Staple This to the Wall


News and Site Updates Archive 2009/01/16

It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this:
That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy
who have always existed and presumably will always exist
to get people to love their servitude.

- Aldous Huxley in a 1962 speech at Berkeley

16 Jan '09 - The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) scale runs from 0 - 8; a higher VEI number means a bigger and less frequent eruption.  On one end are the burbling, rather gentle eruptions that happen daily on the big island of Hawaii.  Even with their occasional impressive fountains of lava, they rate a VEI of 0.  At the other extreme is the Yellowstone eruption of 2.1 million years ago, described on the VEI as 8: Mega-Colossal - with a towering ash cloud 10 miles high pouring out at least 1,000 cubic miles of ash.  That Yellowstone eruption had 10 times the ejected material as a VEI 7 volcano, which modern humans have never seen either.   Other supervolcanos are located in Ethiopia, Bolivia, Indonesia (largest of all), California, New Zealand, New Mexico, and Japan...  4-minute, time-lapse video composed of a series of 7,000 images highlighting what one could see by looking up.  Arcing through the sky in a stately reflection of the planet's own rotation are moon, sun and stars.  But the sequence also features satellites and meteors streaking overhead, clouds moving along the horizon changing in a beautiful iridescence, and beaming crepuscular rays.

Video game design between 1990 and 2008: the improvement is impressive!...  Wine usually needs to mature for at least 6 months before it is drinkable, with some of the finest reds taking 20 years to reach their peak.  During ageing, a series of chemical reactions occur that leave the wine less bitter and acidic, clearer and more stable.  The process needs time and a small but steady supply of oxygen.  To short-circuit this process, Chinese chemists pumped wine through a pipe that ran between 2 titanium electrodes fed with a high voltage electric current.  With a burst of electricity, a young acidic wine is rapidly aged (for reasons that are still unclear), creating something more mellow and aromatic.  Three minutes produces the finest wine.  So promising are the results, that no fewer than 5 wineries have invested in this technology which could allow them to get their wines into the shops faster and cut costs of storage.  (So why does it feel as if something important may be lost?)

The most impressive photo of Saturn EVER.  And that dot that looks like a teensy moon?  Guess who that is!  And do you feel like taking in TWO astronomy pictures in one day - or even THREE? I wish I knew more about this photo - like why such a strange passenger in the sidecar?

Who is this mystery man?...  "There is an easy way to test biological determinism.  No planet is more earthlike than Earth itself; biological determinism predicts that life should have started many times on our home planet.  Biologists believe that all known species belong to the same tree of life - but almost all life on Earth is microbial.  There is a strong likelihood that Earth possesses a shadow biosphere of alternative microbial life representing the evolutionary products of a second genesis.  It could be ecologically separate, confined to niches beyond the reach of known life by virtue of extreme heat, cold, acidity or other variables.  Or it could interpenetrate the known biosphere.  There could be, in effect, alien microbes right under our noses.  Chances are, we wouldn't yet be aware of the fact.  Why would it change everything?  Apart from the sweeping technological applications that having a second form of life would bring, the discovery of a shadow biosphere would prove biological determinism, and confirm that life is indeed widespread in the universe.  To expect that life would start twice on Earth, but never on another planet like Earth, is too improbable" - Paul Davies  [I'm surprised that deep-sea vent Archaea bacteria don't already qualify]...  Children who feel their lives have meaning and value and who develop deep, quality relationships – both measures of spirituality – are happier.  But their religious practices have little effect on happiness.  (Spirituality is defined as "an inner belief system that a person relies on for strength and comfort".)

The Library of Dust is filled with individual copper canisters, each containing the cremated remains of a patient from a state-run psychiatric hospital.  The patients died at the hospital between 1883 (the year the facility opened, when it was called the Oregon State Insane Asylum) and the 1970’s; their bodies have remained unclaimed by their families.  The copper canisters have a handmade quality; they are at turns burnished or dull; corrosion blooms wildly from the lead seams and across the surfaces of many of the cans.  Numbers are stamped into each lid; the lowest number is 01, and the highest is 5,118.  The vestiges of paper labels with the names of the dead, the etching of the copper, and the intensely hued colours of the blooming minerals combine to individuate the canisters.  Imagine the many separate fates that led these thousands of individuals to this room.  What combination of choice and chance, of illness, of representation and misrepresentation, an infinite number of slippages, circumscribes this room, this library?  Click image to enlarge.  (Via Musecrack)...  It would be a huge loss to people in need if concerns about specific cases jeopardized the use of all non-canine service animals, especially the capuchin monkeys which have been trained to help quadriplegics.  These capuchins attend a "monkey college" at Helping Hands, a nonprofit organisation in located Boston, Massachusetts.  The monkeys learn to fetch remote controls, put food into microwaves, open containers, vacuum floors and flip light switches on or off, all in exchange for treats.  Helping Hands capuchins are captive bred; this minimises their chances of acquiring disease.  Further, they are well-trained specifically to be useful in the home.

When eccentric doctor and compulsive hoarder Harold Carr died at the age of 89, his relatives faced a daunting task to sort through his possessions.  His home was packed with piles of medical machinery, 1,500 beer steins, thousands of receipts and even a World War II spy drone.  But all the effort became worth it when they opened the door of his garage - and struck gold.  Inside, they found a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, one of only 17 ever made.  The historic automobile with only 26,284 miles on the clock still has 99% of its original parts.  It will be sold in Paris next month and is strongly tipped to surpass the £4.7 million world record for a car at auction...  Research shows that individuals differ in both their number of dopamine receptors and the amount of the chemical they produce, and that these differences may play a critical role in addiction.  Novelty-seeking personality trait is a major risk factor for the development of drug abuse and other unsafe behaviours.  In high novelty-seeking individuals, the brain is less able to regulate dopamine, and this may lead these individuals to be particularly responsive to novel and rewarding situations that normally induce dopamine release.  Animal experiments show that, like humans, some are more curious about new environments.  Those more likely to explore are also more likely to self-administer cocaine when given the chance.

Sweets and chocolate are as addictive as cigarettes?  That's the controversial conclusion from a study by New Zealand scientists who found that foods made largely from refined sugar and flour have the same addictive qualities as tobacco.  A rush of sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain involved with drug addiction.  Drug addicts must take larger amounts of their chemical of choice; finding it difficult to stop, they persist despite negative consequences and feel depressed if they do stop.  People do all those things around refined carbohydrates - and brain scans suggest people who gain lots of weight may be trying to improve their mood...  84 volunteers with obesity and type 2 diabetes were randomised to either a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (< 20 grams of carbs/day) or a low-glycemic, low calorie diet (500 calories/day).  (The low-glycemic diet includes beans, peas, lentils, pasta, quickly boiled rice and certain breads, like pumpernickel and rye, as well as oatmeal and oat bran cereal.)  Both groups attended group meetings, had nutritional supplementation and an exercise regimen.  After 24 weeks, glycemic control was determined by a blood test measuring hæmoglobin A1C, a standard test used for blood sugar control in diabetic patients.  Diabetes medications were reduced or eliminated in 95% of low-carbohydrate volunteers, compared to 62% in the low-glycemic group.  The low-carbohydrate diet also resulted in a greater reduction in weight - but a low-carb diet is not easy for everybody...  Experts say parents who are financially able should generally expect to pay at least ½ to 2/3 of their children's college costs through a combination of savings, current income and loans.  According to a calculator, someone with $20,000 saved up already and with 18 years to go before the child graduates should aim to contribute $818.25 a month to cover ½ of projected costs at a private college, making certain (unstated but probably important to know) assumptions.  (Wow.)

Helpful bacteria found on your skin and in your esophagus and stomach comprise your personal ecosystem.  These collective genomes are referred to as human microbiomes.  The US National Institute of Health refers to their study as the Human Microbiome Project, analogous to the Human Genome Project (which published the first human genome in 2000).  The Human Microbiome Project is more daunting because researchers are sequencing trillions of organisms - there are 10 times as many bacteria cells on and within your body as human body cells - that is, bacteria outnumber you 10 to 1 inside your own body.  They're important, assisting you in digestion, energy intake, vitamin production and development of a healthy immune system.  The Microbiome Project is searching for the "core" human microbiome - do all humans share some aspects of personal ecology or does it vary geographically?  Geographic variations would have ramifications for human health.  Pioneering work shows these bacteria impact diabetes and immune systems disorders.  As an example, antibiotic treatment of young children increases the risks of developing allergies later in life because the immune system needs bacteria to develop properly. For more than 20 years, scientists have tossed around the idea that bacteria play a role in precipitation.  Speculation began because of the curious case of the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae, a plant pathogen that promotes frost damage on crops.  A protein on the cell surface of P syringae binds water in a way that mimics the structure of an ice crystal, and this helps start the transformation of cold water into ice.  Moreover, studies suggest that bacteria travel from one patch of farmland to another by evaporating into the sky and then raining back down.  But are bacteria abundant enough to affect the weather the way dust does?  Yes.  Moreover, there are likely to be a whole fleet of organisms that can do this.

I would like to know who built this incredibly sturdy house that was able to defy Hurricane Ike.  Click image to enlarge...  Joseph Force Crater, a New York City judge, suddenly disappeared on the night of 6 August 1930.  That evening, he went to a Broadway ticket agency and bought one seat for a comedy playing that night.  He then met his lawyer and his 22-year-old showgirl mistress at a restaurant for dinner, which ended a little after 9pm.  The curtain had already risen on the show for which he had a ticket.  He reportedly hailed and entered a cruising taxi - but what happened after that remains a mystery.  Oh?  He left his mistress so he could go alone to a show - arriving very late - with his wife out of the state.  Oh - did I say he had emptied his safe deposit box and his mistress disappeared at the same time and was never seen again?  That's why it was odd about the letter 25 years later from the policeman's widow...  "Distant alien civilisations will make for difficult exchange because of time lag, but the mere fact of their existence will change our self-perception as profoundly as Copernicus did 5 centuries ago.  Despite the distance, we will of course try to talk to them.  1/3 of us will want to conquer them, 1/3 will seek to convert them, and the rest will try to sell them something.  [What about women?  I expect ½ will want to befriend them and ½ will want to mother them.]  [Moreover,] Artificial companions will make for more intimate conversations, not just because of their proximity, but because they will speak our language from the first moment of their stirring sentience.  However, I fear what might happen as they evolve exponentially.  Will they become so smart that they no longer want to talk to us?  Will they develop an agenda of their own that makes utterly no sense from a human perspective?  A world shared with super-intelligent robots is a hard thing to imagine.  If we are lucky, our new mind children will treat us as pets.  If we are very unlucky, they will treat us as food." - Paul Saffo

Stories of the late Sir Dai Llewellyn’s priapic exploits, mostly gleefully retailed by the Don Juan himself, proved irresistible to the tabloid press.  The journalist Peter McKay, who became a friend, was once having lunch with him at San Lorenzo when Llewellyn suddenly leapt from the table and disappeared for half an hour.  "What happened?" asked McKay when his host returned, looking flushed.  "Oh, I just remembered," said Llewellyn. "I left my secretary tied up in the bath"...  These are the 6th thru 10th best entries in the 4th annual HumorFeed Satire News Awards (go there for #s 1 - 5 and links to all 10 essays):
            "Study: 99.9% of Americans Suffering from Obscurity" (News Mutiny)
            "Lubbock, TX Replaced by Wal-Mart Supercentre" (The Giant Napkin)
            "Oil Prices So Low, Arab Nations Consider Educating Youth" (Jewlarious)
            "Bush Orders Retirement Savings Mattress for Every American" (Postcards from the Pug Bus)
            "Nintendo Develops Wii Community Service" (Dotpenn)

Moonlight is a German company that makes beautiful glowing orbs.  The polyethylene spheres range from 13 - 30 inches across and can survive in temperatures from -40 to 170° Fahrenheit.  Individual orbs cost between US$325 and $1,000.  Miniature versions are available which can be used for jewelry.  These things are all over the web - and way too expensive for my taste - but that doesn't stop them from being beautiful.  They can run on batteries or mains power.  Click image to enlarge...  In overground railway stations there are now notices begging passengers not to assault train staff.  In stations on the London Underground there are similar ones pleading with passengers to let others off the train first, not to push each other, not to use seats for their bags.  It's bewildering that we should need to be told these things, yet evidently we do.  What's next, "Please don't steal", "Please try not to kill each other"?  We are entitled to get whatever we want, as quickly as we want it.  Listen to music, check emails, make telephone calls – whenever and wherever we like.  Being spoilt in this way means that, when we find ourselves experiencing the least inconvenience, we feel affronted, as if our rights are being trampled on.  As life gets crueller, perhaps we'll get kinder.  (This illustrates the misguided principle that the older you are, the better things used to be.)

The incredible photographs of Argentinian Lucio Boschi (via Musecrack)...   "When evaluating the social cost of deception, consider all of the misdeeds — marital infidelities, Ponzi schemes, premeditated murders, terrorist atrocities, genocides — that are nurtured and shored-up at every turn, by lies.  Deception, even above violence, is the principal enemy of human cooperation.  Imagine how our world would change if when the truth really mattered, it was impossible to lie.  There may come a time when every courtroom or boardroom will have the requisite technology discretely concealed behind wood panels.  Thereafter, civilised people would share a common presumption: wherever important conversations are held, the truthfulness of all participants is monitored.  Just as we’ve come to expect public spaces to be free of nudity, sex, loud swearing, and cigarette smoke, we may come to expect that certain places and occasions require scrupulous truth-telling.  Most of us will no more feel deprived of the freedom to lie during a press conference or a job interview than we currently feel deprived of the freedom to remove our pants in a restaurant.  This will change our culture profoundly." - Sam Harris...  Photographs from the collections in the Earth Observatory over the past several years (23 large photos on a single page).

Need something to do this weekend?  How to build a ghost for your garden using chicken wire.  Click image to enlarge. Launching the moon (original unknown).  Click image to enlarge (via Dark Roasted Blend). Some of the most incredible photographs of slime mould I have ever seen.  Click image to enlarge. Art is where you find it.  Click image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, nothing is known about the source of the picture on the left.  Click the image to enlarge...  Placement of a tree is the key to energy savings.  Shade trees do affect summertime electricity use, but the amount of the savings depends on the location of the tree.  Trees planted within 40 feet of the south side (north side in the southern hemisphere) or within 60 feet of the west side of the house will generate about the same amount of energy savings.  This is because of the way shadows fall at different times of the day.  Tree cover on the east side of a house has no effect on electricity use.  A tree planted on the west side of a house can reduce net carbon emissions from summertime electricity use by 30% over a 100-year period.  In 2007, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District gave its customers about 16,000 free trees (at a cost of $85.00 a tree).  The district will recoup this investment in 26 years provided trees are planted on the west side of a house...  There are certainly a lot of exquisitely-beautiful places on earth that I have never seen.  Until I saw these photographs, I had not realised that Serbia, Belgrade has many such places.

How to make a spider milkshake...  Like Babar the Elephant in real life...  Israel wants to reestablish what it calls its deterrence capacity - an Israeli technical term that basically means to restore fear of Israel among Arab states in the region.  After the defeat inflicted by Hezbollah and their inability to launch an attack on Iran, it was almost inevitable that Israel would attack Hamas.  According to Israeli papers, Defense Minister Ehud Barak planned the attack before the last ceasefire - Israel was just waiting for a provocation from Palestinians.  On 4 November Israelis broke the ceasefire with Hamas.  The Israeli papers say, "knowing full well" that when they killed 6 militants in Gaza, the Palestinians would retaliate - then Israel had a reason to invade...  All right, so you’ve figured out what’s important to you, know how much you can spend on it and how much you can afford, time to buy whatever the heck you want?  Nope.  Even if you can afford it now, even if it won’t put you into debt — you will still need to be sensible about your purchase, because every dollar you spend today is a few dollars less you have to spend in the future.  Most of us will want to retire in comfort, or maybe even pay for our children’s education.  In order to do either of these things, we will need to be mindful of how our current spending impact our future spending.

There is also the cosmetic approach to achieving public polish.  Amy Strozzi, who was hired to serve as one of Sarah Palin’s stylists, just began writing a blog, the Beauty Manifesto.  Her first post included this Tip from the Trail: "For a full day of wear, cover your (entire) lip with L’Oreal Automatic Lip Pencil in Nudes, soften with a brush or smudge it with your finger, and add a thin coat of Carmex.  Top with a swipe of Chanel Glossimer in Giggle, and you are good to go."  (How much time do women collectively spend applying makeup?)...  Too much thinking can make you fat.  Despite the low energy cost of mental work, students spontaneously consume 203 more calories after summarising a text and 253 more calories after computer tests.  This represents a 24% and 29.4% increase, respectively, compared with rest periods.  Blood samples taken before, during, and after each session reveal that intellectual work causes much bigger fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels than rest periods.  These fluctuations may be caused by the stress of intellectual work, or also reflect a biological adaptation during glucose combustion.  The body could be reacting to these fluctuations by spurring food intake in order to restore its glucose balance, the only fuel used by the brain.

Notice anything odd about the passengers on this subway?  Would you say these 8 pairs of twins are "causing a scene"?  (That was the idea, anyway)...  A high school senior and her molecular biologist father discuss their freelance science project which reveals that some restaurants serve sushi under false labels...  Again and again, over the past 200 years, Christians and Jews raised in traditional Orthodox communities have found their faith challenged, or even destroyed, when a training in scholarship forced them to confront the fact that the Bible is not infallible.  Bart Ehrman, for example, has described how studying New Testament textual criticism at Princeton Theological Seminary prompted him to stop "reading the Bible as an inerrant blueprint for our faith, life, and future" and to start "seeing it as a very human book, with very human points of view, many of which differ from one another and none of which provides the inerrant guide to how we should live"...  "As a pediatrician, I worry about the trajectories of children's growth and development: measuring a baby's head size, weighing a toddler, asking about the language skills of a preschooler.  Manners are another side of the journey every child makes from helplessness to autonomy.  And a child who learns to manage a little courtesy, even under the pressure of a visit to the doctor, is a child who is operating well in the world, a child with a positive prognosis." - Perri Klass MD

Design of a vertical seaside metropolis: "I tried to envision what a huge - vertical - seaside city would look like in a world where dry land is very precious.  This city would be situated on a huge pillar in a 'cavity' in the sea; possibly an inactive volcano crater of some sorts.  I assumed a level of technology of western European countries around the 17th century.  Naturally I had to take some huge liberties with the actual mechanical possibilities of these constraints to make a city in a hole in the sea work, not to mention a vertical city" (via Musecrack)...  It is easy to prove to yourself that God is imaginary.  The evidence is all around you and there are 50 simple proofs.  Here is one (from that website):

     While we are on the topic of the resurrection, have you ever thought about how odd the whole crucifixion story is?  Imagine the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe sitting on his magnificent throne in heaven.  He looks down onto earth and says to himself:

Those evil humans down on earth.  I hate what they are doing.  All this sin...

Since I am all-knowing I know exactly what the humans are doing and I understand exactly why they commit each sin.  Since I created the humans in my own image and personally programmed human nature into their brains, I am the direct author of all of this sin.  The instant I created them I knew exactly what would happen with every single human being right down to the nanosecond level for all eternity.  If I didn't like how it was going to turn out, I could have simply changed them when I created them.  And since I am perfect, I know exactly what I am doing.  But ignore all that.  I hate all these people doing exactly what I perfectly designed them to do and knew they would do from the moment I created them...

So here's what I am going to do now.  I will artificially inseminate a virgin.  She will give birth to an incarnated version of me.  The humans will eventually crucify and kill the incarnated me.  That will, finally, make me happy.  Yes, sending myself down and having the humans crucify me - that will satisfy me.  I feel much better now.

It makes no sense, does it?  Why would an all-knowing being need to have humans kill him (Jesus is God, after all) to make himself happy?  Especially since it is a perfect God who set the whole thing in motion exactly the way he wanted it?  The story of the crucifixion is absurd from top to bottom if you actually stop to think about it.

I went to the doctor.  I said to him, "I'm frightened of lapels."
He said, "You've got cholera."

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