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  11:58:34 pm, by Nimble   , 178 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Science

Tir Nanog


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 :)


  11:22:25 pm, by Nimble   , 368 words  
Categories: Announcements [A]

Coulter and Carlin on Leno

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 :)


  11:46:40 pm, by Nimble   , 232 words  
Categories: Reviews, Restaurants

The Broken Plate

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.

  11:12:07 pm, by Nimble   , 431 words  
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.


  10:51:36 pm, by Nimble   , 268 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Science

Alternative Cosmology Group


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.


  10:10:24 pm, by Nimble   , 733 words  
Categories: Announcements [A]

Hello Yourself, Moto

For Dena's birthday, we took the plunge into mobile phonedom.

There have been a few times out on the road where my poor wife has had car troubles, or we've crossed wires, or what have you, so I took her off on the Sunday to get a mobile.

(That, and I think I've finally overcome the association of cell phones with years of being woken up at three in the morning being sworn at by people on rigs needing technical support. Oof, not fun times.)

I got her a black Motorola RAZR, and myself a V317. They had a special on Bluetooth headsets, so we got those, too. Dana Green at the booth at South Centre took care of us very well.

The present came in useful almost immediately. My mother packed up the rest of the house and I drove her up to the airport, with Dena following in the PPE. Once we got up to the airport, Dena lost us behind some pedestrians and couldn't find us again. Talk about timely :)

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  11:52:54 pm, by Nimble   , 366 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense

The Ideal Lawn for Mowing

My Mom at last sold her home where we kids grew up from junior high to high school and a little beyond. It was a little bit of a sentimental occasion, but it's a very nice family from Ireland that's bought the place.

I got to take the old lawnmower for one last test drive. Boy, was that an exercise in frustration :)

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  11:12:26 am, by Nimble   , 521 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion, Science

No Free Hunch

In following the "Intelligent Design" debate, when I'm not getting a bit sick to my stomach, I must admit to being thankful for the occasional humourous distraction.

The No Free Hunch list (a take off on Dembski's paper "No Free Lunch", which I've dissected elsewhere) is a great, dripping sarcastic list which despite its humour really does identify what's wrong with Intelligent Design, its proponents and Creationism in its various guises.

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  10:27:38 pm, by Nimble   , 76 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, Ethics

Inventions To Cause The Downfall of Society

I was musing over a theoretical invention that could cause society's downfall. No, it's not telepathy, though I'm sure that would do it.

If there ever was a device that let you hear what people said for the next ten seconds after you hung up the phone, I think that would be enough to do it. I'll bet technical support would be the first to fall :)

Well, unless people started watching their words for ten seconds :)

  12:18:06 am, by Nimble   , 133 words  
Categories: Reviews, Movies

X-Men : The Last Stand


We went to see this today, and quite enjoyed it. It's a little uneven in some plot points and flat in some interaction and fight scenes, but it was overall very enjoyable, and they certainly upped the stakes here. Grand altercations and a few surprises abound.

Yes, that is Kelsey Grammar as the blue-furred Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast. It's a fun role for him.

Watch for the (nearly usual now) Stan Lee cameo :)

They do leave a crack open for a sequel, though this quite comfortably ends the series. There are no huge cliffhangers right at the end.

If you stay past the credits, you do get a little scene that only makes sense if you remember the talk about ethics earlier in the movie. I'll say no more than that.


  11:39:47 am, by Nimble   , 139 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion, Science

Simpsons : The Monkey Suit Episode


I didn't really think the Simpsons would take on a stronger evolution versus creationism episode... but they did, and while the ending was a little bit 'diluted' from my own views, all in all, I'm pretty impressed at the way it was handled.

The approach to the whole episode tried to avoid some of the actual hot buttons: constitutionality, rebuttals to "missing link" arguments, and the reasons for the judgment and its retraction were 'goofy', but the Simpsons have pretty high visibility here. Even with 9 parts comedy to 1 part seriousness, they will offend some people.

It will get people talking, though. I expect a few flame wars about, but I think finding out what the fuss is all about will help some people.

On a final note here: I am all of a sudden very, very impressed with Marge :)


  11:21:25 am, by Nimble   , 360 words  
Categories: Reviews, Games



I've liked Bethesda's series of games for quite a while now. Daggerfall, Morrowind and now Oblivion.

Oblivion is an epic quest in the same style as its predecessors. The same use-it-and-gain-it skill system is there: if you run a lot, your Athletics goes up. If you jump and fall off things, your Acrobatics goes up, and so on.

The perpetually-staring characters are voice-acted quite well (I swear I heard Patrick Stewart in there). There's utterly no shortage of quests, and you will find yourself perpetually busy. If you get yourself all your recommendations for the Mage's Guild, you get to enter the Academy and create your own spells and enchantments.

The travel system is a refreshing nicety. No longer do you have to manually trudge from the Red Mountain all the way home like in Morrowind, but you can simply travel, risk-free, from a safe place with a clear exit (e.g. outside cities, in the wilderness with no enemies around) to most any previously-discovered site.

Now, Oblivion has some pretty high requirements. My video card and computer setup, perfectly able to handle World of Warcraft with aplomb, was utterly underpowered here. GeForce FX cards suffer quite a bit here.

You can type ~ (tilde) then tlb [ENTER] inside the game to turn "Lite Brite" mode on. You will get grey "blobs" around in many locations, though, but this setting will help:

A: You have to edit your Oblivion.INI and change fLODLandVerticalBias from 0 to -1200 (yes, minus 1200).

However, one very kind soul came to the rescue of most of us with older video cards. His site is over on "Oldblivion" (I must say: I love the name!) Let me tell you, it works. I wish there was something preset in between the low and medium settings (medium settings still give me a slow frame rate during combat), but experimenting should get it there.

It's an addictive game, and I must say I am enjoying my hiatus from World of Warcraft, since I can just save and exit any time I want. I forgot how much freedom you lose when you're in the middle of a three-hour World of Warcraft dungeon run ;)

  11:19:32 am, by Nimble   , 721 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Internet

Not... Learning... Fast... Enough...

This article almost seems to me to be satire. Is it? Probably not.

Perhaps it's just the tone of the article that irks me. Well, it's definitely that:

But at the same time teachers are becoming more comfortable with using eMail, students have largely moved on to another, more sophisticated form of communication, the survey suggests: instant messaging (IM).

Sophisticated? Fun, maybe. It's a substitute for phones, and you wouldn't use phones in class, would you? Or would you?...

Full story »


  07:30:17 pm, by Nimble   , 9768 words  
Categories: Announcements [A]

A Big Intelligent Design Thread


I just had to link to the comments over on Sounding the Trumpet because I've been extraordinarily wordy in there, and occasionally lucid :)

The two interesting personalities over there are 'High School Student' and Wayne Hollyoak. Wish we'd seen more of 'High School Student'; they seemed interesting and willing to throw back questions for a proper response.

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  11:30:51 pm, by Nimble   , 204 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, People

Culture Plateau?

Looking back at movies from the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's, and then comparing the 90's with today, it occurs to me that despite the "ever increasing pace of change", we really seem to be... stabilizing.

Beauty, clothing and music technology has been developed to the point that it seems like everything is coming down to plain old individual choice in any of those axes. You can dye your hair pretty much any colour you want - and you can make it look bad or good. You can make pretty much any song or sound you want; it's just a matter of practice. You can have pretty much any hairstyle you want - whatever looks good (or not good) - you don't have to have seas of big perms or beehives at all.

You can make movies that look like anything, given the budget. There's not much in the way of new territory to explore, just more interesting or bad stories to tell.

The naughties (00's) seem to be pretty much just like the 90's so far. I don't think there's any big reason to expect the 10's to be a whole lot different either.

Something could make it different, though. I wonder what it would be?

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