December 2005 Archives

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Read this and a very Happy New Year to each and every one of you!

Alternative Fuels

Great article in the Seattle Times about the current state-of-the-art of bio-fuels in WA State (hint: Not Good)
Homegrown fuel: a waste of energy?
On a blazing day last July at his farm west of Spokane, Fred Fleming placed a machine that looks like a meat grinder the size of a truck engine on a concrete slab and started dumping tiny canola seeds into the top.

The machine kept clogging as it squashed the seeds into oil, and Fleming was reduced to slowly pouring in the seeds.

After three straight days under the searing Eastern Washington sun, he shut down the crusher. After all that, he had managed to produce about 400 gallons of vegetable oil, which eventually was sold to become some of the first homegrown bio-diesel ever made in Washington. The bio-diesel was a paltry trickle.

"That was one of the dumber things I did," Fleming said, recalling the heat and "wondering if I should really be committed and be in counseling."

Such is the state of Washington's bio-diesel industry � more farmyard experiment than full-sized factory.
Heh... A bit more:
Gov. Christine Gregoire recently proposed low-interest loans for bio-diesel factories, and a requirement that diesel sold in the state contain at least some bio-diesel. State lawmakers from both parties are vowing to promote similar plans when the Legislature convenes next month. And Congress last summer included a tax credit for bio-diesel in its energy bill.

At least four companies plan to build bio-diesel plants, and a refinery is already operating in South Seattle. But even the enthusiasts say there are daunting obstacles to actually making money. Skeptics point out that recent history has seen plenty of hype around crops like sugar beets that were supposed to be the salvation of Washington farmers but flopped.

"It's like an old carcass out there and everyone's circling to see if it's going to make us sick when we eat it," said Fleming, a fourth-generation farmer.
And these low-interest loans are subsidized by our tax dollars so as well as the much higher price at the pump, we are paying even more for this stuff. Price check on Aisle Five:
Tuesday, Laurelhurst Oil in Seattle sold bio-diesel for $3.18 a gallon, compared with $2.60 for regular diesel.
And more:
Though getting fuel from plants isn't new, the industry has been mostly confined to the Midwest, where corn is turned into ethanol and soybean oil is made into bio-diesel. Bio-diesel can be mixed with regular diesel or, in some engines, used alone.

But recent high gas prices and global warming, joined with farmers' hunger for a new lucrative crop, have people in Washington talking seriously about homegrown fuel.

While most of the bio-diesel today comes from soybeans, the oil can also come from canola and mustard seeds that grow well in Washington.
The unintended consequences here are that the government subsidization of corn into ethanol makes the price of other corn products rise. (Making ethanol costs more energy to produce than it yields in the final product -- ethanol is an energy sink, not a source) I had written about this several times: here, here, here and here The article talks about the boosterism that is going on trying to get the farmers to switch to oil crops but nobody seems to be putting up the $8 to $12Million plant to process the seeds efficiently. A quote:
"We need the capital for a crusher and a refinery, that's what it boils down to," said Mike Conklin, president of Palouse Bio-diesel, an alliance of four Eastern Washington farm cooperatives, including Cooperative Agricultural Producers.
And another quote:
Others, however, warn a mandate might only benefit huge Midwest biofuel producers, such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

"If we go with a mandate and a big-time program and we don't think of the producer at the farm level or the refinery level, we've done ADM a great favor but we really haven't helped the state's economy," said state Sen. Mark Schoesler, a Republican whose district includes much of the farm country south of Spokane.
And snake oil?
Hanging over all this is another specter: the legacies of strawboard and sugar beets.

In the 1990s, boards made from straw were hyped as an environmentally friendly substitute for wooden particle board, and also touted as a boon for Washington farmers. By the end of the decade, factories started churning out the boards.

But quality was uneven. Horses sometimes ate the grassy panels. And the boards often cost more than the wooden ones. The main plant went out of business.

Around the same time, a group of farmers in Moses Lake built a $100 million sugarbeet refinery. But equipment failures left beets rotting on the ground. Farmers lost big. Banks quit loaning on the crop. Four years after opening, the refinery shut down.

"You have seen a lot of snake-oil salesmen come through with the next best thing," acknowledged Conklin, the Palouse Bio-diesel president.
Excellent real-world writing. I would personally love to be able to use 100% bio-diesel at our farm but the economics just are not there. Using government subsidies to cover the additional cost is just a game of smoke and mirrors, the money still comes out of our pockets, it's just a different check that we are writing.


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Jen and I went in to town to see Syriana today. Awesome movie. You need to bring your brain along when you watch it but I mean this in the best of possible ways. From the IMDB entry:
From writer/director Stephen Gaghan, winner of the Best Screenplay Academy Award for Traffic, comes Syriana, a political thriller that unfolds against the intrigue of the global oil industry. From the players brokering back-room deals in Washington to the men toiling in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, the film's multiple storylines weave together to illuminate the human consequences of the fierce pursuit of wealth and power. As a career CIA operative (George Clooney) begins to uncover the disturbing truth about the work he has devoted his life to, an up-and-coming oil broker (Matt Damon) faces an unimaginable family tragedy and finds redemption in his partnership with an idealistic Gulf prince (Alexander Siddig). A corporate lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) faces a moral dilemma as he finesses the questionable merger of two powerful U.S. oil companies, while across the globe, a disenfranchised Pakistani teenager (Mazhar Munir) falls prey to the recruiting efforts of a charismatic cleric. Each plays their small part in the vast and complex system that powers the industry, unaware of the explosive impact their lives will have upon the world.
The casting is excellent, the locations ring true, the script is very taught and finely crafted. The movie comes from a book called: "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism" by Robert Baer. The Amazon reviews are pretty amazing. Go see it if you are politically curious. I am strongly conservative and libertarian but I would recommend this to anyone -- flaming liberal moonbat to arch right-winger. There is something (and lessons) for everyone in there...

Ten Worst

Chris Byrne at The AnarchAngel has compiled an interesting list:
10 Worst Americans
Okay so this is the megameme going on everywhere right now, and it is a toughie... I'mna post my list right now, and then expand on the why later.

I'm limiting my list to people who have been americans for the majority of their lives, and not just as a recent thing (various canadian and british actotrs for example), and who have had the worst impact on us as a nation, or whos actions typified the worst there is about us as a society; not jsut individual psychopaths or mass murderers.

10. J. Edgar Hoover: He almost singlehandedly created the worst elements of the law enforcement culture we have today, took actions that were harmful to the country simply because they increased his own personal pwer; and acted asan unelected legislator through the use of blackmail and dirty tricks

9. Rachael Carson: She created the modern environmental hysteria movement out of whole cloth.

8. Joseph McCarthy: Never has a man been so wrong, while being right. Through the most vile and despicable tactics he destroyed the anti-communist movement.
Visit The AnarchAngel for the rest of the list...

Unsticking a truck

In the "Hey Bubba, hold my beer and watch this" school of doing things comes this story (Hat tip to Nate at Wasted Electrons for the link)
Man's car goes on automatic pilot in Leroy
A Paw Paw man destroyed his car Wednesday after putting his toolbox in the driver's seat.

Calhoun County sheriff deputies said the accident happened when the man attempted to free his car from a muddy field by placing the toolbox on the accelerator, then getting behind the car and trying to push it free.

The man said he was lost in the Leroy Township area about 10:15 a.m. When he backed into a field to turn around on 1/2 Mile Road near J Drive South, the car became stuck in the mud, said Lt. James McDonagh.

"After several attempts to free the car, the man placed his toolbox on the vehicle accelerator, exited the vehicle and attempted to push the vehicle free," McDonagh said. "The man was successful in freeing the vehicle, although unsuccessful regaining control of the vehicle."

Deputies said the full-size Mercury sedan accelerated across a cut soybean field with the man running behind.

The car reached an estimated speed of 100 mph, traveled a half-mile, sometimes becoming airborne. The car then struck a tree.

Deputy Steve Hinkley, an accident reconstructionist, said the impact crushed the car back to the windshield and he used the damage to estimate the speed.

The man, whose name was not released by deputies, was not hurt. No tickets were issued in the incident.
Words fail me...

Victor Davis Hanson on Mexican Immigration

An excellent essay from Victor Davis Hanson:
Mi Casa Is Su Casa
"Shameful," screams Mexico's President Vicente Fox, about the proposed extension of a security fence along the southern border of the U.S. "Stupid! Underhanded! Xenophobic!" bellowed his Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez, warning: "Mexico is not going to bear, it is not going to permit, and it will not allow a stupid thing like this wall."

The allusions to the Berlin Wall made by aggrieved Mexican politicians miss the irony: The communists tried to keep their own people in, not illegal aliens out. More embarrassing still, the comparison boomerangs on Mexico, since it, and not the U.S., most resembles East Germany in alienating its own citizens to the point that they flee at any cost. If anything might be termed stupid, underhanded or xenophobic in the illegal immigration debacle, it is the conduct of the Mexican government:

"Stupid" characterizes a government that sits atop vast mineral and petroleum reserves, enjoys a long coastline, temperate climate, rich agricultural plains � and either cannot or will not make the necessary political and economic reforms to feed and house its own people. The election of Vicente Fox, NAFTA and cosmetic changes in banking and jurisprudence have not stopped the corruption or stemmed the exodus of millions of Mexicans.

"Underhanded" also sums up the stance of Mexico, masquerading in humanitarian terms the abjectly immoral export of its own dispossessed.
A bit more:
Mexico receives between $10 and $15 billion in annual remittances from illegal aliens in the U.S., a subsidy that not only masks political failure at home, but comes at great cost to its expatriates abroad. After all, such massive transfers of capital must be made up from somewhere. Poor workers who send half their wages to kin are forced to make do in a high-priced U.S. through two exigencies � they lower their standard of living here while often depending on state and local governments for supplemental housing, education, medical and food aid.

Rarely in the great debate over illegal immigration do we frame the issue in such moral terms: If life back home is improving thanks to money wired back, first-generation Mexican enclaves in the U.S. remain chronically poor, not investing where they live and work.
One more excerpt:
Americans liked their food cooked, yards kept and dishes washed cheaply � as long as the invisible workers with little education, less English and no legal status stayed invisible, and as long as illegal immigration could not directly be linked to plummeting public school test scores in the Southwest or 15,000 prison inmates in the California penal system. But somewhere around the year 2000 a tipping point was reached: the dialogue changed when the number of illegals outnumbered the population of entire states. There also began a moral transformation in the controversy, with the ethical tables turned on the proponents of de facto open borders.

Employers were no longer seen as helping either the U.S. economy or poor immigrants, but rather as being party to exploitation that made a mockery of the law, ossified the real minimum wage, undermined unions and hurt poorer American citizens. The American consumer discovered that illegal immigration was a fool's bargain � reaping the benefits of cheap labor upfront, but paying far more later on through increased subsidies for often ill-housed and poorly-educated laborers who had no benefits.

Nor is the evolving debate framed so much any more as left-versus-right, but as the more privileged at odds with the middle and lower classes. On one side are the elite print media, the courts and a few politicians fronting for employer and ethnic interests; on the other are the far more numerous, and raucous, talk-radio listeners, bloggers and cable news watchers, the ballot propositions, and populist state legislators who better reflect the angry pulse of the country.

Those who own farms and run hotels, who hire nannies and housecleaners, who head Washington lobbying organizations, and who staff the Mexican ministries, really do need the millions of illegals that in so many different ways serve their needs. But the American poor who wish to organize for better wages; the reformers in Mexico who need pressure on the Mexican government; and the middle class, which pay the taxes and tries to obey the letter of the law, are increasingly against illegal immigration. And they no longer much worry over being slurred, by their illiberal critics, as nativist.
Excellent thoughts... Victor Davis Hanson is worth reading. As for Mexican agricultural labor, Dr. Hanson has some insight in this as his family has grown grapes in California's Central Valley for several generations.

Prickly City -- New Years

Today's Prickly City was fun (and spot on):
Click for full-size Image

The NY Times and the T word

Dymphna at The Gates of Vienna has a wonderful post about the NY Times and its agenda:
Toying With Treason
A New York Post opinion piece got it right: The New York Times is �toying with treason� and has been for some time. Labeling The Times the �self-styled paper of record�, The Post thinks the Old Grey Doxy has plans to attempt to have its former loyal leftists return to the fold � the ones it lost when it reported on Saddam Hussein�s WMD:
Yet the paper has done more than merely try to embarrass the Bush administration these last few months.

It has published classified information � and thereby knowingly blown the covers of secret programs and agencies engaged in combating the terrorist threat.

The most notorious example was the paper�s disclosure some 10 days ago that, since 9/11, the Bush administration has �secretly� engaged in warrantless eavesdropping on U.S.-based international phone calls and e-mails.
The Post thinks that the Times, along with CNN and CBS, are trying to affix an impeachment proceeding against the President. This is a subject I�ve heard from leftists since Bush�s first election. They are still angry that he�s in the Oval Office and if they can help it, he won�t stay there � even if it means endangering our counter-terrorism activities. These are people who don�t mind being dead right; the important point is to be �right� and get Bush out.

As the Post points out, Bush has precedent on his side: two Democratic presidents who used warrantless searches:
both the last two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, used warrantless searches � and strongly defended them as fully justified under the authority granted the president by the Constitution. In fact, the Washington Times reports that Clinton expanded their use to purely domestic situations � such as violent public-housing projects.
Not only is the NY Times displaying a very large bias, they seem to be actively engaged in doing all they can to undermine the Bush presidency. They are pandering to their audience -- which is fine if you are careful not to have any actual effect but when your actions have consequences, you need to reconsider. Especially if you are billing yourself as "The Newspaper of Record" Maybe this is why their stock is doing so very well:

Unintended Consequences -- Socialism and Cialis

From the Helmintholog:
The triumph of capitalism
Scott Rosenberg reports that you can't even mention the words "socialist" or "Socialism" in comments on Salon blogs any more. For why? It's the Scunthorpe problem: the words contain a brand name for a viagra-type medication -- cialis. So the unresticted global capitalism of the spammers' economy has finally made it impossible even to mention an alternative.

Intel no longer Inside

It's now "Leap ahead" From Ars Technica:
Intel takes wraps off new logo and post-Pentium branding
Intel is gearing up to do a full-blown unveiling of their new platform branding intiative, in which names like "Viiv," "Solo," and "Duo" will replace the venerable Pentium processor name. In anticipation of the event, Intel has announced their new logo and tag line, as well as some more details of their post-Pentium processor branding.

This ABC News story has a graphic with the new Intel logo, which does away with the subscripted "e" in the company name and switches to an all lowercase font. The swooshy circle thing is retained, but the tag line "Intel Inside" will be replaced by "Leap ahead."

In all the update is long overdue, and I think it's a change for the better. Now if AMD would just get rid of that weird green arrow thing, all would be well.

Fighting Spam

If you run an email server, Postfix is a software package you should look at. Very simple out of the box and very configurable. I have run several Postfix systems for work and for some clients and have found the level of support to be excellent. And it's free. Plus supported by IBM as Open Source (the author works for IBM) Here is an excellent step-by-step description of how one user locked his email down to minimise SPAM:
Fighting spam at the server level
The last few evenings and nights were spent learning about the architecture of Postfix mail transfer agent, the workhorse responsible for routing and delivering email on a high percentage of the Internet's mail hubs, including mine.

The focus of my research has been controlling e-mail spam. My goal is to stop over 95% of spam that audaciously attempts to lodge itself in my inbox. As a result of my hijinx, I have not received a single spam message in the last four days, although there have been many attempts that were rejected by my all-new, all-souped-up spam filtering system.

I will describe my efforts, along with pertinent background information, for posterity.
Good stuff!

Guns and Gun Laws

Nice heads-up about guns and protecting citizens with strict laws over at Maggie's Farm today: Gwynnie links to this great article by John Lott at National Review Online and excerpts the following money quote -- John is talking about two nations where guns were essentially banned, England and Australia with a final paragraph about gun laws and violent crime in the USA:
Crime was not supposed to rise after handguns were banned. Yet, since 1996 the serious-violent-crime rate has soared by 69 percent; robbery is up 45 percent, and murders up 54 percent. Before the law, armed robberies had fallen 50 percent from 1993 to 1997, but as soon as handguns were banned the robbery rate shot back up, almost to its 1993 level.

The 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey, the last survey completed, shows the violent-crime rate in England and Wales was twice the rate of that in the U.S. When the new survey for 2004 comes out later this year, that gap will undoubtedly have widened even further as crimes reported to British police have since soared by 35 percent, while those in the U.S. have declined 6 percent.

Australia has also seen its violent-crime rates soar immediately after its 1996 Port Arthur gun-control measures. Violent crime rates averaged 32-percent higher in the six years after the law was passed (from 1997 to 2002) than they did in 1995. The same comparisons for armed-robbery rates showed increases of 74 percent.

During the 1990s, just as Britain and Australia were more severely regulating guns, the U.S. was greatly liberalizing individuals' abilities to carry firearms. Thirty seven of the fifty states now have so-called right-to-carry laws that let law-abiding adults carry concealed handguns after passing a criminal background check and paying a fee. Only half the states require some training, usually around three to five hours. Yet crime has fallen even faster in these states than the national average. Overall, the states in the U.S. that have experienced the fastest growth rates in gun ownership during the 1990s have experienced the biggest drops in murders and other violent crimes.
Gwynnie also links to another blog talking about conditions in Canada and how the Canadians are blaming the USA for exporting their spiraling crime problem... To quote from Robert Anson Heinlein: A well armed society is a polite society.

A cool tool

I am very fond of the Kevin Kelly Cool Tools website (blogrolled to your right). Today they feature something that is very cool:
TerraLUX LED Replacement Bulb
Turn your Maglite into LED

This item converts any AA or AAA Maglite into an LED torch, with the same brightness as the original, the same ability to focus the bulb, much longer battery life, and eliminating the need to ever change the bulb again. It fits in the same way as the bulb, and does not require any modification to the Maglite. This is a way to keep on using the sturdy Maglite casing and benefit from LED technology.
Jen and I have a bunch of Maglites at the farm. Bulb life is not an issue but battery life is. Even at $20 each, these would save a bunch of money in the long run. Available here: PocketLights and Amazon PocketLights also sells LED bulbs for C and D model Maglites TerraLUX also makes this puppy: TLE-4VUV Ultra-Violet LEDs... How cool is that!

Plame/Wilson outer found!

The person who outed Valerie Plame's position was revealed today (Thursday 29th). From Reuters:
CIA couple outed by 5-year-old son
The Washington couple at the heart of the CIA leak investigation had their cover blown by their small son as they tried to sneak away on vacation on Thursday.

"My daddy's famous, my mommy's a secret spy," declared the 5-year-old of his parents, former diplomat Joe Wilson and retired CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The former spy, who just retired from the agency, and the diplomat have been at the center of a CIA leak scandal that has reached into the White House.

They said they were headed to an undisclosed vacation location with their twins but stopped for a brief interview inside the airport terminal.
I thought it was an inside job...

A Flight Interrupted

How to piss off an airplane crew -- from The Guardian:

Castaway: the price of abusing cabin crew
When a middle-aged man swore at airline staff after he was refused a drink on a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, he got a sunshine break he had not bargained for. The pilot diverted the charter plane and dumped the troublesome holidaymaker 300 miles from his destination on a barren volcanic island off the west coast of Africa.

The 53-year-old man was confined to Porto Santo, a Portuguese-administered desert island, nine miles long and three miles wide, for 36 hours after local police questioned him over the air rage incident.

According to the airline, Monarch, the man appeared to be drunk and repeatedly insulted cabin crew and fellow holidaymakers shortly after the Airbus A321 left Manchester on Tuesday evening.

Heh... He was held there for 36 hours before flying on to Tenerife. How not to fly.

Data Security Defined (NOT!)

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How about this for data center security -- you put up amazing firewalls, secure the network and then let some crooks walk off with your backup tapes -- your un-encrypted backup tapes -- the tapes with more than 200,000 peoples SSID Bank and Credit Card numbers... From USA Today:
Marriott timeshare unit says customer data is missing
The timeshare unit of Marriott International is notifying more than 200,000 people that their personal data are missing after backup computer tapes went missing from a Florida office.

The data relates to 206,000 employees, timeshare owners and timeshare customers of Marriott Vacation Club International, the company said Tuesday. The computer tapes were stored in Orlando, where the unit is based.

The company did not say when the tapes disappeared. They contained Social Security numbers, bank and credit card numbers, according to letters the company began sending customers Saturday.

Over the past year, a series of personal data breaches affected high-profile companies including Citigroup, Bank of America and DSW Shoe Warehouse. The incidents have spurred calls for greater security and highlighted the perils of identity theft.

Vacation club officials reported the missing data to authorities and began their own investigation into the tapes' disappearance, according to the statement. MVCI planned to search for the tapes, to determine how they disappeared and monitor accounts for any unusual activity or possible misuse, spokesman Ed Kinney said.
I realize that accidents to happen and that encryption causes the data set to grow in size and overall, slows down the process but jeeezzz... This sort of stuff is the perfect definition for "critical data".

An image from the Internet

Every so often, you run into an image that just deserves to be shared... Here are a few previous ones: here, here and here. Tonight's came to me from an email list and my brain-pan is still hurting. To spare the Children, it is posted here as a pop-up link. To share the love, click here: Pudding Goth I am now looking for a bottle of Clorox to clean out my eye sockets...

Two new Energy Blogs

Ran into two good blogs that will be posted to the blogroll in a day or so. First: NEI Nuclear Notes Here is a one post they wrote (it's a group Blog) about Associated Press' reporting on Energy:
AP Editors: Energy Prices Biggest Story of 2005
From the AP:
Energy proved its economic power this year, as soaring prices reshaped the way consumers spend, put the squeeze on airlines and manufacturers, and ratcheted up pressure on already struggling U.S. automakers dependent on sales of SUVs. Then Hurricane Katrina hit.

The consequences and questions prompted by soaring oil and natural gas prices drove many of the year's top business stories, as chosen by the U.S. newspaper and broadcast editors surveyed by The Associated Press.
The other Blog is one oriented towards the Coal Industry: CoalBlog They are based in Canada and focuses on the Canadian Coal Industry but a lot of this directly affects the USA. Both Blogs are fascinating reading for people concerned about Energy, the Environment and what is being done. You will not hear these facts from your neighborhood "environmentalist" -- the people writing here are people who actually work in the industry and know what the realities are.

Twice-stolen picture

I was surfing a bit between programming sessions and happened over to Rob's blog: Gut Rumbles and this post:
Subliminal Message


WOW! I liked this picture enough to steal it from here. I couldn't resist. I know fine art when I see it. It's not just the T-shirt that sends a message--- the entire picture speaks to me.

First, study the guy's body language. He's kinda bowed-up and hostile-looking, as if he's ready to scrap at the slightest provocation. You can't see 'em in the picture, but I suspect his hands are balled into fists. He's staring, all beady-eyed, directly into the camera through red-neck Terminator glasses. My gut reaction was, "Don't fuck with THAT guy! He looks mean."

Now, check his garb. Denim shirt, unbuttoned in the front to display a formidable beer belly and an insulting T-shirt. Cigar poking from his mouth like an accusing finger. Red-neck Terminator glasses. Wild, unkempt beard. Ridiculous knit cap. My gut reaction was, "Don't fuck with THAT guy! He looks like he don't give a shit."

Notice the background. He's standing on a hill with some scrub woods behind him. That mysterious object on the left resembles an outhouse with the front door off its hinges. On the back of his right hand, the guy sports what appears to be a burn-mark, probably sustained while operating his moonshine still. My gut reaction was, "Don't fuck with THAT guy! He looks like an inbred hillbilly."

See how that picture affected me? I saw a mean, bowed-up, beer-bellied, beady-eyed, crazy-lookin,' don't-give-a-shit, inbred, moonshine-making hillbilly, saying "Go Fuck Yourself" to the entire world. My gut reaction was, "WOW! I LIKE that picture!"

Was it good for you, too?
Heh... Looks a lot like some of the folk who live around here. Now I just have to find out where to get one of those shirts.
Blogging has been light for the last few days as I am looking at getting an online store up for our Brownsnout website. Nothing to see there yet but want to have it online by mid-January. Also working on the blacksmithing stuff -- just got this nice sheet-metal tool from someone who was moving out of the area and needed to sell it. His price was about 1/3rd off the list and it was barely used...
I am planning to work a lot with sheet metal making lamp shades and decorative artwork so a tool like this will really help in the shop. Spent today building a rolling stand for it -- need to run into town to get casters and some more iron angle to finish it though...
An excellent speech delivered by Michael Crichton to the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy:
Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century
Some of you know I have written a book that many people find controversial. It is called State of Fear, and I want to tell you how I came to write it. Because up until five years ago, I had very conventional ideas about the environment and the success of the environmental movement.

The book really began in 1998, when I set out to write a novel about a global disaster. In the course of my preparation, I rather casually reviewed what had happened in Chernobyl, since that was the worst manmade disaster in recent times that I knew about.

What I discovered stunned me. Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don�t mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can�t write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die.

Undaunted, I began to research other kinds of disasters that might fulfill my novelistic requirements. That�s when I began to realize how big our planet really is, and how resilient its systems seem to be. Even though I wanted to create a fictional catastrophe of global proportions, I found it hard to come up with a credible example. In the end, I set the book aside, and wrote Prey instead.
It's a bit of a long read -- plan on taking about ten minutes -- but worth it. I am very glad that he didn't move on after writing State of Fear. This is stuff that needs to be brought to people's attention again and again until it sinks in...

Divine Justice!

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Jen and I really love our four Goats -- they are wonderful, perceptive, affectionate critters with great personalities and very very intelligent. Other Goats seem to be just as perceptive and intelligent as well. From the Zimbabwe Daily:
Billy Bashes Bob
A billy goat did some rough, instant justice to the President when his motorcade stopped to refuel en-route to the eastern resorts of Nyanga. The president, popularly known as Bob got out to stretch his legs, and speak to a couple locals. He was holding a bottle of water, when a Billy goat developed a profound interest and chose to pursue it. Whilst Bob swung the bottle at the goat, it quickly and sharply pierced Bob's scrotum, and large bowel. Mugabe's notorious bodyguards seemed unable to prevent the attack as the goat lunged towards the president, perhaps the goat should be handling his security in future. By the time they reached Christmas pass outside Mutare, the President was in horrible pain and had to be rushed to a secret location in Mutare for medical treatment.

It is not clear why the president was visiting Nyanga but Zimdaily understands Mugabe has a secret passion for gambling. He is rumoured to have visited Montclair Hotel in Nyanga endless times to fulfill his gambling desires, as he cannot use the facilities in Harare Showgrounds for security reasons. Grace Mugabe, the president's young wife, is believed to be in Pretoria doing what she does best, last minute shopping for Xmas.

Rumours are mounting that the couple have a strained relationship and to be in separate countries so close to the festive season is a telling indicator that this is indeed likely to be true. It is almost common knowledge that they no longer sleep in the same bed, so this twist in events is unlikely to make that much of a difference to a marriage that seems to revolve around convenience.

The president is also rumoured to be in the process of acquiring a private jet to allow him to make more frequent, long distance trips more securely and to reduce the burden of fueling hassles. He is expected to join Grace and the children in South Africa once the doctors give him the all clear.
Considering all that Mugabe has done for the people of Zimbabwe, it would be poetic justice if he died from peritonitis. Sloooowly please! Major hat tip to Mark in Mexico for the link.

An interesting case of Medical Ethics

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From the Christian Science Monitor comes this story:
Backstory: A pill they won't swallow
Dutifully wearing collared shirts, ties, and the short white coats meant to keep all medical students humble, Chen Kenyon and Dustin Petersen don't look like rebels. They look scrubbed and eager to learn from any doctor in a long white coat.

But in the pockets of their shorter garments lurk symbols of a movement aiming to topple one of medicine's most entrenched traditions. Their pens read "PharmFree," which means they don't take personal gifts of any size from the pharmaceutical industry. And that is touching off a quiet ethics war reverberating through the halls of academia and hospitals across the country.

Messrs. Kenyon and Petersen are among a growing band of stethoscope-wearing students who believe the medical profession needs more detachment from big pharmaceutical firms.

Consequently, they're turning down everything from free catered meals to notepads, provoking debates among fellow students and quizzical looks from doctors.

"People will often ask, 'why didn't you take the pen? Or, why didn't you eat the lunch?'," says Kenyon, a Boston University medical student who packs a sandwich, apple, and granola bar almost every day so he won't have to eat meals sponsored by drugmakers.

"It gives you the green light to talk about it when somebody asks," adds Petersen, who swears his home-cooked pot roast and clam chowder leftovers taste better than the catered meals he refuses each week.

Behind the modest rebellion is the belief that taking gifts from drug companies creates a conflict of interest for doctors. The argument: To accept handouts is to feel indebted, and doctors indebted to drug firms may not be prescribing medicines based solely on what's best for their patients. The 60,000-member American Medical Student Association (AMSA) urges students and doctors alike to just say "no" to all personal gifts from drugmakers.
Very cool!

Silliness at Google

Rather, 250 Pounds of Silly Putty (Dow Corning 3179 Dilatant Compound) delivered to this person's desk. From Google Blog:

I'm feeling silly
Not long ago, I walked by the desk of software engineer JJ Furman, and saw that he had made an interesting addition to his desk: a large blob of Silly Putty, about the size of a grapefruit. Intrigued, I asked how he'd gotten so much of the stuff. The answer? A bulk order directly from the manufacturer! Of course.

I knew then that I wanted some, and it dawned on me that I probably wasn't the only one. So I set out to place a really, really big bulk order. An email went out to cohorts. Their orders came in. Three weeks later, I had an eighth of a ton of Silly Putty delivered to my desk.


Looks like fun. According to the Blog entry, it was quite the effort to separate the individual lumps and distribute the Silly Putty to the people who wanted a piece.

World War Two posters

Wonderful collection of WW-II motivational posters. Includes this classic:
Suitable for Photoshopping...


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I ran into these at some byway of the Internet and thought that I had posted about them. Jen corrected me on this so here it is: Zubbles
And here is a fascinating 12-page article on them at Popular Science The PopSci article goes nicely into the chemistry and the inventor's almost-rans that lead up to a successful product. You are looking at a picture of a bubble that is colored. If it hits you, there will be a spot of color left behind. You have three options -- hit it with a bit of water - gone, rub it - gone or let it sit in the air for 30 minutes - gone. The chemistry behind this is awesome.

Light posting tonight

Doing some work on one of my other websites -- getting it ready for business.

Cooking with Cast Iron

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A couple of excellent websites for the care and feeding of cast iron cookware. I have a dutch oven that I love -- zero stick and very even heat. Here are the sites: The Irreplaceable Cast-Iron Skillet Lots of info on cleaning and re-seasoning. What to do and what not to do. (Cast Iron will warp and crack if not treated correctly.) The Wagner and Griswold Society (WAGS) These people are fanatics (grin) they even hold annual conventions. The site is a forum with topics ranging through Foundries, eBay, Patents, Cleaning and Restoring and Items for Sale. Lots of info here -- a very deep site. The Pan Man Online retailer of antique cast iron cookware. Some of the prices are pretty reasonable -- $25 for a nice skillet... And for cookware that has rusted to heavily to be treated with sandpaper, here is a very cool technique that I just used very successfully for something else at the Farm: Electrolytic De-Rusting. If the material is so badly rusted as to have pits, the pits are there to stay but this process will convert all of the Iron Oxide into Iron Metal but as a powder which can be scrubbed off after the treatment. You use a tub filled with water and a little bit of washing soda (Borax - Sodium Carbonate) and connect a battery charger to the workpiece and some sacrificial anodes. Do something else for a couple hours to a day or two (depending on rust level) and let electrolysis do the work for you...

Being Oppressed

Moore Watch delivers a fine rant about the Little Red Book scandal...

You know the one -- the College kid who requested a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and was visited by agents from the US Department of Homeland Security...

You do know that this was a hoax do you?

Here is Lee at Moore Watch:

Oppression is for Cool Kids
Here we see the latest victim in the eeeeeevil fascist Bush's war against dissent in his never-ending quest to implement a fascist state.
It rocketed across the Internet a week ago, a startling newspaper report that agents from the US Department of Homeland Security had visited a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at his New Bedford home simply because he had tried to borrow Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book" for a history seminar on totalitarian governments.

The story, first reported in last Saturday's New Bedford Standard-Times, was picked up by other news organizations, prompted diatribes on left-wing and right-wing blogs, and even turned up in an op-ed piece written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the Globe.
Wow, that's pretty bad, huh? I mean, I have a copy of the Little Red Book, and even a statue of Chairman Mao, on display on a bookshelf in my apartment. This concerns me greatly. Are Bush's fascist stormtroopers going to be kicking down my front door soon?
But yesterday, the student confessed that he had made it up after being confronted by the professor who had repeated the story to a Standard-Times reporter.

The professor, Brian Glyn Williams, said he went to his former student's house and asked about inconsistencies in his story. The 22-year-old student admitted it was a hoax, Williams said.

"I made it up," the professor recalled him saying. "I'm sorry. . . . I'm so relieved that it's over."
What? A left-winger lying about being oppressed? What? what? what the hell is the world coming to?
Williams said the student gave no explanation. But Williams, who praised the student as hard-working and likable, said he was shaken by the deception.

"I feel as if I was lied to, and I have no idea why," said Williams, an associate professor of Islamic history. He said the possibility the government was scrutinizing books borrowed by his students "disturbed me tremendously."
I'll tell you exactly why he did it, because this is a point I have made repeatedly for years. The left views the world in terms of two groups, oppressors and the oppressed. There is no middle ground, you are one or the other. If you're a middle class working Joe, you're still an oppressor, because you buy products at Wal-Mart and other stores, and they're made in Guatemalan sweatshops, where peasant labor is used. Thus, by being a middle class consumer, you are unwittingly an oppressor. The only people who aren't viewed as oppressors are the very people who make this accusation, the radical lefties.

And it just gets better... A short rant but spot on.

We wantsss our Precioussss

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Now this is cool... From telescope maker Celestron comes the SkyScout
From their website:
About the size of a camcorder and weighing less than 16 ounces, the Celestron SkyScout utilizes a consumer-friendly �point and shoot� technology that enables stargazers to point at any visible object in the sky, press a button and listen to commentary on the object and its history. The SkyScout also has a �locate� feature that allows users to select an object they wish to view (i.e. Mars) and the SkyScout, using illuminated arrows in the viewfinder, will actually point the user to the object. A totally unique, one of a kind product, SkyScout utilizes patented technology that combines data from sensors measuring both the magnetic and gravitational fields of the Earth, along with internal GPS and a substantial celestial database to dramatically improve how people learn about astronomy, making it much easier and more entertaining.
It has an internal database of 6,000 objects and comes with a SD card socket so you can add your own. You can point at an object and it will tell you what it is or you can use the navigation screen and request an object and it will display arrows through the viewfinder telling you which way to point to see it. Perfect either as a stand-alone observation tool for learning the sky or to use along with a telescope. No price listed but if it was around $300 or less, I would be on the phone with them today... A Tip of the Hat to GadgetMadness

Have a blast

This would be wonderful to attend -- dang it!

From BoingBoing comes this link to a Special Olympics event:

The World Pyro Olympics is an annual international competition amongst the most prestigious fireworks companies in the world. Nine international participants will showcase the best of classical pyrotechnic displays. On the final eve of the event, the sky will be illuminated by The World Pyro Olympics Fellowship of Fire Pyrotechnic Display - a joint fireworks display from the nine countries and the organizer, La Mancha Pyro Productions.

Look overhead

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Charles at LGF links to this not-so-unexpected news item at United Press International:
Overheads take up to 1/3 of tsunami funds
Up to about a third of the $590 million U.N. fund spent for the Indian Ocean tsunami relief may have gone to pay for overhead.

The Financial Times says its two-month investigation showed the money appears to have been spent on administration, staff and related costs. The $590 million was part of the United Nation's $1.1 billion disaster flash appeal.

The newspaper also found several U.N. agencies continue to refuse to disclose details of their relief expenditure in spite of earlier pledges of transparency by senior officials.
As one person commented at Charles' site: "What restraint!" I guess those limos and gourmet meals really eat into the budget...

Stalking the wild Gamma Particle

Hat tip to Maggie's Farm for this link to Right Wing Nuthouse and their excellent post on the outcry over radiation surveillance of Muslim properties in the USA:
The Warrentless Geiger Counter
I�m having a very difficult time this morning maintaining my composure. Well, let me put it this way � a harder time than normal. The reason is this latest kerfluffle over pointing scientific instruments at the homes and businesses of Muslim Americans in order to see if someone may be harboring nuclear material that could or could not be a nuclear weapon. The joint task force made up of FBI and Department of Energy �NEST� teams conducted the monitoring without first getting a warrant:
In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts.
Federal officials familiar with the program maintain that warrants are unneeded for the kind of radiation sampling the operation entails, but some legal scholars disagree.
I will take a back seat to no one in my support for the Bill of Rights � ALL TEN OF THEM. Liberals usually like to stop at about #8. After all, the 9th and 10th Amendments limit the power of the federal government vis a vis the states and the people which is a total anathema to your average lefty. Come to think of it, liberals aren�t very supportive of the 2nd amendment and even several parts of the 1st � like freedom OF religion. In fact, looking at a liberal�s translation of the Constitution, it would probably appear very similar to one of those documents requested of the CIA under the FOIA; so much of it would be blacked out that about all you�d be able to read is the page number.

That said, what has me breathing fire this morning is the idea that, in order to prevent the greatest of catastrophes � a nuclear weapon being exploded on American soil � people actually want the government to get a warrant to aim a Geiger counter at someone�s house. This is nuts. This is lunacy. This is as close to suicidal as one can get without actually putting the gun to your head.
Visit Rick's site to read the rest of this excellent rant. He gets into the telephone monitoring "scandal" too...

Russia's offer to Iran

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Russia made an interesting (and very good) offer to Iran but they refused it. From Iran Focus:
Iran rejects Russian nuclear offer
Iran on Sunday rejected an offer from Russia for the Islamic republic to conduct uranium enrichment activities on its soil, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

"We have still not received the concrete offer, but it is clear that we will accept positively the propositions and the plans that recognize the right of the Islamic republic to carry out enrichment on its own soil," he told reporters.

Russia on Saturday had said its proposal to create "on Russian soil a joint Russo-Iranian undertaking to enrich uranium still stands," despite earlier indications from Tehran that it was not interested.

The Russian embassy in Tehran put the suggestion put to the Iranian government on Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said.

"This proposal represents Russia's contribution to the search for a solution acceptable to all in the context of the settling of the situation... by political and diplomatic methods," it said in a statement.

The Europe Union wants Iran to accept the Russian idea that enrichment operations should take place in Russia without the direct involvement of Iranian scientists.
This points to the thought that Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons and that their ongoing program is not for nuclear power generation. The refinement requirements for each is different and it would be hard to conceal the weapons development if you gave the specific specs to the Russians.

History of Computer Animation

Nice long (20 sections) history of Computer Animation complete with lots of samples. From here:
Through here:
And beyond. Nicely done by Wayne Carlson. He is at the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design at Ohio State University.

TOTO is back!

Great news -- Toto is back with an album due February 10th. Here is their website. Lots of media clips and interviews. Good to have them back; they were one of my favorite bands for a long time...

Cool technology site

Very high geekdom. Meet Robert Hunt -- he is the proprietor of Tera Lab. From the website:

This site is an attempt to document some of the physics experiments and science projects which I have conducted in my laboratory at home. These experiments include high vacuum, electron optics and electrostatics. There is also a virtual museum of scientific instruments, antique lamps and antique valves.

Robert is way to modest -- his experiment list reads like a University Physics Department catalog. Lots of fun stuff. X-Rays, Plasma, Glass Blowing, Electronics. Enough stuff to keep you busy for a long long time.

A Christmas List

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The list evolves over time as people submit and vote on favorite entries but it is a fun read: "Top 129 Elf Gripes" Here are a couple of my favorites:
  • All the damned bells... the bells! THE BELLS!
  • Having to watch Santa's little smirk when you ask him to get something off a high shelf for you.
  • Forgetting airholes in certain packages. "I SAID I was sorry!"
  • Have to share the "doggie door" with a St. Bernard
  • Japan gets all the credit for the cool toys and electronics we make
  • Fantasy writers who portray us as effete tree-hugging mamma's boys
  • Santa still doesn't pay benefits
  • Exactly the wrong height when santa lets loose with an eggnog fart

The Soup Nazi

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Fun story from France. A group has set up a charitable Soup Kitchen for the homeless and poor in the city of Nice. Some people are complaining. Why? The Soup contains Pork... From Reuters:
French Christmas soup not for Jews or Muslims
An extreme-right French group has found a way to distribute Christmas cheer only to a chosen few by offering homeless people free hot soup containing pork, which observant Jews and Muslims do not eat.

The soup kitchen, set up at the harbour of this Riviera town, draws about as many protesters as poor people. Police stand guard between it and a Catholic charity group distributing vegetable soup outside their church.

Dominique Lescure, head of the small ultra-nationalist group distributing the soup, disputed charges by angry protesters on Wednesday evening that what he called his "patriots' soup" was meant to exclude Jews and Muslims.

"I don't see why I should not be able to put pork, which has always played a major role in my country's cuisine, into a traditional soup that I want to distribute, admittedly, to my compatriots and European homeless people," he argued.

"I'm not excluding anyone," he shouted in a heated exchange with a handful of jeering protesters. "We're tired of being treated like little Nazis. If a Muslim comes, I'll serve him, but the real poor these days are our people."
And a bit about the nationalist far right group:
The nationalist far-right is a strong fringe group in France, where its supporters feel under threat from Europe, globalisation and the country's five-million-strong Muslim community, the largest Islamic majority in Europe.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party, finished second in the first round of the 2002 presidential election, stunning the country and knocking Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin out of the race.
Emphasis mine -- so this is not some minor fringe group, this is a perfect example of the media bias. The media is spinning this "National Front party" as a minor fringe group and then France is Shocked, Shocked I Tell You when they finish in second place. This is a group that makes up a good chunk of the French population and their numbers seem to be growing. And the money quote:
A local left-wing militant said the protesters did not want Lescure's soup kitchen to operate unopposed.

"This pork-based soup kitchen is pure discrimination, it's an in-your-face way of telling people who don't eat pork -- you can stay in your cardboard boxes and starve," said Teresa Mafeis, holding back tears of anger.

"After the holidays, we're going to set up our own soup kitchen and there will be shorba for everyone," she said, using the Arabic word for soup.
Holidays? What holidays... If you are claiming to be Islamic, your major holidays are as follows:
  • Eid-al-Adha (10th Zul-Hijjah) January 21
  • Isra/Me'raj (Night after 26th Rajab) September 01
  • Nisfu Sha'ban (15th Sha'ban) September 19
  • 1st Ramadan (Fasting Begins) October 05
  • Lailatul-Qadr (Night after 26th Ramadan) October 30
  • Eid-al-Fitr (1st Shawwal) November 04
(the dates for the 2005 celebrations - they are based on a lunar calendar and are flexible) If you are really serious about this, start your Soup Kitchen NOW! If you are actually non-Islamic, stop whining and eat your tasty Pork Soup. Hat tip to my beloved and treasured Jen for the link -- Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!

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Wishing the best to all of you on this Christmas Eve
Don't forget to check Santa's Progress here.

Our tax dollars at work: NAIS

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NAIS stands for National Animal Identification System and if you think that Homeland Security and the FBI are doing invasive domestic surveillance, just wait until you see what the United States Department of Agriculture is proposing... From the web page describing Goal and Vision: (and why do I have this faint puckering sensation by my nether regions -- after all, this is the US Government and they are here to help us)
National Animal Identification System: Goal and Vision
The goal of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is to be able to identify all animals and premises that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery. As an information system that provides for rapid tracing of infected and exposed animals during an outbreak situation, the NAIS will help limit the scope of such outbreaks and ensure that they are contained and eradicated as quickly as possible.
Sounds noble and good so far but scope creep enters in:
The integration of animal identification technology standards (electronic identification, retinal scan, DNA, etc.) will be determined by industry to ensure the most practical options are implemented and that new ones can easily be incorporated into the NAIS.
And these toys will be paid for by whom? For another look -- here is the Draft Program Standard (PDF) for the database. A couple of things jump out. Only on Page 16 do we see any reference to mixed breeds. They have codes for Dairy and Beef, Swine, Goat and finally, they offer the option for Sheep: Crossbreed - Large, Crossbreed - Medium and Crossbreed - Small. We have two Black Welsh Mountain/Cheviot cross sheep and sure, these can be in the database as Crossbreed - Mediums. But we also have a Goat who is part Cashmere and part (we are guessing) Saanen. There is no option for mixed Goat. There is no option for mixed Dairy. There is no option for mixed Beef. There is no option for mixed Swine. There is no option for mixed Bison. There is no option for mixed Horse. Finally, the database seems to lack any method for tracking an animal from birth through several owners -- not much thought was put into its creation. It will do a wonderful job of tracking an animal from a first place to a second place but nothing beyond that without another record in the database and I do not see a field where that can be entered. Finally, the database spec was developed in the Java Language (not JavaScript) which is a good academic training ground but would be hell for someone to use on a slow machine on dialup. Which covers most farmers... Scott Queen (the developer) needs to find other employment; I would like to find out what he was paid for this... UPDATE: Jen just walked in and commented that this is a good system for finding out where a bad animal came from but it does nothing to find that animal before it enters the food supply. This is just a feel-good namby-pamby "Look at What We Are Doing" thing rather than having inspectors that do their jobs in the first place.

A fun test...

From BoingBoing

You will need to set up a free email account in another nation.

You will need to set up a website stub and have access to the log files.

Send provocative emails from your USA account to the one in the other nation referencing the website and see what happens.

See who shows up at your door... From BoingBoing:

Experiment to see if your mail is being tapped by the gov't
Richard M. Smith of ComputerBytesMan has come up with a "quick and easy method to see if one's email messages are being read by someone else."
  1. Set up a Hotmail account.
  2. Set up a second email account with a non-U.S. provider. (eg.
  3. Send messages between the two accounts which might be interesting to the NSA.
  4. In each message, include a unique URL to a Web server that you have access to its server logs. This URL should only be known by you and not linked to from any other Web page. The text of the message should encourage an NSA monitor to visit the URL.
  5. If the server log file ever shows this URL being accessed, then you know that you are being snooped on. The IP address of the access can also provide clues about who is doing the snooping.
The trick is to make the link enticing enough for someone or something to want to click on it. As part of a large-scale research project, I would suggest sending out a few hundred thousand messages using various tricks to find one that might work.

As Dave Farber notes: "It is not a good idea to try this if you hope to ever again fly on an American airline without first being strip-searched by the TSA monkeys." Link

Heh... Easy to do, free to do and you get to bug the government of your choice -- what's not to love?

A taste of heaven

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The Mercury News has a very nice story about the Guitar Store at the end of the universe:
Guitar heaven
40-Year-Old S.J. Store thrives with Old Values in Internet Age

It may be San Jose's most secret museum -- largely because it isn't called a museum.

It's a collection of vintage musical equipment worth more than $1 million housed in two giant 20-by-60-foot vaults tucked away in the two-building music store called Guitar Showcase at Camden and South Bascom avenues.

In the vaults are hundreds of rare, antique and historical amplifiers and guitars, some dating back to the Civil War, others played by Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana and members of Journey.

Aspiring musicians not only can look at the equipment, but also try them out, and hear how they sound on the instruments that defined the sound of their favorite musical masters.

"I feel like a kid in a candy store when I go in there," says Andy Just, 51, the frontman for AJ and the Shapes and a member of the Robben Ford Band.

"It's like getting to try a Ferrari. It makes me feel real cool."
And a nice comment by owner Gary Wineroth:
"I think there's a revival of live music after years of techno," says store owner Gary Wineroth, 58.

"Some of it is the baby boomers, who can now afford the instruments they always dreamed of. Look, who is selling concert tickets? The Stones, Paul McCartney, those guys are still going, and the music is being passed to a new generation."
Techno is a lot of fun but it's a bit like white sugar -- too much rots your teeth. There is a difference between dazzling someone with sequencer riffs and loops and holding an audience in the palm of your hand with a quiet solo...
I had written about this earlier here:
Little Red Book
Some interesting doubts are starting to surface over the authenticity of the story about two agents from the Department of Homeland Security visiting a student who had requested the Peking version of Mao's Little Red Book through an intra-library loan.
Now the American Library Association is taking a close look and they think it's questionable also:
Student Claims Homeland Security Has Book Watch List
A senior at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth says he was visited at his parents� home by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security who were investigating why he had requested a book by former Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong through interlibrary loan. The student, who has asked university officials to shield his identity, told two UMD history professors that the incident took place in late October or early November after he attempted to obtain a copy of the first English edition of the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, published in Beijing in 1966 and popularly known in China as the �Little Red Book,� for a class on communism.

The story broke in the December 17 New Bedford Standard-Times as the result of an interview with UMD faculty members Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, who mentioned the incident as an example of government monitoring of academic research. Williams told American Libraries, �The student told me that the book was on a watch list, and that the books on this list had changing status. Mao was on the list at the time, hence the visit, which was also related to his time abroad.�

UMD Library Dean Ann Montgomery Smith told AL that the student had requested the book by phone from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, not through the UMD interlibrary services as originally reported.

The UMD chancellor�s office released a statement December 19 that said, �At this point, it is difficult to ascertain how Homeland Security obtained the information about the student�s borrowing of the book. The UMass Dartmouth Library has not been visited by agents of any type seeking information about the borrowing patterns or habits of any of its patrons.� Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack stated, �It is important that our students and our faculty be unfettered in their pursuit of knowledge about other cultures and political systems if their education and research is to be meaningful.�

Kirk Whitworth, a spokesman for the DHS�the U.S. cabinet department that oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the Secret Service, and Citizenship and Immigration Services, among others�said in the December 21 Standard-Times that the story seemed unlikely. �We�re aware of the claims,� he said. �However, the scenario sounds unlikely because investigations are based on violation of law, not on the books and individual[s who] might check [them] out from the library.�

An earlier report that the incident occurred at the University of California at Santa Cruz has proven false.
C'mon now -- that particular issue is available for free download on the Internet. Why would this government invest all that effort to monitor books... Although in close memory is this little incident that happened about ten miles from where we live:
Library subpoena fight makes it to USA Today
The Deming, WA library story is getting a lot of play today with a first hand account in USA Today by its library director. This is the library in northwest Washington voted to go to court to challenge an FBI subpoena for records of people who had borrowed a biography of Osama bin Laden.

I was discussing the Deming scenario recently with a group of librarians and trustees. I was asked why the library should get the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award for this, when law enforcement followed the right process.

In fact, that is all that libraries ask - I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that libraries want to cooperate with law enforcement but just want to make sure state laws and user privacy is safeguarded by requiring a subpoena (some states) or a court order (other states).

Yet in this case, the subpoena was worth fighting (the FBI dropped the subpoena, by the way, after the library said it would move to quash it). There was no actual suspect, but instead it was a fishing expedition with the thinnest of evidence of a real risk.
Our local library system rocks big time!

The Real Estate Bubble

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The Real Estate bubble seems to be bursting a bit. From Richard Bennett:
Housing bubble bursting
New home sales declined 11.3% last month, the biggest drop in more than a decade:
WASHINGTON � New-home sales posted the biggest fall in nearly 12 years last month, while a strong surge in the volatile aircraft sector boosted demand for expensive manufactured goods.

Amid mounting interest rates, sales of single-family homes decreased 11.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.245 million, the Commerce Department said Friday. The plunge was the deepest since sales fell 23.8% in January 1994. Wall Street expected an 8.7% slide.
This is a good thing -- it will slow down development of farmland and it will give people a better chance to own their own house.
I received a comment that deserves a wider audience. I had written about Senator Harry Reid's obvious joy at the 2001 signing of the Patriot Bill and how he was recently leading the Senate effort to block its renewal. A reader named Dude dropped this comment:
You are clearly retarded.
Dude's email address is: "" and his IP address tracks him to Canada. I just love the articulate and open dialogue that Liberals espouse...


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Rhode Island is having problems with their Christmas Tree -- it's dead Jim! From Pittsburgh, PA WPXI comes this story:
New Fire Code Mistakenly Kills R.I. Christmas Tree
Rhode Island's official Christmas tree is dead.

Statehouse workers unwittingly killed the 18-foot Colorado blue spruce by drying it with commercial fans and spraying it with a fire-retardant chemical.

The workers mistakenly thought they were following a stringent new fire code that was enacted after a nightclub blaze in West Warwick killed 100 people two years ago. But it turned out that the requirement to douse Christmas trees in public buildings with fire retardant was lifted earlier this month.

Growers are rushing to get a replacement tree for the statehouse. A spokesman for Gov. Donald Carcieri said, "This one will not be sprayed."

The governor is suggesting the state might get an artificial replacement next year.
The fire was the Whitesnake fireworks display at Rhode Island nightclub "The Station" in February of 2003. An article is available at the Providence Journal. Use Bug Me Not for a username and password.

Non Sequiter

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The cartoon for December 20th was wonderful:
Click for full-size Image

Dumb Criminal / Dumb Victim

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From MSNBC/Washington Post comes this story of two very stupid people:
She found her master�s degree in a trash can
College student recovers only copy of thesis on stolen jump drive

When Linda Cerniglia went back to school, it took her almost seven years to get through all the prerequisites, the labs, the research. And it took a thief just moments to grab her purse, with the only copy of her master's thesis stored on a tiny jump drive inside.
And the theft:
One afternoon in September at Carderock Park, after doing some perfectionist tweaking of her almost-finished thesis, Cerniglia locked her things in the car. She went for a run along the C&O Canal, reveling in how great it felt to be almost done.

An hour or so later at her home in Bethesda, she realized her purse was gone. Her bank cards, driver's license, Social Security card, $1,000 worth of checks from clients -- she didn't care. But the jump drive was in the purse. And she still had not made a backup, even after hearing Doldo's "the dog ate my thesis" story.
She ultimately found the jump-drive in a Wendy's dumpster and the crook was caught on store cameras after using one of her credit cards. The cops got fingerprints to confirm his identity. Sheesh! I can see using a school computer and only having the jump drive to store your data but jeez -- email the thing to your personal mailbox, bring a second jump-drive, bring a CD-ROM disk as well -- anything... Like I tell my clients -- crashes and data losses are like car accidents, it doesn't happen very often but it will. It is not a case of if, it is a case of when...

Interesting look at Chronicles of Narnia

An article at Christianity Today points to a grand theme in the seven books.

Why There Are Seven Chronicles of Narnia
British scholar discovers hidden design of C.S. Lewis' perennially popular series.

In February, Michael Ward was reading Lewis' poem, "The Planets," published in 1935. A former president of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society, Ward lived in Lewis' home, The Kilns, for three years as curator/warden. Now living in Cambridge and working on his doctorate from St. Andrews University - with a dissertation on Lewis - while preparing for the Anglican priesthood, he knows Lewis' work inside-out. And as he read that poem, he noticed something that no previous reader had seen.

As Ward explains in an account of his discovery published today in the Times Literary Supplement, he was reading the section of "The Planets" that deals with Jove, or Jupiter, when he was struck by its resonance with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The poem speaks of "winter passed / And guilt forgiven," and goes on to give what is, Ward says, "essentially a plot summary" of the first book in the Narnia Chronicles.

By the medieval reckoning, there were seven "planets": Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn. Was it possible, Ward wondered, that each of the seven Narnia books was written under the sign of a different planet? Looking closely at the Narnia Chronicles side-by-side with Lewis' 1935 poem, and other of his writings that touch on the planets, especially his posthumously published book, The Discarded Image, a retrieval of the medieval worldview, Ward found that indeed there is such a correspondence: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe corresponds to Jupiter, Prince Caspian to Mars, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to the Sun, The Silver Chair to the Moon, The Horse and His Boy to Mercury, The Magician's Nephew to Venus, and The Last Battle to Saturn.

Each planet, in crude summary of the medieval understanding, represents a certain set of linked emotions and images, a temper, a disposition, along the spectrum. And these are reflected, Ward found, in the Narnia books, both in the big arc of each story and in countless fine touches throughout each volume.

We can imagine the reaction of the sort of Christians who have gone into a frenzy over Harry Potter. Astrology! But what Ward has discovered is entirely consistent with Lewis' Christian humanism. The imaginative worldview embodied in the medieval lore of the planets speaks to something fundamental in our experience; it is not to be rejected but rather baptized, made harmonious with the underlying Christian vision that governs Narnia.

Fascinating and very plausible. The link to the Times Literary Supplement comes up 404...

1-800 numbers

Can't say anything about the accuracy and up-to-datedness but, this is a list of 1-800 numbers for various major online retailers. Some of the numbers are publicly available but some are not...

Waking up in a cold sweat.

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Gerard van Der Leun had a dream -- that he got a new computer. He proceeds to deliver a wonderful rant:
Fear of Fritterware
Last night I had one of the most frightening dreams a man can have. I dreamt that someone, who hated me very deeply, got me a new computer for Christmas. I woke up screaming, but the dream persisted. The horror! The horror!

A new computer! I could just see it. It had everything: a processor so fast that it was measured in googlehertz rather than megahertz, more ram than the entire sheep population of New Zealand, a hard drive bigger than the Great Plains, and a megaplex sized-monitor capable of displaying 2.5 trillion ordinary colors at warp six and with such a blistering intensity that your eyes boiled in your skull. A broadband connection so huge it could suck the Library of Congress dry in a nanosecond. The CPU was covered in sable. The keyboard fashioned from rare woods. The wireless mouse was surgically implanted in my finger tip so all I had to do was gesture mystically.

It got worse.

This Christmas puppy came loaded with Fritterware. It had Pantless OS, BrokenWindows 2010, HomelessOffice 2004, Internet Deplorer, Fretscape, Opensource Godzilla, iEverthingEverywhere and Pong. The Paperclip was back as the host of a computer training program aptly named RageMaker. When I opened the box in my nightmare my first impulse was to rip open all the other presents in hopes that someone had given me a gun so I could just shoot myself.

Nothing is worse than life itself than a fully loaded new computer, and I've been using them for nearly 20 years. Setting up a new computer is like getting ready to French Kiss an elephant; you know it will be a new experience, but you know it wont taste like veal cordon blue.
Heh... Read the rest at American Digest

update on Mothers Against Noise

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Last December 19th, I had written about a group called Mothers Against Noise and posted a link to their website. The got their own domain and are now located at Mothers Against Noise Sheesh! Reminds me of Al Gore's wife's dealings with censorship a couple years ago. If these people get their nickers in such a twist over what their kids are listening to, why the f@ck didn't they do a better job of parenting...

Jesus and the Military

Interesting bit of news from the Washington Times:

Military chaplains told to shy from Jesus
To pray -- or not to pray -- in Jesus' name is the question plaguing an increasing number of U.S. military chaplains, one of whom began a multiday hunger strike outside the White House yesterday.

"I am a Navy chaplain being fired because I pray in Jesus' name," said Navy Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt, who will be holding 6 p.m. prayer vigils daily in Lafayette Park.

The hunger strike is intended to persuade President Bush to issue an executive order allowing military chaplains to pray according to their individual faith traditions. The American Center for Law and Justice has gathered 173,000 signatures on a petition seeking an executive order.

Seventy-three members of Congress have joined the request, saying in an Oct. 25 letter to the president, "In all branches of the military, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying."

About 80 percent of U.S. troops are Christian, the legislators wrote, adding that military "censorship" of chaplains' prayers disenfranchises "hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration and support."

Official military policy allows any sort of prayer, but Lt. Klingenschmitt says that in reality, evangelical Protestant prayers are censored. He cites his training at the Navy Chaplains School in Newport, R.I., where "they have clipboards and evaluators who evaluate your prayers, and they praise you if you pray just to God," he said. "But if you pray in Jesus' name, they counsel you."

Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic chaplains are likewise told not to pray in the name of Allah, in Hebrew or in the name of the Trinity, he added.

But the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the Greenville, S.C.-based International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, says restrictions on other religious expressions have "yet to be tested."

Curious but not very surprising...

A case of Justice by Blog

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel comes this story of a fatal car crash and the evidence that nailed the person who caused it -- an entry in their personal Blog...

Teen's blog confession forces him to plead guilty in fatal crash
"I did it."

Blake Ranking was a Eustis High School senior and still aching from a horrible crash three days earlier when he posted those words on, a site for Web logs.

"It was me who caused it. I turned the wheel. I turned the wheel that sent us off the road, into the concrete drain...," he wrote as his best friend, Jason Coker, 17, lay in a coma at Orlando Regional Medical Center. "How can I be fine when everyone else is so messed up?"

Coker never awoke from the crash Oct. 3, 2004. He died Jan. 11.

Although Ranking later retracted his words -- deleting them from the blog and penning an explanation -- they came back to haunt him, forcing him Monday to plead guilty to DUI manslaughter.

And his 'retraction'

Ranking's blogs hosted by three Web sites,, and, reveal a range of emotions, from rage for friends who blame him for the fatal crash to the joy of his 18th birthday. ("YAY," he wrote. "Now I can get a cool job, buy cigarettes, get a credit card, and order stuff off TV.")

Of his blog confession, he wrote: "People say I 'contradict' myself since I 'already admitting pulling the wheel.' I didn't 'ADMIT' anything. I went on a guilt trip, and I posted the story that I WAS TOLD . . . Nicole told me I pulled the wheel, I believed her."

The cops pulled a screenshot before Ranking thought to delete the post. I love his quote:

"YAY, Now I can get a cool job, buy cigarettes, get a credit card, and order stuff off TV."

Spoken like a true American Product. Stamped from the mold just like every other consumer. Jack in the 'individuality' chip to make them think that they are a trailblazing creative genius and set them on their way to bankruptcy and 3.7 failed marriages. And where have the parents been for the last 17 years?

Weapons of Mass Destruction

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From The Navy Times:
Huge weapons cache found
As the piles of missiles and rockets dug from the desert floor grew, smiles on soldiers� faces turned to scowls of serious concern.

Working on a tip from an informant, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division on Tuesday dug up more than a thousand aging rockets and missiles wrapped in plastic, some of which had been buried as recently as two weeks ago, Army officials said.

�This is the mother lode, right here,� Sgt. Jeremy Galusha, 25, of Dallas, Ore., said, leaning on a shovel after uncovering more than 20 Soviet missiles.

As the sun set Tuesday, soldiers continued to uncover more, following zigzagging tire tracks across the desert floor and using metal detectors to locate weapons including mines, mortars and machine gun rounds.

But the growing piles of missiles and rockets were of primary concern for the soldiers in Iraq, where bombs made with loose ordinance by insurgents are the preferred method to target coalition forces.

�In our eyes, every one of these rockets represents one less IED,� said 2nd Lt. Patrick Vardaro, 23, of Norwood, Mass., a platoon leader in the division�s 187th Infantry Regiment.

Vardaro would not comment on whether there were signs the caches had been used recently to make bombs, but the service records accompanying the missiles dated to 1984, suggesting they were buried by the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein.

Still, the plastic around some of the rockets � of Soviet, German and French origins � appeared to be fresh and had not deteriorated as it had on some of the older munitions.
Emphasis mine -- no wonder the Soviets, the Germans and the French were so adamant that the Coalition not invade. Those weapons were sold illegally. A nice bit of news at the end of the article:
Commanders in the 101st said knowing that an Iraqi tipped them off to the buried weapons could mean that residents in this largely Sunni Arab region about 150 miles north of Baghdad are beginning to warm up to coalition forces.

�The tide is turning,� Vardaro said. �It�s better to work with Americans than against us.�

Army officials would not say who had informed them of the weapons caches or whether national security forces including Iraqi Army and police had helped.

�A good Samaritan told us about it,� he said.

Taken with a grain of salt

... but ... From Turkish Press:

There are important developments and movements in the region, so Turkey's exchange of information with the CIA comes from this and is normal, said government spokesman Cemil Cicek on Monday about CIA Director Porter Goss' recent visit to Turkey, adding that Turkey has expectations from US about the terrorist PKK.

The money quote:

During his recent visit to Ankara, CIA Director Porter Goss reportedly brought three dossiers on Iran to Ankara. Goss is said to have asked for Turkey's support for Washington's policy against Iran's nuclear activities, charging that Tehran had supported terrorism and taken part in activities against Turkey. Goss also asked Ankara to be ready for a possible US air operation against Iran and Syria. Goss, who came to Ankara just after FBI Director Robert Mueller's visit, brought up Iran's alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons. It was said that Goss first told Ankara that Iran has nuclear weapons and this situation was creating a huge threat for both Turkey and other states in the region.


"Hello World"

The first usable program presented in the original Kernigan and Ritchie book on the C Programming Language was one that when run, would output the text: "Hello World" to the screen or printer. Here is a list of how various people would write the same application:

    High School/Jr.High

    20 END

    First year in College
    program Hello(input, output)
	writeln('Hello World')

    Senior year in College
    (defun hello
	(cons 'Hello (list 'World))))

    New professional
    void main(void)
      char *message[] = {"Hello ", "World"};
      int i;

      for(i = 0; i < 2; ++i)
	printf("%s", message[i]);

All the way through: Seasoned professional, Master Programmer, Apprentice Hacker, Experienced Hacker, Seasoned Hacker and Guru Hacker. The list ends with these three:

    New Manager

    20 END

    Middle Manager

    mail -s "Hello, world." bob@b12
    Bob, could you please write me a program that prints "Hello, world."?
    I need it by tomorrow.

    Senior Manager

    % zmail jim
    I need a "Hello, world." program by this afternoon.

    Chief Executive

    % letter
    letter: Command not found.
    % mail
    To: ^X ^F ^C
    % help mail
    help: Command not found.

    % damn!
    !: Event unrecognized
    % logout


Light posting today

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Had to go into town and we have a potluck Winter Solstice party later this evening.

Griping about wiretaps -- Echelon

This is the transcript from the February 27, 2000 broadcast of 60 minutes -- little has changed:

STEVE KROFT, co-host:

If you made a phone call today or sent an e-mail to a friend, there's a good chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country's largest intelligence agency. The top-secret Global Surveillance Network is called Echelon, and it's run by the National Security Agency and four English-speaking allies: Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The mission is to eavesdrop on enemies of the state: foreign countries, terrorist groups and drug cartels. But in the process, Echelon's computers capture virtually every electronic conversation around the world.

How does it work, and what happens to all the information that's gathered? A lot of people have begun to ask that question, and some suspect that the information is being used for more than just catching bad guys.

Steve interviews Mr. Mike Frost who spent 20 years working for the Canadian branch of Echelon. They talk about Echelon's scope:

KROFT: We can't see them, but the air around us is filled with invisible electronic signals, everything from cell phone conversations to fax transmissions to ATM transfers. What most people don't realize is that virtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed.

How much of the world is covered by them?

FROST: The entire world, the whole planet--covers everything. Echelon covers everything that's radiated worldwide at any given instant.

KROFT: Every square inch is covered.

FROST: Every square inch is covered.

KROFT: Mike Frost spent 20 years as a spy for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency, and he is the only high-ranking former intelligence agent to speak publicly about the Echelon program. Frost even showed us one of the installations where he says operators can listen in to just about anything.

FROST: Everything from--from data transfers to cell phones to portable phones to baby monitors to ATMs...

KROFT: Baby monitors?

FROST: Oh, yeah. Baby monitors give you a lot of intelligence.

KROFT: This listening post outside Ottawa is just part of a network of spy stations, which are hidden in the hills of West Virginia, in remote parts of Washington state, even in plain view among the sheep pastures of Europe.

The remote parts of WA State are not that remote. The transmissions to submarines are part of Jim Creek's function but there is a major listening activity there as well. There are a few other sites near Seattle. Back to 60 Minutes:

KROFT: The National Security Agency won't talk about those successes or even confirm that a program called Echelon exists. But it's believed the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal was captured with the assistance of Echelon, and that it helped identify two Libyans the US believes blew up Pan-Am Flight 103.

Is it possible for people like you and I, innocent civilians, to be targeted by Echelon?

FROST: Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a--a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, 'Oh, Danny really bombed last night,' just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w--was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.

KROFT: This is not urban legend you're talking about. This actually happened?

FROST: Factual. Absolutely fact. No legend here.

James Bamford has been doing an excellent job of chronicling the NSA. I read his first one: "Puzzle Palace" and he has two more out: "Body of Secrets" and: "A Pretext for War" Those people who are trying to tar and feather President Bush for his wiretaps of people in the USA trying to telephone suspected terrorists overseas need to realize that this sort of activity has been going on since the technology became available in the 1960's. This doesn't condone the activity. I am just saying that Clinton was doing it too, all Presidents were doing it.

Little Red Book

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Some interesting doubts are starting to surface over the authenticity of the story about two agents from the Department of Homeland Security visiting a student who had requested the Peking version of Mao's Little Red Book through an intra-library loan. BoingBoing has a good online discussion: Here is an excerpt from the original news story:
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
From BoingBoing:
UMass Dartmouth does not use SSN's for student ID's. An interlibrary loan request by SSN would seem to violate the University's own privacy policies (Link).
The reporter has not talked to the student. He has talked to the professors, who told him what the student claimed happened. The professors have no first hand knowledge of the incident.
The professors only "went public" with the story in response to a query about domestic wiretapping.
From the John McAdams writing at Marquette Warrior:
Apparently Bogus: Homeland Security Visited Student Who Ordered Mao�s �Little Red Book�
John covers the same points that the BoingBoing entries do and then continues:
Which brings us to the final problem. According to Jamie Zuieback, a spokesperson for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the largest investigative agency in the Office of Homeland Security) there is no such thing as a �watch list.� She insists that the agency is concerned with �violations of the law� and not with peoples� �reading habits.�

She does not contest that, if somebody has come to the attention of Federal agents, their reading habits (and much else besides) will be investigated. It�s just not the case that routine book requests are checked against some list.

Further, Zuieback says that, when the story broke, the agency�s office in Boston went through their records to see if some actual investigation was the source of the story, and could find nothing. One important proviso, Zuieback insists, is that without the name of the student (which is being withheld by the reporter who wrote the original story and by the University of Massachusetts), no definitive check is possible.
Of course, Zuieback could be playing a game of damage control and CYA but it still will be interesting to watch as this plays out...

Good example of Media Bias at The Guardian

I generally think that The Guardian does OK reporting but the way things are displayed shows a bias.

Take this example. Written by Luke Harding in Berlin it starts:

Schwarzenegger faces 'Tookie' backlash in Austria
Already in trouble with voters in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was facing a backlash in his native Austria yesterday over his decision last week to allow the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

Leftwing councillors in Graz yesterday announced that they are seeking to strip Mr Schwarzenegger - who was born and grew up near the town - of his Austrian citizenship. In a further protest, they also want to rename the local sports complex, now the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium, as the Tookie Williams Stadium.

OK -- Luke is writing that Arnold is not popular over there and that he is not popular over in California. Mr. Negative-Popularity. Must be something wrong with him. Luke then writes that a group of "Leftwing councillors" of the city are circulating a petition to revoke his Austrian citizenship and to change the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium to the Tookie Williams Stadium. Sounds like a groundswell people's movement! Power to the People! That sure is Speaking Truth to Power! Then there is this item: "Article continues" and a rather large advertisement. The placement of the ad puts the remainder of the article "below the fold" and it requires user action to read. The rest of the article is of interest too -- here are the last three paragraphs:

In a pre-emptive strike on Monday, however, Mr Schwarzenegger sent a letter to Graz's mayor announcing that he wanted to sever all his links with the town. "Graz will not have any problems in the future with my decisions as governor of California, because officially nothing connects us any more," he wrote.

Adding that he still considered himself "Austrian with all my heart", he went on: "The death penalty is law here and I have to uphold the law of the land and the will of the people."

He was returning a ring given to him in 1999 when Graz made him an honorary citizen, he said, and withdrawing permission for the football stadium to use his name. "Since the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me," Mr Schwarzenegger wrote.

They put the place where Arnold says Hasta La Vista Baby where most people will not see it. In case they change the layout, here is an image of the page in question: Click here for page image. Lest we forget exactly who Tookie was, here is his picture:


He murdered four people in cold blood and started one of the most vicious street gangs in the USA. His 'Children's Books' were ghostwritten. His 'Nobel Peace Prize' nominations are junk because the Nobel Committee keeps this information secret for fifty years. He was a common thug who only made the effort to redeem himself when it served him in his attempt to cheat death. His presence on this earth is not missed...

Playing Politics -- Democrat style

Hat tip to The Drudge Report who found this photo of President Bush signing the Patriot Act into service on October 26, 2001. From Drudge:
THE DRUDGE REPORT has uncovered a photograph of President Bush signing the Patriot Act in the East Room of the White House on October 26, 2001.

And standing over the President�s shoulder with a smile on his face is Democratic Senate Minority Harry Reid (D-NV)!

Reid is currently leading efforts in the Senate to block the renewal of the Patriot Act.

After Reid successfully prevented the Patriot Act�s renewal late last week the Senator attended a Democrat political rally and proudly declared, �We killed the Patriot Act.�

One Republican strategist familiar with the photo said, �Democrats think they can regain the majority? Not a chance if they continue to put politics above what�s best for the country. Harry Reid is making a colossal miscalculation, but it's not the first time and thankfully for us, probably not the last.�

The source for the Photograph is here: White House Here is the image -- notice Senator Reid's expression:
I know that people can change their opinion but if he was that much a proponent of the Patriot Act back in 2001, he should know that for the most part, it has been well handled and is still needed. Hypocrite...


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Nice concise entry at Egyptian blogger Big Pharaoh:
I wanted to read Noam Chomsky
I had a few minutes to spare during my working day today. I thought it would be a good idea to read Noam Chomsky's interview with Egyptian blogger Karim Elsahy who was interviewing the professor on behalf of Egypt Today magazine. I started reading and reached the sentence where Chomsky said:
I mean the level of religious fundamentalism in the United States is beyond any country I know.
That's when I laughed so hard, stopped reading, and went back to my boring excel sheet!
Classic clueless commie Noam...

A new vaccine for Anthrax

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Stunning breakthrough on several levels if this pans out. From the University of Central Florida:
UCF, NIH Study: Effective, Safe Anthrax Vaccine Can Be Grown in Plants
Enough anthrax vaccine to inoculate everyone in the United States could be grown inexpensively and safely with only one acre of tobacco plants, a University of Central Florida molecular biologist has found.

Mice immunized with a vaccine produced in UCF professor Henry Daniell�s laboratory through the genetic engineering of tobacco plants survived lethal doses of anthrax administered later by National Institutes of Health researchers. The results of the NIH-funded study are featured in the December issue of the Infection & Immunity journal.

Daniell�s research is a breakthrough in efforts to find a safe and effective method of producing large quantities of vaccine for anthrax, one of the top bioterrorism threats facing the United States. The new production method also could help the government and health care providers avoid supply shortages, as one acre of plants can produce 360 million doses in a year.
The technology involved and the other benefits:
Current production of the vaccine involves an expensive fermentation process that can cause harmful side effects such as inflammation, flu-like symptoms and rashes. This has prompted some people to refuse to be vaccinated.

Seeking a safer and more effective alternative, Daniell and his colleagues injected the vaccine gene into the chloroplast genome of tobacco cells, partly because those plants grow much faster than carrots, tomatoes and coffee. They grew the cells for several weeks in Daniell�s laboratory. Tests showed the vaccine taken from the plants was just as potent as the one produced through fermentation but lacks the bacterial toxin that can cause harmful side effects.

Researchers then injected the vaccine into mice to immunize them against anthrax and sent the mice to NIH labs, where they survived doses of anthrax several times stronger than the amounts to which humans have been exposed.

The next step for the anthrax vaccine would involve a company working with NIH to conduct clinical trials. Human subjects would be injected only with the vaccine and not with anthrax itself, and scientists would then check the subjects� immunity levels. The vaccine later could be mass-produced and stockpiled for emergencies.

Daniell conducted his study with part of a $1 million NIH grant and a $2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that cover research related to genetic engineering in plants as a way to produce therapies for several diseases. Daniell�s work holds promise for treating other diseases, including diabetes and hepatitis, and improving vaccines for plague, cholera and other bioterrorism agents.
Emphasis mine -- holy shit! Nobel Prize for Medicine if this actually pans out. But it keeps getting better:
Daniell is developing a new technology that would enable vaccines to be administered orally and allow effective and less expensive treatments to be more accessible worldwide. He believes fruits and vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes are the keys to figuring out a way for people to take anthrax vaccines orally in capsules of dried plant cells that contain correct doses of the protective antigen.

If that research is successful, the needs for requiring doctors to administer the shots and for shipping vaccines in refrigerated trucks, both of which can be especially difficult in poorer nations, would be eliminated.
Definitely a story to follow...

How to cheat at forums

Are you starting an online forum (phpBB or such). Need to achieve "critical mass" Check out these people: PostOnMyForum From their website:
What do we do?
We provide a team of qualified posters to post new topics or replies on your forum, message board or community. Our posters are selected in regards to your specifications. Our deep and diversified team allows us to provide you with posters who have a genuine interest with your website�s topic. They will join your forum and interact with your members, hence stimulating discussions and enhancing interest on your boards.

How can our plans help you?
A new community takes time to build because hard earned visitors don�t join empty or inactive forums. The key to all web-based community is activity. If there are multiple forums on the same topic, a visitor will most likely sign up on the one which has the most interesting posts. Hence, hiring posters can become vital in starting a new forum or in reviving an already established one.
They have several plans starting from $35 (1-20 new users and 100 new posts) all the way through to $285 for 5-50 new users and 1,000 new posts. Clever idea actually! I am starting a forum specific to our local geographic area and the initial user sign-up is glacial although I know there is a lot of interest. Having a critical mass of 30-40 online users would motivate a lot of the Guests to register and participate.

A letter from a Father

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Incredible email at the Mudville Gazette. Robert Stokely is the father of SGT Michael "Mike" James Stokely, KIA Operation Iraqi Freedom 16 Aug 05.
Came across your blog this morning, and thought I'd share my thoughts as the dad of an American Soldier killed in action four months ago. My son was standing cover flank for two buddies checking out a suspicous location in the roadway while on patrol at 2:20 A.M. 16 Aug when an IED exploded. He was the only one killed. Two soldiers suffered serious injuries and are now home on permanent medical leave, but both will live normal lives after they finish med rehab and surgery.
Robert talks a little about receiving the notice that his Son had been killed and what he has been thinking about. He goes on to talk about Cindy Sheehan:
For whatever reason, the last few days what Cindy Sheehan said "Casey didn't die for a just cause" has been on my mind. Maybe it is because some people have felt comfortable enough four months out to ask me how I felt about Mike's death and whether I thought the cause was "just" enough to justify his sacrifice.

My response is that Mike didn't die for a "just cause", he died JUST BECAUSE - just because he loved his country enough to want to serve it since the time he was in middle school; just because he loved his family enough to want to protect them; just because he loved his friends enough that he would rather fight a war "there" than here; just because he believed in our order of government whereby the civilian government rules and the military obeys, and when the President, with lawful authority, calls upon soldiers to go and fight, he believed it was not only his duty, but his honor to go; just because he wouldn't let his fellow soldiers - his guys - go it alone; and just because he wanted to do for others - the Iraqi people - what he would do for his own country.
Robert Stokely gets it. Cindy and her ilk do not. SGT "Mike" James Stokely and Army Spc. Casey Sheehan are true heroes.

Mob Boss dies in Prison

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One of the more interesting characters in Organized Crime passed away last Monday. From WNBC (New York):
Mob Boss Vincent 'Chin' Gigante Dies In Prison
Mob boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante, the powerful Mafioso who avoided jail for decades by wandering the Greenwich Village streets in a ratty bathrobe and slippers as part of an elaborate feigned mental illness, died Monday in prison, federal officials tell NewsChannel 4's Jonathan Dienst. He was 77.
His behaviour:
Denying he was a gangster, Gigante would wander the streets of his native Greenwich Village in nightclothes, muttering incoherently. Relatives, including a brother was who a Roman Catholic priest, insisted Gigante suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
He also turned his claim of mental illness -- first used to escape trial in a 1970 police-bribery case -- into a full-time strategy, behaving weirdly in public, checking into psychiatric treatment clinics whenever the FBI turned up the heat.

There were comic-opera moments: Once, agents serving a subpoena found Gigante standing naked in the shower, holding an umbrella. Another time, upon spotting agents watching him, he fell to the sidewalk and prayed.
The court date that put him behind bars:
Dubbed the "Oddfather" for his bizarre behavior, the former Genovese crime family head, an ex-boxer whose lengthy string of victories over prosecutors ended with a July 1997 racketeering conviction, finally admitted his insanity ruse at an April 2003 court hearing.

After nearly a quarter-century of public craziness, Gigante calmly pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his deception. He then chatted amiably with his son, shook hands with defense lawyers and even laughed at one point.
Say what you like about 'organized crime', these people had class and style. Look at the thugs today - just violence and misogyny, no brains or class...

Arnold terminates his home town

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I love it! From Breitbart:
Schwarzenegger to Hometown: Remove My Name
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday told officials in his hometown in Austria to remove his name from a sports stadium and stop using his identity to promote the city. The governor's request came after politicians in Graz began a petition drive to rename the stadium, reacting to Schwarzenegger's decision last week to deny clemency to condemned inmate Stanley Tookie Williams. Opposition to the death penalty is strong in Austria.

In a letter that began "Dear Mister Mayor," Schwarzenegger said he decided to spare the Graz city council "further concern" should he be forced to make other clemency decisions while he's governor. Another inmate is scheduled to be executed in California Jan. 17.

"In all likelihood, during my term as governor, I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions," Schwarzenegger said in the letter. "To spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium."

The stadium was renamed for the former Hollywood star in 1997. He asked that the lettering be removed by year's end.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said the letter was faxed Monday to the Graz city hall. The city council was expected to take up the matter next month.

In the letter, Schwarzenegger also said he would no longer permit the use of his name "to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way" and would return the city's "ring of honor."

The ring was given to him in a ceremony in Graz in 1999. At the time, Schwarzenegger said he considered it "a token of sincere friendship between my hometown and me."

"Since, however, the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me. It is already in the mail," the governor wrote.
Heh... The good Burghers of Graz received a bit more than they expected. They were probably thinking of making a "grand gesture" with their petition but still capitalizing on their town being Governor Schwarzenegger's Home Town. Now, they lost it all...

Happy Birthday Mary Jo

Mostly Cajun reminds us of a 65th birthday this year and talks about what has changed since then:

A Letter from Mary Jo Kopechne
I would have been 65 years of age this year. Read about me and my killer below.

When Sen. Ted Kennedy was merely just another Democrat bloating on Capitol Hill on behalf of liberal causes, it was perhaps excusable to ignore his deplorable past. But now that he's become a leading Republican attack dog, positioning himself as Washington's leading arbiter of truth and integrity, the days for such indulgence are now over.

It's time for the GOP to stand up and remind America why this chief spokesman had to abandon his own presidential bid in 1980 - time to say the words "Mary Jo Kopechne" out loud. As is often the case, Republicans have deluded themselves into thinking that most Americans already know the story of how this "Conscience of the Democratic Party" left Miss Kopechne behind to die in the waters underneath the Edgartown Bridge in July 1969, after a night of drinking and partying with the young blonde campaign worker.

But most Americans under 40 have never heard that story, or details of how Kennedy swam to safety, then tried to get his cousin Joe Garghan to say he was behind the wheel. Those young voters don�t know how Miss Kopechne, trapped inside Kennedy's Oldsmobile, gasped for air until she finally died, while the Democrats' leading Iraq war critic rushed back to his compound to formulate the best alibi he could think of.

Neither does Generation X know how Kennedy was thrown out of Harvard on his ear 15 years earlier - for paying a fellow student to take his Spanish final. Or why the US Army denied him a commission because he cheated on tests.

As they listen to the Democrats' "Liberal Lion" accuse President Bush of "telling lie after lie after lie" to get America to go to war in Iraq, young voters don't know about that notorious 1991 Easter weekend in Palm Beach, when Uncle Teddy rounded up his nephews for a night on the town, an evening that ended with one of them credibly accused of rape.

It's time for Republicans to state unabashedly that they will no longer "go along with the gag" when it comes to Uncle Ted's rants about deception and moral turpitude inside the Bush White House.

And if the Republicans don't, let's do it ourselves by passing this forgotten disgrace around the Internet to wake up memories of what a fraud and fake Teddy really is.

The Democratic Party should be ashamed to have the national disgrace from Massachusettsas their spokesman.

And the GOP needs to say so out loud!!!!!!!!

Quoted in full because it defies excerpting. The Home Page for Mostly Cajun is here: Mostly Cajun. One of the sites I visit regularly...


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From Techdirt comes this tale of woe:
Hacker Detection Firm... Hacked
You would think, if you're in the "unauthorized computer break-in prevention" business, that you better make damn sure that your systems are pretty well protected -- because you are absolutely going to be a target. However, on top of that, you should probably make sure that your customer records are encrypted and you don't keep information you're not supposed to -- like credit card CVV numbers. Unfortunately, it appears that Guidance Software did none of those things, and is now informing customers that their info had been stolen by hackers. In fact, Guidance didn't even notice the hack until two weeks after it happened, which doesn't bode well for its sales pitch on its new security tools targeted at law enforcement officials.
As one of the commenters at Techdirt said:
Clearly this company is going to be in business for a long time to come...
Youch! The money quote from the WaPo article:
Guidance stored customer records in unencrypted databases, and indefinitely retained customers' "card value verification" (CVV) numbers, the three-digit codes on the back of credit cards that are meant to protect against fraud in online and telephone sales, according to Colbert and the notification letter sent to customers.
Talk about a CLM (Career Limiting Move)

The top searches of 2005

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From Ars Technica comes Yahoo's list of top searches for 2005:
The Top Searches of 2005
Although there's still almost two weeks left in the year, Yahoo has closed the books on 2005 and have released the top search terms of 2005. The eight categories presented have one up on the seven deadly sins, and the amount of overlap between them should be seen as evidence for just how far true evil has pervaded the Internet experience. Are you ready for the number one search term of 2005?

You, in back, shuddap! No, it's not Iraq. It's not health care, it's not anything of weighty importance. It's not even Xbox 360. No, dear friends, it's Britney Spears. This, good gentleman and gentleladies, is the American dream: take two parts lackluster talent, three tablespoons of whiney, bitchy crap, add a freeloader for a husband, an ounce of weed, stir in a baby, and you have the most sought-after thing the 'net has to offer. Search me baby, one more time takes the top spot in web searches, the top spot in video searches, but slips to number three behind the buxom Jessica Simpson (#2) and vacuous shell of Paris Hilton (#3) in the images category. It must have been the baby-belly dragging her down. Why look at images of a woman heavy with child when you can look at a woman who you hope to $diety never procreates, but half the world wants to have sex with?
Heh -- to loosely quote Hermann G�ring: "When I hear the word "culture", I reach for my revolver."

A House Concert

I would not mind attending one of these but they are in Upstate New York. Dang!

From the NY Times:

Home Is Where the Fans Are
You drive down a rural lane near the base of Mount Overlook, off Route 212 on the east side of Woodstock, and negotiate a stretch of unlit bends and rises until you reach a turnoff marked with only a number. Turn right into the woods, bounce down a pitted dirt road for a bit and you come to a field where an older gentleman with a flashlight helps you find a parking spot. Exiting your car, you find yourself under a canopy of stars outside a large timber building, hearty blues music seeping out into the cold December night.

This backwoods juke joint is the home studio of Levon Helm, 65, the former drummer and vocalist with the Band, and one of rock 'n' roll's great figures. On this Saturday night, as he has once or twice a month for the past couple of years, he plays host to what he calls a Midnight Ramble: a night of music played casually by friends for friends, as well as roughly a hundred fans gathered over the Internet. Guests eat, drink and sit in front of a large bluestone fireplace watching a variety of acts. The night is capped with a set by the Levon Helm Band, a blues outfit featuring a local veteran singer and blues-harp blower, Little Sammy Davis, and a rotating cast of players.

And the music:

In the studio, Alexis P. Suter, a Brooklyn-based blues singer with a powerhouse contralto, belts out the Elvis-associated gospel standard "Precious Lord Take My Hand." Mr. Helm's daughter, Amy, celebrating her 35th birthday this evening, sits on the floor and sings along. Later, her band, Ollabelle, takes the stage. Named for the singer Ola Belle Reed, the band sings old-time spirituals and country songs with handsome, democratic harmonies that conjure the spirit of the Band; it even has a singing drummer.

The evening's special guest is Emmylou Harris, who arrives with Malcolm Burn, a musician and producer who lives in nearby Kingston. Dressed in tight jeans, cowboy boots and a black blouse, Ms. Harris balances a glass of juice on an old drum stool, tosses her trademark mane of white hair and begins a short set of signatures, including Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl" and the Louvin Brothers' "If I Could Only Win Your Love," the latter sung with dizzying harmonies by the guitarist Larry Campbell, who took a couple of days off a tour with the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh to come here and play.

But the evening's most moving vocals are yet to come. Near midnight, Helm, clean-shaven in a blue down vest, mounts a stool with his mandolin, his dog, Muddy, rooting around his feet. He sets into Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," a song he covered on "Jericho," a 1993 album produced by the Band in the wake of its break with the guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson and the death of Richard Manuel, the singer and multi-instrumentalist who hanged himself on tour in 1986. It's a song about hope in the face of desperate odds, and Mr. Helm sings it likes he owns it.

In fact, the line "Everything dies, baby that's a fact/ But maybe everything that dies some day comes back" has special resonance because, in the wake of a bout with throat cancer, Mr. Helm has until recently been unable to sing. But the voice tonight sounds strong, essentially the same Deep South holler that created Band classics like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" - a voice as ancient, murky and threatening as the Mississippi. The rasp of age and ailments only enhances the effect.

Ms. Harris then joins Mr. Helm for a couple of numbers: the Stanley Brothers' "Angel Band" and the Band's "Evangeline," which Ms. Harris sang with Mr. Helm on the "Last Waltz" album. Both voices well-weathered since then, they still mesh like blood kin. The evening finishes with Mr. Helm behind the drum kit, driving through a set that includes Bob Dylan's "Don't Ya Tell Henry" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man," and the Band's "W. S. Walcott Medicine Show," complete with a New Orleans-flavored horn section approximating Allen Toussaint's arrangement on the group's "Rock of Ages" album.

The sessions are available for sale at Levon's webpage.

The odd bit of good news from Iran

Call him what you like, Iranian President Ahmadinejad does have a shred of good taste. From Breitbart/AP:
Iran's President Bans Western Music
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iran's radio and TV stations, reviving one of the harshest cultural decrees from the early days of 1979 Islamic Revolution. Songs such as George Michael's "Careless Whisper," Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.
I can rest a little easier now that I know that this insipid "music" is not being played somewhere on this undeserving planet. An oasis of tranquility where the mind-crushing banality of "lite jazz" doesn't pollute the airwaves... Now if he would ban commercial illustrator Thomas Kinkade, I would consider emigrating.

Katrina Deaths -- only the poor

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Bzzzzt!!! The facts from the LA Times:
Katrina Killed Across Class Lines
The well-to-do died along with the poor, an analysis of data shows. The findings counter common beliefs that disadvantaged blacks bore the brunt.

The bodies of New Orleans residents killed by Hurricane Katrina were almost as likely to be recovered from middle-class neighborhoods as from the city's poorer districts, such as the Lower 9th Ward, according to a Times analysis of data released by the state of Louisiana.

The analysis contradicts what swiftly became conventional wisdom in the days after the storm hit � that it was the city's poorest African American residents who bore the brunt of the hurricane. Slightly more than half of the bodies were found in the city's poorer neighborhoods, with the remainder scattered throughout middle-class and even some richer districts.

"The fascinating thing is that it's so spread out," said Joachim Singelmann, director of the Louisiana Population Data Center at Louisiana State University. "It's not just the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East, which everybody has heard about. It's across the board, including some well-to-do neighborhoods."
Some numbers:
Of the 828 bodies found in New Orleans after the storm, 300 were either recovered from medical facilities or shelters that offer no data on the victim's socioeconomic status, or from locations that the state cannot fully identify. Of the 528 bodies recovered from identifiable addresses in city neighborhoods, 230 came from areas that had household incomes above the citywide median of $27,133. The poorer areas accounted for 298 bodies.

The state official in charge of identifying Katrina's victims, Dr. Louis Cataldie, said he was not surprised by the findings. "We went into $1-million and $2-million homes trying to retrieve people," he said.
And will Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan and Kanye West retract their claims? Don't hold your breath...

Democracy on the move... Bhutan

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Wonderful news from the Hindustan Times:
Bhutan shocked over King's abdication move
Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is reeling under shock and disbelief.

The Himalayan kingdom is stunned by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk's announcement about ending 100 years of royal rule in 2008 by abdicating the throne and holding the country's first national elections.

"The entire nation was bewildered when the king made this surprise announcement of stepping down in favour of the crown prince and holding democratic elections," Kinley Dorji, editor of Bhutan's national newspaper Kuensel, told the agency.

"The people of Bhutan did not really expect this historic and dramatic decision to come so early."
A bit more:
The transition began four years ago when the king handed over powers of daily governance to a council of ministers and empowered the National Assembly to force a royal abdication if the motion was backed by three-quarters of its membership.

Bhutan earlier this year unveiled a 34-point constitution, which is now being sent to some 530,000 citizens for their views and was expected to be ratified after a referendum.

Once adopted, the constitution will swap a royal decree of 1953 giving the monarchy absolute power and alter Bhutan into a parliamentary democracy.
Very cool -- here is the page for Bhutan from the CIA World Factbook

Item #348 in the "Get A Life" department...

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I present Mothers Against Noise: (the spelling and punctuation errors are present at the original webpage)
Mothers Against Noise
Hello, and welcome to the Mothers Against Noise webpage! If you are a concerned parent whose child is listening to NOISE and would like to do something about it you have come to the right place.

Noise music is music that uses unpleasant or painful or extremely loud or discordant sound.


Noise music causes ear and brain damage!! "Noise" is worldwide 'musical' style that is stealing the minds and souls of our youth. If you thought Rap, Punk, Heavy Metal or any other past degenerate "music" trend was a threat... WAKE UP!! Inform yourself! DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! We are not going to take this sitting down!

Were a new organization and need your help! Right now: we need help compiling lists of noise bands and record labels so parents can go thru their childrens CDs and remove offending titles. Also we are looking for quotes from noise 'musicians' that show the true nature of what we are up against!
A case story:
Well, I just returned from my son's room where I found a record that has got to be themost offensive recording I have ever heard. It is by 2 bands on what my son called a "split" release. What ever that means. Anyway, the lyrics are utterly disgusting and disturbing. The record is by two groups called Nicole 12 and Prurient. It comes with a lyric sheet of some of the most horrid descriptions of pedophilia and fantisies of sex with AIDS patients. And I DO NOT know where this record cover could have been manufactured legally. I have taken away ALL of my sons music (including his iPod) and his father and I will be going though each one. Below is a list of some of them that I can tell you, just by reading song titles or looking at the record covers, need to be destoryed if you find them in your childs collection. These are ones that just on site were thrown in the garbage.
This is insane. You raise your child with no direction, do not bother to monitor his habits and allow him all sorts of free access to anything he wants and then, you have the unmitigated gall to blame him and take away all of his music, throwing away the stuff you arbitrarily deem to be "garbage". The obvious result is that your kid will become more secretive, hiding the music files on his computer and will no longer respect your decisions. The issue here is proper parenting, not a nanny-like top-down meddling "for your own good"...

Jurassic Park here we come...

Very cool! From the BBC:

Extinct Mammoth DNA decoded
Scientists have pieced together part of the genetic recipe of the extinct woolly mammoth.

The 5,000 DNA letters spell out the genetic code of its mitochondria, the structures in the cell that generate energy.

The research, published in the online edition of Nature, gives an insight into the elephant family tree.

It shows that the mammoth was most closely related to the Asian rather than the African elephant.

The three groups split from a common ancestor about six million years ago, with Asian elephants and mammoths diverging about half a million years later.

"We have finally resolved the phylogeny of the mammoth which has been controversial for the last 10 years," lead author Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told the BBC News website.

You need to note that this is Mitochondrial DNA and not Nuclear DNA. The Nucleus of the cell has the information on how the cell was constructed, the mitochondrion is a very strange hanger-on that evolved from a endosymbiotic prokaryote to a component of the cell.

We need the Nuclear DNA if we want to build ourselves a Mammoth although the Mitochondrial will point us in the right direction if we want to start selective breeding of Elephants (Mammoths who lost their fur).

A case of Nuance... Please...

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Russell Wardlow compares two world leaders and drives home the f@cking obvious...
Wherein I Play the Nuance Game
Note to elite opinion makers:

This is a dangerous religious fanatic whose messianic belief system could well lead to millions of deaths:

This is not:

The differences may seem subtle, but take my word for it, they're significant.
What he said...

Fun with Bromine

Every so often, Derek Lowe will write about some 'incident' in the lab. Today, he talks about a Bromination that didn't happen as planned:
How Not to Do It: Bromine
I wasn't an eyewitness to this one, although I wish I had been. I pass it on secondhand from a former colleague of mine, on which it made an understandable impression.

Bromine's an odd element. The two lighter halogens leading up to it are nasty gases. Fluorine, the first one, is actually beyond merely nasty, being a hazard to life from several different directions. Chlorine is something you can handle,although it was still nice enough to be used on the battlefield in World War I. But bromine is the first one of the series that makes the grade as a liquid at room temperature and pressure.

All the halogens have colors - for example, I'm told that liquid fluorine is green, not that I hope to see any of the damned stuff, and liquid chlorine is supposed to be yellow. Iodine is notoriously purple, and For its part bromine is a deep, almost opaque red-orange. It's one of those liquids that hasn't forgotten its gaseous heritage, and you always see it with a red haze of vapor above it. It's unmistakable.

You'd think. Our story begins, as do so many fine lab disaster tales, with the phrase "There was this summer student. . ." In this case, there was this summer student whose grad-student supervisor thought he was ready for a spot of bromine work. They'd ordered a fresh bottle, which had come in from Aldrich the day before, and everything was ready for a good old-fashioned bromination reaction. As the chemists here know well, if you add bromine to a compound with an exposed carbon-carbon double bond, it'll react with the alkene, breaking it down to a single bond with a bromine on each carbon. Sometimes it's fast enough that you can see the red color disappear as the stuff drops into the reaction, and you can just go until the color persists, but sometimes it hangs around as an orange solution for a while.
Visit Derek's site to read the rest of the story. Fun and the only thing that was damaged was the summer student's esteem...

Geek Gift Prediction Flowchart

One of my favorite online comic strips is User Friendly (blogrolled to your right under Geek Stuff) Today's was a classic:
Click for full-size Image

Conspicuous Consumption

Number 347 in the list of why I am glad we do not live in a large city. From the Washington Post:
Eat Your Karats
Festive Gold Garnishes Are This Season's Flash in the Pan

It's the holiday season, and so for the festive yuletide table, hosts in the know are considering the noble metals this year. The latest food trend: edible gold and silver.

You can eat your bling. With gold selling for more than $500 an ounce, that's conspicuous consumption.

Understandably, you have questions. Though well documented in the chronicles of medieval feasting ritual (along with the consumption of tiny songbirds and rotten fruits), eating precious metals is a new concept for many a modern merrymaker.
The shavings are served in and on chocolates, cocktails, coffees, pastries, soups, salads and even entrees, like riso oro e zafferano , a gold and saffron risotto. Some chefs like to swaddle a whole chicken with gold leaf -- and eat with relish both foil and fowl. Silver is also big on finger foods. When one thinks of sushi, one can now think metallic shavings on raw mackerel. There is a gourmet who enjoys gilding lobsters, and why not? The celebrity chef Jeffrey Jake of the Lodge at Pebble Beach has created entire menus using gold and silver flecked on the high-end items like abalone, foie gras and truffles for those posh jet-setters who have seen all, done all. "Diners," Jake says, "are expecting more wow now than ever."

At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the bartender may rim a moistened glass lip with pure silver flake. At Spago in Beverly Hills, they'll gold-dust a flute of sparkling wine. At Libation, a hip new bar on New York's Lower East Side, owner Dennis Keane serves up goblets of "The Ultimate Libation," with 10 Cane rum, Grand Marnier liqueur, Veuve Clicquot champagne, passion fruit nectar and 23-karat gold powder. "They're skeptical at first," says Keane. "Then they drink it right down." Of course they do. The drink costs $16.
And Conspicuous Consumption:
Though he is not really studied by economists much anymore, Thorstein Veblen might have been onto something in his 1899 treatise "The Theory of the Leisure Class," in which he coined the term "conspicuous consumption," his idea that consumers would spend freely, even wastefully, to display status items. One of his examples was the use of silver eating utensils. Veblen would likely consider edible gold right up there, says Ori Heffetz, an economics professor at Cornell University who did his own studies that found that as income increases, the wealthy spend not just more money but more money on items of highest visibility.
What about the FDA:
When The Washington Post calls the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, spokesman Michael Herndon puts us on the phone with an "FDA expert" in the food safety agency who says that edible gold and silver "has not gone through pre-market safety evaluations" at the FDA. "We haven't evaluated its use," the expert says. Why? Because no one has sought pre-market approval.

So consumers should or shouldn't eat the stuff? The FDA expert is not saying. It has not been studied by the FDA expert. The expert has examined no data. It is not a priority. The FDA is very busy. It is a gray area. It is inert.
Gold is somewhat inert but I wonder if these people know about Argyria.
From the Florida State Department of Health:
This unfortunate gentleman used a product containing silver and is suffering Argyria. This is a permanent bluish-gray discoloration of the skin. Consumers should consult their physicians before consuming products containing silver, which have flooded the market in past years.


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Couple posts about evolution reminds me that today's Doonesbury cartoon is excellent:
Click for full-size Image

Evolution of E. Coli

Interesting report from USCD School of Engineering:

How E. Coli bacterium generates Simplicity from Complexity
The ubiquitous and usually harmless E. coli bacterium, which has one-seventh the number of genes as a human, has more than 1,000 of them involved in metabolism and metabolic regulation. Activation of random combinations of these genes would theoretically be capable of generating a huge variety of internal states; however, researchers at UCSD will report in the Dec. 27 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that Escherichia coli doesn't gamble with its metabolism. In a surprise about E. coli that may offer clues about how human cells operate, the PNAS paper reports that only a handful of dominant metabolic states are found in E. coli when it is "grown" in 15,580 different environments in computer simulations.

A bit more:

Barrett, Palsson, Herring, and Reed simulated the behavior of 1,010 of E. coli's 4,200 genes. This particular subset of the bacterium's genome is tightly organized into interacting networks involved in metabolism or regulation of gene activation, or transcription. These linked networks are devoted to sensing, ingesting, and degrading potential "food" in the form of sugars and other energy-rich organic molecules.

E. coli must also have an efficient way to eliminate waste products. It, like all living things, generates energy in a process that involves the removal of electrons from food molecules and attaching them to acceptor molecules. For aerobic organisms, the final electron acceptor is usually oxygen, which is converted into water in the process.

E. coli can grow with or without oxygen, using nitrate or other molecules as its final electron acceptor. "We found that the type of terminal electron acceptor in the growth environment and the presence or absence of glucose is very important to E. coli," said Barrett. "Our simulations show that these two factors are key determinants of how the bacterium organizes itself."

Wow! E. Coli has 4,200 genes but it uses 1,000 to adapt to the environment.

Although this is expensive for the organism, it does a great job as it can thrive with or without Oxygen, and with whatever it can find for food.

No wonder it is so prevalent. Talk about a success story!

Cosma Rohilla Shalizi

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Here is the web page of Cosma Rohilla Shalizi He is at the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at University of Michigan but it is pretty hard to pin down exactly what he does. He has one of the more fascinating minds that I have run into -- one of his entries will keep me entranced for quite some time. Check these sites out:
Book Reviews and
Like I said, a new entry in the Notebooks will keep me occupied for some time - an example is his December 16th entry for Evolution

Mighty Mouse

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Cool story about a robot that saved the day. From Sandia National Laboratories comes this story of Mighty Mouse:
�Mighty Mouse� robot frees stuck radiation source
A Sandia National Laboratories robot recently withstood enough radiation to kill 40 men in freeing a stuck radiation source � the size of a restaurant salt shaker � at a White Sands Missile Range lab so that the cylinder could be safely returned to its insulated base.

The robot, for its successful efforts, was unofficially dubbed M2 for the cartoon character �Mighty Mouse.�

The operation � carried out by the robot and a joint task force of White Sands and Sandia RAP (Radiation Assistance Program) team members � ended 21 days of warning lights flashing and horns blaring at the 3,000-square-foot Department of Defense lab in Southern New Mexico.
Some more details about the problem:
The cylinder normally arrived and departed through a metal sleeve, driven by pneumatic air. The method resembled that used by drive-up banks, where pneumatic air drives a cylinder containing transaction paperwork first one way and then the other.

At White Sands, a pressure of approximately 20 psi was normally enough to move the container from its secure resting place to its forward exposed, or live, position; the same air pressure in the opposite direction sent it back. Over previous decades, on the rare occasions when the cylinder stuck, technicians had merely increased air pressure to send it on its way.

But this problem was different. From the safety of their control room, technicians increased air pressure in steps until they had reached 50 times normal, or 1000 psi, but they could not budge the cylinder. They speculated it had rammed into a signal switch that formed part of the sleeve�s pathway. In design, the switch resembled a teeter-totter. If the switch�s forward end was up when it should have been down, it would resist the cylinder�s passage. More air pressure would only insert the switch�s edge more deeply into the cylinder.

Range management considered its options.

On the positive side, gamma rays decreased in intensity by the square of the distance. That is to say, past a few hundred feet, the surrounding area was perfectly safe. And, unlike neutrons, the rays did not contaminate materials they touched; they were deadly only as they passed through a living organism.

On the negative side, the lab was shut down. It had to be manned around the clock to be sure no security guard wandered into the harmless-appearing area; meanwhile, the continually flashing lights and honking alarms set peoples� teeth on edge.
The article goes into quite a bit of detail on what the robot had to do. Very interesting technology!

The Elephant in the Living Room

A local DJ in Australia was pulled off the air when he made some un-PC remarks about the Middle Easterners who were rioting. From A Western Heart:
Truth about Muslims forbidden
The riot at Sydney's Cronulla beach last Sunday seems to have woken the NSW authorities up to the fact that they are going to have to deal with the Muslim problem officially if vigilante action is not to ensue. But the new laws to enable better police control of aggressive gatherings have been put in place under the pretext of restraining "racism" among Anglo-Australians. Since the Muslims move in large packs, the new laws to deal with groups were needed. But the desperate official need to blame everybody but the Muslims has caught various media figures in the net. Note the following quote about popular Sydney radio announcer Brian Wilshire :
"The career of veteran 2GB announcer Brian Wilshire is in limbo after he called Lebanese-Australians "inbreds" and questioned their intelligence on air. Wilshire, 61, was yesterday pulled off air and made to apologise for comments he made on Thursday night. Discussing Middle Eastern boys involved in violence he said: "Many of them have parents who are first cousins, whose parents were first cousins ... The result of this is inbreeding."

What he said is of course the simple truth. Marrying cousins is normal in Arab countries and the average Arab IQ is much lower than the normal Western IQ. You can see here that the average IQ in Lebanon is 86. If you want to encourage the speaking of truth to power, Wilshire can probably be reached here:
The Saudi royal family has major medical problems with Hemophilia -- also caused by inbreeding.

The Housing Bubble

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Hat tip to Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest for the link to this fascinating blog: Another F@cked Borrower From the website:
This Blog is the work of a mortgage 'insider' that is dedicated to educating people with real information on how-not-to-become Another F@CKED BORROWER!! Many of these people had NO business getting a mortgage...but lax underwriting standards, low interest rates, stated income, interest only loans, option-ARMS, neg-am's, 125% financing, no doc loans, and more, made this froth/bubble/bubblette or whatever you want to call it, possible. Now lets have a look at ANOTHER F@CKED BORROWER!
Great writing and a fascinating inside look at the mortgage industry.

The price of Oil

Another look at the current high price of Oil at Financial Trend Forecaster (hint: it is not that high)

Why Oil Prices haven't Crippled the US Economy Yet
The above chart shows why oil prices have not yet put as big a crimp in our budgets as it did back in 1980. Back then the monthly average price peaked at $38 per barrel (although the intraday prices spiked much higher).

The common price quoted is for the all time high of Oil prices is the price that the highest barrel ever sold for. That price doesn't really have any effect on the price consumers paid. What really matters is the average price the refineries had to pay for the whole month.

Adjusted for inflation in July 2005 dollars this $38 peak is the equivalent of paying $96.81 today. This number is constantly changing as we adjust for inflation at the current moment.

In other words, Oil would have to average $96.81 for the entire month to be as high as the price we saw in December of 1979. But we are "only" paying a little over half that amount.

Another factor that makes the Oil price worse in 1979 is the fact that back in '79 interest rates were two to three times higher than they are now, peaking in the high teens. Combine lower mortgage rates with lower taxes and the modern household actually has $500 extra cash available each month... which will buy a lot of gasoline.

Great call on the interest rates too -- this affects everyone and isn't generally cited when comparing prices.

Here is a thumbnail of the chart they are referring to -- go to the article for the full-size version:


The black line is the dollar quote per barrel.

The red line is the same value adjusted for July 2005 dollars.

Death by Television

Fun look at fatality statistics at the Statistical Assessment Service:
Falling TV Sets Kill More Kids Than Sharks (Yes, Really)
After heavy media coverage of the crash of Swissair Flight 111, public fears of being in a plane crash were exceeded only by the Federal Aviation Administration's demand that boarding passengers list their next of kin or other emergency contact. The actual risk numbers do not bear out these concerns. In fact, we often seem predisposed to fear the wrong things.

A plane crash makes the nightly national news, while another car crash seems so mundane as to barely elicit a mention on the local news. Yet our odds of dying in a plane crash (based on flying 100,000 miles per year on large commercial jets) are about 1 in 500,000, and those of us left on the ground have a 1 in 25 million chance that we will be killed by a plane falling on us. In 1994, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were only 723 air and space transport accident fatalities. On the other hand, there were 42,524 motor vehicle fatalities. Since far more of us drive than fly, should our drivers licenses denote next of kin?

Our fear of unlikely events can be found on many levels. For instance, pop culture products from Jaws to National Geographic specials have fed public fears of the Great White Shark. Such fears, however, are largely baseless.

Nature magazine recently reported that the number of people killed by these fearsome predators totals only 7 individuals in this century. Yet between 1990 and 1997, according to the journal Pediatrics, four times that number of children were killed by TV sets falling on them. That is, watching Jaws on TV is more dangerous than swimming in the Pacific.

Great Video

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A bit slow at first but worth it. The Worst Job Ever Hat tip to Cold Fury

Oopsie -- it broke!

From The New Scientist comes this story of something that broke:

Busted! A crisis in cryptography
The gold standard of digital security - used to authenticate everything from secure websites for credit card transactions to passwords and digital signatures - lies in tatters.

"Last year, I walked away saying thank God she didn't get a break in SHA-1," says William Burr. "Well, now she has." Burr, a cryptographer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is talking about Xiaoyun Wang, a Chinese cryptographer with a formidable knack for breaking things. Last year Wang, now at Tsinghua University in Beijing, stunned the cryptographic community by breaking a widely used computer security formula called MD5. This year, to Burr's dismay, she went further. Much further.

SHA-1 is pretty much the pinnacle of computer security, an algorithm invented and endorsed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and used in a huge range of security applications. But not for much longer, it seems. "This is a bit like when you see the first water seeping through the dyke," Burr says.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for Xiaoyun Wang

Bruce Schneier (no slouch on this sort of stuff himself) had this to say:

SHA-1 Broken
SHA-1 has been broken. Not a reduced-round version. Not a simplified version. The real thing.

The research team of Xiaoyun Wang, Yiqun Lisa Yin, and Hongbo Yu (mostly from Shandong University in China) have been quietly circulating a paper describing their results.

Bruce's post was much earlier this year (February) and it describes the very early work that was able to get matches in many fewer tries than would be required by a brute force method.

Nothing is perfectly encrypted -- the object of algorithms like SHA-1 is to make it take tens of years running a supercomputer -- by then, the information is mostly worthless.

Back from the Cider Dinner

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My gawd that was delicious! It was held at a Community College near the Mt. Vernon WA Agricultural Station where a lot of excellent research is going on for American Cider Apples (talking hard (alcohol) cider, not sweet juice). The College has quite the Culinary Arts program and they overdid themselves with this program. There were five courses -- Mixed Antipasti, Steamed Mussels in Cider, Salad, Steak with Calvados Cream Sauce and Wasabi Mashed Potatoes and finally a Baked Apple Puff Pastry with cream cheese filling. Each course was paired with two or three different Ciders -- some commercial and some single-apple varietals from the local Ag stations own brewery. About forty people attended. I am feeling very fat dumb and happy!

Light posting tonight

Jen and I are going to this cider tasting dinner:
Winter Wassail: A Cider Celebration
Celebration dinner featuring a five course meal with one or two ciders paired with each course.
Jen and I took Peter's class two years ago so didn't go to this presentation. The dinner was a must though! We are planning to go on his Cider Tasting Tour through England in 2006.

HD TV cameras for under $800 in 2006?

Very very cool if they can pull this off. From CNet News:

Upstart aims to bring HD camcorders to the masses
High-definition consumer video cameras are tough to find these days and cost around $1,800. But next year, you might be able to grab one for $799, according to a camera chip upstart.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Ambarella has devised a family of multicore microprocessors that it says can compress and process HD video efficiently and cheaply. The company's chips could be incorporated into a video camera selling for around $799 or into digital still cameras, which would become capable of taking high-resolution stills (8 megapixels or so) as well as TV-quality video.

The company will show off the technology at the Computer Electronics Show kicking off on Jan. 5 in Las Vegas. Three major camera makers have already begun to build experimental cameras using Ambarella's chips.

"Two out of the three have fairly solid product plans," said Didier LeGall, executive vice president of Ambarella. "There is a very good chance of products showing up in Q2."

Ambarella's website is here Hat tip to Thomas Hawk for the link. There are still questions about the actual quality of the image -- a good image is not a matter of getting a high pixel-count. You also need low noise and a good color rendition. Still...

A question about Iran - update and a scenario

Ran into a thoughtful article from Joseph Farah about what Iran may be planning with its missiles based on the operational tests that it has already done:

Gingrich sees Iran threat to U.S. like Nazi Germany
Ex-speaker latest official to raise alarm on threat of nuclear EMP attack by Tehran

The threat posed to the national security of the United States by Iran was likened only to the one posed by Nazi Germany in the 1930s, by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who suggested Tehran could be planning for a pre-emptive nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack on America that would turn a third or more of the country "back to a 19th century level of development."

Gingrich made the stunning statements, which echo warning of other congressional leaders and national security experts, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week.

And a bit more:

Gingrich pointed with alarm at a report first published in G2 Bulletin that Iran had tested the firing of ballistic missiles from a merchant ship in which warheads were detonated in midair over the Caspian Sea rather than at a land or sea target. National security experts and scientists commissioned by Congress to study the threat of electromagnetic pulse attacks on the U.S. concluded that Iran was preparing for just such a scenario. So does Gingrich.

Detonation at apogee will minimize property damage and fatalities but it will fry every unshielded electronic device in a 30-50 mile radius. All they would have to do is sail a merchant ship to about 300 miles away from NYC or Washington DC and we would be spending a long time digging out. The Scenario was written in 2003 and refers to Korea but we have this technology and should use it if needed:

Playing Poker with Korea
One of the meta-reasons America won the Cold War is that Russians play chess, while Americans play poker. Chess demands great skill and intelligence, particularly at developing complex long-range strategies and anticipating your opponent's moves. But it bears little resemblance to life in the real world. It is completely static and open. Nothing is hidden. Poker is very different. You have to guess what your opponent has and the extent to which he is bluffing.

In business, in politics, in life in general, the folks who know how to play poker will almost always fare better than those who know how to play chess.

Ronald Reagan never played chess with Mikhail Gorbachev. He played political poker. At the 1986 Reykjavik summit, Reagan bluntly told Gorbachev he was going to build and deploy a space-based missile defense (SDI). Then came the clincher. "Mikhail," he said, looking the Soviet leader in the eye, "we both know that America can afford to do this, and the Soviet Union cannot. There is no way you can compete with us in military spending. So you are going to lose." Gorbachev did not know if the US could actually create a workable missile defense in space. But he did know it could afford to do so, while he could not. So he didn't call for Reagan's cards. He, and thus the Soviet Union, folded their own.

In the real world, good poker beats good chess every time. One of the great geopolitical puzzles of our day is why America has been outplayed at poker by a collection of primitive Stalinists in North Korea. The guys in Pyongyang are the best experts in the world at military bluffing and nuclear blackmail. They easily took Clinton to the cleaners. Now they have decided to raise the ante against his successor.

This may prove to be a fatal miscalculation. No one plays better poker than a Texan, especially one so smart and ruthless as GW. A good poker player always looks for "tells" in his opponents, unintended clues and tipoffs in their demeanor. GW has undoubtedly noticed that Pyongyang has created a huge nuclear crisis at the precise time when it should have done the opposite: just when South Korea is experiencing such a spasm of anti-American resentment that it elected a new president pledged to appease North Korea. Such a blatant "tell" informs GW that Pyongyang is holding a weak hand and is playing it badly out of hand-shaking desperation. Given such a "tell," a good poker player knows it's time to go for the jugular. In examining his options, GW may decide the best way to go for Pyongyang's jugular is with a spear.

And the spear in question:

Far better to destroy it quietly, safely, stealthily, and mysteriously. With a spear. A steel rod forty feet long and four inches in diameter, fin-stabilized, with a needle-sharp tungsten-carbide tip, equipped with a small JDAM guidance package including a GPS.

It is non-explosive; there is no warhead.

You've heard of smart bombs. This is a smart spear.

You take a half-dozen of these Smart Spears up in a high-altitude bomber, like a B2 or B52. and drop them over Yongbyon at 50 or 60,000 feet. The Smart Spears have such a big sectional density that it will be like a vacuum drop - with no wind resistance, they will be going faster than the speed of sound when they hit their target. Going so fast and with almost no radar signature, the GPS-guided Smart Spears will punch through the Yongbyon reactor and keep right on going, burying themselves in the earth several hundred feet deep. The North Koreans won't know what happened, and all there will be is some holes in the ground - plus a melted-down reactor.

There was once talk of launching a ring of these into orbit. To go from orbit to target would be about 15 minutes and virtually undetectable and completely unstopable. And non-nuclear.

A question about Iran

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An interesting point is raised by Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post:
In Iran, Arming for Armageddon
Lest you get carried away with today's good news from Iraq, consider what's happening next door in Iran. The wild pronouncements of the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have gotten sporadic press ever since he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. He subsequently amended himself to say that Israel should simply be extirpated from the Middle East map and moved to some German or Austrian province. Perhaps near the site of an old extermination camp?

Except that there were no such camps, indeed no Holocaust at all, says Ahmadinejad. Nothing but "myth," a "legend" that was "fabricated . . . under the name 'Massacre of the Jews.' " This brought the usual reaction from European and American officials, who, with Churchillian rage and power, called these statements unacceptable. That something serious might accrue to Iran for this -- say, expulsion from the United Nations for violating its most basic principle by advocating the outright eradication of a member state -- is, of course, out of the question.
Charles then talks about Iran's Nuclear Program and its Shahab missiles which have been modified to reach Israel. He then makes this observation:
But it gets worse. The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse. Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return -- the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. The more devout believers in Iran pray at the Jamkaran mosque, which houses a well from which, some believe, he will emerge.

When Ahmadinejad unexpectedly won the presidential elections, he immediately gave $17 million of government funds to the shrine. Last month Ahmadinejad said publicly that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.
He continues:
So a Holocaust-denying, virulently anti-Semitic, aspiring genocidist, on the verge of acquiring weapons of the apocalypse, believes that the end is not only near but nearer than the next American presidential election. (Pity the Democrats. They cannot catch a break.) This kind of man would have, to put it gently, less inhibition about starting Armageddon than a normal person. Indeed, with millennial bliss pending, he would have positive incentive to, as they say in Jewish eschatology, hasten the end.

To be sure, there are such madmen among the other monotheisms. The Temple Mount Faithful in Israel would like the al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem's Temple Mount destroyed to make way for the third Jewish Temple and the messianic era. The difference with Iran, however, is that there are all of about 50 of these nuts in Israel, and none of them is president.
Israel acted once in 1981 in Iraq (the Osirak reactor). It will be interesting to see if they act again.

Nuclear Accident in Russia

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Not much info yet but this report from Yahoo/Canada/AP is a bit chilling:
Molten metal spill at Russian nuclear plant smelter kills 1, severely burns 2
Molten metal splashed from a smelter at a Russian nuclear power plant, killing one worker and severely burning two others, but authorities said Friday that no reactors were affected and no radiation escaped.

While relatively minor, the accident Thursday occurred on the same day prosecutors announced a "catastrophic radioactivity situation" involving improperly stored materials at a chemical factory in the southern Russian region of Chechnya.
The article has more on the accident:
The smelter accident happened at the Leningrad electricity generating station in the closed nuclear town of Sosnovy Bor, 80 kilometres west of St. Petersburg.

Russia's nuclear agency, Rosenergoatom, initially reported an explosion. It later changed course and described the incident as a "splash."

It said radiation levels remained normal. The Norwegian environmental group Bellona, a longtime critic of Russia's nuclear programs, and officials in nearby Finland also said they had not detected any spread of radiation.
The injuries:
A 33-year-old worker died of injuries Friday, and two others were injured, Yuri Lameko, chief doctor of the Sosnovy Bor hospital, told The Associated Press. The Emergency Situations Ministry said two of those involved suffered burns over 90 per cent of their bodies.
Yikes! And a bit more on the smelter: Rosenergoatom said the smelter, run by a scrap metal reprocessing company called Ekomet-S, is on the grounds of the plant's second unit, where a reactor was shut down for repairs in July. The plant has four reactors in all, including one of the same type that blew up in Chernobyl during the Soviet era.

He said Ekomet-S workers told him about two tonnes of molten metal were in the smelter and a few hundred kilograms splashed out for unknown reasons. The article said that this particular smelter dealt with materials from Nuclear Submarines and Power Plants and the quantity involved (two tonnes) shows that this was not any form of nuclear fuel either being made or re-processed. And the Russian safety record:
Experts and environmentalists say Russia's nuclear industries and companies that handle radioactive materials have improved procedures in the years since the Soviet collapse. Washington has provided an estimated $7 billion US in the past 14 years to help Russia and other former Soviet republics destroy and safeguard atomic weapons.
Good to know that we are helping.

Blood Chemistry

Dr. Joe Schwarcz writing at the American Council on Science and Health delivers a breath of fresh air to those worried about "chemicals" in their blood:

Chemicals! In Our Blood!!
Perhaps you're health but are told by your doctor, after a routine blood test, that you should take statins to combat high cholesterol. Fine. But then you start wondering what else you should be testing for in your blood. After all, you've been reading about all those toxic chemicals that invade our daily lives -- nasty-sounding things ranging from pesticides and PCBs to heavy metals and flame retardants.

Ah...those flame retardants. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been protecting fabrics, furniture, computers, and various other consumer items from fire since the 1970s, so it comes as no great surprise that their levels in the environment and in humans have been steadily rising. Toxicological studies have shown that PBDEs can impair reflexes and learning abilities in rodents and can also delay puberty in the animals by interfering with thyroid function. Shouldn't you know if PBDEs are present in your blood? So you convince your doctor to find a lab that can carry out this analysis and off goes a sample. The results come back, and you find out you have 15 nanograms/L in your blood plasma. Or 15,000 picograms per liter. Wow! This may make you hot under the collar, but you think it means you won't burst into flames.

But what realistically does this value mean? Well, it certainly means that chemists have amazing analytical capabilities. Since you have about five liters of blood in your body, you now know that you are harboring 60 nanograms of flame retardant. That is 0.000000060 grams, or roughly 1/20,000th the mass of a grain of sand. Pretty impressive technology! But what does it say about any health risk? Without further information, not much.

The presence of a chemical in the blood does not equate to the presence of risk. As everyone hopefully understands, only the dose makes the poison. We certainly would be concerned if we had data suggesting that patients with some sort of disease were more likely to have higher blood levels of PBDEs than the rest of the population, and we would then want to know at what blood levels risk becomes significant. But we do not have such data. Not for PBDEs, nor for the numerous potential toxins that can now be measured in the blood, often down to the levels of parts per trillion. What is a part per trillion? Well, it's one second in 32,000 years!

Relativly cheap lab equipment is now able to measure concentrations that 20 years ago would have been thoguht to be impossible. To the lay person, it seems that the instances of chemicals in their blood is rising but this is not the case. It is only the threshold of detection that is going down. And as Dr. Schwarcz notes in his closing (he is Canadian):

And in case you missed the news that came out the same week as "Toxic Nation," average life expectancy in Canada reached a record high in 2005. Hmmm...could it be because of all the chemicals in our blood?


Top IT mistakes

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Infoworld has compiled a list of 20 IT mistakes to avoid. Some good info here -- some of these can be skipped over for small businesses but it's all well thought out. Here are a couple specific for small businesses:
2. Dismissing open source -- or bowing before it
For better or worse, many IT shops are susceptible to �religious� behavior -- a blind, unyielding devotion to a particular technology or platform. Nowhere is that more true than with open source.

On the one hand, the most conservative IT shops dismiss open source solutions as a matter of policy. That�s a big mistake: Taking an indefinite wait-and-see attitude toward open source means passing up proven, stable, and scalable low-cost solutions such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. On the other hand, insisting on open source purity in your IT operation can delay progress, as developers are forced to cobble together inferior or unwieldy open source solutions when more appropriate commercial software solutions already exist.

Open source software is not inherently better than commercial software; it all depends on the problem to be solved and the maturity of the solution being considered.

13. Throwing bandwidth at a network problem
One of the most common complaints addressed by IT is simple: The network is running slower than normal. The knee-jerk reaction is to add more capacity. This is the right solution in some cases but dead wrong in others. Without the proper analysis, upgrading capacity can be a costly, unwise decision. Network Instruments� Smith likens this approach to saying, �I�m running low on closet space, and therefore I need a new house.�

Capacity aside, common root causes of slowdowns include unwanted traffic broadcasting over the network from old systems or apps, such as IPX traffic, or misconfigured or inefficient applications that spew streams of packets onto the network at inconvenient times.

According to Smith, one of Network Instruments� banking customers was considering upgrading its WAN links due to complaints from tellers that systems were running slow. The IT team used a network analyzer to determine that increased traffic levels were being caused by a security app that ran a daily update at 3 p.m. When the IT team reconfigured this application to make updates at 3 a.m. instead, they were able to quickly improve traffic levels without making the costly WAN upgrade.

18. Underestimating PHP
IT managers who look only as far as J2EE and .Net when developing scalable Web apps are making a mistake by not taking a second look at scripting languages -- particularly PHP. This scripting language has been around for a decade now, and millions of Yahoo pages are served by PHP each day.

Discussion of PHP scalability reached a high-water mark in June, when the popular social-networking site Friendster finally beat nagging performance woes by migrating from J2EE to PHP. In a comment attached to a Weblog post about Friendster�s switch to PHP, Rasmus Lerdorf, inventor of PHP, explained the architectural secret of PHP�s capability of scaling: �Scalability is gained by using a shared-nothing architecture where you can scale horizontally infinitely.�

The stateless �shared-nothing� architecture of PHP means that each request is handled independently of all others, and simple horizontal scaling means adding more boxes. Any bottlenecks are limited to scaling a back-end database. Languages such as PHP might not be the right solution for everyone, but pre-emptively pushing scripting languages aside when there are proven scalability successes is a mistake.
Lots more at the article.

Legal Forms

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I was needing a simple form for our primary business and rather than bother our lawyer, I started looking on the web. Here is one site I found: The 'Lectric Law Library They have a good collection of legal advice plus information and forms. Lots of good free stuff -- they do offer "premium" versions of their work but the free stuff is good enough for what I needed. You should not use them to replace a lawyer but when you know what you want and need a simple form or some such, check this place out. Excellent stuff!

Hat tip to Moorewatch for this image. Now to find a bottle of Clorox to clean my optic nerves...

This post contains another WTF moment from a certain attention-seeking mother....mother. If you are fed up...skip it. No complaining in the comments.

If you're wondering just what could make me slap my head and go What in THE FUCK IS SHE THINKING? on.

Holy attention whoring seeking, Batman! This has to be the ultimate in media whoredom attention-seeking behavior.
Click for full-size Image

That woman is pretending to sleep on her dead son's grave.


How could *anyone* still defend this shit? Grief doesn't drive people to do this much for this long this publically...not in sane, rational people who aren't desperate for the spotlight. That photo is the best evidence one could have that this woman doesn't give a rat's furry ass about her son's sacrifice...this is, and always has been, about her life finally having meaning, and she is working harder than some Hollywood stars do to keep the spotlight on herself for as long as she can.

That's disgusting and pathetic. I'd like to see one of her fans defend that photo. To pretend to sleep on your dead son's grave for a photo op in Vanity is that defensible in any way? I'd say even Moore might draw the line there...I know he'd edit and say and write a lot of things, but I'm not sure even he would go this far.

She actually and truly disgusts me as a human being.

As for the call of Media Whore -- I refer you back to an article in Mike King's Ramblings' Journal. He is no longer publishing but I blogged about it here:

Media Whore
Mike King at Ramblings Journal puts two and two together.
Cindy Sheehan: "If I truly was a media whore..."
“I'm like if I truly was a media whore do you think I would like maybe get myself fixed up a little bit before I went on?”
—Cindy Sheehan

Mike’s comment on the two: “‘Nuff said.”

Go to my original post to see my sentiments about this dry harpy. Her family has issued a public statement that they do not support her.

Her husband (and Casey's Dad) divorced her.

She could be validating Casey's life, his desire to do good (and his re-enlistment). She could talk about the letters he probably sent home (where are they Cindy?)

Casey was doing good work and he paid the ultimate price. The Free Nation of Iraq and its Friends will remember Casey as they will remember the rest of the long line of brothers and sisters who fought against the pig-fucking minions of hell that were arrayed against them. With Honor!

Cindy Sheehan is not a friend of peace. This person has no honor.

Roll your own DRM

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From BoingBoing comes this link to how to make your own Digital Rights Management (DRM) CD-ROM that is playable by CD audio players, digital files (pictures, etc...) can be viewed but the disk cannot be copied. Being BoingBoing, the article also links on how to get around this...
Alex Halderman, one of the Princeton researchers who's been doggedly revealing the tricks, nastiness, cheating and lies in the Sony DRM Debacle, has published a detailed HOWTO explaining how to make your own malicious "industrial strength" DRM CD, just like Sony's. The perfect project for your holiday break!
You added the extra track (shown in yellow) when you edited the disc image in step 4. This simple change makes the audio tracks invisible to most music player applications. It�s not clear why this works, but the most likely explanation is that the behavior is a quirk in the way the Windows CD audio driver handles discs with multiple sessions.

For an added layer of protection, the extraneous track you added to the disc is only 31 frames long. (A frame is 1/75 of a second.) The CD standard requires that tracks be at least 150 frames long. This non-compliant track length will cause errors if you attempt to duplicate the disc with many CD drives and copying applications.
The parent article is here: Freedom to Tinker Heh...
I have written before about Thomas Hawk's overturning the rocks under which some bullshit artists cower here, here and here. Today he weighs in with another installment:
Brooklyn Photographer Don Wiss Threatened if He Doesn't Leave the Country He Will Be Killed

PriceRitePhoto's store, photo by Brooklyn Photographer Don Wiss

I received a troubling email earlier today from Don Wiss saying that he received a phone call today from someone telling him that if he didn't leave the country he would be killed. Wiss also reported another call from an anonymous caller accusing him of running him out of business. Don Wiss is a Brooklyn photographer that I have mentioned previously in my posts about sleazy New York bait and switch camera operators operating out of Brooklyn. Wiss has done an excellent job chronicling the actual storefronts of many of the shady camera dealers in Brooklyn and has provided helpful visual information for consumers that might do business with these operators and in some cases scam artists.

Wiss posted the photo above of the sleazy camera operator PriceRitePhoto that I had been previously threatened by.

Although I suppose after hearing an actual voicemail of a camera dealer threatening to break a customer's neck that it shouldn't surprise me to learn of Don's calls today, it still sickens my stomach. How is it that these criminals can act with impunity right in Spitzer's back yard? How can camera stores get away with death threats here now in the year 2005 in the United States of America.
It keeps getting more and more bizzare... How can businesses like this not get nailed to the wall? And it is not just PriceRitePhoto / Barclay's) but all the others at Don's website here.

R.I.P. Senator William Proxmire

Damn -- one of the good ones... From CNN/AP:

Maverick Sen. Proxmire dies at 90
Politician took on government waste with 'Golden Fleece' awards

When William Proxmire won a Senate seat in 1957, he took a most unusual approach for a freshman, challenging the right of congressional leaders to determine committee assignments.

Capitol Hill watchers termed this act of hubris "Proxmire's Farewell Address," but they underestimated the Wisconsin Democrat. Proxmire would go on to serve for four decades in the Senate, distinguished by his knack for taking on big targets.

Proxmire, who died Thursday at age 90, made his mark in Congress by taking on government waste with his mocking "Golden Fleece" awards.

He battled for causes that few colleagues embraced. He won re-election repeatedly without accepting campaign donations and fought year after year for ratification of an anti-genocide treaty.

The article talks about when he was first elected Senator:

Soon he carved out a reputation as a senator with an independent streak, introducing amendments without consulting Democratic Party heads, filibustering and even criticizing the dictates of Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas.

In more than two decades, Proxmire did not travel abroad on Senate business and he returned more than $900,000 from his office allowances to the Treasury.

He repeatedly sparked his colleagues' ire by opposing salary increases, fighting against such Senate "perks" as a new gym in the Hart office building and keeping the Senate open all night long -- at a cost of thousands of dollars -- so he alone could argue against increasing the national debt limit.

Even so, his reputation was that of a workaholic and even his strongest critics found him to be one of the chamber's most disciplined, intelligent and persistent members.

He held the longest unbroken record in the history of the Senate for roll call votes.

Proxmire said his biggest mistake in Congress was his early support for the Vietnam War, a position he reversed in 1967.

Proxmire kept in shape with rigorous exercise, ran several miles to work each day and wrote a book about keeping fit. He even got a facelift and a hair transplant.

Although he was generally considered a liberal Democrat when he began his political career, Proxmire later said he found such labels useless. He opposed abortion and school busing.

The Golden Fleece Awards were a lot of fun -- the recipient was said to have been "Proxmired". They were so good that they are still going on, still in the same spirit.

The website is here: Golden Fleece Here are three from the top ten list:

Great Wall of Bedford, Indiana
The Economic Development Administration of the Commerce Department for spending $20,000 in 1981 to construct an 800-foot limestone replica of the Great Wall of China in Bedford, Indiana.

TV Watching Lessons
The Office of Education for spending $219,592 in 1978 to develop a curriculum to teach college students how to watch television.

Basketball Therapy
For the Health Care Financing Administration for Medicaid payments to psychiatrists for unscheduled, coincidental meetings with patients who were attending basketball games, sitting on stoops, etc. -- the cost of which was between $40 and $80 million from 1981 to 1984.

King Kong

Jen and I just saw it and it is awesome. Best movie all year and that has some pretty stiff competition.

The thing that made it so good was that it followed the original almost exactly -- only with better acting on the part of Kong and the attendant advances in cinematography.

Jack Black was surprisingly good at a serious role and the Cook on board the ship is a non-credited role by Andy Serkis.

I figured that it would be a funny part as he has such a great physical sense and good sense of humor but Lump the Cook was a very dark character.

IMDB reports that Peter Jackson has two more movies planned -- Halo which is a take-off of the video game but he also has: "The Lovely Bones" in pre-production.

This is a very different kind of story so it will be interesting to see how Peter does this.

Off to see Kong

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Jen and I are headed into town today for some errands and will be catching a showing of King Kong. Been looking forward to this for a while!

More early Color Photography

Was poking around the Library of Congress and stumbled onto this wing:

Photographer to the Tsar: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii From the website:

The photographs of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) offer a vivid portrait of a lost world--the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming revolution. His subjects ranged from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power, to the daily life and work of Russia's diverse population.

In the early 1900s Prokudin-Gorskii formulated an ambitious plan for a photographic survey of the Russian Empire that won the support of Tsar Nicholas II. Between 1909-1912, and again in 1915, he completed surveys of eleven regions, traveling in a specially equipped railroad car provided by the Ministry of Transportation.

Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia in 1918, going first to Norway and England before settling in France. By then, the tsar and his family had been murdered and the empire that Prokudin-Gorskii so carefully documented had been destroyed. His unique images of Russia on the eve of revolution--recorded on glass plates--were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948 from his heirs. For this exhibition, the glass plates have been scanned and, through an innovative process known as digichromatography, brilliant color images have been produced. This exhibition features a sampling of Prokudin-Gorskii's historic images produced through the new process; the digital technology that makes these superior color prints possible; and celebrates the fact that for the first time many of these wonderful images are available to the public.

Here is one:

Factory Interior with Electrical Generators
In his quest to record the development of the empire, Prokudin-Gorskii photographed this unidentified industrial factory interior with large electrical generators.

Color Photography from the 1930's and 1940's

Gorgeous images from the Library of Congress Bound for Glory exhibition. We tend to think of color as a recent development but it has been around for a lot longer than most people think. (1861 and it was developed by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell - quite the polymath if you read the Wikipedia article.) Ordinary black and white photography was only invented 30 years earlier -- there were other earlier images but these were not permanent. Talbot in 1834 was the first person to make permanent images. The Library of Congress exhibition is from 1939 through 1943 and contains photos of ordinary Americans. Gorgeous work. Here are five examples:
Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range
Madison County, Montana, August 1942

African American migratory workers by a "juke joint"
Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941

Worker at carbon black plant
Sunray, Texas, 1942

Mike Evans, a welder, at the rip tracks at Proviso yard of the Chicago and Northwest Railway Company

Woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber
Tennessee, February 1943
These are just thumbnails of the original images -- visit the site for some wonderful photography and a fascinating historical record. Again: Library of Congress "Bound for Glory"

PriceRitePhoto is now Barclay's Photo

Photographer Thomas Hawk is on top of the camera store scammers after his experiences with PriceRitePhoto. I had written about him before here and here. Well today, he found out that they were bailing out of the old name and had reopened as a different company:
PriceRitePhoto Update #21, Changing Names at eBay to Barclay's Photo
Update #21: One of the things that these shady camera dealers seem to have a reputation for is carrying multiple different company identities and then changing names when things go wrong with an existing identity. So go figure that PriceRitePhoto has just changed their identity on on eBay on Monday of this week from PriceRitePhoto to "Barclay's Photo." Now barclaysphoto can welcome in a whole new round of suckers. Barclay's, like the bank, now that sounds catchy.

Of course Barclay's (formerly known as PriceRitePhoto) seems to have a bit better feedback on eBay than they've had on the other shopping comparison sites (where they've been bounced). My guess is that this is because it is harder to bait and switch on eBay. You can't make up fake feedback there like you can at Yahoo! Shopping and PriceGrabber because each feedback must be tied to a specific transaction. Perhaps their behavior and treatment of eBay customers is better than the other comparison shopping sites. It is interesting though that almost everything that they've sold on eBay seems to be packaged with accessories. This might make it easier for them to be nice when they are making money on a transaction and not advertising rock bottom prices to then bait and switch.

They still do have some negative feedback on eBay of course with things like: "great product and great deal,but shipping took forever and alot of telemarketing," and "Terrible co. to deal with. Misrepresentation. Bait & Switch on their web site."
Scum. In my last post "More fun with cameras" I said:
Why do some niche businesses have such entrenched pathologies?

Oriental Carpet stores always seem to be having �Going out of Business� sales. The hassle of Car Dealerships �negotiating the deal and checking with the manager� bullshit. Th NY State deep-discount technology stores.
We can add BestBuy's lack of good prices and very pushy sales people. Buy any bit of technology and they try to run an extended warranty down your throat.

The Antarctic Snow Cruiser

An interesting bit of history:
The original conception of the Snow Cruiser is most often credited to Dr. Thomas C. Poulter. Dr. Poulter served as second in command of Admiral Byrd's Antarctic Expedition II. During this expedition, Admiral Byrd nearly lost his life when he was isolated by the weather at the Advanced Base. It took three attempts for Dr. Poulter to rescue the Admiral due to the difficulty of traveling a mere 123 miles in the inhospitable conditions. This incident is believed to have been the spark that inspired Dr. Poulter to first visualize the Snow Cruiser.

After returning from Antarctica Dr. Poulter took the position of scientific director of the Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Poulter is said to have presented the idea for the Snow Cruiser to Harold Vagtborg, the Director Research Foundation and the rest of the staff of the Foundation. The Foundation elected to undertake design of the Snow Cruiser, and assigned it Project Number I-69. Under the direction of Dr. Poulter, the staff of the Research Foundation worked for approximately two years (1937 to 1939) on the design.

In the spring of 1939 the Research Foundation learned that the government was considering appropriations for a possible Antarctic expedition. Mr. Vagtborg and Dr. Poulter presented the completed plans for the Snow Cruiser to the expedition officials in Washington on April 29, 1939. The officials were enthusiastic over the idea and it was agreed the Foundation would supervise the construction and finance the cost, estimated at $150,000. The Snow Cruiser would then be loaned to the U.S. Antarctic Service, who would defray the costs of operation and maintenance, and then return the Cruiser to the Foundation upon return of the expedition.
55 feet long, 16 feet high, 75,000 pounds fully loaded. Range is 5,000 miles. Lots of pictures and text with references at the website. I had never heard of this wonderful machine until today. I did find a website that sheds light on where it is today. The Antarctic Sun has this article by Bob Hanes:
The Antarctic Edsel
The unsolved mystery of Byrd's doomed cruiser

In the fall of 1939 I was only 12 years old, but I vividly remember the "event of all events" that took place near my hometown of Lima, Ohio. One of the greatest explorers of all time, Admiral Richard Byrd, was leaving for Antarctica. Once there, he planned to use a newly-designed and -constructed "snow cruiser." Although Byrd himself wouldn't be in Lima, the snow cruiser would be coming past town, en route from Chicago to Boston, where Byrd's ship was waiting.

Everyone in school was talking about the cruiser. Newspapers contained articles about the "coming spectacular." Life magazine carried details and drawings of the device. Even the newsreels at local theaters were publicizing the vehicle.

The machine's magnificence lay in its size and technology. It carried a crew of seven, measured 55 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 12 feet high. It was powered by twin 150 horsepower engines, and tipped the scales at 37 tons. Each of the four wheels was 10 feet tall, weighed 700 pounds and was perfectly smooth and treadless.
And once the cruiser arrived at Antarctica:
Once the cruiser arrived in Antarctica, it was based out of Little America, Byrd's station on the continent. But it was quickly discovered that the vehicle's smooth tires developed very little traction in the Antarctic snow. It took only a small amount of snow in front of each tire to stop the "unstoppable."

Though two spare tires were mounted on the front axles to provide extra traction, nothing seemed to help. That's until someone discovered the vehicle operated better in reverse. The cruiser's longest venture was 92 miles--all driven backwards.

Byrd's expedition extended into 1941, and with World War II pressing, Congress would not approve funding to continue. In May 1941 the group returned to the United States, its experiments terminated.

What happened to the cruiser? It was left behind in Antarctica in an underground ice garage. In the late 1940s another expedition found the vehicle and discovered it needed only air in the tires and some servicing to make it operational. It was again rediscovered in 1962, still perfectly preserved.

Where is Byrd's snow cruiser now? As of 1985 there has been speculation as to its whereabouts. Antarctic ice is in constant motion, and the ice shelf the cruiser was on is constantly moving out to sea. In the mid-1960s, a large chunk of the Ross Ice Shelf broke off and drifted away. The break occurred right through Little America. On which side of the break was the snow cruiser? No one seemed to know at the time.

The end of this story is still uncertain. Either the vehicle is buried under many, many feet of ice--where it might possibly be discovered by future explorers. Or it could be resting on the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

Whatever its fate, it was still a magnificent machine. But what a flop!

Good news regarding Blu-Ray

An article at Design Technica has some good news:

Blu-ray Disc considered "The New Higher Definition Format"
At Twentieth Century Fox Studios on November 29, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) gave an update on their blue laser technology. BDA felt that it was time to highlight its progress in bringing "the new high definition format" to market. Andy Parson, Senior Vice President of Advanced Product Development for Pioneer Electronics, opened the meeting by giving an overview of the state of Blu-ray development.

Mr. Parsons noted, "There's no format war looming because it's not Blu-ray vs. HD DVD."

Apparently, 90 percent of the CE industry and seven movie studios now back Blu-ray Disc. And most of the IT industry (except Microsoft) also supports Blu-ray Disc.

Mr. Parsons said, "It's simply Blu-ray versus standard definition DVD -- Currently, DVD has 50,000 titles presently available, and both formats will co-exist for several years to come with new BD players supporting both formats. BD players make the perfect complement to new HDTVs that are being purchased by consumers."

Lastly, Mr. Parsons noted that the group has been working with retailers for the past two months to get them prepared for the Spring 2006 launch of Blu-ray Disc.

Blu-ray is now called "future-proof" by the consortium because it has the capability to play back both Blu-ray discs and standard definition DVDs within one player. It was even shown that a DVD-9 layer can be laid down onto a Blu-ray disc to make a true hybrid disc. On the upper layer, DVD-9 content (DVD-9 layer is the standard definition version of the movie or video) is stored, and on the lower level Blu-ray content is available. It was pointed out that this is all on one side of the Blu-ray disc, and was completely different than what HD DVD has proposed for a hybrid disc, which makes the end user flip the disc over to play a standard definition or high definition version of the same movie. Of course, this goes back to Blu-ray�s original point of superiority regarding storage capability, in that there is enough storage capability on one side of the disc to hold a Blu-ray version, a standard definition movie, a completely interactive menu and a navigation system.

Blu-Ray is based on standard DVD technologies but uses a blue laser instead of an infrared one. The shorter wavelength allows a much higher density of storage -- 50GB instead of 9GB for a dual-layer DVD-R.

The opposing 'standard' was HD-DVD which kept the same drive and optics as today's DVDs but added more layers to the disk (more complex manufacturing so more expensive media) and used both sides of the disk (you would have to pause in a movie and flip the disk). Blu-Ray rocks!

The crowd outside of San Quentin

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San Francisco photographer Zombie covered the protests outside of San Quentin Prison where convicted murderer Tookie Williams was finally brought to justice for killing four people in cold blood. His photographs speak eloquently of the strange mental pathologies of the Liberal: The Stanley "Tookie" Williams Vigil at San Quentin, Monday, December 12, 2005 Here are a few:
Before arriving at San Quentin, I had been under the naive impression that the crowd in front would be evenly split between anti-death penalty protesters and pro-death penalty protesters. I was sorely mistaken. I quickly learned that the crowd was 99% anti-death penalty. And a substantial proportion of them were avowed socialists, since several radical groups showed up en masse.
Jesse Jackson and Mike Farrell stood behind the podium waiting to speak, guarded by the "Fruit of Islam," the Nation of Islam's paramilitary ... wing.
And finally this classic:
One of the standard activities of radicals at protests these days is to physically cover up the messages of people they don't agree with. At the vigil, the socialists did everything they could to cover up the Christians' signs. And, as you can see here, the media joined in: a sound technician from one of the leftist radio stations used his boom-mike to try to cover up the Christian protest sign. Using a microphone to stifle free speech -- could you get more ironic?
Zombie is an excellent chronicler of the Left and he promises more photos soon. Check out his other work: Main Page Best Of (Hall of Shame) And this classic: Anatomy of a Photograph

Big metal detector

I had heard about Steve Arnold and one of his meteorite finds before but this article at The Kansas City Star goes into some good detail on the process:
Finder of big meteorite says he�s only scratched the surface
Bouncing over the dirt rows of the newly planted wheat field, Steve Arnold�s contraption of plastic pipes mounted on four lawn-mower wheels looks mighty strange.

Then there is Arnold � pulling the rig behind him while a plastic bucket containing a metal detector hangs around his neck.

Odd as he looks out there in the field, Arnold has brought a new and lucrative form of farming to south-central Kansas: He harvests meteorites � with the cooperation of landowners.

�A cash crop,� Arnold, the professional meteorite hunter, said, beaming.
Here is the rig in question.
The technology is pretty simple with two basic ways to implement it. Never heard of someone going with such a big coil though -- being able to locate something 20 feet deep is impressive although (from the article):
While Arnold has found a few meteorites, he also has collected a tub of rusted metal items from bygone days of farming � including a buckle from a horse-drawn plow, horseshoes, a ring from a bull�s nose and steel wagon wheels.

Most items are near the surface, but the big meteorite was much deeper. Arnold dug 2 feet by hand and then got a backhoe. Seven feet below, he unearthed the meteorite of a lifetime.
This particular one is where I heard about Arnold. Here he is with his find:
From the article:
Last month, Arnold announced that he had dug up near Greensburg a 1,400-pound pallasite meteorite, the largest of its type ever found in the United States. It could be worth up to $3 million, experts said.

The owner of the land where Arnold found his prize will get a nice cut of the sale price. Arnold has signed leases with the owners of nearly 3,000 acres to look for meteorites. He pays them up front for hunting rights, and each gets a share of his sales.
Nice for the farmers as well!
Just talking about conspiracy theories and this choice example popped into view. From Mostly Cajun comes this "fact" from New Orleans:
I don�t know if you know it, but in a Congressional hearing about Hurricane Katrina and the rescue efforts in New Orleans afterward, one after another �spokesperson� stood up and ranted about how the rescue efforts were deliberately stalled to kill black people. It is now a matter of public record that there are people who are either so deluded or so stupid as to believe that the levees were bombed in order to kill black people.

Well, here�s an interesting news article.
Of the 883 bodies processed so far by medical examiners at St. Gabriel, 562 have been identified by race. Slightly less than half that number - 48 percent - are African-American

The surprisingly low death rate for black Katrina victims comes despite the fact that New Orleans itself was more than two-thirds black [67 percent] when the storm hit. White residents made up less than a third [28 percent] of the city�s population, according to U.S. Census bureau numbers.
Cajun's comment was spot on:
Here�s my take: If I�m gonna have conspiracy after ME, I want them to be this inept�

Cool online store

High geek factor here. I present: Legend, Inc.

Products & Services for: Geology, Prospectors, Mining, Metallurgy, Assaying, Environmental, Geotechnical

Fascinating stuff...

Conspiracy Theories

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A good look at the crop of conspiracy theories making the rounds. From the Christian Science Monitor:
On the hunt for a conspiracy theory
Conspiracy theory has captured the public imagination. Often we are less interested in what politicians say or do than in attempting to decipher the hidden agenda that motivates their behavior.

Every Supreme Court nomination turns into a search for the skeleton in the closet or a trace of a conspiracy. No sooner was Harriet Miers nominated before rumors suggested that President Bush used her as a fall guy whose failed nomination would make it more difficult for liberals to discredit her more conservative replacement. The president may have more than one conspiracy up his sleeve. It has been suggested that the avian flu scare is promoted by the White House to distract the nation from a messy war in Iraq. Others hint that the pharmaceutical industry is behind it to profit from an explosion of demand for flu vaccines.
So true -- and there are lots of websites that support whatever theory you want to believe. One of my favorite movies was Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson. From the IMDB summary:
Mel Gibson is a New York taxi driver, who has a strange habit. He makes complicated scenarios of conspiracies and publishes them to the Internet. He keeps doing that, until something unbelievable happens: One of his "conspiracy theories" turns out to be real, and so he finds himself chased by the man hiding behind the whole thing.
Conspiracies are a fun thing to play around with but too many people take them seriously...

No posting tonight...

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I had written about one of our dogs getting hit by a car and having to spend the night at at an emergency veterinary hospital. Her vitals were fine until around 5:00am when her heart rate rose from 60-90BPM (normal) to over 200. She crashed and died around 8:00am. If this had been an older dog, I would be a lot more mellow about her passing but this was a vibrant three-year-old German Shorthair Pointer, full of love and life. Ptarmigan was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.

Richard Prior -- a remembrance

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Roger L. Simon is a screenwriter and worked with Richard on Bustin' Loose. Today he posted a wonderful remembrance of working with Richard on that film. Richard was a genius and will be sorely missed.
Remembering Richard
Some time in 1979, shortly after I had done The Big Fix for Universal, the studio called to ask if I would like to write a movie for Richard Pryor. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Pryor was at the top of his game then, acknowledged by many to be possibly the greatest standup comic of all time. Not only that, he was a cultural icon of extraordinary proportions, the very voice of black America, "Daddy Rich." What more could a Jewish white boy who grew up on Miles Davis want than to work with this man?
Go read the whole thing...

The National Crop of Afghanistan

Baron Bodissey writing at The Gates of Vienna points out a couple of interesting things about terrorism, funding and the US Government's drug policies:

Jihad and the Dope Trade
The war against the Great Islamic Jihad is not a static one. Our armed forces and intelligence agencies learn from experience and design new techniques and technologies to meet the requirements of 21st century asymmetrical warfare.

Our enemies are adapting at the same time. The Islamic zealots behind the current war are developing new strategies to counter the efforts of the Western powers. As Middle Eastern governments crack down on the Islamic "charities" under pressure from the United States and its allies, the mujahideen in various Islamofascist terrorist groups find themselves suffering from a lack of funds.

To compensate, the jihadis are adopting creative alternatives. One of the most lucrative examples is the heroin smuggling business.

He then quotes from an article by David E. Kaplan in last week's U.S. News and World Report, Paying For Terror -- here is an excerpt:

Ancient smuggling routes from the Silk Road to the Arabian Sea are being supercharged with tons of heroin and billions of narcodollars. Within Afghanistan, drug-fueled corruption is pervasive; governors, mayors, police, and military are all on the take. A raid this year in strategically located Helmand province came up with a whopping 9 1/2 tons of heroin--stashed inside the governor's own office.

The smuggling routes lead from landlocked Afghanistan to the south and east through Pakistan, to the west through Iraq, and to the north through central Asia. Throughout the region the amounts of drugs seized are jumping, along with rates of crime, drug addiction, and HIV infection. Particularly hard hit are Afghanistan's impoverished northern neighbors, the former Soviet republics of Kirgizstan and Tajikistan. Widely praised demonstrations in Kirgizstan this year, which overthrew the regime of strongman Askar Akayev, have brought to power an array of questionable figures. "Entire branches of government are being directed by individuals tied to organized crime," warns Svante Cornell of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University. "The whole revolution smells of opium."

He then closes with these thoughts:

Consider this: if heroin (and other drugs) were no longer illegal, but were simply regulated by the government as are alcohol and tobacco, if an addict's fix were $2 instead of $40, how would that affect the funding of terrorist enterprises?

Before the comments and emails come down on me like a ton of bricks, let me hasten to say that an initial increase in the addiction rate is a certainty, if drugs were legalized - look at what happened when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. But the increase in heroin addiction would not lead to an increase in the crime rate. At present, heroin users commit crimes - muggings, burglaries, etc. - to pay for their fix.

As heroin consumption stabilized - much like alcohol before it - its use would confined to those who employ mind-altering substances to self-medicate.

But would that human toll be worse than the consequences of our current policies?
  • We imprison thousands upon thousands of users and low-level dealers, thereby turning them into hardened criminals.
  • We enrich the kingpins of crime as our users pay the inflated prices created by keeping drugs illegal.
  • We turn addicts into muggers and burglars and murderers in order to feed their habit.
  • We enable cynicism and corruption as the drugs continue to flow and police forces, officials, and whole governments are bribed and bought off and extorted by the drug barons.
On the other hand, how many 7-11 clerks have been shot by cigarette addicts cleaning out the cash register to pay for their fix? How many governments are corrupted by the trade in illicit alcohol?

It's time to reconsider the havoc we wreaked with our "War on Drugs." It is a war every bit as successful as the one we waged on poverty, and both 'wars' have done more harm than good.

This is not to excuse or promote drug addiction. We must recognize the limits of what can reasonably be done by mere human beings.

Attempting to stifle the addictive aspects of human nature is an exercise in futility. We simply cannot do it.

Go ahead and flame me. But remember this: when Johnny Dopefiend pays for his latest fix, his money eventually works its way into the pockets of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his comrades in jihad.

Is this what we want?

Very good thoughts -- the comments are great to read as well. Baron received some comments that he felt required amplification so he subsequently posted this:

The Two Faces of Nanny
My previous post about jihad and heroin caused such an unexpectedly vigorous response in the comments that a clarification is required.

Point One: Heroin will not be legalized in the United States for the foreseeable future. But a conversation about the damage done by its proscription - both socially and to our national security - is in order.

Point Two: If heroin were legalized without any concomitant changes in our current degraded narcissistic entitlement culture, the results would be disastrous.

The Nanny State encroaches on us more and more every year, making sure we stay warm, eat our vegetables, and generally behave like good little children. As our benevolent and all-seeing parental substitute, Nanny supplies us with all good things and takes care of our every need.

But the government giveth, and the government taketh away. The flip side of Nanny is that she keeps the liquor cabinet locked to make sure that her charges don�t do irresponsible things.

Until the federal government is reformed according to its original constitutional mandate, which means that it would of necessity cease interfering (�for your own good�) in every aspect of its citizens� lives, the legalization of heroin and other narcotics would be disastrous.

And one more:

We need to view drug users in a different light. As commenter Jesse Clark said in the previous thread, "Call me cold and heartless, but I've always believed that everybody is responsible for their own actions."

It is meddling. Frowned upon when it is a neighbor but lusted after when it is a politician.

Great Saying

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So true -- found in an email sig line:
"Arguing with an Engineer is like wrestling with a pig in mud...
after a while you figure out that the pig enjoys it."

More fun with cameras...

I had written about Thomas Hawk's experiences with Price Right Photo here.

Thomas now posts this story about Lee Holmes whose co-worker had this charming message left on their voicemail after they refused to buy some accessories and just wanted to cancel their order:

Abusive New York Camera Store Threatens to Break Customer's Neck
Precision Computing - Customer Service at WaWaDigital - "I'm going to break your neck." "You better not pick up, bitch. I'm gonna to come down there and break your god damn neck. You heard me, alright? Kid, you better hear me, bitch. Do you hear me, BITCH? Yes, you'd better believe it. You're in biiiig trouble, my friend." This was the voicemail reportedly left on a customer's voicemail after he refused to buy overpriced accessories and instead wanted to cancel his order when he was abused by a salesperson at WaWa Digital in Brooklyn, New York.

Of all of the horror stories that I heard from others who had similarly bad experiences to my own recent run in with PriceRitePhoto, this one takes the case. Hey, at least I was only threatened with a lawsuit and arrest by PriceRitePhoto camera store manager / attorney Steve Philips.

Lee Holmes, a blogger who works for Microsoft, was at work a few weeks back when a co-worker of his was allegedly threatened by this sleazy Brooklyn camera outfit, WaWa Digital.

Check out Lee's blog for the whole story including a recording of the offending voicemail.

When I was looking at getting my Nikon D1X, I briefly checked out several of these camera vendors and found them to be all odious. (I bought mine through a local store: Glazers as they had the same price as the reputable mail-order places B&H and Adorama).

These stores would publish a fantastic price for the camera but then offer to sell as accessories items that were in the original factory box (Battery, Memory Card, etc...) These stores are generally from Brooklyn, NY and will operate for a few months until they generate enough complaints, they will then fold and open up under a different name.

Why do some niche businesses have such entrenched pathologies?

Oriental Carpet stores always seem to be having "Going out of Business" sales. The hassle of Car Dealerships "negotiating the deal and checking with the manager" bullshit. Th NY State deep-discount technology stores.

It would be interesting to compile a list of the various tics, tourettes and twitches of these businesses.

Interesting Auction site

Turns out that Goodwill Industries runs a very well done auction site. The items listed from from Goodwill stores in the USA. The usual mix of odd bits and someone's treasures but fun to look through. The Musical Instruments category had some great deals on brass string and woodwind instruments. Under Antiques there is a nice straight razor and some cool old kitchen tools. Cameras had some very collectible older 35mm Cameras (Argus C3 in decent condition)

Tricks of the Trade

Rob at Puzzle Photos also links to a couple other interesting sites. Tricks of the Trade asks people to leave their Occupation and then a Trick of the Trade. Four examples:
When whipping egg whites, first wash the mixing bowl with white vinegar. You will turn a 5-minute task into a 30-second one, and your egg whites will stay fluffier longer.

If you work in a big infrastructure with tons of routers, servers and the rest, you can usually tell how the whole operation is running right from your own desk, since your computer will have the proper tools for monitoring. But management doesn't always understand this -- if there's a problem, they may perceive you as just sitting around idly, even while you are saving the day.

So, at the first sign of trouble, abandon your perfectly functioning computer, go down to the computer room / engine room / nuclear reactor, and continue your work down there. Most of the time the issue will solve itself, but people will assume that, by moving, you were actively engaging the problem and have a second set of mystical tools at your disposal in the event of an emergency.

Recording Engineer
When mixing a record, a band member will often insist that a track could be improved if you make their instrument or vocals louder relative to everyone else. To please this person while not screwing up the sound, twiddle some knobs and then turn up the overall volume. Since the person making the demand will be focusing on their own part, and their own part will now be louder (along with everything else), they will usually think you've fulfilled their request.

The only thing worse than having a table of eight people in your section demanding water is a table for eight demanding water with lemon slices in it, thinking their sophisticated just because they have a hunk of citrus in their glasses. So, the first person asks for water "with lemon," say "sparkling, spring, or tap" Now they either pony up for the bottled water or say "tap water" in front of all the friends they are trying to impress.
The IT one is priceless -- I could have used this from time to time. Like the author, I automated as much as possible so was sitting in front of my desk running the show. The Recording Engineer one is great too. Some studios with very large mixing boards will set up a dozen channels as the "Producers Final Mix" section. The producer is invited to sit down and add his final tweaks to the mix. The channels of course are not connected to anything...

What is it?

Rob has a fascinating blog over at Puzzle Photos. Each week he publishes a few photographs and your job is to leave a comment figuring out what they are. The following week, he updates that page with explanations. Here is one example:
The answer to this plus a few others can be found here

Light posting today

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Had a friend come up from Seattle to look at Eagles (we have lots of them up here this time of year) and Great Blue Herons. An hour or so after he left, one of our dogs got hit. She is fine and spending the night at an emergency veterinary hospital. Kinda puts a crimp on the day though...

Donald Rumsfeld speech

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Wonderful speech by Donald Rumsfeld at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Wretchard has some comments and the Washington Post has the transcript: Wretchard at The Belmont Club:
Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq
Donald Rumsfeld recently gave a speech at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins where he discussed in an engaging and candid way the reasons why perceptions over the Iraq mission differ and laying out why he thinks seeing OIF to victory is not only necessary but indispensable. But the question-and-answer period which followed rises above his prepared remarks by considerable margin.

Secretary Rumsfeld regretted that every time he spoke it was inevitably to "several audiences" of varying degrees of friendliness or hostility, an awareness which probably made routine press briefings dull and wary affairs. But while Rumsfeld at Johns Hopkins may not have been playing to an unquestioningly admiring audience, I think he felt he was talking to a rational and highly intelligent group of listeners, one that could be swayed by force of argument and the enumeration of facts. That turned the Q&A period into a kind of dialogue, in which Rumsfeld proved willing to examine each question in the round. And the subjects he covers run the gamut. What is torture? Are military contractors necessary in Iraq? Why does the perception of the same event differ between segments of the American public? What is military transformation? What are the key advantages of the enemy? If they are not to be called insurgents, then what should they be called? How many troops are enough?

In responding to each question it's obvious he has considered them before and we can hear the echoes of earlier dialogues in his response to the students and faculty of Johns Hopkins; one can't help wondering in what setting those earlier conversations took place. And yet it isn't pure regurgitation because if one listens carefully it's possible to hear Rumsfeld debating with himself; and the reverberations give the listener something of a picture of his mind. And whether one likes or loathes him, Rumsfeld's mind is an interesting place to be.
" Rumsfeld's mind is an interesting place to be. " Heh... That is one very smart individual. From the transcript of his speech: On Iraq and the "insurgents" (who named them that anyway -- that is an almost sympathetic term...)
The other question I posed is of critical importance, and that was, "Why does Iraq success or failure matter to the American people?"

Consider this quote: "What you have seen, Americans, in New York and Washington, D.C., and the losses you are having in Afghanistan, Iraq, in spite of all the media blackout, are only the losses of the initial clashes," unquote.

The speaker was Zawahiri, the senior member of Al Qaida and a top leader in the effort to defeat U.S. and coalition forces, and, I should add, moderate Muslim regimes around the world.

The terrorist methods of attack, simply put, are slaughter. They behead, they bomb children, they attack funerals and wedding receptions. This is the kind of brutality and mayhem that the terrorists are working to bring to our shores.

And if we do not succeed in efforts to arm and train Iraqis to help defeat the terrorists in Iraq, this is the kind of mayhem that these terrorists, emboldened by a victory, will bring to our shores, let there be no doubt.
On the Geneva Convention and our treatment of terrorists:
The decisions were made by the Department of Justice and by the president. And in their minds, they do believe that they are conforming to the Geneva Convention.

As you know, the Geneva Conventions provided that people should be treated in one way if they were functioning under the laws of war: if they wore uniforms, if they carried their weapons publicly, if they adhered to certain things.

And the Geneva Conventions purposely rewarded people, if you will, who conducted themselves in that manner, and distinguished them from people who did not.

The president, obviously, said that the situation in Iraq did lead to a situation. They wore uniforms. They carried their weapons properly. So the provisions of the Geneva Convention provided applied to them.

The president also decided that the terrorists and the people who blow up children and women indiscriminately and don't wear uniforms and don't carry weapons out did not merit the same treatment that people who did conduct themselves in that manner.

However, he went on to say that, notwithstanding that, they should receive humane treatment. That was his instruction, that was the instruction I put out throughout the Department of Defense, and the policy of the department has been for those individuals who were the Taliban or the Al Qaida or other terrorist individuals as opposed to people who were part of an organized military.
The transcript is a long one (the speech was about 40 minutes long) but worth reading as it is a window into our policy in Iraq -- one not reported by the MSM...

The definitions of Mental Illness

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An interesting article at the Washington Post asks just where do we draw the line when defining Mental Illness. Should a case of bias or prejudice be clinically treated as we now treat depression or anxiety.
Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness
The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.

These fixations preoccupied him every day. Articles in magazines about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.

"He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont who treated the man for two years. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened."

Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.

If it succeeds, it could have huge ramifications on clinical practice, employment disputes and the criminal justice system. Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment, and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish "ordinary prejudice" from pathological bias.
Bush Derangement Syndrome anyone?

R.I.P. Richard Pryor

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Died of a heart attack this morning. Wikipedia has a nice biography. His website is here: Richard Pryor but it is overloaded with traffic.

Climate and Control

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The two-week U.N. conference on global warming in Montreal has ended. President Clinton spoke criticizing President Bush for his rejection of the Kyoto Treaty to limit CO2 production. CNN has the story:
Deal reached at climate conference
More than 150 nations agreed Saturday to launch formal talks on mandatory post-2012 reductions in greenhouse gases -- talks that will exclude an unwilling United States.

For its part the Bush administration, which rejects the emissions cutbacks of the current Kyoto Protocol, accepted only a watered-down proposal to enter an exploratory global "dialogue" on future steps to combat climate change. That proposal specifically rules out "negotiations leading to new commitments."
And Clinton's comments:
Former President Clinton, a Kyoto supporter, appeared at the Montreal meeting on its final day and urged nations to unite to confront the threat.

The United States is the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, and Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, was instrumental in negotiating the treaty protocol initialed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan -- a pact the Senate subsequently refused to ratify.

When Bush rejected Kyoto outright after taking office in 2001, he said its mandatory energy cuts would harm the U.S. economy, and he complained that major developing countries were not covered.
Emphasis mine -- the Senate refusal was by a vote of 95 to zero against. Here is an excerpt from President Bush's letter on the subject:
As you know, I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy. The Senate's vote, 95-0, shows that there is a clear consensus that the Kyoto Protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns.

As you also know, I support a comprehensive and balanced national energy policy that takes into account the importance of improving air quality. Consistent with this balanced approach, I intend to work with the Congress on a multipollutant strategy to require power plants to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. Any such strategy would include phasing in reductions over a reasonable period of time, providing regulatory certainty, and offering market-based incentives to help industry meet the targets. I do not believe, however, that the government should impose on power plants mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide, which is not a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.
Read the whole thing to understand his thoughts -- he is definitely taking a good long view of the entire situation, not just buying into the CO2 hysteria currently prevalent. It is nice to see Nuclear Power starting to gain traction again. It makes the most sense overall...

Unintended Consequences - surfing

Environmental regulations have forced a manufacturer to close their shop.

The BBC has the news:

Wave of despair hits surf world
The sport of surfing is in turmoil after the world's largest producer of the foam blocks used to make surfboards closed down, citing over-regulation.

Polyurethane foam "blanks" produced by California-based Gordon Clark are used to make many of the world's surfboards.

Mr Clark, who helped invent the modern all-foam surfboard, says environmental regulations forced him out of business.

Fears of a global foam shortage have led to a sharp rise in board prices as surfers snap up already depleted stock.

Mr Clark, known as "Grubby" among surfers, revolutionised the sport in 1958 when he and fellow pioneer Hobie Alter coated a shaped foam block in resin to create an all-foam surfboard.

Previously, surfers could only use wooden boards which often snapped under the force of giant waves.

And the reason:

Now 73, Mr Clark announced his decision to bow out of the industry amid rising concern among local and state authorities about the chemicals used to manufacture the foam blanks.

He outlined his problems in a seven-page letter to his customers, who include hundreds of small surf shops and family businesses throughout the US.

"For owning and operating Clark Foam, I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits, and even time in prison," Mr Clark wrote.

State authorities in California and in Orange County, where Clark Foam is based, are concerned by the company's machinery and its use of toxic chemicals.

The company web site has no mention of this but the web presence is generally the last thing to be taken care of in situations like this. Crap!

R.I.P. Robert Sheckley

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No news on the web yet but I just found out that Science Fiction author Robert Sheckley has passed away. He had been in poor health recently. His personal website is here: Robert Sheckley and I'm sure that they will post details later. Damn!
Jen and I saw this film today. Awesome! Incredible casting, the CG was gorgeous. There were a couple of shots that were obviously blue-screened but these were not critical to the plot or action. Aslan the Lion was drop-dead perfect -- great facial expressions, body language, stage presence. There was only one minor change from the book -- the film opens with London being bombed and an air-raid alert. This sets the scene for the four children being evacuated to the Professor's house for those that might not be up on their WW-2 history. It is nice to see that Hollywood is finally not meddling with existing storylines in their attempt to add more sizzle. Doing this to a well-crafted story generally results in a botched kludge.

Greasing the Palms

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I have no words. Read this: Worse Than Fossil Fuel Discuss...

Fun times in China

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Something that doesn't seem to be getting much traction with the MSM is the current unrest in The Peoples Republic (communist) of China: From Science Daily:
Police kill eight in China village protest
Police reportedly shot dead eight villagers in China's southern Guangdong province as they were protesting over a land requisition deal.

Police and government officials refused to confirm the Tuesday incident in Dongzhou village, but a villager told the South China Morning Post that eight people, including his brother, were killed when police opened fire on protesters. He said others were wounded and taken to the hospital.

"It's not a simple case, because in such a harmonious society, our armed police won't presume to open fire on villagers," said a spokesman for the Shanwei city government that administers the village.

Shanwei Public Security Bureau officials said they were "not clear" about the incident.
Reuters does its usual excellent job:
Police seal off south China village after clashes
Armed police have sealed off a village in southern China after violent clashes with residents protesting against lack of compensation for land lost to a wind power plant, villagers said on Friday.

Residents said riot police had opened fire on Tuesday on protesters in the village of Dongzhou in Guangdong province after they moved in to quell the unrest. Estimates from residents and rights groups put the number of dead between two and 20.

"Now the authorities are coming to the village to detain people," said one villager, adding his brother was among those shot dead during the demonstrations.

"My parents and my sister-in-law are kneeling in front of the house to ask the government officials to explain the killing," he said in a telephone interview.
Emphasis mine -- excuse me: wind power plant??? Bzzzzzttt! Wrong. Try Coal -- lots and lots of Coal. From The Guardian
Chinese militia open fire on demonstrators opposing coal plant In one of the most violent confrontations in a wave of recent rural unrest, Chinese paramilitary forces have shot and killed at least one man and injured more than a dozen others during protests against a power plant in Guangdong, local residents said yesterday.

Police reportedly used tear gas on a crowd of several thousand demonstrators, some of whom were said to have been throwing Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs. The death toll from the riot, in Dongzhou village on Tuesday evening, could rise. Local authorities refused to provide details of casualties but reports in the Hong Kong and overseas media suggest up to 15 people may have been killed.

A witness, who only gave her surname, Huang, told the Guardian that a former schoolmate, Lin Yutui, was among the dead. "We didn't expect the police would hurt us so when they fired warning shots in the air, nobody dispersed. Even when they used tear gas, people wouldn't withdraw. So then they used real bullets. I saw people get shot."

After her father was hit in the face by a tear-gas canister, Huang took him to a clinic where she described scenes of grief and chaos. She said the head of the clinic was imploring the biggest nearby hospital, in Shanwei, to send help. A member of staff at the Shanwei municipal hospital confirmed that wounded people had been brought in on Tuesday.

Several Hong Kong media groups said the deaths and wounds were caused by tear-gas canisters being fired at close range. But Mr Lin's family was quoted as telling the South China Morning Post that he had been killed instantly by two bullets, one to the heart and one to the pelvis.
And some more with a bit of backstory:
The level of the violence this week had been unusual, but protests are becoming common. According to central government, 3.6 million people took part in 74,000 "mass incidents" last year, an increase of more than 20% on 2003. As in Dongzhou, most of these demonstrations were about property and pollution.

Dongzhou's villagers oppose the construction of a coal-fired power plant partly on land reclaimed from the nearby Baisha saltwater lake. Although construction of the 6.2bn yuan (�440m) development began in 2003, residents say they have not been compensated for lost income and land or the likely deterioration in the air and water quality. For the past two months, they have blocked the road into the construction site.

Tuesday's violent escalation was sparked by the arrest of the campaign's leaders. According to the AFP news agency, hundreds of officers from the People's Armed Police, a unit of the People's Liberation Army, attended the scene. The developer denied any involvement.
Molotov cocktails are a bit of overkill but the irony is wonderful... Wikipedia has a great article on Molotov cocktails:
A Palestinian throws a Molotov cocktail at
Israeli soldiers in the town of
Nablus in the West Bank
Molotov cocktail (petrol bomb) is the generic name for a variety of crude incendiary weapons. Commonly associated with irregular military forces and rioters, they are more frequently used for basic arson.
And Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov? That a Communist Tool would be used against the last real bastions of Communism is wonderful. Power to these people!

Nasty Idea (and I love it!)

Hat tip to Strange New Products for the pointer to this wonderful bit of software for the corporate worker:

New Service Gets Rid of Unwanted People
Ring4Freedom is a web-based service that rings your cell phone or landline phone anytime you want, allowing you to escape the throngs of unwanted conversationalists.

Ever had someone walk up to your cubicle and start chattering away, wishing you could find a polite way to get rid of them? Ring4Freedom perhaps is your answer.

It's a piece of software that sits in your Windows system tray. Clicking on the icon (or pressing CTRL-D) will send a signal over the Internet to Ring4Freedom's server, which then places a call to your phone. This way, you can tell your unwanted guest that you're expecting an important call, and send them away.

The companies website is here: Ring 4 FreedomThe service costs $4.95/month or 29.95/Year (half price). I could have used this in a few places I worked. At one place, the manager for my division (a peach of a guy, just not management material by a long long shot) held regular meetings that were so brain-crashingly dull and useless that I would have myself paged 45 minutes after the meeting began. I would get a ten minute precis of the meeting that next day from one of the unfortunates that had to sit through the entire four hour presentation (yes, they did last that long). Christ on a corn dog! I just Googled the guy's name just for a joke and this is an excerpt of the first item that showed up:

Committee Meetings
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 7:29 pm followed by a group picture and dinner. Respectfully submitted, Xxxxxx Yyyyyyyy Zzzzzzzz, ...

It is him.

The guy loved to run loooong meetings...

I ran meetings when I had my own business and later at Microsoft.

If they lasted more than one hour, I was doing something wrong.

The Grand Rounds

Some bloggers like to participate in periodic "shows" of posts on various topics. One of the more fascinating is the Grand Rounds written by medical bloggers -- the individual posts range from high-tech to zero-tech, mundane to reaching for the Kleenex. This weeks event is being hosted by one of my favorite Med-Blogs -- the Examining Room of Dr. Charles:

Grand Rounds 211
Welcome to Grand Rounds, the weekly highlight show of medical blogging. You will be inspired, discouraged, and enlightened by these unique pieces as contributed this week by doctors, nurses, patients, and healthcare professionals who've got something to say.

I borrowed a few Norman Rockwells. He captured much of the essense of medicine through his paintings. They donned the covers of the weekly Saturday Evening Post, a compilation of current events, well-written fiction, human-interest, humorous and poetic pieces, and editorials.

Is Grand Rounds, still in its infancy, becoming the contemporary weekly portrait of medicine?

I think so:

I think so too -- here are three highlights:

It's amazing to me that there are people still denying that HIV/AIDS exists. ORAC, the surgeon/scientist/author of the blog Respectful Insolence, exposes the most recent far-right quackery in the case of child Eliza Jane Scovill's death.

That "mother" need to be beaten severely with a clue-bat. Read the post to understand why I am fuming!

Maria, a fellow literary medical blogger at her site Intueri, portrays her psychiatric visit with a bona-fide psychopath.

Not so much what he said but what he did not say -- a Hannibal Lectorish case of the twitching willies.

Dr. Mikel, of the blog Unbound Medicine, shows us a chest x-ray that "should never have been taken."

Cripes -- this guy has more hardware inside his thorax than I do in my shop!

Light posting today

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Went into town for an auction and to run some errands so posting was light today. Sorry! The auction was conducted by these people: Trade West Sales Very good auctioneer (going to auctions is something of a hobby for me) but I felt sorry for him. The previous owners of the company they were liquidating cherry-picked all the good stuff out of the available lots so what was left was junk at best. I didn't need to pay $20 for a 5-gallon bucket of used bolts - got my own buckets going here on the farm... My favorite auction house is still James G. Murphy -- went to a bunch of their Dot-Com auctions a couple years ago and still using the stuff I bought.

Cool Surplus Store

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I have not dealt with them but these people come highly recommended. Most surplus places sell small electronics and pumps, fans and motors. This place seems to specialize in industrial and process control electronics, chassis, wiring as well as circuit boards, power handling SCR's and Thyristors. Good stuff for building larger machines. Check out CPI Surplus

Harold Pinter being himself

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Harold Pinter may write popular plays, he certainly did win this years Nobel Prize for Literature but he should stick with scribbling and stay away from Foreign Policy. As he was unable to come (medical reasons) to this years awards banquet, he delivered a pre-recorded speech. A very vituperative and nasty speech. The BBC has the news: Some comments and excerpts:
The playwright launched a scathing attack on US and UK politicians in his lecture as winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature.

Most politicians "are interested not in truth but in power and the maintenance of that power", the 75-year-old said.
A bit more:
On Wednesday his lecture, entitled Art, Truth and Politics, studied the importance of truth in art before decrying its perceived absence in politics.

He said politicians feel it is "essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives".

Pinter said the US justification for invading Iraq - that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction - "was not true".
One last bit
He added: "You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good."

Referring to Blair's support for the US-led war on Iraq, Pinter described the "pathetic and supine" Great Britain as "a bleating little lamb tagging behind (the US) on a lead".

He called for President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to be "arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice".

"But Bush has been clever," Pinter said. "He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice."

Nevertheless he added that "thousands, if not millions" of people in the US were "sickened, shamed and angered" by their government's actions.

"As things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet."
Bush did not ratify the International Criminal Court of Justice because to do so would remove our sovereignty and allow outsiders to dictate the way in which we were governed. I am sorry but I thought that matter was settled back in 1776... As for the "they are not a coherent political force - yet." quote -- as long as the liberals have such piss-poor representatives in Government, they will remain on the fringes for a long long time. UPDATE: Much was made in the article about Bush not ratifying the International Criminal Court of Justice. It is not just Bush, this legal abomination has been in operation since 1946 and Not One of the Presidents have drunk that kool-aid and ratified. Here is a partial list of other nations who have not ratified the ICCJ: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea , Ecuador, France, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan , Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia. Taken from their own list here The main website (English) is here

New Website from Nick Denton

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"New Media" whiz-kid Nick Denton has come out with a new web page: The Consumerist Nice pithy real reviews of consumer goods and dealings with retailers. From their website:
Welcome to the Consumerist
Welcome, internet, to The Consumerist, the latest title from Gawker Media. The Consumerist loves to shop, and is reconciled to utilities, but hates paying for shoddy products, inhumane customer support, and half-assed service.

Each week The Consumerist will guide you through the delinquencies of retail and service organizations. The Consumerist will highlight the persistent, shameless boners of modern consumerism � and the latest hot deals, discounts, and freebies around.

Join us. You�ll tell us when you�ve been royally screwed by yet another company, and we�ll channel your rage. Together we will storm the revolving doors of faceless corporations to call them naughty words for genitals, and they will begin to fear us.

The Consumerist. Capitalism is broken. We�ll help you fix it.
Nice! If it is anything like Nick's other websites, including Gawker and Wonkette, it will be fun to watch both the site and people's reaction to it.

A lifetime

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A nice interview in the NY Times with Dr. Michael R. Rose:
Live Longer With Evolution? Evidence May Lie in Fruit Flies
In the 1970's, Michael R. Rose made scientific history with experiments manipulating the life spans of fruit flies.

Through selective breeding, Dr. Rose was able to create a long-lived line of creatures he called Methuselah flies. He then put his research into reverse and developed flies with much shortened life spans.

All this was accomplished within 12 generations by accelerating the evolutionary processes in a laboratory setting.
A few of the questions:
Q. Why do scientists need to embrace evolution to do longevity research?

A. Because the common assumption is that young bodies work and then they fall apart during aging. Young bodies only work because natural selection makes them healthy enough to survive and breed.

As adults get older, natural selection stops caring about them, so we lose its benefits and our health. If you don't understand this, aging research is an unending riddle that goes around in circles.

Q. You are known in the genetics world for manipulating the life span of fruit flies. Can you describe your very famous experiment?

A. My experiment was to let my flies reproduce only at late ages. This forced natural selection to pay attention to the survival and reproductive vigor of the flies through their middle age.

The flies evolved longer life spans and greater reproduction over the next dozen generations. This showed that natural section was really the ultimate controller of aging, not some piece of biochemistry.

Q. Why was it important to manipulate the life spans of fruit flies?

A. Because it showed that aging isn't some general breakdown process, like the way cars rust. Aging is an optional feature of life. And it can be slowed or postponed.
Q. Do you believe there is such a thing as a limited life span for humans?

A. No. Life span is totally tunable. In my lab, we tune it up and down all the time.
Fascinating stuff... Different people age at different rates. This area of research should bear some fantastic fruit in ten or twenty years...

Tracking Santa

Cute story about Santa Claus and how NORAD came to track his journey. It is now the fiftieth year that Santa has shown up on their RADAR screens. From the NORAD website:
This is the 50th Anniversary that NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa. The tradition began after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. store advertisement for children to call Santa on a special "hotline" included an inadvertently misprinted telephone number. Instead of Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline." The Director of Operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, received the first "Santa" call on Christmas Eve 1955. Realizing what had happened, Colonel Shoup had his staff check radar data to see if there was any indication of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Indeed there were signs of Santa and children who called were given an update on Santa's position. Thus, the tradition was born. In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States decided to create a bi-national air defense command for the North American continent called the North American Air Defense Command. Canada and the U.S. believed they could better defend North America together as a team instead of separately.

The Command carried out its first Santa tracking in 1958 after inheriting the tradition from CONAD. Since that time, Canadian and American men and women who work at NORAD have responded to phone calls from children personally. Additionally, media from all over the world call NORAD on Christmas Eve for updates on Santa's location. Last year this Website was visited by millions of people who wanted to know Santa's whereabouts. This year, the information is provided in six languages.

NORAD relies on many volunteers to help make Santa tracking possible. Many people at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base spend part of their Christmas Eve with their families and friends at NORAD's Santa Tracking Operations Center in order to answer phones and provide Santa updates to the many thousands of children who call in.
The Cheyenne Mountain facility is awe inspiring. We all know about the main "war room" having seen it in a lot of movies and television shows but the sheer scale of the place has to be seen to be comprehended. The mammoth springs that the facility rests on to minimize the effects of a nearby nuclear blast.

Great little ditty...

A spell checker does not check the word in context. It will pass both whether and weather, too or two. I had seen this a long time ago and went googling for it.

Here is The Ode To The Spell-Checker

From a very interesting looking Leslie's Omnibus-- Blithely rolling off the email trail and onto the information highway.


From Elizabeth -- Ode To The Spell-Checker

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.



Interesting article about Monosodium Glutamate and its discovery at The Guardian:

If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn't everyone in Asia have a headache?
In the port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, there is a museum devoted entirely to noodle soup. It may be Japan's favourite foodie day out: one and a half million ramen fans visit the museum every year, and even on the wintry morning that I went the queue wound 50 yards down the street - young couples, mainly: cold, hungry and excited.

Inside the Yokohama Ramen Museum and Amusement Park they meet exhibitions on the evolution of soup bowls and instant noodle packets - more fascinating than you'd think, but these are not the main event. That's deep in the basement, where there's an entire street, done up to look like a raucous 1950s Yokohama harbour-front. Every shop houses a different noodle restaurant, each a clone of one of the best noodle shops of Japan. It's a culinary Madame Tussauds.

Salivating just thinking about it... The article goes on:

This last fact is of little interest to the Japanese - like most Asians, they have no fear of MSG. And there lies one of the world's great food scare conundrums. If MSG is bad for you - as Jeffrey Steingarten, the great American Vogue food writer once put it - why doesn't everyone in China have a headache?

To begin to answer this we must go back to Japan a century ago. Professor Kidunae Ikeda comes home from the physics faculty at the Tokyo Imperial University and sits down to eat a broth of vegetables and tofu prepared by his wife. It is - as usual - delicious. The professor, a mild, bespectacled biochemistry specialist, turns to Mrs Ikeda and asks - as spouses occasionally will - what is the secret of her wonderful soup. Mrs Ikeda points to the strips of dried seaweed she keeps in the store cupboard. This is kombu, a heavy kelp. Soak it in hot water and you get the essence of dashi, the stock base of the tangy broths and consommes the Japanese love.

This is the professor's 'Eureka!' moment. Mrs Ikeda's kombu is to lead him to a discovery that will make his fortune and change the nature of 20th-century food. In time, it would bring about the world's longest-lasting food scare, and as a result, kick-start the age of the rebel consumer. It was an important piece of seaweed.

A bit more:

Professor Ikeda was one of many scientists at the turn of the century working on the biochemical mechanics which inform our perception of the world. By 1901 they had drawn a map of the tongue, showing, crudely, the whereabouts of the different nerve endings that identify the four accepted primary tastes, sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

But Ikeda thought this matrix missed something. 'There is,' he said, 'a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes.' He decided to call the fifth taste 'umami' - a common Japanese word that is usually translated as 'savoury' - or, with more magic, as 'deliciousness'. By isolating umami, Ikeda - who had picked up some liberal notions while studying in Germany - hoped he might be able to improve the standard of living of Japan's rural poor. And so he and his researchers began their quest to isolate deliciousness.

By 1909 the work on kombu was complete. Ikeda made his great announcement in the august pages of the Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo. He had isolated, he wrote, a chemical with the molecular formula C5H9NO4. This and the substance's other properties were exactly the same as those of glutamic acid, an amino acid produced by the human body and present in many foodstuffs. When the protein containing glutamic acid is broken down - by cooking, fermentation or ripening - it becomes glutamate.

'This study,' concluded Professor Ikeda in triumph, 'has discovered two facts: one is that the broth of seaweed contains glutamate and the other that glutamate causes the taste sensation "umami".'

Unfortunately Glutamate broke down during storage but by adding salt and water, a stable compound was developed: Monosodium Glutamate. The article then goes on to talk about the MSG "scare" that started to develop in 1968 and is still present today. Googling "MSG medical problems" turns up a bit more than 500,000 hits. The author also talks about how a friend of his (supposedly very susceptible to MSG at any level) was given two tomato slices, one was supposed to be factory farmed, the other organic. The friend assured the author that the organically grown tomato was superior. It was from the same factory farmed fruit but dosed with MSG. The author also served a pizza made with mascarpone, parma ham and tomato -- all ingredients with a high natural Glutamate levels. From the article:

Then we ate mascarpone, parma ham and tomato pizza. Nic felt fine. So did I. I had ingested, I reckoned, a good six grams of MSG over the day, and probably the same again in free glutamate from the food - the equivalent of eating two 250g jars of Marmite.

Fascinating insight into people's perceptions...

Mistletoe and Meat

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Fun promotional site from Gerber Blades. Mistletoe and Meat From the site:
Warning: These projects may cause ruined stoves, runaway children and lawsuits from the neighbors. And don't eat or drink any of them either.
Great recipe for Porcupine, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. (#15)

Cute flash toy

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Classical mechanics implemented very nicely in Flash. Give it a try at

People being stupid

Not hard to find but this example takes the cake. Say hello to aspiring model Ms. Jessica Sandy Booth:
Today's THV in Little Rock has the details of her fifteen minutes of fame:
Model Accused Of Hiring Hit Man To Kill For Cheese
Police in Memphis say a woman mistook a block of white cheese for a cocaine stash and tried to hire a hit man to kill four men and steal it.

Police say Jessica Sandy Booth was mistaken about the hit man, too. He was an undercover policeman.

Booth is 18. She's charged with four counts of attempted murder and four more of soliciting a murder.

Authorities say Booth was in the men's house recently and thought a block of queso fresco cheese was cocaine. The cheese is used in cooking.

Police say Booth, who is an aspiring model, told the hit man she needed $7,900 to pay a modeling agency. The undercover officer was recording Booth's conversation and police say they have her saying any children old enough to testify would have to be killed as well.

People in the home gave police permission to search it. They found only the cheese.
When someone has to pay a modeling agency money, they are not model caliber and are being fleeced.
Hat tip to Rob at Gut Rumbles for this link to an awesome School Mascot: From Salt Lake City KUTV-2:
Logan Students Pick Mummified Cat For Mascot
The Egyptians have King Tut, the Incas have ice maidens and one Cache Valley school now, officially, has joined them with its own preserved artifact.

Students at the Cache Valley Learning Center, a private school in Logan that moved to a new location this fall, voted Tuesday for the school's first mascot: a Mummycat.

The idea didn't just come from nowhere. A real, naturally mummified cat sits on a shelf in the 116-year-old building's basement, just a few feet from where it was found in a dark crawl space. About 3 feet long, the cat appears to have died while on its back, looking upward and stretched out. While parts of it seemed to have decayed, others are completely intact, including its whiskers and ears.

The cat was discovered just before Halloween, bringing several rumors of mummycat curses and mummy ghost stories, science teacher Bill Masslich said.

"It was thrown around as a joke for a while," he said, before some of the students started to seriously suggest the cat become the school's official mascot.

Of the 78 students who voted at the K-8 school, 35 students wanted to be the Mummycats. A wolverine and raven came in second and third in the mascot poll.

School Director Anne Desjardins said the new and school's first mascot is OK with her, as long as the kids can come up with something visual to use as the mascot. And it can't be the actual mummified cat downstairs, she said.
Major props to School Director Anne Desjardins for allowing the students to pick this character for their mascot! Here are two photos -- which one is the Mummycat:
Acckkkk Pfffttt!!! indeed...

Obviously there is a bit of a bias being displayed here but this essay is very well thought out and expressed. Some great points and the author -- Lieutenant Colonel James G. Lacey -- ties together some very interesting points. And Proceedings is not a shabby journal -- they do not publish fluff... From

The Impending Collapse of Arab Civilization
By Lieutenant Colonel James G. Lacey, U.S. Army Reserve
Proceedings, September 2005

If a country wants to be on the winning side of history it first and foremost must get its grand strategy right. With that done, it can make any number of operational mistakes and weather many a setback and still walk away a winner. In the Cold War, our grand strategy of containing the Soviet Union eventually won the day despite many tribulations over the fifty years it was in place. Diplomat George Kennan's famous "X Article," anonymously published in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1947, became the conceptual pillar of Cold War strategy and withstood a decades-long assault by critics until eventually vindicated by the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Was the containment theory hurt by the vitriol of its critics? I would argue the opposite is true. Criticism forced the supporters of containment theory to examine and hone their arguments. In order to properly answer their critics, supporters of containment were forced to continually evaluate their strategic models under regularly changing conditions. The end result was a strategy that proved adaptable to shifting circumstances and able to garner the support of the bulk of public opinion.

Today, however, more and more of our strategic judgments are being built upon the untested edifice of two books: Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror and Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order . While there have been a few critical reviews of both works, for the most part they have become the basic canon of 21st century strategic thought with very little serious negative commentary. In military publications and briefings these works are now cited repeatedly and uncritically as authoritative support for developing strategic concepts.

Both books paint a dismal global picture. Huntington argues that for centuries civilizations have been kept apart by distance and serious geographical obstacles. However, modern technologies are eroding these obstacles and as civilizations begin to interact on a more regular basis they will find each other so repugnant they will be unable to resist trying to slaughter one another. Bernard Lewis is not as pessimistic about the global environment. Rather, he focuses his dire warnings on just the Muslim world, which appears to him on an irreversible road to doom.

Lieutenant Colonel Lacey talks a little bit more about the books and then delivers this:

A more accurate understanding of events leads to the conclusion that Arab, not Muslim, civilization is in a state of collapse, and it just happens that most Arabs are Muslims. In this regard, the fall of the Western Roman Empire was a collapse of Western Europe and not a crisis of Christianity. The next question is, how could the world have missed an entire civilization collapsing before its eyes? The simple answer is that no one alive today has ever seen it happen before. Well within living memory we have seen empires collapse and nation-state failure has become a regular occurrence, but no one in the West has witnessed the collapse of a civilization since the Dark Ages. Civilizational collapses take a long time to unfold and are easy to miss in the welter of daily events.

Interestingly, on the Arab League's website there is a paper that details all of the contributions made by Arab civilization. It is a long and impressive list, which unfortunately marks 1406 as the last year a significant contribution was made. That makes next year the 600th anniversary of the beginning of a prolonged stagnation, which began a dive into the abyss with the end of the Ottoman Empire. Final collapse has been staved off only by the cash coming in from a sea of oil and because of a few bright spots of modernity that have resisted the general failure.

He follows up with these statistics about life in the Arab world (numbers from a United Nations Human Development Report):

There are 18 computers per 1000 citizens compared to a global average of 78.3.

Only 1.6% of the population has Internet access.

Less than one book a year is translated into Arabic per million people, compared to over 1000 per million for developed countries.

Arabs publish only 1.1% of books globally, despite making up over 5% of global population, with religious books dominating the market.

Average R&D expenditures on a per capita basis is one-sixth of Cuba's and less than one-fifteenth of Japan's.

The Arab world is embarking upon the new century burdened by 60 million illiterate adults (the majority are women) and a declining education system, which is failing to properly prepare regional youth for the challenges of a globalized economy. Educational quality is also being eroded by the growing pervasiveness of religion at all levels of the system. In Saudi Arabia over a quarter of all university degrees are in Islamic studies. In many other nations primary education is accomplished through Saudi-financed madrassas, which have filled the void left by government's abdication of its duty to educate the young.

In economic terms we have already commented that the combined weight of the Arab states is less than that of Spain. Strip oil out of Mideast exports and the entire region exports less than Finland. According to the transnational Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), regional economic growth is burdened by declining rates of investment in fixed capital structure, an inability to attract substantial foreign direct investment, and declining productivity � the economic trinity of disaster.

Economic stagnation coupled with rapid population growth is reducing living standards throughout the region, both comparatively and in real terms. In the heady days of the late 1970s oil boom, annual per-capita GDP growth of over 5% fueled high levels of expectations. GDP per-capita grew from $1,845 to $2,300. Today, after adjusting for inflation, it stands at $1,500, reflecting an overall decline in living standards over 30 years. Only sub-Saharan Africa has done worse. If oil wealth is subtracted from the calculations the economic picture for the mass of Arab citizens becomes dire.

Things are indeed bad in the Arab world and will get much worse.

He closes with three options and an explanation of why #3 is the one to take:

By accepting that we need to contain the effects of a failing Arab civilization we are then free to adopt one of three basic approaches:
  1. Attempt to accelerate the collapse and pick up the pieces, akin to letting an alcoholic hit bottom.
  2. To contain the effects, but not to interfere with the fall for good or bad.
  3. Reverse the tide when and where we can.
For a number of ethical and practical reasons the third choice is the one that should and is most likely to be adopted, keeping in mind that resisting the macro-forces of historical change will not be easy.

By adopting the third option we can craft policies to improve economic conditions and help specific regions within the Arab world adapt to encroaching modernity. The United States must be able to spot shining lights in the Arab world and work to protect them even as we help to expand their influence. Discarding the theories of two men as eminent as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis is not a matter to take lightly. History may even prove both men right and my analysis to be well off the mark. However, the almost blind acceptance now being given to these men's ideas is a dangerous trend. As military leaders build the strategic plans and policies that will guide our forces for a generation or more it is best to be skeptical of all underlying assumptions. This article is designed to strike at the foundation of the two most widely accepted arguments in the current forum of ideas. If they are correct and sturdy then my position will not topple them. In fact, like Kennan's X article they will be made stronger by having to defend themselves against criticism. If they are weak, then it is best to discard them now.

I have excerpted about 50% of the essay -- if you are interested in this subject, you might want to read the entire thing as Lieutenant Colonel Lacey fleshes out a lot of his statements with facts. A viewpoint that I had not thought about before but it makes a lot of sense. The Islamic culture is so tied to the Arab Civilization that we Westerners fail to separate the two. As I have said before, I have zero problem with Islamic spiritual practices -- my first wife and I were Sufis for a long time and we met some amazingly wonderful people. My problem begins when Islam gets perverted by the corrupt ham-eating sons of monkeys who are making trouble in Syria, Iran, Iraq and the so-called "palestinians" (cough*Jordan*cough)...


From What Tian has Learned comes this great story about a salesman trying to sell an overpriced set of cookware to some of Tian's friends:

Overpriced Cookware by Classica and Regal Ware
Until last Saturday, I have never heard of Classica cookware by Regal Ware.

Two weeks ago, my friends Matt and Kristin went to Chandler Balloon Festival. At the festival, one of the booths was advertising in-home cooking demonstrations in exchange for free hotel-stays. The cookware company would send a sales person to your home, cook your family dinner, and try to sell you their cookware. Regardless if you decide to purchase the cookware or not, the company would pay for 3-nights resort stay at a Mexico vacation spot.

Matt and Kristin were interested in the free hotel-stays, so they decide to give it a try. They have also invited their friends Teelk and Sammie from Lake Elsinore, California for the cooking demonstration.

And a bit more:

According to Jay, Classica cookware is made by Regal Ware in Wisconsin, USA. The reason they are the superior cookware is because they are made from T-304 surgical grade stainless steel.

That is a lie.

T-304 is the most common type of stainless steel. For surgical use, only T-316 grade of stainless steel can be used.

To uniformly transfer the heat, the cookware is made from 5-layers of metals sandwiched together. Outer layers are T304 stainless steel, then 1145 aluminum, and the center layer is 3004 aluminum-alloy.

That was lie number 2.

Since thermal conductivities of T304 stainless steel (16.2 W/m-K), 1145 aluminum (230 W/m-K), and 3004 aluminum-alloy (163 W/m-K) are different, sandwich them together would not improve thermal conductivity, rather it will create thermal gradients.

The meal:

One and half hours have passed by, the dinner is now been served. It consisted of skinless chicken breast, potatoes, broccoli, onion, and carrots, the typical American meal without seasoning. The chicken was a bit dry, the rest of the food tasted like if they were from hospital's cafeteria.

The cost:

Since everyone has been fed and Jay's cookware has been cleaned, it is time for the sales pitch. Jay pulled out a movie poster sized pamphlet which featured every single piece of cookware from Classica. The whole set consisting of 55 pieces is called the "Galaxy Set". When he revealed the price, it was so overpriced that it is truly laughable!

Classica's 55-piece stainless steal cookware made by Regal Ware is $6,895, excluding tax!

Matt and Kristin did get the 3-day stay in Mexico but their hotel was a time-share condominium and they were pressured to buy in. The Classica sales force is an MLM distribution scam -- the salesman tried to recruit them as new salespeople. Hat tip to BoingBoing

Updates to the Blogroll

Added a couple sites that caught my interest.

Be sure to check out: Boker tov, Boulder!

The other side of Kim (featuring Gun Guy Kim DuT***) and

World Climate Report Good writing, high fact to opinion ratio and some good rants. What's not to love!

Polar Ice change

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Recently, at the Montreal conference on Climate Change, people have been pissing and moaning about how the polar ice is retreating and this has to be due to anthropogenic global warming. Yahoo/AP has a bunch of photos including this one:
Inupiat hunter Karlin Itchoak coils the rope of a subsistence net after pulling in a beluga whale at Cape Nome near Nome, Alaska, as the sun sets Nov. 8, 2005. Warmer temperatures in the Arctic are raising concerns about the social and economic well-being of the people in those regions, said an official with the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Climate change is already having devastating effects on subsistence gathering in Alaska, Canada and Russia, ICC's Ronald Brower Sr. told participants Nov. 17, 2005, in the Alaska Resource Development Council's annual conference held in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Laurent Dick, File)
Now, let's look at the historical record. From The Scotsman:
Polar history shows melting ice-cap may be a natural cycle
The melting of sea ice at the North Pole may be the result of a centuries-old natural cycle and not an indicator of man-made global warming, Scottish scientists have found.

After researching the log-books of Arctic explorers spanning the past 300 years, scientists believe that the outer edge of sea ice may expand and contract over regular periods of 60 to 80 years. This change corresponds roughly with known cyclical changes in atmospheric temperature.

The finding opens the possibility that the recent worrying changes in Arctic sea ice are simply the result of standard cyclical movements, and not a harbinger of major climate change.

The amount of sea ice is currently near its lowest point in the cycle and should begin to increase within about five years.

As a result, Dr Chad Dick, a Scottish scientist working at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromso, believes the next five to ten years will be a critical period in our understanding of sea ice and the impact, if any, of long-term global warming.

Concern has been expressed recently that animals such as polar bears could become extinct because sea ice is disappearing. The new research by Dr Dick and a colleague, Dr Dimitry Divine, gives rise to hopes the melting will stop soon.

However, Dr Dick warned that if the ice carried on melting, it would mean that man-made global warming had disrupted the natural process - with potentially disastrous results.

He said: "Cycles of 60 to 80 years have been identified before in atmospheric temperature records in the Arctic. The old records that we recovered from ships� logs and other sources may show that similar cycles are present in sea ice.

"I�ve this gut feeling that within ten years from now we�ll know for certain whether we�re losing sea ice long term or whether it�s coming back.

"If it doesn�t come back it shows we are in serious trouble. Sea ice has a whole lot of effects on climate and it is pretty important."

Sea ice protects the northern coastlines of Canada, Russia and the United States from erosion caused by storms. If it melted, waves crashing on to the shoreline could release vast stores of carbon dioxide stored in permafrost, which would increase global warming still further.

Dr Dick said the research did not suggest that global warming was not a reality.

"You couldn�t say, �The sea ice is coming back so therefore there�s no global warming�. It�s never going to be that simple," he said. "But the question now is the extent of global warming, how fast it will happen and whether there are any surprises on the way.

"We know there is warming and that it�s caused by humans, but it will be a great relief to many people if the ice comes back as opposed to going away."
I had written about this twice before -- here and here.

Strangling puppies in front of orphans...

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The title of this post comes from the first comment to this article at Slashdot:
Free Wi-fi Prompts BellSouth to Withdraw Donation
Shortly after learning of the New Orleans plan for free city-wide wireless internet, BellSouth Corp. withdrew an offer to donate a damaged building to be used for police headquarters. According to the Washington Post, 'Bill Oliver, angrily rescinded the offer of the building in a conversation with New Orleans homeland security director Terry Ebbert.'
A little bit more from the Washington Post article:
City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city. Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition.
And a bit more:
Greg Meffert, the city's chief technology officer and a deputy mayor, said he is saddened that BellSouth finds the city's network so objectionable.

"It's a once-in-a-century opportunity to truly show the entire world what can be, instead of just what is, and help write future history in the process," Meffert said. "It's a damn shame they don't see that."

The wireless network covers the central business district and the French Quarter, and the city plans to expand it as the people return.
BellSouth was once part of Bell Telephone which was broken up into eight "Baby Bells" because the parent company was proven to be a monopoly. And they have the gall to complain about someone stealing business from them. If they provided better service, there would be no demand for alternative services...

A Garage Renovation

High geekdom here...

From BoingBoing:

Hewlett Packard Garage Birthplace Restored
Snip from Damon Darlin's story in the NYT:

Million-dollar renovations of multimillion-dollar homes are not uncommon along this university town's tree-lined streets. But spending that kind of money to fix up a garage? And a 12-by-18-foot, wood-frame, one-car garage at that?

When the garage in question is one of the most famous in the business world, that kind of investment may not be so odd. The little brown building with green doors at 367 Addison Avenue is often considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

David Packard and William R. Hewlett set up shop there in 1938, cutting a template that thousands of fresh-faced entrepreneurs, just out of school, would use in hopes of building products and companies that could change the world - and make them rich.
hp-garage-01.jpg hp-garage-02.jpg

They started out making simple test equipment that was rock solid and accurate. Their calculators were legendary -- I still have mine. They have grown quite a bit but the quality of their test equipment is still at the top of the heap. Consumer equipment isn't as good but they are forced into compromise by the basic economics of the market niche.

Well, the USA does need more energy. That simple fact is not going away anytime soon even if we bowed to the demands of the environmentalists and went completely over to alternative sources. Frequently, these alt. sources require more energy put into the system than is derived from them -- solar, ethanol and bio-diesel come immediately to mind... Public hue and cry prevented us from drilling on the coastal areas of the ANWR (there was never a plan to drill in the heart of this area where the gorgeous scenery is -- there is no oil there, it is only in the coastal deposits). The drilling equipment would occupy several parcels of land, each about ten to twenty acres in size (to a maximum of 2,000 acres total) and the oil would leave by tanker ships. Current technology for drilling allows a drill bit to be steered so one of these sites could tap several different oil fields. Because of climate and transportation considerations, it makes a lot of sense to consolidate equipment and resources. Well, the energy demand is not going away and the chickens have come home to roost. It is somewhat like what was quoted in an earlier post:
�Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people.�
In this case, it is our neighbors to the north racing to deliver Natural Gas to us via two land-based pipelines. Story at the Washington Post:
A 'Great Pipeline Race' in Canada
Two Plans to Send Natural Gas to U.S. Would Transform Pristine Land

FORT SIMPSON, A wind prickly with ice bit at Jonas Antoine, the gray-haired native elder. The sting brought a broad grin to his face. "I feel like a wolf in this weather, ready to hunt," he said, leaning against the driving chill.

The cold thrill of sneaking toward a keen-eared moose or snaring a lynx calls him, but Antoine spends days in a stuffy gymnasium, debating with chiefs and elders the looming invader from the north: a huge pipeline from the Arctic that all agree would irrevocably change this land.

Soaring energy prices and profits have revived plans for two massive pipelines -- the biggest private construction projects in North America -- to bring natural gas hundreds of miles south from the frozen Arctic Ocean, through vast untouched forests and under wild rivers, to the United States.

The plans would flood isolated areas of Alaska and Canada with thousands of construction workers, pump billions of dollars into poor native economies, and bring the roar of heavy cranes and bulldozers to pristine areas where it is now quiet enough to hear the hoots of snowy owls and the rustle of pine boughs.

The projects are crucial to keep up with the growing thirst for energy in the United States, say oil company officials and energy analysts. Supporters and opponents agree that the projects would affect Canada's sparsely populated north on a scale larger than the Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s, and unleash a rush of new exploration and drilling.

"Every square inch is going to be opened to diamonds, sapphires, gold, oil and gas," Michael Miltenberger, the Northwest Territories minister of natural resources, said in an interview in the territories' capital of Yellowknife. "There's an insatiable demand. And the critical first step is the pipeline."
That last paragraph sums it up. With drilling in ANWR, the damage to the environment would have been minimal but people got their knickers in a bunch and went hysterical. Now, Canada is stepping up to the plate with two projects that will not only occupy a lot more land, they will be building roads into that territory so future prospecting and development will be guaranteed to follow... The article also cites the case of Yellowknife -- two diamond mines opened up in the early 1990's (Diavik and Ekati) and also talks about towns along the existing Alaska Pipeline:
Towns along the pipeline routes grimly expect the construction to bring inflation, drugs and crime along with the economic boost for their rural economies. In Yellowknife, two new diamond mines have sent rents soaring and brought cocaine to the streets. Last month, the town experienced its first drive-by shooting.
It seems that a lot of the environmental 'platforms' are not well thought out -- they are only looking at a short narrow view and not considering the entire system. Which is funny because one of their platforms is the concept of Gaia and how the entire planet is an entity and interconnected. Spider, tend to your own web first before you meddle with mine...

A nice French Whine

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John Hinderaker at PowerLine links to a New York Post book review. John:
A Story I Didn't Know...
...about a subject close to my heart. In today's New York Post, Ralph Peters reviews a book by George Taber called Judgment of Paris. It recounts the story of a wine-tasting in Paris in 1976, when Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, arranged for little-known California wines to be tested against the best French vintages in a blind taste-test by prominent French critics:
Spurrier wasn't setting a trap. He fully expected the French to win, choosing labels such as Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Meursault Charmes and Puligny-Montrachet for the face-off.

The American bottles came from upstart wineries built by wine-lovers risking everything for their dream. Mike Grgich had arrived virtually penniless from Croatia. He believed that American chardonnays could match the best of Burgundy. Warren Winiarski abandoned an academic career and mortgaged his family's future to pursue his vision of making a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon to rival the greatest Bordeaux.

Spurrier invited nine influential French critics, sommeliers and restaurateurs. They tasted the wines without knowing their identities, snickering confidently as they scribbled down their scores.

The results were stunning. Winiarski's Stag's Leap Wine Cellars beat the great chateaux. The triumph of the American chardonnays was even greater, with Grgich's Chateau Montalena well ahead of the pack and other star-spangled whites in third and fourth place.

The experts were mortified. They'd trashed some of France's most famous wines, while praising unknown wines from California. And none of this would've been publicized if one journalist hadn't shown up during a slow news week: George Taber of Time, the author of this book.
As Peters notes, the 1976 wine-tasting upset helped open competition in the wine industry, with the result that wine drinkers now drink better and cheaper wines from all over the world--not only California varieties, but wines from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa and other countries. And that's definitely worth a toast.
Heh... Here is the listing for the book at Amazon.

Control of the Internet

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Recently, there was a conference in Tunis and one of the things "talked about" was control of the Internet. It seems that the United Nations and a number of repressive regimes (China for one) are salivating at the thought of taking control away from the ICANN and the USA. Their little hopes were dashed and the US and ICANN retain full control. One reason for this was this letter from Condi Rice to Jack Straw (and the EU). From The Register:
Dear Foreign Secretary,

The governance structure and continued stability and sustainability of the Internet are of paramount importance to the United States. The Internet has become an essential infrastructure for global communications, including for global trade and commerce, and therefore we firmly believe that support for the present structures for Internet governance is vital. These structures have proven to be a reliable foundation for the robust growth of the Internet we have seen over the course of the last decade.

As we approach the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), we should underscore the vast potential of the Internet for global economic expansion, poverty alleviation, and for improving health, education and other public services, particularly in the developing world where Internet access remain unacceptably low.

The Internet will reach its full potential as a medium and facilitator for global economic expansion and development in an environment free from burdensome intergovernmental oversight and control. The success of the Internet lies in its inherently decentralized nature, with the most significant growth taking place at the outer edges of the network through innovative new applications and services. Burdensome, bureaucratic oversight is out of place in an Internet structure that has worked so well for many around the globe. We regret the recent positions on Internet governance(i.e., the �new cooperation model�) offered by the European Union, the Presidency of which is currently held by the United Kingdom, seems to propose just that - a new structure of intergovernmental control over the Internet.
Not a "diplomatic" word in the whole thing. I love her!!!

Avian Flu move over...

...MRSA is in the house! From the Arizona Star:

Superbug that eats flesh is on the loose
Potentially lethal bacteria infects hundreds in Tucson

As if threats of pandemic superflu weren't enough, yet another new and potentially fatal "superbug" is spreading worldwide -- including in Tucson.

No mere threat, this bug has infected hundreds of Tucsonans already and hospitalized dozens, some with life-threatening illness.

Appearing at first as just a pimple, maybe a small cut, the infection often is mistaken by many victims - and their doctors - for a spider bite, delaying vital treatment.

Known as MRSA - methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or "mersa" - it is in fact a highly contagious bacteria that has developed strong resistance to most antibiotics, making it hard to treat and setting the stage for dangerous invasive disease.

Mersa itself is actually nothing new. This resistant form of staph bacteria has been around for decades, but was limited mostly to outbreaks in hospital and nursing-home patients.

What's alarming doctors and public-health officials now is that mersa has moved into the general public - often infecting young people who have been nowhere near a hospital.

Infection begins on the skin, triggering inflammation, boils or nasty abscesses that can take weeks of treatment to stop - including surgery and hospitalization. But if it moves to the bloodstream, mersa can cause bone infection, lung-damaging pneumonia, organ damage, even fatal toxic shock syndrome.

Several Tucson emergency rooms report treating some 500 cases of mersa this year - triple the number seen just two years ago.

"It is absolutely the new superbug, and everyone is worried about it now," said Dr. Sean Elliott, a University of Arizona pediatrician who handles mersa in young patients.

"What is significant is that we are seeing lots of healthy individuals from the community who have developed severe skin disease, with more and more ending up as surgical cases, and some progressing to severe invasive disease."

In the past month, Elliott has treated five children with this form of life-threatening mersa. All have survived.

He has seen patients end up with chronic lung disease or disabled limbs after a mersa battle. He has handled nearly 30 entire families affected by it this year.

"This is a big one," he said. "It's not a cause for panic yet, but it's a bad player."

Unlike past years, mersa now can strike anyone anywhere, without warning or risk - an unexplained phenomenon occurring in developed countries worldwide. However, no one yet knows the magnitude of mersa's spread. Exploding only in the past two years, "community-acquired" mersa has been reported in clusters in cities throughout the United States. But cases are not required to be officially confirmed to the government. Trying to get a fix on mersa's march through Arizona, state health officials a year ago started tracking laboratory-confirmed reports of the most severe, invasive cases, and now are seeing 125 a month statewide. To date, 1,305 invasive cases have been reported, with 132 in Pima County. Deaths have not been tracked.

"That's probably a pretty significant underestimate," Elliott said. "This is going to have to change - it probably should be a reportable disease, if we're going to evaluate what's really going on."

A single emergency room, at Tucson Medical Center, has treated 541 cases this year - triple the number TMC saw in 2003.

"It's just floored us all, how much is showing up in the community, and how aggressive it is," said Connie Glasby, director of infection control at University Medical Center, where 483 mersa cases have come through emergency or urgent care in the past year.

Though mersa warnings have been sent out by federal and state health officials, Elliott, an infectious-disease specialist, still gets calls from doctors around Tucson asking about strange spider-bite cases that don't respond to treatment.

Several patients have reported small skin pimples that their primary-care doctors have diagnosed as insect bites, and treated with standard antibiotics. Only after the lesion has erupted, spread, caused severe pain, and sometimes fever up to 103 degrees has mersa finally been correctly diagnosed.

Though mersa is resistant to most standard antibiotics, there are a couple of drugs that still work. Those drugs, plus surgery to remove infected tissue - with one patient having his entire leg cut open, thigh to ankle, to get at it - are considered the most effective treatment. And that's for the less serious, non-invasive cases.

Some Tucsonans have missed up to two weeks of work trying to get over this "milder" form of mersa, which can take months - and can recur later - according to their doctors.

One Tucsonan, Janene Urias, has only now fully recovered - five years after nearly dying from a virulent mersa infection that hospitalized her for two weeks, then kept her on intravenous antibiotics for six more weeks, requiring a home nurse. Even after the mersa infection finally cleared up, three months later, her out-of-balance body sank into chronic-fatigue syndrome for two years.

"This is a horrible disease, and people need to know about it," said Urias, 35, who now warns anyone she talks to of the dangers of contaminated surfaces in public places - where mersa bacteria can linger.

"If I go into a grocery store, I never touch my face until after I wash my hands. I carry hand sanitizer with me all the time," she said. "If I use a public restroom, I don't touch the doorknob on the way out - I use a paper towel to handle it. This thing lives on surfaces, and many of us are carriers of it and don't know it."

The most common cause of skin infections, staphylococcus aureus - including the drug-resistant mersa form of it - is everywhere. Some 30 to 40 percent of us carry it in our noses and on our skin, without ever developing symptoms.

Scientists do not yet fully understand what triggers mersa to set off a bad skin infection, or move on to severe, possibly fatal disease. They only know that mersa can develop what is known as "virulent factors" - toxic proteins that make it extremely dangerous - and that it is spread through skin-to-skin contact or by contact with contaminated surfaces.

Mersa clusters have broken out on athletic teams - including the NFL's St. Louis Rams - and in prisons and among military recruits.

Clare Kioski, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health Services, said there have been cases of invasive mersa in every Arizona county.

"If you have any kind of a skin wound that's not getting better, go to a doctor and be tested as soon as possible," she said.

Yikes -- and we must not forget it's distant cousin: Necrotizing Fasciitis -- that is another horrorshow all to itself.

Wonderful analysis from Strategy Page about the P.R. problems that Islamofascists are having to deal with.
Making Sure No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Islamic radicals, and their supporters in the media, are waiting for an opportunity to avoid a PR disaster in earthquake ravaged northern Pakistan. Over three million people were made homeless by the disaster, and over 100,000 were seriously injured. Nearly 80,000 died. For Islamic radicals, the real nightmare began after the quakes, when they not only found many of their terrorist training camps wrecked, but the area was flooded with infidel (non-Moslem) relief workers. At first, the Islamic radicals tried to cajole, then threaten locals to refuse help from the infidels. But the locals were desperate, and the infidels had much more assistance available than the more acceptable (to the armed and increasingly dismayed, Islamic radicals) Islamic charities.

This is all a replay of what happened earlier in 2005, when the earthquake off Indonesia, and tidal waves generated by it, killed over 100,000 people in western Indonesia�s Aceh province. This was a place long noted for Islamic conservatism. But most of the aid that showed up was from infidels. Even the U.S. Navy soon arrived, with supplies and huge helicopters. The Islamic radicals in Aceh took a beating in the PR department. Years of painting foreign infidels as devils, gone in a few weeks.
The author goes on to talk about the differences between the two areas and how the upcoming winter can give the terrorists an edge as they can point to hardship cases and say that they are the fault of the West not moving fast enough. The good news is that they are gradually loosing traction but the bad news is that they will be around for a good while longer until we stomp out their evil. The Left and the Media (but I repeat myself) are doing nothing to help.

Pushing the boundaries with EDM

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EDM stands for Electrical Discharge Machining and is a way to poke accurate holes in metal by using a sacrificial electrode and a spark generator. The people at Cardiff University are pushing the boundaries by making holes two to four times narrower than a human hair.
World's narrowest hole? MEC scientists' precision breakthrough
Scientists at the Manufacturing Engineering Centre (MEC) believe they may have drilled the world's smallest hole, narrower than a human hair.

Experts at the Centre have developed machinery so sophisticated that they can drill holes as small as 22 microns (0.022 mm) in stainless steel and other materials.

The human hair varies between 80 microns (0.08 mm) down to 50 microns (0.05 mm) in thickness.

"The holes we are now drilling in Cardiff with the electro-discharge machining (EDM) process could be the smallest in the world," said the Centre's marketing director Frank Marsh.

"The standard rods available commercially are capable of making holes of 150 microns. Although lasers are able to make small holes, these are of poorer quality when compared to the EDM process. Lasers make holes that taper, whereas EDM makes parallel or vertical holes."
All sorts of possibilities open up...

New Fab Line for Intel

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Intel just announced the construction of a new Chip Fabrication Line to be built in Israel. From Ars Technica:
Intel announces Fab 28 in Israel
In a press conference held Thursday in Tel-Aviv, Israel, Intel officially announced the establishment of Fab 28. The new chip manufacturing plant will be located near Kiryat Gat, adjacent to Fab 18, and will utilize a 45nm process for producing chips on 300mm silicon wafers.

Intel has reportedly invested $4.42 billion in the new fab--the largest investment of its kind both for Intel and for Israel. Fab 28 will employ 4,400 new workers (including some 2,000 contracted positions), in addition to the 5,500 Israeli workers Intel already employs in the region.

The new fab will be the second 45nm plant after the Arizona based Fab 32, announced July 2005. Intel will use the "Copy Exact" methodology to make it an exact clone of its Portland, Oregon based fab. General Manager of Israel Operations, VP Alex Kornhauser, said Fab 28 is scheduled to be fully operational 3 to 6 months after Fab 32 - around mid 2008.
45 nanometer! I remember when 70 was state of the art a few years ago. Wonder what they are using to expose the chips -- x-rays?


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From the San Francisco Chronicle comes this story of a chemistry experiment gone not quite right...
Man sentenced in meth-from-urine mishap
There was a scientific method to Daniel Zeiszler's madness when he tried to extract methamphetamine from his own urine, after smoking the illegal street drug last September in his South San Francisco hotel room.

But Zeiszler's experiment went dangerously awry when he spilled some solvent on himself, then lit a cigarette while he contemplated his next move, starting a fire that burned his right hand and arm.

The hotel was evacuated. Firefighters were summoned. So were hazardous materials experts.

Zeiszler, a 22-year-old employee of a San Francisco recycling depot, landed in jail.
Zeiszler' attorney had this priceless comment for the press:
"I suspect that, more than anything, Steve was doing this as an intellectual proposition," said Johnston, adding that Zeiszler had no record of prior arrests. "He is a bright, articulate young man who was wasting his life playing around with this stuff. Anybody who would -- for fun -- read a chemistry text should be in school instead of sitting in San Mateo County Jail."

Looking for cheap LEDs?

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Especially colored ones? Blue? Orange? Green? 'Tis the season -- Christmas Lights are now for sale and since the LED chains are so energy efficient, they are frequently subsidized so they are incredibly cheap. Starship Modeler has the story:
Inexpensive and Abundant LEDs
To buy LEDs? Yup! They come disguised as �Christmas Lights� - the �Forever Bright� line is especially good. And they are the subject of this article.

Why bother? Cost. A string of 75 BLUE LED lights costs $10 on sale - and up where I am there's a $5 rebate per string for "Energy Saver" lights. So that's five bucks for 75 LEDs - or about 7 cents per LED for the expensive BLUE ones. Cheap.
Hat tip to robot wisdom for the link.

The Numbers Game

The Braden Files has an interesting look at mortality in war. Especially the much-trumpeted 2,000 killed in Iraq.

Decorated Vietnam veteran Jack Ruffer has compiled statistics on the death rates in American wars from the Revolutionary War to Operation Iraqi Freedom. His results show that the present conflict is the least costly of all American wars in terms of lives lost. Here is his letter:

Those of us who fought in Vietnam put up with the same kind of misinformation now being directed at our people in uniform in Iraq. Something just didn't ring true in what I was hearing from the main stream media, so I did some research. It didn't take long at all and I'm amazed that the main stream media couldn't have found the same information if they were inclined to report the truth. But, of course, they are not. Attached is the result of what I learned after only minutes of research on reliable web sites (The National Archives and The Vietnam Memorial Web Site). Iraq has resulted in the lowest annual rate of casualties in our history and the MSM and their Democrat colleagues are still telling us this is the worst event in our history. This is not about Iraq; it's about the Democrats trying to regain their power and take over the House, the Senate and the Executive Branch again and it is all based upon a lie. Read the statistics and tell me know what you think.


Action Duration Number killed KIA Avg. Rate per Year
Revolutionary War 8 years 25,324 3,166
Civil War 4 years 562,130 140,533
WWI 1.58 years 116,708 78,866
WWII 3.75 years 408,306 108,882
Marine deaths on Iwo Jima 25 days 6,891 100,608
Korea 3.08 years 54,246 17,612
Vietnam 7 years* 58,249 8,321
Desert Storm 42 days 363 2,135
Iraqi Freedom** 2.667 years 2,096 786
* Does not include advisor years 1957-1964 which would have lowered the annual rate substantially
** Operation Iraqi Freedom began 19 March 2003

Annual Credit Report

The US Government stipulates that people can get a single copy of their credit report for free from the three major databases. They have set up this web page to facilitate: From the website FAQ: is a centralized service for consumers to request annual credit reports. It was created by the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. processes requests for free credit file disclosures (commonly called credit reports). Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) consumers can request and obtain a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. provides consumers with the secure means to do so.

The three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies have always encouraged consumers to regularly review their credit reports. offers consumers a fast and convenient way to request, view and print their credit reports in a secure Internet environment. We also provide options to request reports by telephone and by mail. is the only service authorized by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion for this purpose. Please note that, as a security precaution, consumers should never provide their personal information to any other company or person in connection with requesting free annual credit reports under the FACT Act. will not approach consumers via email, telemarketing or direct mail solicitations.
I just finished using this site and it's good. It collects basic information and then sends you to the three reporting agencies while maintaining a shell around the web page, if you select more than one agency, you need to return to the site but it keeps track of where you have been. Nice implementation. Two flies in the ointment: Equifax -- they try to sell you all sorts of other kinds of reporting and then, when you get to the place where you can actually print out your report, it starts asking for a username and password and doesn't offer a way to sign up without giving them a whole lot of other information. TransUnion asks you up front to create a user account but it doesn't try to shill for pay services and ask additional questions. The problem with TransUnion was that it asks me to verify on credit cards, mortgages, addresses and work history. The options for credit cards are so old that I don't have the old canceled account numbers handy, the mortgages listed was for a car I bought about 10 years ago -- account closed with no money owed but I don't have that number handy either. The two address options I recognized were for the two houses my Mom and Dad owned in Seattle (he is David Halliday with no middle initial). Found a couple bad names and addresses through the Experian report -- I'll be correcting these.

Cool idea for sensor technology

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From Technology Review:
Cheap Chemical Sensors
Electronic "noses" made from printed electronics could detect toxic chemicals inexpensively.

Technology already exists that can sniff out chemicals in the air and water -- but the detecting devices are expensive, limiting their use. Now Vivek Subramanian, electrical engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has made arrays of sensors cheap enough that they could be widely distributed for monitoring toxins in the environment.

The goal is to "identify environmental problems before they become severe, then react to them," says Subramanian. "One of the major requirements, if we want to do this, is ultra-low cost," he says. Subramanian makes his array of inexpensive chemical sensors using organic semiconductors and inkjet printing technology. The first generation of his devices, which would still rely on costly silicon-based technology to process signals from the sensors, would run about 30 cents a piece, Subramanian estimates. That's a bargain compared with several hundred dollars for today's sensors, he says. Subramanian reported on his work at the Materials Research Society meeting in Boston this week.

Organic transistors tend to degrade, especially when exposed to air, chemicals, or water. Yet this reactivity can also make them good sensors. For one thing, different chemicals affect the rate at which the sensors degrade. Subramanian's innovation is to use an array of different organic semiconductors, each responding slightly differently to different chemicals. The signals from this array then create a distinctive pattern -- a sort of electronic fingerprint of a particular chemical.
A bit more:
Subramanian prints the different kinds of organic semiconductors in arrays using the multiple nozzles of a inkjet printer. So far, he has only produced arrays of transistors using five different semiconductors -- still more than enough to detect the difference between good and spoiled wine, for instance. His arrays can also detect different types of organic solvents in industrial processes.
I love it! The downside is that the sensors are degrading so they will need to be replaced but I am betting that this is not a frequent event. Once/year for low concentrations maybe. Using a C.O.T.S. Ink-Jet printer to make the organic transistors is a stroke of genius. Very cool! (C.O.T.S. is the mantra of the quick-and-dirty engineering crowd. It stands for something that is Commercial and Off-The-Shelf -- ie: readily available and cheap.)

A perverse thought...

The fact that Singapore executed Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, a convicted drug smuggler, is no news to anyone these days. Australia tried several legal maneuverings to get him out (extradition, governmental appeals, warnings of "economic" reprisals, etc...) but the execution went ahead on schedule.

His brother Nguyen Tuong Khoa had gotten into quite a bit of debt, had started using Heroin and was generally spiraling out of control... Khoa was involved in a brutal sword attack and received a three-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty. Khoa's heroin use and debt got deeper and deeper until Van found a possible out for his brother.

The Australian Age has the story:

As it turns out, a Chinese man in Melbourne named Tan had offered a solution.

Van would later tell Singapore narcotics police that on Tan's instructions he had met a Vietnamese man in Sydney called Sun who enlisted him to bring a "package" - that he suspected was drugs - from Cambodia via Singapore to Australia.

My perverse thought is that he did not have to go through Singapore. I checked with Quantas (Australia's major airline) and although they do not have direct service to Cambodia, they do to several cities in Thailand and Van visited Thailand on this trip. He did not have to fly through Singapore.

What if the people to whom Khoa owed money had decided to make an example and tipped the Singapore police off to Van's cargo. Singapore has a nasty reputation for having draconian laws.

Wired Magazine has an excellent writeup by William Gibson: Disneyland with the Death Penalty

Drink Sam Buck's Coffee -- not any more

Copyright laws... Pfuuiiii! From the SF Gate:

Judge Sides With Starbucks in Name Dispute
A federal judge says the name "Sambuck's" above a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop is too similar to Starbucks Corp. - the leading retailer, roaster and brand of specialty coffee in the world - and must be changed.

Owner Sam Buck named the store after herself. She opened it in 2000, before Astoria had a Starbucks. She got a cease-and-desist letter from the Seattle-based company in March of 2002.

Buck said Thursday that she had few details of a ruling Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty of Portland. She faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees.

"The judge said I willfully infringed on (Starbucks') trademark, that I diluted their trademark," she said.

She was faced with erasing all traces of the name, from coffee cups to the sign outside to business cards.

"You're throwing away thousands of dollars worth of stuff," Buck said, "and you're left paying thousands of dollars more to have new things made."

Notice the striking similarity between the two logos:

coffee-war-sambucks.jpg coffee-war-starbucks.jpg

Hat tip to BoingBoing for the link...


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The O RLY meme is popping up in all sorts of places. This guy showed up on an email list:

Nobel Peace Prize

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Thinking about the Peace Prize reminded me of Albert Schweitzer who was awarded the Prize back in 1954. Schweitzer was a childhood hero of mine -- led a very interesting life. Wikipedia has an excellent biography. Theologian, Philosopher, Organist (and builder of Pipe Organs) Schweitzer entered Medical School at the age of 40 and then spent the rest of his life in Africa eventually founding a hospital in Lambar�n� in what is now Gabon. The speech he gave when receiving the Prize is timely and worth reading today:
The Problem of Peace
For the subject of my lecture, a redoubtable honor imposed by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, I have chosen the problem of peace as it is today. In so doing, I believe that I have acted in the spirit of the founder of this prize who devoted himself to the study of the problem as it existed in his own day and age, and who expected his Foundation to encourage consideration of ways to serve the cause of peace.

I shall begin with an account of the situation at the end of the two wars through which we have recently passed.

The statesmen who were responsible for shaping the world of today through the negotiations which followed each of these two wars found the cards stacked against them. Their aim was not so much to create situations which might give rise to widespread and prosperous development as it was to establish the results of victory on a permanent basis. Even if their judgment had been unerring, they could not have used it as a guide. They were obliged to regard themselves as the executors of the will of the conquering peoples. They could not aspire to establishing relations between peoples on a just and proper basis; all their efforts were taken up by the necessity of preventing the most unreasonable of the demands made by the victors from becoming reality; they had, moreover, to convince the conquering nations to compromise with each other whenever their respective views and interests conflicted.

The true source of what is untenable in our present situation - and the victors are beginning to suffer from it as well as the vanquished - lies in the fact that not enough thought was given to the realities of historical fact and, consequently, to what is just and beneficial.
Wow! This is only a fraction of his speech -- plan on spending a good 30 minutes reading and re-reading it, savoring choice paragraphs. Even though he penned these words fifty years ago, they are as clear and direct and to the point as if he had written them today...

Spinning in New Orleans

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In the aftermath of Katrina, the spinning begins. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Blanco's office scrambled to spin Katrina
E-mails detail effort to ensure feds took blame for slow response

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Bush administration were locked in a pitched political battle to shape public opinion about the response to Hurricane Katrina at the same time they were trying to manage the rescue operation, documents released late Friday by the governor's office show.

E-mails turned over by the state to the congressional committees investigating the hurricane response show that the governor's senior staff was deeply involved in trying to preserve the governor's political standing and make sure that the White House was blamed for the slow pace of the initial response.

"We need to keep working to get our national surrogates to explain the facts -- that the federal response was anemic and had been shortchanged by budget cuts and avoiding responsibilities like protecting Louisiana levees and wetlands," Chief of Staff Andy Kopplin wrote to senior staff on the morning of Sept. 4, six days after Katrina made landfall.

At the same time, however, the governor's staff was sensitive to any notion that the federal government was taking control of the response from state officials.

"(Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael) Chertoff is now saying that the federal government 'is in control of New Orleans,' " Blanco Communications Director Bob Mann wrote in response to Kopplin. "(Brig.) Gen. (Mike) Fleming (of the Florida National Guard) is ready to say at the 11 a.m. briefing that that is not correct. The LA Natl Guard is in charge."

The exchange came two days after a private meeting aboard Air Force One in which President Bush asked Blanco to cede control over the National Guard forces in Louisiana to the federal government. Blanco refused.

After New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had been quoted in news reports as saying Blanco responded to Bush's request by asking for 24 hours to make a decision, assistant chief of staff Johnny Anderson sent a Sept. 4 e-mail to Kopplin advising that, "We have to get this in check."

Kopplin's response did not dispute Nagin's claim, but again implied that the Bush administration was to blame for the slow response.

"We are not bashing Nagin publicly (though we felt like it), as he had a right to ask the Governor and the President to deliver the resources," Kopplin wrote back. "How should he know who wasn't bringing the resources to bear, as he was in a bunker."

In the same e-mail, Kopplin worried that Nagin's remarks unwittingly played into a White House strategy. "Of course, Nagin had know (sic) idea that his comments would play into the White House strategy of blaming us, which they opened the door for, but he didn't have to say it the way he did as it was still insulting to the Governor whether he meant it that way or not."
Talk about playing the blame game. And the political upheaval over Hurricane Rita? . . . . . (crickets) . . . . . .

People unclear on the concept

From the Seattle PI we get this report from the recent conference on Climate Change that was held in Montreal:

Papua New Guinea proposes tree-saving plan
Wealthy countries would pay poor nations not to cut down their trees under a proposal that is gaining support at an international conference on climate change in Montreal.

The idea comes from Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific island-nation where hundreds of people face imminent evacuation because of rising water levels attributed to global warming. Supporters say protecting a rain forest is as important to reversing global warming as cleaning up gas-spewing factories and developing clean energy alternatives.

Sweet thought but the race to develop alternative fuels is having a serious and unintended consequence. From the New Scientist:

Forests paying the price for biofuels
The drive for "green energy" in the developed world is having the perverse effect of encouraging the destruction of tropical rainforests. From the orang-utan reserves of Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. And surging prices are likely to accelerate the destruction.

The rush to make energy from vegetable oils is being driven in part by European Union laws requiring conventional fuels to be blended with biofuels, and by subsidies equivalent to 20 pence a litre. Last week, the British government announced a target for biofuels to make up 5 per cent of transport fuels by 2010. The aim is to help meet Kyoto protocol targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Rising demand for green energy has led to a surge in the international price of palm oil, with potentially damaging consequences. "The expansion of palm oil production is one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction in south-east Asia. It is one of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet," says Simon Counsell, director of the UK-based Rainforest Foundation. "Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people."

The main alternative to palm oil is soybean oil. But soya is the largest single cause of rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon. Supporters of biofuels argue that they can be "carbon neutral" because the CO2 released from burning them is taken up again by the next crop. Interest is greatest for diesel engines, which can run unmodified on vegetable oil, and in Germany bio-diesel production has doubled since 2003. There are also plans for burning palm oil in power stations.

Until recently, Europe's small market in biofuels was dominated by home-grown rapeseed (canola) oil. But surging demand from the food market has raised the price of rapeseed oil too. This has led fuel manufacturers to opt for palm and soya oil instead. Palm oil prices jumped 10 per cent in September alone, and are predicted to rise 20 per cent next year, while global demand for biofuels is now rising at 25 per cent a year.

Roger Higman, of Friends of the Earth UK, which backs biofuels, says: "We need to ensure that the crops used to make the fuel have been grown in a sustainable way or we will have rainforests cleared for palm oil plantations to make bio-diesel."

Emphasis mine -- typical short-sighted view by enviros... To fix this, they will probably introduce another layer of legislation, governmental subsidies (read: higher taxes) and more general meddling.

The Nobel Peace Prize

I had written before (here and here) about people being nominated for the Nobel Prize and it is time to revisit this. Two prominent cases come to mind. The first is from the Washington Post:
Oprah Gives Peace -- and Letterman -- a Chance
Nobel Peace Prize contender-if-her-fans-have-anything-to-say-about-it Oprah Winfrey last night made her first appearance on David Letterman's late-night show in 16 years to claim there was never any truth to the report that she had a problem with him.
And some more:
But now, at least on her fans' Web sites, she's campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize...
Let's visit the nominations page for the Nobel Peace Prize:
The Nominators � Peace
Right to submit proposals for the Nobel Peace Prize, based on the principle of competence and universality, shall by statute be enjoyed by:
  1. Members of national assemblies and governments of states;
  2. Members of international courts;
  3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes;
  4. Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize;
  5. Board members of organizations who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize;
  6. Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; (proposals by members of the Committee to be submitted no later than at the first meeting of the Committee after February 1) and
  7. Former advisers appointed by the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
I do not see a line item for "Fans of a Television Show Personality" The second case involves convicted murderer "Tookie" Williams From the Save Tookie web page (scroll down a bit).
He has been nominated 5 times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in helping to prevent gang violence.

He has been nominated four times for the Nobel Literature Prize for his children's books that warn young people about the pitfalls of joining a gang and exposes them to alternatives.
From the list above, there are several thousand people who could nominate Mr. Williams but confirmation of this will remain impossible for the next fifty years. From the Nomination Database for the Nobel Peace Prize web site:
Information about the nominations, investigations, and opinions concerning the award is kept secret for fifty years.
'Nuff said...

Chinese Casinos

It seems that the Chinese government is cracking down on something that is fundamental to Chinese people -- gambling.

Communist China took over Hong Kong after the 99-year lease to Great Britain expired on June 30th, 1997. They also took over the Portuguese colony of Macau in 1999. If you think that Hong Kong was an 'open city', Macau was even more so. Anything went for a price. One of the draws to Macau was the lavish Casinos -- I am not a gambling man but going there and seeing the stage shows and eating the food was pleasure enough in itself.

Now, things are changing -- from The Guardian:

China cracks down in 'Asian Las Vegas'
Chinese authorities have arrested almost 1.2 million people suspected of illegal betting offences during a nine month crackdown, state media reported today.

The arrests were part of a nationwide anti-gambling campaign from January to September in which police seized £166m and investigated 163,000 cases.

The crackdown was aimed mainly at preventing public officials from gambling away public money in Macau, the small special administrative region in southern China that is becoming known as the "Las Vegas of Asia".

More than 8,740 members of the ruling Communist party were punished for gambling between January and October, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

An official at the Communist party's discipline inspection commission was quoted by Xinhua as saying: "Cross-border gambling, especially [on the part of] government officials, could directly undermine [...] national security and social stability and tarnish the party's image."

I would imagine that maintaining a good image is kind of hard when you run a repressive and corrupt non-Democratic regime...

As for Chinese gambling -- I have had the pleasure of visiting China and Hong Kong several times. Gambling is rife there. When Hong Kong was being handed over to the Communists, many people emigrated to Vancouver, BC, about an hour to the north of us. A local Indian Casino is doing a land-office business catering to these people -- there are usually two or more busses at any given time in their parking lot. The busses have Chinese signage - no English, Chinese characters.


It seems that the USA doesn't have the monopoly on torture.

From the Financial Times comes this link to a United Nations report.

UN envoy claims torture widespread in China
The use of torture in China is widespread, and frequently carried out by police who exercise 'wide discretion' within the country's under-developed legal system, a United Nations special envoy said on Friday.

Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture, said police often resorted to torture in the early stages of detaining subjects as they came under heavy pressure to produce confessions. Techniques such as beatings and sleep deprivation by police and other security authorities focused on breaking the will of individuals, thus creating a general culture of fear, he said.

China needed to overhaul its legal system to ensure fair trials and see that detainees were not held under vaguely worded security laws, Mr Nowak said. He also accused the government of obstructing his investigations.

Mr Nowak's findings, after an unprecedented two-week mission to China, also show poor legal protections for detainees, who often include ethnic minorities, political dissidents, religious activists and Falun Gong believers.

Questions about this? Just ask a Tibetan. You do remember that Free Tibet bumper sticker on the back of your VW Microbus.

And how would you feel if the USA decided to send troops in there to rescue the Tibetans and reinstate the Dali Lama as their leader.

Would that be a "just" war? Would the US have the moral high-ground? And what are you doing to reinstate democracy in Tibet?

Does your brain hurt? Good! That is called Thinking. Some people do it every day... For fun!

Talking about the weather

Yikes! We are having (so far) a nice wet winter with lots of snow.

Where we live, there is a major ski resort (Mt. Baker) and a lot of the local economy depends on the skiers coming up for the weekend. Last year was a very dry winter and Baker was closed for a lot of the time. This year it is very good -- Baker opened with the most base snow of any ski resort on this planet. It seems that the winter conditions might be setting up something else further south in Oregon. From Riverdog:

Do they remember?
...the Christmas Flood of 1964? That was the worst weather disaster of it's kind in Oregon history.

It started like this.

Background on the 1964 flood here. That flood destroyed highway bridges all over the state, as logging debris, whole trees and houses washed into the rivers and creeks. The major highway from western Oregon to the east side of the Cascades was closed for almost a month. Skiers were shanghaied in the resorts for weeks, and since power was out almost everywhere, the Air Force and Army had to paradrop survival supplies to them. The Oregon City falls on the Willamette River, normally a picturesque 40 feet high, was reduced to just fast water that anyone could have canoed over (and some daredevils did). Portland was only saved by an army of it's citizens topping the downtown seawall with six feet of plywood while every welder in town worked feverishly to weld a mile long steel structure to support the new wall. It was a grabass fix, and the water came within a few inches of topping it, but it saved downtown.

These floods set up thusly:

First, early snow piles up in both the high mountains (Cascades) and the Coast Range hills. Then, a warm rain event occurs and the rain combines with the water content of all the snow it just melted and the result is flooding.

Here in Oregon, we actually get a rain-on-snow situation fairly often, every two or three years. It's usually not too bad, because the snow to be melted isn't too deep, or the rain not too heavy, etc.

In 1964, there was 5 feet of snow at the 2500-foot level, and 3 feet all the way down to 1500 feet, which takes in most of the Coast Range hills. There was snow almost down to the valley floor. Also, in 1964, the foehn event (warm wind and rain) was severe, with the freezing level rising to over 10,000 feet and the entire state getting bathed in 4-8" of warm rain.

The most serious precursor to this set up is the snow amount. The weather-warning chart for Oregon has looked like this for a week now:

Riverdog points to a map of current snow conditions and says:

All that pink is heavy snow, in both the Coast Range and Cascades. The snow has been piling up at the 4,000 foot level in the feet for days, and there is over 6 feet of snow up there now, and it is snowing down to 1,500 feet.

The stage is certainly set as far as the low snowpack goes. We shall see if a foehn system (or "pineapple express" as they are known as around here) develops. We get 3 such systems through Oregon in an average year, and the climatologists tell us that this will be a wetter than normal winter.

Flooding is nothing new to this part of the country either -- we have incredibly good drainage where we live but last winter, we had a week of 15 degree weather and then a Pineapple Express came through and dumped six inches of warm rain in one day. To our south are the lahar flats of Skagit County -- excellent farm land but you see that most of the older houses are built with the main floor several feet above ground level. Let's hope that our neighbors to the south are able to dodge this one...

A closer look

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Four pacifists visiting Iraq were captured by terrorists a few days ago. The terrorists demands were released today. From The Scotsman:
Terrorists: Free all prisoners or we will execute hostages
Al-Jazerra television broadcast a new videotape last night in which kidnappers of four Christian peace activists, including one Briton, threatened to kill their hostages unless all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centres are released.

The kidnappers gave the two governments until next Thursday to meet their demands.
"all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centres are released" -- like that is going to happen anytime soon... I feel really sorry for these people but they knew the risks going over there. The terrorists are not sane by any sense of the word and the idea that as pacifists and "friends of the terrorists", they would somehow be shielded from terror is an inane fallacy. As Sir Banagor would put it, these are Really Fucking Stupid People. But -- those pig-loving sons of monkeys who captured the pacifists are making an incredible blunder themselves. If they realized the propaganda value of who they had in captivity, they could give these people a real dog and pony show of the "poor downtrodden masses who just want to get on with life and who want George Bush gone" and these four would come back as powerful allies of the terrorists. Now, if they are murdered, it may, just may, spark an awakening in some of the lefties and get them to realize just who it is that they crawled into bed with and how foul that culture is.

My brain is about to explode!

Actually, a very awesome story from KGO-7 TV in San Francisco:

Nuclear Power To Heat Your Home?
Debate Is Renewed

Californians can expect higher than average PG&E bills this winter. With natural gas and petroleum prices shooting skyward, the cost of generating electricity from those power plants has become more expensive. It's a global problem that has some utilities turning to a nuclear power.

Inside the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant these workers are replacing one of two massive turbines that together generate enough electricity to power 1.6 million homes.

Dave Oatley, Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant: "We're now not only going to be able to reduce our maintenance costs going forward, but we're going to be able to produce more power because they are more efficient."

But Diablo Canyon is only licensed to operate for another 20 years. The plant is an example of California's aging electrical infrastructure.

And some more:

California's energy needs are growing roughly 4 percent a year. But there are not enough new plants in the works to meet the demand.

Greg Fishman, California Independent System Operator: "We'd like to see a real broad diversity of resources."

Other states and countries faced with similar challenges have turned to nuclear energy plants.

China is building 30 nuclear plants over the next 15 years. India is building 40 plants in the next 10 years. And at least 10 more are being studied for the eastern United States, but not one west of the Mississippi.

Scott Peterson, Nuclear Energy Institute: "Nuclear energy should be one of the sources that the state looks at."

Scott Peterson is with the Nuclear Energy Institute, an advocate for nuclear industry in Washington, DC. He says nuclear plants help reduce green house gas emissions and would reduce our reliance on foreign sources for energy.

Scott Peterson, Nuclear Energy Institute: "People are now starting to realize that nuclear energy is one of the most significant technologies to reduce emissions while providing large sources of electricity."

Of course the Sierra Club is stamping their feet and saying NO!

Eric Antebi, Sierra Club: "Nuclear power has a dangerous, highly radioactive waste that we have no idea how to safely store over the long term."

Proponents say it would take 235-square miles of windmills to generate the same amount of electricity as one nuclear power plant. And they say that radioactive waste can be stored safely.

What people like Eric fail to appreciate is that the total volume of waste from a power plant is vanishingly small compared to the toxic waste from a Coal Power Plant of the same output. We are talking a few pounds/day versus several trainloads with chemicals that leach into the groundwater. Add that to zero greenhouse gasses and you have a no-brainer.

A big hat tip to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights for this link.

Face Transplant

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The first human being to receive a face transplant has been in the news recently. Very cool technology. The French woman had her face mauled by a dog and repair of the damage was beyond conventional surgical techniques. But -- as with any story, there is the backstory and BBC News has it:
Face op patient 'said thank you'
The first patient to undergo a face transplant thanked her doctors as soon as she came round after the operation.

The woman, who sustained her injuries when her dog mauled her is "doing well" and has been able to eat strawberries and chocolate, doctors say.

The medical team who carried out the operation on Sunday in Amiens, France, say they were justified in undertaking the ground-breaking surgery.
And the backstory:
The medics denied reports she had been attacked while she was unconscious after a suicide attempt.

Transplant surgeon Dr Jean-Michel Dubernard said the woman had taken a pill to try to sleep after a family argument, and was bitten by her dog during the night.

"There was no suicide".

The pet was later put down, against the family's wishes.
Anyone that is sleeping that soundly must have taken more than "one pill". An injury like this is not done with one gigantic bite -- dogs tend to grab and shake and this dog was probably frantic with worry. That is was put down is a shame -- the dog probably saved this woman's life...

Big Business

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Slashdot announced that Adobe is buying Macromedia today:
"Adobe Systems Incorporated and Macromedia, Inc. today announced they have either received or been notified they will receive all regulatory clearances necessary to complete Adobe's pending acquisition of Macromedia. The companies expect to close the transaction on December 3, 2005. Does this mean the end for Fireworks and Freehand?"
I use a much older Macromedia product for my web design - HomeSite which was originally written by cartoonist Nick Bradbury. HomeSite 1.2 was released as free-ware and is still available here. Nick has since come up with TopStyle which is primarily a CSS editor but also does HTML quite well. I use both TopStyle and HomeSite and really like them both. It will be interesting to see what happens to some of the other products from Macromedia. As mentioned in the Slashdot article there is Freehand which is a vector drawing program that competes directly with Adobe's Illustrator.

High high geekdom! From Wired News comes the story of Albert Swank Jr. and his quest:

The Cyclotron Comes to the 'Hood
Albert Swank Jr., a 55-year-old civil engineer in Anchorage, Alaska, is a man with a mission. He wants to install a nuclear particle accelerator in his home.

But when neighbors learned of plans to place the 20-ton device inside the house where Swank operates his engineering firm, their response was swift: Not in my backyard.

Local lawmakers rushed to introduce emergency legislation banning the use of cyclotrons in home businesses. State health officials took similar steps, and have suspended Swank's permit to operate cyclotrons on his property.

A bit more:

Johns Hopkins University agreed to donate the used cyclotron, which is roughly six feet tall by eight feet wide, to Swank's business, Langdon Engineering and Management.

The devices are relatively scarce in Alaska, and are used to produce radioactive substances that can be injected into patients undergoing PET scans.

A bit more (some historical background):

The devices are relatively scarce in Alaska, and are used to produce radioactive substances that can be injected into patients undergoing PET scans.

Short for positron emission tomography, a PET scan is similar to an X-ray. During the imaging procedure, radioactive material administered to the patient can help medical professionals detect cancerous tissue inside the body. The substance typically remains radioactive for only a couple of hours.

For Swank, the backyard cyclotron is a personal quest: He lost his father to cancer years ago, and he says his community needs the medical resource. He also wants to use it to inspire young people to learn about science.

"My father worked with me while I was building my first cyclotron at age 17 in this same home, and he encouraged all of the educational pursuits that resulted in who I am," Swank said.

And the neighbors:

But assemblyman Tesche says noble intentions don't outweigh potential risks and nuisances. He and others fear a particle accelerator could pose hazards such as radiation leak risks to nearby residences. They also think the large amount of electricity it consumes could drain available power in the neighborhood.


In a letter to the city assembly, the South Addition Community Council compared potential damage from a cyclotron mishap to the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident.

Christ on a corn-dog -- these people need to be given a good whack with a clue-bat. The Cyclotron produces Electrons, Protons or Deuterons. At high powers, it also produces X-Rays but all of these are stopped by an inch or more of concrete. You shut the thing off and the radiation goes away.

Before he retired, my dad was a Physicist (the Halliday and Resnick textbook might ring some bells). I used to go into the Radiation Lab on Saturdays and hang out while he worked. There are precautions that you need to take but the dangers are more from electrocution or being crushed by equipment than radiation. I only knew one person there who was injured by radiation -- he was a good family friend who ignored basic safety procedures and often went into the room while the Cyclotron was running just to hang out and watch.

He died in his 70's from sinus cancer (he would look in through a viewport at the beam while it was running). Alex lived a full life and died happy. He saw something that no one else has.

The people in Anchorage bring to mind the crowd of peasants outside Victor Frankenstein's castle -- the ones with the pitchforks and torches. As for me, I'm following in the family footsteps and this winters' projects include a large solid-state Tesla Coil and getting my new (to me anyway) X-Ray machine up and running.


This is a Cyclotron running, the blue glow is the beam being sent through a thin Mica window and directed into the atmosphere. For practical use, the beam is directed to hit a target creating specific radioisotopes including those used for medical work.

During Hurricane Katrina, one of the major disasters that hit the city of New Orleans was the failure of the Levee at 17th Street. People are going over this with a fine-tooth comb and the initial reports are not good. The Times-Picayune has the story:
17th Street Canal levee was doomed
Report blames corps: Soil could never hold

The floodwall on the 17th Street Canal levee was destined to fail long before it reached its maximum design load of 14 feet of water because the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated the weak soil layers 10 to 25 feet below the levee, the state's forensic levee investigation team concluded in a report to be released this week.

That miscalculation was so obvious and fundamental, investigators said, they "could not fathom" how the design team of engineers from the corps, local firm Eustis Engineering and the national firm Modjeski and Masters could have missed what is being termed the costliest engineering mistake in American history.

The failure of the wall and other breaches in the city's levee system flooded much of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore Aug. 29, prompting investigations that have raised questions about the basic design and construction of the floodwalls.

"It's simply beyond me," said Billy Prochaska, a consulting engineer in the forensic group known as Team Louisiana. "This wasn't a complicated problem. This is something the corps, Eustis, and Modjeski and Masters do all the time. Yet everyone missed it -- everyone from the local offices all the way up to Washington."

Team Louisiana, which consists of six LSU professors and three independent engineers, reached its conclusions by plugging soil strength data available to the corps into the engineering equations used to determine whether a wall is strong enough to withstand the force of rising water caused by a hurricane.

"Using the data we have available from the corps, we did our own calculations on how much water that design could take in these soils before failure," said LSU professor Ivor van Heerden, a team member. "Our research shows it would fail at water levels between 11 and 12 feet -- which is just what happened" in Katrina.
I would take this with a minor grain of salt though... From the same story:
The corps has long claimed the sheet piling was driven to 17.5 feet deep, but Team Louisiana recently used sophisticated ground sonar to prove it was only 10 feet deep.
It seems that 17.5 feet was still too small but the discrepancy between the engineered depth and actual depth might also point to cuts made in the construction -- seeming to build to spec but shorting materials and labor to make more money for the construction company. It will probably turn out to be a mix of both -- the Engineering companies are not lightweights (Eustis Engineering, Modjeski and Masters) and you can bet that if either of them signed off on a project, they had some very smart Senior Engineers review the design, even if the design was done by a junior partner. I used to work for an Engineering Company in Seattle and design projects of this magnitude are not taken lightly.

Talking about the weather -- Hurricanes

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Nice article at NOAA Magazine giving a clear explanation of how this current "active" hurricane season is just a part of a much larger cycle and that we have had seasons of high hurricanes before.
NOAA attributes recent increase in Hurricane Activity to naturally occurring Multi-Decadal Climate Variability
The nation is now wrapping up the 11th year of a new era of heightened Atlantic hurricane activity. This era has been unfolding in the Atlantic since 1995, and is expected to continue for the next decade or perhaps longer. NOAA attributes this increased activity to natural occurring cycles in tropical climate patterns near the equator. These cycles, called �the tropical multi-decadal signal,� typically last several decades (20 to 30 years or even longer). As a result, the North Atlantic experiences alternating decades long (20 to 30 year periods or even longer) of above normal or below normal hurricane seasons. NOAA research shows that the tropical multi-decadal signal is causing the increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, and is not related to greenhouse warming.
Lots of links to check out too. Good ammunition for Global Warming hysteria.

Wire Tapping

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It seems that wire taps are pretty easy to circumvent. This paper has the juicy details. Here is an excerpt:
Signaling Vulnerabilities in Wiretapping Systems

In a research paper appearing in the November/December 2005 issue of IEEE Security and Privacy, we analyzed publicly available information and materials to evaluate the reliability of the telephone wiretapping technologies used by US law enforcement agencies. The analysis found vulnerabilities in widely fielded interception technologies that are used for both "pen register" and "full audio" (Title III / FISA) taps. The vulnerabilities allow a party to a wiretapped call to disable content recording and call monitoring and to manipulate the logs of dialed digits and call activity. These countermeasures do not require cooperation with the called party, elaborate equipment, or special skill. Preliminary drafts of the paper have been made available to the law enforcement community; contact the authors at the above email address.

We found exploitable vulnerabilities present in virtually all analog "loop extender" or "dialup slave" wiretap systems and in at least some systems based on the newer J-STD-025A CALEA interfaces. These systems depend on unsecured "in-band" signals that can be spoofed or manipulated by an interception target via his or her own telephone line.

In the most serious countermeasures we discovered, a wiretap subject superimposes a continuous low-amplitude "C-tone" audio signal over normal call audio on the monitored line. The tone is misinterpreted by the wiretap system as an "on-hook" signal, which mutes monitored call audio and suspends audio recording. Most loop extender systems, as well as at least some CALEA systems, appear to be vulnerable to this countermeasure. Audio examples (in MP3 format) of this countermeasure can be found below.
This is as big a hole as the original blue-boxes that opened up phone-phreaking in the mid-1960's.

Our enemies in Virginia

A chilling story about a fundamentalist Islamic School operating in the state of Virginia. A three parter at The Gates of Vienna. Part #1 Part #2 From today's entry (Part #3): (NOTE: Baron Bodissey is talking about a group called Jamaat ul-Fuqra (Arabic for "community of the impoverished"). This is a terrorist organization founded by a notorious Pakistani cleric, Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani.)

Jamaat ul-Everywhere
After my previous posts about Jamaat ul-Fuqra in Virginia (see parts one and two) I received a number of emails with tips and information about other Islamic locations in rural Virginia.

One of my correspondents was a man in Halifax County. He told me about a place in southern Charlotte County called "Muslim Teachers College," just across the Staunton River from his home. He said that he had been traveling over that way a few years back and had seen the sign for it.

So, following his directions, I mounted an expedition and went looking for the place. I drove up and down Route 607 along the river a couple of times, and couldn't see any sign for a Muslim college. So, as is my custom, I stopped in at a local country store near the hamlet of Formosa to ask about a nearby Muslim school.

"Oh, yeah, I know where it is," said the man behind the counter. He gave me directions to it: back the way I had come.

But before I left he asked me what a "Muslim school" was. I told him it was a private religious school, like a Catholic school.

"Oh," he said. "I always wondered what that was."

Baron finds the school and it appears to have been abandoned. But, a little work with Terraserver and some fact checking turns up a lot more questions than answers. It seems that there are some buildings that are not visible from the road and that the property is owned by the: "Dairy Hill Hunt Club" of which very little public record can be found. A few bits of information were found -- this announcement:

Muslim Teacher's College announces the opening of its demonstration school - The Clara Muhammad Boarding School. This, the latest addition to the college's educational complex, represents the culmination of several years of research. The curriculum taught in CMBS is strictly based on Qur'an.


"Our goal," said Imam Abdus-Sabur, "is to establish a model school and curriculum which could be duplicated throughout America."

CMBS will admit a very few select boys in fifth through eighth grade (ages 10 -13) this year.

Baron keeps digging and the resulting stench is worth knowing about. What are these people doing here?

The Other Side

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One of my favorite bloggers had to disappear from the web for a while. The new blog at Nation of Riflemen: "Gun Guy" hosted his writings for a while but he has come home to roost here: The Other Side of Kim Scheduled to be added to the blogroll during my next update.

The first picture on the Web

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A bit of history here. From the CERN MusiClub:
LHC: The First Band on the Web


You are looking at the VERY FIRST photo ever published on the web!

Back in 1992, after their show at the CERN Hardronic Festival, my colleague Tim Berners-Lee asked me for a few scanned photos of "the CERN girls" to publish them on some sort of information system he had just invented, called the "World Wide Web". I had only a vague idea of what that was, but I scanned some photos on my Mac and FTPed them to Tim's now famous "". How was I to know that I was passing an historical milestone, as the one above was the first picture ever to be clicked on in a web browser!"

Silvano de Gennaro
Very cool -- hard to believe that the web celebrated its tenth birthday a few years ago...

Great Casting...

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Great idea for a movie. From Billboard Magazine:
Bowie Ponders 'Prestige' Thriller
Rock legend David Bowie is in talks to play inventor Nikola Tesla in "The Prestige," a thriller from "Batman Begins" director Christopher Nolan.

The cast also includes Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine in a tale of rival magicians in early 20th century London. The Tesla character is based on the real-life Serbian-American who discovered the rotating magnetic field.

The script, on which Nolan is working, is based on Christopher Priest's 1996 novel and was adapted by Nolan's brother, Jonathan, who also wrote the short story on which Nolan's breakout movie, "Memento," was based. The movie is scheduled to shoot in January with a budget in the $40 million range.

Bowie's screen acting credits range from 1976's "The Man Who Fell to Earth" to 1983's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," 1996's "Basquiat" and, most recently, 2000's "Mr. Rice's Secret."
I could not think of a better person to portray Tesla -- removed from the mainstream, brilliant and not quite human. That sums up the both of them...

Cute idea

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Someone has developed a way to maintain butter at the proper temperature for spreading. If you have an extra $60 knocking a hole in your pocket, you can buy the Butter Wizard. From their website:
The ButterWizard is THE must-have kitchen innovation...
The ButterWizard is the world�s first fully portable Temperature Controlled Butter Dish, which both heats and cools regardless of ambient temperature, ensuring your butter stays at the perfect temperature for spreading � anytime, anywhere.
It has a docking station where the batteries are recharged -- they carry enough power to maintain temperature for two hours. It uses the Peltier effect for refrigeration and heating. Clever idea -- available in the U.K. only for now though... Hat tip to Strange New Products for the link.

Possible Ebola Vector

Great news from Gabon and Congo -- hat tip to BoingBoing for the link to this story in the LA Times:

3 Species of Fruit Bat Found to Harbor Deadly Ebola Virus
Tests by scientists in Gabon and Congo detect traces of the pathogen. Human infection may have occurred through eating the animals.

Researchers working in Gabon and Congo have identified three species of fruit bat as the long-sought reservoirs of one of the deadliest known human pathogens, the Ebola virus.

The team tested more than 1,000 bats and other animals before tracing the virus to fruit bats, which are commonly eaten by people in Central Africa, according to a report in today's issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers found minute genetic traces of the virus in 22.6% of the bats tested. More important, they found that the virus produces no symptoms in infected bats, thus allowing it to spread without disabling its carrier, said lead researcher Eric Leroy, an immunologist with the International Center for Medical Research in Gabon.

Dr. Sanford Kuvin, head of tropical infectious diseases at Israel's Hebrew University, said the study provided strong evidence of Ebola's presence in bats and should prompt people in the region to "avoid contact with the creatures at all costs."

Ebola is a singularly nasty disease -- highly infectious, fast onset and 90% mortality rate with no known cure or vaccination. A bit more from the article:

The disease has had a baffling ability to emerge and then disappear from researchers' view.

Leroy's research showed that the fruit bats harbored the virus at levels so low they escaped many conventional DNA tests.

Ending the tradition of catching bats for food could significantly reduce the risk of human Ebola infections, he said.

Good work -- both of you!


Interesting fodder for the Global Warming camp... It seems that the Gulf Stream is petering out a bit and has lost about 30% of it's volume.

Of course, this announcement happened just before this weeks intergovernmental talks in Montreal, Canada (the "successor" to Kyoto) so the political agenda of the scientists is put in question.

The New Scientist has the story:

Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age
The ocean current that gives western Europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age.

The dramatic finding comes from a study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream.

The slow-down, which has long been predicted as a possible consequence of global warming, will give renewed urgency to intergovernmental talks in Montreal, Canada, this week on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Harry Bryden at the Southampton Oceanography Centre in the UK, whose group carried out the analysis, says he is not yet sure if the change is temporary or signals a long-term trend. "We don't want to say the circulation will shut down," he told New Scientist. "But we are nervous about our findings. They have come as quite a surprise."

Something to keep an eye on but I fail to see how the finger can be put on human contribution. There is enough environmental randomness going on without our own meddling that to call it Anthropogenic Global Warming is pure hubris.

Back Home

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Got in an hour ago -- good to be back! We have about eight inches of snow on the ground and temps solidly in the lower thirtys. Winter is here... The Mt Baker Ski area is operating in full swing -- check out this photo:
sat nov 26th Corson 2.jpg
Click for full-size Image

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