Back In Black : Discovery Launches with Few Hitches

07/05/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science


Yay! They're back into space, up in orbit. No explosions, no Busey-esque terrorists on the platform.

We took a break around lunchtime at work yesterday to watch the launch. I'd forgotten what it felt like to watch a launch, in particular when it's actually happening live, and you don't know what the next minutes are going to bring.

I hope this fades the pall that has been cast over manned spaceflight these past many years.


6% GST is Here

07/05/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A], Politics

I didn't even notice it creeping up on us: the GST has been reduced from 7% to 6% here, just on the Canada Day weekend.

We first encountered it waiting in line behind a couple of people making returns at a store. We wondered why it was taking such a long time, but eventually puzzled out from the conversation that since the GST had changed, they actually had to refund and then re-buy the purchases in their system. The GST had changed? Oh!

Harper says he'll reduce it to 5%. It's good to know; hopefully we can afford it, mind you, since the 7% GST originally replaced a 9% 'hidden' manufacturer's tax. The money, as they say, has to come from somewhere.

We'll enjoy the break on large purchases, of course.

Places that already factor the GST into their prices to get nice round numbers probably aren't going to change their prices, of course. Didn't notice a whit of difference downstairs at the in-building convenience store :)


Space Not Expanding? and Other Questions

07/05/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A], Thoughts, Science


Not published yet, but came across this interesting paper which did a sort of Michelson-Morley experiment but for the expansion of space.

The hypothesis being tested was that if local space was expanding, effects of this would show up if you let lasers lase in a pump and probe beam setup. They indicate that we now have the measurement capability to detect the effect, if it exists, and they did not find it.

Now mind you, this would measure local expansion of space, and in some variations of Big Bang Theory, local space (i.e. that around our galaxy) does not actually expand. The alternative being that local space would expand but gravity and electromagnetism would keep everything bound into smaller clusters.

(Of course, the other alternative being that there's no space expansion whatsoever... :) )

Another interesting link from ACG is a slideshow on MOND, that is, MOdified Newtonian Dynamics.

You may have heard of the search for Dark Matter. Part of this search is inspired by the problem with galactic rotation curves. Galaxies don't rotate as they should, based on the matter we can see.

There are a multitude of possibilities. Either it's normal matter that you just can't see (a lot of it), or it's "non-baryonic matter" (a la Star Trek when they get smucked by a cosmic string), or our equation of gravity doesn't work as well on galactic scales.

MOND takes the latter approach, and the drop-off in gravitational pull lessens as the distance from the center widens. Take a look-see at the slides.

The couple of alternative cosmology tidbits that could play on MOND. MOND dynamics are pretty similar to some of the 'pushing gravity' or 'LeSagian' systems I have previously read, where gravity is from a push force, not a pull force. MOND-type graphs can result from gravity particles that get absorbed.

Another relates to the MOND problem with galaxy mergers. I follow Arp on one particular thing in thinking that most galaxy mergers are actually ejections. If they are, it causes MOND fewer problems.


The Brick Testament

07/02/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, Religion


Wow, talk about a labour of... well, some combination of emotions which may have included part love and part obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I'm talking about the Bible done entire in lego. (From a link on the Divine Afflatus)

When my mother was packing up for a last move to the UK, we came across some bibles. I was intrigued to see that they were all New Testament-only, and some tiny editions which I can surmise contain only the nicer chapters thereof.

That just totally misses all of the violent, gory fun of the Old Testament. (I suppose there was a reason why such bibles were called the "Good News Bible"!) Such as the massacre of the Canaanites in Judges.

The tent peg to the head is definitely a special effects tour-de-force :)


Crib Wars

07/02/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Games


My wife and I gave her parents the game Crib Wars for Christmas, and I got to see it in action yesterday.

You can play regular crib on the board if you so care to. There's a spot marked "121" for the number of regular holes in the path.

What's the fun in that, though? In Crib Wars, you have cruel penalty boxes (knock you out for three whole hands), time traps (if you land within blue-bordered holes, you must go backwards along the blue route before you can go forward again), skipping areas that jump you forward, and advancement tracks which put you down a path that lets you skip whole sections.

You need to be a pretty strategic player for this. Simply being a good crib player isn't enough, since it's very hard to skip the time trap squares when you're pegging*. Of course, you have to be careful with your strategy when counting your hand(s) as well. It's easy to get overjoyed with a hand of 24 and land on the worst spot possible (exactly as happened to my wife yesterday)

(*For those not in the know with crib, when you're going around the table, dealing out cards so that things total up to 15, or 31, or getting last card, or making a pair or a straight with the last cards shown, you usually advance by one or two holes at a time. This is called 'pegging', and it's definitely dangerous in crib wars to be just in front of something bad while you're pegging)

It's a fun variant of crib, but prepare for a lot of frustration until you get the strategy down. Dena's mom went through one time trap four times before finally managing to skip it.


Canada Day Fireworks in Strathmore

07/02/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions

Spending a pretty relaxing evening with the in-laws yesterday, we got out to see the fireworks. They moved it from the nearby pond to a bigger venue, which was understandable given the increasing population of Strathmore, but which robbed us of reflections in the water.

It was a mighty good show, as always. I do wonder whether fireworks technology really has just for some reason really advanced over the past five or ten years, or whether the really cool stuff is getting cheaper, or we're getting richer sponsors, or what have you. There were some very nifty effects on the go.

There were plenty of 'Rice Krispie'-sounding rockets. There were rockets that not only spewed a bright spiral trail on their way up, but had a grand regular fireworks explosion at the top. There was a cluster that burned really brightly on the way down and just lit up the place.

My favourite was one that exploded into some sixteen spinning white "spiral galaxies". They only had the one, though; it must have been pricy.

It's nice when you can get out of Calgary, whose fireworks are often amazing but impossible to get near without hours of advance planning, out to somewhere where it's still possible to park and just walk a couple of blocks, and where the fireworks are still pretty grand :)


Scotland Chooses a National Anthem

07/02/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

Well, no' quite.

It may not be official, but it was chosen in voting run by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

They had a choice between:

  • Scots Wha Hae (Scots Who Have)
  • Scotland the Brave (eminently recognizable when played on bagpipes)
  • A Man's a Man (For A' That)
  • Flower of Scotland
  • Highland Cathedral

You can listen to the songs here, but note that they have been strongly... "anthemized" from their originals.

Apparently, they chose Flower of Scotland. Interesting amongst the choices for not being traditional, but being of the modern era originally by the Corries.

I still think they missed a great chance. They should have offered up "Donald, Whaur's Yer Troosers (in English: Donald, Where Are Your Pants?!) as a choice.

I guess it wouldn't have been dignified :)


What We Need More Of Is Science

06/30/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions


I must say, I just get a kick out of this video (click 'Watch This Movie').

I wonder what Hawking thinks of his icon status.

I'll bet he'd rather just be walking and talking.

(Found out that Hawking thinks it's pretty good Spitting Image-style satire)


Future Little Science Experiments

06/21/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Ethics, People

I have a casual plan in mind to call my future children "my little science experiments", with a twinkle in my eye.

It's odd to be contemplating children. I feel at once too young and well past old enough. You know it's an investment. You know your lives are not your own for the next twenty or so years. It will be worth it. Regardless of the mere concept of children, though, you can only be so prepared for the real thing when you finally meet them ;)

Everyone's got plans of some sort or another for their children. Thoughts about how to discipline them, how to bring them up, what battles to fight. I've put a little thought into that so far, and what follows is a perhaps meandering yet representative list of what I plan to do, without yet having the experience of children that may yet render some of my plans moot :)

Full story »



06/21/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Television


After seeing the movie Serenity, Dena and I decided that we might like to see the series. After picking it up from HMV for a modest $25, we can see now why Firefly fans were choked about the very first season being cancelled when it was. Fox only aired 11 of the 14 episodes, so even those who caught it on TV will find something new here.

This is a smart, puckish, entertaining series. Every bit the charm and wit of the movie based on it.

Set in a future where there are the more established "core worlds" controlled by a somewhat smothering government, and well-to-poorly terraformed planets out on the edges with a very, very "frontier" feel to them, and a lifestyle to match.

To call it "Cowboys in Space" would be tangentially accurate, but doesn't capture the heart of the show.

Having studied Mandarin at university, I get the biggest kick ever out of the sprinkling of Mandarin phrases (sounded like Taiwanese influence) in amongst southern-sounding (e.g. "oughta should") but odd dialected English, with its own vernacular like "shiny" for OK or "sly" for gay.

The writing and the acting are just... smart. It would be hard to portray a captain more human and more loyalty-inspiring than the lead character, Malcolm Reynolds. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever witnessed character dynamics as fascinating on the small screen.

The proof is in the pudding, mind you. We lapped up the entire series over the course of five days, and now... we're just a bit desperate for more. *sigh* If there are signs of them trying to start it up again, count us in.

Highly recommended, even for those who aren't big science fiction fans.

Now, if I can only get the theme song out of my head, I'll be fine.


Tir Nanog

06/16/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science


Okay, so the Nature article is a little thick. How about the Register, then?

I've said for a while that embryonic stem cells were likely to be only a temporary stopping point, until we figured out what their "tricks" were, and could apply them to older cells. All of which made embryonic stem cell bans (even private enterprise had to go through incredible hoops to never touch anything 'public' in their research US-side) especially frustrating.

I didn't expect to find out that a bunch of Scotsmen may well have the first steps to that very leapfrogging process. The Nanog gene seems to reset the specialization paths of entire colonies of cells, giving them back their ability to change into multiple kinds of tissue. This may open up a lot of opportunities for therapies.

I'll bet that Nanog operates on histone tails, the bits on a chromosome which physically allow access to the DNA in the chromosome. If it does, I'd be interested in finding out how.

Can always count on the biosciences for a bit of interesting news :)


Coulter and Carlin on Leno

06/13/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

Tomorrow night (June 14th) on Leno: both right-wing hatemonger Ann Coulter and visceral ol' hippy George Carlin will be on.

Will they directly address one another at all? Will they have each other's love children?

I'm going to try to stay conscious for this one, and maybe record it for Dena :)

UPDATE: A little less in the way of sparks flying than I hoped for, but Carlin's a gentleman when it comes to other folks in arm's reach. They only showed a few camera pans when he was on the couch and Coulter was speaking - he seemed grimacy and uncomfortable, but trying to keep up good spirits. Leno asked a few of the hard questions, really seeming to want to get at the bottom of things (e.g. paraphrasing: have you ever been hurt by something someone else said or wrote?) but didn't really get to the bottom of things (e.g. paraphrasing: I was upset when the liberals didn't even get upset at blah). No, Leno, you're nice, but she's just not going to open up to you or anybody else :)

Myself, I keep wondering whether Coulter has that David Brock-esque feeling oppressed by college leftist culture living hypocritically spreading lies because the cause is more important than the truth type of thing going for her. I guess we'll have to wait for the diary after she dies - if someone disarms the self-destruction mechanism ;)
KT Tunstall was on the program - she had a one-man band setup and did a pretty good job. On her guitar was a sticker "This machine eats fascists" (I may only be approximating here). Didn't get to hear much of her Scottish accent, though.

(Dena on KT: She's a music nerd! [referring to her one-man band setup] I love nerds of all sorts!)

I wonder if Carlin will gear himself up for a new rant at all. Moments I am likely reading entirely too much into: near the end of Coulter's rant, he appeared to be trying to keep himself warm. Right at the end of KT's set, he went over and immediately clapped KT appreciatively on the back (for the song, the sticker, or both?). As I say, reading too much in :)


The Broken Plate

06/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Restaurants

This is a fine little restaurant in the northwest of Calgary up by Crowfoot Crossing; a good spot for Greek food. Reservations are recommended for Saturday.

The appetizers were nice; we got the Greek platter, which had dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), keftedes (Greek meatballs), calamari and spanakopita. It's quite a large plate, definitely sufficient for four (unless you're college students), heavy on the calamari.

They seem to specialize in seafood, especially at this time of year. I had the salmon, which comes layered with spinach, spanakopita-style in phyllo pastry. It was good. My wife had the lamb, which was fall-off-the-bone.

Mildly on the pricy side, but not outlandish, especially given the quality of the food.

Apparently, you can break plates there, in a controlled manner. We got to witness such a controlled crash in the corner, but not partake, so I don't know what the real rules are for plate-breaking.

They also have flaming cheese. We were warned that a neighbouring table was about to enjoy this dish, prepared with brandy and flame. The warning was a good thing - there's a big flash of heat that comes off them. One thing that disturbed me was the name of the kind of cheese they use: kefalotiri. Literally, that seems like it would mean "head cheese", but certainly not the way we'd mean it. It's named after a style of hat, it would seem.



06/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Toys


I got to play with this oddball gem of a program for the Nintendo DS the other day.

The idea of this program is to help you keep up your prefrontal cortex activity. Dr. Ryuta Kawashima designed it, and I'm guessing it is he that is embodied in the Kryten-like excessively jolly floating head on screen.

Unlike other Nintendo DS games that I've seen, this one is meant to be used left/right, and takes advantage of some rudimentary speech recognition and handprinting recognition as well.

The game leads you through a number of different activities (they emphasize doing different activities), such as having calculations scroll up the left hand side, like 3x0, 15-7, 4+19, and you write in your answers on the right hand side as fast as you can. There's a variation on the old 'actual colour is different from what's printed' game, where you have to speak the colour the word is printed in (so they'll have "Red" in black letters, and you must say "black").

There's a low-to-high game, where you get to see an amount of numbers in varying shapes for two seconds, they disappear and you tick off the boxes in order from what the lowest to highest numbers are (the number of numbers increase as you get things right and decrease as you don't, which can make you crazy :) ). There's also a game in which various numbers of varying colours which may be spinning or pulsing or sliding appear, and the questions vary: "How many red #s are there?", "How many 4s are there?", "How many pulsing numbers are there?" There's a word memorization game in which you're given two minutes to memorize 30 words, and three minutes to write down as many as you can remember.

It's quite an intense brain workout, really :)

One thing I noticed is that they stick entirely to primary colours: there's black, red, blue and yellow. There is no green. I wonder whether this makes it usable by those who are red/green colour-blind?

The best "Brain Age" score you can get is 20 years old. (Everyone starts at 75 at the very beginning; don't be alarmed)

I'm just tickled 'cos I got 21 (and no, that's not easy to get). Booyah! At least my prefrontal cortex is in decent working order; if only the rest of me was :)

This has got to be good for keeping your brain sharp, though. There's a fair bit more depth to it than I got to experience in a single session. If you're retiring, and crossword puzzles aren't your thing, this might do you very well.



Alternative Cosmology Group

06/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science


What got me going again was someone asking about the source of a very cool dodecahedral WMAP cutout on Vincent Icke's web page.

Well, I thought I'd put my Googling skills to the test again. I didn't find the source, unfortunately, but I was appalled at what I did find: dodecahedral universes - coming out through mainstream channels. Oh boy, the universe could be a soccer ball connected to an infinite number of other soccer balls!

It's funny that alternative cosmology is even called that, when it so often pushes for a rather ordinary view of the cosmos, and considering what passes muster for non-alternative these days ;)

Anyhow, these folks in the Alternative Cosmology Group started out with this Open Letter which was published in New Scientist. Their newsletter isn't much of a newsletter in and of itself: it's mostly links to scholarly papers.

If you can't read a regular astronomy paper, you won't be able to read these either. The papers are interesting, though, if you can slog through them. This one by Glushkov has some strange pieces to it, but the general idea is that if quasars, according to Big Bang Theory, are supposed to be galaxies in the earlier universe, if the Big Bang was smooth, as is also asserted, then the distribution of quasars should be isotropic, that is, basically equal any direction you look. However, they are not.

And so on...

Anyhow, I haven't heard much out of mainstream Big Bang Theory of late. There's one group rehashing Big Bang/Big Crunch. There's another reading more into WMAP data. *sigh* Stagnation punctuated by craziness.


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