Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Name that Panda

In other panda news, now is your chance to name 18 panda cubs.


A Komodo dragon* in a UK zoo recently laid and hatched 5 eggs, even though she's never been exposed to males of her species. DNA tests confirmed that the adult female provided all the genes of the hatchlings. While parthenogenesis has been observed frequently in other lizards, this only the second documented occurrence in Komodo dragons. The first was in London Zoo in April of last year.

Thanks to Megan for pointing this out.

* Komodo dragons are very large (up to 3 m long) monitor lizards---indeed, the largest extant lizards on Earth---native to a few small islands in central Indonesia. Komodos harbor multiple strains of virulent bacteria in their saliva, which the dragons use to poison their prey.

Black and White and Cute All Over

What's black and white and cute all over? As the people of Atlanta are learning, the answer is a baby panda. That's right, Zoo Atlanta's female giant panda, Lun Lun, gave birth to a baby girl named Mei Lan in September, and the cub just had her coming-out on Friday. Be sure to check out the video. Aww. I'm sure that both Meg from Cute Overload and Shuaib would approve.

Thanks to Megan for pointing this out.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Is Newton Doomed?

The instructor at the puppy school* where we go with Newton, Howard Weinstein, is, in his "other life," the author of numerous Star Trek novels. You might worry that, by exposing our pup to Howard's influence, we risk turning him into a doggie geek. However, given the affection Alison and I have for science fiction, fantasy, science, and technology,** I believe the little guy was doomed from the day we brought him home.

* I think the course should be called puppy-owner school. The class doesn't really teach the dogs anything; instead, it teaches the owners to teach their pups.

** Note all the subject tags to the right.

Whedon Directs The Office. Is Any Character Safe?

The episode of the The Office directed by Joss Whedon will air February 15.

Friday, January 26, 2007

ScienceBlogs or Bust

Everyone's favorite zoological blog, Tetrapod Zoology, has moved to ScienceBlogs just one year after its founding. Be sure to check it out at its new web address.


In honor of my recent purchase, the boys at Penny Arcade have written a comic to show me what will happen if I'm not circumspect.

358 Better than "Xbox 2" Would Have Been

Thanks in part to the enthusiastic guided tour and demo that Nick gave me, I purchased an Xbox 360 last night. Afterwards, Alison and I stayed up way too late playing Gears of War. Apparently, Nick is my pusher: the first hit is free, but the next is 460 dollars.


A few days ago I discovered and immediately became fascinated with a sport called Parkour. What is Parkour, you ask? It's the practice of moving through an obstacle-laden environment---typically an urban landscape---with maximum speed, fluidity, and efficiency. Look here for some of the fundamental movements of the sport. Parkour has a lot of gymnastic elements, but, unlike gymnastics, is unscripted and uses whatever obstacle is at hand as the apparatus. The sport is usually performed at or near ground level, but the more extreme Batman-style rooftop Parkour seems to receive disproportionate representation among online videos and theatrical films.

Note that Parkour is distinct from it's sister sport, free running, which incorperates flips and other tricks for aesthetic reasons and is less concerned with economy of motion. Some people---and videos---use "Parkour" to refer to either activity, however.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fuzz Therapy

Hello! For all of you having a tough week out there, here is a little bit of fuzz therapy. Just kick back, relax, and soak up the cute fuzziness...

Where is the puppy?

Oh, there he is!

I'm very proud of this one...I think both Newton and his ball are suspended in midair in this shot!

Sometimes Newton forgets about his back end. As a result, he often ends up in very uncomfortable-looking postures like this one.

The Hook, The Line, And The Sinker

I think the latest Penny Arcade comic was written about Tom. Well, except for the being clean part.


When looking over the "Old News" section on the right, I found that the largest number of posts we've ever put up in a single month was 36. We did that twice in the middle of 2005. Well, as of this post, we've reached a new level of self-indulgent prolificacy; this is the 37th post of January. I have a couple more entries I plan to post before February arrives, and Alison may be putting up some photos of the critter in the next few days, so we expect to thoroughly trounce the old record. I doubt we'll have this many posts in a single month again any time soon, so don't get used to it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Swim, Forrest, Swim!

I've been pretty interested in weight training in our home gym lately,* but Alison hasn't been really excited about any sport in several months. She hasn't been able to find a karate school that she likes since she left Atlanta,** and it's just not fun to be outside in the winter. Thus, we recently joined the Columbia Association, which not only lets us go to any of a number of gyms and pools in our little town, but is also surprisingly inexpensive. Now, Alison seems quite interested in her group cardio classes, we're both planning on doing some yoga, and we've taken up swimming. Swimming is a nice change of pace from cycling, and it's a full-body workout to boot. Now, if I can just figure out why my kick in the crawl is completely ineffectual. Maybe I can get some guidance from Ashley or Brian. Hint hint.

* Please don't ask me how it's going. It turns out that a 3-week-long illness followed by a week of insomnia does not promote strength gains.

** Don't get her started on the insanity of the last place she visited.

Toy Review: Nerf N-Strike Maverick

OK, I admit it: I was jealous of my cousin's 9- and 7-year-old sons. But who wouldn't be? You see, for Christmas, they each received a Nerf N-Strike Maverick. What that, you say? Why, it's a Nerf revovler. That's right: a 6-shooter that fires harmless Nerf suction-cup darts. This thing was one of the coolest kid's toys I'd seen in quite some time, so I had to go out and buy myself 1 for myself. Hey, I thought, if it's good enough for Gabe and Tycho, it's good enough for me. Actually, I purchased 3, which---I hasten to point out---is not as extravagant as it sounds; this way, Alison and I can go chica-a-mano at home, and I can still stick darts to Bob's forehead at work.

Here's a list of what I liked about the Maverick:
  • It's fairly well made.
  • It fires the darts surprisingly fast and far.
  • It only costs about 10 bucks.
  • Did I mention that it's a freakin' Nerf revolver?
By contrast, here's what I didn't like:
  • The cylinder doesn't swing all the way out, which (a) makes loading more difficult and time-consuming and (b) just isn't maximally cool.
It turns out there's an easy modification* one can perform** to improve the cylinder out-swing. In fact, there seems to be an entire community of people who modify Nerf weapons for greater range or to other ends. Who knew? Anyway, I encourage any young-at-heart readers to drop a sawbuck on one of these.

Overall, I give it 9.0 out of 10.

* I hope to post a "how-to" on this mod soon.
** Yay! An excuse to use my Dremel.

Robot Review: iRobot Roomba Scheduler

Well, Alison and I finally broke down and bought a Roomba. The Roomba, for those of you living in a cave for the last 4 years, is a small-disk-shaped robotic vacuum cleaner brought to you by the same people who make the military PackBot. The Roomba moves around in a somewhat random fashion and eventually covers the entire floor. The robot has sensors that tell it when it has hit a wall, is going over a drop-off (such as a stair), or has run into one of the infrared "walls" used to keep it away from anyplace you don't want it going. The circular planform means that the Roomba can turn around in its own length to get itself out of trouble, and the low height means it has no trouble scurrying under couches and such. Ours, specifically, is the Roomba Scheduler, which allows you to set up---you guessed it---a cleaning schedule; the robot will automatically set out from its home base at the appointed time, clean until it gets "tired," then follow the IR signal back to its base and recharge. All you have to do is empty the dustbin, and the latest version even tells you when to do that. Neato!

The actual vacuuming is pretty good, though not spectacular. I'm sure the Dyson does a much better job, but you still have to push the Dyson around. If you find that the Roomba isn't cleaning as thoroughly as you'd like, just add another cleaning cycle to its weekly schedule. Done!

Overall, I give it 8.5 out of 10.

Now I just need to get a Create to futz around with.

I Thought So

Check out this clever and hilarious Instructable on making a portable thought bubble.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

And They're Off!

Hillary Rodham Clinton has just announced that she's entering the 2008 Presidential race. "Clinton-orama" just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Friday, January 19, 2007

TV Returns

Several shows are returning from winter "hiati" this weekend:
  • Monk. The defective detective returns tonight (Friday night) at 9 Eastern Time on USA.
  • Psych. The fake-psychic-detective/buddy-PI series begins airing new episodes again tonight at 10 EST on USA, right after Monk.
  • Battlestar Galactica. The re-imagining of the 1970s space opera restarts in its new timeslot Sunday at 10 Eastern on the Sci Fi Channel.
  • Heroes. They saved the cheerleader, but did they save the world? Find out beginning Monday at 9 EST on NBC.
All these shows warrant checking out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Drive, Fred, Drive!

Tim Minear just announced that Amy Acker is the latest casting addition to his upcoming series, Drive. She'll be playing---get this---the wife of Nathan Fillion's character. This show is starting to sound like a big ol' Whedonverse reunion. If you'd like to revel in more than a little squee over this news, surf on over to the corresponding thread at Whedonesque.

In other Drive news, shooting on the recast pilot begins today.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Diamond Era

It looks like Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age will be made into a six-hour miniseries by the Sci Fi Channel. Now, we all know that the movies SFC makes are god-awful, but some of their miniseries have been quite good. So, here's hoping....


I've recently come up with a great description for any future---repeat, future---children Alison and I might have:
Grondulspawn, noun. Any child or children produced by Team Grondul.

Obama-Rama (TM)

In light of recent news, I thought I should define a word I invented a few months ago:
Obama-rama, noun. Great excitement and activity surrounding any political campaign of Barack Obama.
I think I should trademark this name, because I expect it to start showing up on T-shirts, buttons, and other paraphenalia, and I want to receive my slice of the merchandising moolah.

The Race Begins April 15

Official word has come down from Fox that Drive---created by Tim Minear and Ben Queen, and starring Nathan Fillion---will air its 2-hour premier on April 15 at 8:00.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Darwin's Beard vs. Spock's Beard

Darren Naish has recently posted a rantish entry to Tetrapod Zoology about how scientists are stereotyped. Scientists, engineers, and doctors in the audience---pretty much all of you---may choose to check it out. Also, please take note of the three witty and insightful comments from the guy calling himself "Skeeler."

Presidential Prejudice

I just realized that, with the Democrats taking the majority in the House of Representatives, and thus Nancy Pelosi ascending to Speaker thereof, two of the top four positions in the Presidential line of succession are held by women. Do you think the US is ready for a female President? How about someone of African descent? Do you think we could see an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama Democratic ticket in 2008? Please post your opinions here.

Get Ready for an Obama-Rama

Freshman Senator and Democratic golden boy Barack Obama has announced that he plans to form a presidential exploratory committee. And so it begins.

The Weather Outside is Frightful

It's going to be a balmy-for-January 52 degrees F in DC today. In Texas, however, it's a whole different story; a storm is blasting most of the state with unusually harsh winter weather. The high temperatures in Dallas and Houston will be 33 and 35, which isn't all that bad, but both cities are also being whacked with sleet and freezing rain, which is. More than 160 flights have been canceled at DFW, which makes me glad Shuaib left for Malaysia yesterday.

This kind of weather is quite unusual for the region. During my 4 years at Rice, I saw snow precisely once, and it was some pretty paltry precipitation.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Intertubes Live!

"It's like instant messaging for your stuff."

Alzheimer's Mutation

New Scientist is reporting that researchers in Canada have found that a mutation in the SORL1 gene results in production of toxic fragments of the beta-amyloid protein, which is thought to trigger neurological damage. This find could lead to a drug to increase production of the protein that harmlessly recycles amyloids. I just hope this treatment is available before I start to show symptoms. In the meantime, I guess I should redouble my efforts to learn Japanese.

Superfluid Light

New Scientist is reporting that an Australio-English collaboration has published theoretical work showing how photons can be made to interact with each other strongly and even--at 0 K---behave as a superfluid. This work could lead to applications in quantum communication or quantum computing.

Office Temps

Several sources are reporting that Joss Whedon and J. J. Abrams will each direct an episode of The Office this season. Hunh.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Flash---A-Ah---Savior of the Universe

In other Sci Fi Channel news, SFC has green-lighted production of a 22-episode season of a new Flash Gordon series, which should begin airing in July. I only have one thing to say about that: Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!


It looks like the much rumored direct-to-DVD Battlestar Galactica movie is indeed going to happen. Well, unless the show doesn't get picked up for it's fourth season. You see, Battlestar's ratings have been slipping lately*, and there's talk of it being canceled at the end of Season 3. I'm not inclined to believe the cancellation rumors, though; I doubt anything else on the Sci Fi Channel is doing much better. Meanwhile, rumors are afoot that the spin-off series, Caprica, may not go forward. That, I'm more inclined to believe.

* I must admit that a few of the storylines in Season 3 have been below par for the series, but Battlestar is still probably the best show on television.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Spork of the Gods

My new sister-in-law,* Ashley, gave me the this titanium spork for Christmas and/or my birthday. She somehow got the idea that I enjoy owning objects made from titanium; I can't imagine how that happened. Anyway, I'm now able to eat both liquids and solids with great ease and speed, thanks to the spork's 15-gram mass.

It's too bad I can't foon my spork, though. Alas.

* I'm still getting accostomed to having a sister-in-law. It's weird to use that phrase.


Sharp debuted a 108-inch LCD TV at CES on this week. Yes, one hundred and eight inches. Can Frank's 2000-Inch TV be far behind?

Update: Apparently Gabe is quite excited about this product.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I Phone, You Phone, We All Phone For iPhone

I'm no Apple enthusiast, but the iPhone seems pretty slick.

I, For One, Welcome Our New Lego Overlords

I encourage you to check out this video of an amazing automated Lego car factory. Note that the colors of the various colors can be selected.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dear Chuck

Today is my father's birthday. So, happy birthday, Dad!

My Car Gets 40 Rods to the Hogshead

It looks like NASA is finally switching to the metric system.

Not So Cryptic After All

Regular readers may recall that I posted about a possibly new species being discovered on the island of Borneo. Well, any cryptozoologists among the readership will be disappointed to hear that Darren Naish has just put up a two-part analysis of the creature, and he concludes that it's most likely an already-known species.

iRobot Gets Create-Ive

It looks like iRobot, makers of the very popular Roomba and Scooba lines of household robots, have taken notice of all the hacking of these machines that's going on. Since these robots have mature drive and sensor systems, they make great platforms on which to build one's own robot. So, iRobot will soon release the Create, a new model that is essentially a Scooba stripped of the cleaning equipment and loaded up with connectors to which all kinds of sensors and actuators can be attached. Here's a good write-up from Robot Magazine. Groovy, eh?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I'll See You In Hell, Pachelbel!

Brian posted a link to this on his blog and, as an "orchestra geek" from wayback, I enjoyed it immensely. I hope you do, too!

I'm So Tech-Savvy it Hurts

Well, for those of you who don't know, thanks to my wonderful husband, I now have a iPod. That's right...I am one of those uber-cool people who runs around to their own private soundtrack thanks to white earbuds. Rock on, me...rock on.

I have decided, though, that the iPod should come with some tech support in the form of someone to rip all of your CDs to your computer for you so that you can then upload your music to your iPod. I really like my iPod...I just am growing weary of the project it has become. I keep forgetting that I am doing this and I'll come back from doing whatever and find that my computer has been patiently waiting for me to put in yet another CD. Really, this would go much faster if I had a longer attention span. I want to get to the part where I just buy new music from the iTunes store. Are we there yet?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'b Sig

I came down with some kind of respiratory infection on Christmas day. Normally, I get over these things in about 36 hours, but I felt terrible the next day, forcing me to cancel my Michaelmas plans, about which I was rather excited. I was quite a bit better the following day, so the long car trip back to Maryland wasn't a complete nightmare, but my symptoms are still---still!---lingering. The worst part is that I have decided it's unwise to exercise strenuously during my illness, so I've eliminated weight training and limited my cardiovascular exercise to easy rides on my trainer; it's driving me crazy.

Ah, the Bachelor Lifestyle 3: Your Newton Update

Newton has made some significant progress recently, so I thought I'd report it here.
  • First, for the last couple of weeks, excluding our disorienting trip to my ancestral home, he's been sleeping through the night. He hasn't woken us up because he needs to use his box* or, as is more often the case, because he's awake and wants to play. Ah, sleep...
  • Second, for about the same length of time, he's been much better behaved around the house. Aside from being quite consistent about using the box, he doesn't chew as much on things he shouldn't , and when you tell him to drop something, he often does. Good boy!
All of this is particularly useful now, since Alison has gone to Chicagoland to visit her family. While she's gone, I've been practicing my single-parenting skills and doing "guy stuff" with Newton.

* I don't know if we mentioned this before, but we are litter-box-training him.

Monday, January 01, 2007

I'm Converting to Pastafarianism

Somehow, I've only today learned about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the deity at the center of Pastarainism, a parody religion created in 2005 to protest the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools. I'm completely entranced by this belief system. I mean, not only is it just as firmly based on evidence as the traditional major religions, but its adherents can be more holy by talking like pirates. And you won't believe the rewards that await the faithful in the afterlife. RAmen, brother! The sacred text should be on its way to me soon.

The Mole Man

I've just learned that Amedeo Avagadro was an extremely unattractive man.


I didn't make up this word; I first became aware of it in 2003 when the American Dialect Society pronounced it the year's most useful new word. However, Alison and I have found it quite useful when describing ourselves. Brian's recent post inspired me to post my definition of this word, which differs somewhat from Wikipedia's:
flexitarian, noun. A person who is not a vegitarian but frequently or usually eats vegetarian meals.