28 February 2006


Found via Rose Fox, BlueGreenPlanet is a virtual card site with a "save-the-Earth" mentality. In addition, there's no pop-up ads, and if you are an artist or writer and want publicity, you can submit your own text and images for cards.

Check it out!

27 February 2006

From the Inbox


Your blog has been reviewed, verified, and whitelisted so that it will no
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in again, you should be able to post as normal. Thanks for your patience,
and we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

Blogger Support

Yay! Back in black! :)

24 February 2006

Amusement of the day.

Blogger has apparently decided this is a "spam blog," created by some automatic content generator.

Your blog requires word verification

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Before we can turn off mandatory word verification on your posts we'll need to have a human review your blog and verify that it is not a spam blog. Please fill out the form below to get a review.

Find out more about how Blogger is fighting spam blogs.

Remove word verification from posts

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Send Request

What, all this just because I post frequently? How sweet. Or do they think I'm just cutting and pasting content from elsewhere? Oh wait...

ETA: Took me three tries to type the stupid random letters right for the word verification! *grr*

Good News!

Happy News is a new source (mostly AP stories) dedicated to reporting the good things. Today's Horoscope was particularly juicy.

February 24, 2006:
Good news! The stars do not control your destiny. You do.

23 February 2006

And if the concept of vector time didn't break your brain...

...perhaps a computer that isn't on coming up with the right answer will. As I understand it, the "computation" would be performed on a photon (rather than how normal computers do their calculations on magnetic fields on hard drives, or people do calculations on graphite and wood pulp) - except that the computation isn't actually performed, the photon isn't ever released. It'd be kinda like if you were told to do a long division problem on a piece of paper, and instead of writing you thought about potentially writing, and the answer just came to you. It almost makes sense with people, but not with the traditional view of particles bouncing around, but then again it does make sense with probabilities and wave functions of particles...

21 February 2006

Second Mac Worm!

Second ever, both in one week. This one is currently mostly harmless, in that all it does is send out more copies, however it is potentially very harmful as others will hijack its code and easily spread more malicious versions in the future.

Name: OSX.Inqtana.A
OS: Mac OS X
Type: Worm
Transmission mode: Bluetooth (short-range wireless devices)
From: Anyone (may not say)
How to infect: Accept a Bluetooth connection (either manually or automatically) when computer restarted
Prevention: Update Mac OS X, buy/update virus protection software
Consequences: Sends more copies to other Bluetooth-enabled devices and computers
Removal: Unknown, presumably anti-virus software
More Info: Sophos press release, Sophos virus profile, CNN/Reuters

20 February 2006

Maybe it's not entirely scientific...

...but it's just soooooo adorable, I couldn't resist!

National Geographic photo of a baby kiwi at the Smithsonian National Zoo, Washington D.C.

I guess there *is* an article with it, but I couldn't get past the image. *drools*

Clergy also against ID

Ten thousand clergy have signed a statement that,

"We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests," they wrote.

Catholic experts have also joined the movement.

"The intelligent design movement belittles God. It makes God a designer, an engineer," said Vatican Observatory Director George Coyne, an astrophysicist who is also ordained. "The God of religious faith is a god of love. He did not design me."


Awesome. :)

What if scientists were radical?

If there were militant evangelical scientists, we could expect to see some of the following...

The Pain -- When Will It End? (02/15/06)  Scientists Riot!

For a laugh

Check out Chuck Norris Fact #2. You can even make a T-shirt outta it. :-P

Electricity for the masses

I like Dean Kamen's economic model of putting power in the hands of the masses - literally - but I wonder if it's enough. He has a machine that can provide enough electricity so that each family in a poor village can have a single efficient lighbulb (I'm assuming CFL), which CNN Money says will provide "an extension of both their productivity and their leisure times," but I really wonder what good it will do besides creating more countries with insomnia issues.

The other machine Kamen introduces, a water purifier the size of a washing machine, seems a *much* better idea to me, in that it seems to have the direct benefit of improving the health of the communities.

The biggest drawback I can see to the whole thing is again with the economic model they suggest - while I think it's better to put these things in the hands of "the people," it won't really be the people who have it, it'll be the single richest person in each town, who will continue to get richer by charging their former peers for their use.

19 February 2006

Harvard may oust President Summers

While the faculty at Harvard become increasingly antsy about President Summers (most recently how he was forcing the resignation of a dean), the Corporation (Board of Trustees equivalent) appears to be considering ousting him. What I find fascinating is the power struggle this begets between the administration and the faculty.

''It's this dichotomy between people worried that if Harvard ran a president out, it would become ungovernable, and the view, gaining ground, that actually if we lived through another no-confidence vote and its aftermath, that will make Harvard truly ungovernable." [quoted from an anonymous professor]
(Marcella Bombardieri and Maria Sacchetti, The Boston Globe)

Even at Harvard they don't want to give too much power to the faculty, I find that sad.

Firing a President is really REALLY drastic, but I am beginning to suspect that the situation calls for it. The Harvard Arts and Science faculty are expecting a second no-confidence vote on Feb. 28, with a larger majority than last time (218-185). Let's see if things get resolved before then.

17 February 2006

German scientists: Eat the rest of the sunflower to treat AIDS

While sunflower seeds and sunflower oil have various healthful properties, the rest of the plant has anti-fungal properties that may help fight AIDS. Sunflowers and various other plants get infected with white mold (sclerotinia) that kills entire crops. These plants have evolved some anti-fungal chemicals which have been used to fight AIDS, but this is the first time it's been detected in sunflowers - I guess no one thought to test them for it previously. Now that we know though, after chopping off the heads for seeds, pharmaceutical companies can theoretically process the rest into the AIDS drug for a lower cost than other sources. And lower cost means more accessibility for patients. Yay!

Interestingly, the article never mentions the actual chemical, nor the commercial name of the AIDS drug.

First Mac Worm!

We have entered a new era of computing. The first worm for Mac computers has been discovered. Transferred through iChat (an AIM-compatable program), it appears to be a zip file of photos, "latestpics.tgz".

Name: OSX/Leap-A
OS: Mac OS X
Software: iChat
Type: Worm
From: Anyone
File/Attachment: latestpics.tgz
How to infect: Manual acceptance (download and install)
Prevention: Do not accept files without extended confrmation from sender; install/update anti-virus software.
Consequences: Deletes files, copies itself on hard drive, sends to more people, slows down your internet connection
Removal: unknown, presumably anti-virus software
More Info: Sophos press release, Sophos virus profile, CNN

15 February 2006

Dogs die by the numbers

A dog treat designed to help clean the dog's teeth has caused a number of them to choke or has gotten caught in their intestines and ended up killing at least 13 dogs. The part that caught my eye though was the poor grasp of numbers in the article.

"Our product is safe. It is used every day by thousands of dogs, millions a week and it is basically a very safe product," (said Greenies developer Joe Roetheli).

"At the end of the day ... literally millions of Greenies are enjoyed by dogs on a weekly basis with absolutely no incidents," company vet Brad Quest told CNN.


Which is it, thousands a day or millions a week? If we had thousands, say 9 thousand a day, times 7 days a week that makes 63,000 dogs a week, not millions. If it were 1 million a week, that'd be 142,000 a day, which is hundreds of thousands, not mere thousands. I don't think I'm nitpicking the English here, but the numbers.

11 February 2006

Higher Ed

Somebody explain to me why the HELL they think this is a good idea?! The United States has higher education that is the ENVY of the entire world. The best students in foreign countries come to the US for their college education. The best of the best go on to our graduate schools, so that international students make up the majority of many departments in the US. On the other hand, our lower (K-12) education trails behind that of most first world nations. Our students struggle to go to college, are poorly prepared when they do, and area easily outpaced by their international peers.

So Congress decides the best thing to do is to institute standardized testing at the college level.

A higher education commission named by the Bush administration is examining whether standardized testing should be expanded into universities and colleges to prove that students are learning and to allow easier comparisons on quality.

Charles Miller, a business executive who is the commission's chairman, wrote in a memorandum recently to the 18 other members that he saw a developing consensus over the need for more accountability in higher education.

"What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats," Mr. Miller wrote, adding that student learning was a main component that should be measured.

Mr. Miller was head of the Regents of the University of Texas a few years ago when they directed the university's nine campuses to use standardized tests to prove students were learning. He points to the test being tried there and to two other testing initiatives as evidence that assessment of writing, analytical skills and critical thinking is possible.

(Karen W. Arenson, The New York Times)

Why the fuck is a businessman dictating education policy? Someone needs to explain to him that all that standardized tests actually determine is whether (1) the student comes from a rich family, (2) the teacher was teaching to the test, and (3) the students are capable of memorizing. I have yet to see any evidence that critical thinking skills can be tested through multiple choice.

It's pretty clear to me that all attempts at national standardized testing, even prior to NCLB (No Child Left Behind), were miserable failures. And yet they're trying to force our very very successful higher education into this broken mold that didn't help lower ed.

NEA opposes proposals that would that imply a federal role in directing, evaluating, promoting, or cajoling any aspect of speech in education by students, professors, classroom teachers, or anyone else.
States, universities, community colleges, and K-12 systems have their own policies and practices for determining curricula, evaluating programs and employees, and resolving problems or disputes about fairness and protection of free speech.

NEA also opposes politicization of professional programs on campus through creation of an International Higher Education Advisory Board. Establishment of this new board would undermine a longstanding bipartisan consensus that the federal government should respect academic freedom and independence.

Current policy has been successful and should not be abandoned. The proposed Board could intrude into academic conduct and content of higher education and could impinge on institutional decisions about curriculum and activities.

(National Education Association (NEA))

The National Education Association is a nationwide union that represents most K-12 educators, as well as many higher education professors (including yours truly). Go read their statment, and follow the link to send an email to Congress about this issue.

08 February 2006


I just ran across BlogZoot today (c/o BlogExplosion). It's the first blog about computers that I've actually found informative. If your tech comfort level falls squarely in "digital native" (higher than technophobe, but lower than sysadmin) as does mine, check them out to learn something new.

NASA budget increases for stupid things

Bush's 2007 budget proposal would give NASA a 3.2% increase. While this isn't quite enough to do actual science, Michael Griffin, head of NASA says

"There is enough money in the budget to support the president's priorities, as they have been stated."

Those priorities include returning the troubled space shuttle fleet to service, completing assembly of the international space station, remaining on the cutting edge of space science and astronomy, conducting aeronautics research and developing the next generation manned spacecraft that will return astronauts to the moon and later on to Mars.


Note that "remaining on the cutting edge of space science and astronomy" first puts space science (i.e., exploration) ahead of astronomy (research), and second is so damned vague they could be cancelling the JWST (Hubble successor) and it still would fit Bush's vision. Meanwhile the Space Shuttle and ISS have absolutely nothing to do with going forward in space exploration, and everything to do with trying to keep limping along the old, bad, way. It's like bailing a ship with lots of holes rather than building a new ship.

*grr* I guess it's better than a decrease in funding though. Marginally. Though maybe a decrease would get the public interested and fighting on behalf of astronomy.

07 February 2006

Papua New Eden

After one month spent in an isolated mountain valley of Papua (on New Guinea), scientists found

  • A new species of honeyeater, the first new bird species discovered on the island of New Guinea since 1939

  • The formerly unknown breeding grounds of a "lost" bird of paradise - the six-wired bird of paradise (Parotia berlepschi)

  • First photographs of the golden-fronted bowerbird displaying at its bower.

  • A new large mammal for Indonesia, the golden-mantled tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus pulcherrimus)

  • More than 20 new species of frogs, including a tiny microhylid frog less than 14mm long

  • A series of previously undescribed plant species, including five new species of palms

  • A remarkable white-flowered rhododendron with flower about 15cm across

  • Four new butterfly species [BBC]

More pictures of the creatres are available.

It's really amazing to be finding new species, even whole regions of new species, in this day and age, when we've explored so much of the world already, and are destroying species so quickly. Even the indigenous people of the region didn't know of this mountain valley, it wasn't in their history at all.

05 February 2006

2-D Time

This presentation (by Alexander Franklin Mayer) was apparently slashdotted, but I heard of it through other means. It is arguing a new cosmology, in which rather than there being a Big Bang, inflation, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy, there's "simply" some six dimensions (or more) to spacetime. The old model says that there's four dimensions - 3 dimensions of space (x, y, z) and time (t). This radical model says that instead time itself is orthogonal (perpendicular) to space wherever it's located, and since space is warped, time takes up more than one dimension. This has a few interesting results.

  1. Dark matter is not required.

  2. Dark energy is not required.

  3. The CMB (cosmic microwave background), which traditionally is a result of the reionization period, is now explained by gravity.

  4. The universe is eternal, and has eternally been in dynamic equilibrium, with only local changes.

Item #4 is fishy to me. I don't see how galaxies, once evolved, can be recycled into the rest of the universe. Mayer also mentions the concept of not being able to see time orthogonal to your own. I would speculate that you can only see the projection of somewhere else's time onto your own time axis. Somewhere with their time vector going 180ยบ to ours would appear to be evolving backwards. I think the point of this talk is that it's not well understood, and he claims to have another self-consistent model, and more data is required to determine whether his or the traditional one works better with the observations.

Mayer then gets into some theoretical geometry - such as how you can explain why we see fewer galaxies in the past if we assume either non-Euclidian geometry or assuming accelerating expansion. He kinda glosses over how it could be instead a measurement bias (it's harder to see further, fainter galaxies), or just that there were fewer galaxies. So basically, his talk is just a little too complex for a layperson, and some parts are a little too simple for someone who knows his stuff. I don't blame him really, it's damned hard to present complex material at the appropriate level!

I made it to around slide 24 (of 90) before it started overwhelming me. It's tough for me to wrap my head around this stuff. I understand some of cosmology in general just enough to follow it, but not enough to explain it well yet. If you, gentle reader, have specific questions, I would enjoy answering them, as I find that trying to explain to others often helps me further my own understanding. I won't guarantee I'll be right, or even comprehensible, but I shall try my best. :)