Stale Thoughts and Broken Links

Old posts from my weblog.

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


BBC: Ice reservoirs found on Mars.

"The presence of such a vast amount of ice -- if it were to melt it could cover the planet in an ocean at least 500 metres deep (1,640 feet) -- will change profoundly the direction of future exploration." ...

"Insiders suggest that, partly as a result of this finding, Nasa may now commit itself to a manned landing within 20 years."

Scientific American: The Shamans of Scientism.

"... cosmology and evolutionary theory ask the ultimate origin questions that have traditionally been the province of religion and theology. Scientism is courageously proffering naturalistic answers that supplant supernaturalistic ones and in the process is providing spiritual sustenance for those whose needs are not being met by these ancient cultural traditions."


And so ends a nice long weekend. I spent the past three days reading to Kenneth, playing chess with Christopher, and taking the kids to various parks.

Back to work.


Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space?

Finding the Speed of Light with Marshmallows.

Clickmazes: Interactive puzzles and mazes.

(I wasted a lot of time playing the Maze of Life.)

[Links via Mike's Weblog]


Environmentalism run amuck --

WSJ (subscription): Should U.N. Make the Moon Off-Limits for Development?

"Rick Steiner, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska and environmental activist, who proposes that the United Nations designate the moon one of its World Heritage Sites, reserved for peaceful and scientific purposes.... `You know,' he says, `the moon is a stunningly beautiful place, and it shouldn't be defiled.'"

> Somebody ought to get up there and brush out all those footprints.


Scientific American: Dark-Matter Dwarf Galaxies May Girdle the Milky Way.


BBC: Teacher displays porn during exam.

"The invigilator, maths teacher Richard Jowett, appeared to have been looking at the material on his personal computer, forgetting it was linked up to the monitor."


New York Times: Stephen Jay Gould, Biologist and Theorist on Evolution, Dies at 60.

"Dr. Gould was also dogged by vociferous, often high profile critics. Some charged that his theories, like punctuated equilibrium, were so malleable and difficult to pin down, that they were essentially untestable.... Sometimes these criticisms descended into so-called `Gould-bashing' where the charges were as personal as intellectual. Punctuated equilibrium, for example, has been called `evolution by jerks.'"

> Heh, heh, heh. Potshots aside, though, Gould's most important accomplishment in life was not being lampooned on The Simpsons.

[link via Green Gabbro]


Michael Berry, Physics Today (subscription): Singular Limits.

"Biting into an apple and finding a maggot is unpleasant enough, but finding half a maggot is worse. Discovering one-third of a maggot would be more distressing still: The less you find, the more you might have eaten. Extrapolating to the limit, an encounter with no maggot at all should be the ultimate bad-apple experience. This remorseless logic fails, however, because the limit is singular: A very small maggot fraction (f << 1) is qualitatively different from no maggot (f = 0)."

> (Berry has a copy of this paper on his web site, but it's a 2.5 Mbyte download.)


Scientific American: Cosmic Impact May Have Enabled Dinosaurs' Ascent.

"Researchers writing [last week] in the journal Science report that geological and paleontological evidence points to a bolide impact occurring around 200 million years ago and clearing the world stage for the dinosaurs' ascent."

Mike the Headless Chicken.

> Warning: site plays music. If you're at work, you might want to turn it down.


Check out some new professional pictures of my children. They're two good looking kids.

I think this one of Kenneth is particularly good. Cindy likes this one, I think.

This would be a really good one of Christopher, if the photographer hadn't told him to put his hand on his face.


Time: The Matrix Reloads.

"The Wachowski brothers are currently in residence at the Fox studios in Sydney, Australia, simultaneously shooting `Matrix Reloaded' (part two) and `Matrix Revolutions' (part three). The movies won't come out until 2003 (Reloaded in May, Revolutions in either August or November), but the hype has already begun."

> I loved `The Matrix', but let's be honest: it made no sense. I can't see how the gaps in logic can survive two sequels.


WSJ (subscription): New Dinosaur Discoveries Present Windfall for Chinese Paleontology.

"In the past half decade, at least five feathered dinosaur species have been discovered around this part of Liaoning province. Scientists believe the fossils date back 130 million years and support the theory that birds are distant relatives of dinosaurs." ...

"... three years ago, a trio of Chinese, U.S. and French scientists unearthed a 400-million-year-old bony fish in Yunnan province that is linked to all modern vertebrates, including humans."


This is really great. I'm adding italics so that you won't miss the truly inspired part --

Science News: Rescue Rat: Could wired rodents save the day?

"A Brooklyn-based research team has wired a rat's brain so that someone at a laptop computer can steer the animal through mazes and over rubble." ...

"In the May 2 Nature, [Sanjiv Talwar] and his colleagues predict their accomplishment could inspire novel approaches to land mine detection [!] or search-and-rescue missions."

> It gets better --

"... Wilma Melville of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation ... comments, `It's long been our realization that cats would be great at this, but who wants to go try to train a cat?'"

> Remote-control kitty land mine detectors??? YES!

Science News: Tornado Alley, USA. New map defines nation's twister risk.

"Because tornadoes can't be characterized by their apparent size -- and because some are never seen at all -- they're rated according to the damage they cause to humanmade structures. The Fujita scale is named for the University of Chicago meteorologist, Ted Fujita, who developed it in the 1970s. The damage ratings run from F-0, which causes slight damage to chimneys, to F-5, in which well-built homes are demolished, steel-reinforced concrete structures are badly damaged, and automobiles or objects of similar heft are lofted distances of more than 100 meters."

Houston Chronicle: [Rice University] Lab has coldest spot in universe.

"It's not a Star Trek transporter -- the collection of 10,000 atoms [Hulet] transported is a far cry from the trillions in a human body -- but the matter sent a fraction of an inch in the lab traveled back and forth in [a] tube as a coherent wave.

"`This has never happened in the universe,' Hulet said. `It's something that can only be found in a laboratory.'"

Scientific American: Squiggles in Sandstone May Double Age of Earliest Multicellular Animals.

"But if relatively large, multicellular animals capable of getting around existed by 1.2 billion years ago, why did 600 million years apparently then pass before life on earth attained the diversity associated with the famed Cambrian explosion?"


New York Times: New Details Emerge From the Einstein Files.

"Einstein's political problems began as a youth in Germany, which he left in 1894 at 15, partly because of a visceral dislike of German militarization. He had just moved back to the country, to a post in Berlin, in 1914 when World War I broke out, and he made no secret of his distaste for the war. He was one of only four prominent intellectuals to sign an antiwar manifesto emphasizing the need for European unity, and he attended meetings of pacifist groups."

> On the flip side, it's odd that the author doesn't mention Einstein's role in advocating the start-up of the US project to build the atomic bomb.


Wall Street Journal (subscription): Mexican View of 'Big Brother' Reality [TV Show] Is a Dozen Rich Folks Playing Golf.

"Juan Antonio Chavez, a 28-year-old insurance salesman, says he stopped watching Big Brother after rampant product placement appeared to go way out of control: A contestant opened a can of juice, looked under the lid and discovered that she had won a new car -- one of the very few actually being given away in a national promotion. `How gullible do they think I am?' Mr. Chavez said.

"Televisa and the juice company deny the fix was in. They say it was a fluke. The young woman on the show, 29-year-old Azalia, was actually lucky enough to win the car being given away in the contest."

> Oh, get real. Of course they staged it!

As long as I'm on the subject of television and reality --

The Zen TV Experiment.

"Television inhibits your ability to think, but it does not lead to freedom of mind, relaxation or renewal. It leads to a more exhausted mind. You may have time out from prior obsessive thought patterns, but that's as far as television goes. The mind is never empty, the mind is filled. What's worse, it is filled with someone else's obsessive thoughts and images."

Adam Curry: Blogging: Tune Out and Switch On.

"... convergence between TV and the Web will not happen.... TV works best by itself, standalone, in full flaring 'hypnotize your ass' mode."

Prayer for the day --

How to learn Swedish in 1000 difficult lessons:

"I love this anti-religious country that has so many religious holidays. Go, Jesus, go! Thanks for dying for our sins and giving us all these great holidays."


Science News: The Social Net. Scientists hope to download some insight into online interactions.

"Confusion about the social implications of new technology is hardly new.... After inventing the telephone in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell described it as a broadcasting instrument that would perhaps provide `music on tap.' Early telecom executives regarded the telephone mainly as a business tool. Nearly 50 years after the phone's invention, telephone companies finally realized that people wanted to use the product for talking with friends and family."

> The cartoon illustrations display two shocking blatant Apple plugs.

Scientific American: Fossil Find Hints at Aquatic Origin for Flowering Plants.

"Scientists have discovered in China the oldest, most complete flowering plant fossil yet, according to a new report. The 125-million-year-old specimen belongs to a new plant family and provides clues as to how now extinct species gave rise to modern flowering plants, or angiosperms. The work, published today in the journal Science, suggests that angiosperms -- the dominant vegetation in the world today -- may have evolved from aquatic, weedy herbs."


Nature: Stars are promiscuous. Succession of relationships keeps heavenly bodies young.

"Clusters where stars gather more densely than usual are veritable hotbeds of partner-swapping.... Star clusters range from loose groups of ten thousand or so stars to dense globular clusters of a million or more. They exist throughout galaxies like ours - from near the Galactic Centre to far outside the main galaxy body. In the centre of a globular cluster, star density can be more than 10 million times that around our own Sun."

> That must be one hell of a night sky; it reminds me of Nightfall, the classic short story by Isaac Asimov. I guess all the nearby supernovae would be hard on life, though.

> In fact, with all that stellar activity, stars in globular clusters probably don't even have planets. All the activity would disturb their orbits and throw any planets into their parent stars.)

Science News: Dusty Disks May Reveal Hidden Worlds. On the trail of extrasolar planets.

"Recent pictures of debris disks around 10 or so nearby stars show gaps, arcs, rings, warps, clumps, and bright patches."

Science News: Super Wallops: Tracking the origin of cosmic rays.

"One study focuses on lower-energy cosmic rays that originate within our galaxy and have energies up to 1,000 trillion electronvolts. The findings support the popular notion that the particles are generated by shock waves from supernovas, the explosive death of massive stars."


Space Telescope Science Institute: Hubble's Advanced Camera Unveils a Panoramic New View of the Universe.

"These [6000] galaxies represent twice the number of those discovered in the legendary Hubble Deep Field, the orbiting observatory's `deepest' view of the heavens, taken in 1995 by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. The ACS picture, however, was taken in one-twelfth the time it took to observe the original Hubble Deep Field."

Walter Kessinger

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