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100 entries from January 2004

NYTimes: A Real-Life Debate on Free Expression in a Cyberspace City

">An article discussing the problems cropping up in trying to apply real-world ethics and morals to the virtual worlds created in online games:

Peter Ludlow said he was only trying to expose the truth that Alphaville's authorities were all too happy to ignore. In his online newspaper, The Alphaville Herald, he reported on thieves and their scams. He documented what he said was a teenage prostitution ring. He criticized the city's leaders for not intervening to make it a better place.

In response to his investigative reporting, Mr. Ludlow says, he was banished from Alphaville. He was kicked out of his home; his other property was confiscated. Even his two cats were taken away.

Alphaville is not a real town but a virtual city in an Internet game called The Sims Online, where thousands of paying subscribers log on each day to assume fictional identities and mingle in cyberspace. Indeed, none of Mr. Ludlow's possessions existed outside the game. But the recent decision by the game's owner, Electronic Arts, to terminate Mr. Ludlow's account—forever erasing his simulated Sims persona—has set off a debate over free expression and ethical behavior in online worlds that is reverberating in the real one.

"To me, it was clearly censorship," said Mr. Ludlow, whom the Internet magazine described as "an unabashed muckraker."

John Prater 1917 – 2004

John Prater died today aged 86. He was the “first among equals” adult advisor during my active membership and later my own adult advisorhood in Salt Lake Chapter, Order of DeMolay.

In the Order of DeMolay, the male adult advisors are addressed by the title “Dad” followed by the last name. The Order was founded for young men whose fathers had died or who weren’t around a lot, and the “Dad” title was meant to help the youths view the adult advisors as the father figures they sorely needed.

Dad Prater was the solid foundation of Salt Lake Chapter during my membership. He was there the day I joined DeMolay in May 1985; he was there when my active membership ended with my 21st birthday in Dec 1992; he was there when I became an adult advisor in my own right and when my time with the Order ended in 1995.

Dad Prater’s obituary was available online at the Salt Lake Tribune web site, but I’ve reproduced the text in full below to skirt the Tribune’s paid-archive access.

John Prater 1917 – 2004Born June 24, 1917, in Dalroy, Alberta Canada. Passed on January 14, 2004. Son of Lewis and Eliza MacKelvie. Married to Lucile F. Davis for 43 years. Member of Kaibab Lodge No. 25 F.&A.M. and Mizpah Chapter No. 5 O.E.S. Member of Christ United Methodist Church for over 48 years. Survived by: Donald (Elizabeth) Prater, Elaine (Keith) Greaves, Kenneth (Becky) Prater and Gerald (Glenda) Prater; 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Also survived by personal and long-time friend Marquieta Halvorsen. Per John’s request, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Shriner’s Hospital and/or The Building Fund for Christ United Methodist Church. Memorial services will be held at 12:00 noon on Saturday, January 17, 2004 at Evans & Early Mortuary, 574 East 100 South, Salt Lake City, where friends may call one (1) hour prior to service.

Odd traffic

I took my normal back-roads route to work this morning and ran into traffic at every turn, which is really unusual.

I started on southbound Bothell Everett Hwy (SR 527), which is often crowded in the morning, no surprise there. Turned left onto Maltby Rd, encountered nothing until the intersection at 39th Ave SE, where there was more than the usual 8 or 9 cars lined up at the east/west intersection. The light changed quickly after I got there, however, and I turned onto 39th Ave SE for the jaunt down toward 228th St SW.

Ran into the first bout of traffic along 39th. There’s a construction site about halfway down that length of road, and they close the road each day at 08:30, but today they decided to slow traffic before 08:30 with construction vehicles crossing the road at random intervals. No big deal, that’s happened a few times before, but it left 20 or so cars backed up for about five minutes, for no obvious reason—when I passed by, I could see no need for the trucks and backhoes and whatnot to have required crossing the road at that particular moment. Why not wait until they were going to close the road anyway?

But I digress. The 20 cars that were slowed there trundled on to 228th in a big group and funneled slowly through that stop sign I turned right to jog over to 35th Ave SE for yet another southbound run, this time to 240th St SE where I make a left turn, but I ended up in another line that stretched nearly a mile back along 35th.

I’ve never had to wait in traffic on southbound 35th before. Not even the time a school bus got clipped by an impatient driver as the bus turned and the other driver decided he didn’t want to wait another two seconds to go straight through the intersection—even that time, traffic moved smoothly around the stopped vehicles, despite their blocking half the intersection. Probably the one time a cop directed traffic effectively.

But anway... took another several minutes to filter through the 35th/240th intersection, and that left turn led to another lengthy backup along 240th to the 39th Ave SE intersection and my right turn. Only on 120th was traffic relatively free-flowing, right down to the driveway where I turn to get to the lab’s business park.

My normally 12- to 15-minute commute took 28 minutes today.

Bah! Seattle eatery serves up coffee-flavored steak

This sounds both horribly nasty and mildly intriguing.

SEATTLE, Washington (Reuters)—The city that spawned America's obsession with strong, dark coffee is giving locals a popular new coffee-flavored steak, even while the mad cow scare that started in Washington state is putting some people off beef.

Rippe's, a local waterfront steak and seafood restaurant, began serving filet mignon steaks dusted with Starbucks Corp.'s dark espresso blend a few weeks ago and now has a runaway hit on its hands.

"The first night we tried it, about a third of the menu sold was the steak," said Chad MacKay, whose family runs several steak joints in the Seattle area.

full story

Rippe's web site:

SpamSieve works pretty well

Trying out SpamSieve in conjunction with Entourage, and it works pretty well so far. Only trained it with a few hundred known-good messages along with 25 known-spam messages, but it already caught two more messages on the next POP retrieve operation. Pretty handy.

Seems its trial license allows for full functionality for 30 days or 20 launches, whichever occurs first. So I'll leave it running on my iBook for the time being, and set LiteSwitch to ignore it in the app-switch rotation.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Huh, on a message retrieval it just popped up a "tip window" informing me that the best mix of spam-to-good is 65% spam/35% good, so I'll have to find more spam to make sure the filters work most effectively. But unless it starts marking a lot of good mail as spam, I'm fine with the mix I have now.

Seattle Times: Did the Ice Age have its own Rodins?

I've wondered a few times what made anyone pick up a rock or a chunk of wood or a reed and carve, draw, or otherwise try to create a representative image of some other object. Usually I have wondered this immediately after viewing some particularly beautiful artistic creation that reminds me of my own pitifully untalented existence.

Seems the smartest folks in the fields of antiquities wonder about this too:

What does it take to become an artist?

Do you need to study it first, or do you just pick up a brush or a knife and do it?

That question lies at the heart of a prolonged debate among archaeologists and anthropologists over the origin of figurative art—drawing, sculpting or otherwise creating recognizable images of figures or objects—and what it implies about human cultural development.

For years, scholars regarded the appearance of figurative art as the initiation of an evolutionary process—that art became progressively more sophisticated as humans experimented with styles and techniques and passed this knowledge to the next generation.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that modern humans, virtually from the moment they appeared in Ice Age Europe, were able to produce startlingly sophisticated art. Artistic ability thus did not "evolve," many scholars said, but has instead existed in modern humans (the talented ones, anyway) throughout their existence.

Writing in the journal Nature, anthropologist Nicholas Conard, of Germany's University of Tuebingen, added to this view, reporting the discovery in a cave in the Jura Mountains of three small, carefully made figurines carved from mammoth ivory between 30,000 and 33,000 years ago.

full story

Pavlov and the morning routine

My alarm clock makes a very quiet "grunk" noise just before the alarm goes off, and over the 8 or so years I've had this clock I've learned, in true conditioned-behavior response, to snap awake at that "grunk" and leap across the room to turn off the damned alarm before it starts its BEEP BEEP BEEP from hell.

However, in the last couple of years in particular I've also more often come full awake about two minutes before the alarm, in that bleary state of wishing I could make two minutes feel like two days, rather than the two seconds it truly is.

This morning I woke up just after 06:00 and lay there dozing fitfully. I snapped full awake at 06:58, climbed out of bed to turn off the alarm, switched on the television to the morning news, and crawled back into bed to enjoy the snug warmth.

Snapped awake again at 07:39 to the nasally sounds of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's denials about secret documents and backpedaling about the lackadaisical approach George Bush took toward policymaking (or even listening in Cabinet meetings) during the first months of the Bush administration.

I don't remember waking up before the alarm went off, waking up to the alarm, turning on the TV, or climbing back into bed.

Most disorienting.


Fiddling mit the Unix underpinnings of Mac OS X tonight. So far I've managed, without killing my desktop Power Mac G4, to make my music library available as a file listing via the web.

Perhaps I'll dive back into fiddling with Movable Type, to see what havoc I can wreak with it. The last time I played with it, I ended up having to restore the G4 from backups a week old.

Happily I'd been using my iBook that week, so I didn't lose any data.

You know it’s gonna be a long week when...

  1. You have trouble getting to sleep.
  2. When you finally drift off at 03:30, you still wake up at 06:50, even though you’ve changed your alarm to go off at 08:00.
  3. Your boss, the lab director, arrives and his first words to anyone are, “Is it Friday yet?”

Sonya and I went to the symphony Friday night, spent a couple hours before and after at Rock Bottom on 5th Ave, sippin’ our Mug Club brews. Apparently the fact that I drank only beer from 18:15 until midnight Friday set me up for one of the worst low-grade hangovers I’ve ever had. I woke up Saturday at 07:30 with a mild headache, so I got up and snorked some water and ibuprofen tablets and went back to bed. But then I woke up an hour later with a world-class industrial-strength full-bore double-barrel pounder of a headache. Thank God it wasn’t one of those evil concentrated-behind-one-eye headaches I sometimes get with a hangover, but it left me run down the rest of the weekend, blah.

So I spent Saturday curled up on my couch going through the week’s TiVo recordings, followed by a romp through the Netflix DVDs I received in mid-December (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Truly, Madly, Deeply; still haven't watched Unfaithful yet). I took a two-hour nap Saturday afternoon and all it did was make me feel more wretched. Went to bed around midnight and when I woke up yesterday morning, the damned headache was still there! It faded slowly and by around noon, I was feeling much better, so I went to the store for groceries and some sundries and then I ordered a pizza from Papa John’s (they have their 20th-anniversary special, a free pizza when you order a large “specialty” pizza), and did laundry and whatnot in the afternoon and evening.

And what sucks the most is I didn’t even feel mildly buzzed on Friday night when I went to bed. We shared a pitcher and each had a Mug Club pint of Faller Wheat before the show, and each had two Mug Club pints after, consumed slowly and with food. All the bad effects of a hangover with none of the fun/insanity from the drunkenness, of all the horrors.

Since I just got to work (even though I woke up on time, I just lounged around until 08:00 and then took my time getting ready and getting here), I don’t know yet what’s on my agenda for the day, so I guess I’d better get to it.

Whoa, W-2s already

Damn. It's our regular payday (every other Friday), but we also received our 2003 W-2 forms today.

This is by far the earliest I've ever received a W-2 from any job I've held. Usually the companies I've worked for have just barely squeezed in delivery under the 01/31 deadline, and a few times I haven't received them until mid-February.

So if Katharine has received TurboTax, I can be done with my 2003 taxes before the first of February.

Wahoo! Discovered: A planet that heats its sun

ATLANTA (AP)—Stars usually heat up their family of planets, but in an amazing reversal, an astronomer has found a planet that is actually heating up its sun.

Canadian astronomers reported this week that their study of a large planet orbiting a star 90 light-years away shows that the magnetic field of the planet is producing hot spots on its parent sun, a reversal of the effect the sun has on planets such as the Earth.

The planet is one of 119 known extra-solar planets, objects that orbit stars other than the sun. The star, called HD179949, is very like the sun. The planet is a gas giant 270 times larger than the Earth, almost as big as Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. It circles very close to its parent star, completing one orbit every 3.09 days and moving at 350,000 miles per hour (563,000 kph).

full story

More TiVo Suggestions insanity

On my “Now Playing on TiVo” list, under the “Suggestions” category, from a couple days ago:

  • A block of Spanish-language children’s programming from a channel I didn’t even know I received. I’m presuming I got these in part because I recorded Looney Toons on Cartoon Network last weekend.
  • An 8.5-hour block of paid programming on several channels (Bravo and USA mainly). Quickly gave those three Thumbs Down to get them the hell out.
  • A few episodes of some Food Network shows. I haven’t watched that network much, but I have tried Alton Brown’s turkey brine a couple times, and quite liked it. Maybe I actually will check those out.

I really wish I could rate actors’ names and show categories as well, because then I could tell the TiVo that while I like when it records action movies as Suggestions, I utterly despise Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal and never want to see anything of theirs unless I specifically set up a recording.

Finally, the FAA updates its airport-info page

All day yesterday as I heard news about Portland International Airport (PDX) being closed due to ice, snow, and rain, I checked the FAA airport status page (opens in new window) and it showed absolutely nothing for PDX at all. No indication of closure, even of delays or any problems at all.

This morning it finally shows the airport is closed, not expected to open until tomorrow at 07:00.

Why did it take them so long to get the info updated to that site? I know the flight cancellations in PDX (Alaska and Horizon Airlines have huge operations there) were causing delays and other cancellations at least at Sea-Tac International and many other airports in the western U.S., but the FAA page had no indication of it all day yesterday, at least up to about 21:00 when I stopped checking. And by then Alaska Airlines had already decided to cancel the majority of its flights in/out of PDX for today.

Today’s Media Over-Coverage of the Weather

710 KIRO and KING 5 are calling their coverage of the recent snow and rain

(cue Anxiety-Inducing Music of Doom)

Come on, boys and girls. There’s maybe 3" to 6" of snow on the ground in places, yes, and some roads are indeed a bit slick and treacherous, and granted, I-90 is closed over Snoqualmie Pass. And oh yes, a few schools are closed. But endless crawls on the TV screens and every-10-seconds traffic updates and “Oh my God it’s the end of the world!”-type Voices of Doom informing us of all the school closures and begging us all to stay home?

Power outage early today

I woke up early this morning to a resounding BOOM, and the power immediately flickered out. About 30 seconds later there was a flicker of power, another thunderous BOOM, and the power dropped off again for I don't know how long. I dozed off and when I snapped awake again, I presume as the power came back on and my stereo went into its Demo Mode in which it plays any CDs that are in its trays, it was 06:30 according to my alarm clock (thank God for battery back-up).

So I didn't have to shower etc. in darkness, which figures because I was actually prepared with candles and such. Seems the only time a power outage affects me is when I'm not ready for it.

Snow cuts workday in half

And I was fine with that, because it meant Sonya and I could got to McMenamins in Mill Creek and have a few pints along with lunch.

But it also meant I ended up spending about two hours on the phone with Cingular when my phone stopped responding, with the “Message sending failed!” and “System busy” errors I also had on 12/21/03. Their customer service dood kept trying to tell me the problem was the weather, and I told him the phone was working during the snowfall and had stopped working after the snow stopped, and it was now two hours later anyway, so what the hell?

Eventually we got it all reset, but not before my cordless phone had started chirping endlessly in my ear—its low-battery warning—and every time the Cingular guy would ask me what that beeping noise was.

1/8" of snow...

and this city comes screeching crashing screaming grinding yelling bleeding dying to a halt.

But thank God we’ve Ongoing Coverage from KING 5’s First Alert Weather Center.

They’re calling it (cue Breathy/Gravelly Voice-Over):


Could we get some actual weather, for crying out loud? Police: Woman says she lost $162M ticket

Ouch! If it turns out to be even remotely true, of course.

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio (AP)—A Cleveland woman has told police she picked the winning numbers for the $162 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot but lost the ticket before the drawing, according to a police report.

Elecia Battle told police she dropped her purse as she left the Quick Shop Food Mart last week after buying the ticket. She said she realized after the drawing last Tuesday that the ticket was missing.

The Ohio Lottery said the winning ticket was sold at the store, about 15 miles east of Cleveland.

After news of Battle's police report spread Monday night, several people wielding flashlights walked through snow and braved frigid temperatures to try to find the ticket in the store parking lot.

full story

NYTimes Magazine: Bishop Lee’s Choice

The New York Times Magazine offers an interesting look at the changing thought patterns in the Episcopal Church regarding homosexuality, racism, women in the priesthood, and many other topics.

Throughout his nearly 19 years as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Peter James Lee has been an unwavering centrist and consensus builder. His diocese, the largest in the Episcopal Church, is diverse, with giant urban churches and tiny rural ones, liberal mainline congregations and conservative evangelical ones, and Lee has managed to hold them all together by astutely finding the midpoint on any controversial issue and luring both sides toward it. At the Episcopal Church's general convention last summer in Minneapolis, Lee oversaw publication of a daily newsletter that offered a middle-of-the-road perspective on the many contentious issues facing the church. He called it Center Aisle.

The most contentious of the issues, of course, was the nomination of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest who had been living with another man for 14 years, to be the bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. For the 107 bishops in attendance, their vote on his confirmation would be the most scrutinized of their careers. And, based on Peter Lee's record, there seemed little doubt about where he would come down. On matters of sexuality, his diocese was largely traditional, and Lee, throughout his reign, had resolutely refused to bless same-sex unions or to ordain noncelibate gay or lesbian priests. Under his leadership, in fact, the diocese has adopted an explicit statement that ''the normative context for sexual intimacy is lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage.''

In the weeks leading up to the vote, though, Lee reflected back on the nearly 200 bishops whose candidacies he voted on over the years. Some were divorced and remarried. Others held theological views that were sharply at odds with his own. Some had refused to ordain women, a practice Lee endorsed. Yet he had voted for them all. Lee did not know Gene Robinson personally, but the Episcopalians of New Hampshire clearly felt he would make a good bishop. And so, on Aug. 3, the day before the vote, Lee sent a letter to his diocese indicating his intention to confirm. ''I am convinced of the need to respect the Diocese of New Hampshire's decision, in spite of my personal reservations and our current diocesan policy, which would not permit Canon Robinson to be ordained in Virginia,'' he wrote. It was his prayer, he added, that the people of Virginia would ''unite in the mission we share, even as we acknowledge respectfully differences among us.''

The next day, Lee became one of 62 bishops to vote to confirm Robinson (with 45 against). However, his hope that the people of Virginia would unite behind him proved in vain. His vote set off a furor of an intensity and duration that stunned Lee. Since the end of the general convention in August, there have been forums and workshops on the issue of the gay bishop, and also protests. Rectors (as church heads are known) have been overwhelmed by phone calls from angry and confused parishioners. Hundreds have left their churches, and thousands more have insisted that none of their church contributions be passed on to the diocese. Already the diocese has lost more than $250,000 in anticipated revenues, forcing Bishop Lee to impose a hiring freeze.

Lee himself has received more than 1,000 letters and e-mail messages, and while some have been supportive, most have been critical and some downright abusive. ''You have betrayed the calling of Christ to be faithful,'' wrote a parishioner. ''I have lost total respect for you and am ashamed to be a part of this denomination.''
Link via bug

I. Just. Wanna. Watch. The movie...!

I've just spent the better part of 10 minutes trying to get into the DVD case for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. All three non-hinged sides of the case had those godforsaken SECURITY DEVICE ENCLOSED stickers, and all resisted my best efforts at removal for a good while.

So here's my plea to DVD manufacturers:

You sell movies. You are not purveyors of a commodity the approximate value of the US GDP enclosed in a black plastic hinged case.

Therefore, your overzealous security-device notices are unwarranted, to say nothing of irritating.

So knock it off!

Well now. That was lame, huh?

"NYPD Blue" pilot on TiVo

So my TiVo picked NYPD Blue as a suggestion for recording, and it happened to grab the pilot episode, which I've never seen.

I didn't know Sherry Stringfield was in this show, and I find it horrifying that her character was married to David Caruso's character. And of course I don't care for Caruso all that much, although he's okay in CSI: Miami, if a bit too enigmatic.

And hoo-wah, wasn't that Amy Brenneman as a cop who just walked into the station house?

Damn, so many now-familiar faces in this show's debut!

Minor cold only, it seems

This cold is severe enough that it gives me mild sniffles and dehydrates me overnight, but otherwise not so bad. So far, anyway. Usually if I'm going to get a full-blown Cold From Hell, however, it develops into that within a few hours and lingers at high severity. When it takes a day or so to work itself up to anything like this one, it typically stays pretty calm.

Which suits me right down to the ground. I'm not a big fan of colds of any severity, of course, but especially not in winter during a cold snap. It's 19° right now, according to the thermometer on my computer screen (which is from a reading taken in Everett, so it may be even colder here since we're a bit inland). Sniffling and sneezing and coughing in the cold, blah.

Time to snooze now.... Rover touches down on Mars

MER-low-anglePASADENA, California (CNN)—A NASA robotic explorer touched down on the red planet Saturday night, sending a signal home that it survived the risky descent through the Martian atmosphere and bouncing landing.

The $400 million rover Spirit, designed to conduct unprecedented geologic and photographic surveys on the Martian surface, transmitted a simple hello to Earth within minutes after landing, which took place just after 11:30 p.m. ET.

The golf cart-sized Spirit went through what NASA assistant administrator Ed Weiler characterized as "six minutes from hell"—the time it took to enter the Martian atmosphere, descend and land in Gusev Crater.

During the descent, Spirit deployed parachutes and fire retrorockets to decelerate. Seconds before impact, it inflated a protective cocoon of airbags.

The exuberance of the scientists in the photo accompanying this story is infectious. I remember the joy I felt when the first Mars rover landed successfully in 1997—so cool!

Cold coming on?


I think I've the beginnings of a cold.

A few hours ago I felt the first little scratch in my throat, so I ran down to the nearby Walgreen's for some meds. Sucked down a couple of those (they're the take 2 every four hours variety) and I feel fine now, but overnight will determine how bad it gets, or if I'm even right about it being anything more than a little skritchy sensation.

Here's hoping....

It wasn’t “security concerns” at all Dispute over marshals canceled flight
Same British Airways flight under scrutiny for four days

WASHINGTON (CNN)—A dispute between the British pilots’ union and the British government over armed marshals—not security concerns—led to the cancellation of Friday’s British Airways flight from London to Washington, a Bush administration official said Saturday.

Flight 223 has been the subject of intense scrutiny for four days.

Saturday’s flight was delayed 3.5 hours at the request of U.S. security officials who wanted more information about it, airline officials said. It landed without incident at 9:13 p.m.

Thursday’s flight was canceled because of security concerns, according to British and U.S. officials. On Wednesday, it was escorted to Washington’s Dulles International Airport by U.S. fighter jets.

Interesting development. The first time I read this story, I didn’t see that it was the British government in a dispute with the pilots’ union. I had only skimmed the story and immediately assumed it must have been the U.S. government in dispute over the marshals, because we’re so quick to point out the foibles of other goverments’ security efforts while we try to cover up our own missteps. Third cattle herd quarantined over mad-cow scare

WASHINGTON (CNN)—A third U.S. cattle herd in Washington state has been quarantined as a result of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday.

Soon after the December 23 announcement that mad cow disease had been found in a Washington dairy cow, officials quarantined two herds. One was the herd the infected cow was in before slaughter; the other was the herd where her bull calf was taken.

The department has also been trying to track the whereabouts of 81 cows originally thought to have been imported with the infected cow from Canada September 4, 2001, via a port in Oroville, Washington.

full story

Now that the investigation is well under way, it's good they're keeping the flow of information going. I was half afraid the story would explode into being and disappear just as quickly.

Seattle Times: UW Graduate School dean, husband, killed in avalanche

BOISE, Idaho—An avalanche that rushed down central Idaho's Soldier Mountain struck a cabin early today, killing the dean of the University of Washington's graduate school and her husband.

Marsha Landolt, 55, and Robert A. Busch, 58, were killed in the avalanche, which occurred about 1:30 a.m., the Camas County Sheriff's Office reported.

Five other family members survived. Two dug themselves out and went for help; the other three were rescued.

full story

Today’s TiVo Suggestions

I have my TiVo set to record suggestions, the shows its electronic mind somehow divines I would like based I guess in part on shows I’ve recorded and on ratings I’ve assigned other programs. Although I haven’t actually used the ratings system much yet, which probably explains today’s crop of suggested shows:

  • Roseanne, which I despise and instantly ripped out of the “Now Playing” menu.
  • Speed Racer, about which I am utterly indifferent but will have to rate “thumbs down” because I don’t care to have it cluttering up the menus.
  • The Ellen DeGeneres Show, again, even though I thought I’d told it not to record this show anymore. It’s okay, I suppose, but the idea of recording talk shows&nbps;.&nbps;.&nbps;. yeah, whatever.
  • Full House, a show so schmaltzy that sugar sprays out the stereo speakers whenever it’s on. Never liked that one, must right away remove all possibility of its ever being suggested/recorded again.

Distressing amount of politically biased information re: BSE/vCJD

This morning while I was doing my daily News Whoring on the web, I decided to do searches on Google, Yahoo, AOL, and a few other search sites for "mad cow disease facts"—and I noticed in several cases that one of the "sponsored links" that appeared was for something called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (see their web page at From a brief glance at their site and the site of their supposed founder, Neal Barnard (, they've a decidedly reactionary and pro-vegetarian slant. The data they provide thus strikes me as suspect; it's framed from the perspective that all meat is bad, regardless of how it's raised, simply because it's meat.

Which is not to say that livestock conditions are universally golden and delightful. Quite to the contrary, I fully acknowledge that I'm one of the millions of Americans—the vast majority of us, I'm certain, since we're so much an urban society now—who give little or no thought to how the food that reaches our table is produced. My thoughts on the matter have always been, first and foremost, "I have to stop at the store on the way home tonight," or "Hmm, maybe I'll get take-out." The specific processes involved in raising, caring for, slaughtering, processing, shipping, and selling animal products has never specifically concerned me because I don't work in any field directly (or indirectly) related to food production, and I'm comfortable being part of a society that produces foodstuffs in such volume that the concerns about where our next meals will come from drop away from our day-to-day existence.

I also believe the USDA could be handling this mad-cow incident better, and in fact could (and should) have put in place more stringent preventive measures and inspection processes and so on to ensure the safety of the US food supply at every step from production to consumption. But I don't believe the USDA is trying only to protect the cattle-industry interests at the expense of citizens' safety, the way many pundits have claimed. They're trying to strike the best balance between the economic disaster that would befall the industries and the US population's need for confidence in an uninterrupted and safe food supply.

The FDA's Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) pages and the CDC's classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease pages are good places to start with information about the diseases and how they spread. 'Crocodile Hunter' takes baby to feed crocs

BRISBANE, Australia (AP)—Crocodile hunter Steve Irwin took his month-old son to his first croc feeding on Friday, offering the reptile a chicken with one hand and holding the baby in the other.

With a capacity crowd looking on, Irwin dangled a dead chicken before the 13-foot crocodile named Murray, which snapped up the offering. Irwin's tiny son Bob looked on from his other arm.

"He's one-month-old, so it's about time Bob got out there and did his first croc demo," the Australian celebrity told the crowd at his Australian Zoo.

full story

So how is it that Michael Jackson dangles his kid over a balcony for a few seconds and the world recoils in horror, but Steve Irwin has his child a tooth's length from a 13-foot crocodile—at feeding time—and it's considered CUTE?

So here's a question

What the HELL am I doing up at this hour?

I felt tired right about midnight, crawled into bed and lay there wide awake for 45 minutes before I decided the hell with it, got up again. Been puttering around, doing such mundane things as fiddling with the style sheets and index templates for this blog and then writing my rent check for January 2004 (nearly wrote 2003 on the check, argh), watching the occasional snowflake settle out of the sky—almost no snow volume, however, even though the radar images from show what appears to be a fairly constant precip rate for the entire area.

So now I have iTunes cranking out an electronica beat from the Philosomatika feed, and amazingly it seems to be inducing a desire to sleep. Off I go then, while the feeling of tiredness is actually there.

NYTimes: In Iraq's Murky Battle, Snipers Offer U.S. a Precision Weapon

SAMARRA, Iraq, Dec. 28—The intimate horror of the guerrilla war here in Iraq seems most vivid when seen through the sights of a sniper's rifle.

In an age of satellite-guided bombs dropped at featureless targets from 30,000 feet, Army snipers can see the expression on a man's face when the bullet hits.

"I shot one guy in the head, and his head exploded," said Sgt. Randy Davis, one of about 40 snipers in the Army's new 3,600-soldier Stryker Brigade, from Fort Lewis, Wash. "Usually, though, you just see a dust cloud pop up off their clothes, and see a little blood splatter come out the front."

Working in teams of two or three, Army snipers here in Iraq cloak themselves in the shadows of empty city buildings or burrow into desert sands with camouflage suits, waiting to fell guerrilla gunmen and their leaders with a single shot from as far as half a mile away.

full story (NY Times registration required)

I've read several books over the years that described (some in graphic detail) the taking of a life by a shot to the head from a distance, but none of those holds a candle to this account from the U.S. soldiers in Iraq. British Airways cancels flight from London to D.C.

U.S. steps up international flight security

LONDON, England (CNN)—A day after fighter jets escorted a British Airways flight from London into the Dulles International Airport at Washington D.C., the same flight on Thursday was canceled at the request of the British government, the airline said.

U.S. authorities had no immediate comment.

Authorities have said they believe al Qaeda may try to use planes on international flights in possible attacks on the United States, similar to the attacks of September 11, 2001, when four hijacked planes were used as missiles.

A British Airways spokesman would only say that Flight 223—scheduled to take off at 6:20 p.m. (1:20 p.m. EST) was canceled for security reasons "on advice from the U.K. government."

full story

What joy those passengers must have experienced as they waited for several hours on the tarmac in what a British Airways spokesman described as a "routine" detention.

Silly Quiz: What Disneyland attraction are you?

Space Mountain, Disneyland

Space Mountain: A thrilling rocket ride through the darkness of outer space! Futuristic and forward-thinking, you have just enough 2001esque elements without escaping Walt Disney's utopian vision for a brighter tomorrow. You represent speed, stealth, and the promise of technology, while your Dick Dale surf-guitar-riff of a soundtrack makes you retro and mysterious without being corny. Keep the lights low and avoid revealing too much, lest you ruin the show—you're only going 28 mph! Regardless of speed, you prove that in the vacuum in space, you CAN hear people scream!