Mainlining: All in Vein


News and Site Updates Archive 2010/02/14

If there is a single quality that is shared by all great men, it is vanity.

- Yousuf Karsh

14 Feb '10 -

The voltage of the electrical signal in groups of neurons separated by up to 10 millimetres sometimes rises and falls with exactly the same rhythm.  These patterns of activity, dubbed "coherence potentials", often start in one set of neurons, only to be mimicked or cloned by others milliseconds later.  Cloned signals only appear after one region reaches a threshold level of activity.  This threshold might ensure that our attention is only captured by significant stimuli rather than by every single signal.  Since the coherence potentials seemed unique, each one could represent a different memory.  Their purpose may be to trigger activity in the various parts of the brain that store aspects of the same experience.  So a smell or taste, say, might trigger a coherence potential that then activates the same potential in neurons in the visual part of the brain.  Shown is a mirror image neuron beginning to clone after reaching a tripping point.  Our brains appear to engage in a sort of quantum entanglement - once connected, always affected.
Illusory pattern perception (“patternicity”) is defined as the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli (such as the tendency to perceive false correlations, see imaginary figures, form superstitious rituals, and embrace conspiracy beliefs, among others).  When individuals are unable to gain a sense of control objectively, they will try to gain it perceptually.  Feelings of control are apparently essential for our well-being — we think clearer and make better decisions when we feel we are in control.  Since lacking any control is highly aversive, we instinctively seek out patterns to regain control — even if those patterns are illusory.  In one New England nursing home, residents were given plants, but only some had the opportunity to water them.  The residents who were in charge of watering their plants - who had some demonstrable control over an aspect of their day - lived longer and healthier lives than the others, even those given plants watered by the staff.  A sense of control matters!  (This has implications for the workplace.)

This map redraws the 50 United States such that each new state has approximately the same population as all the others.
This makes the Electoral College voting system more fair - but will never happen as many aspects of politics exceed mere "fairness" in importance.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch have said that they are "certain" that Israel is using white phosphorus shells in Gaza.  Human rights workers say the use of phosphorus in densely populated Gaza City could constitute war crimes.  The Israeli military has denied this, although dozens of Palestinians in Gaza have sustained serious injuries from the substance, which burns at extremely high temperatures.  The Geneva Convention of 1980 proscribes the use of white phosphorus as a weapon of war in civilian areas, although it can be used to create a smokescreen.  The Israel Defence Forces say that all weapons used in Gaza are "within the scope of international law".

Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was once forced to abstain from a United Nations resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after he placed a phone call to President Bush. "I said, 'Get me President Bush on the phone.'  They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia.  I said I didn’t care: 'I need to talk to him now.'  He got off the podium and spoke to me."  Israel opposed the resolution, which called for a halt to fighting in Gaza, because the government said it didn't provide for Israel's security.  Mr Olmert claimed that once he made his case to Mr Bush, the president called Ms Rice and told her to abstain from voting (which she did).  "She was left pretty embarrassed."  Indeed.  So am I.

Dennis Blair, director of US national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee that the government has the right to kill Americans abroad.  But acts that are crimes under national and international law don't cease to be crimes just because you engage in them frequently - further, assassinating non-Americans is just as illegal as assassinating Americans.  The leap here is to legalisation of murder.  Having made the globe a battlefield and sanctioned crimes including lawless imprisonment, torture, warrantless spying, indiscriminate bombings, and use of white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and other sickening weapons on grounds that all is fair (and legal) in war, by what logic - and for how long - can government assassinations of Americans (without trial) be confined to elsewhere?  What is the chance the Director of Intelligence will never consider [has never considered] the president a threat to national security?

In the dark, in silence, in a blink, the age of autonomous killer robots has arrived.  When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, they had no robots as part of their force.  By the end of 2005, they had 2,400.  Today, 12,000 carry out 33,000 missions a year.  Insurgents invent ways to block signals from control centres, which causes the robot to shut down and "die" - so the military builds autonomy into them: if they lose contact, they make their own decisions.  So who is responsible for robot mistakes?

In the land of Zoz there live 3 types of persons:

Truthkins, who live in hexagonal houses and always tell the truth;

Fibkins, who live in pentagonal houses and always tell lies; and

Switchkins, who live in round houses and who turn into whatever they say they are.

One morning, 90 of them gather in the city in 3 groups of 30.  One group is all of one type; another group is made up evenly of 2 types; the 3rd group evenly comprises 3 types.  Everyone in one of the groups says, “We are all Truthkins”; everyone in another group says “We are all Fibkins”; and everyone in the remaining group says “We are all Switchkins”.  How many sleep in pentagon houses that night and why?

Most undergraduates don't realise that there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a liveable salary (though it is generally much lower than salaries in other fields requiring as many years of training).  They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a 6-year probationary period, at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession.  They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don't make any fallback plans until it is too late.  Humanities PhD's, without relevant experience or technical skills, generally compete at a moderate disadvantage against undergraduates, and at a serious disadvantage against people with professional degrees.  If you take that path, you will be starting at the bottom in your 30s, a decade behind your age cohort, with no savings and perhaps a lot of debt.  It's hard to tell young people that universities recognise that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource.  For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river.  If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault.
Nobody knows which colleges really do the best job of taking the students they enrol and helping them learn over the course of 4 years.  After decades of inaction, some recent efforts have been undertaken to collect that information - it now exists, but colleges and their powerful (and virtually unknown) lobbies will not permit the public to see it.  As a result, colleges are far less focused on student learning than they should be, and consumers haven’t a clue what to do and have come to believe, mistakenly, that the most expensive colleges are also the best.  American colleges grant more than 300,000 bachelor’s degrees in business every year.  Whose graduates are subsequently most successful in business?  There are anecdotes, but no available, comparable data, so nobody really knows.  Which teacher education programme best prepares candidates to excel in the classroom?  Again, nobody knows.  Nearly every college teaches introductory courses like calculus and English.  Where are the best calculus and English professors?  Who is most successful in preparing students for law and medical schools?  Whose graduates make unusual contributions to philanthropy and the arts?  Who teaches writing well, given the academic preparation of the students they enrol?  Who teaches anything well?  Nobody knows.  For the reputation-maximising university administrator on the make, the best things to buy are visible: new buildings, elaborate student fitness centres, renowned scholars who don’t actually teach undergraduates, Division I basketball teams.  There are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies for hiring better teachers.  Congress should insist that all colleges and universities accepting federal funds regularly report teaching, learning, and long-term student employment results.
A bush pilot flew a client to a spot out in the middle of nowhere in Alaska to fish.  They inadvisedly left an ice chest and bait in the plane.  Bears have seriously good noses and one did a considerable amount of damage to the plane in the process of getting at the bait.  Another pilot brought in 2 new tires, some plastic sheeting, and 3 cases of duct tape so the first pilot was able to fly his plane home.
Crying Girl (Nakigao in Japanese) is a DVD showing 11 minor female celebrities [in this case, does "minor" mean "unknown" or "under 18"?] shedding real tears as they recount some of the worst days of their (apparently rather sheltered) lives.  Oddly, the DVD appears to be aimed at Japanese men.  It seems that men in Japan need to have their "conquering instinct" stoked up, and the way to do this is by watching beautiful, young women cry.  In a nutshell: men feel stronger after experiencing the weakness of women. [Would this explain any cases of female child abuse?]

Another Japanese DVD consists of videos of men staring into the camera.  It's meant for women who want to overcome shyness with men.

David Kiely, a stockbroker with Macquarie Private Wealth, has become an overnight star - and landed himself in hot water - after being filmed looking at revealing pictures of supermodel Miranda Kerr live on television.  The gaffe occurred when Mr Kiely opened a series of emails containing photographs of Kerr from a recent GQ shoot, while his colleague Martin Lakos was live on air with the Seven Network, discussing the Reserve Bank’s decision to keep interest rates on hold.  I read where the stockbroker's future with the company was in question, but it wasn't clear if this was because he wasted the company's time and resources or because he had made them look silly internationally.  My thought is that only the latter is truly a consideration, but in their talks with him, they'll undoubtedly stress the former instead.


Coastal Constructors Southwest Ventures, a new Zachry company formed to construct multifamily high-rise buildings, signed a contract to build Ocean Tower South Padre Island – a 31-story luxury high-rise to be one of the tallest structures in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.  The project started construction April 2006.  Due to take 31 months, it would consist of 147 residences, indoor/outdoor pools, state-of-the-art gym/spa, media room, high-speed Internet, beach club, children's area  - and was (for a while) 445 feet tall.  According to Zachry: "Construction is not without challenges - the beach on South Padre is a corrosive environment; design issues relate to seaside construction.  Teams must apply special coatings to exposed metals; stringent waterproofing requirements and lab-tested glazing are required so windows and glass doors can withstand extreme winds."  But perhaps they worried about the wrong things?  According to area realtor Alice Donahue: "What happened is the tower and parking garage were mistakenly built connected and the parking garage structure did not settle [as much], so the connection of the garage to the tower caused cracks at junction points.  Developers will resolve the situation with design modifications."  Too optimistic?  Perhaps.  Soon the following statement was issued: "Anchoring a skyscraper like Ocean Tower is done by driving long concrete and steel piles down through the sand into the underlying ground surface.  Friction between sand and so much concrete and steel is sufficient to hold the foundation above in place.  But the added weight of attaching the garage and Olympic-sized pool to the tower simply created too much shear to one side.  The solution involves separating the structures so they independently stand on their own pilings."  The Island's building inspector said that the depth and diameter of pilings depend on engineering studies, but in most cases pilings are sunk at least as deep as the building is tall.  From the comments section, however, we learn: "The building is outside the town's city limit, and didn't come under jurisdiction of the town's codes, which conform to International Code Council requirements."  The building experienced differential settlement of more than 14 inches, resulting in cracks in structural beams and columns.  Litigation is underway, lenders cut off additional funds, the general contractor walked off the job and... in December 2009, the building was demolished (very short video).  And the fallout continues...
The World Islands development sits in shallow waters just off Dubai's coast.  Nakheel Properties created the foundations within 5 years, from 11 billion cubic feet of sand and 47 million tonnes of rock.  However, now it looks like the project will never be completed.  Work inside the man-made lagoon stopped last year and the World Islands' website went ominously quiet.  The islands are rapidly merging together and also now appear to be sinking.

They were planned to look like this photo on the right.

Bad Advice

Why men shouldn't write advice columns...

The North Pacific Giant Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, is often cited as the largest octopus species.  Adults usually weigh around 15 kilograms (33 pounds), with an arm span of up to 4.3 metres (14 feet).  The largest specimen to be scientifically documented was an animal with a live mass of 71 kilograms (156.5 pounds), but there are reports of one specimen who weighed 272 kilograms (600 pounds) and had an arm span of 9 metres (30 feet).  The sex life of an octopus is tragic.  A giant Pacific octopus has sex only once, then loses its mind and dies - and the sex itself is [apparently] dull.  They tire easily — their blood isn't so good at carrying oxygen — so the athletics are minimal.  Using his special tentacle, the male extrudes a metre-long sperm packet (it looks like a milky worm) out of a special sac in his body and into the female's body.  If she doesn't like it, she'll push him and his sperm packet away and look for someone else.  Otherwise, the two might entwine in a dispassionate embrace for 3 hours or more.  Then the bad times come - senescence.  It's similar to human dementia: males go crazy, stop eating, rove around aimlessly, stop being careful (it's hormones).  Soon, females will senesce, too - and unlike humans with dementia, senescent octopuses sometimes chew off their own arms.  Their immune systems also shut down, allowing the small lacerations they accumulate from bumping into things during this period to develop major infections.  The postcoital male goes directly to feeding the top of the local food chain (seals and sharks) and the bottom (Aeromonas, Vibrio, and Staphylococcus bacteria).  The female retires to her cave, decorating it with garlands of tear-shaped eggs.  She tends to the strands, blowing them with soft jets of oxygenated water for 6 blissful months.  To keep up her energy, she metabolises her own body, losing up to 70% of her weight.  Soon after her eggs hatch, she goes mad and dies.

There's no such thing as "safe sex" for them.  Not clear, however, is whether the rejected male meets the same fate or is spared to wait for another breeding season...

Octopus escapes are the leading reason amateur aquarists are discouraged from keeping a deadly blue-ring octopus.  It's a gorgeous, iridescent creature the size of a golf ball - and one of the most dangerous things in the ocean.  Each blue-ring octopus carries enough paralytic venom to kill 26 humans in minutes.  The toxin is created by bacteria in their salivary glands.  While they have a low escape value, pet-advice sites are unequivocal: "There are many instances where a hobbyist has stepped on his octopus in the morning a few rooms away from where the tank is.  From time to time you may see the small blue-ring octopus for sale.  DO NOT buy one!"  They have the same venom found in pufferfish and cone snails and they CAN kill.  There is no antivenom available but placing the patient on a medical ventilator until the toxin is neutralised by the body - usually within 24 hours - can save a life.  (This is assuming the person lives long enough for help to arrive.)  There are other species of octopus available that pose no danger to the owner or to unsuspecting children or guests.

The "proper" plural of octopus is octopodes, though octopuses probably works better in English.  "Octopi" is derived from the mistaken assumption that -us is a Latin noun ending that would become -i in its plural form.  However, the word is of Greek origin.

Oktapodi (2007) - A 2009 Oscar-winning animated short film.

Come to Mother

(For the next 5 or so years, anyway)

Psychologists have determined that shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names significantly outperform those with hard-to-pronounce names.  Other studies show that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process - even totally non-substantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it - can alter people’s judgment of its truth, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author and their confidence in their own judgments and abilities.  Similar manipulations can get subjects to be more forgiving, adventurous, and more open about personal shortcomings.  The term for this is fluency and it's implicated in decisions about everything from the products we buy to the people we find attractive to the candidates we vote for.  It’s a key part of the puzzle of how things like attraction, belief, and suspicion work and has ramifications for anyone interested in eliciting these emotions (salesmen, politicians, public relations firms, and stockbrokers).  The evolutionary logic behind this?  "If it is familiar, then it has not eaten you yet."  Take the aphorisms "Woes unite foes" versus "Woes unite enemies."  People tend to see the rhyme as more accurate than the non-rhyme, despite the fact that, substantively, the two are the same.  Couples asked to write a short list of good qualities about each other report higher levels of marital happiness than other couples in a study - but so do couples asked to come up with a long list of each other’s bad qualities.  Why?  It seems that needing many bad things is too hard, so you think he/she must not be all that terrible.  Listing a few bad things is isn't hard, so the spouse must therefore be bad.  Or having to come up with lots of positives is hard, so this must mean the spouse doesn't have enough of them.  (Are we all that manipulable?  I suppose we must be.)
Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan made headlines when he caught airport employees at Heathrow passing around printouts of his naked body, as revealed by full-body security scans.  "I saw these girls — they had these printouts.  I looked at them.  I thought they were some forms to be filled out.  I said 'Give them to me,' — and you could see everything inside," he said on British television.  "So I autographed them for the girls."  Hahaha!  Funny story, right?  (He must be well-endowed.)  But wait.  This brings up an important point: There is no way celebrities aren't going to have images of their genitals recorded and shared with this new machinery.  The TSA and advocates of full-body scan technology assure Americans that the machines don't save images, but be realistic - is anyone safe?  [And is this story really true?]

Far from treating the event in a comical manner, Khan should have sued.  Meanwhile, the revelation that naked-body scanner images can be printed out and circulated by airport security staff should prove to be the death knell for plans on behalf of governments worldwide to institute them on a widespread basis.  Courts have consistently found strip searches legal only when performed on a person already found guilty of a crime or on arrestees pending trial where a reasonable suspicion exists that they carry a weapon.  Subjecting masses of people to blanket strip searches in airports reverses the very notion of innocent until proven guilty.  Barring people from flying and essentially treating them like terrorists for refusing to be humiliated by a virtual strip search is a breach of basic human rights.  Security experts agree that such scanners wouldn't have stopped the incident that is being exploited to justify their widespread introduction – the Christmas Day underwear bomber.  Not only have the scanners proven to violate privacy, but major international radiation safety groups warn of health risks they pose.

A Ray of Comfort


The amygdalae are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans.  They are important for processing and remembering emotional reactions.  The cortical nucleus, involved in smell and in pheromone processing, receives input from the nose and sends it on to the amygdalae, which forward it to areas involved in emotional arousal.  Damage to the amygdalae impairs both the acquisition and expression of fear and can produce significant social and emotional deficits.  These organs enhance memory formation because emotional arousal following a learning event influences the strength of the subsequent memory.  (Greater emotional arousal significantly enhances retention.)  Research using Rorschach tests finds a greater number of "unique responses" are linked to larger-sized amygdalae.  Since more unique responses also come from the artistic population, this suggests that amygdalar enlargement is related to creative mental activity.  People with borderline personality disorder, social phobia and depression have increased responses from their left amygdala while schizophrenic patients have increased responses from the right.  The amygdalae of bipolar patients are smaller than normal.  Research suggests that parasites, in particular toxoplasma (acquired from cat fæces), form cysts in the brains of rats, often residing in the amygdalae.  This may provide clues as to how specific parasites contribute to development of disorders, including paranoia.  The amygdalae also process our reactions to personal space violations.  They are damaged by repeated binge drinking.  [So don't do that!]

Alcohol gives you infinite patience for stupidity. - Sammy Davis Jr

I-Wish-I'd-Said-That:  "After a year and a half of exposure to this virulently toxic presence, the question on the table is: In our lifetime, has there ever been a worse human being in American politics than Sarah Palin?  For all the morons and criminals and bigots we've been subjected to, has there been anyone else who has combined all of the fetid qualities - the proud ignorance, the sadistic viciousness, the shameless hypocrisy, the arrogant laziness, the congenital dishonesty, the unctuous sanctimony, the bilious resentment, and whichever others I'm forgetting for the moment - that this morals-free harridan so relentlessly displays?  (Not to mention that atonal bray with which she communicates it all.)" - Paul Slansky
Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Valley, backlit by the setting sun.  Happening only 2 weeks of the year, the setting sun selectively lights this waterfall with its orange sunset light.  Gradually growing in intensity and colour for the last 5 minutes or so, it is like seeing a narrow strip of lava flowing down the face of El Capitan. The Yosemite Firefall was a summertime ritual, lasting from 1872 until 1968, in which burning hot embers were dropped from a height of about 3,000 feet from the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park down to the valley below.  From a distance, it looked similar to a glowing waterfall because the people who dumped the embers made sure to do so in a uniform fashion.  The ritual was performed by several generations of the owners of the Glacier Point Hotel, ending when the hotel burned down in 1969.  The hotel was never rebuilt and park rangers decided to disallow continuing the ritual due to the overwhelming number of visitors it attracted and the fact that it was not a natural event.  The ritual was performed at 9pm every night, coinciding with the end of a performance at Camp Curry. I don't have any information whatsoever about this picture, but it's tall and thin and made of water and is happening under a dark sky and is beautiful, so I put it here.
Early morning on the 1st of May 1943, a Spanish fisherman discovered a corpse clothed in British military attire which had washed ashore.  Apparently a casualty of an airplane accident at sea, the corpse had a briefcase chained to him.  Identified as Major William Martin of the British Royal Marines, the body and the briefcase was demanded by the British Admiralty.  Inside the suitcase was a letter to the British commander in North Africa, which outlined the Allies’ plans to invade Europe from Sardinia, Corsica and Greece.  This vital information was rushed by the Spanish to Berlin, subsequently causing Hitler to divert resources away from Sicily - through which the Allied Forces eventually invaded.  The Germans had fallen for an elaborate deception: Major Martin never really existed.  The corpse was that of a man who had recently died of pneumonia.
In early 2006, a mysterious cosmetics trader named Rakhman began showing up at salons in St Petersburg, Russia, hawking a popular anti-aging drug at suspiciously low prices.  He flashed a briefcase filled with vials and promised he could deliver more - "as many as you want," he told buyers - from a supplier somewhere in Chechnya.  Rakhman's "Botox" was found to be a potent clone of the real thing.  But investigators soon turned to a far bigger worry: the prospect of an illegal factory in Chechnya churning out raw botulinum toxin, the key ingredient in the beauty drug but also one of world's deadliest poisons.  A speck of toxin smaller than a grain of sand can kill a 150-pound adult.
16 Feb 1999: The advertisement for 24 Hour Fitness, which showed up on a South of Market billboard, depicted an artist's vision of a space alien and read, "When they come, they'll eat the fat ones first."  Fat activists found the ad demeaning and took to the sidewalks in front of one of the fitness chain's outlets to show their displeasure.  "Eat me!" the 30-some protesters in front of 24 Hour Fitness at Van Ness Avenue and Post Street chanted as they held an aerobics class and waved signs that read, "Bite My Fat Alien Butt," and "I'm Yummy."  Some handed out lollipops.  Passing motorists honked in appreciation.

From 8 Jun 2000: "I think that the billboard got it wrong.  I think when the aliens come, they'll want meat, not fat, so they'll actually eat the overly-muscled, bulked-up freaks who feel the need to work out 24 hours a day."

6 Jan 2010: The ad was more-or-less repeated in Britain and, if anything, seemed to make people even angrier.  The health club manager said: "The alien campaign was developed as a tongue-in-cheek look at the fact that people, generally, over the Christmas period do put on a little weight.  We did not intend to cause any offence to anyone."

Here I am writing about it, as did lots of news sites and bloggers.  What cheap, effective publicity!  Expect it to roll around again in another decade (or less).

Nearly half of US dentists have seen their profits plummet thanks to the recession.  How are they coping?  Some dentists are softening the financial blow by upselling and by over-treating patients.  The problem is conflicts of interests (COIs).  You’ll find them everywhere in medicine.  (Actually, you find them everywhere, period.)  One doctor accepts consulting fees from a drug company; another prescribes what his drug rep pushes on him the week before over a free lunch.  There's even the doctor who urges a treatment on a patient mostly so that he can use his costly new medical equipment.  This isn’t to say that these are dishonourable people who only see dollar signs and say to hell with the patient (not consciously, anyway).  Rather, COIs can deeply colour the person’s perception, and thereby end up leading even the most upstanding citizens astray.  Perhaps aggregating physicians into larger groups, then insisting that doctors (or repairmen of all stripes) refer patients to colleagues for actual procedures would help?  (Probably nothing will help except constant vigilance and the information available over the Internet.)
A "swarm of earthquakes" at Yellowstone National Park produced 644 tremors in 4 days.  The Colorado Grizzly Peak Caldera is a crater rimmed with mountain peaks like the rim of a broken teacup.  It was originally 11.5 miles in diameter and more than 4 miles deep.  Eruptive debris from this caldera was flung as far as the north slope of Mount Sopris, which is pretty impressive until you consider that the Yellowstone caldera is magnitudes larger and potentially a lot more powerful.  "When pressure in a magma chamber is released through fractures in the earth, the dissolved gases suddenly explode in a massive runaway reaction," explains National Geographic, describing the eruptive force of a caldera.  "It's like opening a Coke bottle after you've shaken it."  What's amazing about the Yellowstone caldera is its enormity.  The last time it blew big, it left a crater the size of Rhode Island.  Attesting to the force of such an eruption, a supervolcano called Toba blew up 74,000 years ago and caused a "volcanic winter" that "reduced the entire human population to a few thousand individuals."  The Yellowstone caldera is estimated to be 45 miles across and is a "caldera at unrest," according to a researcher.  "The net effect over many cycles is to finally get enough magma to erupt," he explains, "and we don't know what those cycles are."  Here's the sum up from National Geographic: "The odds of a full, caldera-forming eruption — a cataclysm that could kill untold thousands of people and plunge the earth into volcanic winter — are anyone's guess."  Scientists are split on whether the earthquake clusters indicate Yellowstone is about to blow big again or whether the tiny tremors are actually beneficial, allowing a safe release of subterranean pressures.  Hoo boy.  In any case (luckily), the earthquake swarm seems to have abated somewhat - for now.


The Comments section contained these gems:
greendakini | #101 "Pardon impossible.  To be sent to Siberia," was changed by a sympathetic underling to be, "Pardon!  Impossible to be sent to Siberia."
And my very favourite from Anonymous | #108: "You can't put too much water in a nuclear reactor."  (Think it over.)


Two years ago, the FBI was stymied by a band of armed robbers known as the Scarecrow Bandits that had robbed more than 20 Texas banks.  It came up with a novel method of locating the thieves: agents obtained logs from mobile phone companies corresponding to what their cellular towers had recorded at the time of a dozen different bank robberies in the Dallas area.  The voluminous records showed that two phones had made calls around the time of all 12 heists, and those phones belonged to men named Tony Hewitt and Corey Duffey.  A jury eventually convicted the duo of multiple bank robbery and weapons charges.  Now, the FBI is pressing Internet service providers to record which websites customers visit and to retain those logs for two years.  While the technical challenges may be formidable (one cable provider said it would require logging 18 million hits an hour), phone companies already do as much with toll calls.  So far, the FBI has not requested that content data, such as the text of email messages, be retained (but give them time).  The Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking of cellphones is permitted because Americans enjoy "no reasonable expectation of privacy" in their cellphones' whereabouts.  The web won't be far behind in the "no reasonable expectation of privacy" thing.

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face.
It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy. -
Edward P Morgan

Go buy a book today.  Use cash.

I will give you a definition of a proud man: he is a man who has neither vanity nor wisdom.
One filled with hatreds cannot be vain, neither can he be wise.

- John Keats

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