Monday, December 19, 2005

Homeland Security puts Mounted Officers on Border

The Department of Homeland Security homepage leads with a story about 1,700 new Border Agents being deployed along the southwest border with Mexico.

This photo accompanies the story, and it made me wonder: Couldn't they cover more of the border by spreading out a bit?

23 Squidoo: Wikipedia meets

George alerted me (after his sister alerted him) to a new web site: Squidoo. Squidoo just opened their beta launch to the public, and I think it's a cool idea.

Their tag line is "Everyone's an expert on something," and this is the core idea of the site. You can create your own "Lens", a web page on their site that serves as a resource and a launch point to more information on the topic of your choice.

I've already started a few lenses, including this one on Human Origins.

I guess what I like about squidoo is that it allows people with an interest in something to share that interest with others. Building a Squidoo lens is much easier than launching your own blog on the subject, since they provide little building blocks for your page (er... lens).

They recommend that if you already have a blog, you should still create a Squidoo lens on your topic and then include links back to your blog. One of the building block tools they offer is one which easily integrates an RSS feed, so you could include headlines and excerpts from your blog right on the Squidoo lens.

The system is crearly still buggy, and I've lost some work while trying to create content. I'll be patient, though... after all, it's free.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Catch the WildCam while you can!

National Geographic's well-done website is currently featuring an amazing experience: A 24-hour webcam which monitors a water hole in Africa: The WildCam.

Pete's Pond is a large watering hole in Botswana, which is frequented by all kinds of wildlife. I've spent hours and hours working at my computer while the streaming, real-time video from the pond plays on my desktop.

Geographic only plans to keep the live stream active on their site until December 8th, so please take a look while you can. They use an ordinary color camera during the day, and use an infrared camera at night.

The site tells you what time it is in Botswana, and they have some wonderful archive footage available.

I've snapped a few photos from the live feed when it was particularly interesting, and included a few here.

Visit the Wild Cam.

Elephants at night
more Elephants

Thursday, October 6, 2005

WriteBoard: a new web-hosted collaboration tool

I've been a big fan of Backpack since the day it launched, and I'm currently managing 8 or 9 personal projects with it as I type.

When 37Signals announced yet another cool web app for creating collaborative online documents, I was excited! Then, I started reading about Writeboard, and I lost some of my enthusiasm. Couldn't you just do this in Backpack?

Then I read more, and discovered it's core capability: Version control. It's basic (no merging, for example), but it'll do. And it also integrates with a BackPack account. I'm excited again!

I've been wanting to write about web-based writing tools for some time, but every week someone comes out with a new one (see Writely). Now 37Signals has jumped into the fray, and they are updating the product continually.

Give it a try! You can create a free account with two current writeboards. Backpack has a free option, too.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Einstein Centennial

September 27th marks 100 years since Albert Einstein submitted a paper which introduced his famous equation: E = mc2.

I heard about it on NPR today, and thought I would include a link to their coverage of Einstein.

Even better is some major coverage on the NOVA site from PBS. The site is a companion to their series: Einstein's Big Idea. One of the articles on the PBS site lets you listen to 10 top physicists explain the equation.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Google Mail, Anyone?

I recently extended two GMail invitations to friends, taking me down to 4 remaining invitations to use Google's very cool Web Mail service.

I was surprised to notice today that I now have 100 remaining invitations! Is this true for Everyone? Is this Google's way of rapidly expanding the user base?

No matter what the reason, I now have a LOT of GMail invitations available. If you want one, please drop me a note.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rescue Workers Distance Themselves From FEMA

photo by Joel Johnson
(click through for entire Flickr set)
I was listening to NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday morning, and heard a story that I just had to share.

Martin Kaste filed a story from New Orleans, describing attempts by rescue workers to convince remaining residents to leave.

He is speaking to Paul Goodman, a firefighter from Georgetown, Kentucky, when he notes that forcing residents to leave isn't the only thing rescue workers are reluctant about:

Kaste: "They're also reluctant to advertise the fact that they work for the much-maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency. Goodman and his unit of firefighters are here working for the agency, but they've hidden their FEMA ID tags under their shirts."

Goodman: "They still wanted us to wear it, um, we were advised by the U.S. Marshals not to wear it."

Listen to the entire story at

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Web Surfers Can Help, Too

Have you been surfing the web for days, wishing you could do more to help with Katrina relief than just sending cash? Well, they have a job for you over at the Katrina Help Wiki.

they are looking for people to volunteer their time sitting right in front of their computer by helping out with the Katrina PeopleFinder project:

Several dozen sites have been established to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina find their loved ones, and to allow people to report missing people. This creates a difficulty for people trying to locate missing persons - they need to search dozens of separate databases and message forums.

So we've decided to create a centralized database, where you can search the data from all of these at one time.
You can help in two ways, depending on just how deep your geekdom goes:
  1. Enter lost/found info from various non-scrapable websites into a web form at the PeopleFinder project. Go here and follow the instructions.
  2. Write code to scrape existing datasets and integrate them into the PeopleFinder database. Go here and sign up to help.

I decided that since my scraping skills are pretty beginner-like, I would just dive in on the volunteer side. I have already claimed and entered three datasets of postings from the Katrina Connections site, where people were posting photos of lost loved ones.

Help out if you can.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


36 years before Apollo 11
Wow. 36 years since Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the Moon. It got me think about the pace of human technological progress, and I decided to do a little research.

36 years before Apollo, humans were already flying, but they had a long way to go in just 36 short years to be standing on the Moon.

So what about 36 years later? In 1969, most people assumed that by the turn of the millenium, humans would be permanently working and
36 years after Apollo 11
living in space-- both in orbit and on the Moon. Instead, our only space-going vehicle has been grounded for over two years, and until today, our only spacecraft in the U.S. cleared to fly was a sub-orbital craft built by an entrepreneur in Mojave, California.

Progress, indeed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Google Maps on the Moon

Yep, today is the 36th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's famous first step on the Moon. I can't believe that almost 40 years later, the U.S. has no functioning craft to even get us into Low Earth Orbit... oh well.

It's a cool day to commemorate, and Google has gone a step further than their usual special logo: They've created a special version of Google Maps for the Moon! It shows you the landing sites for the Apollo missions, and a special surprise if you zoom in all the way.


p.s. Google Moon is part of the Google Copernicus Project. These guys are forward-thinking!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Biodiesel: Not the answer, either?

A new study from Cornell and California-Berkeley says that it takes more fossil fuel to make ethanol than the ethanol itself will yield.

Supporters of ethanol as a renewable energy source have claimed in the past that only 60% of the yielded energy is needed to produce ethanol, but the new study challenges that number.

"The researchers included such factors as the energy used in producing the crop, costs that were not used in other studies that supported ethanol production, said Pimentel" [one of the study's authors].
Not wasting any time, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association issued a press release refuting the results, stating:
"Over the past decade, only two studies, both of which were conducted by Cornell University entomologist David Pimentel, have found the net energy balance of ethanol to be negative. The overwhelming majority of scientists... have argued Pimentel's studies use outdated data and a flawed methodology."

One thing that had not occurred to me before was this: How much fossil fuel energy is expended to produce petroleum fuels? Is it a productive formula?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Direct Link Between Lack of Exercise and Cancer Risk?

George sent me a clipping from Dr. Gabe Merkin's E-Zine on Health in which he describes the ways in which not exercising shortens your life:

How Lack of Exercise Shortens Lives

Many recent studies show that people die from inactivity, not just from aging. We know that as people age, they lose muscle, their immunities weaken and because of their weakened immunity, they are more likely to die of cancer and infectious
diseases. As you age, you lose your ability to kill germs because of lack of muscle. When germs get into your body, you must make white blood cells and proteins called antibodies to kill them. Antibodies and cells are made from protein and the only place that you can store extra protein is in your muscles. When you have
large muscles, you have a ready source of protein to make antibodies and cells. When you have small muscles, you have a very limited source of amino acids to make protein, so your immunity may be inadequate to kill germs.

You need antibodies to control cancer cells also. Each day, every healthy body makes millions of cancer cells. Your white blood cells and protein antibodies are necessary to ferret out and kill these cancer cells. You develop cancer when these
cancer cells survive and start growing. Having large muscles gives you the source of protein to make antibodies that kill cancer cells as well as germs. Furthermore, when your skeletal muscles are small, so is your heart muscle. A strong heart can withstand arteriosclerosis and infections that can kill a weak heart.

Lack of exercise causes muscles to get smaller. With aging, it takes increasingly longer to recover from exercise. When older people get injured or get tired too soon or feel sore too early, they do less and less or they stop exercising altogether. Instead, they should be exercising more intelligently so they can retain their muscles.

A major advantage of competing in sports at any age is that you can learn good training techniques and how to avoid injuries. If you can exercise into your nineties and beyond without quitting or getting injured, you can retain muscle mass, keep up your immunity and live longer and healthier.
Dr. Mirkin has a very informative website, and once hosted a wonderful radio program on health (you can still download over 200 hours of the programs in mp3 format). Unfortunately, he gave up the radio program to dedicate more time to bicycle racing. He has completed the Boston Marathon 6 times, has practiced medicine for over 40 years, and still is accepting new patients. Oh-- he's 70 years old.

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Another Chance to see Battlestar Galactica

If you missed the Best Science Fiction on Television the first time around, you now can see the entire first season of the new Battlestar Galactica without having to buy the DVD Boxed Set.

The SciFi Channel will be airing a Battlestar Galactica marathon, beginning at 7:00am on July 6th. Check you local listings for times, of course.

Don't forget: The Season Two Premiere (which resolves the major cliff-hanger) will air on Friday, July 15th.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Firefly returns to Television

The Sci Fi Channel reports that they have aquired the rights to reruns of the short-lived Fox series Firefly! They plan to air all episodes (including the 3 which never aired on Fox) before the release of Serenity in theatres on September 30th.

Not only will Sci Fi air all of the episodes, they will be shown in the correct chronological order (unlike the butcher job Fox did by starting with episode 3 and ending the run with the pilot...). Sci Fi plans to make them a part of Sci Fi Friday, the lineup of their flagship original series Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica. The new season of these shows begins one week earlier on July 15th.

It all starts July 22, with Serenity - Part 1. Browncoats unite!

Monday, May 2, 2005

MIT to host a Time Traveler Convention

Last August, George and I talked about a group who is creating a trust fund for people who want to be rescued from this time by future time-travelers. Now, MIT is getting involved in time travel!

On Saturday, May 7th, 2005, MIT is hosting the first and only
Time Traveler Convention. Why the only one? Because one is enough! If time travelers want to come back each year of their own subjective timeline, they can just come back to the same convention. It'll be a time-travel Woodstock...

The organizers are urging supporters to publicize the event by doing any of the following:

  • Write the details down on a piece of acid-free paper, and slip them into obscure books in academic libraries
  • Carve them into a clay tablet
  • If you write for a newspaper, insert a few details about the convention
I first read about it on the web, but I just heard a prominently-placed story on NPR's All Things Considered on Monday. They're getting good coverage!

If you can't make it to the convention this Saturday, perhaps you can come back to it later, assuming time travel is invented within your lifetime...

(from Boing Boing)

Update: While no travelers from the future made their presence known at the Convention, there was plenty of anticipation, music, food, and a DeLorean! There were so many travelers from the past*, however, that some people had to be turned away.

My personal opinion: Even if time travelers from the future saw the notices for the convention, it seems unlikely they would do something as dangerous to the timeline as appearing in public and proclaiming their ability to travel through time. It is entirely possible, however, that they were present, but dressed as "locals."

(*) All of us are traveling through time from the past. Duh.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Serenity (the Firefly movie) Trailer This Tuesday!

George alerted me to the fact that Joss Whedon himself reported Friday that the theatrical trailer for Serenity will be available exclusively on Apple's website this Tuesday. It will appear the following Friday in theatres.

He points out that the trailer does give away quite a bit, so I will be avoiding it (see our previous discussions to find out why).

Here's an excerpt from Joss' complete post:

"Now, here's a word of warning: this trailer ain't shy. If you're looking to live totally spoiler-free, know that there's plenty of key dialogue and images running through this bad boy. It's pretty tasty, though, and it doesn't give everything away. But close scrutiny will definitely learn you much of what's to come. (Anakin TOTALLY goes evil.) It's a nice piece to while away the time till September, and hopefully should intrigue th' peeps that don't have coats of brown.

The only thing more exciting than y'all finally seeing this was showing it to Nathan. Like a schoolboy giggled he. "

I still can believe the movie won't be showing until September 30th, but at least we're making progress. I'll post a direct link to the trailer as soon as it's available. See the Serenity Trailer HERE!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Another new Tech Blog:

My step-son Bradley bought a Sony PlayStation Portable the first week they appeared in stores, and he is very excited. The PSP is more than a portable PlayStation-- it also plays movies, music, and lets you manage your photos digitally.

We were talking about it, and came up with the idea of launching another "Gadgetry" weblog just for PSP... so that's just what we did.

Brad and I will be co-editing the new site: PSPGadgetry. Stop by if you are interested!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

LWG and the Speed of Gravity Debate

George and I had several lunchtime conversations during which we tried to grasp the non-intuitive aspects of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. We got started on this topic after George had read Tom Van Flandern's book Dark Matter, Missing Planets, & New Comets.

Van Flandern points out that gravity appears to act instantaneously at a distance, and proposes a very different theory for how it works. Steve Carlip, a professor of Physics and a specialist on Genreal Relativity, has countered Van Flandern's theories a number of times, and provides explanations for why a gravitational field propagates at the speed of light, yet it's effects on objects appears to be instantaneous.

Yes, yes... but why am I dragging all this out of the dustbin now? Well, in a recent discussion thread on Tom Van Flandern's website, one of the more sensible contributors actually cited the Lunch With George gravity web page (it's the fourth post down on the page).

We've come full circle. Van Flandern's ideas got us talking, we did a lot of research, and ultimately we wound up on Van Flandern's website.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Cory Doctorow Interview on O'Reilly Network

Richard Koman interviews Cory Doctorow (one of Paul's new favorite authors) about his Science Fiction writing. Cory is a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundatation, and recently presented a session called "All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites" at the Emerging Technologies Conference held recently in San Diego.

Read the interview.