Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Rule Of Law In Anbar Province

Michael Yon reports.

The Trouble With Tires

Hey, here's a pretty neat advance on the recycling front. Here in Portland, we're big on recycling. We have weekly pickup of our paper, cans, jugs and bottles, scrap metal, cardboard, and most other things that can possibly know a second life. Everywhere you look there are recycling bins next to the trash can, reminding us that with a little extra effort (very little in Portland) we can send these items to be reformed and reused, instead of sending them off to populate a landfill. This community decision is reflective of both the "green" attitude here in Oregon, and the pioneer spirit which led many of our ancestors here, using and reusing our resources, refurbishing and remaking, rather than tossing things that might still have some use left in them. My next door neighbors just built a really great chicken coop (yes, you can have up to three chickens here in the city) entirely out of reclaimed materials. It's quite charming and functional, with sliding doors to unobtrusively get at the eggs, and an old french door, with the glass removed, for an entry. I think one of the things that satisfied them the most, besides the fact it's a really cute addition to their yard, is that they didn't buy a thing to finish the job. It' a fine accomplishment in recycling ingenuity.

Even here in Oregon, however, where recycling is a priority, there's a persistent blight on the "reuse it" record. Some things simply can't be used again, or made into something else with any facility. Chief example? Tires. Tire recycling is a big problem the world over, and many landfills are piled high with the troublesome trash because of the difficulty in finding ways to revive the treated rubber. According to Tom Simonite at, tire rubber, which has been vulcanized--treated with a chemical to make it strong and durable--isn't cooperative in the melting department. Since it won't melt, it can't be merged with new rubber to make new tires, and "retreading" has not been a particularly successful venture. It's just been too difficult to get new rubber to bond to the old tires. So, we're left with piles of tire discards. Haven't we all seen the giant tire graveyards where old tires go when they die? Simonite points out these tires have a tendency to release pollutants and catch fire, and with just the US producing 290 million tires worth of landfill-quality rubber in 2003 alone, it would be in our best interest to come up with some other way to address the problem.

This isn't to say that no one is trying any creative solutions to the tire dilemma. There is some creative tire usage going on. David Isaac, at Swansea University in the UK, says that tires are being ground up for flooring, and I saw a report recently about a fashion designer using bicycle tires for high fashion (seriously ugly, and probably smelly high fashion if you ask me), but, even if wearing tire rubber to the opera were to catch on, these alternatives can barely make a dent in the used tire supply. Wouldn't the best option be to make old tires into new tires, if that were possible? That's something Isaac and his scientist pals have been working on, and they have made some significant progress, using lots of scientific know-how and fancy sciency equipment:

Now, David Isaac and colleagues at Swansea University, UK, have shown that spinning ground-up tyres, called rubber "crumb", inside a chamber filled with ionised oxygen gas plasma could provide a solution.

"It makes the surface of the crumb much better at sticking onto new rubber," Isaac explains. "Without treatment, the interface between the old pieces and new rubber is very weak."

The treated rubber particles can then be added to fresh non-vulcanised rubber to make new tyres. Laboratory tests show that tyre rubber recycled in this way has similar tensile strength and other mechanical properties to completely new material.

Isaac says the plasma treatment appears to create reactive oxygen species - small, highly reactive molecules - on the surface of the rubber by opening up carbon bonds. This reactive surface adheres well to fresh rubber. But it will not stay that way for ever, so the researchers have to add it to new rubber straight away. In the long term, they hope to find a way to make the plasma treatment last longer.

Isn't that nifty? With this technology turning old rubber into new tires that are as strong and durable as the original, there's really no good reason I can see (with my limited understanding of science and economics) that this new approach can't make tire recycling a ubiquitous phenomenon. Now that they've got a workable method, the next step is to sell the technology to the tire manufacturers, and Isaac and crew have formed a company to do just that. Hopefully this method will catch on, making tire fires and tire graveyards a thing of the past. (Oh, and tire "planters" can go bye-bye, too! I know that the people who use old tires that way are being frugal and conservationist and all, but those things are just plain ugly, no matter what color they're painted. I know, I know--I'm being an aesthetics snob again.) Maybe it won't be too long before Bridgestone and Les Schwab are rolling out product lines that actually deplete the supply of used tires in the world. That would make a lot of Oregonians happy, Greens and pioneers alike.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tech Fun

Maybe someday the Smart People will stop coming up with tech toys that call out to me with the lure of the Sirens to Odysseus' crew, but this is not that day. Glenn Derene, at Popular Mechanics, has a look at a revolutionary new computing platform, and it's absolutely amazing. Would you believe it's a coffee table? Well it is--a coffee table like nothing you've ever seen, except in sci fi movies like The Island and Minority Report. I just can't not want one. I can't. It's not possible. Go watch the video, and I dare you to try and not want one too. Read the article. If you're a geek at all, this thing has to at least make you want to play with it, if not start saving money immediately, forgetting your children's education and that long-awaited second honeymoon, for the day when this high-tech jewel will finally be your own. Just remember not to buy it till the technological law of gravity kicks in and the price comes down. Try to have that much self control--although, I admit, it's going to be hard with this one. I'm already contemplating which organ to sell.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Synthetic Biology

Rudy Rucker has a humorous look at the ludicrous extremes of nanotechnology, at Newsweek. Man, I wish I was that imaginative. Although, now that I think about it, considering some of what he's describing, I really hope his gift is only imagination, and not prophecy. I just can't get enthusiastic about some of the potential places he sees humanity's nano-roads enabling us to go:

But, feckless creatures that we are, we may cast caution to the winds. Why would starlets settle for breast implants when they can grow supplementary mammaries? Hipsters will install living tattoo colonies of algae under their skin. Punk rockers can get a shocking dog-collar effect by grafting on a spiky necklace of extra fingers with colored nails. Or what about giving one of your fingers a treelike architecture? Work 10 two-way branchings into each tapering fingerlet of this special finger, and you’ll have a thousand or so fingertips, and the fine touch of a sea anemone.

Can you imagine your teenager coming home with a spiky collar of living fingers around his neck? Eeeww. And you thought his haircut was bad...

Hat tip: Futurismic


This is a personal update post, for those of you who have followed the giant garage/shop building project from its inception last summer, through its many wandering offshoot projects and the woes of dealing with the Alliance (the City of Portland, Oregon), and its various codes and permit demands--moving on now to the remaining list of chores which have been filling our days, facilitated by the lovely spring weather that we have been enjoying for quite some time now. I thought perhaps some of you would be interested in where things stand. The rest of you can stop reading now; there won't be any cool science news or ranting about the state of politics, or anything of any actual import to the world at large. Heck, this update might not even be of interest to those who have read all the ongoing details of project-related trial and triumph that I have Meowed about over the last year. You have my complete understanding if the mere mention of our Power Tool Recreational Area makes your eyes glaze over, and I give you my full consent to bail on this post right now. Who, after all, besides Kedley and I, really cares about our long held dream of having a workshop in which we could play with our many beloved power tools? I have no illusions as I write this that it will be compelling reading for any of you, but I am self-indulgent enough to want to put it down anyway, as a continuation of the project "journal" which I have logged here in previous months. Blogging it has become part of the process for me, and at some point I will no doubt even post a set of "start-to-finish" photos to complete the log. That is, once we finally get it finished...

Anyway, the holiday weekend was the perfect blend of progress and rest. We started with a hike on Friday evening with a friend, which was a lovely boost before plunging in to the rabbit-trail project that was our Saturday focus. What we had to tackle Saturday morning was the direct descendant of one of the first "project children" the City required us to adopt and make our own. Back when we began the whole garage process, we discovered that our driveway had to be a foot wider for the city to allow us to build. This was a tight squeeze, and made it necessary for us to cut into a slope coming down from our neighbors' yard, build a retaining wall, and expand the driveway right up to the property line. Building the retaining wall was a huge project, which needed a series of sixty pound "Manor Stones," stacked five high, for a distance of about ninety feet. BIG JOB, which included digging out the hill, laying a gravel base, placing the stones just so, and then back-filling from the giant pile of dirt we collected in the process. After that, the actual driveway widening didn't seem like too bad a job.

Our driveway is made of concrete pavers, which we put in about ten years ago, so we knew how the whole thing was constructed, with compacted gravel, sand and pavers, in that order. (It's actually one of the reasons we chose this kind of driveway when the old one needed to come out. We can take the pavers up and put them down at will. It's not easy, but it's simple.) That part of the project went smoothly, but there was a bit of an issue that developed from the retaining wall. It became a matter of some exactness to open the door and get out of the car on the wall side of the driveway. Those Manor Stones are not particularly forgiving, and, if we wanted to spare ourselves a record of errors kept in the car door panels, it became clear we would have to repeat the widening on the lawn side. We simply needed more room to get out of the car, without being forced to step out into wet grass, by the necessity of retaining wall avoidance.

We knew what we were going to start on Saturday had to be finished on Saturday, and that if we didn't get it done, it was going to cause some problems for us. The pavers are held in place by a set of plastic braces pounded into the ground with spikes along the length of the edge. In order to add a row of pavers, we had to dig a trench the width of the expansion, fill it with compacted gravel, remove the edge pieces, level the base, smooth with sand, place the stones, and finally, replace the edge. The replacing-the-edge part is very important. Without it, the driveway would be off limits, as driving on it could cause the whole shebang to shift. This would be bad. Not being able to drive on the driveway, besides just being a general annoyance, would also severely hinder forward momentum in finishing other long-neglected garage-related tasks. Since the next two weekends are booked with peoplish things like weddings, it was the holiday weekend or bust, as far as getting the driveway finished was concerned. Long story longer: We got it done!! We feel most triumphant. We then got to top the day off with dinner with some dear friends of long standing (doesn't that sound better than dear old friends?), which was a great way to end a day of hard work, especially since one of these friends is an absolutely splendid cook. A day of progress. followed by a fab meal that I didn't have to prepare--what could be better?

Not only did we get the driveway completed, but we even found time to move on to other things. Even better, we gave ourselves Sunday off, to recharge our very depleted batteries, have a wonderful time of worship, watch some videos, go for a lovely walk around the golf course near our house, and eat some splendid Indian food. Good day. Then Monday we jumped back into the work with renewed vigor (after a healthy dose of caffeine--I try to avoid the stuff in general, but lately there are some days when it simply proves too useful to abstain.) Monday was another feel-good day, where we actually saw a project heading toward completion, rather than just starting out. If you remember our forty foot, by ten foot, by five foot high mountain range of dirt from the garage excavation (and I'm assuming you do--I doubt anyone who hasn't seen this garage thing through from the beginning is still hanging in there with reading this post), then you know that we created all sorts of raised beds and niches to tuck the mountain away bit by bit, and eliminate our own private "dirt dune."

The biggest of these is a twenty-two by eleven raised patio behind the new garage, where most of the soil found its home. Yesterday, we finally got the dirt levelled, the plant beds established with a plastic edging, and about three inches of gravel in place as the foundation for the flagstones that will be the patio surface. We were so excited to get this far. We had friends we haven't seen for years stop by unexpectedly, and we all sat out on the nice, shady, if slightly unfinished patio, and got to taste the first fruits of all that work. It was perfect--just what we hoped for. Bamboo and lilac shielded us from the glare of the sun, and we looked out over the first blades of grass popping up in the freshly-planted lawn below us. It was cool and comfortable, and wonderfully social, which is half the point of putting the thing in (the other half being the removal of the aforementioned mountain range.) Another big plus: since we were outside, I could sit there being happily hospitable, while NOT having a massive allergic reaction to the cloud of perfume that these particular (and very beloved friends) inevitably exude. I was a happy Kat.

So there it is. All in all, it was everything we could ask of a long weekend. Work, worship, play, and three whole days together. Kedley and I were, of course, sorry to see it end, but still satisfied. I took time in the midst of all of this to remember that it was Memorial Day, and think about the soldiers who have given their lives to make our home as we know it possible. We did not go, as a Boy Scout from church did this weekend, to put flags on the graves of fallen soldiers, nor did we take flowers to the sites where the earthly remains of loved ones who have gone before us have been laid to rest, but we do remember, and are grateful that what they have built endures. We pray to God that we who remain can build well on their foundation.

On that note, I'll be done with the Meow Personal Progress Journals, and head out into the cyber world to see what else the weekend hath wrought. I hope I find that others have made progress of various kinds over the past few days. I love progress.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

To Whom It May Concern, Or Anybody Else With Eyeballs

Heh. Don't you just love mass marketing that disguises itself as personal correspondence? My husband got a letter today marked, "Important Information: for addressee only." Then it was addressed to, "My Husband's Name, Or Current Resident." Any old resident, apparently, would do just fine. Do they actually think the "for addressee only" will make people feel important and more inclined to buy their product, despite the obvious and rather feeble manipulation? That's just goofy thinking. Into the recycling bin it goes. (It would have gone there anyway; it was just especially fun to toss it in with an added sense of scorn.)


A friend and reader, knowing my fondness for that special place where science and science fiction cross paths, sent me the link to this article in the Telegraph (a UK publication), titled, "'Star Trek' scanner may end need for biopsies." Oooh, ya got me already. Star Trek and real life medical gadgets? How fun!! Let's read on, shall we?

Scientists have moved closer to developing a Star Trek-type scanner that can identify the molecular indications of cancer and other diseases without surgery.

X-ray images contain patterns that can help doctors translate the genetic "language" of tumours, researchers have found.

The discovery, which has been compared to finding the "Rosetta Stone" that enabled archaeologists to read hieroglyphics, could bring the science fiction of Star Trek to life.

Dr Howard Chang, from the University of Stanford in California, a joint leader of the research, said: "In almost every episode of Star Trek there is a device called a tricorder, which they used non-invasively to scan living or non-living matter to determine its molecular makeup. Something like that would be very, very useful."

I think Dr. Chang wins the understatement award for the day. A device which could non-invasively scan any and all matter and determine its molecular makeup would be something on the order of revolutionary. Of course, doctors would love to be able to just point a machine at someone and instantly be able to tell if they have cancer, intestinal parasites, space cooties from the planet Mongo, or other various and sundry ailments, but the applications for devices like the ones in Star Trek becoming a reality would extend way beyond the realm of the medical. Need a rare metal that's crucial to your pursuit of a homemade anti-gravity device? Wouldn't it be great to have a gadget that could tell you right where the stuff was hiding? Of course it would. Need to know if there's anything living in that cave, before you go spelunking? Our handy dandy little gizmo could probably help keep you safe from cave critters--or at least aware of their existence. Oh, and it can analyze any rocks you find while you're crawling around in the dark, too, so just in case you find one of those rare loose diamonds lying around on the cave floor, you won't pass it by thinking that it's only broken glass. Not a bad little tool to have with you in the dark, eh? But wait; there's more. If you think that's useful, boy howdy could the folks at Homeland Security use a government-issue, super-sleuth version, too, for keeping us all safe from bad guys. Want to make sure there are no dirty bombs on board that freight liner that just pulled into harbor? Well, let's just offload everything right on past that Jumbo Tricorder and have ourselves a little molecular peak, shall we? No nuclear stowaways gettin' through here, sir! So, don't you worry your pretty little head.

Now, you know that here at the Meow we like to take little flights of fancy, and that what the Telegraph is reporting doesn't even come close to the kind of tricorder technology that would enable the Star Trek version of reality. (It is fun to play with the idea, though, isn't it?) What's really been happening is that scientists have discovered that x-rays contain more information than doctors have known about previously, and some of those scientists are learning how to read that information. Dr. Chang and his colleagues worked with human liver cancer samples, and found 28 image features, not previously recognized, which show up on scans, that correlate to specific molecular gene activity, related to the cancer. In fact, "More than 5,000 genes have altered levels of activity in cancerous tissue," and "...the researchers were able to reconstruct 80 per cent of gene expression in the livers simply by looking at standard CT scans." Dr. Chang and his associates are learning to recognize how what they see in the images from medical scans relates to the molecular activity in the tissue. They hope that in time medical tricorder-like technology could develop from what they are piecing together, and that doctors won't have to cut someone open to give them a cancer diagnosis.

What they've got so far might not be the amazing and magical medical know-it-all gadgetry that Bones and Dr. Crusher use to rid the universe of the ravages of disease, but it's one step closer to the day when cancer diagnosis will be done with a scan and not a scalpel (and hopefully progress will continue apace on a cure, too.) Who knows where it will lead? Once they start understanding all the things these images show them, how, long will it be before they can program a computer to understand them too? From there it could be only a hop, skip and a jump to the tricorders of our dreams, even the ones that protect us from terrorists and find us caches of diamonds just for crawling around in the dark. Why not? We might as well dream big.

Hat tip: Danny

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


How many more times will the media print "sensitive" national security information from ANONYMOUS "patriots," while no one suffers any consequences for the breach, except the people who will die because U.S. government secrets were blabbed to the world--because Americans have a "right to know?" ABC has given the Iranians another excuse to play the victim, while continuing defiantly to develop the nuclear capabilities that the oil rich nation claims to need for power. (They want power, all right, just not the kind that runs the refrigerator.) Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, on The Blotter at print the big, bold headline "Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran." Not covert anymore:

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a “nonlethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions…

What part of secret does ABC not get? Okay, now no one is going to be shocked that the U.S. is working against the regime in Iran. The U.S. darned well better be doing something to hinder an antagonistic bully that is very visibly and vocally working toward becoming a nuclear power, has made decisive threats against its neighbors--our allies--while actively supporting terrorism, is one of the major destabilizing factors in Iraq, would love nothing more than to put a giant nuclear hole where Israel used to be, and chortles in delight at the mere thought of leaving New York, LA, London or even Paris a smoking radioactive crater. It's not a big surprise to learn that our government takes this threat seriously. However, if ABC News doesn't think that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts will use this "revelation" for all it's worth in the blame department, then they are worse than idiots. Muslim extremists riot over CARTOONS, for pity's sake.

Iran's power mongers will milk this down to the last drop in the Muslim world, and will make mental inroads with many, even in the other Muslim countries that would much rather not have a nuclear Iran in the region. This will be taken as further evidence that America is evil, what with having the desire to destabilize the Iranian government and all. Imperialist swine. Never mind the fact that the rest of the world would be insane not to work toward the downfall of a fanatical, power mad, oppressive regime that is very clear about its intentions to rule the world and kill everyone who stands to prevent that. This will be played as interference from the Great Satan in Muslim affairs, and it won't matter a bit that Iranians interfere with the affairs of the rest of the region constantly--Lebanon and Iraq being two of the countries that bear a lot of the brunt of Iran's attention. How many more Muslims will die in Iraq because another handful of suicide bombers were recruited to fight against the evil Iran-destabilizing USA? How many more times will the American media print "sensitive" information and get away with it? ABC News should be prosecuted for its own "black ops", along with the anonymous CIA sources. The only way these people are going to stop working against America is if they are held accountable for it.

Hat tip: Allah Pundit at Hot Air, who has more to say on the appeasement approach to the situation with Iran, and a look at some of the possibilities for "blowback" from Iran.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Power Of The Pen

A fourth province in Iraq has now been handed over to the Iraqis. Michael Yon looks at media coverage of the event.

The Technological Law Of Gravity

Here's an example (in Gizmag) of why you should never succumb to the lure of technology before a little of the "new" has rubbed off the price-tag. Remember how the first VCRs cost more than your first car (that Datsun B210 with the dent in the right rear bumper), and cell phones had a price that matched their general enormity, only gracing the cars of the select few? Years ago, many people were faced with the choice between having a child or having a computer, because they couldn't afford both, and even the humble DVD player was at one time beyond the grasp of the average wage earner. How things have changed. Now they can't give VCRs away. Tiny cell phones have left the realm of the privileged few and have entered ubiquity--they do give them away, as long as you'll sign up for phone service for a year. Bill Gates' vision of a computer in every home has pretty much come to pass, and DVD players are the technological equivalent of Cracker Jack prizes. You can pick one up at Costco for $69.99, unless you want the portable laptop variety, which will still set you back at least a hundred bucks.

I use these examples because they are all things that are worth having, now that the price has come down to the point where people on a budget can realistically afford them. All except the VCR, of course. Who needs one of those stone age contraptions now that the DVD recorder is within the grasp of many a meager pocketbook? However, in its day, it was a central feature to modern home entertainment, so we should not disparage its place in history. Let us give it the respect it is due, before we toss it into the trash with the rest of yesterday's garbage. It is the fate of all things technological (and newly released DVDs, come to think of it) to go through a brief period of price ridiculousity before the eager beavers who just have to have a 25" flat screen computer monitor NOW pay off the R&D, and bring the price down for the rest of us. I am grateful for the eager beavers. They make life more affordable for the rest of us, and, in time, if we are patient, bring us all the same lovely gadgets they themselves enjoy--just a few months or years later, at a small fraction of the cost.

The latest gadget-du-jour that I predict will follow the usual and predictable path into the home of the common man is a nifty new keyboard (the brainchild of Russian designer Artemy Lebedev) that wealthy eager beavers the world over have been chomping at the bit to acquire for some years, while legal and production delays put off the great and wonderful day. That day has now been firmly established, and November 31, 2007 will be the glorious morning that brings the first 200 Optimus keyboards into the hands of the excited, toothy, flat-tailed technophiles who are willing to plunk down $1564 (American) to be the first to get their hands on this new computer accessory. They'll dribble off the production line for a few months during the massively over-priced introduction period, and then they will start appearing in more significant numbers. You and I will probably be able to find them at Best Buy soon enough, and those of us without deep pockets, who would nonetheless find the keyboard useful, might actually be able to afford one in a couple of years.

So, what's so special about the Optimus keyboard? Well, each individual key is a "stand-alone display" that changes with different settings. You can use the same keyboard for typing English, or Russian, or Greek, for example, and the keys will show the characters for the language chosen. Now, many of us here in the States are not bilingual, but lots of people in the rest of the world are. Their own language may be Korean, but the international business language is definitely English. A multi-purpose keyboard could be quite a boon. Wouldn't immigrants find this a useful little tool, too, an easy way to write that letter back to Grandma in the old country on the same keyboard that the kids write their term papers for junior English class. Even those of us who don't have use for another language in daily life might still find the added functionality a plus. I studied French for a number of years, and there are certain words that we throw into English vocabulary that bug me to write without the accents, but not enough to go to the trouble of fussing around to find out how to make the accents available to my keyboard on those rare occasions when I use them. However, if the cost of this new keyboard comes down enough so that the difference between it and a standard one is negligible (as it eventually must if it becomes popular enough), this new keyboard may itself become the standard. In a few years this keyboard could be universal, so that my laziness will no longer hinder my ability to add the accents to such words as facade. Doesn't that just look wrong?

This is my prediction: Like Jack and Jill, the price for this new gadget will tumble. Someday all computers will come with an Optimus keyboard, or one of the many inevitable knock-offs, and even those of us who have little use for it will have it nonetheless. (Kind of like the eighth teaspoon measure on a set of measuring spoons--who ever uses that?) Eventually we'll find new ways to need it, even if only for video games, and wonder how we ever got along without it--until some new technology comes along to make it passe (doesn't that need an accent?), like computers with voice recognition software that makes keyboards obsolete altogether. However this plays out, I have a request to make of you. If you are one of those people who could really use this technology, just don't buy it (or the voice recognition software for that matter) before the price dips. (I would like to think of Meow readers as being smarter than the eager beavers who bring the price down for the rest of us.) No signing up on the pre-order list. No standing in line at Circuit City just to over-pay for the privilege of being the first to own it. The rest of us will have it soon enough. Patience. The law of gravity is especially applicable to the price of technology.

Monday, May 21, 2007

First Aid First

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were suddenly required to remember the CPR you learned in high school health class? What if the guy in the cubicle next to you suddenly collapsed from a heart attack? After you yell to someone to call 911, would you know how to be his "artificial heart" until the paramedics arrive? I have some vague recollection, and could probably get my hands in the right position, but would be pretty shaky on the details, like how hard to push down, and how often. Now, I could tell you the numbers right now, because I just read an article on the subject at Gizmag (100 beats per minute, and about four to five centimeters of compression), but that article also stated that most people don't retain the correct information for long after they have learned it. Gizmag says, "Only 6 months after learning life-saving CPR techniques, around 60 percent of first aiders - including doctors and nurses - forget how to do it correctly." Only six months. Wow. That makes the chances that I remember the details from sophomore health back in '79 accurately pretty darn remote.

Now, I probably ought to go take a CPR refresher course, but considering that the info might only last another six months before finding the sieve holes in my brain, it would be awfully nice if there were another option--something that might make all the potential heart attack victims in my vicinity a little safer. In fact, wouldn't it be great if people all over the globe (not just near me), in houses, stores, airplanes, office cubicles, and every other place we humans tend to inhabit, could be made just a little safer from what the World Health Organization says is the number one killer of both men and women around the world? I have a friend who recently survived a heart "episode" and it's made me much more aware of how important it is that people know what to do, and that I really don't. I'm sure most of us are getting more aware as we age that we don't have the answers for every emergency, while at the same time we are getting ever more likely to experience them. Some folks in Canada, though, have moved beyond awareness and onto solutions. They've come up with a gadget to add to the standard first aid kit that could save a lot of lives. It's not a magic pill, or portable defibrillator, but a glove:

The Canadian CPR Glove acts as a quick on-the-job refresher course, making sure the first aider administers the correct frequency and depth of chest compression. It's a simple and cheap device that has real potential to save lives if included in a first aid kit.

The black, one-size-fits-all CPR Glove features a series of sensors and chips that measure the frequency and depth of compressions being administered during CPR and outputs the data to a digital display.

How's that for an elegant solution to the memory problem? It's a small item, that's easy to store with the other aid supplies, yet it could make such a difference if it's ever needed. Gizmag says that in a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, fifty-nine percent of the time people didn't do enough compressions per minute to help the patient, and that nearly forty percent of the time the compressions weren't deep enough. Put the CPR Glove on the hand that's pushing on the victim's chest, however, and the glove itself will tell you if you're doing it right. Pretty slick, don't you think?

So who were the Smart People who came up with this life-saving notion? Students:

"We were brainstorming about what we could create for our final-year design project that would provide a real contribution," said inventor Corey Centen, a fourth-year student in electrical and biomedical engineering at McMaster. "We came across this study and recognized the importance of finding a solution."

Centen and classmate Nilesh Patel started working on the concept in September 2006 and developed a number of prototypes, bringing the size of components down each time. They wrote the programs and hand-fabricated the button-size computer chips that operate the glove. They even designed the pattern for the glove but turned to a professional seamstress to recommend fabric and stitch the glove together.

"We see the glove being available as part of any standard first-aid package," explains Patel, also a fourth-year electrical and biomedical engineering student at McMaster. "It is also ideal for CPR training and refresher courses. It would be easy to afford since the components are readily available and relatively inexpensive."

Cool, huh? I want one.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why Do We Fund These Organizations?

Sorry to just toss another one at you, but I've been very busy this week taking care of some projects that have been hanging over my head for quite a while. Occasionally one simply must look at the "to do" list and actually do some of it, rather than just watching the list get longer, so that's where my week has gone. I read something this morning, though, in my brief bit of leisure before plunging back into my official work of the day, which I found both interesting and frustrating. If you don't know anything about the kerfuffle over World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and accusations of ethical misconduct, you probably won't be interested in reading this Wall Street Journal op ed discussing how his name has now been cleared, but he's resigning anyway. If you know the story, you might find the piece worth your time. It's not a who, what, where, when summation of the facts (so if you don't know them you would probably find the piece confusing), but rather a look at what the conditions are that could lead to someone being cleared of charges, but being forced out of their job anyway. It all comes down to a "culture of corruption" that doesn't like the people who try to clean things up, and I can't help thinking again, as so many of us did with the U.N.'s Oil For Food program, why are we giving these crooks money? Is there any hope that our government will stop throwing good money after bad and let these corrupt organizations fall into the ash-heap of history where they belong if they don't clean up their acts? I suppose not, which is quite depressing. Most political stuff is still depressing me these days. I think I'll go work on my projects now. Sorry to depress and run, but the Meow will chipper up again soon, never fear. Some cool new space toy or medical breakthrough will catch my eye, and I'll be my usual enthusiastic and positive self, and soon I'll have the latest project in the "done" column too. That should help my state of mind. Getting things finished always helps my state of mind. I wonder if that's how Paul Wolfowitz feels? "Well, it was a horrible and corrupt place that treated me badly, but at least it's finished. I don't have to put up with it any more, and I can move on to better things." For his sake, I hope so.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A New Notion In Motion

Remember playing on the merry-go-round as a kid? I'm not talking about the fancy amusement park version, with the pretty horses and dolphins and bench seats for the grandparents. I mean the big spinning metal plate, with waist high tubes coming out of the center likes spokes in a horizontal wheel, that you hung onto for dear life when the big kids got to running really fast around the outside to make the fun-machine go. It could be quite a ride, and a dangerous one at that, if you didn't station yourself at one of the inside spaces that had a protective bar to hold you in place. Of course, being on the outside was the best "ride," because that's where you really experienced the speed. This was a mixed blessing. I remember once being on the outside of a full merry-go-round during a busy day at the park, and the speed got so high that my feet got swept off the thing by the centrifugal force, and I actually was pulled under the rim as the joyous death machine spun above me. It was scary, and dampened my enthusiasm for spinning, probably laying the psychological groundwork for later years of motion sickness. I now tend to think of that particular piece of playground equipment as a merry-go-flying. Do they even have them in public parks anymore? I would think in this age of PC lawsuits they would have been banned by the "concerned citizens for helmets, padding and reflective tape brigade."

What those merry-go-rounds really needed was a protective barrier on the outside to keep the little people firmly on board. You never hear of diners flying out of the restaurant at the Space Needle do you? That's because there are walls, obviously, and because the restaurant just doesn't spin that quickly. There's also none of that jarring velocity shifting that happens when the motion comes from an irregular power source like the legs of a twelve-year-old kid. No, nice steady electrical current works much better for turning the top floor of a building, especially a restaurant. You end up with much less soup in your lap that way. (Not that I wouldn't end up wearing my soup anyway. I am a notorious food klutz, and have yet to make it through an entire day as an adult without dropping something of the food variety onto myself, the floor, the table, or any other unfortunate surface that happens to be in the vicinity when I am eating or preparing food, but I digress.)

Think about the dynamics of applying an inconsistent, and sometimes violent, source of power to turning an entire story of a building. What if the restaurant at the Space Needle were powered by wind, like a giant windmill? Not only would the motion be inconsistent, potentially spilling the aforementioned soup, but it would also be unreliable. Some diners might get swept around so fast that the nearby scenery whipped by in a blur, while others, who came on less eventful weather days, might have to be content to stare at the parking lot because the restaurant was in stagnant mode. Even if the building in question didn't contain a restaurant, but was an office building instead, it would take some physical and mental adjusting to the fact that sometimes you would be moving, and sometimes you would be sitting still--and occasionally you could be jerking from one to the other. It might be a little freaky. Needless to say, some people might actually like it; I'm just assuming it wouldn't be for everybody.

Now apply that notion of wind-powered motion to every floor of a skyscraper, each spinning independently, according to the wind-speed at its own altitude. Sound too "out there?" Why would anyone build a windmill building anyway, and could such a thing actually make it off the drawing board? Ask the folks in Dubai, who are planning to start building a "windscraper" within the next six months, or the folks in Chicago who have the same notion. The primary reason? According to Ben Longo at Gizmodo, one of these buildings could power itself and ten other buildings with its revolving floors--as long as the weather holds, that is. (In that regard, this seems like a good fit for the Windy City, don't you think?)

I assume self-generating power isn't the only motivation for the windscraper notion. Some people will pay a lot of money for a really good view, and it's very likely that an ever changing panorama would be worth a pretty penny to rich people with strong enough stomachs to handle the inconsistency of the ride. I'm guessing that strong stomachs won't be the only requirement. They probably will have to take other things into account to accommodate the motion, too. For example, no wheeled chairs, or carts, or appliances allowed, or every time the wind picks up some one's going to have to chase down the furniture that rolled toward the outside of the building. No high heels in that environment, either. It's just too risky. I would also strongly suggest sippy cups.

Go have a look at the Gizmodo post. There are artist's renderings of the building conceived by architect, David Fisher, and a video to give you a better notion of what the idea involves. As a firm believer in the desirability and potential of alternative energy, I find this notion intriguing, if somewhat ambitious. Hey, if it works, more power to 'em. Just don't ask me to move into one of these buildings. I might go for a ride, just to check it out, but let's make it a short one. I still haven't gotten over that traumatic merry-go-round experience as a child. That, and I really am getting tired of spilling my soup.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Friday, May 11, 2007

Oooh, Pretty!!

I just had to post this gorgeous photo from NASA's Image Of The Day Gallery, of The Snowflake Cluster and the Cone Nebula:

Here's NASA's caption:

Strange shapes and textures can be found in the neighborhood of the Cone Nebula. These patterns result from the tumultuous unrest that accompanies the formation of the open cluster of stars known as NGC 2264, the Snowflake Cluster. To better understand this process, a detailed image of this region was taken in two colors of infrared light by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope.

Bright stars from the Snowflake Cluster dot the field. These stars soon heat up and destroy the gas and dust mountains in which they formed. One such dust mountain is the famous Cone Nebula, visible in the above image on the left, pointing toward a bright star near the center of the field. The entire NGC 2264 region is located about 2,500 light years away toward the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros).

I wasn't content to just tell you about the pretty picture this time, and send you off with a link and a nod to go there if you were in the mood. I just had to show you. (Although, I have to say, the image at the NASA site is better resolution, and if you click on the link to the full resolution 3.03 Mb picture, you find that this one has been cropped. The bigger photo is even more spectacular, if you ask me.) Forgive me if posting the picture made the page a little slower than usual, but wasn't it worth it? Since right now none of us get to head off into space to see such sights for ourselves, all we can do is take the opportunities afforded us to enjoy the beautiful things in the universe vicariously, through such blessings of technology as the Spitzer Space Telescope. Fortunately, since NASA is taxpayer funded, its images are ours to enjoy. What a happy thing to think about when we're all paying our share to Uncle Sam.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Now That's Just Silly

A number of things have made the Meow "bad ideas" file over the last year. There was the new rule in the English town of Preston that made it a police-enforceable violation to consume alcoholic beverages while standing. There was the home monitoring system which included camera feeds all over your house to observe your behavior and report back to your bedroom mirror, which then magnified your flaws to reflect back at you what it thought you would look like after a steady period of the eating and exercise habits the snoopy guilt-machine had witnessed. Fun, huh? More "bad ideas" have followed. Who could forget LEGO-shaped fruit snacks for kids, or some of the other recent entries, like the million dollar laptop, and the fuzzy TV? Well, I've got a new one for you: the gold-plated barbecue. Yes, just in case you're not satisfied to burn your steaks on a regular grill, here's one that comes completely decked out in 24 carat gold. For a whopping $12,500, you can satisfy your desire to cook meat, waste money, and convince people of your foolishness all at the same time. According to Gizmag, BeefEater, the grill's manufacturer, says it's “for those who want to make a statement with their barbecue and have the money to burn.” Literally.

Note: For a look at all the "bad ideas" posts referenced above, and more, layed out on the same page all nice and tidy, just click here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Red Light Blues

Found this interesting. You know those cameras at intersections that snap a photo of red light violators so that they can be ticketed via the U.S. Postal Service? They're supposed to reduce accidents, right? (Of course we all know what they're really for is increasing government revenues, but their purported purpose is safety.) Turns out they increase accident rates. Glenn Reynolds explains at Popular Mechanics, and my own hometown of Portland adds some not-very-shiny numbers to the stats:

Red-light cameras are supposed to make us safer by discouraging people from running red lights. The trouble is that they work too well. Numerous studies have found that when these cameras are put in place, rear-end collisions increase dramatically. Drivers who once might have stretched the light a bit now slam on their brakes for fear of getting a ticket, with predictable results. A study of red-light cameras in Washington, D.C., by The Washington Post found that despite producing more than 500,000 tickets (and generating over $32 million in revenues), red-light cameras didn't reduce injuries or collisions. In fact, the number of accidents increased at the camera-equipped intersections.

Likewise, red-light cameras in Portland, Ore., produced a 140 percent increase in rear-end collisions at monitored intersections, and a study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council found that although red-light cameras decreased collisions resulting from people running traffic lights, they significantly increased accidents overall.

There's a specific light on my husband's and my regular route that has one of these accident-increasers installed. I know it makes me drive differently, and not in a good way. I confess to being one of those people who have slammed on my brakes for fear of a ticket, when it would have been safer to go through the intersection. Praise God, I have not been a participant in the 140 percent increase in rear-end collisions, but I sure see why those numbers went up.

What really bugs me about this is that it's not really about safety, it's about money, and some cities have a nasty way of upping their income. Reynolds goes on to explain that, while longer yellow lights reduce accidents, the practice at some of the lights where cameras are installed is to reduce the yellow light time, making those accident numbers escalate:

This problem can be aggravated by jurisdictions that shorten the duration of yellow lights, apparently to generate more ticket revenue. Last year, CBS News reported on an especially egregious case in Maryland: A traffic-camera intersection had a 2.7-second yellow light, while nearby intersections had 4-second times. Shorter yellow lights are more dangerous--but shorter yellow lights plus traffic cameras generate revenue.

Aarrgh! Don't these people have any conscience? "Yeah, sure. There are more accidents, and more people get hurt, but this department had a surplus this year. There was enough money to fund Crippled Children Awareness Day, and I got a citation by the mayor for outstanding public service. I may even get to ride on a float during the Grand Floral Parade. What difference does it make that some of those children were crippled by camera-induced rear-end collisions? At least they got to go to the CCAD picnic."

This is what happens when Big Brother and Nanny State get married.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Victory Through Superior Firepower

The darkness of the mission demanded thermal imaging to acquire the target. In the total blackness of the confined spaces and hidden enclaves the enemy favored, no human eye or video camera could detect the signs of life that would indicate the invaders had established a nest for their destructive operations. Only the heat signatures of the swarming, but insidious, foe could reveal their whereabouts, and only by exposing them completely could there be any hope of defeating them. Leaving even a few would enable them to multiply in the darkness and rise again, like bugs, mindlessly bent on destruction, consumption, and their own procreation. The new technology was a Godsend, able to sniff out enemies by the very heat and moisture of their bodies. It went alone into the darkness, and when it found the signs it sought, it's computer mind felt no mercy as the enemy was exposed and demolished, writhing in the death throes of chemical destruction.

Sounds brutal, eh? Good. I say every one of them should die, and no one should shed the tiniest tear or feel the least remorse, just as if they were bugs. Why? Because they are bugs--termites to be exact--and the technology that seeks their heat signatures is the latest in exterminator gear, designed to slip down those narrow passages and hidden ducts that protect the enemy from the human messengers of death pitted in combat against those creatures whose whole existence focuses on eating us out of house and home. As the Termite Wars rage on, and the enemy continues to find ways to elude our extermination warriors, technology steps in to give the homeowner one more weapon in the fight to protect their homes from destruction, while avoiding some of the collateral damage to walls and floors, previously destroyed in the quest to access the invading menace. This remote-controlled weapon is called a Termibot, and for that reason alone, I had to tell you about it. How could I not share the existence of something called a Termibot? Gizmag revealed it to me, and now I reveal it to you. I hope you never need the services of an extermination warrior, but if you do, for your sake and that of your home, I hope the Termibot is on the front lines, in the ducts and trenches of Battlefield Home. "Never give up. Never surrender." Victory!!


I don't mean to just toss links at you, but I didn't want you to miss this post at Iowahawk. I can't add anything to it, or even offer slightly amusing smart-aleck remarks. All I can do is admire the brilliant satire. Ever wonder why print journalism is struggling so much these days to attract readers? Iowahawk has the answer.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Monday, May 07, 2007

Scientific Proof

I feel oddly vindicated. (Not that I really need any vindication.) My allergy to perfumes is not evidence that there's something wrong with me, but rather, evidence that there's something wrong with the world--science is in my corner!

Hat tip: Dave Barry

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hey, I Was Right!!

It's not often that I feel the need to quote myself, but I predicted something scientific and space-related that might actually turn out to be true, and now I have to revel in my brief moment of rightness. Back in July of 2006, I read a report from NASA that the Cassini spacecraft had found evidence for lakes of liquid methane on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. I took a mental leap--not a huge one for the real sciency types, but a respectable leap for me:

Scientists will continue to observe the areas, looking for evidence like changes in size, or surface roughness stirred by winds, to indicate whether they've guessed correctly. If they're right, Titan is "the only body in the solar system besides Earth known to possess lakes." Not exactly the place you'd want to go for a summer vacation. One usually heads to a lake for fresh air and exercise, but Titan's not really a fresh air environment, is it? All that methane and ethane might make it a little hard to head out for a hike, or row a canoe, wouldn't you say? What a shame; it would be such an adventure to head to a lakeside cabin off-world. Oh well, there's got to be a bright side, right? Hmmm, liquid methane...liquid methane...sounds like a possible built-in fuel depot to me. That's it!! Titan can be the gas station on the way to some other cool vacation spot that we'll discover any day now. It's not quite as fun as finding Shangri-La on some other planet, but it will have to do.

My big prediction, somewhat flippantly expressed, was that someday Titan's lakes could fuel our journeys to other exciting destinations. Guess what? NASA thinks I'm right!! Well, okay, NASA doesn't know anything about me and my little bloggy predictions, but I can at least say that NASA agrees with me. NASA is testing a methane rocket engine, hoping to take advantage of the abundance of methane just waiting to be harvested from our neighboring planets. Patrick Barry, writing at NASA's Science website, says that methane engines "could eventually be key to deep space exploration."

Some of the advantages to the methane engine include the fact that liquid methane can be stored at a higher temperature than liquid hydrogen (the current fuel of choice for the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle.) This would mean less insulation, and thus less weight to haul off of planet Earth. Liquid methane, according to Barry, is also denser than liquid hydrogen, which would make the fuel tanks smaller, lighter and, ultimately, cheaper. Barry quotes project manager Terri Tramel of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center as adding safety to the list of methane's perks:

Methane also gets high marks for human safety. While some rocket fuels are potentially toxic, "methane is what we call a green propellant," Tramel says. "You don't have to put on a HAZMAT suit to handle it like fuels used on many space vehicles."

Here's the gravy, though, as far as the NASA-proving-me-right part of this little self-congratulatory post goes. In our solar system, methane is basically ubiquitous, so rockets wouldn't have to carry fuel for the whole journey along with them. They could pick some up along the way:

But the key attraction for methane is that it exists or can be made on many worlds that NASA might want to visit someday, including Mars.

Although Mars is not rich in methane, methane can be manufactured there via the Sabatier process: Mix some carbon dioxide (CO2) with hydrogen (H), then heat the mixture to produce CH4 and H20--methane and water. The Martian atmosphere is an abundant source of carbon dioxide, and the relatively small amount of hydrogen required for the process may be brought along from Earth or gathered in situ from Martian ice.

Traveling further out in the solar system, methane becomes even easier to come by. On Saturn's moon Titan, it is literally raining liquid methane. Titan is dotted with lakes and rivers of methane and other hydrocarbons that could one day serve as fuel depots. Imagine, a methane-powered rocket could allow a robotic probe to land on the surface of Titan, gather geological samples, refill its tanks, and blast off to return those samples to Earth. Such a sample-return mission from the outer solar system has never been attempted.

The atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all contain methane, and Pluto has frozen methane ice on its surface. New kinds of missions to these worlds may become possible with methane rockets.

So, Titan may well turn out to be an interplanetary gas station, as well as a geological destination-of-interest in its own right. Speaking of destinations-of-interest, head over to the NASA article if you want to watch the video of the new rocket in action in the Mojave desert. It's way cool, and downright pretty, with this really impressive blue flame. They're still working on the project, with tweaks to be done before a methane-fueled rocket can blast off the launchpad, heading for fabulous holiday destinations like the Lakes of Titan, but the pretty blue test was a promising start.

The best part of all this scientific and spacey advancement, from my perspective? I got to be right! (Hey, cut me some slack. It doesn't happen that often.)

Positive Changes In Iraq

Another Sunni tribe turns against al Qaeda:

The Albu Fahd was one of the six original Anbari tribes to support al Qaeda and its Islamic State in Iraq. These six tribes are known in some military intelligence circles as the "Sinister Six". The Albu Fahd [described as the Bu-Fahed] has now joined the Anbar Salvation Council and pledged to throw its weight behind the fight against al Qaeda.

Here's the scoop.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Beer--It's Not Just For Drinking Anymore

This is funny, in a "good idea" kind of way. You've heard of beer batter? How about a beer battery? (via Popular Mechanics)

Turn Up The Happy Gas

Here's another slightly strange, but cool, medical breakthrough for you. This time around, our breakthrough involves upgrading techniques for abdominal surgery. Most of us are probably aware of how some surgeries have changed in recent years. Procedures that used to involve cutting a patient's abdominal wall clean open, to gain access to those reclusive internal organs, have been improved with the advent of laparoscopic surgery, where abdominal incisions are tiny, scars are miniscule and recovery time is much shorter than with traditional surgical methods. Such surgeries involve a laparoscope, a tiny camera inserted to examine the abdominal cavity so doctors can see what's going on and repair or remove damaged organs, via other tiny little incisions and long, flexible instruments. Such "keyhole" surgery has made necessary operations much easier for many a grateful patient. There's a new kind of surgery coming to operating rooms around the world, however, that eliminates the external incisions completely, leaves no visible scars, has minimal recovery time and doesn't even require general anesthetic.

Duncan Graham-Rowe, at, says this revolutionary new technique is called transgastric surgery, or natural orifice translumenal endosurgery--NOTES for short. NOTES takes a whole new approach to the problem of getting inside a patient, quite literally. Instead of entering the abdomen through surgical incisions made externally in the skin and muscle walls, the cameras and surgical tools find their way into the abdominal cavity via the patient's mouth. An incision is made in the stomach from the inside; the surgical instruments pass into the abdomen through this opening, and tissue that needs to come out does so via exactly the same route that food goes in--in reverse, of course:

To some it may sound disgusting, to others the prospect of scar-free surgery may sound too good to be true. Either way it's coming. In the past couple of weeks three separate surgical teams say they have carried out NOTES procedures on humans - surgical firsts for both Europe and the US. And doctors in India say they have performed appendectomies through the mouth.

This transgastric procedure offers a lot of advantages to conventional, or even keyhole surgery: less pain (the stomach apparently has fewer nerve endings than the skin), less sedation (which Duncan-Rowe points out is good for the elderly and infirm), less risk of infection (theoretically), due to avoiding the bad bugs that live on the skin, as well as the disinfecting power of stomach acid, and--an important gain for the workaholics of the world--by far less recovery time:

"Even with keyhole surgery, patients stay off work for several days," says Lee Swanstrom, director of the Oregon Clinic in Portland, US, which specialises in gastrointestinal and keyhole surgery. "With NOTES they could go back to work the same day."

Good grief, that's fast. Gives a whole new meaning to "same day service." Now this last "advantage" might be a mixed blessing for some people who, for example, were hoping that their gall bladder surgery would help them avoid the big cubicle shuffle at the office, or going to the boss' daughter's ballet recital. Be that as it may, most of us would see a rapid spring back to full strength as a big plus. A few years ago, a friend and I had the same surgery performed, only mine was laparoscopic and hers was a full stomach incision. Her surgery came first, and I watched her long and painful recovery with a great deal of sympathy, because it was really hard. She suffered a lot. When it came time for my surgery, I was dreading a similarly unpleasant experience, but all that dread was wasted. While I still had a fairly long recovery time, mostly due to the five-and-a-half hours of general anesthesia the surgery entailed, there was very little pain, because of the tiny, tiny, unbelievably small incisions my doctor used to get at my innards. I'd take my surgery over my friend's hands down; if you added the less intense anesthesia, so the recovery could proceed even faster, that would just be all that much better.

Needless to say, the downside is the "ick" factor. Who really wants to have their appendix come out of their mouth? While they're somewhat awake, no less? I might request that the docs turn on the happy gas for that part of the procedure, although, now that I think about it, even that might not be necessary. When I had my surgery they put something in my IV to make me forget everything that happened from the time they wheeled me out of the waiting room till when I woke up in recovery. If you can't remember the icky bits, there's not really a need for the happy gas, is there? It was actually very frustrating to me that they stripped me of memories that I wanted. I find all this medical stuff fascinating, and probably would have watched the whole surgery, if that had been an option. To have a complete blank in my memory, when I had a prime opportunity for first-hand knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in Surgery World is very frustrating. They didn't even film it for me, so that I could watch it after the fact!! To give the doctor credit, though, she did take some lovely photos of my insides, which I perused with great interest once the drugs wore off. That was of some comfort to me, even if I'd rather have the memories. I have to confess, though, I don't think even I would want to remember having my spleen come out my mouth. Turn up the happy gas, please (but shoot some video in case I change my mind.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Yon's Latest

Michael Yon has photos from Iraq. Here's Part I. Here's Part II. Read the captions. The first dispatch looks at the 1-4 Cavalry from Fort Riley, Kansas, setting up a command outpost in a mostly abandoned neighborhood in Baghdad. In the second, you'll see signs of this Iraqi neighborhood coming back to life. As usual, Yon writes what he sees, and his photos let you see it for yourself.

Update: Austin Bay has an audio interview with Michael Yon at Pajamas Media's Blog Week in Review. It's very interesting.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Pics In Space--The Bonus Edition

Okay, okay, I admit it, I wanted space photos today of space. The pics of Earth from space that MSNBC provided were way cool and all, and I really enjoyed them, but I really love to see pictures from "out there." I wasn't pouting or anything, just a little wistful. I missed the planets and stars, and knew I didn't want to wait another month for my space photo fix. Well, it turns out I didn't have to--NASA to the rescue!! I just got an email with a link to images just released from the swing the New Horizons spacecraft made past Jupiter a while back. Remember the slingshot maneuver that New Horizons performed around Jupiter to add some speed and cut 3-5 years off the trek out to poor demoted Pluto? Remember how LORRI--the eight-inch telescope hitching a ride on NASA's spacecraft--took that really cool picture of little volcanic moon Io erupting for all she was worth? If you don't, go here and read all about it. Then come back and we'll finish talking about New Horizon's photo gallery.

So anyway, NASA's got a few more photos to show off from that little detour, including a "close-up color scan of the Little Red Spot," which is a storm that's been brewing on Jupiter since late 2005. They call it "little" because there's an even bigger system, equally uncreatively called the Great Red Spot, that's dominated Jupitorial weather for the last century, but the little guy is 70% the size of Earth. That's a storm that's the size of a planet. Thing is, it's amazingly pretty. It looks like art, all swirling purples and golds. Most of the rest of the pictures are in black and white, but still well worth seeing, from Jupiter's rings to the multiple moons. There's even a color image of Io's Tvashtar volcano erupting, red lava glowing and blue dust aloft. Here's the link to the article explaining the mission and what scientists are learning, and here's the direct link to the photo gallery. Be sure to click on "More Details" for the pics that interest you. You'll go to a larger image with a full detailed description of what you're seeing.

There aren't any photos of nebulas and galaxies to sparkle at us, and no close-up shots of the alien terrain on Mars from the rovers, but these views of other worlds from New Horizons went a long way toward satisfying my urge for new scenes from space. My bit of self-indulgence for the day is to share them with you. Enjoy.

Pics In Space--The Sights Of Home

Hey, Space Fans! It's space slide show time again, and this month's offering brings a twist to our favorite pictorial pastime. In the lovely month of May, Earth is taking center stage. MSNBC takes us through the photographic archives to see what astronauts have been privileged to see over mankind's several decades of space flight: views of the home world from space, as seen from the Moon, space shuttles, the International Space Station, Gemini 7 and more. Right off the bat on this month's image adventure I learned something new about the astronaut experience that I had never considered before. Did you know that the astronauts that go into low Earth orbit, to the ISS for example, don't travel far enough away from the planet to get the whole "big blue marble" effect? The caption on the first beautiful image presented for our enjoyment says that, "...only two dozen men have seen Earth's full, round disk with their own eyes: the astronauts who travelled beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon." So everybody else who's been up into orbit have all had to be satisfied with a closer, and thus less complete view of the la Terre.

I can't bring myself to feel sorry for the ones who have "only" made it to LEO. Judging from this month's slide show experience, they've gotten enough of a thrill by getting as far away from home as they did. They've seen volcanoes erupting and hurricanes forming, northern lights spreading across the horizon, and sunrise as most of us never have, and never will see in our lifetimes. Anousheh Ansari, the Iranian-American woman who went vacationing to the ISS in 2006, was so overwhelmed by her first look at Earth from space that she started crying from the beauty of it. Now, I grant you, the astronauts from the Moon missions were especially blessed--they got to see Earthrise--but still, crying from overwhelming beauty isn't really getting the short end of the stick, now is it?

For those of you who are disappointed that this month we aren't photographically flying out into the farther reaches of space, to see nebulas and galaxies, and distant planets with rings and moons casting stark shadows to punctuate their shining brilliance, I will offer something a little different to let you dwell on the wonder of the stars. In the book of Job, God talks about the morning stars singing together. It sounds like poetry, doesn't it? Imagine, choirs of suns, each with their own voice to add to the symphony--beautiful, but, of course, not to be taken seriously in this age of science, right? Last week, though, I read something at Futurismic that made me remember that line from Job:

UK astronomers have recorded magnetic sound waves produced by the churning of our sun's fusion-powered corona - which, although way below the audible threshold of human hearing, are (apparently) produced in the same way that a plucked guitar string makes a note. Who says science and poetry are incompatible?

That's a wonder to me--something written so long ago, but only now confirmed by science. The heavens make music. Somehow, that makes my heart glad. While this month's pictures don't take us far afield, I hope they'll gladden your heart as well. Earth may not be a singing morning star, but she does make a lovely melody all her own.