Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yet More Writing Advice: A Blogfull

"Revising the Novel - Writing Groups" (June 24, 2008) and "Revising the Novel - Writing Groups part 2" (June 24, 2008) are the two most recent entries in MY WRITING LIFE - "Tips, techniques, strategies and aids I've learned along the way towards becoming a successful novelist. Getting an agent, query letters, publishing, promotions, writing and revisions, tears and joys will all be shared as we head down this path together."

If all you see are those words in front of a cool graphic on a quill pen and inkwell, don't worry: the posts are below the fold. Just scroll down.

The advice in those two posts seems sensible enough: and the blog has been updated fairly often, so this could be a resource to skim through now, and stop by again, later.

I'm Not Making This Up: French Soldier Accidentally Shoots 15 Civilians

  • "Shooting demo uses real bullets, injures 16"
    CNN (June 29, 2008)
    • " PARIS, France (AP) -- A military shooting demonstration in southeast France on Sunday left 16 people wounded, including children, when real bullets were used instead of blank ones, officials said.
    • "Four of the wounded were in serious condition, including a 3-year-old child, Bernard Lemaire, chief of the regional administration in Aude, said on France-3 television. Fifteen of the injured were civilians....
  • "French shooting show injures 16"
    BBC (June 29, 2008)
    • "...A Defence Ministry official said the incident occurred during a demonstration of hostage-freeing techniques at a barracks in Aude.
    • "The soldier who fired the shots has been detained. It is not clear why the wrong ammunition was used...."
  • "16 wounded including children during French military shooting demonstration"
    International Herald Tribune (June 29, 2008)
    • "...No information was immediately available about what kind of weapon was used.
    • "The soldier who fired the shots has been detained, Lemaire said. He said the injuries were likely an accident but that it could have been a 'criminal act.'..."
No word yet, as to whether the French military will re-evaluate it's hostage-freeing techniques.

This Product's Name Got My Attention

"Cherry Blossom Branch Lights"

Costs £16.00, and looks nice.

Still: Cherry? Blossom? Branch? Lights?

Someone has Something Good to Say About Google

"Google Public Relations" (June 25, 2008)

With so much whining on the Web, it's great to see someone share a good experience.

What's even more impressive is that this post is written by the creator of the gBrain extension for Firefox. Turns out, Google asked that the techie stop distributing it.

Some Brilliant And Unappreciated people would have gone ballistic, writing a screed about Big Corporations Always Sticking It To The Little Guy, the Unfairness Of It All, and My Rights.

The developer of gBrain did something radical: communicating with Google.

This is a good look at how to handle a technical issue before it becomes a legal one.

Kudos to gBrain's inventor, and to Google.

Shelving/Desk/Thing: Furniture that's a - Shesk? Delving?

"Shelving Or Desk? by Yoon-Zee Kim"
CubeMe (August 24, 2007)

"This Multi-functional shelf design by Yoon-Zee Kim is a playful and creative piece of furniture. It could be a simple funky shelving or a seating and a desk...."

It's also a chair, as the photo shows.

Quite imaginative design: Although it wouldn't go with some decors.

WALL-E: 'It's the Seven Hundredth Anniversary of Our Five-Year Cruise'

In the company of my son and oldest daughter, I have seen "WALL-E."

It won't replace Shakespeare, but it's a very good movie.

You probably know the basic story line of the Disney/Pixar release by now: An automatic trash compactor gets left behind when humanity leaves Earth; WALL-E and his pet cockroach meet EVE, a high-end robot on a secret mission; WALL-E falls in love.

WALL-E is a movie with A Message: Don't Litter. Recycle. Be careful with the environment. Also, don't live a strictly online life of chatting on the couch, or you'll become like the passengers and captain of the Axiom, floating around on their anti-gravity lawn chairs.

The Message of WALL-E is delivered with all the subtlety of a pile-driver: but in a fun way.

One of my favorite lines in the movie are the captain's "We've got to go back...I don't want to survive, I want to live!"

A good story: and ultimately, an optimistic one.

(Click on the lower right corner of this widget: There's an alternate background.)

My son got one of those free watches they were giving away for the first few showings.

He's rather pleased with his. Although it's far from the highest-quality time piece, it does have a band that's embossed with the likenesses of WALL-E and EVE.

Finally, WALL-E is dedicated to Pixar storyboard artist Justin Wright, who made quite an impression in his 27 years of life.

And Now, for Something Completely Different:
A Novel about Space Battles, Fearsome Dinosaurs, Middle School Teen Angst, and More

"Home > Spanish Language Educational Materials > SECRETS OF THE SURVIVORS (paperback), a novel by Mark L. Eastburn"

This is a page from an online catalog. The book sounds a bit florid, but interesting.

"Product Description
SECRETS OF THE SURVIVORS (paperback), a novel by Mark L. Eastburn
A great book for adventure lovers of all ages!

"Epic Space Battles! Fearsome Dinosaurs! Middle School Teen Angst! Elementary School Squabbles! Brazilian Martial Arts! Courageous Frogs! It's All In There!...

"...An explanation of the price: It may seem a little high, but this is a limited edition, 400 page book. It may quickly rise in value as the book gains in popularity, and we will keep a record of each purchase to prove that each signed copy that you buy is authentic!"

(There you go, DrBurst.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Cambridge Austin Seven: At Last, the Truth Can be Revealed!

The year was 1958. The place, Cambridge. The mission, to place an Austin Seven on the roof of the Cambridge University Senate Building.

For fifty years, the identity of the team who took on this mission was unknown, except to themselves (and, possibly, a Dean of Cambridge).

Now, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, their story can be told:

"Revealed after 50 years: The secret of the greatest-ever student prank"
Mail (June 27, 2008)

"It was probably the most ingenious student prank of all time.

(from the Mail, used w/o permission)

"In June 1958, Cambridge awoke to see a car perched at the apex of an inaccessible rooftop, looking as if it were driving across the skyline."

"The spectacle made headlines around the world and left police, firefighters and civil defence units battling for nearly a week to hoist the vehicle back down before giving in and taking it to pieces with blowtorches...."

Hats off, by the way, to that one-time Dean of Caius, the late Rev Hugh Montefiore, who publicly denied any knowledge of the team's identity, but sent a case of champagne to their staircase.

With photos, and a diagram to show how it was done.

Don't Never Use These Words: Really!

"10 Words to Avoid When Writing"
Precise Edit

Well, most of the time.

"Writing is a combination of art and craft. The art comes from lots of reading, talking, thinking, dreaming, and writing. The craft is primarily technique. Some techniques are complex, but a few are very simple and will instantly strengthen your writing. In many cases, however, strengthening writing simply means avoiding those things that weaken it.

"We have identified 10 words that nearly always weaken writing. In no particular order, they are as follows.

"1. Really: 'Avoiding this word is a really great idea.' Reason: A really great idea is the same as a...."

The basic idea behind this list is valid. However, the first paragraph has words and phrases that I'd avoid in a formal paper: "lots of" and "things," for example.

So: this is a fairly good resource, as long as you don't take it as an absolute guide. There are times when an author would want to break some or all of the rules listed, particularly when writing something with a conversational tone.

Architecture Meets Physics: The Skyscraper and the Pendulum

"728 ton pendulum"
The Long Now Foundation (June 25, 02008)

"In my research of large pendulums for the 10,000 Year Clock I came across the beautifully designed tuned mass damper in the Taipei 101 tower. Basically really tall buildings are themselves massive pendulums, as they are built to sway in the wind and earthquakes. However very tall buildings in earthquake zones need something to dampen this motion...."

Illustrated, with a video.

Pretty good discussion of an important tall-building issue.

Large Hadron Collider - Huge Research Tool

CERN's big underground research tool, the Large Hadron Collider, will go online in August of this year. There's a lot to look forward to:
  • The Real
    "The Large Hadron Collider "
    • "The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the miniscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe...."
  • The Imagined
    "Scientists: Nothing to fear from atom-smasher"
    Houston Chronicle (June 28, 2008)
    • " MEYRIN, Switzerland — The most powerful atom-smasher ever built could make some bizarre discoveries, such as invisible matter or extra dimensions in space, after it is switched on in August.
    • "But some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists' wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth? Or spit out particles that could turn the planet into a hot dead clump?
    • "Ridiculous, say scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French initials CERN — some of whom have been working for a generation on the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC.
I've posted about the LHC before: I'd say that today's LHC article has more complete and accurate content. The others do have cool photos, though.


Paintable Wallpaper?!

"The Paintables Wallpaper Collection from Graham & Brown"
Design Public

Isn't all wallpaper paintable? The point here is that the wallpaper has a sort of embossed pattern that's intended to be painted over.

Rings of Saturn - Postcard From a Robot

"Perspective on Saturn"
NASA / JPL (June 27, 2008)

"The ringed planet sits in repose, the center of its own macrocosm of many rings and moons and one artificial satellite named Cassini. Mimas (397 kilometers, or 247 miles across) is visible at upper left. Although unseen in this view, Enceladus (504 kilometers, or 313 miles across) casts its shadow upon the planet. The rings also...."

More discussion of the photo, plus a mutedly spectacular picture of Saturn, taken on the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Purse Snatcher Picks Wrong Victim

"Purse snatcher smackdown."
YouTube (August 14, 2007)
video 0:12

She got her purse back, and apparently decided not to risk an extended dispute with the thief.

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's Safe: Really! Home Shopping Blooper

"Home Shopping Ladder Blooper"
YouTube (July 9, 2007)

video 0:56

I have to give the guy credit: no matter what happened to him, he kept telling viewers how safe and reliable the ladder was.

Water Jets, Circuit Boards, and Creativity Result in Art

"Waterjet and Abrasivejet"

"A few days ago, some friends of mine from Microsoft stopped by with some junk X-Box circuit boards. So, we stuck them under the machine, and cut them to bits...."

Photos and commentary show what how some ingenious sculptures were made.

Nikon, Big Things and Small Things, and Things In Between


A pretty good media show about the size of things. It helps if you've got a good computer and a wheel on your mouse.

And that's about the size of it.

New Sign, Old Joke

Gary's Weather Forecasting Stone

A funny photo of an old gag.

Waterbeds for Cows: Udder Bliss

Waterbeds for cows. No kidding.

The bovine beds boost production. Plus, the cows like them.
  • "Cow Waterbeds Boost Milk Production" (March 18, 2008)
    • "BAINBRIDGE, Ohio (AP) - Happy cows produce more milk. That's why Bill Timmons has put 200 waterbeds in his barn.
    • "The Geauga County farmer says he spent nearly $40,000 doing it, too.
    • "Crazy? Timmons says far from it. He says daily milk production jumped more than 20 percent after just two weeks of the cows relaxing in their new beds...."
  • "Cows on Waterbeds?"
    FOX News Blogs » On The Scene » Jeff Goldblatt (June 27, 2008)
    • "... Today, is one of those dirty days. The location: Green Bay, Wisconsin. The place: a dairy barn. The story: cows that sleep on waterbeds....
    • The rest of this post tells about dairy farmer Alan Tauscher and how he got 500 more gallons a year out of his 250-head herd by installing waterbeds in the barn. That was about six years ago.
    • The idea is to make the stalls more comfortable for the cows. They're less stressed, and more likely to lie down: which is good news, since when cows lie down, more blood flows through the udder. And that means more milk is produced.
  • Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.
    • "Advanced Comfort Technology, Inc. partners with local dealers throughout the world in providing sales, service and installation of Dual Chamber Cow Comfort Cushion, Wave Comfort Traction Belting and the ACT Manure & Feed Alley Scrapers...."
I know: it sounds crazy. But, it works.

Another Dubai Skyscraper: This One Spins

"The spinning skyscraper of Dubai"
Times Online (June 27, 2008)

"Another week, another skyscraper is announced in Dubai. However, the Dynamic Tower, designed by the architect David Fisher, is quite different. The 420-metre tower, with an hotel, offices and flats, is permanently on the move: each of its floors can rotate 360 degrees.

"Fisher, who is married to a descendent of William Shakespeare, ...."

Very cool architecture.

Related posts on Apathetic Lemming of the North:

Van Gogh's Starry Night as a Digital Mosaic, with Hippo

"Van Gogh - Starry Night"

"This image is a photomosaic of the famous painting 'Starry Night'. The image is made with over 210.000 tiny photographs and a total size of over 1.500.000.000 points in other words it is a 1.5 Gigapixel Image. Click over the image (Zoom In) until you start to see the tiny images."

Sure, it's a gimmick: but it's also a pretty good look at a great painting.

Until you get close enough to see the hippo, that is.

Stormchaser Photos

Extreme Instability

Photos by stormchasers.

Thumbnail of the home page photo:

(from Extreme Instability, used w/o permission)

Very cool photos of storms. Wallpaper and print sales available.

Quite a site - and sight.

A Drip, but Not a Drippy Photo

"A Splash of Color"
dpchallenge (December 8, 2002)

I thought this was computer graphics, but no: it's a photograph. There's a pretty good selection of data about how the picture was taken, for you serious photographers.

Very Cool Photos

Very cool photos from ANTILIMIT, creative imagery by Eric M. Gustafson.

My favorite is what the artist calls "Coy Pond." I'd have said, "koi pond, but that may be a 'tomayto, tomahto' thing. (The fish sure look like 鯉, but I'm not sure that they're 錦 鯉: that may be the joke.)

Where's the Other Side of the World? Find Out!

"Tunnel to the Other Side of the Earth"
Free Map Tools

"Have you every wondered which part of the other side of the earth is directly below you? No, neither have I, but you can find out using this Tunneling Tool."

Not very practical, but a lot of fun. If you like that sort of thing. Which I do.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oops: Pilots Overshoot Runway by 359 Miles

"Plane overshoots Mumbai as both pilots go to sleep"
Times of India (June 26, 2008)

"MUMBAI: An Air India Jaipur-Mumbai flight flew well past its destination with both its pilots fatigued and fast asleep in the cockpit. When the pilots were finally woken up by anxious Mumbai air traffic controllers, the plane was about half way to Goa.

"This nap in the sky took place about a fortnight ago on the domestic leg of a Dubai-Jaipur-Mumbai flight — IC 612 — which had about 100 passengers on board. 'The plane took off from Dubai at 1.35am IST and then from Jaipur at 7am. After operating an overnight flight, fatigue levels peak, and so the pilots dozed off after taking off from Jaipur,' said a source...."

"...Every aircraft has its own exclusive code. When the ATC uses this high frequency communication system — which it does very rarely and only when other communication draws a blank — a buzzer sounds in the cockpit. Jolted by the sound of the SELCAL buzzer, the pilots woke up and brought the plane back to Mumbai safely...."

Mumbai aerodrome's general manager said that what we've got here is failure to communicate. (Sound familiar? It should, if you follow American movies.)

I say, thank God for redundant systems. And alert traffic controllers.

More, at "Report: Sleeping Pilots Overshot Airport by 359 Miles" FOXNews (June 26, 2008).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Now You and Your Cat Can Have Spy Sunglasses!

"How To: Spy Sunglasses!"
metacafe (January 8, 2008)

The title would make more sense if it read "How to Make Spy Sunglasses," since it has nothing to do with spying on sunglasses.

Grammatical pedantry aside, this video is fun to watch - if you have geekish tendencies - does a good job of describing how to make a set of recording video-and-sound sunglasses: and ends with a clip of a cat wearing the glasses.

How To: Spy Sunglasses! - More amazing video clips are a click away

A Cat, a Roll of Toilet Paper, and 40 Seconds

"Cat attacks the toilet paper"
Canned Pets


Cat meets toilet paper roll, with predicable consequences.

Hat's off to whoever made this video. It's funny, and gave me a much-needed laugh today.

Have You Heard the One About the Young Professor...

"The Young Professor"
Jokes at (undated)

"A student comes to a young professor's office hours. She glances down the hall, closes his door, kneels pleadingly...."

This joke doesn't turn out the way you might think.

And, as a recovering English teacher, I liked it.

"Stop the Oppression of Intelligent and Self-Aware Beings" - Who Could be Against That?!

I am not making this up.
  • "Spanish parliament to extend rights to apes"
    Reuters (June 25, 2008)
    • "MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.
    • "Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.
    • " 'This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity,' said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project...."
    • "...Keeping apes for circuses, television commercials or filming will also be forbidden and breaking the new laws will become an offence under Spain's penal code....."
  • "Spanish MPs push for apes' rights"
    BBC News (June 8, 2006)
    • "Spanish Socialist MPs hope to persuade parliament to back a landmark project seeking human-like rights for apes such as chimpanzees and orang-utans.
    • "Campaigners say the intelligence and self-awareness shown by apes mean they deserve rights to life, freedom and protection from torture.
    • "Parliament's support would not be law, but would mean a commitment to the work of the NGO, the Great Ape Project.
  • press release [numbered by this blogger, for clarity]
    Great Ape Project (March 22, 2007)
    1. "Beginning a movement that may propel Spain as a leader in animal welfare, the Balearic Parliament has recently announced its approval of a resolution to grant legal rights to great apes. The Balearic Islands are located in the western Mediterranean Sea, near the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, and form one of the Autonomous Communities of Spain The Islands are one of the most popular holiday destinations in all of Europe
      Deputy Margalida Rosselló presented the Balearic Parliament with the resolution early last summer, requesting a declaration of support for the mission of the Great Ape Project, International - to legally grant great apes freedom from torture, mistreatment and unnecessary death. This resolution has also been presented to the Spanish Government and is expected to be considered this summer after being deferred due to unrelated political issues last year. According the Pedro Pozas, Executive Director of Great Ape Project, Spain, 'the decision of the Balearic Government to approve this Proposal, makes it a world-wide leader in the protection of the great apes and their habitat, as well as in the support of their rights.'
    2. "Opponents cite concern over granting 'human' rights to animals. However, supporters are quick to point out that the resolution approved by the Balearic Parliament and proposed to the Spanish Government does not seek to grant great apes the same rights available only to humans. The proposition simply recognizes basic legal protections supported by biological and scientific evidence that great apes, like human children, experience an emotional and intellectual conscience similar to that of human children. For years, the scientific community has widely recognized that great apes experience intense emotions such as fear, anxiety, happiness; can independently solve puzzles and create and use tools; recognize the past and plan for their future; and can learn to communicate in and unilaterally teach a different language to their children.
    3. "By declaring its support of fundamental rights for great apes, the Balearic Parliament has taken scientific evidence to the next level by establishing a legal recognition that these creatures are conscious, self-aware beings that should not be tortured, abused and neglected. The efforts by the Balearic Parliament to stop the oppression of intelligent and self-aware beings who cannot speak for themselves is an important step in the political arena of animal rights...."
      [emphasis mine]

Let me say first that I think baby chimps are cute, and that I don't torture animals. In fact, I'm rather glad that American states have 'animal cruelty' laws on the books, and that there are controls on animal experimentation.

I suppose I'm a hypocrite, though, by some standards: I do swat mosquitoes, and like fried chicken.

The Great Ape Project, by the way, uses the acronym GAP: cute, yes?

That Great Ape Project press release had me going, through paragraphs 1 and 2. (I numbered them, to make it a bit easier to refer back to those monumental masses of words.)

Paragraph 3, though, is where GAP loses me. Sure, apes act a lot like human beings. So do squirrels and dogs, for that matter. When I'm in a certain mood, a discussion of who gets which tree among squirrels, and a C-SPAN broadcast of legislative discussion don't seem all that different. Although I'll grant that the politicos are much more sedentary.

But, "conscious, self-aware beings"? I've read articles about the research. I know about Washoe, and Koko, and the other furry friends. I think it's a fascinating study. I also think that some of the researchers desperately want to believe what GAP does.

I'll finish with this thought: The next few decades aren't going to be boring.

Sneezing, Coughing? Itchy Eyes? Have I Got a Website For You!

Allergy Action Plan

"The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America presents your Allergy Action Plan.

"Allergy Action Plan will help you recognize your seasonal allergy symptoms so you can prevent and treat allergies safely."

Looks like a pretty good website, with pages devoted to FAQs and resources: and a self-screening tool.

I found out about the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America through an ad that said, in part, "you can learn how to recognize, prevent, and treat allergies. You can even sign up for free e-mail alerts to learn when allergies are peaking in your area."

I'm a little more interested than most people, in this sort of thing. Quite a few of my family are sensitive to this, that, or the other common substance. And, on top of that, there's a major street project going on in our front yard.

"Jessica's Law" Under Fire in Massachusetts

This is a distinctly un-apathetic in this post.

"Jessica's Law" is named after a Florida girl who was kidnapped and buried alive, with a stuffed animal, in a trash bag, by a sex offender. She died before help arrived. State after state has made "Jessica's Law" their own.

Some seem to have a harder time accepting it than others.

I can see why. "Jessica's Law" is quite harsh, by some standards. For example, it would require a 20-year sentence for the rape of a child under age 12: with no wiggle room for a compassionate judge.

Massachusetts State Representative James Fagan is doing his best to protect his constituents from what he sees as a harsh, draconian law. When he's not protecting Massachusetts citizens in the state capital, he's a defense attorney.

Here's what he's promised to do, if any of those alleged kid victims try to hurt his clients: "I'm gonna rip them apart," he said. "I'm going to make sure that the rest of their life is ruined, that when they're 8 years old, they throw up; when they're 12 years old, they won’t sleep; when they’re 19 years old, they'll have nightmares and they'll never have a relationship with anybody."

The Boston Herald's article on Massachusetts' Solons was much too proper and polite to print Representative Fagan's passionate words. Another Boston news service wasn't quite so inhibited, and aired a video of the worthy representative's statement:

video 1:29

The video is also available on the news service's website, with additional written content: "Outrage Over Rep. James Fagan's Comments" (myFOX Boston (June 17, 2008).

I have a great deal of respect for the efforts of those who set up America's legal system. As what happened to the Duke lacrosse team showed, it's vital to have protection for the accused in a criminal case.

On the other hand, I think that there should be serious sanctions against people who have kidnapped a little girl, raped her, and buried her alive in a trash bag. Even if she did live in a trailer.

I'm with Jessica's dad on this one. "Why doesn't he figure out a way to defend that child and put these kind of people away instead of trying to figure ways for defense attorneys to get around Jessica's Law?" Mark Lunsford fumed, slamming recent remarks by Rep. James Fagan. "These are very serious crimes that nobody wants to take serious. What about the rights of these children?" ("Jessica’s Law dad blasts Mass. rep" Boston Herald (June 24, 2008))

"Blasts," "fumed:" Is it just me, or is the Boston Herald portraying Mark Lunsford as an overly-emotional fellow. It's clear that Mr. Lunsford isn't the best-educated person around, as evidenced by the grammar in his statement, "...that nobody wants to take serious."

The article quoted Fagan's pithy comment on Jessica's Law: It's "knee-jerk" legislation and said "every time the Legislature has named a law after somebody, it has been a failure."

To the Herald's credit, the article also cited some opposing views.

So far, 33 states have enacted some form of Jessica's Law. My home state of Minnesota isn't one of them, and somehow I suspect that the state of Massachusetts may not be one, either: at least, not for a long time.

There's more about Jessica Lunsford's legacy at the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation.

I should warn you, though, that the Foundation has some rather definite views. They're pushing federal legislation that should suppress the rape and murder of children in America. I've indulged myself, by putting the main points of the proposed legislation first in the way I think it will be attacked, and then more reasonably.

Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. In brief this legislation will:
  • Invade the privacy of American citizens
    • Create a national public sex offender registry
      • Giving the public better and more uniform information about sex offenders
      • Letting all communities benefit from the same kind of information
      • Requiring states to list all, not just some, sex offenders on their web site registries
  • Impose draconian limits on judicial decisions
    • Give consistent sex offender requirements in all states
      • Stopping sex offenders from choosing from a diverse selection of state requirements to avoid registering
      • Requiring that sex offenders be registered before they are released from prison or three days after a sentence of probation
        (what a concept!)
  • Subject former sex offenders to harsh restrictions
    • Make failure to comply with registration duties a state and federal felony
      • Improving the law enforcement's ability to track sex offenders when they move
      • Reducing the number of "missing" sex offenders in the system
      • Requiring sex offenders to verify registration in person to law enforcement rather than by mail
        (Scary, isn't it?)
  • Establish a Big Brother network
    • Change the way law enforcement handles missing child reports
      • Establishing that reports must be entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center within 2 hours
        (Remember: this is the Information Age)
      • Prohibiting the removal of missing child reports when the child turns age 18 and is still missing
  • Criminalize free speech and expression
    • Make it harder to run online kiddie porn services, and reduce the amount of online child abuse
      • Increasing the number of Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces across the nation
I hope that state legislators will give Jessica's Law and its variants due consideration, molding it to their state's needs.

As for the federal legislation, I certainly don't want a "knee jerk" reaction: one way or the other. Each of the points should be carefully considered. There are real concerns, as well as the all-too-familiar fears, about tracking American citizens, imposing limits on individual action, and attempts to control free expression.

On the other hand, children have been raped and murdered who would be alive today, if more attention was being paid to protecting non-rapists, and a little less to maintaining the freedom of repeat offenders.
More, at:
Update (June 27, 2008)

CNN noticed Rep. Fagan's remarks, and put together a video:

Glass: A New Look at an Old Substance

"Metallic Glass Could Revolutionize Aircraft Structure"
FOXNews (June 24, 2008)

" Scientists have made a breakthrough discovery in the bizarre properties of glass, which behaves at times like both a solid and a liquid.

"The finding could lead to aircraft that look like Wonder Woman's plane. Such planes could have wings of glass or something called metallic glass, rather than being totally invisible.

"The breakthrough involved solving the decades-old problem of just what glass is.

"It has been known that that despite its solid appearance, glass and gels are actually in a "jammed" state of...."

This is an exciting development in materials technology: and a fascinating look at our current state of knowledge about glass: a substance that's not a solid, not a liquid, but is - glass.

Has the Sun Found Cosmic Acne Cream?

"Sun goes longer than normal without producing sunspots"
Astronomy Report (June 10, 2008)
Has the Sun Found Cosmic Acne Cream?
"The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites.

"That's good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of...."

Something I've noticed, in my half-century-plus in this world, is that one of the few constants is change.

Firefox 3 Has Easter Eggs

"Firefox 3 Easter Eggs"
matt-helps (June 23, 2008)

I'm still using Firefox 2, so I can't confirm these. Sounds fun, though.

Geeky Proposal: This Guy Was Thinking

"Geek Proposes To Girlfriend Over Video Game" (April 16, 2008)

Enough said. I think you'll enjoy reading this. The geeky guy was genuinely inventive and creative about his proposal.

Photo Fun

"Can you identify these very clever items?"

"Try to resist moving quickly. Look at each picture, try to determine what it represents, and then look at the answer below the picture."

Each of these (sometimes very retouched) photos is a pictorial representation of a familiar word or phrase. Take it slowly, and try ti figure out what the picture represents: I think you'll enjoy these.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Geek Gift, Funny, But 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

"Yet another device to drive people crazy. Great geek gift!" (March 20, 2008)

"I just got pinged from our geeky friends that there is a new gadget on the block this is a follow up to our Annoy-o-Tron Prank... Here is the Phantom Keystroker (Sounds perverted but is AWESOME!)..."

Here's the gadget:

(from, used w/o permission)

"...This little guy emulates a keyboard and mouse and intermittently moves or types. HOW GREAT IS THAT?..."

For the record, I think the idea is funny.

But, I've worked with technophobes. It's not their fault that they're afraid of keyboards, think that they're computer will explode, catch fire, or is plotting against them. And, they should be treated with mercy and compassion by those of us gifted with powers and abilities far beyond those of humanities Luddites.

In short, I can't recommend using that gizmo to torment some hapless soul, whose only fault was to be born too late.

Mark Twain vs Pretentious Words

"Twain on spelling reform"
"From Mark Twain's Speeches (1910), extracts"
Writing Systems, by Vivian Cook (undated)

"In 1883 … I was scrambling along, earning the family's bread on magazine work at seven cents a word, compound words at single rates, just as it is in the dark present. I was the property of a magazine, a seven-cent slave under a boiler-iron contract. One day there came a note from the editor requiring me to write ten pages on this revolting text: "Considerations concerning the alleged subterranean holophotal extemporaneousness of the conchyliaceous superimbrication of the Ornithorhyncus, as foreshadowed by the unintelligibility of its plesiosaurian anisodactylous aspects.'

"Ten pages of that. Each and every word a seventeen-jointed vestibuled railroad train. Seven cents a word. I saw starvation staring the family in the face. I went to the editor, and … I said, 'Read that text, Jackson, and let it go on the record; read it out loud.' He read it: 'Considerations concerning the alleged subterranean holophotal extemporaneousness of the conchyliaceous superimbrication of the Ornithorhyncus, as foreshadowed by the unintelligibility of its plesiosaurian anisodactylous aspects.'

"I said, 'You want ten pages of those rumbling, great, long, summer thunderpeals, and you expect to get them at seven cents a peal?'... "

The rest of the page is Mark Twain's response to the pretentious linguistic perorations so prevalent in his time.

Before we get too proud of today's efficient language, remember that a penchant for pretentiousness persists: "Do People Understand Your Poems? Does Your Poetry Make Sense? Now You Can Fix That!" (March 21, 2008).

Laser-Cut Mirrors and Other Design Oddities

"max 5000w: how much light would you need?"
the style files (January 4, 2008)

This pastiche of posts starts with "MAX 5000W is a mindful play of extensions in objects and their use by thehomeproject * design studio. What is the value of energy? How much light would you need?"

The previous one, dated January 3, 2008, is "lasercut mirrors by domestic" -

There's more of roughly the same, then "one of a kind products made from vintage tapestries."

Each post seems to have a photo illustration: whoever put this together has a good eye for attractive, if offbeat, design.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Astroid Patrol? Defenders of the Spaceways? This isn't Science Fiction

"Asteroid Gravity Tractor Idea: Funded Study"
LiveScience (June 20th, 2008)

"There’s been lots of powerpoint talk and back of the envelop calculation regarding use of a 'gravity tractor' to deflect an asteroid that might endanger Earth.

"The physics behind the idea is that a spacecraft would position itself near a menacing asteroid and ever-so-slightly pull it off course thanks to the gravitational attraction between the two bodies.

"But now a detailed study of the gravity tractor is underway, making use of an expert team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and CalTech. That's the word from former Apollo astronaut, Rusty Schweickart - now Chairman of the Board and Founder of the B612 Foundation which is dedicated to detecting, tracking and deflecting near Earth objects (NEOs)...."

This idea isn't as crazy it my sound. The physics of using one mass to move another are quite straightforward - Newton worked out the basics quite a while ago.

And, sooner or later, something big is going to fall on Earth. I visited a mile-wide hole in the ground in the American Southwest where that happened, not all that long ago.

So, I'm glad to see that serious attention is being paid to methods of nudging rocks and iceballs out of the way.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Silicone Circuits: a Computer's Engine

"The Silicone Engine" home page
Computer History Museum

This page opens with a reference to 'Moore's Law:' the observation that "Transistor density on integrated circuits doubles about every two years."

"Microelectronic silicon computer 'chips' have grown in capability from a single transistor in the 1950s to hundreds of millions of transistors per chip on today’s microprocessor and memory devices. From the first documented semiconductor effect in 1833 to the transition from transistors to integrated circuits in the 1960s and 70s, this website explores key milestones in the development of these extraordinary engines that power the computing and communications revolution of the information age...."

This page has six photos, illustrating the evolution of one part of information technology from the silicone transistor to the 64-bit microprocessor.

Looks like a pretty good resource for learning about the history of compters and information technology.

Desktop? What Kind of Desktop?

"Stupid Client Quote #6381"
clientcopia (June 10, 2008)

"In 2000, when ADSL connections weren't so diffused in Italy, I worked in the customer care of a TLC company, I helped people to configure their 56k dial up connections, mechanically repeating the same instructions about 40 times per day. But one day I faced a really weird customer. After about 15 minutes of telling him what to do to setup his remote connection, ..."

What comes next is so weird that it's believable.

I wouldn't call the customer at the other end stupid, though. Clueless, certainly, but not necessarily stupid.

(I keep coming back to clientcopia - it's quite a source for the all-too-human side of business.)

Drawing Dragons and Dogs and Cats and Rats and ...

"Draw Dragons, Werewolves, Unicorns, Owls..."

"You can draw a dragon, a werewolf, a unicorn, and more, using the drawing lessons on these pages.

"These lessons are not meant to be copied exactly - they are intended to help you discover your own, creative way of drawing these mythological creatures exactly the way you want them to look.

"online drawing lessons

"These online drawing lessons teach you to draw your favorite magical animals from the Harry Potter books. You can learn about ancient mythology while you draw your very own versions of these magic creatures."

I've seen better instructional materials, but the illustrations and advice are pretty good. And, since they're free, you can't beat the price.

Someone who'd motivated to draw could get something from this resource.

Crabfu R/C Tortoise'Bot: Lots of Fun

"crabfu tortoise robot hits the ground crawling"
technabob (June 21, 2008)

"The guys over at Crabfu Motionworks have been responsible for some weird and wonderful robotic creations over the years, and their latest is no exception.

"The Crabfu R/C Tortoise ‘bot crawls along the ground like a turtle, with a set of 4 sub-micro servos controlling its pokey little legs...."

It looks like a lot of fun, but this is a 'robot' only in a rather wide sense of the word. It doesn't walk by itself: the operator works the legs remotely, using joysticks.

Still, it looks like a lot of fun.

The post has photos, and this YouTube video (3:57):

The Associated Press, Fair Use, TechCrunch, and Common Sense

That didn't take long. I had a post about The Associated Press' odd interpretation of 'fair use' earlier this week ("The Associated Press, Bloggers, Fair Use, and Common Sense" (June 17, 2008)).

I ran into this today:

"AP Violates Own Copyright Law By Quoting 22 Words from TechCrunch"
NowPublic (June 19, 2008)

"Well, this was bound to happen sooner or later. After The Associated Press issued its preposterous decision to charge for 5 word quotations of its stories, the blogosphere was quick to react.

"Now, the tables have been turned on The Associated Press, as internet news superblog TechCrunch (who have called on fellow bloggers to ban all AP content), is 'demanding justice' after the AP quoted a hefty 22 words from one of its posts...."

I think there's a good chance that the AP's goofy demands came from some top executive who:
  • Is a few years older than I am
  • Who has had his secretary answer his phone and do his typing for the last twenty years or so
  • Who has heard of the Internet but never actually used it
As I wrote earlier: "No matter what The Associated Press decides, I'm not too concerned. There are many other news services out there, and I'm pretty sure that most are sharp enough to allow bloggers to send traffic their way."

"Adaptive Reuse" - Smart Use of Existing Structures

"7 Brilliant Building Conversion Projects: Superb Examples of Architectural Adaptive Reuse"
Web Urbanist (June 22, 2008)

"Adaptive reuse used to be a tactic of necessity - people didn't have the time, energy or money to build something new so they made the best with what they had. Today it is a way to stand out, make a statement, go bold and try something completely different. From airplanes, chapels and garages turned into houses to airplane hangers turned into tropical rain forest resorts, the possibilities are essentially endless. Know of other recycled design or amazing architecture projects? Be sure to list them in the comments below!..."

"Brilliant ... Superb:" with an exclamation mark.

The author is obviously impressed. With good reason, I think.

(from Web Urbanist, used w/o permission)
Yes, it's real.

Family has 400 Years of Documents

"Md. plantation attic holds 400 years of documents"
Yahoo!News (June 22, 2008)

" CENTREVILLE, Md. - For four centuries, they were the ultimate pack rats. Now a Maryland family's massive collection of letters, maps and printed bills has surfaced in the attic of a former plantation, providing a firsthand account of life from the 1660s through World War II.

" 'Historians are used to dealing with political records and military documents,' said Adam Goodheart, a history professor at nearby Washington College. 'But what they aren't used to is political letters and military documents kept right alongside bills for laundry or directions for building a washing machine.'

"Goodheart is working with state archivists and a crew of four student interns to collect the documents, which were found stuffed into boxes, barrels and peach baskets...."

That's a rich find: generally, it's difficult-to-impossible to get that sort of information gathered and connected.

Instant Sandbags: This Could Work

"Inventor says he's built a better sandbag Hi-tech plastic shown in Clarksville, Mo. — along with competitor's approach" (June 21, 2008)

"CLARKSVILLE, Mo. - Sitting at the corner of Howard Street and Highway 79 is a plywood shipping crate that inventor Al Arellanes says holds the answer to future battles against floods along the Mississippi River and elsewhere.

" 'It deploys in one second,' Arellanes said of his product, known as RDFW, for Rapid Deployment Flood Wall, and manufactured by Geocell, his San Francisco-based company...."

Looks like a good idea. And, this is a great year for testing the thing. Not that anyone who lives along the Mississippi south of here is likely to see it that way.

Mantis Shrimp: Here's Looking at You

"Do You See What Shrimp See?"
Discover (June 13, 2008)

"The mantis shrimp can pick up on ultraviolet, infrared—and circular polarization.

"What does the world look like through the eyes of a mantis shrimp? It's not a question most of us would think to ask, but a new study has given us the answer: It looks like nothing humans (or any other animals) have ever seen.

"It turns out that these exotic sea critters—affectionately known to the researchers in the study as 'shrimp from Mars'—can see a kind of light that, as far as we know, is not apparent to any other animal on the planet. Not only that, but certain parts of the shrimps' bodies can reflect the same kind of light, creating a signal only other mantis shrimp can see...."

With a photo of these odd-looking creatures.

Pretty good introduction to a very odd animal's weird eyes.

Very, Very Fast 'Shutter' Speed - Photos of a Nuclear Explosion

"1,000,000,000th Of A Second"
Yellow Swordfish (February 14, 2006)

"These photos have been around a long time but I have to thank my son for pointing them out to me. They were taken by the legendary Harold Edgerton in the Nevada desert at a range of 7 miles at 1/1,000,000,000th of a second, at night. These 3 pictures show the first 3 milliseconds of an atomic bomb detonation."

Three photos, more discussion, and a link to another site.

I've seen one of the photos before, but not the other two. Quite remarkable photography and science here.

About Luck, Lightning Strikes, and Family Names

"Lightning CAN strike twice; how people got their last names; more"
Jewish World Review (February 5, 2004) (or, 13 Shevat, 5764)

"Q: What are the odds of being struck by lightning twice in a lifetime? - Eric Fordley

"A: Eric, any discussion of multiple lightning strikes surely must begin with poor Roy Sullivan.

"Sullivan, a Virginia park ranger, survived seven lightning strikes, making him the world record holder. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Sullivan was first hit by lightning in 1942, and was struck six more times over the next 35 years. He was struck in the great outdoors. But he was also zapped in an office, and walking across his front yard to get the mail...."

Most of the column is about lightning strikes, luck, and statistics; and where family names came from. It's the sort of moderately in-depth trivia that I like to read. 'Your experience may vary.'

About that cryptic reference to Shevat: The column is dated in the western-conventional and the Hebrew calendar. There's a pretty good introduction to the Hebrew calendar at "Jewish Calendar" (Judaism 101).

Electric Cars: Those Things Actually Work!

"Elton Baum and His "Green" Golf Cart"
Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette (June 20, 2008)

"When gas went over three dollars a gallon in late 2006, Elton Baum decided to do something about it.

" 'I couldn't keep the price down,' he said with a grin, 'but I could do something about how much I used. Now, I don't go into town with the truck, unless it's for something really big.'

"Even a small car uses some gasoline, so Mr. Baum looked around for an alternative...."

What follows is an excerpt from a weekly paper in the fictional small town of Loonfoot Falls, Minnesota. This is my latest blog project: posts about an imaginary town, showing "small town life the way it never was."

It's fictional, and exaggerated, but the blog will, I think, show a little of what it's like to live in 'small town America,' and - more to the point - be fun to read.

This week's 'golf cart' post gave me an education. Since technical mistakes can ruin a joke, I did a little checking into the state-of-the-art for electric cars and golf carts.

There were times, like the seventies gas crisis (lines at the pump, what we'd call pump rage today, quite a memorable period), when electric cars were being seriously considered.

The enthusiasts would insist that everyone should go electric. Now. Others would look at tortoise-like acceleration, and a top speed well under any known speed limit, and wonder if it wouldn't be simpler - and faster - to walk.

That was then. I didn't find out what sort of acceleration electric cars can manage now, but souped-up golf carts can go over forty miles an hour (over 64 Kilometers per hour), and both range and recharge times are into a practical range.

Here's some of what I found:Finally, the article that got me thinking about Elton Baum and his electric golf cart:

"Man saves gas by tricking out golf cart"
The Daily News (Greenville, Belding and Montcalm, Michigan) (June 14, 2008)

"ROOSEVELT PARK - Go ahead, look all you want.

"He might stand out a bit, but Louis Schaub said driving his electric golf cart through town is worth every penny he isn't spending on gas.

" 'It's a head turner. Everyone looks,' Schaub said of the street-legal golf cart he uses to buzz around town at 25 mph. 'I just continue on. I know they're looking.'..."

This article is worth reading: particularly for a look at how Louis Schaub dealt with seriously behind-the-times state officials.

Although it showed me that an electric golf cart could work in an urban setting, under controlled conditions, I still thought that using a golf cart as a drive-to-town vehicle would be a good start for a joke.

I was wrong: but there's potential for humor in a practical electric cart. I think we'll be hearing more about Elton Baum.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Norman Rockwell: Recognition Through Relevance

"Norman Rockwell Museum"

I ran into the Norman Rockwell Museum's website again today, and decided to revisit this topic. I wrote about Norman Rockwell before ("" (September 17, 2007)).

There's a pretty good "Brief Biography" of Rockwell on the museum's site, and an interactive timeline.

I like the Rockwell quote over his biography:

"Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed. —Norman Rockwell

Drawing from a Reference Photo: a Pretty Good Tutorial


A step-by-step tutorial, illustrated. Looks like good advice.

The author assumes that everyone uses Photoshop, but you should be able to transfer his instructions to whatever graphics program you use.

Despite the ".ru" domain, this tutorial is in colloquial English: American English, I'd guess.

Programmable Metallization Cell (PMC): One Terabyte of Data in a Little Package

"How to fit 1TB of data on one tiny thumbdrive" (October 29th 2007)

"New memory better, cheaper and more efficient than flash

" Scientists at Arizona State University have created a new kind of solid state memory that they say is much cheaper and more efficient than flash. And crucially, because it uses a new kind of nanotechnology, storage capacities will be much higher than anything we have today, for a tenth of the cost.

"The new memory is called programmable metallization cell (PMC) and one terabyte (1TB) USB thumbdrives are said to be just a few years away. The largest commercially available flash drives today are only 32GB in size - 30 times smaller and very pricey...."

Very pricey now. I suspect that I may live long enough to see these things put in cereal boxes.

Nerd Humor: A Little Math Joke

This is nerd humor. You need to know a little math to get it.

Not From Concentrate (used w/o permission)

I think it's funny. And, imaginative.

Niche Search Engines: 100 of Them

"100 Useful Niche Search Engines You’ve Never Heard Of"

They're divided into categories:
  • Extracurricular
  • Quick Answer Guides
  • City Guides and Travel
  • Shopping Search Engines
  • Business
  • Academic and Reference
  • Social Media and People
  • Multisearch
  • TV, Video and Radio
  • Medical Students and Health Search
  • Law Students
  • Metasearch and Megasearch Engines
  • Photos, Images and Visual Search Engines
  • News Searches
  • Jobs and Real Estate
Happy searching!

The Web, Statistics, More Statistics, and Still More Statistics

"Sink or Swim? The Top Moving Sites Of 2007"
Compete (January 17, 2008)

"At Compete we frequently write about monthly traffic volume and site popularity, but the focus is usually on the ten or twenty sites that enjoy monthly visitors in the tens (or even hundreds) of millions. While it’s important to investigate these sites, massively popular domains like Google or Yahoo typically don’t change much in terms of domain-level traffic or rank. Right behind these behemoths, however, a large number of websites battle for the finite resource of consumer attention and the shifting dynamics of this group will ultimately define the future of the web.

"With 2008 now more than two weeks old, it’s a great time to look back at last year and see how the web has changed...."

There's a list of top 20 and bottom 20 growing/shrinking websites from the top 1,000 in terms of traffic. Then, there's some analysis, and finally an offer to get more data - for a price.

KFC Chicken in Hiding!

KFC witness protection program

That's a funny photo.

The Human Calendar: Clever Idea

"The Human Calendar®

This month's image (reduced):

(from the human calendar®, used w/o permission)

Quite a fun idea.

Ernest Hemingway: Words of Wisdom

"Ernest Hemingway’s Top 9 Words of Wisdom"
The Positivity Blog (June 13, 2008)

From "Listen" to "Don’t judge," I've seen much worse advice.

This post is a good read, and worth thinking about.

Assumed Guilty, then Fired and Ostracized: It's Time for an IT Code of Ethics

The problem isn't a new one. "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" is how Juvenal put it, a little shy of 2 millenia back. Judging from what got in the news this week, quite a few organizations should start asking "who watches the guardians?" And, coming with good answers.

I think it's time that IT (Information Technology) departments start behaving themselves.

A man, about my age, lost his job and nearly landed in prison because there was child pornography on the laptop computer that his employer had told him to use.

About a year after he was accused and fired, someone who knew about computers took a look at the laptop. Now, the Massachusetts Attorney General's office decided that he wasn't corrupt, his employer's anti-virus software was.

A spokesperson for the man's former employer, the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA), said, 'We stand by our decision,' a position that wouldn't encourage me to work for that outfit.

The man, whose wife describes him as "computer illiterate," thinks that someone in the DIA's IT department was having fun, and forgot to clean up the laptop.

He could be right. If you thought that someone in Information Technology was snooping around in your files, you could be right. about one in three IT staff make improper use of their special access privileges.

Three news items, two about the Massachusetts kiddie porn debacle, one about what IT staff do with their time and privileges:
    "A Misconfigured Laptop, a Wrecked Life"
    PC World (June 17, 2008)
    • "When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued Michael Fiola a Dell Latitude in November 2006, it set off a chain of events that would cost him his job, his friends and about a year of his life, as he fought criminal charges that he had downloaded child pornography onto the laptop. Last week, prosecutors dropped their year-old case after a state investigation of his computer determined there was insufficient evidence to prove he had downloaded the files.
    • "An initial state investigation had come to the opposite conclusion, and authorities took a second look at Fiola's case only after he hired a forensic investigator to look at his laptop. What she found was scary, given the gravity of the charges against him: The Microsoft SMS (Systems Management Server) software used to keep his laptop up to date was not functional. Neither was its antivirus protection. And the laptop was crawling with malicious programs that were most likely responsible for the files on his PC...."
    • The article includes an interview with Mr. Fiola.
  • "Probe shows kiddie porn rap was bogus" (June 16, 2008)
    • "A child porn possession charge lodged against a Department of Industrial Accidents investigator fired for having smut on his state-issued laptop has been dismissed because experts concluded he was unwittingly spammed.
    • " 'The overall forensics of the laptop suggest that it had been compromised by a virus,' said Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley.
    • "Nationally recognized computer forensic analyst Tami Loehrs told the Herald Michael Fiola’s ordeal was 'one of the most horrific cases I've seen.'
    • " 'As soon as you mention child pornography, everybody’s senses go out the window,' she said...."
  • "One in three IT staff snoops on co-workers: survey"
    Reuters (June 19, 2008)
    • "FRANKFURT (Reuters) - One in three information technology professionals abuses administrative passwords to access confidential data such as colleagues' salary details, personal emails or board-meeting minutes, according to a survey.
    • "U.S. information security company Cyber-Ark surveyed 300 senior IT professionals, and found that one-third admitted to secretly snooping, while 47 percent said they had accessed information that was not relevant to their role.
    • " 'All you need is access to the right passwords or privileged accounts and you're privy to everything that's going on within your company,' Mark Fullbrook, Cyber-Ark's UK director, said in a statement released along with the survey results on Thursday.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not against IT people. In the company I used to work for, I was the IT department for the last ten years.

Ice on Mars: If True, it's a Jackpot

"Mars Scientists: It Must Be Ice " (June 20, 2008)

"Despite recent glitches with NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander on the arctic plains of the red planet, the mission became a resounding success when it found signs of water ice on Thursday.

"Four days ago Phoenix photographed dice-sized crumbs of bright material in a trench informally called "Dodo-Goldilocks." When the probe recently went back to look at the trench, they had vanished. The disappearing act convinced scientists the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.

" 'It must be ice,' said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. 'These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it's ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can't do that.' "

It's likely he's right, but I'd be more comfortable with a chemical test, or an up-close look at the material's crystalline structures. Salt wouldn't evaporate, but some whitish substances might, under those conditions.

On the other hand, this is very exciting news. If that's ice, water ice, that means that Mars has plenty of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen: elements we'll need, if people start living on Mars. What's missing, so far, is nitrogen.

That, and technologies to put those elements together in an appropriate way. But people are working on that.

Wonderful times to be living in. Scary, here and there, but wonderful.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fine Art - "Winter's Cover"

"winters_cover # g8"
Fine Art Innovative Images
by Leland Howard -

A very, very, nice photo. Has the look of a painting.

Very simple scene of a tree and a fence.

Build a Star: for the Megalomaniac That's in All of Us

"Virtual Experiment / Build Your Own Star"
Schlumberger Limited

"Use our star simulator to build your own star! You determine the fate of your star by setting initial characteristics. Then watch as its life story unfolds before your eyes. Here’s your guide to the Build Your Own Star controls and displays. But first, a little background…

"Star Primer

"All stars have a beginning and an end. But their life cycles vary. Some are short lived, while others remain bright for a long time. Some end up as white dwarfs, while other become neutron stars or black holes."

I thought this was fun, although your experience may vary. There's a pretty good primer on how stars work, and are formed.

"Operation Malicious Mortgage" - Law Enforcement at Work, or Some Kinda Plot?

Silly me. I thought that "Operation Malicious Mortgage" was a law enforcement action against people who committed crimes that took about a billion dollars out of Americans' pocketbooks. There are a couple of takes on this, at least:
  • It's a crackdown on people in big companies
    "FBI says it is aggressively probing mortgage fraud"
    Reuters (June 19, 2008)
    • "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Thursday it is aggressively investigating corporate fraud related to mortgage lending, generally involving large corporations.
    • " 'I'm content to say (they're) generally rather large corporations,' FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters at a news briefing. The agency previously had said its probe of potential fraud in the home mortgage industry encompassed 19 companies. It has not identified them...."
  • Is not!
    "More on 'Operation Malicious Mortgage' "
    Los Angeles Times (June 19, 2008)
    • "A few updates on 'Operation Malicious Mortgage,' the Department of Justice name for today's announcement of various recent mortgage fraud prosecutions.
    • "The DoJ's press release, which you can read here, says the initiative involves 144 cases and 406 defendants across the country. Many of the indictments have been previously announced, including four in Southern California. More on the California cases at the bottom of this post.... "
    • "...Analysis: These appear to be a collection of smallish and unrelated prosecutions, but if you bundle them together and give them a name, you can portray them as part of a "crackdown," or, as the Department of Justice likes to say, a 'takedown.'
    • "Relatedly: What is with the need to make every effort into an "Operation"? Operation Malicious Mortgage? A recent California fraud prosecution was called "Operation Homewrecker." I'm quite certain the readers of this blog can do much better in the 'Operation Name that Operation' game. Please send your nominations via the comment button....."
I get the impression that the L.A. Times is suspicious of the FBI's motives and methods in this caper. It may come from being a leading member of the Fourth Estate.

I'm unsophisticated enough to be glad that 'alleged' perpetrators of fraud have been caught, and may, eventually, face some consequences for their crimes.

Green Roofs: a Good Idea

If you had a green roof, back when I was growing up, it meant that you'd let the moss get ahead of you.

It also meant an expensive repair job and, if it really wasn't your year, trouble with city hall: some places are fussy about how home owners keep up their places.

Today, having a green room is a good thing. Not because we've become tolerant of moss on the shingles, but because new technologies have made roof gardens practical - and beneficial.

"Green Roofs / Design Page"
Urban Design Tools / Low Impact Development (LID)

"Green roofs, also known as vegetated roof covers, eco-roofs or nature roofs, are multi-beneficial structural components that help to mitigate the effects of urbanization on water quality by filtering, absorbing or detaining rainfall. They are constructed of a lightweight soil media, underlain by a drainage layer, and a high quality impermeable membrane that protects the building structure. The soil is planted with a specialized mix of plants that can thrive in the...."

With a diagram, a photo, references and links.

Making Sand Sculptures, a Global - Sport?!

Sand Sculptures are a whole lot more than those shoreline sand castles many of us made, back in the day. Here's a sample of what I found, looking for something else:
  • "Sand Sculpture Festival"
    This website is probably about a Sand Sculpture Festival that may have been in the Netherlands.
    • The home page has a cryptic message:
      "17 March 2008
      We are not going to the English Riviera

      "20 February 2008
      We are going to the English Riviera!
    • The "PHOTOS" and "FACTS" buttons lead you to a gallery of photos of sand sculptures, and a pretty good discussion of the theory and practice of sand sculpting.
  • "Annual Sand Sculpture Contest
    Point Reyes National Seashore website, America
    • Their 27th Annual Sand Sculpture Contest is at at Drakes Beach, Sunday, August 31, 2008: Labor Day Weekend Sunday.
    • One of last year's winners:

      (from National Park Service, used w/o permission)

      "2007 Sand Sculpture Contest: Family Group 1st Place Award Winner: Entry #32: The Little Engine That Could, by Jones/Schiltgen Family"
  • "Indian sand sculptor wins top honours at Berlin fest"
    The Times of India (June 14, 2008)
    • Sudarshan Pattnaik won with a very relevant and educational sand sculpture on (what else?) Global Warming.
    • "NEW DELHI: By choosing 'global warming' — the hottest topic in the world today — as the theme of his sand sculpture at the Berlin International sand artists' competition, India's Sudarshan Pattnaik caught the eyes of the public and the jury alike to win the first prize.
      "His 25-feet-tall sand sculpture screamed aloud the impending disaster that the world is going to face from the global warming phenomenon, which has already shrunk a major source of water — glaciers — and changed the weather cycle while raising the sea level."

      (from Yahoo!News & Reuters, used w/o permission)
  • "Sudarshan Pattnaik's global warming sculpture won people's choice prize" (May 31, 2008)
    • Sudarshan Pattnaik used the same theme, with a different sculpture, at the Berlin People's Choice Awards. And won.
    • "Bhubaneswar (Orissa): Noted sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik on Saturday won People's Choice prize at the 1st Moscow International Sand Sculpture Championship held in Russia.
      "The artists from Italy won the 'Jury Choice', while Ireland won the 'Sculptor Choice' prize in this championship.
      "Pattnaik had created 15 feet high Hindu god Ganesh to create awareness among with people on the potential dangers of global warming at the International Sand Championship."
    • apparently, in Odisha Global Warming only has "potential dangers."
Even with all that relevance, I still think making sand castles is fun.

Buildings Where Crimes Were Done: What Happens Next

"Houses of Horror: What Happens After the Crime"
FOXNews (June 19, 2008)

"They are where some of America's most notorious and gruesome crimes took place — the homes where murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy killed or stashed their victims.

"But after the police tape is removed, the bodies are buried and the blood is scrubbed away, owners of homes like those where Sharon Tate or JonBenet Ramsey were murdered must find a way to make the "crime scene stigma" go away. What do you do with your house of horrors?

" 'My advice is to hang on to the property, keep it in use,' said Randall Bell, a real-estate economist who specializes in troubled properties. 'You don't want these properties to go vacant because it tends to amplify the problems and curiosity and negative stigmas.'..."

There's more, including advice about changing the building's address, a few words from the owner of Dearly Departed Tours, and a 'where are they now' look at infamous buildings.

A pretty good, quick, look at what happens to the property where infamous crimes are committed.

Still Looking for 'Planet X'

"Large 'Planet X' May Lurk Beyond Pluto " (June 18, 2008)

"An icy, unknown world might lurk in the distant reaches of our solar system beyond the orbit of Pluto, according to a new computer model.

"The hidden world -- thought to be much bigger than Pluto based on the model -- could explain unusual features of the Kuiper Belt, a region of space beyond Neptune littered with icy and rocky bodies. Its existence would satisfy the long-held hopes and hypotheses for a "Planet X" envisioned by scientists and sci-fi buffs alike.

" 'Although the search for a distant planet in the solar system is old, it is far from over,' said study team member Patryk Lykawka of Kobe University in Japan."

This isn't much of a surprise to me. Oddities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune led Percival Lowell to look for a tenth planet. His successors at Lowell Observatory found Pluto in 1930. It was in about the right place, but turned out to be too small to be the planet they were looking for.

Now, over seventy years later, with more refined equations, computers to crunch the numbers, and new generations of observing equipment, maybe 'Planet X' will be found.

Or, something even more intriguing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Japanese Robot Girlfriend: No Joke, EMA is Here

"Japan makes robot girlfriend for lonely men"
msnbc (June. 17, 2008)

"TOKYO - She is big-busted, petite, very friendly, and she runs on batteries.

"A Japanese firm has produced a 15-inch tall robotic girlfriend that kisses on command, to go on sale in September for around $175, with a target market of lonely adult men.

"Using her infrared sensors and battery power, the diminutive damsel named 'EMA' puckers up for nearby human heads, entering what designers call its 'love mode.' "

EMA can hand out business cards, or sing and dance, too.

The Reuters article has a photo of EMA: and, like so many Japanese robots, she's cute.

I can see EMA, with a little reprogramming, as an assistant receptionist, but: girlfriend?!

More ideas - good, dubious, and strange - at "Better Ideas From ... "

What's RMS, and How do I Avoid it? Or, Learn What the Intenet is, and What it Isn't

"What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else."
World of Ends (March 10, 2003)

"There are mistakes and there are mistakes.

"Some mistakes we learn from. For example: Thinking that selling toys for pets on the Web is a great way to get rich. We're not going to do that again.

"Other mistakes we insist on making over and over. For example, thinking that:..."

There's a four-point list of what the Web isn't, a discussion of what it is, and a plea not to succumb to "Repetitive Mistake Syndrome."

Pretty good reading - particularly since we're still dealing with outbreaks or RMS.

Big Moon Illusion Tomorrow Night

"See a Huge Moon Illusion Wednesday " (June 17, 2008)

"As the full moon rises this Wednesday evening, June 18, many people will be fooled into thinking it's unusually large.

"The moon illusion, as it's known, is a trick in our minds that makes the moon seem bigger when it's near the horizon. The effect is most pronounced at full moon. Many people swear it's real, suggesting that perhaps Earth's atmosphere magnifies the moon.

"But it really is all in our minds. The moon is not bigger at the horizon than when overhead...."

The article explains the illusion, with diagrams, and tells how you can test the size of the moon yourself.

Pretty good 'backyard astronomy' information and advice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Local Customs for Visitors to America: Two Guides

Following up on a question I ran into online yesterday, I looked up two pretty good guides to American customs for visitors to this country:


This is quick introduction to American customs in general, and New York City in particular.

"Tips and Guidelines
Especially for international visitors
Prepared for the 34th Annual Meeting and Conference of COMPUTER APPLICATIONS AND QUANTITATIVE METHODS IN ARCHAEOLOGY / CAA2006 in Fargo, North Dakota.

Don't let the location fool you: this is a good guide. It's a 7-page 'Acrobat' (pdf format) document that can be viewed online or printed. It's a good deal more comprehensive than the New York City guide, and includes details like how American electrical outlets work, and making long-distance calls.

Some of the information is specific to the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area, but most would be useful anywhere in the United States.

The Associated Press, Bloggers, Fair Use, and Common Sense

Good news: The Associated Press learned from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Titanic corporations using their power to squelch commoners isn't good public relations.

In "The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs" (The New York Times (June 16, 2008)), we learned: "Last week, The A.P. took an unusually strict position against quotation of its work, sending a letter to the Drudge Retort asking it to remove seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words."

I get the impression that that's when the bytes hit the router, because on Friday the AP brass had a meeting and decided to change their minds. A little.

Someone speaking for The Associated Press "said that he still believes that it is more appropriate for blogs to use short summaries of A.P. articles rather than direct quotations, even short ones.

" 'Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,' he said. 'It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.'... "

And, later, " 'We are not trying to sue bloggers,' Mr. Kennedy said. 'That would be the rough equivalent of suing grandma and the kids for stealing music. That is not what we are trying to do.' "

Looks like corporate America is still able to learn.

This is a serious matter. I agree with the AP that content creators should have their rights to what they made protected. I'm a content creator myself, as are most legitimate bloggers, and don't want others profiting over what I've worked on.

There are blogs and websites which consist mostly of copy-and-paste. I think that's self-defeating, in the long run. Eventually, readers will catch on and bypass the copiers. In my opinion, anyway.

Meanwhile, until the AP figures out what it wants, I'll keep on quoting excerpts, with links to the original. I believe that this is a win-win-win situation. We all benefit:
  • Me, because I don't have to do the legwork it takes to research news and other original content
  • The reader, since I've done the work of selecting an interesting page online and pulling out a few choice pieces
  • The content creator, since I always include a link back to the original content - and the odds are that the snippets I provide won't be enough to satisfy an interested reader
No matter what The Associated Press decides, I'm not too concerned. There are many other news services out there, and I'm pretty sure that most are sharp enough to allow bloggers to send traffic their way.

Two more things:

Art, Profitable Pretentiousness, and the Emperor's New Clothes

"Art and the emperor's new clothes"
wafflelogue (June 17, 2008)

"Do you ever feel that there is a twilight world full of people who have the Midas touch, who can turn any crazy idea into a money making machine - people who operate and think so differently to yourself as they get about in the jet set gilt clad world, that they may as well be from another planet? I've peered into this world as they conjure up riches out of thin air (or from absolute crappy ideas), and I just scratch my head and wonder how they manage it...."

This post is a bit more strongly-worded than I'd have written a critique on the artsy set's preference for doo-doo and splattered paint over creative work, but I agree.

I've posted about this psychological quirk before: "Do People Understand Your Poems? Does Your Poetry Make Sense? Now You Can Fix That!" (March 21, 2008).

China, Egypt, Iran Lead World in Blogger Arrests

Have you ever thought that there should be a law against criticizing your favorite ideas or people? Places like Canada, America, and England now have 'hate speech' laws that, rightly or wrongly, make it illegal to express unsanctioned ideas.

The leadership in some countries goes a few steps further, making headlines like this possible:

"Blogger arrests hit record high"
BBC (June 16, 2008)

"More bloggers than ever face arrest for exposing human rights abuses or criticising governments, says a report.

"Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

"In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

"More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report."

Having lived and been educated in America, I realize that "hate speech" is one thing, and the right to criticize the government is another. And, that "human rights abuses" can be a very serious thing indeed.

So, two points:
  1. If you're one of the bloggers who risk genuinely harsh treatment from your government, if you express the 'wrong' ideas, my hat's off to you
  2. If you live in a country with fewer restrictions, be careful what you wish for: that 'protective' restriction on expression might not be as good an idea as it seems

Monday, June 16, 2008

Liftbed Does Just That: Futuristic Take on the Murphy Bed

"What’s special about this bed?"
Styleo (March 25, 2008)

"This bed looks like a normal bed, what’s so special about it?

"This is the Liftbed, there is a switch near the bed, which controls the position of the bed....."

This bed lifts itself into a ceiling unit. Presumably, there's some sort of safety feature to keep the bed's occupant from being lifted with the bed. On the other hand, there were quite a few visual gags done in the old movies that involved the Murphy Bed. Maybe we're looking at a device that will re-vitalize the film industry?

Probably not.

Pretty good design, though, and an alternative to the "Murphy Bed."

This self-propelled bed has the advantage of allowing some moderately fancy wall treatment to be visible at the head of the bed, whether the bed is up or down.

On the other hand, since it's motorized, there are probably more things to go wrong in it.

That's Progress!

Cure for Cancer and Energy from the Sea? This Might Actually Work

"Man Cures Cancer and Oil Problem With 1 Invention?"
i am bored (March 26, 2008)

"Man Cures Cancer and Oil Problem With 1 Invention?. Man accidentally discovers an alternative fuel while trying to cure cancer. Too good to be true?"

It's a radio generator build with pie pans. Sounds nuts, but this might work. It also makes salt water burn.

There's more, at " Researcher sets saltwater on fire" (CNN Technology (November 14, 2007)).

Who's on Your Wireless Network? Find Out!

"How to Tell If an Outside User Is on Your Wireless Network"

"Wireless security is very important these days. You don't want anyone stealing your bandwidth or getting into your network to perform malicious attacks on your computer. This is a guide to help you know when someone else is on your wireless network. Since every wireless router is different, this article will discuss the basics and use one of the most popular wireless routers, the Linksys WAP54G as an example...."

Looks like a good how-2 - and a potentially very useful one.
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