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May 03, 2004
Dr. Joe and What You Didn't Know: 177 Fascinating Questions and Answers About the Chemistry of Everyday Life
Today I read Dr. Joe and What You Didn't Know: 177 Fascinating Questions and Answers About the Chemistry of Everyday Life
by Joseph A. Schwarcz. It's a compilation of questions that aims to make chemistry interesting and relevant to a wider audience (for example, "What did Moses have to do with anthrax?" or "How was O.J. Simpson's defense team helped by their client's taste for tacos?"). I was surprised to learn that nickel can provoke allergic reactions, and that before the late 1800s, aluminum was more valued than gold. A question on prohibiting the display of hare and rabbit carcasses by Scandinavian and German butchers to prevent cleft palate, or harelip, complements the Mary Toft incident discussed in Dennis Todd's Imagining Monsters
(a more in-depth book on the belief that seeing shocking things could cause birth defects). Overall, Schwarcz succeeds in showcasing the science around us, especially when describing serendipitous accidents that have led to new chemical and biological discoveries.
April 26, 2004
Bend It Like Beckham
I saw Bend It Like Beckham
on video tonight. It's a good movie, even for people who don't like soccer -- or football, as this movie takes place in England. Parminder Nagra stars as Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra, an Indian teen who dreams of playing football like her idol, David Beckham. She gets recruited by Jules, played by Keira Knightley, to join her on an amateur women's team. Jess practices and wins in secret, however, because her parents don't approve. I like that Jess's parents aren't one-dimensional authoritarian figures: They're traditional but also loving. A funny parallel is that Jules's mother is also concerned about her daughter's involvement, worrying that she won't find a nice boyfriend or that she may be a lesbian. Until now I'd never seen such an compelling, humorous look at British Indian life; whether or not it's an accurate portrayal, this movie takes a fairly simple story and elevates it with characters anyone can relate to and a joyful message about achieving goals.
April 08, 2004
Spam Exam 2
More unusual spam today:
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 04 18:50:36 GMT
From: Wade Dodson [Wade's alleged email address]
To: [my email address]
Subject: Highest Quality Replica Rolex Watches
As they glide into the valley the little bunny shouts ^?FFFF93Look
The little bunny points to a distant rainbow spanning the far end of the
valley created as the sun shines between the clouds of a passing mountain
Tasha smiles ^?FFFF93It's a good omen for our home coming.^?FFFF94
Moments later the dragon quickly descends towards the small village.
After a gentle landing the three rabbits climb down. Tina runs to see her
friends while Chip tells the dragon to return to the temple each morning
to see if he is needed.
With that the great beast flies away.
Dinre, Chip, and Tasha all walk towards the village center where they
meet well wishes from many of the villagers.
Almost before they know it the sun is dropping below the western ridge.
All day the preparations for the night's celebration have progressed,
and with darkness near large bonfires are lit in the village center.
Soon the sounds of drums and singing fill the air as Chip, and Tasha are
led to a large flat rock where Dinre stands to officially present them to
The elder rabbit then raises his arms as he stands between his daughter,
and Chip. With that becomes silent as they wait to hear his words.
[duplicate bunny story snipped]
Is this the best way to sell Rolex ripoffs?
April 05, 2004
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Today I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
. Jim Carrey plays Joel Barish, a man who discovers that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had him removed from her memories. He decides to have his memories of her removed, but discovers that there are some memories worth keeping. The viewer gets inside Joel's mind, watching his relationship grow and wither as he runs from scene to scene with Clementine to keep her from disappearing. Despite the science fiction setup, the film seems to be set in the present -- the memory procedure is simply a way to see a relationship from a different perspective. Thankfully it's not being heavily marketed as a comedy, because it's more like a drama. However, the scenes with the staff of Lacuna
, the medical office that performs the erasure, are pretty funny (Kirsten Dunst gives a noteworthy performance as Mary, who gets stoned and dances in her underwear during the procedure, and who later discovers something about her own memory). Early on it takes some effort to figure out which scenes happened or didn't happen in which order, but perhaps that's the point. This is an enjoyable movie that tells us that sometimes the most ordinary moments are the most memorable.
April 04, 2004
You Are Here: A Memoir of Arrival
Yesterday and today I read You Are Here: A Memoir of Arrival
by Wesley Gibson. The book chronicles the author's return to New York, detailing his adventures in work -- catering, telemarketing, teaching a writing class, trying to finish his novel -- while dealing with the illness of his new roommate John, who reluctantly accepts his care. Gibson recalls other experiences as well, like his first wanton journey to New York as a younger man, his life as a hypochondriac, and his rejection as a potential roommate for not being gay enough. He's not the polished adult that society tells him to be; I like how he reveals this in his relationship with writing:
"I lacked some faith in ordinary life that would have suited me for ordinary life. I was twisty inside, and in the past year it had dawned on me that I was only happy -- though anyone with a dictionary open to the Hs would never describe me as that -- when I was trying to squeeze the twistiness out of me and onto the page. I was starting to realize that, like it or not, I was chained to myself like escaped cons in a thirties movie who were wading upstream to throw the bloodhounds off the scent; and that the biggest part of myself was, regrettably, this writing thing, which felt more and more like an addiction, and less and less like anything as noble as a vocation or a calling" (p. 86).
Despite this conflict, Wesley Gibson has surely put together something worthwhile: a tragicomic view on strangers becoming family, family becoming strangers, and finding a way to fit in for the time being.
April 03, 2004
I watched Simone
on DVD tonight. It features Al Pacino as Viktor Taransky, a producer who saves his movie and career by casting a virtual actress called Simone. Simone becomes a worldwide celebrity, and Taransky tries to keep up the illusion. The movie is fairly enjoyable; despite a baffling, unsatisfying ending that nearly undermines the whole affair, it presents some interesting ideas about celebrity worship and choosing delusion over reality.
April 01, 2004
Upgrading to 8.6
Several days ago I installed System 8.0 on a partition, then upgraded it to 8.1. Unfortunately, MT-NewsWatcher 3.1
still wouldn't run. Luckily I was able to locate and buy an increasingly rare retail version of the System 8.5 Install CD, the lime green one that works with any capable model. I ran the installer today and upgraded to 8.6 with the free updater. I'm not sure if the OS is as slow as I feared it would be, although to be fair I haven't installed all the extensions and control panels I've accumulated over the years. I notice opening folders with several hundred items works without delay, and application crashes don't normally freeze the whole system. Mac OS now takes up more memory, but it's not much of a burden: I recently replaced a 32 MB DIMM with a 64 MB one, giving my computer 96 MB in built-in memory. I wish I could do everything in System 7.6.1 -- I still prefer that interface -- but now I can run those pesky Carbon applications.
One Digit Off: The Importance of Details
My eye doctor's appointment scheduled for today didn't occur. It had been cancelled weeks earlier, but no one told me. Attempts to call me had probably been made, I was assured, but no one reached me. Why? Because they had the wrong phone number. I travelled several miles in the pouring, pounding rain simply because a single digit in my phone number was typed incorrectly into the office's new computer system. Why didn't someone verify the data after it was typed? After not being able to reach me, why didn't anyone check the number listed in my old records, or contact my primary care physician, or look in a phone book? One tiny mistake, but it had an impact weeks later, rippling out and changing what I did and whom I talked to today. Current TV shows like Joan of Arcadia, Tru Calling, and Wonderfalls all deal with these ripples and the insignificant details that cause bigger events. Perhaps whoever mistyped that digit should watch more TV. At any rate, a fitting start to April.
March 31, 2004
A Field Guide to the Invisible
Yesterday and today I read A Field Guide to the Invisible
by Wayne Biddle. Each entry in this book focuses on microscopic or subatomic things around us, some of which are harmless, even helpful, but most of which are dangerous, to put it mildly. We are surrounded by countless inescapable hordes of bacteria, mites, and fungi, but the threats posed by these are minuscule compared to the damage humanity has done, and continues to do, to itself. And even if we were able to erase the vast environmental damage humans have wrought, there's always cosmic radiation and naturally occurring chemical menaces -- at least, that's the view I got when emerging from this fascinating book.
Biddle, however, presents his topics with little editorializing, allowing scientific and historical data to shock and terrify you. For example, compounds called dioxin -- the worst of which is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) -- are totally useless chemical byproducts that bioaccumulate, primarily through the food chain. Experiments with TCDD identified it as "the most potent animal carcinogen ever tested," and "no 'safe' low dose has ever been established." According to an EPA estimate, people consume on average 119 pg/day -- "more than 280 times the 'acceptable' dose" (p. 42). Swell. Further, the section on fallout is pretty horrifying, focusing on the coverup of the March 1, 1954 H-bomb explosion over Namu Island. Top officials perpetuated ignorance, lies, and death in the years following that event; shockingly, we still live with the results of nuclear weapons testing: "Fallout is the reason almost every person on Earth carries a bit of plutonium in their bodies" (p. 55). Goodbye, natural living.
Although one might expect a book like this to be alarmist or paranoid, Biddle takes a different approach, explaining the dangers we face with a sense of wonder. Further, there are rare occasions when things aren't as bad as some believe: I was surprised to learn that electromagnetic fields (EMF) don't appear to be harmful (pg. 48-50). And as a slight respite from the bad, the author includes lighter, more benign topics, such as B.O. and noise; even God, thoughts, and zeitgeist receive some attention, though it tends toward brief philosophy.
Elsewhere, I like what Biddle says about neutrinos: "A veritable gale of neutrinos spewed out by nuclear reactions in the Sun, as well as by the collapse of distant stars and other cataclysmic cosmic events, continually roars through our planet. It has been said that neutrinos are about as close as something can come to being nothing, yet they are one of the most pervasive forms of matter in the universe" (pg. 94-95). In fact, out of the 60 billion supernova-produced neutrinos sent through the Earth in February 1987, only eleven were detected (pg. 97-98). I also learned that "cooties" refers to body lice, and that after you remove a cat from your house, it takes at least five months for the cat allergens in the dust to return to non-cat-infested levels (p. 47). If another book with such an eclectic mix of information on invisible things exists, I haven't seen it.
March 28, 2004
The Boston Globe: Repair Man
I like this profile
in today's Boston Globe
. The man in question has built a "Sense of Unity Machine" -- fascinating title! Though somewhat limited in scope, it's very much in line with what I've been thinking about in recent years, about synthesizing meaning.
March 27, 2004
Out of Touch with Genitals
Over at alt.fan.cecil-adams
, a thread grew from "Georgia House Votes for Genital-Piercing Ban"
, an article about a bill that outlaws not only female genital mutilation, but voluntary piercing as well. Here's my post
about it (and subsequent clarification
). Of course it's funny that the representative who added piercing to the bill allegedly didn't know some women do such voluntarily, but more importantly, politicians have claimed once again that women don't own their own bodies, that their right to privacy can be taken away without debate. Further, why aren't males protected from genital mutilation? Because that would outlaw "American" circumcision, and for a lot of people, it produces less guilt to say that what we do has a purpose, and what those foreigners do is just barbaric. This bill may outlaw a terrible practice, but it is flawed: Careful thought tells us that genital mutilation is most abhorrent when its victims have no choice in the matter. Therefore, what should be outlawed is involuntary or coerced genital mutilation directed at either sex, not what a competent adult can choose to do to his or her own parts. Body modification is a decision that belongs to the individual involved, not politicians.
March 25, 2004
Today I read Numerology
by David V. Barrett, a small guidebook that serves more as a brief introduction than as a thorough resource. I was unfamiliar with the Arrows of Pythagoras grid; the interpretations Barrett gives for such seem vague enough to be useless, however. The author advises the use of one's commonly used name when figuring out one's numbers, rather than one's name at birth -- I think it's worthwhile to check both. There's also a short section on colors and gemstones associated with numbers.
March 21, 2004
The Boston Globe: Lost in Space
Today's Boston Globe
features an important article
about the death of the Hubble telescope. Physicists have made great breakthroughs in the understanding of the universe in recent years, and this telescope has provided vital real-world evidence to support that journey. We are so close to a unified theory of everything, so close to learning the truth about dark energy and dark matter, and still NASA is just going to let such an important tool break down? That's not right -- we need answers, and we need that telescope.
March 20, 2004
I watched a 2-Disc Special Edition of Spider-Man
on DVD tonight. As a movie about the ramifications of gaining superpowers, it's pretty enjoyable. Spider-Man's nemesis Green Goblin, however, is too one-dimensional. Villains in superhero movies should have grand plans, but this one really doesn't -- he only serves to test Spider-Man. I was really impressed by J.K. Simmons in the role of newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson; he is one of the best things about this movie. The DVDs hold an impressive amount of extras, including significant comic book backstory. However, the hotspots on the DVD menu buttons are maddeningly small -- do yourself a favor and use the arrow keys.
March 05, 2004
A Removable IDE Drive!
I found an amazing external hard drive solution for computers that lack USB or FireWire: IDE drives in SCSI cases! ACARD
makes several SCSI-to-IDE adapters
, but I wasn't sure what other parts I needed (the ARS-2000UB cabinet reviewed on Accelerate Your Mac
has been discontinued; the rest of the products are just bridges). Luckily I found http://vssv.ungo.net/Song-Vault2.htm
, a website that sells custom-built external and removable SCSI-IDE hard drives. These drives seem to be made for an audio workstation, but I was assured that they'd work with PCs or Macs. I ordered Package #1 (ACARD Removable Drive System, Second Drive Bay/Tray, and SCSI Cable) for $184.95 and received it today. (The website has changed -- I bought what's now called the VS Song-Vault Pro
without the hard drive.) I installed a Western Digital 120 GB IDE drive in the tray, locked it in place, hooked up the case, turned it on, and it showed up on my Macintosh's SCSI chain. I had to hack Drive Setup
in order to initialize it, but then it worked just like a normal drive! (After updating the firmware
to 3.7m on the ACARD AEC-7720UB inside, non-hacked Drive Setup can recognize it -- and apparently it can then support 160 GB hard drives. However, in order for the SCSIDE Update utility to see the new firmware, I discovered that you have to manually change the creator code on sibg37m.bin to Scid, since it downloads as a generic binary file.) As for drawbacks, the drive bay sticks out about an inch, you can hear the fan running, and if you ever have to restart your computer while it's on, you'll probably have to shut it down and then turn it back on. These are minor complaints, however -- if you're still blessed with SCSI but want to take advantage of less expensive IDE drives, this is an ideal way to do it.
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