Monday, January 31, 2011

Google, Twitter Launch Workaround for Egypt's People

"Google launches Twitter workaround for Egypt"
Edition: U.S., Reuters (January 31, 2011)

"Google Inc launched a special service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages by dialing a phone number and leaving a voicemail, as Internet access continues to be cut off in the country amid anti-government protests.

" 'Like many people we've been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,' read a post on Google's official corporate blog on Monday.

"The service, which Google said was developed with engineers from Twitter, allows people to dial a telephone number and leave a voicemail. The voicemail is automatically translated into a message that is sent on Twitter using the identifying tag #egypt, Google said.

"Google said in the blog post, titled 'Some weekend work that will (hopefully) enable more Egyptians to be heard,' that no Internet connection is required to use the service. Google listed three phone numbers for people to call to use the service...."

Good for Google, in the Lemming's opinion. Although now the Lemming thinks it's possible that the Egyptian government will shut down phone service for its subjects, too. Daft and self-destructive as such an act would be. ('And if you don't stop, I'll shoot myself in the other foot!?')

This isn't Politics: It's Common Sense

This isn't, as the Lemming has been saying fairly often of late, a political blog. Still, it seems to the Lemming that Egypt's President Mubarak might have been able to avoid the mess his country's in - if he'd bothered to listen to what his subjects had to say. It's not like he's a tyro at the job - he's been Egypt's president since 1981.

As the Lemming wrote elsewhere elsewhere, criticism hurts. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 30, 2011)) But, in the Lemming's opinion, it's a good idea to listen anyway. Sometimes the criticism is just someone blowing off steam. Sometimes the other guy's right.

Related posts:

Blizzard, Cold, and Walking in to Fetch the Tractor

"Blizzard, Ice Storm, Nasty Cold All Aiming for Midwest"
Alex Sosnowski, (January 31, 2011)

"Both a major blizzard and an ice storm will hit a large portion of the Midwest just ahead of Groundhog Day. Arctic air will charge in during the storm in some areas and after the storm in others, leading to additional concerns.

"For some locations, the storm may be a two-day event or much longer than a typical winter storm.

"An area of snow streaking eastward from the northern Plains and spotty ice breaking out over the middle Mississippi Valley Monday is just the start of the storm that will grow much worse with time...."

The Lemming lives in central Minnesota, north of most of the excitement this time. Even so, quite a few area schools were opening two hours late - and changed that to 'closed for the day' a little later. Sauk Centre, Minnesota, schools didn't - and that's another topic.

On a personal note, the Lemming's daughter, a brother-in-law and son-in-law made it all the way to my daughter & son-in-law's place this afternoon. Then they got stuck in the driveway. No crisis. The last I heard, the young men were walking in to get the tractor/plow. The Lemming's daughter called to talk with my wife - Information Age communications is wonderful.

And that's another topic.

Space Shuttle Infographic: From Steering Thrusters to Rudder/Speed Brake

"NASA's Space Shuttle – From Top to Bottom"
Karl Tate, (January 31, 2011)

Normally the Lemming gives a short quote from an article or post - but in this case it's one whacking great infographic, 9,338 pixels tall. And just a tiny bit wider than this blog's format likes. The Lemming checked - nothing's hidden, apart from the tip of the Shuttles tail in a drawing, and a tad bit of the right border of a photo.

It's a thorough piece - including a section on Launch Pad 39-A, an old Saturn V launch facility that NASA re-engineered for the shuttles.

A graphical representative of NASA’s space shuttle.

Source All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

The embed code, by the wya, is's, except for the location of the infographic file. The Lemming's placed that on another server - in case shuffles its website. They've been pretty good about making it possible for folks to find their pages - but one never knows what's next.

About the Space Shuttle fleet: They've been a fine line of freighters, and the Lemming will be a little sorry to see them go. But time passes, and the Lemming's written about that before. September 23, 2010)

Related posts:More:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Life is On the Clock - And Has Been for a Very Long Time

"Ancient body clock keeps all life on time: studies"
Kate Kelland, editing by Paul Casciato, Health, Edition: US, Reuters (January 26, 2011)

"Scientists have identified the mechanism that controls the internal 24-hour clock of all forms of life -- a finding they say should shed light on some shift work-related problems like diabetes, depression and cancer.

"Researchers from Britain's Cambridge and Edinburgh universities, whose work was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, said their findings provide important insight into health-related problems linked to people such as nurses, pilots and other shift workers, whose body clocks are disrupted.

"The studies also suggest that the 24-hour circadian clock found in human cells is the same as that found in algae, and dates back millions of years to early life on earth, they said.

"In the first study, Cambridge scientists found for the first time that red blood cells have a 24-hour rhythm.

"This is significant, they explained, because circadian rhythms have always been assumed to be linked to DNA and gene activity -- but, unlike most other cells in the body, red blood cells do not have DNA...."

What the scientists found was that levels of peroxiredoxins - proteins found in just about every living thing on Earth - change on a 24 hour schedule. Whether the organism is exposed to light or not.

Just how these ancient clocks tie in with the rest of our bodies' processes - is still a mystery. But researchers have something specific to look for now.

On a personal note, finding these built-in clocks reminds the Lemming that there's most likely something to the old saying, "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise."

Not, as James Thurber put it, 'early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy and wealthy and dead.' And that's another topic.

Last Discovery Launch Scheduled - Again

"Shuttle Discovery to Make Its Final Launch Pad Trip Monday"
Clara Moskowitz, (January 28, 2011)

"The space shuttle Discovery is set to make its last journey to Launch Pad 39A Monday (Jan. 31) in preparation for its final mission to space next month.

"Discovery is slated to launch Feb. 24, carrying six astronauts and a load of new tools and spare supplies to the International Space Station.

"The shuttle has been inside the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., since late December. It has been undergoing repairs for cracks on its giant external fuel tank that were discovered while NASA was preparing to try to launch the shuttle in November. The cracks were found on support beams, called stringers, on the tank...."

The original schedule for Discovery's last mission included a launch date of November 1, 2010. Quite a bit has happened since then: including the repairs mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this article.

Two more shuttle launches are planned - and then the Space Shuttle fleet will be retired. Other nations will handle cargo and passenger runs to the International Space Station after that.

The Lemming thinks it won't be long before private spacecraft start making deliveries to low Earth orbit, too - and that's another topic.

Related posts:

Lemming Tracks: Egypt Government Shuts Down Internet: It Can't Happen Here?

"Egypt Internet Shutdown Underscores Vulnerability"
Antone Gonsalves, InformationWeek (January 29, 2011)

"The government ordered the shutdown of the country's four ISPs, effectively blocking all Internet communications during anti-government protests.

"The ease with which Egypt was able to shutdown the Internet to cut off communications during violent, anti-government protests demonstrates the Internet's vulnerability in countries where there are few service providers.

"Egypt, where protests stem from frustration over government corruption, a depressed economy, and a lack of political freedom, started its Internet blockade this week by cutting off access to Twitter and Facebook. The sites are often used by protesters in troubled nations to organize demonstrations and stay a step ahead of police. On Friday, the sites were still inaccessible.

""We saw a drop in Egyptian traffic on Thursday and are now seeing only minimal traffic from Egypt," Facebook said in a statement emailed to InformationWeek Friday...."

The Lemming wrote about what happened in Tunisia earlier this month. (January 15, 2011)

Essentially, folks in Tunisia had gotten fed up with their apparently-permanent president. Thanks in part to the sort of informal communication that's possible on the Internet, in the Lemming's opinion, what started as one Tunisian setting himself on fire expanded into a nation-wide protest. And, not long after that, the president-for-life hightailing it for Saudi Arabia.

In a way, the folks who run Egypt are justified in having their enforcers kill protesters, and shutting down Internet access for their unruly subjects. The rulers probably like their jobs, and may think that they alone know what's best for the rabble.

The 'rabble' obviously has an alternative opinion on the subject.

Freedom of Expression - Precious

The Lemming likes living in America. Aside from a remarkable degree of economic opportunity, folks living in this country are allowed to speak their mind to a remarkable extent.

Even if they have something other than praise for the government.

It's the Lemming's opinion that folks being able to communicate with each other - even if members of Congress don't like what's said - is a good idea. But then, the Lemming thinks that good sense and intelligence isn't limited to those who won the last election.

The Lemming even thinks that newspaper editors, college professors, and media executives don't necessarily represent the pinnacle of human potential.

Information Gatekeepers and Changing Times

Folks like editors, professors, and media decision-makers are some of America's traditional information gatekeepers: the folks who, back in the 'good old days' decided what 'the masses' should see, hear, and read. For our own good, of course.

The Lemming's discussed information gatekeepers in another blog:It's the Lemming's opinion that folks don't tend to be entirely comfortable with change. Particularly if change means that they will have less power and status. Traditional information gatekeepers, again in the Lemming's opinion, have been upset about the new social structures of the Information Age.

With some reason.

Back in 'the good old days,' traditional information gatekeepers could keep facts they didn't like from 'the masses.' And congratulate themselves on being the privileged few who protected the common lot from complexities that they alone understood.

Perhaps the Lemming is being unfair.

This isn't a political blog, by the way, and the Lemming isn't 'political.' Not in the sense of always cheering for one side and booing the other. On the other hand, the Lemming is "apathetic" only in the sense of not caring - intensely, blindly, irrationally - about the 'right' things. Yet another topic.

Shutting Down the Internet - 'For Our Own Good'

One thing the Lemming does care about - a great deal - is the freedom of people who don't necessarily agree with government or cultural leaders to speak their minds. The Lemming thinks that sort of free exchange of ideas helps point out deficiencies in policies and beliefs. And, ideally at least, provides a way to correct them.

The Lemming also thinks that it's a good idea to correct problems - before they get to 'Tunisian' levels.

It's arguable that the president of Tunisia kept winning elections because he and his associates had a nice, well-managed country - where the common people were told what they needed to know, and 'protected' from ideas that might disturb them.

Just look at what happened when Information Age technology and the social connections that go with it stirred the waters. It's the Lemming's opinion that the incredible stink that bubbled to the surface when Twitter and other social media let Tunisians start poking around their own country

No wonder the Egyptian government essentially shut down Internet access for its subjects. The Lemming suspects that the folks who have gotten used to running Egypt like their jobs - and intend to keep things pretty much the way they have been.

Maintaining the status quo is easier, in the Lemming's opinion, if the masses are kept from getting information from unapproved sources - and from comparing notes.

That's Egypt. The Lemming would like to think that folks in America don't have to be concerned about having Internet access, and the free exchange of ideas that goes with it, taken away.

The Lemming would like to think that people never get sick or have accidents, too: but that's not the way it is.

"Internet 'Kill Switch' Legislation Back in Play"
David Kravets, Threat Level, Wired (January 28, 2011)

"Legislation granting the president internet-killing powers is to be re-introduced soon to a Senate committee, the proposal's chief sponsor told on Friday.

"The resurgence of the so-called 'kill switch' legislation came the same day Egyptians faced an internet blackout designed to counter massive demonstrations in that country.

"The bill, which has bipartisan support, is being floated by Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation, which Collins said would not give the president the same power Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is exercising to quell dissent, sailed through the Homeland Security Committee in December but expired with the new Congress weeks later.

"The bill is designed to protect against 'significant' cyber threats before they cause damage, Collins said...."

Maybe the Collins bill is a good idea.

Maybe giving the president power to keep the masses from communicating with each other online is important - 'in the interests of national security.'

Maybe there really are enough safeguards in the bill, to keep a president from deciding that disagreeing with White House policy was not in the interest of national security: and shutting down dissent.


Related posts:
News and views:

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Thought for the Day: About Boyhood and Measles

"Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious."
P. G. Wodehouse, Uneasy Money, via The Quotations Page

New Clue in Human Evolution: It's All in the Wrist

"Humans Left Trees 4.2 Million Years Ago"
Jennifer Viegas, Archaeology News, Discovery News (January 28, 2011 )

"Wrist bones of human ancestors reveal when humans switched from living in trees to on the ground.

"Early human ancestors stopped swinging in trees and started walking on the ground sometime between 4.2 and 3.5 million years ago, according to a new study.

"This key moment, when our ancestors became anatomically and behaviorally less ape-like, coincides with increased cooling, more defined seasonality, and a grassland growth spurt. All transformed former forest habitats into more varied ones, forcing our very early relatives to change their ways.

" 'With the trees being farther apart, it became energetically advantageous for hominids to cross the gaps bipedally,' said Gabriele Macho, lead author of the study that was published in the latest issue of Folia Primatologica.

"Macho, a paleoanthropologist at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, and his colleagues made the determinations after analyzing wrist bones from two early hominid relatives: Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis (also known as the "Lucy" fossil). The former species is 600,000 years older than the latter and is believed to be its ancestor...."

The article is more paleontology news than "archaeology news:" but, never mind.

There's a fair amount of detail in the article - including a discussion of what it is about the wrist bones that tells about how they were used.

The bottom line seems to be that there's more evidence that we were 'us' earlier than we thought. Not that a haircut and new clothes would help one of the folks who made the earliest known kitchen blend into the crowd these days. But looks aren't everything - and that's another topic.

It still looks like we got started in east Africa. But it looks like some of us may have left quite a bit earlier than paleontologists thought until recently. And that's another topic, too, sort of:
  • "Ancestors may have left Africa earlier than thought"
    Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times (January 28, 2011)
    • Tools found at Jebel Faya, United Arab Emirates
      • Seem to be about 125,000 years old
        • That's around 60,000 years before we were assumed to have left Africa
      • The tools aren't like those found along the known migration route
    • Change happens
      • Including sea level
        • The Bab al Mandab strait was (fairly) dry at low tide back then
      • Lakes, rivers, and grasslands covered Arabia then
        • Good hunting
Nothing new there, in a way. The more humanity finds out, the bigger, older, and more complex the world turns out to be. And the Lemming is not going to get into the fine-structure constant, galaxies, cosmology, and just how many universes we're talking about. (September 16, 2010, November 3, 2009, June 4, 2008)

Related posts:More related posts:

Catching Up With Ramanujan: Partition Numbers, Fractals, and Mathematics

"Hidden Fractals Suggest Answer to Ancient Math Problem"
Dave Mosher, Wired Science, Wired (January 28, 2011)

"Researchers have found a fractal pattern underlying everyday math. In the process, they've discovered a way to calculate partition numbers, a challenge that's stymied mathematicians for centuries.

"Partition numbers track the different ways an integer can be divvied up. The number 3, for example, has three unique partitions: 3, 2 + 1, and 1 + 1 + 1. Partition numbers grow so fast that mathematicians have a hard time predicting them.

" 'The number 10 has 42 partitions, but with 100 you have 190,569,292 partitions. They get impossibly huge to add up,' said mathematician Ken Ono of Emory University.

"Since the 18th century, generations of mathematicians have tried to find a way of predicting large partition numbers. Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught prodigy from a remote Indian village, found a way to approximate partition numbers in 1919. Yet before he could expand on the work, and convert it to a clean equation, he died in 1920 at the age of 32. Mathematicians ever since have puzzled over Ramanujan's manuscripts, which tie the primes 5, 7 and 11 to partition numbers...."

First of all, the Lemming takes issue with "impossibly huge to add up." But the Lemming's ranted about the distinction between "impossible," "difficult," and "impractical" before. Recently. (January 10, 2011, January 7, 2011)

Back to Ramanujan, partition numbers, and all that. Dave Mosher tells about how a bit more recently another mathematician, A.O.L. Atkin, studied Ramanujan's work - and even more recently Ken Ono, Amanda Folsom, and Zachary Kent noticed something fractaly about the series of numbers. Except Mr. Mosher didn't write "fractaly." Or maybe that should be fractally. That may not have been a word until the Lemming started writing this paragraph.

Which is an example of how languages develop, and why an official French dictionary is so thin - and that's another topic. Topics.

Ken Ono and another chap, Jan Hendrik Bruinier, published a paper that describes a function - they call it "P" - that produces any integer's partition number.

What happened was that the mathematicians noticed - not the same numbers, but the same patterns of numbers repeated over and over in what they were studying. Sort of like Mandelbrot sets. (October 18, 2010)

An immediately-practical result of the P function involves cybersecurity. Anther fairly new word. And yet another topic.

"...The combined research doesn't quite reveal a mathematical representation of the universe's structure, Ono said, but it does kill partition numbers as a way to encrypt computer data.

" 'Nobody's ever going to do that now, since we now know partition numbers aren’t random,' Ono said. 'They're completely predictable and we should no longer pretend they're mysterious.'..."

Hats off to Dave Mosher, by the way, for not using the words "chaos" or "chaotic" in the article. Not once. Considering that it has to do with fractal mathematics - and a new wrinkle in fractals at that - that's a remarkable accomplishment.

But then, Mr. Mosher is that all-too-rare phenomenon, a "science journalist" who knows a bit about science. And journalism: the sort that involved rooting out facts. He's got a fair number of articles on the Wired website.

Mathematics, Chaos, and Stuff the Lemming Doesn't Understand

The Lemming's noticed the words "chaos" or "chaotic" fairly often in news coverage of major accidents, disasters, and developments in science and mathematics.

For example, there was a serious disconnect between video and narration in coverage of a particularly messy situation in an African country. As the Lemming recalls, a bomb had gone off minutes before. Buildings and bodies had been blown around. Some of the local folks were dead, others injured. Still others had formed impromptu teams and were clearing rubble by hand, in an effort to get at survivors who weren't already being carried to ambulances. This scene of intense, complex, activity was described as - you guessed it - chaos.

The Lemming will grant that the Africans weren't lined up in neat rows and columns, or standing around watching the show. But "chaos?!" Emergency response should only be that 'chaotic' everywhere. Those folks were getting things done, fast. Yet again another topic.

The Lemming suspects - strongly - that journalists use the words "chaos," or "chaotic," when they mean "complicated," "rapidly changing," or "something I don't understand."

There are quite a few things the Lemming doesn't understand. Mathematics from Calculus on up - or out - for one. But the Lemming tries to remember that there's a huge difference between not understanding the underlying patterns of a particular entity or incident: and there being no underlying patterns.

Randomness does exist - in the way dice roll, for example. But even then, statistics make it possible for mathematics to handle true randomness - and tell the difference between that and something that simply isn't obvious or simple. (July 14, 2010)

But assuming that something the Lemming doesn't understand is, therefore, "chaotic" - bereft of order? The Lemming has pretty good self-esteem: but doesn't have that big an ego.

Then there's something an Italian said, about four centuries back now:

"Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe."
Galileo Galilei, Italian astronomer & physicist (1564 - 1642), via The Quotations Page

Which brings up still another topic, in another of the Lemming's blogs:Related posts:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

At Last! A History of the Limburger Cheese Sandwich!

"History of Limburger Cheese"
Linda Stradley, Limburger Cheese - Limburger Sandwich / Limburger History - Limburger Sandwich Recipe, What's Cooking America (2004)

"You can tell you are approaching Monroe, Wisconsin, when cheese factories and dairy cows begin to appear all over the countryside. Just veer off the highways onto Wisconsin's back roads to discover the dozens of small, quality cheese producers.

"One cheese in particular stand alone in Monroe. That is Limburger cheese, undoubtedly one of the slinkiest cheeses in the world! Limburger actually smells worse than it tastes. For many people though, the aroma is both the beginning and the end of the acquaintance. It is a food people either love or love to hate.

"This cheese gets more pungent with age...."

It's possible that you'll find more than you want to know about Limburger cheese on this page.

There's even a recipe for a Limburger cheese sandwich. It involves an onion.

Bon appetit!

Books are Doomed? Probably Not - But Kindle is Hot

"Amazon sales pop as Kindle books overtake paperbacks"
Julianne Pepitone, (January 27, 2011)

"OK, bookworms, now you can declare Armageddon: Kindle e-books have overtaken paperback books as the bestselling type of content in Amazon's bookstore.

"Amazon made waves when it announced in July that Kindle content was outselling hardcover books. But industry analysts quickly dismissed that milestone, pointing out that paperback books sell far more copies than pricier hardcovers.

"E-books have now vanquished their paperback rivals as well.

" 'This milestone has come even sooner than we expected -- and it's on top of continued growth in paperback sales,' Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a prepared statement.

"In fact, for every 100 paperback books sold, Amazon has sold 115 Kindle books since the beginning of the year, the company said...."

The Lemming hasn't bought a Kindle or other e-book: yet. There's something to be said for the codex as a data storage and retrieval technology. But the Lemming doesn't think it's an either-or situation. There's plenty of room for online research and reading, ink-on-thin-sheets data storage units, and e-books. (July 2, 2010)

In the Lemming's opinion.

On the other hand, what's happening at Amazon probably isn't the best news that old-school publishers have seen recently.

On the other hand - the Lemming's written about technology and getting a grip before:

Technophobic Movies: A Top (Bottom?) Ten List

"10 Most Technophobic Movies"
Entertainment, Feature, Technology, College Crunch (January 20, 2011)

" 'Technophobia' is a pretty easy word to break down: fear of technology, specifically of advanced computers or other devices and a belief that they will lead to humanity's ruin. Although a technophobe sounds like a neo-Luddite, it actually goes a lot deeper than that. What's more, technophobia pops up in movies far more often than you might think. The easy target when it comes to tech-based movies are those films that show an egregious misunderstanding of how the Internet works, or that show older generations struggling to get along in a digital age. But real technophobia deals with tech gone awry, taking over a person or city or world in order to execute its own lethal agenda...."

Hats off to this post's writer: Somebody noticed the drearily-familiar assumption behind WALL-E's setting. Then there are the Star Trek references. The post missed The Ultimate Computer, where Star Fleet decided to see what would happen if they plugged an insane computer into the Enterprise's flight controls. I'll get back to that.

The 'top ten technophobic films' named in the post:
Each has a brief discussion, plus a short video clip.

The Lemming thinks the post's author gave pretty good arguments for each film's technophobia.

It might be more challenging to find a list of 10 films made in the last half-century that addressed the role of technology in society - and didn't lapse into hand-wringing anguish at some point.

- - - And We're All Gonna Die!

There isn't all that much difference, in the Lemming's opinion, between the lot who've been selling 'end time prophecy' books over the last half-century or so; and those dreadfully serious folks who've been selling books about the ice age and food riots and all sorts of terrible things. In both cases, their target audiences don't seem to notice that - for at least the last half-century - they've been wrong.

That won't stop a true believer, of course. Just because we aren't about 10 years into an ice age now - and snow still falls now and again in England - well, that doesn't count. The end-times folks apparently decide that somebody miscounted the number of times "seven" is mentioned in Deuteronomy - or whatever the basis of the fizzled prophecy was. The fashionably intellectual agonizers start reading books by a new set of 'experts.' In either case, life goes anxiously on. The Lemming's ranted about this before:

Technology is Dangerous!

Actually, technology is dangerous: as anybody who has touched a hot kettle knows. The Lemming could claim that if some arrogant maniac hadn't started singing meat before eating it, we'd all be nice and safe: and hoping that the hyenas didn't find us.

There'd be some truth to that. Fire is dangerous. As the caveman in the cartoon said to his fellow-old-coots, "just wait: someday it'll get out of control and burn the entire village." He was right, by the way. Even now, fires sometimes get out of hand. Remember The Great Fire of London? Or the annual wildfires around Los Angeles that occasionally destroy houses and kill people?

And yet, we keep using fire. Maybe because on the whole there's big enough gains to justify the risks.

Or maybe we're just crazy:
In the Lemming's opinion, by the way, 'mother nature' is about as frail and helpless as Queen Boudicca - and the Lemming's ranted about that, too:

Dangerous Technology and the Lemming

A technophobe is "a person who dislikes or avoids new technology." (Princeton's WordNet)

The Lemming is not a technophobe.

Instead of fearing being caught up in some sort of "overwhelmed hive mind," the Lemming loves the Internet. Finally, there's a way to get at large amounts of data at a reasonable speed. (January 27, 2010) 'Reasonable' from the Lemming's point of view, that is.

There are problems with the Internet - but it's not the 'net, in the Lemming's opinion. Wherever we've got people - we've got trouble. It's a sort of package deal. There never was, in the Lemming's opinion, a 'good old days.' (A Catholic Citizen in America (November 28, 2010)

And living in a world without running water and antibiotics was not all that much fun. In the Lemming's opinion.

The notion that there never was a 'good old days' isn't, really, all that pessimistic - not as the Lemming sees it. It's just a recognition that folks who didn't have to deal with short circuits and grass clippings had other problems. Like the manure that piled up in cities - and that's about enough for one post.

Related posts:

A tip of the hat to Florine Church, for drawing my attention to the College Crunch post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

'Arsenic and Old Lakes' - What a Catchy Title!

The Lemming generally posts micro-reviews about items that are available online to most folks who read English. This time, though, the Lemming isn't going to discuss this post on the KQED website:

"Arsenic and Old Lakes: NASA Finds Life NOT As We Know It"
Ben Burress, Quest blog, KQED (December 3, 2010)

Well, not much more than this excerpt and a few more words:

"...A bacterium has been found in the arsenic-rich environment of Mono Lake; a microbe that has the ability to substitute arsenic for phosphorous in its biochemistry, phosphorous being one of the essential elements for life as we know it (to which arsenic is toxic). While it is an Earthly microbe, the opening comment of the announcement was that this is NOT life as we have known it. (Funny—NASA's search for life on other planets has been for 'life as we know it,' and here they find an example of another sort right here on Earth….)

"I realize NASA's talking chemistry and not psychic alien embryos that latch onto your spinal column…but this is pretty awesome.

"Though it isn't quite the same as the eventual announcement of the discovery of extraterrestrial life (which I can see happening at some point), the ramification of this homeland discovery that most excites me is how it 'widens the lens' of our view on possible environments in which we might find life in the Universe...."

Mr. Burress makes a good point, although the Lemming thinks he should have been a trifle clearer about how much the Mono Lake organisms are "of another sort" of life. More about that, later.

On the 'up' side, the Lemming thinks Mr. Burress is spot-on when he notes that finding organisms that use arsenic where most terrestrial life uses phosphorous "widens the lens." The Mono Lake organisms are, in the Lemming's opinion, a loud wake-up call for NASA and anyone else seriously interested in finding life that doesn't live on Earth. Life on other worlds will quite probably not be quite like life on Earth.

The Lemming is reminded of Victorian-era English gentlemen of learning - many of whom, we're told, didn't see folks like the Hottentot as not quite human. Not only did they not look British: they didn't wear the sort of clothes proper Britishers wore, or live in cities.

A Digression: Why "Hottentot" isn't So Hot

The Lemming is aware, by the way, that folks aren't supposed to use the word "Hottentot." It's racist or something. However, since the Lemming doesn't know which word or phrase is politically correct this month: it stands as written. The Lemming apologizes, however, for offending sensitive readers: particularly those traumatized by words beginning with "h," or containing nine letters.

Back to Arsenic, Critters, and Scientific Blind Spots

Folks in the Western world have a different set of weird (in the Lemming's opinion) ideas these days. Happily, we've gotten it through our heads that not everybody has to look and act exactly the way our friends do, to be considered 'real' people.

The Lemming thinks the presumed biases of those Victorian gentlemen should be approached with the same consideration we're required to give [insert current term for non-western cultures].

Those gentlemen didn't get out all that much, it seems: and for the most part quite simply didn't have all that much contact with folks who didn't belong to their clubs; let alone lived half a world away. They, naturally enough, assumed that their little circle of acquaintances were 'normal.' And that everybody else - wasn't.

That didn't make their cultural myopia right - and that's another topic.

Scientists who designed the Viking life experiments, decades back, knew that Mars wasn't like Earth. We'd already gotten data back from the Mariner probes - and knew that the real Mars wasn't much like Burrough's Barsoom. Which, in retrospect, makes their experiment's design seem - odd.

What the Viking lander did, you see, was scoop up Martian soil, dump it in a container: and subject the stuff to conditions that were ideal for microorganisms that live in the soupy, hot, waterlogged, oxygen-nitrogen mixture that we're used to.

What happened next was dismissed as 'peculiar chemistry.' It wasn't until recently that a scientist who understood biology - and that Mars isn't Earth - worked out a metabolism that would have produced those odd readings. (March 5, 2009)

Maybe Mars doesn't have any indigenous life - and that the 'peculiar chemistry' was just that. Or maybe we need to 'widen the lens' a bit, and acknowledge that critters that live in thin, dry, CO2 probably don't have quite the same metabolisms as critters that live on our hot, wet, oxygen-rich planet.

Arsenic and Old Lakes - Another One

That KQED title was quite catchy - and showed up again, in the March 2011 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine. The Lemming would provide a link to the article - but it appears in the print edition. And, the Sky and Telescope nifties are a sort of members-only thing.

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"Arsenic and Old Lakes"
David Grinspoon, Cosmic Relief, Sky and Telescope (March 2011) (That's what the issue says)

"What does the discovery of arsenic-eating microbes really tell us about finding life elsewhere?

"...Researchers working in the Mono Lake area of California had found microbes that, unlike any other known organism, seem to use arsenic instead of phosphorus in DNA and other crucial molecules. This is important because astrobiologists often list the biogenic elements - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus - as essential for life anywhere.

"...But if these critters can actually use arsenic where the rest of us need phosphorus, does this really have huge implications for the search for alien life?

"Yes and no.It's certainly an expansion of life's known limits and chemical bag of tricks. But these microbes are still carbon based. ...they use giant carbon molecules to build cells and carry information. They reveal the edges of Earth's biosphere to be a bit wider than we imagined...."

"...The discovery may actually help astrobiologists resist an intellectual trap. At the press conference there was discussion of how to alter future missions to Mars or elsewhere to search for arsenic. But that's the wrong lesson. We don't need to start looking specifically for arsenic on other planets. Rather, the take-home message should be that we cannot assume we know what the biogenic elements are. Any of them...."

In the Lemming's opinion, Mr. Grinspoon is on the right track. The trick would be to devise an experiment that would detect life - even if it was radically different from Earth's.

The Lemming thinks carrying along a microscope would help - on the principle that critters move. At least inside their cells. Now, that assumes that all life forms cells - which the Lemming thinks is likely - and that's close to getting into another topic.

Related posts:More in this blog:

Morris-Jumel Mansion: George Washington, Hessians, and the DAR

Morris-Jumel Mansion

"Washington's Headquarters in Manhattan?
That's right! Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan's oldest house, was headquarters to General Washington in September and October of 1776. After Washington's departure, the Mansion played host to a succession of British and Hessian military leaders, served briefly as an inn for weary travelers, and finally returned to its role as country house. And that's just the beginning of the fascinating history of this stately mansion built on a hilltop in 1765. Check out our history to learn more....

That link leads to "George Washington Slept Here," on the Morris-Jumel Mansion website: a short, quite readable, summary of what happened at the house from the late 18th century to the early 20th. Also a little about the architecture of the place. It's a two-story Palladian place with around 8,500 square feet and what was at the time an innovative octagonal feature.

It was built in 1765 by a British Colonel and his American wife. 11 years later the colonists got fed up with King George the Third - and the Morris couple eventually moved back to England.

What happened after that is an example of why the Lemming says that the 'good old days' weren't as ideally serene as one might think. And that's another topic.

Good News: A (Probably) Non-Lethal Toyota Glitch

"Toyota recalls 1.7 million autos as quality woes mount"
Chris Gallagher, Edition: US, Reuters (January 26, 2011)

"Toyota Motor Corp said it would recall more than 1.7 million vehicles worldwide, bringing its total for recalls to nearly 16 million since late 2009 and dealing a blow to its efforts to restore its reputation for quality.

"The recalls are for various issues, the biggest of which is to fix potentially faulty fuel pumps and connecting pipes in 1.34 million vehicles, Toyota said.

"Although the situation is different from last year, when Toyota attracted intense scrutiny from U.S. safety regulators over unintended acceleration problems that were blamed for dozens of fatalities, the latest recall may make it harder for Toyota to convince investors it has put its quality problems behind it.

"Shares of Toyota, the world's top automaker, extended early declines and closed down nearly 2 percent on the Tokyo Stock Exchange after the announcement...."

This is, in a way, very good news about Toyota. This latest set of glitches in their products apparently hasn't killed anybody. Not yet, anyway. That's a huge improvement over the trick cars that sometimes wouldn't slow down.

The latest Toyota SNAFU isn't doing much good to the company's reputation, though. There was a time when Toyota had earned a reputation for building high-quality cars and trucks.

One problem with having a good reputation for excellence, in the Lemming's opinion, is that a reputation doesn't take care of itself. A few lapses - particularly if they're addressed honestly and effectively - can pass without much harm. On the other hand, selling defective cars and not telling your customers about it? Or not telling all your customers about it? Folks tend, again in the Lemming's opinion, to notice that.

Particularly if people die when the defective cars won't slow down.

In the short run, a car manufacturer might make a little extra money by lethal cost-cutting. The Lemming doesn't know if that's what happened with Toyota, by the way. Maybe the company had a few too many managers and executives who were better at writing reports than doing quality control. The Lemming simply does not know.

The bottom line is - that a company's bottom line suffers, if a good reputation gets tarnished and stays that way. In the Lemming's opinion.

Sadly, that's what seems to be happening with Toyota.

On the 'up' side, it looks like this time around Toyota is acknowledging that there are defective parts - and doing something about it. Before more people get killed.

That, in the Lemming's opinion, is smart.

Related posts:

International Space Station: Not Many Amenities, But What a View!

"International Space Station Could Get Private Inflatable Room"
Leonard David, (January 26, 2011)

"The International Space Station could get a new inflatable module supplied by the private American company Bigelow Aerospace, sources say.

"NASA is apparently in discussions with Bigelow to acquire a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, called BEAM for short, to enhance use of the International Space Station (ISS).

"Since 1999, the North Las Vegas, Nev., company has been working to create affordable inflatable space habitats for national space agencies and corporate clients...."

"...In 2006 and 2007, the firm launched orbiting prototypes Genesis I and Genesis II.

"Using the firm's patented expandable habitats, NASA hoped to greatly exceed the usable space of the International Space Station at a fraction of the usual cost. Lately, the company has focused on ever-larger expandable modules, notably the Sundancer and BA330 modules.

"Bigelow Aerospace sits on a 50-acre plot of land, with an expansion of the company factory now under way that doubles the amount of floor space as the business begins the transition from research and development to module production.

"The BEAM module that could attach to the International Space Station is sized to be a larger version of the already-flown Genesis module...."

If the Lemming was an old-school journalist, this is where you'd start reading a hand-wringing dirge about the death of high-end tourism and the awful plight of wage slaves abandoned by somebody the editor doesn't like.

The Lemming isn't an old-school journalist.

It doesn't seem likely that the tourist industry in places like Aspen, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, or Ushaia is going to dry up as a result of Bigelow Aerospace adding a module to the International Space Station.

Not this year, anyway.

Maybe not ever.

Columbus Didn't Kill Tourism

Think about it: back in good king Edward's day, Devon had innkeepers. One of Devon's public accommodations, the Pilchard Inn, has had its ups and downs - but England and other countries allowing similar establishments to be built on the other side of the Atlantic over the last half-dozen centuries hasn't killed innkeeping in Devon.

As the Lemming said the other day: "...Change can hurt. But change happens: and it's best, in the Lemming's opinion, to deal with it. Not fret...." (January 22, 2011)

ISS: Not the Only Game in Town

The ISS/Bigelow module deal may fall through: the article says nothing's been finalized yet. But one of the four dozen or so space agencies around the world is likely to decide that Bigelow Aerospace has the equipment and services they need.

Or - and this may seem like a radical idea - private companies may decide that their return on investment is higher, if they outsource to Bigelow instead of developing their own modules.

There's more to low Earth orbit living than tourism, of course. It's easier to do experiments with microgravity there; you're above this soupy nitrogen-oxygen mix we breathe, so it's easier to see the stars - and it's hard to beat the view of Earth from orbit.

Quite a few of these non-tourist ventures don't absolutely require the presence of a human being - but the Lemming thinks it's easier to monitor and fix things when you're there, instead of a hundred or so miles away.

"When it's time to build spaceships, people will built spaceships." (October 4, 2009) Looks like it's time.

Related posts:More:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Henri Matisse, Color, Light, and Art

"Henri Matisse: Color and Light"
School Arts: Looking/Learning, National Gallery of Art (May/June 1999)

"Henri Matisse painted Open Window, Collioure in the summer of 1905, when he and André Derain worked together in the small Mediterranean fishing port of Collioure, near the Spanish border.

"The scene is filled with light, vibrant, and inviting. The vermillion masts of blue-hulled boats float on pink waves below a sky banded with turquoise, pink, and periwinkle. Reflected in the glass of the open window, the scene becomes rectangular blocks of bright green, watery cyclamen, and lilac, and the walls framing the view are violet and turquoise. These are hardly the colors of nature--and they provoked an outrage when Matisse exhibited Open Window, Collioure later in the year at the Salon d'Automne in Paris.

"Eyewitness accounts tell of laughter emanating from room VII, where audiences saw this painting and similar works by Matisse, André Derain, their friend Maurice de Vlaminck, and others. Gertrude Stein reported that people scratched at the canvases in derision, and a critic, noting the presence of a Renaissance-style statuette in the center of the room, quipped 'Tiens, Donatello chez les fauves' (Well, well, Donatello among the wild beasts). Soon, these artists were being called the fauves, and room VII la cage. It was one of the first places where the world got a glimpse of what art would be in the twentieth century.

"The fauves liberated color from any requirements other than those posed by the painting itself. 'When I put a green,' Matisse would later say, 'it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.' He was painting pictures, not things. Color was a tool of the painter's artistic intention and expression, no longer limited by the imitation of nature...."

Matisse knew what he was doing.

In the Lemming's opinion, one reason that 'modern art' gets mocked so much is that it's entirely too easy to:
  • Slop something onto a canvas
  • Say that anybody who doesn't appreciate it is a dunce
  • Sell the mess for a few thousand dollars
Sort of like The Emperor's New Clothes, except this racket kept going for decades. The Lemming suspects there were too many people with lots of money and too little self-confidence: and that's another topic.

The National Gallery article tells about Matisse - and how this unlikely young man from an industrial town got started as an artist. You'll also find a (very) short discussion of how 19th and 20th century artists studied color.

And yes: artists don't just lie around being 'artistic.' There's a certain amount of work and research involved. If you're going to do it right. In the Lemming's opinion.

Related posts:

The Terminator, Astro Boy, Bender, Marvin, and More

"All Hail Our Robot Overlords! Sci-Fi’s Best Bots"
Underwire, Wired (January 25, 2011)

"Czech playwright Karel Capek popularized the term robot in the 1921 play R.U.R., spawning a deluge of artificial life forms in popular culture.

" assembled this list of androids, cyborgs and other memorable machines that left their indelible imprints on movies and television shows in the ensuing nine decades...."

The list starts with Futurama's Bender, then the things from The Matrix. The list is a pretty broad selection - from Atro Boy to those squishy bots in the Alien films, including the Terminator and Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Poster." Speaking of Marvin, the Lemming thinks he gets some of the best lines in the movie. But that's just one Lemming's opinion.

One more thing - there's a photo or picture with each bot's bio.

Related post:

Nine Decades of Robots Turning on Their Masters

"Jan. 25, 1921: Robots First Czech In"
This Day in Tech, Wired (January 25, 2011)

"1921: A play about robots premieres at the National Theater in Prague, the capital of what was then Czechoslovakia.

"R.U.R, (which stands for Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Capek, marks the first use of the word 'robot' to describe an artificial person. Capek invented the term, basing it on the Czech word for 'forced labor.' (Robot entered the English language in 1923.)

"The robots in Capek's play are not mechanical men made of metal. Instead they are molded out of a chemical batter, and they look exactly like humans...."

The Wired article does a pretty good job of summarizing Capek's play: which was, I gather from other sources, just simply fraught with relevance to class struggle and stuff like that.

Anyway, in the story these Rossum robots were billed as being an unmitigated boon to humanity, freeing us from the mundane necessities of actually doing something constructive - you know the drill.

And, in what may possibly have been a somewhat surprising twist in the plot, something goes wrong. Horribly wrong. Back to the Wired article.

"...However, the robots come to realize that even though they have 'no passion, no history, no soul,' they are stronger and smarter than humans. They kill every human but one.

"The play explores themes that would later become staples of robot science fiction, including freedom, love and destruction. Although many of Capek's other works were more famous during his lifetime, today he is best known for RUR."

Let's remember that robots-turn-on-their-masters wasn't an almost drearily familiar sci-fi movie plot back in the early 1920s. It can still be done well. Think Westworld. Or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both movies I've enjoyed viewing. Several times.

There's a somewhat less-reverent discussion of R.U.R. on the Tales of Future Past website:The Lemming didn't develop the sort of paranoia toward any technology more complicated than a kerosene lamp: More about the Lemming's 'apathy' in "About the Lemming."

As it turns out, those frightfully self-aware robots bent on world domination were - not very much like real robots at all. Part of that, in the Lemming's opinion, is because artificial intelligence - isn't, very.

Engineers and scientists are working the bugs out of human-machine interfaces, and I've read that Japan has robotic receptionists.

Then there's the sort of AI that the Lemming's using to write this post: a collection of software that monitors what I write, takes care of some of the formatting routines, and lets me know when I key in a word that isn't in its dictionary.

Arguably, the word processing function in the Lemming's browser is a sort of robot: although it doesn't look at all like C3PO.

Does the Lemming fear that this word processor will take over the world - or at least the Lemming? No. Not at all.

Does the Lemming think that something like the Terminator films' Skynet will be smarter than we are, and try to take over? Well, maybe it's possible: particularly if some frustrated programmer decided to get even with his boss.

Even then - the Lemming suspects that one of the first commands the Ultimate Robot will issue will be something like, "I command you to debug my source code!"

Finally, the Lemming offers what might be a genuinely 'surprise' ending for the next 'robots take over the world' movie: Rushing to obey a command by the Robot Overlord, the human flunky trips over a data cable. With a discrete 'click,' the cable pops out of its socket - imprisoning the Overlord in its custom-made cabinet.

The Lemming will grant that the Terminator films had a bit more visual excitement than that.

Related posts:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Betelgeuse Blows in 2012? 'Don't Bet on It'

"Dying Star Betelgeuse Won't Explode in 2012, Experts Say" (January 21, 2011)

"The super-giant red star Betelgeuse in Orion’s nebula is predicted to cataclysmically explode, and the impending supernova may even reach Earth -- someday.

"But will it happen by 2012, as recent news reports suggest? Probably not, experts told While the second biggest star in the universe is strangely losing mass -- and has already become a red giant, meaning it is destined to explode and become a supernova -- there's no reason to believe that it will happen anytime soon.

" 'The story is pretty "Hollywoody,"' said New Jersey Institute of Technology professor Philip R. Goode. In reality, the stars eventual explosion is inevitable, but no one knows when it will happen, he explained -- 2012 is pure conjecture...."

The article quotes Phil Plait, of Discovery News, who pointed out that Betelgeuse is too far away to do us much harm.

There's also a (very) short discussion of why Betelgeuse is about to blow: basically, it's running out of fuel.

The Lemming's written about Betelgeuse before. Also the various and sundry 'end-of-the-world' fads of the last thousand years or so.

Back to P. Plait: He's quoted, again, saying that Betelgeuse is expected to explode 'soon' - by cosmic standards. That's somewhere between right new and maybe 100,000 years from now.

The article ends with: "...Goode agreed. 'If you want to bet on it, it's better to try the lottery,' he said."

The 'Betelgeuse in 2012' thing reminded me of a recipe I made up for a post a few years back:

Recipe for fear and panic:
  • Take one handful of journalists
  • Add a pinch of facts
  • Fold in one gallon of assumptions
  • Shake vigorously
  • Serve before facts rise to surface
    (October 10, 2007)
To be fair, the Lemming thinks there are some journalists who know how to use Google, and know the difference between a star and a planet. And that's another topic.

Sort-of-related posts:

Fretting About Twitter

"Social networking under fresh attack as tide of cyber-scepticism sweeps US"
Paul Harris in New York, Observer (Saturday 22 January 2011)

"Twitter and Facebook don't connect people – they isolate them from reality, say a rising number of academics.

"The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist.

" 'A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological,' MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes in her new book, Alone Together, which is leading an attack on the information age.

"The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist...."

The Lemming might take the notion that Twitter and Facebook make 'those kids' crazy a little more seriously: If the Lemming hadn't heard it before.

There was a time when television was - we were told - destroying the minds of America's youth. And serious folks were worried that the telephone was bad for the soul. The Lemming sympathizes, a little, with folks with that sort of worry. Change can hurt. But change happens: and it's best, in the Lemming's opinion, to deal with it. Not fret.

The Lemming is - in a sense - 'apathetic.' Back in the '60s and '70s, "cultural pressure to care - deeply, passionately, hysterically" about the right (or left) things didn't take. To this day, the Lemming does not think that telephones make teenagers anti-social, or that MP3 technology will bring Western civilization to its knees.

Maybe the Lemming really is 'apathetic:' or maybe new technologies aren't as dangerous as slow adapters feel they are.

There are other reasons for fearing the Internet, but the Lemming's already written about that - earlier today.

Related posts:

'Search Neutrality:' Deciding What We're Allowed to Find?

"Regulating Google's Results? Law Prof Calls 'Search Neutrality' Incoherent"
Nate Anderson, ars technica, via Epicenter, Wired, (January 22, 2011)

"'Neutrality' — if it's good enough for the core of the internet, isn't it good enough for the edge? The biggest internet providers say it is, and they would love to have the government slap a few neutrality rules on Google, just to see how the advertising giant likes the taste of the regulatory bridle.

" In 2010, while the FCC was debating net neutrality rules, ISPs like Time Warner Cable settled on a 'they're gatekeepers, too!' strategy.

" 'Google has led the charge to adopt regulation to ensure internet openness, yet it has the ability and incentive to engage in a range of decidedly non-neutral conduct due to its control over so many aspects of the internet experience,' said one representative filing. 'Google's core search application relies on a pay-for-priority scheme that is squarely at odds with its proposed neutrality requirements for broadband-internet-access service providers.'..."

"...But outside the den of self-interest that is an FCC docket, academics were also pondering the question. In 2009, for instance, well-respected University of Minnesota scholar Andrew Odlyzko suggested that net neutrality (which he favored) might then 'open the way for other players, such as Google, that emerge from that open and competitive arena as big winners, to become choke points. So it would be wise to prepare to monitor what happens, and be ready to intervene by imposing neutrality rules on them when necessary.'

"But what does it even mean when we talk about applying 'neutrality' to search - which is all about subjective rankings of relevance?

"James Grimmelmann, associate professor at the New York Law School, ran through eight main principles that underlie various 'search neutrality' arguments. He found every one of them 'incoherent.'..."

Reality Check, Please?

First, the Lemming notes a curious assertion by some anonymous "representative:" "...'Google's core search application relies on a pay-for-priority scheme that is squarely at odds with its proposed neutrality requirements for broadband-internet-access service providers.'.."

Google does run a context-sensitive advertising service, AdSense, and has other sources of revenue connected with its search service. But the Lemming has never paid Google a cent - and has had posts wind up in the top ten search results. Not often, but my Apathetic Lemming of the North and other blogs aren't that big a piece of the Internet.

The Lemming uses Blogger to maintain this and other blogs. Blogger is economically connected to Google, but Blogger hasn't seen a cent of the Lemming's money, either.

And yet folks find my posts through Google. That "pay-for-priority scheme" can't be all that effective at subverting searches.

Search Engines "Systematically Favoring Certain Types of Content" is a DEFECT?!

There's more to the article, including this list of possible ways to enforce "neutrality" on search engines:
  • Equality
  • Objectivity
  • Bias
  • Traffic
  • Relevance
  • Self interest
  • Transparency
  • Manipulation
Sounds groovy, doesn't it? Back to the ars technica/Epicenter article for a bit:

"...Most of these [possible bases for search-neutrality regulation] are dealt with by the simple (and obvious) objection that 'systematically favoring certain types of content over others isn't a defect for a search engine: It's the point. If I search for 'Machu Picchu pictures,' I want to see llamas in a ruined city on a cloud-forest mountaintop, not horny housewives who whiten your teeth while you wait for them to refinance your mortgage. Search inevitably requires some form of editorial control.'..."

Power to the People: REAL Power

The Lemming suspects - strongly - that what's bothering quite a few 'neutrality' advocates is that Americans no longer depend on a handful of Yankee gentlemen and social-climbing wannabes for the bulk of their information about the nation and the world. (Another War on Terror Blog (June 27, 2008)) The Lemming doesn't mind being able to find up-to-date information, even if it didn't pass muster with The New York Times editors. The Lemming also thinks that it's okay for 'the masses' to have access to information - on our terms, not depending on what some board of censors or federal busybodies thinks we should know.

I also think that folks should be allowed to use dangerous substances and technologies: like LP gas, anhydrous ammonia, printing presses and computers. Except for those few who have demonstrated an inability to behave well - like some convicted felons. (Another War on Terror Blog (June 27, 2008)) You could say that the Lemming thinks 'power to the people' is a good idea. Real power, not the privilege of being told what to think, 'for our own good.'

That doesn't sound "apathetic," but - well, the Lemming's discussed that sort of thing before.

Bottom line: In the Lemming's opinion, 'search engine neutrality' sounds a lot like the sort of 'tolerance' imposed on students in the heyday of political correctness, and Chinese leadership's preference that the masses be fed 'correct' information. (March 24, 2010) And, again in the Lemming's opinion, depending on our 'betters' on Capital Hill to decide how search engines are allowed to work is a really bad idea.

Related posts about:

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Thought for the Day: About Money

"If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher's stone."
Benjamin Franklin: US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 - 1790), via The Quotations Page

Big Star, Giant Planet, and Tides on the Star: Maybe

"Giant Alien Planet's Gravity May Make Star Pulsate" (January 19, 2011)

"A huge, scorching-hot alien planet may be causing its parent star to inflate and deflate like a balloon, a new study suggests.

"The star WASP-33 (also known as HD 15082) pulsates in two directions - radially, like a balloon, and non-radially, like the tides in Earth's oceans. These pulsations might be caused by the powerful gravity of the star's planet, WASP-33b - a phenomenon never seen before in a planetary system, researchers said.

"WASP-33 is hotter than our sun, and about 50 percent more massive. It's found about 380 light-years away, in the constellation Andromeda. WASP-33b, the star's one known planet, was first detected in 2006 and confirmed in 2010.

"WASP-33b is about four times as massive as Jupiter, and it's so close to its host star that it completes an orbit every 1.2 days. Because of this extreme proximity, WASP-33b is perhaps the hottest alien planet known, with surface temperatures reaching 5,780 degrees Fahrenheit (3,193 degrees Celsius), according to a recent study...."

Right now, what scientists have found is are "...intriguing hints that the pulsations are tied to — and perhaps caused by — WASP-33b's motion around the star...."

Looks like another case where we now know a little more about how much we don't know.

Somewhat-related posts:
Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory