Thursday, March 30, 2006


I've mildly reorganized and added to the sidebar on the right-hand side of the page. Of particular note, for our legions of mad super-fans, are a collection of links to our recurring series and the XML address to use when subscribing to our ramblings.


Check it out: According to our ClustrMaps map, Industrial-Strength Science has passed 500 visits (D visits to you Romans) since March 7. Granted, half of those are by the two of us, and half of the remainder are are probably mistakes, but still...

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to use my Razr to post some photos to Flickr. Maybe then I'll watch some Wondrfalls and Doctr Who.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Muffy the Mom Trainer

So here is part 2 of today's puppy-related posts. Pupposts I call them. Ha! I crack me up.

Anyway, for those of you who have not heard me prattle on and on about my family's dog, Muffy, I am going to begin a series of stories about her. I have a million of 'em, but here is one of my (and Michael's) favorites.

First of all, Muffy is a malti-poo. Check out the link for a picture of the breed. Basically it is a cross between a maltese and a toy poodle. Muffy is little (10 lbs soaking wet), girly, and as a puppy was about as cute as any animal can be. Between her utter cuteness and the fact that she was often home alone with my sister, who was seven years old at the time, Muffy didn't get trained much...or, um, at all really. In fact, she is extremely smart so she has done a bang-up job of training us. One example of her people-training prowess is illustrated in the following story.

Last Christmas, Muffy received three different kinds of treats from Santa Paws (Santa Paws is, of course, the doggie Santa). When she wants a treat, she will go stare longingly at the pantry until she has been ignored for too long, at which point she will go find you and bark at you. Anyway, one day after Christmas, she indicated to my mom that she wanted a treat. My mom gave her one, but Muffy did not run over to her usual treat-eating spot (the braided area rug). Instead, she stood there looking at my mom, with the treat hanging out of her mouth uneaten, wagging her tail uncertainly. So, my mom opened the pantry again. Muffy immediately dropped the first treat and got all excited. This time, my mom gave her a different kind of treat and Muffy trotted off to eat it on the braided rug. So, the next time Muffy wanted a treat, my mom put a few of each kind in a little tin. She then held it down so that Muffy could pick which kind she wanted. See? A perfectly trained mom!

The really funny part of this is that Muffy would not always choose the same kind of treat (although she did have a favorite) and, moreover, she would only choose one treat each time rather than trying to eat all of them when she had the chance. She is nothing if not polite, huh? :)

Anyway, stay tuned for more Muffy stories in the future!

I'm baaack.....

Hello everyone! Well, I survived finals and spring break, so now my schedule is back to normal and I can blog again. Please, wipe away those tears of relief! I wouldn't leave you all alone to read blog entries exclusively about robots and such. No, today we are going to have a couple of girly blog entries! Entries about...puppies! :D

I thought I would put up a short review about a book I recently read entitled, Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog. It was mentioned in a comment on a different post a few days ago. Check out the link for a synopsis. Basically it is a true story of a family and their dog, who was not very well behaved to say the least! Of course, they loved him anyway and he became an integral part of their family. This book is a quick read and I honestly laughed out loud regularly while reading it. Of course, I also cried at the end, so be warned: buy tissues before reading this book. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Grandest Challenge Yet

Tonight, I watched an episode of Nova called "The Great Robot Race." This documentary chronicles the second race of the DARPA Grand Challenge, in which robot vehicles competed to travel over 132 miles of the Mojave Desert in the minimum time. As a person with an interest in robotics and who has worked on numerous DoD projects, I found it very interesting. (Unfortunately, it also made me feel quite inadequate, since the robot vehicle I'm trying to build is coming along very poorly.) If and when the documentary re-airs in your area, you should check it out. Alternately, the entire episode will be available for download beginning tomorrow.

Geeks Get Girls?

I’m a big nerd. Or maybe a big geek; there’s some debate about the difference between the two. Anyway, what I mean is the following:

  • I like science and technology. In fact, I have a pair of advanced degrees in engineering.
  • I enjoy science fiction and fantasy.
  • I have a few technical skills not found in the general populace.
  • I use scientific methods and terms in my everyday life and conversation.

These characteristics are not generally associated with being a babe magnet. Thus, you may not be surprised to learn that, despite my mother’s insistence that I’m quite a catch, I’ve never been what you’d call a ladies’ man.

Most of my friends belong to the same category. In fact, if anything, I’m less of a science nerd than they are, because they are all smarter and more productive than I. Imagine my surprise then, as the following events unfolded:

  • In early 2005, Ketan announced his engagement to the ever-so-cute Patricia. (I say “announced,” but Ketan never actually told me. After I heard through the grapevine [Patricia-Melinda-Alison-Michael] I called him for an ostensibly ordinary what’s-new-with-you conversation, he made no mention of the big news. I’m still amazed about that. And flummoxed. Can you tell I’m amazed and flummoxed?) A month later, they were married. That’s right: one month. And it was an Indian wedding; in this context “Indian” means “huge.” I think every Indian American on the East Coast was at the reception.
  • Brian proposed to Kristan at CLEO in May, and they’ll be wed in June of this year. The fact that Brian proposed at a technical conference should give you some indication of how much of a nerd he is. However, the fact that Kristan was also attending should indicate how perfect a match they are, as should the fact that they have virtually the same job. Their wedding is schedule for June, so it will make a good run-through for my own.
  • Just a month or so ago, Todd informed everyone that he and Laura will be wed sometime this fall.

That’s right: including me, 4 former members of my grad-school research group will be married in a period of about 18 months. And 3 of us will be married within a 6-month period. Additionally, two of my science-geek friends, Nick and Greg, were already married when I met them.

What’s the explanation for this? Here are my hypotheses:
  • The women in this country have lost their minds.
  • There’s something in the water, perhaps placed there as part of some geek conspiracy to get women.
  • The rapture is near.
  • It’s somehow become hip to be square?

Well, it can’t be either of the first two reasons. You see, in addition to all the marryin’ I mentioned above, Alison’s friends Laura and Kristin each have been or will be married this year. As you might guess by their names, these two, though science nerds in their own rights, are women. I don’t think the third hypothesis is correct, because I’m not a Christian. So, by process of elimination, geek chic is the explanation. As a geek, I say, “Rock on!"


In 2004, Tyler Hamilton, who was frequently called the toughest man in cycling and who would soon be the Olympic time-trial champion, wrote this tribute to his recently departed dog, Tugboat. It's quite touching.


Today, NPR's Morning Edition had an interesting and revolting segment about disease being transmitted by insects in the American Civil War. The most disturbing part concerned the soldiers' meals. I urge you to listen to the piece, but not while eating, like I did.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Robo Roundup

There have been a lot of interesting developments in robotics lately. I expect robots to take over and wipe us all out any day now.

  • Boston Dynamics has developed BigDog. This robot's a sort of small robotic pack mule, so perhaps "SmallMule" would be a more appropriate name, but I guess that didn't seem cool enough.
  • Boston Dynamics has apparently been busy, because they've also developed RiSE, a nifty little hexapod that can climb trees, brick walls, and other assorted vertical surfaces. (RiSE looks curiously similar to the killer robots Gene Simmons--yes, that Gene Simmons---sent after Tom Selleck in the 1984 movie Runaway. Runaway was written and directed by Michael Crighton, by the way.)
  • Meanwhile, snake locomotion has fascinated scientists and layfolks alike for millennia; as Barry White said in that episode of The Simpsons, "I love the sexy slither of a lady snake." Apparently, plain old terrestrial robot snakes have become passé now. A team in Japan---no surprise there---has developed an amphibious robot snake. It can slither across land and swim in (or under) water. Neat!
  • Hitec, makers of radios and servos for radio-control hobbyists, has just released the Robonova-1, a humanoid robot sized to compete in Japan's Robo-One. More importantly, the bot's designed to be hacked---if being designed to be hacked is not a contradiction in terms---so that sensors, actuators, and wireless connections can be added. I really need to get my grubby little hands on one, to put my plans of world domination effect.
Be sure to check out each robot's entertaining video.

They're Snakes. And They're on a Plane

Fans of Anaconda will no doubt be lining up for Samuel L. Jackson's latest film, Snakes on a Plane, which opens August 16. The premise of this film is that---get ready for this shocker---some snakes get loose on an airplane. Can you imagine the meeting where this movie was pitched?
Screenwriter: OK. There're these snakes, see. And they're on a plane.

Studio Exec: Wait, wait. You lost me. Go back a bit.
How did this thing ever get green-lit? Well, probably because the film will likely make money both in the theater and on DVD. Plus, I'm sure it will find its way into regular rotation in the Sci Fi Channel's crappy-monster-movie schedule.

If that happens, I'm sure there'll be sequels. This is how I see them progressing:
  • Snakes on a Boat
  • Snakes in a Car
  • Snakes on Vacation
  • Snakes on a European Vacation
  • Snakes: Return to the Plane

Aside from the stupidity of the plot, I'm very impressed by the profound lack of creativity in the film's name. I suppose we are lucky for that the screenwriter didn't try to be clever, or it would have been called Snakez or some such. Which brings me to the interactive part of this post. Let me hear your suggestions for more creative names for this flick. The author of my favorite name will win...let me see...what do I have around the house...oh, how about my, um, respect and gratitude. How's that grab you?

Update: In light of Nick's amusing and creative comment, I hereby encourage you to submit your own ideas for potential sequals. Since my own respect and gratitude are already spoken for, whoever submits the best sequal ideas will win Alison's respect and gratitude.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


You've probably noticed that Slobodan Milošević has been in the news recently. I won't comment on his politics here, but I will say that I love saying his given name. Slobodan, Slobodan, Slobodan. Say it with me: Slobodan. See, isn't it fun? In fact, every time I hear his name mentioned on NPR, I feel compelled to call out "Slobodan!" Give it a try next time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bark Woof Muffy Arf Bow-Wow Grrr

Bark Alison woof howl grrr Muffy woof growl; ruff slurp lick lick. Pant pant pant yap growl. Arf bow-wow arf. Sharon howl woof grrr. Woof grr! Howl howwwl yap---bark ruff grr---woof bow-wow. (Woof arf arf woof yap.) Woof woof Ashley grrr growl! Pant lick lick. Slurp lick pant yap. Howl howwwl. Bark bark lick slurp: “Hotlap.” Bow-wow grrr ruff.

Ruff. Bark growl.


When I was in elementary school, I was already a fan of science fiction. I also enjoyed learning about nature and was fascinated by spiders (as well as other creatures), so I was well aware the meaning of “arachnophobia.” My mother taught me the meaning of "anachronism,” though I can’t remember how that came up. Around the age of 14, I combined all these influences to create a new word:

anachrophobia, noun. The irrational fear of being misplaced in time due to a time-travel accident.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve experienced a growing apprehension that I will be unable to keep up with changes in culture and (especially) technology. Just recently, I realized that my anxiety about falling behind the times, slipping out of date, or being obsoleted, my trepidation that I will be unable to understand or even operate technology, is just a less literal kind of anachrophobia. So I’ve updated the definition of my new word accordingly:

anachrophobia, noun. 1. The irrational fear of being misplaced in time due to a time-travel accident. 2. The irrational fear falling behind the times or becoming obsolete.
There. I'm sure H.G. Wells, Douglas Adams, Dr. Emmett Brown, and the Doctor would be proud.

TV Review: Doctor Who, New Series, Season 1

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Since the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is on hiatus for the next 7 months---sigh---and since the Sci Fi Channel is partially filling the void by airing the first season (series, for you Commonwealthers) of the somewhat-less-reimagined Doctor Who, I thought now would be a good time for me to post a review of the new season.

First, some background. Doctor Who chronicles the adventures, through time and space, of a mysterious extraterrestrial (but humanoid) character known only as “the Doctor.” In all but one story, the doctor is accompanied by one or more companions, who are usually young, humanoid females. A companion’s purpose is twofold:

  • She invariably gets into trouble and must be rescued by the Doctor.
  • She helps the viewer understand the story by asking lots and lots of questions.

One of the more famous aspects of the show is that the Doctor’s time machine, an old Type 40 TARDIS, is disguised as a police box. (Fortunately, the TARDIS is much bigger inside than out.) The original series was also famous for the very poor production values necessitated by its shoestring budget.

The original series ran from 1963 to 1989, taking a hiatus in 1985---that’s right, there were 26 seasons---and has become a pop-culture icon in the UK.

Because the show ran for so many years, numerous characters have moved in and out of the cast. Even the main character has be recast a number of times: 7 times, to be precise. This recasting is explained within the show by the ability of members of the Doctor’s species to regenerate.

The new version of the show was created/developed by Russel T. Davies (perhaps most famous for creating Queer as Folk) and first aired in the UK in early 2005. The renewed Who has been a smash hit in the UK; a second and third season were commissioned. (Season 2 should begin airing in April.

Season 1 of the new series introduces the ninth Doctor, portrayed by Christopher Eccleston and his companion Rose Tyler, played by former teen pop singer, Billie Piper. (Interestingly, Piper’s middle name is Paul, so she carries 2 names commonly given to male children.) Eccleston does a good job of making the character his own while being consistent with previous incarnations. Most fans rave about Piper, but I find her merely acceptable.

The new series does a good job of capturing the charm of the original. The feeling of curiosity and wonder is still there.

It’s certainly true that the production values are much better this go-round; the sets no longer shake, and the monsters are actually almost scary.

The writing of the series is, for the most part, quite good: both clever and witty. (The episodes not written by Davies are better than those that are.) It is important to understand, however, that Doctor Who is and has always been a “family” show, which means that it is aimed, in part, at children. This demographic targeting has several ramifications:

  • The show is more fantasy than science fiction; the technology presented in the show often has little basis in reality.
  • Sometimes plots elements can be a little, well, silly.
  • There is a certain amount of physical humor and, yes, there are a few flatulence jokes.

The viewer must keep the family nature of the show in mind, and take the series for what it is, in order to best enjoy it.

Overall, I give Season 1---or Season 27, if you prefer---of Doctor Who 7.5 out of 10. If I were under 14 or had kids that age, I’d give it 8.5 out of 10.

Doctor Who will air Friday nights on the Sci Fi Channel, starting this Friday, March 17. The first 2 episodes will be shown back-to-back this week. If it does well, Sci Fi may well pick up Season 2 and the spin-off series Torchwood.


Happy Pi Day!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Mr. Period

Given my status as a grammar Nazi, it should come as no surprise that I find these two punctuation-related Penny Arcade strips to be hilarious, if vulgar:

The Grammar Nazi

Although I freely admit that my grammar is far from perfect, I'm widely known to be a grammarian. Indeed, I've been called a grammar Nazi more than once. My keyboard would wear out before I could tell you all the grammatical atrocities I've encountered in person, heard on the radio or TV, or, worst of all, read on the internet. Today, I'm only going to list a small sampling of some of my "favorites."

  • Following "literally" with an exaggeration. This misuse offends me not so much from a grammatical standpoint as it does from a logical perspective. Committing this offense is literally worse than murder.
  • Using "epicenter" to mean "center." I believe people make this error because "center" just doesn't seem erudite enough for them. Encountering this transgression hurts me to the very epicenter of my being.
  • Using "penultimate" to mean "ultimate." As in the previous case, I speculate that people believe adding syllables makes them sound more educated and intelligent; that is the penultimate cause of this mistake.

(Speaking of "erudite," have you noticed that people will often add an extra syllable by inserting an I after the R? I think this is another outcome of the longer-is-better mindset I described above.)

Do you have your own pet grammatical peeves? Feel free to include them in a comment.

Inferiority Complex

The latest Frazz makes me feel like a cycling pansy. Is it crazy to feel inferior to a cartoon character?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Two Too Many?

Do you like riding your motorcycle but find it to be too controllable, too safe, and too practical? Does it have too much passenger room, too much cargo capacity, and, well, too many wheels? Then you, my friend, need a monocycle, also known as a monowheel.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Alison and I traveled to Atlanta last weekend. We got to see some of her friends, do some home improvement for my mom, and make our triumphant re-re-re-re-re-(deap breath)-re-re-re-return to the Borders where we first met in person. We also twice visited our favorite restaurant, R. Thomas Deluxe Grill. The restaurant serves an eclectic mixture of kooky, mostly healthful food. In addition, R. himself has a passion for tropical birds, so there are parrots, parakeets, toucans, and songbirds everywhere in and around the "dinning room," which is actually a tent. And I won't even mention the whirligigs. Anyway, if you happen to find yourself in Atlanta, you need to check this place out. And be sure to order a PBJ Plus for me.


The other day, I heard a fun story on NPR about the tiny island of Sark in the English Channel. Sark is technically the private property of the Queen of England but not part of the United Kingdom. Sark has long been regarded as the last bastion of European feudalism. That's right: I said "feudalism." You see, many of the laws governing land ownership, rights, and representation are little changed since they were enacted in 1565. The inhabitants of Sark (Sarkans? Sarkians? Sarkites?) have seemed to be quite happy with the setup. Last Wednesday, however, Sark finally bowed to pressure from the European Convention on Human Rights and embraced a wee bit of democracy. You should listen to the NPR piece. It's very interesting.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ready, Set, Debate!

Here's a short article listing one woman's opinion of the best film adaptations/evolutions of sci-fi/fantasy television series. For the most part, I agree with it, though entry 4 is actually a full-length extension of a series of short films. What's your opinion?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Y'know what I REALLY can't stand?

I cannot stand people who talk on their cell phones in public restrooms. Let me set this scene for you. I'm in the bathroom at Borders on a Saturday afternoon. There is a woman in the stall next to me. She was there when I walked in. I do what I went in there to do and go to the sink to wash my hands. Meanwhile, I hear the woman from the stall say, "Hi there! How are you? Oh, I'm in the bathroom at Borders peein'."

OK, first of all, her phone didn't ring and the way she spoke indicated to me that she had placed this call rather than received it. Further, let me be honest when I tell you that based on the sounds emmanating from her stall her description of her activities in there as "peein'" was woefully incomplete.

This is NOT a time to make a friendly phone call, people! I do not understand this urge at ALL. I mean, ok, maybe you feel that your time is being wasted while you have to sit in there for a few minutes, but that is not a reason to subject other people to that experience! You're in Borders! Read a magazine! Sheesh...

As my 5-year old cousin Collin has begun saying recently, "I need my pwivacy!"

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm Trading the Revo in for One of These

You may have heard, a few years ago, that rats had been radio-controlled. Well now, the same trick has been done with sharks.

My question is, how long before the requisite head-mounted laser is available. All I want is sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads. Is that so much to ask? Every animal deserves a warm meal, after all.