Archive for January, 2007

Be very, very, VERY careful with that stuff, fellas…

January 17, 2007 15 comments

Canadian scientists have recreated the 1918 flu virus from genetic material recovered from exhumed victims’ lungs.  Working in a maximum isolation lab, they’re trying to unravel why it was so deadly.

The 1918 flu killed something like fifty million people last time it was running around loose.  This was in the days before subway trains, elevators, and jet aircraft.

they reported that the results were startling. Symptoms appeared within 24 hours of exposure to the virus, and the subsequent destruction of lung tissue was so widespread that, had the monkeys not been put to sleep a few days later, they would literally have drowned in their own blood.

When scientists built the first atomic bomb, they seriously considered if it might ignite the atmosphere, and decided there was a “low risk” before proceeding.  High-energy physicists are trying to make tiny black holes in the laboratory to study ultra-gravitational physics.  They say there’s a “low risk” of any problems. 

All we can really do is trust them, I guess.  Though it did occur to me that we should loan Canada a small nuke; put it in the lab…

By the way most people don’t seem to know anything about the 1918 epidemic, including many “journalists”.  I remember one excited reporter saying that the 2005 Tsunami was “the worst natural disaster in history” having killed 115,000 people.  Was it even in the top five?

Smaller, faster, cheaper storage

January 16, 2007 4 comments

Found in my boss’ new cell phone:

We’ve all seen pictures of the 1956 IBM RAMAC computer disk drive, which was the size of two refrigerators and probably weighed a half ton.  It held 4.5 megabytes (about as much as three floppy disks) and could be leased for $35,000 dollars per year (or $246,000 per year in today’s dollars.)  Click picture to embiggen. 

You would need about 227 RAMAC drives to equal this little chip.  But even collectively they couldn’t handle data fast enough to play .mp3 files.  And check out IBM’s more advanced 1959 RAMAC:

Information is stored magnetically on a stack of 50 disks which rotate continuously at 1,200 RPM. Each metal disk is two feet in diameter and is coated on each side with a magnetic material. The face of a standard disk contains 100 tracks, in each of which 600 digits may be stored…

The big advancement of the 1959 model over the 1956 model?  200 tracks on each disk!  I can’t help wondering if the RAMAC engineers imagined…

Categories: Science & Technology

Opinion Guard!

January 15, 2007 2 comments

You’d think we’d notice, but our president might be wearing one of these:

Categories: Humor, observations

Let us not make him a saint…

January 15, 2007 1 comment

Let us not make him a saint, lest his virtures be inaccessable to us.  He was a man like the rest of us, but doing what he could to make America better, to bring enemies together, to shine the light of justice into the dark corners of prejudice and hatred.

King’s virtues seem like negatives but they require positive effort to achieve.  Over the years ‘tolerance’ has acquired a somewhat negative reputation, and King himself recognized its limitations.  It seems anticlimactic, even condescending; hardly a destination. 

In engineering terms ‘tolerance’ is the allowable difference from standard.  In each of us is an image we see in the mirror, and that is our standard, the center of our social universe.  With wider tolerances we can become close to people who are different from us, who disagree with us, and whom we might otherwise shun.  At closer range we can begin to see their virtues, sometimes as contrasted against our own weaknesses.  We may find out what we thought were immutable laws of the universe for humanity are really just aspects of our culture and upbringing.  Tolerance is a clear path through the wilderness of cultural myopia.  It is a sketch for building bridges instead of walls.  Tolerance is a decisive step towards the higher virtue of universal brotherhood that was King’s promised land.

Nonviolence seems like a negative; the absense of violence?  What is that?  Someone once said; “When you’re in doubt as to which action to take, do the harder thing.”  Nonviolence is not for cowards.  It is intuitively easy to strike out at oppression but the history of nonviolence suggests it requires the strongest courage, the steadiest nerves, and that it travels the rocky moral high road that has the most influence in posterity.

I believe many people are afraid to have ideals for fear they will not live up to them.  There is no doubt that I do not completely live up to mine.  But they call it ‘practice’ for a reason; archery without a target seems rather pointless.  Let’s celebrate the progress we make but not be discouraged by our failings.  We are, like Dr. King, only human, and like him we can only get closer to the destination if we keep moving.

Pretty much everyone will be playing the “I have a dream” speech today.  He said and wrote other things that reflect his depth as well as his passion.  Here is his Challenge to the nation’s social scientists when he spoke at the convention of the American Psychological Association in September 1967.

Categories: Politics

Muslim sectarian differences, sort of explained

January 14, 2007 4 comments

I have not seen it any more succinctly than this:

The “new strategy” for Iraq, which the President outlined on Wednesday, is the oldest strategy ever devised: double your bet. It doesn’t always work.  The problem, the President explained, is sectarian violence.  Why, you may be asking, can’t Shiites and Sunnis just get along?  Briefly: the violence began in 656, 24 years after Muhammad died.  Sunnis insist that the heirs of the four caliphs that succeeded Mohammed are the legitimate leaders of Muslims.  Shiites are equally certain that only the heirs of the fourth caliph are legitimate successors of Mohammed.  And then there’s the business of the Madhi: Sunnis say he hasn’t shown up yet, Shiites say he’s in hiding, but he’s coming back. Sound familiar?  President Bush is absolutely right, there aren’t enough troops in Iraq to settle this dispute.  And never will be.
- Friday, Jan 12, 2007

From University of Maryland’s Bob Park.  Of course, this isn’t the whole picture but it is a part that confuses some of the principals in our War! On! Terror!.

Categories: Religion

Spiders on drugs

January 13, 2007 1 comment

This has been making the rounds and a couple of good friends send me the link;

Apparently crack cocaine is the best lifestyle choice, if you’re a spider…

Categories: Humor, observations

Turning the schmaltz up to 11!  Boo yah!!!

January 11, 2007 9 comments

With film – let’s face it – on the way out, what’s Kodak doing these days?  My buddy WeeDram (who has mad analog photography skillz) sent me this parody video; Kodak, winds of change.  It starts out innocently enough, with a white-haired senior executive doing a sentimental presention about Kodak’s past.  But when he breaks out of character and goes nuts talking about the futuristic stuff Kodak’s working on now, well…

Kinda makes you want to load some Tri-X into a little rangefinder and go shooting.  And develop it, load it into an enlarger, make test prints, experiment with dodging and burning…

Nahh, screw that.  I like digital; I just don’t want my camera deciding how freaking green the grass should be.  Unfortunately you will pay a huge premium for a really great digital camera that doesn’t try to take your picture for you. 

WeeDram, I called this video a parody – but is it self-parody?  Was it produced by Kodak?

Categories: Humor, observations

Maybe they should build a reactor

January 9, 2007 7 comments

I didn’t realize Iran had a smog problem, but apparently over 10,000 people have died from air pollution in the last year, including over 3,600 in one month.

Most of the deaths were caused by heart attacks and respiratory illnesses brought on by smog, they said. The scale of the problem led one senior official to say living in the Iranian capital was like “collective suicide”.  Cheap fuel encourages car use in Iran, correspondents say, and many vehicles do not meet global emissions standards. “It is a very serious and lethal crisis, a collective suicide,” the director of Tehran’s clean air committee, Mohammad Hadi Heydarzadeh, told an Iranian newspaper.

They probably got that way imprisoning “ecology nuts”.  My advice to Iran’s leaders – forget about holocaust-denial conferences and get busy developing some electric cars.  That ought to keep you out of trouble for a while.

Hussein under the microscope

January 7, 2007 7 comments

I hadn’t written anything yet about Saddam’s execution because, frankly, the subject bored me.  Killing a monstrous dictator?  Hardly anything to lose sleep over.  The execution was a vengeful circus?  What did you expect.  Ban the death penalty because we’re better than that?  Sure, you’ve got a point there.  The thing is done, and it’s difficult for me to call either side in the debate foolish.

Leave it to that human lightning-rod, Richard Dawkins, to come up with an angle I hadn’t thought of: “Saddam should have been studied, not executed”. Dawkins suggests Hussein should be locked up – permanently – but as a resource to historians, scientists, psychologists. 

What defines a dictator?  What makes him tick?  Could we learn to spot them early? I suppose those questions are worth answering.  Imagine in 20 years, psychologists and historians book time to interview the dictator, perhaps while scanning his brain with neuron-precise results.  I have to admit that’s an intriguing thought, though I wouldn’t want to be on the research protocol committee that decides how to do it.

Personally I don’t think Hussein was all that special.  He doesn’t have super powers; he can’t just step in and oppress a healthy society.  My intuition is there are plenty of Husseins and Hitlers floating around society, like pathogens in our own body; unable to do much damage as long as we are healthy.  Once the immune system is compromised, they become deadly.  When societies are damaged, their resistance to oppression seems to break down.  We need to pay attention to how that happens, too.

Categories: Politics

Defining freedom

January 7, 2007 Comments off

9 Chickweed Lane is one of my favorites

Categories: Politics