Sunday, May 31, 2009


Here's a great example of the human tendency to see faces in - well, almost anything. Go on - tell me you don't want to laugh:

Facebook ads

Now, given the way the words create a visual grouping, is it entirely my fault that I first read this as "Meet Easy Christian Women"?

Stumbled upon

It turns out that our language has a word with this unusual property:

It has 9 letters, but you can take one away and still have an English word. Then you can take the 8-letter word, remove another letter, and still have an English word. And so on - you can do this all the way down to a single letter, producing a valid English word every time.

Now, I find that startling.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A welcome development

Texas Constructs U.S. Border Wall To Keep Out Unwanted Americans

If Texas wanted to foot the bill themselves, that would be great. But I'm perfectly willing to contribute to such a worthy project.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Explosion at Biscuit Basin

Geology group treated to rare pool explosion

Yellowstone National Park geologist Hank Heasler was lecturing a group of colleagues in Biscuit Basin on the rarity of hydrothermal explosions last week when – Boom! A hot pool behind him exploded, spewing mud, rocks and hot water 50 feet in the air.

Sounds exciting. I remember when Porkchop Geyser exploded at Norris in 1989 (I didn't witness it myself, but it was well discussed). Porkchop had been a perpetual spouter for several years, erupting continuously and building up a huge cone of ice during the winter and lasting far into the summer. After the explosion, it turned into a quiet pool that was occasionally known as "Chopped Pork."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices."

On this Memorial Day, I want to share my favorite commentary on war. James Garner in "The Americanization of Emily" (1964):

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bumper sticker of the month

Bad advertising

I like the Great Wraps restaurant next to campus, but I have no idea what they were thinking when they put out this sign:

Friday, May 22, 2009

PZ Myers responds to Charlotte Allen

Even if you don't much care about the religion - "New Atheists" debate, you ought to read this editorial by PZ Myers, written in response to this silly whine at the LA Times by one Charlotte Allen a few days ago.

One of the reasons - no, two of the reasons - I so admire Myers is that, while he can eviscerate an argument with a merciless, contemptuous wit, he can also respond with an indulgent good humor when the occasion calls for it. This was such an occasion and Myers showed perfect restraint, making his case in a manner both pointed and patient.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Signs of the (end?) times

Is Focus on the Family going soft on homosexuality? Apparently so:

A spokesperson for Focus on the Family (FOF) told The Plum Line today that his organization would not oppose a gay SCOTUS nominee over their sexual orientation.

“Our concern at the Supreme Court is judicial philosophy,” FOF spokesperson Hausknecht continued. “Sexual orientation only becomes an issue if it effects their judging.”

Now I fully expect to disagree with FOTF's judicial philosophy as much as ever, but I find this to be an amazing concession. The point that Hausknecht has finally embraced is that sexual orientation is not the entire sum of a person's mind and being, and is in fact entirely distinct from their character and their ability to perform a job. That's a huge step for FOTF and I'm proud of them for finally making it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

YNP rangers kill habituated wolf

Park officials kill nuisance wolf

A yearling male wolf that Yellowstone National Park officials said had become habituated to people was killed by staff Tuesday along Fountain Flat Drive, north of Old Faithful in the Lower Geyser Basin.

On at least three occasions, the wolf chased bicyclists and one motorcyclist reported an encounter with the wolf. Park staff also received reports of the wolf approaching people and cars - behavior consistent with a food-conditioned animal.

I'm not going to complain. It's the first time they've ever killed a Yellowstone wolf and food-habituated wildlife really does pose a danger to humans. Keep this in mind, though, the next time you hear someone complain about 'sacrificing people to wildlife.' Nope, that's not what happens. We might require humans to face some inconvenience for the sake of protecting nature and wildlife, but when there's a real threat to human health - the peoples win and the critters lose, every time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

IPOF (and got caught)

This is hilarious. You've probably heard of the Mile High Club, which of course is not an organization, but just one of those things you can say that you've done at least once in your life. In case in comes up in Truth or Dare, you know.

Yellowstone has something similar called the IPOF Club*, for "I Peed in Old Faithful." I know a few people who claim to be members. About ten days ago, a few of the concession employees decided to join up, but they forgot something important: the geyser is now under constant surveillance. Not by the rangers, really, but by the rest of the world through the Old Faithful webcam.

So they were spotted, geyser gazers called the NPS, and the rangers were waiting for the dudes even as they returned to the boardwalk. It all lasted about 20 minutes. PEER has the story. Better yet, you can find screen captures at this blog.

So remember: even if Big Brother isn't watching you right now, Little Brother will probably snitch on you.**

* Interestingly, Wikipedia has no entry for the IPOF.
**Disclaimer: this comment is not to be interpreted as regret for the yo yos who got busted

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cornell releases public domain works

Cornell University Library Removes All Restrictions on Use of Public Domain Reproductions

In a dramatic change of practice, Cornell University Library has announced it will no longer require its users to seek permission to publish public domain items duplicated from its collections. Instead, users may now use reproductions of public domain works made for them by the Library or available via Web sites, without seeking any further permission.

* snip*

"The threat of legal action, however," noted Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, "does little to stop bad actors while at the same time limits the good uses that can be made of digital surrogates. We decided it was more important to encourage the use of the public domain materials in our holdings than to impose roadblocks."

This is a nice development. Most libraries have required permission before others can publish digitized versions of public domain works and, while this has often been cited as an example of copyfraud, I think it's probably legal. The library is trying to control their own copy, not the work itself. But as Kenney observes, what's the point? If libraries are going to present themselves as champions of disseminating information, they should quit trying to control it. So sure, some naughty yahoo will take Cornell's digitized document and include it in some commercial product of his own, but isn't it better just to blow that off and let everyone enjoy the benefits of widespread creativity and research?

Good call.

[Thanks to Digitization101 and the Archives Listserv.]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stumbled upon

(Inadvertant) Truth in advertising

Over at, a nest of religious loonies who have found there's big money in hysteria sales, one Jan Markell says, "Christians are clearly the new Taliban."

She thinks it's somehow an unfair description; but other than that, she's right on the money.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Komets win!

The Fort Wayne Komets won back-to-back IHL playoff championships for the first time in their 50+ year history! Congratulations to the K's! Congratulations also to the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who fought ferociously despite a raftload of injured players.

James had my camera, so this is his photo, which captures the event perfectly.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Power of the UN

The Onion sums up the terrifying powers of the United Nations:

Ambassador Stages Coup At UN, Issues Long List of Non-Binding Resolutions

Thanks to the indispensable slactivist

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No long names, please

Via and NYT, we learn that libertarian dystopia Germany has a law against people combining already-hyphenated surnames:

In a split decision on Tuesday, the German Constitutional Court upheld a ban on married people combining already-hyphenated names, forbidding last names of three parts or more.

Which is just hilarious, coming from a people who refer to speeding as Geschwindigkeitsüberschreitung.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wolves at Mammoth

A small pack of wolves has taken up residence near Mammoth Hot Springs! Story here.

According to this blogger, aggressive measures are being taken to discourage the wolves from joining the tourists in downtown Mammoth, but I haven't seen this mentioned elsewhere. Mostly, though, I like this blog post for the commenter who uses the phrase "evil extractor Kulaks" to describe environmentalists' attitudes toward ranchers. It's not quite accurate - we object to the way ranchers abuse the land, not the way they exploit workers and consumers - but it betrays some reading.


Addendum: this article in The Missoulian has more details, including the interesting tidbit that the Hayden wolf pack likely became habituated to humans because populated areas were the only habitat where they could escape more powerful packs.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Flu prevention, Razorback style

Meanwhile, at the University of Arkansas:

Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins

Here's an entertaining example of the GIGO principle: researchers have mapped the Seven Deadly Sins, by county, for the entire continental United States. You can see the maps here.

It turns out, according to the blog GIS Use in Public Health and Health Care, that each of the sins was assessed by a single proxy measure, and they chose rather shaky measures at that.* Gluttony was measured by the prevalence of fast-food restaurants, which will probably offend some of our most epicurean citizens. STD rates were taken as a measure of lust, rather than crappy sex ed - if you can stop to put on a condom, you just weren't horny enough, maybe. Pride was assessed by measuring the strength of all the other sins, which makes no sense at all - how many people do you know who are absolutely vain about their pious image?

So it's a lousy example of what can be done with data and a GIS program, but you can also see the possibilities in the methods.

*I have to wonder why. If you're going to spend the time on a project like this, why do it in such an obviously half-assed way? It wouldn't have been much harder to combine a number of more applicable statistics.

Apologetics 101

“If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Richard Nixon, 1977.

"And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture." Condaleezza Rice, 2009.

[Via Foreign Policy]

Oh, that part about "Did you know that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe said Guantanamo was a model medium security prison?" Here's what the OCSE had to say about that back in 2006:

The OSCE Spokesperson said that, in the light of these reports, he wished to make it clear the Organization itself had not sent an expert to Guantanamo: "The person quoted in several of the stories as "an OSCE expert", Professor Alain Grignard, accompanied the delegation despatched by the Parliamentary Assembly, based in Copenhagen, but he was not employed or commissioned by the OSCE."

Damn, these people know how to stretch a fig leaf! A few "make-it-up-as-you-go" memos, one friendly opinion from a carefully-scheduled foreigner, and that's all the proof we should need that Guantanamo was a model prison and no one (by definition) could have been tortured.

And that part about Nazi Germany being less of a threat to America than the al-Quaeda ... imagine that we could somehow manipulate history and offer Condaleezza Rice this choice:

(a) Germany loses, 9/11 happens
(b) Germany wins, 9/11 never happens

... she would choose (b)?

Well, she did say that foreign policy is tricky and you don't always get to choose who you work with. I'm sure she would have been pragmatic.