Saturday, July 16, 2011

BYBS: The Gregory Brothers

There are definite advantages to being shallow.

One of them is that you are easily amused.

For example, some people might consider a video that was created by taking another video where a girl discusses how much she loves cats and set to a pop song to be rather pointless.  But then, none of these people read this blog.  On the other hand, very few people read this blog period.

At any rate, I thought this video was the best thing since sliced bread: between the trippy music and the hilarious videos of cats doing silly things.  And then the girl starts crying because she can't hug every cat.  The part where I'm easily amused comes in here.

Then there is the Charlie Sheen video.  The man talks about how he is on a quest.  But he moves on to other, more serious matters:

  • "Chicken McNuggets...winning!"
  • "Bubble gum...winning!"
nuff said.

To round out the bunch is one of Obama singing rap music to congress.  If the man could sing like that why did he take a job like being the president?!!

These incredible acts of art come to you by way of an outfit called "The Gregory Brothers," who have many other fine videos for your perusal.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

BYBS: Cheeseburger

Image from TheCulinaryGeek Flickr
In keeping with a simple "things in life" theme (read, out of ideas), this posting is about the joy of eating Gelato while watching the river.  Hmmm.  OK, so I don't read my own titles.  This post is actually about the joy of eating a cheeseburger while looking at the river.

Image by Angela de Março
Well, I really did have some Gelato (strawberry, and yes I realize that this is not straberry) while watching a river, but I also had a cheeseburger before that.  So the cheeseburger comes first.  Before desert.  Because I have to finish my dinner before I can have desert.

Yes, no high moral ideas or secret messages in this posting.  Unless you count the gnome that's hiding behind the gelato...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

BYBS: Cat Rambo/Fantasy Magazine

Image from Fantasy Magazine

This week's BYBS goes to (wait for it!) Fantasy Magazine and in particular a short story called the "Immortality Game" by Cat Rambo.  Yes, that's the name that she apparently goes by.  No, don't ask me.  What does someone who calls themselves "Cat Rambo" look like, you ask?  Well, here is a pic from her site:

Image from Cat Rambo's site.

Hair color aside, I am a fan of Cat Rambo's work. "The Immortality Game" is about a group of sorta-immortals who...well, I don't want to ruin it for you.  Rest assured that the story is worth listening to.  And contains a really cool idea.  Which I thought of first.  Well, actually I didn't, but if I had the powers that the characters in the story did, then I could actually go back in time and come up with the idea first.  But now I'm giving too much of the story away.

Cat (do you mind if I call you "Cat?") manages to write about topics that are anti-PC and yet remain interesting.  Another example of her work includes "I'll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said" (and no, I'm not sure where to put the quotes for a quote withing a title).

Fantasy Magazine is another podcast I listen to - specializing in (you guess it!) the fantasy genre.  "The Devil in Gaylord's Creek" was the month before and was also a good story.  So check em out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


They make such a cute couple (image from

Smosh, specifically, is a couple of guys who make hilarious videos such as "Vader and Me."  The first video of theirs that I saw was "Mortal Kombat," a strange and yet silly spoof of an old video game.  My all time favorite is probably their "Pokemon" video which spoofs (you guessed it) Pokemon.

But their skill does not end there - they also do just plain silly videos.  For example: "That Damn Yard Sale."  To top things off they also have a funny and yet strange commentary on the rest of site "Smosh Pit Weekly" featuring "Mari Atari."

Mari Atari pic from her Twitter feed.
A Yoda hat?!  Be still my beating heart!

The humor is a bit on the crude side, but for me that's a bonus.  Check it out.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

BYBS: Stupid JavaScript Tricks

This week I learned something about working with JavaScript that made me happy enough that I'm going to blog about it.

Rather than trying to explain this in some way that makes sense, I'm going to use the short version.  This will not confuse any readers because a) I don't have any and b) anyone who stumbles upon this blog must already be a JavaScript gawd.

OK, so suppose you are using Ajax to grab a list of people and you want to shove them in a table, along with a button that initiates some action that annoys said person.  Well, one way that might seem plausible is to use the following:

var button = document.createElement("input");
button.type = "button";
button.onclick = "annoyPerson(";

Unfortunately, this does not work, since JavaScript really wants to get a function for Christmas when you pass it the value for onclick.  OK, how about this:

button.onclick = function (id) {

This doesn't work either because onclick will not pass any parameters to the function it calls.  So how about:

button.onclick = function() {

This sort of works, in that it will call annoyPerson with an ID that is taken from the list that you are iterating over, but it will be the same value for all the buttons.  This means that you might click the button to annoy Fred only to annoy Mary instead.  Very embarrassing.

OK, so how do you pass in the correct ID?  There are two ways that I found out about.  Probably the preferred way is to use the following:

button.onclick = function() {

The way that I thought was especially kewl, however, was the following:

button.onclick = function(id) {
    return function() {

This wonky mess of JavaScript defines an "anonymous" function that returns another function.  The outer anonymous function is then immediately called (via the ( bit at the end).  This binds the current value for to the id parameter, ensuring that the inner anonymous function gets a different value for each iteration of the loop, rather than the last value the iterator held.

If this seems long-winded and impossible to follow, it's because it is actually long-winded and impossible to follow.  JavaScript is a strange and annoying language in my not-so humble opinion, and it often times feels like voodoo when you get something to actually work.

Nevertheless, getting this to work was a nice point in my week.  Which just gives people another indication of how pathetic my life is.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

BYBS: A Deepness in the Sky

Image from Wikipedia

This week's BYBS is about the book A Deepness in the Sky by a favorite author of mine named Venor Vinge.  The book takes place in the same universe as A Fire Upon the Deep and is about two groups that are interested in trading with a culture that only becomes active once every 200 years or so.

The "good guys" are an outfit called the Qeng Ho, who have an enlightened approach to dealing with other civilizations.  The "bad guys" are from a group called the Emergents, they tend to enslave other cultures that they find.  The story revolves around the struggle for control of the operation between the two groups and the role that the alien civilization, called the Spiders, play in the whole thing.

The thing about this book was that I read it at a very stressful time.  While Venor Vinge is a very capable author, the thing that I liked was that it provided a way to get out of my head during that period, something that I find hard to do in that situation.

The real skill of the writer can be seen from the way that I wasn't able to get into another book that I read at the time, Quantico by Greg Bear (sorry Greg).  If I look at them objectively, I think that Deepness might represent a more depressing subject and the premise is less believable than Quantico; but I found myself liking Deepness better anyways.  Go figure.

Or perhaps this is not so surprising, since I managed to find another of Vinge's books, Rainbow's End to be very interesting despite the fact that the main character is a mean old man who just recovered from senility and is taking some classes at a high school.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Well, at least one word in this week's title isn't an acronym or abbreviation.

At any rate, this posting is about a very cool episode of This Week in Virology (TWIV); in particular it is about HIV and some recent discoveries.  From what I could gather from this episode...

  • HIV is a retrovirus, meaning that it becomes part of the host's DNA when it infects them.
  • Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) can essentially halt the spread of HIV.
  • It appears that HIV can infect bone marrow cells that are stem cell like in that they divide to replenish  blood related cell types.
  • When a patient goes off HAART, the progenitor cells may be able to start up the infection again as they continually regenerate the host's blood cells.
One of the really interesting things about this episode was the notion that, if a way could be found to cause the virus to replicate while stopping it from spreading, it could be eliminated from the patient's system.  It already appears to be possible to halt the spread of the virus using HAART, so the piece that remains is something to make the virus more active in the remaining cells.

Another interesting piece of information from the show was the story about an HIV patient who required a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer that they had developed.  Part of the treatment for this was to irradiate the patient to kill off their bone marrow cells, then implant new bone marrow cells from a donor.  In this case, it was a person who was naturally immune to HIV/AIDS.  After the transplant, the patient went off HAART, but their HIV infection did not come back.

One has to take these advances with a grain of salt since a) my understanding of the ideas presented is at best flawed and b) just because it is possible or even likely that some idea will work, it doesn't mean that it actually will work when it is used.

Nevertheless, I like stories like this because they demonstrate creativity and cooperation used in a positive way.  After listening to a week of regular news I can end up thinking the world is going to end tomorrow, whereas stories like this give me reason to be optimistic.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

BYBS: Argh...and I Thought of it First

Now I'm running with the "in" crowd.

I was just searching on the web for "argh" and I came across a post by Neil Gaiman.  For those of you who don't know Neil, well...neither do I actually.  But nevertheless, since he co-opted my favorite phrase, I think that it's only fitting that I should be able to call him by his first name.

Now where was I?

Oh yes, you see, I was using "argh" long before this poser showed up on the scene.  In fact as early as January of this 2011,  I was regularly saying "argh."  Wait, according to his blog, Neil wrote that in January of 2010. I was saying, I having been using the phrase long before then, and if you don't believe me, then just take a look back at this post.

Oh what-ever.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

BYBS:The Works of Steven Brust

The Man in Black.  Image from Wikipedia
Steven Brust writes a swords & sorcery series about a fellow named Vlad Taltos.  Vlad, and his wisecracking lizard sidekick Loiosh, go about on various adventures through the world of Dragerea.  One of the reasons I like the books in the Taltos series is that Dragerea seems like a well thought-out place with its own rules and history that give the impression that the story is larger than the glimpse that you get through the books.

Another aspect of Brust's work that I appreciate is that he tends to avoid creating huge, 500+ page novels that so many other authors fall prey to.  Maybe I'm just lazy, but I prefer books without quite so much fluff.

Brust also has a good sense of humor.  For example, he has a number of "deleted scenes" in his book Iorich.  In one scene Vlad has an argument with the author.  In another Vlad is just so happy then he ends up skipping through clouds of butterflies.

According to Mr. Brust, he has 19 novels in mind for the series.  To date, 13 have been printed, so I estimate that I should be OK for the next 6 years or so.  My plan is to promise that as long as he keeps writing, I won't try to write a novel.  And that way everyone's happy :-)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

BYBS: Blood Music

One of my favorite books of all time has to be Greg Bear's Blood Music.  It's about a guy who creates computers using cells, observing that cells have all the parts you would need to make a computer: DNA could be used as storage, various organelles could be used as processor parts, etc.  The cells can infect people and, well, that's what the book is about.

This is one of the books that got me interested in biology.  Since the book blends the worlds of biology and my own field of computers, it made for a very interesting read.

The book's premise seems pretty plausible to me.  The thing is that I think cells already do act as computers, it's just that survival is a difficult enough problem that they normally exhibit intelligence in the way that human beings think of it.  Being able to calculate a square root, for example, is not very useful to a paramecium, but being able to tell your flagella to move you towards something you can eat is.

The thing you have to remember is that the paramecium is doing this with only one cell.  There is no huge network of neurons that allow it to think and reason the way we do.  Being able to survive, find food, fend off viruses, etc. is quite a feat for a computer that small, but it just doesn't seem that way because we take such things for granted.

If there's a problem with the book, it's that it seems like there are two big "parts" to it.  One of them is about the nifty idea of making a single celled computer and the other is a notion that there is a limit to the amount of consciousness that can occupy a particular location.  I thought the first part was by far the more interesting, while the second was kind of meh.

Personally, I thought it would have worked better with just the first part as a novella or a short story, but your mileage may vary.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

BYBS: Bacteriophages

The structure of a typical tailed bacteriophage.  Image from Wikipedia.

Bacteriophages, or just phages as their friends call them, are viruses that infect bacteria.  As such, they can be used in place of antibiotics for infections that have become resistant to the antibio.  Due to a fundamental difference in the way that human and bacterial cells work, the viruses do not infect human cells, and in any case our immune systems tend to clear most viruses (friendly or otherwise) from our systems.

Phages are naturally occurring - for example one being used to counter E. Coli was found in a river outside of Washington DC.  This does not guarantee that it is safe, after all nature gave us the Polio and Smallpox viruses, but it does mean that if it is a problem, then at least it's not a new one.

Phages were apparently used before the advent of broad spectrum antibiotics, but were largely abandoned in Western countries because antibiotics were easier to manufacture and use than phages.  Nonetheless, phage therapy continued to be used in Eastern Block countries and could see a comeback if efforts to come up with new drugs for antibiotic resistant bacteria do not come through.

I like the idea of using viruses to combat bacteria since, as the saying goes "the enemy of my enemy is my enemies enemy.", maybe it's "the friend of my enemy is my friend."  No, that's not right either.  Whatever.  This is one of those ideas that promises to solve a problem and demonstrates extreme cleverness on the part of human beans.

You can learn more about phages from the Wikipedia article, or you can take a look at the Intralytix site (the company that is marketing the anti E. Coli phage).

Monday, April 11, 2011

BYBS: Fresh Air at Sea

This past week a ran into a couple of podcasts that were both on NPR's Fresh Air; one was titled "Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime" while the other was called "Moby-Duck".

The NPR story on the wild and slimy life of undersea critters can be found via this link, while the story on Moby-Duck can be found to via this link.

The pictures lead to links where the books can be obtained on Amazon.

The title and subject matter are reasons enough to create a blog entry for the book, but another reason is that she used to be the chief science officer/whatever of the Aquarius underwater habitat.  Aquarius is a habitat that sits off the Florida keys under around 60 feet of water.

Apart from anything else that various free-living underwater critters might be doing down there having what amounts to an underwater base sounds like the coolest job one could ask for.

Now mind you, after 4 weeks of the same knock-knock jokes and losing yet another thumb wrestling match to your fellow diver could begin to get on your nerves, this could explain my interest in the second book: Moby-Duck.

Some people might hear about a bunch of rubber (plastic?) ducks being thrown overboard and conclude that the ducks had done something to merit walking the plank.

Other people might spend a fairly long period of time tracking down where the ducks came from, how they got from the Pacific to the Atlantic ocean and generally make any of my own time-wasting activities seem trivial by comparison.

In addition to shoring up the self-esteem of anyone with a strange obsession, the book also talks about the problems with plastic sea junk that is accumulating in the Earth's various oceans.  This adds an instant air of seriousness that one cannot get from a book that goes into the mechanics of, say, lobster sex.

I haven't read either book --- we'll see if I get around to it, but in the mean time I can relax with the notion that if I met either of these people, I'd no longer be the strangest person in the room.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Microbe Power Grids

I recently found this article from the cool, super cool, way cool geobactor web site.  It details about how microorganisms work together to transmit electricity from the bottom of a pile of mud to the top of the pile.

Yes, mud.

Why are you looking at me that way?

At any rate, I think this is uber-cool because it shows again how those little fellers can surprise us by doing stuff that one would normally associate with bigger critters; but also how microbes could be harnessed to generate power from things like sludge.  Or mud.

There you go again with that look.

Another truly cool article goes on about how two species of microbe can work together to break down ethanol. Yeah, as Dr. Derek Lovely puts it "They're the ultimate drinking buddies, collaborating to consume ethanol."  It has a sort of poetic justice to it: microbes create alcohol, here are a couple of species that collaborate in drinking it.

Silliness aside, being able to make a cheap, efficient fuel cell using ethanol has been a goal of scientists for quite some time.  The idea is that you could make a "battery" for a lap top that could last for 10 hours at full power or perhaps store the power from a solar cell for periods when the sun isn't shining.

And yes, the idea of microbes boozing it up has a certain appeal.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Still Blathering


Just because I haven't posted in 3 or 4 months does not mean that I have abandoned this blog.  Granted, it's a very goon sign that I have, but it is not definitive proof.

Never the less, I still have more to blather about, so I'm going to keep...blathering.  Or something.

At any rate, the wonderfully positive thing for this week is Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K for those of us who are too lazy to type out the whole thing).  In particular the movie Mitchell is one of my all time favorites from the MST3K folks.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with MST3K, it is an old TV show where the hosts basically sit around and make wisecrack remarks during the movie.  The result is usually hilarious, but Mitchell is a particularly funny example.

The movie is bad.  Bad as in "forgetting" about a major character about 2/3 of the way through a movie.  Note that this could have been bad as in Laserblast, where you have to whack yourself in the head a few times with a two-by-four in order to enjoy it, but it managed to instead be horrible in an entertaining way.

There are plenty of other movies that they manage to make into something enjoyable, Manos the Hands of Fate is another good one.  Sigh...there I go, ruining another couple of perfectly good posts by mentioning them here...guess I'll have to figure out something else to talk about.