May 2006 Archives

Japanese elementary schools craze

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From Web-Japan comes this story of hikaru dorodango:
Shiny Mud Balls:
Kyoto Professor Taps into the Essence of Play

At elementary schools, kindergartens, and preschools all across Japan, kids are losing themselves making hikaru dorodango, or balls of mud that shine. Behind this boom is Professor Fumio Kayo of the Kyoto University of Education. Kayo is a psychologist who researches children's play, and he first came across these glistening dorodango at a nursery school in Kyoto two years ago. He was impressed and devised a method of making dorodango that could be followed even by children. Once Kayo teaches children how to make these mud balls, they become absorbed in forming a sphere, and they put all their energy into polishing the ball until it sparkles. The dorodango soon becomes the child's greatest treasure. Kayo sees in this phenomenon the essence of children's play, and he has written academic papers on the subject. The mud balls could also offer fresh insights into how play aids children's growth.
These actually look very cool:
A mud ball with a shine rating of 5, the highest score. (Association of Nippon Doro-dango Science)
Trust them to have a scientific association for these... Gotta try this sometime.

An interesting interview

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One of the more left examples of the MSM (England's The Independent), interviews Ted Nugent.

From the interview: Ted Nugent: Off his rocker? An excerpt:

We sit down to coffee, eggs and grits. Ted is 6ft 3in; to get a sense of his general demeanour you could do worse than imagine the body of John Wayne possessed by the spirit of Ian Paisley in one of his less conciliatory moods. He launches into a fevered monologue about how much safer Britain would be with more guns on its streets.

"Never has there been such an upsurge in crime since they confiscated all your weapons. Why don't you arm yourselves? You Limeys have a zipper that's locked in the closed position, because you don't have a constitution. You're rewarded for shutting the fuck up."

Another one:

British police who don't want to carry firearms are, Nugent says, "out of their minds. I say if somebody robs you, shoot 'em. I'd like all thieves killed. And all rapists. And carjackers. No more graffiti. No more..." - this next phrase is a Spoonerism, rather than some Texan term for gross indecency - "snatch-pursing."

"For an unarmed force," I suggest, "the British police have shot quite a few people. Did you hear about Jean Charles de Menezes?"

"That was horrible. An American cop would have just beat the shit out of him."

One last one:

He speaks about Muslims in a way which, were he to repeat it on globally networked television, might endanger his life. Nugent is aiming to run as Governor of Michigan in 2010.

"If Yusuf Islam is a threat to world peace," I tell him, in response to his anti-Islamic rant, "I'll run your campaign myself, wearing cactus shorts."

"Only the guilty need feel guilty," he replies. "These jihadists want to kill us and Cat Stevens. The message to send to a coyote is: the next time I see you, I'll shoot you."

He went to Fallujah in May 2004, as part of a tour with the USO (the same organisation that sent Bob Hope to entertain on the front line).

"And I visited Saddam Hussein's master war room. It was a glorious moment. It looked like something out of Star Wars. I saw his gold toilet. I shit in his bidet."

I would love to have a couple beers with him. Yes, he is over the top but it is in that grand sense that Americans pull off so well. He and Teddy Roosevelt would have been close friends.

Read Theodore Dalrymple's essays to get a better understanding of the current crime situation in England.

Jean Charles de Menezes was, of course, the poor sod who happened to be riding the London Subway a day after a failed bombing attempt. He was carrying a backpack and was asked to stop. He ran - maybe it was because he was living in England illegally. Anyway, he was shot and killed by the Subway police.

The city of Shanghai sits at the delta of the Yangtze River and depends on it for its water. The Yangtze is in trouble -- from CNN Science & Space:
Yangtze river 'cancerous' with pollution
China's longest river is "cancerous" with pollution and rapidly dying, threatening drinking water supplies in 186 cities along its banks, state media said on Tuesday.

Chinese environmental experts fear worsening pollution could kill the Yangtze river within five years, Xinhua news agency said, calling for an urgent clean-up.

"Many officials think the pollution is nothing for the Yangtze," Xinhua quoted Yuan Aiguo, a professor with the China University of Geosciences, as saying.

"But the pollution is actually very serious," it added, warning that experts considered it "cancerous"."

Industrial waste and sewage, agricultural pollution and shipping discharges were to blame for the river's declining health, experts said.

The river, the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon, runs from remote far west Qinghai and Tibet through 186 cities including Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing and empties into the sea at Shanghai.

It absorbed more than 40 percent of the country's waste water, 80 percent of it untreated, said Lu Jianjian, from East China Normal University.

"As the river is the only source of drinking water in Shanghai, it has been a great challenge for Shanghai to get clean water," Xinhua quoted him as saying.
The article also talks a bit about Chinese cleanup campaigns, the lack of potable water for 300 Million People and the fact that:
Most of the Yellow River, the second-longest in China and the cradle of early Chinese civilization, is so polluted it is not safe for drinking or swimming, Xinhua news agency said in May last year.
And it is not just water -- China burns a lot of coal for heating and power and the plants are not as environmentally nice as the ones in the USA. Air pollution is a major problem especially in the north. The increased desertification is causing massive sand-storms the dust of which cross the Pacific and show up here. But yet, they are exempt from the Kyoto Protocol...

A simple business transaction

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Heh... Thanks to Daniel at LoboWalk we get to read about a Mr. Amir Massoud Tofangsazan. From Daniel:
Payback Is A Bitch
From Vinny I got this.

Here�s the deal: Scumbag sells victim a laptop on Ebay that doesn�t work. Victim tries to get his money back. Scumbag tells victim to go fuck himself. Victim gets the laptop to work and, whaddya know??? The hard drive is full of personal data (bank account numbers, e-mail account usernames and passwords etc.) and embarrassing, incriminating photos. Victim exercises a little leverage and takes revenge by posting contents of scumbag�s former HD to the WWW.


Holy sheeeeeit. If this is all true than it will rank as one of the all-time paybacks.

Remember, revenge is a dish best served cold...
Heh... And the perp in question:

Lots more at the site...

Five Problems

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Rob at Gut Rumbles cites the five main problems that we are facing:
1) Islamo-fascism. Anybody who does NOT believe that we're now at war with a religion, controlled by insane, murderous zealots bent on our total destruction, is a blithering idiot. It's not about ooooiiillll!!! It's not about Iraq or weapons of mass destruction. It's about the future of western civilization. And when we have people who can't stomach THAT fight, we've already lost.
His others:
2) Illegal immigration.
3) The inevitable collapse of Social Security.
4) Environmentalism.
5) Political corruption.
Spot on in my book...

Two websites to visit

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Check out these two: Douglas Self's The Self Site and The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society Kind of hard to categorize but basically two very interesting collections of knowledge...

Living with MIDAS

Excellent Geek-Fu from MIT - Project MIDAS
MIDAS: Multifunction In-Dorm Automation System
Since moving into my dorm this last fall, my roommate RJ Ryan and I have been working on creating the most elaborate automation system we could envision. Featuring everything from web control, voice activation, and a security system, to large continuously running information displays, electric blinds, and one-touch parties, the custom designed MIDAS Automation System has brought ease to our lives (if one doesn't count all the time it took to actually build and program the system).

The following page will both describe the system functionalities as well as a description on how it was built. Anyone with some programming and construction skills, drive, and a couple hundred dollars should be able to replicate this system.
Every function of the room is automated and be sure to check out the video of "Party Mode" being activated. Very cool!

Moron Murtha

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Err... Should have been More On Murtha -- need to proofread more. Anyway, the Washington Post has a letter from Mr. Ilario Pantano. Mr. Pantano:
The writer served as a Marine enlisted man in the Persian Gulf War and most recently as a platoon commander in Iraq.
The Letter:
Mr. Murtha's Rush to Judgment
A year ago I was charged with two counts of premeditated murder and with other war crimes related to my service in Iraq. My wife and mother sat in a Camp Lejeune courtroom for five days while prosecutors painted me as a monster; then autopsy evidence blew their case out of the water, and the Marine Corps dropped all charges against me ["Marine Officer Cleared in Killing of Two Iraqis," news story, May 27, 2005].

So I know something about rushing to judgment, which is why I am so disturbed by the remarks of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) regarding the Haditha incident ["Death Toll Rises in Haditha Attack, GOP Leader Says," news story, May 20]. Mr. Murtha said, "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

In the United States, we have a civil and military court system that relies on an investigatory and judicial process to make determinations based on evidence. The system is not served by such grand pronouncements of horror and guilt without the accuser even having read the investigative report.

Mr. Murtha's position is particularly suspect when he is quoted by news services as saying that the strain of deployment "has caused them [the Marines] to crack in situations like this." Not only is he certain of the Marines' guilt but he claims to know the cause, which he conveniently attributes to a policy he opposes.

Members of the U.S. military serving in Iraq need more than Mr. Murtha's pseudo-sympathy. They need leaders to stand with them even in the hardest of times. Let the courts decide if these Marines are guilty. They haven't even been charged with a crime yet, so it is premature to presume their guilt -- unless that presumption is tied to a political motive.

Good news from Columbia

President Alvaro Uribe has been re-elected.

From the LA Times:

Uribe's Second Term Is a First
The Colombian president makes history with his reelection. He takes 62% of the vote.

President Alvaro Uribe swept to a reelection victory Sunday as voters gave him a resounding vote of confidence for having reduced violence and reignited the economy, and for restored confidence in a nation that four years ago seemed on the verge of disintegration.

With 96% of the votes counted, Uribe had 62%, a massive lead over the closest of his three main rivals, the Alternative Democratic Pole's Carlos Gaviria, with 22%. Gaviria conceded the race, in effect making Uribe the nation's first president to be democratically elected to a second term.

Uribe's followers in Congress had the constitution changed last year to allow him to become the first modern Colombian president to run for reelection.

"We have to construct a truly secure nation. A secure country is one that guarantees liberties," Uribe told a cheering crowd at a victory speech in a downtown hotel. "Terrorism has wanted to destroy them. Democratic security has tried to recover the liberties that terrorism has wanted to destroy."

Uribe ran on a promise to continue the fight against guerrilla armies, the largest of which, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has opposed the government in a four-decade-old civil war. The improved security under Uribe's term has been financed partly by Plan Colombia, the U.S. foreign aid package that has funneled more than $600 million annually to Colombia since 2000.

A little bit more:

Voters from varied demographic backgrounds interviewed as they left polling places here Sunday morning said they were enthusiastic Uribistas. "Onward, Mr. President," retired public official Julio Picero, 77, said as he left polls in the impoverished July 20 neighborhood.

"People sense that the country has gone forward and know enough not to be fooled by bright colors and promises," Pi�ero said. "It has cost a lot of work and higher taxes, but it's for our own good. The president should be allowed to finish his plan."

Uribe's victory came despite his notice to Colombians in March that he would raise taxes on the wealthiest to back purchases of equipment for the army.

In remarks to reporters Saturday, Uribe, a bookish and plain-spoken Oxford-educated lawyer who once took law classes from Gaviria, denied suggestions that he might seek a third term. Several voters said Sunday that they would support him again.

"He's been called to govern," said Mercedes Mora, a 63-year-old housewife. "He can end the war if we support him."

Cool -- someone who has the stones to stand up to the Marxists and Maoists that are trying to take over.

Raising the taxes on the rich is not a bad move either...

From ABC News:
Murtha: Iraq Killings May Hurt War Effort
Scandal Over Iraq Civilian Killings May Be More Harmful to U.S. Than Abu Ghraib, Lawmaker Says

The deaths of as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians and an ensuing cover-up threaten to do more harm to U.S. efforts in Iraq than even the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a prominent congressman and war critic says.

"This is the kind of war you have to win the hearts and minds of the people," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said Sunday. "And we're set back every time something like this happens. This is worse than Abu Ghraib."

Murtha compared the shootings last November at Haditha, a city in the Anbar province of western Iraq, with the revelations that U.S. military personnel had abused and humiliated Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, a U.S.-run prison outside of Baghdad. The prison scandal severely damaged the U.S. effort to win over the Arab world by fostering a democratic government in Iraq.
Quick heads up here -- a Marine convoy was attacked and the attackers used civilian human shields for defense. They did not know this at the time. There was no cover-up -- the military is investigating this and will issue a report when they are done -- from the same article:
Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman, told The Associated Press the investigation was ongoing and he would have no comment.
Murtha jumped the shark several decades ago -- he should step down gracefully and let someone who has a clue take his position.

A nice French Whine -- part two

I had written about a 1976 Wine Tasting in Paris which pitted the finest French vintages against the American ones.

The tasting was blind so the tasters did not know what they were drinking. They were a bit dismayed to find out that the American wines consistently ranked better than the French ones. Fast forward to the present -- it is 30 years later and Steven Spurrier, the wine merchant to organized the first tasting has done it again and guess what...

From the Inside Bay Area:

California bests France again in a wine tasting showdown
Tasters re-enact legendary 'Judgment of Paris' competition

French and California winemakers marked the 30th anniversary of the storied Paris tasting with another sip-and-spit showdown.

California won - and by more than a nose.

Native wines took the top five of 10 spots, with a 1971 Ridge Monte Bello cabernet sauvignon from the Santa Cruz mountains coming out on top Wednesday.

"Today was a snapshot in time and all the stars were aligned properly. We had a lot of fun," said Peter Marks, director of wine at Copia, the Napa Valley wine and arts center where the New World end of the tasting was held.

A European panel of tasters met at a London wine merchant to give their rating.

The May 24, 1976 tasting known as the Judgment of Paris is considered a milestone in the American wine industry because it shattered the perception that the New World was capable only of producing cheap bulk wines.

It was put together by Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant who owned a shop and wine school in Paris.

Spurrier, now a wine consultant, also was co-organizer of Wednesday's rematch.

The tasting was in two parts, with judges re-evaluating the original reds and then tasting a variety of modern reds and whites from both countries. (Whites don't generally age well and weren't part of the re-enactment.)

Back in'76, it was a complete surprise when California wines outclassed the French.

A Stag's Leap 1973 cabernet sauvignon was top red and another Napa Valley wine, a Chateau Montelena 1973 chardonnay, took top white.

Tellingly, the judges were unable to distinguish the French and California wines, although they thought they could.

Spurrier staged a re-tasting for the 1986 anniversary, and California wines again took top places, although the No. 1 red then was a Clos du Val 1972 cabernet sauvignon.

Heh... The book is a great read: Judgement of Paris

Aliens among us...

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From the San Francisco Chronicle:
If it quacks like an alien ...
Unidentified facelike object peeks out from duck X-ray at wild bird rescue center

As if crop circles weren't proof enough that extraterrestrials are among us, an alien has now been found in the stomach of a duck.

That, at least, is the conclusion reached by workers at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Cordelia (Solano County) when they viewed an X-ray image they took of a sick mallard.

Right there, in the duck's ventriculus, or gizzard, is the shocking image of a grimacing, bald-headed being. How it got there, nobody knows, but when an autopsy was performed after the bird died of unrelated causes, the alien had mysteriously disappeared.

"We're a 35-year-old organization, and we've seen a lot of things -- bullets, fish hooks -- but this is the first time anything like this has shown up," said Jay Holcomb, executive director of the bird rescue center, which was founded in 1971 after an oil spill beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. "I don't know my aliens well, but it looks like one of those with the big eyes and the long fingers."

The drake in question arrived at the center Sunday with a broken wing. Workers do not know how the mallard was injured, but it was clearly weak and emaciated. In an effort to pinpoint the trouble, Maria Travers, the assistant rehabilitation manager, took a radiograph image of the bird. She was stunned by what she saw.

"Look at this," she shouted. "It's an alien head!"

Holcomb admitted the strange image could have been an odd arrangement of grain in the stomach, similar to the anomalous "Face on Mars" photographed by the Viking Lander when it orbited the Red Planet in 1976.
Looking at our three ducks in a new light... That might explain the bright lights at night.

Bad Tech

Dan Tynan at PC World put together a list of his 25 worst examples of technology:

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time
These products are so bad, they belong in the high-tech hall of shame.

At PC World, we spend most of our time talking about products that make your life easier or your work more productive. But it's the lousy ones that linger in our memory long after their shrinkwrap has shriveled, and that make tech editors cry out, "What have I done to deserve this?"

Still, even the worst products deserve recognition (or deprecation). So as we put together our list of World Class winners for 2006, we decided also to spotlight the 25 worst tech products that have been released since PC World began publishing nearly a quarter-century ago.

Picking our list wasn't exactly rocket science; it was more like group therapy. PC World staffers and contributors nominated their candidates and then gave each one the sniff test. We sought the worst of the worst--operating systems that operated badly, hardware that never should have left the factory, applications that spied on us and fed our data to shifty marketers, and products that left a legacy of poor performance and bad behavior.

And because one person's dog can be another's dish, we also devised a (Dis)Honorable Mention list for products that didn't quite achieve universal opprobrium.

Of course, most truly awful ideas never make it out of somebody's garage. Our bottom 25 designees are all relatively well-known items, and many had multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns behind them. In other words, they were made by people who should have known better. In fact, three of the ten worst were made by Microsoft. Coincidence? We think not.

The first entry in our Hall of Shame: The ISP that everyone loves to hate...

Item #1 is of course, AOhelL Also on the list is BOB, Sony CD's (the Rootkit edition) and the IBM PCjr. I remember that the PCjr was touted to the educational market. It came with cool wireless keyboards that used InfraRed light. One kid at the back of the classroom could jam all of the machines in front of him... What were the engineers smoking that afternoon?

Over the Hedge

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Jen and I felt like watching a movie but neither of us wanted anything heavy so we saw Over the Hedge. It is ostensibly a kids movie but there are a lot of wonderful in-jokes and references to other movies. Little fleeting moments on the screen that are hilarious -- a John Tesh CD with a yard-sale 10� sticker on it. Also fun is that it borrows some characters from rival Pixar. The head of Toy Story character Rex (the dinosaur) appears at the beginning (the vending machine scene). The exterminator borrows a lot from Al, the unscrupulous toy collector in TS2. A fun evening...
Remember I had written about New Zealander Mark Inglis who summited Mount Everest despite loosing both of his legs in a prior climbing accident? That event has been overshadowed by a heinous one. From the Buffalo News:
Left to die on Mount Everest
Report that dozens of climbers passed stricken British mountaineer on way to the summit shocks first man to reach top

Mount Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary said Wednesday he was shocked that dozens of climbers left a British mountaineer to die during their own attempts on the world's tallest peak. David Sharp, 34, died while descending from the summit during a solo climb last week, apparently of oxygen deficiency.

More than 40 climbers are thought to have seen him as he lay dying, and almost all continued to the summit without offering assistance.

"Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain," Hillary was quoted as saying in an interview with New Zealand Press Association.

New Zealander Mark Inglis, who became the first double amputee to reach the mountain's summit on prosthetic legs, told Television New Zealand that his party stopped during its May 15 summit push and found Sharp close to death.

A member of the party tried to give Sharp oxygen and sent out a radio distress call before continuing to the summit, he said.

Several parties reported seeing Sharp in varying states of health and working on his oxygen equipment on the day of his death.

Inglis said Sharp had no oxygen when he was found. He said there was virtually no hope that Sharp could have been carried to safety from his position about 1,000 feet short of the 29,035-foot summit, inside the low-oxygen "death zone" of the mountain straddling the Nepal-China border.

His own party was able to render only limited assistance and had to put the safety of its own members first, Inglis said Wednesday.

"I walked past David but only because there were far more experienced and effective people than myself to help him," Inglis said. "It was a phenomenally extreme environment; it was an incredibly cold day."

The temperature was minus 100 at 7 a.m. on the summit, he said.

Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 became the first mountaineers to reach Everest's summit. Hillary said in an interview published Wednesday in a New Zealand newspaper that some climbers today did not care about the welfare of others.

"There have been a number of occasions when people have been neglected and left to die, and I don't regard this as a correct philosophy," he told the Otago Daily Times.

"The whole attitude toward climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top," he told the newspaper.

Hillary told New Zealand Press Association he would have abandoned his own pioneering climb to save another's life.

He said that his expedition, "would never for a moment have left one of the members or a group of members just lie there and die while they plugged on towards the summit."

More than 1,500 climbers have reached the summit of Mount Everest in the last 53 years and some 190 have died trying.
Words fail me...
It seems that he is dying and is having some second thoughts... From ABC News:
Dying 'Dr. Death' Has Second Thoughts About Assisting Suicides
Jack Kevorkian Still Supports Movement, but Has Misgivings About His Methods

Today, on his 78th birthday, Jack Kevorkian, the man known as "Dr. Death," is slowly dying in prison.

And, according to his lawyer, Kevorkian seems to have second thoughts about helping people die.

For years, Kevorkian was the center of a national debate around the highly controversial questions surrounding physician-assisted suicide or "mercy killing:" Do the terminally ill have the right to choose when and how they die? Do doctors have the ability, even an obligation, to help them die as they choose?

Now, as he sits in jail, Kevorkian may have had a change of heart � not about his dedication to the "death with dignity" movement, but on how he went about promoting it.

Specifically, his lawyer suggests, he questions the more than 100 suicides he said he assisted throughout the 1990s. One assisted suicide � the death of Lou Gehrig's disease patient Thomas Youk, which was taped and broadcast on "60 Minutes" in 1998 � earned him a prison sentence of 15 years to 20 years for second degree murder.

"He did what he did, and it brought it to public awareness [of physician-assisted suicide]," said Kevorkian's attorney, Mayer Morganroth. "He now realizes that having performed it when it was against the law, wasn't the, probably, appropriate way to go about it. � What he should have done was work towards its legalization verbally. � Pursuing that cause, and not performing it because it still was against the law."
A difficult question -- personally, if I had a few months of pain-filled life left and there were no options for cure, I would like to know that a painless exit was available. "Society' as a whole tends to avoid the issue although it really needs to be addressed.

Damning with faint praise

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Andy MacDonald at Sound Politics points to an interesting article about our Senator Maria Cantwell in the Seattle Weekly:
With Friends Like These...
Mike Seely is guest mossbacking at The Seattle Weekly. Smack in the middle of a column asking liberal Democrats to stop criticizing Senator Maria Cantwell for her vote in support of the Iraq war comes this:
Cantwell is far from perfect. In fact, she ranks high among the most difficult people I've ever worked for or with. The seven months I spent in her charge felt like seven years. The campaign, larded with her RealNetworks stock windfall, spent more money on Red Vines than most candidates spend on direct mail. And conspicuous consumption during happy hour became all but a necessity, as it was invariably better to be half in the bag when Cantwell, a paranoid hellcat of a boss who rolls through staff like toilet paper, would make her daily sweep through the office, berating everyone in sight.

On the trail, Cantwell often handled small groups of constituents in closed settings well. But she was not what you would call warm -- a trait that should be preternatural for politicians of her stature. Her stump speeches were uninspiring and her grace with would-be donors flaccid at best. Most of the people who helped guide her to victory were motivated almost exclusively by their disdain for her opponent. Had a dead squirrel been the Democratic nominee for Senate that year, we would have busted our butts for the dead squirrel. Hell, we may have worked harder, because squirrels can't talk -- especially dead ones.

Essentially, we worked for Maria in spite of Maria. Yet if you were to ask Cantwell, the only person responsible for her victory over Gorton was the person who stared back at her in the bathroom mirror each morning. Her lack of gratitude and common human decency were simply repulsive. When the campaign ended, virtually nobody sought to accompany her to D.C. in even the cushiest of capacities. Good night and good luck, Senator, was the collective adieu.
Seely goes on to laud Cantwell for being "firm," "brilliant," and "progressive." Can't the Democrats find someone with those qualities and without the character flaws?
One of the comments to this post was worth some serious thought when 2008 rolls around:
I keep asking the same questions about Cantwell and I never get an answer.
Can anyone name something positive that Maria Cantwell has done while in the position of Senator?
Is there any piece of legislation or change in policy that she has been instrumental in pushing through?
Has she helped to bring dollars to Washingtons state for important projects?
About the only answer I ever get is that she opposed ANWAR.
Very true -- lots of hot air and little actual work.


Very nice media transcoder: MediaCoder

From the website:

MediaCoder is a free universal audio/video batch transcoder, putting together lots of excellent audio/video codecs and tools from the open source community into an all-in-one solution, capable of transcoding among different audio/video formats with many extra features.

Feature Highlights:
  • Directly transcode among MANY audio and video compression formats and mux in various container formats, on the fly, in batches
  • No need to install any media player or codecs package
  • No need to register any components into your system
  • Native Win32 program built on Win32 SDK, efficient and small, no dependencies on any middle layers (e.g. .NET, JAVA etc. )
Typical Applications:
  • Improving compression / reducing file size
  • Converting from lossless/high-bitrate audio to low-bitrate audio to play with portable DAP
  • Converting to device (mobile phone, PDA, MP4 player, PSP, VCD/DVD player)
  • Extracting audio tracks from video clips
  • Ripping CD/VCD/DVD

Very cool (and small considering) program. Don't use it every day but it is invaluable when I need it...

Telephone Tax repealed

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I had written about this tax last January: The 3% Federal Excise Tax on your telephone bill... From the TaxProf Blog:
Can You Hear Me Now? IRS to Refund $15 Billion of Telephone Taxes to Consumers
The Treasury Department and IRS announced this morning that after losing in five circuit courts of appeals, the Government is throwing in the towel and will no longer seek to enforce the 3% excise tax on long-distance telephone calls enacted during the Spanish-American War of 1898 as a "luxury" tax on wealthy Americans who owned telephones. The IRS will will issue $15 billion in refunds to consumers for long-distance telephone service taxes paid over the past three years:
  • No immediate action is required by taxpayers.
  • Refunds will be a part of 2006 tax returns filed in 2007.
  • Refund claims will cover all excise tax paid on long-distance service over the last three years (time allowed given statute of limitations).
  • Interest will be paid on refunds.
  • The IRS is working on a simplified method for individuals to use to claim a refund on their 2006 tax returns.
  • Refunds will not include tax paid on local telephone service, which was not involved in the litigation.
This is also covered by Reuters:
UPDATE 1-U.S. to repeal federal long-distance phone tax
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday conceded a legal dispute over the federal excise tax on long-distance telephone service and said the Internal Revenue Service will refund tax paid on the service over the past three years.

In a statement, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow also urged Congress to repeal the excise tax on local telephone service.

The Justice Department will no longer pursue litigation on the long-distance issue, the statement said.

The Treasury Department said taxpayers can claim a refund on their 2006 returns for the long-distance tax, which was established in 1898 as a luxury tax on wealthy Americans who owned telephones.

Snow, at a press conference on Capitol Hill with lawmakers, said the tax was "antiquated" and well-rid of.

"It's not often you get to kill a tax, particularly one that goes back so far in history," Snow said, adding that Treasury was pleased to concede this tax was no longer useful.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the decision will lead to billion of dollars in refunds to U.S. consumers and businesses who have paid it, with refunds and lost revenue over the next five years adding up to about $60 billion.

Snow estimated the cost of refunding taxpayers for three years of past taxes would total about $13 billion, and said that there would be no problem in finding that amount.

"The revenue stream is strong and can easily absorb this," Snow said.

In response to questions, Snow said he could not specify how much of the refund might be made to businesses and how much to individuals. He also said Treasury could not yet estimate the size of refund an average individual could expect to get.
And I wonder how much our phone bills will go up to cover this loss of revenue. Out of one pocket and into another one...

A downturn in the business

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From the Arizona Central comes this story of a business having a bad time:
Credit-card issuers' problem: People are paying bills
The credit-card industry has a problem: Although Americans are deeper in debt than ever, they are paying off bigger portions of their monthly credit-card bills.

For card issuers, which profit by collecting interest on unpaid balances, that's bad news. In the past, when interest rates crept up, as they are doing now, fewer cardholders could afford to pay down balances.

"Normally at this point in the economic cycle, you start to see payment rates decline. But that's not happening," says Richard Srednicki, who runs the credit-card business at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the nation's second-largest card issuer. "It is a tougher business if payment rates continue to stay up and consumers continue to pay off more. It's something we've got to understand and work at."

Although consumers are using plastic for more of their daily purchases, they are giving card issuers fits by juggling their debts more shrewdly. When cardholders are hit with high interest rates on one card, they routinely transfer balances to new cards at lower rates. And in recent years, as real-estate values soared and mortgage rates fell sharply, more consumers wiped out credit-card debts altogether by borrowing against their homes.

To make matters worse for card issuers, federal bank regulators issued new guidelines in 2003 meant to ensure that cardholders pay off more each month than just the fees and interest charges that have accumulated. To comply with the rules, many banks have raised minimum-payment requirements, bumping up the payment rate further.
Heh... The fees these guys charge to businesses for processing just cover the operating costs. The interest is their cash cow and that seems to be giving curdled milk these days. Makes me wonder if they will raise the rates to businesses -- might make for a competitive market for business owners...

Business as usual in Africa

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Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Africa -- it exported food and had a high standard of living and education for all of its citizens. Clueless thug Bobby Mugabe took over, tossed out many of the white farmers and put his cronies in their place. Zimbabwe is now just another African hell-hole. Poor, it imports food and the government is crushing any attempt by the citizens to improve their lot. (Soldiers have burned down local markets to drive the customers to government owned stores.) Poverty is endemic. Now, South African President Thabo Mbeki is coming to their aid. His solution? From BBC/World:
UN holds key to Zimbabwe - Mbeki
South African President Thabo Mbeki said in London that the United Nations was the key to resolving the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.

Mr Mbeki said a proposed visit by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Zimbabwe could help normalise relations between Harare and the west.
Stupid stupid stupid. The problem is not the relations between Harare and the West, it is Mugabe's idiotic regime and his abject failure to his people as a leader. And why is S. Africa so interested:
The BBC's Peter Biles in South Africa says the government in Pretoria is sounding increasingly alarmed about the regional implications of what is happening across its northern border.

Zimbabwe is in the grips of a desperate economic crisis with inflation now at more than 1,000% per annum and millions of Zimbabweans have fled the country - many ending up in South Africa.

Many in the west blame the crisis on President Robert Mugabe's policies. He in turn says sanctions are responsible for the country's economic difficulties.
Mugabe blames the sanctions. Is he that clueless or is he psychopathic. Either way, he should be removed and get someone in there who has a good grasp of market economics and government.

Save Lives in May

UPDATE at end of post
Proof once again that anyone can put up a web page...

I present Mr. Eric Julien (aka Jean Ederman), author of Save Lives in May. From the website:

"I have received information psychically, which is corroborated by scientific data, according to which on May 25, 2006 a giant tsunami will occur in the Atlantic Ocean, brought about by the impact of a comet fragment which will provoke the eruption of under-sea volcanoes. Waves up to 200 m high will reach coastlines located above and below the Tropic of Cancer. However, all of the countries bordering the Atlantic will be affected to greater or lesser destructive and deadly levels. This site is dedicated to life, to civic responsibility and to information. There is still time to save lives. Thanks for participating in the world-wide alert!" -- Eric Julien

UPDATE WEDNESDAY MAY 23, 2006: see end of Part IV article below for indications of what might constitute save zones in the Southeastern U.S.

From the same website -- about Mr. Julien:

Eric Julien (aka Jean Ederman) is the author of La Science Des Extraterrestres (JMG Publications, France, 2005) which is currently being translated into English as "The Science of Extraterrestrials". He has worked professionally in the French aviation industry.

While a military air traffic controller at Reims Air Base, France, he tracked a UFO traveling at 15,000 knots. He is also a certified director of international airports (Airport Senior Manager) recognized by the National School of Civil Aviation and Airports of Paris (click here). He gained international public attention as the organizer of the internet referendum asking the question: "Do You Want Extraterrestrials to Show Up?". His second book came out in April 2006 in which he presents his various experiences with extraterrestrials since 1977 including his most recent communications and physical contacts with them.

Here is what the front page of the website looked like yesterday:


Here is what it looks like today (May 25th and no tsunami):


The website was hosted at and is registered to:

      Created on: 28-Apr-06
      Expires on: 28-Apr-07
      Last Updated on: 14-May-06

   Administrative Contact:
      JULIEN, Eric
      Allies Publishing Inc.
      Po Box 399
      Kealakekua, Hawaii 96750
      United States
      (808) 323-2460

Busted... UPDATE: Website is back up -- there might have been a large hit on their server.

101 great things

And they are free. PC World has put together a list of their 101 Fabulous Freebies, a collection of computer utilities and online resources that are useful and free. The front page for the 17 page article is here -- it describes what these are and why they are worth checking out. They do list a few of my favorites but they missed one biggie: - the MVPS Hosts file. This puppy contains a list of all the egregious adware pushers and when it is installed, it redirects each reference to them to the bit-bucket. You will see a sub-window with the following text:
Action canceled
Internet Explorer was unable to link to the Web page you requested. The page might be temporarily unavailable.
Looks like this:
Whenever you see this, you will know that the website you were accessing was selling advertising and that you are not spending the time to download it. This file is a text file so you can edit it in notepad and add your own 'favorite' sites... Good stuff!

Bad Thoughts

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Gerard Van der Leun writes on Bad Thoughts and spends an afternoon at the Seattle University District Street Fair:
Bad Thoughts
YES, IT IS TRUE. I have "bad" thoughts. Bad thoughts of all kinds and in all colors and at all levels. Bad thoughts that are, in their naked essence, very much like your "bad" thoughts.

Until recently, "bad" thoughts were fairly well understood among humans. You thought about things that were "bad," but you didn't voice them, and if you acted on them, trouble followed swiftly in one form or another. These "bad" thoughts were usually in the realms covered, quite nicely thank you, by the 10 Commandments. It was very seldom, down through the ages, that someone was evil enough, venal enough, and morally dead enough, to add to the categories of "bad thoughts." The nature and extent of "bad" thoughts was pretty much a Trouble Ticket marked "Closed" in the filing cabinet of God.

Alas, since God has been on his sabbatical studying how to make a better platypus, humans (as usual when He takes a break) have been back at their old game -- expanding the realms of "bad" thoughts. This is primarily done by digging up a "bad" thought that has been killed and buried, slapping a lot of rouge on the corpse, fluffing it up like a flat pillow, propping it up at your dinner table, and pinning a brand new name tag on it. It's not pretty, but a lot of us are making a good living at intellectual corpse fluffing these days.
The Street Fair and Gerard's Bad Thought:
My "bad" thought came about on Saturday when, with a friend, I took a walk down the streets of Seattle in what is called, with no sense of irony, "The University District."

There is, indeed, a University in the Seattle University District, even if big business is bugging out of there, and a lot of other areas in Seattle, as fast as they can. The University District is pretty much like all the other college and university districts in medium to large American cities today. It provides a living to a small faction of genuine scholars, as well as work space and research facilities and salaries to a host of useful scientists and necessary engineers. But more and more, the main function of our University Districts from coast to coast is to provide a safe-haven for the homeless, the useless, the addicted, the soul-dead, and the politically perverted of all stripes. In addition, the university at the center of these districts currently provides employment for, and benefits to, a host of latter-day hippy professors whose twisted politics, depraved morals and incessant dreams of the destruction of America would make them each persona non grata in most American communities outside of "university districts."

Saturday was an especially good day for seeing the University District as it really is. It was Street-Fair Saturday and, as I remarked to my friend after strolling a couple of blocks, the streets had been transformed into what can only be described as an open-air Moonbat Mall.

Here in the bright light of a perfect day causes of all sorts and flavors jousted for your attention with the scents of a dozen different countries' street food and offers to rub your skull with copper wires. They were still selling and buying tie-dyes that Jerry Garcia wouldn't be caught dead in. You could get sculptures made of polished bones, or you could get sharpened bones driven through your nose while you wait. Parents abused small children openly by paying insane clowns to paint what could be flowers on the faces of the kids. At one point, three generations of goth womanhood walked down the street under parasols; daughter goth, mother goth, and an older woman in deep goth wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed her to be "Fairy Goth Mother." (I had a very brief "bad" thought on reading that, but stuffed it back in the Bad Thought Bag.)

The crowds swirled about us in all the flaky ancient types we've all come to know since, well, 1968. Nothing new about them and, even when confronted with someone with a spider web tattooed on his face, holes the size of silver dollars thought his ears, a couple of dozen piercing in his face and limbs, nothing particularly shocking. All rather common to tell you the truth; just blandly ordinary for the University District. I had a brief moment of shame when I realized that back in the 60s and 70s I had played a small role in inventing all these types, but it passed upon the purchase of a corn dog.

What didn't pass what the deep sense of ennui and inertia that comes over one when you are exposed, for the Nth time, to all the causes and manias that have festered without change in our University Districts for decades. The only real change is that where these causes once seemed to lean forward into the future, they now seem to sink steadily into the past. They're like a variation on the old joke about what you get when you play country music backwards; only in this case you don't get your job back, your wife back, and your dog back. The promise here in these cherished liberal/left/green causes is that if you just believe in them as you once believed in fairies you'll get your high taxes back, your September 10th vulnerability back, and your recumbent bicycle back.

Where do these insane yet indestructible ideas come from? How do they replicate themselves over and over, and still find new brains in which to gain traction like some Birdbrain-Flu virus that cannot be eradicated by either fact or experience? The answer is that they are kept alive and communicable in the Petri dishes of our universities and colleges, and implanted deeply in each new freshman class.

This is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the degeneration of the "liberal arts" in higher education into the "liberal hegemony" of higher education. But still, seeing the Moonbat Mall red in tooth and claw, I had to wonder why we allow this all to go on.

It was then I had my "bad" thought which, to make myself pure again, I must confess here to all the world. It is this:
Go and read the whole thing.

Benzene in Soft Drinks

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It seems that about 15 years ago, an interaction was discovered between several common ingredients in soft drinks that could cause high levels of Benzene (a known carcinogen). The FDA and the soft drink industry planned to keep this quiet and to reformulate their products. Guess what... From Food Production Daily:
FDA names and shames over benzene in soft drinks
Five US soft drinks were found containing the cancer-causing chemical benzene at levels above the legal limit for drinking water, America�s food safety watchdog has announced, sparking calls for more thorough testing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanded reformulation after tests on more than 100 drinks found four contaminated with benzene above the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 10 parts per billion limit for benzene in drinking water.

The offenders were batches of Safeway Select Diet Orange, AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water, Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange and Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail. A fifth drink, Crush Pineapple, had benzene above the US' five parts per billion water limit.
And the source of the benzene?
The suspected source of benzene is a reaction between two common ingredients in drinks: benzoate preservatives and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Erythorbic acid and citric acid are also thought to play a similar role to ascorbic acid, and the reaction is enhanced if drinks are exposed to higher temperatures.
And the prior knowledge:
Both the FDA and the US soft drinks association have known this for 15 years, an investigation by found earlier this year.

Top drinks, including those owned by Cadbury Schweppes, were reformulated after private industry testing in late 1990 revealed a problem. No public statement was ever made, with the FDA allowing industry to �get the word out�.

Now, the re-emergence of that problem indicates a communication breakdown in industry and government, although the FDA re-iterated Friday that there was no risk to consumers' health from benzene levels found so far in drinks.
And you can bet that the lawyers are not far behind... From two followup articles at Food Production Daily: Article One:
Kraft sued over benzene in soft drink
Kraft Foods will face lawsuits in three US states over allegations that one of its drinks contained cancer-causing benzene above the legal limit for tap water, has learned, as pressure mounts on drinks makers.

Lawyers have filed class action lawsuits against Kraft Foods in Massachusetts, Florida and reportedly California.

The actions come after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it had found batches of Kraft's Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange drink contaminated with benzene at more than 14 times America's legal limit for benzene in drinking water. Independent lab tests have also found a Crystal Light drink with benzene above the water limit.
And Article Two:
Coca-Cola, Cadbury added to benzene lawsuits
Coca-Cola and Cadbury Schweppes have joined the list of beverage firms set to be sued in Florida over allegations their drinks contained benzene, 15 years after the industry first pledged to fix the problem.

The Florida lawsuit alleges independent lab tests found Coca-Cola's Fanta Orange Pineapple contaminated with benzene at 4.7 times the five parts per billion limit for benzene in US drinking water.

A Cadbury Crush Pineapple drink is alleged to have contained benzene, a known carcinogen, at nearly 10 times this water limit.

The move by lawyers means that all three of America's top, branded soft drinks firms face class action lawsuits and possible court cases over alleged benzene in some of their drinks.

PepsiCo already faces class action lawsuits in three states � Massachusetts, Florida and California � following similar independent lab tests on its drinks.

The list of companies being sued has turned into a who's who of the US soft drinks industry. Others targeted include Kraft Foods, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Polar Beverages and In Zone Brands.
I am not a big fan of litigation but sheesh -- these people have had 15 years since the issue was first raised. They have product labs and they could have been testing for this...

Talkin' about the weather

Joe Bastardi is the chief long range and hurricane forecaster for Accuweather.

He has a wonderful article at the Carolina Journal Online regarding Global Warming:

Meteorologist: Put Global Warming in Context
Our knowledge of the past should serve as a foundation for actions in the present. While not dismissing those who are concerned about global warming, I am disturbed that they often base their conclusions on data that, in the context of time, are only a grain of sand on the beach. They cite temperature changes from the last 10, 50, or 100 years, ignoring the fact that climate history and cycles didn�t start 10 years or even 10 centuries ago.

Nothing that is happening today is new or different. I have yet to have a global warming "true believer" tell me why over the past hundreds and thousands of years, before any significant or even detectable human influence, there were periods where carbon dioxide and temperature levels were well above those of recent experience. There are also places in our northern plains that have been covered with glaciers at one time and tropical rain forest at others, all without man's influence. There is no reason to think that this can't happen again no matter what we do. Anyone with a true understanding of climate history knows that the relatively small changes experienced over the last 100 years could easily be "natural."

After ignoring the past, some analysts then use computer projections to predict temperatures for the next 100 years or more. It is astounding to see people put so much faith in these man-made computer models, yet ignore the actual facts of the past. As someone who has made a living at pointing out the folly of worshipping the false idol of atmospheric models, I find these projections to be a classic case of being blinded by the lure of the latest technological fad. Perhaps this is the most telling difference between those who are accepting of the "global warming hypothesis" and those of us who are skeptical. The former tend to base their conclusions on the guesses of computer models. We skeptics focus on actual climate history and conclude that nothing out of the ordinary is occurring.

He also cites the chart from this report (PDF) which shows the "global warming" issue for the fraud it is:


Visit the article for the full-size image.

Those people on the Global Warming bandwagon are ignoring the fact that the Earth's climate has warmed and cooled about every 400 years for the last 3,000.

The idea that #1) - we have anything to do with the present trend and #2) - that we have the power to reverse it is pure hubris on our part.

That is not to say that we should not move from Coal to Nuclear for power generation and I am not ignoring the fact that the petroleum feedstocks are running low.

There are a host of other environmental issues that are serious and do need to be looked at. It is just that Global Warming is a rat-hole, bad science and is stealing resources and funding from issues that would have a real effect on the well-being of the planet.

Top ten Clich�s

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in Stock Photography. From James Archer writing at Forty Media: Here is one:
The Handshake of Synergy: You�ve made the sale and closed the deal. They can�t back out now�you shook on it!
Nine more at the site. Looking back, it's curious how frequently all of these turn up in trade journals...

R.I.P. - Hamza El Din

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Damn! Just read an email saying that Oud player Hamza El Din died during brain surgery. He was an amazing musician and will be missed. A World Citizen in the truest sense of the word -- not the emasculated multi-culturalism bullshit that titillates the upright monkeys these days... Artist Direct has some online clips if you are unfamiliar with his music. Amazon has some of his disks for sale.

Egypt digs the Romans

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From Reuters:
Egypt to excavate Roman city submerged in sea
The Egyptian authorities have given the go ahead for the underwater exploration of what appears to be a Roman city submerged in the Mediterranean, Egypt's top archaeologist said on Monday.

Zahi Hawass said in a statement that an excavation team had found the ruins of the Roman city 35 km (20 miles) east of the Suez Canal on Egypt's north coast.

Archaeologists had found buildings, bathrooms, ruins of a Roman fortress, ancient coins, bronze vases and pieces of pottery that all date back to the Roman era, the statement said. Egypt's Roman era lasted from 30 BC to 337 AD.

The excavation team also found four bridges that belonged to a submerged castle, part of which had been discovered on the Mediterranean coastline in 1910.

The statement said evidence indicated that part of the site was on the coast and part of it submerged in the sea. The area marked Egypt's eastern border during the Roman era.
Very cool - that will be a nice snapshot of Roman civilization.

Corn, Food and Fuel

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A chilling report at AgWeb regarding the demand for Corn and our ability to meet the demand for both feed and fuel production:
Economist Examines Ag/Energy Relationship
Purdue University extension marketing specialist Chris Hurt has closely examined the relationship of the agriculture and energy sectors. He says agriculture will be asked to contribute to the energy industry in a much larger way in the coming years, and that would change the landscape for the feed industry.
The greatest fear for livestock producers is that energy prices remain high in coming years, and then a short corn crop occurs in 2007 or 2008, resulting in the need to drastically ration corn usage for feed, he said. The corn surplus will be gone with the 2006 crop, as expected total corn use may exceed production by about one billion bushels," said Hurt. "Thus, the supply crunch year appears to be the 2007-08 marketing year. Of course, a weather-related small crop this summer could still bring the supply crunch and much higher corn prices this summer."
Hurt says agriculture's traditional role as the foundation of the food industry will experience increasing competition as more corn is used for fuel. "One of the largest of the groups this will impact is animal agriculture, which is among the biggest users of corn," he adds. "Both crop and animal agriculture will face exciting new challenges to meet the growing demands that are currently being proposed. The next decade will be an exhilarating period for U.S. agriculture as it seeks the balance between food and fuel uses."
Emphasis mine -- "exhilarating" my ass -- the customers are the ones who will bear the brunt of this exhilaration as a tight market will drive up costs. Price of fuel and of corn chips will both rise. This is especially galling as the only reason that people are looking at corn as a source of energy is the government subsidies for development. We are paying for this twice -- once out of our IRS and again at the gas pump (or supermarket checkout line). How about curtailing our use of Coal for power generation (use Nuclear instead) and using the Coal as a feedstock to produce diesel and gasoline. There is a process (the Fischer-Tropsch process) that has been around since the 1920's that is not very efficient and leaves a lot of CO2 gas but it works and we certainly have the technology to improve it. I wrote about one such effort here: A new catalyst?

Da Vinci II and Da Vinci III?

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You bet! From Deadline Hollywood Daily:
Sequel Fever: Sony Has Da Vinci II and III
I'm told it's absolutely true that Sony bought the rights to the Robert Langdon character. Not only is Harvard symbologist Langdon the protaganist in Dan Brown's already written novel, "Angels and Demons," but I know Langdon is also featured in a new book Brown is penning as we speak that takes off where Da Vinci Code leaves off. So that means Sony has the immediate prospect of not only one but two sequels. Wow, this town is really, really, gonna hate that studio now. (Just remember, Sony had that big bomb Bewitched last summer. They were due.)

According to news reports, "Angels and Demons" was Brown's other book to feature Langdon: crammed with Vatican intrigue and high-tech drama, it thrusts Langdon together with an ancient and shadowy secret brotherhood, the Illuminati, the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. Their enemy is the Catholic Church and they're detemined to carry out the final phase of a legendary vendetta against it. There's a frantic quest through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals and a most secret vault to find the world's most powerful energy source (which I'm told is a bomb; I haven't read the book myself). The heroine is a beautiful Italian physicist whose father, a brilliant physicist, has been murdered. I'm told it's better than DVC.

Overbuilding an Infrastructure

Interesting observation at The Register:
Firms waste billions on network over-design
Most organisations follow outdated network design and procurement practices. Result? Overpriced and under-performing networking infrastructures. So says analyst firm Gartner, which reckons the trend of building over-engineered networks is set to continue.

It warns that firms will waste more than $10bn installing Gigabit Ethernet systems on local area networks (LAN) by 2008, a figure which omits the added cost of Gigabit-equipped phones, larger power supplies, upgraded facilities, and other miscellaneous requirements.
A bit more - a quote from analyst Mark Fabbi:
"Most businesses have an increasing number of users in remote locations - either in branch offices or working on the road and at home - so high investments in LANs are totally missing the point. By designing networks that map to actual user requirements, rather than falling into the trap of buying the next new thing, businesses could recoup substantial capital dollars that can be redeployed in areas where they actually make a difference."

Network managers should focus their attention towards implementing technologies that bolster security, data control, application optimisation and mobility services instead of installing Gigabit Ethernet on users' desktops, Fabbi advises.
Very true -- the tendency is to do a whole-system upgrade every so often when it is actually not needed. The IT people should study the system and certainly eliminate bottlenecks but the idea of giving everybody on the LAN Gigabit Ethernet is nuts -- if anything, it will encourage the use of streaming media which will bog the company's internet connection. 100BT is more than enough for most people.

Case Modding is a minor arcana of geekdom.

It consists of re-working an existing computer case or building a new one.

Something that does not look like a black or putty box.

Something that looks interesting.

Austrian Peter Dickison has done what has to be one of the ultimate case mods. Check it out at Bit-Tech

Here is a photo:


Amazing -- this is a working computer.

The Bit-Tech article is in 21 parts and shows a lot of details of how the case was made and how the components were made to fit inside.

I am humbled...

Castanea dentata

Otherwise known as the American Chestnut was widespread throughout the eastern United States until a blight struck in 1904 and by 1950, some nine million acres of trees were gone. A number of people are working at breeding a blight-resistant version but a very fortunate discover has been made. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Rare American chestnut trees discovered
A stand of American chestnut trees that somehow escaped a blight that killed off nearly all their kind in the early 1900s has been discovered along a hiking trail not far from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Little White House at Warm Springs.

The find has stirred excitement among those working to restore the American chestnut, and raised hopes that scientists might be able to use the pollen to breed hardier chestnut trees.

"There's something about this place that has allowed them to endure the blight," said Nathan Klaus, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources who spotted the trees. "It's either that these trees are able to resist the blight, which is unlikely, or Pine Mountain has something unique that is giving these trees resistance."

Experts say it could be that the chestnuts have less competition from other trees along the dry, rocky ridge. The fungus that causes the blight thrives in a moist environment.

The largest of the half-dozen or so trees is about 40 feet tall and 20 to 30 years old, and is believed to be the southernmost American chestnut discovered so far that is capable of flowering and producing nuts.

"This is a terrific find," said David Keehn, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. "A tree of this size is one in a million."

The rugged area known as Pine Mountain is at the southern end of the Appalachians near Warm Springs, where Roosevelt built a home and sought treatment after he was stricken with polio in 1921.

"FDR may have roasted some chestnuts on his fire for Christmas or enjoyed their blooms in the spring," Klaus said.

The chestnut foundation may use pollen from the tree in a breeding program aimed at restoring the population with blight-resistant trees.

"When the flowers are right, we're going to rush down and pollinate the flowers, collect the seeds a few weeks later and collect the nuts," Klaus said. "If we ever find a genetic solution to the chestnut blight, genes from that tree will find their way into those trees."

The chestnut foundation has been working for about 15 years to develop a blight-resistant variety. The goal is to infuse the American chestnut with the blight-resistant genes of the Chinese chestnut.

American chestnuts once made up about 25 percent of the forests in the eastern United States, with an estimated 4 billion trees from Maine to Mississippi and Florida.

The trees helped satisfy demand for roasted chestnuts, and their rot-resistant wood was used to make fence posts, utility poles, barns, homes, furniture and musical instruments.

Then these magnificent hardwoods, which could grow to a height of 100 feet and a diameter of 8 feet or more, were almost entirely wiped out by a fast-spreading fungus discovered in 1904.

"There are no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and if they are, they're Chinese," Keehn said.
Very cool...

In January, 2004 I had written about a guy from Olympia, WA who covered a friends appartment with aluminum foil while the friend was out of town.

Well, the payback is sweet -- from The Olympian:

Prankster's pals turn room into man-size hamster cage
Olympia resident finds new apartment transformed

Luke Trerice knew revenge would come after he encased a friend's apartment in aluminum foil more than two years ago.

Trerice, 28, did a gleeful dance of sorts when he opened the door to his downtown apartment and found one room had become a life-size hamster cage, according to witnesses. Hand-shredded newspapers 2-feet deep covered the floor, a giant water bottle dangled outside the window and a 6-foot hamster wheel sat prominently along one wall.

"That's what you do - you get giddy," said the prank's mastermind, Keith Jewell, a longtime friend of Trerice and aluminum-foil victim Chris Kirk.

Back in January 2004, Trerice foiled Kirk's apartment when he was out of town. CD cases, books, dishes in the cupboards - hardly a thing was left untouched. For two weeks, Kirk was bombarded with media calls. Cleanup took two years. A giant ball of foil still sits in the basement of the complex.


Whoops! - Apple and PA Semi

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Interesting story from The Register:
Apple shunned superstar chip start-up for Intel
Did Apple make a mistake by switching to Intel? We may never know, but Apple had more options than has been previously reported, The Register can exclusively reveal.

A chip start-up that created a high performance, low power processor compatible with existing Mac software had been working closely with the computer company for many months.

Apple was looking for a new chip supplier largely because it was struggling to find a decent part for its key laptop line. IBM could not deliver the right performance per watt characteristics needed for slim, powerful kit and was struggling to produce chips as efficiently as Apple would like.

PA Semi - a maker of low-power Power processors - formed a tight relationship with Apple - one meant to result in it delivering chips for Apple's notebook line and possibly desktops. The two companies shared software engineering work, trying to see how Apple's applications could be ported onto PA Semi's silicon. When word leaked out that Apple had signed on with Intel, it shocked the PA Semi staff, according to multiple sources.

"PA Semi was counting on that deal," said one source. "They had lots of guys walking around in a daze when Apple went to Intel. They had no idea that would actually happen."

PA Semi secured a large amount of venture funding due in part to the stellar technical reputation of its staff. Former Digital alumni include VP of architecture Peter Bannon - aka Mr. Tanglewood - Leo Joseph, the COO and Jim Keller, the VP of engineering. Several of these engineers did much of the key work behind DEC's Alpha chip, which for much of the 1990s was consistently the fastest microprocessor on the market. Apple and PA also shared some heritage: PA Semi's Wayne Meretsky was formerly the technical lead for Mac OS at Apple during the company's transition to PowerPC.

Behind the scenes, however, the notion of an Apple win helped stoke investor confidence.

PA Semi's first processor - the PA6T-1682M - is due to sample in the third quarter of 2006 as a 2GHz, dual-core product with two DDR2 memory controllers, 2MB of L2 cache, and support for eight PCI Express. The product will ship in volume next year and be followed by single-core and quad-core chips. It also supports the Altivec floating point instruction set that currently provides a massive speedup for multimedia and scientific Mac software. At 2GHz, the chip consumes just 7 watts of power according to PA. Intel's Core Duo consumes between 21 and 25 watts.

It's features such as these that made PA Semi an obvious fit for Apple.
PA Semi certainly had some top people -- the DEC Alpha chip was no slouch in performance but the days of RISC are pretty much over. There are lots of markets for various micro-controllers but for general purpose computing, workstation and server use, the Intel and Intel clones are pretty much it. Multiple sources, rich instruction set and installed base count for a lot. Apple would have had to do a major re-write anyway so it made more sense to go with Intel than to adopt a new chip sourced by only one (very brand new) company. Most software vendors used to support both Intel and Apple so this will be a big plus for them as well -- the basic core will be the same for both platforms. Win/Win
Heh... Remember all those people marching who wanted to become citizens without having to follow the procedure. The people who flew the Flag of the United States upside down. The people who felt that the Aztlan group represented their thoughts that the US was occupying the land and that they wanted to reclaim it? All of these squeaky wheels are starting to get their grease and it may not be exactly what they wanted. From the NY Times comes this curiously worded piece:
Senate Backs Another Immigration Item
The Senate embraced English as the "national and unifying language" of the country this afternoon as it continued work on a stream of amendments to an overall immigration bill.

A 63-to-34 vote to designate English as the national � not official � language of the United States and to require applicants to pass an English proficiency test seemed to be largely symbolic, since the immigration agency's standard handbook for naturalization already mandates that most applicants be able to read, write and speak basic English, with some exceptions for age and disability.
You can almost hear that little 'sniff' of disapproval that the Senate doing something so 'Republican' The Scotsman has a better picture of what is happening:
U.S. Senate says English is national, unifying tongue
The Senate agreed on Thursday to make English the national language of the United States and moments later also adopted a milder alternative calling English the country's "unifying language."

Which amendment ends up in the final version of an overhaul of U.S. immigration law will depend on negotiations with the U.S. House of Representatives. Neither would bar the use of Spanish or other languages in government services.

The Senate immigration plan couples tightened border security and enforcement and a guest-worker program with measures giving a path to citizenship to some of the 12 million illegal immigrants, most from Spanish-speaking nations.

"This is not just about preserving our culture and heritage, but also about bettering the odds for our nation's newest potential citizens," said Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who sponsored the national language amendment, which passed by a vote of 63-34.

The United States currently has no official language and some lawmakers said they feared Inhofe's amendment would lead to discrimination against people who are not proficient in English. They also said it could hurt efforts to promote public health and safety in other languages.

"Although the intent may not be there, I really believe this amendment is racist. I believe it is directed at people who speak Spanish," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

The issue is politically popular, and in a congressional election year lawmakers strongly supported both measures. Inhofe said opinion polls showed 84 percent of Americans supported making English the national language.

The Senate, by 58-39, also agreed to an alternative offered by Sen. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, stating "English is the common and unifying language of the United States that helps provide unity for the people of the United States."
Step one with many more to follow. Sure we will stumble along the way but feedback and correction work pretty well. Eventually there will be a good policy in place.

Drawing Blood

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Great post by Dr. Charles:
The Charles Sign
He was strong like the others. A thick neck. A scar on his forehead. Knuckles that squeezed my hand like a nutcracker. �How�s it goin�?� he asked.

�Good, good. Nice to meet you,� I said.

I heard his neck cracking as he rolled it right, back, left, center. �Do I need bloodwork today?� he asked in a gruff voice, the muscles of his mandible clenching like accessory biceps. Even his face was ripped.

�Yeah, usually we do bloodwork for new patients,� I said in my lower voice, the one reserved for alpha males. It is a good octave lower than the one I use for frail old ladies.

The man�s spine straightened. He cracked his knuckles. Suddenly he looked queasy. �I freakin� hate needles, man.�

We talked about his past medical history, his father�s heart disease, his mother�s depression. He denied having any symptoms. Of anything. No headaches. No dizziness. No tingling. No problems with peeing or pooping. Not even an occasional headache.

�I do get some pain in my right shoulder,� he finally recalled. �Old hockey injury, you know?�

I knew. I started blabbing about hockey. He blabbed back. The blabbing was good. Manly good.
Read the rest of his post for a great story. The Charles Sign reads as follows:
All male patients who�ve spent any significant time playing football, have a neck size greater than 17 (due to muscle not fat), enjoy riding Harley motorcycles with loud exhaust systems while wearing black leather jackets emblazoned with images of death/skulls/ and/or winged beasts, or whose general outward projection of identity could constitute that of an alpha male ― MUST LIE DOWN TO PREVENT FAINTING. Thank you.
Heh... Haven't fainted yet but I share the guy's love of needles.

Hot stiff tired and happy.

Spent today sparying the fencelines and the grass under the apple trees with roundup. This will greatly help to keep the fences easy to maintain and since the apple tree root system is so close to the surface, reducing the competition will help the trees to grow better. Roundup is actually one of the most benign herbicides out there -- it is a simple Phosphate and Glycerine soap which has the fortuitous ability to (from How Stuff Works):
Glyphosate-based herbicides all work on the same biochemical principle -- they inhibit a specific enzyme that plants need in order to grow. The specific enzyme is called EPSP synthase. Without that enzyme, plants are unable to produce other proteins essential to growth, so they yellow and die over the course of several days or weeks. A majority of plants use this same enzyme, so almost all plants succumb to Roundup.
It is also one of the more benign herbicides environmentally -- breaks down after a few days exposure to the elements.

Fine Art for Five Bucks

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Actually Five Silver Dollars and you have to time-travel to the 1890's. From Flying Moose comes this wonderful ramble through paper currency of the 1890's -- back when there was actually fine art on the bills.
Nearly all of us - nearly all of us who live in the United States, at least - have spent all our lives looking at the same style of paper currency: those things that say "Federal Reserve Note" and have a dead President in the center of the bill in an oval frame. Now that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has begun distributing a new design of U.S. currency, we've started seeing some variations in the theme; certainly we get to see the details of the portrait engravers' work much more clearly. Still, though, we rarely stop to appreciate the skill and artistry of the engravers... after all, it's just money. We just take it out and spend it.

But what if the Bureau of Engraving and Printing decided, as they did in the 1890s, to use our paper money as a showcase for art?
Here is:
Electricity Presenting Light To The World is an extraordinary work. A winged female Electricity holds an electric lamp aloft high over America. At left, Jupiter holds the lightning in his right hand which powers the lamp; in his left hand reins of lightning yoke his horses. Fame sits at Electricity's left, trumpeting her achievement to the world. To Electricity's right is a bald eagle, standing guard over the Western Hemisphere. Behind the eagle, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, is Peace, her left hand upraised beside a dove. This remarkable blend of legend, patriotism and beauty came together to create a note widely regarded to be the most beautiful currency in U.S. history.
Visit the site to see this wonderful note full-size. James Lileks has a similar interest in Stock Certificates -- some wonderful stuff there too...

More fun in South America

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This time it's Ecuador -- from Yahoo/Reuters:
Ecuador moves against US oil giant
Ecuador began on Tuesday to take over operations of U.S. oil giant Occidental Petroleum Corp, the latest move in Latin America against foreign energy producers after nationalization in Bolivia and growing state intervention in Venezuela.

Ecuador revoked Occidental's contract on Monday after accusing it of transferring part of an oil field without authorization. Occidental says it has complied with its obligations and still hopes to settle.

Occidental share prices fell by 2.35 percent on Tuesday as company executives held talks with Ecuadorean energy officials, who were escorted by police into the company's Quito headquarters.
A bit more:
The surprise contract cancellation came a little more than two weeks after leftist President Evo Morales of Bolivia, the country's first indigenous president nationalized the industry and ordered the military to occupy natural gas fields.

Bolivia's move sparked Wall Street fears that leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a self-styled revolutionary famous for his anti-U.S. rhetoric, was pushing his neighbors in a campaign to tighten state control over natural resources.
They may see an initial monetary gain by removing the company that developed the oil fields and built the infrastructure but when that equipment starts breaking down, when they start needing replacement parts... As they said in the movie Ghostbusters: "Who 'ya gonna call" The beginning of a very slippery slope.

And now the fun begins...

The Human Genome Project has been quietly cranking away sequencing the Chromosomes of Homo Sap. since 1990. They just finished the last Chromosome. Reuters has the news:

Last chromosome in human genome sequenced
Scientists have reached a landmark point in one of the world's most important scientific projects by sequencing the last chromosome in the Human Genome, the so-called "book of life".

Chromosome 1 contains nearly twice as many genes as the average chromosome and makes up eight percent of the human genetic code.

It is packed with 3,141 genes and linked to 350 illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"This achievement effectively closes the book on an important volume of the Human Genome Project," said Dr Simon Gregory who headed the sequencing project at the Sanger Institute in England.

The project was started in 1990 to identify the genes and DNA sequences that provide a blueprint for human beings.

Chromosome 1 is the biggest and contains, per chromosome, the greatest number of genes.

This last one took the team ten years to do... Here is the introduction to the Nature Paper.

The DNA sequence and biological annotation of human chromosome 1
The reference sequence for each human chromosome provides the framework for understanding genome function, variation and evolution. Here we report the finished sequence and biological annotation of human chromosome 1. Chromosome 1 is gene-dense, with 3,141 genes and 991 pseudogenes, and many coding sequences overlap. Rearrangements and mutations of chromosome 1 are prevalent in cancer and many other diseases. Patterns of sequence variation reveal signals of recent selection in specific genes that may contribute to human fitness, and also in regions where no function is evident. Fine-scale recombination occurs in hotspots of varying intensity along the sequence, and is enriched near genes. These and other studies of human biology and disease encoded within chromosome 1 are made possible with the highly accurate annotated sequence, as part of the completed set of chromosome sequences that comprise the reference human genome.

And I didn't count each and every one but it looks like there are about 170 co-authors listed. Lots of people working on an incredibly important and valuable work. The spin-offs from this will take three or four years to appear but they will be incredible. Good job!

Ward Churchill - shoddy research

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So-called "Indian" (he has admitted that he has no Indian blood), plagiarist and all-around schmendrick Ward Churchill has been under investigation by The Standing Committee on Research Misconduct at Colorado University and their 124 page report does not paint Mr. Churchill in a good light... From the Colorado Daily
Ward's research shoddy
A scathing 124-page report on the work of CU Professor Ward Churchill released Tuesday says the ethnic studies department professor should either be suspended or dismissed based on evidence that Churchill plagiarized, misrepresented or fabricated information in his scholarly work.

The Standing Committee on Research Misconduct found that Churchill was culpable in five of seven allegations against him ranging from plagiarism to fabrication of information.

The committee unanimously found that Churchill had falsified information on four counts, fabricated information on two counts, plagiarized twice, improperly reported results and failed to �comply with established standards regarding author names on publications,� according to the report.

Allegations about Churchill's ethnicity and copyright infringement were dropped.

Churchill told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the report was a �travesty.�

The professor also told the AP he did not fabricate anything. Churchill said magazine editors made citing sources difficult, and his other writing cleared up the confusion. He said writing under others' names is common practice in academia, and that rules against it are �selectively enforced.�

Churchill's attorney, David Lane, put it even stronger in an interview with the Colorado Daily on Tuesday, saying, �They're putting lipstick on a pig. They're coming up with a legal way to fire him.�
Emphasis mine -- that comment is abject bullshit. Writing under others' names indeed -- in any profession, you want to build your "brand", your name and to dilute it by using different names is counter-productive. As for plagiarism, take a look at this (from here):
Thomas Mails

Ward Churchill
The top image is a pen and ink sketch done by Thomas Mails in 1972. The bottom one is a silk-screen done by Ward Churchill and presented as his own work in 1981. And he still continues to teach?
The sooner he gets booted out and is blocked from teaching, the better. This guy is a fraud.


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Actually, quite the other way around. From Planet Analog comes this wonderful collection of tools and tips for getting the noise out of your audio or video chain. The article is written by Bill Whitlock who took over Jensen Transformers from Deane Jensen. Deane started in 1974 and this company is the place to go for high-quality audio and video transformers. These people know what they are talking about... A brief excerpt:
General Troubleshooting Advice
Under fortuitous conditions, systems may be acceptably quiet in spite of poor techniques. But physics will ultimately rule and noises may appear for no apparent reason! Once we understand how earthing systems and interfaces actually work and how noises couple into signals, finding and fixing problems becomes simple and logical.

Perhaps the most important aspect of troubleshooting is how (or if) you think about the problem. Without a methodical approach, chasing noise problems can be both frustrating and time-consuming. For example, don�t fall into the trap of thinking something can�t be the problem just because you�ve always done it that way. Remember, things that "can�t go wrong" do! Further, problems that go away by themselves also tend to reappear by themselves.

Don't start by changing things. Because many problems reveal themselves if we just gather enough clues, get as much information as possible before changing anything.

Ask questions Did it ever work right? Under what conditions does the noise appear? Do any other symptoms appear at the same time?

Be alert to clues from the equipment itself. Operation of the equipment�s controls, along with some simple logic, can provide very valuable clues. For example, if the noise is unaffected by the setting of a volume control or selector, logic dictates that it must be entering the signal path after that control. If the noise can be eliminated by turning the volume down or selecting another input, it must be entering the signal path before that control.
This is just part of the general section -- there follow several pages of specific tests to make with very simple equipment (special patch cords that you can make yourself). Printing this out for future reference -- an excellent resource... (The title of this entry refers to Seattle Poet Jesse Bernstein.)

Lawyer Joke

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And a good one -- from Johnny Hart's B.C.:
Heh... See the link for the full-size version.
High geekdom here... For about $40 in parts (cheaper if you can scrounge or have a good "hell box", you can build a fun sound maker. Check out the Weird Sound Generator website. This is not a full-blown synth but it looks like a fun project and would be an awesome toy for a party. The website assumes some electronics experience but it offers pictorial representation of the wiring is so you don't need to fully read a schematic.

A tale of two criminals

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A strange story of a good man with problems and a good man who should be shot. From The Mercury News comes this twisted tale:
Risking a life term to protect a child
Convicted Burglar turns over Sex-Crime evidence from stolen property.

Matthew Ryan Hahn glared in disbelief at the digital photographs of a man molesting a girl. She was only a year old, maybe 2.

The next thing to do would be obvious -- call police. But Hahn had been convicted of burglary more than once. And the memory card on which he discovered the photos came from a stolen safe.

Hahn knew being nabbed for another crime could make him a three-striker and send him to prison for life. But the images were burned into his mind. One photo showed some freshly overturned earth -- could the little girl already have been killed and buried?

After a sleepless night, Hahn took the card, placed it inside a pink change purse and attached a typewritten note. It said: "Please remove this animal from the streets."

He wrapped the whole thing in a package that he jammed into a random mailbox. It was addressed to the Los Gatos Police Department.
And the bad man (talking about John "Robbie" Robertson Aitken):
Their lives collided sometime after midnight on Feb. 28, 2005, in the darkness of a messy studio apartment on Wedgewood Avenue.

Aitken woke up with a start and turned on the light, according to court records. He heard noises, like whispers and a box being kicked. His Liberty gun safe was gone.

He called 911.

He told police that there was a handgun and some personal papers in there.

Both the responding police and Aitken's friends noticed that he seemed extraordinarily anxious about the theft, court records said. His boss's wife recalled that after the theft, Aitken told her: "I feel like my life as I know it is over."

When asked how she responded to that, the woman told Aitken: "Oh, Robbie, you'll get over it."
With the help of Overstreet and District Attorney Investigator Carl Lewis, detectives Dan Accardo and Mike Barbieri quickly came up with a plan. On March 3, they called Aitken. They had some follow-up questions -- could he come down? Aitken and the investigators talked for a while, casually. Then Lewis said he had something else they needed to talk about.

He opened up a leather folder. Inside was a blown-up photograph of Aitken's face from the memory card. Aitken knew immediately what it meant.

"He just melted into the chair," Barbieri said. "It gave me goose bumps."

Aitken put his hands over his face, according to court documents, took a deep sigh, and started talking:

"It was just, I, I, I -- it's stupid, you know? It was one day, you know being stupid. And you know, did it, and you know, halfway through it I was so upset at myself I just stopped and said 'What am I doing?'. . . And you know, stopped and spent the next week just throwing up, all upset about it, thinking, you know, how could I do this to somebody I love?"

Aitken was talking about his love for the Los Gatos family whose daughter he had allegedly molested. Years before, he had started as an employee -- working at the computer store owned by the father.

But soon he was more family than employee. Aitken went with them to Tahoe, Hawaii and Italy. He babysat. They had made him the godfather of their beloved, first girl. They were so close that "Robbie" sometimes slept with the child so she could go to sleep.
Anybody want to start a Dead Pool on how long it will take for Aitken to get beaten to a pulp once he starts serving his sentence? Hahn does have problems but he definitely did the right thing.

Driving in London while Black

From The Times Online comes this story of political correctness gone overboard:

Cameras set racial poser on car crime
Britain's most senior policeman Sir Ian Blair is facing a race relations dilemma after the release of figures that reveal almost half the number of people arrested in relation to car crime in London are black.

Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, has signed off a report by his force's traffic unit which shows that black people account for 46% of all arrests generated by new automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

The technology allows car registration plates to be scanned and automatically run through databases to determine whether a vehicle is stolen, uninsured or has not had its road tax paid.

Each numberplate is also checked with the police national computer, where vehicles suspected of links to crimes such as robberies are flagged up.

The Met has deployed six mobile ANPR camera units in the capital, primarily in areas with high levels of street crime. When a suspect vehicle is identified, police officers are sent to intercept the driver.

Although ANPR technology is impartial, the disproportionate number of blacks being arrested has prompted the Met to investigate.

Emphasis mine -- let's just cut to the quick and suggest that maybe blacks are committing a disproportionate number of crimes. The cameras are not profiling, the data is about as pure as it can be and because it doesn't look good for the blacks, they are playing the race card. Some numbers:

It reveals that between April 2005 and January this year the units generated 2,023 arrests. Of these 923 were black suspects, while 738 (36%) came from white backgrounds. Asians accounted for just over 9% of arrests.

And what are the numbers on the overall population:

However, statistics from the 2001 census show that the highest black population in any borough is no greater than about 25%. The proportion of black people across the capital as a whole is about 11%.

There is a problem and it is not the cameras...

Himmler's Ring

Arrrgghh Matey -- sit here and I'll tell 'ye a tale of buried Gold. Turns out this may not be a hoax -- from The Prague Daily Monitor:
Nazi treasure may be hidden under well
The secret of a deep well in the Zbiroh chateau, west Bohemia, may be soon uncovered. On Sunday experts found a false bottom in the well where a Nazi treasure is allegedly hidden, the daily Pravo writes today.

It adds that some witnesses who survived the war mentioned the existence of the false bottom. According to some historical sources, a secret medieval passage is situated under the well bottom where members of the Nazi staff, seated in the chateau during WW2, kept stolen valuable items, Pravo says.

Oldrich Selenberk, owner of the SCSA Security company carrying out the excavations in the well, said that the false bottom was made of reinforced concrete and filled with jasper stones to look natural.

Selenberk added that his employees have not searched the bottom thoroughly since it may be risky.

"We do not know whether it is not protected by explosives, for instance...That is why we will consult further steps with specialists, including bomb disposal experts," Selenberk told the paper.

Some 20 experts from his company have been digging in the filled-up well for over a year.

Last year they uncovered Nazi documents there. A week ago the team found some 20 historical weapons stolen by the Nazis and hidden in the well, Pravo recalls.

Before the war, the Zbiroh chateau was owned by the Colloredo-Mansfeld noble family and then it was used by the military.

In April 2004, the real estate was purchased by the Gastro Zofin Praha company which partially opened the chateau to the public last year, Pravo says.
Very curious. They took a lot of treasure that has never been found. Granted, the majority of it probably wound up in private hands and has been hoarded or carefully and slowly released but if this is a stash, it will be a fascinating one. (The title comes from a [Lowell George song](

Summiting Mount Everest

Mount Everest was summited Monday by New Zealander Mark Inglis. What makes this interesting is that Mr. Inglis lost both of his legs in an earlier mountaineering accident. From CNN/World:
NZ legs amputee conquers Everest
New Zealand climber Mark Inglis, the first double amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest, was congratulated Tuesday by Prime Minister Helen Clark, herself a keen climber.

Inglis, 47, reached the peak of the world's tallest mountain late Monday, phoning his wife Anne on New Zealand's South Island to say he'd made it and had returned to his party's base camp.

"As a very amateur climber myself with two sound legs and having got to 6,000 meters (19,700 feet), I can appreciate what an amazing achievement this is and I offer him my full congratulations," Clark said.

She hopes to congratulate Inglis personally for his "absolutely incredible feat."

But asked if she would be prepared to tackle the world's tallest mountain herself, Clark was clear: "No, not even with two sound legs. No, it's too tough."

Mount Everest is 8,850 meters (29,035 feet) high and Inglis has spent a grueling 40 days on the mountain.
Wow! When climbing mountains this high, the available Oxygen becomes a serious issue. At 5,000 meters, each breath takes in 50% of what it does at sea level. The body compensates for this by manufacturing more red blood cells, running the heart at a higher rate and shutting down non-essential functions. Once you hit 8,000 meters altitude, you enter a "zone of death" where the available Oxygen is 30% that of sea level and the body simply cannot do any more to compensate for the decreased oxygen. You start to very slowly die. For Mark to be willing to do this and to succeed shows awesome strength, planning and courage.

Brazil with nukes?

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Now this is getting weirder and weirder. From the ISN/Center for Security Studies in Z�rich, Switzerland:
Brazil realizes its nuclear ambitions
Brazil has taken yet another major step toward greater energy independence, an accomplishment that will not go unnoticed in some Middle East circles.

Following an April proclamation that South America's largest country was now capable of handling all of its own oil needs, Brazilian nuclear energy officials earlier this month inaugurated the country's first nuclear enrichment facility for fueling the nation's power plants.

Brazilian officials like Science and Technology Minister Sergio Rezende said the refining facility in Resende, some 144 kilometers outside of Rio de Janeiro, would save the country millions of dollars in the coming year since it no longer had to enrich its nuclear fuel at Urenco, the European enrichment consortium.

According to nuclear officials here, the Resende enriched uranium will cover 60 per cent of the energy needs of the country�s two largest power plants, Angra I and Angra II.

Combined, those facilities produce 4.3 per cent of Brazil's energy needs and 40 per cent of the energy used in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil claims to have one of the world's largest uranium reserves.
Things are not all bad:
Washington has also apparently given its blessing to the Brazil program. Mentioning both Brazil and Iran in the same sentence, former White House spokesman Scott McCellan said the issue that separated the two nations was simply "trust".

"I think a difference here ... if you're talking about Brazil versus Iran - is one of trust," said McCellan in February.
But they had a run-in with the IAEA:
Brasilia did battle with the IAEA over its own nuclear program not two years ago when it refused to let UN inspectors visit certain parts of its enrichment facility claiming they did not want to compromise homegrown enrichment techniques.

In 2004, nuclear officials here first asserted that Brazil had developed a refinement process at least 25 per cent more efficient than others and wished to protect its homegrown technology.

Some international observers speculated that Brazil would not allow inspectors to see its centrifuges because it was hiding its capability to refine uranium for nuclear weapons, an allegation Brazil has vehemently denied.

In April, Brazil was accused of refusing to allow inspectors to examine the Rio facility in February and March of this year, raising suspicions that Brazil may have had something to hide.

Brazilian officials countered by saying the inspections were unnecessary and intrusive since Brazil formally abstained from nuclear weapons development in the 1990s during the administration of then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

The controversy was sparked when a former US Defense Department official told a leading Brazilian newspaper that the reason the UN was interested in inspecting a new nuclear facility in Resende was speculation that the technology at the plant was supplied by former Pakistani nuclear program head Abdul Qadeer Khan, who provided nuclear technology to several rogue nations over the years.
On the surface, with a stable government, this would be a great thing. Lessen the dependence to the Arab Oil Ticks and build more nuclear power plants. This presents a volatile situation if the government is overthrown, as I am sure that any number of nations like Russia, Pakistan, North Korea or China would be happy to bring in "advisors" for beating these plowshares into swords...

Problems in Brazil

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I had written about Brazil having agricultural problems (financial and political). Now it seems that rioting has started in Sao Paulo. From mcarthurweb:
Sao Paulo, Brazil, is failing as a political entity:
Masked men attacked bars, banks and police stations with machine guns. Gangs set buses on fire. And inmates at dozens of prisons took guards hostage in an unprecedented four-day wave of violence around South America's largest city that left more than 80 dead by Monday.

With many jails still under inmate control, officials worried the violence could spread 220 miles northeast to Rio de Janeiro, where 40,000 police were put on high alert and extra patrols were dispatched to slums where drug gang leaders live.

The violence was triggered by an attempt to isolate gang leaders, who control many of Sao Paulo's teeming, notoriously corrupt prisons, by transferring eight of them Thursday to a high-security facility hundreds of miles away from this city of 18 million people.

The leaders of the First Capital Command gang, or PCC, reportedly used cell phones to order the attacks. Gang members began riddling police cars with bullets, hurling grenades at police stations and attacking officers in their homes and after work hangouts.

Then, on Sunday night, the gang employed a new tactic: sending gunmen onto buses, ordering passengers and drivers off and torching the vehicles.

Thousands of drivers refused to work Monday, leaving an estimated 2.9 million people scrambling to find a way to their jobs. While most stores and businesses remained open, the city's normally clogged downtown streets were largely free of traffic and pedestrians...
News source was the San Jose Mercury News Once a very progressive wealthy nation now sliding down the slippery slope of politics and "revolution".
Kim DuToit has the definitive smackdown on the whole NSA Telephone database hype. From The Other Side of Kim:
Database ClueBat
I don�t know much about a lot of stuff, but I know a great deal about databases and how to use them�and I especially know a great deal about how to manage usage of terrabytes of data. In a past life, I ran a customer database of grocery purchases (those annoying little loyalty cards that most supermarkets use to collect your data).

Just so we�re all clear on this concept: the average supermarket carries about 40,000 different items (called stock-keeping units, or SKUs), and the average supermarket processes about one million transactions (sometimes called �baskets") a year. The chain I last did this for on a full-time basis had just under 300 stores, and a database of about 3 million active customers ("active" defined as anyone who shopped with us at least once over the past six months).

A lot has been written about how these programs intrude on people�s privacy, and how this means that your shopping purchases can be tracked. Allow me to reassure you: almost nobody ever looks at a single customer�s item purchases�there are just too many items, and too many customers.

What I did was design ways to make data management easier�it�s what I still do�and I always operated on the 80:20 principle (that 20% of the people will account for 80% of the activity).

Which meant that I ignored 80% of all customers� information. I was only interested in those people who spent a lot of money with us (the 20%), because the data showed that not only did those people account for 80% of sales, they accounted for about 98% of our profits.

And the reason I only looked at that group was that if I could effect a change in their behavior (get them to spend a little more each week, for instance), the effect on the entire business was disproportionate to the effort involved.

More to the point, in all that time, I can count on two hands the number of times each year that I ever looked at any single customer�s purchases�and even then, it was to check the data, or for a merchandising purpose. Here�s an example: suppose the buyers decided that a particular item wasn�t selling, and they decided to discontinue ("de-list") the item in favor of one which was selling more, or to give the slow item�s shelf space to an existing best-seller. Good, sound merchandising.

However, if that item was being bought by our best customers, then I would argue for the item to be kept in stock, because if the customer didn�t find it at our store, she would go and find it somewhere else and we could, potentially, lose that �best� customer to our competitor�which was our biggest nightmare.
Bona-Fides established, he then gets on to the meat of the matter:
The reason they�ve been collecting this data since 9/11 was because someone at NSA was being really, really smart: if terrorists are communicating by phone, it�s possible to establish linkages between numbers, and install pattern-recognition software to collect those linkages. And the reason that this was a smart thing to do is a simple one: the phone company doesn�t store this data beyond (maybe) a few years�the amount is just too massive to hold forever�and lest we forget, we�re coming up on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 already.

Note that none of this requires any names, nor the content of the calls�that would be the privacy of the thing, and that�s where it seems that the NSA, if they�re telling the truth, has been quite circumspect.

But what this data gives the smart analyst is that when you establish that (357) 243-3006 belonged to Abdul El-Bomba, who received a call from his brother Aziz, a known member of Hezbollah in Syria, you now have the ability to focus only on all the calls Abdul made and received, to see who was calling him and whom he was calling. That would be a couple hundred calls, out of the (literally) tens of billions of records you�ve collected.

Here�s the Big Clue for the Clueless: if you don�t collect all the data, you can�t narrow the search at all. And it�s only once you�ve established that Abdul is a Bad Guy that you ascertain his number, and the numbers of his correspondents, and their names. Most of the calls will be innocent: the dry cleaners, the gas company, the liquor store, whatever.

But out of the couple hundred calls, you may find five that are to Mohamed Semmteks, and to Tariq Pilota, who are also terrorists, and whose calls you can now start investigating.

So from tens of billions to a couple hundred to five. And in these cases, it�s NOW when you, as the investigator, can get a warrant for a wiretap so you can start listening to actual content, which, out of all the data mentioned so far, is the only part protected by the First Amendment.

That�s how to do it�and more importantly, that�s the only way to do it when you�re starting from scratch.
No violation of 1st Amendment and it is helping to keep this nation secure. What's not to love... If you feel outraged by this, go here now. Or emigrate like many of you promised but so few of you actually did.


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Spring hit with a vengeance today -- temperature was up to 86 degrees! The garden is plunging ahead, our chickens and ducks have gone broody on large clutches of eggs so we should expect new peeps next month (20 to 28 days) Nice to see the cycle of the seasons continuing once again...

True to family form...

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Seems that U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy actually was drinking the evening that he crashed his car into a barrier -- it wasn't the prescription drugs he was taking. From the Boston Herald:
Cops told Pat K was at watering hole before crash
Capitol police in Washington, D.C., investigating U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy�s early-morning car wreck have been told by witnesses that the Rhode Island congressman was at a Capitol Hill bar before the crash, the Herald has learned.

A source close to the probe said witnesses have told detectives that Kennedy was at the Hawk & Dove before he slammed his Ford Mustang into a security barrier near the U.S. Capitol. The source added that cops are continuing to seek evidence to confirm that Kennedy was at the watering hole.

The Herald reported last week that a Hawk & Dove hostess said the 38-year-old pol is a frequent customer and was drinking in the bar before the May 4 crash. Kennedy has denied he was drinking, blaming the accident on a cocktail of prescription painkillers and sleeping pills. He has since checked into a Minnesota rehab.
The article also talks about the aftermath of the crash and some political wrangling that happened:
The crash sparked a furor within the Capitol Police Department after angry patrol officers said higher-ranking cops blocked them from giving Kennedy a sobriety test. Police union head Lou Cannon said two watch commanders on duty the night of the crash have been transferred.

A police report on the 2:45 a.m. crash cited alcohol as a factor, describing Kennedy as slurring his speech, being �unsure� on his feet and having red and watery eyes.

Kennedy told cops he was on his way to a House vote, even though Congress had adjourned three hours earlier.
Must be nice to have that kind of "privilege" -- shame that he is abusing it.

The cost of gas these days

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Chris Byrne writes at The Anarchangel and delivers a nice rant on the cost of gasoline these days:
Cost of Living
So, the Gullyborg put up a great little post about people not understanding what the gas price increases have really meant to them.

I compltely understand this. My wife keeps freaking out about how expensive gas is, then I remind her that it is costing us $3.20 more to fill up our 18 gallon tank (and we go through six tanks a month at 16 gallons per, never draining the tank) than it did a month ago.

$19.20 a month; and we drive about 2400 miles a month, twice the national average.

She keeps looking for places that are cheaper, and I tell her, unless it's more than $0.20 cheaper it's not worth the bother. Ten cents? That's $1.60. If you're so concerned about that $1.60 don't buy the bottle of Mountain Dew.
Very well put -- most people tend to attach importance to lots of zeros so when the price of Gas rose past the $3.00 mark, there was a collective cry to the heavens. Hell, I remember the cry at $0.75 (the Arab Oil Embargo and at $1.00 and $2.00. The embargo did have one benefit in that caused the USA to create the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Imagine no aliens...

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Tom Tancredo has a nice article at NRO that looks at the difference between Legal Immigrants and Illegal Immigrants and what they contribute to society. This is a good heads-up after the May 1st demonstrations -- we should be focusing on the Illegal Aliens and not the millions of people who have assimilated into our culture and in so doing, enriched it:
A Day Without an Illegal Immigrant
An imaginary exercise

What would a day without illegal aliens really be like? Let�s try to imagine it.

On May 1, millions of illegal aliens working in meat-processing plants, construction, restaurants, hotels, and other �jobs Americans won�t do� are supposed to stay home from work to show the importance of their labor to our nation�s economy. Doubtless, there will be some inconvenience if that happens, but there is another side to the story that is not being reported.

We are talking about illegal aliens, not mere �immigrants.� If legal immigrants stopped working for a day, we would miss the services of physicians, nurses, computer programmers, writers, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs of all stripes, and some airline pilots�as well as the CEO of Google. That would be more than an inconvenience, but it won�t happen because legal immigrants are not out marching angrily for rights that are already protected by our courts.

But if illegal aliens all took the day off and were truly invisible for one day, there would be some plusses along with the mild inconveniences.

Hospital emergency rooms across the southwest would have about 20-percent fewer patients, and there would be 183,000 fewer people in Colorado without health insurance.

OBGYN wards in Denver would have 24-percent fewer deliveries and Los Angeles�s maternity-ward deliveries would drop by 40 percent and maternity billings to Medi-Cal would drop by 66 percent.

Youth gangs would see their membership drop by 50 percent in many states, and in Phoenix, child-molestation cases would drop by 34 percent and auto theft by 40 percent.

In Durango, Colorado, and the Four Corners area and the surrounding Indian reservations, the methamphetamine epidemic would slow for one day, as the 90 percent of that drug now being brought in from Mexico was held in Albuquerque and Farmington a few hours longer. According to the sheriff of La Plata County, Colorado, meth is now being brought in by ordinary illegal aliens as well as professional drug dealers.
Tom digs into some of the crime statistics in the rest of his article. Good stuff!

The Nanny and the Playground

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Cripes -- glad I don't live in Portland Oregon. It is a gorgeous city and home to Powell's but this latest bit is too much. From KATU TV/ABC:
Is litigation taking the 'play' out of kids' playgrounds?
Most adults can remember the carefree days of childhood, climbing trees and jumping from swings, often on schoolyard playgrounds.

Climbing, swinging and sliding was once a rite of passage during recess, a time for adventure, to see how high, how far and how fast we could go as a kid.

Today, kids find themselves grounded, victims of a culture of fear and injury litigation.

A growing number of school districts are going so far as to ban the game of tag and are even posting signs that read "no running on the playground."

Is there real danger on the modern playground?

Safety advocates say yes and want to eliminate it.

Their first target: swing sets.

They've convinced Portland Public Schools to remove all swings from elementary schools playgrounds.
Christ on a corn--dog... The article talks about similar nanny-ism in other cities but also gives up this voice of hope:
But at Catlin Gabel, a private school, there's an entirely different philosophy at work on the playground. One where monkey bars, slides and other playground favorites are used daily by a roiling mass of youngsters, some who come away with skinned knees or other minor boo-boos.

Kids there are taking chances, even jumping from swings, and it's all encouraged.
Of course, statistics are brought up:
One child psychologist points to the rising trend of childhood obesity in defense of letting kids play like kids.

National statistics indicate 34 percent of kids are overweight, with obesity projected to be nearly 50 percent in the year 2010.

But safety advocates point to different numbers, saying playground accidents cause 200,000 injuries nationwide each year, and 17 deaths.
Emphasis mine -- the statistics for kids falling into a five-gallon bucket and drowning point to 58 children drowned in the years from 1996 through 1999 (14.5 FATALITIES from BUCKETS EACH YEAR!!!) Citation here (PDF) Sure, a few kids die each year and this is tragic but to limit the expression of sixty million children (ages zero through fourteen years) is even more tragic and a perfect example of the Marxist statism that is creeping into our nation. Citation here -- first three rows of data for 2000 I thought that we were a Sovereign Nation -- a Federation of States. Exactly what the @#$% is happening here?
Was looking at some agricultural info and ran into this nugget from AgWeb:
Brazilian Soybean Market Paralyzed Due to Protests of Producers
The soybean supply chain in Brazil has been going through very difficult times. Last week�s events in the Center-West states evince the problems producers are facing in terms of lack of revenue.

The movement called Grito do Ipiranga originated in the state of Mato Grosso and has already spread into neighboring states, as well as southern and northwestern states, where storage units, roads and railroads are blocked, thereby preventing production from reaching the ports.
And it just keeps getting better and better:
Among other issues, producers press for the creation of a specific exchange rate for the sector, interest rate reductions, diesel cost reductions, the opening of new credit lines for Asian Soybean Rust (ASR) control and the postponement of operating and investment debts. Blockages have paralyzed the Brazilian soybean market completely. Shipping companies no longer offer freight quotes; Ferronorte (the railroad linking the southern region of Mato Grosso to the Port of Santos) has suspended its soybean activities since May 4 th, as there is no soybean left in their warehouses and it cannot be purchased in the market either.

In the midst of this crisis stand the fertilizer and agrochemical companies that expected to receive a large number of promissory notes due in late April and which are now being put off till late May. Some agrochemical companies face insolvency rates as high as 70-90% in certain states. Producers� delay in paying off their debts will cause a reduction in the offer of private credit for the next crop season, which starts in September/October.

Export trading companies (ETCs) also face a difficult situation. These companies traditionally hire vessels months in advance for the shipping of soybean from Brazilian ports. And now many of these companies are simply unable to make use of the full loading capacity of such vessels, generating costs with daily fines of up to $ 30,000 for ships moored at Brazilian ports.

According to movement sources, protests should continue until May 16 th, when a demonstration is to take place in Bras�lia, with rural producers from various states. Producers expect that at least part of their claims be fulfilled; however, most of them are banned by the strict fiscal policy of the Brazilian Ministry of Finance. In view of the latest events, the picture for the next crop season looms clearer: a marked reduction in both personal credit for agriculture and area under cultivation. An estimated reduction of 3.7 million ha (9.14 million acres) in soybean area is expected, with many producers quitting � mainly the most heavily indebted.
I know that Venezuela is the country to watch as it tries to reinvent itself as a Marxist workers paradise but Brazil might not be that far behind especially with their TBA (Triple Border Area) being such a haven for Islamist Terrorists... But of course, this time, the revolution will be done properly and it will succeed. Communism is up to several hundred million dead these days, what's another nation or two.

The battle over the smiley-face

Unreal... From BBC News:

Wal-Mart seeks smiley face rights
Wal-Mart is embroiled in a legal dispute over the smiley face image which it wants to trademark in the US.

A Frenchman who claims to have invented the yellow smiley face back in 1968 is opposing the US retail giant's move.

For some, the image is a reminder of 1970s counter-culture, for others, a useful shorthand when sending e-mails.

But since 1996, Wal-Mart has used the image in the US on uniforms and promotional signs, and it wants sole rights to it in the US retail sector.

Global rights
Franklin Loufrani - just one of a number of people who profess to have invented the image - has marketed the sign since the early 1970s.

He and his London-based company SmileyWorld today own the rights to the logo in more than 80 countries around the world.

The US is not included in this list, and SmileyWorld and Wal-Mart are now at loggerheads before the US Patent and Trademark Office.

A final decision is expected in August.

Not so fast Mr. Cheese-eating surrender monkey. From The Straight Dope:

But who invented the original smiley face? The best bet is that the smiley Bernard and Murray had seen floating around was created circa December 1963 for a subsidiary of the State Mutual insurance company by Harvey Ball, a graphic artist in Worcester, Massachusetts. Harvey got the assignment from the company's promotions director, Joy Young, who wanted a smile button for a morale boosting campaign ordered up by her boss. Harvey, not a man to waste ink, initially drew just the smile. Pondering the result, he realized that if you turned the button upside down, it became ... a frown! To head incipient wise-arsedness off at the pass, he added two eyes, which of course you could also turn upside down, but then it meant ... I'm standing on my head!--a more ambiguous sociopolitical message. He made the thing yellow to give it a sunshiny look, and State Mutual, whom nobody would accuse of rashness, printed up 100. The buttons were a big hit, the company began handing them out by the thousands, and the rest you know. Mr. Ball's total take: his $45 art fee. State Mutual, not very quick on the uptake, didn't make any money either.

Fine, but how do we know Harvey wasn't just copying some still earlier unsung genius? It's not as thought nobody had ever drawn a smiley face before. Bernard Spain says he's heard Sunkist oranges used smileys in a 1930s ad campaign, and we find smileys in Munro Leaf's 1936 kid's book Manners Can Be Fun. But the Leaf smileys are crude black-and-white stick drawings bearing little resemblance to the finished work of art cranked out by Harvey Ball. Speaking as the voice of history, we declare Harv the author of this classic piece of Americana--and if anybody wants to take the honor away, they'll have to talk to us. Bidding starts at a hundred bucks.

I wonder if Mr. Loufrani's claim can be revoked. I bet he has some good lawyers but there is ample case of prior art...

Cuba and China go for oil

The enviros were screaming their heads off about drilling in ANWAR. Where are they now -- from the St. Petersburg Times:
Cuba seeks oil near Keys
Few Americans paid much attention last year when Cuban President Fidel Castro announced China would help explore potentially large oil reserves off Cuba's northwest coast - not far from the Florida Keys.

But now - with gas prices climbing above $3 a gallon - the prospect of China drilling near the United States has become a hot political issue as two of the world's largest economies vie for new sources of energy.

Some members of Congress warn that China and other countries could lock up oil supplies at a time when U.S. companies are barred from doing business with Cuba because of a 43-year-old trade embargo.

"We sit here watching China exploit a valuable energy resource within eyesight of the U.S. coast," said. Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican.

"I think the American public would be shocked - as this country is trying to reduce dependence on Middle East oil - that countries like China are realizing this energy resource."

But Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, worried that a Cuban oil spill could hurt the state's environment and $50-billion tourism industry, wants to block drilling in Cuba's northern waters.

"Any oil spill 45 miles from Key West is going to absolutely devastate all those delicate coral reefs, the fragile Florida Keys, and would endanger pristine beaches all the way up to Fort Pierce," said Nelson, a Democrat.

Cuba pumps about 80,000 barrels of oil a day in Havana and Matanzas provinces, but it is of poor quality and meets less than half of the country's needs.

Thus there has been considerable excitement about fields off the northwest Cuban coast that could contain 4.5-billion to 9-billion barrels of oil - almost as much as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

In February 2005, Castro announced that huge Chinese drilling rigs would be used to further explore areas in which a Spanish company had reported promising results. The Cuban government also signed a contract with China's oil and gas company, Sinopec, to work in areas around the island thought to contain oil deposits.
And more on Sen. Nelson:
Apart from environmental concerns, Nelson argues that there isn't enough oil in either Cuban or U.S. gulf waters to long satisfy Americans' voracious appetite for oil.

The United States, which consumes 25 percent of the world's oil yet has just 3 percent of its reserves, would be better served by immediately developing alternate energy sources like ethanol, made from corn or sugar cane, Nelson said.
Emphasis mine -- a true Barking Moonbat -- the number is more like 14% for global oil consumption (2004 figures)... And the figure to watch is consumption V/S productivity not consumption V/S/ population. We may drink more than "our share" at the global tap but we are paying full market price for it and we are doing more with it. Petroleum is a fungible resource -- anyone can buy it -- our consumption is not blocking anyone else from using it, witness China for example.

Chinese financial problems?

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To big to fast? From The Australian:
Politics blamed for China's trillion-dollar bad debts
The real source of the banks' frailty is political patronage

Estimates of the growing pile of non-performing loans (NPLs) in China appear to have caught many by surprise, especially because Beijing's efforts to clean up its rickety state-owned banks were thought to have greatly reduced NPLs and the risk of a full-blown financial crisis.

According to Ernst & Young, the accounting firm, bad loans in the Chinese financial system have reached a staggering $US911 billion ($1.18 trillion), including $US225 billion in potential future NPLs in the four largest state-owned banks.

This equals 40 per cent of gross domestic product and China has already spent the equivalent of 25-30 per cent of GDP in previous bank bail-outs.

The revelation shows that half-hearted reforms have addressed merely the symptoms of China's financial fragility. Poor business practices are blamed for NPLs but the real source is political. As long as the communist party relies on state-controlled banks to maintain an unreformed core of a command economy, Chinese banks will make more bad loans.

Systemic economic waste, bank lending practices, political patronage and the survival of a one-party state are inseparably intertwined in China. The party can no longer secure the loyalty of its 70 million members through ideological indoctrination; instead, it uses material perks and careers in government and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). That is why, after nearly 30 years of economic reform, the state still owns 56 per cent of the fixed capital stock. The unreformed core of the economy is the base of political patronage.

Government figures show that, in 2003, 5.3 million party officials held executive positions in SOEs. The party appoints about 80 per cent of the chief executives in SOEs and 56 per cent of all senior corporate executives. Recent corporate governance reforms, Western-style on paper but not in substance, have made no difference. At 70 per cent of the large and medium-sized SOEs ostensibly restructured into Western-style companies, members of party committees were appointed to the boards. Painful restructuring appears to have spared this elite. China has shed more than 30 million industrial jobs since the late 1990s but few party officials have become jobless.
You can dress communism in a fancy suit but at the end of the day, it is still communism with all of its attendant failures and doomed to the dungpile of history.

Don't mess with Sharlott

If you are looking for a parking spot at a Wal-Mart in Florida, watch out for Sharlott Till. From
Police: Woman Pulls Sword In Spat Over Parking Spot
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- An argument over a parking place outside a Florida Wal-Mart store erupted in a sword attack and landed a 46-year-old woman in jail, according to police.

Sharlott Till is accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly threatening women in another car with a 27-inch sword hidden inside her walking cane.

Police said Till and her husband were waiting to pull into a parking space at a Wal-Mart Sunday afternoon, when another car drove around them. According to the arrest report, Till approached a woman and her daughter in the other car and they exchanged profane words.

Witnesses told police that Till produced the sword and began swinging it around. She later told police she is trained in the use of a sword and was only attempting to scare the other driver.

Till's husband told police he didn't see the sword even though he was standing just feet away from the confrontation.
Band-Aids on aisle seven...

Good news from Australia

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The two miners that were trapped two weeks ago have been freed. From Reuters:
Rescuers free trapped Australian miners
Two Australian miners trapped a kilometer underground for 14 days were freed on Tuesday after rescuers reached them through a final vertical tunnel.

The miners, Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, were trapped in a small wire cage on April 25 after a cave-in at the Beaconsfield Gold Mine on the southern island of Tasmania.

A third miner was killed in the cave-in.

"Both Brant and Todd are out of the tunnel and well," mine manager Matthew Gill told reporters.

Webb and Russell remain underground and are undergoing medical checks and hope to be above ground in about an hour.

Digging a 16-meter (48-feet) long horizontal rescue tunnel toward Webb and Russell was painstakingly slow as miners had to grind through rock five times harder than concrete.

Food and fresh water have been delivered to the men through a small plastic pipe along with clothes, a digital camera and two iPod players.

Before beginning the final vertical dig, rescuers broke through to the miners with probes late on Monday, ensuring they were digging in the right position.

Over the past few days, Webb and Russell spread grout beneath their wire cage to stabilize the ground and minimize the chances of a rock fall when they were finally reached.

The miners are being kept updated on the rescue progress and have asked for a shower as soon as they are freed. "They are thinking about coming home and so should we," Shorten said.
That first beer is going to taste really really good! Wonderful news...

What is old is new again

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Cutting edge science from China -- from Associated Press:
China Makes Artificial Rain for Beijing
Chinese weather specialists used chemicals to engineer Beijing's heaviest rainfall of the year, helping to relieve drought and rinse dust from China's capital, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.

Technicians with the Beijing Weather Modification Office fired seven rocket shells containing 163 cigarette-size sticks of silver iodide over the city's skies on Thursday, Xinhua said.

The reaction that occurred brought as much as four-tenths of an inch of rain, the heaviest rainfall this year, helping to "alleviate drought, add soil moisture and remove dust from the air for better air quality," Xinhua said.

Though unusual in many parts of the world, China has been tinkering with artificial rainmaking for decades, using it frequently in the drought-plagued north. Last month, another artificial rainfall was generated to clear Beijing after the city suffered some of the fiercest dust storms this decade.

Whether cloud-seeding actually works has been the subject of debate in the scientific community. In 2003, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences questioned the science behind it as "too weak."
Four tenths of an inch is considered a success? Sheesh -- I know that we live in an area with heavier than normal precipitation but an inch is considered normal and 0.4 would be a light sprinkle. We have had as much as six inches in one day. Cloud seeding has been looked at from from the 1940's. Wikipedia has a good article: Cloud Seeding HighBeam links to another article from Science News If the Chinese hadn't cut down their forests and overgrazed their steppes, they wouldn't be having these problems with dust and low rainfall. And the rain that is falling on Beijing to "rinse the dust" is probably rainfall that is being diverted from agricultural needs. Unintended consequences again.

Questions to ponder

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Denny at Grouchy Old Cripple is putting together the canonical list of questions that make you go Hmmmm... Here are the first 10 -- lots more at the site:
Questions To Ponder

1. Is it good if a vacuum really sucks?
2. Why is the third hand on the watch called the second hand?
3. If a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know?
4. If Webster wrote the first dictionary, where did he find the words?
5. Why do we say something is out of whack? What is a whack?
6. Why do "slow down" and "slow up" mean the same thing?
7. Why do "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing?
8. Why do "tug" boats push their barges?
9. Why do we sing "Take me out to the ball game" when we are already there?
10. Why are they called "stands" when they are made for sitting?
Kyoto seems to be out of focus on a lot of things. The demonstrated effect of CO2 is minimal, H2O is a much worse greenhouse gas but nobody is doing anything about that (probably because they can't). Neither does Kyoto focus on the fact that the Sun has a long history as a variable star and we have a demonstrated 400 year period of warming and cooling. We happen to be entering a warming period -- the idea that humans are responsible is ludicrous. Another thing is that Kyoto, for all of it's "environmental" street cred, requires developed nations to spend themselves into the poorhouse with little or no real effect but it ignores situations where a small expenditure would have radical and earth-changing effects on the local population. Case in point from the New Scientist:
Tackling the 'kitchen killer' � solid fuel
Investment in curbing one of the biggest causes of death in the world � smoke from unclean cooking fuels � would pay itself back seven times over.

That is the conclusion of a new report from the World Health Organization, which calculates that an annual investment of $13 billion could halve the number of people cooking with such fuels by 2015.

Just under half of the world's six billion people cook with solid fuels, sometimes breathing in smoke equivalent to 40 cigarettes a day.

Each year this �kitchen killer� leads to the deaths of 1.5 million people, with 900,000 of those in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. The smoke from using wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels on open fires or simple stoves kills more children under the age of 5 than malaria or AIDS.

The WHO analysis suggests the $13 bn annual investment would have an annual payback of $91 billion as a result of less time lost to illness and collecting fuel. Much of the investment would go toward helping people gain access to liquefied petroleum gas, a cleaner burning fuel. The report also suggests offering one-time subsidies to help families purchase gas cookers.

The investment could help to break the cycle of poverty, WHO experts argue, as healthier children would be able to attend school while their mothers could engage in income-generating activities, such as agriculture.

Children who inhale indoor smoke have a doubled risk of pneumonia and adults are more likely to suffer from illnesses such as chronic bronchitis compared with those who cook with electricity, gas and other clean-burning fuels, the report says.
Time to figure out the big picture guys; it's not just about you...

Incoming Moonbats

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Oh Crap -- here is the making for something really awful again. When will these "useful idiots" ever learn. From the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal:
Group headed to Iran to help spread message of peace, unity
Seven from Louisville will make the journey

Gray Henry-Blakemore isn't sure what she will learn on a fact-finding and friendship mission to Iran this week. But she has a hunch:

"People all over the world basically lead normative moderate lives of service and devotion -- while putting dinner on the table and getting children to school," she said. "What a pity we end up fearing one another."

Henry-Blakemore and her husband, Neville Blakemore Jr., are among seven Louisville residents joining 18 others from across the country and Great Britain who paid $3,500 each to travel to Iran. It's being organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace and justice organization that is part of an international group with affiliates in more than 40 countries.

For decades the Fellowship of Reconciliation has been sending delegations to nations considered "enemies" of the United States, said Ethan Vesely-Flad, editor of the organization's Fellowship magazine.
And in the understated "no shit" department are these two gems:
Noel Clay, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, would not comment on how the government feels about trips like the one planned by the Fellowship, but she noted that there is a travel warning for Americans venturing to Iran.

Henry-Blakemore said that while she is somewhat concerned that there is no American embassy in Iran, it isn't enough to stop her from going.
The absolute selfish spiritual onanism of these people is beyond belief.

The Windows XP EULA

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A nice step-by-step walkthrough by the folks at Linux Advocate:
Windows XP EULA in Plain English
This is the EULA for Windows XP Home Edition. EULA stands for �End-User Licensing Agreement.� Let's break that down:
  • End-User � The person who purchased and is using Windows XP Home.
  • Licensing � When someone buys Windows XP Home, they do not own anything. Instead they are licensing it from Microsoft.
  • Agreement � A legally binding contract between the person and Microsoft.
What does this document contain? Most people don't know, because it is written in legal-speak. Still, you are expected to read it and are required to agree to it before using Windows XP Home. Even if you don't read it, you are still bound by it, so it's good to know what's in there.

Let's take a look at just what rights a user of Windows XP Home has given up. In the �What it Says� column we have reprinted the text exactly as it appears in the EULA (obtained from Microsoft's website at In the �What it Means� column, we summarize what it means in plain English.
Couple of things stand out:
If you share files or printers with other computers in your house, you are not allowed to share with more than 5 other computers.

You agree that at any time, and at the request of �content providers� Microsoft may disable certain features on your computer, such as the ability to play your music or movie files.

You agree that Microsoft can automatically and without your consent put new software on your computer.

Microsoft may collect information about your computer and may share it with other companies, but this may not include personal information about you.
A bit draconian... Being able to install software at will brings to mind some of the earlier "security patches" that were abominations and being able to limit processing of music or movie files is not cool. I can see a commercial reason for Digital Rights Management but if I own a CD and want to play it on my computer, I should be able to do this.
Longish but well thought out essay on why Socialism still continues to attract followers. From Technology/Commerce/Society:
Why Isn't Socialism Dead?
The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, celebrated May Day by ordering soldiers to occupy his country's natural gas fields. The purpose of this exercise was not military, but economic: Morales has demanded that all foreign companies currently operating these fields must sign a contract with Bolivia that would allow them to retain only 18% of the production, while the remainder would go to Bolivia's state-owned oil company. The 18% concession to the foreign companies was not an act of generosity on the part of Morales, but simply of expediency: Bolivia needs these companies to tap its natural gas resources, because it is unable, at least at present, to operate the natural gas fields on its own.

Morales, a fiery populist who was elected in a landslide, is clearly seen as following in the footsteps of Venezuela's own firebrand populist President Hugo Chavez. Furthermore, only last week, Morales and Chavez met with Fidel Castro, enacting a kind of socialist love-fest that issued in a partnership agreement aimed at creating a web of economic alliances in South America that would resist the insidious lure of American-style free trade -- its ultimate aim would be economic autarky for the region, free from foreign control.

In addition to sending in the troops, Morales is also sending forth a good bit of inflammatory rhetoric. He refers to the foreign companies operating Bolivia's natural resources as having "looted" them, and his decision to send in troops on the traditional socialist holiday, May the First, was clearly not a coincidence. In a similar vein, Morales' mentor, Hugo Chavez, has also been preaching that to be rich is to be wicked, while to be poor is to be virtuous -- and though he may be quoting scripture to support his arguments, there can be no serious question that Chavez-style populism is simply socialism with a South American accent.

And this leads to the question I want to address, namely, Why isn't socialism dead?

The Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has argued in his book, The Mystery of Capital, that the failure of the various socialist experiments of the twentieth century has left mankind with only one rational choice about which economic system to go with, namely, capitalism. Socialism, he maintained, has been so discredited that any further attempt to revive it would be sheer irrationality. But if this is the case, which I personally think it is, then why are we witnessing what certainly appears to be a revival of socialist rhetoric and even socialist pseudo-solutions, such as the nationalization of foreign companies?

It should be stressed that de Soto is not arguing that, after the many socialist failures of the twentieth century, capitalism has became historically inevitable and that its expansion would occur according to some imaginary iron clad laws without any need for active intervention. On the contrary, de Soto is fully aware of the enormous obstacles to the expansion of capitalism, especially in regions like South America, and his book is full of dismal statistics that demonstrate the uphill battle against bureaucratic red-tape that is involved in getting a business license or even buying a house in many third world countries. But, here again, the question arises, If capitalism is mankind's only rational alternative, why do so many of the governments of third world nations make it so extraordinarily difficult for ordinary people to take the first small steps on the path of free enterprise?
Read the whole thing -- very interesting timeline from early Marx through the present. The fools in power down there need to re-read their history books...

A mighty smackdown on Islam

Great story about the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell and his reading of a book. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Pell challenges Islam - o ye, of little tolerant faith
Australia's most influential Catholic has said the Koran is riddled with "invocations to violence" and the central challenge of Islam lies in the struggle between moderate and extremist forces as the faith spreads into a "childless Europe".

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, said reading the Koran, the sacred text of Islam, was vital "because the challenge of Islam will be with us for the remainder of our lives - at least".

But in a speech to US Catholic business leaders, Dr Pell said Western democracy was also suffering a crisis of confidence as evidenced by the decline in fertility rates. "Pagan emptiness" and Western fears of the uncontrollable forces of nature had contributed to "hysteric and extreme claims" about global warming.

"In the past, pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions."

Dr Pell said the September 11 terrorist attacks had been his personal wake-up call to understand Islam better.

He had tried to reconcile claims that Islam was a faith of peace with those that suggested the Koran legitimised the killings of non-Muslims.

While there was room for optimism in fruitful dialogue between faiths and the common human desire for peace, a pessimistic response began "with the Koran itself".

Errors of facts, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other defects were not unknown to scholars but difficult for Muslims to debate openly, he said.

"In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages."
Indeed -- quite the bloody book, makes the Old Testament look like a pleasant spring stroll in the park...

Brain Drain

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It seems that Muslims are having a hard time keeping some of their devotees. From The American Thinker comes this report:
Six million African Muslims leave Islam per year
This translation of a televised conversation reveals a rare glimpse into the outlook of Muslim scholars who are concerned about Christianity�s growth. The invited guest is Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani; the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, which is an institution specializing in graduating imams and Islamic preachers.

Katani starts off describing the overall problem:
Islam used to represent, as you previously mentioned, Africa�s main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. So in the section of Africa that we are talking about, the non Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realize that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century. On the other hand, the number of Catholics has increased from one million in 1902 to 329 million 882 thousand (329,882,000). Let us round off that number to 330 million in the year 2000.

As to how that happened, well there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Everyday, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Ever year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity. These numbers are very large indeed...
From what I have heard from reliable sources, six million may be too low. Reliable accounts say that one hundred thousand Africans convert to Christianity per day, though not all of them come from Islam. Then Katani says Muslims should build schools before mosques, in order to build the worshipper (Muslim) before the building. Why? To stop the the dangerous �Christian missionary octopus
Emphasis mine -- it's not as though the Christians are holding a knife to the converts throats. The converts are taking a good hard look at the two spiritual paths and are choosing the true path of peace, one that adopts with the times and one whose belief system doesn't boarder on psychopathy.

Great quote

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On one of the CNC email lists I'm on, some ditz was suggesting that people can search for a 'crack' for a commercial program. The author of said program is also on this list and he replied:
"I control your machine; are you sure you want to upset me?"

I am vexed I tell you!

I have been looking for software to produce a web gallery. A table of thumbnails and when you click a thumbnail, you go to a page with the full-size image and also a "back -- home -- next" selection bar. There are some packages that do this but there is either a lot of funky javascript that goes along with each image or the HTML is an unreadable plate of spaghetti. A lot of galleries also do cutesy special effects -- drop shadows, funky backgrounds, music, etc... I am looking for something as simple as can be made -- I have clients on dial-up and all the extra baggage makes their viewing experience less than optimal. I ran into a gallery that someone had made and it looked good. I viewed the source code and saw perfectly clean HTML code. I sent them an email asking what application they used and they replied that it was iPhoto on their (expletive deleted) MAC... Shame on you Apple -- you are not supposed to get things this (expletive deleted) right! I was expecting some Linux application or a PERL script or something but not (expletive deleted) iPhoto. Curses... Sitting here fulminating. Vexed I tell you!

Light posting next few days

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Spring has hit with a vengeance and a lot of basic farm stuff is rising to the top of the stack. Jen and I spent the last two weeks getting in the garden. This may seem to be a long time to you city folks but here are five photos of our garden:
Some of our raised beds. The round structures have been covered with plastic to hold the heat. The white structure at the left is the Duck Coop -- they live in the Garden and provide excellent bug patrol. They also have a fondness for fresh greens hence the fences...

Some of our tomato plants. The red plastic is a Wall-O-Water and really helps the plants get going in our climate. Combination of greenhouse and thermal mass for nighttime warming.

Berries and Cherries
Nothing like picking a handful of fresh ripe berries. Most of them don't make it indoors...

Of course, some of the Goats had to check out what we were doing.

This is Newgoat. Some neighbors found him wandering along a logging road. He was obviously someone's pet and they dumped him when he grew up... He had a bad infection, major copper deficiency and was very skinny when he arrived at our farm but he is fat and happy now...

And of course, our Patriarch. Meet Gohan. He is hanging out in the shade munching on sweet dandelion blossoms.

Light posting tonight

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Still working on one of the Japanese Robot Arms Have one of them pretty well disemboweled and currently gnawing on the sinews. Lots of very usable parts inside -- all sorts of limit switches and motors. Here is what they looked like before I had my way with them:
The one on the left moved into a corner and started gibbering softly to itself and has been generally unresponsive. The one on the right is a smattering of small parts and a few grease spots on the floor. I was able to get two wonderful large (two horsepower) servo motors, three smaller servos with electric brake mechanisms, a couple really nice bearings (remember, these puppies had less than 600 hours of run time) and three non-contacting proximity sensors. I plan to use these parts for converting my Milling Machine to computer control and to build a table for my plasma cutter.

Another Rush Limbaugh portrait

I had posted yesterday about Rush Limbaugh's other identity when he worked in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1970's and had photos of the two "people". Just found a more recent shot:


From The Smoking Gun website:

Rush Limbaugh surrendered to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in April 2006 after being charged with doctor shopping. According to investigators, the 55-year-old Limbaugh bounced from doctors in a bid to secure multiple prescriptions for powerful painkillers like OxyContin. In a settlement with Florida prosecutors, the felony case against the conservative radio star will be dropped in 18 months if Limbaugh continues to undergo addiction counseling and is not arrested again. He also agreed to pay about $30,000 in fines and court costs.

A gringo working in Mexico

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Gwynnie writes at Maggie's Farm and has this story about someone from the USA moving to Mexico to work:
Working in Mexico
The following from a director with Southwest Bell in Mexico City:

I spent five years working in Mexico. I worked under a tourist visa for three months and could legally renew it for three more months. After that you were working illegally. I was technically illegal for three weeks waiting on the FM3 approval.

During that six months our Mexican and US Attorneys were working to secure a permanent work visa called a FM3. It was in addition to my US passport that I had to show each time I entered and left the country. Barbara's was the same except hers did not permit her to work.

To apply for the FM3 I needed to submit the following notarized originals (not copies) of my:
  1. Birth certificates for Barbara and me.
  2. Marriage certificate.
  3. High school transcripts and proof of graduation.
  4. College transcripts for every college I attended and proof of graduation.
  5. Two letters of recommendation from supervisors I had worked for at least one year.
  6. A letter from The St. Louis Chief of Police indicating I had no arrest record in the US and no outstanding warrants and was "a citizen in good standing."
  7. Finally; I had to write a letter about myself that clearly stated why there was no Mexican citizen with my skills and why my skills were important to Mexico. We called it our "I am the greatest person on earth" letter. It was fun to write. All of the above were in English that had to be translated into Spanish and be certified as legal translations and our signatures notarized. It produced a folder about 1.5 inches thick with English on the left side and Spanish on the right.
And this is just the beginning... There was a wonderful letter to the editor about the subject of immigration in our local newspaper today but on their website, they had the other letters but not this one. I will be sending them an email asking if this was an oversight on their part and see what they say.

Space Pen

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A good fact-checking on the old Space Pen story:
The billion-dollar space pen
Everybody has heard of the infamous Space Pen.

Space has its urban legends of course, and the Million Dollar Space Pen is one of the more enduring ones. It is neither as outlandish nor as unbelievable as the story about faking the Moon landings, and even though it seems more credible than a massive government conspiracy, it is probable that fewer people have heard it.

The story goes like this: in the 1960s, NASA astronauts discovered that their pens did not work in zero gravity. So like good engineers, they went to work and designed a wonder pen. It worked upside down. It worked in vacuum. It worked in zero gravity. It even worked underwater! And it only cost a million dollars!

The crafty Russians used a pencil.

This story, like most modern urban legends, has proliferated on the Internet, but it has also been passed by word of mouth. I�ve even heard a well-known space historian tell the story while talking about his new book, getting the expected laugh from his audience when he held up a Number 2 pencil for the punchline. And, of course, the story has also been embellished, with cost of the writing device getting ever higher, from a million dollars to a hundred million dollars to a billion dollars in some variations. Undoubtedly at some point the cost will equal the mythical trillion-dollar price of a mission to Mars.
The article then goes on to talk about the $128.84 pencil that was used on Gemini 3:
This, however, was actually the second controversy about the flight. Earlier in the month, several newspapers reported that the mission would carry two pencils that cost $128.84 apiece. NASA had spent $4,382.50 to purchase 34 of the pencils.

Members of the public were outraged at NASA�s profligate spending and naturally they demanded answers from their congressmen. On the day of the flight itself, Congressman John Wydler, of the Fourth District in New York and a member of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, wrote a letter to NASA Administrator James Webb (PDF, 1.3 MB) asking for a full investigation of the expensive pencils and an explanation why their high costs were justified. NASA received other letters as well, such as one from the President of Elgin School Supply Company of San Francisco.

NASA officials then had to explain to Congress and people like the president of the Elgin School Supply Company that the pencils were made of lightweight, high strength materials that could be attached to the inside of the spacecraft. The pencil housings had been expanded so that the astronauts could use them while wearing their bulky spacesuit gloves. The writing mechanism inside the housing had been procured from a local office supply house and had cost $1.75 each.
And the pen in question:
In the mid-1960s Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company developed the Space Pen. He did this on his own, without prompting by NASA and without NASA money. What he did want from NASA was publicity, and to this end he managed to get his congressman to insert a promotional history of his Space Pen into the Congressional Record in March 1966. Fisher then contacted NASA and sought their review of promotional literature about the Space Pen.

A NASA official evaluated the advertising copy for the Space Pen and noted that the company �is not now and has never been under contract to NASA � [Manned Spacecraft Center] for the supply of any writing instrument to be used in a manned spacecraft.� However, a different Fisher pen, known as the AG-7 pen, was under consideration for carrying aboard American spacecraft.

Over two months after Fisher first contacted NASA, the space agency replied and disapproved his advertising, (PDF, 0.6 MB) which the agency called �quite misleading.� NASA�s procurement office was at the time purchasing Fisher�s AG-7 pens at a cost of $4 apiece (still a significant amount of money in 1967), and was not buying the Space Pen, which cost $1.98.
Fascinating bit of history...

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