Friday, June 27, 2008

Nemo & the Irony Impaired

In response to the Pixar film about a clownfish happily escaping captivity, parents satisfying demands of children wanting their very own Nemo have put so many clownfish in captivity that an expert on the species now recommends listing them as endangered.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Land of the Lost

Dooce pens a post on Land of the Lost:

"I bet half of my readers haven't ever heard of that television show, and if you're one of those people then I am very sorry that your childhood was so unfulfilling. I bet you never owned a My Pretty Pony either. These are surely unresolved issues that you should bring up next time your family gets together for dinner, right after your father turns to your sister and says, "You were always the pretty one."

After all these years, it's hard not to wonder if the acting and special effects of this 70s Saturday morning sci-fi gem have ever been paralleled. Unfortunately, the following YouTube link for the show's introduction is now dead. Someone must have had it taken down, either to protect intellectual property or simply to save face. (Actually I really did love this show as a kid. Those Sleestaks were seriously terrifying at the time). What will be taken down next, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters? Sigh, that's gone too.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cake or Pie?

My guess is the roots of the game, if you can call it that, trace back to an icebreaker offered at conventions for multilevel marketers, one of those silly get-to-know-me exercises where strangers bond through shenanigans congealing into camaraderie via collective humiliation.

I don't know the name of the game, I'm calling it Cake or Pie, and why a family who clearly knew each other quite well insisted on playing it inside our ears for the entire duration of a flight from Minneapolis to Seattle is a question I've filed between "Head cheese?" and "Why did he get re-elected?"

It goes like this. You propose a choice between two somewhat similar options and your partner offers his or her preference by choosing one of the two, presumably revealing a little of him-or-her-self in the process.

"Cake or pie?"

"And then what?" you might ask, but there is no "and then what" other than taking turns doing this until... oh, I don't know... I guess until you tire of it.

"Custard or pudding?"
"Coke or Pepsi?"
"Pizza or pasta?"
"Paper or plastic?"
"Hari kari or jumping?"

We reached the jetway four hours later.

The Cake or Pie? family stood next to us at baggage claim, but this didn't bother us particularly, because we were minutes away from escaping them for perpetuity.

Or so we thought...

We hadn't considered the possibility of another twenty minutes of Cake or Pie? as they sat immediately behind us on the rental car shuttle (which, of course, they did). Can people sharing the same domicile and DNA ever get enough of this game? At this point the situation had passed from annoying to incomprehensibly comic, and we knew that soon, we'd be on our way never to see these folks again.

Or so we thought...

Lunch. The hostess sat us right next to the Cake or Pie? family. It doesn't sound terribly surprising or remarkable put that way, but even they seemed a little unnerved when we arrived, and stalking probably seemed the most reasonable explanation to them.

Fate. Every now and then when you become too much a believer in Chance, Fate gets sufficiently rankled and decides it's time to grab you by the shoulders and slap you up and down--just to show you who's the boss--and no matter how hard you try to credit Chance, you're doomed to a solar system of unsettling questions perpetually orbiting.

What were THEY doing for the past TWO HOURS? Why did they eat lunch SO LATE? Why did we wind up at THAT table given all the empty tables available in the section? There's the question of why THAT section? Why THAT restaurant in such an obscure location in Seattle given the thousands of possibilities?

Had I consciously plotted a circuitous escape path from Sea-Tac around the city, a plan designed with the singular purpose of escaping these people, I would have taken the same route we took...

My old apartment in Renton. The grave of Jimi Hendrix. The gun shop that became home to a Darwin Award. The winding timber-lined streets behind Factoria. Downtown Bellevue. A cruise along the lake through Kirkland before rolling over the 520 bridge. Lake Union. And finally, after all that, the little house doubling as a Thai restaurant on Roy Street.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Engulfed in Flames

Eight years ago, a fit of uncontrollable laughter nearly left me crashed in a ditch on the way to my parents' house, because a game of radio roulette landed my dial on David Sedaris reading his Santaland Diaries on NPR. I've been a fan ever since, he's one of a few people alive I consider truly funny, and I've been much enjoying his recent book, When You're Engulfed in Flames, the subject of a recent watch-worthy daily show appearance (starting at 14:46).

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My brother told me his friend built a squirrel feeder, a construction specially designed to facilitate the feeding of squirrels. After spending years trying to keep squirrels out of his bird feeder, he utimately came to the conclusion squirrels are more entertaining to watch than birds. This realizatioin may be the death knell for the squirrel-proof bird feeder industry.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Seeds of Life?

Were Meteorites the Origin of Life on Earth?
DNA building blocks found in meteorite took shape in deep space

"A new study finds that a pair of chemical building blocks similar to those in genetic material was present in a meteorite before it fell to Earth in the 1960s. Researchers say the finding makes it slightly more plausible that meteorite bombardments may have seeded ancient Earth with life's raw materials, potentially paving the way for life itself."

more at SciAm


An amusing interview with Gore Vidal in the NYT:

Q: At the age of 82, you will be publishing your new collection of essays this week, which seems likely to confirm your reputation as one of America’s last public intellectuals. Why do you think that critics have traditionally praised your essays more than your fiction, which includes “Burr,” “Myra Breckinridge” and 20 other novels?

A: That’s because they don’t know how to read. I can’t name three first-rate literary critics in the United States . I’m told there are a few hidden away at universities, but they don’t print them in The New York Times.


Friday, June 13, 2008

So. Central Rain


Tuesday, June 10, 2008


From the perspective of machine learning and what I've learned of neural networks, I find this intruiging...

Brainpower May Lie in Complexity of Synapses

"Evolution’s recipe for making a brain more complex has long seemed simple enough. Just increase the number of nerve cells, or neurons, and the interconnections between them. A human brain, for instance, is three times the volume of a chimpanzee’s. A whole new dimension of evolutionary complexity has now emerged from a cross-species study led by Dr. Seth Grant at the Sanger Institute in England. Dr. Grant looked at the interconnections between neurons, known as synapses, which until now have been regarded as a standard feature of neurons.

But in fact the synapses get considerably more complex going up the evolutionary scale, Dr. Grant and colleagues reported online Sunday in Nature Neuroscience. In worms and flies, the synapses mediate simple forms of learning, but in higher animals they are built from a much richer array of protein components and conduct complex learning and pattern recognition, Dr. Grant said. The finding may open a new window into how the brain operates. “One of the biggest questions in neuroscience is to answer what are the design principles by which the human brain is constructed, and this is one of those principles,” Dr. Grant said."

NYT (via 3QD)

Loney, Live

Loney, Dear live at Lowlands, 2007.

Artist: Loney, Dear
Song: I am John
Disc: Loney, Noir
Year: 2007

Monday, June 09, 2008



This is a baby alligator snapping turtle we found a couple weeks ago. Its shell is roughly the size of a sand dollar or the cover of tennis ball can. The largest freshwater turtle in North America, specimens can grow to a few hundred pounds, but even young adults of moderate size can be pretty ferocious when cornered--capable of lopping of a finger with a quickly darting head and powerful snapping jaws. In my Stand By Me childhood, my friends and I called them 'shell sharks', but they're awfully cute and harmless when they're tiny.

Friday, June 06, 2008


The consequences of rising fuel costs on the airlines has left me thinking about alternatives such as blimps and the possibility of hydrogen powered jets. Not alone, I ran into a Guardian article on a new generation of zeppelins. (Except why not cover them with solar cells too?)

Could Zeppelins Grace Our Skies Again?

"Germany is producing zeppelins again. More than 70 years after the infamous Hindenburg disaster, its latest airship was gently guided out of the hangar doors last month to make its maiden test flight.

The Zeppelin NT, built from endowment money left behind by German airship pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, will make further test flights around Friedrichshafen over the coming months, before flying to London - where a former contestant from The Apprentice, Rory Laing, plans."


Bayesian Brain

Recent New Scientist article on Bayesian statistics and the brain:

"The idea was born in 1983, when Geoffrey Hinton of the University of Toronto in Canada and Terry Sejnowski, then at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, suggested that the brain could be seen as a machine that makes decisions based on the uncertainties of the outside world. In the 1990s, other researchers proposed that the brain represents knowledge of the world in terms of probabilities. Instead of estimating the distance to an object as a number, for instance, the brain would treat it as a range of possible values, some more likely than others.

A crucial element of the approach is that the probabilities are based on experience, but they change when relevant new information, such as visual information about the object’s location, becomes available. “The brain is an inferential agent, optimising its models of what’s going on at this moment and in the future,” says Friston. In other words, the brain runs on Bayesian probability. Named after the 18th-century mathematician Thomas Bayes, this is a systematic way of calculating how the likelihood of an event changes as new information comes to light (see New Scientist, 10 May, p 44, for more on Bayesian theory)."


(via Mind Hacks, Reverendbayes's Weblog)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Say I Am You

Say I Am You.

This 2006 folk/pop release by The Weepies truly is outstanding. In an age of buying songs one at a time, it has become harder to recommend a disc in its entirety, but this one's worth the price. Great work!

Another video for one of the songs: Nobody knows me at all.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


WMDsweeper, a less popular application competing with Microsoft's Minesweeper. Critics called it 'boring' because each round consisted of a single click revealing an empty 9 x 9 grid.

Geothermal Pioneers

A Spiegel Online article discusses a new geothermal effort in Germany:

"In a small town outside of Munich, a major investment in a pioneering new type of geothermal energy looks like it may pay off sooner than expected. With oil prices on the rise, Unterhaching's plant could be a model for others worldwide.

The geothermal energy plant in Unterhaching, Bavaria, is Germany's biggest and most modern. Beginning in mid-June -- one year later than planned -- the plant will begin supplying power from deep within the Earth's crust to the German energy network.

The plant is only the second in the world to make use of the so-called Kalina system, which uses a combination of water and ammonia to maximize the amount of power generated by the massive turbines. "This is the most effective way to get electricity out of geothermal energy," says Reinhard Galbas, the plant's technical manager..."