Thursday, June 29, 2006

More questions for moving labels

Is tchotkes even spelled correctly here? This is as bad as miscellaneous knick knacks. Might as well not label the box at all.

Redundant Box Labelling

Aren't knick knacks miscellaneous by definition? We are in hour 12 of the move and still kicking.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

That's not what the constitution is for!

What is the purpose of the Flag Desecration Amendment? Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (for review please read the Constitution and the amendments again) should be for protecting rights not restricting them. Most of the amendments clarify rights for the people or restrict the rights of the government, and some are procedural. One of them was restrictive. Prohibition (the 18th amendment, which prohibited intoxicating liquors for beverages) didn't work and may have single handedly created the organized crime that is romanticized so well in the movies. It was subsequently repealed by the 21st.

Should there be an amendment to the constitution preventing desecration of the flag? I agree with almost all anyone has said on this topic. It is a disgrace to burn the flag and it insults people who feel strongly about it. But burning the flag is an expression of free speech, and free speech is one of the founding principles of the United States. All of those that have died to protect the honor of the flag, have also died to protect the right to burn it. That is the paradox of a free society. Dissent is a vital component of democracy.

How will they define physical desecration of the flag? When was the last time you saw an American burn a flag? I have seen many flags in other compromised positions. T-shirts, bandanas, Old Navy adds. Will the pickup and motorcycle drivers flying ragged shredded flags be prosecuted? What about the faded-to-white flag magnets on the backs of cars? The bandanaed cats and dogs. Or the shredded flags I see flying in the rain without lights on many houses through the summer. Is it a flag or a rag? Isn't this flag amendment stunt supposed to draw exactly these people back into the GOP. On Flag Day, I suggested that we all reread the etiquette for flying and displaying the flag.

The proposed Federal Marriage Amendment which also recently failed in Congress seeks to restrict rights rather than grant them. While it attempts to define marriage as between a man and a woman, one wonders if this is a useful purpose for the constitution as well. My preferred criticism is that this definition should be left to the states, though I don't think the government should have much of a say in this at all. Shall we allow the people their personal freedom?

By the way, the only appropriate use of the flag in the pictures above is the boy scouts saluting the burning flag in the first picture. That is the proper respectful way of disposing of an old flag.

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Yes sir, Mr. Luciano, sir.

Lucky Luciano speaks for you on the Mobster Threat Generator.

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Can't buy me love - No Capano name on Archmere building.

Monday night, after a secret meeting, Archmere academy has changed its mind and will not put the Capano name on a building on the campus. Donations of $1 million to both Archmere and St. Edmund's Academy and a request that buildings be named for the Capano family generated much controversy and a website protesting the naming run by Archmere parents and almuni. Amid cries of selling indulgences and much commenting in the Delaware blogging community, the school has finally bowed to public pressure.

Here is the statement from the school in word format. Apparently, Louis Capano offered the board the opportunity to name the Student Life Center in honor of a religious figure of historic significance to the school. I hope he relented for reason of humility and not because of the controversy generated by the donation and naming request in the first place. Although some seem to think that Archmere repents, rather than Capano. St. Edmund's has not changed its plans.

This is the win-win (or maybe not lose-not lose) scenario that seemed to be the middle ground that most were looking for - the Capano family provides a donation to a worthy cause, and the schools can take the money in what may some day become anonymity of the donor (if people forget). Would that we could have started that way.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

How long before they look for your body?

It took this guy's family a week to look for his body in their shed! This story has so many life lessons, it is hard to compile them all. Don't lock your keys in the shed, don't try to climb through a hole to small for you if you do. Tell your family what you're doing so if you get stuck they can help you.

This poor guy did the calculation for the price of his life and decided that he was worth less than the new lock he would have had to buy when he cut through the old one to recover his keys locked in the shed. Darwin Award anyone? From the article:
The state Medical Examiner's Office ruled Charles Whitaker's death accidental, said Jay Lynch, of the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Navarro said Whitaker had apparently locked his keys inside the 8-by-8-foot padlocked shed and climbed a stepladder to try to get in under the mesh-lined soffit extending over the sides of the building.

"He was able to get his shoulders and arms through before getting stuck," Navarro said. "It appears the victim may have suffocated after becoming lodged in the shed's rafters."

Navarro said the victim was last seen by family members June 14.

Whitaker's father, George, said he was not initially concerned about his son's whereabouts, thinking he had gone to the beach with friends as he occasionally did.
The story goes on to say that the victim lived at the same house and took care of his aging parents (George, quoted above). The shed was in the backyard of the very house they all lived in and they still didn't find him (look for him) for a week! As is usual with these stories, the smell of the body led a neighbor to discover it. There is a deeper story here we may never get to know. I also prefer the phrase "death by misadventure".

To this day my mother insists that we call her when we get home after visiting at her house. Most of the children live some distance away and who knows what could happen on the trip home (think pessimistic Italian mother thoughts). Based on that tradition, I created a measurement called the "time in the ditch factor". If you crash your car into a ditch on a deserted road, how long before somebody starts looking for your body. If you live alone or your family is used to you "going off to the beach with friends" it could be a long time. But if you follow Mom's rules, the search parties will be out momentarily. In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I always forget to call when I get home. I hope I don't regret it someday.

(Tombstone generator, I found myself!)

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bubbles by self-proclaimed professionals

Today, a nephew's birthday party afforded the opportunity for the adults to play at bubble making under the guise of entertaining the younger cousins. I graciously volunteered my services as a licensed and trained Colloid and Surfactant Scientist. The kids had the smaller bubble wands while we adult engineers improvised a giant bubble maker with a coat hanger. It was harder than you would expect.

The chief engineer on the project (not me, I was just a consultant) realized that the flatness of the ring in the bubble pan, and a slow withdraw seemed to be the key to getting a soap film out of the tray. Then a steady swing through the air to blow the bubble and you hope that the back end closes before it pops to make a bubble. I took pictures with my crappy Treo camera. We made ten times as many bubble attempts as pictures taken, and I don't have all the pictures displayed here.

The most treacherous path for the bubble was near any of the younger children. Those that escaped that fate floated off to the roofs and the sharp needles of evergreens to meet their doom. Don't bubbles sometimes remind you of your mortality?

I eventually got clever and could create bubbles, catch them back onto the hanger wand (if there was a good film) and watch the wand suck the bubble back into it. Then I waved the wand to make a bubble again. It was a good metaphor for reincarnation.

Two bubbles at one time. Perhaps a focus on quality over quantity would have been more appropriate.

Some were not as easily impressed with the giant bubbles in their midst.

Floating in circular perfection. By the way, a star shaped bubble wand doesn't result in star shaped bubbles because once the bubble leaves the wand the soap film attempts to achieve the lowest energy shape. For a single bubble, not on a wand, that's a sphere.

Dangerous head-eating attack bubble goes after child!

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Success at the yard sale

Truck to move stuff to the yard sale: $70

Stickers for price tags: $2

Selling all of the big furniture so I don't have to move it again: Priceless

Made some money. Got rid of a lot of stuff. The key when selling the bigger furniture was not to mention that if we didn't sell it we were going to give it to Goodwill. That might have undermined my bargaining position. I do want to add the intangible value of not having to shlepp that stuff around anymore to the actual price I got for those items.

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No ghost is too big, no fee is too big.

Ghostbuster takes a fee for a ghost well caught. The yardsale continues unabaited. Here the seller shows the correct technique - hand them the item but get the money simultaneously in case they try to run away.

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Like selling snow to eskimos

I wish I had snow to sell! That would go like gangbusters. We are actually having customers at our yard sale in spite of the rain, heat and humidity, and our hidden locatio. All this stuff is sold!

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Slow day at the Penn Rose Yard Sale

It is probably a bad sign that the items for sale at our table already need to be covered due to rain. Do you think the pouring torrential downpours will keep away potential customers?

Come on over to 38th and Market Street in Wilmington. Turn east into the neighborhood. That's Penn Rose. We just got our first browser and we did sell a couch. Let's see how it goes.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

MILK4U license plate in Delaware

Perhaps this woman (it was a minivan, sue me for assuming a stereotype) supports Human Milk Banking. Not just milk for you but milk for everybody.

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TRYGOD and TENQGOD license plates in Delaware

I wonder just how effective proselytizing by license plate really is (see YES GOD for another example). This TRYGOD license plate invites me to do just that. I am sure the owner doesn't want me to put him down again if it doesn't work out.

Help me to interpret this one. TENQGOD. The end cue god? Thank you god? Tanka you God (broken Italian English version)? A search of the internets yields an eBayer with that handle, and that's it. They appear to be in Palmdale, California though. What good is a personalized license plate if I don't understand what you are saying to me?

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Bookshelfalanche? Bookshlelvminos? Booktastrophe?

All those books! This picture makes me want to cry.

The bookcases in my home library are actually all attached to each other prevent just this occurrence. While I do not have aisles and stacks like the library in the picture I have a few shelves that jut out into the room that are attached to each other as well.

Some possible captions:

Oh the humanity ... ies library.

Won't somebody please think of the children ...'s books.

(via BoingBoing via Klara Kim at Flickr)

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Magic mouth spouts security warnings in RPG comic

Rich Burlew spoofs security systems and drug warnings in his fantastic Order of the Stick comic strip (go bookmark it now) about D&D adventurers that sometimes humorously seem to know they are in a role-playing game. In this episode a magic mouth provides all the legal warnings to the adventurers before they can advance to see the Oracle, and spews some of the legal gobblygook you get in software agreements and drug warnings.

...phrases such as: "Tests installed and maintained by QuestGuard(c), the land's leader in merit-based security. Keep nosy adventurers out of your remote geographic location with QuestGuard(c). Call today and get your privacy back." and "If you are nursing, pregnant or might be become pregnant, you shouldn't visit the Oracle. Erections lasting more than four hours..."

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My Favorite Donut

There is an urban legend that when Kennedy famously said "Ich bin ein Berliner" at the Berlin wall, that instead of declaring his solidarity with the people of Berlin divided by the wall and the Cold War, he said "I am a jelly donut". Is that really so bad, to be a donut.

You Are a Boston Creme Donut

You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.
But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.
You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.
You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.

A Boston Creme Donut is the only donut to be! It has the correct New England accent for a Kennedy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I can never complain about my Delmarva Power bill again.

The headline "Unnatural gas bill says man owes $14,000" says it all. Delmarva messed up and billed this man $14,000 for his gas bill, far and above the correct amount for his three bedroom home. The first line of the story is hilarious:

"Joe Krakowski was so stunned by his Delmarva Power bill earlier this month that he considered going to a hospital."

They even sucked his bank account dry in an attempt to pay the $14,000 bill because he had automatic payment set up. Krakowski had gotten a new gas meter and that triggered a set of errors that led to the mixup. This miscalculation certainly pails in comparison to my complaints about the 59% electricity hike. I also have a new gas meter, I hope I don't get a bill with a "mistake".

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First domesticated plant is a ...fig?

Science magazine reports the results of a study of preserved figs from 11,400 years ago in the Lower Jordan valley. They provide convincing evidence that the figs they studied are different from the wild figs that were around at the time and that these differences are explained by the domestication of the fig tree. This date puts the domestication of the fig at almost 5000 years before other fruits like grapes, olives and dates, and even preceded cereal domestication by a millennium.

I am not a big fan of figs, but with 11,000 years of work already under our belt producing this fruit, perhaps I should reconsider my stance.

The site explored is close to the ancient city of Jericho, which is thought to have been continuously inhabited for 11,000 years!

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Drug companies rank almost as low as oil and tobacco companies in esteem!

Given the great value that drugs yield over many other healthcare alternatives (death, surgery, illness) why do the companies that manufacture them rank so low in esteem among the public? The Kaiser Family Foundation report from February 2005 (chart below) has some damning survey results for the drug companies.

Doctors have the most esteem, tobacco companies the least. Oil companies are not ranked much better than the tobacco companies. But third from the bottom are the pharmaceutical companies which actually equal the hated HMOs and managed care plans in the rankings. Shocking.

This chart might explain it. While 60% of the public (below left) thinks that the pharmaceutical industry has an important role in society by researching new drugs and treatments, 70% of them (below right) think they are too interested in making profits and putting profits ahead of people.

The truth is that drugs are effective. The issue may be in getting that message out to the general public and being heard over the shrill complaints of populist politicians and the media trying to drum up a story. The other plain simple fact is that in our economic system even the pharmaceutical companies have stockholders and if these companies don't make profits, no one will invest in them, the companies go away and no drugs will be made. That extreme result is not going to happen, but this data presents a perfect climate for someone (politicians for instance) to step in with yet more regulation with no objection and maybe even assent from the general public. They would get to make a name for themselves whether regulation would be wise or not.

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Monday, June 19, 2006


It is a sign of the state of information in modern times that no list can be inclusive. While the Lovecraft Potpourri wasn't intended to be a definitive list, just a sprinkling, I still missed some obvious additions.

Our good friend Cthulu is one of the Elder Gods "of which we must not speak" from the Lovecraft mythos. It's Lovecraftian if it focuses on humanity's insignificance in the face of an evil hidden world, behind this one, with forbidden knowledge and an old dark evil best left undisturbed. This disturbing picture, The Miracle of Cephalopodization, comes from Joan Fontcuberta's Miracles & Co. One guess as to who it reminds you of. Since he must have dragged Cthulu out of his bed in R'lyeh for this picture, please make a saving throw against death or go insane. At least that's what my AD&D Deities and Demigods encyclopedia says to do.

Hellboy seems to be the latest movie that is on constantly in the cableverse and probably set me on this current unspeakable collection of Lovecraft tidbits. It makes some pretty obvious references to hidden knowledge and black, cold universes where an unimaginably old dark evil waits for its chance to consume our life force and destroy our planet. The "gods" in Hellboy are suitably tentacled, and the magic is appropriately arcane, though Hellboy's traditional horns-on-the-head demonic visage might be a little too Judeo-Christian to exactly fit into the mythos. Ron Perlman is absolutely perfect as the eponymous Hellboy.

I just finished reading the terrific novel "Declare" by Tim Powers. Powers takes the history of World War II and the Cold War and underlays a secret history of government spy agencies with battling internal cliques vying to either help free powerful (Lovecraftian) beings older than mankind itself or prevent them from escaping their prison. The narration jumps right into the middle of the story with a retired spy reactivated to complete a task he failed 20 years before. The author successfully weaves in a love story between the conflicted heroes who are both repelled and attracted to the power wielded by the unspeakable horrors they must contain. (Why do these novels always actually speak of the unspeakable horror? Isn't that hypocritical?) Charles Stross was warned not to read this book while he was finishing the Atrocity Archives because of some similarities, but I feel the comparison is superficial. There is only one instance of the word "ersatz" in Power's book and it only referred to coffee. Power's "Declare" is a worthwhile read.

Finally, Pharyngula points out that "God hates squid", since squid are "nonliving" by a creationist's definitions derived from Genesis. They don't have hemoglobin and thus no red blood, the mark of a "living" creature. Perhaps this record in Genesis is a race memory of the horrors of the squidlike servants of the elder gods oppressing our murine pre-primate ancestors.

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Starting your own religion first requires a good sign.

To establish my bona fides I first needed to get a guest spot preaching at a local church. I think that recipes for summer barbecues using a little hellfire will really draw the crowds.

When they ask for my credentials I could show them my ordination (don't really have one) from the Universal Life Church (free online ordinations!). Now what to call my new religion? The Branch Richardians, the Richardborgians, Church of the What have you done for Richard lately?

I finally settled on the Richard Science Fiction Reading Room, because it is something I really believe in. I have a plaque for the sanctum sanctorum (holy of holies), the library, and one worshipper. And now a church sign.

(via the Church Sign generator via Neatorama)

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Celibacy is not hereditary

I can see this Cool Church Sign generator producing a ton of hoaxes out there on the intarwebs (wait for some more). This saying, "Celibacy is not hereditary", used to be on the sign board of a restaurant called B. Rathbone in Norristown, PA. I resurrect it in honor of them.

(via Neatorama)

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"Secret" Homeland Security hotline plagued by telemarketers.

Poor Ruth Ann Minner, Governor of Delaware, keeps getting calls from telemarketers on her "secret" Homeland Security Hotline phones. If you only expect the hotline phone to ring when it is a Homeland Security emergency (or the police commisioner from Batman, or Nikita Khrushchev) and what you get instead is a solicitation for changing your long distance service, I expect that can be a little disconcerting. Maybe after a while you stop answering the phone. From the article:
"Every time that phone rings, it's telemarketers," grumbled Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, whose secret homeland defense hot line sits in her office, ringing occasionally with offers of time share condominiums and great deals on long distance.
"I wonder about the security of that line," said Minner, noting that other governors have reported similarly unwelcome intrusions on the hot line phones that are supposed to ring only in the event of a national catastrophe.
The governor asked that all of the phones be put on the Do Not Call Registry. One wonders why the secret Department of Homeland Security phonelines are not so secret. Could someone remind us of why are these guys in charge of our security again?

(Make your own batphone, learn about the cold war hotline, which Khrushchev never actually got to use, and wasn't always a telephone)

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Chloride, AZ not just for chemists anymore

As a chemical engineer, I just had to stop and take a picture of a town sign with Chloride emblazoned across it. Although it seems the perfect town for the chemical or chemical engineering minded, the name Chloride does not recall the acid in your stomach, or the worse half of table salt (the better half would be the positive sodium ion, Na+, get it?), but silver chloride which was mined there and created the town in the first place. Learn more about Chloride, AZ here, or about chloride, the ion, here.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Petroglyph Supernovas

John Barentine presented pictures of a petroglyph in the White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Arizona which he claims is a historical record of a supernova from 1006 AD. He suggests that the Scorpion symbolizes the constellation and indicates the part of the sky in which the petroglyph artist saw the bright supernova. The scorpion is on left top of the picture and the eight pointed star at the right represents the supernova.

On a horseback riding in Utah, back in 2002, I took some pictures of pictographs (painted on rock instead of incised in the rock like a petroglyph) which look more like Von Daniken's aliens and alien spaceships than astronomical records.

Here is an enigmatic picture of two men. Or is it two aliens? Here is a closeup of the left one, complete with snake (or squiggle), and eerie bulbous eyes.

Close up inspection shows some little people they both seem to be shepherding along between them.

This man, or shaman, or god, has two snakes on either side, and a strange monkey like shape worshipping one of the snakes. Is there a petroglyphist in the house to help with interpretation?

This series of figures in Temple Wash Utah is slowly breaking away from the wall, and is now missing the top half. Many of the petroglyphs are at risk from this kind of decay.

The piece of a spiral to the left of this figure may have been a target for a sliver of sun shining through a crack in the rocks that only lined up at a particular time of year, producing a crude solar calendar.

For some of the interpretation I references "Canyon County Prehistoric Rock Art" by F.A. Barnes.

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