Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Flying over St. Louis

Meet me in Saint Louis? Don't bother, I am not there anymore. This is a new (but still crappy) Treo shot out the window of the plane. Can you see the Arch in the middle of the picture just abovethe arena? I can't either. I promise it was there.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I will never be president!

I failed miserably at this presidential quiz. I have a knack for picking the wrong answers it seems.

THE PRESIDENTIAL QUIZ: Just how presidential are you?

Ouch! Sorry to shatter your dreams, kid. Maybe you should spend more time working on your jump shot.

Score: 15% (3 out of 20)
(take the quiz here)

Test your own mettle against the vagaries of presidential politics and behavior. I liked the explanations at the end. As I was taking the quiz I realized the questions were from real situations and I couldn't decide if I should answer my own opinion about what was appropriate or what I recalled happened to the president involved. I answered honestly, since it was a quiz to determine if I had the skills to be president. The answer? No.

I don't feel to bad, the average score after over 6000 takers is 25%.

(from Mental Floss via Neatorama)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Won't somebody please think of the books!

I wept when I saw this news item on SFsignal. The town of Longueuil in Quebec threw out 500,000 used books after they were confiscated from a condemned used book store. They claimed to have not found anyone who would take them. No library or school or other used book store? I will, I will. This is a tragedy and painful for a bibliomaniac like myself.

Too late they are gone, they weren't even recycled.

We can make amends to the book gods, though. This weekend there is a great used book sale at the Concord Mall in Delaware sponsored by the American Association of University Women Wilmington, DE Branch. The Book Sale runs February 22-25, 2007, through Sunday. I happen to know that Sunday will be a bag of books for $5. I have already found a ton of science fiction, science and history books for my too large collection. I want to take them home and take care of them before something horrible happens to them like the story above.


Synchronicity strikes again, this time linking several vampire related activities, I guess they got jealous of the zombies.

1.) Recently finished reading another Scott Westerfeld novel The Last Days, the sequel to Peeps. In Westerfeld's world vampirism is caused by a sexually transmitted virus (mostly just kissing). The virus gives you enhanced abilities, but not just for its own sake, the new vampires represent an immune system for the entire human race. Immunity against what? You will need to read the books to find out. In the sequel we meet a new bunch of hip teens and tweens, some of which are infected and some not, but they all just want their new band to make it big. It turns out their songs are very important for the coming battle.

2.) The author of Behemoth (from the Rifter series), Peter Watts, has a new novel out called Blindsight, that I haven't read yet, but it is on the way. The novel continues in the same dystopian literary universe as the Rifter Series. I found out from the website, which contains background information supporting the new novel. One of the characters is apparently a vampire of sorts. This is explained in a very entertaining powerpoint presentation describing the research that went into finding the genes, that, when activated, create a vampire.

The powerpoint is a scientific/marketing presentation on crack, with a cheerful amoralism in which the Canadian accented voice over narrator pokes fun at laws restricting his research even as he enthusiastically relates the story of the atrocities committed to discover the vampiric genes. The presentation claims we all have pieces of these genes that when expressed incompletely reveal themselves autism, savantism, sociopathy, and superior strength. Their suggestion for the name of the new Homo species created by activating all of the genes, Homo sapiens whedonum (an homage to Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon). And that's just one character in the book, I can't wait to read it.

3.) Last week's episode of the Office was entertaining as always with Micheal Scott asked to give a talk at Ryan's business school class. A side story had a bat flying loose around the office. Jim spoofs Dwight by claiming to have been bitten by the bat and then starts to display all of the symptoms of vampirism - fast healing, burned by garlic and crucifixes, aversion to light. Dwight never dealt with him in the episode, I wonder if we will get a conclusion in the next or if the joke is done. One of Dwight's best lines: "If a vampire bat was in the US, it would make sense for it to come to a 'sylvania." (the show is set in Scranton, Pennsylvania). Coincidentally, but obviously, Joss Whedon directed this episode of the Office.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tool use from Chimpan "A" to Chimpanzee

Recent archaeological evidence suggests that chimpanzees have been tool users for over four thousand years. The researchers found stone hammers used to break open nuts. The earliest European record of tool use by chimpanzees is from the diary of Duarte Pacheco Pereira, a Portuguese explorer in Africa in 1506. Besides tool use and their obvious intelligence, chimpanzees are very closely related to humans genetically. Technically, chimps, humans, orangutans and gorillas all fall into the classification of the great apes. The taxonomic diagram has humans and chimps quite close.

I remember reading in the science fiction novel "The Terminal Experiment" by Robert Sawyer that in the future described in the story, chimpanzees and other great apes had finally been reclassified from genus pan to genus homo due to the mounting DNA evidence of their close relationship to humans. This reclassification had given them rights closer to humans than to animals. From the novel:
"It took thirteen years but eventually their declaration came to be argued at the UN. An unprecedented resolution was adopted formally reclassifying chimpanzees as genus Homo, meaning there were now three extant species of humanity: Homo sapiens, Homo troglodytes, and Homo paniscus. Human rights were divided into two broad categories: those, such as entitlement to life, liberty, and freedom from torture, that applied to all members of genus Homo, and other rights, such as pursuit of happiness, religious freedom, and ownership of land, that were reserved exclusively to H. sapiens."
Thus in the book you couldn't kill chimps for scientific experimentation or imprison a chimp in a lab. The protagonist wanted to test his Soulwave detector on a chimpanzee, he waits for one to die of natural causes for the test, the cows in the book weren't so lucky. Good thing that it turns out that cows don't have souls, at least according to the book. Robert Sawyer even has a little vignette on his website about a future lawsuit to guarantee these rights to chimpanzees. This is not just fiction, there is a real life group trying to get such a declaration passed.

The topic of breeding more chimps for research is in the Jan 26th issue of Science. The NCCR, the National Institute of Heath's National Center for Research Resources is deciding whether to continue breeding more chimps for research or to abandon the program. At current rates assuming no further breeding, there will be no chimpanzees in the US for research by 2035. Some studies that need younger chimpanzees are already suffering because the population of chimps available is aging. The scientific community is very divided on the ethics of invasive testing on chimpanzees but even non-invasive studies will need a population of chimps in the future.

These musing on the treatment of our close species relations also have implications for other smart animals, like dolphins, and whales, and maybe even parrots. Should there be rights for animals based on their intelligence? Is rights the correct word? Perhaps there should be a gradation of freedoms based on intelligence as suggested above. Intelligent animals get a right to life and liberty, only humans get to own property and vote. How to protect the rights of these animals when even humans don't treat their own kind that way is left for another discussion.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Don't do what I tell you - a paradox.

The other day I exclaimed, "Don't do what I tell you!" "Don't do what I tell you" is a paradox along the lines of "I am a liar" (Epimenides or Cretan paradox). If you don't do what I tell you then you are doing what I told you (by not doing it), but to not do what I tell you you must do what I tell you and so it goes around.

These types of statements were the inspiration for the title of this blog, "The Honest Hypocrite". Hypocrites say one thing and do another, but if I admit that I say one thing and do another then I really am correcting what I say to what I did so I am not a hypocrite, am I. But I just said I was, and so it goes around and around.

Set theory can produce a similar contradiction, Russell's Paradox: The set of all sets that do not contain themselves as members. Russell discovered this paradox while working on Cantor's theorem which was important in understanding infinity and may have driven Cantor insane. Thus these statements are important to mathematics and can be dangerous in and of themselves.

These types of results led to the celebrated Godel's Incompleteness Theorem which says that you can never create a complete and consistent finite list of axioms, or even an infinite list that can be produced by a computer program. Each time you add a statement as an axiom, there will always be other true statements that still cannot be proved as true, even with the new axiom. Those paradoxes above will still pop into your mathematical theorems or your life, no matter how hard you try to avoid them or fix them.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This is your brain on drugs

Remember the anti-drug commercial with the egg in the pan? "This is your brain," before picking up a frying pan and adding, "This is drugs." He then cracks open the egg, fries the contents, and says, "This is your brain on drugs." Finally he looks up at the camera and asks, "Any questions?"

This guy has reversed the sequence and gotten a tattoo of his brain on drugs with a side of sausage on the top of his head. I often have breakfast on my mind but this is ridiculous.

(via Exploding Aardvark)

First leggings, now pantyhose for men!

I was concerned that men's fashions were getting weird when it was claimed that leggings would be the new thing. Now Gerbe in Paris has produced a line of pantyhose for men "due to increasing demand from male clients". Frogsmoke is as disturbed about this as I am.

I am not sure what I would need these for, at least the leggings were proposed as a comfortable substitute for pants or sweatpants. Perhaps the pantyhose or "feel-good knee-high hosiery" are "made to help drain toxins and massage tired limbs".

The new fashion "trends" make it easier and easier for me to ignore them because they stretch the bounds of credibility to irrelevance. I'll be saying this right up to the point that I am wearing these things just because everybody else is doing it.

(via Neatorama, and Frogsmoke linked above)

Delaware windpower proposal in the works

The News Journal reports that a company, Bluewater Wind, has proposed a wind farm six miles off the coast of southern Delaware to generate electricity for the region. The 200 turbine farm would be one the largest of its kind in the world and the first of its kind in the US. It is planned for completion in 2012.

I think this is a great idea for all of the obvious reasons that wind is a renewable resource and doesn't generate carbon dioxide and this diversifies the sources of power for Delaware. The area is ideal for the project with steady winds and shallow water. The project will be the best way to demonstrate the viability of wind power on this scale as long as Delaware taxpayers don't get hit with the bill if it doesn't work out. A commenter warns us that Delaware HB6 would allow energy providers to get the taxpayers to pay for these stranded costs if the project can't pay its way.

There are the regular objections in the article and the comments. Some are concerned about the effect on wildlife, the sea life during construction and birds during operation. The builders report that the sea life generally returns after the building disruption is over and turbines spin slower on these than previous technology, so the birds are probably safe. There are some not in my backyard (or in my beach view) protests but simulations show that the towers will be barely visible from the shore if at all. From the Bluewater Wind FAQ - "Turbine visibility would be about half the height of your thumbnail, and about as thin as a toothpick."

There are comments calling for solar power instead. I have never understood why solar and wind are an either or proposition, building wind turbines prevents no one from putting in solar power on their roof. It is actually good idea to do both since they are often complimentary, sometimes the wind blows when the sun doesn't shine and vice versa. Either of these seems like a reasonable alternative to continuing to build traditional fossil fuel power plants and keeping all of our eggs in one basket so to speak.

The project is still in the proposal stage, but since the legislature has required that 10% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by the year 2018, one or another of these projects must eventually come to fruition.

(the photo example is Danish wind turbines near Copenhagen from Wikipedia.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Squirrels follow after the raccoons

The area around my house on Shellpot Creek is a wonderland for grey squirrels due to the trees and whatever sustenance the squirrels glean from them. The snows have lately allowed me to document some of their activities due to their tracks, but mostly they scamper from tree branch to tree branch much too quickly for my rudimentary photography skills to capture. At least I have actually seen the squirrels, I only know about the raccoon from the tracks.

About 15 inches separate one track from the next.

What you see in the tracks is actually the hind feet in front of the front feet from the way the squirrels lope along.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Morning ablutions and driving don't mix!

I have already suffered through the horrors of watching women put on makeup, men shave and other morning private bathroom activities performed while driving. I haven't seen anyone showering in their car yet, just give it time.

This guy gets caught shaving and driving and loses his license because of it. My problem with it I stated succinctly some time ago:
"Yesterday I got to watch a guy shave as he drove into work. Doesn't he care about all of the little shaving bits of stubble dirtying up his car or the shirt he is wearing? I was more than a little turned off by his public shaving."
Form the article about our current offender:
"The court heard how police officers saw him drive past their patrol vehicle as he used an electric shaver on his face and crane his head to look in the rear view mirror."
His excuse is the funniest part:
"Hutcheson, who had previously worked on accident investigations with the police, also claimed he had been leaning across the car at an awkward angle so he could see past a dozen mannequins he had stored in the back of his car."
I don't even want to know what that is all about.

The offending driver is a health and safety inspector and claimed he was late to give a first aid course. I can only imagine that defensive driving courses are a lot different in the United Kingdom than in the United States. Maybe some of my readers can comment if this is so.

China fails to pick up its Space Junk

China's recent destruction of a satellite with space weaponry has produced more space junk for all. I discussed this issue in a previous note last year (The sky is not falling - orbital debris threatens satellites) based on an interesting article in Science describing the threat to orbital facilities - communications satellites, weather satellites, telescopes and space stations - from space debris. The debris comes from pieces of the spacecraft breaking apart, from collisions and from old spacecraft themselves.

One of the authors of the Science article, Nicholas L. Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA, recapitulates his advice for dealing with the problem. He suggests deorbiting old satellites or destroying debris with ground based lasers and implicitly adds a new suggestion - don't actively blow up or test weapons that create large amounts of debris. The fear is that enough debris will create a chain reaction and destruction as impacts break apart satellites and add to the debris field, creating more impacts, etc.

The graphics produced by the New York Times to illustrate the danger are what I would have produced with the satellite data from the Union of Concerned Scientists from this post combined with the debris data from above if I had the infinite time and resources that they have (only in comparison to me). The charts are informative. I like to think that my approach preserved more scientific information about the orbits while the NYT's approach was prettier.

Now that the Chinese have blown up a whole satellite, it seems silly to worry about that golf ball in orbit stunt now doesn't it?

I must also mention the deleterious effect this worrying about space debris is already having on the astronaut corps.

(NYT article found by Slashdot)

(alternative post title - Whatcha gonna do with all that Space Junk? All that Space junk inside your trunk. )

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Homunculi visit the Shellpot Creek

I spotted these tracks in conveniently frozen slush this morning. The tiny hand prints indicate that at least one homunculus has visited this area and may be preparing for something. Note the five fingers, one of which is clearly a thumb. Imagine my excitement at some real alchemical activity in my yard.

I took close-ups of two consecutive sets of tracks. Here is the second set.

There are about 16 inches from set to set. This indicates a creature that is about a third the size of a normal human. Perhaps it is Homo Floriensis. Or some thing that is familiar with the correct stud spacing in walls.

The frozen slush preserved 8 sets of tracks.

Further research suggests these are probably raccoon tracks.

The thumbs on a raccoon are not opposable but they do really make it look like they have little hands.

(homunculus picture in the alchemical test tube above is from my Life Science Library book "Matter", 1963, pg 21)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is there a wedge between Delaware and Pennsylvania?

The title wedge is cartographically speaking as opposed to argumentatively speaking. Technically the answer is now "no" since that was all cleared up in 1921.

Strange Maps and Mike's Musings take on the weird border between Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland over a few posts. I know I have bored many a group at a cocktail party with the trivia that Delaware is east of the Mason-Dixon line (The border is the lesser known North-South running line besides the one familiar as the southern border of Pennsylvania).

Also interesting is that the western boundary of Delaware is not exactly a straight line, some of that famous 12 mile circle pokes the border out into Maryland a little. Whereas for me this map stuff is more of a hobby, Mike has turned it into a career.

On a side note, I seem to have fallen off of Mike's Musings Delaware blog list. I wonder if I haven't been "Delaware" enough, talk to much about stuff that has nothing to do with Delaware (which is a lot of things) or said something to offend. I've been here for 16 years, I could pass as a native for a spy mission to another state if you need me to. We all have to stick together if we want to avoid an unSeparation Day.

(this shameless ploy did work for Galaxy Girl).

(notes: Separation Day, June 15, 1776, was the day the colonial General Assembly declared Delaware an independent state, I know that you all didn't know that)

Bible quiz or cultural literacy - you decide

Of course I am a bible wiz (and humble too):

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

...we get pieces of it read to us every Sunday at church and I went to Catholic school for 12 years. Beyond that, the Bible is an important piece of literature for Western civilization and even if you don't believe it, as literature it has influenced many other works of art and literature for thousands of years. So if you are well read you know the stories and the answers to the quiz.

(found at Gazizza)

MoMA has the Van Gogh

One of the more popular paintings that the Museum of Modern Art in new York has is the painting The Starry Night by Van Gogh. This was at least eveident by the constant crowd of art appreciators gathered around the painting. I was excited to see the Van Gogh with my own eyes (if necessarily through the glass on the painting). Van Gogh did cut off his ear lobe, but there is a lively debate as to why and what medical condition caused him to do so.

here is the list from Wikipedia, all of these have advocates and naysayers:
I myself am a big fan of Acute Intermittent Porphyria because it sounds so cool.

How do you pronounce that name anyway? van go? van gawff? The dutch pronunciation is not "f" but more of a guttural h. It sounds pretentious when you pronounce it differently from everyone else in the English Speaking world (especially if you speak English). Or perhaps we should pronounce all names the way they are pronounced in the language of their origin. God help the Welsh!

Biden puts his foot in it

Everyone has now heard of Joe Biden's comments about Barak Obama, here is Wonkette's take on it.

What is much funnier are the comments on Wonkette and other outlets about Delaware. Here's a good one:

"Biden's racist in that well-meaning-but-still-inadvertently-racist-grandma kind of way; that 1950s "well, for a black man, he's done pretty well" patronizing kind of attitude.

Then again, he is from Delaware, where everyone, black or white, is perpetually filthy, dissheveled, and addicted to meth."

I am not sure if Delaware needs the kind of spotlight that our Senator is causing to be shined on us. We are more comfortable with lawyer murderers and teenagers abandoning babies in dumpsters. I think Wilmington has a high crime rate for a small city too.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy Groundhog's Day

Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow today so Spring is "just around the corner", a safe prediction in these days of global warming and building climate catastrophe. I misread the Yahoo story today and thought something more exciting had happened. From the first line:
"A new pair of hands pulled him from his stump this year..."
I though it said the new pair of hands pulled back a stump! Serves him right for disturbing a hibernating animal.

Remember to read the sacred text and watch the sacred movie today.

Snow and Ice on the Shellpot Creek

It doesn't seem to snow lot in Delaware this year so much as early and often. Last evening brought another batch of the white stuff and a coating on the ice already on the creek. Here is a shot facing up the creek.