Wednesday, June 30, 2004
The absurdity never ends
wcg: "D.C. is now officially considered foreign travel. NIH has been instructed by the Office of the Secretary, Office of Global Health Affairs, that travel of NIH staff to U.N. international organizations located in the United States is to be considered foreign travel,..... Your staff should prepare NFTs [Notifications of Foreign Travel] for travel to all D.C.- and N.Y.-based UN international organizations: The World Bank, PAHO, UNICEF, UNDP, and other NY-based UN organizations."

Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Mojave Pictorial: Two Parties and a Launch

jaynote: WOW! great pics, this was a rocket-geek's Woodstock

Inertial Electrostatic Confinement fusion
Transterrestrial Musings: ...... "The talk in question was presented by J. E. Brandenburg of the Florida Space Institute, titled Microwave Enhancement of Inertial Electrostatic Confinement of Plasma for Fusion: Theory and Experiment. Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) uses two (or more) nested spherical grids charged to a high relative voltage to accelerate ions towards the common center of the grids, where they collide and fuse. Philo Farnsworth patented an IEC concept he called the Fusor, and there are all the usual conspiracy theories about suppression of his research surrounding the history of the Fusor, though I suspect the truth of the matter has a lot to do with the fact that it didn't really work very well, at least for power generation.

Anyway, back to the point. IEC has seen a resurgence of interest lately (for an overview of what people are up to check out the presentations at the 2002 US-Japan workshop on IEC). Various problems are slowly being worked out and the prospects for IEC for power generation are improving. I talked to Brandenburg after his presentation and he claimed that some experiments were getting within (relative) spitting distance of break-even, bearing in mind that for fusion spitting distance is about a factor of ten or so away.

From a purely technological standpoint IEC is attractive because it does not use magnets, so the power requirements are a lot lower than many other fusion schemes. IEC devices are also compact (grid sizes are 1 to 15 cm in radius), which makes experiments much easier to perform. More interesting to me is that IEC devices are evolvable along an economically viable path. IEC devices are already being sold commercially as neutron sources (see the overview pdf from the US-Japan conference I linked to above for one example). If the market for neutron sources expands (which it may well, since neutron assay is a very convenient way of remotely detecting the elemental composition of things, particularly convenient if you are looking for nuclear contraband), then companies doing IEC can have a near term revenue stream to fund further development." ....

Bloomy blasts diploma 'bozo'
New York Daily News: "The 'bozo' who withheld a diploma from a Brooklyn valedictorian after the teen publicly slammed her high school made a grade-A goof, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.

'What bozo tried to hold back a diploma in a country where freedom of speech is so prized? I don't know,' Bloomberg fumed.

'Fortunately, the chancellor, when he heard about it, overruled it,' the mayor said. 'They should have given her a diploma. C'mon, let's get on with it.'

High School of Legal Studies valedictorian Tiffany Schley was refused her diploma Friday after she painted a blistering picture of what was wrong with the Bushwick school in her graduation speech.


Monday, June 28, 2004
Betterhumans > Longevity Uncorked?:To understand the hope and controversy around resveratrol, you have to start in France—the land of wine and cheese.

For years, no one understood why the French, who eat a diet rich in fatty foods, have a 30% lower incidence of heart disease than North Americans. They were also confounded as to why just 7% of French adults are obese compared to 22% of Americans. This phenomenon, known as the French Paradox, was discovered in the 1970s but was first brought to the attention of the North American public in 1991 in a 60 Minutes' special. The revelation prompted various studies to uncover the solution to the paradox.

In 1992, in a study published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, researchers Evan Siemann of Rice University in Texas and Glen Creasy of Lincoln University in New Zealand reported that resveratrol, found in red wine, protects against heart disease and other aging-related illnesses. In 1997, a group of scientists led by John Pezzuto in the Functional Foods for Health Program at the University of Illinois found that resveratrol acts as a potent cancer-fighting agent in mice.

Such findings suggested that resveratrol might explain the French Paradox. Others have shown that resveratrol and similar plant molecules may offer health benefits by affecting the absorption of unhealthy food constituents in the gut, either inhibiting their absorption or stimulating them to break down before they can be taken up.

The longevity connection

It wasn't until recently, however, that researchers started to figure out how resveratrol might extend lifespan.

In 2003, researchers at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts and BIOMOL, a private company in Plymouth Meeting, Philadelphia, discovered that resveratrol extends the lifespan of yeast, roundworms and fruit flies—all used as laboratory models of human aging and disease. Resveratrol was identified after researchers Konrad Howitz and David Sinclair tested hundreds of small molecules to determine if any had the ability to extend the lifespan of yeast. They discovered that resveratrol was the most potent, extending yeast average lifespan by 70%.

Resveratrol acts by stimulating a class of enzymes called sirtuins, which inhibit some genes, stimulate others and repair DNA damage, keeping cells alive and ultimately prolonging an organism's lifespan. Scientists have discovered that sirtuins can be activated and lifespan extended by decreasing animals' food consumption about 30% while providing proper nourishment—caloric restriction with adequate nutrition. They think that sirtuins evolved to lend a survival advantage to organisms during stressful periods such as food scarcity.

Sunday, June 27, 2004
Free College Tuition
Offbeat Dollars for Scholars:
1) be Catholic
2) change your last name to Zolp
3) have kid
4) kid is now eligible for scholarship at Loyola

From the article:

"So far, officials said, the Scarpinato scholarship has never gone wanting. That's not the case, though, at Loyola University of Chicago.

There, a lack of applicants for one highly specialized endowment has prompted admissions officers to page through out-of-town phone books whenever they travel, said Edward Moore, the university's scholarship director.

'They're trying to find Zolps,' he said.

Or more specifically, eligible students who can prove two things: that they are Catholic and, since birth, have been named Zolp. Anyone who can and is otherwise eligible for admission can get a scholarship that covers tuition at the private Jesuit college, worth nearly $22,000 next school year.

'We'd really like to spend that money,' Moore said.

Seven or eight years ago, in a more Zolp-abundant era, there were actually two enrolled at once. But the slots have stood empty in recent years.

'Three years ago, we had a Zolp prospect,' Moore recalled. 'But you know what? He got a golf scholarship and went somewhere else. Incredible.'"

High School Tests Not Too Demanding "High school graduation tests are not 'overly demanding' and measure only a small part of the skills considered essential by colleges and employers, according to a study of the exams in six states that was released Wednesday.

For instance, the math portion of the tests includes material generally taught, internationally, in the eighth grade. And questions that were designed to measure basic comprehension made up half of the reading portion of the tests.

Achieve Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes higher academic standards, looked at the high school graduation tests of Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.

Friday, June 25, 2004
The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

[ 2004. Forthcoming in The Journal of Medical Ethics]

Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon would devour these unfortunate souls upon arrival; sometimes again it would lock them up in the mountain where they would wither away for months or years before eventually being consumed."

Monday, June 21, 2004
Man Happier About Switch to Mac than Conversion to Christianity
The Holy Observer:
CINCINNATI, OH – Cincinnati resident Steve Philips is noticeably more excited about his recent switch from Windows-based PCs to Apple computers than his recent conversion from atheism to Christianity. Philips, an account manager for Choice Communications, was baptized shortly after his conversion and is in contact with Apple computers as a potential candidate for the company's popular "Switcher" ad campaign.

The two life changes came about the same time but had different influences, according to Philips. "Well, I became a Christian in late June after talking to my friend Ted, who's a really smart guy. The switch to Mac was more a result of some pretty intense personal study, looking at web sites that compare Windows and the Mac OS, price comparisons, and stuff like that. I bought an eMac after the [4th of July] holiday to replace my home computer, and I just got a sweet new PowerBook laptop for work last week."

Sunday, June 20, 2004
Shadow Wolf's Den: "Quick quote found on MetaFilter
Regarding this quote on the site,
1 million people praying for 1 hour is like 114 years of continuous prayer!

But if a million people prayed at once. Isn't that just a DoS attack?"

Friday, June 18, 2004
The BBC, the lost tape and the 6-foot fridge
The Register: "By Lester Haines, Published Thursday 17th June 2004 13:45 GMT

Updated: We gather that things do not run as smoothly as they should down at BBC Bristol.
Apparently, someone in London recently sent an urgent video tape via courier which duly arrived in the post room at said outpost of The Corporation. One of the operatives therein - noticing that the label was peeling off - decided to replace it with a new one. He removed the original and stuck it on the fridge, intending to copy the address after lunch.

The next morning, the sender of the tape was surprised to find this voice message (mp3) on his mobile. Enjoy.

In response to those readers who have requested, nay demanded, a transcript of the voice message, here it is:
'First saved message: message received yesterday at 9.20am.'
'Hi Paul, this is Beth. We have an emergency. Apparently you gave the courier a six-foot fridge to be delivered to BBC Bristol instead of the tape we need in the studio today. Could you call me on 0117-xxx-xxxx as soon as you get this message? Bye.'"

Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Mongolian's ancestral names
The Globe and Mail: "Mongolians seek to make a name for themselves
After more than 80 years without surnames, picking one is as much about personality as it is ancestry
By GEOFFREY YORK, Saturday, June 12, 2004 - Page A3 "

For more than 80 years, everyone in Mongolia was on a first-name basis. After seizing power in the early 1920s, the Mongolian Communists destroyed all family names in a campaign to eliminate the clan system, the hereditary aristocracy and the class structure.

Within a few decades, most Mongolians had forgotten their ancestral names. They used only a single given name -- a system that eventually became confusing when 9,000 women ended up with the same name, Altantsetseg, meaning "golden flower."

By the mid-1990s, Mongolia had become a democracy again, and there were growing worries about the lack of surnames. One name might be enough when most people were nomadic herdsman in remote pastures, but now the country was urbanizing. The one-name system was so confusing that some people were marrying without realizing they were relatives.

In 1997, a new law required everyone to have surnames. The law was largely ignored, but then a system of citizenship cards was introduced. Slowly the country of 2.5 million began to adopt surnames.

Today, however, there are still 10,000 people without surnames. So the government is trying to solve the problem with a mixture of incentives (a discount on the registration fee) and heavy-handed pressure (a threat of financial penalties on anyone who fails to get a citizenship card before the June 27 national election).

Monday, June 14, 2004
a NYC cabbie story
Philip Greenspun's Weblog:: "No New York experience is complete without at least one cabbie story. The fellow who drove me to LaGuardia Airport was a Coptic Christian from Egypt (the Copts are the descendants of the original Egyptians who built the pyramids, etc.; after the Arab invasion of 640 A.D. they've survived as a minority within their ancient homeland). Fully trained as a lawyer in Egypt, he came to the U.S. 12 years ago. 'The Muslims were making it harder and harder for Christians to survive. I was just starting out so I decided to start in the U.S. Of course the situation in Egypt is much worse now for Copts than it was back then.' He couldn't work here as a lawyer easily because Egyptian law is based on the Napoleonic code rather than cases. 'I got a degree in networking from NYU and worked at a French bank in mid-town until 2001 when they downsized their IT department.' Since then he has been driving a cab. How does he like living in New York compared to Egypt? 'I came here to escape the Muslims but now they are coming to America. They may appear to accept American values but 15 years from now you'll see that they haven't. They can't stop fighting Christians and they hate the West because it represents Christianity. Americans don't understand anything about Islam.'"

Sunday, June 13, 2004
KETV Photographer Killed In Collision "Photographer Jeff Frolio, 45, died while on assignment Thursday afternoon. He was struck by a vehicle near 222nd Street and West Center Road. The investigation of the collision is not yet complete, but it appears Frolio was struck by a car while he was crossing the road on foot. He was shooting footage of a memorial left for two Elkhorn teens who were killed at the intersection last month.

Frolio's camera marked the spot where the accident happened, just after 5 p.m. Police believe he was focused on a memorial left to the Elkhorn teens when he was hit.

'He was running across the street with his camera, I believe, to get more footage of the memorial,' said Lt. Steve Glandt, with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office."

Saturday, June 12, 2004
Interview with Chuck D & Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy "When Public Enemy released It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, in 1988, it was as if the album had landed from another planet. Nothing sounded like it at the time. It Takes a Nation came frontloaded with sirens, squeals, and squawks that augmented the chaotic, collaged backing tracks over which P.E. frontman Chuck D laid his politically and poetically radical rhymes. He rapped about white supremacy, capitalism, the music industry, black nationalism, and--in the case of 'Caught, Can I Get a Witness?'-- digital sampling: 'CAUGHT, NOW IN COURT ' CAUSE I STOLE A BEAT / THIS IS A SAMPLING SPORT / MAIL FROM THE COURTS AND JAIL / CLAIMS I STOLE THE BEATS THAT I RAIL ... I FOUND THIS MINERAL THAT I CALL A BEAT / I PAID ZERO.'

In the mid- to late 1980s, hip-hop artists had a very small window of oppor-tunity to run wild with the newly emerging sampling technologies before the record labels and lawyers started paying attention. No one took advantage of these technologies more effectively than Public Enemy, who put hundreds of sampled aural fragments into It Takes a Nation and stirred them up to create a new, radical sound that changed the way we hear music. But by 1991, no one paid zero for the records they sampled without getting sued. They had to pay a lot.

Stay Free! talked to the two major architects of P.E.'s sound, Chuck D and Hank Shocklee, about hip-hop, sampling, and how copyright law altered the way P.E. and other hip-hop artists made their music.

The following is a combination of two interviews conducted separately with Chuck D and Hank Shocklee. --Kembrew McLeod"

Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Urban Exploration Resource
View Thread: "I am sorry to report that much of Elena's story is not true. She did not travel around the zone by herself on a motorcycle. Motorcycles are banned in the zone, as is wandering around alone, without an escort from the zone administration. She made one trip there with her husband and a friend. They traveled in a Chornobyl car that picked them up in Kyiv.

She did, however, bring a motorcycle helmet. They organized their trip through a Kyiv travel agency and the administration of the Chornobyl zone (and not her father). They were given the same standard excursion that most Chernobyl tourists receive. When the Web site appeared, Zone Administration personnel were in an uproar over who approved a motorcycle trip in the zone. When it turned out that the motorcycle story was an invention, they were even less pleased about this fantasy Web site."

Books on Tape and CD Rental Program from Cracker Barrel "Heard any good books lately? Nothing makes a long road trip go by faster than a book you listen to. And at every Cracker Barrel Old Country Store location, you'll find a great selection of over 200 great titles to choose from, including many New York Times best sellers. Here's how it works:

1. Buy a Books-On-Audio tape at any Cracker Barrel location (prices range from $12.99 to $48.00). We also offer some titles on CD. Visit New Releases for a list of those new titles available on CD.
2. When you finish the book, simply return it at the next Cracker Barrel you visit. We'll refund the purchase price, minus $3.50 for each week you've had it.
3. Do it again!

Best of all, there's no membership fee.
Just come on in and pick your book to get started."

The Morning News: "The show (The Apprentice) finally began. As the date for our own episode drew close, we got to know D, our new upstairs neighbor. We really liked her. She was mature and friendly, a Columbia Journalism School graduate and newspaper reporter. She gave us a key to her apartment because she often lost her own; we gave her a key to ours so she could look after our mail when we went away, something we would never have done with M. We talked about her experience on the show. It turned out that she had actually rented the apartment before it was renovated. She had looked at a few places in the neighborhood, picked the apartment upstairs from us, and made arrangements to move in before learning that it had been pulled off the market for the show. She went ballistic. The landlord told her not to worry, she could still have the apartment at the agreed-upon rent but would have to participate in the episode in order to get it. During the filming, she went through the motions and rented the apartment at a price higher than the one she would actually be paying. The negotiation was a sham."

Anyone remember the 1980s?
Robots that Jump: "Anyone remember the 1980s? This was the era when each increase in computer speed brought radically new software to the consumer. When the Mac doubled its speed, it went from black and white to color. When chips got faster digital phones got practical. Each time a game console got faster there was a huge jump in the games. Doubling computer speed in the early 1990s allows them to browse the web efficiently. Today, there's little effect of comparable increases in hardware.

So, I'm not going to bash Microsoft for the usual reasons. But I do think they are becoming about as interesting as the power company. After all, in the 1920s tech boom power companies were the dotcom darlings. Today, nobody thinks twice about a wall socket. We all use it, but ignore its wonders. The same will happen to Microsoft, unless it wakes up to robots as the next tech boom.

By the way, this critique extends to the whole PC industry. Linux is not the future the way some imagine - replacing Windows with Linux is like changing the wall socket from 115 to 120 volts. It may have positive effects, but it is same old, same old... Strange how the tech pundits don't even see this. Strange how the 'top 10' lists of tech trends still don't mention robots, despite commercial products like the Roomba and a rapidly expanding hobby community. Check out Servo for the Byte magazine of the robotics revolution - it's coming, and it is coming fast. A few companies (e.g. VIA) know this. Even Microsoft will likely send a few reps to the upcoming Robonexus conference late in 2004. But it will be too little, too late. This guy quoted from Microsoft will be wrong, quite wrong...

'We have a treasure chest of technology that allows us to be very agile,' says Rick Rashid, Microsoft's senior vice president for research. 'If the world changes, we can change with it.'

But so what - Microsoft is helping robotics by forcing hardware advances! I'll just dump Longhorn and use that 6GHz computer to make my car drive itself home."

Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund "Steve Kurtz is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the State University of New York's University at Buffalo, and a member of the internationally-acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble.

Kurtz's wife, Hope Kurtz, died in her sleep of cardiac arrest in the early morning hours of May 11. Police arrived, became suspicious of Kurtz's art supplies and called the FBI.

Within hours, FBI agents had 'detained' Kurtz as a suspected bioterrorist and cordoned off the entire block around his house. (Kurtz walked away the next day on the advice of a lawyer, his 'detention' having proved to be illegal.) Over the next few days, dozens of agents in hazmat suits, from a number of law enforcement agencies, sifted through Kurtz's work, analyzing it on-site and impounding computers, manuscripts, books, equipment, and even his wife's body for further analysis. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Health Department condemned his house as a health risk.

Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, makes art which addresses the politics of biotechnology. 'Free Range Grains,' CAE's latest project, included a mobile DNA extraction laboratory for testing food products for possible transgenic contamination. It was this equipment which triggered the Kafkaesque chain of events.

FBI field and laboratory tests have shown that Kurtz's equipment was not used for any illegal purpose. In fact, it is not even possible to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and possess such equipment.

'Today, there is no legal way to stop huge corporations from putting genetically altered material in our food,' said Defense Fund spokeswoman Carla Mendes. 'Yet owning the equipment required to test for the presence of 'Frankenfood' will get you accused of 'terrorism.' You can be illegally detained by shadowy government agents, lose access to your home, work, and belongings, and find that your recently deceased spouse's body has been taken away for 'analysis.''

Though Kurtz has finally been able to return to his home and recover his wife's body, the FBI has still not returned any of his equipment, computers or manuscripts, nor given any indication of when they will. The case remains open."

Not that the world going to hell in a handbasket is anything new, but ...
penknife: "Virginia just passed the 'Marriage Affirmation Act.' Not only does it ban gay marriage or civil union, and ban recognizing gay marriages or civil unions performed in other states, but it bans any 'partnership contract or other arrangements that purport to provide the benefits of marriage.'

What benefits are those? Well, the bill's pretty clear about that. ETA: Reading through it again, it's not actually out on the table in plain English. But this particular language probably means the following, according to the lawyers looking at the bill:

Powers of attorney. Custody arrangements. Health insurance coverage for same-sex domestic partners. Joint ownership of property. And--most sickeningly--wills leaving property to a same-sex partner.

It means that starting July 1, when this bill goes into effect, anyone who dies with a will that leaves their property to their same-sex partner can be treated as if they died without a will. Their property goes to their blood relatives. Don't have any? Sorry, your property's forfeit to the state of Virginia.

ETA: Not that the last is necessarily likely--it would probably be legal under this law, but the state's lawyers may not be quite that ready to start a legal battle. Wills being invalidated in favor of blood relatives is very, very likely.

The last time we had laws about who you could leave property to in a will, those laws were to forbid people from leaving property to slaves. That's not a part of our history I'd particularly like to revisit.

Anyone living in Virginia with a child they've adopted in a second-parent adoption? Sorry, you're a legal stranger to your kid in Virginia. If your partner dies, your kid goes to your partner's relatives or becomes a ward of the state. Have a custody order from another state? Thrown out. Have an order to pay child support to your ex's biological child? Probably thrown out too. "

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