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March 2006 Archives

Hares know how to dance

[Boxing Hares] During the hare's mating season, they have often been seen "boxing". People used to think that this was competition between males, but it turns out that it's usually a fight between females and males. When a male gets too close, an unreceptive female will bat him away with her claws. According to an article on the arctic hare, the male usually backs down quickly. But when he doesn't, they'll continue "boxing" and even biting. "Tactics include scratching with fore-claws, biting at the fur, neck and body, and grabbing the opponent's limb with their teeth. Injuries may result: hares with facial scars are not uncommon."

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In completely unrelated news, the first pencils were made in the early 1500s from an enormous deposit of very pure solid graphite that was discovered at a place called "Seathwaite Fell" in England. It remains the only graphite deposit ever found with such purity. Normally, graphite had to be ground down into a powder to remove impurities.

Thus, England had a monopoly on pencils. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French couldn't get their hands on that English graphite any more, and so it wasn't until 1795 that Nicholas Jacques Conté discovered how to mix powdered graphite with clay and then fire it in a kiln to make the modern pencil.

Crazy. From the Wikipedia pencil entry.

(Also, that joke about NASA spending millions on a space pen while the Russians used pencils is not true.)


And now, ladies and gentleman, Insomnia Theatre proudly presents episode one of:


by ToastyKen

The Hare races down the trail! He dives under fallen trees! He leaps over pitfalls! He winds and he weaves along the obstacle course, leaving his competitors in the dust. The Hare is tired, but he knows the end of the gauntlet is near.

And so it is. The Hare comes upon a small clearing. Before him now is a hillside, covered with trees. "I've come all this way," said the Hare, "and now I have to climb this hill? Screw that!"

The Hare looks around the edge of the forest. "That looks like a shortcut. I bet I can stroll through there and find a ski lift or something."

He wanders through the woods for some time. "Hm. I don't seem to be getting anywhere," says the Hare. "I think I'll head that way. I bet that's the real shortcut."

More time passes. "I still don't know where I'm going," the Hare observes. He turns around in a full circle. There's no path, just dirt and trees. "I suppose the finish line is probably at the top of the hill, but climbing the hill is the easy way out. That's what that boring old Tortoise would do." The Hare grunts in contempt. "I could beat that Tortoise to the top of the mountain any day, but I don't need to do any climbing. A direct competition like that is beneath me. I'll find that ski lift yet!" The Hare picks another direction and saunters off.


One of the Hare's competitors arrives at the foot of the hill. It is...

Another Hare.

The Other Hare looks at the hill for but a moment before racing up as quickly as it can.


* * *

[Btw, I should acknowledge a late night conversation with Vijay for inspiring me to write this story.]

London's Finest

I didn't actually go to most of the Feburary 15, 2003 London Anti-War Protest, but I caught the tail end of it in Piccadilly Circus (which is basically a square, no clowns or elephants). They were cleaning up, and people were heading home when I got there.

What amuses me about this picture is how you have this big line of police, and here I am taking a picture from behind the line. :) Actually, there were quite a few people still behind the line. The police were just shepherding new arrivals onto the crosswalks.

Snakes on NPR

NPR report on Snakes on a Plane! The most hilarious part is that (a) there exists Snakes on a Blog, and that (b) New Line actually contacted the blog about how they did five days of reshoots due to Internet expectations. They're changing the movie from PG-13 to R by having more campy humor, more nudity, more death scenes, and more swearing by Sam Jackson. Sweet. :)

The blogger mentions how this is a really unique situation because there's this giant built-in fanbase for something that had no prior history. All these people are jazzed up for a movie they know nothing about, except that it has Sam Jackson, and snakes, on a plane!

In unrelated news, Bull attack, duck! (Be sure to scroll down a little.)

The Departure of Chef

Update: Here's a clip from a December 2005 interview with Isaac Hayes on the Opie and Anthony Show. [MP3, 512 KB, 0'32"]

Caller: You're a Scientologist, right?

Isaac Hayes: Yeah.

Caller: What did you think of it all when Matt and Trey did that episode on South Park about Scientology? With Cruise in the closet.

Isaac Hayes: One thing about Matt and Trey: They lampoon everybody. And if you take that shit serious, then I'll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for two dollars. That's what they do.

Draw your own conspiracy theory conclusions! :D

* * *

Another development on the Closetgate story from a couple of posts ago:

One of the great things about South Park's low budget animation style is that they can write and rewrite episodes less than a week before the air date. The season premier just aired, and it was a farewell episode to Chef. Apparently, you can grab the episode from this website, though of course you shouldn't because that'd be illegal...

*Spoiler Warning!*

Continue reading "The Departure of Chef" »

The Canaries of Global Warming

The Inuit (aka Eskimos) are the first to really feel the effects of global warming. This WaPo article talks about how global warming is already affecting the ecosystem and their way of life.

As the Arctic ice sheet shrinks, polar bears are losing the ice floes they need for hunting, and hungry polar bears have become more of a threat to humans. Weather patterns are also changing:

In Pangnirtung[, Canada], residents were startled by thunder, rain showers and a temperature of 48 degrees in February, a time when their world normally is locked and silent at minus-20 degrees.

"We were just standing around in our shorts, stunned and amazed, trying to make sense of it," said one resident, Donald Mearns.

"These are things that all of our old oral history has never mentioned," said Enosik Nashalik, 87, the eldest of male elders in this Inuit village. "We cannot pass on our traditional knowledge, because it is no longer reliable. Before, I could look at cloud patterns or the wind, or even what stars are twinkling, and predict the weather. Now, everything is changed."

Metuq, the hunter, fears the worst. "The world is slowly disintegrating," he said, inside his heated house in Pangnirtung, a community of 1,200 perched on a dramatic union of mountain and fjord on Baffin Island. Seal skins stretched on canvas dried outside his home. The town remained treacherous. Rain in February had frozen solid, and there had been almost no snow to cover it.

"They call it climate change," he said. "But we just call it breaking up."

Closetgate thickens

Update: Stone and Parker comment semi-obliquely on the situation in the South Park season premier.

I recently mentioned Isaac Hayes quitting South Park due to a Scientology-mocking episode and Comedy Central pulling the episode due to Tom Cruise threatening not to publicize for M:I-3. Now, it seem both Paramount and a Cruise representative have issued statements saying Tom Cruise did not threaten to withhold publicity for M:I-3.

Comedy Central said it replaced the episodes with ones prominently featuring Chef because "we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute by airing two episodes he is most known for." That sounds quite plausible to me, actually, and maybe they were trying to flatter him and win him back?

However, it also seems that Hayes' decision to leave the show was a surprise to his friends. In fact, in a January 2006 interview, he was asked about the episode. He responded:

Well, I talked to Matt and Trey about that. They didn't let me know until it was done. I said, "Guys, you have it all wrong. We're not like that. I know that's your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that shit, you know?" But I understand what they're doing. I told them to take a couple of Scientology courses, and understand what we do. [Laughs.]

That doesn't sound so bitter. So cue Church of Scientology pressure conspiracy theories. :)

I got those links and info from this blog:scanners post.

Hello? Where IS everybody?

For some random reason I was reading about the X-Files on Wikipedia, and it led me to one of the best Wikipedia articles I've seen, on the Fermi paradox.

Simply stated, Fermi once pondered: With very reasonable and conservative estimates of rocket technology, a civilization could colonize the entire Milky Way in a few million years. The Universe is over ten billion years old, and a few million is a flash in the pan... So where is everybody? You'd think we would've been colonized by now.

The article has a very comprehensive list of all the different possible explanations for why we haven't seen any sign of aliens yet. Great stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if this were the most comprehensive list of Fermi paradox explanations in existence.

Personally, I've always leaned toward two: Maybe life is just a lot less likely to arise than you might imagine, and maybe technologically advanced life is unsustainable and doomed to destroy itself.

Thinking about the likely ease of colonizing the Galaxy in a few million years, though, makes me sympathize more with people who think we've already been visited. I mean, my gut tells me that the Universe must be teeming with life, and, if it is, there must be tons of civilizations that are millions of years old... so maybe they are already here.

I still haven't seen any convincing evidence, though. :P Of course, you could argue that, because of Clarke's Third Law, it'd be easy for advanced aliens to conceal any such evidence.... But then of course belief in them becomes indistinguishable from faith in a religion.


I kinda wanna upgrade my blog to WordPress just to get their tagging feature, so I can have a cybernetics tag.

The latest: DARPA's latest challenge is to insert a chip into a winged insect and control it.

I love this bit:

Darpa's previous experiments to get bees and wasps to detect the smell of explosives foundered when their "instinctive behaviours for feeding and mating... prevented them from performing reliably", it said.

If only those same instincts were enough prevent people from having wars!

Convergence, Step Two

People have been talking about TV-computer convergence seriously since at least the early 90s, and it's finally come to pass now with the iTunes video store. (At least, it's finally come to pass on legal channels. It came to pass via illegal bittorrent channels a few years ago.)

Welcome to step two: NBC will release web-only episodes of The Office this summer, starring side characters.


Not that I condone this sort of thing, but this video is pretty awesome.

Short description: 1978, Ferrari, streets of Paris, up to 140 mph, no permit.

The opening title card says, "The film you are about to see was produced without photographic tricks nor changes in camera speed."

From this Google Video page.

The film is called, C'était_un_rendez-vous, or "It was an appointment". It was made in 1976 by french director Claude Lelouch. The car was a Ferrari 275 GTB, driven by an F1 driver. He couldn't get a permit, but he shot it anyway.

At least, that's the story.

But a 2003 article revealed that Lelouch himself was the driver, and that the car was his own Mercedes, with Ferrari sounds dubbed over to make it sound faster. Here's a picture of the camera rig in front of a Mercedes. Also, a map-assisted analysis of his top speed showed that there was only one brief segment where he got close to 140 mph. He was mostly going between 40 and 80 mph.

He went at 5:30 in the morning in August (when the French all take lots of vacation, apparently) to minimize traffic. The most dangerous part was going through an arch at the Louvre, where he had no visibility of the other side. He had an assistant standing guard with a walkie talkie, but the walkie talkie broke down, and he went anyway.

When he first showed it, he was arrested, but this is what happened:

"They took a look at the film, and the chief of police called me in;" Lelouch recounted. "He read me a list of all the offenses I’d committed. It was never-ending. When he finished, he gave me a black look and asked for my driver’s license. He contemplated it for a few moments, then gave it back with a large smile on his face. He said, 'I promised I would take your license, but I didn't say for how long.' I was stupefied. It was a symbolic punishment. Then he added, 'My children love your little film.'"

Here's the Wiki page on the film.

Scientology: 2, South Park: 1, Internet: 1

Round One: Last November, South Park aired an episode about Scientology, revealing all their secret copyrighted beliefs about ancient Galactica Overlord Xenu, etc., and mocking Tom Cruise in particular. It ended with Stan shouting, "I'm not scared of you. Sue me!"

Round Two: Isaac Hayes, who plays Chef on South Park, quit the show because he was offended. I love this back and forth:

"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said.

"Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored," he continued. "As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

"South Park" co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem — and he's cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians."

Stone told The AP he and co-creator Trey Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin."

Round Three: Comedy Central, owned by Viacom, recently pulled a rerun of said Scientology episode. According to Variety, it was because Tom Cruise threaten not to promote M:I-3 (to be released by Paramount, also owned by Viacom). Again, the South Park guys were ready with an awesome response:

"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!"

The duo signed the statement "Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu."

Round Four: You can find the episode online in various formats at this anti-cult site as well as the premier anti-Scientology site.

Update: I've posted a followup.

Space Medicine Clerk Blog

So a college friend of mine who was a Planetary Protection Engineer for the Mars Exploration Rover mission is now in med school, aiming to go into aerospace medicine. She's back at Cape Canaveral doing a 4-week space medicine rotation, and she started a blog about it. (She doesn't mention her name on the blog, so I won't here, either.) She has some pictures of the Space Shuttle's "auto shop", and she got to participate in a mock crash landing drill recently, triaging mock injured astronauts.

I also learned a new fact about the extent of her obsession with space: Apparently, as a kid, she "taped a copy of the shuttle console under my desk and lay under it pretending to fly the shuttle."

Now that's hardcore!

Is a remotely signed book a signed book?

Oh my God, this is awesome.... Author Margaret Atwood is the first author to sign books remotely, via a telepresence robot. She uses a webcam to chat with fans and ask them what they want her to write, and then she signs her name on a tablet, and a robotic arm repeats the movements on the fan's actual book. Dude!

Here's someone's blog post about it.

This reminds me of a paper I wrote in college about telepresence. So will these people get to consider these books truly signed? Are these really her autographs? I mean, the computer could easily record her movements and have the robot mass-produce signatures. That would obviously not be legit, right? But does that possibility invalidate the legitimacy of the live remote signings that the fans are witness to? The witnesses know it's real, but there would no way to empirically tell the difference between a real signing and a replicated one. Forensic techniques used to check signature validaty would be useless here.

So maybe you say it's not really her signature if she's not holding the pen, but how is this fundamentally different from if she were wearing a glove while signing? I mean, it's the glove that's really holding the pen, and she's just moving the glove, right? So is using a computer-mediated robot really different?

I love this stuff. :)

Baby Octopus Adventure and More!

In this clip from an old Japanese TV show, [10 MB MP4] an octopus and a peanut try to get their hands on a baby octopus.


Found via this boingboing post.

In other news, take this Web 2.0 vs. Star Wars quiz. I got a 39, which I didn't think was very good.. until I realized everyone I know was getting a lower score. I'm not so sure this is a good thing. Maybe you can cheat and mesmerize yourself with this Web 2.0 logo collage.

TV commercials are a major source of exposure for upstart bands these days, but many bands will sell out to anyone except Hummer. They're having a hell of a time finding bands that will agree to let their music be used in Hummer commercials. I have to admit, though, that the H3 commercials have been pretty cool.

In related news, there's a new Hummer H1 model out this year, the H1 Alpha, with better fuel economy. According to Intellichoice, the new H1 has a gross vehicle weight of 10,300 lbs., while the H2 weighs 8,600 lbs., and yet, the H1 does 13 city/17 highway, while the H2 only does 12 city/16 highway. How on Earth does the H2 manage to actually have worse fuel economy than its sibling with nearly an extra ton of weight?!

Meanwhile, Jet-powered VW Bug! (I bet that has even worse fuel economy...)

And finally, Lego Brokeback Mountain, Lego Nintendo games, and Lego Dick Cheney.

Microsoft's best critic

So there's this awesome video floating around making fun of Microsoft's product packaging [Google Video]. They take a clean, white iPod box and clutter up the sides with all sorts of lists and labels and extraneous junk. It was brilliant satire. So who made it?

Apparently, Microsoft did! It was made by their own packaging team to make fun of their packaging. :)

Pirate Party!

Sweden has a Pirate Party! Seriously! Not like, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, but like, a real honest-to-goodness political party with enough votes to be on the next generation election! They're campaigning to get the 225,000 votes necessary to have a member in Parliament. Wow. Pirate Party! They must be super duper bored over there.

Found it via this Wired article. The short version is that when sites like SuprNova got shut down, The Pirate Bay, operating from Sweden, eventually became the only torrent tracker left standing. They still exist because linking to copyrighted materials has not been ruled illegal in Sweden the way it has been elsewhere. (Hm, so am I breaking the law by linking to a site that links to copyrighted materials? I figure if Wired can, so can I. :P)

And so now there is apparently a big battle over copyright vs privacy, etc., in Sweden. The stuff that only Internet geeks care about here, a significant proportion of the population cares about over there, enough to have their own Pirate Party!

Internet interactions

A month ago, I blogged about a lady who lost her camera, and how the finders reported it but then didn't want to return it.

Well, happily, she got her camera back with help from the National Park Service.

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A while back, a video circulated the Internet that featured some guy juggling in tune to a song. It was kinda neat. Apparently, some other professional juggler was pissed off that this guy was so popular when he only juggled 3 balls and didn't do any really difficult tricks, so he spliced the audio from that video and repeated the tricks, except with 5 balls instead of 3, and some fancier tricks. He even wrote a rant dissing the first guy.

I think he's just jealous that showmanship makes more money than technical skill. And really, is that surprising? He compares the first guy's routine to a figure skater skating around and tapping their toes to the music. Well, the guy isn't performing to judges; he's performing to some random crowd.. Of course he's gonna do the easier tricks that just look fancy.

I mean, even in the software world, everyone knows that good marketing can beat out technical merit. :)

Encl-- Eceli-- Enca-- WATER!

We've evidence of water on one of the tiny moons of Saturn no one really cared much about before. Craziness. Here's the boingboing post with lots of links. Since we're gonna be talking about that moon more now, I just wish "Enceladus" were easier to pronounce!

Which came first?

I was going to post my answer to the age old question, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?" I was going to say:

Assume first that we're talking about chicken eggs, because otherwise there was some reptile that laid eggs way before any chickens. So now there must've been some "first chicken", evolutionarily speaking, and the egg that hatched this chicken was genetically identical to the chicken, whereas the parents of that egg were genetically different as "not chickens", so that was the first chicken egg, and so the egg must have come first.

However, I then went to see if there's a Wikipedia article on this, and indeed there is an extensive entry. It brings up a couple of key things I had not thought about, namely: One definition of "chicken egg" would be "an egg that a chicken lays", in which case the chicken came first. Also, my evolutionary view is incorrect because speciation is not a one-organism event. Rather, speciation happens gradually over multiple generations, and there is no such thing as "the first chicken". Oh well!

Oh, and let's not forget that the answer is much simpler in the Creationist view (and what isn't?) because then God created the chicken, and the chicken laid the first egg.

Anyway, I think the new moral of the chicken and egg question is that it's a poorly defined question, and it's impossible to answer not because of some paradox extending backward infinitely throught time, but rather because it's impossible to clearly define what a chicken is at all. The boundary between what is and is not a chicken is fuzzy and gray.

So the next time someone asks you, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?" (I'm sure you're asked that all the time.) You should reply:

"What's a chicken?"

* * *

P.S.: So I was amused by one of the "see also" links at the bottom of the chicken or egg entry, labled, "Why did the chicken cross the road? (Problems with chickens beyond which came first)". :D It led to the Wiki entry on jokes. I love the series of Elephant jokes. They're hilarious!

P.P.S.: This religiously-oriented page on the question is hilarious. It first states that the chicken came first according to the Bible. And then it does mention evolution, but it simply says that, according to evolution, both came before people, and "historians weren't around to record which came first." So the question is unanswerable because there were no historians around? In other words, we cannot determine anything to be true if it happened before history? Brilliant!

And then it ends with the proclamation that it doesn't much which came first, "because both are important!" Wow. I call that the feel-good chicken or egg answer off the year!

99% Perspiration

I like the latest Boy on a Stick and Slither.

Ang Lee: historic non-event

I'm fascinated by the fact that almost none of the post-Oscar wrapups mention the fact that Ang Lee is the first Asian recipient of a Best Director Oscar. Googling yielded a couple of pre-Oscar articles mentioning it. In fact, the only time Lee himself noted his ethnicity was at the end of his speech, when he thanked everybody in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China for their concern, in Chinese.

I guess this means people actually think of him as "a director" first instead of "an Asian director". I think it's also in large part because he's been completely overshadowed by his choice of subject matter. I bet there were a few people who were like, "Oh yeah! It was Ang Lee who directed that gay cowboy movie!" In fact, Crouching Tiger aside, people mentioned Ang Lee's name much more frequently in connection with Hulk than they have with Brokeback.

Another way of looking at it is that gayness is a much bigger issue than Asianness. See, this is precisely why I thought Harold & Kumar was a much more significant movie than Better Luck Tomorrow. :) It was a stoner comedy first, and about Asians second.

I also wonder how people in China are reacting to this. I mean, on one hand, it should be "a proud moment for Chinese" and all that, but on the other hand, China's not exactly supportive of homosexuality.

P.S.: Geeky Chic informs me that he's not only the first Asian to win Best Director, he's the first non-white! Even more surprising that no one's talking about that.

* * *

In peripherally related news, here's one of my favorite recent bits from the Daily Show, from the pre-commercial hook: Know Comments. (Clarification: They cut out the commercials, so when it fades to black halfway through the clip is when they originally went to commercial.)

You can't resist...

I saw this commercial after the Oscars tonight. I think it's my new favoritest commercial ever:

Note the tagline. :D

Toast Wars on Google Video

I just posted Toast Wars on Google Video. A bit late, I know, given that it's been over 10 years since I completed it! But still, enjoy! :)

About March 2006

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in March 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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