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I didn't go anywhere; I've just been busy. I gave my wife a new PowerMac for X-mas, so I've been working hard setting it up (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
Presents I received included the extended edition Fellowship of the Ring DVD set, the Nirvana "best of" CD, the new 2nd edition Quantitative Seismology by Aki and Richards, and a new picture of my family for my office.
I also got a digital FM transmitter --
I've ripped all my CD's to MP3 (don't steal music!), so I have a library of 5000 MP3's on an old PowerMac, where I can have iTunes cycle randomly through various playlists (jazz, rock, whatever). There's a splitter on the audio-out jack, so I can turn off the speakers but still have audio streaming to the transmitter. Then I turn on a radio wherever I happen to be in the house and listen to the rockin' sounds of WALY radio.
It's not perfect. The range is really limited -- it barely reaches all four corners of the house, and the result isn't exactly CD quality. Also, it was difficult finding an empty spot on the crowded Houston FM radio dial. That's why I decided against the competing iRock transmitter, which only allows a choice of four preset broadcasting frequencies.
It was interesting watching Trent Lott's downfall over the past two weeks: the sudden horror of all of America, including Mr. Lott's fellow senators, over their discovery the not-so-distant past.
Here's an analysis piece from last Sunday's New York Time's --
Robin Toner, NYT: A Sanitized Past Comes Back to Haunt Trent Lott -- and America.
"Americans often tend to sanitize their past, smooth the edges, develop a happy amnesia about the hardest parts, particularly when the subject is race. In the culture at large, the story of civil rights has become a simple morality tale of a great wrong righted by a just people through the intercession of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
> Here's a real good example of that so-called amnesia --
Reason: Dixiecrats Triumphant.
"Had Dixiecrat dreams come true, a Thurmond administration would have revived Woodrow Wilson's racial policies.
"Wilson's historical reputation is that of a far-sighted progressive.... Indeed, the adjective `Wilsonian,' still in use, implies a positive if idealistic vision for the extension of justice and democratic values throughout the world. Domestically, however, Wilson was a racist retrograde, one who attempted to engineer the diminution of both justice and democracy for American blacks -- who were enjoying little of either to begin with."
Elsewhere in the news --
"A recent study by the Petroleum Equipment Institute found that there have been at least 130 confirmed cases of static fires. Most have occurred in the last three years."
> I just learned of this new hazard, courtesy of ExxonMobil. Recently, as I was using my mobile phone while fueling my car at an Exxon station, the cashier in the store used the intercom to warn me: "Do not talk on your cellular phone while pumping gas!"
> A close call!
Nature: Gamma-ray burst team win EU prize.
"Led by Edward Van den Heuvel of the University of Amsterdam, the prizewinners determined that gamma-ray bursts come from the star-forming regions of distant galaxies.... Most astronomers now believe that the gamma rays are produced when young, super-massive black holes shoot jets of gas into space at near the speed of light. Bursts occur, they think, as a gas jet breaks up and collides with interstellar dust."
"For nearly half a century, physicists have scanned nuclear reactors' radiation for evidence that the wispy fundamental particles of antimatter known as antineutrinos undergo bizarre identity transformations. Now, an international team working at an antineutrino detector in Japan reports that it has observed a particle shortfall that it attributes to this subatomic morphing act." ...
"The results also build upon recent observations of similar transformations of neutrinos -- the normal-matter counterparts of antineutrinos -- emitted by the sun."
After a client visit this morning, I left my briefcase, with my laptop, in a MickyD's in the downtown Houston tunnels. I realized my error after returning to my office on the west side.
Two hours had passed by the time I made it back downtown.
The restaurant workers had my briefcase -- and laptop -- stored safely behind the front counter. A customer had turned it in.
Overall, this Friday the 13th turned out pretty good.
Nature: Chess and GO no-brainers?
"Amateur chess and GO players do not use an area that is believed to house general intelligence, sometimes called 'g', US and Chinese researchers have found."
Science News: Cosmic Couple: One galaxy, two gravitational beasts.
"In a single galaxy, two massive black holes are spiraling toward each other in a gravitational dance that will end in a few hundred million years, when the black holes merge, astronomers report."
"Here you can view our planet through the beautiful images taken by the Landsat-7 satellite. These images created by the USGS EROS Data Center, introduce the general public to the Landsat Program, which is administered jointly by USGS and NASA."
WSJ (subscription): Globalization's Two-Way Street: The U.S. Begins to Reciprocate.
"`Globalization' is usually thought of as a euphemism for `Americanization.' It's shorthand for the way U.S. customs and commerce are said to be slowly taking over the world, spreading American culture with them."
New Scientist: Mathematics unravels optimum way of shoe lacing.
"... the pattern using the least amount of lace possible, the decorative `bowtie' lacing, is usually only seen in shoe shop displays."
> Good to know when you break a shoelace.
WSJ (subscription): Science Panelists Are Picked For Ideology, Not Expertise.
"When reporters write about controversial subjects, we have this bad habit of portraying science the way we do politics, except with more polysyllabic jargon. Just as we give space to both sides when we cover, say, capital punishment or affirmative action -- moral and social issues with no empirically based, objectively right answer -- so we apply the equal-time rule to questions like whether climate is changing or lead is neurotoxic."
> ... or evolution vrs. creationism, or the age of the earth, or whether the earth is flat.
The Washington Monthly: Bumper Mentality.
"According to market research conducted by the country's leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be `insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities.'" ...
"Not surprisingly, most SUV customers over the past decade hail from a group that is the embodiment of American narcissism: baby boomers."
> Hey, I didn't say it, I just pointed at it.
Manta Soft: Recursive.
> Use your arrow keys to play.
New York Times: A Carbon-Atom Combo: Diamonds Found in Crude Oil.
"The [ChevronTexaco] researchers sorted the diamondoids by shape and size, finding dozens of new varieties with up to 39 carbon atoms. Some are shaped in long rods. Others twist around like a corkscrew. All are less than one 10-millionth of an inch long.
"Nanotechnology researchers have for years imagined what they might be able to make with diamondoids, but until now they have been able to explore those ideas only with computer simulations."
Universal Press Syndicate: You need $202,238 just to retire at poverty level.
> If you retire at 65, of course. For married couples, the figure is $255,119.