Wednesday, March 22

"the youngest in a family of dragons is still a dragon from the point of view of those who find dragons alarming"

A great interview with Margaret Atwood. (Thanks feministlawprofs.)

Relax a little

It turns out that working too much isn't even good for your work.

Wednesday, March 15

I'm embarassed of my carbon footprint
Which I calculated here.

Government reducing mad cow testing
That seems an odd response to this week's news. The Reuters article I just linked to explains that Americans seem to have little worry about their beef, though.

Can you draw Morrissey? And other stories about cute little (lying, biting) toddlers

Thanks to the Morning News I found this blog with two recent, hilarious posts about life as an alternadad. My favorite part from the first one, which recounts a visit to Souplantation (which reminded me how much I wish we had Souplantation in Milwaukee). Alternadad takes his son outside after a biting incident.
"You listen to me, Mister," I said. "We do not bite!"

"But I was..."

"No buts," I said. "Biting is wrong and you need to go back in and apologize to your mother."

He looked at me, grinned, and took off down the concrete ramp. I chased after him and scooped him up again.

"Cut the crap, tough guy!" I said, only sort of aware that I was talking to my son as though I were Richard Widmark in a black and white movie.

"I want to play outside," Elijah said.

The disarming began. He tagged me and said, "I am Doctor Octopus and you are the Rhino!"

"I don't want to play Spiderman right now," I said. "I want to finish my dinner. Now let's go inside and you can apologize to mommy. I will play the Rhino at home and I will defeat you."

The title of the other hilarious post, "Can you draw Morrissey?," speaks for itself.

Monday, March 13

And a bit more inspiration

You probably have heard about Tom Fox, who was a Christian peace activist killed in Iraq. It inspires me that the folks from his own Quaker congregation in Virginia gave this statement in response to news of his death.

"That no matter what happened to him personally, he believed his mission of peace, and his direct action of connecting to people, one human being and one heart at a time, is what we are called to do if we ever expect to get out the cycle of violence."


I wanted to share two quotes I found today.

First, "It may be that the most interesting American struggle is the struggle to set oneself free from the limits one is born to, and then to learn something of the value of those limits."--Greil Marcus (cited on Blogora).

And this: "No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present instant. Take peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy." (In a comment to a post on Of the Best Stuff but Plain, citing Fra Giovanna.)

Water on Saturn's moon

Enceladus has geysers!

Google MARS!

Wednesday, March 8

Another exciting new hypothesis about dark matter and dark energy!

I realize that I am completely unqualified to understand and, really, even comment about the investigations trying to figure out what in the heck is going on with black holes, why the universe seems to be expanding much more rapidly than it should, and why measurements suggest there's a lot of extra matter hanging around but invisible to us. But I can't help that I'm really interested in it anyway, and so I was excited to see this development.

Lawrence Livermore lab physicist George Chapline proposes that black holes aren't holes at all but dying stars going through weird quantum states:
Last week at the 22nd Pacific Coast Gravity Meeting in Santa Barbara, California, Chapline suggested that the objects that till now have been thought of as black holes could in fact be dead stars that form as a result of an obscure quantum phenomenon. These stars could explain both dark energy and dark matter.
I'm a bit confused about how new the idea is, because I hadn't heard of it before and just got this article about it from Reuters, but wikipedia mentions its having been announced last year, and even has articles to back that up .

In any event, it's appealing to me that if Chapline's right, then the laws of physics that seem to work pretty well in every other area studied wouldn't be inexplicably inapplicable to black holes.

Some parts of the theory are a bit freaky, such as the possibility that "'we are living inside a giant dark energy star,"and that "'Our universe is pervaded by dark energy, with tiny dark energy stars peppered across it.'" Though come to think of it, that might explain a lot!

Yanni arrested for domestic violence

It surprised me to hear that. His music's so . . . peaceful. You've got to at least give it that.

Then they will be 11 and 1/2 hours ahead of us

I didn't realize that India was 5.5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. I guess I didn't realize that any time zones shifted in half-hour increments. Sri Lanka will move its clocks back 1/2 hour in April, to be in line with India.

Friday, February 24

I guess I really am too nice; or maybe just anti-boundary

This post on the new legal writing blog, which links to an article about how students are using email to "erase boundaries" between student and teacher really interested me.

An example of what one of the professors cited as going "too far" were student email comments like "I think you're covering the material too fast, or I don't think we're using the reading as much as we could in class, or I think it would be helpful if you would summarize what we've covered at the end of class in case we missed anything."

What's the problem with that? It seems like good information to know. Isn't the idea to help students learn?

I didn't even think that the example that was repeated as really outrageous, a student asking for advice about what kind of notebook was appropriate for the course, was that bad. If you don't care, why not just say, "I don't care; just use your judgment." That helps the student understand what is left to his or her judgment. Feeling offended when asked to speak about a lowly subject like notebooks seems more bizarre to me than the student comments.

I do agree that sometimes students, like most of us, use email inappropriately. But I guess that I don't think that the "boundary-blurring" discussed in this article is such a bad thing.

Paper chair

This chair looks cool -- it's a huge roll of paper that your kid sits on, pulling off more paper as needed. But it would become progressively less cool the more you used it....

Our Disappeared

I was talking to students yesterday about the meaning of the word "disappeared," which is a term used to describe the phenomenon in many countries of a person disappearing, presumably taken somewhere by the government. And then I was reading this article about a federal district court judge ordering our government to release the names of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, and one of the activists lobbying for release of the name pointed out that those detainees are "disappeared." I don't know why I hadn't thought of that.

Romance in Madison

In case someone (i.e., Jo) didn't read the comment, I wanted to share what my friend Rebecca pointed out -- there's a very romantic hotel in Madison, the Canterbury Inn,
"a 'literary' bed and breakfast, situated atop an independent used and scholarly bookstore and cafe in the heart of downtown Madison, Wisconsin." The rooms have names like "The Wife of Bath's room," and the bookstore specializes in rare and out-of-print books. It sounds like a real treat!

Other spots in Madison that I'd consider romantic would be the Arboretum (in the right season), the Olbrich gardens (ditto), one of the many beautiful little restaurants tucked away in the spoke-streets that span out from the Capitol, and any spot where you can sit and stare out at one of the lakes (which includes many spots).

Gee, I'm almost convincing myself Madison is really romantic!

Monday, February 20

Sundry random items

I have not posted in so long that I have too many clippings, and they refuse to be tamed.

First, perhaps the most bizarre. The Conglomerate reports that Madison was named the most romantic city in the U.S. As much as I wish this were true, since it would be another reason for my friends Jo and Kris to consider Madison a good option should they return to the states (and especially because I could say, sure, you've left the most romantic city in the world, but you're in the most romantic city in the U.S.!), it's just not true. Don't get me wrong, I like Madison almost as much as the next person, though admittedly not as much as most UW-Madison alums, who seem ga-ga over the place. But for one thing, I don't think it's...mysterious enough to be very romantic. I know, I know, supposedly it has the most restaurants per capita (though I never have found a good study proving that), yada-yada. Take a look at the tourist bureau's website: enough said. Pleasant place, not that romantic.

Second, the Bush administration's new energy policy push, particularly the renewed interest in nuclear power and the proposed nuclear power subsidies. Tentatively, having not explored all of the data, and incompetent to truly understand all of it, I think I support the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, in particular its goal to "form an international partnership to see spent fuel reprocessed in a way that renders the plutonium in it usable for nuclear fuel but not for nuclear weapons." The fast reactor design, if it could be developed safely, seems a sensible way to dispose of much of the nuclear waste we've created already. There have been problems with some of the fast reactors created in the past, but I guess that one still operates in France on a small scale, mainly investigating "transmutation of nuclear waste" (according to Google).

In other environmental news, South Africa has decided not to kill elephants, for now. On this subject, I must speak up for my son, who would surely say, "No! No hurting those elephants. Elephants are my favorite! They have big flappy ears and they have long trunks!"

Speaking of killing no-longer-so-endangered, but now inconvenient, animals, I'm not sure whatever happened with Wisconsin's controversial, and perhaps illegal, wolf-killing policy. Meanwhile, fear of the leaping carp grows here in the Great Lakes region.

I can't seem to get worked up about impending drought in France and Spain.

Still, though, have you heard that this is the warmest year in 1200 years, according to a recent study? Greenland's glaciers have heard, and are "melting and on the move." And in view of the overall recent success of the environmental movement, I think it's good news that the evangelical Christians have joined in on the side of the environment in the global warming...debate? Is it still a debate? Situation.

In a similarly encouraging sign, some religious leaders are supporting pro-science arguments in the political fights over whether to teach the theory of evolution in U.S. schools. Even the new Pope says that science and faith can coexist, though admittedly his position is somewhat vague.

In politics, less encouraging news. The anti-homosexual movement in the U.S. continues, even grows, with activists now attacking teaching about homosexuality in sex ed classes.

It disturbed me to learn that Fox News edited out applause and a standing ovation that Rev. Joseph Lowery received in response to comments, during Coretta Scott King's funeral,
mentioning failure to find WMD in Iraq. (Thanks Blogora.)

Speaking of the Blogora, it recently offered this interesting summary of two rhetorical approaches regarding the nature of legal argument.

Speaking of legal argument, our government now argues that some detained people have no constitutional rights. At all. Which helps explain what seemed to me a bizarre reaction to the release of more Abu Ghraib pictures: anger. The article quotes "Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman telling The Associated Press [that airing the photos] 'could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world.'" Which is true, but it seems bizarre to make the focus of the anger on the people showing the pictures, rather than the people who did the bad stuff and took pictures of it.

In happier news, the U.S. government has decided to investigate its immigration courts, in response to severe criticism of the the immigration court system by several U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal. I am sincerely pleased.

In the entirely-too-full-these-days category of "news about science that we got wrong," sorry, it turns out the birth control patch is not really so safe. Oh, and Teflon causes cancer. That's crazy talk; next thing you know, they'll be saying that modernized agricultural and food delivery policies that have made food so inexpensive and plentiful in the U.S. may be responsible for declining mental health.

And now for the crescendo of random sundriness:

"Man coughs up nail after 35 years"
"Rats understand cause and effect"
Sharks sense electrical energy with special cells that evolved into our heads and faces.
Shark attacks have dropped because people fight back more often these days.
Science seems to disprove some Mormon beliefs, about the genetic background of Native Americans.
And "students learn more from teachers who hand-wave." What?


Friday, February 3

More pun-in tending headlines?

Boy, that has to be the worst example, too. But it does identify the subject I'm interested in: whether headlines have gotten "punnier" since so many people started receiving notification about the news via email and blogs (especially blog aggregators).

It could be that rather than any increase in the use of puns or other humorous plays-on-words in headlines, I'm just noticing these more since I started reading most of my news this way. Or, maybe this sort of headline has always been very common in science news headlines, and that's why I sense an increase, because I've been reading more science news in the last few months than ever before.

But I don't think either of those explanations totally explains the phenomenon, because I often notice that the headline on the feed is "punnier" than the real headline.

In any event, consider a few examples of punny headlines, from the last week or so:

From eurekalert, "Detection of hot halo gets theory out of hot water" (about the measurement of hot gases around a spiral galaxy; the gases were expected to be there but had not been measured before) (this one is just an ordinary punny headline)

From CNN, "One small step for trash is giant leap for ham-kind" (about the "SuitSat," which is quite nifty, especially since it's so efficient and eco-friendly, recycling the spacesuit itself as well as containing some spacetrash rather than just blowing it out into space). This example also illustrates another interesting phenomenon, where the headline on my RSS feed at Bloglines is not exactly the same as the actual headline. On Bloglines, it was "Recycled spacesuit is giant leap for ham-kind" instead. Actually, here I guess the feed headline was less punny, sort of disproving my theory rather than supporting it.

But this one CNN is an example of the punnier-by-feed phenomenon. The "real" headline, the one you'd get if you were browing the website itself rather than getting notice of news by feed, is "Drinking joins smoking as cancer risk." (If you haven't read the story, don't sweat it too much -- the bottom line is basically, all things in moderation.) The notice I got on Bloglines was "Don't drink to this latest cancer finding." Not all that funny, actually, but more interesting than the first headline. Made you think a bit, guess at what the story would say.

I suspect that, if these types of headlines are actually more common by feed, that's the real reason -- it's a way to get the reader to notice the story and click through to it. It's just interesting to me that the regular headlines weren't already performing that task well enough -- isn't that sort of the idea of a headline in the first place?

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