Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Australian climate change pre-dates (and therefore was not caused by) human presence

This is interesting. My understanding was that the transition of much of Australia to desert occurred some time after the arrival of humans and that, therefore, there was at least the possibility that the change in climate was the result of human activity. Recent research suggests that this may not be the case:
'We've done a little bit of radiocarbon dating on the deposits itself and we know that the age of the deposits pre-dates the first humans on the Darling Downs by about 30- to 35,000 years,' he said.

'We know that there's no human or cultural artefacts in the deposits as well and we know that all the cut marks on the bone themselves are related to... some of the other species that lived on the Darling Downs, such as marsupial lions.'

That leaves one main culprit.

'That culprit is climate,' Mr Price said. 'It does appear that climate change was the major factor in driving the megafauna extinct.'
I'm not clear on how findings in one area can back this up (desertification of an area resulting from human activity can presumably occur without human artefacts appearing in every "10-metre site" of the affected area, indeed, even without humans ever having been present in the affected area at all), but it is an intriguing data point.

(via ABC)

English verbs with contradictory meanings

Three common ones:
  • trim (trim a hedge vs. trim a Christmas tree)
  • dust (dust a mantelpiece vs. dust crops)
  • sanction (sanction divorce vs. sanction trade)
(via answers.com)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Stop it, stop it, or you will all go blind!

The ABC writes:
There are 38 reported cases of blindness among users of Viagra, four among those using Sialis and one using Levitra.
Perhaps assuming a causal link stems from a distorted echo of the myth that masturbation causes blindness.

Needless to say, Pfizer does not believe that there is a causal link:

The maker of Viagra, Pfizer, says 23 million people use the drug and the percentage of men reporting blindness after using it is no greater than among those who do not use the drug.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Darth is Everywhere...

The toy franchise rolls on with
Darth Tater

Friday, May 20, 2005

Global Warming, an umm.... alternate perspective: Nuke the Arctic!

In Nuke the Arctic! Clive Thompson writes:
Think the global-warming debate is relatively modern? Nope -- in fact, back in the 19th century, major thinkers speculated wildly about global warming, with one major difference: They thought it was a totally awesome idea.

Missing: one Russian lake. The Cold War continues?

ABC News writes:
A Russian village has been left baffled after its lake disappeared overnight.
[Dmitry Zaitsev, a local Emergencies Ministry official] says water in the lake might have been sucked into an underground water-course or cave system but some villagers have more sinister explanations.

One older woman has told NTV she believes the Americans have finally been able to hit them where it hurts.

'I am thinking, well, America has finally got to us,' she said as she sat on the ground outside her house."

I can't decide which part of this story is more peculiar: that an entire lake could possibly dissappear overnight, or that (some) Russian villagers haven't noticed that the Cold War ended a while back.

Gargantuan Armadillo Fossil

Time to rename my blog :-)

Ice Age armadillos the size of cars, fossil shows.

"It was an animal that appeared 2 million years before Christ and would have died out 10,000 to 15,000 years BC because of a freeze," Mr Luna said.

He said the fossil was "almost complete" and was two metres long including the tail, 1.1 metres wide and with an average height of almost one metre.


Are movie critics puritans?

Nick Gillespie's meta-review of Episode III takes an interesting line (the movie is crap, but who cares?). He also makes a point that I had not considered:
The enormous Star Wars industry—the movies, the cartoons, the toys, the pop-cult references—still generates interest, excitement, pleasure (this last is something that most critics, whether liberal or conservative find absolutely terrifying), and, most important, a cultural conversation worth having.
H.L. Mencken wrote:
Puritanism—The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
(frequently mis-quoted as "having a good time" instead of "happy" ; quotation via Bartleby)

It strikes me that many of the reviews of Episode III that I have read are by people who openly state that they dislike Star Wars. That such people are negatively reviewing Episode III is hardly a surprise, but their reviews are not merely negative, they are couched in terms that verge on the hateful. I had previously assumed that this was merely about visibly distancing themselves from the "childish" fans who actually delight in these films, but Nick's assertion led me to consider whether this was more than simple posturing, whether in fact some (many? most?) professional critics are actually panicked at the thought of others (or themselves?) experiencing pleasure/joy/delight in watching a film and are therefore driven to distance themselves from sharing this by a phobia, rather than disdain.

(Is disdain phobic anyway? Too many questions for one post perhaps.)

I'll be seeing Episode III for the first time tomorrow and, as an avid fan, look forward to a delightful if "light" piece of entertainment. And no Jar Jar Binks.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Maggots as a Surgical Aid

Maggots eat away need for wound surgery. 13/05/2005. ABC News Online: "'All we can see is what the naked eyes can see, so we just take away whatever we think is unhealthy,' he said.

'We might under-remove or over-remove but maggots, all they do is just clean up dead tissue.'"


Saturday, May 07, 2005

Morse vs. SMS

So, the Powerhouse Museum's School Holiday program for April included Finger Wars:
Is SMS faster than morse code? A competition for young visitors to see if they can compete with the morsecodians in sending a message. They can text on mobile phones while the morsecodians will use Morse code.
Naturally text is faster than Morse, right? Well, maybe not. The Times says:

Morse code has seen off the challenge of the text message in a contest pitting the best in 19th-century technology against its 21st-century successor.

The race to transmit a simple message, staged by an Australian museum, was won — at a dash — by a 93-year-old telegraph operator [Gordon Hill] who tapped it out using [Morse code] ... easily defeated his 13-year-old rival, Brittany Devlin,


a line selected at random from an advertisement in a teenage magazine.

It read: “Hey, girlfriend, you can text all your best pals to tell them where you are going and what you are wearing.”

Hill transmitted verbatum, Devlin contracted to:
“hey gf u can txt ur best pals 2 tel them wot u r doing, where ur going and wot u r wearing.”
and was still beaten 90s (14wpm) to 108s (13wpm - and note that these were abnormally short words).

(via Slashdot via engadget via textually.org via Times Online)

Some further digging suggests however, that both operators in this test are a long way from being champions and that champion Morse operators may actually have a larger margin over champion texters.
  • Engadget reports that a test sentence allegedly used by the Guinness book of world records (“The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human”) has apparently been texted verbatim in 67s (22wpm) (Guinness concurs) 58s (26wpm) and 44s (34wpm).
  • Establishing a fair comparison for Morse operators is trickier because both sending and receiving ("copying") are difficult. It is claimed that Guinness lists the fastest hand operator (sender) at 35wpm, but I've not be able to sunstantiate this. Even more questionable claims are made about copying at up to 75wpm, and (in the same article) a claim is made that words are getting longer over time so that this should be compared with a modern 65wpm, about which I am even less convinced.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

In other news, the temperature in Hell dropped several degrees

Steve Langasek wrote to debian-devel-announce:
Anthony Towns has committed a minor change to the britney script which manages updates of packages to testing, and as a result packages are no longer being accepted into testing without hand-approval by a member of the release team.

Wait, that didn't come out quite right. Let's try again.

Sarge is now frozen! Wheeeeeee!!!
and therefore that:
Joey Schulze of the security team has given the thumbs-up for official security support for sarge as of the time of the freeze. Which is now.
it is possible that he has simply taken leave of his senses, as evidenced by his actually suggesting:
30 May 2005
Is it really possible? Could sarge be released before Woody's 3rd birthday? The suspense is unbearable.