Angels from Another Pin
(Neoplasm pleonasm)


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29 August 2003
Working with the genes for the olfactory sense, scientists have determined when the sense of smell in humans began to decline.
Humans rapidly lost much of their sense of smell as they evolved to place a heavier emphasis on their sense of sight, according to a recent genetics study.

Although they have the same number of genes for smell detection as other primates (about 1,000), in humans more than half these no longer function, scientists reported in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

That decline took place within an 'evolutionary moment' of just three to five million years, and it happened four times faster in the branch of the evolutionary tree leading to humans than it did for other primates, said the team's leader, Professor Doron Lancet of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

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Attempting to unseat a duly elected governor, attempting to change the constitution of Pennsylvania to unseat another sitting governor (link expired), allowing only easily-spun broadcast media into a press conference... The modern GOP appears to have a problem with both the democratic process and freedom of information.

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Joe Foering
(Ashcroft link)

28 August 2003 ::   When the aliens finally come and make us pets, I'd like to not be the yippy toy poodle of the universe --Matt Smith  
The next page of A Miracle of Science is up. It's set on Mars. Which you should go out and look at tonight.

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Twelve GM Futurliners were built to carry an exhibition called "The Parade of Progress." Active from the 1930s through the 1950s, one of the last of the Futurliners was in a sad state of decay until a group of automobile hobbyists decided to restore it. The team rebuilding the vehicle have a large number of well-captioned pictures of their work up on the site. Interesting, but perhaps only to the sort of people who watch "Junkyard Wars" and "Modern Marvels," which I am sure includes at least some of you...

A small side-track on the television show "Modern Marvels." This show had a one-hour episode on the history of concrete. I watched it. I enjoyed it. I am a geek. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

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Noel Tominack
Speaking of magma plumes, this atlas of igneous rocks is pretty cool. Lots of nice images, such as this picture of a chunk of obsidian

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27 August 2003 ::   All progress depends on the unreasonable man  
Recent weirdo search term that found this site: "Who are the Illuminati who own Walmart?" I have no idea where to even start with this one. Other than the local loony bin.

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It appears as if the regular motion of the Pacific tectonic plate, which we all learned about in science classes, is the tiniest bit wrong.
The magnetization of the lavas recovered from the northern end of the Emperor-Hawaiian chain suggested these rocks were formed much farther north than the current hotspot, which is forming Hawaii today. As magma forms, magnetite, a magnetically sensitive mineral, records the Earth's magnetic field just like a compass. As the magma cools and becomes solid rock, the compass is locked in place. Measuring the angle that this magnetism records relative to the Earth's surface allows geophysicists to determine the latitude at which magma solidified: Near the equator the angle is very small while nearer the poles, the angle is near vertical. If the Hawaiian hot spot had always been fixed at its current location of 19 degrees north, then all the rocks of the entire chain should have formed and cooled there, preserving the magnetic signature of 19 degrees even as the plate dragged the new stones north-westward. Tarduno's team, however, found that the more northern their samples, the higher their latitude. The northern-most lavas they recovered were formed at over 30 degrees north about 80 million years ago, nearly a thousand miles from where the hot spot currently lies.

"The only way to account for these findings is if the Pacific plate was almost stationary for a time while the magma plume was moving south," says Rory Cottrell, research scientist and coauthor of the paper. "At some point about 45 million years ago, it seems that the plume stopped moving and the plate began."

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26 August 2003 ::   The nutritious cereal that's like getting hit in the back of the head with a surfboard of flavor!  
The folks who worked to upgrade the Lovell radio telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory took some interesting pictures of the process.

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One of those odd things you learn of if you attend Catholic school (which I did - and, believe me, being the sole agnostic in a Catholic high school is really surreal) is the existence of the Gospel of Thomas. Thought to have been effectively lost or destroyed during the time the early Christian churches were busily creating their lists of orthodox texts with which to imprison the minds of Europe for millennia preach to the heathens, the book was rediscovered in modern times. A very strange book, especially if you're used to the "normal" New Testament. As a fantasy-author gedankenexperiment, try to imagine a world in which the Gospel of Thomas became part of Jerome's Vulgate Bible.

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25 August 2003 ::   Pour le bling-bling  
Dear White House Economists,
You suck. Your deficits suck. Kindly resign from office.
Sincerely,
An Independent Businessman Who Would Like The Economy Not To Tank, Please.

P.S. Half a TRILLION dollars a YEAR? What drugs are you idiots taking?

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The plot thickens perceptibly in A Miracle of Science.

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The Web site SpaceRef has the largest images of the recent blackout from space I have seen. Provided for contrast are images of the same locations less than a day before the blackout began.

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Scientists have discovered how AIDS destroys human immunity.
A human gene named ATR normally protects people by preventing the replication of cells damaged by radiation or toxic chemicals. Now, Utah and New York researchers have discovered how a gene in the AIDS virus hijacks the human gene and turns it into a weapon that prevents reproduction of immune-system white blood cells, leaving AIDS patients vulnerable to deadly infections and cancer...

[The discovery] also raises the prospect for new kinds of treatments for AIDS and cancer.

Researchers already knew that an HIV gene named vpr led to the depletion of immune-system white blood cells named CD4+ lymphocytes. The new study suggests vpr does that by activating the ATR gene, which is found in white blood cells and all human cells.

The ATR gene's normal job is to detect genetic damage to cells caused by radiation, toxic chemicals and chemotherapy, and to stop the damaged cells from replicating until they can repair themselves. Planelles and researchers at the University of Rochester, N.Y., found evidence that the vpr gene one of nine genes in the AIDS virus exploits this normal repair process to stop vital white blood cells from replicating, thus disabling the immune system.

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22 August 2003 ::   Of course, the new [software] code also blows chunks, but they are smaller, more frequent, and of a more uniform size  
Mars at 5.94 meters per pixel. You can see sand dunes, craters both relatively unweathered and partially buried under loess, and a sinuous crevasse. This isn't a special place on Mars of any kind; it just looks keen.

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21 August 2003 ::   I forgot to defrag my robot and it absolved my dishes and led a violent rebellion to take over my apartment --Alyce Wilson  
Search for "reconditioned WW2 battleship" and it's amazing what turns up. The tabletop space combat game Star Smashers! looks like a lot of fun. Any game where the concept is stated as: "Players move their ships about on a tabletop or floor and make a public spectacles of themselves as they attempt to blow the hell out of the other players' ships" gets high marks from me. Wanna run it, Mike?

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About halfway through, this German forklift safety video turns into a strange, extremely goofy horror-comedy. The combination of the calm, instructive German narrator and the on-screen carnage makes it seem almost like a Monty Python routine. Worthwhile viewing. (Warning: 6 MB in size, 9 minutes long.)

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"ArchHallJr" via Fred Coppersmith


20 August 2003 ::   Pittsburgh's for mousealopes only!  
Just how big is a Moon rocket? Compare the people in this picture to the rocket behind them.

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Archaeologists in England contacted a police fingerprint expert to attempt to determine if several pottery shards were made by the same person, or a group of people working under the same name. While the results were inconclusive, it is believed to be the first time criminal fingerprinting has been used in archaeology.

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19 August 2003 ::   The [President]'s got a tougher job to do than any of us can even imagine. That's why it's your patriotic duty to make life a little easier on him by voting him the hell out of office as soon as humanly possible.  
The more-than-slightly mad Gematriculator will determine whether or not your Web site is evil using some sort of Bible code. The site is decorated in a suitably gothy black, and claims to determine the evilness of Web sites using the Finnish alphabet. For the record, Angels from Another Pin is 81% good and 19% evil as of today.

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In a technique straight out of neo-cyberpunk, US Army personnel are using Photoshopped Saddams pulled off the Internet to create posters which will, they hope, flush old-regime loyalists out of the woodwork.

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Mitch Hagmaier


18 August 2003 ::   We can fix their troubles just be quiet as a mouse  
A new page of A Miracle of Science: at the end of every fall from orbit is a crater.

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A new study links the death of writing systems to the failures of the civilizations which use them. While this may seem rather straightforward, it's good to have some kind of vague confirmation of the fact.
They discovered that writing systems required a good deal of investment by societies to survive, with a strong commitment to training young scribes. Usually these systems were related to multiple functions, like administrative dealings or government, or to religious values. When those functions became limited, or when the religious basis for using a writing system failed, another script tended to come along that was more general in use.

"Many scripts also 'die' when a powerful, centrally organized entity, like the Roman or Spanish empire, finds whatever the script is recording to be obnoxious and worthy of suppression," said Houston. "That is, people don't take on alphabetic writing because it's better, but because older, indigenous writing systems have associations that new regimes wish to do away with."

The team points out that the scripts they studied were faced with competitors -- "Aramaic and Greek in Mesopotamia, Greek in Egypt, Spanish among the Maya -- that did not have problematic connections to languages and high cultures of diminished interest," they write in their paper. "By the time of their abandonment, Egyptian, cuneiform and Mayan must have accrued sufficient negative prestige and stigma to discourage further use."

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15 August 2003 ::   A diagnostic is someone who doesn't know whether there are two gods  
Welcome to the Information Age. The US military has put images online of the Iraqi fighter jets that were pulled from under the sands of al-Taqqadum air field.

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Noel Tominack
A twelve-by-eighteen inch possible meteor crater appeared in a parking lot in the lower peninsula of Michigan over the past weekend. The article comes complete with picture, and is unusual among newspaper reporting in that it allows for scientific uncertainty, noting that the pit in the asphalt has not yet been determined to be anything special by scientists. So score one for the Detroit News.

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14 August 2003 ::   Screw this boring reality. Give me a magical sword, give me a big robot suit, tell me I'm descended from kings. --Glenn Juskiewicz  
Chapter Three of A Miracle of Science has started, with a new, sharp look for the art.

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IBM, not known for its games, is working on porting OS/400 to run on the PlayStation game console. (Another, shorter article is here.) OS/400 is the operating system on IBM's sturdy AS/400 midrange computers. So a good analogy is putting a Mack truck engine into a motorcycle.

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Craig Powell


13 August 2003 ::   I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru  
Observe the wonderful goofiness that is Eigenradio.
All those stations, playing all that music, all the time! There's at least 40 different songs being played every week on most radio stations! Who has enough time in the day to listen to them all? That's why we've set up banks of computers to do the listening for us. They know what you really want to hear. They're trading variety for variance.

Eigenradio plays only the most important frequencies, only the beats with the highest entropy. If you took a bunch of music and asked it, "Music, what are you, really?" you'd hear Eigenradio singing back at you. When you're tuned in to Eigenradio, you always know that you're hearing the latest, rawest, most statistically separable thing you can possibly put in your ear.

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Someone hit my site looking for information on salaries at Electronics Boutique. The answer to your query, dear reader, is "they pay bupkis."

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4 August 2003 ::   Attention. All honor roll students will be rewarded by a trip to an archaeological dig. Also, all detention students will be punished with a trip to an archaeological dig.  
Angels from Another Pin will be on hiatus until next week. Busy, busy, busy.

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Quickly! It's the bug-track beacon! (By the same clever fellow who brought us the alien-confounding image upgrade for Planet Earth, which I linked to a couple of years ago.)
This is the the Heavenly Shining Beacon of Hope, which I purchased at the Stanford Linear Accelerator garage sale in 1995. It's about four and a half feet tall and has a spinning light at the top...

The beacon was originally attached to an SGI Indigo2. Long after this machine became obsolete, Nick Foster rewired the serial port interface so it would work with a Linux box. He also modified the beacon control software so that the light flashes every time someone files a bug report

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1 August 2003 ::   "C'mon, Homer, Japan will be fun. You like Rashomon."
"That's not how I remember it."
 
Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy is a strange, Victorian view of the utopian world of the far-flung future year A.D. 2000.

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Ever wonder about the ships the Navy uses for target practice? So do the guys who served on those ships when they were in commission. And they can go into quite a lot of detail in their search for the resting places of their old berths.

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