Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cute Sleeping Cats: Videos

"Sleeping Cat"

annie85v, YouTube (February 23, 2008)
video, 0:30

"How cute!!!!!! awwwww"

I grew up with cats of the 'house' variety. My household is catless, though - my wife and some of the kids are sensitive to pet dander: which can be an issue with the most fastidious cat.

So it's fun to go to YouTube now and again and get a look at the life and times of felis domesticus.

That's a not-all-that-uncommon way for a cat to wake up, by the way.

More, there's always more.

"Cat Meowing In Its Sleep

Dweiu, YouTube (December 16, 2008)
video, 0:28

"Cat making funny noices when someone sneezes.

"For all who thinks this is animal cruelty:

"I would never hurt my cats. And this was just a phase when he was a kitten and cat doesn't anymore do this :) Sorry if someone got offended by this video. "

That "animal cruelty" disclaimer didn't come out of nowhere. There's a small (I trust) but vocal and terribly earnest contingent who seem convinced that everybody else abuses animals. All the time. By forcing dogs to fetch sticks, stroking cats - you get the idea.

That sort of thing can make discussions of real animal cruelty a bit difficult, sometimes. Which is another topic.

Me? I must be some sort of monster, by the earnest ones' standards: I think that nattering cat is cute.

Lemming Tracks: Home Schooling isn't What You May Think


The Lemming went on a rant in this post. Not only that, but you'll find it just simply crawling with Catholic cooties. If you like your assumptions conventional, and aren't particularly partial to reality checks, I suggest you avoid this post and check back in about an hour.

The Lemming will try to find a photo of a cute rabbit or something for the next post
"Home Schooling, Religious and Moral Instruction, and American Culture"
A Catholic Citizen in America (March 6, 2010)

"I'm one of those home-schooling parents you hear about from time to time. Oddly enough, the ones I know aren't particularly outstanding for being poor, uneducated and easily led: and do not intentionally wallow in self-righteous ignorance.

"But what do I know? I'm one of those home-schooling parents you hear about.

"Sorry: That's about as close to a rant as I allow myself...."

That's a post from another one of my blogs. And yes: I'm one of those people. My kids were home schooled from grade seven through high school graduation.

One of them's about to graduate from a tech school and is going into commercial art, another graduated from Concordia with a music degree, a third is a writer and musician, and my son is pretty good at writing software and debugging computers. He's 13, so he may decide to go in another direction, which is also okay with me.

If he decides to be an auto mechanic, he'll make more money than I ever did.

Which is another topic.

The point is, we are not inbred freaks crawling out of the swamp. Like most home schooling parents, we give a rip about our kids and think that we can do a better job of educating them than the state. It doesn't help that I used to be an English teacher: I know American education from the inside.

The home-schooling parents we know aren't all just like us. But they're smart people, most of them are active in the community, and - this is important - they aren't ignorant crackpots.

Shameless Self-Promotion? Sure, Why Not?

I don't feel too guilty about promoting another one of my blogs here. The topic of this blog is 'cool stuff that I find online,' as my oldest daughter put it.

I don't know how 'cool' that post is: but it presents home schooling in a way that you're not likely to find in the traditional, old-school news services.

Besides, I think some all-too-common American assumptions are overdue for a reality check.

"Religious and Moral Instruction" Means "Fundamentalism"?!

"...The Associated Press apparently came up with 'for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth's creation is exactly what they want' from 'Federal statistics from 2007 show 83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children "religious or moral instruction." '



"My wife and I gave our children the option of being home schooled for grades 7-12. And yes, part of the reason was 'to give their children "religious or moral instruction." '

"But we're Catholics. For us 'religious and moral instruction' means clueing our kids in on what the Church has taught for about two millennia now, and how God and the prophets worked with Israel's descendants.1 That's the religious part. The 'moral instruction' includes telling them that snorting cocaine is a really stupid idea, and that obeying the law is a good idea.

" 'Religious and moral instruction' does not mean that we teach them that some dude who looks like Charlton Heston in the role of Moses made everything we can observe in 144 hours, a few thousand years back...."

If that sounds like I got rather heated on the subject: you're quite right. I've known a few people whose spiritual leaders have clinkers in their thinkers about the Bible and what's been learned in the last few hundred years: and who really believe what their preacher says about those 'Satanic' scientist. I've also known a few who might not have ditched Christianity - and all religion - if it hadn't been for the ranting of the first group.

Me? I'm one of those folks who like facts, and prefer it when the facts can be fitted together in some sort of coherent, rational structure. Without trashing most of what's been discovered in the last 2,000 years or so. Which is part of the reason I became a Catholic.

But that's definitely another topic. ("Firebase Earth," A Catholic Citizen in America (April 5, 2009), "Why Did I Convert to Catholicism?," (November 24, 2009), for starters)

Vaguely-related posts:

My Moral Circuits were Offline?!

"Magnets Can Manipulate Morality"
Discovery News (March 29, 2010)

"Magnetic fields targeting the moral center of the brain could scramble our sense of right and wrong."

"Magnets can alter a person's sense of morality, according to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Using a powerful magnetic field, scientists from MIT, Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are able to scramble the moral center of the brain, making it more difficult for people to separate innocent intentions from harmful outcomes. The research could have big implications for not only neuroscientists, but also for judges and juries.

" 'It's one thing to "know" that we'll find morality in the brain,' said Liane Young, a scientist at MIT and co-author of the article. 'It's another to "knock out" that brain area and change people's moral judgments.'..."

With that introduction, I didn't know what to expect from the article. Back when I was growing up, there were some - remarkable - claims going around about science disproving 'all that religious nonsense.' In another blog, I wasn't exaggerating all that much when I 'proved' that because the moon has no air, God doesn't exist. (A Catholic Citizen in America (March 20, 2009)) I suppose I need to say this: That's nonsense.

Quite a bit further into the article, I found out what the new research really was about:

"...[MIT scientist Liane] Young and her colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to locate an area of the brain known as the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ) which other studies had previously related to moral judgments. While muscle movement, language and even memory are found in the same place in each individual, the RTPJ, located behind and above the ear, resides in a slightly different location in each person...."

Okay: they're studying the effect of magnetic fields on the right temporo-parietal junction. The Discovery News article says that's where we handle "moral judgments". Still sounds a bit like the materialist doctrine I learned, back in the day.

Back to the article:

"...For their experiment, the scientists had 20 subjects read several dozen different stories about people with good or bad intentions that resulted in a variety of outcomes.

"One typical story was about a boyfriend who leads his girlfriend across a bridge. In some versions, the boyfriend harmlessly walked his girlfriend across the bridge with no ill effect. In other cases, the boyfriend intentionally led the girlfriend along so she would break her ankle. The subjects used a seven point scale -- one being forbidden and seven completely permissible -- to record whether they through the situation was morally acceptable or not...."

Now we're getting somewhere: details.

"...While the subjects read the story, the scientists applied a magnetic field using a method known as transcranial magnetic stimulation. The magnetic fields created confusion in the neurons that make up the RTPJ, said Young, causing them to fire off electrical pulses chaotically.

"The confusion in the brain made it harder for subjects to interpret the boyfriend's intent, said Young, and instead made the subjects focus solely on the situation's outcome. The effect was temporary and safe...."

Well, "temporary and safe" as far as they know. But that's a quibble. I hope.

I'm rather impressed by these researchers, for their recognition that intent is involved in moral choice - not just the outcome. The outcome is important, too - but that's a topic for another post, in another blog.

Where was I? Scientists scrambling people's brains with magnets, but don't worry: it's okay. Right.

Back to the article. Again.

"...When no magnetic field was applied, the subjects focused more on the boyfriend's good intentions, rather than a bad outcome. When a magnetic field was applied to the RTPJ, the subjects consistently focused on a bad outcome, rather than the intention, and rated the story as more morally objectionable.

"The scientists didn't permanently remove the subjects moral sensibilities. On the scientists' seven point scale, the difference was about one point and averaged out to about a 15 percent change. It's not much, said Young, 'but it's still striking to see such a change in such high level behavior as moral decision-making.' Young also points out that the study was correlation; their work only links the the RTJP, morality and magnetic fields, but doesn't definitively prove that one causes another...."
[emphasis mine]

Notice that it's the Discovery News reporter who wrote "their work only links the the RTJP, morality and magnetic fields, but doesn't definitively prove that one causes another." Not the scientists.

I've noticed that even 'science' reporters tend to be a little clueless when it comes to science and what facts mean. Either that, or their editors are.

Anyway, I thought this was fascinating research - and the article was detailed enough to let us figure out what was happening, not just what a reporter and/or editor felt it ought to mean.

Meddling With Things That Man Was Not Meant to Know?

I'm a devout Catholic - so why aren't I ranting about this? Because I'm a devout Catholic: and I found out what the score on Catholicism was before I converted.

My faith doesn't require me to shut down my frontal lobes and just concentrate on feeling real spiritual. We come equipped with brains - and if God didn't expect us to use them and our curiosity, He's even more clueless that some reporters.

I don't buy that.

We've been learning a great deal about how the brain works in the last few decades - quite a lot in just the last few years. It's exciting, and sometimes more than a little scary. You think you've heard wild stories about chips secretly implanted by Them? Wait until neural interfaces hit the market in 10 years or so. (December 2, 2009)

I'm pretty sure that what we're discovering will be misused. People do that. I also am also pretty sure that, overall, the benefits will far outweigh problems we learn how to deal with.

Blindly optimistic? I don't think so. We learned how to use fire and electricity without killing ourselves off: I think we'll manage this, too.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toyota Brakes: NASA Gets Involved

"NASA to help on Toyota probe"
Reuters (March 30, 2010)
"U.S. auto safety regulators are turning to scientists from the NASA space and aeronautics agency for help analyzing Toyota electronic throttles to see if they are behind unintended acceleration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said."

"Separate from the work of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists, LaHood said, experts from the National Academy of Sciences will lead a study of unintended acceleration across the auto industry, a broader issue raised by congressional lawmakers at recent hearings on Toyota Motor Corp.

" 'We are determined to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration,' LaHood said in an interview with Reuters ahead of the formal announcement on Tuesday.

"The Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is just beginning its review of Toyota electronic throttles, which have come under heightened scrutiny following the recall of 8.5 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles over the past six months for unintended acceleration.

"While the government and Toyota blame mechanical or equipment flaws for the problem, questions have been raised about whether NHTSA over the years adequately handled investigations into motorist and other complaints of possible electronic throttle problems.

"The NHTSA review is to be completed by late summer, after which the highway traffic safety agency would then determine whether a formal investigation of Toyota throttles is warranted. Such a probe would set in motion a process that could lead to a recall...."

I'm glad to hear this. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that more Toyotas have had odd accidents than a person would expect.

Publicity Stunt?

Congress is involved - but I don't think this is a publicity stunt. And my hat's off to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for teaming up with NASA on this.

"...[Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood has maintained that NHTSA could handle the analysis itself, but said suggestions from lawmakers at congressional hearings prompted him to consider outside help.

" 'We've used them before. We've heard that they may have some influence,' LaHood said of his decision to ask NASA to help...."

The NHTSA had NASA work with them, sorting out issues with electronic stability control and airbags.

Which I think makes sense. Complex electronics are a relatively new development in automotive technology. NASA has been sending robots out to explore the Soar system for decades - and they're experienced in dealing with electronic cybernetics.

The Reuters article cites the floor mat scenario that may explain some of the accelerator issues. That sort of technical problem is nothing new - and I'm confident that federal regulators understand glitches like that and can deal with them.

Control systems that are similar to the fly-by-wire systems used in many aircraft: that's a fairly new development in ground vehicles.

Let a Machine Take Control?!

I think these complex systems are, basically, a good idea: but it was a hard sell.

When anti-lock brakes came out, I wasn't at all convinced that it was a good idea to take control decisions away from the driver and have a feedback loop handle the matter of keeping the wheels spinning. I still don't think it's an ideal solution: but then, I learned to drive on the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. I learned how to keep from skidding on ice, and how to get out of a skid if one started. The family van has anti-lock brakes now - and I've found that they work. It's a convenience: I can attend to other aspects of driving while the ALB system handles the ice. I do have to remember, though, that some of the tricks I learned won't work now.

Why Wait So Long?

The Reuters article says that: "The NHTSA review is to be completed by late summer". That's months away! We Americans tend to be a jittery lot, I think: and our notion of "a long time" isn't what it is in other cultures. Under the circumstances, I'm not surprised that a thorough trouble-shooting of a complex electronic/mechanical system is expected to take months.

It's not quite the same thing, but forensic investigations of aircraft accidents can take years.

Related posts:

Hypersonic Transports: Not Yet, But They're Coming

"New Hypersonic Rocket Test Launched in Australia" (March 26, 2010)

"Australian and United States military scientists test launched a new hypersonic rocket this week, the latest in a string of demonstration flights aimed at developing ultra-fast supersonic aircraft.

"The test rocket streaked through the atmosphere at speeds of greater than Mach 5.5, which is equivalent to more than five times the speed of sound.

"The flight marked the second in a series of up to 10 planned flights designed to advance research on high-speed flights and hypersonic technology, said Greg Combet, Australia's Minister for Defense Personnel, Material and Science, in a Monday statement. An earlier test was performed last May...."

The idea is to eventually design and build vehicles that can fly at hypersonic speeds for extended periods of time. There's no reason, in theory, why we shouldn't be able to do that. There are fairly big engineering issues to work out - but that's being done now.

Eventually, something like what's shown in this animation might be as routine as transoceanic airline flights are today:

"Skylon Mission Animation"

deanfilip YouTube (February 07, 2009)
Credits: Reaction Engines Ltd.
video (8:17)
(embedded in "Skylon: Spaceplane for 2019" (March 12, 2009))

Related posts:More:

Blog Header Design: Pretty Good Advice

"Blog Headers: 20 Great Examples and Best Practices"
Webdesigner Depot (October 30, 2009)

"The header is likely the first thing a new visitor sees on a blog, so it is the first impression — but why is a blog header so much more important, or at least different, than the header of a basic website?

"Blog headers need more functionality. Other web designs may differ in terms of their use and therefore, what's included in the website header and how it's presented can vary greatly.

"With a blog specifically, though, there are best practices that can help the reader navigate through the blog and become better involved.

"That's exactly what this article will do. We'll help you define what should be a part of a blog header and how to finally implement it, and then we'll look at twenty awesome examples that do just that...."

The article lists four points to consider when designing a header:
  • What mood needs to be set to attract the correct target audience?
  • How can the first impression via the header communicate what the blog is all about?
  • How can the blog's header give the first impression, 'I'm different from the others.'
  • What pieces of content need to be immediately noticeable to create better action? (clicking on links, subscribing, etc.)
There's a short discussion of each point, then examples of 20 blog headers.

Don't let the first two fool you: they're not all 'busy' designs.

Like this one:

"10. Vectips

"This header is rather minimalistic, which puts more emphasis on the bits of content it does hold. The logo is decorative and outlined in a contrasting color, making it memorable.

"It is followed by a tag line that shares what the blog is about, and then simple navigation which further defines that. The navigation is great because it has individual icons to bring attention to each as the reader is skimming over them.

"The fun illustration to the right sets the mood and leads the eye to the navigation up top...."

"Minimalistic"? Okay. It certainly is, compared with this:

I suppose it's partly a matter of taste.

This article came to my attention at a good time. I've made headers for each of my blogs - and they're about due for review. As a gesture of blatant self-promotion, here's a sample, with each image at half-size:

I'm rather partial to Sizzles, the mascot for Easy Griller: but over the next few weeks I plan to review each blog's header and general design. Not that I want to change anything. But I figure a little review now and again couldn't hurt.
A tip of the hat to timethief, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Cute Baby Easter Bunnies, Responsibility, and a Charming Photo

"A few words about Easter, and Baby Bunnies"
Disapproving Rabbits (March 29, 2010)

"A repost of what I wrote last year:

"So, Easter's coming up.

"I, of all people, am not going to tell you that rabbits don't make good pets. They do. They're intelligent, cute, and fun to have around.


"There is always a problem this time of year of people who buy rabbits as pets as Easter gifts, then decide later they don't want them...."

There's pretty good advice here. And a picture of some really cute little rabbits:

(from Disapproving Rabbits, used w/o permission)

I like animals. Even if I didn't feel that way, I'd still have to be treat them humanely. (I'm a Catholic, and we've got rules about that, too: A Catholic Citizen in America (August 17, 2009).)

This Disapproving Rabbits post recommends that, if you're determined to take responsibility for the care and feeding of a rabbit, you get one from an animal shelter, not a pet store. My oldest daughter got her rabbit, Giol, that way: and he's a charming little fuzzbucket.

And seriously? Think about it before getting a pet. I'm not one of the 'animals are people, too' folks. On the other hand, I recognize that homo sapiens sapiens has the ability to make choices - and that makes us responsible for the choices we make.

So enjoy the cute rabbit photos, and if you just want something soft and cuddly: get a plush toy. They're a whole lot easier to maintain.

Related posts:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gliding Lizard and a Snake that 'Swims' Through the Air

"Gliding reptiles"

bocabertamix, YouTube (April 14, 2008)
video, 1:48

"Amazing gliding reptiles."

This is clearly an excerpt from a video documentary. I'd have appreciated some mention of the source. Odds are, this video came from the National Geographic channel - or shares the same source as a related video, on the National Geographic YouTube channel.

Apart from that: this is a pretty good video, showing two critters you'll find in Indonesia.

The same narrator seems to have done this video:

"Freaky Lizard"

NationalGeographic, YouTube (September 7, 2007)
video, 1:11

"This lizard has one of the strangest movements to ward off predators and make a run for it!"

It's northern Australia's frilled lizard, AKA bicycle lizard.

If the frilled lizard looks slightly familiar, you may be remembering Frank, from Disney's "Rescuers Down Under" (1990).

Another Look at the History of Luggage: And Thoughts From a Recovering English Teacher

Bear with me: There's a reason for doing the same topic twice running.

"The History of Luggage"
Jerry Smith, Article Alley
"Free content for your website or blog"
(March 21, 2006)

"Ever since man has moved from place to place and took his belongings with him some sort of luggage was used. It was used to keep all belongings together and even organized. Like everything luggage has evolved.

"Christopher Columbus likely had a trunk filled with clothing and necessary navigational tools such as maps. Trunks were often made of fine woods like oak, pine, or cedar. Others are made of a combination of materials including cloth and leather. Trunks were often ornately decorated with nails and brass clasps with locks. Families have passed them down through generations and have become family heirlooms...."

This history of luggage is even shorter that the other one I micro-reviewed. Mr. Smith's piece is 254 words long, Mr. Vorelli's has 448 words.

Shorter doesn't necessarily mean better - but in this case I think it helped. Mr. Smith's piece is easier reading, and doesn't have that list of product features - complete with an exclamation point. !

Overwrought Writing!

You'll notice that some writers use exclamation marks! A lot! Even when they aren't really necessary! There's a time and a place for the exclamation mark! But not at the end of every sentence!

The first time I noticed the over-use of exclamation marks was in a comic book! I was in my teens, and thought the story was okay, although I remember very few details! I do remember wondering why I found each dialog balloon so exciting!

It didn't make sense, because the writing was, well, not done very well!

That's when I noticed that there was an exclamation mark at the end of every sentence!

Even ones where it made little or no sense!

I've been careful about overusing that bit of punctuation ever since.

Being Brief, being Terse

How long to keep writing about a subject is partly a matter of how much space you have to work with, and partly a judgment call.

One of the reasons I like Twitter is that Twittering is really good exercise for me. I tend to write at length. With 140 characters to work with, and no more, each Tweet is an exercise in brevity for me.

I'll let you decide which of these two mini-articles on the history of luggage is best. Me? I prefer Mr. Smith's. He says at least as much as about the history of luggage, with roughly half the words.

Related post:

History of Travel Luggage: Sort of

"History of travel luggage: From the beginning to today!"
Chris Vorelli, (undated)

"Travel luggage is an important part of every traveler's wardrobe. There are various luggage models, sizes, styles, colors, materials and prices associated with the luggage currently on the market. There are even vintage and collectible luggage pieces available! Whether you are going to be gone for a day, a month or a year, you will most likely need to help of luggage to keep your items together and organized. Travel luggage is designed for professionals, sportsmen, men, women, kids and even animals! There are a ton of models that can be bought today, but in the old days, the choices weren't as plentiful.

"For as long as man has traveled, there has been a need to take items with them. Christopher Columbus would have carried a trunk/chest that housed his clothing and navigation products. In those days, the trunk was the most popular form of luggage...."

I don't think the Lemming has written about the history of travel luggage before. Now I've corrected that oversight.

This article is four paragraphs long, and a quick read. Which is just as well, since quite a lot of it sounds like it was written by someone in marketing with an old-school manager.

No criticism of the author intended - those paragraphs are packed with keywords and should put the page fairly high in search rankings. Which I'm pretty sure is the purpose of the thing.

From "100s of Tips" down, the page seems to be a link farm.

Well, that's okay: and the first two paragraphs give a quick look at the last few thousand years of travel luggage's development. A very quick look.

On the other hand, this is not how I think SEO (Search Engine Optimization) should be done. Selecting focused keywords and putting them in the first few paragraphs? Yes, that's a good idea. Writing something that starts with an implied promise of discussing the history of travel luggage, and starting the second of four paragraphs like this: "Manufactured in countries all over the world, you should have no trouble finding the perfect travel luggage piece to carry your items...."? Followed by a sort of laundry list of products and features?

Not how I'd have chosen to handle the topic.

My working philosophy for SEO is that a writer should load text with keywords high on the page - and follow through on any stated or implied subject. That's not just high-minded ethics: I'd like folks to feel like coming back for more.

But, like I said, when it comes to search engine ranking - those four paragraphs will probably get the job done.
A tip of the hat to starbucksofc, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Lemming Tracks: Monday Struck With Unusual Severity, Again

The Lemming hasn't gotten anything posted here all day. This post, from my personal blog, may give you an idea of how the Lemming's day has been:I'm more awake now: but it wasn't until now, with most of the afternoon behind me, that I realized that I'd forgotten about Apathetic Lemming of the North.

Sorry about that.

More to the point, I'm going to nose around and see what I find.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy Easter: Fluffy the Jumping Rabbit

Animal Coloring Pages
Home Life Weekly

(from Home Life Weekly, used w/o permission)

Fluffy the Jumping rabbit is between Flossy the Fluffy Sheep and Speedy The Snail. There's a link on Home Life Weekly's page to a higher-resolution picture of Fluffy: The things are designed as coloring sheets for kids, but I think they're presentable cartoon art as-is.

Okay: so they're not Rembrandts. They're still appealing.

There's more to Easter than fluffy rabbits, of course: but I'll be getting into that later, in another blog.

Fairy Castle in Museum of Science and Industry

"Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle"
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

(from Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, used w/o permission)

"Colleen Moore

"Silent film star Colleen Moore was always fascinated by dolls and doll houses. She owned several elaborate doll houses as a child, but later in life her father, Charles Morrison, suggested that she should pursue her passion for miniatures and doll houses by creating the 'doll house' of her dreams. Her position as one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood gave her the resources to produce a miniature home of fantastic proportions. Beginning in 1928, Moore enlisted the help of many talented professionals to help her realize her vision.

"Creating the Fairy Castle
"Horace Jackson, an architect and set designer who worked for First National Studios, created the floor plan and layout of the castle with the basic idea that 'the architecture must have no sense of reality. We must invent a structure that is everybody's conception of an enchanted castle.'

"Moore also enlisted the help of art director and interior designer Harold Grieve. Grieve had designed the interiors for Moore's actual mansion, so he was a natural to create the interiors of her fantasy castle. ..."

(from Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, used w/o permission)

That color photo shows the great hall of the Fairy Castle. The stairs have no railings. That isn't a design oversight or construction shortcut. The people in the castle are fairies, and have wings. That helps with balance - and probably makes them less afraid of heights than we would be.

The great hall scene is part of a virtual tour that's a couple clicks away from the Colleen Moore page I linked to. There are 12 photos on the tour - plus one at the intro page.

I saw the Fairy Castle itself once, years ago. It's an impressive piece of miniature art and sculpture.

It may seem like an odd sort of thing to find in the Museum of Science and Industry: but I suppose one justification would be that it represents the sort of fine detail work that goes into making small models. Lots of small models.

So That's Where They Get Those Promotional Cups

"Cheap Plastic Cups"
Show Your Logo, Inc.

"You can’t go wrong with custom party cups, and these cheap plastic cups are an excellent choice. Guaranteed to work their way into homes all over town, these logo plastic cups are a simple marketing idea that delivers long-term exposure. Our sturdy custom beer cups come in a wide variety of colors to make any logo look great. Order custom stadium cups from Show Your Logo and get a sweet deal on a popular promotional item!...

"$.35 ea.*..."

If you think there's a catch: you're right, sort of. These customized cups are $0.35 USD each: with a minimum order of 250. That's $87.50 USD, plus - probably - shipping and handling.

If I were buying the things, I'd do 'due diligence' and shop around a bit: but the price doesn't strike me as outrageous. Certainly not for custom-made, short-run items like this.

I'm not, by the way: but I learned about this general sort of thing when I was part of the marketing department of a small publishing house. We didn't use plastic cups, but did give away plastic heart-shaped paperclips with the company slogan on them for a while.

The most lastingly effective - and popular with our customers - were cheap tear-off scribble pads with the company name, logo, and toll-free number on each sheet. They got used by the folks who bought our products - and were a great way of keeping our contact information in front of them.

Don't worry: The Lemming will have something less 'crassly commercial' next.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Museum of Glass: "Hot glass. Cool art."

Museum of Glass
"Hot glass. Cool art."

"All glass, all the time. Housed in a striking building distinguished by its iconic 90-foot-high cone, the Museum of Glass features ongoing glassblowing demonstrations in the Hot Shop Amphitheater, where visitors learn about the creative challenges of working with molten glass. The 13,000 square feet of gallery space is dedicated to changing exhibitions of works executed in glass. A hands-on art studio is available for visitors...."
(From the about page.)

They're in Tacoma, Washington.

Looks like a great place. The website has live streaming video of the Museum of Glass hot shop - which obviously isn't available when the shop isn't open. Live streaming video.

The link labeled "virtual museum" on the home page isn't. I mean, the page it leads to is more a description of what the Museum of Glass is, where it is, and why it's so cool. Still, the photos are nice.

Most of what I saw on the website was attractive, well-written, and well-designed. Then, on a page about the history of the museum, I found this:

"Warning: include(/includes/store-rotator.php) [function.include]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/museumof/public_html/about-mog/history/index.php on line 98...."

here were five more, pretty much like this. Apparently something was wrong with lines 98, 100, and 102 of either software the web designer was using, or of a data set. (I checked the page's source code: it's an ordinary text document, with HTML tags and all - I'm surprised nobody spotted those 'warning' messages.)

Don't get me wrong: It's a beautiful website, other than that.

I think glass art is one of the more striking examples of technology and creativity interacting. Glass is a very practical substance: here in Minnesota, it allows my household to maintain fairly comfortable temperature levels inside winter and summer, while still having light and a view outside.

It's used to make light bulbs, lenses, and bottles.

And with a little tweaking, it can be used to make beautiful sculptures.

I'd like to see the Museum of Glass myself, in person: but meanwhile I'll settle for visiting the website.

Interview With a Rhododendron

"A Good Day For Geraniums" (March 15, 2010)

"Earlier today Phil Brown was relieved of his managerial duties by Hull City and placed on gardening leave, leaving Brown 'very disappointed' but his geraniums 'delighted'.

"Yet more proof of the fickleness of football's fates. Had Boaz Myhill pushed Denilson's shot away from goal, rather than straight back in front of it directly to the feet of Nicklas Bendtner like a total bleeding idiot, in the final moments of Saturday's match against Arsenal Hull would have secured...."

The article's content may not be all that interesting to folks who don't follow British football: and a perhaps-surprising number of Earth's 6,790,062,000 or so people don't. You might enjoy the style, though, and the image of reporter interviewing plants:

"...In an exclusive interview with one of the inhabitants of his garden, which we sadly had to make up because it can't speak...."

3,300,000 People's Student Loan Data Stolen: That's a Lot of Zeroes

"Student loan company: Data on 3.3M people stolen"
The Associated Press (March 26, 2010)

"A company that guarantees federal student loans said Friday that personal data on about 3.3 million people nationwide has been stolen from its headquarters in Minnesota.

"Educational Credit Management Corp. said the data included names, addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of borrowers, but no financial or bank account information.

"The data was on 'portable media' that was stolen sometime last weekend, ECMC said in a statement. Company spokesman Paul Kelash wouldn't specify what was taken, citing the ongoing investigation, but said there were no indications of any misuse of the data.

"The St. Paul-based nonprofit said it discovered the theft last Sunday and immediately contacted law enforcement, and made the theft public when it received permission from authorities. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation...."

Reuters had their piece on this theft a couple hours earlier:

"ECMC reports data theft; 3.3 million affected"
Reuters (March 26, 2010)

"ECMC, a nonprofit guarantor of federal student loans, said on Friday that a portable media device was stolen from its headquarters containing personal information of about 3.3 million people.

"The stolen data, which was discovered and reported to authorities on March 21, included names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers. Local, state and federal law enforcement are investigating the theft.

"ECMC said the people who were affected will be receiving written notification from the company. The ECMC has arranged with Experian, a credit protection agency, to assist affected people...."

How Could This Possibly Happen?!

Actually, I'm a little surprised that this sort of thing hasn't happened more often. There's a portable hard drive sitting on my desktop's tower that's about the size and shape of a wallet. I wouldn't: but I could put it in my pocket. It stores a ridiculous number of gigabytes of data.

ECMC, prudently, isn't saying what sort of portable media walked out of their facility: but my guess is that nobody worked up a sweat, carrying it.

And, much as I'm curious about this theft: I think it's a good idea to keep some details out of public knowledge. Law enforcement will have an easier time investigating this matter if some facts are only known to them, some people in the company, and whoever stole the stuff.

It's even possible that the "theft" wasn't intentional. I suppose someone could have taken a laptop or portable media home with them, neglected to fill out the right forms: and may have been spending this week trying to figure out how to tell the supervisor.

Or maybe someone thought they'd make a few bucks by stealing the data storage device itself. And didn't realize that the theft would make national news. With Reuters in the picture, maybe international.

Those Books Were Chained For a Reason

I grew up in a moderately colorful area. One of the things I heard, growing up, was how 'those people' kept the Bible locked away, so nobody could read it. It's a fact: Bibles, and other books, were often chained to reading racks during Europe's feudal period.

Not to keep people from reading them: so that the books would still be there, when someone came to use them.

That was the 'good old days,' before Gutenberg developed movable type. If you wanted a book, you had to pay for the original (you think "first editions" are valuable?), or pay someone to make a copy by hand. One letter at a time.

Each copy of each book involved an enormous amount of specialized labor. Those things were expensive. Hence the chains.

I'm not suggesting that organizations chain their thumb drives to the table: but I do think that we could improve our habits, and use the security protocols we've got.

Related posts:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Feeling a Need for Cute? Here's a Wet Raccoon

"Uh, we need to talk…"
Not That Mike The Other Mike, via Cute Overload (March 25, 2010)

"Look, I know you meant well. It was a thoughtful gesture; I mean that, really. And goodness knows, we were long overdue for an outing...."

There's more text, and more of the photo, at Cute Overload.


pCubee: Sort of 3D, Without Glasses

"3-D Tabletop Display Gets Rid of the Glasses"
Gadget Lab, Wired (March 25, 2010)

"A handheld cube-shaped display promises to offer all the thrills of 3-D without the annoyance of the glasses. The device called pCubee arranges five LCD screens into a box-like shape so viewers can pick it up, watch content or play with virtual objects inside.

"Weighing in at about three pounds, pCubee gives users a chance to poke and prod objects virtually using a stylus. You can shake the cube, tilt it or interact with a touchscreen, all while retaining the 3-D experience.

" 'Most people think 3-D is all about stereo and having alternating frames to help the brain perceive depth,' says Sidney Fels, who leads the Human Communication Technologies Lab at the University of British Columbia, where the project was designed. 'What we wanted to offer is a fish-tank-like experience in a handheld device.'..."

Pretty cool. Here's a YouTube video that's embedded in the Wired article:

"pCubee: a Perspective-Corrected Handheld Cubic Display"

CHIMadness2010, YouTube (March 5, 2010)
video, 0:27

"pCubee is a handheld cubic display system made with five flat-panel screens that uses perspective-corrected rendering and real-time physics simulation to create compelling visualization and interaction techniques for 3D content.

The pCubee could be this year's pet rock: a nifty fad.

Or, it could introduce a whole new set of displays. As the article says in the last paragraph:

"...'The pCubee can be used as a game platform, a CAD-CAM platform and in museums,' says Fels. 'We imagine this as something that would be on everybody’s coffee table.' "

St. Petersburg's Pier, a Cool Inverted Pyramid of a Building, and Human Nature

"Is it past time to tear down St. Petersburg's Pier?"
St. Petersburg Times (December 8, 2009)

"After a year of study, a city task force appears heading toward a tough conclusion: Tearing down the Pier must be part of any solution for St. Petersburg's most familiar waterfront icon.

"It's a notion members of the city's Pier Advisory Task Force said all their friends urged them to forget. But an informal consensus last week said it's willing to risk touching this third rail of St. Petersburg politics.

" 'Virtually every option we are looking at requires tearing down the Pier,' said Leslie Curran, a City Council member...."

This is the sort of thing that makes me glad I'm not involved directly in running a city.

The St. Petersburg Times makes it clear that it's the pier that needs replacement - or radical repair. That building in the photo is in fine shape:

"St. Petersburg Pier’s iconic inverted pyramid building remains rock-solid, but the 83-year-old half-mile roadway leading from the mainland is on its last legs and will have to be replaced...."
(St. Petersburg Times)

I think I can understand the sentiments involved. There was a big old tree on Sinclair Lewis Avenue, here in Sauk Centre, that had to be removed in a major street widening and infrastructure upgrade we went through a few years ago. The homeowner who owned the land - and the tree - didn't like the situation a bit. I wasn't too happy myself.

But the street needed to be wider. We've grown since that tree was planted.

In St. Petersburg, I suppose there are people with happy childhood memories involving that pier: and that they don't like the idea of that part of their past being removed.

Even if it's replaced with something better.

Looks like one of the few other options is to wait until a hurricane does the demolition work, and go from there.

Maybe it'd be best to tear down the pier under more controlled conditions.

Vaguely-related posts:More:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And the Moral of This Story is: Don't Eat Raw Meat

"E. Coli: Not Just for Carnivores Anymore"
Discovery News (Mardh 24, 2010)

"When the topic of eating meat comes up, on occasion my vegan and vegetarian friends will recite a list of reasons they abstain from consuming the flesh of animals. (Not that they need to justify anything to me; I always assumed it was not because they love animals so much as they hate plants.)

"I am an unapologetic omnivore, but I recognize that there are several reasonable arguments for the health benefits of not eating meat—quite aside from periodic stomach-churning undercover PETA video footage of food farm squalor...."

"...As various nationally-publicized meat recalls have been announced over the years, articles and blogs on vegetarian topics would sometimes cheerfully mention that vegetarians didn't need to worry about such problems. I've heard the same from vegan friends.

"However, it's not true. While undercooked ground beef, in general, contains more harmful bacteria than plants, those who eat fruits and vegetables are also at risk.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in June and July 1997 60 people got food poisoning from eating alfalfa sprouts contaminated with E. coli, and there have been about a half-dozen outbreaks of salmonella infection caused by alfalfa sprouts since 1995. Unwashed, raw fruits and vegetables can be just as toxic as unprepared, uncooked meat. ..."

Which is why we cook (or grill) our meat and wash everything we don't heat beyond what any organism would survive. Well, any organism from this planet ("Titan, Life Without Water, and 'Messing With Old Definitions' " (March 24, 2010))

One of my kinsmen is a strict vegetarian: on doctor's orders. He's had heart trouble, and part of dealing with it is to keep a range of animal fats and proteins out of his food. That, I don't have a problem with.

On the other hand, I'm not about to start apologizing to every apple I eat.

And Now, the Recommended Daily Adult Requirement of Cute

Nina, via Disapproving Rabbits (March 24, 2010)

(from Nina, via Disapproving Rabbits, used w/o permission)

With a photo like that, a caption is superfluous, but the post has one, anyway:

"The sunlight! It buuuuurns!"

New Member of the Human Evolutionary Family: Or, Not

"DNA Reveals New Hominid Ancestor"
Wired Science (March 24, 2010)

"A new member of the human evolutionary family has been proposed for the first time based on an ancient genetic sequence, not fossil bones. Even more surprising, this novel and still mysterious hominid, if confirmed, would have lived near Stone Age Neandertals and Homo sapiens.

" 'It was a shock to find DNA from a new type of ancestor that has not been on our radar screens,' says geneticist Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. These enigmatic hominids left Africa in a previously unsuspected migration around 1 million years ago, a team led by Pääbo and Max Planck graduate student Johannes Krause reports in a paper published online March 24 in Nature.

"The researchers base their claim on DNA from a finger bone belonging to a hominid that lived in the Altai Mountains of central Asia between about 48,000 and 30,000 years ago...."

It's early days, and there isn't anything close to a consensus on what this (apparently) new hominid is, and where they fit in the picture of our origins.

There's a fair amount of detail in the article, about this particular find, what scientists are saying about it, and the ups and downs of genetic paleontology.

I'd say that the bottom line is that we don't know: but we're collecting data.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ever Wonder Why You Don't See More Pet Gila Monsters?

"The Gila Monster | Heloderma suspectum"

"Gila Monsters are one of only two species of seriously venomous lizards!..."

That might explain why you don't see more gila monsters kept as pets.

There's more to the article, like:


"Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of extreme southwestern Utah, southern Nevada, southeastern California, Arizona and southwestern New Mexico into Mexico.


"Desert and semiarid regions of gravelly and sandy soils with shrubs. Found under rocks, in burrows of other animals and in holes it digs itself...."

The article only mentions gila monsters in the American southwest, but the critters live in northern Mexico, too. Don't give DesertUSA a hard time, though. Their 'about' page says they're "A comprehensive resource about the North American deserts and Southwest Destinations." On the other hand, it's pretty obvious that the website's interested in tourism promotion in the American southwest.

It's like where I live, Minnesota. Tourism promoters for Minnesota don't go out of their way to point out that you'll find pretty much the same sorts of fish in the lakes of Wisconsin and - believe it or not - North Dakota.

Titan, Life Without Water, and "Messing With Old Definitions"

"Can Life on Titan Thrive Without Water?" (March 23, 2010)

"New discoveries have a way of messing with old definitions. Take, for example, the concept of a habitable world.

"The standard definition of a 'habitable world' is a world with liquid water at its surface; the "habitable zone" around a star is defined as that Goldilocks region — not too hot, not too cold — where a watery planet or moon can exist.

"And then there's Titan. Saturn's giant moon Titan lies about as far from the standard definition of habitable as one can get. The temperature at its surface hovers around 94 degrees Kelvin (minus 179 C, or minus 290 F). At that temperature, water is a rock as hard as granite.

"And yet many scientists now believe life may have found a way to take hold on Titan. Water may all be frozen solid, but methane and ethane are liquids. In the past few years, instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft and images captured by ESA's Huygens probe have revealed an astonishing world with a complete liquid cycle, much like the hydrologic cycle on Earth, but based on methane and ethane rather than on water...."

Actually, the idea that life didn't necessarily need water isn't particularly new. A former professor (of chemistry, apparently) at Boston University put together a pretty good argument for a half-dozen life chemistries that might plausibly work in temperatures ranging from near red-hot to near absolute zero:
  1. Fluorosilicone in fluorosilicone
  2. Fluorocarbon in sulfur
  3. Nucleic acid/protein (O) in water
  4. Nucleic acid/protein (N) in ammonia
  5. Lipid in methane
  6. Lipid in hydrogen
    "View from a Height" Isaac Asimov (1963), Lancer Books (p. 63)
Isaac Asimov might be shaky on the sciences of ecology and physics - at least in his fiction - but that was in his professional field: chemistry. I'm inclined to take his view seriously, that life-as-we-know-it isn't necessarily the only sort. We're #3 on that list, by the way.

Back to the article:

"...The chance to discover a form of life with a different chemical basis than life on Earth has led some researchers to consider Titan the most important world on which to search for extraterrestrial life. In a recent paper in the journal Astrobiology, Robert Shapiro, a professor of chemistry at New York University, and Dirk Shulze-Makuch of Washington State University rated Titan a higher-priority target for investigation than even Mars...."

Not everybody agrees, of course.

I can see the other point of view. The only sort of life we know exists involves nucleic acids and proteins. Nucleic acids and proteins on earth have more oxygen atoms than nitrogen atoms - indicated by (O) in Dr.1 Asimov's list. He pointed out that (as of the early sixties) it wasn't unreasonable to suppose that nucleic acids and proteins with more nitrogen atoms than oxygen - indicated by (N) - couldn't exist. We don't find them on Earth, but considering how boiling hot it is here, that shouldn't be a surprise. (Ammonia is a gas in our home world's temperature range.)

I'm inclined to take Shapiro and Dirk Shulze-Makuch - and Asimov - seriously. At least, I see their points of view as being a trifle more reasonable than a more familiar 'I never thought of such a thing: therefore it doesn't exist' attitude. (More: Exploding Martians and the Viking Life Experiment (March 5, 2009))

Related posts:
Related posts, at
1 Doctorate in chemistry, 1948. ("Isaac Asimov" Columbia 250)

Google, China, and Keeping Up With the News

"Google-China move hurts businesses, academics"
CNN (March 23, 2010)

"Businesses and universities could be substantially affected by the departure of Google from China.

"Most of the country's nearly 400 million Internet users may not be affected by the closure. But academics, university students and other researchers rely heavily on Google's search services to access information not available through Chinese search engines, like, China's most popular search portal. Small businesses that depend on Google applications such as Google Docs and Gmail may also suffer, analysts said.

"A recent survey of more than 700 Chinese scientists conducted by the journal Nature found that 80 percent regularly use Google to search for academic papers while 60 percent said they use the site to stay on top of new research...."

Oops. By the time this article was posted (3:58 p.m. EDT), ZDNet and others were discussing recent developments. It's so hard to keep up, these days.

I see the point: academics and small business operators who depend on Google services would be hurt if Google won't cooperate with the Chinese leadership's preference that the masses be fed 'correct' information. On the other hand, I think Google made a reasonable choice. They've got their reputation to consider, and playing censor for a workers' paradise wouldn't improve their image. In many circles, anyway.

Related post:

Lemming Tracks: Theme Days, Coincidence, and All That

Yesterday and today might give you the impression that The Lemming has started doing "theme days" on this blog. Those three posts yesterday on censorship and cybersecurity, and the two today on dinosaurs, might give that impression, but that's not happening.

Theme days, particularly where a particular day of the week always has posts about a fairly narrow topic, are a pretty good idea. If you like to see photos of cute kittens, or enjoy a little light reading about cosmology, it's nice to know you can check a blog out on that topic's day and find something new.

Like I say, it's a pretty good idea. I've thought about doing that, but each time decided that I liked handling Apathetic Lemming of the North the way I am now. Besides, some days I have trouble finding anything reasonably new and/or interesting on one particular topic. It's nice to have elbow room in the format.

More Zombie Models

"Zombie models, undead and unamused"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (March 23, 2010)

"Okay, fashion show staff, as you know we’ve been struggling for some time with the problem of models showing too much emotion when they’re out on the runway.

"Sure, an occasional pout or contemptuous sneer or obnoxious smirk can have its place, but our new clothing line is heading more in the direction of no emotion whatsoever...."

I get the impression, fairly often, that I'm not quite on the same page as the upper echelons of Western culture. ("Data-Driven Art: For an 'Overwhelmed' 'Hive Mind???' " (January 27, 2010)) That, I can live with.

Oddly Enough's blogger has another funny post here. My opinion. It helps if you don't take haute couture / high fashion too seriously.

Related posts:

Utah Dinosaur Buried Alive? Bad News for Dino, Good News for Paleontologists

"New Dinosaur Might Have Been Buried Alive"
Discovery News (March 23, 2010)

"During the Early Jurassic Period, a sand dune collapsed at Utah's red rocks with such force that it might have buried alive a plant-eating dinosaur, entombing and preserving the dinosaur upside-down for 185 million years, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

"The buried remains represent Utah's oldest most complete dinosaur. It has been named Seitaad ruessi, with the first word referring to a Navajo creation legend sand-desert monster that swallowed individuals in the dunes. The second honors artist and explorer Everett Ruess, who mysteriously disappeared at age 20 in the same region during the 1930s.

"Ruess' body has never been found, but the fossils of the new dinosaur froze the animal's final moments. A CT scan reveals the dinosaur was missing a single toe and a lower leg bone, suggesting that it either died and was shortly thereafter engulfed by a collapsing sand dune, or was buried alive...."

It's a pretty big deal. This is the oldest (relatively) complete fossilized dinosaur found in Utah: and is an early model of the huge sauropods. Those are those thick-bodied, long-necked dinosaurs that, together with T-Rex, are what many folks may think of first when they hear "dinosaur."

Apart from the 'coolness factor,' a complete - or nearly-complete - fossilized anything is important to paleontologists. If nothing else, it lets them verify the accuracy of their educated guesses about which bones belong with which critters. Like the Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus mistake. And no, I don't think that proves evolution is a fraud, any more than I think that the lack of dinosaur bones stamped with "Made By God" prove that God doesn't exist. ("Dinosaurs, Mutant Chickens, Evolution, and Faith in God," A Catholic Citizen in America (June 29, 2009))

And, this creature was one of the first sauropodomorphs from North America.

Dinosaurs, Runaway Volcanism, Change, and Evolution

"Dinosaurs Rode Volcanic Armageddon to Victory"
Wired Science (March 22, 2010)

"Geologists have turned a series of 200 million-year-old lake-bed sediments into an epic narrative of the dinosaurs' journey from ecological obscurity to Earthly supremacy, a mystery that has lingered even as their disappearance is explained.

"The dino path to dominance appears to have been cleared when the supercontinent Pangea cracked, setting off 600,000 years of volcanic activity that wiped out the dinosaurs' crocodilian competitors.

" 'This is the strongest case for a volcanic cause of a mass extinction event to date,' wrote geoscientists in a paper published March 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"From 250 million to 200 million years ago, dinosaurs were just upstart lizards. The planet was dominated by a family of vaguely crocodile-like animals called crurotarsans that filled every major ecological niche, from slow-munching herbivores to fleet predators...."

"...From 250 million to 200 million years ago, dinosaurs were just upstart lizards. The planet was dominated by a family of vaguely crocodile-like animals called crurotarsans that filled every major ecological niche, from slow-munching herbivores to fleet predators.

"About halfway through that period, known as the Triassic, an asteroid struck Earth. Many of the planet's species went extinct, but the crurotarsans weathered the storm. Then, 25 million years after that, in what's known as the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, the crurotarsans and at least half of all other animal species vanished. Exactly why isn't known, but scientists now have a pretty good idea...."

Like I've said before, change happens.

(from Wired Science, used w/o permission)

Those aren't dinosaurs: they were crurotarsans, those "crocodilian competitors" critters that got wiped out about 200,000,000 years ago (closer to 199,600,000 - maybe - but who's counting?) Crocodile-like they are, but the first thing I thought, seeing the one on the left, was 'what's a picture of a pike doing in this article?'

You Thought You Had a Bad Day?

(from Wired Science, used w/o permission)
"CAMP" stands for Central Atlantic magmatic province, by the way. It's "a 3.5 million-square-mile lake of lava" that formed during the 600,000 or so years when the Atlantic was born.

That's a map of Earth, about 210,000,000 years ago, before about 600,000 years of volcanism in what's now the Atlantic Ocean apparently killed off a whole lot of creatures: including the crurotarsans. Bad news for them, good news for the dinosaurs. And, eventually, us.

Let's go over some of the (approximate) times mentioned in the article
  • 225,000,000 years BP (before present)
    • Asteroid hits Earth
  • 200,000,000 years BP
    • Heavy volcanic activity starts
    • Pangea breaks in two
      • We call that break "The Atlantic"
  • 199,400,000 years BP
    • Heavy volcanic activity ends
      • Elapsed time: 600,000 years
      • Crurotarsans are extinct
        • Leaving room for dinosaurs
  • 65,000,000 years BP
    • Asteroid hits Earth
      • Dinosaurs are extinct
      • Leaving room for mammals
        • And, eventually, humans
For the last dozen millennia or so, humanity's been living in a relatively tranquil warm spell during one of this planet's glacial periods. Or maybe at the end of the more recent period of continental glaciation. Last I heard, the jury's still out on that one.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that 15,000 or so years is a fairly short time on Earth's history. It isn't even close to being on the same order of magnitude as, say, 65,000,000, 200,000,000, or 225,000,000.

And, that life on Earth has been through asteroid hits, massive volcanic events, and a glacial epoch where continental glaciers reached all the way to the equator. (" 'Snowball Earth,' Evolution, and Really Old Rocks" (March 16, 2010)) The lava flow mentioned in this article covered around 3,500,000 square miles. That's very roughly 1.8% of Earth's surface. By comparison, the United States of America is a little bigger than that, but not by much.

Today's emphasis on how endangered the koala, panda, and Bee Creek Cave Harvestman spider is, I think, laudable in some ways. At least it's a change of pace from the 19th century silliness that apparently assumed that every natural resource was effectively infinite.

But although I think that Harvestman spiders in the Bee Creek Cave may be in danger of dying out, I'm not particularly worried about life on Earth as a whole. Mother nature is a tough old mother. More like Queen Boudicca than Clara Bow ("Frail, Delicate Little Mother Nature?!" (December 20, 2009))

I'm not very worried about humanity, either. We've only been around for maybe 1,600,000 years - maybe longer - but that period included one of Earth's seven major glacial periods. We made it through that - quite possibly developing much of our early technology while dealing with the changing conditions. We're opportunistic omnivores, there are well upwards of 6,000,000,000 of us, and we have a history of bouncing back from catastrophes. Remember the Black Death?

I think we'll prove as hard to kill as rats - maybe even cockroaches. I'll grant that's not a flattering comparison: but I think the reputation those critters have is due in part to their being, as a group, nearly indestructible.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Internet Freedom: "What are the rules? Who decides?"

"The battle for Internet freedom " (March 22, 2010)

"What are we permitted to post legally on the Internet? Who is responsible for the content of materials posted on Web sites? Two recent legal cases have highlighted the ongoing battles over control of information being posted on the Internet.

"In Italy, the government of neo-Fascist Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate who detests the very idea of having anyone else in control of any news media, has drafted legislation to impose government examination of all videos before they can be uploaded to the Web. In a related case, an Italian judge convicted Google executives of violating a child's privacy rights because someone posted an abusive video on Google Video and Google staff didn't remove it fast enough to suit the judge.

"In contrast, in Iceland, the Wikileaks organization, devoted to open publication of information about government malfeasance, is receiving support from legislators...."

"...These cases raise questions about who decides what can legally be posted on Internet-accessible venues such as blogs and Web sites. If you, personally, run a blog where visitors can leave comments, are you immediately legally responsible for what total strangers post on your Web site? What if they post stolen software? What if a group of religious fanatics who seized power over an entire nation object to cartoons that you have posted on your Web site and issue death threats against you? What if a totalitarian regime objects to a description of its Dear Leader as a degenerate nitwit who lives in luxury while his people starve to death?..."

I think the column gives a pretty good overview of what's involved in people being allowed to express themselves online: and what's been happening lately.

If you like to see something other than photos of cute animals and how wonderful the beloved leaders are: you should probably read this.

Not that I've got anything against cute animals. ("Airbags and the Disapproving Rabbit" (March 23, 2010))

Finally, I think freedom is messy. But I like it.

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

Portland, Oregon: Watch Your (Cyber)Wallet

"What's the Riskiest City for Web Surfing?"
FOXNews (March 22, 2010)

"You probably won't be mugged in smaller cities like Portland, Ore., but you're more likely to have your cyberwallet picked.

"Those same factors that are likely to boost a city's civic pride -- prevalence of Wi-Fi hot spots, a cyber-savvy populace and so on -- also make citizens more likely to be at risk for cybercrime, finds a new study released Monday morning.

"The data comes from Symantec's Security Response group, which in conjunction with research firm Sperling's BestPlaces just released a list of the 10 riskiest online cities. In the study, the company compared the number of cyberattacks against several potential risk factors, including the prevalence and speed of Internet access, usage, how much citizens spend on computer gear, and how likely they are to shop online.

"Regardless of the size of the city, score high on those marks and the crooks will find you...."

I live in Minnesota, and one of the cities in this state made the top 10:
  1. Seattle
  2. Boston
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. San Francisco
  5. Raleigh, NC
  6. Atlanta, GA
  7. Minneapolis, MN
  8. Denver, CO
  9. Austin, TX
  10. Portland, OR
There's a list to the top 50 American cities in this risk category in the article. If you didn't see your home state in the top 10, there's still hope. If that's the right word.

Finally, a sort of heads-up from the article. You probably already know this, but:

"...Cybercrime isn't made up of anonymous, blanket attacks any more. 'That's changed a lot in the past two years,' says [Norton Internet Safety Advocate Marian] Merritt, pointing out the increase in 'spear fishing,' where criminals target the high-profile (and wealthier) executives at organizations...."

Google, China, Censorship, Compromise: "Totally Wrong;" or, Not

"Google decides to stay in China after all"
ZDNet (March 23, 2010)

"In a compromise move, Google announced they will not abandon the China market after all. Instead, they will move their servers and domain name to Hong Kong, while keeping their developers and sales personnel where they are now on the mainland.

"Google's Hong Kong site will now offer uncensored search results in simplified Chinese for mainlanders, and in traditional Chinese for Hong Kong residents. Visitors to were already being redirected to on Tuesday morning. 'We believe this new approach [is] a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced,' said David Drummond, senior vice president of Corporate Development, on the Google blog Monday. 'It's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.'

"Not surprisingly, China sees things differently. According to the official Xinhua News Agency the head of the Internet Bureau called Google's actions 'totally wrong,' and said that 'Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering on its searching service.' The official also denied responsibility for a recent spate of cyber attacks. '[We] express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conduct.'..."

China: Inter-Dynastic Periods Never Were Very Tranquil

Before anything else, some background about my view of China. I've been a historian, and realize that the position of China in the 8th through early 20th century - particularly from about 1839 to 1949 - is an unusual one for the Middle Kingdom. Here in America, we've heard quite a lot about the Opium Wars (disgraceful situation): not so much of the efforts of the Abbasid Caliphate to hack their way into the minds and hearts of the Tang Dynasty. But that's another topic.

I think there's a good chance that China may resume its position as a major landmark on the world's cultural, economic, and political landscape - and not as the anachronistic hodge-podge of ancient culture, foreign ideologies, all run by people who (in my view) are desperately trying to reconcile their notion of an ideal state to awkward realities.
"...I'm glad to hear that Hong Kong isn't, ah, quite as 'protected' as the masses in the rest of China. I suspect that the party leaders in Beijing realize, at some level, that it wouldn't be a good idea to choke the intellectual and financial life there.

"But that's another topic.

"I'm somewhat impressed that Google's willing to buck the system in the only remaining major worker's paradise on the planet. Not terribly surprised, though: too many people know what's going on in China and Google has a reputation to lose. We don't always call it 'losing face' in the West, but the old-fashioned idea of having values and sticking by them apparently hasn't been entirely lost....
("Google Stops Censoring Service: And This is News" (March 22, 2010))
"There's More to China Than Censorship and Porno Spam
"...I'm still getting 'spam' comments - and they're still very often in Chinese.

"If I didn't know more about China's culture and history, it would be easy to get the impression that there wasn't much more to the country, than naughty chat rooms and young women just aching to be exploited.

"China's gotten through inter-dynastic periods before. I think the chances are pretty good that the Middle Kingdom will emerge from this one, too, with a stable and vibrant society. Which is definitely another topic."
(Google Pulling Out of China? I've Heard Worse News" (March 14, 2010))

Back to Google, China, and Managing the Masses

"Censorship" is a hot-button word for many people. Understandably. I'm against it, by the way.

I also realize that when one group has control of most information channels, there's a real temptation to filter out things that are embarrassing to the group that's on top - or doesn't fit their world view.

For example, I'm old enough to remember when rock music and women wearing slacks were - according to one group - Satanic; and the dying gurgles of McCarthyism.

That was then, this is now, and there's a different lot in charge. They don't seem to like opposition any more than most folks. Remember when cable television was "divisive?" I do. Now it's the Internet. And those upstart news networks. (More: "What is an Information Gatekeeper?," Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 14, 2009))

China's leaders are, in a way, in an unenviable position. They are committed to an ideology which is not only foreign to their culture, but in my view doesn't work very well. Not when the masses are human beings.1 It's not that I sympathize with them: but I think I understand why they don't want their subjects to know too much about the outside world.

It could be called "protecting the masses from foreign lies" or something else euphemistic. I think what China's leaders are doing is censorship.

And I think Google has done a pretty good job (for now) of balancing their reasonable (in my view) desire to make a profit and their (again in my view) admirable desire to not cooperate with state control of information. Under the circumstances, I think that China's official view that Google is "totally wrong" shows that the company is on the right track.

China isn't Alone

On the whole, I like living in America, but I'm not an American chauvinist. Over the years (decades, centuries) this country has been - imperfect. ("United States of America: 232 Years in the Freedom Business," Another War-on-Terror Blog (July 3, 2008))

Not all that long ago, I think we had a very close call, when a strange alliance of interest groups had a shot at 'protecting' the rest of us from the Wicked, Wicked Web. ("Odd Allies: Opposition to Waterboarding and Web Censorship," Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 9, 2008))

When someone makes emotional appeals like 'save the children!,' I get - cautious. Which is definitely another topic.

Related posts:More, about my take on emotions, in other blogs:1 In my youth, both socialism and communism were attractive ideas. I soon realized that they didn't work well in human societies. Maybe if we were more like mole rats, psychologically.

They look good on paper, though.
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