems to really have a way with an idiom. I read it in an Express-News editorial lamenting how the recovery from Hurricane Katrina is hobbled by the corruption of the local officials.

Oliver Thomas Jr., the senior member of the City Council, is the latest politician to show a greater interest in his bank account than in the people of the Big Easy.

Once considered a viable candidate for mayor, Thomas resigned last week after pleading guilty to a federal bribery charge, the New York Times reported.

Thomas admitted taking as much as $19,000 in bribes in exchange for helping a local businessman keep a city parking lot contract.

He is the latest in what seems to be an interminable line of corrupt politicians, including Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., the target of a multinational bribery investigation.

It's been two years since Katrina hit, and the place is still a mess. Sad.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Crane and tower afternoon

Just a picture of the Tower of the Americas framed by cranes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Strange news photo of the day

What an odd photograph to illustrate news about botulism.

Save us, Leonardo, from the bad chili.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

Here's why it may be so hard to tell when pandas are pregnant: sometimes it's hard to tell what sex they are.

BEIJING (AFP) - A giant panda first thought to be male, then classified as a hermaphrodite who was unable to bear cubs, has now surprised Chinese scientists by having twins, state media reported on Thursday.


Jinzhu had been classified as male at birth in 1996, a mistake owing to the typically small penis size of pandas, which can sometimes confuse scientists as to a panda's sex, Xinhua said.

The mix-up led to an ill-fated attempt in 2000 to mate Jinzhu with a female panda in Japan.

The two animals showed "complete disinterest" in each other, the report said.

Well, at least it makes sense, now. Scientists confused by the "small penis size of pandas". It's a wonder they can get the animals to reproduce at all.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

In the quest to save the panda from extinction, promoters play up the animal's cute qualities to encourage awareness and donations, and the media outlets happily play along. But no one should ever lose sight of the fact that pandas are still animals, and they will tear you up if you get too close.

BEIJING - A zookeeper needed more than 100 stitches after a 3-year-old panda viciously bit and scratched him during feeding time at a zoo in northwestern China, a newspaper reported Monday.


Zhang was feeding the panda from outside the enclosure, sticking his arms through the wire, when the panda, Lan Zai, grabbed his arms and began biting them and then scratched his legs, the newspaper reported.


Last October, a panda cub bit off part of the thumb of an American visitor who was feeding the animal at a reserve in southwestern China. A month earlier, a drunken Chinese tourist bit a panda at the Beijing Zoo after the animal attacked him when he jumped into the enclosure and tried to hug it.

They may be cute, but they ain't cuddly.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

What's odd about a panda getting pregnant? Nothing, really. It's apparently not a commonplace thing in captivity, but it's not really strange that a panda female gets impregnated.

The strange part is that the creature warrants a "24-hour birth watch".

SAN DIEGO - A giant panda at the San Diego Zoo is pregnant again and expecting her fourth cub sometime in August.

The zoo said Tuesday that 16-year-old Bai Yun was put on "24-hour birth watch" after officials detected a fetus and fetal heartbeat through ultrasound images July 18. Additional tests confirmed the pregnancy was going normally. [emphasis added]

Then why the need to watch her 24 hours a day?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Most stunning headline of the day

"Why people have sex: It feels good"

And in other news, people generally avoid sharp, pointy things.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Cabin leak threatens US space shuttle launch"

This doesn't sound good.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - NASA engineers have discovered a leak in space shuttle Endeavour's cabin and are rushing to find its source to prevent a delay in the mission's launch, a US space agency spokesman said Tuesday.


"You can't launch with a cabin leak," [NASA spokesman Kyle] Herring said, adding, however, "At this point there is no delay of the launch."

Engineers are isolating valves that control cabin pressure to find the source of the leak and replace the defective item in time of the launch, he said.

Yeah, with spaceships, I guess good ol' caulk just wouldn't be sufficient.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fighting panda extinction ...

... by selling their poop.

The Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base has come up with a dung-for-profit scheme that turns droppings from the endangered species into odor-free souvenirs ranging from bookmarks to Olympic-themed statues of the animals, state media and base officials said Monday.

The facility in the southwestern province of Sichuan houses about 40 bamboo-fed pandas who produce less than a ton of excrement a day.

"We used to spend at least 6,000 yuan ($770) a month to get rid of the droppings but now they can be lucrative," Jing Shimin, assistant to the base director, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The products will be made at a local handicraft company mostly from undigested bamboo culled from the panda waste through a special process, Xinhua said.

An official who answered the phone at the Chengdu facility said the dung is "carefully selected, smashed, dried and sterilized at 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit)." He refused to give his name but said the products will be of all colors because they will be dyed.

"They don't smell too bad because 70 percent of the dung is just remains of the bamboo that the pandas are unable to digest," Jing said.

Nice. They'll probably make a fortune, too.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

By tracking the poop.

Xinhua News Agency said forestry researchers have identified panda droppings in areas beyond known habitats bordering northwestern Gansu province and southwestern Sichuan province.

"This indicates an expansion of the giant panda's habitat — and probably of its population, too," Huang Huali, vice director of the Baishuijiang Nature Reserve Administration, was quoted as saying.

Good news for panda lovers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"ISS Computer Damaged On Purpose, NASA Says"

Well, this is a little weird.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A space program worker deliberately damaged a computer that is supposed to fly aboard shuttle Endeavour in less than two weeks, an act of sabotage that was caught before the equipment was loaded onto the spaceship, NASA said Thursday.

The unidentified employee, who works for a NASA subcontractor, cut wires inside the computer that is supposed to be delivered to the international space station by Endeavour, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief.

They say that the damaged computer "would have posed no danger". Nevertheless, it seems pretty mean-spirited at the least -- and I might even argue evil -- to tamper with such equipment. A stay in space is not a stay at a motel. If something goes wrong, people could die, and sabotaging a space station computer is an egregious transgression.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thinking about the existence of English

Sasha Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy thinks there is not really one language called English.

Eugene and I think fairly similarly in matters of language, and I don't disagree with anything he's said so far. However, I want to make a more radical statement. Perhaps Eugene agrees with it, but I want to express it more nakedly. There is no such thing as the English language. Every person speaks slightly differently, understands a slightly different set of words, uses words slightly differently. When we say that a set of people "speaks English," this is a sloppy shorthand that means that when each of them speaks the way he normally speaks, the other people in the set can mostly understand what he's saying, and the meaning he's trying to convey is more or less the meaning they get. It's just an empirical statement about the degree of overlap between each person's "language."

This is all well and good, and we can keep using the shorthand of talking about "speaking English" for most purposes. Where the shorthand reveals its sloppiness, though, is when we see different people using different forms, possibly mutually incomprehensible forms, and say that one of them is "right." [emphasis in original]

Interesting thoughts in the comments, too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Mars dust storms suck life out of rovers"

Well, this may be it for the rugged little rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Scientists fear the [Martian dust] storms might continue for several days or weeks. If the sunlight is further slashed for an extended period, the rovers will not be able to generate enough power to keep warm and operate at all, even in a near-dormant state, the statement said.

The rovers use electric heaters to keep vital core electronics from becoming too cold.

"We're rooting for our rovers to survive these storms, but they were never designed for conditions this intense," said Alan Stern, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

They were never designed to even get this far. If they die as a result of the storms, that will be too bad. But, they have increased our knowledge of Mars in ways unthought of, and we should be thankful for that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anthropomorphizing a big cat?

"Zookeeper Attacked By Tiger Released From Hospital"

Maybe they should have kept him in a little longer. Then, he would be such a danger to zookeepers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Building a better spacesuit

They're working on an exciting new kind of spacesuit. Or should we start calling them "planetsuits"?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are edging closer to a spaceworthy astronaut garment that replaces the bulky traits of current, gas-pressurized versions with flexibility and mobility. Dubbed BioSuit, the spacesuit design relies on mechanical counter pressure rather than the stiff pressurized vessels employed by astronauts in space today.


NASA's current Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits, as well as their Russian Orlan counterparts, surround their astronaut wearers in a stiff, pressurized vessel containing breathable air. Added outer layers of material, as well as a backpack-mounted life support system, can further restrict the spacesuit's mobility and require astronauts to spend the bulk of their energy fighting their own garments while toiling in space.

Both the EMU and Orlan spacesuits are designed for work in Earth orbit, not for use on planetary surfaces like those of the Moon or Mars, where walking -- not floating -- will be key.

I don't think "BioSuit" is a good name, though. I suggest calling them "exploration suits", because that's what they are truly designed for.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Arguing about English

Mark Liberman at Language Log points to a dustup (via Linguistic Mystic) regarding a post by a fellow San Antonian that says immigrants to the U.S. should learn English rather than catering to people that speak Spanish only. Whatever you view on this issue is, Liberman has a point that English owes its current existence to the presence of foreign words.
This 12-word slogan has the lovely self-refuting property that (according to the OED) all six of its content words are borrowed from other languages: petition from Spanish peticionar, modify from French modifier, native from French natif, language from French langage, include from Latin inclaudere, foreign from French forain.
I love the English language. Its complexities give it a majesty of expression that I'm not sure any other language can claim, and I don't know why anyone would refuse themselves the pleasure of speaking and reading it. That's the main reason why I think all immigrants should learn English when they come to the United States of America.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Eitzen Gas afternoon

Nothing but a picture of a ship cruising down the channel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Confusing headline of the day

"Japan obsessed with mystery men's room money"

And in other news, China's really concerned about how international spies pay their rent.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"NAACP symbolically buries N-word"

There was a burial today.

DETROIT - There was no mourning at this funeral. Hundreds of onlookers cheered Monday afternoon as the NAACP put to rest a long-standing expression of racism by holding a public burial for the N-word during its annual convention.


"Today we're not just burying the N-word, we're taking it out of our spirit," said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the 'pimps' and the 'hos' that go with it."

He continued: "Die N-word, and we don't want to see you 'round here no more."

I don't think the word will stay buried, but, while we're at it, why not deep-six a few more?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"'Scary Storm' on Mars Could Doom Rovers"

After performing phenomenally on the surface of an alien planet, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity could now face their demise.

A giant dust storm that now covers nearly the entire southern hemisphere of Mars could permanently jeopardize the future of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, officials told today.
The new and potentially bleak outlook is a stark shift from the prognosis
earlier this week. Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems said in e-mail interview that a smaller, second dust storm has recently appeared on the Red Planet, further compounding the threat to the rovers.

The largest dusty squall has reduced direct sunlight to Mars' surface by nearly 99 percent, an unprecedented threat for the solar-powered robotic explorers. If the storm keeps up and thickens with even more dust, officials fear the rovers' batteries may empty and silence the robotic explorers forever.

We've gotten way more out of these robots than was ever expected, and humanity's knowledge of the Red Planet has burgeoned because of these missions. The importance of the rovers cannot be overstated.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Private space module has success"

This sounds promising.

LOS ANGELES - A prototype of an inflatable space station module has successfully expanded and deployed its solar panels after being launched into orbit, a private developer said.

A Russian rocket lofted the Genesis II module, developed by Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada, into space on Thursday.

The 15-foot-long module's flexible exterior was folded around an inner core for launch and had to expand from a diameter of about 6.2 feet to 8 feet. The solar panels also had to extend to supply power. Both actions were confirmed, said spokesman Chris Reed.


Bigelow Aerospace is privately developing the technology with the intent to place a manned space station in orbit by 2015. Modules would be linked to form a station.

Private investment in space -- that's the way to really speed up our advance into the cosmos.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Mars rover to make risky crater descent"

Godspeed, Opportunity.

LOS ANGELES - NASA's aging but durable Mars rover Opportunity will make what could be a trip of no return into a deep impact crater as it tries to peer further back than ever into the Red Planet's geologic history.

The descent into Victoria Crater received the go-ahead because the potential scientific returns are worth the risk that the solar-powered, six-wheel rover might not be able to climb out, NASA officials and scientists said Thursday.

If you never return, send us all your best.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Appropriating a color for a cause

Below is a detail from a Linens-n-Things advertising insert in the June 24 Sunday edition of the San Antonio Express-News. The Homedics Mini Massagers are interesting themselves, and they caught my eye. But what held my interest is the color selections they come in.

The text from the ad says the massagers come in "brights or Breast Cancer pink." Let's leave aside the ambiguous color description of "brights" and concentrate on the specific color named.

I realize that pink ribbons have become the symbol of the fight against breast cancer, but is it right to take possession of the color pink itself and to claim it stands for breast cancer? If so, can the other colors generally associated with ribbons also be actively enlisted in the various causes they represent?

Can I paint my car AIDS red? Or my kitchen ovarian cancer teal? Do fabrics come in lupus purple? How about self-injury awareness orange? Or even hippo attack awareness blue?

And when did the marketing people putting together this advertisement decide that it would be proper to capitalize "Breast Cancer"? Horrible diseases, especially cancer, deserve our attention as we seek to eradicate them, but they hardly deserve honorifical capitalization in the English language.

My suggestion: Keep "breast cancer" lower case, and change the text to read something else, like "Also comes in pink to promote breast cancer awareness". It's longer, but more apt.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Correcting a fact by calling it an "error"

I have read several takes on the fact that the BBC -- under pressure from Muslims -- said one of its reporters had erred in referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The situation is mind-boggingly stupid, and the BBC deserves to be pilloried for its assertion that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. Bill Poser from the Language Log does an excellent job demonstrating why the BBC is wrong (and deftly responds to some critics of his post), so I felt he deserved a link.

Here is an excerpt:

There was no error. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel identifies Jerusalem as its capital., as do Jews throughout the Diaspora. The Knesset (parliament) sits in Jerusalem. The official residences of the President and the Prime Minister are in Jerusalem. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem. The Bank of Israel and various ministries have their headquarters in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It is true that Muslims, wishing to claim Jerusalem for themselves, dispute its role as Israel's capital, and that many countries follow their wishes in not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but this is irrelevant to the question of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Whether Jerusalem should be Israel's capital is a controversial political question; whether it is, is a simple matter of fact.


Update: Not surprisingly, lots of readers have reactions to this post. I'm not going to debate those who want to argue about Israel. This isn't the place, and that isn't the point. The rights and wrongs of Middle Eastern politics simply have nothing to do with the factual question of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. If a country designates a city as its capital and locates its central governmental institutions there, that city is its capital. That is true whether or not you or I like that country's policies or approve of its choice of capital. The choice of capital is not, in international law, up to anyone other than the country itself.

Well said. I hope the BBC is listening to this instead of to people with bombs.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Illustrating the news

When a story from the AP is run on Yahoo News, I understand that a photo can help illustrate the story. But the following pairing of picture and narrative is just a bit bizarre.

Yep, nothing says "Katrina insurance scandal" like the Duchess of York and Ronald McDonald.

Friday, June 08, 2007

An image you might not see in other media

Happy Iraqi children.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army, Spc. Elisha Dawkins.

Fighting panda extinction

Here's one of the problems with panda breeding: sometimes you can't tell that they are pregnant even if they are. Or not.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Veterinarians at the Memphis Zoo said they are concerned about the pregnancy of giant panda Ya Ya after an ultrasound failed to detect a heartbeat.

Blood tests have shown the hormone progesterone, which indicates a pregnancy, but at a lower level than it should be, said Matt Thompson, curator of mammals.


Although no heartbeat has been detected, [radiologist Dr. George] Flinn has seen a gestational sack, where the fetus would develop, and a fetal pole [!], another sign of a developing fetus.

Ya Ya has been showing behavioral signs of pregnancy, such as occasional agitation, sleeping more often and becoming more secluded.

Panda pregnancies cannot be confirmed until shortly before the delivery date. Gestation lasts about 133 days. [emphasis added]

No wonder it's so hard to save them.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"NASA Sets Launch Date to Overhaul Hubble Space Telescope"

This is good news.

NASA's final shuttle mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope has a firm September 2008 launch date, the space agency announced Thursday.


Squeezed in between NASA's remaining shuttle flights to complete space station construction, the STS-125 mission to Hubble will extend the orbital observatory's lifetime through 2013. Without the vital servicing mission, Hubble's major science activities would likely end around 2009, with only basic functions remaining through 2011, Hubble managers have said.

Though it got off to a rocky start, the contributions of the Hubble telescope have advanced our knowledge of the universe in spectacular ways. It's nice to know it will keep serving us for several more years, so we can get more images like this:

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leaving pages blank

In general, I try not to rant. It's usually unseemly. But I will indulge in a small rant here, and I will try not to seem indecorous.

Many times, while going through a manual, report, or similar document, I have been annoyed by the silly phrase "This page intentionally left blank". I know, some people freak out when they see an empty page, and they think that somehow there might have been a printer's error and that there is some possibility they are missing some information that could be valuable, but there's no way for them to know for sure unless the publisher anticipates their worry and helps them by printing "This page intentionally left blank". But, I think they should get over it.

By printing "This page intentionally left blank", it obviously no longer is. And it is intentionally rendered unblank with a message claiming it is blank. I'm not the first to make this observation.

So, I suggest that publishers and printers of reports and manuals make the effort to denote the ends of sections with symbols or dingbats of their choosing. These closing symbols should clearly signal that no more information will follow until the next section heading, even if there is a blank page in between. That shouldn't be too much to ask of the average reader.

There. I'm done. I hope that wasn't too bad.

Fighting panda extinction


BEIJING - A 5-year-old panda who last year became the first to be released into the wild after being bred in captivity has died, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.

The body of Xiang Xiang was found Feb. 19 in the forests of Sichuan province in China's southwest, Xinhua said. He survived less than a year in the wild after nearly three years of training in survival techniques and defense tactics.

Perhaps some more research needs to be done.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Yucca morning

Nothing but a picture of a bunch of yucca plants on a bright morning.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

This is good news for lovers of the evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A panda at the Memphis Zoo is definitely pregnant, officials there said Wednesday. Ya Ya, a giant panda, was artificially inseminated in January after she and a male companion failed at mating the old-fashioned way.

It's a wonder they haven't disappeared completely already.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gaining my interest

This is interesting (Mark Liberman at Language Log):
An imputation of hypocrisy and/or dishonesty does seem to come up in some of the results of a search for {"I find it interesting that"}. In general, though, there's an added element in such cases, namely some sort of meta-comment on someone else's discourse. The structure is something like "I find it interesting that X asserts Y", or "I find it interesting that X doesn't mention Z", or "I find it interesting that the one who says Y is X". The effect is to evoke questions about X's motivations, and thus to cast doubt on X's arguments.

I find Liberman's post ---- intriguing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What happens when Russian soldiers fight?

Click here to find out.

Glowing Io

When the Jovian moon called Io goes into the shadow of Jupiter, it glows in the dark.

Io's surface is invisible in the darkness, but the image reveals glowing hot lava, auroral displays in Io's tenuous atmosphere and volcanic plumes across the moon. The three bright points of light on the right side of Io are incandescent lava at active volcanoes - Pele and Reiden (south of the equator), and a previously unknown volcano near 22 degrees north, 233 degrees west near the edge of the disk at the 2 o'clock position.

This spectacular image courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute. Read more about it here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Beautiful Saturn

It never ceases to amaze.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Read more about it here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Nicolas Sarkozy wins French Presidency"

The new president of France is pro-American?

PARIS - Nicolas Sarkozy, a blunt and uncompromising pro-American conservative, was elected president of France Sunday with a mandate to chart a new course for an economically sluggish nation struggling to incorporate immigrants and their children.


"The people of France have chosen change," Sarkozy told cheering supporters in a victory speech that sketched out a stronger global role for France and renewed partnership with the United States.

Hmm. It would be pretty weird if France was suddenly our friend again. Let's see how this new president does.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Anthropomorphizing a chimp

The challenge has been thrown down: some animal rights advocates want a chimpanzee to become an actual person on the level of humans.

"Our main argument is that Hiasl is a person and has basic legal rights," said Eberhart Theuer, a lawyer leading the challenge on behalf of the Association Against Animal Factories, a Vienna animal rights group.

"We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions," Theuer said.

"We're not talking about the right to vote here."


But not all animal rights people are eager to blur the distinction between animal and human so much.

Not all Austrian animal rights activists back the legal challenge. Michael Antolini, president of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said he thinks it's absurd.

"I'm not about to make myself look like a fool" by getting involved, said Antolini, who worries that chimpanzees could gain broader rights, such as copyright protections on their photographs.

Hey, with more rights come more responsibilities. Animal rights people should be careful what they wish for, or we just might start seeing chimps in our jury pools.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Pondering what to do with the dead in space

This is certainly something they should be thinking about now before the situation arises out there.

But on other topics — such as steps for disposing of the dead and cutting off an astronaut's medical care if he or she cannot survive — the document merely says these are issues for which NASA needs a policy.

"There may come a time in which a significant risk of death has to be weighed against mission success," [bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania Paul Root] Wolpe said. "The idea that we will always choose a person's well-being over mission success, it sounds good, but it doesn't really turn out to be necessarily the way decisions always will be made."

Especially when there's no ambulance for millions of miles. Just remember, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"Private Rocket Launches Ashes of Star Trek's Scotty, Astronaut to Suborbital Space"

Safe travels, laddy.

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - A privately-built rocket blasted off from New Mexico's Spaceport America Saturday, roaring skyward to the edge of space carrying a variety of payloads - including the ashes of Star Trek's "Scotty" James Doohan and NASA Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper.

"Geologists study beneath Mount Baker"

A volcano can be interesting, even if you don't know what is going on.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - More than three decades after steam bursts from Mount Baker resulted in a temporary evacuation of the Baker Lake area, geologists are trying to determine what is happening beneath the volcano.

The research by scientists from Western Washington University is at the center of a Geological Society of America meeting next month in Bellingham. Initial findings indicate the volcano will remain quiet for awhile but not forever, said Juliet G. Crider, an associate professor of geology who led a recent study into the steam and ash spurts[.]

"People are beginning to recognize there's a lack of understanding of Baker," Crider said.

"Among the Cascade volcanoes, I would say it's one of the more active," she said. 'That doesn't mean an eruption is imminent, but it means it's interesting. Something is happening there."

I'm taking a guess, but I think it would be safe to go on the assumption that an eruption just might be imminent.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Potentially habitable planet found"

This sounds promising, a planet that might actually be habitable.

The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away. But the star it closely orbits, known as a "red dwarf," is much smaller, dimmer and cooler than our sun.

There's still a lot that is unknown about the new planet, which could be deemed inhospitable to life once more is known about it. And it's worth noting that scientists' requirements for habitability count Mars in that category: a size relatively similar to Earth's with temperatures that would permit liquid water. However, this is the first outside our solar system that meets those standards.


Until now, all 220 planets astronomers have found outside our solar system have had the "Goldilocks problem." They've been too hot, too cold or just plain too big and gaseous, like uninhabitable Jupiter.

The new planet seems just right — or at least that's what scientists think.

This new planet orbits the star Gliese 581, and it is simply called "581 c".

I hope more planets like this are found. Though it will take a lot of work and determination for humans to adapt to life on a new planet, I have no doubt such an adventure will eventually be borne out in humanity's future. After all, we are so adaptable, aren't we?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Commerce Street afternoon

Nothing but a picture of downtown San Antonio on a sunny afternoon.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Talking chicken

Can chickens really talk?

Nah, not really. But you might want to believe so if you are an animal rights activist. Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log talks about it here, and he aptly concludes:

Of course birds communicate fear, solidarity, warning, lust, etc. What I'm trying (utterly in vain) to draw people's attention to is the fact that there is a common misconception that this means they have language in the sense that humans have it — i.e., that humans are not much more than chickens with ballpoint pens. The really deep offense here is not so much the pathetic gullibility of the sentimentalists who anthropomorphize the animals they love, and over-attribute intelligence and verbality to them, but rather the insult to humans.

Amen to that, Mr. Pullum. Your words are not in vain here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"NASA to test portable robot surgeon"

Sounds pretty cool to me.

The portable robot, which can be controlled over the Internet by a human surgeon many miles away, is being developed with money from the U.S. Defense Department to be used to treat wounded soldiers on a battlefield, to perform complicated surgery on patients in remote areas of the developing world and to help sick astronauts in space.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Puzzling headline

Should we have more of them bothering our leaders?

"Too few math, science teachers worrying leaders"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Inglés: new Doritos

There's a new Doritos flavor in town: Wild White Nacho. This and another flavor (I think it's some kind of barbeque) are being test-marketed, and Doritos wants the public to pick which one of these flavors is kept on as a permanent option for consumers.

I don't know what the other flavor tastes like, but the Wild White Nacho is not that impressive. But, when looking at the distinctive packaging, I noticed something a bit odd. It seems that this new nacho flavor somehow warrants Spanish puncuation for English words.


Wild White Nacho



Having grown up in South Texas, I have heard a lot of Tex-Mex spoken. That's a local dialect that is a blend of English and Spanish. But, this is the first time I can remember seeing Spanish punctuation used this way.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

One of these things is not like the others

Here is a screen capture from the Space and Astronomy section of Yahoo News on April 15, 2007. Can you tell which item does not belong?

Yahoo really needs to work on their sorting logic. Apparently, the mere mention of the word "satellite" (as in "pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya") is enough to categorize a story about Taliban kidnappers as a space story.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Japan Eyes Expansive Space Exploration Agenda"


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado - Japan is building upon its past successes in space to forge a range of initiatives, from disaster warning systems, probes to Mercury, Venus and Jupiter, as well as conduct an aggressive lunar exploration campaign.


"Space is a common frontier for humanity," [Vice President of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Kaoru] Mamiya explained, and "international cooperation is essential." In this regard, JAXA is prepared to be a major player in the replanting of human footprints on the Moon.

When it comes to space exploration, I say, the more the merrier. We need more nations, more private companies, and more investments dedicated to exploring our solar system and the stars beyond. And I think our ultimate goal should be colonization. Or else, what's a heaven for?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Remembering Sea-Monkeys

Even when I was a kid in the 1970s, I didn't put much credence in the claim that you could own wonderful families of pets that would do your bidding for just the low price of $1.25 (plus postage). It certainly seemed outlandish. Still, when I ran across this old advertisement for Sea-Monkeys, I couldn't help but wax a little nostalgic.

I knew better at the time; I knew that the Sea-Monkeys would not appear in any tank as a happy, smiling family. But, I remember still feeling a faint sense of disappointment when I found out that they were nothing but brine shrimp.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Prototype Satellites Demonstrate In-Orbit Refueling"

Great space stuff here.

Despite a rocky start, two unmanned spacecraft have succeeded in their first autonomous satellite refueling demonstration while orbiting high above Earth.


"The first Orbital Express demonstration, Scenario 0-1, was very successful," a spokesperson Jan Walker for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is overseeing the mission, said in a written update Wednesday. "ASTRO transferred just under 32 pounds (14 kilograms) of hydrazine to the NextSat client, meeting the scenario objective."

Walker said the robotic arm-equipped ASTRO, short for Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations, first delivered the hydrazine during the early hours of April 1 via a fluid hookup, and then followed up by transferring an additional 19 pounds (8.6 kilograms) of propellant to NextSat a day later. NextSat was due to return propellant to ASTRO sometime today, she added.

In addition to refueling demonstrations, ASTRO is also designed to perform tasks such as autonomous undocking, proximity operations and re-docking, as well as use its robotic arm to install a battery on NextSat.

Robots in space. Satellites repairing and refueling each other. It don't get much cooler than that.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dazzling Io

I've been posting some wonderful pictures of Saturn and its satellites taken by the Cassini spacecraft, but I don't want to forget about Jupiter. And I don't have to now that the New Horizons probe is on its way to Pluto and taking some pictures of the Jovian system as it passes. There are some good ones, like this photograph of the moon Io, bedecked with a volcanic plume.

Incredible. Read more about this picture here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Fighting panda extinction ...

... whether the little evolutionary dead-enders like it or not.

Authorities at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand inseminated Lin Hui with semen from her cage-mate, Chuang Chuang, on Monday morning and will repeat the procedure on Tuesday. The artificial insemination is a last ditch effort to get Lin Hui pregnant, after videos of pandas having sex failed to entice Chuang Chuang into mating with his partner.

"He just didn't want to mate. He was looking at her as a friend," said Sophon Dummui, director general of Thai Zoo Organization of Thailand which oversees the Chiang Mai Zoo. [emphasis added]

Platonic relationships are not for pandas! And we humans will make sure of that!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fighting panda extinction

Well, not really, this time.

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin Zoo denied media allegations on Tuesday that Knut the celebrity polar bear cub was responsible for the sudden demise of one of its older attractions, a 22-year-old panda who was found dead in her cage.

Just four days after the euphoria over the debut of three-and-a-half-month-old "Cuddly Knut", the mysterious death of Chinese-born Yan Yan stole the headlines in Tuesday's German newspapers.

Top-selling Bild reported the influx of visitors to the zoo -- about 30,000 a day -- could have stressed the black and white bear, who spent much of her time lying on her back chomping at bamboo shoots.

"Lots of people gave up on seeing Knut because of the long queues, so they went to see Yan Yan instead. She seemed intimidated and anxious," wrote the paper, suggesting Yan Yan could have had a heart attack.

Berlin Zoo denied any link.

What's amazing is that people in the media -- in this case -- seem to believe that the panda became so stressed out by being looked at (in a zoo!) that she died. If -- BIG "IF" -- this turns out to be true, that trait doesn't strike me as an evolutionary strength. And the pandas could be in more danger than we thought!

Anthropomorphizing a jumping dog's actions

I seriously doubt this dog knew what he was doing.

CALVERT, Md. - Toby, a 2-year-old golden retriever, saw his owner choking on a piece of fruit and began jumping up and down on the woman's chest. The dog's owner believes the dog was trying to perform the Heimlich maneuver and saved her life.

Debbie Parkhurst, 45, of Calvert told the Cecil Whig she was eating an apple at her home Friday when a piece lodged in her throat. She attempted to perform the Heimlich maneuver on herself but it didn't work. After she began beating on her chest, she said Toby noticed and got involved.

Sometimes, dogs' actions just don't make sense, and we shouldn't attribute human motivations to them. After all, a lot of dogs will eat poop, given the chance.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dreaming of a hazy moon

Titan, Saturn's moon, is such a fascinating place.

Clues to Titan's smooth finish can be seen in the presence of vast tracts of sand dunes, river channels and evidence for cryovolcanism visible in Cassini images.

It is likely that a combination of burial in sand, erosion by methane or obliteration by the cold hand of cryovolcanism is responsible for paving over the craters. Cassini has already spotted vague circular features among Titan's sand dunes that may be evidence of craters undergoing burial.

Pinning down the rate of crater removal will be an important factor in dating the age of Titan's surface features, including those craters that have survived. 'We have no way of knowing how recent the known craters are, although Menrva is old enough that it has a fairly eroded rim, cut by river channels,' [Ralph] Lorenz [of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory] said.

This is what space exploration is all about. And this incredible stuff is in our stellar backyard! Imagine what waits to be discovered beyond our solar system.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Debate on interspecies cloning reignites"

I'm usually all for medical and technological advances, but the creep factor is all over this story.

At least three respected teams of British scientists have reignited the moral debate over inserting human genes into animal eggs by proposing experiments similar to [Jose] Cibelli's.

Their goal is to eliminate the need for women to donate eggs for the cloning of human embryos, a research goal they say will enable them to better understand the genetic causes of many diseases and design personalized medicines.


But Cibelli, who will soon publish data in a scientific journal detailing his failure to clone monkey genes in a cow eggs, doubts the proposed experiments will work.

"It could be that we are doing something wrong," Cibelli said. "But it looks like the farther apart the species are on the evolutionary tree, the harder it will be to clone."

This is the stuff of science fiction. Or, should I say, Sci Fi.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Eagle afternoon

Nothing but a picture of a bald eagle on a sunny day.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Resurrecting a myth

I read this: "Acids in Popular Sodas Erode Tooth Enamel"
The erosive potential of colas is 10 times that of fruit juices in just the first three minutes of drinking, a study last year showed. The latest research, published in Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) journal General Dentistry, reports that drinking any type of soft drink hurts teeth due to the citric acid and/or phosphoric acid in the beverages.

And I immediately remembered reading this (from some time ago:
Coca-Cola contains acids (such as citric acid and phosphoric acid) which will eventually dissolve items such as teeth (given enough time), but so do plenty of other substances we commonly ingest (such as orange juice). The concentration of acid in these products is so low that our digestive systems are easily capable of coping with it with no harm to us. [emphasis in original]

So, why is this tooth-dissolving claim in the news again? Oh, the Academy of General Dentistry is an advocacy group.
In renewing your membership, you will continue to be a part of the AGD’s commitment to quality oral health care through advocacy efforts and continuing education opportunities, as well as receive valuable member benefits to assist you in your dental career.

And, it doesn't seem to be very keen on the most basic of facts. Here is an excerpt from the AGD's press release relevant to the news story:
Root beer products, however, are non-carbonated and do not contain the acids that harm teeth, according to a study in the March/April 2007 issue of General Dentistry, the AGD’s clinical, peer-reviewed journal. [emphasis added]
And here is the description of root beer from Steve Mercer's "Root Beer Concentrate" (and supported here and here):
Root Beer is a sweet carbonated beverage flavored with sassafras. [emphasis added]

Hmm. If the AGD's primary claim is that colas are bad for your teeth (refuted by, an outfit that specializes in investigating the validity of myths), and they get the basic facts about root beer wrong (it does have carbonation in it), should we really believe the press release's claim that "[d]rinking any type of soft drink poses risk to the health of your teeth"?

I'm beginning to wonder if the AGD is in the lawsuit business as well.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Malaria-resistant mosquito developed"

This sounds like excellent news.

Working with the mouse form of malaria — not the human type — Rasgon's team was able to genetically engineer mosquitoes that were resistant to malaria.

Malaria infection does exact a toll on mosquitoes and in laboratory work they found that the resistant insects were able to outcompete nonresistant mosquitoes.

Starting with the same number of resistant and nonresistant mosquitoes, they found that after nine generations the resistant type made up 70 percent of the population — raising the possibility of replacing regular mosquitoes with resistant ones that don't spread disease.

Now, can we get them to stop biting altogether?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Immense ice deposits found at south pole of Mars"

This sounds like good news for those of us who like the idea of terraforming.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A spacecraft orbiting Mars has scanned huge deposits of water ice at its south pole so plentiful they would blanket the planet in 36 feet of water if they were liquid, scientists said on Thursday.


The deposits, up to 2.3 miles thick, are under a polar cap of white frozen carbon dioxide and water, and appear to be composed of at least 90 percent frozen water, with dust mixed in, according to findings published in the journal Science.

Let's get to melting it. Sooner than later.