Read Once, Think Three Times


News and Site Updates Archive 2008/03/30

Hark, the Herald Tribune sings
Advertising wondrous things!

- Tom Lehrer

30 Mar '08 - There are 3 conversational phases to a meal, all equally important. In the first, communication is mostly practical as everyone sits down.  Then comes settling in, where family members exchange small talk.  The final phase is "sweet talk", crucial to building relationships.  Families need to spend significant time together to achieve these in-depth conversations and share their experiences, stories and worries.  This time is being eroded - not just by TV but by mobile phones, games consoles and computers...  California's compulsory education statutes require children ages 6 to 18 to attend a full-time day school, either public or private, or to be instructed by a tutor who holds a state credential for the child's grade level.  "California courts have held that ... parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," Justice H Walter Croskey said in a 3 - 0 ruling.  "Parents have a legal duty to see to their children's schooling under the provisions of these laws."  Parents can be criminally prosecuted for failing to comply.  "A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," the judge wrote.  I don't happen to agree.

George W Bush and Bob Geldof aboard Air Force One en route to Ghana, Africa, 19 February:
"I gave the President my book.  He raised an eyebrow. 
'Who wrote this for ya, Geldof?' he said without looking up from the cover.  Very dry. 
'Who will you get to read it for you, Mr President?' I replied.  No response."

       It took nearly 210 man-hours to dangle Koons’s shiny heart from the ceiling.  It weighs 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms).  "Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)" sold for US$23,561,000 - more than its $15 million estimate; it set a new record for the most expensive piece of art sold by a living artist.  This obliterated the artist's $11.8 million record set the previous day by his "Diamond (Blue)" sculpture.  Both works were bought by the Gagosian Gallery, one of Manhattan's premier contemporary art dealers - who also represents Koons...  Beijing's colossal new airport terminal was designed to appear like a giant dragon.  The terminal is the largest covered structure ever built, running for 3.25 kilometres (2.0 miles) and covering 98 hectares (245 acres) of floor space...  "Fractions have had their day, being useful for by-hand calculation, but in this digital age, they're as obsolete as Roman numerals are," says Dennis DeTurck, award-winning professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania...  Washington invests less than $90 billion a year on surface transportation.  A federal commission put a jaw-dropping price tag on starting to attend to America’s crumbling foundations: US$225 billion a year for the next 50 years just to maintain and upgrade.

       One economist predicts "a rising probability of a 'catastrophic' financial and economic outcome" in the US characterised by "a vicious circle where deep recession makes financial losses more severe and these losses plus financial meltdowns make the recession more severe."  (Not for the faint-hearted.)  In other news, in a report to the Vallejo, California, City Council last week, City Manager Joseph Tanner said the city faces a $10.1 million general fund operating deficit for the current fiscal year and a negative available fund balance of $5.9 million on 30 June this year.  "Based upon the updated financial projections, the current estimate for insolvency is late April 2008," Tanner said.  "It may become necessary to recommend that the City Council consider filing and pursuing Chapter 9 bankruptcy in the event the city is unable to meet its existing obligations with its existing revenues."  It will be the first California city ever to declare bankruptcy, but possibly not the last...  In other good news: The upcoming Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN could produce potentially dangerous particles such as mini black holes, strangelets, and monopoles.  A CERN study indicates no danger for earth, but its arguments are incomplete.  The LHC will be the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, smashing fundamental particles into one another at energies like those of the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, when the temperature of the Universe was about 10,000 trillion °C.  There is a high probability that micro black holes (MBHs) will be produced but the study indicates no danger because these will evaporate with Hawking evaporation (an as-yet-untested theory).  In several surveys, 20 - 30% of physicists estimate that Hawking evaporation will fail.  If a slow-speed MBH instead comes to rest in the centre of earth, the pressure there could be sufficient for it to grow and this accretion process would be exponential.

       Who is the man on the left who was recently in the news?  Unless you saw his photo, you probably won't be able to guess...  The Catholic Church divides sins into venial, or less serious, and mortal, which threaten the soul with eternal damnation unless absolved before death through confession and penitence.  Mortal sins are “grave violations of the 10 Commandments and Beatitudes.”  Although there's no definitive sin list, many believers accept those vices popularised by Dante in The Inferno: lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride.  Due to "a decreasing sense of sin", the church has now added 7 new sins, including: ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos, taking or dealing drugs, social injustice causing poverty (“the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”), abortion, and pædophilia.  The advice not to take drugs seems a bit vague to me.  According to Oxford University Press, it is entirely possible for a drug to be a useful therapeutic agent as well as a drug of abuse.  Properly used, morphine and derivative heroin make excellent analgesics and can be used without causing addiction.  Cocaine is a local anæsthetic once used by most dentists; cannabinoids (from marijuana) are useful in multiple sclerosis while Ritalin is peddled on the playground to kids who want to get high.  By contrast, the 7 holy virtues are: chastity, abstinence, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness and humility.  (And no, no new virtues were added at this time.)...  Drug companies use many practices to show their drugs in the best light including avoiding testing another drug because it might compare badly.  (Wow.  Can you believe that?  What a surprise!)  In the US, the industry spends more than $5.5 billion to promote drugs to doctors - which is more than all US medical schools combined spend to educate doctors...  Identical twins apparently do not, in fact, have identical DNA...  A good overview of Condoleezza Rice...  A barrel of oil is 42 US gallons, or 34.97 British gallons or 159 litres.

         Dog lamp...  Cats are a major reservoir of the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis.  Up to 1/3 of the world's population is estimated to carry a toxoplasma infection.  The cyst form of the parasite is extremely hardy, capable of surviving exposure to freezing and chemical disinfectants such as bleach.  Cats excrete it in their fæces for a number of weeks after contracting the disease, generally by eating an infected rodent.  Most patients who become infected with Toxoplasma gondii and develop toxoplasmosis do not know it.  A recent study has indicated toxoplasmosis correlates strongly with an increase in boy births in humans - an astonishing mean rate of 0.60 to 0.65 (as opposed to the normal 0.51).  In populations where this parasite is common, mass personality modification could result in cultural change - variations in its prevalence may explain a substantial proportion of human population differences in cultural aspects relating to ego, money, material possessions, work and rules.  (And here you thought capitalism was to blame!)  It lowers jealousy in men and makes women warmer and more conscientious...  Magical thinking: Mother Teresa cannot fully neutralise the evil in a sweater worn by Hitler - a fact that fits the germ theory of moral contagion: a drop of sewage does more to a bucket of clean water than a drop of clean water does to a bucket of sewage.  Traditional cleaning can't erase bad vibes: people have a strong aversion to wearing laundered clothes that have been worn by a murderer or even by someone who's lost a leg in an accident.  Wishing is probably the most ubiquitous kind of magical thinking around - the unreasonable expectation that your thoughts have force and energy to act on the world.  Who hasn't resisted certain thoughts for fear of jinxing oneself?  Made a wish while blowing out birthday candles?  Tried to influence a field goal mid-flight using nothing but hope and concentration?

       Most humans have only one hair colour and one eye colour.  Europeans are a big exception - there, hair is black but also brown, flaxen, golden, or red; eyes are brown but also blue, gray, hazel, or green.  This diversity reaches a maximum in an area centred on the East Baltic covering northern and eastern Europe.  Move outward, to the south and east and there is a rapid return to the human norm: hair becomes uniformly black and eyes uniformly brown.  Why this colour diversity?  And why only in Europe?...  The most valuable lock of hair ever was taken from Elvis Presley.  It was sold by his personal barber for $115,120 to an anonymous buyer during an online auction in 2002...  Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.  Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.  People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.  Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.  Behind the façade of a history falsified by language, the painful particulars of war are lost...  The 11 recognised planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Eris.  Ceres, Pluto and Eris are considered dwarf planets.

       Just because you're an architect doesn't automatically mean you have good taste...  Chances are if someone were to ask you, right now, if you're happy, you'd say you were.  Claiming that you're happy (that is, to an interviewer who is asking you to rate your "life satisfaction" on a scale from 0 - 10) appears to be nearly universal, as long as you're not living in a war zone, on the street, or in extreme emotional or physical pain.  The Maasai of Kenya, soccer moms of Scarsdale, the Amish, the Inuit of Greenland, European businessmen — all report that they're happy.  Of course, people like being asked how they are feeling because calling on them to rate themselves is "democratic" and "grants respect".  (Just ASKING if they're happy makes them happy, in other words.)...  The top 200 universities according to The Times of London are spread across 28 countries...  The latest US census found 6 million surnames in the country.  Among those, 151,000 were shared by 100 or more Americans.  Four million were held by only one person.  About 1 in every 25 Americans is named Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller or Davis.  More than 96% of Yoders, Kruegers, Muellers, Kochs, Schwartzes, Schmitts and Novaks are white.  Nearly 90% of Washingtons are black...  The British government wants all new homes to be built as "lifetime homes", conforming to 16 specifications for an ageing population, such as stairs wide enough for stairlifts, a lit, covered front entrance, a toilet on the ground floor and several other stipulations.  Ministers say the reforms will help more people stay in their own homes, as well as avoiding the need for costly adaptations as owners age...  Jackie Chan is famous for not using stunt doubles but rather performing all his stunts himself.  Of course things don't always go well - yet he has maintained his punishing high standards for the past 40 years.

       While we've been using our primitive, apelike arms, the squids of the world have been clutching their prey with their superior tentacles and laughing at us - until now!  For the first time, you can have tentacles of your very own, equipped with suction cups and only $15 each (via Cynical-C)...  All the water in the world (1.4087 billion cubic kilometres of it) including sea water, ice, lakes, rivers, ground water, clouds, et cetera is formed into a ball and visually compared to all the air in the atmosphere (5140 trillion tonnes of it) gathered into a ball at sea-level density.  Each is shown on the same scale as the earth.  Which ball do you suppose is larger?...  Scientists at the University of Newcastle have managed to create human sperm cells using a female.  This means that lesbian couples could soon have children that share the DNA of both women, rather than having one male biological father.  A sperm cell created from one partner could fertilise her partner’s egg.  Of course, men will still be necessary to kill spiders and snakes...  The element that lifts things like balloons, spirits and voice ranges is being used so rapidly in the world’s largest reserve, outside of Amarillo, Texas, that supplies are expected to be depleted there within the next 8 years.  This deflates more than the Goodyear blimp and party favours.  Helium is non-renewable and irreplaceable.  Its properties are unique and unlike hydrocarbon fuels (natural gas or oil), there are no biosynthetic ways to make an alternative.  It has been built up over billions of years from the decay of natural uranium and thorium.  When we use what has been made over the approximate 4.5 billion of years the earth has been around, we will run out.  Helium plays a role in nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectroscopy, welding, fibre optics and computer microchip production, among other technological applications.  NASA uses large amounts annually to pressurise space shuttle fuel tanks...  Headline-of-the-Week: Bad Move Caught on Cam: Robbers Rue Hold-Up of Bar Patronized by Biker Gang.  (Story)...  Gorgeous Astronomy Picture of the Day #1 and #2...  Now that is some rain.

       Female competitors just took part in the third Stiletto Run in Amsterdam's P.C. Hooftstraat street.  150 competitors ran 300 metres; the winner received 10,000 euros ($15,000)...  The US Federal government was never intended to have great power; it was merely a common vessel through which the States could maintain their individual sovereignty.  That is why in the 10th Amendment, they were so clear on this issue; it states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  There is no room in this language for interpretation.  The Federal government was to be a protector of State sovereignty, not the usurper of it.  There are fewer than 25 powers granted to Congress by the Constitution...  The Bookseller magazine has announced the shortlist for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year (the next-to-last title won):
                        I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen
                        How to Write a How to Write Book
                        Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues
                        Cheese Problems Solved
                        If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs
                        People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood

Winners in other years have included Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling, Bombproof Your Horse, and Joy of Sex: Pocket Edition...  Sense and Sensibility: Consider product A, in which "layers of cedar and raspberry strike a sharp upfront note, while clove and creamy notes add body while contributing an exotic, sumptuous character that conveys luxury in its essence.  Might there also be a trace of rubber, though?"  And then there’s B, with "its aroma of underripe bananas, and the way the fruitiness opens up on my tongue with a flick of bitterness that quickly fades to reveal lush, grassy tones."  Product C, on the other hand, is "fruity (with a high-profile role for the deliciously garbagey, overripe smell of guava) plus floral (powdery rosy) plus green (neroli and oakmoss)."  These are descriptions of, respectively, a chocolate, an olive oil, and a perfume, but you couldn’t possibly guess that.

The vast majority of the world's communications are not carried by satellites but by undersea cables.
The lengthiest of these goes from Germany to South Korea connecting 32 different countries with 39 different landing points.
This cable is just under 40k kilometres long.

Journalism is merely history's first draft.

- Geoffrey C Ward

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