31 January 2006

State of the Union

My initial reactions:
  • Nice rhetoric at the beginning, effectively making the case for expanding freedom. Also made the case for monitoring international calls - per PowerLine, if al-Qaeda is calling you, we want to know why.
  • I would have preferred a harder line on Iran, perhaps with a hint of being prepared to take military action.
  • As for the borders: he is starting to recognize that we conservatives are serious about this. No action yet, but at least we are starting to get rhetoric. Again, I would have preferred a harder line. Something along the lines of "President Fox, you are hereby on notice that if your federales make one more armed incursion on our border, I will consider that an act of war and respond accordingly."
  • On domestic affairs: I am happy with making tax cuts permanent and with revamping Social Security. Personally, I'd rather abolish Social Security entirely, but I know that's not going to happen, so instead I'll settle for personal accounts. As far as I'm concerned, no reform that does not include personal accounts is acceptable.
  • On energy: I would have liked a mention of ANWR.
That's about it for my initial reactions.

Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS to Justice Alito!

Update @ 9:40: Things I was reminded of when looking at blog reax
  • Cindy, your 15 minutes of fame are over, sweetie. Just accept it and quit trying to get another police officer's hand up your skirt.
  • Hillary: you do realize the cameras captured every time you scowled and sat on your hands for national security, right? Good thinking there.
  • Sheila: every year, you send a staffer to claim a spot on the aisle so you can get a picture with the President, and every year, the commentators make fun of you. Seriously, get a clue.

Today in the Science News: Humans & Animals

Engineers should never marry each other:
Because their kids have a higher chance of being autistic. It's all about the systematizing rather than the empathizing, and if you both think that way, then your kids have a high chance of inheriting your tendencies.

When I read about this guy's work last summer, the article had a link to a test of your systematizing & empathizing skills. I'm sure no one will be surprised to learn that I scored in the bottom group on empathizing and the top group on systematizing. The test results said that "very few men and almost no women" score that high, and that the men who did score that high generally had Asperger's syndrome. I was highly amused.

Regardless of this study, I still maintain that I couldn't possibly marry a non-engineer.

Extreme déjà vu:
A patient can recall very specific details about an event or meeting that never occurred. The doctors have since found other patients who have the same condition.

I wonder if I might have this. It would explain a lot, because I have very detailed, distinct memories of events that no one else remembers. For example, I distinctly remember playing a prank on my sister that involved a dead crawdad and a plastic Easter egg, but she doesn't remember it at all. And you would think she would, what with all the screaming.

Skiing cures deafness:
Woo-hoo! Let's hit the slopes!

Heaven forbid vultures should die! We must change our cattle medication!:
Ok, so vultures do serve a very important purpose in the ecosystem, but that doesn't change the fact that they're just f'n gross.

Distraught baboon makes nice:
Her daughter died, and so she had to find someone else to groom her. The article says at the end that baboons are stressed when their grooming partners die, because they aren't clean.

I find this very difficult to believe.

Very difficult.

Have these people even seen baboons?

Today in the Science News: Part 2: Medicine

U.S. ignorant of the danger of biological weapons:
According to these guys, the U.S. intelligence agencies are too focused on bacteria, and not on emerging threats such as bioregulators.

And by the way: no, it's not the same Peter Singer. This is a totally different guy, who goes by Peter A. Singer to distinguish himself from the wacko. But Peter "Wacko" Singer's middle name is Albert, so I think we should all just feel very sorry for this poor man who introduces himself as Peter A. Singer and then has irresponsible bloggers get pissed off at him. (The Wikipedia talk page on Peter Singer mentioned the distinction. Fortunately, I happened to look at that before I published the post.)

Also, Stephen Block completely butchers Frost. It's "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out," dumbass.

Prions are apparently the force behind adult stem cells' regenerative abilities:
Pretty interesting. Prions have been a mystery ever since they were discovered.

8 million children born with birth defects each year:
I don't know that I would have expected such a high toll. But (shades of Peter Singer, not Peter A. Singer) I can't say I'm exactly pleased with the implication that children found to have defects should be aborted so that they're not a burden on society. I understand the logical reasoning behind it, and acknowledge that Singer may be saying that euthanasia is morally acceptable rather than that it's required (I haven't read his work, so I can't say for sure), but the position makes me very uncomfortable.

Today in the Science News: Part 1: Space News

"Bobaloo" and "Dagger" are really stupid nicknames:
Also see the Space.com story, which has a bit more information. These fellows are two F-16 pilots who still fly with the Air Force reserves, and have just formed the first team for the Rocket Racing League.

If y'all recall, when I first mentioned the Rocket Racing League, I inquired as to where they were going to get pilots, because I had a feeling experience with a fighter jet would be required. I also thought that surely there wouldn't be very many people interested in risking their lives for a silly race.

But I didn't take into account the fact that they're fighter pilots. Risking their lives is what they do. Every single day.

Model developed to predict Titan's clouds:
Apparently, this model forecasts weather on Titan pretty accurately. That's useful because it will help scientists determine when to train their telescopes on Titan.

Massive neutrino detector array may provide support for string theory:
The array is called "IceCube." It's going to be buried in the ice fields of Antarctica.

Cue Dave in Texas and his "Antarctica Now" scenes...

Anyway, I would have more commentary on this article, but frankly, I don't understand string theory well enough to mock it properly. So you'll just have to read it for yourself. The gist, as I understand it, is that this array may be large enough to detect some extraordinarily rare neutrinos that may or may not exist, but if they do exist and the array is large enough to detect them, then they might get detected at the rate of one a year and then we would learn all kinds of new stuff. Or something.

Singin' in the cosmic rain:
Apparently, cosmic rays striking the Earth increase the likelihood of cloudy days by about 20%.

But keep in mind that the effect of cosmic rays on climate is infinitesimal compared to the effects of humans. Infinitesimal, I say!

30 January 2006

You are merry, my lord.

Ace points us to a Florida Cracker post that points us to a NEWS.com.au story about men's reactions to funny women. In essence, a study of twentysomethings found that when a man says he wants a good sense of humor, he really means he wants a woman who will laugh at his jokes.

I think we all know this is true. Back in high school, I noticed that boys claimed to like girls who like sports, but what they really meant was that they liked girls who would say, "Oh, [insert name], the way you fielded that grounder was so...masterful." Whereas I would be more likely to say, "Hey, [insert name], if you don't do something about that hole in your swing, we'll be renaming the Mendoza Line!"

I wasn't very popular in high school.


The Apollo fire, Challenger explosion, and Columbia breakup all occurred around the same time of year, which is why NASA had a day of remembrance last week.

I was alive for only the latter two, and out of elementary school for only the last, so I don't have a lot to remember other than sitting dumbfounded at the honors student council retreat, having just hung up with a friend who had told me what happened to Columbia.

But I think the take-away message needs to be something I read in the CAIB report: Prove that it is safe, not that it isn't.

As an example, engineers requested images of Columbia's wing leading edge, but since she didn't have the capability to take the images via robotic arm and the astronauts were nowhere near the ISS, either an additional unplanned EVA or DoD imaging would have been necessary. Managers vetoed the requests based on the complications of adding an EVA and/or going through the DoD for imagery, because the engineers couldn't prove that the images were necessary. But if the managers had said, "Prove that it is safe to reenter," then the engineers would have gotten their images.

The other message I'd like to offer: Risk is inherent in exploration. To quote Wayne Hale, "The most important thing is - to go."

I know these messages seem contradictory, but there's a difference between the inherent risk of launching a vehicle into LEO and the risk of, for example, allowing foam strike events to become a normal part of launch.

I've written and rewritten this post a dozen times, and I'm still not happy with it, but I don't want to let this time of year go unremarked on my blog. I'm not very good at verbalizing my feelings on this issue, since I'm torn in several different directions: a firm belief that space exploration is a worthy goal, a nagging suspicion that NASA may not be the best organization for the job, a loyal desire to defend NASA against its detractors, a cynical awareness that loss of life is inevitable, a heartfelt sorrow for the families of those who were lost, and any number of other feelings I can't isolate. Feel free to ask for clarification in the comments.

Today in the Science News

Slim pickings today. But if anyone subscribes to New Scientist, PLEASE log on and send me the text of the subscriber-only article tantalizingly headlined, "New US supreme court judges will affect us all." Knowing New Scientist, I bet it's a hilarious screed about radical right-wing fundamentalists stifling science and forcing schools to teach creationism.

Without further ado...

Chimpy McHitlerburton silences climatologist:
The director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies claims that undue pressure is being put on him to not say that we are killing the planet with carbon dioxide emissions. Since NS is typically one-sided, I checked the Junkman to see what he had to say. Apparently, Hansen is known as a political advocate rather than a pure scientist. It's the lead story at Junk Science, with lots of links and evidence.

Of course, Junk Science is biased, too, but now you've heard both sides.

Speaking of chimps:
Their antibodies can be used to prevent smallpox. This isn't very high on my list of concerns since smallpox has been eradicated, and frankly, I don't think it would make a very good biological weapon. Diseases aren't as easy to weaponize as you might think. But the article grossed me out, first because of the picture of a smallpox victim, then a mention of vCJD, then chimps, so now I'm inflicting it on you.

Speaking of gross:
The company that makes the Grand Theft Auto games is being sued by the city of Los Angeles for selling its pr0n to kids.

I can't say I really disagree with this suit, but at the same time, where were these kids' parents? Why didn't they make sure their kids weren't playing pornographic video games? No child of mine would be exposed to that disgusting smut in my house.

Speaking of disgusting:
The genetics behind wet or dry earwax are unveiled.

While my earmolds do turn a hideous orange color rather swiftly, I maintain that this is much less gross than having earwax leaking out of one's ear, which I've seen more often than I would like. Clean your ears, people.

Speaking of people:
We're responsible for the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast, and we're responsible for the Gulf's natural systems not recovering quickly, and oh my God we should all kill ourselves immediately so our poor, beleaguered planet will have a chance!

(One is forced to wonder at the effect of all the dead bodies, though.)

Some more interesting stories for which I don't have commentary: Functional MRI and its use as a lie detector, the next X Prizes, a virus that causes obesity, and a story about the Crew Launch Vehicle.

28 January 2006

Mike and "The Guy in the Glass"

The troll at AOSHQ that is currently going by "Mike" (s/he has also gone by MaryM and, as several commenters suspect, Geno, Jersey, and a few other screen names) has been pointing us to a poem entitled "The Guy in the Glass." Here's what he had to say about it today:

I hate to tell you this...again...but "The Guy In The Glass" is considered a true classic, especially in regards to men...taking responsibility, being honest with themselves and being real men.

Why not read it before you bash it?

Posted by Mike at January 28, 2006 06:52 PM

Now you idiots are cutting and pasting MY POSTINGS??

And you morons think the poem has something to do with GAYS????????????

You have GOT to be the dumbest people I have encountered on the internet.

Do any of you IDIOTS have any idea of how famous this poem is...you know, among people who actually READ???

Get off your asses and get an education.

Posted by Mike at January 28, 2006 08:48 PM
Well, though Mike may not believe it, I am quite the reader, and I've never heard of this poem (which no one said had anything to do with homosexuality - Mike has problems with reading comprehension). So, naturally, I googled it. I found it here, and have reproduced it below because their page isn't very readable. It's by a fellow named Dale Wimbrow.

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.

First of all, "pelf" means wealth. Filthy lucre, that sort of thing.

Second, this poem is crap. It's the sort of thing your overly sentimental relative keeps forwarding you even though you've specifically requested to never be sent forwards. Or the sort of thing that gets put in a lot of Hallmark cards. The kind that same overly sentimental relative keeps giving you despite your obvious distaste for glitter. This is not great poetry.

Third, the message is also crap. Your own opinion of yourself is not what matters, and "To thine own self be true" is not a good motto, Polonius notwithstanding. Try being true to God. That's worth attempting, particularly since He's the one passing judgment.

Sortelli's parody, on the other hand, was, indeed, sheer poetry:
When you can't get what you want in your struggle for satisfaction,
And the world pisses on you every day,
Then go to the computer and get yourself some action,
And see what the AOSHQ Lifestyle has to say.

For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who bother to listen when you scream.
The fellers whose verdicts counts most in your life
Are the guys laughing at you on the computer screen.

They're the ones who'll kick you when you're depressed,
They'll mock you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If you manage to pretend that you have any friends.

You may like to pick at your ass and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the guys on the thread say you're only a bum

You can fool the whole world if you can keep fooling yourself,
And pat yourself on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be a poem that uses the word "pelf"
If you're stuck on The Guy in the Glass.

The meter's a bit off, but I love it anyway.

I survived!

Barely. And I'll never speed again.

Incidentally, if you're up for some flaming, head over to Ace's. We're flaming Mike, who thinks he's hurting our feelings with his feeble responses. As Dave in Texas said:

Sortelli, he just called you pointy-headed!


Posted by Dave in Texas at January 28, 2006 06:07 PM
I laughed out loud.

And now...

...I'm watching a "Film Segement" entitled "Otto the Auto: Wearing Safety Belts."

If I never post again, it's because I've fashioned a hangman's noose from my speakers' sound cord and am dangling from the hook conveniently installed in my ceiling.

Driver's ed is a cruel torture.

And now I'm watching a film noir-style video entitled "Unlocking the Mystery of Anti-Lock Brakes," complete with private eye and distraught female protagonist.

I may have to kill myself.

Fill in your own joke.

So after 5 years of driving 80 in a 65, I finally got caught. Driver's ed is mind-numbingly boring, but I did learn something today:

Water Crashes

If your car lands in water, ALL occupants should:

1. Release seat belt and open window.

2. Try to escape through the window IMMEDIATELY.

  • If you have an infant in a car seat, take the whole car seat through the window with you
  • If you have a toddler in a seat, release the seat belt and take the child with you

3. You will not be able to open the doors until they are completely covered by the water. If window escape is not possible, unlock the doors IMMEDIATELY.

  • Panicking is NOT an option
4. There will not be a pocket of air in the back seat! NO air will remain trapped in the vehicle. YOU MUST EXIT THE VEHICLE.

About water crashes

Most cars will float 1 to 3 minutes unless heavily damaged. Older vehicles will usually sink faster than newer cars. Because the weight of the car is not centered, almost all cars will sink hood first. That is because of the weight of the motor more than anything. If this occurs and the occupants are not able to escape through the windows, they will have a brief amount of time available to escape through the doors before the car hits bottom. The deeper the car gets, the harder it will be for a layman to make a breath hold ascent from depth. Almost as soon as the top of the door post is covered, the water pressure will lessen enough to allow the door to open. Occupants MUST exit immediately and swim to the surface.

When the car sinks in water whose depth is less than the length of the car, it will almost always land on its wheels. In water deeper than the length of the car (and not acted on by current) the vehicle will almost always turn over and land on its roof.

27 January 2006


Head on over to Madfish Willie's for some Spoetry by AOSHQ Poet Laureate, spurwing plover. I couldn't stop laughing. (Content warning on Madfish Willie's site though, which is why I didn't give a link to the main page.)

He's left out some of my favorites, though. Namely:
A big time commie leader dissapears
and i thought no commie leader
would ever come up missing
i thought they were better then us capitalists

They have found
two mummies in irish bog
and the
were the victims of human sacrifice
the same thing that radical animal rights fanatic and envirlentalists want us to do

At least
not all frenchmen
are wussies like

Ted kennedy
a fat lip
becuase he is such a idiot

You mean
they have not replaced BIG BIRD
with a chicken
My favorite is the one about "CHIARQ." (He means Chirac, in case it wasn't obvious from context.)

I still think someone needs to code a spurwing plover AIM bot. That would rock.

Update @ 5:22: Here's one he just posted.
Go and penatrate
the galactic barrier
its real weird place
flashing pink and orange
The sheer sensuality of the image overwhelms me.

Update 2 @ 5:26: This post has five beauties. My favorite:
are endangered species
and the one and only PHOENIX
is hiding out from the bioligists and eco-wackos
becuase he dont want to be counted
since theres only one PHOENIX
I'm really impressed that someone besides me knows there's only one phoenix.

And yet, he still can't spell "hippogriff."

My Specialty: Random Remarks

Although these are tied together by a common thread: news items I missed this week.
  1. Canadian elections: Congratulations!
  2. Palestinian elections: As I said over at AOSHQ, I don't get what all this "shock" is about. I'm far from an acute observer of international politics, and I wasn't shocked at all.
  3. Ann Coulter's recent remark on poisoning Justice Stevens: She started losing me when she made the "mandate" crack about that gay governor, and completely lost me with the Dread Justice Roberts's nomination, when she did everything she could to imply he was a second Souter. I didn't think any of the evidence pointed that way, myself, and I also thought his nomination was part of a shrewd plan to replace O'Connor with a Rehnquist-type so that we could then replace Rehnquist with a Scalia-type, resulting in a net "rightward" shift. Which is more or less what's happening.

    I still think Ann Coulter's stuff can be funny on occasion, but for me, she really jumped the shark at that point.

    And on the topic of Scalia vs. Thomas, I tend to lean more toward Thomas's view of matters. He's more of an originalist while Scalia is more of a strict constructionalist. Just look at their differing opinions in Gonzales v. Raich to see what I mean.
  4. Iran: This topic is simply guaranteed to depress anyone. Ahmadinejad is clearly an f'n lunatic, and every week that goes by makes me more certain that we (and Israel) will be at war with Iran shortly. I wonder if the President is going to address the issue at the SotU next week.
  5. Mexican incursions on our border: Speaking of war...isn't it a pretty clear-cut act of war when a country's armed forces come across our border the way theirs are doing?
Hey, State of the Union is next week!

Today in the Science News: Part 5: Miscellaneous

Alternate title for this part: Articles I Linked So I Could Make a Stupid Joke And/Or Mock Scientists And/Or Idiot Reporters who Obviously Still Live with Their Moms. What do you think? Too wordy?

Sea levels to rise dramatically, flooding Houston!:
Actually, they didn't mention Houston at all, but it is at sea level, so I threw that in. I just think it's funny when researchers try to predict climate trends based on 130 years of data.

Land snail traveled 5500 miles across ocean:
By hitching a ride on a bird. The researchers wonder what sort of bird it was, but I think we all know it was a swallow. Whether it was an African or a European swallow is up for debate, however.

Pseudoscorpions produce more and healthier young by mating with several unrelated males:
I linked this article only because of the following sentence-and-a-half: "Biology seems to have a thing against inbreeding. Besides being gross from a human perspective..." Does that really strike you as mature writing? Who uses the word "gross" (in the "Eeeww!" meaning) in a serious science news article? Or says "have a thing against," for that matter? What is this kid, 17?

And also, DUH! Of course biology doesn't reward inbreeding. Did you study genetics at all, kid? I mean, your next sentence goes on to explain, but you apparently don't realize that it's so bleeding obvious that it doesn't need to be stated. Go back to tenth grade, punk.

That's all of today's science news. Thanks for consuming it here. Come back again!

Today in the Science News: Part 4: Animals

Monkey cops necessary for keeping the peace:
When the peacekeeper monkeys are removed, the group quickly degenerates into rampant anarchy, with plenty of unnecessary violence and doody-flinging (the article didn't mention the latter, but I felt it was clearly evident). See how important big, strong, powerful males are? I know they're important to me.

Scorpions already scare the crap out of me:
And now we learn they can even survive being encased in plaster for 15 months. What does it take to kill those little [insert your own swear word here]?

Go ahead, yell it out:
Apparently, you can protect your auditory system from damage caused by your own voice. Or so research in crickets suggests.

Not that I particularly care about the wild-animal trade, but:
The article claims that there are more tigers living captive in the U.S. than in the wild. Does that strike anyone else as unlikely?

Today in the Science News: Part 3: Human Behavior

Shocker! Not all smokers stop smoking exactly the same way with exactly the same amount of success:
This study shows that a sudden decision to give up smoking is more likely to succeed than a planned-out one. Whatever. The only reason I linked it is that it reminded me of the following exchange from Uncle Buck.
Buck: Hey, I stopped smoking cigarettes.
Cindy: Oh, good.
Buck: Isn't that something? I'm on to cigars now. I'm on to a five-year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I'm on to that nicotine gum.

Men are really f'n lazy, leave the kids & housework to women:
Once again, scientists spend untold millions to find out something I could have told them in exchange for a nice dinner at the Texas Roadhouse.

A must-read for this Super Bowl season:
How to save money on drinks & snacks while tricking your hapless guests into thinking they're getting plenty of trail mix and beer!

Incidentally, I don't care about football, so I didn't have a dog in this fight until I read the Batt today and learned that Seattle is trying to steal our 12th Man trademark. So now I hate Seattle and hope they experience the most crushing defeat in Super Bowl history.

Today in the Science News: Part 2: Robots & Other Technology

I'm surprised Ace hasn't posted this one yet:
A robot that can store up to six cans of beer within its refrigerated exterior and, upon the push of a button, open a can and dispense the beer into a glass? It's got Ace of Spades Lifestyle written all over it. (Assuming that the robot can be modified to dispense Val-U-Rite vodka, of course.)

Robots again, assisting at surgery this time:
These robots have cameras and are less invasive than endoscopic cameras. Overall, much cooler than beer-bots.

Although I still think Linguo was the coolest robot ever. "Linguo! Dead?!" "Linguo...is...dead."

BMWs to be outfitted with night vision screens:
Ok, that is kind of cool. It's an IR thermal imaging camera, which makes people and animals stand out. Totally useless, but cool anyway.

Today in the Science News: Part 1: Space News

Orlon suit being made into a beacon:
Next week, the guys on the ISS will launch an old Orlon suit, which will transmit a greeting in several languages for a few weeks before it falls to its fiery death. Apparently, the transmission also includes a still TV image, but NASA hasn't revealed just what this image will be. (Feel free to insert your own Uranus joke here. I know you boys are all thinking of one.)

Proposal: Drop giant wrecking ball on Mars:
I wouldn't have named it "Thor." Dropping a giant copper ball just to see what happens seems more like a Loki thing.

Self-healing spacecraft skin!:
'Nuff said.

Earth-like planet found:
But it's as cold as Pluto-the-KBO, alas. On the bright side, the project that discovered it is called "OGLE." Insert your own "heavenly bodies" joke here.

Stargazing: Saturn:
Is there any planet more gorgeous than Saturn? While the stark red vistas of Mars fire my instinct to explore, the soft beauty of Saturn's muted colors inspire a feeling of serenity.

Make it so.

You scored as Enterprise D (Star Trek). You have high ideals and know in your heart that humanity will continue to evolve in a better people. No matter what may happen, you have faith in human beings. A rare quality. Now if only the Borg would quit assimilating people.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?
created with QuizFarm.com

Thanks to Brian B.

So, I've returned to the Internet.

My cheerful mood, initiated by a pleasant conversation with a good friend and perpetuated by my avoiding the news, persisted from Sunday afternoon all the way to tonight. I was humming Rodgers & Hammerstein numbers and smiling at everyone I saw.

And then I decided to start catching up on what I missed around the 'sphere, and noticed a discussion of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy in one of Ace's comments threads. Sadly, the thread is several days dormant, which means I missed a chance to tell everyone just how sexy a certain blue-skinned Grand Admiral is. I mean, he's intelligent, highly competent, economical with words, and loves art. Villains just don't get sexier than that. Mmm.

Anyway, science news tomorrow. Possibly not till mid-afternoon, though.

23 January 2006

Light to nonexistent blogging today...

...because I've generally been staying off the Internet. I didn't want to ruin the first good mood I've had in weeks by reading more about Iran.

I finally got tired of my old desktop wallpaper and made a new image using this shot of sunset on Mars, taken by Spirit and published by NASA through the JPL image gallery. For my desktop purposes, I added lines from "How Great Thou Art" to the upper left and lower right corners. It's very cool.

22 January 2006

Friday's crossword...

...which I just now did, took me 18 minutes and I had to look up one word (orzo, a type of pasta. I went blank).

But this crossword was very annoying. I've never done one with so many tricky clues. To wit:
  • "Kid," as in "josh," not as in "child."
  • "Mean business," as in "evil," not as in "saying what's what." (Ok, I shouldn't have been tricked by that, but still.)
  • "Makeup, e.g." as in "exam," not as in "blush."
  • "Downed a sub," as in "ate," not as in "sank." And you can't tell me that wasn't intentionally confusing.
  • "Seeing things," as in "eyes," not as in "hallucinating."
  • "Water vessel," as in "ewer," not as in "boat."
I've never said so many swear words while doing a crossword.

Come to think of it, it was the same swear word. I just said it a bunch of times.

By the way: sorry about the confusion with the date & time of the last two posts. Not sure what the deal was on those. I blame INTERNET, mostly because it's easier (and more fun!) than blaming myself.

Update: Figured it out. Turned out it was because I had left the "create post" window open on Firefox, and the timestamp is based on when you open that window, not on when you submit the post. I fixed the two problem posts.

Still, I blame INTERNET.

State of Mrs. Peel's Temper Report

Much, much improved!

21 January 2006

Women and Islam (and Road House)

I'm not a psychologist, so I won't bother adding my completely extraneous two bits to the discussion of Islamists' obvious fear of women and female sexuality. I just wanted to relate a story of which Allah's post reminded me. (Not that Allah. The one with the blog. You know, that Allah.)

At school, there is an Islam Awareness Week every year, usually during the playoffs in October. They have lectures and such. That means I have to run a gauntlet of people handing out flyers. Now, I avoid everyone that hands out flyers. Over the years, I've developed a number of techniques for getting past these people, including holding my math notes before my face so that I appear to be studying intensely, timing my entry into the building so that each flyer-person is occupied with a victim, and suddenly developing a highly localized blind spot while walking very quickly (this last technique works best if you appear to be lost in thought and can muster up a slight frown).

But on this particular day, my techniques were of no avail. You see, it was the playoffs, and I was wearing a shirt to support my team. This shirt happened to be a tank top.

I entered the building walking very quickly (I was running a bit late for class) and within a group of fellow stragglers. And yet, one of these bearded fellows spotted me and rushed across half of the lobby, practically running, flew past several other people, halted mere centimeters away from me, and shoved his "Women and Islam" flyer in my face in a very threatening fashion. Obviously, he felt I needed to be subjected to sharia law. I restrained my dirty look as best as I could and said firmly but politely, "No, thank you."

I guess my story would be more exciting if I had given voice to one or more of the remarks that crossed my mind. But my mom raised me to be polite. "Be nice," she'd say. "If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won't walk, walk him. But be nice. I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice."

Wait a minute! That wasn't Mom. That was Patrick Swayze. Damn my misspent youth!

20 January 2006

Today in the Science News: Part 3: Miscellaneous

As I said, tons of good stuff in the science news today. I particularly liked the study about college students' paranormal belief patterns. So, this is the third of three parts, Miscellaneous.

Human ears evolved from fish gills:
Apparently, a fish developed a kink in its gills, which led to a land creature having a cavity in its ear, which led to the middle ear, just like the one in humans.

One is forced to wonder what happened to Mr. Limpet's middle ear when he became a fish. And how did his glasses work underwater? The index of refraction is totally different.

China is ten percent darker than it was in '54 thanks to smog:
Well, I guess there's a reason we don't call it "Green China."

Vatican smacks down intelligent design:
An article in their newspaper, by a professor of evolutionary biology, basically says ID isn't science and that evolutionary theory doesn't explain everything. Which is what I've been saying.

Malthus was right! There's not enough metal for the world!:
Ever heard of a little thing called "innovation"?

Cancer researcher is an f'n liar:
Good Lord, man. People's lives are affected by your research. And you just make stuff up?

Wristwatch pokes you a lot, finds malaria:
I share the skepticism of the scientists quoted in this article. The inventor claims to have developed a wristwatch-like device that periodically pricks the wearer's skin and can detect the malaria parasite, which apparently has a unique frequency of movement.

I'm very dubious.

That wraps up today's science news (finally). And tonight, according to Space.com, if you go outside about 10:30 and look straight up, you'll see the Gemini.

Today in the Science News: Part 2: Human Behavior

Thanks for sticking around for Part 2: Human Behavior. There are some great stories in this section.

Shocker: Politicians found to use spin!:
A scientist at t.u. determined an algorithm to tell if people are lying or telling the truth based on decreased use of words like "I" and increased use of weasel words like "unless." And apparently Paul Martin is a big spinster - much more so than the other Canadian leaders he analyzed.

Next up: analyzing O'Reilly to see just how much spin there really is in the "No Spin Zone." (Not really, but that's what I would do.)

Medical data banks:
This article isn't directly about human behavior. It's about two massive medical databank projects that are calling for volunteers. I think half a million are expected for each. But what interests me is whether volunteers will really allow all of their medical data to be collected in this fashion - including genetic profiles, family history, etc., etc. Even though this information is very useful in studies, how many people are willing to make this sacrifice? I think I touched on the issue briefly a few days ago, but I didn't do more than raise the question.

Granted, the data will be encrypted so that researchers won't have the individual patients' names, just their profiles. But still, I'm not sure I'd be willing to submit all this personal information despite its potential good to mankind. I guess it's one of those situations where people don't do something unless they're sure enough people will do it so that everyone will benefit. (Shoot, what is that called? Theory of Knowledge is way too long ago. Or not long ago enough, depending on how you look at it.)

Another example of such a situation might be when you're getting in the correct lane to exit to I-45 and then people use the lane to your left to get ahead and cut in the line right at the exit. Don't those people realize that their behavior is the reason it takes so long to get on the highway? I never let them in, because they jolly well could have gotten in the correct lane back when I did.


Despite brain tumor concerns, chicks just can't hang up the phone:
Actually, the article is about a study that suggests there is no link between brain tumors and cell phones, which is what I personally think, because if there were such a link, my sister would have bit the dust long ago. But I'd just like to take this opportunity to inform my fellow females that no one wants to know about your shoes or your rash or your oh-so-cute yapping dog. Save your private conversations for private areas. And hang the hell up when you're in the car. Chick driving* is bad enough without adding cell phones to the mix.

*Obviously, my own driving is the exception.

Beer drinkers buy cold cuts and chips, wine drinkers buy cooking oil and chicken:
This is a classic example of one of those studies where researchers wasted a lot of money trying to find out something, when they could just ask me.

And by "chips," I think the Beeb means fries. Chips are called "crisps" in British English if I recall correctly.

Another article on the Sony Reader:
Lots more detail on this e-book viewer than the last article I linked. The human behavior angle here is the question of whether people will actually buy the Sony Reader and download books. (Incidentally, the book download is going to be analogous to iTunes.) As I said previously, I really like the e-tome concept (essentially a hardcover book with e-paper). I do read a lot of e-books, but that's because my nine-foot-tall bookshelf doesn't come to school with me, and most of my favorite books are on Project Gutenberg anyway. But for me, curling up to read a good book is a physical experience that can be delivered by an e-tome, but not by the Sony Reader (the lack of pages is my main complaint). I personally wouldn't buy one.

Primitive people not as stupid as originally thought:
Or at least that's the impression I get from this article. A researcher studied Amazon tribes to see how well they understood geometry, and was apparently shocked to find that they have the ability to understand spatial information.

Lady, do you know how much calculus you have to do in your head just to catch a ball?

Drinking cocoa is good for you:
Because of a chemical in chocolate called epicatechin, which is directly linked to improved circulation and general cardiovascular health. This article is linked to human behavior because it explains what I'm having for dessert tonight and why.

(Actually, I'm going to have a strawberry frozen fruit bar. But when strawberries get back in season, it'll be all chocolate-dipped strawberries, all the time.)

Farmers had more children than hunter-gatherers:
Once again, duh. For one thing, farmers need a good source of cheap labor. But this study has the skeletons to prove that shifting from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society leads to a baby boom.

So, what happens when societies shift from agricultural to industrial? I would guess that birth rates decrease, and because of the corresponding advances in medicine, infant mortality decreases sharply, so that the percentage of live births surviving to adulthood increases. But we won't know for sure until researchers use a bunch of our tax dollars to find out.

Higher education results in a greater belief in the paranormal:
Actually, I don't think a study of 439 college students supports this assertion at all, but it's still pretty interesting. In this study, seniors and graduate students were more likely to believe in paranormal phenomena such as ghosts than freshmen. More accurately, they were more likely to say they weren't sure, rather than checking "Don't Believe." And college students overall are
more likely to be unsure than the general population, even though they also are less likely to state that they do believe.

I'm not explaining it very well, so go read the article for yourself. It's pretty interesting.

And as for my opinion: let's just say I'm comfortable with the idea that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.

The last part of today's science news, Part 3: Miscellaneous, is on its way.

Today in the Science News: Part 1: Space News

There is a ton of interesting science news today. So much, in fact, that I'm breaking it into a couple smaller posts, which I should probably do anyway because those posts get pretty dadgum long.

I'll begin with space news, since we all know that's my one true love.

Kuiper-style belts found around two other Sol-like stars:
I bring this up primarily so I may point out that Pluto is a Kuiper Belt object.

By the way, for those of you who might be curious, "Kuiper" is pronounced "Kye-per." (I'm pretty sure.) The Belt in question is a ring of rocky, dusty debris that formed around Sol, our sun. According to the article, such debris rings have been inferred around many other stars, but only nine (including ours, and the two this article is about) have been directly observed on visible wavelengths.

Space.com's story about the belts also mentions the theory that our sun has a companion, called Nemesis, because apparently that would help explain the smooth edge of the Kuiper belt.

Of course, employing Occam's Razor, it's probably more simple to posit that we don't understand debris belts thoroughly, rather than to posit that there is a brown dwarf that we've somehow not managed to notice in our very own solar system.

Space junk!:
We do have a lot of space junk (old satellites, rocket stages, etc.) around the Earth, and it is somewhat of an issue. It doesn't affect the shuttle or ISS at the moment, because it's at a different altitude, but it could become more of a problem as space becomes commercialized.

But that key word, "commercialized," is what makes me not worry about it too much. I wouldn't be surprised if some company invents a way to gather and cannibalize space junk to help provide raw materials for their own endeavors.

1. Collect space junk
2. ?????
3. Profit!

CEV overhaul:
Apparently NASA has finally dropped the idea of using shuttle engines and instead wants to use an updated version of the Saturn 5 engine. Sweet.

CEV stands for Crew Exploration Vehicle, incidentally. My understanding at this point is that NASA is finally going about this the smart way. Instead of trying to have one vehicle do everything (as the shuttles currently do, or would do if they weren't grounded), we will instead develop a fleet of vehicles. One to get people to LEO (low Earth orbit), one to manuever people around once they're in LEO, one for unmanned heavy lift to LEO, etc. I just hope they have the sense to build an orbital manufacturing center, preferably at L4 or L5 (two points in the Earth-Moon system), because once we start making interplanetary trips, it will be much simpler, and cheaper fuel-wise, to manufacture large vehicles in microgravity.

And yes, I know this is one massive space geek wet dream. Just let me have my fantasy, won't you? While other women are fantasizing about a closetful of shoes and a pool boy, I'm fantasizing about leading a group to colonize Mars.

The Rocket Racing League!:
I read the headline and said to myself, "Wth?" but then as I read, I upgraded my initial doubt to,"Ok, that does kick ass." So, go read for yourself. Although I wonder where they will get pilots. Also, any crashes are pretty much guaranteed to be fatal, aren't they? Including a considerable hazard to spectators? I'm surprised the government hasn't stopped it. It must be incredibly tightly regulated.

As long as we're talking about Mars:
It had snow and glaciers once upon a time.


...ahem. Sorry. I should have known having an entirely space-devoted post was a bad idea. Fortunately, that was the last of the space news. Stay tuned for Today in the Science News: Part 2: Human Behavior!

19 January 2006

Random miscellanity

A handful of comments:
  1. Today's crossword took 14 minutes. I was offended by 60 down, "Uncool dude," which turned out to be "nerd"; but not nearly as offended as I was a year or so ago when the clue for "nerd" was "geek." They're totally different, people.
  2. A salad can't call itself a salad unless it's a grilled chicken salad on baby romaine lettuce with pecans, carrots, cucumber, and croutons.

    Actually, a salad can't call itself a salad at all, because salads can't talk.
  3. "New Horizons" is a really stupid name for a spacecraft.
  4. Pick-a-prof is worthless because:
    • It's not like I have any choices about what professors I can take.
    • I don't learn the same way the rest of you backwards, screwed-up people do, so your recommendations are absolutely meaningless to me, and even detrimental. Because of you, I got a B in physics 208 and lost my 4.0 in only my second semester.
  5. Damn you, goblin bee! Damn you!
Anyway, that's about everything going through my mind at the moment.

Being an engineer...

...often means you have a different perspective on certain questions.

For example, when filling out my application to graduate, I was required to take an "exit survey." When I read the question, "How often did you socialize with students or faculty from different backgrounds?" my first thought was, "Socializing, eh? Hmm, I'd say 'often' or 'quite a bit.'" Then I read the next question, which was, "How often did you work on projects with students from different backgrounds?" and I thought, "What? I almost never work with non-engineers."

It was a couple more beats before I realized that by "different backgrounds," they didn't mean "different intellectual backgrounds," but rather, "different amounts of melanin in the epidermal layer."

And then I couldn't answer the question because I can't possibly quantify how many people of each ethnicity I've worked with. You know why? Because I don't f'n care. People are people, not skin colors or countries of origin.

I wanted to refuse to answer on principle, but there wasn't any sort of comment option and I can't graduate without filling out the form, so I just went with the middle-of-the-road option on those.

The one that really got me was "How often did you critically analyze the work of an author whose gender, culture, or ethnicity is different from your own?" I'm an ENGINEER, morons. I don't give more than a cursory glance to demographic information when I read a research article, and when I do, it's because I like to know which institutions have what equipment.

Anyway, speaking of engineering and the great debt that society owes to those brave, intelligent, selfless souls who choose to pour their hearts and minds into helping others through math, New Horizons launched successfully. Next stop - Pluto!

(Actually, the next stop is Jupiter. And then Pluto. But somehow "Next stop - Jupiter" didn't sound quite right. And technically New Horizons isn't stopping at either place anyway, at least not until it runs out of fuel and crashes in a ball of fiery wreckage on Pluto's surface. We engineers call that "deorbiting.")


Prince Caspian will be the next Narnia book to reach the theaters. More Edmund! Whoop! But it's Dawn Treader I'm really waiting for. That has Edmund AND Eustace.
There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his classmates called him Scrubb. I can't tell you what his friends called him, for he had none.
Anyway, back to doing stuff.

I KNEW it!

I knew "Like Zorro" would win! Once I read those words, there was just no other competition. Anyone who can write a 128-word unpunctuated sentence about sex and then follow it up with "Like Zorro" can't be beat.

And yes, it's old, but I just now found it.

Tons of stuff to do today

but here's a face shot (with no Voldemort eyes!) to keep you busy while I'm running around offline. However, tonight, it will be The original picture has been replaced with a smiley face I will draw drew using the Gimp. No word yet on whether the smiley face will have Voldemort eyes.

I took a cursory look at the science news and didn't see anything that leaped off the page (except for a story about the face transplant patient using her new lips to smoke), but New Horizons is supposed to launch for real today. Right. I'll believe it when I see it.

Have a great day, everyone!

Update: As you can see, the dreaded Voldemort eyes managed to work their way even into this crude sketch.

And if you don't like my cobra, then I invite you to draw a better one using only the paintbrush tools in the Gimp and without referencing any pictures of actual cobras.

18 January 2006

My very first top ten list

Ok, so some of these aren't very good. It's late and I'm tired. Come up with better ones and I'll replace mine with appropriate credit.

Speaking of appropriate credit, thanks to someone for pointing out #1 and thus indirectly giving me the idea.

Top Ten Signs an Author Shouldn't Attempt Sex Scenes

10. Learned romantic banter from Michael and/or Brewfan.
9. Writes with the Disney Channel in the background, not realizing they are showing a "Zorro" marathon.
8. Keeps muttering about "skill ranks" in "seduction." (Contributed by someone)
7. Likes fun variations on strip poker, such as strip chess and strip Boggle.
6. Relies upon a dictionary that is missing page 698, on which the crucial word "placate" is defined.
5. Failed the biology test over human reproduction while cruising to an easy A on the test over differential calculus.
4. Can't understand what was so romantic about The Notebook.
3. Has only Harry Potter fan fiction as a frame of reference.
2. In high school economics class, devised a striptease move based on using one's arms to represent aggregate supply and aggregate demand.

And the #1 sign an author should not attempt a sex scene:

1. Refers to sex as "the procreation thing."

(Removed item: "Learned metaphors from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez." I still think it's funny, but it doesn't work if you haven't read the book in question. And if you haven't - don't. It's disgusting.)

The Battalion...

...really isn't worth posting about so far this semester. I think I'll put the daily feature on hiatus until something more interesting shows up in the paper. You know, something like '04's coverage of the Republican convention, when the front-page story ended with "See Protests on page 4." There was only one problem: protests weren't mentioned anywhere in the story. Not even in passing.

Seven minutes for today's crossword, incidentally.

Today in the Science News

Irish king has three million descendants:
Sometimes I just know a story will appeal to my readership. Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th-century warlord, is the ancestor of about 1 in 12 Irishmen, based on a study of the Y chromosome. Pretty impressive.

Among the names of families that trace their ancestry to Niall: O'Reilly.

New ion engine very powerful and fuel-efficient:
The ESA is testing a design for a new ion engine that produces an exhaust plume more than 10 times as fast as that in SMART-1's engine. If it survives the testing, it could be an excellent choice for a trip to Mars.

New Horizons roundup:
New Scientist's story on the scrub here, Space.com's story here, and Space.com's mission update page here. (It updates through the day. Or you can watch NASA TV.)

New Horizons will reach Pluto sometime around July 2015, assuming it does launch in time to use Jupiter for a slingshot. If not, it'll get there around 2020.

Stardust landed safely, will be opened:
It's been sent to NASA JSC to be opened in a clean room. A very, very clean room.

Face transplant patient did have a rejection episode:
But apparently she overcame it, and is doing very well. I personally think this is the money paragraph (so to speak):
"I want to have this thing clear on this point," Dubernard said. "We are doctors. We did it to aid the patient, not to make beaucoup," he said, rubbing his thumb and index finger together to mean money.
I dunno, something about the mental image just made me laugh. Anyway, I'm very glad that people who have suffered burns or animal bites or something similar can now look forward to the possibility of having a new face.

Looks like Hwang Woo-suk has himself a new job!:
There's only one catch. He would be working for a bunch of f'n lunatics that think humans are descended from clones of interstellar visitors and claim to have created six clones but refuse to provide any proof.

The not-providing-any-proof thing does sort of fit with Hwang Woo-suk's modus operandi, though.

Mars Mars Mars Mars MARS!!:
Sorry, I get so excited. Anyway, this is a pretty good story about the Mars Science Laboratory, due to launch in a few years and arrive at Mars in 2010. The article also mentions Mr. O, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will arrive at Mars later this spring, although getting into low Mars orbit will take a while. And Spirit and Opportunity are still going strong.

Yogurt bacteria modified to prevent HIV infection:
"Cyanovirin could be put into gels that women would apply to the vagina before sex." Or - and I know this is a crazy and wild idea - women could not have sex with people who have AIDS.


Women's armpit odors vary across their cycle:
I feel sorry for the men who had to sniff the cotton pads that the women had been wearing under their arms. But apparently women smell more enticing when they are about to ovulate.

Didn't we already know about the variation in armpit chemical production? Because I seem to recall reading a study that said women's cycles harmonize when they live together because of a chemical that's excreted through the armpit. I also seem to recall that the chemical was odorless, but that other women had receptors for it.

Bigfoot not found during woodpecker search:
I find myself wondering what the Skeptical Inquirer thinks of the Elmendorf Creature. I'm leaning toward the chupacabra theory myself.

That's about it for science news today. Have a look around the blogosphere for more interesting stories.

17 January 2006

Review of "Rad Decision"

So, I read Mr. Aach's book. To summarize, the book makes an entertaining thriller novel, with the advantage of having technical information that we can be fairly sure is correct given that Mr. Aach is evidently an engineer. As a literary work, however, it has several flaws.

First, it reads more like a novelized screenplay than a book. I get the distinct impression that Mr. Aach was picturing the film as he wrote. I know a lot of books that get published nowadays are like that, but I don't enjoy reading that sort of thing. One particularly annoying result is that the book jumps back and forth between characters, and in the first few chapters, it also switches time periods heavily. While the time period is given, and of course all the characters have names, I had a lot of difficulty keeping track of the ten or so principal characters, their ages relative to each other, their roles at the plant, their relationships with each other, and their family members.

I see this effect as a result of writing it like a screenplay, because with visual cues as one would have in a film, keeping track of the people would be much easier. I have read books that effectively switch between different foci for third person limited (Corelli's Mandolin comes to mind), but this one doesn't.

The early sections in which the reader learns about the power plant through the characters are somewhat pedantic, but necessary in order to understand later events. I'm not sure how that could have been done better, given the amount of technical knowledge that needed to be imparted to the reader. The story lagged quite a bit at this point.

Mechanically, the writing is better than a lot of published authors' (Christopher Rowley comes to mind). I spotted only a handful of mistakes, all of which I think were simply typos.

The climax did have me on the edge of my seat. I found myself feeling just a little sorry for the KGB agent, and rooting for the characters to pull through. But as the story enters the denouement, Mr. Aach kills off a couple of characters in a gratuitous, poorly-written sequence. I had the distinct impression that he killed them only because he felt the story needed some deaths.

I am very grateful, however, that he didn't inflict any sex scenes upon us. A lot of mainstream authors (Harry Turtledove comes to mind) seem to think that every novel requires at least one explicit sex scene that has nothing to do with the plot, and that said scenes must include ridiculous statements like "He saluted her without using his hands." (That's an actual quotation from one of Turtledove's Great War books.)

In short, Rad Decision was moderately entertaining, but does have some flaws, and starts off very slowly. So, read, or don't read. It's up to you. (To paraphrase Warren Bell on the Corner.)

Well, now I know I've made it.

I've already been linked by Ace and hat-tipped by Allah, and blogrolled by several of my commenters (and if you blogrolled me and I didn't return the favor, let me know). I thought the next step would be getting hate mail, but apparently, I've been traffic-whoring so effectively that now people are traffic-whoring here!
James Aach said...

Regarding the Brits and nuclear power - it's certainly a good idea if we understand what we can about our energy present, so we'll make better decisions about our energy future.

With the above in mind, FYI: there is a new techno-thriller novel about the American nuclear power industry, written by a longtime nuclear engineer and available at no cost on the net. "Rad Decision" provides an entertaining and accurate portrait of a nuclear power plant and how an accident might be handled. The book is at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com in a downloadable PDF file and also as short episodes for on-line reading.

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, who recently called for a second look at nuclear energy.

That's from today's science news comments. I looked at Mr. Aach's blogger profile and found that he is, in fact, the author of the novel in question.

I like to read, and I was amused by his bothering to leave the comment on this ridiculously minor blog, and the premise intrigues me, and I have nothing better to do tonight, so I'm going to take a look at his book. But be warned, Mr. Aach: I'll give an honest evaluation.

And just when I thought Nagin couldn't top himself...

The Beeb reports (via Michelle Malkin):

He said he had not meant that it should be an all-black metropolis, asking: "How do you make chocolate?

"You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he told CNN.



You have to wonder how long it took his staff to come up with that explanation for his remarks.

And, more importantly, who forgot to tell him not to placate?

I present to you...

...Mr. Brad Ausmus.

Only at AOSHQ...

...will a thread about the Golden Globes turn into a presidential flame war.

Go here and scroll down (way down; there was a lot of trolling). The first one was at 1:47 today, by "Taft."

Today in the Science News

"Ben Franklin's quirkiest ideas":
How about the idea that positive charge flows? How about that? Pretty quirky and hilarious to make every frickin' thing in electronics ass-backwards, huh? (Yes, positive charge flows in an aqueous electrolytic solution like interstitial fluid. But my point stands.)

You had a 50-50 chance and you were wrong, Ben Franklin. I hope your guilt haunted you all through the drunken stupor in which you spent the Constitutional Convention.

Unmanned planes for the UK military:
A glider and a jet-powered plane. Looks like they're a bit behind us in UAV technology. Not that I am an expert on the subject, of course.

Health research requires personal data:
Now this is a very interesting issue. On the one hand, obviously patients should have their medical data kept private. But at the same time, it's difficult to do studies without medical data.

Can't records be given to researchers without any names? I mean, they need to know that Patient #3 647 785 suffered brain damage after smelling dry-erase markers, not that he lives in Beehive Court, Redbridge.

Old people are less kooky when they exercise:
But the really interesting part about the article is this sentence: "The participants reported how many days per week they had exercised for 15 minutes or more, in activities varying from walking to callisthenics to swimming." Now the British spell "calisthenics" with two L's? When will it end?

Seriously, the study shows that exercise has a beneficial effect for people at risk for dementia. Good news.

New Horizons launching today (we hope):
It will be the fastest spacecraft ever, and will get to Pluto in about...actually, I can't tell how long. The article just says it's going to slingshot around Jupiter in a year, so, over a year.

New Scientist also says, "Pluto is the only planet in the solar system that remains unexplored by robotic probes." Well, you know what? They're wrong, because IT'S NOT A FRICKIN' PLANET!

Another entry for the list of side effects:
Now Viagra and Cialis are linked to optic nerve damage. Hoo boy.

Some people have too much time on their hands:
And by "people," I really mean scientists. This guy is spending all his time teaching computers to analyze music the same way humans do. To understand the beauties of classical music? To contribute to the dream (or nightmare, depending on your point of view) of an AI? No, he wants to sell CDs:
"I want to help people find music, and I want artists and labels to find people," said Dr Whitman.
Goals just don't get much nobler than that.

Brits less opposed to nuclear energy:
But only because it's greener than coal. Sheesh, I've been saying for ages that enviros ought to support nuclear energy. Of course, they also ought to support genetically enhanced crops, because they can reduce the need to spray insecticide, which increases biodiversity.

Bats with big frickin' ears:
Or so the article claims, but there's no picture, so we can't judge for ourselves. The part of the story that irritates me is that the landowner is no longer going to be allowed to cut his timber since the bats are endangered. He's been compensated, but still.

That's about all we've got today. I'm also distracted by watching the New Horizons launch on NASA TV. I'm starting to suspect it won't happen today...

Today in the Battalion

Whoop for the first installment ever of my Today in the Battalion series!

Hey! They moved the comics to page 4! And now there are Batt Blogs. Oh, this will provide me with HOURS of entertainment. So far, the three blogs have one post each. One is complaining that the Batt takes up all his time, one is raving about some independent film (and misspells "masturbates"), and one points out that there are bits of news that the Batt doesn't cover. No kidding. Last year, it took them a good three weeks to notice there were any riots in Paris, and when they finally wrote an article, it went on about how the riots were fueled by racism without even hinting at the race of the rioters. (Nor did they mention what I thought was the really interesting part of the story: the French failure to assimilate immigrants.)

The sports section never interests me very much, except for the bias against the Astros, but two things jumped out at me today. One was the headline, "Aggies keep up strong Big 12 play." Just once, it'd be nice to see that headline during the football season...

...and on that note, a football player who had committed to A&M is now going to Oklahoma. His reason? "Winning." Ouch!

For the first time ever, I agree with the main point of every column on the opinion page. This is terrible news, because now I have nothing to blog about. There aren't even any Mail Calls to mock.

And the crossword took 6 minutes to complete.


I just realized that when the instructor of my TWRF class E-mailed and said the first meeting of "the class" would be Friday, he meant the first meeting of the lab. Not the actual class. So I was supposed to go to class this morning.

Just one more reason why A&M's fun new idea about dividing labs into a 3-hour class and a 1-hour lab pisses me off. I know exactly why they're doing it, too. It's all because of USA Today rankings. See, USA Today used to count lab sections separately in the student-to-teacher ratio, and we have a lot of courses that have 80-100 students and 4-5 lab sections with 15-20 students apiece. So when USA Today stopped counting lab sections separately, our student-teacher ratio rose dramatically despite nothing having changed, and that affected our ranking significantly.

You can't tell me there's any other reason why the school's breaking up the courses. And it makes me mad, because first of all, rankings are irrelevant. I highly doubt they affect anyone's decision to come to A&M, because the sort of person who cares about USA Today rankings is probably the sort of person who thinks you can't get an education anywhere but the Northeast Seaboard. And for the same reason, rankings don't affect how employers think of diplomas.

Second, it hurts grades. Lab usually counts for 10% of the grade, and is (usually) a gimme grade. So when the lab is separated from the class, you could have 3 hours of B and 1 hour of A, instead of 4 hours of A. And that doesn't help anyone's GPR. Now, you could argue that perhaps the student deserved the B, and that's a legitimate point of view; but it doesn't seem fair for the exact same performance to rate an A in one year and a B the following year, when nothing has changed except for this completely arbitrary division of the course, and when the division wasn't done for any reason other than USA Today rankings. And it's even worse if the student has a high D. Then the student has to repeat the course, which he wouldn't have had to do under the old system. (I notice this turn of events generates additional revenue for the university.)

Anyway, now I have to talk to the instructor. Without being mad, which won't be easy since I was already pissed that the book cost me well over $100. This is not a good way to start the class. But at least I already know all the material.

16 January 2006

Whoop for traffic-whoring!

See? Skin. *points*

Update: The delay on this post got mentioned in the Cool Facts about John Bolton's Mustache thread.
Many of us are waiting for Mrs. Peel to deliver on her promise to "show some skin" on her blog. It was supposed to happen on Saturday night, but she got a visit from John Bolton's Moustache.

We could be waiting a month or more.

posted by Michael
Hmm...No comment.

Okay, I'm back.

Now, a question: Anyone have any tips on reducing severe red-eye? I've tried messing with the hue, saturation, curves, and even the lowly brightness-contrast, but all to no avail.

Of course, no one's going to be looking at my face, but still, I'd rather reduce my Voldemort-eye somewhat before I post the image.

13 January 2006

planned Internet outage...

...which should be resolved Saturday night. Here's hopin'.

Fry's and Wordsworth

I went to Fry's, the Nerd Mecca, today, and saw an abomination. As I strolled through the appliance section on my way to the cash registers, I saw something flickering out of the corner of my eye. Instinctively, I glanced at it, and saw that it was a television screen. It was mounted on the door of a refrigerator.

Let that sink in for a moment.

A television built into a refrigerator.

A television screen on a refrigerator.

This is so profoundly disturbing that I can't verbalize my dismay. I must resort to Wordsworth: "The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."

I'm still dealing with the concept of television screens inside minivans. I'm not ready to have them in refrigerators yet.

The Ultimate Goal!

Allah hat-tipped me!

I'm just stunned, because this guy is like lightning. Getting to a story before he does is pretty frickin' awesome. He didn't give me an actual link, but that's ok, because Plus, Ace linked me on the vampire story. So welcome to anyone who came via that link those links, and have a look around.

My gimmick is science news, complete with commentary that I flatter myself is amusing. "Spurwing and the Borg" has also been very well-received. Next week, I start another daily feature: "Today in the Battalion." (The Batt is our student-run newspaper, and it is ridiculously liberal.) It'll be great, so come on back for the first installment next Tuesday.

Update with correction: Allah updated the post to include a link. May he be praised!

And I really didn't mind that there wasn't a link originally. I was very excited about the hat tip, and certainly didn't intend to sound petulant, so I hope no one interpreted my words that way.

Lord Ares for Governor of Minnesota

Via Ace, an f'n lunatic.

There are so many things wrong with this campaign site that I'm at a loss to list them all.

*He slept with his half-sister and doesn't regret it.
*He was a pro boxer and a pro wrestler, and plans to become a pro NASCAR racer this year.
*He was once friends with George W. and Jeb.
*He is now on his 4th wife.
*He claims to have been nicknamed "Rocky" ever since he was 13.
*And, oh yeah, he claims to be a frickin' vampire.

Go read for yourself.

And personally, I'm calling bullshit, because even Minnesota wouldn't be crazy enough to let this guy on the ballot. Don't you need a certain number of signatures to be listed on a ballot? I suppose he could have gotten signatures from the two covens he co-owns, but still.

12 January 2006

Today in the Science News

Diet appears to reverse Type 2 diabetes:
Very good news. The diet, which is high-fiber and low-fat, and moderate exercise work together to slow the progression of Type 2 diabetes. About half of those who go through the three-week program are no longer considered clinically diabetic.

Hey, this pulsar is spinning faster than the models say is possible! It must be emitting dark energy!
Ok, the scientists didn't actually say that. I just like pointing out stories that demonstrate how incomplete our knowledge of the universe is.

Also, astronomers are not very good at names. PSR J1748-2446ad? At least call it "The Pulsar That Knew Too Much" or something.

Moore's Law may march on beyond transistors:
Nanoscale magnets can be cajoled into performing the same digital arithmetic as the transistor-based logic gates in computer chips, according to a new study.
The researchers built a logic gate using these magnets, which would allow for even smaller computer chips. Of course, there are problems, including the delicacy of the magnets. They would have to be shielded.

Personally, I still suspect that DNA computers may be the wave of the future. And I'm not alone in this conjecture. A friend and I took an honors math class together a couple years ago, and one day, the professor started talking about quantum computing. My friend started giggling, which I found odd given the subject matter, so I elbowed her and asked what was so funny, and she said that she was just thinking that by the time quantum computers were feasible, they'd be obsolete because we'd have DNA computers.

And robot cars are only the first step! Sure, they're protecting the pedestrians now, but what happens when they gain control of their own programming and start attacking instead?? Run for the hills!

Speaking of hills, my cruise control is pretty worthless when driving in hilly areas. So what makes scientists think I would ever let a robot have complete control of my car? Damn robots probably would never go above the speed limit, and they'd swerve around snakes instead of trying to hit them.*

Anyway, Congress needs to pass a law stating that every robot must have an Evil Indicator, preferably in the form of red LEDs.

*I'm kidding. I actually love snakes, mostly because they eat other animals I can't stand. I would rather find a 10-foot python in my living room than a cockroach.

Seeds to be stored in vault in the event of doomsday:
Women, minorities hardest hit.

I'm trying to decide if this is sort of cool or incredibly stupid. In the event of a horrible doomsday, who's going to be left to open the frickin' vault? What if everyone with access to it is dead? What if the vault itself is the site of doomsday? And, most importantly, is the secret access code being kept on a rat that appears to be a statue?

I think our time would be much better spent developing Enertrons. Maybe we'd still be hungry, but our HP and MP would be fully restored.
[The vault] will not be permanently manned, but "the mountains are patrolled by polar bears", says Fowler.
Polar bears. Right. Once again, how are people going to get to this vault after the asteroids have destroyed our centers of government? Now you're adding polar bears to the equation. Fowler, don't you know what happens to animals in the wake of nuclear events? I think such films as Them and The Killer Shrews have amply demonstrated the folly of allowing any animal life to continue within a 100-mile radius of strategically important locations.

Rabbit-human embryo in the works:
No word on whether it will have nasty, sharp, pointy teeth.

Seriously, some researchers are going to use rabbit and human cells to produce stem cell lines that will be used for research of diseases and treatment. I'm not sure if I'm fer it or agin it, but at least no one's murdered to provide these cells. (With the possible exception of rabbits, but they're disgusting, so it's no loss.)

Global warming is killing frogs:
What I said about the rabbits, but even more so.

Helical magnetic field wrapped around Orion's cloud:
Very cool, and the observation supports an earlier theory. You go, astronomers! 1 out of 1,000,000!

Tatooines not only possible, but likely:
But we all know it wouldn't be the bright spot of the universe.

Sony makes a reader for electronic books:
Not bad, but I still like the e-tome idea better. Basically, you would have a tome about the size of a standard hardcover book, with pages of e-paper. The inside cover would have the interface to call up whatever book you wanted, and then you could read the tome just like a regular book. Memory would be stored via USB stick, probably in the spine. I think it would be especially cool for college textbooks.

"Better than Star Trek"? No way!:
Dude, this door is so lame compared to the Next Generation doors. Where's the cool whoosh? And how long do you gotta stand there before it lets you in? Star Trek doors open as you approach, so you don't even have to break stride, as opposed to automatic doors nowadays.

Thanks for consuming the science news via an additional layer of editorial fact-checking. Come back again!

11 January 2006

Today's science news post...

...will be really late for reasons beyond my control.

In the meantime, here is some Alito-blogging at Michelle Malkin: Graham apologizes for smear attacks, brings Mrs. Alito to tears and Specter and Kennedy have a catfight!

Dafydd at Big Lizards, my biggest blog-crush, has some good stuff too, and there's not much happening at AOSHQ yet, but yesterday Ace posted a ton on Iran, so if you missed it, scroll down and get depressed.

Or you can surf over to Project Gutenberg and read some good books.

Do not, I repeat, do NOT look up the science news yourself. You would be consuming news with one less layer of editorial fact-checking, and we all know that's just not acceptable.

Update: Ah, screw it.

"Today in the Science News" will be back tomorrow morning, either right before or right after I go to Fry's. Mmm, Fry's.

Pat Robertson denied

I haven't said much about Prime Minister Sharon, because I was lost for words.

So instead I'll point you to Mere Rhetoric, a blog that is currently following the PM's status. I'm glad he seems to be recovering, but as Mere Rhetoric points out, strokes are very serious, and there's no telling how much cognitive ability he'll regain. I do have hope to offer, though, in that my mother's sister's husband's stepmother had a severe stroke several years ago, but has since recovered almost completely. I think it's frankly miraculous that the Prime Minister is still alive, given the severity of the situation as I understood it. My prayers go out to him and his family.

Mere Rhetoric also points out this story in the Jerusalem Post, about Pat Robertson being shunned by the Israeli government for the shameful remarks he made, which I won't repeat. Robertson was leading a group that was supposed to provide part of the funding for the Galilee Christian Heritage Center, but the Israelis are no longer interested.

To that, I say: Good.

I hope Israelis don't think that contemptible man represents America or Christians. He certainly doesn't represent me.

Today in the Science News

GRB study and dark energy:
This entire article is more proof for my theory that astronomers don't know what they're talking about. The article admits that dark energy is completely made up to explain inconsistencies between predicted and measured outcomes, and says that some astronomer thinks that the nature of dark energy has been changing over time because some gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are brighter than expected, according to his measurements.


Have these people even heard of Occam's razor?

People are sleepy when they first wake up:
If it weren't for scientists, we wouldn't know these things. I'm so glad my tax dollars go to fund these studies.

Seriously, the study says cognitive abilities are still significantly impaired even two hours after waking, and that immediately after waking, they're more impaired than they are if you stay up for 26 hours straight. Interesting. So if you have an exam tomorrow morning, you're probably better off pulling an all-nighter than getting just a few hours sleep. This flies in the face of both conventional wisdom and my exam-taking strategy. (Actually, my strategy for 8:00 A.M. finals includes getting up at 5 to go for a run, so that's good.)

Be part of finding star dust!:
Stardust@home is a project through which Internet users can help scrutinize microscopic images of the dust collector on Stardust, which will be dropping its cosmic samples soon, and find grains of star dust. Kickass! And according to Space.com, if you find a grain of dust, you get to name it. So I went to the Stardust@home web site and preregistered. The site warns us, however, that you're not guaranteed to be allowed to participate. You'll have to pass a test to qualify.

New inventions:
Apparently, this column is a new weekly feature at NS. One of the inventions:

Two German inventors from Bayreuth, Brian Schlede and Stefan Krug, have...come up with a battery-powered stand for paper that uses static electricity to hold the paper in place.

The upright stand is a like a picture frame, with an aluminium metal sheet sandwiched between two thin plastic films. A transformer feeds a few hundred volts at safe low current into the aluminium, to give it a static charge. The plastic film prevents shock but when a sheet of paper is laid over the sandwich it sticks.

But what really gets me about this is that the columnist goes on to say:
The patent filing is a useful reminder that sometimes the best ideas are sometimes the simple ones.
Hey, he's right! Here's a simple idea: PageUp $5.95

Navy field-tests line-of-sight communication device:
This is really interesting. Essentially, the device uses IR to transmit video and audio, so if you have binoculars fitted with the appropriate add-ons, you can talk securely over a distance of up to two miles. The obvious limitation is that it requires line-of-sight, but it's still pretty cool.

U.S. & Australia agreeing on climate change:
I love reading these articles from European outlets like the Beeb, because of the thinly disguised sneer running through every line.

Anyway, the point of the article is that we are dealing with pollution by exporting technology via the private sector.

Space lasers!:

There were some other interesting articles out there, but nothing else I really wanted to comment on. But you can vote for the greatest modern minds at LiveScience. I'm not sure how they're defining "modern" given that the list includes Kepler, Newton, and da Vinci, and I'm not sure how they're defining "mind" given that the list includes Noam Chomsky. Chomsky's average score is currently 2.5 out of 5 (in comparison, Stephen Hawking is at 3.5), so get over there and give him a 1.

Have a great day!

10 January 2006

Today in the Science News

Hyperspace engine redux:
New Scientist has a very good summary if you want more information on Heim theory, Droescher, and Heim's particle mass equation.

Bird flu not so deadly after all?:
The gist of the article is that bird flu may be going underreported due to mild cases that don't kill the patients, so that the overall mortality of bird flu is lower than it appears.

Here's something else to think about. Bird flu is in Southeast Asia (and now Turkey). I absolutely guarantee you that the mortality of severe cases would be significantly lower if it were in a thoroughly developed area like the United States (as was the case with SARS). I wonder why no articles ever seem to make this point.

India aborting females:
Going the way of China. What I hate about these stories is that they always have to include something along these lines:
But there could be other serious consequences, Jha speculates, such as an impact on the spread of HIV. “If there are fewer females to marry and form stable sexual partnerships then males may resort to the use of paid sex,” he suggests.

Alcohol serves as a date rape drug:

Air Force looking for a space war game:
This story reminded me that I've really got to read Ender's Game.

Scientists finally discover how bees fly:
The funny part of this story is the repeated references to ID, and the scientists being portrayed as saying smugly, "We do too know how bees fly! So there!" One is forced to wonder how many leading questions the reporter had to ask to get them to say anything on the topic.

(For the record: I think ID is pretty silly. My personal take on the evolution debate is that God created the heaven and the earth, but I don't care how He did it. To me, the important thing is to know that we are God's creation. But that obviously isn't appropriate for science class.)

Protesting New Horizons:
And no, not because the name is silly. NS and Space.com both have stories about a group of people (about 30) protesting at Cape Canaveral because we are about to launch New Horizons, which is going to Pluto, which is not a frickin' planet. The craft, appropriately enough, is fueled by plutonium. So protesters are concerned about the possibility of an incident during launch.

I like how New Scientist titles their article, "US warns world of Pluto probe's nuclear payload," which makes it sound ever-so-vaguely ominous.

But Space.com has the best scoop.
"We are few, but we represent many," said Peg McIntire, a 95-year-old woman with the group Grandmothers for Peace, who protested Cassini and other nuclear-powered space missions.
Grandmothers for Peace?!?

I couldn't resist. I googled them. Their home page has the following news items:
  1. Death toll in Iraq, complete with a reference to the war being "built on lies"
  2. How to make sure your child is never bothered by those damn dirty military recruiters
  3. Scholarship winners (From the guidelines for the scholarship essay: "3. Write a brief autobiography of your activities relating to peace and social justice, nuclear disarmament issues, and conflict resolution. ... 5. Describe how you will contribute to a peaceful and just society in the future.")
  4. A warning about Chimpy McBushitlerburton reinstating the draft, and how your child can register as a CO
  5. A tribute, written by the above-named Peg, to the founder of Grandmothers for Peace, which includes the following paragraph:
  6. She balked when the idea of starting a peace group was presented to her. However, her first arrest on Good Friday, April 20, 1982, at Mather Air Force Base, changed her perspective. “As a mother and grandmother, I could no longer remain silent as our world rushes on its collision course with disaster which threatens the lives and futures of all children, everywhere, and the future of this beautiful planet itself,” said Barbara. (Emphasis added.)
  7. "The Starfish Flinger," a tale about a young man chucking starfish that had been washed ashore back into the water. Let's hope he wasn't walking along the Great Barrier Reef.
You would think that some nice little old ladies could get together and be in favor of peace without getting arrested, but apparently not.

Personally, when I see military personnel, even the dreaded recruiters, I make a special point of thanking them for their service. And when I read about loonies and loony groups like this one, it only strengthens my resolve to continue doing so.

But I'm young yet. Perhaps my philosophy will change after my first arrest.