Angels from Another Pin
(Eschatological aspirations)


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31 October 2002 ::   Shadows know queer secrets, and there are some skulls that have reason to grin  
I have already linked to it before, but I can think of no better day than today to repeat a suggestion that you burrow into the Lovecraft Library like a rat gnawing on the covers of the Necronomicon.

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Regular reader Joe Foering states that today is his birthday. Joe was born in the Carpathian Mountains in A.D. 874, was cursed by the Gypsies for an unspeakable crime he dare not reveal, and has spent the last millennium stalking the restless earth with a satchel of lich-yard dirt on his back and an unquenchable thirst in his soul.

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A star has been found with 1/200,000th the heavy element content of the Sun, marking it as perhaps fourteen billion years old.

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You know, the whole Harken Energy thing is starting to look like Law and Order right after the first commercial break, when the evidence is starting to pile up and Detective Brisco says "Harvey Pill rolled on you, George. Now's the time to cut a deal."

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View the eerie floating* cybergeek in the new page of A Miracle of Science.

* Floating caused by microgravity and not any sort of supernatural effect. Some settling may have occurred during haunting.

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You will be eternally cursed if you fail to solve the riddle of the seven jack o' lanterns!

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Make the day a little spookier with these Halloween-themed downloads: MIDI files and desktop pictures, sounds, and music.

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Roman Catholics (and many others) consider Halloween the vigil before All Saints' Day. Neopagans celebrate the day as a high holiday. Atheists speak out at Halloween against superstition and flummery. Agnostics say "Hey, free candy!"

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No less an authority than the Library of Congress provides an explanation of the folklore roots of Halloween.

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The world's largest pumpkin weighed over 1337 pounds. That's one 'leet pumpkin!

I'm going to Hell for that pun, aren't I?

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We'll start Halloween with this information about the (hopefully resting) dead buried at Westminster Abbey, including the 152 year old Thomas Parr.

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30 October 2002 ::   Once again, I'm banished to the demon section of the card catalogue  
Fred Coppersmith has uploaded some rather attractive pictures of State College from the day before the first snow of winter made the place gray for the next six months.

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I don't know - and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know - why someone found this site whilst searching for "pictures of pretty satanic angels." I am also scared that this site is number three in the search.

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Guard your pumpkins from the local teenagers on Mischief Night. This is my not-terribly-subtle way of leading you to the Harvard Dialect Survey.

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29 October 2002 ::   I am allergic to fire, sir  
Microsoft's licensing agreement for its latest OS patches, which gives Microsoft the right to access content on your computer without your permission, may force banks to drop Microsoft altogether.
At issue is Microsoft's "automatic update" feature, which allows users to automatically get upgrades and patches to their systems. To get the updates, users must agree to give Microsoft access to information on their systems.

That, says [Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union CIO Lester] Warby, conflicts with federal regulations for financial institutions, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 2001. The new law, which goes into effect next May, forbids financial service companies from giving third parties access to customer data without express consent from the customer. European countries generally have even stricter data privacy laws.

"We're forced into a position where we're either out of compliance with Microsoft's licensing, which is not acceptable, or we're out of compliance with the law, which is not acceptable either. Under these circumstances, we'll probably change our operating system," says Warby.

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Ever since Moby became a big star by selling his music to play in advertisements, television commercials have become more and more like music videos. The Internet, purveyor of all information which matters, provides a way to look up the music in commercials, as long as you live in North America.

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28 October 2002 ::   Fine, you try to come up with good Satanic-kitten-hunting catch-phrases  
A Miracle of Science is updated. You may have had some problems getting to the comic yesterday, as a couple of files were crossed. It's all fixed now.

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A British conservation society, English Heritage, believes that crop lines in the hills near the town of Weaverthorpe are signs of large scale cattle farming in the second century BCE. "Huge 100-yard wide funnels inside the crop lines suggest thousands of cattle were being driven up and out to the higher pasture to graze and brought down for water twice a day," said investigator Dave MacLeod, as quoted by Reuters.

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Oh, hey, Boston has a new single out.

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27 October 2002 ::   I'm not too up on my Bible events but I picture God as a giant octopus in a top hat and Jesus as a sort of sock puppet with a magic ring that grants wishes  
The McBride campaign for the Florida governorship is going to air ads using videotaped comments made in 1999 by his opponent, Jeb Bush, which include a glowing commendation of McBride. These will be contrasted with recent attack ads by Bush on McBride. This is clever, and sneaky, and funny as hell.

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Here's something I thought I'd never see - a columnist for The New York Times comparing the Bush administration's minimal acquaintance with the truth to the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch.

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26 October 2002 ::   I couldn't have picked a nicer arch nemesis  
Lawrence Kestenbaum has compiled a list of "419" (Nigerian fraud) emails going back to 2000. Looking over them, I find it hard to believe anyone is taken in by them - they read like a typical street scam, writ large. The Nigerian email scam hits the sweet spot at the intersection of Greed Street and Stupid Avenue.

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Creepy 'Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes' poster Hello, Creepiest Damned Thing Ever: Someone in London is papering the city with posters urging people to feel good about ubiquitous surveillance. The poster is as creepy as hell. Samizdata (a loon-ball site, but you can't have everything) compares it - rightly - to the famous poster of Big Brother.

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25 October 2002 ::   If I knew 'getting machetes' was part of getting married, I'd have done it a long time ago --Jessica Gothie  
Senator Wellstone's airplane crashed a few minutes ago, killing everyone on board. Jesse Ventura may name his successor, depending on the outcome of the election. I fear for the species.

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Jessica points out the world's most manly chicken recipe, a concoction so gruff and masculine it can be used to stain oak boards. The recipe really says that. Go ahead and look. Warning: Site contains a really annoying popup ad.

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Jessica Gothie
I'm pretty sure all the network gurus in the audience who have ever had to work on wiring closets they didn't control are familiar with this picture.

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24 October 2002 ::   I'll have to refer you to the case of Rubber v Glue 410 U.S. 113 (1979)  
The United Nations has passed a resolution calling on North Korea to give up its attempt to build the next page of A Miracle of Science.

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Everquest has been struck by a horrifying Enron scandal....by which I mean, people everywhere are greedy. Even fifteen-year-old gamers.

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William Jones, a rank-and-file NASA employee (with a Ph.D.) explains his frustration with the proposed new NASA information technology structure:
Apparently, Mr. Strassmann recently took a tour of the Information Technology aspects of NASA and described it as like "an archaeological expedition"; not an entirely flattering remark, but perhaps he said it to a crowd of employees summoned to a parking lot somewhere, which would bring it up to NASA's standards. One thing Mr. Strassmann might want to educate himself on is the small budget issues that have been eating NASA alive for the last few years: it is something of a challenge to revamp a center's computing strategy while the space station is moaning "Feed Me!" Also, he might interrupt his chanting of "One NASA, Good NASA" long enough to notice that NASA is, in fact, quite diverse, with quite diverse computing needs.

We range from the people at the Cape who fill the tanks with fuel and push the big red button to the folks in Cleveland who are trying to figure out how to get the blue light to come out of the warp nacelles. The same dumb terminal fiber-coupled to his new computing center at Marshall is not going to meet all those needs. And finally, I have to wonder just who Mr. Strassmann visited on his archaeological expedition. I can state for a fact that he didnít visit me: if he can look at what I am doing and see it as fossilized footprints in the creek bed of computing, then one of us has our plug out of the wall, and it is not me.

While we have passed by dumb terminals fiber-coupled to a computing center at Marshall, it is internally reported that that is in fact his plan for IFMP implementation: dumb terminals (cleverly called "thin clients") with card swipers connected by dedicated fiber from hither and yon to a glass room at Marshall; talk about architecture that was hot in the 70s and died in the 80s, where has this man been? In an age when everyone else under the sun is moving to distributed computing, the network is the computer, intelligent agents roaming about, object-oriented yada yada yada, this man is buying System 360 from Big Blue and enclosing it in plexiglass! This is the sort of thing that leaves you grasping the arm rest of your chair desperately feeling for the ejection handle.

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23 October 2002 ::   Or if you wanted to be passive agressive, you could just sit there smug in your ability to sum a converging infinite series of fractions  
Boeing Bird of Prey

Fictional Bird of Prey Boeing's Phantom Works have built a very maneuverable and stealthy aircraft called the Bird of Prey. It looks an awful lot like the Star Trek Bird of Prey. Someone at Boeing has a weird sense of humor (and sixty-seven million dollars).

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Narayanan Komerath of the Georgia Institute of Technology has proposed using radio waves to maneuver objects in space. Komerath has calculated that electromagnetic waves can be used to move objects with diameters less than 5% the wavelength of the radiation. Komerath has basically invented the tractor beam.

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22 October 2002 ::   Once you start talking about UFOs and Nazi antigravity you're not far from hidden tunnels under the White House full of lizard-men disguised as Freemasons  
Charley Lindsey wonders what killed the UFOs:
The saucer hunt came and went for years. But it began to take macabre turns.

In the old contact tales, long part of UFO lore, aliens came down as "space friends," wise and movie-star handsome, sometimes in snappy uniforms. Now, they became monstrous. They kidnapped, probed, violated. They grew leathery and long-fingered. Like anti-social teenagers, they took to skulking around waste places and hurting animals.

I don't know why the saucer story grew bitter. Maybe NASA drained the universe of its thrill. In the days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, a space vehicle was a ship. In the shuttle years, it's a bus, a tow truck, a mechanical bull ride for rich tourists.

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Play cosmic billiards: Try to whack an asteroid into one of the planets of the Solar System!

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21 October 2002 ::   You're a bloody useless space monster, do you know that?  
Our new giant ant overlords command you to read A Miracle of Science.

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Via the Orion drive page linked to below, we find news that scientists Amil Lal and Hui Li at Cornell have invented a battery that converts the energy in radioactive isotopes directly into motion. A copper rod in the device captures beta particles (electrons) emitted by the radioactive source and uses the attraction between the copper and the now positively-charged isotope source to move the rod. Lal suggests using nickel-63 as the isotope in a battery which would generate useful current for half a century. As beta particles are stopped by pretty much anything (high school physics - beta rays are stopped by clothing or a piece of paper), the isotope battery is safe for use in contact with the human body. Ingenious.

A further search turns up the original announcement at Cornell's news site.

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It's illegal, and dangerous, and mad, but I've always loved the concept behind the Orion nuclear pulse drive.

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It's not particularly deep, but this paper airplane simulator is still fun to play with. (Requires the Shockwave plug-in.)

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20 October 2002 ::   Official pace car of the Apocalypse  
I ignored it when Microsoft was found to be fraudulently passing off clip-art as a customer and comments from a Microsoft thrall as a customer review, but I can't ignore it when Microsoft is caught doing it again - and doing even more poorly this time. Is this what a world-bestriding colossus robber barony has been reduced to in our thin-blooded age?

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19 October 2002 ::   It's called the Transitive Butt Property  
Weird searches that bring people here, part π: This site may be only number 38 in a search for Ninja Japanese telescopes, but we are by God number four in a search for Harry Potter gravity bong!

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18 October 2002 ::   You forgot the ability to blur the line between supervillain and deluded freak  
I remember reading, a long time ago in college, about the fossil natural fission reactors of western Africa. Fossil reactors sound like something from a bad pulp-era science fiction story, but they're real. Two billion years old, a remnant of a time when uranium was much more naturally enriched than it is today, the reactors are a long-term experiment in the storage of radioactive waste.

Found via the Astronomy Picture of the Day, a site which you should visit daily to get your USRDA of wonder and awe.

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Cloud Strife, please come to the white courtesy phone; someone has found your sword.

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17 October 2002 ::   They do not have glowing cones of light in their pants --Jessica Gothie  
Please to be enjoying fine Soviet tradition of A Miracle of Science. Also please to be enjoying pages 39, 40, and 41.

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English, I once read, contains hundreds of thousands of words. Four hundred of them await you in the vocabulary test of doom!

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Jessica Gothie
The BBC has graciously put a new Wallace and Grommit cartoon online. Weird contraptions and goofy British antics ahoy!

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16 October 2002 ::   You know, people on cell phones are like people on cocaine, except far less likely to shut up  
Deep-fried Twinkies sound like heart-attack-on-a-stick.

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Mike Ryan
Acclaim has apparently decided to follow Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto into "bad boy gaming." The problem with Acclaim's plan is that it seems they have kept the "bad boy" side and lost the "this game doesn't suck" side. Of course, they're getting some good publicity from Wal-Mart and its ilk, which are refusing to sell the game because it's bad for children and other living things.

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15 October 2002 ::   Divert all power to credit cards!  
Matt's comments about his trepidation at getting into an airplane remind me, very obliquely, of a quote from a play by Plautus called The Haunted House. In it, the merchant Theoproprides returns from a sea trip - sea trips were quite dangerous in classical Greek times - and exclaims:
Father Neptune! Many thanks for letting me off and sending me home still alive. But believe me, if you ever hear of my getting within a foot of the water hereafter, you can go right ahead and finish what you started to do this last trip. Just keep away from me, far away, from now on. I've trusted you all I'm ever going to.

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According to a history written by Evagrius in the late sixth century CE, the head of Simeon Stylites (the goofball who lived atop a pillar for most of his life and was sainted for it) was used as a talisman of good luck by the leaders of the Byzantine armies. I think I'd rather be made into a LifeGem.

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Did all that rain over the last couple of weeks put a dent in the drought? The Drought Monitor says not. I'm still sitting in the middle of a crescent of "extreme" drought, with no end in sight.

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14 October 2002 ::   One million miles away from home  
This week I'm going to be busy busy busy, so it's fitting I watch the bee cam with its hustling little worker insects.

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The big day went well for Matt and Donna: impressive ceremony, lovely reception, and the discovery that Orthodox married couples wear their rings on the right hand.

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11 October 2002 ::   We now return you to the residual background radiation in the universe left over from the Big Bang, already in progress  
I will be away at the wedding of my two good friends, Matt and Donna, this weekend. I'm leaving this morning at nine o'clock, so you won't see any updates here until Monday.

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The heirs apparent of China's Communist dictators, the taizidang, are children of privilege in a purportedly "classless" society. They are parasites. Ninety-eight percent of the spouses and children of relatively senior officials held key government or business posts, according to an internal Chinese Communist Party study, and they accounted for 78 percent of suspects in fraud cases involving more than five million yuan ($600,000).

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Yesterday some poor guy was frantically searching my site for the reason whips crack. Apparently the Scientific American article to which I linked in May is gone, and all the other sites linked to by Google are offline. My page from May has moved from HTML to SHTML, so Google is pointing to my 404 page until it spiders through here again and updates its links.

Here's the reason, as stated by the article in Scientific American, why whips crack: "Whips don't crack because the tip is passing Mach speed, as was previously thought, but because a loop travelling along the length of the whip passes Mach speed."

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This Web site is inexplicably number six in a search for the phrase "spells for finding lost pets". To this searcher, I suggest both the SPCA and a psychiatrist.

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Gender Differences in Writing Techniques, A Holistic Overview, by Prof. I. M. Madeupname, PhD.

Before anyone aims me towards Snopes, I realize it's a joke.

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Noel Tominack
Two enterprising gentlemen have created three clever renditions of Escher paintings in Legos. The third of these makes extremely good use of perspective.

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Glenn Juskiewicz
10 October 2002 ::   Bactine! Antibiotics! Heck, just set me on fire!  
Up at the top of the page so it's easily visible...

Today is my mother's birthday. She is still 29, or so I am told.

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The UN WMD inspectors would like you to take a look at the newest page of A Miracle of Science.

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I am now convinced we are all living in some 1930s pulp magazine version of the twenty-first century. We have General Lance Lord, Commander of Air Force Space Command on the job!
Lance Lord of Space Command: The Venusians are attacking! Quick, warn the President, then scramble all our space fighters!
Trixie Neutron, Chaste Love Interest: Oh, Lance, you're so commanding!
Doctor Neutron, American Patriot Scientist: No time for that! General Lord, get into this experimental space fighter and take the fight to the Venusians!
The general hasn't done anything noteworthy lately; I just like his name. LANCE LORD OF SPACE COMMAND!

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I think Ira Einhorn is trying for the insanity defense.

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Oh, hey, look: Dick Armey is being evil again. This time he's using a $10 billion military appropriations bill for a little childish personal payback against the Dallas Morning News.

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9 October 2002 ::   You have low self-esteem, high ideals, and the street smarts of a stick  
The Distributed Robot Architecture is an attempt to understand how to make robots of differing types work together to perform tasks for which they are individually unsuited. Distributed, networked workforce ahoy!

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8 October 2002 ::   He suffers from a deplorable excess of personality  
The Galerie J. Kugel is displaying an exhibition of armillary spheres, astronomical devices, and globes from before the Industrial Revolution. Objects like this are endlessly fascinating to me; analog computation devices made with the period's state-of-the art technology.

In a thousand years, our present-day computers will no doubt be in a chic gallery in Paris.

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You have to admit, this would explain a lot...

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7 October 2002 ::   Some day, humans will learn that they cannot just trot around their environment doing anything they damn well please just because they're fairly big and have opposable thumbs and access to liquid helium  
View from the Atlantis external camera Mike Ryan is annoyed he missed the launch of Atlantis this afternoon. There is a possibility the footage from Atlantis' external camera will be run again on NASA Television, which can be viewed live on the Web. As I type this, the feed is showing video of Mission Control with an occasional voice-over explaining what the Shuttle is doing now and what it will be doing shortly.

The footage is too new to have made it into the NASA audio-video archive page.

The NASA TV feed is now playing video from a camera in the Shuttle's open payload bay as it passes over the Pacific, as well as the live audio link between the ground and the Shuttle. I like living in a time when there's a video feed, accessible from anywhere in the world, which displays the activities inside NASA as they happen.

Update, five minutes later: I found the footage at MSNBC. Click "Play Video." You can hear the Shuttle's rockets slowly fade from hearing as Atlantis leaves the atmosphere. The view from the camera became unusably fogged after the solid-rocket boosters separated, which I suspect is why the video is cut at that time.

As a side note, I think all of my readers will feel a little mental thump when CapCom says "You are go for throttle-up."

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So Matt and I watched about five minutes of the premiere of Speed Racer X yesterday evening, and I came away from it with a small number of thoughts which I shall share with you as a bulleted list so it looks professional:
  • The character designs actually look pretty neat, in a retro-yet-modern way.
  • The new Mach 5 looks like the illegitimate love child of a Dodge Viper and an SU-37.
  • You can tell who the villains are by their character designs, just like in the original Speed Racer. One of the evil racers is a person of indeterminate gender with a blocky jaw and buzz-cut blond hair whom I immediately named "Herr German McEvil."

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The Kuiper Belt object Quaoar, just over half the size of Pluto, has been discovered by astronomers orbiting just beyond the outer planet.

I foresee Quaoar showing up in word puzzles for the next decade. Quaoar, World of Rampaging Vowels!

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CNN broadcast the Shuttle ET camera feed a moment ago, so I could watch the Space Shuttle lift ISS parts into orbit. All I could think was: "The MOST POWERFUL civilization of the AMERICANS is building its COLONY SHIP to colonize Alpha Centauri. We will declare WAR if you do not give us the technology of AUTOMOBILE!"

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The checker-shadow illusion is the neatest thing I have seen in a long while.

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The winners (if you can call them that) of the 2002 Ig Nobel Prizes have been announced. The crop this year is amusing, as always: "Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain," "Demonstration of the Exponential Decay Law Using Beer Froth," the vitally important "Estimation of the Total Surface Area in Indian Elephants," and a comprehensive survey of human belly button lint. The Periodic Table, mentioned here a few months ago, won the Ig Nobel for Chemistry.

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5 October 2002 ::   Now that you've exploded, any words for our listeners?  
Jessica is at work today, so I've updated this site to give her something to read while she waits for Clueless and Witless to call her back.

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May I recommend the time-wasting joy that is Homestar Runner, especially the Welcoming Film and the wacky series Strong Bad Answers His Email? (The entire site requires Flash.)

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Mark Sachs
Man. You're out of college for a decade and they change all the rules of physics. After watching billions of scattering events among protons and electrons, scientists have determined that protons are probably elliptical due to the relativistic speeds of the quarks inside them.

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In honor of all the folks I know who are getting married in the next week, I bring you a story on the ballooning cost of weddings.

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The ancient Zen rock garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto uses the foibles of the human visual recognition system to create an image out of negative space.

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4 October 2002 ::   The man in the mahogany bumpercar will answer all your questions  
The space age started forty-five years ago today.

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The Registrar at UC-Davis provides a PDF form you can print out if you need to change your ethnicicty.

I can see it now: "I never noticed before, even though I am blond and my name is Suomi Finlandson, that I am Finnish! Aiiee! I marked myself down as Pacific Islander!"

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Libertarian Smurf.

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A disused missile silo in South Dakota is set to become a national historical site. It will be the only historical site in the world which must be open to inspectors under strategic arms reduction treaties.

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Amanda brings us news of the world's funniest joke.

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Amanda Babcock
Turn up your speakers and fire.

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3 October 2002 ::   Laws are written to encourage commerce, attract consumers, and annoy the creamy nougat center out of me  
AfAP reader and contributor Glenn Juskiewicz is getting married on Saturday. Best wishes to him and his soon-to-be-wife JoAnn!

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You forget that I have an army of laser disintebots to make sure you get plenty of fresh air and exercise!

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Opening a really big eye: Scientists are preparing a permanent planet-sized radio interferometry telescope. Devices like this have been built before, but this is the first permanent device of its size.

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2 October 2002 ::   Yeah, let's slip away under cover of afternoon in the biggest car in the county  
The Pennsylvania voter-registration deadline for the general election is Monday, October 7. Please make sure you're registered to vote. Unless, that is, you hold political opinions which are opposed to mine. In that case, feel free to stay home. Put your feet up. Everything will be fine...no need to vote. Really.

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Don't play Bookworm if you have anything else to do today. It will eat your entire afternoon.

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1 October 2002 ::   Adult child of alien invaders  
Glenn has provided us with a link to a site containing instructions for building a number of paper airplanes. Your task is to build one of them, install a wingtip camera, and broadcast the footage on NASA TV.

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Glenn Juskiewicz
NASA has attached a video camera to the top of the external fuel tank on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and intends to broadcast the footage on the NASA cable/satellite channel. This is immensely nifty.

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Mike Ryan
This statement by Michael Kinsley is the best politically-minded insult I have read in months: "Iraq may be an imminent menace to the United States even though George W. Bush says it is."

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