Friday, March 31, 2006

Did you mean: "Cyclotron"?

If you go to Google and search for the word "Cyclotram", the very first hit is this page you're looking at right now. At least for the moment, anyway. And this is nice and everything, but above the link to me is a "helpful" bit asking users if they wouldn't really rather be searching for stuff about cyclotrons. I realize they're just trying to be helpful. I realize it's even possible that more people go to Google searching for cyclotron info than they do looking for this blog. Again, strictly for the time being, anyway.

However, I can't help thinking about all those potential visitors who instead get lured away by the sweet siren song of high-energy physics, never to be seen again. It makes me sad, kinda. All's not lost, though; if the physicists are going to come play in my pool, I can go play in theirs. I'll just do a post all about cyclotrons, so I'll show up in that search too, and maybe lure a few of those wayward surfers back to the path of, uh, righteousness, or whatever. Why I'd even care about that remains an open question; it's not like I'm selling banner ads or anything. Trying to game the system for its own sake, maybe? But regardless, it's what I've decided to do. So there. On that deeply cynical note, here's the list:

  • First off, here's the Wikipedia article, if you want to brush up on what a cyclotron is.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has a history page about the very first cyclotron, created by, you guessed it, Ernest O. Lawrence.
  • A Java applet demonstrating particle paths inside a cyclotron. Not the flashiest graphics in the world, but it gets the point across.
  • Want your own cyclotron? Build one! This guy did. Granted, he was a physics Ph.D. candidate at the time the article came out (Nov. '04), but still, he built one in his parents' garage. So how hard could it be, really?
  • Don't want to build one? Too lazy? Scared? Then just buy one, or have it donated, and install it in your home. Here are two stories about a guy in Alaska who's trying to do exactly that. His neighbors aren't so happy, though, some going so far as to call it a potential Three Mile Island. Which is silly. Actually everyone involved in this whole saga is silly, which is what's so fun about it. Alaska...
  • A fairly cool blog titled Cyclotron. Is not about cyclotrons so far as I can tell.
  • The local angle, such as it is: There aren't any cyclotrons or similar fancy gadgets in Oregon, probably because they cost money to build and operate. But the U of O's high energy physics group does collaborate on out-of-state projects.
  • As an aside, let me take a moment to lament the demise of Greco-Latinate neologisms (cyclotron, television, etc.) in favor of TLA's (Three-Letter Acronyms -- VCR, DVD, etc.). At some point society decided that acronyms were more modern and scientific, or something. This seems to have happened roughly in the late 60's and early 70's, around the time U.S. Steel renamed itself "USX". The reason for this trend remains unknown to me. If the cyclotron was invented today, you can bet it wouldn't be named that. And I'm fairly certain that the makers of Unknown World intended the term "cyclotram" to evoke "cyclotron", so that term wouldn't have been coined either, and thus this blog would be nameless, which would be a real shame.
  • Physicists iterated the "-tron" naming scheme for quite a while after the practice had lost currency in the larger culture: After the cyclotron came they synchrotron, the Bevatron, the Tevatron... The Tevatron is the current pride and joy of Fermilab, although perhaps for not much longer. It seems that the shiny new LHC (=TLA) accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland will render the Tevatron and others like it obsolete. The editors of Scientific American are having a cow about this. In an editorial titled The Collider Calamity, they express deep alarm that the US soon won't have any state of the art particle physics facilities. I can see how this could be alarming from a pure national pride standpoint, but their economic competitiveness argument strikes me as a bit strained. If physicists really want to get funded in this country, they of all people ought to know that it's important to spin their proposal as an exciting new way to kill lots of people, because that's the only thing the Power$ That Be care about anymore. And they ought to take note that discussing the origins of the universe without relying on the literal account given in Genesis is career suicide in so long as there's a Republican in the White House.
  • An important recent Tevatron result comes from the MINOS experiment, confirming that neutrinos do have mass. Not a lot of mass, certainly, but a nonzero amount, and given the estimated number of neutrinos in the universe, it really adds up.
  • The existence of massive neutrinos, we're told, implies the existence of at least one more as-yet-undetected neutrino, a so-called "sterile" neutrino that can only interact with normal matter via gravity. It's recently been proposed that sterile neutrinos may be a good candidate to solve the dark matter / dark energy problem. Here are two stories about this idea.
  • While we're on the subject of neutrinos, a couple of stories about neutrino detectors. First, the current travails at the venerable Homestake detector, located deep in a defunct gold mine near Lead, SD.
  • And a construction update on the next-generation IceCube detector, located deep in the polar icecap in Antarctica. Gee, South Dakota or Antarctica. Whereas if you're an astronomer working in visible or IR light, you get to go work in Hawaii instead. Hmm.
  • You don't see neutrinos used as technobabble very often, but here's one example: An article about the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system. I gather the term "neutrino" conveys feelings of speed, lightness, and in-crowd geekiness. I've played with QNX before and I was rather impressed. Unlike most RTOSes it provides a familiar Unix-like api, so that you can port existing software to it without rewriting everything. I have to wonder what the future holds for the OS in an increasingly open-source world, though. I'm a firm believer in having a diverse OS ecosystem, and it'd be a real shame if it went away.
  • And at this point I've wandered completely off topic. So I think I'll stop here.


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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Vaguely Related Items

I collected these and really thought I could develop a common theme between them, but it didn't happen in time, and I'm anxious to get these off my plate so I can start on the next post. It was always going to be a semi-stream-of-consciousness post, so it's not really a big step to just throw in the towel and say it's just pure stream-of-consciousness. I guess. Anyway, here's what I've got for you today:

  • SpaceflightNow now has the mini-moonlet story. As usual, their account is better than most.
  • It can't model anything so complex as rings full of countless particles of all sizes, but JPL has a neato 3d orbit simulator applet. It's fun for the whole family, if they're all space geeks.
  • If you're already worried about asteroids or comets hitting the Earth, don't go here.
  • OTOH, if the orbit applet just whetted your appetite, you might enjoy NASA's Journal of Space Mission Architecture. All the gory details you could ever want, and more.
  • Here's an article about the software of space exploration, with many, many links.
  • If you mistype "asteroid", you might get "astroid", a reasonably nice mathematical curve. Coincidentally, back in 7th grade I used to doodle in class a lot, especially math class, and I seem to recall I had an alien spaceship that looked a lot like an astroid curve.
  • Yes, believe it or not, I hated math at one time, and I didn't change my mind until a couple of years into college. Except for geometry. I always really liked geometry. So maybe you can imagine how much I liked this interactive version of Euclid's Elements. This Java applet's been around forever (in Internet terms), like the JPL orbit simulator I mentioned earlier, and I just don't tire of them. They're classics.
  • Another classic from the really early days of the net is the Find-the-Spam page. And by "early", I mean really early, maybe 1994 or so. I remember visiting it with Netscape 1.x. Ahh, the memories. I remember accidentally breaking Find-the-Spam shortly after Netscape 2.0 came out. Netscape 2 featured exciting new things like HTML tables, background colors other than white, Java (rudimentary), Javascript, the center and blink tags, and much, much more. In those naive, carefree days of yore, Find-the-Spam would let you submit any old text you wanted, and any HTML tags just became part of the page. Any HTML tags. Including the script tag, it turns out. So I thought I'd have a little fun, and I wrote a tiny bit of Javascript that cycled the background color: red, green, blue, red, green, blue, etc., a few times, which would've been kind of cute except that I'd mangled the termination condition, so that the browser would get wedged in an infinite loop inside its Javascript parser. Win3.1 clients had it especially bad; the loop wedged Netscape so hard that even Ctrl-Alt-Del didn't help, and your only option was to just turn the box off manually. Yow. But I always like to look on the bright side, and even though I think of this as the worst bug I ever wrote, it's great that I haven't managed to top it after all these years. And anyway, anybody who used Win3.1 at all would've been used to rebooting all the time anyway, right?
  • A couple more vaguely-related geometry items. First, I'd like to recommend Underwood Dudley's hilarious book The Trisectors.
  • If you like that book, you'll love another of his books, titled Mathematical Cranks.
  • While I'm recommending books, I'd also like to recommend one of my most favorite natural history / biology books, A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape, by Michael A. Mares.
  • And another great book you ought to read, William Broad's The Universe Below : Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea
  • Just one more book for your reading list: Venus Revealed, by David Grinspoon.
  • Another math item, this time about the famous Four Color Theorem, as it applies to the wondrous world of marketing. Well, ok, it's just a metaphor. But how many marketing people have ever heard of the thing, much less use Wikipedia to explain it? Should I be happy that people have heard of the four color problem? Should I be annoyed that the solution's being misapplied? I honestly have no idea.
  • I was originally going to title this post "A Garden of Forking Paths", after the Borges story. I decided that was a bit too, well, twee, but by that time I'd already gathered a couple fo interesting links, so I figured I may as well include them.
  • Therefore, here are two sites that I guess you could describe as "inspired by" the story.
  • Another Borges story, titled The Aleph.
  • And the WIkipedia article for the word "aleph", a word with quite a few meanings. One relates to transfinite cardinals, while another is the name of an obscure programming language, which was once intended to be to the Plan9 OS what C is to Unix.
  • This item isn't even vaguely related to the others, but here it is anyway. You don't have to be a fan of bad movies to enjoy extremely funny reviews slamming bad movies. Today's choice example is Roger Ebert's review of the new movie Basic Instinct 2. Enjoy!
  • Today's tidbit to make the fundies livid: Those commie liberal scientists have done another of their "scientific studies", and concluded that praying for sick people doesn't help at all. Golly. Big surprise there.

Thrilling News from Space




  • The first pic is from today's solar eclipse, but with a twist: It was taken from the International Space Station, looking down at the moon's shadow on the Earth's surface.
  • The second pic is another Cassini image, this time of the moon Rhea in front of the rings. The rings are overexposed, to bring out some details of the moon's shadowed surface.
  • In other Cassini news, researchers have found a handful of 100-meter-scale moonlets embedded in Saturn's A ring. Their paper's in the current issue of Nature, so if you (unlike me) are a subscriber, you can find the paper here. This raises the question of how small can something be and still deserve to be called a moon and given its own unique name. The researchers suggest there might be millions of objects this size lurking in the rings, and giving each one a name would obviously be impractical. Anybody who's enjoyed watching the argument about whether Pluto and 2003 UB313 are planets or not is going to really enjoy this one. There's nothing scientists love better than arguing over nomenclature. Or at least it seems that way sometimes.
  • The great Polish SF author Stanislaw Lem has passed away at age 84. He was best known for his novel Solaris, but I've always preferred his robot stories collected in The Cyberiad, and his Ijon Tichy books. Rest in peace.
  • The once-cancelled Dawn mission is back in business. Yay!
  • You may have seen the first images from the shiny new Mars Reconaissance Orbiter that were released a few days ago. The HiRISE camera team's promising a new batch of pics next Thursday, April 6th.
  • Also coming up in April, the ESA's Venus Express probe should arrive in orbit around Venus on April 11.
  • Meanwhile, the MESSENGER probe will fly by the planet on October 24th, on its long road to Mercury.
  • And if you can't wait for Venus images, today's your lucky day. These sites offer archives of old Soviet Venera images from the surface of the planet, enhanced and cleaned up using modern image processing techniques. Very cool! Although I still don't really want to visit the place in person.
  • It turns out that 1991 VG, the #1 easiest asteroid for a probe to rendezvous with is actually an alien probe. Wow. Who knew? And what kind of third-rate aliens are they, that they could come all this far and that's the closest they can get to actually landing, or even going into Earth orbit? Lamers. Here's what the object's discoverer had to say about it. But then again, he's posting from a .gov domain, so there's just gotta be some kind of evil conspiracy or coverup going on, right?
  • Further afield, you might enjoy the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, which tries to keep track of all planets discovered outside our solar system. Two more gas giants were announced right after March 14th's big "ice giant" announcement. For the latest two, there wasn't even a press release. My, how jaded we've gotten.
  • Here's at least one fundie who argues today's solar eclipse is a sign people need to repent. I'm sure I could find others, but he does a bit of numerology to link eclipses with the number 666 and the coming Apocalypse on (you guessed it) June 6th, 2006, so I'm hereby declaring him "TEH WINNAR".
  • In contrast, BrokebackBlokes notes that "many of  the countries that could view the total eclipse  today have a poor or abysmal  relationship with their homosexual community." Although you could probably say the same thing of any eclipse, or anything else that encompasses large swaths of the Earth's surface.



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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fishy




I've been curious about what sort of fish species live in the Willamette and Columbia, so I did some googling, and it's surprising how little info there is out there on the net. Most examples focus exclusively on fish of interest to recreational anglers, like this page from the US Forest Service. You'll also come across a few sites that get all new-agey about salmon, just to spice things up a bit. I'm not going to do any salmon links, because they get plenty of attention already, and any decent search engine will find you everything you ever wanted to know, and more.

Oh, all right, here's one for ya: the site for the Save Our Wild Salmon campaign. Just remember that they're not the only fish in the sea, ok?

I did finally come across a doc with what's currently thought to be a comprehensive list [PDF], giving over thirty species (both native and introduced) known to live in the Willamette and its tributaries. You'd think there'd be more of a fuss about all those nonnative species in the river, but many of them are considered good fishin' and good eatin', so I guess that makes it all ok, or something. Meanwhile, we have a government-sponsored bounty program where people are paid to catch as many Northern Pikeminnows as they can, because they prey on young salmon. They're a native fish, and they've been doing this since time immemorial, but we've decided that salmon populations can't withstand all the environmental damage we've done and their natural predators, so obviously the predators have to go. It's only logical, right? Oh, but don't eat that pikeminnow. They're loaded with PCBs.

More info about several of the species listed can be found on a page from the Royal BC Museum, listing freshwater fishes of the Columbia River basin.

Here's a longer bit about smelt, which the list calls "eulachon". Apparently that's another "common" name for the fish, although I've never heard anyone use it. When I was little, we'd sometimes go smelt dipping out on the Sandy River. I remember the river being thick with fish, and you'd just scoop your smelt net through the water, pull up a net so full you could hardly lift it, dump the contents in your bucket, and repeat until you had all you wanted. No fee, no permit, no limit, no nothin', if I recall correctly. It hardly seems sporting, which is because it's exactly the same method the Indians used to use, and they were doing it for subsistence, not for sport. And it hardly seems sustainable either. At the time (in the supposedly environmentally enlightened 1980s, no less), everyone figured it was OK to keep doing it that way, because people assumed smelt were an inexhaustable resource. And then the population crashed in the 90's, and hasn't recovered. Gee, I wonder why?

Once you'd gotten your buckets of smelt home, it was time to clean all those oily little fish. Wherever you decided to clean 'em, the place would look and smell like a cannery in no time. And it seemed to take forever. And the really sad part is that I didn't actually like smelt very much. They taste a lot like sardines, really fishy and oily, which is usually not a hit with the kiddies. A good portion of the catch ultimately went to waste. So I've probably earned at least some miniscule part of the blame for the fish's decline, I imagine.

The first image above is a school of smelt off the coast of California. I'm not entirely sure it's the same species that we've got here, but it's a nice picture, regardless. The second image is a chiselmouth, one of the area's many small minnow-type fish. Mostly I liked the name. It'd be a great name for a band.

And I should at least mention sturgeon somewhere in here. They're not exactly unknown, of course. That would be impossible. They're freakin' prehistoric sea monsters. It turns out that we've actually got two sturgeon species here, and people are getting concerned about the green sturgeon, because everybody's been ignoring it up to now, I guess because it's (relatively) smaller, and not commercially harvested. The state just tweaked its regulations back in December, so now you aren't allowed to keep green sturgeon more than 5 feet long, down from the old limit of 5' 6". And here's a pic of Herman II the Sturgeon, a white sturgeon and the state fish & wildlife department's mascot. Herman I used to go on road trips to the Oregon State Fair every summer, until his mysterious disappearance at the ripe age of 75 or so. People later realized that this roadtrip thing wasn't actually very good for the fish, so the fairgrounds now boast a sculpture instead. But that's just not going to impress the kids in quite the same way, is it?

Another rather, uh, memorable aquatic creature around these parts is the lamprey, of which our region can boast several closely related species. (In fact, they've been known to live in small streams right here in the Portland area) Lamprey stocks are in decline too. Here's a PDF about Pacific Lamprey conservation. Here's another, lamprey-related conference proceedings from 2004. In general they're rather unsympathetic creatures with little to recommend them, but they're native, and they belong here. Local tribes thought, and still think, they're delicious. And hey, I'll try almost anything once, especially if it involves stepping outside cultural biases. I've only seen lampreys in person on the occasional trip up to the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam. There's a viewing area there where you can sit and watch the fish trying to go upriver, and if you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to get there when the lampreys are migrating. They often attach themselves to the viewing window by their mouths, their bodies writhing in the current. Well, it's not something you see every day, certainly.

In the Great Lakes, there's an ongoing invasion of nonnative sea lampreys, which are considered quite a scourge on the local lake trout. Here the situation's reversed: Lampreys are native, and lake trout are an introduced species.

Seems that PBS's Nova did a show a while back about ancient creatures of the deep, and the accompanying website lists both lampreys and sturgeon as living fossils. We seem to have a lot of "obsolete" organisms in this part of the world. We've mostly got conifer and fern forests instead of deciduous trees and flowers, and there's always the pronghorn, which is not an antelope. I don't know what it is. Things just don't evolve as quickly here, I guess. And don't get me started about bigfoot.

And in the "WTF" department, I ran across the website for an outfit calling itself Lamprey Systems. I don't know quite what to make of the site, and I don't think I'm anywhere near cool enough to visit it, but I love their logo, FWIW.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Buyer's Remorse

It turns out that a lot of the people responsible for GWB's latest drop in the polls are not commie pinko liberals, or even wishy-washy moderates or independents. No, he's actually starting to alienate a few conservatives now. Not a majority, by any means -- for the most part they still march in formation, singing the praises of the Glorious Leader. But it's no longer unanimous, which is something. And even the holdouts, I think, are worshiping the manly-man leader they wish Bush was, and trying hard to ignore the underwhelming portrait that emerges from the, y'know, overwheming evidence and all. Why couldn't people have wised up before the last election, instead of getting a bad case of buyer's remorse a few months later? Now we're stuck with three more long, soul-crushing years of ol' whatsisname, which will turn out exactly the same as the last five. It's not like he's suddenly getting any more competent or less arrogant as time goes by. At least being a lame duck sort of limits the damage he can do in the time remaining, I guess.

A few recent examples of former core Bush supporters now having second thoughts:


Some years ago, it was proposed that we go to a system where presidents are elected for a single six-year term. I'm starting to think this is an excellent notion. Looking at our past few two-term presidents, six years is roughly when the public gets sick of 'em, and it's about when they run out of ideas, political capital, and motivated staff who can get the job done. Of course, the absolutely logical and well-reasoned and not at all emotional response at the time was to point out that this is what Mexico already does. Which I think probably killed the idea right then and there.

Other thrilling political news and views:


  • From an opinion piece titled Bush: The Procrastinator-in-Chief:

    First, the president admitted that he got us into a war that he was not going to get us out of. He acknowledged that when he is back in Crawford enjoying his retirement, clearing brush and shooting quail, American troops will still be in Iraq, fighting and dying for reasons that the majority of Americans have yet to understand, though the president keeps explaining and re-explaining them.

  • If you talk to your lawyer on the phone, the NSA may be listening. None of that fancy-schmancy attorney-client privilege for us anymore, no sirree. Abolished by executive order, just like everything else.
  • And don't expect any help from the Supreme Court, either. If you're an "evildoer", you have no Constitutional rights whatsoever. Scalia said so himself. It's not that I have any affection or sympathy for the evildoers, of course. By which I mean the actual evildoers. What alarms me is that the Bushies are trying to establish a precedent, so they can later apply the same methods and reasoning to people who have nothing to do with terrorism. A few years down the road, perhaps we'll be torturing confessions out of shoplifters, and hauling anti-Bush protesters off to Guantanamo, once the public's gotten used to the idea.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle has an excellent series titled "War Without End", about the struggles of soldiers who've been seriously injured in Iraq.
  • It's reported that Karl Rove himself is the source for those once-deleted, now recovered emails in the Plame case. Presumably they implicate someone other than Rove. A lot of people seem to think they might implicate Cheney, as Cheney and Rove have fallen out over the years. Grab some popcorn and pop open a cold one. This oughtta be good.
  • Remember when GWB was first elected, and he said Latin America was his top foreign policy focus? That didn't turn out to be the case, for obvious reasons. I remember when he made that pledge, and I have to say I thought it was insincere from the get-go. Be that as it may, while George was busy obsessing about the Mideast, oil, Armageddon, and so forth, much of Latin America has decided they'd rather not be under our thumb, thank you very much. The Monroe Doctrine is dead, film at 11. Since the powers that be in the Beltway still can't imagine relating to anyone south of Brownsville, TX on a remotely equal basis, they're unable to come up with any effective policies at all. When condescending lectures don't work, they try a bit of ineffective saber-rattling, and when that doesn't work either, they lapse into sullen silence, like Latin America will come crawling back to us if we just ignore them long enough, or something.
  • A fun opinion piece about Katherine Harris's run for a senate seat in Florida, titled "Cosmic justice for plutocrat?"
  • The Georgia legislature's considering a bill that would adopt the Bible as an official school textbook. Not all fundies are thrilled about this, it turns out. Some of them feel that teaching about it without insisting on a single, literal interpretation would be worse than not teaching it at all.
  • A good article dissecting the so-called "War on Christians" the fundies have dreamed up.
  • In a similar vein, an article about a professor who proposes that human religious impulses can be studied scientifically. A lot of religious people don't seem to care much for the idea. Amazon carries his recent book on the subject.
  • And here's a longish NPR piece about Kevin Phillips' new book American Theocracy, including a chapter from the book.
  • On a somewhat lighter note, the local newspaper down in Melbourne, Australia is wringing its hands about the sad state of American cheerleading. Seriously.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Zubr/Wisent


In the media coverage of the ongoing turmoil in Belarus, you might have seen a mention of a student organization known as "Zubr", which is always helpfully translated as "Bison". Media accounts never explain why something in Belarus would be named after an animal we in the US always associate with the Great Plains and points west. This is probably because media people themselves have no idea. But the topic combines two of my favorite things to blabber on about here: politics, and animals. Whether they're "cute" is debatable, of course, but at least they're interesting.

It turns out that there's a European bison as well (a.k.a. zubr, or wisent). Seriously. It's critically endangered, with small remnant populations scattered around Eastern Europe, primarily in Poland and Belarus. The gene pool is so small that it's unclear whether they'll survive in the long term or not. But for now, at least, they've managed to hang on. They can be crossbred with American bison, but that's strongly frowned upon.

Closer to home, it seems there once was a local subspecies of American bison here in Oregon, Bos bison oregonus, but they were wiped out way back in 1840, before the Oregon Trail even got going in earnest. The bison that are raised here now, in a semi-domesticated way, are descended from Midwestern populations that survived the big bison kill-off in the 19th century. It doesn't surprise me that the government tried to wipe out bison in order to destroy Indian cultures. It does surprise me that they just sent people out to shoot them and leave them for the vultures, instead of finding a way to make money off of it. Just goes to show how "primitive" people were in the 1880's, I suppose. I guess it was one of those taboos people use to reinforce their tribal "old us vs. them" distinctions. Euro-Americans generally wouldn't eat bison, all because it was "Indian food". Which was completely their loss. Bison is what you wish beef was. It's delicious. Here's a recipe for a sort of boeuf borguinon, except made with bison instead of beef. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds great.

Getting back to the tribal identity thing, I think the idea behind the name "Zubr" was to claim something that's (semi-)unique to Belarus, something that Russia doesn't have, plus a nice pro-environment twist. If you're going to pick a nationalist symbol, you could do a lot worse. Even if the average citizen won't ever see one in person. At least the'll look good on your money, if nothing else.

The most, uh, picturesque bison experience I've ever had was in Yellowstone National Park a number of years ago. We were driving from Oregon to South Carolina in a tiny little MG, and the scenic route led us through Yellowstone. The first snowfall of the season had occurred up in the mountains, driving a lot of the wildlife down into heavily-touristed areas. We were driving along the park's loop road, checking out the scenery, when we came around a corner and there we were, right in the middle of a big herd of wild bison. In a car that probably weighed less than many of the animals. And we were looking up at them. So we sat there, and sat there, until they moved off the road, making no sudden moves or loud noises. We don't even have any pictures of the bison, because the camera wanted to use its flash, and that didn't seem like a very wise idea to us. I do remember it quite vividly, though.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Cassini is Da Bomb



What you're looking at is yet another amazing Cassini image from Saturn. We're looking across Saturn's rings, at a shallow angle, with the large moon (well, Titan's atmosphere, really) behind the rings, and the small moon silhouetted in front (it's the dark bit just to the right of dead center in the image). Like many Cassini images, it looks like cover art from someone's SF novel.

As a counterpoint, here's a reprint of an old Science Digest article about the head of the , and someone's impassioned pro-flat-earth rant. I'd be curious whether the flat-earthers think other planets and such are flat as well. "Flat Saturnian Ring Society", anyone?

And while we're on the topic of flat-earthers, here's the latest and greatest example of creepy Bush family crookedness. As the mother of our Glorious Leader, Barbara Bush enjoys an exalted position in our society, kind of like the Virgin Mary, except rich and evil. Evil? Well, just judge for yourself. It seems that she has quite the expansive notion of what constitutes Katrina relief. Hurricane relief, it seems, means that you donate money to the Houston school system that can only be used to buy products from 's sleazy little software company. That way you can at least be sure none of those icky poor people get any of your money, I guess. And yes, this Neil Bush (the president's brother) is the same Neil Bush of Silverado S&L fame, and Thailand sex tour fame. When the Kennedys do this, it's glamorous, for some reason. When the Clintons do it, you just giggle. But when the Bushes do it, it makes your skin crawl. Don't ask me why it's this way, it just is.

Back when Bush Sr. was president, the common meme was that Mrs. Bush was sort of the nation's grandma, ceaselessly toiling for our happiness, personally baking us billions of chocolate chip cookies daily or something. And why did we all think that, exactly? Could somebody please refresh my memory why we all apparently adored her so much? These days I'm starting to think she was actually the model for Mom from Futurama. Yikes!

Belarus Crackdown!

Everybody expected Lukashenko to crack down sooner or later, and now he's done it.

Two questions remain: What (if anything) will the people of Belarus do now? What (if anything) will the West do now?

If the user comments to two posts on the Guardian site are any indication, there's a surprisingly strong -- or at least vocal -- constituency for the "Do Absolutely Nothing" position. My impression is that this notion is especially popular in the UK. I'm not sure why, exactly. It may be the simple desire to oppose anything it looks like Bush & Co. are for. A bit of dark muttering about "Bush... Blair... CIA..." and you're off the hook for anything, it seems. I'm genuinely curious, and I don't want to deal in cartoonish stereotypes here. I'm sure they mean well, and sincerely think they're doing the right thing. And I agree, not interfering in other countries' internal business is usually quite a fine thing. I wouldn't rank it the absolute highest goal, but in general it's a praiseworthy notion.

If you're really so disgusted at Bush and Blair, why do you keep giving them the power to determine what your own opinions will be? If Bush showed up in Minsk tomorrow and gave Lukashenko a big sloppy kiss, would that finally get your attention? Then will you suddenly start caring about Belarus? Is that really what it's going to take?

I also think I detect an undercurrent of Euroskepticism in the comments as well. During the ultimately successful protests in Ukraine, more than one commentator intimated that democracy in Ukraine inevitably meant another poor foundling on the EU's doorstep. Which is a rather venal and self-interested attitude, but one that's in some ways understandable. If you let Ukraine and Belarus in, you can't really keep Russia out permanently, and if you do that you've just expanded the EU's borders to China and the Pacific Ocean. Do all ex-Soviet republics have a seat waiting in Brussels? Is Tajikistan really a European country? And if you let all of them in, why not, say, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or India?

But at the same time, it's hard to look at protesters in the squares of Minsk or Kiev and pretend they have nothing in common with their neighbors to the west. It's hard to look at them and not think of 1989, try as you might. It's hard to look at what Lukashenko's been up to the last 12 years and claim the protesters don't have a valid point. To argue for "noninterference" in this case is to argue that somehow the people of Belarus will somehow benefit if we just close our eyes, plug our ears, turn our backs, and let Lukashenko have at it.

A list of more Belarus links and info, in addition to those listed in my previous post:

  • This post at Gateway Pundit has pics and discussion about the crackdown.
  • Rush-Mush has numerous accounts from people on the ground in Minsk.
  • Tobias Ljunvall has a weekly blog about Belarus, posted every Sunday. A lot's happened since last Sunday, so the current post practically reads like ancient history.
  • This post at Babruisk (in Belarusian) has lots of pictures of the riot cops cracking down.
  • More news & discussion at Neeka's Backlog.
  • A post about a group of Belarusians' flashmob reaction to the state media.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Referredux




So here's another one of those posts where I celebrate the ineffable magic of the Next Blog button. Some of these are referrers: Someone, somewhere out there was clicking the magic button, visited one of these sites, and then showed up on my doorstep. Other ones are random blogs of interest I came across while using the magic button myself, which I've been known to indulge in now and then. As usual, ones I especially liked are in bold, although I'm too lazy to actually describe each blog this time around, so if you're curious why somebody got bolded, you'll have to go see for yourself, or not. I'll probably get tired of doing this sooner or later and stop. Or possibly I'll get so many visitors that it just becomes impossible to sort through. These pseudorandom referrals are a real minority of visitors anyway. Most are search engine hits, and I've also gotten a lot of blog-back visits to my "In Darkest Jesustan" post from a while back, since I linked to a Nation article down towards the bottom. I actually feel a bit bad about that; the title was far better than the actual post, which I think was something of a sour, ill-considered rant. So I think I may've left a few readers rather disappointed.

A fun thing about this sort of post is that you can make it as nonlinear as you like. When you update an existing blog entry, Blogspot often sends you a couple of new "Next Blog" people, so then you can go back, add those referrer pages, republish, and voila, even more visitors. And so on. It really gives you a nice illusion of control, or whatever.

Anyway, here's that list I was talking about, for better, or worse, or whatever:



BTW, the tropical fruit picture (which features several durians, among other things) isn't from any of these blogs, and quite honestly has nothing to do with this post whatsoever. I just thought the post needed a bit more color, is all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Viva Belarus


A few important links about the election protests in Belarus:

A disturbing trend I've noticed is that a lot of blogs from outside Belarus advocating democracy and human rights there have a distinctly conservative bent, while a lot of progressive blogs, and what some might call "liberal media" stories, take a more skeptical, and sometimes openly hostile, tone. Which is a huge disappointment. Maybe tomorrow I'll go into more depth speculating about why this is so, but in many cases it seems like the opposition stems from a base desire to oppose anything it looks like Bush is for. I'd argue this is a silly and childish reaction. Having visceral negative reactions to the chimp from Crawford is not the same thing as having a coherent policy of one's own. Are we supposed to walk away from the very notion of universal human rights, just because GWB occasionally mouths some insincere platitudes about countries he can't even find on a map? When he talks about civil liberties, he doesn't really mean it. Ever. Anywhere. So even if you do think it's smart to just be for the opposite of whatever Bush is for, you can't take his words as any kind of guide. Since when is the notion that protesters maybe shouldn't be massacred a controversial idea? How did that happen? Opposing Lukashenko doesn't mean you're signing up for George's next war or anything. And you're also not signing up to help impose vicious laissez-faire capitalism on Belarus, either. I personally don't care what sort of economic model they use. They can stick with classic Soviet central planning so far as I care, just so long as they hold free elections and respect human rights. That's not so farfetched; the former Soviet republic of Moldova is giving it a try right now. Whether it'll work is anyone's guess, but it's their decision to make. Economics are an internal matter, for the local voters to puzzle out. Censorship and election fraud, on the other hand, are everyone's business, and what GWB thinks about it is entirely irrelevant.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Baby Pandas.... Awww....




If you don't like baby pandas, you're a bad person. You're probably a Republican, in fact. (Scroll down to see why.)

But you're a normal person, though, you'll enjoy these:

  • Tai Shan, the famous baby panda at the National Zoo in DC.
  • Hua Mei, born in 1999 at the San Diego Zoo.
  • A gallery of baby pandas at the Wolong Research Center in China.
  • And best of all, recent video from Wolong showing a bunch of baby pandas playing in the snow.
  • Want more? Of course you do. And Pandafans.org has just what you're looking for.
  • Can't make it to DC to visit Tai Shan, a.k.a. "Butterstick"? Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can at least visit Unrequited Narcissism and read about what it's like to be in the presence of HIs Roly-Polyness. Tai Shan for President!


Semi-obligatory lame panda joke:

A panda enters a cafe, orders and devours a sandwich, draws a pistol, fires a few shots and then heads for the door. "Why?" asks the bewildered waiter. The panda tosses him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and says: "I'm a panda. Look it up." The waiter reads the relevant entry: "Panda: Large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."


Updated: A few reasons why Republicans hate pandas so much:

  1. Pandas come from Red China. The whole cuteness thing is a commie plot against America. Anybody who likes pandas is helping the commies, and at the very least ought to be wiretapped. Without a warrant, naturally.
  2. The tree-huggers love pandas, and it's essential to always do the opposite of whatever the tree-huggers are doing, no matter what.
  3. Pandas are endangered, and the eternal Republican creed is "Kick 'em when they're down".
  4. Even if they weren't endangered, they're still cute and fuzzy, the antithesis of everything Republicans believe in. Liking any kind of animal is a weakness of character, kind of like Bill Bennett and his gambling addiction. But if you're going to do it, you should at least stick to good Republican animals, like rats and tapeworms.
  5. They apparently don't taste good, it's illegal to shoot them or otherwise turn them into trophies, you can't train them to do demeaning stunts, it's even illegal to wrestle them. There's apparently no way at all to test your fragile masculinity against them, so what good are they?
  6. This story has a picture of Bill Clinton posing with a Panda. Case closed!!!
  7. They're part-black and part-white, which is intolerable. If members of the master race (i.e. polar bears) get the urge to sow a little wild oats now and then, they need to show some discretion, like good ol' Strom Thurmond. Pandas are an embarrassing and very private matter, and it's the height of tackiness to even talk about 'em.
  8. If the free market, in its infinite wisdom, decrees that pandas need to be chopped up as aphrodisiacs or turned into tacky souvenirs or something, it's automatically a wonderful thing, and nobody has any right to interfere. What are you, some kind of communist? Oh, right, we already answered that one.
  9. Pandas aren't mentioned anywhere in the Bible, which puts them into the same dubious category as Klingons and unicorns. It's possible that Satan put them here to confuse the faithful.
  10. Or possibly they don't exist at all Have you ever seen one in person? No? Clearly there's a liberal media conspiracy here just begging to be uncovered.
  11. If God did create pandas (hypothetically speaking, of course), and he'd wanted us to like them he would have put them right here in the Good Ole USA, instead of on some other godforsaken continent full of foreigners.
  12. Assuming that other continent even exists. China isn't mentioned in the Bible either. Clearly this whole "Asia" thing was dreamed up by those evil liberals to fill a huge gap in their so-called "globe" of the "round Earth". Everybody knows our own continent is the biggest and the best. Anybody who believes in Asia and says it's bigger obviously just hates freedom. The same goes for Africa, btw.
  13. Certain notorious liberal scientists use the panda's so-called "thumb" as an argument for their sick theory of evolution. Why do they hate America?
  14. Pandas just might be hiding WMDs -- they've so far refused to prove to our satisfaction that they don't -- so the only patriotic course of action is to do 'em in and destroy their habitat, just in case.


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Three Years On

We didn't go to Portland's big Iraq protest on Sunday, but we had a front row seat. We found a cozy table at a restaurant on the route of the march, and settled in to watch. It took over an hour for all the marchers to file by. It was great to see that kind of turnout.

Of course, protesting the war is mostly a symbolic exercise, given the Busheviks' unlimited scorn for public opinion. There's absolutely nothing anybody outside the beltway can do to convince them to do anything differently. But then, efforts to censure or impeach the guy are basically just symbolic, too. Nothing's going to change, nothing's going to be different as a result, but sometimes it just has to be attempted anyway, just on the principle of the thing.

Realistically speaking, we're stuck with George and his cronies until January 2009, and we're stuck with his war for at least that long. I'm starting to think that their "exit strategy" is to try to leave the Iraq war on autopilot for the next few years, and dump it all in the next president's lap. That way (they may be hoping) somebody else gets to take all the blame for losing.

After all, according to Our Leaders, we've got three long years of remarkable progress in Iraq under our belts now, and things are just getting better and better every day. In fact, Uncle Dick still insists that his promises that we'd be greeted as liberators, and that the insurgents were on their last legs about a year ago, were "basically accurate and reflect reality".

However, even the beltway punditocracy is witnessing a few recriminations over Iraq. Of course this won't translate into doing anything differently next time around. When we start ramping up for a war in Iran, or Syria, or Venezuela, they'll set their skepticism aside again and go back to the same naive rah-rah-go-team reaction we saw with Iraq.

We can speculate all we like about why Bush & Co. really started this war, and why so much of the public backed him for so long. In the end I'm not sure we'll ever really know. And whether it was originally about oil, or WMDs, or "transforming" the middle east, or getting revenge for 9/11, or wallowing in WWII nostalgia, or bringing about the Rapture, the question facing us now is the same: Ok, so now what?

Yesterday the Oregonian ran what it presented as two opposing viewpoints on the war. One, from the neocon Max Boot, argued that the war isn't actually a big deal in terms of money spent or lives lost. The implication is that we can just stay the course indefinitely, do nothing different, and it'll all be ok. The other viewpoint, by retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, argues that the best strategy now would actually be to send more troops, and institute a draft if necessary. On top of those guest columns, the Oregonian's ever-reptilian David Reinhard chimes in with one of his usual hatchet jobs, attacking anyone who doesn't love the war or who won't pretend it's going great. I guess we're supposed to come away thinking that these three pieces represent the full spectrum of public opinion about the war. Or at least that subset of public opinion that the media considers "responsible". Somehow, to the media, "responsible" opinion always means "pro-war". Here's a blurb bashing the Oregonian for yesterday's odd editorial choices. And here's an interesting column arguing the case for an immediate withdrawal. I'm not sure I agree with the argument in its entirety, but it does make a convincing case that our continued presence in Iraq is not helping matters one bit.

I'm starting to think that partition is unavoidable, and the only way to mitigate the civil war is to do it sooner rather than later. It didn't have to be this way. It wasn't always inevitable, any more than the partition of Yugoslavia was inevitable in 1989. Perhaps it could've been prevented before the cycle of violence really got rolling, but it's too late for that now. Really I don't see why this is often considered a worst-case scenario. Iraq as it exists is a purely artificial entity, with borders drawn to suit the needs of 1920s colonialists. You can't simply draw lines on a map without any regard to the people who live there, and expect the inhabitants to automatically feel they all have something in common. Throughout the history of Iraq, it's been argued that a "strong hand" is required to hold the country together, be it a colonial power, king, military dictator, religious dictator, or something else. And if our experience there so far is any guide, that conventional wisdom may actually be true. If so, and the only workable alternatives are partition or dictatorship, splitting the country into thirds seems like the lesser of two evils, as ugly as it would be at the outset. That is, assuming that we have any right, or any power, to shape how events unfold in Iraq anymore, and I'm not convinced that we do, or ever really did.

Updated: Did I toldja so, or did I toldja so? Today (3/21), our Glorious Leader let it be known that we'll have troops in Iraq for at least another 3 years, so that it'll be the next president's mess to clean up -- and hopefully take all the blame for. And we already knew that the next president gets to inherit GWB's unsustainable budget deficits, too. Is this the Busheviks' new master plan? Steer us straight at an iceberg, hop overboard in a nice cushy lifeboat at the last minute, and let the rest of us figure out what to do next? Niiiice.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

bush/rug


This was originally a second copy of "No Name" (below), which inexplicably got posted twice. That seemed kind of useless, so I figured I'd do a gut-n-stuff job on it, and here's the result. A whole post about GWB's precious rug, which I've mentioned in passing once already. It just doesn't stop being funny. It's kind of weird how rare really good anti-GWB cheap shots are. Usually when George does something boneheaded, thousands of innocent people die. That tends to sap all the enjoyment right out of the thing.

First off, a pic of Bush's dog standing on the carpet, artfully cropped so we can't see what the hind end is doing.

Here's a site where you can buy a genuine Oval Office Rug, so you can pretend like you're just like Our Glorious Leader.

Here's a very different rug, which the poster says "accurately conveys how my stomach feels whenever President Bush appears on television.".

George says his wife is responsible for the rug. Go here to giggle over references to "Laura's rug". It's... just... too... easy....

Another story about that damn rug. The thing you really shouldn't miss here, though, is at the end of the article. Seems that for three years now, the violence in Iraq has always just been a "recent surge in violence". You could see this as a conspiracy within the mainstream media. But I'm happy to chalk this one up to incompetence on the media's part. Incompetence, plus lots of sheer laziness. Copy editors who chide you for trading in cliches and hackneyed phrases are a thing of the past, I'm afraid. After you've been a reporter for a year or two and haven't gotten your Pulitzer yet, I expect you come to realize that you get paid exactly the same if you do the absolute bare minimum of work, churn out a certain number of words of complete dreck, take everything you're told at face value, ask no tough questions, do no research, and provide no context or analysis. You get paid the same either way, and this is by far the path of least resistance. You get done quicker, and you can be out of your room and down in the hotel bar in record time. Which is the key thing, of course.

Oh, and here's a funny non-rug bit titled "Bush Gets New Speechwriter".

Enjoy!

No Name


I couldn't think of a good title for this post, so instead I picked a rather stupid one. But not a completely meaningless one, as you'll see below

Here's an image of a distinctly double-helix-shaped nebula near the center of our galaxy, taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. There's two ways to look at this. Normal people like me just go "cool" and wonder how it got that way, while the inhabitants of conservative never-neverland just froth at the mouth about a conspiracy of evil liberal scientists making the whole thing up. Ok, I haven't actually seen them do that yet, but it stands to reason.

And here's the latest weird extrasolar planet, which (according to researchers) is a huge ball of ice with a mass roughly that of Neptune. Here's a link to the researchers' paper, for those who prefer original sources. It occurs to me that, until quite recently, the Earth was actually the largest known solid object in the unverse. Since the Earth's the largest (known) solid planet in our solar system, and we were unaware of any bigger ones elsewhere, so there you go. I mean, this is not counting bizarre stuff like neutron stars, and even they're smaller if you're just going strictly by diameter.

An article at Tom's Hardware discussing one of the greatest movies of all time, TRON, including a long interview with the director.

Two previous articles of mine discussed (or possibly just babbled about) the weird world of transfinite ordinals. You'll probably want to read those first, that or just skip this item, because it probably won't make sense otherwise. I had just a couple more tidbits I wanted to pass along. The mysterious Church-Kleene ordinal, or w1CK, was discussed in connection with Turing machines, as the limit where all recursion finally runs out of steam. Which is part of the story, but it turns out that the same number is also the first example of something called an admissible ordinal. Which is an intriguingly positive-sounding name, since the Turing machine discussion made w1CK sound like a frustrating barrier, not something "admissible". It turns out the name just derives from these ordinals' connection with admissible sets, something I'm still hazy on. But w1CK is just the first one (after w, anyway), and the sequence goes on endlessly from there. And "admissibility" is by no means the strongest ordinal property. Here's a well-written paper I ran across, giving an overview of the esoteric and difficult field of proof theory. It even has a few diagrams, which may be really helpful for people trying to understand the subject. Beyond the admissibles, several additional types of ordinal are discussed, each a sort of recursive ordinal equivalent to a variety of large cardinal. Recursively inaccessible, Mahlo, and supercompact ordinals all make an appearance. The paper offers the names iota_0, mu_0, and kappa_0 for the first ordinal of each variety, adding to the already-rich, exotic bestiary of incredibly huge numbers "out there". Here's another paper that uses mu_0.

Ok, switching gears completely, here are two humor blogs I came across recently: Smile of the Day and Jokes & Humor Online.

A few new animal species to report: , a new grasshopper in Malaysia; , a shark in the Sea of Cortez, and , a.k.a. the Scott Bar salamander, which is about to lose its California habitat to logging. Seems that once the state realized it was a new, separate species, they decided that meant the state's raft of regulations protecting previously-known salamander species didn't apply anymore, and P. asupak habitat was fair game for clearcutting. Now there's a choice bit of self-serving "logic" for ya. Some photos here -- see 'em while you can...

And finally we get to the bit where I explain the title of this post. Here's the official website for No Name, a boy band from Montenegro (WP article here), in the Balkans. They were going to be Serbia-Montenegro's official Eurovision 2006 entry, but the choice spawned a huge controversy, complete with inter-republic ethnic tensions, and now the country's sending nobody at all. Did I mention Montenegro's thinking about seceding? They'll be voting on May 21st. However that turns out, I just hope we don't end up with yet another Balkan war to sort out. Back when Milosevic ran the show in Yugoslavia, I kept hoping Montenegro would secede, since I figured it was the only way to escape a dictatorship that showed no signs of weakening. They always seemed to be right on the verge of seceding, but they never quite did. Now I don't know what to think about the whole thing anymore.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Kiwaidagain


As your Unofficial Kiwaida Headquarters, I have a few more Kiwa hirsuta links to pass along, in addition to the existing list I've compiled, ever so painstakingly. (Also, here's my original post where I first mentioned the creature.)

BTW, today's image is the same Kiwa pic you've seen everywhere, except rotated 180 degrees. I'm left-handed. What can I say?

  • Here's the official news release from MBARI.
  • A blogger from Canada says I may never SNORKEL AGAIN.
  • From a post titled "Cutie pie Kiwa": I want a Kiwa of my own!! I can dress her up and try all kinds of hairstyles on her. She'd be like a Crustacean Barbie!
  • Another blogger asks "What does a lobster in drag taste like?". A: "Chicken. I bet it tastes like chicken."
  • The Waffling Anglican speculates: "Or perhaps it is trying to imitate a mammal to avoid being eaten during Lent." That hadn't occurred to me, but now that I think about it, I rather like the idea of a religious practice causing an evolutionary selection pressure. What would Pat Robertson have to say about that, I wonder?
  • Be sure to read the user comments at Swim at Your Own Risk ...
  • ...The Irish Trojan's Blog...
  • ...and Mo-Licious.
  • Pink Porcupette describes it as "a cross between a tick and a blonde gorilla". Yeah, I can see that. Although in tick terms, it's alarmingly huge. Yikes!
  • Another blogger sees it as a cross between a tick and a gibbon.
  • Angry and Sloppy calls it a "crabster". To me, that sounds like an appetizer at Applebee's, some sort of extruded, deep-fried, unidentifiable seafood nodule, slathered in a cheeselike sauce. Someday I'll write about my one and only trip to Applebee's, but right now the trauma is still too fresh.
  • A post titled "OMFG HAIRY LOBSTER", subtitled "Hairy Lobsters will Rule the Earth". So now, when the worst inevitably happens, you can't go around pretending you weren't warned.
  • Two posts from people who like the "crustacean goddess" angle of the story.
  • Univeral Hub links to a number of other good Kiwa stories.
  • My Life As A Bus lumps poor lil' Kiwa in with things like 3 headed frogs and 6 legged lambs (pics of both included), which I think is just a tad unfair. The kiwaida is supposed to look like that, after all.

Who Wants Ice Cream?


[A nice picture of Santiago de Chile and the Andes -- thanks to Marce for sending me the link. Some more images of the city here. Not related to the rest of this post, but I just wanted to pass it along anyway.]

I was going to rant about Ted Kulongoski today, but I'm not in a sufficiently sour mood to really pull it off. I mean, by all accounts he's a very nice man. Kind to animals, a friend to all, always has the very best of intentions, and all that. When he goes to Iraq with other state governors, he makes sure they all have ice cream cones. So he's definitely every kid's ideal grandpa. That much is clear. But governor? I've never figured out why he wanted the governor's chair. Maybe just to collect the whole set, I dunno. All I know is that whenever I see the guy on TV, bumbling around cluelessly in yet another goofy publicity stunt, I end up shouting out "Who wants ice cream?". Which I realize isn't very good of me, considering what an impeccably nice person he is.

Also, he's a much better bowler than I am. I have to give him that.

In the end, he'll probably get reelected regardless, following a somewhat close shave in the May primary. The R's will undoubtedly nominate yet another cross-burnin' Jesustani knuckle-dragger, maybe even Mannix again (but only because Sizemore isn't running), and Teddy will slink back into office as the lesser of two evils, with much emphasis on lesser. Which is the usual way D's eke out victories here. But hey, we're a minor-league state. We don't have a deep talent pool to draw from.

So anyway, like I said, I'm not going to go off on a rant about Mr. Nice Guy today, not at all. Instead, here are a few random fun tidbits, some of which I found on ORblogs, others not.


  • Some examples of a photographic technique known as tilt shift, which lets you take a real photo and make it look like a fake model. Freeeaky...
  • Speaking of, uh, fake models, here's a tidbit about Jessica Simpson's snub of GWB. By doing this, she's taking a far stronger stand than oh, say, Ted, for example. But no ranting, sorry. I mean it.
  • The American Cheese Society is having their convention in Portland in late July. Who wants cheese? I want cheese. Mmm.... Cheeeeese......
  • As if we needed more evidence why hockey is the One True Sport, the local minor-league team in Las Vegas will be handing out Cheney-spoofing "hunting vests" that read "Don't Shoot, I'm Human".
  • A fun new reason to move to the Netherlands.
  • The latest NASA research on the , because it's been days since I've tried to antagonize creationists, and it never stops being fun.
  • A post singing the praises of Portland's Tanner Springs Park. I couldn't disagree more. As far as I can tell, the main reason the park's supposed to be so wonderful is because of all the endless committee meetings it's made possible. The aging boomers of the Pearl would never admit to this, but I really think the park is a sign of their collective slide into cranky geezerdom, a chance for people without lawns to say "Get off my lawn, you !$%& kids!".
  • The latest news about lovelorn rhesus monkeys in China. Because everybody loves monkeys, right? I bet ol' Teddy takes a principled stand in favor of monkeys, at least the ones the focus groups like. This is easy for Ted because we don't have any monkeys here, and therefore we have no rich anti-monkey lobbyists to appease. Oh, wait. No ranting, I forgot. Sorry. I mean it.


big mass-o-tags:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pictures of Herons



A slideshow of various heron photos I've taken over the years. The original post -- from wayyy back in the mists of time, before I even had a Flickr account or had taken any photos of herons -- follows...







Brief little post this time. Here are a couple pics of Oregon's favorite small fierce prehistoric creature. (No, not Kevin Mannix, silly, he's nobody's favorite, if the last couple elections are any guide.) Plus one picture of beer.

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Note to Self

I don't normally blog about work. Mostly because it's not exactly a thrilling subject for most people. And I'm not really one for gossiping and complaining about coworkers, even if there was any juicy gossip going around or anything legit to complain about, neither of which are the case.

This was going to be a longish rant about various things I don't enjoy about Unix programming, but it was promped by one pesky bug, and I'll just stick with that one for the time being.

The "Note to Self" of the title is this: It's bad for one singleton object to rely on a pointer to another singleton object, thus relying on the hope that the second will be around for the entire lifetime of the first object, and then some. If you do decide to do this, at the very least don't use object #1 while the app is cleaning up and exiting as the result of an exit() call. And if you abolutely have to do that, at least don't have multiple threads running at the time. Otherwise you'll quite possibly stumble into the same situation I did recently. Thread #1 wants to use singleton #1, which performs some filesystem utility stuff. Unfortunately, we've gotten a SIGTERM just now, and thread #2 is in the middle of an exit() call. As part of that, global and static objects get destructed in some unknowable compiler or machine defined order that the books all warn you to never, ever rely upon. Thread #2 destructs singleton #2, which would be fine if singleton #1 didn't subsequently try to use a pointer to singleton #2. Pure virtual function call, yada yada yada, SIGABRT, core dumped. Feh.

At least that's what I've been able to reconstruct from core files sent to us by a surly user. At least I can take pride in the fact that not one line of the offending code was written by me. It would've never occurred to me to write it that way.

I don't have my Antipatterns book handy to verify this, but an unidentified coworker seems to have discovered a brand new one. Yikes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Oregon Coral. Honest!


Don't laugh, it's true. We really do have actual corals right here in Oregon. A couple of months back, I made a brief mention of the little-known world of cold deep-sea corals (although most of the post is about baby porcupines, which we have here too, btw). I was watching an HD nature show about tropical coral reefs in Indonesia the other night, and I got to wondering a bit about what (if anything) we've got closer to home.

There's surprisingly little information on the net about coldwater corals, possibly because they aren't easily accessible to recreational divers or PBS documentary teams. This is a real shame, since they're being extensively damaged by indiscriminate bottom trawling, and a large part of the world's deep coral habitat may be gone before we know much at all about it. This isn't intended to be some sort of "blah blah rainforest, blah blah concerned celebrities, blah blah organic tofu" harangue, though. Primarily I just want to point out that deep coral is interesting, it looks cool, and it's here. Just check it out, and then make an informed decision about whether we ought to wipe the stuff out or not. That's all I'm sayin'.

So here are some useful links I've come across:

Two academic papers about Oregon corals:

Conservation and management implications of deep-sea coral and fishing effort distributions in the Northeast Pacific Ocean
Habitat-forming deep-sea corals in the Northeast Pacific Ocean



WSU-Vancouver has a large image archive, although it really helps to know your taxonomy if you're looking for anything specific. If you (like me) need to brush up on that a little, the Wikipedia coral article is useful. The pic shown above is from this archive. It's a gorgonian, listed under subclass Octocorralia.

Some other links:

  • Some general info about Threatened NE Pacific marine habitats.
  • A proposed act of congress to protect deep-sea corals. I'm not holding my breath on this one. Nobody's making money off deep-sea corals, therefore there aren't any bribes to be had, therefore Congress won't act.
  • Not exactly a coral link, but I came across this while I was, uh, trawling the web. So I guess this counts as "bycatch" or something. Here's SlugSite, a page featuring nudibranchs (i.e. sea slugs), including the ever-popular Opisthobranch of the Week feature.

More info & links when I come across 'em.

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