Monday, November 28, 2005

Chinese Cover Up Avian Flu Outbreaks, US Supreme Court's Facade is Cracking, Vermont HS Teacher Uses Quiz for Politics 

Chinese Government Lying About Number of Avian Flu Cases? [New Scientist]
If the assertion by the Chinese that they were treating only three human cases of H5N1 immediately sent chills up and down your collective spines, your suspicions were collectively justified ( all two or three of you who have actually read this weblog more than once ).
A Japanese scientist working with the WHO reported “unauthorized information” of “...several dozen outbreaks in people, nearly 300 deaths, 3000 people placed in isolation, and seven human-to-human transmissions.” This article also reports rumors that medical personnel have been arrested for attempting to report infections. Even the “unofficial” rumors may only be the “tip of the iceberg”, because Chinese monitoring of influenza outbreaks is thought to be hopelessly inadequate even if it weren’t being stifled.
While the WHO downplays possible hiding of influenza cases by the Chinese government, one must remember the role this government played in covering up early outbreaks (from a Washington Post story) in the ‘90’s and ensuring that the virus became massively resistant to amantadine. It is time for outside international “help” in monitoring the progression of the disease in the Communist country, before China becomes the world’s graveyard.

U.S. Supreme Court's Facade is Cracking [FOXNews.com]
No, really. Entirely appropriate symbolism aside, pieces of a marble dentil broke off the Supreme Court building and almost fell on tourists. If this is an example of Divine Sarcasm, it’s not like anybody inside is going to get it.

At Least He Didn't Use the "C" Word [FOXNews.com]
An avowedly liberal high school teacher in Vermont used a vocabulary quiz as a vehicle for his anti-administration, anti-conservative political views---which were neither particularly subtle nor intellectually stimulating.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

"Pepsi™ Syndrome" Hits Home 

These new-fangled machines often confuse me. It took me six months to accept the idea of using the self-service bar-code scanners at the grocery store. Sometimes, the machines just get away from me altogether.
I gave my wife a combo TV/VCR unit for her birthday back in the mid-90's. It went into the master bedroom, where it functions as our alarm clock, as well as normal TV uses. Over the last 5-6 years, the remote control has become increasingly obstinate. We gradually developed special techniques to get the "timer set" and "menu" keys to operate. I took it apart at least once to see what could be done, and even thought of patching in some microswitches to bypass the critical keys. It has a molded rubber membrane keyboard with carbon buttons on the back, which contact carbon-like pads on the circuit board to close the key switches. The all-important "mute" button finally flexed the membrane once too often and fell out. I tried at least two programmable third-party remotes, with limited success.
Tonight, which is Thanksgiving in the U.S., I finally got desperate enough to open it up again, determined to try to patch in microswitches. When I pulled the rubber key membrane off the circuit board, I noticed resistance, and the kind of sound one hears when pulling adhesive tape off a surface. On closer inspection, I found a clear, syrupy goo spread over much of the circuitry, probably the remains of a forgotten 6-year-old soft drink spill. Needless to say, after scrubbing the mess out with soap and ethanol gel, all of the extant keys work like new. Anybody else need anything fixed...eventually?
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hayabusa Update, XBox 360 Update 

Hayabusa Update: Lander Landed on Asteroid After All [FOXNews.com]
[New Scientist]
A review of data on the Japanese probe showed that it did, in fact, touch down on the target asteroid for about 30 minutes before its safe mode initiated a burn to about 60 miles away. Although the sample collection projectile didn't fire, there was some hope that the multiple impacts of the lander with the surface might have kicked some material into the sample return collector.

XBox 360 Update: Users Report Repeated Crashes [Xbox-Scene News] [found on BlogsNow]
Users on a popular XBox forum report serious crash problems (the digital kind) in "
Project Gotham Racing 3 " and other applications. Information about this worldwide crisis is still preliminary at best.

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World's Ugliest Dog Dies, Oprah to Visit Letterman, XBox 360 Out, NASA Finds PAL Cracks, Haybusa Misses Mark, Spirit's Martian Anniversary 

Sam dead at 14 [CNN.com]
Sam, the “World’s Ugliest Dog”, has died.
[After nearly a month of nothing but random Blogger NavBar visits, this gets hits from Technorati---:JJR2]

Oprah to appear on Letterman's Late Show [MyWay News/AP]
We should also check for unexplained ice formations in hitherto unexplored parts of the netherrworld. Or we could just go on with our other business. Does anyone still actually watch Letterman?
Top 10 reasons why I stopped watching Letterman:
  • 10. I keep forgetting to turn it on
  • 9. When I remember to tune in to the Late Show, I get so bored that I have to check in with the “Pet Channel”, or even post to my blogs.
  • 8. “Late” Show? That isn’t “reality” TV, is it?
  • 7. AADD? The subject is so boring, I can’t think of six more reasons to keep thinking about it.

  • XBox 360 Hits Retail Outlets [FOXNews.com]Once again, buyers camped out to grab the first new XBox 360 consoles from retailers. G4TechTV had special coverage of the midnight opening of retail sales, and some frank reviews of the new console’s game library.
    But wait! That’s not all! Microsoft has even bigger plans for the XBox 360. Apparently not satisfied with its attempts to destroy industry stadardization of computer graphics (DirectX), Java-ize computer programming itself (Managed Code), and encourage select spyware developers (Windows AntiSpyware ), on to replacing home PC’s with XBot’s!

    Cracks Found in ET-120 PAL Ramp [Space.com/MSNBC.com]
    The PAL ramp foam on the tank has nine detectable cracks, according to NASA. ET-120 was actually filled with cryogenic propellants during the troublesome preparations for Discovery’s last flight, and speculations about the cracking includes the thermal effects of the fuels on the foam. But nobody’s giving up....STS-121 is still tenatively scheduled for May, 2006.

    Hayabusa Fails to Contact Asteroid [Spaceflight Now]
    In another setback for the troubled Japanese sample-return mission, the probe’s automatic navigation systems apparently failed to properly guide it to contact the target asteroid. After a descent to about 30 feet, it apparently suffered some kind of attitude control failure and then safed. The “safe mode” program initiated a full-power burn away from the surface to about 60 miles. The burn used a lot of fuel, which was already critically depleted by the loss of two of the probe’s gyrodyne-type inertial attitude controllers. Despite growing pessimism about the fuel shortage, project management expects to try the landing again in a couple of days. Hayabusa is supposed to blast some of the surface material off the asteroid with a projectile, and then return about a gram of it to Earth in a small re-entry capsule.

    "Spirit" Rover Marks Martian Anniversary [JPL]
    As of yesterday, the rover has been puttering about on the surface of Mars for one Martian year. The JPL MER site has a review of the mission so far.

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    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    Warning!!! Incoming Movie Review! 

    "Serenity" [Minimal spoiling included]
    I'm a little late with this review---I was planning to see at least one other important movie and do both at the same time. Then I didn't get back to the theater for various reasons.
    "Serenity" is a feature-length continuation of the action in the TV series which Fox presented out-of-sequence and finally killed off partway through its first season. The story is a quantum leap from Joss Whedon's earlier efforts, a unique blend of frontier Western and space opera. One of it's most endearing qualities is what Spiderman used to call "snappy patter" among the members of the crew.
    The movie continues the story, reuniting various missing members of the original crew, wrapping up plot threads from the series, and unfortunately making it pretty clear that this final plot twist is pretty much terminal. The climax of the movie's action is one of those grimace-and-slap-yourself-on-the-forehead-even-though-you-know-exactly-what's-going-to-happen-five-minutes-early things.
    Negatives stem mainly from the inevitable "TV-show-cast-reunion" aura, and a few too many suspensions of disbelief in the final minutes. For some TMD-related reason or other, they decided to settle the unrequited lust between the naive engineer and the only slightly less naive doctor, while Mal, the captain, and Inara, the professional courtesan---subject of a much more dramatic and intricate romantic plotline---never touched each other during the movie as far as I could tell. Then there's those "terminal" issues, which make it fairly obvious that a resumption of the TV series by the Science Fiction Channel or others---still vigorously favored by its fans---is a remote possibility at best.

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    "World's Ugliest Dog" For the Holidays; Ironic New Twist In Sony Scandal 

    Sam, the "World's Ugliest Dog", is apparently wishing everyone a Merry Christmas a little early, presumably so our digestion can settle down before dinner---next month:

    Sony: If That Wasn't Bad Enough....[New Scientist]
    Possibly the most ironic twist yet in the Sony CD music "rootkit" scandal; It now appears that Sony's "anti-piracy" software developer "First 4 Internet" based the controversial "XCP" software at least in part on code from open-source projects without crediting the original authors, in violation of their open-source license requirements. Yes, Sony's draconian "copy-right infringement" prevention measures are most likely based on stolen code.
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    Friday, November 18, 2005

    Zarqawi to Wedding Victims---Ooops!, It's Tropical Storm Gamma, NASA Chief Talks, "Einstein Rings" 

    Zarqawi to Wedding Victims---Ooops! [FOXNews.com ]
    Faced with widespread outrage across the Middle East---including his home town--- over the horrific suicide attacks in Jordan, the Al-Qaeda leader continued his unprecedented backpedalling. He now claims the wedding ceremony in which 30 people died---including three of the bride’s and groom’s immediately family---was never intended as a target. It was, he now claims, just collateral damage from an attack on an adjacent room in the hotel where “...Israeli and American intelligence officials were meeting ....” Next, we’ll learn that a mysterious giant did it.

    Up Next: It's Tropical Storm "Gamma" [FOXNews.com ]
    NOAA Tracking
    The latest named storm of the record 2005 season formed Friday afternoon off the coast of Honduras, with sustained winds of 40 m.p.h. Looks like it’s headed for Florida.

    NASA Chief Talks [FL Today]
    Michael Griffin is now saying that in his earlier comments (in an interview with USA Today reported here ) that ISS and the Shuttle programs were “mistakes” ( actually the reporter’s word, if I remember correctly ), he meant that abandoning the moon and other far-reaching goals of the manned spaceflight program for a commitment to low-earth orbit was a “mistake”. Not the way I remember it.... Obviously, the people paying the bills weren’t happy with the earlier implications, even though they were entirely correct.

    Hubble Surveys "Einstein Rings"
    Photos of the “gravitational lensing” effect of distant galaxies on the light from even more distant galaxies directly behind them.

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    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    U.N. Leaves U.S. In Domain Name Control, Bush Counters Democratic Attacks, Sony Bungles Rootkit "Fix" 

    U.N. lets U.S. Keep Control of Internet Names [FOXNews.com]
    A U.N. summit meeting somehow managed to defer one of the upcoming horror stories of our time, U.N. control of Internet governance. But then, they did such a great job with “Oil for Food”....

    Bush Administration Counters Democratic Claims of Intel Abuse [FOXNews.com]
    My Way News
    If war is “all Hell”, and the Truth is the first casualty of war, what is political exploitation of a moral aversion to conflict at the expense of one’s countrymen abroad? Obviously few things reduce political opposition faster than losing a war, but this will come at the cost of encouraging enemies to kill American personnel. Try caring about that. Try developing a meaningful agenda that fulfills peoples’ needs instead. In a few years, if it’s not already too late, maybe ask Fidel Castro or Kim Jong Il how much political power is actually worth....

    Sony Bungles Rootkit "Fix" [FOXNews.com]
    Severely burned by the recent “rootkit” music CD scandal, Sony set out to “fix” consumers’ PC’s by making a removal program available for download. Unfortunately, the download bypasses security measures on the target computers, which makes them susceptible to anyone who wants to download virtually anything onto the user’s machines. If NASA decided to branch out into CD music operations, they couldn’t do much worse.

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    Monday, November 14, 2005

    ---French Riots On the Decline, Avian Influenza "Out of Control" in China 

    Violent French Rioting Continues to Subside [FOXNews.com/AP]
    The Burning-Car-O-Meter has declined from 374 to 284 overnight, down from 1400 a week ago. Torchings of schools, hospitals, and helpless invalids are apparently also steadily declining. French officials continue to hopefully predict the end of the violence.
    It is probably a measure of the political sentiment of the times that recent AP coverage of the massive, destructive riots has ceased all mention of the word "Muslim" in association with events in France.

    H5N1 Outbreak "Out of Control" in China [ New Scientist ]
    China reports (for a change) several uncontained outbreaks of the deadly influenza strain in Liaoning province, including several possible human cases. The Chinese government warns of a "disaster", aggravated by the use of defective, or even counterfeit, vaccines in poultry.
    Elsewhere, a wild flamingo found dead in Kuwait has been confirmed to have died of the H5N1 strain, and two new human cases have been reported in Viet Nam.
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    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    ---Al-Qaeda on Defensive After Jordanian Attacks, Texas Proposition 2 Passes, More on Sony Rootkit Scandal, and Other Stories 

    Al-Qaeda Becoming Defensive About Jordanian Attacks [Scotsman.com News, found on BlogsNow.com]
    An interesting interpretation of recent events in Jordan. Al-Qaeda leadership, apparently getting the hint that recent bombings in Jordan---which included the wholesale slaughter of guests at a wedding ceremony---went too far, has made several attempts to “explain” the atrocities. They may have been “clued in” that the attacks crossed the line, for example, by the thousands ofJordanian protesters chanting such slogans as "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!"

    Texas Passes Constitutional Amendment Against Homosexual "Marriage" [Click2Houston.com]
    It was, of course, worded differently.
    “Opponents argue that a constitutional ban is merely a statement of discrimination against homosexuals.”
    Exactly---get a clue, people. “Discrimination” against destructive anti-social behavior is a social survival skill.

    Boeing 777 Commercial Distance Record [FOXNews.com]
    A 777 set a record for the “longest nonstop flight by a commercial jet ” by flying non-stop from Hong Kong to London across the Pacific and U.S.---13,422 miles.

    Pluto Explorer Nears Launch [FL Today]
    New Horizons is nearing the start of a nine-year trip to Pluto-Charon and beyond. Preparations include replacement of one of the Atlas 5’s solid rocket boosters, which was damaged by hurricane Wilma. The task has been made more complex, and interesting, by the discovery of two additional moons [see Spaceflight Now] orbiting Pluto.

    Japanese “Minerva” probe may be LIS [Space.com]
    In a second setback for the “Hayabusa” asteroid sample collection mission, the “Minerva” mini-lander appears to have failed to lock in on the surface of the target asteroid and may be lost in space.

    Windows Bug Allows Images to Carry Malware [New Scientist]
    Microsoft is releasing patches to counter a Metafile buffer-overflow exploit which could allow some images to carry malicious code. The problem recalls past developments which would allow the JPEG format to carry malicious code in its little-known scripting feature.

    Sony Rootkit Scandal Expands to Third Parites [FOXNews.com]
    Continuing to follow developments in the story on Sony’s outrageous inclusion of malware “rootkit’ exploits on its music CD's to counter music copying---third party malware developers have quickly jumped on the bandwagon by exploiting the undisclosed Sony rootkit to hide their malicious wares on victimized computers. Also see the related article on SpywareInfo.com

    MIT Finds Aluminium Foil Ineffective Against Mind Control Rays [found on SpywareInfo.com]
    “On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study” Rahimi, et al, 2005
    Apparently bored graduate students at MIT have tested several styles of foil headgear, and found that the devices actually amplify some potential mind-control transmissions.

    Romans 14
    17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

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    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    ---Vatican Embraces Science, 5 Influenza Deaths in Indonesia, Riots in France, Sony Crosses the Line, Moore Lies, and Other Stories 

    Cardinal Says Catholics Should Listen to Science [My Way News/AP]
    Cardinal Paul Poupard, in charge of the Vatican’s “Pontifical Council for Culture”, says that members of his church should listen to “secular modern science ” to avoid “fundamentalism”. The Vatican again confesses its error in its suppression of Gallileo and others, albeit not in so many words.
    It’s another strange twist in the perennial “religion vs. science” debate---among people who have negligible understanding of legitimate Christian doctrine and people who haven’t even figured out what it’s for.
    For the record, science is one of the best ideas humanity has ever come up with. At its best, it is a consistent set of standards for thinking about how the Universe works, and for evaluating evidence for or against one’s conclusions. Science is a failure, of course, for the same reason that every other human endeavor has been a failure---
    Its value is ultimately limited by the moral integrity of the participants.

    5 Deaths from Avian Influenza in Indonesia [FOXNews.com/AP]
    The deaths seem to be attributable to contact with poultry so far, not human-human transmission. The AP article does not appear to directly verify that the human outbreak is due to H5N1, although that seems to be the implication.

    Rioting Spreads Across France, Intensifies [FOXNews.com/AP]
    Muslims and African immigrants continue to riot across France. The immediate excuse for the violence was the deaths of two teenagers being pursued by police. Early yesterday, rioting Muslim youth gangs doused a woman on crutches in an inflammable liquid and set her on fire.

    Sony Crosses the Line [Washinton Post]
    Sony’s war against music piracy has taken an especially vicious turn. Its music CD’s now install “rootkit” software, a tactic typical of the most unprincipled spyware purveyors, when loaded into an MS Windows PC. The software is nearly impossible to remove once installed, and promises to deactivate your CD writer if you do something which it interprets as an attempt to make an illegal copy of Sony-distributed music.
    For futher information:
    SpywareInfo Newsletter on the Sony "Rootkit" scandal.
    Mark's Sysinternals Blog on the Sony "Rootkit" scandal
    (see also “RootKitRevealer” freeware)
    Wikipedia on Rootkits

    13 things that do not make sense [found on BlogsNow]
    ---Scientifically, that is. There are many other things that don’t make sense in general, so I shouldn’t get started on them here.

    Michael Moore Owned Halliburton, Defense Stocks [NewsMax, found on BlogsNow]
    Moore, who sold books to other people for money in which he attacked major corporations and in which he swore that he held no stocks in them, owned stocks in them. Michael Moore is a liar. Many other prominent, powerful, book-selling rich people are also liars---it seems to be a very popular skill these days---so I probably shouldn’t get started on them here, either.

    Hayabusa Landing Rehearsal Aborted [ MSNBC.com]
    An unspecified malfunction in Japan’s asteroid probe has caused cancellation of the “dress rehearsal” for later attempts to recover and return a sample from the asteroid to Earth. The probe has returned some nice pictures from orbit around the “Itokawa ”asteroid, however.

    October Images From Titan [NASA-JPL]
    The Cassini orbiter has returned more images from its October flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan---including some very detailed SAR images. Titan terrain features are collecting serious names now---the “giant H” is now “Fensal-Aztlan”. Try saying that really fast with your mouth full of “Cheerios”.

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    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    ---Other News 

    News for the last two weeks was mostly a continuation of the same old stuff. I'm getting news fatigue. Hopefully, I will get back on track soon. Unfortunately, it will probably result from more unprecedented catastrophes:

    U.N. Employee Claims Sexual Harrassment [FOXNews.com]
    Cynthia Brzak says she was sexually assaulted by Ruud Lubbers, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees ...”
    Despite an investigation showing a “...pattern of sexual harassment by Mr. Lubbers. “ which led to his resignation, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan claimed that Lubbers left because of news media pressure. Annan again moves to protect a high ranking wrongdoer in the U.N. power structure. Also, apparently depending on who one talks to, Brzak’s job either is or isn’t targetted for cuts.
    What do we need the U.N. for, again? Role models for our public officials?

    Egytian Muslims Riot Over Coptic DVD [CNN.com]
    1 dead, 90 injured, 54 arrested in assault on an Egyptian Coptic church in Alexandria. More mystifying than the attacks is Muslim outrage over the DVD, which seems to have been more an apology for Islam than Christian evangelism.
    I had associated the Copts with the monophysite heresy, but a glance at the Wikipedia entry on the Coptic Orthodox church shows that they have instead adopted a sort of intermediate position among the permutations of the competing heresies about Christ’s life and divinity. Otherwise, the doctrinal details seem to vary little from orthodox Catholicism.

    Rosa Parks Honored at Funeral [FOXNews.com]
    Thousands attended the funeral in Detroit for Rosa Parks, who helped trigger the American Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s by refusing to give her bus seat to a white male in Montgomery, Alabama.
    (edited 11-14, JJR2)

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    ---Images from East Texas: After Rita 

    A few of the images from around Beaumont and Orange, Texas in late October, about a month after hurricane Rita tore up the area. There is still an immense amount of damage, fallen trees everywhere, businesses slowly coming back. There is virtually no building in the area that doesn't have at least part of its roof missing, covered with blue plastic tarpaulins. One enterprising homeowner had covered his roof with the plastic signage from one of the many shattered billboards which still litter the countryside.

    Broken pine trees in Orange, Texas. All of the broken trunks have fallen toward the southwest.

    Smashed traffic lights in Beaumont, Texas

    Fallen trees at the Civil War vintage Parish Cemetery in Orange, Texas.

    Damaged church in Orange, Texas. The steeple has fallen onto the front lawn.

    Business on IH10 East of Beaumont.
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