Saturday, February 28, 2009

Getting Darwin Right

Michael Shermer wants to clear up some misconceptions.

......natural selection is a description of a process, not a force. No one is “selecting” organisms for survival in the benign sense of pigeon breeders selecting for desirable traits in show breeds or for extinction in the malignant sense of Nazis selecting prisoners at death camps. Natural selection is nonprescient—it cannot look forward to anticipate what changes are going to be needed for survival.

Natural selection simply means that those individuals with variations better suited to their environment leave behind more offspring than individuals that are less well adapted.

It may be.....that organisms that are bigger, stronger, faster and brutishly competitive will reproduce more successfully, but it is just as likely that organisms that are smaller, weaker, slower and socially cooperative will do so as well.

Financial Flush Needed

Some analysts think the efforts to stem the decline in the markets are hindering recovery.

"We need to see an index falling 7 or 8 percent intraday in high volumes and then ending up nearly flat on the day as the buyers come back in," said Philippe Gijsels, strategist at Fortis in Brussels. "What we're getting instead is Chinese water torture, and no massive cleanout. Governments and central banks are tending to watch stockmarkets and giving investors small glimmers of hope, not enough to take markets higher, but enough to prevent a sell-off."

"We need to see an event that would shock everybody -- a big U.S. bank failure, or a country in Europe going broke," said Mark Bon, fund manager at Canada Life. Bon said positive factors that would need to be in place for any strong rebound included an improvement in consumer or business confidence indicators, some merger and acquisition activity, successful rights issues and a belief among investors that company profits had bottomed out.

Paul Harvey R.I.P.

Paul Harvey - one of the last broadcasters in the old sense - died. His radio programs were regular fare in our house when I was growing up. His sensibilities seemed to jibe with those of most people I knew. He was still pulling in the listeners.

In 2006, quoted an ABC executive as saying Harvey was bringing in more than 10 percent of the network's $300 million in advertising billings.

This caught my eye.

Harvey met his wife, Lynne Cooper, who he nicknamed Angel, while working in St. Louis after admiring her car. Harvey proposed to her on on their first date.....Angel Harvey died last year.

That seems to happen with some frequency with long-time couples; once one spouse dies, the other isn't far behind.

Only British?

Dom Joly has a new gig.

I was offered an interesting programme recently that I said yes to without really thinking about it. It's called Made in Britain, and the idea, or so I thought, was that I potter around the UK in a Morgan looking at the few remaining things that are actually made in this country.

But he didn't read the fine print.

So tomorrow, a removals firm along with some "auditors" are coming to my house and removing everything in it that isn't made in Britain.

This could cause trouble.

My wife is Canadian, so she'll have to go. My kids were "made" in Canada and possibly in France if my memory serves me right. They were born here, however, so they can probably stay. What about the dogs? Oscar is a flat-coated retriever from the Sussex Downs, so I think he's OK. Huxley, however, as a Labrador, shares the same dodgy Canadian origins as my wife and may have to pack up his bones and leave with her.

Don't Worry, I Won't Touch This

Have you noticed a shortage of unscripted TV shows? I hadn't. But apparently there was a gaping hole in that genre that someone thought should be filled by this.

Rapper MC Hammer is to star in a family-themed reality television series......The musician, who shot to fame in the 1990s, said the programme will give viewers a taste of his day-to-day life.

The serial, which will air on cable channel A&E later this year, will feature his wife, five children and two nephews who share a home in California.

I can only assume they need the money.

Finally Looking On The Bright Side of Life

A Welsh town is planning a celebration of the lifting of a long ban.

Two Monty Python stars will be at the first screening of their classic film Life of Brian in a town where it has not been seen since a ban 30 years ago. Terry Jones and Michael Palin will join Aberystwyth mayor Sue a charity showing on 28 March.

The mayor has a special connection.

Long before becoming mayor, she played Brian's girlfriend in the movie.

It's for a good cause.

Proceeds from March's screening will go to charities nominated by Terry Jones and Ms Jones-Davies.

Still Going

Homer and company will set a record.

Animated comedy The Simpsons is to become the longest-running prime-time series in US TV history after makers Fox ordered another two seasons.

Personally I think they've slipped since their glory days, but they can still bring the funny. I think for their final episode - whenever that will be - they should show what the characters would be like if they had aged with the series.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Clean Up the Law Books

James Lileks has a simple proposal that I can get behind.

For every law they pass that bans something, we should get a law that lets us do something previously forbidden.

I would favor establishing a committee to look into old laws and select some for phasing out every legislative session.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ham on the Lam

First it was a large rabbit, now a really big pig.

Giving new meaning to the phrase “road hog,” callers said they’d seen a “monster pig” that was so big it was blocking the motorway and jamming traffic.

It managed to travel a bit.

She was about 3 kilometres from home........

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Get Everyone Together

I knew this, but hadn't really thought about it; oversight of a lot of the complex financial shenanigans that have caused so much trouble is handled not by the SEC, but by an historically agriculture-related agency. Martha White has a problem with this.

Why on earth is the Senate committee on agriculture, nutrition and forestry—which normally tackles topics like meat recalls and genetically engineered rice- vetting the nomination of a man who's going to be overseeing a wildly complex futures market?

The remedies seem obvious. pages openly ponder the details of what's widely considered a likely possibility, at least in the near term: a merger between the CFTC and the SEC.

Economists are already thinking beyond the SEC vs. CFTC tug of war and toward the prospect of merging both the CFTC and the SEC into a bigger, brawnier Fed that would be responsible for market regulation across all sectors. The idea only sounds like a huge leap; most other countries with modern market economies already have a single department that handles all market regulation, such as Britain's Financial Services Authority.

The cynic in me says it sounds too sensible to happen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bothersome Bunny

A lollygagging lagomorph is apprehended.

Police in Kent have captured a giant runaway rabbit after it was spotted in the middle of a busy road in Canterbury in the early hours of Sunday.

It wasn't easy.

It eventually took 10 pairs of hands to end the rabbit's time on the run.....The rabbit rescue squad pursued the animal down the road before it was detained.

I understand the difficulty, as does anyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Born To Be Shady

While reporting on the discovery of bank accounts in Gibraltar, Lucinda Franks provides a little Madoff family background.

Ironically,Bernard Madoff's mother, Sylvia Madoff, who came from a modest background in Laurelton, Queens, owned spurious investment funds that she called Gibraltar Securities and Second Gibraltar Securities. Their mailing address was the family home in Laurelton, where Bernard grew up, and the funds do not appear to have done any business with the offshore haven. Mrs. Madoff may have thought the name conveyed solidity and a smattering of glamour.

There is speculation that her husband, Ralph, actually ran the funds and listed them in his wife’s name because he was burdened with tax troubles. Friends and neighbors do not recall Sylvia operating as a stockbroker, which would have been an unusual endeavor for a Queens housewife in those days. In any case, she was forced to pack up the funds in 1964 after the SEC discovered she had failed to file any reports.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

He'll Be Fine

Ben Mathis-Lilley isn't concerned about Conan O'Brien succeeding on the Tonight Show.

After watching Conan's last week of shows with a careful eye, I've become convinced: He should have no problem replacing Jay Leno and maintaining NBC's record of late-night dominance. And he's going to do it without abandoning the style that made him a success in the first place.

I haven't watched Conan for a long time, but I was working at KEVN when he took over for Letterman. It's worth remembering that he had been a writer for Saturday Night Live and the Simpsons, not a comedian, when NBC surprised everyone by giving him the gig. I recall his first shows; his stage presence was as bad as you would expect from anyone who had never done anything like that. But I also recall that his actual material - the jokes and skit ideas - was pretty funny. I knew he'd grow into the job if NBC let him (which wasn't a given; there were calls to pull the plug). I think he'll do the same on the bigger stage.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Looks Bad, Tastes Good

E.J. Levy checked out the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

Founded in 1992 by a former assistant attorney general (only in the Midwest do politicians leave public office to create a condiment shrine), the museum is one in a series of shops along Main Street in an unprepossessing town some 16 miles southwest of Madison.

He's not terribly impressed at first, but something changes his mind.

Despite mustard’s history as a condiment to popes and kings, the museum is ostentatiously common: With “the world’s first and only mustard vending machine” and abundant collegiate merchandise — sweatshirts, pennants, and even toilet seats from Poupon U (sound it out…get it?), billed as “America’s Mustard College” — it is hokey as all get out. The sort of thing Midwesterners leave their homeland to escape (at least I did).

It is perhaps appropriate that camping food should be celebrated via camp, but the whole thing left me cold — the sort of self-consciously kitschy tourist trap that the Midwest seems to specialize in (think: Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, Mount Rushmore), a joint to avoid even in a kitsch tour of the region, unlike the Frank Lloyd Wright designed gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota, which I highly recommend.

Then I came on the Tasting Table.

Tucked discretely at the back of the store, with a refrigerator case behind it containing each of the mustards on sale, this is the altar (or perhaps the tabernacle) in this condiment shrine, adorned only with a box of tiny plastic spoons, a basket of pretzel sticks, and Kleenex (vital given the potency of some mustards).

In the course of the two hours I spent tasting mustards, I developed the monomaniacal lust usually reserved for oenophiles, art collectors at auction, the religious, and heartbroken. In the end, I will buy two dozen jars — I simply can’t imagine our parting.

Sloe and Easy

It's time to clear the name of a maligned liquor.

Most of us in this country don't know real sloe gin, only the syrupy facsimile liqueur: something you'd find in embarrassing drinks with unprintable names. Real sloe gin is made with real sloe berries -- the sour, inedible fruit of the blackthorn, which is a relative of the plum -- that are macerated for several months in real gin.

I remember it being treated as the liquor equivalent of T.J. Swan wine; not something to be taken seriously. People used it as an ingredient in Garbage Can Punch (essentially every one's BYOB dumped into a large container, occasionally an actual garbage can) . In England it's a very domestic drink. is made mostly in family kitchens in autumn and carried in flasks during hunting season. "Sloe gin, to the English, is a little bit like limoncello is to the Italians," Ford says. "In the countryside, everyone makes their own. The problem of selling sloe gin in England is that someone will taste it and say, "It's not as good as mine.'"

What constitutes good?

Good sloe gin has a unique crisp and tangy taste (a balance of sweet and bitter that's not cloying) and a faint, subtle finish of almonds. Its color and flavor make it an excellent mixer. For instance, sloe gin is wonderful in a glass of sparkling wine (two parts champagne to one part sloe gin).

Licensed Freelancing

Want to be a sidewalk musician in the London subway? busk--the practice of performing in public spaces for tips--inside the London Underground, musicians have to play by the rules if they want to play at all.

First you need a license.

Muttel's official busking license, good for one year, hangs visibly from a lanyard around his neck. It took six months of rigmarole to obtain that license, in which time he applied, auditioned for a panel of four or five London Underground staff members and agreed to a mandatory police background check.

You don't just go down and play.

A sticker, stating that he has checked in with a London Underground supervisor, is also clearly displayed on his tattered T-shirt (he will also have to check out).

A busker’s performance spot is a “pitch”. To reserve a pitch in London’s Underground, buskers must call in to an automated phone service on Tuesday mornings up to two weeks in advance. The process can be gruelling. On a good day, performers may be in a queue for about an hour and a half, hitting redial over and over again. But the task can take up to a day or two.

It can be competitive.

If a busker shows up late for a spot, the previous busker is entitled to stay for the next two-hour time slot. Unsurprisingly, this can get messy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Learning to Eat Peanuts

Some much-needed good news for the peanut industry.

A group of children with peanut allergies have had their condition effectively cured, doctors believe.

A team from Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital exposed four children to peanuts over a six-month period, gradually building up their tolerance. By the end the children were eating the equivalent of five peanuts a day.

It doesn't sound like much, but.....

Kate Frost, the mother of a nine-year-old who was one of the four participants, said: "It's very hard to describe how much of a difference it's made - not just in Michael's life, but for all of us. A peanut allergy affects the whole family. You can't go out to a restaurant. If your child goes to a birthday party, he takes a packed lunch."

This has another significance.

The concept of desensitising people to allergies has been successfully done with bee and wasp stings and pollen allergies, but this is the first time it has been achieved with a food-related allergy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Interview Required

I heard this on the radio this morning. It's always been said that unpleasant jobs get given to people who don't attend the meeting. Apparently being there doesn't necessarily help.

Hughes County Emergency Management Director Rob Fines wasn’t expecting to receive another job title when he attended Tuesday’s Hughes County Commission meeting. But he got one. Fines was named as the interim county coroner. He will replace former county corner Patrick Van Lith who resigned last month after leaving the funeral business.

Both State’s Attorney Kelly Marnette and Sheriff Mike Leidholt said the position needed to be filled on a temporary basis. After much discussion, commissioners finally looked at Fines, who was sitting in the back, and appointed him on temporary basis. Commissioner Jim Hardwick says Fines’ past career as the state EMS director for the Department of Health makes him the logical choice.

Fines says he was surprised by the appointment and says his first job will be to learn the process.

A Life's Work in a Document

Thomas Washington actually looked at his Social Security statement - and was pleasantly surprised.

For a government document, the four-page Social Security statement is an upfront read, far easier than the monthly 12-page phone bill and definitely more clear-cut than the quarterly 401K statement.

I think of my benefits chart as a sort of monetary photo album. I can go to any year between 1975 and 2007 and pinpoint exactly what I was doing that year, strictly by the numbers. Besides a death certificate from the vital records office, no other document puts one's life in such stark terms.

She's Having a Baby, So Say Whatever You Want

Being pregnant has made Annalisa Barbieri a public figure.

As soon as the baby swell becomes visible, people feel able to comment openly on your body in a way that happens at no other time in this country.

But when you get to nine months, all of this goes on to a whole new level. Everyone thinks they are the first person to tell you - nay, that you will be covered in gratitude that they have told you - that you are huge and you're having a pony/quads.

Everyone thinks it's nice and caring and involved to bug you, day and night, "Anything happened, yet?" - not realising that three dozen nice, caring and wanting-to-be-involved friends have already asked that day. No wonder animals go to ground before birthing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More Madoffery

Another alleged scoundrel is uncovered.

Texan billionaire and cricket promoter Sir Allen Stanford has been charged over a $8bn (£5.6bn) investment fraud, US financial regulators say.

The SEC said that Stanford International Bank sold approximately $8bn worth of certificates of deposit to investors, promising "improbable and unsubstantiated high interest rates".

It has another similarity to Madoff.

The bank was "operated by a close circle of Stanford's family and friends", the SEC said in a statement.

Down to One

At last.

The world's biggest mobile phone makers and network operators have backed plans to create a universal phone recharger.

It's not just universal.

The re-charger will consume 50% less stand-by energy than today's cables, the GSM Association (GSMA), an umbrella group for the industry, said.

The bad's not ready yet.

The majority of new handsets will support the re-charger by 2012.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Hard to See Turn Signals Underwater

Since the end of the Cold War these guys don't get much publicity (unless you count the repeated airings of The Hunt for Red October) but they're still out there, and they don't always watch where they're going.

A Royal Navy nuclear submarine was involved in a collision with a French nuclear sub in the middle of the Atlantic, the MoD has confirmed. HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant were badly damaged in the crash in heavy seas earlier this month. First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said the submarines came into contact at low speed and no injuries were reported.

I tend to agree with this guy.

Meanwhile, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson has called for a government statement.
"The Ministry of Defence needs to explain how it is possible for a submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction to collide with another submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction in the middle of the world's second-largest ocean," he said.

This item brought up a question, which of course the internet answered.

How many countries have nuclear submarines?
5 - USA, UK, Russia, China, and France

Happy Beginning of End of Winter Day!

Ah, Presidents' Day, or Giant Furniture Sale Day. As I recall (confirmed by Google), it started as Washington's Birthday on his actual birthday and got moved to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act ( they should have just named this the Three Day Weekend Act for complete honesty). Once that happened it was a matter of time before other Presidents got added, mainly Lincoln but also others in some cases. It's another holiday, as opposed to Holiday. The presence of Valentine's Day the same weekend this year didn't help; it sucked up most of the marketing oxygen, leaving Presidents' Day gasping.

James Lileks feels the same way.

It has no songs; it has no traditional meals -- Applebee's won't be serving Gout Burgers in honor of William Howard Taft -- and it has no TV specials, like "You're a One-Term President Remembered Largely for Scandal and Graft, Charlie Brown."

On the other hand.....

It's just another day in the short, shuddering month of February. Which is more than halfway over, by the way. Happy Halfway to March Day! Now that means something.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Religious Minority? Depends Where You Live

Andrew Sullivan led me to these Gallup Poll results of a simple question asked of people: Is religion an important part of your daily life? The top (or bottom, depending on your viewpoint) ten:

Mississippi 85% yes
Alabama 82
South Carolina 80
Tennessee 79
Louisiana 78
Arkansas 78
Georgia 76
North Carolina 76
Oklahoma 75
Kentucky 74
Texas 74

For some reason I have the tune to Dixie in my head. South Dakota comes in at #15 with 68%, tied with North Dakota, Virginia,Missouri and Indiana, and only 1% behind Utah, which surprised me; I'd have guessed Utah would be higher. Dale's Oregon is at #44 with 53%, while Brian's Florida is tied for #22 with 65%.

Vermont has the low, 42%, with New Hampshire at 46%, Maine and Massachusetts at 48%, and Sarah Palin's Alaska at 51%. The worldwide numbers are interesting too; Americans are mid-pack among all nations, but considerably more devout than most wealthy ones.

An Old-Timer Comes Through

A 10yo dog won Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, scoring one for old coots everywhere. As someone who is striving diligently for cootdom, I was pulling for him - my daughter can verify this - although the Scottish Terrier also jumped up my list after executing a perfectly timed on-camera squat-and-squirt at the end of its spotlighted walk-around during the finals (it's 3 minutes into the Best In Show video, or 18:06 on their counter). I've watched quite a few dog shows on TV and this was the first time that I had seen that happen during the actual event. I think it deserved a special award, perhaps Best Performance of a Bodily Function.

It occurred to me that I wouldn't be a suitable member of the audience for a show like that, since booing the poodles and heckling the judge seem to be frowned upon. There's also a level of stuffiness and obsession that I probably wouldn't be comfortable around, having grown up with a more casual view of dogs. Our family dogs were black Labs with the exception of a spaniel-something cross and a black Lab/St.Bernard cross that required the purchase of a tow chain after it showed it could break a standard dog chain without effort. Real Dogs.

My Mother-in-law recently acquired almost the exact opposite; a registered miniature dachshund named Precious Hope (my suggestion of Vienna Sausage or Cocktail Wienie having been shot down) that would be small for a cat and is allegedly valued at over $1000 (no, she didn't spend that kind of money; it was a gift from the breeder, a relative). I must admit that it does make a perfect dog for her, since it doesn't require much space or sustenance. It almost never even barks. It's a dog for someone who be better off with a cat, but doesn't want one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Like Predicting the Weather

MSNBC has Tim Geithner testifying about the bank bailout "plan". From what I've gathered he has essentially said "we don't know what we're going to do but it's going to cost a lot of money but we don't need any more funds from Congress". Actually I think he's being fairly straightforward for a banker. He saying that things suck, we can only do so much even when we have some idea what to do, and the poison is going to have to work its way out of the system. Naturally the stock market tanked, particularly the bank stocks since it doesn't sound like they're going to immediately get more free money.

Watching and reading about this makes me think of meteorology. Like economics, it operates with a lot of numbers but not nearly enough real information to create methodology to make accurate predictions beyond a narrow time frame. Unlike meteorologists, these people have the means to take action based on their sketchy information. It's hard to find comfort in that.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just Famous Enough

James Lileks went shopping, and encountered a groupie.

When I got to the register I apologized for not having my Eddie Bauer Friends card, and the clerk said she could find me - whereupon one of the clerks, to my amazement, said “Oh, Jim’s in the system.” Whereupon another clerk turned around and said “You’re James Lileks, the columnist! I love your columns!

Oh, that never gets old. I suppose when you reach a level of ubiquitous fame modern slang-enthusiasts would describe as sick you would tire of being praised by strangers in public, but for the majority of people in the typing game it’s like being hosed down with warm ambrosia. Why, yes, I am! Why yes. Thank you. You’re always a bit surprised to find that the things you type are actually disseminated beyond your own head.

Rain and Taxes

February rain; what a concept. There was even a bit of thunder and lightning last night. Well, it's better than what we usually get this time of year, and I'm sure the people around Melbourne would love some rain.

I finally got taxes done; we'll get enough back to pay property taxes and get the credit card off life support. That's pretty much all I expect. I will have to make some adjustments soon,though, to allow for the daughter coming off my return sometime in the near future. She filed her first tax return this year. *sigh*

I used Turbo Tax again this year. It works pretty well and gets the refund back faster. I used the free version, which requires a bit more typing but saves the fee. My wife used to go to H&R Block before we were married, and her daughter still does. I've never had much trouble doing taxes myself; it's just a bit tedious. Of course I do have a knack for math, and my taxes have never been terribly complicated.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Single or Psychotic?

Sathnam Sanghera contemplates his current marital status.

You see, I've been single for nearly two years now and, as we approach the wrist-slashing horror of another Valentine's Day, it strikes me that there are a number of eerie parallels between my agitated mental state and three of the most mind-boiling consequences of isolated incarceration, namely, “hypersensitivity”, “psychotic delirium” and “tunnel vision”.

Add to that certain ethnic complications.

Punjabis marry young: my three elder siblings were all betrothed by the age of 19; at 32 I am now twice the age my parents were when they got married; and - this I find most bewildering - some of my first cousins have had children, and those children are now married with kids. If small items of Staffordshire crockery began spontaneously erupting through my forehead, I doubt that I'd be viewed with any more pity or bemusement at family gatherings.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Picking Up the Lingo

Tom Bevan's Feb. 5 Quote of the Day at Real Clear Politics......

"I need a bailout." - My nine-year old son explaining to me this morning that his lunch money account at school was overdrawn. How quickly they learn.

I just wrote my daughter's last last school lunch money check the other day; being done with that feels almost unnaturally good.

Not Your Grandma's Buick

It's an old legend: a long-hidden classic car discovered. This one actually happened, and it's a biggie.

Relatives of reclusive Newcastle doctor Harold Carr found the 1937 Type 57S Atalante in a garage after he died. It was originally owned by Earl Howe - first president of the British Racing Drivers' Club. Just 17 were built.

It is expected to sell for at least £3m ($4.4 million)

Update: Forgotten Bugatti sells for £2.9m

Rat Master

Do you have a rodent problem? Here's your man.

A farmer from north Bangladesh has been named the country's top rat killer after disposing of 39,650 rodents over the course of a year. He used traps, poison and flooding to kill his quarry. He collected their tails as proof of his prowess.

He was part of a big contest to help combat a big problem.

The competition was part of a nationwide drive to stop food supplies from being eaten up by rats.....Officials estimate that up to 10% of Bangladesh's crops - including rice, wheat and potato - is devoured by rats every year.

His prize?

Binoy Kumar Karmakar, 40, won a 14in (36cm) colour TV ......

Was He Wearing a White Jumpsuit?

A scandalous claim implicating Russia's most prominent politician.

An Abba tribute band says it has performed a private concert for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

It was a private affair, with alleged conduct unbecoming a former KGB officer.

The four-member group says Mr Putin and about seven other guests, including a woman, were present at the concert, but they sat on a sofa veiled by a curtain.

"......Mr Putin was really enjoying it, shouting 'Bravo' and clapping with the others," Aileen McLaughlin, who performs as Abba's blonde Agnetha Faltskog, was quoted as saying by the Times newspaper. "He [Putin] was dancing along in his seat to Super Trouper and raised his hands in the air during Mamma Mia when we asked the audience to," she said.

Of course.......Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that the prime minister attended any such concert.


The woman has experienced plenty of failure.

A South Korean grandmother has failed her written driving test 771 times.

But she doesn't give up.

She failed the exam once again on Monday but has said that she will continue trying.

That's just the current obstacle.

If she passes, then she can begin the practical test.

It's a Good Thing Big Bird Can't Fly

In an article about the people who try to keep wildlife off the runways at San Francisco airport, Katharine Mieszkowski mentions an interesting fact.

Commercial jet engines must be designed to withstand a single four-pound bird being sucked into them.

Even though birds are generally light for their size, that's not a lot, as the article points out.

Pelicans or geese, which can weigh up to 10 pounds, are big trouble.

That's for large commercial airplanes. Smaller planes such as the puddle jumpers that fly out of most South Dakota airports would have much less margin for trouble.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dust Off the Amp and Crank It to 11

I'm not thrilled with most bands reuniting years after their peak, but I'll give these guys a chance.

Spinal Tap are recording their first new material in nearly twenty years.

(Harry) Shearer, who these days voices several Simpsons characters, told BBC 5 Live: "It'll be for download as well as on conventional media later this year."

There's no talk of it in the article, but a Spinal Tap movie spoofing the classic rock circuit could be gold.

Watch Those Roaming Charges

Cell phone service sets sail.

Previously merchant ship crews had to rely on expensive satellite phones.

The new system will also rely on satellite communication. A picocell - a small base station that extends mobile coverage - will be installed in accommodation areas of the ship.

Connected to a remote gateway, it will convert a mobile call into a narrowband IP signal for transmission over the satellite network.

Hot and Rocky

Astronomers have found another planet outside our solar system; one different from most of the others.

About 330 of these "exoplanets" have been discovered so far. But most of them have been gas giants similar to Jupiter or Neptune.

"For the first time, we have unambiguously detected a planet that is 'rocky' in the same sense as our own Earth," said Malcolm Fridlund, Corot project scientist from the European Space Agency (Esa).

It has a couple of things in common with earth, and one big difference.

The new find, Corot-Exo-7b, has a diameter less than twice that of Earth and orbits its Sun-like star once every 20 hours.

It orbits very close to its star, and has a high temperature - between 1,000 and 1,500C. This is far too hot for the planet to support life.

Nerve Chips

Scottish scientists have developed a very different use for computer-manufacturing technology.

Edinburgh University has developed a technique, which allows neurons to grow in fine, detailed patterns on the surface of tiny computer chips.

The scientists said the development may eventually enable chips to replace damaged nerve or muscle fibres.

They also said the development could possibly be used in the development of prosthetics in the future.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Suddenly On His Own

I'm adding this to my list of reasons not to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

Daniel Pharr steered himself and the instructor clear of a house and trees, touching down about 0.3 miles (0.5km) from the intended landing point.

Initial indications showed the instructor had suffered a heart attack after releasing the parachute.....

Mr Pharr, 25, said that once on the ground he had tried resuscitate the 49-year-old instructor, but to no avail.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Good News for Shoe Retailers

Apparently the Iraqi guy started a trend.

The Chinese Prime Minister narrowly avoided being hit by a flying shoe yesterday as his three-day visit to Britain ended with an Iraqi-style protest from a member of the audience at the University of Cambridge.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Little Bit at a Time

A diabetic man developed a serious problem.

Tests showed that not only was he allergic to his own medication, but also to another four types - and it was the insulin molecule itself that was causing the problems.

It didn't look good, so he took matters into his own hands.

Doctors painted a gloomy picture about Cliff's future, as it was clear the treatments he could take would not completely control his diabetes.

Determined not to give up, he started to do his own internet research and found that Dr Tahseen Chowdhury at Barts and the London Centre for Diabetes had treated difficult cases like his own.

Dr Chowdhury tried out a number of therapies, including a modified insulin but they failed.
Then he hit upon using an insulin pump to put tiny amounts of the drug into Cliff's body every three minutes. "The amount was so small I did not get the reaction," said Cliff.

He got the idea the same way the patient found him.

Dr Chowdhury said Cliff's case had been a real challenge and he had turned to the internet as part of his search for an answer on how to proceed with his patient. "I had found one report of a case which was similar to his that had been treated with a pump with moderate success."