Sunday, December 31, 2006

BYBS: Chai

All this and caffeine too!

This Sunday's Blog Your Blessing goes to chai. I've been taking myself a leeetle bit too seriously lately, so I figured I write about one of the simpler things that I'm glad for. Here's also to the friend who introduced chai to me by way of threats until I gave it a try.

I was going to talk about bananas, but the chai got in the way (when you don't watch those things…they move).

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  • The chai may be from Oregon, but the picture is mine :-)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

USDA Food Nutrition Information

For those people who think too much about everything and might have been wondering about the nutrient content of various foods, I have discovered a wonderful site. In yet another disturbing display of competence, the US Dept. of Agriculture has an entire database of foods, what types of energy they contain, vitamins, minerals, you name it.

Not only can you download this whole thing as a PDF, you can also download a nifty little program that will look up something for you and display that information. Now mind you, it's not exactly easy to find this little gem in the rough, but it is there:

The main page for the nutrient laboratory:

Directly to the nifty software page:

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Blog Your Blessings Sunday: Caffeine

It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed, the hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.

Actually I'm not sure if this should really be a ode to Morning Thunder tea, No-doze or coffee. Whatever you call and however you take it, it boils down to one thing: the toxic substance called caffeine.

Yes, toxic. Plants use caffeine as a natural pesticide to keep bugs and the like off of them. In human beings the oral (as in drinking) LD50 (dosage at which 50% of the recipients would die) is somewhere between 10 and 40g. For the sake of comparison, strychnine, a "very toxic" substance, has an LD50 somewhere between 50 to 160mg – about 1/1000th of the LD50 for caffeine.

Without this marvelous substance I would not be the jittery, twitching person I am today. I would not have passed as many exams, written required papers, given presentations, performed emergency cleaning, completed projects and generally achieved all that I have.

Yes I owe it all to caffeine, the wonder drug :-)

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

And Miss Gilligan?!!

I think The Munsters are on after this!

It is a bizarre and disturbing aspect of life that, when I need to do something, worthless drivel that I wouldn't give a second look at becomes interesting. A scene from the movie "Adams Family" sums this up for me. The family has just been evicted from their ancestral home by some rivals and the Adams have been sitting around in a motel for a while.

Gomez, the father, is staring intently at the TV, flipping through channels at a furious pace. Mortica, his wife, has been staring patiently at him for a bit and then says "Why don't we take everyone for a drive?" Gomez looks at her like she's insane and responds "And miss Gilligan?!!"

One comedian put it this way: "When I have to clean up the basement, 'Family Feud'" is interesting by comparison.

Given how much TV I used to watch, it's odd that I don't have one any more. Instead I have the internet, which is somewhat similar. Rather than do anything useful, I can sit around following link after pointless link and learn about useless information.

For example, did you know that if you have two parallel mirrors that some ridiculously small distance apart, that the plates will experience a force between them known as the "Casimir effect?" As it turns out, this force is only interesting to people making incredibly tiny "micro-machines" and the like so this bit of information is almost completely useless. By comparison, Gilligan looks useful.

So now that you're done reading this post, you can do something valuable. Something that will make society better off or at least get the laundry done. Or…you could check out this Gilligan link…

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

BYB Sunday: More Friends

At the risk of doing another BYBS on friends, recent evens have underscored how lucky I am to have them. This past week I was feeling kind of low for no good reason when a bunch of friends did something that really made me feel good. Given some of the places that I have been over the past year, I realized that things don't have to be this way – I could be in a much colder, less happy place than I am. Here's thanks thank I'm in a better place.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why We Don't Need the EV1

A Diesel engine built by MAN AG in 1906

The EV1 was an all-electric car designed to avoid the emissions problems with traditional gas engines. Canuckistani has a good article about it on her web site. This article is partially a response to her post, though it staggers off in its own direction before too long :-)

The problem with the EV1 was simple: it used batteries. Batteries simply cannot store the amounts of energy that are required by cars, therefore the EV1 failed. I think that this, more than anything else, caused it to fail.

While I suppose you can find people who don't mind having to spend 8 hours recharging the EV1's batteries every 100 miles, the fact is that most people would prefer to use a gasoline engine.

Current sales of gas/electric hybrids demonstrate that you can sell a vehicle similar to the EV1. Newer battery technologies like "nickel metal hydride" allow for greater range (150 miles as opposed to 100), but also make them more expensive than straight gas powered cars.

The big problem with things like the EV1 is that they miss the point: we already know how to cause less pollution or to gain better efficiency in transportation; it's just a question of making the required sacrifices.

How can we make a more efficient car? Use a train instead. A train requires roughly 1/3 less fuel than a car because it exploits economies of scale.

How can you get less pollution? Use a renewable fuel like ethanol or biodiesel. Either of these alternatives are much cleaner burning and their production consumes at least as much CO2 as is created by using them.

Things like trains, buses and renewable fuels are not new. Trains predate automobiles, but people switched to cars because they are more convenient.

With a train or a bus you have to wait around for the thing to arrive. If it's raining or snowing that's your problem, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it. With a car, you leave when you want to. If it's raining or snowing, you stay nice and warm.

Housing, stores, health care, etc. all have to be designed around mass transportation. Having a house that is 2 miles from the nearest train station is a major problem. With cars, the layout is much more flexible.

Renewable fuel sources have been with us for quite some time. The original diesel engine, for example, ran on peanut oil instead of a fuel derived from a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels were chosen over renewable fuels because they were cheaper.

Nevertheless, renewable fuels are still in wide use. In order to reduce car emissions during the winter months, about 10% of the fuel used in the US is ethanol. Ethanol is made from plant sources like corn so whatever CO2 a car produces by burning it, will be consumed by the plant making the fuel. The original diesel engine used peanut oil rather than fossil fuels.

So why are fossil fuels used at all? Simple: they are cheaper. It is currently estimated that using mostly ethanol would cost about 20% more than gasoline. In the past the difference was even greater.

More efficient engines or cleaner fuel sources are not the problem. The basic issue is whether or not people are willing to sacrifice convenience and flexibility in order to get less pollution and more efficiency. When ocean levels have risen 10 feet and gas costs $10 a gallon the answer will be "yes." For right now, the answer is "no."

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me, or could there be something better that we could be doing with our time? Take a look at missile submarine. On the one hand, here is a technological marvel. It can stay submerged for essentially as long as it wants to – the limiting factor is the crew – speed along a pretty fast clip, launch missiles from half way around the world, etc. This vehicle represents decades of development on the parts of thousands of people. On the other hand, a sub like this is insanity incarnate: this is a weapon that if used will kill millions of people and cause the target country to descend into a state of anarchy. These vehicles are hideously expensive. The costs for crew, fuel, support systems, etc. should easily be over a billion dollars a year. Now consider that there are entire fleets of subs like this that a country like the USA maintains. We live in a world where the time, effort and resources could be better spent. Instead of creating weapons to destroy somebody, we could eliminate poverty in this country or at least take a damn good chunk out of it. Research into energy technologies could result in cleaner fuels, or perhaps waste free production. Work in medical technologies could produce cures for diseases that continue to plague the world. There are many, many things that could be done with the time and effort put into supporting a bunch of weapons. The state of the world being what it is, things like missile subs are necessary. There are some pretty crazy people who've been running countries in the past 100 years. People like Kim Jong-ill, Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin. These are people so crazy that it takes a threat of total annihilation to restrain them. But that's just the point: why is it that we have nut-cases like that running countries in the first place? People always have a choice – the generals, soldiers and people do not have to follow orders. People have free will; they can decide not do crazy stuff. So why do we do it? Tags: , , , . Sources: I got the image of the sub from but, for some reason, it wont let me create a link.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

BYB: Writing

Writing is a blessing for me because it's something I enjoy for its own sake. The opinions of others are important to me, but as I talked about in "What's the Blog about, Alfie?", I write mostly because I like to.

Writing is not always easy for me. One story I tell people about is the time that I had to write a report or suchlike for school. I carefully put my keyboard on a desk. I put my desk in the middle of the room. I walked around the desk. For about six hours. That was the point that I realized that, though I might enjoy it, if I had to write to make a living I would starve to death.

And yet, I have come back to writing, particularly fiction, over and over again during my life. I remember writing as a weee lad. I remember writing stories in high school. I didn't write very much in college, though I did some. When I started my "professional life" I wrote a little bit of fiction.

I don't know why it is that I enjoy writing. The grandiose, larger than life images of my imagination look much better inside my head than on the page. But even so, the process of blathering about ideas or writing short stories is enjoyable.

I'd be lying if I said that I don't care what other people think. Recently I felt rather down when a bunch of readers panned a story that I posted on another site. When people compliment me on my stuff I feel good about it. But the overall lack of response to this site (don't get me wrong, I love you guys who come here and read my articles) means that I don't do it simply for attention.

Mysterious and enjoyable, "blessing" seems like an apt way to describe how I feel about writing. The notion of a blessing seems to imply an outside force; that it is something that has been given to you. I like the idea of passing something like that on to someone else.

Of course there are others (The Critic and The Fiend spring to mind) who don't regard my stuff as quite what you would call a blessing. With them in mind I will close with a bit of lyrics from Ricky Nelson:

But it's all right now I learned my lesson well You see you can't please ev'ryone so You got to please yourself

Lyrics from "Garden Party" by Ricky Nelson

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Card Game...of Destiny: Part 2!

An "undersea" city
This posting is intended to be read after

It will not make a whole lot of sense if you read it out of context. It will not make a whole lot of sense if you read it in context either, but at least it will won't seem quite as strange.

At any rate, picking up where the last post left off…

(Great Q-Thulu): Not interested. (Boooodah): No way. (Mr. Octopus): You're sick. (Fred D. Krab, Not Yet King of Atlantis): Awww, c'mon! (Great Q): There are some things even I wont do.

Boooodah shudders.

Moe squirts some ink and tries to blend in with the background.

(FDKNYKoA): Oh all right. How about it if I win you make me King of Atlantis?

The others ponder this.

(Great Q): Fine by me. (Moe): This is not a good idea. (B): And no cheating this time? (FDKNYKoA): Cross my shell, bayyyybeeee.

Great Qthulu prepares an Eldar Magic behind his back. Boooodah summons some gawdlike karma. Moe tentacles a few cards.

(Moe): All right, let's play.

A few minutes later.

(B): This…this is impossible! (Great Q, zapping cards repeatedly): Not fair! (Moe): Bogus!

Fred just sits there, puffing on his cigar and grinning like a maniac. After a few more minutes of exclamations...

(Fred D. Krab, Soon to be King of Atlantis): So, bayyyybeeees: you want to make Fred de King…or pay up another way? (Fred waggles his eye-stalks and makes a suggestive klaw gesture). (Great Q): King it is. (B): Word. (Moe): I knew this was a bad idea.

Thus started an event later known as "The Fall of Atlantis," "The Dark Times," or simply "Fred's Reign."

This may be continued in later postings, but enough from Fred for the time being :-)

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Card Game...of Destiny!

Fred may not have that card but morally, morally he deserves it!

The beginnings of our story, however, take place a few nautical miles away from Atlantis in a shunned and spooky section of the forests where it is said that the Elder Gawds meet to discuss their nefarious plans. One particular dark and stormy night there was a meeting of 3 nefarious…erm….people:

(Great Q-thulu): Got any sevens? (Boooodah): Go fish. (Mr. Octopus): How does this game work again?

At that moment, the flickering light of a torch illuminated a vague and sinister figure in the doorway. This was especially surprising given how hard it is to keep torches lit under water.

(Fred-D-Krab, not yet King of Atlantis): Wey-hey-hey. (GQ): Who the hell are you? (FDKNYKoA): The name is (dramatic pause) Fred. (The thunder rumbles outside).

The three not-exactly elder gawds consider this for a moment.

(B): Piss off. (MO): Go on, beat it!

Fred looks crestfallen (geddit? huh? doya?) and slouches out of the room.

(GQ): That was weird (reaches for the bowl of peanuts).

Pause for a moment to consider them.

Great Q-Thulu is a rather smaller version of the fabled being from HP Lovecraft's works. In this case, "rather smaller" means about 5'6". Unlike his famous brethren, Great Q (as he prefers to be know) does not have wings. He is, however covered in green, slimy skin, with a rather oblong head, clawed hands, and tentacles where one might expect a beard or mustache.

While worshiped as one of the "Great Old Ones," he is always short on followers because he tends to eat them...though he only manages to gnaw on the larger ones.

(B): Wonder what he wanted…

Booodah looks like a fat man wearing a loincloth. His followers say that he is wise and can spread enlightenment. He's actually not that bright, but he does manage to "enlighten" the wallets of those who follow his advice.

While his name may sound familiar to Buddha, a similarity that he will exploit at any opportunity, his "teachings" have about as much to do with inner harmony as a coral reef has to do with a blowfish...hmmm...that wasn't a very good simile.

(MO): What's that smell?

Mr. Oct-o-pus (or "Moe" as his friends call him), is the current prime minister of Atlantis. Like your typical octopus he has 8 legs, suction cups and has a tendency to squirt ink when he feels threatened.

(GQ): Whose deal is it anyways? (FDKNYKoA): What say we try a different card game…any of you guys heard of "poker?"

The other three slowly turn to regard the Krab, who is busy puffing on a foul, seaweed cigar, shuffling cards and grinning insanely.

(Moe): How do you play that?

Several hours later...

(B): HA! Three aces! Read it and weep! (FDKNYKoA): Ah well, I'll have to make do with 5…

Booodah frowns, considering this as Fred rakes in his winnings. Great Q tosses down his cards with a sigh. Moe throws his away with a look of disgust and squirts a bit of ink.

(B): I'm pretty sure there are only 4 aces in the deck. (FDKNYKoA): Yeah, stop cheating!

The other three glare at de Krab as he shuffles the cards again.

(GQ): Well, I'm out of money. (Moe): Me too. (B, under his breath): punk. (FDKNYKoA): Weeeel you know we don't have to play for money, bayyy-beee.

Moe narrows his eyes. Boooodah drums his fingers. Great Q steeples his tentacles.

(GQ): What did you have in mind?

To be continued

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Credits, etc.:

  • "dogs_playing_poker" is the painting "A Friend in Need" by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge and was obtained from this site.
  • Great C'thulu is the product of HP Lovecraft.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


The Crab Nebula

Some people have asked what the heck the whole thing with the crab on Canuckistani's nifty certificate signifies. Others (well, actually nobody) have scrutinized the pictured document and noted a rather strange "signature" on it that talks about a certain "Fred D. Krab."

By way of explanation, the whole Krab theme is a reference to a posting I made a week or two back. I (sometimes) try to have a sort of ongoing story in my posts: for example, the struggles of the author to maintain a positive front despite the negative feedback and mounting evidence :-)

At the risk of losing even more readers, here is a bit of introduction:

Do you know what a hero is? It's a person who gets other people killed.


(Examining some dead bodies) Colon: It could have been worse. Vimes: How's that? Colon: It could have been us.

"Men at Arms" by Terry Pratchett

Every generation faces a challenge.

There are those few who, despite the cost, ignoring the odds, rise to the occasion.

They stand for those who cannot stand for themselves, guarding the weak, freeing the oppressed, they struggle and die for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do.

They are Heros.

And then there is…Fred.

Picture, if you will, a water-covered planet, orbiting a small star in the Crab Nebula. It is home to many water-borne species of intelligent fish, octopi, crabs and other aquatic life. To the inhabitants, the planet is called "Nerts."

The capital city of Nerts is known as Atlantis. It is a beautiful, shining city located in the shallows near some seaweed forests. At noon the sun shines through the water and illuminates its towers and streets with an unearthly glow (appropriate since it's not on Earth).

The city is ruled or perhaps governed by a rather hide-bound group of elected leaders who believe in commerce, regular meals and a vague sort of duty. Made up mostly of octopi (hey, four lobed brains have some advantages), the council overseas (couldn't resist the pun) the operation of the city and trade between neighboring cities. There is even some commerce with some nearby star systems, Atlantis being the cosmopolitan, happinin place that it is.

Despite the more-or-less benign nature of the cities government, there persist certain rumors among the seaweed forests and lilly pads that the King will one day return to reunite the warring tribes and bring an age of peace to Nerts for a thousand years.

Now mind you, some people will believe anything. Furthermore, planet Nerts has enjoyed a basically peaceful and prosperous existence for over 1,000 years.

When faced with this, poets, story tellers others who spend a good deal of time drinking will often times responds with accusations that, when beauty and reality clash, beauty should win, even when it doesn't. Ordering another round of drinks will usually shut them up.

Never the less, the citizens of Atlantis like to tell the story to their children. Mommy Froggies will tell their tadpoles about how they will grow up to become a Princess of the Realm. This can cause a great deal of confusion when the listening tadpole ends up being male.

To be continued...assuming there is any interest...

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Monday, December 04, 2006


Saw Canuckistani's comment on friendship and thought...THE HELL YOU SAY! You now, o-fish-ally have at least 1 there :-)

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Friendship is one of the things that make life worth living, making life a blessing instead of a curse.

Much of the time, the connection between what I do and anything positive in the world is very difficult to discern. I schlep off to work, do a bunch of arcane, weird and specific things, and, if I do it right, nothing exciting happens. When I do things wrong it is very apparent that this is the case, because people run around, scream at me, etc. :-)

With friends, I feel that like there is an immediate and positive contribution to my world. When I see someone smile because they met me, or hear someone's voice pick up because I called, I feel that I've made someone's life just a little bit better. It's a small thing, definitely not life changing, etc. but it's something I can feel good about.

The importance of friends to me, on the other hand is profound. One person noted that I can filter out the positive aspects in life or "steal defeat from the jaws of victory." To have people who seek out my company for no other reason than because they like being around me is a validation that, when I stop to think about it, is very powerful.

It is strange that given how important friends are to me, I sometimes take such things for granted. Like water, air or food, they fade into the background when you have them. It sure is apparent when you don't have them, but when you do, it seems like it's nothing special.

This is, of course, one of the things I like about "Blog Your Blessings Sunday:" that I stop for a second and acknowledge things like this. So here's to friends and friendship.

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Friday, December 01, 2006



In the type of work that I do, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why it is that things that should be working, are not working. I also try to figure out why things that shouldn't work, work. Some people point to quantum behavior: the whole idea that things behave differently depending on whether your looking or not.

As a friend of mine says, all other things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct answer. Hence my theory: Gremlins.

Note the plural. You never deal with just one gremlin at a time, you deal with a whole pack. That way, one "team member" can distract you, while the rest of them work on screwing you up. In my case, it ran something like this:

(Me): (Types a key triumphantly) Ha! Genius I am! Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy! (Gremlin #1): Way, hey, hey! This guy's gonna be fun! (Gremlin #2): Hey boss! You want us to kill him? (G1): No way! I got plans for this guy. Have George distract him. (G2): You got it.

(With an appropriate sound, I receive an email)

(M): Chips and chocolate? Where?!!!

(I leap out of my chair and run off)

(G1): Hee, hee, hee.

(The gremlins tinker with my computer for several minutes, after which I return).

(Me): Hmph…no chips or chocolate! At least my program works.

(Hits a key)

(Me): What the? But…but…it was just working!

(I start typing madly, Gremlin #1 sniggers. After a few seconds G1 waves a flag at G2)

(Me): Now it's working! I guess that one change fixed everything.

(I lean back languorously watching the results flash by, G1 waves his flag at G2 again)

(Me): WHAT? It stopped again! What's going on here?

(I start typing madly, G1 waves again)

(Me): Now it's working… (G1 waves) …now it's not! But I didn't do anything how (wave) can (wave) this (wave) be (wave, wave) happening?!!

(By now I'm pulling my hair out in bunches and the gremlins are rolling on the floor laughing).

(A tired, dispirited person comes wandering by, I jump up and pull him over to my cube.)

(Me): Sludge! Sludge man, you've seen this before, why isn't this working?

(Sludge looks without interest at my computer and pokes the keyboard a few times. The Gremlin waves his flag)

(Sludge): It's working now. (Me): No it's not, it few seconds it stops working.

(The seconds tick by with no change, Sludge gives me a meaningful look)

(S): I gotta go. (Me): But wait, it's going to happen.

(Sludge plods off, I sigh, the Gremlin waves his flag).

(Me): Gaaaaaaaa! They're in my head! THEY'RE IN MY HEAD!!

Perhaps my explanation is unlikely, but I think aliens would be more interested in blowing up the planet with ray thingies than just messing with me…

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  • The image, "watto.jpg" is from Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace © 2001 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


There is a voice inside us all That says rebuild And when it's called All that is wrong can be put right

One of the odd things in life is the way I try to hang onto emotions. When I feel good I try to hang onto that feeling. When that voice is saying "rebuild" I strain to hear it better. There are songs like the one above, activities, etc. that are tailor-made to help people feel belonging, hope, love.

But perhaps even stranger is that, sometimes I try to hang onto the bad stuff too. I'm angry and I find myself trying to stay that way: why is that? When I look around and see amusement parks, or hear about people sky-diving, etc. It seems plain that people want both the good and the bad emotions in their lives.

That really says something about humanity in general: we not only feel emotions, we actively try to evoke them. All of them.

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Images, etc.:

  • squeeze-play is from the cover of the album, "Play" by Squeeze, 1991.
  • The lyrics are from a song called "There is a Voice" from the same album.
  • I didn't see a copyright date, but I assume that it is (c) 1991 by Squeeze.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

BYB Sunday: Cooperation

Given the dark tone of my post on cooperation (Our Strength, Our Weakness), I felt like talking about it again in a manner that emphasizes the positive aspects that it bestows. Trust & cooperation are aspects of my world that I encounter directly and indirectly every day. When I come to a stop-light, the other motorists and I cooperate to avoid a crash. When I buy food at the supermarket, the clerks cooperate to make the groceries available, track what is used so they can ensure they have enough, etc. When I ride an elevator up to the floor of the building I work (OK, I actually us the stairs, since I need the exercise, but the idea is the same), it requires cooperation on the part of the maintenance personnel who keep the thing running, the building inspectors who make sure it's safe, etc. Cooperation is evident not only in the present, but in the past as well. All the things I take for granted, like telephones, fresh water, buildings, medicine, etc. are only possible because of the cooperative efforts of people across the ages. As Sir Isaac Newton said: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The achievements of today build on the efforts of those who have come before us. Cooperation seems to come naturally to human beings. It is rare enough for people to live alone to be dubbed "hermits." Even then it is unlikely that such people are no interaction with the wider society. Indeed, the idea of cutting off all contact with other people is considered a punishment in and of itself. Therefore cooperation remains, in my opinion, a blessing, not a curse. Tags: , , , .

Thursday, November 23, 2006

And Another Thing!

At the risk of making another "I'm glad for " post, I am very, very glad I'm not alone this Thanksgiving.

For the Scholarly

Feed your inner geek! is the best thing since sliced bread. OK, maybe sliced bread is nicer, but pubmed is still very handy if you are interested in checking out some claim or other that you saw on the tube.

Despite sounding like some kind of vacation resort, pubmed is a kind of search engine for health-related studies. Thousands of articles are available through this service, which is run by the US gov but is available to anyone with a web browser and a net connection.

As I have previously blogged (see 9.8m/s/s), I tend to be skeptical of results from "new studies." One of the problems with research is that, even in the best of situations, it can be hard to interpret results. When you have a study dealing with human beings, it can become very difficult due to bias, etc. This being the case, it is important for the results of a study to be replicated across different countries over several years to determine what is really significant and what isn't.

That's where pubmed comes in. Using it, you can quickly find studies that have been performed on a particular topic. Want to know what the mortality rate for the "morning after pill" is? You can find it in pubmed. How clear are the benefits of fish oil? You can find the relevant studies with the click of a button.

While many of the articles are only available as "abstracts," this is often times as much of the article that I can understand. Older articles will often be available in full, and pubmed will have the link right there.

OK, not everyone's cup of tea, but for those among you who actually want to see the evidence behind some claim, this is the place to go.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Our Strength, Our Weakness

Setup for the Milgram Shock Experiment
Cooperation is both a blessing and a curse to humanity. The blessing side is easy to see if you look for it: solving diseases, overcoming different environments, compensating for lack of natural strength, etc.

Consider that, up until recently (from a species perspective), human beings lived in relatively small groups: an extended family or a tribe. Yet we are able to live together in communities that are vastly larger than this with relatively few problems.

The curse part is that, cooperation also allows us to mark lemming-like to our own destruction. Things like Iraq, Darfur, the Balkans, Hitler's Germany, etc. are all examples of how this ability can be exploited all too easily. I still remember a teacher of mine remarking that "the majority of the people in this room would make good Nazis." At the time, he was talking about the Milgram shock experiment.

Basically, the experiment tried to coerce a person into shocking another person, apparently to death. The compliance rate in the original experiment was over 60%, and this was all on the word of some geek in a lab-coat. Now imagine the same scenario, only the consequence for disobedience is much higher: perhaps imprisonment, perhaps death. In that context, the atrocities that scar humanity's history become easier to believe.

Solomon Ash's conformity experiment is another example of how cooperation can backfire. The setup there was to see if a subject would give an answer they knew to be incorrect if everyone gave that answer. About 1/3 of the subjects did so.

Normally, obedience and conformity are very powerful advantages: if someone tells you that a building is on fire and to leave, it's usually for a good reason…like the building being on fire. If a bunch of people interpret events differently from you, most of the time it is because you were wrong.

There is no moral to this article - the balance between blind obedience and just being an jerk is not always clear. The goal of this post is to highlight a strength...and a weakness.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

BYB Sunday: The Internet

The Internet has changed things tremendously in the USA. You can now bank, buy things, get information and generally communicate with other people nearly instantaneously all over the world at any time of the day or night. Similarly, you can find information about many topics almost immediately by "googling" them or the like. Many of these capabilities were previously available before, but the internet linked them all together and created a common interface for them: the web browser. While powerful enough alone, all of them combined creates a new and even more powerful tool. For example, I can research different types of TVs through a Consumer Reports web site, then having selected one, I can find out what stores are in my area, and finally whether they stock the TV and what price they want to charge. All this can be done in one place in far less time than it would take to do all this manually. The applications of the Internet are still developing and will likely touch all aspects of our lives. Teenagers, for example, use MySpace to keep in touch with each other. People like me create blogs as a creative outlet. For me the Internet has been a blessing that I use every day. Tags: , , ,

Friday, November 17, 2006

Return of the King!

Ish de King (not Queen mind you!)
It's things like this that make me question my sanity…more than I usually do.

At any rate, I was staggering down the street when I saw, of all things, one of those sandwich boards that said:

"Take me to your leader!"

Being sharp-eyed, I noticed something strange immediately. It didn't seem to have anyone in it…but it was moving about.

So I walked up and took at closer look only to find, a crab, of all things, inside it. Just when I thought things couldn't get any stranger, it started talking:

(Crab): Hiya howareya, nicetaseeya! (Me): I gotta stop drinking… (C): Ya got any booze?! (M): No…normally I have to drink a whole bottle of Thunderbird to see stuff like this. (C): Damn! (M): What, umm, are you? (C): Am veeeesiting Roy-all-Tee! Take me to your leader! (M): Err…where from? (C): Atlantis! (M): As in the lost continent of? (C): (scratches shell) Well ish knot lost so much as miss-placed… (M): Righ…I'll be going now… (C): Take me to your leader!

When I got home, I found The Critic sitting on my couch drinking a beer.

(Me): You see the strangest things these days… (The Critic): You're telling me – I just saw your blog! (M): You're reading it? And you had to come over and tell me how great it is? (TC): No, I just ran out of beer (takes a swig). Also, you still have my TV. (M): Well, at least you read it. (TC): (shudders, says nothing and takes another long swig). (M): At any rate I saw the strangest thing today…

Right at that moment, I noticed that the crab from the sidewalk was sitting on my couch next to her. He was drinking a beer.

(Me): … (Crab): Hey bay-beeee! (starts guzzling his beer) (The Critic): (looks over, sees the crab and does a double take) (M): You see it too? (TC): (carefully puts down beer and rubs her eyes) That is just 3.2 beer, right? (M): As far as I know… (C): (Tosses away his empty bottle, picks up The Critic's, and starts guzzling it). (TC): Hey! It's drinking my beer! (M): Well my beer if you want to get technical. (TC): No it isn't – get your own! (C): (tosses away empty bottle and burps loudly) Get me one too, huu-mon! (TC): Make that three. (M): You want me to join you? (TC): Nah, I'm just gonna need two. (C): (turning to The Critic) So, who are you, bay-beeeee? (TC): Is this…thing coming on to me? (C): Oh yaaa! Honored you should be, thatz honored! (M): I think I'll go and get those beers now. (TC): And why's that? (M): I hate the sight of blood. (TC): No idiot, why should I be honored? (C): Forgeeeev me for not introducing myself (scuttles up onto the top of a lamp shade): I am Fred, King of Atlantis! I have return-aid! Some!

Just then the lamp collapsed under the crab's surprising weight. What was more impressive is that the table it was sitting on collapsed along with it.

To be continued…

Tags: Crab, , , , Sources:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Some total weirdness with my blog - the triple danged stylesheet is on the fritz or something >.< I could figure it out (honest), but this post seems to have fixed it, and I'm way too lazy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Work Work Work!

A "brain-storming" session.
In order to help MicroSoft to reach their goal of world domination and so that Dell can tighten its grip on the desktop market, it is necessary for us peons to keep working at our places of employment. While the place where I currently work is actually very nice, this was not always so. Indeed, some places I've work have been somewhat…less than pleasant.

(Cheap, wavy, fade-away scene to Whatever working at a keyboard. Overhead, a company logo reads "Sansbrains")

(Not-so-big-boss): So! What do you think of our product? (Whatever, looking uneasy): Well, there are a few things that I think you could benefit by doing… (explains a few basic never-do-this sorts of things, all of which they are doing). (NSBS): Hmmm…let me call in the Alpha Geek. (W): Oh god. (Alpha Geek): Hi. (NSBS): So what do you think of Whatever's idea? (one of the nice things about using this name is that it fits so well into dialogs) (AG): (Takes Super Breath) Well…(launches into a 10min spiel that involves lots of buzz words. Half way through it, the NSBS leaves for a meeting, but AG continues none the less)…and that's why. (W): Why what? (AG): Why your idea sucks. (W): But we aren't actually using the stuff you talked about and, where we do, it's made things worse! (AG): Ah, let me explain (starts taking a "super breath" that will allow him to talk for another 10min without breathing). (W): Oh no…oh Gawd no!!!! (AG): It's not that bad. (W): Don't you see?!!

A mid-sized person wearing a crazy grin, wide-open, blood-shot eyes and frazzled hair walks into the room. Everywhere, people are cowering and hugging each other in terror. Even the Alpha Geek looks a bit nervous.

(Everyone): The Muckity-Muck! (MM): I just came back from a conference! (All): Noooooo! (MM): And I've brought in a consultant to help us refocus on core values so we can synergize with the rest of the company and become more agile!

In slouches a scruffy-looking individual with beady eyes and a nice suit. All-in-all he looks like…

(W): The Fiend! I didn't know you did consulting! (The Fiend): Yeah, well neither did I. (AG): You don't scare me (starts taking a Super Breath). (TF): Say Ted, why don't we go back to your office and talk some more about golf so I can justify the outrageous amounts of money I'm charging you? (MM): Great idea! (AG): (Lets out his Super Breath, knocking over a few cubes. Nearby plants and flowers also blacken and fall over.) Bastard. (W): Welcome to my world. (AG): (Glares at Whatever.)

Just then another individual, looking very much like the Muckity-Muck, except with a few advisors hovering around her, strides in.

(All): The Vice-President Muckity-Muck! (VPMM): Why isn't this project done?!! (AG): (starts taking a Super Breath). (W): Mostly because the system's a mess from his crap (points at the AG, who hasn't quite finished taking his Super Breath) and the nonsense that MM over there has inflicted on us.

There is a quiet pause, like the moment before lightning strikes. Everyone looks at Whatever in horrified, traffic-wreck fashion as the tension builds.

(AG): BABBLE-BABBLE-BABBLE!! (MM): Non-team player! BAD! BAD! (VPMM): Blasphemer! Killlllll Hiiiiiim! (TF): Jerk. (NSBS): Cya. (All others): At least it's not us. (W): (Whatever is lifted off his feet and thrown through several walls until he rests on the pavement outside the building.) Ouch.

Another day at the office.

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  • OFFICE_SPACE from the movie, "Office Space" copyright 1999 by Twentieth Century Fox.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Hatemail! Run fer yer lives!

Well, here it is: the promised "Hate Mail" section of the site. Judging by the amount of mail that I've gotten this week, this section may not get as much use as it might. Also, being lazy, I think there may be an option to temporarily block a comment and then restore it later. If I can manage to do that, I probably will.

The primary reason for a comment ending up here is that, quite simply, I don't like it. Sad, but true, I may censor comments for basically no reason. This is because it's my site and I can blog what I want to, blog what I want to, blog what I want to – oops, sorry almost started a song. I doubt this is going to happen a whole lot since, quite simply, I don't have that many people contributing comments, but ye be warned.

The more likely reasons for censoring include:

  1. Trying to start a flame war or whatever.
  2. Making some claim that you don't back up with at least a link to an article, etc.
  3. Bringing a conversation that essentially belongs elsewhere here.

Furthermore, if the message is an email rather than a comment, I probably will not bother posting it at all…unless I can make fun of it.

I'm not a big fan of censoring, even if it is in a forum where I have not guaranteed to post everyone's thoughts. Hence the idea is to give things a "cooling down" period of a week. Hopefully, those who thrive on flames and whatnot will not bother posting here, since they will have to wait a week between messages.

Finally, there is no guarantee that the comment will ever be unleashed at all. See the whole "It's my site and I'll blog what I want to" bit for details.

At any rate, to celebrate the opening of this part of the site, I am going to post two pieces of hate mail, though they are both from the same source: the author of Non Compos Mentis ( These comments were made in reference to the post I made here on blather ( about a week ago. That article, if you want to actually read it, has a link back to the NCM post in question.

Ye first comment from NCM:

I wasn't trying to pick a fight. I was relieved to hear even more evidence in support of going to war, so maybe, finally, people will shut up about it.

If you want me to respond to MM, fine. Here it is:

Yeah, they only had an advanced nuclear program, not a physical nuke. Your point is so very valid, in that advanced nuclear programs aren't there for a purpose - say, to produce nuclear weapons. I wonder what Saddam would have done in You know what? Nevermind. Me having to spell out this line of logic is ridiculous! Everyone knows what nukes are for, and why mad dictators want them.

Moreover, if you're going to get all pissy about sources, you could have looked it up yourself. CNN and the BBC both ran stories on the missiles and the gases/nerve agents. WMDs existed. Deal.

Ye response from moi:

1) Please reference your sources as you did with the NYT article --- rather than "CNN and the BBC both ran stories..." list the URL(s) to the stories you are citing.

2) If you want to respond to MM, do it in your forum, not mine.

3) Please leave out inflammatory comments like "...if you're going to get all pissy..."

Ye final message in this whole, fun-filled affair:

You call me a fanatic (or my actions fanatical), then chastise me for making inflammatory comments? "Hello, pot. I'm the kettle!" Talking about people getting pissy is a reaction to the arousal of anger or hostility in others, not an attempt to inflame said anger. You're just as irrational as Canuckistani. "Logic is useful if and only if it serves my purpose; free speech is fine, so long as everyone says what I want to hear." Pfft! Did anyone else cite sources in your comments section? Would it matter if I had? I doubt it. I disagree with you, so you make any excuse to keep my argument from the eyes of your readers. Well, you know what? If you are concerned about my point of view showing up again, don't worry - I don't post on censored sites. Fascists like you and Canuckistani can go be smug together in your authoritarion dream states, secure in the knowledge that Big Brother is watching. How happy you'll feel claiming the moral high ground while covering up every argument contradictory to your beliefs.

Alex "Few there are that rightly understand of what great advantage it is to blush at nothing and attempt everything." -Desiderius Erasmus

Oh yeah…well…(yawn) nevermind.

On the plus side, these comments were the basis for the whole "Eeee-vile Rant" article.

And there you have it, folks, the first installment of the new hatemail section of the site! This page may or may not be updated, depending on the number of inflammatory comments made. Have fun and avoid gnomes.

For the entrance to this page is guarded by a creature so foul, so cruel...with big nasty, pointy teeth!
Tags: , , Sources
  • tim_the_enchanter from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", copyright 1974 National Film Trustee Company, Ltd., Python (Monty) Pictures, Ltd.
  • troopers_big_bug01 from "Starship Troopoers," copyright 1997 TriStar Pictures, Inc. and Touchstone Pictures.

Blog Your Blessings Sunday

My choice for this BYB Sunday is my freedom. Freedom is something I take for granted and that I use every day. Never hurts for me to stop every once in a while and be thankful for it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

City of Dreams

Every now and then, I realize that most things in my world were once "dreams." That is, looking at the computer monitor that I'm using to type this article up, I realize that, before it could have been built, some one had to design it. They probably thought a lot about it: power requirements, what sort of plastic to use, the coloring, how the controls would work.

Perhaps it's because I'm a geeky sorta guy, but doing that sort of thing: cogitating about something, is kind of like day-dreaming. You think about something that doesn't exist.

So then the magic day comes when the big, faceless company provides the army of technicians, raw materials, etc., etc. to build your dream. You are standing there in a room with a bunch of people, some of whom are "very important" because they're "very important."

You flip the switch.

There's magic in the air.

Your prototype sits there and doesn't work.

OK, so maybe not the best moment. You spend the next 6 weeks or whatever with limited sleep trying to get the damn thing to work.

A brief aside: the original term "computer bug" was coined when technicians found a moth trapped in an early computer. Don't know if it's a just a techie urban legend, but if it's not true, it should be.

At any rate, so after 6 hair-tearing weeks of debugging, you're back in the room and things are no longer magical. Probably the vice "muckity-muck" is there to make sure the thing actually works before they bring in the senior vice muckity-muck. But this time you flip the switch and all goes well.

You feel very relieved. The vice muckity muck is relieved. The technicians don't care as much, but this means you aren't going to be riding their butts so they are also relieved.

Once most people have left the room, the prototype craps out again, and you realize you made a serious mistake.

Now mind you, the way things normally work is that the muckity-mucks promise something before they know if it's possible, so this is a relatively sane description, but the basic idea is the same.

During this process, people have managed to forget that they turned a dream into reality. Something that previously only existed as a thought was turned into something you can touch. At some point between the time when it was thunk up, and the time when the finished product is shipped out, it transitioned from a thought into reality.

The thing is this applies to many things that I encounter every day: the car I drive to work with. The building that I work in. The miserable cube where I sleep…er…work. The carpet I walk on. The plastic bag that I carry groceries in. The fork I use to eat my dinner with. At some point all of these things were in some way thoughts that were turned into reality.

I like to think of this as "the City of Dreams," because, in a very real sense, the city around me once existed as a dream. Some people might call it a nightmare, but hey, it's home.

Tags: , , Image source: (the site is no longer there, but Yahoo! had it cached).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Eeee-vile Rant!

While despondent about some events recently, I realized (much to my surprise) that there were some interesting benefits to being an eeee-vile dictator:

  1. I get to wear a cool, black outfit with nifty, pointy shoulder-pads.
  2. I can say things like "BY ORE-DAR OF THE SUPREEEEEME EMPERIOR!!!"
  3. Being already eeeee-vile, I can claim things like the Strong-Badian national anthem as my own.
  4. I can steal candy from leeeeetle children…though as Mr. Burns found out, that may not be quite as easy as it sounds.
  5. I can let loose with an eeeeee-vile laugh "MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
  6. I have jillions of faceless minions catering (however ineptly) to my every whim!
  7. I have lots of statements that end with exclamation points!!

So, as eeeee-vile dictate-oh of Whatever-aah, I make ye following proclamations:

  • Ye shall follow these decrees on pain of…of…well, not much I guess.
  • All citizens shall wear their underwear on the outside (to make sure it's clean).
  • Any that disagree with my edicts shall face the vengeance of my legions of readers (both of them).

I also make ye the following LAWARS OF DE SITIEE!

1. Ye sitie is knot fair – ye are at ye total wheeem of ye evil-ovaaarlard.

2. Ye shall knot makeee ye flamerous comments.

3. Ye shall backie up ye har-brained claims with ye poast.

4. See ye pointe 1.

5. If ye violated any oof ye lawrs ye ish sentenced ye to ye priseon for knawt less than ONE WEAK!!!

I have recently received my first piece of hate-mail, so, in celebration, I'm going to post it in my new, eeeee-vile hatemail™ section of the site. I really have had enough of flame wars though, so I am tempted to just leave it in the rotting compost heap that is my email account; never-the-less, the claims of censorship do tug at my feelings of justice. Being an eeeeee-vile over-lard give me a keen sense of wite and wong….blight and blog…whatever.

This being the case, lawar 5 comes into play – you can make whatever hair-brained, ineptly argued, vitriolic comments you want and I will post them (unless I don't). The catch is that I'm going to wait at least a week before they show up in the hate-mail section of the site. So if you want to send hate-mail START SENDING NOW!!

At any rate, this will hopefully give those out there in the peanut gallery with a penchant for vitriolic posts a bit of pause, since I will only post 1 (one) piece of hate-mail per person per week. Now mind you, this assumes that anyone actually cares enough to send me hate-mail, and/or comments, so it may be rendered a moot point. Furthermore, I will only do this on Monday nights…or Tuesday mornings…or whatever. It also assumes that I'm feeling energetic enough to actually review posts, which assumes a lot.

At any rate, those who choose to say in more polite terms that I'm a stupid poopie-head, and/or bother to actually provide a lousy URL for their interesting claims can get posted relatively quickly (I don't check this stuff at work, so it will probably be once a day, but then, I usually don't bother to turn on comment filtering either).

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(Also note ye ull-tea-mate weapon in background)

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