Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chiastic Exegesis

There are those that don't read the Bible literally,

and there are those that literally do not read the bible.

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I'm not cynical, no.

You Are 84% Cynical

You're cynicism borders on paranoia.
Worry less. You're out to get the world as much as it's out to get you.

(via Exploding Aardvark)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Space golf suffers procedural setback.

Interrupting a marketing stint for Element 21 Golf and their new golf club, the commander of the International Space Station has been refused permission to smack a golf ball from the Station into orbit on the current mission. The attempt will be rescheduled for November.

One group of experts claims the golfball, at 8km/hour, could be a threat to the station and other satellites in orbit, while the other says its orbit should finally decay and it will burn up in the atmosphere. This earlier post on orbital debris suggests that the golf ball would be only a minor addition to the debris field already present in orbit, even if it is in the middle of some popular orbits. If it deorbits properly it won't be an issue.

They are billing it as the longest golf shot ever. When they finally take the shot, the golf equipment maker will track the three year orbital descent of the transmitter packed golfball until its final fiery demise. The distance is longer than a 125 million yard drive.

As to the name of the golf club maker, element 21 is scandium, which is one down from titanium on the periodic table of the elements. Titanium is now apparently last year's special metal to have in golf clubs. Scandium is the new titanium.

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Hoffa's final resting place still unknown, conspiracy theorists rejoice.

Unfortunately for closure, but fortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the FBI found no trace of Jimmy Hoffa at the Michigan farm where they have been intensively searching for the past two weeks. An incomprehensible quote from the article contains no information about whether the body was moved or not, and who didn't have knowledge of it, but will feed the rumors for years to come.
Chilen said that she believes Hoffa had been buried on the farm and that she had no evidence his body had been moved. Fischetti added: "We really don't have any indication that it was or wasn't moved."
I guess it finally is time to dredge Senator Bedfellows pond for the body.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Carefully secure your junk!

My progress was barred today by the sudden appearence of a junk appliance in the middle of the road. Please secure your junk when travelling.

Even worse, it was in the intersection.

At least the hauler had circled around to pick it up. I think the sign on the truck was Sanford and Son.

Perhaps this stuff is intended for the overflowing outreach box, I only hope they read the sign.

Circle of life.

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Overflowing donation boxes may not always be a good thing.

St. Joseph's outreach better get over to this box, it is overflowing. The great news is that there must be a lot of good-hearted people out there that want to donate their old clothes to people in need. Perhaps this has positive implications for the economy.

The bad news is that the contributors can't read the sign that says not to leave stuff outside of the box, and that the outreach program hasn't been by to get it (I left a message on their machine). I don't think that they should refuse donations from apparently illiterate people, but accepting them seems to make the job a little harder.

Maybe it is all for the best. This guy, changing his oil in the parking lot, was able to use some of the open bags to get rags for his task.

Circle of life.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Only one giant department store left in Delaware

The news that Federated Department stores is selling the Strawbridges store in Christiana mall to the company that owns the mall has forced me to take stock of the state of department stores in Northern Delaware as well as across the country. Federated and the May Company have been gobbling up chain and after chain of department stores. Now, Federated Department Stores has purchased May Company, which means a consolidation of almost every department store I have ever heard of.

Federated has Macy's and Bloomingdale's, but they are getting rid of the Hecht's, Strawbridges and Lord and Taylor names. They may sell Lord and Taylor by the end of the year and are closing some underperforming stores, such as the one in Christiana mall, as quickly as possible. The many regional names (such as Kaufmann's in the Pittsburgh area) are being replaced with Macy's, eliminating hundreds of years of traditions of regional department stores. Only Macy's has survived the meat grinder of consolidation. In a quote from Federated:
"We respect that May Company's regional store names are deeply rooted in their communities, we appreciate the heritage and traditions associated with those names"
Just forget the former names though, OK?

So where to shop? Certainly Macy's or Bloomingdale's are still available for a little while, at least until they consolidate to either Maimingdales or Bloomacy's. Christiana Mall and other retail malls across the country that have been denuded of anchor stores are looking at replace them with the less tradional Target or K-mart. They may even forego anchor stores for more smaller stores as a way of filling the space and pulling in more customers. Even before it accreted a ring of strip malls around it, Christiana Mall, was supposedly in the top 2% of retail sales volume in the country. It will be interesting to see what affect these changes will have on it.

Farther North from Christiana Mall are the Concord Mall and the Brandywine Town Center. Concord Mall, the older one, has always had trouble keeping filled with stores and may soon have its Strawbridges renamed Macy's. The boondoggle that is Brandywine Town center has only recently begun to fill up its retail space after many years of construction and even more years of completely empty retail space. Shopping online has never seemed wiser.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Visit to Tower of Babel

I visited the Tower of Babel today. Don't understand why ancient Babylonians on the plain of Shinar would be dressed like royalty from the middle ages. I guess it is a symptom of globalization. At least they don't have a Starbucks there yet.

For more info, I suggest reading Ted Chiang's award-winning short story "Tower of Babylon", which depicts the events that might have occurred if the Tower of Babel project had been completed.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Time is just as it should be, calculations prove it.

Damn Interesting has an article describing a group of people that think the middle ages was invented by the church. Heribert Illig and his group propose that 297 years were added to the calendar at some point and that most of the middles ages are fiction. You have to read it to believe it.

His assertions are countered by the work of Maverick Science, who show that reported historical dates correlate correctly with retrocalculated dates of observed astronomical events. Perhaps we could use transits of Venus across the sun, pictured above from June 8, 2004. The Maverick describes several solar eclipses reported in historical documents that exactly match the expected calculations, going back almost 2500 years. Thus, all is well.

The fundamentalists like to spread an urban legend that NASA scientists found an error in their calculations of the orbit of a satellite that correlated with God stopping the sun for Joshua in the bible, and turning it back 10 degrees for Isaiah. It's not true! It's an urban legend given unearthly vibrant life by the ghastly internet.

All this uncertainty about time is as scary as when I was trying to determine if the days of the week had been in their current sequence since the beginning of counting them. They have been (for at least 3000 years maybe more).

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Bloom County on teaching evolution in schools

The debate between Creationism and Evolution is an old one, even in its current incarnation of Intelligent Design vs. Evolution. I can only imagine how fired up they are with the recent news that while chimpanzees and humans were becoming separate species (6 million years ago) they interbred and that these hybrids contributed significantly to the development of both species. The creationists must be going crazy.

Berkley Breathed
also saw the inherent silliness on the creationism side of the debate. He was prescient in these strips from his book, Loose Tails, from the eighties. (click for larger images)

Opus the Penguin and Milo are the stars of this series of strips.

"Did penguins evolve through the ages or were they created in Newark, New Jersey in 1912, as according to scientific penguinism?"

I have had occasion to use Milo's line under similar pointed interrogation. "Okay! I did it! I killed her husband and dumped him off the train outside of Shanghai!"

I think the judge in the Dover, PA case handled himself with a lot more aplomb.

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WERCRZN license and Berry-man spotted in the wild

I saw this license plate on my travels, but it was early in the morning so my license plate translation skills were way off. Perhaps you can help?

Does it say?

We Are Crazy and...


We're Crazying

Or, perhaps they turn into dried cranberries during a full moon (an extremely rare form of lycanthropy, or is it, melosanthropy- fruitman, or coccanthropy- berry-man) and it says:


Then I noticed the vehicle that it is on, a PT Cruiser.

Oh, the license plate says:

We're Cruisin'

Apparently it was totally lost on me.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Flash memory a threat to digital Tibetan Prayer Wheels

Tibetan prayer wheels contain the "om mani padme hum" written many times on scrolls so that they can be turned to "pray" the prayer. Saying the prayer over and over again invokes the blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Spinning the written copy is supposed to have the same effect, the more copies the better.

Some wheels are spun by hand, while others are mechanical or are driven by water. I haven't found any examples of the mantra put onto car wheels, though that seems to be an obvious application. If any wheel will work, how about windmills, generators or gears in mechanical devices.

A while ago, the digerati suggested using animated .gifs of the prayer wheel or digital copies of the mantra spinning around on your computer's hard drive. One example has trillions of copies of the mantra on DVD's placed inside the wheel to spins when it spins. (.pdf brochure) This idea has been vetted at the highest levels of Tibetan Buddhism.
"His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has said that having the mantra on your computer works the same as a traditional Mani wheel. As the digital image spins around on your hard drive, it sends the peaceful prayer of compassion to all directions and purifies the area."
I am concerned about the recent increase in the use of flash memory for storage instead of hard drives. On flash memory those files just sit there, they don't spin at all. This could quell the nascent prayer wheel hard drive movement. What will this do for the mantra? We might actually have to perform some concrete action to demonstrate our faith.

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(noticed in the sidebar of Exploding Aardvark)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Blast from the Past - Bloom County on the disappearance of Hoffa

The location of Jimmy Hoffa's body is one of the great mysteries and conspiracy theories of all time. Proclaiming that you have found it is almost cliche. The recent news that the FBI is actually digging in Milford Township near Detroit for the body is exciting , but we shouldn't get our hopes up yet, it could take weeks. The rumor is that an informer in federal prison remembers meeting in that location thirty years ago.

I remember back in the eighties, that Milo from Bloom County was obsessed with pinning the rap for Hoffa's disappearance on a fictional, aging Senator Bedfellow. Bloom County is timeless. I hope Berkeley Breathed will agree that the use of these few comic strips are fair use and very appropriate for the occasion. (click for larger images, from Loose Tails)

I wonder if Milo is more interested in muckraking journalism than in actually breaking the story. The Potomac is far from the current search area in Michigan.

Now Milo suspects Bedfellows pond (which is in Iowa, according to the fans). I like the questioning tactics, neither yes nor no is the correct answer. His tactics are verging on yellow journalism.

The last is a classic and the best one. Milo suspects he sees Hoffa's teamster's ring in the pond and then writes,"slowly this reporter recoiled in utter moral disgust..."

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

A quote for a colloid scientist

I suppose this is an old one, but did you know that:

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

attributed to Henry J. Tillman, whoever he is.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Praying to avoid alien abduction

Seeing as I have UFO's on the brain lately, (Blame the UK Ministry of Defense see reviews here and here) I noticed this in my virtual travels. This ex voto or spiritual offering was painted by a man thanking Our Lady of Guadalupe for protecting him from an alien abduction. He doesn't need to take the quiz to determine if he has been abducted or not. The combination of memes in this image may be unlicensed mixing of conspiracy theory, mythology, superstition and theology.

(via Neatorama, via BurkinaLoveFaso, via Flickr)

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Ghosts of a Jelly Bean post intended for Easter

I needed this one for Easter, I've eaten all of my Easter jelly beans by now! This one exactly captures my personality.

or maybe this one.

Combine these two with some rum and crushed ice and you get the Pina Colada that I crave.

(via Exploding Aardvark)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

News reminds me that Delaware voters elected the same old people

Exercising the right to vote is one of the most important things an American can do. No matter how crazy the outcome we have to trust that this form of government is the best one. This does not mean that I can't be shocked by some of those choices.

Voters elected Tom Gordon to the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association board. This is the same Tom Gordon and former chief executive of New Castle County, Delaware that is under a federal indictment for corruption and racketeering. I do understand that one is innocent until proven guilty, but out of respect for good governance perhaps Mr. Gordon could have waited until his legal difficulties were over before he chose to rejoin the public debate. The voters of Hockessin are shockingly easy to please as well. The article also comments that in his new role, he may come into contact with people related to his indictment. From the article:
"Gordon's position with the association would put him in an organization that works closely with developers and land-use attorneys -- including Shawn Tucker, a former county employee who helped federal authorities investigating Gordon by wearing a wire."
.."wearing a wire", for goodness sake! His partner in crime, Sherry Freebery, spends much of her time lately in courtrooms on appeal. The Delaware news Journal has an entire archive dedicated to this pair.

In related news, the current County Executive, Chris Coons, has announced the county budget for 2007 which includes a 5% tax increase for New Castle County. I haven't decided the merits of the tax increase. I want to remind the voters of New Castle County, who elected Chris Coons, that his former position was President of New Castle County Council which he served while Gordon was Executive. The voters obviously didn't feel that he had any responsibility as an elected official to prevent the racketeering that allegedly occurred while he was in office. It even came up in an attack add from the campaign which got him elected:
"The spot characterizes Coons as complicit in a culture of corruption in county government -- quite contrary to Coons' campaign in which he sees himself as a corruption buster, a County Council president who stood up to the tainted Gordon administration and took out Sherry L. Freebery, the chief aide, in the Democratic primary for county executive."
Lately, he is playing both sides against the middle. Conveniently forgetting his earlier association with Gordon and Freebery, but trying to place any blame for his failure to meet campaign promises on the previous administration. By the way, all of these folks are in the same political party, but please keep re-electing them if that is the will of the people.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Virtual ranger wins the Steganography Challenge

Earlier, I tried to tease and interest you with a hidden message challenge. The winner is The Virtual Ranger, who took the time to follow my clues to this website and found the pictures in pictures I hid. Please visit his website, the "UK's most popular independent environmental website", for a well-reasoned sarcastic approach to nature and his other favorite topics. The Ranger's prize for my riddle is the notoriety of completing the challenge Next time I will be prepared with something more tangible.

Here is what the careful steganographer will find if they duplicate the Ranger's success.

In the taggants picture I hid "Secret message, creepy"

And in the Steganosaurus (I know it is spelled wrong), I hid,"This makes me feel like a secret agent"

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UK Ministry of Defense claims no evidence for the extra-terrestrial origin of UFO's, but cautions against chasing them.

The UK ministry of defense has finally declassified and released their report from 2000, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in the UK Air Defence Region, of the study of UFO's. At left is a picture of one of the phenomena captured at Lowestoft in 1997.

They claim in the report that they don't believe the UAP's to be extra-terrestrial in origin or represent a threat, but that is what you would expect the government to say anyway. From the report:
  • There is no evidence that any UAP, seen in the UKADR, are incursions by air-objects of any intelligent (extra-terrestrial or foreign) origin, or that they represent any hostile intent.
  • There is no evidence that 'solid' objects exist which could cause a collision hazard.
  • It should be stressed that, despite the recent increase in UAP events. The probability of encountering a UAP remains very low.
My favorite advice from the executive summary.
  • No attempt should be made to out-manoevre a UAP during interception.
  • At higher altitudes, although UAP appear to be benign to civil air-traffic, pilots should be advised not to manoevre, other than to place the object astern, if possible.
Below I have combined the yearly UK Ministry of Defense UFO data from the 2002-2005 reports I showed earlier, with the data from 1959 to 1996 from the full report.
Apparently the late 70's were a crazy time for UFO's as well as disco. The report also contains interesting attempts to track the path of some of these phenomena based on multiple reports at the same time in nearby locations. The assessed tracks (Figure 3-1 from Vol 3 part b) for sightings near London are highlighted in red for easier reading.

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Tempting the Storm Gods

Since we are coldly rational beings without superstition, it would be ridiculous to correlate the earlier report and complaint that it hadn't rained in a while with today's celestial punishment of the hail and heavy thunderstorm event in Wilmington. These pictures show the pea sized hail on the pavement and on my poor car's roof. Zeus (or Jupiter or Thor or whoever) did reward the persistent with a rainbow at the end of the torrent.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Finally it rains - streamflow rates in Wilmington, Delaware

Before Friday evening it had been almost three weeks since there had been a good rain in Wilmington. The USGS monitor many stream flow stations across the country. Taking the real time stream data from three stations near Wilmington Delaware we can build up a chart showing the streams filling up with rain and then emptying of rain. The stations monitor both gage height (stream height) and discharge rate. For our purpose, discharge rate shows the most interesting changes with rainfall.

The chart (click for larger view) shows the discharge rate vs. the day and time at three stations, a small stream in Wilmington called Shellpot creek and the larger Brandywine Creek at Wilmington and one station farther north and upstream at Chadds Ford. Rainfall events (vertical lines at April 22nd, 24th, May 11th and 14th) show as upward spikes in the discharge rate which then decay over time if no additional rainfall occurs.The Brandywine Creek empties a much larger watershed area than the Shellpot Creek so it not only has larger volume discharge rate but its curve is much smoother than the Shellpot Creek line. The jagged spikes overlaid on the smoother curve in the Shellpot Creek chart have their origin in local rainfall effects. Careful examination of the two Brandywine Creek curves shows that the Wilmington Station discharge rate lags the upstream Chadds Ford Station as would be expected by their locations. The USGS data provides a great resource for performing these weather analyses.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tracing your hidden messages and markers

There is a new commercial for KFC in which the whining sister archetype calls the gluttonous brother archetype a "sidehog". I can only imagine that the makers of the commercial and KFC are hoping to track the term "sidehog" as a way of gauging the impact of their commercial and its reach in the market. In marketing it is important to know what effect your advertising is having. Now this blog and one other have recorded this term in writing, mostly as an annoyance. Everyone wants to claim the phrase they coined. Often a neologism floats around in the oral culture for a long time before it is recorded in print. Blogging does help to bring new words to print and even provides a way to credit the first appearance. Marketers would love to use this to track the effectiveness of their craft.

It is well know that mapmakers hide mistakes in minor areas of their maps so that if they are copied they can prove that someone is doing it. These tracing mechanisms are called copyright traps. If the maps were perfect then a copy would be perfect and a dishonest mapmaker would just copy someone else's instead of doing the work to make their own. If the copy has the same mistakes as the orginal, however, a judge might draw the conclusion that there is plagerism.

The idea of using a chemical or physical marker, called a taggant, in explosives to trace where they come from, has been discussed for a number of years. The physical ones are microscopic pieces of plastic that look like flat candycanes like the picture at left. Rare chemical and even DNA have been suggested as chemical markers. The idea is that the tag will lead to the source of the explosives and the criminals when the explosives in a terrorist attack or crime. Switzerland actually requires the use of these taggants. One concern with this idea is that legal uses of the explosives (construction, mining) will also spread taggants around and contaminate crime scenes before the fact. Additionally some terrorists use homemade explosives and get around the issue completely.

Another tracing mechanism is Steganography, in which a digital tag is placed hidden in the information in a picture. There are programs that allow you to hide text and even other pictures in the digital picture file. There was a scare that criminals could use this method to transmit messages, but a recent survey(.pdf of paper) of 2 million images from eBay showed only 17,000 pictures with evidence of steganography, though even these are suggested to be false positives. I could imagine a marketing firm using this tool to track popular images or mp3's downloaded from a website. For fun we could all start putting steganographic content (web-based application) in our images (here's one, this post may contain another - a prize for the first to find one, use the comments to claim it) just to freak everyone out.

RFID tags are the obvious way to track everything physical, even though their cost currently constricts their use. Hidden as they may sometimes be in the new shirt you buy (until the itching drives you mad and you find it and cut it out), the physicality of an RFID tag makes their use in secret tracking use until they are further miniaturized.

I am sure you have noticed, sometimes at work, sometimes electronically on the internet, that a question you ask comes back to you. You begin your search by asking around the office for a particular bit of information. Your helpful colleagues ask others to try to track down the info. Eventually the question comes back to you because someone associated you with the topic and you slowly become thought of as an expert but lost is the fact that you originally asked the question. It is a sociological Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where the observer disrupts the experiment.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Four years of UFO's in the UK

The United Kingdom has a Freedom of Information act. One of the benefits of this act was the release of four years of reports of UFO sightings to the UK Ministry of Defense. Extracting the data from the .pdf files on these reports yields 449 incidents for our statistical analysis.

The first histogram (click for larger size) shows the frequency of incidents for each hour of the day. Unsurprisingly, over the four years of data, 40% of the sightings are from 9pm to midnight (where a time is given in the report). There is an interesting peak at the 6am hour, perhaps due to people going to work early and having the opportunity to see objects.

The second histogram shows the number of incidents in each month over the four years of the data. There is no clearly discernible pattern, but there is an increase in reports through 2005.The types of incidents and there locations are also provided but have not been extracted from the .pdf files yet. This data comes in anticipation of a report by the UK ministry of defense that concludes that there is no proof of alien life forms. The data above still serves a purpose in determining why and what the cause of these UFO reports could be.

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Badges? We don't need no badges.

I thought I might need something official. I think the Promethean lightning helps to emphasize the point to think for oneself.

You can make your own with a flash interface at The Officer Store. The badges are expensive, this one about $70. I just took a screen shot to put it here. I am not clever enough to get Flash to let me copy an image yet.

(via Neatorama, via Spacegrinder, via BoingBoing)

Mid-spring flowers have also started

Some bulb plants wait until later in the spring to spring. How about these gladiator alliums (I am assuming Allium giganteum). They grow to more than 4 feet tall and those onion like flowers turn into globes more than 4 inches across. They are monsters. My affectionate pet name from them is "Maximus" after my favorite fictional gladiator from the film. (not Spartacus!).

I was hoping for more than one iris this year, after many years of waiting, and last years hopeful collection of several. This year, just one.

Peonies (Peony or Paeony, family Paeoniaceae) are another perennial that produce great flowers after a few years, even though they die back completely to the ground each winter. They produce huge fragrant blooms that the ants love.

Next flower update - Hydrangeas and more peonies.

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