Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pulp Fiction

I think Alison and I need to break up. I've recently discovered that she likes her orange juice with no pulp. I, more correctly, prefer pulp-laden OJ. This could be a deal-breaker.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Mythbusters Would be Proud

I'm sure that you've heard that bees are physically incapable of flight, but that they don't know that, so they fly anyway. You may have enjoyed the romantic, little-engine-that-could moral of the story, but I've always firmly believed that it was a bunch of nonsense. Now, some aeronautical engineers at Caltech are reporting experiments that don't just prove that bees can fly---the simple fact that bees do fly proves they can---but also shows how they do. (The short explanation is that they produce more lift than previously realized.) So, all you romantics and irrational optimists out there can stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sir Mix-a-Lot May Want to Reconsider

More fallout from the obesity epidemic hit the news sites today. A group from the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin recently presented the results of a study which found that 2/3 of their patients receiving intramuscular injections in the buttocks did not receive the full dosage. The reason? "The amount of fat tissue overlying the muscles exceed[ed] the length of the needles commonly used for these injections," leaving the drug logged in the adipose tissue. In other words, the patients butts were too fat. So, it appears that, if one develops a condition caused or exacerbated by obesity, that very obesity may inhibit one's treatment. Of course, longer needles could be used. Everyone enjoys longer needles, right?

By the way, has anyone else noticed that, ever since avian influenza (bird flu) became the next big public-health crisis (as far as the news media are concerned, at least), no one in the media uses the word "epidemic" anymore? They shoot right past it and go for the more intimidating and spectacular "pandemic".

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Alison and I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Here's the low-down:

Shuaib came to town for the entire weekend. He's still as soft-spokenly sarcastic as always. Alison and I decided it would be funny to wear the matching Simpsons pajama pants Sharon and Ashley gave us, during his visit. (Awww, we're so cute you could vomit.) Shuaib was suitably horrified.

Attending the feast itself were 7 people: Nick and Amy, Lisa and Greg, Shuaib, and lastly Alison and me. Thus, we had a very geeky Thanksgiving.

Here are a few nuggests of wisdom that we acquired while preparing the meal:
  • Sometimes, the bag of giblets can be surprizingly well hidden. Extensive searching my be required.
  • You should never give your guests an exact time at which they should arrive and expect to eat. You should just have them show up in the morning, still in their pajamas, and be there.
  • Alton Brown knows his turkey.
  • Brining is good.
  • "Halaal" must be Arabic for "tasty".
  • A 21-pound turkey is significantly more than enough to feed 7 people and have a reasonable supply of leftovers.
  • A single pumpkin pie suffices to feed 7. Two pies is overkill.
We also played Cranium, which is, of course, the board game traditional for this holiday. I believe the Pilgrams challenged the Native Americans to a round of Cranium on the first Thanksgiving. The natives must have lost and, as a result, were wiped out and had their land stolen via both biology and technology.

Monday, November 21, 2005


You may be familiar with NPR's This I Believe series of audio essays by people both famous and ordinary. Penn Jillette, the larger, more vocal (and funnier-looking, if you ask me) half of Penn and Teller, recently made his own contribution, entitled "There is No God". In his essay, Jillette rightly points out that the statement "I believe there is no God" is much stronger than "I don't believe in God". More importantly, though, Jillette explains also why he feels that believing in the nonexistence of a supernatural creator being allows him to be a better person. His argument is very well reasoned and well written. Check it out.

This Cromulent List Will Embiggen Your Vocabulary

You may be interested to know that Wikipedia has a very amusing list of neologisms, "intentional mutations, mispronunciations, amplifications, [and] portmanteaus" used in The Simpsons.

By the way, I should point out that I yoinked the title for this entry from Nick. I've been going through a process of dumbening for about the last dozen years, so I couldn't come up with one on my own.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Michael often jokes with me that our relationship is atypical because I am the one who likes to play "computer games" and he doesn't. I think he is using a rather loose definition of "computer games" when he says this, since I don't play the type of games that most people think of when someone says "computer games". (Ooo! Using quotation marks is fun!) Mostly I like puzzles. I am completely addicted to crossword puzzles and Tetris. So, here are a few of my favorite games that can be played online and, in some cases, offline!

Yahoo! Games has tons of games that you can play for free online. A couple of my favorites are Alchemy and Cubis. Careful, though! These are both completely addictive and may compromise your productivity at work.

SET is a very cool card game that involves finding "sets" of 3 cards from a group of cards that are dealt face up that are either all the same or all different on four levels of comparison: color, shape, number, and pattern. Their website offers a free daily SET puzzle. Also, you can buy the card game at this site; I have found it hard to find in stores. The same company has a couple of other games called Quiddler and Xactica that I have not really gotten into, but they have free daily online puzzles for those games at their site as well.

My newest craze is Sudoku. If you have not yet heard of Sudoku you have been living under a rock somewhere. It is a kind of logic puzzle where you have to put the digits 1-9 in an arrangement of rows, columns, and boxes without repeating a digit. There are a bazillion books of Sudoku puzzles and most of them are now prominently displayed at both Borders and Barnes and Noble stores. I like playing Sudoku on paper, but you can play for free online at this site.

So, there you go. I've just given you several new ways to procrastinate and goof off using the internet. My work here is done!


OK, I am a total sucker for anything with an animal in it. I admit it.

Check out this short news story about a rare stork in Japan who recently got a prosthetic beak after his broke off. *sniff* It's so touching!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fish-Dudes on Parade

A few days ago, two stories about moving-picture adaptations of comics featuring Atlantean nobility hit the net. That’s right, two.

  • First, Chris Columbus said that the feature film based on the Marvel comic The Sub-Mariner, which was announced last year, will not be going forward. Now, as I'm sure all of you know, the Sub-Mariner, also known as Prince Namor, is a human/Atlantean half-breed who has several Atlantean powers---principally breathing under water, super strength, and communicating with sea creatures--- and at least two non-Atlantean ones ---breathing air and flying. Yep, I said he can fly. The last time I checked, humans don't fly, so I'm not sure which parent he's supposed to have gotten that from. If I were his human "father", I'd be pretty suspicious.
  • Second, the people behind "Smallville" were apparently quite happy with the guest appearance, on that show, of a character called Arthur Curry, AKA Aquaman. Aquadude, as I like to call him, is a DC character whose powers include breathing underwater, swimming quickly, and---you have to see this coming---communicating with sea creatures. Yawn. I mean, how did this guy ever get into the Justice League of America? Anyway, the Smallville guys were so happy that they plan to produce a new series featuring the character. On the show, Aquaman will not be identified by that name, nor will he "be talking to fish or riding a seahorse". Whaaaa. I want to see them try to pull off the seahorse-riding thing. You know it'd be hilarious. Now the burning question in my mind is, will there be an Aqualad?

You have to admire the karmic symmetry of these two stories: one fish-man on the ascent, the other sinking. I'm there are some fanboys out there who could explain this in terms of the longstanding DC/Marvel rivalry. Ready...set...pontificate!

Now I'm going to go do whatever it takes to get the Super Friends theme music out of my head.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The 'Pedia

For all the fans of Wikipeida out there (And really, who isn't a fan?), you might be interested in this very thorough Wikipedia article on, well, Wikipedia.

Warning: This Post is a Downer

Last night, NPR broadcast an amazing story on Walter Freeman, the inventor and promoter of the neurosurgical procedure known as the transorbital lobotomy. The story is told by Howard Dully, whom Freeman lobotomized at the age of 12. Dully's step-mother requested the procedure because Dully was unruly and behaved, as far as I can tell, much like the typical 12-year-old boy.

In a transorbital lobotomy, an ice-pick-like instrument (The original instrument was actually an ice pick that Freeman had in the back of a drawer in his kitchen.) is inserted under the eye lid, over the eyeball, through the eye socket (or orbital) and into the frontal lobe of the brain. The instrument is then swished around, more-or-less at random, severing connections in the frontal lobe. This process is usually done through both eye sockets. Freeman sometimes performed the procedure through both eyes simultaneously. Since I can't imagine there being a good medical reason for the simultaneity, I can only believe Freeman was adding a bit of showmanship to the surgery. The NPR story's description of the procedure repeatedly made me say, aloud, things like "'uwah-lah" and "blwah-ah"---and not in a funny, Jerry Lewis kind of way. Here is a rather discomforting photo of Dully's lobotomy.

Some people experienced good outcomes from the procedure, but many suffered significant brain damage. How did anyone ever think this surgery was a good treatment for everything from delusions to chronic headaches?

Anyway, you should check out the NPR story.

My Friends Call Me Scanner-Face

Bored? Friends easily impressed? I thought so. Now you can entertain yourself and astonish your friends by reading UPC bar codes by eye.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Maybe that Darned Dalai Lama is on to Something

New Scientist just summarized two recent and interesting studies involving meditation:

  • The first study found that meditation improves mental acuity, especially if the subject is sleep-deprived.
  • The second study found that meditation increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex in "areas involved in attention and sensory processing". The increased thickness is not due to addition of neurons but rather to increased venation and neural interconnection.

I guess I'd better quit writing this entry and do some meditating. And maybe I'll give Tenzin Gyatso a call.

R&B in the ATL

Atlanta (one of the cities cursed with having me live there) has decided to rebrand itself. This new marketing effort includes, but is not limited to, the introduction of a controversial and generally unatractive song called "The ATL".

To quote Murray Gell-Mann, "who ordered that?"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Brians Aplenty

I realize that "Brian" is far from the most popular male name in the English-speaking world. Indeed, for my entire lifetime, it has been less popular, nationwide, than my own given name. Somehow, though, by way of some statistical anomaly, I can't seem to swing a long-tailed cat without hitting two guys named Brian and one named Bryan. In particular, there are six (Count 'em!) Brians or Bryans that Alison and I have reason to refer to on a semi-regular basis:

  • Brian Who Blogs at Breakfast is the author of a pretty dad-gum funny blog, and he's also a biostatistics professor. Given that he's my age, but already is a professor, is married (with pets!), and has a much cooler blog than I do, I can't help but feel inferior, or at least behind schedule.
  • Krav Bryan taught krav maga at my old school in Virginia and now teaches at my new school in Maryland. He's a much better kraver (Kravist? Kravster? Kravinater?) than I am, so I always feel like an uncoordinated pansy around him.
  • K-State Brian was in my research group in grad school is now a physics professor at Kansas State University. This Brian is also my age and already a professor. Plus, he knows far more about optics than I do. So, it's lather, rinse, repeat with my inferiority complex.
  • Piercing Brian owns the Piercing Experience in Atlanta. He's a remarkably intelligent and surprisingly soft-spoken guy, though he's sometimes almost frustrating to talk to, since he's so obsessed with the hygiene of the piercing process and the suitability of the jewelry material . However, it seems to me that that kind of obsession is exactly what one wants in a piercer, so carry on, Brian.
  • Quantum Bryan works in my current group. In addition to being a really smart and moderately funny guy, he has, sadly, been witness to every stupid thing I've done since I started my new gig. (Somehow, I've avoided doing obviously inane things in front of my other coworkers.) So blah blah blah inferiority issues yada yada yada. By the way, if you're reading this, Bryan (and if you've been able to sort yourself out from the other Brians and Bryans in this entry), I'm really not as inept as I seem. I'm thoroughly ept, I promise.
  • Family Guy Brian is, of course, a character on Family Guy. So yes, he's a dog. And I don't actually know him. And yes, he is fictional. But I still find the need to refer to him frequently. (Besides, he reminds me of Todd.) This Brian doesn't make me feel inferior, and that's a nice change. I mean, I have my problems, but at least I'm not an alcoholic who is infatuated with his best friend's wife and spends most of his time with an oddly British-accented infant bent on matricide and world domination. Oh, and I'm not a dog.

So please, if you are planning to have children, it would simplify my life if you would leave "Brian" and its alternate spellings off the list. In fact, if you're called Brian, I'd appreciate it if you'd look into changing it. Thanks.

Next post: Girls named Sara(h), and why they all have to go.

Movie Review: Shaolin Soccer

Alison and I watched Shaolin Soccer (originally released in China as
Siu Lam Juk Kau) last night. It is possibly the zaniest film I've ever seen.

Here's the setup: Golden Leg (Yep, that's his name.), a former soccer (football to you Commonwealthers) star now broken-legged and jobless, meets Mighty Steel Leg (Again, that is his name.), a self-proclaimed kung-fu master who is on some crazy mission to get people to apply kung-fu to their everyday tasks, such as parallel parking and hedge-trimming (I kid you not.). So, Mighty Steel Leg gathers his kung-fu brothers (whose names are mostly combinations of metals and body parts), forming a soccer team, coached by Golden Leg, to take on Team Evil (Seriously. It actually says "EVIL" on the scoreboard.) in the Super Cup (as if anyone would actually put "Super" in the name of a serious sports event---spfff).

My previous paragraph doesn't begin to describe just how over-the-top this movie is. Everything in the film is cranked up to 11: The kung fu is supernatural, the soccer is beyond belief, the bad guys exclusively wear black, the ugly duckling is completely made over (Twice!), and the nonsensical dance numbers are really nonsensical.

Given all the above, I'll give you a little time to prepare yourself for what I'm about to say.


How 'bout now?

It's a really entertaining movie. It's so over-the-top, so beyond-the-maximum, that the viewer can't help being swept up in the film's enthusiasm. It's a silly, funny, good time.

I give it 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Apparently, God is a Pouty Preschooler

I'm sorry to make my first post such a negative rant, but I simply can't help myself. Pat Robertson is quite possibly the most irritating Christian fundamentalist I can think of. I thought he was crazy when he ran for President and now I know I was right. He has now told an entire town in Pennsylvania (he said this on TV!) that they have turned their backs on God because they voted their school board out of office for supporting teaching Intelligent Design in their schools. Apparently, they should not be surprised if a disaster strikes their town and they should not turn to God for help in the event that said disaster occurs because they turned their backs on him. Huh? Is God not going to invite Dover, PA to his birthday party either? Perhaps when this looming disaster occurs, it will be accompanied by a booming voice from the heavens saying, "I hate you, you're all poopyheads!". That's it, Dover! God is taking his ball and going home!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Too

One of the very few nonfiction books that I've ever read cover to cover is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss. Since I consider myself a punctuation stickler and was known as the "Grammar Nazi" in my research group in grad school, I'd like to think that this book was written exclusively for me and a small set of like-minded, self-important grammar snobs. Surely, only a small, exclusive group of people would be amused by punctuation humor! In reality, the thing was a best-seller in both the UK and the US, leading me to question just how erudite my sense of humor really is. I guess the audience for the author's brand of self-mockingly self-righteous humor includes more than just those of us who know the glee that comes from a really good semicolon deployment. Besides, anything written as a defense of the King's English is inherently amusing when done in an English accent. Oh, and the book's quite short, which may help explain not only why it was so successful, but also why I managed to stay interested long enough to finish it.

I'm sure you're asking, "Why bring this up? What do I care?" Well, just a couple of days ago, Lynn Truss' new book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door, was released. Where ES&L was a tirade on punctuation, this little book promises to be tirade on manners. I must admit I'm intrigued, though I'm not as punctilious about my manners as about my punctuation. Sadly, the New York times has described it as "a thin and crabby diatribe" and also said Ms. Truss "may have been good for only one book-length conniption." Hmm. Those comments have me worried (though I always enjoy reading the word "conniption"). Side note: At a svelte 216 pages, this book likely has one of the highest ever ratios of title length to total length. I'm not sure that fact is important or significant in any way; I just thought you should know.

By the way, I believe the only other nonfiction book I've ever completed is the much, much longer The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. In writing this entry, I discovered that TMotAB also has a sequel, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, which was published in the mid 1990s. Where have I been? How did this escape my notice? I blame you. Anyway, I'll be adding Dark Sun to my wish list soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bras on Parade

Two brassiere stories hit the news sites today. That's right: two.

On the grounds of equal opportunity, I expect there to be two stories on boxers or briefs in the news tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Let There be Blog

Set course for the blogosphere. Maximum warp. Engage.