Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SkyePuppy Predicts 2009

I've done yearly recaps before, so this year I thought I'd venture really far out on a very tiny limb and take a shot at predicting the future. Just in case you were wondering, this is not one of my strong suits. It's not even a weak suit, but I'm not going to let that stop me. Here are 9 predictions for 2009:

The hardest prediction is whether or not all the lawsuits challenging Obama to prove his natural-born citizenship will hit paydirt and keep him out of the presidency.

I predict that Barack Obama will be sworn in and be allowed to remain our President for the full term.

I predict that VP Joe Biden, when first allowed out in public, will say something really stupid that will embarrass President Obama, whereupon Biden will be kept under wraps for the six months following The Incident.

I predict that terrorists and/or rogue Islamofanatic states will test Obama's mettle with an attack against America or her interests. Yes, I know Joe Biden predicted this during the campaign, but it's the one thing he said that I believe is right.

I predict that Obama's response to the mettle-testing will be some wussified action.

I predict that Vladimir Putin's Russia will invade another of the former Soviet states with impunity.

I predict that it will be cold this winter.

I predict that it will be hot this summer.

I predict that the polar bears will not die off.

I predict that in 2009 I will get a day job that doesn't hurt my feet.

Now all that remains is to see if I'm any good at this.

Happy New Year!

Elderly Woman Puts Squeeze on Naked Intruder

Fox 12 News in Oregon reported today on how an elderly woman handled a naked intruder.

Ladies, if you ever find yourself in this situation, follow "Jennifer's" lead, and the naked man should flee.

"Gunman" Shoots 2 Israelis in Denmark

The AP reported today on a shooting in Denmark.

A gunman shot and wounded two Israelis working at a packed central Denmark shopping mall Wednesday, police said.

Police spokesman Lars Thede said it was not immediately clear whether the Israelis were targeted because of their nationality. A video surveillance camera showed a swarthy man with a dark mustache and dark hair in his mid-20s pulling out a gun before opening fire.

"A gunman... swarthy." Nice, specific description.

"... not immediately clear whether the Israelis were targeted because of their nationality." Oh yeah? Is that right?

The men, who were selling hair care products, had been harassed by a group of youths in recent days, Denmark's Ritzau news agency said. The nature of the harassment was not immediately known. According to the B.T. newspaper's Web site, a man shouted something in a Middle Eastern language and opened fire.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just your average, run-of-the-mill Jew-shooting. Move along.

It's disgusting.

For Christina

These are my boots that I've worn at the shoe store.

I also have them in dark brown. Love them!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tolerating Tolerance

I spotted this over at Malott's Blog today, and couldn't resist.

I think this guy has the "tolerance" mindset down pat.

Feeling 90

Yes, that's how old I feel after a full-day shift at the shoe store. And I walk like it, too. Sunday, I only worked for 4 hours, and I felt 70. So young!

I take multiple pairs of shoes to work, so I can switch. My slip-on (backless) boots have cushioned insoles, so they're comfortable for a while, and then the balls of my feet start feeling like they're building a hot spot, so I switch to another flatter pair. I have some decorated ballet flats, but they don't have any cushioning, so after a couple hours in them, my heels get that pounded-with-boards feeling.

I'd wear comfortable shoes, but this is a SHOE STORE, and most industrial-strength comfortable shoes are ugly. Not at all the thing to wear when you're trying to convey trust to customers in your sense of shoe fashion.

On my first long day at work, I bought a pair of comfortable-but-stylish shoes that we sell (employee discount), but those started rubbing my achilles tendon, and I had to resort to band-aids.

A couple days ago, I bought a pair of Dr. Scholl's gel inserts, since they worked so well for my mom on our trip, and I put them inside the decorated ballet flats. But that lifted my feet just high enough that the backs of those shoes now rub on my achilles tendon, and my band-aids weren't quite in the right spot, so now I have a hefty blister on my right heel. At the end of my shift, I put on my open-back slippers, which I had brought to work for driving home in, and wore them around the mall and out to my car. I didn't care how silly I looked.

Today was my day off. I put a couple band-aids over the blister and wore socks and sneakers. Nothing stylish or painful for me today, thank you. I even walked like a normal person my age!

For my feet and achey leg joints, this job is going to be one of sheer endurance. But for the rest of me, it's great. I get to talk to people and help them find the right shoes (or commiserate with them when the right ones aren't there in their size). I learned a little more Spanish, when I asked a co-worker how I can say, "May I help you?" It's, "¿Necesito ayudo?" Or is it, "¿Necesita ayuda?" I don't know. I'll have to ask again. I'll also have to ask how to say, "I don't know." Every time I try to think of it in Spanish, I get the Polish instead: "Nie wiem." It's a serious gap in my Spanish education.

But there was one family of women that came to check out (I'm now getting my first cash-handling experience since I sold milk on the sixth grade lunch court and had to balance my cash box), and when I told them their total was $19.69, I heard one of the younger ones tell the older one, "... dix-neuf...." It was strange to hear French from them, because they looked Asian but not quite Philippino, so I asked where they were from, and they said, "Tahiti." I've been there!

I got to use my rusty French on them for a few minutes and also count back the change ("trente-et-un cents"). The younger one told me I retained my French very well, which made me feel good. Finally! A chance to have my schoolgirl foreign language be useful in a normal setting.

I got so used to greeting customers with a variation of, "What can I help you find today?" that on Christmas Eve, when I was walking through the mall after my shift, I saw a father and his little son come in through one of the main mall entrances, and I almost walked up to them and asked them that question. But I stopped myself in time, before I said anything inappropriate.

So that's what I've been up to and why I haven't been blogging much. It's hard to do anything when I get home besides sit down and put my feet up and take my glucosamine. Besides, everybody knows 90-year-olds don't blog...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt, R.I.P

Eartha Kitt passed away today after battling colon cancer. Such a shame!

I first saw her on the Batman TV series, where she played Catwoman. Most of the men I know think that Julie Newmar was the best Catwoman. Yes, she was hot, but Eartha Kitt was absolutely and completely feline. Julie Newmar didn't hold a candle to Eartha Kitt's Catwoman, and don't try to argue with me, because you won't win.

This is a 1962 performance of her singing her hit song, "C'est si Bon." After watching her, it comes as no surprise that she would have been chosen to be Catwoman on the Batman TV series.

My daughter bought "the llama movie," The Emperor's New Groove, when it came out on DVD, and I was delighted to hear Eartha Kitt as Yzma, the evil villain woman. She seemed to enjoy the role immensely. It was good to see that she was still working and not hiding away the way some actresses have done as they aged.

In the end--outside of faith--what counts is that a person can find joy in bringing joy to others. Eartha Kitt appears to have done just that. She will be missed.

Wikipedia's entry for Eartha Kitt.

Niki D'Andrea's review of Eartha Kitt's live performance this past May in Phoenix (this review is where I found the C'est si Bon video).

A Merry Christmas

I've been feeling some (self-imposed) pressure to post pictures of my Christmas tree, after Bekah the Christmas tree extremist and Christina the normal person with only one tree posted pictures of theirs. The problem is that I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum as Bekah.

I didn't get a real Christmas tree this year, since I have a table-top fake tree with bendable wire branches and pre-loaded white lights. But I wasn't sure if the tree was in the black-widow-infested shed or in the storage unit, and I was too busy (or too intimidated by the prospect of black widows) to go looking for it.

I started my shoe store job this past Sunday, at which time I discovered that if you're on your feet all day for hours at a time with only a 45-minute break for lunch, your feet end the day feeling as though they've been pounded on the bottom with boards. It makes you want to sit and put your feet up, not venture outside to face vermin while you're armed only with a broom.

My job itself is fun (if I'm not thinking about my feet). It's the kind of work that someone with OCD tendencies can excel at, and I've confirmed that I have a mild case of it. When I'm not helping customers find shoes or telling them about our sale, my task is to straighten out the shoes. They're displayed in boxes. The left shoe needs to be turned with the sole against the left side of the box, and the right shoe should ideally be on the right with the top of the shoe showing (if it fits that way) and the toe pointed toward the floor. That way, the customer can easily see what the shoe looks like.

But customers take the shoes out of the boxes to look at them or try them on, and when they (hopefully) put them back, they don't do it the right way. That's OK, though, because I've been reminded of my late mother-in-law's philosophy of Christmas gift giving: She had fun shopping for us, and then we could take the receipt to the store and get what we really liked. Everybody would win that way. So at the store, the customers get to shop to their heart's content, and then I'll straighten up the boxes when they've finished. It's all good.

Until I finish my shift and don't know how I can make my feet walk me out to my car. They do, but as I mentioned, there's nothing left for finding the tree.

There was one year, when the kids were in their early teens, when I waited just a day too long to buy a real tree. The trees had been in the lot one day, and then they were gone when I showed up to buy one. So I took the fake ficus tree (made with real wood trunks) downstairs, and we hung ornaments on it and put the presents around it.

Another year, when it was their dad's turn to have them for Christmas, I didn't even buy a tree. When they came back to my house and we exchanged gifts, I draped a tablecloth over the foos-ball table in the dining room, and we put the presents on the floor in front of it.

So my kids don't really expect much from me, and this year they weren't disappointed. This was our Christmas tree:

The blue pot in the middle, with the red bow on it, is a real tree. It's just not very big. Its (his) name is Sammy Seed-sa, and he's our avocado seed that sprouted. He had a central stem and root, but I broke the end of the root off one time when I was giving him fresh water, and the tip of the stem withered. Then some of the other nubs in the core of the seed sprouted upward, while the root got about a dozen new shoots, and when he seemed strong enough with four burgeoning "trunks," my daughter planted Sammy in a new pot.

You can't get much less of a Christmas tree than this without dispensing of the whole tree idea entirely. But we liked our festive Sammy just the same.

After our ham dinner, the three of us (my daughter, my son, and I) spent the evening playing Mexican Train Dominos. It couldn't have been better, even with a genuine Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Music Site

Hugh Hewitt, as any of his regular radio show listeners can attest, cannot be trusted to know about music (or movies, but that's another subject). When he isn't busy hosting his evening radio show, he teaches Constitutional Law at a California university law school and works as an attorney specializing in Endangered Species Act litigation (on the side of property owners).

None of that says, "Music."

But one thing Hugh likes to do is help other people find success. In that vein, he has started a music website,, which provides a vehicle for independent artists to have their music heard.

Not being much more musical than Hugh is, I have no songs to contribute to the site, but I love to listen. The "Charts" (actually one chart, as near as I can tell) list the popularity of the songs, and whichever song is in the number 1 position during Hugh's Friday radio show gets played in its entirety on the air nationwide. Sometime Friday night, they reset the charts for the following week.

A lot of the bands are Christian. A lot of them aren't. The last couple weeks, The Neighborhood Bullys have had many of their songs near the top of the charts, though they're too "Rock" for my taste. I think they're more of a guys' band.

Here are some of the songs I like, though I don't necessarily like all the songs by these artists:

For Country fans, I have two choices:

Perry L Nunley's Redneck Date is good fun.

Paul Evans' Endlessly is a sad, haunting song for the heartbroken.

If you're looking for female vocalists, here's a variety:

Rebecca Elliott's Lullabye was written for an organization helping orphanages in Ukraine. It's piano and vocals.

Lynne Timmes' I Travel Light is contemporary pop. Her voice reminds me of someone I can't quite put my finger on right now.

Lara Swinarton's So I Can Breathe is different from the kind of music I usually listen to, but it's grown on me.

For contemporary Christian rock try these:

The Reel's Come Alive rocks without being too heavy.

The J Band's Take Our Turn is a catchy, fun song. I love it. Unfortunately, this song doesn't come up on the list of "other songs by this artist" when you're playing one of their other songs, but you can find it on the artist's page.

The Great Upset's Omega is my favorite song on This song has an intriguing atmosphere and harmonies that blend into the instruments.

I also like The Great Upset's I Had My Reasons. This song is quieter--more acoustic--than the others, and I really like the vocals.

So that's my introduction for you to, and I invite you to visit. They have a Search box, where you can search by Genre, by Artist (but if you're new to the site, you have no idea who the artists are), and by "Sounds Like." Plus you can let them give you random songs (that's how I found some of these songs), or just go through the charts and listen to what other people like.

Hugh Hewitt, you had a great idea this time.

Christmas Tidings

I saw this when I was visiting Tsofah's blog this morning. It should become a classic. (Note: replaced it with another version after the original disappeared from YouTube. This one works for now (12/22).)

And in other Christmas news, I had to stop at the mall today. Yes, the Saturday before Christmas!

My daughter's friend (she's my friend too, but by saying she's my daughter's friend, it places her age better), the one who had boyfriend trouble (they broke up this summer) and dog trouble, is staying with us now. She had been at her mom's house, but that wasn't working out very well, so I let her move back in here.

She has a job at one of the shoe stores in the mall, and she was headed for the bus stop to go to work, when she called me to say she missed the bus. She got caught at a red light, and the bus left the stop just as the light turned green for her. So I drove over to pick her up and take her to work. On the way to the bus stop, I was behind another bus (not hers), and a car-carrier semi was in the lane next to me. Normally I can squeeze around a stopped bus, but the car-carrier decided to move over into my lane right at that moment, and I decided stopping was the better part of valor. He pulled back into his own lane just before he side-swiped me.

At our mall, one of the anchor stores has been empty for a few years. It used to be a May Company that became a Robinsons-May that got bought out by Macy's that already had two stores (one for men's clothes and housewares, and the other for women's clothes) in our mall, so the store became a gaping hole at one end of the mall, surrounded by oodles of empty parking. The bottom floor of that store was used as a furniture store for a while, but they went out of business. Now it's used every October as a Halloween costume store that blows away on the wind as soon as soon as November comes around.

Today, there was a line to get into the mall parking entrance closest to the shoe store, which took me past the empty department store, and people were even parked around that store. I crept my way to the drop-off place, let our friend out, and headed over to the exit where I had come in. But it was clear that I wouldn't get out that way anytime soon. I cut across some empty parking spots at the far end of the empty store's parking area, and drove back along the mall to the other (occupied) end. It took a while, with frequent stops to let shoppers cross ahead of me, but I made it to the road that leads away from the mall and back to the freeway home.

I had meant to go to the shoe store with my friend to find out my work hours for this week that starts tomorrow. Yes, I will be temporarily gainfully employed at the shoe store through the first week of January, or until they don't need me anymore.

I'd already met my friend's boss, and we liked each other just fine. A few weeks ago, when they had three openings there (it helps to have an inside source), I applied and filled out their computer "no wrong answer" test that has questions like, "Have you ever stolen anything?" and, "Have you ever taken your employer's property home because they don't pay you enough, so you deserve it?" Ummm.... Let me think...

But there was a computer glitch that very week that lost the notification from headquarters to the store about the results of my "no wrong answer" test, so I didn't get hired then.

But my friend kept telling her boss she should hire me and that I indeed wanted the job, so yesterday I got a call from the boss informing me that someone flaked out on them and would I be interested? Yes, I would. So she got my identifying information and re-entered it, so that this morning my "no wrong answer" test results would be sent back to the store. She needed to know my previous plans for the week, so she knew when to schedule me. I stopped at the store yesterday (parking nightmare, but not as bad as today) and went over my plans with her(church Sunday morning, haircut Monday evening). I told her I wanted Christmas off, and she said they were closed, and I said, "I know."

So that's why I even vaguely considered looking for a parking spot today: because I prefer face-to-face conversations to phone calls. But given the parking situation, I decided to just go home and wait for her to call me. Which she did. I'll be working about 30 - 35 hours this week making actual income.

Who'da thought? Me, the mall, and Christmas week, all at the same time. Amazing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cheating and the Cheating Cheats Who Do It

Ann Coulter is in fine form in her column this week.

It's bad enough that the Republican Party can't prevent Democrats from voting in its primaries and saddling us with The New York Times' favorite Republican as our presidential nominee. If the Republican Party can't protect an election won by the incumbent U.S. senator in Minnesota, there is no point in donating to the Republican Party.

The day after the November election, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman had won his re-election to the U.S. Senate, beating challenger Al Franken by 725 votes.

Then one heavily Democratic town miraculously discovered 100 missing ballots. And, in another marvel, they were all for Al Franken! It was like a completely evil version of a Christmas miracle.

As strange as it was that all 100 post-election, "discovered" ballots would be for one candidate, it was even stranger that the official time stamp for the miracle ballots printed out by the voting machine on the miracle ballots showed that the votes had been cast on Nov. 2 -- two days before the election.

Those votes were accepted as valid.

Then another 400-odd statistically improbable "corrections" were made in other Democratic strongholds until -- by the end of election week -- Coleman's lead had been whittled down to a mere 215 votes.

The counting isn't over in Minnesota yet, and it won't be until the Democrats in charge of the elections can make the votes come out on Franken's side. The instant that happens, the election will be declared certified and Franken will be the winner.

Surely I jest, right?

Coulter describes other examples of Democrats doing the same or worse. There are even two cases where the Democrat-controlled Congress (the Senate in 1974 and the House in 1984) refused to accept the certified results that gave the election to Republicans and overturned the election in favor of the Democratic candidate.

So don't be surprised when, despite Norm Coleman's 725-vote win on election day, Al Franken jets off to Washington DC to take the Minnesota Senate seat. It won't be fair, but that's what cheating cheaters do.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For the Ladies

I was hanging out at Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago, and as I often do, I took a look at what the guy next to me was reading. I asked him about it, and he recommended that I read it. He said a woman at the bookstore told him about it. The book is The Gift of Fear.

The title comes from the kind of fear that's a gift because it protects you from harm.

The man told me (from the book) about how bad guys will persistently refuse to accept "no" from a woman as a way of testing her to see if she will give in. If she does, he wins and she's under his control. And I recalled a time a man came up to a friend and me and kept pressing my friend to go to an event he was going to. As I watched, I had the feeling that he was a predator who sensed weakness in her and exploited it. She later backed out of the event and didn't go.

This morning when I was at the library I checked out the book. It opens with the story of what happened to a woman who ignored her fear-driven intuition and then how she saved her life by paying attention to it. The author, Gavin de Becker, describes each of the warning signs she ignored, and he discusses the ways we show (usually in retrospect) that we knew all along there was trouble coming.

He admits that men often don't understand women's fears:

I have a message for women who feel forced to defend their safety concerns: tell Mister I-Know-Everything-About-Danger that he has nothing to contribute to the topic of your personal safety. Tell him that your survival instinct is a gift from nature that knows a lot more about your safety than he does.

[M]en and women live in different worlds. At core, men are afraid women wil laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.

There's more in the book than just this. It talks about avoiding workplace violence and about violent children and other issues. It can be enough to make you afraid to go outside your house.

But after talking, over the last several years, with young women my daughter's age, I've found myself telling them to trust their instincts about men and the situations they find themselves in. They get a bad feeling about someone and then let logic talk them out of getting the heck out of there. And it's not just young women. People of any age are at risk of ignoring what their intuition (men, please read, "gut") tells them to do.

In spite of the chance that this book could raise your level of alarm, it has valuable information that could save your life or your well-being. I recommend it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Poetic Justice

I went to summer school right after seventh grade, my first year in Junior High. It wasn't to make up any classes, but to take a couple extras that have turned out to be just about the best classes I've taken.

I didn't go to summer school very often. I think I went after fifth grade, when I took some sort of craft class and learned how to embroider. That was nice to learn, but it didn't lead me to any kind of greatness.

My seventh grade summer school classes were: How to Study, and Typing. The studying class didn't turn out the way I expected. It wasn't about managing your time, rather it taught us the tools that were available to help us. We learned the Dewey Decimal System and how to use the card catalog at the library to find books that would be our resources when we wrote papers. We learned about the Periodical Index for looking up articles in magazines. And they took us to the library to practice.

They also told us some helpful tips on how to improve our odds when we're taking tests: how to know whether you're better off guessing or leaving a question blank, and if you should guess, how to have a better chance of guessing right. For essay questions, they advised us to organize our answers well--the typical "Say what you're going to say, say it, then say what you said" approach to writing an essay. Our teacher said that sometimes, even when you don't know what you're talking about, when your answer is structured well, they think you must have it right and you get a better score. I remembered that tip.

We even had an assignment in that class to "buy" three stocks and track their progress over the course of the class. Since summer was just getting started, I bought Coke, figuring the demand would only go up by August, and I bought Gerber, because babies always need to eat. I don't remember my third stock, but by the end of class I had made a bit of money on my "investments."

I haven't done much with the stock market, in terms of buying individual stocks, but the rest of the studying class has done well for me, with all the research papers I had to write all through school and especially while I was getting my degree.

The typing class gave me a head start over a lot of the other kids, who didn't take Typing until ninth grade. But I didn't get very fast, since I didn't type every day.

My poor mother, who is a very light sleeper, was subjected to much misery when I was in high school. I'd write my essays and term papers long-hand on the day before it was due, and then I'd start typing on the electric typewriter: CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! DING!

By one or two in the morning, my mom would come down the hall in her nightgown and bathrobe, shoo me away from the typewriter, and start typing at about double my speed or more. She said that if she typed it, she'd get to sleep a lot faster than if she let me keep plugging away (with proper form) at my pitiful speed.

Eventually, I got married, moved to California, and had to do all my typing for myself. And after I started working in the computer industry and writing romance novels and short stories in my spare time, my typing speed improved to the point that my mom would have been able to stay in bed if I'd typed that fast in high school.

This week, though, the shoe is on the other foot. My daughter's English final set of assignments is due no later than 6:00 tonight, and as she optimistically described what she had to do and how long she expected each one to take, I could see some serious disappointment written on the wall.

One of her assignments was to type up her structured journal assignments from about a dozen essays she had to read this semester. It was already written out long-hand, and I couldn't see how she'd have time to finish the rest of her papers and the journal in time. So I suggested that I could type up her journal while she worked on her research paper. It wasn't cheating, just like it hadn't been cheating when my mom typed up my papers way back when.

She had some of it started, so last night I picked up where she left off, and the two of us worked until three in the morning, got up at 8:00, and started working again. We both finished around 4:00pm and fought with the printer a bit, but we got her work printed, and she's off to turn it all in at school before the deadline.

My wrists ache.

Mom, this is for you! Thank you for all the typing you did for me. I guess it's my turn now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adam Walsh Murder Solved

The AP reported today that the Adam Walsh murder has officially been solved.

A serial killer who died more than a decade ago is the person who decapitated the 6-year-old son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh in 1981, police in Florida said Tuesday. The announcement brought to a close a case that has vexed the Walsh family for more than two decades, launched the television show about the nation's most notorious criminals and inspired changes in how authorities search for missing children.

"Who could take a 6-year-old and murder and decapitate him? Who?" an emotional John Walsh said at Tuesday's news conference. "We needed to know. We needed to know. And today we know. The not knowing has been a torture, but that journey's over."

Police named Ottis Toole, saying he was long the prime suspect in the case and that they had conclusively linked him to the killing. They declined to be specific about their evidence and did not note any DNA proof of the crime, but said an extensive review of the case file pointed only to Toole, as John Walsh long contended.

Adam's death, and his father's activism on his behalf, helped put faces on milk cartons, shopping bags and mailbox flyers, started fingerprinting programs and increased security at schools and stores. It spurred the creation of missing persons units at every large police department.

This gives closure--finally--to John and Reve Walsh.

NASA Stuff

Mon cher Paw sent me the link to this video over at Open Culture. The notes say, "Astronaut Don Pettit created this remarkable video of the aurora borealis (otherwise known as The Northern Lights)... by stitching together a large sequence of still images that he took from space." The thing in the upper left is part of the International Space Station.

But as cool as that is, NASA informed me today that there's "a giant breach in Earth's magnetic field." I find this alarming. At least I think I would, if I were sure I understood what they're saying.

NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to "load up" the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms.

Not knowing if "powerful geomagnetic storms" are a problem, I looked it up and found this description:

"A G4 [second highest rating on NOAA scale] geomagnetic storm can affect power systems with possible widespread voltage control problems, and some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid. Spacecraft operations may experience surface charging and tracking problems, which may require corrections for orientation problems. Other systems affected include satellite navigation, which may be degraded for hours, and low-frequency radio navigation can also be disrupted."

OK. That sounds like a bad thing. Back to NASA:

But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.

"At first I didn't believe it," says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction."

The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds Earth and protects us from solar wind.

The big discovery came on June 3, 2007, when the five probes serendipitously flew through the breach just as it was opening. Onboard sensors recorded a torrent of solar wind particles streaming into the magnetosphere, signaling an event of unexpected size and importance.

"The opening was huge—four times wider than Earth itself," says Wenhui Li, a space physicist at the University of New Hampshire who has been analyzing the data.

The event began with little warning when a gentle gust of solar wind delivered a bundle of magnetic fields from the Sun to Earth. Like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a big clam, solar magnetic fields draped themselves around the magnetosphere and cracked it open. The cracking was accomplished by means of a process called "magnetic reconnection." High above Earth's poles, solar and terrestrial magnetic fields linked up (reconnected) to form conduits for solar wind. Conduits over the Arctic and Antarctic quickly expanded; within minutes they overlapped over Earth's equator to create the biggest magnetic breach ever recorded by Earth-orbiting spacecraft.

I understand octopus tentacles around a big clam. It's the part about north-pointing and south-pointing magnetic fields, later in the article, that started to lose me. But they summed things up pretty well.

The years ahead could be especially lively.

Is "lively" meant in the same way that Mel Gibson's character, Lt. Col. Moore, in We Were Soldiers said things were getting "sporty" when they were being all shot to heck?

Raeder explains: "We're entering Solar Cycle 24. For reasons not fully understood, CMEs in even-numbered solar cycles (like 24) tend to hit Earth with a leading edge that is magnetized north. Such a CME should open a breach and load the magnetosphere with plasma just before the storm gets underway. It's the perfect sequence for a really big event."

Sibeck agrees. "This could result in stronger geomagnetic storms than we have seen in many years."

Oh, great. For some reason, though, the NASA types don't seem to be alarmed by this. They're such geeks, getting excited about all the new things they're learning, when these geomagnetic storms risk affecting the power grid and satellite systems.

The good news from this discovery is that we can probably expect more appearances of the Northern Lights.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not Spilling the Beans

This is hard. I'm so excited, because I have the perfect Christmas present for my mom and sister and brother. But I can't blog about it, because then they'd know what they're getting.

Man, I hate having to keep my mouth shut!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Done With School for Now

My Medical Assistant (Front Office) class (mentioned here, here, and here) ended today with a potluck and the awarding of certificates. There were a few special certificates.

The Happy Face Award went to the lady in the next row over who, even with her foot in one of those ugly medical boots because of tendon troubles, had an endlessly sunny disposition. Yes, sunnier than mine!

The Team Player Award went to two people, one on each half of the room. It wasn't intended to be a this-half/that-half kind of award. It just worked out that there was a helper on each side. I was one of the Team Players!

After class, I hung around to ask our Fearless Leader a couple questions, and then I got to talking to one of the ladies who had arrived for the next class. I asked her what she brought to her potluck, and she said Venetian Bread, which is a rolled-up pizza that looked like a regular loaf of fresh-baked bread.

I gave her my email address so she could send me the recipe, and she asked about what class I was finishing. During the course of our conversation she said she's a nurse working at a dermatologist's office, and they hire Medical Assistants who can do both front and back office work. I suggested that if they wanted a front-office-only assistant who could free up the other assistants to do more back-office work, I'm there for them, and she seemed to think that could be a good idea. And while I was saying that, my teacher (who was behind the nurse) gave me a thumbs-up signal. I'm encouraged.

Then when I got home later in the afternoon, there was a new message on my answering machine (no, it couldn't have been the nurse, because I didn't give her my phone number). It was the city calling to ask me if I might want to come in and interview for a job I interviewed for back in August. They have another opening, and I had the second highest score on the exam from before. I'll call them tomorrow and say yes.

I hadn't been looking very hard for a job while I was in school, because it was a day class, and a temp day job would interfere. But now that it's over, I'll be looking everywhere I can think of, medical or not. We'll have to wait and see who wins the prize of being able to hire the Team Player Award winner for Teams 2 - 4.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Progress in Malawi

I have a World Vision child in Malawi. She was born the day after 9/11.

Recently I got a letter from the World Vision director in my girl's area, telling me about the progress there:

Through your financial contribution, deep wells fitted with pumps have been drilled in [the area]. Generally, the people of [the area] are able to access clean and safe water through these deep wells. In the past, they used to draw their drinking water from unprotected wells and rivers. Due to this intervention, incidences of diarrhea and cholera diseases have been greatly reduced. While in the past families were spending more time nursing diarrhea and cholera patients, families are now spending this time on productive and development activities. As most families are able to access clean water within reach, less time is spent on drawing water.

The ADP [Area Development Program] has also constructed school blocks in the area through your sponsorship contribution. As a result, school enrolment for boys and girls has increased. The school drop out has reduced. Boys and girls are now motivated to attend school because they are now learning in a decent environment. Most adults that never had the privilege of going to school when they were young, are now able to read and write as a result of attending the adult literacy classes that the program introduced in the area. Members of this community, are always thanking you in absentia for changing their living conditions and giving them hope in life.

Once again, I wish to thank you for your continued support and I would like to assure you that we will continue to use the financial assistance to address the real development needs of the children and the entire community, to the Glory of God.

I know I can't be the only person helping out in my little girl's community. There must be plenty of others. It sure is good, though, to read about all the changes they're making because enough people cared to help, to the Glory of God.

Next, when I get a job and pay off my bills, I plan on sponsoring a boy in Zimbabwe. I found out not long ago that World Vision has sponsorships available there too. I hope they'll be able to save some communities amidst the destruction of that country by its usurping "leader," the evil Robert Mugabe.

Collapse in Zimbabwe

Just when you think things can't possibly get worse in Zimbabwe, they do. First, the least bad news:

The Economic Times (India) reported Saturday that Zimbabwe has to print ever-larger denominations of currency.

Inflation-wracked Zimbabwe plans to introduce a 200 million dollar note just days after a 100 million dollar note came into circulation, the government announced on Saturday.

The 200 million dollar note, announced in a notice in the government gazette, will bring to 28 the number of notes put into circulation by the central bank this year alone, as the country struggles with the world's highest inflation rate of 231 million percent.

On Thursday the central bank introduced 100 million, 50 million and 10 million dollar notes while at the same time increasing withdrawal limits for individuals and companies.

The 100 million dollar note is worth only about 14 US dollars, and its value erodes by the day.

Did you catch that inflation rate? 231 million percent.

Now for the really bad news.

The Telegraph (UK) reported Saturday that Zimbabwe is undergoing a cholera epidemic.

When cholera first began rampaging through Zimbabwe's impoverished towns and cities, Robert Mugabe's government tried to play down the epidemic. According to official figures, it has now killed almost 600 people, and this week, the authorities finally gave in and appealed for international help. Health minister David Parirenyatwa admitted: "Our central hospitals are literally not functioning."

But openness is not the norm for officials in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. At the Budiriro Polyclinic, in the high-density western suburbs, the fence has been covered in plastic sheeting to stop people seeing in. Outside the barrier, more than 50 relatives wait anxiously for news of their loved ones.

"No matter how much medicine they bring, they are not going to contain this cholera, because they are treating the symptoms rather than the disease," says Tongesai, a well-educated man in his mid-30s whose younger brother was admitted earlier in the day. "The cholera is coming from the water, which is contaminated. It is not the boreholes that are bringing in the contaminated water, but the water from the city. That water is now getting to the people without being treated, and that is how people get cholera. It is tantamount to drinking raw sewage." And this is why Mugabe's government bears ultimate responsibility for the suffering of its people.

It's not just cholera, however. The AP reported Monday that the entire health care system is collapsing.

Thousands of Zimbabweans are dying, uncounted and out of sight in a silent emergency as hospitals shut, clinics run out of drugs and most cannot afford private medical care, health groups say.

Even as deaths from a cholera epidemic climbed into the hundreds, international and local organizations say many more are dying needlessly in a disaster critics blame on President Robert Mugabe's government.

The toll will never be known, according to Itai Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health—a civil society network grouping 35 national organizations.

"Zimbabwe used to have one of the best surveillance systems in the region," Rusike said in a telephone interview. "But phones are not working, nurses are not there, so their information system has collapsed. ... It is very difficult to tell how many people have died."

"These are symptoms of a failed state," he said in a telephone interview. "Nothing is working."

The British charity Oxfam agreed with estimates of thousands of unreported deaths due to the collapse of the health system and says the situation will get worse with the onset of the rainy season, which lasts until February.

The Times Online (UK) reported Saturday on widespread famine in Zimbabwe.

Father Peter stopped his truck beside a cluster of thatched mud huts deep in the arid, baking bushland of western Zimbabwe. A stick-thin woman, barefoot and dressed in rags, approached with her two young children.

“Please. We’re desperate for food,” she told him, and lifted up her children’s filthy T-shirts. Their stomachs and belly buttons were grotesquely distended by kwashiorkor, a condition caused by severe malnutrition that just a few years ago was unheard of in this once bountiful country.

The woman said she and her family were living off nuts and berries, for which they spent hours foraging in the bush each day. She showed us where her husband had buried their eldest daughter, who had died two months ago aged 12 after eating berries that caused severe stomach pains and made her vomit. “This is madness – madness,” Father Peter, visibly upset, said.

Calls are coming for Mugabe's removal from power. From the Archbishop of York, from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But those calls haven't changed anything.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Two Questions

I got this in an email from my mom.

Life really boils down to two questions:

1. Do I get a dog?

2. Do I have children?

Of course, I noticed the obvious lack of question 3: Do I get a cat? Considering that the cats my then-husband and I had long ago totally shredded a couch and a rocking chair, I seriously suspect the creator of the email is involved in a cover-up for the feline species. And Google is in on the conspiracy as well, because I have been unable to find similar images with cats as the perpetrators. But I did find this:

In a forum, one reader asked for advice:

since there are so many animal lovers here on roadfood, i thought i'd ask for some advice.
my thoughtful boyfriend noticed i've been missing having a cat (my beloved Moonpie developed cancer, and i had to put her down 2 years ago). he brought me a beautiful female kitten from a neighbor's litter.... here's the problem: she bites and chews anything and everything! my limbs (her favorite), the couch, my magazines and library books, the window screens, my expensive mattress, etc.... i've had quite a few cats, and raised all of them from kittens, and never had this problem before. HELP! anyone out there have an aggressive, destructive cat who they successfully trained? thank you all...

The poor, beleaguered cat owner received the following reply:

I also have this problem only it's with my dog he chews and eats everything.... I can solve your cat problem ...send me your cat.

Watching TV

The weekend before the presidential election, I finally got around to canceling my cable TV service. With Project Runway over for good, there was no reason to continue paying for shows I never watched.

They said they'd schedule someone to disconnect my service, and I hoped they wouldn't do it before the election returns were in. So I continued to watch, knowing it was free. The election came and went, and still the TV channels kept showing up. But just as I was starting to think they had forgotten about me, since it was a week and a half after I called, while I was in the middle of watching Brit Hume's Special Report, the TV turned to snow. Before the Fox News All-Star segment of the show!

I resigned myself to TV silence.

Of course, we still had the DVD player and the VCR (whose remote control had collected a layer of dust), and that's the way I wanted it.

My daughter, however, is more enamored with television than her mother, so she started the TV remote at channel 2 and worked her way up the stations, only to discover that starting around channel 60, the snow started showing signs of movement. Channel 61 was a hazily watchable Cartoon Network, and Channel 62 was clear, as were 63 through 67 plus 70, and then the snow was back to stay.

That gave us cartoons, Country Music TV, SciFi, a Spanish channel that sometimes shows travel programs and other times shows really bad wrestling, the Food Network, a shopping channel, a music video channel, and CSPAN-2.

So, when I got bored, I turned on CMT and discovered the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader selection process as a reality show. They had a marathon leading up to nearly the last episode, and I followed the girls' trials and heartaches as they got cut. Some of the girls who were cut didn't dance well enough or kick high enough, one had some risque photos on her My Space page that could have embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader organization, and one had hips that were too well-rounded to look good in the DCC uniform. At long last, though, they had their team.

We got used to watching our limited number of shows, but then my daughter wanted to see if the TV remote could find more stations, so she hit the search button on the remote. Instead of finding more, it lost everything we had, and we were back to snow everywhere. So sad.

Back to movies again. Then at Sparks from the Anvil, Wordsmith posted a couple clips from the 1973 version of the Three Musketeers. Classic! I had that movie and the Four Musketeers, and those clips got me in the mood to watch the whole thing.

But it wasn't on my DVD rack. So I looked through the VHS tapes in the plastic boxes I hide under the coffee table. No Musketeers there either! In my distress, I was comforted by the VHS version of Harvey, so we loaded that into the VCR, dusted off the remote, and started watching.

It was getting late, and we were sleepy, so we stopped the movie. As soon as we did, the Food Network showed up on the TV! We flipped through the channels on the VCR remote and had the same set that we had after they turned off the cable.

So now we're back in business with a handful of free TV channels, only now we have to turn on the VCR, push play, then push stop in order for the TV to show up. Sometimes, like when it's that Redneck Wedding show or that scary guy on the Food Network, it's not worth the effort.

But you can be sure we won't be pushing the search button on the VCR remote.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Boy Terrorists in UK

Photo uncredited by the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail (UK) reported yesterday on a novel use of Great Britain's anti-terror laws.

They creep around in the dark spreading misery, rumour and secrets from inside Westminster.

Even so, paperboys and girls are hardly likely to pose a threat to national security.

One local council, however, thought it necessary to use swingeing anti-terror laws against them.

Cambridgeshire County Council used the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on eight paperboys thought to be working without permits.

It sent undercover council officers to lurk outside a Spar in the village of Melbourn and take notes on the movements of the boys.

The evidence was used in a criminal prosecution of the shop's owners for employing five of the boys without the correct documentation.

Cambridgeshire's approach is just the latest example of local authorities using the RIPA for minor misdemeanours.

The police motto there apparently is, "We spy on you because we can." It could happen here too.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

UAW Spends Money To Get Yours

This is disgusting. Amanda Carpenter reported today that the United Auto Workers (UAW) is planning ads in favor of the auto-maker bailout.

The United Auto Workers are among the biggest cheerleaders for the auto bailout. Their members say they must have the tax dollars in order to keep their jobs.

So how is it that the UAW has enough money to run TV ads for the bailout? UAW President Ron Gettlefinger said his union was going to start running advertisements in Maine, Kentucky, Indiana and Minnesota to "put a face" on the bailout and encourage Congress to pass it.

They should be too ashamed to even show their face over this. They'll be spending millions of dollars to try to convince you and me that we need to give our tax dollars to save their butts--because they don't have enough money.

The Big Three auto makers have cut their CEO salaries to $1 per year (Ford will do this if they take bailout money). What are the chances the UAW bosses will do the same and also give their political and other slush funds back to their members to allow for salary cuts to save jobs? Anyone?

I thought not. The unions don't really care about any jobs but their own. It's time to let the Big Three go into bankruptcy, reorganize, and come out without the UAW anvil hanging around their necks. Then maybe--just maybe--the American auto industry might have a chance to make a viable comeback.

No bailout for the Big Three, and especially not for the UAW!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Quote of the Day

Most people on the left are not opposed to freedom. They are just in favor of all sorts of things that are incompatible with freedom.

--- Thomas Sowell

He explains himself here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Outside Magazine

What's wrong with this picture?

I was at Barnes and Noble tonight, sitting in a cushy chair, sipping a cup of peppermint tea, and reading a book I brought with me. There's just something about being in an environment where I'm surrounded by books. I'm drawn to it.

The cushy chair I was in faced the sports section of the magazine rack, and this was the cover of Outside magazine. Its subscription website says, "Outside Magazine is dedicated to covering the people, activities, gear, art, and politics of the world outside. You get tips, reviews, articles and more. Plus, get your 13-Tool pocketknife and the twice a year Buyer Guides."

The world outside? Do they not know that Michael Phelps is an Inside kind of guy?

Friday, November 28, 2008

AQ's Zawhiri Full of Advice

Townhall reported today on al Qaeda's recently released video.

Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader appeared in a new video posted Friday calling on Americans to embrace Islam to overcome the financial meltdown, which he said was a consequence of the Sept. 11 attacks and militant strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ayman al-Zawahri, whose 80-minute recording touched on a number of subjects, also lashed out at Afghanistan's government and said any U.S. gains in Iraq will be temporary.

I absolutely love the way these guys believe they're omnipotent. They attacked us on September 11, 2001, and our economy suffered as a result. Then it recovered and did well for a few years, but now that the subprime mess hit the fan and threw the economy into a tailspin, Zawahri thinks he can take the credit for that. Unbelievable!

Oh, and he says the "militant strikes in Iraq" also hurt our economy. That could be indirectly true, if you look at the cost of conducting a war. Of course, he's ignoring the news that al Qaeda all but lost in Iraq. And Michael Yon says we've about won there, though General Petraus disagrees.

Zawahri continued:

"The modern economy has been destroyed by the strikes of the mujahedeen (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and usury," he said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.

Under Islamic Sharia law, usury, like drinking alcohol, is among the grand sins.

Just to clarify, the Arabic term for holy warriors is "mujahadeen" not "usury."

On the usury point, though, that's just a question of semantics. Janice at You Heard It Here... posted back in March about Islamic mortgages (the links to the equities company's info are now broken). They don't officially charge interest. Instead they have a little line item called, "profit," which is suspiciously the same amount as what the interest would be if it were a non-Islamic mortgage. So they profit off each other without calling it interest, and then it's not the sin of usury. And because we infidels in the West call it "interest," that's the reason our economy is on the skids. Oh yeah, Zawahri sure nailed us on that one!

After that, Zawahri devolved into saying bad things about President Bush, President-Elect Barack Obama, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the government of Egypt.

I hope don't care if he'll forgive me for not giving his diatribe the consideration he thinks it deserves.

Why I Don't Shop on Black Friday

Photo credit: Augustine for News

The New York Daily News reported today on a deadly stampede at Wal-Mart.

A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island store Friday morning, police and witnesses said.

The 34-year-old employee, a temporary maintenance worker, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him.

"He was bum-rushed by 200 people," said Jimmy Overby, 43, a co-worker. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too...I literally had to fight people off my back."

The unidentified victim was rushed to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:03 a.m., police said.

Shopping, even if it means getting a great deal, just isn't worth the risk.

Church Attacked in Germany

Der Spiegel reported today that a Frankfurt church was invaded yesterday.

Over the last several months, turmoil in the international economy has made Frankfurt on the Main, Europe's financial capital, a pretty scary place to live. Still, the city's Martinus Evangelical Church got a special shock on Thursday as a rampaging wild boar burst through a glass porch door and terrorized a group of 10 mothers eating breakfast with their young children.

Photo credit: DPA

The mothers, who dine regularly in the church as part of a "mini-club," were seated with their offspring, ages one to three, at small, appropriately-sized children's tables. At about 11 a.m., police reports indicate that a feral beast leapt into the room through a glass door, shattering its pane into hundreds of pieces. The boar then dashed frantically around the room before exiting through the very same portal from which it had made its violent entrance.

The mothers and children took cover by getting up on top of the tables and chairs, and although no one was hurt, all were visibly rattled when the police arrived later. According to the police report, the parish is providing "psychological support" for all those who need it.

Victims of the attack told police that the boar, suspected to be female, sustained injuries from crashing through the glass. After briefly running around the room, the wild sow ran back toward the cemetery, suggesting that she may have been just as frightened by the encounter as were the shaken members of the breakfast club.

If so, the boar was right to be concerned. Just minutes after the church-rampage, the driver of a police vehicle phoned headquarters to report that he had run over a wild sow on the near-by Schwanheimer bridge. The sow did not survive the collision, and the police believe it to be likely that the Jane Doe who perished in this second incident is in fact the self-same boar.

No doubt the boar was protesting for more gay rights in Germany.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo source: The Cat's Meow

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
---- Psalm 118:1

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Animal News

Photo credit: AP / Mike Parwana

The AP reported Friday about a surprising repair.

A monarch butterfly has a chance at completing its species' famed migration to central Mexico, thanks to some tiny cardboard splints, a bit of contact cement and a trucker from Alabama.

About three weeks ago, Jeannette Brandt was out for a bike ride in rural Hadley when she spied the injured butterfly and took it home in her emptied water bottle.

She and her partner, Mike Parwana, fed it rotting pears and water mixed with honey from bees they keep. The butterfly fattened but the question remained: What about the broken wing?

A search of the Internet turned up a nine-minute video demonstration posted by the Live Monarch Foundation, a nonprofit group from Boca Raton, Fla., on how to fix a broken butterfly wing. A little contact cement on the wing, some tiny cardboard splints, and the bruised butterfly was back in business.

"It was still weak. It was another week or so before it would fly," Parwana told the Post-Star newspaper of Glens Falls.

On Sunday, the couple took the healed monarch in a shoebox to Scotty's, a popular and busy truck stop about 55 kilometres north of Albany. Anybody looking for company on the trip south?

Eventually, a trucker from Alabama, on his way to Florida, raised his hand.

On Tuesday, the trucker called: The butterfly was loose in Florida with its mended wing.

Great news for the butterfly.

Now here's a chance for people who want to help the animal kingdom themselves. The Daily Mail (UK) reported today that British scientists are calling for volunteers to help with a census.

They might be slimy, slithery and wriggly - but according to Darwin, worms are one of the most important creatures on earth.

And with their habitats increasingly under threat, volunteers are being asked to help with an earthworm 'census'.

The £500,000 project will see amateur scientists pouring mustard - a mild irritant to worms - on their flowerbeds. They can then identify any disgruntled (but otherwise unharmed) specimens which surface.

The collated results will be used to shed light on one of Britain's most common, but also most poorly understood, creatures.

Organisers also hope to identify rare species which could be on the brink of extinction.

Oh, won't you help? If you can't help now, maybe you can help later.

A future Opal project will ask volunteers to look out for tar spot fungus on tree leaves and lichen to help monitor air pollution.

Mapping Genomes

The mapping of the human genome is old news by now. So what do genome mappers do when the project ends?

They map animals.

The AP reported May 8, 2008, that scientists have mapped the genome of the duck-billed platypus.

Scientists said they have mapped the genetic makeup of the platypus -- one of nature's strangest animals with a bill like a duck's, a mammal's fur and snake-like venom.

The research showed the animal's multifaceted features are reflected in its DNA with a mix of genes that crosses different classifications of animals, said Jenny Graves, an Australian National University genomics expert who co-wrote the paper.

"What we found was the genome, just like the animal, is an amazing amalgam of reptilian and mammal characteristics with quite a few unique platypus characteristics as well," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

More than 100 scientists from the United States, Australia, Japan and other nations took part in the research, using DNA collected from a female platypus named Glennie.

Their work adds to the growing list of animals whose genetic makeup has been unraveled.

Pretty impressive stuff.

I've always had a soft spot for the platypus (until I learned about the snake venom in the males), because they look so randomly glued together and because their name just sounds humorous. It's good to know they're as random on the inside as they are on the outside.

OK, so mapping the platypus is interesting, and it could be helpful, but the Canadian Press reported November 19, 2008, that scientists have mapped the wooly mammoth.

Scientists have sequenced much of the genome of the woolly mammoth, raising the tantalizing but remote possibility that one day the long-extinct mammal could be resurrected to again trudge through the Arctic snow.

The researchers at Penn State University extracted DNA from mammoth hair found frozen in the permafrost of Siberia, where the massive beasts once roamed up until about 10,000 years ago, before their species disappeared for good.

The ground-breaking work, published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, is the first time an extinct animal's genome has been decoded, and the first time DNA from an extinct animal was obtained solely from its hair.

The scientists have been able to sequence about 80 per cent of the behemoth's genome, comparing short snippets of DNA taken from the hair of 18 different animals entombed beneath the Siberian ice.

The research raises the notion that the ice age's woolly mammoth could be brought back to life, much as dinosaurs were resurrected in the film "Jurassic Park."

Theoretically, science could evolve to the point that researchers could one day put together genetic material that would approach the ancient creature's blueprint for life, using the yet-to-be sequenced genome of the modern elephant, the mammoth's closest biological relative.

One word: Why?

They've mapped the mammoth, but they haven't bothered with the elephant?

And they're actually talking about bringing back the mammoth. Where would they put these resurrected creatures? In the Arctic? Where global warming is supposedly melting their habitat and killing off the polar bear?

Would the scientists be upset if polar bears hunted down the presumably expensive mammoths and ate them for dinner?

It brings to mind a quote from Jurassic Park, when Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) said, "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."


More Cool Space Stuff

The Daily Mail (UK) reported today on the recent International Space Station repairs. The thing I find interesting is that the AP, AFP, and Reuters have copyright designations on the photos. Did they have photographers up there with the astronauts, taking those pictures? I'm presuming the photos came from NASA or another organization in charge of the ISS.

Captured against the stunning backdrop of infinite space, an astronaut floats precariously 225 miles above Earth as he tinkers with a greasy gummed-up joint.

On the 10th anniversary of the International Space Station, the mission specialist's every weightless movement is caught on camera as he carries out all-important repair works during one of four spacewalks.

NASA has been closely following the crew with a video camera ever since the Endeavour space shuttle lit up the night sky over Florida with a mighty roar.

The seven astronauts were launched beyond Earth on a mission penned as 'Extreme Home Improvements'. They were scheduled to complete a 12-day service of the International Space Centre's degraded joints and install a new water recycling system, kitchen fridge and gym equipment.

Coverage has been so intimate that even astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper could not escape the prying lens when she dropped her tool bag into space.

Endeavour is due back at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Sunday after 16 days in orbit.

NASA plans eight more flights to the station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations, before the shuttles are retired in 2010.

Nasa and Russia have been building the space station since 1998. Europe, Canada and Japan are also project participants.

There's more info in the article, and many more stunning photos.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Toxic Hazards to Pets

CNN reported today on pet dangers. They geared it for the holidays, but most of them are dangers all year long.

"Dogs and cats do not know what is bad for them," said Dr. Cynthia Gaskill, associate professor and veterinary clinical toxicologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "If there is medicine on the bathroom counter or food left on the table, that is irresistible to them."

And unless your houseguests are conscientious pet owners themselves, chances are they aren't aware that they may be creating a toxic environment for your pet. Gaskill says it is important to let guests know not to leave their medications in an open suitcase or otherwise exposed.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications can kill small animals.

Because metabolic systems vary between species, a drug that may alleviate pain in humans can easily induce a toxic reaction in a dog or cat. For example, ibuprofen ingested by a dog can cause gastrointestinal damage and kidney dysfunction. Cats are especially susceptible to even small amounts of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol); ingestion of just one tablet can result in anemia and potential liver damage.

"Dogs will eat almost anything," [Dr. Robin] Van Metre[, a veterinarian at the Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Colorado,] said, "and there is no such thing as a dog-proof cap."

Here are more things that can hurt your pet (emphasis added):

Typical holiday staples such as grapes and raisins have been shown to cause renal failure when ingested by dogs.

Although small amounts of onions and garlic are often used in pet foods and treats to add flavor, ingestion of large amounts can cause severe red blood cell damage; cats are especially sensitive.

Macadamia nuts can cause a short-term hind-limb paralysis, and bread dough, if eaten before baking, can expand rapidly once ingested and cause ethanol poisoning.

Chocolate contains a theobromine, a chemical that can affect the heart, kidneys and central nervous system. Dark chocolate and baker's chocolate contain higher concentrations of theobromine and are more toxic than similar amounts of milk chocolate.

Sugar-free gums and candies that contain the sugar-substitute xylitol can lead to quick onset of toxic clinical signs that may include a rapid decrease in blood sugar and possible seizures.

On the plant side of things, there's more danger with a little bit of good news thrown in:

Think carefully before placing mistletoe or holly in low-lying areas, but put poinsettias anywhere you like. The effects of the poinsettia, long believed poisonous, are generally benign, says Dr. Anthony Knight, author of A Guide to Poisonous House and Garden Plants and professor of clinical sciences and toxicology at Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences.

Exposed plant bulbs such as Amaryllis and all species of lilies should be placed out of reach of pets not only during the holidays but year-round, Knight says.

Lily toxicity in cats can reach critical levels almost immediately after ingestion and lead to acute kidney failure within 48 hours or less.

"Lilies are one of the most poisonous houseplants that exists," Knight said. "It's not just the flower but also the leaves. ... If a cat eats any part of the plant, it would need to be treated immediately."

There you have it. If your dog eats like a dog with the wrong things, or your cat nibbles on dangerous decor, call the vet right away! Don't wait.

Orbiting Toolbag and Other Space Happenings

Photo source: NASA

Spaceweather reported today on an errant object in the sky.

When Endeavour astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper dropped her toolbag during a spacewalk on Nov. 18th and it floated away, mission controllers probably thought they'd seen the last of it. Think again. Amateur astronomers have been monitoring the backpack-sized toolbag as it circles Earth not very far from the International Space Station.

After sunset on Nov. 22nd, Edward Light saw the bag using 10x50 binoculars as it sailed over his backyard in Lakewood, New Jersey. "It was quite a favorable 70-deg pass in clear skies," he says. "The visual magnitude of the bag was about +6.4 plus or minus half a magnitude." On the same night, Keven Fetter of Brockville, Ontario, video-recorded the bag zipping past the 4th-magnitude star eta Pisces:
900 kB movie. "It was easily 8th magnitude or brighter," says Fetter.

This week the toolbag is making a series of passes over Europe; late next week it will return to the evening skies of North America. Using binoculars, look for it flying a few minutes ahead of the ISS. Spaceweather's satellite tracker is monitoring both the space station and the tool bag; click
here for predictions.

If you click on that last link, it will ask for your zipcode then show you the upcoming satellite flyovers you'll be able to see. Sadly, the toolbag isn't scheduled to fly over my house in the next week.

But the toolbag isn't the only interesting thing in the sky these days. There are planets out there, and they're about to put on a show.

NASA Science News reported yesterday that Venus and Jupiter are closing in on each other, culminating in a lovely conjunction with the crescent moon on December 1st.

This story ends with the best sky show of the year--a spectacular three-way conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon.

It begins tonight with a sunset stroll.

At the end of the day, when the horizon is turning red and the zenith is cobalt-blue, step outside and look southwest. You'll see Venus and Jupiter beaming side-by-side through the twilight. Glittering Venus is absolutely brilliant and Jupiter is nearly as bright as Venus. Together, they're dynamite[.]

Add another stick of TNT and voila!—it's tomorrow. Go outside at the same time and look again. You’ll be amazed at how much the Venus-Jupiter gap has closed. The two planets are converging, not in the slow motion typical of heavenly phenomena, but in a headlong rush—almost a full degree (two full Moon widths) per night. As the gap shrinks, the beauty increases.

On Nov. 29th (sky map) the two planets will be less than 3 degrees apart and you'll think to yourself "surely it can't get any better than this."

And then it will. On Nov. 30th (sky map) a slender 10% crescent Moon leaps up from the horizon to join the show. The delicate crescent hovering just below Venus-Jupiter will have cameras clicking around the world.

Dec. 1st (sky map) is the best night of all. The now-15% crescent Moon moves in closer to form an isosceles triangle with Venus and Jupiter as opposing vertices. The three brightest objects in the night sky will be gathered so tightly together, you can hide them all behind your thumb held at arm's length.

The celestial triangle will be visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities. People in New York and Hong Kong will see it just as clearly as astronomers watching from remote mountaintops. Only cloudy weather or a midnight sun (sorry Antarctica!) can spoil the show.

Although you can see the triangle with naked eyes--indeed, you can't miss it—a small telescope will make the evening even more enjoyable. In one quick triangular sweep, you can see the moons and cloud-belts of Jupiter, the gibbous phase of Venus (69% full), and craters and mountains on the Moon. It's a Grand Tour you won't soon forget.

Finally, look up from the eyepiece and run your eyes across the Moon. Do you see a ghostly image of the full Moon inside the bright horns of the crescent? That's called "Earthshine" or sometimes "the da Vinci glow" because Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to explain it: Sunlight hits Earth and ricochets to the Moon, casting a sheen of light across the dark lunar terrain.

By itself, a crescent Moon with Earthshine is one of the loveliest sights in the heavens. Add Venus and Jupiter and … well ... it's time to stop reading and go mark your calendar:

Dec. 1st @ sunset: Sky show of the year!

More maps: Nov. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, Dec. 1 2008.

Too bad I had to leave my telescope at my mom's house.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Copernicus Remains Identified

The AP reported yesterday that the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus have been identified. It took longer than I expected. They were found about two years ago, shortly before a couple other ladies from my church and I went to Poland for the 60th anniversary celebration of the Polish church we support. I didn't blog about it at the time.

Copernicus did much of his astronomical work in Frombork (see green arrow), because his uncle was the bishop there. This map is of the northeast part of Poland at the time of Copernicus. The tan area was occupied by the Teutonic knights, and the green area, Warmia, was in Polish control. The Teutonic knights would invade Warmia frequently, and with Frombork so close to the border region, it came under attack sometimes.

Copernicus owned a tower in the castle, which he purchased when he first came to Frombork (I believe from Lidzbark-Warminski, over in the green area, where he had lived for a time), and then later he bought a house outside the castle walls. Whenever Frombork was under attack, the people escaped to the safety of the castle, and with his tower, Copernicus was able to continue his studies of the heavens.

This is Frombork castle, side view:

The main entrance to the castle is made up of apartments, and many of the scientists who work there live in the apartments.

Inside the castle is the Copernicus Museum, where they have replicas of the three instruments he used for studying the stars. He used this one for viewing. The long diagonal bar has measurement marks, and the "horizontal" bar has two eyepieces that he looked through.

He used this board, with a peg in the upper left corner and a measured arc drawn on it, to track the sun's position.

Then somehow he recorded the measurements of the other two instruments on this thing, which gave three dimensions to space. And with just these three, he was able to map out space and determine that the sun--not the earth--was the center of the solar system, and that the stars were beyond the solar system. Amazing! (Please forgive my vagueness. I don't know where I put my journal from that trip when I packed up my stuff to put my house up for sale last year, so I'm working from two-year-old memory.)

We got a special treat, because our tour guide Andrzej ("Ahnd-zhay") is a member of the church we were visiting in Lidzbark, so he was able to get us permission to see Copernicus's tower room even though it was closed to tourists. The furniture is from that time period, but did not belong to Copernicus. These are small models of his instruments.

The view from a higher tower in the castle includes the cathedral (right) where Copernicus helped his uncle the Bishop.

Copernicus was a canon of the church, a lay position at the time. Now it's a priestly function. What he did as his duty was care for this altar inside the cathedral.

The AP article has this to say about the burial of Copernicus:

Copernicus was known to have been buried in the 14th-century Frombork Cathedral where he served as a canon, but his grave was not marked. The bones found by Gassowski were located under floor tiles near one of the side altars.

According to Andrzej (actually his daughter, Magda, who spoke English beautifully--Andrzej only reads English, which he uses for translating scientific articles into Polish), when a canon died, it was customary to bury him near the altar he cared for. Over the centuries, many canons were buried by each of the altars.

What threw things into confusion at Frombork was that there was a plaque on the wall saying that Copernicus was buried there, and the plaque was in a different part of the cathedral, so all previous efforts at finding his body were focused there by the plaque. They were never able to find him.

Finally, they gave up and started looking by his altar, and by the outer cathedral wall they found a mistreated, unidentified body that could have been him. Magda and Andrzej were excited about it and were confident they had found Copernicus (the mistreatment was from later people being buried on top of and around the earlier bodies, not from any antagonism). He was found about a month before our tour.

They hoped to be able to find Uncle Bishop, so they could do DNA comparisons, but nobody knew where the uncle was buried. They expected there to be some investigating of the uncle's whereabouts. As it turned out, they must not have found him.

So, in the next stage [after examining the bones for reasonable identification], Swedish genetics expert Marie Allen analyzed DNA from a vertebrae, a tooth and femur bone and matched and compared it to that taken from two hairs retrieved from a book that the 16th-century Polish astronomer owned, which is kept at a library of Sweden's Uppsala University where Allen works.

"We collected four hairs and two of them are from the same individual as the bones," Allen said.

Magda and Andrzej--and all of Poland for that matter--have to be thrilled.