Saturday, December 24, 2005

---Merry Christmas, and Other Stories 

It's Christmas Eve, 2005. May God bless us all as we remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
And then there's the other stuff that's coincidentally going on around us:

Saddam Says He Was Beaten in U.S. Custody [FOXNews.com/AP ]
Okay, I know what you’re all thinking---but given the fragile and formative state of representative government of laws in Iraq, this is one case in which large numbers of volunteers wouldn’t be constructive.

NYT: Administration Domestic Surveillance Widespread [FOXNews.com/AP]
Neither unexpected, nor remotely unprecedented, particularly in such an extreme national crisis. Granted, Washinton’s apparent contempt for Congressional advice and consent may have been expressed in a more gentlemanly manner, and Lincoln didn’t actually imprison the Supreme Court, but the American democratic experiment is hardly immune to such detours.
The “investigation” will have to be taken away from the Grey “Lady” before it can possibly be taken seriously, since the Times has gained an international reputation for making stuff up.

Two in VietNam Die of Tamiflu-Resistant H5N1 [New Scientist ]
Two victims of the H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza have died after their infections failed to respond to Tamiflu/osteltavir treatment. There have been worries about resistance due to low doses in private or preventative use, but these cases had the full prescribed regimen of the antiviral drug. Wishful thinking about reduced virulence aside, if they have to move on to the third antiviral line of defense even before a full-scale outbreak occurs, it may be time to start worrying a little.

Beagle 2 found? [ESA]
[Houston Chronicle/AP]
Images from the NASA Mars Global Surveyor show details that scientists on the “Beagle” team think are the remains of the lost lander---a couple of symmetrically displaced blobs in a crater are about all that really shows up in the picture. If accurate, it would mean that “Beagle 2” got far enough to deploy its airbags before it took a bad bounce---a hard landing that might have resulted from the atmosphere being thinner than expected at the time of entry.

Stardust Nears Return to Earth [JPL]
[FL Today]
Mission management has to be really sweating this one, although they aren’t saying so. After the failure of parachutes on the Genesis sample return capsule and the humiliating images of the crushed hull half buried in the desert, the similarity of technology on the Stardust could lead to serious concerns.
Stardust is supposed to return cometary material collected on an aerogel paddle on Jan. 15. Proper parachute deployment is especially important, since the capsule is expected to endure the fastest atmospheric entry of any manmade object ever intentionally returned to Earth. After a thorough analysis, the management assures us that the parachute problem won’t recur.

Study Argues Meridiani Damp, Not Wet [Spaceflight Now ]
Contrary to the initial theories that sulfate-rich formations in Meridiani Planum were evidence of a shallow lake or sea, this group contends that the evidence is best explained by volcanism interacting with much smaller amounts of short-lived water vapor or liquid. They note that percolation of liquid water through the sediments should have enriched them in cationic iron, calcium, and magnesium, which aren’t there.
This argument will doubtless go on for a while---that’s science. It should work pretty well until the government starts pumping large sums of money into it.

New Horizons Moves to Final Assembly [Spaceflight Now ]
The NASA mission to explore Pluto-Charon, and possibly objects in the Kuiper belt beyond, is progressing to its January 17 launch date with assembly to the Atlas 5. The probe is scheduled to arrive at its fly-by encounter with the binary planet in 2015 or so.
I haven’t seen anything yet on how they plan to navigate to any of the other Kuiper objects, which don’t seem to be very rigorously located yet. These things probably have some pretty odd orbital geometries, too.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

---Iranian President Says Holocaust a 'Myth', Missouri Reservoir "Rubble", DirectTV Fined, Stem Cell Results Faked , and Other Stories 

Iranian President Calls Holocaust a 'Myth' [FOXNews.com/AP]
“IslamoFacism” has developed a disturbingly literal parallel to the original. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that the Holocaust was fabricated as an excuse to plant a Jewish state in the middle of the Islamic world, and frothed volumes of other excreable drivel on the subject in a public speech. Now, where are those nuclear facilities? Oh, and by the way, Russia just sold these vicious, psychopathic thugs a billion USD worth of weapons....

Retaining Wall of Missouri Reservoir Substandard [FOXNews.com/AP]
Another civil engineering disaster---The section of the reservoir wall which failed last week, injuring several people as it sent a billion gallons of water surging through a state park, was made of soil and broken rock fill material instead of the granite specified when it was built in the ‘60’s. Investigators expressed “shock” when they discovered the composition of the embankment.

Hamas Wins in West Bank [FOXNews.com/AP]
As the Palestinian Fatah party splits up, the murderous thugs of Hamas have gained ground in local elections.
During our European trip early this year, when the BBC was the only English-language news available, I was forced to listen to the British correspondents gushing about Hamas as a force for political stability in war-ravaged Palestine. It appears, at least for now, that Israel and the U.S. will have better sense.

DirectTV fined for Do-Not-Call Violations [FOXNews.com/AP]
The FCC has fined the satellite TV purveyor $5.35 million because its telemarketing associates ignored the Federal Do-Not-Call lists when calling listed consumers. Hopefully they will serve them with the notice during dinner time.

Hayabusa Return Delayed [MSNBC.com Space News ]
[ Spaceflight Now ]
Japan’s troubled asteroid probe has missed its window for return to Earth because of a critical fuel leak and resulting loss of control. The delay prolongs the return by something like three years. Contrary to earlier announcements, the probe apparently also failed to actually obtain any samples during multiple contacts with the target asteroid.

Cloning Pioneer Faked Stem Cell Results [NewScientist.com]
[ FOXNews.com/AP ]
Woo Suk Hwang published a paper in May that claimed to have produced 11 lines of custom-tailored stem cells for 11 patients, with implications for future stem cell therapies free of rejection worries. Now Hwang has asked the magazine Science to retract his paper, as a colleague announced publicly that most or all of the results were faked.
According to Sung Il Roh, “Of the 11 stem cell lines, at least nine are faked and the veracity of two others has yet to be confirmed.” Hwang apparently pressured another colleague into faking photographs of some of the cell lines.

Interview on String Theory [NewScientist.com]
If you didn’t grind your teeth when the NextGen Enterprise hit a “Cosmic string fragment”, this is going to be even less intelligible for you than it is for me. Okay, the Cosmological Constant in our fragment of the “multiverse” is non-zero, and our tiny portion of “everything” favors the existence of life because we’re here to argue about it? ---And if theory forces science to conclude what seems fairly obvious upon casual inspection---that the Universe was designed to produce life---scientists will be in “a very awkward position”?
“One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.”

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

---Christmas 2005 BarneyCam, CA Deadlier Than Iraq?, Russia Sells Weapons to Iran, Clinton Emits, Brokeback Mountain Sweeps Oscars, and Other Stories 

Barney and Beazley at Christmas
Forget all the silly news and political commentary---the Christmas 2005 Barney Cam is out! See Barney Cam: "A Very Beazley Christmas"
There’s a great clip in this one of GWB parodying his own rather wooden speaking style.

"California homicides dwarf Iraq deaths" [WorldNetDaily] [found on BlogsNow]
Not to minimize in any way the loss of life in the Iraqi conflict, or the danger faced daily by U.S. troops, but press coverage of the U.S. body count often seems to lack a certain critical perspective. I’ve often wondered how many deaths would have resulted from taking the 150,000 or so U.S. personnel, giving them all sports cars, and moving them to Los Angeles. This story compares the total yearly coalition losses in the Iraq war to the yearly homicide rate in LA.

Russia Sells Weapons to Iran [FOXNews.com ]
In case you were deluded into thinking that Russian morality was materially changed from the Soviet era, this should slap you awake. Now where are those nuclear weapons?

Clinton Criticizes Bush on Greenhouse Emissions [FOXNews.com ]
What we need to be controlling are Bill Clinton’s emissions. Don't former presidents have some kind of code of conduct or something?

USB air darts [Engadget ] [found on BlogsNow]
Forget your silly water pistols and paper wads. Now you can aim air-driven missles at co-workers or small animals with this launcher controlled by your mouse through your computer’s USB port. I’m guessing the novelty will wear off pretty quickly, though.

purgatorio: You Might Be Emerging If...[found on BlogsNow]
Fairly gentle humor aimed at the “Emerging Church” movement. Attempts to “reinvent” the Church with “post-modern” psychological and cutting-edge management theory, or wherever this stuff comes from, don’t really interest me. Like most of the respondents, though, I can identify with a couple of glasses of Guiness Stout.

Hold Your Votes, Please! [Movies.com]
This year’s “English Patient”-style Oscar sweep is in the bag. Like that earlier demonstration of the integrity of professional movie critics, they will probably be the only viewers of “Brokeback Mountain”, and among the few who could possibly even care to contemplate what lonely cowboys do in front of the cows. Again this year, they will probably the only ones watching the Oscar presentations as well.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

---New Orleans Levees Badly Built, It's a "Christmas Tree" Again, Michael Yon Revisited, Hayabusa Thruster Leaking, VOIP Services Miss 911 Deadline 

Failed New Orleans Levees Were Badly Built [FOXNews.com/AP]
The steel pilings for the critical levees which failed after hurrican Katrina were driven about half as far into the embankments as design documents for the construction intended. A study of the levees by LSU engineers showed that they would have failed even if built to specification.
It is Louisiana, after all. The bill for generations of endemic social and political corruption is finally coming due.

Congress Can Say "Christmas Tree" Again [FOXNews.com ]
It’s becoming a challenge to our national survival. Public officials who use our time and money to indulge this abysmal foolishness must become former public officials by the most expeditious means available.

Michael Yon : Online Magazine
Once again, Michael Yon has been reporting from Iraq as an unpaid, independent journalist. He provides an invaluable insight into the experiences of American soldiers in the Iraq War and its aftermath. The unit he was embedded with has now returned to the U.S..

Bad News for Martian Life at Meridiani [JPL]
Conditions in the area where the Opportunity rover landed have been historically “strongly acidic, oxidizing, and sometimes wet” Overall, it would be a tough place for life to develop.

After Historic Success, Hayabusa Has New Problem [Spaceflight Now]
After the Japanese probe finally achieved its most important and historic mission goal---the collection of a sample of material from the asteroid Itokawa---it has developed a new and daunting probem. One of its thrusters is leaking gas, and the probe is in danger of missing its window for the return to Earth with the sample.

Major VOIP Phone Services Fail to Meet 911 Deadline [My Way News]
Vonage, AT&T, and others failed to satisfy an FCC mandate to provide reliable 911 services to all their customers. It is not clear yet what the penalty for the non-compliance will be.

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