Cat Chases a Bear Up a Tree, and Other Interesting Stories

posted in: quirky, science | 0

The following items come to me courtesy of other people—I don’t have the time to surf the web and find this stuff!

Cat trees bear…
Our title story is one of the odder ones I’ve heard recently. But the picture sure looks real. In West Medford, NJ, a black bear was treed by a territorial tabby cat named Jack. (If you click on the picture, you can see an enlargement that shows Jack a little more clearly.) Can we trust AP that it’s true? I dunno—it’s too good a story not to be.

Teenagers turn a “teenager-repellent” sound into a ring-tone…
This is from the NY Times: “In that old battle of the wills between young people and their keepers, the young have found a new weapon that could change the balance of power on the cellphone front: a ring tone that many adults cannot hear.” Very handy in classrooms where cell phones are forbidden—a tone inaudible to the teacher, which signals an incoming text message or email.

“The cellphone ring tone that she heard was the offshoot of an invention called the Mosquito, developed last year by a Welsh security company to annoy teenagers and gratify adults, not the other way around… It was marketed as an ultrasonic teenager repellent, an ear-splitting 17-kilohertz buzzer designed to help shopkeepers disperse young people loitering in front of their stores while leaving adults unaffected.”

The Mosquito depended on the fact that most adults have already lost enough high-frequency hearing that they simply wouldn’t hear the sound, while to teenagers it would be an irritant.

We tried it out here. (You can download an MP3 of the sound from the NY Times page.) My wife played it on her Mac laptop, and I couldn’t hear it, while my daughter said, “Sure, I can.” Then I played it on my PC laptop, with the volume all the way up, and I could hear it as a faint, unpleasant keening sound. My daughter said, “Augghhh!” and immediately left the room. (My other daughter said she found it unpleasant, but not enough to work as a dispersant.)

New Careers for Dogs…
This also from the NY Times. Dogs have now been trained to sniff out bedbugs, cancer in people, cows in heat, and potentially pirated DVDs in cargo containers, among other things. Good boy!

Droids on the International Space Station…
Remember the trainer-droid in Star Wars—the little hovering robot that Luke had trouble whipping with his light saber until he finally “used the Force”? Well, from NASA’s Space News comes this:

“Six years ago, MIT engineering Professor David Miller showed the movie Star Wars to his students on their first day of class. There’s a scene Miller is particularly fond of, the one where Luke Skywalker spars with a floating battle droid. Miller stood up and pointed: ‘I want you to build me some of those…’ So they did. With support from the Department of Defense and NASA, Miller’s undergraduates built five working droids. And now, one of them is onboard the International Space Station.”

It doesn’t actually fire little laser beams. But it does maneuver, and they’re working on teaching them to rendezvous in space. Hm, I feel an urge to pit one against my Roomba.

World Wind from NASA

posted in: quirky, space | 0

Okay, enough with the politics for a while. I’ve got something cooler. It’s free software from NASA, and it’s called World Wind.

By now, I expect most of you know about Google Earth. It’s a sort of World Wide Earth browser that lets you see the surface of the Earth from satellite imagery and turn it all around and zoom in close enough and clearly enough that, depending on where you live, you may be able to pick out your own house and tell whether you (or at least your cars) were at home when the photo was taken. In fact, here is a picture of my house, taken from Google Earth.


You can’t quite see how cracked the driveway is, but I can tell it was taken before we rebuilt the deck, so it must be a few years old. (That faint fuzzy patch to the right of the deck that looks like a giant grey dandelion puff is actually a pretty good sized pin-oak tree.) If they get a little better with it, we could use it to inspect our roofs and chimneys! My office window is high on the end of the house overlooking the deck. You can’t quite see me hard at work.

World Wind from NASA is similar, but different. You can rotate and zoom in, and add all sorts of fancy overlays—but you can do it not just with Earth, but with the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Also the stars. (And someone added a plug-in for the Death Star.) The resolution of Earth isn’t as fine, but I like it better for the planets, anyway. For Mars and Venus, it’ll show you where all the spacecraft have landed. (I was amazed how many there were.) Here are two pix of Mars. You won’t see it here, but if you mouse over the icons, it’ll tell you the spacecraft names and dates. It also has a bunch of scientific overlays if you’re interested.

This second one is the landing site of the Opportunity robot buggy.

The software is Windows only, I’m afraid. And although I found the installation easy, I had to reinstall something called .NET framework from Microsoft before it worked. But the instructions are pretty clear if you speak even pidgeon-geek. Give it a try!*

*But if it breaks your machine (heh-heh), you didn’t hear about it from me!

If It’s Not Writers, It’s Lawyers

Maybe it’s lawyers I should fume about instead. Another story in the Globe reveals that a small number of lawyers steal an astounding amount of money from their clients. (You have to register with boston.com to read the linked article.)

In fact, to quote the Globe online: “Every state has a fund that reimburses people victimized by lawyers, and for each of the past five years approximately $25 million stolen by attorneys nationwide has been reimbursed, according to the American Bar Association….”

Is that cool or what? Theft by lawyers is recognized as a big enough problem that every state maintains a fund to reimburse people who have been ripped off by their attorneys. Oh yeah.

Teenagers Today!

We got some books about what makes teenagers tick. (I also got one for the girls about how to deal with the parents of teenagers: Yes, Your Parents Are Crazy!) The one I’m enjoying most right now is Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? It’s very funny and very truthful. But my favorite quote is from Why Do They Act That Way? Here it is:

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

The author?

—Socrates, 5th Century, B.C.

Links: Conspiracy Theories, and Others

But before I do that, let me take a moment to wish everyone a happy Palm Sunday, what little remains of it (at least in my time zone).

Oops—between my starting with that sentence and getting back to the computer to write this one, midnight has passed and we’re well into the next day. (Sigh.)

So I’ve been collecting interesting links that people have sent me. This first one is fun, especially if you wonder whether the FBI is tracking your use of the web (be careful what you say, and move your mouse quickly):
http://users.chartertn.net/tonytemplin/FBI_eyes/

If you’re really into conspiracy theories, this one about 9/11 is plenty chilling at first viewing. Given the amount of propaganda we’re exposed to on a daily basis, it’s an interesting exercise to look at this kind of thing and assess its truthfulness (if possible). Here’s the flash presentation: http://www.pentagonstrike.co.uk/flash.htm#Main

And after you’ve thought that over a little bit, here’s an analysis of the claim by snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/rumors/pentagon.htm.

And some more responses: http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blflight77.htm and
http://paulboutin.weblogger.com/2002/03/14

But enough of the conspiracies already! Here’s a really constructive video—literally—showing How to Build an Airbus 380. (It’s about 7 minutes long, and well worth it.)

President Bush is an Alien

Or controlled by one. That seems the best explanation, to me.

I just finished reading an SF novel by Timothy Zahn called, Night Train to Rigel, an entertaining yarn about mystery and intrigue aboard an interstellar train. At the risk of giving away a teensy bit of the plot, I’ll reveal here that one aspect of the story involves alien mind control over important leaders. Not in itself a new idea, but it works well in the context.

It also works well in the context of puzzling out the bizarrely un-American behavior of our current administration (and here I’m using “American” in the good sense—that is, standing for peace, justice, and equal rights under the law). Now, some of you probably think I’m just harping on the same old thing, and I suppose there’s some truth to that. But not without reasons. The most recent two are the failure of Congress to haul White House officials up on the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, and the recent article in the New Yorker about high-level condoning of abuse and torture of prisoners. Garrison Keillor, writing on Salon.com, has efficiently summarized the gist of the article, or you can read the entire article in the Feb 27 issue of the New Yorker. I couldn’t find the article online, but there’s an interesting Q&A with the author of the article, Jane Mayer.

It’s more of the same, of course, always more of the same. And now, today, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, comes news that Bush is yet again trying open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, this time by putting it into the federal budget package. No matter how many times we knock this madness down, it keeps popping up again like a weeble.

So I’m almost right there with Garrison Keillor—there’s more than enough reason to impeach the sonofabitch. Except…that would leave Dick Cheney in charge. And he’s the head alien pod-person. So I guess the only hope is to go after the aliens themselves, before they take control of more of us.

Before they…ohno they’re coming after mew#$f^zzzzzzzzzzz…….what’s that buzzing in my ear…?

What was I saying? Oh, I remember now. I like our president….

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

In case you haven’t heard, this is National Novel Writing Month. A group called NaNoWriMo.org exists to spur people on to write their long-delayed novels in just one month—this month—during National Novel Writing Month (which is really an international month, but never mind the nitpicks). The idea is to encourage people to run amok with their imaginations and write write write—full speed ahead, and damn the quality. I think it’s a great idea. If you’re a frustrated writer, check out their site.

Oh—today is NaBaUpYoNoDa—National Back Up Your Novel Day. “Know that your computer has been waiting a long time to get revenge for that half can of Diet Coke you dumped all over it last year.”

The Bad

The U.S. Senate has voted to allow drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, despite widespread public opposition. What’s this mean? It means that if the energy package isn’t stopped or changed in the House, the Congress will have voted to permit the despoiling of a great untouched wilderness area, with attendant harm to wildlife, all for the sake of a minor addition to our oil supply. It’s a fraud, though. The oil will be only a drop in the bucket compared to what we use, and despite the crowing in some parts about it being a movement toward energy independence, it’s nothing of the kind. It’s a Halloween handout to the oil companies. If we really want to move toward energy independence, we’ll start emphasizing conservation and efficiency, which will save us far more oil than this plan will give us.

Unfortunately, the current administration doesn’t give a damn about conservation, and doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything except making the wealthy oil companies even wealthier. If you agree with me, now’s the time to contact your U.S. Representative and urge him/her to stop the drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

See the National Resources Defense Council web site for more information. Or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Ugly

Okay, I don’t have an ugly. But I do have a weird, an unexpected, a pleasant shock. Last night I did a routine check of the web counter on my SF course, writesf.com. I’ve come to expect a daily increase of one or two hundred on the welcome page, less on the following pages. Well, last night I found the count up by over 5000 hits. Why? Well, I submitted a note about it to a site called BoingBoing.net, and they ran a short item about it. Just a quick mention, in a long list of notes. I guess a lot of people read BoingBoing.net, because when I checked the logs, I found that was exactly where a huge percentage of the hits had come from. Whoa. Today, it was down to a mere 2000 or so. I presume it will taper off back toward normality in a little while.

Freaky, though. I hope some of those visitors find it useful.

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