Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Overly sensitive radioactivity detectors - no radiation is too small?

As more and more public venues put in radiation detectors in the aftermath of 9-11 and the general terrorist scare, it appears they are catching more patients with residual radiation left over from medical tests than terrorists.

BoingBoing and others are picking up this story as new, but in a post from March of last year I described a personal experience with this phenomenon from when I was in graduate school. It was at the NIST laboratory (complete with nuclear reactor) rather than a public venue with radiation detectors but the humor is the same. From the previous post:
"You must pass through radiation detectors to enter and leave the room where the experiments are performed to make sure that no radioactive material leaves the room for safety reasons. The detectors start by stepping in them or when they detect any radiation, this last property was the source of the fun.

During one of our trips to NIST, where the experiments were performed, one of the group had just undergone a medical test similar to the one of the woman above that involved injecting a radioactive tracer. The sensitivity of the radiation detectors at NIST was so high that this newly radioactive group member could set them off from 40 feet away. His residual radioactivity was so high that he could make you fail the test (proclaimed with loud alarms and flashing lights) while you were in the machine and he was far away. It was great (if a bit geeky) fun."
That recollection was inspired by a story about a woman driving who set off detectors intended to catch mobile radioactive terrorists.

Will someone please do the economics on this stuff: How many false alarms and the costs associated with them are equal to the prevention of the hypothetical attack? Keep in mind that the false alarms are many and the probability of attack is extremely tiny.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

The presidential ticket quiz

Seemingly developed by linking personality traits through seven questions to the myriad number of candidates running for president in 2008, the results of the quiz are especially apt for a Delawarean like myself. Perhaps it checks your IP address and notices its Delaware before it plunks Biden in as your candidate.

You're Biden-Obama!

As Joe Biden, you have been working tirelessly in the same job for seemingly your entire life. You've been able to rise from obscurity to become one of the most reliable and well-known people in your workplace. You have been constantly trying to get promotions for years, but each time the boss just laughs at you and sends you back to your desk. That's not going to stop you from trying again, by golly! This year, you're going to kick that football!

You select Barack Obama as your running mate so he can write your speeches.

Take the 2008 Presidential Ticket Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I don't think this ticket would happen. Has anyone outside of this state (or maybe the Northeast) really ever heard of Joe Biden? Comments anyone?

(found via Tinkerty Tonk)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

MoMA has THE Dali

I had never been to the Museum of Modern Art in New York before, and we were not going to get to spend all day or the several days there as required so we wanted to see some of the most famous works. As we looked around I was star struck (art struck? start struck?) to find that they had the signature paintings of many of the world's most famous artists. I kept referring to them as the painting or the artist.

For instance, MoMA has the Dali, "Persistence of Memory"

I am awestruck. Surprisingly, this paining is very tiny, smaller than a regular 8.5"x11' sheet of paper. It was very detailed and vivid in real life. I am afraid that no picture I take will do these paintings justice.

This is not to be confused with the Dali Llama, which I coincidentally found today. (found here drawn by John).

Am I an art criminal for pairing these two together here? I don't think so, Dali would have perhaps approved, and the whole idea of the current post-modern age is to pair the sacred with the profane, or the transcendent with the banal.

The web helps everyone to be an animator!

The visit to MoMA inspired me to doodle. Drawn pointed to PicTaps, the work of motion designer Masayuki Kido. (They found it through Cartoonist Dave Roman)

I drew my traditional Spike and the magic of the web and a person with some creative programming skills brings him to life. Click on the embedded player above or on this link to see my creation.



There are almost three hundred thousand of these things. Some people would think nothing of a dancing crucifix, Mickey Mouse or other sacred images from our culture, plus other pictures you might see in a stall in the toilet at the bus station and other profane images of our culture (not going to link to those). Put links to your own or your favorites in the comments.

At the MoMA in New York

Yesterday we visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York on the way to pick up a painting. More pictures to come soon.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Snow and a freezing Shellpot Creek today

Overnight snow and temperatures in the teens have started to freeze the section of Shellpot creek behind my house.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

President's visit generates controversy

The title above is an extreme understatement. One of the great new things about the News Journal is that they now have comments enabled for any of their articles, including the one about the President's visit. This brings out a lot of interesting viewpoints. To be honest, it is an open invitation to the kooks, much like the rest of the Internet, including yours truly.

The comments on the President's visit variously ranged from:
  • rants about the war, both pro and con
  • rants about his hypocrisy/necessity to driving/lying/take the train when he was going to talk about reducing energy dependence
  • rants about how he has too much/not enough security surrounding him during the visit
  • rants about how traffic was going to be snarled by the visit (I saw none of this)
  • rants about how the favorite/least favorite local politician was doing/not-doing something about an unimportant/important unrelated topic
  • some completely off topic stuff that would blow your mind.
Case in point, I always thought I knew the conspiracy theories but rj360 has them down pat and actually posts them into forums:
"The Presidents of the U.S. are tools, used by societies that have been trying to create a New World Order for a few centuries. America is the base of the NWO because wars are not fought over here and we are not as influenced by European policy because the U.S. is so far away. The U.S. can also be self sustaining but greed has has created a need to be dependent on other nations. Research organizations like the Free Masons and history on the Knights Templar. Research the differences between which presidents were assassinated or an attempt was made, against those who have done what they have wanted to do. The President of the U.S. has a boss that most people do not know about and it sure isn't the people or any other branch of government. There is no democracy. Democracy is an illusion. Because you can vote doesn't mean that democracy is living."
I need to stop taking my paranoia medication and send it on to this guy. I doubt he would give me his address though, they can use that to send mind control messages to you through your teeth. Too bad tinfoil doesn't work anymore.

The president came to Delaware and all I got was this lousy bunch of links

I had high hopes of at least having pictures of my own of the presidential motorcade going up Delaware Rt 141 to the Experimental Station. But it went by either before and after I looked for it. I didn't get invited to see him at the DuPont Playhouse. It looks like DELDOT even blocked the traffic cameras as the motorcade went by so I didn't even get to see that. What a story for the grandchildren.

As a poor substitute for what would have been some really cool personal pictures, here is an impersonal link to the News Journal article and photos (Arrival at NCC Airport, Xstat, DuPont Playhouse in Wilmington, Troops at NCC Airpot). Darn those professional news outlets, with their resources and press credentials.

Coverage from,, nbc10.

I have to say that is was cool that the president, any president, visited Delaware. Any press for Delaware is good press for Delaware. It's better than murders. But for me getting to see him, close but no cigar. Maybe next election.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Birds splashing in Shellpot Creek

A picture of robins splashing around in Shellpot creek taken not so long ago with the new slightly less crappy Treo camera through binoculars.

Dance Dance away your fines

In the wake of my Dance Dance Revolution party I see that the revolution has spread to the libraries. From The Shifted Librarian:
"...a teen librarian who keeps Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) set up all the time so she can invoke it as need be. For example, if a teen has overdue books, she will dance-off against the person, and if the teen wins, the librarian will waive the fines."
I need to find this library and keep some books too long just for the fun of a dance off. I tried this with a traffic ticket once, I don't recommend it. I have read The Shifted Librarian for years, but I must admit that some submitter to BoingBoing saw this before I did.

Restless Leg Syndrome just the Jimmy legs?

Do you remember Kramer and the jimmy legs from Seinfeld? There is a crippling disease called Restless Legs Syndrome that is stopping Baby Boomers* from having normal productive lives. Luckily the folks at GlaxoSmithKline have come up with Requip, a drug which combats this terrible syndrome.

There are some side effects though. From the website (curiously the statement was a .gif so I had to retype it):

"Important Safety Information

Prescription Requip Tablets are not for everyone. Requip may cause you to fall asleep or feel very sleepy while doing normal activities such as driving; or to feel faint or feel dizzy, nauseated, or sweaty when you stand up. If you experience these problems talk with your doctor. Tell your doctor if you drink alcohol or are taking other medicines that make you drowsy. Side effects include nausea, drowsiness, vomiting, and dizziness. Most patients were not bothered enough to stop taking Requip."

Some stunning revelations:
  • There is a disease called Restless Leg Syndrome
  • There is a medicine for it.
  • Nausea, drowsiness, vomiting, and dizziness were not enough to stop patients from taking Requip, but restless legs were enough to make them take it and fall asleep vomiting.
Inspired by similar observations at Overcompensating. The Mayo clinic has help without medication- get up and walk around for goodness sake. (he says smugly 'til he gets old and gets restless leg syndrome)

*Primary Restless Legs Syndrome most often affects people who are middle-aged and older.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Birthday Snow and some other notable events today

There was magical birthday snow on my birthday today. Here is a shot of the snow covered rocks and tiny waterfall on Shell Pot Creek behind my house.


Today is also the birthday of Rasputin. His claim to fame is that he is unkillable, heals hemophiliacs (maybe), and brought down an entire empire with his antics.

Roe v. Wade

Today is unfortunately associated with extreme controversy in the United Sates because it is the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in the United States. I would like to not have my birthday associated with this divisive topic. I feel especially bad for the 34 year olds today.

Most Depressing Day

Today is also the most depressing day of the year according to Dr. Cliff Arnell of Cardiff University. His equation:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ M x NA

combines the weather, debt (from Christmas shopping), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action to calculate the most depressing day. It seems to fall on this third or fourth Monday in January. The happiest day is June 22nd - damn summercists. I sent those folks at NPR a stern e-mail.

It's crap mathematics, but I fell compelled to report it. I do feel sorry for all you poor saps who have to go through this day without it being your birthday!

Birthday Cake Cliche and DDR

Saturday I reprised my Dance Dance Revolution birthday party and combined it with an open house. Since there was a new version of DDR out (DDR Ultramix 4) I thought it would be time to update my dance moves. Here we have some guests kicking out the dance steps!

Because we were so busy cleaning up the new house for the party, and whirdly was cooking, I had to go get the beverages. I also had to go buy my cake and even get "Happy Birthday Richard" on it myself. Carvel Ice cream cakes are the best but I was going to use the story that the I was the Richard on the cake (true) and that I was going home to eat it all by myself (wishfully true, but shared with guests) right after they were done with it.

My twin sister who was at a fancy Portuguese dinner instead of the party did point out, "You got to have your cake and eat it too". Clever.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ugly Americans

The stereotype of the ugly American traveller has spread far and wide. Our government's foreign adventures are not helping our case either. I daresay I even believe it. When travelling in foreign lands we have often arranged it so we we with groups from England or Scotland because they have a better reputation around the world and that lets us look down our noses at the regular American touristas and touristos. It's really all about pretension.

The kind folks at the State department are trying to help American travellers by providing some useful guidelines, and they are releasing it in the most accessible place possible, Australian newspapers. The rules requires quoting here:

Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller In many countries, any form of boasting is considered very rude. Talking about wealth, power or status - corporate or personal - can create resentment.

Listen at least as much as you talk By all means, talk about America and your life in our country. But also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life.

Save the lectures for your kids Whatever your subject of discussion, let it be a discussion not a lecture. Justified or not, the US is seen as imposing its will on the world.

Think a little locally Try to find a few topics that are important in the local popular culture. Remember, most people in the world have little or no interest in the World Series or the Super Bowl. What we call "soccer" is football everywhere else. And it's the most popular sport on the planet.

Slow down We talk fast, eat fast, move fast, live fast. Many cultures do not.

Speak lower and slower A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive.

Your religion is your religion and not necessarily theirs Religion is usually considered deeply personal, not a subject for public discussions.

If you talk politics, talk - don't argue Steer clear of arguments about American politics, even if someone is attacking US politicians or policies. Agree to disagree.

I think these are good rules for everyday, not just for travel in foreign countries. The suggestions about not talking about religion or politics seem to be something that should be taught at the youngest age and for all occasions. Save that stuff for your friends, not for work, or strangers you meet travelling, or the checkout counter of the grocery store.

Of course as an ugly, loud, brash American I am offended that these obvious rules of politeness are being pointed out to me by a press release spread by Australians, or any foreigner for that matter.

Leggings - the new sweatpants

Recent news from Milan makes the case that leggings will be the new fashion trend for men. They claim we will wear them in public no less. I don't own a pair of these even for private. They look like the bottom of long underwear to me. If the trend will be to wear underwear in public then they are right on with this. I may also be a contrarian: telling me something is a must have is a good way to put me off of it.

I imagine this is a case of "giving up" by wearing sweatpants in public a la Seinfeld. Leggings can be the new sweatpants. Men's fashion is a bit of a misnomer since the bulk of us tend to be slobs anyway. Defining fashion to mean whatever crap one throws on to leave the house is one way to reclaim the fashion landscape.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Columbus Inn closing - locals lack phonebook to find new non-chain restaurant to eat at

Apparently the Columbus Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue is slated for closure, or at least will now be part of a clubhouse for condominiums that will be built next door. Comments on the two related stories (one and two) in the News Journal focus on the loss of a great landmark and a seeming inability to find a non-chain restaurant at which to eat their next meal.

The one or two times I was in the Columbus Inn I remember a rambling building with brunch spread through many different rooms. Those few visits were spread over 16 years of living in Delaware so I would say it didn't make much of an impact. I would be sad if they just tore the historical part of the building down, but they are not going to do that,. Otherwise it left no strong impression.

More humorous is that the commenters feel their next meal will be at Applebies or Stuckey's now that the last non chain restaurant in Wilmington is closing. Some are even bemoaning the loss of Kahunaville and drawing trendline through those two points. I think with a little imagination and a phonebook (the desperate can even use the Dining Section of the News Journal) they might find another good restaurant to patronize. If I wept for every great place to eat that has closed in my life I would be a dessicated shell. All things fade, especially restaurants. Long-lived ones are an anomaly.

My suggestions: Restaurant 821, Deep Blue, Eclipse, Toscana - and those are just in Wilmington. Do any Delawareans out there have a favorite restaurant in Wilmington that isn't mentioned here, especially one that they go to instead of the Columbus Inn?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Poisson not Poison

I remember from French class in high school that it was very important to pronounce "poisson" and "poison" properly and differently in french (pwawssawn and pwawzawn, with hardly any "n" at the end and the second syllable almost clipped), because otherwise you might accidentally ask for poison at the cute little seafood restaurant on the French Riviera instead of fish!

To inaugurate our new HP scanner, printer, copier, etc. I have scanned in some poisson pictures from book plates purchased from a bookseller on the banks of the Seine in Paris some years ago.

Cat gets credit card or owner commits fraud? You make the call.

The Internets are enjoying the great joke of some lady's cat in Australia getting a credit card. Some enjoy the ridiculousness of a cat with a credit card, some the seeming incompetence of the company issuing it. Many takes on the article leave the impression that the bank issued the card to the cat with no prompting. There is much tsk-ing about how the bank should have done the proper background checking before issuing the card.

The real story is that the owner of the cat applied for the credit card in the cat's name. In fact the card was a second one on the same account as the owner. The owner fraudulently created the cat identity and the bank followed its regular procedures and issue the card. Yes, she should have been notified the card was issued, I know that anytime something occurs on my credit card accounts I get plenty of notifications. Yes, the particular bank was fooled by this woman. I probably wouldn't bank with them. But if I was the bank I would go after this lady for putting fraudulent information on the application as a demonstration of how some of their crime prevention systems do work. Too bad they won't -

Although the bank will not be taking legal action against Ms Campbell, the spokeswoman said the person signing the application form should not give misleading or fraudulent information.

"It is also important to remember that for an application to be approved, the customer must sign to confirm the information they have given is true and is not misleading or fraudulent," she said.

She also tried and succeeded with the same stunt with the electric company. They had a much more droll take on the whole thing.

A Red Energy spokeswoman said no responsibility rested with the secondary card holder and there was no problem with having a pet's name on a customer's electricity bill.

"We never intended for people to sign up their pets as secondary account holders but we respect our customers' wishes," she said. "However, we doubt that their pets will be able to take full advantage of the service."

I wonder when she will get some jail time.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Epiphany at Epiphany

The church that I grew up in, Epiphany of Our Lord, in Plymouth Meeting, PA began the celebration of its 50th Jubilee with a mass yesterday presided over by Justin Cardinal Regali of Philaldelphia. It was concelebrated by many priests, some of whom had been members of the parish and then became priests. It was a homecoming of sorts.

The church has been updated in anticipation of the jubilee, but they did retain the stained glass window in the back. The window is in that blocky modernist style with which many Catholics from the 70's will be familiar. With the Star above, three Kings pay homage to Jesus and Mary in the center of the window. If you look closely you can find some sheep and Joseph too.

Epiphany is the feast when the three (or maybe twelve, see Baudolino) Wise Men, Kings or Magi follow the star to find Jesus in the manger. Some trivia - the three kings are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, and their gifts are - gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a lot of good music, such as, We Three Kings, that comes from this feats. It is the end of the 12 days of Christmas. But for Catholics, Christmas isn't over yet until Feb 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

I would have had many more and better pictures of the action if those pesky Knights of Columbus didn't keep getting in the way with their plumes and swords.

The head honcho of this crew got to where a purple (or maybe fuchsia) plume.

We did get to meet and have a pictures taken with His Eminence.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Meet the Artist in Santiago

When we were at the Museo de Bellas Artes we were captivated by the work of the artist Sergio Roggerone set off in a gallery off the main hall. He has a modern style, with an almost cartoony flair yet is evocative of baroque and byzantine religious art.

While we were there (11/17/2006) we wanted to get a program of his exhibit and we copied all of the web addresses down in the seemingly impossible hope of acquiring one of these pieces some day. As we hunted down a program, the woman in the gift shop was monopolized by a group. Lynn found the program and starts frantically pointing at the leader of the group in the gift shop. It was Sergio Roggerone himself! That day was the opening of the exhibit so he was there to see it. We got his autograph and information that purchasing the art was possible ( seems to be defunct, don't bother with that one). I do love the chance to meet an artist or author of works which I admire.

Here is my favorite, a triptych called Madona Intergalactica. It is very three dimensional and Byzantine. Unfortunately it is sold.

La Reina Azul - The Blue Queen.

A mermaid.

There were many other interesting works there which can be seen at his website. Please do pardon the quality of my pictures, I had to sneak them with my crappy Treo camera instead of a good one.


There is a Bender sound board out there. Of course the best one is the evil laugh, it goes without saying.

If you need some Dr. Zoidberg quotes they are also available.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Get ready Jesus is coming.

Overcompensating has been sure to point out an article on Yahoo in which 25% of people surveyed think that 2007 is the year of the second coming of Jesus! Let's hope their apocalyptic fervor doesn't cause them to find ways to hasten the arrival of this event. (Remember you will not know the day or the time, the Son of Man comes like a thief in the night, so stop guessing already.)

Jefferey has a tinfoil hat on, which we all know will not protect him from mind control. I do like the thinly veiled reference to Futurama in the final panel. In the "Parasites Lost" episode, Fry is infected with alien intestinal worms that fix him up and improve him. He gets smarter and better, just like John Travolta in Phenomenon. The crew finally try to get rid of the parasites by travelling inside Fry a la Fantastic Voyage. They do it as as miniature remote controlled robots, instead of being shrunk in a ship.

We can only hope that Jefferey's intestinal parasites are doing him as good a turn.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Madmen from history

Is there ever a time in history when we aren't generating more lunatics and madmen? In case you want to place yourself in context with some of these illustrious crazies Rum and Monkey have provided a helpful quiz.
You are William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, the Fifth Duke of Portland!

Sometime Marquis of Tichfield, Earl of Portland, Viscount Woodstock, Baron of Cirencester, co-heir to the Barony of Ogle and renowned as the finest judge of horseflesh in England, you took the tradition of aristocratic eccentricity to unprecedented heights. Having inherited the stately home of Welbeck Abbey, you proceeded to construct miles of underground tunnels and a ballroom, in pink, beneath it. The ballroom was complete except for one small detail. It had no floor. Despite this vast home, you lived exclusively in a suite of five rooms, each one also pink.

Having been turned down by your opera singer objet d'amour, Adelaide Kemble, in your youth, you suffered a broken heart and never married. This did not stop you from caring deeply about the wellbeing of your servants. Occasionally you would even help them muck out the stables. However, you did not neglect discipline, forcing disobedient underlings to skate themselves to exhaustion on your subterranean skating rink. Servants were given strict instructions regarding conduct: if they met you in a corridor, they were to ignore your existence while you froze to the spot until they were out of sight; and a chicken was to be kept roasting at all times in case you felt like sneaking into the kitchen for a snack.

You became ever more eccentric with age. You built another tunnel, this time to the railway station, through which you would ride your carriage. When you reached the station your carriage, with you inside, would be hoisted up onto the train in its entirety.

Upon your death, your multitude of titles passed to your cousin, who was obliged to delve into your curious domain to find your body once the servants had reported your absence. Entering your private rooms, he found that, aside from a commode in the centre of your bedroom, the only objects in the whole suite were hundreds of hatboxes, each containing a single brown wig.

I never heard of this guy, but I feel like I know him.

Alleluia repurposed from Easter to Christmas

On my old street the neighbors seem to have been escalating their Christmas decorating. For instance the house with the giant snow globe from last year has two. That seems to have prompted the house across the street to add a ton of stuff.

One house has a figure holding "Hallelujah". I always thought that Hallelujah, or Alleluia was more an Easter - "He is Risen!" type of thing than a Christmas - "He is incarnated". Christmas is more Emmanual - "God is with us." Nevertheless this person went to the trouble of cutting out a figure, and applying the lights. The letters look particularly complicated.

I guess the figure is kneeling, but it looks to me like he tripped and fell while carrying some hot Hallelujah over his head. Just be careful when carrying heavy holy words.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Which Science Ficiton writer are you?

I guess us Science Fiction readers are not famous enough to have our own quizzes yet. Instead the exploding aardvark hits the mark with this great quiz about Science Fiction authors.

I am:
Gregory Benford
A master literary stylist who is also a working scientist.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I am pleased to be like one of the Greg's, as I call them. Either Gregory Benford, or Greg Bear would have been acceptable. They are both nicely technical and concerned with the big theories of everything.

Your house location in historical context

I have always been fascinated with what was where my house is before my house was there. The last house I lived in was built on land that belonged to a cemetery. They didn't have to move the bodies, because as far as I could tell they had never buried any on the land.

My current house is a lot younger than that one, but is quite close to another cemetery that has some historical significance for Delaware. In 1687 Valentine Hollingsworth, a contemporary of William Penn, and a early settler of Delaware (then part of Pennsylvania!) donated one-half acre for a burying place, “being some already buryed in ye spot.” The plot was near the Newark Union Meeting of Friends (Quakers).

Valentine Hollingsworth himself is supposedly buried in the cemetery, and there is a monument, erected in 1935, to commemorate him.

The earliest readable gravestones I could find were in the 1800's. I did find a stone in the wall surrounding the cemetery which reads 1787.

The Delaware Geological Survey, headquartered at the University of Delaware has links upon links of Delaware information and also has maps of the Delaware Hundreds. Hundreds are an old way of dividing the state. I found the Newark Union Cemetery on the Brandywine hundred map from the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas of 1868 (.pdf link). Here is an excerpt (the square labelled Cem Union Ch at right).

Having a historical marker as far back as 1687, which is almost as far back as you can go in Delaware, plus the geographical marker of Shellpot Creek right out back makes it convenient when locating the house location through history. I can just imagine Hollingsworth crossing the Shellpot Creek right where my house is now, all those hundreds of years ago.