Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Last Call, Mission to Mars

Last Thursday's Washington Post had an interesting article detailing the European Space Agency's (ESA) search for 12 volunteers to undertake a simulated mission to Mars (four volunteers for each of three simulations). The simulations would last up to 520 days in "extreme isolation and confinement" however, without simulated weightlessness. Requirements include:

  • Must be a citizen of one of 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Britain and Canada (Sucks to be you US SCi-Fi geeks!)
  • 25-50 years old and in good health
  • Height up to 185 cm (about 6 ft)
  • "Highly motivated"
  • Speak both English and Russian
  • Have work experience in one of several scientific fields, including: medicine, biology, computer engineering or mechanical engineering
  • Non-smoker

Selection procedure is to be similar to that of ESA astronauts, although with greater emphasis on psychological factors and stress resistance than on physical fitness. If your interested then visit the "Call for Candidates" for a PDF Application.

A round trip to Mars (travel and exploration time) should take around two years; communication by radio around 40 minutes a pop. Not too bad for our future scientists, but one can't help but consider if studies like these will eventually lead to studies on the psychological impact of "Generation Ships". For a good dialogue on the changes in an isolated society during lengthy space missions, I recommend Ursula LeGuin's "Birthday of the World and Other Stories". One of the stories, "Paradises Lost" explores the conventions of how long will our descendents care about what we cared about.

Monday, June 25, 2007

New Wonders of the World

I remember reading all about the seven wonders of the ancient world in 8th grade Latin class. The historians Herodotus, Callimachus of Cyrene ,Antipater of Sidon , all mention this list around 300 to 400 BC (though all describe the structures as kind of a tourist guide in the Mediterranean, a kind of "must see before you die" list". None are around to day except for the great pyramid in Giza, but all have proven to exist by consistent historian and scholarly mention and preserved artifacts (well apparently there is some debate over the Hanging Gardens, cause plants don't last all that long, but sculptures from the Mausoleum of Maussollos and the Temple of Artemis are featured in the British Museum in London).

The Seven Wonders were quite an obsession with me, even before playing Sid Meier's Civilization was. Now, there is a world wide vote to select seven new wonders and you only have ten days left to do it is. Log on to and cast your own votes.

All structure built before the year 2000, are eligible. For me, the Taj Mahal is a shoe in and the Statue of Liberty is a must (even if just to shake up all the Apes who will eventually conquer our planet.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Ever since reading and learning this word I have clung to it like a mollusk. For one, "asm" is a lovely way to end a noun. It lends itself to all sort of spontaneous construction, like "pleonastic" and "pleonasful". I'm not saying that the aforementioned words are actually words as defined in any dictionary, just that I like to use them.

A pleonasm is defined as the use of more words than necessary to express and idea. Essentially, it is a redundancy. However, (for me) a true pleonasm has to be more complex than redundancy. It must be absurdly painful.

"A free gift" is redundant.

"A free gift, such I have not received since money was made" is truly pleonastic. (See, I used it. I used "pleonastic" when no one was looking and ya'll just excepted it.)

In fact, I remember a certain two fellas in High School (both whose Christian names happened to be "Kevin") who, in the geek filled hours of marching band practice, spent a good deal of time coming up with random, and rather redneck, metaphors for the expression of simple ideas like:

"He was quicker than an angry squirrel with a red hot nut."


"That was louder than a lovesick duck quacking at a toad at midnight."

Pleonasms at their most poetic.

The mnemonic is "Please...stop talking." Go forth and conquer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Get AT&T DSL for $10

My alternate title for this post was "AT&T in Leauge with Devil" or "AT&T Sits on a Throne of Lies".

I was a loyal AT&T customer for over 6 years until, 2004 when they merged with Cingular. The merger promised to give uninterrupted and improved service (not to mention uninterrupted) to all customers. Instead, by March 2006 AT&T/Cingular stopped maintaining AT&T facilities in order to force customers to 1) pay to upgrade their phones to the Cingular network, 2) pay an early termination fee (even though their contract was with AT&T and not Cingular) or 3) live with the degraded and spotty service (read: I couldn't get a signal in my own apartment). I'm still waiting to see how the class action suit pans out.

Then last March, AT&T/Cingular began blocking service to competing conference call services who offered their services for free in order to 1) pressure the local providers into lowering their rates or 2) force customers back to their AT&T's own conference call offerings.

Now I find that as part of a concession made to the FCC for its Bellsouth merger, AT&T was required to offer DSL for $10 a month to its entire 22 state coverage area for a period of 2 years. While AT&T does offer such a plan, they have refused to publicize or promote it and have buried it deep where you will never find it on their plan page. The offering matches AT&T's basic plan with download speeds of up to 768 kilobits per second and upload speeds of up to 128 kbps (except for half the price).

The story and links can be found at The Consumerist and DigitalDaily

Monday, June 18, 2007

My biggest favoritest secret out for good

The Washington Post is running an interesting story on successful internet start-ups that features THREADLESS (currently and permanently in my Sweetshop), where I have been getting the hottest T-shirts known to man for the past four years.
If you don't know, Threadless runs a T-shirt contest every week, and members vote on the best designs. At the end of the week, the top three are chosen (like Defend the Kingdom above and another one of my person favorites, which I own, Pillow Fight) and printed in limited runs.

And remember moms and dads, Threadless now carries kid sizes!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nasty Bad High Thing, needs Library Thing!

Spent a good part of the day today on creating a searchable catalog of all the books I own. Perks included recommendations tailored to your tastes and chats with other members whose libraries match with yours. Its free for 200 volumes (after the great bulk of my "good" cook books, physics and astronomy books, writining guides and science fiction/fantasy books reached about 175). Perfect if you love books and secretly love lists.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Top 10 Things America Would Have if it was Actually a Democracy

Geek Army is generally a patented waste of time, but sometimes they come up with something clever. Check out their well thought out list of things the United States should be as the most touted modern, wealthy, and democratic nation in the world, but (un)surprisingly isn't. The map above corresponds to list item number nine (9) implementing Universal Health Care, by showing al the nations of the world, which have some sort of universal health care (Blue), are trying to (Green), and don't (Gray). By the way, in a recent poll, over 60% of Americans said they would be willing to support universal health care for Americans by paying more in taxes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Digg this Map

I found this on Digg and I could not stop laughing. I think I will blow it up and hang it in my cubicle.

What is Digg you say? Digg is my new best way to waste time at work. Users submit interesting tidbits about News, Technology, Science, World and Business, Entertainment, Sports and Gaming. Other readers either thumb it up or thumb it down. Once a tidbit is popular it jumps to the Digg Homepage in its category. It's fun and random, much like Boing Boing, if Boing Boing were a democracy. What is Boing Boing you say? Well, that’s another post.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Virginia Again

How I miss the dappled, sun-lengths,
and the purple, lapping dusk,
the fire flame of dying trees,
the yellow, green, and rust
of wooded carpets, nestled quiet,
beneath the silver dust.

The rising stars of darkling eves,
spinning soundless in the arc,
of night descending, violet air,
foundling in the dark
with quiet fingers pressed a mark,
upon my heavy heart.

© 1992

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Capsized Canoe

This weekend I spent sometime with the in-laws at a lovely Lake House just inside the southern state line of Michigan. The house was surrounded by vineyards and backed right up to picturesque Singer Lake. The owner provided a paddle boat, row boat, and a spanking new canoe for the convenience of summer renters.

On my second day, setting thoughts of parameciums and swimming rhizopods aside (introduction to Biology kept me out of recreational lake activities for years) I gamely set out with a cousin to have a swim. The area around the dock was declared to "ooky" (ferny, lily pady, and generally slimy) for us two females to jump right in so we tied a long lead on the paddle boat, paddled out into the current and jumped in from there. Then we swam about for about an hour, as the sun gently set to the west. The lake was gorgeously situated and the current alternatingly sun-warmed and refreshingly cool. The paddle boat drifted back into the "ooky" area of the dock.

We contemplated our choices. Neither of us wanted to get all ferny retrieving the wayward paddleboat. We tread water until a young male cousin ventured down to the docks for a smoke. He gallantly agreed to bring the canoe out to us so we could climb in. Then the hijinks began. I'll never forget his face as I steadied the canoe while the other swimmer attempted to climb in. The canoe lifted and spilled him fully clothed into the water an expression of exquisite shock and horror registering across his features.

We eventually succeeded in flipping the canoe, then subsequently swamping the canoe, piloting the swamped canoe back to the docks, sucking in "ooky" water, climbing the dock, ripping at least two species of lily pads out of there homes, draining canoe, dry docking canoe and then later checking each other over for leeches.

Prevent your own lake hijinks (and possible paramecium ingestion) by reading these two articles on flipping canoes, and re-entering canoes in still water (get horizontal and get in the middle).

Single Canoe Self-Recovery updated link here

Boat over Boat Recovery (and re-entry)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ice Cream Diaries

I used to be able to down a pint of Ben & Jerry's in one sweet half-hour sitting. Okay, I can still do it, but not with out blinding, calorie remorse and an upset stomach. Now I realize why my mother's pint of Haagen-Dazs's Rum Raisin lasted in the freezer so long.

Even though 26% of Americans prefer Vanilla ice cream as their top flavor, I recently read a few articles about local flavors of ice cream making a splash across the country. With summer heating up, some of them seem to be the perfect accompaniment to a languorous interview with a porch and alcoholic beverage of choice:

Black Licorice, would be perfect for a dark, sultry night after a Twenties party that involved a sluiced glass of absinthe. You can order it online at

Honey Sunflower Vanilla is supposed to be all the rage in the Midwest, but the little selfish bastards don't export the salty, sweet, creamy stuff outside of the breadbasket. Make your own buy mixing Honey Ice Cream with chocolate covered sunflower seeds (Oprah recommends the ones at the Cocoa Room, but I find the ones at Sunflower Foods and Spice to be less expensive). A glass of Tej (Ethiopian, Honey wine) pilfered from one of the "Halal" markets on U Street will help if you can't find any Honey Ice Cream and have to settle for Vanilla. If your area is hard up for an Ethiopian population, the Wine carries inexpensive bottles Tej.

With a scoop of Lavender Ice Cream and a glass of chilled Lillet, I can pretend I'm in Provence, France. Of course, I am prone to pretending I am in Provence after a couple of glasses of Lillet anyway. "Out of a Flower - French Lavender" is available from the Ice Cream Source, but snap it up--it sells out quickly.

Green Chili Ice Cream is popular in Mumbai and Christina's Homemade Ice Cream in Cambridge, Mass is sometimes serves Ancho Chili Ice Cream to adventerous patrons. Interested in trying the "kick" of a little spice added to your cold creamy delight? iGourmet carries a Honey & Hot (Acacia Honey with Hot Pepper) topping perfect for Ice Cream (or cheese, for that matter) or if you still want to experience exotic spice without the heat, they also carry Casina Rossa Saffron and Acacia Honey, too. One might go the route of accompanying your zesty excursion with an ice cold glass of Vodka Peppar, but I think a Pimms Cup with slices of cucumber would be a perfect foil for the heat.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Time to see the Planets

As it has it, many of the planets are visible with the naked eye this month. I was in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania earlier this weekend a caught a baleful of what I thought was Venus, but the color was definitely yellowish. As it turns out, it was either Saturn or Jupiter (Probably the former since it was quite high), so I thought I would look around to see what else might be worth viewing.

To start, first try to find Venus; most newbies can do this. It is making an appearance as more than just an evening star. It will appear very white and very bright, the brightest thing in the sky except for the moon. Found it? Look for two fairly bright, matched stars near it. Those are Castor and Pollux (Castor's on top, the map above will be slightly tilted to the left when viewing in DC) the "heads" of the twins in the constellation of Gemini. Look a little while longer and you can see the "body" stars of Gemini, in the city they'll seem smudgy.

Mercury will be taking Venus's place as an evening star. Since it is so close to the sun it will only be visible just after sunset close to the horizon. Look left of and below Venus in Gemini before June 10th. After the 10th, it will be too close to the sun to easily discern.

Left and upwards of Gemini is a large backwards question mark. Hurray for Leo! With a little imagination you can image that curve is the mane of a lion. To the right of it is a large yellowish star. It's Saturn. If you got binoculars you can catch some rings.

Take an about face and around 8 or 9pm tonight you should see a very bright, large, yellowish star rising near the horizon. Jupiter! If it is quite dark or if you stare hard enough, you may be able to detect four faint smudges around it. Those are his largest moons. You can definitely pick them up with binoculars even, cheap ones. If you do, Jupiter will appear more ball like and you may be able to discern some stripes. Its quite cool to think that on a clear night you can see the moons of Jupiter. You can brag to your friends at work tomorrow. Hurray for Astronomy!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Light saber vs. Transporter

It's an age old question (seriously, older than Ninja vs. Pirate) that if one could have either a light saber, the technological object that fuels fans to Star Wars movies or a transporter, the down played gadget of life changing proportions from Star Trek, which would you choose?

Transporter you say? Sure it would make your commute a helluva lot shorter, but remember we are not talking about the power of teleportation, but the physical machine which you have to set coordinates and a timer to.

Before you make your decision (and tell me why in comments), read this charming article "Finding Refuge at the National Gallery" from the Washington Express, regarding how to deal with Tourists at the Smithsonian Institutions. And remember why no one cut in front of Darth Vader in a line at a public toilet.