Archive for March, 2006

April Fools Roundup

March 31, 2006

Because… the lure of April Fool’s Day is too hard to resist.

Okay so I didn’t run across as many as I thought I would today (probably because it’s Saturday and I had other things to do, so for those of you who need your fix of tons of mostly lame April Fool’s Jokes, I’ll defer to the venerable wikipedia for a more complete list.
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Pentagon makes big boom

March 31, 2006

Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb

The June test will detonate 700 tons of heavy ammonium nitrate-fuel oil emulsion — creating a blast equivalent to 593 tons of TNT — in a 36-foot-deep hole near a tunnel in the center of the Nevada Test Site, according to official reports. It aims to allow scientists to model the type of ground shock that will be created, and to weigh the effectiveness of such a weapon against its collateral impact.

“To my knowledge, this will be the largest open-air chemical explosion that we’ve conducted,” said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the Energy Department’s test site. Larger blasts have been carried out at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, including the nation’s biggest open-air detonation, in 1985, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

Sweet.

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No boob jobs for the final frontier

March 31, 2006

Boob Job Ban In Space

Women with boob jobs may be banned from Virgin’s space flights.

Bosses fear the implants may expand and burst due to cabin pressure, according to The Sun.

Dammit. Suddenly the idea of bouncing around on the moon is a lot less interesting.

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An interesting observation

March 31, 2006

From a column in the Washington Post titled Bush Wanted War:

Whatever Bush’s specific reason or reasons, the one thing that’s so far missing from the record is proof of him looking for a genuine way out of war instead of looking for a way to get it started. Bush wanted war. He just didn’t want the war he got.

This is an interesting observation. The author makes the cases the while Bush may not have doctored intelligence or knowlingly made false statements, it’s pretty clear that Bush wanted this war, for a long time. Personally, I believe it’s pretty clear that Bush lied and continues to lie – but I’ll admit that these people are too good at lying to possibly to get caught in a big one. Small ones, sure, but they’re always careful enough to use the bare minimum number of qualifiers to maintain deniability.

But when you look at it from the other side, it really does crystallize how it went down. Did Bush look for a way out of war? Did he exhaust all his other options (any other options)? Was this in any way a last resort? Die hard Bush loyalists would likely say yes, but I can’t imagine what they’d use as supporting evidence (not that they ever need it).

Of course, even as I write this, I realize I’m beating a dead horse, there’s very little new you can say on this subject. The case is clear that Bush did want this war and he knowingly misled the American people into it. The thing is, I can’t imagine a more heinous crime – somehow, he needs to be held accountable, and I’m going to keep harping on it until he is.

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Great Science Reading

March 31, 2006

Snarkmarket has a collection of the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005, as compiled in the book of the same name. I’ve only read about half so far but it’s truly some excellent, thought provoking stuff.

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Prayer isn’t good medicine

March 31, 2006

Prayer Doesn’t Aid Recovery, Study Finds

Praying for other people to recover from an illness is ineffective, according to the largest, best-designed study to examine the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

The study of more than 1,800 heart-bypass patients found that those who had people praying for them had as many complications as those who did not. In fact, one group of patients who knew they were the subject of prayers fared worse.

Gee, there’s a shocking result – magic doesn’t actually work for heart patients. Imagine that. Aren’t you glad that Bush is fully funding the National Center for Alternative Medicine to the detriment of real science at the National Cancer Institute?

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Why Web 2.0 is exciting (to me at least)

March 30, 2006

I wish I could go back in time to pick my high school comp sci teacher’s brains some more (or, simply had the will to go visit my old high school). Because I’m starting to realize just how many of the predictions he made circa 1998 came true.

For example, he described the evolution of new communications technology to us as a three stage process: First, the battle is for the hardware. Then there’s a brief battle over formats and standards. But in the end, content is always king. Now, remember, this was 1998ish. The class thought this was easy to map to computer technology – hardware, obviously, was settled in the IBM era when the clones started coming out. The format was the operating system, now controlled by Microsoft. The content was the software. Right? “Wrong,” he said. “The software is still just formats. The content is the web.”

It seemed incredulous at the time, but now I realize just how prescient that statement was. It took almost ten years, but his prediction has basically come true: software in 2006, whether we’re talking about the operating system, browser, media players, or any of a myriad of other applications, all seem to serve as a vehicle for connecting to remote content in one form or another. We’re still more or less in a transitional phase, but the end couldn’t be clearer; the web really is becoming the PC.

There were other conversations we had which were equally prescient on his part, that’s just the one that stands out clearest in my mind. The thing that made me think about it was a recent Slate magazine article, which offered a more cynical view of Web 2.0 and the recent Newsweek cover story on the subject. The author of Slate’s article managed to sum up Web 2.0 better than I’ve ever seen before:

The only way that 2.0 fits the current Web is if you use the original meaning. It’s a technology upgrade, one that finally does what they’d said version 1.0 would do. For a contrived neologism, at least it’s catchy. Compare Web 2.0 to other attempts to brand the zeitgeist: “Do It Together,” “The Read/Write Web,” “Small Pieces, Loosely Joined,” or Newsweek’s pick, “the Living Web.” Imagine asking your boss for $3,000 to go to the Living Web Conference.

The excitement of Web 2.0 is that the web is finally fulfilling it’s promises from the late 90’s. A lot of stuff was predicted in that era, a lot of stuff sounded amazing but ultimately turned out to be vaporware – especially after the dotcom bust. Today however, you do see a lot of those failed ideas from the 90’s being tried again, this time with success, as well as a whole lot of new stuff unimaginable back then. Most of those old predictions are being realized, and their realizations are no less amazing than some had dared to dream. Google is building a new Library of Alexandria, for the first time in thousands of years it really does seem possible to make the sum total of human knowledge organized and accessible. The web is changing the way we get information, instantaneously from accross the globe. The way we communicate is changing, as well as the way we form social networks. It’s having its impact on all levels of society, from entertainment media to politics.

That, to me, is pretty exciting.

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Fox News: Quality Journalism

March 30, 2006

Jon Stewart points out Fox News making a fool of itself (again). Crooks and Liars has the clip. It’s funny, and then you realize that there are actually people that tune to that channel for real information…

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Solar eclipse as seen from space

March 30, 2006

Wicked cool.

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More Americans identify as Democrats

March 29, 2006

Gallup: In Shift, More Americans Now Call Themselves Democrats

In a (perhaps) historic shift, more Americans now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, the Gallup organization revealed today.

Republicans had gained the upper hand in recent years, but 33% of Americans, in the latest Gallup poll, now call themselves Democrats, with those favoring the GOP one point behind. But Gallup says this widens a bit more “once the leanings of Independents are taken into account.”

Independents now make up 34% of the population. When asked if they lean in a certain direction, their answers pushed the Democrat numbers to 49% with Republicans at 42%. One year ago, the parties were dead even at 46% each.

I dunno. I should take this as a positive sign, but I have a tough time seeing it that way. The intense disgust that I have with Republicans doesn’t translate into any kind of real like for the Democrats. I take the pragmatic view that they’re the only way to get the Republicans out of power right now and support them towards that end, but the reality is that they’re two sides of the same coin and really no better. The choice in American politics is smoke and mirrors, an illusion both sides work to maintain. The only real differences lie in which set of corporate interests they’re beholden to.

A real historic shift would be more Americans identifying as independents and leaning towards Green or Libertarian or some other third party. That’s what I’d like to see, as that would cause a real disruption in American politics. But then I’m just a dreamy idealist.

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