Archive for October, 2007

Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2007 7 comments

Update: I decided he needed a stocking cap.  The original, pre-stocking-cap picture is below the fold.

Categories: Stupidity

Death in perspective

October 29, 2007 8 comments

When I heard that children’s cold medicines may be banned as “ineffective and dangerous”, the first thought that came to my mind was something like what this pharmacology professor says:

But as a parent willing to accept the risks for my perception that my child benefits from OTC cough and cold medicine, I’ll be ticked off if the FDA removes all products intended to treat kids between 2 and 5. A patient representative quoted in a 19 October New York Times article remarked on a new concern that might then emerge: that parents would then try to give their kids reduced doses of adult cough and cold meds using pill cutters and such – a formula, I think, for far more dosing errors. (As North of 49 points out more eloquently, “I too am concerned that parents (if deprived of child-strength formulas) will attempt to harness the full power of their mathematical acumen towards doing dilutions of adult remedies.”)

Terra Sigillata: Children’s Cold Medicine Controversy

123 child deaths since 1969 sounds like a lot, but regulators seem to have trouble weighing absolute numbers in proportion to the big picture.  So TS goes on to do just that…

What do Brad Paisley & William Shatner have in common?

October 29, 2007 2 comments

They’re both (in) “So much cooler online!”

(Yes, I said William Shatner. Prove me wrong.) ;-)

Since you cannot see me, I am thirty years old, six-foot-three with a six-figure income, full luxuriant hair, chiseled good looks, and drive a red Porsche.  (Full disclosure: the foregoing statement may contain some apparent distortions of fact).

Categories: Humor, observations

Three things that made me laugh today

October 28, 2007 Comments off

First, a joke from those two knuckleheads on Car Talk, discussing a book called Philomedy, which explains philosophy by telling jokes:

Aristotle, Plato and Descartes are on a plane. The flight attendant comes by to take their drink orders. She asks Aristotle if he’d like a beverage. Aristotle says, “I’ll have a ginger ale.”

“And how about you, Mr. Plato?”

Plato says “Diet Coke, please.”

She says, “and Mr. Descartes, anything to drink for you?”

Descartes says, “I think not,” and disappears.


Second thing: Do you know what cigarette your doctor smokes?  – a great collection of TV cigarette commercials with commentary by a surgical oncologist with a wry sense of humor.

Third thing is no funnier than giant corporations selling addictive carcinogens with happy jingles, but still mining a rich vein of dark humor:  How ‘bout them 350,000 names on the no-fly list?  I could imagine an Al-Queda mole undermining the effectiveness of the list by making sure it has 350,000 names on it.

UPDATE: Maybe that no-fly list really isn’t funny, since according to Leonard Boyle, director of the FBI’s terrorist screening center, it can be used for hiring too.  With that many names it is a given that most are “false positives” and they may find their employment prospects curtailed.

Categories: Humor, observations

Smoke gets in your eyes… and your lungs too

October 27, 2007 10 comments

BBC News reports on warnings over fire pollution from the Kahl-ee-forn-ee-a wildfires.  And sure enough, though burning pine and eucalyptus trees smell nice in a campfire, you don’t want to be engulfed in the smoke from millions of tons of fuel.

It’s not a local problem, either.  Chris over at Creek Running North tells about his experience with a previous fire four years ago:

I got to that Mojave altitude, at Mid-Hills Campground, and woke in the middle of the night smelling smoke. I panicked: the campground was in a thick forest of juniper and pine. Had I left a stray ember in my firepit? I burst out of the tent. There was no light to be seen, no fire, no moon, no stars. The air was thick. The wind had shifted, and all the smoke from 2003’s fires in San Diego and San Bernardino streamed toward the interior. My campsite was 120 miles from the nearest fire, the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass. A hundred twenty miles away and the smoke stung my nostrils.

In his illustrated post he goes on to describe what happens if you try to exert yourself in a smokey environment.

Predictably the god-botherers are saying the fire is the fault of gay people, but I have an alternative explanation even though it sounds a little bit radical.  People built their houses in an area that would partly burn every 50-100 years, and suppressed every little fire for over half a century so there was a fantastic concentration of fuel.  The let the brush grow right up against their houses.  And when the right wind conditions and lack of moisture combined…

Naah. Nobody’s going to believe that…

USS Cole plotter “released”

October 27, 2007 12 comments

Yemen seems like a pretty good country, as emerging poverty-stricken Islamist democracies go.  At least they elect their leaders and they’re trying for economic reform. But you know the drill – no law may contradict the Quran, etc.  And then they let that USS Cole bombing conspirator Jamal al-Badawi off lightly, after first giving him a death sentence, then commuting it to 15 years, then he escapes, and turns himself in for “virtual house arrest”.  Next I suppose he’ll be allowed out into town and eventually he’ll just drift out of sight.

Funny thing is, you can indeed be executed in Yemen for being gay.  But conspire to blow up a ship and kill 17 sailors and it’s “house arrest” for you.  According to AP reports, “Witnesses said al-Badawi was “receiving well-wishers at his home” in Aden, Yemen”.

If al-Badawi ever shows his face around here, you can make a cool $5m for turning him in.  Somehow I doubt the US would forget to keep him locked up.

Categories: Law, Politics

Science Friday: a global computing project, vaccination follies, and - ! - daylight saving time

October 26, 2007 7 comments

Middle son suggests:

“You should check out if you haven’t already.  It’s a distributed computing site which has a number of projects which you can choose from.  Right now, my computer is crunching the numbers of the binding of protease inhibitors in both Dengue fever and the HIV virus (in the Discovering Dengue Drugs Together and Fighting AIDS At Home projects—DDDT and FAAH, respectively).  I guess the biochemists didn’t really want to come up with cool acronyms.  There’s also folding@home, a hugely successful project which has resulted in the publication of more than 50 scientific papers.

I think these projects are really neat, and you can set them to only be active while the computer has been inactive for a certain period of time.

I think I’m going to get our home file server working on one of those when I get it running.  An easy way to help towards important work.

BBC reports that British “Schoolgirls to get cancer jab” as the new HPPV vaccine goes online.  Parents who worry that granting their daughters protection from a dangerous STD would make them promiscuous, however, can opt out.  On our own shores, by the way, presidential candidate Ron Paul is an anti-vaxxer, a group of particularly dangerous denialists whose short memory of what it was like before vaccines poses a threat of revisiting some of our old plagues.

Just in time for the bi-annual enforced wrench-in-the-gears, comes a chronobiologist’s post: Daylight Savings Time is worse than previously thought.

That’ll have to do for today; I’m off to get my car from the mechanic.  It’s a new thing for me, letting someone else work on my car.

Classroom discipline

October 25, 2007 3 comments

In a previous post about education; “Test Anxiety, Stand And Deliver” we got some really informative comments from an experienced teacher, who made the following point about classroom discipline:

Discipline – I am amazed that schools spend so much time on curriculum and yet spend so little time on a cohesive discipline plan. Parents rarely know that their child is in trouble until the child has been suspended or received some form of severe punishment.  This despite the fact that there are more lines of communication than ever before – ie. websites, email, phone, etc. Parents know instantly how there child is doing with grades thanks to online grades nowadays. However, there is no place for discipline…
(More than one teacher chimed in… go read!)

And today Dynamics Of Cats picks up the same theme:

I was talking to a friend recently. As with many of the volunteers she has no training in education and no experience with actual teaching of groups. She is a professional with two kids of her own.
She mentioned the “two trouble boys” in the class she was helping with, and said she had tried to work with one of them.
After trying to cajole him and then order him to do something, he turned to her and told her bluntly: “I’m not doing it, and you can’t make me”.

He is seven years old. And, he is right…

    Dynamics Of Cats: Children Of Our Time

DOC then carries the idea to a frightening conclusion: Someday those kids will grow up and hold responsible positions in business and government.  And they may still be the same defiant, self-centered little brats at heart when they do.

Must admit I’m stumped by this one.  How can schools get parents onboard with their kids’ discipline?  The solution must, like the problem does, extend beyond school walls.

I told my kids they did not have to respect the teacher, but they had to be respectful towards the teacher.  They were never to disrupt the class, among other things.  But what else?  How do we make it matter to the parents?  I mean not just some punitive measure, but how do we convey the importance of a disciplined learning environment to the parents?

Categories: Education

Can Rowling say that Dumbledore is gay?

October 24, 2007 12 comments

Christians have had a range of responses to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, from “It’s evil witchcraft!” to “It’s Christian allegory”.  Now that she has outed the wizard Dumbledore as gay, there are various kinds of backlash.  One of the more interesting kinds is that Rowling has no right to decide if Dumbledore is gay:

Nonsense. There is no evidence of it in the books and the books (at this point) are all that matter. I have always thought the books deeply Christian not because Rowling told me so (which she recently confirmed), but because the text is full of Christian images and ideas… No offense to an excellent author, but Dumbledore no longer belongs only to Rowling.

I’ve seen this reaction in a lot of places, and I’d ignore it except it always annoys me when literary critics second-guess the author.  It’s presumptuous to second-guess another person’s motives in everyday life and more so in literature. Don’t you hate it when someone says to you; “You only did that because you (are a woman, a man, white, rich, poor, atheist, Christian, hate critics, whatever.)?”  What the hell do they know?

What they apparently don’t know is that it is standard practice for most fiction authors to create complete profiles of their characters before they even begin writing the story.  Here’s author and writing instructor Richard Peck in Fiction Is Folks:

Please note that I rarely describe John Xavier McCarthy as a physical entity.  Color of eyes and hair, height, and so forth are not important.  What matters is the inner man, the mind, the soul, and his vanishing values…

Needless to say, when you outline a personal history… none of these notes goes into a manuscript… The notes exist for your use only.  Now, once this homework is complete, you can begin Chapter One with your typewriter going at full clack… Please permit Peck to urge you to outline blueprints, such as this, of people… until you create one individual who is so shiny, so sad, so irresistible and fascinating that you fall in love.  And you want the world to hug him and hold on.

Who’ll be pleased if you sweat out this homework?  You will.

Perhaps a chapter such as this one should have been entitled “How to avoid writer’s block”, which is staring at the empty page in your typewriter.  my guess is that people who have this problem don’t yet know their hero’s character. 

Character building is outlining.

So start with that blank sheet of paper and, instead of heading it Chapter One, outline Character A.  Answer these questions about him:

  1. What’s his name?

  2. Where was he born and raised?
  3. What is his religion an ethnicity?
  4. Briefly (in order not to bog yourself down with cosmetics) what does he look like?  Fat, thin, tall, short, muscular, flabby, gray, bald?
  5. What does he believe in?
  6. Where has he failed or triumphed?
  7. Is he married, single, gay, divorced, or shy?
  8. Most important of all, what kind of work does he do?  And then, is he happy or discontented with it?
  9. What are his hobbies?  Sports?  TV?
  10. Is he neat or is he a slob?  To establish this on paper, describe his dress, his closet, a drawer of his desk and the trunk of his car…
    (List goes on for ten more items)

Writing is work and preparation.  But if you take the time to outline a character thoroughly your writing will suddenly become far easier and much more fun.  Your well-defined hero will act, talk, and think so rapidly that your typewriting fingers won’t be able to keep pace. 

Remember, when the question is ‘what am I going to write about?’ the answer is who?  Build your character. (Excerpted from pages 20, 21, and 22, emphasis mine)

I have seen this approach in a number of books on fiction writing and odds are, you’ll encounter it if you ever take a course in writing fiction.  The author won’t include all those details in the story, but they enable his or her imagination as to what the character will do.

The short answer is that J.K. Rowling very likely decided that Dumbledore was gay before Harry ever got on the train to Hogwarts.  She may have had her characters’ biographies only in her head but it’s just as likely that somewhere is a sheaf of written character sketches (which would be worth a fortune on auction at Christie’s if she hasn’t burned them).

It’s part of his character, sure, but at least in the early volumes, she was writing books for kids, about a school for kids.  At that stage of the narrative, there’s no relevance to Dumbledore’s gayness or straightness.  And as Harry grows up, his world (like our own) might begin to encompass more mature themes like his mentor’s sexuality. 

Or it may never occur to him to wonder, but the author knows anyway.  Does the critic know?  Certainly not.  But here’s the kicker to all this; it hardly matters.  With the exception of a few private moments that are none of our business anyway, a gay person is just like anyone else.  He/She may be kind, cantankerous, cautious, creative, conservative – whatever – in a given situation.  They don’t go around all day thinking; “Hmm, since I’m gay, how will I be different from everyone else in the room?”

One thing I’ve noticed about anti-gay Christians is they are loathe to imagine that God made someone gay.  They want it to be a choice made by the person, almost as if the author created a male character and then was suddenly surprised when that character passionately kissed another man.  Heaven forbid!  True, authors often find their stories going in unexpected directions but most of the time, those directions make sense… in light of the characters involved.

Categories: Reviews

The view from way up high

October 24, 2007 2 comments

I admit to being a gawker at times, though I am careful to stay the hell out of emergency personnel’s way.  But if you want a clear view of what’s going on, or at least a broader perspective, it’s hard to beat the view from up high somewhere.

Like NASA’s view from orbit, for instance. Be sure to click on the “full view” if you have broadband.
(From Discovering Biology in a digital world)