Monday, November 30, 2009

H1N1 in Canadian Turkey Flock: The System's Working

The headline is scary:

"H1N1 flu strain found in Canadian turkey flock"
Reuters India (October 21, 2009)

"Turkeys in the Canadian province of Ontario have become infected with the H1N1 flu virus, but no birds or eggs from the farm entered the food supply, provincial government officials said on Tuesday.

"The infection poses minimal risk to human health, Dr. Arlene King, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said in a news conference in Toronto.

"However, she noted the discovery highlights the need for those who work with farm animals to be vaccinated for both seasonal flu and the pandemic H1N1 flu strain...."

Looks like Canadian Turkey farms work about the same way their counterparts here in central Minnesota do: with health safeguards that stop short of armed guards, razor-wire fences and killer robots - but not by much.

Of course around here, when we see a sign at the gate that says something like "disease-controlled area: no entry without authorization," we figure that we aren't supposed to go in unless we've got some well-defined reason - and the permission of the owner.

And, we don't go in.

One thing I'll say for the "oppressive" atmosphere of small town America and how it "stifles" people: folks who have grown up in places like this seem to generally have the good sense to pay attention when a neighbor makes it clear that a certain area is really, seriously, off-limits.

But, like everywhere else, there are the occasional jerks and fools.

Back to those diseased turkeys.

From what the article said, it looks like the Canadian system did what it's supposed to: caught a disease outbreak before it hit the food supply.

And, followed up on people who had contact with the birds.

About the turkeys:

"...The turkeys' owner has voluntarily agreed to quarantine the infected birds, but they aren't likely to be prematurely slaughtered, said Dr. Deb Stark, Ontario's chief veterinarian...."

List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

Hammerhead Sharks, 360° Vision - and More

"Scalloped Hammerhead and Bonnethead Sharks Have 360 Degree Vision"
DiscoveryNews (November 30, 2009)

"The old idiom "eyes in the back of your head" holds somewhat true for scalloped hammerhead and bonnethead sharks, according to new research that found these sharks possess a 360 degree field of vision. Virtually nothing can escape their view.

"The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, also helps to explain why hammerhead sharks have such unusual shaped heads...."

The researchers used pickups that detected electrical activity in the shark's eyes. And detected activity in a full 360° range. Those critters can, literally, see what's directly behind their heads.

I was glad to see that the article said "helps to explain why hammerhead sharks have such unusual shaped heads...." [emphasis mine]

I don't doubt that having full-circle vision helps explain their odd head shape, but there's probably more to the function these odd-looking fish's heads. It's not entirely unreasonable to think that they've got 'stretched' heads to help them pick up variations in Earth's magnetic field.

The excerpt from a learned periodical is about as accurate as I've come to expect. The "unique sensory capabilities of the hammerhead" are shared by the platypus and other critters, but never mind that.

The point is that hammerhead sharks are one of the creatures that are able to sense electric fields, and apparently use this for navigation - and quite possibly other purposes.

"...Knowing the unique sensory capabilities of the hammerhead (it detects faint bioelectric fields, which help it find hidden prey), we later surveyed the geomagnetic field around the seamount and discovered that the paths of the sharks coincided with magnetic valleys (intensity minimums) and ridges (intensity maximums) leading away from El Bajo Espíritu Santo like spokes from a hub. These magnetic traces were likely produced by the flow of magnetite-impregnated basalts from the seamount during volcanic eruptions. Taken together, the evidence suggests that this predator, unlike some others, does not congregate at the seamount because it is a biotic hotspot, but because the area provides a network of 'paths' that enables it to find a constellation of productive feeding grounds in the surrounding waters..."

From "Figure 8 / Magnetic_Field_guides_sharks.pdf"
From an article in the January-February 2005 issue of American Scientist,
excerpt hosted by Department of Geoscience, The University of Montana:

Pair of Brown Dwarfs Found: Forming the Way Stars Do

"Clue Found to Origin of Cosmic Misfits " (November 30, 2009)

"A class of cosmic oddballs exists that doesn't fit in with either stars or planets, instead occupying a murky middle ground.

"Known as brown dwarfs, these misfits fall somewhere between planets and stars in terms of their temperature and mass. They are cooler and more lightweight than stars and more massive (and normally warmer) than planets.

"This has generated a debate among astronomers: Do brown dwarfs form like planets or like stars?

"Scientists now have an additional clue – a baby brown dwarf was discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope – that suggests brown dwarfs develop like light-weight stars...."

I get the impression that scientists are a little more willing to admit that they don't know everything - or journalists are getting more savvy. These days, not every pronouncement by an astronomer or other scientist is the sort that inspired me to write "Once it Was Believed / Now We Know." (Don't let the 2003 copyright fool you: that's a re-write of a probably-lost piece I wrote sometime in the late sixties or early seventies.)

Where was I? Brown dwarfs. Hydrogen clouds. Stellar physics. Right.

What's happened is that, now that we've got observatories operating above this pea soup of an atmosphere, astronomers are able to get a better look at what's above the clouds. What they've found is lots and lots of stars.

And stuff that's turning into stars. And, occasionally, into something else. At least, that's a reasonable conclusion.

At issue in this article is SSTB213 J041757. Don't try to pronounce that. It's a catalog number for a "baby brown dwarf."

Brown dwarf? For now, that's what some astronomers are calling objects that aren't dense and heavy enough to support a hydrogen fusion reaction. So, they're cooler than the coolest objects that do have fusion going on inside: the things we call stars.

Planets, like Jupiter, don't have fusion going on inside - and are warmer than their surroundings. But (for now) we're calling Jupiter a planet, and the more-massive things that aren't stars, but aren't orbiting other stars "brown dwarfs."

Partly, I think, because it's easier to say "brown dwarf," than it is to say "object-which-is-insufficiently-massive-to-sustain-fusion-but-still-pretty-big-but-not-orbiting-another-star-but-isn't-a-star-because-stars-are-hotter-and-heavier."

A lot easier.

That Taurus-Auriga complex is something like 150 or 140 parsecs (parallax-seconds) away - 490 or 457 light years.

On a galactic scale, that's pretty close. On the other hand, light from those brown dwarfs started out around the time Henry VIII of England died. The Taurus-Auriga complex isn't exactly close, either.

Actually, what the Spitzer observatory picked up wasn't visible light. The observations were in longer wavelengths: infrared.

SSTB213 J041757 is a pretty big deal, since it's a pair of these "brown dwarfs" that were caught very early in their development. And, it looks like they formed the way stars do.

Which seems to show that brown dwarfs are objects that are essentially like stars, but didn't have enough mass to get fusion reactions going.


"Spitzer Telescope Observes Baby Brown Dwarf"
Spitzer Mission News, NASA (November 23, 2009)

Not-entirely-unrelated news:

"Presto! Black Hole Creates a Galaxy " (November 30, 2009)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Strange Tale of the Paper Turkeys

"Happy Thanksgiving - Stop Motion Video"

MentalLapse, YouTube (November 11, 2007)
video, 1:18

"...Just to answer a few of the questions I've seen:
"We like pumpkin pie so it wasn't wasted, yum.
"It took about 6 hours to take the 380 pictures.
"I don't have that much motivation so the movie's frame rate is from 2 to 10 frames per second but the majority is 6 frames per second...."

I suppose the moral of this video might be, 'never turn your back on holiday table decorations.'

I think this is pretty good return in entertainment value, for an investment of a minute and 18 seconds.

Mars Rover Video

"Mars Exploration Rover 2003"

maasdigital, YouTube (April 12, 2007)
video, 8:59

"Maas Digital created this animation of the Mars Exploration Rover mission for Cornell University and NASA/JPL in 2003. 24fps, Sound Effects Only version."

This is some of the original material used in making a YouTube video I micro-reviewed yesterday: It seems to me that the video quality in this one is higher. On the other one, yesterday's has cool music.

At last! A Video About Meerkats and an Aardvark

"Meerkat Manor - Meerkats Meet an Aardvark"

AnimalPlanetTV, YouTube (May 30, 2008)
video, 1:11

"Little Murray and the girls have never seen a foraging stranger quite like this before. Will they fight or will they run? The Next Generation premiers...."

The video clip I viewed was preceded by a commercial whose volume was set at "blasting." But, after that, I could re-view the meerkat & aardvark footage without giving my eardrums a stress test.

Personally, I could have stood more aardvark and less meerkat in this video: but after all, the show is named after the real-life counterparts of Timon, of "Timon and Pumba."

And, we get a pretty good look at how aardvarks get at the (up to) 50,000 insects a night they like to eat.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mars Rover to Mars: a Video

"mars rover to mars holst the planets"
Cornell, NASA, JPL

thesayerofing, YouTube (April 30, 2007)
video, 7:56

"the popular digital simulation of the mars rover played with Holst's 'mars' from 'the planets'
"'uncanny' is all I have to say"

Animation by Daniel Maas, Maas Digital LLC.
Technical consultant Steve Squyres.
© 2002, Cornell University, all rights reserved.

This is an impressive presentation - although the quality of the image is typical of older YouTube posts. The underlying animation - and quite effective synchronizing with Holst's "Mars" - makes up, I think, for the less-than-stellar video quality.
I've been interested in space exploration for over four and a half decades. In my youth, there was a general assumption that we'd have interplanetary space ships before we'd developed semi-independent robots. In this way, as with many others, "the future ain't what it used to be." (Yogi Berra)

Related post:
  • "Gustav Holst's 'The Planets'"
    Cornell University (October 11, 2008, posted November 16, 2008)
    video, 54:01
    • "The Cornell and Ithaca College Symphony Orchestras performed Gustav Holst's 'The Planets' in its entirety, October 11, 2008 in Cornell's Bailey Hall, under the direction of conductors Jeffery Meyer and Chris Younghoon Kim...."
In spite of the video at the Cornell website being in part camera footage of a screen projection at a live performance, the image quality is agruably better than the YouTube video's. The Cornell video presentation is not exactly the same as the one on YouTube.

The Wobbly Case of the Sozzled Rabbit

"Drunk Rabbit"

crazymt, YouTube (May 11, 2006)
video, 0:45

"This is what happens when a rabbit is drunk. (j/k, came back from the vet and took a shot)"

Funny? I think so: and appealing. At the end of the video, it looks like the little fellow is hopping behind some furniture to 'sleep it off.'

As for the misadventure on the stairs., that would have been serious for a creature the size of a human being, but rabbits are much less massive than we are: and physics is kind to them.
A tip of the hat to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this video.

Thanksgiving Food and the Agricultural-Industrial Complex

"Industrial Thanksgiving: Science Takes Mom's Recipes to the Assembly Line"
Wired Science (November 25, 2009)

"Thanksgiving is about eating, and though local, organic food might be what the cool kids are eating, most people are still eating products of the industrial food system.

"Whether you're talking turkey, cranberries or potatoes, industrial-scale processes have been developed to drive down food costs, drive up corporate profits and feed America's incredible hunger for novel food items.

"But most consumers of these manufactured meals have little or no knowledge of the machines and methods used to freeze turkeys, turn potatoes into fake potatoes, and cranberries into TV-dinner cranberry sauce. It's not always pretty, but food scientists' epic battle to scale up your mom's recipes without making them taste nasty is worth examining, if not giving thanks for.

"Turkey is the most iconic component of any Thanksgiving meal. Extensive breeding programs have seriously genetically altered the birds that millions of Americans eat. The birds have more than doubled in size since 1930 to an average of 28 pounds today. Even though we generally eat them whole, and therefore less processed than other meals, food technologists have developed new ways of freezing turkeys to...."

It's an interesting article, with a fair amount of detail and history of how familiar American Thanksgiving foods get to the table - in large enough quantity and low enough price for most of us to be able to afford some.

EEEK! The Agricultural-Industrial Complex is Behind It!

The article does not say "agricultural-industrial complex." Anywhere.

I get the impression, though, that whoever wrote it was rather thoroughly immersed in the "old-fashioned is better" ethic that permeates so much of the health-food subculture - or was keeping the 'natural is better' people in mind.

As for "agricultural-industrial complex?" You've probably heard of the "military-industrial complex" that some people in America are convinced is the embodiment of all not-niceness, and to blame for most if not all of the world's problems. Well, agribusiness is a pretty important part of the American economy, it's complex, and it operates on an industrial scale. And the AIP phrase sounds so weird, I couldn't resist using it.

Well, maybe I could have, but I didn't.

I've eaten food, fresh from the forest floor: and some of it's pretty good.

But I'm not sorry that most of what I eat wasn't grown on the manor, or that America is a major exporter of food.

And I certainly don't have a hankering for the "good old days," when the elders in my group were appalled at the heathens across the river, who scraped hides with sharpened rocks, instead of just gnawing through them, the way nature intended.

Vaguely-related posts:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Lights: Holiday Lights, Anyway

"42,000 Christmas LED Lights Dance to Coca Cola Holiday Song"

jeffostroff, YouTube (December 7, 2007)
video, 1:15

"Our 42,000 LED holiday lights display with 112 channels from 7 computerized lighting controllers. I act as orchestrater, tell the lights when to turn on or off, fade...."

That's a pretty cool light show. And catchy music.

"Coca Cola Christmas Trucks Long Version"

bizkittoby, YouTube (December 31, 2006)
video, 1:00
"Holidays are comming !!"

No, really: the description read, "comming !!" It's an easy typo to make.

This is one of my favorite Coca Cola holiday season ads: right up there with their 'polar bear' sequence.

What, No Diatribe About the Crass Commercialization of a Holy Season?!

First of all, for me and my house, Christmas is more than 42,000 LED lights flashing on 112 channels from 7 computerized lighting controllers. I'll get back to that - in another post, maybe in another blog.

That said, I don't mind the annual Coca Cola ad campaigns that come during this season. In fact, I enjoy them: There's some serious talent and production values involved there.

And the display is (literally) flashy and fun to experience.

I'll probably find more cool (and, quite possibly, weird) holiday season displays to highlight this year.

Do I think that there's too much emphasis on the commercial aspects of Christmas? Yeah, probably: in America, at least. Other countries I don't know enough about to form an opinion. But hey: you'll get that harangue from someone else, unless things have changed a lot in the last few years.

The holiday display and television advertisement that I've micro-reviewed (mini-micro-reviewed, really - I was positively terse) are, as far as I'm concerned, okay.

Granted,'s logo says "Putting Christ Back in Christmas" - right next to "61,165 Lights, all 100% LEDs!" The website bills itself as "Your Destination for Animated Christmas Lighting Display Advice." I'm not savvy enough on the technical side of lighting displays to tell how accurate that self-assessment is: but the photos they show are cool.

Still, I'll take "100% LEDs!" over the seemingly-unending stream of more-or-less schmaltzy Christmas specials I remember from my childhood and youth. Almost without exception, they seemed to end with something like "and the True Meaning Of Christmas is feeling all warm and fuzzy inside."

That I could rant about: but won't. It's more fun to watch the pretty flashing lights.


Flight 188, Distracted Pilots, and Dangerously Impractical Software?

"FAA Releases Transcripts of Northwest Flight That Overflew Minneapolis"
FOXNews (November 27, 2009)

"New transcripts from the Northwest Airlines flight that overflew Minneapolis show air traffic controllers asking the crew about what happened, and whether they had enough fuel.

"Air traffic controllers asked the Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew Minneapolis repeatedly about what had happened on the plane before the pilots responded, according to transcripts released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The Oct. 21 flight, which took off from San Diego and overshot its Minneapolis destination by 150 miles, had been out of contact for 77 minutes before controllers re-established contact, leaving air traffic controllers scratching their heads...."

After that little incident over northeastern America, back on September 11, 2001, air traffic controllers - and the Department of Homeland Security - get very interested when airliner flight crews go silent and fly right past their scheduled destination.

The article gives excerpts from the transcript, outlining the conversation between the pilots and ground controllers. The gist of the chat, as I see it, was 'are you alone, on the flight deck, and in control of the airliner?'

"...Air traffic controllers ultimately had the pilots perform several turns to verify that they were in control of the plane. It landed safely in Minneapolis, and was met at the gate by police...."

More good news was that Flight 188 still had enough fuel to land.

And, this article says what the pilots were probably doing on their laptops, when they should have been flying the plane:

"...The pilots have told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were discussing their company's complicated new crew-scheduling program over their laptop computers as their plane flew past Minneapolis by 150 miles. Northwest was bought by Delta Air Lines Inc. last year, and the company has been working to integrate its computer systems."

About a month ago, after learning that the pilots had dropped out of communication for over an hour - and been distracted by their laptops when they should have been flying the plane - I somewhat unkindly wrote, "I don't play Donkey Kong while driving the family's van." (October 26, 2009)

I still think that those two were daft to act the way they did, but their behavior makes a little more sense.

From the looks of it, the new Delta-Northwest merger may be run by the sort of clueless executives and managers who infest the Dilbert comic strip. ( Dilbert is an engineer, working in a technology company - and whose manager once used an Etch A Sketch®, under the impression that it was a laptop computer. That manager is a tech expert, compared to the CEOs, who are even further removed - and insulated - from reality.

Granted, the pilots should not have been wrestling with some Kafkaesque 'new and improved' crew-scheduling program.

But this new bit of information suggests that the problem may not be just two pilots whose spiritual home may be somewhere in management. Maybe whoever is running Delta/Northwest needs to consider the possibility that an airline should be interested more in getting people from one place to another, without having interceptors ready to fly up and see what was wrong: and less on implementing dangerously impractical software.

Related posts: More:

"Solar Tsunamis" - Cool Name for Fast-Mode Magnetohydrodynamical Waves

"" (November 25, 2009)

"Incredibly powerful waves of plasma rippling across the surface of the sun and dubbed "solar tsunamis" were first observed years ago, but were thought to be an optical illusion. Scientists have now confirmed, though, that they are really real.

"When scientists first saw the phenomenon, it was hard to believe that a towering wave of hot plasma was actually racing along the sun's surface. One of the waves rose up higher than the diameter of Earth and rippled out from a central point in a circular pattern millions of miles wide, like a gargantuan pattern of waves created by a pebble dropped in a pond.

"Skeptical observers suggested it might be a shadow of some kind – a trick of the eye. But new observations from NASA's STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) spacecraft are telling researchers that this controversial phenomenon isn't an illusion.

"This week, NASA released a remarkable video of a solar tsunami...."

The "solar tsunamis" discussed by the article aren't the sort of oversize water waves we have on Earth, of course - and they're not called "solar tsunamis" either. The waves are called "fast-mode magnetohydrodynamical waves" – or "MHD waves."

The idea that MHD waves were a sort of shadow wasn't as silly as it might seem. The waves were observed in 1997, and that one was associated with a coronal mass ejection - or "CME." Thinking that the wave was associated with - and possibly a sort of optical illusion generated by the CME - wasn't beyond imagination.

On the other hand, it looks like MHD waves now join the ranks of phenomena like ball lightning and thunderstorm sprites: that were "known" to be hallucinations suffered by credulous, unreliable people like airline pilots and soldiers; and now are the subject of learned papers.

I think video cameras helped: Even an acknowledged scientific expert might hesitate before saying that a video camera had been having a hallucination.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe: A Video (or, How to Not Serve Your Guests Roast Wallet)

"Thanksgiving turkey recipe: How to roast a turkey"

HowdiniGuru, YouTube (November 5, 2008)
video, 4:17

"Thanksgiving turkey recipe: How to roast a turkey

Roasting a tender, juicy, delicious turkey for your holiday feast is a skill everyone appreciates. Yet too often, polite guests are offering their admiration while choking on a piece of meat with the consistency of a wallet....

There's a recipe in the "more information" section of the YouTube page: So you don't have to go crazy, trying to make notes while watching the video.

I'm no great cook (I once burned popcorn) - but this looks like good advice, and a fairly painless way to prepare for fixing next year's turkey.

CAUTION! A bird was roasted to a delicious, juicy, golden brown in the production of this video.

Thanksgiving Dinner Around a Ping Pong Table: Humor for the Rest of Us

"Thanksgiving around a ping-pong table"

oscardelrio, YouTube (October 13, 2007)
video, 4:55

"Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends around a ping-pong table! "

An excerpt from one of the Peanuts holiday specials, I enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Sensitive persons of the politically correct persuasion should be warned that the video contains disturbing words and images.1

The rest of us should be able to enjoy watching Snoopy's incredible problems with lawn furniture, and the Peanuts gang celebrating an America holiday.

A mystery which remains unsolved at the end of this excerpt is the nature of Woodstock's wish.
1 For example, blatant gender stereotyping and male-chauvinist-pig oppression of women: Charlie Brown holds a chair for Peppermint Patty, Linus does the same for Marcie. Shocking!

As for the horrific racism implicit in Linus' speech: Maybe sensitive persons should avoid this video entirely.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2006

"Macy's-Thanksgiving Day Parade 06"

wtc3353, YouTube (November 23, 2006)
video, 7:19

"Macy's-Thanksgiving Day Parade 06"

The video was apparently taken by someone at the parade. It's a good way to (virtually) see and hear the parade through the eyes and ears of someone in New York City - without the commercials and commentary that go with the televised coverage.

Look for Big Bird, Dora the Explorer, a Pokemon (I think), Mr. Potato Head - or a near cousin, Ronald McDonald (flying rather low), Garfield (even lower), titanic candy canes: and what I think are the original Macy's parade mascots.

Macy's 2009 parade page, so far, is They change the address from year to year, it seems: but as of today, this one still works. Lively music!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cornish Game Hens: What are Those Tiny Turkeys?

For starters, a "Cornish game hen" isn't any kind of turkey.

And, if you believe the San Francisco Chronicle, they weren't bred before the 20th century.
"Te Makowsky -- original breeder of the Rock Cornish game hen"
San Francisco Chronicle (December 1, 2005)

"Alphonsine "Therese" Makowsky, the original breeder of the Rock Cornish game hen and a pioneer of frozen food recipes, died Oct. 30 at her home in Danville. She was 92.

"Known to her family and friends as Te, she was born in the small farming hamlet of Trois Veveres, France. She lived a fascinating life, moving to Paris as a young teenager, later fleeing the Nazi regime, establishing a chicken farm in Connecticut and coming up with the idea of producing a small, plump bird hailed by gourmets around the world...."
Here's another look at the history of Cornish Game Hens. One that involves Cornwall. That's a place that's not in California. It isn't even in America.
"Cornwall: Its Legends and Legacies" (March 29, 2006)

"...But it's the Cornish hen that my historical meandering has finally led us to.

"Cornish hen is a breed of poultry that originated in Cornwall. According to the USDA, a Cornish hen is a chicken of Cornish ancestry, six weeks of age or younger, and weighing less than two pounds. Smaller than other poultry they have short legs and broad breasts. Their flesh is succulent and they provide a proportionately high amount of breast meat for their diminutive stature. Cornish hens are regularly bred with other chickens to produce a range of commercial fowl. For example, the chicken mogul Donald Tyson created the Rock Cornish hen in 1965 by cross breeding Cornish hens with White Rock hens. Rock Cornish hens tend to be a little larger than regular Cornish hens. And don't be fooled by the word 'hen.' Your Cornish hen may actually be a Cornish rooster...."
Imagine that! Cornish hens originating in Cornwall. What are the odds?

Back to the San Francisco Chronicle:
"...A Saturday Evening Post article from July 1955 credited Mrs. Makowsky with coming up with the idea to breed the Cornish game chicken, a small bird with short legs and a plump, round breast that she had discovered in a book...."
(San Francisco Chronicle)
And, with that image of someone opening a book and discovering a chicken inside, I leave the American newspaper.

It Came From Cornwal

Sounds like the title of a weirder-than-usual horror flick, doesn't it?

Seriously, San Francisco Chronicle notwithstanding, Cornish hens didn't emerge into the world of Men out of a book in America.

The Columbia Encyclopedia says that the breed originated in Cornwall, but didn't hit the big time until American breeders started the sort of massive mass-production that this country is known for. (I don't mind, by the way. I live in America, where food production and distribution efficiencies keep food prices down, and make this country a major food exporter.)

The USDA defines a Cornish hen as a sort of chicken:

"...A Rock Cornish game hen or Cornish game hen is a young immature chicken (usually 5 to 6 weeks of age), weighing not more than 2 pounds ready-to-cook weight, which was prepared from a Cornish chicken or the progeny of a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed of chicken...."

None of which changes the fact that a Cornish hen, on the table, looks like a subcompact turkey.

Yes, Virginia, There are Cornish Game Hen Thanksgiving Recipes

Of the plethora of recipe collections that connect somehow with Thanksgiving, and involve these tiny chickens, I picked the following to highlight. I haven't tried any, but they look - interesting: And, another video:

"Cornish Game Hen Thanksgiving Dinner Recipe : How to Marinade Cornish Hen"

expertvillage, YouTube (October 22, 2008)
video, 1:29

"How to marinade a Cornish hen for a dinner recipe; tips, trick and more in this free online cooking video taught by an expert chef.

"Expert: David Postada
"Bio: David Postada is the chef and owner of the Big Easy Catering company in Santa Barbara, CA.
"Filmmaker: Diana Bacon"

It's like the title says: "How to marinade a Cornish hen for a dinner recipe" - not what ingredients to use, or how to prepare them. Still, useful for showing how to apply the marinade.


Teaching Kids to Spell: Yesterday's Fads, Today's Experts, and My Experience

"Top Twelve Spelling Trends and Fads"
Pennington Publishing Blog (September 24, 2009)

"Spelling instruction certainly has had its share of crazy instructional trends and fads. As an author of two spelling books, a reading specialist, and a teacher of elementary school, middle school, high school, and community college students, I have seen my fair share of them over the last thirty years.

"For example, during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s, California stopped adopting spelling programs and refused to fund the purchase of spelling workbooks. Principals were even encouraged to confiscate spelling workbooks from veteran teachers.

"In the spirit of, I have listed and rated a dozen of the most popular instructional spelling trends and fads over the last thirty years as 'TRUE' or 'FALSE,' in terms of recent spelling research...."

Then there's a list of 12 cool ideas that didn't work out quite the way their fans thought they would. And, a short evaluation of whether or not they were based on fact.

As a recovering English teacher, I recognize a few of the items, like "whole word" spelling. That seemed like a good idea: since good readers and spellers can recognize strings of letters as units - complete words - teach kids to see words that way from the start. Just one problem, the way I see it: recognizing whole words is something a person can do after learning to read and spell.

I'm not sure what I think of "...'TRUE' or 'FALSE,' in terms of recent spelling research." I'm not convinced that "experts" have their heads screwed on straight, just because they published recently.

For example:

"...11. What works for one student to develop conventional spelling ability does not work for every student. Not all students learn how to spell in the same way.

"FALSE Effective spelling instructional strategies work for every student. Differentiated instruction should derive from diagnostic assessment data...."

That "work for every student" doctrine sounds fine - and would be true, if human beings were all identical.

You can get pretty good results by using a technique that works for the 50th percentile most of the time - and labeling the kids who don't learn that way as "trouble makers," "class clowns," or "lazy." It's a little rough on the misfits: but hey, the nice, normal, average kids come through the process just fine.

A Short (?) Personal Digression

Yes, I'm taking #11 a little personally.

I'm pretty good at academics, so my grades only got me into the principal's office once. I've since realized that I've got what I call "trick wiring" in my head, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I also wouldn't wish it on anyone else. It seems to be hereditary - my father was like this, and so are two of my kids. Those two have been known to look at me and say, "thanks, Dad." The way a son or daughter might say, "thanks for making me mow the yard."

During elementary and high school, I learned to stay awake in class, by keeping just enough of my consciousness focused on the teaching process to keep up: and letting the rest of my mind do something more interesting. Like tracking Earth's rotation by observing the movement of the sunlit patch of floor, or thinking about the floor plan of the school, or studying the shape of the lighting fixtures.

And no, that's not "normal."

People seem to feel better when they've got names for things, so I'll share one of the many names for my trick wiring: Asperger's syndrome. I more-or-less fit almost half of the listed symptoms - so there may be something to it.

One of the signs of Asperger's is "Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes". (Mayo Clinic) Of course, that's for children.

As an adult, I still have a range of interest that includes only three things: That which
  • Exists withing the universe
  • Exists beyond
  • Might exist
Spelling wasn't all that much of a problem with me, apart from the usual "i before e" stuff: so maybe there is something to the "one size fits all" approach to teaching spelling, after all.

Back to That Quite Interesting Post

The Pennington Publishing Blog post is a pretty good review of the wonderful and weird world of educational fads over the last few decades - and of what the experts are saying right now.

I'm glad I read it: it was an interesting trip down memory lane, and a confirmation that I made the right decision, getting out of education.

That's Not a Swanie River! That's a Lake

"Way down upon the Swanie River"
Oddly Enough, Reuters Blog (November 24, 2009)

"Blog Guy, you seem to know a lot about nature. Can swans fly?

"No. They can neither fly nor swim.

"What? Hold on, I’ve SEEN swans swimming in lakes and rivers and stuff!

"No, you've seen swans, which have very long legs, PRETENDING to swim. Mostly, though, they prefer to travel by boat...."

(from Reuters/Christian Charisius, used w/o permission)

It's not so much that they prefer to travel by boat, really. A bit at the end of this post explains that Olaf Niess - he's the dark-colored one in the photo - is supervising Hamburg's swans - they're the ones with the long necks - in an annual routine they all go through. Winter's coming on, you see, and - well, actually, there isn't really an explanation given.

There is, however, a fairly redolent play on words.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Gerbils of the Caribbean"?! Trailer For a Fake Movie

"'Gerbils of the Caribbean'"

HeyHow, YouTube (June 6, 2007)
video, 2:10

"Trailer for our fake movie.
"An Epic Story so Thrilling, It Could Only Be Told with Gerbils!"

One of the on-screen titles says this is "based on a real idea!" I believe it.

Having seen - or knowing about - the Pirates of the Caribbean movies may help you enjoy this video, but I don't think it's necessary.

Besides gerbils, there are a couple of ferrets in the trailer. And "mega-gerbil."


Swine Flu Vaccine Pulled in Canada: One Batch

"Batch of H1N1 vaccines pulled off the market in Canada despite big pharma conspiracies" (November 24, 2009)

"GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pharmaceuticals notified the Canadian Government that a batch of H1N1 vaccine had to be pulled off the market because of six (6) severe allergic reactions to the vaccine. The batch constituted 170,000 doses of the vaccine, and most of them may have already been administered.

"Several anti-vaccine groups have asserted that "big pharma" is constantly in collusion with other agencies (public and private) to cover-up vaccine adverse reactions. This recent move by GSK over only six people with reactions among thousands (perhaps millions) who have received the H1N1 vaccine seems to disprove those assertions.

"Apparently, "big pharma" is unable to cover-up six cases of adverse reactions and stands to lose millions in both stock and from H1N1 vaccine sales. Did the vaccine watchdogs triumph? Not quite. GSK, like other manufacturers, participate in collecting data on adverse reactions through different means. In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada is in charge of collecting information on any adverse reactions to H1N1 influenza vaccine or any other vaccine. Worse yet for some anti-vaccine groups, most vaccines in Canada do not contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative (not adjuvant) that some groups continue to assert that it causes neurological damage despite continued evidence to the contrary. (Either that, or all studies are wrong.)..."

Oh, I don't know. Someone who has built a world-view around the assumption that shape-shifting, space-alien lizard people are running the world (August 23, 2009) isn't going to let a few new facts change that assumption.

H1N1 Vaccine Withdrawn: One Batch

The Public Health Agency of Canada's and GSK's actions are in the news:

"Batch of swine flu vaccines studied in Canada"
The Associated Press (November 24, 2009)

"Canadian doctors have been advised not to use a batch of 170,000 doses of swine flu vaccine while authorities investigate reports of allergic reactions among recipients, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC said Tuesday.

"Authorities routinely monitor vaccines for any signals of problems, such as the allergic reactions that do occur, rarely, every year.

"Company spokeswoman Gwenan White said that GlaxoSmithKline advised medical staff in Canada last week to refrain from using one batch of the vaccine while they look into reports that that it might have caused more allergic reactions than normal.

" 'One batch has seen a slightly increased rate of anaphylaxis, she said. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening type of allergic shock...."

That is serious: but six cases among thousands - tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands or more - is not a huge percentage.

As the spokesman for Canada's health minister Tim Vail, said, "..."We're not seeing any thing wild or spooky or crazy about our vaccine at all," Vail said, arguing it may have been a statistical anomaly that the reactions occurred...."

But, of course, if Mr. Vail was one of the shape-shifting, space-alien lizard people: that's just what he would say! And, to a dedicated conspiracy theorist, that would prove that the lizard people were real. Or that the Illuminati were really behind the H1N1 pandemic, or that it was all a plot by Jesuit assassins: Or whatever.

And, let's remember that it's GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, the pharmaceutical company that's providing the vaccine, that recommended pulling that one batch. I think it's possible that GSK remembers 1976, and don't want a repeat of that panicky response.

Would I Let My Family Get Vaccinated?

Yes. My son got an H1N1 vaccination at the local school yesterday. I'd have gotten the shot myself, except that the vaccine is being rationed. The school wouldn't have gotten the doses they did, if they hadn't signed an agreement that they'd only give it to authorized people.

Do I think there's a risk? Of course. Life is risky. Crossing the street is risky. The trick is to figure out when the risk is low enough to justify the gain of, say, getting to the other side of the street.

In the case of getting vaccinated against H1N1 2009, once I looked at the information that's out there, it was a no-brainer.

Related posts: List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:

If Your Password is "Password1" - CHANGE IT

"Choose a Strong Password"
Wired How-to Wiki

"Your digital private life has a weak point that can unlock all your secrets: your password. Whether you use a single-sign-in solution like OpenID, or have separate passwords for every account, your accounts are only as secure as your passwords.

"Based on what limited data is available, the vast majority of us choose very poor passwords. A MySpace phishing attack that netted some 34,000 actual user names and passwords, revealed that the No. 1 password was password1...."

Okay: That's scary. The good news is that it wasn't just "password."

The rest of the Wired wiki is split into seven - or eight - sections:
  1. Size matters
  2. Don't rely on the dictionary
  3. Use numbers, capital letters and symbols
  4. Use a Password Manager for websites
  5. Use patterns of the keyboard
  6. Type a sentence
  7. In the Future
    7.1 Mix It Up
I wasn't not sure if we're supposed to take #5 (Use patterns of the keyboard) seriously. But they do say to do more than just use something like "qwerty" - their example involved "bgt5" but included a few other details. For people who can't remember other patterns, but who can remember that sort of thing: it looks practical.

Piece of advice #3 looks good on paper: their example, "@#$@$%#" isn't the sort of thing anybody other than the user is too likely to guess. On the other hand, quite a few websites and services use security software that won't accept anything by letters of the alphabet, or numbers. The advice about using cap/lowercase oddly is good - provided that the security software recognizes cap and lowercase characters as different "A" not being "a," for example.

The advice about not using the dictionary is something I've run into in just about every plausible how-2 and advice article on password security for years. Decades. One word from a dictionary is almost useless against software that has an unabridged dictionary in its code - and runs through it until it gets a hit, or reaches the end of the dictionary.

Bottom line on the article: this looks like pretty good advice. And following the suggestions (but not the specific examples, please) should give fairly secure passwords.

Personally, I'm unlikely to ever use password manager software for my own security: but that's my call.

Almost-related posts:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lemming Tracks: Mars, Stars, and Gerbils

Don't worry: the Lemming will be back to topics like interior design, gerbils, artificial intelligence, and whatever else I find.


Today, I ran across those two articles, on Mars and stars - and figured they'd make a good couple of 'bonus posts,' beyond the three regular daily ones.

That's it for today. The Lemming plans to be back tomorrow, with more.

Massive Stars: Magnetic Fields Involved in Their Formation

"Magnetic Assist Helps Big Stars Form" (November 23, 2009)

"Massive stars in the process of forming likely rely on magnetic fields to steer gas onto their surfaces and help them grow into adults, according to new images.

"The findings come from radio observations of a young protostar called Source I (pronounced "Source Eye") next to the Orion nebula, which sits in the constellation's sword. The star has been around no more than 100,000 years. Our sun, by comparison, is 4.6 billion years old and middle-aged.

"Scientists know a thing or two about how low-mass stars like the sun form. But they have been puzzled over the birth of high-mass stars that weigh in at eight solar masses and greater, in part because the massive stars are rare and spend their youths enshrouded by a veil of dust and gas.

" 'We know how these stars die, but not how they are born,' said study researcher Lincoln Greenhill of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. ..."

The trick, this time, was to "look" at the very young, very massive, stars at radio wavelengths. Our eyes pick up much higher wavelengths, which works fine for us. But "visible light" is easily blocked by the clouds of gas and dust that surround forming stars. That gas and dust is fairly transparent to electromagnetic radiation at radio wavelengths.

One of the puzzles about very massive stars, was working out how gravity could pull enough matter together to form them. Turns out, there's evidence that magnetic fields are involved, too.

This knowledge won't help this household keep the sidewalk shoveled this winter - but I think there's more to life than shoveling snow and eating.

And, of course, watching television.

Water on Mars: The Lost Ocean of Barsoom?

"New Map Bolsters Case for Ancient Ocean on Mars " (November 23, 2009)

"Several lines of evidence point to the possibility of a past ocean on Mars, from apparent ancient shorelines to chemicals in the soil.

"Add to the list a new map of the red planet's valley. The map shows extensive valley networks around the equator and in the southern hemisphere, suggesting a warmer mars long ago, with extensive rainfall that would have feed an ocean in the northern hemisphere.

" 'All the evidence gathered by analyzing the valley network on the new map points to a particular climate scenario on early Mars,' Northern Illinois University geography professor Wei Luo said. 'It would have included rainfall and the existence of an ocean covering most of the northern hemisphere, or about one-third of the planet's surface.'

"The valley networks are more than twice as extensive (2.3 times longer in total length) than had been previously mapped out...."

There's a bit more detail in the article, about the data and how it was analyzed. I think that a scientist, who said that a single large northern ocean on Mars - a very long time ago - would explain patterns that are emerging as we study drainage channels that are still visible.

On the other hand, there's a big question that I'm not sure has been answered yet: why do Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars all have the same general sort of terrain? A section of lowlands, and a section of highlands. On Earth, the lowlands are filled with a water-salt solution that we call oceans. Venus and Mars don't have that much water - now. Mercury probably never did.

Even more interesting, Venus - and even Mars - seem to have fairly clearly-defined continents. ("Venus Continents," "Exploratour - Comparing the Surfaces of Earth and Mars," Windows to the UniverseWindows to the Universe®, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © The Regents of the University of Michigan)

"Just Add Water?"

If someone put a tub of liquid water on Mars, the air there is so thin that it would quickly boil away - cold as it is. Venus isn't much better as a vacation spot: it's hot enough to melt lead in some places on the surface.

Still, Venus does have continents: two larger ones, Ishtar Terra, and Aphrodite Terra. Ishtar Terra is near the north pole and none too large, really - roughly the size of the continental United States. Aphrodite Terra is near the equator and about half the size of Africa. There are two other highland/continental regions: Alpha Regio near the equator, and Beta Regio in the southern hemisphere.

As things stand, nobody's likely to walk on Venus. Not anytime soon. On the other hand, if we thinned out the atmosphere of Venus, cooling the place off in the process, introduced water and plants to start producing oxygen, after a while we'd have a planet that looks a little like Earth.

I wouldn't live to see it: but some cultures are able to plan projects that span generations. And, in the meantime, we just might be able to float cities in the clouds of Venus. ("Cloud Cities of Venus ," (July 25, 2008))

As for Mars, if or when we do settle the place, it'll probably be easier to make micro-habitats, instead of trying to terraform the whole planet in one go. Besides, there's a lot to study on Mars, just the way it is.
Other posts, about "Mars, Mostly."

LHC (Large Hadron Collider) Back Online and Ready to Simulate Big Bang

" 'Big Bang'" machine set to yield surprises"
Reuters (November 23, 2009)

"Scientists could begin garnering information on the origins of the universe in the coming months as the world's biggest particle collider starts moving to full power next year, a project leader said Monday.

"But it may not be until 2011 that what is dubbed the "Big Bang Machine" -- the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) -- straddling the Swiss-French border at the CERN research center will hit its top velocity, physicist Steve Myers added.

"The LHC -- a nearly $10 billion experiment involving scientists worldwide -- was relaunched at the weekend after a technical accident 14 months ago brought it to a halt just nine days after its start-up...."

(from Denis Balibouse, via Reuters, used w/o permission)
The Linac 2 (Linear Accelerator 2) is pictured at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva October 16, 2008.

"...The key aim of the project is to discover how the universe took shape after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago that spilled out matter at vast speeds and energies that eventually became suns, stars, planets and then life itself.

"But what Myers called "new surprises in physics that we can really measure" will probably have to wait until the particle beams can be collided at the LHC's maximum force.

" 'We will be contemplating reaching that ultimate energy in 2011,' he said...."

That "technical accident" involved, it said in the news, bread crumbs. (November 6, 2009) Looks like they've got that problem solved.

I suppose the resources used for CERN's Large Hadron Collider could be used for other worthwhile projects: like bird feeders. But I'm curious about what the physicists will learn about subatomic particles, how space-time is put together, and what happens when really big energies get concentrated in really small volumes.

As I wrote earlier this month, "Pay attention, and a person will never have a dull moment."


Pistol-Whipped Father and Son Keep Pizza

"Allentown father and son fight off gun-wielding robber, save pizza"
Allentown Morning Call (undated, Google linked to this article on November 22, 2009)

"An Allentown father and son fought back against a man who pistol whipped them, but the robber had to flee without getting anything - not even their pizza.

"The 58-year-old father and his 22-year-old son - who asked that police not identify them - were walking along South Lumber Street, after picking up a pizza from a Hamilton Street restaurant.

"That's when a man wearing a black hood, and carrying a handgun, approached them and ordered them to give him their money...."

- - - and left with no money - and no pizza.

The father and son were hit by the handgun (not, interestingly, with the bullets it presumably contained), and later treated & released from a hospital.

The pizza got dropped, but stayed inside its box.

American law enforcement generally says that you shouldn't fight back - and I suppose that makes sense. Besides, in this lawsuit-happy country, that's all they can say, and not get sued for "making" someone get hurt.

Me? I'm glad that the father and son are okay, that they kept their pizza, and that the would-be robber is still alive. That means there's still time for him to re-evaluate his life choices. And no, I don't think that letting criminals get away with slap-on-the-wrist sentences is a good idea. On the other hand - - -

One of the comments on the article referred to the idea of carrying weapons for self-defense: and did so in an all-too-familiar way. Little sympathy as I have for the practice of armed robbery, I don't think that summary execution is the best option.

Some of the less thoughtful and more vocal advocates of firearm ownership have, I think, helped other Americans to be scared silly of weapons. (see "EEEK! Guns! Hoplophobia and Foreign Policy ," Another War-on-Terror Blog (December 23, 2007)) While I'm on the topic, this family doesn't carry firearms. We learn martial arts - Soo Bahk Do, mostly. It's good mental and physical exercise.

That's our story, and we're sticking with it.

A tip of the hat to cathfamilies, on Twitter, for the heads-up on article.

Paying the Bills, or Advancing Your Career: For Me, a No-Brainer

"Are you committing career suicide?"
"Workers fear that settling for a survival job could hurt them when hiring picks up again."
CNN Money (November 22, 2009)

"The difficult job market has forced millions of workers to downgrade into a position they're overqualified for or take a survival job to make ends meet.

"And while riding out the recession might be a practical strategy for now, what will become of the underemployed when the dust clears and it's time to get back on track?

"There are currently 9.3 million underemployed workers limited to part-time jobs because they can't find full-time employment -- a record high, according to the Labor Department's October jobs report.

" 'If you are in a situation where you can't pay your bills and you are going to miss you mortgage payment and your kids need clothes for school, you are going to do what you need to do,' said career expert for Rusty Rueff...."

The bottom line seems to be that, although the occasional hiring manager will be "extremely callous or insensitive" - most people in Human Resources read the papers, and know that a lot of Americans are looking for jobs. To pay the bills, not to self-actualize themselves, or further their career goals.

And would you really want to work for a company that was so out-of-touch that it wasn't aware of the job market - or treated its employees and its paperclips with about the same level of concern?

Anyway: There's pretty good advice, and a few personal examples. Like the fellow who lost his job and expanded a part-time dog-walking job into a more important source of revenue.

The article could, I think, be useful for someone who's 'between jobs' right now - and agonizing over the question of whether to pay the bills or hope that the "right" job will come along.

I've been in that position myself, quite a few times. It's frustrating. But, in my case, it's resulted in my having a rather eclectic resume. The last company I worked for hired me as an advertising copywriter, I soon was doing graphic design on top of that - and later became List Manager and "the computer guy." I've also delivered flowers, chopped beets, and been a radio disk jockey.

The point is, you don't have to be a traditional "corporation person" to be "successful." It depends on how you define "success."

Me? I was laid off in the spring of 2006. As well as getting some long-overdue work done on my body (both hips swapped out, carpal tunnel and other issues fixed on both hands and wrists), I started looking for a "real" job.

And, started doing what I do well: writing. Being self-employed isn't the best route for everybody. In my case, I'm a lousy boss: I don't pay myself nearly what I'm 'really' worth. On the other hand, I'm doing okay. When I've got something to say about the business side of my life, or something about small businesses in general, I generally post it on Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind.

(The account of the dog-walker also contains this phrase: "recruiter-come-dog walker". My guess is that the writer meant "recruiter-cum-dog walker". "Cum" means with, or together with, in Latin. The writer may have known the Latin word, and spelled it correctly, to be 'corrected' by an editor - or may have only heard the word spoken. And, in American English, "come" and "cum" sound exactly alike.) (And, if memory serves, "cum" is also a naughty word in English - which may explain the odd spelling.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grill That Bird! BBQ Turkey Advice for Thanksgiving

"How To BBQ a Turkey"

" If you're tired of eating dried-out oven-roasted turkey every year, or you simply need to free up more space in your oven, you might want to try using your grill to barbecue a bird this Thanksgiving. It's easier than you may think - and if the weather is warm, you may just convince the guys in your family to take care of the entree while you prepare the meal inside!

"If you'd like to learn award-winning barbecue techniques for other BBQ staples like chicken, ribs and brisket, I recommend Competition Barbecue Secrets.

"1. Prepare the turkey. First of all, remove and discard the giblets and neck from the body cavity. These are the icky parts inside the bird...."

That phrase, "the icky parts," is a tip-off that this how-2 is for people like me, who enjoy grilling - but haven't dedicated their life to the practice. If you're one of those who has a few pounds of tools arrayed around a masonry outdoor grilling installation, and carries bandoliers of spices and herbs: this article is not for you. (see "A Really Fine Grill: For Someone Else," Easy Griller (October 6, 2009))

For everybody else, there's some good advice here.

Maybe I can talk my wife into letting be grill the turkey this year.
A tip of the hat to JessicaSieghart, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Black Friday Bargains Sound Too Good to be True: And Often Are

"Dirty secrets of Black Friday 'doorbusters' "
"Here are a few things bargain-hungry consumers need to know before they hit stores before dawn the day after Thanksgiving."
CNN Money (November 20, 2009)

"Here's a Black Friday reality check: Of the hordes of pre-dawn shoppers who line up for hours outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving, most will not bag the best bargains that appear in merchants' circulars.

"Look at the fine print that appears next to an advertised 'doorbuster deal' at the bottom of the page in this year's circulars.

"It will either say 'While supplies last,' 'Minimum 2 per store,' 'No rainchecks' or 'All items are available in limited quantities.'

"A quick scan through a few of this year's Black Friday circulars show quantities as low as a "minimum of 5 per store" on some models of large plasma and HDTVs and popular brands of home appliances such as a washer-dryer pair...."

Sometimes what you get isn't quite what you think it is. The article says that your new HDTV, for example, may be a "derivative" model. Back to that article:

"What do you mean this HDTV is a 'derivative?' Some of the holiday electronics with those low sale prices are derivatives, models that have a few less features than a standard model in that product line, said [consumer advocate and Consumer World's editor, Edgar] Dworsky.

"The difference can be subtle. 'The image contrast ratio might be 20,000 in a derivative model versus 30,000 in a standard model," he said. 'Most consumers probably won't even notice the difference.'

"A report earlier this month in Consumer Reports called attention to HDTV models from Samsung and Sony advertised in Black Friday deals that appear to be 'derivatives.' The report said these one-off TVs 'with unfamiliar model numbers' are usually cheaper than the standard model in their class.

"Dworsky cautions that retailers usually don't advertise these models as derivatives. 'There's no way the average consumer will know that the TV model they are buying is not the standard one unless they are savvy enough to compare their model numbers,' he said...."

I'm not sure that it's all okay, if most buyers "probably won't even notice the difference."

Although practices like having fewer than a half-dozen units in a metropolitan store advertising a big sale on the things, and having a hint as to just how many there really are appear in fine print, may not be - quite - a case of bait-and-switch: I think the fellow quoted in the article is right: "It's a sleazy practice."

And, in the long run, self-defeating. It's one thing for some guy selling television sets off the back of a truck to keep the motor running, and be creative when he describes product features. His customers don't expect to see him again - not if they've got any smarts.

A retailer like Sears, on the other hand, presumably plans to be around next year. And has competitors. Can a company like that really afford to gamble that all its competitors will work as hard to alienate customers?

Sears, by the way, deserves a bit of credit: although the company engages in this not-quite-bait-and-switch practice, a company spokesperson did say that he wasn't comfortable with the practice. On the other hand, the article doesn't say if he's still working for Sears.

Bottom line? I think the old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" applies here. Short-sighted gimmicks like these (not quite fraudulent) Black Friday "bargains" don't seem to be worth the trouble (and occasionally danger) of wading through mobs of crazed shoppers.
A tip of the hat to JessicaSieghart, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

The Lotus That Time Forgot: UCLA Scientists Grow Centuries-Old Seeds

"Centuries-Old Lotus Seeds Germinated by UCLA Scientists, but Show Abnormalities, Most Likely Due to Mutation-Causing Soil Radiation"
UC Newsroom, University of California (February 22, 2002)

"An international team led by UCLA scientists germinated lotus seeds nearly 500 years old from lotus fruits recovered from an ancient lotus lake in northeastern China — the first time new plants have been raised from parents so old.

" 'The cultivation of offspring from old seeds radiocarbon dated at between 200 and 500 years of age is a first in plant biology,' said UCLA research biologist Jane Shen-Miller, lead author of the research, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Botany...."

Most seeds won't last more than a year or so: lotus seeds have a reputation for being much more durable. On the other hand, these showed some abnormalities when they grew.

That "soil radioactivity" mentioned in the title isn't the sort of scary Hollywood stuff you read about: it's the natural background radiation that we don't generally notice. It doesn't affect us, as a rule. But for seeds that have been exposed for a few centuries? Yeah, I can see how the effects might add up.

For me, quite an interesting article.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cute Rabbits: Three of Them

And now, for those who have not had their daily recommended dose of "cute," here are videos of rabbits:

"Tiny Baby Bunny"

moniebo,YouTube (November 1, 2006)
video, 0:24

"little baby bunny trying to clean himself while slip-sliding on table, too cute!"

I don't know about that: I'd say this video may be just cute enough.

"super tiny baby bunny"

meanreds,YouTube (August 29, 2007)
video, 0:35

"video uploaded from my mobile phone - baby bunny rescue mission! i found this baby bunny all messed up on the sidewalk, at a construction site after a huge storm. he's so young that he has no fur and his eyes are still closed. an orphaned animal rescue & rehab center took him and now he's fat and happy and thinks curly-haired girls are deities."

The video quality is about what you'd expect from a mobile phone - but the story was too good to skip.

"Baby Bunny Binkies"

rosierabbit2004,YouTube (October 29, 2006)
video, 0:15

"Excited baby bunny at 5 weeks old, still with her mum and brothers."

That's one happy little rabbit.
A tip of the hat to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on these videos.

Spiders, Arachnophobia, Crabs, and a Video

"Facing My Spider Phobia"

mattharding2718, YouTube (December 2, 2007)
video, 1:47

"I have a bad case of arachnophobia. Sure, crabs have no relation to spiders, but tell that to my deep, irrational fear. Talking helped calm me down, and insulting the crabs actually made them less scary. "

As the fellow said, these are crabs, not spiders. And I'm pretty sure that he doesn't really think that they're space aliens that crash-landed here - although they do look like they're from: someplace else.

By far not the worst use you could find for one minute and 47 seconds of your life. Maybe not the best, either: but that's your call.

Related posts:
A tip of the hat to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this video.

World's Largest Earthquake-Safe Building: Open for Business in Istanbul

"Istanbul Opens World's Largest Earthquake-Safe Building"
Wired Science (November 20, 2009)

"The world's largest seismically isolated building, the new international terminal at Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen Airport, is now complete and open for business.

"Stretching across more than 2 million square feet, the terminal doesn't sit directly on the soil, but rather on more than 300 isolators, bearings that can move side-to-side during an earthquake. The whole building moves as a single unit, which prevents damage from uneven forces acting on the structure.

" 'What an isolation system does is that it enables the building to move through large displacements in unison, and in doing that, you absorb earthquake energy,' said Atila Zekioglu, the engineer at the firm Arup, who designed the building.

"Earthquakes accelerate buildings laterally, whipping them back and forth. Isolators (see photo below) slow down the motion of the building. In the case of the new terminal, the building will only have to withstand one-fifth of the acceleration that it would have had to without the earthquake proofing...."

Designing with earthquakes in mind makes sense in Istanbul. The city is near where the Arabian, African, and Eurasian continental plates come together. The North Anatolian Fault runs about 15 miles south of the city, and since Earth's crust is pretty much constantly in motion, all three plates are sliding against each other.

Not smoothly. Like other fault lines, the ones in Istanbul's neighborhood stick for a while before jerking into a new position. When that happened on August 17, 1999, the city experienced a magnitude 7.4 earthquake 17,000 people stopped living rather abruptly, and billions of dollars' worth of property was damaged or destroyed.

That sort of thing is incentive to build the next set of buildings to ride out big quakes. One of which, the article says, is more likely than not to happen in the next 30 years or so.

The article shows how the new airport terminal is designed to stay more-or-less in place while the ground gets jerked around under it. That way, there will probably be damage - but a much better chance that the building won't collapse, killing whoever is inside.

Background on plate tectonics and continental drift:
  • "Earth Science: Plate Tectonics"
    The astronomy & astrophysics program at Washington State University (May 8, 2000)
    • A plethora of illustrations, and a little text, about continental drift
    GEOGRAPHY: USA, Alan A. Lew, (2004)
    • Written from an American point of view, as the title says - but also with a
      • Pretty good discussion of continental drift
      • Rather good map showing "Continental Drift in the past 200 million years"
  • "Continental drift and climate"
    E. Linacre & B. Geerts, College of Engineering and Applied Science, Atmospheric Science, University of Wyoming (January, 2002)
  • "Research Highlights - Jurassic Quiet Zone Deeptow Magnetics"
    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (January 31, 2005)
    • A fascinating article on some of "the oldest surviving ocean crust in the world today"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Metabolic Syndrome, Wii Fit, and Mii

"Metabolic syndrome"
Mayo Clinic

"By Mayo Clinic staff

"Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

"Having just one of these conditions isn't diagnosed as metabolic syndrome, but it does contribute to your risk of serious disease. If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, your risk is even greater...."

How about three out of four? My blood pressure is in the normal range, for the most part, thanks to medication: and my blood sugar levels are getting down, thanks to medication and not-quite-fully-implemented changes in my diet. "Excess body fat around the waist" fits me. I do not think that the "body mass index" should be taken seriously: at least, not for people who aren't extreme ectomorphs. On the other hand, I can see that I've got maybe thirty or forty-plus pounds to lose: quite a bit of that around my waist.

Cholesterol would be an issue - although that's being controlled by medication, too.

How do I feel about having my metabolism kept stable with pharmaceuticals? Well, I'd like to be perfect. But I'm not: and this sure beats having a heart attack or stroke.

While I'm on the tell-all topics, I was (finally) diagnosed with major depression a few years ago - and yet another set of medications has me thinking without a struggle for the first time since I was about twelve. That, I'm elated about. It's amazing, what a person can do when you're not expending so much effort just making the brain work.

And, I'm counting on something that Mayo Clinic section said: "aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems."

Which brings me to the other topic of this post. (I try to avoid more than one topic/post, but these are more closely related than most.)

The Great Wii Fit Conspiracy

I see that Wii Fit ia up to Wii Fit Plus now. What Nintendo says about says about the new software is: "Wii Fit Plus combines fun and fitness into one product. It can change how you exercise, how you balance, and even how you move. Expanding upon the original Wii Fit software, Wii Fit Plus is packed with every feature from Wii Fit—plus new exercises and tools to personalize your exercise routine. If you already have a profile on the original Wii Fit, you can easily transfer it over to Wii Fit Plus."

Sounds like the best thing since sliced bread, doesn't it?

It should: advertising copywriters are supposed to produce compelling copy.

Well, nothing's perfect, and Wii Fit is no exception.

There's the usual set of technical issues. Putting the balance board on a hard, flat surface helps.

"Diary: One Week Playing Wii Fit"
Game|Life, Wired (March 4, 2008)

"Thanks to Game|Life's crack Japanese secret elite beat agents who came to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference last month, Game|Life finally has its own copy of Wii Fit, the exercise game that Nintendo will launch in the United States on May 19.

"Wii Fit is already tearing up the charts in Japan, where it has sold more than 1 million copies. I expect it to be just as big a hit here — if not more so, since we actually need to lose weight, unlike some other countries I could name...."

"...One day at GDC, I was talking to Nintendo's new executive VP Cammie Dunaway, and she pointed out that the language in the U.S. version of Wii Fit will be softened a bit from the blunt Japanese version: 'It just says, "You're fat!"'

"And that is precisely what the Japanese version of Wii Fit told me mere minutes into the experience. I put in my height (6 feet 1 inch) and stood on the Balance Board. Quicker than you can say "ranch dressing," it told me I was fat. This thing is a genius!..."

I think the Wired review is fairly reasonable, particularly since I agree with the conclusion: "Wii Fit isn't perfect, but the feedback you get from the Balance Board makes it easily the best 'exer-game' yet"

Not everybody sees it that way.

Like just about everything else in the universe, Wii Fit is a conspiracy: in the minds of some.

"The Wii Fit conspiracy"
The University of New Mexico (UNM) - Lobo Lair Message Board » General Discussion » Mens Health (February 16, 2009)

"Can You Game Yourself Thin?

"There's nothing worse than getting ripped off.

"To invest your hard earned money on a product that promises results that aren't delivered.

"That's how millions of new Wii Fit owners are feeling right now, and I don't blame them.

"The Wii Fit is marketed as the latest and greatest way to lose weight and be fit. The specialized Nintendo is supposed to do the job of your gym, your treadmill and even your personal trainer.

"That's a lot of pressure for a video game.

"With all the buzz surrounding the Wii Fit, I decided that some research was in order. What is this Wii Fit, and how is it qualified to get you into the best shape of your life?

"The Wii uses television and a wireless "balance board" that is about two feet wide and half as deep. The board is basically a fancy scale, which measures your weight and detects your equilibrium. To play Wii Fit, you stand on the board and do a series of games that fall into one of four categories: aerobics, balance, strength, and yoga.

"My research did turn up some cases of documented weight loss as a result of Wii Fit play time. In each case the person went from a sedentary lifestyle (basically a couch potato) and saw weight loss after doing the Wii Fit for 30-60 minutes per day.

"Walking for 30-60 minutes per day will give the same results.

"To really understand the purpose of this product I did a search on Shigeru Miyamoto, he's the creator of the Wii Fit.

"What he said may shock you.

" 'I don't think Wii Fit's purpose is to make you fit; what it's actually aiming to do is make you aware of your body,' he said. 'That's why we wanted people to talk with their families about Wii Fit, and become aware of these things together as a group.'..."


The bottom line of this post seems to be: "It's time to call the Wii Fit what it really is: a video game...entertainment, and that's it."

My hat's off to the author of that post: "Veggie Power" didn't claim that Wii Fit was a plot by the shape-shifting space-alien lizard people to control the proletariat's brains with subliminal messages; or that the Illuminati were really behind it; or Big Oil, or whatever.

And I'm pretty sure that a young, fit, college student who works out an hour or so each day, and goes hiking, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, or whitewater rafting when schedules permit, would benefit a great deal from a Wii Fit.

But: a "conspiracy?!"

Me? I'm pushing 60. I've had desk jobs most of my life. I suspect that a combination of genetic predisposition and a childhood spent partly in a cast, studying the ceiling, encouraged my tendency to sit in one place and use my brain. I don't have anything against physical activity: but I hadn't made it a part of what I routinely do.

Until recently.

Remember that "metabolic syndrome" thing? I had a "shazam!" moment a few years ago, when I realized that I couldn't count on the iron constitution I inherited to keep me going.

Nice, normal exercises like climbing and jogging are out: I had my original-equipment hip joints swapped out a few years ago. The replacements are fine: for the first time in my life, I'm walking without pain. But, they don't have the range of motion that standard-issue joints have, and they aren't (quite) as durable. So I can't run or jump. Or climb ladders. Actually, I can: but it's sincerely not a good idea.

I'd been exercising on a treadmill and one of those stationary bikes for some time, when one of my kids bought the system that supports Wii Fit. And, since she lives in this household, I get to use it, too.

The Wii Fit solved the biggest - and virtually the only - major obstacle I had to getting enough exercise: the mind-numbing boredom of going through the same motions, over, and over, and over again, while I fought to keep my brain from jumping out of my skull, screaming for something - anything - to keep it busy.

A television set helps - but the idiot box has its limitations when it comes to intellectual stimulation. Although I can 'think about things' while I exercise, I long ago got used to being able to read, make notes, and use a keyboard while thinking.

I've tried making notes or reading while exercising: it's possible, to a limited extent, on an exercise bike; on a treadmill? Forget it. (It's not a good idea for me to try reading in a car, either. I mean, really not a good idea.)

I won't claim that the Wii Fit is intellectually challenging: but it's a notch or two up from watching a news channel or soaps while exercising.

It's even possible for me to "run" with the Wii Fit. It's got this routine where you hold the remote (it says 'put it in your pocket' - but that isn't the best option for me) and run in place. I know: sounds silly. But the screen shows what your Mii (the Wii Fit avatar) would see in the Wii Fit's virtual world. As the remote senses me moving my arm, it 'runs' the avatar. And, I see the landscape flowing toward me.

It's not a convincing illusion - at all - but there are enough visual references for my visual cortex to tell me that movement is happening. And, while I'm 'running' around the virtual island, I can look at the trees, the other Miis, and miscellaneous scenery. And, surprisingly, that's just enough to keep my eyes from glazing over while I exercise.

"Running?" Yeah: I can't run without putting too much stress on those new joints. Running in place isn't quite the same thing, though. I've got much tighter control over how and where I put down my legs, and there just isn't the impact - literally - that comes with 'really' running. That, I can live with. Besides, I do a lot of the 'running' with waving my arms back and forth - it probably looks ridiculous, but what does the television screen care?

Other parts of Wii Fit are a bit more engaging for me. There's a ski jump (simulated, and probably nothing like the real thing) that requires timing and coordination that's fun to improve on; a sort of roll-the-marbles-through-the-maze game that's as fun as the child's toy that does the same thing.

Aside from undoing the effects of decades behind a desk, I'm learning why people enjoy active games and sports.

That, as I said, I can live with.
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