Stale Thoughts and Broken Links

Old posts from my weblog.

(Click here for posts on geophysics and the energy industry.)


In my fourteen years on the Internet, a lot has happened, good and bad. But through it all, I never thought this day would come --

My parents are now online.

Hi folks. Don't start any flame wars, acting like a couple of newbies.

/usr/bin/girl has posted a warning about an unusual flood hazard.


BBC News: Zebra hybrid is cute surprise.

"A Shetland pony on a UK farm has surprised its owners by giving birth to a half-zebra foal." ...

"A horse has 64 chromosomes; the zebra has 44. The zorse that results from cross breeding will have a number of chromosomes that is somewhere in between."

[via bottomquark]


Associated Press: FDA Plans To Make Allergen Inspections.

"The Food and Drug Administration plans to inspect thousands of candy makers, bakeries and other processors over the next two years to make sure ingredients that cause common allergic reactions aren't getting into food and candy accidentally."

> My five-year-old has serious food allergies, so I know what a problem this is. Even though we're very careful about always reading the ingredient labels for *everything* we eat, we still have to worry constantly about cross-contamination. Cookie and candy makers are particularly notorious for not cleaning their equipment between mixing up batches of, say, cookies with peanut butter chips followed by sugar cookies.

Reuters: Man on Way to Brothel Finds Wife Working.


Science: Planet Probabilities.

"The smaller, rocky planets (Earth-like) would form closer to their central star where the more refractory metals (elements heavier than helium) can accrete, and the larger, icy planets (Jupiter-like) would form farther from their central star where volatile-rich ices can accumulate. The Jupiter-like planets could then migrate inward, causing any Earth-like planets to be pushed into the star, increasing the star's concentration of metals (metallicity)."

> This is really cool. Astronomers have found (by inference) about 50 extra-solar planets in the last few years. All of them have been large Jupiter-class planets, and have either had highly elliptical orbits or orbits that were *extremely* close to their host star. This doesn't necessarily say anything about how common it is for planetary systems to have giants with highly elliptical orbits. It's just that these planets were detected because they caused their star to wobble, and present day measurements aren't sensitive enough to detect anything less subtle than a giant planet sling-shotting around like a comet.

> A Jupiter-class planet with a highly elliptical orbit will quickly remove any terrestrial-class planets from a planetary system, with a high probability that at least some of them will be thrown into the system's host star. That's just a guess, but obviously this is what the professional astronomers are thinking.

> Here's the cool part. Some astronomers are claiming that they can detect which stars are former "planet-eaters" by the "metallicity" of a star's spectrum. A good number of the known extra-solar planets just happen to orbit high-metallicity stars, which would seem to confirm this hypothesis. So maybe they can use metallicity to tell the difference between stars that never had terrestrial planets (too little), stars that ate all their terrestrials (too much), and stars that snacked a little but still have a "complete" planetary system with terrestrials (just right).


Scientific American: Image of M81 Shows Star Formation in the Galaxy.

"M81 is located approximately 12 million light-years from Earth. Because the galaxy is so luminous, even an amateur telescope can readily pick it out in the northern hemisphere in the Ursa Major constellation. Its current shape and intense star formation are probably due to a run-in with a celestial neighbor, Breeveld says. `We believe that a collision with the nearby galaxy M82 could have led to the formation of the spiral arm structure. The high densities and pressures involved would have triggered the star formation.'"

NASA, 1999: Galaxies in Collision.


Wall Street Journal: Fearing Copycats, Universal Warns Against Mimicking New Action Film.

"[Rebel Without a Cause] did face some outcry in its day.... Yet the studio also covered its bases, producing a clip of Mr. Dean urging kids to "Take it easy driving out there. The life you save might be mine." The clip was never used, however, because Mr. Dean was killed in his speeding Porsche shortly before the movie was released."


Science News: Nearby star may have its own asteroid belt.

"And where there are asteroids, there could be planets."

New York Times: Sun's Missing Neutrinos: Hidden in Plain Sight.

"During the neutrinos' 93-million- mile journey from the Sun to the Earth, the researchers said, about two-thirds change into other varieties that are more difficult to detect... According to the equations of particle physics, for this transformation of flavors to occur, at least one of the neutrino types must possess a smidgeon of mass. Coupled with earlier experimental results, the researchers conclude that each of the three neutrino flavors weigh, at most, one- 60,000th as much as an electron."


WSJ (subscription, sorry): Minneapolis to get a Mary Richards statue.

"`Tossing the hat inspired so many women,' says Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton. `It showed us we're capable. We're bold. And we're cute.'"


So last night I'm putting my five-year-old to bed, reading him one of the "Magic School Bus" books, and out of the blue he interrupts me to say, "I like girls because girls are more beautiful. I like things that are beautiful. That's why I like girls best."


Houston Chronicle: Incredible machine celebrates 50th year. A UNIVAC universe.

"Fifty years later, in the age of silicon chips and the Internet, a personal computer with a one-gigahertz processing chip can add numbers 26,000 times faster, said historian George Gray, who writes the online Unisys History Newsletter."


This link is for my brother, who probably can't read it --

Associated Press: Cable net providers taking the lead. Their advantages, DSL problems create a trend.

"Operators of cable systems are watching with relish as rivals in the high-speed Internet market struggle through rough times. `Who unplugged the Internet?' asks an ad run by the business unit of cable giant Cox Communications." ...

"Comcast Corporation President Brian Roberts: `People are addicted to speed and having it always on.'"


University of Massachusetts Press Release: New Map of the `Nearby' Universe Reveals Large-Scale Structure of Galaxies.

> Includes an all-sky map of galaxies in our surrounding 500 million light-year "neighborhood." Considering each dot on the map represents hundreds of billions of stars, it's pretty awesome.

[link via bottomquark.]

Galaxy Facts.

Scientific American: Humans Drove Mammoths and Other Megafauna to Extinction.

"The overkill model thus serves as a parable of resource exploitation, providing a clear mechanism for a geologically instantaneous ecological catastrophe that was too gradual to be perceived by the people who unleashed it."

Well, the flooding has been terrible, but our house is high & dry - except for a minor roof leak. Lightning struck a pine tree in the back yard, so I'm doing an inventory of electrical damage. So far we've lost two VCRs, a cordless phone, a 33 Kbit modem, and our digital TV is going to need some repair work. And the TV cable line to our den is dead. And, of course, we'll have to get someone to take down the tree. My next-door neighbor says the same lightning strike killed a TV and a Nintendo set at her house.

Could have been worse. (For a lot of people, it was.)

Here's a snapshot of the front page of the Houston Chronicle web site.


It is wet in Houston tonight!

Houston Chronicle: German sub wreckage found in Gulf.

"Oil companies scouting a route for a pipeline on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico have found a World War II German submarine, lost for nearly 60 years."


NASA News Release: Chandra sees wealth of black holes in star-forming galaxies.

"Kimberly Weaver, ... lead scientist of the team that studied the starburst galaxy NGC 253, discussed the importance of the unusual concentration of these very luminous X-ray sources near the center of that galaxy. Four sources, which are tens to thousands of times more massive than the Sun, are located within 3,000 light years of the galaxy core.

"`This may imply that these black holes are gravitating toward the center of the galaxy where they could coalesce to form a single supermassive black hole,' Weaver suggested.  `It could be that this starburst galaxy is transforming itself into a quasar-like galaxy as we watch.'"

[link via bottomquark.]

Patti Ann McEwin is a regular person, but a gifted writer. Her prose amazes me, the way it lays bare the passion and heartache of ordinary everyday domestic life.

Just thought I'd share that with you.


It's a couple of years old, but still very important work --

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

"Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability.... Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities."

Scientific American: Stars Forged in Galactic Battle.

Another great link from /usr/bin/girl:

Virtual Bubble Wrap.


The Guardian: Oxygen and sugar boost brain power.

"The brain is one of the most energetic organs in the body. Though it accounts for only 2% of our body weight, it uses between 20% and 30% of the body's energy."

> Hey, that link is even on topic! (You know -- energy!)


Doonesbury: Daily Schedule.


Nothing good in the papers, so here's a couple of science pieces --

ABC News: New Dino Had Heft. Record-Sized Plant-Eater Found in Egypt.

"Gauging from the scattering of bones, including the humerus, tail vertebrae, parts of a pelvis and a shoulder blade, the scientists estimate this beast of a plant-eater measured up to 90 feet long and weighed nearly 70 tons. Those measurements are second only to Argentinosaurus, a distantly related dinosaur found in Argentina in 1990 that weighed 90 tons and spanned up to 100 feet."

Scientific American: Why do dogs get blue, not red, eyes in flash photos?.


Not that you should care, but I keep all my old weblog posts in one of two archives:

  1. Broken Links: old posts on seismic exploration, the oil and gas industry, and energy.
  2. Stale Thoughts: personal entries, general science and "fun."
This last month it was particularly hard to assign some of the posts to one archive or the other. Most of the Dick Cheney entries seemed to stradle the line between "energy" and "fun."

Walter Kessinger

Stale Thoughts Archive Walter's Home Page