Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Attack Of The Squirrels!

Squirrels. Those cute little furry rodents, scampering around our lawns and running up our trees. Ain't they precious? Why, they couldn't hurt anything larger than an acorn. Sitting up there in the oak tree, chattering down at me, saying in their little squirrely language, "Hey you, hand over the pecans!" Who couldn’t love these adorable little beasties.

But then it happened. On a sunny morning in early May in San Jose, a first-grade classroom full of eager young children was preparing for a field trip. Their door was open to the spring breeze.

And in walked The Squirrel. We’ll call him Mr. Fluffy.

Mr. Fluffy wasn’t your average, happy-go-lucky acorn-chaser begging for your popcorn. Oh, no. This little fellow was out for revenge! The squirrel leapt upon two adult chaperones, turning the classroom into a whirling chaos of scratching, biting, and screaming before Mr. Fluffy ran out again.

But he didn’t stop there. He wheeled and attacked an innocent 11-year-old girl, biting her twice on the arm and drawing blood. Then, like a guerilla soldier, scampered across the lawn and disappeared into the bushes, mission accomplished.

Article, with news videos:

What followed was an immediate lockdown of the school (no kidding!) as the authorities came to trap the wild beast, but he couldn’t be found. Like an avenging ghost, Mr. Fluffy came and went, a soldier for all those squirrels out there that have been taunted with food, chased by pets, or shot for redneck dinners.

Most squirrel attacks are due to over-eagerness of squirrels for our food, but this story didn’t involve food at all.

A similar story happened in Cuesta Park last year. A 4-year-old boy was minding his own business in a park there when a squirrel came out of nowhere, leapt onto him, and started scratching and biting his face, arm, chest, and back. Even after the boy fell to the ground, screaming, the dervish of a squirrel kept on attacking.


How did the city respond? By trying to destroy all the squirrels in that area, of course. Over-reacting is the American way. Using a baby stroller as bait (!!!), nine squirrels were trapped and euthanized with an overdose of chloroform gas. Given that this is America, the boy’s parents are still suing the city for $150K for mental and physical damages. The boy is apparently mentally scarred for life. But this wasn't the first squirrel attack in that park. That year there were 13 other squirrel attacks in that park, including against a 4-year-old girl.

Sigh. Can we ever see squirrels the same after this? Are we to run screaming from them as they chatter at us for our nuts? And which nuts are they going to try to attack? Watch out, guys!

Be careful when you walk through your neighborhood park or school playground. What’s that rustle in the bushes? Did you hear a squirrel chatter? Bite your nails. Mr. Fluffy may be coming to get your children!

A squirrel attack on YouTube:

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bring Them Home

Here in the U.S., today is Memorial Day, when we remember our soldiers, particularly those who gave their lives in battle.

Each year I put out my flags. Little ones along the road. A big one hanging on the porch. A bed-sized one draped in my bay window. That one is particularly important to me, as it was presented at the memorial service for my Grandpa, who served in the Pacific during WWII. I think of him when I see the flag, I think of my great uncle, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and I think of others.

But this year Memorial Day is different for me. This year my sweet, young niece is in Iraq. Soon she will be going street to street, facing the odds, where fully 65% of American soldiers who are wounded are wounded by improvised explosives, and the effects of it are devestating. Brain injuries are common. 3500 have died so far, and tens of thousands have been wounded. I have good reason to be concerned.

I hope my neice will return unharmed, but I doubt whe will be quite as sweet when she comes back, wounded or not. War spoils more than peace.

More so than ever I long to put an end to this unjustified war, a war built on lies, a war that seems to serve little or no purpose to protect the interests of America. It's another Vietnam, where even the soldiers who are fighting there see no reason to be there, and the people we are "liberating" don't want us there. I've lost a lot of pride in my nation in the last five years.

So this year the only flag I am flying is my Grandpa's, in memory of the nation as it used to be, the soldiers who fought from the heart, and the wars which were justified by more than greed. I just don't have the heart to fly the other flags this year.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Don't Get Knocked Up In The Next 3 Months Or Your Kid Will Be Dumb

A couple I know just found out they are pregnant with their first child. Congratulations, guys! They've only been trying for a short while, but it's a good thing they "did it" when they did! If they had just waited another month to conceive, their kid could have performed poorly in school.

Yes, you read that right. According to a recent study presented in early May, the date of your child's conception has a direct correlation with his or her academic performance. The worst months to be conceived are June through August:

Researchers, led from the Indiana University School of Medicine, studied over 1.6 million children in Indiana who were between grades 3 and 10 and who had taken Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) examination, and correlated their score with the month of their conception. The lowest scores were for those for children conceived in the summer months. It just so happens that these are the months that pesticides and fertilizers are used the most.

What better way is there to zap bugs than to coat your fields and gardens with ruthless neurotransmitter inhibitors that keep the buggie neurons from communicating with one another, making the bug a retard unable to perform even the simplest of bodily mechanisms, thus making it die a horrifying, quivering, spasmatic death? And you have to keep your lawn green and beauterrific, don't you? So spread some fertilizer on it, already! Just don't be surprised when all those pesticides and fertilizers leach into the local water supply, then back into you through your drinking water. So says the article: "Nitrates and pesticides are known to cause maternal hypothyroidism and lower maternal thyroid in pregnancy and are associated with lower cognitive scores in offspring." The findings were presented on May 7 at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting. Makes you want to run out and purchase a water purification system, eh?

So if you're trying to conceive a child right now, you'd better do it quick! You've got five days left, then you'd better keep your pants zipped for three months, or your kid may suffer a lifetime of stupidity!

Child: "Daddy, why can't I get good grades?"

Dad (eyes welling up): "I'm sorry, son! I couldn't keep my pecker in my pants during the summer months."

I didn't see the presentation, I haven't found a research article, and I haven't been able to find any data on the web, so I don't know how they can say that it is the pesticides and nitrates that lead to the lower scores. It's a reasonable hypothesis, but what else happens in the summer that could lead to this cognitive change in the developing embryo? Is there anything else we ingest in the summer that is vile enough to lead to baby brain damage?

One word: lemonade.

Yes, lemonade. All that bitter, acidic, pee-yellow liquid flowing into your gut must rot out your embryo's fragile little brain! Why, with every sip and gulp you can feel it scouring out your system. Sure, hide it with sugar, but the acidity is still there, evil and wretched, dissolving away your tissues like water through limestone, insinuating itself into your new, innocent little embryo. So watch out, all you newly-pregnant women out there! No more lemonade for you on those hot summer days!

Oh, and you might want to drink filtered water, too, just in case.

Images taken from: HERE and HERE.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gay Flamingos Sit On Chick

That’s right – gay flamingos. If you were thinking being gay is just a human phenomenon, you’d be wrong. It’s actually quite common among flamingos, where mate pairs can form. Some animals do it as a form of “friendliness”, such as chimpanzees. Others as a form of dominance, such as in dogs (proof) and giraffes. I’ve personally seen this in cats. Go figure.

Lately a particular male pair of flamingos has made headlines:

Carlos and Fernando are a male flamingo couple at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge near Bristol. They’ve been so desperate to follow through with their maternal intentions that they have been trying to take over nests and eggs from other, “straight” flamingos. Now they’ve gotten their chance to “shine”. A nest and egg were abandoned, allowing Carlos and his beau to assume the nesting responsibilities. I guess this means they’ll be picking up at least one “chick.”

I wonder what the neoconservatives would say about this one. Gay adoption. “It ain’t natural! It ain’t godly! Perverse! One man one woman!” Well, all you neocons and evangelists out there (including those of you in the White House), it isn’t so unnatural as you may think. That bigot Jerry Falwell must be rolling in his newly-filled grave.

These flamingos are pink, after all. Now they can wear their color with even more pride.

(Thanks to my friend K.O. for the heads-up on this one.)

Image taken from

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Take Viagra For Jet Lag

Let’s say you’re heading on the trip of a lifetime, you and your honey are flying from the U.S. to Paris, home of love and everything romantic. I can hear the violins now. You’ve got the honeymoon suite. You’ve got all the good restaurants mapped. You’re ready for the champagne and strawberries, the rides through the countryside, walks along the Seine, the wine and, let’s not forget, the satin sheets. Ooh la la!

But when you get there you’re worn out, tired, fatigued, can’t sleep. You have jet lag, my friend, and that wonderfully romantic trip has turned into a battle against exhaustion. For every time zone you flew through you now have to wait an extra day to get adjusted to the new schedule. By then you’ll be headed back to the states. What is a young lover to do???

Take Viagra.

Story here:

HERE is the journal article for you science-types.

Let me turn you on to a new concept which has aroused my interest in the last couple days: taking small doses of Viagra (a.k.a. sildenafil) may help you recover from jet lag 50% faster than without. At least, if you’re a hamster. But the authors of the study see no reason why a comparable dose in humans wouldn’t have the same effect, and anecdotal evidence seems to agree.

Yes, now you can take your little blue pill and rise to meet any challenge which comes your way: be a tourist, stay out late, pitch a tent for all I care, and, of course, make sweet, sweet love. Are you “up” for the challenge?

Ah, but I have sad news for you, young fellows. As a article says, “A comparable dose for humans to the 70 micrograms of sildenafil given to the hamsters would be a small fraction of that found in the average Viagra pill, suggesting people might be able to take the drug to prevent eastbound jet lag without any effect on sexual desire.”

But what effect would a full dose have? I’ll tell you what it would have. You’ll be standing erect, head held high, and back on your feet in no time, or off your feet, depending on your rigorous activity! The streets of the City of Lights will be yours to conquer.

Just be careful about that dosage, now. Otherwise, when you’re flying across the Atlantic and the stewardess offers you a warm cloth, you’ll be asking for a cold one instead, and those airplane aisles will seem even tighter.

Images taken and altered from and

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Coelacanth In The Pool

An Indonesian fisherman caught a “living dinosaur” in the last few days: a coelacanth.


The four-foot long, 110-pound fish was thought extinct for 65 million years until a live one was caught off South Africa in 1938. Since then more have been caught and studied, even alive, but it is still exceedingly rare, since this species lives only in very cold, very deep water.

The fisherman, Justinus Lahama, put the fish in a quarantined pool, where it lived for another 17 hours, which a marine biologist (named Lucky) said was a very long time considering the conditions were so different from its native habitat.

It’s not every day you get to see a living fossil. Scratch that . . . you actually get to see living fossils every day. No, I'm not talking about your mother-in-law. Most insects, for instance, have changed very little in hundreds of millions of years. Same is true for some plant species, like gingko trees (at least 170 million years old), or reptiles, like crocodiles (about 220 million years). So let me re-state. It’s not every day you get to see a living fossil that was thought to be extinct.

Coelacanths have been found in this area of Indonesia before (off Sulawesi). HERE is a video of a live coelacanth in its watery environment, filmed by some Japanese researchers (and narrated in Japanese). HERE is an article about that expedition, and HERE is an article about another Indonesian coelacanth that was captured.

Now, the article about the fisherman didn’t say what kind of “quarantined pool” it was, but I would like to think it was his swimming pool. I can see his wife heading out for a few quick laps, then running back in the house, screaming.

Wife: “There’s a giant fish in the pool!”

Fisherman: “Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you, Honey. It’s a rare living fossil. Ain’t it a beaut?”

Wife: “That’s it, Justinus! It’s not enough that I put up with washing your slimy fisherman clothes all the time and have to make love to someone who smells like tuna guts, but now you’ve gone and put a four-foot carnivorous dinosaur in my pool to eat me! I’m leaving! Put that on your hook and fish with it!”

On a side note, I wonder what coelacanth tastes like. Would it be good in sushi?

Image from Reuters, via USAToday online.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

They Found Scotty's Ash. No Klingons Spotted.

You may remember that, at the end of April, I had a post about a company called Celestis launching a rocket into space containing the ashes of James Doohan (who played "Scotty" in Star Trek), Gordon Cooper (the early NASA astronaut), and about 200 other people into space. Then, a week ago, I posted about how the rocket had been lost in the mountains of New Mexico.

Well, they found the rocket, and its payload is safe and sound. Scotty made it back in one piece (as close to "one piece" as a lipstick-sized canister of a few grams of his ashes could be):

Yes, the ashes of two notable legends of space flight and space fiction were kept in little metal lipstick cases. Not terribly "manly," but understandable. The only trick is getting everything through the case's little "ashhole."

The radio transmitters had come off during the descent, thus leading the searchers astray, when, in truth, the rocket had come down only a mile away from where they intended -- not in the mountainous areas, but in a nice, flat area of New Mexico. The ashes were recovered, proving that Celestic can tell the difference between Scotty's ash and a hole in the ground, and returned the remains to the families, along with souvenirs. There had also been some student experiments onboard.

Now, none of the previous articles had said that the ashes were supposed to return to earth. The purpose had apparently been to send the ashes into low orbit and then back down to earth.

Big Frickin' deal.

Man, if my ashes were going to be sent up into freakin' space, I'd want them to stay there. How lame is it that they came back down – on purpose!

But the company is going to redeem itself. At a later date they will send Doohan's and Cooper's ashes back up to stay, until they eventually burn up upon re-entry. Much more respectable, if I may say so. A fiery re-entry, like the Enterprise burning up in the atmosphere of the Genesis Planet in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Oh yeah. Self-destruct, baby!

Doohan died on July 20, 2005, on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Cooper died on October 4, 2004, the same day SpaceShipOne made its second official qualifying flight and won the Ansari X-Prize. Ironies abound.

And what would Gordo and Doohan say about the next flight and its cost if they were still alive? Gordo would give a thumbs-up, I think, and say "No bucks – no Buck Rogers."

And Doohan? I'll let his character say it for him: "Any man who could perform such a feat, I wo'd na dare disappoint. She'll launch on time. And she'll be ready." -- Scotty, Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Worked To Death - Literally

An article was released today stating that “a record number of Japanese people literally worked themselves to death last year, despite campaigns to ease the country's notoriously long office hours. Some 355 workers fell severely ill or died from overwork in the year to March, the highest figure on record and 7.6 percent up from the previous year, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour said.”

You have to hand it to those Japanese business types; they really dedicate themselves to their jobs. Gotta drive that capitalist bullet train, ya know. Capitalism was our main contribution to the Japanese after we blasted the hell out of them in WWII. Call it a sympathy gift from one evil empire to another. We should have seen it coming, what with the extreme dedication the people of Japan have to their work ethic and sense of social unity.

According to the article, there has been an increase in part-time positions manned by people in their 20’s and 30’s. With youth comes greater energy, and the young are less likely to feel pressure and energy-drain from having kids and mortgages and such, factors that, I assure you from personal experience, slowly drain the energy from you like a Sith lord. There have been plenty of days I thought my kids and my job were killing me. Any day now I expect my coworkers to come in and find me collapsed onto my lab bench, the victim of work-induced heart attack, my dead-lab-rat drool mingling with spilled reagents. All those young people and their wicked energy means the older, more closer-to-death workers have to pump up their effort to compensate. Many of those who died were killed by stroke or heart attack, and I already have a heart condition.

But it’s not just the older Japanese who are suffering. Even the 20- and 30-somethings are seeing an increase in mental health problems. In short, they're being driven crazy by their work load.

A potential antidote for overworked Japanese? HERE

Let’s hope the Japanese work ethic doesn’t come here. I remember a few years ago, one particularly horrible slavemaster – I mean boss – that I had at the time actually suggested that we STACK lab benches, with one person working at the bench on the floor and another person on an elevated platform at a higher bench “like they do in Japan.” I’m not sure if he was telling the truth, but I shiver at the idea, even if it was do-able. Around that time an HR person, who was equally evil, proposed that the R&D teams go to nights shifts, too. Luckily they are both gone, now.

Lately I’ve been rebelling a bit and haven’t come in much at night or on the weekends. I just haven’t had the energy. I thought I was slacking, but now I have a legitimate excuse. “Sorry, boss, but I can’t come in this weekend. It may kill me!”

Did my heart flutter? Ooh, my arm just went numb. I'm . . . I'm . . . Gaackk! . . . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Save Your Data On Bacteria

I worry about stupid things, sometimes. Not practical things, like how I’m going to potty train my toddlers or where I can buy an affordable steam cleaner, but about the big, giant things I could probably never do anything about. Those “oh my god” sorts of problems that most people shake their heads about but don’t think on any further because they’re sensible enough to know they couldn’t possible do anything about it, like forging peace in the Middle East, controlling AIDS in central Africa, and stopping the polar ice caps from melting. You know, the “little things.”

For instance, I worry about what’s going to happen to all the monumental loads of data and information the world generates every day. Is it safe? Where does it all go? How can we insure it never gets lost or corrupted? I absolutely loathe the idea that someone would spend valuable time collecting information and recording it, only to lose it. I guess that’s what makes me a good lab rat. And, yes, I have multiple backups for all my data, right down to a spreadsheet for my VCR and DVD movies at home. What? You don’t have such a spreadsheet? How else am I to remember that I have a VCR tape copy of Highlander? (“There can be only one!”)

Previously I posted about how a state official in Alaska had accidentally deleted 800,000 refund payment files, then accidentally deleted the backup disc. A second backup had been corrupted. This is exactly the sort of thing that worries me. Luckily they had the original paper documents, and after months of overtime by employees they re-entered all the data.

Once upon a time all we had was papyrus and velum, then we invented paper. There are still a few of these ancient documents around, preserved by desert conditions and now tucked away in museums, but think of all the documents that were lost over thousands of years! Where would civilization be, now, if they had been safeguarded better? Essentially, most of our modern information is still on paper, paper that for the most part is made with cheaper and less durable ingredients, I might add. Now we have digitized storage media, but the accident in Alaska shows how unreliable that is, even in the short term. Hundreds of years from now, do you think we’ll be able to retrieve that information? Do you think we’ll even have the same technology lying around to do it?

Well, now some Japanese researchers may have found a way to help alleviate my worry. They have found a reliable method to store data on the DNA code of living bacteria, which could protect that data for hundreds or even thousands of years!


Scholarly article:

That’s right, save data in the DNA of living bacteria in a manner similar to storing data on computer discs. And you thought bacteria was only good for making beer and cheese!

For you non-science types, DNA is made up of four components, called nucleotides, which pair up in specific combinations, or genes, to code for the production of all the proteins that make up cells, organs, and, eventually, YOU, and every other living thing on earth. For decades, molecular biologists have found increasingly clever ways of identifying those codes, manipulating them, synthesizing them, and inserting them into DNA sequences. Left alone, these genetic sequences take thousands, or even millions, of years to change due to random mutations as they are inherited from generation to generation.

Dr. Masaru Tomita and his colleagues have found a way to store data by synthesizing their own genetic sequences. Each combination of the nucleotides in these sequences corresponds to specific binary codes. These binary codes can then be matched with specific letters or numbers. Those sequences were then inserted into the DNA of living bacteria (of the species Bacillus subtilis).

They successfully inserted, then later retrieved, the codes for the phrase "E=mc^2 1905!", referring to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and the year he published his Nobel-prize-winning theorem. Because they inserted the code in four different locations in the DNA, mutation in one copy can be corrected by the other three copies. Computer simulations, based on the predicted rate of mutation, suggest the code is secure for hundreds to thousands of years.

Though the amount that can be stored in the bacteria is limited by the genome size, and the person who eventually reads the data would need to know the code that deciphers the nucleotide combinations and matches them with numbers and letters, Tomita’s technique essentially safeguards the information far, far into the unseen future. According to the CNN story: "Many people never even thought about storing data for thousands of years," Tomita said. "This may sound like a dream. But we're thinking hundreds of millions of years."

Now THAT would solve my insane worries. All we have to do is figure out how to make a "bacterial disc drive" to store my data for the next thousand years. Then where would I store it? The fridge? -- “Wait, Honey! Don’t throw out that rancid milk! Those bacteria have my movie database saved on them!”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Dishmaker

Don’t you love eating off of cheap plastic dishes? Well who doesn’t? Look in those cluttered kitchen cabinets of yours. Why, they’re crammed with quality plates, bowls, and cups? Throw them out! Now you can make your own dishes, custom-made for your meal, with the amazing new Dishmaker:


Yes, through the miracle of pressed-form engineering, you, too, can be part of the dining future imagined by the Jetsons. Once you’ve installed your Dishmaker, a dishwasher-sized appliance that any of us could find room for on our kitchen counters, simply place a plastic disk into the Dishmaker and program in the form you would like. With a little heat and pressure, that wafer-thin red disk turns into the bowl of your dreams, ready to eat off of in just a minute! Presto chango! That was easy!

When you’re finished eating, simply clean off the bowl and return it to the Dishmaker. With the press of a button, that bowl is re-heated and quickly forms back into a disk to be re-used up to a hundred times! What simplicity! It’s a recycler’s dream! Recyclable paper and re-usable glass dishes are for wimps, and far less cool!

But wait, there’s more! Call in the next 10 minutes and receive the Heatsink, another invention by inventor Leonardo Bonanni:

The Heatsink screws on to the end of your kitchen faucet. Turn on the cold water and, voila, it glows an icy blue. When the water gets hot, it glows a fiery red. No more need for exerting yourself to put a hand under the water to gauge the temperature. Ow! It burns! It burns! Avoid the pain and simply watch the heatsink.

That’s right, receive your very own Dishmaker with 15 red disks, enough to set a table with cheap, acrylic dishware, and your additional Heatsink, to make a fluorescent party out of running water. Amaze your friends! Be the envy of every chef and caterer for miles around! Call now!

Monday, May 14, 2007

No Videos For The Troops

It just became tougher to share videos and pictures with American soldiers in Iraq:

Today my precious little niece, age 20, ships out to Iraq. She finished army boot camp and MP training a mere 2 weeks ago. She gets a little more training in Kuwait, then it’s off to the horrors of war for her, and she’ll be right in the thick of it. I still see her as a little girl in my mind, so the thought of her going off to kill people in an unjustified quagmire of a war that serves no apparent American interests doesn’t sit well with me, especially since I was one of those folks standing at my courthouse with anti-war signs back when it all started. But it’s the choice she made for herself. All I can do is hope she comes back in one piece, physically and mentally. I don’t want her to join the over 3100 Americans who have been killed, or the tens of thousands who have been seriously wounded.

Of course I hope to keep in touch with her while she’s “over there.” She brought her new laptop computer with her, and has a couple of email addresses and the internet, but she’ll be relying on the army electronic networks to keep in digital contact with us.

Many servicemen and servicewomen and their families use photosharing and video websites, like YouTube, MySpace, and Photobucket, to keep in touch with each other. Consider THIS video from someone to their Uncle Keith in Iraq.

Troops are also able to share their experience with the world at large, such as in THIS footage (“Looks like they blew up the showers again.”), or THIS patriotic footage of actual fighting.

But the military has decided to make these and many other photo- and video-sharing sites off-limits to their troops using military networks, starting today. Here is the DoD notice to soldiers:

They say it’s because it slows the system down too much, but you would think the world’s most funded army would be able to have a decent networking system that could handle the bandwidth. They also say they worry about sensitive information being leaked. Maybe they have a point there, but don’t they already censor such things? No, I think they are afraid more about morale, since a great many videos and photos out there are being put out about the horrors the civilian population are facing (over 600,000 civilians have died, according to one estimate, and over 2.6 million have refugee status according to the U.N.), and increasing numbers of anti-war videos are being published. Here is a good example, but WARNING, it contains very graphic images: HERE. My niece has told me how nearly everyone she has met so far in the military is strongly against the war. And we’re talking about the new recruits, who are supposed to be “gung-ho” fresh from boot camp!

The military’s reaction is strangely hypocritical, since they are posting their own videos on the web, for the sake of recruitment and banging the patriotic drums, even have their own channel on YouTube (EXAMPLE). It’s a two-way street. As the CNN article says, this war is as much about minds and action as it is about bombs and guns. When the troops aren’t able to broadcast their side of things, all you are left with is official propaganda and the many, many videos put out by the other side.

Oh, well. For now I can still send emails to my niece, at least, as well as standard mail. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail and bring home the troops soon, anyhow.

Bring ‘em home, Bush.

Addendum: On a related note, the U.S. military set up its own YouTube channel just last week, and about a week before that they banned all blog posting by soldiers without express supervisory approval for each post (see blog links at this post: Of course, how many supervisors would allow it, thinking that any perceived slip would fall on their heads? It all adds up to a serious clamp-down on soldier communications while at the same time increasing the military's propaganda machine. What's next? Will the military forbid email? Are the soldiers to be reduced to WWII-era censored snail mail, too? In a weird and scary way, it seems to me that the very people who are supposed to lay their lives on the line for our rights are denied most of those same rights, almost to the level of inmates in our prison system.

Update (5/18/07): Today released an interview with the YouTube co-founders: They said they could not understand why the military, with its massive network and its own YouTube channel, would use the excuse of not having enough bandwidth for its soldiers to use the system. They went on to explain how they were willing to work with the military to solve the problems, and that they censor particularly violent videos.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothering Ain't What It Used To Be, But We Still Love You

I dedicate this blog post to – who else – Mom!

Happy Mother's Day! Today in the United States we celebrate all that is right and good about yo momma. Yes, on this glorious day of spring we step aside from the usual family squabbles and aim our loving glances at dear old mom, that all-too-human being with the second X chromosome who suckled us at her teat, rushed to our sides and kissed our boo-boos, worried about us when we were late getting home, and took care of uncountable loads of diapers, dishes, and laundry just to keep us happy, healthy, and wearing clean underwear. Who else but Mom would simultaneously pat down our hair with her own saliva while at the same time scolding us for poking at our siblings?

Mothering isn't the same job it used to be, for better or worse. While modern conveniences like dishwashers, microwave ovens, and washing machines have made the job of being mom a little easier than when she was a baby and Grandma did the job, modern living has also brought with it new and imposing worries about what her kids will face "out there," like drugs, school shootings, and Britney Spears. Let us not forget, too, that rising costs and changes in expectations from the feminist movements have led to Mom working outside the house. This brings independence and better pay, but it also has increased Mom's stress level and work load, particularly if Dad doesn't help out around the house as much as he should (A very interesting recent study found the amount of work that men do actually equals the amount of work that women do, on average, if you add up time working both in the home and outside the home for both sexes, at least in countries that aren't economically depressed).

But I think Mothering has also become more stressful because of a less tangible change in society. It seems to me that when Mom was being raised by Grandma, Grandma only had opinionated family members and nosey neighbors to tell her how to raise her baby. Since the time my generation was born, in the late 60's and early 70's, parenting has increasingly become the topic of concern for politicians, academics, and socialites, blaming every evil of society on bad parenting techniques. Do we have the hippies to blame for it?

Now, oddly, it's the grown-up hippies who have chimed in to the issue. Oh my God, what are you doing letting your kid watch Looney Tunes alone while eating Ding-Dongs while you're off in the kitchen doing dishes? Don't you know Looney Tunes is violent? Billy is sure to grow up to be a mass-murderer after watching Wile E. Coyote get clobbered for the thousandth time with his own Acme-brand anvil. Eating Ding-Dongs and not exercising are sure to make your kid morbidly obese. And why aren't you sitting there next to him? God only knows what he may be seeing or thinking without you there to guide him. Why, this poster boy is certain to grow up to prove the politicians right! Naughty mommy! That's it, we're blaming all of society's problems on you unless you feed him soy oat clusters, clothe him in American-made organic cotton, help him answer all of his math questions, and take him on rigorous bicycling trips to cultural-appreciation courses! And you'd better do it with a smile, too, Mum! If he sees you looking stressed, it's sure to send him straight to lifelong therapy.

An international conference on childrearing in the age of ‘intensive parenting’ will be held at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research later this month:

As stated in the report: "Dr Ellie Lee, the conference organiser, explained that her own research about women’s experience of feeding their babies had led her to want to organise the event. ‘The research showed that a basic, everyday aspect of being a mother has become moralised and politicised,’ she said. ‘The choices women make in this area seem to have become bound up for many with identity, with demoralising consequences.'"

So I'm not alone in my perceptions, despite the fact that I'm your typical clueless, overweight, butt-scratching American dad. But let me play devil's advocate a moment and say that, while modern life has brought many evils, today's children are safer than ever because of "interference" from politicians and academics. As studies emerge, and policies change, parents are better informed, and so are their kids. It's because of this that we have mandated car seats, for instance, child labor laws, child abuse laws, recall notices for toys, and those little ratings for TV that pop up in the corner of your screen for you to ignore. My mother raised me the best she knew how and has always loved me with all her heart, but I would like to think I am raising my kids in a more emotionally and physically healthy manner simply because society has provided better outlets and more updated information. Only time will tell.

But Mom, Grandma, and all you other mothers out there, you ARE appreciated for making us eat our veggies, clean our rooms, and sit up straight all these years. We children are better off for it (but I'm still not eating my Brussel sprouts - so there!).

Friday, May 11, 2007

Scotty's Ashes Are Lost, On Earth!

At the end of April I had a post about how the cremated remains of James Doohan (“Scotty” from Star Trek) and Gordon Cooper (NASA astronaut from the Mercury and Gemini missions) had been blasted into orbit, along with ashes from about 200 other people.

It seems I spoke too soon.

According to a report released yesterday, their rocket didn’t actually end up in orbit. Instead, it crashed somewhere in New Mexico’s mountains and is currently lost!

Oops! Talk about a half-ashed launch! As the rocket was headed back earthward, I could just hear the conversation between Doohan and Cooper’s ghosts:

Gordo: “Houston, we have a problem. Scotty, we need more power.”

Scotty: “I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got, Cap’n! The warp coil can’t take much more ‘o this!”

Are they looking for the rocket’s “remains”? You bet your ash they are, but the landscape is so rugged and overgrown with vegetation they are having a very difficult time.

I wonder what state the ashes are in. Are the little cans all opened and jumbled up? Will they try to scoop up the ashes and divvy up the remains between the cans? Are Gordo and Scotty truly going to spend eternity together? How much of an effort will be made to separate out bits of debris, soil, and rocket fuel?

They are bringing in telemetry equipment to search. Stay tuned to this blog post for updates.

Update (5/19/07): They found the rocket and ash cannisters, unharmed. See the update post at:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Space Mail, Tether-Style

How the heck do you get stuff from Space back to Earth? Drop it, of course. Let gravity take it. Unfortunately you have deal with the whole toasty atmosphere re-entry thing. Oh, and you should probably be able to point the stuff in the right direction with the right speed to get it precisely to where you have to go. And then there’s sticking the landing. Like they say, “It’s not the fall that kills ya, it’s when you hit the ground.”

Up ‘til now, getting materials to the Earth from space in one piece has involved huge, clunky, expensive space capsules, large amounts of rocket fuel, and gigantic efforts by men and machines to retrieve materials. This has usually been done by way of Soyuz capsules or shuttle missions, at least from the International Space Station (ISS). Experimental samples, mother’s day letters to Mom, captured space aliens, it all has to go this route.

But in the last couple years, nearly 500 students from all over Europe have been working as a team on a plucky little contraption which should make this clunky method obsolete, at least for small payloads:


Nitty-Gritty Details:

European Space Agency Page:

The students have worked on a project called YES2, or Young Engineering Satellite 2, whereby they have created a delivery system called Fotino (and generated numerous theses and dissertations in the process). Fotino is this little spherical capsule, about 1.3 feet (0.4 meters) in diameter, that contains the items to be transported from space. It will piggyback on the European Space Agency’s Foton-M3 microgravity satellite due to be launched in September. During the flight, Foton will eject the Fotino delivery system. Here’s the kicker: there will be no use of rocket fuel to guide the drop. Instead, the system will deploy a 30-kilometer-long, super-strong tether, at the end of which is the Fotino capsule. That’s almost 19 miles long, for you non-metric folks. Said YES2 engineer Marco Stelzer from Germany: 'The tether is made of Dyneema. The same material used by kite surfers to surf through the waves on the end of their kite. Strong stuff.' This will be the longest man-made object ever erected by mankind in space. Orbital dynamics will cause the tether to swing, guiding the capsule’s trajectory and speed. At the right moment in the swing, the capsule will be released to fall to earth. It’s sorta like the Olympic hammer throw. Since Fotino is made of a heatshield material, the contents should be safe from the re-entry burn. It will then make a parachuted landing in a rural area of Russia and record the whole process.

If this works, it will be a new method by which astronauts at the ISS can send stuff to earth without going all “Right Stuff” on it. So, in the future, all they have to do is “swing” the goods down to Houston.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The "Ashley Treatment" Was Illegal

Back in January I posted about a little girl named Ashley, who was severely disabled to the point of being an infant in the body of a 9-year-old. She can’t walk, talk, eat, or in any way interact with her environment or other people other than smiling. But she was still growing, and that would make life difficult. The larger she would grow, the harder she would be to move around.

So what did her family do about it? Most families would prepare for ‘round the clock caretakers and very regular medical checkups for the life of their child. But little Ashley’s parents didn’t stop there. They opted for something FAR more extreme. They convinced a hospital in Washington state to do something they called “growth attenuation therapy.” They gave high doses of estrogen hormones which would forever keep Ashley the size of a young child, so she would be easier to move around, include in family life, and “snuggle.” They had her breast buds surgically removed, just in case she should develop “uncomfortable” large breasts like other family members or the potential of contracting breast cancer. They removed her appendix, just in case it should go bad. And they removed Ashley’s uterus to keep her from “menstrual discomfort,” avoid the off chance of uterine cancer, and to keep her from getting pregnant in case she were raped.

Please note, for those of you who are already incensed by my post, all of the above claims and wording are from the parents’ blog, which you can read HERE. You can also find their email address there. Of course, the parents’ blog only includes statements and reactions of utmost praise for their actions.

Well, a recent finding by the Washington Protection and Advocacy System found that the Seattle Children’s Hospital had broken the law by performing the “Ashley Treatment”:

It seems there’s this silly little law that “specifically prohibits the sterilization of minors with developmental disabilities without zealous advocacy on their behalf and court approval” (quote: Mark Stroh, WPAS executive director), and the hospital did not get that court approval. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only oversight was from the hospital ethics board and a family lawyer who apparently gave them wrong advice.

The nerve of those imposing little lawmakers to step in and advocate for a child, when all her parents wanted to do was to sterilize their daughter, stunt her growth, and remove her womanhood! It’s for the child’s own good, right? Right??

I still say it’s nothing short of child abuse. Peter Pan syndrome run amok. Go ahead, disagree. I won’t delete your comments. How could I, a parent who doesn’t have a severely disabled child, possibly know what Ashley’s parents are going through? But since the operations were made public, advocacy groups for children, women, and the disabled, as well as parents of similarly-disabled children, have raised alarms at the extreme nature of the “Ashley Treatment” (ARTICLE), saying it sets a very dangerous precedent and oversteps the line of ethics. And there are plenty of examples of children with comparable severe disabilities who grew up and interacted with their families just fine, overcoming the issues as they came to them.

Too late to change Ashley back. She’ll be her parents’ “pillow angel” for life. As darling as their little girl is, and as easy as it is to care for her, I can only wonder how far the precedent could go. It makes me shiver.

Update (5/10/07): Today Ashley's father placed a video of her on, showing a happy Ashley on the deck of her house and in her room, and narrating it himself. Apparently I was the first one to view it, according to the hit counter. Here is the link: The only mention of the "Ashley Treatment" was a very brief note at the very end. Otherwise it was a simple video of Ashley smiling and babbling. Fairly pleasant. The only thing that freaked me out was the picture of Ashley sitting on the lap of "the Prince of Peace." You'll see what I mean…

Update (5/11/08): A statement was released by the Board of Directors for the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities condemning the use of this growth attenuation “therapy”: Here is their concluding paragraph:

“It seems painfully obvious that medical practice for an individual can rapidly degenerate if the anxieties of the parents regarding as yet unclear future issues replace the medical best interest of the child as the primary focus, even with the noblest of intentions of all parties involved. We see an enormous potential for abuse here, and given the well-documented history of mistreatment, neglect and devaluation of this population, we are stunned and outraged by the very fact that the relative merits of growth attenuation could, in 2006, be a topic for serious debate in this forum. As described by Gunther and Diekema, it distorts the concept of treatment and devalues the patient’s personhood. While references to slippery slopes should be made with great care, we believe that this practice, if judged acceptable, will open a doorway leading to great tragedy. This door is better left closed.”

Monday, May 7, 2007

Ear Spiders!

Oh . . . my . . . God. A fourth-grade boy in Oregon had an earache and a case of hearing constant “snap, crackle, popping noises like Rice Crispies” in his left ear. He went to the doctor, and the nurse flushed out TWO SPIDERS:

His local paper:

With video:

Yes, young 9-year-old Jesse had spiders living in his frickin’ ear! At least one was still alive. They were the size of pencil erasers.

In the news video, Jesse showed the two spiders, pickled in a sample vial, now dead. One was floating on top, the other lying on the bottom, thus he has dubbed them “Floaty” and “Drowny.”

Some years ago a coworker of mine had a beetle fly into his ear. It was very painful for him, and he quickly had it flushed out. He got no end of ribbing for the incident (especially from me!). But this young Jesse is quite proud of his creepy experience, and is happy to be called “Spider Boy,” but he prefers "Spiderman Junior," just in time to have him linked in other kids’ minds with the ultra-cool new Spiderman III movie.

The 9-year-old in me thinks it’s pretty damned cool, too, in my “never grow up” boyish love of creepy-crawling things way.

How did these two little spiders choose this boy’s ear for their get-away cottage? His mom thinks it happened on April 22 when she and her son were weeding and the dirt was flying, but it might have happened while he was sleeping. The poor boy won’t sleep in his bed anymore. By the 25th the earache had become so bad they went to the doctor. That’s when it all went down. Just think, at least three days of being a “host” for a pair of spider lovebirds. After all, it was a nice place for a self-respecting spider to live. Just the right size, with yummy earwax to eat. Warm and moist, with a springy mattress to sleep on (the eardrum). A good view out the door. Sure, I’d live there if I were them. Good place to raise the young-uns (until they eat you!).

Ick. If I were little Jesse, I’d probably be sleeping with earplugs!

100th Post

Yay, me! My last post was number 100. I just wanted to mark it's passing....

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Hamster Shredder

Are you afraid of identity thieves, but the enormous electric bill from operating a standard paper shredder gets you down? Do you get a thrill out of making small, furry rodents do your bidding? Wouldn't you love to see your bills get sh*t on? Well now you can shred your blues away with the amazing "Hamster Shredder":

See other images HERE and HERE.

No, the Hamster Shredder doesn't shred hamsters. Instead, utilize the endless supply of hamster energy by having your adorable little "honey bear" run in an exercise wheel hooked up to a paper shredder on top of its cage. The wheel engages the shredding mechanism, which in turn turns your hellish tax documents into harmless shredded paper! Look, Ma, no electricity! What's more, in a clever, Flintstones-esque manner, your old bills become the bedding for your enslaved pet. Just in case your documents are so sensitive that someone would actually try to reconstruct them, now you can get your revenge by making them clean off the rodent crap, too!

Amaze your friends! Amuse your kids! Be the envy of corrupt corporations and military leaders everywhere. It's endless fun! Order your Hamster Shredder now!

** Hamster not included. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post.

UPDATE (5/17/07): Now there's a new and improved design! See the updated Hamster Shredder website!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Astronaut Wally Schirra Has Died

Yesterday the world marked the death of Wally Schirra. He was America's fifth astronaut to go into space during the Mercury space program, flew on the Gemini and Apollo programs, flew jets in the Korean war, was a businessman, and worked as an aerospace engineer. He was 84.

Of course there's a sadness about it. This is the only astronaut to have flown for "the big three" programs: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, but I feel a certain gladness that he lived long enough to see SkyLab, the shuttle program, numerous exciting unmanned probe missions to the other planets in the solar system, the Hubble space telescope, the implementation of the International Space Station, the first private space program (SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic), and now the (hopefully) creation of a manned mission to Mars.

Wally Schirra (pronounced "shuh-rah") was born in 1923 to a father who was a barnstormer and WWI flying ace and a mother who was a wing-walker. Wally was flying his father's plane by the time he was 15. After studying at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Shirra served with the Navy at the end of WWII, then went on to fly jets after the war, the first pilot to log over 1000 hours in jets. When the Korean war broke out, he went "on loan" to the Air Force and flew 90 missions, downing a MiG-15 and damaging two others. After the war, he helped develop the sidewinder missile and worked as a test pilot (where he earned the nickname of "Skyray" after the name of one of the planes).

What he is best known for, of course, is his time at NASA, where he was known to cut the stressful moments with laughter and joking, earning him another nickname ("Jolly Wally"). He used his engineering to develop the environmental systems and spacesuits, then piloted the Mercury 8 spacecraft in October of 1962, orbiting the earth 6 times. In December of 1965, he continued his space experience by flying with Tom Stafford in Gemini 6A, rendezvousing in space with Lovell and Borman in Gemini 7. His last flight into space was onboard Apollo 7, the first manned flight of the program, with Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham. They docked with their Saturn 1-B launch vehicle and took video of the flight (which, interestingly, earned him an Emmy!).

After his space years, Wally continued as a news consultant to Walter Cronkite and as a spokesman for Actifed (which he had taken to relieve a cold for the Apollo 7 mission).

He went on to be CEO, board president, or director of a number of engineering, energy, and investment corporations.

I highly encourage you tens of readers to visit Schirra's web page: There you can find an interesting 30-minute video ("Skyray – the movie) where he tells his own story. The site also has interesting videos by him and written descriptions of his missions and thoughts.

Well, Wally, you are a blaze of glory in the annals of American heroes. Maybe, if your family cremates you, you can join your old pal Gordo up in orbit again.

Thank you, Jolly Wally.

Update (5/21/07): A memorial service was held today for Shirra, with many astronauts showing their respects, including Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, Gemini astronauth Thomas Stafford, and Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Another Big-Industry Bush Lackey Resigns In Disgrace

Oh yes! Score one for lovers of the environment everywhere! Yet another Bush lackey has been forcefully booted into resignation. This time it is the pro-industry, non-science-literate, anti-scientist, non-lover of endangered species Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Julie A. MacDonald, who oversaw the Department of Fish and Wildlife:,1,7039154.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&ctrack=1&cset=true

Also here:

Fellow science blogger, GrrlScientist, has a good write-up: HERE.

Ah yes, MacDonald, the person who was in charge of safeguarding much of our natural resources, insuring that endangered species are preserved, and insuring scientific accuracy in the reports of her scientists, has resigned after repeated egregious abuses of her power. It is another glorious day in the turning of the tide, as science and reason are slowly winning back the minds of America against the disinformation spewed forth by the neo-cons and BushCo.

MacDonald repeatedly overrode her scientists, preventing important data about endangered animal populations from reaching policy makers and the public. According to the LATimes article, “In many instances, MacDonald's changes caused scientists to request that their names be removed from documents. The inspector general calculated that in the last six years, 75% of the endangered species reports from the Fish and Wildlife Service's Western offices did not have standard signoffs by scientific staff members.”

Among her abuses, MacDonald has repeatedly passed sensitive FWS and EPA documents to big oil and other industry lobbies, insisted on reduction of habitat for a number of sensitive and endangered species (stating that economic concerns overrode the value for the species), covered up data that would have seemed harmful to big industry, and bullied scientists into changing their conclusions.

Before her appointment to the position in 2001, MacDonald was a civil engineer, with no formal training or experience in the biological sciences. Of course, is it any surprise that she got the position, given that she was appointed by former Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, another Bush appointee who resigned in disgrace for abuses of power (with the Jack Abramoff / Indian Casino scandal and uncollected royalties from oil drillers, she had been a litigator beforehand for mining-, cattle-, and oil-interests).

It’s getting harder and harder for the pro-industry Republicans to get their way these days. How many have left in disgrace in the last 7 years? I’ve lost count. And let us not forget that the times are changing. All those dreams of the hippies are slowly but surely coming true (see Mark Medford’s article: “The Hippies Were Right”). Even the steak-chewin’ crowd who think raw vegetables are a “yuppie thing” are coming around to buying organic and recycled goods at Wal-Mart (of all places!) and finding a twinge of pride when they drop some money on that new hybrid to chauffer their soccer-playing kids.

Doubtless the White House (which fuels its heating system with the still-twitching corpses of environmentalists and oil taken from Alaska) will attempt to put another MacDonald in her place. Let us hope that America’s newly-restored Democratic Congress can insure an appointee who has at least a little bit of green in his “ring around the collar”.

UPDATE (5/9/07): Though MacDonald has resigned, controversy still rages over the long-term consequences of her meddling and the role her assistants played. Congress has conducted an inquiry (ARTICLE).

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Touchy Issues In Space

So what do you do with a dead body in space? No one has yet had to deal with that issue, but NASA is finally, after all these decades, formulating a policy:

When you’re in orbit, it’s a matter of returning the body, right? It’s just a question of the best way. Sure, you could take the boring route of putting the body in a capsule and flying it down to the surface for a proper funeral, but I would personally opt for the “human bottle rocket” approach. Send the body back down, sans capsule. Have a cremation and fireworks show all in one. But what if you’re halfway to Mars? Do you wrap up the body and prop it in the corner? Even in space capsules, bodies decay. Do you attach a tether and drag it along, hoping the jets don’t fry your pal? Or do you send it out an airlock and hope it doesn’t float alongside the craft all the way to Mars, hovering around the portholes and such? None of these options sound particularly attractive to me. At least if you are already on Mars you could go for a Martian burial. Personally, if I were an astronaut traveling to Mars and knew I might die, I wouldn’t mind being the first to be buried there. How cool is that? Beats being propped in the capsule all the way back to Earth.

Actually, there has been one death in space: Laika, the space dog. This was the first living organism launched into space, by the Soviet Union in 1957. Laika was one of three strays caught in Moscow and used for the early space program. According to this BBC report, Laika had only lived a few stressful hours in space, then remained in his “space coffin” until atmospheric re-entry less than a year later. The Soviets never intended on returning Laika back to earth.

This NASA report is supposed to address other “touchy” topics. What happens if you get seriously ill on the way to Mars and require more resources than available? Condemn the guy to death? Lets hope a couple medical personnel are included. Should astronauts be genetically screened to help insure such illnesses won’t happen? Echoes of GATTACA here.

My favorite part of the article cited above is that NASA still won’t touch the issue of sex in space. Isn’t it just like America to be afraid of sexuality? I don’t have a problem with astronauts doing the nasty. What else are healthy, young men and women on a multi-month trip going to do? I say let ‘em go at it, as long as they’re all free of diseases and use condoms. You wouldn’t want to go and get pregnant on such a trip, for sure! Gasp, does this mean the United States, home of the neo-conservative “abstinence education” Republican agenda, would endorse condom usage? Tell me it isn’t so, Bush! Reagon would roll in his grave. We’d better just castrate those astronauts now! If NASA forbids sex, who the hell would go? Do we really want our first astronauts to Mars to be prudes?