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Amazing and beautiful photos of cloud formations.

Dave Barry's "The Year in Review" for 2006. Always a must-read.

Newthink: According to the National Park Service-run bookstore, The Grand Canyon was "Created by Noah's Flood." Park rangers are not allowed to say otherwise.

Newfood: green eggs and ham.

If a 1918-level influenza hits us today, the first thing that needs to be done is: close the schools.

Noka makes very good chocolate -- and it should be good, at $2,080.00 per pound. A chocolate geek reveals that Noka buys somebody else's chocolate and remolds it, for a 6,956% markup

Happy Boxing day. The origin of the name is... oh, it could be any one of a number of things.

A common parasite turns women into sex kittens.

Merry Christmas, 2006

My favorite Christmas tale:

I want to tell you a story...
by Mark Evanier, 7/9/99
on the passing of Mel Tormé (1925-1999)

The scene is Farmer's Market ­ the famed tourist mecca of Los Angeles. It's located but yards from the facility they call, "CBS Television City in Hollywood"...which, of course, is not in Hollywood but at least is very close.

Farmer's Market is a quaint collection of bungalow stores, produce stalls and little stands where one can buy darn near anything edible one wishes to devour. You buy your pizza slice or sandwich or Chinese food or whatever at one of umpteen counters, then carry it on a tray to an open-air table for consumption.

During the Summer or on weekends, the place is full of families and tourists and Japanese tour groups. But this was a winter weekday, not long before Christmas, and the crowd was mostly older folks, dawdling over coffee and danish. For most of them, it's a good place to get a donut or a taco, to sit and read the paper.

For me, it's a good place to get out of the house and grab something to eat. I arrived, headed for my favorite barbecue stand and, en route, noticed that Mel Tormé was seated at one of the tables.

Mel Tormé. My favorite singer. Just sitting there, sipping a cup of coffee, munching on an English Muffin, reading The New York Times. Mel Tormé.

I had never met Mel Tormé. Alas, I still haven't and now I never will. He looked like he was engrossed in the paper that day so I didn't stop and say, "Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed all your records." I wish I had.

Instead, I continued over to the BBQ place, got myself a chicken sandwich and settled down at a table to consume it. I was about halfway through when four Christmas carolers strolled by, singing "Let It Snow," a cappella.

They were young adults with strong, fine voices and they were all clad in splendid Victorian garb. The Market had hired them (I assume) to stroll about and sing for the diners ­ a little touch of the holidays.

"Let It Snow" concluded not far from me to polite applause from all within earshot. I waved the leader of the chorale over and directed his attention to Mr. Tormé, seated about twenty yards from me.

"That's Mel Tormé down there. Do you know who he is?"

The singer was about 25 so it didn't horrify me that he said, "No."

I asked, "Do you know 'The Christmas Song?'"

Again, a "No."

I said, "That's the one that starts, 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...'"

"Oh, yes," the caroler chirped. "Is that what it's called? 'The Christmas Song?'"

"That's the name," I explained. "And that man wrote it." The singer thanked me, returned to his group for a brief huddle...and then they strolled down towards Mel Tormé. I ditched the rest of my sandwich and followed, a few steps behind. As they reached their quarry, they began singing, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." directly to him.

A big smile formed on Mel Tormé's face ­ and it wasn't the only one around. Most of those sitting at nearby tables knew who he was and many seemed aware of the significance of singing that song to him. For those who didn't, there was a sudden flurry of whispers: "That's Mel Tormé...he wrote that..."

As the choir reached the last chorus or two of the song, Mel got to his feet and made a little gesture that meant, "Let me sing one chorus solo." The carolers ­ all still apparently unaware they were in the presence of one of the world's great singers ­ looked a bit uncomfortable. I'd bet at least a couple were thinking, "Oh, no...the little fat guy wants to sing."

But they stopped and the little fat guy started to sing...and, of course, out came this beautiful, melodic, perfectly-on-pitch voice. The look on the face of the singer I'd briefed was amazed at first...then properly impressed.

On Mr. Tormé's signal, they all joined in on the final lines: "Although it's been said, many times, many ways...Merry Christmas to you..." Big smiles all around.

And not just from them. I looked and at all the tables surrounding the impromptu performance, I saw huge grins of delight...which segued, as the song ended, into a huge burst of applause. The whole tune only lasted about two minutes but I doubt anyone who was there will ever forget it.

I have witnessed a number of thrilling "show business" moments -- ­ those incidents, far and few between, where all the little hairs on your epidermis snap to attention and tingle with joy. Usually, these occur on a screen or stage. I hadn't expected to experience one next to a falafel stand ­ but I did.

Tormé thanked the harmonizers for the serenade and one of the women said, "You really wrote that?"

He nodded. "A wonderful songwriter named Bob Wells and I wrote that...and, get this ­ we did it on the hottest day of the year in July. It was a way to cool down."

Then the gent I'd briefed said, "You know, you're not a bad singer." He actually said that to Mel Tormé.

Mel chuckled. He realized that these four young folks hadn't the velvet-foggiest notion who he was, above and beyond the fact that he'd worked on that classic carol. "Well," he said. "I've actually made a few records in my day..."

"Really?" the other man asked. "How many?"

Tormé smiled and said, "Ninety."

I probably own about half of them on vinyl and/or CD. For some reason, they sound better on vinyl. (My favorite was the album he made with Buddy Rich. Go ahead. Find me a better parlay of singer and drummer. I'll wait.)

Today, as I'm reading obits, I'm reminded of that moment. And I'm impressed to remember that Mel Tormé was also an accomplished author and actor. Mostly though, I'm recalling that pre-Christmas afternoon.

I love people who do something so well that you can't conceive of it being done better. Doesn't even have to be something important: Singing, dancing, plate-spinning, mooning your neighbor's cat, whatever. There is a certain beauty to doing almost anything to perfection.

No recording exists of that chorus that Mel Tormé sang for the other diners at Farmer's Market but if you never believe another word I write, trust me on this. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The evolution of Christmas.

It is possible that Americans have the shortest memories on the planet. We refer to "traditions" that are merely a decade old, and consider that Christmas must have always been celebrated with a frenzy of feeding and purchasing, starting 2,006 years ago when the Bethlehem Walmart first opened its doors.

One generation ago, social commentary on the runaway commercialization of Christmas was already a hot topic. A generation before that, Christmas was a religious and family-centered affair and most gifts were modest tokens, with an emphasis on seasonal treats.

Only two or three generations before that (Christmas wasn't even an official U.S. holiday until 1870) the ghosts of Christmas Past still walked the land. It was a season when the poor -- the unwashed rabble, the peasantry -- formed gangs and wandered through the better neighborhoods, pounding on the doors of the well-off and belligerently demanding food and strong drink. Riots were common, and soldiers were called out frequently to try and protect the upper classes from the "unfortunates," who felt that at least once a year, some repayment should be made for their misery and back-breaking labor. By the middle ages, nobility had come to loathe the Christmas revelers, and for nearly five hundred years, barely civilized looting and drunken riots were the way to celebrate Christmas. In many places, peasants demanded entrance to castles, where a fool or a child would be crowned the "Lord of Misrule" and the nobility were compelled to obey the resulting silly proclamations. The rich were expected to allow the poor to sleep in their beds and empty their pantries. Nobility retreated behind fortified walls and sent servants forth with cauldrons of wassail and beef
spitted over a fire to quell the mobs.

For over a thousand years before that, Christmas was a drunken, debauched festival, a sort of Mardi Gras by torch light. It was not something the ruling nobility had much love for, and hundred of times laws were passed to try and quell the madness. The laws all failed, even when enforced with a death penalty.

So how did this all change? It depends on who you ask. Most "experts" today claim the changes were incremental and the result of the rising prosperity resulting from industrialization. But there is an argument that the "modern" Christmas was the result of one of the first -- and most successful -- PR campaigns ever waged. The ruling class -- and the governments that served them -- had tried for hundreds of years to legally ban Christmas, to no effect. While centuries of carefully cultivated religious Conservatism had served to gain some condemnation of Christmas revelry from the pulpit, the begging, demanding crowds were still a vexation. But in the early 1800s, two books took the public fancy.

In a deliberate, acknowledged effort to moderate Christmas revelry, these two books were heavily promoted by the clergy and the newspapers of the day, and combined with unceasing solemn proclamations of "This is the Way Things Ought To Be," a new way of celebrating Christmas came into being.

The first of these books was Washington Irving's "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent." (
1819.) While it did feature peasants invited into a well-off house for Christmas, everybody generally behaved very politely and with mutual respect.

It was a first step.

The second book was Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (1843.) And it was revolutionary, pointing toward the new way.

The new way, recommended by clergy, praised by editors and encouraged by business owners: respectable people went to church, and then straight home where they enjoyed a special meal, and exchanged a few token gifts. "Christmas Clubs" were formed where working class laborers could sock away a few dollars a month all year long so there would be adequate funds for a Merry Christmas.

The rich may have thrown a lavish party for friends and relatives and -- if they were uncommonly generous --  their employees, but it was to be a thoroughly civilized, one-evening formal affair. Charity became focused on a narrowly-defined, case-by-case basis, mostly driven by the sort of carefully crafted public sentiment expressed by wealthy newspaper owners and book publishers. Christmas generosity was most certainly no longer the responsibility of the rich alone. Even the poorest working classes were expected to cough up what few pennies they could spare to help out those even less fortunate.

The PR campaign was a huge success.

The rabble no longer roamed the streets, harassing the rich and demanding belly-distending quantities of food and quarts of sugared alcoholic hot punch.

The police and military no longer needed to quell riots.

The holiday of Christmas became fairly peaceful -- and suddenly quite profitable for merchants. And merchants know a good thing when they see one.

The general public's Christmas spending -- profitable, even confined for that first generation to a goose and trimmings and a few trinkets -- gradually expanded to an unbelievably lavish family feast of proportions that would have stunned a king only a century earlier, plus gifts, then more gifts, and then more expensive and luxurious gifts. With the advent of widely available purchase on credit, people began to believe that working for two solid months to pay for a week's gluttony and avarice was not only reasonable, but required to "keep the Christmas Spirit."

And America led the way.

On average, today one half of all retail sales happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With that kind of incentive to advertise, and with the kind of expertise that American advertisers currently posses, it seems unlikely that there will be a rapid change in our current spend-a-thon style of celebration.

One bit of fallout from this season of saturation advertising is caused by a certain knowledge on the part of all advertisers; stress makes us more subconsciously suggestible, which makes us more susceptible to advertising. Which is why the ads themselves are a form of stress, concentrated into 30 seconds and aimed at creating deep, irrational feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

Have you ever tried to actually define the "perfect" Christmas gift?
  • It must be something exactly the right amount of frivolous -- not too practical or it is merely mundane --  but not actually useless.
  • It must be a luxury that the recipient thoroughly enjoys -- and uses -- but something that they haven't already bought for themself -- or even discovered yet.
  • You need to spend just enough money for the gift to be valued, but not so much that the recipient feels guilty or beholden.
  • When the gift is opened, the recipient is supposed to say, with complete sincerity, "Why, it's just perfect! And I'd never have thought of such a thing! And in fact, I've never even seen such a thing! But it's wonderful! I love it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Now, how exactly are you supposed to pull that off, year after year, for every single person on your gift list? It's patently impossible -- and yet we keep trying. No wonder we are stressed at Christmas. And that's just stress over what we give: look at the weird oddities that you receive, from people you love -- people who you thought, until now, loved you! And you are supposed to say, when you open that box of gray cotton tube socks with the Grinch silk screened on the tops, "Why, it's just perfect!" etc, etc.

No wonder this time of the year has the highest heart attack rate, and the highest suicide rate. Stress, indeed.

However, in the last decade, Christmas spending has leveled off and is slowly -- albeit very slowly -- beginning to decline. At this rate, we may return to some sort of seasonal sanity in another 2,006 years.

Well over twenty years ago, I decided to drop out of the Christmas rat race. I decided to cook things to give away as gifts, and my stress level dropped to a fraction of what it was back when I raced around in a car, in heavy traffic, like an utter frantic madman, scrambling to find the "perfect gift" for everyone, while struggling with a painfully tight budget.

So, as always, today I spend in the kitchen, whipping up tasty and fattening tidbits for friends and family. At home. In peace and comfort.

NPR is on the radio, and they are playing perfectly lovely music.

The house smells great.

And that feels like Christmas to me.
Best wishes, everyone.

Trust me, and just go look at the 50 greatest. You'll be glad you did.

Best wishes for a happy Pagan Solstice.

Denver -- and much of Colorado -- will remember this, the Blizzard of 2007.

The War on Drugs: America's number one cash crop is pot. Still.

An excellent article from The Economist on the rise of Vladimir Putin, his brutal exercise of power, and the deaths of his critics: "The Litvinenko affair: Murder most opaque." And, an article from CNN about Litvenenko's secret dossier on Putin.

The experimental therapy that Christopher Reeve volunteered for has been successful for a three-year-old.

In Utah, a pregnant 13-year old girl is legally considered to be both a victim and a perpetrator.

J. K. Rowling is sick of the whole thing and has decided to kill off everybody in the final Harry Potter book.

This time they're sure that it was a single massive asteroid that killed off the dinos 65 million years ago.

They're also pretty sure that we're currently doing a bang up job of causing massive extinctions.

What may be a very big discovery; recent water flowing on Mars. Very recent. If there is life on Mars, it almost certainly will require water to grow and multiply. (There are a number of species on earth that can survive with no water, but only in an utterly dormant state.) If there's water on Mars, there may be life. And if there's life, then we are in a whole new ballgame, folks.

Totally cool sand sculptures.

One of the fun things about the Internet is the ability for urban legends to explode in a day or so into full "viral" fame. And so it is with "Long Horses."

Fun with lasers: perfect clarity for astronomical telescopes, sensors for medical conditions, really big lasers and lasers the size of a grain of rice. And of course, military weapons.

In Michigan. it's illegal for a guy to move out if his lady is preggers. Oh and by the way, every fertile woman in the land shall henceforth be treated as legally "pre-pregnant." Remember how conservatives used to howl at the so-called "social tinkering" of liberals?

Free download for issue #1 of "Vertigo", the graphic novel where every character and creature from fables is forced to move into the mundane world -- where the rest of us currently live. Mature subjects, but great fun.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

The Taliban in Afghanistan: Girls are not allowed to attend school. If you teach girls, you may be disemboweled and torn apart (while still alive) as a public example.

Wine is good for you, but some wine is better for you than others. France and Italy top the list.

Dave Barry's Holiday Gift Guide, 2006 edition. Please don't send me anything from this list.

Separatists want an independent Quebec, and also a breakup of the UK. It could happen.

Underwear facts. Billed as "amazing."

Monday, November 27, 2006
I admire the Salvation Army for their unstinting support for people suffering hardship. And the fact is indisputable that the Salvation Army gets more of your donated money to the point of need than any other aid organization out there: most of the workers are completely volunteer and take not one penny for "administration" or "overhead" costs -- which exceed 50% in several high-profile organizations.

"Those Salvation Army bells are at it again. I know I shouldn't take it out on the deranged soul who's flogging their little red bucket, but I contemplate handing them a card that says: I'm not giving one scarlet penny to an evangelical Christian monolith whose last great media splash was rescinding benefits to their gay employees." -- Susie Bright

Friday, November 24, 2006

Is it possible that Vladimir Putin
-- former KGB officer, now Russian president -- is perfectly willing to use the old KGB poisoning methods, whenever it serves his interest? (The fame of the KGB's covert poison weapons even found their way into Ian Flemming's James Bond novels in the 1950s.)

Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned on November 1 with radioactive polonium-210. He died yesterday. He was investigating the murder of his friend, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a vocal critic of Putin.

Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, was poisoned in September, 2004, in the middle of the election campaign. Yuschenko remains a bitter enemy of Putin. The poison was very sophisticated -- a mix of Dioxin and
alpha-fetoprotein (the "before and after" photos of Yuschenko are heartbreaking.)

Both poisons -- effective in tiny doses, extremely sophisticated, slow-acting, nearly impossible to detect, nearly impossible to antidote, mimicking physical illness, and not merely lethal but also physically devastating as a visible and public form of brutal punishment -- are classics of the KGB style.
Cui buono? In both cases -- also in the murder of the beloved and respected Anna -- Putin benefited.

Updates: Russia today: criticize Putin, and you die.

Investigators in GB are uncovering a great deal of information in the poisoning death of investigator Alexander Litvinenko. Important: Litvinenko was a UK citizen.

More radiation found in the poisoning investigation. The perpetrators never thought anyone would figure out what they used. Now that the British know, they can trace every movement the killers made.

And another poisoning: former Russian prime minister Dr Yegor Gaidar was stricken while visiting Ireland. As of today, officials are assuming this was a deliberate attempt and investigating thoroughly.

One thing Putin may have done; shot himself in the foot. Polonium-210 is an ideal poison in many ways, except for the fact that not just anyone can manufacture the stuff (only 100 grams a year is produced.) It takes the resources of a government to produce rare, exotic radioactive elements. And they draw a very straight line back to the producer.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Alice's Restaurant,
by Arlo Guthrie

This song is called Alice's Restaurant, and it's about Alice, and the restaurant, but Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, that's just the name of the song, and that's why I called the song Alice's Restaurant.

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in, it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant

Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on -- two years ago -- on Thanksgiving...

[lyrics for the whole song]

Here's an odd little webpage which shows you a series of photographs. One item in each photo changes gradually, and your task is to identify the changing item and click on it. You get as many chances as you need, which is good, because the human eye -- and mind -- is lousy at identifying slow change.

Chinese subs are getting good enough to shadow U.S. ships without detection.

Marine Corps rules: #21. "Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

The new film "Fast Food Nation" will be out Nov 17. Do you want fries with that?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

As I write, I am listening to a well-produced program on my local NPR station about World War One. Later on today, NPR will broadcast T.J. Starr's brilliant radio documentary, "A Forgotten War."

It gives me hope to hear thoughtful adults explore "The Great War" in an adult manner. The bland wallowing in pat "explanations" and pointless minutiae that we were all force-fed in public school carefully skirted the truth about World War One.

The truth: World War One was a global insanity, a paranoid schizophrenia contagious to the medium-witted hereditary ruling elite of Europe, horrifying beyond conception, and largely futile.

One can make an argument that there was only one World War, lasting for thirty-one years. It started in 1914, enjoyed a temporary cease-fire from 1918 until the embers began to smoulder again only fifteen years later in 1933, burst back into flame in 1938, and finally ended in 1945.

44% of Americans believe the Rapture is coming within 50 years. 42% have their doubts.

An economics professor learns that one of his students -- in the national guard -- is being trained for something very special.

Police in Eastern Kentucky finally caught that werewolf.

Samsung: makers of cellphones, HDTV, printers, refrigerators, and machine gun-equipped robot killer sentries.

Chocolate sushi. (But why?)

The latest "Gotta Have" bling for your ride: clear wheels.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a lethal germ that people sometimes catch in hospitals. There's nothing that can treat it. But a new vaccine being researched at the University of Chicago shows promise. 

The world's soon-to-be-tallest building is rising in Dubai.

Get ready for Halloween. How to:

Priceless: Lyn Cheney's "social secretary" forced the White House chef to concoct disgusting and bizarre dishes using the brand-name products of massive political contributors as ingredients. Like "Coca-Cola Brined Pilgrim's Pride Turkey with Dunkin’ Donuts Old-Fashioned Cake Doughnut Sweet and Savory Stuffing" [Ed note: this is from Susie Bright's excellent - though decidedly adult - blog]

Burning Man 2006: stunning photos from the thin, blurry line between creative and weird.

Strange things happen sometimes: man injured when his cottage is destroyed by meteorite.

Nineteen years until doomsday, in the from of a killer asteroid, at least according to Russian astronomers. Such things have, of course, happened before, but let's face it: human predictions of the Eschaton (and there have been thousands of such predictions) have all proved to be bogus. So far.

Recently seen on a t-shirt: "Yet, despite the look on my face, you're still talking."

Teen gets car-jacked. Jacker gets weird. Teen notices the Jacker isn't wearing his seat belt. Game over.

Imagine Earth without people.

Good ethics, environmental responsibility, compassion and respect for worker's rights: even in the stock market, it pays off better.

Eat walnuts, live longer.

Cool Tips. For all sorts of stuff.

Mosquito season may have passed in the West, but here's a new way to control the pests, for cheap. Non-toxic, simple, safe. And you could do it yourself if you have a sewing machine. (Sewing machine? Yes, sewing machine.) 

"Theme" cruises on luxury ships: religion, Star Trek, gay and lesbian, nakedness. Conservative approval turns to outrage.

You can cure persistent hiccups at home, quickly, easily, and for free, but you'll never in a million years guess how.

Totally cool: a backpacking stove you can make yourself using three aluminum beer cans. It outperforms the expensive high-tech stoves,  -- and it weighs 1.5 ounces.

The West is still wild: the Irma Hotel in Cody recently had an epic bar fight involving locals and the tourists loved it. You'd think it was the bar fight of the century but in Cody they just say it's "the biggest bar fight in fifteen years."

Cut open a fossilized Tyrannosaur thigh bone, find beautifully preserved 70-million year old dinosaur soft tissue. No word on how the cloning experiments are going.

Canadian team of university engineering students build a car that gets 3,145 MPG.

Totally cool: new cave discovery in Sequoia National Park.

Remember the uproar over the famous "Face On Mars?" (First spotted in NASA low-resolution photographs of Mars taken in 1976.) Some people believed it was proof positive that aliens constructed a face millions of years ago, specifically for Earth humans to spot. NASA scientists gently tried to explain why that was a ridiculous notion, but you know how it goes. (For one thing, millions of years ago, there were no humans on Earth.)

Yesterday, APOD published a new beautiful, high-resoultion, full-color photo of the "face" butte. Guess what? It doesn't look like a face at all. This is, of course, what the real scientists were saying all along. And that's why you need to listen to scientists about science, rather than politicians, lawyers, or religious zealots. Oh yeah, and try to ignore the manic conspiracy-paranoid nutso dingbats, too, ok?

"You have to take zucchini; we're related." - Stephanie Davis, from her song "Harvest Time."

Here's the 100 most popular books in the UK -- some surprising entries;  "His Dark Materials" trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman is not well-known in the USA, but look for that to change. Terry Pratchett appears with ten titles on the top 200 list; quite a ringing recommendation.

Wealthy couple divorces.
He says he lost $2.5 million in a disastrous business investment. She says he hid it.
A judge says "give it to her." He says he can't; it's gone.
Judge throws him in jail. For eleven years.

Science Friday, from DarkSyde: A brief four billion year history of global temperatures, green-house gases, life on earth, oxygen, current conditions of methane ice, and our survival.

How in-flight announcements would sound if they were honest. (Note: contrary to this article, a number of passenger jets have successfully ditched in the water with high survivability.)

The prescription drug Zolpidem has brought some patients out of persistent vegetative states.

Green tea might protect you from heart attacks. Or not.

Feel-good post of the day: A jilted bride turns lemons into lemonade, in the best possible way: not for herself, but by helping out others.

Why we shouldn't have capital punishment: A woman was arrested, tried and convicted for stealing a commercial bank deposit bag. Her employer was "sure" she did it, so was the bank, and the police said they had her cold. The only problem was, she didn't do it. They found the money stuck in the night depository mechanism -- eleven months later.  And now, prosecutors are very embarrassed, officials are trying to find some way to make amends, and everyone is scrambling to explain how the system failed, and how the technology supporting the system failed. Gee, good thing they didn't execute her.

If you think identity theft is merely an inconvenience -- but not really "disastrous" -- just wait until someone sells your house out from under you, and the courts give your house to the "innocent buyers."

A 73.4 pound cabbage. And a 96.9 pound kohlrabi. They grow 'em big in Alaska.

Unless you want Google listening in, unplug your computer microphone. They've developed eavesdropping software -- but it's just so they can display ads on your screen that correspond to what you're watching on TV. Or perhaps listening to on the radio. Or possibly talking about with your kids.

Orchestra Conductor: 3 days behind bars. For a seatbelt ticket.

It's Hurricane season again. Keep track.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006: New Orleans, one year later, Part 2: Less than half of the city’s pre-storm population of 460,000 has returned, putting the population at roughly what it was in 1880.  (read the rest of the article)

Life at summer camp:
chocolate-chip pancakes and prescription pills.

Just in time for Halloween: If you have never liked any of the pictures taken of you, send one to these guys for some touch-up. (And you thought your driver's license photo made you look dead.)

Psycho Killer Raccoons Terrorize Olympia. "They're urban raccoons, and they're not afraid."

You, too, may have royal blood.  

Burning man.   Just in case your life isn't weird enough.

Giant yellow jacket wasp nests that look like something from a scary science-fiction movie.

The new list of planets: Mercury; Venus; Earth Mars; Jupiter; Saturn; Uranus; Neptune; three "plutons" (Pluto and its two companion planets Charon and UB313 "formerly know as moons") ... and Ladies and Gentleman, Introducing "The Asteroid Planet Ceres."

Some people can read facial expressions like a book. Interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell.

Order "grouper" at your favorite Florida seafood restaurant, and what do you get?
Surprisingly, almost half the time, not grouper.

1500 BC: Why the red Sea parted, and a scientific explanation of the plagues that followed.

Way cool toy: transparent canoe.

RFID-key car ignitions: infallible, right? Wrong.

Stir the caffeine away. Really. (Thank you, alert reader.)

Ah, the good old days, when the Sahara was a tropical paradise, and killer carnivore kangaroos galloped about.

Instead of drag-racing in your car to "see what she'll do," you could just look it up.

Mid-life crisis, 70 million years ago. Life was tough for tyrannosaurs.  

Good news: if you struggle with what has been described as "attention deficit disorder," an over- the- counter vitamin may be a big help. NADH (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide.) Health food stores usually have it.
A pill a day keeps the cops away: zinc supplements reduce criminal behavior. The article starts off by explaining how a brain tumor can turn you into a pedophile.

If you live in Phoenix, you may want to know that a serial killer has been targeting people going for walks and bike rides. Thirty four victims in the past year. Update: Phoenix police have captured a pair of suspects in the serial murders and shooting spree.
Test your own hearing -- at least for frequency limits. The link has audio clips by frequency. Pretty cool, actually.

Some people are really into pencils.

Modular Dwellings.

How to cook an egg with two cell phones.

If you've never tasted the extraordinary flavor of very light roasted coffee, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. There are two ways to go about this.

One is to live in a major metropolitan area and find a boutique coffee shop that will do a light roast for you. The other way is to do it yourself. Me, I use an old Proctor-Silex hot air "Popcorn Pumper," and it works great. (You can, of course, buy an expensive new counter top roaster.)

Here's how I do it: pour 1/3 cup of green coffee beans into the popcorn popper -- leave the lid off. Turn the popper on. Manually shake the popper a little while it is running, and watch. In a minute or so, the beans will puff up and turn light tan. I wait until I just start to hear a few cracking sounds starting -- this is called "first crack" -- and then I pour the beans into a room-temperature cast iron skillet to cool off. (Waiting until you hear all of the cracking stop gives you a "city roast" -- still considered light, but not as light as above.)

The beans will swell up from the starting 1/3 cup to reach 1/2 cup in volume, which is exactly what I use to make a 10-cup pot of coffee in my old Braun drip machine.

And that's all there is to it. The beans taste magnificent right away, but supposedly the best flavor is archived two days after roasting. The flavor is sweet, complex and nutty, chocolate and spice predominate and it's almost not even coffee.

What a restaurant! Just imagine eating this stuff:
  • creamy amuse-bouche of purple taro root bisque with wild Indonesian boar bacon
  • salad with saguaro cactus, prickly pear, mustard greens, roasted corn and saguaro syrup vinaigrette
  • medallions of Bichon Frise tenderloin with port reduction and saffron-parsnip purée
  • monkey brain stew
  • roasted flank of gazelle
  • hippopotamus sausage
  • barbecued rhino genitals
  • Gila monster in green chimichurri sauce
  • ramekin of Key lime custard with sea-turtle eggs
  • roasted ferruginous pygmy owl
  • bighorn sheep sirloin strips in peppercorns and maple-whiskey glaze
  • seal sushi in gold leaf
  • sautéed penguin brains
  • giraffe tongue marinated for four days in red wine and garlic, braised with leeks, shallot and carrot
You noticed, I'm hoping, that a lot of this food is Endangered?

Totally cool technology for disabled people! A small commuter car designed especially for wheelchairs.

The clothing worn by the 1924 Mount Everest expedition members George Mallory and Sandy Irvine was really comfortable, much lighter weight than super-technical modern wonder-fabric expedition wear, perfectly warm and far less restrictive to movement, and also quite stylish and dashing. Graham Hoyland knows; he had a full set of the clothing custom made, and he's been climbing around Everest wearing it. Look for a big change in mountaineer wear. Wool, cotton and silk are back.

PETA protesters bare (almost) all against the cruel practice of bullfighting. Bless them. (I'll bet their parents are so proud.)

Batwoman is back. And she's, um, changed a bit.

It's raining aliens.
Remember the "mosquito" high-frequency devices that are being used to drive unwanted teenagers away from stores? Kids took the idea and created ringtones on their cellphones that are inaudible to adults. Excellent for use in the classroom where cell phones are banned, adult teachers are "in charge" and kids are oppressed. It's catching on like wildfire, and it's no wonder. Talk about perfect subversive justice!

Great news. There's a new vaccine that prevents HPV. This is huge because HPV is the virus that causes 70% of all cervical cancers. It's simple; vaccinate and prevent a deadly cancer.  Men should get this too, since HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine works so well it can also be used to treat pre-cancerous lesions.

Cloaking devices may soon be a reality -- for the military. The rest of us just have to reconcile ourselves with visibility.

helping our animal friends cross highways.

How to keep rotting ground beef looking pink and perfect for months at a time in the meat case at your local Walmart: pack it in carbon monoxide.

The Swiss government has launched an Aids Prevention poster campaign that is proving to be spectacularly successful. One look tells you why. Here are larger photos of the posters: girls and guys. Enjoy.

A hunter in Canada's Northwest Territory shot a hybrid Polar Grizzly bear in April -- offspring of a Polar Bear mother and a Grizzly Bear father. Locals had spotted the bear earlier, but wildlife officials had doubted the possibility. DNA analysis conforms the parentage. Some officials wonder if this is the result of dramatic arctic warming, since Grizzlies have been foraging further north than ever before.

The 12 "cardinal flavors" of single-malt Scotch: Smoky, honey, body, sweetness, medicinal, tobacco, spicy, winey, nutty, malty, fruity and floral. And if you are truly serious about scotch, here's where you go for single-cask unfiltered masterpieces of the distiller's art: the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society.

The earth is flat.

The future of sex: PT-141

Happy Birthday: the bikini turns sixty.

Other lead story: "This is no ordinary rabbit. We are dealing with a monster."

Iran cranks up the warmongering rhetoric by announcing an underwater missile that travels at 223 MPH. "... no warship can escape..." (It's probably the Russian-made VA-111 Shkval.)

Personal EMF shielding devices... Buncha wackos, right? Right. Of course we do have hard scientific evidence that electro magnetic fields are dangerous... like electric blankets, cell phones, high power lines, microwaves and the like.

The idea of a "grounding" pad for your car seat is interesting. Ever since I was a little kid, I've always wondered why being in a car is so tiring. Sitting and watching TV for two hours isn't exhausting, so why is sitting and watching the road for two hours such an energy drain? Could it actually be a buildup of electrical static charge in the body?

A coupe of generations ago, it was common knowledge that letting a grounding strap drag on the ground under the car would eliminate motion sickness for many people. Weird, but it worked.

On the other hand, shielded underwear does seem a bit nuts.

"Leet." Or, how to write text messages like a thirteen year old geek.  (Hint: "/\/[]8[]I>j  <42&5.")

Think we don't "need" a space program? Take a look at this.

Too cool: turn your head for a gift.

Nite nite. Sleep Tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite.

Struggling with stubborn high cholesterol? Try drinking Noni juice.

Who won the Super bowl? Maybe Pittsburgh won on the field, but inside your brain, it's likely that Disney won.

The contents of this web page are merely opinion.  Harmless words.  Nothing more.