Sunday, April 30, 2006


Latest photo of Saturn's moon Rhea, taken by Cassini on Friday. It's one of the least interesting moons out there, quite honestly, but hey, it's a new photo, so here it is.

There's a Titan flyby set for today, but it's primarily a radar pass this time, so I expect there'll be even less instant gratification than there usually is with Titan flybys. Which only matters if you get any gratification from this sort of thing in the first place, and most people don't.

A google search on "Rhea" also delivers a few head-scratching items: Here's one about "Orphic Music", and one about the relevance of Kuiper Belt objects to "advanced astrology". And something about the mystical importance of New Years Day 2004. I must've completely missed out on that one or something. And here's a page with everything: Saturn, pyramids, Masons, the Second Coming (which probably won't be Aug. 29th, 2007, btw), Illuminati, and much, much more. Enjoy!

Friday, April 28, 2006



A couple of pics of azaleas I took yesterday while walking to work. Ahh, the latest signs of springtime. Actually they were the latest sign of springtime yesterday, but today's sign of spring is somewhat less welcome: the year's first bit of hay fever. Aargh!


If I just posted pretty pictures without at least trying for some sort of wider relevance, I'd probably feel guilty about it. So here's what I came up with:

  • The mountain azalea, Rhododendron canescens, is listed as endangered in Kentucky.
  • The dwarf azalea, Rhododendron atlanticum is also listed as endangered, in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
  • The NC Arboretum has more info on those and other native Appalachian azalea species.
  • Much info on all sorts of azalea and rhododendron species and varieties, from OSU. Most of the links take you to photos, although there aren't any on the main page.
  • A story about the big Azalea Festival in Wilmington NC.
  • Muskogee, OK has a festival too.
  • A couple of pics from the tiny burg of Azalea, Oregon.

Thursday, April 27, 2006



Gentle Readers(s), it turns out this is post #150 here at this humble little blog. I've added a couple of doodads over in my "Blogospherica" sidebar thingy. I'm still busy populating my page with old stuff, so you'll probably see a lot of duplicates there for a while, like you really care. I've also got Flickr pics up (the big Flickr badge is probably a dead giveaway).


I'm also messing around with my blog template, mostly for reasons of gratuitous individualism. This may take a bit longer, since I'm not the world's biggest CSS guru just yet. Maybe I'll find one of those "under construction" animated gifs, just for the sake of old-sk00l-ness.




Wednesday, April 26, 2006

News Roundup for 26 April '06

Fun Science News of the Day

Today's top story is about echidnas, of course. A Russian paleontologist suggests that monotremes are not the ancestors of more modern mammals, but instead branched off from a common ancestor several hundred million years ago. Yowsers.

Science Magazine asks "Ever Seen a Fat Gibbon?". The answer to that is probably "no"; researchers think they've found a sort of primate fat gene, and gibbons just happen not to have it.

The latest advances in neutron star seismology(!!!)

Notes from the Long, Long, Long War:

A heartbreaking story about the victim of one of Baghdad's "everyday" sectarian killings, the ones that don't normally make the papers. We've improved everyday life in Iraq how exactly?

Meanwhile, in the other Baghdad, Rummy and Condi have made yet another of those endless "surprise visits": Fly in, swagger around the Green Zone a bit, strike heroic poses for the TV cameras, brag about yet another damn milestone on the road to somewhere-or-other, and get the hell out, ASAP. Everything's getting better every day, so far as they know.

A manual for how Rummy could try to court martial those pesky generals who've been hassling him. Yes, even though they're retired and everything. Wouldn't that be a fun PR debacle? While the Busheviks are at it, they may as well go after Wesley Clark for criticizing Bush back when he was running for president in '04.

Gas prices are spiking, right in the midst of primary season, and Congress is demagoguing the issue like there's no tomorrow. The R's want to cut everyone a check for a hundred bucks. Which is not, we repeat, not an election-year bribe, of course. Oh, and if you want your hundred bucks, you'll have to let Big Oil drill in that pesky wildlife refuge up north in Alaska. The D's aren't doing much better, pushing a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax. In either plan, presumably, any resulting revenue shortfalls will just be tacked onto the federal deficit, and we'll let our grandkids, and their grandkids, pick up the tab. That, or just hope the Rapture happens before the bills come due.

Sweet, Sweet Schadenfreude

The head of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has resigned, after getting nailed for a DUI. In the immortal words of Esker Melchior, "HAR!!!! HAR!!!! HAR!!!"

From the Litigious Bastards Dept.:

The Cadbury candy conglomerate does not own the color purple. At least not in Australia. The way that IP laws work in the US, it's anyone's guess. They'll probably have to sue Alice Walker over the rights, at minimum. The famous Augusta National golf course claims to own a certain shade of green, as seen in those hideous Masters jackets, so Cadburys may have legal precedent on their side here in the states.

Oh, and SCO's at it again, of course. It seems that in their lawsuit against Novell, they're hoping to make use of a vague Utah law on "unfair competition" that was passed after the suit was filed. And the number one guy lobbying for the law? Why, SCO's own chairman, Ralph Yarro, of course. Like PJ says, you gotta admit these guys are never boring. The law, it should be noted, passed over the governor's veto, which is really odd for a piece of esoteric technology legislation. This smells really bad. If I was Novell, which I'm not, I'd start sending out subpoenas to key state legislators and their staff, and try to figure out just what the quid pro quo was.

Today's Vocabulary Word: Folksonomy

Spring Cleaning

Keeping a pile of local bookmarks in one's browser is so 20th century, so Old New Economy, etcetera. I was looking through my Firefox bookmarks and I realized how few of them I use on a daily basis. Many hadn't been touched in years, migrating silently from one machine to the next and one browser to the next. Bookmarks are an electronic equivalent of that junk drawer everyone keeps around. Sooner or later you've got bags of old rubber bands that crumble into dust when touched, keys to cars you haven't owned for over a decade, dead insects you don't recall owning at all, a vast pile of rusty thumbtacks, a wad of Canadian currency, the Ark of the Covenant, a never-used doorknob complete with receipt (from 1997), a few nuggets of dry cat food, a mysterious sticky substance in the back of the drawer, and much, much more.

So I've been taking a fresh look at those crusty old bookmarks. Quite a few are dead links, including quite a few I remember liking back in the day. I've got a huge menu hierarchy full of (mostly) Big Media news sites, which I've barely touched since Google News came out. I put this together in the period right after 9/11, during the start of the Afghanistan war, and before the Iraq war, so it has sort of a weird feel to it. It was a different time. Sooner or later I'll write a post or two about how weird that era looks in retrospect just a few short years later. But this is not that post.

Anyway, I figured I'd salvage anything that looked like it might be worth sharing, and post it here. I've also tossed in a few recent items to spice things up, especially in the politics section. (If you're surprised that there's nothing about beer here, never fear; I'm saving all my sudsy-ambrosia-related material for a future post.)


Stuff from Beneath the Sea

Vaguely Urban


Movie stuff


Math articles & blog entries

Scary Militaristic Post-9/11 Bookmarks

Tech and Retrotech

I was also cleaning out a local "My Documents" folder and found a small text file with a couple of quotes I wanted to keep around. Here they are:

Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword.
It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.
And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry.
Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so.
How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar. – Julius Caesar (apocryphal)

"Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.
War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.
In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.
No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

"War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.
In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it.
In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them.
In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.
The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."

- James Madison

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

2006 Endorsements

Gentle Reader(s), Oregon's 2006 primary election is coming up May 16th, and mail-in ballots should be going out within the next few days. Here's the online version of the Voters' Guide, in case you didn't get one, or don't want to get cheap newsprint ink all over your fingers reading the dead-tree version. The online guide for Multnomah County races is here.

So it's time for my all-important, much-coveted Cyclotram Endorsements '06. Because nothing matters more than the fickle zeitgeist of the blogosphere. And because "I endorse X" sounds so much fancier than "I'm voting for X".

I don't normally believe in or practice protest voting. Now and then, though, there's a situation where I just can't bring myself to vote for the safe incumbent when a halfway reasonable alternative exists. There are an unusual number of these this time around.

I've ranted on several occasions about Gov. Kulongoski being a useless bozo. In the 2002 primary I voted for Jim Hill, but the Hill campaign this time around has been deeply unimpressive. He jumped into the race very late, for what seem like purely opportunistic reasons, and his campaign so far has been pretty weak and disorganized. As far as I can tell, the only reason he's running is because the incumbent looks vulnerable. If Vicki Walker or John Kitzhaber were running, I could vote for either of them, but they aren't running. If Walker was running, I'd probably donate and volunteer, things I basically never do for anyone. Meanwhile, Pete Sorenson doesn't have a lot of money or name recognition, but he's right on the issues, and he's actually in the race, so I'm voting for him this time around.

I can't bring myself to vote for David Wu either. Unlike Ted, it doesn't come down to issues or competence. He didn't jump on the Iraq war bandwagon back when it was popular, and he's even cosponsoring an impeachment resolution against GWB, so it's not that. And he's a Democrat in an ultra-partisan Republican Congress, so you have to have reasonable expectations about what he's going to get done in DC other than reliably voting against the crazy/evil stuff they keep passing.

You can argue whether Wu's 1976 assault case at Stanford is relevant or not. For me, it was just the last straw. The guy's always rubbed me the wrong way, and has always struck me as just another oily, donor-friendly career politician. I don't know what I'm going to do in the general election yet, but in the primary I'm going to vote for Alexa Lewis instead. If enough of us do, we'll actually be doing Wu a favor -- he can turn right around and get himself a nice cozy job as an insider beltway lobbyist, with a big paycheck to match.

And then there's the Multnomah County Sheriff's race. Sheriff Bernie Giusto is a liability for a lot of reasons. First off, I'm sick of the political gamesmanship and constant fighting with the county commission over money and jail beds. No, I don't know where the money's going to come from, but I'm certain the county's financial woes won't be solved by the everyone-in-a-room-screaming approach. And then there's the fact that Bernie's a longtime member of the Goldschmidt mafia. He absolutely must have known about Neil's so-called "affair" with that 14 year old, and he did nothing, even though he was a law enforcement officer at the time, and had direct knowledge of a felony being committed. That would be more than enough reason to vote against him all by itself.

Donald L. DuPay is the other candidate on the ballot, and a serious write-in campaign is happening on behalf of a third candidate, Paul Van Orden. Either would be a better sheriff than the current guy. It just stands to reason. Right now I'm leaning towards the write-in candidate, although I appreciate DuPay's concerns about the new uniforms the county's adopted. From his Voters' Guide statement:

I have watched the increasing militarization of the police with great dismay. The unfortunate image of the police in the publics mind is a bald head, a jump suit and jack boots. I want to change it. Citizens don't want soldiers they want police. It wasn't that way when I worked the streets in the 60's, and it doesn't need to be that way today. It contributes to the “we/they” disparity between the police and the folks they police! The swat team has a place, but every deputy doesn't need to look like GI joe.

That's not a trivial concern. It's an outward sign of the department's culture. If they dress like soldiers, they'll probably act like soldiers, too. Of all the things this county needs, an occupying army is not one of them.

And then we come to two races where the main challenger is even more of an "establishment" candidate than the incumbent. It would be really easy to vote against Diane Linn. The petty bickering at the county commission is pretty disgusting, and everyone on the commission deserves a share of the blame for that. The more I read about Ted Wheeler, the main challenger (including here and here), the more suspicious I am. He hasn't been a registered Republican since 2001, but my gut feeling is that the guy's more conservative than he's letting on, and we wouldn't find out just how much until after the election. If he was running for, say, state treasurer, I'd give the guy serious consideration, but it just doesn't seem to me like he's a good fit for the county job. Still, this is about the toughest call of anything on the ballot.

The race for Portland City Council position #2 is a much easier call. Everyone knows Ginny Burdick is running against Erik Sten for one reason, and one reason only. Certain rich, well-connected insiders absolutely hate public campaign financing. They hate it because they're afraid it'll work, and they'll lose the disproportionate influence they hold over city hall. They tried to get rid of it by referendum, but that failed. So now they've bought themselves a candidate in the council race. They managed to find someone who has impeccable liberal bonafides, and yet is eager to do their bidding and cater to their every whim. If you're sick and tired of the city doing sweetheart deals with greedy developers and handing out tax breaks like candy to big campaign contributors, I doubt Burdick is the candidate for you. If you're really still holding a grudge against Sten over the water bureau billing system thing from a few years back, feel free to vote for one of the other non-Burdick candidates. Maybe not Emilie Boyles, although you have to admit that would be an entertaining circus. Do that if you like, but I'm voting for Sten.

In contrast, I actually have no opinion about the other council race. Dan Saltzman? Amanda Fritz? In the end I may just flip a coin and see what happens.

If you'd like to express your unhappiness with the county commission, there's a perfect opportunity on the ballot. I'm talking about measure 26-78, which just renumbers a few sections in the county charter. Whether it passes or not, nothing bad will actually happen. No schools will close, nobody gets let out of jail early.
The commissioners' explanatory statement reads like they're rather miffed they have to go to the voters to get this approved. They start out by saying "This is a housekeeping amendment", and while that may be true, it just seems like a needlessly condescending way to put it. So put that rubber stamp away, and vote NO on 26-78.

Finally, the most interesting race in the state is one I can't vote in. The Republican primary for governor is a three ring circus. As a Democrat, I'd like to encourage the Republicans to continue with their hallowed tradition of nominating whoever's the most extreme wingnut in the primary. I'm actually having trouble figuring out who that is this time around. Kevin Mannix is obviously a wingnut, the same wingnut who got creamed in 2002. Jason Atkinson is more wing, less nut. Ron Saxton's the real enigma. In 2002 he seemed like the party's token moderate, pro-business, non-fundie-Taliban type, someone who might be electable for a change, so naturally the R's picked Mannix instead. This time around Saxton's lecturing everyone within earshot about how incredibly religious he is, and bashing immigrants every chance he gets. I'm sure this is tasty red meat for Republican primary voters, and maybe he's got a chance -- if he can convince them he's for real, anyway. For my part, after this performance in the primary, there's absolutely no way I'm voting for the guy in November. Even if he's faking the wingnut stuff. He used to be chair of the Portland school board, but now when he debates the other guys, he's not even willing to take a stand against creationism in the schools. Just yet another unprincipled career politician.

If somehow I woke up tomorrow morning and I was registered as a Republican for some reason, I'd vote for one of the lesser-known candidates, Bill Spidal. He describes himself as a liberal Republican, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and against the war in Iraq. These are considered fringe positions in the Oregon Republican Party these days, but it wasn't always so. As recently as the late 1980s he'd have fit snugly into the party's mainstream. Since then the religious right has been hugely successful at driving everyone else out of the party, and they haven't won a single race for governor since then. I know a fair number of people who re-registered as independents after deciding the Republican party no longer stood for what they believed in.

This concerns me as a Democrat because the absence of viable competition means that the top jobs keep getting filled by lazy, incompetent third-rate Democrats, like Kulongoski for example. They know that no matter how much they screw up, they'll be facing some crazy black-helicopter/flat-earth medieval nutjob in the general election, and it'll be a cakewalk to victory. Don't get me wrong, I want the D's to keep winning, I just want them to have to worry about it a little bit more.


Monday, April 24, 2006


Recently I got a search engine hit from someone looking for the words "tevatron fried raccoon". Which is an intriguing combination, you have to admit, especially when said visitor is coming from a certain Geneva-based high-energy physics center which will remain nameless. I have to wonder what sparked that search. Perhaps there've been wildlife incidents at Fermilab, either funny or tragic, depending on whether you're the raccoon or not. Or perhaps someone's trying to dig up dirt on their Illinois-based rivals so they can talk trash at the next conference. Possibly it's all a cultural misunderstanding of some kind.

Or maybe someone's looking for recipes. If that's the case, I'm afraid I don't have any handy. I imagine that if you want to deep-fry something, the simplest approach would be to fill your local accelerator's beam dump with peanut oil instead of water, and then proceed more or less as you would with a regular deep fryer. And serve with lots and lots of alcohol. But a word of caution: Some years ago when I lived in the Deep South, I knew a guy who'd tried raccoon and was willing to admit it. He told me that raccoon tastes the way a wet dog smells. Which to me sounds rather unappetizing. You can blast it with all the relativistic particles you want, and it's still not going to taste any better.

On a less exotic note, I've also got another batch of (mostly) referrer pages, primarily from people Blogspot happened to randomly send my way via the magic "Next Blog" button. As usual, the ones I especially liked are in bold.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mmmm... Rhubarb Pie...

I wandered over to the Portland Farmers' Market this morning, which in itself is a sign that spring is here, finally. I was picking up a few staples and noticed that a few vendors had rhubarb for sale. I'm not exaggerating when I say that in an instant I'd decided to buy some and make a pie today. Making pie is an occasional hobby of mine, but I'd never made a rhubarb pie before. I'd always meant to, since it's about my favorite, but for whatever reason I usually don't start making pies in earnest until June or so, when cherries are available. I think my food impulses sometimes tend to lag a few months behind what the weather's doing, so that a big plate of sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut sounds great for a month or two after everyone else is eating light summery nibbles. But I overcame this tendency long enough to put a pie together, and I think it turned out pretty well.

I chatted with a couple of other people at the market who were also buying rhubarb, and they were all intending to use it in various dishes combined with strawberries. I didn't say this at the time because I often try to be reasonably pleasant in person, but adulterating rhubarb with strawberries or any other fruit is an abomination, pure and simple. It's not that I don't like strawberries, because I love strawberries. I don't want rhubarb in my strawberry pie either. The two tastes don't go together. It's just plain wrong.

The other thing I noticed is that none of the other customers was making pie. People have gotten the idea that making pie is just too hard. Meaning that making the crust is hard. And they aren't entirely wrong. I just recently switched to doing pie crust with half butter, half shortening, which I'm currently convinced is the secret to good crust. I used to use all butter, but this gives you a crust that's tasty but really hard and tough. The shortening gives you a nice flaky consistency, but it's got no flavor whatsoever -- try tasting a dollop of Crisco some time. A lot of restaurant and bakery pies seem to go the 100% shortening route, which makes the result bland and uninteresting, and kind of greasy if it's done badly. I've always heard that lard crusts turn out really well too. I've never tried that, but I'm thinking it might go well with an apple pie, sort of the whole pork & apples thing, since I understand you do get a faint sense of the pig in the result when you use lard. Not a lot of people use it, I'm not sure why. I expect it's the saturated fat, although if you're eating enough pie that the fat content is a serious component of your diet, you're probably eating way too much pie, and you ought to think about maybe reducing your intake a little.

One "pie secret" you hear about a lot is the importance of making sure your fats don't get evenly mixed into your flour. In practice this means keeping the fats from softening up too much. You can be as obsessive as you like about this. It doesn't get really critical, or difficult, until midsummer when the days are hot and it doesn't cool off at night, but trying to minimize heat absorption is kind of an engineering problem, so I play around with it even when I don't really have to. I tend to put the butter in the freezer, chop it up with a sharp, chilled knive once it's really hard, and then put it back in the freezer. I try to do this with the shortening too, but it doesn't work out as well. That's a point I haven't quite figured out just yet. The general idea is to keep everything as cold as possible, touch things with your hands as little as you can, and generally do as little as possible to the dough, right up until it goes into the oven. You want everything to hold together, so you have to work with it a little, but in general the less you do to it the better. That's been my experience, anyway, although I'm certainly not a pro at this.

I think my biggest problem is technique. Everything I do tends to come out a bit, ah, rustic looking. One look and it's obvious I don't do this for a living. Not even as one of those "artisan bakers" who makes things carefully designed to look rustic. Hence I haven't posted any photos. Well, mostly that was because we ate part of it before it occurred to me to write about it. Which is because even I have my priorites straight from time to time.

Here's a page with a whopping 52 rhubarb pie recipes. Many are of the abominable multifruit variety, but some people apparently like that sort of thing, and it's a free country. The Wikipedia article about rhubarb pie is no great shakes, but their rhubarb article is interesting. My pie today was sort of based on the rhubarb pie recipe in Ken Haedrich's book Pie, which I highly recommend. My sole complaint is that it's so big that it doesn't want to stay open to the recipe you're working on, so your copy will end up with some doughy fingerprints on it sooner or later.

I tend not to stick to recipes all that religiously regarding what to do with the fruit. Fruit is flexible, and if you don't have / can't find a certain ingredient, there's bound to be something else available that will go nicely in a pie. I didn't have any orange juice or orange zest today, so I substituted a bit of lemon juice, and a bit of grapefruit juice, which I thought turned out pretty well. Cherry pie recipes often call for a splash of liquor, usually some kirsch (cherry brandy), which is something I don't often have sitting around the house. One time I used dark rum and a bit of vanilla instead, which turned out really well. Last year I simply couldn't find any fresh pie cherries anywhere, so I got cherries of a couple of other varieties and soaked them overnight in some Belgian kriek lambic beer, which is produced with sour cherries and additionally has a lot of lactic acid sourness from the lambic process. You want to add less sugar if you do this, since the kriek is pretty sweet in addition to being sour. That turned out rather well too. Obviously you want to use fresh sour cherries if you can get 'em, but for some reason nearly all of the nation's sour cherries are grown in the midwest (mostly Michigan) and not here. So sometimes you just gotta improvise. Sometimes that turns out great. And if not, well, it's just pie, you know.

Friday, April 21, 2006

More from Mars

These may look like abstract expressionist paintings, but in fact they're actually global maps of various minerals on Mars, created by the OMEGA instrument on ESA's Mars Express. The researchers' paper is here [PDF].

The big news here is that they've identified hydrated minerals at various places around the planet, which helps a great deal in sorting out the planet's geological history. Hydrated minerals need water to form, obviously, and on Mars this means you're looking at terrain that dates from the early days of the planet, and has survived more or less intact. ESA's PR plays up the usual "possible life on Mars" angle, the idea being that a young, wet Mars would've been much more inviting for microbes than the current situation. The artist's conception image at the top on that page shows ESA's upcoming ExoMars rover nosing around.

A few media stories about the new research: New Scientist

It's a strange thing about Mars that the features that look the most superficially Earthlike (volcanoes, canyons, outflow channels) all seem to have come about long after the possibly-life-friendly epoch of Martian history had ended. If you want to look for fossil bugs, it appears that the best place to look is in the ancient, heavily cratered parts of the planet. You see those areas on a map, and you immediately think of the moon -- geologically dead, sterile, and uninteresting -- and your eyes glaze over. Or at least that's been the reaction in the past. I imagine we'll see a new crop of clay-digging robots sooner or later. The NewScientist article I linked to suggests that the 2009 Mars Science Lab rover might go to a clay region. Previous discussions seemed to center around sending it to Terra Meridiani, where the Opportunity rover is still poking around, which I thought was kind of silly. If you're going to go to Mars, you may as well go somewhere new on Mars.

Apocalyptic Magic Square

Meet the Apocalyptic Magic Square [Word DOC]. This beastie is a magic square where everything adds up to 666, and every single number in the square is prime.

[I don't know why, but both IE and Firefox are rendering this table really badly, inserting a vast expanse of vertical space above it, entirely against my wishes. I certainly didn't put it there. You can view source on this page if you don't believe me. Until I figure this one out, you'll just need to scroll down a bit to get to the rest of the post. Feh.]


You might have noticed that my nym includes a certain "number of the beast". There's a story here. The "Atul" part honors the godawful worst programmer of all time, as I once explained here. When I was setting up my longtime Yahoo account some years back, around 1999 or 2000, I quickly realized that "Atul" is actually a very popular first name in India, and apparently every last person by that name already had a Y! account. So I kept trying different combinations until I finally found a name that wasn't taken already. It wasn't my first choice, or my second, but I eventually came to realize that the name itself drives fundies batty. Ok, even battier. Not only does it contain the hated number 666, but it also sounds suspiciously foreign.

This is not the first nym I've used. Way, way back in the old BBS days of yore, I often used the nym "Elvis Khan", which I thought was really funny and clever at the time. I assumed that everything I'd done online back in those pre-Internet days had passed over the event horizon, but Google dredged up an old archive page that somehow survived all this time. It surprises me that this is what survived, of all the stuff I wrote back then, since I think I only visited this BBS once or twice. Mostly I played around on WWIV boards, but all of that stuff seems to be gone with the wind. So here's the sole surviving fragment (that I'm aware of) from my days with a 2400 baud modem:

32 004=Usr:348 Elvis Khan 11/03/90 02:12 Msg:5603 Call:31844 Lines:9
33 Neat Middle-East articles, where do they come from? Jus' wonderin'. I *think*
34 this is where I should be putting this, I'm not sure. I'm new here, and the
35 message style isn't like anything I've ever seen, so bear with me, ok?
37 -*Elvis Khan*-
38 Well, I see it's working. That's good.
40 Well, I guess this isn't where I should have posted my message. So sue me.
41 -*Elvis Khan*- 005=Usr:322

Well! That was awfully scintillating. You may notice I mentioned articles about the Middle East. You may remember that in November 1990 we were ramping up towards Gulf War #1. I was against that one too. Oh, hey, here's an ancient Portland BBS list from back in 1993. Ahh, the memories. Thinking back, it occurs to me that I really, really had no life whatsoever, even more so than now.

While I'm busy reminiscing about the good old days, I was digging through some old papers yesterday and came across an ancient yellowed dot-matrix printout of one of the first things that really bowled me over about the internet. This was back in the Gopher days, before WWW really got going. The thing that amazed me more than anything else was that you could interact with a computer on the other side of the world, just like it was right next door. The really cool thing was that this internet thingy even extended to ex-Eastern Bloc countries. Recall that this wasn't all that long after the Soviets had been chased out, so breaching the Iron Curtain still felt really novel and exciting, even if you were just doing it electronically.

So I came across a Gopher site in newly-independent Slovakia, and one section of the site included a number of traditional Slovak recipes. I picked a recipe for something called "bryndzove halusky" and printed it out, partly because I was amazed at how I'd gotten it, but mostly because it sounded really tasty and I planned to try it sooner or later. The original gopher presumably no longer exists, but the link I provided points at one of several copies floating around the net. I swear I'm going to try it sooner or later. It's got bacon and potatoes and feta cheese, so it's bound to be delicious.

There was a time when I thought gopher was the wave of the future. I played around a bit with that other thing called "WWW", but I thought it was pretty clunky. Lynx was the most advanced browser out there at the time (unless maybe you were on a fancy-pants NeXT machine with OmniWeb) and tabbing through a page full of links just seemed a lot clumsier than the nice, clean gopher interface where you could do everything with arrow keys. This was at the Portland Community College library, which (IIRC) had a couple of PC's acting as dumb terminals, talking to a VAX, if I'm not mistaken, and it in turn talked to the outside world. There was another lab that was an all-IBM shop, with a bunch of PS/2s talking to a single RS/6000 in the back room. There was also an AS/400, I think, and a mainframe that students weren't allowed to use. No direct internet access there, but I think they did have a BITNET feed, for whatever that's worth.

Straying back to the topic of this post, such as it is, here are some, ah, resources about the infamous number 666:

I could add quite a few similar sites, but you get the idea.

Updated 7/09: We have linkage, in a post titled "The Devil's Staircase" at Eunoia, the aforementioned Devil's Staircase being a rather peculiar, irregularly stepped mathematical function. Go check it out.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Saturn 3

Today's awful movie is Saturn 3, an SF movie from 1980 starring Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel, and the legendary Kirk Douglas, in one of his, ahem, lesser roles. Let me start out by saying that I only caught the last half hour or so of this movie, but I really think that was quite enough. At least for my purposes.

The movie falls prey to one of the many curses of b-movie makers: If your budget's tight, the cheapest way to pad the thing out to feature length (other than using stock footage) is to have endless shots of people walking or running down the same corridor, pretending it's not the same corridor. If the actors can emote a little while they're doing this, hey, that's frosting on the cake. I call this a curse because the one unforgivable sin of bad movies (or critically-acclaimed "good" movies, for that matter) is to be boring. People love bad movies for bad dialogue, bad acting, bad special effects, bad plotting, you name it. But nobody watches for the running-down-corridors sequences. I mean, why would you? Saturn 3 has quite a lot of running down corridors. The sets are kind of interesting, at least. It looks like they spend most of their budget on sets, and it shows.

Don't get me wrong, though. Other than the sets, the special effects are really dreadful. Recall that the movie came out in 1980, the same year as The Empire Strikes Back, but you wouldn't be able to tell that by watching. "Hector", the amorous, homicidal robot, is also pretty crappy, right down to the name. I read once that the design of the original iMac was somehow influenced by the set design in Saturn 3, but I'm not buying it. Nothing I saw in the movie looked even remotely like an iMac.

The film also suffers from a less common b-movie curse, that of getting stuck with an a-list (or wannabe a-list) director who wants to make Great Cinematic Art. You'll get some guy who ignores the low budget, untalented talent, and dodgy script, basically the whole essential nature of the film, and tries to do something "meaningful" instead. This never turns out well. The Wikipedia article about the movie suggests it was originally supposed to have a much stronger exploitation angle, with more of a focus on a scantily-clad, or unclad, Ms. Fawcett being menaced by lusty ol' Hector. I'm positive it would've been a much better movie if they'd just embraced the script's innate B-ness and gone with the Farrah-in-peril angle, instead of trying to rip off Alien. Nothing in the movie is even close to being scary enough to pull off an Alien ripoff, and the filmmakers were wrong to try. As for creepy robots go, Hector is even outclassed by Maximillian, the baddie bot from Disney's abysmal Black Hole.

The movie does get a few points for starring an aging big-name actor. The movie isn't able to make us care for its characters, but Kirk Douglas the actor inspires a great deal of sympathy, even pity. He grits his teeth and slogs his way through this mess of a film, giving the audience somebody to root for. You want to yell "Cut!" and hand the guy a glass of bourbon to steady his nerves for the next scene.

Farrah Fawcett was cast for sex appeal, but wasn't used to advantage. I understand there's a very brief bit of skin somewhere in the movie, but it must be in the part I missed. She spends the last half hour being completely helpless, nothing but run, cower, run, cower. Maybe the movie's an Alien ripoff, but her character's certainly no Ripley. In this respect, the film hasn't aged well.

I'm afraid I missed Harvey Keitel's performance completely. I'm not all that broken up about it, though. He always plays the same guy, no matter what the movie's about, so simply knowing he's associated with the film somehow gives the same effect as actually seeing him on screen. Your imagination can fill in the blanks.

When Kirk finally sacrifices himself to destroy the robot, the film both wins and loses points. It loses points because strapping dynamite on yourself, and tackling the robot so you both tumble into a nearby tank of water and then explode is a really low-tech way to off a robot. I don't ask for a lot of creativity in bad movies, but offing the baddie is the most important moment in the whole movie, bar none. It's the big payoff your viewers have been waiting for, impatiently, for the last 90 minutes or so. It's the one reason they stayed awake all that time, so you really owe it to them to deliver something. If the movie was being made today, they'd do this part better. We can at least be sure the exact means of dispatching Hector would be different, so as not to remind viewers of a suicide bombing or anything.

On the plus side, when the big explosion does happen, you get shot after shot of water and broken robot bits flying through the air. In slow motion, no less. It's practically a b-movie cliche: They could only budget for that one big explosion, so they're going to show you every last frame of footage they have of it, however long that takes.

The ending's kind of a downer: Farrah arrives at the Earth, which she's never visited before, and sits there gazing out the window and moping because poor ol' Kirk's out of the picture. The spaceship glides towared the Earth, as mounting tense music blares on the soundtrack, as if building to some sudden surprise. And then the film just ends, without anything else happening.

Not everyone hates the movie. For some people it's quite the opposite, and I can respect that. There are a few movies out there where I get to be the lonely voice in the wilderness, after all. Here are two positive reviews of the movie. for the sake of counterpoint.

Mock Chow Mein

Updated: This has proven to be quite a popular post, and every few days someone shows up at this humble blog, looking for Mock Chow Mein recipes. I originally wrote this post because I thought the stuff sounded icky and I wanted to make fun of it. Now that I'm getting so many hits from people sincerely looking for information, I feel kind of bad about that. I'd hate for people to come here and go away disappointed, and I do think there's a kernel of a good idea within the recipe, so at the end of this post I'm adding a few thoughts on how to improve on the dish. Enjoy!

Updated II (8/18/06): I'd like to further point out that roughly 85% of the hits I get for this recipe come from the upper Midwest, primarily from Minnesota. So I'm wondering if we ought to consider this a regional specialty, and treasure it alongside the likes of New England Clam Chowder and Memphis-style BBQ. Hmm. I dunno about that, really, but I figured I'd pass it along, for whatever it's worth.

Here's a recipe that was recently brought to my attention, for a classic, uniquely American dish known as "Mock Chow Mein". It's originally from a newspaper somewhere out in Eastern Oregon. Possibly it was the Baker City Herald, although I can't find it on their site. [Updated: Wrong paper; it was the Heppner Gazette-Times. I stand corrected.] Perhaps they want to keep this fabulous taste sensation a secret only the locals get to know about. But somehow a hardcopy version has come into my possession, and now all shall be revealed:

Brown together:
1 lb. ground beef
1 chopped onion
1 cup cut celery

1 can mushrooms
1 can tomato soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Cover and bake 1 hr. at 350 degrees.

Just before serving, stir in one pkg. chow mein noodles,
so they're still crisp when eaten.

What could be easier? What could be more scrumptious? Well, just about everything, quite honestly, but it's still a classic, dammit, just like the Edsel.

Here are three more recipes, although it must be said that all 3 introduce suspicious foreign impurities, such as rice and soy sauce. The recipe sitting on my desk has the fewest ingredients, and it also has a grainy picture of the nice(?) little old lady who contributed the recipe. It looks like she's smiling, so we can assume she meant well when she sent the recipe in. Since it has the fewest ingredients, and contains no added seasonings whatsoever, I have to conclude that hers is the most purely American of all the variants, and is therefore the best. I'm 100% sure of this despite never having tried any of them. The experts do disagree on whether Mock Chow Mein is a casserole or a hotdish, and I'm not sure where I stand on that controversy. It seems to draw equally from both rich cullinary traditions, so it's hard to say.

Most recipes don't include a tomato component, so the consensus seems to be that you can omit the tomato soup if you prefer. Also, the celery and canned mushrooms are just there to provide roughage, not flavor (as far as I can tell), so you can probably get away without those either. The truly minimal recipe is simply to eat the chow mein noodles directly out of the bag, and dispense with all that other crap. It's faster, it's cheaper, and the noodles stay crisp for as long as you like. This is the only version I was able to find a picture for, for some reason.

The ideal drink pairing would be an O'Doul's, or perhaps a Kaliber if you're feeling extra fancy.
For dessert, serve Mock Apple Pie and a nice cup of Postum.

Bon appetit!

Like I said, I do think the basic idea has potential, and so here are a few ideas on how to make something tastier than the recipe given above. The main problem with that recipe, and with the other recipes I've seen, is all that canned soup. Ugh! Dishes made with canned soups are always way too salty and underseasoned for my taste. It also seems like you could save yourself an hour or more if you just did everything in the pan or skillet and didn't bother with baking it all into a casserole, which seems kind of pointless.

A brief survey of mock chow mein recipes via Google gives us a few clues about the "essence" of the dish. Let's begin by completely abandoning any idea that we're making Chinese food here, because we aren't. This dish has nothing whatsoever to do with what people in China actually eat, but that's ok, because we're not in China. Well, I'm not, anyway. And as a result, we're free to cook it however we like, and ignore any silly questions about whether we're being "authentic" or not.

As for ingredients, I think the guiding principle is flexibility. You should be able to make it with things you're likely to have at hand. If you need to omit or substitute a few of the ingredients, it's not a big deal. And it just seems wrong somehow to require any weird, hard-to-find, expensive ingredients. That would really violate the spirit of the whole thing.

  • First we have those crunchy chow mein noodles. We'll keep those, because it just isn't chow mein without the noodles. When I talked earlier about eating chow mein noodles right out of the bag, I was speaking from experience. The most important thing with the noodles is to keep them crispy, and the best way to do that is not combine them with the other ingredients until serving time.
  • Then there's meat of some kind. Ground beef is the default, and if a recipe simply says "mock chow mein", you can bet it's got ground beef in it. I'm a big fan of beef, so we'll go with that.
  • I expect the onions are included because they go so well with beef. That's an undeniable fact, unless you're a vegetarian or something. Browning/sauteeing the onions with the beef is a fine idea.
  • Mushrooms are a matter of personal opinion. I think they go great with beef, but I'm the mushroom-eating half of a divided household. So let's agree they're optional. Oh, and don't use the canned ones if you don't have to. Please.
  • Then we have one or more crunchy vegetables, typically celery and/or water chestnuts. Both of these are longtime staples of so-called "oriental food", but I think you could just as easily use bell peppers, for example, or just dispense with the vegetables if you prefer. You already have the crunchy noodles, so you'll still have some texture even if you leave the veggies out. It's no big deal either way.
  • Which brings us to the canned soup. Most of the time it's cream of mushroom soup, which I understand was the magic elixir of every 60's housewife. Sometimes a second soup is added, like the tomato soup in the recipe above, but let's focus on the mushroom soup right now. Every canned mushroom soup I've ever tasted has been a complete salt grenade, so let's not bother looking for the "right" canned soup, and try to figure out why the soup goes in in the first place. A quick Google search gives lots of mushroom soup recipes. The recipes differ in a few details, but they're broadly similar in their ingredients: Mushrooms, chicken stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg(!), butter, cream (or half & half, or evaporated milk, or even sour cream), onions (or shallots), salt & pepper, sometimes a bit of sherry, sometimes a bit of flour to thicken things up. Let's assume we're already covered in the mushroom and onion/shallot departments, and go from there.
  • I have to admit I'm not keen on the dairy component, but you're the chef, not me, so feel free to add it if you think you need it.
  • The stock and the sherry both sound like great ideas, and you can use either one, or both. They can just go in the skillet along with the beef, onions, and other veggies, and then use one or the other to deglaze with afterwards. I'd use red wine instead of sherry, myself, because I think it'd go better with the beef, onions, and mushrooms. Heck, you could probably use beer instead and it'd be good too.
  • I'd add some garlic, too, because garlic is great in everything.

As for preparation, just cook everything up together in the skillet, until the beef and onions are done, and serve over the noodles. It's not fancy, it's certainly not gourmet or anything, but I'll bet money it's better than anything you can make by going the traditional "Campbell's soup casserole" route.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

we can only hope...

From here, and probably elsewhere.

Today's great Washington Post headline: "White House Shifts Into Survival Mode". And by "survival", the Busheviks mean of course themselves, not, you know, the country, and certainly not the planet.

Let it be known I'm swearing a solemn oath not to use any analogies involving outdoor furniture and ill-fated cruise ships in describing the personnel changes at the White House. That would be far too easy. Instead, I'd like to suggest that this is one of the very, very few instances where having tech industry experience helps to understand what's going on in the political sphere. The media meme seems to be that the shakeup proves Bush & friends now understand the problem. We're told they're taking decisive action now because they know exactly how to fix what's wrong. Yes, the whole list. Anyone who's toiled in the salt mines of a tanking dot-com company will tell you that the opposite is true: If your crappy dot-com CEO responds to falling poll numbers, I mean, marketshare, by juggling the exec staff around, it's a sign he (it's almost always a 'he') is in way over his head and has no clue at all about what to do next. All he's really doing is shaking the magic 8 ball over and over, hoping for a better result this time around.

Maybe it's unwise to prescribe what ought to happen next by continuing on with an analogy about the present, but let's try. From what I've personally seen, the only thing that really turns things around is replacing the CEO and reversing his failed policies. Get the burn rate under control, get your budget out of the red, produce actual products instead of marketing nonsense, rebuild your credibility and mindshare in the industry, think long and carefully before expending blood and treasure on forays outside of your core market.... Perhaps you can guess what I'm getting at here.

Updated: Researchers have discovered Karl Rove's most distant ancestor, the oldest snake(like) fossil ever discovered. Like I mentioned a couple of days ago, it's a terrible, terrible week to be a creationist. Which is fantastic, of course.

Doubleupdated: Today's amusing anti-Bush animation.

Obligatory All-Local Post

I've fallen pretty far behind of late on my solemn blogger's duty to offer outraged and ill-informed commentary on all local issues of the day. So I figured I'd try to cover a bunch of PDX-centric items in one swell foop and be done with 'em. If you're not from around here (which is true of the vast majority of the Earth's population, let's not forget), this post may bore you silly. Feel free to pick out something else from "Previous Posts" or "Archives" over on the right sidebar. I won't feel hurt or anything.

  • In our endless small-city inferiority complex, we Portlanders are always looking for any sign that we're finally a "real city". Don't worry, we'll have another reason soon. If all goes according to plan, we'll soon be able to have dramatic aerial tram rescues, just like New York City. Hooray for us!
  • In general, if the powers that be in Portland, or statewide for that matter, keep calling something an "innovative" solution, what they mean is that it's cheaper than the correct solution, at least in the short term. Even at its current, more realistic cost, the OHSU tram is still cheaper than actually sorting out the transportation nightmare south of I-405. That would be expensive, and hard, and doing it right would probably require another bridge, so instead the Powers that Be punted on that and decided to just connect the two dots they care about at the moment.
  • The tram, at least, may be kinda cool when it's done, the tourists will love it, etcetera. So it may yet have some redeeming qualities. The real winner of the Cheap-N-Stupid award is the plan to run MAX down the Transit Mall, along with cars and buses. And insufferably smug bicyclists, of course -- I mean, this is Portland, after all. Ask any TriMet driver about the plan. Or just sit on their bus for 5 minutes as they navigate the existing transit mall, and chances are they'll start ranting without any prompting at all. Every single driver I've talked to has been convinced it's going to be an utter disaster. More cars on the transit mall, and MAX trains? The right solution would've been to put the trains underground through downtown, but that would cost too much. Then it might've been possible to add cars in a sensible way, with on-street parking. As it is, each "stakeholder" gets maybe 20% of their ideal solution, resulting in an unworkable compromise. If you want raspberries for dinner, and I want garlic, the solution isn't to throw everything in the blender and hope for the best. But that's what we're going to do. It doesn't help that this Frankenstein's monster of a transit plan was cobbled up behind closed doors and then unveiled to the public as a done deal. This may work in larger cities where the Powers that Be have a degree of basic competence and common sense, but here it's a recipe for disaster. Again and again we have these massive screwups that anyone with a brain could've predicted, but nobody managed to prevent.
  • But contrary to what the good-ol'-boy media would like you to think, public financing of elections is not among our many disasters, the Emilie Boyles scandal notwithstanding. The Oregonian would have you think that clumsy amateurs getting caught taking the money in public is far, far worse than slick professional insiders raking in the dough in smoke-filled rooms away from the public eye. And why is that, exactly?
  • I'm also failing to get worked up over the so-called Foxworth scandal. If a.) Foxworth was white, or b.) this was a real city, it'd probably still be grounds for a civil suit, but there wouldn't be a media feeding frenzy about it.
  • In real crime news, here's the latest on the drive-by shooting at 5th and Oak. My office is just a couple of blocks from there, and I walked right by there maybe half an hour before it happened. Yow. I mean, I'm a jaded urban dweller and all, and I don't scare easily, but I'm getting really sick and tired of the transit mall being downtown's "Crack Alley". It's not known right now whether it was drug or gang related, so it's probably unwise to jump to conclusions. But in my experience, nobody else does this sort of thing, generally speaking. I mean, I doubt it's the result of a blood feud between rival mortgage brokers, or a disgruntled urban planner whose blueprints had been turned down by the PDC for the last time. That just doesn't seem very likely, is all I'm saying.
  • If you look closely at the photo in that shooting story, you'll see that in the background is our semi-fabled bank of tasty lunch carts, a cullinary mini-Shangri-La which draws hungry office workers from all over downtown. The bright yellow cart on the right is the Smokin' Pig BBQ cart. Mmm! Drool! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Welcome, Visitor No. 1000(ish)

After a mere 4 months, this lil' blog's hit a whopping 1000 visitors. Roughly speaking. Anyone who has redirected in their hosts file or whose browser doesn't load images won't be counted (a category that also includes search engine bots). Populating your hosts file to block unwanted sites is actually a really smart idea. It's not the end-all and be-all of security, by any means, but it does get rid of a lot of banner ads. Also, I didn't have that hit counter set up for about the first week or so, so I've got no record at all of my very earliest visitors. Oh, well. The number's probably correct to within an order of magnitude or two, anyway. So an enthusiastic "huzzah!" may be in order.

I'd like to thank the academy, and all the little people who made this possible (you know who you are). Oh, and my agent, if I had one. I'd just like to say that this humble blog's come a long way since the early days, although that's not really true as far as I can tell. I'd also like to express my sincerest hopes for an ever-brighter and more wondrous future for this thing. Really, it's probably just going to be more of the same, day in and day out. OTOH it's been four long months so far, and I haven't gotten bored with blogging yet, which I think has got to be some kind of personal record for me.

I probably ought to give out some sort of prize to the 1000th visitor, but I don't have any bright ideas about what it ought to be, plus I'm too cheap to actually do it. Talking about it is absolutely free, though, so long as you don't try to put a dollar figure on the amount of time wasted, both mine and yours. I think I'll go with a line from an obscure 80's radio commercial (don't ask me why I've remembered it), and say in a really bad French accent, "You ween a zmall, but beauuuutiful potato!". I don't actually have a potato handy (too cheap, remember?), so in lieu of that here's a link to Global Potato News. Seriously. And there's more news than you might expect.

If the winner doesn't like potatoes, perhaps he or she would prefer a neutral Bs meson. They do exist, according to that PhysicsWeb article, though I'm not sure whether I personally own any or not. They're awfully small, see, and they move kind of quickly, plus they don't hang around very long before decaying. So maybe they aren't really a great gift item, come to think of it.

And now I've completely run out of ideas for prizes. That didn't take long.

Anyway, the picture up top is of a giant grouper, taken by NOAA researchers near the island of Agrihan in the Northern Marianas. Yes, the obscure US territory you might have heard of in connection with that Abramoff guy. It all comes back to politics sooner or later, I'm afraid.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Today's imperiled charismatic megafauna

Please note that I'm trying valiantly to be "fair and balanced" here. We can shake our fists at the Bushies for the first two, since we all know how much they love greedy developers and big CO2 polluters. And come to think of it, they're probably not too fond of mermaids either.

But Georgie may be on the side of the angels on the remaining item. I'm confident he'd be staunchly opposed to turtle-based aphrodisiacs in any form. That is, unless there's money in it for a large pharmaceutical conglomerate.

Updated: Yet another article about overfishing. Let me go out on a limb and predict that the current overfishing of tuna, sharks, etc., will continue unabated until the fishieries collapse and there's no more money to be made. That's what always happens.

Here's the latest huge carnivorous dinosaur, newly discovered in Argentina. Oh, and they may have hunted in packs. Gaaaah!

Oh, and while I was checking for dinosaur news, I came across two good articles about Republicans (big surprise): "Conservatism is a mental disease" and "The Price We'll Pay for Countenancing Presidential Omnipotence".

And one final political item: A poster over on the SCOX board shared this cute "What, Dubya Worry?" video clip [MPEG]. It's supposed to be a morph effect, but I have to say the beginning and end pics look pretty much identical to me. But then, I'm way overdue for an optometrist checkup, so what do I know?


Friday, April 14, 2006


A few unrelated items I've accumulated for today.

  • In a recent post of mine (GWB: Double or Nothing), I sort of tried to suggest that the neocons' current designs on Iran were akin to compulsive problem gambling behavior. I've since come across an article over at Whiskey Bar which makes this point far, far better than I did. Read "The Flight Forward" and be afraid. Be very afraid.
  • Need a breather? Here are two MSM cute animal stories. First, an NY Times story about why the city goes bonkers for dramatic cat rescues.
  • Also, a pair of crows are nesting outside the Guardian's offices.
  • Cute animal stuff is the closest I get to celebrating Easter. But I think someone's finally figured out how to do it right. The Portland Mercury lets us know that the Sabala's Mt. Tabor club up on Hawthorne is doing a special screening of The Passion of the Christ, accompanied by the music of Slayer. Ooooohhhh...
  • Two other Easter perspective, if you care: a mythological/anthropological interpretation, which is somewhat interesting (though I don't buy into all that Joseph Campbell silliness), and the inevitable absolute literal historical truth angle.
  • If you (like me) find the US's current grim blood-n-guts approach to Easter kind of icky and offputting, here's a small breath of fresh air: Some pics from an easter egg hunt at a recently-renovated park in Geneva, Switzerland. Previous posts at that blog detail the ongoing renovation efforts.
  • And some Easter photos from a Polish blogger visiting the Netherlands.
  • Ok, breather's over, back to politics again. What's it going to take to finally impeach Bush? Here's one great idea. Volunteers, anyone?
  • On a vastly more serious note, The Nation has an article by Kevin Phillips, based on his new book American Theocracy, which I've mentioned a couple of times before. Truly frightening, all the more so because he's not writing in the near-hysterical mode we get so used to on the net (and to which I myself am prone on occasion). At the very start, he explains that we aren't heading for an all-out revival of Calvinist Geneva, but the things that are possible are scary on their own. I don't usually run out and buy the controversial political book of the moment, but this time I may have to.
  • Is a Jamaican theocracy in the works, too? Two scary articles suggest it's already well on its way. People in the US tend not to realize that much of the Caribbean is deeply religious and conservative, I guess probably because they only ever talk to their fellow cruise passengers and avoid interacting with the locals at all costs.
  • As a non-churchgoing state, Oregon's usually not fertile ground for the theocrats, but at least one of the leading Republican candidates for governor thinks we ought to start teaching creationism in the schools. And the scary part is that this'll probably play extremely well with voters in the May primary. And the R's keep wondering why they keep losing general elections in this state. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
  • One endlessly fascinating bit about right-wingers is that they'd love a theocracy so long as their own religion gets to be in charge, but they absolutely freak out at the prospect of living under someone else's theocracy. And then they turn around and fantasize happily about those other evildoin' theocrats coming here and blowing up liberals. Truly disgusting.
  • And thanks to the magic of the internet, we learn that there are creationists in India, as well. Who knew? The article seems to assume readers already know what a "Cosmo Theorist" is, and I'm afraid I don't.
  • And a couple of perspectives on the current Rumsfeld controversy. from Political Cortex, and the ever-brilliant Jon Swift. I actually think the anti-Rumsfeld campaign is pointless, maybe even counterproductive. His replacement would just be another chickenhawk neocon, just as bad or even worse than the current guy. There's zero chance of getting a moderate, non-divisive defense secretary so long as Bush & Cheney run the show. Zero. Replacing the current guy would make it look as though something positive had been accomplished, and that's how the media would spin it. And then nothing would actually improve or change in any way. Any attempt to mitigate the sheer badness of the current administration is doomed to failure, and it's pointless and counterproductive to even try. Why help them rearrange the deck chairs? The new chickenhawk would just get a fresh grace period in which to screw up over and over again without being criticized for it, and that's the last thing we need right now.
  • Switching gears completely, here are some cool new Mars pictures from MRO.
  • Returning to cute animals for just a moment, here's today's tiny tidbit of echidna news. Awwwwww.....
  • Here's someone's list of the Top 18 skylines in the world. This was going to go into either one of my recent art-related posts, or something about Dubai (since it's one of the 18) but it didn't fit anywhere, so here it is.
  • Meanwhile, fresh off the Dubai ports deal, we find out that a Kuwaiti company's buying a minority stake in Krispy Kreme Donuts.
  • I'm actually ok with that, though. I'm not a Krispy Kreme fan. If you're looking for good donuts in the greater Portland area, I recommend Donut Day in Aloha. I should add that the owners are immigrants from (I think) Lebanon. And they're wonderful people.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Venus Vortex

The first images from ESA's Venus Express are now available. The top pic here is a near-IR image of the funky, swirling clouds over the planet's south pole.

For the sake of comparison, the second pic is of the south pole of Saturn (more pics here), and the third is a bunch of swirly lollipops. Note that the lollipops appear to swirl in the opposite direction as the Venusian clouds, although the significance of this (if any) is as yet unknown.

Magellan images of Venus' north pole can be found here. Apparently there's a swirling cloud vortex at the north pole as well, but I haven't been able to find any images of it.

Also, live pictures of our own south pole can be found here. Well, ok, it's dark there right now, but you get the idea.