Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shadows of Venus

No, it is not the tale of some pulp sci-fi novel, though I should probably save that one. What I mean is that this week is the time to discover that Venus is the third body in the solar system capable of casting shadows on earth.
Instructions: Find a dark site (very dark) with clear skies and no manmade lights. Be there at sunset. You'll see Venus glaring in the southern sky: diagram. When the sky fades to black, turn your back on Venus (otherwise it will spoil your night vision). Hold your hand in front of a white screen—e.g., a piece of paper, a portable white board, a white T-shirt stretched over a rock—and let the shadow materialize.

If anyone gets a photo of that, drop me an e-mail with a copy, please.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Free Analysis

It appears that the CIA has taken to blogging about bloggers. I was once told a story about the CIA asking for hypotheticals from people outside of the Agency based solely on news reports. Much like virtual markets, the general consensus tended to be fairly accurate.

Now, with blogs, you have all sorts of people, on their own initiative, offering their views on current events. Once again, it is based only on open source information.

Hope this helps, guys.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Offensiveness Test

Imagine that you have this on a test:
One example: "I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes." "Coherent" is the right answer.

Replace "Republican" with "black" and lets see how long he keeps his job.
"The kids know it's hyperbolic, so-to-speak," he said. "They know it's tongue in cheek." But he said he would change his teaching methods if some are concerned.

Sorry, buddy, too little, too late.

Not Suing? How Un-American

Maybe the story about the sisters who were injured by the M&M balloon at the Macy’s Parade should give me some hope for humanity.
"We just count our blessings that they weren't seriously injured," the father said.

The family won't sue because it was "a freak accident," and "accidents just happen," he said.
I’m sure there are some lawyers tearing their hair out about this one. Thankfully, the worst of the injuries only required a few stitches. I am thankful, also, about the not suing part. It is more in keeping with the idea that a tragedy or near tragedy is more than a shot at the tort lottery.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Service to Humanity, Happy Thanksgiving

A list of phone entries that will bypass the robot at several major companies and take you directly to a human being. Not that the human will necessarily be better than a robot.

Link via John Cole

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Saved By a Hair

Looking for a plentiful, easily accessible source of adult stem cells? Try looking at your hair. More precisely, look at the follicle cells so beloved by the CSI franchise. Evidently, those cells harvested from a mouse have been effective in healing peripheral nerve damage in the same mouse. The beauty of this method is that it is the same genetic material, hence no issues of immuno-rejection.

Nice to know that I have plenty of follicular stem cells to spare. Particularly if more than the stuff on the head is useful.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Technology and Law Enforcement

I don't usually give a "read the whole thing", but I'm making an exception for Liquid Laws and America's Security Technology Quandary. From the extract:
The argument over new security technologies in America seem to always center around the proverbial "Big Brother Police State." However, this is not the paramount issue. The real issue is how our overly complicated and often "liquid" set of laws interacts with this new need for much more precise and flawless law enforcement technologies. And that is where a lot of our anti-terrorism efforts will break down.

Namely: too many laws with the main apparent check for liberty being the incomplete enforcement of the laws. Cool for speeding, not so good for anti-terrorism. It is a round about argument for a libertarian: enforce the laws fully, and then the focus will shift to bad law rather than cursing one's luck at having gotten caught.

Link via Electric Venom.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Right on More than Evolution

No scientist gets more negative press than Charles Darwin. Evidently he knew more than just biology. Add public affairs as well:
Darwin's theory has always been a lightning rod. In fact, Darwin worked on it in secret for more than 20 years because he was reluctant to deal with the controversy he knew it would engender.

It may not have been a survival advantage, but I certainly think that a peaceful life is the way to go.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

This Can Not Stand!

When is Congress going to do something about the outrageous price of coffee these days and the obscene profits posted by Starbucks and its ilk? One only has to look at the line of the drive-thru at five o'clock in the morning to see just how valuable a commodity Venti Lattes have become. $123.7 million in a single quarter profits, in summer no less, shows that Starbucks is only interested in lining its own pockets and not in the personal energy needs of its customers.

[/tounge in cheek]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Happened to the Boys?

Paralysis Through Analysis links to a Canadian study showing a linkage between endocrine disrupting compounds in the environment and female skewed birth ratios. Evan takes the position that this could potentially sound warning bells for other industrialized towns.

My question for this study is in what way are the compounds compromising the births of males. Are there children born female who are genetically XY? Or are males being miscarried due to errors created by conflicting chemical signals? What I am asking for is the linkage between cause and effect in this system.

Link via Open Source Media (Link in the Blogroll). So far so good with this new project, folks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Seattle's Jones Soda offering salmon-flavored soda
Van Stolk, who built his Seattle-based soda company by selling traditional sodas as well as exotic flavors such as green apple, bubble gum and crushed melon, said that "the most important thing (about Jones Soda) is that we can laugh at ourselves."

Asked whether he liked his new salmon soda, van Stolk said: "I cannot finish a bottle, I just can't."

Nothing like a ringing endorsement. Please, Jones Soda, bring back Dave (yes, that's the name), green tea with hemp. That one was actually good.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Odd Assertion

I have always found the drive to get into medicine to be one off the strangest. Someone would have to have a profound interest in their fellow man to do so, but in order to function one would have to inure oneself to the human element much of the time.

That people don't go into medicine without a drive to aid people makes this statement by Bobbi Schindler, brother to the late Terri Schiavo, ring very oddly:
“The medical community wants to refer to people like my sister who are disabled as vegetative because it dehumanizes them, it takes away their personhood,” Schindler said.

If anything, Mr. Schindler, it was the severe brain damage that took away your sister's personhood. While "vegetative state" sounds harsh, it does describe a harsh situation. Every test prior to her death (I won't include autopsy results in this discussion) showed that the portions of her brain that would act to create a human creature were gone. Whatever might have stayed alive was not Terri, nor would it have been functionally human.

So to say that the medical profession seeks to de-humanize people strikes me as absurd on its face, both in cause and effect. I doubt that hospitals would be such tense places if the staff didn't give a damn as to whether their patients lived or died. I doubt there would be hospitals at all in that case. Terri Schiavo was a sad though fortunately rare case. I am sorry that you were unable to face facts in this manner, as doctors are forced to do every day in the most human of sciences.

Issues of quality of life are important to my family. With that in mind, I point out that my father is doing well one year after his close call. We knew, and the hospital knew, my father's wishes should certain events happen. Thank God they didn't. You can never tell me that those nurses and doctors didn't care about the people they were caring for. More than the patients, as Dr. Cey of Kaiser Permanente gave my mother and I pillows and blankets for our vigil in the waiting room one year ago last night.

I don't usually speak for a group, but this is one instance where the statement must be repudiated with all my strength.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Storage Locker Bound

Lately I've been getting ripped on by friends who think that I am way off base for defending the oil companies with regard to their profits this past quarter. Much like discussions about the steel industries, they take the position that the commodity is too important to be left to market forces and that the US must maintain its own capacity. I'm of the opinion that if its too important for the market to regulate, then it is far too important for the government to be mucking around in.

I wish that I had this script for that discussion. Also, I would ask these older friends just what the wait in those gas lines were like. They complain that the higher gas prices are hurting their business, but money can be recouped with a dose of pain to themselves and their clients. There would be no way to recoup the time lost sitting in a three hour line, and when you have your own business, like they do, time is money, namely $60/hour.

If anything, here in California we were shielded from the effects of Katrina in that we have the special eco-friendly (*spit*) gasoline that only a few refineries make, none of which were in the hurricane zone. We only got hit for the crude prices rather than compete with the rest of the country. IIRC the disparity between California gas and the rest of the country closed, but not in a good way as their gas became more expensive while ours rose by a slower amount.

Last point in closing: get rid of those damn tax deductions and credits the companies are getting. Then they might use these feast day profits to insulate themselves, and us, from future famine.

Link via John Cole

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Going Meta on the Meta-Bigot

Link via Protein Wisdom

Yet another wrinkle on the whole PC use of words issue has been the rise of Meta-Bigotry in comedy. Sarah Silverman is highlighted in Slate Magazine as a case in point. Combine a perfect deadpan with lines that would get someone shot on any college campus in country, and you have a comic performance that cuts right back on the audience.
Everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ, and then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans. I'm one of the few people that believe it was the blacks." (The joke exposes not the ancient perfidy of any particular race but the absurdity of blaming entire races for anything.) Her best jokes are thought experiments in the internal logic of political correctness: "I want to get an abortion, but my boyfriend and I are having trouble conceiving." A Playboy interviewer, probing for something salacious, once asked Silverman if she had a nickname for her vagina. She answered "Faggot"—a throwaway joke that manages to kink sexual identity into such an ingenious pretzel it could fuel a doctoral dissertation.

This is comedy twisting around on itself so much that it has become abstract. There is nothing really here any more, the meaning has been lost under multiple layers of irony until the only things that are clear are the preconceptions of the audience. This is a perfect attack on the whole PC paradigm: Do you take it seriously or as deliberate baiting? Either way, you define yourself with your reaction.

Next time I hear of her in the LA area, I'm going for a show. This is clearly something that has to be experienced.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sad Story This

Get run over once, shame on driver.
Get run over twice, shame on snake.
A rare snake that had been saved once after a tangle with cars and trucks has been found dead after being run over by a truck.
Andrews captured and tagged No. 039 in 2004 as part of scientists' rediscovery of the species, which had been thought to be extinct in Vermont.

Granted it was probably the nice warm road that attracted it, but getting run over twice implies that this snake was just not destined for the gene pool.

Link via Dave Barry

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Take a Moment and Reflect

If there was a power source that turns physics on its head, and even the headline calls it a fuel's paradise, don't you think there should be a little skepticism?

Just as a point of reference, if you ever read something online that says that quantum physics is wrong, simply remember that a computer functions off of quantum principles. Therefore, the story must be false, because either the computer works or you are hallucinating about reading a story on a magic box.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Testing the Boundaries of Frustration

I never had much patience for crossword puzzles despite the trivia like questions. Recently I have discovered Sudoku, a number puzzle that has very simple rules and, in theory, no guessing.

I can get the easy ones done only most of the time, even using a solution guide that uses emergent patterns that result from mulitple applications of the rules.

Good luck.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I May Be No Milblogger

But I know a good cause when I see one. In this case, the cause is Project Valour-IT. The Project seeks to provide voice activated laptop computers to veterans who have taken injuries to their hands. Young vets, particularly those who serve in Iraq and Afganistan, rely on the internet as the means of staying in touch with their family and the rest of the world. Head over to Doc in the Box and make a donation via Team Navy. If the navy isn't your first choice of military branch, Sean provides a list of the bloggers representing the other services.

I haven't decided who to give through yet. It comes down to whether I still smart over that Air Force ROTC rejection back in high school.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Collective Syncronization as Excuse

Why does the most striking design for a footbridge wobble? Blame it on the occurance called spontaneous synchronization.
Collective synchronisation occurs in nature when crickets start chirping in unison. In some parts of the world, fireflies blink on and off in perfect synchrony like a Christmas tree. The monthly cycles of women living together have also been known to synchronize.

Sorry, guys, that explanation won't fly. Ever since the Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington state collapsed, natural frequency analysis has been part of any bridge design. And yet someone designs a footbridge with the natural frequency of people walking. Way to score an auto-goal on yourselves, chaps.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Personal Note

I have been working on a novel for the past two and a half months that I have serialized online as it came out. Some people say that starting the story is the hard part. To that I say "Hah!" Writing the ending is practically terrifying. I've seen enough stories come to thud-like endings, and I am afraid of doing that to this story. I will talk myself through with the assurance that it is only a first draft, but damn this gets harder as I go along.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More on Meaningless Government

This is in continuation of this post from earlier.

Glenn Reynolds has a response at Tech Central Station to the Peggy Noonan article from this past weekend. He has the point of view that the falling apart is more on the part of those who had the power over the years:
Yes, but what whole thing, exactly? Noonan seems to think it's the whole society, but that's not so clear. Certainly the extensive depression that Noonan attributes to coastal elites doesn't seem to show much in my circles. Nor in the circles of blogger Phil Bowermaster, who writes: "What is so all-fired important about the disposition of journalists and politicians?"

Patrick Eickert asks how Reynold's "Army of Davids" would handle issues of national security and immigration policy. Prof. Reynolds makes a good response in respect to energy policy (who needs the government in the first place?), and it touches on the better response to why those in government feel the wheels coming off.

That better response is that the government has too much on its plate is that it has taken on too much responsibility. How much better would the federal government function if it restricted itself to what the Constitution, closely read, allows? Better to do a few things well than to do many poorly. And repeatedly showing incompetence on many fronts is the fast track to irrelevance.

Damn, This Looks Cool

I know next to nothing about musical instruments. Writing is as close to "playing the keyboard" as I get. So I can't speak for the sound of this new guitar design, so I'll take the press it is getting as a hint that it might just play as well as it looks.

Ribs and skin are molded plastic. The formulation of the plastic was chosen to highlight the body's resonance. Resonance was something I thought wasn't picked up on an electric; that being the reason that solid body electrics work.

Any thoughts from those in the muscial know? I'd really love to hear from someone who has experienced this beast.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

If You're Going to Waste Your Time...

then please waste it at Game the World. I certainly don't waste much time writing it, unless it is a truly important issue where I refuse to characterize the time as wasted. Come for a chuckle, stay for the strategy.