Tuesday, February 28, 2006

large & small stuff, plus current events

I've sworn a solemn oath to never use the words "" or "" in a post title ever again (and let's add "" and "" while we're at it), so today's title is about as generic as I'm likely to get. You might have noticed that I've just figured out how to do those fancy-schmancy Technorati tags, and I suppose it's possible I'm overusing the feature just a little.

Pop quiz: Of the two images here, which one is a new image of the surface of Titan, and which one is an electron microscope image of a ? Kind of hard to tell, isn't it?

I was reading a bit about recently, due to that annoying cold I had that I'm nowhere close to finished whining about just yet. I hadn't realized that there's now an ongoing effort to classify viruses and give them latin names. So that most common cold viruses fall under the family Picornaviridae, genus Rhinovirus. The little bastards.

[Note: If you really aren't that interested in my latest science-geek diversion, just scroll down the page a few paragraphs until you see the words Mardi Gras.]

Here's a good article I came across that talks about subcellular life forms. I'd been planning to talk about some of the topics in that article myself, but it's clear and well-written, and I'm lazy, so I'll just say "yeah, what he said". In particular, the discussion about is interesting. At present they aren't usually considered to be "alive", but this strikes me as an arbitrary choice. I suspect they'll eventually come to be seen as viruses that just happen to have a symbiotic, rather than a pathogenic, relationship to their host cells.

Virology is an interesting subject to me because even though a vast amount is known about viruses, the basic taxonomy is still being sorted out, and fundamental questions like "how did viruses originate" are still very open questions. It's not even known whether all viruses share a common origin or not. It's possible that at one point all life looked sort of viruslike, for example see the RNA world hypothesis, and the less-popular hypothesis that the very first life forms were based on something called peptide nucleic acid, or PNA, a robust but not very versatile cousin of RNA and DNA.

Jumping abruptly from small to large, here's a new hypothesis about what's inside gas giant planets. In the end, it's still the case that nobody really knows, and nobody's come up with a good way of finding out. The Galileo probe seems to have been less helpful than everyone expected, for example. Cassini's sent back some interesting pictures of clouds at Saturn, but still no definite word on what's under the clouds.

I personally feel that all questions about cosmology, origins, the universe, and everything, would be much easier to address if we were all to adopt the Misanthropic Principle. (Contrast that with the more widely known "", which I tend to think of as "creationism for Mensa members".)

On an unrelated, yet timely and silly note, I'd like to work the tag "" into this post somehow. And now I have. Yay. Which is about the closest I'm likely to get to a Mardi Gras celebration, as is about as non-NOLA as it's possible to get. We're all prim and proper and we can only have a good time if we hide under a dozen layers of irony and pretend we hate the whole thing. We pretend we're all having a bitter laugh at the expense of people who don't have "creative class" jobs and expensive liberal arts degrees, but secretly we all wish we were them. Portlanders think it's hee-larious to wear John Deere hats in public and guzzle PBR from an actual beer can, as if it's all a silly lark, but ask them to give 'em up, and they can't. They just can't. People here are way too insecure and pseudo-sophisticated to ever simply have a good time and leave it at that.

In addition, Portlanders have been conditioned in recent years to think that if it's a real holiday, there ought to be a government-sponsored party in Pioneer Courthouse Square, or maybe Waterfront Park, even though most of the time there isn't one. The local TV news often sets up a camera crew near the square on Fat Tuesday, St. Patrick's, and a few other big days, and there are inevitably big groups of clueless people wandering around, wondering where the government's party is at. They always look utterly lost and confused, as if a few short years of mollycoddling by the city has rendered them unable to party on their own initiative. It's just as well that the city often neglects to hold a party, since these events are inevitably dreadful "family friendly" (meaning "alcohol-free") affairs, full of smug Subaru-driving yuppies all packing strollers the size of small SUVs and the inevitable pair of black labs. If I was the mayor, and I saw how one of these events turned out, I'd immediately cancel all future ones.

Meanwhile, if you run a bar or restaurant, you can't hold a proper party for fear of incurring the wrath of the jackbooted thugs of the [PDF].

It's all a crying shame, really. Except for the evil booze police and the sheeplike, proudly general public, we've got everything we need for a good time. You need streets for parades, and we have those. We have a container ship terminal somewhere in town, so you can import entire shiploads of beads right here, directly from China. Lots of multistory buildings, some with balconies, so the whole bead-throwing thing can be done properly. We even have very lenient laws about public nudity here, so we could even pull that off as well (so to speak), in the unlikely event that the weather cooperates. Alas...

[Oh, BTW, the first picture is the viroid, the other is Titan, in case you were curious, yet not curious enough to bother clicking on either link. So now you know. And as GI Joe said, knowing is half the battle.]

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