Friday, November 30, 2007

I fought the law

. . . And I won.

For those of you who haven't heard the story yet, I was in a car accident back in September.

I live out in the country, so I typically take a two-lane country highway home. September being harvest season, there's a lot of farm equipment that travels on the highway. One Sunday, on my way home from church, I was stuck behind a combine. I wanted to pass, but the traffic in the other direction was too thick. It finally came to the point that I was so close to my turn that I was better off waiting rather than passing. I waited for the combine to get far enough ahead of me so I could see the traffic coming from the other direction was clear.

Unfortunately, when I went to make my left turn, someone further back in the line of traffic decided to pass, and, well, an unstoppable force met an unmoveable object, so to speak.

Pretty nasty looking, huh? I'm glad that driver wasn't going any faster, or I'd be roadkill. Of course, the crazy driver gets out and starts yelling at me. Apparently I shouldn't have let her hit me. My bad.

Long story short, the cop who showed up gave us both tickets. Mine was for "failure to signal." Which was bogus, since the officer took the word of a witness who wavered on that fact and of the other driver, who has a vested interest in saying I didn't signal, over mine.

Anyhow, the ticket was just thrown out, and I'm pretty excited. Take that, state of Illinois!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No wonder they lost

Is it just me, or has the entire nation of England lost their sanity?

We've been hearing lots of "war on Christmas" stories out of that country for a few years now. This year is no different. This Daily Mail article talks about a school replacing the normal, red-suited Santa with a green suited . . . something, because traditional Santa is "too commercial." Whatever. I'm not sure what they replaced him with, though. They say they're using the Eastern European Santa, who wears green, but the article mentions something about a green-suited gnome in an "elemental grotto," whatever the heck that is.

This, however, is the part that just boggles my mind:
School spokesman Sarah James said: "The red-suited Santa was created as a marketing tool by Coca-Cola, it is a symbol of commercialism."
Are . . . are you serious? Really? Is there actually someone in England who is that dumb? Seriously?

Stupid Blogosphere

Sometimes I hate being a small fish in the big pond that is the blogosphere. Why's that? Everyone is jumping at the bit because a "recent" study just reported turning fibroblasts into stem cells, which could make ESCR obsolete as we know it.

I'm bitter because I actually reported on the exact same thing . . . in June.

I guess if you're not "in the circle," no one cares what you have to say about anything.


Monday, November 19, 2007

I'll take a democracy, please

Sometimes my fellow citizens scare me. I'm generally not belligerent about my countrymen's political decisions (or lack thereof), but this scares me: A survey amongst NYU college students found many of them willing to sell their right to vote.

What's the asking price? Apparently 20% of these students will give up their right for an iPod Touch, 66% will give it up for a year's worth of tuition, and 50% will give it up forever for the low price of $1 million.

I find the concept somewhat scary. We take a very dim view of those who would buy an election, either by stuffing the ballot boxes with scurrilous votes or by bribing people at any stage of the process to act unethically. While I can appreciate sentiments such as, "New York will always be a blue state, no matter how I vote," (Hooray for Illinois!) it still doesn't excuse such indifference towards such a right.

Here's a better way to think about it. Due to the shenanigans in Florida in 2000, Bush won the state, and thus the election, by something like 500 votes. Let's consider how much these students would cost to sway the election.

An iPod Touch costs $300. I don't know how much a year of tuition at NYU costs, but let's average it out to $20k. So, for someone to have changed the course of the 2000 election, either for Bush to have bought it or for Gore to reverse it, would be anywhere from $150k to $6 million. Considering how much political campaigns manage to raise during the course of an election . . . doesn't that seem a bit low to you?

Even if you want to quibble on the numbers, that 20% came of a survey of 3000 NYU students . . . so 600 would sell their vote for an iPod. That's still enough to sway the outcome of the 2000 election.

As I said, I tend not to begrudge people their politics, but this is just scary.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Theoretical Biology

Earlier this year, I did a round-up on what I thought could conceivably be a biological explanation for vampires. I think such thought experiments are neat. I'm going to make you endure another.

This past week in my seminar course, we talked about this worm that has no digestive tract, no mouth, and no anus. It obtains all of its metabolic needs from bacteria which live just under its skin. The worm absorbs minor nutrients from the environment, mainly dissolved gases, and the bacteria use them to create metabolites which they share between themselves as well as with the worm. Sometimes the worm directly absorbs the bacteria for fuel as well. The worm's waste products are absorbed by the bacteria for fuel as well.

I find this to be fascinating, and we spent a good while wondering how situation would evolve. Since we were all molecular biologists, nobody had an answer. Still, I was left with one intriguing question:

What if people had turned out like this?

Think about it . . . no digestive tract at all, coming or going. What would this mean?

For starters, any joke using the punchline, "Wrecked 'im? It nearly killed 'im!" would never be known. Uranus would no longer be a funny planet name. No one could make fun of Preparation H or use "stomach problems" as an excuse to get out of work.

On a more serious note, many things would be radically different about people. You wouldn't have obesity, as all of our energy would be self-sustaining. Consequently, you wouldn't really have body-builders, either, as you couldn't get the additional energy that would need. Agriculture would never have developed, nor would hunting. What would have been the premise for the beginning of human civilization?

Of course, though we would have no mouths, we'd have to breathe a lot more, as those bacteria need the CO2 to build sugars with. Perhaps many more nostrils? Of course, with no mouth and no tongue, this leaves open the question of how communication develops. Perhaps vocal cords still exist in whatever airways we'd use, so there would still be some form of vocal communication, but it wouldn't resemble anything we call language.

And, well, reproduction is a whole other case entirely. Without a waste tract coexisting with the reproductive parts, would those parts have turned out the same? Or would they be entirely different as well?

Go ahead and add in your $0.02. I'm curious what the thoughts are on this one.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Flash Portal

I haven't gotten to play Portal yet . . . silly me for not buying the Orange Box. Still, this seems to be a suitable (and ridiculously fun) alternative: Flash Portal.

Go. Enjoy.

Why is it a guessing game?

I'm sure I've posted about this at some point before. Let me be very specific about my point.

Perhaps I'm just a crank. I'm starting to suspect it's the case. Still, I heard a song today that riles me every time I hear it. The lyrics are below:
Draw me close to you
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear you say that I'm your friend

You are my desire
No one else will do
'Cause nothing else could take your place
To feel the warmth of your embrace
Help me find the way
Bring me back to you

You're all I want
You're all I've ever needed
You're all I want
Help me know you are near
Who is this song about?