Friday, May 30, 2008

Ol' School Sesame Street

I grew up on this stuff, back when PBS for kids was almost as much about entertaining as it was learning. What is this video supposed to teach us other than exploration is fun?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

RIP Harvey Korman (1927 -- 2008)

Harvey Korman, one of comedy's funniest straightmen is no more.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sol just 1/1,000,000,000,000th of Milky Way's mass

Astronomers, those clever bastards, have refined their techinques for measuring the mass of our galaxy. The results are in, and the Milky Way is just a hair under one trillion solar masses. That's a whole lot, or as Douglas Adams put it, "Space is really big."

Here's an article about the weigh-in at

How the media helps make you stupid...

Of course it's ultimately your fault if you're a moron, but if you're a dumbass you've probably had a lot of help acheiving that status. Here's a video about how you get dumbed down:

Typical media horsecrap

April new single-family home sales rose 3.3 percent

Isn't that great! Home sales are up! Woo-hoo! Er, right? Nope. Read the actual article underneath this Reuters headline and you'll find this:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sales of newly constructed single-family homes rose 3.3 percent in April to a 526,000 annual rate but they were down 42 percent from a year ago, which was the largest year-over-year drop in nearly 27 years, government data on Tuesday showed.

Down 42 percent from a year ago?! Largest drop in 27 years?! Who exactly do they think is dumb enough to fall for this? You and me, that's who.

Just to make sure there's credit where credit is due, the people responsible for this sterling example of modern journalism are reporter Joanne Morrison and editor Neil Stempleman. I tried to find email for these folks so anyone who wanted to could tell them how much we appreciate this kind of reporting, but of course the addresses aren't readily available. Wonder why.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Expert lectures on all kinds of subjects, including law, history, art, music, sciences and more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are you on the RADAR?

Is the U.S. government compiling a list of citizens to be rounded up if martial law is declared? It appears so.

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

What went wrong with the dream? How did we end up here? More important, how do we get out?

The author is Christopher Ketcham and the article was published, ironically, by Radar Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Your tax dollars at work -- way to go ICE!

Although the US immigration policy is ridiculous, I post this not as political commentary but just because it's so outrageously funny.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm getting stimulated today!

In honor of the scheduled delivery today of my economic stimulus prebate I'm posting this graphic that explains how our government can give us FREE MONEY!!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

$%@( Walmart!

One of the many reasons I LOATH Walmart--besides its degradation of the environment, its treatment of employees, and its importing of goods from countries where children and prisoners are used as labor--is because someone routinely stops me on the way out to check my receipt, or at least someone did when I used to shop there. The last time it happened I told the very nice little old lady who asked if she could see my receipt "No, but thank you for asking" and walked away, receipt unchecked, never to return. David Pelfrey of Birmingham's Black & White City Paper wrote about the insulting and degrading practice of treating every customer as a suspected criminal this week and has some useful advice:

Here’s a scenario that is familiar to anyone who has ever set foot in Wal-Mart, CVS, Rite-Aid, or any of a dozen other major retailers. After you have made a purchase, collected your bags, or packed everything into a shopping cart, you head for the exit. Just as you approach freedom an alarm sounds (usually a sequence of ugly, electronic grunts) and a robotic voice (always female) announces: “Please return to the checkout.” Other customers immediately look in your direction, and an employee begins to approach you. What’s your next move?

If you possess an ounce of personal pride or perhaps two ounces of fortitude, then the 100 percent correct move is to proceed immediately out the door. Why? There are many reasons, chief among them being that rational adults should not instantly obey mechanical voices (unless that voice instructs us to exit a burning aircraft). Also, if you haven’t stolen anything and therefore do not require interrogation, there is absolutely nothing that should compel you to linger post-transaction. It’s depressing enough simply being there in the first place. Another good reason to make a quick exit is that you aren’t being paid to assist some giant retailer with its security measures. You aren’t part of the team, and you didn’t clock in. The clearest reason for leaving the store, however, is that there exists absolutely no legal obligation to remain there, and the store has no right to detain you.

OK, so that part is about those annoying anti-theft alarm systems, but I wanted to get across that the store personnel have no right to detain you if you have not committed a crime despite the assumption that we don't remain private citizens with our rights entact once we step though the automatic sliding glass doors. Read the original piece at or at Stand Up to

ACME Catalog online!

Once available only via snail-mail to customers like Bugs Bunny and Wil E. Coyote, the ACME Catalog is now available on the Internets! I'm going to get myself some Super Speed Vitamins [tm], a Bat-Man's Outfit [tm] and an ACME Atom Rearranger [tm]! Oh, and a ton of anvils!

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm secretly in love with Lisa Beightol

Ms Beightol is the blogger at's Astronomy Center. There's a picture of her on the blog. She's gorgeous. I crushed the moment I clapped eyes on her and knew I was looking at a beautiful woman who enjoys astronomy and writes! My wife laughed at me. She's not into astronomy.

Today Ms Beightol knocked me head over heels again when she announced she was a fan of Monty Python! Be still my heart! She also said the members of Monty Python all have asteroids named after them. I did not know that. Did you know that, Ed?

Give the post -- The Ministry Of Silly Asteroids -- a read and sign up for the blog.

Here's the bottom line: Ms Beightol can be a tad dry on occasion, but it's hard not to be when discussing science and technology. It doesn't matter since her own sense of wonder with astronomy makes it through when she's telling her "astro-nuts" about the latest. (That astro-nuts thing used to bug me. Now, I kinda enjoy it. I'm proud to be an astro-nut.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

NASA to announce discovery

NASA's found something they've been looking for and are going to announce the discovery next Wednesday in a press conference. The press release comes from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, so that limits what the mystery object can be, likely something large and energetic. But, since it's in our galaxy I'm at a loss as to what it might be. Here's the NASA MEDIA ADVISORY : M08-089:

NASA to Announce Success of Long Galactic Hunt

WASHINGTON -- NASA has scheduled a media teleconference Wednesday, May 14, at 1 p.m. EDT, to announce the discovery of an object in our Galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years. This finding was made by combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with ground-based observations.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact the Chandra Press Office at 617-496-7998 or e-mail Live audio of the teleconference will be streamed online at:

A video file about the discovery will air on NASA Television on May 14. NASA TV is carried on an MPEG-2 digital signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. NASA TV is available in Alaska and Hawaii on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization.

For information about NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory on the Web, visit:

- end -

Watch Mercury rise and fall all through May

My latest astronomy column published today:

If you go outside about half an hour after sunset tonight and look just above the western horizon where the sunburned sky has yet to fade you’ll find bright pink Mercury, fastest of the planets, shining in the Sun’s wake.

Elusive Mercury--the smallest of the planets at 3,032 miles wide--is putting in its best appearance of 2008 during May. But, you’ll still need to be quick to see it.

You can read this column in its entirety as well as all five years of my past columns at the Starry, Starry Nights Blog.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Moon and Mercury

The very young new moon and tiny Mercury were in conjunction at sundown this evening. Mercury is the bright "star" in the lower lefthand side of the image, above my neighbor's rooftop. The image was taken about half an hour after sunset. That's the time Mercury is best viewed until it gets too close to the Sun to be seen toward the end of the month.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Journey of the Sorcerer -- The Eagles

For some friends who have never heard the entirety of this song, which is a) My favorite Eagles tune, and b) The theme music to the various incarnations of that wholly remarkable book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

I'm voting for Obama

This isn't an endorsement, it's a statement of my intention and an explanation. Sen. Barack Obama gets my vote because he still has the respect of the world. Check this Reuters report out:

Rebels who have stepped up attacks on Nigeria's oil industry in the last month said on Sunday they were considering a ceasefire appeal by U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has launched five attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta since it resumed a campaign of violence in April, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to shut more than 164,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).

"The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem," the militant group said in an e-mailed statement.

George W. Bush couldn't pull this off. John McCain wouldn't want to. I'm not sure what Hillary Clinton would do, and I don't think she knows either.


There's I-am-Napoleon-Bonaparte crazy, and then there's just completely nuts. Here's a practical demonstration of the latter (OK, yeah, it does sort of look like fun, but in a completely out-of-your-mind way):

Monday, May 5, 2008

Who will tell the people?

No one needs to tell them. They already know. They just can't believe they've done this to themselves.

Here's a quote from Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, that strikes at the heart of how we've screwed ourselves and are allowing ourselves to be screwed:

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

From the Flintstones to the Jetsons. That about sums it all up right there, except Friedman is far easier on his readers than I would have been.

We don't need to tell the people, they already know, so here's the real question: What are we going to do about it? Anything? Or are we just going to slip into obscurity?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Oh what Phun!

What a totally cool, nifty toy! Get it here!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Marijuana smoking may prevent lung cancer

Pot smokers have one less thing to be paranoid about: lung cancer.

"We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use," he said. "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."

This from Donald Tashkin, a pulmonologist at UCLA who studied marijuana use for 30 years. An article about Tashkin's findings is available at the Washington Post's website.